In this conflict Georges was victor, and he assigned to his brothers and cousins the administration of the provinces of southern Russia. Still the ancient annals give us nothing but a dreary record of war. A very energetic prince arose, by the name of Mstislaf, who, for years, strode over subjugated provinces, desolating them with fire and sword. Another horrible famine commenced its ravages at this time, caused principally by the desolations of war, throughout all northern and eastern Russia. The starving inhabitants ate the bark of trees, leaves and the most disgusting reptiles. The streets were covered with the bodies of the dead, abandoned to the dogs. Crowds of skeleton men and women wandered through the fields, in vain seeking food, and ever dropping in the convulsions of death. Christian faith is stunned in the contemplation of such woes, and yet it sees in them but the fruits of man’s depravity. The enigma of life can find no solution but in divine revelation—and even that revelation does but show in what direction the solution lies.
Mstislaf of Novgorod, encouraged by his military success, and regardless of the woes of the populace, entered into an alliance with Constantin, promising, with his aid, to drive Georges from the throne, and to place the scepter in the hands of Constantin. The king sent an army of ten thousand men against the insurgents. All over Russia there was the choosing of sides, as prince after prince ranged his followers under the banners of one or of the other of the combatants. At last the two armies met upon the banks of the river Kza. The Russian annalists say that the sovereign was surrounded with the banners of thirty regiments, accompanied by a military band of one hundred and forty trumpets and drums.
The insurgent princes, either alarmed by the power of the sovereign, or anxious to spare the effusion of blood, proposed terms of accommodation.
“It is too late to talk of peace,” said Georges. “You are now as fishes on the land. You have advanced too far, and your destruction is inevitable.”
The embassadors retired in sadness. Georges then assembled his captains, and gave orders to form the troops in line of battle. Addressing the troops, he said:
“Let no soldier’s life be spared. Aim particularly at the officers. The helmets, the clothes and the horses of the dead shall belong to you. Let us not be troubled with any prisoners. The princes alone may be taken captive, and reserved for public execution.”
Both parties now prepared, with soundings of the trumpet and shoutings of the soldiers, for combat. It was in the early dawn of the morning that the celebrated battle of Lipetsk commenced. The arena of strife was a valley, broken by rugged hills, on the head waters of the Don, about two hundred miles south of Moscow. It was a gloomy day of wind, and clouds and rain; and while the cruel tempest of man’s passion swept the earth, an elemental tempest wrecked the skies. From the morning till the evening twilight the battle raged, inspired by the antagonistic forces of haughty confidence and of despair. Darkness separated the combatants, neither party having gained any decisive advantage.