(Two Free Sample Chapters)
A novel by Paul Haynie
Copyright 2018 by Paul Haynie
All rights reserved.
Fiddler's Rose – Chapter One – Sufferance
Beauty has no need for goodness, and Charm can count on being forgiven. --"The Book of the Blind King's Wisdom"
==)>>> 1:1: Endless Plains
"You're a unicorn, aren't you?" Rose asked.
The centaur looked startled. "I'm a centaur," he said.
“Of course you are," Rose answered. "Two nights ago, I had a dream about being a horse. I've never had a dream like that before, have never been on a horse, have never even given them much thought. But there I was, running across an open plain like this one at an amazing speed, and it felt GREAT. And then this unicorn showed up, and we had sex, and that was pretty great too. And then the dream ended."
The centaur looked nervous; Rose continued. "And then LAST night, I had a dream about being a centaur, and I have REALLY never given any thought at all to centaurs, but it was still really interesting..." She cupped her breasts with her hands. "But let me tell you, galloping is not NEARLY as much fun when you're a centaur as when you're a mare. You should remember that. But anyway, the unicorn showed up again, and we had sex again, and it was still pretty great."
The centaur was beyond nervous now; Rose smiled. "So tonight, I have ANOTHER dream about being a centaur, in pretty much exactly the same open plain, and along comes a centaur who has exactly the same coloring as the unicorn, and even has some kind of weird white bone thing in the middle of his forehead, and you expect me to NOT know that you're the unicorn again?"
The centaur dropped his eyes, sighed, then looked back at Rose and shrugged. "I like variety..."
"Would you at least tell me your name?"
"Fiddler. My name is Fiddler."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Fiddler. My name is Rose."
"Pleased to meet you, Rose. Can we get on with the sex now?"
Rose shrugged and said, "Oh, what the hell."
==)>>> 1:2: Waterfall Meadow
"What in hell are you supposed to be?" Rose asked.
"I'm a faun," Fiddler answered. He did a quick full turn.
"The lamb's tail is charming, but... Why?"
"Because you wanted your own body, and unicorns and humans don't... mesh... well."
"Oh. Right. But why not just be human?"
Fiddler shrugged. "Once you've gone goat, you'll never go back."
==)>>> 1:3: Waterfall Meadow
"This is a really beautiful place," Rose said.
"I thought you'd like it. Open plains are kind of pointless for human legs."
Rose nodded. "Is this place real? Does it exist in the real world?"
Fiddler shrugged. "The waterfall isn't as high, or as full; the water isn't as clear, and is a lot colder; there's more mud, and less sand; the lawn isn't as nice... It's a real place, I've been there, but I've been dressing it up, over the years."
"Well, it's gorgeous. And... Could we talk for a while first? Or... All right, after. Promise me we'll actually have a conversation, after."
Fiddler nodded. "After. Or maybe between."
==)>>> 1:4: Waterfall Meadow
"Corrosive flower?" Fiddler asked. "Why does your belly say, 'Corrosive flower'?"
Rose propped herself on her elbows and looked down at the tattoo between her hip bones. "Corrosion Flower. It's supposed to be 'Corrosion'."
Fiddler shrugged. "Maybe. I'm not an expert at reading dragon runes. But... Why?"
"It's my name?"
"Didn't your parents like you?"
Rose grinned. "My parents liked me well enough, but they named me, 'Emerald', because of my eyes. The tattoo is an anti-pregnancy charm; the... um... magician who did the spell helped me pick out the name."
"Corrosion Flower? Did HE not like you?"
"She. Auntie Moss. She had a little house in the woods not far from town where she had lived for more than a hundred years, if the stories were true. She helped the local women with things like getting pregnant, giving birth, not getting pregnant, not giving birth..."
"NOT giving birth?" Fiddler asked; Rose just stared at him. "Oh. Right. So she wasn't human?"
"Probably not, if the stories were at all true."
Fiddler nodded. "That explains why the charm is so strong."
Fiddler tapped the tattoo with his finger. "It's a real part of who you are. As a horse, or a centaur, or anything else I might have you manifest as, that tattoo will always be there. I can shape the body underneath it, but I can't blank it out."
"Interesting. So... I knew that getting involved with one of the local boys was a trap, so my first time was with a sailor off of one of the coasters, and the dice fell badly, and I went to Auntie Moss for help. And she did help, but she also told me that the service was one to a customer, and that she COULD take me off of the path of motherhood permanently, but I had to decide SOON..."
"Or the choice would be made for you..."
Rose nodded. "Yeah. It wasn't hard. I didn't know of a single woman who had been born in that village, and had a child there, who didn't stay in the village until she died. So I started asking questions at the docks, and found out about Osprey and 'Sea Queen's Sufferance', and after a couple of tries I talked her into taking me aboard the next time she came through..."
"Why did Osprey matter?" Fiddler asked.
"Because she was a female captain. With a male captain, I would have tried to pass myself off as a boy; that had been my plan all along. But when I saw that Osprey had her own ship, and had a few women serving under her, that just made everything easier."
Fiddler nodded. "And then you went to see Auntie Moss again..."
"And got the tattoo. Right. She told me that since I was moving onto a new path, I needed to take a new name, and I asked for 'Rust'. Not 'Rusty', which is what my sailor had called me, because of my hair, I guess. But 'Rust' is a thing, and 'Rusty' is a condition, and that difference mattered to me."
Fiddler smiled. "You're picky for an illiterate fisher-folk brat."
"Damned straight. So I told all of this to Auntie Moss, and she did a rune casting, and then a bigger rune casting, and then she added a bunch of special runestones to the mix and did a few more rune castings, and then she drew a rune for me, and said that it wasn't 'Rust', is was 'Corrosion'. And then she drew another, simpler rune that she said was, 'Rose', and that together they added up to 'Corrosion Flower'. She suggested that as my new name, and said that 'Rose' was indicated in the pattern as the short form, and I fell in love with it right there."
Fiddler nodded. "I can see that. Or at least feel it."
"So then she did another rune casting, and gathered some ingredients, and did another casting, and more ingredients, and another casting, and then she showed me this little bottle of something, and told me to memorize the runes on the label."
"I think so." She rolled onto her stomach and started to draw elaborate symbols in the sand. "She told me that someday I would earn a way to translate the runes, and that I would eventually need to know what they said, because the stuff in the bottle was the most important thing in my particular charm, even though she had never used it for anyone else before."
Fiddler stared at the runes Rose had drawn. "That's ominous."
"The story, or the runes?"
Rose sat up and looked Fiddler in the eyes. "But you can read the runes?" Fiddler nodded. "And they say?"
Fiddler grinned. "Have you earned it?"
==)>>> 1:5: Osprey's Cabin
"Hello, Fiddler. Guess where I am."
==)>>> 1:6: Waterfall Meadow
"You talked to Osprey," Fiddler said.
Rose shrugged. "I talked to Lyssa, first, and she brought me to Osprey." She sighed. "There are four women on this ship, Fid, and you've been doing this dream sex thing with all four of us."
"You seem to think that that's a problem..."
Rose glared at him. "OF COURSE it's... Damn. I was angry. I was furious. And now I just want to have more sex."
"That's fine with me."
==)>>> 1:7: Waterfall Meadow
"You still owe me a story," Rose said.
Rose sighed. "Osprey told me some of it, and offered to tell me more, but I said I would give you a chance to tell me your version, and she said I could come back to her if you didn't co-operate."
Fiddler winced. "It sounds like I'm trapped."
"Only if you want to see it that way."
Fiddler shrugged. "I used to be a unicorn. I was a unicorn for hundreds of years. And then one day a wizard decided that he wanted a unicorn horn dagger to add to his collection of magical items, and he killed me, and my spirit retreated into my horn, and he re-shaped the horn into a dagger, and then I killed him. And now I'm a ghost bound to a dagger that used to be part of my body."
Rose scowled. "Someday, I'm going to figure out a way to get you to tell that story properly."
Fiddler snorted. "I'll bet I can make you forget your own name before that day ever comes."
Rose rolled her eyes. "You make me forget my own name on a regular basis. But it always comes back."
==)>>> 1:8: Waterfall Meadow
"I think I like being a faun," Rose said. "It's... comfortable."
"I thought you'd like it," Fiddler answered. "I certainly like it on you. You're... delicious."
"It's too bad there are no mirrors here. I'd like to see."
"No mirrors? You mean like that one behind the tree over there?" Fiddler laughed as he pointed.
"I think I understand 'delicious'," Rose said a few moments later. "This mirror... these mirrors are amazing."
"Of course, being magical, there's no reason to believe they're telling the truth."
Rose glared at him. "There are SO many reasons I should hate you."
==)>>> 1:9: Waterfall Meadow
"I understand that you're a hero."
Rose scowled. "I killed someone, if that's what you mean. I think that 'hero' takes a bit more than that."
"But the story?"
"Lyssa and Dzee and I were in a tavern; we stick together shore-side, mostly. And yes, we were talking about you, at least some of the time, and yes, you should be worried about that. But there was this drunk who wouldn't leave Dzee alone; I think he just wanted her to follow him into the alley so he could rape her. So I got him to challenge me to a duel."
"Got him to?"
Rose grinned. "When a woman starts needling a lustful drunk who outweighs her about his virility, he's going to want to get violent."
"And you were sober?"
