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Fiddler's Rose - Eight - Sharks

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Eight – Sharks (Updated 4/14/2018)

>>>Eight/One: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. Have you become Shark Girl yet?”

“Sort of. I knew the form was available the first time I crocked out for training this morning, but didn't get to try it until after I had finished my daily beatings. And of course Bing had to be there to watch and take notes. He's never had a chance to observe a WILLING live pistrisine before.”

“Is Bing as strange as he sounds?”

“At least. He's got tons of energy and enthusiasm, and he almost always seems to be happy, but his priorities are usually weird and often just plain creepy.”

“So why 'sort of'?”

“Because I pretty much hated being in the shape, and Bing wanted me to hold it as long as possible.”

“Hated the shape?”

“Breathing HURT. And I couldn't talk, just gesture.”

“Breathing hurt? What was wrong?”

“Sharks aren't built to breathe air. They can, at least for a while; Bing says he has seen them stay functional for hours out of water, but it isn't good for them. I get the impression that he has performed a lot of experiments on captive sharks, and they have often been fatal.”

“As you said, just plain creepy.”

“Yup. Sharks don't breathe in and out; they pull water, or air, in through their mouths and push it out through vents under their ribs, so the flow is continuous.”

“That's weird.”

“It's necessary. Bing went into a long explanation of the science behind it all, which I couldn't really follow. Dragon blood taught me to read, and Drellan taught me Thaumatology, but I am still an ignorant fisher girl when it comes to Physics and Alchemy and Biology. I'm not very happy about that, or about being reminded of it.”

“And you couldn't talk?”

“I didn't know how. Even with a translation spell in effect. I have never thought about it much, but the translation spell I know only works on incoming information, and doesn't help at all going the other direction. And pistrisines use different apparatus to communicate than humans do; we talk with air going OUT through our throats; sharks don't have that option.”

“Which explains why they have never gotten any information out of their prisoners.”

“Actually, Bing has gotten a LOT of information out of pistrisine prisoners, but none of it was linguistic, and most of it was by way of dissection.”

“Bing sounds creepier all the time.”

“He's a necromancer to the bone. He just doesn't look like one, at first glance.”

“So how DO sharks talk?”

“There are some structures in the exhaust vents that produce pops and clicks and whistles. Bing thinks they would work better under water, since that is what they are designed for. He's got some sort of idea to try that out tomorrow.”

“Other than just going for a swim?”

“The ocean is behind enemy lines.”

“Ah.”

“Is my life impossibly weird, Fid?”

“You're asking the ghost of a unicorn who is bound to an object on the bottom of the ocean.”

“There is that.”

“But yes, you are the single most peculiar person I have ever considered a friend. And while that is not a long list, you are VERY different from any of the others. What brings this up?”

“I think the other sorcerers are growling at me behind my back. When I got here, everyone wanted to learn my transformation spell, but I have done everything I can think of to teach it, and NO ONE has gotten it.”

“I take it none of them has three dragon marks, or a transformation tattoo from Auntie Moss.”

“Exactly. They've realized that the reason they can't fly is that I have wings and they don't.”

“Is this a problem?”

“Difference isolates. I get along with Rilla because she owes me, and lives with me, and has actually gotten a chance to know me. And I get along with Bing because he's manic about learning new things. I think that if a dragon threatened to eat him, he would beg to be swallowed whole so he could observe the process.”

“Bing is crazy, isn't he?”

“Oh, yeah. But... Oh, hell, Fid, I'm complaining about being lonely to someone who is a hundred times lonelier than I am.”

“I take solace in your intention to make it up to me in great detail.”

“And he proves that he can still make me blush. But you're right, I very much do.”

“So we share weirdness and loneliness and discontent, but are content in each other. And on that note, good night.”


>>>Eight/Two: A tent south of Glass Fort

“You're late tonight, Rose.”

“And exhausted. But I wanted to let you to know nothing had happened to me, so I am doing a trance rather than trying to sleep right away.”

“What happened?”

“Bing got me into the fortress. There are some flooded cells there where they can keep prisoners alive, if they want to. They have one prisoner, the only one at the moment, who has been there for something like a hundred years. Apparently sharks live a LONG time.”

“So it would seem. What was the point?”

“I got to be a shark in sea water, which was a lot more comfortable. The water in the cells isn't even too stale; there is some kind of wave pump system that keeps the water circulating.”

“That's... surprisingly humane, given what you've told me.”

“I think it is more a matter of bored mages working on pet projects. And it turns out that Bing hasn't done anything crazy to live prisoners, just read the notes of his predecessors. The rule seems to be that captured sharks are dead meat anyway, so they are available for anyone who has a use.”

“These are really nice people you work for.”

“I'm not thrilled, but remember what happens to humans captured by the sharks.”

“That sounds fatal.”

“Everyone HOPES it is fatal; no one has ever escaped to say otherwise.”

“So this is an uglier than usual war.”

“Yup. Also stranger in MANY ways.”

“Such as?”

“All in good time. Let me tell my story.”

“Sorry, I've always been a fan of skipping to the good parts.”

“I think I'll just go to sleep, then.”

“Oops. Damn.”


>>>Eight/Three: Darkness

“Did you think that would work, Rose?”

“I think that if I hadn't wanted to save you some worry, I would have gotten an extra half hour of sleep.”

“Ah. I would feel guilty for that, were I not so fundamentally callous.”

“Brat. Can I tell my story now?”

“Yes, your Majesty.”

“Stop that.”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“Now what?”

“If I can't call you a Queen, I can still call you a Duchess. You let the kobolds do it.”

“The KOBOLDS!?!... Fine. Brat. Can we continue?”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“You do realize that I am supposed to WANT to rescue you, don't you? Anyway... Once I was in the cell, the other prisoner started talking to me, and I cast my translation spell, so I could understand him. I tried to talk to him, but didn't know how to form the words. I managed to learn a few words, but not nearly enough. But I did learn that, because sound travels so easily in water, the hundred year prisoner has been in contact with the rest of the sharks all along.”

“That is BIG information.”

“I thought it was. When I got out of the water, there was a squad of troops waiting for me. Bing was still there, though, and he told me that he and I had been summoned to meet with the head sorcerer of the army, pretty much the head of everything, a Fourth Circle named Norastras who specializes in divination.”

“Is this going to be bad?”

“No, just even more strange. Norastras is OLD, and slight. Stand him next to Bing and you'd pick him as the necromancer. Of course, you'd probably guess Bing was a wine seller... Anyway, we talked minor pleasantries, and then Norastras asked me about my ability to communicate with the sharks.”

“And you led with the truth. I'm so ashamed. My tutelage has been wasted on an imbecile.”

“Hush. Yes, I told him the truth. I also told him that the sharks had open communication with their prisoner. He wasn't surprised. It turns out that it's REALLY hard to surprise a high-level diviner...”

“As opposed to, say, a low-level sorceress who gets hit in the head with sticks a lot.”

“You are SO lucky I'm not cruel enough to shut you out. But remember that I might have a limit.”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“Anyway... He asked if I was interested in trying to learn more of the pistrisine language, and I said that I was, and he said he would arrange for me to have access to the flooded cells as I wished. And then he said that he was going to tell me a secret, since I was likely to learn it from the prisoner eventually, and if he told it to me, he could swear me to secrecy first.”

“An oath you are now going to break?”

“An oath to never tell a living person.”

“And it turns out that she is NOT utterly inept as a swindler, after all. I am vindicated.”

“You are a nuisance, but yes, I cut you a loophole. Now shut up and let me use it.”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“That was old the second time.”

“I'm nodding. Really I am. Also leering lasciviously, if you really want to know.”

“At WHAT?”

“Umm... A carefully cultivated memory?”

“Idiot. Anyway... I now know why this goofy war is being fought the way it is. The sharks don't want territory they can't use, and humans are much too much work as a food source. It's about breeding rights. For a shark to be allowed to breed, he has to either wound, or be wounded by, a surface dweller.”

“Two questions: He?”

“Yup. The society is female dominated, and they really only need about one male for every hundred females, so they can afford a LOT of casualties in the selection process.”

“Riiight. And second, wounds struck are on the honor system?”

“Apparently the sharks have some NASTY truth spells, of the 'Die a horrible lingering death if you lie' variety.”

“Of course they do. How does Norastras know all of this?”

“Divination. Generations of it, apparently. But that is also why the army knows months in advance when the next invasion is going to happen, and where each new skirmish is going to occur.”

“I didn't think diviners could actually see the future.”

“They can't. But they can sense that plans are being made, and that troops are being massed.”

“So the topsiders are always waiting for them, and the sharks can never pull off a surprise.”

“Yes. And the topsiders-- our side-- well, MY side anyway, I don't know about you-- have instructions to let the sharks back off if they want to after first contact. Command doesn't WANT prisoners; they know that the sharks will leave as soon as they reach some quota of blooded warriors, and dead sharks don't count toward the quota. But it's difficult to get soldiers to stand their ground when the enemy present their backs...”

“I've been told. So what are you going to do?”

“I'm going to add going for regular swims in the dungeon to my routine. And for right now, I am going to play dead for a while.”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Eight/Four: Darkness

“Good evening, your Grace.”

“You're never going to let that go, are you?”

“Probably not.”

“I shouldn't complain; at least you're talking to me.”

“Problems, Rose?”

“A riddle: Which is worse: Being alone, or being surrounded by people who won't talk to you?”

“As bad as that, Rose?”

“Not quite. Rilla seems to like me, and Bing finds me interesting, Cagey finds me amusing...”

“Cagey?”

“The old shark in the dungeon; the other sharks call him 'The Old One in the Cage', so I think of him as Cagey. Actually I think of him as a three note whistle-click that means 'Cage Person', but, well, translations across disparate vocal systems gets dodgy.”

“It sounds like it.”

“But beyond them, the troops seem to have gotten it into their heads that Sister Crocodile is the real me, and that I am some kind of spy for the sharks, and the other sorcerers all resent me for knowing a spell that they can't seem to learn, and I seem to be followed by disapproval all the time. I wonder if I wouldn't be better off just ALONE.”

“I would be happy to trade places with you so that we could each develop an informed opinion.”

“I know, Fid. But I also find myself wishing I could just be with you on the edge of the waterfall more or less forever, and forget about everything else completely.”

“I think I could adapt to that. But I know that you couldn't.”

“Probably not.”

“Would her Grace's mood be improved by some music?”

“Almost certainly. And Fid... Thank you.”

“I exist to serve.”


>>>Eight/Five: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose.”

“Hey, Fid.”

“You seem... Happier. Less down-trodden, anyway.”

“Yup. The war is ending, and we get to leave this place behind.”

“What happened?”

“The sharks have had enough for now, just like always. One, maybe two skirmishes, and they will head out to sea for another generation.”

“And they have ANNOUNCED this?”

“Hell no. I heard it from the sharks, first, then had a talk with Norastras, who confirmed that it matched his divinations. And of course he asked me to keep it to myself. But in less than a month I should be back on the water and headed for Silver Port, and I can forget all about this little puddle of misery.”

“I know it's been hard. For both of us, really. When you are unhappy it wears me down. I kind of wish you'd get laid occasionally. I get jealous, but the emotional feedback feels good.”

“Does it now? I will have to keep that in mind.”

“Just don't get carried away.”

“Never that many opportunities, Fid. And I am sure my sessions with Cagey haven't helped. He's even lonlier than you are.”

“I thought he had unlimited conversation with the outside.”

“Only during wars. Most of the time, there are no sharks that close, unless one of them makes a point of paying Cagey a visit. And that is dangerous; the locals kill sharks on sight, even if there is no war.”

“So he goes for YEARS without any conversation at all?”

“Yup.”

“Poor bastard. How does he stand it?”

“He's become something of a mystic. Good language teacher, though. Says my accent is atrocious, which is no surprise.”

“No, it's not. Will you miss him?”

“I wouldn't go that far. He's interesting, I've enjoyed the language lessons, but there is no question he would rip my heart out and eat it if he got the chance.”

“That does constrain friendship just a bit.”

“Just a bit. Though it says something about this experience that, even with that, he has been one of the high points.”

“It will be over soon.”

“That it will. Chase the luck for me, Fid? I could use some happiness.”

“As your Grace wishes.”

“Brat.”


>>>Eight/Six: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. Is that... GUILT? What did you do?”

“I bought out Rilla's contract.”

“Say what?”

“Rilla signed up for twenty-five years, or until properly discharged. As far as the army goes, she's still a camp-follower, and they don't want to let her go. And Rilla is particular about having given her word, and doesn't want to desert.”

“So you bought her out. How bad is it?”

“I'm dead broke. And in debt to Bing, actually.”

“That's... expensive altruism, Rose. What now?”

“I go back to Landfall with Bing, and serve as his assistant for a while. Rilla will come with as my servant, but I pretty sure I can talk her into working directly for Bing, and talk Bing into hiring her.”

“So how long will it take to pay off Bing and rebuild your stake?”

“...A year?”

“...Ouch. Just... Ouch.”

“I'm sorry, Fid. I couldn't leave her there. She's my friend. And you... You're immortal, and you and I will have time. I will find a way to make this up to you.”

“No, I will DEVISE a way for you to make it up to me.”

“That sounds terrifying.”

“It should. But you'll enjoy it anyway.”

“And you can STILL make me blush.”

“I live for it.”

“How angry are you?”

“Not angry. Disappointed, and impatient, but I am always impatient. I will cope.”

“Thank you.”

“I live to serve. Your Grace.”


>>>Eight/Six: A field east of Glass Fort

“Why is my Duchess awake this evening?”

“I'm letting things around me calm down a bit before I actually try to sleep, and thought I would check in with you.”

“This lowly personage is grateful for your attention.”

“I acknowledge that I am doing penance, but you're heartless.”

“Literally, certainly. Figuratively it exists, though it may well be frozen stone. The result of isolation and neglect.”

“You are going to run out of penance tokens REALLY quickly at this rate. Idiocy aside, guess what I did for the first time ever today?”

