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- 4 -

by Ivan Bilibin

After that Finist the falcon came every night and told her of the world outside the village.

'My kingdom is in a distant land,' he told her 'and my palace lies on the blue ocean. One day I will take you there as my bride.'

'What does your palace look like?' she asked, as she had never seen a palace before.

'You will know it when you see it.' he answered with a smile.

He spoke to her of the dark forests and wide steppes which he flew over during the day. She longed to see the mountains, rivers and oceans which he knew so well.

On Sundays, the two older sisters usually spent hours getting themselves ready for church. They would preen themselves and parade up and down in front of the mirror, plucking their eyebrows, trying on this and that and bickering about which one of them looked the oldest.

That particular Sunday Malvina wore her new earrings and Elvira put on the silken scarf. They had been ready for over an hour, and having nothing better to do, they began to take an interest in what Raisa was wearing.

'I'm not going to church with her looking like that!' began Malvina.

'Look here, Raisa,' said Elvira, 'you can't possibly wear those rags to church. It's your own fault you have nothing else to wear. Why didn't you ask father to bring your back something decent instead of that ridiculous feather?'

Malvina snorted: 'What will people think of us if we are seen with you? It would be better for everyone if you stayed at home with your feather!'

Raisa answered vaguely 'But, of course I'll stay home with my father.'

'Not father - feather! corrected Elvira. ' Not feather - father.' she murmered.

The other two looked at her sharply to see if she was having them on. But she wasn't really listening at all - she was staring out the window.

by Ivan Bilibin

She seemed to be searching the skies for something. They craned their necks to try and see what she was looking at. But there was nothing but a few birds in the distance. Malvina whispered to Elvira 'Well, she's definitely for the birds today!' And the two of them fell around the place laughing at this.

After the rest of the family had left, Raisa sat at the window and watched the people all dressed in their finery going to church.

After a while, when the street had become quieter, she stepped outside. Looking up and down the road to make sure there was no one around, she took the feather and waved it to the right.

All at once a crystal coach pulled by four prancing horses appeared before her, with servants dressed in gold, while clothes inlaid with precious jewels and gold were laid out for her to wear. When she had changed into the beautiful clothes, she got into the coach and drove to church.

No one in the village recognized her, not even her own family, so utterly changed was she in her royal headdress and garments.

'She is perhaps a Tsar's daughter from a far-off kingdom across the sea,' the villagers whispered to each other.

by Ivan Bilibin

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