Siberian Treasure Page 1

Author: Colleen Gleason

Genres: Mystery


Moscow, 1560

Through the pain that never seemed to leave her, Anastasia Romanovna, wife of Tsar Ivan Vasiljevich, the Fourth, heard her nurses muttering.

“The tsarina grows weaker with each moment. She will not live another night.”

“When she goes, the tsar will go mad!”

Anastasia did not want to hear more. The nurses spoke the truth.

She was dying, and her husband’s hold on sanity was tenuous at best. The boyars and peasants alike called him Ivan Grozny—Ivan Awesome, Ivan Terrible.

Anastasia’s death would leave him alone and vulnerable to his bouts of rage, his madness, and his rampages of violence, for she was the one who helped him control them.

Gathering all of her strength, she called for one of the nurses, one of the few members of her husband’s court that they trusted. “Adejana.” The nurse whom she’d named came to her bedside. “My husband…please find him for me.”

“I will call for him.” The nurse bobbed a bow and dashed from the room, but not before Anastasia saw pity in her face—and then fear.

Indeed, the nurse should fear. When Anastasia was gone, there would be no one to hold her husband’s rages in check. Ivan would have the heads of the men who poisoned his wife, who now waited gleefully in the wings for her to die. Theirs would not be a simple, nor a quick, death.

She felt no pity for those men, devout Christian though she might be. They were stealing her life at the age of twenty-six. And for no reason other than to destroy Ivan.

Anastasia’s pain blended into sleep, then back into wakening. She sipped from something when it was brought to her swollen, cracked lips. It felt cool and smooth sliding down her throat.

Then he was there. Ivan.

His large, warm hands grasped hers and she forced her eyes open to look at him. Pain and anger lined his face.

Anastasia could not save herself, nor could she save him from the madness in his eyes. But she could save something.

“Ivan. The … books.”

“Yes, yes, the books. I will care for them. Rest. Do not speak; you will get better.”

She rolled her head on the pillow in negation. It took too much effort, but she opened her mouth to speak. “They will destroy them.”

“My grandfather’s books?”

“I have heard it is their plan … .my spies … tell me.” She paused to catch her breath, and Ivan leaned toward her. He trembled, for though he spoke otherwise, he knew it was too late for her.

But the books. They must be saved. She would make him understand that he must protect their secrets.

There were hundreds … .nearly a thousand … of them. They filled three vaults, specially made to protect them from the fires that tore much too often through the wooden buildings in Moscow. Brought from Byzantium by the bride of Ivan’s grandfather, Sophia Palaeologa, and hidden away beneath the Kremlin, the tomes and scrolls and papers certainly bore ancient secrets, many as yet undiscovered.

Ivan, with his insatiable love of reading, had visited the library countless times during his youth. He’d pored over the books, and later shared them with Anastasia. The two could read very few of them; they were written in ancient Greek and Roman and other unnamed archaic languages.

At Anastasia’s urgings, Ivan had selected a few trustworthy scholars and set them to work in secrecy, translating them … but there were so many, and the scrolls were so old. They had barely begun their daunting task.

“They must be … saved,” she managed. “Promise me.”

“I do promise, my love. I do.” And beyond the unhealthy glint in his eyes, she saw his determination. He would see to it.

And she could die now, for there was nothing else she could do. She could not save either of them.

Only the books.

Four months after his wife’s death, just as the heavy snows began to descend upon Moscow, Tsar Ivan Vasiljevich emerged briefly from his despair and grief and kept his promise.

He had kept other promises he’d made to himself upon Anastasia’s death, including torturing and killing the boyars he knew were responsible for poisoning her with mercury. He knew they were guilty, but he had no proof. He didn’t care if he had proof. God knew the truth and that was all Ivan cared about.

And the writings. The library.

It had taken him weeks to make the arrangements; even longer than it should have because when the rages and madness overtook him, he lost all reason. His forehead, scarred from the splits and cuts from when he smashed it against the floor in agony and fury, still throbbed and bruised, and caused him to fade in and out of lucidity.

But the books.

He’d had them carefully crated up. He had killed some of the men after they had done so, for he could not allow the boyars to learn what he planned. The men he had not killed numbered four scholars and twenty soldiers, and he ordered them aboard a ship with the crates. His only concession was in selecting good men who had no family to leave behind, for he knew the depths of grief.

The captain would sail the men and the library north along the wintry waters of Moskva River, into the Barents Sea; then far east to the lands of mountains and long winters. To a land remote and safe.

A land newly conquered by Ivan: Siberia. A place unexplored and thus protected from the murderous hands of the boyars, who’d threatened Ivan from the day he’d become Russia’s ruler at the age of three.

Someday, he would leave the madness that was his life and go to the wilderness, and to his books.

Away from the ugly memories and violence of his youth.

Perhaps then he would be at peace.


September 15, 1942

Somewhere over Siberia

Irina Marina Yusovsky slipped her arms into the military-issue parachute as she struggled to maintain control of the tossing plane.

Icy air permeated the cockpit, and frost fringed her eyelashes. The temperature had dropped below -30ºC and she could barely move her fingers from their grip on the controls. The radio had long since died. The fuel was nearly gone.

Since she’d lost her way from the rest of the 73rd Guards Stalingrad-Vienna Fighter Regiment four hours ago, Irina had had no contact with the outside world.

She’d been forced from an air battle near Stalingrad by three Ju-88s—enemy aircraft determined to shoot her down. Her guns had failed, and Irina banked the plane and zoomed away from the battle.

A sudden storm had taken her by surprise and she became lost in the buffeting winds. Ice formed on the inside and outside of her YaK-1, causing the radio and navigation devices to fail. The sky was dark with grey snow clouds, and she couldn’t elevate the plane high enough to rise above them and navigate by the stars.

Now, four hours or more from home, lost in the mountains of Siberia, her only choice was to abandon the aircraft.

Fuel was low. She could barely move in her seat, and her only chance of surviving was to eject from the plane.

Irina tried one last time to radio for navigation, for help, to hear any human voice. But the only sound was the blast of wind and the sputtering of the engine as it tried to go on.

She guessed her altitude must be over 7500 feet. It was a long way to drop onto unknown terrain. She nosed the plane into a descent to help bring her closer to the ground.

Tightening the straps, Irina took one last breath and peered into the darkness surrounding the aircraft. If only she could see something below. For all she knew, jagged icy mountains rose beneath her, ready to catch her fall and slice her to pieces.

When the time came, she moved quickly. Out of her seat, checking the supplies strapped to her body, and the parachute to her back, she reached for the hatch. One quick prayer, one flip of the lock, and a blast of air burst into the cabin.

She jumped.

The wind whistled along her, and the roar of the plane above careened off to the side as she plummeted toward the ground. Irina’s chute expanded with a whoosh above her, and her free-fall stopped abruptly, then began to ease down.

She flexed her fingers, moved her ankles, rubbed her arms. It seemed forever that she fell, in the dark and silent world of billowing snow and gusting wind.

She thought about her companions and hoped that they, at least, would survive the fighting. They were tenacious and skillful flyers. Only two days ago, her comrade Lilya Litvyak had become the first woman to shoot down an enemy aircraft. She had shot down not one, but two Ju-88s.

As she descended, Irina thought only of Lilya, and her other comrades—not of her parents, or her sisters, or especially Kostya, her husband. If Marina Raskova, Irina’s mentor and the woman who had commandeered the all-female fighter regiments, had survived in the mountains by living on berries and chocolate bars for ten days, Irina could do the same.

She would.

Her feet slammed into ground, one after the other, catching her by surprise. Her knees buckled as she landed on them, her hands following to press palm-flat on the swampy earth. It was still dark, but as she struggled to her feet, she stripped off the parachute’s silk and fumbled for her flashlight strapped to her waist.

Irina pulled it free, her frozen fingers still aching with every movement, and fought with the switch. A beam of yellow glowed in the darkness and she turned in a circle to survey her surroundings.

Her light cut through the dimness and suddenly illuminated three tall figures. They stood, wrapped in furs that covered their faces and arms and legs so that Irina couldn’t even guess at their gender.

One of them brandished a gun.

Anything she might have said died in her mouth.

Another of them stepped forward to snag her arm, yanking her toward the group. Alarmed by his sudden movement, Irina stumbled and tried to pull away, losing the flashlight. But the grip on her fatigued muscles was too firm. He pulled her after him as they started to trudge, silently, into the darkness.

The third figure picked up Irina’s flashlight from the ground and led the way.

They did not speak, even to each other, as they prodded her through the darkness. The flashlight had been turned off. They needed no illumination to find their way. Silent, Irina stumbled along in their midst. They hadn’t left her for dead; they hadn’t used the gun. Perhaps they meant her no harm.

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