A Russian Valentine's Daybyddimilano©
"Nadya! Nadya! Come in now!"
"Mama! The soldiers are coming!" Shouting from the gate, I stood at the bottom of the hill near the road. I could hear the rumbling of the tanks before they rounded the bend to pass our house. It was so exciting when they drove by on their way to the Volga River. There they would board barges and travel south from Saratov, through Stalingrad, and on to ships waiting in the Caspian.
"Suppertime! Get your brother and set the table before your father comes home!"
She never liked me to watch the soldiers. I liked how they goose-stepped alongside the tanks, their arms swinging to a half salute at their chest in time with the step. Father was a soldier back in Moldavia, a part-time soldier. Most of the army then was part-time, called up only for emergencies.
"Yes! I'm coming!"
Running up the hill I picked up my brother from his little sandbox and carried him up to the house. I suppose she had her reasons regarding the soldiers, but at the time all I saw was the show. And quite a show it was; the impression never left my mind.
We had left the Moldavian prefecture of eastern Romania when I was very young, just as Hitler's army was rolling in. Migrating northeast into southern Russia with the rest of our kindred band of Gypsies, we settled in Saratov, where the Volga River meets the Penzian mountain range.
There, my father found work in the copper mines, as he had in Moldavia. He also worked on his own as a coppersmith. Since free enterprise was forbidden in this Russia, he traded his services for barter, obtaining needed heating oil, flour, vodka, and oats for the horses.
We had prepared our weekend meal, the one that contained meat. We had kotmis satsivi—roast chicken with walnut sauce, Moldavian potato salad served on lettuce leaves, and a vegetable borsch. My grandmother had very few teeth left and only ate the borsch. She drank quite a bit—tea during the day and vodka in the evening. She was always making me laugh so. She could drink more vodka than my father. The more she drank, the funnier she was. My mother would be upset with her, saying that she drank like a Cossack.
After dinner she would tell stories of the Old Country. She grew up in the village of Romany, in eastern Carpathia. Much to my mother's dismay, she spoke to the children of ancient Roma rituals handed down to each generation from the time of Roman Emperor Valentinian, when our Moldavian land was called Raxolani of Dacia.
Years later, after my grandmother had passed and I was of age, my grandmother's younger sister, Great Aunt Larisa, gave me my grandmother's books, books filled with cultural legends and tales complete with methods of communication to distant ancestors, fortune-telling, and palmistry, as well as ancient rituals practiced in the mountains of Carpathia for well over a thousand years. They were priceless. Some were written in Rom, our native tongue. It is a language of Indo-European origin— about one thousand years before Christ—and was commonly used in the steppes of southern Russia just north of the Black Sea. I read them all as best I could.
I enjoyed Saratov very much. Near the water the view was wonderful, and one could go into the mountains quite easily. Word spread through the town that I was quite knowledgeable about herbs and roots used for medicinal value. At age twenty-one, I began working as a midwife; later, Great Aunt Larisa and I opened an apothecary in the center of Saratov. Although it was officially owned by the people and most of the profits were placed in a cooperative fund shared by our clan. It was a small enough enterprise that we were allowed to be the primary benefactors.
There I met many others from Saratov and nearby Engels and Volsk. I was most surprised when a busload of gypsies traveled all the way down the mountains from Penza just to shop in our store. My aunt made them some tea and we talked about the customs of our people and how difficult it was to keep them alive, since many of us nomadically travel through so many areas. We all agreed that the few who live a more sedentary lifestyle should practice the Old Ways together and pass them on.
So I began traveling up to Penza once or twice a month, learning old rituals and customs as well as teaching ones that I learned from my grandmother and my aunt. We were deep in the forest because not only were the rituals kept secret and known only by kin but also the authorities need not be aware of our practices, as they would not be well received.
To keep some of the profits from the store, the local party leader required that I perform community service at the local military hospital. I did not complain about this. Not only because it would be unwise, but I looked forward to seeing more of the soldiers. I still watched the soldiers marching down the road, especially the officers. The younger ones were quite dashing—going to opera and ballet performances in formal dress uniform, medals on their chest, a beautiful girl on their arm.