“Set fire to your eyebrows?”

“What? No! I rode a horse.”

“As opposed, presumably, to being ridden by a horse. And there is that blush again. Damn, I'm good.”

“Good is not the first word that comes to mind.”

“Ah. Well. How sore are you?”

“Pretty damned sore, thank you. But this is a LOT easier on the feet than the trip out was.”

“You should ask the horse's opinion.”

“I tried. He tried to bite me.”

“I would say that that is an answer. Though I will admit that I have tried to bite you on occasion as well. Usually successfully.”

“Different circumstances, Fid. And never with horse's teeth.”

“I will give you that.”

“I am SO glad to be away from Glass Fort.”

“I can tell. You are... energized.”

“Happy?”

“Not quite yet, I think. But certainly happier.”

“I'm still sorry that I put us on this detour, Fid.”

“You followed the path as you saw it. Fate turned against you. Life, or in my case existence, goes on.”

“Fid? That doesn't sound like you. That was sweet, and gentle, and... Is something wrong?”

“I am just trying to push through YOUR melancholy, Rose. I am in a very quiet place, and what you whisper there becomes thunder, here. Even when I don't know what I am hearing. Though I am learning.”

“This is not what you used to say.”

“Things change. I think that we are cheating the rules of the bond by length of relationship.”

“Is that good?”

“I think so. I hope so. If the true bond is going to form over distance, though, I wish it would hurry.”

'I do too, Fid. I do too. Am I allowed music in my penance?”

“Of course. I may be hard, but I am not cruel.”

“Good night, Fid.”


>>>Eight/Six: Darkness

“Good evening, your Grace.”

“And to you, your Nuisanceship.”

“You are happy tonight, Rose.”

“I think I am, yes. We told campfire stories. I told one about having been haunted by a unicorn's ghost, once upon a long ago.”

“How did that go over?”

“Quite well. They may have even believed me. Though Bing was disappointed that I had never tried to engage the unicorn in my own shape.”

“Bing continues to find new ways to be creepy.”

“I just laughed. Rilla turned a bit green.”

“And what did you tell them became of this ghost?”

“I told them the truth: That he sailed away with the owner of his binding object.”

“An incomplete truth, then.”

“All truth is incomplete, Fid. Some are more obviously incomplete than others.”

“I will give you that.”

“How did you do it, Fid? Survive through four years with no contact at all?”

“I almost didn't. I was very close to sliding off into the void when I found you.”

“You seemed manic. I knew you were very unhappy. I didn't know it was that bad.”

“A fact of my existence is that I can end it by deciding to. Being aware of that makes me careful of my thoughts. But I was only close; I wasn't there yet. And now... I don't LIKE waiting; I've always been impatient. But there is a dragon waiting for me with open arms at the end of the road, and I WILL survive the journey, however long or convoluted it may be.”

“Damn, that's sweet, Fid. Sometimes you make it really hard to remember how charming you can be. But I swear that as long as I draw breath, I will be on that road. Give or take a detour.”

“If you had not taken this detour, you would not have been my Rose.”

“There is that. Until the day, Fid.”

“Yes. Until the day.”


>>>Eight/Seven: Darkness

“Stargazing, Rose?”

“You can tell?”

“I can tell a few things, and I can guess. Is it safe?”

“I have a sword at my side, and a crocodile in my pocket, among other things. I'm safe enough.”

“You never know. There could be a minotaur in the woods.”

“Really.”

“You never know. They're sneaky.”

“Are they?”

“You don't know about minotaurs, do you?”

“Apparently not.”

“Minotaurs are to humans what unicorns are to deer and cows and horses. Or maybe more accurately, what unicorns are to centaurs.”

“Humans aren't herd animals...”

“Minotaurs are sneaky. A minotaur on the edge of town can impregnate every fertile woman in town in a matter of days. And if someone figures out what's going on, then the killing starts. The bellow of a minotaur will freeze a human, or a hundred humans, in their tracks. And then the minotaur will cut down all of the men like wheat.”

“This is a campfire story, Fid.”

“If you like. I've met a few. In dreamspace. Unicorns and minotaurs stay away from each other.”

“Have you. All right, then, Storyteller, how does one deal with a minotaur?”

“You kill him from a distance. A very great distance, preferably from ambush, before he can start bellowing. Plugged ears help a little, if you are far enough away.”

“What does a minotaur do with the infertile women, then?”

“He ignores them, as long as they stay out of his way.”

“So I'm safe, then.”

“If he can sense the magic of your tattoo. If you don't mind getting to know him a LOT better than you had planned on. If your charm actually holds up against fertility magic that is that strong.”

“You're ruining my stargazing, Fid.”

“I'd be happier if you were doing it from the deck of a ship, is all.”

“So would I, Fid. So would I.”

End of Chapter Eight
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