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The Year of the Dead Rose

by Rachel Parsons

Table of Contents
Chapter 5, Chapter 6,
Chapter 7, Chapter 8
appeared in issue 237.
Chapter 9

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.

“Streets of Marble; Streets of Gold,” read the sign, proclaiming Capital City’s place in the world. The City, capital of New Dyved, had prospered as the military center of the five kingdoms. Stone could count the number of men in rags on the fingers of one hand. Tribute went to the coffers of the poor as well as the rich. But, he noted, except for the draw of fierce and frightening looking blunderbusses held by the offworlders, who were on every corner, there were no offworlder machines. The offworlders proclaimed they were here to help, but their help seemed limited to backing up whatever the monarchy wanted.

And what the monarchy wanted was his patron dead. At least, that’s what she said and he thought he knew why. He did notice “Wanted” posters, with a drawing of a voluptuous nude woman on them and the proclamation:

Bill of Attainder
Wanted for High Treason
Dead or Alive
Rhiannon Oset
She Will Be Naked
Bring Every Woman in This Condition
to the Magistrate
There Will Be A Reward!

Stone was grimly amused at what the magistrates would do with all the naked women brought to them for inspection. He was old enough to remember when the offworlders had proclaimed abhorrence to witchcraft; all the witches in all the cantrevs of New Dyved were brought in and tested for witch’s marks. It was funny how all were maidens and the pins had to be jabbed all over their bodies — with special care for certain parts.

It did not take a scholar or an alchemist to realize that his patron was most likely this notorious Rhiannon Oset. If so, then she was by now the queen of New Fairy. King Heveydd would either have gone mad or died in the week it had taken Stone to reach this western kingdom. And that would mean anyone enforcing the bill of attainder would most likely be dead as well, if he did so in New Fairy.

Rhiannon’s nakedness he thought of as camouflage. He had heard of an arachnid, down in the Great Central Desert, which looked like an innocuous twig. But touch its web, and its razor-sharp teeth would slice you in minutes. Rhiannon, naked, looked like a helpless woman. But her voluptuousness was the web, her nakedness the innocence. She would eat you, and probably not as pleasantly as the spider would. If he had had any thought of treason, this Arthur, this Judas Man, the signs and what they meant had made them vanish.

The Whores’ Quarter was about six blocks west of the Plaza of the Generals and the palace. You went from the Bazaar of men almost directly to the bazaar of women. It was here, on an upper story, that Rosalyn Morgan had dwelled for the past few years. A fine apartment by its location close to the cauldrons. It was a vented one, so the smoke from the wood-burning stove and fireplace would not back into the dwelling. One paid for such luxury.

It was feeble to think she would still be here; the naked woman — he still thought of her as that — surely would have had her agents look there first. He climbed the indoors steps, which were made from rubber bushes, not easily rotting wood. New Dyved’s climate being what it was, Ur-termites abounded. Stone knocked on the door to the courtesan’s apartment.

A man whore, if there ever was one, opened the door. He was a lad, bare chested, and completely hairless from threading — Stone recognized the telltale signs. He was almost completely naked, too, adorned only by a velvet codpiece with perky, pink tassels. He was a beauty, with tough pectorals, fine muscles and a blond mop of hair. He smiled at Stone, who wanted to vomit at the mere sight of him.

“Twenty five ducats and that is just for-”

“I am looking for Rosalyn Morgan, and I will pay more ducats for her than for the likes of you.” Stone didn’t even want to think of what the twenty-five ducats would pay for.

“Well, all right, sweetie, if that’s your pleasure.” He made it sound disgusting. “But she’s gone to work for Dirk. Gods know where that will end her up.” He rolled his eyes. “But if you like,” he poked at Stone’s chest, “I can dress up as a woman. I’m told I look quite the part and could be an actor. Confidentially, my maleness is retractable.” The last he said in a whisper, almost as soft as his codpiece.

Stone bent the whore’s finger back like a faucet and brought him to his knees.

“Oooh. You like it rough. That will be extra.”

“Just tell me where to find Dirk.”

“Oh, all right! You go down to the laundry district, by the Webbers’ threading, and from there to the Bolt Parlors. He usually hangs out there. But there’s no one in his harem as good as me.”

“I’ll take your word on that. Here, spend it on Adam’s root enemas. It will raise your male humors, so I am told.” He handed the lad a bag of silver. And took the stairs as fast as a flash cheetah.

Dirk wasn’t hard to find. He didn’t know Dirk from the first man through the portal, but he knew the type. So when he went to a Bolt Parlor that had a painting of a corpulent blighter, holding a flagon in one hand and pinching a nipple of a topless wench on the other, he had no problem at all in spotting the man.

Dirk was a wiry man dressed in a golden jerkin made of finest griffin leather. It came down to his knees. Below the knee were silken leggings. He wore a parted coat with diamonds for buttons, and a taffeta cap. He had two topless wenches at both sides, both looking shopworn and identical to the wench on the inn’s sign.

He and his beauties were standing by the boltmen, who were taking turns showing their prowess with the crossbow at canvas targets that had concentric circles painted on them. He was actually between them and the bar, which was tip to toe, stem to stern, as they say, filled with men who were downing flagons as if their arms were enchanted and that was all they could do. Grab. Slurp. Down. Grab. Slurp. Down. Grab. Slurp. Down.

“You Dirk?” Stone drawled.

“My dear sirrah, that is one of my sobriquets.”

“I’m looking for a woman.”

“Then I am your man, sirrah. I have composed many beauties. Do you want something exotic? I have the best bevy of offworlder beauties, and those from the Great Inland Desert. You know,” he bent over conspiratorially, “they say that an offworlder woman, once had, makes you the slave, and not the other way around.”

“You might say I am looking for something special.” And with a quick motion, he tipped a dirk at the procurer’s manhood. “I am willing to pay most handsomely for the presence of one Rosalyn Morgan. And I am willing to wine and dine you with a most exotic meal,” he thrust the little dagger close to the tip of the other man’s organ “if I don’t have her.”

Dirk’s eyes fluttered slightly at Stone’s way of negotiating. “I may have knowledge of this young woman that you desire; let us go to my rooms and talk.”

“Aye, let us do that.”

“And that would mean removing your badge from between my legs; it would vastly increase my maneuverability.”

Stone adroitly twirled the dirk and placed it somewhere on his person. A secret place that even the king’s — rather, the queen’s — guardsmen would never find. Perhaps the naked woman would. He was sure she had similar hiding places — two, in fact, to his one, one fore and the other aft.

Dirk’s apartment was overlooking the harbor and had a fine view of some of the Channel Islands. A view spoiled by the wreckage to his villa. Wardrobes were overturned, chests hacked to pieces, and his mattress, a nice one made of goose feathers, was as dead as the geese that gave birth to it. Feathers and mattress bedding was everywhere.

“Gadzooks! What has happened here?” Dirk stared, goggling. And then he rushed to a painting on the wall. To Stone’s stunned amazement, he put his arm right into the painting. His hand picked up a stone by a brook in the picture. With thumb and forefinger he dug through it and pulled out a parcel, brought it back into the men’s shared reality. “A powerful madam who entrusted this to me,” he indicated the parcel, “gave me leave to enter this other world through this small portal. A clever safe, indeed!”

“Indeed.” Stone did not let the excitement enter his voice. Dirk had opened the parcel, and inside it was a scroll. The scroll was of the kind of parchment that Queen Modron, Rhiannon’s mother, used, she having had it made by applications of firestone to Yggdrasil trees. Her seal was upon it. Could be coincidence, but when the cowled one had first approached him, before their last rendezvous, he had described the scroll he coveted in just such terms.

Even if it were a coincidence, he thought the naked woman would pay dearly for this prize, being from her mother — he again not daring to think aloud who she really was even to himself. He snatched the scroll from Dirk, who pulled a bolt from a hidden sheath and lunged at Stone.

Stone deftly stepped off of the man’s path of aggression, bent his knees, dropped straight down, chopped Dirk on his neck and then kicked him on the temple. He pulled the man’s head up by his hair and slit his throat, first one way; then another. He quickly left the apartment, being careful not to step in the expanding pool of blood, or leave any trace of his presence. With any luck, the beadles would blame whoever had fruitlessly looked for his prize before him.

As he exited the building, being careful not to step on little mounds of mouse dung along the elevated dirt that passed as a sidewalk, Stone’s eyes began watering furiously; he lost his balance, and blindly staggered over to the pier, where he plunged in. He was barely aware of the fact the scroll had been sent flying and was now in the mouth of a scarily large black bird.

Proceed to chapter 10...

Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Parsons

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