Telling Tales 40
The Secret Is a Secret
Afterwards, Koschey laid his parents to rest and went in search of the Monarchy by the slowest means possible. He did not aim himself directly for their capital, no. He began in the villages, seeking out their every representative. He liked the officers best of all. Not only did they travel in pairs, which made sending ongoing messages back to the Monarchy simpler, but they tasted better than mayors and tax leviers.
The Monarch sent a platoon of men to deal with the upstart. They sent a company. Koschey dealt with them all.
“Surely if there are many men, he cannot simply eat them. What a monster this boy must be!” They were partially right. Koschey could not eat them all. But he always ate one and he always spared one to return. However, Koschey had learned tricks beyond devouring men whole. The roots of the plants in the ground rose up to bury the platoon alive. A whirlwind swept the company into the sky, horses and all, and if they have ever come to earth, it is in a place I have never heard of.
The young man Koschey walked the perimeter of the Monarch’s land in a giant spiral, always at the edge, always proceeding toward the center. He had an army of his own, now. Not that he commanded them. He couldn’t have cared less about the people behind him, but they sought the freedom that his rebellion promised. Not that he promised them a word. They read the tea leaves. They thought they understood. They were the luckiest army in history. They never fought a battle.
When the Monarch sent his – or her? – first army, Koschey removed the bones from the bodies of the soldiers.
He transformed the second army into terra cotta and left them to stand in ranks for the rest of eternity.
He flooded the third army and they sank beneath the waves of a sea that had never existed before.
Many of the people following him began to wonder who, exactly, they were following. “Are we not trading one monster for the next? At least under the Monarchs we knew the horrors of daily life. Oppressive. Constant. Will we exchange the devil we know for this one? Who can say what evils he will unwrap once he has taken command?” And so they planned.
When Koschey turned the fourth army into birds, one and all, the rebels in his own camp attacked. They knew he would be distracted and at his weakest when he was already preoccupied with his dread magics.
They were wrong. He ate the first, the same as he did with every army the Monarch sent. He spared the last. The rest turned into water and became a river, flowing away from the camp and down toward the sea that had not existed before.
Koschey had no care for disobedience. He demanded no loyalty. He brooked no attacks on his person. With Koschey, everything is personal, for good and ill.
How did he become so mighty?
His question for Baba Yaga was not like his parents’, “How can we make our boy more human?” No. Koschey asked, “What do I need in order to solve all of my problems?”
And she told him.
Well, if I knew the answer to that, would I be sitting here talking with you now?
What I can tell you is that before Koschey returned home, before he ate the first officer, he had tucked his heart away for safe keeping and put something new in its place. A wasp’s nest.