VASSILISA

Real Name: Vassilisa Ice-Heart of Zamok Iz Llod

Identity/Class: Human Magic User, Hyborian Era

Occupation: Sorceress, Queen, Servant of the Dark

Affiliations: Alexi, the Dark, Llrissa, Gurda, Yuri (lover);
a harpy, various demons, enslaved spirits, and Sythian soldiers

Enemies: Achmal, Alain D'Bruges, Branwyn, Kynon, Math Mac Llion, Red Sonja, Scathach

Known Relatives: Vlad Bloodhawk (husband)

Aliases: Ice Queen, Ice Witch, the Queen of Ice and Blood,

Base of Operations: Zamok Iz Llod castle, Sythia, located in the "tundra lands beyond Hyperborea", Hyborian Era

First Appearance: Red Sonja III#8 (April, 1985)

Powers/Abilities: Vassilisa was a powerful sorceress, though when observed in her struggle against Red Sonja, her power had waned. She sought to reignite them by making a sacrifice to the Dark. Nonetheless, she could project magical bolts, utilize scrying pools, and project incapacitating mists. Vassilisa controlled many demons and enslaved human spirits, the latter being the ghosts of people thrown in her Well of Lost Souls (also called the Pit of Lost Souls). Vassilisa apparently used magic to prolong her lifespan.

History: (Red Sonja III#13 (fb) - BTS) - Vassilisa stole a magical knife containing the power of the goddess Scathach, put much of her power in it, and imprinted her sigil, a death's head, on its handle. At some point, Achmal, a servant of Scathach, stole the knife back.

(Red Sonja III#10 (fb) - BTS) - Presumably later, Vassilisa bound to her will a harpy, which she put much of her power in. However, the harpy was the first of her slaves to escape her.

 

(Red Sonja III#8) - Red Sonja arrives with Achmal at Lord Gym's castle. While they are still crossing the bridge, a demon serving Vassilisa arrives. The demon indiscreetly blurts out that he serves Vassilisa. The demon damages the bridge, causing Achmal to plummet to his death. Sonja manages to stab the demon in the nose and eye.

Vassilisa observes this in her scrying pool. Vlad taunts her. Perturbed at the demon having indiscreetly told Red Sonja who sent him, Vassilisa declares the demon shall be exiled to the Pit of Lost Souls. She accordingly teleports the demon back and sanctions him.

Later Vassilisa has a flirtatious moment with Yuri. She watches as her fiends and goblins slays the indiscrete demon, then dispatches another demon to abduct Red Sonja. However, this demon mistakes another red-haired woman, Branwyn, for Sonja. Branwyn's husband Math Mac Llion, her son Kynon, and Alain D'Bruges (her former lover) set out to recover Branwyn with Red Sonja. Vassilisa waits in her tower with a servant awaiting the return of her demon.

(Red Sonja III#9) - Vlad and Vassilisa criticized each other's loss of power in recent years. Vassilisa's demon then arrived, delivering Branwyn, whom they believe to be Sonja. Fearing to attract the wrath of Scathach by killing "Sonja" directly, or even within her own castle, she had Yuri take her to the distant woods to kill her. Branwyn convinced Yuri that she would make it worth it for him to keep her alive, and so he did. Vlad took her sword--which actually was Red Sonja's--for himself, believing it held magical powers, which it did not.

(Red Sonja III#10) - Vassilisa's rogue harpy attacks Sonja and her compatriots. Unaware of this, Vassilisa shows Vlad a box containing what she thinks is Sonja's heart.

Meanwhile, Sonja and her allies encounter Lappuit reindeer herders. Their shaman, Inar, is addressing mammoths ("closest to the Great Spirit") when the harpy grabs a mammoth in her claw. The harpy then claws Inar. Kynon, who had acquired Achmal's knife, stabs the harpy, while Sonja blinds it in one eye with an arrow.

At Zamok Iz Llod, Vassilisa fumes as she sees her disloyal harpy flying around. Later, Yuri returns. Vassilisa tells her servant Llrissa to lace up her gown and unbraid her hair so Vassilisa will be ready for another flirtatious encounter with Yuri. Yuri enters the room, Vassilisa slaps Llrissa and dismisses her. Yuri and Vassilisa proceed to adultery.

After this, with Vassilisa asleep, Yuri persuades Llrissa to clandestinely bring food to Branwyn.

Vlad looks from a tower of the castle as peasant children enjoy skating (!) on a frozen body of water. Vlad sees the harpy pick up and devour a peasant child named Ninotchka. Seeing the harpy's face, Vlad realizes the harpy is a creature of Vassilisa.

(Red Sonja III#11) - Vassilisa goes over her astrological charts, finding them mostly favorable, but with signs of betrayal. Vassilisa then overhears Yuri speaking to Llrissa. Vassilisa confronts them, and dismisses Llrissa. Vlad arrives, taunting Vassilisa and Yuri, and revealing his knowledge of Vassilisa's connection to the harpy. Vlad dismisses Yuri.

The harpy attacks Kynon, who stabs it, but the knife gets stuck in the harpy's body. It flies away. Later, Llrissa speaks to Vassilisa, informing her of Yuri's sheltering of Branwyn. Vassilisa still has her demons drop Llrissa into the Pit of Lost Souls. She retrieves Llrissa's skull as the harpy arrives. The harpy asks Vassilisa to remove the mystical knife from her claw. Vassilisa does so, and reasserts her control of the harpy.

(Red Sonja III#12) - Disgusted after realizing the Harpy was his wife's creature, Vlad donned his old armor and set out to slay the beast. Vassilisa mocked him as he led his soldiers out of the castel. Vlad and many of his soldiers were killed in the battle, but Sonja managed to finish off the Harpy, after Vlad returned her sword.

Vassilisa's troops then confronted Sonja and her allies, and since they desired to enter Zamok Iz Llod anyway, they agreed to accompany the soldiers back there. Sonja refused to give up her sword, and the soldiers, who held no loyalty for Vassilisa, agreed to allow her to bring it. Nonetheless, as soon as Sonja was brought before her, Vassilisa unleashed a spell that robbed her and her allies of consciousness.

(Red Sonja III#13) - Vassilisa taunts the captured Red Sonja. While an undead servant restrains Sonja, Vassilisa summons an ex-lover and military officer named Alexi. Punishing him for failure, Vassilsa hurls him into the Pit of Lost Souls. Vassilisa sends a demon to retrieve Alexi's skull.

Vassilsa then places Sonja inside of a pentagram. The ghost of Achmal, unseen to Vassilisa, appears to Sonja, reassuring her of her destiny as Scathach's warrior. Achmal then goes to the spirits in the Pit of Lost Souls; Vassilisa, absorbed in the upcoming slaying of Red Sonja, has turned her attention away from these spirits. Achmal persuades the spirits to turn against Vassilisa. They free Sonja's companions, who search for her.

Vassilisa has started the ceremony to sacrifice Red Sonja to the Dark, and the room shifts into another dimension, the Dark Domain. Sonja's companions arrive, enter the room, and engage Vassilisa's demons in battle. The Dark arrives to consume Sonja. Kynon manages to begin to free Sonja, then Sonja takes her own sword and frees herself. She attacks Vassilisa. Alain grabs Kynon's knife and stabs the Dark. This distracts Vassilisa, giving Sonja a chance to run her through. All present return to Earth, and the spirits from the Pit of Lost Souls seize Vassilisa, leaving only bones when they are finished.

Comments: Created by Louise Simonson and Mary Wilshire.

 

Sythia

Sythia seems very much to represent a proto-Russian culture, and indeed, a Bronze Age name for a region in Southeastern Europe and Asia, between the Black and Aral seas, was Scythia. Since it lies beyond Hyperborea's tundra, Sythia is near the Vilayet Sea-which after the Hyborian Era, shrank to become the black sea.

Actually, this run of Red Sonja played around with many other prot-Russian cultural elements. In Red Sonja#6, she meets a Tsar Nikolai, who faces invaders explicitly called Mongols. This serves as an anachronism, since the Mongols's ancestors were called the Hyrakanians in the Hyboria Era.

Vlad Bloodhawk is also called king of the Kahzaks.

Intended Follow-Ups

Louise Simonson had additional plans for Red Sonja. In Marvel Age Annual#1 (on page 33), she states "After that, I am working on a storyline that will reveal that Red Sonja is a person with a destiny. What I want to do is present an over-all world view in Hyborea [sic] where there is a personified evil and Sonja is the champion who must defend the land against it. It will be revealed that there is an all-out war between the Dark Gods and the goddess Scathach. Scathach has selected Red Sonja to be one of her champions. As a result, Red Sonja will have to travel to Hyborean Egypt [Stygia] to fight the evil growing there".

However, Red Sonja III#13 marked the end of the last ongoing Red Sonja series. After this, Red Sonja only appeared in guest-roles and/or back-ups in Conan the Barbarian or Savage Sword of Conan, as well as the one-shot Red Sonja: Scavenger Hunt in 1995.

Scathach

This run of Red Sonja states that Red Sonja took her vow to only love a man who defeated her in battle on the behest of the goddess Scathach. It remains unclear what, if any connection, Scathach has to Mitra or Erlik, who have received credit for engineering Red Sonja's origin. Red Sonja's origin was told in Kull and the Barbarians#3 and Savage Sword of Conan#78.

The Official Handbook of the Conan Universe#1 notes that Sonja, after her family had been slain, was approached by "a human shape", "embodying strength and beauty but neither male nor female", and made her vow to that figure. However, Scathach appears to Red Sonja in Red Sonja III#11 and #13, and definitely resembles a woman.

In Celtic mythology, Scathach trained Cuchulain. We've seen Cuchulain in, of places, Guardians of the Galaxy Annual#3 and #51-53.
My mythology is not as strong as some of the other guys, but it strikes me as odd that Sonja would be affiliated with a Celtic Goddess. Sonja is from Hyrkania, which is in the region of what would become Mongolia, etc.. Her association with Erlik is thus appropriate, and since Mitra was more of a universal god in the Hyborian era, he fits too. I'd buy Scathach more as being involved with Conan, a Cimmerian (ancestors of the Gaels). Ah well...whatever.

More info about Scathach from Thormod Morrisson:
She's a Pictish goddess connected with the Isle of Skye here in Scotland. There is a long tradition of the Picts having Scythian origins -- both the Picts and the Scythians tattooed themselves, both had warrior women, expert archers, and horse cultures. Both had also highly developed animal art. So the link with Red Sonja's Scythian Hyrkania is probably right. Scathach is also mentioned as having red hair, a typically Pictish trait and suitable for the patron goddess of a red haired heroine. She is also equated with Skadi of the Norse. There is an open question as to whether the Picts were Celtic speaking or not. It's true that the myths pertaining to Scathach are Gaelic, but that's simply because Gaelic became the main tongue alongside Norse when the Picts were united with the Scots. One thing is for sure, they were formidable fighters.

Other

In Varnae's entry, Greg O'Driscoll pointed out that the Hyborian Era had many advances (the hand pump, hinges, advanced ship-building, forging of steel, etc.) that were later lost and rediscovered during or after the Bronze Age. We can include ice-skates in that list.

Gurda works in the kitchen of Zamok Iz Llod.

Harpies showed up a few times in the Kull and Hyborian era stories. Kull the Conqueror I#2 describes them as one of the Elder Races. In Conan the Barbarian I#147, Set transforms his servant C'Harona into a harpy.

Vassilisa is a name that is popular in Russian folklore. Here are two links to different stories about a girl named Vassilisa. If there sites go down, just do a search under "Vassilisa," and you'll find something close:
http://russian-crafts.com/tales/firebird.htm
http://www.babayaga.com/babayagamusicalplay.htm

by Per Degaton and Snood.

CLARIFICATIONS:
Vassilisa Ice-Heart, aka the Ice Queen, should not be confused with:

Alexi should not be confused with:

Gurda, the kitchen servant, should not be confused with:

The harpy of Vassilisa has no know connection to:

Vlad Bloodhawk should not be confused with:

Yuri should not be confused with:


The Dark

 

An extra-dimensional demon creature who was an enemy of the goddess Scathach, it promised power to Vassilisa, in exchange for the sacrifice of Red Sonja, Scathach's champion. It was slain when Alain leapt into it's mouth and stabbed it from the inside with Scathach's dagger. The energies released proved fatal to Alain as well.

 

--Red Sonja III#13

 

 

 

 

 


Harpy

A demonic creature of unknown origin. It was put under the control of Vassilisa, but as her powers waned over the years, it broke free from her control. It continued to terrorize the countryside, but when it was stabbed in the hand/paw by a magic dagger, it returned to its former mistress to remove the dagger. With the dagger back in her hands, Vassilisa's power swelled anew, and she retook control of the Harpy. It had suffered multiple wounds in a few early encounters with Sonja and her allies, and was ultimately killed by Sonja, who was joined in the effort by Vlad and his soldiers.

It was an immense creature, able to grap and gore a mammoth in its talons. It was also very strong, though it's hide could be pierced by conventional weaponry.

--Red Sonja III#8 (9-12


Vlad Bloodhawk (aka Vlad the Invincible)

 

A once mighty king, years of idleness with wine glass in hand diminished his prowess. He allowed himself to be manipulated by Vassilisa until learning that the Harpy plaguing their kingdom was hers. With that, he gathered up his troops and set out to slay the Harpy. Vlad was killed in battle against the Harpy, but did manage to wound it, and he returned the sword to Sonja, who slew the Harpy.

 

--Red Sonja III#8 (9-12

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Other appearances:
Red Sonja III#9 (May, 1985) - Louise Simonson (writer), Mary Wilshire (pencils), Art Nichols (inks), Larry Hama (editor)
Red Sonja III#10 (August, 1985) - Louise Simonson (writer), Mary Wilshire (pencils), Art Nichols (inks), Larry Hama (editor)
Red Sonja III#11 (November, 1985) - Louise Simonson (writer), Mary Wilshire (pencils), Vince Colletta (inks), Larry Hama (editor)
Red Sonja III#12 (February, 1986) - Louise Simonson (writer), Mary Wilshire (pencils), Vince Colletta (inks), Larry Hama (editor)
Red Sonja III#13 (May, 1986) - Louise Simonson (writer), Mary Wilshire (pencils), Art Nichols (inks), Larry Hama (editor)


Last updated: 04/10/03

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