I Still Wake From My Nightmares
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents|
Part 1 appeared
in issue 151.
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 2 of 8
That was our adventure on the road. Three days later we were approaching Caer Dythal. As that castle by the sea loomed ahead of us, by a demesne that was beautifully kept, and small wood frame dwellings that housed the peasants, soldiers came up to us.
“Halt. Identify your business,” the lead one, a stocky, tow headed man in green leggings and a chain mail torso covering announced.
“We are here to see Queen Gwennan,” I said, sitting up proudly, to compensate for my completely immodest appearance.
“And what business could a whore have with her majesty?”
“She is not a whore,” said Elfrod, bristling and squeezing the hilt of his sword. “She is the queen’s sister, the Princess Rhiannon.”
“Oh, and I suppose you’re Heveydd himself?” the captain said, with derision in his voice. “Well, ‘m’lady,’” he said with scorn, “after you ply your trade with my men, I will see personally to your audience with the queen.” The men laughed at that.
I stiffened. “I will not ‘ply my trade’ with any of you.”
“You will, whore,” he said, raising his sword, “or you will spend your days in the jail.”
“Doesn’t frighten me; I’ve been there before,” I said caustically.
“I’m sure you have. Now, follow me, ‘your highness,’ and I will show you to my men personally.” I took out Eligor. He raised an eyebrow. “You won’t be able to take out all of us.”
“Yes, but the first man who touches me will no longer be a man,” I said hotly. “Take me to the queen, or taste my Goblin Ice.” The captain squirmed in his saddle; his men weren’t taking my threat too happily. Whores are usually docile; we exist for male pleasure and we know it. But I had had it up to here with serving male pleasure during the years of my servitude. Maybe Alcippe, who had taken my place as Ferrell’s fiancé, and who had taken great pains to humiliate me sexually when she learned that my profession had made it possible for her to do, had done me a favor. I would rather die now than face those rude, soldiers’ hands on my body with what I feared they had in mind for me.
“As you wish, bitch. But when the queen is disturbed over the likes of you, she will make sure that you entertain us tonight. Only without pay. And when we’re through with you, no one will pay you again. They will be too repelled to do so.” His hand twitched inches above his dagger.
Thus regaining his pride, he turned his horse around, and escorted us to the palace. The way that his men surrounded us, it was clearly intended to make us aware we were, in fact, his prisoners.
We were led across the drawbridge into the gates of the castle. We were left under guard in the grounds, a pentagonal shaped arena. Lords and ladies, on their way to whatever, paused to stare at us. I heard some ‘humph’ and turn their noses up.
I heard her before I saw her. “How dare you bring a common whore for an audience, Captain? That’s what courts are for. If she has a grievance, have her bring an oath-holder, or petition for an ordeal. And how dare you disturb me about it? I have to prepare for the queen’s sister’s arrival.” Her boots clomping loudly enough to be necromantic, Arianrhod came marching out to the quad. She had on black leather pantaloons, and a blouse of hog’s hide, with a ruffle around it. Her cloak made her mannish. She hadn’t changed much since her time in New Fairy.
Blistering in her demeanor and body language, she came up short when she saw me. “Rhiannon! It’s you.” She turned to the captain. “What is the meaning of this? Why is she naked? Oh, your men will pay dearly for this!” Her earlier ire at the ‘common whore’ was now directed at the men. The looked like they had been caught in a blacksmith’s forge.
“She then is the queen’s sister?” the captain said incredulously. “She said as much, but...”
“But what? Can’t you tell royalty when you see it? Put yourself and your men on report, Captain.” The captain snapped an order to his men; they rode off to the barracks through an entrance to the north of us. From the look he gave me, I knew I had made an enemy.
“Rhiannon, I am so sorry this happened to you. Stay here, I will get you clothes. And rest assured those men will be punished severely for this.”
“Wait, Arianrhod.” I explained to her the true reason for my nudity. That I hadn’t been stripped by the guardsmen, as she obviously thought, but by my own foolishness in offending a member of the Sisterhood.
“Do you know the name of this witch?” Arianrhod asked after I had finished.
“No,” I sighed. “I do not. And I don’t have any idea where she is.”
“Many came to New Gwynedd when the Terrans drove them from their homes in New Dyved. If you describe her, maybe I can find her.” She reached under her blouse and pulled out an ornament that had been dangling from her necklace. It was a pentagram.
“You’re a Sister?”
“Yes, I am,” she said proudly. “And normally I wouldn’t interfere in another witch’s dispensing of justice, but Gwennan would hate me forever if I left her little sister in the state you’re in. Can you describe the witch?”
Could I? I will never forget her. Ugly to the point of deformity, I had announced loudly that if I were her I would cover up. I had come across her practicing nude, as is the custom of witches. When Branwen laughed and pointed out my own immodest attire (which would seem a whole wardrobe by comparison to what I have on now), I then declared ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it.’ That was when the witch decided that I was to flaunt it for the rest of my immortal life. That was what had led to Farrell’s throwing me out of the palace, to my life as a prostitute, to Alcippe’s humiliation of me in front of Farrell and his Court, and ultimately to the war with New Dyved and the Terrans. The witch has a lot to answer for; but then, so do I.
“That sounds like Graymulkin,” Arianrhod said. “That changes things.”
“How so? Would she be so difficult to find?”
“It’s not that. I know exactly where she lives. But she’s my dame, Rhiannon. I can’t side with her over you. If she wishes you further punished, then I can’t even appeal your case to the Council. It’s not done for a scion to criticize her dame.”
“I see.” I swallowed the dashing of my hope like it was the unmentionable meal that Alcippe had made me eat in front of my former friends. After she had made me bark like a dog and eat dog biscuits she had made me devour something that I can’t even write about. Much to the absolute delight of my former friends.
“I can talk to her, maybe get her to see what you’ve endured; maybe you can bargain with her.”
“Thank’s Arianrhod. I would appreciate all the help you can give me. Now, take me to my rooms. I am tired and stink from the road and wish to bathe.”
She laughed. “You never did like to be dirty.” Her eyes twinkled. “And, girlfriend, you are filthy. I don’t see how the captain could have made his mistake. Even a whore wouldn’t be as dirty as you.”
“Girlfriend? Since when did you start talking like a Terran?”
She was ribbing me, trying to defuse my embarrassment with a joke. I dismounted my horse, punched her slightly too hard in the shoulder. She winced, but took it well. She arranged for a page to take our mounts.
I hadn’t remembered Caer Dythal being so depressing before. There was a gloom that rolled through it like some invisible fog. I couldn’t place my finger on just why. It had been remodeled in the Terran style-with stain glass windows on its vaulted high ceilings, windows that let the light in and even changed the rays prismatically for a rainbow effect. It should have been light and airy, but it was murky instead. Even the marble beneath our feet seemed subdued. Maybe the whole thing was that there wasn’t enough heat and the interior of the castle was cold. At least I was cold. Understandable I guess in my condition. No one else seemed cold.
“I’ll make sure that the fire is kept going in your room, and that the reception hall, or everywhere else you must go, will be well heated,” Arianrhod said, noticing my shivering. “And don’t worry, I will talk to Graymulkin.”
“It’s not that I’m cold that I want you to talk with her.”
“I know what it is,” she said, and I left it at that.
She showed me to my room personally, leaving Elfrod to be steered by squires to his quarters . It had a large bed, with a canopy, plenty of closet space, not that I’d be needing any, and a private bath. “I’ll let your servant attend to your bath. Please stay here until I can prepare everyone for your, um, unexpected appearance.”
“I thought she expected us,” Rosalyn said, as Arianrhod departed. She began unpacking our bags, putting my toiletries, perfumes, and body oils in the bathroom in preparation for my toilette.
“She wasn’t referring to my appearance in that sense,” I said.
“Oh. Sorry. I tend to forget when I’m around you that not everyone will be like at our palace.”
Even people at our palace aren’t ‘like at our palace,’ I thought sourly, but I hadn’t let Rosalyn, or anybody, see the times I cried myself to sleep over a look, an innuendo, or a slight, like an invitation being ‘lost in the mail.’
I let my dear friend scrub me clean and then anoint me with oils and perfumes. As she was combing my hair, pulling out the tangles, there was a knock on the day. Rosalyn went to answer it.
There was a girl at the door. I overheard the conversation, as I took up the brush and continued Rosalyn’s work. “My mistress wishes to see your mistress.”
“I will see if she is available for an audience.” She glanced back at me. “Are you-available?”
“I guess. I’m still wet from my bath.” The curse precluded even toweling dry, for no fabric of man or nature may touch my skin. “Tell her if Gwennan doesn’t mind my appearing wet that I’m available now.” Rosalyn went to convey the message; a few moments later the girl returned and indicated that this was indeed acceptable, and I shortly found myself, with tangled wet hair, dripping all over the llew carpeting that adorned the familial room of the palace.
I don’t know who was more shocked by the other’s appearance. Gwennan’s eyes bulged when I entered, and she reared back slightly, but I was frozen by the dark circles under her eyes, the worry lines, the slumped posture, and the general air of fatigue and haggardness. She limply fit into her blue linen dress, her arms hung at her sides as if they had been broken.
“Sister!” we echoed and I went to embrace her.
“You’re all wet!”
“Didn’t your girl tell you I would be?”
“Yes, but you’re getting me wet. Yuck, Rhiannon, yuck.” And then we giggled at the absurdity of the whole thing. “This is like the time you got all muddy and I called you “Mud Hen,” so you grabbed hold of me and rubbed the gunk all over my nice spring dress.”
“Well, not quite all over.”
“Close enough. The curse means you can’t dry yourself?”
“Something like that.”
“What do you do in winter?”
“Stay close to a fire.”
She laughed at that. “I guess there goes your ice skating.” Then, stopped and said seriously, “Oh, goddesses, it’s good to see you. And you’re looking good. Strong, healthy, beautiful.”
And it was good to see her. Eyes which rested on me easily and without judgment, in spite of her having been initially startled. “You’re looking good yourself.”
“A lie isn’t a good way for a sister to meet a sister. I know I look haggard. I told you I can’t sleep.”
“Because of the fear?”
She nodded. “And I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to be afraid of. You’ve vanquished the Terrans, my beloved Math subdued the lycanthropes, and there is peace and prosperity everywhere. There have been no assassination threats in ages. But every night, at second moon rise, I wake in a panic, as if there is a doom that I don’t know about which will destroy all that I love. Do you ever feel anything like that, Rhiannon?”
I shook my head. “I’ve awakened in panic, but I always knew the cause.”
“You were always the strong one. We call you the unvanquished here; did you know that, Rhiannon? The unvanquished.”
That brought back memories, in a flash, of how easily I had let myself be vanquished, turned into a woman of the streets, when the curse had first come on me. I flushed and hoped she didn’t see the shame on my face.
“I can see you going down in history with that name. Wouldn’t that be nice, Rhiannon? To go down in history with a sobriquet?”
As long as it wasn’t Rhiannon the Nude, which is what I feared it would be, as I had heard that name whispered on the streets of New Fairy.
“I haven’t had time to organize your true reception, Rhiannon, or the strength. I’ve left that to Arianrhod. She tells me that as she has to communicate about your handicap, to make sure no one offends you, it will probably not be until the weekend. But I am having a small soirée this evening. I know you must be weary from your travels, but will that be all right?”
“Gee, I don’t know. A soiree? And me without a thing to wear.”
She looked taken aback and worried but then chuckled. “Your sense of humor. So that is how you’ve managed to survive the curse. I admire you so much, Rhiannon. I could never face what you must face everyday.”
“Thanks. But let’s not dwell on my, uh, handicap, please.” Now I too was referring to my nudity as a handicap. Nice euphemism, that. “I would be delighted to come to the soiree. Just don’t expect me to be too terribly witty, as I am fatigued.”
“Of course not. It will be at first dusk.”
“One thing, Gwennan, did Arianrhod tell you that I didn’t come alone?”
“She did. The soiree will be organized with that in mind. But I specifically asked you to come alone. Why did you not respect my wishes?”
“I think that the answer to that is pretty obvious. Given my, um, handicap, I have to have an escort, or risk being mistaken for easy prey.”
She winced at that. “Forgive me, Rhiannon. I should have known that.”
“Why was it so important for me to come alone?”
“Not really important; it’s just that I fatigue easily these days and didn’t want a whole entourage to take care of.” There was something hollow sounding about this statement, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was only later, when I learned the dark secret of Caer Dythal, that I understood. If I had been Gwennan, I too would have only wanted my sister to know what her fears were really about.
But not knowing that at the moment, I answered, “I can understand that; being fatigued myself from the journey.”
“I will leave you then to rest.” She walked to the exit and was slumping so badly I nearly broke down and carried her. When our mother, Modron, was killed she had become a mother to me as well as a sister. She had been my strength as a little girl. And now I was supposed to be her’s. Tearing, I wasn’t at all sure I could be.
The soiree was in Math’s familial room. In the center of it was a mahogany table, imported from Terra before the ban, which already had platinum plates and silver ware that had been meticulously laid out. To your left, as you walked in was a bar with an indescribable variety of liquors on display. Math knew how to keep his guests happy.
I was on Elfrod’s arm, with Rosalyn on my right. We were apparently among the first to arrive. Math and Gwennan weren’t there yet, but Arianrhod was, as well as two others.
One of the others grabbed me. “Oh, girl, refresh my drink.”
“I beg your pardon?”
She waved an empty glass in my face. “It is empty, and I am dry. Refill me, please.”
I looked frantically at Elfrod, but it was the other one who I hadn’t expected at the event who came to my rescue.
“Goewyn, this is Rhiannon.” He was about five feet, eight inches tall, with curly black hair. He hadn’t changed since my girlhood when I would hide behind the bushes to see him at his squire’s training, his bare chest glistening with sweat. It was my adolescent crush, Manawyddan.
To be continued...
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Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons