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Fiddler's Rose – Thirteen – Skytower

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Thirteen – Skytower (updated 6/10/2018)

>>>Scene One: Darkness

“Back on 'Revenant', Rose?”

“Yep. Back on the water, and an hour or two out of Skytower harbor. I'll make port in the morning, and then on to the next adventure.”

“How is this different from Silverport?”

“I need to find a job and long term housing, so that I can find a teacher and do the magical study I need. Skytower is the best place to study magic on Hurricane Bay, and the only place I am likely to find a teacher in advanced Thaumatology.”

“So more delays.”

“I am coming for you as fast as I can. In a chariot driven by snails.”

“I am certainly getting that impression.”

“I would say that I am in a hurry to get on with my life, but... I don't really know what my life will be once I've rescued you. I suspect that my horizon will be a lot bigger than it was by that time.”

“But in the meantime...”

“In the meantime, you have been down there for nearly six years, and I have been chasing you for nearly two, and the delays are making us both crazy. I know it too well.. In other news... How is my grandfather?”

“Maelstrom? He just is, mostly. Shows up every couple of days, humiliates me in a charming and patient fashion, and then goes away.”

“Have you ever had a conversation with him?”

“Other than telling him about your exploits? Not really.”

“He must have some amazing stories.”

“He might. On the other hand, he spends most of his time in a half-dream state, wandering through the ocean and eating fish by the ton.”

“And you're not curious?”

“OF COURSE I'm curious. But also terrified, remember?”

“Tell him I asked. That might get him talking.”

“It just might at that. Where is this newfound wisdom coming from?”

“Damned if I know. Might be the company I keep.”

“Since that has been mostly me, lately, I suspect that that is not correct.”

“You have, as I have said, hidden depths.”

“Nothing is hidden from you.”

“Are you being sweet?”

“Maybe.”

“I'll let it stand, this time. I could use some sweetness, lately.”

“I exist to serve.”

“No, you usually exist to irritate. But I'm fond of you.”

“I am content.”

“Does your contentment leave room for music?”

“There's always room for music.”

“Then live up to your name.”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“Brat.”


>>>Scene Two: Darkness

“I take it you've found a bed, Rose.”

“Yep. It's been a good day. 'Revenant' is up on trestles and under a roof, and I have a clean room with a comfortable bed, a good lock, and easy access to the roof for Wings. Tomorrow I start looking for a teacher and a job, preferably as a two-in-one.”

“Is that likely?”

“High level sorcerers often have jobs that they would love to fob off on mid-level sorcerers who will work for a bit of training. I just need to find one that I get along with. I've had two good teachers, so far, so I am hopeful.”

“Unless your luck has run out.”

“There is that. But it's a big city, so there are plenty of chances to roll the dice again.”

“What about the dragon-folk?”

“I will investigate them as I have time. I suspect that if I wander the edges of their enclave as Sister Dragon, no human will notice me, but the dragon-folk will. Which might get me a conversation, or might get me attacked as an abomination. I would prefer to know which in advance.”

“Do I detect caution? Are you sure you're really my Rose?”

“Reasonable caution, Fid. And I always do, and you know it. I think I need to find the local kobold slum, and start asking questions there.”

“Kobolds don't get an enclave, just a slum?”

“The kobold enclave is guaranteed to be a slum; they're KOBOLDS.”

“Oh.”

“And the nice thing about kobolds is that, even if they regard Sister Dragon as an abomination, they can be counted on to run away rather than attack, so they're safe to approach.”

“Wow. You really are being cautions.”

“I'm in a big city where my best living friends are an inkeeper and a few wharf rats, all of whom I met yesterday. Carelessness is suicidal. It's just... I'm lonely, Fid. And I know I have no right to complain to YOU about loneliness, but, well, there's no one else, and that's part of the problem. I want to be held, I want to have sex, I want... I don't know, some warmth, maybe,”

“I know, Rose. I can feel it. And I could and would deal with all of that myself, except...”