"More sober than he was, anyway. If I'd really been sober, I would have found another way. But he made the challenge, and I accepted and called knives, and they cleared us a circle, and I stripped to the waist..."
"Because he was a lustful drunk and I thought that the jiggle would distract him, and because I was drunk enough to think that it was a good idea. And it probably was. And then someone called, 'Go!' and I dodged his first lunge and put a knife through his throat into his spine. I got a pretty decent scar on my gut out of it, though."
Fiddler shook his head. "That was really stupid."
"Probably. But no one got raped, and someone else paid our bar bill, and someone had sewn up my stomach and I had gone through a pitcher of beer before I remembered to put my shirt back on."
"You're going to get a reputation."
Rose shrugged. "I protect my friends, I can fight, and I have pretty nice breasts for being so skinny. I could do worse."
"I can't argue with any of that."
==)>>> 1:10: Waterfall Meadow
"Tell me about unicorns," Rose said.
Fiddler rolled his eyes. "Tell me what you know about unicorns, and after I've stopped laughing, I'll consider correcting you."
"And you call ME a brat. All right, they're rare, and when they do show up, they tend to kill stallions and bulls and rams and stags, and sometimes they carry away innocent young girls who are never seen again."
"Humph. We only kill when we have to, and the girls we kidnap aren't all that young or innocent. At least mine never were."
Rose laughed. "There is no way I am going to let you stop there."
Fiddler sighed. "Unicorns are... fertility creatures. Sort of really minor fertility gods. We come on a herd of appropriate creatures -- that usually means horses or cows or deer or sheep -- and we impregnate every female in the herd that isn't too old or too young or already pregnant. If the males insist on being killed before we finish, we kill them."
"They're animals, Fid. They don't know any better."
"I know. It always made me sad."
"But you never left the herds alone."
"Can you stop breathing? As far as I know, that was what unicorns were built for. I don't think I was able to think about not doing it, when I was still alive."
Rose was quiet for a while while she thought about that, then asked, "What about the girls?"
"I had more choice, there. But imagine. You're an intelligent being, able to read and understand language, and you're compelled to seek out and mount cows and horses and sheep and deer wherever you can find them. It gets LONELY. And it's really nice to have someone to comb out your mane and tail, and pick off the burrs. So we dream walk, and we look for unhappy young women, and we offer them a deal: Life as our servants, instead of whatever local hell they are living in."
"And they would come?"
"Don't be surprised. It was quite a pitch." Fiddler's voice took on a theatrical edge. "Come with me; you will probably never again sleep under a roof, or in a bed. You will often be cold and hungry and exhausted. You will work hard, and you may not live long. But you will see more of the world than most have ever dreamed of, and you will never be alone."
"And they would come."
"You probably would have."
Rose blinked at that. "Do you think so?"
Fiddler shrugged. "I know that the Corrosion Flower was born with the horizon in her eyes."
"That may be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me."
Fiddler grinned. "No one else has ever known you as well as I do."
==)>>> 1:11: Waterfall Meadow
"Why do you call yourself 'Fiddler'?" Rose asked.
"Because I am one."
"But... You've never had hands, other than in here, have you? So you just make it up?"
"I am deeply offended by the implication that I would in any way cheat at so sacred an art."
Rose rolled her eyes. "I doubt that you're capable of being deeply offended by anything."
Fiddler stood, and indicated two fiddles that were suddenly at his feet. "May I introduce the Ogre, and the Princess. If the action on the Ogre were any worse, I would smash it to bits, and if the tone were any more suspect, I would throw it on the fire. The Princess has as fine an action as any fiddle that has ever existed, and a tone to match. When I learn a song, I beat it into submission on the Ogre, and when I am satisfied with it, I play it on the Princess, and the rocks themselves weep."
"That's quite a claim."
"I am prepared to demonstrate. Name a tune."
"'Chasing the Luck'."
"The Lady has good taste," Fiddler said, then picked up the Princess, checked the tuning, and began to play.
When he had finished, Rose took a ragged breath and said, "Gods and Monsters, Fid, that's better than sex."
Fiddler bowed and said, "The Lady flatters me, but I beg to differ."
"And you're prepared to demonstrate?"
==)>>> 1:12: Waterfall Meadow
"So how did you learn to play the fiddle? Did one of your servants teach you in here?" Rose asked.
Fiddler did not answer for some time, then said, "I learned before I became a unicorn."
Fiddler shrugged. "Unicorns aren't born unicorns. When a unicorn impregnates a herd, almost all of the offspring are female. Extremely healthy and beautiful females, as it happens, but females. But every now and then, maybe one in a thousand, there's a male. And that male is a healthy and beautiful member of his mother's species until late in his adolescence, and then one morning he wakes up, and he has become a unicorn, and his head is full of language and intelligence and more information than he had ever suspected existed in the world, and he runs away as fast as he can. After a day or two the terror wears off, and he goes looking for other unicorns, and once he finds one, he usually learns a few more things he needs to know, and then goes on his way. Unless the first unicorn he meets is one of the foul tempered jealous ones, in which case he'll probably just be dead."
