Telling Tales 90
Ivan Takes His Time
“Maybe you remember the fire? No, I didn’t start it and I’m ashamed that you would have such thoughts about a guest. Your captain and I – a wonderful and attentive man, if I may say – were running toward the fire. Well, we could hear everyone screaming, ‘Fire!’ ‘Fire!’ I simply assumed that there was a fire. Wasn’t there? Well, now, see. There was.
“There we were, running to offer whatever help we can, when I heard another noise, like a damsel in distress. I’m sorry, but if you’ve never heard the sound of a damsel in distress, I can’t exactly repeat it for you, being neither a damsel, nor… Look, you get my point. And in any case, it turns out that it wasn’t a damsel in distress at all, it was a secret door opening. Are you happy now? Now you know what it was that caught my attention and that a damsel in distress sounds a little like a squeaky door. Or maybe that’s just my imagination. I can’t say that I’ve ever heard Vasilisa make that sound. Come to think of it, even when she was held captive by Yumni – did you not hear that part of our travels? – she never really behaved like someone in distress. Very composed, your daughter. You should both be proud.
“So this noise. I run back, and remember at this point I think it’s one of your daughters crying out for help in their room. Don’t they get tired of sharing? Twelve young women in one room? I marvel at their generosity and love between each other. My brothers and I have a much more combative relationship, but then that’s princes, isn’t it? We’re a competitive bunch.
“The door to their room isn’t locked and there’s no guard. At the time I assumed that he must have evacuated them to safety and away from the fire, not even thinking that if that had been the case, who would have made the noise? You know how it is, you’re in a hurry, you’re not thinking clearly. That’s important to the story, that I’m not thinking clearly, because I burst into the room and one of the beds is moving! I sprint over there as fast as I can move and there’s a staircase! Hidden beneath the bed! What must your architect have been thinking! Unless you bought this castle and didn’t build it yourselves? Well, I dove for the staircase and barely managed to squeak my way in as the bed squeaked back above me, making exactly the squeak that I thought I had heard before.
“Now it’s dark and I’m on a staircase and I’m there on completely false pretenses. Here I thought I was going to save a damsel and it was just a bed over a secret passage that needs some oil. But, being the intrepid tsarevitch that I am, betrothed to your eldest daughter and all, I knew that you, my prospective and imminent father-in-law, would want me to take action. Seize the day!
“Did you get something caught in your throat? Guard, give him a good smack on the back, he looks red. No, I’m sure he won’t hold it against you. That’s it! Harder! Feel better now, Your Highness? Then I’ll go on.
“Where was I? Ah yes! Darkness. Stairs. And most peculiarly, the sounds of singing birds. Isn’t that the most curious thing, I thought, and I speak as a man who’s seen his share of curiosities. Unto the breach, dear friends! I went on!”