Telling Tales 31
Lucky Is As Lucky Does
“Of all people, it’s Anatoly who takes the string away from me. Naturally, I pulled my hand away from Sasha, but there’s Anatoly grabbing and yelling, ‘Take it if it’ll work!’ I know, I know, in the end Anatoly’s going to make sure that Anatoly survives, but do you think he would have been in such a hurry to hand it over if it had started out in his hands? That’s all I’m saying. It’s a lot easier to be sure about causes and effects when things aren’t in your hands, literally and figuratively, if you know what I mean.
“It’s too late for me to say much to Anatoly, because the giant’s head is getting bigger and higher and Sasha is running away with the string. Anatoly and I, we don’t know what to do, so we stand there for a moment, then we start yelling at each other. Me, because he took my string, him, because that was our best chance and didn’t I see that, and if I found it how were we to know who it really belonged to? That’s how I’m going to die, I’m afraid, arguing about some worthless point of business. I miss the big picture sometimes. I don’t have much to say to Anatoly, so I go around and around saying it eight different ways instead, and Anatoly, he’s doing the exact same thing. We’re so busy yelling that we don’t even notice the sounds of a fight, we don’t notice the giant’s head disappearing, we don’t notice screams of fear turning into shrieks of triumph. Nothing. We’re still arguing when the townspeople come back, carrying Nikolai and Sasha on their shoulders like they’re heroes – which, it turns out, they are.
“Apparently young Nikolai picked up a tree, knocked the giant over, bashed him a couple more times, and put the tree right back where he found it. By then Sasha was leading a team of the townspeople and they’d trussed that giant pretty firmly to the ground. They ran rope across his legs, chest, and arms, lashed to trees upon trees, and there was no way he was getting out easily after that.
“You know me, I’m one to let bygones be bygones, so I tell old Anatoly that if he’ll buy, all is forgotten. We follow everyone else to the inn – looked a lot like this place, less snow – and after most of the people can’t stand any longer, most of them are sleeping at their tables, I make my way over to young Sasha. ‘What was that all about, lad?’ I ask him. ‘We knew he was coming here, the giant, and my brother is the only person strong enough to trip him, but he was scared.’ ‘Scared,’ says I. ‘Of course he was scared!’ ‘You don’t understand,’ explains the boy to me, ‘he was only scared because he’d lost his nerve. If you hadn’t found it and given it back, I don’t know what would have happened.’
” ‘A nerve,’ says Anatoly to me later. ‘Don’t know that there’s a market for nerves,’ but true to his word, he bought all evening. So I’m lucky, I am, and my luck saved that whole town, because if I hadn’t found that nerve and found young Nikolai and if Sasha hadn’t seen me and Anatoly, that giant would have used us all for appetizers and toothpicks. I try to keep that in mind when I make my deals, for better or for worse. Just like you should, Dmitri, because I think it’s time for you to pay up.”