GRANNY ADVENT VS. KRAMPUS:
THE BATTLE FOR MISSING CHILDREN
Original book name: Baka Advent protiv Krampusa: Bitka za nestalu djecu
Author: Aljoša Babić
Translator: Aljosa Babic
Date of publishing; 7.02.2023.
Copyright © Aljoša Babić,2023
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 07.02.2023. Aloša Babić, All right reserved.
The right of Aljosa Babic to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with setio 77 and 78 pf the Copyright, design and Patents Act
1. UNUSUAL BEGINNING OF THE CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION ……………………………………7
2. FACE TO FACE WITH THE MONSTER …………………………………………………………………..13
3. MYSTERIOUS TWEET ………………………………………………………………………………………….18
4. ARRIVAL IN THE NORTH ……………………………………………………………………………………..22
5. STREETS WITHOUT CHILDREN ……………………………………………………………………………..25
6. THE CITY THAT FEARS AGAIN ……………………………………………………………………………..29
7. MIRACLE IN THE SKY …………………………………………………………………………………………..35
8. ON ROUTE…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 41
9. MEETING WITH THE SNOW WHITE …………………………………………………………………….46
10. SETTLEMENT WITH FRIAR BIČ …………………………………………………………………………..52
11. SMALL PLEASANT CONVERSATIONS ON THE EAST-WEST RELATIONSHIP…………. 70
12. A DANGEROUS GAME WITH THE CHRISTMAS SCARECROW ………………………………75
13. OVERNIGHT IN A STRANGE VILLAGE …………………………………………………………………85
14. MERCILESS FIGHT ON THE CLIFF OF DESPERATE GIRLS ……………………………………..94
15. AGAINST THE WITCH AND HER SONG …………………………………………………………….105
16. IN THE CASTLE OF THE BLACK KNIGHT …………………………………………………………….112
17. UNPLEASANT AWAKENING ……………………………………………………………………..122
18. THE BATTLE OF ALL BATTLES …………………………………………………………………………..132
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.
The light of the decorative lights wrapped around the Christmas tree gave the room atmosphere a strange tone. They turned on and off in an alternating rhythm. It was as if they were playing with the darkness that surrounded them. The darkness of the room was also disturbed by the fire from the fireplace, which was located opposite the pine tree. The logs, laid out in the correct form, burned slowly and crackled cheerfully every now and then.
The sound of the train going around the foot of the pine trees for the umpteenth time echoed in the room. He was pulling four wagons behind him. The first one was loaded with coal, and the other three were intended for passenger accommodation. The toy struggled to stay on the rails every time the track turned behind a pine tree.
A small child, almost a baby, was sitting on the floor. Toys were scattered around him. Everything in the room attracted his attention, but mostly the compositions on improvised rails. Almost every time it would reach out to grab a train as it passed in front of it, but its movements were still not fast enough for this endeavour. If the train had carried passengers with it, they would have witnessed the attack of the giant baby with horror on their faces as they passed under the huge Christmas tree. However, in a few days the train will give way to the Christmas presents at the foot of the pine tree and will be back in the box on the wardrobe until the second year.
Those who had set up the train to cheer up the baby were now in the upstairs room. They were not alone. There were other people there, their friends. Their heated discussion about where they would celebrate the New Year even reached the ground floor, with loud music.
Suddenly something else caught the child’s attention. It wasn’t just in the room anymore. A large shadow loomed over the center of the room. The parquet floors creaked under the heavy footsteps approaching the baby. The result was a train that derailed. His wheels were now spinning idly as he lay on his side. The fire in the fireplace seemed to subside and withdraw into itself so as not to attract the attention of whoever entered the room as little as possible.
The child didn’t seem to care about all that. It cheerfully stretched out its arms towards the large and tall shadow that loomed over him. Arms wrapped around him, and the ground beneath him became more and more distant. It looked amazed when it found itself in a basket on the back of the one in the room with it. But it wasn’t just there. There were other babies.
The shadow with the basket on its back disappeared. There was complete silence in the room.
1.AN UNUSUAL BEGINNING OF THE CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION
She was just lining a tray with baking paper on which to spread the biscuit mixture. Granny Advent was sure that Buche de Noel, a Christmas roll originating from French-speaking countries, would turn out well this year as well. After putting the mixture in the oven, she hastened to make decorative marzipan leaves to make the cake resemble a piece of wood as much as possible, as suggested by the name itself.
She enjoyed making Christmas treats in her kitchen. There are still twelve days left until Christmas. Her cell phone kept beeping to let her know that new messages were coming. Although she has had this inevitable device for modern communication for a long time, she only recently started using social networks, Messenger and other applications for communication. The highlight of everything were the contents with her picture that started to appear on TikTok. Last summer, she also participated in campaigns about the need to educate the elderly, related to IT and new technologies, so that they are not excluded from society. Her popularity has grown a lot in the past year and many people, especially children, wanted to communicate with her.
When she thought about it, it all seemed so unreal. She combined her love for children and Advent by handing out free cakes at the Christmas Fair. With her hat decorated with Christmas balls, a pine cone and a green cape, she attracted the attention of children who wanted to take pictures with her. Everyone loved her very much. They called her Grandma Advent. Her pictures started being shared on social media. Then internet portals and newspapers started writing about her, and she also appeared on television. In a short time, everyone knew about her. The mayor of her small town even gave her a ribbon on which, at the suggestion of a seller from the Christmas fair, she embroidered the name “Granny Advent”. This year, she had many obligations related to the Christmas fair.
But now there was a sound that didn’t come from the cell phone, but from the front door. She hurried to open them and as soon as possible meet the dear being she was expecting.
“Little Advent girl”, she exclaimed when she saw her dear granddaughter. The cute creature was wearing an identical Christmas hat to hers.
“Oh, grandma, don’t call me that either,” said the little girl with a smile and rushed into her grandmother’s arms. Granny Advent kissed her all over so that her headdress decorated with imitation balls and Christmas branches was barely there. Strands of red hair were sticking out from under the hat.
“Look how big you are to me. A little more, then a teenage girl”, concluded the grandmother as she looked at her from her heels to the top of her hat. “Let’s go, my dear, to eat cakes.”
The Advent girl loved her grandmother’s cakes. Now she was already eating her third slice. Between bites, she answered her grandmother’s barrage of questions. She gave half of what was on her plate to the cats and dogs that hung around her legs and under the table.
“Hey, guys always throw something at you. Some are nice to me, and some are sleazy…” said the little girl as she wiped her mouth with a paper towel with the inevitable Santa Claus on it.
“When someone you don’t care about insults you, act the same as if a dog barked at you. You’re not happy because you’d rather have her happily wagging her tail, but you move on and quickly forget about it,” her grandmother advised her and fixed her glasses.
She believed that children should be taught about life, not that life teach them. She believed that life is a teacher who charges a lot for his lessons and doesn’t have many remedial exams. She used every opportunity to give her grandchildren some useful life advice.
“Grandma, those life philosophies of yours again. I have to go”, Adventićka happily exclaimed.
She loved her grandmother and she really liked everything related to Advent. Her parents only started letting her visit her on her own in the past few months. Whenever she could, she was at her place. The other children made fun of her because she wanted to imitate her with her appearance. It was actually a small copy of her. On her head she wore the same hat as her grandmother, a red cape and gray boots. Because of her hat, the other children called her an Adventist, and she didn’t mind. They even brought her a ribbon on which someone had written “LITTLE ADVENT GIRL”.
Before she left, she showed her grandmother some new Facebook forums. Grandma stuffed a bag with a large piece of cake in her hands, kissed her well and told her to be careful on the road, especially on the bus. Everyone knew each other here. They would quickly spot an unknown person with some dishonest intentions, but it was different in the city.
Just as she started to wash the dishes, there was a knock at the door. She was sure that Adventićka had forgotten something. She was surprised when she opened the door. An older woman about her age stood in the doorway. She looked very worried and on the verge of tears.
“Good afternoon! I beg you for help. My granddaughter is missing. As all this is happening during the Christmas holidays, maybe you can do something”, she said in one breath.
Grandma Advent told her to calm down, hugged her and led her to the table. She immediately poured her some juice and brought a cake. The woman took a sip of the sweet liquid, but she didn’t feel like eating. She began to speak in tears.
“He is only five years old. My daughter left it in my custody. We watched a picture book about a wolf and a sheep together. Everything was fine until I went to the shed to get more wood. There I heard a noise coming from the direction of the house. It was as if someone was banging the chains hard. I threw the wood and ran back, but she… she was gone,” said the woman and burst into tears again. She could barely pull herself together and continued. “The police searched everything, but it was as if it fell into the ground. It’s my fault… it’s all my fault. I always told her that she is very restless and that if she is not good, the devil will come for her. As if I summoned him.”
“I’m sure everything will be fine. I will do everything in my power so that your granddaughter is found and returned home as soon as possible”, Granny Advent comforted her.
But the old woman was inconsolable. She once again asked Granny Advent to do everything she could and left with a hasty step in order not to look for any more help related to the disappearance of her granddaughter.
Grandma Advent was very shaken by this. All the troubles related to children touched her heart very much. She quickly called Little Advent Girl and told her to hurry so that she could return home before dark.
She wanted to help in any way she could. She sat down at the computer and started searching the Internet. Her attention was drawn to an icon that signaled that she had an unanswered email. A lot of people contacted her in this way as well. She clicked and among the multitude of messages she saw the title “Please help – my brother is missing”. Anxiety went through her heart. Now her anxiety caused by what her grandmother who had just left her home had told her was even greater. She clicked on the title and what she read did not comfort her at all.
“Dear Granny Advent! I am 13 years old and I really like what you do, but now I am contacting you because I am very sad. My brother is eight years old and three days ago he disappeared without a trace while we were making snow in the park. As he is very lively and restless, I thought he was hiding somewhere to make fun of me. I went to get my mom and dad, but they couldn’t find him either. Neither did the police when they came. They just found some strange tracks in the snow that didn’t seem human. I miss my brother very much. Please help me if you can.”
Below that was the girl’s signature.
She replied to the little girl that she would do everything in her power to help find her brother so that she and her family would have the best Christmas possible. Granny Advent was very sad, but at the same time as this feeling, another one began to appear. She went to the latest news and started searching for articles that interested her. And not just any article. Another vague thought began to form in her head.
It didn’t take long for her to find what she was looking for. News about the disappearance of children came from various places. Unfortunately, it was not an unexpected phenomenon, but in this pre-Christmas period, it was as if a real tsunami of these strange events took place.
She carefully read the articles and her eye was caught by the fact that they were about very lively children, one might even say hyperactive. She soon connected this with what the grandmother who came to ask her for help was telling her, as well as the little girl in her e-mail. Granny Advent observed various facts well and connected them even better. Another thought began to fit into this mosaic, and it made her heart skip a beat.
“Little Jester”, she cried out.
She remembered her grandson who was ten years old and who perfectly fit the description of the missing children. He was also very restless, had difficulty keeping his attention and liked to joke. She called him the Little Prankster, and some said he was a bad boy. Grandma Advent believed that it was completely inappropriate to say about any child that he was naughty, even jokingly, but better that the parents simply did not find the right way to communicate with him. He was everywhere at family gatherings and was often sought after by everyone. This was mostly the task of Adventićka, his cousin, who was often angry with him because of this. She could tell that he was a real prankster.
But now was not the time for big analyses, but for action.
She grabbed the phone and quickly called her son, Little Prankster’s father.
In vain. The secretary came on. She remembered how he had told her that he would go to the theater with his wife today. That’s probably why the cell phone was turned off. Now she remembered that he had told her that it was difficult to find a babysitter in this time before Christmas. Usually, they would call her for that, but since she had this year a lot of obligations as Grandma Advent, that practice was omitted. Now she felt terrible remorse for that, and she was also angry with her son if it turned out that he had left the child alone at home.
The thought that Little Prankster was probably home alone terrified her.
She never panicked because she knew it was of no use, but still her heart started beating faster. You could say she almost ran out of the house grabbing only her purse. She hurried to the bus station to catch the first bus to the city and get to Little Prankster as soon as possible.
She had a bad feeling.
2.FACE TO FACE WITH THE MONSTER
Some forty minutes later, she came to her son’s house, the same one where the mayor and the people from the Christmas Fair had arrived last year to invite her to come back to them after being away for a few days. Everything was in the dark. She knew immediately that something was wrong. Hers would never leave the house in complete darkness. She hurried towards the entrance.
When she got closer, she saw that the door was open. Now she was starting to panic a bit. She pushed the door wide open and stepped into the house.
“Little Prankster, Little Prankster, Little Prankster!” she shouted loudly at the top of her voice, trying to find her way in the complete darkness. She knew this house well, so she quickly felt for the light switch and started pressing it. But nothing happened. The house was still dark.
She heard a noise coming from the upper floor. She felt the banister of the stairs and began to climb. It didn’t go that fast. While she made every effort not to reach the upper rooms as soon as possible, she could better recognize the sounds coming from there. She was sure it was metal banging against wooden surfaces. She remembered what her grandmother, who was with her that morning, had told her. She knew something terrible was happening.
She didn’t even wait to catch her breath, but rushed into the room from which the sounds were coming, breathless. She wanted to see as soon as possible what was happening with Little Jester. But that desire of hers collided with the horror of the scene she saw.
It was something unimaginable.
The room was illuminated by the soft light that came through the window from the Christmas lights on the lavishly decorated neighboring house. But even that source of light was partially dimmed by the large body that wanted to step through the window onto the porch above the front door. The volume of that unusual creature was increased even more by the body of the child that was on his shoulder.
“Jesus God… dear God! Little Prankster…” Granny Advent cried, still not believing what she was seeing.
This scene was horrifying in itself, even if the being carrying Little Jester on his shoulder was from the human world. However, the creature that had just abducted her grandson was certainly not that. He heard her cry as she entered the room and turned to face her.
Now she could get a good look at him. Pointed ears framed a strange face that was unlike anything she knew, but could easily be called a “mask of evil” from which two dark red eyes shone ominously. The monster had huge horns on top of its head that spread to each side. The whole body was covered with thick black hair that actually looked more like fleece. He had a huge tail. After turning to Granny Advent, he leaned on a large trident of a fairy or something similar. And then the most terrible thing. A huge red tongue, which was disproportionate to any canons of the human body, reached almost to the waist of this horrible creature. His hands were chained, but so wide that he could use them normally. One end of the chain was wrapped around her grandson’s lifeless body.
Although she was stunned and horrified by what she saw, she had no doubts about what she had to do. She moved forward to tear Little Jester away from this horrible creature.
“Let him go you freak… let him go!” she roared as she bravely rushed forward.
It wouldn’t stop her even if there was a real horde of demons here. Granny Advent was an extremely rational person who did not really believe in ghosts, flying saucers and other paranormal phenomena. She still believed it was a large man disguised as some kind of Lucifer or Beelzebub. She knew that the world was full of all kinds of crazy people, which was no wonder because every other movie or series had a serial killer as the main character. It was as if they longed for the atrocities from the small and big screens to move to real life.
However, she soon realized to her horror that this was not a masked person, but something else. Her attempt to get her hands on her grandson was thwarted by the terrifying creature in a horrible, yet so simple way. As if the presence of the woman, who charged and howled at him, did not disturb him at all. He hardly moved. He swung his head just slightly, allowing his extremely long tongue to fly through space like a whip. But not without a goal. It wrapped itself around Grandma Advent’s neck like the arm of some huge octopus that dragged ships into the depths of the sea in the pages of fairy tales.
She felt a terrible grip on her neck. Instinctively, she went to use her hands to release the strangulation, but she knew it was a futile effort. Not because she was an almost debilitated old woman, but because the same result would have been had one of the strongest people on this planet been in her place. She kept her eyes wide open because she knew that even if she closed them, the monster would not disappear. Although she thought that this was the end of her life and that she would soon die, her whole life did not flash through her head. She didn’t even panic because, guided by the logic of the philosophy of Stoicism, she knew that it was of no use and that she had to come to terms with those things that were not in the circle of those she could influence. She could not influence the strength and relentlessness of this creature, but her brain and senses were working at full steam. She realized a few things.
First, that this is not about any masked criminal and madman, but that she is facing a real monster. What about the grip on her neck that was increasingly preventing her from getting air, what about the impression caused by the knowledge that she had met some version of the Devil, she was no longer sure if she was in the real world or the realm of illusion or, on the other hand, in some intermediate world. But as everything can’t always be bad, it was the same in this case. Although she assumed she was dying, her whole being radiated with happiness. She noticed that the Little Jester was still moving on the shoulders of this figure and that he was alive. Somehow, it was easier for her to leave this world now that she knew that there was still some chance for her grandson.
Then two things happened simultaneously. When the fur-covered monster pulled her close enough, she smelled the terrible stench of his loss. Now they looked eye to eye like two boxers before the start of a match. But this term was not entirely true because what Granny Advent was looking at were not human organs of sight by any known definition. Even the eyes of the great white shark had far more humanity than what looked out of the monster’s eye sockets. It seemed to Granny Advent that she was looking into an abyss filled with bright red volcanic lava that was pulling her into its depths.
And then everything disappeared.
What with the grip on her neck, the horror caused by the sight and the terrible stench that wafted through her, Grandma Advent lost consciousness. She sank into darkness.
The monster unrolled its tongue, and the old woman’s body fell to the floor of the room. He leaned a little over the old woman, took a good look at her and lifted the heavy pitchfork in his hand. It was as if there was some thought about whether to stick them in her. Then it turned, stepped to the window, pushed a little further with its pitchforks and disappeared into the night.
Her consciousness was slowly returning. It took him a long time to realize where he was. She sat so disoriented on the floor and tried to pull herself together. She dragged herself lightly to the wall of the room and leaned her back against it.
There was a light on in the room.
“I am in my son’s house. I came to see what was happening with Little Jester. I’m alive”, Granny Advent thought aloud.
In fact, she still wasn’t sure she was alive. What had happened, or what she thought had happened, was so incredible that she could even conceive of such a thing. It was like a spaceship from another galaxy flying onto your front lawn or Atlantis suddenly emerging from the depths of the ocean. She even thought she was out of her mind.
That’s why she spoke out loud. She always did that when she found herself in some unpredictable situations, because that’s how she made her thoughts and actions more aware.
Then she stood up a little, holding onto the wall with her hands. She took the first step uncertainly. Yes, this was a big step for her. Very big. Well, the other one. That’s how she managed to get to the bathroom. She washed off with very cold water. Her neck hurt terribly. She could barely move her head.
She slowly descended the stairs to the ground floor, entered the kitchen, poured a glass of cold water and sat down at the table. She knew she had to think now. And a lot. One should get rid of emotions and negative thoughts, focus only on what will give some result. She tried to put even the thoughts of Little Jester out of her head because she knew that she couldn’t help him that way. It was hard though because she was terribly worried about him. But she was thinking positively and now the most important thing was that she knew he was alive.
She worked out various scenarios in her head. If he meets his son here and tells him what happened, he won’t do anything at all. The police will be called. She will become the main actor in the future investigation and will not be trusted by anyone. They’ll think she’s crazy or a demented old lady. She was deeply convinced that the police could not do anything in this situation and that she would have to try to save her grandson using other methods. Which ones?! For now, she had no idea. Staying in this place would prevent her from carrying out the most important task, which was the search for the Little Jester.
She decided. She broke down inside. Although she was terribly sorry for what her son would experience when he realized that Little Prankster was missing, she knew she had to leave this house. She took another sip of water, picked up her red bag, looked back once more and left the scene. She hurried home.
She arrived home and threw her bag on the couch. Even while she was on the bus, she sent messages on all social networks asking for help about the missing children. She ran into the room, brought the most basic things from the closet and shoved them into her bag. She knew she had to be ready for all possible situations. When it gets a signal, it will start immediately. Even without the kidnapping of Little Jester, she knew that she would do anything to bring back the missing children.
However, she had a few more things to do first.
She didn’t know what the children’s disappearance had to do with Christmas and New Year, but she assumed it was related. It was no coincidence that so many children were abducted at this time of the year. So she visited the website of Santa Claus who was the main character at this time. His virtual assistant answered her.
“Good afternoon! How can I help you?” was written on the screen next to a picture of some kind of nerdy character with a Santa Claus cap on his head.
She felt stupid as she looked at the screen, but she knew she had nothing to lose.
“I am Granny Advent. I need help with a large number of missing children over the past few days.”
After a few moments, the following text appeared on the screen:
“We heard about you and we support your work. Santa Claus is currently busy filming commercials for a well-known brand of carbonated drinks. Please contact the nearest police station. Is there anything else we can help you with?”
She was looking at this message. She was angry with herself for getting into this. She almost expected this answer. She was just wasting precious time. Anyway, she thanked and closed this page.
She was interested in something else.
Although the event of some two hours ago still seemed incredible to her, she wanted to know as much as possible about the monster that had taken her grandson. She was on Google when her phone rang. She was expecting this call. It was her son. She took a deep breath and answered.
The hardest thing for her was to feign surprise while her son told her in a panic how the Little Prankster had disappeared. He was beside himself. They found the house open, the child was nowhere to be found, and they are just waiting for the police to arrive. She comforted him that everything would be fine and that he should be brave. She somehow wanted to end the conversation as soon as possible because she didn’t like lies, and yet in this situation she was forced to be dishonest. It took her a while to compose herself after the conversation ended, and then she returned to the Internet search engine.
She typed in the devil, then the devil, Lucifer and all the names she knew for Satan. The pages were flooded with the kind of images we expect when we write something like this. She clicked, read and scrolled, but something told her she wasn’t on the right track. The situation in which she found herself last night was not exactly the most ideal for identifying the perpetrator of the crime. Sometimes the victims cannot recognize the criminals, even when the crime takes place in broad daylight.
Then something occurred to her. She typed the given names once more, but added the word Christmas to them. It was a bit unusual for her to write the name symbolizing Jesus’ birthday next to the names of those who come from hell, but she wanted to try everything. After all, this demon appeared during Christmas.
After she pressed Enter, a number of images appeared.
She found him.
The pictures under this name matched what she saw that night. More or less. There were all sorts of creatures and likenesses, but all of them had pointy ears, horns, a long tongue, a tail, and a body covered in fur. Instead of legs, there were hooves similar to those with which nature endowed goats and other animals of that genus. In the hands of a pitchfork and a chain, on the back of a basket from which frightened children peeked out.
She heard about that name, which is mostly associated with St. Nicholas. His sidekick who scares away naughty children. But it was a legend. Her grandson and other children were really kidnapped. It’s as if someone opened the door to reality and let beings from Christmas stories and myths into our world. Nothing was clear to her.
Be that as it may, now she knew who he was. And she knew she would find him. She was sure of that.
But now she was troubled by what to do next. Where to go? Who to talk to?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of her cell phone signaling that she had received a new tweet.
“Go north. Go to the city called North. Ask about the Father Whippers inn.”
She looked at the screen in amazement. The message was strange, and the name mentioned in it was also unusual. She had never heard of any Father Whipper. The sender was a girl unknown to her. Natasha. She had many followers on Twitter.
“Who are you? Who is Father Whipper?” Granny Advent retweeted.
There was no answer. She didn’t want to waste another second of precious time.
Now that she had any clue, she had no more time to google, search the internet and surf social media. She just checked where the North is on Google Maps. She wanted to get there as soon as possible and find that inn.
She found all this strange, but it was the only clue that was offered. Yes, she was just like a drowning man who would grab hold of any grass, just to find out where the kidnapped children were and bring them back to their homes. She knew that it might be crazy to go a long way for one tweet, but she trusted her intuition, which rarely deceived her. After all, after her encounter with Krampus last night, nothing sounded improbable to her anymore.
She fed her pets, grabbed her already prepared red bag, said goodbye to the neighbors and left them a key to the house so they could take care of the dogs and cats while she was gone.
She took one more look at her home and headed for the bus stop.
4.ARRIVAL IN THE NORTH
She hurried to the bus station and bought a ticket to the farthest destination in the north. She spent the night on the bus. The next morning she caught a train that went further north and spent the night in it as well. It wasn’t until the next morning that she reached her final destination. City North. There was no more railway after this place.
She got off the platform. The railway station was like from the before last century. She wasn’t sure if it was due to neglect and lack of investment or if it was intentional because of the tourists. She raised the collar of her cape a little and went to find Father Whipper.
She walked the streets and now she was sure that the whole city was adapted to the needs of tourists. It seemed to her as if some time machine had catapulted her back to the nineteenth century. Houses, streets… everything had a patina of age. She entered a small coffee bar.
The waiter greeted her cheerfully. She ordered her favorite mint tea.
“Can I ask you something?” she said to him as he brought a hot drink to her table.
He was middle-aged, with a beautiful appearance and dressed in a modern way. Ripped jeans and a T-shirt with the logo of a sports brand.
“There you go. You have a nice hat. Just right for this Christmas season. And…” he paused for a moment. “You are…” it seemed as if he was going through a file in his memory. “Granny Advent”, he exclaimed enthusiastically as if he had just answered the last question in the quiz “Who wants to be a millionaire?”.
“I am, yes,” she said a little shyly as she drank the warm liquid from a beautiful but also antique china cup.
“What brings you to our little town?” he asked, happy that Grandma Advent was sitting next to him.
“Your city is beautifully decorated,” she ignored his question for now. “A bit unusual.”
“That. As you can guess, all this is for tourists. Ninety percent of the city’s income comes from the visit of the curious tourists. Recently, there is a great interest in everything related to the research of the gold rush period.”
“You were born here?”
“No,” he smiled. “No one was born here.”
She looked at him in amazement.
“The place was completely neglected until the government made a plan for its revitalization. They gave away houses almost for free to attract people. They designed it as a tourist destination. It all started about twenty years ago. Then whole families started arriving.”
She listened to him and did not interrupt him.
“I arrived here two years ago. It’s hard to find a job today. It is even more difficult to provide a roof over your head. And that’s it. You?”
“I’m looking for Father Whipper,” she said without hesitation and stared into his face.
She could read human body language well. She knew that just one movement on a human face can say more than a flood of spoken words. That’s how it was now. He was more surprised by the reason for her coming to town than if she hit him straight in the forehead with a big hammer like Thor. And then the expression on his face changed from surprise to fear.
“I don’t know… I don’t know… I don’t know anyone with that name,” he stammered in a barely audible voice.
At that moment, a married couple entered the cafe-bar in search of refreshments. No matter what gods the young waiter prayed to, they granted his wishes. He was relieved when he got an excuse to get away from Grandma Advent.
“I have to go”, he said and literally swept away in the direction of the guests.
She left the tea money on the table, waved at him, although he wasn’t looking at her, and went out into the street. She wasn’t quite sure if she expected this kind of reaction or not. She would be lying if she said she was completely taken aback by this. First of all, the tweet she received connected the name of Father Whipper with the disappearance of children, which is certainly not a fact that should cause joy and delight in people. Internet connections on the bus and train were not very good. She only sporadically managed to Google Friar the Whip. His name was not generally associated with beautiful phenomena and he was certainly not someone who would carry a positive omen in the gallery of Christmas characters.
Taking all of the above into account, she was even more convinced that she had to hurry.
5.STREETS WITHOUT CHILDREN
The room was small, but tidy. Just the way she needed it because she wasn’t going to stay much longer. It was the first hotel in the North that she came across. She did not hesitate for long, but entered and asked for a free room. She needed a rest after a long journey. She was on the road for two days and slept only a few hours on the bus and train. That was certainly not enough for a woman of her age. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to do anything tired and sleepless, so she took a shower and lay down. She always tried to think rationally, unburdened by emotions and prejudices.
When she woke up, it was already dusk outside. She decided to walk around the city and try to gather some more information. She went down to the reception.
“Grandma Advent”, the young girl who worked at the reception welcomed her with a wide smile. The same one who was here when she checked into the hotel. “Going to see the city? I recommend going to the Gold Rush Museum. There you can find out everything about that period, as well as the history of our place. Here, take this brochure. Can I ask you for a picture together?”
She hesitated a little, but agreed anyway. She did not want to leave the impression of a conceited celebrity. She was not very happy to announce on social networks that she was in this place. She thanked her, put the flyer in her bag, left the key and went out into the street. If she had come to the city for some other reason, she would certainly have gone to the museum because she liked to know something about the history of the places where she stayed. Now that was out of the question.
She felt hungry. For two days, she mostly ate sandwiches that she bought at bus and train stations.
She saw a large advertisement warning that there was a diner in that place. She came in and sat by the window. She ordered a light food menu because it was already late. She took out her cell phone, which was set to silent. She saw that there were a lot of missed calls. She did not want to contact anyone because she did not want anything to interfere with her search for children. She doubted that any new information would be of use to her in this strange quest.
She only sent two messages. The first was addressed to her son, the father of Little Jester. She wrote that she was fine, that she had some obligations in the north and that she was not worried about anything. She was convinced that her granddaughter would not be found by the usual police methods, so she did not even ask him if there was anything new related to the search. She asked him to inform the rest of the family that she was fine and not to worry.
She sent another message to the people at the Christmas Fair who must have been worried because they expected her to appear among them. She also informed them that she was in the north due to some urgent obligations and that she longed to be among them as soon as possible.
She quickly surfed the internet and saw that there had been more cases of missing children in the past two days. The media began to connect these cases. Now social networks were already ablaze with various theories, from those that mentioned extraterrestrials to chains of pedophiles. No one mentioned Krampus and Father Whipper. She looked through her Twitter account again, but among the multitude of tweets was not what she was hoping for; the one that would arrive from the account of the person who sent her the tweet that got her here. She turned off the phone and not long after that the food she ordered arrived.
She ate slowly because she enjoyed her food better that way, and she didn’t fall hard. Between bites she watched the street through the window. The snow was well cleared. She watched the people passing by and the illuminated shop windows on the other side. She wasn’t looking for anything specific. She knew that it was the best and that what needed to be noticed would come by itself, she just had to open herself to the world with her senses. She watched the street, took the next piece of food, put down the knife and fork, then watched again. That ritual lasted about half an hour.
And just as she was about to finish her meal, she remembered something. She stopped eating and stared out the window. Fifteen minutes ago she saw something that now seemed significant to her. The sight of a mother quickly, almost panicking, dragging her child off the street. And then… yes… ten minutes ago a child running frantically somewhere. And now… now.
She rose a little from her chair so that she could observe the street as well as possible. She came quite close to the window. She looked left… then right…
That was it.
There were no children on the streets at all. Not alone, which was perhaps understandable, because it was already getting dark, but not with my parents, which was certainly strange. It was Christmas time. Nowhere could she see a scene in which a mother or father is holding a child by the hand, who is excitedly pointing to a toy or candy in a richly lit window and pulling them inside the store to buy it.
Maybe it didn’t mean anything, but experience told her that she had to take into consideration everything that was suspicious to her at one point. It was less harmful if later it turned out that all this meant nothing, than to ignore it, and later it turned out that this was exactly what was crucial.
She decided to look for another confirmation of her thoughts.
“The bill, please,” she said to the friendly waitress as she passed her table.
When she arrived with the bill, the waitress smiled widely.
“Grandma Advent, I hope you enjoyed the meal in our cafeteria. We are so glad to have you as our guest. Can we have a common picture?”
Now she didn’t care because she knew that her pictures from the North had already ended up on social networks.
“Of course,” she said and leaned towards the waitress. She also gave her a big tip. The smile was even bigger. The waitress was already walking away from the table and checking how the picture turned out to be shared on Instagram when she heard the voice of the celebrity’s grandmother.
“Excuse me, just to ask you something?”
“Certainly,” answered the waitress happily, happy to chat a little more with the famous person. She sat across from her grandmother.
“Do you know where I can find Father Whipper?” Granny Advent asked without hesitation, while the girl had not even sat down properly on the chair opposite the diner.
There were no more smiles, and the waitress didn’t care that a famous person was sitting in front of her.
“I do not know. I’m not allowed to sit with guests. The owner will be angry,” she said with a sour smile and almost tripped as she tried to get away from Granny Advent as quickly as possible.
But grandma didn’t wait long. She grabbed her bag, greeted the waitress who was looking at her fearfully from behind the counter, and quickly went out into the street. She hurried to the hotel. She still didn’t know how she was going to find her grandson and the other missing children, but she knew she was definitely in the right place. There was no longer any doubt about that. This town hides a secret. Now she was more than certain that the tweet that had brought her to this place was no hoax. She wanted to get to her room as soon as possible to think about everything.
6.THE CITY THAT FEARS AGAIN
In a hurry, she entered the hotel. It was already late. There was no one at the reception. She shook the small bell that had been put there just to call the receptionist who was not there.
“Good evening,” came a pleasant voice from the room behind the reception.
The woman who came out in front of Granny Advent was about her age, good looking and with an elegant appearance. She took the key from the box that had Grandma Advent’s room number on it and put it on the counter.
“I’m glad you’re a guest of our…” she paused, “…my hotel. I wish you a pleasant night,” said the woman and smiled warmly.
“Good night to you too”, answered Granny Advent, took the key and headed towards the staircase that led to the floor where her room was located.
Then she paused, thought for a moment, and turned to the woman at the front desk. “Excuse me,” said Granny Advent, “do you have little time?” I would like to have a short conversation with you.”
“Surely. Anyway, I am spending these evening hours reading a books. It will be nice speaking with you. Let’s sit there,” said the woman and pointed to the small lounge across from the reception.
Inside were two round tables and several chairs of an older shape. They sat down at one of the tables and the woman introduced herself. She held out her hand and said that she was the owner of this hotel.
“It’s hard to find workers these days, so I work the evening shift myself.”
Grandma Advent felt some closeness and connection to this woman.
“You know,” said the hotel owner, “I really like what you’re doing and I’m glad that an elderly person has become so popular. We too, in our age, need some role models who restore faith that a person can be creative when he is no longer at the peak of his strength. There aren’t too many female characters in all these Christmas events, so it’s all the more positive,” she added with a smile.
“I just do what I love and I think that in that case a person doesn’t even feel the burden of years, and nothing can even hinder him from fulfilling his goals. You have a nice hotel.”
“Thank you. I have been running it alone since my husband died two years ago. It’s not easy, but somehow I manage. Children and grandchildren sometimes help. What brought you to these part of a country?’
Grandma Advent paused a bit. She looked the woman across from her straight in the eyes.
“I’m looking for my grandson. And some other children. I guess this city has something to do with that.”
The woman looked at her a little surprised. She did not expect such an answer.
“Yes,” Grandma Advent continued, “I know this answer surprised you and you probably thought that I am here on some promotional tour or something.”
“That. It’s true,” said the woman. “Something like that.”
Grandma Advent knew that she was on the right track, that she could build a bridge of trust with this woman and that she might receive important information related to the fate of her grandson and other children. That’s why she cautiously moved on.
“I’m begging you to help me with that. AND…”
She paused for a moment because she knew that the next sentence was crucial.
“Please… don’t tell me you don’t know about Father Whipper. I beg you, to tell me everything about that person.”
She looked straight into her eyes again. She always used this way of talking when she wanted to speed up communication and let the interlocutor know that there is no point in avoiding the answer. She did the same when people wanted to say something ugly to her. She would tell them that she knew she didn’t have the best line or that her clothes weren’t the latest. This would let her know that there is no need to tell her and avoid unpleasant communication. Now she wanted to get an answer as soon as possible and she didn’t have time to waste time. She was in a terrible hurry.
There was silence between them for a while.
The hotel owner looked away. It was as if she had broken something in herself.
“Yes,” she said, looking again at Granny Advent. “I know what it’s about.”
She let her talk.
“It’s more of a legend than a real person. They say he lives in some abandoned inn, not so close to town. But no one ever goes there. Never. Nobody.”
She especially emphasized these last two words.
“In this town,” said Grandma Advent, “it’s like there’s a conspiracy of silence about that man.” I asked several people about the name and the reaction was strange. As if I mentioned the devil.”
A shadow of concern seemed to fall on the woman’s face. It looked like he was breaking down inside himself again.
“You are right. It’s strange. Everyone knows about that legend and we almost never talk about it in this town. That…”, as if the person hesitated to say, “…I don’t know what to call it…he lives in that wilderness and we…don’t touch him and he doesn’t touch us. Some say that he has been here since the gold rush and that he used to kidnap children during the Christmas holidays and that… terrible stories… I can’t even say it.”
Grandma Advent saw that the woman was very upset, but she didn’t say anything. She wanted to hear this all the way through.
“When some locals started digging and researching the story about ten years ago, children started disappearing in the town. Someone a little wiser connected those two things and everything stopped. The children were soon found. Actually… they were not found. It was as if they had been returned. All together at the entrance to the city. Someone left them there. The place took it as a warning. Since that event, no one mentions the name of Father Whipper.”
“If you can’t solve that problem yourself, why didn’t you seek help from the outside,” Grandma Advent asked.
“We live from tourism. A story about some kind of monster that kidnaps children would certainly not be a good advertisement for attracting new guests. If tourists stop coming to this city, we have failed.”
The situation was difficult, but Granny Advent managed a small smile. Something occurred to her.
“Much like that town in the movie “Jaws” that denied the existence of a great white shark in order not to drive away tourists.”
The woman on the other hand didn’t find this funny at all. She shrugged.
“Something like that,” she said quietly and continued: “As always, there were those who did not agree with such a decision and who wanted to talk about everything. They didn’t have a good time. Their jobs started to fail. Cars on fire. They were often attacked. A vow of silence soon prevailed. Everything somehow calmed down.”
She looked at Granny Advent and continued.
“News about the disappearance of a large number of children these days brought great anxiety to this city. People started to be afraid again.”
“I saw,” said Grandma Advent. She placed her palm on the hand of the woman she was addressing. “Thank you for what you told me. Now I understand that it was not easy for you to talk about all this.”
“You have to get out of this city,” said the woman worriedly. “You are in danger. Already this afternoon they started calling me asking if it is true that you are in my hotel. I thought they wanted to meet you. But now I’m a little scared. Especially when you mentioned to me that you were inquiring about… you already know who.”
Granny Advent was not surprised by this after what she had heard. She knew that both she and the woman she was talking to were in danger. Actually, anyone who would like to help her.
“I don’t want to cause problems for you, but I have to somehow get to a place where she could be convinced of the truth about that Father Whipper and whether there are any children with him.”
The woman fell silent and seemed to be making a plan in her head.
“We’ll do it this way,” said Granny Advent. She put her hand on top of hers. “Go to your room. Get some sleep and rest. I guarantee you that you will be at peace tonight. Nothing will happen to you. Leave my hotel tomorrow. I might know one person who could help you to get closer to the place where Father Whipper supposedly lives. He is our only chance. If he does not agree, you will have to leave the city and return home.”
It was clear to her that what the hotel owner was saying was true and that she had little choice. She knew that she would not give up the search for Little Jester and the other children, but now she had to rely on the owner of the small hotel. She thanked the woman, kissed her on both cheeks and wished her well.
She went upstairs and entered her room.
She took a shower and lay down, but sleep did not come to her eyes. She heard some murmuring from the street. Under a street lamp, across from the hotel entrance, she saw a group of people. Of all of them, she recognized only the owner of the hotel. Besides her, there were three other men and one woman. They were not equally distributed. The woman she knew was alone on one side, and everyone else was standing opposite her. She could tell from their body language and gestures that they were arguing. Every now and then they pointed towards the hotel. All this continued for some time, and then they parted ways.
She spent that night in a nightmare. It was as if a light was passing over her body. She was drenched in hot sweat. She tried to wake up, but she couldn’t. It seemed to her that her body was separating from the surface of the bed and floating in a state of weightlessness. All of this resembled a scene from some illusionist trick in which levitation is intended to be shown, except that now she was in a role that is normally intended for magician’s assistants. For a moment she thought she was dying. Then she thought she heard a warm and pleasant voice telling her not to worry and that everything would be fine. It was as if there was someone else in the room with her. Then the light grew stronger. It was as if she had dematerialized everything around her, including her body.
The phone rang.
7.A MIRACLE IN THE SKY
There was no way she could wake up. The phone kept ringing. She opened her eyes. She was in a hotel room in a small town whose inhabitants did not like her. She had to find the children.
The phone was still ringing.
She barely got out of bed. She parted the curtains on the windows. It was already daylight outside. She covered her eyes with her hand to protect herself from the strong light.
She answered the phone.
“Please come down to the reception. Someone is waiting for you here.”
She recognized the voice of the young receptionist.
She hurried to get dressed. She stopped by her clothes, which were stacked on a chair. She was sure she hadn’t left her like this. Yesterday, before going to bed, she hung it on the hanger as she always did. Thinking about the way she had spent the night and all of this, for a moment she had the idea that someone had drugged her and rummaged through her things in the night. But everything was extremely neatly put together. Surely no one with evil intentions would bother to put clothes together.
She ignored all those thoughts now because she had to hurry. She got dressed, grabbed the rest of her things and hurried to the reception.
The girl at the reception just nodded her head towards the lounge where she had talked to the owner of the hotel yesterday. She came in. There was only one person sitting in the room. Which did not fit in at all.
She approached the table. A man was sitting behind him.
She had never judged people by their appearance, but the man who was there caused fear in her. He was corpulent, wearing a long fur coat, and a hat on his head, which he did not take off even now when he was inside the hotel. The boots on his feet were in the same style.
He raised his head. A thick beard covered his face. He looked as if he came from the time of the gold rush. It fit well with the tourist image that this city wanted to build. It’s almost as if the tourist board, if it existed here, should pay him to walk the streets and take pictures with tourists. But that was not her concern now.
“Are you…” she started to ask him.
“I will take you to the place you are interested in,” he said without much hesitation. He neither introduced himself nor did she manage to sit down at the table.
So that was the only chance the hotel owner was talking about yesterday. He didn’t inspire her confidence, but she had no choice. The alternative was to return home without any knowledge of where the missing children might be. That was out of the question.
“Do you have any money?” he asked in a rough voice.
“How much should I give?”
He told the sum. It wasn’t little. She took out the money she had withdrawn from the ATM on the way to the North. She put the bills on the table.
He grabbed the money.
“Be at the exit of the city in two hours. Near the train station. Make sure no one follows you,” he said as he hurriedly walked away from the salon.
As she watched him leave, it was clear to her that even this man did not want to be seen with her. She felt like she was sick. This was a big change compared to everything she had experienced in the past year.
She didn’t know if she would see him and the money again. “Well, it is what it is, let’s move on,” she thought to herself.
She went to breakfast. She didn’t know when she would be able to eat again, so she didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
After that, she went up to the room, took a shower and put on clean underwear and clothes. She couldn’t before because of an emergency call. She closed the door and went to the reception. She completed all the formalities and was now back on the streets of this strange city.
There were about forty minutes left until the meeting that was scheduled by the man who looked like a real cowboy. She didn’t want to arrive too early, so she looked around the windows with a light step. Like an experienced spy, she was trying to detect in the reflection of the shop window if someone was following her. She couldn’t spot anyone like that. Now it was time for him to walk towards the station with a more hasty step.
As she approached the train station, a thought occurred to her that she had no idea which means of transport she and her guide would use to get to the place where Father Whipper might be located. By car or bus. Maybe by train, if that man made an appointment for her at this place.
She arrived at the train station and stepped out onto the platform. She looked left and right, but the man she was supposed to meet was nowhere to be found. She has already come to terms with the fact that she will no longer see her money. After all, it didn’t matter to her, she was horrified by the thought that she would lose the opportunity to get close to the place where the Little Jester and the other children could be.
She didn’t know what to do, so she decided to walk down the platform. She felt like she was on one of her first dates when she was impatiently waiting to see if the one who made her heart beat faster would appear. In those days, without cell phones and social networks, uncertainty had a completely different meaning.
Then she saw someone in the distance, on the other side of the track, waving. She looked back because she thought the gesture was directed at someone else, not her. However, there was no one on the platform. Only her. As the person was quite far away, she was not sure who it was.
She had nothing to lose. She decided to respond to that wave and set off. In order to reach that person, she had to do two things that she hadn’t done since childhood. To cross the railway in a place where it is not allowed and slip through the wire fence that was placed there precisely to prevent crossing the railway. Although the situation was not suitable for enjoying the small inconveniences that would bring her back to her early youth, she felt some kind of joy because of what she was doing.
She looked in all directions, got down from the platform on the railway on the metal stairs that had only a few levels and hurried to the other side. This was not some big railway junction with countless tracks, but with only two railway lines. Therefore, she quickly found herself on the other side, by the fence which, just like almost all fences in the world, had a hole. I guess someone before her got tired of going around to find himself across from the railway station, so at one point he moved the fence away from the post to which it was tied. Just enough for Grandma Advent to slip through. Which she did. She was careful not to catch the cape on the wire and nimbly crossed to the other side. She was amazed at how smoothly this had gone. Just like everyone was amazed when the magician David Copperfield walked through the Great Wall of China.
However, she didn’t have time for a big scare, instead she hurried along the well-trodden path that led through the snow towards the place where there was a person who was giving her signs to hurry. As she got closer, she saw that it was the man she had met that morning at the hotel. He didn’t make off with her money though. She didn’t know his name, and she didn’t need to. She decided to call him Bear Adams because he reminded her of a character from an old series, only in a darker version. Much darker.
“Hurry up,” he told her without greeting when she approached him. “We don’t have time.”
She gave him her most murderous look. If she could, she would turn him into a pile of nothing. Her soul came out through her nose and mouth, and he spoke to her as if she didn’t care to go in search of the children as soon as possible.
She was just about to explain it all to him, but there was no chance.
He pointed his head towards the platform, and motioned for her to follow him with his hand. She looked back and in the distance saw a group of people at the train station discussing something and heading in their direction. When she looked a little closer, she realized that some were already passing through the fence in the same place as her.
She hurried after him. He disappeared behind a larger layer of snow. Grandma thought that this strange man would lead her on foot through this wasteland. It wouldn’t be difficult for her either, because it was about finding kidnapped children, but she didn’t see any sense in that either. A group of people was getting closer and closer to them. They didn’t look very friendly. She knew that she had no chance of getting away from them on foot, so she stopped to explain herself to them.
She also heard some buzzing. It was as if it was moving away, then coming closer. Like a swarm of bees. Here? This time of year?
“Stop… stop… where are you going?! You have nothing to look for here”, she heard shouts and had the feeling that she was not going to have a good time.
Now she could already see that they were very angry, and then she saw something else on those same faces. Surprise. Bewilderment. They were looking over her. Upwards. It was as if they saw a miracle in the sky.
She didn’t even have time to turn around to see what it was about when she heard a strange sound above her. Something flew over her head. Something big and big. And then she heard a heavy hit on the ground. Everyone remained motionless. Both she and a group of locals who wanted to get their hands on it. The sight before them was not so much incredible as unexpected.
In front of her was Bear Adams on some strange device. If, like a superhero or someone watching a movie on DVD, she could rewind the scene from a few seconds ago, she would have seen that he had skimmed over her head in a snowmobile, using a nearby pile of snow as a makeshift springboard.
“Going or staying?” he asked as he looked towards the menacing group. He looked completely different to her now. Like the knight on the white horse who came to save the princess from the evil dragon. The sleigh was red, but the enraged crowd was no less dangerous than the dragon from the fairy tales.
She pulled herself together, quickly took two or three steps, stepped up behind him and grabbed hold of him firmly. The sled buried itself a little in the snow and then rushed forward with full force. It seemed that the force of that movement would throw her out of her seat, so she clung to him a little tighter with one hand and grabbed the brim of her hat with the other so that it wouldn’t fly off and remain a trophy for the hunters who wanted to disable her in their search for children.
They sped across the snowy surface, and the city remained further and further behind them.
8. ON THE WAY
They drove for a while in the white landscape. They didn’t talk at all. Then the electric sled slowed down and stopped. He turned off the engine.
“We need to rest a bit,” he said. “And the machine, as well.”
She accepted it without question because the situation did not allow her to do anything else, although she longed for them to reach the inn of Father Whipper as soon as possible.
She was sitting sideways on the seat. Because of the skirt, she could not position herself differently. She slid off the seat to stretch her legs a bit.
“I thought you wouldn’t show up,” she told him to start any conversation.
“I always stick to what I agree with someone,” he replied briskly, but without too much desire to talk.
She looked at the white wasteland around her, then turned her gaze towards the electric sled.
“I guess there was no other means of transportation,” she said. She smiled to herself because she would be more suited to a team full of huskies.
“Not. It was not.”
“How is it that you are not afraid, like all everyone else?” she asked him in order to find out as much as possible about him.
“I do not care. I have nobody. I am alone. But still… I don’t want to cause problems for myself.”
“How come you don’t have anyone?” Granny Advent continued.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said and looked away. He didn’t say anything. It was obvious that this topic was not really to his liking.
But then he continued. It was as if something in him had opened up.
“When you have no money, then no one needs you,” he said with bitterness in his voice. “Not even children.”
She let him speak. He needed to tell someone what was bothering him.
“As long as I had money, I was good to everyone. My children and grandchildren also loved me. Then came the crisis… everything collapsed. That’s when I came to this city. This was the only place that offered a chance for a new beginning. Children came today just like adults. They only care about money.”
She looked at him more closely. If he hadn’t been so neglected, he would have been a beautiful man. He obviously doesn’t care about anything.
“I think you are wrong. You have to find a way to children’s hearts, and it is not always easy or simple”, she tried to convince him.
He was looking at the snow covered ground.
“Let’s go,” he said. “We wasted a lot of time.”
They got on the sleigh and continued their journey. The road now led them through a narrow gorge cut in a not too big mountain. They drove for a while and then slowed down again. They reached almost the very end of the passage when an obstacle made of two cross-placed trunks stood in front of them. There was a no-passing sign on them.
He stopped the sleigh.
“I’m not going any further. If you’re going to find Father Whipper, he’s somewhere in that direction,” he said and pointed to the exit from the gorge. Nothing was seen.
She anxiously watched the landscape in front of her. It was strange because it was a clear day, but the area he was pointing towards seemed to be shrouded in fog.
“I thought you were going to take me…” she started to explain to him, but then she stopped. Now she realized that in her strong desire to reach the children, she forgot some important things. In fact, it was not clear to her how she imagined that this man would lead her to Father Whipper. Perhaps somewhere in her head she had a scenario that she would stop in front of some magnificent building, where she would elegantly get off the sleigh like a high school girl brought to the front of the school by her beloved on a Vespa to the admiration of her friends. Then Father Whipper would cheerfully lead out the children who would be handed over to her and contrite to admit that he was wrong.
Now she realized that she had no plan, and no real idea about the realization of her intentions. She collided with reality.
“Would you mind giving me an extra ride? Just a little more?” she asked him as she got off the electric sled. “I’ll pay you more.”
He didn’t react to that.
“Perhaps it would be best if you came back with me,” he told her. “I’m not very keen on the idea of leaving a woman in this wilderness. Your chances of survival are not good. Almost none.” The rough man looked worried about his companion, whom he was about to leave in such a remote place.
She looked at him.
“But I have to find those children. This is my only hope.”
He didn’t answer anything.
“Are you going?” he asked her as he started the electric machine he was sitting on. “I’m asking you for the last time.”
“I can’t,” she said and wrapped her cape tighter.
He waved his hand and turned the sled back and rushed with all his might.
She saw that he didn’t really want to stay in this place, but also that he didn’t care that he was leaving her here. She anxiously watched him leave.
She knew that only her faith in finding her children could lead her to a place that no one knew for sure existed. She was looking at the fog-covered exit from the gorge in front of her. It seemed to her as if she were shipwrecked on the high seas without much chance of rescue. This was almost a suicide mission.
She knew that standing in this place would achieve absolutely nothing. She had to move and move forward. Even the longest road is not insurmountable if there is a clear understanding of what the goal is.
She started. She bypassed the trunks that stood in her way and the no-passing sign. Although she didn’t care, she knew she was on the right track. She was convinced that this sign was placed by the inhabitants of the North so that no one would disturb Father Whipper, especially curious tourists, which meant that he should be there somewhere.
She continued on. Everyone would trip and fall so much because the snow was getting deeper. Then she would pick herself up again and move forward as hard as she could. She was still shrouded in thick fog. She almost didn’t see anything around her. She was no longer sure if she was still in the gorge.
She decided that she would walk as long as she had the strength. She didn’t even know how much time had passed. She rested more and more and walked less and less.
She thought about her Little Jester and all those children she wouldn’t be able to help. The fatigue was increasing. She fainted. The dream was taking over her more and more. She just wanted to lie down and fall asleep.
She opened her eyes. She suddenly felt a tremendous strength within her. It was as if she was connected to some super-fast and powerful charger that filled her body with a hundred percent more energy than it normally has. It was as if she was resting for hours. She looked at the watch she always carried in her bag. It’s only been ten minutes. Nothing was clear to her. She moved on.
It was as if a curtain opened before her. The fog cleared. There was a view of the beautiful valley. She saw the outline of a house in front of her. Her heart beat faster. Maybe it’s the place where the kidnapped children are. Maybe that’s where her Little Prankster is. She hurried as fast as she could.
9.MEETING WITH THE SNEGUROCHKA
She walked without major problems for another half hour on the well-trodden path between snow drifts. It was obvious that someone was passing through here. She also interpreted this, just like the road ban sign, as a good sign. Not because she wanted to interpret all the facts in her favor, but because common sense told her to do so. If there are abducted children here, then they have to get here somehow, and the trampled snow could be exactly the confirmation of such thinking.
She approached the house on which was written in big letters “FATHER WHIPPERS INN”. There was no doubt that he was in the right place. A smile appeared on her face even though the overall situation was not happy at all. She thought that the owner proudly pointed out the sign as if it was a Hilton, Four Seasons or some other luxury hotel chain and that he wanted to attract the best possible clientele with the advertisement. Anyway, she was grateful to him for that act because she was sure that she had reached the destination of her quest. She knew she would soon find out if all this made sense.
She crouched behind a pile of wood and decided to see who or what was in that house first. The strange behavior of the inhabitants of the North when mentioning this place still left its mark on her. She really wanted to see the children as soon as possible, but she knew that if she herself fell into some kind of trap, she wouldn’t be able to help them either.
She didn’t have to wait long.
The wooden door opened noisily and a corpulent man in his sixties stepped out.
She peeked out a little to get a better look at the man.
There was no doubt that it was a friar. He looked exactly as you would expect from a churchman. His scalp was almost completely bald, except for about five centimeters of hair that framed his head like a ribbon somewhere halfway from the top to his strong neck. He was large, with strong shoulders, almost two meters tall and dressed in a brown monk’s robe with a hood, girded with a white rope. Nowhere on him was a cross or any other relic that would indicate that he was a servant of God.
Grandma peeked a little more and saw the whip that was wrapped diagonally around his big body. It was obvious that, wearing it like that, she was very likely never to be separated from it. Not even when he’s sleeping. It was another irrefutable proof that it was Father Whipper.
He did not go outside the inn to breathe the fresh winter air, but to work. He held a butcher’s ax in one hand and a sharpening knife in the other. He made several powerful movements, made sure that the blade was sharp enough, looked around a bit and returned to the interior of the wooden dwelling.
Grandma Advent retreated behind a pile of wood that shielded her from the innkeeper’s view. She thought about what she had just seen and the behavior of the people of the North at the mention of this man’s name. She had enough life experience to know that no one should be judged based on appearance and what other people say about someone, but the sight of this man made her shudder.
However, life’s challenges sometimes seem much smaller when one faces them, just as problems are easier in the morning than when we lie down with them. She decided to meet this man face to face regardless of the consequences. She had nothing more to wait and calculate. She took a deep breath and started to get up to head towards the inn.
She did not succeed in her plan.
She felt an extremely cold but small hand on her mouth as the other wrapped around her waist and pulled her back to her hiding place. She almost fell into the snow.
“Don’t shout… don’t shout,” said a squeaky voice with a strong accent. “Now I will remove my hand, but don’t shout. You are in great danger. And you and me. Alright?”
Grandma nodded her head and turned slightly. She was almost stunned by what she saw. In front of her was a beautiful and very young girl, with big black eyes and a pale complexion. The long, brown braids that reached all the way to her lower back stood out. In addition, the clothes on her were almost the most beautiful thing that the grandmother had seen in her life. She wore a long, blue coat that had white snowflake motifs all over it. However, what particularly stood out on her was the headdress. Grandma’s Advent hat was strange, but this was even more unusual. The shape itself was hard to describe, but grandma knew a lot about fashion and knew that this type of headdress was called a kokošnik. It was an important part of Slavic folklore and tradition. It got its name from the rooster’s tail. The one on the girl’s head was blue and colorfully decorated. It looked like some big gate or wreath that framed the girl’s beautiful face. All in all, it seemed as if she had stepped off a global catwalk.
“Who are you?” Grandma Advent asked in amazement. “Natasha? Where did you come from here?”
She had no idea how the girl had snuck up on her without noticing anything.
“Let’s say I am Natasha. I use that name only on social networks. But yes… I sent you that tweet.”
“Then what’s your real name?” the woman asked, looking at her in amazement.
“Snegurochka”, answered the girl. “Granddaughter of Ded Moroz. Grandpa Frost”
After the meeting with Krampus and the stories about Father Whipper, the fact that the girl tells her in front of her that she is the granddaughter of Grandpa Frost, has now become completely acceptable to her. Not quite normal, but understandable.
“You mean Santa Claus,” said Grandma. “But I heard from his PR team and they said…”
“No, no…” the girl interrupted her, as if she no longer wanted to hear the mention of the name of Santa Claus. “It’s that American bum. He’s just looking to cash in on his character and work,” said Snegurochka a little angrily. “We are Slavs.” There was pride in her voice.
To Grandma Advent, all this characters were same, but obviously it wasn’t like that.
“What are you doing here?”
“Grandpa sent me. We saw your post on a social network in the Christmas events group. You know we follow everything. We have some sources of information of our own and we are sure that the children you are looking for are here.”
The conversation ended abruptly.
The friar came out again and looked around as if something was suspicious. This time he did not engage in any other work, but concentrated all his attention on surveying the scenery.
Snegurochka lowered Granny Advent a little more down to make sure she wouldn’t be noticed. The elderly woman almost stopped breathing.
After a short time, the corpulent man returned to the interior of the inn.
“You don’t know who we’re dealing with,” whispered the girl after making sure they were alone outside again. “This man inside, if you can call him that, Father Whipper, is a demon.”
“But if he is a monk, then there must be goodness in him,” reasoned the old woman somewhat naively.
“This guy forgot about it a long time ago. He once belonged to a church order, but was excommunicated because of his inclinations towards children. And not just any kind. They say that on very cold nights, around Christmas, he kidnaps children, cuts them into pieces and fills barrels with them. Cannibal”, Snegurochka concluded her description.
Granny looked at her in disbelief because she couldn’t even imagine such horrors.
“Dear God, poor children,” said the grandmother, horrified by what she heard. Her legs were almost cut off. “What are we going to do now?”
Darkness began to fall a little and it was getting colder and colder.
The girl looked at her in astonishment as if this question made no sense.
“I’m going inside to look for the children, and you wait here,” she said firmly.
Now it was Granny Advent’s turn to show surprise and amazement.
“You think I’ve come all this way to let you in alone now. And for me to wait out here doing nothing. While you will deal with this… man-eater… child-eater,” she said in disbelief.
“My chances are better if I stand up to him alone,” the girl retorted, convinced of what she was saying. “Otherwise I’ll have to keep an eye on you too.”
“It’s out of the question,” said the woman, who desperately wanted to find the children as soon as possible. “I’m going, and you do as you wish,” she said to the young girl and started to face Father Whipper.
“Wait,” said Snegurochka and stopped her again. It was much softer and more sensitive than a moment ago. “Okay,” she said, seeing that she couldn’t use any arguments to stop Granny Advent from going to look for the children together. “Wait a minute… just a minute.”
She put the index fingers of both hands on her temples. She closed her eyes and seemed to have sunk into another universe. It didn’t take long. “We can”, she said and left the shelter and headed towards the inn. Grandma followed her and barely managed to catch up.
“How do you know? What have you been doing now?” grandma wondered.
“Sixth sense and things like that,” answered the girl as if it was the most normal thing.
They set out to face the monster.
10. CLASH WITH FATHER WHIPPER
They crept up to the entrance and stopped there for a moment. The door was ajar. Snegurochka cautiously peeked out and motioned for the woman to follow her. They entered the inn.
At first glance, the space did not differ much from buildings of this type. To tell the truth, it was no different from the inns of some hundred years ago or those that were decorated in a retro style. There were a dozen wooden tables and around each one there were benches to sit on with the upper part resting on their edges. Exactly in the same way as when there are no guests. The room was dominated by a huge wooden bar on which there was nothing. In its back there was a shelf on which smaller and larger ceramic jugs were hung. Below them are glasses, turned with the upper part downwards. All a lot of dust.
The room was completely empty, without its own light source. She was only illuminated by the light coming from outside through the small windows, and it was getting less and less.
“There’s no one here,” Grandma said in a whisper as her eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness.
The girl just shrugged her shoulders. It was clear that she was completely focused on inspecting the room. Her gaze slid from the top of the inn down, then up again, only this time more to the right. And so in order, starting from the space that was completely to the left of her. Like a scanner that passes its rays through walls and detects any anomaly.
Grandma was looking more at her than at the room, but Sneguročka was not disturbed by this.
Then suddenly the interior became even darker. A large shadow covered the front door. Something big and bulky entered the inn.
While Granny Advent was trying to figure out what was happening, Snegurochka was already in motion. With frightening speed, she flipped back twice the entire length of her body, jumped with her foot on the thigh of the newly arrived person, and pushed herself up hard and rotated. Like a cat that skilfully climbs to the top of a tree in a few moves, she found herself with her legs wrapped around the back of a potential danger’s shoulders and head. She didn’t hesitate. She began to hit the newcomer hard on the head with her elbows.
“Wait… wait…” Granny Advent shouted, recognizing the person Snow White was fighting with.
The girl did not react immediately. She was like a pit bull. Once she set her sights on an enemy, she didn’t let go easily. She preferred to destroy a potential threat rather than find out later that she was not decisive enough and prevented to attack on time.
“Let him go!” shouted the grandmother again. “He is not the enemy.”
Only now did the aggressive fighter listen. Although reluctant, she stopped the attack and separated herself from her victim. Just as skillfully as she jumped on top of the man, she found herself on the ground again. She didn’t fully believe Granny Advent’s assessments, so she was still in the combat guard.
The stout man shook his head to recover from the blows he had received. Blood poured from the top of his head, over his forehead and face. The fighting activity of the Slavic warrior was very visible.
Granny Advent approached him.
“Yet you came. I knew that my faith in you was not in vain. Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“Yes… I was sorry to leave you alone in this wilderness, and the children too…” he muttered as he tried to wipe the blood from his face with his hands. In any case, he was not one for big words, but the shock he experienced from Snegurochska’s blows contributed even more to this characteristic of his.
From somewhere in her bag, the grandmother took out a handkerchief and wiped the remaining blood from the man’s nose and cheeks.
The beautiful fighter seemed to be tired of this heartbreaking scene.
“We have to go. We don’t have time. There,” she said and pointed to the door that she assumed led to the basement of the room.
The place towards which Snegurochka was pointing was now already in complete darkness, just like the rest of the room.
“Hang on. This will do for us,” said Granny Advent, seeing the kerosene lamp hung on one of the pillars that supported the inn’s roof. She rocked it to make sure there was liquid in it and lit the flame with the matches she had in her cape pocket.
The light illuminated the room.
They approached the heavy door and quietly pushed it open. After that, they paused, listening to see if their act would cause any reaction. Nothing happened.
They peeked and saw that behind the door there were stairs leading to the basement.
Snjegurochka let Granny Advent to go first and illuminated the way. She wanted her hands to be free so that she could react as soon as possible when the showdown with Father Whipper start. They went down to the bottom of the stairs and tried to be as quiet as possible.
Granny Advent raised the kerosene lamp high in order to illuminate as much of the room as possible. Large amounts of hay were thrown everywhere. It seemed as if they were in a barn. In addition, there were also many barrels. The old, wooden ones. The grandmother shivered at the sight of them because she remembered what the girl had said to her outside a moment ago.
“Psssst…” Snow Beauty said in a whisper, stepping in front of the grandmother and the corpulent man. She closed her eyes so that all the capacities of her sensory apparatus were focused on the sounds. She knew that in this semi-darkness, her sight wouldn’t help much. She slowly turned her head in both directions like huge antennae trying to pick up signals from extraterrestrial life forms from other galaxies.
Granny Advent and Bear Adams didn’t move at all and watched her movements carefully.
“There,” she said suddenly and pointed with her finger towards one of the barrels that was in the very corner of the room in almost complete darkness.
A man and a woman hurried towards the place marked by Snow Beauty. They weren’t even quite near that place when the girl spoke again.
“Over there,” she exclaimed, pointing in a completely different direction. The duo following her instructions paused for a moment in confusion. Granny Advent reacted first. “Go there,” she said and gently pushed the man towards the place where Snow Beauty pointed her finger. She hung the lamp on a steel peg that was driven into the top of a nearby pillar and began to open the barrel.
“And there,” shouted the girl again, who was now spinning faster and faster around her axis like a wheel in an amusement park that has lost its brakes and is now spinning without control. “And…” she mouthed again, but gave up her intention. She saw that it no longer made any sense. She paused for a moment and seemed to be waking up from a trance. She didn’t need much.
She saw Granny Advent struggling to remove the lid from a large wooden barrel, which she first detected as a possible place where something suspicious was happening. She quickly came to help her.
Both women were now working together to separate the lid from the body of the barrel, from which no sounds were still coming. It seemed as if Snow Beauty had made a mistake and that there was no one in there. At least not anyone alive. They did not manage to open the barrel. Then the girl showed all her skill and strength.
Just as she jumped on a strong man a moment ago, she did the same now. She found herself on the barrel and dug her fingers into the very edge of the lid. She crouched down and began to pull herself up like Olympic weightlifters trying to lift enormous weights off the floor. She pulled with her back, which was a much stronger muscle than her arms, and the result was quickly visible. The cover began to separate from the socket in which it was stuck. Granny Advent was amazed at the skill of her young helper.
Snow Beauty tensed her thin but muscular back even more. Now the lid has completely separated from the rest of the barrel. She brought so much energy to it. Not only did she manage to remove the lid, which flew into the dark part of the room, but she also overturned the barrel itself. She deftly jumped to the side of the barrel that had fallen to the floor of the basement of the inn and did a backflip. That’s how she found herself in front of its opening.
Almost at the same time, Granny Advent arrived at the same place, grabbing the kerosene lamp from the place where she had left it a while ago. Together they now knelt in front of the opening of the barrel and stared into its interior. Grandma raised the lamp to face level to illuminate the dark space.
The reaction of an individual largely depends on what he expects from something. Many times we cannot influence events, but we can prepare ourselves how we will react to them. Although Grandma Advent wanted very much to find her grandson and the other children, she mentally prepared herself for the fact that there would be no one in the barrel. And that was a better solution than finding the little ones dismembered inside. She wanted to remain strong in spirit in order to go on a further search, and not to give in to discouragement, disappointed by the bad outcome. Therefore, she was extremely happy when the light of the kerosene lamp revealed to her that there was a living being inside the barrel.
Two frightened eyes were looking at her. They were staring at the light source without blinking.
Granny Advent pushed the lamp a little further inward. A boy of about five, six at the most crouched in the barrel and pulled back a little more when the kerosene flame illuminated him. Back to the very bottom, from where it was moved by the action by which Snow Beauty overturned the barrel from its vertical position. Hay, which was abundant in the room, was also inside the barrel.
“Do not be afraid. We don’t wish you any harm,” Granny Advent said softly, overjoyed that she had found the children after all. Actually, for now, only one child.
But her words did not cause any reaction. The child was still silent.
Grandma then realized that she had the wrong approach and that she had to point the light source at herself and Snow Beauty instead at the child. She moved the lamp away from the boy and placed it between herself and the girl. “Look at us. We want to help you. Look…” Grandma said in a soft voice, in which she tried to add as much warmth and love as possible.
This maneuver had its effect and the boy’s head did move, ever so slightly, and then some more. Then the shoulders and then the rest of the body. Still with great fear in his eyes, the boy finally squirmed out of the large wooden container, in which he had obviously been for some time, like a mouse emerging from its hole to see where the big cat was hiding.
“Come,” Granny Advent told him gently and took him in a hug. The child convulsively, almost desperately, hugged the woman and laid his little head on top of her. “It’s fine… everything’s fine now,” she whispered, holding him close to her with all her strength.
A scream then broke through the room.
Granny Advent hugged the boy even more tightly, and Snow White was already on her feet ready to face the danger. Both the elderly woman and the girl were trying to figure out what was going on. Their gaze stopped at the large man who was their ally. It quickly became clear to them what was happening. The man whom Granny Advent named Bear Adams also found a child in the barrel he opened. Happy about that fact, he wanted to get this boy out as soon as possible, which caused a panicked reaction in the child that culminated in a loud scream.
Snow Beauty quickly ran to the man, and the child calmed down when he saw a beautiful girl in a nice outfit.
Now they all got to work together and began to open the barrels. Some were empty, but most were hiding boys and girls of various ages inside. As they were taking them out, they kept them next to each other so that they could have a better look at them in a pile like this.
They were so busy in opening the casks that they almost completely forgot about the potential danger lurking in this strange house. However, some were keenly aware of what was happening in the basement of the inn.
“There… there’s something there,” said one child and pointed to a corner of the room that was in almost complete darkness.
All three adults turned in that direction. A large shape was visible in the darkness, but it was quite unclear what it was. They approached cautiously. Snow Beauty brought the lamp that was on the floor to better illuminate that space.
In the darkness, a large figure in a monk’s garb could be seen with his back turned and hood up.
They stopped before this strange and mysterious appearance. Any person who stands in the dark without saying a word is chilling, especially in a situation like this.
Granny Advent spoke first.
“Father Whipper, these children must be returned to their homes. We don’t want any problems,” she said in a low voice.
There was no answer. The persons before them was still completely motionless and silent.
They approach a little closer. With even greater caution.
“Friar… please. We want to finish this with no violence. Let us go with the children and you will never see us again”, Granny Advent was persistent in her intention to resolve this peacefully. She approached the motionless form from one side, while Snow Beauty did the same from the other. Bear Adams was between them and a little behind, probably thinking that it is better not to get too close to this very danger situation and that he will be able to react much better if he keeps his distance.
Snow Beauty took another step forward and put the kerosene lamp on the floor so that both her hands were free. Then she started to put her hand on the unusual creature, which she wasn’t sure if it was an illusion or a real person, in order to turn it towards her.
She didn’t succeed in that.
She heard an inarticulate sound behind her. Almost at the same time, she and Granny Advent turned to the large man standing a little behind them.
What happened to him shocked them.
Like a ski jumper, his body began to sink towards the ground. He hit the floor with all his weight and remained lying motionless. A butcher’s knife was sticking out from his back. The knife used by Father Whipper. The man for whom Grandma Advent had come all this way, stepped out of the semi-darkness and watched them ominously.
Everything stopped for a moment, but it didn’t last long. Although they expected an attack from Father Whipper, it came from the other side.
Stunned by what happened to the stout man, they almost forgot about the mysterious appearance that had brought them to this part of the basement. Which was just now moving to attack. The weak light of the kerosene lamp was enough to illuminate the blade that was rushing towards Snow Beauty from below.
Probably a sixth sense and almost the animal reflexes saved the warrior from certain death. She dodged the blade like a bullfighter dodging the horns of a raging bull. Not only that, but she used the energy of the attacker’s swing to push him away from her.
The strange opportunity rolled away and got up again with a lot of difficulty, and in the process the hood fell off her head.
Granny Advent watched in disbelief at the person who had just tried to take Snow Beauty’s life. First of all, she was surprised that there was someone else here with Father Whipper. Then the shock was even greater because she realized that it was a woman, extremely corpulent, similar in size to friar. Her sparse and untidy hair stuck out in all directions, and her thick eyebrows were almost joined together.
The friar and his helper most likely had an agreement that they would initially attract the intruder’s attention with a skillful diversion and that they would then get rid of the greatest danger. They estimated that it was a stout man who was killed by Father Whipper. Then his partner will attack the next threat, which is what happened with the attack on the Slavic girl. They left Grandma Advent for last because they probably thought she was the least of their problems.
Granny Advent and the friar were now staring at each other. That didn’t last long. He started menacingly towards her, but in the meantime he did another thing. He stepped on the man’s corpse in order to pull the meat chopper knife out of his body as easily as possible. Without any emotions. It’s as if he’s taking out an ax stuck in a tree stump in order to start chopping wood.
During that time, the corpulent woman regained her composure and attacked Snow Beauty again. Although the friar’s helper was bigger and stronger, the girl was a much better fighter. She deftly dodged several stabbing attempts and then with a sudden blow to the attacker’s wrist knocked the weapon out of her hand. Frustrated by this act, the woman threw herself at Snow Beauty with all her force. They fell to the ground. Snow Beauty skillfully threw the woman off her and they both now rose to their feet. The girl moved strangely and it was difficult to predict her moves. She used the martial art of Krav Maga, which was free from any beauty of movement and martial fair play, but her only goal was to incapacitate the opponent as brutally and efficiently as possible. This is exactly what Father Frost’s granddaughter did. She stomped on the toes of the woman in front of her, kicked her sideways in the knee, shoved her fingers in her eyes, hit her head with her shoulder and, most unusually, hit her with her braids. On each of them was a metal ball that Snow Beauty used as a weapon with skillful movements of her head. The blows of these strange hair accessories began to leave their mark on the face of the friar’s helper.
And not only that. When they were entering this dangerous place, grandma found it strange that Snow Beauty was not carrying any weapons. But she was wrong. The girl was hiding a whole arsenal on her body. In addition to the already mentioned iron accessories on the braids, a metal club appeared in the hands of the brave warrior at one point, which flew out of the mechanism attached to her forearm, the wire with which she strangled the corpulent woman at some moments, as well as special accessories on her lower legs that served for this to increase kicking. All these combat tools were even more deadly because they carried with them the element of surprise.
Grandma could not enjoy all this for long because she was in danger like never before. She was aware that she was seconds away from death. The friar swung at her with the ax that he had pulled from the unfortunate man’s back and which was covered in blood. It was as if he wanted to cut her diagonally, from her left shoulder to her right side.
She was not a martial artist like the young girl, but did the same thing any ordinary mortal would do. She raised her left hand to protect herself from the blade that was about to cut her in half at any moment. At the same time, she unintentionally pulled the cape with her and bent down a little more in order to somehow miraculously try to avoid the blade of the butcher’s tool.
And a miracle happened.
There was a dull thud of a blade that seemed to strike a metal shield rather than a woman’s garment. Grandma, like a turtle, peeked out of her shell to see what was going on. It wasn’t really clear to her which world she was in, this one of living people or that of spirits. She saw the bewildered face of the killer friar who did not understand what was happening. But he quickly regained his composure and swung even more forcefully. It’s as if he wants to cut through her, and the floor of the inn, and another two meters of earth under all that. Grandma went back under the cover of her cape and the same thing happened again. As the swing was stronger, so was the result of the collision of the blade with the impenetrable cape. Sparks flew. The friar stumbled back a few steps in reaction to his power colliding with something even more powerful.
Grandma Advent now saw that Snow Beauty was also watching her in astonishment, which was not very good in the midst of a life and death struggle.
Father Whipper may have been surprised by his failure to end Grandma Advent’s life, but it didn’t last long. Like a guided missile that cannot reach one target, it turned on another, on the young warrior.
While Snow Beauty was confused trying to understand what she had just witnessed, the man with the chopper knife sprang into action. The monk’s mantle did not prevent him from kicking the girl hard in the upper part of the torso. He did it extremely skillfully. She flew two or three meters through the air and slammed her back hard against the wooden support post and fell flat on the ground. She was shocked, but not unconscious. However, the scattered hay on the ground partially mitigated the fall.
However, the attack on Snow Beauty did not end with this. The friar and the woman must have realized that it is better to focus their attack on one opponent and permanently incapacitate him and then deal with the other together.
The corpulent woman reached for the kerosene lamp on the floor and swung it vigorously in the girl’s direction. The lamp hit the pole on which Snow Beauty was leaning and its flame engulfed the hay on the floor.
Granny Advent watched what was happening almost motionless. She was still in shock from surviving the attack of Father Whipper, and she didn’t know what to do. She was not used to fighting and didn’t know how she could help Snow White. She expected the young girl to jump out of the fire and continue fighting, but that didn’t happen. All the more so because the real flame hadn’t even reached her yet, but only a wave of heat that spread around it. But she just lay there helplessly, as if the proximity of the flames took away all her power.
She watched with horror as Snow Beauty slowly disappeared in the heat of the fire. It was like she was melting. Like an ice cream carelessly left in the hot summer sun. The woman in the cape was unable to do anything because Father Whipper, seeing that Snow Beauty was no longer a serious danger, moved towards her and the children. She had no doubts about her willingness to sacrifice her life to protect the tiny creatures that had just begun to live.
However, the friar advanced very slowly towards her. After the recent unsuccessful attack, it was not entirely clear to him who the woman in front of him was and what powers she possessed. Therefore, he leaned forward a little like a beast stalking its prey and moved his hand with the cleaver left and right. It was as if he wanted to hypnotize her with those moves. And the woman who helped him did the same from the other side.
Then the door slammed open. A somewhat strangely dressed figure appeared at the door. However, unlike the beautiful heroine she met a little while ago, Grandma Advent knew this hero well. His uniform, cap and strong disproportionate jaw increasingly became part of the Christmas festivities. Nutcracker.
“En garde“, he shouted in the manner of the first knight, drawing his sword from its scabbard and pointing it straight at Father Whipper, who himself was surprised by the appearance of a new actor in this story. The soldier was almost entirely in red, from his uniform to his headdress. There were golden epaulettes on the shoulders. The white beard and black mustache gave him an extremely unusual, but recognizable appearance.
The murderous friar turned his attention from Granny Advent and the children to the newcomer. Extremely skillfully, he removed the whip from his body with one hand and swung it strongly in order not to win this duel in the beginning.
But the Nutcracker expected exactly this. Anticipating your opponent’s moves is at the core of every art of warfare and hand-to-hand combat. He learned it well in the previous practice, which was more useful than all the military academies. But the best of the best do something more. He bent and spun around his axis in the manner of a top Shaolin master, and as he fell to the floor he rolled a few meters away from where he was when the whip whizzed towards him. With that, he avoided the attack and pushed the helpless Snow Beauty off the pyre. He wasn’t very precise in doing so, so they both rolled against the wall of the inn. The fire also caught his uniform, so he put out the flames with his hands while she tried to get out from under him.
“Get off me… get off…” she whispered barely audible. Despite being extremely weakened, her fighting spirit did not leave her.
“Hey… I just saved your life,” exclaimed the soldier, clearly hurt that his brave act was not appreciated.
“I don’t need anyone to save me. I went through all the training and I was never in danger”, the heroine from the east continued to defend her honor, even though she herself was aware that without this Nutcracker’s move, she would probably be finished already.
The Nutcracker was about to say something to answer her when the sound of the whip distracted him from that thought. He felt a sharp pain in his hand and the sword flew away from him. He hadn’t even got his bearings when the very next moment the whip wrapped strongly around his waist. While he was trying to free himself, the friar violently pulled him towards him. He was so strong that he could do it with one hand. In the other, he had a butcher’s ax in case he used it to judge the brave soldier when he was close enough to him.
Both Grandma Advent and the friar’s assistant watched the fight motionless.
While he was thinking about how women would come to him, because surely his attention would have been greater if he had not been dealing with Snow White, the Nutcracker saw her begin to move slightly. Although her movements were slow, she dragged herself to where his sword flew. She caught the blade and without calculating the turn, like a skilled hammer thrower, swung the weapon towards the Nutcracker with the utmost effort. It was so skillfully executed, as if they had been practicing all their lives, like pairs in ice skating who feel each other’s partner.
And then, in an instant, everything was over.
While Father Whipper was about to cut in half the soldier he managed to drag to him, the latter skillfully grabbed the hilt of the thrown sword and turned it towards his body. Then everything happened by itself. It was enough for him to slip slightly to clear the way for the blade. Father Whipper actually stuck the tip of the sword into his own body. At the same time, the grip of the whip loosened, so the Nutcracker quickly turned and plunged the rest of the weapon into the belly of the evil monk. Their faces almost touched.
The woman who was helping Father Whipper watched in disbelief what was happening. She couldn’t believe her partner was defeated.
The fire was increasingly affecting the wood from which the inn was made, which was greatly facilitated by the large amounts of hay that were there. Everything turned into a huge fire very quickly.
Seeing that there was no more danger from Father Whipper, but that they were in danger from the fire, Granny Advent panicked and began to take the children out of this eerie place. First from the basement, and then from the upper part of the inn, which was also increasingly engulfed in flames. Taking them outside, she put them all in a pile and started hugging and kissing them, happy that she managed to save them. She was especially pleased that the brother of the girl who sent her a message was among the children.
Grandma Advent wanted to go back to the inn to try to retrieve Bear Adams’ body, but the children prevented her from doing so. It would be a suicide mission that would most likely cost her her life. She felt very sorry for the big man who in the end still gave his life for the children even though he lost faith in children’s love. She said goodbye to him in her mind.
When Father Whipper’s helper saw that everything was over, she ran away. She didn’t even look back at the woman who adored Christmas and the children sitting in the snow. Grandma Advent saw it. She hurried after her as fast as she could.
“Wait, wait…”, she shouted at the top of her voice because it was clear to her that she would not be able to catch up. Despite her corpulent build, the woman quickly moved away from the inn, which was disappearing in flames. “Please… tell me where the other children are. Please.”
The fleeing woman paused and made sure that no one but Grandma Advent was following her. It seemed that she was going to move forward, but then she stopped.
“Don’t come any closer… stay where you are!” said Granny Advent in a determined voice.
“Okay… just tell me where the rest of the children are,” retorted the old woman with a desperate cry. “Please.”
Some humanity seemed to emerge from under the cold exterior of Father Whipper’s partner.
“Don’t go… don’t go there. Don’t go,” she said in a cold, but slightly trembling voice.
While watching her, Granny Advent seemed to notice something on this woman’s face that seemed almost impossible to her.
The woman who was with her partner did not hesitate to kidnap children and probably commit other crimes, now it was as if she was afraid to say some words. She seemed horrified at the thought of anyone going to that place.
“Please… I’m begging you. Tell me where to look for them”, the grandmother fought frantically to find out where the remaining children were.
“To the Black Knight’s castle,” shouted the innkeeper, turned and disappeared into the darkness.
Grandma Advent looked at her without saying a word.
Meanwhile, the Nutcracker lifted Snow Beauty in his arms, ran with her out of the burning inn and carried her into the deep snow. It was almost gone. Like some hologram projection that fades and disappears more and more. He laid her on the ground and covered her with snow. He left only his face outside of that white mass. She was no longer breathing. Now he covered her face with snow too. He had nothing left to lose. He reminded me of a child who frantically builds towers and castles in the sand in order to avoid the incoming tide.
Everything was calm. Everything fell silent. The snow mound stood motionless. It seemed that this would be the brave girl’s final resting place.
He turned and started to leave. Then he stopped… and ran back.
He unfolded the snow and began to rub her face with it. Stronger and stronger. Almost frantically.
Suddenly Snow Beauty opened her eyes. She took a deep breath like a breath-hold diver on a rising from the dark sea depths. From another world. She looked at the Nutcracker in shock.
“Get away from me…” she shouted and pushed him away. She was full of life again.
He fell into the snow and now he wasn’t surprised, he somehow expected this. He smiled and saw in her gaze something other than anger.
She looked at him once more. She slowly stood up, shook off the snow and, ignoring him, headed back towards the inn, which was now disappearing in the fire. She stopped on the hill. He stood next to her and together they watched Granny Advent and the children climb towards them.
“I’m glad you’re both okay. The children are in the Black Knight’s castle,” said the grandmother when she reached the place where the Nutcracker and Snow Beauty were waiting for her, panting. She immediately moved forward so that they would not waste time, but head towards that destination as soon as possible. She also dragged some food and necessities with her that she saved from the inn.
She paused when she realized that these two were not following her.
“What is it?” she asked them, seeing that they were looking at her in some kind of astonishment and did not move.
“In the Black Knight’s castle?” Snow Beauty asked in amazement, but it was as if she was also speaking on behalf of the Nutcracker at that moment. “And you just say it like that. As if these children are in Disneyland?”
It seemed like at that moment Granny Advent was getting a little on her nerves because she clearly had no idea who was who in the world of Christmas monsters, freaks and killers.
Now the grandmother was looking at her in amazement.
The girl nervously shook her head and began her presentation.
“That Black Knight is another one of the constellation of characters used to scare children. But this one is not just anyone. It is obvious that we are dealing with the very elite of villains, and it is certainly no coincidence that after the friar-murderer, this one now appears.”
“I think his real name is Hans Trapp,” added the Nutcracker in this exposition.
Grandma Advent was a bit embarrassed, but she really had no idea who all these villains were.
“Let’s go,” said the girl and ended the discussion.
For her, there was no doubt that she would follow the Granny Advent because even if she wanted to, she could not return to the house with an unfinished task. She looked at the Nutcracker and he just shrugged.
He took out military maps from which he was informed in which direction the Black Knight’s castle was located. The light of the bonfire in which the wooden dwelling was disappearing helped him to clearly see all the details.
“We must first reach one of the villages located at the foot of the mountain where the Black Knight’s castle is located. There we will make a plan how to get to the castle and free the children”, he explained while running his finger over the map, but it seemed that he was actually working out a route plan with himself.
“Let’s go,” he said in a relieved soldier’s voice. He pointed at the large backpack he was carrying with him and which he had put down before entering Father Whipper’s inn. Full military equipment. He stood at the head of the column, turned on the battery to light the way and headed in the direction of the Black Knight’s castle. Everyone else followed him without saying a word.
11. SMALL PLEASANT CONVERSATIONS ON THE EAST-WEST RELATIONSHIP
They walked all night and a good part of the next morning. Everyone was cold from the journey and tired from the past events, and understandably the most children.
“Grandma, we can’t do it anymore”, one of the little ones would say every now and then. Granny Advent herself was on the brink of strength. She also understood the Nutcracker, who had the desire to get as far away from the inn that was the place of confrontation as possible, in fear that what happened could attract other enemies as well. Returning to the North was out of the question because Granny Advent didn’t want to calculate what the reaction of the residents there would be if they showed up with all these children.
“We will camp here,” said the Nutcracker and took his backpack off his shoulder. “It’s time to rest and gather energy for tomorrow.”
Grandma Advent looked at him in wonder because she had no idea how he would camp and then spend the night on an almost bare, snow-covered field. But she believed she knew what she was doing. She sat the children around her and took out the food they had managed to salvage from the inn before it burned to the ground
The Nutcracker surveyed the field. He took his sword out of its scabbard and, like a skilled surveyor, drew a regular circle in a place that was still a little to leeward. He looked at his work once more and it was obvious that he was satisfied. Then he started making regular cubes out of the snow. He skillfully shaped them just as a baker kneads dough to get exactly the kind of bread he imagined in his head. Snow Beauty quickly realized what he was up to and started helping.
“Grandma, what are they doing?” asked one child looking at the Nutcracker and Snow Beauty.
“I don’t know, love,” she told him and shrugged her shoulders because she really wasn’t sure what was going on.
Snow Beauty heard this, so she stopped shaping the snow for a moment. She approached Granny Advent and the child.
“We are building an igloo. It is an Eskimo dwelling. Do you want to join? Do you want to help us?” she said cheerfully to the little one, running her fingers through his hair.
“Yes, yes… I want to!” he happily exclaimed. Building a little house is every child’s dream, especially in the snow. It was a great experience. He ran towards the place where the ice house had sprouted and started to help.
When the other children saw this, they also ran towards the Nutcracker and Snow Beauty and began to shape the snow with their hands. It’s as if they forgot about the fatigue. Granny Advent joined them.
In about two hours, they built the first two rows by stacking snow cubes along the edge of the regular circle drawn by the Nutcracker. All the blocks were the same size, and then they started to shape smaller ones to be able to form a dome. This is how the dwelling began to take on the shape by which the igloo is most recognizable. They left vents on top.
“Nutcracker, are we done?” a little girl asked the soldier.
“Just a little more,” he replied and went to his knapsack for the small warming lamp he always carried when he went to cold places. Then he entered the igloo and began to heat the walls. The snow started to melt from the heat.
When the children realized what was happening, they were afraid that their snow house would disappear.
“Now everything will melt for us”, shouted a boy of about five or six years old and almost burst into tears.
“It won’t melt,” Snow Beauty comforted him and took him in her arms. Soon the Nutcracker opened the snow that closed the needle and went outside.
“What were you doing?” the children asked him curiously.
“I heated the walls. They started to shrivel from the heat. However, due to the roundness, the water does not drain onto the floor, but is absorbed by the walls. I let them get well wet, and now cold air is coming in to make a layer of ice on the walls. This will give our igloo strength.”
“Aha… aha…” the children let out a collective sigh of relief that the needle would not disappear, and they hadn’t even entered it yet.
“Now we will make a small tunnel at the entrance through which we will enter in order to reduce the surface area for air flow and that’s it,” said the Nutcracker.
Winter days are short and the evening was beginning to fall. Time passed quickly in the construction of the snow house. The children waited patiently in line for those in front of them to enter the needle. One after another they disappeared into the white winter house. Grandma Advent came in after them. This was a little more difficult for her, but the children gave her their hands and somehow managed to pull her in and push her into the snow dwelling.
The Nutcracker and Snow Beauty checked that there was no child left outside and brought in the rest of the equipment. After that, they sat down on the snowy ground and leaned their backs against the igloo. They were tired, but satisfied. They were silent like that for a while. Then Snow Beauty spoke.
“What do you know about real fighting, Nutcracker, you’ve only fought mice so far?” she said with a smile, nudging him a little with her elbow.
“You Spy,” replied the Nutcracker, looking at her quite tenderly.
“So, the life of a professional soldier,” added the girl, now something more serious. “Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine? Maybe our paths crossed somewhere and it is possible that we looked at each other through the sights.
He didn’t answer anything. Real soldiers don’t talk about their past or their battles. He just smiled.
“Is the Old Man still close to the top?” he asked her suddenly.
This question surprised her a bit. She thought he knew nothing about her.
He noticed it.
“You know everything about us and we know everything about you. Nowadays, it is difficult for anything to remain hidden. This is a time without secrets,” said the soldier.
He was right. She knew there was no point in hiding anything.
“When the changes came, it was not easy for us because everyone thought that we were also part of the old regime. Father Frost, whom you on the other side call by the code name The Old Man, has fallen out of favor with the new authorities. He retired to the countryside. When I was born, he was mainly involved in my training. From the smallest feet. Cold weapons, martial arts, survival in nature… we had a good time. Somehow, at that time, everyone wanted something that came from the west, so the Old Man had to watch how Santa Claus show off. And then things changed again. A call came from the highest place and… you more or less know the rest.” She said all this in one breath.
“I know, yes,” he said with a smile. He had heard many stories about this extremely skilled girl. She was almost a legend among mercenaries. They saw it on all the battlefields where the interests of the great powers clashed. Father Frost was considered a man trusted by the very top of the government, and Snow Beauty was the most capable product of his school. She was especially valued for her skill in hand-to-hand combat. They say that every year she spent at least two weeks in the camp of the best special forces in order not to get rusty.
“You?” she asked him without feigning curiosity. She was interested in his life story.
“A classic,” he replied. “You mentioned it yourself a while ago. It’s hard to escape from your own past and that nutcracker story. You know how it goes. A few years of the Foreign Legion, then private insurance, Blackwater, world wars, etc. But then one gets tired of all that. He is looking for a new meaning in life. When I heard about this children, I immediately rushed here. What are you doing here? The Old Man wants to extend his influence to the west?” he asked with a smile.
“I don’t ask much. Grandpa takes care of it. I just execute,” she answered, but it was clear that she was not being talked about very much. She changed the subject. “You must have already broken many women’s hearts, knight without a flaw,” she told him with a smile and slapped his hand.
He looked at her smiling again. She was in a similar job to him, so she could roughly know the answer to this question herself. But then it was as if you could see some sadness in his eyes.
“Everyone gets fed up after a while of these short-lived adventures. It is difficult to expect that someone will seriously get attached to a person whose head is in a bag every day and who knows where on the globe. You? Is there a hero waiting for you by the warm fireplace?”
And he knew very well the answer to the question he asked. Lot of warriors on all continents carry a torch for her. He knew many who would give anything to be able to call her their darling. And not only them. Business people, writers, artists… all yearned for a brave adventure like no other in this world.
“Ha, ha… you know what you guys are like today… everyone likes a tigress, and then they would make a cuddly kitty out of her… it doesn’t work that way,” she said with a wide and sincere smile. “Okay, maybe you’re not like that. We are somehow of the same species”, she said and looked at him strangely.
They talked for a long time that night, joking and pushing each other. Then they crawled into their sleeping bags and fell asleep outside, next to each other.
12.A DANGEROUS GAME WITH A CHRISTMAS SCARECROW
“…thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven…”
Snow Beauty was slowly waking up from her sleep. She rubbed her eyes and detected where those sounds were coming from. She saw the Nutcracker practicing. With the nude torso he was doing push-ups and counting repetitions out loud. She looked at the tattoos on his body. It was as if they were alive as the muscles tensed. He was not too massive, but extremely muscular and defined, which was what was meant for a professional soldier. Combat activities and the need for mobility on the battlefield do not tolerate excessive muscle mass.
He saw that she had woken up. He stopped doing gymnastics. He jumped to his feet.
“Good morning”, he greeted her cheerfully.
“To you too,” she answered him somewhat reservedly. She didn’t really like that she fell asleep and that this soldier of the Western powers was already practicing while she was sailing through the land of dreams.
She stood up, brushed the snow off her blue coat and stretched a little.
“Are you up for some light sparring?” he asked her with a smile.
“No… no,” she answered quickly and waved her hand. Then she paused. She changed her mind. She didn’t want him to think she was afraid. She took off her coat, folded it neatly and put it in the snow.
“Well… still… why not,” she said and suddenly rushed towards him.
He was a little surprised because he didn’t expect this kind of reaction. He thought that they would first agree on whether they would wrestle, box, or practice some third form of combat.
He was mistaken.
As she quickly approached him, she pretended to punch him in the face. He instinctively raised his hands to protect himself. As he did so, he realized that he had made a mistake. She threw herself around his waist and grabbed the back of his thighs with her hands and pushed hard. Grab both feet. Double leg. As he flew with his back to the ground, he knew where this was coming from. Many eastern fighters, especially those from Dagestan, are extremely skilled in the martial art of Sambo, similar to wrestling. The best of them even wrestle with bears from a young age.
But the brain is still the most powerful weapon. He already knew what his next move was. In breaks between the two battlefields, he would go to Brazil. Sun, sea, beaches, beautiful girls. They were wonderful vacations. However, he also used the visit to this country to improve in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a martial art that was brought from Japan to the South American continent. He mostly practiced defense in a situation where he was on his back, and the opponent was in a dominant position over him. Just as it was the case now.
He suddenly jerked his hips, disturbed her balance and pushed her away from him with his leg, which he pulled out from under her body. She rolled off him, but deftly landed back on his foot. She gripped him hard and started working joint lock on this part of the body.
He reacted like lightning. He leaned his upper body towards her, grabbed her around the ankle and applied the same grip she did. Thus tangled, they rolled to one side and the other, but no one gave way. He saw that she was no stranger to levers on her body either.
“Be careful not to bite me!” she shouted with a loud laugh. She could barely withstand his pressure on her leg and in this way wanted to show that she was fine. She wanted to distract him by reminding him of his past. She knew that was the best way to win this duel.
“I’m afraid of getting poisoned,” he replied, laughing. It masked the pain caused by her joint lock on his ankle.
“Surrender,” she shouted at him. “Tap Out.”
“You surrender,” he retorted. “You Tap Out.”
They called each other to signal that they were giving up the fight and admitting that the other had won. Who knows how long this would have lasted and how it would have ended if a voice hadn’t been heard.
“Children, it’s time to move,” Grannny Advent told them in a gentle but firm voice. Although they were great warriors and hardened fighters, for her both Nutcracker and Snow Beauty were beautiful young people, almost still children.
Somehow they got untangled and got up quickly. They were not very happy that Granny Advent found them having carefree fun.
She was not alone. There was a giggle.
The little ones, who were ready to go, watched with joy the two heroes who had just rescued them from the clutches of Father Whipper rolling in the snow.
“Granny Advent, we would like to play too. Granny…” voices were heard.
“No, no… we have to go. We have to find other children”, she replied while fixing the hats on their heads so that they wouldn’t get cold.
In the meantime, both Snow Beauty and Nutcracker were ready for the trip, so they could start. Everyone looked with regret at the Igloo they had to leave behind.
“About a day’s walk from here is a village at the foot of the Black Knight’s castle. We should arrive late in the afternoon,” said the soldier.
They walked for a long time through the snow-covered areas. They didn’t talk much.
“Isn’t it strange?” Granny Advent suddenly said to the girl who was walking next to her and broke the silence, “that the little ones were so comfortably settled. Why such attention and covering the barrels with hay if something terrible had to happen to the children. They also said that Father Whipper and his wife fed them well and that they did them no harm. They were terrified by their appearances and with the fact that they were kidnapped from their homes and families, but nothing else terrible happened to them.”
“Yes,” answered Snow Beauty. “It’s all strange.”
The road led them further through a plain covered with snow. Everything was unusually quiet.
They ended the conversation. Their attention was attract by a commotion among the children. They whispered something to each other.
“GrannyAdvent, what’s that?” several of them asked almost at the same time, pointing to the field. The outline of a solitary figure was visible.
“It’s a scarecrow that scares birds,” said Granny Advent. “But the bird is gone now, so the scarecrow is sleeping,” she added with a smile.
“We know that this is a scarecrow and that it scares the birds, but why is it moving?”
“It doesn’t move, it just seems to you.”
Even as she finished her sentence, she knew she wasn’t quite sure what she was saying. What has been happening to her lately has taught her to question things that were logical to her until yesterday.
She turned to the straw figure that was in the field some thirty meters away and stared at it. Hearing the conversation between the grandmother and the children, the Nutcracker and Snow Beauty did the same.
It was moving. This could be clearly observed. At first only slightly, and then more and more visible. There was no doubt about that now.
The scarecrow waved his hand at them with a mechanical movement like a crossbuck at a railroad crossing that goes up and down.
“You see grandma… you see it’s moving,” the children shouted excitedly, happy that they were right.
The expression on the faces of the adult members of the group, who were looking at the scarecrow, was not the least bit joyful. They knew that this most likely did not mean anything good.
“Stay here”, they said to the children and went to the field to see what it was all about. They walked slowly and cautiously. They didn’t know what was waiting for them. They thought maybe it was some modern scarecrow who was tired of standing motionless in the field and that he probably also had some app that controlled his scaring of birds.
The scarecrow started up again. This time the movement of the straw hand went from the bottom up. It was as if he was inviting them to come closer.
Now they could observe him much better. There was nothing special about it compared to any other scarecrow that a person could find in any field, in any corner of the world. It was located on an improvised cross and raised about half a meter from the snow-covered ground. Cotton trousers that reached below the knee, a rough brown workman’s shirt pulled over a straw trunk and a brimmed hat on his head. On his side was a canvas bag hanging from a strap that went diagonally across his body. The straw man’s head was bent as if he were sleeping.
They approached him. They didn’t know what to do. The Nutcracker drew his sword, and Snow Beauty took a fighting stance. They felt a bit stupid because there was only one ordinary scarecrow in front of him.
“Give me the children”, a deep voice was suddenly heard, echoing through the field. “Give them to me now and go.”
It was clear what the scarecrow wanted and also that it was not there by chance.
The three people in front of scarecrow looked at him without saying a word. Now it was certain that the release of the children from the Father Whipper inn would not go without consequences. They didn’t know who had sent the scarecrow, but his goal was clear.
The straw man did not wait for their answer. He jumped from the cross and found himself on the ground, bent forward, holding his hat so it wouldn’t fly off.
All three took a step back and moved away from him.
It slowly raised its head and now they could see that instead of eyes it had two hollows that seemed to have been dug by crows and a hole cut in the straw in the shape of a smile.
“I am the Christmas Scarecrow and I want to play with you,” said a very squeaky and cuddly little voice that seemed to belong to a small child, and which had nothing in common with the voice that had asked the children to be handed over to him a little while ago. The scarecrow’s mouth did not move and the voice seemed to come from inside the straw body like a skilled ventriloquist. “Bring the children and we will all play together,” he added.
They didn’t know whether to attack him, run away from him, or do something else. They remained silent and left the initiative to him. And if they wanted to say something to each other, they would have a hard time finding the right words in this situation.
The scarecrow turned its back on them and returned to the cross from which it had just descended. It looked like she was dancing in front of him for a moment. Then it bent down with terrible speed, plucked the cross from the ground, turned in a half circle and whirled it towards Granny Advent, Snow Beauty and the Nutcracker.
“Give me the children…give me!!!” thundered that deep voice again as the cross flew over their heads.
There was no longer any doubt that the Christmas Scarecrow had no friendly intentions at all.
“To play… I want to play,” returned the sweet little voice as he walked towards them with his straw arms spread wide as if he wanted to embrace them all.
But no one cared about the performance of the Christmas Scarecrow and his schizophrenic outbursts. The time for action has come.
“This is your end!” exclaimed the Nutcracker and took a step forward. He raised one hand above his head while stabbing the scarecrow with his sword in the other. No fencing hall would be ashamed of such a move. Almost perfect.
“This was even easier than with Father Whipper”, he thought, thrusting the sword even deeper into the scarecrow.
The straw monster lowered its head and with its straw hands grasped the blade that was still just a little bit sticking out between its body and the hilt of the sword. Most of it had already gone through his back.
“Look… look… well, I’m pierced”, said with joy in the voice no one else but the scarecrow. It pulled the sword out of itself without any problems because on the other side there was no reaction from the Nutcracker, who was looking dumbfounded at what was just happening. “Well done, indeed… excellent,” added the straw man who had just been pierced, releasing the sword in the soldier’s hands.
The scarecrow took two or three steps to one side, then two or three steps to the other, as if it were a skilled ballerina. Demi Plie. Swan lake in the middle of a snowy wasteland. Then it bowed slightly, stood directly in front of the Nutcracker and said:
“Now stab me again, brave soldier. Come on. Be brave.”
The Nutcracker didn’t need to be told that twice. He stepped forward even more forcefully and pierced the scarecrow again. He probably thought that a stronger stab would get a better result. He looked up from where the sword entered his opponent to his face. The smile on the scarecrow’s face, which was always the same, now had some ominous meaning.
“Oops… touche… full hit… again. And now I’m playing”, the deep voice of the scarecrow made it clear that it would no longer be just a simple pile of hay to practice with.
It reached into its bag and suddenly a sickle appear in its hand and swung it powerfully at the Nutcracker. It did this as gunslingers in the Wild West drew their Colts with skill and lightning. It was a well-executed attack that was difficult to defend. It swung diagonally upwards from its flank as if to rip out the entire guts of the soldier with the sword. It would have succeeded if Snow White had not reacted in a flash and pulled the Nutcracker back by grabbing the last part of his uniform. The blade of the sickle still managed to rip through the uniform and partially cut the soldier’s body.
The scarecrow wasted no time. Seeing that the first attack did not fully meet the goal, another one immediately followed. It reached into the bag again and another sickle formed in its other hand and used it to make the same move as a moment ago, only now from the other side. This slash caught the Nutcracker on the arm.
In retreating in front of the swinging scarecrow, Snow Beauty and the Nutcracker hit the snow-covered ground with their backs. The soldier dragged the sword behind him, pulling it out of the straw body.
The scarecrow was preparing its final attack. It took two steps, threw itself forward and flew the entire length of it, simultaneously swinging the blades in its hands in order not to drive them into the enemies lying on the floor.
The Nutcracker was powerless and waited for the blade to crash into his body with all its might. He was shocked and almost petrified by the action of the scarecrow and the injuries it caused him.
However, Snow Beauty was not motionless. She grabbed the Nutcracker’s sword from his hand and swung it hard, rolling at the same time on its axis. With surgical precision, the blade of the weapon cut off the head of the scarecrow that was lunging towards them. She rolled close as the straw body fell between them.
A look of relief could be seen on the girl’s and the Nutcracker’s faces. They believed that this strange battle had come to an end.
They were mistaken.
To their utter astonishment, the scarecrow’s body began to move. It wasn’t just about uncontrollable twitching like when you cut off the head of a snake and the body squirms for a while. These were completely controlled movements that had nothing to do with the reactions of reptiles in similar situations.
The scarecrow began to rise. Now it stood before them again. Snow White and the Nutcracker were still lying on the ground and bewilderedly watching what was happening in front of them.
Standing up completely, the scarecrow shook off the snow a little and then tried to feel the part of his body that was missing with his hands. “Look, I lost my head. It’s really fun”, she suddenly exclaimed with great amazement in her voice. At the same time, the hand passed over the place where the part of his body that was no longer there should have been, as if he really wanted to make sure that the head was no longer there.
The body of the Christmas Scarecrow looked around and then headed towards the place where the severed head was. It bent down, took it in its hands and stared at it for a while.
“Head, head… it belongs on your shoulders,” it said with a hint of anger in its voice.
Like an astronaut adjusting his helmet before going into space, the scarecrow put his head back where it was before Snow Beauty chopped it off. Little moved her hands left and right as if she wanted to hit the spot that would best suit his torso.
The duo on the ground watched speechless at what was unfolding in front of them. Granny Advent, who watched this whole incredible scene motionless from the side, was no less amazed. The scarecrow’s conversation with his head reminded them of Hamlet’s speech over the skull about the nothingness of life, but now was not the time to analyze literary and dramatic works. All three retreated back. They knew that they needed a completely different strategy here. They could stab the scarecrow as much as they wanted and cut off its head countless times, but that obviously didn’t make any sense. If they did not win this battle, there will be an opportunity for new skirmishes with the Christmas Scarecrow. The post about how the dead are counted in the end had a completely new meaning in this case.
“You won’t play anymore…”, the straw monster said with sadness in his voice, seeing the trio walk away from him. “I’ll go then. See you. So… well.”
He waved his hand to them as if saying goodbye to his best friends. The scarecrow bounced happily as if it had not just participated in a life-and-death battle. Like an excited child who returns home after a game to a lunch cooked for him by a caring mother.
The children were confused because the scarecrow didn’t look so scary to them, and they didn’t even understand what was happening in the snow-covered field. When they saw the straw man happily jumping and waving, they started waving too. Then it too, turning once more, waved happily at them.
Granny Advent and Snow Beauty helped the wounded Nutcracker and watched this happy scene that made their blood run cold. They knew that their paths would cross again with this unusual creature. They were sure of it
13.OVERNIGHT IN A STRANGE VILLAGE
Grandma Advent was getting more and more worried. The road to the village dragged on. The children were very tired, and the Nutcracker was finding it increasingly difficult to stay on his feet. He could barely walk, leaning on Snow Beauty. The scarecrow’s attack left its mark on him.
Finally, they saw lights in the distance. Everyone was relieved. However, they still needed half an hour of walking to reach the entrance to the village.
Although they were in a hurry to feel the warmth of the interior of a house, they stopped and observed the scene before them. Despite the light twilight already falling, they could clearly make out what they were looking at. Everyone was speechless because they had certainly never been to a stranger village than this one. Not only them.
“Dear God!” Granny Advent exclaimed. “What is this?”
“Wonderful,” added Snjeguročka with delight in her voice.
“Well, this is as if we are in the pictures …” said the grandmother.
“…Marc Chagall”, finished the Nutcracker, even though he was already seriously losing strength.
And really. The walls of the houses were painted in various pastel colors, and the roofs were painted with motifs of village life. It seemed as if some abstract artist used the roofs of houses instead of canvas. It looked like people were flying over the roofs, blown up by some huge tornado like the one in which the little girl from Kansas and her dog Toto found themselves. Although the scene was very strange, it was also stunningly beautiful. Each roof was a true masterpiece. On one, a woman in a red dress with a white veil around her head and a strange creature with the physiognomy of a goat and a human body holding a cello in front of her. Then a strange person with a green face in a purple coat playing the violin. However, the most common motif that could be found on the tiles were girls and women in wedding dresses. Almost half of the roofs in the village had this motif.
“Yes,” said the grandmother. “It really looks like we’re at a big Marc Chagall exhibition. The colors are beautiful.”
However, there was not much time to admire this unusual artistic composition. They moved on, towards the interior. The atmosphere that prevailed in the village contrasted with the beauty of the buildings. There was no one outside. Everything was deserted. Evening was already falling, but that could hardly have been the main reason for the empty streets. This reminded granny a bit of the atmosphere in the city she had recently left.
People were pouring out of houses and then quickly disappearing inside. The door was heard locking.
They stopped in front of a house, in front of which were an elderly man and a woman. They were busy repairing the wooden bench, so they didn’t see when the group approached them.
“Please…” Grannys Advent said not too loudly so as not to startle them. They flinched when they heard her voice. They looked at the group that was in front of them, stopped what they were doing and hurried to enter as soon as possible. There was the familiar sound of a key turning in the lock.
“Please!” Granny Advent shouted even though there was no one else in front of the house. “Help us.” She knew they couldn’t spend the night outside with the exhausted children and the injured Nutcracker. It would be the end of them.
“Please…we also have children with us. I know you hear me. Have a compassion.”
She saw the curtains on the window move a little. Nothing happened.
They stood like that and did not move. There was absolute silence for a while, and then the sound of the door being unlocked was heard. They deviated only slightly. A man’s voice echoed.
“Who are you? We don’t want to have problems”, came from inside the house.
“We just need a place to stay for one night. Early tomorrow morning we will go further. We won’t do you any harm”, quickly retorted Granny Adventt, who was now full of hope.
The door opened a little more. The man peered. He eyed them suspiciously. He was about the same age as Grandma Advent. He looked towards the nearby houses. It was as if he was more concerned if someone was watching them from there than the group in front of him. When he made sure that there were no observers, he went out in front of the house.
He was dressed in ordinary, peasant clothes intended for work in the fields. Just like the peasants wore before all the mechanization and computerization that affected agriculture. He carefully watched the group in front of him.
“Where do these children come from?” he asked with great wonder in his voice.
“These little ones were kidnapped from their families. We freed them from the Father Whipper’s inn,” answered the grandmother.
The look of astonishment on the peasant’s face was even greater now. It was like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“What happened to Father Whipper?”
“We confessed him and sent him to the other world,” said Snow Beauty instead of Granny Advent. “He won’t cause problems for anyone anymore.”
“And him? What about him?” he asked further pointing to the Nutcracker.
“He was stabbed with a sickle by some scarecrow we met on the way,” continued Snow Beauty. Apparently, answering specifically, along with describing action sequences related to recent events, was better than Granny Advent.
“Have you met the Christmas Scarecrow?” wondered the owner of the house, who was clearly experiencing one shock after another.
“Yes. We cut off its head, but it ran away,” said the girl with an already visible hint of nervousness in her voice. The wounded young man she was holding was getting harder and harder to stay on his feet.
The man crossed himself and muttered some words that must have been a prayer. Next to him was a woman who whispered something in his ear. He hesitated a little longer, and then it was as if something broke inside him.
“Come in… come in,” he opened the door wide. “Come in… quickly,” he said and waved his hand towards him.
He stood until everyone entered. He looked at his surroundings suspiciously, and then closed the door behind him.
The interior of the house was poorly decorated, but it was warm.
“Children, gather around the stove… keep warm,” said the elderly woman, the hostess of the house, who was obviously pleased with the man’s decision to let the frostbitten people inside. She also brought blankets from somewhere to wrap the children who were sitting around the fire. They stretched out their hands towards the wood-burning stove in order to warm themselves as soon as possible. Their palms were soon warmed by cups of warm milk, accompanied by cheese and yogurt. Snow Beauty stayed away from the fire.
“Woman… unfold the bed… we’ll place him here… it’s warm here,” said the owner of the house and pointed to the Nutcracker, who was very pale.
Snow Beauty helped him sit on the edge of the bed. They took off his clothes. He remained in his underwear, and the woman brought a washtub of warm water. “Let go, I will do it,” said woman to Snow Beauty and began to clean the Nutcracker’s wound. “I have some herbs that will make it as good as new by morning.”
The girl sat down at the table where Grannys Advent and the host were already. She also took a slice of cheese from the plate on the table. She hasn’t eaten anything all day.
“What is this village like?” Grandma Advent asked after taking a sip of hot milk.
The man opposite her lowered his head.
“It’s not really a village. Before, it would be… an amusement park,” he said and did not laugh, which would be expected with such an answer. He did not explain his words further, but asked a question.
“Where are you headed?”
“To the Black Knight’s castle,” said grandmother without hesitation.
He looked at her in a way that could be read that he was not sure how he could say what she just said in such a calm way.
“Just like that… you’re going to the Black Knight’s castle,” he muttered. “And what good is taking you there?” he added sarcastically.
“We think that there are the rest of the children who were previously accommodated in the Father Whipper’s inn. We have to bring them back home.”
The man looked at Granny Advent, then looked away.
“You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” he said with some bitterness in his voice.
“We’ll see when we meet him,” answered Granny Advent calmly. After the meeting with the wicked friar and the headless scarecrow, it seemed that nothing could surprise her anymore.
“You have already met him,” replied the man.
She raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“What do you mean?”
“The Black Knight is the Christmas Scarecrow that you said you’ve already faced.”
“Isn’t it the Black Knight – Hans Trapp?” asked Snow Beauty, joining the conversation.
“Yes, but he has multiple forms that his spirit takes. The Black Knight is one, the Christmas Scarecrow is another, and there are more.”
The old woman and the girl looked at him in amazement.
“He is the cause of all our problems,” said the wife of a housholder who sat down at the table and joined the conversation. She wrapped around the end of the soldier who was now lying quietly on the bed and listening to what they were talking about. “He left us alive only to fulfill his whims. He submerged all the surrounding villages. He broke down the dam that protected this entire area. He got into a conflict with the church over some land. They ostracized him from society and lured him into a trap. They tried to kill him, but they say that his soul now floats between life and death, between earth and heaven, and thus became elusive.”
“This village is for his entertainment. This is where he descends from the castle when he wants to have fun. He gave us exact sketches and colors and ordered us to paint the houses and roofs. We have to clear them of snow almost every day so that he can enjoy seeing his imagination. He often knows how to walk around the village and admire his creativity”, the man joined in the description of their misfortunes.
“We stabbed him with swords, cut off his head… nothing helped,” said Snow Beauty.
“It’s impossible to kill when it’s in scarecrow form,” the man continued. “Even if you set it on fire, it wouldn’t help. His soul would run away.” He looked at the woman for a while, and then continued.
“The legend says that it is only possible to deprive him of his life when he is in the armor of the Black Knight. Allegedly, then he feels completely safe and allows his soul to unite with his body. If he then experiences death, the spirit cannot leave the body”.
“Up in the castle?”
“Yes, his castle is up there. But that place is almost impregnable when he is in it. You have no chance there. Now he knows you’re coming, so he’ll be even more careful.”
“Then how can we take his children?” Grandma Advent asked with concern in her voice.
The married couple looked at each other again. It was as if they were afraid of revealing a secret. Something they could be severely punished for later.
“He has a miserable way,” ventured the man after a short silence. “At least that’s what we think,” he added cautiously.
“You can find him up on Desperate Girls Cliff,” added his wife.
“What is the name for a rock?” asked Snow Beauty.
“That’s what the villagers called her when the Black Knight started chasing young girls around. Many of them…”, the woman paused while saying this, “… rather jumped off the cliff into the abyss than to surrender to that villain. Now there are no girls in the village for a long time, so that story is almost forgotten.”
“Do you think that if a young, beautiful girl appeared near that cliff, the Black Knight would appear there?” Granny Advent asked.
The host shrugged his shoulders.
“No one can predict it with certainty, but it is the only chance to get the head of Hans Trapp in any way. You have seen the roofs of the houses. He is obsessed with young girls in wedding dresses.
It was as if a river of thoughts simultaneously poured into the minds of those sitting at the table. Almost everyone looked towards Snow Beauty.
The girl looked at them confused.
“Wait, you don’t think that I… come on… be serious.”
No one else said anything. Getting someone to be bait for the Black Knight is a bit like suggesting that someone put on a bathing suit and fins and lure a great white shark into the deep sea.
“But he already saw me. They’ll know it’s me. He will not fall into our trap”, the girl continued her defense, although no one contradicted her.
“He’s right,” said the Nutcracker from his bed. He was not very happy that Snow White was parading in front of that butcher who killed entire villages of innocent people. It’s like a contest for the most beautiful girl.
“Wait,” came the voice of the housekeeper. “Maybe I can help. I have an idea.”
She ran somewhere and everyone looked at each other in amazement. It wasn’t long before she came back carrying something in her hands.
“Here, if you put this on, you’ll definitely attract his attention, and he won’t even recognize you.”
She unfolded the remains of the meal and put a white wedding dress on the table. A beautiful wedding dress that included a long white veil.
“You think I should wear that,” Snow Beauty was surprised. “But it’s a wedding dress.”
Everyone at the table was silent. They left the decision up to her.
She looked at them. She did not insist too much that she would not wear a wedding dress and try to lure the Black Knight into a trap because she knew that the children’s salvation depended on it.
“Good,” she said. “I’ll do it.”
The beautiful spy who had never shown fear in any situation so far, now felt uneasy. Granny Advent even thought she saw a blush on her face.
She grabbed the dress from the table and ran into the room. After a while she emerged from behind the door.
“Granny Advent, can you come help me?” she asked in a low voice.
She hurried into the room.
They haven’t been there for a while.
Then Granny Advent came out first. She left the door open.
Snow Beauty came out dressed in a white wedding dress. It was a sight that took everyone’s breath away. The girl could comfortably end up on the cover of any fashion magazine or magazine specializing in weddings. The dress itself was breathtaking when it was still on the table, and now on this beautiful girl, her beauty was mesmerizing. They were convinced that this sight would surely attract the Black Knight.
The day dragged on and it was already late. The children fell asleep on the floor. A man also slept there, while Granny Advent shared a bed with the housekeeper.
There was no question of Snow Beauty taking off her wedding dress and putting it on again in the morning. She lay down in it on the bed next to the Nutcracker because it was the only place she could stretch out. Their hands first accidentally touched, and then, as if they had agreed, they intertwined their fingers and joined their palms. They resembled couples who were painted on the roofs of houses.
It was the most beautiful night in the Nutcracker’s life. He felt himself burning. He didn’t know if it was from the wound, from the herbs that the woman who bandaged him had smeared on it, or from something else. It didn’t even matter. He felt good and wanted this night to last forever.
14.MERCILESS FIGHT ON THE CLIFF OF DESPERATE GIRLS
A beautiful morning dawned. Everyone was very excited. The children were sitting at the table. They enjoyed the cheese and milk that the host and his wife served them.
When the Nutcracker woke up, Snow Beauty in her wedding dress was no longer by his side. He stretched and surprisingly he didn’t feel any pain anymore. He didn’t know what herbs the woman had applied to his wound, but in any case it worked.
“We had to go on a journey because the Cliff of Desperate Girls was not very close.” The owner of the house offered to take them up there with ox cart. He probably thought that this was the only chance to get rid of Hans Trapp from their lives, so he wanted to help by suppressing his fear.
They took some other necessary things that the hostess had given them and set off. They felt that many eyes were following them through the sheds, but there was no one outside.
With Snow Beauty in her wedding dress, it seemed as if they were going to a wedding party. The children also went with them. Granny Advent didn’t want to leave them in the village because she was afraid that Krampus or one of his helpers would kidnap them again. She thought they were safer here with her.
The ox cart struggled through the snowy passes. There were children on them, Granny Advent and Snow Beauty. The girl suggested walking, but that was out of the question because of her long wedding dress. Although she was wearing only a wedding dress, she was not cold and felt comfortable. Snowflakes were constantly floating in the air.
Every now and then they stopped to let the animals rest. The children were wrapped in thick blankets. All this was a wonderful adventure for them. They curiously asked Granny Advent about many things.
“Wait,” suddenly said the Nutcracker, who was walking by the cart, in a relieved voice. “It seems to me that someone is following us.”
Everyone stopped and calmed down. The soldier was looking at the part of the road they had just crossed to see if he would notice anyone. And everyone else looked in that direction.
They didn’t see anyone.
“Let’s go,” ordered the Nutcracker in a voice that showed displeasure because his suspicions were not confirmed.
For the next few hours, with more or less stoppages, they progressed towards the top.
They reached the cliff. The man who had taken them in the night before and brought them here, greeted them and quickly drove away with the cart. Before that, he showed them a small cave where they hid the children. They warmed them well and told them that if they didn’t come back for them for a long time, they should run towards the village. Then they hid the entrance to the cave with pine branches.
They went to the very edge of the cliff. She had a wonderful view and nothing gave away that scary things were happening in this place. Nearby was a stone pillar of medium size in the shape of a cleat, such as can be found on harbor docks. Nature played a strange game here.
Snow Beauty was confused and didn’t know what to do.
“Sit, honey, here and wait,” Granny Advent told her and pointed to a strange stone.
The girl obeyed her. She covered her face with a white veil. Granny Advent and Nutcracker hid in a nearby grove.
The wind was blowing on the cliff and he was wearing a wedding dress and a long veil for his face. It was a wonderful sight. Like from a music video for a heavy metal ballad. Hardly any creature could stand sitting on a cliff in this wind and cold temperatures, wearing only a thin dress. Snow Beauty didn’t mind that. It made everything look even more amazing.
The Nutcracker didn’t take his eyes off Snow Beauty. He was afraid for her, but Granny Advent saw that there was something else in his look. She smiled and was glad that love had found its way here too, in these difficult circumstances. Once again, it was shown that love does not choose an occasion or a place, and that we should believe in it, because we never know when it will appear and invite us to its courts.
Some time passed and nothing happened. Snow White turned to them every now and then and gestured that she didn’t know what to do.
Both the Nutcracker and Grandma Advent were getting more and more worried. They had no backup plan if the Black Knight didn’t show up. They looked around, but there was no sign of the one they were waiting for.
Two hours passed and everyone somehow came to the same thought that all of this makes no sense. The duo that was hidden among the trees began to rise. They waved to Snow Beauty that it was time to go. He will have a showdown with the knight in the castle. It will be much more difficult than if they had managed to lure him here, but they had no choice.
Snow Beauty got up and walked towards them.
Suddenly, it was as if the whole forest had come to life. The tops of the trees bent forward and snow fell from the branches. The ground trembled.
Not far from the Nutcracker and Grandma Advent, it was as if the earth had opened up. A beautiful white stallion jumped out of the snow carrying a terrifying apparition in black armor. Black Knight. It was as if he was buried in the snow. The horse clawed with its hooves, trying to pull itself out of the almost frozen ground. The rider who was on it did not pay any attention to the duo who were not far from him. He looked steadily towards the young girl. It was not clear to anyone how long he had been here.
The apparition was terrifying because Hans Trapp in armor was about two and a half meters tall and very broad in the shoulders. He wielded a sword that surely no man in this world could hold in one hand. The visor on the helmet was lowered so that this also contributed to the mysterious and terrible look of this great horseman. The horse that carried it was also of enormous proportions.
Snow Beauty buried herself in the place. She faced many dangers in her life, looked death in the eye many times, passed many battlefields, but she had never met a warrior like this. It was even worse because the girl had no weapon with her. She decided to make the entire trap as convincing as possible and so that the monster would not suspect anything.
The horse hadn’t even calmed down yet when the Black Knight jumped from the saddle to the ground with amazing skill considering his size, constitution and massive iron armor. Without any hesitation, he rushed towards the girl in the white wedding dress who was standing motionless. Seeing that Snow Beauty hardly reacted at all, the Nutcracker did not waste a moment. With sword drawn in his hand, he throws himself at the large figure with all his might.
As if it wasn’t. The sword bounced off the armor. The Nutcracker somewhat naively believed that with his attack he would injure or kill the terrifying knight. However, his attack also had another goal – to draw the attacker’s attention to himself and enable Snow Beauty to escape from the very edge of the cliff. He did not succeed in this because the knight blocked the path of the girl in a white wedding dress with his huge body and swinging his sword.
The Nutcracker fought honestly and heroically. No tricks and shenanigans. As if military honor and code did not allow him to do so. With that, he had no chance against the Black Knight.
When he saw that this was a trap, the Black Knight became even more mad. His strength was almost unbelievable. All the Nutcracker’s efforts to overcome him were in vain. Hans Trapp pushed him more and more towards the edge of the cliff and the place where Sow Beauty was located.
No amount of tricks, metal balls on braids or martial arts could help her against the giant in armor. It became more and more clear to the girl that they had actually lured themselves into a trap.
The Black Knight was winning this battle. At one point, he hit the Nutcracker flat with his sword and the force of the blow caused the soldier to fall on the snow surface.
“Let him go,” shouted Snow Beauty. Without hesitation or any tactics, she frantically ran sideways at the Black Knight in order to save the soldier for whom she harbored ever deeper feelings.
The giant armadillo seemed to have expected this. Without much effort, he hit her hard in the head with the very tip of the hilt of his sword in the shape of a human skull. She collapsed with all her weight on her back. She tried to get up, but the blow was too strong. She stood up a little, but then fell to her knees again. Blood was dripping on the white veil that was now getting in the way of her fight.
Seeing that the two young heroes are in big trouble, Granny Advent decided on a desperate act. She took a few steps and threw herself as much as her age would allow at the Black Knight. Even she herself was probably not clear what she wanted to achieve. She acted instinctively.
It seemed that the man in black armor wasn’t entirely sure if something had attacked him at all and just shook himself a little. That was enough for Granny Advent to fly into the snow and lay there. He didn’t even turn to her.
The Black Knight seemed to be hesitating which of the two people in front of him he would kill first. He could choose. He decided on their life and death. He pushed them further and further towards the cliff. It seemed he had decided to kill them by throwing them into the abyss. As if he didn’t want this place to lose his reputation and justify his name once again.
Snow Beauty and Nutcracker were now quite close to the edge. It seemed that nothing could change the outcome of this battle.
However, not everyone was of that opinion.
“Black Knight! I’m here too,” came a voice that sounded almost unbelievable at this moment and in this place.
It was a huge surprise for the Black Knight and for the three heroes of this story who were in a very unfavorable position. It seemed to everyone at that moment that it was some kind of hallucination. Since they were at a high altitude, it would not be surprising if this was a reaction to the lack of oxygen. Altitude intoxication.
“Hello, Black Knight… I’m here,” was heard again.
Now everyone was sure that the voice they were hearing was real and that it was coming from not too far away.
The Black Knight was the first to react and turned towards the place from where someone was calling him. With this move, he enabled his opponents, whom he intended to throw into the abyss, to see who it was that saved their lives, at least for a moment.
The person before them was perhaps the strangest thing that could appear in this snowy landscape. The young man was about twenty years old, and the first thing that could be noticed about him was the strange flat hat that was seen on Flemish painters from past centuries. A huge peacock tail was sticking out of it. Thick black curls peeked out from under the hat and contrasted with the pale complexion of this young man. He was wearing gold and black trim, and white crocheted accessories around the neck and sleeves. He moved in light slippers, the tips of which were rounded several times, making a shape similar to a spiral. Dressed like this, he certainly belonged more in a circus than on a snowy cliff where a life-and-death battle is being waged.
He moved skillfully so that the Black Knight could not reach him.
“Stop, you little grasshopper,” roared the Black Knight, trying to predict where the young man would find himself. He raised his sword high in order not to cut the newcomer in front of him in half with the strongest possible swing. This gave him enough time every time so that when the sword was about to sink into his body, he would already be in another place.
“Fight like a man,” shouted the Black Knight, trying to provoke the wizened young man.
“I’m here… I’m Peter. Peter the Dutchman”, he called out to him in order to persuade the villain not to give up in his plan to end his life’s journey in this place and to know who he was dealing with. He paid no attention to the Black Knight’s remarks about the way he fought.
The Black Knight seemed to get a little tired from the heavy swinging. His movements became slower and slower. But that wasn’t the worst thing that happened to him. Peter did not perform his hopping around the Black Knight only with the intention of tiring him out, but he also had something much more cunning and concrete in mind.
He quickly and imperceptibly tied a part of the long bandage that was wrapped around his belt to the stone on which Snjeguročka had been sitting until a moment ago. White in color and hardly noticeable against the snow surface. Moving and dancing in a circle around the Black Knight, that bandage became more and more tangled around the legs of the huge horseman.
The Black Knight began to sway because his attempts to catch up with Peter the Dutchman in the large armor caused him to almost completely lose his balance. When he saw what was happening, he swung his sword to cut the bandage around his legs.
It was too late.
As the Black Knight raised his sword, Peter ran up, bounced off, and with both legs hit the upper part of the huge knight’s armor hard. Hans Trapp took a few clumsy steps backwards and plunged into the abyss.
The Nutcracker also reacted in a flash. He grabbed his sword that was lying in the snow, swung hard and cut through the part of the bandage that the Peter the Dutchman had tied around the stone. The Black Knight’s flight into the abyss was now unstoppable.
However, due to the force of the blow, Peter also rolled into the abyss. He hit Hans Trapp so hard that he could hardly resist the dynamic forces that were pulling him into the abyss. It seemed as if he would share the fate of the Black Knight.
He flew over the edge of the cliff when something suddenly grabbed his wrist. He felt a strong jerk in his shoulder and looked up. Snow White tried with all her might to prevent it from slipping out of her hand. Seeing that the brave young man, who had just saved them from death, was slipping into the abyss, the brave warrior without thinking threw herself after him and grabbed his hand.
The look of surprise on Peter’s face was huge. He was surprised that he had not already found himself at the bottom of the abyss of a mangled body, but it was also not clear to him that if Snow Beauty was holding him, then what was holding her. If he could have observed everything calmly, from a bird’s-eye view, he would have seen that Snow Beauty was holding the Nutcracker’s hand, and with his other hand he was holding on to the very end of the binding that remained tied to the stone after he cut it with his sword just a few moments ago. He hung half his body over the edge of the cliff and feverishly held the girl.
This would be a wonderful scene if it was performed by acrobats under the tent of a circus with the safety of a safety net. Without a doubt, she would have received a standing ovation from the cheering spectators. However, there was no audience here, and there was no net that saves the lives of flying circus performers in the event of a fall.
They were only moments away from certain death. The Nutcracker knew it wouldn’t be long before his grip loosened or the bond that now kept three people alive was broken. He felt something on his back, but he didn’t have time to deal with it. He knew that only Granny Advent was still there, but expecting her to pull three people out of the abyss was crazy.
As he thought about it, the tape snapped.
He automatically moved that hand towards Snow Beauty as if he wanted to hold her with both hands even though he himself was falling into the abyss. There was no escape for them.
Then everything stopped.
The Nutcracker realized that he was not falling anywhere. That was impossible because he was now holding Snow Beauty’s wrist with both hands. That she didn’t fall was the only thing that mattered to him.
Everyone started to move up.
If they could go back in time, they would have seen how desperate Granny Advent was watching what happened after the Black Knight flew into the abyss. She knew she was powerless to do anything. Then a beautiful Black Knight stallion came into her field of vision, wandering aimlessly in confusion. He searched in vain for his master. A small, almost crazy idea popped into her head, but she knew she had nothing to lose. She cautiously approached the horse, extended her open arms towards him and began to caress him. She put her head on his muzzle and hugged him with both arms. Then she lightly took the reins in her hands and started towards the place where the Nutcracker was fighting with all his might to keep them from falling into the abyss together. The horse seemed to hesitate a little, but then he followed the old woman. When she reached the Nutcracker, she untied the slash that the mayor had given her last year and on which the people from the Christmas fair had embroidered the inscription “GRANDMA ADVENT” and tied one end to a part of the military harness that was on his back. The other one was tied around the protrusion on the saddle that was being carried by a beautiful horse.
At the moment when the ribbon that was wrapped around the stone was completely torn, the noble animal moved forward and began to pull the brave trio upwards with all its might.
The Nutcracker held Snow Beauty with both hands and she did not let go of Peter.
And the tape of Grandma Advent broke, but just at that moment when the wiry Dutchman found himself back on the cliff. They lay in the snow and looked at each other. Then they looked at Granny Advent and a white stallion that was spinning in a circle and a red piece of ribbon was flying from its saddle.
It took them a while to realize how alive they were. It was more or less clear to them what had happened, but it was all so strange to them.
Snow Beauty stood up first and brushed the snow off her wedding dress. She looked at the Nutcracker who was still panting from the effort sitting in the snow. She then turned her attention to another young man.
“So, you are Peter. Peter the Dutchman”, she said, and it was not a question, but a statement.
“Yes,” answered the young man with a strong accent. “It’s me.” He smiled cheerfully at this, although he was still somewhat disturbed by what he had just experienced.
“Where did you come from?” she asked him.
He hesitated a little with the answer.
“My boss sent me,” he finally said.
“Saint Nicholas?” said Snow Beauty. And this was more of a statement than a question. “I heard about you,” she stated briefly. She was putting on her blue coat, and putting on her wedding dress again would have to wait a while longer.
He nodded his head.
Granny Advent stroked the horse. The Nutcracker helped her take the saddle off him. He also untied the piece of her ribbon that was still attached to him and added it to her along with the one he had removed from his harness.
“Go now,” said the older woman in the animal’s ear. “You are free.”
As if he understood, the horse took a few steps, then stopped, turned and looked at them. He broke down, as if he wanted to show them all his greatness for the last time, and then galloped away.
Four people stood on the Desperate Girls Cliff and looked at each other.
“If I understood correctly,” grandmother broke the silence, “Saint Nicholas sent you?” She said this while observing Peter the Dutchman. “And you, Snow Beauty, you were sent by Father Frost, we already know that. I feel like I’m in Casablanca at the beginning of World War II and everything is full of spies sent by the great powers.”
Peter shrugged his shoulders.
“I have no idea. I was just told to come here and help as much as I could. I don’t really ask too many questions. It’s better for me to know as little as possible,” he said, looking at the ground.
Granny Advent didn’t even expect to get any answers.
“Let’s go,” she said. “Let’s go pick up the children from the cave and find the other boys and girls who should be in the castle.”
Everyone was silent and followed Granny Advent.
15.AGAINST THE WITCH AND HER SONG
They passed through the white landscape in silence. There was some trepidation in the air because they didn’t know what else was waiting for them in the castle itself or on the way there. Granny Advent was hurrying them. Everything around them was quiet. Maybe too quietly.
“I don’t believe he left the children alone. There must be someone else in the castle with them. Let’s be careful,” said the woman in the green cape, constantly looking around as if she sensed some undefined danger in the air.
They guessed roughly where the Black Knight’s building was located, but they weren’t quite sure how much further they had to walk to get there. They soon got the answer to their doubt, and that from a strange place where neither signs nor place markers are usually placed.
“Look,” said Snow Beauty and pointed her finger upwards. Everyone raised their heads. They saw a strange phenomenon that probably all the astrophysicists and meteorologists of this world would not be able to explain. In the sky in front of them, it was as if some skillful hand had drawn a regular square and thus separated that part from the rest of the blue sky. They knew that the Black Knight’s castle was located under that unusual celestial display. In this way, he probably wanted to show that he was the master of the sky above his castle.
Anyone in their right mind would have turned around and headed in a different direction as soon as possible from the one leading to the place above which the sky was black, but the brave group knew that they had to go right there.
Not much time has passed. There was a sound from a distance that was hard to make out. Then he got closer and closer. And closer. Now they could already recognize that it was a song.
Everyone stopped because they didn’t know what was going to happen next. They were ready for anything, but that someone would welcome them with a song was beyond all expectations. Grandma Advent remembered the phrase of the Greeks and the gifts. She knew they had to be very careful.
Then they saw an old woman with an extremely crooked nose and protruding chin approaching them along the snowy road. She was very hunched over. She was wearing a white, torn dress made of thick material. Her long, gray, messy and greasy hair reached all the way to her lower back. She held several whips in her hand and waved at the group that wanted to approach the castle.
The strangest thing was the fact that the song was coming from her, but she wasn’t singing. Everything looked like some third-rate playback in which poorly paid performers do not bother to hide that they are singing to the matrix.
However, it had to be admitted that the beauty of her voice stood out from everything else. No doubt the jury of any competition, looking for new talent and singing stars, would have been stunned by what echoed down the valley leading to the Black Knight’s castle. The old woman would surely become the new star of social networks. If she hadn’t already achieved a singing career, her success in the world of influencers would be guaranteed.
“Frau Perchta, the witch,” said Snow White as the beautiful aria rang out everywhere. “We must be very careful. Let’s stick together.”
“Put your hands over your ears, children. Quick!” shouted Granny Advent. The children obeyed her and hid behind her in fear.
“Here, you plug your ears with this,” she said and added pieces of cotton wool that she always carried in her bag to Snow Beauty and Peter. She never knew what she would need it for, but she thought every woman had to have it with her. They listened to her. She did the same herself.
When she looked for the Nutcracker to see if he would protect himself from the witch’s song, she saw that he was not there anymore.
He moved forward alone.
“I will take care of her,” he said and drew his sword.
It seemed that he was a little embarrassed that Peter had defeated the Black Knight and now wanted to make up for it. After all, he was a professional soldier, and the newcomer from Holland was just a playful merrymaker. Vanity prevailed over reason.
He moved towards her with his sword pointed. It looked like this would all be over very quickly. The woman did not move, but still stood still and waved her whips. The song was even more beautiful and sonorous. It was as if she was out of this world. Song of all songs.
When he got very close to her, almost within range of his sword, he stopped and lowered his weapon. He and the witch looked at each other like a couple in love for a while.
“Oh, God, what a beauty!” suddenly exclaimed the Nutcracker. “I have never seen a more beautiful girl. I will do anything for you. I will fulfill your every wish”, he said in a voice that did not hide his enchantment and love.
She opened her mouth as if to say something, but it seemed as if only the soldier standing in front of her heard what was said.
“What’s wrong with you?!” shouted Snow Beauty. She followed him to see what was going on. “Nutcra…”
She couldn’t finish saying his name.
He swung his sword, as if out of turn, wanting to cut off her head. It was an attack without any warning.
She did not expect this and only years of dedicated training saved her from the edge of his sword. She literally threw herself backwards like a diver who starts the jump with her back to the pool. She spread her arms and pushed them behind her so that nothing would get in the way of the Nutcracker’s sword. All she had left was the hope that her reaction would be faster than his attack.
The blade of the sword steamed through her coat and she saw it pass over her head. He was so close she could literally kiss him. She fell to the ground.
She lay helpless in the snow at the mercy of the Nutcracker. She knew that no reaction on her part could be quick and effective enough to stop a top fighter like him from taking her life.
But he didn’t pay attention to her. As if she didn’t exist and as if he didn’t want to end her.
He walked past her and moved on.
Peter the Dutchman jumped in front of him and was about to start his strange dance, but it didn’t go through this time. The Nutcracker already knew this trick of his, and the young man from the Netherlands seemed to have no more solutions for the attack.
He kicked him hard in the chest area from the turn, which resulted in Peter ending up in the deep snow. He didn’t pay any attention to him either. He ignored him and moved on. Like a remote controlled missile. He had only one goal in front of him – Granny Advent. He walked towards her as if hypnotized. He pointed the blade at the woman.
“I will cut off your head, Granny Advent. It’s all your fault,” he said clearly and distinctly like a person uttering an oath or an oath in a metallic voice that sounded more like the result of a program for converting written texts into audio than human speech.
Granny Advent saw a strange glow in his eyes. It wasn’t him. Frau Perchta spoke through him. The nutcracker was just a speaker through which the voice of the evil witch came out. But a speaker with a weapon that was extremely deadly in his hands.
She was retreating back. The children hidden behind her lap retreated with her.
She knew that he would catch up with her and that she could not escape him. Even if she could have escaped, she would not have decided to do so, because she would have left the children at the mercy of him and Frau Perchta. He would rather perish here than do that.
She took two more steps back. Children peeked out from behind her green skirt. Then she did something that no one expected. Something that was almost insane in this situation.
She sang at the top of her voice and took cotton wool out of her ears. She knew that she was in greater danger from the sword than from the song.
“Oh, Holy Night… the stars are brightly shining…” came the ringing voice of Granny Advent.
Her voice echoed through the valley. As if everything stopped for a moment. Snow Beauty and Peter looked at her in wonder.
“It is the night of the of the dear Savior’s birth…” sang grandma louder and louder. It seemed as if a wall of sound was forming, which served as a defense against the chanting of the witch.
Then she received unexpected help.
“Long lay the world in sin and error…” came numerous voices behind her. Seeing Granny Advent fighting for them, the children also joined in the song. They took their hands from their ears and sang at the top of their lungs.
Two songs now echoed through the valley. This was not one of those festivals with a competitive character, the winner of which will dominate the radio waves and youtube in the next period, but a battle for the soul of an enchanted soldier.
The Nutcracker stood before them, but he looked somewhat confused and disoriented. It was as if the magic that caused that he almost beheaded Snow Beauty just a few moments ago was loosening.
Seeing that the song, which Granny Advent started, had an effect on the Nutcracker, Snow Beauty also sang. Peter the Dutchman joined them, because probably he was uncomfortable that he was the only one standing and silently observing what was happening.
But Frau Perchta was not idle either. She moved her hands from the top of her head forward. It was as if she was sending waves of black magic with which she resisted the song that wanted to tear the Nutcracker from the captivity of her thoughts. When she stretched her arms to the limit, her whole body would shake. I guess she wanted to increase the effect of her actions even more.
The soldier with the sword was in the middle between the collision of two forces that were fighting for his mind and soul. It seemed at one point as if his body, under the action of these thoughts, detached itself from the ground a little. He raised his sword with both hands and it looked like he was going to cut Granny Advent in half and that the evil witch had won.
His eyes would go black for a moment, then images of Snow Beauty in her wedding dress, the moment she rubs her face with snow, and then again blackness, a white veil, holding hands, scenes on the roofs of houses in a strange village… blackness. Then everything around him disappeared. He passed out.
He was not the only one who was affected by Granny Advent’s song and the children who gathered around her. Frau Perchta stood motionless and seemed to be completely paralyzed.
Peter approached her with a lot of caution because he did not know what kind of magic tricks this witch has. When he was sure that Frau Perchta was standing as if someone had sucked all the energy out of her, he bound her hands with the white veil worn by the beautiful warrior on the Cliff of Desperate Girls. Her head drooped and she showed no signs of resistance to her capture.
The operation of saving the soldier Nutcracker was in full swing. Snow Beauty slapped his face several times, not very gently. In the attempts to regain his consciousness, there was also some anger that the Nutcracker went crazy for another, regardless of the fact that it was the fruit of the witch’s sorcery.
“What happened?” he asked, all confused as he slowly regained consciousness. “I don’t remember anything from the moment I stood in front of a beautiful girl.”
“Because of which I almost lost my head. I didn’t know you liked older women,” said Snow Beauty with a smile. “Come on, get up. Nothing significant happened except that you wanted to cut off our heads. Especially Granny Advent’s.”
He was even more confused by what Snow Beauty told him. They helped him to his feet like they help a boxer after suffering a knockout. His legs were still wobbly and he looked very exhausted.
With a look full of embarrassment, he looked at the elderly woman in the green cape who was the main target of his attack. “Granny Advent… I…” he confusedly tried to find the words to justify his recent actions.
She put her hand on his face.
“Don’t worry about anything and don’t apologize. It wasn’t you. Let’s go to the castle as soon as possible to look for the children”, she told him gently.
She stood at the head of that strange column and led them towards the Black Knight’s castle.
16.IN THE CASTLE OF THE BLACK KNIGHT
They climbed the wide path that led to the castle. All watched carefully to see if they could spot anything else suspicious that would indicate a possible attack, but nothing disturbed their progress.
They broke into a clearing and a small and strange castle appeared before them. It had similar elements as all other buildings of this type, but with one huge difference. It was all painted black. Every rampart, tower, gate, roof, walls of buildings – everything was in black. Flags flew on the towers, which were, as expected, black. As if someone wanted to suppress any possibility of joy and happiness. However, in contrast to the whiteness of the snow, this castle had something majestic and almost hypnotizing about it.
The atmosphere around the castle was unusual. He was all in the shadow of that black piece of sky that towered over him. She enveloped him in semi-darkness. It was as if some skillful master of the weather had decreed that the castle would be in a gloomy and threatening weather that constantly foretold a storm that would never arrive.
They stood a little longer and observed this strange building, and then they came quite close. There was complete silence. They found themselves in front of a huge gate. No sounds came from the castle. If anyone had thought of attacking them, they would certainly have done it now when they were under the walls, not when they entered the castle. They all scattered around to figure out a way to get into the castle. They knew that the gate probably opened when the Black Knight rode away or returned, but they doubted that the same thing happened when Frau Perchta or someone else left the castle. By the big gate there was a door that was locked. Peter the Dutchman and the Nutcracker tried to break in, but it didn’t work. All attempts to convince Frau Perchta to tell them how to enter the castle were unsuccessful. She just kept silent and looked at the floor.
They stood in front of the castle and wondered how they would enter it. They were so close to their goal, yet so far at the same time.
“I know,” exclaimed the Nutcracker suddenly. “Let’s make a big pile of snow in front of the castle walls.” Immediately he started working on it. He gathered the white precipitation into a pile. And the others joined him. They carried snow from all sides and put it in one place. And the children brought snow in their little hands. No one really understood what was going on, but they didn’t ask any questions.
“It’s good,” he said after some time when the white crowd had already taken on large proportions. He came quite close to the ramparts of the castle, in a place that was right next to the gate and in the middle of the snow pile they had made. He leaned on the stone surface of the walls and spread his leg a little to be as stable as possible.
“Now we will do like this. You, Peter, get on my shoulders”, ordered the Nutcracker and invited young Dutch to join him. This one was a little tickled, but he obeyed. With skillful movements he mounted the Nutcracker and placed his feet on the upper part of his back.
“Now Snow Beauty,” shouted the soldier, seeing that Peter was definitely on top of him. The girl didn’t care at all. It became increasingly clear to her what the Nutcracker was up to. She skillfully climbed first on him and then on Peter. Everyone leaned on the black walls of the castle and helped the one above them to keep their balance.
The human pyramid was getting higher and higher. Granny Advent watched in amazement the skill with which they did it. Considering their previous experience, when they were hanging over the cliff, they already seemed like a well-coordinated acrobatic troupe. What worried Granny Advent was the fact that in this way they reached a little more than half the height of the ramparts, which was not enough for anyone to get to the other side. She knew she couldn’t be useful in this situation. There are only… left…
“Children, which of you is good at physical education?!” shouted the Nutcracker at that very moment. “We need help.”
The girls and boys were overjoyed to help the Nutcracker and Snow Beauty. Even Peter the Dutchman was becoming more and more dear to them.
There was no shortage of volunteers to participate in this venture. The Nutcracker removed his hand from Peter’s leg and helped one tall boy to start climbing. He trusted first to him, then to the young man from Holland, and finally stood on Snow beauty’s shoulders. Then it was the turn of the next little one. This one was not so skilled. While he was climbing on top of the tall boy, he started to swing and crashed, pulling him down with him. Snow Beauty did not manage to keep them. They soon found themselves in deep and soft snow, the kind they had collected here according to the Nutcracker’s instructions. Granny Advent and the other children helped them get out of the snow with laughter and joy. It all looked like a big game. Now they all wanted to climb the rampart or maybe even more to fall from the height onto the soft snow.
Granny Advent knew that it was great, because the children forgot about what they had lived through, and they also learned to work together in times when everyone was mostly focused on themselves.
For some time, the children climbed and fell until one smaller girl managed to deftly climb over the edge of the rampart.
“Do you see anything you can use to get down… into the castle yard?” the Nutcracker asked her.
“Yes!” said the little girl cheerfully. “The wooden stairs are here.”
She disappeared and nothing happened for a while. Then she reappeared at the top of the rampart.
“There is a big bolt on the gate that I can’t even move,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
The Nutcracker expected something like that.
“Wait a minute,” he told her. He took off his harness and the top part of his uniform and started tying them together. “Peter, give me some of the clothes you are wearing.” The young man was a little surprised, but he obeyed him. He took off the gold and black jacket and helped the Nutcracker to tie it to his clothes. The improvised clothing chain was getting bigger and bigger. Granny Advent gave her pieces of ribbon, and Snow Beauty gave her coat. They also used a beautiful wedding dress. Everyone contributed as much as they could. Even children. Soon, a work about fifteen meters long was lying on the snow.
The Nutcracker then tied his sword to the beginning of this chain of clothes. A true soldier never leaves his weapon, but this was a special situation.
“Caution,” he shouted to the girl on the rampart and swung his sword powerfully in the air. The heavy weapon flew over the walls and fell into the courtyard of the castle, dragging with it an improvised rope made of pieces of clothing. The Nutcracker held the other part firmly in his hand.
The girl ran downstairs, untied the end of the clothesline from the sword and tied it to the heavy bolt. She then ran back to the rampart and informed the group below the ramparts of what she had done.
“Let’s all pull,” shouted the Nutcracker and began to pull the rope so that the bolt would not rise. Everyone joined him in that. All of them. And the children tried to be helpful. Then they saw the heavy gate move slightly, which was a sign that the bolt had popped out of its socket. They tied a makeshift rope to the base of the gate to prevent the gate from being charged again and started pushing the gate in the middle with all their might, which bore fruit. It began to open on both sides, and then opened wide. As if she wanted to welcome them.
In front of him was a wide courtyard, in the central part of which there was a well. The improvised wooden stairs, which the little girl used to go up and down a moment ago, could be used to climb up to the rampart of the castle. They tried to notice as many details as possible in order to better orientate themselves in case of danger. Those who know the terrain are always at an advantage when it comes to battle.
Their eyes were drawn to the door that led to the interior of the building itself. They were open. They entered carefully, fearing it was a trap. Nothing was happening. They found themselves in a narrow corridor that led to the central part of the castle. A large number of children found themselves inside a building like this for the first time, so they excitedly commented on every detail.
“Psssst…” Granny Advent warned them, simultaneously giving them a sign with her index finger in front of her mouth to stop talking. Everyone fell silent. She turned her head a little more as if she wanted to better hear the sounds she was so eagerly waiting for.
She was right. There were faint voices coming from the lower part of the castle.
“Let’s hurry,” exclaimed the woman in the green cape and hurried towards the stairs that led in the direction from which the voices were heard. The others followed her. The voices were getting louder now.
“I think they’re here,” she said, putting her ear to the thick oak door they stopped in front of.
“Maybe it’s a trap,” remarked the Nutcracker, who was very suspicious after his experience with Frau Perchta.
Granny looked at him and knew that he might be right, but she didn’t want to argue anymore. “We have to go in,” she said in a relieved tone. She grasped the heavy doorknob and pushed it down. She managed to move it only slightly, so Snow Beauty and Peter the Dutchmen helped her in this. The door began to open.
The interior was lit by torches on the walls, so the entire room was filled with smoke. She raised the oil lamp in front of her that was placed at the entrance and stepped into the room.
“We are here,” a very clear voice was heard. She took a few more steps and her face lit up.
There were children along the walls of this large room. There were ten of them. The same number as in the group they freed in the Father Whipper’s inn. Some were standing, and some were sitting on wooden benches. But they all seemed to be fine. They were restrained in iron shackles that were attached to metal links on the walls.
Granny Advent excitedly started hugging and kissing them. She wanted to free them, but she didn’t know how.
“There… there are keys on the wall,” shouted the children.
Everyone hurried to get the keys and went to work. Soon the shackles gaped empty. In the corner of the room there were several cradles in which babies were placed.
Granny Advent’s happiness over the found children was not clouded by the fact that there was no Little Prankster among these children either. She knew her search was not over. She was very happy to find the granddaughter of the woman who came to beg her for help and who blamed herself for her disappearance. She was sure that grandma would be very happy when she could hug her little girl again.
The wheel of life turns incessantly. As the old proverb says: Those who have been up will be down. It was the same in this case. Instead of the children, they now shackled Frau Perchta. The woman lowered her head. While they were putting iron chains on her hands, she didn’t even want to look at the children.
It was clear to everyone that the whole story was still not over, not only because of the children they hadn’t found yet, among whom Granny Advent’s grandson was most likely, but also because of the ones who were now in the castle and who still weren’t safe.
“It’s late for us to go down to the village tonight,” said Grandma Advent. “Let the children get some sleep, then tomorrow we will go on our journey.”
Everyone agreed with her. Crossing the road from the castle to the village at night was an extremely risky mission that Granny Advent and her assistants would have somehow embarked on, but taking the children with them was out of the question.
They chose a large room with a fireplace as their main residence. It was the biggest salon in the castle. The children were eager to tell everything that had happened to them, and there was a great commotion. Granny Advent understood in that cacophony that some children had been taken even further north. It was strange to her because she thought that beyond these parts there was nothing but vast expanses of snow. The little ones said that some huge woman came with a big nose and red hair on the top of her head. She chose the children she would take with her. They added that she often argued with the Black Knight and Father Whipper, whom they also saw, and that they were all in great fear when came someone that children did not see. When asked if it was Krampus, they said they didn’t know.
Granny Advent was very sad when she left the room. First, because a lot of women were involved in all these events. Father Whipper’s helper, Frau Perchta, a woman with a big nose who took the children away from this castle. It was incomprehensible to her that a woman could be involved in abducting children. It also saddened her because the children, when asked if Little Prankster was among them, answered yes with great joy. They said that in these few days that he was with them, he made them very happy and raised their morale. A woman with a big nose hurriedly took him this morning with several other children.
She knew that she had to look for some additional explanations as soon as possible.
But before that, she went to the kitchen to prepare a meal for the children. Snow Beauty joined her. She saw that the grandmother was very sad and that tears were running down her face. She had never seen her in such a mood.
“Don’t be sad grandma. We will find him”, the girl tried to comfort her. She knew very well what was the cause of Granny Advent’s sadness.
The woman looked at her. She knew it was stupid to say that it was from the onion she was just cutting. She despised stupid excuses that would underestimate someone’s intelligence.
“I miss my grandson very much, and he was still here this morning. Maybe, if I had hurried a little…” she calculated somewhat desperately.
Snow Beauty came a little closer to her and hugged her. They stood like that for a while. Granny Advent then wiped away her tears and continued to prepare the dish. Soon they were serving it at a large table that they set up in the living room with a fireplace.
While the children were having fun eating, they descended towards the dungeon where Frau Perchta was. They wanted to get many explanations from her. The Nutcracker and Peter the Dutchman joined them. They were now standing in front of the woman in shackles.
The witch watched them anxiously.
“Where are the other children? Who is the woman who took them?” asked Granny Advent her with trepidation in her voice, which she tried to hide.
Frau Perchta was silent.
“What are you doing with these children? Why are you kidnapping them?” continued the woman in the green cape.
The witch was still without words.
Seeing that the woman in front of her was not giving answers, she tried to take a slightly broader approach so that she might get the answers she was interested in.
“You don’t have to be on the side of evil,” told her Grandma Advent. “You can repent of your sins and live on in peace. Give up Krampus.”
Snow Beauty looked a little surprised at Granny Advent because it seemed to her as if she was offering the witch the opportunity to become a repenter. She would prefer to use slightly different methods, rather than offering forgiveness. However, she did not want to interfere in Grandma Advent’s strategy.
Frau Perchta’s reaction was extremely unusual. She started laughing uproariously as if the old woman in front of her had just told a very good joke.
Everyone looked at her in amazement. Nothing was clear to them.
Then the shackled woman became serious. She raised her head and looked from one to the other.
“How naive are you? I don’t know who is helping you, but I’m ashamed that you beat me. Him… the one you mentioned, no one renounces him. He takes what he wants. You can’t deny him and you can’t hide from him.”
She looked Granny Advent straight in the eyes.
“My fate is known and I cannot escape from it. I let him down and let you take what he claims.” She paused a bit. “Take it for now,” she said meaningfully. “And you should reconsider your decisions. Because he will have no mercy. It’s not too late for you to switch to the right side.”
It seemed to Granny Advent that the witch was looking at her, but not speaking to her. It was not clear to her what the witch meant by this. She was a little confused.
“Go now,” said the witch as if she is the main figure and as if she decides when this conversation will end.
“You will not issue orders,” Peter snapped at her angrily. “You’ve caused enough harm…” He started towards her, but the others barely stopped him from attacking her.
“There’s no need… there’s no need for that,” Granny Advent told him calmly. “Let’s go.”
They locked the door and left Frau Perchta in the dungeon.
“We’ll see what to do with her tomorrow,” said Granny Advent.
“It’s best to take her with us. There is certainly a lot to tell about this whole thing. She obviously knows a lot more than she said,” suggested the Nutcracker.
“Let’s go to bed now and start our journey early tomorrow morning. It takes us a few hours to reach the village downhill, and then we’ll somehow get to safety,” concluded Granny Advent.
Snow beauty, Peter and Nutcracker took turns on guard every two hours. They had two tasks, to make sure that no one entered the castle uninvited and to prevent Frau Perchta from escaping somehow.
They all settled together in the large living room and soon fell asleep.
17.AN UNPLEASANT AWAKENING
“Alert, alert!” a loud voice steamed through the interior of the castle as dawn slowly turned into early morning.
Peter the Dutchman knocked on the door of the large salon. “Frau Perchta managed to escape. She is no longer in the dungeon,” he said, trying to catch his breath from running up the stairs.
Everyone quickly woke up and jumped to their feet. Tired from the many excitements they experienced the previous day, they slept soundly.
“How is that possible?” exclaimed the Nutcracker, who was the first to regain his composure, with disbelief in his voice.
They got out from under the warm blankets they were covered with and ran towards the dungeon. In front of the open front door of the cell, they found Snow Beauty sitting with her back against the wall. She was holding her hand on her head, and blood was dripping on the ground.
“Honey, are you okay?” asked her Granny Advent.
The girl looked at her without saying a word. It seemed that her pride was damaged more than she was actually hurt.
All in all, Snow Beauty was fine, except that she had a big bump on her head. The Nutcracker was the first to come to her aid.
“I don’t know… I felt something approaching… but it was too late. I’m sorry. I am very sorry.”
No one blamed her. The question of who knocked out Snow Beauty and freed Frau Perchta hung in the air.
They all started together along a narrow corridor that led meandering to the foot of the castle. The Nutcracker carried a torch in front of him to light their way. They reached a small, iron door through which an adult could only crawl on his knees. They were open. A stone path led from them and then a trail across the field to the forest.
“Someone must have entered here, crept up to the entrance to the dungeon and incapacitated Snow Beauty. Frau Perchta must have left the castle this way,” said the Nutcracker, lighting the way that led from the iron gates. They closed them and locked them well.
“Strange,” said Snow Beauty as they returned to the central part of the castle. “It appears that this door only opens from the inside, and if the bolt is set correctly, it can’t be opened from the outside.”
“We must have forgotten to close them. This path was most likely used by the witch to enter and leave the castle. That’s why the gate and the auxiliary door were locked, so we couldn’t get in,” Peter remarked, as if concluding the discussion.
“Anyway, she’s gone now, but we have a much bigger problem,” said worriedly Granny Advent when they arrived at the large living room where everyone slept last night. “During the day Krampus will find out what happened here. I think we can tomorrow already expect his attack. If we head now towards the village, with all these children, we will be a very vulnerable target. I am convinced that we have no chance.”
“What should we do?” asked the Dutchman.
The Nutcracker answered instead of granny.
“Organize the defense here,” he thought militarily, rationally. He took the initiative. He reached for the reeds that were by the fireplace, began to bend them and form circular shapes on the large table.
“These are the outer walls,” he said as he pointed to the largest circle on the table. “There is that big gate. It is the central point of our defense. I don’t think that as dangerous and awesome as Krampus is, he can’t break through this point of entry. This very gate, in this castle, was always mentioned to us during tactical military training as something best, a masterpiece of defense of all castles and one of the strongest gates in the world. On the rampart, we will have a good position to act towards him.”
Everyone listened to him attentively.
“However, no military tactic is successful if reserve positions are not built. If we fail to fend off the Krampus attack on the outer rampart, the next line of resistance is behind the door that leads to the interior of the castle. Here,” he pointed to the inner wicker circle. “At the beginning of this narrow and long corridor that leads to the room we are in now.”
“And then…”, he paused a bit, “…here.” He gestured with his hand around him. “This is the last line of defense. Here it is to be or not to be. I hope it doesn’t come to this. So, to conclude, three lines of resistance. The outer rampart, the entrance to the narrow corridor that leads to the center of the interior of the castle, and this room.” He looked at the others. Everyone nodded their heads as a sign that they understood the defense tactics.
“Now we have to look for all the available weapons with which we can defend ourselves,” he said, and thus let it be known that the meeting was over.
It was now clear to everyone that they would still have to deal with Krampus no matter how much they wanted to avoid it. They also knew that the battle with him would take place in this castle and that they should organize their defense as best as possible.
Daylight allowed them to explore the castle better. They divided into several groups and started searching. The children also joined them. They were curiously looking at all the rooms of this strange building.
They soon found what they were looking for.
“Great!” the Nutcracker exclaimed when he saw whole shelves full of swords, spears, crossbows, shields, bows, arrows and other cold weapons. He tested the sharpness of blades and points, swung the weapon, assessing its weight and balance. Experience told him that in battles like the one that awaits them, every detail can be decisive.
Grandma Advent was looking for something else and was no less delighted when she found it. She entered a large library that was full of bookshelves. Apparently someone who lived here before the Black Knight paid a lot of attention to collecting books. It was a very impressive library, both in terms of the number of books and the massive wooden shelves that were in the oval-shaped room.
She carefully studied the material until she found the books that interested her. She took out several of them and sat down at a long table in the middle of the room, intended for reading what was on the shelves. She flipped through one book, then looked at something in another, then returned to the one she opened first. About an hour passed like that. Then she put the books back where they were and left the room.
“May I join you?” she asked the Nutcracker from the door to the weapons room.
“Sure, I’m just about done.”
He grouped various types of weapons and tied them to a bundle to make them easier to carry. Something else caught his attention. Granny Advent looked curiously at the shelf where the spears and halberds were.
“Granny Advent, are you interested in this too?” he asked her with a smile.
“You don’t see a collection like every day,” she answered him, opening the display case on the shelves of which were spearheads. She, like him, studied each copy closely.
He saw that she was staring especially at the long tip of the spear that had two wings on the side.
“Bohemian earspoon. Used around the 14th century in Central Europe for warfare, but also for wild boar hunting. A nice piece of weapon”, explained the Nutcracker.
“You know weapons well. Even the historical one.”
“I always shortened the break on the battlefields by reading. I’m not one of those who think that people are unhappier the more they know.”
“Yes, knowledge is power,” she said and nodded her head in approval.
She left the Nutcracker to select the pieces of weaponry to use in the battle with Krampus, and she moved on to search the castle.
She bumped into Snow Beauty and Peter, who were visiting the castle with their children.
“Children, shall we decorate this place where we are now?” asked the grandmother. “It’s Advent time”.
“We will!” answered the children enthusiastically.
“Let’s go find Christmas decorations we can use,” said Grandma Advent.
“Let’s go!” they shouted in unison.
Grandma took them with her in search of Christmas balls and other items.
Snow Beauty joined the Nutcracker in collecting weapons for defense, and Peter the Dutchman went to the kitchen.
The children were the best possible searchers possible and turned the whole castle upside down. After a while, a voice was heard.
“Here are the ornaments. Here are more.”
Now all they needed was a Christmas tree.
The nutcracker took the ax and went into the forest to get the tree for Christmas decoration. Of course, all the children went with him.
“Don’t go deep into the forest and come back quickly,” told Granny Advent to them as they left.
Soon they returned with a large pine tree, which was dragged by the Nutcracker and the children. Some were dragged, and some climbed on it and thus drove to the castle. All this was accompanied by squeals and screams. Going to get a Christmas tree in the forest was a real experience for them. Unusual and exciting.
They also found an iron Christmas tree stand. The Nutcracker cut the branches at the bottom so that they could stick tree into the stand.
The decorating could begin. They also brought branches from the forest and placed them on the walls so that the entire space was decorated as beautifully as possible. They also put ornaments on them.
Grandma paid special attention to decorating the top of the pine tree. She climbed on the chair to make it easier for herself to decorate. For a long time, she adjusted the decorative tree toper in order to place it correctly on the evergreen plant. He stood firm. Then she got off the chair and watched him from below. She was satisfied.
During that time, Peter placed small glasses on the windows of the room into which he poured brandy. Schnapps.
“They say that the brandy on the window can drive away the Krampus. We’ll see,” he said to explain what he was doing.
Snow Beauty helped with the decoration, but she wasn’t really overzealous.
“Either Krampus will defeat us tomorrow, and that will be the end of us, or we will win and go away with the children. Anyway, we won’t stop here. Therefore, this decorating is not really the best time spent”, she shared her thinking with others.
“You’re right,” said Granny Advent. “Bat anyway, while decorating the room, the children will forget about all the unpleasant things that happened to them. At least that’s some benefit from all this. Now let’s go prepare a delicious dinner,” she added.
The kitchen in the castle was really big and well equipped, although the children said that only the simplest meals were prepared for them. They got down to business and made a delicious dinner.
Everyone was sitting around a large table in a beautifully decorated room. The murmur and laughter of the children echoed through the living room. They lit all the candles, torches and kerosene lamps in the castle to make everything as beautiful and cheerful as possible.
“Children, let’s go to sleep now,” said Granny Advent. “We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.” Her voice could be read with concern, but the children didn’t notice it.
“I’m going to make a tour around castle to check if everything is alright,” said the Nutcracker.
“And I’ll be with you so you don’t get bewitched by some old lady again,” said Snow Beauty cheerfully and winked at Granny Advent.
“Come on, kids. Be careful out there,” she said. She saw that the two of them had become very close lately and she was glad about that.
“Peter, will you help me with the dishes?” she asked the funny and nice guy from the Netherlands.
“Certainly,” he replied cheerfully and began to collect the plates.
When they finished washing the dishes, Granny Advent remembered that she had something else to do. From her red bag, she took out a sash that now consisted of two torn pieces as a result of rescuing the Nutcracker, Snow Beauty, and Peter on the Cliff of Desperate Girls. She found a hand sewing kit in one of the rooms and now got down to business. As she joined the pieces of sash with precise stitches, memories flooded her mind. She remembered her children, Little Advent Girl and the other grandchildren, who must now be very worried both about the Little Prankster and about her. Surely the people at the Christmas Fair are wondering how it is that she is not among them, and so is the mayor who gave her this sash. She felt like shedding a tear.
“No!” she said out loud. She thought to herself that she must be strong now and that she must not let emotions and memories overwhelm her. The most important fight in her life awaits her tomorrow.
She finished sewing the sash which was now as good as new. She put it on, looked in the mirror and fixed the edges a little. She was satisfied with her work.
Then she took off her hat, ribbon and cape and remained in her T-shirt. She started exercising. She tensed first the front of her arms and then the back part. Then shoulders, back and chest. She was very concentrating on the moves she was making.
She heard a whisper behind her. Curious children’s heads peeked out from the door. She smiled at them and waved.
“Come… come in”, she invited them with her hand to come closer to her.
“Grandma… grandma… what were you doing? Is that tai chi? Yoga?” they asked cheerfully as they ran to her.
“Power Stretching,” she replied. Movements like in body-building, only without weights. Adapted to the elderly. Anyone can stretch their muscles as much as they want. We trick our brain a little because when we tense our muscles, it doesn’t know if we have a weight in our hands or not,” she answered them with a smile. “It’s great for hardening the body.”
