It used to be or never was that there lived two sisters in a village at the edge of the tsar's great pine forest. Their names were Sunshine and Stormheart, and each was as unalike to the other as those names suggested - for although both were poor, indeed only barely making ends meet, they minded it very differently.
Sunshine always looked on the bright side. She thought, "I may live in a mud and thatch hut, but at least I have shelter. Thank the god for it! And I may subside on eggs, cabbage, and roots, but at least I have my own little golden hen and a garden to provide for me. What pleasure they bring. And although my body aches, especially when breezes wail through these frail mud walls, I am alive, and the world is beautiful."
Stormheart, on the other hand, felt discontent. She did not like the way her own mud and thatch hut leaked, and how breezes came through gaps in the walls. It was unhealthy, she grumbled. And she was thoroughly sick of eggs, cabbage, and roots. When her body ached, she complained of it. And when the world shone with all its beauty, she sighed because life was so hard and lonely, she could not enjoy it.
Sunshine pitied her sister. "You ought to be grateful for what you have. I am, and see how happy it makes me."
Stormheart scowled. Sunshine was indeed happy, but Stormheart could not find peace of mind so easily. Whenever she tried, rain dripped on it through the roof. At last, in her discontent, she gathered leafy branches and leftover hay, and she climbed on up to repair that roof. And then she was dry. She smiled.
But still breezes wailed on through the holey old walls. "Put on another shawl and sing with them," said Sunshine. "Be glad you have fresh air circulating, it is good for the lungs."
Stormheart thought that fresh air made her lungs wheeze and cough. So in her discontent she made mud patches until the walls were quite secure and her home became nicely snug. Again, she smiled.
But still she suffered poor health due to her diet. She muttered to her sister, "No one can thrive on only eggs, cabbage, and roots."
"Be of better cheer," answered Sunshine. "You have a little golden hen of your very own. Your cabbage grows well. The moist black earth provides. You are blessed, as am I."
Stormheart did not feel blessed. She felt hungry. So despite feeling shy, she took a basket of eggs and cabbage to the local miller and exchanged them for bread. And indeed her cabbage did grow well - so well, the miller told his friends of its quality, and they came to purchase more from Stormheart. Soon she had butter, cheese, apples, in her pantry. How she smiled!
But although her stomach was now full, her body continued aching. She grumbled to Sunshine, who sighed. "Oh, Stormheart, if only you would have less self-pity. Your back bends you down to your garden, and lifts you up to see the sun. Your limbs carry you about. Your eyes see the wonders of the world around you. Thank the god for your miraculous body."
Stormheart was not inclined to thank the god for pain and discomfort. Instead, she took pity on herself. Filling a bath with warm water and herbs, she soaked all afternoon and had a good old weep. Oh, life was hard sometimes! Oh, how she wished for ease! And her muscles relaxed in the warm water, and her spirit relaxed in the balm of acknowledgement. Afterwards, she felt so improved that she made this a regular habit.
Within a month, she had grown stronger, and was able to walk further in the woods, through the fields, where she found good mushrooms and flowers to add to her meals. With the increased exercise and nutrition, she was even able to walk all the way to town.
"Why would you go so far?" Sunshine asked. "All you need is here in the village."
"But I want more," Stormheart replied.
"And therefore you make yourself discontent," Sunshine said. "Be glad for what you have."
Nevertheless, Stormheart went. She took her cabbages to market. And there she met a secretary to the tsarevich. He accidentally knocked her basket, sending cabbages rolling through the street, and instead of politely excusing it, she requested compensation. They got to talking, they got to drinking tea, and two months later they got to marrying in the chapel at the tsarevich's palace. Stormheart closed up her hut, gave her little golden hen to Sunshine, and went to live with her husband in his fine townhouse. She laughed, and loved, and was never hungry again.
Sunshine continued to count her blessings every day, mud and roots and all.
illustration by sulamith wulfing