So, hooray for the first ALTERNATIVE CURVES blog hop! I was so happy when I saw this months theme of Alternative Fairytale too! Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I’m into mythology and fairy tales just a teeny bit. I’ve dressed up as a fairy, rusalka, qarinah, lost mermaid and white witch. So, for this I felt the pressure to do something new, but also something that people didn’t know much about.
I remembered living in Perm, Russia in 2009 teaching ESL and reading Pavel Bazhov‘s book called Malachite Casket: Tales from The Urals. It was based on folktales from around that region, and I pretty much fell in love with many of the stories. A key character in many of the tales is The Lizard Queen/The Malachite Maid/The Mistress of Copper Mountain. So, I thought I’d try to take pictures being the Lizard Queen in the first mention of her in the first story: The Mistress of Copper Mountain. I apologize in advance for how freaking LONG this post is but I am retelling a fairy tale and I felt it needed the embellishment and quaintness that is in the original for it to come across well. Anyway, enjoy:
THE MISTRESS OF THE COPPER MOUNTAIN.
One day two men from the village went to take a look at the hay on the other side of Severushka. It was a Sunday and real hot. Both of them worked in the mines, on Mount Gumeshky. They got malachite, and the kind of stones you call Lapiz Lazuli, and sometimes nuggets of copper and anything else they could find.
One was quite a young fellow, not married yet, but all the same he was pale and tired, with that green look about him from working in mining. The other was older and quite worn out, his eyes and cheeks were sunk into his head and he never stopped coughing.
It was sweet in the woods and walking in the sun felt nice upon their backs. They got as far as Krasnogorsk Mine and lay down on the grass under a rowan for a nap. Both of them slept far past sundown from exhaustion and perhaps the comfort of being away from the mines.
But, all of a sudden, the young one – it was as if someone had nudged him- he woke up. And there in front of him he saw a woman sitting on a pile of rocks. She had her back to him but you could see she was a fair maid. Her hair was a fascinating colour and she was constantly fidgeting – couldn’t sit still a minute! Like a bit of quicksilver, she was, and all the time she kept on talking and talking but in what language it was you couldn’t say. All the time she had a laugh in her voice and seemed real merry.
The lad wanted to say something, then all of a sudden it hit him like a blow over the head. Mercy on us, why, that’s the Mistress herself! That’s her robe- why didn’t I see it at once? Her malachite robe, it looks like silk and changes colour from green to red, but is really stone! Oh, it was that hair of hers that I kept looking at…
Here’s bad luck, thought the lad. Can I get off before she sees me?… He’d heard, you see, from old folks that the Mistress, the Malachite Maid, like to beguile folks and fool them. But, he had barely given that a thought when she turned around.
She gave him a look that could set a man to stone, but then laughed merrily and said jestingly: “How’s this Stepan Petrovich, will ye stare at a maid’s beauty and give naught for the looking? For a peep ye must pay! Come here, closer. Let’s talk for a bit.”
The lad was frightened all right, but he didn’t show it. He took hold of his courage. She might be a demon, but all the same she was a maid. Well, and he was a lad, and a lad must think shame to let a maid see him faint-hearted.
He went up to where she was standing and saw a lot of lizards. More than you could count. Some were green, some were light blue, some very dark, every shade and colour, and some were like clay or sand with golden specks. And some shone like glass or mica, some like withered grass and some had all sorts of patterns. The maid just sat and laughed. “Don’t tread on my soldiers, Stepan Petrovich,” she said. “Look how big and heavy you are, and they’re but tiny.” She clapped her hands and all the lizards cleared a path for him, running this way and that. He walked right up to her and looked her in the face, she smiled and clapped her hands again. The lizards rushed back filling every empty piece of ground, like a patterned rug on the floor around him, moving all the time over his shoes. He looked again and he even saw a cooper lizard dart past. “Now there’s nowhere ye can tread,” she said laughing, “for if ye crush my babies it will be bad.”
