Part I is here.
Part II is here.
Part III can be found here.
Verochka was playing a game. She touched a fingertip to the pool of hot wax in a burning candle. When the wax was cool, she peeled it off and laid it on the table. She repeated this process until she had several curved pieces, which she arranged in the shape of a flower, and set before the matroshki, Marya, Varya, Darya, Varya, and Zarya. She thought she caught Zarya winking out of the corner of one eye. Then she gathered the fragments and returned them to the blue-gold flame, where the petals quickly lost their form.
Vasilisa, occupied by her own worries, pretended not to notice Verochka's whimsical past-time. She took a pile of their handwoven linen towels, tied them neatly with a piece of course string, and cleared her throat. "Tomorrow we'll go to the village," she announced. Verochka bounced impatiently. "Hurrah!" was the girl's response.
In the morning, the crisp, chill of late Autumn greeted Verochka and Vasilisa as they passed through the forest. The heavy, musky scent of over-ripe kalina followed them all the way to the village.
|Kalina (from this source)|
Verochka felt his gaze somewhere in the vicinity of her bones, and flinched, as if she had been suddenly scalded. The boy flicked a broomful of leaves in the direction of her skirt. "Petka, get away!" scolded the innkeeper's wife. He flashed her an impish grin, and rushed off before she had time to respond. Verochka's cheeks burned under Vasilisa's looming presence. Vasilisa seemed to have suddenly grown taller.
That evening, Vasilisa decided it was time to collect the dead branches from around the garden and hold a bonfire. Verochka brought a pitch-filled spruce branch and tossed onto the pile. It caught fire quickly, its needles glowing brightly, intent on incineration. Vasilisa began muttering, as if conversing with the sparks erupting from the fire.
Verochka wandered to the pond. Leaning over the edge, she thought she spied the face of Petya within her own reflection. How odd, she thought. Seized by a sudden impulse, she reached out to touch the water. The image blurred, and so did her vision. A wolf howled from a hill nearby. She shuddered and ran back to the izba. There, she pinched off a piece of sunflower seed candy, a treat Vasilisa had bought for her in the village, and placed it in front of the dolls.
Zarya winked again. "How delicious," she said. "I suppose you want to know what is happening in Vasilisa's head."
"She's driving me crazy," Verochka answered. "Why was she so angry, just because Petya spoke to me? And now who is she talking to?"
"I'll tell you this," said Zarya, "Vasilisa has not led an easy life. She worries about you. She speaks to the flames, and to the setting sun, and to the glow in her own heart.
"In her heart lives a great love, which has not yet found its way, so this can make her difficult to be around. She realizes that her love has twisted itself strangely around the image of a most divine prince, until it has bound him with unseen shackles. When she sees this, she begins weeping in contrition at the sight, and begs that he be let free. There is an awakening flash in her heart.
"The sun in her heart speaks to her. It glows until it reaches far beyond her head, and says, soul, you are a soul, and you sense another soul. And another. All souls. All formed from one light. The voices of the other souls speak to her through the fire: pairs of lovers unite momentarily in her consciousness, and then passing by: 'Sophia!' cries one. 'Pasha!' 'Esther!' cries one voice, then another answers, 'Avraam!' Within her trance, Hasan calls to Asimaat, and so on, through the voices of many places and peoples, until she falls silent and rests in the recognition of so many of the great souls and loves that exist, and have existed upon this holy earth, as seen through the lens of her heart."
|Silent Heart (Sulamith Wulfing)|
"Thank you," murmured Verochka, not sure whether she understood any of this. She returned outdoors.
"I should not have been so cross with you about that boy," admitted Vasilisa. "I am sorry."
They lingered before the fire. Through the trees, the setting sun released rays of violet light.
The next morning, Vasilisa and Verochka stirred the ashes of the fire, preparing to sprinkle them in the garden. In the center, Vasilisa found a blackened, lumpy log, still intact. She held it up.
"Now who does this resemble? None but Baba Yaga herself!" she exclaimed. Vera smiled, wondering.
Vasilisa planted the log upright in the dirt, where Baba could act as an overseer to the fading roses. The morning sun crept over the top of the hill, and the bark on the trunks of the birch trees turned to gold.