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Fiddler's Rose - Seven - Glass Fort

Fiddler's Rose - Chapter Seven - Glass Fort (Updated 5/18/2018)

>>>Scene One: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. And how are you tonight?”

“Alone, on dry land, and slightly drunk. How about you?”

“Sharing the first of those, and envious of the other two.”

“Business as usual, then. Give or take the alcohol.”

“Indeed.”

“Do you remember Bekkar? From the 'Sufferance'?”

“I've heard the name. I didn't keep close track of the male crew.”

“Ah. Well, I ran into him tonight, bought him a few drinks, learned a few things. He didn't know what the cargo was, but Osprey's last voyage really started in Ironbridge. 'Sufferance' was carrying no significant cargo, just ballast, across the bay from Ironbridge to Silverport, and then came back the same way. Whatever the real cargo was was small enough to be kept in Osprey's cabin, both ways.”

“I remember that now. I didn't usually pay much attention to the actual business of running the ship, but I know that there was something unusual and profitable involved, and she was nervous about it.”

“So the mystery of WHY turns into a mystery of WHAT. Maybe we will find some answers in Silverport, but I don't think the odds are good. Not after all of this time.”

“Even when there was a lot of money involved?”

“Even so. Nothing valuable was out where anyone saw it. There may have been some bribes involved, but those would have been out of sight, too. Bribes usually are.”

“But you're going to Silver Port, anyway.”

“Might as well. We're half way across the bay from Losthaven and Ironbridge, and following the coast is a LOT easier than finding transport across the bay.”

“Oh. I... kind of liked the idea of you sailing over my head, even if it was only that.”

“That's... silly. Also sweet. And I can't really argue with you. But there would be no point, at least until I can figure out how to make the dive.”

“I know.”

“In other news, though... Finding a pistrisine trader is NOT going to be an option; the locals are at war with the shark folk, so there is no trading going on.”

“That's no good.”

“Well, it's more dangerous, anyway. But war means dead bodies, and since I am looking for body parts, this means an opportunity to scavenge.”

“So you are going to deliberately go into a war zone.”

“Yup.”

“And you denied being fearless.”

“I'm terrified. But it seems the best way to go.”

“I would not call what you seem to be feeling right now terror.”

“Fine. I'm excited by the idea, too. But I will try to be careful, and I am running short on money, and this seems like a good chance to make some.”

“Say what?”

“I have a feeling that a Second Circle sorcerer who can use a sword can probably make a decent wage fighting fish people.”

“And we have gone right through foolhardy into insane.”

“I was a soldier for two years, Fid. There's risk here, but I'll be fine. And I have been telling you that the way to build luck is to push what you have.”

“I'm doomed. You are going to be killed, and I am going spend the rest of my existence in occasional correspondence with Auntie Moss.”

“And Drellan. I'd bet you could get a friendship going with Drellan.”

“I'm doomed.”

“Only if I get myself killed, which will be much worse for me that it will be for you in any case.”

“That is REALLY small comfort.”

“And I will do my best to come back and haunt you, and then you can ravish my ghost on a regular basis.”

“Really?”

“I'll look into it. It's not my preferred option.”

“I don't know, I sounds like a pretty good alternative to me.”

“You and Sulissa got sick of each other.”

“Yeah, but she was...”

“A dragon?”

“Um... Oops. I meant...”

“I think you should stop talking and make with the music, now.”

“I think you're right.”


>>>Scene Two: Darkness

“How was your day, Rose?”

“Good. Productive. I found a billet, got a signing bonus, and bought some new clothes.”

“Clothes?”

“A loose mid-thigh skirt with a drawstring waist, and a sleeveless vest, both in quilted black silk.”

“I am not impressed, off hand.”

“Now I can croc out without getting naked first. It might come in handy.”

“I can imagine that. And the billet?”

“I found a recruiter gathering troops to march down to Glass Fort and fight the sharks. He said he wasn't authorized to hire sorcerers, but he offered to take me on at infantry rates until we got down to Glass Fort, where his superiors could make me a real offer. So starting tomorrow, I have room, board, and a small stipend. And that signing bonus I mentioned, that bought the new clothes.”

“So you're really going to do this dumb thing.”

“It's where the road leads, Fid. I need to learn the pistrisine form, and I need more money, and this will help with both. If I never take risks, I'll never rescue you.”

“If you get killed, you'll never rescue me.”

“We went over this yesterday, Fid. I have more on the table than you do. And I have, you know, legs? So I get to steer.”

“I know, Rose. Just be careful.”

“I have always done my best, and will continue to do my best, to be as careful as possible within the parameters of whatever insanely dangerous thing I am doing at any given moment.”

“That is one of the most absurd statements I have ever encountered.”

“It's sincere, though, Fid. As much as I want to rescue you, I want to die even less. So try to trust me.”

“When you put it that way, I would be an ingrate to refuse.”

“Ah. You're on to me.”

“Well, I AM the swindler is this relationship. You're the one who stabs things and blows things up.”

“Which is why I am getting a job stabbing things and blowing things up.”

“Out played again. You are going to destroy my reputation.”

“Which, as we have discussed before, you don't really have. Perhaps you should stick to music.”

“And THAT, I can do.”


>>>Scene Three: A field south of Landfall

“Not sleeping, Rose?”

“Too much noise. I haven't ever tried to sleep in an infantry camp before; there's no rigging or sea to cover the snoring.”

“So you're just meditating?”

“From inside my bedroll. With luck, I can slide smoothly from meditation to sleep. And maybe talk to you a bit along the way.”

“It may not be a good plan, but it's a plan.”

“It was a long day. And I think this job is going to be different than I expected. I may spend most of my time as an instructor.”

“Are you that good?”

“No. But I can teach the recruits what it feels like to go up against a big scaly monster with a huge mouth full of sharp teeth.”

“I take it that this is a good thing.”

“Yes, when you are going to war against big scaly monsters with huge mouths full of sharp teeth.”

“And how did this bit of idiocy come about?”

“The recruiter was putting us through our paces, and a young hotshot complained about having to spar with a girl, so I asked the recruiter for permission to do something unorthodox. He gave it, I turned my back on the hotshot, crocked out, turned back, and went for him. I never touched him, but his reputation and his pride may never recover. He can wash his clothes...”

“You're usually not that cruel.”

“I was provoked. But it impressed the hell out of the recruiter. He stood his new hires in a line and had me roar into their faces, one at a time. None of them took it very well. It should make better soldiers out of them, though.”

“How so?”

“New danger is scarier than known danger. If they can be taught to not flinch when the big jaws and teeth come at them, they will be that much closer to living though their first fights.”

“It's a bit outside my experience.”

“It is, isn't it? I ought to teach you to use a sword, someday, when we have access to dreamspace again.”

“I can think of so many better uses of our time.”

“How did the line go? 'After, or maybe between.'?”

“Hmmm. Between. Once we are together, it is ALWAYS going to be, 'Between'.”

“I can live with that.”


>>>Scene Four: Darkness

“No trouble sleeping tonight, Rose?”

“Hardly. Do you know how long it has been since I have walked twelve miles in a day?”

“Quite a while?”

'Too long. Not since I first shipped out, I think. I should do more of it. After my feet recover. If my feet recover. If I don't just saw them off, first.”

“Don't do that. You'd look silly with no feet.”

“But I'd sleep better.”

“I assume you have started marching toward Glass Fort.”

“You would be correct.”

“How long will it take?”

“About ten days at this pace. They tell me that day three will be the worst, and that it will be easy by day ten. I guess we'll see.”

“You chose this path.”

“Don't remind me.”

“How can I not? 'I told you so' is practically my name.”

“Point made, and I plead for mercy.”

“Mercy, I will grant. For now. In the meantime, I've been wondering: Why is it called 'Glass Fort'?”

“I'm pretty sure it's made of glass.”

“I'm skeptical.”

“Quarried obsidian blocks reinforced with magic in some way. It's old and tough and has never fallen to an enemy.”

“That's a thing.”

“It's a big thing. Particularly since the sharks make a serious attempt to take it pretty much every generation.”

“Really? Every generation?”

“Every fifteen to thirty years since the fort was built. They attack, a whole section of coast is closed for about six months, and then the sharks go away, and things go back to normal. Until the next time. For more than four hundred years.”

“What happened four hundred years ago?”

“They built the fort, because the sharks had slaughtered the town that was there before the fort was built.”

“Does anyone know why?”

“Nope. Apparently, no one has been able to figure out a way to talk to the sharks. And there never has been any trade, either. Just intermittent war.”

“That sounds crazy.”

“It is crazy.”

“How can they not know? Haven't they at least interrogated prisoners?”

“They've tried. They just haven't gotten any answers.”

“Rose... Prisoners always give up answers, eventually.”

“Unless there's a language barrier.”

“There are translation spells.”

“Which don't seem to work.”

“So more crazy.”

“Yes. Fid, as much as I enjoy your company, can I pretend to be dead for a while?”

“Of course. Sleep well, Rose.”


>>>Scene Five: Darkness

“So how was day three, Rose?”

“I hate everyone.”

“Even me?”

“Have you come to bring me new feet?”

“I'm afraid not.”

“Then you, too. Unless you can play me the most soothing music that has ever been played ever.”

“As it happens, I can do just that.”

“Then I might not hate you. Maybe.”

“Be silent, foolish Dragon, and I will play.”

“Hmph.”


>>>Scene Six: Darkness

“In pain again tonight, Rose? I thought things were getting better.”

“They were. Things were getting so much better that we had weapons drill after we set up camp tonight, and EVERYONE wanted to spar with the crocodile girl.”

“Which is why you are sore.”

“Which is why I am sore, but also proud of myself. Even though all I did was beat up kids, they are kids who are trying to be soldiers, and they need to be beaten up a bit.”

“So how many did you fight?”

“A dozen, one at a time. After I got first touch on Number Twelve, they let me bow out. I said it wasn't fair if they kept me going until I started to lose from fatigue, and the instructor agreed.”

“But you won twelve fights in a row?”

“It wasn't THAT hard. They're all green, and they know I'm not, but they haven't learned what that means, yet. Eventually one of them will ask me how many men I've killed, and I will tell them something. Still not quite sure what, though.”

“Is it that complicated?”

“Fourteen lives. Two duels, one of them against a croc, eleven in battle, and one accidental drunk. What's the answer they want to hear?”

“Just what you said. But list them in numerical order: Drunk, duels, battle.”

“Why?”

“It just feels right.”

“And you're an expert?”

“How many people have YOU convinced to throw away everything for a life of hardship and adventure?”

“Only myself. I'll probably take your advice.”

“See? I'm good for something!”

“Possibly. You're amusing, anyway.”

“Amusement is useful.”

“That it is. And that's an exit line.”


>>>Scene Seven: A field south of Glass Fort

“Not sleeping, Rose?”

“No. We made Glass Fort a bit too late to be assimilated, and early enough that we had a bit of free time, even after the nightly 'Beat up the crocodile girl' ritual. Which drew a crowd, tonight. Fortunately, I managed to get out of sight before I turned back to myself, so most of the camp doesn't recognize me.”

“Does that matter?”

“Too soon to tell. I hope I end up with a bit of privacy, anyway. I'm enough of a freak as it is.”

“And yet you voluntarily subjected yourself to being the crocodile girl in the first place.”

“My judgment is less than wonderful when I'm already snarling.”

“Not surprising, though I have not actually ever seen you snarl.”

“I don't suppose you have, have you? That may be why I keep you around.”

“You don't 'keep' me anywhere, Rose. That's the point of the this whole exercise. So that you CAN.”

“I haven't forgotten, Fid. Really I haven't. I know that getting you out of there is pretty much the only thing in your world, but it's also the single biggest thing in my world, really it is. But you don't have to FIND the path, and I do.”

“I know.”

“And your music, and memories of being with you, are pretty much all that kept me sane over the last few days. So I don't forget, and won't. Right?”

“Understood.”

“Good. Now earn your keep with the fiddle.”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Eight: A tent south of Glass Fort

“Different surroundings tonight, Rose?”

“Just a bit. I had several interviews, crocked out twice, fought half a dozen wooden sword duels, and signed some papers. Which is what I was planning on, but just a bit scary.”

“So what have you signed up for?”

“Ninety days at standard wages for a Second Circle, plus a bonus for unique duties, officer's meals, private quarters and a servant, and any magical training I can cajole out of the other sorcerers. In exchange for which I get to spend four hours a day playing crocodile girl and getting hit with sticks.”

“FOUR HOURS A DAY?”

“Four one hour shifts, with an hour in between each. Probably. I think I am going to get VERY good with a wooden sword.”

“Is that useful?”

“I am going to get one made that handles as much like my rapier as possible, so yes. Deadlier Rose is a happier Rose.”

“And you say you aren't a dragon yet.”

“I'm not. But I certainly seem to be a crocodile.”

“Which is a definite step down the path.”

“We shall see.”


>>>Scene Nine: A tent south of Glass Fort

“Rose? Are you all right? You seem... muzzy.”

“Moderately drugged and in pain. It was a long day.”

“What happened?”

“Remember the other day, when I went twelve for twelve against recruits? Today I went five for forty-eight against SENIOR veterans. It hurt.”

“Your body, but not your pride.”

“Hell no. I beat FIVE of them. They expected me to get completely shut down. I expected the same thing. I think I won a fair amount of respect, and made at least one friend.”

“Oh?”

“The master healer is a Third Circle who specializes in Necromancy, but he's a hell of a healer. Says that after you have taken a few dozen bodies apart, you learn how to put them back together pretty well. He seems to be right.”

“But he's a necromancer?”

“Yep. Calls himself 'Bing the body snatcher'. He's a funny guy, taller than I am, about three times as heavy, and flirts constantly. I like him a lot, and he seems to like me.”

“Really.”

“Do we have to talk about jealousy again? There is NO threat here, Fid. When I said he flirts constantly, I meant it. And men outnumber women around her by about twenty to one. I am pretty sure I have the wrong plumbing for Bing's tastes.”

“Oh... What kind of name is 'Bing', by the way?”

“Harbinger, cut sideways.”

“Of course it is.”

“You'd like him. I may even tell him about you. We'll have to see.”

“If someone else rescues me because you couldn't keep a secret, it will be YOUR fault.”

“I know, Fid. I said we will see. In the meantime, I also did some pointless interviews in looking for a servant. I didn't expect any of the female soldiers would be interested, and they weren't.”

“No one wants a soft billet?”

“You don't survive as a female infantry troop if you don't love your work.”

“Ah. Does that mean you are going to find a male servant, or go without?”

“Not yet. I am going to talk to some camp followers tomorrow; I'm more hopeful there. It's usually not too hard to find a whore who's looking for the exit door. I doubt that that's any different when they are army whores.”

“You've had a lot of experience with whores?”

“I spent time with them, on and off, when I was on 'Storm Turtle'. I stayed with my shipmates when I went ashore, and if they went whoring, I got dragged along. I had some interesting conversations. Also got some interesting offers, from the clients, and from the girls”

“I imagine.”

“Once I got really drunk and admitted that I had had sex with a centaur. They got really excited about that, until I told them that I had been a centaur myself at the time. Then they all just laughed and gave me more brandy.”

“I thought you were a whiskey girl.”

“I'm a free alcohol girl. Though I admit a preference for whiskey, all other things being equal. And I think I need another dose of something, and then real sleep.”

“Until tomorrow, Rose.”


>>>Scene Ten: A tent south of Glass Fort

“Today was better, Rose?”

“A bit. I hired a servant, spent a fair amount of time being poked and prodded while Bing played comparative anatomy among my various forms, and I did more fighting against somewhat inferior opponents. It's more fun when you don't lose all the time. And it doesn't hurt nearly as much.”

“I imagine. So you found a servant?”

“Rescued, more like. Rilla really, REALLY wanted to be soldier; she's fierce. But she's also tiny, and there was NEVER any hope for her in the infantry.”

“Oh?”

“All other things being equal, mass rules.”

“That wasn't my experience.”

“I said, 'All other things being equal'. You were unnaturally fast. And much, much smarter than your opponents.”

“And yet you constantly call me an idiot.”

“Compared to a sheep, you're a genius. And I only call you an idiot when you play into the role.”

“My wit is tragically unappreciated. It would serve you right if I ran off with someone else.”

“Let me know when you get an offer. I may warn them of what they are getting into.”

“You're heartless. Reptilian, even.”

“Oh, THAT was low.”

“Can you feel the grin? I think we were talking about your new servant.”

“So... Rilla is TINY, very pretty, ANGRY. She signed up because she really liked the idea of hurting people and breaking things. She signed a contract, made the trip down here from Landfall just like I did, and found out the army had no place for her except as a camp follower. She thought about deserting, but she decided she was too proud, so she saves every penny she gets, hoping to buy out her contract, and grinds her teeth a lot. Apparently she hides her anger well, because she gets good tips.”

“But she'd rather work for you.”

“She'd rather do ANYTHING that gets her out of the brothel, but no one else was offering her a billet.”

“Ah.”

“I'm going to have a talk with the recruiter. And then I am probably going to have a talk with the recruiter's commander. And then, if all goes well, the recruiter is going to have a talk with Sister Crocodile. I think Rilla would like that.”

“They let you duel?”

“It would be a training session. I would make it hurt.”

“If he isn't out of your class.”

“I'm willing to make sacrifice moves. I get beat up all the time, and don't care.”

“There's that dragon again.”

“Grrr.”


>>>Scene Eleven: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. I would say that you were sleeping the sleep of the just, but I know better.”

“Brat. Guess who may have learned a new shape today?”

“Rilla?”

“Hah. Rilla has no magic at all, other than a talent for infuriating former brothel clients.”

“She's doing a lot of that?”

“Only when she wants to distract me. She gets much too much fun out of seeing men who were cruel to her back down when she hides behind Sister Crocodile.”

“Are you denying that you enjoy it as well?”

“You know me too well. But I don't push people around, I only push back. And grin.”

“And Rilla lures men into situations where you can push back.”

“Only men who deserve it, but yes.”

“Hmmm, indeed. Tell me about this new shape.”

“I was picking Bing's brain for information about the sharks, and he showed me his spare parts collection. He's been gathering dead shark folk bits, and using magic to preserve them, so he can figure out how they work.”

“Count on a necromancer to show a girl a good time.”

“Right. I can tell that there is something in the back of his head that really wants to get a croc on the slab, and he exactly doesn't WANT it to be me, but, well,,, It's more than a little creepy.”

“I can imagine.”

“So I told him my theory about why I have a croc shape, and a faun shape, which took a bit of editing on my part, since I didn't want to tell him about you at all. He went to a shelf and pulled down a shark heart that had been preserved by magic, and I carved out a meal-sized chunk, and we boiled the hell out of it, and I ate it. Bing tells me that it will be as much absorbed into my system as it will ever be within three days, so we should know by then.”

“And you still deny that you're turning into a dragon.”

“I'm experimenting with ritualized cannibalism in the name of magical research. It's not like I am hunting my neighbors for food.”

“Yet.”

“Do I have to remind you that I am doing this, quite literally, for you?”

“No.”

“Then be a good nuisance and play me some music to digest intelligent beings by.”

“As her reptilian majesty wishes.”

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