'I told you, you shouldn't have worn them.'
Napoleon's face bore a sharp resemblance to a man chewing on a wasp. He was walking like a man standing on a nest of wasps, Illya thought; or maybe a man attempting fire-walking without the courage to just run across the coals.
'These are hundred dollar shoes, Illya,' Napoleon said, and Illya very carefully hid any hint of a smirk, because Napoleon sounded like a man chewing on a wasp, too. It didn't seem fair to needle him and laugh at him.
'All the more reason for not wearing them on a hike,' Illya said reasonably. 'Besides, I should think anyone who spends a hundred dollars on a pair of new shoes might deserve a little – just a little – purgatory.'
'They're good shoes. They're not hiking shoes. I didn't expect the car to break down,' Napoleon muttered.
'I did mention that noise under the hood and suggest putting it into the garage last week,' Illya pointed out innocently. 'And I don't tend to file makes your feet feel as if your toes are being sliced off under good.'
Napoleon made a grumbling noise deep in his throat, but at that point Illya caught sight of something up ahead, and momentarily forgot his friend's predicament.
'Look, Napoleon! Only a sage man will strike gold. There it is!' he said, and he jogged ahead along the dusty road.
Napoleon was hopping from foot to foot by the time he joined Illya, who was crouching down to extract the glittering egg from beneath a sagebrush. Illya had eyes only for the egg.
'Боже, Napoleon,' he murmured. 'It's another one. The nerve of these people...'
He held the beautiful, dusty bauble in his hands as if it were delicate as a thrush egg. The sky blue enamel seemed to glow with an inner light, reflected by the threads of gold that encased it like a net. He cracked the thing open on delicate hinges to reveal a perfect scale model of the Winter Palace; and a piece of paper, that fluttered to the ground.
'Here is everything beautiful about my country, and everything that was wrong it it, all contained in a single egg,' Illya murmured, then added more prosaically, 'Wrap it up and put it in my rucksack.'
'What does the clue say?' Napoleon asked as he took the egg, handling it with a little less reverence than Illya. Still, he was careful as he wrapped it in soft cloth and nested it in with the others. 'Written in Russian again?'
'Written in Russian,' Illya nodded. 'Look up, look east, and let Christ guide you,' he read.
'Look up, look east, and let Christ guide you?' Napoleon sounded less than impressed with the vagueness of the clue.
Illya shrugged, standing up. He was moving more carefully still now that he had four of the eggs in his bag.
'There must be a church,' he said.
'Maybe there's a church,' Napoleon acknowledged. 'But what in hell are they getting at?'
Illya shrugged again. 'I don't pretend to understand the workings of the Thrush mind,' he said. 'Why commit the audacious theft of the most complete collection of Fabergé eggs to ever come to this continent, and then leave them littered as clues through a pitiless desert?'
'Because they're laughing at us,' Napoleon grumbled. 'They're watching us, and they're laughing at us.'
'That maybe so,' Illya agreed, 'but after all, it is Easter, and this is a rather spectacular egg hunt, isn't it? Maybe a Thrushie has gone rogue and is giving them back in a particularly perverse manner. Added together, the clues suggest that we're going to find the First Hen as the dénouement of all of this madness.'
Napoleon pulled off the worst offending one of the pair of shoes and shoved it in Illya's rucksack on top of the eggs.
'Remind me about the First Hen,' he said.
It was as easy for Illya to draw the museum catalogue into his mind as if he had taken the physical copy out of his bag and opened it to the right page.
'The First Hen was Fabergé's first egg, made as an Easter surprise for the wife of Tsar Alexander III. Beautiful in its simplicity, it is a pure gold egg coated in white enamel, containing a spherical gold yolk inside, which opens in turn to reveal a golden hen, which itself contained a miniature replica of the imperial crown, and a ruby pendant. Those trinkets are now missing; but of course, so is the rest of the egg, for now.'
'An Easter surprise… No wonder there was a revolution,' Napoleon murmured.
'No wonder, while peasants were treated as slaves,' Illya agreed darkly. 'But these things are beautiful, all the same. They show a pinnacle of craftsmanship that hasn't been equalled since. If we do recover all of the eggs I'm sure the museum hosting the display will be very, very grateful.'
Napoleon sighed. 'Grateful enough to buy me new shoes?' he asked, planting one hand on Illya's shoulder and beginning to hop again as Illya turned towards the east and a landscape of rock and dust and shrubs.
'I thought they were good shoes,' Illya said archly. 'I would expect to be able to walk for miles in hundred dollar shoes.'
'They are good dress shoes,' Napoleon correctly him tartly, hopping around a dusty rock and wincing as he did.
'I'm not sure I want you to have new shoes,' Illya replied in a very innocent tone. 'I've never been on an Easter egg hunt with the Easter Bunny himself.'
'Illya, I will give you a hundred dollars for your shoes,' Napoleon offered.
'Then you'd be two hundred dollars out on footwear. Besides, my shoes would be too big for you.'
'Your feet would have to be the only big thing about you,' Napoleon grumbled.
'Not the only big thing,' Illya replied. He waited just a beat, then said, 'My hands are quite large for my size.'
Napoleon only growled. Illya stopped and grinned at him. He swung the rucksack to the ground and rummaged inside for a moment before drawing out a pair of Napoleon's well worn, comfortable clogs.
Napoleon stared at him.
'I don't know whether to kiss you or kill you,' he said. 'Why didn't you tell me you had them an hour ago? Why did you bring them in the first place? Illya, did you sabotage the car just to teach me a lesson about capitalism, or vanity?'
'I was using them to hold the eggs,' Illya said placidly. 'No, Napoleon, I did not sabotage the car but I did anticipate a certain amount of walking, and I knew you'd be wearing those ridiculous shoes. You've been singing their praises since you saw them in the store.'
It was a measure of how glad Napoleon was to see the clogs that he didn't rise to the insult. He just grabbed the clogs and slipped them on, while Illya used the discarded hundred dollar shoes to cradle the many-thousand dollar eggs.
'I think the church will be over that hill,' Illya said, nodding towards a rise of ground bronzed by the early evening sun. 'It's going to start getting dark soon. We'd better hop to it.'