This is a short tale I wrote as a writing project a while back. It is a retelling of an old Russian folk tale. It is interesting to take and old story and reframe it. I did some further polishing before posting it. I hope people like it.
Come closer, says I. It is time to tell the story of Vasilisa, the Beautiful, and of her terrible light. It is time to tell of her journey and troubles, of the old crone, Baba Yaga. I will not bite, my children. Not yet, at least. This is time for a story. There is time enough for you to land in the cook pot later, yes.
First, I must tell you of her father, Alexi, and her mother, Varda. They lived in a kingdom far from here, far beyond the three kingdoms and beyond the high mountain range. Alexi was merchant, a seller of candles and lanterns. Varda, his wife was beautiful and wise in many things. She would speak to beasts, and knew all the names of things. Names have some measure of power, don’t you know.
Their daughter, Vasilisa was known for her beauty even when she was very young. She was called a blessing by all who saw her. She was also a good child, unlike some of the children here, I see. Perhaps you will go in the pot after all, hmmm?
When Vasilisa was 8 years old, her mother learned of her own coming death. Varda, knowing her end was near called her daughter to her bedside,and gave her gift to help in times to come. She gave Vasilisa a tiny wooden doll.
“Daughter,” she would say, “I have something for you. Here, take this tiny doll. When you are in pain or in need, give a little food and a little drink to this tiny friend, and he will help you.”
Yes, you are right, that does sound very strange. It was magic though, and magic is strange. Now, shut your gums or I will give you to the pot tonight, instead of your sister. That is what I thought.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes!
Vasilisa stayed by her mother’s bed with her father. They stayed and watched as her mother finally died. As soon as her mother passed, Vasilisa took her little doll, fed it and let it drink. The doll came to life and comforted Vasilisa, and held her through her tears.
In time, Alexi left his loneliness in the ground and met another woman who he married. No, he was not disloyal to his dead wife, but she was dead, meat for worms, and he was lonely. Men are like that some times.
The stepmother, a venal and mean woman named Magda, had two daughters of her own and when she moved in to the house of the merchant, she began running the place like her palace. Her servant, of course was Vasilisa. The two new step sisters, Iryna and Luydmilla, had faces that were plain and pinched and never got prettier. Vasilisa though, she grew more and more beautiful as she grew towards her womanhood. Young men would come seeking her hand, but Magda would declare, “The youngest cannot marry first! If she is allowed to marry at all, it will be last. “
The men were not much interested in marrying the two older sisters. Iryna had more facial hair than some old men, and Luydmilla stank from greed, which is to say, she was so money crazed she would not spend it on soap or perfumes.
No, she did not stink as bad as you child. Your stink is an honest one of good work. Well that and the offal under your cages. I should have you shovel that clean tonight, after…diner.
What? Oh, yes, Vasilisa. Very good, now finish tying your sister.
She was never quite lonely for all of her deprivations. Her little doll would help her complete the impossible chores he stepmother gave her. When she was locked in her room at night, her little doll kept her company. When she missed her mother and needed to cry, it was the little doll who comforted her. It was still her little secret, and she took great pains to make sure no one would ever know.
One day, Alexi needed to take a business trip that would take him away for quite some time. The family bid him well on his trip and Vasilisa gave him long hug and asked him to hurry back. Alexi was gone a week before Magda sold his great house, and moved to a mud shack deep in the woods. She became obsessed with hiding in the dark place and saving what money she could. A madness had seized Magda’s mind. She became obsessed with wasting things. Wasting space, wasting time, or even wasting light.
“Go forth,” she would say, “and snuff all the lights except one candle. We will burn no more than we need to keep the light.” Both of her daughters and Vasilisa went to snuff out all the lights save that last candle. They all gathered in the kitchen and watched the flicking candle. Iryna sneezed and the candle went out.
After a moment of angry silence, Magda finally asked who blew out the candle. Iryna immediately blamed Vasilisa and Luydmilla agreed. Despite her protests, Magda began screaming at Vasilisa. She demanded that Vasilisa not only went to find a new light, but a special light. Vasilisa was not to return unless she had gotten a light from Baba Yaga herself.
And what did the foolish child do? Why Vasilisa agreed to go find the dread and terrible Baba Yaga. What? Yes, I did just say that. I know I punished your little brother for calling me terrible, but I am allowed to speak as I will. Do not question me, child. Two can fit in a pot as well as one.
Now, Vasilisa did not know where to go. Good girls rarely know how to find their way to Baba Yaga. So, she took out her doll and asked him. The doll told her which roads to take, and guided her through the darkest part of the wood.
As Vasilisa walked, she came across a most unusual man in the wee hours of night becoming dawn. The unusual man sat upon a white horse, with white livery. He was dressed all in white. All his equipment was white. The white rider rode past her without a word. Vasilisa continued on.
Later, as day was upon her, another strange rider passed her on the road. This rider was dressed all in red. His equipment and livery was also all in red, as was his fine horse. He rode past Vasilisa without comment. She continued on without comment, as well.
Finally, as evening began to darken the sky, she found a lone house in the wood. It was a house with large chicken legs supporting it, and it was fenced all around with a fence made of human bone. As she walked before the fearful home of Baba Yaga, she spied a third horseman riding slowly down the road. He was riding a black horse, he wore only black clothing, and when he neared, in the darkness of evening , she saw in the place where his eyes should be, a luminous light. He rode past silently and she pondered his passing for only a moment. She had reached the home of Baba Yaga.
Standing at the gate, she was too frightened to leave, but too frightened to go forward in to the yard of this house. So, it was like this that Baba Yaga found Vasilisa waiting. Baba Yaga had been flying around the country on her mortar and pestle. She set down next to Vasilisa the beautiful. As brave as Vasilisa was, this was enough to frighten even her.
Looking the girl up and down, Baba Yaga asked why such a scared little girl should seek her out. Why Baba Yaga had been out looking for wicked boys and girls that night, and had no need for good girls, who do not taste as sweet.
Isn’t that right? That is what I thought, child.
Vasilisa told Baba Yaga that she had come to plead for the magical light from Baba Yaga’s home, to light the home of her stepmother and her two step sisters. Baba Yaga considered this scratching at her chin. Finally she declared that she was too busy for the likes of Vasilisa. The girl pleaded for only a single chance.
Baba Yaga reconsidered and declared she would not give Vasilisa such as a gift, but Vasilisa could earn it. Vasilisa could earn the fire, but should she fail, Baba Yaga would kill her, and sew her fine skin into a lovely new coat.
Yes, like what happened to Dimitri, now be silent. Can’t you see I am telling a story?
Now, Vasilisa agreed. For her first task, Vasilisa was to clean the house and yard, cook supper, and pick out black grains and wild peas from a quarter measure of wheat. Baba Yaga left, thinking that surely this little girl could never complete such tasks before she returned, and Baba Yaga looked forward to having such a fine coat of pale skin. Vasilisa cooked the meal while her little doll did all the rest of the chores. As dawn came, Vasilisa looked out the window and saw the white rider slowly riding by.
When Baba Yaga returned, she could find no task incomplete, and the food was well cooked beside. With magic she set hands to grinding the wheat and bid Vasilisa to do the same. But also adding she would be cleaning poppy seeds that had been mixed with dirt. Again, the doll did everything but cook the meal, which Vasilisa did. Baba Yaga again found no fault, and had magic hands squeeze out the poppy seed oil.
Vasilisa, enjoying Baba Yaga’s brief satisfaction, asked about the riders. Baba Yaga did laugh and declared. “The white one is day, his slow moving red companion is the sun, and the black on is of course night. All will dance to my tune should I choose it.” The old witch would explain nothing more.
In return, she asked Vasilisa what the secret of her speedy success had been. Vasilisa replied after a moment of thought and with her hand in her pocket holding her fine little doll, “By my mother’s blessing.” Baba Yaga of course knew the real reason, of the funny little doll made with mothers love and fed on childhood tears. She was impressed with Vasilisa’s answer, though, and gave her a skull lantern filled with magical flame. She sent the child home and commanded her to bring the light where she would. Vasilisa could use it for good, if she wished or if she could.
Vasilisa rushed home through the dark wood. As she past the black rider she bowed her head and kept going. She made it back to the hut in the middle of the night. Magda and her daughters were miserable. The entire time Vasilisa had been away, no light would exist in the hut, any light from outside would snuff out, and yet the three of them stayed huddled, inside day and night. No candle, lantern or torch would take light and daylight was avoided by the stepmother and her daughters.
When Vasilisa arrived, she found this out from a visiting neighbor. She nodded and thanked the woman and entered the hovel wreathed in darkness. The skull lantern’s magical light was unaffected and burned back the darkness as she entered. When the light fell on Magda, Iryna, and Luydmilla, they were all huddled together in fear. They transformed in their wretchedness. They less like women and more like trolls, twisted and pale. The light shone on them for but a second, the barest of moments, but the light burned them like a roaring blaze. It caught them on fire, burning away all their darkness, but that was all they had in the end.
When Alexi returned, Vasilisa told her father what happened, and they lived long contented lives. Her little doll was always with her, and helped always. In time, she had other adventures, married a prince, and would have children of her own. She would become known for her wisdom as well as her beauty.
What was that you say? Baba Yaga was far nicer in this story than you know her to be? Well, as I said, the flesh of good children is tasteless. I do not come for good children. I come for the ungrateful, disobedient children like you lot, here. Now, help me finish the butchering. Your little sister will feed me tonight, and if I am pleased with how you help, maybe I won’t eat you tomorrow. Always remember child, Baba Yaga is always looking for a new sinful child to fill her pot.