I’ve written quite a lot about the folklore of China and Japan in the last few weeks, so I thought it was time to write about the folklore of other countries. The one I’m about to tell is a well-known version of the classic Cinderella tale from Russia. I first encountered the tale of the Slavic Cinderella, also known as The Twelve Months, late last year and was surprised by the similarities it bears not only to Cinderella but also to Neil Gaiman’s short story October In The Chair, which features the Twelve Months sat around a campfire sharing their stories. I wonder if this may have been one of them…
There was once a widow who had two daughters. The younger of these, Helen, was her own daughter; the elder, named Marouckla, was her husband’s daughter from a previous marriage. The widow loved Helen dearly and lavished as many gifts, clothes and other expensive indulgences as she could afford upon Helen; but she did not love Marouckla at all, and gave Marouckla only what dignity begrudged her to. Helen lived a carefree life full of parties and other amusements, but Marouckla was forced to remain at home and work hard for the widow and her half-sister.
“So, traveller! Welcome to Rothbury. Thinking of crossing the treacherous Simonside hills? I’d advise you not to try it in the dark. As any shepherd worth his wool would tell you, and I am he, the area is full of sharp crags and ravines in which one false step could mean serious injury… or even death.
Few people know that this hospitable part of the country is the home of a peculiar race of dwarves known as the Duergar. No one knows why they chose to live here, of all places. Maybe there’s gold hidden among those cliffs? Or maybe they just like to carry off my sheep. One thing’s true, though. They are malicious little buggers. Hairless, no higher than your knee. Would kill you as soon as look at you; and look they will, for no one ever heard them speak a word.