The green world dies unto itself. The leaves turn russet and gold, red and deep brown. There’s a mist in the mornings now, wafting over the land like spirits of the dead. Things are a bit more silent, a bit more still. The horse knows the cold is coming and is slower in the mornings, less eager to go abroad.
I’ve waited for the harvest to pass, waited to see Yasna again. We let these people settle their own affairs, but I was anxious to hear if anything is yet known. I see her one day, on the road in early morning. I’ve asked around and know she is their healer. She is in a hurry, chin held high, thinly dressed despite the cold.
I emerge from the woods and maneuver my horse in front of her.
‘Step aside, Yakshah. I have a woman in childbirth to see to,’ she says.
‘I’ll step aside Yasna, but tell me what is known among your people.’
‘Yaroslav is still asking questions. But he does not suspect Vladimir any longer, nor that there was such a one as you. His wife now believes the Rusalke dragged Vesna into the water. A virgin bride, to live among them.’
‘The wicked one has not spoken?’
She shakes her head no.
‘And how goes it with you?’
She seems surprised that I have asked. ‘Everything is the same as it was and always will be,’ she replies, walking past me.
I’ll keep my eye out for her just the same.
The truth must be told and justice be done. Yasna is my friend but she cannot be spared, for she has done wrong. I have certainty now, though I did not want to accept it. I take my proof and walk to Yaroslav’s compound, through the large timber gates, and the courtyard, where his pigs bask in the mud and sun, and chickens peck at the ground for grain.
‘I’m here to see Yaroslav,’ I tell his son Kreshimir, a towheaded, chinless youth, who gazes at me, slack jawed, wondering what business I could have.
‘Go on, then,’ I say, and he enters Yaroslav’s fine house that is large and airy, and roofed with thatch and girdled with mortar that is white washed. Clouds gather overhead, thickly. Soon the cold will be coming.
Kreshimir signals me to come in. Yaroslav is waiting, tall and broad as an oak. He plants his legs in front of me, waiting.
I take the doll out of my pocket, and he stares at it grimly.
‘Where did you find this?’ he asks, looking at the doll which is so like Vesna.
‘Only one person has the skill to make a doll like that. I found it in her house.’ I say. A dark shadow passes over his face. He has seen Yasna’s work before. She fashions our effigies.
‘And you her loyal friend,’ he says.
‘Justice comes before loyalty,’ I say.
He has a hard look. ‘Get out,’ he says. But he keeps the doll.