Once upon a time, there lived in the woods of Abstemia, a wicked witch by the name of Hedwig. She was the joke of the kingdom; all her spells had the opposite effect on her victims. The king never bothered to have her burned at the stake because, frankly, he found her antics amusing. Besides, she had turned many of his enemies into his dearest friends. That feat alone was enough to stay the king’s hand.
It so happened that the king was hunting wild boar on a fine summer’s day. As he approached the edge of his lands, his steed stepped into a culvert, which was hidden by overgrown brush. The horse lost its balance, throwing the king across the border. Amazingly, the king was unhurt. Unfortunately, the horse landed badly and broke its neck.
As the king stood up to brush himself off, an old man shambled out of the nearby thicket and shot the king with a crossbow. “You’re trespassing!”
“Ouch,” said the king, wondering why the bolt through the heart hadn’t killed him. “I am King Oleander of Abstemia. I was hunting and my horse suffered an accident. Is this how you greet visitors?”
“Indeed, I usually employ a flaming arrow. Just now, though, I’m a bit low on pitch.”
“Be that as it may, I’m in need of a new horse. As you can see, Gulliver’s travels have ended.”
“I will provide a mount, in return for the Witch you know as Hedwig.” The old man lowered the crossbow and eyed the king, greedily.
“What has that old hag to do with me? She is a hermit in the woods. Besides, who are you to make demands!”
The old man scowled at the king. “That old hag is my grandmother. Baba Yaga has ruined my life and I wish to exact vengeance.”
At that, the king laughed. “Surely, you must be the biggest fool in all the lands to succumb to her bumbling hexes. Why, she can’t even poison an apple without she makes a refreshing cider.”
“Laugh if you will, sire. In this land, her power is anything but raillery. She gave me a charm that she promised would ward off seduction by attractive maidens. I had been having trouble resisting the tempting wares of a sultry serf who was in my employ. Instead, her so-called Guardian Knot just made the wench’s alluring advances even more appealing! Her persuasion was so powerful, the scent of her musk assaulted my wife’s nostrils. My wife took her dowry and left me penniless.”
The king became serious. “That is a grave accusation, old man. In my kingdom, such an offense against God would be grounds for burning at the stake! Not only for the witch, but also the participants, yourself included.”
“I’m not interested in your laws, sire. I daresay, you and the church doth mingle overmuch. Yet, my only desire is convincing you to hand over Baba Yaga so that I might deal with her on my own terms.”
As the king had need of a horse and did not wish to make an enemy in a foreign land, he agreed to deliver the witch to this very same border in thirty days’ time.
The leaves had begun to cover the forest floor, when three knights brought Hedwig to the border of the kingdom to meet the old man. The king had warned them not to trespass, as he was certain that the witch would overpower them once they left the safety of his land. However, looking at this pitiful old woman with her bony legs and rotten teeth, the knights cheerfully disregarded their orders and jumped over the culvert into the neighboring land. Immediately, the woman spoke an incantation, enslaving the knights, forever.
To this day, the White Horseman, the Red Horseman and the Black Horseman can be seen doing the bidding of the mighty Baba Yaga.