Uncle Hyena (unclehyena) wrote,
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Fiddler's Rose - Twenty - Amaranth

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Twenty - Amaranth (Updated 6/30/2018)

>>>Scene One: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Good morning, Winter. Another busy day in front of me, leaning against a tree that used to be a person, but I wanted to check in with you, because I said I would, and I wanted to thank you again for trusting us with your story... And I wanted to tell you that, if you choose to trust me with responsibility for yourself and your sisters, I will accept.”

“I was certain that you would, Rose.”

“Certain? Why?”

“Because you see the need, and are the only person available, and that is who you are.”

“I didn't think it was that obvious. Fiddler says that it is a good thing that I hate responsibility, because I have no ability at all to escape it once I have it.”

“Fiddler is wiser than he pretends to be.”

“I'll pretend you didn't say that, but you're right.”

“Your conversations with Fiddler make me miss my sisters even more, though our conversations never sounded like that.”

“We are, as you have said, very strange. But I'm SO grateful for his friendship.”

“That is very plain.”

“And on that note... Good day, Winter. Until this evening, I imagine.”

“”Enjoy your day, Rose.”


>>>Scene Two: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Good morning, Amaranth. I don't know if you are listening, and if you are, if you are able to respond, so I am going to yammer at you for a bit, and hope that you are willing and able to respond. My name is... My friends call me Rose, and I would like to be your friend, I think. If you really need the whole name, which is getting loaded down with titles, I guess it is Emerald Corrosion Flower Stonecrow, Dragon-marked, Twinbride. But that's kind of an overload, so Rose will do just fine.”

“I hear you, Rose.”

“So we have a link. That's good. Thank you for speaking to me.”

“I think you have gone to some trouble for the privilege; it would seem rude to refuse.”

“Did Cherry tell you why I wanted to talk to you?”

“The enchantress said that you had questions about my Master.”

“He is still your Master even though you had to become a tree to escape him?”

“He will always be my Master.”

“Would you be willing to just tell me your story? From your first memories, until the time you came here and were transformed?”

“I will. You are thinking about killing him, are you not?”

“I... Yes, I am. I have not decided. I was going to lie to you, but I can't. You would know. And I can feel that you still love him, and are loyal to him. That's... This is an INTERESTING bond we have. Kind of frightening.”

“I will tell you my story. I still love my Master, but I understand that he may need to die. At least, I understand partially. There is much sadness.”

“That's... Thank you. Please begin.”

“I am Amaranth Five Second, the seventh child of my mother, Amaranth Four. My older sister Amaranth Five First died of a mishap when she was young, and I was the next of my mother's children to be born, so I was allowed to become the next Amaranth.”

“Allowed?”

“Each daughter of the Master is allowed to have only one living child, but if the child dies young, a second is allowed to grow up.”

“What happens... We'll get to that. Do 'Firsts' die often?”

“Is one in twenty often? I think that it happens that way. I only know of one Third, among all of the Sisters.”

“I see. Please continue.”

“I was raised with the other children; we were all raised together in the Master's fortress. I have a few memories of living in the nursery when I was very young, but I spent most of my childhood living in the Children's Barracks. We were taught to take care of ourselves, how to work the fields, how to prepare food, how to make clothing, how to use the sword and spear and bow. We knew that we were blessed to be the daughters of the Master, and to be destined to become his brides.”

“You were happy?”

“Yes. How could we not be?”

“You never wondered about the world outside the peninsula?”

“No. Some of the older Sisters went out to patrol the boundaries, but the outside world was frightening, and the community was safe. Everything we needed was here.”

“And when did you leave the Children's Barracks?”

“On the fifteenth anniversary of my birth. The Master had started to visit my dreams as soon as I began to bleed. He told me that he loved me, and how lucky I would be to become his bride, and bear his children, and he taught me about sex, so that when the time came for me to have sex with him in the real world, I would enjoy it and not be afraid.”

“And that-- sex in the real world-- happened on your fifteenth birthday.”

“Yes.”

“And how soon did you become pregnant?”

“Right away. He visited me for three nights, and then he said that I was with child, and I went off to my duties as an adult.”

“So you were pregnant first, before you ever went out to an adult barracks?”

“Yes.”

“And almost all of the adults around you were pregnant, too?”

“Yes.”

“And you still got all of the farming done, and managed to patrol the wall, and staff the towers...”

“Yes. Most of us were at least three-quarters minotaur, so we were all strong and healthy, and everyone knew when they had become pregnant, and when their child was due, so everyone knew how much and what kind of work everyone was capable of. Everything gets done on schedule, and a new child is born every day.”

“Every day. And how many of those ended up in the Children's Barracks?”

“About one a month.”

“Right. Did you have any brothers?”

“Yes, there were always a few boys around. They trained with us, and if one of them challenged the Master, all of the girls who were at least nine years old, and all of the adults who were not on watch duty, would come to see the fight.”

“Which the Master always won.”

“Of course. He is the Master.”

“Of course. Please continue. What was life like once you were an adult?”

“I wasn't an adult, yet, at that point. You are really not considered an adult until your child is born, and is old enough to move out of the nursery and into the Children's Barracks. Most of the time before your first child is born is spent learning things that can't be taught well in a class room. And then your child is born, and for three years your life is centered around the nursery, and your daughter.”

“But you still have another child every year.”

“Of course.”

“And once your child is in the Children's Barracks?”

“Then you are really an adult, and become part of the regular duty rotation.”

“For the rest of your life?”

“No, when you daughter has HER daughter, your status changes. You are allowed to specialize in a specific task, if you wish.”

“But you keep having another child every year.”

“If you can. I only bore two more children after my grand-daughter was born.”

“Was your own mother still alive then? Were you in contact with her?”

“Yes, she was alive to see her great-grand-daughter born, though she had already stopped producing babies by then. She had thirty-four in all; she was fifty-five when Amaranth Seven was born, which was old, because I was a Second.”

“She had stopped producing babies, but was not exiled?”

“No, women who produce at least twenty-five children are immune to exile.”

“But not you.”

“No, I only produced seventeen.”

“What happened then?”

“The Master came to my bed every night for ninety days before he exiled me, and I was re-assigned to the South Tower, and the Master stopped visiting my dreams.”

“And how long were you there before you decided to swim to the island?”

“Almost a year.”

“And what made you decide to go?”

“I just became more unhappy every day, and I finally decided that I had to try. I wanted to be DEAD, I wanted the loneliness to end, and I thought that maybe the Enchantress could help me, but maybe I would die in the attempt, and I would not mind dying.”

“There are easier ways to kill yourself.”

“I would not kill myself. That is cowardly, and a betrayal of the Sisterhood, and of the Master. But I wanted to be dead, and did not mind taking bad risks.”

“But you lived anyway.”

“If I had not done my best, that would have been a suicide. So I DID do my best, and I lived.”

“And then what happened?”

“The Enchantress was good to me, and gave me food, and gave me something that she said would help me to sleep dreamlessly for my first night.”

“But only one night?”

“She said that I was allowed one day to settle in, and that the potion would kill me if taken repeatedly.”

“And what happened on the second night?”

“The Master came to me in my dreams, and he hurt me.”

“How did he hurt you?”

“How many ways are there? He kicked me and punched me and stomped on me and stabbed me and set fire to me and broke my bones and cut bits off of me...”

“He is the god of his own dreamspace.”

“And every time I thought that there simply wasn't enough left of me to hurt any more, he healed me and started in again.”

“Did he ever say why?”

“I had betrayed him a second time. First by being infertile, and second by leaving my duties..”

“Did you try to fight back?”

“No. He was my Master. His judgments are always just.”

“Of course they are. How long did you put up with that before you decided to become a tree girl?”

“Only one night. The Enchantress came to me in the morning, and told me that it was possible to escape from the Master's wrath, and I said I would do it.”

“I am very sorry to make you relive that, Amaranth. One more question, or series of questions, and I will leave you alone.”

“You are my sister, Rose. I do not understand all of your feelings, but I experience them.”

“And I yours, Amaranth. I think that Aunt Cherry may have an evil streak for that. But my question... You bore... seventeen children, all told?”

“Yes.”

“And you raised one daughter, Amaranth Six?”

“Yes.”

“What became of the other sixteen?”

“They were given to the Master.”

“And what did he do with them?”

“He ate them, of course. One every day, sometimes two. How else would he live?”

“That's...”

“What's wrong, Rose? Why does that upset you? Is it not the way of things?”

“We come from very different worlds, Amaranth. It's... Let's just get through this. Did he eat them raw, as soon as they were born?”

“No, they were usually about ten days old. Babies do not come on a schedule, so he allowed a buffer, to make sure that he always had at least one every day. And he did not eat them raw, he had them prepared in every way you can imagine. Working in the kitchen was a favorite task of the women who had stopped bearing children, and had retired in honor.”

“I think that is all the questions I have for now, Amaranth. Thank you very much for your help.”

“You are my sister, Rose. Please visit me again. I am lonely.”


>>>Scene Three: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Good evening, Winter. I have had a very, very bad day, and I really need to talk about it, but I am NOT going to tell this story more than once. But if you have anything to say, I would love to hear it.”

“My world is very dark and simple, Rose. I have no news, but I can tell that you are... upset. Unhappy. RATTLED.”

“Rattled is a good word. Also shaken. Also pretty much shredded. I have never, in my entire life, wanted to be held as much as I do at this moment, and my best friend is something like 1500 miles away and is a DAGGER, and the only friend I have in reach is a SWORD and I kind of hate my life and the vast majority of people and things in it and... And I am going to sit here with a sword in my lap and just generally ache for awhile until Fiddler comes looking for me, and I would be really grateful if you would just be there and be my friend in the meantime.”

“You have my friendship, Rose. I deeply regret that I am currently limited to a form which is incapable of a hug.”

“Thank you, Winter. That helps.”

“I do have a volitional edge, Rose.”

“Say what?”

“If you choose to hug the sword, I can guarantee that it will not, under any circumstances, cut you.”

“Aw, damn, Winter, now I'm crying.”

“I think that is probably for the best, Rose.”


>>>Scene Four: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Good evening, Rose. What did I miss this time?”

“Winter bought a piece of my soul that I didn't know was for sale. Other than that, it's been awful.”

“Amaranth?”

“Yes. Cherry was absolutely right. He needs to die.”

“That's a leap.”

“The women... His daughter-concubines, the Sisters, are completely besotted with him. They love him, they worship him, they think he can do no wrong. They have completely bought in to his weird little pocket society.”

“And that carries a death sentence?”

“A couple of days ago, Horns mentioned that every one of his concubines is expected to bear a child each and every year, about 400 children a year on the average. About a dozen of those are allowed to grow into the next crop of concubines...”

“Which leaves about one a day...”

“I didn't ask, because I didn't want to make him stop talking. When the same numbers came up with Amaranth today, I didn't ask again, at least until I had a good picture of what else was going on.”

“And the punchline is?”

“Dinner. He eats them, one every day, plus a second if there happens to be a surplus.”

“And doesn't THAT just put dream-rape and torture and enslavement into perspective.”

“Just a bit.”

“So now what?”

“I have no idea. I need to see him dead, but I really don't want to die in the process.”

“Talk to Badger.”

“Come again?”

“I can't imagine anyone not being horrified by this news. I'm horrified, and I'm a genuine monster. So if you talk to Badger about this, he might have some helpful ideas, and if he doesn't, he can make sure someone else gets the job done if you fail.”

“”You're being disturbingly intelligent.”

“Sorry, but your life is on the line. I promise I'll go back to being an idiot when things calm down.”

“That's still disturbing. Also reasonable.”

“In the meantime... What's wrong with you?”

“I'm... Part of me is in love with the minotaur.”

“The one you just said you needed to see dead.”

“Yeah.”

“I'm lost.”

“Me too, mostly. It's the damned tattoo.”

“The one that lets you talk to Amaranth?”

“Yeah, that one. It's a bit more potent that that, though. For one thing, it DOES follow me in any shape I assume, so I have three, now. The key point at the moment, though, is that it doesn't just let us TALK; we get inside each other, feel each other's feelings. She started calling me 'Sister', and I can't argue with that. Amaranth was taught to love and revere the minotaur from the moment she was born, and I can FEEL that, and it feels like it's MINE, not something alien. So even though the infantophagy horrifies and sickens me, even though I have actual physical memories of being tormented in dreamspace for several hours, I have a... reflex... to love the bastard. And add to that my own revulsion at the infantophagy coupled with Amaranth's memories of having given birth to SIXTEEN babies that that bastard ATE, and PART OF ME STILL LOVES HIM.”

“Gods.”

“Pretty much. I'm going to sleep with my shields up tonight, though. If I meet him in dreamspace, I don't know what will happen, but it will probably get out of control.”

“Sounds wise. So Badger tomorrow?”

“Probably. Unless I … unless one of us gets a better idea.”

“Understood. Lullaby?”

“Six of them. Please.”

“As my Heart wishes.”


>>>Scene Five: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Winter?”

“Yes, Rose?”

“Do you know what a rag doll is?”

“A children's toy?”

“Yes. I never got very attached to them; I didn't play with dolls, much. But my sister had one that she slept with every night, pretty much up until she got married.”

“I... see, Rose.”

“Tonight, my friend, you are my rag doll. If you don't mind.”

“I am flattered, Rose. I wish I could do more.”

“Me, too, though I am very grateful for what I have.”

“Thank you, Rose. And while we are talking... Are you really willing to take responsibility for my sisters and me? To become the master of the Panoply? Because I would be honored if you would take the role.”

“I... That's... Yes. And I am flattered.”

“And now, Rose, you will be able to face the minotaur armed with a properly bonded dragon bone sword.”

“Thank you again, my friend. And you know... You're not a half bad rag doll, either.”


>>>Scene Six: Cherry Dryad's grove

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

“Long. Tiring. But good for all of that.”

“And the story?”

“To start, last night Winter offered me the Panoply, and I accepted.”

“So someday I may have a room mate, or four.”

“I hadn't thought of it that way, but Yes, I suppose so. Beyond that... I was a lot saner this morning; the emotional spillover from Amaranth seems to have faded significantly.”

“That sounds good.”

“You have no idea. And once I got myself sorted out, I flew down to Threshold and had a talk with Badger.”

“You actually took my advice. Mission accomplished?”

“With dividends. Badger wants to help me kill Horns, AND he is writing a letter explaining the situation, and he is going to have his hawk deliver copies to all of his several pen pals, so that word will spread, and people will take action if he and I fail at our assassination.”

“That sounds like you have an actual plan.”

“We do, but we are still refining it.”

“And?”

“It starts with me disguising myself as a minotaur, and marching out of the woods on the Threshold road up to the edge of arrow range from the wall, announcing myself as one of Horns' sons, and challenging Horns to a duel for the kingdom. And then I walk back to the woods and disappear for two days.”

“Just how far are these woods from the wall?”

“Horns has everything within a mile of the wall clear cut, and grazes sheep there to make sure it stays short.”

“Are you sure Horns doesn't have any cavalry?”

“If I hear hoofbeats behind me, I will shift to Sister Wings and get out FAST. It will break the gambit, but beats being dead.”

“Why two days?”

“Because I doubt that Horns will be waiting at the wall, ready to fight a duel to the death, and if I am going to issue a challenge and leave, that would give me time to walk back to Threshold and get a good nights sleep before the duel. If I were actually doing the walk, it would require a 60 mile day, but that's possible.”

“Barely.”

“Barely. And I wouldn't actually be doing it, anyway.”

“And you think that Horns will accept the challenge?”

“I think it's likely. He's vain, and all of the guards at the gate will hear the initial challenge, so the Sisterhood will know about it. You may be able to convince people to accept infantophagy, but you will NEVER get them to stop gossiping.”

“I can see that. So what happens after two days?”

“The fake son marches out of the woods and fights a duel with his father. And the invisible sorcerer who is following the fake son roasts Horns with a lightning bolt or two.”

“While he's invisible?”

“Supposedly. But even if he loses that spell as soon as he casts the first lightning bolt, he'll be far enough away that he will be able to get off one or two more before Horns can get at him. And I can sneeze at least one bolt of my own at him, and if Horns goes for Badger, he'll have to turn his back on me, and if he does THAT, Winter and I will hamstring him, and then Badger will be able to roast him at leisure.”

“And Badger will be up for this idiocy after a 30 mile walk?”

“Badger will be relatively fresh because his pet air elemental will carry him out from Threshold to the edge of the woods.”

“What about...”

“We'll have our ears plugged in case Horns bellows.”

“That's good, but... This is NOT a low risk plan, Rose.”

“Faint heart never won fair maiden.”

“There's a fair maiden involved?”

“Several hundred of them. Depending on your definition of maiden. And it's more of a metaphorical victory anyway; I'm not collecting them.”

“You should. It's fun.”

“I have rather more than I can handle already, thank you.”

“You do, don't you? Now I'm jealous.”

“And you're back in idiot mode. I've actually missed it.”

“I try to keep in practice. And terror brings it out in me.”

“It's not a bad plan, Fid.”

“You are still putting your life on the line for a bunch of strangers who haven't actually asked for your help, and probably don't want it.”

“He EATS a baby every day, Fid.”

“Fine. Just... be careful. Do you have any idea what to do with the Sisterhood once Horns is dead?”

“Just guilt.”

“Guilt?”

“I'm going to destroy their society, Fid, and if I try to help them fix it, which I have no real ability to do, I will get tangled up for YEARS. Do you want that?”

“Hell no.”

“So guilt. Badger has some ideas, and will offer help. And honestly... Several hundred very large, hard-working women who have significant farming skills AND have been trained to fight with sword, shield, spear, and bow should be able to figure out how to survive.”

“Should. If they find a leader, they might turn into a rampaging army.”

“Might. I won't be here. I still have a dagger to bring up from the bottom of the ocean.”

“Oh, yeah. That. I wondered when you were going to remember that...

“Can't forget that, Fid. Ever. Or at least not until the dagger is in my hand.”

“Good to know. Would her Grace care for a lullaby?”

“Her Grace would like that very much, Fid.”

“As my Heart wishes.”

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