Telling Tales 196
An Unpleasant Arrival
The staff was in a tumult.
Deathless Koschey himself coming to the palace?
They suspected that he’d been there in the past and they were always on the alert for news that he might appear, but to no one’s knowledge had the mysterious wizard actually appeared for any length of time. He was responsible for the appearance of the Princess Vasilisa Kirbitievna, they knew that. In the first place, how else could she have arrived? In the second, she’d said so herself, and what princess in her right mind would say something about Koschey that wasn’t true? For that matter, most people preferred not to say anything about him at all in case they offended him by accident. The princess was the first person to appear as she did, but supplies and valuables had occasionally been found on a morning where they hadn’t been the night before.
This was the purpose of Koschey’s palace in the lands of Oleg Borodin. If the wizard wanted to leave a person or a thing here, the staff was there to take care of it. Nevertheless, the princess was the first time that “thing” had been a person, and they never anticipated that Koschey himself would show up.
There was a great deal of skepticism on this point and, if it wasn’t so dangerous, there might have been outright expressions of disbelief. “The princess herself told me,” said the maid.
Without any real discussion, everyone decided that the prudent course of action was to prepare for Deathless Koschey’s arrival. If she was lying, it would be on her head, not theirs, and if he arrived, well, they would be ready to feast and fete him.
To her surprise, the maid found herself to be the person to whom all questions were directed. “In which dining room would Koschey prefer to have supper served?” “Will he be sleeping here? Which room should we prepare?” “Is there anything in particular that he desires?”
The maid discovered to her great dismay that being the bearer of the news in the first place meant that everyone assumed she knew – or worse, should know – what was required of them all. It wasn’t that she had enemies in the palace who wished to see her fail so much as no one was willing to put him or herself on the line in her place.
That’s the way of it. Everyone wants credit and no one wants responsibility. Not even two sides of the same coin there, it’s the same thing called by two different names.
When she tried to make the staff understand that it was Princess Vasilisa Kirbitievna who knew and not the maid herself, they pointed out that they couldn’t very well ask the princess. That was the maid’s job, after all, and no one wanted to step on anyone else’s toes, not when Deathless Koschey would be arriving that night.
And by the way, do you know what he would prefer to eat? For desert? An aperitif?
The maid despaired. Koschey would arrive and anything that was wrong would be laid at her feet. At long last she fled back to the princess’s chambers in the hopes that Vasilisa Kirbitievna would have pity on her and give her some concrete orders, something, anything with which she could work and perhaps defend herself. Assuming Koschey gave her the chance.
Even as she knocked upon the door, she heard the talkier of the shepherds saying from inside, “We’ll simply have to learn where he keeps his death then, won’t we?”