Tuesday, February 17th, 2026
A whispering whistle on the wind. Rise and fall of lilting notes, pattered out. Left ear, behind the head, right ear. They were hers, the notes birdflight used to call to her. It beckoned, fleeing excitedly through the window of the treehouse.
Her heart buoyed suddenly on the bright, friendly, leaping flames of jubilation. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s —
sashukas, i think this one’s yours.
Lena held the feeling as if with hands cupped over each other, letting it flutter around between, brushing against her with soft wings. It was such a pretty feeling, such a warm feeling. Sasha reached out for it in his gentle but broad way. Without hesitation she passed it to him… but then she sank, wilting, back into the hurt and the exhausted.
He paused, not taking it back yet.
You can borrow it if you want, Yesutė. So you can go see what’s got it so excited.
Lena took in a breath.
we’re supposed to untangle our emotions…
Sasha sent warmfeeling her way. It looks untangled to me. He paused. Besides, we’re supposed to have emotions too, right?
Her own emotions tugged at her — her shoulders, her throat, her eyes — tugging her closed tight, tighter and tighter so she could squeeze herself out of existence.
An up-and-down trill hiding under the susurrus of hissed breath, circling around her head once more.
— go, let’s go, let’s go!
i’ll be back!
Pat-pat-pat-pat of her steps, out of the treehouse, tip-tip-tip-tip of toes on the aspen branch, so small, so delicate, and then she reached and her toes lighted on the bony fingers of an oak. Sasha’s feeling calmed to low, warm embers.
A chorus now, whirling around, throwing snowflakes like snowballs and flicking at her hair and the frayed edges of her cloak. She followed.
Narrow, tined columns of shadow stood, reaching for Radegast’s flock; twinned by shadows lying flat over the snow. With each reaching step she passed by scores of them, brushed by the dancing snowflakes. And then they scattered, as if fleeing, giving way to the looming slate walls, precipices like jagged teeth marking the edges of cliffs. Her feet flitted over them, slippers only barely brushing the lonely pebbles, which merely nodded at her passing. The chorus had passed far ahead of her, leaving the mountain’s silence in their wake.
Zvezda nadezhdy blagodatnaya…
As she approached, a voice rang through the silence. Lena froze, drawing the winds of her passing tightly to herself.
Zvezda lyubvi volshebnykh dney…
The words swung on the mountains, around and around, up and down. The voice was deep, soaring easily through the thin air. She pressed forward, quick, quiet.
Ty budesh vechno nezakatnaya…
The peaks’ harmonies fell away, making way for the original voice, strong and full. It swelled, filling the crooks and crags. But in it, hiding deep at the center of all, was tightness, a gudok string twining as it strained.
V dushe toskuyushchey moyey…
The string was too tight. The right notes didn’t roll — they were being wrestled. It was above now, not far. Lena hopped, a breath of sky pressing at her feet mid-flight. The string grew more taut. The chorus hardly noticed, whistling in harmony with the voice. A single foot came down on the peak-top. She rose onto her tiptoe, craning her neck.
A boulder face with thin, craglike, scowling features. A lumped, lopsided nose worn red by cold. Eyes of glacier ice. Forbidding.
There had been a smile there, sweetening a sour, crooked mouth. It had flickered as she’d peeked, and then forced itself back to shape.
Stribog? Twofold question. Twofold incredulity.
Fear, another gudok string. It twanged through her.
did he see me?
He did. Surety, as solid as the mountain’s bones. Still, there was suspension in the thought. Dovilė wasn’t quite as sure of what to do next.
— Ah… my little birds, we should move…
Breathy trills, up-and-down, piping chaos.
— no-no-no, the birdflights said, we do not wish to move
— we all just arrived
— Yes, but the… ah… the acoustics are no good…
— please grandfather
— sing with us some more
— yes, please
There was a long silence.
He sounds… uneasy. It was Sasha, just as uneasy.
Lena peeked again.
Dark hair flicked, light cloth whipped to and fro. Another smile had curled over his lips, crinkling the icy eyes.
— Oh alright… — It faded, as if stolen away by the breeze, as he settled back to sitting on his boulder. — But this is the last song. Regretfully, I am too busy to sing for you all day.
— sing with us tomorrow!
— pretty please!
— yes, tomorrow, grandfather!
— We’ll see.
He rubbed the back of his neck. — Okay. Tomorrow. I promise. — Quickly, he added, — But, ah, not here.
He wrestled his smile away and waved his fingers gently in a motion of appeasement, palms pointed downward. Hair and cloth stopped flicking about. Silence reigned in the moment that he took in a breath.
— let’s get her first
— she’s here too
— yes, let’s!
— c’mon, c’mon
And then, like that, Lena found the peak falling away from her.
Panic, sizzling white across her, vision and chest. Breaths whimpering through a throat cinching closed. Sparrow heartbeat.
Yesutė, pass it here!
— What are you… — For a moment, the glacier ice was turned on her, as she was deposited at Stribog’s feet.
Far away, Sasha scooted away and curled on himself, gasping for breath. Dovilė pressed him upright, tired but steady.
And then Stribog’s eyes glided over as he swallowed his words.
he’s pretending not to notice me…
His mouth worked, expression twitching. Then he lifted his chin, cleared his throat, and swallowed.
And then he sang.
Ty budesh vechno nezakatnaya
V dushe toskuyushchey moyey.
It was a faster tempo than before — the words and notes came and went in a rush. The zephyrs stirred the snow about, roused by this new development.
Tvoikh luchey nebesnoy siloyu
Vsya zhizn moya ozarena.
Sasha’s strong heart slowed, and his breath came easier.
Umru li ya, ty nad mogiloyu
Gori, siyay, moya zvezda!
Lena’s hair and cloak flicked and flickered, as birdflight carried their whistling harmonies to and around her.
Umru li ya, ty nad mogiloyu
Gori, siyay, moya zvezda!
The mountains drew out his song. The chorus flittered around him as the last words faded, as if snatching up the remaining scattered melody in an excited flurry.
Stribog rose quickly, gathering up an empty canvas bag and flinging it over his shoulder. — Okay all done time to go now.
He tilted his chin to his chest, a little guiltily, his eyes turned to the ground.
— But I will see you tomorrow, — he mumbled. Then he cleared his throat and lifted his chin, still not looking Lena’s way. — And I will bring more treats this time.
— we love you, grandfather!
— see you tomorrow!
— love you!
Stribog rubbed the side of his throat with his free hand, pressing out his smile as the breaths brushed about him affectionately. — I love you too.
Then he turned and began the march down the mountain.
Lena sat there for a while. Silence reigned, the threefold heart groping about for how to feel.
Good voice. Dovilė’s careful thought came through, finally, half-numb with shock and weariness.
Sasha’s ember sparked anew at her words. Mischief snatched it, and lit upon her.
let’s do that again. tomorrow.
Yesutė…. Sasha reached out for his feeling.
awww… Lena cupped it once more, to hand it over.