It is important to know yourself, to know just exactly who and what you are.
You can only be true to yourself. And when you try to be someone or something else you run the risk of losing yourself and injuring not only yourself, but also those who trusted you to be who you said you were.
This presents a bit of a problem for me.
Since I don’t really know the answer to either of those questions.
And sitting here in these stolen monk’s robes in the Abbot’s quarters, wearing a stolen face (the more handsome of the two monks), on this paddleboat while guards search the decks looking for Calliper (me), believing me to be a thief, which I am, because they believe I stole some valuable cup, which I didn’t, reminds me of this story.
It reminds me of this story a lot.
You see, one day, not so long ago, a scorpion looked around at the desert where he lived and decided that he wanted a change. So he set out on a journey across the sand. He climbed over dunes and under rocks and kept going until he reached a river. The river was wide and swift, and the scorpion stopped to reconsider the situation. He couldn’t see any way across to the green forests and hills on the other side. So he ran upriver and then checked downriver, all the while thinking that he might have to turn back. Suddenly, he saw a young frog sitting in the rushes by the bank of the stream on the other side of the river. He decided to ask the frog for help getting across the stream. “Hello Frog!” called the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”
“Well now, Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you won’t try to kill me?” asked the frog hesitantly. As a pollywog he has seen another young frog stung and eaten by a devious scorpion. It was a hard lesson to forget.
“Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”
Now this seemed to make sense to the frog, who was a bit too trusting for his own good. But he wasn’t a complete idiot, so he asked. “What about when I get close to the bank? You could still try to kill me and get back to the shore!”
“This is true,” agreed the scorpion, “But then I wouldn’t be able to get to the other side of the river!”
“Alright then, how do I know you won’t just wait till we get to the other side and then kill me?” said the frog.
“Ah,” crooned the scorpion, who could bluff his way through any situation, “Because you see, once you’ve taken me to the other side of this river, I will be so grateful for your help, that it would hardly be fair to reward you with death, now would it?!”
So the frog agreed to take the scorpion across the river. He swam over to the bank and settled himself near the mud to pick up his passenger. The scorpion crawled onto the frog’s back, his sharp claws prickling into the frog’s soft hide, and the frog slid into the river. The muddy water swirled around them, but the young frog stayed near the surface so the scorpion would not drown. He kicked strongly through the first half of the stream, his flippers paddling wildly against the current. Halfway across the river, the frog suddenly felt a sharp sting in his back and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the scorpion remove his stinger from the frog’s back. A deadening numbness began to creep into his limbs. “You fool!” croaked the frog, “Now we shall both die! Why did you do that?”
The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drowning frog’s back. “I could not help myself. It is my nature.” Then they both sank into the muddy waters of the swiftly flowing river and drowned.
So here I am, hiding in the Abbot’s quarters as the boat continues upstream on this swiftly flowing river. Am I the stung or the stinger? I guess it doesn’t matter. They both drowned.
Bartholomew had this vision that a band of orcs would attack this boat and steal the Wrathstone. We all decided to gain passage on the boat to make sure the Wrathstone got to the safety of the City of Veluna. It is a magical place where murder is impossible. I am told that you just cannot kill once you are in there. What would the scorpion do if he ever got there? Would it change his nature?
I didn’t come on board with them. Bartholomew was making much noise about taking me back to the town where I borrowed the horses from those rich adventurers so that we could finish our quest after some thief stole our horses. Somehow, in his mind, I was wrong for doing that. He said they would put me in jail for a while until I learned my lesson, but he is too naive. I have watched men dangle at the end of the rope if they were stupid and got caught for stealing horses. Rulers and lawmen want revenge. They have no desire to teach anyone a lesson.
Of course once we got to Tempton, Abbot Franken said that we owed him for the horses that were stolen from us and deducted that from the reward he had promised to give us for helping the church. Of course no one sees THAT as stealing. Not when an abbot does it.
So I sold the horses to recoup what we should have gotten all along. We almost broke even, because I couldn’t really get a good price, but I had time limits so sometimes you have to take what you can get.
I got a job as “Calliper” the waiter on the Lilysis, this big paddle boat. It looks like some strange gnome dreamed it up. It is a very clever design and honestly there aren’t fifty men below deck getting whipped to make them row, so I guess it’s all good. This girl named Malika interviewed me and gave me the job. The way she looked at me made me real happy I had decided to put on a human face for this job. I thought she liked ginger boys. I think her name means “I like bad” which makes me think she has got something to hide.
My job as a waiter was working out okay. I was able to really listen in to a LOT of conversations and learned what some of the folks were up to. There is a thief on board the Lilysis (besides me, I mean) but I don’t know who it is for sure yet. I have my suspicions, but . . .
I found out where the abbot was staying. He had these two monks in a room and they never came out, but Brandon told me later that it was just a red herring, to throw people off, and that the real Wrathstone was hidden in the Captain’s safe. I wonder sometimes why they call a deception a “red herring”. Are those particular deceptive fish? There must be some story about a red herring I have never heard yet. I have to remember to ask Bartholomew, or maybe Brandon. He might know.
We got the Wrathstone, because it just seemed to me that I had to, as much as possible, change what Bartholomew saw in his vision. Túriel told me that the secret to changing a prophecy is to change lots of little things that eventually all add up to a big change.
That’s how she did it. And she had the gift.
You have to stay close and listen to people who have the gift.
But even though it seemed like the right thing to do it was the wrong thing to do I guess. Like a stupid trusting frog I let Brandon carry the stone, and then he decided that he was going to hide it somewhere and not tell us where he put it.
