Koldunya was not a woman to be trifled with. She was a deadly as she was beautiful. Though the folks of the town knew that she was treacherous and wicked, their fear of her outweighed their desire to run her off. So she remained, relatively near a small town named Odenwald and busied herself with whatever manner of witchcraft she desired without the interference of the timid townsfolk. While they preferred to stay clear of her always, in this instance, they lacked options unfortunately.
The town hero, Langford, died of plague the year prior, and the only other viable option was a man named, Granger, but he had taken to drinking so much that he was hardly awake long enough to get drunk again, let alone deal with a threat to the town. So, after much deliberation, the folks of Odenwald decided they would ask Koldunya to look into a threat for them. There was some concern that engaging the witch might be more dangerous than facing the savage dire bear that was attacking farms, but they decided it was worth the risk.
It was agreed that three of the men, led by a man named Kreg would approach her. Their wives were not happy about it in the least as Koldunya had a reputation for enchanting and ultimately destroying men, but the witch almost never responded to women so that was not an option. The three men crept carefully towards the witch’s cabin hidden in the dark trees beyond the town.
The cabin was small and one would easily walk past it if you were unaware of its location as it was covered in moss and overgrown bushes, almost as if it were concealed by enchantment in the first place. In reality it was a combination of magic and neglect as the Koldunya did not maintain her own home but instead relied on men she lured to make necessary improvements. It apparently had been a long while since she managed to snare a victim to perform labor for her.
It was still and quiet as the three men approached. They looked from one to the other for some sense of encouragement but each was as afraid and concerned as the others. The edged forward slowly and with great care as if they might have stepped wrongly and triggered some calamity.
Feeling close enough, the trio halted and the accompanying pair looked to Kreg and gestured at the cottage. Kreg swallowed hard and cleared his throat.
“Um, excuse me, Miss Koldunya? May we have a word with you?” Kreg stammered. There was no answer and no sound. He tried once more, “Hello? Miss? Are you there? We need a word with you?”
“Go away!” Came a screech from inside.
The men stepped back, but then Kreg inched forward with the tiny amount of courage he managed to muster, “But Miss Koldunya, we are in need of your help.”
There was a long silence. The door to Koldunya’s cabin opened slowly and she was standing there posing against the frame with a long flowing dress cascading down her small frame and her dark hair circling her round face with dark eyes staring out at the men.
“You came here to seek my help?” Koldunya began. “What are you offering me in return?”
“Offering?” Kreg stammered transfixed by the enchanting creature before him.
Rage rose up in the witch’s throat but she pushed it back down, “Yes,” she continued, “If you are here to ask something of me, what is it that you are offering for my help?”
Kreg looked to his companions for guidance but found none, “But, don’t you want to know what we need help with first?”
“Not at all, I’m far more interested in what you’re going to give me before I even consider your request.”
“Well, we didn’t bring anything. I’m not sure what we could offer you.”
This time the rage in Koldunya’s spirit burst from her body and she quickly looked more like a wild wind than a fair maid, “You thought you could come here and just demand I do something for you without anything in return? Get away from here before I curse you for all eternity!” She turned and slammed the door, somehow shaking the very ground the men stood on from her cottage.
“But Koldunya? We are desperate and we need your help. We have no other options. Please, we can arrange something.”
Behind the door, the witch stood with her back to the men resting for a moment and allowing her elaborate ploy to work. It was almost too easy for her. She smiled, then slowly opened the door once more and appeared much returned to her more peaceful self.
“Very well, since it sounds as though only I am able to resolve whatever the nature of this problem is, I require that the three of you do some work for me in return.”
The men looked to each other with blank faces and a hint of fear in their eyes. “What sort of work?” Kreg inquired.
Koldunya threw her hair back and shook her head from side to side like the main of a majestic horse, “Well my cottage needs repairs and my garden needs tending to and I can think of a few more things that I need done around here that you can help me with once we’re through. Does that sounds agreeable?”
“Kreg,” whispered one of the other men, “this seems like a trap, and I don’t think our wives would appreciate this in the least.”
“What choice do we have?” Kreg whispered in return. “Very well,” he answered the witch. “We will do some work around your cottage if you will save us from a bear.”
“A bear?” Koldunya spat. “That’s what you came over here for? To ask me to get rid of a bear?”