“So, do ye know who I am Stepanushko?” asked the Malachite Maid. “Don’t be afraid, I’ll do ye no harm.” Stepan bristled back at her, angered that a maid would accuse him of being afraid. He shouted at her that he worked in a mine and was afraid of naught! The Lizard Queen smiled and told him she needed a man like him.
“When you go down to the mine tomorrow the bailiff will be there. Tell him that the Mistress of the Copper Mountain has ordered ye, ye stinking goat, to get out of Krasnogorsk mine! If you break my cap of iron there, I shall sink all the copper in Gumeshky so deep ye’ll never find it again!”
She looked at him hard.
“D’ye understand? You work in the mine and fear naught ye said. Then tell the bailiff what I bid ye.”
She jumped up and ran on all fours towards the cliffs of the mountain side, turning back once, with her robe of ever changing malachite on, to look hard at Stepan Petrovich again.
“Don’t forget Stepanushko, what you’re to say. The Mistress oders you, ye stinking goat, to get our of Krasnogorka…Tell him that and I’ll marry you.”
She ran further along and Stepan saw a tail flip into the mountain side.
“Ugh – a reptile!” The lad spat in disgust. ” Me – marry a lizard!?”
The mountain cackled around him and he heard her voice while he couldn’t see her.
“Be it so, we’ll talk about it afterwards and maybe ya’ll think different of it.”
Stepan wakened his companion and they set off back towards their village. All the while walking Stepan was thinking about his encounter and what he was going to say the bailiff. What she has asked was no small thing, and it was true, the bailiff did stink, as if there was something rotten inside him, but he was fearsome too. But, she was the Mistress! Did he dare not do what she requested? He took courage and decided to do what she had ordered.
The next day at work, the miners silently lined up with their caps off as the bailiff walked past. Stepan repeated what the Lizard Queen has told him. The silence was deafening. The bailiff’s goat whiskers shook with rage.
“What’s this?” He shouted. “Are ye drunk or daft? What Mistress? Who d’ye think you’re talking to? You – I’ll make you rot in the pit!”
Stepan was flogged and sent down the pit. The bailiff ordered to feed him dog oats to keep life in him but give him full talk, with no easement. He was made to work on the worst job they could find. It was a wet and damp tunnel with no good ore, it should have been abandoned a long time ago. They fastened him to a long chain, so he wouldn’t run away. But you know what it was like in those days – serfdom, they abused folks all they wanted. The overseer jeered at him “Ye cool down here a bit. Your task is to find pure malachite!” The amount he named was out of all sense or reason, but naught to be done. So, as soon as the overseer had gone, Stepan started swinging his pick, as he was an able young fellow.
He was real pleased with what he saw from the wall. The malachite came tumbling down as if some one was throwing it, and the all the water and dampness drained away. “Well,” he thought, “that ain’t bad – seems like the Mistress hasn’t forgot me after all.”
And then with a flash of light, suddenly the Mistress herself was standing in front of him in the dark tunnel.
“Well, you’re a lad of mettle, Stepan Petrovich. Ye can be proud of yourself. Ye weren’t feared by that stinking goat. Ye spoke well. Come and see my dowry. I too stand by my word.”
She ordered the lizards to unchain Stepan and to continue mining the malachite for him while they walked along the tunnel to a wall. She was frowning and had an air of sadness about her. “Come, my betrothed, and see my wealth.”
Wherever she turned the wall opened in front of her, and they walked deep into the mountain. The chambers were huge, with precious gems and stones embedded into the walls. All glowing different colours, much like her robe. Some were rich deep orange, some coppery red, some deep green like the finest malachite. After walking some time, they finally stopped in a huge malachite chamber, far more beautiful than the rest, the green stone glowed throughout the room and the copper tables and chairs shown brightly. They sat down and the maid looked sadly at him. “Now ye have seen my dowry.”
“Aye, I’ve seen it.” He replied.
“And what do you think about marrying me?”
Stepan didn’t know what to say. You see, he had a betrothed maid already. A good maid, an orphan. Of course, if you put her beside the Mistress she was nowhere for the looks. Just an ordinary maid like you see everyday. Stepan stuttered and stumbled, and said, “Your dowry is enough for Tsar, but, I’m just an ordinary plain fellow, a worker.”
She frowned until her brows met.
“My friend,” she said, “Stop hedging and speak out. Will ye marry me or not?”
So then Stepan just said plain and straight: “I can’t. I’m promised.”
He waited. Now she’ll be really angry, he thought.
But she seemed sort of pleased, even.
“True heart, Stepanushko,” she said. “I praised ye for the bailiff, but I have double praise for this. You didn’t snatch at my wealth, you didn’t give up your Nastasya for a maid of stone.” It was quite right, Nastasya was his sweetheart’s name. “And now, here is a gift for your lucky maid.” She gave him a casket of malachite, inside jewels, ornaments, a tiara, earrings, rings and beautiful stones of every sort that not even the richest maid would have. She shrunk the box to make it very small, reassuring him it would come back to real size once he was out of sight of the overseer and bailiff. She fed him a delicious lunch, the way the Russian custom is at feasts.
When he’d finished she said, “Now, fare ye well, Stepan Petrovich and see you try to forget me.” And there she was in tears! She held out her hand as the tears fell and upon hitting her palm they turned into precious gems. “Ye’ll live in plenty riches with your young wife, only beware – see ye don’t get thinking and remembering me after. That’ll be my third test.” She reached out and gave him her tears, turned into the richest stones. “Much money is given for these, you will be rich.”
He took them and bowed as she sent him back through the chambers to where the lizards still worked mining malachite. The overseer returned and was shocked and amazed by what Stepan had mined. He moved him to an even worse place but the same thing happened. Stepan could always find the best places to mine. After a few weeks Stepan made an agreement with the bailiff that if he mined a huge slab of Malachite, large enough for the church at St Petersburg, then he and his sweetheart could be free people and no longer serfs. The bailiff, thinking it was impossible, easily signed the contract.
After his freedom, all the riches of Gumeshky vanished. Never another sign of copper nuggest or malachite. Worse still, the water started coming in until the whole mine flooded. Folks say the Mistress was angry that her malachite had been used for a church, for churches she had no use for at all.
Stepan was never really happy though. He married, and there were children. He built himself a house, everything was right and fine. You’d have said he’d all to make a man glad, but he went about moping and pined away. His health and strength went with him.
Sick as he was, he took it in his head that he wanted to hunt and would spend long days out in the mountains, naught coming home with a thing. Then, one day in autumn, he didn’t return.
The search party found him, lying beside a large rock with a smile on his face. The ones that got there first reported seeing a lizard, larger than normally seen in those parts lying beside him. It was sitting there by the dead man, with its head up and tears flowing down its face. But as soon as they came close to the rock it ran away fast.
When they brought Stepan home, they noticed his hand was gripping something tightly, and as they unfurled his fingers, they were surprised to see a fistful of copper emeralds.
“That’s a fortune he’s left you Nastasya!” Where’d he get them from?” The village folk remarked. She said he’d never told her a word about the stones. The Malachite casket he’d given her before they were married, it had many rare things, but no stones like this! They started getting the stones out of his hands, and what do you know? They crumbled and turned to dust.
After that the village people tried to dig around Krasnogorka again, but with no luck. Finally an elder in the village confirmed that those stones were the tears of the Mistress of Copper Mountain. Stepan had kept them and let none see them, and when he died he took them with him. Aye.
And that’s what she’s like, the Mistress of Copper Mountain. It’s a chancy thing to meet her, it brings woe for a bad man, and for a good one, there’s little joy comes of it.
This story is adapted from Pavel Bazhov’s Malachite Casket – Tales from The Urals. Story 1: Mistress of The Copper Mountain.
While there are many stories in the book that feature the Lizard Queen, I like the introduction story about her the most. Sorry this post was SO FREAKING LONG, but I wanted to tell the story properly. WELL DONE if you read it all!!!
Also, obviously my photos are trying to give the grainy sense of Stepan’s point of view, and we were also doing them at night, so the quality isn’t the best.
Don’t forget to check out the other lovely bloggers stories for this challenge!