This section is from the book "Fairy Tales Of The Slav Peasants And Herdsmen", by Aleksander Borejko Chodzko, Emily J. Harding.. Also available from Amazon: Fairy Tales of the Slav Peasants and Herdsmen (Illustrated Edition).
THERE was once a widow who had two daughters, Helen, her own child by her dead husband, and Marouckla, his daughter by his first wife. She loved Helen, but hated the poor orphan, because she was far prettier than her own daughter. Marouckla did not think about her good looks, and could not understand why her stepmother should be angry at the sight of her. The hardest work fell to her share; she cleaned out the rooms, cooked, washed, sewed, spun, wove, brought in the hay, milked the cow, and all this without any help. Helen, meanwhile, did nothing but dress herself in her best clothes and go to one amusement after another. But Marouckla never complained; she bore the scoldings and bad temper of mother and sister with a smile on her lips, and the patience of a lamb. But this angelic behaviour did not soften them. They became even more tyrannical and grumpy, for Marouckla grew daily more beautiful, while Helen's ugliness increased. So the stepmother determined to get rid of Marouckla, for she knew that while she remained her own daughter would have no suitors. Hunger, every kind of privation, abuse, every means was used to make the girl's life miserable. The most wicked of men could not have been more mercilessly cruel than these two vixens. But in spite of it all Marouckla grew ever sweeter and more charming.
One day in the middle of winter Helen wanted some wood-violets.
"Listen," cried she to Marouckla; "you must go up the mountain and find me some violets, I want some to put in my gown; they must be fresh and sweet-scented - do you hear?"
"But, my dear sister, who ever heard of violets blooming in the snow?" said the poor orphan.
"You wretched creature! Do you dare to disobey me? " said Helen. "Not another word; off with you. If you do not bring me some violets from the mountain forest, I will kill you".
The stepmother also added her threats to those of Helen, and with vigorous blows they pushed Marouckla outside and shut the door upon her. The weeping girl made her way to the mountain. The snow lay deep, and there was no trace of any human being. Long she wandered hither and thither, and lost herself in the wood. She was hungry, and shivered with cold, and prayed to die. Suddenly she saw a light in the distance, and climbed towards it, till she reached the top of the mountain. Upon the highest peak burnt a large fire, surrounded by twelve blocks of stone, on which sat twelve strange beings. Of these the first three had white hair, three were not quite so old, three were young and handsome, and the rest still younger.
There they all sate silently looking at the fire. They were the twelve months of the year. The great Setchene (January) was placed higher than the others; his hair and moustache were white as snow, and in his hand he held a wand. At first Marouckla was afraid, but after a while her courage returned, and drawing near she said:
"Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire? I am chilled by the winter cold".
The great Setchene raised his head and answered:
"What brings thee here, my daughter? What dost thou seek?"
"I am looking for violets," replied the maiden.
"This is not the season for violets; dost thou not see the snow everywhere?" said Setchene.
"I know well, but my sister Helen and my stepmother have ordered me to bring them violets from your mountain: if I return without them they will kill me. I pray you, good shepherds, tell me where they may be found?"
Here the great Setchene arose and went over to the youngest of the months, and placing his wand in his hand, said:
"Brother Brezene (March), do thou take the highest place".
Brezene obeyed, at the same time waving his wand over the fire. Immediately the flames rose towards the sky, the snow began to melt and the trees and shrubs to bud ; the grass became green, and from between its blades peeped the pale primrose. It was Spring, and the meadows were blue with violets.
"Gather them quickly, Marouckla," said Brezene.
Joyfully she hastened to pick the flowers, and having soon a large bunch she thanked them and ran home. Helen and the stepmother were amazed at the sight of the flowers, the scent of which filled the house.
"Where did you find them?" asked Helen.
"Under the trees on the mountain slope," said Marouckla.
Helen kept the flowers for herself and her mother; she did not even thank her step-sister for the trouble she had taken. The next day she desired Marouckla to fetch her strawberries.
"Run," said she, "and fetch me strawberries from the mountain: they must be very sweet and ripe".
"But who ever heard of strawberries ripening in the snow?" exclaimed Marouckla.
"Hold your tongue, worm; don't answer me; if I don't have my strawberries I will kill you".
Then the stepmother pushed her into the yard and bolted the door. The unhappy girl made her way towards the mountain and to the large fire round which sat the twelve months. The great Setchene occupied the highest place.
"Men of God, may I warm myself at your fire? The winter cold chills me," said she, drawing near.
The great Setchene raised his head and asked:
"Why comest thou here? What dost thou seek? "
"I am looking for strawberries," said she.
"We are in the midst of winter," replied Setchene; "strawberries do not grow in the snow".
"I know," said the girl sadly, "but my sister and stepmother have ordered me to bring them strawberries; if I do not they will kill me. Pray, good shepherds, tell me where to find them".
The great Setchene arose, crossed over to the month opposite him, and putting the wand into his hand, said:
"Brother Tchervene (June), do thou take the highest place".
Tchervene obeyed, and as he waved his wand over the fire the flames leapt towards the sky. Instantly the snow melted, the earth was covered with verdure, trees were clothed with leaves, birds began to sing, and various flowers blossomed in the forest. It was summer. Under the bushes masses of star-shaped flowers changed into ripening strawberries. Before Marouckla had time to cross herself they covered the glade, making it look like a sea of blood.