By Francine


Chapter 1

It was the summer of 1918, in a small town in Central Russia.  The World War was in progress, though Russia had recently made peace - with the Germans.  Internally, Russia was in chaos. The Czar had been overthrown, and his whereabouts were not definitely known.  There were rumors that he had been executed; others said he had fled to England.  No one seemed quite sure of much, just at this time.  The country was torn by civil war, as the new revolutionary government sought to suppress the White Army, backed by supporters of the fallen czar.   The government of the revolution itself seemed unable to govern, as the economy fell into ruins and factions struggled with each other.  Revolutionary soldiers and new leaders, often unskilled, untrained, and uncertain as to who was in charge, contributed to the chaotic situation.

There were, of course, those who still had sympathetic feelings for the monarchy; or, at least, more sympathy for the kind of order it represented than the kind of chaos which seemed now to reign.  The future of the revolution was still uncertain, and the new leaders were profoundly mistrustful, perhaps vengeful, toward those who seemed to hold sympathies for the czar or the White Army.  Particularly, those of the nobility and persons who had held high posts under Nicholas II were suspect, and many were in hiding or fleeting for their lives.

In this small town, there arrived in the dead of night a car carrying a male driver and two women passengers.  One of the women was the Countess Valentina Norosova, a distant cousin of the czar and whose husband, who had been a colonel in the czar's army, was now missing and rumored to have left the country as an agent of the White Army, to seek help from abroad.  The other woman was the Countess's maid, Marina.  The women, in fear of their lives, had left their home and fled to a quieter area to seek help from those few still friendly to them.

The car stopped in front of a small house, set well back from the road, quite isolated, and some distance from the small town.  It was a small building, with two floors, and there were a few lights.  The two women, carrying a few belongings, left the car and entered the house; after which the driver and car departed in haste.

The Countess was a woman of thirty one, fairly attractive and well groomed in the style of the aristocracy, with a hat, coat, and a fashionable floor length skirt.  She was not particularly slender, though not much overweight.  She was large boned, and a bit taller than her maid.  She had the regal look of one accustomed to respect and the more pleasant things of life.

Three men greeted the women.  The apparent leader, who went by the name Vassily, bowed low before them.

"Welcome, ladies.  We greet you in peace, and offer you what hospitality we can muster. We know you have had a difficult journey.  Our circumstances are humble, but you are among friends.  You will be safe here."

"For a while, we hope," the Countess replied.  She offered her hand in greeting to each of the three in turn.  "It is hard to know who can be trusted, the way things are these days.  We dislike troubling you, but we are grateful for whatever you can offer us."

Vassily introduced Ygor and Leon, explaining that it was best not to use last names.  There was much danger, but the house here was felt to be safe.  There had been soldiers around a few days ago, but now they had moved on.  The men did have some intelligence regarding the movements, and should they return, they expected to have fair warning.

It developed there were five men in the group, who were all sympathizers or supporters of the White Army.  They had been alerted of the arrival of the Countess and her maid, and accepted as their duty to shelter the Countess and try to find a way for her to escape the country.  They were, it developed, in contact with other underground groups, and a plan was in a stage of development.

Vassily concluded their initial discussion.  "Madam, it is late and you are tired.  I think we should continue our discussions in the morning.  We offer you and your maid two small rooms upstairs. I am sorry there are not better accommodations, but this is what we have.  You will meet our other two companions in the morning."

The women were escorted to their upstairs rooms, and retired for the night.

Chapter 2

In the morning, Marina was awakened by a knock on her door.  "Good morning, Marina! May I suggest you awaken your lady and prepare her for breakfast.  We offer you what we have!"

Shortly, the women came downstairs and joined five men around a table, spread with what seemed to a generous farmhouse breakfast.

They ate, exchanged pleasantries, and then Vassily directly addressed the Countess.  "Madam, you know we hope to find a way to get you from here to a place where you might in safety leave Russia.  Gregori, here, was not with us last night; but he has been in contact with some of our friends.  We are working on a plan, but it will not be easy, there will be much danger, and it will depend on your complete acceptance and cooperation. I will let Gregori explain."

"Countess", Gregori began politely,  "as you are aware, this town seems safe for the moment. There is little to interest the revolutionaries here.  But a few kilometers from here there are many soldiers, and they come and go.  All the roads are watched, and civilians traveling are stopped and questioned. We think it is far too dangerous for you to travel by road, even if we could disguise you as a refugee.  What we want to do is to get you by some means to Petrograd, from where friends have indicated they can get you on a ship to Sweden.  The difficulty is to get you across the two thousand kilometers which lie between, without risking your discovery and capture."

The Countess listened carefully.  "You know, Gregori, we are most grateful for what you are doing for us.  Let me assure you I will do whatever is necessary. It is my life that is in danger. You need have no doubt I will cooperate.  Do you have a plan?"

"We are forming one.  We have an idea, and we think it may work.  But we had not seen you personally before this, and much depends on your appearance and demeanor, and if we can accomplish enough changes to disguise you in the way we are considering."

Vassily interrupted.  "Countess, we are not yet ready to reveal the plan to you in detail, because some of the details do not yet exist.  But I think Gregori has some requests to make of you, if we can presume on some of your time." He looked at Gregori.

"Madam," Gregori continued, some of my requests may seem a bit odd or even bizarre, but I must ask your indulgence.  Now, please, we need to hear you speak for a bit.  I have here a book.  Would you be so kind as to stand over there, a bit away from us, and read a few pages from it, please."

The Countess took the book and began to read.  The men listened intently for several minutes. When she had finished, Ygor asked, "Countess, do you sing?"

"Yes", she replied "I was given voice lessons as a girl.  I think I can sing a bit."

"Then please, sing something for us!"

The Countess thought a bit, then softly burst into the words of an old Russian hymn.

"Countess", Ygor asked again, "you know the song well.  Could you sing in a lower key?"

"I am an alto, as to voice capabilities, but I will try," the Countess answered, and sang a verse, a bit lower.  The men looked at each other, quizzically.

Gregori took over again.  "Countess, would you walk across the room for us, please?" She did so.

"Now," he continued, "if you don't mind, would you lift your skirt a bit and walk in a somewhat longer stride?"  A bit puzzled, she did as requested.

"And now", Gregori continued to speak, "Would you please stand there and show us your profile. Just be still for a minute or two, and please hold yourself very erect."

She stood as told.  The men looked at her. Two of them got up and viewed her from several angles.  They spoke among themselves in whispers she could not hear.

Vassily took over.  "Gregori is a bit shy about asking what he must, so I will do it for him.  Excuse us, Countess, but we must know.  Are you wearing a corset or some kind of support?"

The Countess hesitated, even blushed a bit.  Then she smiled and replied, "Yes, I have a corset on." Marina stared at Vassily, as if to scold, and added, "Madam, such things they ask, you really shouldn't--"   The Countess cut her off.  "Marina is a good maid, but I realize there are some things we must discuss and do that are not in the usual etiquette rules.  Are there are other personal things you need to know?"

She anticipated them.  Vassily responded.  "There will be many, Madam.  But I fear we must now get to the heart of the matter, and I am pleased that you understand we must breach some social customs.  I am sorry we must do this, but it is important if we are to determine how you may be effectively disguised.  You may want Marina to assist you, but I must ask you to remove all the pins and other items you may have in your hair, and let you hair fall quite loose.  Then, I apologize for asking, but we must.  Would you please remove your dress and let us see you in your corset and such underclothing as you have on."

Marina let out a gasp.  The Countess drew back, a bit in horror. She hesitated a moment, then turned to Marina and said "Here, you must help me.  Undo my hair and the buttons on the back of my dress."

Marina almost screamed in shock, "Madam, what they ask you to do!  No man should ask such a thing!"

The Countess quieted her.  "Marina, it is for our safety.  These are difficult times.  We must both understand."

