Monday, April 11, 2011

The Time that Afanasy Nikitin and Alnus Rugosa Wrestled!

Doris had some sort of brass and glass contraption on her head, and wore only a sash with jewel-encrusted daggers ensheathed. She wore black silk armbands. She looked like some sort of Chinese martial artist.

"Doris, Das. Das, Doris." and she too touched foreheads.

"Let's avaunt to the mezzanine, before the wrestling begins!" sang out Anna. We were in a warmly appointed drawing room of some indiscriminate style. The walls were parqueted in rich amber wood panels, and the scents of exotic perfumes, powdered liquid and unguent hung heavy in the air. Great heads of pre-Cambrian animals hung on the walls, their titanic racks of antlers streaking madly through the air overhead. Anna was already bounding up the wooden stairs, drawing the hems of her gown up above her knees so I was for the first time aware of her dazzling limpid form. She was barefoot, and her dirty feet left mud in her wake. The two orangutans bounded joyfully after. I swallowed hard and took to the stairs.

We came to a landing, then another flight, then a second landing. We moved through a hallway, past a room that smelled of the sea, and into a narrow room with a thick knotted rope hanging in the center. Anna swiftly climbed up through a hole in the ceiling into the attic, or whatever it was, and the two orangutans swung effortlessly after. When I emerged into the sunlight, we were among a dozen or so characters on a veranda, quaffing drinks and spitting tobacco off the roof. We had an exalted view of the glade below, where Afanasy and Alnus were just beginning to square off amidst the teeming masses, the broken bagpipes, the hurdy gurdy, and the smell of charred elkmeat.

Anna sat on a carved wooden bench of dense hard wood that I would have thought to be tropical, next to a brooding Arabic scholar and a passed-out Viking. I sat next to her, and she pulled an enormous fur around us. I recognized FVMMA talking agitatedly with some very filthy young boys in sweaters. Some of Afanasy's bees had joined the group as well.

Afanasy lurched, swung Alnus around and crushed him into the mud. Alnus seemed to disappear altogether. Then a pair of muddy webbed feet emerged, encircled Afanasy's neck, and pulled him entirely into the mud as well. The crowd cheered, and jeered, and danced. For a minute or two there was nothing to watch save some bubbles. Then a nearby tree began to shake, and jerk to one side and then another, and then it caromed down into the mud. Momentarily it sprang back up with Afanasy trailing one side like a heraldic banner hanging from a coronet. He dropped to the ground, performing a neat handflip, and plunged a forearm into the earth like a magician feeling in his hat for... taa daah! Alnus was yanked thence and resolutely grabbed Afanasy by the neck (such as he had) and thrust him upside-down and backwards.

Alnus' limbs are very elongated and thin, like pipe cleaners. There is no clear musculature or articulation to them. They're like cobras. Except they stretch a little bit too. His head, which resembles nothing so much as a great molar covered with club moss, features a pair of unlidded eyes which always seem pleasantly surprised at what he beholds, and a great satchel mouth with two fangs. He is shrouded in robes like a Turkoman. His nimble webbed feet, like folded umbrellas, slap hearteningly across the field of battle, like fish slapping against seaweed-covered rocks.

The two heroes paused for a quick kvas and a puff from their respective pipes. Some jugglers and a trained wolf on a chain, the size of a horse, made the rounds. Children placed their heads in the wolf's mouth and pelted his loins with coins.

Then the battle was enjoined again. They both executed a neat pas-de-deux and collided with a bone-rending crunch and slap. A roundhouse kick to the face! Jiu jitsu! A neat escape from a double nelson by the beyond-double-jointed Alnus! Alnus thrown like a discus into the woods!

And then the screaming began. A belch of acid from the great cirro-cumulus clouds, which burnt off the beard of an elder. Then the pointing at the clouds, and the bagpipe guy ran, and the kids ran, and the wolf. Because there was a great castle-sized wooden beast in the sky, with great horrible wooden wings and three goggling heads coughing out acid and sulfur. And screaming.

Then it was gone.

Then some trees were on fire, just over the horizon. Then it was back. Low, now, blocking out the sky.

"Why's the Ghugguk here? It's spring!" quoth Alnus, still winding his pipe cleaners around Afanasy's neck.

"GHUGGUK!!" screamed a couple of the goggling heads. Some acid hissed diabolically in the mud next to the wrestlers.

The benches and furs and such were getting dragged into a roll-up shelter on the roof next to us. "We should get inside. This is going to get worse," said Anna. The orangutans rolled the cover down and bounded back down the rope ladder.

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