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Fiddler's Rose - Twenty-One - The Best Bad Plan

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Twenty-One – The Best Bad Plan (Updated 7/5/2018)

>>>Scene One: Cherry Dryad's grove

“You should make me a scabbard, Rose.”

“Winter? You've been quiet lately.”

“I have had little to say. But I listen, and I watch.”

“You can hear? You can SEE?”

“I have a master, now, Rose. My abilities are coming back to me.”

“Really? Would you lay that out for me?”

“Of course, Rose. I am yours, remember?”

“Oh. I am still not at ease with that. But, please.”

“When you found me, I was truly dormant. If you had not been a sorceress, if you had not addressed me with blood and magic, I am not sure I would have heard you.”

“Nice to know that the track marks on my arm served a purpose.”

“Once I had heard you, though, all you needed to do was touch the sword with bare skin.”

“Or scales.”

“Or scales, it would seem. I could hear and speak to anyone who touched the sword. But now that I have a master, now that the Panoply is being called back together, I can hear the world around me, and see it to some extent.”

“Hearing makes sense. What do you see?”

“I sense objects, and beings. Things that move are easiest, and complex things, or stationary things that touch each other, are hard to differentiate. It is like being underwater in dim light; there is no color, or texture, only shape.”

“So you can hear me talk to Cherry.”

“Yes.”

“And you can hear me talk to Fiddler from a trance if I am holding you.”

“Yes.”

“Interesting. We will have to experiment a bit, if things ever calm down.”

“As you wish.”

“So what were you telling me about a scabbard?”

“I believe that I have regained my ability to shape the blade, and a scabbard. So if you make me a scabbard, even a shoddy one, and concentrate on your ideal sword, and then draw me forth, I can become that sword. And transform the scabbard into something that fits in the process.”

“What does the scabbard need to be?”

“A piece of cloth or leather large enough to enclose the blade. Clean is better, and in good condition is better.”

“Intriguing. I will see what Cherry has around here. I have been depending on illusory clothing, mostly, and Cherry might as well. But I can certainly get something from Badger, and I will be seeing him at least once more before the assassination.”

“You mean the duel.”

“The execution. But you're right, Horns needs to think of it as a duel. And it might still go horribly wrong.”

“You are my master, Rose, and you will go into the battle with me at your side. No one has ever lost a battle as my master.”

“That's... really comforting, Winter. Thank you. Though the past never guarantees the future.”

“It is the right path, Rose.”

“I hope so. Are you sure you wouldn't rather that I just packed up and headed west?”

“If you did that, Rose, I would regret choosing you as our master. But we both know that you won't.”

“One of us does. But thank you for your confidence.”

“I am a sword, Rose. I miss my sisters, and I know that there is more to the world than a strong hand and a noble cause, but really, there does not need to be.”

“Not going to try to answer that, Winter. Thank you.”


>>>Scene Two: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Hello, Rose. How was Threshold?”

“As expected, Winter. I had a couple of new wrinkles, Badger had a few new wrinkles, tomorrow I am going to issue the challenge.”

“It is right, Rose.”

“Gods, I hope so.”

“Did you do any shopping?”

“That's amazingly subtle. Yes, I have come back with a spool of silk ribbon that should do the job.”

“Ribbon?”

“I'm a sailor first and always, Winter. Ribbon is the child of fabric and rope, and I KNOW rope. Watch and learn.”

“As you wish.”

“And... What do you think?”

“I should not have doubted you.”

“I was born a wharf rat. It's in my blood. Now what?”

“”Just convince yourself that the sword already has the shape you wish it to have, and draw it forth.”

“Damn, that's sweet. Using other people's magic is fun.”

“I am glad you approve.”

“Care to do some sword drills?”

“As you wish.”


>>>Scene Three: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Hello, Amaranth.”

“Hello, Rose.”

“I have something for you to think about.”

“Yes?”

“What do you want to do if the minotaur-- your master-- is dead? Do you want to go back to sleep, and just be a tree? Do you want to regain your humanity, and try to rejoin the sisterhood? Do you want to regain your humanity, and try to make your way in the rest of the world?”

“I do not know, Rose.”

“You don't have to decide right now, but you need to think about it, because the minotaur might be dead three days from now, and you will need to have an answer.”

“I understand, Rose. I will give it much thought.”

“Good. And Amaranth... If you choose humanity, and wish to travel with me, that would be fine.”

“Thank you, Rose. I will remember that.”


>>>Scene Four: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Good evening, Rose.”

“Good evening, Fid.”

“You seem... oddly happy. Exhilarated.”

“You give a girl a sweet custom sword to play with, and she begins to have aspirations to feats of heroism.”

“I can parse that as far as involving the Lady Winter.”

“Winter has been demonstrating her ability to shift her shape, and I have then been doing a few sword drills with the best sword I have ever held. She gives me delusions of being a first rate duelist.”

“You might BE a first rate duelist as long as you have Winter in your hand.”

“That would be nice. I could use it.”

“So you're going ahead with the challenge?”

“We haven't had a better idea.”

“Running away still works.”

“Were you really this much of a coward when you were alive?”

“Of course not. But I wasn't utterly dependent on the well-being of someone who was emotionally irreplaceable, either.”

“Aww.”

“Damn it, Rose, I'm serious.”

“So am I, Fid. Winter has called this one. Can you honestly tell me that you think I could walk away from this fight, and still be myself?”

“No.”

“So we go with the best bad option on the table, and that means a staged duel with an assassination.”

“Fine. But why are you on point? You can throw lightning from the sidelines.”

“Badger has never studied the sword AT ALL, and he can throw lighting twice as hard and three times as fast.”

“Fine. So just what is the best bad plan?”

“I show up at the edge of the woods on the Threshold road tomorrow at dawn, walk three quarters of the way across the cleared space, shout out my challenge. Then I stand the spear that I have with me for the purpose in the ground, walk back to the edge of the woods, and come back here. Horns sends someone out to recover the spear, reads the details described in the letter tied to the spear, and two days later we meet on the road in the middle of the cleared space.”

“And you kill him.”

“Or he kills us, but yes.”

“The letter on the spear is a nice touch. It lets you deal with all sorts of details that would be boring to shout.”

“Badger suggested the letter, I came up with the spear.”

“So what are you going to do with the time between the challenge and the fight?”

“I am going to practice with my new sword, and I am going to start building a boat.”

“A boat?”

“Any of the tree girls who decide to return to humanity will need a way off the island.”

“You have time to build a boat? To say nothing of tools...”

“Between my magic to weld the wooden seams, and Cherry's ability to grow any plank I want on demand, we don't really need tools, or much time. All we really need is someone who understands how to make a boat.”

“Which you do.”

“Which I do. You know, I have this intense desire to practice sword drills beside your waterfall while you provide accompaniment.”

“That's a good desire, but I have a few others that would come first.”

“Those, too.”

“In the meantime, would her Grace care for a lullaby?”

“Her Grace would be deeply grateful, Master Scorpion.”


>>>Scene Five: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Hello, Amaranth.”

“Hello, Rose.”

“I hope you don't mind some company. I'm taking a break from boat building, and, well, I wanted to just experience this strange bond we have a bit more while I still can.”

“While you still can?”

“I fight the minotaur in two days, and after that, if I am still alive, I am going to go back west and get on with my life. I may never come back here, so that will probably be the end of this bond of ours. And if you leave the tree, even if you come with me, that will probably be the end of it, too. The link is built to allow communications between a human and a tree spirit, and likely won't work between two humans.”

“I had not thought of that, Rose. I will miss this bond. It... makes me happy. I have not felt much of anything since I have been a tree. But I enjoy being your sister, even though you confuse and frighten me.”

“Are we really that different?”

“You know it, Rose. You can feel it. How far have you traveled in your life? How far are you from home?”

“I think I'm about fifteen hundred miles from the place I was born, though I'm not sure that's my home. And I imagine I've traveled ten thousand miles, so far. Though that's a really loose number.”

“And I have lived my entire life in the same fifteen square mile kingdom. I have never been past the gates. The world you live in is HUGE, and it terrifies me.”

“It's not so bad, Amaranth... Is that the only name you have? 'Amaranth' seems a bit long for daily use.”

“They called me 'Amma', most of the time.”

“That's easier. I was going to say that I would have gone insane in your world, but I don't know that; I wasn't raised there. I do know that none of the girls I grew up with had anything like my hunger to chase the horizon. My sister and her friends wanted to fall in love and have babies, and I wanted to be elsewhere, to see everything. I didn't hate my life, but it wasn't enough.”

“And that is why you killed your baby.”

“Why I... Wow. It wasn't a baby, it was just a possibility of one, but yes. Becoming a mother would have made me hopelessly unhappy, and I know that I would have inflicted that on my child. So I made the choice to not have it, and then I took steps to never be in that situation again. I was in a situation with no good solution, so I took the best bad solution. Why are we talking about this?”

“Because I know you are horrified by my master's diet, and I want to know if his action is different from yours in kind, or only in scale.”

“That's... You have a lot of depth that I did not notice at first, Amma. It's definitely a matter of kind.”

“Why?”

“I did an irresponsible thing, and when faced with the consequences, I took responsibility, and made sure that no child was born. Because an unwanted child ruins two lives. So I made a small mistake, and I took responsibility for it.”

“But you killed it.”

“I killed a ball of slime that would have become a baby if allowed. It was NOT a person. Look into me, Amma. You can see pretty much all that I am. I've killed nineteen people. You should be able to see how I feel about each and every one of them. And how I feel about that ball of slime. It was NOT a person.”

“Yes, Rose.”

“And you know that we can't lie to each other over this link.”

“Yes, Rose.”

“Well, then. The contrast to that is that King Horns-- your master-- deliberately engendered fifty thousand pregnancies, which produced fifty thousand babies, which he ATE. I made a mistake, and took responsibility. He acted deliberately at every single step of the process, FIFTY THOUSAND TIMES. It's enormously different in scale, but it is also different in kind.”

“I understand, Rose. Do not be angry at me.”

“I'm not, Amma. There is a small, stupid part of me that wishes I had been a normal girl, one who didn't react to the idea of motherhood with horror. But I am not that person, not even a little bit, and I know that I could never be. Being tired makes you wish for foolish things.”

“I do not think I have ever been that tired, Rose. Or at least, never when I was not also happy.”

“You're lucky in that. You know that if I live, if I kill King Horns, you and your sisters will be orphans.”

“Thank you for caring, Rose.”

“But that's all I'm going to do. Care, and then turn and walk away. It's another best bad choice; there is really nothing meaningful I can to do help, and I have my own problems.”

“They will survive, Rose. Or they won't.”

“They?”

“I will not be with them. I may be here, or I may be following you, if you will have me.”

“You are my sister, Amma. How could I turn you away?”

“You confuse me, Rose.”

“I confuse everyone, including myself. I need to go back to boat building. Thank you for the conversation, Amma.”

“Thank you for being my sister, Rose.”


>>>Scene Six: Cherry Dryad's grove

“May I ask a question, Rose?”

“Of course, Winter.”

“Why did you hold me so deliberately while you were talking to Amaranth? I could only hear snippets of your thoughts, and I couldn't hear Amaranth at all, yet you... clutched me.”

“I needed an anchor, and you were-- you are a good one.”

“I don't understand.”

“You are my friend, and we have a bond, and you are completely other from Amaranth. And the link to Amaranth is SO strong. I think that if I were to sit down there and fall asleep, I would merge into Amma's tree, and never get up again. Talking to her is an unsettling experience.”

“Is it unpleasant?”

“No, just frightening. It's... Have you ever had GOOD sex? Sex that you really enjoyed?”

“No, Rose. It has occasionally been pleasant, but no more.”

“That weakens the metaphor, but I don't have a better one. There is a feeling you get sometimes, after good sex, that the other person knows you better than you know yourself, that they love you, and that you can trust them infinitely, and that nothing could ever possibly go wrong between you. It's an amazing feeling.”

“I have never had anything like that.”

“It's a lie. It's a weird chemical thing that your body does to you to encourage you to make contra-survival choices. But DAMN does it feel good while it lasts.”

“I would like to experience this lie sometime, I think.”

“Yeah, you never really get enough of it. And not knowing that it's a lie can make you REALLY stupid. What happens with Amma is like that, except most of it is true. I really do know Amma almost as well as she knows herself, and she knows me the same. The edges blur. And we are so very, VERY different. So having my friend Winter, who has absolutely nothing to do with Amma, hold my hand while the link is open is REALLY good.”

“I am glad that I could help, Rose.”

“And now, if you don't mind, I am going to set you down, and go back to being a sorceress building a boat.”


>>>Scene Seven: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Good evening, Rose.”

“Good evening, Fid.”

“How was your day?”

“I helped Winter make herself a scabbard; I did sword drills; I worked on my boat; I let Amaranth crawl around in my head some more, and the two of us did a compare and contrast on abortion and infantophagy.”

“Do I not want to know about that last one as much as I think I don't want to know about it?”

“At least. Twice. Maybe three times.”

“Your ability to attract peculiarity continues to amaze me, Rose.”

“Yeah, if only I had had the sense to chase off that damned unicorn ghost, back in the day.”

“Ouch. But you left the beaten path before that, when you asked Auntie Moss for a favor, and she gave you a magic tattoo.”

“A custom designed and formulated magic tattoo.”

“That's the one.”

“Nah, I was strange the moment I crawled out of the egg.”

“Weren't you born human?”

“At least as much as you were born gullible.”

“What's wrong, Rose? Why the sharp tongue?”

“Other than facing a death duel and having to sleep with shields up to keep out the dreamspace torture monster and being forever away from everyone I care about and so touch starved that pretending a sword is a rag doll seems like a good idea? Other than that, I'm the happiest person on the planet.”

“It won't be long, now, Rose.”

“Tomorrow will be the longest day of my life.”

“Fly.”

“What?”

“Take Sister Wings out over the big lake and practice all of the stupid aerial tricks you learned from that crazy book of yours, and then come back and do the kind of useful things you've been doing all day.”

“That sounds like a really good idea.”

“Trying to be useful when your stomach is full of knots just ties them tighter. It you have to waste time, it's always best to waste it as flamboyantly as possible.”

“Damn, Fid. That's...

“Don't say it. They might take away my 'Idiot' hat.”

“And that would be tragic.”

“It would. Also exhausting.”

“Play me a lullaby?”

“Of course.”


>>>Scene Eight: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Shouldn't you be resting, Rose? That was quite a workout.”

“Yes, Winter, but it's still morning, and I have more than 24 hours to recover from it. And I intend to be even more tired by nightfall.”

“That does not seem wise.”

“Neither does tying my brain in knots. Fiddler suggested that I do some stunt flying over the big lake, and I am going to follow his advice.”

“I repeat my concerns about fatigue.”

“Funny thing about that and shape-shifting. I can fly until I'm exhausted, until my wings ache, and when I shift to a shape with no wings, the pain is gone. My heart and my lungs will still be tired, and I will be HUNGRY, but pain in parts that don't exist in the new shape disappears with the parts.”

“And when you bring your wings back?”

“They seem to recover at about the same rate whether I am wearing them or not.”

“Magic is strange and fascinating.”

“Said the shape-shifting sword.”

“That sounded like something you would say to Fiddler.”

“It did, didn't it?”

“I am flattered, Rose. I know how much Fiddler means to you.”

“Do you? I'm not sure I do. But you're welcome. And I think it is time for me to go wear out my wings.”


>>>Scene Nine: Cherry Dryad's grove

“And how was your day, Rose?”

“Not bad, Fid. Sword drills in the morning, aerobatics at midday, and boat building in the afternoon and evening. And the most amazing fresh fish for lunch.”

“Fresh fish? Caught by hand and eaten raw?”

“Of course. Wings is a kobold, after all. Though Sister Croc actually did the honors.”

“As it brings you joy. You may recall I was an herbivore, once upon a time.”

“But not as a child.”

“No, centaurs eat a LOT of meat. You can't funnel enough plants through a human mouth to keep an equine body going. But centaurs also COOK their meat. Even when it's fresh caught fish.”

“Spoilsport.”

“Whenever possible, it seems. Ready for tomorrow?”

“To the extent that it's possible. Which it isn't.”

“No, I don't imagine it is. Please don't die, Rose.”

“I intend to do the stupid thing as carefully and as intelligently as I can.”

“Within the parameters of being hopelessly stupid.”

“Naturally.”

“Should I check in with you in the morning?”

“Hm. No. I will be here, tomorrow night, just the way I always am.”

“As you say. Would my Heart care for a lullaby?”

“Your Heart would like to hear a lullaby very much, Fid. But chase the luck for me, first.”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Ten: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Good morning, Amma. I'm off to fight a duel with King Horns. Just thought you should know.”

“Kill him, my sister. Come back to me.”

“That's quite a change of heart.”

“My heart has been touched by Corrosion.”

“And apparently your sense of humor.”

“Perhaps. Come back to me, my sister. Do what you must, and come back to me.”

“I will do all I can.”


>>>Scene Eleven: The Threshold road at the treeline

“Winter?”

“Yes, Rose?”

“Tell me again that no one who has carried you into battle has ever lost.”

“It is as you say, Rose. No one who has carried me into battle has ever lost.”

“Then let's keep the streak going, shall we? The gates are open. It's showtime.”


>>>Scene Twelve: The Threshold road

“Winter?”

“Yes, Rose?”

“Thank you. That was much, much too close.”

“You're alive, and he is not.”

“Not sure I believe that, yet. Give me a few minutes. In the meantime...”

“Yes, Rose?”

“Do you mind if I clean your blade with my tongue?”

“I belong to you, Rose. You may do what you will. But... Why?”

“It's how I learn new shapes.”

“Is that why you took his ears?”

“Yes.”

“You have never struck me as the sort to take that kind of trophy.”

“I don't strike me as that sort, either, Winter. Do you mind when I use you as a rag doll?”

“Of course not, Rose. It flatters me.”

“Because as soon as we get past the treeline, I am going to shift to Sister Wings and go back to Cherry's island, and then I am going to go for a swim to get this gunk off of me, and then I am going to wrap my arms around you and curl into a ball and whimper for a long time.”

“You are safe, Rose. The monster is dead, and it is over.”

“My head knows that. My body still doesn't know why it isn't dead.”

“Your body will catch up, Rose.”

“You're a good friend, Winter. Let's go home.”

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