I Still Wake From My Nightmares
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents|
Part 2 appeared
in issue 152.
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 can never regain the modesty of childhood: she must appear naked at all times, vulnerable and cold. Her father’s subjects think her immodest, at best; strangers think far worse of her.
When she receives a letter from her sister, Queen Gwennan, asking her to come to her palace of Caer Dythal, and to come alone, Rhiannon is thrust into a series of adventures and political intrigues that put both her dignity and her sanity at stake.
part 3 of 8
“Rhiannon?” She stared at me through alcohol befogged eyes. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Rhiannon. But you looked like a servant girl.” It was then that I became aware I wasn’t the only naked woman in the room. Two serving maids were placing food on the plates. From their manner, and averted eyes, they were embarrassed about attending the get-together without their uniforms. It reminded me so much of the times I had to serve meals naked that I took it personally. My eyes narrowed. Whose idea was this?
I searched the room for Math or Gwennan to get an explanation of this indignity to the girls when Goewyn burped, “You know, it’s really okay for you to go this way Rhiannon. You have no cellulite to worry about. I mean your hips are practically painted on your bones. The only fat on you are your tits.” My mouth hung open at this. The men looked appalled and Rosalyn pretended to find the tapestries on the wall fascinating.
“I mean look at this.” Goewyn grabbed her own hips, and then made to pull down her skirt. Manawyddan stopped her.
“Why don’t you get yourself another drink, Goewyn?”
“Now, there’s an idea. Oh, girl...” She weaved toward one of the actual servants.
“I’m sorry about that, Rhiannon.”
“Don’t worry about it. Are you and she...?”
“No, we are just good friends. On vacation together.”
Oh, then there’s hope for me, I thought. Manawyddan was looking at me with an ease that made me tingle. Oh, his eyes were appraising me, like all men’s do when they see me in the way I must go about, but he obviously liked what he saw and was still respectful. That was a nice change of pace. Very nice.
“On vacation?” I repeated. I had noticed the pantaloons, vest and cloak of the merchant classes.
“Yes, kind of a permanent one. With the ban on interplanetary trade, the family business went belly up.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry about that.”
“Yes, but I don’t blame you, Rhiannon. You did what you had to do, kicking the Terrans offworld. I just wish you’d speak to Heveydd about loosening the interdict.”
“I will do so.” The interdict had been my idea. I hate the Terrans now and don’t want any truck with them. “But what business is this? Surely you can live off your rents?” Manawyddan’s family was one of the richest in western Daearu.
He shook his head. “The Terrans confiscated our lands for their rubber plantations. But we had adapted by being their middle men, until the ban. Now...” he shrugged.
“Rhiannon, excellent. You are here already. Now, we may dine,” boomed Math, who, along with Gwennan, had slipped in during our conversation. This saved me from having to comment on Manawyddan’s remark.
We all headed to the dining table. Elfrod pulled my chair out for me. It was clearly intended to be my chair, as it was the only one with a cushion. But before I sat down, I had to broach a subject with Math. “Whose idea was it to have the serving wenches naked?”
Math’s throat vibrated in preparation for a splutter, when Gwennan stated, “That was my idea, Rhiannon. I thought you’d be more at ease if you weren’t the only woman so indisposed.”
“Well, you thought wrong,” I said, trying not to be too acerbic toward my sister. “It just draws attention to my, uh, ‘indisposition,’ and the poor women are obviously uncomfortable. I’ve been made to serve meals in that condition for the hilarity of the diners. It’s not right.”
“As you wish, sister,” she said frostily. “I will fix that.”
“No, no, don’t bother. The dinner will get cold while we wait for new servants or for the girls to get dressed. Just don’t do this again, especially at my reception.”
“Of course not. You’ve made your point.” I could see the wall come down from my remarks.
That started the dinner off on a swell note. But Math came to the rescue by asking me details of my triumph. There were things I had done in the war that I wasn’t proud of, but I regaled them with some of my exploits, ending with my sitting on horseback, surrounded by my legions, both living and dead, watching the last Terran warship depart to the skies.
“I just wish you hadn’t banned all trade, Rhiannon,” Goewyn said. “I mean, you could allow the fashions to come in. I just love to spend hours and hours shopping for clothes, and now that we are stuck with our quaint Daearu outfits, well, it really isn’t the same.”
This froze the conversation. Everyone was aware of what a clothes horse I had been before the curse, and everyone was aware of how I might be hurt by this cruel reminder that I would never again experience the joy of clothes shopping. The dinner lagged on, but its momentum was gone and soon everyone was thinking of ways to end it.
“Well, this has been lovely, Rhiannon, but I am very fatigued, and I have a lot of planning for your receptions and visits, dear sister.”
“I too am tired, Gwennan. Thank you all for a wonderful time. I look forward to many an exchange during my visit.” And with that the men rose, honoring the women as we headed out.
