Once upon a time there lived a mother who had two daughters. One was her own child, the other her stepdaughter. She was very fond of her own daughter, but she could not so much as look at her step-daughter without shuddering. The only reason for this was that Marussa, her stepdaughter, was prettier than her own daughter, Holena.

The gentle-hearted Marusa did not know how beautiful she was, and so she could never understand why her mother was always so cross with her, no matter what she did.

She had to take hay to the cow and milk her. She had to do all the housework, tidying up the cottage, cooking, washing, spinning and sewing, and she did all this work alone, while Holena spent the time adorning herself and lazing about. But Marusa liked the work, for she was a patient girl, and even when her stepmother scolded and berated her, she bore it like a lamb.

It was no good, however, for her half sister and stepmother grew crueller and crueller every day, because anyone could see; Marusa was growing prettier and prettier and Holena uglier and uglier.

One day the mother thought: "Why should I keep a pretty stepdaughter in my house? When the lads come courting here, they will fall in love with Marusa and they won't even look at Holena."

From that moment the stepmother and her daughter were constantly scheming how to get rid of poor Marusa . They starved her and they beat her, but she bore it all, and in spite of all she kept on growing prettier every day. They invented torments that the cruellest of men would never have thought of trying to get rid of her.

One day - it was in the middle of January - Holena felt a longing for the scent of violets. "Go, Marusa , and get me some violets from the forest; I want to wear them in my hair and to smell their sweet scent," she said to her sister.

"Great heavens sister. What a strange notion! Who ever heard of violets growing under the snow?" exclaimed Marusa .

"You wretched tatterdemalion! How dare you argue when I tell you to do something? Off you go at once, and if you don't bring me violets from the forest, don't bother coming back!" said Holena threateningly.

The stepmother caught hold of Marusa, shoved her out of the door, and slammed it to after her.

Marusa fled into the forest, weeping bitterly. The snow lay deep, and there wasn't a human footprint to be seen. She wandered about for a long time, until tortured by hunger and trembling with cold, she begged God to take her from the world.

Suddenly she saw a faint light in the distance. She went towards the glow, and at last came to the top of a hight mountain. A huge fire was burning there, and round the fire were twelve stones with twelve people sitting on them. Three of them had snow-white beards, three were not so old, and three were even younger. The three youngest were children.