A Dream of Kitezh - Part II
A Dream of Kitezh - Part II
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...
I was placed under the direct apprenticeship of the youngest of the old woman's existing apprentices, Lunara. The old woman communicated everything to me through her, and I sensed this was so that the old woman would have as little to do with me as possible. Lunara instructed me in the construction of wands and staffs, of how to seek out wood for their construction in the fallen branches of trees that could be found in wild places where the power of the natural world was at its' strongest. Places such as within the rings of certain toadstools, or on the banks of certain sacred streams, in whose water the wood had to be washed in order for the wood to be consecrated to the power of Mother Yaga. I cut the bark from my first wand, washed it accordingly, and decorated it with black cords and feathers. Lunara made one for herself as well, and it seemed we were learning these lessons together. We brought our wands back to be placed upon the altar, and we did the same with two staffs, one for each of us, also. We each cut our index fingers with a blade, and used our blood to make our magical tools our own, linking them to our very souls and spirits. This brought back memories to me, of the first ritual I ever conducted using the black needle, before I decided to contain it within the egg-shaped locket. How I bound it to me, and bound myself to it in a kind of sympathetic magic that increased the item's power and granted me the power that I sensed it to contain. I was wearing the egg on that occasion when I and Lunara were crafting our tools of sorcery... and often she glanced at it curiously. As a child might look upon something he or she might consider wondrous. I was lucky these people spoke quite perfectly the common tongue... they all (every member of the coven) were not actually wild people at all. Rather, each hailed from a different part of the land. Each was drawn to the coven for their own reasons, and they all shared common beliefs in the old gods, as well as a deep reverence for Mother Yaga. Several days I spent living with the Blood Moon coven before I dared to ask about Mother Yaga herself. I had inquired of Lunara if Mother Yaga was anything at all like the goddess Mokosh. For I had thought the two to be rather similar deities, at least at first glance. Then she explained to me the whole of the truth.
“Mother Yaga was a powerful sorceress in the old days of ancient Hyperborea. She was said to be a beautiful young woman with long, flowing blonde hair. So blonde... that it was almost white! But she was said to be tall... taller even than the tallest of men, though far from a giant in stature. She made her home in a cave someplace, so the legend goes, and journeyed out only to go flying using some magical means that is lost to us today. She had come to dwell in her cave when Hyperborea fell, and she was not trustful of mortals. The first of all the Black Moon coven came to her in her loneliness, and from her they learned the secret of flight. Through them, Mother Yaga was able to communicate with the world beyond the borders of her home. Mother Yaga grew old and wise, but her lifespan was far beyond that of an ordinary person... and she was young through many generations of human civilization. It is said that she is old now though, and that she makes her home in the darkest part of this forest... in a hut that walks upon the legs of a mighty chicken, beyond a palisade made from human bones. No one seeks her any longer, and those who do, never return. She is of the land itself now, and the land is a part of her. The land has a spirit, as all things do, and few are they who can feel it, understand it, and channel it through their own spirit. But this is the path of the shaman, to bridge the gap between the visible world and the world of the spirit. Mother Yaga was the first to do so, it is said... and she will not be the last. I myself have never laid eyes upon the woman herself though... only her dwelling-place. And then, only briefly. It would prove interesting to see if the legends are true! A part of me has always suspected that there is a darker undercurrent to these stories. I grew up hearing them, but I had this... strange feeling.”
That is what Lunara told me of Mother Yaga. I decided that I wished to meet with the old goddess, to learn if she was real or not. For a part of me just did not believe what sounded like an ancient children's story of the sort to frighten off the curious. I told Lunara of this desire of mine, to learn the truth. She was hesitant at first, but then some wild thoughts entered into her mind. “We will not tell the shaman!” she insisted, but otherwise seemed delighted at the prospect of also finding out for herself the truth of this strange legend. I had not been living among the Black Moon for even a single week yet, when we decided to plan our excursion into the forbidden home of old Mother Yaga... and some part of me had the premonition that after we did this we would no longer be welcome among this particular branch of the coven. Then again, perhaps things would go well and Mother Yaga would receive us with kindness! There was no way to be certain in any case. We packed everything we would need for the trek... we did not know how long it would take. We knew only the general direction that we needed to be traveling in... eastward, and southward, deeper and deeper into the forest. Along paths no one walked in what seemed like decades, we made our way. We chose early morning, before anyone else was even awake, to begin our journey. Lunara led the way, and I followed after her, sticking close. She knew these vast woods, and I did not. Here, I was still very much an outsider... and the more we made our way into that dark vastness of green pines dotted here and there by other types of trees touched by the colors of the autumn season, the more I felt as such. With my saber, I had to cut down branches her and there as we found ourselves in increasingly wild territory. “When exactly was the last time anyone went in search of Mother Yaga?” I asked my companion, and Lunara replied: “When the shaman was still young.” and we both laughed, though we could not exactly say why that seemed funny to either of us. It was hours and hours, or so it seemed... before at length it seemed that we had walked a great distance equal to that which would be between two cities. It was late into the afternoon... had we truly been gone almost a whole day already? And we came at last to a place that Lunara recognized, at least from old tales. There was a shallow stream, and beyond it lay a stretch of woods so thick that nothing could be seen within its' confines. On the far side of the stream was what looked like a weathered fence. “That is where she makes her home these days! That is the domain of old Mother Yaga.” Lunara pointed towards the fence while exclaiming, in a manner that was far too cheerful for such an ominous occasion: “Shall we go?” And I agreed that yes, we should indeed proceed onward... though a part of me was suddenly nervous. There was a massive flock of black crows and ravens perched in the heights of the trees, and before we had the chance to ponder our next actions the lot of them came down in a great black cloud and darted past us, yet without so much as touching us. Soon, they were lost to sight, and the whole of this event had an unnatural, otherworldly feel to it. “They say that those are death birds.” Lunara stated coldly... “That they carry the souls of the dead hither and yon... but always they return to the bosom of the gods of the underworld when their duties in this world are through. It is said... that the wisest of all birds is the great father of ravens. Though the place of his dwelling cannot be seen with physical eyes.” And I replied: “I may have met this father of ravens once, in my youth. But I cannot say how and why that came to be. It happened upon a battlefield, when my saber was red with the blood of fallen men. And that is all I shall say of it!” For I had vowed never again to think upon that happening, and Lunara sure enough would never press me about it, for the subject chilled her to even contemplate. She confessed unto me: “I too saw... things... but in my case, when I was a child, that I cannot speak of. The veils that separate worlds can grow thin sometimes, and in those seasons terrible sights can be beheld in the old places of the land, where few save the brave walk. I walked in such places... I would never do so again, not even to save my life from peril.” and we felt a kinship just then, an unspoken understanding, for we had both endured things that others would never comprehend. These woods were uncanny, and soon I feared would come a moment of great dread. “The land has a spirit.” I said aloud. “And that spirit, in this place, does not like unwelcome guests. I hope, we can prove to it... that we would be welcome!”
As we crossed the stream, I saw immediately that the fence was made from large animal bones, and I wondered what sorts of creatures the bones could have belonged to, to be so very large in size. The top of the fence was adorned, here and there, with large wooden stakes and upon them were human skulls. All appeared to have been here for decades, for the bones were bleached from the elements. Or was it just that the old woman who lived here liked to keep them clean? It was a strange and grim thing to be musing about, and I admonished myself not to be thinking so deeply about such things again. We were following that terrible palisade for some time before we came at last to a gate set into it, also fashioned wholly from bones. It was nightfall at last, and an owl could be heard far off in the distance... a ghostly sound in a very ghostly seeming place. Lunara took up a wooden staff that was on the ground. It was a rather long wooden staff, ornately decorated with various ribbons, cords, and feathers, and topped with a human skull that seemed to have been mounted in place as a kind of morbid decoration. There were two candles in the skull's eye sockets. Lunara lit them and used the staff as a kind of torch to light our way in the approaching darkness of night's hours. “Follow me.” she indicated, and I stayed close at her side. We came at length to a path decorated with large paving stones, and at the end of it was a large hut built into the trees. Hanging from the hut on its' left and right sides, were these two large “legs” that had been constructed from wood, bones, and covered in various animal skins to give them the overall appearance of being in fact the legs of an enormous chicken. It was very convincing looking, at least until you got up close and saw what they were actually constructed from. Lunara poked one of the legs with the staff, and was satisfied to see that they did not move. “How do we get inside?” I asked, and my companion showed me a ladder that ran from the hut's doorway all the way to the ground. It was made of bones and rope, and unlike everything else in this domain it appeared almost new. Someone clearly was maintaining a means to get to and from the hut. Which meant that someone had to be living there! We climbed the ladder and knocked upon the hut's wooden door, assuming it would have to be locked. A voice came from inside, the voice of a young woman. “Come, enter! If you are not afraid to, that is.” and the woman's voice laughed loudly, almost in a cackling manner after that, before all went utterly silent save for the sounds of loud night birds, insects, and distant animals. A wolf howled at that very precise instant, and I found it to be perfectly timed in a morbid sort of way that I was not fond of. “Just give us a moment, lady, and we shall be right up!” I exclaimed nervously. Lunara just shook her head. “Does this mean that we are welcome, after all?” she speculated. “It does not... feel, very welcoming!” And the wolf howled again, and sounded much closer. The woods were not always safe at night, and I did not like the idea of having to face wild animals in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. I could see why many never returned from such a journey, even if they knew the way. How many of them, now had their bones decorating that palisade? It was a grim thought beyond imagining, made worse by the fact that this felt much like a trap. As a warrior, I had walked into many traps in my time before I got wise to the tactics of my enemies... but those were always obvious if one knew what to look out for. But when the tactics are more subtle, it is not always possible to know the nature of the trap until it is far, far too late. I said a prayer to the gods in my heart, as I climbed up that ladder... a prayer for some measure of protection. I sensed that Lunara was far less alarmed, and seemed almost comfortable. I found that actually frightening in and of itself. The people of these woods lived a strange life, but one close to powerful forces... I had always sought out such forces, all my life. I reasoned, that this should in fact be very little different from my trips to distant arcane libraries, or that perilous visit to Buyan when I was thirty years old. I needed to take what comforts I could, when facing the unknown! I began to wonder, what sort of person was this Mother Yaga. Was she good, was she evil? Perhaps she waited to kill us and throw us into some great cooking pot, to feed us later to the wolves that... for all we did know... may have been her pets. Some ancient witches were said to keep wolves for pets, after all. But no, I reasoned... those stories could not apply in this case. Look what tales men told of me, after all!
Inside the hut, everything was cozy and rather pleasant actually, except for the occasional decorations made from various sorts of bones. A fire blazed in the center of the hut, its' smoke wafting up through a small hole in the thatch of the ceiling, which was there of course to give smoke vent. It seemed rather spacious as far as huts go, and Lunara and I noticed there were several rooms off of the main one. The walls contained various shelves, upon which were jars and containers, and objects needed for herb lore and alchemy. Old straw dolls with pins in them lay here and there, and crude idols to various gods and goddesses... and things the meaning of which I could not possibly guess at. Lunara gasped, and poked me in the arm to show me what she saw that shocked her so much. I looked where she indicated, and across from the fire pit there was a table at the far wall of the hut. All was in shadow there, but we could make out a shape sitting at the head of the table, hunched over somewhat. Cobwebs were thick all about there, and when we got closer we saw a truly ghastly sight! It had most obviously been a woman once... in a tattered gown long faded in color with great age, her head covered by a nearly transparent veil that at first I took to be thick webbing. We cast back the old veil, and saw that indeed it was as it appeared, the woman was quite dead. Her remaining hair was snow white with great age, and her flesh appeared mummified upon her bones. Where there was any flesh at all, where it had not rotted away with time and decay. The woman had clearly died at the table long, long ago... and time kept her frozen in place like this. “So she is dead, then.” I said somberly. I felt truly sad, as if we had intruded upon someone's burial site. “But then, whose voice was it that we heard outside when we were climbing the ladder to get up here?” Lunara wondered aloud. The voice we heard earlier then answered in an almost hysterical tone bordering on madness: “It is my voice which you heard, strangers! Mine, and no other's. Allow me to introduce myself to you... I am the one they call Mother Yaga.” and out from one of the side rooms strode an incredibly tall and beautiful young woman with long, flowing blonde hair that was almost white. The very image of the woman from the ancient tales! She wore a splendid looking gown fit for a princess, and her hands were decorated with various rings. Around her neck was an amulet of some unknown design that I had never seen the like or design of before, and upon her head she wore a silver circlet to keep her hair back away from her face. “If you are Mother Yaga, then who was she?” I inquired, indicating the dead woman at the table. “She was actually the previous Mother Yaga.” the young woman explained. “The body that I once wore before coming to dwell in this one. I really do like my new one so much better... but I cannot yet bring myself to get rid of my old one, at least not just yet anyway! It does smell rather badly anymore though... so I do think that I must have to bury it soon, in the cemetery of the incarnations, where all of the previous