The Damned: Ivan from Hell

©Samuel Mogbolu

 


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I am a lost soul and I mean this in the most literal way imaginable. My prison bears several names.

To some, it is the bottomless pit, to others; it is Hades or even ‘the lake of fire’. But perhaps its most famous name is simply, Hell.

I still remember my name, Ivan I was christened. I remember my date of death; I recall everything, because in hell, you never forget.

Even time holds us poor revenants in haughty disdain, she refuses to fade the memories. Every moment I shut my eyes, hoping to steal some respite, poor immortal fool that I am; it all comes back to me.

The fateful day I died. I relive it every so often, for that is the only rest we have; a rest of torments posing as nightmares.

Muscovy 1569

Ivan

Sins of Youth

 

The evening sky was pale and purple. Ivan smiled on Dimitri, his younger brother, watching how the evening breeze blew his long dark locks.

It pleased him to have a brother so comely perhaps even more so, because people claimed they held a strong resemblance.

“Do you miss Kirone?” Dimitri asked thoughtfully.

Ivan picked a pebble from the hay-littered floor and threw it at the darkened brick wall of his father’s compound.

Kirone was his horse; he’d lost him last year during the war. Kirone had fallen to a stray arrow, right through his belly.

“I do, I’m yet to get another.” Ivan said. 

“I don’t think I could ever go to war. I’m not strong like you.”

Ivan chuckled “we all show our strengths in different ways. Dimitri is no weakling.”

“Hmm,” Dimitri said “maybe, but Ivan does not keep his promises.”

He’d known this was the point all along.

“I haven’t forgotten, I will teach you how to fight.” Ivan said.

“When?” Dimitri asked “today is spent and you plan to leave tonight.”

“Only for the ball. I shall return. When I promised a violin, did I not deliver?”

Dimitri smiled “Aye. Say, do you still think about Anna?”

 
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“Dimitri??!” Ivan hushed, looking around.

They sat in the stable but the serf or someone else could have heard. Dimitri sniggered.

“You know Catherine? The merchant’s daughter?” Dimitri asked.

Ivan scratched his head “maybe? The little girl?”

Dimitri frowned “she’s not a little girl. Yesterday during mass, I told her I liked her eyes.”

Ivan smiled “hmm, what did she say?”

“Nothing, her nanny was looking.”

“You are a little devil.” Ivan said, patting his head.

The old serf came up to the mouth of the stable “dinner is served.” He said with a bow.

 

The dim light of a lone candle illuminated the gloomy dining table. The drapes were drawn down, just as his father wished it.

Dinner as usual was strained. It hurt him to see his father so weakened. He was emaciated and dolorous.

A chair screeched against the tile floor as the serf pulled it close and proceeded to urge his father with half-spoons of soup.

His father sipped slowly. He always did whenever Dimitri was around.

By the time the food was almost gone, the scolding began.

“Everyone grants a dying man his last wish.” His father said and coughed.

Ivan scratched his temple and concentrated on his soup.

“I know I shall die without seeing a grandchild. You have seen to that. But is it too great a request to see you married?”

Ivan’s concentration deepened. He grimaced when his father started coughing. It sounded like music from a broken flute or perhaps the rattle of a snake. The spate lasted so long, Dimitri rose up to cradle his father.

“Natasha is a ripe damsel,” he wheezed “lovely to behold. But you shun my arrangements.” His father continued “when did I stop being father to you?”

Ivan glared at his old man and after a few moments, got up “I think I have had my fill.” He said.

“Ivan,” Dimitri sighed.

“I’d best be on my way.” He said and walked out of the room without a backward glance. But a wagon awaited him at the gate.

“Your uncle wishes to see you.” said the serf in the wagon.

“Is the matter so urgent?” Ivan asked, exasperated.

“He sent me all the way here.” Said the serf.   

 

“How is your father?” his uncle asked.

“I fear his condition only worsens.” Ivan replied.

The evening was colder today. Perhaps not; indoors always felt colder to him; a weird anomaly yes, but his nature anyway.

He looked towards the fireplace, his mind yearning for a hot drink, while his uncle leafed through some documents in a small bronze chest.

“He is strong,” his uncle said in his usual unhurried manner, pulling the lapels of his black robe together “but the night falls on our generation. Soon we must sleep.”

His old uncle read too much literature. If only he would hasten to reveal his reason for summoning him here.

His presence was needed at the courts tonight. To honour the birthday of his son Feodor 1, the Tsar was throwing a ball. It was his duty to stand guard.

“Tis the way of life,” Ivan murmured.

“Hmm,” his uncle hummed and left the chest with a parchment in hand. He sat down on the couch and motioned for Ivan to do the same.

Ivan hesitated, the habits of the infantry strongly instilled. He preferred to stand, with his hands clasped behind his back.

“Come Ivan, even in the Streltsy, you are still my nephew.”

Ivan relented and sat with his uncle.

“What do you want to show me?” he asked.

His uncle took a deep breath.

“I am an old cavalry man with no wife and no children. Perhaps I would be a wretched cavalry man, if I did not own this estate. With it, I rub shoulders with the boyars. It is all I have.”

Ivan gave a mental sigh. What was he to say?

“But you are my favourite nephew, now a member of the Streltsy.” His uncle continued, patting him on the shoulder “I feel my time running out. When this happens, have it in good knowledge that I bequeath it all to you.”

Ivan gazed at his uncle “I am to inherit all of this?”

“Yes. Go now for the ball, I shall have my rest.”

He felt rather dazed as he watched his uncle head for his sleeping chamber.

 

They seemed to float, all of them in their flamboyant gowns, ermine robes, diamond studding and gold embroidered stockings, laughing and waltzing away.

The young Tsarevich remained on the higher floor; he’d only come out briefly, ushered in by the Tsarina.

“Looking gallant, Ivan” Repin said, coming to stand beside him.

Repin was as tall as the pillars lining this great hall, with a devilish gaunt face made even more so by the sable uniform he donned; the uniform of the Oprichniki.

Ivan stroked his beard “I’d rather hear such talk from a damsel’s lips.”

Repin’s eyes flashed with mischief “a certain damsel’s lips eh?” he said, taking a glass of wine from a passing tray.

Jealousy gripped Ivan and had him gritting his teeth. Repin considered life a game and everything a sporty competition. He was an overbearing peacock.

Ivan’s tone was flat “the brotherhood, what an elite lot you are; drinking on duty.”

Repin’s lips curved “careful, your words border on treason. Besides, I’ve told you, I could get you into the brotherhood if you fancy it.”

“pfft” Ivan scoffed and then straightened when Anna Kaspunich approached.

She looked like a ray of sunlight. She did not belong in the night. He was not alone in this thought, for not a few heads tailed her movements.

Repin turned, noticing her. He bowed his head and winked at Ivan.

“Did you fall from the stars, oh woman? You dazzle so brightly.” He said.

 She smiled to reveal shiny black teeth, well lacquered “do they teach the brothers how to court women too?

Although, if I fell from the stars, I would be dead. It is such a great distance, is it not?”

“Anna, what a delight you are.” Said a young noble before Repin could reply.

Perhaps Repin and Ivan were but mere apparitions because the boyar paid them no attention.

“Alex,” Anna muttered, turning to the noble.

Ivan watched them walk away, feeling more impotent than an aged eunuch.

“Anna got your tongue?” Repin mocked with a winged eyebrow.

“Could you spare your dripping charms for the other damsels?” Ivan said under his breath.

“You live in a dream, my poor friend. What, half the court fancies her and she is a Boyar. You are just a mere foot soldier with a tongue as light as lead.”

Ivan looked away, Repin was not being harsh.

“But your looks elevate you. Your stony countenance and lonesome…” Repin gestured with his hands “sapphire, blue, eyes, lend you a weapon that may yet save you.” he said, taking a sip “But forget Anna.”

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About

I’m just Samuel, bony faced, laidback, absentminded Samuel. I don’t like to say much, I try to stay out of trouble. Some might say otherwise but that's some for you. Point is we don’t care, let’s just be chill and have fun. So come by whenever and ask me whatever.  It’s our party now and it won't start until your arrival.