Excerpt: "The Guardians of Stavka: The Deadly Hunt for Romanov
Gold in Canada."
Georgia, Russia. Summer - 1894
Ilya Nikolayevich Orlov squinted at the bright morning sun bursting across the
high Caucasus. Already the intense heat waves were shimmering and dancing across
the dried stubbly hay fields and the ripening fat golden wheat in the distance.
Occasionally a rebel breeze born among the lofty distant snow covered peaks,
swept down the gullies and ravines and brought welcome relief to the townspeople
The l4 year old boy loved the mountains, so massive and rugged, so proud and
nonconforming. Pushing back a mop of fair hair, tinged almost imperceptibly
with red, he shaded his pale face and light blue eyes unaware these features
isolated him from the other townsfolk. They were all dark skinned, their eyes
were dark brown, almost black, and their heavy features were reminiscent of the
Turks, Iranians and other Middle Eastern people living to the south.
The boy was a northerner. His long legs pumped him effortlessly along the dusty
street. Two men, one attired in the traditional Caucasian tunic and the cape
of a shepherd, argued noisily outside the inn over the cost of replacing a
sheep killed by a horse and cart. Fascinated and unconscious of his path the
youth collided with two elderly women, one of whom carried an old metal milk
"Hey! Are you rich enough to spill milk?" the heavy woman cried, winking broadly
at her equally heavy friend.
"It's the teacher's son," remarked the other, her dark Georgian features full of
warm adulatory smiles. Everyone knew the boy was a brilliant student. "What have
you learned today, Ilya Nikolayevich?"
The boy flashed a polite smile. "Nothing!" Then not wishing to appear rude or
terse, he added, "School is finished for the summer."
The woman really did not care a sow's ear about Ilya's education but referred to
the fact his father held the esteemed post of Russian teacher at the school.
No one cared for Russian. They saw no need for it. The old Ossetic Georgian
language had served them for centuries through countless invasions wars and
However, since Georgia, the rugged Caucasian land squeezed between the Black
Sea in the west and the Caspian Sea in the east was now annexed to the great
Russian Empire, the law required that every school student must learn Russian.
Russification, they called it, and Ilya's father taught the language in the old
two level pink sandstone school. He had taught Russian as long as Ilya could
remember. The boy liked that. Teachers and priests carried considerable
Ilya had been born in the rugged picturesque valley town of Gori which flanks
the fast flowing Kura River. His mother, a native Georgian, was a fine upright
woman of disciplined working stock who still felt uneasy in the presence of
landowners or nobility. Her father had once been a serf in some northern
The boy's father was tall, refined and delicate and most people respected him
not only for his profession, teaching, but for his breeding. Nikolas Orlov was
unmistakably an aristocrat. Poor, yes, but still an aristocrat. The Gori
townspeople failed to understand Orlov senior.
"They say he was embroiled
in a terrible scandal," said the clockmaker a prominent rumourmonger. "A
seduction! The wife of a prince! Orlov was personally exiled by the Tsar."
Years later Ilya discovered the truth about his father. Among the Hussars of
the Guard a bond of support was an unwritten rule among the officers. Many
families whose sons served with distinction in elite regiments were forced
to sell valuables, livestock, even property so that their officer-sons could
assist brother officers in distress. Gambling was usually the most disastrous
pitfall for creating enormous debts.
Nikolas Orlov had been a young Hussars officer. He had served with distinction
and valour in the Polish uprisings. One day, a senior officer, a prince,
ran into substantial debts. Half a million roubles! He was unable to repay it.
When creditors threatened exposure brother officers raised the necessary money.
Honour was maintained but the repercussions were disastrous. Twelve officers
declared bankruptcy and were forced to leave the service. Cornet or Second
Lieutenant Nikolas Orlov was one of them.
Ilya often heard his father talk fondly and nostalgically about St. Petersburg,
the capital city far to the north with its wide boulevards, grand palaces,
towering ornate churches, great bridges and magnificent homes. Ilya's mother
hated to hear such talk. She had never left Georgia. Tiflis and Baku were the
far limits of her world. Anything else was totally alien.
Ilya pushed through the hot crowded market with its heavy aromas of spices and
coffees. The fortunate were buying vegetables meats and delicacies such as
pheasant octopus and caviar, while the unfortunate stared with hungry and
resigned eyes and then quietly went home to bread and onions and the occasional
luxury of a boiled potato. The narrow dusty street wound up the hill through
a maze of small shops from where one could see the ancient fortress perched
on a rocky hillock.
Outside the school a group of youngsters was shouting furiously and goading
two of their kind to greater acts of brutality in a fist fight. For a moment
the fighters stood there, clenched and bloodied fists held poised. Their dark
scowling faces were lined with sweat while smouldering black eyes regarded each
other with murderous hostility.
Ilya immediately recognized one fighter, his friend Soso. The other boy was a
stranger, an Armenian, said someone, from the other side of town. No one liked
the Armenians. "Punch the chicken-head," screamed someone. Soso lashed out. His
small steel fist hammered the other boy's swollen face. A fist sliced back. Soso
anticipated it and warded it away easily with an arm.
Smack! With lightning delivery his fist ploughed into the Armenian's right eye.
Blood trickled down. The crowd became incensed.
"Kill the chicken-head," yelled
a boy close by.
Ilya immediately recognized his friend Lado Komadze and quickly
pushed through the crowd to his side.
"Soso's a great fighter," said Lado with
a grin. "Truly, he is a master of punishment."
The crowd roared with delight as Soso despatched a series of devastating punches
to the other boy's face chest and stomach. Gasping and screaming for air, the
youngster staggered away to the merciless jeers of the spectators. Soso,
breathing heavily, his face bathed in perspiration that accentuated the smallpox
scars, came and leaned on his friends and paused to collect himself.
"What happened?" Ilya asked as the three walked down the hill towards the
"Nothing!" Soso was a youngster of few words. "Nothing happened."
"Aw! Come on," insisted Ilya, grinning. "What happened?"
"Nothing!" Lado chipped in quickly. "The chicken-head was a Jew. That's all.
It's of no importance. Jews aren't important."
Outwardly, Ilya appeared amused at their strange and blunt logic. Inwardly, he
admitted he would never understand these Georgians in spite of many years of
close friendship in which they had played, studied, adventured and sung together.
They enjoyed doing things together whether it was a trek to a battered
fortress on a remote hilltop, a swim in the river, a lazy afternoon in the
orchard reading books or staging wrestling contests in the hay barn. Soso always
won at wrestling.
Until recently when their voices had finally broken, they had performed
regularly in the choir of the Georgian Orthodox Cathedral. Their shrill melodic
voices pure and perfect like a heavenly chorus enchanted the congregation.
Soso's mother, a seamstress whose cobbler husband had deserted her for work
in Tiflis, always had tears of joy when Soso performed solos.
"My heart is so proud of you, Joseph," she said, using his proper name. "You
will make a good priest, my son. God will bless you."
The lad always displayed a remote detached air whenever his mother mentioned
the priesthood which was quite often.
"Let's go swimming," cried Soso suddenly, tossing back his long black hair.
"My body is burning and the river will refresh us."
"It's too fast," said Lado as he tossed a small stone in the direction of
some grazing sheep. "The summer melt is furious this year."
Soso grinned challengingly. "Scared?"
"You want to stay with the Jewish bastard? Make friends with your father's
murderers?" Soso put the questions quietly, knowing full well they hurt Lado
whose father had been ruined and driven to suicide in Tiflis. People blamed
the Jews. It was easier than blaming alcohol. He hated anything Jewish.
Lado was short like Soso. Ilya towered over both of them. However, Lado was
thin and not very strong unlike the tough muscular Soso who frequently
boasted and demonstrated his physical prowess. Lado for the most part was a
silent youngster, an observer, a follower. Schoolmates suggested Lado was
abnormally intelligent because he appeared to spend most of his time absorbed
in thought. Others felt he had little intelligence and therefore had nothing
to say. In spite of this the teachers and priests at the Gori Theological
School decided that silence in a boy was an unwholesome quality.
"There's something wrong with that Lado Komadze," said a priest. "Something
bad. Why can't he be like that young Soso? Now there's a good intelligent boy."
The other priest smiled approval. "Little Joseph Dzhugashvili? A clever lad
that one. Nevertheless he has a strange inclination -- always reading dangerous
books. School Inspector Butyrsky says he caught the boy reading books by
Chonadze, Chavchavadze and Kazbegi -- all fervent Georgian nationalists."
The older priest stroked his long white beard. "Soso is predictable. He
worships heroes, warriors, fighters...and God. He'll go far. The other boy?
I'm not so sure."
The older priest nodded. "Lado is much too moody. Those black eyes hold
fires of anger. He could be dangerous."
"Come now! Don't imagine things. Admittedly Lado is intense but not dangerous."
Ilya had overheard the priests' conversation and moved on troubled that
adults -- no, men of God, -- had so freely and unfairly criticized his
two close friends. They did not understand Lado that's all, he told himself.
The friendship that existed between the three boys had matured over many years
longer than any of them could remember. They were all born in the same month,
December 1879 and had played, gone to school and become friends as they grew up.
Now in the hot summer of 1894 they were fourteen years old and getting ready
to go to the higher schools to learn a trade or a profession.
The three boys moved away from the little white houses with their red tiled
roofs wooden balconies and rickety steps and walked through the long dry grass
lining the banks of the Kura River.
"You see," cried Lado jubilantly, "the water is much too fast for swimming."
Soso's dark eyes peered from under the thick black hair draped across his
forehead. He watched the river with silent apprehension. It was fast, very
fast, but he was not prepared to show concern let along alarm or cowardice.
"The river is like that snotty bitch with the large breasts that roasts her
fat haunches by the school stove. Both must be made to succumb to power."
The others never argued with Soso when he talked of power.
"Let's move down river towards the trees," cried Soso pointing towards a
cluster of brilliant green and silver birch. He kicked off his boots and
trousers, tossed his shirt to the ground and wearing only rough cotton
undergarments, slipped through the reeds into the water.
Lado followed closely then gasped. "The water! It's direct from the devil's
"It has power! It purifies! It cleanses the body and the mind," cried Soso.
Suddenly he turned and spotted Ilya's lanky body still fully clothed reclining
in the shade of a birch. "What makes you so special, Your Highness?"
Ilya flinched. Little Joe rarely mentioned the Orlov's origin and their
aristocratic connections at St. Petersburg except in an angry outburst.
Ilya ignored the sarcasm. "Go and swim! I'll stand guard over your clothes...in
case brigands come down from the mountains." The youth mustered a smile,
but it was true. Bands of brigands still made occasional raids on villagers
The boy lay there, his pale blue eyes regarding the rugged inhospitable
mountains thrusting themselves up against the clear blue sky. Deep in those
mountains among the valleys and on the grassy plateau reigned remnants of wild
and violent tribes some of whom were still attired in ancient medieval
doublets with embroidered crosses, long woollen stockings, blouses with
puffed sleeves and hair trimmed with heavy fringes.
When they plunged into battle they were armed with heavy chain mail and their
hands clutched heavy swords and shields. Known as the Ingushi these peculiar
tribes were said to be living descendants of the European crusaders who battled
the infidels at Jerusalem centuries before. How could such people exist in
complete isolation for hundreds of years? It baffled and intrigued the youngster
and he never tired of listening to Georgians tell stories of the battling
The two boys, their black heads glistening in the sun, swam down and across the
strong current to conserve energy and had now reached the other bank. They
waved as they scrambled breathlessly through the long grass. Some goats grazing
nearby suddenly scattered, bleating with alarm. Ilya could see the boys standing
by a fallen tree. They talked animatedly and shivered while attempting to dry
their bodies in the sun. Soso repeatedly hugged his left arm.
