Telling Tales 240
It was Juleidah who had the most important job of all. Alexander did not need Ipiktokiyakovik’s sharp eyes to know where his brother’s senses needed to land and he did not need Haraka’s speed to arrive there. The blinded giant would not even notice if Scrobarnach Armtha sent the entire Underbrush Army to his ankles. It was an unlikely position for the three warriors, and not one that they were most comfortable with.
“Just give me the tokens,” said Ivan.
“Is there nothing more we can do?” asked the sharpshooter.
“Perhaps I could –” began the runner.
“You know what might work,” began the commander.
“Give me the tokens,” said Ivan.
It was not their first protest.
“This is like the dance at Tsar Pyotr’s castle,” explained Juleidah to Scrobarnach Armtha. “You must accept a different way to fight.”
“It’s not like that at all,” she disagreed. “I was part of the army then. Now I’m at the back of the lines – all three of us. We can’t simply turn off what we do and who we are.”
“Monsieur,” said Entendtout to Ipiktokiyakovik, “did you feel left out when our Monsieur Haraka negotiated with Yi Min?”
“I shot the arrows that guided him there,” said the bowman.
Entendtout inclined his head. “You took part. You were satisfied. You operate as a team. We all operate as a team.”
“Yes, but I did something. There is nothing for me to do this time.”
“There is often nothing for one of us to do. Not all of our skills are required all of the time.”
At length, it was Ivan who had to draw the three of them away so that Juleidah could stand with Alexander and Kou Ke. Ivan said, “When I met you all, the only thing you knew about me was that I was in a flying ship. I have never asked, but I assume you thought I was as gifted as any of you – as gifted as the rest of the crew upon the ship.” They agreed that this was so. “Yet I have no magic, no particular skill. I alone of our company have nothing to offer – no gifted sight, no speed, no hearing, no desert winds.”
“You’re quite strong,” said Haraka.
“But no more than another strong man,” countered Ivan. “You let me lead you not because I was the best leader, but because I was the one with the quest.”
“You’ve got a lovely steel-grass sword,” pointed out Scrobarnach Armtha.
“Anyone could carry this. It has no special tie to me, any more than any of you do. You have been remarkably generous with your time, your lives, even. The six of you together, you are much greater to me than this steel-grass sword.”
“You see things in different ways than we do,” said Ipiktokiyakovik.
Ivan nodded. “That is true of all people, though. You must consider that every battle is fought with different skills. Not every battle needs warriors, or speed, or sight. The tsar had left his palace full of traps, uniquely associated with each person’s gifts. Boiling oil and flames for wooden soldiers. Trip wires for runners. He knew our strengths and he knew that how we rely on our strengths becomes our weaknesses. Do not let the fact that we – and I include myself in this – that we who are used to being on the front lines act according to our habits. Because habits are a weakness to be taken advantage of.”
The general in Scrobarnach Armtha saw what he meant. “We are not happy about it,” she said.
“You don’t have to be. You simply have to do it.”