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Fiddler's Rose – Five - Turtle Bay

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Five - Turtle Bay (Updated 5/18/2018)

>>>Scene One: The sea floor west of Sweetwater

“What are you up to, Rose?”

“Sitting on the sand in crocodilian form in thirty feet of water with a big rock in my lap, and wondering if I could get far enough into a trance to talk to you.”

“It would seem that you can.”

“It's good to know. It will probably be useful. Also easier if I were breathing the water and not holding my breath.”

“No doubt. How do your companions feel about their crazy passenger going for a midnight swim?”

“I'm hoping I'll be back in my blankets before they know I'm gone.”

“You should probably head back to your blankets, then.”

“Yes, Mommy. Look for me when I fall asleep?”

“Of course.”


>>>Scene Two: A beach west of Sweetwater

“You're not sleeping, Rose.”

“No, but I do have a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I was a passenger today; I need to convince my brain that I need to sleep. Do you mind coming along for the ride?”

“I treasure your company under any circumstances.”

“That's just cruel.”

“Sarcasm makes overly sentimental truth bearable, but it is easy to overdo.”

“And just like that I stop being offended, and I am happy and feel flattered. YOU are dangerous.”

“I used to be. Then I developed a conscience. But the skills remain.”

“You remind me of 'The Riddle of the Great Seducer'.”

“Say what?”

“'The Riddle of the Great Seducer'. It's an ethical puzzle philosophers use to torment each other."

"Philosophers are evil."

"Possibly. The riddle involves a man who is so skilled at the arts of seduction that, once he chooses a target, his conquest is utterly assured; he cannot fail to bring that woman to his bed. The question is, does that then make all of his conquests rapes?"

"Philosophers are REALLY evil."

"Usually."

“It's not that difficult a riddle, though. Think of it in a non-sexual context. If I use deception and misdirection to get you to give me money, that's definitely theft, right? So seduction, regardless of skill, is fundamentally rape.”

“That does NOT put your history in a good light, Fid.”

“I freely admit that I used to be a monster. Might still be one. Haven't had a lot of opportunities, lately.”

“Hmmm. The philosophers came up with an answer to that one, though. Suppose, as a mark, I make the swindler going in, and allow him to achieve a controlled level of success, just for the privilege of watching him work.”

“Swindle as performance art?”

“If you like.”

“Philosophers are really, REALLY evil.”

“Said the monster.”

“You knew what I was before you offered to help me.”

“Indeed. On that note, good night, Mister Scorpion.”

“Good night, Miss Frog.”


>>>Scene Three: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose.”

“Hey, Scorps.”

“Is that nice? How would you like it if I started calling you, 'Froggy'?”

“I wouldn't mind. But you wouldn't do it.”

“And why not?”

“Because I think that being able to think of me as an attractive woman is really important to you.”

“I think that if I were less shallow I would be offended at your perception of my shallowness.”

“I think that that is my cue to concede this particular game.”

“Your small edge in talent pales beside my edge in experience. How was your day?”

“Good enough. We sail, we fish, we tell stories. I don't think they would believe most of mine, if the crew of the 'Plaything' hadn't spread the story of my encounter with Maelstrom. But it's good, it's homey.”

“You seem to be happy.”

“I think I am, mostly. But I never forget about you.”

“I'm touched.”

“I mean it. Rescuing you is the focus of my life right now, and everything I do is done with that in mind.”

“I'm grateful, but that sounds kind of ominous.”

“It shouldn't. It's just a reaction to the fact that life is fundamentally meaningless, and that you have to find your own purpose. At the moment, rescuing you is mine.”

“I shall endeavor to be worth the effort.”

“I can hear you leering.”

“Oops.”

“Idiot. If it was only about sex, there ARE other alternatives besides trying to find a dagger on the bottom of the ocean 500 miles from land.”

“But they don't involve me. I'm trying to sell my best points.”

“There is a unicorn joke in there somewhere, but I am not going to make it. The point-- and now you've got me doing it-- is that you are my friend, and you need my help. And that gives me something to do with my life, as an alternative to trying to rule the world.”

“Do you WANT to rule the world?”

“Not really, but the desire seems to be an occupational hazard for sorcerers.”

“Not me. The world is too big. I'd be happy with a decent sized brothel.”

“Good night, Fid.”


>>>Scene Four: Darkness

“So you said, 'Five'.”

“Huh? What?”

“You said you have had five partners since you died.”

“Oh, right.”

“That includes Osprey.”

“It does.”

“Does it include Belkith Norr?”

“Again, it does.”

“And you killed him, even though you were bonded.”

“Um... Yes?”

“So in addition to the partners that you killed, when you were alive, by carelessness or neglect, you have outright murdered as least one.”

“But he REALLY deserved it.”

“Said the scorpion.”

“Is that fair?”

“Don't whine. And you tell me.”

“Well... Probably. Is there a point to this?”

“Well... You have told me that the bond, once formed, holds until one of the partners dies, and that you were able to keep Salsi alive, and healthy enough to be useful to you, for over a hundred years, so that means that all of the partners that you have had since your own death must have died violently. And carelessness and neglect are not likely to be an issue since, you assure me, the living partner is the one in control, so it seems REALLY likely that you actually killed one of the partners between Norr and Osprey.”

“Oh.”

“That's it? 'Oh'?”

“I killed Norr directly, Harrick was killed for associating with me, I had Janeth assassinated, and I neglected Dannel while he self-destructed. And then there was Osprey, who I wanted to keep forever.”

“Oh. Wow.”

“So, yes, definitely a scorpion. But I'm trying to reform.”

“I'm not really thrilled by the prospect of being a frog.”

“I want to keep you forever, too. I always have.”

“Always?”

“Pretty much “

“How did Osprey feel about that?”

“I am not nearly stupid enough to have brought it up with her. I probably would have, if you were still around after a decade or so.”

“A decade?”

“Immortality invites the long game.”

“And we'll call that the exit line. But you owe me stories.”

“Or course.”


>>>Scene Five: A beach east of Turtle Bay

“Not sleeping, Rose?”

“Standing watch.”

“And talking to me at the same time?”

“The world doesn't go away when I do this; I still have all of my senses, but they are faded. Though they have been less and less faded as I have gotten better at the technique.”

“Ah. Any news today?”

“Not really. We will arrive in Turtle Bay tomorrow, so I will be ashore for a while. My father and brothers will head home a couple of days after that.”

“And you?”

“I try to find a ship that will take me across the mouth of Hurricane Bay, or at least as far as Thirsty.”

“Thirsty?”

“Thirsty Harbor is a an island with a really good anchorage, and no fresh water. It doesn't have a lot of permanent population, but there is a fair amount of traffic, because many captains would rather sail back and forth from Turtle Bay to Thirsty, or from Landfall to Thirsty, than to take the long run from Turtle Bay to Landfall. So it's a good destination, as long as you are prepared to pay whiskey prices for water.”

“That sounds tragic. And I have never actually HAD alcohol in the real world.”

“Now THAT sounds tragic.”

“I lost my hands when I was fourteen.”

“Oh. Right. I'm sorry. But you still need to tell me about Harrick.”

“Damn. Caught. Well then... I killed Norr, and Sulissa and I waited for someone to come along for... I don't know, a year or two. We needed longer and longer periods away from each other as time went on. And then one day Harrick found us, and I walked into his dreams and convinced him to bond with me...”

“I thought you had learned this lesson with Kellath.”

“It was different. He was in control, now. Even though he wasn't very strong, but he was bright, and pleasant. And he had legs...”

“And you really wanted to get out of that room.”

“Not as much as I want to get out of this... wherever I am. But Harrick bonded with me, and I introduced him to Sulissa, and we gave him advice on getting cash for Sulissa's staff without making her too angry. And then he went home to Ironbridge and got on with being a thief.”

“And eventually he got caught.”

“He did.”

“And the dagger ended up in someone else's control.”

“It did. Several different people, but eventually Janeth, who was a Third Circle sorcerer.”

“And you have already said that Harrick wasn't very strong.”

“You've already heard this one, haven't you?”

“I know what happens when a Third Circle tries to dominate someone with no magical training.”

“Yup. So Janeth dominated the hell out of me, and learned how the bond worked, and who I was bonded with, and had Harrick hunted down and killed. And then he forced me to bond with him.”

“Just like with Salsi and Norr.”

“Well... I didn't LOVE Harrick, but... Yeah.”

“I'm so sorry, Fid.”

“So I'm turning out to be a sympathetic scorpion?”

“You've always been my friend regardless, Fid. But... Yeah.”

“And with that, I think, good night.”


>>>Scene Six: A dock in Turtle Bay

“Standing watch again, Rose?”

“Sitting watch, but yes. Of course here the threat is human predators rather than bestial ones.”

“Where do crocs fall on that scale?”

“Human. Humans want loot, beasts want food. Crocs would never ambush strangers just for food.”

“Ah.”

“So... Janeth.”

“Janeth was powerful, and smart, but also arrogant. Janeth saw the dagger as a source of healing, and ultimately immortality, but he left it on shelf most of the time. Which was fine with me. He didn't know about dreamwalking, so I had the run of the population of Ironbridge. I had plenty of opportunities for recreation, but I was also able to shop for someone I really WANTED as a partner, and for someone to kill Janeth for me. As it happens, I found Osprey before I found Dannel.”

“You found Osprey in Ironbridge? I though she grew up on board the 'Sufferance'.”

“No, she didn't go to sea with her father until she was about twelve years old, when her mother died. I found her when she was seven.”

“You started walking in Osprey's dreams when she was SEVEN? That's... creepy.”

“I showed up in her dreams as a one-horned faun in CLOTHING. I was decent and respectful. I can do that, if I want to. If I try really, REALLY hard.”

“Hmm.”

“Honestly. She had had three partners and had had her heart broken twice before SHE approached ME about the possibility of having sex with me.”

“A suggestion which you jumped on with all four feet. Still creepy.”

“In fact, I was reluctant. Insincere, but reluctant.”

“Ever the scorpion.”

“I have never denied it. But I truly loved Osprey, just as much as I loved Salsi. And you know that.”

“Yeah, I do. So... Dannel.”

“He was a fairly clever thug with terrible luck. I provided him with all of the information he needed to rob and murder Janeth, I promised him certain benefits from bonding with the dagger, but also convinced him that, after he stole it, he shouldn't carry it, but keep it somewhere safe.”

“Which I assume meant with Osprey.”

“You really are a terrible audience.”

“Sorry. Go on.”

“I knew that Dannel's lifestyle would get him killed soon enough, and, at least at first, he was stronger than Osprey was, so that gave me more energy to work with. He didn't actually die until after Osprey went to sea, and I had nothing to do with his death.”

“Other than that you might have helped him avoid it.”

“That. Or I might have talked him into some hare-brained scheme that would have gotten him killed earlier. I LIKE hare-brained schemes; they're fun.”

“So are you planning to be an influence for caution or for recklessness in my life?”

“I have heard it said that one should always yield to temptation, because you may never get another chance. There is some debate as to whether this is wisdom, or foolishness.”

“And you are on the side of?”

“Wisdom, while being wholly aware of the absurdity of finding wisdom in the counsel of foolishness.”

“And I knew what you were before I decided to help you.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Good night, Fid. Gods help me.”


>>>Scene Seven: A dock in Turtle Bay

“Still on the docks, Rose?”

“Still. I'll be in a real bed tomorrow, and my father and brothers will be back on a beach, so I'm taking a double watch. They're sailing in the morning.”

“And you?”

“Asking questions, getting no answers, and looking for passage west. But speaking of getting no answers... Have you added Turtle Bay to your map? What do the angles look like?”

“A nearly perfect quarter circle between Losthaven and Turtle Bay.”

“With Ironbridge right in the middle?”

“Yes.”

“That's what I expected, but didn't want to hear. You are DEAD in the middle of the bay, more than 400 miles from the nearest land.”

“No need to check your charts?”

“I've already done it. I assumed your bearing for Sweetwater was good, got a position. And if that position was valid, then Turtle Bay should have been a quarter circle off of Losthaven, and it is, so we have our position. We'll keep checking, get as close as we can, but we have the basic answer, and it's as bad as it can be.”

“But you're not quitting.”

“No. Why would I? It's an amazing puzzle, full of mystery and danger, and I get to actually SEE my best friend if I can solve it.”

“That's... disturbingly optimistic.”

“That's the sunny version. The dark version involves a lot of self-recrimination and hatred of the universe in general and pretty much everything in it in particular and a lot of REALLY foul language and I will keep it to myself, if you don't mind.”

“I would be grateful. Any plans for tomorrow?”

“”I'll help getting the 'Moonlight' under way, and then I think I will see if I can get close enough to the south bay to actually see a turtle.”

“South bay? Turtles?”

“Turtle Bay hooks to the east, and is divided into a smaller northern bay, which is the port, and a larger southern bay, which is apparently the breeding ground for all of the dragon turtles in Hurricane Bay. Any human vessel that crosses into the south bay is subject to attack, and the land within a quarter mile of the south bay, and the whole peninsula that divides Turtle Bay from Hurricane Bay, is patrolled by crocs who more or less serve the turtles. There's a fence about 25 miles long that marks the dividing line.”

“And you are planning to cross the fence?”

“I am planning to try to talk my way across the fence. We'll have to see what happens.”

“Try not to get eaten.”

“If the crocs give me trouble, I'll just give up the idea. And if I get to the waters edge, I am not NEARLY stupid enough to go into the water with a dragon turtle without an invitation.”

“Said the frog who enjoys the company of scorpions.”

“Exactly. Good night, Fid.”


>>>Scene Eight: Darkness

“You're late tonight, Rose. And not in the bed you expected, I think.”

“Nope. Camping out with the crocs.”

“So the visit went well?”

“A little too well. They asked me about Losty's fangs, and they liked the answer so well that they gave me a tour of their lands and threw a party for me. I haven't walked that far in YEARS, and THEN I got pretty drunk.”

“Back up a bit. What did you tell them about Losty?”

“That he was a warrior with whom I fought a duel, and when he realized he had lost, he asked me to promise to eat his heart, so I did, and his family gave me his fangs in his memory. And suddenly I was a long lost cousin.”

“Rose's luck strikes again. See anything interesting on the tour?”

“A couple of clutches of turtle eggs, which are longer than I am tall and probably weigh a ton each. They took me a up a watch tower and pointed out the local geography. They said they weren't using boats at the moment, because there were no adult turtles in the bay, and the young turtles are aggressive and unpredictable.”

“And the young turtles are dangerous?”

“The bigger ones are ten feet across the shell, and have heads five feet long. What do you think?”

“That would keep me away. But I'm a notorious coward.”

“You're indestructible, and when you were alive, you routinely fought and killed outraged husbands who outweighed you by three to one.”

“So was that a bad lie, or exceptionally good induced flattery?”

“I will find a way to make you pay for that.”

“Possibly, but you'll never actually use it; I'm too charming. So there was a party?”

“There was a party, and there was nasty green alcoholic stuff-- which was different from the stuff they made near Losthaven, but at least as strong and just as nasty-- and they told stories, and I made a story out of my duel with Losty, and I told them about meeting Maelstrom, and eventually, when I was really drunk, I stood up and took off my clothes and turned into a croc in front of them.”

“How did THAT go over?”

“Pretty well. They started shouting out marriage proposals.”

“Marriage proposals?”

“Well, offers to be my companion through my next fertile cycle, which is as close to marriage as crocs get. I regretfully informed them that I could only hold the shape for an hour at a time, and I didn't think that I would actually be fertile through the transformation anyway, but that I was flattered by the offers.”

“And then what?”

“And then we all drank a huge toast-- the nasty green stuff tastes better when you're a croc, but is still awful-- and then the spell wore off, and I passed out cold.”

“So for all you know you're hanging from a roasting spit, waiting for them to light the fire.”

“No, I'm in the shaman's hut, as is appropriate for a friend of the Great Turtle.”

“So tomorrow you'll be back in civilization, and finally sleep in that bed?”

“Civilization, a bed, and a BATH. If the hangover that is hunting me doesn't kill me in the meantime.”

“Ah. Good luck with that. Good night, Rose.”


>>>Scene Nine: Darkness

“Still no civilization, Rose?”

“Nope. Several more marriage proposals, whether or not I am a mammal, apparently, and an offer to become local royalty, though.”

“And the reason for this is...?”

“I'll get to that. In the morning, they gave me a pretty decent hangover cure, and then I sat down with the elders, and asked the questions that had brought me there in the first place. I wanted to know how deep they could dive, and they told me that they tried to stay out of the water unless they could see the bottom. Or course, there are places around here where that is a couple of hundred feet deep, but no more. There are sharks in the darkness, which worry them a bit, but there are also shark-people in the darkness, and they NEVER want to tangle with those in deep water.”

“Shark-people.”

“Yup. Look a LOT like crocs, with bigger eyes, smaller jaws, and bigger teeth. They can't breathe air or fresh water very well, but if they can get between a croc and the surface, the croc is doomed.”

“They sound nasty.”

“They are, but Maelstrom hates them, and destroys any settlements they try to build in Hurricane Bay. Out in the Great Ocean, though, they would seem to be common, and Turtle Bay is close enough to the mouth of Hurricane Bay that they turn up around here occasionally.”

“I don't see a connection between this and professions of love and offers of dominion.”

“Maelstrom showed up.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. He surfaced in the middle of the bay, and asked for me in his usual subtle way...”

“He has a usual way?”

“Whatever it is, it is NOT subtle. So I ran to the edge of the water, stripped, crocked out, and swam out to him. And then he took me on a tour of the bay from the water, and we talked some more.”

“Why did you change shape?”

“Because Rose the croc swims a LOT better than Rose the human.”

“Oh. Right.”

“So I asked him about the bottom of Hurricane Bay, and he told me things. It's about two and a half miles deep...”

“Maelstrom gives you mileages?”

“'Not as deep as the width of the mouth of the south bay, but deeper than half the width of the north bay.'”

“That works.”

“He also said that it is utterly dark that deep-- he has never seen the least trace of light below the half mile point, and very seldom that deep-- and very, very cold. He also said that there are creatures that live there, things that eat the dead bodies of creatures that die near the surface, and creatures that eat those things.”

“Sounds lovely.”

“You're the one who lives there.”

“Prison. I am the one who is imprisoned here. And I am not happy with knowing my neighbors are all scavengers and scavenger predators.”

“You're indestructible. I'm the one who will have to deal with them, when the time comes.”

“But in the meantime, I will be the one having nightmares.”

“You don't sleep. And if a real nightmare did show up, you'd just have sex with her, anyway.”

“I'm trying to be offended, but you're probably right. Is there more?”

“I asked him about the shark-people, whom he calls 'pistrisines', and he said that they could dive that deep, and some of them even lived that deep, but not in HIS bay.”

“Good to know.”

“I thought so. And then I asked him why he called me 'Granddaughter', and he said that I WAS, that the first sea-dragons had been the result of his relationship with a sun-dragon, back in the long ago.”

“That's... I don't know what that is. How do you feel about it?”

“I don't know either. It just IS, I guess. He also told me that he knew about the second tattoo, and approved of it.”

“That certainly doesn't hurt.”

“No, it doesn't. And then he told me again that I had his consent to become a dragon, and I asked him what that meant, and he laughed again, and that was just as terrifying as it had been the first time. And then he took me back to where he had picked me up, and I crocked out again, and that was that.”

“Except that the crocs offered to make you queen.”

“That, and threw another party, and got me drunk again.”

“You shameless party girl, you.”

“And let that be your exit. Good night, Fid.”

“Good night, Your Crocodilian Majesty.”

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