Eating a big piece of meat, Yurek hummed some melody and nodded his head from side to side. Bathing in the warm pond so thoroughly satisfied his last desires that the moment seemed almost unreal.
– There is no man in the world more loved by the gods than I – he sighed.
– Boldly said – Nushka’s voice came from across the pond. She sat submerged in the water up to her neck, opposite Yurek on the other side of the pond.
– When did you jump in here? – the man asked in surprise.
– I’m a Boginka, Yurek. I came in my own way.
– Well – Yurek murmured – you’re going to trick me with some magic? – he added dismissively.
Nushka tilted her head to the side, examining him closely.
– You’re afraid of me – she said.
Yurek took a big bite of meat and stared at one distant point. After a long chew, he swallowed and replied:
– You knew that hideous one.
– I didn’t know her before, but I knew what tribe she was from – Nushka replied.
– How can I trust you?
The surroundings looked idyllic. The last rays of the sun turned the tips of the blades of grass orange, and the insects falling into the streams of light shimmered like fireflies. The sounds of nature filled the moment of silence.
– I don’t know – Nushka finally replied.
Yurek looked at her for a moment. Her simplicity in communicating with him never ceased to amaze him. He sighed.
– When I saved you, I knew you were a Boginkas but I didn’t know you knew… all of them. You haven’t done anything to me that Boginkas do, and apparently you lost your power. You could have left me to the mercy of that monster, but you didn’t.
Yurek looked at Nushka, expecting her to confirm his words. But she just smiled.
– You wanted me to say it – she said.
Annoyed by Nushka’s perspicacity, Yurek looked away and threw the gnawed bone deep into the forest before submerging himself in the water up to the top of his head. When he resurfaced, he found Nushka’s gaze resting on him. She was still smiling.
– You’re not a bad man – she said.
Yurek laughed helplessly, leaned his head against the root behind him, and said:
– And you’re just… I don’t know…
After a moment, both of them laughed. The weight that Yurek had accumulated since meeting the Vila seemed to dissolve. The fact that such a short conversation was enough to relieve the tension made the situation even more grotesque.
– What’s it like being in the water when you’re a Boginka? – Yurek asked
Nushka let out a contented sigh. She smiled and looked around at the surface of the water in the pond before dipping herself in the warm water. She heightened her senses, wanting to saturate herself with the presence of the element that had been her protector since birth. She allowed her fingers to carve fluid corridors through her thick hair and her eyes to encompass the mysterious space of the aquatic world in front of her. Despite the darkness, this environment was the place closest to her heart. She emerged, took a breath, and responded:
– It’s like letting the gods embrace your body in their own robes and those robes lead you in a dance. You and your robes are two different entities, creating a beautiful unity together. – Saying this, Nushka hugged herself with her arms, as if embracing herself and swayed from side to side. – Humans feel that way too, don’t they?
– Surprised by Nushka’s emotional and comparison-filled response, Yurek hesitated for a moment before responding:
– No… no… this must be… exceptional.
– Close your eyes and feel the divine robes on you – urged Nushka, closing her own eyes.
This suggestion caused Yurek’s eyelids to droop on their own. For a moment, there was only the sound of breathing and the quiet singing of birds. After a moment, Yurek heard a loud whisper in his left ear:
– Can you feel it?
Startled, he jumped in place and looked to the left, only to see a familiar face with green hair. He looked across the pond at Nushka – she looked at him with surprise in her large eyes.
– Still wandering around our forest? – asked Vila, noticing Yurek’s shock. – As long as you don’t leave this forest, you belong to me and my sisters.
– You let us go! – protested Nushka.
– Vilas are fickle, my dear – replied Vila.
– As long as he’s with me, you have no… – Nushka cut before she could finish her sentence. Then, she let out a prolonged scream of pain and bent backward as if someone was pulling her hair.
– What are you doing to her? – Yurek exclaimed, disoriented.
– It’s not me! – replied Vila, equally surprised.
Nushka managed to get out of the pond with difficulty. In the meantime, Yurek quickly put on his shirt and ran to Nushka. However, before he could get close, the Vila pushed him away, saying:
– Leave her! You’re no use here.
She leaned over Nushka.
– What’s happening?
– Hair, my hair – Nushka gasped, not understanding what was happening. She grabbed a strand of her hair and noticed that although they had been completely wet before a moment, the ends were burnt and smoke was rising from them.
– Oh no! – exclaimed Vila, horrified by the loss or damage of any hair, which for her could mean physical damage to the body or even death – I’ll take you to my mother!
With surprising ease, Vila put Nushka on her shoulder, jumped to a large tree nearby, and ran her hand along the trunk. A vertical line appeared along the tree trunk and the Vila disappeared with Nushka through it.
– Nushka gave Yurek a quick glance, then, carried by Vila, disappeared into the interior of the tree, which immediately closed. Yurek stood stunned, staring at the mighty tree. Night was falling.
On the other side of the passage, they were greeted by a forest that was significantly different from the one that had surrounded them moments before. Slender birches had bark so white that they illuminated the forest space. Their appearance resembled creatures inhabiting this place, all of whom had long green-blue hair, and some also had luminous skin.
Nushka noticed many pairs of eyes staring at them. “Black hair!” comments could be heard here and there. After a while, she was dropped onto a soft bed of cold birch leaves. Sitting next to her was a slender woman with large eyes gazing at Nushka from under half-closed lids. She chewed something while carefully observing the newcomer, and then said:
– Your mother is gone. Your clan has cursed you.