In a few minutes, as the men watched, the Countess shed her dress and her immaculate hairdo was undone.  She stood before them in a white petticoat, with a white corset fastened around her middle, reaching up to and covering her breasts.  Her brown hair fell several inches below her shoulders, now loose and unrestrained.

"Well?" she presented herself.  "Is this satisfactory?"

The men conferred among themselves. Some nodded to her, but Vassily told her to remain standing, as the men viewed her from various angles.  At length, Ygor spoke to her.

"Madam, I have one more request, and I regret that I must make it, but make it I must.  Could you remove the corset?  I am sorry, but it is important, and I promise you we will not ask you to disrobe further."

Marina, at the Countess indication, began to unlace the corset.  The Countess stood in silence as Marine removed the garment from her.  Under it, she had her white petticoat, covering her loosely from her neckline to her thighs.

"I am sorry, gentlemen", the Countess spoke, "but I am, of course, not used to this. I realize there is a reason, but you must understand I find this very humiliating.  Please excuse my reaction. I know you are trying to help us."

Ygor then asked her to stand so the men could see her in profile.  It was obvious that, without the corset, her bustline had diminished a bit and fallen considerably.

After a few minutes, Ygor addressed her.  "I am sorry, Countess, that we had to do this, but I thank you for your cooperation.  I suggest you and Marina may wish to retire to your room and you may resume your proper attire.  We will see you later.  Right now, there are things we must do!"

When the women had left them, the men began to confer among themselves.

"What do you think?" Ygor asked of the others.

"She has a low enough voice - I am glad we didn't get a coloratura!  I think, with care, her voice would be all right." one commented.

Another observed, "I was afraid of her bosom - you know, she looked rather big up there. But when you had her take off the corset, I think, well, maybe she could just do it."

"We'll need to bind her", Vassily observed.  "Leon, do you have the connections to get something suitable?"   Leon nodded.  "I think so.  I'll look."

They continued their conversations.

Chapter 3

When the women came down later, only two of the men were in the house.  They admonished the women to remain inside, lest they be observed.  A modest lunch was found for them.  They passed the time quietly in the afternoon.

Late that afternoon, Vassily and Gregori returned.  They were just a bit joyful as they entered the house.

"We think we have good news, Countess.  We do have a plan.  Are you ready to hear it?"

"Indeed I am. Are you ready to proceed?"

"I think", Vassily responded, "that it is best if you have Marina leave us. What I have to say must be for your ears only, just now!"  The Countess turned to Marina, who immediately retired to her room.

Vassily began.  "Countess, we think there is no chance to get you out on the roads, as we told you. We don't see any reasonably safe way to get you around the army.  So we are going to propose to take you out with the army!"

"With the army?  They are the very ones who will capture me if they can!  How?"

"We plan for you to be one of them.   We know there will be soldiers brought into a town nearby in a few days.  They have been on duty a long time, and as the area is quiet, many are to be given leave and allowed to go home, for a few days.  Some will be going to Petrograd.  They will ride in the train, when it runs, which is, of course, a bit unpredictable.  But there is likely to be a train running in the direction of Petrograd.  It will be a long trip, in box cars, probably, but for soldiers on a leave it will be welcome.    We propose that, instead of trying to get through the army road blocks and checks, you go back to Petrograd as one of the army.  Leon will be prepared to go with you, at least part of the way.  Are you interested?"

"I don't think I understand.  How are you going to get me to be part of the army?"

"Countess, I am sorry, but this part of the plan is why we had to put you through that episode this morning.  We will disguise you as a soldier - make you look like a man, give you a uniform.  Leon will do the same, and help you along.  They are unlikely to question an ordinary soldier on a leave pass.  We will prepare you and teach you how to conduct yourself, so as to avoid suspicion.  But it will be necessary for you to look and act like a man, and to continue to do so until you get to Petrograd and safely away.  Are you willing to try it?"

The Countess pondered the proposition.  "There are a great many problems.  But you make it sound like my best chance to escape.  I must do whatever is needed.  Yes, I will do it.  Now tell me the details!"

Gregori picked up the explanation.  "First, you must be made to look like a man.  We will need to cut your hair as a man would.  Leon is a fairly good barber.  He will do it - in the morning.   Then, we will get you a uniform, one that fits you, or at least as close as any soldier's uniform fits.  We will have it in the morning.  Then, you must get rid of all your womanly clothes - you must have nothing in your possession that is at all feminine.  Marina can take these back with her.  You must have only men's things with you."

"Marina?" the Countess asked.

"Yes.  Marina cannot come.  We have arranged for her to return to her family. She will be safe, we think, once you are gone.  She must take away every bit of female clothing, everything you have which would give away your gender."

Vassily smiled a bit.  "Some things may amuse you, but there are things you must learn.  For example, you must learn to shave. And you must shave every day.  Starting tomorrow, Ygor will teach you to shave, as a man does!"

"But why?  I don't have a beard?"

"Precisely.  But if you were a man you would, at least a light one.  But many men keep themselves clean shaven, so you will not be suspicious if you are seen to shave.  So you must do it, every day.  If you did not shave, and still had no beard, you would become suspicious!"

Gregori continued the explanation.  "There are other things you must learn.  We heard you sing. We will teach you some soldier songs -not very nice ones for a lady, but what soldiers know.  And also we will tell you some very crude jokes, so you will know them.  For a while, you need to forget some of the girlish training you have had and just become a bit more rough and crude.  You will have to be able to talk like a soldier to pull this off.  And your voice - you know we all listened to your voice.  It is low enough that it could be a man's -  you are lucky; if you had a high pitched voice we could not disguise it."

"And, Countess, we had to see you without your corset.  Your bosom might give you away.  So we will bind it.  Tomorrow, when we get you your uniform, we will have some material to tightly bind your chest, to keep you as flat as possible.  You will have to wear it beneath your undershirt."

"A man's undershirt?" the Countess asked.

"Of course.  You must wear all male clothing, including the underwear.  You will start tomorrow, because you must get used to it. When you travel, you must act as though it is what you always wear."

"And there are a few other things," Vassily began, "including matters of some delicacy. I hesitate to ask this, but I must.  Is there a likelihood of you encountering - er, well, monthly problems, soon?"

"No", the Countess replied, without hesitation.  "I went through that a week ago.  so I should not have it again for about three weeks".

"Good.  If it happened while you are in uniform, it could be a serious problem.  Also, you must take great care to keep yourself in good health.  If you got sick, or became injured, someone might try to treat you, or take you to a doctor.  That would almost certainly result in your discovery.  Also, you must be careful not to get diarrhea, or any intestinal problems.  Anything that might ordinarily cause you to need a toilet could present a difficult situation."

Gregori broke in.  "That brings up the other problem, which I know is also one of great delicacy, but we must face it.  How frequently do you usually relieve yourself?"

The Countess blushed a bit and hesitated.  She was getting used to personal questions, but this was more than she expected. Nonetheless, she knew what they were getting to.

She thought, then answered, "I'm not sure. I don't time myself., but every three or four hours, I should think.  Less often if I have to."

"How much less often could you manage?" Gregori asked.

"Have you ever had to restrain yourself for a very long time?" Vassily explained.

"What are you getting to?" she asked.

"Just this.  These soldiers you will be with have been living in tents, or make shift houses in old buildings, whatever they can find.  Their hygienic habits are not very fastidious.  When they need to relieve themselves, they do it in the open, along a road, on the ground, wherever.  Seldom do they have the luxury of using toilets.  When you are with them, they will likely be around trains and in box cars, not nice passenger coaches.  They will likely relieve themselves outdoors whenever the train stops or when they get the chance.  Some may simply pee out the car doors.  If you relieve yourself by squatting on the ground, the way women usually do in such conditions, your disguise will at once be lost.  Yet we know that you don't have the anatomical equipment to do it the way the men do.  We see only one choice for you, and, quite frankly, it is the biggest problem we face in disguising you, for if you attempt to pee anywhere the men can see you, you will surely be discovered!"

Gregori was a bit embarrassed, so Vassily broke in.  "Really, Countess, this is going to be most difficult for you, but we don't see any other way.  If you attempt to relieve yourself in daylight you will almost surely be caught.  You must only do it at night, when you can squat as a man might do to relieve his bowels.  In the darkness, you could probably get away without discovery, if you are careful.  But you must not attempt it in the daylight hours!"

"You are telling me I must not attend to my bodily needs between dawn and nightfall?  Twelve hours or more?  I don't know if I could possibly restrain myself that long.  I must be careful to drink very little water-"

Gregori cut her off at once.  "Absolutely no!  You must drink a normal amount.  We cannot risk having you become dehydrated and possibly sick.    Also, it would be very suspicious to those around you if you refused to drink when others were thirsty."

Vassily resumed his explanation.  "I know it will be difficult for you; and I don't know whether you can do it or not either.  But, for sure, we must find out.  If you cannot do it, the whole plan is in jeopardy.  Can we test you tomorrow?  We must know your capability!"

"Test me?  How?"

"You will arise before sunrise tomorrow and use the toilet.  Thereafter, you must refrain from discharging your water until dark, or at least as long as you can possibly manage.  During the day, you must consume your normal liquids, or perhaps a bit more than normal, to make a good test. We must know if you can do it.  If you can't last until nightfall tomorrow, then we must try on the day following.  We have a few days; if you can't do it right away, perhaps we can help you stretch your internal capacity so that you can.   Please - we are all in this together, and our lives may depend upon it.  Will you try your best?"

The countess stopped, thought for a moment, then said to the men, "I will try.  I had not expected anything like this, but I will try.  But it may be very difficult for me.  Bear with me!"

They continued their discussion for a bit, then Valentina went up to explain the plan to Marina.  Later they returned to dinner, when all of the men were present.    The next day was to be a busy and difficult one for the Countess, so she retired early.

Chapter 4

In the morning, Valentina was up before dawn.  She slipped out of her room and to the nearby toilet.  She made use of the facilities, she feared the last time she could for some time, then returned to her bed.

A bit later she was preparing to go down to breakfast with Marina, who was helping her dress. "Today, Marina, just comb my hair. It's going to get severely cut, anyway, so don't bother with it further. And I won't wear a corset. There's just no point, now.  After breakfast, you must pack up all of my things, because you will be taking them. Leave me nothing."

"Nothing?  None of your clothes, your comb, your jewelry, nothing?"

"Nothing.  As of today, I am a man.  At least, I must look like one.  Everything I have has 'woman' on it somewhere.  You must remove it all!"

They breakfasted as usual.  The men had provided tea. Marina finished her cup, and continued with a bit of bread.  "More tea?" she was asked.  "No, thank you - one is enough" she answered

"Countess, are you cheating?  You took two cups yesterday!  Normal liquid intake, we told you!" He looked her in the eye.
"All right. One more cup.  Yes, I was tempted to cheat.  I promise I won't do it again." she smiled as she answered.

After breakfast, Leon escorted her into a downstairs room and seated her on a chair.  "Ready for your haircut, Madam?" he asked, with a bit of humor in his voice.

She was ready.  With Marina watching, shedding a few tears, Leon went to work with scissors and comb.  Her brown hair fell in great clumps, piling on the floor. It took awhile, but finally Leon was satisfied with his work.

He gave her a mirror. "Is Madam satisfied with her new hairdo, he asked?"   She shook her head a bit, resigned to what she saw.  Her long locks were gone, and now she had short, but thick, hair.  She took a comb, and started to part it.  Leon interrupted, "Let me show you how".  He showed her to comb it into a mannish look.

Carefully, her hair was cleaned from the floor and disposed of.  Then Gregori came in, carrying a bundle of clothing.  "Are you ready for your costume fitting? "he asked her.

She stood up, looking at what he had brought in.  "Shall I have Marina help me?"

"No, Countess.  These are men's clothes. I am sorry, but you must let us dress you, so that it is done as a man would.  Then you must learn how to do it yourself.  I apologize for the affront to your modesty, but I must ask you to remove your womanly things now. Marina can take them from you."

A bit shocked, but resigned to the necessity, Valentina began to take off her dress.   "Must I take off my shoes, too?" she asked.

"Madam, I think it is best for you to remove everything. Yes, shoes too - you must wear men's shoes.  If you will proceed, we must insure there is nothing on you that would give you away as female."

"Except, of course, my body itself!  You can't change that, and I assure you it's quite female, as you are about to see.  I didn't plan to offer you a full view, but I recognize you are right. If I blush a bit, I trust you will understand!"

With Marina taking the garments from her, she had in a few moments removed her dress, her shoes and stockings, and then all of her underwear.  Not hesitating, she turned to face the men, placing her arms on her hips and spreading her legs a bit.  "Now, I trust you can see all that there is. I told you it was female, didn't I?"   She presented a bit of a spectacle, standing now completely naked.  Her breasts, not overly large, were high and firm, their nipples displaying erections.  Her pubic area was covered with a thick brown bush.

"Countess," Vassily started, looking directly at her, "there may be several things we need to do. Please lift you arms.  We need to see your armpits. Do you have hair there?"

She showed them. "A little. It hasn't been attended to just lately".  "Good", he answered. "Don't trim it.  I see there is a bit of hair on your legs.  Make no attempt to trim it there either.  A man would have hair in both places.  You must also.   Now, just one more matter of some delicacy-"

"Vassily", she replied with a bit of a smile, "I have no privacy any more, and nothing is delicate. What is it?"

"Did you have a bath last night?"

"Yes, I try to keep myself clean."

"You must stop.  No more baths.  You look too clean, you smell too good.  A soldier who has been in the field would not have been bathed often.  You need to be dirtier, and you must smell of sweat. Understood?"

She nodded.  She would have to be dirty and stink.  She got the point.

"Now", Gregori started, "let's start with the underwear.  You need to put on men's underpants - here, these will do."  She looked at the rather ragged garment he had, and showed just a bit of distaste.  However, she was anxious to end the display of her private parts in front of these men, and this would help.  She put them on, and Gregori adjusted them a bit.

"Now, when you need to--" he stopped.  "I suppose there's no need to show you how to do that, however."   Now Leon produced a long strip of silk cloth, pale brown in color, almost flesh tone, a couple of meters long and a bit wider than a man's hand.

Leon and Gregori began to place it over her breasts.  They tried wrapping it around her, pulling it tight.  Vassily looked from the side, observing the compression of her bust line.  "Not quite right," he commented.  We need to cut a slit for her nipples.  A man's nipples could be seen or felt against a shirt.  She shouldn't be completely flat!"

They cut small slits in the material, one over each nipple, allowing the nipples to show or protrude slightly through the material.  Then they bound it tightly around her, holding her breasts flattened.  Satisfied, they fastened the cloth binder and stood back to see their work.

Next, they gave her military pants and a shirt.  She put them on quickly.  She started to fasten the shirt, trying futilely to button the wrong side.  The she realized, "Men's shirts button backwards. I should have remembered!" She corrected her error.

They gave her socks and heavy leather shoes.  With these on, she was given a somewhat worn jacket, and they pronounced her finished.  She turned to see herself in a mirror.

She did look like a credible soldier.  Her frame was big enough to pass for that of an average man, and her height was easily as great as many shorter men.  When she was through with her hair, they gave her a military cap, and she slipped it on.  She turned to the men and rendered a quick salute.  They were pleased.

Her lessons for the day were arranged. She was to learn shaving, singing and a few soldier jokes and a bit of crude language.    She would be instructed in a few military customs.

At midmorning, Leon brought her a cup of hot tea.  "Your cup of tea, Madam!  Remember, you must not cheat!"

She drank it down. She would have preferred not to, for already she was receiving from her lower belly a signal that a toilet visit would be appropriate, but she determined to put that out of her mind.  She noted it was eleven o'clock, and it had now been a bit over six hours since she had urinated. She was a bit pleased with herself, for she had guessed that she would usually seek relief at four hour intervals and she had quite easily made six.  However, she reflected, there would be another eight or nine hours before nightfall.

After lunch, she bade farewell to Marina, who was being picked up to depart, taking with her all of Valentina's clothing and other possessions.  She gave Marina a tearful embrace, not knowing whether they would meet again.  She watched Marina leave with just a bit of misgiving, knowing that from now she would be in exclusively male company. "Oh, well", she thought, part of learning to be a man!"

At lunch, she had been careful to consume all of the liquids offered her, lest she be accused of cheating.  She was hoping her body would cooperate and let her hold it in long enough.  By two thirty, after saying farewell to Marina, she was having more misgivings. Her bladder was now urgently demanding attention and relief from its growing burden.

Gregori noticed her apparent discomfort.  "You're feeling a need for relief, aren't you?" he asked directly.  She nodded.  "It's been a lot  longer than I usually wait. I'm trying to hold it, but- "she looked at him and shrugged.

A bit later Vassily checked with also.  "Madam, I suspect you are feeling some distress.  We knew you would, but I am glad to see you are not complaining.  I wish we could make it easier!"

"Vassily, I have to tell you it is getting painful.  I am trying, but I don't know how much longer I can hold it.  I have never had to go so long without using a toilet.  It's very hard for me. If I don't make it today, do I try again tomorrow?"

"You must try every day, Madam.  You must condition yourself to do without relief during daylight hours.  It is imperative.  If you cannot do it today, we have to get you stretched inside so that you can!"

The Countess considered his answer.  "How would I stretch myself faster?  Do I just practice every day?"

"You must practice. We will try to do your training in the morning, because I realize you are likely to be very uncomfortable in the afternoon.  I am sorry it pains you such much. But we must stretch your storage place."

She stood, and walked a bit. She paced up and down.  Her discomfort was growing, and she didn't know how to minimize it.  She placed her hand on her belly, where she could feel her swollen bladder, struggling to hold its contents and complaining strongly.

At almost five o'clock, she came to Vassily.  "I am so very sorry, but I can no longer wait. I feel I am about to burst, and I may wet myself!  I---"

Her voice trailed off into silence as she bent over, her hands gripping her crotch.  There were tears in her eyes.  Her voice was shaking.  She shook her head.  "No - no, I don't want to - I just can't go on!  I wish you could help me!"

He looked at her in sympathy and pity.  She was being tortured and he had no relief to offer her.  She seemed to have reached her limit, although it was perhaps three hours before nightfall.  Was there any hope she might make it until then.  It did not appear so.

He took her shoulder to comfort her.  She look at him, tears in her eyes and sweat on her brow. She was shaking in her agony.  "I know I've got to do it; oh, but how?  Right now, you must let me go!"

Ygor joined Vassily as they watched over her in her tortured condition.  Suddenly she tore away from them, and flew up the stairs to the toilet.

Thee men looked at each other.  "Do you think she can learn to wait long enough?" Ygor asked. "I don't know," Vassily replied, "but for all our sakes, I hope she can!"

A few minutes, Valentina returned.  She had cleaned her face a bit and seemed more composed.

"I'm sorry you were put through this, but you did make a good try.  Perhaps tomorrow- "

She stopped him.   "Perhaps today. I started to relieve myself, but I stopped after only a very little bit.  Vassily, you must give me a glass of water and two cups of tea.  Right now.  I must get through this; and I will force myself!"

The men stared at each other.  They could hardly believe the change she had somehow made in herself.  The drinks were prepared for her.  She began to drink.

"I must replace what little I released.  I will not have you think I would cheat!"  She thought a moment, then added, "The peasants - the people around - because we have had good homes, education, the right upbringing; they think of us as spoiled, lazy, soft, selfish, unable to endure anything!  I will not bow to it!  We can be strong, and stand up to hardship as well the common people of the streets! I will not be called weak or a coward!"

Afterward she stood.  "I must walk.  Do not let me sit.  I must keep moving, even if I have to hold my hands in most indelicate places.  Watch me all you want.  I will not be embarrassed, I will not release my water; and I will somehow last it out!"

A few minutes later, she unfastened the heavy army trousers she was wearing.  She slipped her hand inside, working her way through the unfamiliar underwear.   After a few minutes, she became frustrated.  She sat down, began to remove the heavy shoes, then took off the uniform pants, even the male underpants.  Then, with the long tail of the shirt all that was protecting her modesty, she stood and slipped her hand to her crotch, her fingers finding her urine outlet and pressing forcibly.

The men had watched her remove the clothing items, but made no comment.  Now they averted her eyes as she pressed her private parts, moving around in an agitated way.

She kept it up well over an hour, though her expression belied the torture she was feeling.  Her breathing was heavy, and she was sweating and shaking a bit.

At a few minutes before seven, she moved quickly to the back door of the house, opened it, and stepped outside.  The light was fading, though it was not yet dark.  The men followed her with their eyes, wondering at her intent.

About two meters from the door, she stopped, her back to the house.  She spread her legs and drew her body into a rigidly erect posture.  Then she held her hands to her sides, and released her water.  A torrent poured from her, falling in front of her and below her, some running down her legs.  She remained rigidly erect.

When the flow had ceased, she turned to face the two men, now standing in the doorway.

"I wanted so badly to make it.  But -  I didn't squat.  I did it as a man would have!  And tomorrow I will hold it until night - I swear I will!"  Her voice was shaking, yet a bit triumphant.

The men smiled at her.  They went inside where she again put on her lower garments.

Later they had a simple dinner, and talked a bit of their plans.  Valentina, exhausted from her day, soon retired to her bedroom. She closed the door behind her and stood for a moment, reflecting. The nightdress she usually wore was gone, as was all of her female clothing. She had nothing except the male garments she was wearing.  She turned, stepped to the adjoining toilet and relieved herself.  She washed her face as best she could, then returned to the bedroom.  Forbidden to bathe, with none of her familiar nightclothes, she stripped off what she had on, and, naked, dropped on the bed.  In a few minutes she was fast asleep.

Chapter 5

Another day was coming.  Ygor awakened her just before dawn with a knock at her door.  "Madam, it will be daylight soon - you must attend to your needs, now!" He waited for her reply.

Valentina sleepily drew herself from the bed.  She reached up to brush her hair with her hand, remembering now it was cropped short.  She went to the door and then through it to the toilet, almost forgetting her nakedness.  Ygor stood aside at the door, a bit shocked at her brazenness, and watched her disappear into the toilet.  Deciding to allow her some privacy, he withdrew downstairs.

She was down for breakfast later.  She had her two cups of tea, without being reminded.  She had dressed herself, and asked the men to inspect her efforts.  Her training ritual for the day was outlined.

While she never declined a drink when it was offered her, she was careful today not to overdo it.  She was learning to control her body in the way that would be necessary.

Nonetheless, she knew she would have bladder pain before the day was over, and in the late afternoon she was showing it.  This time, however, she had learned how to reach through the unfamiliar underwear to hold herself a bit better.

The men watched her as the sunlight dimmed. To avoid even a hint of cheating, she refused to leave their sight.  Finally, it was dark outside.  She looked out the window at the darkened sky.  She turned to Vassily, her distress apparent in her face.  "Now?  May I?"

He nodded.  She slipped out the door.  She started to take off the pants, then decided simply to slip them down, with the underwear.  This time it was dark; she could squat. She did.  Her sore tormented bladder poured forth its contents onto the ground.   She had made it!

She returned through the door.  The men viewed her.  Two gave her a bit of applause. She smiled at them, her most intimate activity now a source of personal pride.

