It was minus 20. The sun had only just risen, and my circulation had yet to reach the tips of my fingers. The pine trees scrolled, parallax, to either side of me as I crunched, running through the thin layer of snow.
Every so often I would stop and stoop to retrieve a pine cone. I carried four – two in each gloved fist. I would drop them to pick up bigger and better cones as I ventured more deeply into the forest. I planned the order in which I would deal the cones out to my children, to maximise their pleasure and minimise disappointment or jockeying.
My path was marked by red and yellow warpaint slashed across tree-trunks at intervals. The intervals were just broad enough for me to fear losing my way.
A great stone devil stood, a club drooping in his right paw. The snow sat upon his head like a great, white fur hat, and he wore white fur epaulets on his great, round shoulders. He eyed me with grim happiness and I puffed past him.
Behind him lurked a stone dragon with a thick red tongue jutting out of its mouth: it was meant to be a flame, but the snow lay thick along it, making it a tongue.
I ran twice around this forest; long enough for the blood to reach my fingertips. I sprinted along a woody boulevard and became only breath and the juddering crunch of my footsteps.
It was then I became the Czar’s madman, Timotheus Von Bock. Jaan Kross, the great Estonian novelist wrote the story of a Livonian nobleman who committed himself to giving truthful critique of the Czar’s rule. For this truth, he is rewarded with nine years’ imprisonment – and is released, a madman.
Quite what it means to be mad in this age is hard to pin down. Some are rewarded for madness – and in being rewarded are no longer mad. Some remain, one eye larger than the other, rictus-smiling and always shaking hands, as stark-staring mad as a box of feverish cats – and manage to keep the money rolling in, and are therefore not mad.
Only in seeking to unprofitably tell the truth do we reveal ourselves to be irredeemably mad.
And so we run. Before the Devil and the dragon’s tongue.