I met a Tsar on the high speed rail to Prague.
We joked about X Day and about sitting in first class although neither of us had paid the rate. I asked him how he fared, if he lost family in the Ipatiev basement. He hinted about Anastasia's survival, that jewels sewn into her dress saved her from Bolshevik bullets. That she lay still among her expired family and slept in shock under her mother Alexandra's cooling breast until morning, when she was secreted away by Roskowinsky, a family friend. That there were descendants. Between stories he poured brandy from a sterling flask and we smoked Halfzware.
In the flow of conversation I revealed my professional sobriquet and we laughed about the perception of status. The Tsar told me the story of the Ice Ghale:
About 100 kilometers from Moscow, in the birch forest of Istra there is a spring that freezes every winter. Because of the wind and the flow of the water down the rock face of a small cliff, the water takes shapes that resemble figures from mythology and popular stories. The rumor surrounding the spring holds that fortune alights on whoever divines the shape the ice takes first and with accuracy. And further, the fortune that does come takes a form complimentary to the figure represented by the ice. For example a person correctly guessing that the ice resembles King Midas may realize the introduction of quantities of gold into his life. This has happened on several occasions with various manifestations, enough so that the rumor has evolved into folk legend. The Ice Ghale, as the frozen spring is called, presents a very interesting challenge to whoever undertakes to guess it's shape. The person guessing must resist the temptation to project a figure onto the ice who would address his immediate needs, because if the guess is inaccurate, that person can never guess again. King Midas is not Neptune, one cannot reject the fortunes of the sea because one is focused on gold, get it? Success is determined by resonance, meaning, that other observers of the spring must corroborate a guess with an emotional response for the guess to become true for all. So the ice tells an observer what it is. And it never repeats itself. Because of the delicate bargain proposed by the Ice Ghale (Let me tell you what I am and if you name it you will prosper) and the possible reward (overwhelming material abundance), a community of "Watchers" has developed around the spring. People pay top dollar for a chalet with unobstructed views, so they can literally watch water freeze. Sometimes a winter goes by and a given person, unwilling to squander his guess, has paid a fortune to sit in a window above his peers, to remain first in line as it were. Every so often a person guesses correctly, they enter the world of wealth, and the cycle of speculation renews itself.
The Tsar, after many servings of brandy, looked to me with ruddy cheeks and said: "I will tell you the secret of the Ice Ghale. "
The train made small circular motions under our feet.
"It doesn't look like anything. It's ice! Frozen water!" He laughed into a coughing fit.
I looked a question at him.
"The reason why people have guessed and become wealthy is because there was already an association in them, waiting to happen, that the Ghale made possible. It was a mirror for something inside them. Not a pointer to something outside them.
The best part is that people will always pay top dollar (or ruble) for ringside seats to something that promises vague joy, like wealth, but if they don't have the picture of how they will live when it comes, or how they will help when it comes, then it never comes.
And so you have the sons and daughters of oil families shivering in the Serbian winter trying to guess the message of a shaft of ice.
I am a Tsar. Not because I was picked to be one, but because I picked that life. And it serves me."
Now he looked a question at me:
"And what are you, really?"
I paused, took a sip of Napoleon, looked him in the eye, and said,
Agent Triple Seven