A Dream of Kitezh - Part I
A Dream of Kitezh - Part I
Being a faithful relating of a recurring past-life dream I had,
upon the nights of both April 23rd and May 1st, in the year 2021...
It began where I was seeing a vast, panoramic view of a snowy coastline, filled with vast forests of pine trees. It was snowing, and the water was frozen in places. A sailing ship was hastily making for the coastline, but the waters were choppy and the going was dangerous. The ship made it to a place where there was a break in the coastline, where a mighty river went inland. As the ship sailed up that river, the weather gradually became pleasant, the air warm, and soon I could see sunlight up ahead, a break in the gray skies. Ahead was a countryside of beautiful forests and meadows, and I could see slender buildings in the distance, structures that had been built with great artistry. I saw lovely gardens and pastures, and the people that lived there who were very tall, blonde and who wore long robes and gowns belted at the waist with sashes, belts, or cords of many beautiful colors... though silver and gold were the dominant hues. We pulled into a dock at one point along the river, and the structures all around the dock area were monumentally tall and quite magnificent. Some sort of stonework, but smooth rather than rough, with tall pyramid-like designs that seemed a recurring structural motif. There were mighty pillars on either side of the dock area itself, carved with intricate images of the faces of kings and queens. This was how one came to the land of Hyperborea by at least one seaward route... to a land of extremes and contradictions, yet also a land of great beauty. I realized very swiftly, that this dream was in actuality a past life memory. All sensations I felt in the dream were like in my waking like, all real to experience. Often, this is how I am able to know that I am experiencing something from long ago, as if it was today. Hyperborea was a magical place, but not in the way that one might imagine... in it were the sources of a thousand myths and legends, be it the Leshy, the Fire Bird, or the Rusalka. And, of old... the elder race known as the Leshy were an ancient people who were the caretakers of the very earth, of holy trees and sacred groves. They had walked in the great places of power, where the spirits of the gods themselves oft made themselves manifest... and in time, they passed on their knowledge and their wisdom to the first mortal shamans of humanity. They who came to be the caretakers of the wild places! The Fire Bird was no bird of the sort that has feathers, for it was a conveyance of the gods, the elfin races, and others who knew the secret of how to ride one. In Hyperborea they were made, though the secret of their very making predated that ancient civilization by ages upon ages. Some say, it even predated the world! And what of the Rusalka? They were the wild women who dwelt near the waters, near rivers and streams and ponds and lakes... and they kept to themselves and often had no need for men. They kept ancient knowledge of their own, much as the Leshy had, yet they guarded their secrets more jealously by far! Late into history, many were those who sought the secrets of the Rusalka, only to meet their doom... for the wild women were unfriendly to outsiders into their midst, save only when they came to take a mate from among men, often by luring one in with promises of love, or passion, or power or knowledge. All of which they would gift the man with, before taking what they wished from him. Once satisfied, they would then take the man's life. In Hyperborea, they dwelt in hidden watery caverns and other secret places, where only they knew the way into. When I lived in Hyperborea long, long, long ago... these were not wonders, but simple facts of life that these peoples existed within the ancient land's borders. These peoples that today are considered mythical... until all memory of their reality became lost with time, twisted by imagination and superstition into something other. I begin this relating by explaining this to you, so that you will understand better the context of many things that soon I must reveal. These dreams of this sort, these ancient memories I possess... to me, they are the most common of things, but to others they would perhaps seem fantastic. And so, we must begin with the fantastic in order to show its' truth, its' reality. These are among the deepest of magical secrets, such knowledge of the fantastic! In the course of its' beginning, this one particular dream and its' associated memories were... unusual. It shifted in time, and would do so at several points throughout the course of it as I relived past events.
