Uncle Hyena (unclehyena) wrote,
Uncle Hyena
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The Turtle's Question

The Turtle's Question

Grex was not quite an adult when his first encounter with alcoholic courage led him to steal a boat and row off into the darkness of Hurricane Bay in search of the Great Monster Turtle. It was a very "Grex" thing to do. Not that Grex was particularly more prone to drunken suicidal foolishness than any other male kobold, but the choice of exploit was uniquely his.

Grex had been fascinated, if not actually obsessed, with Maelstrom the turtle since he was an eggling, when he had seen Maelstrom off in the distance. And he had been equally fascinated with the "rebirth legend" from the moment he had first heard that.

The story went that if a kobold were worthy, it could be reborn as a dragon. It was a thing that no kobold would ever admit to believing, but all hoped was true. The story was usually followed by a joke to the extent that all you had to do to prove the legend was get a dragon to admit that it had once been a kobold. After THAT was said, the gallery usually had a moment of wistfulness, and then got back to whatever they had been doing.

Grex had still been quite young when he married his two obsessions into the idea that Maelstrom must actually know the truth of the legend, and that he would tell someone who asked him properly. And THAT had left him vulnerable to the persuasion of a quarter bottle of cheap local brandy.

Grex was not a sailor, did not actually know the first thing about boats. He managed to figure out the oars without swamping, and a slight offshore breeze helped him establish a course into open water. Dawn found him exhausted, sober, and out of sight of the shore. He had no food, no water, and no idea how to get home. He refused to panic, and kept rowing until blisters on his hands made him stop.

There was a storm that night, and Grex met his second dawn in the boat with no oars, and a nearly full load of seawater. He bailed with cupped hands, and then hid from the sun under the boat's short forward deck. The next night brought rain, and gave Grex two full days of relief from thirst before the sun took the last of the fresh water away. By his sixth dawn in the boat, Grex was certain that he would not live to the seventh. He curled up under the deck and cataloged his regrets as he waited for Death.

It was nearly noon when Grex heard the voice. It was painfully loud, and so deep that he felt it in his empty belly almost as much as he heard it. "Are you alive, little one?" the voice asked.

Grex pulled himself to the gunwale and found himself looking into an eye that was almost twice as large as he was tall. He tried to speak, but his mouth was too dry, so he scooped up a mouthful of seawater and gargled it in the hope of getting his voice back, which made his visitor laugh. It was a thunderous, terrifying sound. "I was looking for you," Grex squeaked at last.

"Were you?" answered the turtle. "And what business would a kobold have with me?"

"I had a question."

"And that was?"

"Are worthy kobolds reincarnated as dragons?"

The turtle laughed again, then said, "That is a good question. And I know the answer. But you must answer two questions of mine. First, do you know that you are dying?"

"I... Yes, I do."

"Well then. Second, would you rather know, or live?"

Grex hesitated, and felt just a bit of shame when he answered, "I would live."

"Done!" said the turtle, and sank out of sight. He surfaced directly under boat, and then set off at a speed a runner would be hard pressed to match. Grex stood up long enough to be awe-stricken, then fell over and crawled back into his place in the bow of the boat, where he passed out. When he woke he found himself in a human-crewed cargo ship. The humans were not particularly fond of kobolds, but were terrified by the idea of mistreating a "gift of the Turtle."

None of the sailors spoke Drakken (Why would they?), but Grex had enough broken Kzanti to tell his story. One of the sailors was impressed enough to offer to give Grex a turtle tattoo, once he got his strength back, and Grex accepted. The tattoo hurt; the skin at the base of a kobold's throat is thin and sensitive, but Grex wanted it to be someplace where everyone could see it.

When they made port, the tattoo artist brought Grex with him to one of the waterfront taverns. The bartender objected-- kobolds were routinely chased away-- but the sailor insisted that Grex had a story that was worth hearing. Once that had been proven true, Grex was allowed a place at the end of the bar, and given a pile of beef jerky-- he had been offered whiskey, but turned it down, saying he had learned that lesson forever.

Sometime later, when the bar was more crowded, Grex was asked to tell the story again, and he stood up on his stool, and did so. When he had finished, a big man laughed at him, and called him a liar. Grex, all four feet and fifty pounds of him, jumped down and stalked to the man's chair. The man outweighed him by at least four to one. Grex stood toe to toe with him and shouted, in badly broken Kzanti, "I look in Turtle eye! You look in MY eye, call me liar?" The big man shrank back and looked away, and with that, Grex's reputation was made.

The word spread. In the kobold warrens of Hurricane Bay, he was Grex-Who-Rode-The-Turtle; among humans, this mutated into "Turtle the Kobold". He found he was welcome in at least one tavern in every town on the bay, and that he could always find a ship that would let him deadhead when he wanted to move on. He was considered lucky, he didn't eat much, and he wasn't quite a deadhead, anyway: he was willing to work, and became adept with sail-needle and splicing fid. His Kzanti and his storytelling skills improved, and he sired a LOT of egglings.

After several years, he used accumulated tip money to buy a boat from a carpenter in Ironbridge, and became a fisher. He sheltered in the several local warrens in turn, and visited the many friendly human taverns as the mood struck him. He sired even more egglings.

One day, when his joints were beginning to ache, and the turtle at the base of his throat had faded to a rumor, he decked over his boat with canvas on stringers, and once again sailed out into Hurricane Bay. This time, he was in no way young, or drunk, or ignorant, but his goal was the same. He had plenty of supplies, though all he really needed was hook, line, and a bit of bait; he had plenty of fresh water, though he could brew what he needed with sunlight from salt water.

He did a slow circuit of the entire bay, stopping as the whim took him, revisiting taverns and kobold warrens, and generally enjoying himself. He crossed the bay several times, edge to edge, just to do it. And then one day he hove to in the middle of the bay, threw a baited hook in the water, and put his feet up on the gunwale. Night came, and he slept. Day came, and he tossed out his line and put up his feet again. When he got too hot, he swam for a while. When night came, he slept.

One day, after Grex had lost track of how many days it had been since he had raised the sail, he once again heard and felt the thunderous voice of the turtle. "What are you doing?" the turtle asked.

Grex stood and steadied himself against the mast. "The same thing I was doing when we first met," he said. "Looking for you."

"We have met?" asked the turtle. And then he said, "You are the starveling? The lost kobold who chose life over knowledge?"

"That was me," Grex said.

"And you are looking for me again?"

"Yes," Grex said solemnly. "Last time, I chose life. Well, I have lived. And now, I want to know."

P.D. Haynie
March 30, 2021
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