Long, long ago on the edge of the lonely Siberian taiga, there lived a man and his wife who yearned for a child. One spring there came a vicious storm. Snow and ice lashed their snug little cabin. As the chimney chuffed out smoke, the woman huddled by an empty cradle on the hearth and cried to her husband, “If I cannot have a child to love, surely my heart will crumble like a dry crust of bread.”
“Let us go to bed with hope, dear wife. You never know what dawn may bring.”
In the morning light, the small meadow round the cabin glistened in the cold sun. The husband trudged to the nearby pond and settled on his stool to fish through the ice. When he heard the bleat of a newborn fawn, he looked up. At the taiga’s edge was a pitiful doe, surrounded by a pool of blood and a pack of wolves. Beside her was a small drift of snow. He raised his stool and drove the wolves back into the forest. As he came closer, he saw it was not a fawn, nor a drift of snow, but a crying infant wrapped in a sparkling white blanket. Scooping up the child, he ran home. His wife’s heart melted at the big brown eyes and soft brown hair that peeked out from under the ice blue binding. She hardly dared whisper, “Where did you get this babe?”
“I rescued her from wolves at the edge of the taiga.”
“But where are her parents?”
“There was no one about but a doe killed by the pack and this child alone. I tell you the truth, dear wife. I know not what magic has brought us this gift.”
Taking the child in her arms she said, “Then we shall name her Yulia and raise her as our daughter until magic or man takes her away.”
As she grew, Yulia’s little hands patted the dough beside Mama as she made the bread. Her little boots followed Papa to the frozen pond where they sat together and fished through the ice. Her parents asked but one thing—that she never enter the forest because of the wolves that prowled within.
The summer of her sixteenth year, she ran to the pond to skip stones across its smooth surface. As her eyes followed the ripples across the water, she saw a doe and a fawn on the other side, their forms shaded by the canopy. The doe bent her neck to drink, but the soft brown eyes of the fawn looked straight at Yulia. She rushed home to tell Papa.
“You’ll see many more fawns before summer’s end.” He chuckled.
“Before summer’s end, I will tame my fawn.”
“Tame?” Papa laughed. “No one can tame a fawn, and he will never be yours. A man needs a roof over his head, and animals need the stars.”
Yulia heard Papa’s words, but every morning her heart took her to the pond to watch and wait for the fawn.
At summer’s solstice, when the Siberian sun seems never to set, Yulia couldn’t sleep. She flew to the pond. There was the fawn where the dark forest met the lavender light of the midnight sun. Dragonflies hovered over the liquid mirror between them. Slowly, Yulia approached, extending her palm. The animal stepped forward. The doe appeared, pawing the air, rushing her fawn back into the taiga. Yulia followed—disobeying all Papa’s warnings.
As she ran, she became keenly aware of the rhythm of the deer’s hooves snapping sticks, the whoosh of their bodies sailing between the tree trunks. She could feel her heart pounding out the same beat, her legs dashing through the evergreen heart of the forest. She was right on their heels, ready to reach out and touch the fawn, when she realized she had no hands—only hooves.
When she heard Papa’s call in the distance, the tears in his voice made her turn back. Their eyes met through the green screen of needles. “Daughter?” he said.
Yulia could not answer except by following. But as her body emerged from the trees, her form once again became that of a young woman.
“It is as I’ve always feared,” Papa said. “You are a shape shifter, born of the doe in that terrible storm. Outside the shelter of the trees, you have a human shape. Under their boughs, you are a creature of the wild. Now more than ever, you must never enter the forest again. And you must never reveal this secret. The doe was killed by wolves, and it would kill Mama to lose you by magic.”
“Yes, Papa,” she whispered, knowing that secrets are hard to keep.
The Siberian summer was soon over. Yulia’s hands again patted the dough beside Mama, but at night, she dreamed of the fawn. His eyes drew her across the frozen circle of water and into the taiga, where together, they coursed through the trees as if they could fly. Every morning she questioned whether her dream wasn’t more real than the bowl of porridge set before her.
One stormy evening there came a knock upon at door. Yulia and Mama were doing dishes. Mama dried her hands and opened the door. There stood a young man with wind blown hair and eyes that swept the room.
“Come in from the cold,” said Mama. “We have so few visitors.”
“I’m used to the cold,” said the stranger, remaining outside.
Papa turned from the fireplace, exhaling smoke from his pipe, and stepped towards the doorway. “Why have you come?”
“I’ve come, Sir, to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”
Papa pushed the door almost shut. “How do you know my daughter? Where are you from?”
“I am from deep in the taiga across the pond.”
Yulia peeked at the stranger whose eyes were so familiar.
Papa growled. “Yulia is our only child. Our hearts will break if we are parted.”
“But, Sir, your daughter and I are made for one another.”
Mama tasted tears, but Papa slammed the door. Yulia ran to the window and watched the young man walk away.
Next morning the meadow sparkled with ice. Mama woke first and shook her husband, “Yulia’s is gone!”
Papa hurried into his coat and followed jagged foot prints across the pond. At the forest edge, hoof prints leapt into the taiga. Mama ran to join him. “It’s no use, dear. I’ve always known in my heart just as you have that all children are shape shifters, and no one can tame their magic. In that way our Yulia is no different from the rest.”
Papa hugged Mama, and whispered, half to himself, and half to the wind, “A man needs a roof over his head, and animals need the stars.”