Telling Tales 85
“Vasilisa won’t speak to me. She won’t even speak to me! It’s like she’s a different person since we arrived back here.” Kou Ke nodded in sympathy and laid his softly scaled hand on Ivan’s shoulder. “You know, this is a lot like when I was first wooing her. Things in my room began to go missing and the tsar accused me of stealing them – as though I had anywhere to hide them! Still! I attempted to stay awake to determine what was happening and found to my great surprise that I was not able to keep my eyes open. It was not until the last night, the morning before the tsar had sworn he would not stand for it if another item had left from my room, that I managed to secrete a pin into my clothing with which I stabbed myself. Unpleasant, yes, but I stayed awake, and only to discover that it was Vasilisa who crept in through a secret passage to remove the things. I tried to stop her and inadvertently ended up holding her nightgown. There was a bit more with her father, but he couldn’t well execute me for someone else’s theft.”
“I believe he could if he could figure out how to play it,” muttered Arkady. He and Aleksey were most anxious that Ivan succeed in determining where the princesses had gone since they were sure that Entendtout was correct that Yekaterina and Liliya had taken their tokens, and they were equally sure that Tsar Pyotr would have them executed for their loss.
“Here is my question,” said Aleksey. “Are the princesses as evil as the sorcerer, or is he manipulating them as well?”
Juliedah leaned forward. Aleksey and Arkady leaned back. “The princess Vasilisa has become more remote as we have come closer and closer to the castle. She expressed to me more than once on our travels in the flying ship her dismay that you, Ivan, had to return her to her father, although she thought too much of you to attempt to dissuade you and have you be other than what you are.”
“Other than what I am?” asked Ivan, confused.
“You have a flying ship?” asked Arkady.
“You never mentioned that,” said Aleksey.
“True to yourself,” said Juleidah. “She knew that your word is important to you, and counted on you returning her to her father and taking her away again at once.”
“That is exactly what we had discussed. Perhaps we could fly the ship to the uppermost tower to facilitate the escape – except that it is hardly the quietest of transports.”
“You have a flying ship?” repeated Arkady.
Tor poked him in the side with something very sharp. “You’ve seen a giant. Why is a flying ship so remarkable?”
“I’m bleeding!” said Arkady.
Entendtout stepped forward. “I have been listening to everything that everyone in the palace has said about the princesses, but if they do, indeed, disappear, no one is aware of this fact save the tsar himself. No castle can keep secrets so well that someone would not give something away. We should assume that the tsar is acting alone, or perhaps in concert with his wife, the tsarina. If so, the plan is long set, as they have no need to orchestrate its details.”
Ipiktokiyakovik nodded. “It is a hunt. We must discover the nature of the prey and how it moves. We already know that it hunts us back.”
“We will not have much time,” said Ivan. “The tsar will grow impatient.”
“Then we will begin tonight,” resolved Kou Ke.