Telling Tales 177
Mixed Opinions in the Face of Certain Death
It had been the work of the blink of an eye. One moment a fierce and entirely normally sized wolverine had been crouching in anticipation of the man with the spear, the next the same creature was as large as a moose. The man with the spear didn’t even have time to register a look of surprise.
The prisoners backed away, all thoughts of working together vanishing as quickly as the Master had grown to his monstrous size. “He’s even bigger than when I saw him last,” said Bulat to himself.
“You’ve faced him before?” said a man next to him.
“Well, ‘faced’ is a strong… really more in passing that I – OW!” Bulat broke off his explanation as he felt the point of a spear or a sword or something else equally sharp press insistently between his shoulder blades. It seemed that his fellow captives were determined that he be the next man to face the Master of the Taiga. He tried to turn his head but the pointy thing only pushed harder. “I’m going, fine, I’m going.” He raised his hands to indicate he would offer no resistance to whomever prodded him along.
“Do you want a weapon?” asked one charitable voice.
“I see a spear up ahead,” sighed the soldier.
“Didn’t do that other guy much good,” observed someone else.
“Shh!” said another.
“Don’t discourage him!”
The chorus behind the soldier was broken in two parts, the ones who thought the soldier could buy them all another few seconds of life and no matter what he did it would not save him from the Master of the Taiga, and the ones who felt any pity for the fact that he could buy them all another few seconds.
“It’s not as if he’ll feel anything if that first guy was any indication.”
“You don’t want to make him depressed, do you?”
“I’m depressed! Why shouldn’t he be depressed?”
“You’re holding a lance to his back.”
“A lance won’t help against that thing. I don’t have a horse!”
Bulat shouted back, “I said, I was going!”
The voices dropped in volume but it was clear that their conversation went on, and at least one of them was complaining about how Bulat wasn’t showing any appreciation for some people’s appreciation of Bulat’s feelings even as they herded him toward certain doom.
“Hello!” called the soldier toward the Master of the Taiga. “Hello?”
The voices behind him now began to criticize his approach. “Can’t sneak up on a creature if you’re calling out greetings.”
“Who does he think he is, anyway?”
“Probably doesn’t even know how to use a spear…”
“How long do you think he’ll last?”
“The first guy was in too much of a rush.”
“But the Master was expecting him, maybe he won’t know what to do with a coward who doesn’t charge right in.”
Almost at once, the betting began. There was no money, but the prisoners could still wager one weapon against another, apparently in the hopes that if one of them could properly bristle himself up with points, the Master couldn’t attack without hurting himself.
“I can still hear you!” called Bulat.
The wolverine’s warning growl shook the ground. His eyes narrowed at the soldier.
Bulat took a short step forward. “Hello! Ahem. Um. Perhaps you don’t remember me. We came across one another in the forest some weeks ago, I believe we were introduced by a Mr. and Mrs. Stonechat – OW!” Once again he found himself cut off. This time, however, he lay flat on his back as the Master’s jaws opened above his face.