Sink or Swim

Sep 23 2018

Januarius 15, 379

To my son Sevastyan:

With this letter, I am sending instructions to your guardian to see that you receive lessons in swimming while you are still young and buoyant. I myself never received such lessons, for swimming is not a beloved or practical exercise among our people, but I have long lived with the consequences of that oversight in my education. To this day, I still dislike to cross rivers, lakes, and oceans, and while I can reliably keep my head above water, I cannot do so efficiently or gracefully. It is a glaring and unfortunate weakness; one I hope my enemies never learn nor exploit.

Each Januarius, during the tradition of ice swimming, I must conquer my fears all over again. I stay close to shore, where my feet touch the bottom, and rarely enter water deep enough to rise above the waist. Fortunately, the ritual does not expect more than a momentary dip: just enough of a commitment to honor the Lord, rinse the skin, and return to warmth and safety. Even still, a grown man should not carry such childish fears. While you may dislike these lessons at first, I hope in time you will come to see the wisdom in them.

Lord bless and guide you,

Your Loving Father

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How to Build Bridges

Sep 12 2018

Januarius 1, 379

To my son Aleksandr:

Happy New Year, Sasha. As my carriage crossed the Rosdokios Bridge early this morning, I was reminded of a lecture I received when I was not much older than you are now, still living in the country and under the protection of a pseudonym. My instructor at the time was a man by the name of Gerolf von Bara, a retired advisor to a noble house. He was old and gray and loved to speak in riddles, and I learned a great many lessons from him. We were discussing past alliances, and I was struggling to understand why one side would agree to a deal that I believed placed them at a disadvantage.

“What is more important?” He suddenly asked me. “The destination or the journey required to get there?”

Of course, I wanted to sound smart, so I told him that the destination is more important. “Why?” Because without it, the journey would not be necessary. Therefore, the journey must be of secondary importance. Some might have agreed with me, no?

My instructor, however, did not seem very impressed. He asked me: “If you are an engineer, do you concern yourself with how the bridge is built, or only that it is built?”

Naturally, I saw his point. I told him that if I were an engineer, it would be my responsibility to concern myself with how the bridge is built. I would not want the bridge to be of poor design or to become unsafe for travelers, and I would want to take pride in the work.

My instructor nodded. He then asked me: “And does the farmer who carts his cabbage into town care how the bridge is built, or only that it will hold his weight when it is done?”

Now I was puzzled by this route of discourse. Of course, the farmer does not care about the complicated processes required to build the bridge; he is concerned only that he can make it to market. The details of bridge architecture are irrelevant to him.

Old von Bara smiled one of his knowing smiles. “To make lasting alliances,” he told me, “one must understand the concerns of another as if they were his own. One must have perspective.” He asked me again: “What is more important? The destination or the journey required to get there?”

This time, I knew better. I told him that the answer to that question will always depend on who is asked. “Very good, Master von Nikolaev,” he said. “You are dismissed for today. Now, go and build some bridges.”

Lord bless and guide you,

Your Loving Father

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My Gifts to You

Sep 08 2018

Novembris 17, 378

To my trusted Castellan, Mikhail von Khalturin:

By the time this letter reaches you, another Yule season will already be upon us, and once again, I will spend it somewhere other than home. I hope these words find you and your family in good health, and I trust that in my absence, Vechnyy Castle is well-prepared for the coming winter, with enough food, wool, and firewood for those who remain behind. In truth, a part of me will miss those frigid stone halls and roaring fires…

With this letter, I send three Yule packages, which are to be delivered to my children in confidence. You will complete this task personally, as you have done many times before.

To Aleksandr, my eldest, I gift an exquisite chess set of pale stone and frosted glass. May he practice with it often and continue to hone his skill at strategy.

To my daughter Elizaveta, I gift a set of fine porcelain dolls, one of which is a very good likeness of Her Royal Majesty. The others are likenesses of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the current Lady Keeper of the Seal, Grand Inquisitor, and Lady Earl Marshall.

To Sevastyan, my youngest, I gift a rare children’s book to kindle his imagination. May he enjoy this time of early youth, ignorant of the burdens and responsibilities he will all too soon come to bear.

You will find that I have also included a small token of my appreciation for you, as well. Please accept it with my gratitude, Khalturin. It is a comfort to know that I can rely upon you with these matters while I am away. Do convey my kindest regards to your wife and family, and as always: may your Winter be short and mild, your Yule merry.

By my hand,

*signature and seal*

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