Read Chapter One from Ivan the Terrible

Chapter One

Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library

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 THE HORSEMAN FLED ACROSS THE GREAT WHITE SNOWFIELD at a mad gallop, his naked chest gleaming in the silver moonlight almost as brightly as the blade of the sword he carried in his big right hand. The wind whirled little spirals of drifting snow before the hooves of his gray stallion but the snow flurries had not yet hidden the twin tracks of the droshky after which he raced.

 The rider paid no attention to the chilling buran wind, the curse of the great Eurasian steppes which reach from the headwaters of the Danube as far east as Mongolia. Anger kept him warm, making his blood pound in a molten torrent all along his veins. Long red hair blew free his furiously flushed face and feverishly bright eyes, as the powerful fingers of his sword-hand opened and closed convulsively upon the braided hilt. His rage was almost that of madness.

 He was the Great Prince of Rus.

 Ivan Vasilovich.

 At the moment he was not so much prince as man. Bitterness curled his wide mouth. In the droshky that ran so swiftly through the night was pretty blonde Marina Radinefski, abducted by force from the country villa to which he had brought her from Moscow. Her wild screams had sent him running from the terem, where he had been changing into linen shirt and woolen trousers, in time to see her being carried across the estate courtyard.

 Two men were in the droshky with her, Yuri Glinksi and Alexander Kurbsky, the sons of powerful boyars—the noblemen of Rus—and at times companions to the prince in his loneliness. Their harsh mocking laughter as they fled away from the royal khoromy still rang in his ears.

 “I’ll kill them both,” he grated between his teeth. “I Swear by the Holy Nails that pinned Christ to the Cross—they die this night!”

 His toe urged the big khalas horse to greater speed. Somewhere to the west a wolf howled out its eerie call across the snowlands, and Ivan shivered. He considered himself brave enough but he had no wish to test either horse or sword against those fanged beasts. For the first time doubt touched him.

 He was a fool to be riding half-naked in the night. Marina Radinefski was only a woman. No need to get himself killed over her. There were always women available to this youth who might someday—God and the boyars of Rus permitting—sit the throne of Vladimir Monomach and wear his jeweled cap as a symbol of his tsardom.

 “It isn’t just the woman—though I’ve dreamed of having her often enough for the past six months—it’s my authority, that matters. I’ve been mocked and laughed at for the last time by the Shuishkys and the Kurbskys, Vorontsovs and Glinskis.”

 His legs lifted him upright in the stirrups.

 Far ahead a pale yellow light winked and shifted, grew steady in the blackness. A small country khoromy—a timber and clay house, somewhat more elaborate than the simpler khaty, with carved pillars and lintels painted in reds and blues—loomed on the horizon. It probably belonged either to the Glinski family or the Kurbskys.

 Ivan grimaced. It made no difference to him if it was the property of the Metropolitan of Moscow, Makary, and so sacred because the church owned it. He would ride through the log gateway and cut down any who opposed him. This night he would have Marina Radinefski naked in his bed or be slain.

 The gray horse with the black mane and tail ran with the ease of a frightened deer. It needed no touch of spur or flick of toe. Ivan had owned it since it had been a colt, and many secrets had been poured into its ear by this lonely youth who had been an orphan for almost half his life. Now the long, low house with its log wall began to take shape before him. Snow lay on its roof and cupola and the projecting sills of its windows were strung with snow and icicles like fabled jewels. He had no eye for the barbaric beauty of the khoromy; all he knew was that it sheltered his tormentors.

 The gateway was open, the heavy log doors drawn back, the courtyard snow trampled flat. As he came onto its hard surface he saw the droshky with its two horses. They were standing with lowered heads, breathing cloud-like puffs through their nostrils.

 The fur robes had been disarranged as if Marina had put up a fight before being carried into the building. Ivan smiled tightly as he slipped from the high-peaked saddle, setting his yellow thigh-boots firmly on the snow.

 A lantern had been lighted and hung at the painted door. He drew toward it, his hand shifting its grip on the naked sword he held, and pounded on the door planks. When there was no answer he took a backward step and raising his right leg, drove a boot-heel into the latch.

 The door splintered inward on his fifth kick.

 A hallway lay before him, walls and ceilings covered with bright paintings. He drew down an iron lantern and held it high in his left hand as he advanced.

 “Marina!” he roared. “Marina Radinefski!”

 There was no answer.

