"Verochka," she murmured, "I'll be back in a bit."
Vera recognized the fire in Vasilisa's eyes. She nodded, and waited until the older woman's lapti were behind the door. Then she did what she had been wanting to do all day. She walked over to the shelf and touched the wooden matryoshki.
"Marya, Varya, Darya, Varya, Zarya," she chanted. She slid open the dolls, each smaller than the first, realigned them, and set on the table. She counted five dolls, which meant that one was missing. When she shook Zarya, she heard a rattle. Sliding the smallest doll open, she found a few sunflower seeds.
"There," said Vera. She placed a seed before each of the dolls, and waited. The eyes of the first doll began to glow like tiny fireflies.
"You have very good manners," she heard Marya say. "What do you need?"
Marya laughed. "That is the correct question," she answered. "You might well ask, 'Who am I?' We belong to Vasilisa, but she loves you, so we don't mind talking to you. "
"Were you there when Vasilisa saw the first Horseman?" Vera wondered.
"Yes," said Marya. "That was the Bright Dawn. We first met him when Vasilisa was abandoned in the forest, beaten, hungry and terrified. She had been sent, by the ones who did not love her, to Baba Yaga to borrow fire. She gripped us tightly in her hand, while the first shining rays of light began glowing on the horizon. Then a horseman all in crimson galloped past: the Red Sun. She went further and further into the forest, until she came to a little hut built on hens' legs. The walls around the hut were formed from human bones, and crowned with skulls. There was a gate in the wall, whose hinges were the bones of human feet, and whose locks were jaw-bones set with sharp teeth."
|The White Horseman, Ivan Bilibin|
"I've heard something of this," said Vera. "And then--"
Marya interrupted her, "---Then the third horseman appeared, dressed all in black, and galloped straight through the gate. That was Black Night. With him came a dread chill, and a curtain of darkness covered the forest."
|The Black Horseman, Ivan Bilibin|
"I know that part of the story," said Vera. "Then the forest was filled with a terrible noise; the trees began to groan, the branches to creak and the dry leaves to rustle, and the Baba Yaga came flying from the forest, riding in a giant mortar and driving it with a pestle. And the skulls atop the gate each began to glow like eerie lamps. I have heard this. And they say that Vasilisa was ordered to perform all sorts of strange tasks, which you did for her. How did you do this?"
Marya laughed again, a teensy, tinkling giggle. "This is the part of the story you may not understand. Of course, she did all of the work herself, but she didn't realize it, because she sent part of her spirit into each of us, to keep it safe. A baba must do what she has to do."
|The Red Horseman, Ivan Bilibin|
Part III is here.
Part IV is here.
Part V is here.