Demetrius sat on the edge of the families wooden wagon. It was several decades old, covered in straw, held together by rust. He began to swing his short legs back and forth to a ballet melody he once heard on the radio. Back and forth he rocked, humming like an engine. It was the late 1960s in Kharkiv Ukraine, a major city on the eastern border adjacent to Russia. The city had much devastation after the World Wars, now with Soviet Rule the state had a decline in resources.
Hearing some harsh language Demetrius looked up and saw his mother arguing with the store clerk. She grabbed her few packages and marched down the steps onto the dirt road. “Demetrius grab the reigns!”
He fumbled from the back of the wagon to the front where the families elegant horse Alexander stood attentively. His ears perked up as well to all the action. Demetrius was only 12 years old, but when he heard his mother’s voice in that tone he took her seriously.
Irene Feodorovna had witnessed much in her life, but the rationing of eggs, became her last straw.
She loaded her nearly bare baskets on the back of the wagon, safe in the shimmering straw. She climbed next to her son Demetrius and yelled at Alexander to head home.
As they road down the bumpy path to the cities outlying regions Demetrius thought about his mother and the stories she had told him from long ago.
Irene would look in her sons eyes at the age of four and tell him of the royal lineage long ago. Her husbands great great ancestor had once been a tsarina, the wife of a Russian Tsar. She had grown up on the property they now call home. Years ago it had been well maintained and covered with livestock. Now the home was in disrepair and the only animals on the property were Alexander the horse, and Maria the Hen.
Both animals lived in the sloped barn at the edge of the property. Built into the hill with stone, it was one of the few original buildings on the grounds. Demetrius loved spending his mornings walking through the tall grasses and sneaking into the Hen house, or Horse house, sitting in the warm straw waiting for Maria to lay her egg.
The egg would be warmer than the straw when he scooped it, cradling it in his hands like treasure, he would run back to the house to deliver the gift from Maria, their breakfast.
Demetrius’s thoughts were interrupted as Alexander came to an abrupt stop, Soldiers from the Soviet Army stood outside their home. Demetrius heard his papa holler, “Look wherever you want, there is nothing left to take!” The Soldiers approached the wagon looking over its rusty nooks and beaten boards, nothing. Next they took, the baskets dumping them into the straw, still nothing. They boarded their three person motorcycle and drove off with a cloud of dust and a toppled wagon in their wake.
“Again!” Mumbled mama under her breath. “This is the third time this week they have searched our home, and for what? Just leaving us a mess to clean up.”
Demetrius jumped off the wagon to help put the produce back in the baskets. Demetrius’s father, Peter, came over to help. “What no eggs mama?” Irene slumped down in the grass, her thin fingers supporting her head. “The rations were less this week, empty shelves, empty crates, the only thing I could buy are these potatoes, carrots and cabbage.” Thankfully we had fruit trees, I could eat apples in season, and Maria was usually good for an egg a day.
Mama said when she was small they had so many eggs, she could collect one from the hen house whenever she liked, and poke a hole in it on both sides, and suck the yoke out. Imagine that, a whole egg to yourself?
We gathered our things and headed inside, the paint was now peeling in the kitchen too. Mom started a stew, with the potatoes in water. I went back outside to put Alexander away for the night.
Down through the grass we walked, his eyes as dark as the sky. I brushed his brilliant chestnut hair, then piled up some hay in the corner for him to eat. Maria clucked me a welcome and teetered over to my lap. I stroked her soft feathers and dozed off with her warm body resting on me.
Mama and Papa must have been so caught up in conversation they forgot to whistle me in for the night. I woke to the sun streaming through the cracks on the eastern wall. I rubbed my eyes, they were abit dry from the dust. I saw something glimmer, I rubbed my eyes again. Now nothing, hmm what was that? As I shuffled up the reflection caught me again, this time directing me to a small hole in the western rock and earth wall. Another chunk of rock must have fallen this week, no surprise, but what was this?
Nestled in the dirt was a dirty piece of cloth, that was partially covering an object. I reached my hand into the hole, and pulled out the shiny mystery. I unwrapped what looked to be a hens egg. Now how did Maria get back there I wondered. I heard my mom whistle for the morning breakfast. I cradled the egg and carried it inside. As I handed it to my mother her jaw dropped and her eyes sparkled. ”It’s just an egg,” I said. Then I noticed the faint gold edge banding in the middle of the egg. “What is this?” I asked.
My mother sat on the floor, I was eagerly at her side. “This is the First Hen,” she gasped.
She opened the egg, it was a gold egg covered in white enamel, deceptive at first glance. Inside the egg was a gold yolk, inside the yolk was a golden hen, inside the hen was a diamond and gold crown with a ruby pendant necklace.
The egg sparkled like the sun. Papa came into the room, awestruck he whispered, “The First Hen, I thought it was a myth.”
Papa nestled next to me and Mama. He began to tell a story. “Legend has it that this belonged to my Great, Great Grandmother Maria, the tsarina of Russia. Her husband the tsar Alexander made it for her as an Easter present. It was the very first one made, it’s a Faberge egg.”
I spoke up, “I thought those eggs were covered in elaborate jewels and designs?”
Papa said, “They are now, this was the very first one and Alexander directed the design of it.”
Mama chimed in, “No wonder the soldiers have been here, they are looking for this egg, our families heirloom!”
“Lately they have been confiscating all the Russian Jewels and artworks, leaving the people with less and less.”
Papa began to think out loud. “So presumably Maria must have brought it back to her childhood home, our home, at some point, and left it with her parents for safe keeping. Fearful of theft and war during early 1900’s they buried it in the original henhouse, hoping if it was ever discovered it would be thought of as a typical farmhouse egg.”
“Nothing was safe in that time period: churches, synagogues and temples were all torn down.”
Well what do we do know? I am sure those soldiers will be back? I looked at my parents, they looked at me. In unison they replied, “We have a plan!”
The day continued as normal and uneventful. By nightfall we thought our uninvited guests may not show. That was till I heard Alexander snorting in the distance, I ran out, with candle in hand towards the hen house. My parents followed a few wagon lengths behind. As I swung open the door I saw the Soldiers digging at the walls, throwing the stones haphazardly. I grabbed Maria and Alexander and took them to safety. From outside the barn I heard a crash followed by a sinister laugh. The soldier snorted, “Ha, you country folk thought you could outsmart the entire Soviet Army!” “You are peasants, and you will always be that way.” Grabbing the First Hen Faberge egg, they rode off in the moonlight.
I sighed, “I am glad that’s over with.” My parents embraced and agreed. Guiding Alexander and Maria back into the hen house, we blew out our candles and walked back up to the house.
48 years later
It was all over the 2004 world news; the First Hen located at the Faberge Museum in Saint Petersburg Russia was for sale and to be acquired by a mysterious “Viktor.”
For years it had been on display with its enamel shell, golden yolk and golden hen. Recently antique dealers believe there were two additional pieces that were not found with the egg. A possible crown and pendant necklace is their best guess.
The acquisition started with an elderly gentleman walking to the front and whispering in the ear of the auctioneer, then him turning around and walking out of the room.
The gavel hit the stand, and the auctioneer shouted “Sold!” It echoed through the silent stunned room.
The gentleman goes by the name Viktor, and he can often be seen sitting on the bench in front of the display case of the Faberge egg.
He swings his short legs back and forth to a ballet melody he once heard on the radio. Back and forth he rocks, humming like an engine. If you listen closely you might hear him sigh and say, “It will be all together again.”
48 years earlier
Papa said, “We will have no peace till they find this egg.” Demetrius responded, “Well we can’t just let them take it can we?” Mama responded, “That’s exactly what we will do, only we will take the diamond crown and ruby pendant out from the center.”
She explained, “There is no mention of the contents of the egg, if they open it, they will see the yolk and hen and be satisfied. While we are able to keep the innermost treasures unbeknownst to them.”
Current Day: Reader please research the First Hen Egg and see if the original crown and pendant has been located? I think you and I may know the solution.