Chapter 28 - The Prince of Fishes
With the translations finished, and Baba Yaga's appetites sated, it is time to set out. Early the next morning, the crone rises, and orders the gates opened. The hut runs through, and then begins its breakneck run through the woods. The servitors hold on tight and look at the woods float past, astounded at the hut's speed. Sasha is also a little shell-shocked from the previous night, but recovers surprisingly quickly. Soon, the hut runs into a cave, and everything goes dark. After some time, it reemerges into daylight. The landscape looks different. The snow is gone, there are flowers on the ground, and a breeze blows open the windows. The sun is up in the sky, though soon, a dreary rain begins to fall. Baba Yaga calls for the hut to stop, and tells everyone that it's the end of the road. She bids Sasha, Vasilisa, and Chonkorchuk exit, and tells them to walk south and west. There, they will find the city and Krinets, where they will be able to find anything they need. The crone tells Chonkorchuk to be liberal with his spending - after all, it is her money he carries. As the party tried to cover itself from the rain, it soon meets a curious man, fishing at a nearby stream. He is Tumma Keza - a former sailor who recently had an unfortunate encounter with a volot on his way back to his village. Tumma lost of of his possessions in the encounter (though he gained the giant's pettycoat, now uncomfortably draped over him), and is looking for work. He saw the hut charging by the stream, and decided to follow those who got out of it, and see what they might be on about. As they look like people of power, subtlety and cunning, he offers his services, in exchange for regular pay, and a share of any treasure found along the way. Sasha uses magic to get Tumma to alter his terms, and he agrees to forego wages. Chonkorchuk soon learns that Tumma, like him, is Kuz'. As the negotiation concludes, Plamen appears out of the woods. He was taking a rest in the hidden parts of the hut after his strenuous week with Ball the Dog and Rumbler-Grumbler the Cat, and slept late, only to be awakened by the crone, and sent along the way to follow his companions. Plamen still has his share of the Crows' Meadow Warren treasure, thus doubling the party funds. The new group proceeds southwest, doing their best to resist the drizzle, and avoiding quicksand, and by early evening, they find their way to the Moiva River, and the outskirts of the City of Krinets. The city sits on a large island in the place where the river bends, with the Kniazhye Gnezdo - the prince's residence - a short way upstream from where the party stands at the moment, and the Eisenhof - the foreigner's quarter - on the opposite bank of the river, connected to the main city by a wooden causeway. The city, as Sasha informs her companions, is the largest and wealthiest of all Norik cities: ever since Sadko the Bard caught three gold-finned fish in the river, it has enjoyed fortune and prosperity. The fish still swim in the Cathedral of Cletus and Fisherman, whose golden domes dominate the city skyline. Paying the ferry to transport them to the outskirts of the city gates, the party soon finds itself underneath Krinets' white walls. The settlement outside the gate is teeming with recent refugees from the neighboring Radomysl Principality - home of Plamen and Chonkorchuk. The refugees are fleeing from a famine - however long it's been since these two have left home, the famine seems to continue. Many of the refugees are also suffering from disease. Plamen and Vasilisa break away from the rest of the group to learn what these people have to say. Tumma, annoyed, because Sasha's enchantment has lifted, undertakes to lead the rest of the party into the city, and to meet the others later at a centrally located hostel of Tsigor Antonov , colloquially known as the Prince of Fishes. Plamen and Vasilisa mix with the refugees and meet several oldsters. They learn that others have managed to make it into the city proper, but that large numbers are being kept out. After meeting several oldsters and children who have fallen prey to disease, Plamen cures them within view of others, the two promise to return to help as soon as they can. In the meantime, after Sasha is briefly hassled by the gate guards on account of their foreign dress, the rest of the group make their way into their city, and proceed to the center of town. The city is celebrating Rusalia Week, and maypoles and swings have been erected at all the main intersections. The city is thronged by revelers, but some of the refugees are seen, begging in the street, also. Tumma, Sasha, and Chonkorchuk make their way to the Prince of Fishes, and order some bread and kvas. Sasha inquires about performing in the common room later, and about other services that are available at the place. Until they are able to earn some money, the party is reticent about splurging on luxuries (like meat). Soon, they are joined by Plamen and Vasilisa. The bread leaves them dissatisfied, and wanting more - food, entertainment, and action. Sasha slips out, and finds her way to the Assembly Square in the citadel, just outside the Cathedral of St. Cletus. The others follow, also feeling restless. Sasha and Tumma attempt to put on a performance in hopes of making some money. Suddenly, a bear, which had been performing with some troupers, breaks free, and charges straight for Sasha, and bites her painfully on the shoulder. Tumma defends her valiantly with spear and axe, while Sasha attempts to scramble away, uttering her spells, and Vasilisa tries to calm the bear. Tumma soon subdues it by spearing it in the abdomen, while Plamen helps Sasha cure their wound, but the danger has not passed. The trainer, furious, heads toward the group, and demands recompense for disabling his beast, and making him useless as a performer. The party blames the owner for not holding onto the Misha the Bear, and an argument soon breaks out, with both sides recruiting witnesses for their narratives. The city watch soon appear, demanding the participants in the scuffle identify themselves and tell their story, and threatening to haul everyone before a magistrate the following day so that the matter can be legally settled. A man named Rogdai Siverskii, dressed as a foreigner in dark velvet, but speaking flawless Norik, soon appears. He claims to be adept at the law, and offers the party his services. Sasha is suspicious of the man, and thinks might have ulterior motives. But her own efforts to persuade the captain of the city watch, as well as Rogdai's advice and vouching for the party convinces the guards to release the party. Rogdai says he is ashamed for his city to have travelers treated in such an unwelcome manner, and invites them to return to the Prince of Fishes, where he will buy them a meal. Back at the hostel, he tells them that he is able to put them in touch with local notables and merchants, and to get them invited to a feast the following evening, for only by meeting local movers and shakers, can the party find proper supplies, employment and information about the journey ahead. Vasilisa discusses profit opportunities concerning her own business (moving human cargo). At the end he promises to meet the group later the following evening to take them to the feast. After he leaves, the party discusses the strange feeling that has come over all of them (except Tumma) that makes them hungry, thirsty, and restless. Chonkorchuk thinks that it is likely the product of having spent time in the The Otherworld, but others opine that it might be connected to the scroll that summons Koshchei through the onset of disasters. From Rogdai, they learned that the city is on edge, and that the proximity of the revelers and the refugees is likely to explode into violence. The diseased refugees outside the town seem to suggest that the city is under some sort of necrotic pall. With these uneasy thoughts, put hopeful at least about the free meal promised for tomorrow, the party turns in. But Vasilisa and Sasha stay up talking about their relationship late into the night, and the storozh eventually admits that she is jealous of her companion's beauty.
- Arrival in Krinets