At the start of it, I remembered being on a ship bound for the island of Buyan. The ship was, in style, very similar to what today historians call a “longboat”, a style that both the ancient Slavic and Viking peoples competed over. In this case, the ship was of Slavic design with a magnificent dragon-shaped prow. I was of a party of exactly eight people, aside from the ship's crew who we hired to take us to the island. We were all dressed in long tunics belted at the waist, and wore fur cloaks and thick woolen capes for warmth. These were cold, northern waters and save in the summer months those were cold parts of northern Europe. We sighted the island ere long, and how long we had been at sea for I cannot say... the docks we pulled into were a part of a busy port town with buildings made from stone and wood. People decorated their porches with chimes made from bones or light wood, rarely from metal as well, and hung ribbons here and there also. Ancient drums of decorative designs as well. These were said to be a highly spiritual people, the inhabitants of Buyan. For there on that island did dwell gods and goddesses of old, and there was a great and magnificent shrine to the ancient war god Svantevit which was said to exist behind a magnificent wooden palisade, which was part of the complex which comprised the deity's greatest temple of those times. It was around the year 1150 A.D. And I was of thirty years of age. At least, according to those around me! I did not often keep track of my years, for I had a fear of death and an aversion to the thought of getting older. Which, over time, I grew out of for the most part. It was an eccentricity of my youth in that life, nothing more nor less. The people of the island were friendly, which surprised us because we were expecting them to be less accepting of those who come from the outside. I had been here once before, when I was in my teen years... and when I had traveled hither, I entrusted a certain keepsake to a woman who was said to be the incarnation of one of the Zorya goddesses... three sisters, each said to symbolize a different star. She lived in a hut beneath an ancient oak tree, and was a friend of my father's once upon a time. We stayed the night at the harbor, where the local people showed us to a common hall where strangers were allowed to rest for free. This was quite the generous custom, and not something one saw everywhere. During the night, we could hear the sound of singing and chanting... upon the next day, the festivities to honor the gods were going to be in full swing. On certain holy times of the year, these great celebrations were held... though they may have been more frequent than we were told of. I could not be sure. It seemed when I was younger that on my first trip to Buyan they were holding similar festivities. It was uncanny timing, that we did arrive upon a similar occasion, all these years later. On the morrow, we left the common hall and as we made our way to the city that lay over the hills we spied in the distance... it seemed that the land had truly come alive! It had been almost evening when we made port, but now in the bright of day it was a beautiful place to behold. Green hills and fields, great cliffs near some of the coasts, and the people in the throes of celebration were dressed in their finest clothing. Long gowns and tunics of bright colors, the women adorning themselves with red and purple scarves... men and women alike wearing bright jewelry and smiling as they went about their daily routines. The celebrations were indeed, in full swing even this early in the morning... merchants plied their trades at their booths and stalls, and tellers of old tales sang or recited to eager audiences. Children danced and played, and people chanted prayers in honor of the great Svantevit. Pilgrims in colorful headdresses made their way to the city we were also heading for... their tunics belted with delicate sashes decorated with red feathers, the same which were also used in decoration of some of the headdresses. We passed through a beautiful countryside, very wild in places, and here and there we spotted ancient megalithic structures... some of which were in ruins, some of which were still maintained. Shrines, tombs, or something else... who could say? When we asked strangers we passed upon the road, they either would not or could not tell us. We did not fault them for that... I too had my secrets, after all. One such, was the purpose of my entire journey to Buyan.
The city was beyond an ancient forest filled with towering trees and dark woodlands. It was indeed the summer season, and the day was warm enough for a northern island. The walls were mighty, all of cut stone, and the buildings were fashioned from the same material, with roofs of wood and thatch. The buildings were painted pale in color, with a certain dull sheen to it, but otherwise everything was very colorfully decorated, with the addition of fluttering flags and pennants which hung from the towers of the city. There was a pleasant breeze about the air. A massive, grassy hill crowned with dark gray rocks here and there lay at the city's center, and upon that hill was a massive ancient oak tree. We were not anywhere near the temple of Svantevit, which lay elsewhere on the island. Our purpose in coming here was to reach the great oak. We passed through the city gates, pushed through the crowds of pilgrims who were all gathering in great crowds for the day's celebrations, and eventually reached the ancient stone steps that wound their way up the hill to the base of the sacred oak... for sacred and holy it was. We were stopped by one of the local priests, who told us that to be admitted to the oak, we had to first pass three tests in order to be deemed worthy. For the first, we were ushered to a great stone hall in which sat rows of old men and women who looked down upon my party and I as if in judgment. One old woman pointed to one of my companions and shouted something I could not understand. The man was taken away screaming and protesting. Several burly guards came forward bearing sickles, and they cut the man's throat. A priest announced: “He was unworthy! The rest of you, are worthy.” and they gave us a fake golden apple made from stone painted to appear as if it were an apple. For the second test, we were taken to a round arena-like structure with high wooden fence-like walls. In the center of it was a raised dais upon which stood a man who was a philosopher. We sought to debate with us about ancient spiritual traditions, beliefs, and philosophies. Out of all of us, he liked my answers the best and awarded us with another stone apple painted to appear golden, just like the first one. For the final test, also in the arena, we had to choose a member of our party to be a champion for a duel to the death with a local warrior who was exceedingly large and strong looking. We chose the biggest and strongest of our number for it, a big burly bearded