Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 179

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What Happened Next

After the inappropriately long silence, everyone demanded to know what happened next. “The Master of the Taiga probably killed them all, didn’t he?” said the man who’d been telling the story.

“What about Koschey? Why didn’t he stop it?”

“I thought you said it was a lion that Koschey wanted to get rid of, but then it turned into a wolverine!”

“What did he do, tear apart the stands?”

“Did the Master get away after that?”

“What happened to the soldier?”

The merchant, whose name was Viktor, threw up his hands. “I told you everything I know about it! I don’t know, maybe I got my stories mixed up, I don’t remember if I said there was a lion or not, I only know that the soldier went into the forest and he met the birds and… oh, come on, I’m not going to repeat the whole thing that I’ve just told you.”

“You said you didn’t even know if his name was Bulat, but that’s what you called him,” accused yet another man.

Viktor looked to Yevgeny for help. Yevgeny appealed for calm. “Listen, we all agreed earlier that if this soldier’s name was Bulat it didn’t even mean that it was the same Bulat. It’s a placeholder, that’s all. It doesn’t mean a thing.” Yevgeny cast his eye Dmitri’s way. His habitual scowl was as deep as ever. “In any case, I think we’ve kept our good-natured friend here from his story for long enough. Dmitri, you were the one to bring up Bulat in the first place. What was that all about?”

The men went silent as they all remembered the gruff beginning of the afternoon’s stories and its equally gruff teller.

“It’s hardly a common name, is it?” demanded Dmitri eventually. ” ‘Bulat.’ It stands out. I don’t even think it’s Russian.”

“I knew a Bulat,” said Sergei. “Well, I met a Bulat. Bulgar, I think.”

“I knew one, but he was Kypchak,” said another.

Once again the conversation fell apart as everyone began considering the name and its provenance. Certainly they’d all heard the name before and many of them had once met some fellow or another named Bulat, but they agreed with Dmitri – reluctantly, to be sure – that they weren’t sure exactly where it came from, and that, while not unknown, it did stand out.

Yevgeny waved at Viktor. “See if our hosts don’t have some beer and food for us, why don’t you? In the meantime, Dmitri here can get back to his point. Why’d you bring up Bulat in the first place?”

“Like I said, it’s hardly a common name.”

“Bulat the Brave, though, you asked about that in particular.”

“That’s the story I know.”

All eyes wandered between Yevgeny and Dmitri.

“Are you going to tell it?” Yevgeny prompted him. It seemed to him that Dmitri was requiring more than his regular dose of cajoling, as though something were weighing on his mind. By way of pushing him along, he said, “So this Bulat ended up working for Koschey as a guard. He did some people a good turn and was punished for it, first by having to face the Master of the Taiga, then by landing in the stocks, at which point Prince Ivan bailed him out and they went on… to what? Where did they go after that?”

Dmitri made a face, but at length he opened his mouth and began to talk.

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