Telling Tales 72
Discretion Is the Better Part of Planning
“If I may, monsieur,” suggested Entendtout, “we could go around.”
Scrobarnach Armtha thought that that would be akin to cowardice, a belief with which Haraka and Ipiktokiyakovik were inclined to agree. Kou Ke and Juleidah both felt that Entendtout had a point. Vasilisa said nothing.
Ivan cleared his throat. He hoped it communicated resolve and determination and didn’t come across as the stalling that it was. “The fact remains,” he said, thinking back to the beginning, “that my goal, the goal in which you have all so generously agreed to assist me, is not to fight the giant but to return Vasilisa to her father and from there to secure her safety against his sorcery. It may be the case that this giant is but one more example of her father’s…” He trailed off for a moment, uncertain whether or not he should use the adjective “wicked.” It certainly seemed that Tsar Pyotr was a wicked man, but he was still Vasilisa’s father and it was quite possible that there was more to being a tsar than Ivan had fully known before. And then there was the whole different culture thing and the fact that Tsar Pyotr didn’t want his youngest daughter to be married, but perhaps that, too, was nothing but a pretext that he’d told Vasilisa and her sisters, perhaps there was another answer altogether as to why –
“Yes! Yes! One of your father’s ensorcellments, that is what I was saying. Sorry, I began to think of all of the possibilities and I became distracted!” Which was true enough, technically. “Therefore, we should be prepared to face the giant, but until we know better we should consider it a distraction to our true goal.”
“We did help the bird, fish, and wolf,” pointed out Juleidah. “Would you consider those to be distractions as well?”
On the one hand, Ivan felt that this was a rather unkind question, because of course it was a distraction, but then he answered, “Distraction or not, there is more to being a prince than fulfilling one’s word. There is nothing preventing me or any of us from helping a fellow traveler along. In the same way that we halted our ship for each of you, we should offer assistance to those in need.”
“By that reasoning,” said Haraka, “we could all be princes.”
“And princesses,” added Vasilisa, in what might have been a challenge.
“Yes,” was all he said, not because he felt so convinced as because he wasn’t sure what else to add. Then he laughed.
“Something is funny?” asked Vasilisa.
“Oh, yes,” laughed prince Ivan, and told them a story that the soldier had once told him, about a fellow he’d known in his regiment who’d saved a tsarevna and, against all odds and social rules, had married her and found himself surrounded by a royal but inbred family. In short order, he’d taken his royal bride back to the barracks, which he proclaimed to be his own new kingdom and where they were much happier. By the end of the story, which culminated in a harrowing battle between the stalwart tsarevna and a recalcitrant pig, the entire company – save Vasilisa, who only smiled politely – was laughing to tears.
“That’s not funny at all,” scolded a commanding and confident voice.
“It’s unhealthy,” added a second one.
“Your pardon, monsieur, I was too engaged in mirth to hear them,” apologized Entendtout with a chortle.
They all looked up at the two stern men on horseback glaring down at them. “Shall I kill them?” asked Scrobarnach Armtha.