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The Winternight Trilogy
#1 The Bear and the Nightingale
#2 The Girl in the Tower
#3 The Winter of the Witch
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in The Bear and the Nightingale?
Dunya tells the Petrovna family a fairytale they’ve heard many times before. It’s about Frost and the girl sent out in the frigid woods by her stepmother to find and marry him.
Marina tells Pyotr they’re going to have another baby. Marina dies soon after Vasya is born the following November.
Six years later, Vasya is now a mischievous young girl. She gets lost in the woods one evening and doesn’t make it home in time for dinner. The forest changes on her somehow, and she can’t find her way home. She finds a big oak tree with an old man sleeping under it. She wakes him and asks him to help her find her way home. Then another man on a white horse comes in to the clearing. Vasya asks him the same thing. Then he puts the old man to sleep again, which makes her uneasy.
Vasya runs. She soon comes across another man on a horse. This time it’s her brother Sasha, who takes her safely home. Once she is warm, fed, and asleep, Sasha and Pyotr sit by the fire and talk. Even though Pyotr has not thought of another woman in the six years since his wife’s death, they know Vasya is going to need another woman’s presence when Olga is married off and Dunya passes away.
Pyotr decides to go to Moscow to visit the current leader, Ivan, his late wife’s half-brother. He will take Sasha and Kolya with him. Vasya is sad she doesn’t get to go with them. Ivan accepts them, provides a place to stay, and feeds them.
Sasha, who has always been holy-minded, wants to visit a church outside of the city. His father allows it. Sasha meets a monk who invites him to stay and live with them. Pyotr says he will allow Sasha to do so on two conditions. He may not go back and see the monk again until he is ready to stay, and he must reflect on the decision for a year before he decides for sure. Sasha reluctantly agrees.
Pyotr goes into the area of the merchants one day. There is a man on a horse who snags Pyotr‘s attention. That night at the feast, Pyotr finds this same man in the crowd. The man feels the wind of the north coming off of Pyotr and his sons and realizes the one he’s been searching for (Vasya) is still alive.
Ivan proposes two marriages to Pyotr: his daughter Anna as Pyotr’s wife and his teenage son Vladimir as Olga’s husband. Pyotr accepts both proposals. He remains in the city six more weeks and then begins his journey home with his new wife, his family, and their entourage.
As they are leaving the city, the strange man he had seen in the market and at the feast puts a knife to Kolya’s neck. He makes Pyotr promise to give a strange jewel to Vasya. That’s the only way he will let Kolya go. Pyotr must make sure Vasya always keeps the jewel on and must speak of this to no one. Pyotr agrees, and the man disappears. Pyotr is the only one who remembers the strange encounter.
When they arrive home, Pyotr gives Dunya the strange jeweled necklace from the man. He asks her to hold it for Vasya until she’s more responsible. Dunya has a dream that night in which a man tells her she must give the necklace to Vasya immediately. They reach a compromise in which Dunya will give it to Vasya when she is of age.
Anna is miserable in her new home. She sees demons everywhere just like she did in Moscow, but here the demons stare at her. She only feels safe in the church.
Kolya marries a local girl and goes to live in his own house that Pyotr built for them. Olga’s fiancé and his party arrive for the wedding. They will get married on her land and then journey back to Moscow as a couple. She is disappointed about marrying such a young man but is ready to assume the responsibility of wife, mother, and royal.
Vasya is devastated that her sister is leaving and begs her not to. Olga promises to send for Vasya as soon as she is of age.
Two monks, Aleksei and Sergei, discuss the health of their ruler. Ivan is not well. They wish for Sasha to come back to them to be a monk and watch over his young cousin Dimitrii, the heir to the throne. They need someone strong and good with the sword to defend that young boy until he is strong enough to defend himself. Pyotr is not ready to let Sasha go with them, but Sergei tries to convince Pyotr that his son’s strength is needed to protect the throne.
Pyotr tells Sasha he’ll disown him if he goes to the monastery in Moscow. But Sasha tells his father he must. He wants to live his life as a monk and wants to protect his cousin Dimitrii if need be. Vasya finds Sasha in the stable and begs him to let her go with him to Moscow. She’s desperate to leave the stepmother who hates her behind and live in the city. Sasha also tells her she must stay with her family.
Vasya continues to see the little demons in her house and in the land surrounding it. She wins back her brother Kolya‘s basket of fish from a river demon one day. Her stepmother catches her talking to a house demon one day and slaps her for it.
Vasya continues to be smarter as she grows and only visits with the house spirits whenever others aren’t around. She particularly befriends a stable spirit and learns how to work with horses from him.
One particular priest (Konstantin) rises up above the others in Moscow. Aleksei decides to send this priest away so he doesn’t become more popular than him. He commissions Konstantin to go to Pyotr’s land to work in the small church there.
Vasya has befriended three sprites and sits with them up in the trees when father Konstantin arrives on their property. Konstantin ask Pyotr for dyes to make paint so he can work on his icons. Pyotr says Vasya will show him where the plants he needs are. They go out before dawn the next morning, and Konstantin can’t help but be fascinated by the girl. She even eventually gets him to tell her how Sasha and Olga are doing. That night, Konstantin see someone sneak into the church from his window. He goes out to see who it is. It’s Anna.
Konstantin is really shaking up the church life in Vasya’s area. He’s appealing to everyone’s conscience and asking them to stop worshiping the house spirits, too. Vasya seems to be the only one who disagrees with him. She’s not happy that everyone is changing their mind. Anna tries to beat this dissidence out of her. Pyotr tries to reproach Anna for doing this, but Vasya begins to escape it by spending most of her time in the woods. And her brother tries to watch to make sure she’s never alone with Anna.
The hearth spirits begin to starve, so Vasya begins to secretly feed them (especially the one in the stable) so they can survive. The winter is a very harsh one, and Vasya thinks it’s because they’re neglecting the hearth spirits. They freeze every night, and a village boy even dies. Vasya makes offerings in the forest to the demons there to try to get them to relent with the winter weather. They do what they can, but they still can’t reduce very much. Something is awakening. For a moment, Vasya thinks she sees a familiar tree in the shadows and thinks she hears a voice asking her if she is cold in the wind.
The demon comes to Dunya in a dream again and says it’s time to take Vasya. She says she’s still childlike and has grown thin and is not ready. The demon says his brother is awakening, and Vasya needs the necklace. But he gives her one more year.
Anna comes to Konstantin to tell him that she’s seeing the demons again. She thought they were gone and is anguished to see them again. He realizes it must be from Vasya. Konstantin is proud that he’s converted so many of the villagers but knows their only hope of survival is if he converts Vasya as well. The spring comes, and it is a wet one in which nothing indoors or outdoors can stay dry.
The horses offer to help teach Vasya how to ride. She really enjoys it. One day when she’s bathing in the forest, she notices Konstantin watching something in the water a little ways down. Vasya saves him. At first, Konstantin doesn’t want to admit that she did so. But then he goes to thank her later. When he touches her hand, Vasya realizes how he gets so many of the women to follow him with his rough skin and beautiful eyes. But she shakes herself out of her reverie.
Anna wakes Pyotr in the middle of the night and tells him Vasya is a woman now and asks him to marry her off. Pyotr refuses to believe it at first but then sees how Konstantin looks at Vasya the next day and realizes Anna’s right. He goes to Dunya and asks her how long Vasya has been a woman. She says for about six months. She pulls out the necklace with the strange jewel. He feels like she betrayed him because she didn’t give it to Vasya all those years ago. But she says the man in her dreams agreed to let her hold it for a while. Pyotr begins to express his doubt the Winter King exists, but then he remembers how easily he accepted the jewel and followed the orders of the man years ago.
Pyotr decides that Vasya must marry to keep the Winter King away because he only comes for wild maidens. He sends for the best candidate, an only child around 30 who has inherited his father’s fortune. The man comes, and everyone likes him. But Vasya has her doubts. She can tell his smile doesn’t go to his eyes, and his horses fear him. She desperately does not want to get married to him.
Vasya goes to tell Konstantin about it one night. He’s grown attracted to her and is been dreaming about her and is ashamed about it. He ends up slapping her when he wants to kiss her, and she leaves. A disembodied voice speaks to Konstantin after she leaves.
Vasya’s betrothed organizes a bear hunt on the eve of their wedding. He kisses her in the stables before and tries to kiss her in the woods during hunt. Vasya hates it. Her nephew rides by on a horse that has gotten away from him. Vasya quickly jumps on a horse and rescues him. She rides very unlike what a cultured woman should. The man breaks off his engagement to her and returns home.
Pyotr thanks Vasya for saving his grandson but also beats her for her unruly behavior. He’s so worried that she’s still a wild maiden. He’s afraid the Winter King will come for her soon. Anna suggests that she go to live in a convent. Pyotr considers this idea and decides it’s another place that can keep her safe. He plans to send Vasya there, although Vasya knows nothing about it.
A monk arrives with news from Sasha, who he now calls Brother Alexander. He’s renowned for his wisdom and charity. But the Russian leader is continually being replaced, and he thinks now is the time to put the cousin he’s protected for all these years on the throne. Pyotr feels far removed from these troubles and does not want to help. He thinks a war to put Dimitrii on the throne will only bring heartache. Kolya wants to help. Pyotr tells him he’s free to go to the war if he feels the need, but he will not send him with his blessing or any provisions.
Strange things begin happening in their area. Animals are being killed with their meat left behind. The voice speaks to Konstantin again. And Anna see something during a church service that makes her start screaming. When Vasya looks the way that Anna’s eyes are facing, she thinks she sees the one-eyed man.
Strange things continue to happen, including a young girl begins seeing visions, is really troubled, and eventually passes away. Then Dunya gets sick. She sees the Winter King’s brother in visions, and he’s telling her that it is vital that she gets the jewel to Vasya. Dunya cries out in her unconscious state for Vasya. Vasya stays by her side. When Dunya comes to for just a minute, she gives the necklace to Vasya and tells her to always wear it and always keep it hidden.
Dunya passes away. Vasya knows that the dead are awakening now. She and Alyosha figure out who it is and go to the grave to crush the skull of the one who has awakened. Soon Dunya is the one who comes back from the dead. Vasya is agonized and doesn’t want to hurt her. But animals are dying and people are being tormented.
A man comes to their property telling them his nearby village has burned to the ground. Pyotr and Kolya go to help. The voice comes to Konstantin again, this time telling him that Vasya has to leave for the village to be safe. He convinces Konstantin to send her away while Pyotr is still gone. Konstantin and Anna decide to send Vasya to a convent. She begs not to go and thinks it sounds like the worst kind of torture. Konstantin says it’s the only thing that will save her soul.
Alyosha and Vasya see Dunya’s spirit in the forest and go to her grave to do away with it. But her body is gone, as Vasya suspected it would be. While Pyotr is still gone, Anna it says it’s time for her to make the journey to the convent. Vasya threatens to run away instead. Anna says she can go search for white spring flowers for her young daughter Irina instead of going, thinking Vasya will die in the process. But anything sounds better to Vasya than going to the convent, so she goes into the forest to search for the flowers. Konstantin catches her and tries to drag her back, but she gets away.
Vasya gets lost and comes across the oak tree and the Frost King (Morozko) eventually. He lets her sleep, feeds her, and heals her wounds, even old ones. He brings the white flowers to her and tells her she has a choice: She can take them to her stepmother for the reprieve to be able to stay home. Or she can leave them behind and go to the convent. But he’s letting her leave either way! He said no time will have passed in her world once she makes it home.
Vasya gets to be good friends with one of Morozko’s horses, Solovey. She spends many days riding all day long while Morozko is gone. She grooms the horse, eats well, and sleeps hard every night.
Konstantin discovers the voice that’s been directing him is not from God; it’s the Winter King. He can hardly believe it. The Winter King says he must sacrifice someone with the sight (a witch) to save Vasya. The only other one is Anna.
Vasya asks Morozko to tell her the story of his brother. He tells her how they were born ages ago as twins and how he had to bind his brother to keep his evil at bay. But sometimes he still comes alive as the Bear, killing humans and bringing the dead back to do his bidding. And he’s doing so right now.
Vasya begs Morozko to let her help send his brother back. Morozko won’t have it. He doesn’t want to risk her safety. She shows him her talisman that will protect her. She doesn’t see exactly how much seeing the jewel affects him. He says she must go back. He’ll give her a huge dowry and a good husband to protect her. Solovey takes her back to the real world. She ends up by the fire in Konstantin’s chamber. Alyosha’s dead body is there; Dunya’s ghost killed him. Vasya awakes in Morozko’s house and realizes it was only a dream.
How did The Bear and the Nightingale end?
Morozko soon lets Solovey take Vasya back home. She returns to find the Winter King and his dead ravaging her home area. He had Dunya’s ghost kill Anna, who Konstantin lured into the woods as an offering to the Winter King.
Vasya calls on the hearth spirits for which she’s cared so long to help out, and she slits her own wrist and lets Dunya’s ghost drink her blood. Dunya seems to come back to herself, and Morozko appears and takes her away at Vasya’s request. Vasya is willing to fight the Winter King/the Bear and sacrifice her life if need be. But then Pyotr appears, finally returned home. He offers his life in place of Vasya’s. The Bear accepts this offering, and Pyotr dies.
Konstantin performs the double funeral in a blur. Vasya and a heavily cloaked Morozko appear at Konstantin’s chambers telling him he must leave. Morozko and his sunken eyes strike a scary figure. Konstantin tries to fight it but eventually relents and agrees to leave.
Back at the house, Vasya breaks it to Alyosha and Irina that she must leave. Alyosha will be taking over their father’s property. Vasya heard the whispers of the people at the funeral and doesn’t want him to lose respect or have to defend her against their claims of her witchcraft. Solovey will take her wherever she wants to go, to the ends of the earth if need be. Irina makes Vasya promise to come back home. Vasya says someday.
Vasya mounts Solovey and rides deep into the forest. Morozko opens the door and lets her into his house.
There you go! That’s what happened in The Bear and the Nightingale, the first book in The Winternight Trilogy!
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