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The Red Horseman by Ivan Bilibin
The Red Horseman by Ivan Bilibin

They went inside the hut and the old witch threw herself down beside the stove and said:

'Take everything out of the oven and put it on the table.' Not even knowing where the oven was, Vasilisa hesitated for a moment.

'Hurry up, I'm ravenous!' screeched the old witch.

Vasilisa ran and took the food from the oven. There was enough meat to feed a dozen men. She brought a barrel of mead, beer and red wine and the old crone swallowed it all at once, making a terrible gulping noise as it dripped down her hairy chin.

Then, belching loudly, she began to tear the meat apart with her long gnarled fingers. Vasilisa shuddered as she watched the old witch in a feeding frenzy, crunching the large bones into splinters with her terrible iron teeth.

She swallowed the lot, leaving nothing but a crust of bread, a drop of cabbage soup and a lump of half-chewed fat, which she spat out onto her plate.

When she was finished eating, she rubbed a boney hand over her greasy chin, stretched herself out on the stove and said:

'Listen to me well now, and do as I tell you. Tomorrow, you must clean the house from top to bottom, weed the yard and cook for me. Then take the wheat from my storehouse and pick all the bad grains out of it. Do not forget even one grain or I will eat you for my supper.'

With that Baba-Yaga turned her long nose towards the ceiling and began to snore loudly. Vasilisa tiptoed over to the stove and stood listening for a moment to make sure she was really asleep. The heat near the stove was stifling. 'How can she lie on that hot stove?' she wondered to herself.

Stepping outside into the cool air, she took the doll from her pocket, and gave it some of the left over food. 'Eat up little doll and listen to my tale of woe! I'm trapped in the house of the old witch and if I don't get the work done, she will eat me. Tell me what to do!'

The eyes of the doll began to light up and it said: 'Don't be afraid, Vasilisa. I will take care of you. Say your prayers, and go to sleep. The morning is wiser than the evening.'

Vasilisa felt her fears slipping away from her and she went back inside. She said her prayers, and then curled up on the floor as far away from the witch as she could and fell into a deep sleep.

When she woke early next morning, it was still dark. She looked out of the window and saw the white horseman galloping past the hut, and the sky suddenly became bright. The fiery sockets of the skulls flickered once and went out.

The old witch was already outside; she let out an ear-splitting whistle and the great iron mortar and pestle came rushing towards her and the broom flew into her hand. As she climbed into her mortar, the red horseman came galloping past, leaped up over the fence of bones, and at that very moment the sun rose.

to page 9
(twelve pages in all)