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Fiddler's Rose - Four - Sweetwater

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Four - Sweetwater (Updated 5/18/2018)

>>>Scene One: The deck of the “Sea King's Plaything”

“You're not sleeping, Rose.”

“No, it's too beautiful a night. The weather is good and the air is warm and the sky is clear and we're sailing along the same stretch of coast that the 'Sufferance' covered when I first signed onto her, and I just had to try to share it with you. I'm tucked up under the bowsprit where no on is likely to trip over me.”

“You feel happy.”

“I am happy, or as happy as I will let myself be with my best friend on the bottom of the ocean. Which is actually pretty damned happy.”

“I'm glad. It feels good.”

“Does it? Then I will have to try to cultivate the experience more often.”

“I would like that.”

“If you were here... If you were a living person, this would be a moment that was just too sweet to spoil with conversation.”

“Then don't try to talk. The link will remain, and I am glad of it.”

“You're amazingly sweet for an incorrigible lust-monster.”

“You're amazingly sweet for dragon-blooded killer.”

“Shhhh.”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Two: A cabin on the “Sea King's Plaything”

“Rose? Are you all right?”

“Fid! I feel like I could explode. There's no way I could sleep; I can barely stay calm enough to hold this trance.”

“Because...?”

“I saw Maelstrom today, Fid! I TALKED to Maelstrom today.”

“You... talked... to the Great Monster Turtle.”

“It was just so amazing he's...”

“ROSE.”

“Huh?”

“You need to calm down and try to be coherent. It feels like you are shouting and slapping me in the face.”

“Oh. Sorry. I'll try.”

“So... Maelstrom.”

“So... We were northbound on a broad reach on a southwest wind, making five or six knots, everything pretty much perfect, and suddenly he was THERE, just off the port aft quarter, overtaking us slowly. His flippers almost touched the ship. Everyone crowded to the weather rail to see. When his head was opposite me, he lifted his head out of the water and said, 'Hello, Granddaughter'.”

“He SPOKE to you.”

“To all of us, but I was the only one who spoke Dragontongue, or was female. Nearly knocked me off my feet. Have you ever been so close to a lightning strike that the thunder was instant? Your ears ring and your teeth rattle and you feel like you have been hit in the stomach? It was like that.”

“What did he say?”

“He told me to climb up where he could see me, so I grabbed the main shrouds and pulled myself up onto the rail. And then he raised his head again, and again that eye just sort of ATE me... his eyes are as long as I am tall... and then he said that I had three dragon marks, all from the same noble house, and he asked me if I was trying to become a dragon.”

“And you said...?”

“That I wasn't aware that it was an option, and he... LAUGHED at that. It was terrifying. And then he said that if I chose to follow that path, I had his consent. His CONSENT.”

“And you don't know what to make of that?”

“I don't have a clue in the world. Then he told me to join him in the water, and we would have a chat. So I dropped back to the deck, stripped off my shoes and most of my clothes, and then climbed back on the rail and jumped in. And then Maelstrom submerged and the ship just kept on sailing, and for about a minute I thought I had just killed myself."

"I can understand that."

"And then Maelstrom came up right underneath me, and told me to settle myself on the front edge of his shell, so I did. And then he caught up with the ship, and got in front of it, and let the ship ride his wake. They told me afterwards that we were doing almost nine knots. This ship has NEVER gone that fast before."

"And you had a chat with the turtle."

"And I told him all about myself. After a while, he said I should prepare to get off, so I made my way back to the aft end of his shell, and called for a line.”

“What did the crew do?”

“They threw me a line and pulled me aboard. Also stared at the giant turtle, and shivered in fear, I think.”

“That sounds about right. Did you tell Maelstrom about me?”

“I told him that I was looking for something precious that was on the bottom of Hurricane Bay, and he said that when I felt ready, I should come talk to him again, and he would give me some advice.”

“The Great Monster Turtle invited you to come talk to him again some time.”

“Yes.”

“You lead a very strange life, Rose.”

“Said the dead unicorn from the bottom of the ocean.”

“I also lead a very strange existence.”

“So we were made for each other.”

“Quite possibly. Are you calm enough to sleep, Rose?”

“Maybe? I don't know.”

“I will play something soothing on the fiddle, and even if you can't hear, maybe you can feel it.”

“I think... that would be good.”


>>>Scene Three: Darkness

“Sleeping tonight, Rose?”

“I spent the day skylarking, so I'm tired. And it's cloudy, so there are no stars to see.”

“Skylarking?”

“Wandering around the rigging at high speed. It's something that young sailors do to learn the ship.”

“And fledgling sorcerers?”

“Fledgling sorcerers who have terrified the crew by having conversations with the Great Monster Turtle can do anything they want to, even after the captain has returned their passage fees.”

“That doesn't explain your motivation.”

“It's FUN. And I haven't done it since I was on the 'Sufferance', and being on this stretch of coast makes me nostalgic. Dzee and I used to play tag whenever we could get away with it.”

“And Osprey didn't mind?”

“She encouraged it. Topmast monkeys need to know the rigging in their sleep, and be as strong and agile as possible. So a monkey who likes to skylark is good for the ship.”

“Ah.”

“On the other hand, twenty-two is not sixteen, and I haven't done this sort of thing in five years, and I think I am going to be VERY sore tomorrow.”

“My condolences.”

“It was worth it.”

“You hope.”

“I hope. How old are you, Fid?”

“I'm not sure. At least five hundred, probably less than a thousand. The years blend together.”

“How many partners?”

“Five, as a ghost. Dozens, before I was killed. They blend together, too.”

“All of them?”

“Of course not. The first few are distinct because everything was new, and, since Kellath, they have all been precious. But in between there were a lot of snacks that I picked up because I was hungry.”

“You're making it worse.”

“I guess you can't hear the self-recrimination; it's there. I know I'm not good at feeling guilty; I'm not built for it. But eventually I DID learn It just took a very long while.”

“Centuries.”

“Yes, centuries. I would change things if I could, but I can't. Why are you dredging through my unpleasant memories?”

“I've been thinking about Maelstrom, and dragons, and the prospect of living for hundreds of years. I would think it would be very easy to become a monster.”

“I think so, too.”

“But you went through a monster phase, and got over it.”

“Is that a compliment?”

“I think it was, yes.”

“A crust of bread is a banquet to a starving man.”

“And a wise magician keeps a fool close at hand.”

“And this fool exists to serve.”

“And I roll my eyes. Good night, Fid.”


>>>Scene Four: Darkness

“Home in Sweetwater, Rose?”

“In Sweetwater, anyway. Not so much home, anymore.”

“Chilly welcome?”

“More like no welcome; no one recognized me. I didn't catch a ride with a local boatman; I was transported to shore in the ship's longboat, and escorted to the local inn by sailors who carried my luggage, all one piece of it. And no one realized that the center of attention, with a sword on her hip, and scales on her cheeks, was a girl who had grown up here.”

“Not too surprising, really.”

“I suppose not. Once I was settled, I went to my parent's house, and my mother didn't recognize me until I said, 'Hello, Mother,' and then she nearly fainted. And my mother does NOT faint.”

“I would not expect the woman who birthed you to be prone to fainting.”

“No, not at all. But once she had recovered, she hugged me, and started gathering the family. Two of my brothers are married, now, and my sister has had two more children; that's seven nieces and nephews, all told. My father and my brothers came in from the boats at sundown, and there was food, and I told some stories, and did some trivial magic, and nothing had really changed except that I belonged there even less than I did when I was sixteen. They called me 'Emma' and I never once told them otherwise.”

“Would they have listened?”

“Probably not. The person they remember and are fond of was named Emerald, and might not have ever existed. And while I am fond of them, I hadn't been close to any of them in a long, long time.”

“Still, it's more family that I ever had. After I changed, I never even saw my mother again; I couldn't.”

“Couldn't?”

“Think about it.”

“Oh. Right. No, I suppose you couldn't. So you and I are stuck with each other?”

“Gods, I hope so.”


>>>Scene Five: Darkness

“So how was Auntie Moss?”

“Strange as always, but really informative. She wants to meet you, by the way.”

“Does she now. I thought I was a secret.”

“You are. But Auntie Moss hasn't steered me wrong so far, and only a stupid captain hides charts from her own navigator.”

“Hmmm. So what did you learn?”

“That she knew that I had sea dragon blood in my family tree, which is why she put it in my tattoo. She says she has enough of the stuff left for another tattoo, by the way, and offered to give it to me.”

“The blood, or another tattoo?”

“Both together. She says I have a talent for transformation, and this tattoo will bring it out. And that if I take the tattoo, she has a book with a transformation spell she will let me copy.”

“Nice of her. What's in it for her?”

“Not much, but it makes her happy. I think she enjoys playing dice with the universe.”

“That would make you a die.”

“Maybe. I've been called worse things.”

“Anything else?”

“She told me a bit more about dragon marks. There are five of them; birth, charm, semen, draught, and wound. I already have the first three, and all from sea dragons.”

“So... Draught?”

“Drinking dragon's blood. Fresher is better, and given is better than stolen.”

“And wound?”

“Blood from the dragon's open wound into mine. That one MUST be fresh, but freely given is still better than taken by force. It's best if all five dragons are of the same type, but are all different individuals.”

“So if you want to do this right, you need to find two friendly sea dragons. And the end result of this is?”

“To be that much closer to actually becoming a dragon. It isn't a well-documented path.”

“Surprise, surprise. Do you WANT to become a dragon?”

“That's the question, isn't it? The life expectancy is attractive...”

“If you don't mind the fact that 'dragon slayer' is actually considered a profession in some parts.”

“There is that. But they don't usually come calling unless the dragon makes a nuisance of herself.”

“Or a well-heeled sorcerer decides he wants some dragon bits for spell components. I'm told dragon bones are almost as useful as unicorn horns.”

“Ouch. I'm not committed to the idea, or even thinking about it very hard. It's just a path I didn't know existed, and now it is in front of me.”

“And you have Maelstrom's consent.”

“And that. It was such an odd choice of words.”

“You're going to obsess over word choices?”

“You didn't see him, Fid. You didn't hear his voice, or look in his eye, or ride on his back. Damned straight I'm obsessing over word choices.”

“You're still feeling it, aren't you?”

“Say what?”

“The thunderbolt feeling in your belly.”

“Yeah, I think I am, at least a little bit. They say he's the biggest creature on the planet, and one of the oldest. And he made an effort to talk to ME. That's going to be with me for a while.”

“I can tell. So what now?”

“Tomorrow, I am going to haul my belongings over to Auntie Moss' place, and get a tattoo.”

“You're going to stay with her?”

“Her idea. She said there might be side effects.”

“And you are definite on the tattoo.”

“I think it's where my path leads. It MAY be another step toward becoming a dragon, but I am pretty sure it is the next step on the path to recovering a certain dagger..”

“Then I won't argue with you.”


>>>Scene Six: Auntie Moss' cabin

“Are you there, Fid?”

“Always. Mostly.”

“Those side effects we talked about? No 'maybe' about them. This is going to be a rough ride.”

“I will be here to the best of my ability.”


>>>Scene Seven: Darkness

“Fid?”

“ROSE?”

“Still not really... I can hear the music, Fid. It helps. Don't stop.”

“Never.”


>>>Scene Eight: Darkness

“Rose? Are you finally dreaming?”

“I must be. I can hear you, so I'm not awake, and I don't have anything like the energy or control to meditate.”

“Auntie Moss said you were getting better.”

“You've been talking to her?”

“I have, a bit. Mostly I have been trying to reach you, and playing the fiddle.”

“I could hear you. I still can, or could until you stopped. It helped.”

“Then I will keep playing.”

“I'm exhausted, Fid.”

“Rest, then. I will be here.”


>>>Scene Nine: A meadow outside of Sweetwater

“Out of bed, Rose?”

“Out of the house, and sitting in the sunlight. Weak as a kitten, but in my right mind. If you can call it 'right' after doing THAT to myself voluntarily.”

“Was it worth it?”

“Too soon to tell. I hope so.”

“Did you change again?”

“A bit. Not as much. I have more scales, and the old scales are more noticeable, and my smile is scarier.”

“Your smile?”

“I have noticeable fangs, top and bottom, and a slight lisp when I speak Kzanti. I'm hoping I can train that away. Dragontongue is a little bit easier, though. Tell me about your conversation with Auntie Moss. I asked her about it, but she just smiled.”

“She would. You know that speech that fathers give to young men who court their daughters? The one that goes, 'Mistreat her and I will rip off your genitals and feed them to you while roasting you over a slow fire'?”

“I've heard my father deliver it, and seen one of my brothers come home rattled after receiving it.”

“Yeah, well, Auntie Moss gave it to me. I was left with the impression that if she decided I needed to be dealt with, the bottom of Hurricane Bay was not NEARLY far enough.”

“That's sweet.”

“She honestly scared me. And I'm pretty much indestructible.”

“Poor baby.”

“You had better be worth this.”

“I am going to pull you up from the bottom of Hurricane Bay.”

“Oh. Yeah. Right. I think I will just play more music now.”

“That would be nice.”


>>>Scene Ten: Darkness

“Tired, Rose?”

“Yeah, I spent the day learning that new spell. I really like it. Eventually I am supposed to be able to use it to become pretty much anything humanoid, but for now all I can do is the pure human I used to be, a faun, and a crocodilian. That one really shocked Auntie Moss, until I told her about Losty's heart.”

“The faun didn't surprise her?”

“She was expecting that one; I had already told her it was a shape I was familiar with.”

“So cavorting with me is educational!”

“That is not the first word I would have chosen. But between book time and spell work, and not being completely recovered from the fever, I'm beat.”

“I imagine.”

“Tomorrow I think I am going to hike down to the shore and take the croc for a swim. That should be a lot of fun.”

“Try not to drown; I need you.”

“I won't drown. I'm a good swimmer, and the croc shape was bred for the water. And how do you expect me to rescue you without swimming?”

“Oh.”

“Don't sulk. Would Master Fiddler do me the honor of playing something soothing?”

“It would be my pleasure.”

“That's the other thing that has changed, you know. I can hear your music, now. I had almost forgotten how wonderful it was.”

“I regret that I am extremely susceptible to flattery.”

“Do you, now? I certainly don't.”


>>>Scene Eleven: Darkness

“You're tired again, Rose. Also happy, I think.”

“Yes to both, Fid. I took that walk down to the shore and took a long swim as a crocodilian; I cast the spell five times, all told, and didn't drown once.”

“I noticed that. That you weren't dead.”

“So I learned two things: Swimming as a croc is pretty much wonderful, and there is no way I will be able to rescue you as a croc.”

“Oh?”

“Crocs swim really well, between the huge feet and the flat tail, and they can hold their breath a LONG time, five or ten times what I could as a human. They can dive easily to depths that I wouldn't have dared to try as a human. But there are still limits, and it's still just holding my breath. I think that I need to find a shape that can actually breathe water before I can try to rescue you.”

“Do you have anything in mind”

“No, but I have an invitation to visit Maelstrom, and if anyone knows, he will.”

“That makes sense.”

“And I still have to FIND you first, anyway.”

“I know. Where, then how, then when.”

“Exactly.”

“But you're already working on the 'how'.”

“It can't hurt. And I have a strong suspicion that part of 'where' is going to be 'hellaciously deep'. So I might as well start working on that when I can.”

“Makes sense.”

“Speaking of 'where', have you been keeping track of those angles?”

“Not much to keep track of. I can find Drellan easily enough, and now I know Auntie Moss, and I can find her, and there are enough sorcerers who are big enough to see in Ironbridge that I can always find it pretty easily.”

“And the angles?”

“Almost an eighth of a circle from Losthaven to Ironbridge, and somewhat less than a quarter circle from Losthaven to Sweetwater.”

“That doesn't sound good, but it IS about what I expected. By the time I get all the way around the bay to Skytower, we will have it nailed down pretty well.”

“You're going to Skytower? By circling to the left?”

“Sounds odd, doesn't it? We started out about a hundred miles away, and by the time we actually get there, we will have traveled more like 3200. But we will have a really good idea of where you are at the end of that, and then I will need to spend some time at the Great Library in Skytower.”

“The library?”

“Magic is built on three things: Intelligence, Will, and Luck. You build Intelligence by studying, you build Will by casting spells, and you build Luck by having adventures. I need to get smarter. Or at least learn some new things, even if I don't actually get smarter.”

“Sounds kind of boring.”

“It might be. Sometimes the road just IS. You know that.”

“Yes, but I never believe it. I keep hoping I might be wrong.”

“And every now and then, I start to suspect that you might be sane, but you always rescue me from the misapprehension.”

“As ever, I exist to serve.”

“You get all of the good exit lines.”


>>>Scene Twelve: Darkness

“And AGAIN you are tired, Rose.”

“Heh. I did an honest day's work. I should be tired.”

“You? Honest? Work?”

“Said the non-corporeal entity.”

“Ouch. Come and get me and I will non-corporeal you until your toes curl.”

“It's a date. But I spent the day fishing with my father. I haven't done that since before I left home.”

“It went well?”

“Yeah, it did. He was more than a little afraid of me when I turned up again, but there is something about standing next to a person, hauling on the same net, that breaks down barriers.”

“That sounds really good.”

“It was. And it may also have solved my next small problem.”

“Oh?”

“I mentioned that my next stop was Turtle Bay, and my father said that the town sometimes sends a boat that way on a shopping trip at this time of year, and that he would ask around, and just maybe he would make the trip himself, and provide me with transport.”

“And you like that idea?”

“I think I do, yes. I might as well travel with my family as with strangers. And just maybe my father will see who I really am.”

“Because that is something that you yourself understand.”

“No, because maybe then he will tell me. Brat. You know what I mean; people almost never see each other, and it is worse when parents look at their children, because the parents WANT to see, but they CAN'T.”

“You've been hitting the Philter of Profundity again, haven't you?”

“The Philter... Are you sure Osprey didn't just throw you over the side to be rid of you?”

“Yes, Rose. I felt her die.”

“Sorry. That was too far. Our moods don't match tonight. Would the Master Fiddler accept my apology, and play me something melancholy?”

“Done, and done.”


>>>Scene Thirteen: Darkness

“Another day on the boat, Rose?”

“Sort of. A day on the docks, doing odd jobs and letting people get to know me. It was worth it, though. The Stonecrow clan and the 'Purple Moonlight' will be transporting me to Turtle Bay, starting tomorrow.”

“How long is the trip?”

“Four or five days. We'll be stopping to camp on shore every night.”

“That's a change.”

“'Moonlight' isn't big enough to make the trip in one hop.”

“Ah.”

“And I have a very strange parting gift from Auntie Moss, in the form of a story. Gods only know where she heard it from, but she swears it's true, and showed me the spot on a map.”

“Go on.”

“Four women made camp on the shore of a very big lake, stripped naked, and burned all of their belongings. Then one of the women turned into a sword, and then another woman picked up the sword and threw it as far as she could into the lake. And then she turned into a wolf, and ran away. And then the third woman turned into a hawk, and flew away, and then the fourth woman turned into a horse, and walked away.”

“That is a very strange story. What's the point?”

“Would Auntie Moss tell me that?”

“Ah.”

“But she did say that she is pretty sure that the sword is still on the bottom of that lake.”

“Auntie Moss is an evil woman.”

“Sometimes, yes.”

End of Chapter Four
Copyright 2018 by Paul Haynie
All rights reserved.
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