He is a creature of death.
He swallows the souls of the dying. He likes this stone too much. We finally got it back from him, finally, well sort of. He left it on the new guy’s bunk on the ship. I think he thought they were going to search the ship and might find it on him. He’s not really a team player, you know. But then when you see all your companions as your next potential meal I guess being a team player is sort of like playing with your food. He was much more interested in getting laid by Malíka than talking it out. So I told Malíka all he wanted was to get in her pants. Brandon got pissed and asked what I was doing so I admitted I was just being a cock-blocker, which is what Stefán used to call me as a little kid when I went into town with him.
I didn’t know what it meant then.
I get it now. Boy do I get it.
So then we get the Wrathstone back. But wait, Batholomew tells us that Silvertongue has told him that Abbot Franken is the key to peace and must be protected. Túriel told me about some terrible dark times. She said that I was supposed to be on the “other” side, but now I would serve the side of light. I wonder. Can a scorpion actually stay saddled on a frog all the way to the far side of the river?
So I told Abbot Franken I would pretend to be him so he could stay safe in his room. I thought it was a good idea. It was a way of making some of those “little changes” I was telling you about. But then it all fell apart. But then Brandon had horns for Malika, and he got all “my precious” with the Wrathstone, and then Bartholomew decided to tell the Abbot that we had taken the stone and who knows what all, like telling secrets ever does anyone any good. I had to stop him from making a terrible mistake. It would end trust when trust is most needed.
Why do I have to get into a fight with my friends to make a point? Why is it paladins confuse honor with just being naive. People expect me to be stupid. But in my own way I am smart. I understand things. I understand how things work. I understand that a long time ago someone made up all these rules and when people follow them it works better for groups of people, especially the ones with power and money. But then people forget that someone made up those rules. It is easy to make up rules. Truth has its place. But then so does deception. So do secrets.
So then the new guy is about to attack Brandon and I really didn’t want to see him lose his soul. The new guy that is. Brandon wouldn’t fight him, he would just kill him—any way he could. But the new guy didn’t seethat. I could tell he thought it was going to be a fair fight. Why don’t people see how dangerous Brandon is? He really is. I am staying real close to him. The wagon folk have this saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.” It’s really true.
So there, in the middle of what is about to be this big fight, Captain Harvel comes in and announces that Chancellor Malakoy’s precious cup was stolen. I looked at Barthlomew and we both had the same thought, except I think HE was also wondering if I took the cup. But what we were BOTH thinking was that he was holding the Wrathstone and that they were going to find it on him when they searched us which is just what they were about to do. I was right by the door and so I ran, I grabbed the bag off him and ran. I knew it meant they would think I did it, but you know they were all going to think that anyway. It’s my nature. I made it all the way to the back of the boat and jumped in between the paddles to the center axel where I hid the stone. It was real hard trying to tie it to the axel. We kept turning and turning. But if you look at the axel, and not at the world spinning around you, it’s easier. And no one will think to look for it there. I sure hope that’s true, because I can’t keep it on me now like I wanted to.
So now I am here in the Abbot’s room, and I put on the face of one of his monks, and his robes. Maybe no one noticed whether or not there were two of three of them. Maybe. I’ll wait here until he comes back. I think I’ll tell him how I stole the Wrathstone (just me), to keep it safe, and I will also tell him that I did not steal the Chancellor’s precious goblet. People will expect me to steal something. It’s my nature, they will think, but stealing isn’t my nature—deception is. I knew that Brandon swallows souls and I still gave him the Wrathstone. (I am such a frog sometimes!) Of course he stung me. It’s his nature. Batholomew decided to confess his sins to Abbot Frankin. He thinks honor and truth are the answers to every problem. Even when telling the truth is the wrong thing to do. He can’t help it. It’s his nature. It’s the nature of the new guy to keep his secrets. I should be more like him. I used to be.
This is just like a game of poker. This is a lousy hand but I have to figure out the best way to play it. The abbot needs to keep his confidence in Bartholomew, I mean he IS the paladin. He is supposed to be the hero. The abbot may want to see the Wrathstone as proof, and I may have to give it to him, but I’m not sure what I will. Giving it to him might be proof I’m telling the truth, but then I will have changed none of those little things that need to be changed to change prophecy. On the other hand NOT telling him might be the card I need to play to save my life. And then there are others I need to protect. No one on this boat knows I am a friend of the adventuring group, so the crew believing Calliper to be the thief protects them. And then, on the other hand, maybe it would be easier to protect both the abbot and the Wrathstone if Abbot Frankin keeps it on his person. So I may need to lose this hand to win the game. Sometimes you have to do that.
The problem now is that no one trusts anybody. No one trusts me, and I’m not sure I even trust myself. I had to even ask myself if I stole that stupid goblet. I never did look in that gem bag, so I guess I should. Just to make sure. Now the captain mistrusts everyone on the boat, the passengers more than his crew. The abbot only sees us as pawns in some game he is playing. If Batholomew is right, he may be out last best hope for peace, but the man isn’t my favorite person by a long shot! I have to think he is destined to become something more than what he is now.
Bartholomew almost drew his sword on me last night, but he still trusted me enough to let me grab that bag off of him when I ran. So maybe he sees that I am just trying to help him? Honorable shouldn’t be stupid. I think maybe Silvertongue put me here to help him out with that. Somehow we all have to find a way to trust each other and work together if we are going to survive this journey up river.
I mean, it worked out well for the frog didn’t it?