"You went through that?"
"More or less."
"But you learned to fiddle first."
"Yes. It's something of a riddle."
"Stop that. I'm trying to think."
"And I'm trying to prevent you from thinking, and I'm going to win."
==)>>> 1:13: Waterfall Meadow
"You were right about me getting a reputation," Rose said.
Fiddler blinked a few times, then said, "From the fight?"
"Yep. The story has spread along the coast. Most versions are pretty accurate, but some say I stripped completely naked, and a few say that I castrated the fellow before I killed him. And since I'm the only tall, female, red-haired sailor on the coast, I'm easy to identify."
"Do you like it?"
"I think so. I get a lot of free drinks out of it."
"That never hurts."
"No, but there's more to it than that. It's as if... They still see me as a woman, but they don't see me as a woman FIRST. I'm a fighter, and a sailor, and THEN a woman. It's a big difference. Makes me wish I had killed someone sooner."
"No. I still see the light go out of his eyes as his blood flows over my hand almost every night."
"I have a cure for that."
"I've noticed. But it wears off."
==)>>> 1:14: Waterfall Meadow
"You were born a centaur, weren't you? That was how you learned to play the fiddle," Rose said.
"Yes," Fiddler said quietly.
"I would very much like to hear the story," Rose said, just as quietly.
Fiddler blinked a few times, then nodded. "As my Lady wishes." He laid back, put his hands behind his head, and talked to the air. "Centaurs hate unicorns. Centaurs are physically compatible, and have enough horse in them that they are utterly susceptible to unicorn magic. So a female centaur who finds herself alone with a unicorn WILL become pregnant, and, as the magic goes, will be happy about it, at least until the birth takes place. And then she will be angry that she was ensorcelled and raped, but she will have a beautiful new daughter, and life will go on."
Fiddler took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Everything is different with centaurs. With horses, it's one stallion and thirty mares, and if the stallion causes trouble, he can be killed in short order. But with centaurs, there are about as many stallions as mares, and they have spears and bows, and the unicorn needs to either run or die. But some unicorns are crazy, and like the challenge."
Fiddler rolled onto his side, mirroring Rose's position, and looked into her eyes, briefly. "My mother was different. She got it into her head that she wanted to bear a unicorn's child, and when she heard a rumor of a unicorn in the area, she went out looking for it. And they had sex, and then, since she was sure she was already pregnant, she went back to her village and had sex with every male who had a little time to spare."
"And no one thought that was odd?"
"Not really. Centaurs are kind of anti-monogamous."
"And the why of that?"
"She was hoping for, and expecting, a female child, but if the child was male, and the village knew it was the child of a unicorn, it would have been killed at birth."
"And then you were born."
"And then I was born, but the only one who knew I was under a death sentence was my mother, and she wasn't going to tell anyone. When I was eleven years old, my mother took me off to a little cabin in the middle of nowhere, and then she told me what I was, and why we were there. And we lived there until I was fourteen, and I changed. I played the fiddle a LOT during those three years."
"Because you thought you were going to lose the ability."
"And my hands, and my face, and my ability to speak... I was not a happy child, in those days."
"I am so sorry you had to go through that, Fid."
Fiddler shrugged. "There have been compensations."
==)>>> 1:15: Waterfall Meadow
Rose said, "I'm looking for another berth, Fid."
"I've been looking into going to another ship. I've gotten offers from a couple of different pirate chasers; they're always interested in topmast monkeys who can fight. I've been everywhere that the 'Sufferance' is ever going to go, and it's time to move on."
"But I might never see you again..."
"Don't do that, Fid. Don't reach inside my head and make me feel like I can't live without you. We both know that that fades away as soon as I wake up, anyway, and then I'm just twice as unhappy or angry as I was before. And that's part of the problem. I enjoy being with you, but I never know, the next morning, if what I feel is real, or just the result of you messing around in my skull."
"You're my friend."
"I think so. Sometimes I even think I could fall in love with you, but that just makes it worse. Because not only do I not know if it's real, I know for certain that you will always belong to Osprey. You might even be able to make me content with that, confuse me so much that I didn't mind being the spare woman. But I would never agree to that if you didn't mess with my head." She stopped for breath. "Gods, Fid, I'm not even the ONLY spare woman; you have Lyssa and Dzee too, and any other girl that comes on board."
"I don't know. Whenever I get an offer I like. Probably the next time we raise Ironbridge."
Fiddler stared at her for a long moment, and then smiled. "I don't suppose we should waste time, then."
"Fid, wait. Would you play 'Chasing the Luck' again for me, first?"
Fiddler smiled more broadly. "As my Lady wishes."
==)>>> 1:16: Osprey's Cabin
"This is it, Fid. It's been a lot of fun."
"May the gods smile on you, Rose. Think of me from time to time."
"Every time I hear a fiddle. Every damned time."
Chapter Two – Losthaven
No need to search, it's time to mourn; your bride's gone off with a unicorn. --Kzanti children's song
==)>>> 2:1: Darkness
"Rose! Is that really you? Gods, please let it be you..."
"Fid? What's wrong? Why is it so dark?"
"I'm... I think I'm on the bottom of the ocean. You're very far away, and I don't have much energy."
"You're... Did something happen to Osprey?"
"She drowned. She... We were on deck during a storm, and she was swept overboard, and she drowned. I tried to help her, but then her ribs started to break, and she's dead now."
"When did this happen? Is the 'Sufferance' all right?"
"A while ago. I don't know. I don't know anything. You're the first person I've talked to since then."
"Fid... How long was it, after I left the 'Sufferance', that this happened?"
"I don't... A year?"
"I left five years ago, Fid. You've been alone on the bottom of the ocean for four years?"
"I guess so. I don't know. Probably?"
"Fid, how did you find me?"
"There are lights that I can see when I look for them, off in the distance; sorcerers and dragons and strange things. I can tell what they are if I try hard. And then I found YOU, and you're a sorcerer now, too, aren't you, and I'm so lonely..."
"Can you find me again, Fid? Tomorrow, when I'm asleep again?"
"Yeah, I think so. I hope so. I know what your light looks like, and sort of where it is. I can find you."
"That's good, Fid. Morning is going to come, and I'm going to wake up, but at night, when I'm asleep, I'll always want you to find me. Always. Remember that."
"Right. Rose always wants to talk to me."
"I think that that's very important, Fid. Never forget it. Never doubt it. Do you have any idea where you are?"
"I'm going to find you, Fid. I'm going to bring you back."
"That would be really good."
==)>>> 2:2: Darkness
"Right where you left me, Fid. How are you today?"
"Really glad I found you again. I couldn't touch you when you were awake, but you're back, now.”
"I will always... I'll do everything in my power to always be here, Fid. And I'll come for you as soon as I can, but it may be a while."
"I can wait. I don't have much choice. But it really helps knowing you are there, and trying."
"I went down to the docks today, and put out a reward, looking for anyone who can give me a date and location for Osprey's death. That should help."
"It should. Any idea of when you'll come?"
"First where, then how, because the where will influence the how, and THEN when."
"So a while."
“But as soon as I can.”
"I can wait."
"Gods, Fid, you sounded so forlorn yesterday. I'm so sorry."
"Do I sound less forlorn today?"
"Yes. Quite a bit."
"Hope will do that."
"So it would seem."
"Rose... Yesterday, I heard the first voice I had heard in four years. The darkness was over, and that was all that mattered. But now I've had a day to think about who that voice belonged to, and just how incredibly lucky I am. You're not just anyone, you're my friend, you're the Corrosion Flower, you're a sorcerer, you're YOU. And if you say you'll rescue me, you will."
"With the horizon in my eyes."
"The horizon's not big enough for you, Rose. Not even close. And you're going to come for me, and I'm going to follow you forever."
"Yeah, I am. And I'm going to hold you to that."
"You have to catch me first."
==)>>> 2:3: Darkness
"Hello, Fid. How are you today?"
"Very much the same, thank you. How else would I be?"
"How do you do it, Fid? Why are you sane?"
"I'm not IN the dark, Rose, I'm just surrounded by it. I have my dreamspace; I have my music, and I can run, and swim. And I started doing sculpture, of all the lovers I could remember."
"I thought you were short of energy."
"I am; I used to draw on Osprey, or my other partners, whenever I would reach out. But the dagger stores some, and recharges itself, slowly. And the dreamspace is really all inside the dagger, so it doesn't take much, or any."
"Hmm. Fine. Have you made a sculpture of me?"
"Three of them. As a human, as a faun, and as a mermaid."
"It seemed right. And if the faun was delicious... I don't have words for the mermaid."
"You'll have to show it to me sometime."
"As soon as I can."
==)>>> 2:4: Darkness
"And how is her Luminosity this evening?"
"Restless, Fid. And frustrated. Nothing went right today."
"I'm sorry to hear it."
"Because you ARE, Rose. Before, you were fairly ordinary, magically speaking. And now you're big and bright."
"I was a sixteen year old girl, Fid. And now... I'm a lot different."
"And the story behind that is?"
"YOU want ME to tell YOU stories? After all the dodging you used to do?"
"I'm sorry, Rose. I'll try to make it up to you. And soon enough I'll never be able to say 'No' to you ever again."
"What was that?"
"If you recover the dagger, and bond with it-- which I want you to do-- I'll be your slave as long as you draw breath. It's the nature of the magic."
"That's awful, Fid."
"It is the way of things. I'm a ghost, and I've just spent four years with no company at all. I'm fond of you, I think you're fond of me, and it will be my honor to serve you."
"So you were Osprey's slave, before."
"And she didn't care that you went dream walking with me and the other girls?"
"Well... She saw no point in objecting. I can't refuse an affirmative command, but 'Don't' is not affirmative. Not when the person who gives the order has to sleep."
"No, I'm a ghost. A charming and elusive ghost. Also a persistent one. The story?"
"Tomorrow. You deserve to have the need to sleep played against you."
"Well played, my Lady. Until tomorrow, then."
==)>>> 2:5: Darkness
"Good evening, Madam Storyteller."
"Remind me again why I don't hate you."
"Because I am a paragon of moral rectitude?"
"Para... That may be the most absurd thing I've ever heard anyone say."
"I exist for your amusement. But you still promised."
"I'm not sure I did, but I'll tell it anyway. And I can feel that grin."
"I have never grinned in my life."
"There is that. The story?"
"The story. Fine. I left 'Sufferance' and shipped out on the 'Storm Turtle', a pirate chaser. They rated me as an Able Seaman, and an apprentice at arms. They worked me hard, and I earned my keep. I learned how to use a lot of weapons, and fought in several actions. My tally got up to nine kills..."
"Including that first duel?"
"Yes. The deed gets easier. And the ghosts get smaller, eventually. Eventually. They promoted me, called me an Able Seaman at Arms. I felt like I belonged, it was good. And then one day, after I had been on the 'Turtle' for about two years, there was a situation where I got myself isolated against two opponents. Some of my crewmates saw the situation, rushed to help me, and when they got there I was still standing and my enemies were dead. And then they started doing tallies, and decided that I had killed someone else earlier, making three in one day."
"That sounds impressive."
"My crew mates thought so. The next time we made port, they wouldn't let me buy a drink, and I took advantage. There was a man in the bar; he had red hair and green eyes, and he started calling me cousin because we matched. And then I started calling him cousin, and we ended up in bed together."
"And you promised me you would be faithful."
"You have a sick sense of humor. I woke up sick the next morning, fevered and delirious. I stayed that way for several days. The 'Turtle' waited an extra day for me, but eventually they had to sail, and left me and all of my things with the local healers. Healers who didn't actually have any idea what was wrong with me, as it happened."
"But you recovered anyway."
"But I recovered, eventually. I woke up with a head full of a language I didn't know, and the ability to cast a handful of minor spells. I think that I've learned what it felt like when all of the unicorn knowledge landed on you."
"It sounds like it."
"Do you remember the runes I showed you, that Auntie Moss had taught me?"
"Yes. They said, 'Sea dragon blood'."
"Just like that? No torment before you told me?"
"You already knew. What would be the point?"
"Spoilsport. So, yes, the mystery language was Dragontongue, and I got fine scales over most of my body to go with it."
"Yup. The redhead had them too, but he had some kind of illusion over them. I only know they were there from my fingertips, and by the time I had my hands on him, I was too drunk and too involved to care."
"Really? Scales? I know you get really involved but... Scales?"
"Do you want me to tell the story or not?"
"Forgive me, your Reptilian Majesty. Please continue."
"Do you WANT me to leave you on the bottom of the ocean?"
"So... I took my scales down to the local sorcerer, and he did some magical examination, and he decided that I must have had a sea dragon in my ancestry. So that, plus the sea dragon blood in my tattoo, combined with another injection of... material from my scaly red headed friend. who apparently was a sea dragon at some level..."
"No. I blush every time I think about it."
"And those three things combined to trigger a metamorphosis. Which made me a dragonmage, mostly a hedge wizard. And then I talked Drellan, the local sorcerer, into taking me on as an apprentice, and then a few weeks ago, I broke the Second Circle and I became an honest-to-brimstone sorcerer."
"You're not going to let that go, are you?"
"I kind of want to take them for a test ride."
"Good night, Fid."
"Until tomorrow, Rose."
==)>>> 2:6: Darkness
"Hello, Fid. It's your turn, tonight."
"As my Lady wishes. If only I had a story to tell."
"Tell me how you died. Full orchestration, four part harmony."
"It's a long story."
"I thought you were going to follow me forever."
"But I'm an incorrigible liar."
"Which means you should have no trouble making something up. Tell the story."
"But to tell that story, I have to tell you about Salsi, and to tell you about Salsi, I have to tell you about Kellath..."
"Sooner started, sooner finished, Fid."
