The Words of the Dead
Table of Contents
“The Origins of Rhiannon’s World” and
“The Characters of Rhiannon’s World”
appeared in issue 157.
|part 1 of 3|
I was as drunk as a skink. Or is that skunk? Some reptile anyway. Or is it a rodent? I could barely walk and instead of talking all I did was babble. Mostly about male anatomy and what I liked best about it. “Well, what’s your favorite part, Rosalyn? It can’t be their brain,” I giggled. When she didn’t answer I turned to look for her. I started to bob. She wasn’t anywhere to be found. “Rosalyn? Rosalyn?” I didn’t know at the time that she had passed out a block ago and I hadn’t noticed it.
I took a step forward, and then nearly did a face plat. “Who moved the ground?” I asked into the fog that was surely hiding my friend. My only friend. Who wasn’t around.
I was starting to get scared. Naked and alone, in the fog. There was a dampness that sent a chill all over me. I yelled my friend’s name again. Then something rushed out of the fog. I felt the knife plunge into me. That was the last thing I remembered.
Until now. I looked at the body in front of me, a petite brunette, and rubbed the small scar under my right breast that was a memento of that night, back when I walked the streets of New Dyved, like this poor girl had done. She wasn’t naked, as I had been, as I still am because of Graymulkin’s curse, but I knew, given her profession, she must spend much, if not most, of her time that way.
I had stumbled over her, drunk like on the night I had escaped the knife, but not alone. I am never alone now. Soldiers, friends, not to mention more nameless things, surround me lest someone mistake me for a whore, and try to use me as this girl had been used. Her skirt hiked up and blood pouring from between her legs left no doubt about the use someone had found for her. Just like her immodest clothes, what remained of them, left no doubt that she was a whore. And had met the fate of whores whose clients don’t want to pay for their services. Back when I worked the alleys of New Dyved, when a girl would go missing we would all know why.
It was slightly after first dawn. We had just come from a lavish party at Lord Caswallon’s town manor. Lord Caswallon was one of those chameleons who knew how to change political affiliations with the change in seasons. I had first met him as Ferrell’s fiancé; he had been flattering and cordial. When I was ejected from court, naked and ashamed, he didn’t come near me. But when my troops, both living and dead, had triumphantly marched from New Fairy into New Dyved, leaving their allies, the Terrans, to run back to the stars from whence they came, he became my staunchest supporter in New Dyved.
A fine ally, Lord Caswallon. Just not one to be trusted.
Rosalyn and I were singing bar room songs, much to the aggravation and embarrassment of Branwen and Arianrhod, who were far too ladylike to do anything like that. They also grumbled their disdain that Rosalyn and I were arm in arm, dancing in a cross stagger across the lanes of Capital City. But they were the first, next to Rosalyn, to rush to my side when I tripped and fell over the corpse.
“I want her body taken to Caer Seon, and I want a reading,” I demanded as they lifted me up.
“Rhiannon, she is but a whore,” Arianrhod protested. “I’ll be up half the night doing a reading and for what? To find out that her customer wanted her services for free, and when she resisted, he killed her. Why bother?”
“Because if I hadn’t found Heveydd’s sword, his gift of unconditional love for me in spite of what I had become, that could be me lying there in a pool of my own blood. I want justice for her.”
Arianrhod shook her head as the soldiers in our company picked up the dead gamin, strapped her body to one of the horses that was being led through the cobblestones, tied its lead to another horse, and headed to the palace. Making a disgusted noise, Arianrhod followed them on foot.
“Am I being unreasonable?” I said to Rosalyn.
“No, Rhiannon. There but for the graces, that could have been you or me. I too want her killer brought to the bar.”
We hugged each other and returned to the castle.
That night I took a chance. After grinding up tanna leaves which didn’t help my headache or dried tongue one bit. I headed to the whore’s quarter, only accompanied by Rosalyn and Zusanna. I thought of only going with Rosalyn, but Zusanna growled and bared her teeth, blocking my path out of the palace grounds until I relented.
I have to admit I was nervous as we moved beyond the castle gates, and down the street that I had first walked when tossed out. That day men propositioned me, women disdained me and children threw garbage at me. Friends from the court didn’t recognize me or perhaps did and pretended they didn’t. I had thought it the worst day of my life. If it weren’t for the seven hundred or more days after that I spent as a plaything for men, and the night Alcippe, my successor in king Farrell’s favor, had forced me to humiliate myself in front of the court, I would still count it as such.
It is only a short distance to the red light district, as it is next to the Bazaar, and many of the girls work that area as well. Nothing has really changed for them. The Terrans had Ferrell legalize prostitution so they could have their fill of native women, and now that I’ve annexed New Dyved, the old customs prevail.
