Trumps of Winter

42 - Schuka

At the town of the Pike, the bogatyrs plan a barter expedition.

Anfisa moves around the grotto, attempting to track the warband’s movements. Although the main grotto is clearly marked by a battle between two large skirmishing forces, the tracks leading eastward indicate only two or three individuals. She lets the others know that the Ruin’s force has someone clearly well-trained in woodcraft disguising their numbers, and possibly their direction. Vasil Vargavich digests the news, and then asks what the bogatyrs’ next move is. They tell him they’re headed to Schuka, and invite him to come along if he wants. Vasil accepts, admitting that their hunt is the most interesting thing he’s run across all winter.

They travel downstream and recover Gullet from the hollow of the elk carcass. The wolverine is covered in elk blood and vainly trying to make room for more meat. “I hate to waste it,” he grumbles. Mika “offers” to animate the corpse so it can follow it back to the boat, but Gullet instead gnaws off one of its haunches and drags it along.

When they reach the Winged Pike, Captain Ironjoy announces that a messenger bird brought something from Huntmaster Koden. He gives the group a map, marked with a number of possible locations where the Black Chalice might be — largely coven lairs and fallen knight strongholds that are currently unoccupied. Gena studies the map while Anfisa encourages Gullet to wash the blood off in the river and Mika extracts the eyes from her likho heads, then burns the heads for good measure.

The boat casts off and reaches Schuka in good time. The Kosvodd reaches almost to the small town’s walls, and the mild Miskan winter seems a bit colder. Ironjoy recommends that the bogatyrs seek lodging either at the Burning Horseshoe, where the liquor and company is good but apparently the hayloft is cozier than the rooms; or the Apple Tree, which is used to catering to beast patrons, but where it’s best “not to make any sudden moves.” He then departs to take the Huntmaster’s letter of introduction to Boyar Ulgradov.

Vasil also prepares to set off to ask the Kos chieftain Korvosa Fenrovich about the axe, but Anfisa and the others propose coming along. He takes them to the Iron Fang, a drinking establishment built into the same building with a weaponsmith. The Kos already drinking and eating there give the newcomers a fairly chilly reception, but Vasil undauntedly asks the bartender Briskaif Fenrovich is here. She tells him not yet, and upon spying the axe — apparently of Iron Fang manufacture — orders a lone drinker to vacate a table for the new arrivals.

Korvosa Fenrovich, when he arrives, talks with the bogatyrs and gradually becomes increasingly impressed. He tells them that the axe belongs to a family from the northern part of the Kosvodd and promises to return it. He also offers his assistance by way of gratitude. The bogatyrs talk with him over food and drink for some time, learning more about the various lairs and fortresses on Koden’s map.

Once the meeting concludes, the group then heads to the Apple Tree. The inn seems hospitable enough, despite the young owlbear half-dozing before the fireplace. At one point a drinker at another table starts loudly complaining about Gennadiy — Gena recognizes him as another of the troops at the Battle of Belask — and hinting that the bogatyr is a favorite of the Iron Tsar. Gena ignores the soldier until the fellow leaves, then launches into a story for the room that effectively changes the mood.

The next morning they travel to the manor at Wolf Mother Square and meet with Boyar Ulgradov. The ancient, impressively mustachioed boyar has several advisors with him: the ugly but affable sorcerer Holak and his daughter Silya; the elven scout Tiralys Redthorn; Katarinya Snake-Eye, a witch of the free covens; and Korvosa Fenrovich.

Boyar Ulgradov leads the discussion about the Black Chalice, and how it is so damnably hard to locate. The hags’ magic protects it from lesser divination spells. A hag’s-eye amulet could be used in a divination to see something about its location, and those who drank from the chalice seem to be able to sense its direction. With both an amulet and a cooperative Black Chalice knight, one could theoretically locate it exactly. Tiralys suggests that the Ruin’s warband likely has an amulet already, and went after the Skinner Knight to complete the equation.

They study the map and talk more of the potential locations. One possibility is that the Ruin’s band is headed east to the Skinner Knight’s domain of Briarthrone, but it seems a bit of a gamble. The bogatyrs gradually decide that it might be easier to acquire a hag’s eye of their own, and Mika simply does not have the time necessary to enchant one from her recently harvested likho eyes. They settle on traveling west, where they might acquire an amulet for the harpies of Witchfeather Gorge, or failing that, drop by the vodyanoi coven under the lake called Yedza’s Mirror.

With the prospect of simply bartering with the harpies for an amulet, Mika tells the others the sort of things harpies enjoy: portable but useful or intriguing baubles, from jewelry to music boxes. The group decides to go prowl the shops of Schuka for potential bribes. Boyar Ulgradov gives them a writ for five hundred coins, and wishes them luck.

Sadly, the bogatyrs are absolutely terrible at shopping for harpies. Mika realizes she grew up reliant on servants to do her shopping for her, and her years in the wild were focused on necessities and not frivolities. Anfisa, at a total loss, purchases a bag of fresh meat — rationalizing it’s the sort of present she’d appreciate — and in a moment of oversight, leaves it where Gullet can get into it.

All seems lost until Kazimeer has a flash of inspiration. He purchases a number of containers made from the shells of some strange, monstrous eggs, and has local craftsmen put interesting oddments in each — a mirror, perfume, a music box rigged to play when the egg opens. The bogatyrs pack these curios carefully away and make ready to depart.

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