 His yellow thigh-boots moved on toward the great gridnitsa, which was a long, high-ceilinged room fitted out with two huge brick stoves, an eating dais and long table with benches at the far end, together with a number of big wooden chairs and lowboys pushed back against the walls. Bearskins and captured war banners hung above them, with an occasional helmet and shirt of chain mail. Kurbsky property, then; the Kurbskys fancied themselves as soldiers.

 “I’ll burn this place as I would a diseased pigsty,” he swore, moving down the great hall.

 He was close to the great brick oven when he heard boot-falls and whirled. Three men were coming into the gridnitsa, grinning widely at him. Each of them carried a sword and a small round metal shield. House servants of the Kurbskys, armed for protection against wandering bands of Tatars or Cossacks who might come raiding this far north. Big men and strong, probably retired soldiers.

 “Throw down the sword, youngling,” one of them called.

 “All we mean to do is disarm you—”

 “—and throw you out into the snow.”

 Ivan flushed. Even these muzhiks dared speak to him with mockery in their eyes and on their tongues, learned by aping their boyar masters. Long ago he had discovered pretense and dissimulation to be a defense against the boyars who governed Rus in his name. Starved and clad in rags, he had been a virtual prisoner in the Kremlin from the age of eleven on, until this past year. He had learned long ago to retire behind a blank face and an uncomplaining mien. As the weasel disguises itself for the winter by shedding its brown coat and growing white fur so he hid his real self by the camouflage of indifference.

 But he was done with deceit, now.

 “Take it from me, if you can,” he growled harshly.

 They laughed at him, honestly amused.

 “The cockerel grows brave with steel in his hand.”

 “Too bad he doesn’t know how to use it.”

 “Come, Prince Ivan. Use your head!”

 “We’ll drub you if you cause us trouble.”

 They were moving apart to come at him from three sides. Ivan grinned coldly, aware that his heart was beginning to slam excitedly. This was his chance to strike back at the boyars for all the years of his thralldom, to repay them for the insults which had been heaped on him, for all their taunts and gibes and laughter.

 His tongue ached to reveal the fact that he was no novice with the sword. Just as he had studied secretly with the monk, Daniel Sylvester, and read avidly every hand-illumined psalter which that holy man had smuggled to his quarters during the years of his boyhood, so too he had learned the art of swordplay from Alexei Adashev, who had been an officer in the palace guards, the streltsi, before being named gentleman of the bedchamber to the tsar-prince.

 He had been an eager pupil. The blood of Rurik the Viking flowed in his veins, mingled with that of the great bogatyr, Alexander Nevsky, and with that of Vladimir Monomach, who had made a name for himself as a mighty hunter as well as a wise ruler. His body was tall and powerful and had been made hard by constant exercise.

 Now as he slowly backed before the oncoming muzhiks, he remembered those wise counsels of Alexei Adashev. To the three men it seemed he sought to place his back to the brick stove and there make a stand.

 Instead, he whirled and leaped for the nearest retainer.

 His great blade drove for the metal cap the muzhik wore. Instantly, the round metal targe lifted to deflect it. In mid-strike, Ivan moved his wrist and the thin blade went flashing sideways past the rim of the shield to drive into the neck where it met the shoulder, unprotected by the mail shirt.

 The man screeched thickly, his cry lost in the bloody bubbles erupting from his open mouth. Eyes wide, he stiffened, throwing out his arms. Then he fell face forward onto the rush-covered floor.

 The others stared in dumb amazement at their dead fellow, and in that moment of their astonishment Ivan attacked. His blade drove straight ahead in an unstoppable point thrust. Unable to raise his shield in time, the man he was attacking instinctively used his sword-arm to ward away that glittering length of steel. Ivan drove the blade past the ineffectual buffer. The shock to his arm as the steel ripped into chain-mail shirt and ribs almost yanked the hilt from his hand.

 The third and last muzhik, stirring to life, roared in rage. He elevated his targe and came straight for Ivan. Twice the tsarevitch tugged at his sword haft; twice he was unable to free it. Death stared at him from the blazing eyes over the rim of the uplifted shield. There was no time now to slip loose his sword.

 He jerked backward on the hilt, falling away from that mad onrush, and with a sweep of his long arm he drew his sword and the dead man still fastened to it into the servant’s path. The corpse hit the shield with a dull thud. The running man lost balance, falling sideways.

 Ivan yanked his ivory-handled dagger from its scabbard.

 He leaped through the air full onto the fallen man. The point of the blade went deep into his throat. The man arched upward in a dying convulsion, eyes open wide in disbelief. Red foam flecked his contorted mouth.

