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.
“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.”
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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.