The maiden introduces herself as Nastia, and leads Drazhan to a palace of ice in a clearing. She takes him to a great hall, where, attended by icemen and a pair of large wolves, she serves him a lavish supper, and then invites him to sleep on a bench of ice, under furs. Soon, she says, he will meet the Grandfather, and he should stay and wait for him to appear. The wolves make Drazhan feel strangely comfortable, and he drifts off to slumber despite his bizarre predicament.
The following morning, Drazhan rises and and explores the palace, though the wolves, which slept outside his chamber, shadow him as he moves around the palace. The chambers on the opposite side of the great hall belong to the maiden and Grandfather, and Drazhan steers clear of these. A staircase in the great hall leads up to the central tower, but a snowstorm blows inside it, so Drazhan eschews it, and climbs one of the other towers. From there, he beholds the entire snowy realm, surrounded by the wall of ice, before returning back to the great hall, to sate his hunger. The wolves lie back down under the table, and Drazhan throws them pieces of finely carved smoked meat and fish.
* * *
Chonkorchuk, Plamen, Sasha and Vasilisa spend one final night at the Prince of Fishes, hoping against hope for Tumma's return. When the morning comes, and this does not happen, they leave the city in search of Drazhan. After getting ferried across the river, they head north. Once they clear the settlements on the opposite side, they meet an apparently magical hermit who tell them they saw riders heading north along the river the previous day, and soon, Sasha picks up the trail of a person who seems to follow horsetracks, though that trails soon mixed with, or becomes that of a large canine. Chonkorchuk focuses his mind on trying to locate Drazhan, and beholds a huge ice bull charging out of an ice storm toward them. The meaning of the vision is opaque, but Sasha, who has traveled widely and studied various beliefs, says that the bull is an animal associated with the old god Stribog, the god of storms.
The weather worsens as they follow the tracks, and it begins to rain. Vasilisa is especially affected by the downpour, and begins sneezing. Unexpectedly, the rain changes to snow - a highly unusual (though not impossible) occurrence this early in the fall. Chonkorchuk's senses tell him that the area is one where the veil between worlds is thin. And everyone notices that this area is the same part of the woods where Baba Yaga's hut came to a stop when they were delivered here several days ago.
The snowstorm becomes blinding, and soon, the party sees a young woman dressed in furs heading toward them. She tells them that their companion awaits them, and that Grandfather is returning shortly. She leads them to the palace of ice, where they discover a wolfman sitting at a huge table of ice. He watches them nervously as they discuss where they have come. The truth of who he is finally outs, and now Drazhan, somewhat sheepishly, shifts back to human form.
After they have refreshed their palate and taken some drink, Grandfather finally sweeps in. He is an imposing figure in a fur-lined blue robe, and horned headdress. He carries a white staff, has a luxurious white beard, and bears an uncanny resemblance to the hermit encountered on the road earlier. Grandfather addresses the gathering, and opens by saying that he has come because he has detected Baba Yaga's recent presence in the area, and demands to know what she was doing there. Chonkorchuk and Sasha explain that they are traveling north to the Realm of Shadow, to look into whether its rulers are conniving with Koshchei, who seems to be making plans to return to the Realm of Yav'. Grandfather says that Baba Yaga's recent appearance heralds the return of many of the Old Ones, which is confirmed by what Chonkorchuk heard from the Crone herself. Grandfather, however, seems unhappy with her. She does not share or coordinate plans with other Old Ones, and seems to be playing her own game. When told of the translations of the summoning scroll, he completely turns Baba Yaga's explanation on its head. She is not looking to find out who is disseminating the scroll, he says, but disseminating the translations herself, to alert the right people.
If the party wants to leave this realm, they will have to swear on something they hold dear that they will apprise Grandfather on everything they learn, and everything the Crone is up to. Without thinking, Plamen immediately swears on his mother's ghost, and Grandfather accepts that. In an attempt to be sneaky, Sasha swears on her father (whom she does not hold dear). But Grandfather says that as a Gaalite, he cannot seal any agreement between them, since he has no power over Gaalites. Sasha then swears on her beauty, which Grandfather accepts. Vasilisa swears on her dead husband's grave, and Chonkorchuk swears on his fefila. Drazhan seems lost, caught up in a swirl of events he never would have thought possible just two short days ago. Plamen suggests that he swear on his yet-to-be born offspring, and someone proposes Katarina as a prospective mate, should that become necessary. Grandfather Frost immediately accepts.
Having struck a bargain, the party retires to their chambers to sleep, When they awake, they are in a rain-soaked wood. The palace the wall of ice, Nastia, and Grandfather Frost are nowhere to be found.
- Release from the Winter Realm is won
Character(s) interacted with
- Nastia, his granddaughter