Monday, April 11, 2011


Edderbreche Shuisky stepped on to the sledge.

"Mr. Nikitin I would like you to move your sledge out of Tver' this instant. You are disrupting the orderly God-ordained order of things in this town. Avaunce!" The beedle and the executioner stood by, away from the sledge.

"Master Shuisky, I am making my way to my bee hives, away from Tver'!"

"That is out of order! To wit! I have a challenger to strip from you your wrestling crown! My son Fernigo will wrestle you this day! Step down!"

"As I have said afore, I shall wrestle any and all who come hence to take me on. I remember Fernigo as a pip! A lad! Has he grown, perhaps?"

"Aye, he has returned from his schooling in Allemania and has learnt to write as the gods themselves!"

"Please," quoth Afanasy, passing me his pipe Khoshchei. The glare of that pipe's face hardened into a heart-stopping glower that chilled me to my bones. Still, with trembling hands, I bore down upon the pipe with my jaw.

There were throngs of darters (daughters) gasping and cheering at Afanasy, and at the fellow with long silken hair and a Roman toga, a broken nose and high cheekbones who was piercing songbirds with arrows from his ivory bow.

"Fernigo! Haven't seen you since we found the clay pit together in '51!"

"Hold my slave," quoth Fernigo, passing him evidently weighty ivory bow to a fainting young miss. He tossed his ringlets away from his penetrating eyes and tightened his ascot. "I today claim the belt of REX ET LUX VIVENS."

"Waaal... I'll wrestle you gladly. I don't any Rex or Lex, and I don't plan to give you any money..."

"I would be the greatest wrestler in Tver', and reign alongside my father," he mused, clapping chalk between his beringèd fingers.

"I would gladly wrestle you, but there is no greater wrestler in all Rus than Alnus Rugosa and I would offer that Grand Prince Ivan rules here rather than your wonderful Dad."

"You will eat thy words, peasant!"

At which point Afanasy moved off his sledge and onto the town square, muddy and trampled. He shrugged his shoulders, accepted a few kisses from children and girls, and knelt. He drew his Bible from his belt, muttered a Psalm, and then stood to take his belt off.

I took his belt, ax, Bible, and money pouch. He asked for a last puff of Khoshchei which of course I indulged.

Fernigo hefted his father, Edderbreche, onto his shoulders. Edderbreche held a golden key of some kind aloft and shouted "Literae patentes regis erunt vacuae!" at which point Fernigo tossed him onto the grassy knoll and dove at Afanasy's knees. Afanasy toppled forward into the mud.

It was at that moment that the end of Afanasy's belt flew from my hands and I turned to see Foma hurtling off tavernward with Afanasy's possessions in hand, mud flying. I was at a loss. "Plyed!" I called. The bear raised its giant skull, resting its chin on the fo'c'sle of the sledge. "Can you get the belt back?" He stared at me, dumbly, with only one eye open.

Edderbreche sauntered next to me. "Is that Foma stealing Afanasy's belt again?"

"He trusted me with it."

"Ravens! You!" he shouted, and seven jet-black ravens soared after the fleeing idiot.

Just then I heard a heart-rending crack of bones from the field of battle - Afanasy was sitting atop Fernigo, and pulling his left arm athwartward (to port), and there was a mighty crushing of bones. I smelled death, and my heart sank.

"Should I then be wearing a cage of antlers as well?" Afanasy cried, pulling a rack of splintered reindeer antlers from under the robe of Fernigo. "Or should only one of us be covered with armor?" He tossed the antler cage, theatrically, toward the crowd of darters. They dove, cooing, at the relics.

"Foma, saddle up for the Red Ermine! For there we shall find Boris and Gleb!"

"Ummmm... Foma's gone, he took your belt," I replied, as Fernigo twisted Afanasy's head hard to lee, and pressed him vigorously into the mud. Afanasy sprang from the cold mud, sending Fernigo hurtling skyward, with a shower of flecks on the onlookers.

"Well when the ravens bring him back, have him saddle up for the Red Ermine, for - "

And Fernigo then delivered a mighty kick to Afanasy's trachea, and one of Afanasy's linen shrouded "boots" flew toward the stand of birches yonder. The children and darters clamored thence. Fernigo, pressing his not-insubstantial mass against this denuded foot emerging from the mud, proclaimed "REX ET LUX VIVENS!"

And there was silence. A few bubbles emerged from the mud, alongside the denuded foot.

"And I proclaim Tver' in the name of my father, REX ET LUX EDDERBRACHE, and I proclaim my crown and belt as wrestling's lord and master unto Alnus Rugosa, keeper of the belt of OMNIS ECHINUS ASPER I take on thee!" (The whole hedgehog is prickly.)

At which point Afanasy neatly delivered a kick to the solar plexus, driving Fernigo and his wishes into the stand of birches.

"It is my opinion that Ivan III of Moscow provides greater security for thou, my children, thy well-being, and thy places of business that the well-esteemed and beloved Edderbrache. I, too, welcome the tournament which shall allow me to vanquish the greatest wrestler of all Rus, Alnus Rugosa, and make the name of Ivan III more lovingly enthroned in all Rus. Unless anyone protest against me..."

At which point he disappeared in a flurry of mud, grunts, willpower and revenge. A triangle of ravens appeared overhead, carrying the dispirited form of Foma the idiot and Afanasy's belt, blotting out the clouds overhead and cawing triumphantly. He fell, heavily, into the mud in front of me, whereupon I yanked the belt from him, Bible, ax, money bag and all.

Fernigo's face was firmly squashed into the mud and weeds, with bubble and wrath occasionally surfacing. Oleg, the bartender from the Pine Cone, emerged as the referee and declared the wrestling match over.

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