Taïga looks at her grandmother with apprehension. She has never seen Granny as furious. Her face is pale under the tan and her usually generous mouth is just a thin line. She starts to say something, but changing her mind, she just motions for her granddaughter to follow her back to the study. Taïga can hear the end of Linn’s message on the answering machine as Granny opens the door and marches into her favorite room.
“-just got home, the roads were awful! Well… Call me tomorrow, I’ll tell you all about the party! Love ya! Bye…”
Taïga stops on the threshold. Uh-oh…
With a bark, Valkyria pushes her way past the young girl, forcing her to take another involuntary step into the wrecked study. Excited over scaring away a sleeping Minuit, the dog sniffles and scratches after the hissing cat who crawls further in under the comfortable, but totally destroyed, armchair.
Trying to escape the dog, the cat backs into something, making Taïga catch her breath. But the forgotten Bong falls silently on the cat, which lays stock still, letting Valkyria sniff her. Taïga fakes coughing to hide the sounds from behind the armchair, and is relieved to see the bong roll sideward and out of sight.
Granny turns around and admonishes the animals. ‘Valkyria! Let the poor cat be!’ She points towards the door, and Valkyria slinks towards it, her tail between her legs, looking utterly crushed. Minuit jumps back up onto the abandoned armchair again, licking her paws with a satisfied look.
Granny gestures around her. ‘Well?’
Taïga bites her lip. Where shall she start? ‘Err… I can explain, Granny. It’s not what you think-’
‘What I think!?! Do you want to know what I think? I think I can’t trust you! I think you didn’t sleep over at Linn’s place, and that you seized the opportunity to throw a party!’
‘No! It’s not true! I mean there was a party, but I didn’t-’
‘So you admit there was a party?’
‘Err… Yes. But-’
‘Ahem…’ Baba Yaga peeks curiously into the room. ‘Is time to prresent yourr grranddaughterr to de Counsil, Та́рюша (Taryusha).’
OMG. The visitors are from the Council… Taïga can feel the blood rush to her feet. Lightheaded she turns towards the smirking Russian witch.
‘Bychit! Must have been helluva parrty, eh?’
Did she do this on purpose!?! Could it be that she took care of the rubbish and the upholstery, misleading me to believe she wanted to help? And then she voluntarily left the study untouched so I would get caught after all!?! Looking into the merry pale eyes she knows her suspicions are true. She played me all the time! So what are her promises worth? Oh, I’ll get back at her! Not for a second, Taïga questions her own fault – it’s so much easier to blame the old crone for showing up and thus preventing the girls from finishing cleaning the house… And Granny did come home too early! Several hours too early!
Granny inhales sharply, ‘We’ll talk about this later, Taïga. But know that your acts will have consequences. For now on, you’re grounded!’
Taking Taïga’s elbow, she steers her out of the room in Baba Yaga’s wake.
The old Russian witch looks over her shoulder, tut-tutting, but Taïga just glares malevolently back at her.
‘You arre so innocent and… gullible… But you vill learrn…’
‘You bet I will!’ Taïga hisses between clenched teeth.
Baba Yaga primly takes a seat next to Count Olaf, who looks Taïga over without showing any emotion. Lugubre Chantelamort, on the other hand, is openly hostile.
Releasing the firm grip on her elbow, Granny whispers discreetly in her ear, ‘Please, hold your tongue…’ To the others she announces, ‘Ahem. This is my granddaughter, Shasta’s daughter, Taïga November Grey. Taïga, meet Count Olaf, head of the North American Cove, and Madame Chantelamort, who has come all the way from France where she presides the European section…’
Taïga plasters a smile on her face, a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. How she’d like to wipe the self-sufficient expression off Baba Yaga’s face. She looks like she’s just had cake, and the topping too. At my expense!
Count Olaf fixes her stonily.‘I admit, she’s easy on the eyes,’ he says with a wheezy voice, punctuated by a fake English upper-class accent.
Taïga doesn’t know what to answer. Somehow, the way he said it didn’t really sound like a compliment. Granny nudges her with her elbow.
‘Err… Thank you.’
Count Olaf clears his throat, straightening his back and looking down his nose at her. Granny nudges her again.
‘Oh! Err… Sir. Thank you, Sir.’
Lugubre Chantelamort intervenes with a thick French accent, gargling “r” pronounced in the throat, ‘I ‘ope zhere’s more zhan meets zhe eye when it comes to… Taïga…’
Count Olaf nods. ‘I agree. She might seem a tad…’
What? Taïga gapes in disbelief.
‘It might be… A slack jaw is, after all, a sign of mental slowness, what?’
Taïga closes her mouth and raises her chin. ‘I’m not retar-’
‘Assez. You will speak when zhe Count tells you to.’ Changing the register of her voice, she addresses Granny, ‘Please ‘ave a seat, Tara. Café?’
Granny hesitates, ‘Yes, please.’ A little irritated she accepts the cup handed to her by the ugly French witch, who has taken over the role of hostess.
Taïga frowns. She holds her tongue with difficulty, searching Granny’s eyes for a clue about how to behave, but her grandmother avoids all eye contact. Sighing, she glares at Baba Yaga again, just for good measure, but the deceitful old witch superbly ignores her.
She jumps at the opportunity to study the four old witches while they’re all busy, talking about her as if she wasn’t in the same room. Granny seems more nervous than angry, and that’s worrying the young girl more than she would like to admit. Baba Yaga is gloating, Madame Chantelamort radiates dislike and Count Olaf seems utterly shortsighted. But he can’t only be preoccupied with tea parties and foxhunts, as he’s part of the Council…
There’s a cloaked painting next to the fireplace. Curious, she leans a little backwards, trying to catch a glimpse of what is hidden behind the heavy velvet drape, but guiltily she straightens up when the Council starts talking about it.
‘… looks like the painting…’
‘Oui, mais… We can’t be sure… Her fazher is unknown after all.’
‘Dhee fadherr? Vhat dhee fadherr has to do vidh it? Vee not carre! Modherr is imporrtant – ant vee knov vho dhat is!’
‘Zhe fazher iz important aussi. And zhe Council did not choose ‘im.’ Lugubre rectifies Baba Yaga. ‘Or…’ Her yellow eyes focuses on Granny, ‘Peut-être you know somezhing, Tara?’
Granny looks at her hands. ‘Err… No. Shasta never said anything, and I didn’t ask.’
‘Oh, ’ow stupide. I can see now why your granddaughter iz a liddeul… slow.’
Taïga snorts with contempt, rewarded by a shocked glance from Lugubre Chantelamort and Count Olaf.
‘I agree, my dear. And I might say, that she’s also frightfully rude,’ he drawls.
‘Zhe bad upbringing.’ Lugubre adds self-sufficiently.
‘Yes, indeed. Ill-mannered, what?’
‘No manners at all. Rien. Bof…’
‘I say.’ They both stare at Taïga, then smile at each other.
‘But now, ladies, let me show you the master piece.’ Count Olaf makes a wide gesture with his arm towards the painting, nodding towards Taïga who stares back at him. He clears his throat expressively. Looking at her, he nods again.
Oh. He wants me to uncover it… Why doesn’t he just ask? Taïga reaches out and with a fluid motion pulls away the black velvet cloth. She can hear Granny and Baba Yaga draw their breaths behind her back, but she’s too surprised to notice anything but the old oil on canvas. Mesmerized, she looks at the portrait the Council brought with them. It might have been painted hundreds of years ago, but the young woman holding a crystal ball looks uncannily alive and familiar.
It’s the girl from her dreams… More richly dressed, but definitely her. ‘Valinor!’ she gasps.
‘Valinorr? Niet, I dhink is Lady Rravendancerr.’ Baba Yaga speaks up.
‘Valinor iz Lady Ravendanceur!’ Lugubre Chantelamort specifies, nodding condescendingly at the Russian witch. ‘Imbécile…’ she adds under her breath.
‘Vateverr…’ Baba Yaga dismisses Lugubre’s comment with a disdainful wave of her hand, making the French witch seeth, ‘I no rrememberr names – so many people in my past… Is good picturre, looks verry much like she.’
‘Indeed, I say… It is very positive that you have met her in person, Baba Yaga.’ Count Olaf says soothingly. ‘So, you do confirm the identity, what?’
‘Bof… We already know who zhe model iz…’ Lugubre murmurs.
‘Is Baaba Yagaa.’ The Russian witch looks malevolently at Count Olaf, rectifying his pronunciation and adding under her breath, ‘Kozyol (goat).’
Taïga can’t hold her tongue any longer, ‘Know her? But that’s impossible – she lived in the 14th century?’
‘Da. Ant dhat is vhen I meet she.’
Lugubre Chantelamort snorts.
‘But is trrue! I meet vidh she many times!’ Baba Yaga holds her hand up, counting on her fingers to stress what she just said, ‘Raz – dvah – tree – many times!’
‘But it can’t be? You’re only-’ Taïga stops herself. How old could the frightful crone be? More important – what will happen if my guess is wrong?
‘Zhat’s why ‘er noze iz so longue,’ Lugubre Chantelamort murmurs, saving Taïga from answering.
‘I hearr dhat!’ Baba Yaga touches her nose.
‘You see, chaque fois – err… each time she takes zhe rejuvenating elixir, ‘er noze grows a liddeul-’
‘My nose is perrfect! Verry- Kak ty skazhesh? Hov you say? -arristocrratic ant noble! You vould like to trry bee young again, but you is not poverrful enough. Vhat is liddle millimeterr vhen you can live yourr life overr ant overr again, huh? Be young beaudiful vitch? Hmm…’
‘Belle? Humpff…’ Raising her eyes heavenward, the French witch pouts and shakes her head, the typical Gallic gesture conveying both incredulity and displeasure.
Baba Yaga’s pale eyes narrow to slits as she hisses, ‘Jealous, hmm? You is only-’
‘Enough!’ Count Olaf raises his hand to ask for silence, and to Taïga’s surprise both witches comply. ‘I say, we all agree. Don’t we? The painting represents Lady Ravendancer? And this young, ahem, “lady”… looks a lot like the lady in the picture.’
They all nod solemnly, murmuring approval.
Lugubre Chantelamort clears her throat, ‘I ‘ave a suggestion… Why not give zhe tableau – zhe painting to Tara as a cadeau -gift? Early wedding present? Oui?’
‘Oh, yes. I agree. Jolly good idea, old bean!’ Count Olaf adds.
Taïga rolls her eyes, they both sound like they’re bad actors reciting a text. Which is probably what they are doing anyway.
‘Err… I’m sorry, but I can’t accept.’ Granny speaks up.
‘Steady on, old chap. The Council has decided to add a nice bonus, what?’ Count Olaf pulls out a check from his inner pocket and ceremoniously holds it out to Granny. ‘$20,000!’ Winking to Lugubre, he adds, ‘As we all know she’s strapped for cash…’
‘20,000 bucks? It must be a joke! Is 20,000 dollars all I’m worth?’ Taïga is livid, ‘Why don’t you throw in a couple of camels and some goats too, while you’re at it?’
Baba Yaga puffs with laughter, but Granny looks alarmed. ‘Please, Taïga. I think you should go to your room.’
‘Really? I’m not even supposed to be present when you sell me?’
‘For Pete’s sake! You know I’m not selling you!’ Turning to Count Olaf she adds, ‘And I’m not short of money. As a matter of fact,’ she says smugly, ‘I got lucky at the Casino this weekend.’
‘What!?!’ Taïga stares at her grandmother. When she said she had much to tell, she never suspected a win at the Casino.
Count Olaf and Lugubre Chantelamort look a little taken aback, the news spoiling their plans…
Taïga grins, crossing her arms. ‘See? We don’t need your charity!’ she says spitefully.
‘I believe your grandmother asked you to, ahem, leave, what?’ Count Olaf looks pointedly at her.
‘Oui, c’est ça. Dégage! Go to zhe room. Allez, ouste!’ Lugubre adds.
Muttering, Taïga turns on her heels and stomps away, ’20,000 bucks…’
‘Psst… Over here!’ Sprinkler waves her over. ‘We need to validate the asset, meet me at the headquarters,’ he adds conspiratorially.
‘Headquarters?’ Taïga whispers.
‘Aye. Yer room.’ With that he vanishes.
Taïga shakes her head and hurries upstairs. Sprinkler is waiting for her, jumping excitedly up and down on her bed, ’20,000? 20,000? Hahahaha!’
He stops abruptly when he sees Taïga’s grim expression. ‘Err… I mean it’s a bargain…’
‘Aw. It’s better than two for one…’
Taïga shoots him a grim glance and slumps down on her office chair, ostentatiously turning her back on the little gnome. With a sigh she pushes away the papers on her desk, burying her head in her arms.
‘I might even buy you meself – if I had the money, of course,’ he rectifies. As there’s no reaction from Taïga, he continues, ‘I will yea! I just mean it’s sidesplitting, really. $20,000 – that’s a fret! You don’t even get a decent vehicle for that price!’ He taps his chin with a chubby finger. ‘Or… Cars are less expensive after all over here…!’
He reaches out to touch her hair, but thinks better of it. Jumping down onto the floor, he starts pacing.
‘Blimey! You must be really important to the Council. Just look who all’s here; the heads of the most important Covens – America, Asia and Europe. We haven’t seen that in donkey’s years!’ He adds thoughtfully, ‘Especially not for a simple initiation rite! Aye…’
Looking up at Taïga, he continues, ‘With that scheming old crone Baba Yaga, who never leaves Russia by the way, the only one missing is Haeju…’
He stops for breath and cocks his head. ‘I just want you to know that you… that the Count is ready to pay more. Quare more.’
Taïga grumbles something unintelligible.
‘I think we’re talking six zeros!’
‘Hmpff… It’s better than 20,000. But still…’
‘Aw, sure look it…’ He hesitates, ‘Well. I’m not one to eat humble pie, but… Ahem. I’m sorry…’
Taïga looks bewildered around her, but the little gnome is gone. Did he say he was sorry? Or did she just imagine it? In the sudden silence she can hear bribes of the conversation in the living room floating upstairs…
‘… I’ve been all over Hell’s half acre in search for a clue…’
‘… contrract! Look! See signature…’
‘… prefer thinking of it as an elegant solution to a terrible problem…’
‘… we need to consolidate our forces…’
A little guiltily Taïga rests her head against the door to hear better…
‘… that’s our final offer. Take it or leave it, what?’ Count Olaf says grumpily.
‘I honorr my deal vidh Та́рюша (Taryusha). Question me? Defy me? Ant dhis ends…’ Baba Yaga camps on her position, triumph and menace in her voice.
‘With all due respect, I urge you to reconsider! Both of you…’ Granny tries.
Baba Yaga snorts, ‘Rreconsiderr vhat?’ Raising her eyebrows she looks haughtily at them, one after the other. ‘Кто рано встает, тому Бог подает.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Lugubre Chantelamort sounds weary. ‘Parle français– I mean, speak English!’
Baba Yaga leans back, looking at Lugubre Chantelamort under heavy eyelids. ‘Dhe earrly birrd catches dhe vorrm… Id means-’
‘Je sais! I know what it means! But your deal with Tara ‘as no value – zhe Council layz in zheir veto!’
‘Shutite? Arre you kidding? I override yourr stupid veto!’
‘Bollocks! I say, you cannot override an absolute veto, what!?!’ Count Olaf adds, pointing angrily at Baba Yaga.
‘Trry me! No veto vidhout Haeju! Ant get yourr stupid fingerr oud ov my face beforre I turrn you into toad!’
Lugubre Chantelamort chuckles. ‘Such a cliché!’
‘Ant you too! Trransforrm you -ant yourr veto- to stadue ant all yourr offsprring to grravel I vill valk upon, ant my Borzoi dogs vill piss on-’
‘-oups!’ Baba Yaga slaps her hands over her mouth in an exaggerated gesture to annoy Lugubre Chantelamort. ‘I forrget…You have no descendants – you neverr have childrren. Maybe is because no man vill have ugly face vife? So maybe forr dhe best – no ugly offsprring! Fini Chantelamorrt lineage!’
‘I say, you’re being extremely rude.’ Count Olaf defends his acolyte, who sends him a thankful glance.
‘Oh? So you love she? Vill you have she? Cuddle in bed? Toy vidh hairr like visp ov strrav? Eh?’
‘Err… No… But that’s not the question here, Baba Yaga. We’re marrying off the Grey girl, not Madame Chantelamort!’
‘Da! To my offsprring! Ant is Baaba Yagaa,’ the old Russian witch hisses, accentuating her name the right way. Not sure if the Count has taken the hint, she turns her attention nevertheless to Lugubre, singsonging, ‘Is not “Madame”! Is not married! Is olt spinsterr! Maybe you is not voman ad all? Barroufella!’
Lugubre Chantelamort looks like she’s ready to explode. ‘At least I am not a… a… looze woman! Old Knobby Legs!’
Baba Yaga pushes past Granny, approaching her face to Lugubre’s, ‘Rrepeat dhat!’
‘Stop. STOP IT!’ Granny tries to intervene, but the fuming Council members don’t care about her, they continue arguing in spite of her protests…
Desperate, she puts her hands over her ears to keep the angry voices out. Where will this end? Baba Yaga and Lugubre Chantelamort have never got along, but this is ridiculous!
‘You are a looze-’
‘-tsk-tsk-tsk. Not dhat. Rrepeat vorrse!’
‘Oh. Err… Knobbly Legs?’ Lugubre straightens her back. Waving her hands dramatically in front of her she makes Baba Yaga take a step back. Triumphantly she spits, ‘Ha! Old. Knobbly. Legs!’
With her eyes glimmering dangerously, Lugubre Chantelamort adds, ‘Big. Warty. Noze.’
Baba Yaga draws her breath sharply and takes another step back.
Drawing her wand, the French witch pushes Baba Yaga back with each syllable, her confidence growing in pace with her insults, ‘Old. ‘aggard. ‘unchback.’ Her wand smokes menacingly. ‘Scrawny. Evil. Bitch.’
Baba Yaga stops, a puzzled look on her face. ‘But… Evil is no bad. Evil is ochyen kharasho – very good. I is prroud ov evil!’
Lugubre scratches her chin, ‘Err… Crétin? Débile? Âne? Stupide?’ She regains her menacing posture, ‘Oui, c’est ça. You are a stupide idiote. Wizh stupide. Impuissants. Spellz!’
Slowly Baba Yaga draws her wand. ‘Impuissant? I do not knov dhis vorrd… You vant to feel stupid impuissant spell? I vill send you… to Hell!’
Lugubre Chantelamort points her wand towards Baba Yaga. ‘Not if I send you zhere first! Allez! Take zhis!’
Both wands come to life at the same time, sprouting sparkles and flames. The old witches throw themselves aside with much dexterity for their age.
‘Enough!’ Count Olaf’s voice bear down on the two witches sitting, not very lady like, on the floor.
‘Where’s my piano?’ Granny squeaks.
‘Oups…’ Both witches look bewildered at the empty hallway.
‘I hope Hekate apprreciate dhe gift…’ Baba Yaga chuckles.
