Telling Tales 124
A Surprising Reappearance (for Several Reasons)
“Good dogs,” encouraged the soldier as he reached into his pouch for the loaves of bread he kept for special occasions such as this. He remembered too late that he had tossed the last loaves of bread at the two dogs in Yumni’s diamond castle, and, while fierce and not to be trifled with, those dogs were a great deal smaller and tamer than the two that stalked toward him now. They reminded him more of Ivan-as-the-dragon when they’d first met and played cards. Something about the drool at their mouths. The dragon made him think of the great horned spirit and how it had saved him on that occasion.
“No sooner thought than done!” boomed the spirit from behind the dogs where several of its horns intruded upon several of the more tender spots on the dogs. With yelps and cries more becoming of tiny puppies than of brutish hunters, the dogs tore off with their tails between their legs. The spirit laughed. “Ha ha! That was a good one!”
“You should have seen their faces,” said the soldier helpfully.
“Was it good? I’m sorry I missed it,” mourned the spirit. “Your faces are my favorite part.”
“Yes, your faces. You humans, dogs, horses, ogres, dragons, what have you’s. You’re all just bags of meat to me.” The spirit leaned close in and his smell overpowered that of the storm and the lightning. “Tasty, tasty meat.”
“You’re still here to help me, aren’t you?” The soldier was fairly certain that his voice didn’t shake but he couldn’t be positive.
The spirit removed one of its horns and used it to pick at what might have been a bit of flesh caught between two teeth. “Indeed, though you should be fine, now.” The baying of more dogs and the flight of more animals belied his words. The soldier glanced in the direction of the oncoming dogs. The spirit rolled his yellow, red-rimmed eyes. “Oh, come on. The bird showed exactly what to do! And by the way, you wouldn’t even be dead if you’d thought of me in the first place! There’s gratitude for you.” With that explosion of words, the spirit, to the soldier’s great surprise, burst into great, steaming tears.
Although he felt the timing could have been better, the soldier had to spend the next several minutes salving the spirit’s suddenly wounded feelings, assuring him that he (the soldier) didn’t take his debt (the spirit’s) to him (the soldier) lightly and he really thought that No Legs and No Eyes would have been able to handle Yumni and he didn’t want to go and bother the spirit with every little thing and he was terribly sorry that he’d made that mistake about not calling him that one time and he’d be sure to try and be better in the future. “Perhaps you could make it up to me?”
“Never!” wailed the spirit. “It’s outstanding now!”
“What if you helped Prince Ivan on my behalf, since I can’t right now?”
The spirit stopped mid-sniffle. “You know, that might work,” he considered with no more external signs of sadness, although his stench had a newly wet and rotting quality. “Tell you what, I’ll go help them get back to Russia, you and I are quits for that fiasco with the giant with the flail, and you hop on your legs and get into that tree. Promise you’ll remember me next time?”
“I’ll do my best,” said the soldier with more assurance than he felt.
And with a puff of stomach-turning smoke, the spirit vanished.