Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 5)

Chapter 4

The next morning dawned sunny though still damp from the downpour the night before. The four witches packed up their poorly constructed camp, sharing out bits of bread, cheese, and some dried berries for breakfast, before starting down the path they had been following the night before. In the light of morning, the forest of fungi looked no less strange than it had the previous day.

As they traveled down the road, they watched for signs of the knight’s passing. With the rain from the night before, footprints were washed away, but from time to time they came across horse droppings, a tail hair, and once a scrap of cloth caught in a branch. The various clues helped them choose the right forks in the road, when they came up.

Come midday, they took a break in what almost looked like a clearing, with mushrooms that would have seemed enormous if not for the tree-sized mushrooms around them. They sat at about the height of a chair, which served them well as seats while they shared out some of their food for lunch.

The road led them through various interesting groves. In one, the mushrooms were transparent like glass, but in various bright colours. The sun filtered through the stained-glass mushrooms as through a window, creating rainbows wherever they looked. In another, the large waxy and red-capped fungus dripped a kind of oily substance that made a strange clanging noise when it hit the ground. They crowded close together on the path through that grove, not certain what would happen if any of that dripped onto them.

The most incredible one however, was also made up of otherwise some of the most common mushrooms. Like regular oyster mushrooms, these grew in circular steps around an inner core. Where in most forests, however, that inner core was made up of some tree or another, here there was only air. The impossibly large fungal steps rose up above them seemingly unsupported, just floating gently. That they were solidly rooted in place however, was confirmed when Kasia’s cat jumped up onto one, and then another, following the mystical staircase up a few flights before becoming bored and coming back to join them.

So enthralled were they by these floating wonders, that they failed to notice that the path they had been following held no evidence of anyone else’s passing since they had entered the grove. The path led right outside the forest itself, and they found themselves suddenly blinking in the sunlight. After the relative gloom of the forest, the valley they found themselves in seemed positively blinding.

Once their eyes adjusted, they could see that the path led straight past several small farmsteads before entering a small village. In the fields were various people were working the soil and plants. Here and there you could see the early spring shoots starting up.

The farmers all paused in their work and turned to watch the four of them warily as they approached.

“Hello there!” called out Iskra, ever the outgoing one. Their wariness, if anything, deepened in response, and at least one of them made a sign against the evil eye. Feeling a bit more cautious themselves, they waited at the first gate for one of the workers from the field to approach them.

Finally, the eldest among them, a weathered old man who nonetheless was doing his own share of hard labour, put down his tools and came to talk to them.

They explained that they were following a man who had stolen something very dear to them, and asked if anyone had seen a man on horseback leaving the forest.

To their disappointment no one had seen a thing. With the fields being always occupied at this time, and the pounding of hoofbeats sure to wake any vigilant farmer, it boded ill for them having found the right path out of the forest. After confirming this with a few more people down the road, they concluded that they had better return to the mushroom forest and try to find where they had lost the trail.

They followed the road back through the fantastical Oyster grove only to find that once they stepped out of the grouping of floating fungi, there was a fork in the road that hadn’t been there before.

Concerned, they followed what should have been the same path, only to find that none of their surroundings looked the same. At some point, the grove had moved.

They spent the next few hours desperately looking for something that looked familiar where they could take up their trail, but finally they had to admit that they were well and truly lost. Not only did they not know where the knight that had kidnapped their Baba Yaga had gone, they had no clue as to how to get home either. With the impeccable timing that only weather could truly achieve, it started to rain again.

Within moments, they and everything around them was thouroughly drenched. Completely dispirited at this point, they decided to call it a night. A nearby mushroom that stood shorter than the others, but still tall enough for them to stand under, provided them with a bit of shelter under which to set up camp.

They took the time to divide the tasks this time around, and the result was much smoother. Their fire fuel in the form of woody fungus logs and branches and sticks from nearby bushes was so saturated with water that each of them took a turn just trying to get them to light. When it was Iskra’s turn, however, the fire seemed to leap from her flint and with just a few breaths it was roaring along merrily.

“Well, the sirens did say you were a fire witch” remarked Kasia.

The fire and the shelter warmed them, but not as much as the tea and hot meals that they prepared. With their bellies warm, the coals banked down to provide heat through the night, and the gentle sound of rain on their canvas tent, they soon drifted off to sleep.

Anna woke up first and rolled over to make her way outside, mechanically going through her morning chores. She muttered her scribe spell as she walked over to where the sink should be. Instead of a sink, however, she found herself facing the largest ant she had ever seen in her life. He was bent over picking up what looked like a rooster, but even so she could tell he reached at least to her knees. Even more curiously, he walked on his hind two legs.

The two regarded each other for a few seconds before the ant turned around and ran quickly towards a group of mushrooms the size of houses. As he ran, her almost forgotten scribe spell showed the words “Moooooooooooooooooooom!”

She was still staring after the weird apparition a few minutes later, when someone tapped her on her shoulder causing her to jump.

“Woah! Sorry Anna, didn’t mean to startle you,” apologized Kasia.

Woe! Sorry Anna. Didn’t mean to start el you

“That’s fine. You…would not believe what I just saw,” replied Anna, somewhat out of breath.

“Giant ants?” yawned Iskra, as she joined them.

“How did you…” Iskra was already pointing before Anna even finished the question.

The scene wouldn’t have been out of place in front of any other village if the group approaching them had been people instead of ants. They wore the same sort of outfits you could find anywhere else around them, right down to the kerchiefs some of them wore on their heads. Some of them carried farming implements, much as you would expect any other group of wary villagers to do.

Clutching at the skirt of one of the women approaching them was the same child who had run off screaming.

“Are we in trouble?” asked Iskra uncertainly.

The group of villager-ants stopped all at once at the sound, while a few of them waved the arms they weren’t currently walking on in front of them.

“What do we do?” asked Kasia, bemused.

“About what?”

All three girls jumped at the new voice coming from behind them, only to realize that it was just Lidiya finally joining them.

“Oh. I see.”

“Um guys”

“What do you think they want?-”
“- how are we supposed to figure out what they want”

“Um, guys!?”

“Well I have no idea, it’s not like I speak ant”

“SHUT UP AND LOOK!”  yelled Anna exasperated, interrupting the argument between Kasia and Lidiya before it got completely started by grabbing Kasia’s arm and pointing at the floating subtitles. The sudden movement startled the owl perched on the blind girl’s shoulder, flying up as it’s perch jostled. Both it and Kasia turned their faces at Anna, before turning their attention to the floating words. Although for once none of them was speaking, the words continued to appear.

I don’t think they can understand us…

– wait they’re all looking this way. I think they’ve figured out we’re talking to them.

– well say something!

-Hello!

– Not that!

-Let me do the talking.

Presumably, this last was said by the ant that now stepped forward. Her face was framed by a pretty green kerchief, which matched the green skirt she wore. Although unable to tell with ants, the girls got the sense that she was older than many of the others.

– Welcome Strangers, to our little village. May we ask why witches such as yourselves are sleeping in our fields? We mean no offense oh dread ladies.

“Oh geez, sorry, we had no idea these were your fields” offered Iskra.

The spokesant turned to the group,

-Does anyone understand the language they’re speaking?

-Not a clue.

-The Queen?

-Great idea! We’ll take them to the queen.

With an exaggerated movement, the ant indicated that they should follow.

Chapter 6

Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 5)
{advertisement}

Baba Yaga’s School For Abandoned Girls (Part 4)

(Find chapter 3 here)

The information when it finally arrived came from a venerable lake sturgeon. His barbells were long and curled like the stately mustache of a Hussar, and his pointed back-plates were the deep grey of distant mountains that looked almost like winged armour.

“Roderyk Aleksander, Polkovnik of the Clan Sturgeon, at my ladies’ service.” He introduced himself, straight-backed enough to make any military man proud. “I was on my afternoon patrol when I spotted a foreign soldier riding away from the lake with a large bundle. I particularly noticed the cloud of spent magic he was trailing. Us sturgeons are very sensitive to that sort of thing.” He reported.

“…and?” asked Amaltheia impatiently.

Continue reading “Baba Yaga’s School For Abandoned Girls (Part 4)”

Baba Yaga’s School For Abandoned Girls (Part 4)

Why Do We Study Literature in High School

Thinking back to high school, it was not uncommon for students to ask “Why do we have to learn this? When am I ever going to use it?”

It’s not an unfair question. In Ontario, every university degree demands a grade twelve university level English credit as a pre-requisite. If you are planning on studying mathematics, what’s the point in reading Shakespeare? How do the works of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen assist someone who plans on spending their whole lives working in a lab? Or a cubicle?

Continue reading “Why Do We Study Literature in High School”

Why Do We Study Literature in High School

Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 2)

(Find Part 1 Here) 

The next morning dawned sunny and warm, so the girls decided to spend the day on laundry and some spring cleaning. They threw open the doors and windows – airing out all the rooms – gathered up all the bedding and clothes, and exited the kitchen door. The cottage followed them obediently, followed along by the kitchen chairs and table which had run out of the door to follow the cottage like chicks following their mother hen. At the very back of the line of chairs was an old claw-footed tub, trying desperately to keep up.

The river by the house widened out just a short distance away, the rocks helping create small pools of calmer water. Lidiya handed out little carved statuettes. Placed in the water, they would warm a small section of the river to a warmer temperature. Some were hotter than others so that each of them could find the right spot.

All told, there were 12 of them, and those that could hiked up their skirts and waded into the water with stacks of linens. Anna and Lidiya helped the girls spread out the clothes to be washed. Iskra stood up from her chair. She supported herself on one side with Kleks, and on the other on Kasia’s arm. She help guide Kasia to avoid the rocks, since she was currently looking through a ravens’ eyes and keeping a sharp look on the younger girls. Klara stayed on the bank with the two babies.

The house found a spot in the clearing that was in direct sunlight and settled down, much like a hen taking a sunbath. The chairs settled down around the house, as did the tub.

Laundry days were much like holidays. While there was work to be done, there was also a lot of laughter and storytelling. The water was nice, and the sun was out. As soon as the laundry was clean, they laid it out in the sun to dry. This gave them all a chance to relax. The young girls were chasing Kleks around in the water, as the ecstatic hellhound chased them back. One of the babies was crawling around on the grass. Iskra was singing along with the song that Lidiya was playing on a guitar.

After a short lunch, they worked on folding the laundry while Anna and the older of the young girls, Mika, worked on cleaning up the chairs. Anna was just finishing off polishing the kitchen table when she saw Mika, carrying a scrub brush and some soap, chasing the bathtub which was full of water and running away from her.

“Get back here you blasted tub before I cast you into next week!”

“Shuush Mika!” Called out Anna, “Don’t insult the bath. It holds a grudge forever and a day! You’ll never have hot water in your bath again.”

“That’s right Mika.” Added Iskra, who had just joined them. “You should know better. After all everyone knows that witches can’t cross running water. Well there is water and it’s certainly running, now don’t cross it!”

The young girl looked properly rebuked and apologized to the bathtub, which blew bubbles in the water in response before bouncing away.

They were just putting away the last of the linens when the flying Mortar and Pestle landed by the river. Out crawled a muttering Baba Yaga.

“Welcome back Babcia” called out all the girls, glad to have their teacher and protector back with them.

“How was your trip?” asked Iskra.

“It was fine. Can someone explain to me the rational of building a house out of butter? I just don’t understand it! Every time I visit, I come home feeling greasy. Thank goodness it was cold when I got there I’d have to spend the next week cleaning out the mortar!”

The girls all giggled, and Kasia offered to make some tea for Baba Yaga to help her warm back up. Flying long distances always left the old woman’s joints aching from the thin cold air high in the sky, and warming her up as fast as possible would help. Iskra was just thinking about the best one of her ointments to give her mentor to help her knees, when a scream shocked her and Kasia out of their thoughts.

A tall rider in shining armour had emerged out of the forest on a tall white horse. He looked every inch the hero, with blond hair fluttering in the wind. At his side was a great sword, while in his hand was a large black sac. Without slowing down his horse, he scooped Baba Yaga into the bag and shut it tight, throwing it over his shoulder, and riding away. He was gone before any of them could react with more than a scream.

There was a moment of silent shock, and then the cottage took off as fast as its chicken legs would carry it. Most of the girls started off after it, but stopped when they noticed that Kleks was pulling Iskra’s chair faster than any of them could run. The previously playful hellhound was now deadly serious and moving as fast as the wind, flames bursting from his paws as he ran. The chair followed behind closely, floating over any fallen debris or unstable ground.

It took a bit of time, but finally they caught up to the hut’s long stride. It was blocked from moving forward by the appearance of giant lake the colour of amber wine. It was wide enough that the house couldn’t cross it with a stride. It paced angrily on the shore of the lake, scratching at the ground with its claws, and shifting forward as if to peck at something.

Kleks bayed as Iskra shouted, trying to get the houses attention.

She pulled out her wand and shot bright sparks in front of where the house’s eyes would be, if it had eyes. The hut stopped, staring at the bright sparks. Taking the cue she produced more bright coloured lights and trailed them like streamers until the house was completely entranced. Now that it was a bit calmer, Iskra began to murmur soothing words and coaxing the house closer. If you’ve never seen a house shiver, it’s hard to explain exactly how it looked.

Desperate to calm the nervous domicile, Iskra starting singing an old lullaby that Baba Yaga sometimes sang for the girls. Finally, the house lowered itself down, allowing Iskra to climb onto the porch. She let Kleks out of his harness. He would have to show them the way back. Now she just had to think of a way to make the house follow. Except for chasing a mounted knight, it was mostly behaving like a chicken might. On a whim she produced an illusion of a giant mealworm, wiggling it in the air in front of the house. The house responded like any bird might, following the worm and trying to reach for it.

Using magic as one might a fishing rod with a treat, she kept the worm illusion floating just ahead to the hut, letting Kleks lead the way when broken treetops didn’t provide enough of a path.

By the time they arrived back at the riverside, evening was just beginning to set. The House had gotten distracted a few times and she’s had to get its attention once more.

The older girls had stayed behind to keep the children safe and in line. This was Clara’s element. She had set the girls in collecting sticks and built a big bonfire. Some worked on catching fish. Clara had turned a scary experience into a festival. Most of the girls were already asleep around the campfire.

As soon as they appeared, the chairs and the bathtub ran up to the house, and the whole group curled up together. Iskra floated down and joined the older girls a short distance away from the fire.

“Good job” congratulated Lidiya as she joined them. “We had tonight covered but I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t gotten the house back.”

“Looks like you had things well in hand. I don’t suppose any of the food is still warm?”

Together the older girls used their wands to float the sleeping children back to their beds, before meeting in the kitchen.

They sat around the table, looking at each other in perfect silence for some time. Although nominally nothing was different, it felt somehow colder in the hut than it had before. Somehow diminished.

“What are we going to do?” asked Anna, breaking the silence.

“We go after her, obviously” responded Iskra.

“It’s not that easy, Iskra.” Argued Kasia, “There are babies and children here that can’t really come with us. You got the house back, yes, but none of us really know how to control it so we would have to leave it and you know it gets lonely.”

“Not to mention someone has to mind the goats, and be here if someone shows up needing magical assistance” added Lidiya, “Someone would have to stay behind.”

“Clara can handle it,” said Anna, looking over at the blond girl at the table. “She’s great with the kids and she has most of the basic spells that are needed down pat.”

“I don’t mind staying behind, but how are you going to find her?” Offered Clara.

“The house chased her to the edge of a new lake. I think the thief, whoever he was, is using Vasilia’s Ruse.  If we follow the trail of those spells we should be able to find them.” Offered the redhead.

“Vasilia’s Ruse?”

“It’s from that old story, when the fair maiden was running away with her prince and were being chased by her captor, she dropped her handkerchief which became a large sparkling lake. Then she dropped a comb which became a forest, with trees as straight as the teeth of the comb. Finally she drops a crystal necklace which becomes a mountain.”

“So all we have to do is follow the landmarks?”

“Lake, forest, and mountain, all of which will positively reek of magic.”

*************************                             *************                             **********************

The next day dawned bright and sunny. Kleks and Iskra led them along the path they had chased the house. This was the forest they knew. Each of them had spent time gathering ingredients for spells, and getting to know some of the local creatures. They had had to walk through the forest to get to nearby villages. It was enough of a magic forest that things changed pretty quickly, a path might suddenly go through a different clearing than it did before, a new tree or bush might sprout overnight. Sometimes the Dryads made the trees dance around. But overall the basic idea of the forest remained the same. They were witches so they followed more than just physical landmarks, they followed the idea.

That all changed when they reached the lake. It was jarring finding such a large bit of landscape appear where it hadn’t previously been. The lake itself was glorious, the water was like amber in the light of the new day; nearly glowing. Along the shore they could see the trees, some of which were starting to bud, reflected in the water, like dark veins dispersed through the tawny surface. The other shore was far out of sight.

The four girls stood at the bank of the lake. Although the sun was warm for this time of year, they shivered. The crystalline water fairly shimmered with magic. It whispered along their senses like a gentle breeze.

Lidiya pulled out a small block of wood, and began carving out a rough design of a boat. She hummed as she worked, the scraping of her carving knife moving in time to her song. Her melody seemed to draw the magic too her, like the way dust motes in the air seem to follow the path of the light’s rays.  Once she had a basic carving down, she pulled a hammer off her belt.

The other girls, familiar with Lidiya’s magic, had gathered a pile of wood and built up a fire. They had also floated over a decent sized rock. The curly haired girl, still humming,  thrust the boat carving into the fire till it glowed red then on the rock, began hitting the red boat with her hammer. Her humming now became a song, the hammer striking out the rhythm.

“Little tiny wooden boat, floating on the sea,

Little tiny wooden boat, answer to my plea

Carry me, Carry me, across to other shores

Carry me, Carry me, my song you implores”

 

Even more so then when she was carving, her song pulled particles of magic from all around her in through her head, down to her arm, and through her hand into the hammer. As she stuck sparks flew, dancing in rhythm to her beat and her song. From time to time she would stick the carved block of wood back into the fire, which took on different colours as she worked. While her pounding continued in rhythm, the outline of the boat grew larger and larger, till it was a row boat just big enough to seat all of them comfortably. The outline of the boat solidified at the rough wooden sculpture.

It took a bit of cajoling to get Kleks onto the boat, the poor hellhound whining at the thought of being surrounded by water. With the help of her canes, Iskra guided her chair into the boat, where she was promptly joined by the others.

As soon as they were all seated, the boat took off across the lake under its own power. It floated along creating ripples in the water as it went, breaking the mirror-like surface.

(Part 3 Here) 

Baba Yaga’s School for Abandoned Girls (Part 2)

Baba Yaga’s Magical School for Abandoned Girls

In a dark, dark, forest stands a dark, dark, cottage. In this dark, dark, cottage is a dark, dark, hallway that leads to a dark, dark, room. In a dark, dark, corner of this dark, dark, room stands a dark, dark trunk.

As you might imagine, given where this trunk could be found, it was a magic trunk. On the surface, it looked ordinary. The kind of place where one might keep spare blankets. To all appearances it seemed like just an empty trunk, and yet, if one knew how to look and the right words to say, you would find a staircase.

And this dark, dark staircase, led to a world of magic: Czarnoksięstwo
Continue reading “Baba Yaga’s Magical School for Abandoned Girls”

Baba Yaga’s Magical School for Abandoned Girls

Magical Maladies

“Oh hello, you must be Dr. Fey. Welcome, Welcome.

As you know, this is the hospital for magic related maladies. The place to go when curses and blessings go awry. Over the last few years we’ve gotten busier. Used to be that you had to study diligently for years to be a sorceress or a wizard, but these days any angry girl with a black dress gets to call herself a witch, and don’t even get me started on what passes for a magician.

Anyway, as you can see we’ve recently expanded the dermatology wing. Mostly frog princes dealing with left over warts, princesses with pimples, but we also get the occasional knight with dragon burns.

Over there are the dwarves that help with some of the specialized equipment. You can see that one over there working on a pair of glasses for a near-sighted dragon. Poor dear keeps flying into mountains and breaking them. Continue reading “Magical Maladies”

Magical Maladies

Two Short Stories

The wizard lifted his arms, stretching them out before him, and whispered a word causing the candles on the floor to lights. The flickering flames made the burned patterns on the floor almost seem to dance. Though his arms shook slightly as they were outstretched, his voice was strong as he called forth the spirits of the four elements to come to his aid.

His long white beard blew gently in the ethereal wind that surrounded him. The cloth of his dark blue robes draped around him, showing all the constellations in the sky. Finally, with all his power gathered around him, he began to chant:

“In nomine Patris,
Qui vocat vos
inferno ex utero,
Veni ades mihi:
hoc est verbum meum,
Dominus malorum”

Continue reading “Two Short Stories”

Two Short Stories