Telling Tales 58
Some Helpful Advice
Ivan and Vasilisa rested on logs on the beach with the squirrel on a third opposite them and a giant mound of nuts in between them all. “Go ahead, help yourself,” said the squirrel. “I’ve already stored everything I need for winter.” It had been two days since their fish had run out, and since then they had had nothing to eat but nuts. Ivan’s stomach growled a deep baritone, contrasting charmingly to Vasilisa’s own soprano grumble. “Seriously, dive in,” the squirrel urged.
They looked at one another, equally certain of the other’s loathing of the idea of a single nut more. Ivan gritted a smile at Vasilisa, and she nodded back at him, and together they reached into the pile.
They uttered equally feminine squeals as they fell back off of their logs when the pile transformed into a giant feast the likes of which they had never seen even in their fathers’ courts.
“Ha ha!” laughed the squirrel. “You should have seen your faces! That was a good one. But seriously, dive in.”
Ivan and Vasilisa wasted no time in stuffing their faces and bellies as full as they could. It was all they could do to eat at a reasonable pace, they were so hungry. When they were finished, the squirrel said, “You’ll have a long voyage back home, even with your boat, and you’ll undoubtedly run into your fair share of troubles.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Vasilisa.
The squirrel appraised them. “You have that look about you. Both of you. Besides, it’s not every day I find Russians on these shores.”
Vasilisa looked at Ivan and Ivan looked at Vasilisa and they shared a thought: this was an exceptionally well-traveled squirrel.
“Now. The steering is much like any boat, but since you haven’t traveled by one before, I must warn you that since you’ll be working from the rear of the craft, it will move in the opposite direction that you expect.”
“Like in England!” said Ivan.
“Not like in England,” said the squirrel. “Pay attention.”
“Also, and this is really just a suggestion, you should pick up anyone that you happen to see by along the way.”
Ivan leaned forward. “And by suggestion, you mean…”
“You’ll probably die if you don’t do it,” agreed the squirrel.
Vasilisa sighed. “My father used to suggest things that way.”
The squirrel picked up a leg of lamb much bigger than its own body and began to gnaw at it in a way that the prince and princess found rather alarming. “Except that he probably carried out the death threat. I won’t. Although,” he said, considering, “coincidentally, it will probably be your father that kills you if you don’t take my advice.”
“Ah,” said Ivan, and imagined that this was often how the soldier felt when he said, “Oh,” which he was prone to in situations such as these.
“All you need to do is remember to throw down the anchor when you want to stop. I expect that the upper body strength that you’ve developed in the building of this fine craft will come in handy when you come in to land.”
Ivan massaged one bulging bicep and Vasilisa said, “Thank you so much for your help.”
“Not at all,” said the squirrel. “Food for help. We had a bargain, did we not?” And he wished them goodbye and bounded into the woods.
In the silhouette against the setting sun, the branches of the trees almost made it seem as though their friendly helper had sprouted a set of wide antlers.