By Gala P

Translated by Julia Bahvalova, Margarita Desheulina
The She-Bear Queen, The She-Eagle Princess and The She-Fox Princess

Three moons to the west and eighteen moons along the river, there lays a road to a small kingdom surrounded by the Black Forest from three sides. There is one way to the forest; it leads far to the altar of the Mother Goddess, which is as old as the world's bones. There was lots of talk about the forest. Even until the first brick was laid for the future castle, the priestess venerated the Black Forest as a holy place and went there unarmed, but came back with a great gift - knowledge. A long time ago, it was the priestess who brought a recipe for the potion that wouldn't let women get pregnant against their will, as it was wished by the Mother Goddess.

It was also said that the forest is ruled by the Forest Maiden. She would come to the priestesses and kiss them, passing the knowledge. People believed that the Forest Maiden was in control of all the blades of grass and twigs. She had horns of elk and branches of pine on her head, her ears were ears of wolves and hares.

Her hair was black with webs braided into it, and it was brushed by the spirits of the forest with combs made of woodcutter`s axes. Down her throne of pine branches and moonlight, wolves licked newborn deer babies and played with abandoned children.

It is unknown if the Forest Maiden came into the Black Forest or was born there on the Mother Goddess's altar, but she brought peace and order with her. There is no death in the Black Forest, and so a bear won't kill a boar, and a boar won't harm an oak. Therefore, there is no entering the forest without invitation.

In that kingdom surrounded by the forest, the king was kind and generous, but only when he was sober. He would pet every animal and caress a peasants' son. Was it a steed, a hound dog, or a peasant's son, they would all bow their heads, but not in awe - in fear. Everyone knew that one day the king was loving, but the next day he would drink and become violent. And in doing so, he would howl and curse and damn the Mother Goddess and the forest spirits, and he would even threaten to burn the whole humankind. In the morning, he would wake up and not even remember whom he ordered to execute, whom he cursed, and only his adviser would quietly tell him to redeem himself and apologize to the Great Mother.

People gossiped at the marketplaces and taverns, at home during dinner, that all of that was for a reason. As if two winters ago the queen, when the king returned from a quest, passed away in her bed not during childbirth, but in horror that the king, vicious from the battlefield, would become drunk. And so the queen ran to the Black Forest at night and drowned in a swamp with her children unborn. And so the king is grieving, but there is nothing to be done.

One day, the priestesses of the Mother Goddess came to the kingdom from the highlands far away. They all had black eyes, dark skin, white patterns on their faces, and sharp sabers on their waists. Local priestess hugged them as if they were all sisters, and the king himself bowed and kissed their hands properly. When the time came for the Three Great Moon Nights - The Night of the Death, The Night of the Cleansing (or, as the overseas priestesses called it, Night of the Abdomen), and The Night of the Newbirth, visiting priestesses went to the Black Forest altar to listen to the Goddess's voice in the wind and to the rustle of the leaves. Village folk started to fuss and fret, bringing offerings and gifts to the priestesses. Some brought seedlings to the altar, some brought seeds, some brought fertile soil in a bag. And only the king brought nothing. Priestess asked nothing from him, keeping their thoughts to themselves.
During The Night of The Cleansing, the king dreamed of his wife. She was running among the pine trees, naked, away from him. The king chased after her but was not able to catch up, his legs miring in a bog. All of a sudden, his wife stopped near a tree, green with soft moss, and her eyes were not brown, as when she was alive, but green. King reached out to her, waist-deep in the bog. And then he saw a pine branch moving towards the queen, though it was not a branch, but a hand, hugging his wife. He saw in horror that she was clinging not to the pine tree, but the mossy hem of the Forest Maiden.

The king woke up in fear and send for some wine. Servants begged him to wait until the priestesses were gone, to not embarrass himself. They cried and crawled at his feet, but the king wouldn`t listen to them, cursing both the priestesses and the forest, and blaming the Mother Goddess again. And so the king drank, until the end of the Moon Nights. On the third sunrise, black-eyed priestesses came back to the castle. Servants were ashamed to look them in the eye, covering the king in blankets, so he wouldn`t appear drunk and humiliate himself in front of the visitors. Priestesses saw this squalor and announced that they brought a gift from the Black Forest. They uncovered the parcels in front of the throne. The king saw what the priestesses have brought and sobered up immediately, and the whole royal court gasped. On the soft lodge made from leaves and moss laid three babies, no older than two years. All three of them were green-eyed and each one had a piece of jewelry. King could not believe his eyes - the necklace, the ring and the earring all belonged to the late queen. Could it be that the Forest Maiden brought him his unborn daughters?

The king`s legs buckled, tears rushed from his eyes, and with them, all the hope poured out. The king held his daughters, kissing them, and they caught his tears with their fingers and laughed. The black-eyed priestesses watched this affection in silence, for they had a lot of knowledge, but said nothing.

Many winters have passed since then.

All liquors from the royal cellar were sent to the neighborhood lands - to friends as a token of friendship, to foes as a token of peace. Every field was fertile and every garden was fruitful. And though people did not believe that the daughters were of the king, they worshipped the gift from the Black Forest and would avoid trampling grass and chasing birds.

Sometimes when the king played with his daughters, toying with their hair and kissing them, he would start weeping bitterly and saying, "Ah, if only your mother could see you! Ah, I could not save her…"

And they would laugh in response, wiping his tears.

The older one replied, "My mother was a she-bear! I suckled she-bear milk and was nurtured in she-bear fur!"

And the middle sister echoed her, "My mother was a she-eagle, I was born in a nest with other eagles, and It was so high I could see your castle while flying from there!"

And the third sister, the youngest one, said while kissing the king on his scruffy cheek, "My mother was a she-fox, a forest wily seer!"

The king listened to them, cried to himself, and continued to rule, for tears were of no use for work and for feeding his subjects.

After another fifteen winters have passed, the daughters became unrecognizable.

The oldest one, who called herself She-Bear`s Daughter, was better than any foreign knight the neighbors would brag about. She was tall and strong and fearless, with her sword she could pierce warriors in their armor, and her own armor she would forge herself bare-handed. Daughter-bear was asked by the king to take over his army, and she led warriors into battle against barbarians away from the outskirts of the kingdom.

The middle one, the She-Eagle's Daughter, had a lot of knowledge and wisdom and often said, "As long as I live, I will study and teach others."

She walked across the whole kingdom on foot, sharing a word with every wise woman, with every midwife, spoke to every scribe, and when she came back, she created free school and academy at the royal court, for the young and the old. She would teach herself and invite female scholars and priestesses from all kingdoms. The king could not refuse anything to his daughter.

The third one, the youngest, the She-Fox's Daughter, had the sweetest voice and the sharpest tongue, and, in secret from the king, she recruited loyal servants - who listened, who watched, who read- all around where people knew about the kingdom by the Black Forest. When dressed in fiery-red clothes, with golden, cracking from ripeness bunches of grapes, she walked into the throne room of any ruler, neither they, nor their entourage could tear their eyes away from her. With speeches and gifts she charmed anyone, even those who hated the king, preventing many wars, and developing trades even with those who would lose from it. Such was the She-Fox's Daughter, standing behind the throne and smiling.
When the king`s time had come to an end, he went back to the Mother Goddess womb, joined by his daughters, who sang quietly in an unknown language, and by his servants, who remembered him mad and drunk. People say his last words were, "Mother… why is it so cold in your womb? They said...warm… said… It would be warm…"

The next morning his dead body was set on fire, and the ash was used to fertilize a seeding of the crimson tree in the royal garden graveyard.

Ever since then the three daughters have taken over the kingdom, and they were given names of the She-Bear Queen, the She-Eagle Princess and the She-Fox Princess. Legend has it that at that time the Black Forest grew wider, with lots of new roads.

Another ten winters have passed.

Nearby kings and their sons were trying to marry the princesses. To be a husband of one of the rulers of the kingdom near the Black Forest would be an honor for any noble lad.

A prince from the south came to woo the She-Bear Queen. He had a strong body but nothing much besides that. He heard a lot about the mighty queen and decided to prove he was no worse than her. So he brought to the palace a skin of a bear he strangled with bare hands and threw it at the queen's feet.

The prince hadn't even opened his boastful mouth when the queen pulled out a sword from its scabbard and chopped his head off from his shoulders. With mournful tears she fell on her knees, hugged ripped off bearskin, stroked it, and felt so much pain that it couldn't be described with any words. Her sisters took the rolling head of the prince, took out his eyes, cut out his tongue and burned them so they would not get poisoned. Then they picked-up their sister and wiped her tears.

The She-Bear Queen took a deep breath, cut her own eye out with a dagger, and put it into the bear's eye socket, then she stroked the bear, and by some unknown force new meat and bones rooted back to the skin, and the bear stood up alive single-eyed.

He bowed to the sisters and the sisters bowed in return. Later some people started gossiping that the prince hadn't even arrived at the castle, but died somewhere in the woods while looking for a bear. And others decided to go to the other sisters to get married.
Another prince came to the She-Fox Princess. He was good-looking and young but impatient as a cat waiting for a treat. He brought three chests with jewelry and fabrics, paintings and white statues plundered in wars. The prince outstretched his arms and started saying how beautiful and sweet the princess was, and how no jewel could be compared with her.
The princess snorted like a fox, pushed his hands away and uttered, "Do you want to buy me out with other people's art? Are you a sculptor who carved those statues? Are you a jeweler who framed those stones? Are you an artist who painted those canvases? If someone had taken away your baggage on the road what would have you offered me standing here?"

The prince grimaced but smiled again deciding that the sly and eloquent princess is challenging him with her words.

He said, "I would offer myself because a human needs a human, doesn't he?"

The cunning She-Fox Princess smiled and answered, "Even if it is true, I have my sisters, I am not alone. Why didn't you come to someone who needs a human? To a lonely mother? To an abandoned son? Your gifts would be useful to them."

"I came to you," said the prince impatiently, "because you're pretty and I'm too, what is so difficult to understand here?"

"But my sisters are prettier than you. Tell me, what do you have that my sisters don't?"

And as the prince realized that there were not enough words with which he couldn't outsmart the princess, he decided to solve the problem like his father had been solving problems, and the father of his father before him.

With a smile he uttered, "I understood. I have what you desire, Princess She-Fox."

The She-Fox Princess threw her hands up in the air, "Is it an outlandish tree with pink flowers that blossom all year round?"

The prince laughed haughtily and took off his clothes. The princess laughed in return. He looked down and froze —indeed, he had a wooden twig sticking out from the flesh between his legs, covered with pink flowers. The princess broke that twig, and the prince howled in an inhuman voice and ran away picking up his clothes. Matchmaking failed and the gifts were given to the school of the She-Eagle Princess.

Then came the middle sister's turn. Men and youngsters were afraid of her; they couldn't approach her with either a word or a deed as she was too well educated. Then five men - sorcerers, scholars and interpreters - decided to come to her at once all together and ask the princess to choose a husband — that's how they had been hoping to appease her and get what they wanted.

The She-Eagle Princess casted a stern glance at them, listened and shook her head. But answered, "So be it, but first prove you truly are scientists."

The princess took them to the yard, showed a duck and uttered, "A long time ago an ancient king made this riddle for those who wished to woo his daughters."
The men were looking at the duck and couldn't understand… It was a regular duck. Suddenly, one of them flushed with pride and anger — he was considered such a wise man in his homeland, and here he had to solve some silly puzzles to be able to marry. Heated, the man pulled a sword from its scabbard to chop the cursed bird. At the same time another man saw him and immediately thought that the answer was to kill the duck first, so he stabbed his opponent right in the heart and rushed to the bird. The third man thought the answer was that the duck was representing the wife so they needed to save it. The fourth man decided that the second one wanted to kill everybody. The fifth one was just spiteful. A bloody massacre ensued. When the last man fell dead, it turned out that the duck had flown away from the pond a long time ago.

The She-Eagle Princess shook her head and turned around to the youngest man who was the only one who did not take out his sword. He was a servant of the first man who died the stupidest death.

"Well, do you know the answer? "

He shook in terror but answered in a small voice: "But there is no riddle… It's a duck, madam… And if you wanted to make a riddle, it didn't work… "

The She-Eagle Princess smiled at him: "You will be my student. But not my husband."

The young man turned white and threw himself at her feet: "Have mercy, madam! Let me go!"

After that no one else dared to come to the third sister with matchmaking.
The sisters ruled for many more winters and everyone praised their kingdom, their power, their justice and wisdom. Every spring the Black Forest would grow a little bit stronger. The barbarians from the South were saying that the Evil and Silent One — that's how they called the Forest Maiden of the Black Forest — sent her "forest demonesses" to rule on purpose, and that one day the kingdom would disappear into the forest because the Evil and Silent One would take her lands back. Sooner or later, as their prophet said, all the land from the moon to the sun will be returned to her and people's souls will stay forever naked and will live forever in the forest. And the barbarians were afraid of that. That's why they gathered hordes and went to the kingdom near the Black Forest over and over again, and each battle was won by the She-Bear Queen. And the She-Eagle Princess would read every captured book of their prophets and would publicly scold it for stupidity. The She-Fox Princess was converting people into faith of the Mother Goddess.

"The end of time is near", barbarians from the South were saying. And only the Forest Maiden in the Black Forest, where there was no death, was stroking the hair of the queen who was sleeping on her knees, and who was free from the world, from her children, and her husband. She was stroking her hair, and she knew what was to come.

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