Did Cinderella’s mother die? Yes, but not in the way that you think, according to Pepelezka, the Slavic version of the Cinderella story, as retold in Sixty Folk-Tales From Exclusively Slavic Sources by A. H. Wraitslaw. The story starts with a group of girls who were spinning wool together around a deep chasm in a rock.
“Up came a white-bearded old man, who said to them: ‘Girls! as you spin and chatter, be circumspect round this rift; or, if any of you drops her spindle into it, her mother will be turned into a cow.’ Thus saying he departed. The girls were astonished at his words, and crowded round the rift to look into it. Unfortunately, one of them, the most beautiful of all, dropped her spindle into it. Towards evening, when she went home, she espied a cow – her mother – in front of the gate, and drove her out with the other cattle to pasture.”
The cow has to go and chew cud while her husband gets married to another woman, a stepmother who isn’t very nice. The stepmother gives Pepelezka impossible tasks, but the mother cow talks to her daughter, and helps her accomplish what is asked of her. These involve, as with the spinning around the chasm, household tasks.
Eventually, Pepelezka’s stepmother figures out that something strange is going on with that particular cow, and orders her husband to kill it. Pepelezka is terrified, but her cow mother assures her that an Obi-Wan sort of transformation will take place.
“When the girl heard that they were going to kill the cow she began to cry, and told the cow secretly that they were going to kill her. She said to the girl: ‘Be quiet–don’t cry! If they kill me, you must not eat any of my flesh, but must collect the bones and bury them behind the cottage. Then if need come to you, you must go to the grave, and help will come to you thence.'”
The husband kills the cow, and cooks up the bovine body of his first wife for dinner. Everyone in the family eats the meat, except for Pepelezka, who gathers and buries the bones as she has been told to do.
Pepelezka gets an awesome set of clothes, just like the Cinderella that we all know. However, these don’t arrive with the bippity boppity boo of a fairy helper, but appear one day in a magic box on the grave of her mother, accompanied by two white doves. These are not just one fancy gown, but a series of them, a white one, a silver one, and a gold one. The Emperor’s son notices her quickly in these outfits, being enthusiastic for the latest fashions.
When Pepelezka takes the golden gown to show herself to the Emperor’s son for a third time, that’s when her shoe slips off, to be found by the young man. All the land is searched for the girl whose foot fits the shoe, and when the Emperor’s son comes to Pepelezka’s house, her stepmother hides her under a trough of water. The plan is undone by a rooster, however.
“The cock had flown on to the trough, and when she told the emperor’s son that there was no other girl there, he crowed: ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo! pretty girl under trough!’ The stepmother shrieked out: ‘Shoo! eagles have brought you!’ * But the emperor’s son, on hearing the cock say this, went up and took the trough off; and there was, indeed, the girl that he had seen in the church with those beautiful dresses, only on one foot she had no shoe. He tried the shoe on her; it went on, and was exactly the same as that on the other foot. Then the emperor’s son took her by the hand, conducted her to his court, married her, and punished her stepmother for her evil heart.”