After a mere cat’s lick of a wash and a mug of tea, hastily swallowed down, I went to join the others in the courtyard as instructed. I just had time to say farewell to Hiss who gave me a beautiful little carved wooden snake which, he told me, might come in useful one day, if only to remind me of the few days we had spent together.
The Enchantress came to greet us and told us that our guides would be the dolls she was currently handing out to everyone. Her parting words were that we should use the things she gave us when we first set out on this trip and, if we need any help, we should ask the doll. She proceeded to give us further instructions about the doll and informed us that it would be quite a few days before we reached the Camp of the Amazon Queen.
What the **** I thought we were supposed to be returning to the House of Serpents, not gadding off to God knows where, when we’ve only just got here. She’s a hard task mistress is our Enchantress.
My hand wrapped itself comfortably around my bad angel. She fits neatly into the palm of my hand. She’s been carved from some honey-coloured stone. I have no idea how old she is. She is also accompanied by a doll. Perhaps it’s meant to be a symbol of myself holding my doll?
I told her who I am. She smiled and told me that “Traveller” was a good name for me. She introduced herself as Melita and the doll as Comino. I was tempted to ask her about her doll but decided that it might not do to ask possibly indiscreet questions at this stage. I was so engrossed with our conversation that when I next glanced up, there was no one else in sight. I was completely alone. Now where had they all gone? Gail and I had only just started reminiscing about childhood books and obviously had lots more to chat about and now everyone seemed to have gone off and left me.
Melita touched my arm and reminded me that she was still there. She told me that we would have to go through the woods and ask the old lady who lives by the lake (did she say it was called “Crypt Lake”?) the way to the Camp of Amazons. As an afterthought she told me the name of this old lady – Baba Yaga. I nearly fainted. Without taking any notice of my malaise she continued to regale me about Baba Yaga. I knew a fair amount already but what she added did nothing to reassure me. Baba Yaga’s house – a hut on chicken’s legs – sounded as if it had been put together by a pantomime stage set designer high on magic mushrooms. He wasn’t the only one I thought grimly as snatches of Mussorsgky’s music entitled “the hut on legs” from the Pictures at an Exhibition suite floated through my mind. Very disturbing pictures they were too, if I remembered right. I was not at all reassured.
I assumed that, yet again, we had little choice in the matter and the Enchantress obviously knew what she was doing (?). I checked the contents of my bag again and found a visiting card with an internet address on it for Baba Yaga. I would have a look at that website next time I came across a computer to see if it would provide any clues as to what I was letting myself in for.
I headed down the mountain, past Heather’s bridge and the old mill, with its wheel turning with a splash of water. Out past the gypsy camp, so full of life the previous night but now silent. A dog barked in the distance.
The first part of the route was easy going over level pastureland dotted with summer flowers reminiscent of the high Swiss Alpine pastures and I walked knee deep in perfumed waves. Bees buzzed in the sunshine. As we walked Melita filled me in on some of the more unpleasant facts she knew about Baba Yaga. It soon became apparent that they knew each other quite well although Melita refrained from telling me how they had first become acquainted.
From time to time we stopped to refresh ourselves at streams as we came across them and nibbled some of the fresh rolls cook had put in a red spotted handkerchief for me to bring on the journey. I would miss her tasty offerings.
I hadn’t taken much notice of our surroundings until I realised that we had been slowly climbing and were now approaching the edge of the plateau. I looked down and saw below me a bright green lake with steam rising from the surface. It looked an idyllic spot but Melita turned me away saying, “that is not the lake of our destination, that is the lake of lies. Its beauty hides poison in its depths. Anyone who seeks to quench their thirst in it will perish”.
“This is Crypt Lake” said Melita and indeed I had never seen such a beautiful but desolate place and a cold wind nipped suddenly at my ears. As we walked along the valley floor we came across a noticeboard stuck in the stones with
written on it. Trespassers will what, I wondered, looking more closely to see if I had missed something. And I had. Down in the bottom right hand corner were three letters PTO. “Please turn over”. I walked round to the other side of the notice and the message now made much more sense
Tick where applicable.
I took out my pen with the everlasting ink and marked a large cross next to the first option. It was just possible that someone was playing mind games and “grilled” didn’t necessarily have any culinary connotations.
“Well done” said Melita, nodding approvingly. “We’ve no time to waste now, we must get to Baba Yaga’s cottage before nightfall or else it will be the wolves making a meal of us”. She started to walk so fast that I had difficulty keeping up with her. As we rounded the bend in front of us, the sight before our eyes was so incongruous that I came to an abrupt standstill. There on a patch of beautiful greensward – totally at odds with its surroundings – was a fence made of bones with skulls perched atop. But it was the cottage that really took my breath away. No ordinary cottage this for it seemed to have legs. As we approached, the legs stood up and the cottage waved somewhat shakily in the air as it leaned towards us, as if it was trying to get a better look at us. “It knows we’re here” said Melita, rather stating the obvious. “Now just remember what I told you about the food”.
We went through the little gate and I tried to make myself as thin as possible to keep out of range of the sharp teeth that formed the gate posts. I didn’t fancy being someone else’s meal. A rope ladder was let down from the front door of the cottage, now high above my head. “It’s alright, up you go” said my companion, “but just to make sure, I’ll go up first and give you the all clear”. So saying, she climbed the ladder with, what I thought, remarkable agility for a stone carving. Inside the cottage, the floor sloped dangerously and someone was desperately trying to prevent the crockery from cascading off the table. “Down” said a stern voice, and immediately the cottage began to descend slowly and somewhat unevenly as the legs folded themselves up again, hitting the ground with a slight bump.
“Greetings Melita, I see you have a traveller with you” said the owner of the stern voice. She was old, “as old as the hills” one might be tempted to say, for the wrinkles of her face had formed a most dramatic landscape in which her eyes were the merest twinkles of light in the shadows on a river at the bottom of a valley. Her nose was a jagged escarpment and her mouth a cavernous crater. Her hair resembled a hedge with an assortment of wild plants twining through it. Old man’s beard held sway amongst the hop vines and berries of red bryony adorned her ears. Her clothes were made of leaves bound together with grasses and on her feet she wore the husks from a horse chestnut tree, once summer green but now autumn hardened. “The spikes help keep me feet dry” she explained as if I had asked the question.
“But I haven’t introduced myself yet,” she said. “I am Baba Yaga and you are ?” “My name is Traveller and and thus I do” I replied. “Well, “ she said, “you must be a little hungry by now. What was on the menu tonight? Let me see, grilled, pickled or roasted. Which is to be?” “Grilled” I replied hurriedly, hoping I had guessed right. ”Oh, so you want to be grilled do you, my fine friend. In that case, who are you really and who sent you here?” she shot her questions out like machine gunfire. ”I really am a traveller” I started, beginning to think a bit more about who and what I was. “When I first joined the Lemurian Abbey I was travelling in search of something although I wasn’t quite sure what it was I was looking for and since I was doing a lot of travelling at the time, the name stuck in preference to my other world name. I’m still travelling but of late, it has been more in my imagination. I started out with a group of people, most of whom I have still to meet as we keep getting separated, but that’s another story. We are on our way to the camp of the Amazon Queen and I’m told that you can perhaps point me in the right direction”.
A long silence ensued while she digested my reply. “If I tell you how to get to the camp of the Amazon Queen, in return, will you do something for me?” she asked. “Somebody has mixed earth into my poppy seeds and I haven´t the time to sort them out for myself. Perhaps you could do that for me?” Before I had a chance to reply, she continued “just go back down the ladder and you’ll find them in a basket at the bottom of the steps. You can throw the earth away of course, but please put the seeds into this handkerchief”.
I climbed down the steps and Melita came with me. “How on earth am I supposed to do this?” I asked. “Oh, that´s easy,” she replied. “The ants will do that for you. All you have to do is ask them to help you.” We set off to explore the garden to see if we could find any ants and finally found some busying themselves in a clump of poppies in the corner of the garden. “Go on, don’t be afraid” encouraged Melita.
“Ahem” I started. “My name is Traveller and Baba Yaga has told me that I must separate the earth from her poppy seeds before she will tell me the way to the Camp of the Amazon Queen and I was wondering if you could help”. Big intake of breath as I had uttered this request without taking one. Ant Number Two (ANT) looked up at me. “What will you give us in return?” Oh help, I thought, now I’m really stuck. But again Melita gave me the answer. Tell them you will give them the rest of the rolls Cook gave you. That should be sufficient. Ant Number Two decided that this was acceptable. “Bring the handkerchief and the basket over here, tip the contents of the basket on to the handkerchief and we will do the rest for you”. I did as instructed and watched in amazement as hundreds of ants swarmed out from under the poppy plants and began to carry away the earth leaving just the tiny black seeds on the handkerchief. In no time at all there was not a speck of dirt remaining. I broke the rolls into tiny pieces and laid them on the ground for the ants to carry away to their lair and triumphantly carried the handkerchief of seeds back up the ladder where I restored them to their owner.
“Thank you, Traveller, that was well done”, said Baba Yaga warmly. “Now I can get on with preparing for the next planting”. “It has to be done when the moon is right, you see, and that is tomorrow. I’m so glad you came along”.
by Carol Abel