Telling Tales 8
The Prince’s Not So Triumphant Return
The naked and confused man looked around him. In front of him stood the soldier in full uniform – minus his boots – and behind the soldier stood the walls to the tsar’s city. The soldier was surround by a pile of dragon skin. The naked man lifted one hand carefully to his mouth and checked for his teeth. They were all there. “Oh, thank heavens,” he said. To our soldier, he bowed low and said, “Sir, I am in your debt.” Not every man can pull off a courtly bow when he is bereft of all clothing, but the naked man was no longer confused, had gathered his wits in what I assume is record time, and bowed the courtliest of bows in spite his current disadvantages.
The soldier, mindful of his station and guessing at that of the naked man (after all, how many people could conceivably bow that well?), ripped off a long piece of the dragon hide in his hands. The man winced, then stopped himself. He shuddered. “Force of habit. Pray continue.” The soldier continued tearing at the skin with the strength with which the spirit had imbued him until he had fashioned a long and wide cape. He handed it to the man, who wrapped himself twice around and bowed again.
“Much better,” said the soldier.
“You do not seem surprised to see me,” said the man.
“To tell you the truth, sir, I began to suspect that you were not a dragon during our first game of cards. Several of your tactics are in the style of the kingdom of Tsar Pyotr. The more we played, the more convinced I became that that was your homeland, and it is common knowledge that no dragons have inhabited Pyotr’s land in three generations. Therefore, I deduced that you must be something else; a man from that land, no doubt under an enchantment.”
“Well and well!” exclaimed the man. “That is all true, and more, I am Pyotr’s grandson, Tsarevitch Ivan. The tsarevna here and I have been in love since before my captivity, and my love was so great that even as a dragon I could not keep myself from her side.”
“I was told you tormented her.”
“She wept for my state, not for my actions.”
“Soldiers often have the opposite effect on tsarevnas,” the soldier observed, “at least in private company, or so I have heard.”
“Yes, well, we will make sure to keep you in the public eye if that is the case,” said tsarevitch Ivan, and clapped the soldier on his shoulder. “Let us go in and see my beloved. I will make sure that you are ably rewarded for your service.”
“Oh,” said the soldier, and thought to himself, “I suppose that my luck is finally about to change.”
The guards and the denizens of the city crowded around Ivan, whom they recognized, cheering him in his triumphant return. “Thank you! Thank you!” he called back, “But I hasten to my beloved’s side!” The crush parted like water before them and they ran to the palace, where no one expected to see the brave soldier alive, much less to be side by side with a dragon-skin-cloaked Ivan. The appearance of the two men did not stop the general weeping and sobbing. “But what has happened?” cried Ivan. “I am back!”
“It’s the tsarevna,” sobbed the handmaidens, “she has been stolen away!”
“So much for that,” sighed the soldier to himself.