“But what did the bear do to you?”
“Well it has killed many of our livestock and then yesterday killed a child.”
“Perhaps the child should not have crossed the bear.”
Kreg swallowed hard. “Well regardless, the bear is creating a lot of fear in the town and we are not sure we can kill it. We thought perhaps you could do so.”
Koldunya considered the quest for a moment. Her eyes were narrow as she stared at the men. “Fine, but you three need to come with me.”
The men wanted to protest, but before they could find the words she cut them off, “It isn’t a request, if you want me to get rid of this bear, you’re going to come with me. How dare three strong men demand a woman kill a bear for them and not be willing to go as well. Perhaps this is waste of my time then.”
“No!” Kreg shouted, “We will come with you. Just let us go get equipment first.”
“No need for that. See that chest over there?” the witch pointed to a well concealed mound at the edge of her yard. “There’s plenty of equipment in there. Go take what you need.”
Alarms were ringing in the hearts of the men, yet the orders from the Koldunya seemed irresistible. Something in the manner in which she spoke made it very difficult to avoid obeying. The witch ducked back into her home in a flash and the men were left looking around for some sense of direction. With the lack of any leadership from among them, they followed the witch’s orders and looked to the strange chest in the brush by her home.
The chest appeared to have been there for some time but was fashioned from hardened wood and reinforced with metal so it was resisting the elements well enough; although it had grown some moss on it and was faded a bit. It opened easily enough and the men began to sort through the contents.
There was a myriad of weapons and armor inside. There were a few swords as well as some battle axes and even a mace hidden inside. The men each selected a sword and even found scabbards to attach the weapons to their waists. They also found two tunics of hardened leather and one chainmail shirt. Kreg pulled on the shirt while the other two protected themselves with the leather tunics. There were also several bucklers in the chest and the men each strapped one to their arms.
Feeling oddly prepared after arming themselves, one of the men still expressed the thought each of them had, “Are we really going to work with this witch to kill the bear?”
Kreg searched for a profound thought but none came to him, “Do you have a better idea?” Both men merely shrugged their shoulders and then gripped their sword, apparently ready for battle.
They waited for the witch, assuming she would be as quick as them. She was not. The men stood outside her cabin for a while. They briefly discussed where all the equipment came from and they each agreed it was no doubt from victims of hers which reminded them that they were not in the least bit safe.
Eventually they could wait no longer. Kreg decided to call out to see what was the matter, “Koldunya? Are you ok? We are all waiting.” There was no response. He called again and again there was not an answer.
As Kreg was about to inquire yet again, the door to the witch’s cabin flew open and she stood before them once more as if a storm was blowing from behind her and the men stepped back although they were not even close to her.
“If you do not like waiting for me then feel free to go attack this bear without me!” she shrieked.
The men shook their heads and they planted their feet as though preparing for an attack. “We were worried is all,” Kreg explained.
“Oh were you? Worried about me or worried about yourselves?” the witch riddled. Kreg stood frozen; desperate to find an answer. “Nevermind,” Koldunya interrupted. “I can tell you know you were wrong to question me. Now you’re the one wasting time so lead on already.”
The men snapped from their stupor and jogged towards the suspected cave of the bear that was tormenting the town. Koldunya was dressed very much the same, in a black, flowing dress that reached to the ground and covered her form. She carried with her a sack; the contents of which was a mystery to the men and had a short blade attached to her hip.
The men lead on the journey and said nothing on the way. Koldunya followed behind the group humming to herself though it was not a tune the men recognized. The song was somehow soothing however and the group found that the nagging fear in them regarding the witch and even the bear subsided. They felt good about the quest before them as they marched towards the liar of a massive bear.
It was only about an hour before they reached the hill side suspected of being the home of their nemesis. Indeed, there were large tracks about that lead to a tight and dark opening in the hill which was no doubt where the animal rested.
It was nearly noon and the bear was likely sleeping, typically preferring the search for food in the morning and evening and avoid the high sun. The men stopped and looked back to Koldunya as she reached them.
“What should we do now?” Kreg asked the witch.
“How should I know? This is your quest after all,” the witch answered sharply.
“I thought you said you were going to help?” one of the men pleaded.
