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***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in The Girl in the Tower?
Olga tells her children and ladies a fairy tale about a couple who can’t have children who bring a snow sculpture to life as a daughter. She falls in love but eventually fades away. Olga’s daughter Marya thinks she sees a ghost that one of the ladies referenced in a previous story in the corner of the room.
Sasha (aka Brother Alexander) finally arrives home. He comes to the palace to visit with Olga. He brings an injured, ailing priest with him. Sasha tells Dmitrii about the battles in his country. Olga talks to the priest (Konstantin). He tells her of Vasya’s evil and her father’s death. He says her stepmother is dead. And Vasya is presumed dead after she fled.
One of the other priests advises Sasha that Dmitrii is getting bored with his childless wife and needs some adventure. Sasha decides to take him out to survey the villages. Before they leave, a man with vast land holdings named Kasyan appears telling them he needs their help to defend against whoever or whatever is attacking his people. He’s not sure they’re human. Kasyan accompanies them on their journey but eventually leaves their party. They keep coming across burned villages and homeless citizens.
They arrive at the old monastery where Sasha first trained, where his friend and mentor Sergei still resides. A boy brings three homeless children into the camp. It’s actually Vasya.
The story goes back in time to the end of book one when Vasya enters Morozko’s home in the woods. She’s exhausted and hopeless. She wants the dowry Morozko offered her but doesn’t want to have to marry anyone for it. He concedes and says the money is hers. She wants to use it to roam the world. She dreams about a pale woman in white saying she should leave at once.
Vasya leaves on her adventure. She hears something at her forest camp the first night. It’s a demon woman named Midnight. She won’t tell Vasya who sent her but says she’ll visit two more times during her journey. Vasya’s days are monotonous. She soon catches a cold from the conditions. She and Solovey come across a caravan and follow it to a town. It’s so big she thinks it must be Moscow, but Solovey assures her it’s not.
Solovey doesn’t want to go inside the town walls, but Vasya insists. She’s disguised herself as a boy. Vasya is fascinated by everything in this city. A man named Kasyan thinks he recognizes her in the city market, but she gets away. She sees a bathhouse on the way out of town and stops for food and a bath. She hears Solovey making a ruckus in the stable. Two men break into her bathroom. She and Solovey barely escape the town. A snowstorm descends directly on the town, aiding their escape.
Vasya gets sicker and colder and unable to get better or get warm. When she’s on the brink of death, Morozko arrives to nurse her back to health. He does so and assumes she’ll go home since her adventure was disastrous. He’s exasperated to discover she still plans to go off to see the world. His horse secretly tells Morozko he knows he loves Vasya and says he hopes it doesn’t come down to Morozko choosing between love and his immortality.
Morozko knows he has to let her go, so he fashions them a pair of knives out of ice and teaches Vasya how to fight over the course of many days. She asks how he does his magic, but he says that’s not what it is. She asks about him escorting her family members to death, and he likens it to breathing: sometimes you notice your breaths and sometimes you don’t. Vasya sobs even though she basically understands and doesn’t feel cruelty in his words. He kisses her. When she falls asleep that night, he leaves. She wakes up with the taste of his lips still on hers, something wintry like fir.
Vasya sets off again on her adventure and soon comes across another pillaged, burned village. A mother says her daughter was kidnapped and her husband was killed. Vasya and Solovey set off to find the girl. They find her and two others held by bandits who leave no tracks. Solovey distracts the men while Vasya rescues the girls, killing the one guard left behind in the process. Solovey doubles back just in time to rescue them and gallop away.
The men and their fast horses pursue them all night. Even Solovey begins to tire. The female demon named Midnight visits for a second time and gives Vasya advice, which is against her orders. She tells Vasya to ride due west. Vasya decides to trust her. At daybreak ,they come upon a walled monastery. The three girls nearly froze to death during the night ride, and Vasya begs for the monks to let them in. To Vasya’s surprise and delight, Sasha is there.
Vasya plays the part of a boy. Sasha keeps the ruse up for her because it will require much less explanation. Dmitrii is excited to meet a new cousin. He demands food and baths for the three girls and asks Vasya to go hunting for the bandits with him. After Vasya gets a bit of porridge and Solovey gets some hay, the party (including Sasha) takes out. When they finally find the bandits, a fight ensues. They’re not faring well against the bandits until Kasyan and his men arrive. They offer to let Vasya kill the last man, but Sasha steps in and says she’s too tired. They’re disappointed they never found the bandit captain.
When they get back to the monastery, Vasya busies herself with tending to Solovey so she doesn’t have to bathe with the men. Sasha and Sergei go to a separate bath house. Sergei tells Sasha he knows about Vasya. Next, Sasha and Vasya finally get to talk. She tells him everything she can starting from when Sasha left their family, including how their father is dead after protecting Vasya.
That night, Vasya dreams of the Bear and then Morozko appears. She surprises him by grabbing his cloak and pulling him close. She asks why he came. He says it’s because he heard her cry. She tells him he can’t keep coming back and then leaving her again. He says he agrees, and then he vanishes.
Sasha talks to Sergei and says he’ll try to put her away quietly with Olga so the story of his “brother” Vasya might disappear. They both seem to doubt that she’ll stay quiet. Sasha begs Sergei to send Rodion to them with word if they find the elusive captain. They discuss who Kasyan is since they’d never heard of him before. Both seem a little suspicious.
Katya, the oldest of the three girls Vasya rescued, tells her the men are saying they must lie together as payment for everything Vasya has done for her. She is sad and scared but resigned about it. Vasya reveals that she’s a girl and will see them all home safely. As they near Katya’s village, she asks Vasya’s true name. Vasya reluctantly gives it but says it’s a precious secret Katya must keep. They return the children to their village. Vasya gives Katya a dowry for each girl.
The group journeys on to Moscow. Vasya is overwhelmed by the huge, beautiful city. Sasha takes her to Olga. Olga can’t believe her eyes because Konstantin told her Vasya was dead. Olga is disappointed that Sasha didn’t let Dmitrii in on the secret. They’ll have to sneak Vasilli away and then introduce Vasya as a separate person. Vasya is supposed to lay low until this is accomplished.
At a gathering that night, Vasya sees the man who was the captain of the bandits. His name is Chelubey. He’s actually a Tatar, Russian royalty. She whisks Sasha away to tell him the news. He tells her he doesn’t know what to believe. She isn’t telling him the full truth on anything, so he’ll choose not to believe what she says about the Tatar. Vasya assures him her memory is accurate on the man and that she’s telling him as much as she can about her life since they parted.
That night, Vasya hears a woman weeping in the hall outside her door. It’s a ghost. The next morning, her niece Marya wakes her up. She overheard her mother talking to Sasha about Vasya and knows she’s her aunt instead of her uncle. She threatens to reveal Vasya’s secret. But soon they strike a deal to keep her silent. Marya sees everything that Vasya does, the ghost and the domovoi. They go riding in the city together that morning. A domovoi tells Marya her prophecy. It frightens her, but Vasya cautions her that prophecies can be deceiving.
All three (Solovey included) eat butter cakes and look at horses because Vasya might buy one. Then Chelubey comes along with a troupe of men and recognizes Solovey. He questions Vasya about it and realizes she recognizes him, too. He says he wants to buy Solovey. She says he won’t let anyone but her ride him. Chelubey assures Vasya he can break Solovey. Vasya shouts ‘no’ at him. Chelubey and his men won’t let her leave the area. They block her in.
Kasyan rides into the square and comes to her rescue. He helps her keep Marya covered and sneaks her back onto the castle grounds. Marya’s maid is there to snatch her away and says Olga would like to speak with Vasya at once. Olga scolds her harshly. Vasya retorts about how trapped both Olga and Marya are in the castle. Olga shoots back about it being Vasya’s fault that their father is dead.
Chelubey comes riding near Vasya again. She bets him she can tame the mare he just bought (one she had considered buying). If she can ride it, she can keep the horse. If she can’t, he gets Solovey. The bet is set. The crowd places their own bets on whether she’ll be able to mount and ride it. She talks to the horse and eventually mounts and rides it. Chelubey appears to accept it to the crowd but angrily whispers to her that he’ll have his recompense someday. She names the mare Zima.
Kasyan watched the whole thing unfold and says Vasya’s made an enemy but is a master horsemen. He asks if she wants to become a horse breeder. She loves this idea and thinks it over when she takes Zima to get acquainted with Solovey. But it dawns on her that it’s an impossible dream. Kasyan asks why Chelubey recognizes her. She says her own brother didn’t believe her, so why should he. Kasyan eventually coaxes her to tell him. He believes her but says they need more witnesses before they take the news to Dmitrii. Vasya will wait a little while to try to find others but not forever.
After a long church service, they go to the Maslenitsa celebration. Sasha comes to Vasya, begging her to step out of the limelight and live in the shadows of Olga’s tower until they can quietly send Vasilli away so Vasya can appear. She won’t have it. She tells him they must keep up their lies for now, which she knows hurts him to hear as a monk. Vasya secretly vows to leave on her own soon. She decides to tell Dmitrii about Chelubey that very night.
Kasyan hears her starting to tell Dmitrii and interrupts. He challenges Vasya to a horse race in the morning. She accepts but then turns to tell Dmitrii anyway. Kasyan comes near her, but then Vasya begins to see the other world plainly: the domovoi serving at the banquet and then Morozko in the doorway. She goes to him and has a sense for a second that Kasyan is watching. But then the sense is gone.
Vasya invites Morzoko to sit at the table with her. He wants to go for a ride instead. They race through the night on their horses and then stop to talk. Vasya wants him to tell her which path go choose. They kiss for a long time. But Morozko pulls away and says ‘no.’ She’s too young to see the conflict in his eyes. He wants to tell her something but then just tells her to be wary no matter what path she chooses. She asks if he’ll fade as spring comes. He says he will. Vasya rides away and doesn’t look back to see him watching her the whole time. Neither of them see the red light streak across the sky. But Kasyan sees and knows what it means and smiles.
Kasyan visits Vasya as she is grooming her horse for the race the next morning, meaning to tell her something. It seems like he wants her to go home with him, but he is interrupted twice, the last time by Sasha asking him to leave him alone with Vasya. He has been investigating Chelubey and can’t find anyone who knows anything about him. He now believes Vasya’s story and wants her to tell Dmitrii about it. She will after the race and will also tell Sasha the whole story of the Bear and their father’s death. He says he’ll pray for her during the race, but she says she’s certain Kasyan doesn’t have a horse that’s a match for Solovey.
Kasyan arrives on a golden mare that is no ordinary horse, just like Solovey. Before the race, Kasyan makes a bet with Vasya. If she wins, she gets his mare. If he wins, she must marry him. She’s startled he knows she’s a girl. The race is very close. Solovey edges out a win at the end.
Kasyan pulls off Vasya’s cap and reveals she’s a girl. Dmitrii is stunned and furious. He has Kasyan cut off her clothes so all can see her form for sure. He has Sasha bound and taken away because he’s complicit in the lie. And Vasya is taken to Olga’s tower to be held captive. Olga makes sure Vasya is bathed and clothed and fed but is furious with her sister. She’s cost their father his life, Sasha his freedom, and quite possibly Olga her family if they think she knew. Vasya apologizes and wants to make it right.
Kasyan goes to Konstantin in his cell. He knows the priest both loves and hates Vasya. He gives him a task and promises him vengeance on Vasya if he complies. Konstantin has always hated the feelings she’s stirred in him, so he agrees even though the plan apparently bothers him.
The ghost visits Vasya’s room that night. Vasya cuts her arm with her necklace so the ghost can drink her blood and gain strength. She finally tells Vasya that she has to run tonight. Morozko appears because Vasya’s blood touched the jewel he gave her. He says he’ll help her escape but then vanishes when Olga comes to tell her Kasyan is calling on her.
Kasyan threatens all of Vasya’s family if she doesn’t marry him. She tries to buy time. He’ll have none of it, and finally she agrees. He says they’ll wed tomorrow. She knows he’s orchestrated everything—burning the villages, the bandit turned ambassador, and making Dmitrii look foolish—to put himself in power. He forces her to kneel before him. Kasyan kisses her and seems to be comparing her to the love he lost. He says she’ll do. He kisses her and touches her against the wall. She vomits when she leaves the room.
Vasya is taken to Olga’s room. As they eat a meal together, Vasya tells her they have to tell Dmitrii about Kasyan and Chelubey. Olga goes into labor.
Vasya goes into the bathhouse with Olga and the midwives. The labor isn’t progressing well. Vasya sees Morozko in the corner of the room. He has come for Olga. Vasya begs for her sister’s life. Morozko sweeps the women away to a different realm. He tells Olga either she or her baby must die. Olga wants her baby to live, but Vasya continues to beg for her sister’s life. They sweep suddenly back into the bathhouse, and the baby is stillborn. Olga tells Vasya to leave. Konstantin the priest is there to perform the last rites. He drags Vasya away. She knees him where it counts and runs away into the night.
Morozko catches her out in the courtyard. She begs him to tell her the truth. He finally does. He gave her father the choice to live or to die for his family, just like Olga. Pyotr made the choice to sacrifice as Olga did. Vasya asks about her tie to him. He tells her the truth: that he made the necklace and chose her as a child. He needed to be tied to flesh and blood to live and not fade away. She rips the necklace off and gives it to him. She wants to run away. He tells her she can’t because Kasyan has plans for her. Morozko can’t see them because they’re veiled in magic, but he knows they’re not good. Vasya tells him to let her go, so he leaves.
Rodion arrives at the cell the priests are holding Sasha in with news of what he has found. Kasyan’s home is exactly what its name denotes: a tower of bones. And he discovered Kasyan is the one who had all the villages burned. They hear a clamor outside. Andrei goes out to see what it is. It’s Vasya, come to tell her brother that Kasyan plans to act tonight, to kill Dmitrii and take over as ruler. Andrei allows Sasha, Rodion, and Vasya to “overtake his guards” and flee.
They have to get into the palace to warn Dmitrii. They sneak around and lift Vasya over a wall. The palace courtyard is in an uproar; Kasyan and his men are already there. She rushes to let Sasha in, but Rodion is already gone. They hear Dmitrii making an announcement, so they know he’s still alive. Sasha goes to rescue him. Vasya goes to find Solovey. She frees him and Kasyan’s golden horse. It turns into a golden fire bird (a nightingale) and flies away. The barn is on fire. Vasya and Solovey save as many horses as they can before they gallop away.
The courtyard is in chaos. Vasya sees Konstantin has her niece Marya and rides toward them. But Kasyan is closer, gets there first, and rides away with Marya. Konstantin says the deal he struck with Kasyan was that he could have Vasya if he got Marya for Kasyan. She tells him she’ll forgive him because he baptized her sister’s baby, but the next time she sees him she’ll kill him. Then Chelubey bursts through the gates with warriors both dead and alive. Arrows fly, and Dmitrii’s warriors continue to fall.
Vasya hears Sasha’s voice call out to the crowd. He rushes into the melee in the palace look for Dmitrii. He finds him with all his guards dead and with four enemies surrounding him. The two of them take all four men out. Dmitrii asks why Sasha lied to him. He says for his sister’s virtue and then for her courage. Dmitrii asks if he’ll ever lie to him again. Sasha promises he won’t. Dmitrii forgives him. He asks who these men are. Sasha says that they’re Kasyan’s and that Kasyan is there to take Dmitrii’s throne. Dmitrii says then let’s go kill him. They rush outside to lead a charge against Chelubey and his men. Many of Moscow’s citizens fight with them. Sasha takes an arrow in the arm to protect Dmitrii.
Vasya leaves Solovey with Sasha and goes to the tower to rescue Marya. She sees ghosts of those she loves as she climbs the tower. The ghost both she and Marya have seen before shows her the hidden door to the room where Marya is being held. A gold necklace with a red jewel is around Marya’s neck, causing her glaze-eyed unresponsiveness. Vasya offers to trade her life for Marya’s. Kasyan only laughs at her. He kicks her in the stomach and breaks ribs.
The ghost enters the room, and it’s revealed she’s his long lost love Tamara. She’s Vasya’s grandmother. While Tamara once loved Kasyan, she ran away from him eventually. As Vasya fights Kasyan, the ghost mimes for her to rip the necklace from Marya’s neck. When Vasya does so, the spell is broken. Marya’s released from the bond tying her to Kasyan, and the perceived opulence of the room fades.
Vasya tries to whisk Marya away, but Kasyan stops her. He says he’s invincible. She remembers the fairy tale Dunya told about him. She realizes how he’s stayed alive and why Tamara’s ghost is there. He sent her away with his heart in a necklace about her neck so neither of them could die. Vasya seizes the invisible necklace from the ghost’s neck. Kasyan grabs Marya and puts his sword to her throat. But Vasya pushes the sword away when he’s distracted and crushes the jewel in her hand. Kasyan dies. Morozko is there to take Tamara away. In the last second before they disappear, Vasya glimpses her grandmother as she used to be.
How did The Girl in the Tower end?
Vasya and Marya emerge to see Dmitrii and Sasha have helped win the battle for Moscow. But just as Kasyan asserted before he died, the flaming bird Vasya set free in the stable has set the city on fire. Midnight appears one last time, and Vasya begs her to tell them what to do to save the city. She says Morozko could’ve with his wind and snow. But when Vasya broke his jewel and banished him, he can now only help and be seen by the dead. She confides that Vasya’s strength made him more human and that he loved her.
Everyone is fleeing the city. Sasha will go after Olga. He wants Marya and Vasya to ride away Solovey. But Vasya sends Marya alone on his back and runs into the fire. Morozko said she’d only see him again at her death, so she tries to die in the flames. She’s transported to his winter other-world and eventually yanks him back to the real world. He summons wind and a blizzard to squelch the fire.
Vasya asks if what he did with the necklace and jewel he gave her is similar to what Kasyan did to Tamara. He says it was. Kasyan found a way to avoid death by binding his life to Tamara’s. Vasya asks who Tamara is and where she came from. Before Morozko can answer, the monastery bell clangs. He says he cannot live in the sun after midwinter. He begins fading away. Vasya kisses him to try to keep him with her. He looks quite human. She begs him to live. He kisses her back and then this exchange occurs:
“I cannot live,” he murmured into her ear. “One cannot be alive and be immortal. But when the wind blows, and storm hangs heavy upon the world, when men die, I will be there. It is enough.”
“That is not enough,” she said.
He kisses her one last time and fades until Vasya stands there alone.
Sasha is shocked by the snowstorm, and Marya asks whether Vasya summoned it. When Sasha returns Marya to Olga and reports Vasya saved her, Olga wants to see her sister. They bring her into the palace, and she tells them everything from when Konstantin arrived at their home to the present. She presents Solovey and the dagger Morozko made as proof. Olga asks if Marya has the sight like Vasya. When Vasya affirms it, Olga says Marya must be protected from sorcerers and from men. She knows she can do it with her brother’s and sister’s help.
There you go! That’s what happened in The Girl in the Tower, the second book in The Winternight Trilogy!
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