In a distant kingdom, in a distant land, there lived a princess. Though she was old enough now to try her own luck with the ways of the world, her father, the king, kept her in a tower. She had been there from a young age. “A princess as beautiful as you, Vasilisa, ought to be protected,” he would say to her. She was a good daughter and obeyed. It was no trouble at all because in her youth she preferred the company of books — and the tower was full of books! Every book of every manner of story was stored in Princess Vasilisa’s tower, stacked high to the very tip! Many years passed, and the Princess had read every book in the tower, from top to bottom, from bottom to top, and then when she had done that, she read every book backwards. Princess Vasilisa had exhausted every book in the tower, and grown wise and fair-handed and yet her prince had still not come!
So it was that one night, an inky and blotchy and twinkling night, the Princess stood aside a window and looked out into a world that she knew well due to careful reading and understood poorly due to careful keeping. Princess Vasilisa knew that grass was soft, she knew sunlight was warm, and yet she did not know what it was like to lie in a meadow — just like the one outside her window — and be graced by sun-warmth. She yearned, she yearned, she yearned! But soon, she swore, soon her prince would come and she would taste these things at last. The wait would make it all the sweeter!
A curious thing happened then, a very curious thing indeed. As Vasilisa stared at the silver-lit meadow in the full-moon night, ready to sleep, she saw a golden chicken come from the forest. The chicken was large, at least twice her size and he pecked at emerald grass. First she was frightened, but something urged the princess to call for the chicken. “Chicken!” she called, “I have never seen one so gold as yourself.” The chicken looked up to her, startled, and clucked. His bronze eyes found hers and he did not dwell long before he sped away. Vasilisa had never seen such a thing! For a moment she hesitated, she very badly wanted to chase after the golden chicken. But what of her father’s warnings? Vasilisa thought it over, but decided that the golden chicken was far too rare a sight to be admired for only a brief time.
She was moved, then, to chase after the golden chicken. Vasilisa began to hurry up and down the tower, grabbing all sorts of books which she had long ago memorized, and throwing them out of her window. She did this for some time until she had created a staircase outside the tower with which to climb down from her window. Princess Vasilisa ran down from her tower, swiftly descending from on high, her books swaying in the night breeze, but God was with the Princess on that evening, for she did not fall!
Princess Vasilisa savored the feeling of silvershine from the moon on her fair skin, of the emerald grass tickling her toes. She wasted little time, however, and set off after the golden chicken. For many nights she chased after the golden chicken, never far and always near, but never near enough and always just a bit too far. She followed his glowing trail with determination, but could not catch him. One night she finally grew tired and thirsty from her pursuit. Princess Vasilisa the Wise came to a large oak tree, as old as the roots of the world. She said to the oak tree “Father Oak! Father Oak! I am tired and thirsty. I will need a place to rest to continue pursuing the golden chicken.”
The oak tree stayed silent for some time, but Vasilisa knew through her reading that it was never good to hurry an oak, and thus she waited patiently for a response. Finding her worthy, the oak tree spoke. “I see you are patient, even when you are tired and thirsty. Go get me water from the river and use this leaf to collect it. Do not drink from it, and I will reward you accordingly.”
Vasilisa took the leaf in her hands and went to the river. Gathering water into it, she returned to the oak without even wetting her lips with the water, though she thirsted. Vasilisa poured the water over the oak tree’s roots. “Very good,” said Father Oak, “For this, I will let you sleep in my branches. And for your patience you shall never thirst again.” A flask of wood appeared before the princess, a beautiful thing, and though she drank and drank from it, there was always fresh water. In the morning Vasilisa thanked the oak tree. “Father Oak! Thank you for your kindness, I must hurry now to find the golden chicken.”
With that, Princess Vasilisa departed from the oak tree and followed her heart to where she knew the golden chicken had run. Along the way, however, she grew hungry. She saw many brambles full of berries, but was certain these berries were not meant for human mouths. Seeing a mockingbird on the ground, she approached her, but knew not to come too close, nor to call out her name. Princess Vasilisa sat down and waited for the mockingbird to come to her. Though the mockingbird flitted away once, then twice, then three times, she always returned and Vasilisa never moved. Finally, the mockingbird flew right onto Princess Vasilisa’s lap. “Little daughter, I see you are clever,” said the mockingbird. “How can I be of service?”
“Oh Song Mother, I have chased a golden chicken for many days and many nights and I have yet to catch him, but now I grow hungry. I cannot discern a good berry from a bad berry in this forest, for they all look the same!”
The mockingbird trilled, and flew off. Vasilisa was frightened, but trusted the mockingbird to return. After many hours, the songbird returned and Vasilisa had still yet to move!
“Princess, I see that you are trusting! For this I will give you a hearty meal, and my blessing. No berry will harm you now, you can have your pick of all the berries in the world!”
A mushroom stew appeared before the princess, and a tankard of good ale. Eating and drinking it, the Princess thanked the songbird. “Little mother, thank you! But now I must continue to find my golden chicken.”
“‘Fair fortunes, my child” said the mockingbird.
With that, Princess Vasilisa ran off again, and whenever she hungered she ate berries from the brambles unafraid of being harmed. For many days and many nights, Princess Vasilisa pursued the chicken, and could not reach him!
One day, Princess Vasilisa approached a meadow. The trail had grown brighter, and as she entered the meadow she was disappointed to see that the trail had faded, and the golden chicken was nowhere to be found. Sorely disappointed, Princess Vasilisa was prepared to cry. Exhausted, she sat in the meadow’s emerald grass and basked in the sunlight upon her skin. After a while Princess Vasilisa took heart and stood once more. She looked over the clearing once, twice, and thrice. She found no clues at all. There was only a pond and some rocks! She approached a glimmering stone by the pond and sat by it. She had read many stories of helpful oaks and kind mockingbirds, but stones were in none of the books she had read at all! She was without hope, but decided to ask the stone for directions, even though she knew it would not answer.
“Grandfather Stone, glimmering bright, you have sat here for many seasons and have seen many things. I know it is silence that preserves you, but have you seen a golden chicken come this way? I have been following after him for many days and many nights, and I have yet to reach him. Though you speak no words and sing no songs, I am compelled to ask you anyways.”
Three long moments stretched before Vasilisa, and she sighed. Standing up, she brushed off her dress and turned to make her way back to her tower. In that moment a brilliant light came from behind her, and she turned to see the golden chicken in place of the glimmering stone!
“Golden Chicken! Golden Chicken!” she exclaimed, “I have sought after you for many days and many nights and now you are here!” Her joy was without end, and she embraced the golden chicken, which stood proudly and brilliantly before her in the meadow.
“Little Princess, you have sought me with persistence! I expected you to cease seeking me when you grew tired and thirsty, but you did not. I expected that you would stop when you hungered, but you did not. I expected that you would lose hope, but you did not! You were patient with my friend the oak, you were trustful with my friend the mockingbird, and you were faithful in the face of a glimmering stone. For this, you are worthy of my companionship!”
The princess was overjoyed and sat atop the back of the golden chicken. “Golden Chicken, where shall we go?” she asked.
“I will show you all of the world, little princess!”
And so it was that for many seasons, Princess Vasilisa and the Golden Chicken traveled the world and saw many marvelous marvels, and wondrous wonders. Thus, for a long time or a short time, I cannot say, Princess Vasilisa traveled in peace and joy with the Golden Chicken.
It was a rainy day when the Princess and the Chicken stopped at a crossroads to make a meal when things took a turn, for from the rain and fog Baba Yaga appeared on her mortar and pestle, sweeping her tracks behind her with a broom. “Aha!” cried Baba Yaga the Witch in a shrill and shrieking voice, “at long last I have found you!”
Quick as a whip, she tied a rope around the Golden Chicken’s head. “You are mine!”
Vasilisa cried out in shock. “Grandmother! You are taking the Golden Chicken, my friend. How could you do such a thing?”
“Do you not know, Princess Vasilisa? This golden chicken belongs to me. He escaped from my coop long ago and I have sought him for many seasons. Now I have him, and for his disobedience, I think I will eat him, and use his feet as stands for my hut!”
The princess was ready to burst into hopeless tears, but made a final offer. “Oh witch, is there anything I can do to keep the Chicken?”
Baba Yaga glared at her, and thinking for a moment, smiled wickedly. “Here,” she said. “Behold three bronze olives, full of poison. These must all be consumed, Princess Vasilisa. Only then can you keep the chicken, for you have sought him as I have done.”
Princess Vasilisa despaired, for she could eat poisoned berries without harm, but not bronzen olives! She prepared to pick them up, however, and eat them. For she loved the Golden Chicken with all her heart.
She could not reach them, however, before the Golden Chicken quickly pecked them all with his beak and ate them. “Now, Grandmother, they have all been consumed,” he said. With a burst of light, the Golden Chicken was golden no more, and so small he did not reach the Princess’ knees.
“Now you can keep him,” spat Baba Yaga. “Though he is golden no more, the challenge is fulfilled. The olives have been consumed.”
The Princess dropped to her knees and hugged the chicken to her chest, but despaired he was no longer golden.
“Baba Yaga, is there nothing I can do to make my chicken golden once more?”
“Bring me an oak nut, bring me the feather of a mockingbird, and bring me a glittering stone. Then your chicken will be gold once more,” said Baba Yaga.
Princess Vasilisa ran swiftly into the forest and for many days and many nights she traveled. She came across her old friend, the Oak Tree. “Father Oak! Father Oak! I have caught my Golden Chicken, but now he is gold no more. May I have an oak nut?”
“Of course my child, and be swift, for Baba Yaga’s patience is thin,” said the Oak tree. An oak nut dropped into her hands, and Princess Vasilisa ran to the brambles of the forest and called for the mockingbird. “Song Mother! Song Mother! I need your help.”
The mockingbird came flying down from a tree, and landed before her. “Little daughter, how may I help you?”
“Song Mother, I have caught my Golden Chicken, but now he is gold no more. May I have a feather?”
“Of course my child,” she said. “And be swift! Baba Yaga’s patience is thin.”
Vasilisa ran to the meadow where she met the Golden Chicken, but could not find a glimmering stone. Remembering, however, his glorious transformations, Princess Vasilisa ran back to the crossroads.
“Baba Yaga! Baba Yaga! I have here your oak nut and your feather!” Vasilisa exclaimed as she approached the witch.
“And where is my glimmering stone?” Baba Yaga asked.
“You are holding it! For the golden chicken can transform into a glimmering stone.”
“Very well, I do not believe you, but let us see.” Baba Yaga fed the small chicken the oak nut, and tickled it three times with the mockingbird’s feather. With a burst of light, the chicken became a glimmering stone, and with another, a Golden Chicken!
Baba Yaga, frustrated and disappointed, mounted her mortar and pestle and went away to her hut once more.
“Golden Chicken!” said Princess Vasilisa, embracing her friend. “You were gone, but now you have been returned to your true state! Where shall we travel to next, now that we are safe?”
“For this I thank you, my Princess! But now I have realized it is time to return home, for Baba Yaga stole me from my prince’s grounds. You should come with me.”
Disappointed, Princess Vasilisa agreed. For she knew that the Golden Chicken’s prince must be missing his chicken, and it was never right to keep for oneself that which does not belong to you.
For many days and for many nights, they traveled together towards a glorious kingdom. When they arrived at the castle, mighty and beautiful, they were welcomed with much gladness.
Princess Vasilisa spoke to the prince, who she found handsome, with some measure of sadness. “Mighty prince, one night I stood at my tower and saw this Golden Chicken! For a long time I chased him, and at last I found him. For the duration of your search for the golden chicken, I have been on many adventures with him. He is my dearest friend! But now I return him to you, for he is rightfully yours. Will you allow me to visit him? I’d regret never seeing his golden feathers ever again.”
The Prince, enraptured by her beauty, her wisdom, and her kindness, said “I would be honored if you would stay in my castle for some more time, Princess Vasilisa. Thus, you can be with the Golden Chicken longer.”
Princess Vasilisa’s heart soared, and agreed promptly. For many days and many nights, the Prince showed her the wonders of his castle and his kingdom. It is said that in Prince Ivan’s gardens, there are many golden chickens and chicks, and many marvelous marvels and wondrous wonders.
It is also said, though I am not one to say for certain, that after growing to be fast friends, Princess Vasilisa and Prince Ivan eventually fell in love and lived happily ever after.