Telling Tales 48
Koschey Does Not Dance
From where he flew, in and out of the stable, trailing at a discreet distance, Koschey watched Marya dance. She traipsed her way from stable to moat, from moat to river, from river to stable. She tripped gaily in and out of stalls, ducked in and around neighing horses, through the manure of a thousand thousand horses.
It warrants saying that Koschey, a wizard among wizards, was not a man used to being confused. “She cannot possibly clean the stables this way,” he thought to himself, “and yet, every day she succeeds in my tasks.” He studied her dance. Perhaps her footing would suggest to him what it was that she was doing, he thought, but he learned nothing new. His patience was rewarded only slightly toward the end of the day.
Koschey was due back, so far as Marya knew, within the hour, and yet she done nothing but dance all day. Koschey grew more and more curious but never doubted that she would somehow accomplish her work, and sure enough, things began to happen.
It began with the monstrous beasts in the moat, splashing each other to a rhythmic beat. The water sang as it rose and fell, cresting above and beyond its banks. Curiously, disconnected entirely from the moat, the river began to follow suit, rising and falling, rising and falling. Soon it was a flood, coursing merrily through footpaths and horsetrails and following the dancing Marya at an improbably slow rate for water. It followed her to the stables and curled into a pool. On the other side, the horses pranced their way out, leaving in two careful lines, one wrapping back around each side of the massive building. When the building was empty of all but filth, the river poured in.
Marya led the moat and the moat showed the river and the river cleaned the stable and deposited days and months and years of manure along its banks for miles and miles away. The horses dove in where the river left its original path, and as they did, the rushing waters resumed their normal course, leaving the horses to high step their way with the last of the liquid as they returned to their stalls. The water stayed with them, flowed along their bodies, until they re-entered their stalls, as clean and cool as they had ever been since they were foals.
The stables were spotless. The horses were clean. The tools hung neatly where they belonged. The river was back where it belonged and the monstrous creatures in the equally clean moat growled convincingly at the birds that flew overhead.
It was all exactly the way Koschey expected it to be. Marya had completed her task. As usual, she had gone above and beyond her task. And there was still thirty minutes before he was “due home.” Thirty minutes for her to go to the latest place that he had confided the secret of his heart, underneath the stone steps.
Still Marya danced. She did not take out a shovel. She did not attempt to loosen a single paver or support. She danced and rain fell and the steps gleamed, polished and new.
“What have I learned?” mused Koschey, who does not like riddles. “What indeed?”
He had learned nothing at all.