“I am helping aren’t I? Didn’t I come all this way after all?” Koldunya spat. The man recoiled and lowered his head as her dark eyes judged him.
A long silence hung over the group. “Fine, I suppose I have to do everything then,” Koldunya sighed. “One of you needs to go in there while the other two wait outside ready. When you find the bear, wake it, even make it angry, then run from the den out to your friends and then the three of you can take it down.”
There was another pause. Finally Kreg asked, “But what will you do?”
“Me? Obviously I will be out here as well.”
The men nodded as if that were enough to satisfy them though they did note that she did not say anything about what she was going to do to assist them in killing the bear. The witch flipped her hair and cursed how warm it was then wandered off just a little ways and sat on a fallen tree which lie near the entrance to the den. She seemed to be muttering to herself but the men couldn’t make out what she was saying.
Instead of worrying about what the witch was doing, they huddled together to try to sort out how to get the bear out of its den. Koldunya was right, they had to get the beast out of the confined space if they were all going to be able to attack it. Besides, they assumed that since Koldunya wanted them to get the bear out from the den, she had some sort of plan for when it was in the open. They looked back to her but she was paying them no mind in the least and was digging through her bag.
It was decided which man was going to venture into the bear’s lair and the other two readied themselves on either side of the opening to the hillside and prepare to attack the bear. The witched seemed to pay no attention to them at all. She had pulled a mirror from her bag and was looking at her reflection and making strange faces.
The men steadied themselves and blessed the one who was heading into the bear’s den then waited.
It took far longer than they anticipated. The man who ventured into the cave found himself stooping pretty low, much of the way and couldn’t see at all, so was fumbling along blind, feeling the walls and moving at a crawl. He was listening for the beast and was trembling so much his senses were nearly worthless. At last he heard deep snoring and figured he was close.
The brave soul looked back and could see the light coming from above. He shouted then began crawling his way as quickly as possible back to the sun. The shaking man moved swiftly; his heart racing and blood pumping. He reached the entrance and burst forth into the open air covered in dirt and fell to the grass before reaching for his sword. He scrambled to his feet and drew his weapon.
All three men braced themselves, ready to pounce on the bear the moment it sprang forth from the hillside.
Long moments passed and there was no bear and no sounds that the bear was coming.
“Did you see it?” Kreg asked.
“No I didn’t see it, I couldn’t see a bloody thing.”
“Well how do you know it was there?”
“I heard it.”
“You heard it?”
“That’s what I said, I heard it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what did you do when you heard it?”
“Well I shouted.”
“Yes, didn’t you hear me?”
“That’s what that was? You shouting ‘hey’ before you crawled up here?”
“And did that wake the bear?”
“How should I know?”
“Because we sent you to wake the bloody bear.”
“Well I couldn’t see it!”
From her perch on the fallen tree, Koldunya laughed high and quick. “You morons. You couldn’t even wake a bear from its nap, how pathetic.”
The man who went in after the beast swung around eyes filled with fire, “What have you done after all? We came to you for help and you haven’t done a thing. Why don’t you go wake the bear if you think you can do better?”
“Oh sweetie,” Koldunya purred, “I’ve already done more than you deserve.”
As the words left her lips, a snarl shook the side of the hill and a gigantic brown bear burst from the hillside flinging dirt in every direction. The creature was by far the largest bear any of the men had ever seen but they did not have time to think about it. The animal rushed directly at the poor soul they sent to wake it. With paws as large as his head, a massive slap from the beast, crashed into the side of his body; breaking his sword arm immediately and cutting through nearly all his ribs. The poor victim flew to the ground unable to make a sound with a lung punctured and his flesh splayed open on one side, he merely gasped for air as his mind tried to come to terms with his fate.
The other two men rushed towards the beast when they realized they were under attack. Koldunya shrieked with joy as she watched with a odd smile on her face.
The bear leaped on the fallen man like a fox on a hare and bit at his face and shoulder. The poor man screamed and tried to protect his face with his buckler-clad arm but was only able to slow the bear’s assault, not stop it. Just as the fatal bite tore the man’s face from his skull, his friends plunged their swords into the bear’s sides.
The huge animal swung to its right, swiping at Kreg but the townsman managed to fall away in time to avoid the sharp claws. The other man pulled his sword and plunged it once more into the beast’s side. The bear roared and it nearly blew the attacker from his feet then spun again and faced him. This time the bear, bleeding from multiple wounds paused and faced its attacker. The simple townsman held his buckler out and his sword back, stuck between his desire to run and his anger at the savage death of his friend.
The bear refused to wait for long, and when his foe didn’t immediately back down and flee, the massive creature lunged at his opponent. A mighty paw swiped at the man who raised his buckler to block the blow, but was still crushed under the weight. His arm broke instantly but the small shield was enough to deflect most of the damage including the claws of the beast but the shield was shattered into splinters.
Kreg leaped onto the bear’s back as the blow landed on his friend’s arm, and he drove his sword into the beast’s thick neck. The animal wailed as it attempted to stand, which threw Kreg onto the ground leaving the sword in his foe. Unarmed, Kreg could only crawl away on his back while he watched the massive bear stand on its hind legs well over twelve feet high and attempt to roar. The sword was stuck in its throat and blood poured from its mouth. After a long moment, the beast crashed to the ground.
“Awww, you killed it,” Koldunya pouted. The two men left alive looked over to her, panting and ears ringing. She was seated like a child might be, swinging her legs.
“No thanks to you,” the wounded man spat, blood trickling from his mouth, arm dangling from his shoulder.
“Me? You would never had succeeded if it were not for me!” Koldunya taunted. She stood on the log then leaped from it, landing softly on the ground. She twirled and then skipped her way to examine the slain man. The living pair dragged themselves over as well, wounded and worn.
“Wow!” exclaimed the witch. “You folks were right. It was pretty big.”
The men looked to one another, then Kreg decided, “I don’t think we should take him back looking like this. We should bury him here. His wife does not need to see him like this.”
“We don’t have to tools,” the other replied.
“We will have to return to town then come back and put him to rest.”
“Wait,” Koldunya interrupted, “Didn’t you agree to do work at my cottage?”
Kreg snorted, “We agreed to do that for your help. You didn’t help.”
“Didn’t help? What on earth do you mean? You would never killed that poor bear without me?”
“Without you?” the wounded man cried. “Without you? What did you do? Nothing! You sat there and watched my friend die! You didn’t do anything!”
Koldunya jumped towards the man and landed at his feet stretching upwards to come within an inch of his face then she screamed, “You would be dead right now if it were not for my help, my leadership, my plan and my spells. You are nothing and I should never had helped you, weakling. You are not worthy of my help but you agreed to work for me so before you go about tending to this mess of a carcass, you better stick to our agreement.”
The force of the screams and the proximity of the witch startled the man. Plus her taunts boiled his blood. He shoved the witch back. She fell to the ground, “Listen to me, witch! You didn’t help us at all. We killed this bear and it killed my friend while you watched so we owe you nothing!” The man spat the blood from his mouth as he turned his back to the witch and stepped towards the massive slain beast.
Koldunya screeched and leaped from the ground and onto the man’s back, burying a dagger into his shoulder. He screamed and threw her from him then turned with his sword drawn, other arm hanging uselessly.
“How dare you! Now you’ll die too and we’ll finally be rid of you witch!” he screamed as he raised his good arm and stepped over the prone woman who simply smiled.
He coughed as foam flooded his mouth. His sight blurred and he stumbled, dropped his sword and clutched his throat. He fell to the ground next to the witch legs kicking and body writhing. It only took a few more seconds before he coughed his last and was still.
Koldunya stood, laughing to herself. She looked over to Kreg, “So then, my roof needs to be repaired; I have some leaks, and I want the garden cleaned up. You can plant some flowers for me. They bloom so brightly when they have human blood to feed them. Ready to get to work?” she smiled with a strangely innocent look.
Kreg’s head spun. He heard her words but they were echoing as if from some plane far from him. He didn’t understand what she was asking him but somehow he knew the answer was yes.
“Yes, Koldunya, I will do as you say.”
“That’s a good boy, as long as you please me, you will be fine. You may even get a reward if you make me really happy, but few have ever been good enough for that. What do you think? Do you think you can make me happy?”
“Yes, Koldunya, I will try.”
“Perfect, let’s go then, I have a lot for you to do,” Koldunya teased. She was already thinking of how far she could push her new pet before it breaks. They should never had bothered her. It’s their own fault, the witch decided.