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Traladaran Folk Tales

by Jennifer Guerra

Storytelling is a vital part of Traladaran culture. Over the centuries, it has evolved from a recounting of oral history to a rich art of vivid folk tales and legends, used to warn or teach Traladaran children by example through their embedded truths and archetypes. Below are three examples of Traladaran folk tales; clever DMs may fashion adventure hooks for their Karameikan heroes built around "real" events hinted at in the stories.

Rusalka (The Water Nymph)

A reclusive priest, who had lived a joyless and loveless life, once escaped the cares of the greater world and retreated to a humble hut at the shores of the northern Lake. He passed his days in constant prayer, deep studies of holy law, and eternal fast. As the years passed and his long beard grew gruff and grey, he dug himself a grave. Calling upon the Immortals to bless him, he prepared to die. But Death did not yet claim him.

One late summer night, the priest meekly bent to his evening prayer beside his drooping shack. The groves were turning slowly black in the twilight, and above the lake a mist was lifting, revealing the harvest moon dappled on the waves. Sudden movement on the lake drew the priest's attention: the water of the lake began to bubble! The priest watched, frightened. The water grew calm again; then - white as first snow in the highlands, light-footed as nocturnal shade - a naked maiden, beautiful as the moonlight, stepped upon the shore, and sat there.

She eyed the priest and gently brushed the water from her golden hair and pale arms. The priest shook with fear, but could not help but stare at her perfect beauty. For the first time in his life, desire stirred within him.

The maid waved, eagerly beckoning for him to join her. Nodding quickly and smiling, she leapt, falling into the water like the reflection of a star.

The old priest slept not an instant all that night; the next day, he could not pray - all he could see before him was the girl, glistening in the moonlight.

The gown of nightfall fell once again upon the grove. As the moon's soft rays parted the mists from the lake, there was the girl: pale, delightful, reclining on the spellbound shore.

Brushing her hair, she looked at him, nodded, smiled. Blew him wild kisses, played with the waves, caressed, splashed, laughed, whimpered like a child. Moaned tenderly, called louder, louder: "Come, priest, come to me!" And then vanished in the limpid water. All fell silent.

On the third day the ardent hermit sat by the shore, in love, awaiting the enticing maid, as evening fell upon the grove.

By sunrise, the priest had disappeared. To this day, fishermen and those who swim in Lake Windrush say that, on a misty evening, as the moon rises, one can see a matted white beard just below the surface, and hear a low moaning on the pleasure or in despair.

Morozko (Old Man Winter)

Once there lived an old widower and his daughter. In due time, the man remarried to an older woman who had a daughter herself from a previous marriage. The woman doted on her own daughter, praising her at every opportunity, but she despised her stepdaughter. She found fault with everything the girl did and made her work long and hard all day long. One day the old woman made up her mind to get rid of the stepdaughter once and for all.

She ordered her husband, "Take her somewhere so that my eyes no longer have to see her, so that my ears no longer have to hear her. And don't take her to some relative's house. Take her into the biting cold of the forest and leave her there."

The old man grieved and wept but he knew that he could do nothing else; his wife always had her way. So he took the girl into the forest and left her there. He turned back quickly so that he wouldn't have to see his girl freeze.

Oh, the poor thing, sitting there in the snow, with her body shivering and her teeth chattering! Then Morozko - Old Man Winter, who some say is a force of Nature, but whom some say is an evil conjurer of the harshest elements - leaping from tree to tree, came upon her. "Are you warm, my lass?" he asked.

"Welcome, my dear Morozko. Yes, I am quite warm," she said, even though she was cold to the bone.

At first, Morozko had wanted to freeze the life out of her with his icy grip. But he admired the beautiful young girl's stoicism and showed uncharacteristic mercy. He gave her a warm fur coat and downy quilts before he left. In a short while, Morozko returned to check on the girl. "Are you warm, my lass?" he asked.

"Welcome again, my dear Morozko. Yes, I am very warm," she said. And indeed she was warmer. So this time the enchanted Morozko brought a large box for her to sit on.

A little later, Morozko returned once more to ask how she was doing. She was doing quite well now, and this time Morozko gave her silver and gold jewellery to wear, with enough extra jewels to fill the box on which she was sitting! Meanwhile, back at her father's hut, the old woman told her husband to go back into the forest and fetch the body of his daughter. "Bring back what's left of her," she ordered. The old man did as he was told and went back into the woods. Joy overwhelmed him when he saw his daughter was still alive, wrapped in a sable coat and adorned with silver and gold!

When he arrived home with his daughter and the box of jewels, his wife looked on in amazement.

"Harness the horse, you old goat, and take my own daughter to that same spot in the forest and leave her there," she said with greed in her eye. "Old Morozko will surely favour her more than your mousy daughter." The old man did as he was told.

Like the other girl at first, the old woman's daughter began to shake and shiver. In a short while, Morozko came by and - irritated at his favourite's departure - asked her how she was doing.

"Are you blind?" she replied. "Can't you see that my hands and feet are quite numb? Curse you, you miserable old man!" Dawn had hardly broken the next day when, back at the old man's hut, the old woman woke her husband and told him to bring back her daughter, adding, "Be careful with the box of jewels." The old man obeyed and went to get the girl.

A short while later, the gate to the yard creaked. The old woman went outside and saw her husband standing next to the sleigh. She rushed forward and pulled aside the sleigh's cover. To her horror, she saw the body of her daughter, frozen by an angry Morozko. She began to scream and berate her husband, but it was all in vain.

Later, though the old man's daughter married a farmer, she lived happily and never forgot to remind her children and grandchildren to always respect Old Man Winter.

Vasilisa the Beautiful

Long ago, a powerful Lord decided that it was time for his three sons to get married. He called them together, telling them each to shoot their arrows, and whatever maiden their arrows should hit would be their bride. The eldest son drew back his bow, and shot his arrow, which hit a nobleman's daughter. The middle son then drew his bow, and shot his arrow, which hit a merchant's daughter. Then came the turn of the youngest son, Ivan. Ivan drew back his bow and shot his arrow. But Ivan's arrow didn't hit a maiden, it flew off into a swamp. What a surprise Ivan found in the swamp: his arrow had hit a frog. His two older brothers laughed at him, and Ivan begged the Lord not to make him marry the frog. But the Lord understood the fate of young Ivan, and Ivan and the frog were married.

Soon after his sons were married, the Tsar called them together once more. He had decided to set their wives to certain tasks to see which one could perform them the best. The first task was for them to bake a loaf of bread. Ivan went home and told his frog about baking the bread, the frog replied for him not to worry, and sent Ivan to bed. After Ivan was sleeping, the frog removed her skin and turned into Vasilisa the Beautiful. She stood in the doorway, clapped her hands, and her servants came running to her aid. When Ivan awoke the next morning the frog handed a loaf of white bread to him. After tasting the bread of all three wives, the Tsar declared that the bread of Ivan's wife was by far the best.

The second task was to weave a beautiful carpet. Once again the frog sent Ivan to bed, shed her skin, summoned her servants, and wove a magnificent carpet. The Tsar once again chose the work of Ivan's wife over the others.

The third task was to see which wife could dance the best at the royal ball. The frog told Ivan to arrive at the alone, and she would follow an hour later. And so Ivan arrived alone, and an hour later arrived his wife, Vasilisa the Beautiful. She shamed the other wives by using her magic powers to dance and create a lake of swans.

By this time, Ivan was so enchanted with her, that he destroyed her frog skin by casting it into the fire. Vasilisa screamed at him to stop, but it was too late. As soon as her skin blackened and fell into ash, Vasilisa turned into an enchanted swan and was magically flown away to where she was obliged to be the prisoner of the mad sorcerer Koschei the Deathless.

Ivan had to embark upon a long and magical journey to find his wife. He had to inquire from the evil witch Baba Yaga to learn of the magical feats which he must accomplish to free his wife. In the end, Ivan was killed as he confronted Koschei, and Vasilisa was never freed. It is said that to this day, she lingers in her prison ruin among the many treasures of the greedy mad mage, waiting for her lost love to return and free her.

Adapted from traditional Russian and Slavic folk tales.