>>>Scene One: Endless Plains
"You're a unicorn, aren't you?" Rose asked.
The centaur looked startled. "I'm a centaur," he said.
“Of course you are," Rose answered. "Two nights ago, I had a dream about being a horse. I have never had a dream like that before, have never been on a horse, have never even given them much thought. But there I was, running across an open plain like this one at an amazing speed, and it felt GREAT. And then this unicorn showed up, and we had sex, and that was pretty great too. And then the dream ended."
The centaur looked nervous; Rose continued. "And then LAST night, I had a dream about being a centaur, and I have REALLY never given any thought at all to centaurs, but it was still really interesting..." She cupped her breasts with her hands. "But let me tell you, galloping is not NEARLY as much fun when you are a centaur as when you are a mare. You should remember that. But anyway, the unicorn showed up again, and we had sex again, it that was still pretty great."
The centaur was beyond nervous now; Rose smiled. "So tonight, I have ANOTHER dream about being a centaur, in pretty much exactly the same open plain, and along comes a centaur who has exactly the same coloring as the unicorn, and even has some kind of weird white bone thing in the middle of his forehead, and you expect me to NOT know that you are the unicorn again?"
The centaur glanced quickly to either side, then back at Rose and shrugged. "I like variety..."
"Would you at least tell me your name?"
"Fiddler. My name is Fiddler."
"I am pleased to meet you, Fiddler. My name is Rose."
"Pleased to meet you, Rose. Can we get on with the sex now?"
Rose shrugged and said, "Oh, what the hell."
>>>Scene Two: Waterfall Meadow
"What in hell are you supposed to be?" Rose asked.
"I'm a faun," Fiddler answered. He did a quick full turn.
"The lamb's tail is charming, but... Why?"
"Because you wanted your own body, and unicorns and humans don't... mesh... well."
"Oh. Right. But why not just be human?"
Fiddler shrugged. "Once you've gone goat, you'll never go back."
>>>Scene Three: Waterfall Meadow
"This is a really beautiful place," Rose said.
"I thought you would like it. Open plains are kind of pointless for human legs."
Rose nodded. "Is this place real? Does it exist in the real world?"
Fiddler shrugged. "The waterfall isn't as high, or as full; the water is not as clear, and is a lot colder; there is more mud, and less sand; the lawn isn't as nice... It's a real place, I have been there, but I have been dressing it up, over the years."
"Well, it's gorgeous. And... Could we talk for a while first? Or... All right, after. Promise me we will actually have a conversation, after."
Fiddler nodded. "After. Or maybe between."
>>>Scene Four: Waterfall Meadow
"Corrosive flower?" Fiddler asked. "Why does your belly say, 'Corrosive flower'?"
Rose propped herself on her elbows and looked down at the tattoo between her hip bones. "Corrosion Flower. It's supposed to be 'Corrosion'."
Fiddler shrugged. "Maybe. I'm not an expert at reading dragon runes. But... Why?"
"It's my name?"
"Didn't your parents like you?"
Rose grinned. "My parents liked me well enough, but they named me, 'Emerald', because of my eyes. The tattoo is an anti-pregnancy charm; the... um... magician who did the spell helped me pick out the name."
"Corrosion Flower? Did HE not like you?"
"She. Auntie Moss. She had a little house in the woods not far from town where she had lived for more than a hundred years, if the stories were true. She helped the local women with things like getting pregnant, giving birth, not getting pregnant, not giving birth..."
"NOT giving birth?" Fiddler asked; Rose just stared at him. "Oh. Right. So she wasn't human?"
"Probably not, if the stories were at all true."
Fiddler nodded. "That explains why the charm is so strong."
Fiddler tapped the tattoo with his finger. "It's a real part of who you are. As a horse, or a centaur, or anything else I might have you manifest as, that tattoo will always be there. I can shape the body underneath it, but I can't blank it out."
"Interesting. So... I knew that getting involved with one of the local boys was a trap, so my first time was with a sailor off of one of the coasters, and the dice fell badly, and I went to Auntie Moss for help. And she did help, but she also told me that the service was one to a customer, and that she COULD take me off of the path of motherhood permanently, but I had to decide SOON..."
"Or the choice would be made for you..."
Rose nodded. "Yeah. It wasn't hard. I did not know of a single woman who had been born in that village, and had a child there, who didn't stay in the village until she died. So I started asking questions at the docks, and found out about Osprey and 'Sea Queen's Sufferance', and after a couple of tries I talked her into taking me aboard the next time she came through..."
"Why did Osprey matter?" Fiddler asked.
"Because she was a female captain. With a male captain, I would have tried to pass myself off as a boy; that had been my plan all along. But when I saw that Osprey had her own ship, and had a few women serving under her, that just made everything easier."
Fiddler nodded. "And then you went to see Auntie Moss again..."
"And got the tattoo. Right. She told me that since I was moving onto a new path, I needed to take a new name, and I asked for 'Rust'. Not 'Rusty', which is what my sailor had called me, because of my hair, I guess. But 'Rust' is a thing, and 'Rusty' is a condition, and that difference mattered to me."
Fiddler smiled. "You're picky for an illiterate fisher-folk brat."
"Damned straight. So I told all of this to Auntie Moss, and she did a rune casting, and then a bigger rune casting, and then she added a bunch of special runes to the mix and did a few more rune castings, and then she drew a rune for me, and said that it wasn't 'Rust', is was 'Corrosion', and then that this other, simpler rune was, 'Rose', and that together they added up to 'Corrosion Flower', which would be my new name, but that 'Rose' was indicated in the pattern as the short form, and I fell in love with it right there."
Fiddler nodded. "I can see that. Or at least feel it."
"So then she did another rune casting, and gathered some ingredients, and did another casting, and more ingredients, and another casting, and then she showed me this little bottle of something, and told me to memorize the runes on the label."
"I think so." She rolled onto her stomach and started to draw elaborate symbols in the sand. "She told me that someday I would earn a way to translate the runes, and that I would eventually need to know what they said, because the stuff in the bottle was the most important thing in my particular charm, even though she had never used it for anyone else before."
Fiddler stared at the runes Rose had drawn. "That's ominous."
"The story, or the runes?"
Rose sat up and looked Fiddler in the eyes. "But you can read the runes?" Fiddler nodded. "And they say?"
Fiddler grinned. "Have you earned it?"
>>>Scene Five: Osprey's Cabin
"Hello, Fiddler. Guess where I am."
>>>Scene Six: Waterfall Meadow
"You talked to Osprey," Fiddler said.
Rose shrugged. "I talked to Lyssa, first, and she brought me to Osprey." She sighed. "There are four women on this ship, Fid, and you have been doing this dream sex thing with all four of us."
"You seem to think that that is a problem..."
Rose glared at him. "OF COURSE it's... Damn. I was angry. I was furious. And now I just want to have more sex."
"That's fine with me."
>>>Scene Seven: Waterfall Meadow
"You still owe me a story," Rose said.
Rose sighed. "Osprey told me some of it, and offered to tell me more, but I said I would give you a chance to tell me your version, and she said I could come back to her if you didn't co-operate."
Fiddler winced. "It sounds like I'm trapped."
"Only if you want to see it that way."
Fiddler shrugged. "I used to be a unicorn. I was a unicorn for hundreds of years. And then one day a wizard decided that he wanted a unicorn horn dagger to add to his collection of magical items, and he killed me, and my spirit retreated into my horn, and he re-shaped the horn into a dagger, and then I killed him. And now I'm a ghost bound to a dagger that used to be part of my body."
Rose scowled. "Someday, I am going to figure out a way to get you to tell that story properly."
Fiddler snorted. "I'll bet I can make you forget your own name before that day ever comes."
Rose rolled her eyes. "You make me forget my own name on a regular basis. But it always comes back."
>>>Scene Eight: Waterfall Meadow
"I think I like being a faun," Rose said. "It's... comfortable."
"I thought you'd like it," Fiddler answered. "I certainly like it on you. You're... delicious."
"It's too bad there are no mirrors here. I'd like to see."
"No mirrors? You mean like that one behind the tree over there?" Fiddler laughed as he pointed.
"I think I understand 'delicious'," Rose said a few moments later. "This mirror... these mirrors are amazing."
"Of course, being magical, there is no reason to believe they are telling the truth."
Rose glared at him. "There are SO many reasons I should hate you."
>>>Scene Nine: Waterfall Meadow
"I understand that you're a hero."
Rose scowled. "I killed someone, if that's what you mean. I think that 'hero' takes a bit more than that."
"But the story?"
"Lyssa and Dzee and I were in a tavern; we stick together shore-side, mostly. And yes, we were talking about you, at least some of the time, and yes, you should be worried about that. But there was this drunk who wouldn't leave Dzee alone; I think he just wanted her to follow him into the alley so he could rape her. So I got him to challenge me to a duel."
"Got him to?"
Rose grinned. "When a woman starts needling a lustful drunk who outweighs her about his virility, he's going to want to get violent."
"And you were sober?"
"More sober than he was, anyway. If I had really been sober, I would have found another way. But he made the challenge, and I accepted and called knives, and they cleared us a circle, and I stripped to the waist..."
"Because he was a lustful drunk and I thought that the jiggle would distract him, and because I was drunk enough to think that it was a good idea. And it probably was. And then someone called, 'Go!' and I dodged his first lunge and put a knife through his throat into his spine. I got a pretty decent scar on my gut out of it, though."
Fiddler shook his head. "That was really stupid."
"Probably. But no one got raped, and someone else paid our bar bill, and someone had sewn up my stomach and I had gone through a pitcher of beer before I remembered to put my shirt back on."
"You're going to get a reputation."
Rose shrugged. "I protect my friends, I can fight, and I have decent tits for being so skinny. I could do worse."
"I can't argue with any of that."
>>>Scene Ten: Waterfall Meadow
"Tell me about unicorns," Rose said.
Fiddler rolled his eyes. "Tell me what you know about unicorns, and after I have stopped laughing, I will consider correcting you."
"And you call ME a brat. All right, they're rare, and when they do show up, they tend to kill stallions and bulls and rams and stags, and sometimes they carry away innocent young girls who are never seen again."
"Humph. We only kill when we have to, and the girls we kidnap aren't all that young or innocent. At least mine never were."
Rose laughed. "There is no way I am going to let you stop there."
Fiddler sighed. "Unicorns are... fertility creatures. Sort of really minor fertility gods. We come on a herd of appropriate creatures -- that usually means horses or cows or deer or sheep -- and we impregnate every female in the herd that isn't too old or too young or already pregnant. If the males insist on being killed before we finish, we kill them."
"They're animals, Fid. They don't know any better."
"I know. It always made me sad."
"But you never left the herds alone."
"Can you stop breathing? As far as I know, that was what unicorns were built for. I don't think I was able to think about not doing it, when I was still alive."
Rose was quiet for a while while she thought about that, then asked, "What about the girls?"
"I had more choice, there. But imagine. You're an intelligent being, able to read and understand language, and you are compelled to seek out and mount cows and horses and sheep and deer wherever you can find them. It gets LONELY. And it is really nice to have someone to comb out your mane and tail, and pick off the burrs. So we dream walk, and we look for unhappy young women, and we offer them a deal: Life as our servants, instead of whatever local hell they are living in."
"And they would come?"
"Don't be surprised. It was quite a pitch." Fiddler's voice took on a theatrical edge. "Come with me; you will probably never again sleep under a roof, or in a bed. You will often be cold and hungry and exhausted. You will work hard, and you may not live long. But you will see more of the world than most have ever dreamed of, and you will never be alone."
"And they would come."
"You probably would have."
Rose blinked at that. "Do you think so?"
Fiddler shrugged. "I know that the Corrosion Flower was born with the horizon in her eyes."
"That may be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me."
Fiddler grinned. "No one else has ever known you as well as I do."
>>>Scene Eleven: Waterfall Meadow
"Why do you call yourself 'Fiddler'?" Rose asked.
"Because I am one."
"But... You've never had hands, other than in here, have you? So you just make it up?"
"I am deeply offended by the implication that I would in any way cheat at so sacred an art."
Rose rolled her eyes. "I doubt that you are capable of being deeply offended by anything."
Fiddler stood, and indicated two fiddles that were suddenly at his feet. "May I introduce the Ogre, and the Princess. If the action on the Ogre were any worse, I would smash it to bits, and if the tone were any more suspect, I would throw it on the fire. The Princess has as fine an action as any fiddle that has ever existed, and a tone to match. When I learn a song, I beat it into submission on the Ogre, and when I am satisfied with it, I play it on the Princess, and the rocks themselves weep."
"That's quite a claim."
"I am prepared to demonstrate. Name a tune."
"'Chasing the Luck'."
"The Lady has good taste," Fiddler said, then picked up the Princess, checked the tuning, and began to play.
When he had finished, Rose took a ragged breath and said, "Gods and Monsters, Fid, that's better than sex."
Fiddler bowed and said, "The Lady flatters me, but I beg to differ."
"And you're prepared to demonstrate?"
>>>Scene Twelve: Waterfall Meadow
"So how did you learn to play the fiddle? Did one of your servants teach you in here?" Rose asked.
Fiddler did not answer for some time, then said, "I learned before I became a unicorn."
Fiddler shrugged. "Unicorns aren't born unicorns. When a unicorn impregnates a herd, almost all of the offspring are female. Extremely healthy and beautiful females, as it happens, but females. But every now and then, maybe one in a thousand, there is a male. And that male is a healthy and beautiful member of his mother's species until late in his adolescence, and then one morning he wakes up, and he has become a unicorn, and his head is full of language and intelligence and more information than he had ever suspected existed in the world, and he runs away as fast as he can. After a day or two the terror wears off, and he goes looking for other unicorns, and once he finds one, he usually learns a few more things he needs to know, and then goes on his way. Unless the first unicorn he meets is one of the foul tempered jealous ones, in which case he will probably just be dead."
"You went through that?"
"More or less."
"But you learned to fiddle first."
"Yes. It's something of a riddle."
"Stop that. I'm trying to think."
"And I'm trying to prevent you from thinking, and I'm going to win."
>>>Scene Thirteen: Waterfall Meadow
"You were right about me getting a reputation," Rose said.
Fiddler blinked a few times, then said, "From the fight?"
"Yep. The story has spread along the coast. Most versions are pretty accurate, but some say I stripped completely naked, and a few say that I castrated the fellow before I killed him. And since I am the only tall, female, red-haired sailor on the coast, I am easy to identify."
"Do you like it?"
"I think so. I get a lot of free drinks out of it."
"That never hurts."
"No, but there's more to it than that. It's as if... They still see me as a woman, but they don't see me as a woman FIRST. I'm a fighter, and a sailor, and THEN a woman. It's a big difference. Makes me wish I had killed someone sooner."
"No. I still see the light go out of his eyes as his blood flows over my hand almost every night."
"I have a cure for that."
"I've noticed. But it wears off."
>>>Scene Fourteen: Waterfall Meadow
"You were born a centaur, weren't you? That was how you learned to play the fiddle," Rose said.
"Yes," Fiddler said quietly.
"I would very much like to hear the story," Rose said, just as quietly.
Fiddler blinked a few times, then nodded. "As my Lady wishes." He laid back, put his hands behind his head, and talked to the air. "Centaurs hate unicorns. Centaurs are physically compatible, and have enough horse in them that they are utterly susceptible to unicorn magic. So a female centaur who finds herself alone with a unicorn WILL become pregnant, and, as the magic goes, will be happy about it, at least until the birth takes place. And then she will be angry that she was ensorcelled and raped, but she will have a beautiful new daughter, and life will go on."
Fiddler took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Everything is different with centaurs. With horses, it's one stallion and thirty mares, and if the stallion causes trouble, he can be killed in short order. But with centaurs, there are about as many stallions as mares, and they have spears and bows, and the unicorn needs to either run or die. But some unicorns are crazy, and like the challenge."
Fiddler rolled onto his side, mirroring Rose's position, and looked into her eyes, briefly. "My mother was different. She got it into her head that she wanted to bear a unicorn's child, and when she heard a rumor of a unicorn in the area, she went out looking for it. And they had sex, and then, since she was sure she was already pregnant, she went back to her village and had sex with every male who had a little time to spare."
"And no one thought that was odd?"
"Not really. Centaurs are kind of anti-monogamous."
"And the why of that?"
"She was hoping for, and expecting, a female child, but if the child was male, and the village knew it was the child of a unicorn, it would have been killed at birth."
"And then you were born."
"And then I was born, but the only one who knew I was under a death sentence was my mother, and she wasn't going to tell anyone. When I was eleven years old, my mother took me off to a little cabin in the middle of nowhere, and then she told me what I was, and why we were there. And we lived there until I was fourteen, and I changed. I played the fiddle a LOT during those three years."
"Because you thought you were going to lose the ability."
"And my hands, and my face, and my ability to speak... I was not a happy child, in those days."
"I am so sorry you had to go through that, Fid."
Fiddler shrugged. "There have been compensations."
>>>Scene Fifteen: Waterfall Meadow
Rose said, "I'm looking for another berth, Fid."
"I've been looking into going to another ship. I have gotten offers from a couple of different pirate chasers; they are always interested in topmast monkeys who can fight. I have been everywhere that the 'Sufferance' is ever going to go, and it's time to move on."
"But I might never see you again..."
"Don't do that, Fid. Don't reach inside my head and make me feel like I can't live without you. We both know that that fades away as soon as I wake up, anyway, and then I am just twice as unhappy or angry as I was before. And that's part of the problem. I enjoy being with you, but I never know, the next morning, if what I feel is real, or just the result of you messing around in my skull."
"You're my friend."
"I think so. Sometimes I even think I could fall in love with you, but that just makes it worse. Because not only do I not know if it's real, I know for certain that you will always belong to Osprey. You might even be able to make me content with that, confuse me so much that I didn't mind being the spare woman. But I would never agree to that if you didn't mess with my head." She stopped for breath. "Gods, Fid, I'm not even the ONLY spare woman; you have Lyssa and Dzee too, and any other girl that comes on board."
"I don't know. Whenever I get an offer I like. Probably the next time we raise Ironbridge."
Fiddler stared at her for a long moment, and then smiled. "I don't suppose we should waste time, then."
"Fid, wait. Would you play 'Chasing the Luck' again for me, first?"
Fiddler smiled more broadly. "As my Lady wishes."
>>>Scene Sixteen: Osprey's Cabin
"This is it, Fid. "It's been a lot of fun."
"May the gods smile on you, Rose. Think of me from time to time."
"Every time I hear a fiddle. Every damned time."
End of Chapter One
Copyright 2018 by Paul Haynie
All rights reserved.