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.
“Don’t be a baby, Rhiannon.”
I sniffed the aroma of burning hair.
“Just be careful with that thing, Rosalyn.”
Rosalyn was applying a curling iron to my hair; actually, from the feel of it, my scalp. I can only have short hair and it can only be in my natural black color; but today I was going to have it curly. Whether it gave me burns the size of dragon boils or not.
“All this to break a man’s heart,” she clucked.
“I hope that it will not, but, verily, I do not see how it cannot.”
Rosalyn pulled my face to her by my hair. She kissed me on the forehead. Her brown locks circumscribed her face, which was lighted by her crinkling blue eyes.
“My mistress, the heartbreaker. I want to know all the details. As whores we have profited from the aftermath of these rejections, and have been subject to male tortures because of it, so I want to know how one is performed. Just how you are going to crush his pride and send him to a strumpet in shame and humiliation.”
“Rosalyn, James is not that kind of man.”
“Only because he has a harem of slave girls to take the edge off rejection, Rhiannon. Oh, don’t look at me like that. You know it is true. He is a man, first, before he is anything else.”
I winced as she tightened the iron over another of my forlorn, short locks, and tugged. Sizzle. Sizzle. She took a bottle and squeezed its bulb to put out the slight fire that she had caused.
“There, now you look the part of a callous, rejecting woman — at least from the neck up.”
From the neck down, of course, I looked like the kind of woman who was a sexual slave to a man. I had foolishly insulted Graymulkin, the second greatest of all the witches, and she had cursed me to being naked, always naked. So I must walk the earth looking like a whore or a New Prydain slave girl.
“Well, for James, it is what is above the neck that counts in a woman. Do not snort, little missy; it is true,” I said righteously, wagging an indignant finger at her.
“Uh, huh. Cut off those massive udders of yours and then see how he responds.”
Rosalyn, at five feet six, was not lacking in bosoms, but she, methinks, has always been a little jealous of me. I do not think she would be thus, if it were she who suffered from the back pains and the rude remarks. She sprayed me all over with a lovely perfume that smelled of lilacs, and then, gingerly, took the curling iron back to the miniature forge that was the centerpiece of our tent.
“He will not respond in any way, as he has vanished!”
We turned to look at Branwen, the queen of New Prydain, and Arianrhod, my court sorceress. It had been Branwen, with a voice of anguish, who had made the announcement.
Swishing her skirts, which were long enough to trip her, Branwen came over and took my hands.
“This is your fault, sister. He has vanished because he knew you would reject his proposal of marriage.”
I knew this could not be true. I had skirted the issue of marriage since his proposal by making him take me to bed every time he broached the subject. There is no quicker way to shut a man up and make him forget what was on his mind. And no quicker way to make him forget about marriage than by sleeping with him. There is a saying among the offworlders “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” And I was giving him a lot of free milk.
Arianrhod shook her head, also in denial of Branwen’s accusation.
“He has vanished through sorcery. The etheric emanations are strong where his tent was.”
Branwen glared at Arianrhod. She was bent at making this crisis a personal one. Unseemly in a queen, even one who was so in name only. It often amused me that here I had the power, but not the title, being only a princess, but she had the title and no power.
“So you say,” Branwen said, shrugging. “But the point is without James to lead my government, there will be discord. And with discord, only the offworlders win. You have to do something about this, Rhiannon. You have to!”
We were in a mining camp about ten miles from New Prydain, in that kingdom’s outer territory, by the Mountains of Madness. Tall, impossibly sheer, they were much favored by the offworlders when they occupied the world. They took strange metals, scarring the mountains, to fuel their machines and build their buildings.
And now they want a return. Branwen had come to me, begging that I listen to James Connell, who, on bended knee, convinced me to allow some mining. Coal was to be taken from the mouth of a cave; brought to the surface only using our picks, shovels, and carts on wooden rails. It was to be a start to end the hostility between the five kingdoms and Terra.
But from the beginning there had been tragedy. Mine shafts collapsing unexpectedly, fumes killing the strong and brave men who work in the bowels of the earth. And the clear and horrible presence of a fire demon — two demonic, red eyes moving along the shanties and tents of the miners.
Through divining, Arianrhod had uncovered the horrible truth. The earth was being torn apart, and even though the offworlders swore they would restore it, they had neglected one important task. They had not asked for the blessing of the white mare. The goddess of the earth had to be placated.
Only I had to become that goddess. And to do that I had to make love to the male ruler who wished to dominion over the earth. It was the way to bless the male spirit and tell the elementals that their abode would not be harmed.
So the male rule responsible for the mining had to make love to me — and as the white mare. James Connell, the first minister of New Prydain, was that man. But when it came time for the defilement, he proposed marriage to me instead. That had been enough to placate the goddesses, to send the fire demon back to hell, but it left me with a dilemma. How was I to turn him down? I had overcome my tendency to vomit at the thought of knowledge of the stronger sex, but I was not ready to have it on a regular basis with just one man. I could not decide between my sheriff, Ioseff, third Earl of Gwrydall, and a certain blacksmith named Hangowry. How can I decide to marry a man from another kingdom altogether?
And now James was missing. According to Branwen, driven to distraction by my refusal to accept his proposal, or even tell him what I was thinking.
“It is your fault, Rhiannon. You are still a strumpet and a harlot.”
Rosalyn and Arianrhod gasped at Branwen’s words. I bristled, held myself stiff. I felt my back arch. Her words were hurtful, but they were born of fear and I was trying my best to not hurl her anger back at her. Rosalyn was not as restrained.
“Why you little bitch.”
She quickly moved from my side to Branwen, and started pulling her hair.
“Get your girl off of me,” Branwen yelled, tears flowing. “Get her off of me!”
But Rosalyn had pulled Branwen to the ground and had already begun kicking her. I leapt up, grabbed her by the ribcage, stepped back — the result being a spraddle legged lady in waiting on top of me. Branwen stroked her outraged hair. Arianrhod glared at Rosalyn.
“Do you want her punished?” I cried, still holding on to a squirming and kicking Rosalyn.
“Punish me and I’ll bite you!”
I put my hand over her mouth.
“No, do not punish her. I am sorry for my words. But I love James. It was bad enough that he only had eyes for you — or at least your bosoms — when he was around you. But for you to spurn him and cause him to run away — when you’ve had every man in the five kingdoms.”
Rosalyn snorted, causing snot to flow into my hand. I involuntarily jerked away and she started cursing.
“Well, it is true. And you two freely admit it. Laugh about your days as laced mutton. How much you could get from a man for a kiss, or a caress, or-” She stopped at an explosive four-letter Terran word that screamed out of Rosalyn’s mouth.
“Ladies, this is not helping us find James, or help fill the power vacuum his absence has left,” Arianrhod said reasonably.
“Shut up, wench,” we all chorused at this. Which was for the good, as we all began laughing.
“Can I release you without being an accessory to regicide?” I said to Rosalyn.
“Of course, Rhiannon. Why I would never harm a hair on your sister monarch’s head.”
At Branwen stroking where she had been yanked to the ground, Rosalyn amended, “Well maybe a hair or two. But that’s all. I swear.”
She crisscrossed her bosoms.
I heard a squeak. I am not overly afraid of rodents, but I have had them nibble on my unprotected body too many times not to tense at their sound. I turned in the direction of the noise. Dulcimer was standing at the entrance to the tent, poking her glasses repeatedly.
“Was it you who squeaked?’
She pulled the red lace of her satin gown in a curtsey, which made me wonder about the legends of women who found themselves sailing in the air from wind that billowed their skirts.
“What is it you want, Dulcimer?”
“Lloyd George is here to see you, your highness.”
“And who, prithee, is this Lloyd George?”
I scootched my legs up and sat with my feet touching each other in a ‘V’. Dulcimer began a series of motions with her mouth that looked like the dry heaves. I later learned I looked like I was in a carnal position she had always wanted to try out.
“Well, spit it out, girl.”
I instantly regretted this choice of words, because it looked like she just might do that. I slid my butt on the underlining of the tent, to be out of range.
“Um, he is-”
“The Terran Ambassador, Rhiannon,” Branwen finished.
“I thought the Terran Ambassador was-”
“They change them as often as some women change their undergarments,” Branwen said, giving Rosalyn a knowing look. Rosalyn began staring at the ceiling.
“At least they have undergarments to change,” I commented, making Branwen’s mouth recede into itself.
At least I was hoping that was the cause of such an inversion of her lips.
“I suppose he wants an audience with me,” I said, lifting myself up only using my leg muscles. A nice way to keep your legs in shape, not to mention practice your balance and poise. When you are naked, you have to keep yourself in shape. Or at least you had better, if you have any self-love at all.
“I could not say, mistress. My Terran is insufficient and he was raving.”
“Do not speak of it, Branwen,” I said, forestalling a comment to go with the look she gave me. “We have to present a unified front.”
