Telling Tales 193
The Flaw in the Plan
“The problem is that we will need to be able to attract Vasilisa Kirbitievna’s attention when and how we want it. If Koschey does as I suspects he will do, the princess will be held captive in one of several castles. Koschey has no fewer than ten times ten. Our very search will take some time and allow us to strategize around this hole in my plan. I will elaborate.
“Once we locate the princess, and I have no doubt that we will, we will have to let her know that we are nearby without giving ourselves away to Koschey or to the people guarding her. We will have to ascertain her conditions and what kind of access we may have. Ideally we would have had some token from her that she would recognize. Something small that would not be noticed or, if noticed that would not be considered to be of any import.”
“Like a handkerchief?” asked Ivan.
Bulat considered. “A handkerchief could be useful, unless it were to be wet outside at the time of us using it to contact her.”
“Perhaps a ring?”
“A ring could be useful, unless it were to draw too much attention for being garish and evidently the property of a tsar’s daughter.”
“Not a crown, then.”
“Definitely not. A crown would give everything away. I blame it on myself, Prince Ivan. I thought we would have more than a single day before Koschey came after us. There was time to plan and I squandered it. I told you that I knew what I was doing, and yet, I have allowed this eventuality to take place. Not that I could have prevented Koschey. I knew he would be after us. Nevertheless, I have done you a disservice for not moving more quickly after you placed your trust in me.”
Prince Ivan pulled down on his shepherd’s clothing. It suited him ill, in part because he walked around like a prince and an outdoorsman and not as a shepherd, and in part because it did not fit and was too tight in the shoulders and too short in the sleeves. Standing next to the gray mare, he tucked away the gold crown back into his saddlebag. “It is fortunate that we have options, then,” he said, showing the handkerchief and ring to Bulat.
“Where did you get those?”
Ivan explained that while Bulat had raced back to deal with first one hundred and later two hundred horsemen chasing them, he had taken the opportunity to explain to Vasilisa Kirbitievna not only the rough outline of their plan as he knew it at the time, which was slight, but also somewhat of their history in this immediate enterprise, of finding Bulat in Koschey’s stocks, and of the resulting likely curse. The soldier did not know what to say. Ivan explained, “It seemed only decent to allow her the possibility of leaving us and returning to her father, knowing that she might be taken captive by Koschey as a result of being rescued by us.”
“Oh,” he answered. “I didn’t know.”
“You were rather tired,” offered Ivan. “When she was explaining about certain fatal dangers, then…”
“She didn’t mean from her father…”
“But from Koschey, yes.” All in all, this was a great deal more initiative from a princess than Bulat was expecting. “Hard to say if it’s due to being a princess, the name Vasilisa, or perhaps it’s simply our luck to meet extraordinarily intelligent people, but Vasilisa Kirbitievna definitely knew what she was getting in to.”