bear of a man who fancied a wooden club for his weapon of choice. He beat the local champion, despite the defeated man's skill with a spear, and he proceeded to smash his skull in. Pleased, the philosopher (who had arranged the combat) gave us a third and final “golden apple” and we were escorted back to the sacred oak tree. The priest who refused us passage before, allowed me alone to proceed, and bade me to carry the apples with me, to present to the Zorya when I approached her. The woman was old now, very old, and she lived in a wooden and thatch hut at the base of the sacred oak, which blended almost seamlessly into its' massive trunk. Small standing stones sat in a ring about the tree's trunk, with the hut at the exact center of this arrangement. The old woman wore a simple gray hooded cloak over a purple gown that was elaborately decorated. She fully remembered me from my younger years, and we spoke of old times as I presented her with the apples, at which she was well pleased. She said that I reminded her much of my father when he was my age, and she knew why I had come. She gave me the precious object I had left in her care long ago, saying to me about it: “Do not ever leave it here again, child of darkness and light! Soon, I sense that it will not be possible for you to come back to our remote island. An end of sorts is coming to our old way of life here, and I have foreseen the worst of it... this ancient sacred oak will be burned, the great temples of the gods abandoned, the priests who seek to defend it all will be killed by invaders from another land. But there is a beautiful city far, far away known to some as Kitezh. If ever you should feel imperiled over this matter, then take that most sacred object and entrust it unto the elders of that place. They will keep it safe for you, even as I did here.” and in time, I would take the old woman's advice. For peril was not always easy to avoid! I never did return to Buyan, although I and my traveling companions took some time to see to the fate of the man we lost earlier. He had been cremated upon a pyre, and his ashes were scattered over one of the local stone monuments in the woods. Even in Buyan, death could befall.
Fast, the dream changed, and I was walking along a bridge to the ancient city of Kitezh, on the calm shores of the holy lake of Svetloyar. I had had dreams of Kitezh before, of having lived there in a lost, bygone age of history, and this was similar. I could see the white walls, the towered structures that rose up here and there along those walls, the great wooden facade that decorated the main gates into the city, and which lay at the end of the mighty bridge that linked the city to the land. Above the gates, the high archway was decorated with the image of a great serpent, an ancient symbol of wisdom. This was not a city of warriors and farmers, but one of philosophers and holy men and women. Beyond the walls, the great structures of the city rose up in mighty, majestic splendor. The domes of temples from the eras of history long before the rise of Christianity could be seen looming high above the main street of the city, the street from which countless others branches out. Merchant stalls lined this first section, trading as much in arcane goods as in vegetables, fruits, clothing, and other mundane wares. In the distance, one could not help but notice grand palaces and one might wonder the sort of great men and women who made there homes in them. For in a city that had no use for warriors, it seemed unlikely that rulers as such in the traditional sense would have been the ones to hold the reigns of power. The city rose up twice, in two tiers... whereas on the bottom-most level the city houses its' merchants and held structures that were dedicated to places of business and commerce, as well as the homes of the people including the laborers and craftsmen whose job it was to maintain the overall structural integrity of the city, the first tier that rose above that held gardens, temples, shrines and burial places for the dead. The second... and highest... tier was the one where lay the grand palaces, lofty towers and slender spires that could be seen from so far off as one approached the lake. The people of Kitezh were quiet, contemplative, and yet also friendly when spoken to, rather than aloof as one might at first expect. I entered into one of the temples in the second tier of the city, and then the dream shifted once more to a very strange scene. Things took on the air of a vision at this point, of the sort that prophets of old were said to have. I know not what might have sent it thus unto me, but something, some vast ancient power most surely did! There was a bright flash of light, not blinding but rather obscuring... and within its' radiance was the sound of a multitude of voices singing in harmony. I could see another island, one vastly more ancient than that on which the city of Kitezh has been raised... and I remembered that people called it Buyan. Once, I knew the paths and ways by which one might find Buyan... for there was a time when I made the journey to that distant place. It was only partly a place of this world, though it had a presence upon the earth after a fashion. Some believed that Kitezh was one of Buyan's many faces and forms. It was, at best, a descendant of Buyan's glory... but even diluted, such glory was still incredible! I walked in the precincts of Kitezh as a pilgrim does upon a blessed pilgrimage... with reverence, with respect, with the utmost humility. For when one sets foot in such a place, it is not to be done lightly. But lightly or not, my feet were set upon a certain path back in those days. And I could not depart from it! On this one odd occasion, however... I was drawn as much as I set foot willingly, of my own accord. Some power had a mind to show me things, and as it was back then so too was my dreaming... remembering... mind able to be guided by the very same divine powers that once guided my steps through Kitezh. I felt much like a child being led by the hand of it's mother or father, unsure of the way but trusting in the will of those who know and who seek to teach. Thus, I learned much and so have much to relate still. It was rather chill in that temple in Kitezh... the sensation was still there for me to feel, just as I had felt it so long ago. This was not wondrous Hyperborea... and yet, was it not? There was ancient magic there, and it's old roots ran all the way back to that bygone land. Such magic that some might call forbidden... but not quite dark, for it was possessed of a light all its' own. I was a student of ancient magic back then, just as I am a practitioner of it unto this very day. The most powerful experiences can be the ones we have the least power to explain in rational terms. And so, if I sound like one who beheld something uncanny, that is only because I did! And this is what I remember of it, at least of what I say in the visionary state.
I was standing directly in front of what appeared to be a large religious icon of some sort... a large square painting done in some bygone art style that I could not quite place and yet which was familiar to me in some manner. The frame was either gold or had some sort of imitation gilt design to it... I could not be certain whichever it was... and the image depicted on the icon was of a winged man in armor. His wings were red, his armor bluish gray, and decorating his armor were red robes of a color identical to the man's wings. He held a long spear in his left hand, and it was raised above his head. His right hand was relaxed at his side, and held a scroll on which something was written in Latin. I could not quite make out what, however. Behind the man was a large tree containing many birds, and the man was standing on a green field filled with white flowers. A shield rested upon the trunk of the tree, and upon it was a design I could not quite make out. Somehow, I knew that this icon was inside of that temple into which I had walked in the previous part of the dream... this too was a memory. But it was also some sort of sacred vision... for a man's voice came forth from the icon, and I knew that whatever being it was the icon depicted was reaching out to me, attempting to communicate something important that I was meant to know. The voice became clearer and clearer, and this is what the winged being said to me: “Few living today know the histories of those eras in which you walked, when of old you strode in Hyperborea, and in another life you walked the streets of Kitezh. But blessed are they who have so done, who have entered the holy city's innermost halls, and who have partaken of the wisdom of its' elders. The legends of such things are like those of King Arthur... based on truth that has been long, long since forgotten. Truth contained within the memories of those who remember, for they were there. Search your memories, and who can say what it is that you may find! Some truths are divine in nature.” And the icon was speaking to me in the here and now, and this was likely not what the former me of the ancient past had experienced when I came to stand before that image so very long ago. It was surreal!
And I remembered of things long forgotten, beginning with childhood dreams and memories of lives past that came to me when in this life I was still but young. My time in Kitezh was not the only life I had lived in the Russia of bygone ages! I saw many, and in various eras of history. I saw visions of the people I had known, the loves I had loved, and the enemies I once had. It was as if I stood in a region of gray mists and thick fog, seeing glimpses of clarity here and there. Glimpses of previous lives, and it was as if something wanted me to see... clearer and clearer... until I knew all there was to know of those lives and those times and the places that once I called home. I bore many names, had many faces down through the ages. I was there in the days of the very last Imperial Tsar, and men had called me by the title “The Mad Monk” and in that life my last name was Rasputin. Ironic, that many today remember me only by that last name... as if they cannot fathom that I had been human in that life, that I had been born to a mortal mother and father who gave me a full name just as anyone else is given when they are born. I still remember my full name as it was back then... Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. I remember the place where I had been born, in Pokrovskoye, a rather tiny village along the Tula River in Siberia. Yet how big it seemed when I was a child! And how stifling such tiny places seemed when I was a child no longer, and living far from that humble place of beginnings. I had been born in January, and I had died in December, at a party that was to prove the last I would ever attend. For I had many enemies by the day of my death in that life... and before the end, I would prove not easy for them to slay. Yet, slay me they did, though that was not the end of my spirit. For I live still, in a new body and in a new era... and yet it is still the old me. So the dreaming me, the remembering me, relived these memories and thought of all these things, while the me of the ancient past, the me that was standing there in that temple in old Kitezh... could only gaze in wonder at something otherworldly. I could have filled a volume by telling you all of what I knew of my life as Rasputin! But I shall instead tell you of who I was back in the more ancient era. And so, we must get back to the full relating of what occurred in Kitezh... on many levels.
