May 17, Sometime Before Dawn
Cigarette smoke drifts above the reaching, climbing, nodding, drooping, crawling, and above all still-sleeping flowers, mingling with the smoke of the chimney and dissipating long before reaching the starry cloak or the moon’s light. Mokosits leans in the open doorway, back pressed against one side of the frame and foot resting across on the other. He flicks some ash with a twitch of his thumb. Every so often his gaze scans over the lush sea of color before him, the little dirt footpath that wends its way through it, the thickly-bound trees surrounding the cottage with branches reaching as one holds one’s hands over a fire. But it is not his eyes that are alert.
Through and beyond the house drift all manner of warm smells: sweet, fruity smells, mild cheesy smells that collect at the back of the throat, the savory scent of bubbling oil and the thick creamy scent of fresh, heated butter just short of melting. Clatters and clangs, metal sliding against metal, the bubbling of simmering, the hissing of frying foods, weave its accompaniment alongside the smells.
Within the hearthfire spits at the iron poker, small orange brands settling on the rug below before burning to a smoking black. One falls on the fair hand which grips the poker, creating a ring of soot as it burns itself out.
— Aha! So is that how it is to be, then? — Delighted outrage hangs bright in Kovlad’s voice. He points the poker at the fire as if wielding a fencing foil. — Be on guard, then!
— You should try picking a fight with something that can move. — Morena’s dark voice drifts over from the doorway to the dining room. She leans there, arms crossed save for a hand which holds a butter knife pointed idly Kovlad’s way. — That way you can have a good excuse for not signing the card.
— Being distracted is a perfectly good excuse. — Kovlad retorts, shifting forward and thrusting at the fire with a flourish before skipping back.
— Sign the card, Kovlad! — Runa’s rich voice delivers its words too exaggeratedly firmly to be truly reproachful.
Kovlad pauses. — Yes, dear. — He withdraws the poker with apologetic tilt of his head. — I am called away. We will do battle another time. — He then salutes the fire briskly before handing the poker to Jarilo. — Instead, I leave this battle to you.
Jarilo shifts the broom with to the other hand and accepts the poker. — I will fight bravely and with honor, dear brother. — He looks up Morena’s way and lifts an eyebrow. — But if I could first ask for the lady’s favor…
In the kitchen, Runa ducks under a hanging pan and weaves around a dangling pot before craning her neck over Yesen and the project she has in her hands. — Good! — Her eyes flick to the girl. — Since you’re almost done… Would you like to try frying them?
Kovlad calls: — Oooh! Oooh! I want to fry the syrniki!
Runa turns to direct her voice to the door. — The card!
Yesen looks up to Runa from underneath her brows. — If Lord Kovlad wants to…
Runa waves her hand. — There is plenty for both of you to fry. — She raises her voice. — Once he is finished with his other duties. — She regards Yesen again. — Besides, he already made the blini. It is your turn to have a little fun, yes?
Yesen pauses. — Okay.
Runa offers her a smile. — Bring those over he… — She is cut off sharply by a pot making contact with part of her face as she turns to lead Yesen.
Kovlad crows: — Five! One more and it will be a tie!
Runa rubs the corner of her brow, a grin twitching at the corners. — Tie nothing! I will win, just like I did last time.
— There is still time, my gold!
At this, a mild, subdued giggle flutters from Yesen as skittish and elusive as a wren.
Dovile sits on the couch. The whole couch, since everyone else is doing something that does not involve sitting on the couch. She took her boots of though. Since Dovile is sitting with her legs crossed, she’s occuping the whole couch by sitting in the middle of it. On her left, clean silver. On her right, less clean silver. In the middle, (when her hands weren’t occupied by the cigarrette) a red polishing cloth. The sharp scent of the polish didn’t overwhelme the scents of oil and dough.
There is an ashtray on the floor, in the shape of a great green oak leaf, and it’s filling slowly with ash. The gentle breeze carries the smoke out the near by cracked window, like it takes the thick smells of delicious food.
Dovile watched her siblings, smiling, eyes almost closed.
This was good.
After some instruction, food hits the frying pan, sizzling and popping. It’s quickly followed by others, a veritable chorus.
There’s a slight shifting to Dovile’s left. Though it would be just about inaudible to anyone else, she can hear the smooth sliding of metal against metal. And then, like that, the pile is bigger by one. Shortly thereafter, with a sighing of lighted feet and hair against skin, the pile to her right shifts, and gets smaller by one. (Even the domovoi is in on the plan, it seems.)
Morena turns a little to allow her brother past, and then approaches Jarilo to offer a light but lingering kiss. Then she pulls away, smoothly divesting him of the broom. She returns to the dining room, sets the butter knife pointedly by Kovlad, and then begins taking up where Jarilo left off in the sweeping even as Jarilo takes up where Kovlad left off in the goofing off.
Then Runa calls: — Mokosits, if you could please gather the tea?
— But then, Lady Runa, no one would be watching the door. — Mokosits manages to sound regretful at having to decline her chore, even as he brings his leg down in preparation to do as was asked of him.
Runa clicks her tongue. — The door will behave. Right, Lady Morevuka?
Dovile nods, and shoots an exagurated glare at the door. — Yes. If it does not, it will regret it.
Mokosits eyes his baby sister as if to assess her committment to the endeavor. Then he tilts his head in concession. — Be careful, Vilka. Don’t be taken in by its sob stories. It has a collection, you know. — He pauses, considering. — Like stamps.
A bark of laughter comes from Kovlad.
Dovile frowns. —Thank you for the warning. I will steel my warm, bleeding heart.— She says it in her driest tone. Then, to show willing, she watches the door as she polishes.
Mokosits nods, satisfied, then disappears into the kitchen to the tea pantry. Not long after, another clang! of a pan making contact with an unlucky head goes up.
Kovlad cries: — HAH! Six!
There’s a long, stunned pause. Then quickly, Runa protests: — It wasn’t me!
— Oh, I suppose you are going to tell me it was Mokosits, then?
— Nnnngh. Yes, actually. — Mokosits’s voice is low, the tone resigned.
Silence falls. Even Morena turns a little towards the kitchen, lifting an eyebrow, and Jarilo pauses in his faux duel.
— Are you alright? — Genuine concern seeps into Kovlad’s voice.
— Yes. I am just tall.
It’s clear that Mokosits is being dismissive. Judging by the fact that astonishment is still strung across the silence, clearly this answer isn’t sufficient.
— He is dying. — The response is from Yesen, flatly delivered. — Of a wasting disease. The only cure is to smoke lots, eat lots of food, and avoid all the chores.
Mokosits wastes no time. — It is true! I wanted to wait to break it to all of you, but…
Runa clicks her tongue again. — Oh, get the tea!
— Of course, Lady.
— You are mischief. — This statement from Runa is spoken lower, presumably to Yesen, with no small amount of humor. — I have my eye on you.
Dovile doesn’t pause in her polishing, or take her eye off the door. But she does extend a feeling to Mokosits, like a constant, steadying hand. A ‘hey, I know you are fine but just in case…’
— The door needs tea, too. When you start serving. All this sobbing…
To Yesen, a small thought, dipped in quiet miscevious hope. -Do those syrniki need to be tate tested?- And then, added hurridly, -I need to do it for Sasha, since he is not here yet.-
Mokosits reaches back, like a companionable pat of the hand.
But he replies aloud: — If you think that would be best. But if you ask me, those aren’t real sobs. I always found the door’s acting to be rather wooden.
Kovlad jeers good-naturedly.
Yesen’s response breezes over. -yes. this is my first time cooking them. if i didn’t do it quite right i could need to make a whole nother batch.- Judging by the undertones of delight fluttering about, she’s enjoyed making them. Then, she adds: -watch your head.-
-Awww, Doviluze. You’re the best. Always looking out for me.- responds Sasha. After a moment he warns: -We’ll be heading back very soon.-
—Hey, they are coming soon.— Dovile says, over the pun-groans. She gets up, polishing cloth still in hand, and slides into the kitchen. -I can’t watch it.- Dovile sends back to Lena. -It’s behind my eyes.- This is actually a point of some mild annoyance. All this work waiting for her eyes to grow and she still can’t see the back of her own head.
