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Fiddler's Rose - Twelve - “Storm Turtle”

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Twelve – “Storm Turtle” (Updated 5/18/2018)

>>>Scene One: Darkness

“Back in the 'Revenant', Rose?”

“Yup. Doing a recon mission for the 'Turtle'. I asked the Captain if he would like me to do a few flyovers and check the accuracy of his maps of our target, and he said yes. So now the 'Turtle' is anchored a day out, and he sent me forward with 'Revenant' and two crew. They are going to mind the boat and fish, and I am going to do the flyovers.”

“As much as I hate the idea of you going alone into enemy territory, that makes sense.”

“I just wish magical recon were as easy. They aren't supposed to have any major mages, but... Damn, I'm an idiot.”

“That's an unfairly tempting straight line, Rose.”

“I've been listening to the officers making plans and just fell into their thought patterns, and forgot that I DO have a way to do basic magical recon: YOU.”

“Should I feel heroic?”

“Maybe. Could you take a look around and see what other sorcerers are in the area?”

“Give me a moment... Two to the west, about your size, right on top of each other; those are the sorcerers on the 'Turtle', aren't they?”

“I would assume so. The 'Turtle' has two Second Circles on her crew.”

“And five to the east, also all on top of each other. Three about your size, one about Drellan's size, and one bigger.”

“Nine bleeding hells.”

“So that IS as bad as I thought it was?”

“Offhand, it's insurmountable. Three Seconds on each side cancel, which leaves a Third, plus a Fourth or Fifth, unanswered on their side.”

“So now what?”

“So tomorrow I fly my recon as planned, and the next day we go back to the 'Turtle', and try to talk them out of committing suicide.”

“You're going to do the recon anyway?”

“I'm going to do the recon so that I can argue from a standpoint of courage. If I say, 'I just did a flyover of a hostile sorcerer who is two or three circles over my head, just so I could come back here and tell you to let this go,' it MIGHT carry some weight.”

“But you're not sure?”

“I'm pretty sure I'll fail.”

“I'm sorry, Rose.”

“This is going to be ugly, Fid. If I don't convince them, I am not sure I will able to escape the battle.”

“Which your side is going to lose.”

“Yes.”

“Then run. Right now.

“Over the bodies of two innocent men who have done nothing other than be in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

“Oh.”

“It's going to be a bumpy ride, Fid. Keep your eyes open.”

“Yes. Just... Yes. Please don't die.”

“I'll do my best.”


>>>Scene Two: Darkness

“How did it go, Rose?”

“I found a bunch of map discrepancies, and an extra enemy ship that wasn't supposed to be there.”

“Is that bad? I mean, it's already bad...”

“We're being set up for a bloodbath, Fid. They have the edge in magic, and in manpower, and they have prepared defensive positions.”

“Still not willing to run?”

“I have friends on the 'Turtle', Fid. I have to try to keep them away. And I still have two men from the 'Turtle' with me.”

“They'd make good pets. Really.”

“It will be fine, Fid.”

“You don't know that.”

“I am not in immediate danger and will take as few risks as possible in attempting to bring this awful situation to an acceptable conclusion.”

“Humph.”

“Stop whining and live up to your name. Something restful.”

“I have a selection of dirges.”

“I don't HAVE to rescue you, Fid.”

“You have to have a reasonable chance of survival to threaten me.”

“Just play.”

“As her Grace wishes.”


>>>Scene Three: Darkness

“So? Has the stupid raid been cancelled?”

“Not yet, Fid. At the moment, we're just advancing to the boat release point, as scheduled. But we're not committed to anything yet, either.”

“But you can snag 'Revenant' and sail away any time you want, right?”

“Could. Won't. I gave my word to go along if they decide to fight.”

“WHAT!?!”

“Soldier's logic, Fid. The word of a coward can't be trusted, so I have to prove I'm not a coward to give my report any weight.”

“But... but...”

“It's the way things are, Fid. If I could walk away from this I wouldn't be me.”

“I'm going to sulk, now. I'll talk to you tomorrow night, if you're still alive. Maybe.”

“Fid?”


>>>Scene Four: Aboard the “Storm Turtle”

“Are you safe?”

“Yes, Fid, I'm safe.”

“Safe for now, so that you can give me a 'Tomorrow I die,' speech, or really safe?”

“Really safe. The raid has been canceled, and we're on our way back to Silverport.”

“Why Silverport?”

“We need to dispose of the cockle boats, other than 'Revenant'. That's where we got them, and that's where they go back to. Once they're sold, it will be on to Skytower and the idiot who commissioned the raid.”

“So you're just a passenger until Skytower.”

“Unless some idiots decide to attack the 'Turtle' in the open ocean. That hasn't happened in all the years the 'Turtle' has been sailing.”

“I guess I'll forgive you if you ask, then.”

“Not going to ask, Fid.”

“But...”

“You're the biggest thing in my life, but not the only thing. And you don't own me, and if you aren't willing go along with that, you can tell me to stop chasing you.”

“I... Fine. But I reserve the right to sulk when you take stupid risks.”

“Sulk all you want. Just come back to me when you're done. And remember that sulking hurts you more that it hurts me.”

“You're being logical. That's not fair.”

“I'm sorry, Fid. I'll try to find some time to practice being irrational.”

“Grrr.”

“What did you tell me the other day, Fid? That you needed me to be strong enough to deal with the dragon influence, so therefore you chose to believe that I WAS that strong, because it was the only acceptable outcome? This is a variation on the theme. Choose to believe.”

“I will do my best.”

“Besides, if I manage to get myself killed, I am sure that Auntie Moss will find some other lunatic girl to come after you, eventually.”

“Not helping AT ALL.”

“Fid... What kind of person would be willing to dedicate her life to rescuing a friend from a prison that was five hundred miles from nowhere, under 2000 fathoms of ocean?”

“Ummm... One who was loyal... and fearless... and not entirely sane.”

“And how many people, in your centuries of existence, would even bother to apply for that job?”

“Um... One?”

“Are we good now?”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“Good. Now think some lustful thoughts, and put them into music.”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Five: Darkness

“Back on 'Revenant', Rose?”

“Yes. It would seem that I wore out my welcome on the 'Storm Turtle'.”

“How so? I thought they liked you.”

“They did. But a lot of them also blamed me for getting the raid canceled, and the attitude of the ship was unfriendly. So I suggested that the Captain might want to pay me off and send me on my way before we got any further from Skytower, and he agreed. So 'Revenant' and I are alone with you for another three weeks or so.”

“I'm always alone with you, Rose.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do. I'm sorry that this happened. You liked being on the 'Turtle'.”

“I did, And this makes the trip that much harder, and longer. But the Captain made sure I had plenty of supplies, and actually paid me a bonus for my work, which was extremely generous of him.”

“You might have saved his life.”

“Which is why he paid me. But his wallet doesn't know that, and the ship's purser scowled so much as he was paying me that I think he hurt himself.”

“It would serve him right.”

“It doesn't matter. It's done, now. How's Maelstrom?”

“Worried about you.”

“I should have seen that coming. Do NOT push him that way, Fid. No good can come of it.”

“He's odd to talk to. Sometimes he is RIGHT there in front of you, just another person telling a story, and a moment later he does something that reminds you how old and huge and powerful he is. I MAY get used to it, but I sure haven't yet.”

“You may be working on being the best friend he has, Fid.”

“ME?!?”

“Who else does he talk to? Who else CAN he talk to?”

“Oh. Right. I've been too busy being terrified to think about that.”

“That's the problem, Fid. You let the fear loose, and it messes up your thinking.”

“As opposed to ignoring both fear and thought?”

“I don't do things thoughtlessly, Fid. Insanely, sometimes, but never thoughtlessly.”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“If you're going to be that way, it's time for the fiddle. Something... I don't know, surprise me.”

“As her Grace wishes.”


>>>Scene Six: Aboard “Revenant”

“Rose, why are you meditating in the middle of the afternoon?”

“Why are you checking in on me in the middle of the afternoon?”

“I was bored.”

“I was bored.”

“But aren't you supposed to be, you know, sailing?”

“'Revenant' is sailing. I'm just supervising in a haphazard fashion.”

“'Revenant' can sail herself?”

“Sure. You can't single-hand for any length of time if the boat can't sail herself.”

“But... How?”

“The sheets all lead back to jam cleats that I can reach from the helm; the boat is balanced for a bit of weather helm, with a line through a block to a ballast stone. If the wind gets ahead of the boat, the jib gains drive, and the mizzen loses drive, and the boat turns to restore balance; if the wind gets behind the boat, the mizzen gains drive and the jib loses it, and the boat turns to restore balance; in a gust, the ballast stone lifts and turns the boat into the wind, and when the gust is over, the stone pulls the tiller back, and the boat rebalances herself. Simple.”

“WAY too much sailor talk for me.”

“I could yammer at you about Xart's aerodynamic scaling factors, if you would rather.”

“Will that be more humiliating than playing Territories with the turtle?”

“Maybe. One way to find out.”

“Pass. I'd threaten to yammer at you about musical theory, but you'd probably enjoy it.”

“I probably would. When did you have a chance to study musical theory?”

“Salsi could read and write, and one winter we holed up in a place where there was a bit of a library, and she found a book on musical theory. She read it to me, and I copied it down in dreamspace. I have reread it several times, at this point.”

“I did NOT see that coming.”

“I have hidden depths.”

“You would have to, given that you cultivate an air of superficiality.”

“I'm too honest for that. I tend to think of myself as fundamentally superficial, with some interesting history.”

“You sell yourself short.”

“Do I? The theory is all very nice, but the fact remains that the most important thing in music, to me, is making girls want to dance.”

“I doubt that, on two counts. First, you can do a LOT more with your music than inspire dance.”

“Maybe. Second?”

“You can make the girls want to do ANYTHING with magic.”

“Which makes getting the job done WITHOUT magic twice as sweet.”

“Again, I did not see that coming. That's twice in one conversation.”

“Rose... Do you have any idea how precious you are to me? And not just because I have no one else on tap to rescue me. You talk to me because you WANT to, day after day, without the slightest hint of magical persuasion. You joke about walking away, but you COULD, and you DON'T. That's... amazing.”

“Three. And I think I need to break trance so that I can shift to Emma and cry.”

“Don't. That wasn't the point. I just... I think I need to stop talking and play something.”

“I think that that would be a VERY good idea.”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Seven: A beach east of Silverport

“Stargazing, Rose?”

“A bit. Getting ready to run past that pirate lair we didn't raid tomorrow night.”

“At night?”

“I stopped here in the middle of the afternoon; I will sleep in tomorrow, and sail all night long, so that I will go past their lookouts in darkness. Or a least that's the plan.”

“So tonight you're staying up late so that you'll sleep later in the morning?”

“That's the plan. We'll have to see.”

“What will you do if they see you anyway, and come after you?”

“Hope that they send a small boat with no sorcerer, and then kill them from the air.”

“And if they send a larger boat, or a sorcerer?”

“Then I'm in trouble, and they're stupid, because a boat this size isn't worth that much trouble.”

“Always calculated risks.”

“Whenever possible. At least, as opposed to blind risks. But a deliberate blind risk is insane, even by my standards.”

“That's good to know. That you have standards.”

“Ouch. And not fair.”

“But you smiled.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Then I have justified my existence for another little while.”

“Maybe. It may be an insurmountable task.”

“Does the Lady appreciate my company?”

“Yes. At least most of the time.”