What am I, that I see these things? What am I, that I know the things that I do! Things no one has known since Atlantis fell and ancient Hyperborea was lost to arctic ice, its' people forced to flee in a great exodus to wherever the winds might take them. I remembered of the times of the ancient gods that Christianity sought to cause mankind to forget... and how I walked with them, perhaps even as one of them myself. For they walked then, as mortals do today... though their technologies were far in advance of the science mankind knows even now. Do people still recall the year in which a great comet was seen streaking across the skies above the ancient Pagan settlements of primeval Russia? The year when the great god Perun came down to share with mankind just enough of his knowledge to do them ease and grant them aid at a crucial point in human development. I was there, and saw what manner of craft, what grand conveyance was used to bring the god hither and yon. I had flown in such a fabulous craft of old myself, when some of the old gods called me sibling. And Perun himself greeted me warmly, as one might a long lost family member who has not been seen in a very long time. How long had it been? I could not be certain. I was witnessing things from here and there in time. Eventually, all grew cloudy. Within a span of mere moments, it seemed an eternity passed. And then, time seemed to resume it's length, it's breadth, its' flowing... like a great and cold river that carries what it will to wherever it goes. I know enough, of such cold rivers! And it is the modern me of today that remembers this and feels it. The me of the ancient past was rapt in visions, and soon reality resumed its' course and things occurred.
The fog returned, growing thick again and obscuring my vision of past events. As the dream and the memories carried on, it was much later and whatever occurred in the temple had come and gone. There was more I had done in Kitezh. Much, much more... and on this occasion I was not reliving all of that. Such memories choose when they will return to a person, and what they will reveal. This is what was revealed unto me! When the fog cleared, I was walking through a cold winter forest, down rough old trails that very few knew of. I could not say where this memory took place specifically... along the path were wooden posts set into the ground, and upon them hotly burning torches that someone out in that wilderness was maintaining, along this stretch of path in particular. I heard music in the distance, and singing. I walked towards the sound, following the torch-lit trail for as far as it might go. Eventually, I came to a wooden building with a low, peaked roof... the scent of pine and great timbers was heavy in the cold air. Lights from the windows shone forth... the lights of candles and torches within. It was a tavern of some sort, and people laughed and drank and shared stories inside. I entered and sat down at a table, breathing heavy from my tiring journey. A burly man with a long white mustache and a balding head with the remnants of long hair upon it walked over to the table at which I sat. He wore a thick gray robe, over which he also wore a brown furred cloak. Like the strange winged being who had spoken to me previously, I heard his voice in English although I knew he in fact spoke in some dialect of ancient Russian. “What can I get for you upon this evening, traveler?” He asked of me, and I replied: “Nothing for the moment. Perhaps in a bit, once I get my breath back. The day is cold, and it is almost nightfall.” And I asked how much it was to sleep in the common room until morning, at which the tavern keeper explained to me that it was free of cost if I would purchase a hot drink to aid in my recovery. He had a kindly tone to him, and I spent some coin on the offered drink. I spoke with no one that night, kept to myself, and had strange dreams when finally I slept. The sound of a distant rooster woke me the next day, and I gathered my things (mostly traveling goods for the road) and prepared to go on my way. A woman stopped me before I left... a large-boned, pleasant lady with messy blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes that I found quite captivating. She was very plain-spoken, but neither crass nor crude by any measure. “Hold on a moment, stranger.” she said, grabbing me by the arm before I could leave. “You have a rather... unusual look to you. You're not big like the usual men from around these parts of the land. They're all either woodcutters or hunters, mostly. Life is very hard out here! But you aren't exactly small, either. You aren't bearded either, I see! Where exactly are you from, anyway? And where might you be going in such wild weather!” And her tone was one of genuine concern for my well-being. I replied: “I am most recently from Kitezh, and I am bound for the old castle that lies in the mountains far beyond this forest.” The women seemed shocked at my answer. She stated as much: “Those who have been to Kitezh, they seldom ever wish to leave that city. And those who have been to that castle you spoke of, few have ever returned. That is a very strange answer you gave me, sir! But your business is your own, I suppose. Be about it if you must, though I fear for you.” and I was relieved by her tone. She clearly did not know who I was, and why I was upon so long a journey to begin with. I so bid her farewell, and left. I was not in a hurry to brave the elements again, but there was great urgency in my heart to be upon it. It had never been my custom to overstay any welcome, especially among strangers.