“Yeah, I know. Five hundred miles and two thousand fathoms. I'll be all right, Fid, and I know you are there, and I know how much you care, and... I worry about becoming reckless”

“That's reasonable. Knowledge is armor.”

“Yeah, it is, isn't it? If Master Fiddler would do me the honor of playing... I don't know. Something that will make me feel better.”

“I will do my best.”


>>>Scene Three: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. How went the search today?”

“I found the kobolds.”

“There is something fundamentally not exciting about kobolds.”

“I admit that. At least the ones with no wings. But in this case it turns out that they pretty much define the slum at the edge of the dragon-folk enclave, so I should be able to make some inroads there.”

“Remind me again why you are so fascinated by the dragon-folk.”

“Because they might just be willing to accept Sister Dragon as she is, and then I just might find a place to live where I more or less fit in, and don't have to hide my true form all the time.”

“You could always bully the kobolds into sheltering you.”

“One, not fond of bullying my way into anywhere, and two, the queen of the kobolds is still a kobold. I just spent three months on a small boat. I would like my standard of living to improve, not degrade.”

“Ah.”

“On the other hand, the queen of the kobolds has next to no living expenses, and that might not be a bad deal. We'll just have to see. Is there any news on your end?”

“I visited Auntie Moss.”

“Brave boy. Why?”

“I asked her if she knew anything about the history of the Skytower.”

“And she said?”

“That she knew nothing sure enough to repeat, and then she asked about you.”

“And you told her?”

“Everything I could think of. She seemed pleased, I think. She's hard to read.”

“I had noticed that.”

“So what now?”

“Now, you play me a lullaby, and I get a good night's sleep, and tomorrow I infiltrate the kobold community.”

“As her Grace wishes.”

“No words of caution?”

“They're kobolds.”

“There is that.”



>>>Scene Four: Darkness

“Rose... You are drunk and in an uncomfortable bed. Are you all right?”

“I'm fine. More or less. There is a hangover hunting for me, and, well, you're right; the sleeping conditions are awful. But I'm a Duchess, again.”

“I think you need to start from the beginning.”

“I approached the kobold enclave wearing Sister Kobold, with a couple of bottles of cheap brandy in a shoulder bag. When challenged, I said I had come down from Losthaven, which eventually led me to a couple of kobs who had REALLY come down from Losthaven.”

“This could be colorful...”

“It got really colorful when one of them noticed the croc teeth around my neck, and asked me about them. I said I had won them in a duel, and then she-- the kob from Losthaven-- started talking about a human called Duchess Red who had actually beaten a crocodilian in a duel, and had a set of croc teeth from it. And then someone decided that I must be wearing THOSE teeth, and that I must have stolen them from Duchess Red, and that she was a friend to kobolds, and that I should be punished.”

“REALLY colorful.”

“So I shifted to Sister Dragon and bellowed that I WAS Duchess Red, and that I could prove it, and shifted to Emma, and waited for the insanity to subside.”

“And no one stabbed you?”

“Not that I noticed.”

“And then?”

“And then I reached into my bag and pulled out a bottle of brandy and suggested that we should all be friends.”

“And they went for that?”

“Given a choice between fighting someone who outweighed them each by more than three to one, and had appropriate teeth and claws, and DEMONSTRATED magic, against a shot of brandy? They're kobolds. What do you think?”

“So it turned into a party.”

“It turned into a party. Tomorrow, I should be able to have an intelligent conversation with their elders, such as they are. If the hangover I am sure to have doesn't kill me.”

“Next time buy better brandy.”

“My brandy was good enough. It was the stuff that the kobs brought out after my brandy was gone that may kill me.”

“You drank kob liquor.”

“AFTER the brandy. My judgment may not have been great.”

“I think my fiddles need tuning.”

“You wouldn't dare.”

“No?”

“You are the sweetest and most wonderful person in the history of the world, and the very best friend I have ever had, and I will give you anything you ask for if you will only PLEASE not tune the Ogre at me.”

“Marker.”

“What?”

“I'll remind you when the time comes. In the meantime, I will play the most soothing melody I know. Softly.”

