An Understandable Mistake
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents|
Parts 1 and 2 appeared
in issue 169.
|part 3 of 4|
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.
The guard smacked me on the butt with his cudgel. Goddesses, I ached all over. Even my bruises had bruises from the fight. My being spanked did not help matters.
The jailor hurried me along and brought me to the courtroom, on the north time of the common reception area of the palace. There were several rude individuals, mostly men, sitting on the crude wooden benches. Branwen’s Councils, I saw, didn’t spend a fortune on court room décor, although the judge’s podium had leviathan skin layered on it.
I was restrained in leg irons and cuffs, and some of the ruder men smacked their lips at me. One hollered, “Give her to me for a night; I’ll get her to behave.” This was followed by snickers, and a guard pulling his cudgel out.
“All rise and be humble before the Honorable Justice Simeron.” The Honorable Justice Simeron was a stout man, in a black tunic and a cap that he hadn’t spared any expense on. It was velvet, with two rows of rubies on it. He looked stern as he sat behind the podium.
“First case, bailiff — what is the meaning of this?” He had started, in a bored manner, then lifted himself back up with his hands and looked over his podium searchingly at the bailiff. “Why is the Princess Rhiannon in irons?
“She is here on a charge of being a runaway,” the bailiff answered.
“Get those irons off of her! Immediately.” This got the attention of the rude men, who were staring at me with a different kind of interest now.
“And my lady-in-waiting, what of her?” I said, trying not to channel for the goddess of anger, as I rubbed my wrists.
“Well, what of her, bailiff?”
In consternation, her replied, “I know of no lady-in-waiting.”
“She was arrested with me. We were in pursuit of an intruder when your palace ruffians attacked us.”
“I’m right here, Rhiannon.” I turned to see Rosalyn, jerking off the grip of guards.
“Release her, too,” Simeron said peremptorily.
“But your Excellency, you can’t go about releasing slaves before their hearing,” one of Rosalyn’s guards said, his voice raised, his nostrils flaring.
“Obviously a mistake has been made, you fool. Escort these women to their quarters, and see that their needs are met. And give me the names of the guards who manhandled them. Now!”
We were rushed out of the court room, only to encounter Branwen, obviously harried from the messy, disastrous state of her coiffure, and the nervous ticks that caressed her mouth.
“I just heard. I am so sorry, Rhiannon. You know I sometimes tease you about your state, and perhaps am not stern enough around the likes of Chloe and Eurybia, but this, this is unconscionable.”
“An understandable mistake, Branwen.” I embraced her. “I won’t hold it against you.”
She nodded miserably. “But I will hold it against the guards. They will be dismissed, I promise you that.”
“They were just doing their job.”
“Rhiannon, how can you say that? I saw how they grabbed you.” Rosalyn was indignant on my behalf, more than I was. And I had to admit, I was still sore all over my person, but especially where I had been subject to the two finger hold.
“I want to put the incident behind us. I’m more concerned with the intruder.”
“Intruder?” Branwen’s eyes widened.
I told her of the intruder. She started to respond when there was the sound of breaking glass, and she screamed. Blood started to gush from her side as she fell forward. I rushed over to the window, and, ignoring the shards of broken glass, peered out. I saw the figure.
He was running toward the wall to the east of the palace, an offworlder blunderbuss by his side.
“Stop him; he’s shot the queen!” I yelled, running after him. But by the time I had reached the wall, he had already scaled it and was gone. A guard grabbed me.
“Did you get a good look at him, girl?” I yanked away from him.
“Go after him, sirrah! Go after him!”
“All in good time; I don’t take orders from the likes of you.”
“You will this time,” Rosalyn shouted. “Where is he?”
“He went over the wall; he’s gone. But he was carrying an offworlder weapon. They’re back, Rosalyn; they’re back!”
“You’re looking perky.” I watched as Branwen’s slave re-bandaged the wound in her shoulder.
“Yes, I’m always perky after being shot.” She winched. “Girl, do you have to cause me so much pain?”
“Sorry, mistress,” the slave answered. “But your bandage has to be changed thrice daily. Iphenome has ordered it such.”
“You’d think Iphenome is the queen here.” She glanced at me exasperatedly. “Sometimes, I wish I had your power, sister.”
I patted her. “No, you don’t. I will stop aging before my time because of the responsibility. What’s going to happen now? Who is to be your regent while you recuperate?”
She laughed, and then winced as the laughter pulled at her stitches. “You mean who is to cut ribbons, kiss babies, preside over incredibly —” she lifted her eyebrows — “boring meetings? I care not. But don’t let this affect you, sister. You need to meet with Mister Blackwaithe, Master Cornell, the cabinet, the councils, the newspapers. All will wish to petition you.”
“I’ve already met with Blackwaithe. Oh, and Branwen, you were sooo right about him.”
“You never believe me, do you?” She had slid down in the bed; she pressed her hands down, and scooted into a more upright position.
“I do now. Oh, and I met Master Cornell as well. He was as dreamy as you said.”
“Hands off. He is mine, or will be after the next election.”
“Election? You speak strangely, sister.”
She smiled wanly. “But do not think Master Blackwaithe is through with you. You will be meeting him again.” There was glee in her tone.
“All can wait, my friend, until I find who did this to you.” I rubbed her hair, causing her attending slave to open her mouth and stare at me in a scared fashion.
“Leave that to my police commissioner, Rhiannon, please,” Branwen implored.
As if on command, a man, about five foot eleven, with an unruly shock of black hair that practically undulated on his head, came into the bedchamber after a perfunctory knock. He had taut cheeks, a nose that was almost too much of a good thing, but did not impair his handsomeness, which spiked out like he was generating lightening.
“Please leave, girls, I wish to talk to her majesty alone.” The slaves made to leave. “Did you not hear me, girl?” he said to me.
“James, this is my friend, Rhiannon. See what you miss when you don’t make time to go to receptions? Rhiannon, this is my police commissioner, James Laetrile.”
He turned crimson. “I am sorry, m’lady. I did not realize. It was an understand—”
“Yes, it was.” I would scream if I heard ‘an understandable mistake’ one more time.
“You may stay, of course,” he said, without a tinge of arrogance. “I wish to talk to you after I talk to her majesty here.”
“No, we were just discussing that. I have duties to perform.” I stood up, squeezed Branwen’s hand. “You will tell me everything, of course.”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course.” I padded over to the door, turned its knob and gave it a pull. I’d probably be breaking the wooden doors back home after my stay here.
Arianrhod was standing in the corridor, worry lines on her face matching the lines of her red Sidon gown. She was fingering some of the devices on her girdle. Some I recognized. Her key chain, her pouch I referred to as her ‘little bag of tricks’, her pentacles, nail scissors, ear scoops, and tweezers, but there were also mysterious objects such as small crystal balls and decorative spoon-like sieves that were meaningful to her but whose secrets she would never divulge.
“She will be well?”
“Yes, the projectile only scraped her.”
“It was meant for you, you know,” Arianrhod said in a matter of fact tone that stunned me.
“Yes. Don’t sound so surprised. You stand in the way of the offworlders’ return; their agents are here to destroy you. First they intrude on your sleep; then they try to kill you. Is it not obvious?”
I staggered a little at the thought, but Arianrhod’s words rang true to me. “All the more reason why I have to stay here and listen to my petitioners; make up my mind on these matters. Do you not agree?”
“All the more reason why their weapons must be neutralized. You cannot be forced into a position again where you risk your soul to protect the world.”
“All well and good, Arianrhod. But how do we neutralize what we do not understand? Their so-called ‘technology’ is beyond the scope of even our wisest mages.”
“Not beyond the magic of the Casket.”
“What are you talking about?” But I knew. I felt vulnerable in a way that went far beyond being naked in front of would be assassins.
“If I can find the Casket, I can forge a spell that will make their weapons jam, rust or explode in their hands.”
I fell against the wall, placing my right hand against my bosoms. “What do you need from me?”
“To accompany me. Legend has it that any witch who uses the Casket must share blood in its presence with the High King.”
“Uh, you may have missed something, Arianrhod, but wouldn’t ‘king’ imply you need a male?”
“When the legends were written, it was not anticipated that the High One would be female. I’m hoping that the spellminder will revise the magic when it realizes that is now the case.”
I nodded, not at all sure it would. But I’m a little prejudiced against spellminders as they tend to think when you lie on your stomach you are trying to escape their mastery. Not to mention my being the High Queen was not a universally accepted thing in the first place.
But that afternoon, instead of meetings with notables and dignitaries, barons and merchant princes, I was riding alongside Arianrhod, with Rosalyn at my side. Zusanna had declined to come. She had decided to transform to woman form, and infiltrate the slaves in an attempt to find the intruder. I was worried for her; in woman form she was vulnerable.
I voiced this concern to Rosalyn.
“If I were you, Rhiannon, I would be more concerned with my own life.”
“Little one, with you by my side, what need is there to worry?”
“I mean it, Rhiannon.” She pulled petulantly on her reins, causing her horse to look up and back at her strangely. “Consider this. You know how we were overwhelmed by the guardsmen.”
“Oh, remind me of that fun, will you.”
“Rhiannon, please. My point is that no assassin could get past those guards.”
“Unless he bribed them.”
“Easier to simply be powerful enough to command them.”
I stared at her. “You mean like Master Blackwaithe.”
“Oh, no! It could not be him behind the assassination attempt.”
I bit my lip at Rosalyn’s disdainful shake. “The fact is, Rhiannon, we do not know enough of the politics of this realm to know who is safe and who is not. So please, do me a favor, be careful about your person and do not think with your hormones for a change.” Her eyebrows knitted and she curled her lip.
“What do you mean, for a change?” I was pissed.
I rubbed the hilt of the sword that was sheathed on the horse’s side. I resented her insinuation, although the very mention of Cornell had made me wet.
She responded by taking out her dagger and twirling it.
I hit the saddle horn causing my palm to start hurting.
“Serves you right,” Rosalyn commented.
“Would you women stop bickering? We are almost there.”
“Yes, mother,” Rosalyn and I chorused to Arianrhod and then started laughing. As mad as we get at each other, it can never be for very long. I rubbed the tears from my eyes; Rosalyn squeezed her mouth shut.
We stopped five miles outside the city. Arianrhod stepped down from her horse, giving him a hand command to stay. Rosalyn and I tied our steeds and walked behind her. We were on a mound, surrounded by golden grasses — a Tor, as ironic as that was here on the outskirts of the most secular city in the five kingdoms. It could have been the tree Yggdrassl itself rising on it, and the city fathers would not pay it any heed.
Taking a discus from her girdle, Arianrhod drew an imaginary circle in front of her — first as the sun revolves; then the reverse of that.
But it wasn’t imaginary. Fire retraced the pattern. “I hid the Casket in the tunnel between the worlds. It was given to me as a sacred trust by Beli himself, when he forged the arc ships and had Myrddin open the portal that brought the people here.”
“You’re kidding.” I could not believe her words.
“Yes, I’m older than I look.”
But my words were lost as the fire created a roar as air rushed from the one world to the next. Rosalyn’s hair blew in its suction and mine blew in my face. The horses began to plaintively whinny; one pooped, filling the Tor with the stench of fear and feces.
Arianrhod, her gown blowing up, exposing her legs, stepped into the vortex — and was gone!
“If you’re going; I’m going.”
I shook my head. “No, I have to go. You heard Arianrhod; the spell takes the High One.”
“And the ‘High One’,” she said sarcastically, “takes her bodyguard. She took out her sword, spanked me with it. “So get going and I’ll have your rear.”
“In more ways than one, it seems,” I said, rubbing where her blade had thwacked me.
We were in a world of crimson and yellow swirls, rotating out of a nebula of light and heat. There were three platforms, and four swirls on each. I saw Arianrhod, going to the lowest platform, raising her hands out as if to both embrace something and plead for something. Then she floated to the third platform. As she rose, her gown floated off of her, leaving her naked. Her boots came off and her hair was standing on end. Her eyes were flames.
She opened her hands to me, and then pointed to the center of the swirl, to the nebula of heat and fire. I was scared down to my toe nails, and I did not know why.
A desert wind blew me to her. She suddenly had a knife in her hand. A long, serrated blade that looked like it could peel flesh like it could an onion.
She took my right wrist and cut it. Then she took her left wrist and cut it. She pressed our wrists together. Then she made me suck of her’s, and she did likewise of mine.
Before her mouth rested on my veins, she shuddered. Only the whites of her eyes showed. Then the white moved out from her eyes to her face, her bosoms, her torso and limbs. She was as white as if she had been drained of blood and was lifeless before me.
“We share blood in front of the Casket, the High Queen and I.”
Who was she talking to? And did I want to know?
I felt woozy, not just from the blood loss. There was something about the way Arianrhod sucked my vital fluid from me that made me faint, and fearful of her. She kept on sucking until her skin returned to a health pink and I screamed in agony, my body convulsing. She stopped and grinned at me, her lips and mouth crimson.
She wiped her mouth; pointed to the center of the vortex.
Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons