January 21, 1944

Kiev, Russian Empire

The first sensation that Ekaterina had upon entering the war hospital was the faint smell of blood. A tingling sensation went down her spine when she thought of the gruesome sights she was about to see. Her mother, who was walking through the halls beside her, kept her face in a stoic expression. Their downcast blue eyes, however, revealed their true emotions. Both Ekaterina and her mother felt uneasy although Russia had sustained few losses so far. They carried baskets of pastries and photos of themselves to give to the soldiers. They hoped that the gifts would lift the spirits of the wounded and weary.

Only part of the Crimea had been captured by the Ottomans so far, but they would soon attempt to capture the Caucasus for its oil fields. To the relief of the Tsar, the Imperial Russian Navy had blocked further Ottoman reinforcements from reaching Livadia. The Ottoman incursion was practically trapped. The German Communists had tried to advance deep into Poland, but they were stuck at that current time. Although they had captured the Polish corridor splitting Königsberg from the east German side, they faced a combination of heavy partisan resistance and Imperial Russian Army forces with relatively maneuverable and fast Gradsky Tanks based on the American Christie tank.

The guards escorting them kept silent as well. They felt what their Tsarina and much respected Grand Duchess felt. The fear that the Entente war effort would fail was a small, persistent thing. It continued to erode their hope that the Entente alliance would succeed in the Great War of 1943. The possibility of the Germans making a comeback was likely. Like Russia, Germany had industrialized over the decades.

"Mama, what will families of the dying receive?" Ekaterina asked her mother, looking up with her pouting blue eyes.

"We will send money to fund their funerals and they will receive other financial aids if necessary," her mother replied.

"I hope that this terrible war will end quickly. I despise the thought of countless human lives wasted."

"It depends on what they fight for, my daughter. If they fight for a side that oppresses and mistreats its people, they are already wasting their lives. To waste is to neglect or to use for the wrong purpose. You must understand, dear, that you may have to do uncomfortable actions when necessary."

"Such as war?"

"Yes, but it is a last resort. It is a terrible thing that tears apart families and nations… that is why few are so foolish enough to declare war at every whim. I speak from experience," her mother replied.

"How did war affect your childhood, Mama?"

"The last war I lived through was the Russo-Japanese War, but that was so many years ago. Now, we must comfort the soldiers."

Ekaterina nodded, following her mother to a pair of closed doors. The head nurse and doctor of the Kiev War Hospital both bowed to their Tsarina and favorite Grand Duchess. The doctor, a tall and slim man with a brown haired crew cut, stood straight. Beside him, the head nurse, a petite blonde in a white and dark blue uniform, smiled at her Tsarina.

"It is an honor to have you two here, Your Majesty and her Highness Ekaterina," the head doctor said.

"You are welcome, Doctor Nolan," Olga said.

"How are you, Your Highness?" the head doctor asked Ekaterina.

"Me? I am doing just fine… but I am at a loss of what to do. I have done charity work, but this is my first time in a military hospital," Ekaterina said, glancing around herself.

"Do not be nervous. I am certain that the soldiers here will be happy and inspired with your presence."

The head doctor nodded at the head nurse, who opened the doors to the first hospital recovery room. Upon seeing their Tsarina and the infamous Ekaterina, the spirits of the wounded lifted. Their faces morphed from grimaces from sadness and agony to smiles of joy and comfort. Ekaterina waved at the men and women in their hospital attire. The men wore white shirts and tan pants, and the women wore white hospital gowns. A man with an amputated leg grinned weakly at Olga and Ekaterina.

Ekaterina then took notice of a blonde haired young man in the right corner of the room. His blue eyes were almost shut from the dose of morphine that he received some time ago. He also waved back, and Ekaterina gazed at his fit figure, feeling a heat spread in her facial cheeks.

"He looks quite handsome…" the Grand Duchess thought.

"Katya, do not forget to give the soldiers the gifts," her mother whispered to her.

"Yes, Mama."

"May we leave for our duties, Your Majesty?"

"Do what you must, Doctor Nolan, Miss Novosky," Olga replied.

She and her mother went to the soldiers in the first pair of beds. Ekaterina placed her basket down, preparing to hand the nearest soldier her hand-baked pastries. The soldier spotted the basket and felt very grateful. It had been hours since his last meal.

"Your Highness, I would like a pastry… I am famished," the soldier spoke quietly.

"Of course, here you are!" Ekaterina said, handing out a wrapped Danish pastry.

"Spasibo," the soldier said, taking the pastry.

Next to Ekaterina, her mother prayed with another female soldier. Her smooth porcelain pale skin made her appear young. She seemed barely at the age of a university student. To the Grand Duchess, the soldier was too young to face the horrors of war.

