A little background before getting to my story:
To me, Plushenko skating to “Tosca Fantasy” is like magic brought to life, so it’s the inspiration for the piece my protagonist wrote. Her back story is very loosely based on personal experience: namely, before the Sochi Olympics, I was feeling depressed for the umpteenth time in the past three years my life has been stuck in neutral. Long story short, the figure skating in general gave me something to look forward to and his road to recovery after the injury gave me something to aspire towards.
I had in mind that figure skaters in Russia were revered almost like royalty, so why not expand on that notion?
And after seeing this video,
the interaction between Plushenko and Valeria inspired the storyline involved with their designated characters. What would it be like if a figure skater was inspired by skate by a beautiful voice?
So, here it is. I hope #TeamPlushy enjoys 😎
Once upon a time, there was a prince named Zhenya who lived in a land where ice skaters were treated like royalty. And he was the most gorgeous skater of all. On the evening of the winter solstice, when skaters old and new debuted their latest programs, people traveled the farthest to get a glimpse of him. Zhenya never disappointed. His skating was graceful, often verged on the edge of intensity, but the skill was always there.
Then there was a day he was not. Word came around that he was at the bedside of a very good friend who lay dying. Her name was Valerie and it was her angelic voice that inspired him to skate. No one could determine what was wrong with her. All she said was that music had left her and without it, she no longer had the spirit to go on. Even as other skaters threatened to take his place as the most revered in Ice Citadel, he could not be persuaded to leave her.
My family lived on the outskirts. We didn’t have a lot of money, but every year, we saved enough to make the journey to see Zhenya. We felt we owed it to him because his skating, at one time, helped me. As the youngest of three siblings, our mother’s death impacted me the most. I fell into a deep depression because I could no longer see beauty in a life without her. My father, brother and sister took on additional responsibilities for our village, doing odd-jobs to save enough money to travel to Ice Citadel. Perhaps there was something there that could cure me. Something in that beautiful place that defied description and would restore my life’s spirit.
No one in the land had the remedy, but one person suggested attending the winter solstice celebration. We’ve heard rumors about the beautiful figure skaters, not believing we’d have a chance of seeing them in person. The kind woman offered us her seat adjacent to the rink. She’d had it for several years and thought we deserved it more after coming all this way. Before leaving us moments before it began, she said, “Watch for Zhenya. He is the most gorgeous skater you will ever see.”
Indeed, Zhenya had exactly what we came to the Citadel to see: beauty undefined. He had skill that was incomprehensible. He had more grace than could be expected for a man of his height. When he jumped, it was as if he defied gravity. It took longer for him to return to the ground than anyone who came before him. Then there was a moment, to this day, I never forgot. Our eyes met. Those blue eyes matched the color of that night’s frosty winter sky. All it took was the softest smile and my sadness disappeared. Energy returned to me as if I’d spent the past several months asleep. He took another bow and mouthed ‘thank you.’
Seeing Zhenya perform filled me with a determination I never felt before. And I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. My mother taught me how to play her violin before she died. The moment we returned from the Citadel, I picked up the violin and dedicated myself to its craft. If I couldn’t be skilled enough for him to skate to my music, the least I could do was be good enough so I can properly thank him for his skating.
It took three days for the news of Zhenya’s non-show to reach our village. This was the first year since the beginning we didn’t come to the solstice celebration. It was our father’s turn to pass away, but this time, age was the key factor. I’d become very skilled with mom’s old violin that my music helped us grieve. Because we didn’t go, we had more savings to make the trip. Felix and Felicia insisted I go without them because this was about my dream. I doubted I could walk into the castle without question, so the extra money would help pay rent.
When I arrived, musicians from different regions, of different ages, with different instruments, were walking away from the grounds. They looked discouraged. It was hard to tell if they were sent away without getting a chance or they failed to help. An older man who lived in the castle advised me that they had enough for one day and to come by tomorrow. I found a small inn where I could stable my horse and gather myself to prepare for the big day. Since seeing Zhenya skate for the first time, I have written five compositions. My most recent one, it had all of the dynamics I expected from his skating because they truly set him apart.
It started slow and very pretty, matching the artistic, delicate edge of his skating that most of his routines have begun with. I stuck with that tempo for a few extra moments, if only to reminisce about the last time I saw him. Then I picked up speed, something I was scared to do at first because I didn’t want to break the strings on the old violin. But they held together better than I expected. They enabled me to take more risks and reminded me of the daring jumps that Zhenya did cleaner than anyone. By the time I finished, noise erupted. I had a small audience. One person said I should have gotten an audience with Zhenya sooner, before his attention got away from his skating. I told them what I planned to do and some of them offered to escort me to the castle tomorrow.
