Telling Tales 88
A Good General Plans Ahead, and Yet…
When the elite guard threw open the doors, one after another, they found no sign of Ivan’s company. They fell upon the standing members of the Brushwood Army only to grasp at thin, dry sticks that caught fire at once, setting seventeen small fires going in seventeen parts of the castle. Only the princes Arkady and Aleksey remained, bewildered as to the disappearance of Ivan’s friends. The only sign they left was a trail of unconscious bodies leading into the dungeon, where the door to Alexander’s cell had been bashed open. The beggar, too, was gone.
“Worse things have happened than escaped warriors,” mused the tsar to himself. “The fact of the matter is they are gone. The troublesome tsarevitch Ivan has also disappeared, and even if he has discovered whence my daughters have vanished, he will not return from that place. Without his friends, he is helpless. The soldier is long gone. Ivan is alone. Things will return to the way that they should be, my daughters and me free of these prying, sniveling men.”
With that, he sent Arkady and Aleksey to slay the giant, a task each of the three men assumed was a death sentence. Nevertheless, they each smiled politely, wished each other the best, and the two princes promised to rid the land of the giant or die trying. “Godspeed,” said Tsar Pyotr to them as they left, but he did not say where he wished God would speed them to. Arkady and Aleksey had a pretty good idea.
The minute their horses cantered away from the castle, the sorcerer began preparations should Ivan’s company return. He assumed that the servant Entendtout had heard Vasilisa telling him about their abilities, and although he wasn’t sure how they had escaped, he believed the old man alerted the others. For that reason he wrote instructions to his men, and made sure that they executed his will in silence. Indeed, all conversation in the castle stopped altogether. The only sounds were of people working. There was no laughter and there were no tears.
Against the best shot in the world, Ipiktokiyakovik, the tsar wrought an enchantment that would prevent any missile from reaching his person, whether arrow or stone or bullet.
Against the Brushwood Army, he prepared boiling oil, pitch, and torches aplenty.
The all-hearing servant was useless in the face of silence and writing.
The fiery desert winds would do little against oil and pitch and only fan the flames of a burning wooden army. It was certainly she, that Juleidah-pile-of-skins who had set the blaze at the kitchen. In case she tried anything in the castle, he had water standing by. He would plan for another enchantment to fight her own, but he first to finish his initial spell.
The fastest man was another matter, but with speed comes carelessness, so the tsar ordered tripwires and traps to be laid outside the grounds, high and low in places obvious and hidden to capture anyone who would try and dash in.
The serpent man was nothing. Very smart, perhaps, but Vasilisa had seen him do nothing other than express his hunger and thirst and demonstrate a marked talent for planning.
The beggar? “A beggar, nothing more,” Vasilisa had said.
For three days the tsar planned and prepared, his elite guard at the ready, his daughters safe.
He was, therefore, quite surprised to enter his hall for dinner, his wife Yelena walking with her placid hand on his arm, to discover a ragged tsarevitch Ivan and a large gray wolf devouring all of the food on the table.