An Understandable Mistake
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents|
“The Characters of Rhiannon’s World”
appeared in issue 156.
“The Origins of
appeared in issue 157.
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 must appear naked at all times, vulnerable and cold. As she resumes her rightful place in the world, she encounters dark sorcery, the evil of men, the intrigue of enemies and her own inner conflicts.
part 1 of 4
Sometimes I think I live in a dream world. There I was, stark naked, being introduced to Branwen’s court. During my maidenhood, I had dreams like this, only then I could wake from them, smooth down my nightgown, and sigh in relief. This is not so now.
Branwen was dressed in splendor, of course. Her gown was a brilliant yellow and blue, with gemstones sewn into the every inch of the fabric. She had a Sidon hood with a cape that flowed down to the small of her back, and her boots were the finest leather. Every other lady of the court was similarly attired, although not quite as gaudily; they dared not upstage their queen after all.
They didn’t seem to mind upstaging me, however. But I did not wish to precipitate a diplomatic offense over the issue. I had come here to listen to the demands that I lift the embargo with the offworlders, to see if I could still protect the five kingdoms if I allowed this, and to dodge any assassination attempts due to my stances on these issues. I did not want to spoil things before they had started.
The men wore silk tunics, leather boots, and a leather cinch that held their daggers. They had broad hats trimmed with rubies and cowhide boots similarly bedecked. No effort had been spared to make my reception a fine one, another reason why I kept my mouth shut.
My own entourage wore brilliant purples — the dye was from New Prydain — which I was sure didn’t go unnoticed. Arianrhod’s gown, which came just short of her ankles, was as golden as her hair. Her hood was Sidon, her gown was Sidon; I was even sure her undergarments were Sidon. Even Rosalyn, dressed in purple trews, jerkin, and chain mail, managed to look like a fashion plate.
I wasn’t the only one naked, of course; in New Prydain, slaves abounded, and slaves were never given the privilege of clothing. Some had already made the understandable mistake — understandable, that is, from Branwen’s point of view. Not as understandable from mine. I did not relish being treated as an equal by thralls. But it is one of the consequences of my having shamed a witch that now my shame was for all to see. I had told a sister of the moon that if I was that hideous I would cover up when I came upon her doing her ritual work nude. She responded by declaring that as I was so beautiful, I would never have to cover up again — and cursed me to be naked for all to see for the rest of my life.
I thought I would die of shame from that moment on, and it didn’t help matters that the merchant princes of New Prydain and their wives — my welcoming assembly — were all dressed in splendor. Nor did it help that Branwen, whom I have imagined to be a little jealous of me, had an amused smirk on her face, as I helplessly stood there to have my hand kissed by men whose trousers under their tunics all had a suspicious bulge in them. The ladies of the court had twinkles in their eyes, as they kissed my cheeks. I was high queen in all but name, and here I was naked as a slave, or an animal, in front of them.
“Are you weary from your travels, sister?” Branwen said, a little informally, calling me by that familial epithet, although we were far from real sisters. “Oh, do you like them?” she added, when she noticed my baleful stare at her broaches, which held her gown on at the shoulders.
She reached up and held her right one out for my further inspection. I could have killed her at that moment, but was restrained not just by my long friendship with her but by the thought that such a rash act would probably also not do wonders for the diplomatic aspect of my visit. I sometimes hate to be high queen. You can never do whatever it is you want.
“They are lovely,” I said sourly. “And yes, I am weary and wish to be refreshed before we meet all of your court.”
“I understand, but I did wish you to meet the notables as soon as you arrived. They were most anxious to see you.”
To see all of me, I thought, but did not say. Rhiannon the Nude was my informal title, and everyone had come from far and wide to see that it was so.
And there seemed to be hundreds of them. Just when I thought my hand would be numbed and my cheeks sucked dry from the kissing, my feet would rebel and leave of their own accord and my legs were wobbling, Branwen pulled off her final surprise.
“Yes, hiiii, Rhiannon.” Lips smacking, the owner of the artificially high pitched voice added, “Just love your outfit.” And then an outstretched hand which squeezed my shoulder.
And baby makes three, I thought. Eurybia, Chloe, and Branwen, the terrible trio when I was a girl. They thought they were superior to everyone else, except for me. And they would have loved to be superior to me, but I was crown princess of New Fairy. Now, decked out in almost phosphorescent wimples, broaches of rubies, and boots from the wilding beast, they could indulge themselves in a feeling of superiority that even my status as visiting royalty and as ‘High Queen’ could not overcome. I was naked; they were not — nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.
I wanted to punch them both in the face, to wipe those really big grins off their faces.
“Yes, you must tell us who your stylist is,” Eurybia said. “You are so nicely shaven; so smooth;” her eyes danced down my legs and lower body. “And your skin is such a lovely shade of brown.” Her’s was a lady like white, protected even in the New Prydain sun by her garments.
Branwen intervened in time to prevent an incident. “Rhiannon, will you grace us with your presence at my afternoon tea? We have such a lot to catch up with.” Chloe started a remark, but stopped under Branwen’s withering glance.
“It will be my pleasure, but after I attend to a personal matter.”
Branwen kissed me in dismissal, and I left the crowds to kiss and hug each other instead of me.
I turned my attention, then, to the slave girl who had been injured by our parade. We had come through the main street of New Prydain City, from the harbor, as people lined the blocks, stood in front of the storefronts and frame apartments and threw garlands at us. All nicely arranged by Branwen’s staff, of course, and I wasn’t fooled by it, but it was still pleasant to see all those obsequious people symbolically kissing my naked bum by greeting me as I wended my way through their fair city. I did have to restrain myself from sticking it out the window of my carriage and wiggling it at them. Actually, it was my chief lady in waiting, Rosalyn, who had restrained me, if you want to be precise.
But as we rounded the corner of Main Street to Palace Road, a slave came hurtling at our carriage, and if I hadn’t yelled for the driver to stop, would have been trampled by our horses. I leapt out and, as the crowd gasped, picked her up and cradled her head in my lap.
“Are you all right?”
“I think so,” she said, sounding bewildered.
“Is she all right?” This had come from a tall man, angular in features, with a muscular torso, legs and arms that were outlined by his brown trousers, tunic, and cape. He had on a broad hat, with sapphires sewn into it.
“And who might you be, sirrah?” I stared at him.
Rosalyn had come to my side, and her dagger was out, to make short shrift of him, should he prove to be an assassin. By my other flank was Zusanna, my lycanthropic bodyguard, who was in lupine form. She let forth a throaty growl.
“I am this one’s master,” he said. “I was concerned with her well-being. That is why I approach you so familiarly,” he said, referring to being within inches of my unadorned feminine form. Since my resumption of my rightful place in the world, after having been a prostitute for two years, it had become part of etiquette to stay at least arm’s length from me while in public, unless permission was granted. This may not be so of all royalty, but it is so when royalty is as vulnerable as I must be, going forth without armor, with no weapons dangling by my side, and immodest in appearance.
“I am all right, master,” the girl said, and, oddly I thought, winked at him.
“Oh, that is such a relief.”
I was impressed; he seemed genuinely to care for the girl. She couldn’t have been more than a few years past her Ushering, and he was thirty-five revolutions, if a day. This usually bespeaks of a lustful, and not loving, relationship between master and slave.
“I would like it if you and your slave come with me to the palace. I would like the physicians there to check her out.”
“No, that is not possible,” the man said. “Hirel and I have much to do.”
This made me angry. “If you care for her at all, you will do as I say. Besides, I am high queen. And I say she will accompany me to the palace and see a physician. You may come with her, of course.”
“As you wish.” He bowed his head. I hustled them into the carriage, much to Arianrhod’s annoyance, as she found herself pressed against the carriage door. She complained bitterly that any minute she might fall out, and get crushed by the parade.
So as tired as I was, I made my fare-thee-well to my reception and headed to the palace infirmary.
“You know this could wait until after your bath, Rhiannon,” Rosalyn observed.
“Are you implying that I stink?”
Rosalyn had been my friend, and my mentor, when I had been thrown out by the king of New Dyved to make my living as a whore, not realizing that my father and all the men of New Fairy would avenge such a dishonor. So she arrogates liberties that no other servant would ever dream of. She has seen me at my worst, she has helped me through times where anxiety washed over me like a flood over a broken levee, and I allow her such insolence.
“Rhiannon, you not only stink, your sweat is leaving little puddles where ever you go. They are not going to like this much at the infirmary.”
I was seething at her superior tone; born, I had no doubt, from her ability to wear sweat-absorbing garments. In her own way, she was as bad as Eurybia and Chloe.
“Dragon’s balls,” I responded. “If I can put up with cold marble beneath my feet, they can put up with my sweat.”
The palace at New Prydain was all marble from the floor to the pillars, most of which were unnecessary, but stood as a reminder that, unlike the other kingdoms, including New Fairy, whose castles were made of stone, New Prydain’s was all marble and steel — something I believe that they make by taking iron and nickel and blending them together, after heating them in a volcano-like forge to liquid form. I do not know this for sure, as my education was a lady’s education until I hit the streets, and then it was a whore’s. Either way, it did not include alchemy and other profound subjects.
The infirmary was to the west of the reception hall, and was cordoned off by ropes. I stepped over them, and opened the iron door. A woman in a white gown looked at me and scowled. “And what do you want here, girl?”
“I’m here to see how the slave girl, Hirel, is doing.”
The woman’s unclasped a cudgel from her girdle. I crooked my head to see where Rosalyn and Zusanna were; they hadn’t caught up with me yet. “You get yourself out of here, slave—” She raised the cudgel to hit me.
“I’ll take this, Gretel,” said another, middle aged woman, who had padded over from a table full of tinctures, and terrariums which contained leeches, centipedes, and the other animate tools of her trade. From the slightly greenish tint of her skin, she was a Meddygon fairy, but her name indicated she was an expatriate from the land of the women. “You must be the Rhiannon.”
“I’d say she must be the Rhiannon.” Rosalyn had caught up to me.
“Fine bodyguard you are; I was nearly beaten black and blue.” Rosalyn, responding to the mocking tone of my voice, stuck her tongue out at me. Zusanna started thumping her tail; my mock battles with Rosalyn amuse her.
“And you are?” I said to my rescuer.
“I am Iphenome, the physician here. And Hirel is recuperating nicely. She will have to wear a cinched girdle until her ribs heal, but otherwise she will be fine. I have received special permission to allow her that garment. Here, I will take you to her.”
We followed Iphenome to the far side of the infirmary, where the girl was resting comfortably and whispering avidly in the ear of her master. He had a great big grin on his face. Gee. I wonder what she was telling him. I had seen that same look on many a client as I told them what I would do for them if the price was right. I felt an affinity for the girl, which is why I had stopped to succor her. The only difference between her and me, in the days of my whoredom, was that I got paid for my degradation. She would have no choice but to do what ever her master required of her. And if, as a result, she got pregnant, then all the better for him. He would have himself another slave to satisfy his needs.
She didn’t pause her animated monologue as he turned and grinned at me. “Hirel here was just telling me—”
“How happy she is to serve you, no doubt,” I interjected.
“Oh, I’m very happy; Ryune here is a very fine master.” The girl winked at Ryune, who looked uncomfortable. Glanced nervously in my direction.
“So Ryune, prithee, tell me how you can take off from business to be with your thrall here?”
“Because, your highness, it is you that I have business with.”
“Huh. So it isn’t a deep regard for the well-being of your slave, after all. Prithee, what business do you have with me?”
“I sell exotic perfumes, your highness.”
Rosalyn poked me. “You see, I told you you stink, Rhiannon. So much so that perfumers travel from far away to peddle their wares to you.” She held her nose, and got nasally. “Please, listen to what the man has to offer. Do that for me and your other true companions.”
Zusanna took that moment to stick her nose in my butt. I pushed her away. Rosalyn laughed. “Well, most of your true companions anyway.” I wanted to strangle her, and would have, except for the thought that if she joined her ancestors, I’d have no one to scrub me, massage me —
“Or perfume you. Oh, I know very well what you were thinking, Rhiannon.” She wagged her finger at me. Hirel, Iphenome and Ryune all stared.
* * *
Tired as I was, there was the afternoon tea. It was in the southern garden, under a gazebo that was separated from the palace by a nicely kept up lawn. Even as I felt the deliciously cool lawn under my feet I noticed the gardeners, finely muscled naked men, trimming, pulling weeds; clipping unkempt bushes.
“I see your taste in men is still impeccable.” Eurybia winked at Chloe as she said this.
“Rhiannon has always admired male pulchritude,” Branwen said, trying to defuse Eurybia’s insinuation that I would take a slave to my bed.
“That’s right, Eurybia,” Chloe chimed in. “Rhiannon is accursed, you know, not a strumpet.” From the way she said it, I was sure she, like many in New Prydain, did not believe in curses. I had laughed at the idea once myself. “I’m sure she has some pride left, do you not, Rhiannon?”
I looked helplessly at Branwen. I didn’t want to offend my oldest friend, but this was not the way I imagined our first meeting since she had left my castle to come back to her own.
“You see what I have to put up with, Rhiannon? Things are not the same now that you and I are no longer together.”
Eurybia’s voice trembled slightly and took on a chastened tone. “You aren’t taking offense, Rhiannon? We tease each other this same way and now that you are so high above us, well, we have to cut you down to size.”
“I understand that, but please do not ridicule my nakedness.”
Chloe and Eurybia looked at each other and giggled. “Well, then perhaps you can tell us what you have decided about the offworlders, as a change of subject,” Eurybia said. Chloe nodded her agreement like a child’s balloon that had gotten stuck in a chimney.
“I haven’t decided anything about them, yet.”
“We have reason to ask, Rhiannon. Both our families depended on offworlder trade and it is important to us to know your mind.”
“As opposed to everyone else in New Prydain?” I stood up, making to leave. “And as fun as this has been, I must retire now, Branwen, lest I pass out in front of you.”
I reached over and kissed her. “Never fear, we will have plenty of times ahead for catching up.” I turned to Chloe and Eurybia. “And there will be plenty of time for decisions.” I walked away, but stiffened as I heard Eurybia suggest an obscene bribe to me involving one of the gardeners, whispering loudly enough that I could hear.
Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons