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The Year of the Dead Rose

by Rachel Parsons

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 appeared
in issue 235.
Chapter 3, Chapter 4
appear in this issue.
Chapter 2

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.

Ioseff, Third Earl of Gwrydall, sheriff of New Fairy, and the most powerful non-royal in the kingdom, entered Rhiannon’s chamber with some trepidation. It wasn’t the dread mission that brought him to that place which frightened him. He was a mountain of a man, almost seven feet tall, so strong that ruffians and varlets everywhere were convinced he could uproot trees with his bare hands. Many had said they had seen him do just that. He had on his jerkin, lined with iron filings, and a war belt replete with three bags, each with a different instrument of destruction. He was good with the dirk, the dagger and the bolt, and he had all of them on his person. No, he was not easily frightened by circumstances.

But he was terrified of himself. He had admired and desired the Princess Rhiannon since her Ushering, even when she began that period in her life the way many do: as a gangly girl, all arms and legs, with hands and feet too large for her body. Now...

Now, he was faced with a naked beauty whose bosoms were that of a giantess. Large enough to engender ribald witticisms.

“Sooth, she enters the room before she enters the room.”

“Gadzooks, they are large enough that letters will go to them, and not just to the palace.”

“Gods’ breath, if she should fall on her back, how would she get up?”

He had already slapped many of his bailiffs and beadles, and had cudgeled many a rogue in many a tavern who had commented on this aspect of his princess’ involuntary immodesty. But he had to admit, any bigger and they would be freakish. Her areoles were the size of half ducat pieces, and her nipples were twin arbalests aimed at a man’s loins.

She was also tall for a woman; almost as tall as he, and her height was due to her legs, which were feminine, yet muscular — which could describe the rest of her. She was an Amazon, a goddess of love, a Valkyrie with short, black hair. She was Goewyn and Arianrhod combined, with the enchantment of the lady of the lake, but with skin burned brown like that of a strumpet, or a New Prydain slave, and that was the point. She was half goddess, half whore. He wanted her more than air itself.

How could he trust himself in her presence? How could he concentrate on the heavy matters that he wished to bring to her attention, when all he wanted, with all his being, was to suck on those arbalests, have those legs wrap around him as he launched his own bolt into the essence of her femininity, and have that mouth-

“How fares the world with you, kind sir knight?”

Shaken out of his lusting reverie, he got down on one knee, and waited for her release, which came in the form of a hand, palm up, that made rising motions.

“The world fares well, princess.”

“Then what is this that my lady-in-waiting tells me, that you think my father is being poisoned and that it is my doing?” There was lightness in tone, but it masked hardness. He had heard she had grown hard, and he was aware that she had been — before she left for New Dyved — Heveydd’s torturer. He was also very much aware of her breathing. Gulp.

“I, um-“

“Perhaps if your eyes rested on something other than my nipples, you would find your tongue.”

It took him a moment to reply, because the princess chose that moment to uncross her legs and stretch them out in a perfect ‘V.’ She reached her hands to her toes to do a stretch. Ioseff bit his lower lip and cringed.

“My wish is to discuss many things — the poisoning of your father is but one of them and it is not true that I think you are the poisoner.”

“Prithee, then, speak your mind.” Hand to the right foot, then left foot; switch hands; hand to the right foot and the left foot. Legs widen. Gulp. Hand to the right foot... legs widen... Hold steadfast, man!

“Can I do so freely?” Hold steadfast.

Rhiannon shrugged her shoulders. “You come to my chambers, you stare at me like I am a harlot, your eyes and your manner tell me that you want to toss me over your shoulder and deplete your manhood trying to fill me, and yet you ask whether you can speak freely?”

Ioseff swallowed. “I would not think of dishonoring you.”

“Because I am already dishonored? Because I am now one of the fallen doves?”

“Damn it, woman, let me speak!”

“I am not stopping you.”

Ioseff straightened his leggings and codpiece, which made Rhiannon smile. She was infuriating. She knew the effect she was having on him and it pleased her. It had not been the Trickster that had brought him to her as she did her morning stretches. Or if it be so, the Trickster’s name had been Rhiannon.

“You make me an object of your amusement,” he cried.

“And you make me an object of your lust. Now, speak!” Left hand to left foot; right hand to right foot; legs stretched further apart...repeat...

“Am I your dog that you command me in such a manner?” He wiped his fevered brow with the handkerchief from his vest pocket.

“A dog would have better manners.”

Her legs almost making right angles with her torso, Rhiannon went back to re-arranging her charcoal pots. She did so in a manner that indicated she was furious. At exactly what, Ioseff could not reckon. But he did reckon that if he had been in her position — used as a puppet for male (and sometimes female) desires, condemned to be a spectacle, he might be unaccountably angry at times too. It made him forgive her for her obvious manipulation of his masculinity by her femininity, but this act of absolution did not make him any less uncomfortable. Gods’ breath, can she stop her contortions for just one minute!?

“Rhiannon, we need to discuss your situation.” There was desperation in his face and voice.

“My situation? Naked and a whore to all men’s eyes? The royal giglet?” Her fury was being contained like the fury in a firestone. The right words would make the latter consume a continent. The right words and the former would also explode.

“No, Rhiannon. Your past is the past. Your situation as the only Oset to be competent at a point when the men of your kingdom wish war.”

That made Rhiannon pull in her legs, re-cross them and sit up. It wasn’t a modest retreat, but it was a giant’s caber toss away from what it had been just moments before. Her face became serious. “What, prithee, are you saying?”

“My men are everywhere, Rhiannon. Your father wanted it thus, and I continue it, even though he is in a second infancy. Everywhere it is the same story. In the taverns, the inns, the shops, in the councils of barons and burghers, it is always, ‘We must avenge our princess;’ ‘Our princess goes about like a strumpet and a harlot; the men of New Dyved did this to her and we must fight them;’ ‘We must give them naked steel because of our naked princess.’”

Rhiannon’s eyes went wide. Her hand went to her bosoms. “Really!?” Her tone was one of worry, but it indicated, he thought, that she was deeply pleased. It was as if she were squealing. “They are not ashamed of me?”

“They adore you, Rhiannon.”

“They adore my bosoms.” The anger was back. Her bosoms bounced in fury.

He shook his head. “No — not that they aren’t adorable; that is, the thing is; I mean to say-”

“I know what you mean.” She closed and opened her eyes. Was there something dove-drawn in that mannerism? She put her pots together and bent over them. Her bosoms almost flopped into two of them. Ioseff suddenly realized how stupid he had been. No doubt because of his distraction in the presence of the princess. He went to the pewter pot by the fireplace, picked it up and then, as if it were a feather, brought it to where Rhiannon was sitting. He squatted and poured more charcoal in each bowl. Even though he was sweltering in the room, he could tell by Rhiannon’s goosebumps that she obviously was not. How had he not thought to warm her before?

After he poured the charcoal, he took a flint from one of his pouches and lit each one. He then sat in front of her, crossed his legs.

“Please, feel at liberty to sit in my presence,” she said sardonically.

He blushed. She reached out and touched his knee. It took all his masculine strength not to grab her at that moment and start licking her like a puppy.

“Rhiannon, the men wish war; please let us concentrate on that fact.”

“But they cannot go to war without Heveydd. Is that why you think he is being poisoned? To stop a war? Our enemies are at court; of that I am convinced.”

Ioseff shook his head. “There are enemies at court; that is true. But those who are poisoning Heveydd, I am convinced, have a different motive.”

She scrunched her face. “What motive would that be?”

“To put you on the throne. There is a belief that abounds in the land that you killed Ferrell yourself, and that you would wish nothing more than the humiliation of the men of New Dyved. If you were on the throne, they reason, the war would proceed.”

Rhiannon got a far away look. Her hands curled into fists and her eyes looked red and demonic for a moment. She had killed Ferrell. His fiancée, the one who had replaced her, the hated Alcippe, her false friend, had made her humiliate herself before the whole New Dyvedian court. Ferrell had threatened to tell Heveydd of this, and, having found the death sword that Ferrell had kept from her, a token of Heveydd’s love, she used it to separate the head of the king of New Dyved from his body. She had had no choice after that but to return to New Fairy, even in her humiliated state.

“You have no idea how distressed my spleen is, Ioseff. Nor do you want to be around me when my ire is at its peak. There is but one person who has ever seen me at the height of my fury, and she is gone. But we cannot go to war; Alcippe is now queen of New Dyved and she, like Farrell, have the offworlders at her back. And they have terrible weapons, Ioseff. No, we cannot go to war.”

“Rhiannon, the war is coming. The men will fight. The only question is will they fight like beasts, unorganized, with the throne in jeopardy because each baron will claim leadership? Only you can prevent that.”

Rhiannon opened her mouth to say something, and then winced, putting her fist to her mouth.

Elfrod, the captain of the palace guards, in his black robe with epaulets, had burst unannounced into her chamber. Elfrod was a man in her father’s cohort, although his military bearing and stature, not to mention that his hair had all its color, made him seem much younger and vital. Rhiannon became self conscious, as even though her nakedness in front of Ioseff was innocent, and would be known as such, as all knew of her ensorcellment, she still felt caught in an impropriety.

“Heveydd is convulsing, your highness.” He was addressing Rhiannon but looking at Ioseff. “He is in horrible pain; you must come quickly.”

Proceed to chapter 3...

Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Parsons

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