‘Oui… Peut-être – maybe she will take…’
Taïga withdraws, listening to their childish squabbles brings her nothing but a headache… She walks out onto her little balcony to escape the angry voices from downstairs. Shivering in the cold she hugs herself for warmth. For a brief moment she closes her eyes, and Derek’s low, raspy voice breaks through the smattering of the rain, “… There must be something you can do… WE can do… Gosh, I’ll kill him! … or you could marry someone else… Me for example.”*
Hot tears stream down her cheeks, and she scrutinizes the sky for the star that usually succeeds in soothing her emotions, but there’s no end to the slate grey clouds…
She slams her fist against the railing, whimpering. But the pain is somehow comforting. She hits the railing again and again, ‘Why did you leave me here on my own!’
‘Why can’t I forget you!?!’
‘Can’t you see that I need you!?! Egotistical bastard!’
Thud, thud, thud!
Blowing on her sore knuckles, she whispers, ‘Answer me… Please…’
But the only answer is the smattering of the rain, and the faint sound of angry voices below…
She leans her head against the humid, cold wood of a pillar and suddenly it hits her. It all becomes frighteningly real. It’s about her, Taïga. Not about someone else. Derek is dead and gone. He won’t come back and save her like some knight in shining armor. She will get married in a year or two to someone much older – and disfigured…
She looks straight forward with unblinking eyes. She can’t back out. She has to go through with this so Granny won’t get in trouble…
Then… Her mouth sets in a grim line. Then, she will kill him.
‘Wonder if they have much rain beyont…’
‘Beyont?’ With a startle she notices the presence of the leprechaun sitting on the balustrade. How long has he been there?
Sprinkler answers without looking at her. ‘In Ireland…’
‘Oh, I see.’ Selfconsciously, she dries her tears with the back of her hand. ‘Beyont is in Ireland?’
‘Whut?’ He throws her an irritated glance, ‘Of course not, it isn’t. Beyont is-’ He scratches his beard thoughtfully. ‘-it’s where you aren’t. Like over there-’ he gesticulates towards the forest, ‘- or there!’
Taïga nods, she can sense the little gnome’s distress. ‘Homesick?’
‘I think I know how you feel…’
They stare in silence at the falling rain. Sprinkler breaks the quiet, clearing his throat. ‘Maybe you should talk to Granny’s friend.’
Sprinkler sighs. ‘Err… I don’t know. You said you wanted to know how he got over his wife. It might help you get over your werewolf friend.’
‘His name is Derek. And I don’t want to get over him.’
‘Aye… But maybe it will help you process your grief. Continue with your life and… Oh, forget I said anything!’
‘Right. Let’s forget about it.’
But Sprinkler doesn’t let go when he has something on his mind. ‘And Granny is ill…’
Taïga looks questioningly at him.
‘Aw, you know…’
‘No. I don’t.’
‘The future… Their future. Maybe you could get him to accelerate his “intentions” a little…’
‘I can’t do that!?! Granny would kill me if she finds out I’ve been meddling…’
‘She won’t exactly find out, will she? And you’re grounded anyway so… Hum… They won’t be back until late tonight. Quare late…’ He jumps down from the balustrade. ‘Time to walk your dog. Make sure and bring a jumper with you. It’s fierce weather out there. Good evening.’
‘Good evening…’ A jumper?
She realizes she can’t hear the angry voices downstairs anymore.
Have they left? But where did they go? Missy! Of course… With a last glance towards the darkening sky, she hurries back inside. Must warn Missy she might get a visit!
Carefully she tiptoes out onto the landing, but Granny and their visitors are indeed gone. Quickly she dashes downstairs to call her aunt, her mind working around what Sprinkler said.
What exactly does he want me to do? Make Arthur propose? Why can’t he say anything straight forward… He always has to bat around the bush… Gaah!
Ten minutes later, she’s biking through the pouring rain with Valkyria loping along her side…
Part II – End of Chapter 38
Thanks a million to the wonderful creators of the characters in this chapter:
Zabeth0, who let me download and use her old crone Baba Yaga in this story.
Count Olaf who is a creation by Devea on Mod The Sims
Lugubre Chantelamort aka Baroufella, by Sandy on Around The Sims 3
Special thanks to TheJim07 on Mod The Sims for his incredible painting(s) :