East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Guillotine Wind, a preview

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In a few days, my patrons will receive their copy of Guillotine Wind, a novella that celebrates the second year of my Patron page and is also part of the Seven Lives project. The stories in the projects will reprise characters from some of my series – we’ve had a Buscafusco story already, then we’ll get a new Corsair story,a new Aculeo & Amunet story, and so on.

Guillotine Wind is something special, because it is part of a series (of two series, actually), but is also a first in its series. The debut story.
Straight historical adventure, ready to roll.

Yesterday my Patrons got a chance to see the first chapter of the new story – a rough, unedited draft.
I am now sharing this here with you because, who knows, you might get curious and decide to check out my Patreon and the story.

Chapter 1 – Sibirsky Trakt

The Sibirsky Trakt followed the Transiberian, running parallel to the rails, a strip of road wide enough for two sleds to run side by side. As the day lengthened and the cold relented, refugees from Moscow and the west would appear at the outskirts of Krasnoyarsk. Some traveled by sled, pulled by tired horses, carrying their belongings, but the majority came on foot, carrying nothing but hunger and despair. They came out like ghosts trough the taiga, and followed the Trakt on limp feet, their clothes tattered and dirty, their hair disheveled and their eye wild. They looked like castaways, and the snowy flatland was an ocean, crossed by armored trains and bands of raiders, a white uninterrupted surface underneath which dead seafarers slept in wait for spring. They waded through the hills that surrounded the city like they were negotiating the high waves of the sea, and stared at the lights of Krasnoyarsk like a drowning man stares at a distant promise of terra firma, with hope and fear, relief and desperation. The city squatted on the northern bank of the river, backed by the hills, and looked south to the endless plain that seemed to run all the way to the steppe of Mongolia. It waited.
Sometimes a train huffed along the rails from the east, on its way to the clogged exchange, where it would disgorge its load. Military staff members, refugees of any stripe and orientation, government officials looking for a new and better capital now that Petrograd was lost, leftovers of foreign missions disillusioned as to Kolchak’s Government and ready to sell him to the Bolsheviki, army hospitals with their pathetic cargo of mutilated, fever-racked men, the goods and chattels of cabinet ministers of the Omsk Government, and political camp followers fleeing from the sinking ship of state. The locomotives would overtake the walkers on the Trakt, and bathe them in steam. The usual flotsam of civil war, they all came to Krasnoyarsk, and Krasnoyarsk took them all in.

Late in September, a young woman with dark hair and sharp eyes came to Krasnoyarsk from the west along the Trakt, carried by the wind like the first snowdrifts. The old men in town were looking at the sky, and sniffing the air, and saying how it would be a cruel, early winter. But they were used to it, and so they shrugged and went back to smoking their pipes.
The young woman with dark hair was wrapped in a thick army coat, so long it brushed the ground despite the fact that she had tucked the corners of the flaps in her pockets, and large enough for her to disappear in its folds. She carried a rolled blanket, slung over a shoulder with a length of rope. She walked slowly, but her gaze was spirited, her hair in a braid that fell over her shoulder and her chest, intertwined with a long scarf.
She had been riding a train from Samara, going east because there was nothing for her in the west, but her train had been parked on a dead branch to allow passage of an armored convoy, and then forgotten. She and others had abandoned ship, and continued along the Trakt, walking slowly through the conifers, as the sky darkened and summer segued into winter without pause. Soon she had found herself alone in the misty cathedral of the taiga, but she was fine alone.
Now, one hundred miles later, her face was dirty, and sun-burned, and she stank of dust and stale sweat and rancid tobacco, looking more like a street urchin than like a grown woman. But the soldiers decided to rape her anyway. There were four of them, two Czechs and two Russians, one of them wearing a jacket with a faded patch where is sergeant’s badge had been. They were the jetsam of the revolution, camped at the outskirts of town. They had been drinking to keep the cold at bay.
The four men closed in on the young woman like wolves stalking a lost lamb, grinning and catcalling, whistling and trading lewd grins. They passed a bottle of vodka among them. The young woman ignored them. She walked on, her head held high, huddling something inside her coat, one hand in her pocket, and avoiding to acknowledge the presence of her unwelcome admirers.
They made their move as they entered the railway yard. They crowded around her, mumbling rotten-toothed endearments, and the larger of them tried to push her into an abandoned teploushki boxcar.
She shouted. They laughed.
She shot the big one in the knee, and the other men fell back, hands raised, mumbling broken excuses. The bottle of vodka crashed on the gravel between the rails. Their companion rolled on the ground, cursing and holding his leg, commanding them to kill the bitch, to beat her up and teach her a lesson. His pals hesitated, looking at each other, looking at the smoking barrel of the woman’s gun. They were not that drunk, after all. Voices were coming closer, hurried steps, nailed boots.
Alerted by the bang, three men in the ill-fitting uniforms of the Battaglione Savoia came running into view, and one of them, a corporal, barked an order. “Stoy!”
The three men ran, cursing in their languages, stumbling and scampering away. One of the Italians shot his rifle towards the sky, but the bang only served to make the fugitive run faster.
The Italian corporal nodded to his men to look after the wounded Russian, then walked towards the young woman, that was still standing with her back to the cab, panting, the big black Roth-Steyr gun in her right hand, her left arm folded to support something within the folds of her coat.
A child, the corporal thought. He kept his hands away from his body, palms forward, fingers spread.
Normal’no,” he said. “It’s all right.”
The woman smirked, and nodded at the fallen man. “Skazhi ublyudku.”
The corporal grinned, and the woman grinned back. There was a weak sound, like a meow, from inside the woman’s clothes. He frowned, and spied a black cat holding tight against the side of the woman, her arm supporting it, its claws gently stuck in the loops of her thick knit sweater. The creature peeked out of the coat, with large yellow eyes.
Behind them, the Russian kept cursing and braying.
Chto zdes’ sluchilos’?“ the corporal asked, in his simple, wrongly-accented Russian. “What happened here?”
She gave a quick look at the crippled man on the ground. With a shrug, she pocketed the gun. She pulled the black cat out of her coat and handed it to the speechless corporal, and then pushed past him and his men, and knelt by the man she had kneecapped.
“Be quiet,” she told him as he tried to pull back. She ripped a strip of his dirty shirt, and started dressing his wound.
The corporal gave a look at his men, and he hissed a curse as the cat dug its nails in his hands.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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