 The tsarevitch rolled free, rising to his knees and staring down at the dying muzhik. His chest rose and fell rapidly as a wild elation sang along his veins. He had killed three men, alone and in mortal combat, this night! For the first time in his life he had struck out at his enemies! His head lifted and he glared around the hall.

 “Alexander Kurbsky! Yuri Glinski!” he bellowed.

 There was no sound.

 Putting a heel on the chest of the dead man in whose flesh his blade was still buried, he yanked it free. Blood spouted upward in a small gushet, dyeing the bottoms of his yellow thigh-boots a dull red. He wiped the steel clean and once again raised the iron lantern.

 Ivan Vasilovich went on past the corpses lying on the bloody rushes. His heart sang. It had been so easy to kill. Perhaps the terrors which had plagued him in the years of his boyhood could as easily be smashed, once he had set his mind to the task!

 “Marina. Marina Radinefski!”

 A faint sound came to his ears. He stiffened, listening. It was not repeated. As close as he could judge direction, he moved toward that sound. His nostrils flared and his eyes ran this way and that, like those of a suspicious animal. His boots carried him along a narrow corridor with blue doors on either side. One by one he opened them, lifting the lantern to stare into their emptiness.

 Four doors he opened before he came to one that gave entrance into a large, spacious bedchamber lighted with a dozen candles. Marina Radinefski sat in a big wooden chair, wrists and ankles securely tied to its arms and legs, a gag thrust into her mouth.

 Relief flooded her eyes as she saw him.

 He was across the room in three long steps, Sword cutting loose the ropes, fingers unknotting the cloth that held her mouth.

 “Don’t talk,” he told her, realizing how dry and painful her mouth must be. His gaze hunted the room until he saw a silver wine ewer with matching goblets. He poured the red claret and handed it to her.

 She swallowed gratefully and let him help her to her feet. She was some years older than his seventeen and had been a lady in waiting to his mother, Helen Glinskaya, when she had been regent of Rus after the death of his father Vasili III. In her brocade dalmatic Marina seemed shapeless, but once Ivan had seen her only partially dressed in the Kremlin terem and the sight of her full breasts and white, shapely legs had put an undying flame in his loins.

 “I must tell you—”

 His hand gently covered her lips as he shook his head. “No. There’s no need to speak. Just nod or shake your head. Was it Yuri Glinski? And Alexander Kurbsky?”

 The blonde woman nodded slowly, wide gray eyes fastened on this fierce young redhead. For all her twenty-nine years, Marina Radinefski was somewhat frightened of this youth. There was a wildness about him—an untamable eagerness for life and all it might hold—which dazed her more stolid Slav senses. She knew how powerfully she attracted him with her large, soft body, its skin like beaten cream and hair the color of Byzantine gold. A thick vein of sensuality pulsed in the tsarevitch and she felt her own blood pound in response to it.

 She wanted to be taken by him just as desperately as he needed to take her. His youthful body was lean and powerful. To her wondering eyes he was like a gaunt red timber wolf, savage and exciting.

 Yet he should know that—

 “Are they still in the khoromy?” he demanded fiercely.

 “No. They ran away. But—”

 Ivan lifted her to her feet, steadying her with a hand and an arm as he drew her toward the bedchamber door. “They probably left the muzhiks to give me a beating, and ran away to laugh themselves silly over it. Well, no matter. I’ll borrow the droshky to take you back with me.”

 “Prince, you should know—”

 “I know you shouldn’t speak, that’s what I know. Not until I have you safe in bed with me.”

 His arm hugged her middle and she smiled at him. “Just the same, I’d feel better if—”

 “Does your news involve danger to either of us?”

 “No danger. No. But—”

 “Silence, then. I command it.”

 Ivan found a sheepskin kozhukh, which was a skintight sleeveless coat, and donned it, wearing his sword belt over it. An Astrakhan fur cap he fitted on his long red hair, and struck a pose for Marina to admire.

 “I came to your rescue so fast I took no time to dress. Gods! It was cold out, too. I’m only just now thawing out.”

 From a pile of fur garments in a big painted wooden chest, he chose a wolf-skin shuba, tossing the fur cloak about his wide shoulders. “I’ll be warmed on the way back, eh? With this to wear and you close beside me.”

 She put a hand to her soft white throat as if to stroke the pain from it. Ivan stepped closer and hugged her against him. “What is it, little one? Is the pain growing worse? And I stand here like a mindless idiot babbling about heat and cold. Come!”

 They moved out into the courtyard where the howling buran sent sworls of snow eddying before them. The robes were layered in white but Ivan shook them out and tucked Marina Radinefski into their thick fur until only her pretty face showed between black sable robe and the beaver hat he had made her put on. He tied the khalas stallion to the sled by its long leather reins.

 “Warm enough? Throat better?” he asked.

 She nodded happily and when he climbed to the high seat, she leaned against him. He shook the reins and chirped to the two bays. The powerful horses lunged against the traces to free the runners from the frozen snow. Twice they strained before the droshky shuddered and broke free and after that it ran like a greased ski over the icy ground.

 The khoromy fell far behind them as the bays went at a good pace. Ivan was at peace with the world. Tonight he had shown his fangs to his boyars. He was no longer the frightened, confused boy they had always known. Now he rode with Marina Radinefski close beside him. Within the hour he would be taking her into his bed.

 Life was suddenly a brighter, gayer thing for Ivan Vasilovich. He began to sing a wild Cossack song that had been old in the days of Svyatopolk the Accursed, five hundred years ago. Beside him, Marina chuckled warmly and touched his thigh, patting it tenderly.

 “I’m a new man, this night,” he told her. “No longer merely the tsar-prince, but soon to be tsar. I mean it. I’ll speak to the Metropolitan of Moscow when we return to the Kremlin. I’ll have him crown me with Vladimir’s cap before my next birthday.”

 The vast emptiness of the frozen steppes pressed the weight of their eternal silence upon them. Only the tiny silver bells hung on the great bow yoke above the horses’ withers and the faint slither of the sled runners made any sound. The stars glazed overhead in a black sky, and faintly, as if from immeasurable distances, the wind whispered among the distant trees. The forest world was a thin dark line off to the north stretching in a mighty sweep of pine and fir, birch and oak.

 Ivan gestured with an arm. “This is my world, Marina. Mine. All my own. As yet, I’ve never claimed it. I’ve been too afraid of the boyars.” He turned his head and glanced at the pretty face surrounded by fur. “Do I surprise you, admitting I’ve been afraid? Only a fool or a madman has never known fear.

 “My younger brother Yuri and I have been alone for a long time, with nobody to turn to for help and advice except the Metropolitan, and he’s a priest with a priest’s outlook on the world. The boyars poisoned my mother and put Obolensky, her lover, in prison when I was only eleven years old. I still marvel that Yuri and I weren’t strangled some fine winter night.

 “The only thing that saved us, I suppose, was the mutual hatred of the Shuishkys for the Bielskys, the Vorontsovs for the Kurbskys, the Glinskis for the Andreyevitches. They may have hated me but they didn’t fear me. They reserved that for each other. And so I was let live. A forgotten boy—half starved, poorly clothed, ignored and mocked and laughed at—but a boy who was allowed to grow to manhood.

 “They had their chance for power and they missed it. Now it’s my turn.”

 His big hands tightened on the leather reins as he stared out across the frozen barrens. There was an intense pride in his craggy face as well as an internal coldness which revealed itself in his tremendous self control. He laughed softly, almost under his breath.

 “The fools! Did you know they used to bring Yuri and me down to the torture dungeons to watch them work over some poor bastard of a prisoner in the hopes of making us as cruel and unfeeling as themselves? They never guessed they might be teaching me the art of causing pain which may be used against them, some day.

 “I saw a man flayed alive once. I can still hear his screams as the skin was ripped off him by the—”

 “No,” the woman whispered, eyes closed.

 His smile was tight. “It sickens you, doesn’t it? Think how it affected me, five years ago. I retched for two days. But I saw it all. Andrei Shuishky made me watch, standing at my elbow, taunting me for going green and nearly fainting.

 “They gave us animals to torture, too, bringing them in from the hunt and tying them up so we could work on them. As deftly as I could, I tried to kill the poor dumb beasts but I didn’t often get the chance. The rich noblemen who rule Rus wouldn’t let me show mercy.

 “No mercy to the animals, none to the boyars!”

 His own khoromy was growing in size as they sped toward its great log walls and shingled roof. These buildings at Ostruka had been a summer residence for the family of Grand Duke Vasili III, his father. Now they belonged to him. With an idea of making them into a winter hideaway, he had ordered more brick stoves to be built in the huge gridnitsa and in the several terems, which were bedchambers usually reserved for the womenfolk of a Rus family.

 The droshky ran into the yard and halted. Ivan threw back the robe and leaped to the hard-packed snow, moving to the other side of the sled and holding up his arms to Marina. She came down against him with a little sigh. He trembled, feeling her so close, knowing the moment for which he had hungered these past six months was close at hand.

 “Sergei will care for the horses,” he told her.

 They moved together up the few steps to the wide wooden porch that flanked the khoromy on three sides, his arm about her waist holding her against him. A fever of excitement was beginning to burn in his blood. Just inside the carven doorway he drew her close to him, kissing her hungrily.

 Her mouth was soft and loose, nor did she refuse the tongue that he sent darting between her lips with a savage hunger. Her loins moved into him with a curious hardness—as if her flesh had been turned to marble by the spell of an evil shaman—but he contented himself with another squeeze, then led her down the corridor and into a large bedroom.

 His manservant, Sergei, had lighted a fire in the clay stove and its cheery heat made sweat appear on his forehead. With a grin he yanked the sheepskin tunic from him and tossed it over a chair.

 “You now, Marina,” he smiled, advancing on her, taking her fur cap and loosening the brocade dalmatic which covered her from throat to ankles.

 “Ivan, I must tell you—”

 “No speech,” he laughed, kissing her mouth. “Not until we’re together in bed. Then you can babble all you want. Come, let’s get rid of that gown.”

 The gold brocade dress slipped down her white arms. Beneath it she wore a fine linen shirt with red stitchings at collar and sleeves. It fell to the middle of her thighs, revealing the shapeliness of pale legs. On her tiny feet she wore red leather cherevi lined with fur.

 “Beautiful,” he told her, kicking off his thigh-boots and stepping out of woolen breeches. “Now the shirt. Take it off.”

 She looked as if she were going to cry. “I—I can’t.” Her hands went up to her flushed face and hid it. “It was Prince Yuri. He—“ She began to sob.

 Ivan stared at her. “What’s wrong?”

 Naked he moved across the rushes to put a hand on her shoulder. “There’s no need to fear me. No matter what happened, I don’t blame you. Kurbsky and Glinski, they’re the ones.”

 He was strangely gentle with the sobbing woman as she lowered her hands and stared at him out of wet, anguished eyes. “Did they hurt you? No? Then it can’t be so bad.”

 He had to laugh a little, standing naked before her, with Marina clad only in a thin undergarment. “I’ve wanted you. for half a year, do you know that? I’ve dreamed about you. I swore that one of these nights I’d drag you by your long yellow hair into my bed if I had to.

 “Now you’re with me and except for Sergei—who doesn’t count—we’re all alone. We can spend the night and all day tomorrow and tomorrow night making love to one another. Can’t you see how—”

 The blonde woman began to moan, bending over with her wet face clasped in both hands. “I wish I were dead. Oh Jesu Maria, I wish—”

 His hand caught her elbow, swinging her around to face him, lifting her chin in a hand. Something of her terror and misery touched a wellspring of fear deep inside him. “What is it? You wouldn’t be carrying on like this unless there was really something—”

 Ivan trembled in a nameless dread. Ever since he had been eleven, he had walked through his days only too well aware that each sunrise might be his last. There were times, even now, when he came upright from a troubled sleep, crying out thickly against the nightmare of doom which awoke him. Some of that fear had rubbed off into his blood. It needed very little to drive cold apprehension into his vitals.

 His fingers went to the straps of her shift, lowering them down her pale white arms. The breath caught in his throat as the linen slipped past her melon breasts with their upstanding scarlet nipples. Impatience made his hands quiver.

 With a convulsive wrench he shredded the garment, yanking it from her nakedness with a harsh cry. For an instant he stared at her, stupefied.

 Her white belly was banded by a belt of solid gold. From it, an intricate scroll of gold-work tapered to a vee between her full thighs. Where it pressed into her skin, the flesh bulged protestingly.

 “A chastity belt,” he whispered.

 The enormity of the jest held him silent. His eyes stared at the nudity of which his mind had dreamed, seeing it so close, so lovely, but locked away from him by a metal circlet. Marina Radinefski might as well have been back in Moscow for all the good she would be to him this night.

 “The key?” he asked dumbly.

 “They took it away with them.”

 “And they laughed?”

 “Yes.”

 Rage shook him as the buran shakes the aspen. “By Christ on the Cross, I swear this! No one shall ever laugh at me again! Instead of laughter, I’ll make Yuri Glinski and Alexander Kurbsky scream with agony. You hear this, Marina? Be witness to my vow!”

 His blazing eyes hunted the wooden wall of the terem, going this way and that until he located the thing he sought. He ran to the wall, jerked down the wooden icon and held it high.

 “By this icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, I vow it!”

 “Ivan, this is sacrilege!”

 He seemed demented to the frightened woman until she realized that the frenzy that shook him went beyond the mere frustration of the moment. It struck deep at the core of everything in which Ivan Vasilovich believed. He was the son of the Grand Duke Vasili. He would be the next Grand Duke, hereditary ruler of the lands of Rus. In his eyes, the young boyars had mocked not so much Ivan, the man, as they had Ivan, the tsarevitch, and this he could not forgive.

 “You bear witness, Marina Radinefski?”

 “I bear witness, Lord Ivan.”

 The madness slipped away from him. He looked at the naked woman encased in the golden chastity belt, then at the icon, and shuddered. Reverently he replaced it on the log wall, asking, “Do you really think it was sacrilege? Do you?”

 “No. Of course not. Ivan, come here.”

 She held out her arms but he stood with lowered head, gnawing at his full lower lip with even white teeth, unaware that she was inviting him to her.

 “Always they’ve made fun of me, secure in their strength,” he muttered. “Each of the boyar families maintains a small army. What army have I? Only my two arms. But it shall be. I’ll make it different.”

 In the end, Marina was forced to walk to him, to slip an arm about his naked middle, to press her breasts into his chest, her sheathed loins into his groin. “Forgive them, Ivan. Remember only me this night.”

 Horror touched his features. “Would you drive me mad, too? Don’t you understand how much I want you? They’ve locked you off from me. And yet—a file! Perhaps a file might free you. But it would hurt. It would tear your flesh.”

 The idea of pain stimulated her so that her breath came faster. “I wouldn’t mind. Truly, I wouldn’t. I belong to you, Lord Ivan, as we all belong to you. By freeing me of this metal garment you’d be hitting back at Yuri Glinski and Alexander Kurbsky.”

 The thought appealed to Ivan Vasilovitch. As he was to be torn between religious asceticism and sensuality in later life, so he found himself torn now. His mind discovered symbolism in his present helplessness. By removing the golden scabbard which held this woman from him, he would be removing the psychic prison in which the boyars held him trapped.

 “Sergei!” he bellowed.

 When the bearded manservant came to the door, Ivan roared out his needs. Marina Radinefski sat wrapped in a sable robe on the edge of the huge poster bed, smiling at her lover. She had taken the combs from her hair so that it lay in a thick spill of gold across her smooth shoulders and the black fur. A mirror on the wall revealed her mature beauty to her eyes. She would please Ivan this night as he had never been pleased before.

Only let him get the metalwork off her loins!

 Within moments, Sergei was thrusting a file through the open door and Ivan was approaching her, kneeling at her feet, throwing back the sable coverlet to bare her hip. Lips tight, he worked as gently as he could, the rasping of the grooved iron on the gold band that enclosed her belly sending shooting chills down her spine. She trembled but urged him on in a firm voice. Twice the file drew blood, twice he swore great oaths of vengeance on the men who made her suffer this way.

 She felt the main bands loosen, then his fingers were thrusting them back, freeing all of one white hip. Ivan bent to kiss the bruised flesh. Her hand buried its fingers in his loose red hair, holding him to his caress.

 “Just so shall you break apart the schemings of the boyars when you’re grand duke, Lord Ivan,” she whispered down at him.

 “Da! As I bend this golden scroll-work, so I’ll bend them to my will. I swear it.” His strong hands caught the girdle and tugged.

 The metal bent slowly, reluctantly. His muscles stood out in humped ridges along arms and shoulders. The breath caught in his corded throat. And then the belt was loosening, freeing her flesh, and his hands were drawing it down her shapely legs and over her ankles.

 His hand tossed it through the air. It hit the log wall with a metallic thud. Then his palms were slipping upward along her quivering thighs and she was letting him push her onto the sable robe. She lay white and gold to his eyes, to the hands that sought the heavy breasts, the soft hips.

 “You are Russia,” he whispered.

 “Lord Ivan,” she murmured.

 “Yes. I’m your lord and lord of all Rus. As I take you now, so I’ll take this land and make it mine.”

 His mouth was on her lips, driving deep, and her arms enclosed him, drawing him to her. A feverish excitement pounded in his body. He fought to get closer to this naked woman, of whom his hands and lips could not get enough.

 And as Marina Radinefski arched to receive him, so Russia would lift itself, begging him to master it, to dominate its people. As nothing had stopped him from conquering this woman-flesh, nothing would prevent him from overcoming Russia, molding it to his will.

 Ivan sobbed in passion.

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