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Fiddler's Rose - Seventeen - The Lake

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Seventeen - The Lake (Updated 6/15/2018)

>>>Scene One: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. How was your day of rest?”

“Great.”

“And have we segued into a 'never seen again' story?”

“Not quite. Though Apple REALLY wants me to fall in love with her and stay here forever.”

“Is that likely?”

“Not staying forever. I'm leaving tomorrow morning as scheduled.”

“Good to know.”

“Though I did promise Apple that I would pay her a longer visit on my way back to Losthaven, and that someday I would bring you to visit her.”

“I can hardly object if I'm included.”

“No, you can't.”

“Did you happen to learn anything interesting along the way?”

“Several things. None that I'm inclined to talk about.”

“Spoilsport.”

“That's my line. And yes, if you insist.”

“You're no fun at all.”

“It depends on who you ask, I think. And the circumstances. And the day will come when I make you eat those words.”

“I'm counting on it.”

“In the meantime... Good night, my Scorpion.”

“Goodnight, my heart.”


>>>Scene Two: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. I see you escaped your dryad on schedule.”

“Mostly. I got a late start.”

“Did you.”

“But I spent four hours in the air, anyway. I think I am at the point where the river turns and runs due north for a while.”

“So you won't be getting too much farther away for a day or two.”

“I suppose not. Is that an issue?”

“It seems to be. You were really hard to find, tonight. You have been getting harder every night for a while, and then it was much easier when you were with Auntie Apple...”

“Cousin Apple. 'Auntie' just seems weird for her.”

“Of course it does. But you were bright and easy to locate when you were with... COUSIN... Apple, but tonight you are much dimmer than you were three nights ago..”

“I don't like the sound of that. I'm somewhat more than a thousand miles from you, now, and will be something like fifteen hundred miles out when I get to the sword.”

“You're already out of range of the fiddle.”

“Say what?”

“I've been playing, and you haven't heard, just now.”

“Damn, Fid. That hurts.”

“Get the sword and hurry back.”

“I will. You know I will. But... It's easier from inside a dryad's grove?”

“Apparently.”

“We''ll experiment with that, the next time I find one. I'm worried we'll lose contact altogether.”

“So am I.”

“At least you're not completely alone anymore. And if I do lose contact, I will come back as quickly as I can.”

“I know.”

“This is awful, Fid.”

“It is what it is. Get the damned sword and come back.”

“You know it.”

“Good night, my Heart.”

“Good night, my Scorpion.”


>>>Scene Three: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. How was your day?”

“I found the big lake, Fid. It's... amazing. It looks like the ocean, and it sounds like the ocean, and it smells like a frog pond.”

“A frog pond?”

“Not a trace of salt. Just... water. I'm at the extreme western end of the lake, now, and tomorrow I head northeast around the lake shore.”

“Farther away every day.”

“I know, Fid. But I will be back soon.”

“I'm counting on it.”

“Look for me in the morning, will you? If we are going to lose contact, I want to have you as fresh in my mind as I can.”

“Of course. When?”

“About an hour before what you think of as sunrise. I am far enough east that I get the sun that much earlier.”

“As her Grace wishes.”

“Really? I'm getting teary-eyed at the prospect of going a day without talking to you, and you are playing the 'Your Grace' game?”

“We deal with our pain as is our nature.”

“I guess I can't argue with that. Until the day, Fid.”

“Until the day, Rose. Until the day.”


>>>Scene Four: Lakeshore

“Good morning, Rose. Did you sleep well?”

“Good morning, Fid. And I did, thank you. This is so strange. I feel like I am saying goodbye to you, and yet for all we know, you will be right there tonight, just the way you always are.”

“I might be. But I might not.”

“But I will always come for you.”

“I know that, Rose.”

“Look for me every evening at the usual time.”

“I will, Rose.”

“And every morning, too.”

“I will see you, Rose, if you can be seen at all.”

“Sooner started, I guess...”

“I suppose.”

“Don't run off with any mermaids.”

“Run off? Never. I reserve the right to the occasional dalliance, however.”

“Of course you do. Until the day, my Scorpion.”

“Until the day, my Heart.”


>>>Scene Five: A meadow

“What manner of creature are you?” the minotaur asked.

“I'm not at all sure I should answer that,” Rose replied. “What are you doing in my dream?”

“What are you doing on my land?”

“Hmmm.” Rose said. “Would you agree to trading an answer for an answer?”

The minotaur thought for a moment. “We will try it. It might be amusing. I repeat, what manner of creature are you?”

“I was born human. I am told I am turning into a dragon. I seem to be somewhere in the middle. My turn: Why do you say this is your land?”

