Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Three Princesses and the Mud Dwarf

Maria, Olga and Anna had finally coaxed their teacher to stop teaching: the trick was to get his pupils to dilate and his jaw to slacken, then his head would sort of withdraw into his chest cavity and stars would emerge from his eye sockets and revolve, predictably, around his head. He would become a planetarium. The lights would dim, and the unknowable secrets of deep space began to glow from the recesses of the kitchen. Spiral galaxies, dark spectral maneuvers, and vaguely familiar space gods would become visible, just barely in one’s peripheral vision, right where one would usually put away the drinking glasses. This was when the three princesses could slowly back away from Ali Qushji and slip out through the star-spangled wooden back door, and out into the woods.

After a long while or a short while, they were as lost as they had hoped to get. There were no paths through the pine needles, or everything was a path. There was a vague sound of cheering coming from the horizon, but who knows what direction that was. There were wildflowers, ferns and club moss, and mushrooms, and a rusty sleigh in the mud. There were two muddy leather boots that were on the sleigh, and the moss grew enthusiastically from the stitching that held the sole to the last. Why a last? Olga gripped the wet and slippery shoe, and the mud around the sleigh began to churn angrily.

“Olga, you silly maiden! That is no last! That is a foot.” sang Anna in a teasing song. “A foot! A foot. Olga pulled the muddy foot!” Anna was only six years old.

“Be still, Anna. We can still replace the shoe on the foot and return to Ali Qushji. He may not have noticed that we left. It isn’t lunchtime yet,” mused Maria, the oldest.

So, they replaced the slippery leather shoe on the slippery wrinkled foot, and began to skip and dawdle in the bog. They dawdled toward the cheering sound. But after they dawdled for a long while or a short while, they stopped and saw another rusty sleigh! With another pair of slippery leather shoes! Or, the same sleigh!

“Oh!” giggled Anna, who began to slip wreaths of cornflowers around the ankle that was attached to the foot. She daubed angry eyes on the hairy leg that was attached to the ankle. With sticky mud. That stuck to her little fingers.

“Soon the sun will disappear! Then Papa will be exceedingly cross that we made our teacher lapse into a dissociative fugue state, and shall send us to bed without our hot kasha!” cried Olga.

Fortunately, when the sun set they were able to find their way back to the Kreml easily. For Ali Qushji, whose eyes were still rolled back in his head, and whose head was still withdrawn into his chest cavity like a box turtle, was projecting the stars out past the kitchen where the girls had their putative lessons. The stars that Ali Qushji knew were not the same stars that shined in the sky over Moscow. So the girls looked for the terrifying crab nebulae and inside-out space gods that Ali Qushji would project, overlaid on the regular stars, and they guided the girls back to the familiar fortress where their Papa gladly shouted at them and sent them to their Beds without their Hot Kasha.

And the Mud Dwarf saw the cornflowers on his ankle, and he wept.

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