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

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Twenty-Two – Cherry (Updated 7/11/2018)

>>>Scene One: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Fid?”

“Rose!”

“Thought you might be looking for me. I'm fine, Badger is mostly fine, Horns is dead, and I am going to go take a long swim and wash away the minotaur bits.”

“I'm just... Thank you for checking in with me, Rose. I was... just a BIT worried.”

“Winter saved me. Saved us. I'll tell you all about it tonight. I get to sleep without shields for the first time since Horns discovered me, and you and I can talk for as long as you have the energy. But I have GOT to get cleaned up.”

“Understood, Rose. Until then.”

“Until then, Fid.”


>>>Scene Two: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Hello, Amma. Just wanted you to know that the fight is over, I'm alive, and Horns is dead.”

“I am glad, Rose.”

“This means that you need to make that decision SOON, Amma. We will talk later, but I wanted you to know.”

“Thank you, Rose.”


>>>Scene Three: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Hello, Winter. I'm back.”

“You seem much calmer, Rose.”

“I took Sister Croc for a swim. I don't often think about it, but I seem to have more tolerance for carnage when I'm wearing that shape than when I'm Dragon or Emma.”

“That is a good thing?”

“Today it is. It was. I'm more or less used to the idea that I'm still alive, now.”

“That is definitely a good thing, then.”

“I also don't really need to curl into a ball and whimper, anymore. But I am going to lie here and watch the clouds blow past and let you hold my hand, just because it makes me happy.”

“Me, also, Rose.”


>>>Scene Four: Darkness

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

“Pretty wonderful.”

“Good. How much small talk do I have to make before you tell me what happened?”

“Have you been taking subtlety lessons?”

“What do you expect, Rose? I spent half a day fretting about your survival, and then, once I knew you were alive, I spent another six hours waiting for the DETAILS. Subtlety is for people who live in more exciting neighborhoods than I do.”

“Point taken. You're still rude.”

“That's congenital.”

“Probably. I met Badger on a hill about a half mile west of the treeline, about an hour before noon. We wanted to be far enough back that it made us hard to ambush.”

“You thought Horns might attack you?”

“Not really, but since WE were going to cheat HIM, it seemed prudent to consider the possibility.”

“Understood.”

“Once we could see the wall, we plugged our ears with beeswax and waited for noon. I put on my minotaur illusion about a quarter hour early, and Badger did his invisibility spell. At noon, I stepped out into the sunlight, and waited for the gate in the wall to open, and for Horns to appear, and then we started walking toward each other.”

“This was all in the letter from the spear?”

“Yeah. Badger followed me about ten yards back, which wasn't in the letter...”

“Really?”

“I don't HAVE to tell you this.”

“But you want to.”

“Not sure. And less sure as you harass me.”

“I shall endeavor to maintain a level of decorum that makes you question my authenticity.”

“That... Whatever. Horns and I got within about five yards of each other, and I drew Winter and saluted him; Horns reached behind his shoulder and pulled out the most amazing sword I have ever seen and saluted me with it.”

“And this is where I ask you about the sword, and any other equipment that seems relevant.”

“I had Winter, and a pretty good steel buckler that Badger had found for me, and the baldric for Winter's scabbard. The minotaur image, which was as tall as I could make it, about seven feet, was wearing a simple tunic, plus what I carried. The illusion didn't overlay me perfectly, because of its size, and I hoped it would give me a bit of defense. It might have.”

“And Horns?”

“Horns had this amazing suit of armor that seemed to fit him like skin, and had a greatsword that must have been seven feet long, almost as long as he was tall, and probably as good a sword as he knew how to make.”

“And he was styling himself as the best smith in the world.”

“Yep. The armor would have scared me if I had been planning to fight fair, but lightning doesn't care much. It mauls you differently when you are wearing metal armor than when you are not, but the key point is that it still mauls you.”

“Say what?”

“Without the metal, the lightning passes through you, and makes things boil and occasionally explode. With the metal, the lightning passes through the metal, which welds itself together at the contact points, and tends to vaporize the body parts near the contact points.”

“Where do you learn this stuff?”

“I spent a year studying with a necromancer. Bing LIVED for this kind of thing.”

“Of course he did. What next?”

“We both went to guard, and I circled to my right, and he circled to his right, and when we were on opposite sides of the road, Badger hit Horns with a lightning bolt.”

“Game over?”

“No, but we didn't expect that on the first hit. Horns knew which way the lightning had come from, turned his head, and bellowed.”

“But you had remembered to block your ears.”

“But had forgotten that my ability to deal with Horns' bellow was mostly based on my not being a mammal. Badger lost his invisibility spell, and stood there ten yards away, in plain sight, glassy eyed and drooling.”

“Gods.”

“So I sneezed a lightning bolt at Horns, and he hesitated a moment, and you could tell he was deciding which of us to kill first, and then he charged me, and suddenly that massive bar of steel with an edge that was only a rumor was swinging at my head as fast as Horns could swing it. And I... I don't remember deciding to duck, I think Winter might have made the decision for me. I fell to one knee, shielded my head with the buckler, with Winter braced against the front of it. The greatsword met Winter edge to edge, and the impact lifted me up and knocked me over backwards, and the flat of the greatsword slid all the way up Winter's edge to the point, and the sword just fell apart. I ended up flat on my back; I rolled away, scrambled to my feet, and found Horns staring at the foot long blade that was all that was left of his beautiful sword.”

“Gods. Score one for Winter.”

“He glared at me, and I happened to have another lightning bolt on tap, so I hit him with it, and he put his head down and CHARGED. And again, I think Winter made the decision for me, because I have NEVER been crazy brave enough for what I did next. I turned to the right, braced my left hand against Winter's spine, pointed Winter into the middle of Horns' skull, and stepped between the horns.”

“YOU. DID. WHAT?”

“I set him up to impale himself on my sword, and I let him run over me.”

“You are insane.”

“I was alive, and he wasn't. He also weighed something more than 500 pounds, and was squarely on top of me, so I had to deal with that. And all the while I was wondering when the Sisterhood would decide that they really needed to get involved.”

“But they didn't?”

“Not before I got loose, cut off Horns' ears, revived Badger, and got the hell out.”

“You tell this so calmly.”

“I wasn't. I'm not sure I managed to blink until after I had shifted back to Wings and was on my way back here.”

“So now what?”

“I finish building my boat in any case. Other plans depend on Amma and the other tree girls, and whether or not I wake up tomorrow with the ability to shift into a minotaur.”

“Why would that matter?”

“Because if I can actually take the shape, I will feel safe enough to walk up to the gate and warn the Sisterhood that a storm is coming.”

“Rose... I never used to have nightmares.”

“If you ever actually met a nightmare you'd just seduce her anyway. Don't whine. I'm the one who actually took the beating.”

“Fine. Would her Grace care for a lullaby?”

“Yes, but could you play me, 'Marching Homeward', first?”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Five: Cherry Dryad's grove

“Good morning, Winter.”

“Good morning, Rose. You're... HUGE.”

“I know. Don't you love it? If Fiddler is to be believed, I may be the first female minotaur EVER.”

“I... wonder if I will ever get over being amazed at the things you get into.”

“Said the intelligent, shapeshifting sword.”

“But I have always been me, and I don't really change. You... DO.”

“Which raises the question: How often can you do your shapeshifting trick? Because, if it comes up, your current shape is a bit small for these hands.”

“I am a one handed sword, Rose. Within the parameters of that fact, I can change every time you draw me forth.”

“That's what I was hoping for. But why specify one-handed?”

“I wondered if you wanted to replicate the greatsword we killed yesterday.”

“No, not really my style. Wait a moment... Killed? That sword was alive?”

“Not in the sense that I am alive; it was not intelligent. But it had a soul; any object that absorbs that much time, and skill, and pride is bound to have a soul. And that... was a VERY good sword, proud and noble and brave and beautiful and strong. And we killed it.”

“That's... Do swords have an afterlife?”

“I have no idea, Rose. But if they do, that one deserved the best.”

“Winter... You are not the only one around here who is regularly blindsided by wonder. Let's get on with the day.”


>>>Scene Six: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose.”

“Good evening, Fid.”

“Well? What's the news?”

“There was a minotaur in my closet this morning.”

“Oh?”

“You'd like her, I think. At a guess, she's eight feet tall, weighs about four hundred pounds, and is the color of autumn oak leaves.”

“She sounds beautiful.”

“I think she is. But mirrors are a bit scarce in this part of the world.”

“So you visited the Sisterhood?”

“No, Cherry told me to give it a few days. I flew to Threshhold and talked to Bing; he hasn't told anyone that Horns is dead, and doesn't intend to. I think he doesn't want to be held responsible if things go sideways.”

“Is that likely?”

“I have no idea, and I don't want to be here to learn the answer. Though Cherry seems to have something up her... um... sleeve. Which she doesn't actually have, since she doesn't really bother with clothing.”

“You never take me to the good places.”

“If I recall, your favorite place was always clothing optional.”

“Yes, but there was no good way to parlay that into a lecherous comment.”

“I take it you have forgiven me for yesterday's excesses?”

“Mostly. I have to, don't I?”

“Or dump me and try to find someone better.”

“I'm already certain that there is no one better.”

“So you're stuck with me?”

“And just that much more terrified when you insist on being yourself when there is blood on the wind.”

“Until the day, Scorps.”

“Until the day. Lullaby?”

“Always.”


>>>Scene Six: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose.”

“And to you, good Scorpion.”

“So how was your day?”

“Routine. I finished the boat, and rowed her around the island. She needs a sail and a fair amount of rigging, but she does the things a boat really NEEDS to do tonight.”

“Sounds good. Does she have a name, yet?”

“Still working on that. It will come.”

“Any other news?”

“Amaranth is going to be decanted tomorrow. Apparently she told Cherry to start the process yesterday while I was in Threshold, and by the time I got back she had changed enough that our link was broken, at least for now. I'm kind of glad; that link was scary.”

“You don't like to share?”

“Not that much. No one really needs to know about the fact that Sister Croc never stops wondering what the people around her will taste like.”

“You just told me.”

“Voluntarily, as an example, and I TRUST you. Amma doesn't know herself well enough to be trustworthy.”

“You TRUST me? What is WRONG with you”

“I trust you to be you, and to behave accordingly. And since I like you pretty well, that's all I need. Amma... Amma has been uprooted and is still pretty much lost.”

“That actually makes sense. And here I thought I was going to have to defend my reputation as a cad.”

“No, that one's safe. I just don't care.”

“You really are a spoilsport.”

“Guilty. Please punish me by playing me a lullaby.”

“As my Heart wishes.”


>>>Scene Seven: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose.”

“Good evening, Fid.”

“Why so unhappy?”

“I've been played, Fid. Cherry has been working on a plan to get rid of Horns and set herself up as a queen for decades, and I played right into it.”

“Did Amma lie to you? Was Horns not eating babies?”

“No, that part was true.”

“That's why you killed him. What's the problem?”

“Cherry is going to annex the whole peninsula into her grove, and take over the administration of the Sisterhood, using animated trees as enforcers. She's planning to magically lobotomize a couple of the male children, for breeding stock, and kill the rest.”

“Again, this solves the problem of the long term survival of the Sisterhood, which you were worried about yesterday. What's bothering you?”

“Did I mention that by building a boat with her, I gave her a means to cross the water so that she CAN annex the peninsula?”

“You're tying yourself into a knot because Cherry used you in a long term plan without your consent or knowledge, even though you didn't do anything that you probably wouldn't have done anyway, and almost everyone-- except the minotaur's sons, who were quite frankly dog meat in any case-- gets to live happily ever after. You're just unhappy because you weren't the smartest person in the room.”

“I hate it when you make sense. It's disturbing.”

“Stop tying yourself in knots for irrational reasons, and I will happily remain the comic relief forever.”

“Hah!”

“Where does all of this leave Amaranth?”

“She's just been decanted, and wants to travel west with me.”

“Is that a problem?”

“More of one since Cherry has commandeered the boat. I have to build a new one, without Cherry's help, or walk.”

“And the problem with walking?”

“Two hundred miles of being out of Fiddler range.”

“That's a problem.”

“It is. It's probably a fifteen day walk, though there are a lot of variables. And if I can find a safe place to stash Amma for a day or two, I can fly ahead, check in with you, and then go back to her.”

“You can fly two hundred miles in a day?”

“I can now. Apparently I made that Luck breakthrough I was hoping for in the process of killing Horns, and I can actually DO the spell extensions I've been studying for so long. I can hold Sister Wings for eight solid hours if I need to.”

“Or Sister Shark.”

“Or Sister Shark. I have all the magic I need for the dive, Fid. All I need is a ship, and I'll have you.”

“You knew this two days ago, didn't you? As soon as you tried on the minotaur.”

“Maybe.”

“And you waited TWO DAYS to give me the most important news in three years because?”

“It never came up?”

“And you call me an idiot.”

“I'm sorry, Fid, but it wouldn't have made a difference. Telling you wouldn't have made me one second closer to rescuing you.”

“So you say. I have a right to sulk, and I'm exercising it.”

“Fid?”


>>>Scene Eight: Darkness

“Rose?”

“Yes, Fid?”

“When are you going to go dark?”

“Probably the day after tomorrow.”

“I didn't want to start that being angry with you.”

“I didn't either, but you control the link.”

“I'm sorry I got angry.”

“I'm sorry I forgot to tell you about the spell extension. I know how much it matters to you. But you know that I want to rescue you almost as much as you want to be rescued, right?”

“I do know, Rose”

“Well, then. I should still be right here tomorrow night, and we can drive each other crazy with mutual frustration then.”

“I look forward to it. Lullaby?”

“I think I've been sound asleep for several hours at this point, but... please.”


>>>Scene Nine: Darkness

“ROSE!?!”

“Hello, Fid. Sorry.”

“WHAT THE HELL, ROSE?”

“I said I was sorry, Fid. Things got difficult.”

“FOR FOUR DAYS?”

“Cherry made a grab for Winter, so Amma and I did three days of hard marching before I thought it was safe to leave Amma and Winter behind, and check in with you. And then the fourth day was spent flying down to a place I knew you could find me.”

“I... Hmm. Fine. I guess I'll forgive you, this time.”

“We still have a way to go before you can talk to me freely. Amma is camped on the lake shore about a hundred and eighty miles from here. One day to fly back, plus ten or more days to march down here.”

“It takes ten days to march the distance?”

“At least. We covered ninety miles in three days getting away from Cherry, but Amma is a wreck and I would be just as bad if I didn't have a choice of forms to spread the fatigue over. Sister Wings is going to be mostly dead by the time I get back to Amma, though.”

“So spend an extra day with me here and rest.”

“It's tempting, but Amma needs me more than you do.”

“I categorically deny the possibility of that. I hereby assert that I am infinitely needy.”

“That's 'greedy', which rhymes, but isn't the same thing.”

“I've been in the dark for four days.”

“During which time you have made a nuisance of yourself to Bing and Dlef and Drellan, at least, and have probably visited Auntie Moss and Maelstrom at least briefly.”

“Maybe.”

“On the other hand, Amma is most of a hundred miles away from everything she has ever known, camped next to a lake that she is sure is full of monsters, and is alone except for a talking sword. Though Winter actually is pretty good company.”

“Fine. She needs you more than I do.”

“That's delightfully rational of you.”

“Wait a moment... Full of monsters?”

“Yeah, I wondered if you would catch that. It turns out that my plan to sail Amma west to the end of the lake wouldn't have worked anyway, because she is TERRIFIED of open water. Apparently Horns taught the Sisterhood that the lake is full of horrible monsters, EXCEPT for an area around Cherry's island that happens to include six or seven miles of the shoreline of the peninsula. The lake scares her stupid.”

“And yet you camp on the shore.”

“The beaches are a pretty good road and there is unlimited fresh water. Also, it's easy for Sister Croc to find food for both of us.”

“So you're living on fish?”

“Until we get to the west end of the lake, yes.”

“Raw?”

“No, wood is fairly abundant, and Amma has a tinder box.”

“YOU need a tinder box?”

“Of course not. But Anna is alone at moment.”

“Oh.”

“I've missed you, Fid.”

“You should. I'm wonderful.”

“I'll give you inimitable. And even irreplaceable.”

“Those are not bad consolations. But I'm still holding out for wonderful.”

“I think you'd have to earn that.”

“Oh? How?”

“I think about it and let you know. In the mean time... Damn. I would going to ask for some music, but I can't hear it from here, can I?”

“No.”

“Double damn.”

“I'm fading a bit, Rose. The distance is hard.”

“Go then, but look for me in the morning before I go back east.”

“I will. Until the day, my Heart.”

“Until the day, my Scorpion.”


>>>Scene Ten: Lakeshore

“Did you sleep well, Rose?”

“Well enough. I miss my rag doll.”

“Say what?”

“I've taken to sleeping with Winter in my arms. It helps with the loneliness.”

“Ah.”

“Will it be as good as I remember it, Fid? Being in dreamspace with you?”

“I am inclined to say, 'Yes', but I honestly can not promise it. I hope so, and I believe so.”

“I have hope. My belief is decaying.”

“The day will come, Rose.”

“Gods, I hope so. So... look for me in six days, I guess.”

“SIX!?!”

“One to fly back, four to march, and one to fly down here again. That puts a third of our travel time into visiting you, and I really can't see giving you more than that.”

“That's a long time.”

“I know. For me too, and I have to walk or fly in the meantime. All you have to do is wait.”

“And whine. I'm good at whining.”

“That you are. I need to go. Until the day.”

“Until the day, my Heart.”


>>>Scene Eleven: Lakeshore

“Good evening, Winter. How did things go?”

“Good evening, Rose. I am very glad you are back. Amma is deeply unhappy.”

“I know.”

“She hides it well, but everything frightens her.”

“I've noticed that, too. How often did you have to tell her that no one who has carried you into battle has ever lost?”

“Every time she heard a noise she didn't understand.”

“Which is almost all of them.”

“Which is almost all of them.”

“Did you get her to work on sword drills?”

“Yes. She is not without skill, and she is strong. She could be faster. Why are you giggling?”

“I am listening to a report from a talking sword about a woman who used to be a tree.”

“Is that funny?”

“It's normal in my life. It would be insane for most people.”

“But you ARE you.”

“That I am, Winter. Gods help me, that I am.”

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