“What happened then?” Jane waited for Ataneq to continue, but he seemed to be caught up in his memories. Eventually, he shook his head and looked up at her with a wistful smile.
“I took what they could give me - blankets, what food they could spare, a mended spear. As I left, they played the drums and chanted to drive away the evil spirits. I travelled for many days, over tundra and ice alike, always following the setting sun. Before long, I left the familiar places of my youth, continuing on until even the trees changed and the snow melted, until one day people stared at me with curiosity rather than fear. I knew then that I had left the land of my people. Now it was the name of Baba Yaga that terrified them, rather than what I was.”
“Who was she?”
“Was? You mean ‘is’, I think. I’ve not heard of her death yet, though she has lived for hundreds of years. She’s a frightening old woman, weathered and wise. She can be friend or foe, defender or accuser. One does not search for her lightly, and yet, I did. I wonder now at my innocence. Maybe I was too desperate then to be afraid, or maybe I felt I had nothing left to lose. After all, I was feared by my own people, though I was nothing to be afraid of. So I searched for her, asking everyone I could. Most would not answer me, and those who did were increasingly vague. It was like picking out a specific snowflake from a drift of snow.”
Ataneq looked up to see that Jane had fallen asleep by the fire. Tenderly, he picked her up and laid her on the bed, tucking her under the blankets. She stirred.
“Did you ever find her?” she asked sleepily.
Ataneq settled himself by the bed. “Yes, I did. Word of my search soon spread and one day, I found Baba Yaga waiting for me in a snowless clearing.
“Mother, can you help me?’ Ataneq asked, approaching the old woman with caution. He tried to stop himself from staring in awe at the hut that squatted behind her on long, spindly legs.
“Why should I help you, foreigner?” She didn’t lift her eyes from her mortar and pestle.
“Because no one else can, Mother. The shaman of my home has sent me to you.”
“He has, has he? And why does he think that a crone of Rus has power over that which the seas breaks against? Is not the sea more powerful than a mere woman?”
Ataneq shrugged. “I do not know, Mother. But you are my only hope. Can you help me?”
The old woman stared at him with sharp eyes, seeming to see into his soul. “What will you do for me in return?” she finally said.
“I have nothing to offer,” Ataneq stammered. “What do you wish for?”
Baba Yaga shook her head, clicking her tongue. “Come back when you do,” she replied, going into her hut.
He watched despondently as the hut rose on its legs and wandered deeper into the forest.
Checking that Jane had truly fallen asleep, Ataneq curled up by the fireplace, pondering the long-forgotten question.
“What do I have to offer?” he asked the crackling fire. After a hundred years and a million steps, he still did not know.
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In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga (/ˈbɑːbə jəˈɡɑː/) is a supernatural being (or one of a trio of sisters of the same name) who appears as a deformed and/or ferocious-looking woman. Baba Yaga flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and dwells deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs. Baba Yaga may help or hinder those that encounter or seek her out and may play a maternal role and has associations with forest wildlife. According to Vladimir Propp's folktale morphology, Baba Yaga commonly appears as either a donor, villain, or may be altogether ambiguous.
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