July 2022 Newsletter Fiction Preview: At the Edge of Legend

Well, it’s almost that time again. Only a few more days left in Q2, and then it will be July 1st 2022, and Q3 will begin. Of course, as is (sorta becoming) tradition I’ll have a new newsletter for you. And also a brand new piece of fiction for subscribers (so please sign up!).

This time I tried to write something of a parody. While it’s set in the same universe as Farewell to Rusalka, it introduces some new characters which I hope you’ll enjoy. I think the Witcher vibes will probably be most prevalent, but there’s little bits of other Fantasy stories in there as well. I specifically drew on another fantasy series for this opening so I’m curious if anyone will guess it.

(also I’m very proud of myself for designing and creating the “cover” image below all on my own. Not sure if I’ll keep doing these as I’m not a great artist but this came out alright I think!)

Anyway, here’s a preview of this next newsletter’s quarterly short fiction (you can also check out any of my previous previews and more on my fiction page!) Enjoy!

In a certain time, in a certain kingdom, likely before now, but possibly much later, a woman and her horse set off on the journey away from Detskiy Dvorets along the freezing road which was considered the gateway to the west. She was followed closely by a boy, with no horse, who despite the general inconvenience of his condition, did not notice the numbness of his toes or the dull ache of exhaustion in his limbs. He focused on that point in the freezing road at the end of his sight where the path rounded a bluff of snow or crested a hill; that point just beyond reach where, the boy was certain, a legend would begin.

Of course, legends begin in all kinds of places. The woman would be known to legend as Bezmira, and her story would begin after leaving the boy behind in Veliky Ustyug to search for an old house which walked the forest with a hen’s feet and grace. A Tenikosti priest — a practitioner of forbidden rites and unholy magic — drinking in Veliky Ustyug’s raucous distillery had begun his legend long ago and would boast about it to any who would listen. Of course, the town Veliky Ustyug itself was known to as many legends as the grains of rye in its fields, each dating back further than the last, as far back as the first sputtering shift in the machinery of the cosmos.

In this way, every legend has one which precedes it, one which will come after, and many more happening concurrently so that in truth there are no beginnings or endings to legends at all, which are in fact a perpetually bubbling cauldron, stirred lazily while humming a half-remembered tune.

As legends go, the boy did not consider his unexpected arrival at The Children’s Palace on a rainy miserable day completely bereft of any significant astrological activity to be the beginning. Nor did he consider his ninth birthday when his fellow apprentices had gifted him a stubby, single-edged sword — really just a long knife — as a joke instead of a more traditional Kolduner blade to be the beginning. 

But perhaps for the boy, who hadn’t left the Children’s Palace in seven grueling years, this was a beginning.      

The boy gave a start at the whip-like crack of his mentor’s voice. “Pay attention Shashka.” He followed the command with such force that he wrenched a muscle in his back which ached now as if he’d really received a lash. Mutations in his blood meant the pain would leave him quickly.

Other mutations meant that he had a wider field of vision than most and when focused, could take in the details of his surroundings with an animalistic sensitivity and detail.

He saw now that they’d come out of the frozen wilds and reached the middle of a town. Ahead of them was a distillery, and to one side he noticed the wooden onion-shaped domes of a church, while on the other, a bath house. Strangely, outside the bath was a small shrine containing willow bark, a few tenuously lit animal fat candles, and an unusual icon painted in the image of a Domovoi, a bath house guardian.

The rest of the town seemed to consist of the same kind of mundanity he was familiar with from Detskiy Dvorets: pine wood lodgings and dark frozen mud.    

Perhaps even more mud than The Children’s Palace although the boy was too tired to consider things properly. As beginnings went, this one was off to a rather mundane start.

Some villagers slopped here and there, squishing down the street, moving from one hovel to the next, carrying out their business.

He expected them to see the hilt protruding over his right shoulder, or the medallion dangling from his neck, and to gasp or look away quickly. Perhaps they would avert their eyes or make the sign of the cross. Spit at his feet while he passed. He’d been taught to expect as much from the few who returned to Detskiy Dvorets. From the few who lived.

But these villagers did little more than smile pleasantly, and it was Shashka who ended up gasping and lowering his eyes when one of those smiles proved to be missing a tooth.

Embarrassed, he returned his attention to Bezmira who dismounted with a cat-like grace, prowled a quick patrol around her horse to check if anyone might be watching, and then, satisfied no one was, addressed her pupil with an even more cat-like indifference.

“I need to see an old woman rumored to live in the woods around these parts. You’re not ready to come with me so I have to leave you here. Stay and wait if you like or take this opportunity to flee, it makes no difference to me, but know that your life will not be any easier now that you’re outside the walls of Detskiy Dvorets. In fact, it will definitely be harder.

“But a Kolduner’s life may be somewhat easier if he’s useful,” said Bezmira, and stepped forward to produce a small purse of coins, and two small bottles filled with some mysterious liquid, one clear like water, the other dark like the night.

“I know what kind of trouble young Kolduners get up to in the bath house so there isn’t enough coin here for that. But there’s probably enough for a few drafts of spirit. Listen closely to those around you and by the time you run out, I’m sure you’ll find an excuse to earn some more.”

Then Bezmira fixed the boy with a stare so intense and horrifying it could almost be considered motherly. “Don’t try anything bigger than a Nezhit, alright? They say the first pancake is always a blob, only in the Kolduner’s trade blobs mean a slow and agonizing death. I won’t have some bard watch you kill yourself with a stupid mistake and then crow it out for the whole kingdom to hear. We get enough bad press already.”

The boy did his best to reflect his mentor’s earlier aloofness; it seemed to be the effect of all in the  Kolduner trade, at least all that he’d seen.

“You really think a monster would hunt in a back-water village like this?” he looked around a little then fixed his gaze back on his mentor. “Nothing but peasants, probably from as far back as The Confluence. The biggest thing that’s likely to have happened here was a lapta player getting too handsy with his friend’s little sister after practice.”

“Sounds like a monster to me. And let’s say you’re right and there’s nothing here but peasants, from as far back as The Confluence. You don’t think a few curses have been passed down in the women’s circles, or some wannabe Kolduner has been able to figure out a few gestures in all that time?

Shashka did not like the point of her stare when she’d said “wannabe Kolduner”.

“There’ll be bad blood somewhere, and with it a few curses. That’s work for a Kolduner.”

“Besides,” she said remounting her sturdy horse. “I heard there was an incident with a Rusalka not two months past.”

The boy brightened, his mind already imagining himself wading waist deep in the river, sword drawn and his senses heightened, stretching his perception across the rippling flow.

“Gone now though,” Bezmira said, with seemingly no notice of his high hopes, or foolish naivete. She searched the horizon, but for what the boy did not know.

He felt the sigh of disappointment coming but didn’t want to let the emotion show lest Bezmira think him too childish for even this “back-water” town. He let reflex guide him, the years of brutal training shaping the sound of the air as it left his lips.


Bezmira stopped her search of the wood line and looked back at the boy with an expression akin to surprise, if the woman had ever felt such a thing. A twitch pulled at the side of her mouth but she didn’t smile.

She adjusted her position in the saddle, making ready to leave in earnest now. “When dawn breaks on the third day, look to the east . . . With your abominable sense of direction you may even catch me returning from the south.”

The simple nod she gave then was as much of a goodbye as she’d ever given within the boy’s memory, and then she galloped off heading west.

The Shashka watched her go a short while, and then hefted the purse she had given him. He eyed the two flacons of potion with unease. He had never taken them himself, only heard tell of their affects from the older boys in Detskiy Dvorets. He stowed them on his belt, and then walked into the distillery.

Perhaps his legend was about to begin . . .

Thanks again for reading! The rest of this piece will be sent out to newsletter subscribers on July 1st. I hope you’ll consider signing up!

In the mean time, please let me know what you thought in the comments!


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