Chapter 1: The Tsarina
In the town of St. Petersburg, in the country of Russia, there lived a tsar, known as Peter the Great. A tsar is the ruler of the country, much like a king. His wife was known as Catherine the Great. They had one young son named Peter, just Peter.
Although the family lived in a large palace, Catherine had another palace built. The first palace was known as the Winter Palace and the second was known as the Summer Palace or simply Catherine’s Palace.
“Why does a person need two palaces?” you ask. Well, let’s just say Catherine was a little needy and leave it at that.
The Summer Palace was surrounded by many gardens and ponds. Inside, it was decorated in gold. The walls were gold, the ceilings were gold, the stair railings were gold, the light fixtures were gold. Even the mice, when they could be caught, were painted gold. Although the inside of the palace hurt his eyes, young Peter liked the Summer Palace because he could run outside in the gardens and splash in the ponds. Peter loved the warm weather because Russia was a very cold country and the summer did not last long.
The Winter Palace was very beautiful and, to be frank, much more tasteful than the Summer Palace. It had many fine rooms with crystal chandeliers and, to be honest, a fair amount of gold. But, in general, it did not hurt people’s eyes or upset their stomachs like the Summer Palace. A thousand people, including many guards and servants, could live there. Peter spent most of the year there although he did not attend school like most children. Private teachers came to the palace to give him his lessons.
Catherine had a beautiful golden carriage that was pulled by four shiny black horses.
“Why did she have a horse-drawn carriage when the automobile was invented?” you ask. Well, let’s just say Catherine was a bit behind the times and leave it at that.
Each Sunday, she and her husband, the tsar, would ride about the kingdom in the carriage so Catherine could show off her expensive dresses. It was said she had ten thousand dresses and never wore the same one twice. The tsar and Catherine would leave little Peter back in the palace when they went out because Catherine did not want to share him with the commoners.
One Sunday, as they were riding through the kingdom, waving at the people, the horses suddenly began to neigh loudly and bolted straight ahead at a frightening pace. (It turns out the horses were spooked by the sound of an engine starting. The people were not allowed to drive or start their cars while Catherine and Peter were parading about for this very reason. Pity the poor man who forgot it was Sunday and set out to the store for some milk and bread. Catherine was not pleased with him.
“What happened to the man?” you ask. Let’s just say, he would never make that mistake again and leave it at that.
The driver, who was sitting atop the carriage, was thrown off his seat. Catherine began to scream. The tsar, who was very brave, opened his carriage door so he could climb to the top of the carriage, grab the reins and stop the horses. He reached the driver’s seat, but when he tried to grab the reins, he fell forward and, sadly, was run over by the carriage.
Now it was up to Catherine! She may have had her faults but she was certainly very strong. She managed to climb up to the top of the carriage. She held on with one hand as she leaned over and grabbed the reins with the other. She pulled hard and the horses stopped running.
Now that the poor tsar was dead, Catherine became the tsarina. There can only be one tsar or tsarina at a time in Russia. So, although Catherine had lost her husband and Peter had lost his father, she had become the ruler of Russia.
“How did Catherine feel about that?” you ask. Let’s just say she didn’t shed many tears and leave it at that.
Chapter 2: The Lego Room
Peter often got very lonely because he had no other children to play with. He had many toys but none of them made him truly happy. His mother worried about Peter’s loneliness. But she was too proud to allow him to play with the common children.
Catherine had always wanted a son. She knew she would name him Peter and he would be the tsar one day. Long before Peter was born, Catherine ordered her servants to go across the country to gather up every set of Legos in the land.
“Leave no Legos in the hands of commoners,” she said, “I want my Peter to have them all.”
So her servants went out and did as they were told. Pretty soon, an entire room in the palace was filled with Legos.
“I want the walls covered in Legos,” said Catherine. “And pile the rest on the tables.”
Pretty soon, the “Lego Room” was ready. The brightly colored walls made everyone who entered feel happy.
“This will surely make my son happy one day,” said Catherine.
Being a very greedy person, she also famously said, “These Legos will only be played with by my Peter and the palace mice.”
When it was first built, the story of the Lego Room spread around the kingdom. Perhaps some of the servants who had collected the Legos and brought them to the palace had leaked this information to the rest of the countryside. At the time, every child in the kingdom was sad. They all loved to play Legos and now they would never be able to do so again because Catherine’s servants had taken them all. But there was nothing they could do.
The Lego Room remained locked and pretty much forgotten until Peter’s fourth birthday. Catherine suddenly remembered it was there. You can’t really blame her for forgetting about it. After all, the palace had hundreds of rooms. She would soon surprise her sad and lonely son with this wonderful gift.
“This will be the perfect present for my son,” she said. And she ordered her servants to unlock it and clean it up for it was very dusty after all those years.
On his birthday, Catherine told Peter she had a surprise for him. Peter thought perhaps he would get a new wooden horse or wagon.
“Why was Peter made to play with wooden toys when most children had bicycles and scooters?” you ask. Let’s just say that Catherine didn’t get out much and leave it at that.
Catherine put a blindfold around Peter’s eyes and led him to a remote part of the palace. He heard her make a noise that sounded like putting a key in a lock and opening a door. The she led him forward and removed the blindfold.
Peter could not believe his eyes. The brightly colored walls made him smile. He looked through the boxes on the tables. They seemed to be filled with the same plastic pieces that were glued to the walls. The pieces came in many shapes and colors. The pictures on the boxes showed all sorts of vehicles, houses and even volcanos. Peter thought they were made by putting the small plastic pieces together.
“What are these things?” Peter asked his mother.
“They are Legos, son.” Said Catherine. “You can build whatever you want with them.”
“Oh mother,” said Peter, “This is a wonderful surprise. I don’t think I will ever be lonely again. I can play Legos every day after my school lessons are complete.”
Catherine was very happy to hear this. She was very glad she had collected all the Legos in the land. And she was even gladder she remembered the Lego Room was there after all those years.
Chapter 3: The Palace Mice
Now it so happened that a young boy named Henry, who was exactly young Peter’s age, lived in the palace servant’s quarters. His father was a cook and his mother was a seamstress. The servant’s quarters which were very small and very plain. Henry had never seen the part of the palace where Catherine and Peter lived although he had heard many stories about it. He wished he could see it for himself but servant’s children were not allowed to enter. Even his mother had never left the sewing room where she worked and his father never got out of the kitchen to see the rest of the palace.
One day Henry’s mother was at work in the sewing room when the head seamstress took her aside.
“Sara,” she said, “The tsarina needs a child to bring her a newspaper from town every day. I thought Henry might like this job. She would pay him a few rubles a week.”
“Why did the tsarina want a newspaper when she very liked living in her own little world?” you ask. Well, the palace had birdcages, let’s just leave it at that.
“Well,” said Sara, “We could use the money. As long as it doesn’t interfere with Henry’s school work, I think it would be OK.”
When Sara got home from work, she asked Henry if he would like the job of newspaper boy for Catherine. Henry was very excited because he thought he would finally see the inside of the palace. Henry had heard the story of the Lego Room and he wanted to know if it were true. Henry had never seen a Lego because they were all confiscated before he was born. But some of the older children had told Henry about them and he thought they must be the most wonderful toys. Henry loved to build things and Legos sounded like the perfect materials.
The next day, as soon as Henry finished school, he stopped at the newspaper stand and asked for the paper for the tsarina. The shopkeeper handed Henry a paper wrapped in beautiful red cloth. Henry took the package, put it in his backpack and began to run toward the palace.
When he reached the palace, Henry raced up the wide stone staircase that led to the giant carved wooden doors of the main entrance to the palace. At the top of the stairs, just as Henry was about to knock, a guard stepped out of the shadows from the side of the door.
” Who goes there?” the guard demanded.
“It is I, Henry,” said Henry, “I have brought a newspaper for the tsarina.”
“I will take that,” said the guard.
“But I thought I was to give it to her majesty personally,” said Henry.
“Well you’re a bigger fool than you look,” said the guard. “No commoner can enter the palace.”
Henry handed the paper to the guard and walked away sadly. He had so hoped to get inside the beautiful palace. When he got home, he told his mother what had happened. She gave Henry a hug and told him not to worry. Perhaps someday, he would be invited into the palace. But she knew in her heart this would probably never happen.
Henry continued his paper delivery every day after school and every day the mean guard took the paper from him.
One day, Henry was very tired and decided to rest on a bench outside the palace after delivering the paper. He didn’t mean to but, maybe because he was so tired, he started to cry. He cried and cried until his nose started running down his face. He wiped it on his sleeve and continued to sob.
“What’s the matter? ” he heard a tiny voice ask.
Henry looked around but could see no one.
“I’m down here, ” said the voice.
Henry looked down and, right under the bench, sat a tiny mouse, no bigger than Henry’s fist.
“I didn’t know mice could talk,” said Henry.
“Most people don’t,” said the mouse, “We don’t talk very often, actually. But you seemed so sad. I thought maybe I could help.”
Henry told the mouse how he had hoped to see the inside of the palace but the guard sent him away every day when he delivered the paper.
“It probably sounds silly to you but I had my heart set on it, I never saw Legos and I would like the chance to play with them,” said Henry.
“I don’t think it’s silly at all,” said the mouse, ” If the tsarina wasn’t so selfish, she would let little Peter share his Legos with others. He would love to have some friends. But his mother decreed that the only ones who get to play with them are Peter and us mice. And, to be honest, Legos are a bit tough for us mice to snap together.”
“Even though I have never played with Legos I just know I could make many things – like construction vehicles and volcanoes. If only Peter could invite me in to play,” said Henry.
“I have an idea,” said the mouse, “Meet me here tomorrow.”
“OK,” said Henry. He was very curious to know what the mouse had in mind.
Chapter 4: Henry
The next day Henry hurried to the bench after delivering the paper. The mouse was under the bench as usual but next to him was a shiny gold key.
“This key opens the tsarina’s private door on the side of the palace. It is the one she uses when she doesn’t want to be seen. You can use it to sneak into the palace. It’s best to come early in the morning because her majesty attends church at that time. Maybe come on Sunday when you don’t have school. Go up the stairs right near the door. The Lego Room is on the right at the top of the stairs.”
“But maybe Sunday isn’t the best day for you,” said the mouse. “Will you be in church at that time as well?”
“Church?” Said Henry. “We don’t go into those.”
“But I don’t know if I should sneak into the palace,” said Henry, “What happens if I get caught?”
“Oh, they’ll probably cut off your head,” said the mouse.
Henry’s eyes grew very large.
“Now I really don’t think I should sneak in. I need my head,” said Henry.
“I was just kidding,” said the mouse, “They probably won’t cut off your head but you may get a good whipping. ”
“Well, I’ll think about it,” said Henry and he took the key from the mouse.
On Sunday, Henry’s curiosity got the best of him so he snuck out of his house while his parents were sleeping. He had never gotten a good whipping before because his parents were very kind. Maybe if he knew what a good whipping was, he wouldn’t have been so brave. Henry headed to the fancy part of the palace.
Henry snuck around, past the guards in front, around to the side. He saw the entrance the mouse had told him about. There was a large, carved wooden door up a few stone stairs. Henry knew the guards patrolled the palace grounds but there seemed to be no one around at that moment. He raced up the stairs and put the key in the lock.
The locked worked easily but when Henry pushed the giant door, it made a loud, creaking noise. He looked around nervously. What if someone heard the noise? He quickly ducked inside the door and let it close. Once again, it creaked loudly.
He saw the staircase the mouse had mentioned so he dashed up the stairs before someone came to investigate the creaking noise. On the right, at the top of the stairs, there was a door – just as the mouse had said. Henry pushed open the door and entered the room. Oh, what a sight!
The walls were covered in bright, colorful objects in many different shapes. Some looked like bricks, other like wheels and still others like tiny jewels. There were many tables in the room and each was piled with different kinds of these objects, separated into bins by color and shape. Henry wandered around the room and saw that someone had snapped some pieces together to make bigger objects. There was a small house and a large palace.
Henry loved vehicles, especially construction vehicles, so he wondered if he could make one out of these small objects. He picked up a couple of the brick shapes and snapped them together. How wonderful! They held together very well and yet, if he tried, he could pull them apart. Henry found some wheels and then some axles. He snapped them together to form the front and back wheels. Then he found a flat piece which he would use as the undercarriage. He built a cab with a seat and a steering wheel. He even found a person with a hard hat to put in the seat. He attached a bin on the back that tilted up at an angle so it could dump out its contents. Henry had built a perfect dump truck.
Henry had lost track of time because he was having so much fun. He should have left the Lego Room and the palace earlier because church had just let out and young Peter was racing toward his Lego Room. Suddenly, the door opened and Peter burst into the room. Henry had just enough time to duck under a table and hide. He crawled from table to table, along the floor, until he reached the far corner of the room. There he sat quietly, hoping not to get caught and whipped.
Peter looked about the room, deciding where to play first, when he spotted the truck Henry had made.
“What is this?” He asked. “Who could have made it? The only ones who can play in here are myself and the mice. Mother said so.”
Henry shook with fear. He would certainly be found out.
A small voice from under the table where Peter stood called out,” I made it, your majesty.”
Peter bent down and saw the tiny mouse under the table.
“How could a tiny mouse like yourself make such a wonderful truck?” Said Peter. “Certainly someone else has come into this room and played with my Legos.”
The mouse gave a tiny whistle and suddenly hundreds of mice came out of the holes in the walls and surrounded the other mouse.
“We work as a team,” said the mouse, “Playing together is much more fun than playing alone.”
“I think you are right,” said Peter, “I do get lonely, even with all my Legos. I wish I had a friend to come in and play with me.”
“Well,” said the mouse, “Maybe you should ask your mother if you can invite a friend. I think she might listen to you”
“I will see what I can do,” said Peter. “By the way, you mice did a great job on that truck.”
Henry smiled from under his table.
When Peter left, the mice did lookout for Henry as he left the palace so no guards would catch him.
Chapter 5: The Contest
Peter went to his mother and begged and begged her to let him invite a friend in to play with him. When Catherine grew tired of his whining, she finally agreed. But there was one condition.
Henry wished he could tell his mother and father about the fantastic Lego Room but he was afraid he would be punished for sneaking into the palace. So, he kept this exciting secret to himself. He was already planning for what he would build when he snuck in next Sunday.
On Wednesday of that week, the palace press secretary called a news conference. All the people of the village gathered in the square under the palace balcony to wait for the announcement. They were both excited and nervous because the press secretary rarely made announcements. This could be good news or bad.
At six o’clock sharp, he stepped out onto the balcony. Everyone in the square stopped talking and looked up. Henry was very excited to hear what he would say. Good or bad, it would certainly break up some of the monotony of living in a quiet little village with very little to do.
“Hear ye, hear ye,” said the press secretary. “I have an important announcement from her majesty the tsarina. Her son, Prince Peter, has requested the presence of one four-year old child from the village to play with him in his special Lego Room in the palace. ”
All the children in the square screamed with delight and raised their hands.
“I will do it,” they called out.
Henry could hardly believe his ears. He would do anything to get back into the Lego Room and play with Prince Peter. He wondered who they would pick.
“Quiet, quiet,” called the press secretary.
All the children hushed. They didn’t want to be sent home and not chosen for this special honor.
“The child that will be chosen to play with Prince Peter will be chosen by the tsarina herself. This child will be the one who builds the best object out of Legos. Each child in the village will be given a bag of Legos to work with. Each child must bring his or her object to the palace by next Saturday. The winner will be announced on Sunday.”
“What are Legos?” the young children murmured to each other.
Henry remained silent, not wanting to give his secret away.
The four-year old children were told to come forward and line up. When they got to the front of the line, they were given a cloth bag that made a crunchy noise when shaken. As soon as they received their bag, the children raced back to their homes to see what was inside. Henry was no exception.
Henry opened the bag and emptied out the Legos onto the kitchen table. He began to sort them by shape and color. He knew he must make something wonderful to win the contest but what would the tsarina like?
Henry decided to consult with those who would know the answer to that question. He went back to the fancy palace and sat on the bench. Soon the mouse crawled out from underneath.
“I have many shapes and colors with which to make things,” said Henry, “But I don’t know what the tsarina would like. Can you help?”
“Well, I have one idea,” said the mouse. “Come closer and I will tell you.”
Henry knelt down and the mouse whispered in his ear.
“I think I can do that,” said Henry, ”But I will need your help.”
“We can help you,” said the mouse, “See you Sunday.”
Chapter 6: The Contraption
Henry raced home and began to work on his Lego creation for the contest.
The mouse had given him an idea but it would not be easy to build. Luckily, Henry was a very smart and creative boy so he was up to the challenge.
When he was finished on Friday, he showed his parents.
“That is very beautiful, Henry,” said his mother.
“But how does it work?” asked his father.
“I need the mice for that,” said Henry. And he explained it to his parents.
“How clever you are,” said his mother.
“What a smart boy,” said his father.
On Saturday, Henry placed his creation in a box and brought it to the palace. The guard took it from him.
“Please be careful with that,” said Henry.
The guard just sneered and walked away with it.
The next day, Sunday, a messenger from the palace knocked on Henry’s door.
“The tsarina requests your presence at the palace in one hour,” the messenger told Henry.
“Mother, Father,” said Henry, “The tsarina wants to see me at the palace. Maybe I have won the contest.”
“Surely that’s the reason,” said his mother.
“Great job,” said his father.
Henry was so excited he could hardly wait for the hour to pass. He raced to the palace and knocked on the door. This time the guard had to let him in.
Henry was guided through the beautiful palace to the throne room. He could not help looking up and down and from side to side. Everything was so grand.
When he reached the throne room, he saw the tsarina seated on her red velvet throne.
“Are you Henry?, she asked, “Come forward.”
Henry slowly moved forward, barely able to breathe because he was so nervous. He saw his Lego creation on a table next to the throne.
“Did you build this, young man?” the tsarina asked”
“Yes,” said Henry.
“Well you have a nerve!” said the tsarina. “Even though you are only four years old, I may have you beheaded!”
