Telling Tales 171
Everybody Pulls an Unpleasant Duty at Some Point
The soldier crossed into the forest with no great hopes of success. Koschey had given him two alternatives. He knew that Koschey was hoping he’d fail and he had no idea why the wizard didn’t simply punish him straight away. “Is it a personal thing? Perhaps it’s out of his control. He has to offer conditions before he can perform his magic.” Not that the soldier knew this was the case, but he occupied himself with such idle talk as he walked amongst the forest for days on end.
Before him cried a terrified voice, followed by scurryings and the sounds of clumsy creatures trying to hide themselves. They also whispered a great deal.
“Hello? Is something wrong? May I be of any assistance?” he called.
“Are you Adamkin?” called a peculiarly high-pitched voice in return.
“No, I’m Bulat,” he answered.
From out of the brush crawled two small birds and one large. “You’re not Adamkin?” asked one of the smaller ones. It was a little taller than his hand fully stretched. Its head and wings were dark and a clean white collar seemed to ring its neck, topping a reddish chest. It clicked in its throat and it sounded to the soldier like small stones rapping against one another.
“What’s at your side?” asked the second small bird. It was a similar size, but with a variety of browns and a white patch at its neck.
The soldier looked down. She clearly meant his sword, knife, and axe. Thinking quickly, he said, “They are the tools of my trade. They are… sharp. For… cutting wood. I am a carpenter, you see.” This was, of course, not true at all, but it was true that he knew the sorts of basic construction that many soldiers know. All he had to do was make sure he knew more than the birds did, and he didn’t want to scare them.
“Well, that’s alright, then,” said the first bird. “Mr. and Mrs. Stonechat, at your service.” He bowed, as did his wife, the second bird. “And this is our neighbor…”
“Snow Crane,” said the tall one, who came well up to the soldier’s chest. Its face was a bright red that stood out even more for being against its stark white feathers, and its long legs shared a pinkish tinge. Its voice rattled high with its nerves and it seemed to have a bit of a whistling lisp. “You look like Adamkin,” he added, bobbing from one foot to the other.
“Bulat,” the soldier repeated. “Who’s this Adamkin?”
“He’s coming to enslave us all!” whistled Snow Crane.
“Now, now,” soothed Mr. Stonechat.
Mrs. Stonechat stepped up. “He’s a monster. He’s taking over forest and plains alike.”
“He sounds someone I know,” mused the soldier, thinking of Koschey. “Especially the monster part. Except he doesn’t look like a monster.”
“You look a bit like a monster,” pointed out Mrs. Stonechat.
Meanwhile, Mr. Stonechat was still trying to calm down Snow Crane. The whistling was only beginning to abate. “Honestly, I don’t want to take over anything.”
“That speaks to your character,” she agreed.
“He’s been driving animals before him. Even Fox, Lynx, and Bear have run. We’re here as lookouts,” Mr. Stonechat explained.
“It’s not fair!” whistled Mr. Crane.
“He doesn’t want to be here,” whispered Mrs. Stonechat. “But everyone has to do their duty and be ready to warn the Master of the Taiga.”