Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 117

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We’ve Got Some Good News and We’ve Got Some Bad News

No sooner had he sat up in fear than the soldier fell back again, exhausted. “Where am I? Has Yumni captured us all?”

“You are safe,” said the youngest, whose brown leather clothing, the soldier saw, crawled and swept across her body.

“Yumni is no danger,” said the next, clad in furs that seemed damp with melting snow.

“We have taken great pains to heal you, friend,” said the last, and the fine yellow threads of her clothing were almost too much for the soldier’s eyes.

“You saved my life,” realized the soldier. “Tsarevitch Ivan and tsarevna Vasilisa? Did they escape?”

“They did,” answered Ahtna, the youngest of the three women. “They are currently traveling east on a fantastical boat that soars through the air. My children the terns have kept me apprised of their situation so that I could be sure to tell you that they are well.”

The Silver Queen, Nuviya, added, “In fact, they have recently taken on a fellow countryman of mine who has taken the name of Ipiktokiyakovik, the sharpest-eyed hunter in all of the world. He will not fulfill your role, but he will certainly be of use to them in the future.”

Natanh, the eldest, said, “In other words, you should not concern yourself so much with the fate of Ivan and Vasilisa, who looked for you for a great deal of time. They are safe and well, though they proceed into further danger. You are safe but not well, and you must work a great deal if you are to get better.”

The soldier tried to protest. “But I should be with them! I owe you a great debt for saving my life from the injuries I received at Yumni’s hands – ”

Natanh interrupted him. “You misunderstand. We did not save your life.”

The soldier looked from gold Natanh to silver Nuviya to copper Ahtna and back again. “How’s that?”

“Yumni killed you,” said Ahtna.

“We have been working to bring you back to life,” said Nuviya.

“And here I am,” concluded the soldier in a weak voice. He remembered the stomping of the giant’s feet, the disappearance of No Legs and No Eyes. He remembered turning around and he saw gray eyes that consumed his world and he remembered feeling more than hearing the thunder and the flash and heat of the lightning… and that was all he remembered.

“Here you mostly are,” agreed Natanh.

“Mostly,” repeated the soldier.

“You are not whole,” said Nuviya.

The soldier lay back, pale with fear and sudden exhaustion alike. He wiggled his toes and his feet. He flexed the muscles in his legs. He accounted for his hands and fingers. Bit by bit and piece by piece he enumerated every part of his body. “I seem to be all here,” he said.

“Your body was not dismembered.” The gold queen lay one hand on the soldier’s arm. “We have returned you to life in part due to our own skills but importantly, too, to your own desires.”

“Who wouldn’t want to be alive?” he asked, struggling to understand her meaning.

“The living almost invariably want to remain alive. Those same, once dead, often have different feelings about it and are happier where they find themselves.”

“I don’t believe it.”

Nuviya smiled. “You are different.”

“But that is a separate problem, your being different,” said Ahtna.

“How do you mean?” he asked.

The three queens looked at one another. “Your breath is not your own. Unless you recover what is yours, you will die once more. This time, there will be nothing we can do to save you.”

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