Now, at dusk, I wait. A Lamplighter cannot walk these streets until he is needed. The gods watch by day but at night they must sleep and then it is up to us.
What is a Lamplighter? How did I become old watching over this city? Ah, how did this old man become the Winter Watchman of Stroya? That is a long and difficult tale and one day I will tell it, but not now. Now, I will tell you what a Lamplighter is, what I am, what the other’s are.
Others? Oh, yes, there are others. There must be others. Three of us, one for each season. I for the winter, long and longer every year now, Levta of the red beard for Autumn, sighing softly as he carries his torch, and my poor sweet Nika, Watcher of the Spring, my love, my green-eyed wife. How I miss her!
They are seldom awake now-Levta for a moon and a little more. My sweet Nika has only a few weeks, while I nod at my short nap and then shoulder the burden again when the snows pile high and the ice flows like ships of war down the blessed Voy, crashing like thunder.
And so we go walking the snow covered cobbles in our boots of walrus, lifting our long pole high to the metal and glass. Come with me now and you will see that each post is different, each is carved with sigils difficult to read. Each post is weathered black, red, ochre, and green, and each has a name. Do you know the names, my mortal friend? Which is Div, which is Siv? Mav with it’s yellow sun? Ruv, the howling wolf? But I know them and whisper the names to awaken them as I hold the torch to light them. In all Great Myra, the world, they are unique. They are my friends and my care of centuries.
We begin with the street of Wolves where the Great Houses stand all in a row. They are alive, you will see. There! This lamp, Irda,which stands proudly before Merulov House! Watch as it casts it’s glow. Do you see how it breathes out the Holy Light upon this sad House? The House is old but Irda is older still and this torch I hold, that light was made by He who created the gods. Blessings upon it!
Merulov is an old House, and a sad one. The windows tall and wide and cased in black oak, blink back frosty tears. You can see the fire’s glow inside. Stones and heavy oaken beams cannot keep out misery and even the Dumya Merulov must put his head in his hands when the winds of fate blow open his doors to the cold night air. What? You do not know the tale? But, everyone in Stroya knows of it! Come then and walk with me as I tell it to you, shivering son of man. Wrap yourself in bearskin and listen while we walk for tomorrow is the end of it, if I find my allies well.. but walk. The lamps come first, always first, for they protect.
Now, old Merulov House is sad because it’s daughter, sun-haired Dinka, lies in state in a coffin with a ruby glass lid, cold and dead, with the Snowdrop of Stroya upon her breast. She has lain there these three weeks, fresh as a spring flower, and some say that Old Man Death is reluctant to take her, that it is a miracle and St. Aliada the cause. Perhaps. Look, there she is, the saint, standing high and severe in heaps of snow, over the Elder Graveyard. Don’t go there at night, my friend, without me. Can one be both severe and loving? I hope so. I pray so.
And so poor Dinka lies with the Snowdrop upon her breast while Vrehoja, the Gypsy fiddler, her young lover, formerly so gay, dreams dark revenge against Merulov and all Stroya-garth. He sits in his tent by the ice-locked Voy and a dank mist has entered his soul, all because of the Tzenti-witch from far Yarai.
This witch, curse her unknown name, covets the Snowdrop because she once possesed it and believes that what she once achieved is hers forever. But the Snowdrop is tied to the city. How, you ask? Ha! Like the hidden dolls one tale fits inside another and you will never uncover it’s beginning. But tonight it is the tale of Dinka and Black Vrehoja and so forward to Kerkovy Square!
And here we are where Kerkovy Square stands, dark already, yet the moon rises soon. Still, we will light it for a blessing. Here is where I first saw Black Vrehoja. Here he would come to watch little Varya muster the Kerkovy Guard. The Rhadice Palace stands at the other end, overlooking the blustery flatness. Each morning the Prince marches out the brave guardsmen from under the bulbous towers, which rise in a bunch over the halls of the Great Rhadice.
Vrehoja wished to join the guard. It is true that he wanted to wear the bearskin boots that come over the knee, and the green coat with brass buttons. He wanted to grow his black moustache long down the sides of his face and weight them with green ribbons won on campaign against the golems. He wanted to march with a long curved headcutter resting over his shoulder, bravely singing the old ballads. But the guardsmen laughed and the Prince would not look at him. You are a Gypsy, they said! There are no Gypsies in the Kerkovy Guards! Vrehoja smiled and played his fiddle. He danced and struck a brave posture, to no avail. His dark Gypsy eyes grew sad and his fiddle hung at his side and it was then that Dinka saw him. She fell in love with his romantic soul and his brooding, secret eyes. Soon she was meeting him in the Elder Graveyard behind the tomb of the Karonevsis, where the is a mourners bench and the black lilies bloom in winter. Together they drank red wine and Vrehoja played his wandering tunes for her. He laughed and his dark eyes captured her soul. Soon enough a passionate kiss sealed their fate.
But their future was bleak for when Dinka told her Father, Merulov of the Merulov’s, of their love he thundered like a storm in the Balbous mountains. A daughter of Merulov with a Gypsy? Never! He would burn the ancient House to the ground before a Gypsy entered it’s high doors! Dinka was never to see him again!
The lovers met again in secret while she told Vrehoja of her father’s verdict.
But now the Tzenti-witch saw her chance. She had flown from the Yarai swamps on the back of an owl, riding on a foul wind, to cast destruction upon fair Stroya. She whispered into Black Vrehoja’s ears and the words turned into black snakes in his brain and Vrehoja cast his spell upon pretty Dinka: Bring me your father’s treasure, the Snowdrop of Stroya, the gem which glows in the light of the northern star, and together we will leave cold Stroya and fare across the sultry south where Gypsies sing, and we will make sweet love and live forever in bliss!
Dinka walked as if asleep. She entered her father’s closets and opened the great chest. She took the gem and wrapped it in a scarf of blue spiral silk. The wind was cold and all the stars shone down upon her as she walked to the graveyard to hand her father’s treasure to the exulting boy.
But the plans of the Tzenti-witch went awry and the Dumya awakened, and seeing his daughter gone from the house, guessed the truth. Calling the Kerkovy Guards to aid him, he scoured the streets for his daughter, crying Dinka, Dinka, your father needs you! Three guardsmen attending close upon the Dumya found the pair hiding behind the tomb of Keronevsis and Dinka awakened from the spell at the sound of her father’s voice. The fearless guardsmen held their headcutters aloft but the Tzenti-witch cast darkness into their eyes while Vrehoja killed them, one, two, three, with a curved dagger. No more will they march behind Prince Varyatsin Elverus Karonevsi singing the old ballads. No more will they tramp the hills before the Balbous mountains hunting golems. No more will they drink fiery kvelt and dance before the fire when the sun has sunk in the west. Their blood has melted into the snow and their bones rest in Myra’s bosom.
Poor Dinka tried to reach her father but the Gypsy pulled her back with a hawk’s grasp. Stretching, she handed the gem to her father, wrapped in blue silk, just as the gypsy plunged the wicked curved blade into her chest, crying that is was she who had killed their love. Sobbing, her soul escaped through the hole in her chest and Black Vrehoja and the Tzenti-witch escaped on the back of the giant owl. All of this happened in the blink of a man-child’s eyes and I appeared too late to stop it. The Dumya Merulov put his head in his hands and wept tears which turned to ice, for he had traded his only daughter for the Snowdrop of Stroya. Tomorrow the Kerkovy guards will march in a row, green ribbons flying in the frozen wind. They will play the drums and chip away the ice from the doors of the Tomb of the Merulovs. They will pick up little Dinka, she who was so warm and happy,and place her there within the cold stone and there she will lie until the Flamebird returns and the world ends.
And the Snowdrop which her father will lay upon her breast in his grief? You ask this? How can you not know? The Tzenti-witch will return with Black Vrehoja and take it, and brave Stroya will go under the glazed ice forever.
Unless I stop her, oh son of man. Unless I stop her.