Telling Tales 18
The queen of the Silver Kingdom, Nuviya, explained that her younger brother, the King Fisher, had already come and gone and so she knew their stories. The soldier grumbled at this, but he did so only when Queen Nuviya was nowhere near them. “He could have given us a lift, don’t you think?”
“What?” asked Prince Ivan, who had stars in his eyes as he stared at the retreating figure of the queen.” Ouch, thanks,” he said, rubbing his reddening cheek.
The soldier waggled his finger at the prince. “You’re engaged, you know.”
They dined with the queen, who told them her story while they waited for her husband, King Ittindi. As before, neither she nor her husband was familiar with Deathless Koschey, and as before, she suggested her husband’s older sister in the Kingdom of Gold. The soldier gave them a token, as in the Kingdom of Copper, his second skin glove, and Queen Nuviya transformed it into a silver flower, twinkling like frost, that she put behind her ear.
They set out the next day with their ball of golden string, through forests and across rivers and spring sped their way as the season tried to catch up with the land. The Kingdom of Gold had its own door, its own well, its own staircase and serpent and its own monarchs. Queen Natanh welcomed them and told them her story until her husband, King Ittindi arrived, but neither of them had ever met Deathless Koschey either.
“They’re not taking it very well,” said Natanh to Ittindi.
“We’ve walked so long,” sobbed the soldier.
“My Va-a-si-li-i-sa,” blubbered Prince Ivan.
“Did you say Vasilisa?” asked Ittindi.
The soldier stopped tearing his clothing mid-rend. The Prince looked up with hope displacing the tears in his puffy red eyes. “Ye-es,” he wheezed. The soldier handed him a fragment of his shirt so that he could wipe his runny nose.
“How long have you been looking ?”
“Nearly nine months,” said the soldier, who was wondering if his shirt looked better this way.
“That’s an odd coincidence, because this Vasilisa appeared just about nine months ago, wouldn’t you say so, my dear?”
“Indeed,” agreed Natanh. “She has been a good neighbor to us, but she is not happy in her situation.”
“But it was Koschey the Deathless who kidnapped her from our home in Russia!” said the prince.
“That may be,” agreed Natanh, “but it was not your Koschey the Deathless who brought her here, it was Yumni.”
“Yumni must be the name that Koschey goes by in this land,” swore the soldier, bashing his fist into his palm in a show of masculine verve.
“No,” said Queen Natanh.
“No,” said King Ittindi.
“Oh,” said the soldier.
The monarchs conferred. “Yumni is whirlwind, in your language. The Whirlwind has kidnapped your Vasilisa and now holds her captive.”
“Hooray!” cried Prince Ivan. “Can you tell us how to get there?”
“Nothing easier,” said King Ittindi.
“I can bring you a map,” suggested Queen Natanh.
“No maps,” said the soldier.
“We don’t need maps,” agreed Prince Ivan.
“Of course you don’t,” said the queen.
“Could you go over that middle bit again?” the prince asked the king. “Left at the blind canyon?”
“Straight ahead,” he corrected. “And up.”
With some sadness, the soldier gave his last token to Queen Natanh, the ring that bestowed great strength. In her hands it became a gold and white flower that she tucked behind her ear.
The Prince was full of energy the next morning. “Today we begin the rescue of Tsarevna Vasilisa! What could possibly go wrong now?”