I Still Wake From My Nightmares
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents|
Part 5 appears
in this issue.
part 6 of 8
Ignoring that, I asked her, “I thought you were the Controller of the Royal Household?”
“I used to be. But since my distress, I have given that job to others. But why so interested in these girls? I should think you wouldn’t want to think about them after they caused you such discomfort.”
It was you who caused me such discomfort by placing them in a fashion after my own pain, I thought to myself. What I voiced was, “They’re missing, Sarah’s missing, and we found a body of another maid today. I thought if I could talk to their families, I might get a lead on what’s happening.”
“Talk to Brychan; he’s in charge of the servants. Now, come help me finish my puzzle.”
I knelt by her and helped her assemble her pieces, then went to seek out Brychan. He gave me the names of the girls’ families, and I headed toward the commons to find them.
I sneaked out, lest Rosalyn and Elfrod accompany me. I know they are devoted to my well-being, but not being able to go about on my own was getting stifling. I get enough of confinement in wintertime back home.
One of the girls was named Kristan. Her household was at the part of the commons near the demesne. I knocked on the door. A stout, middle aged woman opened it and stared at me. “My husband ain’t home,” she said, and made to slam the door.
“I’m not here to see him,” I said, wondering what kind of relationship they must have if she wasn’t surprised to see a naked woman at her doorstep and thought that she had come for her husband. “I’m here to talk about your daughter.”
“What about her?”
“I’m the Princess Rhiannon.” She snorted at that. “And I want to know what kind of girl she is. She’s missing from her post.”
“Not my Kristan. You know I thought it very kind, very kind indeed, of the Lady Gwennan to take my Kristan as a maidservant. And I’m not saying that because to flatter her ladyship; I really mean it.” She opened the door of her hutch a little wider. “Come in, dearie. You’re attracting attention. It’s bad enough Erwin frequents girls like you in the town; I don’t want everyone thinking he’s now bringing ’em in under my roof and to my bed while I go without his best. You know what I mean?”
My introduction as a princess had simply soared past her. I looked like a whore; a whore I was. I felt sorry for her that her husband was so frequently in the company of my sisters still in the life, but I also felt a little sorry for him, if he felt the need to stray.
I bowed my head to get into the hutch. It was a mean dwelling. A small fireplace, no furniture, except for the aforementioned bed, and a kitchen greeted me. “Sit. What did you say your name was?”
“Rhiannon.” I tried not to show condescension as I sat, cross-legged, on the floor.
“Well, Rhiannon, I don’t know what business it is of your’s, but my Kristan was so delighted to be a servant in the palace. She would never leave her post, no matter what they are saying. What are they saying, seeing as you know so much about the palace. Are you Lord Math’s party girl? Not that it’s any of my business.”
“No. I wouldn’t want to compete with the Lady Gwennan,” I said, annoyed at her inference.
“Very wise that. Some of the girls who were made servants at the palace weren’t so smart, and they suffered.”
“Really? Some of the girls decided to whore there?”
“Well, I’m not one for telling tales, but some of the girls who the lady of the manor was so kind as to favor didn’t last so long. And they came out with wild tales. Tales I don’t believe. But it was clear they were just making things up. Like girls do, when their advances are spurned. You know what I mean, um... what was your name again?”
“Could you tell me some of the wild tales?”
“Oh, I don’t rightly remember; I don’t pay much attention to the maunderings of girls, do you?”
“Well, at least give me the names of some of these girls.”
“Well, I don’t rightly remember that either. It’s been a while.” There was a knock at the door. “Oh, my. You’re going to have to go. I don’t want anyone to see me entertaining a woman like you. No offense. I’m sure you have your reasons, not that I couldn’t ever do that. But go out the back way, please.”
I left as she was opening the door. “Oh, Kaia, how are you fairing? Is that basket for me? Oh, how wonderful. No, I wasn’t entertaining anybody. Nobody special anyway. Just someone my husband knows.”
I emerged out the back and headed toward the next household I had been given by Brychan, wondering what the wild tales were and whether the girls Kristan’s mother mentioned were just making them up. As I walked across the grasses, their blades tickling my ankles and lower legs, a rider came up to me. Some of the peasants, who were picking fruit from vines, stopped and dolefully chewed leaves, cow like, at her presence.
It was Arianrhod. “Rhiannon! Whatever are you doing among the peasants? I’m glad I found you, anyway. Math wants you to meet him at the jail.”
“At the jail, why?”
“He’s had the brigands that molested you and your lady servant arrested. And they’ve confessed to the abduction of the girls you are concerned about!”
* * *
The jail wasn’t really in town, as I had been led to believe, but on the outskirts, on a parcel of land that must have been a hundred acres, if a yard. It had a tall fence, with sharp edges on the top. I winced at that.
“Yes, I don’t expect you’d like to be confined here,” Arianrhod laughed, looking over her shoulder at me. “But if you keep sneaking off on your own, that could happen. People are going to mistake your occupation and girls of that kind do end up here.” She laughed some more. “Don’t worry; I’ll pay the taille for you, if it does.”
I was riding behind her, holding on to her sides. We tethered the horse at a hitching post, and entered into the jail. “Women prisoners to the left,” a soldier announced, eyeing me with an indifference that must have been born of endless repetition.
“She’s not a prisoner,” Arianrhod said on my behalf.
“Well, whatever she is, take her to the left,” the soldier said, in the tone of a bureaucrat whose orderly routine was not about to be disrupted.
“She’s here as a witness,” Arianrhod said in response.
“Just tell them who I am, Arianrhod,” I said, aggravated.
“And spoil the fun, Rhiannon? You know, I could have you put in a cell and leave you there. Oh, it’ll get straightened out after a while, but in the meantime, you might have a very entertaining experience here. Or at least the male guards would.”
“Screw you,” I said.
“Rhiannon!” she said in mock outrage.
“Pardon my Terran,” I said, as I noticed the shocked look on the guard.
“Just watch your step or I’ll make good on that threat,” she laughed. “Take us to the witness rooms, rogue,” she said to the guard. Sighing, he got up off his bench and we headed, not to the left, or to the right, but straight behind him.
I saw them behind a special glass, magical in nature, that allowed me to see them but they couldn’t see me. “That’s them, all right. They’re the ones who kidnapped Rosalyn and nearly raped me.”
Math, who had joined us, nodded. “And they’ve confessed to being responsible for the disappearances of the maidservants. Rhiannon, as a favor to you, I’ll personally see to it that they tell us the whereabouts of Sarah.”
“Thanks, Math. I know Rhonda will appreciate it.”
“At your leave, Rhiannon.” He moved his hand in circular motions down his chest.
Arianrhod took me back to the palace. “Satisfied, now, Rhiannon? I know this whole business of Sarah’s abduction, the missing maid servants, and your near rape has been distressing to you. But Math is taking care of it. You just concentrate now on having a good holiday and cheering Gwennan up.”
“That sounds good, Arianrhod. Maybe, I’ll do just that.”
But sometimes I think I’m perverse. Later that afternoon, I went back to the jail, accompanied by Elfrod and Rosalyn so that, eh hem, mistakes wouldn’t be made. I went to see the brigands.
“Your ladyship,” the tall one with the snaggle teeth said.
“I see this time we meet you show the proper respect.”
“We didn’t know it was you, your highness.”
“Oh, and that makes it all right? If a woman has no protection?”
“No, m’lady.” He stared at his feet. He didn’t want to get into any more trouble than he was already in, it was clear, as the custom was that, as far as men were concerned, it was very right, indeed.
“What I’m really here for is to hear you tell me, out of the presence of the guards, what you really know about those missing girls.”
“Nothing, your highness. We were made to say those things,” snaggle tooth’s friend, sallow skin, said. “Oh, we raped that one young woman, all right. The one on the cape, but we know nothing of missing maidservants.”
I sighed; it wasn’t the answer I wanted; but it was the answer I feared, although I wasn’t sure why.
“Do you believe them, Rhiannon?” Elfrod asked when we left the jail.
“I don’t know what to believe, Elfrod. I’m going to ask Gwennan what she thinks of the whole thing. For I just don’t know, but I’m beginning to share her anxiety. Maybe she knows more that she realizes, and that is why she is anxious too.”
“Maybe,” Elfrod said. “Maybe that is so.”
I was met at Gwennan’s door by Math.
“Gwennan doesn’t want to see you right now, Rhiannon.”
“What? Why not?”
“She didn’t say, but I think this whole business with the missing maidens is worsening her condition. You were supposed to be a comfort to her, Rhiannon, but it hasn’t worked out that way. The hassles due to your handicap, the tension between you and Manawyddan, which I know is none of my business,” he made a dismissive gesture, “but it hasn’t helped Gwennan one bit. And now this. You know she lost her first born girl child, didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t know that. She never told me.”
“Well, she did. At the time of her Ushering. So the business of these missing maidens is weighing heavily on her soul. The attention you are drawing to it is just making her illness of the mind worse. I think it best that you pack up and leave.”
“What? I’ll do no such thing.”
“I’m the lord here, Rhiannon. You are here by courtesy of my royal will. And if I say you are to go, you are to go. If you refuse to leave voluntarily, I’ll have you sent home in a cage, but home you are going! You have until tomorrow morning to rest, pack and be on your way. Now leave me to attend my wife.” He opened the door to their chambers and left me, hurt and confused. Gwennan would never treat me like this. But I had to admit, Math had a point. I hadn’t been the comfort that Gwennan wanted when she sent me those desperate letters.
I told Elfrod and Rosalyn of this new development.
“What are you going to do, Rhiannon?” Rosalyn asked.
“Not much I can do. Math is right. He is lord here and I am probably worsening my sister’s anxieties by my actions. But I just wish he’d let me see Gwennan one last time. So I can apologize for any inadvertent pain and trouble I’ve caused her.”
“You can do that in a letter,” Elfrod said. “My mother always taught me to never overstay your welcome. And it looks like we have.”
It was that night that I decided we would have to stay, or if that weren’t possible, at least return with soldiers. It was again 3:00 a.m. when I felt a tugging at my arm. I opened one eye, and then both as I saw the black-headed girl anxiously looking at me.
“How’d you get in here?”
“No time to explain, Rhiannon. Get up. I have to show you something.”
I hesitated. “Really, it’s urgent, Rhiannon. You only have this night to make things right. I thought you’d have more time, but you don’t.”
I got out of bed, making Rosalyn mumble something. I padded after the girl. She led me down to the dungeon of the palace. It was bordered up. Math hadn’t imprisoned anyone here for a while now since he had built his shiny new jailhouse in town. I still paused, as I have been incarcerated in dungeons, and if anything were to happen to me down here, it might be days before anyone came looking for me. If they ever did.
“This way, Rhiannon. You have to come now,” the girl said petulantly. I pulled some of the lumber off the entrance and climbed through the hole I had created. “Down these stairs.” The girl took the stone steps two by two; she was in such a hurry. I followed her at a more gingerly place, placing my left hand on the wall to steady by balance in the gloom.
It was when we opened an iron door at the bottom of the stairs that I stopped in horror.
Cages. Dozens of them. With skeletons so thin and frail that they had to be of maidens Sarah’s age. No rags on the bodies; they had died naked. The bones looked chewed on.
There were three live girls present, hanging by their feet, their faces in hoods. They must have had gags on because although they wiggled in response to my presence, they made no sound. Aside from the hoods, they too were naked. And something had been eating on them. There were bite marks up and down their bodies. I’m no expert in bite marks, but they looked like they were made from human teeth.
“What foul thing is this?” I said to myself before my brain exploded, and my consciousness dimmed to a small point and then was gone.
I awoke shivering. I had never been so cold in my life. As the fog lifted from my mind, I discovered I was tied to a tree in some winterscape that reminded me of the nightmare I had my first day at Caer Dythal. I then became aware that something was stroking my body.
It wasn’t something. It was someone. Math. He was slopping grease on me. Was he trying to keep me from freezing to death? The oil could trap heat. But why was I tied to this tree?
Manawyddan was also there, looking upset. “She’s awake,” he said, to the sound of dogs barking.
“Oh, so she is. Hello, Rhiannon. You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?”
“Wha-wha-wha do you mean?” I said, almost too cold to talk.
“You found Sarah, and the missing serving girls didn’t you? I tried to keep you from that by blaming the brigands, but you simply couldn’t rest with that, could you? I’m sorry, but you have to die for that.”
“Man- Man- Mannie, what’s he up to? Why aren’t you helping me?” I swallowed my stutters.
“I do love you, Rhiannon,” he said, with seeming irrelevance. “But I love money more. With you gone, the councils might be able to persuade Heveydd to lift the embargo against the Terrans and that would bring back my family business. But that will never happen with you alive. So when Math told me that you had to die, I volunteered to help him.”
“You’ll never get away with this. When Heveydd hears of this, his vengeance will be mighty.”
“Like it was when he viewed your disgrace? Heveydd will not act on his own; he wearies of conflict,” Math said.
“He will come for me,” I said, trying to put conviction in it. “And when my body is found, he will take yours!”
Math replied in a condescending voice, as if lecturing a retarded person on basic mathematics. “You are in the mountains above New Gwynedd. It snows here even in summer. Your body will never be found. And if it is, everyone will think it’s the corpse of a dead prostitute, and they won’t even care enough to bury you.”
“I know my way down these mountains, Math. You forget that I summered here as a child.”
“That’s the reason for the grease, Rhiannon.” Math glanced over his shoulders at the dogs. “My dogs are hungry. Their favorite treat is grease. They will chase you, Rhiannon. Far and deep into the banks. So far that you’ll never get out. Not in time to escape death by exposure, anyway. I thought it was a pity that you had to be naked, Rhiannon, even though I’ve always admired your beauty. But now I realize it was a Godsend. It makes things so much easier for me. You will not last an hour in this weather.
Get ready, Rhiannon. When I cut the ropes, Manawyddan will release the dogs. It will be hard for you to outrun them knee deep in snow in your bare feet. But if you don’t, you’ll die most painfully. Get ready, girl. Now!”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons