I Still Wake From My Nightmares
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents|
Part 7 appears
in this issue.
One was short, about four feet tall; the other was of medium height and build. The taller was unbuckling his pants when I saw the shadow. “You’d better take cover!” I shouted to them.
Spit oozing from his mouth, he ignored me. Then he was yanked to the skies, along with his friend.
The dragon came back to light minutes later, and bit my ropes off.
“I thought your responsibilities to me were over.” He was the dragon that Elfrod had whistled up.
“That was before I knew you were the Princess Rhiannon.”
“What’s that to do with anything?”
“I saved your honor and your life here, and you now owe me. I will come to you for a boon, some day. Until then, good journey!” Nearly knocking me over in his slipstream, he soared away.
“Swell, Graymulkin wants my unborn daughter and now this one wants something unspecified from me,” I muttered to myself. “Who else will I owe before I return to New Fairy?”
I was passed on the road many times. No one stopped to ask if I needed aid, or to give me any. But they would slow down and stare at the battered and bruised naked female vagabond strolling by the side of the road. Some would whistle, and I was assaulted by catcalls. Others would speed up once they spotted me.
It took me a day and a half, what with needing to rest, before Caer Dythal was in my line of vision. As I headed to it, tired by this time to the point where I was trudging like someone possessed, riders approached me. Through my bloodshot eyes, I saw who they were.
Captain Agar and his men. Oh, excrement. I wearily looked for cover, but it was too far away. Besides, they had spotted me. I had nowhere to run, so I just stood there, feeling defeated.
“There she is, men!” the captain roared. He galloped toward me, in such eagerness to finally have his revenge on me, it seemed, that he dismounted as his horse skidded to a halt.
“Here, drink this, your highness.” He offered me a flask.
“What is it?” I said suspiciously.
“Whiskey. Finest from northern Prydain. Here, take it. It will strengthen you, after your ordeal.”
I took a swig. The warmth rising through me from my stomach cheered me. And braced me to fight this one last foe. I may go down, but I would take some of them with me.
“You’re among friends, now, your highness,” he said to my unspoken feelings. “Math was confronted by the Lady Gwennan and he revealed everything. The barons know of this, and you will be safe, under their safe conduct.”
“Math confessed?” I said, not quite getting what he was saying. I took another swig of whiskey. I find it helps when you’re too tired to focus.
“A girl came to her majesty and told her of Math’s plot against you. When she confronted him, he confessed. She tore his eyes out. He is now blind, and no threat to you.”
“A girl did this? What did she look like?”
He described her. It had been the brat that had saved me.
“I don’t understand this,” I said.
“Right now, you only need to understand that I’m taking you to your ladies-in-waiting, where they will bathe and massage you.”
“My ladies-in-waiting?” I jerked. “What of Sarah? She’s still in the dungeon. She’s being eaten!”
“Sarah is fine, your highness. I don’t understand how the Lady Gwennan knew of her fate, as Math didn’t confess to that, only to the plot against your person, but she went quickly to bring your maid to rescue. The Lady Arianrhod is healing her and the others even as we speak.”
“Oh, thank the goddesses. Thank them all. All five of them.”
“Come m’lady; let me take you to your bath.” I didn’t need much persuasion. After nearly freezing to death, running down a mountain, and a hike that seemed fifty miles if it were a foot, I was exhausted, faint, not to mention filthy. I let him pick me up and carry me to a horse that they had specially decked out for me. With a very soothing leather saddle on it. Very soothing. So soothing. For the third time in almost as many days, I lost consciousness.
My rest was to be brief, and not all that refreshing. Gwennan had gone completely mad, after releasing the maidens in the dungeon. This left me in charge, as the only royalty now functioning who wasn’t also a murderer and a rogue.
Manawyddan was in the town jail, awaiting charges of abduction, kidnapping, and attempted regicide, the latter of which was punishable by being flayed alive, then drawn and quartered, only to die a painful death. Too good for him, I thought. And to think I had wanted to sleep with that man.
Math was under house arrest. He was still denying all knowledge of the girls in the dungeon, but none too convincingly. The brigands who were the first to attempt my rape were still denying any other crime but that and the rape-murder of the girl at the cape.
Sarah, Kristan, and the other girl, under Arianrhod’s ministerings, are healing nicely.
I was sorting through petitions, when Gwennan came up to me. “You are Boudicca, are you not?”
“Gwennan, I’m your sister.” Even though it has been weeks, now, since her sanity left her, each day I had hopes of her return to clarity. Each day my hopes were dashed.
“You can’t be my sister. I ate my sister, like I ate my little girl.”
“Gwennan, please, I have work to do.”
“But you don’t understand, Rhiannon. I ate my little girl. I know you don’t know what that’s like. You have snow fights with your little girl. But I ate mine. And she tasted soooo good.” She was dancing now.
“Sorry, m’lady.” Helena, Gwennan’s nurse came into the office. Grabbed hold of Gwennan. “Come this way, m’lady. It’s almost time for your enema. Come on, love. That’s a good girl.”
“I was just telling my sister that I ate my little girl. It’s strange; I have to keep on eating her. She always leaves me then, but she always comes back to be eaten.”
“Of course she does.” The nurse led her off.
I was thrilled with dread. Math had told me that the onset of Gwennan’s illness had coincided with the loss of her first-born girl child. Did her rantings mean she actually ate her child? And was the horror in the dungeon evidence that she had to repeat this ghastly crime, over and over again? Was Math’s only crime that he loved his wife so much, he was covering for her ghastly hobbyhorse?
And what did she mean that she ate her little girl, and I had snow fights with mine? Did she know of the identity of the girl who had saved my life? If she did, it will probably be locked away in the puzzle that has become her mind.
I was still pondering these things when Elfrod came into the chambers. He was carrying two drinks in flasks. “Prydain coffee, Rhiannon. The finest black beans and the finest whiskey. Hits the spot.” He handed me one.
“Thanks, Elfrod. I needed this.” He looked pensive.
“Elfrod, is there anything wrong?”
“Not wrong exactly.”
“You asked me a very strange question the other day, Rhiannon. I’m just now thinking about it, and I have to ask you what you meant.”
“Ask away.” I had no idea what he was talking about.
“You asked me,” he bowed his head, “oh goddesses; this is an awful question to ask of you.”
“What? You can’t just leave it; now, you’ve got my curiosity up.”
“But it is so unseemly.”
“Elfrod...” I said, menacingly.
“Okay, here it is. You asked me if I would be willing to make you a virgin again. What did you mean by that, Rhiannon?”
Oh, gosh. “Um, um, um.” Now it was my turn to not quite know what to say. I decided to just come out with it. I told him of Graymulkin’s conditions for my release. He said something that completely floored me in response.
“I’ve always loved you, Rhiannon. And I love you in your nakedness. Oh, my desire for you is so intense I have to sometimes hide from view and give myself solitary relief, calling your name. But I refrained from action toward you because my desire is only transcended by my love for you.
“And I would marry you naked, and stand by your side always. And I wouldn’t think of you as fat and grotesque when you are pregnant. And if you are willing to give your first born girl child to raise the curse, I would be also. For I would care for no other the way I care for you, not even my own daughter.
“And I think I know what Graymulkin meant by the man who will make you a virgin again. No man has ever pleasured you, have they? It has always been the other way around in your life.”
I shook my head, stunned by what he was revealing to me.
“I would do so. I would bring you to the acme of pleasure itself, and beyond. I have dreamed of doing so. As you have never had a man make love to you, only take sex from you, you would be, in effect, a virgin if I were to make love to you.” He suddenly became so shy that he practically disappeared from my eyes. He mumbled, “If you would let me.”
“Elfrod!” I said that so sharply that he bolted out of the room, spilling his coffee. He avoided me for the rest of the day.
There was no way now I could concentrate on getting Gwennan’s kingdom’s affairs in order. No way could I concentrate on anything, except the stunning revelations that Elfrod had given to me.
I had come to help my sister; instead I may have pushed her over the edge to utter madness by my vulnerability and by inspiring Math’s and Manawyddan’s actions toward me.
But now I was on the verge of helping myself. All the conditions to lift the curse were now within my grasp. I didn’t love Elfrod, but many women marry men they don’t love, and few have the men love them back as Elfrod would love me.
But there was the question of our first born girl-child.
“So what are you going to do?” My little girl was standing next to me.
“I don’t know. What would you do?”
“I can’t answer that for you, Rhiannon. But it seems to me that men don’t leer at married women.”
“That’s kind of naïve, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
“It’s okay. I mean, I am just a kid. But wouldn’t it be different if men knew you had a man who they would have to answer to if they treated you like a sex object?”
“Are you saying I should stay naked?”
“No. That would be nasty. But it would be nastier to give your daughter to Graymulkin.”
“It’s got to be one or the other.”
“What’s got to be one or the other, Rhiannon?” Rosalyn came into the room. The girl once again did her vanishing act.
I told her of my dilemma and of the spectral conversation I just had.
“She seems to be too wise to be a child.”
“I don’t think she is a child. Although I don’t know what in Nifelheim she is. But what would you do Rosalyn? If you were me?”
“I’d let Elfrod have his way with me, and then decide. You still have that little problem when you try to make love, don’t you?”
Oh, yeah. The puke factor. “I guess you’re right. I should try to make love to Elfrod. But it’s Elfrod! That’s like making love to your uncle, or something.”
“You know, Rhiannon, when I lived the life, I used to envy the lords and ladies. Wished I could be one of them. But now I’m attending to you; you have to decide whether to give your first born child to a witch or go naked for the rest of your immortal life; the Lady Gwennan is mad from the crimes she’s committed; Lord Math is crippled because he tried to kill you and Lord Manawyddan is awaiting execution because of his greed. I don’t think I’m going to envy nobility any more.” She reached down and kissed me. “Call me when you need me, mistress.”
She left me to stew on my dilemma.
It has been months since Elfrod proposed to me, if you want to call what he did in my chambers a proposal. I still don’t know what to do and it doesn’t help the decision making process that he said he would wait for me forever.
I am still naked for all to see yet I try to hold my head up high, try not to show that it still, after all these years, makes me feel ashamed. My spectral child-spirit, or whatever she was, was wrong, as the leers and the whispers continue. But at least they are more covert. I still walk the earth alone at my peril, however.
I haven’t yet had the nerve to sleep with Elfrod. This has been difficult, as he has whispered in my ears the things he would do to bring me to orgasm, and they frankly astound me. I didn’t know men knew of such things. But would our love life survive my vomiting as he tried them? I don’t want to face that possibility just yet, even if he is right that making love to him, and marrying him, will fulfill all but one of Graymulkin’s requirements.
That one requirement bothers me the most. How can I give up my daughter to the witch who cursed me? But how much longer can I survive without modesty either? Being Rhiannon the Nude wears on me.
Gwennan is still mad but now that I have buried the children she devoured, she seems better. She is still denying she ate her firstborn girl at her Ushering, but her teeth marks match the bites on Sarah and the other girls, and on the bones in the cages. I hope she will come to terms with what she did; that is the only way she will heal.
And, of course, Math is still blind. Now that I am their regent, as well as Queen of New Dyved and princess of New Fairy, Heveydd has decided that I should be declared “High Queen,” and the ceremony is scheduled for next month. Because of this, the Terrans wish to “normalize” relations with me. Abashed by Manawyddan’s revelations, and with my new insights that Terrans are people too, from being Rhonda and Sarah’s (not to mention Butch’s, Sarah’s brother, who is now a page) mistress, I have accepted their overture. So I must get ready for a royal visit from their monarch, King Henry.
I, who have been a plaything to men, a whore, am going to be High Queen and hostess to the powerful Terrans before whom they must bow. All Hail the High Queen, Rhiannon the Nude; Rhiannon the Unvanquished. I guess I should be happy.
But I still wake from my sleep at 3 o’clock in the morning, gasping for breath, my heart racing and I still dream of being chased by men and monsters who wish to harm me. I still wake from nightmares.
I can’t be happy until the nightmares stop.
Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons