Jens' Reign of Winter
Baba Yaga's Riders
Many fey creatures aided Baba Yaga’s invasion of the eastern Linnorm Kingdoms, doing so for the sheer love of carnage and chaos. Others, however, possessed more inscrutable motives. Every century, in the year that precedes the return of the Queen of Witches to Irrisen, three fey beings astride sorcerous beasts descend on the land. They herald the coming of Baba Yaga, and gallop across the wintry countryside, coldly judging peasant and princess alike by criteria known only to the Riders and their otherworldly patron. Incorruptible and relentless, they strike fear into all who live in the snow-covered realm.
The Three Riders change with each century—Baba Yaga chooses beings every 100 years to serve as her heralds, and she imbues them with potent magic, transforming them into fey creatures with many magical powers. She selects the Riders seemingly at random, from among dozens of different worlds. Some past Riders found themselves granted this position without ever seeking it, and Baba Yaga rarely presents the opportunity to those who too eagerly reach for it. Others became Baba Yaga’s heralds as part of deals they made with her—deals that would give them something they truly desire in return for serving the Queen of Witches for a century.
Upon choosing her Riders, Baba Yaga gives each of them a special magical weapon, robes that protect it and allow it to mask its forms, and the ability to call special supernatural mounts. Though every centennial anniversary is greeted by the arrival of new Riders, their titles remain unchanged. The White Rider, called “My Bright Morning” by Baba Yaga, is seen only in the hours after sunrise, riding a sleek, white destrier. The Red Rider, or “My Red Sun,” sits upon a reddish-gold stallion; the citizens of Irrisen encounter this creature in the daylight hours after noon. The third is the Black Rider, mounted upon a fierce black warhorse. She calls this Rider, seen only in the hours between sunset and sunrise, “My Dark Midnight.”
Over the centuries, Baba Yaga has pressed many different beings into service as her judges, and scholars differentiate them according to the queen whose deposition they heralded. The first Riders, known as the Riders for Queen Jadwiga, caused enormous terror. Not knowing what they were, the queen placed huge bounties on their heads, though no one succeeded in collecting the reward. Over the course of that frightening year, many prominent Jadwiga were set upon in the night by the Black Rider and found dead the next morning, hanging from trees by wool ropes tied around their ankles. This Rider was said to have lengths of wool rope dancing from the saddle as it rode, suggesting that new victims would swing the next night. The White Rider for Queen Urvalane appeared as a snowyfeathered tengu, wielding an oversized scythe as if it were as light as a child’s toy. Accounts from the time tell that this Rider trilled a lovely, mesmerizing song as it gleefully lopped off the heads of those deemed lacking. The Red Rider for Queen Pjallarane wielded a pair of blades that glowed like the light of the sun and cut through bone as though it were butter. This fey being had iridescent scales and wore a crown of mistletoe, shouting a warning as it galloped away from every judgment, “The hour approaches! See that you are not found idle!”
Queen Jadwiga wasn’t the only one to put a price on the Riders’ heads. Queen Sascha was convinced that slaying the three fey servants of her mother would somehow forestall Baba Yaga’s return. She fielded dozens of hunting parties, promising rule of the city of Algidheart to the one who slew them. Ten days later, a riderless wagon drawn by a dozen elk arrived at the Royal Palace, its cargo the severed heads of each hunter. Queen Aelena, known for her graceful departure from Golarion when Baba Yaga returned, sent three of her sons out to kill the Riders. All of them returned a week later, smiling idiotically and with dried gore from their melted eyes painting their cheeks. The trio calmly informed their mother that they would “assist our glorious grandmother when she arrives, seeing to it that our kin obey her wishes.” Most now believe that resisting the Three Riders is the height of folly.