“Because I have claimed it, and I defend it against all who enter it. Which leads back to: What are you doing on it?”

“Passing through. What are you doing in my dream?”

“Interviewing a trespasser. Where are you bound?”

Rose smiled. “Somewhere east of my current location. What are your boundaries?”

The minotaur growled. “All land within a hard day's walk of my fortress is mine. Does your destination have a name?”

“No. Where is your fortress?”

The minotaur thought for a moment. “Between the fingers of the reaching arm. Is your destination a place, or something other?”

Rose smiled again. The minotaur had some cleverness; that made the game both more fun, and more dangerous. “I seek something other than a place. Why are you so hostile?”

“You are an invader, or a thief. Why should I think you are not?”

Rose thought about that for a moment. “I don't have a good answer for that one. Could you tell me what makes you think I am invader or a thief, and then I can try to answer the charges?”

“There is only one legitimate way to approach my fortress, and everyone knows it, and you are not on it.”

“Not everyone, apparently, because I didn't. What is the legitimate way?”

“How can you not know?”

“Because I have not spoken to anyone since I left the far west edge of the big lake, some time ago.”

“You have traveled more than two hundred miles without speaking to anyone? That is not possible.”

“I didn't travel on foot.”

“I allow no boats in my territory.”

“I am only passing through, and should be out of your lands to the east tomorrow.”

“See that you are.”

“I will do my best. But out of curiousity: What is the legitimate way to approach your fortress?”

“There is a road that runs due west out of my gates. You would find it if you traveled due north from where you are now.”

“I'll keep that in mind.” Rose felt something push against her magical defenses. “What was that?”

“You are a sorceress.”

“Perhaps. What did you try to do?”

The minotaur shrugged. “I wanted to see your human form, but you stopped me. I do not tolerate such things.”

“I don't think it's up to you.”

“This is MY place. I am a god here. If you will not do what I want, I will break your bones until you wish for death.”

“You can't do any damage that will carry over to the real world.”

“Damage? No, I can't. But pain carries over quite nicely. You will not be the first one I have broken.”

“You MIGHT be able to do that. I'm not sure. But there is one thing I can do, that most people can't, that you can't do anything about.”

“And what would that be?”

“I can leave.”


>>>Scene Six: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Rose?”

“I'm here, Fid.”

“It's been a very long three days.”

“Two and a half. But long, in any case.”

“Where are you?”

“In a dryad's grove on a small island in the bay with the sword, about a mile off the south side of the peninsula.”

“So you have the sword?”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

“And then you will head west again?”

“Oh, Fid... No, not right away. But I can talk to you from here, and I will head west as soon as I can. I have stumbled into something.”

“Is this about chasing the luck?”

“Maybe. Not particularly. There is a minotaur that has made the peninsula into his private kingdom, and I may need to bring him down.”

“I'm not fond of minotaurs, but that seems a bit much.”

“Aunt Cherry-- the local dryad-- says he's evil, and needs to be put down. She's doing the enigmatic dryad thing, and isn't willing to tell me the story directly; I have to find out the reasons on my own.”

“Why not just leave?”

“Because I've met the minotaur, and I am willing to believe that he might need to be put down.”

“You've MET him?”

“In dreamspace. He's... unpleasant. Also pushy. If you can find me, but can't contact me, it's because I'm sleeping with shields up.”

“Which is why I found you meditating tonight.”

“Yeah.”

“What makes you think he needs to die?”

“Besides being a bully with a lot of magic power? There are the tree girls, for starters.”

“Tree girls?”

“Over the years, several of the minotaur's concubines have managed to swim to Cherry's island. Others have drowned on the way. None of them are able to swim to the three miles to the far shore, and they are stuck here.”

“And Cherry turns them into trees?”

“Cherry has a stasis spell that turns them into humanoid trees, because that is the only way to protect them from being pulled into dreamspace by the minotaur and tortured every night.”

“That sounds fairly evil.”

“I thought so. Cherry is trying to work out a way for some of the tree girls to tell me their stories without getting tortured by the minotaur again. She says that I need to hear what they have to say.”

“Is there some rule that says dryads can't give straight answers?”

“Maybe... Fid, can you try to play something? To see if I can hear?”

“Of course... How was that?”

“Faint but beautiful.”

“Would her Grace like to hear a lullaby?”

“You can not imagine how much.”


>>>Scene Seven: An arena

“You are still in my territory,” said the minotaur.

“I liked the setting better yesterday,” Rose answered.

“Yesterday you were a stranger; today you are an enemy.”

“Why? You told me to leave your territory, and I did. I just didn't get any farther away.”

The minotaur growled. “You're with the witch.”

“I am a guest of Cherry the dryad, yes. But her island is not your territory, and you know it.”

The minotaur growled with more vehemence. “You have not left my claimed range.”

“Ah, well. You have me there. But you really don't have a right to ask that, do you?”

A two handed battle ax appeared in the minotaur's hand. “You are an enemy and I will destroy you.”

“You aren't very good at this, are you? You already know that you have no power over me, here, because I can leave before you react. So threatening me with an ax that only exists in dreamspace is just a bit pointless.”

“I. Will. Destroy. You.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. But if you want me to waste any more time talking to you, you need to be polite.”

The ax disappeared. The arena shifted back to the previous day's meadow. “Is this polite enough? I have given you something; let me see your human face.”

Rose overlaid herself with an illusion of the shape she called 'Emma'. “Is this better?”

“It is an illusion; you will not let me change your shape.”

“I won't let you do ANYTHING to me; I'm not stupid. And calling something an illusion when we are both inside a magical construct at the interface of your dreaming consciousness and mine is just a bit... odd.”

“You are wearing clothing.”

“And you aren't.. It seemed a reasonable choice.”

The minotaur growled again. “What do you WANT?”

“Something that isn't yours, which is not in your possession, and is outside your control.”

“Which is?”

“My business.”

“I will catch you when you leave the witch's island, and I will make you regret your insolence.”

“Probably not. You're not good at being polite, are you?”

“I am a king!” the minotaur bellowed.

“That explains the rudeness, then. Practice being polite. You can demonstrate what you've learned tomorrow.”


>>>Scene Eight: Cherry Dryad's grove

“I am Emerald Corrosion Flower Stonecrow, Dragon Marked, Twinbride, and by my blood and my will I call upon you to tell me your story.”

“What the hell was that?”

“You heard that? I was talking to the sword.”

“So you have the sword?”

“It would seem so.”

“And it's sound asleep.”

“Or deeply recalcitrant.”

“So story. Was it hard to find? What does it look like?”

“It's a broadsword, made of what seems to be dark gray bone. It's all one material, hilt, guard and all, looking kind of like a casting.”

“Shaped by magic. Probably dragon bone.”

“That was my guess. It's not sharp at all, more like a wooden practice sword.”

“Dragon bone swords only cut when the spirit of the sword wants them to. Kind of like unicorn daggers on that score.”

“Do tell.”

“It's really handy when the spirit of the blade wants to set the handler up for a really nasty cut.”

“THAT sounds like the voice of experience.”

“Maybe. Not saying.”

“Belkith Nor.”

“Fine, yes, but that was only part of it. It's pretty much impossible to sucker someone into striking a fatal blow against himself, no matter how sharp the blade is.”

“Granted.”

“So why am I hearing you do this?”

“Because the best way I could think of to summon the spirit of the sword was also the method I use to make my conscious mind available to a certain pushy unicorn.”

“Ah.”

“A state which I am hoping still appears as 'conscious' to a certain obnoxious minotaur.”

“We can hope. So... More story.”

“The end of the peninsula is pretty square, and about a mile wide; there is an occupied watch tower at each of the corners.”

“A watchtower?”

“The minotaur has a wall across the western end of the peninsula, water to water, with a watchtower at either end, and a gatehouse in the middle. He has about a dozen other watchtowers around the edges of the peninsula, including the two at the end. There seems to always be an archer on top of each of them.”

“And they haven't seen you?”

“They've done their best to ventilate me, but they aren't used to shooting at things overhead. By the time their arrows get to me, they are moving at half speed. I stay high and don't get too close.”

“I would tell you to be careful, but you would just laugh.”

“I AM being careful. Necessary risks, remember?”

“Trying to forget, actually. But back to finding the sword...”

“I have a spell that will show me every sword within a thousand feet, but I can't maintain it and an alternate shape at the same time. So I had to choose between being Sister Shark, and flashing the locator spell several times, or being Sister Dragon, and holding the locator spell while I swam along the shore. Dragon doesn't swim as well as Croc or Shark, and can't breathe water like Shark or hold her breath nearly as long as Croc, but, well, she does all right. “

“So you shifted back to Dragon and held the locator spell.”

“Right. I hit the water a little bit northwest of the northern tower, which is a bit farther into the bay, shifted to Dragon, activated the spell, and started swimming. I found the sword right away, but it was in a pretty deep hole. I tried to get to it as Dragon a couple of times, then gave up and shifted to Shark, swam to the bottom, and flashed the locator spell. Twice.”

“And got the sword.”

“It was NOT easy. It turns out Sister Shark likes breathing fresh water less than she likes breathing air. It feels like breathing smoke, and gives me these weird underwater quasi-coughs that HURT. So to cast the locator spell I had to exhale completely, calm myself as much as possible, and then cast the spell and find the sword. All while holding onto Sister Shark REALLY tightly, because a forced transformation to Dragon that deep might have killed me.”

“Why do you tell me things like that?”

“Because you want to know.”

“Not really. I mean, I want the information, but I would be happier with the near death parts scrubbed out.”

“No you wouldn't.”

“Yes... No, you're right. But warn me first.”

“I'll try. Would Master Fiddler be willing to play me a Fiddler's Choice while I wait for this sword to show some sign of life?”

“He would, and he will.”


>>>Scene Nine: An arena

“You are STILL in my territory!” the minotaur bellowed.

“Are we back to this again?” Rose answered. “Stupid unpleasant background, stupid unpleasant minotaur, and no hope of improvement. You get ONE chance to make things better before I raise my shields and get a good night's sleep.”

The minotaur growled, but the area melted into a meadow. “What is it that you WANT?”

“Still none of your business. Though I would be happier if you put some clothes on.”

“Show me your human form again, and I will.”

“Done. Why do you care?”

“You are beautiful.”

“No I'm not. Though I imagine that you find this form more interesting than the dragon girl.”

“I do. Why do you care if I wear clothes?”

“Because, in order to tolerate your presence, I have to distract myself from knowing that you are, at base, a rape machine. It's easier to believe the lie when you are not naked.”

“My concubines love me!”

“Do they? Even the ones who drown trying to get to Cherry's island, when they don't know how to swim?”

“The witch ensorcels them and draws them to their doom.”

“Sorry, that won't play with me. I know too many dryads.”

“My concubines are happy here!”

“And that is why your kingdom has thirty miles of border, and 29 of those miles are water, and yet there is not a single boat in your kingdom, and your girls are never taught to swim.”

“The water is dangerous. They are protected on the shore.”

“And behind the wall? The one that blocks that last mile of border that isn't water?”

“The world must be kept out.”

“And the girls must be kept in.”

“They. Love. Me.”

“Prove it.”

“Stop hiding behind the witch, and camp on the peninsula that separates my bay from the lake. I will send a squad of my daughters to hunt you down and bring you to me.”

“Did you say 'daughters'?”

“What of it? Yes, my concubines are also my daughters, and my granddaughters, and my great-granddaughters. I am the only male ancestor most of them have had for more than a dozen generations. It is the way of my kingdom.”

“Well, THAT is a three-headed chicken.”

“What?”

“A truly strange and remarkable thing.”

“What is?”

“The way of your kingdom.”

“Your opinion does not matter.”

“It might not. It might matter very much. We'll have to see. In the meantime... SOME of your concubines occasionally try to escape, right? They risk death by swimming to the island. Don't they ever just go over the wall and head west?”

"No."

"Never?"

"Never."

"But some of them are willing to risk death by swimming to Cherry's island."

"Those who have displeased me are exiled to the small southern peninsula. My displeasure sometimes leads them to risk the water."

"Really. And how do you express your displeasure?"

"As long as they do their assigned work, I ignore them completely."

"And THAT drives them to risk death?"

"I told you, they love me. All of them."

"And being ignored by you drives them to risk death in escaping."

"Yes."

“You know, I was told that you were really easy to hate.”

“By the witch?”

“Perhaps. Whoever it was, they were right.”

“I will break you.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. But neither tonight.”


>>>Scene Ten: Cherry Dryad's grove

“I am Emerald Corrosion Flower Stonecrow, Dragon Marked, Twinbride, and by my blood and my will I call upon you to tell me your story... Look, I know that you are in there, to some extent, because there is still magic in the blade, and if you were gone, the blade would be dead. I have reason to believe that you were on the bottom of the lake as a kind of suicide attempt, which had no real hope of succeeding. I want to know your story; I want to know why you and your three friends did what you did. So I am going to continue doing the 'blood and will' thing twice a day, every day, until either you talk to me, or I get fed up with having baby cuts on my forearms, and believe me, THAT is going to take a long time. But I promise you that if you tell me your story, and if I can't change your mind about killing yourself, I will put you back into the lake, only this time it will be so far from shore that no one will ever find you again. So I have things to do this morning, and I am just going to leave you to think about that, and we will try again this evening... Oh, and after you cut through all of the formal titles, my friends call me Rose, and I would really like to be your friend. So think about it.”

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