Telling Tales 100
Back on Track, Off the Track
According to the great gray wolf, prince Ivan had amply demonstrated he did not fear death. She also noted that there was a great deal more that could befall someone, especially facing a sorcerer. “And in this case, there are two of them.” Ivan remained suspicious that anything else could draw fear out of him and the wolf had to emphasize that it wasn’t fear that would be the problem. “What if they transform you?”
Ivan replied, rather breezily than was absolutely necessary, “My future father-in-law turned me into a dragon already.”
Beyond them, it looked as though they were losing ground against the castle, which was growing in length faster than the wolf could run. Their perspective on the ball showed them most of the dance again, princes and princesses dancing in broad, twirling circles. “I believe his current plan is to make you frog. You’ll be less threatening, less noticeable, and less likely to have someone strip the skin off of you so that you regain your body.”
“How do you know about that?”
Instead of answering, the wolf said, “Tsar Pyotr will demand proof of where you have been.”
“What about my boots made of silver and brass? And my grass-steel sword?”
“Without a token from this realm of gold, the Sunset Kingdom’s core, he will insist that you have not gained entry to the castle and that you have not fulfilled the spirit of your task. We must gain entry into the castle itself.”
What followed was an extended discussion over the wisdom of gaining a token to satisfy the tsar versus breaking the enchantment should the opportunity present itself. “There is the danger that you would injure the components of the spell,” said the wolf, “by which I mean, your princess and her sisters.”
That was about the only thing the wolf might have said to stop Ivan in his tracks. He hemmed and hawed. “How do we get into the castle, anyway?” he finally asked. Her affirmation that this was an excellent question made him feel remarkably accomplished, although he resented that it was a wolf that was saying nice things to him. Even a talking wolf.
“I’m afraid the castle is enchanted to take advantage of my speed on the ground. The faster I run, the less distance I cover.”
“Could you jump again?”
“Hold on,” she said, and Ivan thought she might have chuckled. He barely had time to throw his arms around the wolf’s neck when she leapt from the ground and flew through the air. “A good idea, tsarevitch.” They had gained great proximity to the castle, but now it fled from them at an even faster rate. “I will have to jump many times. Do not let go, no matter what you hear or see.”
Ivan thought that his title “tsarevitch” usually sounded quite noble, but that he had a few aunts and one grandmother from whom the word always made him sound young and immature. The wolf was like them, especially one elderly aunt in particular. He wasn’t able to continue this thought as the ground fell away beneath them. The rising moon grew close and he heard the princes inside exclaim at the sight of them. The wolf jumped again and they were by the windows, their panes seeming to lift into the sky and the princesses oohed. A third jump and glass exploded around them and Ivan heard Vasilisa say his name as she looked from below.
She raised her hands in supplication. He let go of the wolf.