The crowd surrounding the castle the previous day had thinned considerably. I remembered how much they cheered when musicians left the castle, but a hush came over them as soon as they realized nothing changed. Banners that supported Zhenya and Valerie had diminished to the point where only one banner for Valerie remained. The majority of the crowd, banners and all, gathered around the largest skating rink, hoping to see him skate. A few skaters came out of the castle in the earlier hours. Anticipation built but dissipated quickly when they saw it wasn’t him. They tried to hide it, but the skaters that did arrive were clearly discouraged.
The people that came with me helped break up the crowd. Some whispered about my violin as if they’d never seen its likeness before. When I asked about it, the young man who complimented me said it was an instrument Valerie was partial to, but none came through had strings in as great condition as mine. We arrived at the entrance and the man I saw yesterday ushered us inside. Only a few people were outside of Valerie’s room, waiting to be admitted.
“It’s been a hard day,” the older man sighed. “Valerie’s countenance hasn’t changed. Zhenya is very discouraged as of late.” He turned to the flute player closest to the door. “You may go in now.” Before escorting him in, he turned back to me, looking down at my violin. “I hope we get to you before he decides to stop today.”
Nobody who went into the room came out the same way. Hearing the doors open and close only minutes after the next person went inside wasn’t a good sign. The voices coming through the door weren’t clear, but they were crestfallen, verging on frustration. As skilled as he was, I also knew Zhenya was an emotional skater. It made my heart aching, trying to comprehend what he was going through. When I was the last one there, the man opened the door, about to let me in when Zhenya called him over. The door was open just a crack, so I heard the words spoken.
“No more… I can’t keep these hopes up anymore.”
“I’ll tell her to come back tomorrow, then.” Footsteps moved towards the door, but again, he stopped.
“We may have to face the truth now. Valerie is exhausted. I feel the same fatigue, more every day we’ve tried.”
“Misha, please lead the young lady outside and tell everyone to leave. Thank them for their good wishes, but nothing more can be done.”
Misha returned, shaking his head. “I am sorry. He doesn’t want to see any more people.”
A tear came down one of my eyes without my realizing. I caught it and tried to put on a brave face. “It really was a silly dream I had anyway…”
Before he took my arm to lead me out, I heard Zhenya speak to Valerie. Although she was on her deathbed, she remained positive. “Don’t feel bad, Zhenya. You did everything you could.”
“I could have done more, but I know when I have been beaten.”
“I admire that about you.” Then she somehow managed a short laugh. “You should also know when you need to rest. Those bags under your eyes aren’t very becoming.” As if anticipating a comeback, she added, “I’m serious. Get some sleep, Zhenya. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Do you promise me?” She gave a silent affirmation and his footsteps, heavy with grief, trekked the same direction as the failed musicians had.
Misha nodded. “Surprised he decided to listen this time. I doubt he’s gotten more than ten hours sleep over this past week.” He placed his hand on my arm. 1)“Would you like to show me what you were going to play? Very few violinists have come through here. It’s Zhenya’s favorite instrument.”
“I heard it was Valerie’s.”
“Why do you think he loves them so much? I tried to explain that to him, but he wouldn’t…” He stopped speaking the moment I began playing.
This time, I felt compelled to play on a higher scale because it felt right. As if it would translate better than it had previously. Everyone around me grew quiet and Misha’s eyes closed within the first few seconds. Moments before changing up the tempo, I heard something on the other side of the crack in the door. Did Valerie just breathe for the first time since illness struck her? I couldn’t afford to be distracted, so I continued with my composition from heart. It returned me to the first time I saw Zhenya skate. New notes I hadn’t played before were introduced by my fingertips without my mind even knowing where they would go. The core melody returned for the finish, just as I heard something else from Valerie’s room. Zhenya had returned.
The door started to open further and Misha rushed inside, closing the door behind him. His tone was pleading. The people who came in with me began clapping and cheering. Shortly after, Misha peeked his head through the door, asking my crowd to leave. Then Valerie said the words I never thought I’d get to hear, “I want to see her.”
Zhenya asked, “Are you sure? I could stay, you know.”
“I’ll be fine, Zhenya, really.”
With what could only have been a shrug, he relented. “Very well. You know where to find me.”
I stood up when I knew for sure he was gone. I hoped he didn’t believe Misha betrayed him by giving me this chance when he made it clear he had enough. But when Misha took my arm to escort me inside, he was smiling. He didn’t strike me as a man who often smiled. Valerie, radiant with her long blonde hair cascading over her shoulders, encouraged me to take the seat by her bed. “That was really beautiful. What’s your name?”
“Anna.” I held my violin tightly on my lap to handle my nerves. “I hope I didn’t upset Zhenya. That was the last thing I wanted.”
“He just needs to rest. He’s spent too much time worrying about me.”
“How do you feel?”
She nodded. “Much better. I love hearing the violin. It’s been a long time since the last time. I always thought it was the prettiest instrument.”
“When was the last time?”
“When my family died in the fire… I was rehearsing with Zhenya when it happened. Nothing survived, not even our violins. So you could say the shock bore into me and there was little change I would recover. At least… not before you started playing.”
“My mom taught me. When she died of illness, I fell into a depression and couldn’t bear to play again. Then I saw Zhenya skate and everything changed. It was my dream to perform for his skating. But if the least I could do was become good enough to thank him with my music, that would be enough for me. When I got the news about you, I knew how important you were to him, so that would be my way of thanking him for all those years ago.”
I stood up. Misha started towards the back door and I stopped him. “It’s fine, Misha. Zhenya needs to rest. I should probably go anyway.”
Again, Valerie laughed softly, but with more strength than before. “So you came all this way and can’t bring yourself to stay? Not even for any reward. I’m sure when he’s had more rest, Zhenya would…”
“It isn’t necessary, really. Prince Zhenya needs to restore himself if he’s going to start skating again. He wouldn’t want to disappoint all the fans awaiting his return.”
“You’re right. He wouldn’t. Won’t you at least stay for the next gala?”
I stopped short of the door and bargained, “I’ll think about it.” When I arrived back outside, I lifted my violin in the air, smiling as wide as I could manage. The crowd cheered, waving their banners furiously and patted my back as I went through. It was late, so I decided to buy myself one more night at the inn. Tomorrow, I would return for home.
It was quiet the next morning when I got up. I figured since Valerie was going to be okay and Zhenya would started skating again, the Citadel would be booming with activity. For a few moments as I readied my horse, I observed Zhenya’s castle. I wanted to go to him, but he probably would have other business to worry about.
Before I could mount my horse, a voice called me back. “Anna?” I spun around and grabbed hold of the saddle to keep from falling over. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” He smiled.
“Zhenya… what are you doing here?”
“I came to see you, of course. Valerie wanted me to send you her thanks.”
“I’m glad I got the chance to make a difference in this place. It made so much difference for me years ago.”
He walked to the tree, leaning against it with his hand on its trunk. “Will you tell me?” His eyebrows knit together, but it was clearly an invitation.
“Seeing you skate saved my life. My mom’s death took such a toll on me. Your skating inspired me to start playing her violin again and my music has brought me so much happiness. Somehow, I felt I had to repay you.”
“How long ago, did you say this was?”
“I didn’t… but it was at least five years ago. You performed with tango and flamenco influences. Why?”
“I wondered if maybe we’d met before. I believe we have.” He leaned his back against the tree. “Why are you leaving so soon? Surely, there is something you want, a reward for what you’ve done for Valerie, who inspired the best of my skating.”
“I don’t know if you are willing to give what I really want.” I looked away. “It has been my dream since I first saw you… to write music for your skating. But it’s just a young girl’s crazy fantasy.”
When I looked up again, he was directly in front of me. His hands were on my arms, short of massaging them. “Try me. Come on, I will skate and you will play what you played for Valerie.” A short pause later, he added, “I’m not giving you a choice. Come with me.”
“All right, Zhenya. If it’s that important to you?”
“No,” he smiled sneakily, as if he was in on a joke, “because it is important to you.”
As we walked to the largest skating rink, he asked me about the dynamics of my composition. I told him how it started slow, sped up and slowed down at the finish. He nodded, approvingly, but said no more. He removed his skate guards and warmed up his legs on the rink. When he stopped, I took it as my cue to begin playing. I didn’t have the luxury of watching him perform because I wanted to do my best for him, but it sounded like he was hitting all of his jumps perfectly. Then in his step sequences, I could barely hear him above my playing, but I took it as a good sign. After catching his breath, he turned to my side and blew a kiss the way he had years ago when I first saw him.
“I never took into account that I can’t watch you skate when I play.”
“Then I will skate private shows just for you so you can see everything. Valerie already said she would sing to thank you for coming to us.”
“Zhenya…” Before I could say another word, he kissed my left cheek, then my right before he embraced me.
“You must forgive me for wanting to send you away. We owe you so much.” I could feel his body shake. His heart beat through his chest. I began to realize that Zhenya, this beautiful man who I almost thought of as a God on the ice, was just as human as any of us. He released me as easily as he embraced me, taking a few steps back in case he came on too strong. He beamed. “Anything you want, just say the word.”
My hand fell on my heart to steady myself. “Would you listen to my other compositions? Perhaps you could use a couple of them for your skating too.”
“I would like that very much. Just as long as you perform them at the galas with me.”
“Are you asking me to come live in the Citadel with you?” I failed to hold back up a gasp.
“Only if you live in my castle. I’ll even send horses to bring your family here. What do you say?”
I stumbled over my words, but recovered quickly. “I would be honored. When do we start?”
Zhenya returned to the ice and spun around. “I will skate for you. Then we start making plans for our next gala.”