“You really are a pretty wonderful person. Some of the time.”

“Perhaps. Sleep.”


>>>Scene Five: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. I take it you survived the morning?”

“It was a near thing, but yes. And I think the end result was worthwhile.”

“Rare, for hangovers.”

“Definitely. But after I woke up, I had a talk with the kob elders about the dragon-folk. Well, about of lot of things, but that was the one I cared about most. I got some opinions, and some names. Then I came back here and wrote a letter, and then Emma delivered the letter to the dragon-folk, and then I came back here, took a second dose of the hair of the dog, and then went to bed.”

“A short, but good day, then.”

“Exactly. How was your day?”

“Exciting! I have learned how to remove myself from the consciousness of the entire world.”

“Really? How?”

“Fall overboard in 2000 fathoms of water.”

“Cheap.”

“All I had.”

“You are not forgotten. And you know it.”

“I fear that it is all too easy to forget.”

“Fid... Do you have any idea how much time and effort it is going to take me to pay you back for what your music has done for me?”

“I could try to do a calculation. I certainly look forward to collecting the debt.”

“And I look forward to paying it. In the meantime, would you be willing to extend me a bit more credit?”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Six: Darkness

“You seem happy tonight, Rose.”

“I am. It was a good day.”

“I wait eagerly.”

“There was an answer to my letter waiting for me this morning. It seems that I had no need to worry about my reception among the dragon-folk. They seem to practice some kind of dragon-worship, and anyone who is closer to being a dragon than they are is accorded reverence.”

“Accorded?”

“Provisional reverence. If you turn out to be parasitic or evil, you still end up out on your ear, or perhaps at the bottom of the harbor.”

“Ah.”

“So I went down to their enclave as Emma, snd then shifted to Sister Dragon, and they welcomed me with open arms. They seemed to like me, and they liked my stories about Maelstrom, I aksed about renting a room, and got several offers of adoption, and a few proposals of marriage, including, I think, one for a simultaneous marriage from a pair of brothers.”

“And you said?”

“Provisional “No” to all of the adoptions, and a much firmer “No” to the proposals.”

“But not, apparently, an unconditional “No” to those, either.”

“I don't know the customs well enough. An honest answer would be, “No, but I wouldn't rule out occasional horizontal entertainment,” but I don't know if that is a possibility in their culture, and would prefer to find out, first.”

“But you're tempted.”

“Not really. My libido is still human. But loneliness and friendship can break down a lot of barriers, and I am a long way from home.”

“You have a home?”

“Of course I do, silly Fiddler. It's about 500 miles northwest of here, and about 2000 fathoms straight down.”

“I hear that it's an unpleasant neighborhood.”

“I'm planning to relocate as soon as I can get back there and pick up a few personal items that no one else wants.”

“Then why bother?”

“Sentiment makes the worthless precious. Game suspended. Stop fishing for compliments and live up to your name.”

“As her Grace wishes.”


>>>Scene Seven: Darkness

“You've relocated.”

“I have. I've rented a room from the eager bothers, as it happens.”

“And you're sure you haven't actually married them by mistake?”

“Fairly sure. I've made it clear that I am not settling in Skytower permanently, in any case. And they are really too much in awe of me to try to collect on any spousal duties. It's kind of sweet.”

“That kind of thinking leads to world domination.”

“Or at least failed attempts at it. But it will be fine. The brothers are doomed to low status until one of them dies, but they are intelligent and hard working, so they are fairly affluent, have a big house, and can afford to rent a room cheaply.”

“Until one of them dies?”

“They hatched from the same egg, which is rare, and not well regarded. They are legally the same person.”

“Which is why they proposed a joint marriage?”

“Exactly. The traditional resolution is for one to kill the other in a duel, but they don't want to take that route, so they're trapped in a barely adult status.”

“And your presence changes that?”

“Not really, but it gives them some reflected glory, or something. And they're charming, and we may end up being good friends.”

“I'm jealous already.”

“Don't be that way.”

