Telling Tales 68
All for One (or Two)
They brought the ship to land on the top of a mountain. Ivan pulled at one anchor at the prow and Ipiktokiyakovik hauled at another. At the stern, Tor commanded the Brushwood Army to pull the ship down from below, while Haraka sped the anchor around trees to keep it from moving. Vasilisa and Juleidah manipulated the holes in the boat that let it sink from the sky. No longer did the boat howl with unreal and terrifying sounds. Thanks to Juleidah’s command of the winds, they were never without direction or speed, and thanks to Entendtout’s understanding of sound, they now flew across the sky sounding like, according to Kou Ke, the emperor’s musicians all playing in concert. They were even followed by flocks of birds who sang in chorus and sat on Tor’s army, exploding in a flurry of wings and feathers when the soldiers collapsed back to branches.
“Now what do we do?” asked the short girl with the lilting , her wild blond hair matching her wild blue eyes. “There’s no one here to pick up.”
Ivan and Vasilisa looked at one another. “We did not pick you up so that you would fight our battles with us,” Ivan began.
“Nonsense,” said the old gentleman. “We are not fools. We have talked on our travels and we know each other’s stories. We are with you as far as the sorcerous king.”
Ivan cleared his throat. “Tsar, technically. Here, I mean.”
Vasilisa added, “But certainly sorcerous.”
“Well,” considered the hunter, “I wonder if that doesn’t mean you should tell us your plan.”
“My plan?” asked Ivan, who had been rather pleased simply to have returned home, and with Vasilisa with him, no less. “Yes. There should be a plan.”
The pile of skins that looked a great deal like a dead thing (but to everyone’s relief smelled in no way as such) said, “Perhaps you should tell us in more detail what we can expect to face.”
“Yes,” agreed the man with skin the color of fertile earth, “will we have any allies in the castle?”
“And,” added the scaled one, “is there anything to drink?”
There was a silence for a moment before Ivan said, “I believe it falls to Vasilisa to describe the castle. I know it only as a suitor, and I believe we can assume that those things I saw I was designed to see.”
Vasilisa smiled. She had not been sure if Ivan would have recognized this fact. Before – before he had traveled, before he had met the soldier, before he had been a dragon – she was sure he would not have understood. Ivan was a prince and he was still certain that action required direct movement, but he now understood that others besides him had the answers upon occasion. To hear him talk, his friend the soldier had been one source of this newfound wisdom – as had the squirrel and their variety of companions that now accompanied them. He was not the boy she had fallen in love with, to be sure, nor was she the girl who had loved. They were both older and wiser.
“He does not expect us, I do not believe,” she said. “Therefore he will not have a foolproof plan. He will attempt to stall us while he comes up with whatever he decides foolproof is.”
The company nodded their understanding. “Speed is of the essence,” grinned the runner, his white teeth flashing. “Then we cannot fail.”