Henry started to shake. He was confused and scared. What had he done wrong? He thought the tsarina would love his creation.
“I am sorry,” Henry said, “I know how much you loved riding about the kingdom in your carriage. I thought if I built you a model of a modern one, you could have it made and, once again, be able to ride about on Sundays.”
“Ever since the accident, I am terrified of horses. I will never ride in another horse-drawn carriage. Looking at this Lego model gave me nightmares.”
Henry hung down his head.
“By the way, where are the horses?” the tsarina asked.
“There are no horses,“ said Henry.
“Then how does it move?” asked the tsarina? “What good is a coach if it doesn’t move?”
“It does move,” said Henry, “It can move without horses.”
“Good lord, son,” said the tsarina, “You better not be trying to pull my leg.”
“No, really,” said Henry, “May I show your majesty how it works?”
“I suppose,” said the tsarina, “It is very pretty and I would certainly look quite stunning in it. But what is that weird thing in front of the coach?”
“I suppose it’s a contraption,” said Henry.
“What on earth is a contraption?” asked the tsarina.
“I’ll show you,” said Henry.
Henry gave a whistle and suddenly hundreds of palace mice came out of their holes.
At the back of the coach, Henry had mounted open wheels which were attached to gears, which were attached to pulleys, which were attached to the coach’s wheels. The mouse jumped into the open wheels and began to run. As they ran, the wheels spun, turning the gears and moving the pulleys. After a bit, the coach wheels started to turn, moving the coach ahead.
“What a wonderful contr … What did you call it, young man?” asked the tsarina.
“A contraption, “said Henry. “You could build the real coach with an engine. It’s the new kind of horsepower.”
“My goodness,” said Catherine, “You mean I could parade about and be worshipped without those skittish horses scaring the lifeblood out of me?”
“Yes, your majesty,” said Henry, smiling.
“I pronounce you the winner of the Lego Contest,” said Catherine. “There will be no need to cut off your head after all.” And she waved away the executioner.
Henry was relieved to see the large man with the axe leave the room.
“You may come back to the palace next Sunday and play in the Lego Room with my son Peter,” said the tsarina.
Henry bowed and thanked the tsarina once again. Then he raced home to tell the good news to his parents.
Chapter 7: The Village
The next Sunday, Henry arrived at the palace. He was excited to finally meet Peter and play Legos with him.
The crabby guard let Henry in and the servant escorted Henry to the Lego Room.
When Henry got to the room, Peter was waiting for him.
“Hi,” said Peter.
“Hi,” said Henry.
“What do you want to build?” asked Peter.
“I like to build vehicles,” said Henry.
Peter picked up the dump truck Henry had built previously.
“This is what the palace mice built,” said Peter. “Pretty good for mice, isn’t it?”
“Why did Peter believe the mice had built the dump truck?” you ask. Let’s just say, although Peter was a nice boy, he wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box, and leave it at that.
Henry just smiled and nodded.
“I will make buildings and you can build vehicles,” said Peter, “Then we will have an entire village.
So Peter and Henry set out on their task.
Peter built houses and palaces and stores and Henry built cars and trucks and construction machines. Sunday after Sunday they worked until they had filled a very large table with their work.
“We have filled the entire table,” said Peter, “Now what shall we do?”
“I have an idea,” said Henry. And Henry told Peter his idea.
The tsarina, who had grown quite fond of Henry by now, quickly agreed to his idea.
The following Sunday, the palace doors were opened and all the children of the village were led in and escorted to the Lego Room.
“Oh my,” they exclaimed when they saw the marvelous room and the village Peter and Henry had built.
“We have been building with Legos for many weeks and now we want to give you a chance,” said Henry.
“But we don’t know how,” said the children.
“That’s why you can start by tearing this village down!” said Henry.
The children looked at each other and then slowly moved toward the table. One girl took her fist and bashed down a house. Another boy picked up a truck and smashed it into the table where it fell into pieces. Soon all the children joined in – whooping and hollering – as they destroyed all that Henry and Peter had built.
The tsarina heard the noise and came into the Lego Room. When she saw what was happening, she yelled, “Stop! You children cannot destroy what my son and Henry have built.”
“But, mother,” said Peter, “Legos aren’t any fun if you just build things and put them on a table. Once you have finished, you must break them down and start over creating new objects.”
“It takes a village to destroy a village,” Henry misquoted proudly.
“There are so many Legos, we would like other children to join us on Sundays and learn to build things,” said Peter.
“Sure, OK, I guess,” said the tsarina.
“Why did the tsarina agree to this?” you ask. Must you ask so many questions? Let’s just say they lived happily ever after and leave it at that.