Telling Tales 110
Coming Together and Coming Apart
Entendtout frowned. It was not often and never comforting when he discovered that there were things on the earth that he could not hear. Inevitably, it meant some kind of magic, a fact that never failed to disconcert him. Not that any of his compatriots were aware of his discomfiture. Nevertheless, he preferred a greater measure of anticipation. “Ah,” he exclaimed at long last. “There he is.”
Even by the standards of the hunters, attuned to the nature of sounds and quarry as they were, Entendtout’s exclamation sounded no more than a statement of fact. None of them, not Haraka, not Scrobarnach Armtha, not Ipiktokiyakovik, discerned anything out of the ordinary in his statement. Two people did hear the notes in his voice, Juleidah and Kou Ke, but they shared neither with anyone else nor with each other.
Scrobarnach Armtha’s shrub sat between her and the other hunters’s backs where they rested against like a pillow. She stretched her arms and let the branches and leaves behind her pick at her braid, shredding its formal beauty and returning it step by step to her more comfortable wildness. She knew that everyone thought she was younger than she really was and it pleased her to let them think so. “Should be here soon, then, do you think?”
The man who was trained to be a servant and yet served no one anymore nodded his gray head. “Indeed, mademoiselle. From the sound of the wolf’s pace, I would gauge their return within the hour.”
“Are they running or fleeing?” asked Haraka. He scratched his back against the bush behind him.
“I see your point, monsieur,” said Entendtout and considered the point. “Running. She moves with speed but not haste. It would seem that tsarevna Vasilisa’s plan has been a success.”
The pile of dead skins, her fine silks abandoned but saved for some distant future, gave out a soft sigh. “I shall miss her company,” said Juleidah. “She was wise and stronger than she knew.”
“I rather think she has discovered exactly how strong she may be,” murmured Kou Ke.
It was few hours later that the wolf arrived, barely winded, with Ivan on her back. The group exchanged delighted hugs and congratulations in their joy at being reunited. The beggar Alexander and the two princes stood distant from the greetings, although Aleksey and Arkady greeted Ivan separately later on. “No, I didn’t see her at the end, not since we left the Sunset Kingdom together.”
“The princess asked that we not follow, so we did not follow,” the wolf added to Ivan’s words, her voice a pleasant grumble of sound.
“Is it safe for us to return to Yekaterina?” asked one prince.
“To Lilya?” asked the other.
Ivan asserted it was. “The tsarina was as much under Pyotr’s enchantment as was the rest of the castle and the kingdom.” Before he could elaborate, the two princes were already on their steeds, shouting thanks and congratulations and best wishes to the whole company before they disappeared in a flurry of dust and horse hooves. “I would like to have told them that the princesses might not be the way they remember,” he finished.
Juleidah laughed. “That was the first time they have spoken directly to the rest of us. They must be happy.”
“Not you, monsieur?” Entendtout asked of the beggar, who sat morosely by. “You are not happy with the passing of the sorcerer tsar Pyotr?”
“I will not be happy until the passing of the heartless Koschey the Deathless.”
Which got everyone’s attention.