Nothing Sure but Death and Terrans
by Rachel Parsons
|Table of Contents|
|part 1 of 3|
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.
I do not know what I expected when I finally arrived home in New Fairy. I had gone all over the place, to the primary moon and back in my assessment of what would happen. At first, I thought Heveydd would simply spurn me. After all, I had run afoul of a witch and had been a whore for two years. I had been tossed into the streets by my fiancé, Ferrell, the king of New Dyved; why not by my father?
But finding the death sword he had forged for me, and his letter telling me that he had forgiven me for wanting to marry a mortal — that was what finally decided me. I think most women would have decided it my way. A forever of granting sexual favors to smelly, disgusting men, or coming home to face your shame in front of your father.
And my shame was patent. The witch had seen to that. She was deformity personified, and I had laughed at her, watching her in her secret place, putting squirmy things into a pot and dancing around it. All naked, of course, as she was an eastern witch.
This had made me laugh. I said loudly, so she would hear, “I would not flaunt my body if so deformed.”
And the witch had overheard that. This at first amused me greatly — what could the old crone do? I found out. As I had shamed her, she cursed me so that I would be shamed on a daily basis. My beauty was to be my crucible. I had won contests, and would tease men unmercifully with the promise of a peek and a glimpse. Now, I must give them more, oh, so much more, or everyone I love will die.
So it was a shock that Heveydd treated me like I was still dressed in finery. His daughter naked? For all to see? Absurd. To my grief, he arranged one grand ball after another for his returning, prodigal daughter. One ball after another. Where I’d have to show up wearing only my smile, which was harder and harder to keep up through the stares and thoughtless comments. Through the men barely concealing their lust and the women barely concealing their disdain. They would never be so cursed — oh, no, of course not! Poor Rhiannon!
Then I realized, to my horror, that my father was delighted to have me back so that I could do all his work for him. One day he handed me a stack of portfolios, I found my bare butt sitting on the stone hard throne for audiences, and he went whistling out to play a strange offworlder game. One where the object apparently is to miss holes in the ground and land tiny balls in sand or under water. Once one succeeds in doing that, one celebrates by loud oaths. I used to think I understood father.
This is why Rhonda and Rosalyn are so important to me. Rosalyn, my true companion when I was a whore, is now my chief lady-in-waiting. She does everything personal for me, from making sure the palace is well provisioned and — naturally! — well heated, to providing me with the warmth of her body at night. She hates removing her garments, which she now has in profusion, but for me, she cuddles without any, so that her body heat replaces the blankets I can no longer have. She is also in all but name the controller of the royal house, as I am, in all but name, its queen.
But Rhonda keeps me organized as the chief executive of the realm. She has a filing system which is darn near perfect but impossible for anyone else to fathom. Before an audience, she can tell me personal details about the man wishing my favors, now political or commercial in nature, but still as desperately wanted, so that I can cut out the dragon excreta immediately. As I cannot hide behind a desk, I rely on Rhonda to stand by my side and look imposing. She is an Amazon, not literally of course, but in her sturdy way, dressed in wilding pantaloons and cowhide vest, like a male secretary, she scares people.
So when I found her that morning, looking blank into space and saying words so fast that no one, not even a lingua witch could understand her, I was horrified and scared in the pit of my being.
“Who you?” Rhonda said, as I held her to my bosoms.
“Rhonda, it is me, Rhiannon.”
“Hi-you!” she then chirped.
“Hi-you, too!” I chirped back, trying to hide how distraught I was.
“You-slave-too?” Her eyes were glassy and she was thrashing as if her legs were no longer of use to her.
“Rhonda, you are scaring me.”
“You-slave-too?” She repeated.
There are no slaves in the five kingdoms except in New Prydain. There, slaves are treated like animals, made to go naked like animals. If we were in New Prydain, I could readily understand her mistake, although no slave would dare hug an insane attendant to royalty, for fear that their condition would be blamed on them. I have personally seen how slaves are treated in New Prydain, and it is far worse than you can imagine.
I had picked her up, which wasn’t easy, as she weighs 125 pounds, and with her legs spraddling on the marble floor, she had a tendency to fall down each time I lifted her. I was sweaty by the time I got her on the couch. Then I yanked the bell cord for Rosalyn.
Twenty minutes later, Rosalyn, tying and retying her hair in a bun, came bustling in. “What is it now, Rhiannon? You know I was busy making sure that all your staff would be fed on time today. What was so important that it couldn’t wait?”
This was insolence, pure and simple. But Rosalyn holds me when I howl at night, when I shake uncontrollably, and if it were not for her, I would have been eaten alive by lustful men and jealous whores my first days on the mean streets of New Dyved. So Rosalyn says things to me that would earn an instant beating in any one else.
“It is Rhonda.”
Rhonda’s head was in my lap; she was still staring, uncomprehending, at her surroundings. She blinked when Rosalyn came up to her.
