Friday, October 15, 2004

Fana and Foma, the idiot, are waiting out a blizzard, perched in a birch tree in a vast expanse of wasteland.

Fana is inside the tree, peering thoughtfully out from a hole in the trunk, smoking his pipe and resting his head on his forearms like Linus at the brick wall. Foma, the idiot, is hanging upside down like a vampire bat. His eyes are glowing and he is very taken with himself as a scout or something.

They are stuck in this tree en route to Moscow to see the new Grand Prince Ivan III and do some trading at the bazaar.

Unbeknownst to them, there is a strange character also taking a breather in the same tree. This character, who to all appearances is an adorable little girl with a freckled cherubic face, introduces herself as Tsvetok (the flower). She has lost her steward, Uncle Vanya, in the snow, and because this scenario registers deeply with Fana he can see no other way around taking the swee’pea under his wing.

Foma, the idiot, smells a rat immediately and his eternal enmity and distrust of Tsvetok dates from this very first scene. However, Fana has built his entire career on doing the opposite of what Foma, the idiot, says, and is all the more reassured that he has found his mission in life safeguarding this l’il angel. Tsvetok is, we shall discover, actually Perkin Warbeck - the internationally despised pretender to the throne of England, now working as a spook for Dmitri Shemyaka, the arch-nemesis of Ivan III, who is teamed up in preposterous fashion with Baba Yaga. Thus, by taking this adorable little ragamuffin into the inner courts of Ivan III, Fana is unwittingly boring a political hole in the defenses of Mother Russia!

Perkin/Tsvetok is just like the wee Melissa Gilbert, utterly sincere and adorably saucy by turns. Luckily for the readers of this brand-new story, there is a strange medium in the form of Glun, a bedbug who also accompanies the spook and relays messages back to Dmitri and Baba, so that we can eavesdrop occasionally as Perkin assumes his real identity (a moaning, narcissistic little putz) and debriefs with the bedbug.

There are occasional murderous tussles between Foma, the idiot, and Perkin, but Fana of course takes Perkin’s side and kicks the stuffing out of Foma, the idiot, as usually happens. Foma, the idiot, finds Perkin’s moneybag and takes off into the woods to find some vodka and prostitutes. Fana and Perkin climb trees and look around for the idiot, but are called away by the sudden opportunity to hitch a ride with a military caravan headed into the city.

Foma, the idiot, sobers up and realizes he has spent all of Perkin’s money and has had four of his teeth punched out. He is in a dresser in a brothel, and the owner is looking for him. He slips out thru a window and runs immediately into Alnus Rugosa, who is vending his kvas and playing the flute in front of the brothel.

Alnus instinctively stops what he is doing and begins beating Foma, the idiot, with his flute. Then he repairs Foma’s teeth with goat teeth, and gets the story of Perkin and Fana. He checks out Perkin’s leather money pouch and immediately pegs Perkin as a wily German (by which he means anybody not from Rus). Alnus sends out the batsignal, which is a jar of incredibly odorous fermented kvas grounds and fish organs, and Foma, the idiot, and Alnus settle down for a few drinks whilst the batsignal works its magic.

Within a week, both Haji-Girei and Ali Qushji have responded the legendary odor. They work out a plan with Alnus and Foma, the idiot, to waylay Fana before he reaches Moscow.
Meanwhile, Fana is reclining in the back of an army sledge, smoking his pipe Khoshchey the Deathless, and singing gently to the halo of bees who cloud admiringly around his head. Perkin and Glun the Bedbug have poisoned his tobaccy, and Fana slips into an hypnotic trance.

Baba Yaga appears in Fana’s fevered dream in the form of a sensuous, gorgeous Hindu goddess and informs the smitten Foma that he must convince Ivan and Maria to adopt the charming moppet that he has befriended, so that he can inherit the kingdom....
Fana and Alnus leaned uneasily against the mossy heap, watching the snow churn, wriggle and collapse as the unseen creature moved about underneath. Whatever it was, it was too large to be a snow-worm or an ermine, and too completely covered to be a dog or a bear cub. The real head-scratcher for them was the totally erratic path it was following, moving from one stand of trees at a good clip, then doubling back and then pausing, then doubling back again. It seemed like the handiwork of something that evolution would have eliminated many mutations ago, it was so clearly self-defeating and inefficient.

Of course, the more Fana reflected on the uselessness of it's movements, the more clear it became to him that it was just Foma, drunk and tunneling through the snow again, getting frostbite and muttering to himself in the dark.
It's a marvel how bad Haji-Girei's teeth are. They are pustulent and aglow with flavor waves, beetles and pumpkin seeds from last harvest.

He carries a satchel of Agaric to share with criminals.