The hospital is where I saw Dmitri. Brought into the emergency room in the middle of the night, he had been wounded in the leg. There was no war going on at the time; many of the soldiers were on maneuvers in the streets and in the forests practicing for the military demonstrations honoring the funeral of Josef Stalin, who had died just a few short months ago, and for Soldier's Day, fast approaching on February 23.
Dmitri's wounds were from an attack by an animal in the forest. He had been bitten several places on the leg and once in the arm. The doctors had stitched most of his wounds, but he had lost a good deal of blood and was resting when I came to assist.
The hospital was only about two-thirds full, as most were veterans from the second war with Germany that were returning for continued treatment. Since many beds were empty and officers were given preferential treatment, Lt. Dmitri Kirov was in a private room.
Entering quietly, I approached the bed to dispense his antibiotics and pain medication. The room was kept warm for early February. The steam from the water-filled radiator hissed. He was on his back reading Pravda. A reading lamp hanging over the bed dimly illuminated most of the room.
"Good evening, comrade," I said to see if he would put down the newspaper.
He turned down the paper and strained to see me through the light of the reading lamp. "Hello—"
"I'm Nadya. I volunteer three nights a week to help the nurses," I said as my heels clicked across the hard wood floor toward the bed.
"I have medication for you."
He grumbled, "It's only seven o'clock. If I take it now I'll fall asleep and wake up in the middle of the night. Do you know what it's like in this place at three in the morning with no one to talk to and stuck in this bed?"
"Oh…well, I suppose you could take it a little later," I said placing the pills on the nightstand. "It says here you were bitten by an animal?"
"Yes, a wolf," he replied while placing the newspaper on the nightstand. Turning the lamp to shine on the wall, the light diffused around the room. It was very soft. We could see each other without glare. I sat in the chair beside the bed.
"He took a chunk out of my leg. I tried to push him off and that's when he bit my arm. I fired my weapon in the air and he ran. He just came out of nowhere. I was leading a small squad through the mountains. It was pretty routine—a training exercise. That's probably why I didn't see him until I was right on top of him. We were all pretty lax."
"The mountains…near Penza?"
"How do you know it was a he?"
Taken aback, he responded, "I don't, really. Just an assumption, I guess. No one caught him…or her. The thing ran faster than I could see, like a flash."
"This was just a few days ago?"
"It was bright then?"
"What do you mean? It was late...nighttime."
"Yes, but the Moon…it was full. Wasn't it?"
He thought a bit. "Yes, actually, it was. Yeah, I remember the sergeant mentioned that. He said it was a good night for training, 'bright full Moon,' he said. The light was even reflecting off the snow. Everything looked a whitish blue."
Turning to me with a slight look of embarrassment, he said, "Now I feel even worse. I should have seen it coming."
"Not really," I said. "The wolf is a huntress." Rising to look at his wound, I continued, "She roams freely in the forest during the winter when things are bleak. Highly skilled, she is rarely taken. She cannot be domesticated, as can a dog. She represents the free spirit of nature in all of us. Held sacred by the moon, she helps bring the light. She howls at the Moon for more light and the days become longer. That's why in ancient times she was called Lupercus, Wolf Goddess of Winter."
He just laid back and stared for a moment. "You should be careful. There are those who would take you away for this kind of talk," he said.
"Oh, I'm just a harmless gypsy woman!" I laughed.
Removing the bandage from his leg, I asked: "So where are you from?"
"Oh, sorry, I was just going to put some more disinfectant on the bite." I looked more closely at the bite mark, "Oh, it's not too deep. This might sting a little. Belarus…a White Russian then?" I asked.
"Don't say that, or it will be me they take away."
Noticing the puzzled look on my face, he explained, "No one says that anymore. It comes from the days of the tsar. He wore white robes to symbolize his imperial stature, to counter the purple of Rome. During the Revolution his forces were called the White Army. Those supporting the monarchy were said to believe in the White Idea. The Whites fought the Reds. The Reds won."
"I thought it referred to Belo-Russia, next to Poland…just north of the Ukraine?"
"It still does, but it gets confused quite a bit with the White Army." He looked closely to see if I was offended. "You are right. In fact, the full title of the Tsar was 'Emperor of All the Russias—Great, Minor, and White.' If the wrong person overhears the expression 'White Russia' it can be…confusing, and its best to just not use it anymore."
"That's too bad," I said. "There is much fear in this land. It is very beautiful here. I've met many vibrant and happy people, but there is fear. The wolf fears no one. She is free." Drifting off in thought my hand slipped into the wound.
"Ouch!" He exclaimed.
"Oh, my big tough soldier," I cooed, "There—how's that?" Gently wiping his upper thigh, the cool disinfectant evaporated off his leg.
"Much better," he said.
Noticing his left hand, I saw there was no ring. I then teased, "So who will be getting you a present on Soldier's Day?"
"Mmmm…no one, I guess."
"No one? And on Woman's Day two weeks later will you be getting someone something? A card? Flowers? Mmmm…chocolate?
"No." He looked down and away, his lower lip protruding slightly.
"Aw…I'll bet you get a nice present on Soldier's Day," I said, as I rinsed cool water through the towel into a bowl.
Wiping around the bite, I moved the cloth higher on his leg. Although he appeared to have a good deal of body hair, a patch of hair had grown around the bite. Blond and not too noticeable, as with the rest of his hair, it was growing in rather densely around the bite.
"Have you always had this patch of hair here…on your thigh?"
"Not that I can remember."
"Let's look at the other leg." Pulling the hospital gown off the other leg I saw no patch in the same location.
"That's odd. Have the doctors asked you about this?"
"No," he said. "Come to think of it, I don't remember it being there yesterday"
With a slight bit of guilt, I thought of an opportunity to possibly help this man and at the same time add a little exhilaration to the tedious nature of my "volunteer" work.
"Well, then…we will have to have a look at the rest of you then," I said in a very authoritative matter-of-fact manner. "Let's get this gown off of you…hands up!"
He hesitated at first, looking askance at me, perhaps to see if I was serious. I was. Not that I really thought I would find anything out of the ordinary, but I seriously wanted to see him lie in the bed without any cover while I pretended to examine him for medicinal reasons.
Removing his gown, I eased him back down on the bed. Maintaining my professional tone, I asked, "Okay, lieutenant, shall we lower the blanket, too? Or will it get too chilly for you?" Not waiting for an answer, I walked over to the door. "I'll just close this up and keep out the draft."
Walking back toward him I saw a thick chest, muscular and forested with golden blond hairs, and a flat, hardened stomach with a golden trail of hair running down to a place beneath the blanket.
Standing over him, I placed my hand on the blanket. "Now, soldier, let's see where else you have a patch of hair." I grinned as he made eye contact with me. It was plainly obvious to him now that I was playing a game and clearly taking advantage of the situation. His grin met mine as I slowly lowered the blanket.
"Oh…well! I see that you are indeed a furry one! And well proportioned …lieutenant!" Looking down on this naked fighting man I felt something stir within. He did not seem very bashful at all, evidently quite proud of himself. Placing my hands on his chest I ran them down to feel all of him. I noticed that he also had a patch of hair growing on his arm where he had been bitten.
"You feel so strong," I said. "Is that from your training?"
"Some. I've felt stronger, though, since that night in the forest." My hands rubbed his thighs near the bite; moving closer to the growing vitality between them, I listened.
"My senses, too. I never told the doctor this, but I can read without my glasses now. Ohhh…mmmm." He smiled and was now breathing deep as I was stroking him slowly.
"Really, lieutenant? Has anything else heightened since the lupa bit you?" Noting the quickness of his erection, I teased, "Your sense of arousal, perhaps?"
"Yes," he panted. "And smell. I could smell you as you walked in the door. It's much stronger now."
"Really?" I said in mock surprise. "And what do you smell?"
Stroking harder, I asked, "Me?"
He arched his back and looked up at me. I had opened my blouse and was leaning over him. Gazing at my breasts he ran short of breath and answered: "Yes, you. A musky smell, pungent and sweet."
"Well, sir, you do without a doubt have a keen sense of scent, as I am feeling very musky indeed," I giggled a bit, and then watched as he began to convulse on the table before me. My pace quickened. Arching his back further he groaned. Then to my surprise he growled as thick fluid spewed up and then landed to coat his chest.
"Oh my!" I cooed. "Look at this messy soldier. What to do?" As he tried to catch his breath I wiped the sweat from his forehead. "Perhaps we should just let it dry? What would the nurses say?"
Reaching up he held me from the back of my neck and brought me closer for a kiss. Our mouths open, our tongues searching and entwined, we locked in embrace. Then I raised my head and began to wipe the puddles from his chest. Leaving some droplets mixed in with his forested golden torso, I licked the hairs free of this heavy nectar and suckled the remnants into my mouth. Licking his nipples I bit them each softly, and then rising up, I smiled.
"All clean lieutenant…?"
"Call me Dmitri."
"Oh? We are on a first-name basis now?" I mocked.
"Aren't you a sassy one! I've got half a mind to get right up and turn you over my knee!" He smirked.
Leaning in to him I pulled his blanket up and whispered, "I'm Nadya. I think now it's late enough for you to take your medication."
"Okay," he said. "Nurse's orders."
I gathered my clipboard and shawl and turned to leave, heels clicking again as I walked to the door. Before opening it, I let the clipboard slip from my hands. It clattered on the floor, as I acted shocked that it had fallen. Pulling my skirt up a bit I carefully bent at my waist to retrieve it. Knees straight, fingers touching the floor I lingered in that position for an extended amount of time—long enough for Dmitri to get a good look, a memory to hold in his mind until I returned. A vision of the top of my white stockings, laced and seamed, traveling up to my mid-thigh, then stopping to expose bare, olive-toned skin and the roundness of my behind trimmed in white lace. Very unladylike I was, holding this position for a man to remember me. But I certainly did want him to remember. I knew he would look. Men always do.
The next morning I was in the apothecary with Aunt Larisa. It was warm for February and I opened the back windows that overlooked the courtyard. The birds were chirping loudly. It was their mating season. How nature works in such duality, I thought; birds, rabbits, people…all things the same. Larisa was discussing the Lupercalia festival with some kindred customers from the mountains. The clan celebration was scheduled, as always, for February 15, two weeks after the more private Grove of Luperci ritual. This year was my first year participating in the private ritual reserved for members of the Grove. I certainly enjoyed it. It was private, since we practiced shape-shifting and the end of the ritual for those properly initiated and instructed. I had run through the forest that night, free and energized by the Moon. I still felt a tingling sensation as I recalled that evening's festivities just a short time before—the ritual flogging, the beauty of the words used to invoke Spirit and the nakedness of the participants.
Tradition for the clan celebration called for unwed women to put their names in an urn, the same urn my grandmother brought from the Carpathian Mountains—the same urn kept by our tribal elders and handed down from the time of the Valentinian emperor of Rome. Our names would be drawn by eligible men. We would then be coupled with that man for seven days of intimacy that many times led to close courtship and marriage. This was of course after the ritual of purification called Februare; which then ended with the Festival of the Lupercalia.
This year I wanted to bring Dmitri. If he came with me, I would not be eligible to put my name in the urn, since it would be assumed that we would couple off to ourselves. I'd never tried to bring a man before.
I told Aunt Larisa about him. She was worried because he was a soldier. He may not care for it and tell his superiors, who would undoubtedly arrest us, as most Old World customs had been replaced or banned along with modern customs closely associated with any organized religion. I thought of telling him it was a Soldier's Day/Woman's Day celebration, the closest this Russia allows for the Valentinian coupling ritual. It would be a risk, but his bites should ease the integration.
Two days later I was back at the hospital. After completing my usual duties I headed up to his floor. Excited to see him again, I stopped in the ladies' restroom and pulled my hair out from a bun, brushed it down to the center of my back, repositioned the white hat on my head, applied a small amount of dark red lipstick and unfastened the top two buttons of my blouse. Reaching into my purse I removed a small bottle of musk oil mixed with jasmine extract; my own personal scent that I had mixed at the apothecary. I applied small amounts to my neck and wrists. Then, with a fiendish grin, I raised my white skirt and rubbed a little into my inner thigh…just in case, I thought. Adjusting my brassiere, I smiled—no mercy.