Burying the Hatchet
"Niko!" Mishka gasped. "Is it really you?"
Roman had been worried that his disguise wouldn't fool anyone. Even wearing Niko's sealskin cap and boots, even carrying Niko's hatchet, even having grown a beard and dyed it black, he still felt recognisable as the youngest son of the Tsar.
But Mishka certainly seemed to be buying the act.
"I thought you were dead," he breathed. He wrapped Roman up in a fierce hug. "Where have you been?"
Roman kept his voice deep, his syllables clipped, mimicking his old comrade's speech patterns. "Long story," he said. "Old friend."
Mishka pulled back. "You're bleeding."
Roman touched his ear. His finger came back bloody. Three nights ago, he had completed his disguise by slashing off part of his earlobe. An old war-wound of Niko's that he couldn't otherwise fake. The scab had opened at just the wrong moment.
He ignored the pain. Mishka had thought Niko was dead. Was that because he killed him? Was he really pleased to see him, or just a good actor?
"Is there somewhere we can talk?" Roman asked.
As Mishka turned to scan the frozen horizon, Roman lifted his old friend's hatchet.