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- 8 -

by Ivan Bilibin

 

That night when Finist the Bright Falcon came to her window he found it closed. He flapped against the window and cut his wings on the sharp weapons that were set against it.

'Farewell my love!' he cried out sadly,' if you want to see me again,you must search for me in a far-off land. You must wander through three times nine countries. But first, you must wear out three pairs of iron shoes, break three iron walking sticks and gnaw through three stone-hard loaves of pilgrim's bread, before you find me.'

by Ivan Bilibin

 

Through her sleep Raisa heard these words as though in a dream, but she could not wake up. The wounded falcon, hearing no reply from her, flew out over the dark forest to his own kingdom.

Next morning, on seeing how the window had been barred with sharp knives and rusty nails, which dripped blood, Raisa almost went mad with grief. She cried out: 'Oh Finist, my love, my cruel sisters have driven you from me!'

Her dream suddenly came back to her and the words Finist had spoken. She took her feather out of the casket and waved it aroung wildly, crying: 'Please come back, Finist!'

But Finist did not come. She spent many sleepless nights afterwards standing at the window.

At last she could bear it no longer and went to her father, and blinking back the tears, she told him: 'Father, I must go away! Please give me your blessing. If I live, you will see me again. Should I die, that is my fate.'

Hearing these sad words, her father, who loved Raisa dearly, was heartbroken, but he gave her his blessing and told her 'Go, my child and do what you have to do.'

She went to the blacksmith and had three pairs of iron shoes and three iron walking sticks made. She put on the first pair of iron shoes and took the first iron walking stick in her hand. She packed a goatskin sack with three stone-hard loaves of pilgrim's bread. She then set out in the direction from whence the falcon had come.

She walked for miles and miles, through the dark forests, across the wide steppes, through towns and villages and through places where the people spoke a different language. Some of the people were kind and provided her with food along the way. In some of the villages, however, the people were rough mannered, and as she passed through, the children ran behind her and mocked her.

by Ivan Bilibin

'She's running away from home!" they would taunt. Sometimes the parents came out and encouraged their children in this. Some of the children even threw stones at her.

Once, she managed to catch one of them and asked him why they were doing this. After squirming around in her grasp for a few minutes with a great deal of kicking and biting, he at last told her 'Everyone thinks those iron shoes look so ugly and people are saying you shouldn't expect others to feed you! They say your place is at home with your family!'

She let him go and was suddenly filled with doubt. 'Perhaps they're right! I'm wasting my time looking for Finist the Bright Falcon! I don't even know where I'm going!'

She looked down at the iron shoes, which she had never once taken off, even when sleeping. 'I don't want to wear these any more,' she thought angrily, 'I'd rather go barefoot like the village children!' She sat down on a fallen tree to take the iron shoes off, but they remained stuck fast to her feet - they would not come off! 'Oh, these stupid shoes!' she cried and pulled hard at them becoming angrier and angrier, until she she eventually burst into tears.

Suddenly the words she had heard through her dream came back to her: 'You must wear out three pairs of iron shoes ...' The sound of Finist's voice was still in her head. Her despair turned once again to hope.

'If I don't wear out the iron shoes, I won't find him, and I will wear them - I don't care what anyone says!'' she wiped away her tears with a grubby hand and got up to go.

There were several times again where she almost lost heart and turned back, for she often suffered from hunger, thirst and cold.

Often just when she thought all was lost someone would give her a crust of bread or some water.

After walking for several weeks, she eventually wore through one pair of iron shoes. A few days later the iron walking stick broke in her hand. She had already gnawed through one of the stone-hard loaves.

by Ivan Bilibin

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