Face Flowed Into Her Eyes
Location: Miami Metropolitan Area
I can still remember the way old Boris (or as I called him then, miy̆ tato) would knit his heavy brows together when I interrupted him in the middle of a story. He’d usually narrow his dark eyes, pinch the bridge of his nose, take a deep breath, and thus shame me into silence. He was a broad chested, stout limbed son-of-a-serf with close cropped hair, an impressive beard, and a nasty scar on his cheek that he claimed was from an accident with a scythe at harvest time. He smelled like the animals he tended and the fields he tilled. He dressed in burlap and cotton, always some shade of brown. The weak light of my bedroom’s sole candle cast jagged shadows on his rough features.
“You want to tell the story?” he asked once after I’d interrupted him one time too many. He spoke in the mother-tongue, Kovic. I knew it too, but I’d only speak it to Boris and mother, I’d never speak it around the town children except to curse at them without their knowing.
I shook my head and pulled the scratchy covers up over my nose, the little decrepit bed creaking horribly with the slightest of movements. Everything creaked in the farmhouse. “No, tato,” my voice was like a mouse’s squeak compared to Boris’s rough baritone. I’d come to resemble him in both looks and voice years later, though I never got shoulders as broad as his or hands as large.
Boris then snorted. “Then listen well,” he’d cleared his throat and then launched back into the tale, “As I was saying, Osenk Gogol was a big Kovic man—”
“Bigger than you?” I’d peeped. A moment later Boris’s nostrils flared and his eyes twitched. I sunk deeper into my bed and wished I’d stayed silent.
“Much bigger,” he had said after a pause, stroking his beard, “Tall as two men perhaps. The Dark Lord had a great bushy beard, eyes like coals, a big ugly nose, and hands big enough to rip off the faces of little Kovy boys like you, Royjat,” Boris twisted his hand into a claw, the callused fingers hovering just above my nose. I let out a nervous giggle while a rusty laugh tripped from his throat, “He came from Mother Kova to this land to spread his shadow over it. He was worse than an angry domovyk or even the worst of vampiry. He wanted nothing so much as to cover the world in his shadow and swallow it all up. He blackened the sun, moon, and stars, took the song away from the birds, took the color from the flowers, and made the dead rise up from their graves.”
I’d shuddered at the thought of a world without a sun and the images of rotting corpses clawing their way out of the dirt.
“He killed anyone who stood against him and killed plenty who were just unfortunate enough to get his attention. He did still more terrible things to them, things I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t tell you because miy̆ dyadʹko couldn’t tell me either: too nasty he said,” Boris then snorted again, “But what he did tell me was that babies rotted in their mothers’ wombs, the grain turned gray and bitter, and even the waters of the wild rivers were befouled.”
“Why?” I’d asked, “Why did he do all that?”
This time Boris didn’t bat an eye at my interruption. He just nodded and stroked his beard. “Who knows? No one was brave or stupid enough to ask him why,” he then tapped my head lightly with a big knuckle, “Most of them weren’t as hard-headed as you.”
“Was he stopped?” I then asked.
“Obviously. We’re breathing, aren’t we? There’s a moon in the sky, isn’t there?”
Boris had smiled then. “What else? Lumanas stopped him. The White Lady cast him back and drove his shadows off. She protects Her children.”
I’d frowned. “But…why did she wait?”
“Why…why did she let him kill so many people? Why’d she wait to stop him?” I’d asked, glancing at the star that didn’t seem quite so bright now.
Boris’s eyes then narrowed to slits. “How should I know? She’s the Goddess. She does as She will.”
My frown didn’t fade. “You…said She drove him off, but what does that mean? Did She kill him?”
At that Boris shook his head. “No. He’s still out there somewhere as I heard it. Far north of here, somewhere between the verd lands and elf lands he keeps a tower of black stone. It’s called—” for close to a minute Boris struggled to pronounce ‘Tor Umbrus’, his Kovic lips and tongue ill-suited to the Imperial language. At length he just gave up, “—the Dark Tower, it’s called the Dark Tower.”
I remember feeling very small and very vulnerable at that moment, I felt like sinking out of my bed and through the cracks of the floorboards to some safe place under the ground where the Dark Lord wouldn’t find me.
Boris then patted my head. “Don’t worry boy, he’s a prisoner of that place, he hasn’t left it in four centuries, he doesn’t dare.”
I’d gone silent.
“Heh,” Boris then gave me a playful slap on the cheek, “Besides, you’re too ugly and short, he wouldn’t waste his time killing you.”
I’d laughed genuinely at that, though as soon as the laughter was done the fear crept back in and my toes turned icy.
“I’ll tell you a nicer story tomorrow,” he’d said with a small smile, “Maybe about fey̆.”
“Are those the women-things that live by the rivers?” I’d asked.
“No. The fey̆ are the little people with wings. Rusalki on the other hand are hardly a suitable subject for a little boy like you. I’ll tell you about them when you’re older.”
He then snuffed out the little candle and left me in the darkness of my room. I remember hearing noises from Boris and mother’s room, creaking and hammering sounds. They were practicing carpentry. At night. In their room. That’s what I was told when I’d asked. Boris had been colorful about his lies like that.
“Where the longleaf pines are whispering
to him who loved them so.
Where the faint murmurs now dwindling
echo o’er tide and shore."
-A Grave Epitaph in Santa Rosa County, Florida; I wish I could remember the man's name.