“Easy for you to say, Rhiannon. You do not have a Tribunal in disarray at your back.”
“However it goes.” To Dulcimer, “Send him in.”
Have you ever been attacked by a bear? That is how it felt like when this wide, muscular, mountain of a man, all in black, came bursting in like a runaway bruin. I was not going to like this interview. I knew it already.
Lloyd George raised his arms like he was flapping his wings. He puffed out his chest. I expected him to crow at any moment. Instead, in the staccato and guttural accent of the offworlder, he bespoke mildly.
“Who is Rhiannon?”
I blinked. I do not think it is vanity for me to think I am conspicuously myself. How many naked queens are there?
“I am Rhiannon.”
He focused his eyes on me, after the manner of a man with too much drink in his belly.
“I wish to express my government’s deep, and I repeat, deep annoyance at the disappearance of James Cornell.”
“Well, he was getting to be a bother.”
“Rhiannon!” Branwen yelled at me, shocked.
“I do but jest.” I turned back to the Terran. “I have just been apprised of the situation, Mr. George.”
“And I demand to know what you are going to do about it?”
I assumed my most pretentious posture. Hard, but not impossible, to do naked. I did what the offworlders call “accessing the inner bitch.”
I walked up to Lloyd George, until he could smell me. He coughed a little at my perfume.
“Sirrah, what I want to know is what you plan to do to help me find and retrieve Minister Cornell?”
His coughing became a splutter.
“Well?” I stretched the syllables out. “What is the solution to this problem?”
“That would be us.” My eyebrows rose at the intrusion of two athletic looking offworlders. He was tall, lean, with finely sculpted muscles, all evident behind a Terran business suit. She was nearly as tall as he, and unlike the last time we met, was fully dressed in a feminine version of the same suit. This time they were both blondes.
“Ryune and Hirel, how nice of you to drop by.”
I tried to sound droll, but I was seething at the thought of what they had done in our earlier encounter.
“It is actually Helms, John Helms. And this is my partner, Ilene Himmel”
“Ah, so honesty at last. And how are you to help?”
“By finding James, of course,” Ilene said, rolling her eyes. “And to think they made you queen.”
Rosalyn threw a dagger at her.
“I need air; I feel the vapors coming on,” Branwen suddenly announced, her eyes reflecting Rosalyn’s dagger’s glint. “I could use the company of my childhood friend.”
I saw the pleading quality in her eyes. And the last thing I wanted was to confront Terran spies, ambassadors, or the looks on people’s faces, as the gas that was welling up inside me was loosed.
“This audience is dismissed,” I blared, as I followed Branwen’s skirts.
Together, we silently went to the edge of the mining camp, past the mine itself, to a little culvert. We walked past those brave men who were risking their lives to bring out the coal that would provide heat for many houses. I still was nervous about this concession, even if it was on a trial basis. But I was more nervous about Branwen.
At the culvert Branwen turned on me.
“I wanted to say this out of earshot of your bitch-in-waiting, Rhiannon. But you have got to be the worst friend, the lowest harlot, the most-”
I slapped her. “How dare you, missy. How dare you! After all I’ve endured for our friendship. I had to support us both on my back or on my knees in New Dyved.”
“So you say. And yet you take from me the man I love.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me. James does not love you. It is me he loves.” She wiped tears away as she said it. “All he wants from you is the carnal knowledge of a woman.”
“Branwen!” I could not believe I was hearing this. “Then why did he propose to me and not you?”
“Because he cannot have me. Our Constitution will not allow me to marry a commoner. He wants to marry you for political ambitions — be the consort of the high queen. But it is me he will come to for comfort. Me!”
She screamed the last. Then burst into gales of weeping.
I was at a loss for words. At the depth of her feeling for James. The last we had spoken, she seemed only to have a sexual attraction for him. She had slumped to the ground; I squatted by her. Took her hands.
“If you want him, he is yours, sister.”
Sob. “Really?” Sob.
“He wants marriage from me. I cannot marry.”
Sob. “Really?” Sob.
“Could you marry, if you had to exchange vows naked in front of all?”
She shook her head.
“But is not the way out of your curse to find the one who will love you in your nakedness?”
I smiled wryly. “You are probably right, sister. That James loves me not in spite of my nakedness, but because of it. And the only thing we have in common is that we both admire and get pleasure from his manhood. No, he is yours.”
“I cannot marry him either.”
Copyright © 2006 by Rachel Parsons