Nushka knew the land of vilas only from stories. There were legends even among boginkas about how untamed and wild these creatures were. People really showed a huge lack of awareness of how vast the world is outside their own backyard, not seeing the difference between not only boginkas and vilas, but also vodianas, dziwozonas, and sometimes even strigas! On the other hand, maybe there was nothing strange about it. After all, boginkas also did not notice major differences between individual representatives of the human specie, and yet they had to deal with them every day. All people were weak and stupid to them. It was easy for Nushka herself to see them as evil creatures, until she met Grandma and Yurek. But now, after many weeks of being around people, she had none of them next to her again.
The looks she received in this green haven were not friendly. Nor were they hostile. They were both curious and distrustful. She knew what memory it brought back to her mind.
– When you left your family – the mother vila interrupted her deep reverie – how did it happen?
She was sitting across from Nushka, pouring water from a basin carved in a large piece of wood onto her hair and running her fingers through it. Among the thick, turquoise waves, many strands of gray hair looked beautiful in combination with the cold color palette of the creature’s body. Nushka completely reciprocated the distrust with which she was greeted in this place. She looked away and said:
– I just left. I heard a call.
– You just left – the interlocutor repeated after Nushka, looking at her side-eye.
– I want to go back to the pool your daughter took me from – I didn’t need to be here, I just needed to rest.
– Oh yes? – mother vila asked without looking up – this is a place of power, it’s normal that you feel good here – she looked up and added – I feel that it’s something more.
Nushka looked around impatiently.
– I have to go. I left someone I was traveling with.
The mother vila laughed slowly, grabbed a blade of grass between her thumbs, and whistled into it. A long, melodious sound almost immediately brought a familiar vila.
– Naya, take her back to where you took her from.
Surprise flashed across the young vila’s face. She looked questioningly at her mother for a moment, then said to Nushka:
– But he’s not there anymore.
– He’s not there? Nushka stood up so abruptly that she felt dizzy
You’ve been sleeping half the night. I went after him later because I wanted to have fun, but he was gone and I couldn’t sense him anywhere, so he must have left the forest.
Nushka felt her hands sweating. The stress caused by losing Yurek quickly turned into a surprise at the reaction of her own body. She raised her hands and looked at them with furrowed eyebrows.
Mother vila got up and slowly approached Nushka.
– Your hands are sweaty, just like those weak rats – she whispered ominously. She violently grabbed a strand of Nushka’s hair and asked – why are they so short?
Nuszka took a few steps back, not understanding the impulsive behavior of mother vila. Naya rolled her eyes and turned to Nushka:
– You better answer the questions. You are our cousin. Stupid, but related, so don’t worry.
Nushka asked tensely:
– Can I sit down?
In response, both vilas nimbly sat on a bed of birch leaves, thus inviting Nushka to do the same. After finding a comfortable position, Nushka replied:
– I had a fight with my family and I decided to leave. I cut off half my hair and ran away.
Vilas looked at each other and turned their gaze to Nushka. After a while, mother vila asked:
– What did you do with your hair?
– It stayed there.
Mother vila stared at the ground for a few moments. She got up slowly, approached Nushka and this time gently grabbed one of her hairs and pulled it out. She carefully folded it between her two hands and sat down in her seat. For a long moment, she looked like she was praying to that hair. As she finished, she tossed it gently into the air, blew on it, and it melted away. She placed a soft glance on Nushka and asked:
– Do you remember what I told you before going to sleep?
Nushka vaguely remembered that it concerned her mother.
– Your hair told me the rest of the story. Your mother died tonight.
Nuszka stared silently at mother vila, hearing nothing but the voice of the interlocutor.
– Your mother kept your hair. She must have known that there was still power in it, even when it were torn apart. You felt that you had less and less power because you were far from your roots. But now – mother vila sighed heavily – your sister has burned what she found. Too bad you boginkas can’t talk to hair.
With these words, mother vila got up and left.
Nushka sat staring at one point in the ground. Her entire chest suddenly felt heavy as a piece of iron. It was hard for her to breathe. Naya got up and followed her mother. Nushka lay down on her back. Above her, birch leaves rustled, silver moonlight shimmering between them.
She remembered her mother. She remembered her as an old, disgusting, venomous woman who had never been kind to Nushka. By keeping her daughter’s hair, was she trying to protect her from losing her powers? No, that’s impossible, she must have kept them to fuel her hatred. Also, what’s the power? Nushka was convinced that she had no powers from the moment she left the nest of boginkas. Does that mean she can’t talk to the moon and the birds now? With tears in her eyes, she turned to the silver disc of the moon:
– What now? We won’t talk anymore?
The birch rustled gently in the light breeze. The soft, sound of “I am … alwaysss…here” reached Nushka’s ears. She burst into tears in sobs of gratitude as well as helplessness.
At dawn, mother vila proposed to Nushka to perform the rite of farewell to the hair. Nushka explained to her that this was not a common custom among boginkas and she was not sure about the sense of such a ritual. Mother vila however, convinced her that it was necessary, because burning Nushka’s hair could be accompanied by curses, which should be cleared with an appropriate ritual. This argument immediately convinced Nushka.
The boginka vigilantly observed the surroundings and strained her senses, wanting to check whether her connection with nature was still active. To her great relief, each test was succesful. The earth still soothed her, the trees still whispered answers to even the strangest questions, and the wind danced with her hair. She felt perfectly well and, as if nothing had happened, was ready to leave. However, mother vila firmly informed her that the ritual of farewell was to take place at the full moon, and this was to happen in two nights.
Nushka shunned the company of vilas. She knew there were rumors about her among them, and she did not want to go into details. She couldn’t imagine staying in this place any longer than necessary. She treated it like a stop. She spent most of her time away from where the vilas were. To Nushka’s relief, unlike the boginkas, vilas did not bring their victims to a common habitat. That is why she also spent many moments on the side, watching their ordinary lives. She noticed countless similarities between them and boginkas that distinguished both of these tribes from humans. First of all, people were much easier to control their emotions. They were also much better organized and not succumbing to momentary desires allowed them to build structures around their original ideas. Who knows what kingdoms would arise if the boginkas and vilas could also use their minds in this way.
At that moment, however, Nushka’s head was more concerned with the question “what now?”. Despite wanting to get out of this place as soon as possible, she still didn’t know where to go. That’s why she agreed to Yurek’s proposal to go to the city earlier. Now, however, left alone, not knowing where Yurek was, she had to make a decision. Sensing that mother vila’s intentions were not hostile, Nushka risked asking about the matter that she had been carrying in her heart for a long time without sharing it with anyone. In the late afternoon, she went to mother vila’s favorite spot and told her about the vision she had had in Baba Yaga’s hut.
– I’m looking for what I saw that night, but I have no sign that I’m close. – I don’t even know what I saw in this vision. I just got one hint by Baba Yaga, she found me somewhere along the way and reminded me not to be fooled by the beautiful words of people.
– She was right – mother vila agreed – I don’t know what you’ve been through, but if you’ve dealt with people, you probably already know what kind of reptiles they are
Mother vila thought for a long moment before answering:
– I don’t know how to help you, but there’s a place far away where everyone who has a question goes to find out the answer – mother vila drew a circle in the sand – that’s the Well of Sight, you look into it and you know the answer
– Just like that? Don’t have to make a sacrifice?
– They say the sacrifice is what you bring to this place with you. What made you want to go there.
– Where it is?
Suddenly there was a loud, dynamic hum, and then several more. Not far away, in the semi-darkness, a warm light shone in several places. Slowly, each of the points of light dimmed slightly, and joyful squeaks and laughter of vilas aroused. Mother vila, snapped out of concentration, looked towards the warm glow, and smiled from the corner of her mouth. A figure emerged from the clamor, with a confident step began to approach them. Mother vila stood up vigorously and, grabbing Nushka by the arms, encouraged her to get up. She turned her away from the newcomer and said:
– Hide in the birch tent, and whatever happens, don’t come out all night
– What’s going on? – asked the surprised Nushka
– They’re friends, but not for you. Without your power, you can’t get involved in this. Don’t look out of the tent.
Mother vila lightly pushed Nushka in the back and pointed to the mentioned birch tent, which was simply a birch with branches spread wide and hanging down to the ground. Nushka followed this direction and when she was about to go inside, she heard the most beautiful, most melodious male voice she had ever heard:
– Hello, beautiful!
In response, mother vila laughed, and Nushka felt an overwhelming temptation to glance over her shoulder at the newcomer. Without thinking much, she looked back. A tall man with golden, wavy hair stood in front of mother vila. He had fair skin and a wide smile on his face. A pair of golden shimmering wings sprouted from his back, but with each second they melted more and more into the air. He was, like the vilas, completely naked. Nushka felt the overwhelming heat in her body. She looked at the most handsome man in the world. The most tenderly smiling, the most attentive, the most beautifully built demi-god. When the man looked at her, she felt completely vulnerable. Their gazes were separated by mother vila, who, grabbing the visitor by the arm, encouraged him to go towards the rest of them. Nuszka, frightened by her own helplessness caused by the sight of the stranger, quickly slipped through the birch leaves, put her hand on her raging heart, and closed her eyes.
“What’s going on? Ground, ground”
She quickly found the ground, placed her hand on it, and took a few deep breaths. Amidst the race of thoughts and emotions, scraps of memories of various stories began to come to her. Then the golden man appeared before her again in her imagination.
…stories about how easy it was to lead people astray. Men from the human tribe. This man, however, was different. He’s not a man, he’s a demi-god, he’s the personification of beauty and all divine wonders…
“Earth, Earth, Breath”
This man is…