Telling Tales 109
Near the End of the Evening
“That doesn’t make any sense,” asserted Dmitri. His eyes were red, though less from drink and more from lack of sleep. Between his reluctance to part with the crate of vodka that was his lost bet, the careful pours of the bartender, and the result of talking deep into the night, he was hardly the only person in the inn’s room to show signs of deep weariness. Even the innkeeper and bartender were tired, though they were much more accustomed to working through their fatigue than were the merchants, who already pushed themselves to get through the snowstorm.
The traveler gave an immense yawn. “Which part makes no sense? The things that happened or how I related them?”
Dmitri pounded one hand against the bar, but his effort was weakened by how tired he was. “The tsar! The tsar’s punishment!”
“I probably wasn’t clear enough. Vasilisa’s enchantment bound him to the castle in such a way that he cannot leave and he can neither see nor interact with anyone else. And before you ask, I do not know what the nature of the loophole was. If Ivan knew, he never told me, and while Vasilisa surely was aware, for I assume she laid its conditions herself, she did not say either. In other words, the tsar was doomed for all time to search the castle for his means of escape. To my knowledge, he is bound there still.”
The jovial Yevgeny leaned forward. “And what about the Sunset King? What was his punishment? To listen to the tsarevna’s story for all time?” The old man nodded his agreement. Yevgeny’s laughter no longer held its booming quality. His body contained his mirth, and his body was in dear need of sleep and rest. “It was painful enough to hear that story once! There is a sorcerer who will more fully consider his actions in the future.”
“What about the rest of the princes and princesses, the sons and daughters of the Sunset King and Tsar Pyotr?” asked Sergei.
The bartender likewise leaned forward. “And you’ve barely told us all that happened in the Sunset Kingdom. How did Vasilisa, Ivan, and the wolf get away?”
The man shifted where he sat at the table and shook his coat out from around him. His plates, empty not only of the food he’d eaten, but of crumbs and butter and gravy as well, sat in the middle of the table. “Nor did I tell you about the swamps before Yumni’s castle. That is the nature of stories and storytelling. Some parts jump out and some parts hide. However, they are all waiting to be told and to be heard.
“Arkady and Aleksey,” he went on, “they had their own adventures and lives and simply because they were minor characters in the story of Tsarevitch Ivan does not mean that they are not the heroes of their own tales. Likewise Ivan’s company went on to have further adventures, the first of which was to face the monstrous giant that was causing the countryside such grief.”
“Finish their story, old man,” commanded Dmitri. “Go on. Let’s see if your tongue can keep pace with your imagination.”
“You still doubt my truths?” asked the storyteller with a smile. “I am fortunate that all I have to do is remember and not to invent. Very well. This is what happened next.”