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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


A ‘Lisa & Friends’ Story, no. 5 Dasha & Masha Go Exploring

Bleeaghh! What IS that smell?”, exclaimed Lisa, her nose wrinkled in two as she tried to close it in protest. Actually, it was horribly obvious what the smell was, and equally clear how it had got into Uncle Volkiy’s dacha. Masha and Dasha, the twins, were so covered in dung that only bright white teeth and even brighter green eyes shone out of the cloud of poo and flies. They thought it was great fun!

Out! OUT! Screamed Lisa as she shooed them backwards into the fresh air with one paw while trying vainly to shield her nose with the other. Once outside, she could not resist a laugh. The cubs were hardly recognisable under their quivering quilts of yuck. There was no point in asking what, where or how they had got like this. She looked around. Woods, orchards, grassy fields, a clean stream, clean hills, blue sky and fresh air. And they had found a farmyard dung heap. If the girls were this made up with muck, she shuddered to think what Sasha and Boris would look and smell like. “Tea in twenty minutes – ONLY if all four of you pass through the river first”.

“Buuut, Mum....” the twins’ moan faded under Mum’s stern stare. Off they slinked to drag their brothers through the riverbath. They were hungry, and they could smell the cooking.

Back inside, Lisa scraped up the worst of the twins’ trail and helped in the kitchen. “Are the cubs enjoying their visit?” asked Uncle Volkiy, needlessly. “We’ll find out soon enough”, she giggled as the door burst under a yelping, rolling knot of fourfoxfur. At table, in some sort of order, the noise was worse than the smell. Chatter to deafen a gaggle of geese. The day had been a success. Endless space for running. Ducks to frighten. Moles and voles to scrat after. Rabbits to chase down holes. Badgers to badger. Dung to roll in. Clean water to splash in. Fresh air to gulp in. Ferrets and weasels to ... get a bite on the nose from.

They were exhausted. “Mum, can we live here all the time?” Lisa had been waiting for that. Uncle Volkiy, always complaining he never saw enough of the cubs, looked at her. “Of course!” said Lisa after a pause. “But...” There was always a but. “You have licked the pattern off your plates. All that hunting, all that chasing, didn’t you eat all day?”

Ah! If only it was that simple. In Moscow, feeding is easy. Scraps, leftovers, throwaway food, overfed pets, overflowing bins. Out in the Oblast, not only were there fewer lunches wandering around, they all seemed quite keen on not being caught. Four pampered urban foxes were not fit or cunning enough to convert live chase into food. They couldn’t catch an otter in the water, a pheasant in a field, or a squirrel up a tree. They did corner a farm cat briefly, which reminded them: “Mum, can you patch our scratches?”

“Sorry, no medicine here. You’ll have to wait until we get back into town. They’ll heal.”

 “Don’t worry, Dasha and Masha,” offered Uncle Volkiy, who always had a soft spot for the twins, “I’ll soon teach you to hunt properly, as a team, instead of just chasing wildly like you were earlier. Also to show you the farmer’s traps, and spot which bait has been poisoned, and when to lie low when you smell the hunters’ guns coming for you”. He was trying to be helpful and encouraging, but it had the opposite effect.

The cubs were already working out the odds. It gradually dawned on them why they saw more gulls, crows, sparrows and even foxes in town. Country life is clean and green, but harder work. Boris and Sasha were still laughing about the dungheap, and the fun of chasing rural rats. They forgot that they had not actually caught anything.

As usual, Dasha and Masha were more alert than the boys. “Mum, we have had a great day. Thank you, and Uncle.”

“You are welcome”, replied the grown-ups. ”Anything else?”

“Yes” said Dasha, “We have a lot to learn, and the change of scenery has brought it home to us.”

“It’s easier to stay put and take everything for granted, and there’s less risk with what you are used to,” added Masha. “But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

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