Telling Tales 189
A Re-Evaluation of What We Thought We Knew
The soldier awoke to a stone-faced prince, standing and looking at a cleared space of ground. After a moment, he realized what was missing from that place. Bulat got to his feet. “This is the work of Koschey the Deathless, come to repay his debt to you for freeing me.”
“I slept,” confessed Ivan.
“It would not have mattered. Perhaps he made you sleep. Perhaps he took advantage of your sleep.”
“You are right. Let us go and find the old rattlebones.” The gray mare whickered and the roan stamped his feet and in no time at all, the two men were mounted and on their way. “You said you worked for Koschey at one point?”
“In a small capacity, yes. We will start nearby, once we are free of Kirbit’s domain.”
It took several days of riding to accomplish just that, days that they had counted on, but also days in which they expected to have kept company with the princess. Ivan said, “I wondered, before I fell asleep, if by not pursuing marriage with Vasilisa Kirbitievna, I could have avoided Koschey’s threat altogether.”
Bulat shook his head. “Koschey doesn’t work like that. He’s not a curse, although he is a curse of a man. He is bound to the letter of the law in inconsistent ways. You should assume the worst with him, not simply what he will do, but what he will plan on doing.”
They rode on for further days and further nights. “She’s not very pleasant, Vasilisa Kirbitievna,” observed Bulat.
“I would say she is not as grateful as we might have expected,” countered Ivan, “but I thought a great deal about what she said that night before she was taken. There were no guards around her tower before I arrived, were there? When you were there offering her food?” The soldier agreed that no, there were not. “Then we did not exactly ‘rescue’ her so much as provide her with a means of transportation.”
“She did say that several other princes had come for her.”
Ivan ticked off his points on his fingers. “One. They were probably not as clever as we are.” Bulat agreed that this was logical and likely. “Two. If they treated their arrival as a rescue and stormed the walled city, they probably would not have made it past the townsfolk, who were, according to what you said, more or less her guard, even if they were not as well armed as we.” Bulat agreed to this also. “Our advantage, in addition to our native gifts, was that you were apprised of the situation in and around Kirbit’s kingdom.” Here, the soldier demurred and said that anyone could have done the same but Ivan would have none of it. “The only conclusion to which I can come is that Vasilisa Kirbitievna desired to leave but was not held captive.” Before Bulat could step in, he added, “Consider the fathers of daughters where you grew up. One might have had one set of rules for his daughter alone and another set for his daughter accompanied.”
This was certainly true. Bulat knew girls who would walk in twos and threes freely in the village, but their fathers would beat a boy who came within ten feet of them. “It wasn’t a rescue?”
“I wonder if we are not in possession of all of the facts.”
Bulat shrugged. “At least we know we’re rescuing her from Koschey. That’s one safe assumption.”
“Who are you to say the name of Koschey the Deathless?” growled a voice.