Facing the Twilight
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents
Chapter 1, Chapter 2
appeared in issue 253.
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. She now confronts two crises at once: the menace of the offworlders and an ancient conflict between dragons and men.
“Rhiannon, I am very busy. There is a group of gypsies rumored to be coming. And could you have him stand outside? He is beginning to decompose.”
Ioseff was not in a cheerful mood. This much was obvious. The Sheriff, Third Earl of Gwrydall, never was when his mother was in town. Then the man mountain, all six foot, seven inches of him, suddenly had the manhood of a little boy. Ioseff even had his dirty blond long locks tied in a pony tail and under a floppy hat. I suspected it was to please his mother. He was tense, not from the gypsies or from corpse rot, methought.
“Ioseff, Henry is not decomposing. He just looks and smells that way. He is a spirit. Spirits do not decompose.”
“I knew it was wrong of me to get involved with a necromancer.”
“Did not seem to bother you last night that I was a necromancer.”
He blushed at that. When I had first come back from exile, cursed by Graymulkin to nakedness, he had blushed constantly in my presence. Now, he just does so when I want him to.
We were in his office at the sheriff’s barracks. He had a simple, unpainted wooden desk, replacing his eitann one which was in the presence of a woodsmith for repairs, but still with stacks of papers, reminding me of what I should be doing, rather than gallivanting around the countryside trying to find out who murdered an unquiet shade.
The sheriff’s office was set apart from the general quarters where the bailiffs and beadles were about their duties-interviewing prisoners, scrivening, or dunking pastries into coffee. I swear that without coffee or pastries there would be no peace at all in the kingdom. Not that I have any right to complain, mind you. But I at least work it off.
When we first burst in, everyone had looked up from their desks, stopping what they were doing to stare at Henry. Some of the new faces stared at me too.
“And how fares my merry men?” I saluted.
“Fine, your highness,” a captain returned. He was in trews and a jerkin, but no chain mail. Everyone was the same, the heat from the roaring fire making it prohibitively hot to be otherwise attired. It was satisfying to see the choking when one of the newcomers who had been leering at me heard who I was. Unless I am known personally, my nakedness makes men think of me as laced mutton. They want to eat me, and not in a way that I would like.
“This is a dead one,” I explained to the bailiffs. “And he is wandering Daearu, as he needs justice.”
There were murmurs at that. Now that we were ensconced with Ioseff, bellowing had replaced the murmurs.
“I cannot drop everything at your whim, Rhiannon.”
“Hmmm. That is also different than your attitude from last night.” I climbed on top of his desk, my knees on his correspondence, my hands on his blotter, my butt facing the general quarters, and peered into his face. “I could order you. I am your queen.”
Oh, you should have seen the little vein throbbing on his thick, manly neck. His face contorted, his cheeks puffed, and his brows furrowed. He looked like he might make a foul eruption.
Instead, he bellowed. “Rhiannon! What good would it do, anyway? The murderer is most likely across the sea of stars and is merrily frolicking upon the old world’s beaches humming to himself. Please, Rhiannon, do not make me do this.”
I reached out and stroked his chin. “I am not your mother, Ioseff. You do not have to whine your objections to my orders.” I sat up on his desk facing him, and placed my legs on his shoulders. Then I reached them around his head and pulled him toward me. “So how are you going to please me?”
He spluttered. “Rhiannon—”
“Forthwith with the whine again. And to think I accounted you a man.” I ignored Henry’s sniggers.
“All right, Rhiannon,” he said resignedly. “I will assign you one of my female bailiffs. She has been complaining she has yet to see action. Now if you would just release me, I will go and fetch her.”
I rolled back on his desk, pulled my legs back until my knees were almost touching my face. He was momentarily paralyzed at what that revealed to him, but then stood up and with a regained alacrity, headed to the general quarters.
Henry burst into laughter as the sheriff grumbled, “Gods’ breath, Rhiannon, you take a man’s reason away!”
“Oh, if I had a woman like you, Rhiannon—”
“Yes, sirrah?” I got up off my back and dangled my feet over the edge of Ioseff’s desk and looked at Henry.
“I don’t think I would have ever died. There would have been no fricking way.”
I had heard Terrans refer to the Way of the Frick before but I had no time to contemplate the strangeness of his words. Ioseff came back with the bailiff. She was a redhead with green eyes and was the kind of woman who reminds you of a mountain leaper. She was thin, although her war belt made her hips and buttocks stand out, but was full of nervous energy. She saluted me tensely when she entered.
“This is Ionnen Rhunweldd. She will see to your needs personally. Now, please, Rhiannon, get thee hither and take the shade with you.”
I stood up and sashayed over to him. “You are so comely when you are agitated, Ioseff.” I kissed him, but demurely on the cheek, so as to not shock the young bailiff.
Ionnen and I left the barracks, with Henry floating beside us, and rejoined Rosalyn and Zusanna. Zusanna was nose to nose with one of the sheriff’s hounds, and began licking the poor creature. From the dog’s reactions, his ears back, and his eyes full of fear, he knew that she was a shifter.
Rosalyn was playing cards with one of the guardsmen. They were perched on one of the barrack’s wishing wells.
“Hah!” she shouted. “Pay up.”
“I will buy you ale the next time you are in town, Mistress Morgan. Alas, you have broken me.”
“Poor, poor, pitiful you.”
“Mistress, I have to buy my own tallow, and my horse is scrawny from neglect.”
“Are you making the poor fellow haggard?”
I had to rub my hand over my mouth not to laugh. This one also had to be new. I had thought not when I had earlier passed him, as he had not reacted to my nakedness, as new bailiffs often do. But he would have to be callow indeed to play cards with Rosalyn. Even I do not do that, as I cherish my ancestral lands, and she is proud enough as it is having acquired my beach house in New Gwynedd.
“He but owes me a mere hundred ducats,” she said, returning my smile, only hers was not hidden. “And who is this?” She indicated Ionnen with her bodkin, which she then used to deftly cut a gold button off her victim. “Partial payment,” she said to him, making him rattle. She put the button in her purse.
I introduced Ionnen to Rosalyn, explaining Ioseff’s position.
“He’s right, you know. The only offworlders present are those in that ambassadorial wench’s entourage. Besides, unless you get back to your paperwork, Rhiannon, there won’t be enough clearance for your success.”
“What means you?”
“There are already thirty-two heads on poles facing the Don. You know that’s five more than the law allows.”
“Begging your pardon, Mistress Morgan,” Ionnen said. “But I counted but twenty-five. That would allow for two more.”
Rosalyn glared at her.
“And I can always change the law for special occasions.” I turned to Ionnen and Henry. “She is my nag, more so than my horse.”
“And you need a nag, Rhiannon. Or the business of the kingdom would eddy down like fecal matter from an enema that was caught in a whirlpool.” Rosalyn winked merrily.
“Just get our steeds, Rosalyn.”
And then I closed my mouth. Next to the well that Rosalyn and the unfortunate guardsman had been perched on were not only Nightshade and Scout, but another horse as well. How does she do it? I could see having our mounts, but Ionnen’s? How had she determined it would be Ionnen who would join us? Especially since she had seemed ignorant of the bailiff until I had made the introductions? And I had no doubt that was Ionnen’s steed, as indeed it proved to be.
Rosalyn took the fork that led back to Caer Rhiannon. She rarely has to ask me which way we are going, and I would not have been surprised had she somehow, through a courier bird or by speaking on the wind, arranged for interviews with the emissary’s men.
The road from the barracks, which abuts Arbeth Dactyl’s walls, takes one past Wynne’s Inn, the wooden tavern where anything goes, and no sheriff’s bailiff has ever set foot in. The sheriff had but once, at my invitation, and that proved to be a disaster that I may write about one day.
By the inn was a meadow, and there was a group of freeholder children, the girls in muddy dresses and the boys in muddy breeches and shirts, each holding on to a painted rope around a pole. I winced as I heard their song.
“She isn’t lewd
But she is no prude.
We owe our freedom
To Rhiannon the Nude!”
Copyright © 2006 by Rachel Parsons