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Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1878—1942)  Vasilisa and the White Rider  Illustration for the book
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Title: Vasilisa and the White Rider
Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1878—1942)
Vasilisa and the White Rider
Illustration for the book "Vasilissa the Beautiful", 1900
Museum of Russian paper money factories Gosznak, St. Petersburg, Russia

Vasilissa the Beautiful is a Russian fairy tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye russkie skazki.
A merchant had, by his first wife, a single daughter, who was known as Vasilissa ("Βασίλισσα" Queen in Greek) the Beautiful. When she was eight years old, her mother died. On her deathbed, she gave Vasilissa a tiny wooden doll with instructions to give it a little to eat and a little to drink if she were in need, and then it would help her. As soon as her mother died, Vasilissa gave it a little to drink and a little to eat, and it comforted her.

After a time, her father remarried, to a woman with two daughters. Her stepmother was very cruel to her, but with the help of the doll, Vasilissa was able to perform all the tasks imposed on her. When young men came wooing, the stepmother rejected them all because it was not proper for the younger to marry before the older, and none of suitors wished to marry Vasilissa's stepsisters.

One day the merchant had to embark on a journey. His wife sold the house and moved them all to a gloomy hut by the forest. One day she gave each of the girls a task and put out all the fires except a single candle. Her older daughter then put out the candle, upon they sent Vasilissa to fetch light Baba Yaga's hut. The doll advised her to go, and she went. While she was walking, a mysterious man rode by her in the hours before dawn, dressed in white, riding a white horse whose equipment was all white; then a similar rider in red. She came to a house that stood on chicken legs and was walled by a fence made of human bones. A black rider, like the white and red riders, rode past her, and night fell, upon the eye sockets of the skulls became luminous. Vasilissa was too frightened to run away, and so Baba Yaga found her when she arrived in her mortar.

Baba Yaga said that she must perform tasks to earn the fire, or be killed. For the first task, Vasilissa was to clean the house and yard, cook supper, and pick out black grains and wild peas a quarter measure of wheat. Baba Yaga left, and Vasilissa cooked, while the doll did everything else. At dawn, the white rider passed; at or before noon, the red. As the black rider rode past, Baba Yaga returned and could complain of nothing. She bade three pairs of disembodied hands seize the grain to grind it, and set Vasilissa the same tasks for the next day, with the addition of cleaning poppy seeds that had been mixed with dirt. Again, the doll did all except cooking the meal. Baba Yaga set the three pairs of hands to press the oil the poppy seeds.

Vasilissa asked about the riders' identities and was told that the white one was Day, the red one the Sun, and the black one Night. Other details are not explained, on the grounds that Baba Yaga preferred to keep them secret. In return, Baba Yaga inquired into the cause of Vasilissa's success. On hearing the answer "by my mother's blessing", Baba Yaga sent Vasilissa home. With her was sent a luminously-eyed skull, to provide light for her in-laws. The light burned Vasilissa's stepmother and stepsisters to ashes.

Later, Vasilissa became assistant to a maker of cloth in Russia's capital city, she became so skilled at her work that the czar himself noticed her skill. He later married Vasilissa.

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Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1878—1942)  Baba Yaga  Illustration for the book Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1878—1942)  Vasilisa and the White Rider  Illustration for the book Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1878—1942)  Illustration for the Russian fairy tale
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