The further they were following Sirma into the unknown, the music and laughter would become fainter until it completely disappeared, making way for the song of nature. Despite its beauty, neither of the girls could enjoy it, due to the feeling in their guts telling them not to let their guard down around the samodiva. Out of the horrible things she could do to them, the best one was to leave them in the wilderness to the beasts, the worst - toy with them until she drives them into madness, or turn them into one of them. The thought of that made their skin crawl, they took each other's hand to calm a bit, as it gave them a feeling of safety. Yes, as long as they are together things will be fine.
"Dushici mili, how can you be so naive to follow a complete stranger?" Both girls froze by the look of Sirma - so mesmerizing, that if they were ordinary people they would have completely ignored the terrifying grimace on her face "It is a festive night, I would love to have some fun with you, alas, I will get into trouble with both sides if I do that." Her voice went from high and excited to low and almost sad. Nonetheless, one could not deny how terrifying she was. Both girls wondered if the others were like her too.
After the samodiva turned her back and started walking again. The way her figure moved - as if she was dancing, every step of hers was light, making you question did she even touch the ground. People compliment girls for their beautiful figure by telling them they have samodivska snaga but no human girl's looks, no matter how beautiful she is, can hold a candle to those of a samodiva.
"I don't trust her" thought Bella, knowing that Kalina can hear her.
"Neither do I, but what choice do we have?" Kalina hoped that at least in her thought she could hide her worry, but the bond with her posestrima meant she could hide little things from her and this wasn't one of them.
"We could have stayed home and not make mother or aunt worry. They must have figured out where we are by now."
"I know, but I wouldn't be able to find peace if we haven't come. What do you think they'd give us as punishment this time?"
"No idea, to be honest." Indeed, Bela had no idea, but both of them knew it was going to be bad. And not the pealing peppers type of bad.
"Why are you two so quiet?" There was nothing scary or intimidating in her voice, just plain annoyance. Can you blame her? She could have been having fun with the others now, instead of wasting her time with two brats' whims.
"No reason." Unlike Bela's, Kalina's eyes were still struggling to adjust to the darkness. She heard the samodiva's laugh and felt her tumb being placed on her chin and a cold shiver went down her spine as Sirma moved her hand on her throat and whispered "Witches always have a reason to keep secrets!". Bela tightened the grip of her hand and moved forward ready to protect her if needed as Sirma backed off.
The air felt tense. How long were they walking? Were their senses going numb again? Kalina was building up the courage to ask Sirma how much longer when faint laughter and the sound of music again. Were they going in a circle this whole time? Was she just messing around with them? What now? Her nails sank into the flesh of her palms as she clenched fists.
"Is this a joke to you?" Kalina spoke through her teeth, with a vein showing up on her forehead. "Two little girls, you can fool with for a while, taking advantage of their trust?"
"Aren't you an ungrateful one?!" Sirma raised her arm, but Bela caught it before she could strike Kalina's face.
"What's going on? Who is disturbing us?" The unknown voice came from behind them, soft, like a white wind. A woman, no, another samodiva. She appeared taller than the ones they met at their arrival, and her premyana was richer. The white sukman, over her riza, a rainbow belt and a yellow snake around her waist, just above it. Above it, she was wrapped in a bulo, that was longer than the one Sirma and the others had.
"Look, sestro Magda! Guests for you! A little knyaginya of the Petrosinovi and her posestrima - the daughter of Asya!" Sirma presented them in a mocking manner, making her feelings of superiority clear. "Guess why they have come to visit? They are looking for a grandmother among us - the one who gave birth to Bisera that went on to marry the knyaz of Kostica." Her laughter was repulsing. For a moment hope had lightened up Kalina's face, but it disappeared, the moment Magda smirked.
"Stop it, Sirma! Go back and have fun! I'll take care of them." Her voice was commanding and the girls couldn't help but notice that even Sirma felt intimidated by her when she stepped closer towards them. Her pale face, lightened up by the moon was hard to read and any attempt Kalina made to read her mind was unsuccessful, just like it happened with Sirma.
"Y-y-yes, I will, at once." Can samodivas stutter? Apparently, they do. Kalina and Asya giggled as she turned back, with her tail between her legs.
"Now, is what Sirma said true?" Magda's voice was softer than that of Sirma, creating the feeling that she really cared for their reason to come. Of course, one could never be sure with samodivas.
"Yes, it is! I am Kalina Petrosinova, youngest knyaginya of Kostica. I am looking for my grandmother - the samodiva, that gave birth to a girl named Bisera, who went to marry the knyaz of Kostica." She did her best to sound as proud as she could, just like she was taught it was befitting of a girl from her stature. But right now, she was not a knyaginya in the palace, she was a girl looking for some remaining connection with her mother, and Magda could see that. She smiled, and that smile was warm and kind, nothing like that of Sirma.
"I can show you where she might be, but you should be prepared to know that she may not want to meet up with you or even us revealing to you who she is. If you don't think you could handle it, you are free to go back and I promise you will face no harm on your way home."
Kalina turned her face to her posestrima, who was still hadn't let go of her hand and the moment their eyes met she knew her answer.
"I am prepared for whatever her answer to meeting me is!"
Magda smiled again and gave them a sign to follow her and for the first time since they came to Zmeykovo, they felt safe.
"How's Asya doing?" The girls weren't surprised the samodivas knew who Asya and Delyana were, after all, they were the oldest witches in Suntolia. But to be asked such question, well, it did take them a bit aback.
"Fine, she is fine." Bela's answer was short. A bit nervous, a bit unsure and was followed by an awkward silence between the three, that was backed by the sound of laughter that was getting louder and louder as they were approaching the light, that was surely another large fire.
The singing they started hearing was so beautiful that the ones of the first samodivas were like the cry of a donkey. They felt dizzy again and their senses went numb for a while because they didn't realise when they have reached a meadow, with a large walnut tree at its centre and a fire on its left side. Under it, a smaller group of samodivas, all dressed identical to Magda, besides the different colours of the snakes, wrapped around their belts. Their dance was nothing like they have seen before. Their feet didn't even touch the ground
And right under the tree was sitting a single samodiva. Her osanka was proud, and she was more regal than any tzarica on this earth. Her hair was falling down to her feet, like a waterfall, but it didn't appear to bother her as she got up lightly and started walking towards them. Her bulo was looking like a pair of wings on her back and her steps, light and fast could make you believe she really had one. She also appeared taller than the rest, as tall as a man and even taller than some Kalina had met in her life until one. Her face - more beautiful than any woman alive and with just one look at it men were being lured even before hearing her sing or seeing her dance. Magda bowed as she reached them, but she quickly rose up after being given permission to do so. Kalina and Beloslava, meanwhile were frozen. With fear? Amazement? Were they too bewitched by the tzarica of the samodivas - Vida? A little bit of all. She looked at them, proud and fierce, showing that neither the laws of mortals nor those of witches were a bother to her.
"May I know what are two witches doing walking freely in my lands?" Her voice, cold and piercing as steel made them shiver. But there was also something familiar in it. Like they have been listening to a raw version of it every day. Before giving them time to muster up an answer, she spoke again. "Kalina, you carry the name of one of our trees - it was about time for you to show up!" Kalina chuckled, as Vida took a look at her from head to toe and smirked, only to shift her gaze on Bela "Beloslava - daughter of the witch Asya, good to see you walk this earth again!" Was this another mock, because Bela trapped herself in a mirror for three hundred years. That can happen to anyone, right? It was enough to make her in cold sweat. "Join us under the oak." And again, without waiting for them to speak, she started walking back towards the place she was sitting.
Though hesitant at first, Magda's encouragement helped them come back to their senses and join the tzarica and the rest of the samodivas under the oak tree. Their hearts heavy, and barely making it to taking another breath of air, the girls counted seven samodivas, including Vida and Magda. However, having seven pairs of eyes piercing them made it harder to state the reason for their visit in front of the tzarica, who was making her expectation of them starting any kind of conversation obvious.
