Chapter 39 - The Giant's Cave and What Lies Beneath
Lumir Sládek had lived in Yarozersk for over a year. How he had come there he had himself forgotten, though vague memories of becoming separated from his father on the road - purposely, or by accident, he could not recall - persisted. He brought some kerchiefs and metal tools that they had been trading, and managed to exchange them for some pelts with which the village abounded. But the pelts could not be eaten, and soon, Lumir had to hire himself out for odd jobs to survive. The jobs proved difficult, and after he had lost a cart of cabbages on route to a local market, Lumir had to depend on the villager's grace to keep body and soul together. They took pity on him and took turns feeding him - although he was quite hopeless as a worker, he was agreeable enough, and the children found him an endless source of amusement. He was certainly Yarozerk's most interesting resident. In the late spring, however, he was eclipsed by the return of Filipok - a boy who had become lost in the woods the previous fall, and who had now returned, safe and sound, and loaded with treasure. Though the village had now grown prosperous, people now had no time for Lumir. While he still found things to eat, he spent more time with Boris - a talking boar he brought back with him after a trek into the woods. The presence of Boris made the villagers shun him even more, and several even threatened to drive him off if he did not send the beast away. On this Lipets morning, Boris informed Lumir that while he slept under an overturned rowboat on the lake, a group of strangers arrived in the village. They were traders and performers, and likely magicians. Why they had come, and how long they were planning to stay was unclear, but perhaps these travelers could help restore Lumir's fortunes, or maybe they could simply convince the villagers to start being nicer again. Lumir had to seek them out at all costs.
* * *After spending a day on the lake in solitude, Vasilisa wakes early, to await news from her companions. She practices shooting with a new composite bow that she was able to complete the previous day, and stretches the string when she hears a large animal approach through the woods. The large animal turns out to be Plamen. He tells his companion about the events in the village, and the fight with the giant during the night. The rest of the group is awaiting her so they can help track the creature to a possible home in the woods. Plamen himself will stay here in Vasilisa's stead - it seems like a good place to hone his horse-summoning skills, away from prying eyes. Leaving her wolf in his care, Vasilisa treks to Yarozersk.
* * *Back in the village, the rest of the group has made their way to the home of Boris and Galina. After their harrowing night, they want to inform the villagers of their plans to track the giant, to see where it had come from. The children run to gather the neighbors in the field, and soon, a group of children is playing on or around the giant's corpse, under the disapproving eye of mothers and grandmothers. One of the villagers who arrives on the scene is Lumir. The companions had not seen him the previous day, but he soon engages them in conversation. After Boris the Boar arrives and addresses them, Sasha quickly figures out what the creature is, while Drazhan licks his chops at it. Vasilisa is soon led to the field as well, and after surveying the scene, declares her readiness to lead the search for the giant's home. Lumir, eager to please, begs to be brought along, and the party sets out on a two-hour trek into the woods. For an expert tracker like Vasilisa, the giant tracks aren't difficult to follow through the soft, rain-soaked earth (the childlike tracks Sasha found earlier lead in this direction as well). In a couple hours' time, the tracks end at a huge, uprooted tree. In the crevice formed after it fell, there is a ledge covered by dirt and branches, but a shaft of some sort descends lower. Drazhan, who can see in the dark, attempts to climb down the shaft. There are rungs dug into the sides, but they are obviously made for a much larger creature, and halfway down, he slips, and falls into a cavern. After walking off the pain, he sees some sewn bearskins (likely used as bedding), bones belonging to various creatures strewn about, and, more incongruously, stacks of chopped wood. In the back, there is another, narrower shaft leading into darkness. Drazhan is followed down by the curious newcomer Lumir, who immediately slips and falls down into the cave. Unphased, Lumir is able to call forth some flickering orbs of light, and continues down into the second shaft, disappearing from view. Meanwhile, Drazhan climbs back out, while Chonkorchuk climbs down, with the same result as the others. Seeing that a thorough exploration of the cave and shafts is going to require tools they did not think to bring along, Vasilisa and Sasha return to the village to see if they can purchase or borrow some rope, while Drazhan remains to guard the cave entrance, along with a nervous Boris, who bemoans the fate of his companion. While the two women are gone, Drazhan searches for vines to weave a makeshift rope. But before he is able to make any appreciable progress, a disembodied high voice from behind trees calls on his hounds to attack Drazhan, and to tear him apart. Boris quickly flees, and with Chonkorchuk unwilling to ascend from the cave, and Lumir nowhere to be found, the grizzled frontiersman is left on his own. He picks off the first dog by shooting it from Vasilisa's new bow, and then, howls to drive them back, but to no avail. He then faces down seven grizzly beasts, spearing some, shunting others into the pit, and tearing a few apart with his own invisible jaws. Chonkorchuk sees their lifeless bodies fall onto the cave floor, and then, inexplicably, fade from view. Covered with bites, Drazhan ultimately emerges victorious after shoving the last dog into the hole. Nervous that the threatening voice has something more to throw at him, Drazhan decides to go back down into the cave, where he finds a puzzled Chonkorchuk, wondering what became of the dogs. The two companions are also unsure about what happened to Lumir, and begin calling for him. The man soon emerges, and relates a tale of some confusing, empty passages up ahead. It's quite clear to Chonkrochuk and Drazhan that the man has just woken up from a nap. Soon, Vasilisa and Sasha return to find Boris alone, and spinning tales of scary dogs chasing him away. Their mission was successful, and they come bearing 70 feet of rope, using which their companions climb out of the cave. However, while passing the field where they spent the previous night, the women noticed the giant's body missing, and become nervous. Vasilisa follows fresh tracks back to the hole, but they swerve westward about a verst away, and she informs her companions that she wants to follow them by herself, so that she can learn what happened to the giant with a minimal chance of discovery. She treks another hour into the woods, before finding the giant, apparently alive and capable of speech in a language she does not understand, building a lean-to. With it is a small pale, blue-eyed boy in a straw hat. She does not recognize him, and is not able to detect any nechist' aura from him. Fearful of engaging the two by herself, Vasilisa marks the boy magically, and then returns. Soon, she runs into the rest of her group. After a few more mishaps climbing out, Sasha ministered to Drazhan and Lumir, and then they picked up the giant's trail as well. The matter of who the boy is of interest to the rest of the group, and they decide to pay a visit to the house of Ruslan, to see if Filipok is around. The family gladly invites them to dinner (though they are far from happy to see Lumir, and ask the companions if they want him sent away). Fliipok has apparently eaten already, and returned to his barn, but Sasha attempts to prevail on his father to let her talk to him. The father says the boy needs his space, and Chonrkochuk soon determines that the man is enchanted. He also seems taken with the girl, openly flirting with her (to the consternation of his wife), and following her to the outhouse. Sasha slips out of his sight, and sneaks into the barn. It is dark, and the only visible things are stacks of wood. Sasha does discover a large, wooden mannequin, which punches her painfully in the chest, and causes her to flee back toward the house. After settling back down, Chonkorchuk shares what he was able to learn about Ruslan's condition, and Sasha determines that the man is under the effects of a Suggestion - a spell she herself has cast many times. Excusing themselves for overstaying their welcome in the face of obvious family discomfort, the party heads to collect Plamen, and then back to the field where they spent the previous night. As they walk, they try to unravel the mysteries of the day. Who roused the giant? There is no evidence of Koshchei's minions here, and the giant does not seem to be a walking corpse, so very powerful magic is probably at work. What is the role of these strange boys - the one met on the lake, Filipok, and the boy Vasilisa spotted with the giant? Chonkorchuk attempts to divine where Filipok was during dinner, but inexplicably, comes up with nothing. There seems nothing more for the group here, and Vasilisa raises the quesiton of continuing east, along their chosen path. But then, on a hunch, she decides to check for the presence of Baba Yaga's apples in her mind's eye - perhaps Reznikov has been through here, and is somehow involved in this. Shockingly, she detects the presence of the apples - somewhere beneath the giant's cave! Earlier, Chonkorchuk saw a vision of a forge that he associated with the place, but thought nothing of it. Deciding to wait until morning, the group settles down in a magic hut raised by Sasha. In the middle of his watch, Chonkrochuk sees an illuminated leaf blow through their camp, and blasts it to smithereens.
- Giant's cave discovered
- Pack of dogs fought off (Drazhan)
- Giant's new whereabouts found (Vasilisa)
- Wooden mannequin discovered in Filipok's shed (Sasha)
- Baba Yaga's apple detected (Vasilisa)
Character(s) interacted with
- A pale boy in a straw hat