The Story of Medved [excerpt] – Ted Prokash
May 24, 2019
Many of the events in this account revolve directly around or otherwise involve, to varying degrees, that most unique character, Vasily Ivanovich Medved. Since Medved was not a man in the habit of revealing his most intimate designs or true feelings, it might be most helpful to relate here the story of his origins. His terrible tale is steeped in the tradition of our dearest Russian folklore – so brutal and so true…
Medved was born in the house of K_____, a relatively wealthy count of otherwise marginal influence. The only thing known for certain about Medved’s parentage is that his mother was a servant in K_____’s house. This unfortunate woman was compelled by the demons of circumstance – as are so many girls of low standing – to try to improve her situation by the most shameful of all enterprises. I will neither insult the intelligent man, nor scandalize good society by indulging the gratuitous details of said enterprise. The end result is that Medved’s true father could not immediately be known and never did come forward.
One popular rumor was that the count himself begat Medved. It was possible. K_____ was a widower and would never have been accused of coveting high moral ground in his dealings with anyone, much less his servants. But he was an old man by Medved’s time, much diminished in his licentious vigor. In truth, it might have been one of K_____’s manservants, or any neighboring farmer, or army officer who passed through the count’s home at one time or another that fathered Medved.
When Vasily was still a young child his mother’s organs began to fail. She became jaundiced and bloated and after a few short weeks of suffering, she died. The boy was allowed to grow up in K_____’s house, though he was never treated as anything more than a servant.
The count had three sons, a few years older than Medved. Though they did not treat him as an equal, he was a regular playmate and like a brother in many practical ways. The boys all got along well enough until Vasily’s unnatural strength began to manifest itself. By the time he was eight years old, not one of K_____’s sons – the oldest being a teenager – could best the young bear cub in a wrestling match. So they took to ganging up on him. It became a ritual for the two older boys to hold little Vasily down while the youngest son, Ivan, kicked him in the groin. Even by this arrangement, Vasily often managed to wound one or more of K_____’s sons before having his groin kicked in. And he never would quit struggling against them, not until his tormentors ran off or he finally passed out from the pain. This went on for two years or so, until Vasily grew so strong and so violent that it was no longer worth the boys’ while to attack him. From then on, they held him in silent contempt.
Medved left K_____’s house and joined the army at an unusually young age. This arrangement was agreeable to everyone involved, as Medved naturally despised the count and his family, and in turn, the boy had become more trouble to the count than he was worth. And, of course, our righteous, noble tsar was always welcoming of young boys to grind up in the royal war machine. He began his military career as an errand boy for the local regiment. Through his involvement and ultimate success in some inevitable dust ups, Vasily’s talent for violence soon revealed itself to his superiors. This unfortunate young boy quickly found himself in a position of confidence.
There is a telling lesson in all this, a lesson reduced to its most elemental form in the person of Vasily Ivanovich Medved. While it’s true that the surest path to success is to be born into wealth and power, it’s not the only way. If a man is determined and, more importantly, willing to tread where the next man will not, he can sometimes force his way into a desirable position. Consider the peasant mystic who gains the devotion of aristocrats by brazen and manipulative lies. And many are the servant women who become the de facto rulers of prominent households simply by mastering the home’s most mundane details. Such was the nature of Vasily Medved’s ugly, dogged climb.
One episode in particular proved Medved’s value to his superiors and cemented his reputation with all the people of our province. At the time, he was with a regiment stationed in the far-flung Southern Caucasus. The commander of the regiment was having some trouble with a certain young cavalry officer. The young officer was drunken, negligent and downright insubordinate. One night, over a bout of drinking and cards, this commander spilled the whole story to Medved. (One of the first skills Medved learned in the army was how to ingratiate his way into his superiors’ confidence.) Without the least bit of prodding, our hungry, young bear offered to eliminate his master’s problem in the most direct way possible. The commander commended Medved’s eagerness, his “patriotism”, but, he explained, the situation was delicate; this cavalry officer had some connections. He would have to be handled in a way that did not arouse suspicion. Most importantly, the regiment commander let on, his own leadership should not be implicated – only, of course, because the regiment as a whole would suffer!
“Of course,” Medved agreed. “Consider it done.” It happened that the insubordinate cavalry officer’s name was Ivan K_____.
Over the years, the people of our province circulated a thousand fantastic rumors as to just how Vasily Medved dispatched his childhood nemesis. It’s telling, I think, of the historically cowed position we Russians occupy in relation to our own particular cruel god that we favor the most brutal versions of the Medved legend. The most popular iterations have K_____ being castrated by some rack-like method or having his manhood pulverized by his own horse. Medved indulged these rumors to varying degrees, depending on his audience. There were few men to whom Medved ever bothered to give the truth about the killing of Ivan K_____. Nikolai Andreyevich Petrov was one.
Petrov and Medved first met while serving in the army of the infamous General Maciek. Maciek was a native Pole who had risen high in the ranks of the Imperial Russian army by virtue of his extraordinary avarice. He ran his army like an organized crime syndicate of which he was the boss. His underlings were free to rob and extort across the breadth of the whole Russian empire and all her outlying territories, provided that the general was paid his fair duty. Maciek’s army became a juggernaut of its own momentum – quite in the Russian style.
Medved signed on with the thieving Pole not a month after killing his way into a position of standing in the army of the Southern Caucasus. Medved’s erstwhile commander in the regiment took his sudden defection as a hard personal blow. “But I thought we would rise to glory together,” the foolish commander had said, brought to the verge of tears by his shock and dismay. Medved laughed in the man’s face.
Petrov entered the military around this same time – out of boredom and a lack of prospects. He was placed with General Maciek as a favor to his father, who was well-liked if not powerfully connected. Petrov and Medved made the fastest of friends. They were, perhaps, more different than they were alike, yet something primal in their characters matched.
Petrov and Medved spent many long nights sitting by the campfire, drinking, exchanging stories and laughing about the futility of a life spent in the tsar’s army. They both figured they weren’t long for it. It was during one of these intimate sessions that Petrov simply asked his friend directly what he did with the unlucky Ivan K_____.
“There’s really nothing much to it,” Medved admitted readily. “Do you know the Devil’s Gorge, along the Terek River, near Ozrak?” Petrov had heard of it. “Well, there lies the body of Ivan K_____ – or his bones, rather, picked clean by now by the wolves and birds. I truly wish I could say, Nikki, that I looked K_____ in his eyes while he breathed his last. If there was true justice in this world, my smile would have been the last thing that rotten turd ever saw…
“But, in fact, it was a much more practical business than that. I followed him while he was off on his own one day, scouting a pass in the mountains. When he came to a very tricky spot, I simply spooked his horse, put a round of rocksalt into his hide. K_____ never moved from where he fell.”
Medved was equanimous about the whole thing. He regretted not having employed a more intimate touch in taking his revenge on K_____, Petrov could tell, but, ultimately, it was just a thing of the past and not germane to his great ambition. He had accomplished his objective, after all.
Petrov was touched rather fondly by his friend’s terrible tale. Here was a man who, whatever his faults, at least was brave. “Do you know what I think, Vasily? I think justice lies in the fact that grubs are eating Ivan K_____’s bones, while you and I are here to drink a toast to it.” At this our friends grinned and clinked their tin cups.
Medved stayed with Maciek’s army for about a year before catching on with a favored bureaucrat named Lembke. When Lebke was appointed governor of our province, he took Medved with him.
Petrov soon received his own reprieve from the army owing his success with Miss Anna Marie Von Hesse. He settled into the civilian life, though not without raising whispers of infamy in his own wake. But that’s a story we will revisit when the integrity of our narrative demands it. Then and only then…