Dovile keeps herself the half-inch lower she needs to be to stay under Mokosh’s pots.
To Sasha: -Of course. I have nothing else to look at.-
-definitely not the back of your head.- Some mischief flits across. But as Dovile enters the kitchen, the image of the back of her be-scarfed head follows her… at least as much Yesen can manage before having to return to watching her cooking.
Then, Kovlad cries: — Done! Can I come fry now?
Indeed, everyone picks up the pace of their chosen chores, Jarilo even abandoning the fire to make sure everything is in proper condition for the Lady Mother’s arrival. The fire is stoked, the cottage is tidied, the sauna is prepared, the food is made and distributed among serving bowls and platters, the table is set, the tea leaves are carefully chopped and mixed, and a vase of flowers is placed in the middle of the table.
Throughout, the sounds of Sasha’s and Mokosh’s conversation drift over to the keen-eared. It grows more distinct with each passing moment, drawing ever nearer towards the edge of the clearing. A gentle prodding about Sasha’s life, a carefully unintrusive, indirect check-in of Mokosits, Dovile, and Yesen and finally…
— Not to return to the council chambers when we had just escaped them… but I am thinking of proposing a reconsideration of Triglav’s restrictions at the next meeting.
— Lady Mother, are you trying to…
— I know, I know, Sunshine. I promise, I am not trying to take advantage of you. I am just warning you. You see, Triglav is a… point of contention. I fail to understand why this is the case, given how readily we accept Lords Porevit, Rugievit, and Porenut but…
— Lady Mother Mokosh.
— Excuse me. Yes. I am getting carried away. Anyway. That is quite enough business… where is that lovely smell coming from?
— I fear I smell nothing.
— Well. Nevermind for now, then.
Mokosits clears his throat and makes some urgent gestures, signaling to everyone to finish up right quick.
Dovile, with greatful thought to Yesen, stuffs her sample in her mouth, slinks back out to the couch, and gets the silver put away. Then she gets into the dining room and takes her place behind her chair.
Then she swallows.
-Very yummy. I approve.-
Yesen sends pleased-feeling across as she quickly washes as many dishes as she can manage before Mokosh comes in earshot. It’s not all of them, but it will put a dent in the post-breakfast dish pile, anyway. Soon everyone gathers around the table, stifling anticipatory snickers. Runa’s grin stretches and Kovlad wiggles his eyebrows at her, stifling his own smile. Morena is as composed and deadpan as ever, save a slight lift of one corner of one brow as if in warning to Runa. Jarilo rocks on his feet, clearly eager, sharing a conspiratorial wink with Yesen.
Mokosits takes his place at the front door at their approach, pulling a nervous, guilty manner about him like some kind of mantle.
Dovile’s face twists, and then breaks into a small, happy smile.
Yesen is trying very hard not to look at anyone, lest her own composure break… that is, until she glances up at Dovile. A smile spreads on her own face, which she quickly presses into her teeth in an attempt to hide it before it could become much more.
Then, as Mokosh steps into the clearing, her expression increasingly suspicious as the aroma drifts more and more strongly over to her.
Mokosits cries: — Mother! Lord Regent Dobrozhe! — He steps forth to intercept her, dragging the nervous energy with him. — Fine evening for a walk, yes? Lord Radegast has really outdone himself tonight! And Myesyats is not taking up quite so much attention either, to make the stars all the grander! I respectfully suggest the two of you take advantage of this, before you must away to the stables again, Lord Regent.
The suspicion only grows. Mokosh walks right past him to enter the house. — Mokosits… what on earth did you do.
— Me? — Mokosits clears his throat. — Oh, a little of this, a little of that. — He makes a point of rushing to catch up, and then sliding into the house ahead of her, though he doesn’t try to stop her entry. — Nothing major…
— Should I… wait out here? — (Sasha is doing an excellent job of being the innocent party. Good plan, since inwaredly he is having a difficult time maintaining a poker face, and difficulty holding that back from infecting the mind web.)
