I Still Wake From My Nightmares
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents|
Part 4 appeared
in issue 154.
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 5 of 8
It was when Rhonda’s sister vanished that I truly started to get scared.
That was still sometime in the future. My reception finally arrived. I was seated on a throne next to Math and Gwennan, as the Lords and Ladies, the wealthiest burghers, and the heads of the Guilds all arrived. They had all obviously been schooled by Arianrhod and Gwennan on how to behave. The men all came up to me and kissed my hand, with defocused eyes. The women were all gracious, but not too gracious, if you know what I mean.
But then came the dance. The men lined up on one side of an imaginary line; the women on the other. The women curtsied, and the men grabbed hold of their hands and twirled them.
“You really must dance, Rhiannon,” Gwennan said.
I shook my head. “In my condition, it would be just so immodest.” I could just see the men’s heads bobbing in time with my jiggling breasts.
“Please, Rhiannon. This reception is for you. And you love to dance. Dance in the next dance.”
I had loved to dance before I had to dance the olivettes, nails and shards of glass unloaded from a bag where my feet were to tread, a man with a bundle of switches by each pillar to swat whatever part of my body I presented to him. I’m not so fond of dancing any more. But I gave in.
I was hedged between two women in white, flowing gowns that made me wonder how they would keep from tripping. They held each of my hands. Then the men did their bows, and we did our curtsies and the dance began.
I lost it the first time a man put his hand around my waist to twirl me. I felt I had been switched, jerked out of the line and cried out, “Don’t touch me!” Everybody stopped what they were doing and stared. I ran out of the room.
Gwennan and Arianrhod caught up to me, as the lords and ladies trickled out in a hush; my outburst had ended the party. “I am so sorry, sister that I made you dance. You used to love dancing.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said shaking.
“I promise I will be much more sensitive to your special needs from now on. Really, I will.”
“I don’t want any special treatment. I’ve already told you that.”
“What do you want, then?”
“Right now, just to be left alone.”
She patted my shoulder and left. But I could tell she was disappointed in me for not liking her efforts on my behalf.
Arianrhod lingered briefly. “I’ll get right on contacting Graymulkin, Rhiannon. I won’t put it off any more.”
“Thank you. Please, please make it as soon as possible.” As she departed I felt the reddening of my skin penetrate deep down to where the thread of my being was attached to the goddesses themselves. I had ruined my life, my relations with men, and now my sister’s reception. Arianrhod would have to be successful in getting me an audience with the witch, for I didn’t know how I could face another day of this.
Graymulkin lived in a cottage by the sea side. It was humble, and the tides made her floor an aquarium. She was seated, sipping something brackish and briny when I presented myself to her. I hoped desperately that I looked humble enough.
“Please, Rhiannon, get up off your knees. You look like you’re about to lick me,” the ugly old woman said.
“I would do that and more to remove the curse.”
“Yes, I rather expect you would.” Sip. “Please have some of my brine.” Sip. She levitated a cup. It smelled rank. Wrinkling my nose, I took a mouthful. Spat it out.
“What is that stuff?”
“Sea water; mixed with my urine.”
I held my stomach. “Oh, yuck.”
“Just testing to see if you would really do anything to lift the curse.”
“You know I would.”
“Has it been horrible for you?”
“Details, girl. I want to know everything that has happened to you since the curse.”
Miserable, I told her. She seemed to get excited about it. Her eyes positively glistened as I mentioned every degrading thing I had had to endure because of my nakedness. When I told her of Alcippe’s final humbling of me, she cackled and clapped her hands.
“So you see, I am truly desperate.”
“But are you truly sorry? You know, girl, you humiliated me. I was born with this body; I was cruelly treated when I was a girl. And then to have a snot-nosed little bitch like you laugh at me just because she could, that made me feel utterly powerless. You know what it’s like to feel utterly powerless?”
“I do now,” I said, somberly.
“Yes, I imagine so.” She paused to ponder that. “All right, Rhiannon, I will lift the curse.”
“Oh, thank you Graymulkin. Thank you! Thank you!”
“Stop kissing my feet, girl. I haven’t washed them. There will be conditions.”
“You aren’t reneging on your promise? That you’d do anything?”
“No, I’ll do anything. Whatever you want me to do can’t be worse than what I’ve already endured.”
“We’ll see about that, dearie. All right. These are the conditions of your release:
First, you must find someone who will love you in your nakedness and not just desire you;
Second, you must make love to that person and the act of love making turn you a virgin again;
Third, you must marry, still naked, still for all to see;
You must conceive a child from this marriage;
You must endure your pregnancy naked;
And when your first girl child is born, you will give her to me.
Then and only then may you put clothes on your body.”
“What?” I had had a growing sinking feeling with each condition. What man would marry a woman whose charms he has to share with the world? That had been why Ferrell had cast me out.
I had had hundreds of men as a prostitute. How could one make me a virgin again? And how was I to make love to him, when the very thought of sex made me nauseous these days, because of what I had had to endure at the hands of the rugged gender?
And then I had to marry naked? Naked on my day? In front of everybody? Not possible.
And endure my pregnancy in that condition, growing fat and grotesque for all to see?
But it was the last request that made me feel that the whole thing had been a joke at my expense. Give my first girl child to her?
“These are my conditions, girl. Will you abide by them?”
I thought of Alcippe making me crawl, eat dog cookies and then offer myself to all the men at court; I thought of the looks on men’s faces; the disdain of my own sex, of my enduring shame. Teary eyed I looked her in the face. “I’ll do it, Graymulkin. You know I will.”
“Then, go. I would find someone to love me as soon as I could, if I were you. I hear there’s a shortage of good ones out there.” And to her cackles I left her hut, thinking I had just sold my soul to the devil. Thinking that I had sunk lower than I had ever sunk before. Thinking of how I would tell my as of yet unborn girl child what I was going to make her do.
I wept as I walked away from Graymulkin’s house.
“You seem sad.” I had had my head bowed. I looked up to see the raven haired girl I had met earlier.
“I am sort of.”
“Um, well, it’s kind of hard to explain.”
“I’m very smart.”
“I’m sure you are. But it’s kind of a grown up problem.”
“Oh, it has to do with sex then.”
I blushed. “Um...“
“I get it. I’m ten, so you don’t want to talk about sex with me. But is there part of the problem you can talk about?”
“I guess so.”
“It’s about the witch, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.”
“You met her and she told you that you could put your clothes back on, but only if you did something you really don’t want to do.”
“You are smart.”
“Told you. So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, when you figure it out, could you tell me?”
“Okay. Well, Rhiannon, whatever you decide, it will be all right. I’ll still like you.” And then the little girl picked up a rock, threw it into the water, and happily ran after it. So much for ten year old mages. Just when they start acting profound, they run off skipping rocks. I laughed at my own absurdity in trying to find wisdom in a child’s mind.
“What do you mean, she’s missing?”
“I mean I can’t find her, your highness. I’ve looked everywhere.”
“Have you notified the guards?”
“I didn’t think of that; I thought I’d come to you first. After all, you are my mistress, and Sarah’s mistress, too. Just like we serve you, you are supposed to take care of us.”
“Don’t lecture me on my duties, Rhonda. Let’s just figure out where Sarah may have gotten to.” When I had returned to the palace, I didn’t have time to even dry my eyes when Rhonda had come marching up to me in the main hall with the news that her sister had disappeared. She hadn’t shown up for her training with the other novice ladies-in-waiting of Gwennan’s court. I had given her to Gwennan to train, as this was supposed to be a vacation for me and I thought having a new novice would help keep Gwennan’s mind on the cheerful side of things.
Instead, she ended up feeling horribly guilty when I went to her office and informed her of the missing lady-in-waiting recruit. “I’ll have Captain Agar search for her immediately, Rhiannon; don’t fret. I’ll keep you informed of any new development.”
“How ’bout keeping Rhonda informed?”
“Of course. But you are the girl’s mistress.”
“Since when do you put rights over what is right, Gwennan?”
“Why are you so pissy over this, Rhiannon?”
“I’m sorry Gwennan; it’s just that I promised a better life for Rhonda and her siblings; and now it looks like I blew it by bringing them to the palace.”
“You did no such thing; the girl’s probably just gone AWOL is all. We’ll find her. Now, you just get ready for the lawn bowling this afternoon. Positively everybody will be there, and after your reception, everybody is ready for you.”
Swell, I thought. Later in my room, I imagined the preparations. “Now, everyone, remember don’t look at Rhiannon’s womanhood and pretend that she’s wearing a gown. And don’t use the ‘W’ word. And she really isn’t a slut; she’s just come down with a slight case of nudity, so your men are safe. Now, everybody, repeat after me, ‘Don’t use the ‘W’ word, and don’t look at Rhiannon’s womanhood.’” To get out of this, I just had to find a man to love me and marry me. But where to look?
Elfrod came in with news; or rather, no news, of Sarah’s whereabouts. I looked at him coyly. “You’re a man, Elfrod. How do you feel about making me a virgin again?”
“I beg your pardon, Rhiannon? What did you say?” He looked stymied and perplexed.
“Never mind. I said I think I’m going to see if Manawyddan’s available to take me to the theatre this evening.”
He was and so my day unfolded, even as Rhonda’s collapsed into a state of frantic worry. Lawn bowling until 4:00, followed by a bath; then dinner and a night at the theatre. And then maybe who knows-a whirlwind romance, a proposal, a marriage ceremony and honeymoon on a primitive island where nobody wore clothes, followed by a trip to the bazaar and a whole new wardrobe. Maybe Manawyddan had a magic manhood that would make me a virgin again. It sounded like a plan.
It turned into a disaster. At dinner, a burgher, eyeing me in revulsion, made an ungallant suggestion toward me. This was followed by him being decked by Manawyddan, hasty explanations to the soldiers who came to break up the fight, and the show being closed to us, as, having been detained by the authorities, we arrived late and “due to the surprise ending no one will be admitted ten minutes after the show begins.” Sigh.
I took this defeat of our plans as a sign. I seized Manawyddan by the hand, and swung his arm until we arrived back at the palace. I led him into my room. I had given Rosalyn her packing orders in case the night ended in a romantic way.
Manawyddan was swift on the uptake. He took me in his arms and caressed my back, sending shivers down my spine. But when he started to take his clothes off I was back in my life as a woman of the streets. I threw up on the spot. I watched his face, so full of desire and wistfulness a moment before turn to distaste. I waved him away. “Get your clothes and go, Manawyddan. Just go.” He quickly gathered his pants and shirt up off the floor, with a shrug and a jerk got into them, and left me to my retching and wretchedness. He never spoke of that evening, and one like it was never repeated. I would have to start all over in my search for a man to marry me and break the curse.
Her poor, battered body was on a dune at the cape. Every bone had been broken, and her clothes had been torn off and her maidenhead broken. She had been raped.
But she wasn’t Sarah. Rhonda, who had come with us when the news broke that a maiden’s body had been found, was relieved beyond belief. She fell to her knees wailing in relief. If I needed more proof that Terrans were people, I needn’t look any farther. Like us, they grieve when their loved ones are lost; like us, they would give anything to get them back, and like us, they cry in relief when their worst fears turn out to be groundless. The only difference between us and them is their pitifully short lives.
After comforting Rhonda and promising her once again that I would never rest until Sarah was safely back, I sought out Math. He was in his office, hitting a small ball into a hole in a little device using an iron club. Another Terran habit he had picked up.
“Hi, Rhiannon, how fares it with my lovely sister-in-law?”
“It fares well.” I furrowed my brow and frowned. “I want to ask you a question, and I don’t want to make offense.”
“Now, how can my dear sister-in-law make offense?” He rolled his eyes in mockery.
“It’s just that I’m so worried about Sarah.”
“Was it her body that was found?” He stopped his game and looked at me earnestly.
“No, and that’s just it. Counting the maidservants who were at my soiree, and the body we found, that’s four missing girls of Ushering age. Maybe I’m being paranoid, or catching Gwennan’s anxiety, but that seems too much for a coincidence.”
“What are you suggesting, Rhiannon?” Math’s voice became agitated. He must have felt my concern too.
“Did I tell you what almost happened to Rosalyn and me when we approached Caer Dythal?”
“Yes, yes, I know all about that little misunderstanding. I spoke to Captain Agar personally, and he disciplined the men who treated you so rudely.”
“No, that’s not what I’m referring to, Math.”
I told him of the brigands and how they nearly raped me and had abducted Rosalyn.
“You think these men may be behind the disappearances?”
“I think it’s too much of a coincidence that they were on the highway, and now we have missing or dead girls, one of whom has been raped.”
He got a far off look, and then re-focused on me. “I’ll get on to this right away, Rhiannon. I’ll head the investigation personally. Never you fear, if there are rogues preying on women in my kingdom, I’ll see to it that they will never harm a member of the fairer sex again.”
“Thanks, Math. I feel a little better now.”
“You are my guest, Rhiannon. Your safety and concerns are my concern.” And with that, he went back to his game. His way of dismissing me.
In spite of what I had said, I wasn’t completely satisfied and went to Gwennan. She was in her room, putting the pieces of an enormous puzzle together. The picture that was emerging seemed to be of a mermaid who was dressed similarly to me.
“Sister, what were the names of those serving girls at my soiree?”
“You expect me to keep track of such things?” She looked up at me with an incredulous look on her face. “Do you keep track of all your servants?”
“Well, actually I do. I think of it as my job.”
“Well, I don’t,” she said in a ‘such things are beneath me’ tone. “Honestly, Rhiannon, I think you lost your sense of your place when you lost your clothes. You do things now that are way beneath your class.”
Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons