Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 99

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Meanwhile, Back at the Inn…

“The Wolf’s Version?” sneered Dmitri. Everyone in the bar turned to look at the merchant, who, in spite of the levity of the company, had managed to retain his unpleasant demeanor. It should be said that his interruption of the old traveler managed to sour everyone else’s mood as well, as the story had been proceeding pleasantly apace. The fact that the rest of the room was now annoyed seemed to be the only bright spot on his horizon. “You make it sound as though your Sunset King has his own version. Also,” he added, ” ‘Sunset Kingdom’ is a terrible name. It doesn’t sound dangerous at all.”

The old traveler refused to be frustrated by the merchant. “Of course the Sunset King has his own version. How could he not? Are we not each the heroes of our own stories? I heard this tale straight from Ivan himself. You may choose not to believe his words, or not to believe the wolf’s, but I am reporting to you exactly their words as Ivan told me. There may indeed be untruths here, and I may indeed be responsible for propagating them, but if that is the case, I do so in ignorance and good conscience. I am not, after all, telling you how to invest your money, am I? Where is the harm in sharing one another’s company?”

The blustery Sergei burst out, “I can imagine a great deal of harm in sharing the company you describe of prince Ivan’s! They sound like savages, to a one!”

Yevgeny clapped him on the shoulder. “Even the magnificent servant?”

“Perhaps not him,” Sergei allowed. “But I have met hunters in the far north along the lines of that Ipik fellow, however you say his name, and they are dangerous. Vicious!”

To everyone’s surprise, Dmitri snorted his derision. “Ipiktokiyakovik! Aren’t you paying any attention at all? Besides, you’re hardly a safe fellow yourself. I’m sure you’ve cheated your ‘fair share’ of rude hunters in your time.”

“HA!” bellowed Yevgeny. “Our Dmitri made a pun! Innkeeper! Get your oven going! In honor and recognition of sour old Dmitri making a joke, I will contribute the spitted pig I have on my cart. Perhaps a little more food is what he needs to cheer up, hmm? Come on, dour man!” He pulled a reluctant Dmitri to his feet. “Help me. You might as well work for your meal.”

The two men exited, one pulling the other, while the latter was heard to say, “I’m fine working for my my meal! It’s everybody else’s meal I don’t want to have to work for!”

The barkeeper looked at her husband with one raised eyebrow. They knew well enough how to communicate in quiet, small gestures so that between them they could talk without alerting a houseful of guests. In this case, it was enough to say that one of them ought to get the fire going in the hearth. It would be hours before the pig was ready to eat, and what else did they have in the larder that could be brought out? The stories and the vodka had done their work and the mood of the room was raucous and pleasant, but it never did to assume that everything would end well. The innkeeper noted his wife’s work at the bar, serving drinks with a slow and steady hand, designed to keep anyone from getting drunker than their friends could care for. He went back to the kitchen, even as the old traveler began the next part of his tale.

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Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 3     Chapter 4     Chapter 5

Chapter 6     Chapter 7     Chapter 8     Chapter 9     Chapter 10

Chapter 11

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