The Year of the Dead Rose
by Rachel Parsons
Table of Contents
appeared in issue 238
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 horsemen were beating a naked, brunette woman with mallets. She had folded herself in a fetal position, trying to fend off the blows. Her long hair made poor protection against the cruelty. The men’s sport in itself wouldn’t have horrified Rhiannon. She knew what sport her guards made of unescorted peasant women, female travelers, or prostitutes. She knew enough to turn the other way when that would happen.
What horrified her was that it was Rosalyn.
Zusanna was dancing back and forth between the riders, barking ferociously and growling. She was biting at the fetlocks of the horses. Some of the men turned their attention from the whimpering Rosalyn to the werewolf. Rhiannon had to intervene, not just to help her friend — if her friend weren’t beyond help already — but to stop a slaughter.
“Halt! All of you! I, your princess, demand it! You men, halt! Zusanna! Halt!” She stamped her feet and beat fists against her hips. Her chest swelled as she drew in air to shriek.
Everyone ceased what they were doing and stared.
“Your highness! We are protecting ourselves from this shifter.”
“And this one? Were you protecting yourself from her?” Rhiannon crouched down by Rosalyn. It was doubtful the girl knew it was her friend next to her. Her eyes were swollen shut; there were ugly bruises and welts forming on her body. But Rosalyn must have known that the person squatting by her meant her well, because she grabbed hold of her, sobbing in relief.
“She is obviously but a whore, your highness. We were making sport with her; only that,” said one of the men.
“Obviously a whore? Why? Because she is naked? I was naked and a whore when I came home: would you have made me your sport?” The men looked shame-faced. “I want her taken to the infirmary and healed from her wounds. Oh, I pity each of you if, after this is done, I am told she is seriously injured or will die. You will die most unpleasantly if that happens. I will feed you alive to my werewolf!” Zusanna clicked, and made an unpleasant ululation at that.
Two of the men jumped down. One unrolled a portable stretcher from his portiere, made of crisscrossed ropes. Rosalyn at first resisted, shaking their hands off her shoulders.
“It will be all right, little one. These men are taking you to be healed. Please allow them to strap you onto a stretcher. Then bear with them, as they will make haste to get you to Vivienne.” She shot them a hot look that could melt Queen Hel. The men nodded vigorously.
Rhiannon watched, the heat of her anger making her oblivious to the cold, as the men rushed off. She then turned, bent over, and hugged Zusanna. “Without you, my truest companion in the world might have been cudgeled to death, or left to be murdered by the snow gods. I owe you more than you know.”
“No, not more than I know,” yawned the werewolf, making her frightening canines visible. “I will like being in your pack; I keep piling on the boons you owe me. But alack! — to my dinner!” The beast ran furiously back to the palace, almost flying in the air. Rhiannon stood there for a few moments, as snowflakes danced around her. All at once her discomfort swelled and she, as fleet of foot as she could be in ankle deep snow and mud that sucked her down, headed to the hearth that, if it were but possible, she would chain to her very being.
The next few days were as arrows to Rhiannon’s heart. Vivienne drained the excess humors in Rosalyn, she was full of bile and jaundice, sewed together parts of her skin that had been flayed from blows, fed her gall of goat, rubbed scales of firebreathers on her person, smeared a tiger’s chaudron on her womanhood, and used gum from weird sources to “allow her parts to mend.” She would not say whether Rosalyn would remain attached to the earth or not.
So it was with great relief when there came a rapping, like someone gently tapping, tapping at her chamber door. She ordered entrance, and Rosalyn came in, looking meek. Rhiannon, who had been sitting at her escritoire, reading, put down her book and ran to her companion. She hugged her and kissed her.
At this point the Lady Dulcimer came in with towels. She saw the two of them entwined, both quite naked, as Rosalyn also lacked clothing, hugging and kissing each other as intimates. She squeaked, dropped the towels, and ran out.
“You are ruining my reputation, little one,” declared Rhiannon, her eyes all twinkling and adoring as they gazed at her companion. She pulled and tugged at Rosalyn’s hair, and ran her fingers through it.
“Your reputation? What of mine?” Rosalyn said, laughing, brushing away her companion’s fingers.
“Do you have one here?” Rhiannon returned. “And why, prithee, are you naked? I know why I am.”
“Because no one has given me garments. They think I am to be an unsexed whore to you.”
“Do they now?” Rhiannon felt this to be hilarious and it showed in twinkling eyes and cheeks made chubby from happiness.
Rosalyn lowered her eyes. “I would be glad to be that, Rhiannon. Or anything you wish. I am yours to do with as you please.”
“Oh, ho, ho, ho. I will believe that when it happens.” Still Rhiannon did not take her hands off her companion, but encircled her with them. Rosalyn looked up, and although there was submission in her words, there was none in her manner. “But you must tell me of your adventures and why I find you at my door, in need of my help.”
“It is a change, is it not? You, who needed my help, are now the mighty one.”
“I was always the mighty one,” Rhiannon said teasingly. “You are just now realizing it. Come sit with me by the fire.” Rhiannon went over to the fireplace. Made a disgusted noise as she re-arranged the pewter pots. “I can never get these to do their jobs.”
“Here, let me.” Rosalyn went over to the hearth, found the charcoal, and filled the pots. She then took a stick from the fire, lit each pot and arranged them in a circular pattern. “Now, sit inside the circle.”
Rhiannon did so, crossing her legs. Rosalyn put several logs on the fire, crumpled up papers that had been lying before the hearth, lit a long match, and made the flames roar in such a loud, outrageous manner that Rhiannon clapped her hands. Rosalyn joined her, facing her, on her knees. Rhiannon felt quite warm, a state she had almost forgotten about.
“What have I done without you?” Rhiannon cried.
“Suffer, it looks like. Well, suffer no more. Here, I will show you what you have been missing without me.” Rosalyn leaned over, and for what to Rhiannon seemed an eternity, did exactly that.
Sweating, in each other’s arms, the fire making their skin oily, after the eternity had ended, Rosalyn told Rhiannon of her adventures. How Dirk, defying the customs of the Whore’s Quarter of New Dyved as well as the wishes of Dol Pelbin, the king of thieves, had organized all the girls into his own bordello. When Rosalyn had refused to be one of Dirk’s girls, he had her taken to the outskirts of town, tied to a tree and beaten. Her skin ripped open in many places, she had been left for dead.
“I would have died too, but yeomen came by, and untied me. After they took turns raping me, they left me naked and on the ground; I started crawling to New Fairy. I knew I could not go back to New Dyved, for Dirk would have killed me for the impertinence.”
“I am so sorry, Rosalyn. I should never have left you behind.” Rhiannon brushed her fingers through Rosalyn’s hair. She loved doing that, as her own hair had to be short, lest it be a covering to her.
“Well, it’s not like you had a whole lot of choice,” Rosalyn said. “A hasty retreat is always advisable after killing a king.”
“You forgive me, then?” Rhiannon said anxiously.
Rosalyn looked at her friend. “Well, given enough groveling and boons, I will.”
“I am a princess; people grovel at me, not the other way around.”
At that exchange, a throaty, but high pitched, whine emitted from the corner of the room by the balcony window. The two companions stared for a moment. Zusanna, who had been watching them since Rosalyn’s entry, showed a toothy grin.
“What is that?” Rosalyn said, in alarm, becoming aware for the first time that she and Rhiannon were not alone.
Patting her knee, signaling Zusanna to come over, Rhiannon introduced her preter-lupine and mortal companions to each other.
“I thought shifters were a myth,” said the astonished Rosalyn.
“Want me to change?” growled Zusanna.
“What is she saying?” Rosalyn responded.
“She wants to know if you want her to change.”
“Change into what?”
“Is she serious?” Rosalyn stared back and forth between werewolf and fairy.
“Then, aye, I do.” She braced herself. Her ears were pained at the sound of bones snapping, ligaments tearing; her eyes widened at the sight of front paws turning into arms, back into long, white but definitely humanoid legs. Zusanna’s back arched and shoulder blades appeared. A snout became a nose, lips thinned; eyes became rounder and less like slits. Eyes from the fiery pit became deep and brown, like Rhiannon’s.
Soon, on hands and knees, a nude woman who could have been Rhiannon’s sister emerged. The main difference, aside from her bosoms, as Rhiannon’s were the biggest in the room, as, verily, they would probably be in any room where bosoms are displayed, was that her hair was long, down to her buttocks. She also was unshaven on her legs, under her arms, and around her womanhood.
“You are beautiful,” said Rhiannon, earning a look from Rosalyn.
“Not half as beautiful as the two of you when renewing your companionship.”
“You saw that?” Rosalyn asked.
“I saw everything.”
“You aren’t shocked, little one? We have done the same for an audience before.”
“But not so intimate a one. She is your companion, is she not?”
There was an arch quality in her tone, which made Rhiannon wary. “I have become her lupa; she was desolate and alone.”
“And you have a habit of taking in strays?” Rosalyn was definitely in distemper.
“If I didn’t, where would you be?”
“She has a point,” Zusanna said with false blandness. For a moment Rhiannon’s two companions did a stare-down. They might have still been at it at Ragnorok had Rhiannon not clapped her hands: “Well, this calls for a celebration. Zusanna, could you ring for Dulcimer?”
Zusanna shook her eyes away from Rosalyn. Nodded. Got up using only her legs, and padded to the bell chord, her long hair swaying like a rake in the wind. She rang it. Before too long, Dulcimer came in, did a double take at Zusanna and the unclad state of every woman in the chambers except for her.
Nervously, she asked Rhiannon her pleasure, hoping it wasn’t what she thought it was. She had vowed to do anything her mistress required of her, but she was not about to enter into an unsexed orgy. Dulcimer prided herself on not having had sex since before the first oceans had roared, and she meant to keep it that way.
“Bring some mead. I have reason to celebrate. My old companion has returned to me, and my new companion is dear to me.”
“Aye, mistress.” Dulcimer curtsied and fled.
“Her voice, it is like fingernails on a school girl’s tablet,” said Rosalyn. “How do you put up with it?”
“Mead, probably,” opined Zusanna.
Rhiannon laughed. “No, it is that her family has served mine since the beforetime. I do wish I had someone to replace her as my principal lady-in-waiting.”
Dulcimer returned and simpering, gave the women their goblets. Rosalyn seized the bottle and said, “I’ll take it from here.”
Dulcimer scurried out, lest the nakedness of the women be catching.
“You make an excellent servant,” Rhiannon said teasingly, as Rosalyn poured them the wine. She winked at Zusanna. “Does she not?”
“Oh, most excellent,” said the werewolf, who guzzled the mead. “More, please.” Rosalyn refilled her goblet; then sat down, cross legged, as were the other two.
Rhiannon expected Rosalyn to say something dignity-preserving like “Lick me!” in reply. Instead, her response was astonishing.
“I was hoping you would say that, Rhiannon. For I wish to be your servant.”
“You make as a jester, Rosalyn. ‘Alas, poor Rosalyn, I knew her well, Zusanna. A girl of infinite jest,’” she said mockingly, paraphrasing the Terran drama.
“No, I am serious. I must do something to earn my keep, and so I wish to be your servant.”
“You are my true companion,” Rhiannon avoided the superlative, being still nervous how Zusanna would take it. “You need do nothing.”
“She is right, you know,” said Zusanna. “We all need jobs. I will be your bodyguard.” She saw Rosalyn stiffen. “I am better equipped than you. Can you run like a flash cheetah, sense all the colors there are — even the ones below red and above violet? Can your teeth bite through iron, tear the gizzard from a Harpy, and can you withstand the blows of a giant? I can only be killed by a death sword, or by decapitation and my heart being torn out. And even then, if not by a death sword, my death will result in my turning into the undead. Can you say as much?”
Rosalyn picked up her goblet, and bolted down the anesthetizing brew. “You speak of yourself amazingly, Mistress Zusanna.”
“She speaks but the truth, Rosalyn. I know, being raised in New Dyved, you were not taught these things, as the men there reject the ancient harmonies, but such is the nature of shifters. No, she is to be my bodyguard. You can be my principal lady-in-waiting.”
“And what are those duties?”
“Well, in your case, it will be to keep me warm at night.”
Rosalyn squeezed her eyes in pleasure, like a dog on a spot on a rug that was showered with sunlight. “That I will do gladly.”
“But my principal lady-in-waiting’s job is to make sure my every need is fulfilled.”
“Your every need?” Rosalyn pressed her eye lids down and then opened them.
“Oh, we will discuss that at some future time.”
“You two are disgusting,” said Zusanna. “And they say that we Lycaons are unnatural.”
“Unnatural? How unnatural are you?” demanded Rhiannon.
“Let us not find out unless she consents to a threading,” Rosalyn said. “I refuse to be a party to anything unless my companions are shaved.”
“Then you shall be too,” Zusanna growled.
“Where do I need shaving?” returned Rosalyn.
Zusanna stood up, padded over to Rhiannon’s dresser, rummaged through a drawer. She returned with a terrifyingly sharp looking knife, which she put in her teeth. She got down on her knees in front of Rosalyn. “Hold her down, mistress. I will shave her.”
“Where? I demand to know. I have no beard, nor hairy legs, nor curls under my arms.”
Zusanna did not answer, but crawled toward Rosalyn.
Rosalyn drew her legs up, and scootched on her backside, as Zusanna advanced. As Rhiannon laughed merrily at this sport, her two companions wrestled with one another, and both came out with skin as smooth as a baby’s.
Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Parsons