Irina slips away from the clearing where her mother the Tsarina has managed to get several of the servants involved in her fretting over the different color dyes of her thread. After working her way through the thick underbrush that ruined her gently coiffured hair, dirtied her silk slippers and snagged the silken panels on her gown, she reached a clearing where some of the Stretlsy guard had gathered. Among them sat Katrina.
The horror of seeing Katrina made Irina bolt upward scraping her cheek against a branch of the blackberry bush she just happened to be in the proximity of. Reflexively, her hand went to the stinging sensation on her cheek, feeling the rough broken skin which wasn’t as painful as the sight she beheld before her.
Before she could react, she turned to see who or what was making the sound of ruffling leaves behind her.
“Elizabeth!” Irina whispered. “What are you doing here?”
“I followed you when I noticed no one was watching me.”
Just then Elizabeth notices that Irina is about to step out into the clearing and confront Katrina. She grabs Irina’s arm.
“No, Irina! You cannot be seen!” Elizabeth pleaded with her sister.
She hesitated, knowing Elizabeth was right. Tears filled her eyes, the injustice she feels in unsubstantiated. She has no reason for these feelings and agrees to wait and see what unfolds. Elizabeth pats Irina’s arm in a comforting manner. They both watch as Katrina stands up and brushes against one of the guardsmen in an all too familiar fashion. He flashes the perfect smile. Irina, hyperventilates leaving Elizabeth to think she is having a fit. Alarmed she helps Irina to sit on the forest floor.
“Irina, what is it? You are over-reacting. We both know that Katrina has special privileges.”
Irina’s soft sobs coalesce with the tremors caused by her hard breathing. Elizabeth’s ability to comfort Irina is a rare quality she possesses because of her familial attachments. Irina looks up to Elizabeth and puts her head on her shoulder.
“That is my Vasilly.”
Elizabeth seems to exude more common sense than her eight years of life should allow. She coaxes Irina to return to the clearing with her and figure this matter out in her mind before she makes a muck of things.
“Irina, we have nothing but time. I will help you.”
Irina’s state of mind and appearance does not go unnoticed when the Tsarina glances over at her two daughters as they emerge from the dense greenery of the forest. Their two personal hand servants are horrified.
Irina cannot manage to formulate one single word. Elizabeth does all the talking and some how explains away all the cuts and scratches and general condition of them both due to some wild animals and several variations of thorny plants while on their way to the privy au natural.
Because Sophia and Ludmilla were enjoying the outing so much they didn’t leave ahead of schedule despite the condition of Irina and Elizabeth. Katrina suddenly appeared into the clearing and proceeded to sit next to her mother appreciating her handy-work and the fruit and cheese upon the table.
“What’s wrong with two and five?” she whispered to her mother using the unflatering distinction of their ranking.
“They failed to select a path on their venture into the forest.”
Katrina looked at them suspiciously. “Oh really.”
On the ride back to the castle, Katrina swapped places with her mother hoping to pry some information out of Elizabeth, — to no avail. The secrecy around Katrina had increased to a new level and Elizabeth’s loyalties were with Irina.
Alone in her chamber that evening Irina pulled out her diary and sat with her hand firmly pressed on the cover. A soft knock on her chamber door, It was Elizabeth.
“Enter, dear sister.”
Irina slid the diary under her mattress.