Vsevelod made grand preparations for this enterprise. Conferring with the warlike Sviatoslaf and other ambitious princes, a large army was collected at the head waters of the Volga. They floated down the wild stream, in capacious flat-bottomed barges, till they came to the mouth of the Kama. Thus far their expedition had been like the jaunt of a gala day. Summer warmth and sunny skies had cheered them as they floated down the romantic stream, through forests, between mountains and along flowery savannas, with pennants floating gayly in the air, and music swelling from their martial bands. War has always its commencement of pomp and pageantry, followed by its terminations of woe and despair.
Vsevelod in person led the army. Near the mouth of the Kama they abandoned their flotilla, which could not be employed in ascending the rapid stream. Continuing their march by land, they pushed boldly into the country of the Bulgarians, and laid siege to their capital, which was called “The Great City.” For six days the battle raged, and the city was taken. It proved, however, to be but a barren conquest. An arrow from the walls pierced the side of a beloved nephew of Vsevelod. The young man, in excruciating agony, died in the arms of the monarch. Vsevelod was so much affected by the sufferings which he was thus called to witness, that, dejected and disheartened, he made the best terms he could, soothing his pride by extorting from the vanquished a vague acknowledgment of subjection to the empire. He then commenced his long march of toil and suffering back again to Moscow, over vast plains and through dense forests, having really accomplished nothing of any moment.
The reign of Vsevelod continued for thirty-seven years. It was a scene of incessant conflict with insurgent princes disputing his power and struggling for the supremacy. Often his imperial title was merely nominal. Again a successful battle would humble his foes and bring them in subjection to the foot of his throne. But, on the whole, during his reign the fragmentary empire gained solidity, the monarchical arm gained strength, and the sovereign obtained a more marked supremacy above the rival princes who had so long disputed the power of the throne. Vsevelod died, generally regretted, on the 12th of April, 1212. In the Russian annals, he has received the surname of Great. His reign, compared with that of most of his predecessors, was happy. He left, in churches and in fortresses, many monuments of his devotion and of his military skill.
His wife, Maria, seems to have been a woman of sincere piety. Her brief pilgrimage on earth, passed six hundred years ago, led her through the same joys and griefs which in the nineteenth century oppress human hearts. The last seven years of her life she passed on a bed of sickness and extreme suffering. The patience she displayed caused her to be compared with the patriarch Job. Just before she died, she assembled her six surviving children around her bed. As with tears they gazed upon the emaciated cheeks of their beloved and dying mother, she urged them to love God, to study the Bible, to give their hearts to the Saviour and to live for heaven. She died universally regretted and revered.