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mp3: Roses, Briars, Blood 6.9mb 15 minutes
I decided to take take my own challenge and write a Gothic Faery tale just for this blog. I have always loved the Grimm’s story of Briar Rose for its strange images of light and dark, beauty, sorcery, and the formidable rose covered tower where the Princess sleeps for one-hundred years. This tale is pouring out, not even finished yet! I shall write it in parts. I despair of ever being to write a truly short story. Maybe someday, with enough practice, I will.
Roses, Briars, Blood
by Arlene deWinter
The Queen longed for a child.
Though she conceived, she could not carry; the babes simply slipped out of her in a torrent of blood; her tears did not matter. She could not command them to stay the course. Frightened of the mocking laughter, and sly whispers of the Courtiers, the Queen dressed in widow’s white and retreated into the dim lit Halls of Melancholy where the echoes of disembodied voices, the tap, tap, tapping of distant footsteps, and the soft pattering of snow falling upon snow were the only sounds she heard.
The King looked askance at the frail Queen. She was ever so pale, like that luminous, crown-petaled flower that glows along the dim paths and the banks of the streams that lead into the deeper shadows of the Otherworld. The fine, flax colored hair, and the small, perfect features that had drawn him with their poignant delicacy, were now an arrangement of signs that hinted of thin, fragile bones, and a slipshod womb.
So, disappointed, the King’s sighs filled the halls of the castle, followed, as the time wore on, by great majestic groans. The Queen grew anxious. Would the King seek to put her away ,and find another who give him the heir he craved?
A third child fell from her body, into the net of a lacy shroud, to be buried, without ceremony, at the crossing of the catacombs. In desperation, the Queen sought the help of a Sorceress whose powers were so great and fearsome, that she was forced to live at the nether end of the forest in a chateau on the side of a mountain ringed about with a high stone wall.
The Queen was frightened, for she must go utterly alone and did not know the way. No one must know she was consulting the Sorceress, for it would give the King just the reason he needed to dispose of her. He might even have her burned for witchcraft! So on the night when the moon was dark, she wrapped herself in a long, black cloak and met the groom in the stables. Slipping him a golden sovereign, (for silence is golden is it not?) she climbed upon the back of her blackest horse and set out for the forest. The Queen’s heart shivered at the sight of the tall peaks of the pines that looked, from this distance, like a wall of impenetrable shadows. But there was a narrow road that wound into that wood, worn down by hunters, and the King’s armed men.
Soon, the path vanished, and the Queen had to pick her way through an icy stream bed, led by the sight of a high stone wall edging just above the fringe of trees at the foot of the mountain. By the time she arrived at the gatehouse, it was beginning to snow. Strange peals of thunder, or high winds, rolled in the heavens above the heavy white clouds that seemed to have fallen closer to the earth, forming mists filled with snowflakes that swirled around the Queen and her horse.
Oh, what am doing? I shall surely suffer for this...she moaned.
Ah, the high, dark walls leaned toward her as if they would fall, and the gate was closed and dim.
How shall I get in? Perhaps there is gatekeeper, and a bell.
Indeed, a large bell hung inside a niche on the wall near the gate. Just as the Queen was about to pull the rope, a whole chorus of bells rang inside the castle walls, ethereal as heaven and deep as earth. The gate slowly opened, and the astonished Queen saw, just across the threshold, a tall and beautiful woman standing in a shaft of torchlight that cast her long, long shadow before her on the ground.
“Who are you? Why do you come here?” the woman asked in an odd, low, lilting voice. “What do you want?”
Ah! I cannot say my name…I come because of a child, said the Queen in her silvery, whispery tones.
The Sorceress, for surely it was she, raised one eyebrow and smiled a knowing, red lipped smile. “You desire a child.”
The Queen, every nerve on edge, slipped quickly through the gate, turning to look back as it shut, creaking, behind her, sealing her in, like a pact. She turned to face the Sorceress whose face, up close, shone with an eerie inner light, pale as the moon in a night of wavy, floating hair that lifted on a wind that blew all around her, and her alone.
The Queen followed the Sorceress across the cobbled courtyard and up a long stair lined with dusty portraits of rather beastly looking ancestors, and into the wide doors of a great hall. There, a table was laid as for a feast. The Sorceress gestured to the Queen to sit down.
It is as if she was expecting me, the Queen thought, suddenly alarmed, and looking for the door.
“You just happened to arrive at my dinner time,” said the Sorceress uncorking the wine. “It is fortunate for you that I had such a sumptuous meal planned for tonight — fit for a Queen. It is, of course Wahlpurgis Night when I must set a feast for the dead.”
Oh dear, thought the Queen crossing herself.