During the crowded Easter services two years before, the boys had been singing
with the choir outside the Orthodox Church. Various affluent landowners
naturally tethered their horses and carriages close to the stone water troughs
in the square. One thoughtless man left his horse and carriage parked alone
on the hill above the church. Tired, the animal knocked over a bucket which
had frightened a dog which in turn had raced forward to snap at the horse's
legs. Terrified, the animal had reared and bolted. The carriage harness snapped
and the vehicle hurtled down the hill straight towards the choir and
congregation. "Run! Run for your lives!" shouted someone.
People screamed and fled helter skelter in all directions. Nobody was killed
but four were injured. One was Soso. A carriage wheel ran over the youngster's
left arm. The injuries took months to heal and left the lad with a permanently
shortened arm that he would attempt to hide for the rest of his life.
Ilya looked up. The two boys were again mid-stream and in trouble.
He could see them clutching each other. Their heads appeared as one. Lado
screamed something. The message was lost in the wind. Up on his feet, his
face suddenly pale and drawn, Ilya raced to the river bank. He felt totally
helpless. Soso broke away from Lado and struck out senselessly downstream.
Then, correcting his course, he started for the bank but a moment later slipped
from view under the fast running water.
"Wait! Soso! Wait!" Lado screamed desperately. He dived under. For a moment,
his long, skinny legs waved futilely above water. Then he too was gone into
the depths of the bitterly cold water direct from the melted snow on the
Ilya clenched his fists and stared. If only he could swim. If only he had
learned. Anguish and embarrassment ripped through his troubled mind. Suddenly,
Lado surfaced coughing and spluttering. In his arms was the blue-white lifeless
"Ilya, get help! I can't hold him much longer," he cried. He jerked his head
around in a desperate attempt to see something, a log, a boat, a tree branch.
Something on which he could hold. There was nothing. "Get help! For God's
sake, help us!"
The current was sweeping the two boys down river and away from the town reducing
chances of getting adult assistance. Ilya raced along the river bank, his
eyes scanning everywhere for possible help, possible solutions. If only his
mind would stop panicking. God, how he wanted to run away. It would be easy.
Forget the whole thing. It was an accident. No, I saw nothing. Anyway, they
had been warned.
Ilya broke through some bushes and entered a clearing. Several wooden boats
were up-turned on the grass. "Hello! Anyone here?" He screamed the question
at two old stone cottages. No response.
He ran to the boats and picked the smallest. It was an old wooden skiff used
by farmers to haul produce and supplies across the river. Damnation! It was
heavy. Incredibly heavy! He could hardly move the thing let alone turn it over
and drag it 20 paces to the river. He struggled with the boat until the veins
on his arms and neck seemed ready to burst.
Then he spotted the rope coiled
neatly underneath the boat. In a flash, he raced down to the river. Lado and
Soso were almost opposite, perhaps 25 metres away and moving away quickly.
Both were suffering severe cramps and groaning in agony as they clung to each
other for survival.
A chunk of wood! Ilya wrapped two strands around it and tied a knot. Waving it
wildly about his head he tossed it with all his might. It splashed down well
beyond the direction of the two boys but the current swept them into it.
Lado immediately seized the rope.
"Soso's dead!" he cried. "He's stopped breathing!"
"Don't say such things," cried Ilya quickly.
"The cold. It's killed him."
"Shut your mouth!" admonished Ilya. "Hold on while I pull."
His hands tightened on the rope. Immediately he felt the current and the weight
of the two boys. It was impossible to hold. Twice his bare feet slipped in the
soft sand. Then he spotted help. An old piling. A wooden stake, driven into the
bank. Feverishly, he raced across and wrapped the rope around it and tied a knot.
Moments later the rope jerked tight under the strain of the boys' weight. Ilya,
free of the rope, rushed into the water.
"Don't let go," he cried wildly. "I'm coming. I'm coming." The solid earth was
no longer there for his feet. Kicking out at the bitterly cold water he tried
moving his arms the way the boys had shown him. Gulping mouthfuls of water,
coughing and spluttering, he reached his friends.
