Bewildering Stories

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I Still Wake From Nightmares

by Rachel Parsons

Table of Contents

Princess Rhiannon of New Fairy was a prodigal daughter of a king, forced by circumstance into a life of prostitution before returning to her father. Though freed from her servitude, Rhiannon has suffered a terrible curse and can never regain the modesty of childhood: she must appear naked at all times, vulnerable and cold. Her father’s subjects think her immodest, at best; strangers think far worse of her.

When she receives a letter from her sister, Queen Gwennan, asking her to come to her palace of Caer Dythal, and to come alone, Rhiannon is thrust into a series of adventures and political intrigues that put both her dignity and her sanity at stake.

part 1 of 8

“My Dearest Sister:

It feels like it’s been eons since I last wrote, or we last met. I wanted to visit you after your triumph but I had to help Math deal with insurrections here at home. You’re not the only warrior in the family, you know. I am so happy that you are back home. How is Heveydd? He is his grumpy old self still, I hear. But I am glad he let you command the forces, he is really a pussy cat inside, and I worried, when I heard of the war, that he would not have the manhood to fight it. I got a lot of glee that the one with the most ‘manhood’ was you, my dearest, little sister. I know how you hated our military training when we were girls. Of that, we were in concord!

I am writing you now because I am afraid. Of what, I do not know. But I awake at night, my heart racing; my lungs unable to bring in enough air. It is not death that I fear. Nor the quietness of night where monsters dwell. Math fought the monsters and won, after all, just as you did. Even if his monsters weren’t from the stars.

I frankly don’t know what it is that scares me. All I know is that I need my brave and strong sister, the one who united New Dyved and New Fairy and who drove the Terrans off our world. I know that affairs of State must weigh heavily on you now, but if you could come and see me, I would be most grateful. Even though I’m an old married woman now, and you are fancy-free, having killed your fiancé, the King Rat himself, Ferrell; it could be like old times.

Please let me know your decision as soon as possible.

Your loving sister,

I rubbed the knots on my neck as I read the letter. Then folded it back in on itself and leaned back in my chair, the wilding one that contours itself to your behind. The letter filled me with dread, although that could have been the stifling humidity. Heveydd has forbidden anything Terran because of what they did to me, and that includes air conditioning. Whether it was because I couldn’t breathe, or some sympathetic reaction to my sister’s plea, I gasped, and patted my chest for air.

Gwennan knows nothing of my curse, or that my triumph, as she referred to it, had been preceded by years of humiliation. I was hardly ‘fancy-free’ as the curse has spoiled my relationships with men. They look at me and either become closed off and distant, armoring themselves against their own feelings of lust that I inspire by my nakedness, or they give in and leer. They are more polite about it here in New Fairy than they were in New Dyved during my tribulation, men know they can’t simply take me for money and they fear my responses if they should cross any line, but they nonetheless react to me as men do.

And I have to endure the women’s whispers. I still remember the ones from my first Ball, after my return:

“She looks even sluttier than she did before she left, if you can believe it.”

“Why does she do that? I could never bring myself to go naked to a formal ball. Doesn’t she have any self-respect?”

“She was cursed by a witch, I hear.”

“Oh, I heard that’s just an excuse. That she does it to get men. That she became some kind of sex addict while in Ferrell’s court. That’s why he dumped her.”

“No, she wasn’t a sex addict. She was a prostitute. After Ferrell broke off their engagement and tossed her into the streets she did anything for money. No, I kid you not. I’ve seen the tapes personally.”

“You’re kidding, you actually saw the tapes? I thought the real reason for the war was to get those tapes and not because she killed Ferrell.”

“Well, my boyfriend found a bootleg copy and a Terran machine to run them. And you won’t believe the things she did.”

And then the awkward silence when they realized that I had come into the women’s toilette chamber and heard every word. Followed by false flattery and invitations to their Houses, invitations that would normally be expected to be extended when you meet the crown princess at a Barons’ Ball. Normally, it would be considered an honor, not a duty that you needed to do lest you be dropped into the Well of Souls, Heveydd’s punishment for not treating his daughter with the utmost respect and for at any time mentioning her cursed condition out loud. People had to pretend that I wasn’t naked, and sometimes they went to ludicrous extremes to do so.

If they accidentally spilled wine on me, going to great lengths to clean it up, before my ‘gown’ would be spotted. Men would notice I was shivering and not ask if I wanted to go inside; after all, if I were dressed I would be warm enough in the mild climate of New Fairy.

They are more respectful now; now that I know how to raise and command an army of the dead, but I still hear the voices in my head. Maybe, Gwennan needs her ‘strong and brave sister.’ Maybe her naked and ex-whore of a sister needs her. Maybe if I visited New Gwynedd, I could finally stop the voices. Maybe there I could meet a man who could court me without wondering where to put his eyes. I decided then and there to make the travel arrangements.

Heveydd wasn’t pleased, but he gruffly gave his consent. “Just be careful, Daughter. There are brigands afoot. Brigands, you know.”

“Father, I will have my guardsmen and my ladies-in-waiting. It’s not like I’m going to be borrowing a ride on the highways, you know.”

“I know Daughter,” he said sighing, and then filling his enormous, bulky frame up with air as if he were a child’s balloon. He rubbed the twin epees that made up his red beard and then guffawed. “Well, then, if you must go, I must give you a gift for your travels.” He made to leave the hall of familial gathering, where he would hold court over his family and few intimates, and bounded out to the stables. There he proudly pointed to a dragon pup. “Your’s for the trip, my Daughter!”

Swell. I really wanted to ride a creature with spines on its back. That would be bad enough in battle dress. It was Father’s way of being nice, but it was also his way of being in denial. His daughter didn’t have a bare butt; she didn’t have to worry about spines sticking it riding a dragon. I thanked him, and petted the dragon pup, letting him lick me, wondering how I was to get out of this one without hurting Father’s feelings.

I wrote Gwennan back, had a dragon rider courier the letter back to her, and made preparations for the trip. I received another letter from her two days later; almost too late as I had organized my entourage. I was taking six bodyguards, at Heveydd’s insistence, and I couldn’t make the trip, I didn’t think, with fewer that the same number of ladies-in-waiting. The letter changed my mind.

“Please, Sister, when you come, come alone, I beg this of you. Gwennan.”

Heveydd would never consider me going anywhere alone. Brigands, you know. It was his subconscious’ way of getting past his censor that his daughter was naked, and a naked woman by herself on the road was prey to rapists and slavers. Only prostitutes went naked in this part of Daearu; prostitutes and entertainers. And I, who has been both of those, at one time. And they were prey, as everyone knew a woman would only come to this state if abandoned by her family; and an abandoned woman would be one no one would care about. No one would come after you if you raped them. Selling them into sex slavery would add profit to the spice. Fun and profit. What men want. And on our world, what men want, men get.

But I acquiesced to the spirit of my sister’s wishes, and took with me only Elfrod, the palace sergeant-of-arms, and Rosalyn, my favorite lady-in-waiting. Unlike the others, who were from noble families who were currying favor with the court, she had been as abandoned and lost as I had been. She too had been a whore and a plaything for men.

I had met her one day, in the jail beneath my royal ex-fiancé’s bedroom, awaiting my chance to pay the taille, and listening to his moaning and groaning as he made love to someone other than me as it whistled down the pipe, and we had become friends. When I resumed my rightful place in the world, she came to me for protection.

Her procurer had beaten her for not bringing in enough money, and then had dumped her at the side of the highway. Dazed, she stumbled, staggered and finally crawled her way to my doorstep, miles away from where she had been left battered and bleeding, only to almost be turned away by the majordomo. If I hadn’t been walking by at the time, she may have come to a bad fate. The fate of women everywhere when they run afoul of men. But now she was my lady and my friend. Sometimes my only friend, when Branwen’s madness and hideous mien caused her to be locked away, far from the company of people.

The three of us rode out a little after sunrise. I had explained to Father that I thought Fafner was too untrained yet for the journey, and, when I returned, I would work with him. My horse, while not much better a seat, at least had a saddle and blanket on, and a sore butt is better than one with spines up it. At least in my opinion.

We would camp at night and fish at the Don River for food. The sun felt good on my skin, and I reveled in it. Sometimes it’s nice to be naked.

It was the third day out that I awoke to a hand over my mouth and a knife to my throat. Brigands. Father had been right.

I am known as a slut at court because of the profession I had to take up when Ferrell had abandoned me and I didn’t think Father would own me, but ironically, I can’t be with a man. Not only do they shy from me because of my nakedness, but when I think of giving my womanhood to one of them, as battered and bruised as it is from rough handling, I vomit. So what this fellow had in mind, combined with his stench, made my guts go all over him when he took his hand from my mouth and proceeded to fondle my breasts with it. That made him jerk back. Just enough that I could knee him in his testicles and poke at his eyes. He got up off of me and I rolled off my back and then pushed myself up. He had Eligor dangling from his side, but that didn’t deter me. I stuck my foot in his manhood and kicked hard, and, as he doubled over, grabbed his head in my hands and smashed it down on my knees. Then I took my sword back from him.

Pulling him by his hair, I demanded “Where are my friends?”

“I dunno, woman.”

“That’s ‘m’lady.’”

He snorted. I smacked him along side his head. “I repeat, ‘where are my friends?’”

“The man is tied up; they’ve taken the girl. I don’t know where.” I hit him with the butt of Eligor, making him drop unconscious on the floor of my tent. I opened it and looked around the campsite. Elfrod was, indeed, trussed up; his hands pulled painfully around to the back of a tree; his feet bound. I rushed over and cut through the ropes.

“Where did they take Rosalyn?” I had promised her she would never have to be a slave to men again, and I was going to keep that promise.

“I’m okay, Rhiannon. Thank’s for caring,” Elfrod replied, rubbing his wrists. “They went south, along the Don. They aren’t too far ahead, but they’ve taken the horses.”

“Damn.” I turned and stared at the river.

“I knew we should have gone by dragon,” he commented.

“Easy for you to say,” I said, eyeing his thick leather pants. I started running in the indicated direction.

“Rhiannon, wait; wait. Just wait, woman!” I stopped. Elfrod never called me by that low class epithet. It was always ‘your highness,’ or ‘m’lady.’

“What is it, Elfrod?” I said, frostily, angry and hurt at his disrespect. He had been at my Ushering; I thought he was a man I could count on.

“The reason why Heveydd wanted you to go by dragon is that I’m a dragon rider, remember? Let me whistle for one.”

“Whistle for a rogue dragon? What are you thinking, man?” There, if I was ‘woman,’ then he was ‘man.’

Ignoring my verbal gambit, he said, mildly, “I’m thinking of Rosalyn, Rhiannon. As you should be.”

I nodded, suddenly ashamed of myself. Putting my physical comfort over saving Rosalyn from her pain. And it would be pain. I knew of this personally. “Okay, Elfrod, be quick about it.”

He whistled, and whistled, and whistled. For a long time, nothing happened. Then came a shadow, a cawing, and a landing. The dragon was a collonoid, green, with fierce black eyes; claws like a Harpy.

“Who whistles for me?”

“I do.”

“It is said that a mortal may only whistle for a dragon in need. What is your need?”

“I am not a mortal, nor is she,” he said, indicating me. “We are from New Fairy. A friend of ours is about to be raped and enslaved,” Elfrod said, in urgent tones.

“Then what are you waiting for?” He flapped his wings. Elfrod climbed on him. I grabbed his hand, hoisted myself on too.

“What of your butt?” he said, amused.

“I’ll put cream up it when we get to New Gwynedd.”

He laughed, which made me blush at my unladylike remark. My life as a whore has made me crude at times.

We spotted them about three miles down river. There were four of them. Two led our horses, one had Rosalyn tied to the back of his. She was naked, her body crisscrossed with ropes that made movement, or escape from the horse, impossible.

Our host flew down, cawing, his claws out. He grabbed hold of Rosalyn with such force that her captor fell off his horse.

“Careful! Your claws could rip her skin,” I said, anxious. I remembered when men would threaten me with a knife, to make me work for free. Those claws would be worse than a knife.

We flew to safety against a volley of arrows. Then the dragon flew back to the thieves and retrieved our horses, which were whinnying piteously at being lifted off the ground.

“Are you through with me then?” the dragon asked of Elfrod.

“Yes, for now.”

“You can only whistle once; my obligation to you is through; you understand that?”

“I’ve read the histories, I know of the exact measure of dragons’ responsibilities to men; and vice-versa,” Elfrod replied.

“Good then. And safe journey.” He flapped his wings, making a mini-hurricane which blew my hair in my face, and was off.

“Thanks,” Elfrod said in return. I doubted the dragon could hear him.

I cut off Rosalyn’s ropes. “Are you okay?”

“I’ve been better.”

“Did they...?”

She nodded.

“How awful for you.” I hugged her.

“No worse than men have always treated me.”

“I’m sorry I let that happen; after my promise to you.”

“You came for me, that’s all I can ask,” she said, her eyes humble and moist.

I cried. “I don’t deserve you as a lady-in-waiting, or as a friend.”

“And don’t I know it,” she said, mocking me. I punched her. She giggled. Elfrod looked on bewildered as I helped dress her in one of her spare gowns.

To be continued...
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Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons

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