Telling Tales 197
What Came Over Her
Afterwards, the maid was never truly able to say what had come over her. Of course there were reasons. There are always reasons. It wasn’t concern for the princess, though. She owed the lady nothing. The rude shepherds? Fah. They were more trouble than they were worth and clearly ten times as much trouble as she’d expected. They could hang. Her fellow servants and what they’d suffer? Her proper lord Oleg Borodin? She wished none of them ill, or at least, not on this particular day did she wish them ill. Herself? Perhaps. Perhaps she thought she would suffer for these fools’ actions.
Perhaps she thought Deathless Koschey would make all of them suffer.
Perhaps their actions were simply so inconceivable as to be beyond imagining.
Whatever the reason, she found herself behaving inexcusably. Unbelievably. She burst through the door into Vasilisa Kirbitievna’s chambers without so much as a knock or a by-your-leave. She didn’t wait for the princess to give her leave to speak. “Milady, you can’t propose to be in league with these ruffians!” she exclaimed, even though it was perfectly clear that the princess was in league with them. “Deathless Koschey cannot be defeated! He cannot be slain! Whatever you think, whatever you all plan, it is madness! It cannot be!”
Facing her was the princess in all her finery and the two shepherds in all their rudeness.
“Shut the door,” said the princess.
The maid didn’t think twice. In fact, she didn’t even think once. She obeyed the command and shut the door and hung her head, although she was not ashamed of having done what she’d done. She was still too stunned by what she knew they must be proposing.
The princess went on, “These men are not what they seem.”
“I’m fairly close to what I seem,” said the talkative shepherd.
The princess rolled her eyes and the maid was again astonished at the man’s rude behavior. She was sure that he would be the first to fall to Koschey’s magic. Men such as he were too arrogant and sure of themselves, too willing to believe that no ill could befall them.
“We are here to save Vasilisa Kirbitievna from Koschey the Deathless,” said the more quiet of the shepherds. “We are responsible for his kidnapping of her and we will be responsible for her freedom.”
“But he is Koschey…” she whispered.
“Nevertheless,” the second man said.
Whereas the first shepherd played the fool and delighted in being outrageous, she saw now that the second had a more serious demeanor. “You are a noble!” she gasped with realization. Her eye at spotting behavior was better than his performance at seeming base, but not by much. She needed this environment, this circumstance, to see through his guise.
“Koschey doesn’t employ idiots,” said the rude shepherd with great cheer. “More’s the pity, it might make our task easier. Still and all, it’s always better to bring in good and smart people and let them do the work to which you’ve tasked them. I used to have know this lieutenant, he was always chivvying us, standing over the ditches we’d dig or the ramparts we’d build, shouting at us to do it better and then when we stopped to listen he’d tell us to do it faster. There’s simply no pleasing some people. No, I’d have to say that your master Deathless Koschey knows a thing or two about leading.” He nudged the noble shepherd with an elbow and raised his eyebrow at the fellow. “Wash, water, wash! Whoever heard of such a thing?”