The Snow Maiden (Part 4)
So far, things have been going well between Natasha and Lel. Their ‘dates’ seemed more about finding time to talk to each other, but she knew he was enjoying her company very much. He was too polite to try and claim she was his girlfriend yet, but she knew it was just a matter of time. At the rate things have been going, she’ll have won Lel’s heart long before spring.
But Natasha didn’t dedicate all of her time to winning Lel. Her parents still needed a little help with gathering wood, though Natasha thought that was a little unnecessary with all the money she had been given. She even had her own car and the knowledge to drive it. But her parents refused to leech off of Natasha’s good fortune so they continued to work as they always did and Natasha felt oblidged to help them.
As Natasha was bringing in another heavy sledge of lumber, she noted how much stronger she was now. As a snow child, she could only budge a sledge like this a bit at a time. As a woman, she was not as strong as men, but she was strong enough to make this job less burdensome. But she didn’t mind this manual labor too much, especially since she was prone to gaining and losing weight now. “Lel’s more impressed with a working woman than a housewife anyways,” she muttered to herself, “This log-hauling is more work than winning his love will be.”
“Things are rarely that easy, my dear,” croaked an ancient-sounding voice. Natasha turned around to see an old woman standing not very far away. Her clothes may have been like the village grandmothers, but there was very little motherly about her. Her huge nose was more disturbing than endearing and her eyes had a wicked gleam in them. Most alarmingly, there was a string of skulls hanging around her neck and when the old woman gave Natasha an unfriendly smile, she could see that her teeth were iron fangs.
Natasha shuddered in horror. She had heard stories about this old woman, a terrifying witch that lived deep in the old forests in a hut that stood on chicken legs within a fence made of human bones. This old crone was known to fly in a giant mortar and pestle and snatch away children for her supper. “Baba Yaga,” whispered Natasha in fear.
The hag grinned wider, showing more iron teeth. “So, my name hasn’t been forgotten in this village after all, good,” she said with a dark chuckle, “Well, snow child, I hope the old tales give you some idea of what you’re up against.”
“Why are you here?” asked Natasha.
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m your Obstacle,” said Baba Yaga, “The Gift you’ve received is too great to be with only a Price. Your trial demands an Obstacle and I was happy to volunteer for it.” Her eyes narrowed and she said, “I have a score to settle with you.”
“What could I have ever done to you? I’ve never done you any harm,” said Natasha, “I’ve never done harm to anyone.”
“That’s just it. You’re too good,” said Baba Yaga, “Such sweetness makes my teeth ache. Not to mention you’ve been such a good role model for the children of this village that they’re too well-behaved. I’m only allowed to take away naughty children and you have been cutting into my fun.” She gave a crooked smile and said, “So it’ll give me pleasure to make things harder for you to get your precious Lel.”
“You’re not going to kidnap him, are you?” asked Natasha, “Are you going to take him far away from here, east of the sun and west of the moon, and force me to come and rescue him?”
Baba Yaga snorted through her big nose and said, “Who has time for that rigmarole? But I will be taking him from you, not just the way you suggested.”
“What?” asked Natasha.
“I shall be taking your precious Lel’s heart. No, not to eat it, just winning him over. Your trial would be too easy without competition and I’m going to give you a run for your money,” said Baba Yaga.
Natasha raised an eyebrow and said, “I doubt Lel could be seduced by an ancient witch.”
“Is that what you think?” asked Baba Yaga before there was a sudden flare of magic around her.
When the flare faded, a beautiful woman was standing where the ugly hag had been. If Natasha hadn’t seen it happen, she’d never guess the two were one in the same. “I trust your Lel will find me more appealing now?” asked the young woman with a lovely voice, “I may be a few centuries out of practice, but I know how young men think.”
“Lel isn’t going to fall for your charms that easily,” said Natasha.
The young woman laughed and said, “You have much to learn, snow child. Speaking of which, if you tell Lel who I really am, you’ll be a puddle of water faster than you can say ‘snegurochka’. But you’ll have a fighting chance, our only weapons will be feminine wiles. You better pray that you can master them in time.”
The disguised witch did not waste her time. She introduced herself to Lel the next day as ‘Vasilisa’. She said she had recently moved to this town and, being an old friend of Natasha, she wondered if he could show her around. Natasha would have said that she was not her friend, but Vasilisa gave her a burning glare that made Natasha’s bones felt like they were going to melt. Natasha was going to be able get rid of her rival this easily.
To Natasha’s distress, the disguised witch was better than she had thought. Natasha had expected Vasilisa to act like an old woman, but all of her mannerisms were identical to a normal young woman’s. Apparently the old hag has been observing the changing times. Natasha had been hoping to pounce on a mistake that Vasilisa would make, but she acted no more out of the ordinary than Natasha ever did.
The worse part was that Vasilisa was genuinely charming. She had a cheerful personality and was able to keep up an interesting conversation. Lel was also obviously attracted to her beauty. She had several outfits that while they weren’t obviously seductive, they did flatter her figure without making it look like she was showing off. If it weren’t for the occasional fiery look that Vasilisa gave Natasha, she could have forgotten this young woman was really an old hag.
Vasilisa seemed to know how to flip all the right switches. She wasn’t a prissy girl who wouldn’t dare try to do any form of labor. She was willing to do some heavy lifting of her own and work until she was fairly sweaty. Natasha wondered how Baba Yaga could have known Lel well enough to know that he preferred a woman who was willing to get blisters on her hands from hard work rather than one who’d only work on getting dinner ready. But then again, Baba Yaga is a witch of no little power and obtaining such knowledge would have come easily to her.
Natasha became more worried as Vasilisa became closer to Lel. She had been trying to get Lel’s attention as well, but it seemed like whenever Lel and she were alone, Vasilisa would ‘happen’ to show up and insert herself in. Lel obviously still like Natasha, but it seemed more like a friendship than actual romance. Natasha’s worry had grown to the point that her hair was starting to lose some of its luster. What would happen if Lel actually chose Vasilisa? Would Baba Yaga get a new boy toy while Natasha would become nothing but a puddle of water to eventually dry up? Lel wouldn’t really choose Vasilisa over her, would he? What could Natasha do stop her?