upon a time
very long ago there was an orphan girl
named Marushka. She was a quiet, modest and gentle maiden.
None could embroider as beautifully as she. She worked with
colored silks and glass beads, making for one, a shirt, for another
a towel, or a pretty sash. And she was always content with the
money she received, however small.
The fame of her skill reached the ears of merchants beyond the seas.
From near and far they came to see her marvelous work. They gazed
and were amazed, for they never thought to find anything so
beautiful. One after another, they tried to persuade Marushka
to come away with them, promising her riches and glory.
But she would only lower her eyes and reply modestly:
"Riches I do not need and I shall never leave the village where
I was born. But of course I will sell my work to all who find it
beautiful." And with that, although they were disappointed,
the merchants had to be content. They left, spreading the story
of her skill to the ends of the earth, until one day it reached
the ear of the wicked sorcerer Kaschei the Immortal, who raged to
learn that there was such beauty in the world which he had never
seen. So he took the form of a handsome youth and flew over the
deep oceans, the tall mountains and the impassable forests until
he came to Marushka's cottage.
He knocked at the door and bowed low to her, as was the custom.
Then he asked her to see the needlework she had completed.
Marushka set out shirts, towels, handkerchiefs and veils, each
more beautiful than the other. "Kind sir," said she, "whatever
pleases you, you may take. If you have no money now, you may pay
me later, when you have money to spare. And if my work should not
find favor in your eyes, please counsel me and tell me what to do,
and I shall try my best."
Her kind words and the sight of all that beauty made Kaschei even
angrier. How could it be that a simple country girl could fashion
things finer than he, the great Kaschei the Immortal, himself
possessed. And he took his most cunning tones and he said:
Come with me, Marushka, and I will make you Queen. You will live
in a palace built of precious jewels. You will eat off gold and
sleep on eiderdown. You will walk in an orchard where birds of
paradise sing sweet songs, and golden apples grow.
"Do not speak so," answered Marushka. "I need neither your riches
nor your strange marvels. There is nothing sweeter than the fields
and woods where one was born. Never shall I leave this village
where my parents lie buried and where live those to whom my
needlework brings joy. I shall never embroider for you alone."
Kaschei was furious at this answer. His face grew dark and he cried,
"Because you are so loath to leave your kindred, a bird you shall be,
and no more a maiden fair."
And in an instant a Firebird flapped its wings where Marushka had
stood. Kaschei became a great black Falcon and soared into the
skies to swoop down on the Firebird. Grasping her tight in his
cruel talons, he carried her high above the clouds.
As soon as Marushka felt the power in those steel claws and realized
she was being taken away, she resolved a leave a last memory of
She shed her brilliant plummage and feather after feather floated
down on meadow and forest. The mischievious wind covered the
feathers with grass and leaves, but nothing could rob them of their
glowing rainbow colors.
As the feathers fell, Marushka's strength ebbed. And although the
Firebird died in the black Falcon's talons, her feathers continued
to live, down on the ground. They were not ordinary feathers, but
magic ones that only those who loved beauty and who sought to make
beauty for others could see and admire.
Land of the Firebird:
The Beauty of Old Russia
by Suzanne Massie
Simon and Schuster, New York