I have been so busy promoting Darklands, that I haven’t had much chance to work on my new novel, Kikimora recently. The first draft was completed some months ago, but I’m still in the middle of a large edit and rewrite.
This is the first chapter:
Anatoly took a card from the pile, sighed, and laid it back down on the table. “They have trampled a road all the way across the lower slopes and up to their infernal workings,” he said. “Once the river ran cold and clear. Now it is bitter with sulphur. The Rusalka have been driven from their home. It is bad, my friends, bad indeed.”
“But what is to be done?” asked Leshy, picking fretfully at the dried leaves caught in his beard.
The North Wind puffed out his ruddy cheeks, and roared, “They need teaching a lesson! They’re getting too big for their boots.”
“Another dozen trees felled today,” said Leshy. “That makes-” He paused, bringing short, hairy toes up to the table to assist his counting. But finding that he was still far short of the necessary digits, threw his hands up in the air. “Too many! Too many of my trees hacked down and burned. And not a single token or sacrifice left in exchange. My time is done. I may as well lay down and die right now.”
Leshy’s gloom made the North Wind chuckle, and his wheezy gusts blew the playing cards from the table so that they fell all in disarray upon the flagstones. Leshy complained that he’d just built a good hand, but that it was now lost – as all his endeavours seemed doomed to failure and insignificance.
That made the North Wind laugh even more, so that spiders fell from the roof beams down onto the dresser, and one fell into Leshy’s hair. But Leshy didn’t notice, and the spider seemed quite content there.
Anatoly said nothing, but drummed his long fingers on the table top. It was dark with grease, and splashed with tallow drips from countless candles. The squalor of it irked him all of a sudden. He found himself imagining Yevgenia’s pretty nose wrinkling in distaste, and he determined that tomorrow he would take the time to clean the kitchen – perhaps the entire house. And then he fell to thinking about all the other parts of Yevgenia, just as pretty as her nose, and for a time he forgot all about the problem of the mine, and the men and the road and the town…
“Life is too easy,” said the North Wind. “That is the problem. They have no hardships, and so they are free to poke and meddle and delve and steal. In the olden times-” Here, Anatoly rolled his eyes, and Leshy gave a discreet little sigh. “In the olden times, they had no time for such nonsense. They were too busy fending off lions. Finding bison to hunt. Discovering which berries were good to eat and which would turn their guts to slop. All the time fearing that the sky might fall on their heads. I had only to whip up a little thunderstorm and they ran whimpering to their caves! Now they are idle. That’s the nub of it. They are bored. And so they breed mischief.”
“So,” said Anatoly. “What you’re saying is that they need some distraction? If some calamity were to befall them, they might be too busy to come plundering my mountain and Leshy’s forest?” He drained his glass thoughtfully, only grimacing a little at the harsh taste of the vodka. He distilled it himself from turnip peelings and sorghum, and the flavour was highly distinctive.
“But I have set traps. I have raised fires. I have confounded and befuddled them. Still they come back. More and more of them, like ants from a woodpile.” He glanced at the North Wind, a little fearfully, a little hopefully. “Perhaps if you were to-?”
“Oh!” The North Wind’s sigh rattled the pans hanging in the pantry, and toppled a platter from the dresser. “I would love to help, of course,” he said. “But my time is barely my own. You know how hard it is for me to even find the leisure for our card games every now and again. There is not a town in the world I don’t visit. Not an hour of the day I can rest. My duties are endless.”
“Then it is over,” lamented Leshy. “Before long we shall be driven from our homes, like the poor Rusalka. Cast friendless and alone into an uncaring world…”
“You are not without talents, though?” The North Wind’s voice was soft now, but still it sent a cold breeze down the back of Anatoly’s neck. “I have heard your skill in artifice is without compare.”
“Well,” said Anatoly, blushing and smiling, and trying not to smile. “I have studied the moon, the sun and the stars. I have studied the movements of beasts, and the flights of birds. I have learned the language of flowing water and what the trees whisper to one another through the long, cold winters.”
“I understand the trees and the beasts,” Leshy interjected. “They tell me all their problems – whether I wish it or not. You can’t imagine how birds prattle on. And the insects are as bad…”
“Fine accomplishments,” nodded the North Wind. He thought for a moment, then continued, “Tell me, when the men come to fell your trees, what do they use?”
“An axe,” said Leshy unhappily.
“And when you want to turn a field, ready for planting, what do you use?”
“An iron plough,” said Anatoly, and, “Oxen,” replied Leshy.
“And when you distil your vodka, what do you use then?” the North Wind asked Anatoly, who gestured to the large brass kettle hanging from the rafters with his other pans.
“You use a tool appropriate to the task. So, finding yourselves unequal to the task of driving the men from your mountain, what tool do you suppose might assist you?”
Anatoly was silent a while, pondering this. Then a sudden brightness flared in his eyes. He looked up at the North Wind and answered, “A monster. We need a monster to do what we cannot.”
The North Wind nodded thoughtfully. “I expect someone of your dexterity could create a monster the like of which had never before been seen or imagined.” His voice dropped lower, but it whistled around the eaves of the house, quick and cold as a knife. “I expect someone of your learning could create a monster of pure malevolence; cold, unforgiving, incorruptible. I expect such a monster could drive these men far from your mountain, and from Leshy’s forest. You would both be left in peace. The Rusalka could return to their streams and pools. And you could resume your studies, undisturbed by their endless hammering, blasting and grinding.”
Anatoly glanced at Leshy, who nodded encouragingly.
“I suppose…” answered Anatoly. “I suppose it could be done…”