Vasilissa the Beautiful


A merchant had, by his first wife, a single daughter, who was known as Vasilissa the Beautiful. When she was eight years old, her mother died. On her deathbed, she gave Vasilissa a tiny wooden doll with instructions to give it a little to eat and a little to drink if she was in need, and then it would help her. As soon as her mother died, Vasilissa gave it a little to drink and a little to eat, and it comforted her.

After some time, her father remarried, to a woman with two daughters. Her stepmother was very cruel to the poor girl, but with the help of the doll, Vasilissa was able to perform all the tasks imposed on her. When young men came wooing, the stepmother rejected them all because it was not proper for the younger to marry before the older, and none of suitors wished to marry Vasilissa's stepsisters.

One day the merchant had to embark on a journey. His wife sold the house and moved them all to a gloomy hut by the forest. One day she gave each of the girls a task and put out all the fires except a single candle. Her older daughter then put out the candle, whereupon they sent Vasilissa to fetch light from Baba Yaga's hut. The doll advised her to go, and she went. While she was walking, a mysterious man rode by her in the hours before dawn, dressed in white, riding a white horse whose equipment was all white; then a similar rider in red. She came to a house that stood on chicken legs, and was walled by a fence made of human bones. A black rider, like the white and red rider, rode past her, and night fell, whereupon the eye sockets of the skulls became luminous. Vasilissa was too frightened to run away, and so Baba Yaga found her when she arrived in her mortar.

Baba Yaga said that she must perform tasks to earn the fire, on pain of death. For the first task, Vasilissa must clean the house and yard, cook supper, and pick out black grains and wild peas from a quarter measure of wheat. Baba Yaga left, and the doll did the work while Vasilissa cooked. At dawn, the white rider passed; at or before noon, the red. When the black rider rode passing, Baba Yaga returned and could complain of nothing. She bade three pairs of disembodied hands seize the grain to grind it, and set Vasilissa the same tasks for the next day, with the addition of cleaning poppy seeds that had been mixed with dirt. Again, the doll did all except cooking the meal. Baba Yaga set the three pairs of hands to press the oil from the poppy seeds.

Vasilissa, having gained courage as well as permission, asked about the riders' identities and was told that the white one was Day, the red one the Sun, and the black one Night. Other details are not explained, on the grounds that Baba Yaga preferred to keep them secret. In return, Baba Yaga inquired into the cause of Vasilissa's success. On hearing the answer "by my mother's blessing", Baba Yaga sent Vasilissa home. With her was sent a luminously-eyed skull, to provide light for her in-laws. The said light literally burned the in-laws to ashes.

Later, Vasilissa became assistant to a dressmaker in the Russian capital, where she became so skilled at her work that the czar himself noticed her skill and married Vasilissa for her beauty.

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