Here’s a preview of Path of the Dragonfly. Misha is now 20 years of age.
Father Veniaminov arrived at the fortress on a Wednesday. By Sunday he was conducting his first communion service. Those who came late stood in the outer room beneath the round dome that Dimitri and his coworkers had constructed that first summer. Those who came later stood outside and listened at the door or windows. Some came out of curiosity, others from pious devotion to the church, a smaller number from a sincere love for God. Misha was not among the attendees, preferring the liturgy of the sea to that of the church.
Misha had risen early, downed a quick breakfast of fruit and bread before setting off for a hike north along the bluff, beyond the Aleut village. The fog hung in tendrils along the cliffs as if reluctant to leave the warm land and return to the cold waters of the Pacific. Even in summer, the fog sometimes clung to the headlands long after the sun had reached its zenith.
Sheltered from the wind, a narrow rock shelf made a perfect viewing perch for such a morning. Resting his back against the cliff, Misha pulled his journal from inside his coat. Sitting motionless, he waited for life to reveal its secrets to him. With hands tucked inside his coat, he patiently scanned the rocky beach below. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flicker of white and darker blue.
He shifted his focus to the sea. Halfway to the horizon, just under the receding fog, a fluke lifted gracefully free of the water. It waved once and disappeared. Misha sat waiting, scanning the surface just inches beyond the point at which the whale had dipped beneath the surface. Minutes passed. Fearing he might miss the whale’s return to the surface, Misha dared not blink. His patience was rewarded. As a spout of white erupted from the water. He clambered to his feet and strained to follow the whale’s course as it made its way north. Another spout, this time it appeared closer to shore. His heart quickened. Two traveling together. A fluke lifted free of the water as the whale farther out dove again.
Misha scrambled to the top of the bluff and walked north, tracking the pod. He stopped again as one breeched and then a second, no, three. They were playing now, or feeding, he didn’t know which. He wanted very much to know. For over an hour he walked the bluff watching them. Sometimes the whales reversed their course and swam in slow circles, but always they spiraled north.
At last, the whales headed farther out from shore, making it too difficult for Misha to track them. He pulled his notebook again from his coat, and sat on the grassy bluff, sketching a memory of glinting backs rolling with sensuous power. As the sun rose higher, Misha, deep in concentration, labored to capture life on paper.
At six feet, two inches tall, Father Veniaminov truly stood out in a crowd, in this case a gathering of Aleuts in the fortress courtyard who were setting up the feast to celebrate the priest’s arrival. A man of athletic build, accustomed to working alongside the people of his flock, he helped set up the long planks that would serve as tables.
Many of those close to him now had known him in Sitka and been baptized by him before coming to Fort Ross. Some had even worked beside him to build the church that now stood tall like the father in that harsh land. He knew their language. He respected their culture. He loved them like a father, and the people loved him in return.
“Tikhon, you’ve grown brown like the natives here. Will you ever return to your own home now that you’ve paddled these warm waters?” Father Veniaminov put a hand on the smaller man’s shoulder and smiled affectionately at his old friend.
Tikhon grinned, nodding. “I’ll miss the warmth. It is true. But as long as I have my wife to hold through the long, cold nights of home, I’ll be content wherever there are fish to catch.”
The priest’s laugh was like a clap of thunder, deep and sonorous. “You make me blush, friend. And I see that your good wife has blessed you and the church with two little ones since last we saw each other.”
“Two boys! One has already taken a trip in my kayak. I’ve made for him a paddle just his size.”
“You’ll have him fishing before he’s five!” Father Veniaminov bent to scoop up the little boy and perch him on his shoulder. The boy giggled. The priest grimaced as one of his ears was grabbed for balance.
“So where is Tanaan? I miss that cranky old man. I have a message from his son. He’s a grandfather now! I can’t wait to see his face at the happy news.” Father Veniaminov patted the boy’s leg and then noticed the cloud cross Tikhon’s face. “What is it?”
“He passed on.”
“I’m sorry to hear this. He was a good man. An excellent hunter and fisherman too.” The priest studied the faces around him, those who’d lost loved wives, children, mothers, fathers. His shepherd’s heart ached for them. Tikhon lifted his son from the priest’s shoulders.
After a time, Veniaminov turned to Tikhon and spoke softly. “I have seen the graves. It was one of the reasons I felt compelled to make the journey. We’ll remember those who passed on from this life to the next. By consecrating the graves, I hope we can bring comfort to those who still grieve.”
Father Veniaminov threw his arm around Tikhon. “But first we’ll celebrate the living with marriages and baptisms, yes? Come! It’s time for the living to eat and drink, and perhaps dance! Life is precious, Tikhon. We mustn’t waste a moment to taste the good things the Lord, in his kindness, has provided.”
As if his words had been the overture to a familiar oratorio, a deep voice rose from across the courtyard, singing a tune familiar to all. Before the singer had completed the verse, other voices picked up the rolling, playful melody. Someone began to accompany them with a balalaika. The Father’s baritone voice, trained through years of singing sacred chants – and a few folksongs – joined them with a deep harmony.
The music drifted through the open fortress gates, mixing with the calls of shore birds as Misha made his way back from the cliffs. A memory stirred, one long forgotten, more dream than memory. It swirled with a scent of sawdust and oil, his father’s voice humming in time to the rhythm of his wood plane. Then another voice harmonized with that of his father’s, Dimitri. Dimitri had often sung as he worked in the shops. Misha broke his stride and slowed as he listened.
His feet led him to the open gates where he could see the activity surrounding the man who stood tall in the midst of those gathered for the feast. The priest turned, a broad smile spread across his face. For a brief moment their eyes met. There was a powerful magnetism there. Misha considered it for a fleeting moment before turning away to his quarters.