|Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom, there lived a merchant. Although he had been married twelve years, he only had one child, a girl called Vasilisa the Beautiful. When Vasilisa was eight years old, her mother fell ill. She called Vasilisa to her side, took out a doll from under her pillow and said:
"I'm dying, Vasilisa. You must remember my last words. All I can give you is my blessing and this doll. Keep the doll with you wherever you go, but never show her to anyone. When you're in trouble, just give her some food and ask her advice. As soon as she's finished, she'll tell you what you can do."
The mother kissed her daughter and died.
When the merchant had finished mourning his wife, he decided to marry again. He was a good, kind man and there were plenty of girls who'd have been only too glad to marry him. Instead, however, he chose a widow. This widow had two daughters of her own who were almost the same age as Vasilisa. He thought she'd make a good housekeeper and mother, but he was wrong. Vasilisa was the most beautiful girl in the whole village, and her stepmother and sisters were jealous of her. They thought she'd grow ugly as she was outside all day in the sun and wind, so they gave her all the hardest work they could find. The poor girl could hardly stand on her feet.
She didn't complain, though. And she grew more beautiful every day. Her stepmother and sisters could see this and they grew thinner and uglier every day. They sat around the whole time like ladies, not doing anything at all, but inside they were eating themselves up with rage.
Things would have been different without the doll. Some days Vasilisa didn't eat anything at all. She'd wait until everyone was in bed in the evening and then go up to her attic with some delicious morsel for the doll.
"Here, doll! I've brought you some food. Listen now. That stepmother of mine is going to be the death of me. What can I do about it all? Please! Help me!"
First the doll would finish eating. Then it would talk to the girl and comfort her. In the morning it would do all her work. Vasilisa just lay down in the shade and picked flowers while her doll weeded the beds, watered the cabbages, went to the well and lit the stove. It even gave her herbs against sunburn.
The years passed. Vasilisa grew up. All the young men in the village wanted to marry her, while not one would so much as look at her stepsisters. The stepmother grew to hate Vasilisa even more. She sent the young men away and told them she wanted her eldest daughters married first. Then she took it out on Vasilisa by beating her.
Once Vasilisa's father had to go on a long journey. Her stepmother moved to another house on the edge of the forest. In this forest was a glade and in the glade was the hut where Baba-Yaga lived. Baba-Yaga lived on her own and ate men and women just like chickens. Every now and then the stepmother would think of a reason to send Vasilisa into the forest, but Vasilisa always came back safe and sound. Her doll showed her the way and kept her well clear of Baba-Yaga.
One evening in autumn, the stepmother gave each of the girls a task to do. She told Vasilisa to spin, one of her daughters to make lace, and the other to knit stockings. Then she snuffed out every candle in the house except where the girls were working and went to bed. For awhile the girls worked quietly away. Then the candle began to gutter. The eldest stepsister took some scissors and pretended to try and adjust the wick. Instead she snuffed it out, which is what her mother had told her to do.
"What on earth can we do?" said the stepsisters. "There isn't a light in the house and we haven't nearly finished our work. Someone will have to go round to Baba-Yaga's."
"I'm not going," said the one who was making Lace. "I can see by the light of my pins."
"I'm not going," said the one who was knitting stockings. "I can see by the light of my needles."
"Then it will have to be you," they both shouted at Vasilisa. "Go on. Go and see your friend Baba-Yaga!" They caught hold of her and pulled her out of her chair.
Vasilisa went up to her attic, laid out the supper she'd prepared for her doll and said:
"There you are. Have a bite to eat while I tell you what's happened. They want me to go to Baba-Yaga's to ask for a light. She'll eat me alive!"
The doll ate its food. Its two eyes shone as bright as candles. "Don't be afraid, Vasilisa. Just do as they say be be sure to take me with you. Baba-Yaga won't be able to harm you as long as I'm there."
Vasilisa put on her coat, put the doll in her pocket, crossed herself and set off in the forest.
It was dark. Vasilisa trembled and trembled. Then a horseman swept by. His face was white, he was dressed in white, and he was riding a white horse with white reins and stirrups. After that it began to grow light.
She walked deeper into the forest. Another horseman came by. His face was red, he was dressed in red, and he was riding a red horse. Then the sun came up.
Vasilisa walked all day. Late in the evening she came to Baba-Yaga's hut. Round about it was a fence made of bones. Skulls with empty eye holes looked down from the posts. The gate was made from the bones of people's legs, the bolts were thumbs and fingers, and the lock was a jaw with gaping teeth. Vasilisa was terrified. She couldn't move. Then another horseman galloped up. His face was black, he was dressed in black, and he was riding a black horse. He rode through the gates and vanished, just like that. Then it was night.
It wasn't dark for long, though. All the fences began to glow and the glade grew as bright as day. Vasilisa trembled and trembled. She wanted to run away but she didn't know which way to turn.
Then she heard a TERRIBLE noise! The trees creaked and groaned, the dead leaves crunched and crackled, and Baba-Yaga appeared. She was riding in a mortar, spurring it on with a pestle and sweeping over the tracks with a broom. She rode up to the gate, sniffed all around her and shouted out:
"Foo, Foo! The place smells of a Russian Girl! Who's there?"
Vasilisa went up to the old woman, bowed right down to the ground and said:
"Old Grandmother Baba-Yaga, it's me. My stepsisters sent me to ask for a light."
"Very well," said Baba-Yaga. "I know your sisters all right. But first you must stay and work for me. If you do as I say, than I'll give you a light. But if you don't, I'll eat you for dinner!"
Then she turned to the gates and shouted:
"Slide back, bolts! Open up, gates! I want to come in."
The gates opened. Baba-Yaga gave a shrill whistle and rode in. The gates swung to and bolted themselves behind her.
Baba-Yaga went into the hut, stretched herself out on a bench and said to Vasilisa:
"I'm hungry. Bring me whatever's in the stove!"
Vasilisa lit a taper from the skulls on the fence and began taking out Baba-Yaga's dinner. There was enough of it to feed ten strong men. Then she went down to the cellar to fetch kvas, mead, beer and wine. The old woman ate and drank everything Vasilisa put in front of her. All she left the girl was a half-bowl of cabbage soup, a crust of bread, and a scrap of pork.
Baba-Yaga Lay down in her bed and said:
"I'll tell you your work for tomorrow. You must clean the yard, sweep the hut, cook the supper and wash the linen. Then you must go to the cornbin and sort out a bushel of wheat. And if you haven't finished by the time I get back, I'll eat you!"
Baba-Yaga began to snore. Vasilisa took her doll out of her pocket, placed Baba-Yaga's leftovers before it, burst out crying and said:
"There doll, I've brought you some food. Listen to me now. Baba-Yaga's set me more work to do than I've ever done in my life. If I don't get it finished, she's going to eat me. What an I do?"
"Don't worry, Vasilisa! Just eat your supper and have a good sleep. Mornings are wiser than evenings."
Vasilisa woke early. Baba-Yaga was already up and about and the light in the skull's eyes was fading. The white horseman swept by and day began to dawn. Baba-Yaga went out into the year, whistled, and there were her pestle, mortar and broom. The red horseman flashed by. The sun rose. Baba-Yaga sat down in her mortar and rode off. She spurred it on with her pestle and swept over the tracks with the broom.
Vasilisa went slowly around Baba-Yaga's hut. She'd never seen so many things in her life. Then she stopped. She was wondering where to begin with her work. She looked around. There wasn't anything left to do. The doll was standing by the cornbin, picking out the last grain of chaff from the wheat.
"You've saved me!" said Vasilisa. "If it wasn't for you, I'd have been eaten tonight."
"All you've got to do now is prepare the supper," said the doll as it climbed back into her pocket. "After that you can have a good rest."
Towards evening Vasilisa put everything ready on the table and sat down to wait for Baba-Yaga. It grew dark. The black horseman swept by and it was night. The only light was from the skulls on the fence. The trees creaked and groaned, the dry leaves crunched and crackled, and there was Baba-Yaga. Vasilisa went out to meet her.
"Is everything ready?" Asked Baba-Yaga.
"See for yourself, Old Grandmother Baba-Yaga," answered Vasilisa.
Baba-Yaga went all around the hut. She was furious there wasn't anything left to get angry about. She uttered, "Very good," under her breath and then called out:
"My friends, my faithful servants, I've got some wheat for you to grind."
Three pairs of hands appeared. They took the wheat and whisked it away. Baba-Yaga ate all she had room for, lay down in her bed and said to Vasilisa:
"Tomorrow you ust do all the same things. then you must go to the store room and sort out the dirt fro the poppyseeds. Someone threw dirt in the bin just to annoy me."
Baba-Yaga turned over and began to snore. Vasilisa fed her doll. The doll ate all it wanted and said:
"Go to sleep. Mornings are wiser than evenings. Good night, Vasilisa."
Next morning Baba-Yaga rode off again in her mortar. Vasilisa with the help of her doll finished the housework in no time at all. The old woman came back in the evening, checked everything over and shouted out:
"My friends, my faithful servants, I want the oil pressed from these poppyseeds."
Three pairs of hands appeared. The took the bin of poppyseeds and whisked it away. Baba-Yaga sat down to eat. Vasilisa stood there without saying a word.
"Why don't you say anything?" said Baba-Yaga. "Anyone would think you were dumb."
"I didn't dare," answered Vasilisa, "but if you don't mind, there are a few things I'd like to ask about."
"Ask away!" Said Baba-Yaga. "But take are. Not every question has a good answer. the more one knows, the sooner one grows old."
"Old Grandmother Baba-Yaga, I just want to ask about some things I saw on the way here. First a man rode past on a white horse. He had a white face and he was dressed in white. Who was he?"
"That was my Bright Day," answered Baba-Yaga.
"Then I was overtaken by a man on a red horse. He had a red face and he was dressed all in red. Who was he?"
"That was my Red Sun," answered Baba-Yaga.
"And then who was the black horseman who came past while I was standing outside your gate?"
"That was my Black Night. The three of them are my faithful servants."
Vasilisa remembered the three pairs of hands but kept her mouth shut.
"Don't you want to ask about anything else?" asked Baba-Yaga.
"No Old Grandmother Baba-Yaga, that's enough. You said yourself that the more one knows, the sooner one grows old."
"You're a wise girl," said Baba-Yaga. "I'm glad you only asked about things you saw on the way. I don't like my dirty linen being washed in public and if people are too inquisitive, I eat them. And now I've got a question for you. How did you get all your work done so quickly?"
"I was helped by my mother's blessing. I'd never have finished it all on my own."
"Oh! So it's like that, is it?" said Baba-Yaga through her iron teeth. "You'd better be off then. We don't like people with blessings around here."
She dragged Vasilisa to her feet and pushed her out through the gate. Then she took one of the skulls with blazing eyes, stuck it on the end of a pole and gave it to the girl, saying:
"Here's a light for your sisters. That's what you came here for, isn't it?"
Vasilisa ran off as fast as her legs could carry her. the skull's eyes lit up the path and they didn't go out until dawn. She walked all the next day and by evening she was nearly home. She was about to throw out the skull into some bushes - she was sure her stepsisters would have found a light long ago - when she heard a muffled voice say:
"You mustn't throw me away. Your stepmother needs me."
Her stepmother and sisters seemed really pleased to see her. They said they hadn't had a light or a fire in the house since she'd left. Not one of them had been able to strike a flame themselves. They'd tried to bring one back from the neighbors but it always went out as they crossed the threshold.
Vasilisa carried the skull in. It began to stare at the stepmother and two sisters. Its eyes burnt like lasers. They tried to hide but the eyes followed them wherever they went. By morning they were three heaps of ashes on the floor. Vasilisa was left on her own.
Vasilisa buried the skull in the garden, locked up the house and went to live with an old woman in the nearest town. She hoped her father would soon be back. One day she said to the old woman:
"Grandmother, I feel bored. Go and please get me the best flax you can find. I want to do some spinning."
The old woman bought some of the best flax in the market. Vasilisa was quick-fingered and the thread she spun was fine and even. It was soon time to start weaving the yarn, but there weren't any looms fine enough for the thread she'd spun. She couldn't find anyone able to make one, so she asked her doll.
"Bring me an old comb, and old shuttle, and some horse's hair," said the doll. "I can make you one in no time at all."
Vasilisa did as the doll said, went to sleep and found a wonderful loom waiting for her next morning.
By the end of the winter her cloth was woven. It was so find you could draw it through the eye of the needle. Vasilisa bleached it and said to the old woman:
"Grandmother, you take this cloth and sell it. Keep the money for yourself because you have been so kind to me."
The old woman looked at the cloth and gasped.
"No, my child. No one can wear cloth like that except the Tsar! I'm going straight to his palace."
The old woman went to the palace and began walking up and down outside the tsar's window. For many hours she walked until the tsar saw her and called out:
"What's the matter with you, grandmother? What do you want?"
"Your Majesty," said the woman. "I've brought you a wonderful gift. I don't want anyone else to set eyes on it."
The tsar had the old woman let in. She showed him her cloth. He gazed at it in amazement.
"How much do you want for it?" he asked.
"I can't put a price on it, Your Highness. It's a gift."
The tsar thanked her over and over again. He loaded her with presents and sent her back home.
He wanted to have some shirts made from this cloth. He had them cut out but no one could find a seamstress who was able to sew them. In the end he called the old woman and said:
"You're the one who spun the yarn and made the cloth. You must be able to sew it into shirts for me."
"No, your Majesty. It's not my work at all. It was done by a girl I took in."
"Well then, ask her if she would make some shirts for me out of it."
The old woman went back home and told Vasilisa what the tsar had said.
Vasilisa smiled and said she'd known that would happen.
She shut herself in her room and began sewing. Soon she'd made a dozen shirts.
The old woman took the shirts to the tsar. Vasilisa washed, did her hair, put on her finest clothes, and sat down by the window to wait. Soon one of the tsar's servants came up the path. He knocked on the door, came in and said:
"His Majesty wishes to see the seamstress who made his wonderful shirts. She must go to the palace to receive her reward."
Vasilisa went to the palace. As soon as the tsar saw her , he fell head over heels in love.
"My beautiful one, I don't want to ever part with you. I want you to be my wife."
The tsar took Vasilisa by the hand and sat her down next to him. They were married that afternoon. Soon afterwards Vasilisa's Father came back. He was very happy when he heard all that had happened. The tsar asked him and the old woman to come and live at the palace too. As for the doll, Vasilisa carried it around in her pocket until the day she died.