"You're late tonight, Rose."
"I was saying my farewells to Drellan."
"For three hours?"
"On my back."
"You have no right to ever be jealous over anything, and you know it. And Drellan has been a perfect gentleman for three years, and I don't think he has had sex since I have been studying with him, and I KNOW that I haven't, and I may not see him in a long time, if ever."
"You've been practicing that speech."
"Maybe a little."
"Preparing myself for the inevitable caprine interrogation."
"Was it worth it?"
"It's been three years, Fid. What do you think?"
"I think that I have been on the bottom of the ocean for four years, and I might hate you."
"I'm going to rescue you anyway."
"You've moved since last night, Rose."
"I'm heading north to Ironbridge. After three years in Losthaven, it was time to move on. Am I closer to you? Can you tell?"
"I don't think you are closer or farther away, just in a different place. What's in Ironbridge?"
"Other than a big city? Mostly, it's the first leg of the trip to Sweetwater. I think I need to go home and have a talk with Auntie Moss. And if that helps figure out where you are, all the better."
"Because finding me is the first step in bringing me home."
"Something like that. You said something the other night about me being three hours late. Do you have some way to tell time?"
"I built a day long sand clock, right after I found you. I was making myself crazy checking to see if you were asleep, so that I could talk to you again, so I built a clock. It took a few days to get it calibrated, and it probably isn't very accurate, but it does what I need it to do."
"I'm impressed, Fid. I didn't know you were such an inventor."
"You remember those fiddles I built?"
"Those... I didn't realize, Fid. I just thought... I took them for granted."
"I built a better-than-sex fiddle, and you just assumed I had picked it up in a store somewhere. Inside the dreamspace. Where there are lots of stores, after all."
"I get the point, Fid, and I'm sorry. But the reason I asked about the clock is that I have been working on a meditation technique that might let you contact me when I wasn't asleep, but you would need to come looking for me while I was meditating. Want to try for noon today?"
"That... would be good, I guess, but what would be the point? I only have so much energy."
"But if I were actually looking for you, trying to get close enough to you to find you by sight or spell, I might want to check in with you and get a bearing more often than every 24 hours."
"You've been putting a lot of thought into this. I might even forgive you for taking my Princess for granted. Someday."
"See you at noon, Fid."
>>>Three/Three: The deck of the “Wandering Star”
"Hello, Rose. Been waiting long?"
"Almost two hours, but I started an hour before noon. Your clock is about an hour slow."
"I'll fix that. What else is going on? It feels like you are grinning like a fool."
"I earned a refund on my passage this morning, and a bonus."
"That's impressive. How?"
"Without consulting me?"
"You weren't available."
"We were becalmed sometime after midnight, and started to drift toward shore. Almost all of the land between Losthaven and Ironbridge is marsh, about 500 miles of it. It's all crocodilian country. When dawn came, we still had no wind, and there were a couple of longboats full of crocs headed for us."
"You did NOT lead the crew in a defense against croc pirates."
"No, I swindled them. I hailed them in Dragontongue, and told them that I was the servant of a major dragonmage, and that if they forced me to wake up my master, he would kill them all. They hesitated, and I told them that if we had to kill them, we could use their bodies for fish bait, and they turned around and went back to shore. And then the crew put out our longboat and kedged us back to deep water, and the captain gave me back my passage fee and offered me a share of the ship."
"For running a scam on some crocs?"
"He didn't know what I had done. I'm the only one on the ship who can speak Dragontongue. All anyone other than you and I know is that I told the crocs to go away, and they went. The crew is terrified of me, but grateful."
"I'm missing something here."
"Crocs are not used to people knowing their language, so when I did, and sounded well educated, they knew I was a sorcerer. And when I threatened them with a bigger sorcerer, they were inclined to believe me."
"And the fish bait line?"
"Cannibalism is a big thing with crocs. You show respect for an enemy by eating him. Being used for bait is the most horrible thing that can happen to a dead croc; it's a passport into crocodilian hell."
"So they decided not to take the chance."
"That's kind of evil. I'm impressed. How'd you learn so much about crocs?"
"Tonight. I need to get out of this trance before my my feet develop gangrene."
"Until then, Rose."
"More comfortable now, Rose?"
"Wrapped up in my old hammock, which is cleaner that it ever used to be, and slighly drunk. The captain insisted on expressing his gratitude with brandy. Pretty good brandy, too."
"Someday you can share the memory with me."
"Maybe. If I don't find some better brandy in the meantime."
"That would be good, too. You were going to tell me about crocs?"
"It starts with kobolds. Do you know anything aobut them?"
"Small, look like crocs, but aren't swimmers. Dangerous in packs, nuisances otherwise."
"You can add to that that they are kind of dumb, and really enjoy cruelty; they are fond of food that screams while it is being eaten. And then the thing that everyone seems to miss: They are amazingly loyal. A kobold who feels an honest debt to you will die for you."
"Which implies you have first hand experience of this."
"Yes, I saved a kobold beggar from a beating that might have killed him. Had to kill the drunk responsible, though."
"That was hardly full orchestration and four part harmony."
"No, it wasn't, was it? Well enough... There was a kobold beggar that I saw almost every day; he had a threadbare, faded blue cloak to help him hide from the sun; I would greet him when I saw him, and call him, 'Mister Blue'. He responded by calling me,'Dutchess', because I spoke Dragontongue with an educated accent. Most kobs can speak some Kzanti, usually pretty badly, but they speak Dragontongue among themselves. Drellan and I were probably the only people in Losthaven who spoke Dragontongue, and Drellan was always too self-conscious of his accent to try to speak it conversationally."
"Drellan isn't fluent?"
"Drellan isn't a dragonmage; he learned almost all of his magic in Kzanti, just had a few necessary words and phrases in Dragontongue. But he was pretty much topped out as a sorcerer without leaning Dragontongue properly, so when I came along and offered to teach him the language in exchange for magic lessons, he jumped on the chance."
"And then there was a kobold named Blue..."
"And one night I happened to be nearby when a drunk tripped slightly over Blue's feet, and got angry and kicked Blue in the face. He was setting up for another kick when I pushed him away; he turned on me and drew a knife. I backed off, he turned back to Blue, and I pushed him away again. He charged me, I dodged and gave him a bit of a push, and he sprawled head first into a wall, and didn't get up. I gathered up Blue and took him off to the local healers, who wanted a bribe I could barely afford to patch him up. And I thought that was the end of the matter."
"But Blue didn't see it that way?"
"Very much not. He showed up at Drellan's doing his best to pay me back with all the resources a kobold beggar could muster."
"Ah. The wealth of empires."
"Very, very small empires. But we started having real conversations, and I started finding odd jobs for him."
"If you feed them, you can never get rid of them."
"Probably not. Until tomorrow, Fid."
"Until tomorrow, Rose."
>>>Three/Five: The deck of the “Wandering Star”
"So how long until noon, Rose?"
"A quarter hour, maybe. You're close."
"I do my best."
"I am having trouble understanding how your clock works at all. Isn't the dreamspace all in your head?"
"I used to think so, when I had a head. Now I am a disembodied personality bound to a piece of my former body which is almost immutable and indestructable, and the dreamspace hasn't changed. Whatever and wherever it is, I was able to get a two hour error down to a quarter hour, so something works."
"I guess so. Mark."
"Done. Tomorrow will nail it down hard. See you tonight."
"Until tonight, Fid."
"Safe in your hammock again, Rose?"
"And sober, tonight. Where were we?"
"Kobolds. Specifically one in a blue cloak."
"Ah. I found out that kobolds are not only loyal, they are utterly honest. Enthusiastically sadistic, and unbelievably vengeful if crossed, but utterly honest and terrifyingly loyal. It takes four kobolds to do as much raw work as a man can do, but you can hire a dozen kobs for the price of a poor man."
"And ten men to match one horse. But I see where this is going."
"Blue introduced me to his village. I started making deals, providing kobs to do work in Losthaven. It spread from Blue's village to other villages. And all of this was in my spare time; I was still studying with Drellan full time. And then one day Blue came to me and asked my help; the kobolds were having a problem with crocs, and thought maybe I could accomplish something."
"The kobolds appointed you as their ambassador to the crocodilians? That would be hilarious, except it was probably life threatening."
"You've been reading ahead. I went looking for the croc village, and was met by a war party that told me I wasn't worth their time, and that if I didn't go away they would fill me with spears. I did the 'How dare you?' thing, and claimed a right to prove my worthiness."
“Which entailed what?”
“I had no clue. But it got me an interview with the village shaman, who informed me that I had volunteered for a duel to the death with a champion of his choosing.”
“And you didn't run? You shouldn't take chances like that; you have a ghost to rescue.”
"I didn't know you were lost, at that point. And I didn't see any alternative; my kobold escort was long gone, and I was alone in a croc village. I realized that if I didn't fight and win, I was going to be the occupant of the roasting pit they were preparing. I said as much to the shaman, who said that that would only happen if I fought and lost. If I refused to fight, they would cut me up and use me for bait.”
“Which is how you know about that.”
“Which was the first time I had heard about it. The shaman was talkative, and I have spent a fair amount of time with him since then. He told me that he hoped that I won, because I was skinny and looked kind of stringy, and my opponent had meat to spare. Also he was a loud mouthed dimwit that the tribe would be better off without. Then he pointed my opponent out to me, and made sure I noticed that he was celebrating in advance with some kind of fermented stuff. NASTY fermented stuff, but I didn't find that out until later.”
“You can keep that memory to yourself, if you don't mind.”
“Spoilsport. So they drew a circle, and we took our places. My opponent was a LOT bigger than I was, and he had a spear and a round shield. I had my rapier, and I had found a buckler that they let me borrow. He was a hunter, mostly, and had fought some mock duels; I had learned to fight from pirate hunters, and trained with the Losthaven militia whenever they could be bothered to meet. And I was faster than he was. He charged, I dodged, and gave him a small cut as we separated. And again, and again. He was losing blood, and slowing down, and I started to go on the offensive. During one disengagement, he asked me to promise him that I would eat his heart.”
“That was my reaction, though I was breathing hard enough that it wasn't quite that emphatic. He repeated the request, and I told him that I would if I were allowed to. Then he said, 'Thank you', spread his arms wide to expose his chest, and looked straight up into the sky.”
“And you killed him.”
“And I slammed my sword into his heart as hard as I could.”
“Do you eat the heart?”
“Yup. Well, half of it. The thing was huge, and I asked the shaman if it would be disrespectful to offer part of it to someone else, and he said no, and licked his teeth. And when we were done eating, we did our negotiation over too much of that nasty fermented green stuff. I spent the night in the village, and in the morning they gave me all four of my opponent's fangs, and I went home.”
“And you're wearing his fangs around your neck right now, aren't you?”
“Do you know his name?”
“Lostclaw Bonecarver. Or the equivalent in Dragontongue. His friends called him something like 'Losty'.”
“Twice. Noon again tomorrow?”
>>>Three/Seven: The deck of the “Wandering Star”
“Dammit, Fid, you almost missed it.”
“But I didn't, did I?”
“You mean you delayed on purpose?”
“If one must do a thing, one should do it with as much style as possible.”
“You... Damn. Mark.”
“Done and documented. See you tonight!”
“Something feels different tonight.”
“I'm sleeping in a bed on dry land, after seven nights in a hammock at sea. I'm surprised you can tell the difference, though. I didn't know you got that much information.”
“I just know there's a difference. I didn't know what it was.”
“So what now?”
“I'm going to spend a few days on the docks, trying to find information about the 'Sufferance', and then I am going to go looking for a ship that will take me to Sweetwater.”
“You never heard anything in Losthaven?”
“No, but that was always a longshot. 'Sufferance' really only traveled between Ironbridge and Turtle Bay, unless something special and lucrative came up.”
“And if you don't find anything?”
“Then she never made port after Osprey died. Which would be several kinds of bad news. If she made port, even if she had to be scrapped afterwards, there will be some kind of news.”
“Do you think she's still sailing?”
“It depends on how much she was damaged, and how much legal trouble there was. I THINK Osprey owned her, but there may have been loans, or partners, or heirs. Or maybe old Kyle, the purser, had the presence of mind to forge her new papers, and sail away under a new name.”
“Wouldn't that be piracy?”
“Technically, but if Osprey owned her free and clear, and had no heirs, that would keep her sailing, and out of the hands of whatever harbor authority decided to snatch her. It would keep the crew working honestly, more or less.”
“Are all sailors thieves at heart?”
“No. Absolutely not. I definitely heard about an honest one, somewhere. Far away. Never actually met him, though.”
“That's an Osprey line.”
“It is, isn't it? I had forgotten.”
“I miss her, Rose. She deserved better.”
“We all do, in the end, Fid. Or maybe not. She died doing something she loved, with someone who loved her holding her hand.”
“Metaphorically, with benefits. Good night, Fid.”
“I've got news on the 'Sufferance', Fid. She landed here in Ironbridge after Osprey died.”
“She had come all the way across the bay from Silverport, nearly a thousand miles. The crew got salvage rights, sold the ship and cargo, and shared out the proceeds. 'Sufferance' was refitted and renamed, and is who-knows-where now. So I'm headed for Sweetwater as soon as I can find a ship, but I'll keep looking for old crew mates in the meantime.”
“Is this worse news than I understand?”
“It's... Fid, the whole time I was on the 'Sufferance', we never went south of Ironbridge, and almost never went west of Turtle Bay. 900 miles of coastline at the most. I thought I could just sail along that route until I sailed over your head, and then I would be able to start working on how get to you. You were supposed to be within a day's sail of dry land, in water that was no more than a few hundred feet deep. That was bad enough, but I was ready for it. There's 900 miles of open water between Ironbridge and Silverport, and I have idea how deep it might be. Rescuing you might not be possible.”
“Are you quitting?”
“What? No. Of course not. I used to be able to see the top of the mountain, and now I can't anymore, That's discouraging. But the job has always been to climb and keep climbing, and I will.”
“Even if you never see the top of the mountain again?”
“Because you're my friend, and you need help, and I am in a position to try. If I manage to prove that the task is really and truly impossible, well... We'll see. I just need to get used to the idea that we may be working on this for a LONG time.”
“Don't be. It's not your fault you're where you are. It's only slightly Osprey's, and I don't hold it against her. If she hadn't gotten herself killed, I couldn't dream of having you all to myself.”
“Not really. Maybe a little. People confuse me.”
“You want some advice? Advice born of several hundred years of dealing with people?”
“I don't have any. People confuse me, too.”
“Brat. And here I was feeling all weepy and apologetic because you're the one who's trapped.
“But I have a lifeline, Rose. I'm not allowed to give up hope unless you do.”
“You are a gift from the universe, and I would be a fool to not be grateful.”
“And thus, with words of honey, was the maiden's heart won.”
“Maidens are small beer. You are a killer and a child of dragons and a weaver of magic. ”
“You're utterly shameless and incorrigible and I am GOING to find a way to rescue you.”
“I am certain of it.”
“Fid, why did you contact me when you did? I had been sleeping in that same bed for three years.”
“I hadn't seen you before that. When Osprey first died, I spent a lot of time looking at the world around me, wondering who or what I could see. There are a lot of sorcerers, a few dragons, Maelstrom the turtle...”
“You can see Maelstrom?”
"Oh, yes. It's hard to NOT see him. He's the biggest, brightest light I can see. He never seems to sleep, and he's almost constantly in motion. He's... His mind is really alien, even for a dragon. He gives me a really strong impression that if I get too close I will get pulled in, and not be able to escape."
“I've only seen him once, in the distance. He's amazing.”
“He is. But you... I had found Drellan. I didn't know his name, but I knew there was a single sorcerer there, just a bit to the right of the big green dragon.”
“The Jade Empress?”
“I wouldn't know what she calls herself. But she's BIG.”
“She claims all of the marshland between the Lost River and the Iron River, and no one argues with her.”
“Ah. Well, after a while, I got to know who was where, and there was no one I willing to risk talking to, so I didn't check very often. Of course, since it was the only thing in my existence that ever changed AT ALL, I couldn't stay away completely. And then one day a light popped up next to Drellan, and I realized that I recognized it, and here we are.”
“I had just broken Second Circle. That must be it. Interesting.”
“So you would have been leaving Drellan anyway, even if I hadn't turned up.”
“Yes. And I was still going to go have a talk with Auntie Moss. But everything has more purpose, now.”
“Yes, I have to rescue my idiot unicorn friend.”
“Ouch. And on that note...”
“I found a ship, Fid. I'll be back in my hammock, and on the move, tomorrow night.”
“On the way to Sweetwater?”
“Yes. My ship won't bother to make port; it's too big. But it will anchor out, and the locals will come out to trade barrels full of water, and barrels full of salt fish, for empty barrels and silver. I will have to talk my way onto one of the local boats, but it shouldn't be too hard; I know most of the boatmen. Or I did, six years ago.”
“Will they be glad to see you?”
“I hope so. If my parents were REALLY angry about me leaving, there might be some hard feelings. I will find out soon enough.”
“That you will. How far is it?”
“Five hundred miles, more or less. At least fifteen days.”
“Why so slow?”
“We'll be stopping along the way, and about a third of that distance will be to windward. That reminds me. You said that the Jade Empress was to the right of Drellan.”
“And I am currently to the right of the Jade Empress?”
“Can you draw a map? Or at least, a plan of the angles, If you look straight at Drellan, the place I am now is some fraction of a circle to the right of your current position. And before long, we will know how much of a circle separates Drellan from Sweetwater. Bearings from two fixed points gives you an arc of possible positions; bearings from three fixed points gives you an exact location.”
“To the limit of the accuracy of the measurements.”
“It's something. The smaller the search area, the shorter the search.”
“I think I need to go work on map making, then, given that you will be on the move in the morning. I... I am very glad that you are you, Rose.”
“I go well with myself. And thank you.”
End of Chapter Three