Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 172



Oh, Absolutely

The soldier wasn’t one to think that all opposites are true. Simply because Koschey wanted something to happen to the Master of the Taiga didn’t mean that the Master of the Taiga was a good person. Obviously, the Master was dangerous. Then again, soldiers were dangerous and Bulat didn’t consider himself to be a bad person. “There you go,” he reasoned. “The world is a complicated place.”

“He truly looks like Adamkin!” burbled Crane.

“If I was Adamkin, I probably wouldn’t want to meet the Master of the Taiga,” suggested Bulat.

“That seems reasonable,” agreed Mrs. Stonechat.

“Can you tell me about him?” The soldier hoped that the birds would all believe he was innocent of any ill intentions. He had let Mrs. Stonechat believe he wanted to meet the Master. She seemed quick to make assumptions, but on the whole she and her husband were clearly the more grounded of the birds. Snow Crane remained an anxious mess.

Mrs. Stonechat hopped up and down. “Quick to anger, he is. Most people call him a glutton, but I don’t think that’s true. Now, it is the case that his table manners leave something to be desired. He’s a bit of a gulper as well, if you know what I mean. Doesn’t spend a lot of time chewing, that one, which is strange considering his teeth, don’t you think, dear?”

“Oh, absolutely,” said Mr. Stonechat.

“But he doesn’t eat what he doesn’t need and he’s about the best defender we could ask for in these parts.”

“He’s a defender?” asked the soldier.

“Oh, Master this and Master that, those are naught but titles, fancy words that someone or another dreamed up. He doesn’t order us around any more than he orders the larch forest around you.”

“Then this Adamkin, if he wants to take over the taiga, he’s got to get rid of the Master first.” All three birds, even Snow Crane, agreed that this was the case. “I suppose that means he’s quite fierce.”

“Oh, absolutely,” said Mr. Stonechat.

Bulat considered the things that Koschey had told him about the Master of the Taiga. It was all very evocative and none of it was very specific. An impenetrable skin that couldn’t be pierced by weapons. The Master’s weapons, naturally enough, could cut through any armor. The soldier hadn’t bothered asking Koschey how he was supposed to defeat the Master, since it was fairly clear that he was supposed to die trying. “Would you say he’s reasonable? Can a… carpenter… talk to him? Face to face, I mean.”

The Stonechats considered. “Truth to tell, he can be rather territorial, but he’s a good one. What if we introduced this carpenter, Mr. Stonechat?” asked the wife.

“Oh, absolutely,” said Mr. Stonechat, whose wings remained full with the frantic Crane.

“Because I’d rather not die,” said Bulat, who figured that if something was worth spelling out, it was worth spelling out right.

“We don’t make promises we can’t keep, but if it was up to me, you’d be having a pleasant conversation right away with the Master and no worries for either of you.” Mrs. Stonechat cocked her head to one side. “I don’t suppose you know anything about Adamkin?”

“I might have an idea,” said the soldier.

“That’s all to the good, then,” she began. Before she could say another word, however, thunderous growl interrupted them all. “Why that’s him, now!”

“He doesn’t sound happy,” said Mr. Stonechat.

“Bbbbbbbbbb!” whistled poor Mr. Crane.

“This is bad?” asked Bulat.

“Oh, absolutely,” said Mr. Stonechat.

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