Uncle Hyena (unclehyena) wrote,
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Fiddler's Rose - Six - Thirsty Harbor

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Six - Thirsty Harbor (Updated 5/18/2018)

>>>Scene One: Darkness

“Back at sea, Rose? What happened to the plan for a bath and a bed?”

“The crocs provided me with a bath; they showed me this wonderful little spring-fed lake that was so clear the water was almost invisible, and I played in the water and swam for about two hours. And then when I got back to town, there was a ship ready for me to climb aboard, so I climbed. The hammock is comfortable enough.”

“That makes sense.”

“Besides, being a passenger gives me time to think. And I always think better when my hair is clean.”

“Consider my eyes rolled. What are you thinking about?”

“A few things. Do you want the depressing thoughts, or the insane ones?”

“Let's start with depressing.”

“The logistics of rescuing you are... daunting. You're about 500 miles from anywhere, so the rescue is a thousand mile open water voyage, plus time on station to do the dive. So I need to find a ship capable of a thirty day open water voyage with no landfall, and then pay a captain enough to convince him to actually make the voyage.”

“That... sounds expensive.”

“I could live comfortably for several years on what it will cost. And I am going to have to pay it in advance.”

“Ouch.”

“And then I have to find a way to SURVIVE a three mile dive, which probably begins by finding the right shape, but also requires being able to extend the spell by a factor of at least three...”

“Why that?”

“I have about an hour with the spell, now. The descent will take most of that, then the search, then the ascent. So three, at least. I may be able to rush the descent with some kind of ballast, but the ascent will just be me swimming the distance, and the search will take however long it takes.”

“Right.”

“And then I need a way to tell time while I am down, because if the spell ends at depth, I die. And I also will need a compass or something like it, that will function at depth, just to make the search possible.”

“Again, why?”

“There are some common locator spells, but they're short range and short duration. I need to be right on top of you-- of the dagger-- for them to be useful. So that means I'll need to go in and out of trance, and have you lead me in. And even though you can give me compass points, I won't have any external references, so I need a device or a spell to find my way.”

“And these new toys will not be cheap, either.”

“No, they won't. And we aren't home yet. Once I find the dagger and get back to the surface, the ship and I will still have to find each other. And even if the ship does everything it can to stay in one place, it could still drift more than a mile for every hour I am down, IF there are no local currents. If there are currents or much wind, it will be a lot more than that.”

“Yes, that's depressing. So what's insane?”

“I think I need to eat a shark person steak, or at least drink some shark person blood, to learn the form. And I think that I need to learn the form to do the dive.”

“That's more disgusting than crazy.”

“I was playing with the idea of going hunting for shark people.”

“By YOURSELF?”

“...Maybe.”

“THAT is insane. Please don't.”

“Try, or think about it?”

“Either.”

“I'll give you, 'Try', for now. If I think about it long enough, I may find a way to make it not insane.”

“Or you may just CONVINCE yourself that it's not insane.”

“Well, considering that my current standard for sanity is trying to find a dagger buried in the mud under three miles of ocean five hundred miles from anywhere...”

“That's cruel. I ought to stop talking to you.”

“You couldn't.”

“And why not?”

“Because you couldn't deal with that much self inflicted loneliness. And because you love me.”

“That's presumptive. It may be that I only put up with you because I am an avatar of unbridled male lust, and you are the only female to whom I currently have access.”

“Which still means you won't stop talking to me.”

“Ouch. Well played.”

“I've been practicing. Am I entitled to a forfeit?”

“If it is within my power.”

“Do you know any happy lullabies?”

“A few. As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Two: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. How has your day been?”

“Boring. Frustrating. Hot.”

“Ah. Well, SOMEONE had a talk with Auntie Moss last night. She had a suggestion regarding pistrisine blood.”

“Oh? And how is Auntie?”

“Cantankerous and enigmatic as usual, but apparently as least a little bit generous.”

“Apparently. What did she say?”

“You might be able to get it in trade.”

“The blood and flesh of sentients are not commonly traded items.”

“That's what I said, but she said that if you find a trader who deals in pistrisine goods, you might be able to back track to an actual pistrisine trader, and then getting some blood would be a matter of negotiation.”

“I would say that that sounds like a long trail, except that it stands as part of a trail that is much, much longer. It might just work.”

“I am, as ever, at your service.”

“That would sound better if you didn't smirk.”

“If I didn't smirk, my reputation would not allow me to say it at all.”

“Reputation? Fid, Auntie Moss and I are the only people who even know you exist.”

“My self-esteem, then. It I weren't obnoxious, I would have no personality at all.”

“Idiot. And you have a complex and nuanced personality. Though I admit that the aggregate is pretty much obnoxious.”

“You wound me. I am struck to the heart, and may never recover.”

“You continue to be an idiot. Tell me about Osprey.”

“What would you like to know?”

“Tell me that you didn't just impose your complex, nuanced, and obnoxious personality on a seven year old girl and overwhelm her.”

“I didn't.”

“CONVINCE me.”

“Consider my goal. By the time I met her, I was looking for a master that I WANTED to serve. I am irrevocably a slave, since my death. I met and talked to THOUSANDS of people while the dagger was sitting on Janeth's shelf, and one of them was a seven year old girl who was smart, and curious, and tough, and brave, and pleasant for all of that, and had the horizon in her eyes.”

“You used that line on me.”

“It's a good line. Particularly when it's true.”

“Hmmm. Go on.”

“So I thought, 'If life doesn't crush this girl, I think she will grow up to be someone I could be happy serving forever.' And we talked regularly, and after three years, when Dannel killed Janeth, I thought she was the best person I knew to take custody of the dagger. And when her mother died, and she went to sea with her father, she took the dagger along. I didn't mind, because even though being at sea meant that I would not have access to nearly as many people, she was my favorite.”

“And she was twelve, then?”

“About.”

“And you behaved yourself?”

“Yes. Why wouldn't I? I had access to all the women I wanted whenever we made port, and what I wanted from Osprey was so much more precious than sex.”

“But you did get around to sex eventually.”

“At her request. I was utterly terrified; I knew that we were risking the most precious thing in my existence.”

“But you went ahead anyway.”

“Rose... Think about what I am. Do you really think that I am capable of refusing an offer of sex from my best friend?”

“I very much doubt that you are capable of refusing an offer of sex from someone you hate.”

“There you have it, then. And that was still before Dannel died. After he was gone, we made the formal bond, and we had a lot of good years together. More than forty.”

“Osprey was SIXTY?!?”

“About. I kind of lost track.”

“She didn't look much older than me, even though I knew she had to be older than that.”

“She was the oldest person on the ship, but the only one who knew that was Kyle the purser. He had come aboard as a boy, under Osprey's father.”

“I'm... I don't know what.”

“Hey, I do good work.”

“Apparently so. Good night, Fid.”


>>>Scene Three: The deck of the “Lonely Gull”

“Not sleeping again, Rose?”

“I slept much of the day to avoid the heat; it's pleasant tonight, and the sky is full of stars.”

“Sounds nice.”

“I wish... I wish you were here, physically, sitting next to me, sharing this. And I know that that's not possible, even after-- even if-- we manage to get to the end of this road, and we can be together in dreamspace whenever we want. And it makes me crazy, because you're the person I want to share it with.”

“I'm sorry, Rose. There has NEVER been a time in all of my existence that I could have done that, though. When I had a body, it had four legs...”

“I know. I'm just sulking.”

“It occurs to me that we might come closer to what you want than you think. You are the only person I have ever dealt with who could do your trance trick; you are aware of the world around you, and yet in the dreamspace as well. Who knows what we will have when you are close enough, and I have the energy, to actually pull you into the dreamspace properly. Are you blushing?”

“Gods. Yes. That is a dangerous line of thought.”

“We will have to make sure we have privacy when we experiment, then.”

“Stop grinning. Monster.”

“As my Lady wishes. Tell me about domination.”

“Say what?”

“You said that you knew what happened when a Third Circle tries to dominate an untrained mind. I've been wondering about mechanisms, or at least details.”

“Hmmm. All right. Do you know the difference between Will and Charisma?”

“That sounds like a trick question.”

“Clever boy. It turns out that they are the same thing, but there is so much background noise at mundane levels that you really can't see that. When you start practicing sorcery, though, the truth becomes apparent.”

“Does it now.”

“Skepticism will get you nowhere. Consider three levels of direction: Suggestion, as in, 'Someone should fix the hole in the roof'; Request, as in, 'Would you please fix the hole in the roof?'; and Command, as in, 'Fix the damned hole in the roof NOW!'. Each applies more force than the previous one, though it matters who is speaking; a stranger gets nowhere, a parent gets further, and the commander of your military unit gets further still.”

“Obvious so far.”

“A really charismatic person will get further that a less charismatic person with the same credentials, and sorcerers ALWAYS have more charisma. A First Circle dealing with a stranger probably out ranks a parent, but doesn't have quite the pull of a military leader. A Second Circle will get better results with a Request than a military leader will with a Command, and a Third Circle with get better results than that with just a Suggestion.”

“And if a Third Circle actually issues a Command?”

“You mean like, 'Hogtie your wife and children inside your house and then burn the place to the ground, and then hang yourself after the fire has gone out and you're sure that they're dead'?”

“Yeah, like that.”

“You would do what the sorcerer told you to do.”

“And there are two more Circles beyond Third?”

“AND that's without actually using magic. There are spells that enhance all of these effects.”

“I begin to see why sorcerers get interested in taking over the world.”

“Yeah. I got lucky with Drellan; he's one of the good ones. After he explained what happened to me, he told me that he was jealous of my mastery of Dragontongue, and that he would like me to tutor him in it. And then he asked me to tell him what I honestly thought would be a fair price for that service, and I said that I wasn't sure it was fair, but that what I wanted was to learn formal magic, with room and board thrown in, and then he offered me a small stipend on top of that, so I agreed.”

“Even though you probably couldn't have refused anyway.”

“I'm not sure. I wasn't exactly a mundane at that point, so I probably could have. The point is that he was very careful to give me as little direction as possible. Ethical sorcerers tend to develop some strange speech patterns for just that reason.”

“And you WANT to become one of those creatures?”

“I don't see that I have a choice. I am pretty sure I will have to break Third Circle to rescue my best friend from the bottom of the ocean.”

“Oh. Um... Would my Lady care for some music to watch the stars by?”

“That would be wonderful, Fid. That would be simply wonderful.”


>>>Scene Four: A beach north of Thirsty Harbor

“Outdoors again tonight, Rose?”

“Yup. Thirsty Harbor is EXSPENSIVE, and the weather is good, and I have something goofy to do outside city limits tomorrow, anyway.”

“Will I regret asking?”

“I want to find out some more about my croc form, and clear shallow water seems like a really good place to do it.”

“Such as?”

“I want to know how long I can hold my breath, and how far I can swim on one breath.”

“I am not sure if I should be impressed by your diligence or worried for your sanity.”

“Consider the nature of our relationship and the course of our lives for the foreseeable future, and stop impugning my sanity.”

“Um... I'm impressed, then. What are you actually going to do?”

“First, I am going to find a decent sized rock, wade out to neck deep water, and then take a deep breath and hold it while I sit on the bottom with the rock in my lap and count scorpions.”

“Scorpions?”

“It's a handy three syllable word which reminds me of something meaningful. Maybe.”

“And then?”

“And then I am going to take the hundred yards of rope I bought this afternoon, string out a course in ten or fifteen feet of water, rest a bit, and then see how many laps I can swim in one breath.”

“I find that I have been forbidden from making appropriate comments.”

“Damned straight you have. Play me something sad while I stare at the stars.”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Five: A beach north of Thirsty Harbor

“And how is my Lady Mad Scientist this evening?”

“Tired, Fid. But content. The answers are a thousand scorpions, and twelve laps, both of which could be pushed if my life depended on it.”

“And how many scorpions are there in a day?”

“About a hundred thousand, I think. It's hardly an exact measure.”

“There's a joke in there somewhere, about being able to rule the world if I only had a hundred thousand scorpions.”

“And YOU make jokes about MY sanity.”

“I take refuge in my immunity from retribution.”

“We will see about that. Some day.”

“In the worst case, I will take refuge behind my fiddle.”

“That's a pretty good refuge. Are you prepared to prove it?”

“Always.”


>>>Scene Six: Darkness

“I take it you've found a ship, Rose.”

“That I have. The 'Duchess of Skytower.' Biggest ship I have ever been on, too.”

“Does that matter?”

“She has more waterline and carries more sail; she should be faster over open water, if conditions are good. That will help; it's a long trip.”

“To Landfall?”

“Yup. Four hundred miles by chart, but given that we are straight into the prevailing wind, more like twice that in practice. Probably ten days, almost all of it with no land in sight.”

“Wow. Ten whole days out of sight of land. However will you cope?”

“I am aware of the irony. But you are indestructible, and if anything happens to the ship, we all die.”

“Pathetic little corporeal ephemerals.”

“Ouch. Where did that come from?”

“Nowhere in particular. I just need to sharpen my tongue occasionally.”

“Really.”

“No. I don't know. Prison blues.”

“Play something sad, and I will listen appreciatively.”

“That's not much.”

“It's what we have, Fid. And it won't be forever. Now play.”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Seven: The deck of the “Duchess of Skytower”

“Stargazing again tonight, Rose?”

“It's a night for it.”

“Osprey loved doing it. On good nights she would sit on the windward rail, and I would play for her. They were good times.”

“She could hear your music when she was awake?”

“It was part of being bonded. We could also talk any time we wanted to. I think that anyone who touches the dagger can hear the music, if I want them to. I've never tried that.”

“Ah.”

“I've been thinking about that riddle that Auntie Moss told you. About the four women.”

“It does have four naked women in it, after all.”

“Not fair. Though I admit that I can not imagine any story that wouldn't be improved by the addition of some naked women, that doesn't mean that I can't think about the rest of the story.”

“Sorry, Fid. That was cheap. Go on.”

“It seems to me kind of like a suicide pact.”

“How so?”

“They burned all of their possessions, and then parted company...”

“But three of them walked away in good health.”

“But the sword didn't. I know a bit about the options available to a piece of cutlery on the bottom of a body of water. It may not be death, but it is damned close. And all four stopped being human, which is a kind of death too, I think. When I was alive, I could talk to anyone who touched my horn, or to my bonded servant, and I could dream walk. But those seem to be unicorn things, not something that any person in animal shape can do.”

“Interesting. It makes sense. I certainly don't have a better explanation. I guess there's only one way to find out.”

“Which is?”

“Recover the sword.”

“I seem to recall that you have a prior engagement with a different piece of submerged cutlery.”

“I do, Fid, and you come first. But YOU need me to break Third Circle, and breaking Third Circle means earning more luck, and earning more luck means taking on absurd quests. And this sword seems to be an absurd quest of the first order.”

“That makes sense, except... I think I am kind of jealous.”

“Oh, my Darling Idiot. You don't even know if she WANTS to be rescued, and even if we find the sword, the spirit may be gone, and she IS NOT YOU. Got it?”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

“Good. Now play me some music to watch stars by.”


>>>Scene Eight: Darkness

“Whoever he is, I hate him.”

“Huh? What? Who?”

“The man who is sleeping next to you. The one you just had sex with. I hate him.”

“How do you know...?”

“Because you are really late getting to sleep, and you have a happy, foggy-brained resonance that can't mean much else.”

“So you're attacking me for being happy?”

“...Yes. Damn.”

“And and then there is the fact that, as far as either of us knows, you are actually incapable of sexual fidelity under any circumstances, assuming you have any contact with intelligent life AT ALL.”

“Double damn.”

“So why are you attacking me?”

“I'm not jealous of HIM, Rose; I'm jealous of you. You get to have something I can't.”

“I know, Fid, and I swear that I will do my best to make it up to you when the opportunity arises. And it's not like I planned this evening, or even sought it out.”

“Oh?”

“We're anchored off Landfall. We made the coast too late in the day to dock-- you can't just sail into the harbor in darkness-- so we anchored out, and will dock in the morning. And since we were at anchor, the captain invited me to dinner in his cabin, and things went from there.”

“I'm sure.”

“Fid.... I have never had many opportunities. I was a fairly pretty girl, once, but I have scales on my face, now, and I am not at all sure about 'fairly pretty' anymore. and I have high and difficult standards...”

“Do you now?”

“Clean, charming, attractive, and in no position to make a long term claim on me.”

“Which explains why both tonight and Drellan were last night stands.”

“Yes.”

“You're... kind of terrified of putting down roots, aren't you? That's why you got the anti-fertility charm, and why you only get involved with men you're not likely to see again.”

“...Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because women who put down roots become part of the landscape. Trees don't chase the horizon.”

“That's succinct.”

“It's reality.”

“You don't make close friends, do you?”

“I have one.”

“I've had a few, but most of them are dead.”

“Most?”

“All but one.”

“I think we deserve each other, Mister Scorpion.”

“We probably do, Miss Dragon.”

“I'm not a dragon yet, Fid. I may never be.”

“You sound like you know what that means.”

“You know that I don't.”

“I know that you had the heart of a dragon before you got that first tattoo.”

“You sound like you know what THAT means. Have you met many dragons?”

“Only Sulissa. But we shared a prison cell.”

“Ah. And Sulissa was a paragon of desirable personality traits?”

“Not really. I was trying to give you a compliment.”

“I noticed, and I give you full credit. I just wondered if it actually meant anything, because the nature of dragons is something that concerns me.”

“Ah. I MEANT that you are fierce and fearless.”

“And you get full credit twice, then. Thank you.”

“That wasn't really flattery, Rose.”

“It feels like it. I am only rarely fierce, and know that I not fearless.”

“You're cautious, but you never let fear stop you. You're an irresistible force.”

“An awfully small irresistible force.”

“Even so.”

“Hmmm. And that sounds like the exit, unless I can talk you into playing me a lullaby.”

“You expect me to play you a lullaby while you are sharing another man's bed?”

“I don't expect, I only ask. And he's not HERE, is he, Fid?”

“As my Lady wishes.”

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