The Nevsky Wall
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Chapter 1   -  On the Eve of Ivan Kupala

Leningrad – June 21, 1941

‘Come, brother. Sit and watch the river with me.’


From childhood, they had made a pagan pilgrimage on this, the longest day of the year, to sit together by the wall. Two brothers, stripped to the waist and pale as new snow, praying to the sun and the promise of another Russian summer.

Winter had been late in relinquishing its grip, with the last of the ice only recently melted from the Neva. Alex and Viktor wrapped coats about their shoulders to protect them from the cold granite of the fortress and the wind as it cut across the water. The river smelled, in this early season, like the marshes on which the city was built, and it reflected the blue cloudless sky. They sat and smoked and watched the coal barges push their way upstream from the gulf to Lake Ladoga and beyond into the vast country.

There were others scattered along the wall that bright Saturday morning. Students, enjoying their first free day since the end of term, reviewed plans for the summer. Near the brothers sat a bald man, the skin on his chest and shoulders a taut canvas of blue-tinged prison tattoos. An old soldier, dressed in his uniform from the Great War, sang quietly to himself. Lovers strolled along the embankment as the day warmed around them.

Alex sat in silence, basking in the moment. He heard the sounds of the river lapping at the shore, and his memory drifted to another of these days years ago. He had watched as two dark-haired girls crossed to the center of the Kirovsky Bridge and tossed garlands of flowers over the railing – an offering on the eve of Ivan Kupala. As the tale is told, the owner of the fastest garland is promised her true love and the girls urged them on from the bridge, the strands coiling and uncoiling with the current. The girls were roughly his age, thirteen at the time, and he could tell by their dress and the ribbons in their plaited hair that they were from the countryside, probably on a school outing. One of the garlands became stranded on the rocky shore near him and he walked down to the water and retrieved it with a branch. The girls ran from the bridge and his older brother Viktor laughed at him as he sat wearing the dripping flowers around his neck. He would grow up preferring the company of dark-haired girls.

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Chapter 1   -  On the Eve of Ivan Kupala

9 Responses to “Chapter 1”

  1. Max says:

    Lovely writing, Mark. I wish I could keep on reading!

  2. helene says:

    Very interesting. You have captured the mood. I am looking forward to read what comes next.

  3. Douglas says:

    I read the first chapter in its entirety which is telling because I don’t finish anything that doesn’t quickly grab my interest. And although this is not the type of fair I usually read, I found it very engaging. I just stumbled upon your story, and am looking forward to more. Good job, and fun presentation format. The serial returns.

  4. Cathy says:

    I enjoyed it Mark! You certainly seem immersed in the history and culture.

  5. Karen says:

    Great first chapter, Mark. Can’t wait until next week. Just want to add that I am extremely proud to have such a talented brother!

  6. Joyce says:

    Beautifully written. Looking forward to next week’s installment…
    Our boys had your Dad as a teacher at Old Lyme HS.
    We’re still connected to your wonderful parents. We’re very excited for you and wish you success.

  7. G Garcia says:

    Hi Mark. Nice job. Your story so far is thoroughly engaging. It kept my attention, and compels me to read more. Plus I learned new words: plaited, kopeks, dacha, leshii — but can you tell me what “spelling one another at the oars ” means?

  8. Rana says:

    I really like the title you curtenrly have (the one no one can pronounce, not even you ;-) but I voted as if you were going to go with something else. I was torn between The Malachite Room and Flower of the Fern. There is something about The Malachite Room that draws me to it, and gives me a flavor of what is going to be between the covers, but Flower of the Fern captured my imagination. That being said, none of the other titles truly capture the story like The House of Arkhangel’sk (and City of Archangel is a pale substitute).My concern with Flower of the Fern is that the title might be misleading. Oh, and can you tell? Titling is not my forte.LK

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