Telling Tales 33
Koschey the Deathless
Who is Koschey the Deathless? What kind of question is that?
Fine, if you say you haven’t heard of him, then you haven’t heard of him.
I can answer some of your questions easily enough. Why is he called Deathless? Because he can’t die, now, can he? I suppose he could die if you could find his heart, but that’s the source of the problem, if you get my meaning.
It’s like this. Koschey doesn’t have a heart. Without his heart, he can’t be killed, but a heart is just a heart, easiest thing in the world to damage. Stick a fork in it, he’s done. So that’s the next question. Where’s his heart, exactly, if it’s not in his chest? That’s what everyone wants to know. If anyone knew, he wouldn’t very well be Deathless anymore? He’d be well and properly dead, instead of evil and improperly Deathless.
You think so? I guess I’d turn that question back on you, I would. What would you do if you had all of the time in the world?
Money? Yes, I expect you’d start off with that. Koschey certainly did, but he left that behind years, centuries ago. To what end money? You and I, we have need of money every day. Me, I can barely feed myself, and sometimes I can’t. Comes in handy for a fellow like me. There comes a time, though, when you start asking yourself what money is really for. Once you’ve got your house and your food taken care of, once you’ve accumulated more than you can spend in a lifetime, in two lifetimes, what’s the point?
Power, you say. Yes, now we’re getting somewhere. Except that money doesn’t guarantee power or might. It helps. It gets you access. You might have the best weapons, the best armor, the best army money can buy. Here I go again – except – that army isn’t yours. Yes, yes, you’re paying them, of course, no one’s saying you’re not. You’ve never had someone go back on a contract? You’ve never had someone turn on you? Loyalty, obligation, those are social bonds, and they’re liable to give out at the worst time. They do in all of the stories.
There’s Koschey. There he is. He’s done what you and I would have done, he’s amassed more money than he knows what to do with until he realizes it’s all in the pursuit of power. At that point, he starts working on power properly speaking, but he keeps finding weak points in his armor and in his army. He’s powerful but he’s dependent. What he wants, the light he sees at the end of his tunnel, is independence.
It’s knowledge what he’s after. Knowledge is power, they say, and he’s got all the time in the world to educate himself.
How long has he been at it? That, I have no idea. He’s a thousand years old if he’s a day, the older cousin to that wicked old Baba Yaga, and she’s no spring chicken. There’s a joke there, her hut with legs… Chicken… Get it? No?
Where was I? What Koschey’s after, that’s right, thank you. He’s a wizard of the first order. He’s wealthy beyond your wildest imaginings. The army? I don’t know if he’s kept them or not. He surely doesn’t need them, if he does. He’s not all-powerful, but he can’t really die, so he can’t really be stopped. Why does a man like that do anything anymore?
I expect he’s mad.
How did it happen? Well, there’s a tale to be sure.