Telling Tales 21
The Best Laid Plans
The soldier knew he had but one chance to survive Yumni, a giant of a man if ever there was one. Although he had oiled his sword most nights before going to sleep, a year in the cold and wet had not done his blade much good, and besides, Yumni could reach much farther with just his arm, much less his flail, than the soldier could with his arm and sword together.
He no longer had his gun, either. He had used up the powder long before they encountered No Legs and No Eyes, and although he had kept the pistol with him just in case they were to come across some more, by the time they were a few weeks out of the Silver Kingdom, the gun was nothing more than dead weight, and eventually he had traded it away to young man for some “magic beans” on Prince Ivan’s urging.
Oh, Prince Ivan. He was so enamored with the recovery of his beloved Vasilisa that the couple had not even noticing that the soldier let them pass. Even now, he could hear their voices fading into the distance, “Ivan!” and “Vasilisa!” But the soldier bore them no grudge. He had never been in love the way that royalty seemed to fall in love, deeply, with conviction and no thought of the rest of the world, not even of where they would sleep that night or of what they would eat that noon. Oh, love.
No, the soldier knew that time was of the essence. They had scarcely made it into the jungle when Yumni’s footsteps sounded behind them. They had scarcely gone ten steps when the soldier realized what his course of action must be, and at that point he made his great decision. Five steps later, the prince and princess had passed him by, and now he stood alone in the early canopy of the jungle, considering his only option.
He took out the reed pipe and played.
It was a haunting yet jaunty tune, the sort of jig a drowning river fairy might play to cheer itself up. No sooner than the last of the quick notes had played, and without any other warning, than No Eyes and No Legs were before him, sitting on their same stumpy chairs as though the soldier and the prince had only just left them, only there was no cold, no fire, and no excuse for a hut.
“Hello, uncles!” said the soldier, hoping that he didn’t sound too desperate or hurried.
“It’s our nephew,” said No Legs.
“So I hear,” said No Eyes.
“It’s warm here,” said No Legs. “Green.”
“So I feel,” said No Eyes.
“How have you been?” asked the soldier. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead at the pounding footsteps of Yumni.
“Not so bad,” said No Legs.
“But no so good, either,” went on No Eyes.
No Legs was about to agree, when No Eyes said again, “What’s that thumping sound?”
“Oh, that?” said the soldier. “That is Yumni the Whirlwind coming to kill me. Prince Ivan and I rescued the princess Vasilisa from his castle and now they’re off running ahead, and I thought that perhaps, if you could see your way…”
“You called us for help, just like we said you should do,” said No Legs.
“Well, yes,” admitted the soldier.
“Against Yumni the Whirlwind? No can do,” frowned No Eyes. “Sorry, lad.”
And with that they were gone.
And with that arrived Yumni.
And with that arrived his flail, billowing lightning and thunder before it.
And that is how the soldier died.