Telling Tales 104
“I don’t expect you to take my word without proof,” pronounced the Sunset King. “I know the kinds of things that you’ve been through. Wait here and I’ll return with more than you’ll want, I expect.”
A noise behind Ivan caused him to look to the side, but he saw nothing, and by the time he returned his gaze to the chair with the Sunset King, the other man was already gone. Ivan investigated the chair and the floor beneath the chair and the wall too far away from the chair in case there were any hidden panels. Eventually he concluded that if any secret entrance hidden there was beyond his ability to discover. “Not that finding hidden things has been my specialty. Lengthy quests have really been where my strengths have lay.”
“Why didn’t you listen to me?” said the wolf. Ivan spun around, but nowhere around him could he see where the wolf might be. “Up here.”
Above him and halfway down one long wall, the mounted head of a gray wolf had turned to look at him. “What happened to you? Are you dead?” Ivan gaped up at the head which definitely, absolutely, lacked the rest of its body. “I will wreck vengeance upon the Sunset King, no matter what he says about Vasilisa after this!”
The wolf barked a laugh. “For someone who takes the honor of his word so seriously, you are very generous with your oaths. I would recommend that you consider more fully your statements before throwing the weight of your conviction behind them. In this instance, however, you need not worry. This head is not mine and my body remains my own. I have merely borrowed it for the sake conversing with you. It has taken me some time to track you down.”
Ivan explained what had happened, how Vasilisa had waved at him, how he had leapt off, how he found himself here and talking with the Sunset King. “She has been more distant, increasingly so, the closer we returned to her home,” he confessed. “I had hoped it was simply her mood and that she would feel better once we had left again from her father’s realm.”
“If you had heeded my words and not let go, no matter what you saw, you would not now be in this predicament. As for the Sunset King, I have no doubt that his words contain some degree of truth, but it is equally certain that he is filled with lies.”
Ivan was torn. On the one hand, Vasilisa herself had told him that her father had turned him into the dragon. On the other, she had grown more distant. Then again, why should he trust a talking wolf? Except that the talking squirrel had been helpful. But one talking animal doesn’t mean that all talking animals are friendly and maybe the wolf had her own motivations. Besides which, the Sunset King had described so many things so perfectly.
The wolf growled. “A test, if you are reluctant, you foolish man. After the Sunset King has given you his evidence, nearly all of which I expect will be true or at least true enough, ask him where Koschey the Deathless keeps his heart. Ask him, and bear witness to the results yourself.”
The wolf head stopped moving and immediately seemed as unremarkable as all of the rest of the heads in the room – indeed, much less remarkable than many of them.
“Well,” said the Sunset King, “if you’re ready to take your hand from the mouth of that wolf head, we can begin.”