"And that means I have to start with more about unicorns, and how they interact with humans."
"Impatiently, I should think."
"Indeed. Let's start with the dreamspace. A sleeping unicorn, or a dead one, as it turns out, can usurp the dreams of any creature that CAN dream, and pull that creature into his dreamspace."
"Any creature that dreams, though there isn't much point if that creature doesn't have language. Inside the dreamspace, we, the unicorns, have a great deal of power, though there are limits. We can shape earth and rock and plants as we wish, but we can't create animals; we can shape our guests in any way that we wish, and we can shape ourselves within certain odd limits. Our own forms always have cloven hooves, pointed ears, a tail of some kind, some kind of single horn, and our hair is always silver-white."
"So the faun shape you wore was the closest you could get to being human."
"Exactly. We can't actually compel our guests to move the bodies we make for them against their wills, but we can manipulate their desires to an extent that's almost the same thing."
"There's a difference?"
"It's deception rather than coercion. Suppose there was a coffin in front of you, and someone wanted you to get into it. He could physically overpower you, and force you into the coffin, or he could offer you some absurd amount of gold to climb in on your own. Assuming there's no gold..."
"And there almost certainly isn't..."
"...The first example is coercion, the second is deception. You could do either with magic, and no physical contact, but they're different things. Unicorns can't do magical coercion in the dreamspace. They can do physical coercion; a unicorn can commit significant acts of physical violence on his guests if he wishes to. Some of my cousins are sick and evil creatures."
"But not you."
"I have tried very hard to avoid evil, but I have been extremely careless and stupid on occasion."
"Careless AND stupid. That's an exit line if I ever heard one. Goodnight, Fid."
==)>>> 2:7: Darkness
“Good evening, Rose.”
"Good evening, Fid. Where were we?"
"You were regaling me with stories of your childhood."
"You should be ashamed. You're capable of much better lies. And we were discussing coercion and dreamspace."
"So. A unicorn can pull anyone into his dreamspace, and do anything he wants."
"Almost. Some people are too strong. You, for instance."
"I seem to recall otherwise."
"That was then. Osprey was stronger than you were, and I drew my strength from her. When I was alive, I was stronger than Osprey was. But you, now, are much stronger that that."
"Good to know. Wasn't there a story in here somewhere?"
"Eventually. Maybe. Other than recreation, the USEFUL thing that unicorns do while dreamwalking is find and recruit servants."
"And just how is a a 'servant' different from another guest?"
"A servant has been bound to the unicorn with a blood oath, and can communicate with the unicorn while conscious without physical contact with the unicorn's horn."
"Which is otherwise necessary, even if the unicorn is dead?"
"Even when the unicorn is dead. The difference is that the living unicorn is stronger than the servant, and able to control her emotions, and the dead unicorn draws strength from the partner, so the living partner is dominant."
"Again, good to know. But that seems to be a pretty minor difference."
"The communication includes the same level of emotional control that the unicorn has in dreamspace."
"So a servant is really a slave, who can be made to want to do anything the unicorn wants."
"And you think I would have made that deal?"
"Sixteen-year-old you, maybe. Not who you are today; you're too scary."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
"I'll take that as an exit line."
"No, unicorn. Though I admit to occasional similarities."
==)>>> 2:8:: Darkness
“Good evening, Rose.”
"Good eveing, Fid. Still waiting for the story."
"I am vanquished; my subterfuges are defeated, I surrender."
"I'm rolling my eyes extravagantly."
"Even so. Well, then... After I changed, after I became a unicorn, I followed the... Instinct? Compulsion? Whatever-it-was, and went looking for another unicorn. The one I found was mostly crazy, and tried to kill me, but he had never been anything but a unicorn, really, and I had been a centaur, and I understood things about fighting that he had never had to learn. And he was used to fighting creatures that were not nearly as fast as he was, and he didn't have that advantage against me, and eventually I killed him. I was REALLY unhappy about that, but I kept looking for other unicorns, and eventually I found one."
"And this one wasn't crazy?"
"No, he was really nice, and he had a healthy and very friendly servant, too. And he told me some things about dreamspace, and a LOT about taking care of servants, and his servant taught me some things about having sex as a biped..."
"Wait a moment. I need to.. I think I need to forget that last line, but... Taking care of servants?"
"Humans can't live by grazing, and need clothing under most circumstances, and are really easy to kill if you do something like tell them to stop complaining."
"I would imagine."
"So I went on my way, and when I got lonely, I went looking for a servant. I went through the first few pretty quickly, in spite of the coaching, until I figured out what to look for when I was recruiting, and learned the necessary survival skills myself. Farm girls, even on remote farms, don't often have the hunting and tracking skills that life with a unicorn required, so I had to be able to teach them."
"That makes sense."
"I learned to look for battered wives with no children, or perhaps a single child that made her unhappy that she was willing to abandon. Sometimes they killed their husbands as they left; sometimes I killed their husbands. One killed her husband AND her infant child; I didn't know she was planning that until it was done. She killed herself not too long afterwards, and I didn't regret her death. I felt pretty awful about the whole situation, though."
"So you were a monster with a guilty conscience?"
"If you like. I never just turned around and recruited a new servant, though; it was usually at least a year, and sometimes several years, after each loss, before I went looking for a new servant. And that, finally, brings us to Kellath."
"Who you mentioned at the start of this?"
"Yes. He was my next-to-last servant."
"Yes, he. My worst mistake in a long string of them. I'd been alone for a long time, and had wandered far north. I didn't think about it at the time, but I guess that one of the reasons was that there were fewer herds up that way, and fewer herds meant fewer compulsions. But I got really lonely, and started wandering to the edge of settlements and doing dream walks. And I found Kellath, who was a middle-aged slave from the south who hated his life, but knew he would die in the wild if he tried to run. So I offered him a chance to go south again."
"This can not end well."
"It doesn't. After a few weeks, I got stupid, and put it in his head to wonder what it was like to be a woman, and it went from there. I was happy, he was happy because I forced him to be happy, and then one day while we were on a mountain trail along the edge of a cliff, he jumped off of my back and over the edge."
"So not EXACTLY evil, but REALLY careless and stupid."
"I need to think about that for a while."
"I'll be here."
==)>>> 2:9: Darkness
"Good evening, Rose."
"Good evening, Fid. Please tell me that last night was the worst bit."
"Well, I'm going to die, but yes, that was the worst thing I've ever done."
"Onward and upward, then."
"Indeed. After Kellath, I was alone for a LONG time. More than a decade. But as always, I got lonely, and started to dreamwalk again, and eventually I met Salsi, who was intelligent and personable and the most miserable person I had ever met. She was married to a brute who beat her regularly; when I first started talking to her, she was on her third pregnancy, having lost the first two to her husband's fists. I offered to kill him more than once, but she told me that she wanted to persevere. And then the brute came home drunk, and she lost this pregnancy too, and I kicked down the door and pinned her husband to the wall and watched him bleed out. Then I healed Salsi, and asked her to be my servant, and she accepted."
"How did you know what had happened? How did you find her?"
"Because I was waiting for her in dreamspace, and she turned up unconscious. I knew where she was physically because I had been looking for her, and asking her questions. She took the oath, climbed on my back, and we ran. I had learned a LOT about the care and feeding of servants, by that time, and I kept her alive for nearly a hundred years. We worked out a deal where we would actually get paid for servicing the herds. Life was really good for many years."
"And then someone killed you."
"And then a thrice damned sorcerer named Belkith Norr decided he wanted a unicorn horn dagger, and, eventually he found me. For a few years he just sent servants; they tried to kill me, and I killed them instead, and they tried to capture Salsi, and I killed them instead, and then finally Norr got bored, and came in person, and blasted me. I don't know what happened to Salsi. That's kind of worse than being dead."
"I don't have words, Fid."
"There aren't any. I appreciate the thought, though. But to continue: When a unicorn dies, its essence retreats into its horn. The unicorn can give up existence if it wants to, but life as a ghost in a unicorn's horn isn't that bad. And the horn is anchored to the skull unless the unicorn lets go of it. So Norr threw a domination spell on me, and made me let go of the skull, and then he used magic to reshape the horn into the dagger you know. And then he used another compulsion spell to force me to create a blood bond with him, and then I was his slave."
"Except that he was such an arrogant bastard that he never actually learned the rules. 'Never attempt to harm me in any way,' is not an affirmative command. He opened the bond between us, which gave me access to his power, and then he tested the edge of his pretty new toy against his thumb, and I turned the full force of his will, which was significant, against his body, which was pretty ordinary, and he died."
"Which left you where?"
"Which left me locked in a sorcerer's workshop, waiting for some enterprising thief to break in and let me get on with my existence."
"Why do I get the feeling that this isn't something else that I should feel sorry for you for?"
"Norr had a dragon bone staff, that was also left behind in the lab when he died."
"When a unicorn dies, its essence retreats into its horn. When a dragon dies, its essence is fragmented throughout its entire skeleton, and under the right circumstances, each of those fragments can develop into a complete personality. So Norr's staff actually had a dragon spirit that hated Norr as much as I did."
"You are NOT going to tell me..."
"Yes, she was female. Sulissa and I became very good friends before the helpful thief finally made his entrance."
"Why do I think that if I leave you where you are, you'll find a new species of mermaid?"
"I'd really rather have you, Rose."
"And on that note, good night."
End of Free Sample