Telling Tales 17
Speed Is Distance Divided by Time
Prince Ivan and the soldier marched across fields and plains and over mountains and ever and always did the ball of silver string play out before them. The land grew wider and flatter and although it was nearly spring, there was still snow on the ground. “Did you find the queen’s story strange at all?” asked the prince.
“Never!” said the soldier.
“Do you remember her story?” The soldier hemmed and hawed and Prince Ivan said, “Yes, I thought you were too busy staring at her.”
“It was marvelous dress,” said the soldier.
“I didn’t know you had sartorial leanings.”
The soldier sniffed. “I don’t. But one of the fellows in the regiment was a tailor before he became a soldier. He was drafted after an unlikely giant-killing incident. After that it was ‘go to the front this’ and ‘go to the front that,’ and really, there’s only so long your luck is going to hold out. Good man. He was responsible for the boots that you ripped apart, by the way.”
“So he was a cobbler, too?” The prince wasn’t going to let the soldier make him feel guilty for the things that he did when he was still a dragon.
“Yes, he cobbled. Very skilled man. Lucky, even, but as I said -”
“Are you trying to avoid the topic of you ogling Queen Ahtna?”
The soldier looked very prim, which was no simple feat in the cold spring snow that fell upon them. “We weren’t talking about anyone ogling anybody else. You were talking about her story, which you thought was strange, and I said, no, I didn’t think it was strange. And I’ll tell you, since you seem convinced that I paid no attention, her story had a beginning in which she was unmarried, a middle in which she was in danger, was rescued by her children and husband, and a reconciliation at the conclusion when she convinced her parents that she’d made a good choice. There was an inciting incident in which she married her husband without her parents’ knowledge, and that was what caused them to banish her from their house. In a classic formulation, she even related an interdiction, ‘don’t go out alone.'”
“Oh, yes, well…” said the Prince.
“Oh, yes, well, indeed,” huffed the soldier.
“I was just going to say that I thought the action seemed rather arbitrary and motivations surprising. Especially the end.”
“Would you have preferred that birds flew out of her dress and pecked out her parents’ eyes, or had them dance in red-hot iron boots until they died?”
“I’m a bit more familiar with things turning out that way,” admitted Prince Ivan.
“I hope you’ll be a gentler man when you’re king,” said the soldier. “You need to travel more. See the world. Experience other cultures.”
“And you’re an expert?”
“By no means, but there was a fellow I served with in the regiment…”
And so went their conversations, at turns argumentative and friendly, until the ball of twine rolled out and stopped in front of a silver door. A brushed nickel key lay at the end of the string. They talked their way through the silver door, as they raised a bucket of water from a silver well, and climbed a steel staircase for three days, where they left the water for a happy giant serpent, and argued past it through the gates.
“It’s weird,” the soldier was insisting, “because the bread always lands butter side down!”
“We have been expecting you,” said the woman in the gleaming dress before them.