On the Bower of Madness
by Rachel Parsons
part 1 of 2
“Rosalyn, keep your girdle on.”
I was rewarded by giggles, and the migration of the vestment up her chest, over her arms and then, hurtling, down to the tree tops below. She was now as uncased as I was, from the waist up.
“Oh, don’t you purse your lips at me, missy,” she pouted. “You liked me like this last night.”
“You two are disgusting; hasn’t anyone told you that?” Our ride, Tiamat, a cockatrice who was of the Order of the Victims of St. George, craned his enormous, tunnel-like neck around to smack his lips admonishingly at us.
“She is suffering from the thin-air madness,” I said in defense of my lady-in-waiting.
“She didn’t have to join us, you know. And besides, I would think she’d want to meet her death with some dignity.”
“We are not going to die, Tiamat. Now, I suggest you watch the skies and not us.”
He snorted. Deftly flew underneath a cloud. I never in my life thought I would see the tops of Yggdrasil trees; from a dragon’s eye vantage, they look like a forest of asparagus tips, covered in needles. They also look like male members about to erupt, as my coarse lady-in-waiting pointed out the moment she saw them. Fat and hard, she called them.
“Whee! Look at me now, Rhiannon.”
Somehow, during my interlocution with Tiamat, she had managed to take her pantaloons off, but not her buskins, and — thank the goddesses — her war belt, which aside from carrying her purse, bodkins, dirks, daggers, scissors, and sword, also sheathed Eligor, my death sword. As I am cursed to nakedness by the witch Graymulkin, I cannot.
Rosalyn was now almost as naked as I was. She clamped her hands around my pelvis and began to snake her fingers in a westerly direction.
“Rosalyn, stop it! That is unseemly.”
“You didn’t think so during your bath this morning, Rhiannon. You see, Tiamat, when I bathe her it’s all ‘Rosalyn, you missed a spot; oh, Rosalyn, my feet are filthy; oh, Rosalyn, you know how that part of me needs a massage. But when it’s poor Rosalyn’s turn for bodily comfort, it’s ‘Rosalyn, stop it! That is unseemly’.” Her fingers reached her goal and I stood up straighter on Tiamat’s spines.
“Don’t stiffen up, Rhiannon. Just relax into the experience.”
“Well, I guess it’s all right, as we are all going to die soon,” our ride muttered lugubriously and puritanically.
“Tiamat, will you stop saying that — oh, Rosalyn, right there!”
“Now, that’s better. I’ll have her as my servant, instead of me her’s in no time, Tiamat. Just you watch.”
Tiamat muttering “disgusting wenches,” finally turned away to look where he was going.
We were only hours away from Caer Rhiannon; heading toward the aerie of the Nithhogr; that is why Tiamat was so nervous. The black wyrms were known for their viciousness, and they had increasingly been punctuating their demands with strafing runs on villages on the outskirts of New Fairy. They wanted Baby; Midgard and I were determined not to give him up.
Baby was a wyrmling who thought I was his mother, and was the reincarnation of the holiest wyrm, the Wyrm of Ouroboros, and the wyrm general would risk a war with the outlaw clans rather than surrender him. As he had defended me during the war with the offworlders, I had to defend him now. Either that, or find a way to peace between the wyrm clans.
This meant a ride into the upper atmosphere, where the stars can be seen always, and the air is thin. This had resulted in a nearly naked lady-in-waiting to complement her completely naked mistress and a sleepy werewolf, who was curled up on Tiamat’s tail, using one of his barbs as a pillow.
We were in enemy territory, the reason why Tiamat was convinced of our impending deaths. And sooth, at this point, our only protection was that Wyrmwood, the Nithhogr general, knew of our coming and was granting us safe passage, something the knuckers who had just appeared from the clouds had apparently not heard of. That would explain their throws of fire and acid as they came careering toward us.
I strapped Rosalyn into her saddle; she was still too unhinged in reason to do it, and was singing “The young lad from Dactyl Tucket,” (yes, the unbonneted version), cupping her bosoms in her hands, and licking herself in unladylike places with her very flexible tongue as the fireballs burst around her.
I could not be so strapped because of my curse. Leather ribbons count as a covering, so I held on to Tiamat’s spines for dear life, as he sharply banked and rolled to get away from the knuckers.
“Oh, crap,” he cried, using the offworlder expression. I followed his flaming eyes.
Six more knuckers had fallen out of the clouds and were flapping their wings with the strength of hurricanes. Crimson balls were spitting forth from their nostrils, and they were hocking wads of acid. I cringed; I have nightmares of being consumed by fire and acid. My nakedness doth make me cowardly sometimes, as I am sure it was meant to by the Crone who foisted it on me. I muttered prayers to the goddesses for the preservation of my skin, as the black demons came closer.
Only to belch fire at our original attackers and send them squawking back to the airy hell from which they had come.
One of the newcomers, who looked like a rooster that had mated with a giant, long-necked geek, came floating by us.
“You and your cargo all right, Tiamat?” he hissed at my companion.
“Aye, thanks to you. The Boss send you?”
There was a chuckle from the boss’s myrmidon, which sounded like those clicks on the ceiling you can’t account for during a bad night.
“How did you know of our plight?” I asked. I was ignored.
“Wyrmwood knows everything,” Tiamat explained.
“We will be your escort; come follow us.”
“Wait, I have a question,” I said.
“He doesn’t talk to food,” Tiamat explained.
I bristled at that, but I knew the ways of dragons by now. Rosalyn, who had giggled through the whole encounter, Zusanna, who had slept through it, and I, who had, eh, hem, watered the spines, as it were, were Tiamat’s cargo.
Since I was a naked girl, I was what these creatures ate for treats; so I was a meal. Tiamat would be a mugwump, as his mug was facing men, and his wump was facing wyrms. I did not know much of the wyrm language and culture, but I did know this much.
We flew beneath the clouds, across the fields of asparagus tips, until we soared to an edenic bower. We floated downward. Against the canopy was a dragon, half cockatrice and half basilisk, who was flanked by female dragons. He had his arms on them. In half moons around him were dragons, in girdles of steel, and holding spears in their right arms.
Jeb “Hard Ass” Hardwick, a Terran who is the seventh son of a seventh son, so is one of us as well as them, told me, when he first glimpsed a dragon, that they looked like a beast from his world, now extinct, called a pterodactyl. The first ‘p’ is silent. I saw a drawing of the beastie. Jeb must have encountered the Nithhogr.
“Is this the queen who walks like a meal?” the obviously head wyrm hissed.
That was the rogue general’s way of referring to my nakedness. When people meet me for the first time, they often ask, “Is this Rhiannon the Nude?” or “Is this the naked queen?” I usually answer something like, “And how many naked girls do you have around here?” I refrained, as he was picking out delicacies from a wooden bowl as he talked. I recognized them. They were maidenheads. Naked women were commonplace here; naked women who weren’t being boiled in a pot were the oddity. I was hoping to stay odd.
“You needn’t answer that, your highness,” Wyrmwood hissed. “We have to hunt for our meals; it is rare for them to come to us.” He snapped his talons, and with a quickness that belied size and girth, two of the wyrm knights seized Rosalyn, took her boots and war belt away, and tied her to a branch. At my whistle, Eligor unsheathed itself, flew into my hand. Zusanna snarled.
“What are you doing to her?” I demanded.
“You are known for your bravery as well as for your beauty and your bosoms. If I wished to torment you into submission, it would be futile and would ruin a perfectly good snack. But you will lick my male member rather than see anything come to your boon companion.”
“Must I remind you, Wyrmwood, that between my death sword and my werewolf, I could destroy your bower?”
“But not before I hear the screams of the tasty Rosalyn here and the cries of your people in your kingdom, being roasted and basted in acid.”
“You make your point well, general. But I come in peace, and you indicated you wished to talk peace.”
There was a horrible snapping noise, like a snap, crackle and pop made by a llassar with indigestion. And then the canopy, the bower, and the wyrm knights came tumbling down to the earth, miles below.
Squawking like the roar of the thunder gods was followed by sickening thuds. I rushed over to Wyrmwood. “Are you all right?”
“I think so,” came the sibilance. I had imitated him; he had grabbed onto branches, having them break his fall as they snapped off. It had been painful — have you ever clung to a gnarled Yggdrasil tree as you were sliding down it and it was falling? And if you have faced these barbs, have you ever done so yourself unbarbed? Believe me, it hurts.
“Oh, ask about the one that was going to torture me into your submission, and not me, why don’t you?”
“Rosalyn!” She was dusting herself off. She had somehow, in the chaos, retrieved her purse, but not her belt.
“Where am I going to put this, Rhiannon?” She looked at her nakedness dolefully. “And how did I get this way?”
“They removed my buskins and war belt. Where did my girdle go? My pantaloons?”
“You did remove them yourself, little one.”
She looked at me like I was daft. “So I’m to parade around like this for the rest of the adventure?”
“With nearly a certainty. Look, I do it all the time.”
“Aye, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but that’s you, Rhiannon. You’re the gymnosophist, not me.”
“I am not a gymnosophist.”
“Could have fooled me,” Wyrmwood said in response to that. He cocked a skeptical eye my way.
“I am cursed to nakedness; there is a difference between going about naked because you want to, as a gymnosophist, and because you have to, being the victim of a witch’s curse.”
“By randomness,” he said. “Tiamat, your snacks are fine, how fare you?”
“Snacks,” whispered Rosalyn. “Who is he calling a snack?”
“They call us food, Rosalyn, do you not remember?” Oh, I hoped the fall hadn’t addled her.
“I know that, Rhiannon. I am not an idiot. But a ‘snack’ implies we are not a full course meal. I find that insulting.”
I grabbed her chubby waistline. Pinched fleshy folds. “You need not fear, as far as I am concerned.” I kissed her. She patted my ass.
Tiamat groaned and rubbed his head. “Oh, you two are truly, truly disgusting. Now, what were you saying, dark one?”
“Will you grant me a boon, light one?”
“What is it, dark one?”
“See if my wives are all right, and my men.”
“On it, dark one.” He got up by using his claws, looked at us sternly. “Don’t go getting yourself into trouble. Midgard will never forgive me if anything should happen to you.”
Rosalyn replied to that as Tiamat waddled into the broken bower.
“Rosalyn, you know that is not possible,” I said.
“Actually, it is,” Wyrmwood replied. “We wyrms are hermaphrodites.”
“But you are so masculine,” I yelled, wobbling from the shock of this revelation.
He guffawed. And retracted the part of him I had espied as I did cry. He grew a pouch, and his voice took on a distinctly feminine tone. The whole process had just taken minutes.
“But Midgard acted like he was gendered.”
“Midgard is a bitch,” the newly transformed Wyrmwood said.
“Turn back into something masculine,” Rosalyn muttered. “You sound unsexed.”
Wyrmwood and I stared at her. “Well, it is different in a male. Males are supposed to be masculine,” she added by way of profundity.
Wyrmwood raised an eyebrow. Shook his head. “You wanted me womaned,” he pointed out. Then transformed back to a masculine beastie. “Now, down to business,” he said, dangling.
I mouthed to Rosalyn, ‘satisfied now?’ She rolled her eyes. I looked at Wyrmwood, who seemed very proud of himself. “Business?” I asked him.
“Well, you don’t think I was going to torture your companion for fun, did you? Although it seems to me her unbonneted manners deserve such.”
“Believe me, I have thought of it,” I said, and then yelped as Rosalyn spanked me.
“Business,” Wyrmwood reiterated, as if talking to the lobeless.
“I meant to show you this gradually,” he looked upward, “but as you see, our forest is crumbling.”
Copyright © 2007 by Rachel Parsons