"As you know my name is Kalina Petrosinova, I am the youngest knyaginya of Kostica", her voice was trembling, just how many times has she stated this fact this night, she couldn't control her expressions and the feeling that every word that was coming out of her mouth would make the tzarica furious and lead to their demise was rising up, making her feel sick. But she had to keep it up, for hers and Bela's sake, for her sisters and brother's sake. With a grandmother, they would feel like family. Things are better when the whole family is together, right? "I am here to..."
"To find your grandmother, the samodiva that gave birth to a girl named Bisera, that went on to marry the knyaz of Kostica. I have heard about it already." Her voice was unamused, befitting of her face, which resembled a marble statue of an ancient goddess. "And why do you think Sirma led you here?" She placed her left arm under her chin, and her gaze was telling that she won't have the patience for a late answer.
Why did Sirma lead them here? Kalina and Beloslava locked gazes again.
"Do you think...?"
"It can't be!"
"What if it is just a joke?"
"What if it is not?"
"But what would make you..."
"Are you the samodiva that gave birth to my mother?" Kalina popped the question before hearing the end of Beloslava's thought, who was going to warn her posestrima to think before speaking, alas that wasn't a virtue Kalina practised in her day to day life. Vida burst into laughter and the others followed her, but one whose gaze shifted to the green grass under them. Kalina's face became pale, the embracement that would usually make her cheeks red, decided to leave no colour on her face tonight.
"What makes you think so? Did Sirma tell you something? You know she is still salty because she couldn't lure your father when he was about your age."
Kalina's lips made an "o". That explained why Sirma was acting like that. But who was her grandmother? If the tzarica reacted like this did that mean that it wasn't her. Or was she just trying to hide it from them, because she didn't feel like talking about her dead daughter? Kalina felt like bitting her lips and she would have done it if Bella hadn't told her not to. Well, she didn't really say it out loud, it was enough to just think about it.
"You didn't answer my question. I don't know who my grandmother is and that is what I am doing here - to find out!"
This seems so amused Vida once again because her face lightened up.
"Say, do you know how samodivas give birth to children from mortal men?" Her voice was playful, and both could swear they have heard the same tone somewhere before.
"When a mortal man manages to take possession of a somodiva's bulo, she is bound to obey him and wed him." Bela's voice was low and calm. She managed to hold herself better than Kalina.
"That's right!" Vida clapped with her elegant palms "Do you think, I, Vida, who is the tzarica of the samodivas, would get caught like this?"
"No." Kalina's voice revealed she had given up. Did they come all the way here for nothing? Another empty hope to bring the family together. To be useful and pay up to her siblings for all of their sacrifices...
"But she is not the only one here, there are six more! Could she be one of them?" The sound of Beloslava's voiced inside her head calmed her a bit. She was right, Vida wasn't the only one here, why wouldn't her grandmother be one of the lesser samodivas here?
"But is my grandmother among the samodivas here?" Win or lose, she had to ask this question. Last chance or she is going home empty-handed.
"Oh, good! Very good!" Vida rose one of her eyebrows in amusement. "What if she is here? Would you be able to recognise her here? You know what? Let's play a game! Yes, if you recognise your grandmother among the samodivas present, you can speak with her, but if you fail - you go home! Both of you should consider yourself grateful that this is all I would do if you are mistaken!" her voice went from soft to icy in an instant.
"What do we do now, Bela?" Kalina's thoughts were racing with each other and this was the only one Beloslava understood, as both of them were checking the faces of each samodiva to see even a slight resemblance.
"I don't know! We knew it won't be easy, but I didn't expect this!"
"One try! And if I fail we go home to who knows what!"
"Look the middle one on Vida's left side. She's been avoiding our gazes ever since we came!"
"And she didn't laugh with the rest, too!"
"Do you think, we got it this it?"
"Only one way to know!"
Kalina pointed towards the samodiva, who was disturbed by it. At the same time, Vida who had placed her palm under her cheek again siled with her rosy lips.
"I guess it wasn't hard for you. Call of the blood maybe?" The samodiva that was pointed was shaking slightly, but she looked beautiful nonetheless. Her tzarica turned towards her and asked "Rada, do you want to speak with your granddaughter alone or you don't mind us hearing to you two catching up for the lost time?"