Chapter 27 - Minding the Hut
After the grueling trek to Baba Yaga's hut, the companions rest on the crone's floor and stove (the sleeping bench is taken by the hostess herself, who slumbers upon it, corpselike, throughout most of the dark hours). It is also soon learned that Baba Yaga exudes no smell whatsoever. The following day, Baba Yaga heads out on business in her flying mortar - flying around the world, sniffing out news, and taking care of business. This is a routine she follows on a daily basis, as it turns out. Her house-guests receive various assignments to complete while she is gone. Plamen is sent to take care of the crone's cat and dog (in reality, a huge lynx, and a dire wolf, chained to the stoop). Chonkorchuk is to deal with the cleaning and cooking - the hut is quite cluttered, and Baba Yaga does not do her own food preparation, though she certainly expects something when she returns. He takes to it quite well, recalling that this was his main job during his last sojourn in the hut decades ago. Katarina does the knitting and carding wool, though she also spends time honing her newfound arcane skills. Khurshid heads out to watch Baba Yaga's herd in hopes of winning a heroic steed for himself, but at the end of the day, he does not return. Druvvaldis goes out with the old grandmother herself - she means to spy on the Knights, find out what they are up to, and also, to learn about their operations in the lands the shaman calls home. In response to Chonkorchuk's entreaties to help, Baba Yaga indicates that she does not regard the Knights as much of a threat, and in any event, she is dealing with the situation, and has reserved the empty spikes in her wall for their heads. Druvvaldis also does not return with her that evening. The whereabouts of Raskel/Rodion are unclear - Chonkorchuk does not see him the following morning, and he does not turn up in the subsequent period. That night, Baba Yaga returns with an attractive and somewhat androgynous young woman named Sasha. She apparently spent the day in the land of the Rakhmany, and met this woman on the road from a city called Al Azraq - coincidently (or not) - Khurshid's home town. The crone was apparently begging on the side of the road, and Sasha was amenable to her entreaties, so she lured them off the road, and then, grabbed them, and flew off, back to the Otherworld. After delivering Sasha back to her hut, the young woman has treated Baba Yaga deferentially, calling her "grandmother", and generally, being excited to meet so famous a personage so far from home - the Norik village of Vladykino. Sasha themselves follows the Old Ways, yet Baba Yaga apparently has ulterior motives in mind. Somewhere else, in another part of the hut, yet unseen by Chonkorchuk, Sasha, or Katarina, a game warden named Vasilisa watches a prisoner - a chud' princeling who calls himself Shadow. Vasilisa caught him poaching on her boyar's land, and was bringing him to face the lord's justice, when, like Sasha, she was scooped up by the old hag, and brought here. She has been charged with watching Shadow, for reasons that are as yet unclear. But at this time, she leaves Shadow alone in the stone prison chamber, rises up a set of stone stairs, and emerges out from under the rug on the floor. Baba Yaga introduces the new arrivals to her old servitor, and after partaking of the meal Chonkorchuk cooked up, which follows her meal of someone she happened to pick up somewhere on her daily errands (she obliquely implies that the person is Khurshid, who has failed to properly tend to her herd, while spitting a finger out of her mouth), calls for entertainment. Sasha is apparently a musician, and Vasilisa - a storyteller. Chonkorchuk contributes by singing songs about his favorite subject. When the entertainment comes to an end, Baba Yaga gets down to business. She withdraws a scroll from somewhere in her vestments, and unrolls it in front of all assembled. The Rakhman scroll, which is legible to Sasha, is quickly determined to have something to do with Koshchei the Deathless - the entity who is summoned by it. This scroll was apparently purchased by Khurshid in Al Azraq, and after certain persons learned of its existence, they started to pursue him (which led to his falling through into the Otherworld). While the crone was out and about, investigating how it happened, she found Sasha, whom she quickly tagged as a potentially useful person in the enterprise of translating the text. Sasha later converses with Khurshid's spirit, which confirms the story of its acquisition of the scroll. By perusing the text and listening to the Grandmother's stories, the people assembled learn that the scroll apparently appeals to those who seek power. It summons the Dread Lord not directly, but through the causation of disasters - above all, fires, but also plagues, famines, and the like. For Baba Yaga, who is apparently a self-designated peacemaker among the Old Powers, the return of Koshchei to administer the affairs of the world directly is a problem, because his rule over the world complicates her efforts. She would therefore like to learn who has been spreading this scroll, and for what purpose, because this is necessary to check the Dread Lord's power. She would like the multilingual Sasha and Vasilisa to translate the scroll into as many languages as possible, in order to disseminate the information, draw out Koshchei's collaborators, and to find allies and informants. The following day, the translators set to work, and after nine days, they have produced 9 different translations - a grand undertaking, as Vasilisa does not read Rakhman, and as the combined efforts are necessary to read into and understand the subtext of the summoning. When the work draws to a close, Baba Yaga asks her servitors which task they would like to undertake now. Chonkorchuk proposes following the Knights, and the hag counts that as one option. He also brings up the issue of the The Alatyr Stone, sought so ardently by his enemy, Zhitko. Baba Yaga says that the proliferation of Stone hunters, and increased activity by Koshchei are probably related - both of them mean to unify as many Powers under their aegis as possible. However, information about the Stone is available only through her older sister. Returning to the Rakhman lands to find out about the scroll in question is a third option. Vasilisa also asks about the purpose of holding her prisoner, Shadow. Baba Yaga explains that his family rule over a land in the far north which guards the approaches to the Isle of Buyan, where she has hidden Koshchei's Death. She now has reasons to believe that his family has betrayed her, and made common cause with Koshchei, and wants to find out why and how. Koshchei getting his hands on his Death could be disastrous for everyone. Hearing this, Vasilisa speaks to her captive, trying to learn what happened, and promising that in exchange for information and contrition, she will return him home. Shadow says that he has nothing to be contrite about, as the land on which he was supposedly "poaching" used to belong to his people, who took better care of it, and answered for their possession of it before the gods. He has little information about his family's current dealings with the powers, however. Vasilisa pledges to set him free, but when she brings up the matter to Baba Yaga, the crone says, matter-of-factly, that the chud' is to stay there as a hostage, and a piece in whatever negotiations must take place with his family. She protests against any suggestion that she would simply eat him. While the translation efforts are underway, the illiterate Chonkorchuk goes out hunting for the nightly dinners. To make it possible for him to do so, Baba Yaga must make him a known quantity to the skulls - otherwise, her guardians would simply burn him alive. Chonkorchuk's hunts are relatively successful, and he encounters no dangers outside the huts. But he soon grows bored, and decides to investigate hut after he saw Vasilisa emerge from under the bench. His own eldritch sight reveals multiple portals in the visible part of the hut, including one in the stove, on which Katarina sleeps. He asks Baba Yaga's permission to climb into the stove, and laughingly, she agrees. Chonkorchuk climbs into the stove, and singes his hair and cloak a little, but he emerges in a cobble-paved stone passage leading to a semicircular dead end, with three doors - left, right and center. He attempts to open the middle door, and is accosted by an upyr', which climbed out from a portal in the floor behind him. Chonkorchuk flees from it, and another hand, making its way out of another portal in the floor, swipes at him. Chonkorchuk charges into the wall of fire from which he emerged, but his large frame gets stuck while climbing out of the stove, and his fellow servitors have to help him through. Baba Yaga finds all this terribly amusing. Sasha fixes him up after his ordeal. Afterwards, when all the translations are finished, Baba Yaga asks the trio what task they would like to undertake, and after some discussion, they indicate that they want to travel north, to learn about what is transpiring in the realm of Shadow's family. Baba Yaga agrees, though she asks whether they would first like to load up on supplies. When her servants answer in the affirmative, she says she will deposit them by a large city, where they can acquire what they need. The night prior to departure, Chonkorchuk sends his fefila out to look for healthful berries, to help him recover after his encounter with upyri and fire. For the second time, he locates nothing. Vasilisa asks Baba Yaga why she no goodberries grow in the Otherworld, and the crone tells them that that's as stupid a question as asking the lord on her estate why goodberries don't grow there in the winter, either. She has some say about natural cycles here - the riders that determine dawn, day, and night are her servants, and live in the hut, somewhere, but apparently, Baba Yaga does not fully control things. To show her that it's not malicious, she flips her a golden apple, which she claims has similar properties. Sasha responds to this by flirting with Baba Yaga in hopes of getting something more out of her, but the crone responds by grabbing the scribe, and taking her through a portal up in the rafters, for a night of pleasure.
- Golden apple from Baba Yaga
- Chonkorchuk explores the Hut
- Vasilisa and Sasha translate Khrushid's scroll
- Sasha enjoys an erotic night with Baba Yaga