By Ivan Karasev
One dry summer an old man adopted a small lizard from steppe and set to rearing her up. Now, the lizard showed so much brightness and aptitude that just in three days she imitated the old man, in three months she learned to speak, and in three years she took the form of a young girl. She was beautiful, but ever so frail and helpless that it seemed a light wind could break her up like a thin reed. So she got her name – Frail Lizard.
There came time for her to marry, and a young man from a good family came to seek her hand.
“I agree”, Frail Lizard said to him, “if you meet my three conditions: never show me a mirror, never comb my hair and never give me water, even if I beg you to”.
So it was settled.
They lived in love and peace for as much as ten years. But then there came a woman in snake-skin stockings and asked to let her stay for overnight. As a gratitude for hospitability she gave Frail Lizard a black coffer. The coffer was quite good, but the matter was she could not open it. Now, one day the coffer burst open by itself. The Frail Lizard looked into it and saw her reflection there. She fluttered about, but the fat was in the fire. Her face became somewhat oblong, her skin went yellow and tough. But in three years everything seemed to be forgotten.
There came a holiday to the village, and the husband had a fancy to comb Frail Lizard’s hair while she was asleep, but unhappily, he could not find a comb anywhere. He went outdoors, and there – he saw a woman. She was holding a tortoise comb in her hand. The husband came back home and began to comb Lizard’s hair. And at the same moment her neck and back were covered with snake scales. Fright took him, and he said nothing to his wife. But since then Frail Lizard fell ill, began to shrink and hardly ever rose from her bed.
“Let me go”, she said, “I feel tired out”.
“But where are you going to stay, so sick all over?”
Nothing did his wife answer, only bit her thin lips till bleeding. The husband went to call a doctor, and here was the doctor already. Grey-bearded, with a serpentiform walking-stick. Having examined the patient he shook his head and said:
“She is going to die tonight, unless she drinks fresh spring-water.
So he said, and vanished as if sinking through the earth. The husband set to brooding, and then all of a sudden Frail Lizard moaned dolefully:
“Water, water, please… I know I will not live till the morning. Please, give me some water, at least I’ll know its taste before I die”.
There was nothing to be done, the husband brought her a scoop of pure spring-water. As soon as Frail Lizard saw the water, she shook all over her body, her eye-pupils narrowed, her cheek-bones sharpened. She snatched the scoop out of his hands and guzzled it to the bottom. And the oak-tree bed shattered under her weight, and the walls of the house trembled under the power of her breath, and the sky tolled like a tocsin. She rose from the bed as a monstrous dragon. She wound her red tongue round her former husband and swallowed him into her jaws with foul smell of rot coming out of them. Hearing the noise and shrieks neighbors ran up, but the house was still and empty. Only the cracked bed amid the room, and up in the clear sky a small dark cloud could be seen flying quickly towards the forest.
(Translated by Marina Martinova)
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