The kilim lay on the snow. Matrushka faced the ten of them. Dyadya to Pyetka, three life-rounds. Dyadya almost 50. The oldest man for 100 kaymetros. A distance almost incomprehensible. It would take a summer to walk it. Or two winters. Matrushka laid the glass on the kilim. Dyadya coughed into his hand, inspected his palm and wiped it on his coat of animal skins. He caught Matrushka's eye and shook his head. The old woman tried to wipe a tear, but could not. It had found its own level, trickled down a deep wrinkle and begun to freeze. Her old eyes looked to the horizon, but could see only a shape against the sky. Whether it flew or walked, she did not know.
First there were songs. Dyadya must lead with one of the oldest songs. Stenka Razin sailed on the Volga once more for the entertainment of the younger men, who clapped, although the pirate met his usual fate. Some songs were wordless, for Grigor could not speak, for lack of a tongue, whilst Sergei had been born without ears. When all save Matrushka had sung, it was time.
The ritual began. Matrushka had learned it from Babushka when Dyadya didn't cough and before his back was as bent as a lightning struck tree. The pack watched. The familiar retained mystery despite itself. The kilim and the bottle had come from a stranger referred to as The Kommissar, although none knew – or had ever known – what it meant. Matrushka opened the bottle drew out the faded and worn scraps of paper and spoke the words learned at Babushka's knee.
'Lind Iss Far! Living Stone!'
She replaced the paper in the bottle, sealed it once more and lay it on the kilim. The kilim was stained dark and stiffer than even when Matrushka had first handled it. Tolya and Nikita siezed Dyadya's arms and led him to the small tapestry square. Dyadya knelt in quiet obedience and bowed his head.
'Мы – Комисар!'
The nine and their mother shouted into the howling wind.
'Нужно кушать! Нужно жить!
Mы злодеи , можно убить!
The sharp point slid upward under the base of the old man's skull. The blood fell on snow and kilim alike. The nine fell on the old man's body with knives and Matrushka sang a song of wolves and shepherds under dangerous moonlight.