“How long has she been like this?” Rosalyn said, alarmed.
“For the twenty minutes or so it took you to get here.”
“I’m no expert, I expect you know more about this than me, being a victim yourself, but I think she’s ensorcelled.”
“If that is so, we’d better take her to Arianrhod.”
Rosalyn helped pick her up, and as Rhonda was looking, obviously frightened beyond her wits, first one way, and then another, we helped her into the corridor, and down to the north tower, which Arianrhod had commandeered for her own sorceries.
Arianrhod was doing something with tinctures as we descended the stone steps into her workplace. She was in a white linen dress, below her station, but one more easily washed than a Sidon gown. I always chuckled inwardly at the irony — Arianrhod would never be caught dead out of her laboratory unless in a Sidon gown, or in red, wilding pantaloons and vestments complete with silver chains crisscrossing her person. She considers being seen in her white linen dress on a par with being seen naked. She is one of the ladies who pities me, but is absolutely certain nothing like what happened to me would happen to her. Perhaps, unlike the others, she is right. It was her dame who so enchanted me, after all.
She was muttering something that sounded like “fillet of a fenny snake,” but I often misunderstand her in her spell-casting. She shook out of what may have been a trance when I called to her.
“Oh, Rhiannon, come hither. My recipe calls for the blood of a virgin.”
“Arianrhod, I am hardly a virgin.”
“Yes, I know; I know,” she said, waving her hand. “You’ve had more men than there are stars in the sky. Nonetheless, come hither. I want your blood.”
I left Rosalyn struggling to put Rhonda down and came up to Arianrhod, who took an atheme, licked something greenish-yellow off it, and proceeded to cut me above the wrist on my palm side. I sucked in air at the pain. It felt like a hurling spider bite.
She then turned my arm around and squeezed little drops into a vial. The vial’s content turned white.
“Good. Virgin’s blood.”
She was always making comments like that. I had spent what should have been the most precious moment of my life — my coming to full womanhood — lying chained on a dirty and cold floor, being made to make obscene requests to any man coming through the door. But to Arianrhod I am a virgin, and strangely, her spells calling for a virgin always seem to work when she uses me as such, as if the thought could re-make the reality. I was hoping that the spell she needed to help poor Rhonda would do as well.
“Now, to what do I owe this intrusion?” Arianrhod asked, taking a speckled band out of her hair, re-stroking her locks with her hands, and then slipping them back into the band. They were much as they had been before she did that.
“Arianrhod, I just gave my blood to you. I’d hardly call that an intrusion.”
“Yes, but you yourself think yourself to be impure, so what kind of gift is that? A gift should be highly thought of by the giver. Remember that the next time you go out with a man.”
She wagged her finger at me.
“Arianrhod,” I said wearily, “I am not escorted by men. You know that. Look what happened with your brother.”
“Let’s not discuss that, Rhiannon. You know better than that,” she said hotly.
What had happened to her brother as a result of his bad manners was still a sore spot with her, even though his enchantment has been lifted.
“Now, what can I do for you, Rhiannon?”
“It’s Rhonda. She may be ensorcelled.”
Arianrhod was immediately all business. Walked over to where Rosalyn had deposited my beleaguered secretary, and proceeded to do a reading. Rhonda and I held each other’s arms, but didn’t dare say anything. When Arianrhod is doing a reading, the oral or written word can shatter it. Yes, she is one of those — a northern witch whose powers come from the Well itself.
“She needs to be naked,” Arianrhod said, after initially looking Rhonda in the eyes and down her throat.
Rosalyn and I looked at each other.
“She hates being naked,” I said.
“Nonetheless, I can do no more unless my hands are unobstructed.”
With Rhonda protesting weakly and promising to obey us in all things, Rosalyn and I finally managed to disrobe her. Rosalyn went and neatly folded Rhonda’s clothes and put them in a pile on a table. At Arianrhod’s insistence, I chained Rhonda’s hands and feet to the stone wall. She bowed her head slightly to the left and looked submissive.
Arianrhod then danced around the restrained Ronda, doing something that resembled what I had heard an outworlder call ‘The Macarena,’ a dance from their golden era. She moved first one hand out and then another. Then she stopped and felt something invisible about two inches from Rhonda’s body. She finally held Rhonda’s head like in a vise, and stuck her tongue way out at her several times, as if to prove its cleanliness to Rhonda.
“She is not ensorcelled,” she finally declared.
“Then what is wrong with her?”
“Nifelheim if I know,” Arianrhod said. “But there is a foreign object lodged in her brain. It will take smashing open her skull, and removing it to find out what it is.”
“That sounds painful,” I said, horrified.
“I’ll put her in a trance so she won’t feel a thing. But you are going to have to ask one of the palace torturers to do the rest. I haven’t any experience in cracking open skulls.”
Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons