Telling Tales 50
Anger and Defiance
“I will tell you where my heart is, for all the good that it will do you,” sneered Koschey. “Beyond the thrice tenth kingdom is a lake, and in that lake is an island, and on that island is a tower with no doors. At the top of that tower is a room in which there is a locked chest. In that chest is a bag and in that bag is a world. In that world swims a duck with an egg inside her. In that egg is a hare, ready to run. One of those hare’s tufts of fur is a needle, and that needle is actually my heart.”
Marya nodded, deep in thought.
“You will never find it,” laughed Koschey with scorn.
“I was thinking,” said Marya, “that it would take a great deal of work to clean and straighten all of those parts.”
Koschey’s face went red with rage. “I have had enough of your trickery. You will restore every piece of my castle down to the lowest mote of dust to the way it was when you came here. If there is a single thing out of place – a cobweb, a wet stone in the dungeons – you will pay for it with your life.” To make sure she understood the most meager extent of his power, he took a hold of one leg with both hands and lifted up until he ripped himself in half.
Marya wept as she danced, explaining in every step to every thing in and around the castle what Koschey demanded. “I would not ask you to sacrifice all you have gained. There are so many of you and there is just me. I cannot ask all of you to give up so much, so today is my last day with you. Tonight Koschey will kill me and I will never see my mother or my sister again.” She did not speak these words, of course. She danced them, even as Koschey watched, tears streaming down her face.
The castle did not get cleaner throughout the day. The hedges did not unwind. The moat did not become foul and the stables did not fill with dung, but old Koschey is as patient as he is curious. Would Marya pull off this last feat by the end of the day? He would kill or dismiss her, either way.
With thirty minutes left, nothing happened. With ten minutes, nothing. At the hour, Koschey transformed himself from the gray wolf into which he shaped himself to stand before Marya. “You have failed in your work.”
Marya held her head high. “I did not fail. I chose not to inflict your will upon my friends.”
“Your friends?” laughed Koschey. “There is no one here besides you and me, and soon there will be one less.”
Before Koschey could so much as open his mouth, however, the stones of the castle rose up. The moat left its banks and the monstrous creatures crawled out. The hedges with their iron thorns whipped and lashed at him and the spiders and mites and flies bit and stung. He took one shape after another, but the castle grounds gave him no relief, recognizing him for what he was by the sound of the wasps in chest.
He cursed Marya, “Keep the castle then, and enjoy it as much as you may!”
The water and creatures settled down once he left, happy to keep their new mistress and to lose Koschey forever, but where Marya had stood defiant a moment before now sat a large gray wolf.