I Still Wake From My Nightmares
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents|
Part 3 appeared
in issue 153.
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 4 of 8
The Terran wasn’t going to keep things fun, it seemed. She continued her point. “I guess you can’t understand, being a native. But since the war, Terrans are considered second class citizens.”
“I wasn’t even aware that any were still left on the planet.”
“Yeah, well, some of us were born here and consider this home, not some far-off rock in space. But it’s hard when you’re treated like an outsider in your own land, like someone with no rights. You wouldn’t know about that.” She swigged some more beer.
“I would. I was abandoned by my fiancé and had to earn a living as a prostitute. You haven’t experienced ‘no rights’ until you whore.” I don’t know why I told her this; I guess it was because I wanted her to know I did understand. Not that I had before. During the war my motto had been ‘the only good Terran is a dead one.’ That had made them subject to my control.
She looked at me with new eyes. “You whore for a living? Is that why you’re naked?”
“No. I used to whore.”
“Rhiannon, I think it’s time for us to leave,” Elfrod said, his voice no longer its usual calm.
“I’m having a conversation here,” I said.
“It’s been over two hours. You don’t want Gwennan to send the security team out after you.”
“Security team?” Rhonda asked.
“Yes. You see, I’m the Princess Rhiannon. The bitch of whom you spoke.” So much for keeping things fun, but I had to be honest. She choked on my declaration; spewed her beer out. It barely missed me. I made to leave. “Oh, and Rhonda, I will be having a reception in my honor this weekabend. I expect you to attend. Understood?”
“Um, yes. Uh, your highness.” The volley ball players had all stopped what they were doing and stared at us.
“Why did you do that?” Elfrod said, as we walked back to the royal grounds.
“Because I want to know more about these Terrans living in New Gwynedd. I have never met an ordinary Terran before. It’s giving me a whole new perspective on them.”
“Well, you know best, I guess,” he said doubtfully.
We were separated for a moment while Elfrod and Rosalyn went to a concession stand to buy us drinks. I told them I would wait and watch the surf and promised to scream if anyone tried to molest or abduct me. While I watched the white trails the surf left, I noticed a little girl, about ten, with raven hair, playing with the seaweed.
“Hi!” she said.
“You like seaweed?”
“You mean to eat? Sometimes.”
“No, I mean to wear. I like to put it in my hair.” She proceeded to do so. “How do I look?” She had woven the weed like a tiara.
“Like a little princess.” She smiled at that.
“Are you dead?” she then asked. I was taken aback.
“No, I’m not dead. Why do you ask such a strange question?”
“Because you’re naked.” She picked up more seaweed, and started braiding it. “Isn’t there a saying that you come into the world naked and you go out that way?”
“Yes, I guess there is.”
“I guess I just thought you’ve been dead. That would explain a lot. But if you’re not dead, then why are you naked?”
“Because I was rude to a witch.”
“Oh. You shouldn’t be rude to other people.”
“I know that now.”
“My Mom taught me that. Didn’t your Mom teach you that?”
“I guess she did; but I didn’t listen. Or I just forgot.”
“And now you have to be naked. I’m glad I’m polite to people. I wouldn’t like to be naked all the time. It’d be kind of disgusting and nasty. Don’t you find it disgusting and nasty?”
“Yeah, I guess I do.”
“Don’t people stare at you a lot and insult you?”
“Yes, but I’ve gotten used to it.”
“I don’t think I could ever get used to it,” she said seriously. “Here, can you wear seaweed? Or will the witch be upset?”
“I guess I can wear it in my hair, like you have.”
“Then, here, let me put it on you, Rhiannon.”
“Thanks.” I bent over, and let her put the crown of seaweed on me.
“I got to go now, or my Mom will be upset. She doesn’t like me talking to strangers. She won’t understand that you’re not a stranger; not really.” The little girl skipped away. There had been something odd about what she had said to me before she had put my crown on, but I couldn’t quite place it.
“Well, you’ve been busy,” Rosalyn said, handing me a soda and stroking my seaweed crown. “I think you may have had too much beer, Rhiannon.”
That was it. The girl had called me Rhiannon. And I hadn’t told her my name. How had she known it? I turned around to see if I could find her and ask her, but by now she had been long gone.
It’s boring to be at court when you have nothing to do. At home, I kept busy with audiences, with petitions, with, in general, helping Heveydd rule. New Gwynedd’s court was not like New Fairy’s. There, the barons and the burghers took at active role in governing; they would sit in the council and pontificate all day, but by day’s end, they would have accomplished something. Here, the nobles were around to party, it seemed. And until everyone was clued in as to how to party with me around in all my glory, there were no parties. I was aching for the weekabend, when the festivities surrounding my arrival would start.
In the meantime, I made a nuisance of myself. I made a point of bugging Arianrhod when I wasn’t providing my sister with company.
“Any word from Graymulkin?”
“Honestly, Rhiannon, I haven’t put any thought into it. I know it’s important to you, but I’m running myself ragged arranging parties. You should be a little grateful, as they’re all for you.”
“Yes, and me without a thing to wear,” I said snottily, repeating my earlier joke, only now not in a nice way.
“And whose fault is that?” she retorted in a nasty tone.
“I know it’s mine, but please, can you at least send a message to Graymulkin, saying I’d like to meet with her over this?”
“I’ll see what I can do, Rhiannon, in my copious spare time. Now, can you just cease annoying me? I can see why Farrell threw you out.” She immediately became contrite. “I’m sorry I said that, Rhiannon. But I’m under a lot of stress. Just do something. Anything. Okay?”
I decided she was right, and went back to the beach, with Rosalyn, looking for Rhonda. Maybe, being a commoner, she would have time for me. This time, I checked in with Gwennan first, like a good girl.
“Going to meet a Terran? That’s not like you, Rhiannon.”
“Maybe I’ve changed since the curse.”
“Curses have a way of changing people,” she said, thoughtfully. “I’m glad this time you told me. Captain Agar was furious that you hadn’t told him of your unscheduled volley ball activity.”
“Well, it’s not like I’m a prisoner here, is it?”
“No, of course not,” she said hastily. “What gave you the idea you are a prisoner?”
“The way that I’m always watched, and not allowed out on my own.”
“Well, given your delicate condition, I’d think you’d appreciate that.”
“Gwennan, let’s get something straight. I’m not ‘indisposed.’ I’m not ‘handicapped.’ I don’t have a ‘delicate condition.’ I’m naked, okay? Starkers. I’m letting it all hang out. Okay? However you want to put it. But I’m not to be treated any differently than people who are blessed with the ability to wear clothes. Okay? I’m sure you’ve dealt with victims of a witch’s curse before, and they’d all agree to this.”
“All right, my too sensitive sister.”
“Everyone should be like that little girl I ran into on the beach. She treated me like I was a normal person, even though she thought my nudity was disgusting and nasty.”
“What little girl?” I told her of my encounter.
“Oh, that is just so cruel and sick, Rhiannon. I get your point about not treating you any differently because of your nakedness. You don’t have to be so vicious about it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Just leave me alone. I wanted you here to be for me, and you say these awful things. Just go and play with your commoner friends. Go and take a man to your bed for money. Assassinate somebody. Whatever it is you want to do. Just leave me alone!” She left me hurt and confused.
“Maybe I’ll just do those things!” I shouted back. And then left for the beach in a huff.
It took some time to find where Rhonda lived. Running the gauntlet of snide remarks, indecent propositions, gawkers, and the just plain rude. I finally made it off the beach and into a neighborhood of little bodegas, boutiques, and drab frame houses, with tar and pitch roofs. The Terran quarter.
Rhonda’s home was a freshly painted one, with a tiny well kept lawn and a fenced in area in the back. It showed that you can have pride even in adverse circumstances, as the rest of the neighborhood had broken down carts, cannibalized Terran machines, and smelled of grease and feces and urine.
I knocked on her door. “Maybe she isn’t home,” Rosalyn said.
“Oh, they’re usually home at this time,” Toland, one of Captain Agar’s men who had come along as my bodyguard, observed. Elfrod had complained that this was unnecessary, as he was my bodyguard. But Math had insisted.
“Why is that?” Rosalyn asked.
“They are too lazy to be working.”
The door swung open. Rhonda, in grey shorts, and a bikini top, opened the door, looking harried.
“Your Worship,” she said to the sound of loud cries in the background. She was obviously stunned by my visit.
“Let me take care of my brother and sister, and I’ll be right with you.” She left us waiting for a quarter of an hour. Elfrod was furious.
“Back home, she would be flogged for this insolence.”
“Elfrod. She obviously has younger siblings to take care of. It’s not like I prepared her for this.”
“Nonetheless, it is insulting to you.”
“Elfrod, you’re a dear, but I know when I’ve been insulted. It’s not like I haven’t had to endure disrespect. She’s not being deliberately offensive.”
“Please come in.” She had changed to a linen gown and grappler shoes. The cries were muffled now. Glancing in the direction of the sounds she said, “I’ve gotten a neighbor to see to them; please, come in. The place is a mess, but I’ve cleared off a chair for you. It’s clean, really. You can sit without fear.”
“I always do,” I said, thinking of my dragon ride of earlier in the week. Elfrod looked offended as he sat after I did. Rosalyn took the squalor in stride, as she would. Agar’s man simply stood.
“Can I get you refreshments?”
“Some soda would be nice. But let Rosalyn get it. Just tell her where it is.” Rosalyn shot me a look that said ‘I’ll get you for this; I don’t know where or when, but I’ll get you for this.’ But she got up to fetch.
“You are my servant, Rosalyn. Let’s not forget that.” I smiled at the look of mock hate she shot me.
“I’ll show you,” Rhonda said, and, in spite of my purpose, went and helped Rosalyn with the drinks. Rosalyn came back with the bottles on a simple clay dish. She handed them to us all, and then made a big to do about sitting down, as if to say ‘finally, I too get to rest.’
“I’m sorry about busting in on you like this, but I was so totally, freaking bored at the palace. There’s nothing for me to do until all the arrangements are made except hang out with my sister.” I thought my use of dialect would build a relationship.
If Rhonda was surprised at my use of Terran slang, she didn’t show it. “I’m glad you did. I wanted to apologize about my calling the Princess Rhiannon a bitch and I didn’t really want to wait until the reception.”
“It’s okay. Everyone walks on eggs around me these days, given my tragedy and my curse. It was refreshing to hear me called a bitch.” It hadn’t at one time. Alcippe had me grovel on all fours like a dog to burn this epithet into my very soul. But that was beginning to be a long time ago. And besides, this time maybe it had been earned. “Have my policies really made your people suffer?”
“That’s just it, Rhiannon.” She paused. “I may call you Rhiannon?” I nodded. “It’s the whole idea that we are a ‘people’ separated from the rest of Daearu. I know we’re not lycanthropes, witches or fairies, but we bleed just like you do. And our loyalties are to New Gwynedd and not to Earth. We’re not to blame for the actions of our government. We aren’t the ones to have humiliated you, and invaded to take your blood and Daearu’s resources.”
“You mention my humiliation and the taking of blood. You know of such things?”
She nodded. “I’ve seen the tapes, and my older brother was killed defending his country. We know the Terrans wanted New Fairy blood so they could get immortality. It’s no secret in my family.”
She’d seen the tapes; the ones Alcippe had made of me, when she forced me to degrade myself in front of Ferrell and his court-and now all of Daearu, it would seem.
She must have seen what that meant to me on my face, for she hastily added, “I’m not offering you my pity, Rhiannon. Nor my judgment. I don’t honestly know what I would have done in your circumstances. Maybe all you did, and then some. I’m just saying that I’m on your side. On Lord Math’s and Lady Gwennan’s side. I am a subject of Gwynedd, not a Terran. Just because my ears aren’t pointy, I can’t do incantations, or shift my shape doesn’t make me less so. I am your loyal servant.” She got down on her knees.
“Rise. And be my newest lady-in-waiting. Rosalyn, are you willing to give her instruction?”
“Of course, m’lady.” She looked like so might just be too willing; there was a glint in her eye.
“I wasn’t asking for that. I didn’t want anything from you. And I can’t. Who will take care of my brother and sister?”
“They will come and live with you at court. Will you accept?”
“Of course. I am honored.” She bowed her head.
“Well, then, you can get the next round of refreshments,” Rosalyn said, smirking. “I need my rest. And when you come back, I expect a foot rub.”
“Rosalyn!” Turning to Rhonda, “she doesn’t mean it about the foot rub.”
“Oh, yes I do.”
“Well, then I expect you to give me one too.”
“Don’t I always? I swear, I see more of you from the perspective of being on my knees than any other position.”
“Rosalyn! What will Agar’s man, Elfrod, and Rhonda think!?” She giggled a response and that made me giggle too.
Gwennan was upset at Rhonda’s addition to my entourage. Especially of the addition of her eight-year old brother and twelve-year old sister.
“They can’t be that much more trouble, Gwennan.”
“It’s not that, Rhiannon. It’s just that you should have told me. Children in the palace, well, they need special care, you know? Special care.”
That didn’t make sense to me. There was a nursery all ready in place for the children of the servants, and another for the nobles at court. Besides, at twelve, the sister was hardly a child. She would face her Ushering in a year, and Rosalyn was already seeing to her training as a lady-in-waiting. Elfrod, after much bitching and moaning, had also taken on the brother as a page.
“I’ll be so glad when your reception is over, so you can take your place at Court as a princess, and not as a, as a...”
“As a what, Gwennan?” I braced for a ugly remark. The whisperings had finally followed me from New Fairy, and they were about the same.
“As a common... oh, I don’t know what, Rhiannon. Just stop making things difficult!”
“You haven’t said that to me in a long time, Gwennan.”
“Well, it’s just as true now as it was when we were growing up together. Only then the only mischief you got in was breaking into the squires’ locker room and getting stuck down a wishing well. No witch’s cures to make your sister’s reception for you a nightmare, no picking up strange Terran women and making their families your servants. Really, you’ve grown up to be one great, big nuisance.” The charges against me were obviously silly, and so I grabbed and tickled her. There was only one problem with that. She tickled back. You always lose a tickle fight when you’re naked and the other person isn’t. We collapsed in giggles, I did my mock surrender, and it did my heart good to see Gwennan smile at last.
It had been the only time she had smiled since I had come to the palace. It would also be the last time.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons