Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge: Diadems and dowries



How will he choose between them, I wonder? What is there to make any single girl distinctive from the next?

Each is curtained with arctic fox and mink, buckling under the weight of velvet and wool, silks and satins shimmering in the candlelight like sun striking the troubled waters of a lake. They are snuffling, shifting dolls, symbols of their family’s wealth and clawing ambition, flaws cloaked by diadems and dowries.

Watching from the shadows I break a smile. These poor creatures have been trained all their lives, coached to be the perfect kotyonok for the Tsar. Each is silent, eyes turned to the chequered tiles, hands folded as in lazy prayer, features floating like dead leaves in milk pail faces.

I wonder what’s happening behind those half moon eyes, if ever a spark flares beneath the ashes. Do they have a spirit unrestrained by unbending fathers, grasping mothers?

My Galina waits for me in our cottage, kneading bread with her reddened fists, lugging wood from under the forest’s black veil. Full of fiest and fire, eyes filled with love or hate or lust, ready to kiss or claw me, depending on her mood.

I’ll take my girl over these varnished Babushka dolls.


Written for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

Kotyonok – a Russian term of endearment meaning kitten.


34 thoughts on “Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge: Diadems and dowries

    1. Thanks Jane. Glad you liked the voice and you’re right – though only a servant, he and the fiesty Galina may have the better deal in some ways. At least she can be more her own woman and there’s real love there too. Thanks for reading 🙂


      1. Oh, I think there was love, that love could grow between strangers in arranged marriages, and that the poorer folk might marry for love. But I don’t think it was often a priority, not even with the ‘middling sort’. In times when life was hard, the future unpredictable and unstable, practicalities had to be considered first I guess 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. A weird and mystical creature indeed, love, unpredicatable and sometimes fleeting, but you’re right, it can be present wherever people are, no matter how rich or poor. Thanks for reading 🙂


      1. I think a lot of people don’t realize how many more freedoms peasant women had those days compared to noble women, much less royal women. The confusion is understandable, since wealthy people are so much more powerful now.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. True, Joy. Young women from prominent families were pawns in the dynastic shuffling of their (usually male) relatives. You only have to study the Tudors to see that and the situation was little different before and for years after. The best you could hope for was to marry a wealthy man and for him to die young – rich widows had more power and freedom than most other women. Bess of Hardwick being a good example.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Aside from the wonderful alliteration of ‘diadems and dowries’ I was most struck by ‘features floating like dead leaves in milk pail faces’ – somehow this is poignant in Autumn, and it’s also more visual than ‘milk [pale] faces’ would be. Wonderful choice. I know you use it to describe their faces but I picturedbrown leaves falling in a wooden milk pail, the acrid leaf muddying the milk, neither element profiting from the exchange, as the girls probably wouldn’t either. Ach. Life’s hard. Love’s a mischief. Russians understand existential misery! ~ P ~

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! What a wonderful comment! Love it 🙂 Glad you liked the ‘milk pail’ description – I was pleased with that. Loved your own descriptions of the leaves muddying the milk too – lovely. Thanks so much Pola 🙂


  2. The European Literary Existential Misery Ranking goes like this in my brain: 3rd The French, 2nd The Germans and first, The Russians. Much respect for all of them although the French think they’re worse than they actually are. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! That’s great! Where do the Brits come? We are pretty miserable, you only need to read Thomas Hardy to learn that. Okay, maybe not Russian-miserable …


      1. Definitely not Russian miserable, I haven’t read Tess, only Casterbridge, that had its lashings of melodrama really. If anything, the French admire us, they must do, for remaining cheerful despite permanently god-awful weather… But then the French would also say “When it’s cold, we have sex. The English… have hot water bottles.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. True, not Russian miserable! Though Tess and Jude the Obscure come close and to be fair to Hardy, he was making points about class and poverty so he had good reason to play up the sadness. Do they French admire us, then? I always assume they dislike us, TBH honest. Not that I entire blame them … 🙂


      3. Well I would posit that those are some reasons for the French to admire us, but I admire the French a lot more. Best to ask someone French.

        Liked by 1 person

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