Her mother and the unknown female soldier finished praying.

"What is your name, miss?" her mother asked.

"Yuliana Antov, Your Majesty," the soldier responded.

"I assure you that your sacrifices will be acknowledged. You or your family will receive a sum of rubles no matter what."

"My family is not very wealthy. I could not afford to attend a university, so I had to work on my family's farm. Now I've joined the military to provide for my family and serve Russia. I thank you very much."

"It is no problem… Would you like a pastry from my basket?"

"Yes, I am surely tired of just eating rations," Yuliana said, giggling.

Olga smiled at the soldier before reaching into her basket to take out a pastry. The soldier was given the food, and she savored its sweet taste. Ekaterina and her mother talked with each patient with propriety. She would never ask questions that were too personal or make any rude remarks. At the end of each conversation, she would give photographs of her mother and herself along with her homemade pastries. Seeing the frowns and grimaces of the soldiers disappear into a smile brought satisfaction and joy to her heart. As a Grand Duchess, she had a great responsibility to behave well.

Finally, the two royals reached the last patient, who laid on his hospital camp bed. His arm was in a sling, but the rest of his body was without any major wounds. Only a few bandaged scratches were on his arms and face.

Ekaterina felt the same strange feeling again when she looked into the blue eyes of the last soldier. She averted her gaze almost in an instant. Hopefully, the patient did not notice her unintended attention. She then noticed that he was silently looking up at her, as if expecting something. This soldier was different compared to most of the other patients. Unlike the first two soldiers she interacted with, this man was quiet.

The Grand Duchess then decided to break the silence with the soldier. "Glad to meet you, although I do not know what to call you."

"Major Sasha- Sasha Pechev, your Highness," the soldier said.

"There is no need for the titles, you may call me Ekaterina."

"You are named after Yekaterina the Great, I see. A noble and beautiful name."

Ekaterina felt heat rise in her cheeks at the compliment. She did not know if he had some kind of adoration or crush on her. She still decided to change the subject.

"Yes… Yekaterina the Great was my mother's favorite Empress of Russia. She did many good things for Russia, despite her flaws. She believes that I will make a good Tsarina once she abdicates for me."

"I trust you. Like that Empress, your mother has also done great things for Holy Russia. My family enjoys hearing her speeches whenever they come on the radio, and they enjoy looking at newspaper articles of your family. We are very grateful."

"Thank you for the kind words, Mister Pechev. I would like to talk with you. Of course, please do not ask anything overly personal."

"Do not worry… I wonder how the war has affected your everyday life so far."

"Well… I often venture outside my family palaces. My mother and I come to the hospitals every two weeks or so, and we talk on the radio on certain occasions."

"I have heard your parents' speeches, and they definitely stir the souls of all Russians. Whenever you speak along with your mother, it is just as inspiring. My parents hope to save enough money to afford an education for my younger sister, Natalya."

"That is wonderful to hear, I am happy to see that my family is in good standing. I know that my ancestors have not always done the right deeds, but I will do my best for Holy Russia."

"And I've been doing my part as well. I got this broken arm from a bad fall off of a two story height fall. The mission of my regiment was to retake Stevastopol, but we did not succeed. We lost a third of our men during that week before we had to retreat for regrouping. Eventually, we retook the city after… a great deal of urban fighting. I'd rather not say the details of what happened with those zealous Ottomans… but we managed to rescue two thousand of our Slavic brothers," Sasha said, with his blue eyes shining with pride.

"Your regiment will be rewarded and honored for many years to come. I will speak with my mother about how we can do so," Ekaterina said.

Ekaterina glanced at her mother, who approached her. They whispered to each other about how the victorious regiments would be awarded. Sasha then grabbed his journal and pen from the table beside his bed. The young soldier then began to write in his journal.

January 21, 1944:

Today, I was taken into the recovery room in Kiev War Hospital. Her Majesty Olga I and her Highness Ekaterina visited us later. They were patient and kind to all of us, and I enjoyed speaking with them...

Sasha looked up to see the Tsarina and the Grand Duchess sitting at the foot of his bed. Their whispers stopped when Olga held up one hand. The Tsarina spoke to the young soldier.

"My daughter feels much sympathy for your situations, and the sacrifices you and your fellow peers have made for Russia. I have decided that each of your regiment members will receive The Cross of Saint George for your heroic efforts."

Sasha tried to speak, but he silenced himself when the Tsarina held up her hand again.

"Rest, Mister Pechev. Do not worry about the upcoming ceremony for now. It will be arranged later."

Sasha nodded before lying under the covers, placing his journal back on the table. He closed his eyes and realized how tired he was. His head felt light, but his broken arm felt heavy and sore. He fell asleep not long afterwards.