To his surprise, the monk laughed. “Do you wish to stay, then?”
Sasha could only stare.
“It is a hard life we lead here,” the monk went on more seriously. “You would build your own cell, plant your garden, bake your bread, aid your brothers as necessary. But there is peace here, peace beyond anything. I see you have felt it.” Seeing Sasha still dumbfounded, he said, “Yes, yes, many pilgrims come here, and many of them ask to stay. But we take only the seekers who do not know what they are looking for.”
“Yes,” Sasha said at last, slowly. “Yes, I would like to stay, very much.”
“Very well,” said Sergei Radonezhsky, and turned back to his baking.
THEY PRESSED THE HORSES hard on the road back to Moscow. Oleg mistrusted the fiery look on his young lord’s face. He rode close to Sasha’s stirrup and resolved to speak to Pyotr. But the young lord reached his father first.
They rode into the city in the midst of the brief, burning sunset, with the towers of church and palace silhouetted against a violet sky. Sasha left his horse steaming in the dvor and ran at once up the stairs to his father’s rooms. He found both father and brother dressing.
“Well met, little brother,” said Kolya when Sasha came in. “Have you done with churches yet?” He threw Sasha a quick, tolerant glance and returned his attention to his clothes. Tongue between his lips, he settled a hat of black sable rakishly on his black hair. “Well, you are in good time. Wash off the stink. We are feasting tonight, and it may be the family will show us the woman Father is to marry. She has all her teeth—I have it on good authority—and a pleasant…what, Sasha?”
“Sergei Radonezhsky has asked me to join his monastery on Makovets Hill,” repeated Sasha, louder.
Kolya looked blank.
“I wish to be a monk,” Sasha said. That got their attention. Pyotr was drawing on his red-heeled boots. He slewed round to stare at his son and nearly tripped.
“Why?” cried Kolya, in tones of deep horror. Sasha clamped his teeth on several uncharitable remarks; his brother had already cut a large swath through the palace serving-women.
“To dedicate my life to God,” he informed Kolya, with a touch of superiority.
“I see your holy man made quite an impression,” Pyotr said, before the astonished Kolya had recovered. He had regained his balance and was drawing his second boot on, with perhaps a bit more vim than necessary.
“I—yes, he did, Father.”
“Very well, you may,” said Pyotr.
Kolya gaped. Pyotr put his foot down and stood. His kaftan was ocher and rust; the gold rings on his hands caught the candlelight. His hair and beard had been combed with scented oil; he looked both imposing and uncomfortable.
Sasha, who had been expecting a drawn-out battle, stared at his father.
“On two conditions,” Pyotr added.
“What are they?”
“One, you may not visit this holy man again until you go to join his order. That will only be after next year’s harvest, when you will have had a year to reflect. Two, you must remember that as a monk, your inheritance will go to your brothers, and you will have naught but your prayers to sustain you.”
Sasha swallowed hard.
“But, Father, if I might only see him again—”
“No.” Pyotr cut him off in a tone that brooked no argument. “You may turn monk if you will, but you will do it with your eyes open, not enthralled by the words of a hermit.”
Sasha nodded reluctantly.
“Very well, Father,” he said.
Pyotr, his face a little grimmer than usual, turned without another word and strode down the stairs to where the horses waited, drowsing in the faded evening light.
Ivan Krasnii had only one son: the small blond wildcat Dmitrii Ivanovich. Aleksei, Metropolitan of Moscow, the highest prelate in Rus’, ordained by the Patriarch of Constantinople himself, was charged with teaching the boy letters and statecraft. Some days, Aleksei thought the job was beyond anyone short of a wonder-worker.
Three hours already the boys had labored over the birchbark: Dmitrii with his elder cousin, Vladimir Andreevich, the young Prince of Serpukhov. They scuffled; they spilled things. Might as well ask the palace cats, thought Aleksei, despairing, to sit and attend.
“Father!” cried Dmitrii. “Father!”
Ivan Ivanovich came through the door. Both boys sprang off their stools and bowed, pushing each other. “Get you gone, my sons,” said Ivan. “I would speak with the holy father.”
The boys disappeared on the instant. Aleksei sank into a chair by the oven and poured out a large measure of mead.
“How is my son?” said Ivan, drawing up the chair opposite. The prince and the Metropolitan had known each other a long time. Aleksei had been loyal even before the death of Semyon assured Ivan the throne.
“Bold, fair, charming, flighty as a butterfly,” said Aleksei. “He will be a good prince, if he lives so long. Why have you come to me, Ivan Ivanovich?”
“Anna,” said Ivan succinctly.
The Metropolitan frowned. “Is she getting worse?”
“No, but she’ll never be any better. She is growing too old to lurk around the palace and make folk nervous.” Anna Ivanovna was the only child of Ivan’s first marriage. The girl’s mother was dead, and her stepmother hated the sight of her. The people muttered when she passed, and crossed themselves.
“There are convents enough,” returned Aleksei. “It is a simple matter.”
“No convent in Moscow,” said Ivan. “My wife won’t have it. She says the girl will cause talk if she stays near. Madness is a shameful thing in a line of princes. She must be sent away.”
“I will arrange it if you like,” said Aleksei, wearily. Already he arranged many things for this prince. “She can go south. Give an abbess enough gold, and she will take Anna and hide her lineage in the bargain.”
“My thanks, Father,” said Ivan, and poured more wine.
“However, I think you have a larger problem,” added Aleksei.
“Numerous ones,” said the Grand Prince, gulping his wine. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Which were you referring to?”
The Metropolitan jerked his chin in the direction of the door, where the two princes had gone. “Young Vladimir Andreevich,” he said. “The Prince of Serpukhov. His family wants him married.”