Telling Tales 187
On the Motivations of Princes
“What happened to the three hundred men who were coming after us?” asked Princess Vasilisa Kirbitievna.
“That was only a duststorm,” said Bulat. “Look! I found my handkerchief!”
Ivan said, “We should rest for the night. Bulat is tired and our horses are exhausted.”
They pitched a tent for the princess, set a fire, and Prince Ivan brought out the food they had for a meal. Vasilisa Kirbitievna nibbled at the hard bread and at the cured meat. “I preferred the food that you offered me through Bulat the Brave.”
Bulat and Ivan looked at one another, and Bulat said, “We did not steal you away from your father, Highness. We offered you a flight and you chose to ride with us when the opportunity arrived.”
“That is not how my father will see it.” Which was true, the two men agreed, but not exactly the point that they were arguing. “Where do we go from here and how long before the food is edible?”
The soldier looked at the prince as if to say that his job, setting the scene for the rescue of the princess, was complete, and this next part should really be Ivan’s doing, naturally enough. That is what he meant his face to say, but mostly he looked falsely innocent.
Ivan made a face of his own – privately to Bulat so that the princess could not see – and said, “Vasilisa Kirbitievna, I expect that we will be two days hard ride on the road after today, laying low and avoiding your father’s pursuit, which is sure to come. After that we will be free of his domain and we will be able to travel to safer and fairer lands, by safer and more comfortable routes.”
“With more filling and tastier food, I hope,” she answered. “You don’t expect me to marry you, do you?”
Ivan stuttered and stammered. The truth was that he had assumed that was the direction that things would go, because that was the direction things always went after a princess-rescue, but he was worldly enough not to assume that that’s where things would end. On the other hand, he did rather expect that they might see if they liked one another and take it from there. “Well… no,” he managed.
She relaxed somewhat. “That’s a relief. I can’t tell you how many princes have shown up, tried to rescue me, and at once figured that the first thing we should do is visit a cathedral. It’s a little shocking, to tell you the truth, that so many princes feel like a rescue equals a marriage. When I was younger, I thought that princes were nobler than that, that you all would go out and do good deeds because they were good deeds. Instead, you’re about the first who has come along simply for the sake of doing so. It doesn’t really matter that I wasn’t a captive, not in the way that you’re thinking. My father is overprotective to a fault, but he is not a bad man. What was that?” she asked Bulat, who coughed suddenly. He waved her question away, his cough suspiciously and suddenly gone. She glared at him. “I was going to tell you both about the dangers ahead, but I believe I shall wait until tomorrow when you are better rested and recovered from your cold.”
“Dangers?” asked Ivan, feeling more comfortable on familiar ground.
“Likely fatal dangers,” she agreed, and disappeared into her tent.
Ivan also glared at Bulat. “Dangers,” he huffed to himself. “Ha.”