Telling Tales 157
A Rocky Beginning
“I’ve known other people who’ve heard this story and everyone tells it differently but this is the way my grandfather told it to my father and my uncles and the way they told me and my cousins. Like cooking, I suppose. I’ve had plenty of goulash, but I’ll always have a soft spot for my mother’s, doesn’t matter how good what I’m eating is.” Dmitri looked to the kitchen, but there was still no sign of the traveler or the bartender. He lowered his voice. “Anyway, Prince Ivan pays off Bulat’s debts and in return Bulat helps Ivan win the princess Vasilisa. Bulat fights off all the soldiers that the king sends after them but then Koschey the Deathless steals her away. They outwit Koschey, find his death, kill him. Then Koschey’s twelve sisters curse Bulat three times. When Ivan, Vasilisa, and Bulat return to Ivan’s father’s palace, the curses all came true and Bulat died. Pretty sure that Ivan and Vasilisa end up alright, though, kids and a kingdom if I’m not mistaken.”
The merchants stared at him until Yevgeny began to laugh. “Dmitri, old fellow, that’s hardly a story! After last night, how can you call a series of events, one-two-three-four a story? You might as well describe your mother’s goulash and tell us we’ve been fed!”
“Do you know the story or not?” demanded Dmitri.
Sergei settled himself in the chair near the fire, though not without pulling it farther away from the flames. “Aaahhhh,” he said as he settled in. “Do I know the story? Tell it properly and I’ll we’ll find out.”
Dmitri scowled although he was not actually upset. He was thinking of his hands moving of their own accord at the bartender’s words, “Water, wash, water.” It helped to keep his mood, or at least his expression, dark. “Alright then,” he said, “but I don’t want to hear any ‘you’re no storyteller this’ or ‘you’re no storyteller that.’ I’m a merchant and this is what I heard from my father and that’s that.”
The others all laughed at that. Dmitri had enough of a reputation that they wouldn’t push him too far, but they couldn’t simply let that kind of pathetic threat go. They mocked him until the point that he could still turn back from his anger and then they let Yevgeny step in and cajole the words out of Dmitri’s mouth.
“Ivan wanted to marry Vasilisa,” Dmitri began.
“But we already know that Vasilisa doesn’t love him,” said one another man.
“That’s right! Ivan didn’t even try to follow her. Not much of a man if you ask me.”
“Can you lift a tree trunk? How much of a man are you?”
Yevgeny, who saw that the argument was about to derail Dmitri’s story altogether, slapped the offenders on the backs of their heads. “So now showing a little respect isn’t manly? Interrupting is? We admire barbarians for being barbaric, do we? Tell that to your mothers and fathers, you cowards. Where I’m from we call that spoiled, not manly.”
Dmitri was only barely able to conceal the grin on his face with a further frown. He nodded at Yevgeny, which the latter understood to be thanks. “We know Ivan’s not married, in my story ’cause that’s how it begins and in the old man’s story because that’s where it ended. Doesn’t mean they’re the same story at all, not one way or the other. And anyway, this one is less about Ivan than it is about Bulat, so settle down.”