Interlude 10. Kraina Haps
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So. This story has the first piece of fanart. It was provided by Eirenliel @ ScribbleHub Discord. Enjoy.

Enjoyed? Good. Now have an extra long Kraina-flavored interlude. Text in italics in square brackets is the translation of what was said in paragraph above.

It's been a long road home. Long, but surprisingly quick. Almost like he was some sort of noble. Ivan shook his head, peering at the letter given to him by lady Gillespie one more time. He already knew by heart what was written on it. "The holder of this letter is on an errand on my behalf. Give him all the assistance a lawful traveler is due in the kingdom of Champagne. Alyssa Gillespie.". Short, simple, to the point, and apparently more then enough to be permitted through any roadcheck ahead of everyone else. It did help that he was traveling alone, he surmised. One would expect that the letter would cease to be relevant outside of Champagne, but for some reason, Kraut men-at-arms had shown almost as much deference to it as their Champagne brethren. Ivan decided not to think about it too hard. After all, if his sister has someone SO powerful watching over her, it is good, isn't it? In the Confederacy, the letter was not quite as powerful, obviously, but he had shown it to a couple guards and merchants on a lark, and their expressions and reactions DID imply they knew and respected the name on the paper. All in all, it was no little wonder that he made it back to Kraina in just under a month. Impressive, enviable, but no wonder. And now, as he was approaching the house his family lived in, Ivan smiled. As far as surprises go, his would be a good one.

As the hooves of his horse struck the stone pavement near the porch, a woman stepped outside to see who's coming. He was obviously not high on the list of likely visitors, given the expression.

"Івану, синку... Як це ж... Що ж це робиться, як ті повернувся вже? Що трапилося?1Ivan, son... How... What happened, how did you get back already? What is going on?" - she finally managed, visibly searching Ivan for possible wounds or other signs of misfortune. Having found none only worried her more, if the expression was of any indication.

"Ну то ж я обіцяв що повернуся найшвидчіше, мамо. Як сказав, так і зробив.2I promised to come back quickly, mom. Did as I said." - he retorted, slipping off the saddle. Tossing the reins onto the peg next to the porch, he turned around and hugged his mother tightly - "Все гарно, не хвилюйся. Позови татку, розповім про те як подорожував.3All is fine, don't worry. Call dad, I'll tell you all about my journey."

In about an hour, his horse had been unladen, brushed down and given a nice hefty feedbag full of oats for her labors, and he himself had his face washed, fresh shirt on and munching down on a nice big bowl of pierogies with cherry stuffing. Something he sorely missed on the road. His father and his uncle sat across the table, mugs of kvass in their hands, while his two younger brothers sat on each side of him and pestered him with inane questions about the number of opponents he vanquished. Ivan shook his head at their nonsense. Mother was nearby, but she declined sitting at the table, instead busy preparing a second helping of perogies for the dinner.

"Ну то що. Кажи, сину, як подорожував, що знайшов.4Alright. Tell us, son, how did you travel, what did you find." - his father began, his voice paced as always - "Повернувся швидко, це гарно. Що з грошима?5It is good you came back quickly. What about the money?"

In lieu of answering, Ivan pulled out a sack of coins and placed it in the middle of table with a clatter. Taras tilted his head curiously, as he took the bag and hefted it in his hand. "Вагомо. Все це Шампанське золото?6Weighty. That's Champagne gold?" - he mused, passing the bag over to Ivan's uncle - "Василь, порахуй будь ласка. Здається мені що в мішку цім вистачить щоб покрити що було покрадено та ще й залишиться, але гроші рахунок полюбляють.7Vasil, count this please. I think there's enough in the sack to cover what was stolen and some extra, but money loves count."

"На жаль, тату, вора Конистана я так і не спіймав.8Sorry to day, father, but I was unable to catch the thief Konistan." - Ivan offered contritely - "Коли я добрався до Парсия, винайшов що цього шахраю розбійники зарізали по дорозі. Проміж нами кажучи, вважаю я що це були не розбійники, а вбивці, бо крав цій ошуканець звідси всюди.9When I finally arrived to Parsee, I found out that conman was killed by highwaymen. Though, just between us, I have a hunch it was assassins, because this crook seems to have been thieving from everywhere."

"Собаці - собача загибель.10Dog's death to a dog." - Taras summed it up - "Хто ж тобі гроші то повернув?11So who gave you the money back?"

"Та тут бач яка справа - Конистан на дорозі був не аби як. Він роздратував графську доньку і вона його виженула з Парсия.12See, here's the situation - Konistan was on the road for a reason. He pissed off count's daughter and she had him chased out of Parsee." - Ivan retorted - "Мене до неї відправили, коли я розпитував як Конистана розшукати. Звуть їі леді Алиса Гілеспай. Гарна, але ж страхітно сильна. Я спочатку не зрозумів розкладу, почав ґвалт здіймати, а вона мене за руку схопила та пообіцяла до стелі прив'язати, якщо не охолону. Та я ж і не спромігся руку відібрати доки вона сама не відпустила.13I was directed to her when I was inquiring about Konistan. Her name is lady Alyssa Gillespie. Fine-looking but fearfully strong. I didn't grasp the new situation properly first, began to shout, and she grabbed me by hand and promised to tie me to the ceiling unless I cool down. And I was unable to get my hand back until she let me go."

He was treated to quirked brows from his father and uncle, and hushed murmurs from his brothers. It was to be expected. Ivan had been by far the burliest man in the family. To hear that he could not yank his hand free from a girl's grasp added a lot of weight to his assertion she was "fearfully strong".

"Дівка сильніша за тебе? Алена, а дай-но Івану ще вареників. Здається мені що не їв він в дорозі добре, якщо дівки його пересилюють.14A gal stronger then you? Alena, give Ivan more pierogies. Looks to me like he didn't eat well on the road, if girls overpower him now." - Taras jested, weathering Ivan's sulfurous grumbling in fine mettle - "Добре, добре. Пожартували й годі. То що трапилось? Графська донька допомогла тобі здобути гроші від цього бешкетнику?15Fine, fine. Joke's over. So, what happened? Count's daughter helped you get the money from this rapscallion?"

"Ні. Бач, вона не тільки виженула Конистана з городу, вона ще й відібрала все що він мав.16No. See, she not only kicked Konistan out, but also took over all that he had." - he clarified - "Вона має всі його купецькі книжки. Вона їх переглянула, знайшла де наші кони, яку ціну ми бажали, все про цю справу. Каже що звичайно пропонує вибір - гроші що Конистан був винний або повернення товару, але наші кони вже в роботі у землеробів на Гренвильщині, і через те, вона пропонує гроші та додає десятину догори за наш клопіт. Я вирішив що це гарна угода і погодився.17She has all of his ledgers. She looked through them, found out where our horses went, how much we wanted for them, everything about this business. Said she usually offers a choice between money Konistan owed or wares back, but since our horses are already in use by Grenwille farmers, she proposed money and added a tithe on top of the sum owed for our troubles. I decided it's a fine agreement."

"Десятина за наш клопіт, кажеш? Згідно рахунку, якщо так.18Tithe for our troubles, you say? Count bears it out." - Vasil murmured from his spot, sweeping stacks of ten coins into the sack one by one - "Я вважаю що ти зробив як слід. Ця леді нам взагалі нічого не винна, по закону; те що вона погодилася відшкодувати збитки завдані цім шахраєм - це велике щастя.19I think you did right. This lady owes us nothing by the law, so it's very good luck she agreed to cover the damages caused by this tearaway."

"Я згідний з Василем, Іване. Ти зробив як слід.20I agree with Vasil, Ivan. You did good." - Taras offered, - "Ну що, увечері гуляймо? Гроші повернули, Іван цілий та здоровий... Оголосимо усьому селі що шахрая боги покарали, а гроші Іван повернув.21Alright, party in the evening? Money's back, Ivan's whole and healthy... Let's tell the whole village thief got punished by gods and Ivan brought money back."

"Стривай, батько. Маю ще щось розповісти.22Wait, father. Have something else to tell." - Ivan offered somberly - "Мамо, сідай будь ласка, послухай теж.23Mom, sit down please, listen as well."

His mother moved to object, but something in his expression stopped her. She pulled up a stool and sat down, suddenly feeling very vary and apprehensive. Ivan nodded, sighed... and began speaking.

"У Парсии, я зустрів Роксолану.24In Parsee, I met Roxolane." - he forged on, trying to get over with the news as soon as possible - "Вона відвідає Парсийську Академію і не забажала повертатися зі мною, але ж пообіцяла відвідати нас наступним літом. Вона написала листу про те що з нею трапилося, але ж в два слова - леді Гілеспай та султан Оіжійський ворогують, і Роксолані пощастило бути врятованій з султанського полону коли леді Гілеспай пішла в наліт на султанський палац.25She's attending Parsee Academy and didn't want to come back with me, but she promised to visit us the next summer. She wrote a letter about everything that happened, but in short - lady Gillespie and Oija Sultan are enemies, and Roxolane lucked out to be rescued when lady Gillespie raided sultan's palace."

His mother immediately began crying, while his brothers shouted one over the other demanding details from Ivan. Finally, Taras slammed his fist on the table, making the boys quiet down.

"А ну обидва стулили пельки!26Both of you shut up!" - he shouted - "Іване, поліно ти дубове, чому ж ти не розпочав з цього!?27Ivan, you oak log, why did you not start from this!?"

Ivan winced. This was the awkward part of it. "Не знав як казати, тату. Тут бач яка справа - Роксолана закохалася у леді Гілеспай та бажає побратися. Коли я їх зустрів, ну... мені здалося що вони вже побралися. Без твого дозволу.28Didn't know how to tell, dad. See, the thing is - Roxolane is in love with lady Gillespie and wants to marry. When I met them, well, it looked like they already married. Without your permission." - he explained - "Ми посварилися трохи через це.29We quarreled a bit over that." He took a look at father's stormy face and raised his hands placatingly immediately - "Та відразу ж замирилися, тату, чесно. Вона ж не знала чи лишився хто з нас живий, коли її врятували...30We made up right after, dad, honest. She didn't know if anyone of us is even alive when she got rescued..."

Taras had a complicated expression on his face, as he mulled over the situation. "Отаке ж... Ну... От же ж оказія... Полюбляє дівку, кажеш?.. Графську доньку... Що їі від султану врятувала...31That... So... Quite a situation... Loves a girl, you say?... Count's daughter... That rescued her from sultan..." - he muttered aloud - "От це новини. Не знаю що й робити. З одного краю, жінка з жінкою - це дуже чудернацько. Ще й без дозволу. З іншого - кохання справа складна... І якщо побереться то панною буде, матиме все що забажає... Ні, цю справу без чарки не розплутати. Алено, а ну діставай горілку та три чарки. А ти, Іване, згадуй все що пам'ятаєш за цю леді. Що вона за дівка? Чи буде вона добра до Роксолани, чи ні?32Weird news. Don't even know what to do. On one hand, woman with woman - that's really peculiar. Moreso, without permission. On other, love's a complicated thing... And if she marries, she'll be a noble, have everything she ever wants... Darn, I need a drink to deal with this. Alena, bring out vodka and three cups. Ivan, recall everything you know about this lady. What kind of girl is she? Will she be good to Roxolane or not?"

A few minutes later, the table had been cleaned off and set afresh. A sizable bottle of hard liquor surrounded by four cups. Apparently, Alena decided she needs some liquid fortification herself, if she were to process the news regarding her daughter. Vodka had been poured out into four cups, which were lifted and emptied immediately.

"Хааа!..." - Ivan drew a long breath, as he set the cup down. Reaching out, he grabbed a slice of bread laden with smoked lard slices and chopped onion and took a hefty bite out of it, tamping down the liquor. Thus fortified, he began - "Що за дівка леді Гілеспай? Складне питання. Виглядає гарно, каже складно, розуміє Мову. Люди в Парсіі кажуть про неї багато. Має власні крамниці по всій Шампані, створила безліч нових речей на продаж, вважається одною з найбагатших панн у столиці. Кажуть що у фаворі королівському. Ще кажуть що знатна чаклунка. Ще кажуть що має запальну натуру, от свари до бійки один крок.33What kind of girl is lady Gillespie? Complicated question. Looks pretty, speaks well, understands Krainian. People in Parsee have a lot to say about her. Has her own shops all over Champagne, made many new things to sell, considered one of the richest nobles in capital. Other rumors say she's favored by king. And that she's a capable witch. And that she has a short fuse, one step from argument to brawl."

Taras frowned. "Тобто... Багата, знатна, сильна, розумна, гарна... але ж швидка дати плюхана, оце про неї кажуть? Ну добре. А ти сам про неї що міркуєш?34So.... Rich, powerful, strong, clever, pretty... but quick to smack someone down, that's what people tell? Very well. What are your own thoughts on her?" - he offered thoughtfully.

"Все що кажуть - так і є. Але бійку першою не починає. Коли ми сварилися, вона дала мені кусень вугілля, кажучи що як я його не розламаю, то я занадто слабкий щоб слухати. Я... роздратувався, почав ламати. Розламав напівки. Гаркнув що вдосталь сильний. Вона узяла ще кусень та й розтрощила його руками.35They're telling the truth. Except she doesn't start brawls. When we quarreled, she gave me a piece of coal and said I'm too weak to listen to if I can't break it. I got angry, started to break it. Broke it in halves. Shouted I have enough strength. She took another piece and smashed it with her hands." - Ivan offered, thinking back to it - "Та не один. Трощила вугілля доки ми розмовляли. Сказала що це різниця між сильним та звичайним. Я не знаю що о цім вважати. Коли я вугілля ламав, отримав два кусня вугілля. Коли вона вугілля трощить, вона його так стусає що він в кристал якийсь перетворюється. Може це чаклунство, але ж я ще маю ті кристали...36And not just one. She kept smashing coal while we were talking. Said that's the difference between strong and normal. No idea what to think about it. When I broke it, I had two pieces of coal. When she smashes it, she hits it so hard it turns into some kind of crystal. Maybe it's magic, but I still have those crystals..."

He pulled out the small baggy and shook it open, letting half a dozen crystals roll across the table. Vasil blinked at those. He stretched his hand, picked one of the shards, fingered it thoughtfully... looked through it at the window. Picked up the bottle, pressed the crystal against the neck and dragged it. Everyone winced at the loud scrape, and gaped when the neck of bottle came out cleanly marked with a groove.

"...Це діаманти.37That's diamonds." - he breathed incredulously - "ДІАМАНТИ!... З вугілля? Це божевілля. Як вугілля може бути діамантом?... Але ж...38DIAMONDS!... From coal? That's insane. How can a coal be a diamond?... But..." He trailed off, looking at the rough diamonds incredulously.

"Стривай, Василю. Які діаманти?39Wait, Vasil. What diamonds?" - Taras objected thoughtfully.

Vasil picked up the gems one by one, testing them on the bottle, slowly covering it with grooves. The rest of family watched him in bedazzled confusion. "...Це все діаманти. Вона тобі подарувала мішечок діамантів.40...That's all diamonds. She gave you a bag of diamonds." - he giggled a little hysterically, unable to contain his incredulous elation - "Оцього вистачити щоб купити все наше село три рази та ще й на гулянку опісля залишиться.41That's enough to buy our whole village three times over and we'll still have enough for a party after."

"...Отаке! Ще й хитра. А ну Іване, кажи все що вона тобі подарувала. Зуб даю, в подарунках ще пригоди.42Damn! Cunning, too. Ivan, show all your presents. Bet you a tooth, there's more surprises in there." - Taras demanded, grinning. He was obviously getting warmed up to the idea, Ivan remarked to himself, as he stepped away from his seat to bring out the sabre he got delivered right before his departure. It came with a note "A little something-something in case you find trouble on the road.". He didn't, but now he was wondering if he maybe should have at the very least examined the sword instead of just shrugging and hanging it to his belt. But he was emotionally wrung after that meeting in Parsee, and so the sabre was overlooked initially, and after that he got so used to it being there, he really didn't think much about it. Traveling armed was common sense, really.

As he brought the sabre back to the table, he started pulling it out of the scabbard the first time... only to freeze and stare incredulously as the first few fingers of the blade revealed a wavy pattern he couldn't confuse with anything else. Given how every man at the table hopped to their feet in the same time, they saw and thought the same. With trembling hands, Ivan pulled the blade out, howling in his mind about the sheer injustice of the world. How could he have a sabre made out of legendary ripple steel and never even pull it out of scabbard before now?

Taras extended his hand and touched the blade reverently. That... would be a family heirloom. There was simply no other way to handle having a legend-worthy sword other then this. He was so preoccupied with marveling at the subtle light play across the ripple that he ignored Ivan staggering back and outside. His attention was forcibly drawn, however, when his eldest stumbled back, carrying a fairly sizable pack, which was dumped on the table and the rope holding it together slit almost viciously. What appeared from under the rough fabric made his heart skip a beat. He gingerly stretched his hand, picking up the smaller package that had his name painted on it somehow. Slowly, he cut the rope, and unwrapped the fabric reverently. What he saw within was a beautiful flanged mace, again made out of ripple steel. A small note came with it. "It seemed fitting for a head of family."

Pulling his eyes from the priceless gift, Taras looked around. Vasil was holding a sabre, much like Ivan's and stroked his fingers along the length of blade, almost as if afraid it would suddenly melt in his hands. Boys meanwhile had found a package addressed to them both and were doing their best to pull the ropes off. Clicking his tongue, Taras assisted. This one contained two nice curved knives, yet again in ripple steel and a note "Knives for boys. We'll get you sabres once you're all grown up.". Piotr and Mykola were not some rubes, they heard plenty of stories about legendary wavy steel. And now, they were owners of very expensive and rare knives, and well cognizant of the fact. It would go without saying the two would be the envy of every boy in the village. Not that anyone would try to steal those. Rare weapons tended to be very distinct, after all.

Perhaps the oddest thing here, however, was that Alena was also holding a package with her name on it. A compact one, but seemingly pretty hefty. Taras shook his head. He just HAD to see what kind of gift the lady in question throught to be appropriate for his wife. Gently plucking the package from her hands, Taras slit the rope, and unfurled it, laying out a... huh. It was, just as he expected, made out of ripple steel. And some kind of wood, in rich brown color. The note said "I've been told you're not into fighting, so I sent a pepper mill." He translated the note for Alena, who had picked up her gift and was looking on it in befuddlement.

"Мельничка для перцю?43Pepper mill?" - she repeated incredulously - "Де ж я перцю то знайду?44Where am I supposed to find pepper?" She nudged the handle, fully expecting it to just swing, and was startled when a few crumbs fell out from the mill on her hand with a grinding sound. Her eyes widening, she sniffed at it, and sneezed heartily, looking at the pepper mill with wide eyes. Taras exchanged glances with his wife. Both he and she could read the message between the lines very well. No one sent gifts so expensive as mere pleasantries. Honestly, any of the items was valuable enough to be considered a suitable bride price all by itself. Having each member of the family being gifted one... That implied SERIOUS intentions. And if Roxolane herself was in favor, well... He glanced at Vasil, who was clearly thinking along the same line, then his eye stopped on the boys.

"Петро, Микола. Здається мені що ваша сестра справжні бажає побратися з леді Гілеспай. Ваші думки?45Petro, Mykola. It seems like your sister is really serious about wanting to marry lady Gillespie. What do you think?" - Taras had offered. Really, they were the last to give an opinion. Ivan had already accepted the situation, and upon seeing the facts, other adults were inclined to accept it as well. Which left the kids.

Boys looked at each other. "Дві сестри?46Two sisters?" - "Згода!47Agreed!"

Ivan cleared his throat awkwardly. "П'ять сестер.48Five sisters." - he corrected, swallowing - "Я щось забув. Роксолана дала мені зачарований оберіг, через нього ми можемо обговорити все з Роксоланою.49I forgot something. Roxolane gave me a magic amulet, we can talk to her through it."

In the silence that followed, the sound of Taras smacking Ivan upside the head was especially poignant.

183