The Words of the Dead
Table of Contents|
Part 1 appears in this issue.
|part 2 of 3|
“Yes. I want to know how she died and who did it, and I will punish the one who did.”
“Then talk to Lord Caswallon.”
“I cannot say more.” She walked with a limp, but was very fast out the door. I went after her, but she had already blended in with the crowd by the time I was outside.
It was night by the time we were back at the palace. I was weary, tipsy, and filthy from the dust and dirt of the city. I had Rosalyn bathe me and I fell into my bed. It was in the same room I had when I was affianced to its ruler rather than its ruler in my own right. This had given me a hard case of the creeps and the shakes when first I entered it for this journey. But the bed was different, the decorations were different, and the servants were different. I still went around with Arianrhod to do a cleansing ritual before settling in.
Rosalyn was totally stunned. “I always wondered how people lived when they lived here,” she declared. “It must have been horrible for you to be cast out from this.” Indeed, the palace was ostentatious and fabulous by New Fairy standards, where my rooms, although nice and far better than even the finest in the town, are functional and you don't feel lost in them. You feel like you are very small indeed in Caer Seon. My bedroom alone seemed almost a furlong long, had two levels, closet space like you wouldn't believe, and its own private bath, made, of course, from marble.
I was fading fast, so I just mumbled a response. Rosalyn stripped, hung up her clothes in the spacious closet. Then she picked up her book, Alias Grace, and padded to the bed. She climbed in, crossed her feet in the air, and began laboriously reading, often stumbling through the strange Terran words.
“Where is Canada anyhow?” she asked.
“Camada?” I mumbled, face down.
“Rhiannon, pay attention to me.” She spanked me which made me turn my head and glare at her. “I asked you where Canada is.”
“I surely don't know. And what's more, I don't care. Why do you ask?” I felt so bleary eyed that even my blearies had blearies.
“My book takes place in Canada. I want to know where it is.” She kicked the bed with her feet and slapped it with her hands.
“Rosalyn, we have a long day tomorrow. I have to meet for goddess knows how long with my viceroy and then interminable audiences. Absolutely interminable. I probably won't even get to pee before we have to see Lord Caswallon.”
“Just take a chamber pot with you.” I shot her a look of pure hate.
“Just answer my question, Rhiannon, and I'll leave you alone. Where's Canada?”
So I told her. “Rhiannon, it is not. I would have noticed in your bath. That's really disgusting, you know. Where do you come up with these ideas? Not from me, certainly. Not from being on the streets. And not from your tutors when you were a girl.”
“Rosalyn, just shut up and read your book.” I wished that I could hide my head under pillows. I was able to stick my fingers in my ears and sing to drown her out.
I slept in, was groggy and out of sorts when I met with my viceroy. Lord Carodoc was actually Branwen's brother, and it had been his residing at New Dyved which had brought her with me during my time as the belle of Farrell's court. I don't really like Branwen's family, for the way they treated her when she was cursed by the selfsame witch who had cursed me, but Carodoc was an exception. When I needed local nobility to help my rule, he volunteered. When asked why he hadn't helped his sister when she was ensorcelled, he explained that this fact had been kept from him by Ferrell.
He was a tall man, with high cheek bones, a cute dimple on a chin that jutted out in a manly way, and he didn't seem in any danger of losing any hair. In fact, his long locks would have been the envy of any woman. I have to confess, blushingly, that I have fantasies about him and regret with every molecule that he is happily married to the Lady Cruerdilad. Yes, that is the Lady Cruerdilad, whose tresses can be weaved into gold with the right spells.
Cruerdilad, in a long Sidon gown, odd for a housedress, was outside Carodoc's study watering a pot. This made me involuntarily jerk. She is remarkably accident prone and forgetful. Our first day in Caer Seon, she had accidentally knocked a pot over, right on the path my feet were to trod. When we first toured the grounds, she had forgotten about the door to the beehives, and many of the honey bees had gotten out and swarmed all over me. Then there was the time that she forgot that I was outside the palace, really needing to pee, and had ordered all the entrances blocked. I didn't think I had any blushes left in me until I found myself squatting in plain sight of a troop of pages walking by. Some sauce in the food she had served that afternoon hadn't agreed with me either and I was also doing what Terrans obscurely call No. 2 at the time as well. It is a very fine thing that it is her husband who is in charge of the kingdom and not her.
So I hastily bade her good morrow and went into her husband's chambers. Before me was Carodoc, in casual but definitely spider-spun pantaloons and blouse, with what seemed an entire library of books to peruse. He bade me sit and took me through the books of the kingdom.
Half way through my shoulders began to ache. Carodoc get up and, without having to be asked, started rubbing them.
“Oh, that feels nice.” I squeezed my eyes in pleasure. I then felt his lips on mine. I looked up at him and turned in my chair to face him. He sat next to me. He kissed me again and his hands began taking seriously the freedom that affords male hands unobstructed by fabric. Heavenly petting I think the Terrans call it. It was indeed heavenly.
Then I realized what was happening. “Carodoc! What are you doing! Stop it.” He seemed more nonplussed than angry as I pushed him away. I rubbed the sweat off my hands and he straightened his tunic. “Let's stick to the books, all right?”
“As you wish, Rhiannon. Now, here's where my accountants have registered the taille. It goes back quite a ways.” He pointed to a record for years back. My name was by it. “I see you were very regular in your payments during your time in servitude here.”
“Um, yes. Can we look at something more contemporary, please?” I was getting frustrated and angry that Carodoc was turning into a pig right before my eyes.
“Oh, certainly; certainly.” He flipped to the back of the book. “This is what is current.”
“Hmmm.” We continued our tedious task. He did not keep his hands to themselves, but they only rubbed my shoulders and back after that. Still, when I finally left his chambers, I was on the look out for Cruerdilad, lest she forget something crucial-like to feed the hounds.
* * *
I sneaked in the back way to Lord Caswallon's. I was hoping that his servants wouldn't recognize me. They didn't. A scullery maid caught me and with the air of one nauseated, told me where Lord Caswallon's “special servants” were supposed to go.
“Did a girl named Shasta come here as a special servant?”
“I would scarcely know. I don't associate with your type of woman.”
“That's because no man would have you,” said a woman as thin as the scullery maid was fat. She had a bucket and mop in her hand. The fat woman glared at her and left in a huff. “Don't mind Ina. She thinks she's superior to everybody because she can read. If you ask me, reading is no big thing.” She sized me up. “Haven't seen you before, but you are definitely the lordship's type.”
“He has a type?”
“Big titted and long legged. You meet both standards. As long as you keep all your charms on display like you're doing and know what your mouth is for, he will love you. And I don't mean he likes to hear you talk, no matter how sweet sounding your voice is.”
“I see.” I was getting a whole new insight into Lord Caswallon. Lovely man. Were all the men of New Dyved pigs? “Did he also like a girl named Shasta?” She wasn't that long legged, and her breasts, though I suppose adequate for their main function, nursing, weren't huge. And as immodest as her clothes were, she was wearing some when she died.
“Oh, yes, he liked her too. Always treated her like she was something special. Can't see's why. Didn't meet his usual standards. A little chatter box too. Just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.” She mimicked this with her right hand. “Well, you'd better get ready. If you keep him waiting, he'll be very grumpy and take it all out on the rest of us.”
“Thanks. You've been helpful.” I left the way I came, in spite of my informant's shouting that I was going the wrong way. I went around to the front, where the majordomo let me in.
“Your highness. Lord Caswallon has been expecting you.” He led me to the reception chambers where Rosalyn was already seated, with Zusanna lolling her tongue happily at her feet. My lupine bodyguard locked eyes with me, and I could tell she was still disapproving that I had gone off by myself. I admit it, things can get dicey when I do that, but I really doubted that the servants would have been as forthcoming with a werewolf in their presence. (I could be wrong about this.)
Lord Caswallon, dapper as always in his cowhide suit, his hair black, curly, and almost as long as mine, was talking to Rosalyn about his Terran book collection. He had all originals of the Wild, Wild West paperback series from their golden age, including the coveted one where Dr. Loveless marries Kitty Twitty.
“Rhiannon, so glad you made it. I was just telling your lady all about my books.”
“He even told me where Canada was. It's up by their arctic.”
“I didn't know it was that far west,” I said.
“No, Rhiannon. Their arctic is north.” She had an insufferable, 'I'm so smart,' expression.
“Oh, that's just plain wrong,” I responded.
“Ladies, please. Don't fight.” He waited benevolently while I sat down. “Now, to what do I owe two royal visits in a row?”
“It's about Shasta.”
“Shasta?” He shook his head like he was trying to knock water out of it.
“You know, the petite little whore you like who turned up dead a block away from your townhouse?”
“Shasta's dead?” He looked stricken.
“As if you didn't know. Coyness doesn't become you;” I wagged my finger at him. But there were tears in his eyes. “Wow, she must have been a really good lay, from that reaction. Would any of your billies have cried for you, Rosalyn, if you were killed?”
Before Rosalyn could answer, Lord Caswallon said angrily, “You don't understand, your highness. Shasta was not... well, I disapproved of her life, but it was hers to lead. I couldn't stop her. I tried, but she would always run away. Oh, goddesses, I knew this would happen someday.” He tore at his hair. Tears were flowing like a river now. “But I was powerless to stop it. I was powerless!” His hands were clenched in useless rage.
“What the Nifelheim are you talking about?” This wasn't exactly the reaction I had been expecting, and it didn't exactly make any sense.
“You don't understand. Shasta wasn't a special servant of mine. She was my daughter!”
“Your daughter?” I was stunned. “Then how came she to be a whore?”
“She wasn't, not really. Oh, she'd take money from men, but she'd... oh, goddesses, I can't believe I'm talking about her this way. She'd... um, sleep with men... for fun. She was as full of vices as she was lovely. She'd get drunk, alter her consciousness with wiffle root; do anything. Just to spite me! Just to spite me!”
“Did that make you mad?” I didn't know whether to give him a hug, or to give him to Zusanna to chew on. How could a father let his daughter go out on the streets? I had thought that of Heveydd because of his indifference to my plight, but he hadn't known of it, and knowledge of his love had been kept from me by my fiancé, who wanted me for himself, and when he had to 'share my womanly charms with the world,' cruelly dumped me into the arena of the streets for men to use.
“Of course it made me mad. I was furious with her.” He had been pacing up and down in agitation, balling and unballing his fists. He turned and stared at me. “Oh, you can't think that I'd be the one to kill her?”
“Somebody did. Thinking that there would be no investigation, as she would be mistaken for a whore. Which she was. But they didn't count on me stumbling on her body and taking a personal interest in her death.”
“Do you still have the body?” he asked, startling me.
“Arianrhod is reading it, to see if we can get clues as to who would kill her.”
“May I see it? And when you're done, I want a state funeral. She rejected me in life, but I won't reject her in death.”
“Of course.” I got up to go; he escorted us to the door. Outside, Rosalyn made her observations.
“Well, that was a great big bust.”
“Rosalyn, you are callous. The man is grieving.”
“The man is fooling you, Rhiannon. As you yourself said, no man would see his daughter on the streets. He kicked her out, and now feels guilt about it. The way your father Heveydd would have, had your body been found and brought to him after it was cruelly used. Guilt is what he is about; not grief.”
“Rosalyn, that is cold.”
“But you can't say that it isn't true.”
“No, I can't say that. I wish I could, but I can't. But I feel we are no closer to knowing why Shasta died than we were when first you tripped over her.”
“Me? It was you who tripped over her, Rhiannon.”
“Couldn't have been me. I never lose my balance.”
“You do when you're drunk.”
“Rosalyn, even this sport isn't cheering me up.”
“But I know what will.” She took me by the arm, and led me to Edern's. As we approached the house of food and drink, though, we were arrested by the sight of soldiers in front of it. Edern was twittering. When he saw me, he began to squawk. The soldier he was talking to looked over at us. His expression went grim.
“What is it, guardsman?” I asked when our approach was close enough for talking.
“That, m'lady,” and he pointed at a limp form in Edern's doorway. It was the body of the aging whore who had first linked Shasta to Lord Caswallon. She was dead, and there was blood pouring out from her in the same manner as had occurred with Shasta. Now, it was two dead, and, from appearances, from the same hand!
The kill had been fresh, and that allowed me to use my knowledge of necromancy to get information from the corpse. I decapitated the body, placed the head in the required crucible, and in the ancient, terrible ways, brought it back to a semblance of consciousness. The brain had already suffered damage from the death, and the hollow whispering of the muscle less voice box made it hard to understand the dead one.
Arianrhod was standing in a corner of the chamber she had converted to a place of investigation. It had been, under the Terran occupation, used for vivisection and medical experiments, as the offworlders tried to see what would happen if they grafted one sapient species to another. Dragons with the arms and legs of men, fairies with the heads of mortals, humans sown together; other monstrosities, all were cooked up here.
It reeked of foul deeds and evil spirits, and what I was doing wasn't helping the feeling. Arianrhod does not like necromancy, she fears it, but it is the only magic I know, and the living witnesses had proven to be of no use, as had the corpse of poor Shasta herself.
“Do you know your name?” I asked the re-animated head.
“Yes,” it whistled.
“Do you know your age?”
“And who I am?”
“You are princess Rhiannon, the mistress of New Fairy and New Dyved.”
“Do you know why you were killed?”
“Because I know of death.”
“Explain.” The trouble with conjuring the dead is that they are either totally angry at being summoned from the afterlife or they talk in confounding ways. That hadn't bothered me when I used them as legions to fight the Terrans, as their anger was useful, but it doesn't make for easy conversations.
“Death is when your family spurns you,” the dead voice moaned.
“Are you saying Lord Caswallon is behind your death? He spurned Shasta.”
“Don't let your thoughts of what could be interfere with your thoughts of what is.”
“Huh? Are you saying that Lord Caswallon didn't spurn Shasta?”
“I am saying that I know death.”
“And death is when your family spurns you, I know; I know. But what do you mean by that?”
Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons