The final chapter in the Baba Yaga tale, hope you’ve enjoyed it. We launched Under the Shroud this week, so once you’ve finished the strange adventure of Helmsman Theo, Buttons the Dumb Pirate, and Silvia scoot on over to the podcast and have yourself a listen!
The year crawled. They subsisted off dolls who murdered themselves. Sometimes little suicides, leaping off shelves and breaking their porcelain necks only to bleed and expose flesh. Sometimes they’d rip each other’s limbs off and roast them over campfires as big as Buttons’s feet. Never enough food to satiate the trio’s hunger. Every few months Buttons broke and killed dolls in swathes. Then he grasped a cotton infant by the throat and bashed its head. He found straw in the cloth skull.
They sang songs at night and played word games and then conversation slowed. Theo tried to romance Silvia once. She was too weak to respond. He did not press the point. He didn’t have the strength either. Theo needed to feel alive, to give their imprisonment a pleasure. He spent a lifetime rocking to the moon’s tides.
Silvia busied herself reciting poems in her head, reiterating her spells and research. She could not reach into the earth from which her power poured. At night she dreamed of dragons, from the Far East and the Artic North and Europe’s familiar monsters. She never gave up hope that one day she’d ride a dragon to return power to harpies, though they hadn’t possessed leadership of the world since the written word. She dreamed of the day dragons burned Baba Yaga’s island.
Buttons never gave up on jokes. Even when his voice cracked with the hints of madness, he rattled limericks and cracks. He and Theo sensed Silvia’s desperation. They relied on each other for the strength to leave her alone. Theo and Buttons were goblins, and by nature they feasted on prey. They did not allow themselves that indiscretion. The companions refused to go mad.
They did. They lost their minds. Silvia sought to mark the days and nights. She couldn’t. She couldn’t see the sun rise and set. No one mentioned in an entire year that the sea serpent escaped. Their quest came to nothing. Their prison for no crime or purpose.
When the locks clicked open, and the door swung wide, none of the three could tell if the sun through that red pulsing globe showed fact or fiction. Buttons sneezed and held his knees to his chest. Theo pointed his sword at the open door, his grip shaking. Silvia just shut her eyes and reached for the earth that did not respond.
The Baba Yaga carried a platter of baked pastries. Fruits shone in buttered croissants and muffins. She set a tea plate before each quaking prisoner. “Eat,” the Baba Yaga said, and though her voice showered them with a thousand tones, the crone was still a comfort. The adventurers ate. Theo drank wine from her chalice carried by the last two surviving dolls, a mother and a father with a rough straw beard. They’d spawned and slain a thousand dolls since the trio’s prison closed.
“Helmsman Theodore, what is your quest?”
“To stand above other goblin captains.”
The Baba Yaga nodded. “Harpy, what do you ask of the Baba Yaga?”
“The return of dragons.”
“And Buttons, midshipman, what do you take from this endeavor?”
“The best god damn adventure on the seven seas.”
Baba Yaga sighed. “Well met, companions. Now look.”
The cauldron leaned. They looked in the child’s big mouth. Inside was a pane of water and mist, reflecting myriad images. Each companion saw themselves.
Theo stood on the snout of the sea serpent. He held a long, curved scimitar and cut the eyes from the beast. It screamed in pain. He knew his old cutlass disappeared from his hand in an instant replaced with The Sword that Knows. An ancient Arabian blade that seeks the weaknesses of man and monster. The sea serpent of the Mediterranean bled from its eyes. Theo climbed over the frills of its neck and hacked and chopped its neck to bone and threads of scales. The beast had no heart to reap.
Silvia rode a dragon. She was older, much older, and sad. Silvia always thought that day brought joy. She flew across the sky over cities that poured smoke in greased skies. The dragon spoke to her in a language she didn’t know. It tore cities apart. From the cauldron she heard the screams of men and women dying. Why did the women have to die? “Centuries hence,” the Baba Yaga whispered in her ear. “Heaven and hell can’t help you.” The Baba Yaga touched Silvia’s shoulder. The young Augurist cried. She knew her path did not falter. Silvia slayed thousands to change the world one day, and nowhere in the waters did she see success. She heard and smelled and saw the price of her crusade.
Buttons drank from a red plastic cup even though he didn’t know what plastic was. Whiskey and wine and blood splashed his face as he saw a thousand foes fall before him shot and slashed to death. He swung from the decks of the Dread Cock Galleon, reborn with mighty sails he helmed across the oceans and all the world. He smiled at a million whores and aristocrat’s daughters, baring cracked and blackened teeth.
“Your year is yours again. You owe me, children.” The Baba Yaga cackled.
The cabin disappeared. They sat on the green lawn, luscious grass beneath their sore asses. Silvia touched the tender blades of grass. She sent her mind into the false soil and knew they’d traveled back to the time where they began. Had they left? She didn’t know. But she held a flaming feather that did not burn her flesh in a clenched fist.
They climbed the thin tree, never happier to stand on soil. The sun shone. They traced their steps and paddled back to the Americas. Silvia parted their company in Florida. She knew the sea serpent wasn't her prize to take. Theo shook her hand. Buttons bowed. Silvia bowed in return.
Theo killed the sea serpent, with his friend’s help. They stole a warship from the British empire and christened her in honor of their lost crewmates. They never forgot their year in the cabin. How could they fear death after imprisonment amongst the Baba Yaga’s dolls? Silvia locked herself under the Tower of London. She stared for decades at the burning feather.