Mokosh responds: — I… think that might be wise. — She enters the house and then pulls up short. — Is… is it cleaner than when I left it?
Mokosits offers: — Ah… ? Could be…? — He looks around nervously, standing in the doorway of the dining room. — Now that you mention it, I think it is a lot tidier than usual. What do you know!
Mokosh’s attention returns to Mokosits. She gives him a flat, decidedly unamused look. Then she waves Mokosits aside. He remains in the doorway, feigning that he doesn’t understand what she wants from him.
— Mokosits Mitranovich Vukov.
Mokosits lowers his head, as if properly chided, and moves aside to let her past. As she does so, Mokosits sends to Sasha: -Come in, quick!-
Mokosh hurriedly strides in…
… then pulls up short. Her eyes flick over the whole tableau before her, lips parted slightly as she tries to reconcile her children sitting before her with a steaming variety of breakfast foods before her and the shiftiness and guilt Mokosits had displayed up until this point. It’s not working terribly well for her.
And then Kovlad waves and grins brightly as if nothing was wrong, which only makes this worse.
This severe cognitive dissonance buys enough time for Mokosits to slip in beside her, followed by Sasha on her other side.
Sasha murmurs: — Happy late Mother’s Day.
Mokosh looks to him, completely and utterly overcome with surprise and bewilderment.
Dovile steps forward promptly. Runa had slipped her the card as they hurried to prepare. Dovile pulls it out from behind her back. It’s about twice the size of her head, made of green construction paper.
—Lady Mother. — She bows and holds out the card.
The front says “HAPPY MOTHERS DAY!!!!!”
Glitter is falling off of it. There are flowers drawn on it, and someone has glued paper lace around the edges.
Mokosh accepts the card, still flabbergasted and unsure about how to react. She opens it, gingerly, half-expecting it to say something like ‘ALSO SORRY WE BURNED DOWN YOUR KITCHEN!!!’
But her eyes flick over the actual messages written within, and the uncertainty quickly fades. Her astonishment gives way to a twisting mouth and brows. She brings a free hand to her lips as she fights her expression. Every so often she lets out a little choked laugh at this or that message, before moving back to fighting back her emotions. When she’s done, she looks up at everyone. And then the fight is lost: a wavering smile spreads and tears well and spill.
Dovile, by virtue of being the one directly in front of her, is the first casualty to the big, tight, trembling hug and teardropped kiss.
—Also, sorry we burned down your kitchen.— Dovile says, as she finally relaxes into her mother’s arms, hugging her back firmly. (She’d been practicing, after all.)
Mokosh is too overcome to respond. She merely pulls away, shaking her head and smiling and crying. Then she turns next to Sasha, and then to Mokosits, hugging and bombarding each with kisses. Then she motions to the others to come away from the table and gives them each a hug and kiss that’s just as effusive (and tearful) as the first.
After the last she manages to get a hold of herself enough to wipe her tears away, and then to speak. — Those damned onions are really strong today. — She clears her throat. — They must be conspiring against me to get me to express emotions to my children. — She clicks her tongue. But her delivery is not as straight as it normally would be. So she tries another tack. — Well. — She clears her throat again. — If this is what happens when you burn down my kitchen… I say good riddance.
-Okay, I can retire now, right?- Dovile passes to the mind web. She’s feeling content, and a little overwhelmed, and mostly just glowy. It was kind of uncomfortable, but also nice.
-Alas, Vilka, no rest for the wicked.- Mokosits sends back.
Before he can continue, Yesen adds: -or sasha.-
-Or Sasha.- Mokosits agrees. Then he continues. -Now we have to top this next year.-
Sasha sends over grinfeeling, which is surrounded by a similarly glowy feeling, except much more intense and wrought with excited energy. Clearly he’s up to the challenge.
— Let us not wait around for the food to get cold, yes? — Mokosh waves her hands to indicate for everyone to take their seats, the smile still spread across her face. The flowers from outside have already begun to overwhelm the windows, growing very slowly but visibly into the cottage.
Campaign of the Month: February 2017
In which Dovile and her siblings honor their mother