Mattyw comes to lying face down on a strangely hard surface. As he blinks his eyes open, he sees that the ground seems to be made of some kind of orange stone. As he groans and rolls over, he sees the the ceiling – or sky, or whatever is above him – seems to consist of a deep, murky blue color.
He sits up up, head throbbing and looks around, trying to get his bearings. Massive orange stalagmites jut smoothly upward in all directions for what looks like a very long ways. He stands up slowly, each movement bringing new agonies to his headache. Suddenly, the ground shakes with violent force, sending him tumbling back down, and likewise sending spikes of pain through his skull.
After a moment, he realizes that what he is hearing is a voice – a really, really loud voice. A voice so enormous that it seems to come from all directions at once, its syllables as long and deep as the crash of a wave on a stormy sea.
“Ho, the teller of tales. Well met, young traveler. I trust fortune smiles on the bold, this day?”
After fighting off an intense panic, Mattyw settles for moderate discomfort and a bout of brief nausea. He collapses to the ground with the earthquake, clutching his head and at the ground, trying to steady himself as he grits his teeth through the pain.
He winces as the voice turns up the volume, making him feel worse than any night of drinking ever could. He squints around him as best he can, confused by the orange stone surrounding him. He looks down, expecting a boat, but sees none, and this just deepens his confusion.
As the tendrils of fear that he may be dead begin to weave their way around his heart, he manages to speak up meekly. “Fortune favors whom she may – she is steadfastly fickle, and kindly cruel. I learned long ago not to count on her to take care of me, but she has blessed me thus far. To whom do I owe the pleasure of listening?” He lowers his hands plaintively, as though pleading for leniency, or quiet.
“Hohohoho, well spoken indeed, thou wordsmite! As they say, Fortune’s wheel is ever turning. Who once is on top, will next be below, and so, and so.” The voice booms jovially. “The pleasure is mine, as I have had no visitors in some time, but you may take some pleasure from listening to me, if you wish!” The very air itself seems to vibrate around Mattyw as the voice continues, blurring and bending his vision in a rather dizzying manner.
“But tell me, thee of the silver tongue, do you not weary of running round and round? Always giving before taking? And so often giving more than what you get? Here below, there is no giving or taking – there is only having and not having. Is that not better?”
Mattyw attempts to haul himself to his feet, grabbing onto one of the stalagmites for support. He opts to shut his eyes, trying to force back the pain of his concussion with the force or his stubbornness alone. He attempts to mask the confusion he is feeling with a tone that is at once light and serious.
“I listen passably well, for in my days it has served me. Some days more than my voice, to be sure.”
“How might I weary? To run the chase is all there is. And to take before giving is folly. Everything is given – the sand gives us flowers that turn up to greet the sun. Flowers give to bees, who make the honey to give to us. The same honey that is turned into wine, and used to charm princes and ladies alike. But if everything is taken… if you take the flowers, the bees die. If the bees die, there’s no more honey. No more honey means no more gifts of supplication, and war and displeasure will surely result.”
“In days gone by, I was of the not having. I appeared much unlike you see me today – haggard, raw, unpolished and starving. And still I gave, because it is unthinkable to not. I took, of course, and do not deny that. But always I gave, when I could. Because there are always those worse off. I know because I was there, and because I was there I will always give. Even though now I have, and it would be easier to take, that does not make it better.”
Hohohoho! Well spoken again, Master Bard! Well spoken, indeed! Truly, you have a noble spirit and a worthy heart.” The rumble of the voice seems to echo in Mattyw’s very bones. “Princes and Ladies give peace, which lets the flowers alone to grow, and so the wheel turns on. But as you say, so many are ground beneath it just the same. Would you stop it, if you could? Give to those below the good fortunes of those above?”
Mattyw shivers, then tries opening his eyes once more. “What separates those below from those above? Blood? Law? I feel that fortune should smile on all. Would I stop it? I am not so sure. Many a tyrant has been deposed to have a worse tyrant take their place. But there have been benefactors who have succeeded malefactors.”
