This is a story from Baba Yaga herself. Why did she tell it to me? Well, maybe it has to do with the fact that I was planting some saplings in the hopes of healing her forest. Or it could be that there is no Russian blood coursing through my veins. She might have bored as well. It isn’t a common practice to seek magical aid these days you know. In any case, she chose to tell me and I was more than happy to listen. Hey, the old ones have a lot of interesting stories and rarely ever think to tell them to us young ones. Baba Yaga made it pretty clear that she wanted me to pass this story on. No complaints here, the story is too good for me to keep to myself.
This happened a very long time ago. In fact, it was so long ago that it would be worse than rude to number the years. Especially since this is about a living person and not some ancient city or relic. It is believed that Baba Yaga went by a different name during this time. Since I was not given a separate name to use, we will just call her Baba Yaga. Now, just to give you an idea of when this happened, I will give you an idea as to how old Baba Yaga was during this time. Believe it or not, she was a young maid. Yeah, I know. She has been known as a crone for so long that it is rather hard to believe. Her appearance was rather fairy-like. And I get the feeling that I should not have mentioned that last bit. Well, to late now. If I didn’t know better, I would say that someone was in here tapping. But, the room is empty and there is no faucet. So, moving on.
Baba Yaga enjoyed walking through the forest in which she lived. The sun always seemed to shine on her and birds sang a greeting every time she passed them. The house was still on a pair of chicken legs, but they only moved when she returned home. They danced a little jig as she walked out of the forest. A type of hedge, the exact kind was never specified, grew around the house and would always part to let her through. Nights were peaceful and full of singing since all the animals near the chicken house would come and sleep inside the hedge. Many animals would sing as a token of appreciation and a way of saying thanks. Since many of these animals don’t usually sing, this was a great honor. And Baba Yaga, of course, treated it as such This gentle way of living went on for quite some time. But, as we all know, such peaceful, innocent lives must always come to an end. And this one ended in such a fashion that it is a wonder no one remembers it.
Valentin, a nobleman from a near by estate, was out riding near the forest. Suddenly, his great stallion rear and dashed off into the forest. Valentin was forced to cling to the stallion and wrap his mane about both wrists in order to stay on. This had never happened before. The stallion was of the finest quality and had the best manners and temper you could ever find, either in a stallion or a person. Valentin called to his horse in a loud and almost gruff voice. “Artur, what is wrong with you?”
Well, being a horse, the stallion could not say. So, he just kept charging through the forest. It took Valentin a good thirty minutes to regain control of his mount. By this time, they had come so far into the forest that there was no way either one could tell which way was home. Since there was nothing he could do, and Artur refused to turn around, Valentin let his horse continue to go into the forest. But, it was at a much slower pace.
Twenty minutes later, they found the reason for Artur’s bizarre behavior. A beautiful white mare was prancing around in a clearing. And, judging by all of her head tossing and nickering, she was right in the middle of heat. She is the one who had cried out to the young, black stallion. Valentin sighed and got off of his horse. He knew better than to try and fight this. Once Artur had caught whiff of a fine mare such as the one before them, nothing else mattered. After unsaddling the great brute, as Valentin called the horse, he gave his stallion a smack and set up camp. The mare led her new mate towards a ray of light and walked straight into it. Artur happily followed after her. Neither one came out on the other side. But, Valentin was unaware of this predicament and continued to set up camp as if nothing was wrong. Baba Yaga stood in the shadows, watching as everything unfolded. A small smile lifted the corners of her eyes. “This looks like fun. I wonder what he’ll do when he notices.”
Six hours later, Valentin was whistling for Artur to come and eat some oats. Baba Yaga had walked off to another part of the forest by this time. As the forest’s keeper and protector, she couldn’t be idle for long. “Where is that guy? Usually he’s all over me for some oats by now. For a horse, he sure can be difficult to understand.”
Valentin whistled some more before deciding to go look for Artur. He packed a small satchel and hid the rest of his belongings in a hollow underneath the hill the mare had been standing on. The fire was still smoldering when Valentin finally left. It was nightfall when he stumbled upon a small cottage surrounded by an impenetrable hedge. The hedge showed no sign of being affected by the recent drought. The lights were on and Valentine was hungry, so he called out to whomever was inside. “Hello, is there any way I can get you to let me in? My horse has run off and my feet are tired. I could use a warm place to sleep. I have food and water of my own.”
Baba Yaga had been waiting for Valentin since Artur had left with the mare. She peaked through a curtain, giggling. “Well, it appears that he has finally found me. I wonder if he knows what has happened to his midnight stallion.” She opened the window and called out to Valentin. “You may enter whenever you like. But, you have to make it past my hedge first. If you cannot, then it’s back to the woods with you. I wish you luck, my friend. My hedge is very picky about who can come in. Although, anyone may leave.”
With another laugh, Baba Yaga closed the curtains and turned down the lamp. But, she did not go to bed. This was looking to be very interesting, and she had no desire to miss a single second of it. Valentin, on the other hand was very annoyed. No one ever treated him like that. He was the son of a wealthy merchant that had long since earned the title of a noble. His family had a large stable and a house that rivaled that of the oldest noble family’s home. Valentin was not one to be taken lightly. But, this forest maiden had done just that. Now, he was more determined than ever to enter that cottage. It took him thirty minutes to realize that there was no gate. Then, two things happened. The first was that strange flowers sprouted from the hedge and started to emit a dim, gentle light that just did push back the looming darkness. And, second, small and large forest animal started to come out of the forest and towards the cottage. They passed through the hedge with ease.
Once the smallest was inside the cottage and the larger ones were settled outside, another strange event occurred. All of the animals began to sing, even those that never sing around humans. If Valentin was a musician, he would have been able to write the song down. It would have taken an entire orchestra to recreate the song, but it could be done. No translation was needed for this song, the meaning was clear. This was a song of gratitude and thanks. The forest animals respected and cared for Baba Yaga and she them, as was proven when the young maiden came out and shared her food with the creatures.
Valentin no longer wished to avenge his wounded ego. Now, he just wanted to meet this goddess of the forest and pay his respects to her. He was able to enter easily after that. A small niche appeared in the hedge, just high enough to catch his attention. After placing his hand inside, the hedge parted for Valentin like a curtain. He walked passed the forest animals with great care and caution, fearful that the wrong move could end his life. Very gently, he walked up the steps. The maiden opened the door before he could knock. She held out her hand, signalling him to enter. “I am Baba Yaga, protector of the forest and all who reside here. Tell me, what has brought you to my doorstep.”
Valentin, not knowing what else to do, entered the cottage and explained everything. Once he was done talking, Baba Yaga smiled and picked up the lantern, waving her free hand in a follow motion. As they walked, she explained why Artur was missing. “The mare you met was no ordinary mare. She was an enchanted puppet designed specifically for the act of calling and luring away promising young stallions. But, there is a catch, it only works on those who desire a different life. Your stallion wished to always be around mares, specifically for the purpose of breeding them. That is why Artur never listens when he is near a mare that is in heat. Especially if she is young and healthy like the puppet was designed to resemble.”
“So, what you are saying is that someone is stealing strong stallions and Artur happens to be apart of their growing collection?” Valentin looked ready to tear apart anything that was within reach. Baba Yaga sneaked a backwards glance at him and corrected him. “The person you are referring to isn’t stealing anything. He simply had his puppet mare call out to stallions promising what they most desired. And, that promise is always upheld. That’s how these things work.”
“So, what you are saying is that you know who is doing this.” Valentin lost control of himself then. He grabbed Baba Yaga’s are and forcefully turned her towards him. Every animal jumped up and started to growl. He cautiously looked around and released Baba Yaga’s arm. She fixed her sleeve and looked at him. Valentin met her gaze with his own and it felt as if he had been tossed into a frozen pond. “Yes, I know who it is, but you will never learn of my knowledge. That right was forfeited the moment you grabbed me.”
Suddenly, he was back outside the hedge. Unable to regain entry, Valentin returned to his camp. Three hours later, he reached it. Baba Yaga had chosen to follow, but at a distance. She had no wish to help Valentin now, only to watch as the events unfolded. The fire smoldered still, and out of anger, he kicked at it sending sparks everywhere. Some nearby bushes caught fire and soon, the surrounding trees was on fire. Valentin ran back the way he came. And ended up right in the arms of an enraged Baba Yaga. She ate her first russian that night. As for Artur, he lived a rather peaceful life as the head of one of the largest herd of mares anyone had ever heard of, let alone seen.
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