Telling Tales 184
Take the Key, Open the Cupboard, Drink a Glass of Vodka, and God Speed You
In the face of the lengthening silence from the princess, Bulat said, “And a good day to you, Bulat the Brave! Is Prince Ivan well?” Bulat answered his own question. “Thank God, he is well.” Speaking for her again, he went on, “Why do you stand like that, Bulat the Brave? Take the key, open the cupboard, drink a glass of vodka, and God speed you.” He waited a moment, bowed his thanks to her as though she’d been the one to make the offer and not him in her voice, doffed his hat, and went on his way.
Once he was out of sight, Bulat ran at full speed to the inn where he’d left Prince Ivan, now surrounded by all manner of meats, vegetables, and pies. Carafes of wine and firkins of ale sat on the table and all around Ivan crowded more and more people. “Why are you sleeping?” asked Bulat. “Give me a duck. And don’t forget to invite our friends here to join you!”
Quicker than thought, Ivan sliced off the right wing of the bird, slid it on to a plate, handed it to Bulat, called to the innkeeper for more food yet, and declared, “My friends! Now that my comrade Bulat has taken his share, and now that there is enough food on the table for us all, please, join me!”
Bulat was gone before the gathered group fell upon the meal, but only by a second. There was the slightest of pauses then with a famished cry hands reached out. The ones at the front urged the ones at the back to greater speed and of them all, only Ivan did not eat. Instead, he stood astride the table, which groaned with his weight added to that of the meal, and passed platters and plates and casks to people behind the first rows. “There is plenty for all!” he cried.
Meanwhile, the soldier had returned, plate in hand, and bowed before the princess. “Good day, Vasilisa Kirbitievna! Prince Ivan sends you his greetings and has asked me to give you this chicken.” She did not move and so he set the plate on the small table at her side. Again, he spoke for her. “Good day, Bulat the Brave. Is Prince Ivan well? Thank God, he is well. And why do you stand like that, Bulat the Brave? Take the key, open the cupboard, drink a glass of vodka, and God speed you.”
Again Bulat took his leave and again he returned to Ivan and the feast. “Why are you sitting? Give me a chicken.” Ivan sliced the right wing off, handed it to Bulat, and the rest of the bird to the latest hungry arrival. Bulat returned again to the silent, observant princess and again to Ivan. “Why are you standing? Give me a turkey.” This time, however, when he greeted Vasilisa Kirbitievna, she straightaway took a key, opened a cupboard, and offered him a glass of vodka.
“God speed you,” said Bulat, and when he turned, there behind him sat Ivan astride his gray mare, next to the roan that Bulat rode.
“God speed us all,” said the princess. Bulat helped her up to sit in front of Ivan, he mounted his own horse, and they all galloped away at a headlong pace.
* * *
“But why did Bulat say those things?”
“Why did the princess say nothing?”
“How could Bulat know everything that would happen?”