I was tired, and climbed into the bed, glad of the fire that had been lit and was roaring in spite of the mild evening. I can’t even enjoy the luxury of blankets. Rosalyn changed to her night gown, climbed in with me, and we read for a while.
I looked over at her. “Good book?”
“It’s a Terran book, The Handmaiden’s Tale.”
“Oh, I remember that.”
“You read it?”
“As a little girl.” I smiled at the memory. I had had so much fun as a little girl. Gwennan called it getting into mischief. But then I frowned. Heveydd one time, after I had pantsed one of the pages, called me into his office.
“Rhiannon,” he said to me, “Edwin did not appreciate you pulling his pants down in front of the squires.”
I squirmed. “But it was funny,” I protested.
“I’m sure it was. But Rhiannon, someday you will be queen. And when that day comes, you will no longer have the luxury of doing things just because they are funny. You will make decisions that no one will find funny, and they will hate you for it.”
“In that case, I’d better do things that are fun while I still can.” He just shook his head and repeated my name over and over again.
I need to do things that were fun now. I wasn’t queen in name, but Heveydd had basically abdicated responsibility in my favor. And my decisions were causing people to resent me. I could feel Manawyddan’s resentment as a palpable thing going up and down my body when he spoke of my embargo. I could feel Goewyn’s seething under the alcohol. I was no longer fun. I longed for that little girl who could pants someone and get away with it. I fell asleep thinking these serious thoughts.
Rosalyn woke me at 3:00 a.m. “What time is it, Rosalyn?” I muttered resentfully.
“You have to get up, Rhiannon. Hurry.” Scratching myself in all sorts of intimate ways, I made to the bathroom. “No, we don’t have time!” She pulled me out the door of the room and into a winterscape.
“Goddesses, it’s cold,” I said, hugging myself. It was then I was aware that Rosalyn was dressed for a hunt. There were several others, all in fur-lined hunters’ outfits, the kind you wear so you don’t freeze in subzero temperatures. “Rosalyn, I can’t go on a hunt in this weather.” She just smiled. “Seriously, my feet are already giving me shooting pains. “I’ll get frostbite, if I don’t die of exposure first.”
It reminded me of one time when I had been commissioned to be a hostess for some Lords in New Dyved. After I gathered up the plates, and endured the fondling of my buttocks and womanhood, I had overheard their debate. Some wanted to toss me out, dreadful though the weather was. I wouldn’t have lasted an hour outside. They finally decided that they might want me back, so they voted to keep me indoors, where it was warm. At least it was warm, if you had clothes on. But for me, at least not life-threateningly cold, as it was now.
“Is the fox ready?” the captain of the guard announced. I gasped at who the hunters were. Math, Gwennan, Manawyddan, Goewyn, Arianrhod, Elfrod, were all mounting their horses. Rosalyn spanked me to start me running; the hounds were released. The hunters followed, whooping it up. They were all having a lot of fun at my expense, just like the Court at New Dyved; just like everyone when they don’t think I can do anything about it.
I couldn’t outrun them, and even if I did, that would mean my death, lost in the snow. If they caught up with me, I would be repeatedly raped by the men and the women, as had many of the girls I had known in the Whore’s Quarter back in New Dyved.
I ran, and ran, and ran, my lungs heaving, my heart palpitating. I finally tripped, and did a face plot in the snow. The men dismounted the horses, started unbuckling their belts. I screamed.
“Rhiannon, what’s wrong?” Rosalyn had a worried look on her face.
Gasping for air, I told her.
“It’s just a bad dream, Rhiannon. I would never allow that to happen to you. Neither would Elfrod. Nor would Gwennan and Math — they don’t want Heveydd’s displeasure or war.” I started to say something. “Ssssh, Rhiannon. Go back to sleep. I’ll protect you. Yes, I will.” I snuggled against Rosalyn’s shoulder, feeling almost alienated from the world, as if I belonged in another dimension. But I couldn’t get back to sleep. My symptoms upon waking — palpitating heart, anxiety, the sweats, and gasping for breath — they were all like my sister’s symptoms. So what nightmares was she having to do that to her?
The whole palace was frenetically preparing for my receptions and audiences, and both Arianrhod and Gwennan were at their wit’s end. So I decided to strike out on my own. Rosalyn and I headed toward the beach. Gwennan had cancelled all the events in the courtyard because of my ‘indisposition.’ She didn’t want me getting in the way of the lawn bowling, the mock jousting, or the polo. She didn’t put it that way; of course, she said that she had arranged things so I’d be comfortable. As the last time she did that involved the humiliation of others, I wasn’t made comfortable. Now that I’ve learned first hand about humiliation, I’d rather endure the gawks and be the cause of distraction than the reason for someone else’s degradation.
I had wanted to seek out the serving girls from the night before to offer my apologies for the way they were treated, but they were nowhere to be found, and no one knew where they were. “Who keeps track of servants? I’m sure they will turn up,” Elfrod said at my agitation over this. I’ve always kept track of my servants, but then Math and Gwennan might run a looser ship that does Heveydd.
The beach was quite a contrast to the ones in New Fairy or New Dyved. White, almost pure sand, and almost preternaturally blue waters. We were on the private sector, but I could see people off in the tourist area throwing balls, running into the water, swimming. Enjoying themselves.
“They all look so pale,” I exclaimed. Years of exposure to the sun had burnt my skin a deep beechnut brown. I was almost as dark as a Terran from their African continent.
Elfrod didn’t comment on that. I thought I knew why. Lords and ladies are supposed to be pale. So we aren’t confused with common laborers. My dark skin was also a reason people thought that I still lived the Life.
I headed in the direction of the beach revelers. “Where do you think you’re going, Rhiannon?” Elfrod quickened his pace to keep up with me.
“Over there,” I said.
“I can see that. May I ask why? They obviously haven’t been prepared for you and you know you’re supposed to clear any excursion with Math’s security force.”
“I’m beginning to feel trapped in the palace, not being able to play any games or go anywhere because of my ‘indisposition.’ I don’t like feeling trapped. What do you think, Rosalyn? Up to a little adventure?”
I gave a triumphant look at Elfrod. “You’re outnumbered.”
“All right, Rhiannon, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if you end up having to pay the taille.”
“Oh, I’m sure Math will dip into his pockets for that,” I said, laughingly. “Come on, let’s run!” I easily outran both Rosalyn and Elfrod, who were huffing and puffing as I jumped the fence and came down on the other side.
“Rhiannon! That was reckless. You could have been cut by the barb wire,” Elfrod shouted, concerned.
I had missed it by millimeters. “Adds a little spice to things.” I wasn’t going to admit I hadn’t really noticed the sharp edges of the fence separating the royal beach from the common one. Going about naked, I have developed a real dislike for anything sharp. Looking at barbs I was again reminded of some of the indignities of my former life. Being made to dance on broken glass, as men took turns whipping me.
“You okay, Rhiannon? You look a little faint.”
“I’m fine, Rosalyn. Let’s find a game to play.” I had noticed a mixed volley ball match going on. Men against the women, it looked like. As we approached, one of the women slipped in the sand, yelped, and rubbed her ankle.
“I’m out,” she cried.
“Need an extra hand?” I shouted. The players stopped and stared at me. The men got big grins on their faces, as the women pursed their lips.
“They could sure use one,” one of the grinning idiots said.
“We’re fine,” a sandy haired girl said.
“Oh, come on, Rhonda. Let her play. You need the replacement. Or it won’t be fair,” another idiot said.
“Fine. She can play,” sandy hair said. “You know how?”
“Just watch me!” I grabbed the ball. “I’ll serve.” I hit the ball over; one of the men received it with his head. This moved it to another, who propelled it right to our side, just inside the bounds. None of us got it.
“You’re really sure you know how to play?” a brunette asked. “That was a pretty shitty serve.” She brushed her hair back in agitation. “Here, let me show you how it’s done.” She propelled the ball back, the men collided with each other as they headed to it, and the ball bounced around their half of the court. She grinned at me. “Helps to have incentive.”
“I have incentive. I like to win!”
“Hmmm. But we’re playing for favors.”
“Losing team strips and spends the rest of the day naked. You’re already there, so you have nothing to lose.”
“Except my pride,” I yelled, hitting a sneak attack. The men, taking advantage of our distraction, had launched the ball in the middle of the court.
After a half hour the teams were tied. I had the winning serve. My team mates looked on anxiously, as I lobbed it over. It hit, the men missed, and we won. We jumped up and down; the sandy haired girl wrapped her legs around me, and then she must have realized how obscene that looked, given my nudity, and jumped back. “All right, let’s see some skin!”
The men, looking rueful, removed their bandanas, and then their shorts. That’s when I realized that I had been playing the last two hours with Terrans. The women also removed their bandanas, showing the short, rolling ears of the species.
“Whoo-hoo! Bring on the beer, fellows.” Sandy-hair turned to me. “I just love being served by naked guys, don’t you? Oh, I’m Rhonda, by the way.” She thrust her hand out.
“Like the princess?”
“Well, I hope you’re not a bitch like she is.” She slapped me hard on my upper arm. Sauntered over, had one of the men uncork a bottle. She swigged down the beer. “Ahhh!”
“You don’t like the Princess Rhiannon?” I accepted a beer, looked over at Elfrod and Rosalyn. Rosalyn was looking maternal and indulgent. I could have sworn there was jealousy on Elfrod’s face at my being surrounded by fawning men, but how could that be? He was at my Ushering. He’s been like a second father to me. The idea of his thinking of me as a love interest to be jealous of was patently ridiculous. It had to have been my imagination.
“It’s not that I don’t like her. Never met the bitch.”
I had decided not to tell her that she had just met the bitch. I had had fun with these people, more just plain fun that I’d had in a long time. I was going to keep the occasion fun.
To be continued...
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Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons