the feather of finist the falcon

The feather of Finist the falcon is a Russian fairy tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye russkie skazki. It was translated to Romanian and appeared in an illustrated edition (in 1979) entitled Finist Şoimanul, (Ed. Ion Creangã, Bucharest & Ed. Malîș, Moscow).

The fairy tale contains folk characters such as Baba Yaga and breaks with Western tradition, by portraying an original vision of female courage. It was an inspiration for Josepha Sherman‘s The Shining Falcon.

In an attempt to preserve the “look & feel” of this tale, I kept the 1979 St. Kovaliov illustrations along with my translation.

the feather of Finist the falcon

3Once upon a time there lived a humble man, a widower and the father of three daughters. As his wife passed and the household needed keeping, the old man thought of hiring help. But his youngest, Mariushka, said to him:

– There isn’t much here that I cannot master, father, so there isn’t much need to hire help, as I can take care of the chores by myself.

                The old man thought about it for a while, until he approved and so Mariushka took upon herself the household chores. She was mighty talented and the chores went by just fine. Her father loved her a great deal and was pleased to see he has such an industrious and well-behaved daughter. For Mariushka was a wonderful child indeed! Her sisters, they were all envious and greedy, and ugly, but with great love for shinny things, fine clothing and jewelry.  They spent their days on nothing else but trying make-up and asking for new clothes, as the ones they had would quickly fall out of their graces.

                One day, their father had to go about town, with business at the market. Before he left, he asked the girls:

– What should your father bring you, fair daughters of mine? What would you like most?

– Buy us flowery kerchiefs, the most precious of their kind! Sewn with golden thread! The elder daughters demanded.

                Mariushka sat in her corner and uttered no word. Then, the old man turned and asked her, too:

– What about you? What would you like, youngest daughter of mine?

– Papa, for me you can buy a feather; a feather from a falcon’s wing – a falcon that goes by the name of Finist.

                And so the father went on his way. And when he returned, he had brought his elder daughters the gifts they demanded, but the falcon feather, that he could not find.

                After some time, the father went to the market again.

– Tel me, my daughters, what should I father bring you? What would you like most?

– Bring us boots! With silver soles! The eldest and the middle sisters replied.

As for Mariushka, she pleaded just like before:

– Papa, for me you can buy a feather; a feather from a falcon’s wing – a falcon that goes by the name of Finist.

                Puzzled, the humble man went about at the local market and wandered around for a whole day, bought his daughters boots, but the falcon feather he could not find.

                And it so happened that the man had to go to the market yet a third time.

Buy us dresses! The two daughters replied.

– Papa, for me just a father – the youngest insisted – a feather from Finist the falcon.

                And the man went on his way again for yet another whole day, but the falcon feather again he could not find. And as he trailed back home, barely leaving the market behind, an old man stopped in his path.

– A good day to you, old man!

– And a good day to you too! Where are you heading to this time of the day?

– I’m heading home, old man, back to my village. But not without a heavy heart: my youngest of daughters, you see, she asked me for a feather from the wing of a falcon that goes by the name of Finist. Now, I found many things during my time, but this feather I simply cannot find.

– I happen to have such a feather – said the old man – and it is more precious to me than the light of my eyes, but for a kind hearted man, I’ll part with it!

                4

And so the old man took to light the feather that he kept close to his heart and gave it to the other. The feather looked no different than any other ordinary feather the man had seen during his time. So he thanked the old man and took it while thinking “what in the world did my dear Mariushka think she could do with this feather, anyway?”

                As he arrived home, the man gifted his daughters with the gifts they demanded. And the older sisters, they hastened to wear their new clothes, while mocking their little sister for choosing such a worthless little thing:

– Stupid is as stupid does! Now put that feather in your hair, and you’ll see just how much prettier you’ll look!

               5 To their mockery, Mariushka said nothing and got out of their way looking for something to busy herself with. And at night, when everyone went to bed, she took out the feather and let it gently fall on the floor, saying:

– Finist the falcon, come to me my dear, my betrothed!

At once, a handsome man appeared at her feet. They stayed together until dawn, when the man laid down and touched the floor. He rose, no longer a man, but a falcon instead. Mariushka then opened the window and the falcon took to the clear blue sky.

For three days Mariushka received the man in her room; a falcon during the day, he would fly up in the sky, but at dusk he would come to see Mariushka and turn into a man.

And on the fourth day, the evil sisters caught a glimpse of what was going on with Mariushka and her falcon and rushed to their father, to spread the word:

– My dear daughters – their father replied – why won’t you mind your business instead of nosing around?

– Fine – they answered – we shall see what happens next.

                Then they sneaked in and closed the window to Mariushka’s room, and pinned it closed, bolted with knives they thrusted into the window’s frame and sill. Then they hid and waited.

6

                Outside the evening fell and the falcon came. But as he reached the window, he couldn’t come in. He struggled and hit the window with his chest, until the glass was reddened with blood. Meanwhile Mariushka was asleep and so she could not hear a thing.

                Then the falcon said:

– Who wants me is who shall find me! But it won’t be easy. The seeker will find what is sought after wearing out three pairs of iron shoes, three iron sticks and three iron helmets!

                His words woke the girl up, and she jumped out of her bed and rushed at the window, but could no longer see the falcon, only the blood stains left on the glass. Mariushka freed the window open and started crying, her tears washing away the bloody traces. And as she cried, her tears made her fair.

                When she was done she went looking for her father and this is what she said:

– Papa, don’t punish me, but let me go. If I’ll have days, we’ll see each other again, and if I’ll be gone, then it was not meant to be.

                The old man was heartbroken at the thought of letting his youngest out into the world, but in the end had no other choice but to let her go.

7

            8    As soon as the blacksmiths were done crafting the iron shoes, sticks and helmets, Mariushka went on her journey, in search of her betrothed Finist the falcon. And she walked; she walked a long way, through fields, through meadows, dark forests and tall mountains. Birds would charm her soul with joyful chirping, springs would cool her soft white face and deep forests would gladly receive her in their shades. And nobody and nothing ever harmed her: nor the wolves with their dark furs and sharp teeth, nor the bears or the foxes – instead, all the wild beasts she would encountered walked tamed by her side. Meanwhile, she broke a pair of iron shoes, and wore out an iron stick and an iron helmet.

9

                One day, Mariushka reached a meadow. And in the meadow there was a little spinning house, built on chicken legs.

– House, little house! Turn your back to the forest and face me! I would like to come in and rest! Mariushka said.

                The house turned – its back at the forest, facing the girl. Mariushka went inside, but what did she see? Baba Yaga stood inside with one leg propped in one corner of the room and the other propped in another corner, with her mouth up to the wooden beams and her nose scratching the ceiling.

                When Baba Yaga saw Mariushka, she leaned in, clacking and thundering:

– Ptiu, ptiu, it smells like human! What brings you around these parts, pretty girl?

– I’m looking for Finist the falcon, auntie.

– The-hee, pretty girl, you can look for him around these parts for as much as you like! Your falcon is in the far away kingdom, nine seas and nine lands away. An evil empress gave him a magic potion to drink and ensnared him to marry her. But I can help, you see. Here, hold this silver platter and this golden egg. When you’ll reach the far away kingdom, look for the empress and ask to serve in her suite. As soon as you’ll be done with your chores, you take the silver platter and you place on it the golden egg. And the egg will start spinning on its own, this way and that. The empress will see it and will want to buy it, but don’t you listen and don’t you sell them, no matter the offer she makes. You demand to see Finist the falcon instead.

                Mariushka thanked Baba Yaga and went on her way. She walked and she walked as the wood grew deeper and darker. Fear overcame her and she couldn’t take another step. But suddenly, a cat appeared on her path. One leap and he arrived by her side and, purring gently, he told her:

– Don’t be afraid, Mariushka, walk on. The road will be treacherous and scary, but don’t mind it and walk on instead.

                Then the cat rubbed its back on an old tree trunk and it was gone and Mariushka found the courage to carry on. And the further she went, the deeper and darker the forest became.

               10 And she walked and she walked a long-long way until the second pair of iron shoes broke down, and the second iron stick and iron helmet became worn out as well. Eventually, she reached a house built on chicken legs. It was surrounded by a fence, and in every pole there was a human head, and every human head shone a bright light.

                Mariushka stopped and said:

– House, little house! Turn your back to the forest and face me! I would like to come in and rest!

                The house turned its back to the forest and faced Mariushka so that the girl could step in. Once inside, what did she see? Baba Yaga stood with her legs propped in the two corners of the room, her mouth up to the wooden beams and her nose scratching the ceiling.

                When Baba Yaga saw Mariushka, she leaned in, clacking and thundering:

– Ptiu, ptiu, it smells like human! What brings you around these parts, pretty girl?

– I’m looking for Finist the falcon, auntie.

11

– Did you pass by my sister, by any chance?

– I did pass by, auntie, I did.

– Very well, pretty girl, than I will help you as well. Here, half this silver thread and this golden needle. The needle will stitch on its own, with a gold and silver thread on purple velvet. If they will want to buy it, don’t sell it. Insist that they take you to Finist the falcon instead.

12

                Mariushka thanked Baba Yaga and went on her way. The forest shuddered with thundering sound and sinister cracking and the wind howled aimlessly. Every here and there, human heads on spikes would shine like tourches. Mariushka’s fear got the best of her once more and so she froze into place. But then, out of nowhere, a dog appeared by her side.

– Mariushka, sister, don’t be afraid. The road is treacherous and scary, but you need not mind, instead, stay on your path.

                And having said that, the dog suddenly disappeared and Mariushka followed her path. The woods were now pitch-black and thorns would cling on to her clothes, scratching her hands and legs… But the girl went on without quivering and did not think once about looking back.

                And she went a long-long way, until the third pair of iron shoes broke down and the third stick and the third iron helmet were all worn out as well. After a while she reached a meadow; in the meadow she saw a house built on chicken legs and surrounded by a wooden fence, and in every pole there was a horse’s head, and every horse’s head shone a fiery light.

                Mariushka stopped and said:

 – House, little house! Turn your back to the forest and face me! I would like to come in and rest!

                The house turned – its back at the forest, facing the girl. Mariushka went inside, but what did she see? Baba Yaga stood inside with one leg propped in one corner of the room and the other propped in another corner, with her mouth up to the wooden beams and her nose scratching the ceiling. Her face bruised and blackened, her mouth a toothless gap with only one, barely hanging, fang.

                When Baba Yaga saw Mariushka, she leaned in, clacking and thundering:

– Ptiu, ptiu, it smells like human! What brings you around these parts, pretty girl?

– I’m looking for Finist the falcon, auntie.

13

– Finding him won’t be easy, little girl, but I’ll help you. Hold this silver distaff and this golden spindle. As soon as you’ll hold the spindle, it will start spinning on its own, and it will not spin ordinary thread, but a golden thread instead.

– Thank you, auntie.

– You’ll thank me later. Now remember this: if they ask to buy the spindle from you, don’t you sell it. Ask to see Finist the falcon instead.

14

                Mariushka thanked Baba Yaga and went on her way. The forest started thundering and howling. There was hissing in the grass and yowling in the distance. Owls started circling above, mice and other creepy crawlers crept out of their hideouts, all mean looking and charging for the girl. But then out of the blue, a mighty black wolf appeared.

– Don’t be afraid, he said, hop on my back and look only ahead!

                Mariushka jumped on the black wolf’s back and off they were! Before them there were endless fields of green, lands where springs would carry milk and honey and where the mountain tops would pierce the clouds. And they rushed by, faster than the speed of thought. Finally, Mariushka caught a glimpse of the crystal castle lying ahead. It had a verandah boarded by mighty pillars with beautiful sculptures. It had magnificent windows, a lace of skillful miniatures bordering them. And at one of the windows, the empress stood, piercing the distance with her gaze.

15– Now you go in, Mariushka, said the wolf. Go and seek to serve in the empress suite.

                Mariushka descended and took her little bag, then thanked the wolf and went for the crystal palace’s gates. She bowed before the empress and spoke:

– I know not of your name, nor your rank. But I beg of you to see if you couldn’t find use for a servant like me.

–  I seek for a skillful servant for a long time now. One that could spin and sew, the empress replied.

– Oh, I can do all that.

– Come in and get busy then!

So Mariushka started working. She worked all day and at dusk she took out the silver platter and the golden egg, and said:

– Spin, oh spin, golden egg, spin and show me my betrothed!

                And the egg started spinning on the silver platter and brought about the vision of Finist the falcon with it. As soon as Mariushka saw him she started crying:

– Finist, Finist, my falcon, why did you abandon me and left me all alone like this?

                But before uttering any other word, the girl heard the empress’s voice:

– Mariushka, sell me the silver platter and the golden egg!

– No, answered Mariushka, they aren’t for sale. I can give them to you instead, if you allow me to see Finist the falcon.

                The empress thought for a moment, then said:

– Very well, your will be done! Tonight, when he’ll be asleep, I’ll show him to you.

                Close to midnight, Mariushka entered his room. She looked and saw him in a deep sleep, as if he was gone of this world.

                Mariushka looked at him and kissed his lips, and held his hand but was unable to wake him. And so she stood by his side trying, until the break of dawn…

                16The whole day Mariushka worked incessantly, and as soon as dusk came, she took out the silver thread and golden needle. She started sewing and whispering:

– Sew needle, sew, make a flowery towel for Finist the falcon, so that he can use it to clear his soft face, in the morning!

                The empress heard her again and said:

– Mariushka, sell me the golden needle and silver thread!

– I won’t sell them, she said, but you can have them if you allow me to see Finist the Falcon.

                The empress thought for a moment and said:

– Fine! Come tonight and you can see him.

                Close to midnight, Mariushka entered his room and found him in a deep sleep.

– Finist, Finist, my falcon, wake up, wake up I say!

                But Finist was sound asleep. No matter how much she tried, she couldn’t wake him up. Then dawn came and Mariushka started working. And in the evening she took the silver distaff and golden spindle and the empress caught sight of her again and again she insisted:

– Sell them to me, sell them to me, girl!

– I won’t sell them, but I can give them to you, if you allow me to stay with Finist the falcon again.

– Very well! The empress accepted, thinking: “it won’t matter since she cannot wake him.”

                And when night came, Mariushka entered his room and found him in a deep sleep.

– Finist, my darling falcon, wake up, wake up I say!

                But Finist was fast asleep and there was no waking him.

                No matter how much Mariushka tried, there was no way to wake him and the dawn was creeping in.

                Mariushka started crying and pleading:

– Finist, my dear falcon, wake up, wake up so you can see me, wake up so you can hold me!

                One of her tears fell from her cheeks on his shoulder and he woke up. He looked around and saw Mariushka. He hugged her and kissed her.

– Mariushka! Is it really you? You broke three pairs of iron shoes, worn out three iron sticks and three iron helmets to try to find me? Let’s go then, quick, let us get out of here!

17

                And as they prepared to leave, the empress caught word of their escape and spread the word of her husband’s unfaithfulness.

                The emperors of all kingdoms and the merchants and the people along the way now sought to punish Finist the falcon.

                Then Finist spoke to them and said:

– Who, out of the two, is a wordy wife? She who loves her husband with all her heart, or she who tricks him and misleads him?

                And the people didn’t think twice before acknowledging Mariushka as the falcon’s wife. And so they stayed together, to live happily ever after.

                They left for their kingdom and gathered everyone for the feast and ordered the musicians to sing and the footmen to fire their canons in honor of their union. It was a glorious feast, one that we all remember to this day.

18

translated by milena © 2014

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