Telling Tales 19
“We’re lost, aren’t we?” asked the soldier. “We’re never going to reach the Diamond Kingdom.”
“Don’t say that!”
“I’m starting to think that a map would have been a good idea, that’s all.”
Prince Ivan said nothing, but in his heart of hearts he feared that the soldier was right. They had traveled for weeks since leaving the Kingdom of Gold, crossing plains that leached color from gold to dull yellow to a vibrant, poisonous green, beyond a muddy brown river as wide as a sea and through swamps infested with many-toothed water dragons.
“Stop calling them dragons!” swore the prince. “They don’t look anything like dragons.”
“In the snout and the teeth, I’d have to say that they bore a distinct resemblance to the way you used to. Your teeth were much straighter, I’ll grant you.” The soldier had never explained all of his tricks with the metal walnuts, no matter how much Prince Ivan had tried to wheedle the truth out of him. “Anyway, maybe I was wrong. I think we may have arrived after all.”
The green jungle lay behind them and before them stood a towering palace of blue diamonds, rising out of the ocean itself. Facets of the jeweled wall sparkled like water under the bright sun. No serpents awaited them at the edge of the jungle, nor on the sand that lay between them and the castle, nor at the castle gates either.
The soldier frowned. “It seems too easy.”
“Easy?” cried Prince Ivan. “Easy? When we have trod for nigh unto a year simply to get to this point? Easy, when we faced the water animals that were not dragons? The giant flying frogs? The zombies and witches of the swamps? You call that easy?”
“Oh, those,” dismissed the soldier. “Piffle. The Whirlwind shouldn’t care one whit for how easy or difficult our journey to this point has been. My surprise is that when it comes to this point it is easy. Each point should be exactly what it is, no more and no less, despite all that has come before.”
“You are a pessimist,” said the prince as he pulled on the door, which did not open. “A pessi… Pess… Urf!”
“Is it stuck?”
“I’m fine!” grunted the prince as he pulled and tugged with all of his might against the door. “I think it’s just wedged a bit!”
“Mmmm,” agreed the soldier, and while the prince struggled at the mighty entrance, the soldier went from hinge to hinge, door to door, applying the tiniest bit of oil. “How’s that?”
Prince Ivan picked himself up from the sand where he’d fallen when the doors had opened with the suddenness of a lightning strike. “How is it that you just happen to have oil on you?”
“There was this fellow in the regiment, his motto was be prepared. I’ve got this kit from him, see,” the soldier began, but the prince wasn’t actually interested. He was anxious to see his Princess Vasilisa on the one hand, and rather embarrassed on the other. “I’ve got a lock-pick set here, a loaf of bread,” the same which he tossed to two giant, bloodthirsty hounds which tore at them. Immediately, they set upon the bread and the two men continued on. “There is also this chamois cloth, see how good it is for polishing?” He demonstrated against a suit of armor standing at attention in the courtyard, wiping all of the rust clean from the joints.
But Prince Ivan wasn’t paying attention. He was looking up at Vasilisa, looking down at him from a tower window.