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- 12 -


Vasilisa in front of Baba Yaga's hut by Ivan Bilibin

 

Vasilisa ran through the yard, and behind her heard the old witch shouting at the locks and gates to open up.

When they did not open quickly enough for her, the witch aimed a kick at one of the gates. Some of the bones in the gate smashed and all at once a terrible howling and screeching went up.

The locks opened with a snap, the gates swung wide, one of them looking a bit lopsided now, and Vasilisa ran out into the clearing, afraid the old witch would change her mind and pounce on her any minute.

Baba Yaga seized one of the burning-eyed skulls, shoved it on to the end of a stick and thrust it into her hand saying:

'Here's the fire for your stepmother's daughters. Take it to them. That's what they sent you here for, and I hope they enjoy every bit of it!'

Vasilisa took the glowing skull, which lit up her way, and raced off with it into the forest. She kept going all night long, wanting to get as far away from the old witch as she could.

Then, to her dismay, the glowing eyes of the skull began to flicker and went out. A few moments later she heard the sound of a horse's hooves behind her and the white horseman galloped past her. A streak of white light appeared in the sky.

Shortly afterwards the red horseman galloped past and the first rays of sunlight cast a pink light upon the topmost branches of the trees.

She wandered on all day. The little doll was silent, as she had no food to give it.

As she walked on, she was surprised to find that the eyes in the skull had begun to gleam and shimmer again. Just then she heard a thundering of hooves behind her. As the black horseman galloped past her, the forest suddenly became pitch dark again and the eyes of the skull began to glow brightly once more.

She continued on for some time and with a sigh of relief, saw that she was at last coming out of the forest. She made her back to her stepmother's house.

She was surprised to find the house in darkness so she brought the skull inside, thinking there was nobody home.

But her stepmother and stepsisters were sitting inside in the dark. Ever since Vasilisa had gone, they had had no light in the house. Every light they lit would go out immediately they brought it inside, so that they had not even been able to cook.

When she saw Vasilisa coming, one of her stepsisters called out 'Oh good, she's brought a light!'

But seeing the skull she screamed out: 'What's that awful thing?'

'Keep it away from me!' yelled the other.

Snatching the skull from her, her stepmother only said:

'What kept you?'

But the eyes of the skull suddenly began to glare at the stepmother and her daughters and even the stepmother became frightened and ran away.

But they could not get away from the skull, for it followed them everywhere, the baleful eyes boring into them with a white-hot light until the three of them were burnt to ashes.

Only Vasilisa was untouched by the heat from the skull.

The next day Vasilisa dug a hole in the ground and buried the skull.

Then she left the house and went back to her own village, where she went to live in her father's house and await his return.

It is said that Vasilisa later married the Tzar of Russia with the help of her little doll, but that is another story.

The End

by Ivan Bilibin

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