"Come...let's get him to the shore," he cried and Lado now shivering and very
pale smiled bleakly. Unknown to the boys the current had naturally swung the
attached rope in towards the shore.
"Take him! Pull him up," muttered Lado.
They dragged Soso onto the grass.
"There's water coming from his mouth," cried Ilya alarmed.
"Hold him upside down."
Ilya seized his legs and stood up. Water drained from the youngster's mouth
and nose but there were no signs of life. Lado sank to his knees and started
pounding Soso's chest with his fists.
"My God! What are you doing?" demanded Ilya.
"Damn it! I don't know," screamed Lado, tears rolling down his white shivering
face. "Damn it! I don't know. He's my friend. I don't know."
Suddenly Little Joe started to cough. The sound came as a miracle. A blessed
relief. They stared in sheer amazement. Then they started smiling.
they had dressed and Ilya had dried out his clothes they sat under the birch
trees looking at the Kura River and the field beyond with its ripening wheat
and barley and beyond an apple orchard and vineyard and in the distance the
blue hazy mountains.
They said nothing for a long time. The brush with death and the narrow escape
had shattered their confidence and rudely jerked them back into the harsh
reality of life. Finally Soso spoke his mind.
"A man could not want for better brothers than the two I have today," he said
slowly, his gruff broken voice now deeper than ever. "In the great Kura I was
confronted by death and found it ugly and terrifying and my heart trembled
with great fear. In addition, today I have found supreme dedication,
comradeship and brotherly love."
The two boys felt uncomfortable.
"It's not necessary to say such things," said Lado as he held his aching head.
"It's not necessary."
Soso ignored him. "Whatever happens in the days and years to come, whatever
our destinies, we shall always remain what we are this day -- brothers!" He
stared at Ilya.
"Brothers," said the teacher's son with a satisfied feeling of pride and
accomplishment. He grinned easily.
Soso stared at Lado.
"Brothers," said the youngster as he stared at Soso with glowing admiration.
"How is it that you have such a wonderful way with words? Of course we are brothers."
"Yes," said Ilya feeling pleased. "Brothers. We shall always be brothers."
One month later in the summer of 1894 the brotherly trio split up. Nikolas Orlov
was persuaded by a rich and influential noble uncle to send young Ilya to St.
Petersburg where he would receive a "proper education in keeping with his
In the years that followed Ilya Nikolayevich Orlov followed a
colourful and distinguished military career in the elite Imperial Guards
serving the Tsar and the Imperial Family.
When he departed the town of Gori on that hot summer's day in 1894, fighting
to hold back welling tears, the youngster had no idea that the events in his
life would be connected with those two scruffy, black haired Georgian
youngsters -the brothers -- he was leaving behind.
Once more in his life,
in the spring of l9l7, he would meet Lado Komadze under vastly different
circumstances. Lado would become a dedicated Bolshevik working under a
fanatical disciplinarian named Feliks Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, the founder of
the CHEKA, the dreaded new Soviet State's Security Apparatus.
Ilya never saw Soso or Joe Dzhugashvili again, but his influence plagued him
all his life. After the youngster entered the Theological College in Tiflis
where his mother wanted him to train as a priest, Soso changed his name to
Koba in honour of the Georgian nationalist guerrilla who had battled the
Russian overlords. At the same time he joined the growing Bolshevik
With a remarkable ability to use words, he quickly became a
forceful revolutionary, writer and agitator. It was a power not to be
ignored. The Russian word for steel is "stal." In l9l2 the youngster from
Gori again changed his name. This time to Stalin. Joseph Stalin.
Author's note: I enjoyed writing this adventure immensely and you can read the
rest of it either in book form or as an ebook. As always, I always enjoy hearing
from readers, so please drop me a line afterwards, and if you feel like it, write a
review on Amazon either in the U.S. or U.K. Happy reading! Robert
Copyright: Robert Egby -- 2011
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