I was so far from the civility of Kitezh, that it seemed a distant, golden memory in my mind. I had gone back there for something very important to me, and was now quite in a hurry to get back home. The pleasant scent of the chimney smoke from the tavern had been gone for some hours now... and the heavy perfume of pine was the only scent for what seemed forever that my nose could discern. I had brought plenty of food for this trip... anything that would keep, nothing that would spoil. I kept some water in a skin as well, in case I grew thirsty, and had at least one bottle of something stronger should the water spoil before I could come by more. This long, interminably arduous walk had taken a lot out of me! I began to wonder if I would ever see the old castle again. But eventually I did see it... perched atop a rocky out-thrusting of rock and cliff-face, with an old trail leading up to it. An imposing fortress of stone and wood... it was old when I came to inhabit it, its' original inhabitants long gone when I first got there. It was not large, far from grand, but it at least was better than a simple cabin when it came to keeping me warm. Inside, the hearth would be well-tended, the servants already preparing a meal for my expected arrival. One of the men spotted me from a high tower and called out. I answered back, to let him know I had come home, and waved my arm in greetings. He responded in kind, and I could hear the front gates being opened even as I approached them. Had I taken a steed with me on this journey, it would have perished long ago... I myself was very weak and weary from the excursion to far distant Kitezh, and I felt as if I had walked the length and breadth of the very earth itself. I was also soaked from the snow, and in a hurry to change into warm clothing. Once I had done so, I sat by the hearth, its' fire welcome after so long in the cold, and a young woman wearing a long black gown with white puffy sleeves came out from a side room to greet me. “Husband, it has been so long since I've laid my eyes on you! It was worth the wait.” and she was a vision to behold, with raven black hair and dark eyes that had in them a certain sense of profound sadness, something she never spoke of but which we had a kind of mutual understanding about. For I held within me many a secret sorrow likewise. “Did you get what you went to Kitezh to find?” she inquired, her tone soft but with a hidden edge like steel. She had very clearly not wished for me to go for so long. I confessed to her: “I did, and the doing of it nearly claimed my life entire. I will not be returning again to that place, I think.” And I cast a nearby log unto the fire as I said this, as if that act could drive the point further, that I was glad to see my journey over and done with. “It was a peculiar place, at any rate. The people there do not ever part with their secrets lightly. And the older the knowledge, the more jealously and zealously do the elders of that place guard it. Had it been anyone but I, they would have turned me away from the places into which I walked. But they questioned me and I told them things only I know, and they recognized me from... another time. And they allowed me to enter the secret places. I will never return to those places... some are beautiful and some are terrible. Some are both! And what I learned there was the very stuff of madness itself. And yet, I remain unmarked by the experience. Do not ask me to tell of it... I will someday, but not yet! But the most important thing, is what I retrieved, naturally. I should never have hid it... but you know why I had to. In any case, I have it here upon my person. As you shall see, it is as it ever was! Better, even.”
I took from around my neck a very strange amulet indeed... it was this kind of locket, of sorts, worn upon a strong black leather cord. The locket was egg-shaped, made of a kind of metal that could not be easily identified, and could be opened easily enough. A simple clasp kept it closed. The egg had set into it several green stones which looked more priceless than they actually were. In size, it was exactly like an actual chicken's egg, and was extremely light to wear and hold. I allowed my wife to touch it... she was the only other person in the world that I even trusted with it. “I am happy you got it back... the last time you hid it someplace, it was much more difficult to retrieve!” the woman sighed happily. Held in the confines of that locket were two things of personal importance to me: a sliver of black stone almost as thin as a needle yet strong beyond imagining... and a small bound lock of my wife's ebony-hued hair. This is the reason why only she, other than myself, had been allowed to touch the object. It was beyond sacred to us... and to the ancient god to whom the black needle, as we called it, had first been dedicated. There was a portion of my spirit invested in that stone, something I had done during my first mystical ritual in which I communed with the ancient darkness of the Black God itself. That which was a direct manifestation of the dark side of the great force and source of all that is... and which I myself was but a fleshly emanation of. Just as my wife was the living vessel for a similarly ancient goddess whose name was spoken of only in whispers by frightened peasants. A witch, some called her, and I a warlock. A dark sorcerer whom men said could not die as others can. But I knew better! I was as mortal as any... though I possessed knowledge from every one of my previous mortal incarnation up until that point. I talked often about life in ancient Atlantis and Hyperborea as if I had but lived there yesterday. I spoke of the gods as one might distant family members, ones they did not always get along well with. My body was peculiar, however... I tended to heal physical wounds or ailments rather quickly, but only if it was something which could cause me mortal danger or direct threat of death. It was as if something in my body knew when I was most near to dying, and it worked to stave it off as quickly as it could. This was how I came to be called deathless. But age was creeping upon me as time was going on... and were it not for my young wife I would have surely felt my age indeed after my harrowing journey to Kitezh.
I had been a leader of men in my youth, and had seen countless battlefields. I was darkly Pagan in my beliefs, and I was fiercely proud of them, for the traditions they stemmed from predated much of what back then was considered contemporary when it came to knowledge and wisdom. In the year of my trip to Kitezh, I was already getting on the years quite a bit, although my old preternatural strength was still with me. I had lived long in the steppe lands, where my people hailed from... and my castle was not far from at least one border of that storied region. I could travel freely and openly there... as I did when I came to that tavern... for in my own regions I was considered to be a hero to many. Even so, I had taken to traveling just a bit in disguise by shaving my beard and my head. I had once been famed for my long hair and neatly trimmed beard, after all, and few if any had come to know my face famously without those features. My wife did not mind in either case, and so in my later years my new look basically had stuck, as I tried to get past my former warlike identity. I did not exactly blend in, in a crowd... for I had in that life been of Turkic descent, and of a nomadic people who were not always seen in the places of common society outside of the occasional merchants and traders who would sometimes come down from the steppes. That was what I masqueraded as when I was out and about, and it sufficed to keep me safe from my old enemies, who fortunately were far from the region in which I lived most often. For as I got older, I more and more cut back on my old habits of roaming and it was at this point when I made my home in that castle and attempted to settle down into a more peaceful way of life. The dark woman I shared that castle with, had not been my first wife. I had several others, and at least one of them gave me a daughter. But this woman was my favorite, for she more than the rest had managed to touch my soul in ways that no other could have hoped to. Her name was Lunara, and some called her Lunara of the Black Moon. We kept the old ways, the forgotten ways, and we could not have wished to do other. There were two old tapestries we kept hung upon two walls of the chambers we used for a library and study area. A section of the castle where I kept arcane things. One of the two tapestries was a deep, dark blue in color and upon it was a gold dragon with the stars of the constellation of Draco comprising it. The other, was a map of the world as it appeared in the age of Hyperborea. It was created by the Black Moon coven, and was given to us as a gift by emissaries from the coven one year. We were still on the very best of terms with them, and the story of how this came to be is a very interesting one. But not for the faint of heart! There was a certain element of darkness to them... and yet, there was a light within it.
The Black Moon was a coven of ancient priestesses and shamans of the great goddess Mother Yaga, whose worship across the wild places of ancient Russia was more widespread than Christianity would like people to believe. I came to know much of them when I went seeking after ancient knowledge... following a lead I had been given in regards to a certain branch of the Black Moon coven which had one of it's meeting places in a dark forest along the borderlands of the steppes. It was autumn, fittingly enough, when I came into contact with them at last. And that is how I came to meet Lunara for the first time! Whenever I looked into her eyes, I was reminded of the way the night looked on that occasion... for it was late afternoon when I ventured into the woods, hoping to encounter the famed witches and warlocks for myself, to learn whatever they could teach me of the dark arts. I had already learned much from old tomes and scrolls which I had purchased from travelers from distant lands... for I understood the Latin which was used predominantly in such writings of the day, and it often surprised people how learned I was in many respects. And, I remembered much from my past lives in lost Atlantis and grand Hyperborea, much of magic, mysticism, ritual and sorcery. Of all the mad things folklore remembers about me, that is one of the rare things the old legends actually gets right! My penchant for dark magic. The air was crisp and clear upon that occasion, and the leaves crunched under my feet as I brushed the outstretched tree branches from my path. At least, I thought it seemed to be a path! The woods were old and overgrown, and few in their right mind would even want to travel there. Then again, people thought me mad to begin with! I saw no reason to disappoint. At length, the sun was already nearly lost in the west when I thought to turn back and consider this expedition to be pointless... and that is when I heard the beating of drums. Only the wild peoples and their shamans played such drums, and I knew I had to be close to where the Black Moon was meeting. I hastened my steps, and sure enough it was nightfall when I beheld the place where the wild folk made their camp. They were quite the sight! All dressed in furs, with antlered headdresses and carrying bowls of animal blood to be placed upon great altars made from bones. They spoke in ancient tongues when chanting their prayers, tongues from before the use of Latin or any other languages spoken by more civilized sorcerers and esteemed scholars. I sensed a deep connection to nature here, to the very spirit of the land itself. I heard them chanting to the goddess of nature, Mokosh, and the chief shaman, at the height of the ritual, would take a bowl of animal blood and drink it, then go into a deep trance. When she spoke, the shaman was believed to speak in the voice of the goddess herself. I walked into their midst and knelt before the shaman, asking if I might learn from her all that she was willing to teach a “novice” (for such I claimed to be) such as myself. The old woman was highly amused, and agreed to take me on as an apprentice but only if we might proceed as quickly with things as was possible. For she did not like taking on new apprentices, and had very little patience for outsiders to the coven. However... she said that I seemed to be highly unusual. Her eyes saw much, and despite her coven's fearsome reputation they were a reasonable group of people who tended to treat others as they themselves were treated. Their initial show of distrust faded quickly, at least in my dealings with them, and soon there was an air of almost friendliness. I did not feel long like an outsider in their midst, but early on it did seem as if I had stumbled into a far more ancient world, one lost to the era in which I had been born back then. And yet... to me, it felt right and seemed normal.
