The Prince and the Pretender
Xenia Godunova is the tsarevna of the Tsardom of Rus. She begins as a humble and docile daughter, willing to do all she can to serve her father, Tsar Boris. But when a man appears claiming to be the son of Ivan the Dread, making him the tsarevich of Russia, Xenia finds the foundation of her beliefs crumbling. The man called False Dmitri claims he miraculously survived a cruel murder attempt organized by her own father.
Xenia soon feels like she can trust no one except for a handsome young prince named Pozharsky. Together, Xenia and Pozharsky search for the truth behind the strange reappearance of “Tsarevich” Dmitri. Increasingly disturbed by what they find, they cling to each other for comfort. But Xenia’s feelings for Pozharsky are cursed from the beginning. Boris has different men in mind to take her hand in marriage.
While Xenia’s resentment for her father grows, she finds her heart pulled in many directions at once. Worst of all, she is slowly seduced by the wiles of False Dmitri, whose careful plots could mean the destruction of all she holds dear.
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Dmitri pressed her even tighter against the wall, nearly crushing her with his strength. She felt light-headed as she found little choice but to stare into the deep blue waves of his eyes.
“Xenia,” hissed Dmitri, “listen to me a moment. It will do you no good to scream now. Your streltsy guards have been … detained. So I am going to remove my hand, and we will talk like civilized people.”
He stared at her silently a moment, as if to find agreement in the startled whites of her eyes. But as soon as he began to lift his hand from her mouth …
“How did you get in here?” she cried. “How dare you lay a hand on—!”
He grabbed her mouth again, his fingers now clenching her jaws with bruising ferocity.
“You must listen to me, Xenia, for I am going to tell you things you very much need to hear. Things you need to know. And I currently have the upper hand, I assure you, so you are wasting your breath to protest. Not even your beloved striapchii fellow will come along to rescue you.”
He must have seen the flare of anger in her eyes, though she said nothing, for a small smile crawled up his face.
“Good job, by the way, not falling for that little dressing room ploy. I thought for certain you would, but it seems I misjudged you, and I am glad. You would be foolish to stoop for a serving prince like Pozharsky.”
Grinning, he pulled his hand from her mouth, as if to hear her response. Refusing to give him the satisfaction, she spat in his face.
He was still wiping off the spittle from his chin when one of his muzhiki-sevriuki yelled, “Tsarevich, the streltsy are coming!”
“‘Tsarevich?’” echoed Xenia. Why would anyone call this villain “tsarevich?”
“You see,” sighed Dmitri, “if only you had taken a moment to listen ...”
The thunder of the streltsy’s boots grumbled closer; soon Xenia could see their shadows crossing the threshold of the door into the large golden hall. But she didn’t have much chance to celebrate, for Dmitri grabbed her again, this time from behind. One of his arms wrapped her chest, pinning her arms to her side, while the other rose towards her neck. She jerked with fright as a blade brushed her throat, its sharp edge flashing in the sunlight.
The bright red uniforms of the streltsy soldiers flooded the room. There must have been a dozen of them, though Xenia wondered why there were not even more. Their feet shook the floor, for every one of them carried a harquebus over twenty pounds in weight. Unfortunately, the large muskets needed the support of a stand in order to fire, so in this situation the streltsy had no choice but to wield blades or small pistols.
Neither would do them any good, of course. When they saw their tsarevna with a blade to her throat, they came to an immediate stop.
“Come any closer and I’ll kill her!” screamed Dmitri, his breath hot against her ear. “You know I will!”
But the knife trembled against Xenia’s skin, and Dmitri’s heart pounded violently against her back. He was scared, very scared. Even so, he was not scared enough, as far as Xenia could tell. Behavior like this went beyond any madness she had ever encountered. Threatening her life meant certain death for him. Perhaps his scheme would work for a little while, but how on earth would he escape? Boris would pursue him to the ends of the earth.
“Listen to me, all of you.” Though he was somewhat breathless, Dmitri’s voice rang with surprising strength through the Golden Palace. The breeze of it seemed to flutter the red curtains and twinkling candles. “You all believe you are serving the true tsar, Boris Godunov, elected by the Zemsky Sobor. You believe he was approved by Tsar Ivan and Tsar Theodore, then chosen by the people for his good administration. But I am here to tell you that he rose to his position through lies and cruel plots, and those who wished not to elect him were beaten into submission. It is my knowledge that in fact he poisoned Tsar Theodore; that he caused the same Moscow fire people praised him for putting out. He has not so much won favor as destroyed anyone who opposed him, such as several of the Shuiskys, and the Belskys, and the Romanovs.”
Xenia’s rage gave her new strength, and she squirmed against Dmitri’s grip even as the edge of his knife dug into her skin.
“But most importantly,” he strained through gritted teeth, “he tried to kill me when I was a young boy living in Uglich. When he did not succeed, he buried another in my place and announced to the world that I was dead. But I am not dead, my friends. The son of Ivan the Dread still lives. For I am Dmitri Ivanovich. I am the true tsar of Russia.”
Releasing September 3, 2013