Sergov came from a family that had held a space in painfully close to the summit of the social pyramid in agonizingly close proximity to the very apex of power. He was the second of three sons and even though he was the most unremarkable of the three he was still his mother's favorite. Both of his brothers eclipsed him. Their overlapping shadows rendered him almost invisible high society. He was a relatively handsome young man, on the taller side, with a straight back, and slim build but he never proved himself to be adept at anything. He had no innate interests, nothing excited or impassioned him, and when it came to managing his own affairs, he was gravely incompetent.
This terrified his father who knew maintaining the status of his name would fall on his sons. Since Sergov was incapable of distinguishing himself, it was decided the veneer of prestige would have to suffice, and he as awarded a position in the Empress's palace guard. It was a position that came complete with a costume that reminded people just how prestigious his position was.
When Sergov was off duty, he and his fellow guardsman were usually in a brothel built in the shadow of the palace walls. People followed the scent of perfume and tobacco smoke through the narrow corridors right to the doors of the sanctuary of the decadence. The capital's elite were embraced with open arms by the merchants of vice. Every year Treasuries shrank, and the brothel grew.
Sergov was steadying himself on the shoulder of the prostitute he had just purchased. The whole building felt like it was rocking like a ship on the waves.
“Almost there!” Giggled the girl with feigned but convincing enthusiasm.
When they made it to the top Sergov fell against the wall. His knees wobbled, but he held himself up.
“Let us make it to the bed quickly.” laughed his hired companion.
“Do you think you'll make it Sergov?” Ivan mocked in a hoarse voice.
“The parts I need are working well enough.” retorted Sergov.
Ivan flashed a wine and tobacco-stained smile. They were startled by a woman's scream so shrill and high pitched it reminded Sergov the sound the elk make when a projectile digs into the flesh. Ther was an ensuing scuffle. Something was banged against the wall so hard it reverberated through the building.
“Michale,” grinned Ivan. He held up his pipe. “I feel sorry for the whore that ended up in bed with him. Lady Fortuna was not smiling on her tonight.” He mumbled before putting the pipe between his lips.
They quietly listened to the sounds of the struggled until it muffled out. “Come,” said Sergov pulling the young girl's arm whose carefree smile had transformed into a look of anguished concern.
In the final few hours of darkness the festivities subsided and the house became eerily calm. The patrons were sleeping off the toxic mixture of booze and sex. Sergov was face down on the bed. His uniform was in a pile on the floor.
When he awoke, his brain felt like it was thumping against his skull. His mouth was dry, and his breath was like acid. His eyes watered, and his stomach churned. Outside church bells and crowing roosters heralded the beginning of the new day. His body felt like it was full of concrete. He sat at the edge of the and buried his face in his palms.
“Shit,” he groaned.
He splashed cold water on his face and attempted to press out the wrinkles in his uniform on the hardwood floor. After he had accepted, he was as presentable as he could make himself he left the room.
Michael was leaning against the wall next to the door across from his. He was casually puffing away on his pipe while two men rolled up a naked young girl in a plush crimson curtain. Even with the black and purple bruises on her ghoulishly pale flesh, Sergov could recall her. It was only by a coin flip that he had passed her over for the other girl
“This will ruin me,” mumbled Michael.
“What do you mean?” Asked Sergov.
“Always compensating these flesh peddlers for their damaged merchandise. ” Michael fumed.
The hungover guardsmen streamed from the den dissolved and with empty pockets. They trudged through the fresh snow and assembled on the palace grounds to wait for drills to begin. Sergov was a junior officer. He had no aptitude as a real military commander, but he was able to memorize the choreography of daily guard duty.
The pain didn't begin to subside well into the afternoon. The full sun hanging in the sky reflected off the shimmering snow with a blinding intensity. His eyes burned, and his head pulsed. The biting cold turned his red face numb. Time moved a tortuous pace and every second of living felt like a punishment. He was on the verge of vomiting when he was ordered into the palace. He held back the surging bile and straightened his coat.
He was lead up a narrow stairway that snaked up to a small apartment. The guard's commander and his chief of staff were both waiting for him. Sergov snapped to attention and hoped his superiors wouldn't notice his pathetic appearance.
Commander Vasily was a robust man with thinning salt and pepper hair and a much thicker mustache with a similar color gradient. He peered out through beady black eyes that were sunk in under his large forehead.
“Sergov,” he said warmly. The congenial welcome made Sergov noticed.
“The commander wished to see me?” He asked with arched eyebrows.
“Sergov the Empress has been watching you,” said Vasily.
Sergov felt his entire body suddenly tighten. “I hope that is a good thing,” he said trying to conceal his anxiousness.
“She said she would like to speak to you personally,” Said Vasily.
“I would be honored,” Said Sergov standing as tall as he could.
Vasily sighed and opened a small wooden door on the far wall. When they walked through the walls suddenly expanded out into a cavern of ludicrous luxury. Countless jewels gleamed in throughout the chamber. Precious stoned were inlaid in every decoration. Gold statues of wild beasts flashed emerald eyes, the curtains were trimmed with impeccably polished rubies, and diamonds in the ceiling twinkled like stars. Life-sized portraits of fondly remembered autocrats covered the wall and in the center of the room was a large bed covered with immaculate white linens.
Sergov was too overwhelmed by the splendor of the room to immediately notice the woman resting in the bed was the empress herself. As if seeing how awestruck the boy was he quickly announced him to the monarch.
“My Empress this is Sergov.” He said like he was unveiling a gift.
“Empress please forgive me,” Sergov said as he dropped to his knee.
“Please arise,” the Empress said in a low voice.
Sergov stood back up. She was not the great black haired beauty from the official portraits he had seen when he was a boy. Her stringy white hair was so thin he could see her red scalp. Her flesh was wrinkled and flaps of if hung from her neck and limbs. When she talked, she showed an empty mouth with only a few yellowed teeth that stuck out of swollen gums.
“Leave us,” She ordered. Without a word Vasiliy and his aide exited the room and closed the door behind them.
“I have been watching you Sergov, and to me, you seem more than suitable,” Said the Empress.
“Anything to serve the Empress,” replied Sergov.
“Behind you on top of the dresser, there is a small jewelry box open it for me please.”
Sergov picked up the purple velvet box and gently lifted the lid. Inside there was a double-headed eagle with wings made of chrome and a crown studded with sapphire rubies. Sergov was stunned by the magnificent ornament.
“That's for you,” She said.
“You are even more generous than they say,” Sergov said gleefully.
“There will be plenty more where that came from if you are indeed suitable,” said the empress.
“I would give my life for the sovereign,” said Sergey with a voice full of resolve.
The Empress smiled. “Good,” she said.
She lowered the covers and revealed her grotesque nakedness. Her body was fat and bloated. Green and purple veins crisscrossed her body pasty flesh. Her stomach sagged down over her narrow hips almost concealing her womanhood. “Do well, and you will be rich beyond your wildest dreams,” purred the empress.
Having finished that unsavory task Vasiliy and his aide returned to the parade grounds to inspect their troops. They were unusually quiet. Sergov wasn't the first young man they corralled at the behest of their Empress, and he probably wouldn't be the last.
“I have to say I almost feel sorry for that boy,” blurted Vasilly.
“I'm sure he'll be well compensated,” Replied the aide.
“I am not sure if he should thank God or curse him,” mumbled Vassily. "Fortune can be a cruel mistress he sighed.