'Before Our Time'.
Yurovsky, the Siberian Jew, was late.
The small group of men waited for him in the evening shadows, by the four lonely trees in the Koptiaki forest that were known as the 'Four Brothers'. They stayed hidden, not smoking or talking, not wanting the villagers to know of their meeting place. It was the third time they had visited the location in the last two weeks. It had started to drizzle and some of the men were more restless than normal. But nobody complained. In those days nobody dared complain. It was unwise to stand out from the herd.
One of the men heard someone approaching and signalled the others to watch out. They took cover, hunched low in the bracken, until they saw a tall, wide shouldered shape in the distance, hurrying down the slope towards them. As it got closer, they recognised their leader, Yurovsky. He came through the thin mist of rain and into the semi-shelter of the trees.
The others moved towards him. You could tell by their stance that they were fearful of him - he was a dangerous man who could turn on any one of them for no reason. None of them had known him before he had arrived, a month earlier, to replace Avdeyev as commandant of Ekaterinberg. They didn't trust him anyway, once they had found out he was a Jew.
"Did any of the villagers see you ?", he asked.
The men shook their heads, looking at each other, not wanting to be the ones who had given the secret game away. Yurovsky knew at least one of them was lying.
" I saw villagers.", he went on. " Two of them, looking in this direction. They knew something was up. I threatened them, sent them away, told them not to look back." He paused. His grizzled eyes, hard black behind his wool-bearded face, searched each man in turn, looking for the fear that he knew was there. "Tonight is the most important night of the revolution. I hope you're up to the great task we have before us. If not, you'll answer to me. One by one. Now, let's check the mine."
Yurovsky pushed through the men and lead them towards the nearby deserted mine shaft. It was a deep shaft, about seven feet across that disappeared steeply into a black hole in the ground.
"Where is the benzine and the vitriol ?", asked Yurovsky.
"Further along, up the hill", answered Voikov. He was one of only two Russians in the party, and a member of the local Ural Soviet. The rest were all Austro-Germans. "It's still in the carts"
"Unload it now. All of you help. Store it here and then bring the carts back to the house. We will need them. Two of you must remain behind to guard this place. Make sure no-one comes here. Be back at the house in two hours."
With that, Yurovsky turned and left the men to their task. They stood there, uncertain and nervous.
"So it really is going to happen.", one of the men said to no-one in particular.
"What did you expect? A game we were playing.", answered Voikov.
"No. But...talking about....that's one thing. But to ......". His voice tailed off into silence.
The others looked at each other. Deep down they knew there was no other way.
One of them laughed. "You can either face Yurovsky.....or do it. And I know which one I'd rather do".
Some of the others joined in the laughter with him.
"Come on", said Voikov, "let's get started. It's going to be a long night."
Although spring was settled in, many of the streams were still frozen over. Snow lay deep in the gullies and hollows of the countryside as Yurovsky rode back the fourteen miles towards Ekaterinberg and the house which they now called The House of Special Purpose.
It was a pretty house, graceful in its older design. Known locally as the house of Ipatyev, it sat on a slope that ran down towards the town. It was a house of history, for five years earlier, celebrating the tercentenary of their dynasty, Tzar Nicholas and Empress Alexandra had visited the Ipatyevsky Monastery nearby. It was here that the first Romanov, the young Michael, accepted the throne to which the old Assemblies of the Land had elected him.
But Yurovsky was not a man of history or sentiment. His world was now, his purpose the future. Which is why he had been specially chosen to go to the house at Ipatyev, the house he himself had re-named the House of Special Purpose.
He climbed the hill towards the house, its appearance made sinister by the white-washed windows on the lower floor that stopped outsiders from looking in. A high wooden palisades had also been built around the house. As he got closer, he realised that the outer guard still consisted of Russians. That made him angry and he swore in frustration. They should have been replaced by Letts (Bolsheviks) before he got back. The uniformed guards watched him pass them and go into the yard. Paul Medvedev was there, in front of a campfire with more of his Russian troops.
Yurovsky stopped short of the second group and dismounted, tying the horse to a post. "I want a word with you." he shouted to Medvedev.
As chief of the Russian troops, Medvedev was irritated by Yurovsky's manner. He was not accustomed to being treated like that, especially in front of his own soldiers. But he knew that the Jew was in charge. He finished talking to one of his men, but it was a weak act of defiance. He turned and went over to Yurovsky.
"Why are your guards still here?"
"I kept them on in case there was a change of plan".
"No change. The die is cast. Where are the Letts ?"
"At the back of the house."
"And the lorry?"
"Change the guard now. Order your men into Ekaterinberg. And make them understand that no soldier is to return here again. And bring the twelve Nagan revolvers which your soldiers have."
Medvedev didn't answer, he stared unbelievingly at Yurovsky.
"Well?". Yurovsky's eyes derided the old soldier. He knew the man had no choice. "Do it".
Medvedev finally realised that now there could be no reprieve.
"I'll take my men into the town."
"No. You will stay here and take charge of the Letts. You must do it with us."
"No!". The old man's cry startled the nearby soldiers at the campfire. He moved closer to Yurovsky, so as not to be heard. "I cannot".
"Then you can join them and share the same fate. Or does your passion not run that deep." Yurovsky walked away from Medvedev, speaking loudly so that the soldiers heard and would know who was really in charge. "It is all over now. You're too old to fight a new battle. Do as I tell you. Change the guards".
And Yurovsky left the old man with his broken past and went into the cellars where the cook Sednev waited for him.
Beside the cellars there was a half basement. Three chairs were placed side by side in the middle of this room.
"Why are the chairs here ?"
"They asked for them.". Sednev shrugged as he spoke. "I saw no harm. The boy is very ill and his father will carry him down."
Yurovsky nodded. "You told them they were to be moved to another house ? A safe house. ".
"I did. They have packed and know that they will be transported in the middle of the night. Shall I feed them ?"
"Very little. Food is still short and I don't want any wasted. When you've fed them, bring them down here. By then my men will be back. Inform me when they are all here".
Yurovsky left the half basement and walked back into the yard. He saw that the guard was already changed. The Letts now stood around the campfire and watched the Russians formate to leave the yard.
As Yurovsky turned back towards the house, he saw the familiar bearded face looking over the balcony at him, brightly lit by the roaring fire in the yard below him. The man had a young boy in his arms. Yurovsky turned away and went into the house.
In silence, the man and boy on the balcony watched the troops march down into the town.It was already late evening and the Russian spring night was chilly and damp. The boy coughed and his father hurriedly took him back into the warmth of the House of Special Purpose.