Through the next two days, she practiced her mannerisms and conditioned her body.  Each day brought new challenges, but she was adapting.  She did, however, feel dirty and became increasingly aware of an unpleasant body odor.  She found it embarrassing, but the men accepted it as part of the image she must achieve.

At long last the word came.  Ygor awakened her that day well before dawn.  “Madam! You must arise.  The train is be here in two hours.  We must proceed with the plan. Pray that you are ready and can do all that you must!”

Naked, Valentina emerged from her room, heading for the toilet for what she knew would be her last relief in a long time.  No longer shy about her body among her male protectors, she relieved herself and proceeded to dress while Ygor watched.

“Please, Ygor, you must tell me if anything is not right.  It is the last chance!”

Ygor smiled approval as she put on her military attire.

They slipped from the house, using a small truck.  They drove a distance to the edge of a village, where Leon and Valentine left the vehicle.  Leon was attired in a soldier’s clothing, matching that of Valentina.

“Wish us well”, he said to his comrades.  If all goes as planned, the Countess will go to her freedom, and I will return to you in a few days.  If all does not go well….” he left the rest of that thought to the imagination of his listeners.

Quickly they slipped through the streets, just as dawn was breaking.  They came to a railroad track, then followed it to a siding.  From a distance they saw a group of ragtag soldiers, some with weapons, some without, milling about in apparent disarray.  They watched with care, stopping from time to time in front of a house or building.  They allowed themselves to be seen from a distance.

“They are the red troops, soldiers if you care to call them that, who have been released from the units to the east.  They come from various units, so they will not likely notice the addition of two more to their number.  They are trying to make their way to Petrograd, which is home to many of them.  Act as though you are part of them. Valery!”  Leon instructed Valentina, careful to call her by the name of her masculine cover.

Leon’s opinion of the red soldiers was not high, and it showed in his remarks. His demeanor changed, however, as he posed as one of them.  He struck up a conversation with a bearded fellow in uniform standing nearby.  In his brief exchange, he let it be known that he and his fellow had been separated from their unit, and when they attempted to rejoin it, found it had been sent back to the west.  Perhaps, if they could find their way to somewhere near Petrograd, they might rejoin their regiment.

“Or, perhaps, find a better place than that of a soldier, and go where you will not be found!”  his newfound friend responded.  “I became a revolutionary full of ideals, but all I find is filth and no pay and bad food!  What has this army done for me?  What has the czar done for me?”  He turned and spit.

“A pox on all of them!”  His expression reflected the frustration and disillusionment so common in that day.

Little by little, they wrangled their way into the confidence of the motley group.  Even as they waited, a few more came in.  They saw one officer, who seemed, a bit unwillingly, to take charge. He barked a few orders, but then retired to a bench where he drank generously from a bottle carried in his tattered bag.

Leon did not let this go unnoticed.  To Valery, quietly, he muttered, “That is our undoubted and dubious leader.  That men should have to follow such into war!”  He shook his head in disgust.

After a bit the officer aroused himself a bit.  From somewhere he produced a notebook and some assorted papers.  He began loudly calling names.  Soldiers, standing about in various states of uniform and equipment, began to respond.

After a time he finished calling names.  A couple of men went up to him, not having been called.  Carefully he wrote their names in his book, then waved them off.  Another showed up a bit later.

“Come, Valery, it is best we insure that we are enrolled!”  Leon and Valery approached the officer.  He looked at them with a raised eyebrow, then asked, “You were not called?  Where are you from - name and unit!”

Leon quickly and calmly responded.  “Leon Boronov - private, eighth hussars - from Petrograd.  We were dismissed a day ago!”

“Who dismissed you?  Have you orders?”  the officer inquired.  Leon produced a crumpled piece of paper, as they had planned, bearing an official looking stamp but almost unreadable because the ink had run from dampness.

The officer looked at it, then shrugged.  “Two of you?” he asked.

“Yes”, Valery answered. “I am Valery Constantin, same unit. I am from….”

The officer stopped her.  He wrote something in his notebook.  “All right, you are on the orders.  Wait with the  others.”

Thanks be for sloppy paperwork and alcoholic officers, Valery thought, having passed her first official test.  She was accepted as part of the army.  It is good, she thought, that this was not the Czar’s army, where there were good records and disciplined officers.

In the distance they heard a train approaching.  Some of the soldiers who had been asleep, were aroused.  Some stood, looking down the tracks.  The train became visible, slowly and noisily pulling into the village as it slowed to a stop.

Several armed soldiers stepped off the train.  The half-drunken officer spoke to them a bit, in what seemed to be little short of an argument.  The soldiers from the train looked over the assembled group of uniformed men.  One by one, they motioned them toward a car a bit to the rear.  Each man received a careful bit of scrutiny.

Valery almost shivered as the eyes of two armed men fell upon her.  They seemed to notice nothing amiss, and she moved with the others to the rear.  A box car stood with an open door, and the group of thirty odd men clambered into it.  The officer took a last swig from his container of courage, and climbed up to the car, stumbled back, and then was helped aboard by several men.

The train started up.  It seemed never to generate much speed, but it shook and rattled greatly.  The door remained open.  The men, for the most part, sat on the floor or laid down, often falling asleep.  The cool air was refreshing.  There was little talk.  One of the men started singing a bawdy ballad. Valery, remembering the counsel she had been given, joined in.  The singing man nodded approval, and continued.

A few of the soldiers had small quantities of food in their packs or bags, and some began to eat.  The officer fell asleep.  Boredom prevailed.

One soldier stood at the day, opened his pants, and urinated out the door. A bit later another did the same.  Then there was quiet.

Several times the train made short stops.   At one point it stopped near a building, probably once a farmhouse, smoldering in ruins from some recent military action.  A few fruit trees could be seen, and a scattering of potatoes and beets from what had been a storage shed.  Several men quickly jumped from the car, picking up what they could and bringing them back to the car.

Leon took a potato.  “Raw, cold potato. Is this what we get for lunch?  Does an army win a war on this?”

Finally, late in the afternoon, thetrain stopped for a longer time.  Soldiers of the train guard came back and conferred with the officer, who ordered the men off the car.  After a bit of negotiation, several men were sent to a nearby building, coming back with large baskets of bread and a few sausages.  The officer gave one order that seem to receive instant obedience. “Fill your canteens - every man!”  he indicated a water pump nearby.

“How are you doing?”  Leon quietly asked Valery in a whisper.

“Feeling like I’m about to burst!  But I will manage until dark - this has been such a long day!” she responded, her discomfort showing in a bit of agitation.

Several soldiers stood at a nearby wall and relieved themselves, Leon among them.  Returning from this errand, he glanced at Valery.  Though she was showing signs of distress, she was bravely gulping from her canteen before refilling it.

They reboarded the train just as it again began moving.  Men shared out the bread and sausage and began to eat their crude rations.

Darkness fell.  Valery eagerly watched it, knowing it portended an opportunity for her to relieve herself, as she forced martyrdom on her badly distended bladder, awaiting the next stop.  She had not long to wait.

The train again stopped, only an open field before them.  A number of men jumped off, and began to walk about.  Several stood and urinated.  One began to squat in an effort to obtain another form of relief.

Valery came closer to him, but stopped several feet away.  In the dim light, it was hard to see his features.  She judged he was too occupied to pay much attention to her.  She unfastened her own pants and dropped them appropriately.  Glancing about for security, she released a profuse stream.   The squatting soldier seemed to give her no thought. She was glad, her relief wonderfully welcome.  She finished, drew up her pants, and returned to Leon.

“Did it!”  she said, with just a note of pride.

They returned to the car.  A few of the soldiers had cigarettes, and were smoking.  One had a pocket with a three cigars.  Looking at Valery, he told her, “trophies of the last town we took -  czarist mayor had a supply of vodka and cigars.  Good vodka, terrible cigars.  You smoke cigars?  You can have one of these!”

“Thanks”, Valery replied, accepting the long black cigar and placing it in her pocket. “Perhaps for my friend, later!”

“Won’t be a friend long, if he breathes in those - but, take it. I carried them long enough!”

He laid down on the floor and rolled over into a comfortable position.

Most of men fell asleep on the rough floor.  Valery, along with them, was soon fast asleep.

Chapter 6

Dawn came, too early for some, too late for Valery.  She awoke, feeling the fullness of her bladder.  It was now daylight, too late for her to relieve herself, she realized in horror.

Men munched on the residue of bread and the fruit they had scavenged.  Soon the train ground to a halt, then began shifting forward and back, as several cars were detached. Men clambered off the car to stretch their legs.

Valery, fearful of staying too close to Leon, lest suspicion be aroused, wandered afield just a bit, seeking some place for relief.   She saw two soldiers, squatting in the grass, relieving themselves.  Their pants were down, their private parts partially displayed.

Desperate for someway to relief herself, she made a comment about the “effect of those stinking sausages”, and squatted near a bush.  With great care, she worked her pants down to her knees.  No one seemed to be paying close attention.  Struck with a bit of inspiration born of great desperation, she reached into her pocket for the cigar she had received the night before.   She held it in her hand as she worked down her underwear.

She saw a soldier approaching her.  Her heart lept in anxiety as she realized how close she was to discovery.  With a quick gesture, as though adjusting her underwear or wiping herself, she took the cigar and pushed the end of it inside her.  She stayed squatting, releasing nothing, but making an expression of strain.

The man looked down at her.  Her heart almost stopped, as she squeezed the cigar end mightily, hoping it would not slip.  In the poor light and shadow of her lowered trousers, perhaps - just perhaps, he might assume it was a penis.  He muttered something about taking one’s pleasures as they came, with a crude reference to defecation, and moved on. Without moving the cigar, she released her bladder.  Her stream poured out, over the cigar, her hand, but, fortunately, little on her clothing.  Finally she finished.  Dropping her imitation penis to the ground, she mashed it into the soil.  She stood, adjusted her clothes, ready for the day.

Valery returned to the car while the train wasstill stopped.  Getting out a metal mirror, a razor, and abit of water from her canteen, she began to shave, making sure the men about watched her.

“Fastidious, aren’t we?” murmured agrizzled onlooker.  “Looking for abit of female flesh to get close to?”

“Hate the beard”, she answered, continuing hershaving.  “Gets bugs, crumbs and juice-  I just like it better trimmed. Now, if there are women around --”  she slipped him a sly smile.

The day drew on. She wondered how close they were to Petrograd.  It was hard to judge the geography, for most of the place names she saw were unfamiliar.  A ration of bread andabit of meat was provided in the afternoon.  As night approached, she looked to the opportunity of relieving her bladder again.  She was able to slip into the dark and obtain her relief, just abit after nightfall.

Relieved and relaxed, she stretched out on the floor to try to sleep.

Chapter 7

She awakened to a violent motion of the train and a loud explosion.

The soldiers, startled, began looking out of the car door.  Lights were moving about in the darkness.  Several shots were fired.  The train seemed to have come to a complete halt, although the sound of the locomotive could be heard.

Ahead of them there seemed to be great shouting and much excitement.

Suddenly a light was shined into thedoor of their car.

“In here!”  an unseen voice shouted outside.  A bullet went crashing through the open door into the roof of the car.  Two of the soldiers inside instinctively reached for the rifles.  The officer, awakened with a start, drew his sidearm.

A blinding light was directed into the car.  “Put down the guns - out with all of you!” The voice was authoritarian.  Asoldier inside started to aim his gun at the light.  Instantly a shot rang out, firedat close range.  Thesoldier fell back, dropping his weapon.

The officer called to the unseen persons outside.  “Who are you? We are..” he never got to finish.  A uniformed man from outside grabbed him by the leg and toppled him from the car.

Confusion reigned for only a few moments.  The ragtag men in the car quickly putdown their weapons, such as they had, and began to cometo the door.  Outside, armed men came into view.   The occupants of the car were quickly pulled from the door and pushed to a place at the side.   Now the light showed more men, armed and uniformed, all around.  They pointed their weapons at those leaving the car and gestured them to move from the train.

Leon caught just a glimpse of the identity of the men they faced.  The mark of the imperial double eagle showed on the cap of a man who appeared to bein some authority.

Quickly Leon found Valery.  In a whisper, he told her, “We are in luck - imperialist troops - the White Army!  Somehow they’ve ambushed the train!”

“Luck?” Valery countered, considering the prospect.  “They think we’re reds - suppose they shoot us?”

“We must find away to make known our identity -  right now we must wait and see!”

Valery recalled the great lengths they had gone to in order to remove all possible evidence of her real identity, even her femininity.  There was nothing on her or with her that would evidence that she was other than a revolutionary soldier.  If only she had salvaged some bit of her former self, some paper, some emblem, something!  But with great care they had eliminated absolutely everything!

The men from the train were quickly disarmed.  White Army soldiers looked them over in the glare of the light for signs of weapons or ammunition.  Disarmed, they were herded into a group.  Soon the group was marched away for a distance, and told to sit on he ground.  Their captors guarded them with care.   They waited.

They sat and waited until dawn.  Soldiers moved to and fro, careful to keep the captives together and in view.  From snatches of conversation, it seemed their captors were not surewhat to do with them.

From the train, now some distance away, the heard a great explosion, and could see a fire following.

“Blew up the train.  That will block the tracks for a while!”  Leon noted.

A contingent of White soldiers appeared and ordered the captives to get up.  They were formed into a single file, and marched toward an unseen destination.

After a time, they arrived at a small building, damaged and decaying, which appeared to have been a barn.  They were ordered inside.  Guards were posted. They waited.

After atime, one of the captive men got up and went to awall to urinate.  Aguard quickly stopped him.  “No - you do not do that in here.  You will be taken out to where you can relieve yourselves.  Wait until then!”

They waited, perhaps half an hour.  Then guards came, and choosing ten men at random, escorted them from the barn.  The ten were taken to a ditch, perhaps fifty yards away. They were lined up at the side of the ditch.

“You may relieve yourselves here.  But be quick!”  they were ordered.  Men obeyed, urinating into the ditch.

A second group was taken.  Leon was chosen this time.  Having seen the return of the first group, they knew what was being done, and were not fearful.  Valery, though, sat in terror of what would happen with her.

Her time came.  The third group, with Valery in the fourth place, was taken to the ditch.  The guards, bored with this duty, lined the men up and ordered them to relieve themselves. The men did so.

Valery stood unmoving.  She did not know what to do.  This time there was no cigar for a trick, no opportunity to squat in darkness, no cover.  She wasaboutto bediscovered.

A guard called to Valery, instructing herto comply with his order. She stood, immovable. He repeated the order, firmly.

Shestarted to open her pants.  She reached inside and undid her underwear.  Shedropped the rough pants, then stepped out of them.  Quickly she dropped the underpants.  She turned full face to one of the guards, her pubic area with its dark patch of hair and very obvious female features, was exposed.  With all the dignity she could muster in this situation, she boldly announced, “I am not a Red soldier!  I am the Countess Valentina Norosova, cousin of the Czar and wife to a colonel of your army!  You must help me!”

The soldier guard  stared in almost disbelief.  The other two guards took in the spectacle in shock.

One quickly replied to her.  “What have we here? A woman, a camp follower? A Countess?”  He laughed a bit. “You are about as much of a Countess as I am Ivan the Terrible!”  Then, to his comrades, he asked,  “What shall we do with this one?  This is quite a find!”

Brazenly, Valentina continued what she had started.  She stripped off her shirt, revealing the binder over her breasts. Gripping it quickly, she ripped it from her body, determined to remove all doubt of her gender.  Then, in a moment of desperation and realizing why she was out there at all, she sank down to a squat, and began to urinate toward the ditch, as her captors and fellow captives both stared in utter disbelief.

“Here, woman, you come with us!”  the senior soldier told her.  The others led the male captives back to the barn.

Valentina picked up her clothes in one hand, as the soldier led her roughly by the other.  He pointed gazed at her nude body, missing nothing.  “Look we we have!”  he cheerily called to his fellows as he led her away.

She was immediately the object of stares from every soldier around.  Her guard spun her around, displaying her body for all to see.  He led her past a group of men to a small building.  Rudely he pushed her inside.

An officer standing inside stood wide-eyed as the captive was brought in.  Saluting the officer, the soldier reported “Sir! We found this woman among the prisoners.  She was dressed as one of them.  Says she’s a Countess!”

The officer leaned back against a wall, contemplating this remarkable find.  “Where are you clothes, Countess?” he asked her, a bit mockingly.  “Or is that what you have in youir hand? Why do you find yourself in this state of disarray?”

Valentina attempted to tell her story.  It was fairly obvious the officer was not paying much attention.  His fascination was with her body, not her words.

“Well, ‘Countess”, just what proof can you offer of what you say?” he asked her.  She shrugged.  “I have none, sir! I ask you to believe me - why else would I have disguised myself as a man in that army of rascals, hiding my sex from them as I traveled?  Look at me - I have forgone everything feminine -  my hair is cut, my bust was bound, my body unwashed , all my clothing that of a man!”

“Your hair has been cut, but I see that it is plentiful elsewhere”, he observed, staring at her prominent pubic bush.  “Your bust in neither bound nor covered, now, and from the smell of you, you have gone unwashed quite a while!  You look little like a countess-  more like awoman looking for a ruble or two from any soldier that will pay!”  He sneered a bit, looking her over in detail.

She pleaded, but he was not listening.  To a sergeant nearby, he ordered “Take her away, let her put her clothes on, but keep her from the other prisoners.  Oh, a jolly time they’d have with her if they heard this story! Keep our own men away from her, too, till we decide her future!”

She was escorted to a place outside, under a tree.  While several men watched, she was allowed to dress herself, after which she was ordered to sit beside the tree under guard of three men.

She was there only a couple of hours.  The entire detachment was formed up, and began to march down a road.   It was evident that their assignment had been the destruction of the train and the rail line, and having done this, they were leaving the area, taking with them their limited equipment and their prisoners.

Valentina was allowed to walk near her guard, but was not bound or restrained.  After about two hours, her guard instructed her to squat and relieve herself, as a number of the men watched.

In time, they encountered an old truck carrying several soldiers.  There followed a heated conversation between the detachment’s commander and someone in the truck.  At length, Valentina was brought forward and ordered into the back of the truck.  She was ordered to sit, two soldiers also sitting and watching her.  The truck reversed course and went back down a dusty road.

More and more soldiers appeared on the road.  It was evident that a fairly large military body was in the area.  The truck finally stopped in front of what appeared to be a large house, with numerous uniformed men about.

Chapter 8

Valentina was left in the truck for over an hour, the men watching her carefully.  Then, in response to a summons from inside, they ordered her out of the truck and into the house.

She was taken into a room in which several men, obviously officers of some important, were present.  Two were seated at a table, and others stood about.  On the table she could see piled papers, several small packages, and a pistol.

She was led to stand before the table.

The senior officer surveyed her closely.  After a few moments he spoke.

“Your name?”  he asked.

“Valentina Norosova”, she answered, loudly and clearly, her head held high.  “Countess, cousin of his Imperial Majesty, and wife to Ivan Nosorof, Colonel in the Imperial Service!”

The officer took it in without emotion.

“You were captured in the uniform of the insurrection, dressed as a man, in the company of,” he hesitated, reflecting his contempt of the words, “soldiers opposing the government. Why would you come with this story?  I, too, am a colonel of the Imperial Service.  Why should I believe your tale?  Perhaps you are a clever spy, helping the insurrection.  Perhaps you are an opportunist, looking for release through an intriguing story.”

“I have no evidence.  But, you may question me as you wish.  I know my identity, and the route through which I have come to you.  I seek help, as a friend and family of the Czar, to escape from the danger which confronts us all!”

“My report says you disrobed yourself while being taken for relief, and openly disclosed your sex before soldiers.  This does not sound to me like a lady of breeding!  Look at you - hair cut in masculine fashion, soldier’s clothes, you are dirty, you have conducted yourself without shame or modesty!  Why am I to believe you?”

“I do what I must to escape those who disgrace our land!  I did indeed disrobe myself - that your soldiers would know I was indeed a woman, and not one of those swine with whom I found it needful to travel!  I did so with utter reluctance, but in these times we do what we must.”

“From where have you come?” he inquired further.

Valentine recounted her flight from her home and the ploy of disguise to get past the revolutionaries who might have sought her life.  She pleaded for his acceptance.

“As you stand before me, you look more like an insurrectionist than a woman of noble birth.  However, whatever you are, I do not find it fitting that we keep you in the markings of those…..”  His voice stopped, hesitating to use his expected coarse epithet in the presence of what just might be a lady of breeding.

“Now, if you feared not to disrobe while the soldiers watched, we will see if your resolve is still with you.  If, indeed, you appear to be the lady you claim, we will seek other dress for you.  Now, remove those offensive garments and show us your true self!”

Valentina stood, stunned just a bit.  She had expected better of one of the Czar’s officers. Still, her modesty had suffered so much she was not about to retreat at this point.  Without a further word, she began to remove her soldier’s attire.  The colonel and his officers watched with interest.

Quickly she dropped her garments.  She removed her soldier’s shoes. She took her cap from her head. Finally, naked and barefoot, she drew herself erect in front of the table.  The men looked her over carefully.  The colonel uttered one observation, and one command.

“She’s dirty, she smells foul, and she’s a mess. Take her and give her a bath. I’ll send for her when I want her!”  He slapped his hand on the table to emphasize the order.  A soldier took her by the arm, leading her away, naked.  Her clothing remained on the floor.

Valentina found herself taken, in full view of assorted men, to a room which had a large tub.  She was ordered to bathe.  Two men stood by, watching the proceedings.

Valentina scrubbed herself as best she could.  The available water was cold, the soap coarse and rough.  She washed her body, even her hair, as the men watched every move. She was cold, uncomfortable, and hugely humiliated at doing this in front of strange men.

Finally she finished.  A rather dirty towel hung nearby, and she dried herself with it.  She looked for something with which to comb her wet hair, but there was nothing.  She smoothed it as best she could with her hands.

Her guards then took her, still unclad, to a small room upstairs.  It contained a low table, but no other furnishings.  It did have a window looking outside, and she could see it was now dark. She entered.  The door closed behind her.  She was alone.

A few minutes later, the door opened again.  A uniformed man entered, carrying a plate with a bit of bread and cheese, and a bottle of water.  Also, he had a bedding roll, obviously something on which she might sleep, and a small tattered blanket.  She took them, murmured a bit of thanks, and heard the door close.

She laid on the pad, covering herself with the blanket.  The food assuaged her hunger a bit. She tried the door, finding it locked.  She tried to sleep.

The first rays of dawn awakened her.  Her training had been to empty her bladder at such an hour, in preparation for the day.  But where?  The door was locked, and there was no facility in the room.  She looked at the window.  Outside was a courtyard, just picking up the rays of dawn, but deserted.  She stood at the window, wondering if she could be seen by anyone.  She saw a man below, and withdrew.

She waited.  For what seemed hours, she waited, her distress becoming steadily greater.

Suddenly, with no warning, the door opened.  A soldier entered. She drew the blanket around herself.

“I am to take you for you to relieve yourself”, he informed her.  “But you must leave the blanket”.   She dropped it and followed him.  He took her to a toilet, a very dirty one, on the same floor.  She expected him to stay and watch her, but instead he closed the door and left her alone as he waited outside.

