Telling Tales 32
The Quality, the Truths, and the Judgment
“His name is Nikolai and he lost his nerve?” asked the old traveler after he’d cleared his throat with a swig from his beer.
Sergei spread his hands. “That’s what I said, didn’t I?” He looked around the room for confirmation.
“I think I might have met him. Pleasant young man, except for his habit of misplacing things.”
The second merchant, still hovering over the traveler, interjected now. “So who won, old man?”
Dmitri settled himself on his stool and crossed his arms, giving the old man a sullen glare.
“The bet was that any two people of this fine man’s choosing would not be able to match the Silver Queen’s story. No further criteria were discussed. Our hostess’s story was shorter than mine and than that of our third teller,” and here he nodded at plump Sergei, “but length of story was not a feature. Each of our tales featured the background necessary to understand them. They were complete.” He shrugged as he looked into Dmitri’s eyes.
“That’s cheap!” the merchant bellowed. “You’re trying to get out of it!”
“On the contrary, I am warning you. You gave me no guidelines. All you said was, ‘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.’ ‘Match’ and ‘just as good.’ By my judgment and no other’s.”
“How are we supposed to like Sergei’s story?” asked the man standing by the traveler. “He left out how the giant got knocked down.”
Sergei huffed himself up. “I told you before I started, I wasn’t even there for all of it.”
“Not my problem,” said Dmitri.
The traveler nodded. “Indeed, you chose your contestants specifically. Nevertheless, as exciting as it might have been to hear about Nikolai and the townsfolk tackling a giant, that was not his story. We cannot judge his story for what we want it to be, nor criticize it for that which it does not attempt to be. We must accept it as it is. His story was about the tangled string, which happened to be Nikolai’s lost nerve. It was not about the giant or even about Nikolai. It was a story about discovery, yet not exactly a mystery. Our hostess’s tale had a similarly misleading quality, in that it began as a quest but it ended the way that a ghost story might. My story – well, my telling of the queen’s story – spoke to the creation of the world. I can’t say whether I believe her every word, but I believe the truth inside. And that, ultimately, is how I must judge the other two stories, by their inner truths. Our hostess described a terrifying situation, and I felt terrified on her behalf. The merchant Sergei was confused and I felt his confusion, as much by the appearance of the giant as by the appearance and nature of the tangled string.”
“Good! Because I still don’t get it!” chimed in Sergei. “I mean, how can you lose your nerve? Don’t answer that!” he turned on another man, who was on the verge of saying something smart.
” I have to judge all three stories as being peers of one another. In that regard, they are all, as you say, a match.”
“But I didn’t like Sergei’s story,” said Dmitri.
“Hey!” Sergei was shouted down.
“You never asked about liking,” pointed out the traveler. “A half case of vodka is now due to our hosts. As for me, what should I tell next?”
Time to break from storyframe. You get to be the audience in the inn. What story should I go with next? Help me out here. Leave a comment here on the blog so that I can get a sense of where to take this.
- What happened to the soldier after Yumni killed him
- What happened with Ivan and Vasilisa as they fled
- A bit of background about Koschey the Deathless