Telling Tales 26
The old man looked at the barkeeper and she looked back at him. “That is all?” she asked.
“Should there be more? That is the story that Queen Nuviya told me, and as she told it to me I told it to you. She did not call herself a queen, any more than Ahtna did, but they were the rulers of their realms and kings and queens were how Prince Ivan and I understood them.”
“I have a question,” said the innkeeper, looking at his wife behind the bar. “I don’t understand why you didn’t think of the Great Horned Spirit. Wouldn’t he have saved you from Yumni the Whirlwind, since No Legs and No Eyes couldn’t?”
Several of the merchants nodded their heads at this. “That’s right,” said first merchant, “that doesn’t make sense at all!”
“Ah, Dmitri, you just want to get out paying up your bet,” said the man at his side. “You owe this man a crate of your vodka.”
Dmitri’s red face turned red but before he could speak, the traveler went on. “He does not owe me anything yet. I have only said one of my possible stories, and the bet was that I could tell any of them.”
“That’s right!” said Dmitri again, to the boos of his fellow merchants.
The barkeeper eyed her husband. Dmitri was the sort who could get angry quickly.
“To your question,” said the traveler, also to the innkeeper, “I did not think of the spirit precisely because I thought of No Legs and No Eyes. It seems the spirit only comes as a last resort, and I had no time to think of anything else before Yumni killed me. Also, you should simply call him ‘Yumni’ or ‘the Whirlwind.’ Otherwise it is like saying ‘Whirlwind the Yumni’ or ‘Whirlwind the Whirlwind.’ The words are the same.”
“I want to know how you came back to life,” said the innkeeper.
“I want Dmitri to give us his vodka!” shouted the red-nosed merchant.
Dmitri was about to get angry when the traveler said, “Until the bet is won or lost, the vodka cannot be given or taken, is that not right?”
“Exactly,” said Dmitri. “It’s in hock, so keep your hands off of it.” The merchants grumbled mightily, so Dmitri added, “I’ll tell you what. If any two of you can match this man’s story of the Silver Queen, I’ll throw in a half a case, but the stories have to be just as good.”
“Who judges that? You?” asked his friend.
Dmitri laughed. “Fair enough. No, we’ll let our old liar be the judge. He’s done right by me so far. But I get to pick the tellers.”
The traveler shook his head. “I am tired. I have neither slept nor eaten. I am barely fit to recount a meager tale here and there.”
“Innkeeper, give him a meal while we listen. I’ll pay.” The innkeeper nodded his head and would have started for the kitchen to gather something for the man by the door had the merchant Dmitri not swung around to face his wife, the bartender. “And while we wait, how about you tell us the next.”
“I want to hear about the zombies!” said someone else.
“I’m paying for the stories. It’s my bet!” said Dmitri.
“And if I am not as skilled?” asked the bartender.
“Free food and lodging for me and my guest for as long as the storm blows.”
She looked at her husband. They could not afford a loss. “It happened when I was a girl,” she began.