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Koschei the Deathless, painting by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1919 (Detail).

Sagacia sat at the kitchen table, reading and rereading the question from Morbid in Monahans.

“But what about a villain who does not die?” she asked at last.

“The villain has to die,” Simplia replied. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”

“But what about Koschei the Deathless; Kashay, Koshchey or however you want to spell Коще́й?” Sagacia wondered. “The guy cannot be killed. Not by being tossed into the sea in a barrel, not by being made to dance with red hot shoes, not by having his limbs chained to horses and pulled apart, not by being chopped up until there was not a piece of him large enough to cover one gold sovereign, not . . .”

“That kind of stuff could make a person straighten up and fly right–if it works and they’re truly dead,” Simplia agreed. “But villains don’t learn from the execution of others. The only thing that can make them stop is having it happen to them. Death, that is.”

“So, if the villain is deathless, why would he stop?” Sagacia pushed her question. “In fact, all that warrior princess Marya Moryevna could do was capture Koschei and chain him into a dungeon so he couldn’t hurt anybody. Then, when she had to leave again, she told her husband Ivan Tsarevich not to go into the dungeon, not to feed Koschei, not to evn give him water. She knew she could never actually kill him.”

“Hmm. Interesting that when the wife gave the husband such commands, he behaves just like fairy tale wives and daughters who are told not to do something. He did exactly that!” Simplia observed parenthetically.

But Sagacia was off in her fairy tale dream world. “Like certain other fairy tale giants and dragons and sorcerers, Koschei’s heart or maybe his soul is not in his body but inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest buried under a green oak tree on the island of Buyan in the middle of the ocean. As long as his soul is safe, he cannot die.”

“But isn’t there an Afanas’ev story, “The Death of Koschei the Deathless?” Simplia asked.

“Yeah, in that one he is actually killed by Ivan Tsarevich, who burns his body and he’s never seen again,” Sagacia replied

Well, at least not in that story,” Simplia said.

“True. Whether he’s seen again or not all depends upon the order in which you read the fairy tales,” Sagacia agreed.

“Kind of like old cowboy movies when the villain reappears in the next Saturday matinee feature,” Simplia noted.

“So that’s exactly what happens to Koschei! He’s a serial abuser, and the lover of each woman has to come after him, one by one, but he just keeps coming back!” Sagacia raved. “He’d be a great serial Western Movie villain!”

“Being deathless is his ‘magical power,’ right,” Simplia asked.

Sagacia shrugged.

“But Morbid also asked about those evil villains who are forgiven?” Simplia asked. “Are there any?”

“Well,” Sagacia thought for a moment. “In ‘La Flor de Lirolay,’ a Euro-Andean ‘Singing Bone,’ the father/king orders the two sons who killed their brother executed. But, then, the third son himself, restored to life and given the kingship, forgives his brothers and saves their lives. No! I say to him! Don’t do that! Compassion for villains has no place in Fairy Tales!”

“That sounds like a serious fracturing!” Simplia said, pounding on the table. “Not just fracturing, but fracking! Capital punishment is the law of fairy land, and they were confessed murderers!”

“I agree,” Sagacia chimed in. “I even hate it when people tell ‘The Little Red Hen’ and end it with her “sharing” the bread with the animals who wouldn’t help her.”

“And that’s nowhere near murder!” Simplia seethed.

“I wonder if our magical friends have opinions . . . “ Sagacia began.

“Of course they have opinions!”

“. . . on whether or not villains may be forgiven in fairy tales?”

“Oh! Well, maybe they do and maybe  they don’t, Simplia said. “Maybe they haven’t thought about it yet. It’s pretty rare, after all.”

“Or is it?” Sagacia teased. “Let’s go over to the Fairy Tale Lobby right now and see if anyone there has an opinion!”

“Or knows of another fairy tale where a villain gets off scot-free!” Simplia said, grabbing her sun visor.

“Let me get my Grimm’s!” Sagacia called. “I’m right behind you!”

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