“We can practice too… can we too?” they excitedly gathered around her.
Now everyone was cheerfully tensing their muscles, pretending to push some heavy weights, trying to knock each other’s hand off. Both girls and boys. They would have gone so long into the night if Granny Advent hadn’t chased them to sleep.
She knew that tomorrow she had to be rested and focus, and that is difficult without a good night’s sleep. With squeals and screams, they made their way to the great hall.
In the meantime, Snow Beauty and the Nutcracker were walking around the castle. The torches on the outer ramparts were lit and everything was very romantic.
They were walking close to each other and their hands were touching. He placed the little finger of his right hand on the little finger of her left hand and held it gently. She didn’t let go of her hand, but she didn’t even look at him. He thought he saw a blush on her face.
She stopped and turned to him.
“It’s strange that we met under these circumstances,” she said.
“Yes, it’s strange what life brings to us,” he answered her.
“Maybe we could… you know… after all this…”, she mouthed.
He put his finger on her lips.
“Psss… in this business of ours there is no point in planning anything, today you are – tomorrow you are not. We should live for every beautiful moment,” he said.
She knew he was right.
“That’s true, but don’t talk like that. You will attract bad luck. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you”, she was serious. Then she laughed. She gently bit his finger that he was holding to her lips.
“Your wedding dress looked beautiful,” he told her, looking at her in love.
“When I get married one day, it will be in camouflage pants,” she answered him somewhat mischievously.
Nutcracker took her gently by the chin and pulled her to him. He was looking into her big eyes, seen that she was scared. She was a great warrior and was not afraid of anything, but in matters of the heart she was not the best.
She closed her eyes. He pressed his lips gently to hers.
It started to snow, but they didn’t notice.
18.THE BATTLE OF ALL BATTLES
The next morning, they were quite sure that the day of the great reckoning had come.
All the children were locked in a room that could only be reached through the large living room. Their main stronghold. They didn’t want Krampus to fool them with some deception and get his hands on the children by bypassing them. Granny turned the key in the lock twice and gave the doorknob a firm shake to make sure the door to the room was properly closed. She hid the big key in her cloak. Not far from the door was a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.
They knew that they could expect an attack already in the morning because Krampus would certainly waste no time in getting hold of the children.
They placed barricades on the windows so that the only entry point was the door in front of them. At all three key points of their resistance that they defined yesterday, they dragged a bunch of weapons. Bows, arrows, spears, axes, halberds, maces – almost anything they thought would be useful in dealing with the monster. They knew that there was no point in having those weapons sitting unused in the armory.
They additionally strengthened the main gate of the castle by hammering a few more support beams into the place where the big latch was located. They did the same with the door that served as an auxiliary entrance.
They headed to the outer ramparts in order to spot the arrival of Krampus in time. They spread themselves so that each of the four defenders of the castle covered a certain sector. It was clear to them that the sooner they saw the danger; the sooner they would be able to act.
Everything was unusually quiet. Almost spooky. Just like before a big storm.
It didn’t take long.
“Quick!” shouted the Nutcracker, “quick, come here.” He was on the rampart above the castle’s main gate. Something seemed to disturb him. Everyone rushed to him.
“Look,” he told them when they gathered around him. “See… there… there deep in the forest. As if something is moving. It seems to me…” At the same time, he pointed with his hand into the distance straight in front of him in the direction from which the road stretched.
Nobody said anything. Everyone looked in the direction the soldier was pointing.
“Yes,” shouted Snow Beauty, looking in the same direction as the Nutcracker. “Something is moving.”
“And there!” Peter exclaimed. However, he was not looking in the same direction as the two of them, but almost completely to the right.
“Here… and there!” said the Nutcracker loud again, but now pointing towards the other edge of the forest. So many points began to move in the forest in front of them that it no longer made any sense to make warning. It was as all began to flow into one big river.
“I don’t know what it is, but we better get ready,” he said, taking an arrow out of his quiver and straddling the bow he held in his hands.
Snow Beauty had a crossbow in her hands and was also ready for action.
Now everyone was watching tensely to see what would come out of the forest. It was about a hundred meters away from the ramparts of the castle. There was a clearing in between. The builders of this edifice deliberately did so so that no attacker could approach the walls unnoticed, using the forest as a cover.
The ground began to shake as if an earthquake had just occurred somewhere, not so far away. The entire castle and its surroundings began to shake.
“There… be careful,” shouted the Nutcracker and turned his weapon towards the very edge of the forest, seeing something coming out of it.
A magnificent, large wolf rushed out of the coniferous forest with terrifying speed. He was not alone. Other specimens of his species chased after him with the same ferocity. The whole pack. And not randomly. They poured into one river from all sides. It was as if some force was preventing them from jumping out of the forest at any point. The animals did it in an extremely disciplined manner, like a mass of fans pouring towards the stadium, and then they all head towards individual entrances.
The wolves were not alone. Other animals followed them. It was difficult to make out what was there, but it seemed that not a single specimen of the animal species that lived in the forest was absent from this strange event. Even those animals that should be hibernating at this time. There was no doubt that any military power would be overjoyed with this kind of response to the mobilization.
The Nutcracker arched over the ramparts of the castle aiming for the first wolf who was now quite close to the gate. “No,” Grandma Advent shouted and lowered his bow down with a wave of her hand. “It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “There are too many of them.”
She was right. Even if there was a whole company of archers on the walls, they would hardly have done anything. So many animals in one place have probably not been seen since the biblical flood and Noah’s ark. It would be a magnificent sight if there was not something terrifying and ominous about it.
The wolf, which was the first to break out of the forest into the clearing, now came quite close to the castle.
“But he will…” cried Snow Beauty, realizing now the meaning of this helpless race.
At full speed, without stopping, the wolf crashed into the castle gate. Dead, with a fractured skull, he collapsed on the ground in front of the gate. The next one did the same. Like everyone else. Then deer and mouflons with their strong horns.
Those who arrived after them, climbed onto the corpses and, without slowing down, rammed into the gate like animal kamikazes. It seemed as if the death of the animals in front of them gave even greater impetus and élan to those who followed.
Granny Advent and the group around her watched this horrible scene without saying a word. They were powerless. If they had shot a few animals, it certainly would not have helped them in anything and would not have discouraged others. Hundreds and hundreds of others.
Then the sky turned even blacker than it usually was over this castle. If anyone thought that the birds would not participate in the attack, then they were certainly wrong. There were a frightening number of them. It was safe to say that the birds in this case did not fly in flocks, but in swarms that also crashed into the entrance of the castle.
This suicidal atack began to yield results. The crack in the gate was getting bigger and bigger.
The defenders of the castle hastily descended from the ramparts. They weren’t sure what would come next. The first line of their defense was already broken in half. It remains to be seen what else they can do from the castle grounds. They went down.
There were lines of animals attacking the door. The pile of animal carcasses was getting bigger and bigger. This could already be seen from the courtyard inside the castle through the cracked gate from the place where Granny Advent, Nutcracker, Peter and Snow Beauty now stood. The openings in the doors were already so large that some animals could slip through them.
But that didn’t happen.
A terrifying howl was heard in the distance. Scarier than the way any animal would announce itself. It didn’t seem to come from this world.
The animals that were attacking the castle at that moment stopped. It was as if they had received an order from the beast lord to stop charging. They started circling disorientated in front of the place where the entire castle gate used to be. They didn’t seem to know what they were doing here. Then they ran away in a panic, wanting to leave this place as soon as possible.
The group in the courtyard was momentarily relieved. If animals had entered the castle, it would have been difficult to defend against them. But they knew that something worse was waiting for them soon.
The cry was heard again. He was much closer now. No animals were near the castle anymore. Only corpses remained.
“We are not moving,” said Snow Beauty. She tightened the crossbow in her hand a little more.
“Granny Advent, how about we try that song?” Peter asked.
“A song won’t help us here,” said Granny Advent.
There was a moving outside the gate. Everyone fell silent and focused their attention on what was happening.
The dead bodies of animals from the back rows began to fly into the air. Left and right. Something big and powerful clawed its way through the pile of corpses. Everything was reminiscent of the scene when a snow plow dislodges piles of white drifts from buried roads.
“It’s coming!” shouted someone from the group of defenders of the castle. “Let’s close ranks!” They touched each other’s shoulders to give each other strength.
Through the broken castle door, they saw a supernatural scene. A hairy monster with huge horns and a long outstretched tongue was moving animal carcasses out of its way. The pitchforks served him as a broom, and he rammed some corpses onto them and threw them behind him. The chains he had attached to his hands hung almost to the floor.
He reached the very entrance. Additionally, he broke several already cracked boards so that he would not have to crawl through the gaps in the door, but enter in his full size.
Granny Advent and the other defenders of the castle were still standing motionless in the middle of the yard. Evil in its purest form was before them. The devil here did not want to hide his existence, but to let everyone know that he was there. From all that has happened so far, two things can be clearly discerned. Krampus did not want to use any tricks to enter the castle, but wanted to pass through the main gate in triumph as all great military leaders and conquerors do on similar occasions. And secondly, he did not want the animals or anyone else to judge those who dared to steal what he considered his own. He himself will bring their heads. I guess as a warning to others who would dare to do something similar.
He stopped and watched them. He looked from one to the other. He looked at Peter for the longest time. It was as if something confused him, but it didn’t last long.
And they were watching him. Granny Advent could look at it much better now in the daylight. According to a free estimate, he was over two meters tall. And not just by a few centimeter.
The most terrifying thing was what was behind his belt. Frau Perchta’s head dangled like a bunch of keys by her hair. Krampus did not forgive his subjects failure. Even a tip about what happened in the Black Knight’s castle obviously didn’t help the witch.
It was as if he was reading their minds. With the hand in which he held the pitchfork, he beat his chest, and then pointed downwards. He wanted to tell them that soon their heads would join this witch who failed to do her task.
“Let’s see how he will react to this,” said the Nutcracker and began shooting arrows at the monster standing before them. He did it extremely fast. As soon as he released one arrow from his bow, he quickly drew another from his quiver. At the same time, Snow Beauty shot Krampus with arrows from a crossbow.
Krampus seemed to know in advance where the arrows were flying. With the pitchfork he held in his hands, he very skillfully repelled everything that the Nutcracker and the Slavic warrior hurled at him.
But that wasn’t the biggest problem the Nutcracker and Krampus’ other rivals faced.
Even those arrows that he could not deflect and that hit his body, did not produce any result. They bounced off as if they were hitting some kind of shield that was on him.
“What is it armored with?” asked Peter the Dutchman. He said out loud what everyone was thinking.
“Nothing,” replied the Nutcracker who, despite this, did not stop firing new missiles.
It was an answer that made everyone cringe and didn’t want to hear it. If Krampus had some kind of armor on him, then that defense mechanism could be removed somehow. There was no hope like this.
Krampus advanced more and more towards them. They spread out in a semi-circle to attack him from multiple sides. Snow Beauty dropped her crossbow and grabbed a halberd from a pile of weapons in the yard.
“Watch out for his tongue!” exclaimed the grandmother, who already had experience fighting this monster. But this warning came too late.
Snow Beauty ran towards Krampus and swung her halberd as if to cut him in half. When she was a few meters away, her attack was stopped exactly as Granny Advent had warned. Krampus extended his long tongue and wrapped it around the girl’s neck. Due to the shock caused by this move, the medieval weapon fell from her hands. He drew her to him, similar to how he had done with Granny Advent some time ago, but now his intentions were different. With the same ferocity with which he attracted her, he now catapulted her away from him like a toy. And not anywhere, but towards the Nutcracker, who was also attacking him. She hit the soldier like a ball knocks down a cone in full swing. They both fell to the floor.
Krampus seemed amused by all this.
Peter’s attack didn’t fare any better either, only here Krampus used a new weapon.
A young man from the Netherlands attacked him from the side, trying to hit him with a mace. Instead of his tongue, Krampus used his tail this time. Without looking, he hit Peter across the face with it. He fell as if mowed down.
It was at that moment that the Nutcracker and Snow Beauty first managed to untangle themselves, and then approached. They did not stay in that position for long. Like a good tennis player, Krampus hit them flat with his pitchfork. They flew away together again and found themselves face to face in the snow. Someone rooting for Krampus in this battle might wryly note that he killed two birds with one stone.
“Let’s retreat to the corridor,” shouted Granny Advent, seeing that the battle in the open was not yielding any results and that the terrifying enemy would soon crush them all. Everyone obeyed her without complaint and ran into the corridor.
Krampus followed them with a leisurely pace. He was in no hurry. He was sure that he could not lose this battle.
They closed the door. They moved a few meters away from the entrance and waited to see what would happen.
In front of the entrance, there was a huge noise and the banging of chains. This was accompanied by heavy banging on the door.
“Get ready!” shouted the Nutcracker.
The gate literally flew open. The remains clattered to the floor. He did not need the help of forest animals to break through this gate.
Krampus stood before them in all his greatness and terrifying form, but this time much closer than before.
In all his helplessness, the Nutcracker swung his sword at him. It was perfectly executed. The weapon spun several times around its axis and bluntly hit the body of Krampus. It was now clear that Krampus’ skin could not be penetrated even in close combat.
And this defensive position was obviously lost.
No one needed to give the order to retreat now as Krampus was pushing them towards the great hall. Retreating before it, they found themselves in its interior, an area they designated as their last line of defense.
Then Krampus entered. All participants of the big, final showdown were present. The battle of all battles could begin.
Everyone looked at each other, but Granny Advent seemed to be the primary target of Krampus interest. He paid less attention to the others.
They found themselves face to face with the monster.
Granny Advent was retreating towards the decorated Christmas tree. So did everyone else. Behind them, there was still only the door that led to the room where the children were hidden.
The Nutcracker swung his dagger trying to hit the Krampus eye. But the monster was extremely skilled in close combat. She deftly ducked her head and dodged the knife. That was not all. This movement was also accompanied by a strong push of the head forward. The large horn on the Krampus head tore through the right side of the Nutcracker’s body.
Granny Advent watched in astonishment at what was happening, but she didn’t have to wait long before she too became the target of an attack by the weapons on Krampus’ head.
As he pulled the horn out of the Nutcracker’s body, he swung his head hard to the left, wanting to impale Granny Advent. The old woman watched petrified as the horns raced towards her face. She instinctively raised her hands to protect herself from them. It certainly wouldn’t have helped her if Snow White hadn’t jumped on her and pulled her back. However, this did not fully protect Granny Advent because the horn caught her on the hands and bled her out.
She fell on a pine tree together with a young girl. The Christmas tree bent under the weight of the body, leaned against the wall behind it and snapped not far from the stand. The ornaments scattered on the floor and rolled in all directions.
The Nutcracker was holding on to the part of his body that Krampus pierced with his horn, and Snow Beauty and Granny Advent were on an upturned pine tree. Blood was dripping from Granny Advent’s hand. The battle was over. They were at the mercy of Krampus.
He stood over them and could choose who to finish off first. It seems that this is exactly what contributed to his attention waning for a moment.
Peter the Dutchman, as agile and nimble as he is, skillfully jumped onto Krampus’ back and climbed onto his shoulders. He pushed himself up a little and grabbed the horns as if he wanted to pull them out.
“I’m here, horn monster!” Peter shouted, thus only intensifying Krampus’ anger.
He seemed angrier at being interrupted in his intent to take the lives of his opponents than at the actual danger that threatened him from the young man at his back.
He began to jerk from side to side to shake it off. Then it turned around on its axis several times.
But while he was dealing with the whiny Dutchman, something was happening behind his back. Granny Advent stood up, grabbed the bottom of the broken pine and began to lift it up. It was seen that it was a great effort for her in this condition.
It was not clear to the Nutcracker and Snow Beauty what she was doing. They looked at her in wonder.
“Now… lift the Christmas tree”, Grandma Advent tried to shout in a barely audible voice.
The Nutcracker was the first to pull together and jumped towards the pine tree, catching it somewhere in the middle. The tree top now began to rise into the air. The soldier was stunned when he saw that on the top of the pine, instead of the usual decoration, there was a spear point. The same one Granny Advent was looking at in the weapons hall.
Seeing this, Snow Beauty’s react as well. She jumped up from the other side, opposite the Nutcracker and felt the tree trunk through the pine needles and grabbed it strongly with her hands.
Both of them now roughly knew what Grandma Advent’s plan was and what they had to do.
Peter the Dutchman’s plan to disrupt Krampus in his intentions was coming to an end. With his sudden movements, Krampus managed to throw the mischievous young man from his back and he was now hanging sideways around his neck, making great efforts not to slide to the floor. However, he did not stay in this position for long.
Krampus grabbed him with the claws of the hand in which he was not holding the pitchfork and whirled him hard towards the fireplace. Peter hit the brick surface and remained lying motionless.
The monster with horns and a big tail started to turn back towards Granny Advent to finish the task that Peter had distracted him from. However, the situation has changed a lot in the meantime.
The trio that now held the pine tree in their hands moved two steps back to gain strength and speed. Just like some medieval army that wants to break through the gate of the castle it wants to conquer with a device called a battering ram.
Krampus was sure of himself and knew that nothing could stop him from taking Granny Advent’s life. Because of this, he paid almost no attention to defense or protection against a possible attack.
“Now… push… forward… hard!” she shouted as loud as she could as the captain of a ship whose sailors must raise their sails quickly to catch the wind and reach their desired port.
“But this cannot do any harm…” Snow Beauty tried to rebel, but she saw that it made no sense.
The monster was, to say the least, surprised by this move by the trio in front of him. Attacking him with a pine tree and its decorative top was insane. He considered it an act of desperation.
Then Krampus realized in a split second that what was rushing towards him was not the decorated tip of a conifer. It was a spear point that looked like a decorative point and threatened to dig into his body. A metal spike covered in blood.
But that didn’t worry him too much either. It even amused him. In that very small fraction of time, he sneered at the lack of education of his rivals. Not knowing the weaknesses and strengths of the enemy is a big mistake. Because no blade of any weapon in this world could do anything to him. She couldn’t break through his skin and enter his body. I guess they already understood that. Unless… if she wasn’t… A thought crossed his mind, but he thought it was impossible.
The tip of the spear sank into the body of the Krampus. He watched and couldn’t believe it.
A terrible roar filled the room.
He was not the only one who was shocked by what happened. The same expression was seen on the faces of the Nutcracker and Snow Beautys. The only person in this life-and-death battle who was not surprised and who was awake and involved in the action in all senses was Granny Advent. She issued new commands.
“Now… back… hard!”
They took a step back and then quickly forward again. All three of them pushed the pine on their hands even deeper into him. Now the metal spike had almost completely disappeared in his body.
The monster realized that he would soon die. No matter what he does, it won’t change that. It wasn’t clear to him how this was possible, but it was happening anyway.
Just like a computer that calculates possibilities extremely well, Krampus decided on his last action.
He lifted the heavy pitchfork and with all his remaining strength swung it at Granny Advent’s face. He wanted her to go with him to the realm of death. And as he was dying, he knew he couldn’t break through her cloak so he aimed for the woman’s head.
Granny was sure that there was no escape for her this time. She was only moments away from certain death. It was as if she saw a smile on his face.
“No!” shouted the Nutcracker and threw himself in front of Granny Advent to protect her from the Krampus attack.
All three tips of Krampus’s pitchforks stuck into his chest. Krampus pushed down on them with all his weight. The spikes of the hay-gathering tool went almost the entire length through the Nutcracker’s body. At the same time, he did not care that with that movement he caused the spear, which was at the top of the pine tree, to sink even deeper into his body and that the spike now came out for the most part through his back.
Then everything stopped. Nobody was moving.
“Nutcracker!” shouted Snow Beauty. “Nutcracker!”
She literally threw herself at the brave soldier. She used all her strength to pry the tool from his chest. She pushed the pitchforks hard causing Krampus, who was leaning on them, to fall onto his back. He took with him the pine that was stuck in his body. The sight of the Christmas tree sticking out of Krampus’ body was a strange sight, but little regarding these events wasn’t strange.
There were large wounds on the Nutcracker’s body caused by pitchforks. Snow Beauty saw many people die and knew that there was no salvation for the young man she was holding in her arms.
“Everything will be fine… everything…” she said, believing that a miracle would happen. She looked around the room.
“I’m leaving now,” said the Nutcracker in a barely audible voice. “See you on other battlefields, in other worlds.”
Then he closed his eyes.
“No… no…” she kept shouting as tears streamed down her face and onto his wounds. “No…”
She hugged him to her chest. She knew he was dead, but she didn’t want to be separated from him.
There was a strange ambulance in the castle that evening. Everyone was happy and proud of the victory over Krampus, but at the same time very sad because of the Nutcracker’s death. Even the children were sitting on the floor with their backs against the wall and talking quietly to each other. Neither laughter nor joy could be heard.
Granny Advent stood by the window and looked into the distance.
Snow Beauty came out of the room where the Nutcracker’s body was. She stopped not far from the older woman.
“Who are you?” she asked her with a great deal of suspicion. “You killed Krampus. No one has ever been able to do that.” There was a great deal of respect in her voice. The military one.
Grandma didn’t answer anything. She knew sooner or later this question would come.
“Krampus can only be killed with a blade dipped in the blood of Jesus. “Your blood was on the tip of the spear,” the girl continued. She was looking for answers.
“I do not know. I honestly don’t know,” answered Granny Advent, because she knew there was no point in remaining silent. “That night in the North, before we met in the inn of Father whipper, it was as if some strange energy occupied my body. I don’t know what happened then.”
“You knew we could kill him this way?”
“I did not know. Up to today. I had read about it in the castle library, but I had no idea that my blood had such power. We had nothing to lose. I put the spearhead on the pine tree as a backup weapon, but I didn’t know this was going to happen. “
The girl was silent and watched.
“It was our only chance. After the thing with the cape and the song, I knew something was happening, but I’m not sure what and where it’s coming from.”
“Why didn’t you bring the Nutcracker back to life?”
“That is not in my power. If it was, I would know. I would feel it.”
“What will happen now?” asked Snow Beauty.
“Tomorrow we will bury the Nutcracker. We have to find the other children.”
“Where are we going to look for them?”
“I don’t know, somewhere further north. Some answers will come spontaneously. That’s how it always happens.”
Snow Beauty did not answer anything. She left the room, and Granny Advent was still by the window. Staring into the white distance.
Unusually cold winds howled through the valley below the Black Knight’s castle that morning. However, none of the twenty people who gathered there were bothered by that. They didn’t even notice it.
They were standing over the just-buried grave in which the Nutcracker’s coffin was laid. That morning, Peter dug up a burial pit together with a man from the village who had arrived at the castle. The news of the death of Krampus and the Black Knight quickly spread around.
Snow Beauty placed the Nutcracker’s military cap on the cross. It was a farewell between to soldiers. They buried him with his sword.
Peter left the burial place with the children. They gathered around him. He led them towards the castle.
Grandma Advent and Snow Beauty remained standing over the ever resting place of the Nutcracker.
“I will miss him,” said the brave warrior, trying to hide the tears on her face.
“Me too,” answered Granny Advent quietly.
“At least he didn’t die in vain,” added Snow Beauty quietly. “Unlike many others, this battle had its meaning.”
“I have a feeling that many secrets are still hidden and are waiting to come to the surface. I have a feeling that this adventure has just begun,” said Granny Advent.
She hugged Snow Beauty and together they go towards the castle.
Pale light reached the middle part of the cave.
The huge woman looked at the children in front of her. Everyone had their heads down and were engrossed in their work.
A man entered the room, approached her and whispered something in her ear.
“When did that happen?” she asked with a mixture of surprise and anger.
“Yesterday evening,” he answered in a voice full of fear.
“Are you sure Krampus is dead?” She looked at him in disbelief.
The man just nodded his head and pulled back a little. He was afraid of her anger.
“Go now. We have to prepare the defense because they will come here as well. You already know who you have to call.”
He obediently nodded his head again and took the opportunity to get away as soon as possible.
The woman with the huge nose was thinking deeply about something. The news was not good. Those who defeated Krampus would not be easy opponents, but she also had a lot of tricks in her arsenal.
She knew that the hour of final reckoning was approaching.
– END –
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© 2022 Aljoša Babić © 2022 Balanza j.d.o.o.