The Stone Flower
or: The Goddess of the Copper Mountain
Re-told by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
[7 October 2007: this re-telling was originally published by a fine lacquer box importer, Russian Sunbirds in San Diego, under one of my pseudonyms, "Kathleen Hommer-Olson." Unfortunately, Russian Sunbirds has now been inactive for several years. I am therefore restoring the text with additional art. My re-telling is based on The Malachite Casket: Tales from the Urals by Pavel Bazhov (1879-1950); Ptushko's superb 1946 classic film; and other sources.]
This is a story from the mysterious Ural Mountains. It comes from a time when the spirits of forests and mountains still moved among humans, watching them, searching for those who could be taught their secrets before such ancient wisdom was lost forever. One such spirit was especially revered for her magic and great beauty. Some people knew her as an ancient mountain goddess; others called her the Mistress of the Copper Mountain, or the Malachite Lady, a name taken from the lovely green stone so often found in areas rich in copper...
By Tikhomirov / Russian Sunbirds
Once upon a time, a wandering boy was adopted by a lonely stonecutter named Prokopitch. Since Prokopitch had grown too old to care for his small flock of sheep and goats, taking in the orphan allowed Prokopitch to stay at home and carve while the boy drove the flock each day into their pasture above the village. The boy, Danila, loved animals and did not mind being a shepherd, especially since he now had enough food and a warm bed at night.
Each dawn, Prokopitch would prepare a lunch of thick bread and goat's cheese for the boy and Danila would set off into the mountains. Each evening, the boy would return. After dinner Danila would watch as the old man worked into the night, carving stone boxes and small animals by candlelight. They spoke little--the old man was unaccustomed to human companionship, and the boy was quiet by nature.
One day, Danila forgot to take his lunch. Busy polishing a malachite box for an important client, Prokopitch never noticed. But as the noonday sun shone through the cottage windows, rays of light spilled over the boy's birchen basket and attracted the stonecutter's attention. The old man looked up. "Eh? What's that? Poor boy, he'll need his lunch. He's thin enough as it is. I'll bring it up to him--the walk will do me good." The old man found his walking stick and set off.
...As the stonecutter neared the high pastures, he heard the sweet notes of a flute. Touched by the lovely music, he slowed his pace. Imagine his surprise when he went around a bend and saw that the piper was Danila! The boy sat on a large rock completely lost in his music while the herd grazed peacefully around him. On a smaller rock directly across from Danila, a lizard was sunning itself, its bright eyes fixed intently upon the boy. "Danila!" the man called in amazement. The startled boy spun around at the sound. The stonecutter went on, "Even the birds are jealous of you--where did you learn to play like that?"
It's not m-m-me," the boy stammered. "When I carved the p-p-pipe, I heard the music inside the wood." The old man reached for the wooden flute and examined it with a craftsman's eye. It was crude in places, and not well polished, but clearly the boy had a gift. "Hmmm, hmm," he grunted, too wise to argue with the boy. "Yes, yes, I see. It was inside the wood."
After that, he often joined Danila for lunch. At first he came to listen to the music in the clear mountain air. But slowly he also began teaching the boy to carve wooden animals. Danila had nimble fingers and learned quickly. Prokopitch was pleased.
Soon he taught Danila to carve more difficult figures, first in wood, then in stone. The old man was amused to see that the bright-eyed lizard often watched their lessons from a nearby rock. "So you want to be an artist too, eh?" he chuckled. The lizard paid no attention.
... Years passed and Danila grew from childhood to young manhood. One early spring day, Prokopitch discovered that someone besides the mountain lizard watched Danila. It was Katya, the young daughter of a neighbor, her tender gaze fixed upon Danila's face as he played his flute. The old man smiled to himself and turned around before either of them noticed. The boy's becoming a man, he thought.
Katya had not heard the old stonecutter approach that day. She heard only the music. As she watched Danila, she remembered when she had first fallen in love with him. She had been a little girl then. It was she who had first seen him wandering through the village streets, ragged, cold, and hungry. Something about his defiant stare touched her heart. "What's your name?" she had asked.
"Danila," he replied.
"Danila, Danila," she murmured, loving its sound. "Mine's Katya. Where do you live?"
He looked away from her. "Nowhere."
The little girl had drawn her brows tightly together and shut her eyes. The face of the old stonecutter flickered behind her eyes. She opened her eyes and pointed up a mountain path to Prokopitch's cottage. "Go there," she said. The boy stared for a moment and then obeyed.
....After Prokopitch gave him a home, she sometimes joined the boy in the pasture where they played together with the goats. It was Katya who found the piece of wood that he carved into a flute. "Will you play for me?" she asked when it was finished.
"I don't know how yet," he replied.
But when she joined him the next day, she discovered he had already mastered the little flute. A lizard watched him with bright eyes -- and Katya felt a stab of jealousy because it was the lizard, not her, who first heard his music. She glared at the lizard but it ignored her.
When Master Prokopitch began to join Danila, Katya came less frequently so that she would not interfere with their lessons. But once she hid in the trees, watching them. She saw how Danila's eyes lit up when he was carving. She wondered if his eyes would ever light up that way when he looked at her.
Now, as she lay in the grass watching him, listening to the otherworldly music, she wondered again if he would ever feel for her what she had long felt for him. Danila laid down the pipe and smiled at her. Then he reached for a small malachite lizard he was carving and Katya, disappointed, knew she had already become invisible to him. If it wasn't his music, it was his carving -- how could she compete? Sighing, she got to her feet and started back to the village. He never even looked up. . . . . . .
To Page 2
For a different "Stone Flower" excerpt from my currently inactive Pegasus Project, click here.
For the science and history of malachite as well as its use in art, see: Myth*ing Links' Minerals: Malachite
For further data on Russian lore, see: Myth*ing Links' Russian Folklore
For the Wayback Machine's unillustrated version of my original 1998 "Stone Flower" text, click here.
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