Monday, April 11, 2011

Das Brick Meets Khoshchei the Deathless

"What Psalm shall we begin our day with, Das? Have you a favorite?"

"Number 55 I think."

"Excellent choice!" I noticed the severely chiseled features of the bone pipe, in the form of a malnourished scowling ancient. I was immediately called to mind of an old testament prophet with only sorrowful news - Jeremiah, perhaps. The face of the pipe had thin lips and wisps of facial hair, a prominent ugly nose and beetling brows. It glared at me, and I witnessed its pupils constrict and the corner of its mouth furl in distaste at me.

"This, Das, is Khoshchei the Deathless. A pipe who rather more owns me than I it. Bukol believes this pipe to be older than Rus itself - brought here by Norsemen or some such. Ali believes it may be of Mesopotamian provenance. What say you?"

"He does appear deathless. Looks older than Death." The expression on the pipe's face seemed to deepen with rage, and redden. I was profoundly grateful that it had no limbs to thrash me with.

Afanasy fished his Bible out of a pouch on his belt and we read Psalm 55 together. Presently Foma appeared with a massive dark oaken sledge, and I was greatly relieved to find a mound of furs under a beam in the back. I enjoyed my first feeling of warmth since leaving my hotel bed, and piled onto the sledge alongside Plyed the bear and a cloud of bees.

"Lo, then would I wander far off and remain in the wilderness (Ps 55:7)."

The sledge moved very slowly across the uneven logs, as Foma sang a cheerful chant about how much he despised his job, and occasionally pulled the sledge a few feet. I noticed, beneath a rough blanket in the back of the sledge, a pair of horses chewing contentedly.

"Wouldn't we get there faster if the horses pulled instead of Foma?"

"Mayhaps..." drawled Afanasy, squinting at the scudding clouds overhead. "But the crowberries aren't moving anywhere, nor are Boris and Gleb, and I expect we'll be thence by nightfall. And Foma needs to be kept busy or else he gets into the Devil's own business, eh Foma?"

"Oh ho ho, I'll cut you to ribbons with a stolen scimitar!" he sang back, cheerfully.

The morning passed cheerfully as we passed several storefronts and a ring of dancing barefoot children kicking a skull hither and thither. Afanasy, reclining on a wooden bench and Plyed, crossed his legs and waved at passers-by, whittling at a wooden gargoyle with his ax.

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