Telling Tales 16
The Monarchs of the Copper Kingdom
Hawks, falcons, terns, gulls, owls, woodpeckers, and ravens preceded King Fisher into the hall. They filled the air until, one by one, they dove into Queen Ahtna’s dress, adding their movement and colors to those that already flowed over her body.
“Stop staring,” hissed the prince. “The king is here.”
“Ouch,” said the soldier, rubbing his shin where the prince had kicked him. “Quite right.”
The King bowed to the queen and took his seat by her side. A fish leapt out of her dress and landed on the plate before him. He thanked the fish and ate it whole, in a single bite. Another followed, and another, and the king thanked each in turn. When he was sated, he thanked his wife, at which point he finally turned to his guests. “Welcome to Our Kingdom,” he said, echoing the queen’s words. “I understand that you seek Koschey the Deathless.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” said Prince Ivan.
“I cannot help you either, I am sorry to say. Although my wife does not leave this place, I fly far and wide, and even in my travels, although I have heard Deathless Koschey’s name time and again, I have never encountered him, nor been where he has been.”
“Oh,” said the soldier, thinking of his death sentence from the tsar.
“Ah,” said the prince, thinking of his beloved tsarevna Vasilisa.
“Perhaps your older sister might know something?” suggested Queen Ahtna.
“Yes,” considered King Fisher, his brightly colored clothes shimmering in the twilight. “Her lands are far from here. Perhaps Koschey has passed us entirely and gone north, if he has come this way at all.”
“Where else could he have gone?” asked the prince.
“You have traveled east to find us,” said the King. “North is my next sister’s realm. He may have also passed south or east, but the north is more like your home climate.”
“Then north we shall travel,” agreed Prince Ivan.
“I wish the great horned spirit had given me something to protect me from the cold,” said the soldier, who was thin-blooded and became chilly with great ease.
“What?” asked the prince.
“Nothing,” said the soldier.
“Here,” said the King, and produced a ball of silver twine. “Take this ball of twine and follow it where it falls. It will lead you directly to the castle of my sister. Fare well, and good luck to you!” He passed them a roll of silver string no bigger than a fist.
“This seems familiar,” said the soldier.
“Before you go,” said the queen, “I hope that you will grace us with something by which to remember your visit? We have so few guests.”
The prince patted his sides as if to say that he had left his things in another pair of trousers. The soldier sighed. He had little enough after months of travel, not money nor memorabilia. He handed over, instead, a small sheet of scaly skin that he kept near his left hand, something like a glove. Prince Ivan glared at him suspiciously, not liking the look of the skin, though he couldn’t say why. In the queen’s hands, the skin turned at once to copper and she folded it into a flower that she tucked into her hair. “Oh,” said the soldier. “Oh, my,” and “Ouch!” as the prince stomped on his foot.
“We shall be on our way,” said the prince, and thanked the monarchs for their hospitality. On the outskirts of the Copper Kingdom, he dropped the silver twine and watched it roll away, never decreasing in size.
“Here we go again,” said the soldier.