Legs

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Jektov's legs were chewed off by a dragon. A witch on the run offers a potion to give them back, but he doesn't get what he expects.

Submitted: October 25, 2011

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Submitted: October 25, 2011

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Jektov shouldn’t have been alive. In a time when knights hunted witches in the woods and villages of the cold lands, or fought in the snow against invaders from the west, a man seemed useless when he didn’t have legs anymore. He might as well have come out of his mother saying, “Break my skull in with a stone.” He often watched the knights ride past, into the Whispering Woods in the south, or the Wicked Woods to the east, or the Whistling Woods of the north, on the hunt for witches, werewolves, and sometimes rusalki if any river with a history of death ran between the trees.

Once, Jektov had been among them. A great but stupid dragon had found its way into the cold lands and burned three villages before Jektov and other warriors caught up with it. The winged serpent proceeded to eat their legs, as if that would stop them from killing it. Jektov was the last to lose his legs as the dragon’s teeth crunched through flesh and bone, and charred the flesh that remained. Jektov did not even see the monster’s death—he knew only a hazy dream of pain for weeks and weeks, until finally he awoke as half a man.

One day, three moons after seven knights had vanished into the Whispering Woods, a young woman came bustling from between the southern trees, carrying a great bundle. Jektov watched her from his window as she scurried into the village, glanced around, and then snuck through his front door.

Jektov moved around on a miniature horse-cart, small enough that he could sit inside it and drag himself around with his muscly arms. When he rolled into the den from his bedroom, he found the woman stuffing her bag into his fireplace. “What are you doing there?” he called.

The young woman hopped in surprise. She turned around with wide, frightened eyes and a quivering lip, which twisted into a smirk when she noticed Jektov’s condition. “I am Nadezya, a young witch of the Whispering Woods and I’ve snuck into the house of half a man,” she said. “Knights chased me from my home and I must hide all my magical belongings in case they seek me here.”

“I once hunted witches in the woods,” Jektov said. “Why would I help you?”

“Because I can give you legs.” The witch fished through her belongings, retrieved several bottles and pouches, and began mixing, shaking, and pouring different blue and green fluids between them until she had three glowing vials. She shoved stoppers into the vials and placed them on the fireplace mantle. “Hold a vial high overhead and shout ‘anew’ before pouring it on your head. Within moments, new legs will sprout from where your stumps sit now. Use all three vials. In return, I ask for your secrecy and to keep my belongings until I return, clear of the knights.”

Jektov decided that the witch was practically harmless without her magic and didn’t seem terribly evil, offering him a potion to restore his legs. Before he could answer, Nadezya sped back out the door and Jektov thought he heard hooves galloping from the woods. He didn’t expect to see the young witch again.

Night fell before he dared touch the vials, using a broom handle to shove one loose from the mantle. He caught it, examined the glowing brew within, and considered what he had to lose—nothing, if it meant legs. He pulled off the stopper, held the vial high, and shouted, “Anew!” as he poured it into his hair. Moments later, a great pain pushed through his thighs, down to his knees, and ached in his ankles before Jektov realized he wasn’t supposed to have those body parts anymore.

“It worked!” he cried, jumping up and down. Clop. Clop. “I’m a full man again!” Clop. Clop. After a few hops, he realized that he could not feel his feet much, and when he looked down, he realized the truth of his new legs. They were muscular, brown, and covered in stiff hair. The knees bent strangely and black hooves touched the floor where feet should have been.

jektov.jpg

Illustration by Falineowlight. Texture by Stuckdumb.

“I’m still half a man,” Jektov said mournfully. “I’m also half a horse. Now the knights will come and tear one part from the other to rid me of this witch’s curse.”

Clopping in a circle, Jektov noticed the two remaining vials. Perhaps with each vial, his legs would change into a more superior animal, leaving him with human legs at the end. Returning to the mantle, he grabbed the second vial and did as before. “Anew!” he shouted before pouring the tonic on his head. Nothing seemed to happen for a moment, as he hoped the horse legs would reshape into something more human.

Then an awful, ripping pain surged across his hips and backside, through his thighs, down to his knees, aching at his ankles, but not the ones that had already hurt. When the pain subsided and Jektov glanced back fearfully, he saw a horse’s end protruding from behind him, and a new set of legs clopped behind the first set.

“That trickster!” Jektov roared, stamping around his den. “I’ll have legs, certainly, if I wish to be turned into a horse, and then I might carry her pack like a good beast of burden, fulfilling my end of the bargain and hers.” He returned to the fireplace in an angry trot. “I should burn the bag and everything within.” Grabbing the vial from the mantle, he raised it overhead, but Jektov had no intention of becoming a horse. “Filthy woman! All I wanted was to ride out again, but as a full man! A man made anew, not a horse!” With that, he chucked the vial to the floor, where the glass shattered and the brew seeped into the wood. Jektov refused to be any more of a horse.

Then the floor began to rumble and the house quaked, knocking Jektov off-balance and forcing him to grasp a window sill to keep steady. Had he sensed the house’s feelings, he would’ve known that a great pain shook through its thighs, down to its knees, and ached in its ankles when it shouldn’t have had any of those body parts.

Instead, all Jektov saw was a gigantic horse leg burst from the house’s foundation, and the house quickly left the ground, standing on its own legs, thick as tree trunks. Two heavy hooves stomped the earth below, flattening gardens and crushing fences.

“No, house!” Jektov cried, desperate for control. “Sit down!”

The house turned this way and that, and then charged east, breaking down the smallest trees of the Wicked Woods. The world thundered wherever its mighty hooves struck the ground. Animals scattered, trees splintered, and all the while Jektov screamed for help. The house ran on and on beneath the full moon, crossing so much distance that it cleared the Wicked Woods, rushing into a vast, hilly field.

Jektov was amazed to find an end to the woods at all, and more to have come through alive, but almost right away he realized that he and his horse-like house had not passed unnoticed. Another stomping echoed behind the house in the night and he craned his neck out the window to see what followed.

A smaller house gave chase. Its hay-laden roof shook in the wind, its windows stared like dark eyes, and a doorway loomed open at the front. The little cottage bobbed not on horse hooves, but on chicken legs and feet, their talons leaving great scars in the moonlit fields. A white fence slid through the black doorway like a lolling tongue made of loosely-tied bones. When enough of the fence swung loose from the chicken-legged house, it curved into a large hook and reached out to snare a leg of Jektov’s house.

Desperate as Jektov was to escape his cursed home, he was not ignorant of what followed him from the Wicked Woods. The house with chicken legs was whispered of in homes during still nights, and mentioned in tavern tales around the fireplace in the darkness of harsh winters. It was the home of Baba Yaga, a great and terrible witch, the most dangerous of any that lived in the cold lands, and perhaps in all the world. Knights who went hunting her never returned and the common people who met her and returned alive were never the same. It was said she ate children alive, that the unborn boiled in their mothers’ wombs at her presence, and worst of all, she simply would not die of old age, although Jektov believed that many witches had found ways to avoid their natural fates. The house must have crossed Baba Yaga’s at some point in its wild flight and she’d spurred her chicken-legged home to give chase.

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Illustration by Darryl Fabia. Texture by Stuckdumb.

Jektov was in worse trouble when the bone fence clutched one of his house’s ankles. The chicken-legged cottage held firm on a nearby hill, the fence went taut, and Jektov’s house tripped, slamming into the earth. All his furniture and food went flying, along with his little cart. Even Nadezya’s bag came dislodged from the fireplace. Jektov picked it up without a thought as he lifted himself from the floor and trotted out the front door. Better to meet Baba Yaga on neutral ground outside, and seemingly of his own free will, than to wait for her to come growling at his doorstep.

The house with chicken legs squatted next to the defeated house with horse legs when Jektov emerged, and Baba Yaga slid from a lower hatch in the floor like her home had laid an egg. One yellow eye sat across from a wide white one above a bulbous nose and a grin of jagged teeth. The great witch walked as crookedly as her home, over to Jektov’s prone house, and stared him down at the entrance.

“Here I thought my house was the only one on stilts that walked,” Baba Yaga snarled in a tone that said she wished to still be the only one with such a house.

“It was altered by a witch,” Jektov said, shaking Nadezya’s bag. “Incidentally, I’m of a mind to sell or trade it.” The horse-legged man had heard of people bartering with Baba Yaga before.

“What would you have in mind?”

“The witch also transformed my lower half into this beast. I would like to find a cure so I might regain my human legs.”

Baba Yaga examined the downed house. “I doubt it’s worth such a cure.”

Jektov feared that if she was not amenable to a deal, then she might find other ways to deal with him, and he might see dawn with less body parts than when he began this ordeal. “Why not try it out first?” he asked. “Take it for a quick run.”
Baba Yaga liked this. She climbed into the house, commanded her fence to loosen, and right away the house stood up and ran. The great witch whooped and cackled at first, but soon realized she had no control of the horse legs. Jektov heard her bellowing for the commands as the house disappeared over a hill, but he didn’t know any, and wouldn’t have told her anyway. He laughed, and then hurried into the chicken-legged house, leaping through its front doorway by galloping up the white fence. “Baba Yaga may be helpless for the moment,” he said to himself. “But no doubt she’ll figure some way to become the house’s master, and that’ll be my end.”

Baba Yaga’s house confounded Jektov as badly as his own and he worried he would not find a way to flee swiftly. Furniture and decorations carved from bone crowded the sole room so densely that she might have simply dredged up a graveyard and dumped it in her home. Despite his revulsion, Jektov rolled the bone fence into the house so it wouldn’t get caught in the escape.

“All that’s left to do is discover how it moves and command that it do so,” he said. He touched skulls, turned severed hands on dials, and twisted the fence’s bony pikes, each time demanding that the house stand up and run for the Wicked Woods, but he wielded no authority here. He could not even make Baba Yaga’s flying mortar fly. “Perhaps something in the other witch’s bag might help.”

Amid various ingredients pouches and glass vials, Jektov found a tin whistle, a white doll that filled most of the bag, and a tiny sword, small as his thumb. “Something’s written on the blade,” he said. “Wurbestwarg.” At the word, the sword grew to half his height and nearly sliced away his nose. Uttering the word again shrank the fearsome saber. “This won’t help.” He turned to the white doll. Stitched on the doll’s back were the words, “To lead to secret ways.” On the whistle, it said, “Lord of the Fowl.”

“Fowl, like a chicken,” Jektov reasoned, and blew the whistle. “Great chicken-house, stand and hurry back to the Wicked Woods!” The house rocked unhappily, but obediently stood, and took off for the trees. Much as Jektov could now command the house, he did not know where his old house had taken him or how to return to the village.

Ordering the house to stop, he picked up the white doll from the bag and began turning it over. “Where are the instructions?” he asked. “How do I make it lead me to secret ways?” No sooner had he spoken than the doll’s arms began flailing, its legs began kicking, and its mouth opened and shut. Jektov shuddered in disgust at the writhing, leathery piece of witchcraft. He quickly thrust the doll back into the witch’s bag, tightened his fists around the opening, and beat the sack against the wall twice before chucking it out one of Baba Yaga’s windows.

The bag fell several feet with a soft thud and the clink of broken glass. The cloth ruffled for a moment and then the white doll climbed out, staring up at Jektov. It pointed through the trees with one hand, waved the other, and bowed its head toward Baba Yaga’s house.

Jektov then realized how the doll worked. “So, I am your master. Then doll, show me the quickest way to the village.” The doll’s legs twitched and it darted west. Blowing the bird whistle again, Jektov ordered the house to follow, and soon he saw his village through the trees of the Wicked Woods.

The young woman he’d met before sunset stood in the moonlit, empty space where his old house had been. “I have been waiting since the full moon rose,” she said. “Have you my bag?”

“Have you my legs?” Jektov asked, stopping the chicken-legged house and galloping down the bone fence. “These monstrous limbs aren’t what I wanted at all.”

“I offered only legs, unspecific. Where is my bag?”

“You did not make good on your end of the bargain, and so I did not make good on mine,” Jektov said. “I have been more than fair in not reporting you to the knights. No doubt you intended that I would be dragged off as some horrid beast or made a horse for you to ride.”

“Nonsense,” Nadezya said. “But a curse was needed to solve your problem, a reason you will understand at dawn. Did you use all three vials?” She listened to Jektov explain what had happened, and then said, “You will need the last dose. If I had my bag, I could whip it up in moments and your problem will be solved.”

“But then I’ll be a horse!”

“Only on the full moon. You cannot blame me for forgetting there would be a full moon tonight on a day when I have been chased from my home by knights shouting for my hide, when I’ve done nothing wrong in all my twenty-three years alive. You must fetch the bag and take the final potion while the moon is in the sky, or else by dawn you’ll wear a man’s legs as you wish, and a horse’s head above your shoulders until the next full moon.”

Jektov agreed to retrieve the bag. He helped the young witch into Baba Yaga’s home, commanded the doll to lead him to the bag, and whistled for the house to follow on its chicken legs. They winded their way back through the Wicked Woods, the white doll almost glowing in the full moon’s light, until at last its stuffed legs stopped by a lumpy sack near a dying tree.

The moment Jektov galloped down to fetch the bag, a revolting cackle sent the trees trembling, and Jektov’s house lurched from the darkness of the woods. Baba Yaga sat in his doorway, her yellow and white eyes gleaming, and she held her left hand held up with its fingers twisted strangely.

babayagasm.jpg

Illustration by Falineowlight.

“I see a fool who would dare return to the Wicked Woods once he’s crossed me,” the great witch said. “I’ve decided I have no interest in your house, and instead wish to make a meaty stew out of you, from the hips up.”

“Grandmother, please forgive his intrusion,” Nadezya said from window.

“And you will abandon my home, young witch.” Baba Yaga’s shadow loomed over Jektov. “I am in command of your home, horse-man.”

“And I command yours,” Jektov said. He blew the tin whistle and waved the house forward. Nadezya had only a moment to drop down through the floor hatch before the chicken legs ran and Baba Yaga’s home smashed into Jektov’s. Wood splintered, walls cracked, and the legs of both houses wobbled as if ready to fall.

But Baba Yaga only grinned. “And I command you,” she said, and her right hand’s fingers twisted like the left’s.

A tremor shot through Jektov’s legs and then they began to move on their own, prancing and leaping, and running in a circle. Baba Yaga laughed, a shrieking howl ripping through the woods despite the smashing of houses around her, and Jektov realized that the same curse flowing through his house also flowed through his legs. Whatever magic the great witch had mustered to command his home must be the same for his own magical limbs.

“I will dance you skinny,” Baba Yaga cackled. “I will dance you dead!”

Jektov had an idea, but he needed to sit still for it to work. “Better to die half a man and break a witch’s will than become her breakfast and lose my dignity as well.” He held up the tiny sword, Wurbestwarg, and said its name, summoning its greater size. Then he swung down as Baba Yaga danced him in a circle, slicing away his four horse legs. Nadezya screamed, Jektov cried in pain, and even Baba Yaga stopped her cackling out of surprise.

“Wurbestwarg,” Jektov moaned, turning himself on bloody stumps in Baba Yaga’s direction. With the last of his strength, he reeled back and threw the little saber, adding one more “Wurbestwarg” as it sailed through the air.

Baba Yaga realized a moment too late what was happening, as the sword grew in size. She tried to cover herself and the blade’s end pierced her palms together. “Wurbestwarg,” she growled, forcing the sword to shrink, but it stuck in her left hand. “The werewolf blade. Feh!” Hopping down from the ruined house, she reached into the hatch beneath her chicken-legged home and pulled loose her black mortar and pestle. “It is a fine night for a moonlit flight, in the end.” She pulled herself in, her fingers stiffened in pain, and she forced them closed around the pestle. The mortar flew into the air as she rowed beneath the tree branches and Baba Yaga left the Wicked Woods forever, seeking out another home in the cold lands where she could grow another house on chicken legs and work her wicked ways.

Nadezya ignored Jektov’s moaning, running to her bag. Quickly she mixed together the last of the ingredients used to make the glowing potion from before, and then she rushed it to Jektov, where he lay bleeding to death on the forest floor. “Hold it high,” she told him. “Shout, ‘anew’ and pour it on your head. Swiftly—the sun is nearly over the horizon and you’ve nearly run out of blood.”

Jektov did as he was told, holding the potion high and shouting, “Anew!” as he had before. His arms shriveled into his sides then and his head grew long and horrible, with a flapping horse snout and huge, black eyes. “It’s too late,” he wanted to say. “I am a man with a horse’s head and I’ll be cut down by the knights as an abomination.” All that came forth was neighing, and he realized he need not worry about knights, as he’d cut himself down quite well anyway.

Then the sun’s rays shot through the Wicked Woods, shining across the tree branches and trunks, across the splintered houses with their dead legs, and across legless Jektov. A terrible pain bled through his body, through his face, his arms, his torso, through his thighs, knees, and ankles. When he looked himself over in the new dawn’s light, he was a whole man again. He was so overjoyed that he leaped up naked and hugged Nadezya tight, and kissed her too despite her being a witch.

A little flummoxed, Nadezya stepped away and swung her bag up on her shoulder. “I trust you won’t tell the knights of me.”

“You have done me too much good in the long run,” Jektov said. “I am fully a man again.”

“Except on nights of the full moon, when you must take the shape of a horse,” Nadezya said. “It was the best I could do.”

“This was worth far more than holding a bag. I should escort you home.”

“The knights burned my home. All I could save is here on my back.”

“And I’ve destroyed my own.” Jektov fetched what little clothes, food, and coin he had from his ruined house and returned to Nadezya dressed and wearing a bag of his own on his back. “What say we make a new home? I hear the Whistling Wood is not so taken with witches and werewolves, meaning there’s space unused, and less chance of the knights coming to look for us.”

Nadezya nodded agreement. “Perhaps we’ll discover Baba Yaga’s spell and form a new house on chicken legs. Might take a good deal of hunting and trading, and perhaps bullying a few rival witches.”

“I say it’s a fine plan.”

And so, sacks on their backs, Jektov the werehorse and Nadezya the witch strolled through secret paths led by the white doll, seeking a new home in the Whistling Woods to the north.


© Copyright 2017 Darryl Fabia. All rights reserved.

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