Telling Tales 56
History and Future
They stood at the water’s edge, looking to the horizon where the sun burned the edge of the sky.
“If I were still a dragon, I could have carried you on my back and swam the whole way.”
“It’s farther than that,” she said. “Even Yumni had to rest.”
Ivan stared out at the waves crashing into the sand. The soldier had carried the reed pipe gift from No Legs and No Eyes, and again it was the soldier who had left tokens with the three Kingdoms they had encountered. It was the soldier who had collected the teeth from the flying, poisonous frogs, and it was the soldier who had accepted the thanks from the people in the swamp whom they had saved from zombies. He was beginning to suspect that there was less base avarice in the soldier’s nature and more planning. “My friend the soldier would have a story if he were with us. He would say that there was a fellow he’d known in his regiment, and that man would have told him something, or given him something, and that would have led him to the solution.” They stood in silence as the sliver of hot orange grew into a burning orange ball. “I am afraid I am more dedicated than I am prepared,” he said at last.
Vasilisa took his hand in hers. “Then we will solve the problem together.” South was the way back to Yumni’s. West was the path through the Kingdoms, long beyond measure. East was the ocean. They turned toward the north.
She explained that her father didn’t have anything against Ivan personally. “Well, not until you tricked me with that riddle and stole my robe in the middle of the night. He was rather upset with you personally after that.”
“But he would have killed me if I hadn’t succeeded with the riddle!” He was surprised that she brought up the robe again – he hadn’t thought that she was still bothered by that little detail. “And anyway, I wouldn’t have taken your robe if I hadn’t needed some kind of proof that I had been visited in the night. After all, you’d sent servants the previous two nights.”
She arched a single eyebrow, which was not only a trick that Ivan couldn’t do, but it also made him nervous when Vasilisa looked at him like that. He was pretty sure that certain death (his) trumped modesty (her robe), especially when it was her who had come into his room. But the eyebrow made him think that perhaps he didn’t want to get into the particulars.
“Your father so protective of you?” he finally asked.
“Not me, but my youngest sister. We must marry in order, of course, and with me gone, there are now only ten marriages to go before the youngest is eligible.”
Clearly, Ivan thought, there were more cultural differences between his father’s tsardom and Vasilisa’s than he had previously appreciated. He felt that perhaps their conversations were somewhat more awkward than they had been in the past, when they had stared into one another’s eyes saying, “Ivan!” and “Vasilisa!” over and over.
“I have an idea,” he said at last. “It will not be simple, but we could walk for years before finding passage beyond the water. The only way forward is for me to build a boat. We will sail across the ocean and return closer to our own lands that way.”
Vasilisa smiled with encouragement.
He looked at the forest to their left and at the water to their right. “I’ve never sailed before, you know.”