Princess Manya and the Fox
Princess Manya was perhaps the most vibrant and loud of princesses the people of Kirillov ever saw. She could hardly contain herself daily, for she so enjoyed being a princess and having the power to boss around various subjects that she frequently laughed at the top of her lungs without reason for minutes on end. She would often lead packs of dogs by the leesh into town and let them pounce and lick whoever crossed her path. She would invite simple peasants over to her grand home by force and watch them squirm before a dozen identical forks and spoons, unsure of what horrible fate would befall them if they failed to use the proper ones. She did this, and all manner of other mischievous things with a malicious joy that seemed boundless.
The people of Kirillov simply nodded their heads at the thought of her and went back to work. In other provinces, you would be considered lucky if all the local royalty did was play silly pranks on you. The taxes were lenient and all Prince Zivon seemed to expect was that he be kept well fed and that his subjects tolerated his wife.
They had been married a mere two years ago with as lavish a ceremony as the poor people could afford. Manya had been but a poor milk maid, although being poor in Kirillov was generally a given, so it was to her extreme fortune that when Prince Zivon sampled her famous turnip soup recipe that he fell deeply and madly in love with the girl instantly.
With all her heart, Manya had hated her life as a milk maid. It had been a menial and dirty job that she always felt was beneath the majesty she so obviously was destined for. Now she had a warm mansion to live in through the harsh winters, a modest number of servants to attend to her every whim and enough food to grow plump in no time at all. Her joy was unbridled, and absolutely nothing could have made her happier with the way things had turned out. At least, not until she came up with the idea of sending her father to prison for all the times he'd scolded her for being lazy.
Her joy was now complete and she lived ecstatically for months and months until at last something terrible occurred. Prince Zivon, who had spent the entirety of his life this far being quite alive and healthy, abruptly stopped living.
This was an out rage! Manya had not given that man permission to do this. She stomped around her foyer when she had gotten the news and indignantly demanded to know how it had happened.
"His highness was out on a hunting party with several of the other men, when they returned they said that the prince had fought valiantly to the death that day. They spoke of an unspeakable legion of Swedish invaders, whose marching wooden shoes could be heard ominously a mile off like an ill omen. Single handedly, his highness confronted the foul invading horde and slew them all with swing of his sword and a blast of his musket. Despite his grand bravery, though, he did not count that they had made that the evil army had made a pact with the devil himself. A demon appeared, and the prince fought with it while the men watched the battle bravely for hours on end. Sadly, he was viciously mauled by the wicked beast. It took all the husbandmen of the hunting party to haul him back to town, so none of them had a chance to avenge their prince proper."
Manya frowned at this report from the maid. It did not amend the fact that she hadn't given her husband the right to die. Moodily she stormed off and slammed her bedroom door behind her, where she muttered all manner of insults at Prince Zivon in her sleep.
The following month had left her bereft of joy. She was given complete power over the land in place of her husband, and she risked not losing it unless she remarried. The status of ruler would be handed off to Zivon's senile uncle Levka, who was his only remaining relative with the motor skills to dress himself, if she at any time proved infidel to the memory of her deceased husband. She was not all that fond of Zivon anyway, so she had thought that not having him around any longer would allow her to harass the villagers all day and night unencumbered. It was not so.
Aside from the actual governing she was forced to do, which often left her tired and bored beyond all means, she quickly found that she actually missed her dim witted husband a great deal. The mansion and town now seemed malevolently empty, despite the villagers and servants who saluted her. Antagonizing peasants brought her less and less joy as she grew lonelier and lonelier.
The worst part being that the inconsiderate pig of a man hadn't left her with any children. She might have been able to bear the depression if only she had a family to comfort her.
Her parents didn't count, as she stubbornly refused to let them out of the dungeon until they apologized for making her milking the cow when she was a child.
He sorrow grew and grew, until her love of life became so dim that she decided that she would go and find the demon herself to exact revenge. "Even if I die, I will just go to heaven with my dearest Zivon."
So it came to pass that on the next day, she put on her finest fur garments and took a flintrock musket in hand and wandered deep into the frost-bitten woodlands that surrounded the little province of Kirillov without telling a soul.
Promptly, she got lost and spent the next five hours trudging through the snow politely calling for the horrible demon to expose himself so that she could shoot him. Her efforts were not rewarded and it wasn't until she heard a rustling in the bushes that she found any form of life at all. In her frenzy, she fell over backwards into the snow and pointed the trembling musket blindly at whatever advanced on her.
"Come no closer! I will shoot you, I swear it, demon!"
The apparent demon made a yelping whine and spoke back, "I am no demon! Please do not shoot me, your majesty!"
Hesitantly, Manya opened her eyes and saw a trembling fox standing before her, "You are rather short, for a demon," she said.
"I am anything but! I am but a simple fox by the name of Lizaveta. Please have mercy upon me, I have kits who depend on my milk and I do not want them to starve," pleaded the fox desperately, "I will grant you any one wish I am able to if you only let me go."
The princess considered this while never taking her finger off the trigger, while her backside was nipped half buried in the snow and cold. On the one hand she didn't like the taste of fox stew, while on the other she didn't think the fox was groveling well enough. Eventually, it was the temptation for the wish that caused her to spare the poor creature.
"Tell me where I might find the demon of this forest, so that I might kill or be killed by it," she wished.
"My liege," the fox apparently kept up to date with local nobility, "There is no demon anywhere in this forest."
Irritably, Manya explained about the horde of Swedish invaders and the demon that slew the prince. She told how she wished to avenge him, and how she was prepared to die for this cause. Lizaveta laughed out loud at this.
"Excuse me, your majesty," the fox meekly groveled apology, "Prince Zivon was not killed by any demon, nor did he fight any marauding Swiss. I was there the day he died, as I was the game they hunted. Your husband was drunk with new wine with his men and tripped over a tree root. He cracked his head on a tree and fell dead on the spot. It would not surprise me that the men made up the story half of drunkenness and half of shame that their prince had died in such a way."
"Why should I believe you?" Manya said venomously, and pointed the musket at the little fox. Lizaveta merely whimpered and bowed reverently until Manya again took pity.
"I've no reason to lie. You may ask your husband yourself, if you like."
"He is dead, you ignorant dog!"
"Do as I say and you will see him once more. There is a bush to the North in this forest that only yields fruit in the darkest part of winter. If you take the berries and mix it with sulfur, holy water, and a button off of your husband's favorite jacket and mix them all together, you will have a potent spell. Burn the mixture like incense at your husband's grave at twilight and leave a bowl of his favorite food at the foot of his tombstone. If you have done these things properly, his spirit will return and speak to you for but an hour."
Manya heard this and was baffled. Out of intrigue and a loss of what else to do, she thanked the fox. She fetched the berries as instructed, and with some directions from the gracious fox, she returned home.
Three days later, she sat up as late as she could bear until twilight in the royal crypt. The berry incense burned with a vile tang before a heaping bowl of turnip broth stew.
It was there, sitting in the darkness surrounded by the dead with the air thick with the stank smell of burning button that she was ready to curse the Fox's name for having tricked her. At least she would have, if the ghost of Prince Zivon hadn't appeared between before her in the blink of an eye. In a spectral transparent blue he was there, his beard even more bristly than she remembered, and his regal face and nose as stout as ever.
He sat cross legged on his own tombstone, greedily spooning the turnip broth into his phantom mouth. The broth fell right through his ghastly visage and splattered on the grave, but he seemed to be enjoying it well enough.
"Zivon! Dearest Zivon!" wept Manya, "I have longed to see your face for so long!"
The prince extended a finger to silence her while he chewed.
She paused a moment, and went on slightly deflated, "Tell me of the richness of heaven! I long to hear how you have done in the world hereafter!"
It was several minutes before Zivon found time to speak between mouthfuls. At last he said, "Man, this is great stew," and resumed eating.
"You don't get stew like this on the other side. No wine either. You don't exactly NEED it, but I've been jonesing for a turnip for months now. Wow," he emptied the rest of the bowl and tried his best to lick it clean with his wraith tongue. Manya watched in stunned silence until he put the dish down and looked at her.
"You don't happen to have any more of this stuff do you?" he asked hopefully.
She shook her head. Zivon seemed deeply grieved.
"Er, my love..."
Groaning with infinite effort, Zivon reluctantly yielded, "Oh, fine." He hopped off the grave and embraced his loving wife. There was no warmth of body, but she still felt the radiance of his soul.
"Do not mourn me. I am no longer of this world. Work towards being the best ruler you can be in my absence."
Manya wept, "Will I ever see you again?"
"Of course!" Zivon laughed, "Only next time, bring more stew," and with that, he vanished.
Not entirely disappointed, but not entirely gratified, she fell asleep as she tried her best to get home and managed to get half way there before falling asleep in the street.
After she was carried home by the townspeople, she spent another month into the new year being at a loss of what to do. She attended her work, and found not the will or passion to do anything else. She ate little, she whenever she neither ate nor worked. Above all, she suffered a perpetually heaviness.
When spring was drawing close, Manya felt that she must go and find the fox again. Her soul ached to be emptied of its troubles, and she felt as if that animal were the only one who she wished to confide in. Living the laundry lady in charge, she ventured solemnly into the woods and began her search.
It took her three days out in the woods to find the fox again. With her canteen and food supplies empty, she stumbled weakly into a meadow before the fox who was napping by a stream.
"What respect might I pay this royal visit?" Lizaveta asked.
As emotionally as a sinner might confess their past to a priest; Manya explained her life in painful detail to the fox, who listened attentively, but said nothing until she had finished.
"Please, madam Lizaveta. Is there some remedy or potion you can teach me to help me?"
"There is nothing I can do to cure your pangs,"
Gritting her teeth, Manya gripped the musket she had brought and pointed it at the little fox.
"My kits are strong and able to fend for themselves now. I do not fear death," Lizaveta said simply.
At this, the princess fell to her knees. Her trump card was spent and there was nothing else she could do. She wept.
The fox took pity at this; she cuddled Manya's palm until she looked down at her.
"Go to your land and go to the temple. Pray, and make peace with God. That is your only answer," whispered Lizaveta, "If you have grown weary of life, come and spend the summer with me and my children."
Wiping away her tears, Manya nodded, took up her musket and left. She went to the temple often, and found enough peace to make it until the summer. Then, once again putting the laundry lady in charge, the princess marched out to the forest and sought out the little brook again.
She lived in the wilderness with Lizaveta and her seven children that season; she slept among them and hunted the game of the forest. She ate with them, and the fruit of the trees. She learned their names and served them with humility and respect. Somberly, she took joy in playing with the young kits until they were of age and dispersed throughout the land to find their own homes.
When summer drew to a close, Lizaveta came out from her den with a small pouch in her mouth. She spat it before Manya and bowed. "It is what grace I can offer. Take this powder, and spread it on the gravestone of your husband as well as your forehead. After this, go and pray in the temple. If your heart is pure, you shall concieve a child of your husband."
Manya was stunned speechless. Unsure of herself, she took up the little woolen pouch and kissed Lizaveta on the forehead. "Thank you, my friend."
After a long trek back home both naked and with more than a couple fleas, Manya returned to her people. The people of Kirillov were more than a little agitated at her frequent departures and appalled at the state with which she returned. Regardless, she resumed her reign.
She did as instructed with the pouch, smearing the curious red powder within it both upon the gravestone and her own forehead. She prayed earnest in the temple as earnestly as she could, and just as simply conceived.
When it became apparent that she was pregnant, the people decreed that she had obviously been unfaithful to her deceased husband. She had no sorrow when her rank and wealth were taken; she made no effort to defend her honor either. In his place, the laundry lady was made the new ruler since she had done such a bang-up job over the summer.
And so, Manya spent the remaining months of her pregnancy on her own in the village. She lived in poverty, and even her released parents bore a grudge against her.
Eventually she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who had her father's eyes as well as his appetite for turnips. She was named Lizaveta.
Begrudgingly, Manya was supported by the village. She lived modestly with her daughter as contentedly as life can be for the rest of her days.
The laundry lady who had taken her place as ruler went on to forge a laundering empire, the likes of which shook the world at its foundation. A Queendom built on clean smelling clothes was erected brazenly; the likes of which all in Russia fear even to this day.