I had just settled in for a lovely slumber when a sudden breeze knocked my bag full of magical items to the floor. I sat up and lit a candle to see if anything had been broken. I was startled to see a tall, thin, cadaverous man in the corner of my room. I screamed.
“You…like what you see, Darlink?” He leered at me.
“Who are you? Get out of my room!”
“Do not speak to your beloved in such a manner, Darlink.”
I leapt from the bed, brandishing the candlestick, but before I could advance toward him, he swept me off my feet and into his arms. I could feel his cold breath, smelling of earth and decay, on my face. I still had my magic bag, and held on to it tight while I screamed bloody murder, hoping someone nearby would hear me. He strode to the window, opened it, and prepared to jump. Suddenly, we were borne up on a whirlwind, a cyclone of frigid air and dust, and I could see land below us. We were traveling at a rapid pace, leaving a wake of destruction beneath our path on the earth. I lost consciousness. When I awakened, I was in a dark room that was damp and smelt faintly of dead fish. I sat up abruptly and moved about the room, looking for an exit. I could find no window or door, which was curious, and I began to panic. Suddenly I felt a harsh breath on the back of my neck. I turned to find a most shocking and repulsive sight—the same vulpine and cadaverous face I recalled from my room, rendered more ghastly by the flicker of candlelight held beneath his chin. In fear I clutched my little doll to my breast, and I heard her murmuring. I moved her up by my ear and listened.
“Ah, hello, Darlink! You are awake…good, good. Soon is to be the wedding, and we must to make preparations. I will be havink my sisters for to be your attendants. I insist that you dress in this magnificent garment, which my weavers have made for you.” He gestured toward the wall, and tiny candles everywhere flickered to life, illuminating a gown. I must confess that is was as spectacular as he was disgusting. Soft and airy, it was of the finest wool, shot through with gold thread, in shades of red. It was magnificent. I gasped in spite of myself.
“Ah, I see it meets with your darlink approval,” the man said with a wink.
Was he flirting? A shudder passed through me. “Oh, ho, you are trembling. Such is the effect on women that Koschey has.” He smirked, showing broken, filthy teeth. I cringed, but decided to take advantage of his obvious vanity.
“Koschey, is it? My goodness, I was expecting someone much less…imposing, I must say. Baba Yaga told us—“
“Silence! You must not heed the word of crazy old witches. She is a lonely old crone. She begs of me, ‘Koschey, please, marry me! I cannot bear it a minute longer!” He stalked about the room. “But I tell her, ‘Get away old hag! My queen must be young and beautiful’…Like you, my darlink.” His fervent breath, foul with the stench of death, hit my face, turning my stomach as he breathed tales of his conquests and talents.
“Well, Koschevksy,” I smirked at him, “Why don’t you take me to the bath, so that I can freshen up and be a proper bride for you?” I was desperate to get out of this prison.
“No,” he said, “You will stay here.”
“Koschey, I refuse to be married in this wretched state! And don’t you want the most beautiful bride in all the realm? What will people say if you marry a haggard wretch with a bird’s nest of hair and a smudge on her nose?”
“Hmm. It is so, I must have most beautiful Darlink. Give me that beastly doll–tonight you shall have a real man to hold in your arms.” He took my little doll and tossed her onto the pile of rags that had been my bed. With a movement of his hand, a door appeared, and Koschey showed me down a spiral staircase to a room. Bathing facilities, though present, were in an atrocious state, full of seaweed and fish scales. It was obviously molting season for old Koschey, and he looked the worse for the wear.
“Now listen, Koschey, I need some privacy. And, if you’ve any hope of a romantic bridal night, you must cut those hideous nails!”
Koschey’s screams of rage could be heard throughout the realm, I imagine.
“I vill not do this!” He made as if to strike me.
“Duck’s eggs! If you hit me…”
“What did you say?” He looked at me, his features becoming more fearsome each moment.
“I said duck’s eggs. Haven’t you ever heard a farm girl swear?”
He looked at me strangely.
“I must…go and check on the arrangements for the wedding…you will stay her and become beautiful for me. You will not leave this room, or your bones will join the others…down below.” He dragged me to a window and gestured outward. I looked down and saw that I was in some sort of craggy stone tower, far above a dark ravine. I could see bones and skulls below on the rock outcroppings.
“Why ever would I want to leave you, Koschevsky?” I cooed. “Now go, and prepare the wedding.”
After he left, I did a quick inventory of the place. Not much was of help, but as I was fingering the cloth of the wondrous gown, I found a note pinned to the inside. “Dear Traveler: Help us! We are Koschey’s prisoners, and we have not seen our homes for many days. PS. There are 6 of us. We are in an enchanted room, spinning and weaving. PSS. Do you like the dress?”
Six of them! Well, this was going to be quite a night. Thankfully, my doll Honoria was able to provide me with a strategy for the evening. It seems that he was acquainted with a doll who’d spent some time trapped in Baba’s boudoir in a trunk. She’d heard quite a few Koschey stories there, as he was a real thorn in Baba’s side. She knew enough to be of help in the present situation, but I needed to get back to her, as she had not completed her briefing before Koschey tossed her onto the bed.
Quickly, I dressed. The gown was phenomenal, and really brought out my eyes–but I digress. In a few moment, combed and washed as well as I could in such squalor, I trilled,
“Koschey! Where are you darlink?” He appeared momentarily. He looked quite ominous. “Have you cut your nails, dear?”
“I have already told you—“
“I WILL NOT MARRY YOU WITH THOSE WRETCHED TALONS! IF YOU THINK THAT I AM GOING TO BE YOUR BRIDE YOU MEASLY LITTLE DUCK’S EGG OF A MAN…”
At the words duck’s egg, Koschey blanched and held up a hand.
“Fine, fine, I will do this for you.” He picked up a small axe and hacked away at his foot long fingernails. I stood over him. “Toes too.” He did it, muttering under his breath.
“Let us go.”
“I must have my doll, Koschey.”
“Listen, she is my something borrowed and my something blue, so IF YOU DON’T—“
Koschey actually appeared to be a bit tired by this time, so he merely pointed upward to the stairs. I ascended, with him following. When I got to the room, I picked up Honoria, smoother her little blue dress and held her to my ear.
“What’s that, Honoria? You’d like to kiss Koschey?” I smiled indulgently.
“Isn’t that sweet, Koschey? It’s just like when we’re to have our little Koscheyettes….be a good daddy and take her.” I held her out.
No sooner had Koschey taken her, Honoria transformed herself into a horse, a gloriously large black mare with red glowing eyes, and reared up and kicked Koschey in the head. His body slumped to the floor. As he was known as Koschey the Deathless, I knew I had only a bit of time to flee. With extreme disgust I searched through his clothing while Honoria stood by, pawing the ground. I found a ring of keys inside his filthy coat. Honoria transformed herself once again to a doll, and I picked her up and we raced from the room. Down the spiral stairs I ran, until I spied a door, upon which I knocked. I heard voices of young women inside, and I frantically tried each key until I found the one that opened the room. I threw the door open and saw…six enormous spiders, fat and hairy, each one spinning silk into a pile in the center of the room. Oh was this how I was to meet my fate? They looked at me with their multiplicity of eyes, and began to scurry toward the door. I started to scream, and pressed myself to the doorjamb. I was faint with terror. As each ran through the door, however, she changed into a lovely young woman, and with relief began to feel her limbs and hair.
“Thank you mistress! The spell is broken!”
“Not now, girls, we’ve got to run for it!” We raced out of the castle, and the girls scattered and vanished into the woods. “We won’t forget this, mistress! Enjoy the gown!”
I dropped Honoria on the ground and she changed once again into a mare. I clambered aboard and raced out of the forest with her. She seemed to know the way. As we got further away, I could hear Koschey’s screams of rage!
“Don’t worry,” said Honoria. “He’ll be too ashamed of being outwitted to come after us today.” And on we ran, until we reached Baba’s forest. There we lay down to rest.
*dress by Lizzy’s Spiritwear