Relishing  the luxury of a toilet to use privately, she attended to her needs, taking her time. When she had finished, she opened the door, and her escort returned her to her room.

She was held for two more days.  Three times a day she was taken to the toilet, always naked.  Every second day, she perceived, she was allowed a bath, but under watch of soldiers.  Food, though crude and coarse, was brought to her.  Yet she was not questioned, nor given ny communication as her status.

Then, in the morning, her door was opened.  She was told simply, “Come!”

She was taken downstairs to the office where the colonel had first interrogated her. Still much aware of her nudity, but adapting to it, she was ushered into the office.

The colonel sat behind the table.  A lady, in the dress of one of the nobility, sat next to him.  Both stared at Valentina as she entered.  Her hands instinctively flew to cover her breasts and pubic area; not so much because of the colonel, she thought, but because of the woman.

“This is the one who claims to be the Countess”, announced the colonel.

“So we will see if she is!”  replied the lady.

The woman began an intensive   questioning of Valentina. She was asked about her schooling, her friends, her home, her husband’s career and friends, the families she knew, the relatives of the Czar.  Again and again some questions were repeated, in slightly different ways.  Learning that she had studied French and German, the woman asked her questions in both languages.

The woman walked around Valentina, carefully looking at her skin, searching for markings.  She was questioned on the origin of scars and minor marks.  The woman scrutinized her hands and her feet, with careful attention to her nails.

No comment was made to Valentina as to the conclusions.  She was simply sent back to her room, under the usual guard.  There she was left for another day.

Chapter 9

On the afternoon of the following day, her door opened, and her guard stood at the door with a stack of clothing.  “You are to put these on and then I will take you downstairs”, he informed her.

The clothing was regulation attire for White Army soldiers.  There was nothing that seemed suited to a female, though underwear was included.  The shoes, she noted, were the ones in which she had arrived, though they had been cleaned.

She dressed in front of the guard, who then took her to the office and the colonel.

“Madam”, he addressed her, speaking now with some deference, “We have come to believe your account.  I must express regret that we put you through so much difficulty and indignity.  These are, as you know, very difficult times.  It is our desire to assist you in moving you to safety, which most likely means to depart our country for now.  At present it seems best that you continue your soldier’s disguise, though we have put you in a more friendly uniform.  In that attire you will not draw attention.  I am going to send you with our dispatch carrier to a small fishing village not far from Riga.  There you will wait with those whom you consider friends, until a boat is arranged  to take you to Sweden, where you will find others of your family.”

Valentina expressed her gratitude.  She was shortly taken to a military vehicle in which a young soldier was seated. She greeted him, and introduced herself.

He sternly warned her.  “Madam, I know of your identity, but there will be others who do not.  It is best that you maintain the identity you had earlier established, and so I will call you Valery.  You must treat me as though I am your fellow in arms.”

She understood.  The trip was through more friendly territory, and seemed generally uneventful.  Only twice were they stopped by military patrols, both friendly.  Valentine began to feel more comfortable than she been since leaving home.

After many hours, they arrived at a small house in a village on the Baltic coast, where several fishing boats were docked.  It was dark.  Valentina was taken into the house, where a man and a woman greeted her.

“Madam”, the man addressed her, with a polite bow.  “Our poor home is honored.  I am sorry we have so little to offer as comfort to one so noble born. But such as we have, we offer you!”

The woman, dressed quite humbly, greeted her also.  She was immediately offered a bit of wine, a plain but warm meal,. and shown to a cot placed in part of the kitchen.  “It is not much, but it is warm”, the woman pointed out.  Valentina was grateful.

She remained with her hosts three nights, instructed not to go outside during daylight, and to avoid showing herself to strangers.

At long last, she was told a signal had been received from a boat offshore that was prepared to take her to Sweden. She was told to make ready that evening, and to go with the man to a small fishing boat nearby.

They entered the boat, and began to leave the pier to which it had been moored. They made out toward the open water.  Valentina scanned the dark sea for some sign of her rescuer.  Eventually they saw a small light.  The man with her flashed a light in response. Closer and closer they came.

She almost held her breath, as freedom and safety seemed so near.  As she watched, she made out the outline of a larger craft, perhaps some kind of private yacht.  Closer and closer they drew.

The engine of her boat was cut, as the two craft drifted closely.  Two men, standing on the deck of the larger vessel, called down to them.

“Is the water ripe for sturgeon?” asked the man.  Valentina wondered at the cryptic expression, which she realized was a recognition signal.

“No -  the blue tides have stopped them”, was the reply.

“Male or Female?”  called down the larger craft.

“Female”, was the response.

Immediately a rope was passed down to her boat.  Her escort helped her secure it around her waist.  She was then helped up to the other craft.   Her erstwhile escort bade her farewell, and began to pull away.

Valentina stood on the deck, in her soldier’s uniform.

“I thought we were to rescue the countess, not one of the Czar’s soldiers!” one of her rescuers observed, just a bit skeptical.

There were several others aboard the vessel, all men.  She quickly observed that she was among friends.

“It is, though, an honor to be of the Czar’s soldiers.  But I understand your skepticism. I am sure I do not look like the countess! In recent days, many have so noted.  But, please, I am indeed Valentina Norosova!”

“Forgive us, Countess”, she heard one of them address her, “But you hardly look like a woman, and we were anticipating to rescue a lady. We understand the necessity for disguise, but we hardly expected--”

“You have doubts I am a woman?”  The countess replied, smiling a bit.

Another grasped her hand warmly,  “Countess, forgive us all!  We are overjoyed to have you.  We do not doubt your identity, we are only surprised!  We know you have been through much!”

“Please, is there a place where I might rid myself of this mannish garb I have worn too long?  You do not want to appear to be bringing in a Czarist soldier-”

The five men looked at one another. One moved to the bridge, keep the vessel under way.

Another, a bit embarrassed, tried to reply.

“Countess, I regret we did not anticipate your situation.  We have no women’s clothing to offer you.  Yet, I will show you a cabin where you may arrange yourself as you think proper!”  He took her into the main cabin, which she noted was comfortably warm after her time on the chilly sea, and from there to a small cabin with a single bunk.

She thanked him, entered, and closed the door.  Throwing herself on the bunk, she rejoiced for a moment in her rescue and impending freedom.  Then, quickly she began to rid herself of her military garments.  She wadded them into a bundle, including the men’s shoes, and, opening the porthole, thrust them through it into the sea.

She relaxed for a moment, pleased to be rid of her male clothing and masculine disguise. She reached for a blanket on the bunk, and began to wrap it around her.  Then, thinking a bit, she returned it to the bunk.

She opened the door, sticking her head out.

Four of the men were in the main cabin, where she had left them.

“Gentlemen”, she called to them, “I am deeply indebted to you for your rescue of me. I have nothing to offer of value, but as you have questioned whether my appearance was womanly, perhaps I might make a gesture of appreciation while satisfying that concern.  Would you permit me to join you for a few minutes?”

“Of course, Countess, we should be most pleased”, one replied politely.

With that, she burst forth from the small cabin, striding directly into their presence in the larger room, her body adorned with not a single stitch of covering.

“Gentlemen, I present myself, Valentina Norosova, for your viewing.  I have nothing else to offer in gratitude, but as numerous others have looked upon my undraped body in recent weeks, it would seem ungracious for me to deny that privilege to the friends who have gone to such lengths to help me.  I am sorry the view is not as I would like myself to appear, but perhaps you will observe portions which you may find thoroughly female!”

The men absorbed the presentation offered.  Even the one from the bridge came back to partake of it.  Valentina stood motionless, offering herself for viewing to all of them.

The captain came up to her, knelt, kissed her hand, and uttered, “Countess, there is no way in which you might have better shown appreciation!”