But things had changed. I didn’t recognize any of the girls. They shot me daggers, though, thinking I was their competition. Being without crown or gown, it is often such, and I’ve rarely made friends with any of them, except the regulars at Wynne’s Inn, back home, as they know of me.
There were about a dozen or so girls out on the corner, in various stages of undress, ranging from short skirts and décolletage, to toplessness, to nudity. “Hey, get away bitch,” one of the naked ones shouted at me. That was their specialty and I was horning in on it.
“I’ll take this,” Rosalyn said, setting my teeth on edge as I dislike being dependent on her to enforce what should be simple respect. She went up and talked to one of the girls, a red head, with veiny arms, dressed in a blouse and skirt that left nothing to the imagination. Not even that she wasn’t a true red head. I stood across the street with Zusanna. Male passers-by started toward me as I waited, but were discouraged by Zusanna, who snarled if they got too close.
“Not the way to drum up business.” I turned to see a woman, in her forties, in a plaid skirt and brown blouse, her graying hair tied in a bun. She had brochures in her hand.
“Depends on what business you’re trying to drum up,” I answered.
“I would say you are probably conflicted. We’re having a meeting tonight to help lost souls.” She handed me a brochure. It was to a mission commandeered by acolytes of the man-god.
“I think I’ll pass.”
“Think about it. You could end up dead like Shasta.”
“Shasta?” My ears perked up. I described her.
“Yes, poor child. But it could have easily been you, or any one of you. Was she a friend of your’s?”
“I didn’t know her. Did you?”
“She had come to some of our meetings, but she hadn’t made a commitment to the man-god yet, and that indecision, I’m afraid, is what cost her.” At this point Rosalyn came limping back, with a discouraged look on her face.
“Anything?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “I’m afraid they won’t talk to me. I think it’s my soldier’s outfit.”
She gave me a dirty look. “You might have better luck.”
“I’ve already had better luck. This woman knew Shasta.” Rosalyn looked quizzical. “That was her name.” I turned to the woman. “Which reminds me, I don’t know your’s.”
“I’m Matron Ceri.”
“This is Rosalyn; I’m Rhiannon,” I supplied. She showed no recognition. Not everyone, of course, would think of me as Rhiannon of New Fairy at first meeting. Not on the streets. It is different than at court where they can tell by my throne, entourage and emblems of office. I am also loudly announced.
“Can I expect you at the meeting tonight?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Then there is hope for you.” Matron Ceri went across the street to ply her trade with the prostitutes.
“What was that all about?”
“She thought me a prostitute, and knew of our victim.”
“But this meeting?”
“Some crap by followers of the man-god.” Rosalyn gave me another baleful look. “I’m sure even you, my little one, will think what they are peddling this evening to be crap.” I kissed her and tussled her barrettes.
“Someday, Rhiannon, you will get comfort from the message of the son of God.” She kissed my cheek in return.
“Fat lot of good he did you,” I said. “He didn’t stop the Terrans from driving your father out of business, from him committing suicide, and from you being on the streets when you should have been experiencing your Ushering. He also left you to die on the highway.”
“He sent you to me, didn’t he?” she answered brightly. “I am now blessed to be the lady-in-waiting of the best queen in the world.”
There is sometimes no arguing with Rosalyn, especially about her superstitions. I had her stay across the street and tried loitering with the whores, but none would talk to me, and one even tried to burn my nipples with a smoldering tobacco stick that she was sucking on. So we made our way to a little restaurant that had been our favorite when we lived here.
“Rhiannon!” The proprietor, a seedy looking man with a single strand of hair that he made spiral around his scalp, spotted us. He was wiping his hand on his butcher’s bib. He put a frightful looking cleaver down and came up to us. He was a bloody mess, but he had always been kind to Rosalyn and me so I let him hug me.
“Let me look at you woman.” He put his hands on my shoulders, stepped back and cocked at eye.
“Edern, you haven’t changed. You just want to ogle me.” But I knew he didn’t. He was an unnatural, and he might have wanted to do this and more if I were a young man, but as it was, I was always safe from his hands and his eyes as I would be had he been Heveydd, the only other male I can completely trust in that regard.
“I hear you have come up in the world, although one would not know it to look at you.” He patted me affectionately. “Unlike Rosalyn here, who looks every bit a lady now.”
“She is my lady in waiting, but she’s hardly a lady,” I said, smiling.
“Well, thank the goddesses for that,” he said, waving his hand. “You two want your usual?”
“You remember what that is?” I said surprised and disbelieving. It had been years since we frequented his joint.
“Cow strips and beer for Rosalyn; squid brains sautéed in toadstools and quarry juice for you. Washed down with beer.”
“Well, whisky would be preferred.”
He frowned. “I was sure it was beer.”
“Beer was all I could afford, Edern. My real passion is New Prydain whisky.”
“Then New Prydain whisky it is. Girl!” He snapped his finger and a girl in her teens stopped what she was doing and became attentive. “Give these two our special booth and here is their order.” She glanced at us sullenly, but took down what Edern ordered. “Now, tell me what brings you back to the old neighborhood?” I told him. “Yes, Shasta was such a nice girl. She hadn’t been brought down by her whoredom yet. Always thought the next billie would be the one to take her home and marry her. Remember when you were like that, Rhiannon?”
“Edern, I was never like that. The man I was to marry was the one to toss me out on the streets. Then the man I thought was my friend was my first pimp. And I thought my father had rejected me because of my degradation.”
“But you became a New Fairy princess. In time, a prince will come.” He was starry eyed at the idea.
“And will want me to unite the planet or something with him and will bed me only when his lust is too great to be satisfied by whores.”
“Rhiannon, you make my point. You are cynical toward men, but it wasn’t always so. Shasta was never cynical.”
“How come she to the streets?”
“That I do not know. She appeared one day, little Miss Sunshine, and she will be sorely missed. Sorely.” He had led us to a booth and fussed while we sat down. The teenager brought Rosalyn a pitcher of beer and me a bottle of whisky.
“Be sure to include a nice tip on our tab, Edern.”
“Your tab? No, no, no. This is all on me.”
“Edern, I am your queen. Please do what I say.”
He simpered. “You may be queen out there,” he pointed to the streets, “but in here, I am king. And I say you eat and drink on me. Besides the fact that you are royalty is all the more reason for me to kiss your lovely ass. Not to mention your lovely...” He bent over and whispered in my ear.
“Edern! How you do talk!” But I was tickled, even though I knew that as an unnatural he would never, ever do such a thing and as a lady I should be shocked at such language. Rosalyn had poured me a whisky and herself a beer. She then gave me her opinion of Edern’s antics and my reaction to them in an admonition.
“Don’t pay any attention to him, Rhiannon.”
“Who should I pay attention to, prithee, in this place?”
“Why, me of course. The one who took care of you here.” She draped her arm in front of herself in an oh, so cute way, and leaned toward me.
“You take care of me everywhere Rosalyn. You and Zusanna.” I scratched her scalp. Zusanna’s, that is. I don’t scratch Rosalyn’s head in public. It causes too many tongues to wag. Zusanna assumed a Sphinx position and took in everything with her preternatural senses.
Some of the street girls came in. One stared at our booth. In a loud, obnoxious voice enquired how I rated such a privilege. The teenaged serving wench took her aside and obviously spilled it about who I was, because the whore got a terrified look on her face. Well, so much for blending in. Knowing the streets, by this evening, everyone who walked them would know who I was.
Sure enough, by the time of the meeting, Matron Ceri had obviously heard. She came up to me apologetically. “I’m sorry, if I offended thee, your highness.”
“No offense given; none taken. But I do wish I could be incognito.”
“Fat chance of that,” Rosalyn said, observing the dozen or so pairs of eyes all aimed at me.
“Perhaps you can tell them the benefits of getting out of the life,” Ceri asked.
“I sometimes wonder if I did,” I said. “As crown princess, I still give men what they want in order to get what I need for the kingdom. It’s just that I have different things to give them now.”
Rosalyn hit me hard in the arm for that. “Don’t listen to her, Matron Ceri. She is a wonderful queen, a good friend, and she is so selfless it’s disgusting. She goes naked because everyone in the kingdom would die if she didn’t. That is the term of her curse.” Matron Ceri looked at me thoughtfully.
“Rosalyn, please, you are embarrassing me.”
“This from the woman who talks through her butt?” At Matron Ceri’s bewildered look, Rosalyn went on. “Oh yes, at a council of barons meeting, when one of the barons said something she didn’t like, she bent over, put her head between her legs and addressed him in that manner. He didn’t know whether to fix his eyes on her butt, her mouth, or her...”
“Rosalyn, would you just plain shut up? Or I’ll have your mouth sewn shut.”
“Notice she’s not denying it,” Rosalyn answered.
“I think we should sit down and let the Matron start the meeting,” I said indignantly.
The meeting consisted of Matron Ceri’s feeble attempts at talking the women off the street. The speech never specified how they could do this, abandoned and used by men, and without skills except those all women have. No one can help these women. I tried to do so by decree, but the council of barons overrode it; I had attempted to help a group once by giving them money, but they used it to procure men for themselves, whisky, and were back on their backs within a week.
No, no one can help them, and every week, new ones join the old, as their men tire of them and dump them for the use of others. Girls on the streets are locked in a great big exchange. Men pick them out, have fun with them, and then give them back to the streets for fresher, newer picks. Finally, men stop picking you, when you grow old and ugly enough, and then you die, usually from some dreadful disease brought to us by the Terrans and passed through the sexual encounter.
As I was thinking these morose thoughts, a whore who had seen better days came up to me. “You serious about Shasta?”
Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons