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Fiddler's Rose - Twenty-Four - Apple

Fiddler's Rose – Chapter Twenty-Four – Apple (Updated 7/22/2018)

>>>Scene One: Apple Dryad's Grove

“Hello, Winter.”

“Hello, Rose. You are meditating again. You have not done that in a while.”

“It's earlier than my usual visit with Fiddler, and I'm not ready for sleep yet, and I wanted him to be able to find me. And I haven't talked to you for a while, so I thought we could keep each other company while we wait for Fiddler to find us.”

“I am glad of your company, Rose.”

“I should probably be doing sword drills, but I have just been too tired after towing the canoe all day.”

“I understand, Rose.”

“Any news on Amma? I know she still clutches you all day when we are on the river.”

“She is better since you have been re-linking with her. She is still very lost and lonely, and asks me to tell her stories about my sisters.”

“Do you? Tell her stories?”

“All that I can remember. What is special about today? Why have we stopped here?”

“We're in another dryad's grove. This one belongs to my friend Apple. We're going to stay here for a few days.”

“Are you thinking of leaving me here?”

“I am thinking that you might want to stay here, but it's YOUR choice. I owe you a solution that YOU approve of.”

“And you think that Apple might be that solution?”

“It's possible. I think a lot of things that I intend to keep to myself. Which I think might be the dragon in me asserting herself.”

“Why do you think I might like it here?”

“Because Apple is a good and generous person who will live a VERY long time, and is not EVER going to go on the road.”

“Those are good reasons.”

“I thought so.”

“Good evening, ladies,” said Fiddler.

“Hello, Fid,” answered Rose.

“Hello, Fiddler,” said Winter.

“I take it you have reached Apple's grove?” asked Fiddler.

“We have,” Rose answered.

“Is there news, or shall we start in on the music immediately?” asked Fiddler.

“The news,” replied Rose, “Is that I can once again hear your music, and I have invited Winter along for your concert.”

“Well, in that case,” Fiddler said.


>>>Scene Two: Darkness

“Rose?”

“Yes, Fid.”

“Are you really thinking of leaving Winter with Apple?”

“No. I'm thinking of leaving Amma with Apple, and then leaving Winter with Amma.”

“That's devious. Also fairly complex.”

“Just looking for chances. I have no intention of forcing anyone into anything. But Apple is looking for someone she can keep forever, Amma is looking for someone who will love her and keep her safe, and Winter is looking for someone who will have the sense to stand still while her sisters find her.”

“So what are you going to do about it?”

“Wait.”

“I see a problem with that.”

“No you don't.”

“Excuse me?”

“It's about 800 miles from here to Ironbridge. That's four days for me, alone, by air, or ninety days for Amma and I by land or about half of that by water. How long can I afford to wait here, where you and I can talk and I can hear your music, and we're all safe, while Apple and Amma decide that they like each other better than they like me?”

“At least thirty days, as long as it works out.”

“It will.”

“Hmmm, I ended the concert with a lullaby, but I'm feeling generous, and will offer you a second one.”

“And I'll take it.”


>>>Scene Three: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose.”

“And to you, Fid.”

“Any news of the day?”

“It was pleasant. I'm teaching Amma to swim...”

“That sounds fraught.”

“It's not so bad. There's a small lake inside Apple's boundaries, and I've managed to convince Amma that there are no monsters in it, so she can ALMOST relax. I think she will learn to like the water, eventually.”

“And other than that?”

“Winter is giving Amma and I sword lessons, which is fun. And I have been able to get in some aerobatic time, which is always good.”

“And Apple?”

“Apple is fascinated by the tattoos Cherry gave us, and is trying to duplicate the magic.”

“The magic that hasn't worked properly since Amma came out of the tree.”

“Yes, but Apple can merge with a tree at will, so she is going to mark one of her pet trees with an evolution of our tattoos, and we will see what happens.”

“Apple wants to get inside your head that badly?”

“Apple has discovered dryad magic that she doesn't understand, and NEEDS to fix that. Which is not to say she will object to being inside my head, but that's not what drives her.”

“If it works, how will it effect your evil scheme to abandon your friends?”

“If it works, Apple will know what I am thinking, and will understand why, and will make her own decision, which will probably be to agree with me. And if Apple THEN links with Amma, it will follow the same pattern. I want what's best for everybody, and they will know that.”

“It only looks like you are leaving them in a heap to fend for themselves.”

“Just stop. I want everyone to be happy, and this will help Apple and Amma figure that out. Winter...”

“Yes?”

“Winter-the-person is my friend, and I want what's best for her, and I am convinced that that means leaving her here in Amma's custody. But I have a full-blown case of dragon lust for Winter-the-sword, and I am just going to have to swallow that. It HURTS.”

“There's room in the box in the attic for another conscience, if you're interested.”

“You're evil. And I'm not. And I can handle a bit of pain if it helps my friend.”

“Generations of dragons are ashamed of you.”

“Do you really WANT to compete for my affections with another sentient blade?”

“If it comes with four female roommates, I am pretty sure I could learn to adapt.”

“Good night, Fid.”

“You don't want your lullaby?”

“I want you to stop planning to roll my friends into bed.”

“But you haven't even met three of them, yet.”

“Not helping.”

“No, but I'm having fun.”

“Of courze you are. This is always going to be a problem, isn't it?”

“What is?”

“Once I have the dagger, I am going to have to assume that you will roll every female friend I ever make as part of the package. Even if you behave yourself and never coerce or frighten them.”

“We've been over this.”

“But my female friends never had names before.”

“Rilla? Dzee?”

“Fine. But you were farther away, and they were only physically vulnerable. Rilla and Dzee have souls made of shoe leather.”

“And Winter and Amma don't?”

“You know Dzee, and you've spoken to Winter.”

“Point made.”

“Just... Be kind, and be careful, and try not to give me the impression that you regard my friends as a tavern buffet.”

“Even if I do?”

“Especially if you do. Here's what I want to NEVER have to say to myself: 'I like her but I can't afford to become her friend because if I do Fiddler will roll her into bed and I can already tell that that will be bad for her so I'm leaving.' Got it?”

“Got it. I can still make lustful comments about strangers, though, right?”

“I'm going to explode.”

“No you're not.”

“Fine. Make all of the lustful comments you want about anyone you want, just as long as you never give ME the impression that you are being careless and are likely to hurt someone.”

“That's a tall order.”

“It would be easier if you brought that box down from the attic.”

“That's just crazy talk.”

“I suppose. So my poor, beleaguered conscience has to do double duty. Play me my lullaby, and let me sleep.”

“No 'please'?”

“Five hundred miles and two thousand fathoms.”

“Yes, your Grace. As it please your Grace.”

“Damned straight.”


>>>Scene Four: Apple Dryad's Grove

“Rose?”

“Yes, Winter?”

“Why do the dryads avoid me?”

“They do?”

“When I first woke up, I could feel Cherry's magic all around me, though I did not notice that it was there until after I was no longer inside her grove. And now I can feel Apple's magic around me. And I can tell that there is a bit of... distance, almost distrust, there.”

“I don't know, Winter. I could ask. My first guess is that you are very alien thing to a dryad. You are a sword, a thing of air and death, and they are creatures of earth and life.”

“You will ask? If I am to stay here, I would like to know that I was welcome.”

“I will probably know without asking tomorrow, if Apple's tattoo link works. If not, I will ask.”

“That would be good, Rose. I like this place. I wish that it felt like it liked me.”

“I understand, Winter. That's a feeling I know fairly well.”

“It is?”

“Wanting to belong? It's a proof of humanity, Winter. Even for a sword.”

“That is... a very nice thing to hear, Rose.”

“And true. I will see what I can do.”


>>>Scene Five: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose. Are we friends again?”

“We'll always be friends, Fid. You're MINE. There are just some points of friction that we need to work out, or around.”

“I think I like the vehemence with which you say, 'MINE'.”

“Heh. Remember what I said about having dragon lust for Winter?”

“Yes.”

“Which I said was manageable?”

“Yes?”

“You, Master Scorpion, and your dagger, are the objects of as much dragon lust as the world has ever seen, and I have not yet held the dagger in my hand and CLAIMED it. I am reasonably certain that walking away from this quest at this point would DESTROY me. You. Are. MINE.”

“Wow. Warm fuzzies and abject terror in the same package.”

“Damned straight.”

“I take it you've gotten over your qualms about owning sentient beings.”

“Not really. But the idea of you belonging to someone else makes me murderous, so I have decided to adapt.”

“I'd say that was reasonable, but 'murderous' and 'reasonable' are not easy bedfellows.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Any other news?”

“Apple made some modifications to my tattoo, and then Amma's, this afternoon. Tomorrow I get to try out the link.”

“You go first?”

“Of course. Amma's a... I was going to say, 'mouse', but maybe ,'cow' would be more appropriate, given her parentage. But whatever, she's passive and timid and kind of broken, and I'm most of a dragon. So which of us would you expect to lead?”

“The one I would mind losing the least if something goes wrong?”

“Nothing CAN go wrong that badly. On the weak side, if the link is weak or broken, there's no risk at all, and on the strong side... Worst case, we merge permanently. Which would not make me happy, but I swear to you that I would be dominant. Good enough?”

“If that's all the assurance you can give me, I will be content with it.”

“Well and good. And with that... Would Master Fiddler please deign to play a lullaby for a lowly supplicant?”

“Master Fiddler would be grateful for the opportunity.”


>>>Scene Six: Apple Dryad's grove

“Greetings, Rose.”

“Greetings, Apple.”

“This is interesting magic.”

“It's all yours, now.”

“Not quite all mine, yet, but I am learning. Thank you for bringing it to me.”

“I'm glad you like it, but all I really brought was myself.”

“And your friend, and your talkative sword.”

“Well, yes, those, too.”

“I am intrigued by your optimism regarding your dominance if you and I should be locked together.”

“Do you doubt my conclusion?”

“I am VERY resilient, Rose.”

“You have much more endurance than I do. But I have a stronger will; you are a nurturer, and I am a killer.”

“These things are so. You may be right. I am glad it need not be tested.”

“So am I, Apple, so am I.”

“Your world is much bigger than mine, Rose.”

“I am aware, Apple.”

“I still do not understand what drives you, Rose, but I do now believe you when you say you can not stay here.”

“I'm glad. I'm sorry I can't share more of your happiness.”

“As am I. But I will be here, and you will always be welcome.”

“Good to know. Thank you.”

“Do you think the minotaur's daughter can be happy here?”

“I believe so. You will have to make your own judgment, as will she.”

“You are a very complex creature, Rose Dragon-marked. I do not envy you your road.”

“But you wouldn't, would you? You have a beautiful place here, Apple, and I wish I was able to share more of it with you.”

“As am I. May I call you sister, Rose?”

“Of course, Apple. I'm flattered.”

“You're welcome, my sister.”


>>>Scene Seven: Apple Dryad's grove

“Hello, Winter.”

“Hello, Rose. You seem edgy this afternoon.

“I've been inside Apple's head.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“It's confusing. I like her rather better than I did before, and I liked her a lot already, and she likes me somewhat less. Hell, I like me somewhat less.”

“That sounds like a problem.”

“It would be if I planned to stay here. As it is, it's just another reason to move on.”

“What is the problem?”

“She's a creature of earth and life, and I'm a creature of air and water and death. We clash.”

“Or complement each other. My sisters and I each have our own element, and have no trouble over it.”

“It's not insurmountable, certainly. And she did call me, 'Sister'. That's quite a thing, from a dryad.”

“It is quite a thing from any person with a heart.”

“It is, isn't it? But whatever problems Apple may have with me, she has twice with you.”

“Because I am also a creature of air and death, and she had no affection for me before she learned that.”

“Pretty much.”

“Where does that leave me? I do not wish to follow your road until I have gathered my sisters, and it seems I am not welcome here.”

“It leaves you in need of a buffer, who would be Amma.”

“You are a devious creature, Rose.”

“I'll take that as a compliment.”

“If you wish.”

“You have been consorting with Fiddler and me FAR too much.”

“I'll take that as a compliment.”

“My sword just made me laugh. Deliberately, and with forethought. We are SUCH bad influences on you.”

“I would beg to differ, Rose. There is joy in you banter, and I am pleased to share it.”

“Fair enough.”

“What will we do if Amaranth chooses to stay, and Apple will not have me?”

“I don't expect that. You are a sword, but you are also a person, and as such you are loyal and capable of friendship and kindness. Apple will see that, with a bit of coaching. And your sisters, when they arrive, are NOT death creatures. It will work out.”

“I hope so, Rose.”

“So do I. Care for some exercise?”

“It is hardly exercise for me, Rose. I only observe and comment.”

“Even so.”


>>>Scene Eight: Darkness

“Good evening, Rose.”

“Good evening, Fid.”

“How was your day?”

“Productive. I linked with Apple, and Amma linked with Apple, and Apple FINALLY agreed to talk to Winter, which she has been avoiding, and the end result is that tomorrow is going to be a party, and the day after I am going to head downriver all by myself.”

“Which makes you sad.”

“I don't have many friends, Fid, and I'm leaving three of them behind.”

“By your own design.”

“It's what's best for them, Fid. And what's necessary for me.”

“So we're stuck with another best bad plan.”

“Pretty much. Though this one doesn't involve mortal danger, and actually leaves everyone but me in a pretty good place.”

“So you're regretting the call of the horizon.”

“A little bit, yeah.”

“You need to stare that thought in the face for a few minutes.”

“No, I don't.”

“No?”

“No. I've already learned that lesson, Fid, learned it long ago. The only really safe place is a coffin, and I am a long way from ready for mine. If it never hurts, how do you even know you're alive?”

“I was going to say...”

“You don't feel pain, but you're not alive either. And I know you felt pain when Osprey died, anyway. And Salsi.”

“Yes.”

“So for the purposes of this discussion, your peculiar state of existence is close enough to life to count.”

“Yes. I was trying to find a joke in there, but you bit me instead.”

“Sorry. I'm edgy.”

“I think that calls for a lullaby.”

“It so very much does. Please, and thank you.”

“As my Lady wishes.”


>>>Scene Nine: Apple Dryad's grove

“You've been a very good rag doll, Winter.”

“Thank you, Rose.”

“And a very good sword. And a very, very good friend.”

“I am very glad of your friendship, Rose.”

“I really hate the idea of you being a chattel, Winter, but if you must belong to someone, I am glad you belong to me.”

“I understand, Rose.”

“Let's do this formally, then. I know we have been over it already, but, well, it just doesn't hurt to make it all clear.”

“As you say, Rose.”

“I am Emerald Corrosion Flower Stonecrow, Dragon-marked, Twinbride, Minotaur-bane, Dryad-sister, and I claim ownership of the Panoply and all of its parts. I leave the sword, Winter, in the custody of Amaranth Minotaur-daughter, and, in the event of her death, in the custody of Apple the dryad, or whatever other custodian that Amaranth, with the consent of the Sisters of the Panoply, might choose. I charge Winter, and her sisters as they are available, to inform me of any change in the custody of the Panoply.”

“I am Winter of the Panoply, and I acknowledge the things that have been stated.”

“I'm getting weepy again.”

“You were weepy all day yesterday, Rose.”

“I was, wasn't I? Hazards of the course, I guess. It's odd to think that the next time I see you you'll be able to take human form.”

“That seems likely, Rose.”

“It will be odd to have a face to put with the voice.”

“And three sisters.”

“And three sisters. And I'll have Fiddler's dagger, won't THAT be an interesting experience?”

“Rose?”

“I'm getting ahead of the story, Winter. We will deal with that circumstance when it comes up.”

“If you say so.”

“I do. Would you like to say goodbye to Fiddler?”

“May I ? CAN I?”

“If he's paying attention, and I'm sure he is, we should be able to call him. Let me get into a trance...”

“Hello, Ladies,” said Fiddler.

“Hello, Fid. Winter would like to say goodbye,” Rose said.

“Hello, Fiddler,” said Winter.

“It has been my great pleasure to make the acquaintance of another sentient blade, Lady Winter,” Fiddler said.

“And mine also,” said Winter.

“And with that,” Rose said, “I think I need to find Amma and turn Winter over to her. Fid, we will speak this evening.”

“Rose? Is there time for one melody?” Winter asked.

“Of course,” Rose and Fiddler said in unison.

“Then could you please play 'Chasing the Luck' for me?” Winter asked. Fiddler replied with music.


>>>Scene Ten: Darkness

“And where are you tonight, Rose?”

“Halfway between Apple's grove, and Auntie Willow's.”

“And how far from there to Ironbridge?”

“Two easier days to Auntie Rowan's grove, and one more day after that to Ironbridge.”

“And what then?”

“And then I go back to drinking green swill and trying to court the Jade Empress.”

“And what has been the point of all of this?”

“I've been wondering that, myself. Horns is dead, which means he won't be eating a baby every day.”

“That sounds good.”

“The Sisterhood should be at least as stable under Aunt Cherry as they were under Horns, though I don't know if Cherry will be as clever as Horns was.”

“Clever?”

“Horns set up a stable, isolated community that held its own for over a century. That's almost impossible. Cherry will have to work hard to sustain it, even after Horns did all of the hard work.”

“So the Sisterhood broke even.”

“I think so. I hope so.”

“What else?”

“Amma isn't a tree any more. She's found someone who will love her and take care of her. Apple has someone to love and take care of.”

“Even if Amma is pretty much going to be Apple's pet.”

“The whole Sisterhood was raised to be sentient cattle. I don't know what's going to come of that in the long run. I really can't wrap my head around it.”

“So if Amma is going to be someone's pet in any case, she's better off with Apple than with Cherry.”

“No question there.”

“Which leaves Winter and the Panoply.”

“Which leaves Winter and her sisters. And Winter assured me that, as long as they weren't being abused by a corrupt master, they would all rather be sentient and together than dormant and separated.”

“So that's a good thing, too.”

“Yes.”

“Even though you didn't get to keep the sword.”

“Even though I didn't get to keep the thrice damned, beautiful, so sweet it HURT to let it go sword.”

“Which is was the original point of the quest.”

“No, the original point of the quest was to help me find more luck, which I did, as evidenced by the fact that I can fly about twice as far in a day as I used to. Allowing that I have gotten into a lot better shape along the way.”

“And you've made some friends.”

“And I've made some very good friends, and I shouldn't have to worry about feeling touch-starved in quite a while, as long as nothing horrible happens along the way.”

“So that's good.”

“That's very good. But it reminds me. Someday, in the not too distant future, I am going to back to Apple's grove with a certain dagger on my hip.”

“Yes?”

“And there are three women there who are very dear to me, and there will be three others who are, at least, very dear to Winter, and if you hurt any of them even a tiny bit, I will make you wish you had never been born. Got it?”

“Yes, your Grace. Absolutely, your Grace.”

“I just wanted to get that out. I am not going to give you a prohibition against being who you are, that I know won't hold, I am just saying that there will be NO casualties. Understood?”

“Yes, your Grace.”

“I think that you and I are going to be together for a very long time, Fid. And I expect to be happy about that, and I want to make sure that YOU are happy about that. But there can't be collateral damage. Particularly among my friends.”

“I understand.”

“And having said all of that... Would Master Fiddler be so kind as to play be a lullaby?”

“Master Fiddler, whose somewhat illusory hands are still trembling with the vehemence with which he has recently been threatened, will do his best to comply.”

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