Chapter 18 – The Hag, the Hegumen, and the Heartthrob
While Druvvaldis watches the perimeter to make sure the escaped smugglers don’t return with reinforcements, Annar, Plamen and Chonkorchuk deal with the chaos of the battle’s end. Annar restrains and binds the felled Vasya while Plamen feeds him berries to ensure he does not die. Upon regaining consciousness, Vasya alternates insulting Chonkorchuk with complaints about being turned over to Baba Yaga, whereupon he is gagged. In the meantime, Plamen uses his natural polevik power over fire to extinguish the burning cottage. The group then moves in to search what’s left. The takings appear to be rather meager. Chonkorchuk finds a dagger with an ivory hilt on one of the vanquished smugglers, while Plamen takes another, ordinary, dagger. Chonkorchuk also replaces his torn and bloodied overcoat with another overcoat, as well as a padded surcoat worn by one of the more dangerous-looking smugglers. Annar, for his part, lifts a few loose coins from several of the bodies. He is much more interested in the smugglers’ iron cauldron in the fireplace, and an incongruous anvil he discovers near the door. The volot undertakes to carry the anvil, the cauldron, and the bound Vasya as the group travels to find Baba Yaga, but then thinks better of it, and decides to bury the anvil outside the cottage, resolving to return to reclaim it later. The group travels back toward Chonkorchuk’s neck of the woods, crossing the two rivers in the same places as they did when they walked to the smugglers' hut. On route, Annar enquires where they are to find Baba Yaga, to which Chonkorchuk replies that she usually finds them. That turns out to be the case. As the group crosses the Vydra, Plamen spies her sitting on a tree branch, smiling and chortling to herself. Annar is surprised to discover that she is the same crone who pointed him in the direction of Druvvaldis when he first crossed into the Land of Nor’. The crone happily receives her cowed quarry, and appears surprised to meet the volot as well, though claims she hasn’t seen one in a long time. When asked what he is doing there, Annar offers that he is seeking Perkons, his divine master. The hag replies that he has come to the right place, and that this god, and many other old gods besides, reside nearby, and are making plans to return. She tells him that she will reveal his presence if he aids the party in its last task – the recovery of the bride. Annar accepts the assignment, but asks for no reward until he fulfills his part of the bargain, which Baba Yaga assesses as a wise decision. She then takes possession of Vasya, and parts ways with the party. Chonkorchuk leads the group back to Vasya’s old prison underneath the oak tree where he, Durvvaldis, and Plamen recently spent the night. Annar is too big to fit through the doorway, though, so the group departs for the hermitage. Chonkorchuk finds his old abode destroyed, however – it is partially burned, and the logs with mystic inscriptions have been smashed with an axe. He suspects people from Lazarevo, and then decides to set up camp nearby. A fire is lit – the experience of the previous night convinces him that roughing it in the cold is dangerous to his health. Prior to turning in, the hermit calls forth a vision of the bride they seek, and sees an image of Katarina, naked, chained to a wall by her arms by an iron chain. The vision fades, and then changes into another, of Katarina, again nude, washing herself. The first half of the following day is occupied by hunting. While Annar manages to hunt down a couple of hares to supplement the diet of berries conjured by Plamen, Chonkorchuk has another vision of villagers packed into a church, where Hegumen Yaakov is leading a service. Slowly, the group makes its way down toward the warren, as they come up with a plan of action. Annar can’t fit into the chute, so a decision is made to send him into the village. He is as yet unknown, and perhaps may learn something of what is going on with Katarina, and in the village in general, without being suspected of working with Chonkorchuk and his band of misfits. After arriving, Plamen, Druvvaldis and Chonkorchuk take cover in Plamen’s old chamber, while the volot heads to Lazarevo. Upon seeing the giant man, he is immediately surrounded by fearful villagers, and soon, by the monks’ armed servitors, who conduct him to the island along the ice. The volot is led to the mess hall, and fed, and then left alone for a private audience with Hegumen Yaakov himself. The abbot seems fully aware of Annar’s collaboration with Chonkorchuk and Plamen, and of their recent activities, and the threats these present to the village. He does aver that he dealt with the walking dead men, however. Annar, largely unaware of the conflict between the monastery and his strange new friends, reveals the full extent of the group’s work for Baba Yaga, and their plans for Katarina. Yaakov unexpectedly offers Annar a deal: deliver the grain requisitioned from Plamenka's warren to help stave off famine, and he will not stand in the way of the group’s plans, provided they do not bring further chaos upon Lazarevo. He also asks Annar to swear that whatever happens to Katarina, he will protect her with his life and ensure no harm comes to her. Annar agrees to the terms, and, being offered warm accommodations after months in the wilderness, sinks into a bogatyr’s sleep. The following morning, Plamen and Chonkorchuk, leaving Druvvaldis to watch Plamen’s room, walk into town, unaware of Annar’s activities of the previous night. The hermit disguises himself as a peasant, while the changeling healer turns into a dog. Chonkorchuk knocks on Katarina’s door, and is confronted by her mother, who seems upset by the fact that a stranger and his dog are asking after her unmarried daughter. She refuses to let them in, though they do espy the girl listening by the window. Chonkorchuk leaves after announcing that they will wait for a meeting with Katarina a short ways outside the village. After they leave, Annar, who awakens late, approaches the same compound. He is looking for Katarina’s father – the smith. After he is fetched by his assistants, Annar solicits him to make weapons fit for one of his size, and offers him two kopecks. The smith laughs, and says that he is not really a weaponsmith, and that at any rate, the cost will be significantly higher. Annar then offers to deliver him an anvil, which intrigues the smith, if only because it can be melted down. The volot leaves, preparing to fetch the anvil, and runs into his companions in the meadow. Chonkorchuk is not entirely happy about Annar’s revelations to Yaakov, and doesn’t think that Katarina’s father (as opposed to Zhitko) is the right smith for the job of weapon making. Plamen, for his part, sees no way in which the village is entitled to his family’s grain stores. In the middle of the discussion, a small baked bun made of dough, with raisin eyes rolls in, and tells the group that it was sent by Katarina, who wants to learn what they want. Chonkorchuk replies that they want to meet her in the meadow to speak to her about a private matter. Annar attempts to kick the bun, but it avoids him, and begins to roll circles around him, insulting him and telling him he is a big dumb oaf who cannot catch it before rolling toward home. Offended, Annar goes off to fetch his anvil, while Chonkorchuk and the dog Plamen return to the warren.
- Two daggers (one with ivory hilt)
- An overcoat
- A few loose coins
- An anvil
- Two hares
- Vasya delivered to Baba Yaga