hosts of the Mother are yet interred.” and I understood well what she was at that point. An ancient soul, reincarnated countless times down through the ages just like I myself was. Though she was no more truly deathless than I was... merely a woman possessed of the full memories of all those whom she had been in lives previous. A woman in whom the old memories still lived and could never die. And in that way, we were both indeed quite immortal! Lunara clearly did not understand any of this, at least not like I did, and she looked both puzzled and revolted a the same time. She sat down near the fire, appearing exhausted at last from the events of the whole day. “You came a long way to see me.” she said to me. “A long way... since?” and I answered: “Hyperborea. A long way since that old fallen empire.” and I felt as if I were spellbound in some sort of a trance. The woman's eyes were a bright shade of green, not the blue that I had expected they would be. “You too remember the old empire, then!” Mother Yaga exclaimed, a look of elation upon her face. “Tell me what you do remember of her.” she asked, and I told her all that I could recall based upon my memories of my past life there in bygone times. “Your sign was seen in the heavens above Hyperborea, not long before the old empire was locked into eternal winter. When the arctic ice came and never left, and the people set forth to find new homes... some going underground, to reaches where no human eye has ever gazed. It was in the shape of a skull, some said, but on that night I beheld only a comet and nothing more. The skull was your sign back then, and so the people turned against you and said that your worship of the Black God brought disaster upon the land. But it was not true! The superstitions of the ancient Hyperboreans blinded them to the truth of our god, who was but the dark twin to the light one. Both halves of the same whole! They were blind to their own pathetic arrogance, and in the end their arrogance could not save them when the climate changed and sealed their doom. Their science did not see it coming, but my second sight did. I tried to warn them, but my warnings fell upon deaf ears and hardened hearts. A cold winter came, and the wise fled from its' embrace! Just as I did, and just as you did. Oh I remember you well! We were siblings, you and I, after all. We still are, though not of the same parents born. Rather, we are siblings in spirit! Both deathless, both defying time and rising again from our own ashes like the great fire birds of old lore. You have come home, in finding me! And I am reminded of the home that we both lost to fate so long, long ago. What do you want from me, sibling?”
She no longer sounded insane in her voice, but instead pleasant, and a great change seemed to come upon the young woman who called herself Mother Yaga. I knew this woman... I had always known her, and just never realized what that fully entailed until that precise moment. What did I want from her? Such a simple question, and yet complicated beyond all reason. We had been secret, forbidden lovers once, in the days of Hyperborea. No one knew, save we two. In the woman's face, I could see that part of her remembered what I did... there was this instant familiarity between us, even though in that life, and at that time, we had never met before. I found myself smiling when gazing into her eyes, and she blushed to notice my smile, while awaiting my reply to her question. It was only seconds, minutes at very longest, and yet it felt like an eternity to me. Memories came flooding back, along with the scent of red roses and how much this woman had loved them once. We had walked in gardens in the fallen empire, beautiful flower gardens nestled in ancient ruined temples and we had whispered our secrets to each other when no one else would listen. When we could trust no one else. This woman, I realized, would never harm me, never seek to deceive me, and never seek to take my life. She knew the secret of the stone within my locket, and why I carried it. I had a similar object in ancient Hyperborea, a vastly small part of something far larger and infinitely more powerful. The great Black God still dwelt within me... I could feel him sometimes, for we were one. No matter the passing of countless centuries! And I knew the divinity that existed within Mother Yaga. The true nature of our yin and yang relationship, and why we were siblings eternal. I nearly slipped and went to call her “beloved” but I corrected myself and pondered what to actually say. What did I want? I did not know, really. I had been searching for something my whole life, and I never found it. Now that I could perhaps discover the meaning of it all, I did not know how to say it. “Mother Yaga...” I began as I struggled to articulate things clearly. “It has been, indeed, a long time since last I stood in your presence. But something within me does not feel as if it were that long actually. It is like remembering suddenly something that occurred just the other day when one was out and about. I know you better than I should have realized, and I feel naked before you in many ways, for various reasons. I feel comfortable before you, yet at the same time I feel nervous for I do not know how to ask certain questions or state in a meaningful way what my heart truly desires. For years now, I have known a burning desire for knowledge, for wisdom, perhaps also for power but not as kings or queens understand it. Subtle power is my preference. But this... this is not what I truly want after all, such power. I have had it, held it, tasted it often. And it has left me... changed. But not always for the better. I would never cast it away... but, neither do I feel that I should seek more of the same. What I want... is difficult even for me to understand. Please realize... I did not come here to just waste your time, great lady. But rather... I was drawn here by an impulse I do not fathom entirely the meaning of. I suspect you understand my meaning, even if my words seem strange with what I find myself saying in your presence. I feel as if I walk in some other world here, and that I do not know the rules that govern things here. In my own domain, strangers often feel similarly, and I know that well.”