He pauses, thinking. “Would I stop it? Switch the fortunes of the rich and poor? No, I don’t think I would. To give the poor the riches of the kings would cause undue bloodshed, to unleash the tormented on their tormentors. No, I would give them the fortune to change their fate if they worked at it. Else we are stuck where we were before, between having and not having, and none are better for it.”
“I bow before thy wisdom, serenader of sooth! Truly, you have passed all tests. For what separates those above from those below is Fortune herself – capricious, aye, and without care for good or ill. And now, brave skald of the sands, she smiles on you. Will you accept the gift of Fortune?”
“A greater fool would I be to look down on Fortune’s blessing – I would shoulder her burden gladly, should her smile truly fall upon me. But first, pray, tell me whom it is that I address?”
Suddenly the ground seems to tilt beneath Mattyw’s feet, sending him tumbling and sliding across the smooth ground – after a moment he realizes that it doesn’t just seem to have tilted, the ground actually tilted from flat to a slope.
He slides down the new slope, unable to find purchase on the smooth, hard, orange surface. After a bumpy minute, he manages to grab onto one of the stalagmites. The earth seems to tilt farther and farther, until the slope has become quite steep. Nonetheless, Mattyw hangs on for nearly 15 minutes without trouble. At long last, though, his aching arms begin to weaken, and the ground shakes furiously. He is swung back and forth with such violence that when his grip gives out he actually soars through the air for a good thirty feet before slamming painfully down again, saved from serious harm only by the steepness of the slope. He continues to slide, faster and faster.
After several more minutes of this, he realizes that his momentum is slowing down, and he manages to find the courage to raise his head and open his eyes. What he sees causes him to shut them once more.
It’s a cliff face. And he’s heading straight for it.
As he goes over the edge, the only sound he can hear is that terrible thunderous laughter, echoing in his bones.
He falls and falls, tumbling endlessly it seems. But slowly he realizes that the fall is not quite so terrifying as he might have expected. The air around him seems to be thickening, becoming…soft? No, no soft. Wet.
He can feel it, now, the water flowing around him, soaking his skin. A sudden eddy strikes his face with surprising force, and he opens his eyes. It takes a moment to appreciate the fullness of the spectacle before him.
He is staring into the face of a massive crab. It must be as tall as the Tower of the Sun, and wider than the Sandship. And…it appears to be laughing at him.
“No soothsayer yet, then, but you could be.” Somehow, despite the lack of discernible facial features, Mattyw gets the feeling that the crab is smiling. “I told you already, Mattyw Lews. You are speaking to ME!”
Mattyw gasps and comes to, eyes wide open, just in time to get a bucket of water in the face. Sputtering, he wipes his eyes and looks up at his rescuer. A aging grey-haired fisherman smiles toothlessly down at him.
“Yew alie, shun?” Mattyw squints in the bright light, trying to process the man’s words. The man draws closer, and suddenly everything reeks of fish. “Son? You alive? Found your boat drifting down the river. She was leaking something fierce, and you looked to have swallowed a bit of water. Plus there’s a mighty lump on your noggin, like somebody took an oar to it or something. Looking a bit crispy, too, but I’ve seen worse.” He offers a hand to help Mattyw up.
Mattyw gladly takes the fisherman’s hand, wincing at the bright light. “Thank you, kind one. What time is it? How bad is it?” He presses a copper star into the man’s hand by way of thanking him.
Looking around, Mattyw realizes that he is back at the docks of Sunspear, not far from Vierro’s mooring. A small fishing boat is tied up at the end of this dock, and two other fishermen are unloading nets full of small orange-tinted king crabs.
Unable to shake the vivid dream, he stumbles over to the two fishermen, almost pitching into the river as he tries to assess how badly he was bitten by the sun.
Feeling his mouth parched, he grunts to the fishermen to get their attention and holds up a copper star between two fingers, and gestures at the crabs, indicating that he wants one. After handing over the monetary compensation, he gingerly takes hold of the crab before walking to the end of the dock, crouching down, and lowering the animal into the waters. He mutters something under his breath before heading off through the docks to find something to drink, all the while checking to make sure all of his belongings are intact.
Finding nothing missing, and his new acquisitions miraculously intact, he slowly makes his way to the Grand Chameleon.