The Most Exasperating Woman on the Planet
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents|
“The Origins of Rhiannon’s World”
and “The Characters of Rhiannon’s World”
appeared in issue 157.
|part 1 of 2|
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.
My mistress is the most exasperating woman on the planet. I love her dearly, and I know she would lay down her life for me, has, in fact, on several occasions. And I would do no less for her; have, in fact, on several occasions. But she nonetheless is totally exasperating.
I don’t mind getting up hours before she does to make sure the royal household is in order, to check to see that there isn’t a draft that could chill her, and that her bath water is properly hot. In the dark, I’ve climbed up to the roof of the castle more times that I can remember, in my robe and nightgown, to make sure the cauldrons are being heated; mind you, there have been occasions when the page in charge of carrying the wood instead was sleeping (or worse) in the woodpile. So it is necessary. Rhiannon, the dear idiot, did have to get herself ensorcelled, and so can’t wear clothes, no matter what the weather or social situation. So I have to do things that no other lady-in-waiting has to do.
Such as disrobing, and crawling into bed at night to lend her my body heat. The poor dear can’t even have blankets. I’ve been doing that for years, since I first met her in that jail cell in New Dyved, in what now seems a distant lifetime. It was before the war, after all, and before Rhiannon became high queen in all but name.
So I suppose when she asked me to go to town to fetch the first shipment of coffee even before it was processed by the merchants, I shouldn’t have grumbled too much. But it could have waited. After all, the merchants know what they are doing, and the finest coffee beans are reserved for Rhiannon anyway. Without having to drag me into it. Yes, we had inexplicably run out, but it could have waited to the morrow.
So grumble I did. I was still bitching about it to my horse, Natasha, when I spotted him. He was lying naked in the road, bleeding and battered. He was an outworlder. I still hate the outworlders for driving my father to suicide, which resulted in me selling myself to the highest bidder for twelve long years, a fate that can befall any woman, I supposed. Even my mistress, before she became mistress to all, was a woman of the streets for two years because of the outworlders. That’s how we came to be sharing the same jail cell. Both of us had been accused of not paying the taille, but I fixed that, all right. As I fix everything these days. Good old Rosalyn. The fixer.
I whoa-ed my horse, tethered him to a tree, and went over to check on the condition of the outworlder. Every part of me wanted to just leave him like that, but I knew Rhiannon wouldn’t approve. She isn’t exactly friendly toward those aliens, but she believes in giving everyone a fair shake, even former enemies.
I squatted by him, trying not to step in his blood. He had an oozing gash on his head, but was conscious. “Help me,” he groaned.
“I suppose I’m going to have to,” I said, grousing. “God, you’re heavy.” I tried lifting him, only to drop his face on the ground. “You’re going to have to help.”
“I’ll try.” He staggered to his knees, and then his feet, as I wrapped my arms around his torso, which was firm and muscular, and hoisted. After the third try, he was on his feet. I walked him over to Natasha.
“Can you climb on?”
“Not without help.”
“Figured as much. Okay, here goes.” He got his right foot in the stirrups, as I pulled him up and over. He settled in.
“Thanks, m’lady,” he said, smiling, and then yanked at the reigns, leaving me horseless, as he headed off toward Arbeth Dactyl. I said many an unladylike oath. I had no idea that this was just the beginnings of my trouble.
This trouble was going to lead me to a frightening set of experiences that almost made me the one that had to be hugged at night, not Rhiannon. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I knew I had but one choice. If Rhiannon didn’t get her coffee, I would spend most of the next morning dangling upside down, naked, hanging from my ankles outside the palace. Pages and peasant children would be encouraged to throw rotten tomatoes at me. This had to be avoided at all costs. Butch, the little brother of Rhiannon’s secretary, Rhonda, especially could be a nuisance at such times.
Of course, by the time I walked to Wynne’s Inn, begged a horse from her, and headed to Arbeth Dactyl, the coffee would be late in coming. But late coffee would earn me only a spanking. I can handle that, since all I’d have to do is scream loud enough and Rhiannon, guilt ridden, would stop. She finds it easy to ignore me dangling from a tree, provided it’s after her bath and massages, but squirming on her lap is a different matter.
Wynne was solicitous; she knows how irate, how totally enraged, Rhiannon can get without her brew of the day. She led me to her stable, and helped me blanket and saddle an old gray mare. She apologized, as the mare was not what she used to be, many long years ago, but it was all she could spare.
“Is it not her time to be blessed by the moons?” Wynne said, inquiring about Rhiannon and about the seriousness of the trouble I could find myself in.
I nodded. “It is indeed that time. Every woman in the castle is likewise suffering.”
“So you dare not mess up this mission?”
“Aye. It would be bad on me if I did.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you, what does she do during this time, as she has to be naked?”
“Some things a lady-in-waiting mustn’t discuss. But needless to say, she takes it out on all us who are not so sartorially handicapped. And without caffeine, it is but a thousand times worse. But thanks for the horse, Wynne.”
“Any time. And good fortune. I wouldn’t want to fail Rhiannon right now. Although how bad can it be? It’s only coffee even if it is her time to be blessed.”
“You don’t have to face her first thing in the morning, Wynne, when she doesn’t have it.”
“Than the goddesses for that. Well, good journey and good fortune, Rosalyn.”
“Good day and good fortune to you too, Wynne.” I headed to town.
The docks are no place for a lady, but I am not a lady. I was dressed in my leather skirt and chain mail vest, and dangling from my side is my sword. Not a death sword, as I wear, when I am the keeper of Rhiannon’s blade, she not being able to sheath it, but one that made its point simply by dangling by my side. I endured some catcalls, but most people went silent when the sun’s ray glinted off what I call “a girl’s best friend.”
“Wherefore is the coffee shipment?” I asked, of the dock master.
“Alas, Rosalyn, the coffee shipment is late. It was due in this morning. The seers say it is delayed by a storm at sea.”
“What? Oh, fie! Do you know what Rhiannon will do to me if I don’t return with her coffee?”
Hangbutt nodded soberly. “We will miss you around here, Rosalyn. And we will take a collection to buy you back, once sold.”
“Don’t be stupid. Rhiannon won’t sell me. She doesn’t believe in slavery. But I won’t be able to sit down for a week. Can you inquire as to the fate of the coffee?”
“The storm has held it up at sea, that is all I can ascertain, mistress. And good fortune to you.”
“Good fortune to me? All is lost, Hangbutt. All is lost!”
I walked out of the warehouse in despair.
“Looking for something, m’lady?”
I looked up at the sound of the voice. It was the outworlder! He was now nicely dressed in cowhide pants and a cotton shirt. “You bastard!” I screamed. “Where is my horse?”
“Wait! Wait, m’lady. I am truly sorry of your plight. But I am not responsible for it.”
“You stole my horse!”
“Ah, but the coffee would not be here, even if I had not. And ‘steal’ is such a foul word.”
“Well, give it back to me, and I won’t offend your ears with it.”
He shook his head sorrowfully. “Alas, I cannot, fair maiden. I sold it. For these garments.” He tugged proudly at his shirt, and stuck his thumbs in his pants pockets, both of which still had the tags on.
“You sold Natasha!” I leapt in the air, and we both came down crashing on barrels, sadly empty, where the precious beans would be housed, once here. I proceeded to choke him.
“Gawk! Gawk! Gawk!”
“Are you trying to say something?” I said, my thumbs on his arteries.
He made gawking noises to the affirmative, and I released him.
“This better be good.” I replaced my hands with a dagger. Started to shave him, ‘though he had no beard.
“I think I know where there are some beans,” he cried.
“This sounds like a trick to save your life.”
“No, verily, it is not. If you release me, I will take you to a source of beans. It is meager, but could last your mistress four or five days, and by that time, the shipment will surely have come in.”
I stood up, gave him a hand. He towered over me, but I am very fast, and have had practice in cutting many a man who has tried to take advantage of Rhiannon, in her vulnerable state.
“Sirrah, you had best lead me to the coffee of which you spoke.”
“Gladly, m’lady, just don’t hurt me.” He rubbed his neck tenderly.
Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons