Telling Tales 55
Ivan Didn’t See That Coming
“You sound as though you admire him,” said Ivan, who wasn’t sure what to make of that.
Vasilisa considered. “When he first stole me away, I didn’t know what to think. He warned me about my father, then there were guards on the steps, then we flew away.”
Ivan cleared his throat, uncertain how exactly he was supposed to say the next part. “Didn’t you tell him about me?”
“That my betrothed was a dragon? Yes, I did. I even explained that you would not rest, but that you would seek and seek until you found me, never ceasing.” She didn’t want to tell him that, even with the knowledge of the dragon, the Whirlwind had not been especially concerned.
The smile from her compliment faded as he remembered the first part that she’d said. “What was that middle bit? The part about warning you about your father?”
“Honestly,” she said, “it would probably be better if you didn’t return me to him.”
The debate was back on his face, the same as when he was torn between her safety and the soldier’s well-being. “I gave my word,” he said. “So I must bring you back to his kingdom. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Can you tell me what it is about him that is so bad?”
She looked at him in silence for some time. “I’m surprised you haven’t noticed before. Isn’t there anything in particular about us, my father or my sisters or me, that has struck you before?”
Ivan considered Vasilisa. This was a test of some sort, he knew, but he wasn’t sure what kind. It didn’t seem to be the kind of tests that his brother princes talked about with their princesses, tests that they failed, mystified, wondering why their princesses didn’t like the suits of armor they bought them for their birthdays, for example. No, it didn’t seem to be that kind of test at all. There were no gifts involved. And yet, it was clearly something that Ivan was supposed to have observed. It wasn’t a haircut or a new dress, because she mentioned her father as well as her sisters, so it was something in common with the whole family. He did note to himself, however, that he should be sure to compliment Vasilisa at the earliest appropriate opportunity on how nice she looked, even in pants. He wasn’t sure that princesses were supposed to wear anything but dresses. “Nnnooooo?” he answered slowly.
“My father is a sorcerer,” she said.
“Oh, THAT!” he said, relieved. “Everyone knows that!”
Now it was Vasilisa’s turn to be surprised. “Everyone?”
Ivan flushed lightly. “Princes talk, you know. Word gets around. But it doesn’t bother me,” he hastened to add. “As you know, I’ve loved you since before I became a dragon!”
“Didn’t you ever wonder how exactly you became a dragon?” she asked.
“Well, of course, I did, but… Wait – are you saying that your father was responsible for my transformation?”