“Then my case is made. Contingent, of course, on the ability of the Lady to justify her own existence.”

“That's just cruel. But again, I smile. And sitting under the stars on a clear night is as good a time as any to contemplate the value of one's own existence. Though it would be nice to have a warm body to snuggle up to.”

“Alas, I can do no more than provide background music.”

“You probably should, then.”

“As her Grace commands.”


>>>Scene Eight: Aboard “Revenant”

“Is something wrong, Rose?”

“It's raining, and there's a storm coming in. I may not be able to maintain contact for long. But the good news is that I won't have to worry about pirates in this weather.”

“Storm gods instead of pirates? I dislike the choice.”

“I'm not thrilled with it, but that is how the dice have fallen. I'm wet, and cold, and before long I am going to be at least a little worried about losing the boat.”

“I REALLY dislike the choice.”

“I will be fine, Fid. I have already stowed the jib and the mizzen, and the main is double reefed. And in the worst case, I can just put on Sister Shark and head for the bottom. It's really hard to drown when you can breathe water.”

“There is that. Be careful, Rose. Be lucky.”

“I will do my best. Keep an eye out for me; see you on the other side.”

“Always.”


>>>Scene Nine: Aboard “Revenant”

“Is this the other side, Rose?”

“Not quite, but getting there. The rain has stopped, and the wind has dropped quite a bit; it will take a while for the waves to calm down. Still double reefed, but done bailing, and able to let the boat steer while I check in with you.”

“But you are fine? No injuries or problems?”

“I'm fine. Had a real lesson in the logic behind an old sailor's saying, though. 'If it's not secured, it's overboard; if it's not sealed, it's wet.' And, as it was often pointed out, there were no guarantees on either of those.”

“How bad was it?”

“As advertised. Cold and wet and scary. But we managed. 'Revenant's' a good girl.”

“You sound like she's alive.”

“Said the ghost in the dagger. But yes, she is. Any boat worth sailing in is alive, and if you don't understand that, you should probably stay on shore.”

“That was always my choice, actually.”

“Yes, but if you had never gone to sea, you would never have met me, and we wouldn't be having this grand adventure.”

“Said the person who is not imprisoned in a mud bank at the bottom of the ocean.”

“Not a valid path, Fid. Would Osprey have been the woman you loved if SHE had never gone to sea?”

“No.”

“Well, then.”

“So what now?”

“I am going to keep on until sunset, or at least until my eyes start to cross. Then I may take a day off; I am already tired, but I want to put some more miles behind me.”

“Would her Grace care for some music, in the meantime?”

“A bit. Before too long I am going to hoist the jib and the mizzen, shake out the reefs, and let 'Revenant' RUN.”

“Well, then. I shall endeavor to be quick, but I can promise that I will be FAST.”

“Joy and madness, Fid.”

“And undead ladies racing the wind.”


>>>Scene Ten: A beach south of Skytower

“Where ARE you sleeping, Rose?”

“I have 'Revenant' pulled well up from the beach, inverted, and partially buried, and I'm sleeping underneath her. It's a cozy little cave.”

“And the why?”

“Because I am going to abandon her for a few days while Sister Wings and I check out Skytower.”

“Why not just sail in?”

“Because the harbor is too big and too complex for me to try to find my way as Emma without having some idea of where to go and who to talk to. I don't even have a map, at the moment; Wings can get that for me, and maybe a bit more. I'm hoping I can find a place to land and shift to Emma, though that will be tricky, what with the nudity.”

“Say what now?”

“I thought that would get your attention. I've never bothered to wear clothes as Sister Wings, because anything that wasn't skin tight would get in the way, and, well, kobold. But it might not be safe to deal with people as a naked kobold, but if I switch to Emma...”

“Naked Emma has other problems.”

“Right. So I will bring clothes for Emma, and hope I can find a place to land and dress without being seen, or at least without being seen too well.”

“You really enjoy making me nervous, don't you?”

“Maybe. But I don't have to try very often; I seem to do quite well on that score just by living my life.”

“Agreed.”

“And I was more or less human when I started on this trip, and I have had to figure things out as I go along. My main goal in Skytower is to learn how to hold a shape for longer than an hour, and once I have done THAT, everything will be simpler.”

“I'm a big fan of simpler. It's usually safer.”

“Getting eaten by a dragon is REALLY simple.”

“I said, 'usually'. Are you likely to be be eaten by a dragon?”

“Not that I know of, but it's unknown territory.”

“Not making me happy, Rose.”

“Just giving you a bit of perspective. Skytower is a civilized place. I'm not a threat, so I should be able to take a look around without raising anyone's hackles.”

“But...”

“Do you have a better idea?”

“No.”

“Then be calm, and play me a lullaby. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow.”

“As her Grace wishes.”


>>>Scene Eleven: The top of the Skytower

“Where ARE you, Rose?”

“On top of the Skytower. I knew I was going to fly up here sometime, and this seemed like as good a time as any. I know no one will mind if I camp up here.”

“No?”

“I'm more than a quarter mile above the city, and there are no stairs. Though there is a floor drain; I hadn't expected that.”

“You flew up a quarter mile?”

“Not the first time, but it was easy this time; I found an iron works with a big thermal on top of it, and just rode my way up.”

“And you're camping up there?”

“I hadn't planned on it, but it seems likely. Though I may decide it's just too cold and windy.”

“I have said this before, but you really are not sane.”

“I'm me. And I am seeing something that VERY few people have ever seen. I didn't know what to expect, in fact.”

“So tell.”

“Do you want the full tour?”

“Sure.”

“Skytower. 1500 foot tall thing made from a single piece some kind of almost white stone. The cross section has sixteen sides. It's about a hundred yards in diameter at the base, and about ten yards in diameter at the top. It has no doors or windows, and there are rumors that it has an interior structure, but no one really knows anything. The top is flat, and has human-scaled crenelations,. And since that makes the top a big bowl, there is a floor drain that is just big enough for my hand to fit into. No one knows who built it or why.”

“That's... more than a little creepy, Rose.”

“There's general agreement on that point. Though the locals have gotten used to it, and ignore it for the most part.”

“And you are planning to spend the night there.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Consider my eyes rolled.”

“If anything odd happens, I will go over the side; there is enough air between here and the ground to summon Wings and land safely.”

“Fine. Have you actually learned anything useful?”

“I've found a place to land 'Revenant' where she'll be safe from molestation at least for a few days, by which time I will have made longer term arrangements. There are LOTS of inns. Also lots of four and five story buildings with roofs that Sister Wings can hide on, and alleys and... Well, just lots of places to hide generally. And for the most part, people don't look up if you don't give them a reason to.”

“And you don't.”

“I try not to. Mistakes happen. One of the most interesting discoveries is an enclave of dragon-folk. I am going to have to check them out further; I didn't even know there WERE such people.”

“Dragon-folk?”

“I've only seen them from a distance. They look a lot like Sister Dragon, but with no tails and plantigrade feet. I'm hoping to make friends.”

“And take a bite out of one of them?”

“No! Well, metaphorically, maybe. Never hurts to have an extra set of skin to jump into.”

“Does it bother you how easily you have slipped into ritual cannibalism?”

“Fid, there are so many things about my current existence that bother me that I've lost count. I have a big box labeled, 'Worry about these later' that will no doubt drive me crazy some day.”

“As opposed to your current mental state.”

“As opposed to my current highly functional but peculiar and lonely condition, yes. But I think I have a long term solution to the loneliness worked out.”

“Oh?”

“You, silly Fiddler.”

“Oh. Right. Me.”

“At any rate, I am going bid you good night, and spend a little time enjoying the view of the city and the sea by starlight, and then I will try to get some sleep.”

“As her Grace wishes.”

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