Telling Tales 69
A First Welcome Home
The flying boat lashed to the top of the mountain, the company of eight began their descent to the lands below.
“How’d you come to this, then, Ivan? Love at first sight, was it?” asked the blue-eyed girl.
Ivan’s face turned a light red, prompting one of Vasilisa’s eyebrows to go up in the way that made him so nervous. “Well, it’s rather a longer story than that. But certainly, the moment I actually saw the princess…”
“Was that before or after you’d stolen her dressing gown?” asked the pile of dead-looking skins.
The hunter and the runner roared with laughter, but the scaled man scolded the women for their speech. “Love is nothing to mock. Love, true love, is the only thing that can slake one’s thirst for companionship and fulfillment.”
The blue-eyed girl with blonde hair like a bramble patch said quietly to the skins, “As a metaphor it’s one thing, but he takes it a little far, don’t you think? He makes it sound like it’s a real thing.”
“Some men get carried away,” murmured the skins in return.
“I’m not sure I know the details of your arrival, Prince Ivan,” observed Vasilisa, eyebrow reaching for the stars.
“They’re always so proper with each other,” snorted the girl. “Why don’t they just jump on each other?”
The pile of skins gave a sharp, shocked gasp. “Never!”
The girl rolled her eyes and fell back to talk with the hunters, whose brusque humor was often more to her liking.
“I did so tell you!” Ivan was protesting. “When I was a dragon. Every fortnight I would visit and we talked into the night and all the way until morning.”
Vasilisa considered. “I’m fairly certain you mostly declared your love for me and I wept bitter tears on your behalf.”
The pile of skins would have liked to remark that, while this sounded very romantic and heartfelt indeed, it was utterly lacking in direction and nothing she herself would have supported beyond a good first cry. Unfortunately, the bramble-headed girl was exchanging ribald jests with the leather-clad hunter Ipiktokiyakovik.
“Halt!” commanded a voice that was evidently used to commanding.
At the front of the group, Ivan pulled to a sudden stop. Before them on the narrow path, just wide enough for them all to travel two by two comfortably, sat a company of men on horseback. The men as well as the horses were laden with armor and festooned with blades.
“Who are you? Whence do you travel and to what purpose?”
Ivan drew himself up, and for all his ruined garments, he still knew how to cut a noble figure, Vasilisa observed.
“I am Prince Ivan Pyotrovich. I am returning the tsarevna Vasilisa to her father as per his command. With us are my stalwart friends and companions.”
“Which tsarevna Vasilisa would that be?” challenged the captain. Ivan could see his insignia. What followed was a practically a lesson in genealogy and geography as the two men isolated exactly which Tsar Pyotr was Ivan’s father, exactly which Tsar Pyotr was Vasilisa’s father, the relative distance between the two lands, and their exact position at that point in time. “Welcome, then,” the captain finally said, “but I’m afraid you can’t get there from here.”
“We fear nothing!” affirmed Ivan and his company.
The captain scoffed. “It doesn’t matter if you fear the giant or not, he’ll crush you all the same.”
“A giant,” sighed Ivan. “I wonder if my friend the soldier served with him.”