Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In a Hut on Bird Legs - Baba Yaga

She comes in a clamor – clap of thunder, flash of lightning, howling wind – and all peace is at an end. Stepping forth from another world on spindly bird's legs, a house appears in the tumult at the edge of a great forest. Animals flee, flowers wilt, grass blackens, trees lean away as if to escape, even the land itself groans and shudders. The house settles, tucking its legs beneath it. It's a shabby, run-down, moss covered hovel of stone and sod with blank, leering windows and a rotten door half ajar. Dirt clotted bones of long-dead men and animals rise from the ground to form a ghastly fence about the house, with a gate thrown wide in welcome. Baba Yaga has come to her people once again.

The stories of Baba Yaga – The Old Grandmother, The Forest Witch, The Hag of the Wood – are as old as Steppengrad itself. For countless generations, the men and women of the region have spun tales of a powerful, capricious Witch who wandered the great forests of their lands in a magical hut that walked on bird's legs. Not wholly good and not wholly evil, she can be cruel or kind, giving or selfish, depending upon her whim. She is a harbinger of doom, a much sought after seer, and a master manipulator of both men and beasts. Legends say she wanders the forests corrupting the good, granting crooked wishes, and providing dangerous aid and advice to the desperate and needy.

Those who have had the misfortune to see her, both peasants and lords alike, describe an ancient, stoop-shouldered, emaciated hag with a haughty and knowing demeanor and a cruel look in her pale eyes. She wears a patched, stained dress and a frayed shawl of no particular color. Her long, straggling, steel-colored hair is kept in place by a tattered headscarf embroidered with mystical signs, and she carries a crooked fir branch as a walking stick. Every child knew her as a creature that would climb in their window and snatch them away from their parents if they misbehaved, and while most adults laughed at the old stories, not one failed to make the sign to ward off the evil eye when entering even the smallest copse of trees or to leave small offerings to her at forest shrines or at travelers' way stations. The laughing and half-hearted offerings stopped when the Witches appeared to conquer Morden, however. Baba Yaga was real the people said. Many had seen her and stood against her forces. She had come from over the mountain in her walking hut at the head of an army of unstoppable monsters and dark days were upon Steppengrad once again.

The origins of the Witch known as Baba Yaga are incredibly obscure, even more so than those of the other Witches. Her original name lost to time, she came over the mountains with her sisters in the Grand Coven to lay waste to the lands of Morden. One of the few Witches to remain after the destruction of the Great Coven and the rout of its forces, she and her remaining banes settled in the bleak, cold, heavily forested lands of Steppengrad. There she brooded, licked her wounds, and planned her next steps. It was here in this land of dour, fatalistic people, dark fir forests, and long memories, as she vacillated between rage and deep melancholy, that she discovered the ancient stories of Baba Yaga. She saw much of herself in the Old Grandmother's scheming, selfishness, and moral ambiguity. As she studied the legends more, she set upon a plan that would give her ultimate power over Steppengrad and, she hoped, over all of Morden itself – she would become Baba Yaga. She would become the legendary witch of the forests, and by exploiting fear, superstition, and mortal weakness, she would rule all of Steppengrad.

Her plan worked incredibly well, and Baba Yaga was made flesh once again. Today Baba Yaga stalks the steppes and forests of Steppengrad corrupting the pure, manipulating the weak, and gathering her power. Like the legend, she wanders the land in a house that walks on bird's legs, going where she pleases, even between this world and others. Her house is her palace, her home, her dungeon, and it is the seat of all of her power. It is said that any door in Steppengrad has a chance to open into Baba Yaga's hut, and those few unfortunates who have entered and survived describe a huge, constantly changing maze full of terror, madness, and nightmares. At the center of the maze sits Baba Yaga herself, in a rocking chair next to a roaring fire in a hearth made of bones, waiting and cackling to herself. Her powerful magics have infused the vastness of Steppengrad to the point where any whisper of her name, any bitter curse laid upon another, or any half-formed wish brings her attention. She has taken on all the trappings of the legendary Witch, taken her form and her manners. She rules with an iron fist, her banes and assorted minions policing the land, keeping the once-proud peoples of Steppengrad subjugated through intimidation and brute force.  


  1. I really like the assuming the mantle of the legend. That's awesome.