Snow Maiden

 

Long years ago, Faerie Spring and Mighty Winter were lovers. Although their love faded and died, they were bound together by the child that was born to them, the lovely Snegurochka.

    When Snegurochka was sixteen years old, her parents realized that she could no longer be hidden away and protected by them in their home in the icy North. The time had come for them to leave and bring the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring to the world, and they feared that while they were gone the sun-god Yarilo would catch a glimpse of their daughter and cause her death. They went to the Spirit of the Wood, who promised that he would guard her from all harm. Her parents left to make the long preparation for Spring, and Snegurochka was allowed to go into the world, after being warned by the Spirit of the Wood that she was safe from death by the sun's rays only so long as love for a man did not enter her heart.

    In a village in the Kingdom of Berendey, there lived an old peasant and his wife. They were very poor, but the greatest unhappiness of their lives was not their poverty but the fact that they did not have any children. They longed and prayed for a child, but their prayers were never answered.

    One cold and frosty morning they went outside their cottage and lo and behold! standing there was the beautiful Snegurochka! Her eyes shone like crystals and she was dressed in silken raiment; there were soft leather boots on her feet and a jeweled crown sparkled on her head. When she spoke to them they thought that they were dreaming.

    "Do not be frightened," she said to them. "I have come to you to be your daughter."

    The old folks were overjoyed and led her into their cottage.

    After some time passed, the two old people began to notice that Snegurochka never went outdoors. They had never been as happy as they were now with this beautiful maiden in their home, for she was as respectful and kind as they had ever dreamed a daughter could be. However, they worried because she was so pale and wan, and they constantly urged  her to go outdoors and walk to the village to make friends with people her own age.

    But Snegurochka refused to go out of the cottage, telling them that she was happy to stay indoors with them. Actually, she feared going anywhere the sun would see her.

    Late one day, however, when the street in front of her cottage was filled with merry young people on their way to the village, Snegurochka watched them from inside her frosty windows, and suddenly she could no longer resist the urge to go out and be with them. She was lonely and they seemed so happy! So she put on her little cape and went out to join them.

    On the way to the village she met a young maiden named Coupava. She was a beautiful, boisterous girl who flirted with all the lads and led a carefree existence. Coupava introduced Snegurochka to her friends, and from then on she went out from time to time in the twilight hours, to watch her new friends dance and sing.

    Lel, a shepard boy, fell in love with Snegurochka, and she felt a strange new happiness and joy whenever she was with him. They became fast friends and would often stroll and talk together.

    One day a rich young merchant, Mizgir, came to the village and joined the youths and maids in their dancing. He was immediately smitten by the gorgeous dark-haired Coupava, and within a few days they were lovers. He showered her with gifts of jewels and clothing, which Coupava flaunted before all the villagers.

    One evening Mizgir saw Snegurochka, and from that time all his interest in Coupava waned. Now he found her too loud and bold for his taste in comparison with Snegurochka's shy and fragile beauty. He stopped seeing Coupava, and it was rumored in the village that he had begun to visit Snegurochka's home and had asked for her hand in marriage.

    When Coupava heard this, she was furious! She went to Snegurochka's cottage and made a terrible scene, after which she went to the Tsar and told him that Snegurochka had enticed Mizgir away from her. She begged the Tsar to have Snegurochka punished for her wicked behavior.

    The Tsar of Berendey was a mighty but benevolent ruler who always had the good of his subjects at heart. He listened attentively to Coupava and then ordered that Snegurochka be brought to him so that he could ascertain the truth of the accusations against her.

    The Tsar's men went to fetch Snegurochka. Her parents were very fearful and decided to accompany her to the palace so that no harm would come to her.

    When they entered the palace grounds, they were dazzled by the splendor of the scenes which greeted them. The gardens in front of the white marble palace were filled with flowering trees and shrubs of unimaginable variety. In the throne room, the ceiling and walls were covered by beautiful paintings, and precious objects were on display everywhere. Lords and boyars, dressed in furs and brocaded silks, sat on benches surrounding the Tsar. The Tsar himself sat on his bejeweled throne, dressed more magnificently than any of his lords.

    Snegurochka was so overcome in the presence of the mighty monarch that she did not dare to even lift her eyes to look upon him. The Tsar told the little maiden not to be fearful, but to answer him truthfully. He explained that he had ordered her to brought to him to find out if she had willfully stolen the heart of Coupava's lover, knowing that they were betrothed.

    Snegurochka answered that, although Mizgir had indeed asked for her hand in marriage, she refused all of his advanced. The Tsar realized that the girl was speaking the truth.

    "I see that this is no fault of yours, Snegurochka. Therefore have no fear --- go home now with your parents."

    Snegurochka went home with the old couple, but from that day on she no longer went out to stroll and talk with the young people. Even Lel, her loving companion, could not persuade her to leave her cottage.

    Spring finally came to the village. The sun warmed the ground, the birds returned, and the trees and flowers begun to bud. The young people went to the forest to gather mushrooms and dance together. Lel came to her window often and begged her to join them, but in vain. As it grew warmer, Snegurochka became sadder and paler.

    One beautiful, sunshiny day Lel came to her window and pleaded longingly for her to come out with him. Again she refused, but finally she could resist no longer. She came out of her cottage and walked with him toward the forest.

    When they reached a lovely glade, Snegurochka said to him:

    "Play for me, dearest friend. Play one last song for me, Lel!"

    Lel took out his flute and began to play the haunting refrain which was Snegurochka's favorite tune. As she gazed upon him, love for Lel filled every fiber of her being, and she knew that this was the emotion that she had been warned against by the Spirit of the Wood. Great tears welled up in her eyes --- and suddenly she began to melt.

    In a few moments she had vanished completely and there was nothing left of her but a wisp of white mist which lifted slowly towards the heavens.

    And so the fears of her mother had materialized. Snegurochka, the lovely daughter of Spring and Winter, and fallen in love, and Yarilo the sun-god had touched her with his warmth and claimed her for his own.