“I'm... Teasing, sort of. When you are lonely, I can feel it, and my situation is worse. But when you have friends, I wish I were there, and a part of me worries about losing you.”

“NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. For one thing, you have too many of my markers, and I pay my debts.”

“That... is possibly the most wonderful thing anyone has ever said to me.”

“Silly Fiddler. In the meantime, I offer another marker for a lullaby.”

“Done.”


>>>Scene Eight: Darkness

“You're excited tonight, Rose.”

“A bit.”

“And the reason?”

“I spent most of the day with the dragon-folk's community sorcerer. He's a Third Circle named Dlef.”

“So back to apprentice status?”

“No, he treats me as an equal, and can't seem to wait to start trading spells.”

“That sounds good. But I doubt that's all.”

“He gave me a spell to learn, and as soon as I had it down, we went on a walk through the city.”

“What did I miss?”

“The spell was a personal illusion. It takes less than half of the energy of my shape shift, and can be cast on top of itself, or on top of the shape shift. I'm free, Fid. As long as I don't run out of energy, I can wear Emma's face all day long without attracting any attention.”

“As long as no one steps on your tail.”

“Spoilsport.”

“I exist to serve.”

“Do you know how long it has been since I have had a chance to go for a walk through a city with someone who lived there and just see the sights?”

“I'm guessing that would be, “Never”.

“You would be right. It was a lot of fun.”

“Can Dlef teach you what you are here to learn?”

“Well...”

“That would be no.”

“That would be no. But it all adds up, and he is willling, and I would be a fool to not accept his generosity.”

“What's in it for him?”

“Companionship, prestige, and some small measure of religious ecstasy that I hope will wear off soon.”

“Are you still moving forward?”

“Always, silly Fiddler. This just gives me to something to do while I am looking for the teacher I NEED.”

“If you say so.”

“Don't be that way, Fid. I'm allowed to be happy, sometimes. I have been hurting ever since I lost my face, back in Landfall, and now I'm surrounded by people who don't think I'm a freak, or a monster. THEY think I'm beautiful. I still don't, but they do, and it's WONDERFUL. And you should be happy for me, even if you can't feel it.”

“Again, if you say so.”

“Good gods. That's why you've been so needy lately. I've been telling myself that I've been running on nothing but determination for months, but I've been leaning on you the whole time, and you don't have any reserves, either.”

“No, it's... Maybe.”

“So maybe we should both relax, and see if letting my emotional wounds heal a bit might heal yours, too.”

“Are you telling me to be patient?”

“Yes.”

“I'm really bad at patient.”

“I know.”

“Really, REALLY bad.”

“Yes. But we have each other, and we can and WILL get through this.”

“If you say so.”

“I do. And I'm smarter than you. So play something that makes YOU happy, and I will fade away for the night.”

“Yes, your Grace.”


>>>Scene Nine: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. How is life in Dragonland?”

“Pleasant. Strange. Kind of cozy.”

“How strange?”

“Well.... No. We'll get back to that. First, I have a lead on finding the teacher I need. It seems that THE broker for magic items in Skytower is a fellow named Cinnabar. Which means he knows his way around the magical community, and if I can get him to talk to me, he can almost certainly connect me with my teacher.”

“That's really good news.”

“IF I can get him talking to me. But it's really only a matter of time, and probably not that much. If he wasn't social, he couldn't do his job.”

“And so, back to 'strange'.”

“I live with two males, and deal with a third daily, and they all flirt constantly. It's flattering, and it's really good to be wanted, but... They honestly think I'm beautiful, and I still think, in the pit of my stomach, that I'm a monster. And my libido is still human.”

“So you are suffering from an embarrassment of riches.”

“Sort of. There are other issues. Dlef is really sweet, but three times my age, and kind of inept, socially. So he would be a really long shot if we were all human.”

“And the twins?”

“Turo and Ollie are utterly a package deal. They're best friends, and just GOOD people, but there is this subtle, continuous competition between them. It's probably inevitable when society expects them to kill one another. So I have become one more thing for them to fight over, and I will NOT declare a winner.”

“So there is no real possibility there.”

“Not unless I can figure out a way to have sex with each of them without either of them knowing who was first.”

“That sounds impossible.”

“Pretty much...Gods. I hate my brain, sometimes.”

“You just figured it out, didn't you?”

“Yes. Damn it.”

“So tell.”

“Put them both to sleep magically, bathe, sex with one, more magical sleep, bathe again, sex with the other, more magical sleep, morning.”

“That sounds like it would work.”

“I know.”

“Having sex with people just to validate your planning skills is...”

“Morally questionable.”

“At least.”

“And my libido is really still human.”

“So you say.”

“But at least I have a plan if it becomes relevant.”

“That you do.”

“I miss you, Fid.”

“Not nearly as much as I miss you. I don't suffer from an embarrassment of riches.”

“I know. I'm complaining about bland food to a person who is starving”

“Yes, but don't worry about it. I am, as ever, more or less indestructible, and YOU are the one who has to keep moving forward.”

“Sweet AND reasonable. Is something wrong with you?”

“Hardly. When you aren't around, I am also quietly practicing my hatred for your inevitable next sexual partner.”

“Ah. That's the Fiddler I know. Music? Fiddler's choice?”

“It's ALWAYS 'Fiddler's choice', your Grace. It's just that I have never yet chosen to refuse.”


>>>Scene Ten: Darkness

“Is something wrong, Rose?”

“No. Yes. Maybe... I'm confused.”

“Thank you for admitting that. Why don't you tell me a story?”

“I met Cinnabar.”

“Good, I think.”

“He's my red-haired cousin from Losthaven, five years ago.”

“HIM?”

“Yes.”

“The dragon semen donor?”

“Yes.”

“That's...interesting.”

“He didn't remember me.”

“Not surprising, really.”

“But I had sex with him anyway.”

“I did not expect that.”

“I never lost Emma's face.”

“Ah. That explains...”

“And THEN he recognized the tattoo.”

“Ah.”

“And then I told him what I have been up to for the last five years, without ever saying WHY...”

“That was a wise omission...”

“And then I introduced him to Sister Dragon.”

“Did you, by any chance, eat him?”

“What? No!”

“Ah, well. One looks for happy endings where one can.”

“He says he can coach me on the Thaumatology I want, and get me access to the Great Library. AND he wants to take me on as an assitant in his magic brokerage business.”

“That seems sudden.”

“I told him I would think about it.”

“That was a good choice.”

“I don't know what happened, Fid.”

“That seemed like a succinct narrative.”

“I mean, I don't know what the game is, or where I am in it. I know that Nab...”

“Nab?”

“Cinnabar.”

“Oh.”

“I know that he is... ethically sloppy. He is, and was, a Third Circle sorcerer, and he rolled an eighteen year old girl into bed on a whim, and then disappeared. I doubt he used any magic; a Third Circle doesn't NEED magic to make someone with no training do something they might have done anyway.. But he definitely didn't make any effort to protect me.”

“Sounds like a unicorn, so far.”

“And I am ALMOST certain that he used no magic on me this evening, just charm and lots of practice, and the fact that I NEED his help.”

“Again, ethically sloppy.”

“Right. And I am even more nearly certain that if he DID use magic on me, I would have been aware of it when the spell wore off.”

“But still not absolutely sure.”

“Still not absolutely sure.”

“So you are wandering through a swamp blind-folded.”

“Yes.”

“And you need his help, specifically.”

“Yes.”

“And there is no way I can convince you to back away and find another path.”

“You might, if you had another path to offer.”

“So you are going to proceed with small steps, and all possible caution.”

“That or stand still.”

“And there is no chance of that.”

“No, not really.”

“Then we go forward.”

“We do. Pay attention, Fid. If I seem to be behaving oddly, call me on it.”

“Is that likely?”

“I don't know. He's stronger than I am, and I am not absolutely sure of my defenses or his intentions, and we need to be vigilant.”

“I shall be so.”

“Good. In the meantime... Play something that will make us both happy.”

“I will do my best.”

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