“Please enjoy yourself, Your Majesty!” said the Sorceress pouring the wine into a goblet and setting it before the Queen. “It is pomegranate wine made in my own land. Have some food. You are so thin. No wonder you cannot bear.”
Yes, of course. The Queen sipped her wine. Perhaps she can help me.
The wine was sweet. The food was rich. A peacock lay in a silver charger, but its dark, iridescent feathers were only a decorative cover for some indecipherable meat underneath that tasted like pork.
The Sorceress drank a goblet of wine, and picked at her food silently, gazing at the Queen with her large luminous eyes. Suddenly the bells began to ring again.
Oh no! The King, my husband has come to get me! He knows where I am!
The Sorceress stood up. She looked very elongated and tall.
“He is not coming.The bells ring the time. Come with me. Be careful, though. The stairs are steep and you are quite drunk, Your Majesty.”
The Sorceress held out a long hand to grasp the arm of the tipsy Queen. Her fingers glittered and flashed with jewels in the firelight; jewels more precious than the Queen’s own.
Certainly not. The Queen shook the outrageous observation away and, at the same time, quickly appraised the rings on the Sorceress’s fingers. I have the finest jewels in the kingdom. Hers are naught but enchanted paste.
Still, rings and a wristlet of rubies, shining like drops of fresh blood, stayed in the Queen’s mind to hypnotic effect, as the Sorceress led her down a long, dark passage, past a series of magnificent bedchambers, to a door at the end under a groined alcove. The door opened into a small chamber that contained nothing but a gilded cabinet with a crystal door, much like the reliquary of the Holy Sacrament in the Cathedral. The Sorceress opened the crystal door, and took out a vial of deep emerald green glass chased with copper filigree. Whatever was inside glowed so brightly that it created a soft green aura around the vial that lighted the face of the Sorceress so that her skin was tinged like the faint green underskin of a lily.
The Sorceress smiled and took the elegant stopper out of the bottle and poured a portion into a small vessel of violet glass. A wonderful scent filled the air of wet Spring grasses and flowers. The Queen felt as if the very breath of Life Eternal filled the air. When the Sorceress handed her the drink, the Queen quaffed it down without a thought, charmed at the way the elixir, for that is what it must be, warmed her limbs and calmed her nervous heart.
“Now, this elixir shall help you to bear a child to term, and it shall be a beautiful child, healthy, and worthy of a kingdom. His Highness, the King, shall be so pleased, he will fall in love with you all over again. I only ask for one thing in return,” said the Sorceress, gently passionate, as if she pleaded from her heart.
Oh thank you! Ask anything, anything you want!
“Invite me to your baby’s Christening, Your Majesty. Make me her Godmother! I would so love to be at her wedding, her births, and when the time arrives, I shall attend her funerary rites. I wish to be treated as part of the royal family, so that my exile out here in the wilderness shall not be so bitter any more.”
Is that all? Why of course. For, if all goes well, I shall be the happiest woman in the world!
When the Queen lay a-bed in sudden labor, far above the noise of the celebrations that the King had ordained to take place throughout the kingdom, nine ladies from the wood, wearing translucent green gowns, and luminous bi-horned headdresses, crowded around her bed whispering enchantments:
We bestow upon this child exquisite beauty,…charm…wealth…strength… a lovely voice…grace…good fortune…kindness…power….
The chief of these ladies was the graceful Sorceress who stood like a shaft of violet moonlight, at the foot of the bed, watching with an interested smile upon her face.
The Queen’s labor was mercifully fast and, unlike those changelings who had torn away from her in waves of agony and blood, almost painless. The midwife bustled around, singing charms under her breath, leaning over the Queen, as if she did not notice the nine ladies, tall and stately though they were. Rather, she moved through them as if they were nothing more than shadows thrown across the bed from the images of the saints embedded in the stained glass windows.
“Such a clever Queen you are this time, Highness. This one is quick as Mercury! And look out! Here he comes! Push now, just a little harder…Here he comes! It…is …a…girl…”
The Queen sighed over the midwife’s worried disappointment. The Sorceress smiled in the shadows, her eyes glowing in the dark like embers. The new born cried as the nurse wiped the blood away in a basin.
“A beautiful baby,” said the midwife. “Good thing too. It’ll be easier to marry her off to a great house when the time comes. If she stays beautiful, that is.”
The Queen smiled, and held her now rounded arms out to hold the baby. She cuddled the clean, swaddled infant to her hot, damp body, lifting her head weakly, and cooing at her.
The beautiful Sorceress glowed white and green, her secret face flashed, and then she vanished. The nine ladies whirled away in a glimmering, smoky haze, out into the night.
To be continued….
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Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 parts:
- Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 9
- Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 8
- Roses, Briars, Blood: part 7
- Roses, Briars, Blood:Part 6
- Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 5
- Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 4
- Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 3
- Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 2