The Year of the Dead Rose
by Rachel Parsons
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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.
“When the dead rise, the roses die.” — saying attributed to Graymulkin
It was the year the dead rose; the time the graves emptied almost as fast as the offworlders filled them, the year in which men, fairies, shifters and even firebreathers no longer looked at the heavens with dismay. It was when the men from the grave fought the men from the stars to avenge the princess of New Fairy’s — Rhiannon’s — shame.
It was the long winter, the one that began as early as ninth month, and was heralded by the comet Blodeuwedd making its first heavenly career since the people had scrambled through the portal. As this omen heralded the exodus, so many still believe that the war of liberation was also so heralded.
Rhiannon didn’t care about sky omens. She only cared that she was cold. She was cold because it was winter; she was cold because the charcoal pots were low in their crimson flames and the logs on the fire were not catching, but she was cold primarily because it was a misty, frosty day and she was naked.
She was naked because she had earned the vengeance of the witch Graymulkin, whom she had seen dancing in the same state. Graymulkin, renowned for her ugliness, had been shamed by the young princess, who had laughed at her hideousness, so on display in her secret place. Now, Rhiannon was the one shamed; the one on display.
It was horrible. She could never get warm in wintertime; she was the subject of sniggers at court, whispers as she passed by, and barely disguised lust or disdain. The thought of this had kept her from her home for years, but abandoned by her fiancé, King Ferrell of New Dyved, she had little choice but to be a dove of the night. This too made for the whispers, the looks, and a burning shame that made her social life a nightmare.
She sat, cross-legged, by her bedchamber’s fireplace, arranging and re-arranging the little charcoal pots, hoping that this would be the time that they would heat her. She looked at the little frost diamonds on her balcony window, at the bare mattress on her canopy bed — she was deprived even of the comfort of blankest and linens, as they would cover her, and she must never be covered — at the wardrobe, across from the bed, that she would never again enter. Self-pitying, she sobbed. Tears slid, like the paths of snails, down her bare bosoms, dripping, like lachrymose milk, from her nipples onto her naked thighs.
There was a knock. Her chamber door parted and Dulcimer, her principal lady-in-waiting, came in. Dulcimer was a short woman, with her white streaked brown hair in a bun. She wore glasses fulsome enough to map the moons, and a kirtle which was unstylish back before the Treaty of Tolerance, the one which allowed for the worship of the man god as well as the five goddesses; not the more famous one that ended the war between shifters and men. Dulcimer’s attire was gray with silver trimming.
“What is it, Dulcimer; I am weary and do not wish to be bothered.”
“It is the 3rd Earl of Gwrydall, your highness. He says it is urgent.”
Rhiannon sucked in air. She could not avoid audiences; the spellminder would punish her as surely as if she publicly covered herself, but she hated it especially when it was men of the court. They would hide their contempt or lust behind excess politeness, all the while being betrayed by their eyes.
She smiled thinly. She knew all too well of men’s urgencies, having made her living from them in New Dyved. “The only thing urgent, Dulcy, is the whereabouts of a firestone. It will warm me.”
She twittered. “He says it is about your father.”
She hadn’t known whether to laugh or cry when she had finally emboldened her heart and had faced her father in all her nakedness. He had held her in his strong arms and kissed her. That had been wonderful. But then he had horrified her when he had declared, “Daughter, give your garment to the laundry scullions. It is dirty from the road.” He had seen her naked, had driven the sight from his mind, and had gone mad. Could his madness have turned worse? Was that the earl’s mission, to tell her this?
Dulcimer fed her fears, but with a different plate. “Aye, your highness. Duke Gwrydall believes your father is being poisoned and that it is your fault!”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Parsons