Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Chapter 4 - The Smith, the Grandmother, the Hostess, the Messenger and the Peddler

In which Our Heroes learn more secrets from informants, get a hand from the past, and recruit a potential ally

The companions eat breakfast in Dem’ian Trofimov’s great hall, while Plamen tends to Rodion’s festering thigh wound. After the boyar’s servants bid them farewell on behalf of their master, they depart the hold, and wait in the nearby woods for their noontime meeting with Zhitko. The smith appears punctually, and Chonkorchuk promptly reveals the conditions for entry to Baba Yaga’s realm, and poses her riddles. Zhitko immediately dismisses knowledge of any treasure, and claims to have heard nothing about a shapechanging bear, as he is a recent arrival in the area. When confronted with the riddle about the bride, he appears confused, then offended. Saying he doesn’t have to listen to such things, he storms off. The companions discuss how they might lure him and Katerina to the hag’s domain. Though there are certain “oafish” characteristics about Zhitko’s appearance and behavior, they conclude that he likely is not the bear they seek.
The night is to be spent at Chonkorchuk’s hermitage again, so the party crosses the ford in the Vydra, and heads north. As they forage for food on the way, Plamen locates a skeletal bear claw near a chain attached to a tree. Wondering whether this belongs to their bear, they briefly search the surrounding area, noting trees where a large animal might make a burrow. Subsequently, they return to Chonkorchuk’s abode. Plamen cleans out Rodion’s wound again, and eats his toadstool in hopes of receiving a vision. Chonkorchuk also throws his bones, and envisions a one-armed bear chopping wood with an axe. Rodion sends his raven to inspect the surrounding area, to see if he can espy any bears or those that might imprison them.  
In the morning, Rodion’s leg is still swollen, though Plamen feels he is nearly out of danger. Along with Chonkorchuk, they decide to return to Lazarevo, to interview Plamen’s human family, about the circumstances surrounding the raid, to see if they can learn more about the treasure. On the way, they decide to search one of the burrows they discovered near the location of the bear claw. The burrow leads to a larger, underground pit, where the three discover some signs of prior habitation – a similar chain to the one found the previous day attached to an underground root, some ursine claw marks and hair, a rotten apple, and two partly-moth-eaten wolf pelts that might still be worth something if sold. The companions take the latter, and proceed to Lazarevo.
On the outskirts, Chonkorchuk and Rodion put up illusory disguises to ensure that they are not spotted by the hegumen’s people, and proceed to Plamen’s family home. His father Pavel was not yet born when the raid took place, but his grandmother Olga lived in Trofimka before its destruction. She confirms that Taras Trofimov did not come to the aid of Trofimka during the raid, and attests that none of the old buildings survived the Kochmak burning of the village (thus disproving the theory that perhaps an old building with old valuables still stands). Similarly, she has nothing to offer about the cause of the raid – that is just what the Kochmaki do, as she sees it. She doesn’t know what happened to the treasure, though she offers that it was taken from all households and from the headman of that time. And she confirms the story of the hegumen’s mother being the only survivor of the raid. Chonkorchuk’s has a notion that the hegumen’s birth nine months after the raid means that he is a demonic being who heralds the apocalypse, though the others have more mundane explanations. But with Olga’s questioning about who his companions might be, Plamen and the others learn that Lionia the Red is in town, and staying at the waystation. After thanking the grandmother by giving her a few of Plamen’s special berries, the companions proceed to the village center.
Dropping their disguise, the three proceed into the compound, and ask Terentii, the proprietor, whether he can offer them room, board and information. After settling on a price of four more berries, they proceed inside, where Irina - the mistress of the house prepares their supper. They question her about whether she knows anything about Baba Yaga, or a bear, and she informs them that the hag is primarily known for kidnapping children, though she knows of no bears. About five years ago, a five year old girl (another Olga) disappeared, though her skeleton was later recovered. A dozen or so years back, a boy, Vasya – a lazy layabout with a sweet tooth, also vanished, but was never found. 
Yulai raises a mug to his supplicants

In response to questions about why the Kochmaki slaughtered the captives, and where the treasure might be, the companions are directed to Yulai – the Yam messenger, who is also supping alongside them. After being plied with beer by Plamen, the messenger reveals that the Kochmaki raiders never made it back to camp with the prisoners and the treasure. There was little investigation of what happened to them, because the Kochmaki never wanted the story to get out (and they have not raided the area since that time). Other people, Irina puts in, have not done much to search the meadow where, according to the hegumen’s mother, the massacre took place, because the area is considered evil (and Plamen confirms that nothing aside from grass grows there).  
Another guest – an oldster with an incongruously fiery beard, is Lionia the Red, about whom Rodion senses a familiar air. He chats with the group over soup, and consents, out of charity, two buy their moth-eaten pelts for 10 kopecks. Then, he agrees to take a stroll with Rodion to the edge of the village after they have eaten. On the way there, Lionia conspicuously shows off a blade hidden in his sleeve. He reveals that he is a peddler who sells firewood, charcoal, pitch, and honey, as he is a beekeeper in the nearby village of Medunitsa. He is also in business with Dem’ian Trofimov, taking up Rodion’s old smuggling scam. He suggests that he has some sort of “understanding” with the hegumen, and recommends the monk as a man who can be reasoned with. He also asks what business the companions are in, inquires about their intense interest in the region’s history, and says that he may be interested in collaborating with them in the future (though he has associates whom he apparently has no interest in replacing).
Lionia agrees to meet the rest of the companions in their sleeping loft after everyone else has gone to sleep. Rodion reveals to the others what he has learned, and at midnight, Lionia climbs up to their loft. He is impressed with their talents of disguise, and finds they may be of use, but indicates that he would like to have a finger in their pie if they are to have a finger in his. The party reveals to him what they know about the treasure taken by the Kochmaki, and its purported destination to Baba Yaga. Lionia knows nothing about it, but shares his wisdom in such matters in return for being cut in for potential spoils: start looking in the place where the treasure was last seen. Thus, the companions agree to meet him in the meadow after morning prayers. Tomorrow is Nedelia, and Lionia intends to head to the abbey with the rest of the villagers to pay his respect to the Lord, and to Hegumen Yaakov. 

Lionia the Red (trying on an anachronistic cap)

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