Wherein the companions perform several sensitive operations, but then find themselves haunted by an old problem.
The band strategizes its next move, as it wait to see if Dmitri will wake up. A real healer is needed if the ranger’s arm is to receive the proper attention. The obvious answer is to find Plamen, but in light of recent events, it may be difficult to convince him. Lionia, surprisingly, undertakes to speak to him and make things right, and with the discovery of the grain, he thinks he has the leverage to convince Yelizarov to let the healer go. Raskel is willing to stay behind in the underground granary – as good a place as any to keep it safe, while the rest of the group is out dealing with their injured companion. He gives one of the four sacks – his share, as he sees it - to Lionia, to stash at his house in Medunitsa, and the Old Fox takes two sacks, turns into a fox, and runs off.
In a few hours, Dmitri wakes up, alive, but in great pain. As he cannot climb up the chute under his own power, Druvvaldis comes up with a plan to have his conjured deer-spirit drag him out once ropes are tied to his feet. The plan is successful, and, along with Chonkorchuk, he helps guide Dmitri toward the Yelizarov keep. As they get to the frozen river, they see a figure crossing it from the other side. It turns out to be Plamen himself. The healer met with Lionia earlier, who apparently told him that his mother was killed by a skeleton with flaming eyes – a story mooted earlier with Raskel. He then somehow convinced Yelizarov to let the hostage go, though before he left, Plamen had a religious discussion with the boyar, and solicited for himself a small icon of they boyar’s own manufacture in exchange for a promise not to harm it in any way.
Chonkorchuk nixes Lionia’s tale, and relates the story of Lionia killing Plamenka and dismembering her body (though he says he tried to stop it). Plamen is beside himself with grief, though he is undecided about which story is true, because he cannot understand why anyone would carry out such a desecration. Still, he agrees to accompany the trio back to the keep (there being no better option) to see what he can do for Dmitri. Druvvaldis, though, has no wish to stay at the fort; he takes one of the remaining sacks of grain, and uses it to buy himself a rest for the night at the Yelizarovka waystation).
|Hopefully, they are getting the right limb|
At the keep, Yelizarov undertakes to help, as Dmitri is still technically in his employ. With the assistance of all assembled, Plamen inspects the shoulder and tries to reset it. But he concludes that it is too fragmented, and cannot be salvaged. Yelizarov helps with having the arm removed, and the tough patient survives the ordeal. Along with Chonkorchuk and Plamen, Dmitri rests at Yelizarov’s for the night. Then, he has the arm fed to the dogs, and they all return to the warren the following morning, after collecting Druvvaldis.
As they approach the meadow, the fefila warns Chonkorchuk of great evil ahead. Looking up, they see a ghostly form drift toward the opening in the ground, and disappear down the hole. Getting everyone down the chute is expectedly complicated. Dmitri, now more unmaneuverable than before, gets stuck halfway down, as the dirt has frozen once more. He is freed, not without effort, by the fefila, who is an expert burrower. Then, with Chonkorchuk in the lead in place of the injured Dmitri, they skirt past Plamen’s room, and are assaulted by a floating spirit in the long corridor on route to Plamenka’s chamber.
The spirit appears to look like the warren’s old mistress. She utters curses toward the band, though no sound comes out of her mouth, and then swoops down to attack. As she passes through, first Chonkorchuk, then Druvvaldis and Dmitri, they feel a wrenching pain, as if life itself is being yanked from the pit of their stomachs. Resistance is disorganized, and only Chonkorchuk is able to do any kind of harm to the spirit with his magic. Plamen attempts to entreat it, and unexpectedly, after having savaged Dmitri, it flies over him, and back toward the entryway. Feeling drained, even despite Plamen’s ministrations, the band proceeds toward the granary. But on route, Plamen is exposed to a frightening sight in Plamenka’s chamber: his mother’s charred and disembodied corpse, as well as the charred and picked-over carcass of his sheep.