I was stunned by this sudden series of revelations that confirmed things I had known all my life but did not have proof for. I could not find the right words. Lunara could only stare... and she began to chant reverently, losing herself in her prayers to Mother Yaga. The young Yaga herself was amused by Lunara's display of faith and dedication, but she remained focused solely on me as we spoke. “Well? What can I do for you!” she offered. I said, slowly: “I seek... meaning in my life. Not senseless battles and empty victories. Not ceaseless studies of long-dead things or hours spent in the wilds seeking... I know not what. I seek the meaning to my endless existence. For endless it feels! Tell me, wise one... great Mother Yaga... what is the reason for it all.” and the tall woman appeared shocked at this. She said in a rather matter-of-fact manner: “Life only has meaning, when you have what you desire the most out of it. But, sometimes... in desiring something far too intensely, you can lose the path to ever finding it.” and she saw that I was puzzled by this. Then, she reached out and touched the egg amulet I wore around my neck. “This object... contains vast power. And meaning, to you. Great personal meaning!” I nodded in agreement. “It does, lady. It harks far, far back to something similar I encountered in ancient Hyperborea. A black stone in which...” and Mother Yaga finished my sentence for me: “In which you could sense a part of your very own spirit... which drew you unto it, calling for you to reunite with it at long last. I know... I too walked nearly the same path as you did. Except, instead of an arcane stone it was something else for me. Something that I carry with me the likeness of still, but of which I find it highly difficult to speak. The girl you travel with... you walked with her before. Back then, in your old flesh. She gave your life meaning, in those days... she might do so again in these.” and Lunara looked up at this, breaking her chanting and praying to smile and blush before looking away sadly. “Go from this place and do not return, sibling. Take the girl, and instead of going back to the Black Moon... bring her back with you to wherever it is that you call home presently. Cherish her as you do that black stone sliver, and let her give your life meaning... through love.” I asked Mother Yaga then: “What gives your life meaning, Mother... have you, ever known love?” and the young Yaga's eyes began to fill with tears as she replied: “Yes, I did... in ancient Hyperborea.” and I asked her who that love had been. She drew close then, her tall frame filling my view as she whispered to me so that only I could hear: “You were that love. You, and none other.” and she kissed me softly upon my lips, her green eyes filling my gaze... so that, for a brief instant, I remembered of what she spoke. My heart felt wrenched, filled with grief. “I... remember.” I whispered back. Yaga concluded: “Then go... and show her the same love you once showed me, before... before our paths were forced to part. Worry not! I will deal with my coven so that they will not be angry with either of you. But you must leave them behind, and never return there. Or here, either!” and we both told Lunara, as best as we could explain things. “So... can we go now?” and we said our farewells to the young goddess Yaga, the latest to carry that ancient deity's spirit. I took Lunara back home with me, and within a year after that we were wed. In the old Pagan ways, as it had been with my previous wives before her. On our wedding night... I cut a small lock of her hair, bound it with cords, and placed it in the egg locket right next to the black needle. As the years went by, I came to cherish it more and more, because that treasure of mine now had become a symbol of everything that gave my life meaning... Lunara herself. Out of all my wives, it had been Lunara that stood at my side as I lay dying, when at last extreme old age took me. I was told, the year of my death... that I had turned eighty-two years on that day. Generations, I had seen! Hardly deathless, I expired in my wife's loving arms. My final words to her were: “It was you alone, that gave my life its' truest meaning. You alone!” The year of my death in that life, had been 1202 A.D. Although at the time of my death, it is highly doubtful that I knew the year. In that life, I had rarely paid much attention to the passing of the years, and often friends, family or others felt obliged to tell me how old I was... when a person sometimes thinks only on life and living, they can forget even the reality of time's passage... until their time is come to pass away. In that life, though, I cherished every moment and strove never to waste a minute.
Back to the day when I brought my egg locket home from Kitezh.... now that the full history between Lunara and I has been told of, it will not be a surprise to learn that she was frightened for me, and quite often. It was late that night, almost towards the hours before dawn, and she and I were up in one of the castle towers, where I had an arcane circle for the purpose of protection during summoning rituals, of the sort in which I would often communicate with the spirits of the dead, as well as things both lighter and darker in nature. The diagram was etched permanently into the floor and filled in with white paint. During an actual ritual, I would trace a circle of salt around the circumference of the diagram and that would serve to protect me from anything that could seek to do me harm from beyond this world. On this occasion, Lunara and I had just completed a simpler rite, that of re-consecrating the egg locket to the Black God. I had once been married, although briefly, to a certain warrior queen... who treated me quite miserably. One of my advisors thought it would be a good idea to strengthen the ties between my people and hers in order to form a lasting alliance that should have benefited us both. I had visited the queen before on several occasions prior to our marriage, at least once in secret. In the course of events, following the wedding, which was a simple private ceremony... the queen at first was glad to keep me company and be a true companion to me in life. This was before I had met Lunara. But things soon had taken a far darker turn! The queen tricked me one day into going with her to visit her ancestral castle... which she had claimed to have not even once visited since early childhood. This was under the pretext of fetching a crystal in the shape of a rose, that the queen swore held the power to grant a single wish. This may sound foolish, but being no stranger to mystical things, I dared not discount even this. When we got there, armed guards in the queen's employ took me down into the castle's dungeons and there they confined me with twelve chains. There I languished for a period of time that I simply could not have had any way of determining the length of. I was barely fed, became dangerously skinny, and was given only enough to keep me alive, but no more than that. One day, a wandering knight named Ivan chanced by the castle... he had once been romantically involved with the wicked queen herself, long before I had known her. She had forbidden him to ever even so much as attempt to enter the chambers in which I was chained. But curiosity got the better of the man, and he did indeed one evening venture into the castle dungeons when the queen was asleep. The guards allowed the man the pass under the deception that he had the queen's permission to check on the state of things in the forbidden chambers. Fearing her displeasure that greatly, they allowed Ivan to pass unhindered, even unlocking the doors to my confinement chambers. He asked me who I was, and I told him... he had never heard of me, and so was unafraid, unlike many men before him I had met over the years. I was in a very pitiable state at the time, so doubtless I barely even looked like my old self. I begged the man to fetch me some water, and he did so. I was beyond thirsty, and found myself nearly draining a whole bucket full before long. That is of course an exaggeration... but the fact is, I felt like I could have easily drained the bucket of water that the man brought to share with me from the well at the end of the outer hallway. I had been tortured, beaten, and mocked by the queen who sought to ransom me back to my people for a large sum of gold. Her greed, apparently, had robbed her wholly of her humanity! I told Ivan of my treatment and plight, and assured him that my people would reward him handsomely should he seek to secure my freedom. He stole away for several hours after promising to so exactly that, and for the longest time I thought he would never return. He came back with the key to my chains and soon I was fully released. The two guards had been knocked out by the knight, and he told me that we had to flee the castle quickly. There was a hidden tunnel the queen had shown him once in passing, and that was the means by which we made our way back to the outside world again. On the way out, we stole into a hidden chamber and there I came into the possession of a legendary sword said to have belonged to an ancient king whose name was lost to history. It would be long before I would be strong enough to wield a blade again, and in the meantime Ivan gave me a dagger and a wooden staff. We approached a crossroads, miles away.
I looked very much like a beggar, my clothing in tatters with only a simple brown cloak to disguise my identity. Ivan told me the right road to take from the crossroads so that I would be able to reach my own lands, and safety, once again. At that very moment, however, a bear emerged from some nearby woods and attacked the knight. I stabbed at the bear with the dagger over and over again as the beast mauled and tore into the knight in a bloody, gory frenzy of tearing flesh and breaking bones. It was a very large animal, but I got lucky and struck its' neck just right enough to do it mortal injury. The awful monster perished, but alas my rescuer was near to death from his terrifying wounds. Out of what was left of his face, his quivering voice issued forth: “Please... kill me... it is a mercy at this point. I would not live long in any case... for I am dying even now... but, surely more such animals could make a meal of me before I fully expire. Kill me, and spare me the horror of being eaten by more such wild beasts!” I did as the knight asked me, and I retrieved the dagger from the bear's corpse. I plunged it deep into the man's throat, and backed away nervously. The ancient sword was belted at my waist, still too heavy for me to lift just yet... and now, I had only my wooden staff to protect me upon the road home. Ivan died spitting out and gagging on his own blood, unable even to scream. Weeks later, long after I had gotten back to my people and our lands... the queen made open war against us, sending a second knight, this one an assassin, to seek my life. While my army met the queen's on the field of battle, I engaged in a duel with the knight. He was the very spitting image of Ivan... and claimed to be the man's twin brother. Apparently, the queen had discovered Ivan's corpse at the crossroads and lied to his twin brother, telling him that I had murdered Ivan savagely, like an animal, and in cold blood. I thus tried to tell the man the truth, about the awful bear attack and all that transpired afterward. I showed him how weak my body was even now, and how I was barely even able to hold the ancient sword which had been the weapon I chose to use on this occasion. I had a bit of my old strength back, but still I was but a shell of my old strength prior to my imprisonment at the queen's hands. The man refused to believe me, and we fought bitterly. I defended myself against his attacks but weakened as I was at the time I was no match for him. He struck me in the chest with his blade, missing my heart thankfully but wounding me badly. It had been close enough, though, that the knight thought he had indeed struck my heart and finished me after all. Some of my soldiers came forth and bore me away as I clutched at my wound, attempting to stop the heavy bleeding. As a ruse, I had my people declare me dead... and the knight was satisfied that he had avenged his brother's death indeed. As “proof” of my demise... both my blood-soaked garments and the ancient sword were presented to the queen during a temporary truce called for this very purpose. She took those offered items, accepted that I was indeed slain, and called off the war. She went back to her home lands and never again plotted against me. Fortuitously, my faked death made my marriage to the queen null and void, and my healers were able to tend to my wound expertly. I would, in time, make a full recovery and even regain my old strength, and a healthy weight, once more. But never again after that, did I trust even the suggestion of arranged marriages to complete strangers. It could be dangerous!
On the late night in which Lunara and I re-consecrated the egg locket, she had noticed a certain old crown that I kept near the altar place. “However did you come by that, my love?” she asked of me, and I told her how it was sent to my people by the evil queen as compensation for my “death” at the hands of Ivan's twin brother. It had been hers, and I kept it solely as a reminder of how close I came to dying on that occasion... and as a reminder that sometimes the only way to resolve a conflict was through a cunning deception rather than through force of arms. “We are all mortal, after all.” I explained. And my wife smiled, laughed, and jested: “Are you truly mortal, my lord? I'll bet you'll live forever, and when the Mother of Death comes for you, you will find a way to trick her too, in order to keep living at my side!” But there is no tricking or cheating the Mother of Death. In time, she would indeed come for me at long last, as I mentioned previously. But on the eve of the re-consecration, I felt more alive than ever.
It was not uncommon among the most ancient traditions of the old Slavic lands for people to believe in reincarnation. What was much more uncommon, was for a reincarnated soul to remember all of its' previous selves and each of its' preceding incarnations. Mother Yaga had remembered all of hers, and I remembered all of mine, even back then. Our memories returned to us in visions and dreams, and they would never be gone from us no matter how we might try to forget them. Such as we, were considered deathless not because we were immortal in body, but because we were immortal in soul and spirit. To us, bodies are naught but raiment, like the clothing one puts on, then removes when it is time to change one's attire. That is the truth behind the legend of the deathless, for one whose own spirit emanates from the Divine Source, the force of all that is, the very life-force of this universe and all others... and which remembers this, and remembers all that it has been through and witnessed throughout its' journey in lifetime after lifetime... that is far more rare than the soul that reincarnates and remembers nothing at all of any of its' previous incarnations. My blessing and curse is to always remember and never forget. In that, Mother Yaga and I are indeed siblings! As we are kin to all who remember as we do. When death is a doorway and life is a journey... it is not uncommon for the journey to proceed through infinite doors as time goes on forever. Such is the true esoteric nature of existence! But only beings such as we, can comprehend and understand it as it actually is. It is the failing of science, that it cannot leap beyond its' rigid rules and all too human constructions of thought, to behold the arcane wonders that lie beyond.
People today remember the old tales of Baba Yaga and Koschei the Deathless, but they cannot know the truths of them... the truths about we who inspired those stories. Yet... there are currents of truth, of ancient wisdom and secret knowledge, that run deep through the rivers of time, across even the vastest of distances, and such currents reach into the hearts of whomever they may. Within my memories, I see the past as it once was... not as people imagine it to have been. And when I read the romanticized tales and legends of the bygone days, I find only a small amount of amusement, as well as a certain degree of sadness, that so much has been lost to time. Somewhere out there, the reincarnation of Mother Yaga, in her current form... whoever or whatever that may be... is likely thinking and feeling much the same as I. The mists showed me much before I awoke, and the old memories remain as strong as ever within me. All my life, I have had a certain love for egg-shaped works of art... and it harks back to the locket I once wore around my neck so very long ago, in what is now a previous incarnation of mine. For sometimes, even the most simple of things in our lives carry more ancient meanings... even when we do not know the reason why. This is the symmetry of karma, fate, and the turnings of the wheels of cosmic things! They say that the lost city of Kitezh is a place of powerful magic, of ancient truths, of lost knowledge and wisdom. Last night, I dreamed of lost Kitezh and saw revealed the course of a life I once lived... and what it was that gave such a life its' truest meaning. You will not discover the details I wrote of in any history books... for history has been distorted with time, until the various players in ancient games have had even their very roles changed. Only I know the things of which I have herein written! And far more, than I could write in so short a space. A single lifetime, whether it be a long one or a short one... is filled with more than one could describe with simple words alone. How could I ever even hope to capture every hope, every dream, every fear and every love and loss with but writing of them... when once, I lived them! And yet, I have chosen to share this single series of smaller memories, this smallest snippet from a single bygone life I once lived... because in this way, I can say fully with my own voice what actually happened regarding me in those times. The exaggerations of the old stories give way to the light of truth, and my heart is made less burdened by the sharing of these ancient memories, which are eternal and can never perish. Therein, lies great wisdom and there are moments in which... from my conversations with Mother Yaga of old... I get the impression that she would approve. I would meet her again over the course of later lifetimes, of later incarnations. Always, in the woods... when I felt lost.
A dream of Kitezh is no small thing... for within its' halls great things are always revealed. That once my feet walked therein, that once my eyes beheld its' wonders... pales before the realization that even this was but one moment from a long life lived fully. Not always well, perhaps... but definitely fully! This past winter, I often found myself remembering winters past, from many lives... and it is strange to note that no matter where you are in the world, no matter how much time passes, the snow always feels the same. The icicles that form on a cold day... they might as well be the very same icicles that I once saw when I looked out from the windows of my castle, the fortress I spoke of in these memories I just shared with you, dear reader. Sometimes I miss the old hearth, but am glad that the old warlike times are in the past. How many times in this present life, I set forth on long journeys in search of meaning! It feels sometimes like these are the same legs that once walked all the way to Kitezh and back again. For the old weariness sometimes comes upon me, when I least expect it to. I will hear a solitary owl at night and it makes me think of those forbidden woods wherein I met with Mother Yaga on that one autumn so long ago. And the Black God is never far from my heart... for like his light counterpart he is a part of us all. All that exists, consists of equal parts light and darkness, after all! I look upon the whole of this modern world we live in today... and sometimes I wonder if it will fare better than Hyperborea did in the end. Or if mankind's arrogance will be its' undoing! Of all the lessons I learned from Mother Yaga in her hut, in that bygone age... the most profound perhaps is the revelation that all things come full circle in the end. Souls who met before, are destined to meet again... and certain moments are simply reflections of an eternal now that is in fact timeless. In that timelessness, the old fairy tales have their life... for therein, I am truly deathless. Therein, the old magic exists eternal! And therein, lies power, knowledge and wisdom without end. We have but to seek it as might a child, to know its' true wonder! Is it strange, to hear one whose soul and spirit are as old as time speaking of approaching something in a manner akin to a child? It is not so strange as all that... for magic and wonder are needed, to have a full and true understanding of the sorts of deep occult truths that I have been privy to down through the ages. One need not be eternally young, to appreciate a youthful outlook... and in a universe filled with innumerable forms of magic, mystery, and grandeur, a sense of wonderment is always a good thing to possess. To some, I am a being of legend, of myth, of old folklore and fairy tales... but the faerie were never truly a myth at all, and even the most esoteric of legends began with a truth at its' original core.
Oddly, this dream occurred again exactly eight days following its' very first occurrence. Something wanted me to be very certain that I would never forget these memories, and so I felt compelled to write them down. Which is how these writings came, by my hand, to be. I suspect perhaps my great sibling had something to do with it... for wherever she is in the universe, she would wish for me to know all that I must know regarding myself. The good and the evil, the light and the dark alike. All who sought her down through the ages, were changed by that meeting... she changed me as well, long, long ago in the bygone empire of Hyperborea. Such is the way of magic, that sometimes it seeks us even as we in turn seek it out. The older the magic, the more powerful is its' ability to draw unto it those capable of comprehending its' mysteries! What I found of old, I found again even in these modern ages in which I live today. In my dream of Kitezh, I discovered far, far more than simply the memories of a lost city. I found a lost part of myself as well! An old legend states that the city of Kitezh never ceased to exist... that is is just invisible to physical sight, making itself known only to those deemed worthy to enter into it, to learn great and ancient truths within its' grand halls. I am honored, that the gods deemed me to be worthy of receiving these dreams, in which these old memories awoke within me once more. In writing of all this, I can take those who read these words on my journey at my side. I can show them Kitezh and Buyan as they once were, and upon those otherworldly travels pass along the ancient knowledge and wisdom so that it should not ever be lost to time. This too, after all, is but another form of immortality.