Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 12

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No Eyes and No Legs

“Koschey the Deathless took my eyes,” said the creature with no eyes.

“Koschey the Deathless took my legs,” said the one with no legs. “We bear him no love.”

“But we are powerless before him,” added the first. “He is a mighty sorcerer.”

“Nevertheless, we shall do what we can,” said the second.

“Indeed,” said the first. “Powerless before Koschey does not mean powerless in all things. Take this reed pipe.” He nudged his companion, and the one with with no legs produced a small flute. “Play this when you are in need and we will come to your aid.”

The second considered a moment, and said, “Do you suppose, Brother, that the King FIsher might know where they could find Deathless Koschey?”

“The King Fisher might well know,” the one with no eyes agreed. To the two men, he explained, “King Fisher travels much farther than we do. You see our home. We do not leave very often.”

“How can we find him?” asked the prince.

“Take this ball of twine and follow it where it falls. It will lead you directly to the castle of King Fisher,” said the one with no legs, and passed them a roll of string no bigger than a fist. “Fare well, and good luck to you!”

The two men rolled the ball out in front of them. “I miss my horse,” Prince Ivan said to the soldier with no little accusation.

“You’d miss being alive even more,” pointed out the soldier.

The ball trailed out before them, never getting smaller. It rolled up and down hills. It rolled around rocks and trees. It rolled through a stream. When it finally stopped, its size finally diminished to nothing, it lay before a copper door set into the side of a tall cliff.

“At least the wind has let up here,” bellowed the soldier over the force of the gale that froze their fingers and chapped their cheeks. He seized the door with his numb hands but it didn’t budge, not even an inch. “It’s locked!” he yelled.

The prince stood up with the last of the twine. The end was tied around a hooked copper key. He inserted it into the lock and the door swung open on smooth hinges.

“Oh,” said the soldier. “Good thinking.”

They stepped inside, the prince wrapping the string back around the key. They shut the door behind them and with it the wind and looked around. They were in a large cavern, as tall as it was wide, and it was very wide indeed. Before them was a vast staircase made entirely of gleaming copper and at its base was a round well. “Where do you suppose those stairs go?” asked the soldier.

“They go up,” said the prince as he began to climb.

“Truer words,” agreed the soldier.

They climbed and climbed and climbed and on the morning of the third day they finally reached the top.

“Would you say,” wheezed the soldier, “that that is a dragon before us?”

A vast scaly bulk raised a cruel head and stared at them through slitted eyes. Its copper scales gleamed even more than the copper gates that it guarded.

“As something of an expert on dragons,” panted Prince Ivan, “I would say, no.”

The serpent’s body lifted away from its coiled mass and a wide hood flared at its neck. Green patina designs etched against its skin seemed to dance and sway in the soldier’s eyes.

“Snap out of it,” said the prince, slapping the soldier’s face.

“What happened?” he asked.

“We should be running,” said the prince.

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