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by Ivan Bilibin

             
by Ivan Bilibinnce upon a time, there was a merchant who lived alone with his three daughters in a small village in Russia. The eldest, Malvina, a powerfully built young woman with fiery red hair and a temper to match, tended to bully her younger sisters. If she did not get her own way, she would shout, scream, and a lot more besides, until she did.

The second eldest, Elvira, was a thin, dark haired girl and rather sulky at times. She often felt bullied by Malvina, but was afraid to stand up to her and usually ended up doing whatever Malvina wanted. However, she had her own little methods of paying back Malvina for her bullying.

The two were known in the village as "the Belles from hell."

Raisa, the youngest, was a quiet girl, with a long straw coloured plait, (her sisters called it 'mousy') who spent a lot of time on her own, since the others considered her 'too young' to be included in their doings.

 

by Kandinsky

The village provided almost everything they needed, but sometimes they had to go into the local town to buy other items that were not available.

One day the merchant was going to town, and asked his daughters what they would like. Malvina said she wanted earrings, while Elvira wanted a silk scarf.

 

             by Ivan Bilibin

 

Raisa, however, had rather a strange request.

But then again, there were those who thought Raisa 'strange,' or a little odd because of her daydreaming. She spent a lot of time out alone in the forest and was often seen talking to plants and animals.

She had had a dream once of a prince from a far off kingdom and sometimes felt that this dream was more real to her than her own life. She often thought about this dream and what it could mean, but she never spoke of it to anyone.

Picture by Kandinsky
Raisa's dream
Picture by Kandinsky

She asked: 'Father, please bring me back a feather of Finist the Bright Falcon.' Now, her Father, although he knew nothing of Finist the Bright Falcon, was not at all surprised at her request, for it was already the third time she had asked this of him during the past year.

But, my dear!' he replied 'I have asked time and time again in the town for such a feather and no one has ever heard of Finist the Bright Falcon. People are surely beginning to think I'm a little mad.' Raisa answered with a smile ' But I have heard of him Father and perhaps I will be lucky this time.'

The merchant, not knowing quite what to say, merely shook his head and promised that he would try his best. Then he kissed his daughters goodbye.

Her two sisters had, of course, laughed at her request. When the father had left the house they began to tease her. 'What do you want with an old feather?' Malvina sneered. And Elvira added 'Just look at you in those old things, why, you're a disgrace to the family!'

Raisa said nothing. When her sisters teased her, she was usually silent, which made them angry and likely as not they would then find some unpleasant task for her.

'Since you have nothing better to do why don't you go out and clean the henhouse!' Malvina ordered her.

'Go on, what are you waiting for?' Elvira sneered, 'perhaps you'll find a feather out there!'

 

by Ivan Bilibin

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(thirteen pages in all)