Telling Tales 84
The Merits of Looking Like a Servant
Aleksey and Arkady looked a pale shade of aghast at the realization that their tokens from the tsar had gone missing, but they could not bring themselves to believe that the loves of their respective lives had been responsible for their removal. “If I may, messieurs,” noted Entendtout, “it is against both custom and propriety for a princess to engage in excessive physical contact with a man who is not husband or blood relative.” At that, the two princes grew quite angry and might have tried violence against Entendtout for the perceived insinuation against their beloveds, save that both Ivan and Kou Ke were there. The old man went on, “And yet, each of the tsarevnas rested their hands upon you, messieurs, for a period of time verging on unbecoming, according to this tenet.”
“Well!” they blustered. “It’s not as though we haven’t been fighting for them!” “We’ve put our lives on the line, time and again!” “We’d die for their honor!”
Entendtout bowed his head lightly and observed, “Yes, I believe that is what they are counting on.” Now it was Ivan’s turn to be moved to outrage, but before he could say a word, Entendtout added, “Monsieur Haraka, would you be so good as to prepare something out of doors that will deflect attention from us? I believe His Highness will otherwise seek audience with you three, at which point – and correct me if I say this poorly – the ‘jig’ will be ‘up.’ ”
“Of. Course,” said Haraka. At once there were shrieks and calls for help from outside.
Tor poked Ipiktokiyakovik in his side. “Told you he could do it between two words. You owe me archery lessons.”
Although to a casual observer it looked as though the band was rushing out to see what was wrong, along with everyone else, the group found themselves somehow wrangled by Entendtout, pushed forward with him in the rear, and all the while blocking Prince Ivan from getting a really good look at whatever it was that Haraka had done.
“Tsarevitch Ivan!” The tsar’s voice pulled Ivan up to a halt. Before he knew it, the hall was empty save for him, Tsar Pyotr, and the tsar’s really elite guard, all of whom were in better shape than the honor guard who stood about. These ones looked dangerous enough on their own, and that was before they bristled with weapons. And bristle they did. “No, no, I’m sure it’s nothing the guards can’t handle,” he said, pooh-poohing Ivan’s protestations. “This is actually a boon. I wanted to speak with you privately, and this is the perfect opportunity, as there aren’t any witnesses.” To Ivan, it looked like there were about 36 witnesses. Bristling witnesses. “It’s the princesses. Well, technically it’s a curse on the princesses. It’s been dead and gone while Vasilisa was missing and I believed to be a thing of the past, but no sooner had she returned than the spell has taken effect once more.” It might have been Ivan’s imagination, but he thought for a moment that the tsar’s eyes fell on the gold filigree leaf and shrouded lightly with disappointment. “At night,” he whispered. “They disappear. Find out where they go, Tsarevitch. You have shown yourself to be stalwart and clever. Save my daughters. Free them from this curse, and the next day, I swear to you, you shall wed Vasilisa.”
“Your Highness,” said Ivan by way of agreeing to the deed.
“It’s a trap, of course,” said Kou Ke later, who was most familiar with enchantments.
Entendtout nodded. “Indeed, monsieur.”