Written by Mireia Giro
Endless darkness… then suddenly, sharp shrieks mixed with the cracking of a whip on human flesh getting closer and closer. Tears are dripping down, along with fresh blood and sweat, onto the dirty stone floor. The sound of pain and terror resonates without the voice of another…
Ivan wakes up again today from the same nightmare—blurry but real. The people he executed haunt him at night too, but nothing as much as that little boy living deep within Ivan.
Today is the day of the Novgorod Boyar’s execution. Ivan prepared by putting on his glorious robe, shiny like gold with scarlet red patterns. He has been waiting for this day for way too long. He walks towards his crown and puts it on top of his head, more secure than ever.
Two Oprichniki already wait for him outside his door. Together, they leave the palace and walk towards the Red Square, the place where the execution will happen.
“We have cleared Novgorod City, sir. All who have shown acts of treason have been immediately executed or captured and sent to the dungeon.” Ivan does not answer his bodyguard. The dungeon, familiar place. These pets of the boyars will finally get a taste of that.
He wants to smile but can’t, for he had forgotten long ago what a smile was.
The weather shaped the mood in the Red Square that day, with grey clouds filled up the sky, shedding a few tears intermittently. Crowds of people wait around in complete silence. In the center, a group of people, or should I say, bodies, are tied to sticks, each looking like a scarecrow. Their faces are unrecognizable, bodies twisted and scarred. Who would’ve thought that they were the most noble beings of Novgorod just a few days earlier.
When Ivan arrives and sits down on his throne, they lift their heads like ghosts. Some beg him with their eyes, while others look like angry beasts who just lost a fight. Looking at them, Ivan remembers many things.
It was the day his mother died, when she was poisoned to death. “Ivan, power is the only way to survive. You must eliminate your enemies at all costs. Then you shall live…” And with that, she left little Ivan alone in a cold world. What followed was years of pain. The boyars and their servants would lock him in the dungeon and starve him for days. They would beat him with whips, torture him until he fainted.
At first, he begged for mercy, but no one listened. And so over time, he took all the violence and swallowed it down, remembering every single lash of the whip as if the wounds that resulted still festered.
The noises of the crowd brought him back — they were angry at Ivan. Yes, Ivan was cruel – he had to be to secure his power – he had to be to keep the trauma at bay. But how could he make that clear to the rabble in front of him? For a minute, he almost cared enough to try. He looked down at his hands, hands stained by the blood of thousands of lives.
From his seat he stood up.
“Silence!” says the Oprichniki as he sees his lord arising. The crowd went quiet. Ivan slowly lifted his hand, and the blades came right down at the necks.
Behind him, blood floods the Red Square, as if intentionally trying to stain it forever, to live up to its name. As Ivan walks away, he can hear someone scream in the crowd behind him: “Ivan the Terrible!”