Before I was to begin my apprenticeship in the Black Moon coven, I was told briefly of some of their beliefs and their traditions, and I remembered the tales my mother told me as a child about a lost tribe of women warriors and shamans who lived in an isolated village in the wilds of the steppes. It was said that their queen, who was also their high shaman, was a powerful witch who could conjure up ghosts, heal the dying, and walk between worlds. There were truths behind those stories, I came to learn over time, and darker truths still beyond those! The Black Moon coven kept such secrets of a similar nature, and my existing familiarity with such subjects endeared me to them from the onset of my time among them. The tales they told me reminded me of those of my mother, and I felt quite at home there in that dark forest, surrounded by others who shared my passion for the mystical arts. Back home, this was a side of me that I never shared with any of my soldiers, advisors or allies among my people... though their beliefs made them highly tolerant of the old ways that Christianity sought to stamp out, even so I was a very private person who did not open up all that easily to others. For many years, I kept track of my army's resources and supplies and I allowed our strategists to decide the best means of conducting warfare when it was called for. But as time went by, I grew bored with such record-keeping and passed that task on to others who did not mind such miserly (but necessary) tasks. I turned my attention more fully to other pursuits far nearer and dearer to my heart... which eventually led me unto this excursion into these wild and forsaken lands, in search of the Black Moon coven. The inner council of the coven bade me cut my left palm and swear a blood oath to keep secret all that I would learn from them, and to use wise judgment should I even choose to take on apprentice myself, and to teach what I knew only to that apprentice, or to any such who should be proven worthy. And only then, if I tested them first in order to have their truest worth proven beyond any doubting! And all of this I swore, giving my blood unto Mokosh, Mother Yaga, and the Black God. For I had to swear my oath to three deities recognized and considered sacred by the coven. I would end up keeping that oath even unto my death in that life, perhaps even beyond that. For even in these very writings, there are some secrets I cannot divulge that I learned from the Black Moon. In such secrets, there is power! Power as old as the ice and the frost of winter, and as merciless as the chill of arctic seas. The council was pleased with me and with my great and terrible oath before the eyes of the gods, and so I was officially made welcome among their number in a more official capacity. This all occurred swiftly, and no time was wasted in the doing of all these things. It felt very, very good to know that, at least thus far, my long trip to that place had not been for nothing. A great feast was held after the blood oath ceremony was concluded, and several animals were sacrificed during the course of the feast. These people imbued every single activity of their lives with some sort of mystical meaning, in ways that tied them to the natural world quite closely. This was one of many ancient ways of life that were endangered by the coming of the Christians to these lands. How long, before our very gods and goddesses would be called demons and devils? I remembered what the old Zorya woman told me in Buyan, so many years ago... about an end coming to things there, and of the terrible events she seemed to foresee pertaining to that end. I was a long way from that island now, but I was reminded of the old woman there... and tears came to my eyes when I thought that perhaps by now nothing at all remained of the beautiful world that I had glimpsed in Buyan during my very final journey there. Its' people, its' culture, its' gods... its' magnificent sacred oak tree which some believed looked upon the very realm of the gods in the heights of its' noble branches. Was all of that lost now to time? I had resigned myself to the realization, that such was indeed the case. Reports from that part of the land spoke of foreign invaders, when any news came from so far away at all. The old woman's dire prophecy surely had come to pass in the fullness of time! But this forest was extremely isolated from the outside world, and no foreign ships could sail upon the land, thankfully. Many said the woods were bewitched, haunted, or cursed. Christian pilgrims avoided it, and even others who followed the ancient ways avoided it out of fear of the unknown. I was lucky to have found the means to discover this haven.