Telling Tales 49
Marya’s tasks grew more formidable, but not always greater in size. Once every part of the castle was clean, Koschey had her clean every part of the grounds. Once the grounds were clean, he had her straighten every part of the castle. By the time she was finished, the orchards stood in neat rows. The hedges with their iron thorns, the slightest scrape from which would put you into a hundred year sleep, now tangled themselves into beautiful patterns and knots. The dungeons were perfectly dank and the spiderwebs hung just so. Then it was on to finding things that Koschey had lost or misplaced or simply wanted.
“Make me a birdcage made of gold.”
“Make me a saddle of the purest white leather.”
“Someday I may marry. Sew for me a dress of moonlight and stardust.”
Every day Marya asked Koschey where he kept his heart. Every day he told her a lie and set her a new task with the promise that he would kill her if she failed. Marya did not think that he was lying about that part.
She knew that he no longer left on his wild travels. She knew that he stayed and spied on her and attempted to discern the manner by which she accomplished each and every job. She knew that however much he knew, it would not help him to listen, and so every day she danced. Some days it was a pounding, stomping crush of a dance. Others she flowed like a gentle breeze. It was less her mood and more the task ahead of her and the lives that she touched, for one does not dance with a monstrous beast to the same beat that one dances with a river or a shovel.
She saw Koschey as a horsefly. She saw him as a spider. She saw him as a sunbeam, a fish, a poisonous flower. She saw him as a wind, a bird, the morning mist, and a blade of grass.
She danced. She waited and she danced.
Marya was no prettier now than when she fell down the well. She was no thinner, but she was much stronger and she had the grace and whimsy of a daffodil on the breeze. She was as patient as ever. She danced better and with more partners and what she learned about them was that the uglier the partner, the more loyal the partner. The moat, having been cleansed, would have turned to rain if she were to but ask it. The monstrous creatures, though they might snap to let her know that they were still fearsome, would have torn any other to bits that would have harmed her. The earwigs and weevils helped her clean and told her where Koschey sat, watching, and what his form was. They did not care for her looks one way or the other. They loved to dance and they loved that she danced with them.
And she waited and she learned and did every job she was given. Just as old Mother Holle told her to do.