Roses, Briars, Blood: part 7

Roses, Briars, Blood

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

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Roses, Briars, Blood: Part Seven

The beautiful Sorceress was gazing at her reflection in a tall mirror. Her face was like a sundial on which the passage of time was kept by the balance of light to darkness, and now the shadows lingered around her eyes, and the forelock of her raven hair was powdered with sudden snow.

Yet the face of the Princess Mirabelle retained the freshness and bloom of youth, and like sunlight captured in clear crystal, she glowed with a ceaseless inner light. The roses around her bed never faded, rather they grew in lush arrangements, as if jealous of intruders in the Princess’s domain. Sometimes the Sorceress heard voices around the Princess’s bed, humming a low minor air and then drifting away.

The nine ladies, she thought resentfully. Will they never cease? They were meant to work for me!

Restless and unhappy, the Sorceress went out to wander the the labyrinthine paths of the snowy garden. Her reverie was suddenly broken by a strange undulation in the roses that trellised the walls of the tower. She quickly drifted over the snow to see what it was, and what she saw froze her blood.! A young man, handsome enough to be a Prince, was standing among the strong branches of the roses, climbing up wall of  the tower.

How had he found his way through the mirror clouds? The Sorceress stood directly below him on the path, and stared up at his violet cloaked back, but he took no notice of her.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” she shouted.

The young man, startled, turned to look down, lost his grip, and slipped. He fell and fell until he was caught in the tangled rose branches, and buried under the blossoms. The more he struggled to free himself, the tighter the thorns held him, until finally, he grew still, and moved no more.

As the Prince’s cries faded away, the beautiful Sorceress flew back to the tower chamber where Princess Mirabelle was sleeping. She paced around the curtained bed, so like a bier sometimes, or a sarcophagus. What magic did the Princess do in her sleep to draw them to her, for surely she lived in an endless dream, or she would not be sleeping, but dead.

Perhaps in her dreams she spins. She sends out threads like spiders silk. The threads attach to Princes, as she wills, and then she pulls them to her, wishing for rescue before the time is up. The Sorceress brooded over this for a long while.

The Sorceress stood before the enchanted mirror and looked out into the world.
She saw another Prince on a fine horse, coming through the forest towards the castle.

They know about us, Princess Mirabelle. But how do they know? No one from the Palace could have told them.

A sweeping gray cloak hung in the wardrobe. It had enough fabric to hide the graceful slenderness of the Sorceress’s body, and the hood was deep enough to conceal her face as she went through the streets of the Kingdom on the other side of the river.

The winter that held sway in the mountains, gave way to high summer in the valley, and when the Sorceress set her feet down in the courtyard of the Castle in the Kingdom on the Other Side of the River, the Courtiers looked at her strangely.

“Hallo, old woman, isn’t it warm for that cloak? Mind the heat.”

“Yes. It can be dangerous for one of your years to become overly hot.”

Stung, the Sorceress drew herself up to her full height, and turned the glowing lamps of her eyes on them.

“Oh, she’s mad,” one of them scoffed. They hurried away.

Oh, I wonder…The Sorceress covered her face with her hands, feeling it for lines. It must be this cloak that gives them the impression I am old…

Slipping through the narrow cobbled streets, the Sorceress made her way to the Palace, for wasn’t that where Princes lived? Soon the fine portal loomed before her. Smiling and coy, she had only to slip a golden coin into the hand of the smirking guard to be allowed inside. The great doors opened and the light of a thousand candles shone through.


Inside the Palace hall, the atmosphere was subdued; the elegant Courtiers walked quietly in slippered feet, their rich satin clothes glowing in the candlelight. They spoke in whispers, as if to make a sound would bring on a terrible headache. A grand staircase rose toward magnificent windows of colored glass. As the Sorceress ascended the stairs, she heard voices floating and echoing in the chambers above. Wrapped in her gray cloak, she was like rain upon a window, or a shadow cast by torchlight. Blended thus, she moved from corner to corner, following the sound of the voices without being seen. Suddenly a door opened and a Queen walked out. She was dressed all in white as if in deepest mourning. A small crown was perched upon her head, and her once lovely face was creased with lines.  A priest walked beside her, bent towards her in sympathy.

“I fear I will be dead before they wake,” said the Queen. “ It has been so many years…”

“”Ah, Your Highness, they sleep under deep enchantment, for they do not age as we have. If we could only find the witch that cast this spell upon them, I am sure they would be restored to you.”

“But we have sent forth many search parties. They return claiming the Sorceress must surely be dead by now. There is a strange tower in the mountains, they say, covered over with red roses. The Sorceress’s Tomb they call it. You don’t think she is immortal do you?’”

“Impossible, Highness. Only the soul is immortal, and she does not have one.”

The Sorceress watched the white Queen and the priest go down the stairs, and when they were quite well away, she hurried on her silent feet, for they did not quite touch the ground, toward the lighted chamber they had left.

Ringed by candle branches, laid out on twin biers, she saw a King and handsome Prince in the same deep slumber as Princess Mirabelle.

Top image from the film :The Brothers Grimm

To be continued….

Click here for Part 8 : Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 8

Please comment!

Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 6

Roses, Briars, Blood

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

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Roses, Briars, Blood: Part Six

As the snow fell, the kingdom slept.
The beautiful Sorceress stood at the window. It had once looked out over deep slopes of pine and rock, waterfalls and caves, but now the glass was encrusted with ice that admitted only a dim, cold light that shone along the throat and facebones of the Sorceress so her skin shone like a pearl under water. Bored, listless, she traced the lace-like patterns in the ice with a long, jeweled finger. The heat of her finger melted the frost, uncovering a layer of opalescent glass etched with snowflakes. The beautiful Sorceress sighed.
“They look the webs of spiders. The whole castle is ringed with them. The Princess and I wait in the middle to be devoured by Old Spider Time.”

The wavering flames of candles and torches were the only light the Sorceress ever saw now, for winter days were naught but an endless twilight that bled into darkest night. She wandered the endless corridors, drifted up and down the grand stairways, lighting and re-lighting, by sorcery, her thousands of candles as she passed. By sorcery, she changed her gowns as she walked, and by sorcery, she flew over the gardens to look at  the roses that continuously crept up the sides of the tower, in full bloom, despite the snow.
On this day, she gazed in awe at the roses, for they grew very high about the tower and had begun to entwine around the portals, windows, and gargoyles of the castle. the roses were scarlet red and open like gouts of blood against the soft pallor of the snow, their black thorns curving like hooks. It reminded the Sorceress of the Princess’s white hand dripping with blood from the wounding spindle.  But, since she believed this vision was a mirror of her own magic, the Sorceress did not question the true meaning of roses blooming in winter, nor the death that was buried under them.

But on this day, the Sorceress discovered the body of a Prince hanging in the roses. He was tangled in the branches high above the ground as if he had been climbing up the side of the tower, had missed his footing, and fallen to his death, impaled on the strong, black talons of the thorns. His eyes sought the high window of the tower for eternity now.
Why was he there? She must find out, for she thought the nine ladies form the woods had put them all to sleep for one hundred years. Perhaps the Prince had come from a far kingdom.
“They said she would sleep for one-hundred years unless wakened by a Prince’s kiss. I must find out how fast this news has spread among Princes.”

*********

As Mirabelle slept, she dreamed. Gazing from the top of a high tower, she saw a Prince coming along the road. Over and over again he came, but he never got farther than the outside walls of the castle. Sometimes she flew through the air, over forests and mountain peaks. There was a castle in the mountains covered with snow and roses. She flew into the tower where the roses grew over the windows, and forgot where she was. Then she felt she was lying in a pool beneath a layer of ice.  It was dark under there, and the water was cold. Someone walked over her, their boots squeaking and their voice muffled by the snow. Blood splattered down on the ice, staining it bright red. The blood turned into rose petals. Their stems twined around her, holding her in a cage held together with thorns over which roses bloomed and died and bloomed again.

I shall go mad, she thought, for she could think in her endless sleep, if someone doesn’t wake me up.

*********

Not long after the kingdom fell into its enchanted sleep, a troupe of Traveling Players wandered into it, looking for an inn and audience. They found the inn, but the audience looked like figures of wax posed in the acts of drinking and conversation. The Players, finding the castle gates open, and the Gatekeeper frozen with his keys, went into the castle yard, and through the entrance to the Great Hall.

There was a large audience in the banqueting hall frozen in the midst of a feast — a waxworks feast, the players declared all at once.  Another troupe of Players was already there, fixed in grotesque cartwheels, or frozen in the air in the midst of a somersault! They displayed, what the Traveling Players described later on in their tales, a complete lack of elegance and grace. They obviously failed to entertain the two Kings whose heads were on their hands, and their mouths open and snoring. A handsome Prince sat around the corner of the table near the Kings, slumped in his chair holding a small bright object in his hand in which he seemed enraptured even in sleep. The food on the table was still very good, for the very forces of life and death had been arrested under the sorcerous enchantment.

“What can have happened?” the Players muttered as they explored on room after another.

Finally they gave up trying to figure it out and, used to living in an enchanted world, they each found a sumptuous Royal bed and spent a few days living in high style. But Traveling Players being what they are, they were soon on their way, now armed with the most astonishing story of a lost kingdom populated with life-sized dolls.

While on the road, the Players had also seen, high above the trees, a strange tower covered with roses and snow. What could possible live in such a place but a captive Princess guarded by dragon. And so the tale was spread through villages and towns, earning the Players warm hospitality, and much money. Eventually, they were invited to into the Royal Court of the Kingdom on the Other Side of the River where the Queen and the Court were hungry for news of their vanished King and Prince Agramant.

Candle image by Matt Austin

For Part 7 click here:

Roses, Briars, Blood: part 7

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Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 Parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 5

Roses, Briars, Blood

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

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Roses, Briars, Blood: Part Five

That same day, the King was banqueting with the King from Across the River discussing preparations for the marriage  of Princess Mirabelle and Prince Agramant. The dowry was to be most magnificent. Apart from her jewels, pearls, precious stones and fabrics, the Princess would bring two hundred thousand gold pieces, paid in ten yearly installments of ten thousand each, secured by the rents of the towns and villages of the kingdom.

“And,” the King smiled as if he enjoyed a private joke,”She will also bring with her, a priceless collection of gloves created by the great Milanese artisan, Sebastiano.”

“Oh,” said the King from Across the River. “I would enjoy seeing that!”

Prince Agramant sipped his wine, smiling with his perfect teeth, his dark eyes flashing. “When shall I meet the Princess? I have been told she is very beautiful. Is she more beautiful than the fair Lady I saw looking down from a high balcony as we entered the castle? Surely no one could be more exquisite than that! Could it have been the Princess that I saw?”

The Prince looked abstracted and pushed his glossy hair back form his face, sighing.

The two Kings laughed together, raising their eyebrows at the Prince. They looked, one at the other, about to speak, and then froze when they caught each others’ eyes. Then they burst out laughing once again.

The King wasn’t sure how he felt about the eagerness of the Prince to see his daughter. Mirabelle was his little girl, after all. With that thought in mind, he quaffed his wine and looked daggers at the Prince over his goblet. The Prince continued to smile to himself as if he had no idea of the implications.

“Tomorrow you shall see her for the first time. At the grand ball,” the King finally said to break the silence. “In the meantime, I have a small gift for you. Here.”

The King dangled a silver locket in front of the Prince as if daring him to accept it. The Prince grabbed it playfully and opened it up with a loud laugh. Then he grew quiet and said,

“But it is that same exquisite Lady I saw on the balcony. Her very likeness! And what is this under the cover of the locket, but a skein of her golden hair!”

The Prince looked mesmerized causing the King to laugh nervously, glancing form the tail of his eye at the King from Across the River who looked soberly down at his plate lost in thought.

“Well,” said the King, Princess Mirabelle’s father. “My Miniaturist is a genius. He has captured my daughter’s likeness exactly. I am glad she does not disappoint you, young man.”

The Prince leaned toward the King, barely containing his excitement. “ Such beauty could never disappoint! Did you know that her beauty is sung by the troubadours who have taken their songs from our Kingdom Across the River, all the way to Paris, and now they shall return here to sing of the beauty of the Princess Mirabelle for the wedding. They say her hands shine like silver, her face is as pure as exquisitely carved ivory, and her hair hangs like sheets of iridescent gold. Now I know it is true. How lucky I am!” the Prince cried looking at his father with fire in his eyes. “Let me see her at once!”

“You must wait, Agramant,” said the King from Across the River, watching the King’s reaction from the tail of his eye. “A gentleman must not be too hasty. Perhaps we shall go hawking in the morning while the Princess prepares for the ball tomorrow night. Work off a little steam, as it were.”

“Yes,” said the King. “I would like that, We have a fine forest here full of game. The young Prince may as well get used to hunting in it straight away. You will meet my sons today, if that is any consolation.”

The two Kings and the Prince crashed their goblets together, and drank healths to each other, while the acrobats turned cartwheels, walked on their hands, or sprung circles in the air, and the Court minstrels sang songs about the wonders of true love.


When the Princess arrived at the top of the stairs, she stepped onto a a landing with a long gallery, that looked down over what once must have been a palatial ballroom, now under layers of dust. The sound of the singing, and the bells, drew her to a partly opened door where the glow of firelight shone through.  The Princess passed through the door into a vast bedchamber with high ceilings and tall windows, and standing before the hearth in the light cast by the fire, was a tall, dark lady with a spindle in her hand. From her other hand dangled a bobbin that whirled round and around, faster and faster, as she sang the name of Mirabelle. The sound of silvery bells scintillated in the air, invisible, and the floor slightly trembled with gongs, causing the long shadow of the lady to waver over it like a flame.

“Who are you?” asked Princess Mirabelle, entranced by the mysterious presence of the beautiful woman who vaguely reminded her of a figure in a recurring dream.

“Come closer and I will tell you,” said the lady, spinning the bobbin round and round.

“What is that?” asked Princess Mirabelle, for she had never seen a spindle before.

“Come closer and I will show it you,” the lady said.

The Princess, suspecting no harm, did as she was told.

“Do you like the sheen of the silken thread?” the lady asked, holding the spindle up before the Princess’s eyes. “I have been spinning it for a long, long time. It is the softest and strongest thread in the land. First, I spun the copper thread, then the silver. Now, I spin the gold. Look closer. It is made more beautiful with hair-like strands of red and black mixed in.”

The Princess put her face very close to the spindle. “It is lovely,” she said.

“Here, hold it for yourself. Try pulling the silk and see how fine it is. It is like your hair,” the lady said smiling with admiration. “Perhaps you will enjoy the magic of spinning.”

As the Princess grasped the spindle, she put her finger over the very top. It was sharp! It cut her!

“Ah!” the Princess cried out, watching her finger blossom with a stream of sudden blood. She looked at the woman, pleading for help. “The room is spinning! Oh my,” she cried as she fell to the floor and blacked out.

“How dreadful,” said the Sorceress. “How very dreadful.”

A strange, heavy reflecting cloud fell over the Palace so that the day darkened to twilight, and snow began to fall. There were bells ringing, close, yet far away, increasing the silence with their sound as of waves crashing on a distant shore. The servants moved slowly around the table as if they walked in their sleep. The acrobats paused in their contortions, and the minstrels fell down in a picturesque pile of hat feathers, cloaks and mandolins.

The Prince struggled to stay awake, but when he saw the heads of his father and the King nodding, he, too, surrendered to sleep. And as he slipped into darkness, he dreamed he was falling down a deep well into a tangle of blood red roses. As he fell into them, they bore his body up on a nest of thorns, and there he rested, gazing up at a small circle of winter sky. Crows flew over it, black flapping against the white clouds. Snow was falling on the roses that grew up the inside walls of the well, turning them white. The Prince was dimly aware of the face of a dark woman looking down at him from the circle of sky, before he slipped away into oblivion.

*******

If they had been awake, the King’s subjects would have see a heresy: the Sorceress, with the sleeping Princess at her side, flying through the air towards the forest. She landed on the parapet of her Castle, and carried the Princess into a high tower where a luxurious bed, draped in pale satin brocade, awaited its royal occupant.

The Sorceress placed the Princess so that her shimmering hair streamed over the pillows, her shining hands were folded over her breast, and her feet were pointed delicately. Then she wrapped her in gauzy spells, and lucid dreams, spinning a magic cage around her so that no other sorceries could get in.

“One-hundred years is but a day in my world,” said the Sorceress. “The time will soon pass, and then where will you be?”

But the nine ladies of the woods  were listening by means of their long ear horns, and they knew their spell was being undermined by the clever Sorceress.

“All we can do is make the one-hundred years pass as in mortal time, and this we shall do by wrapping the tower around with briar roses. It will take the roses one-hundred years to reach the top of the tower. Thus, the spell shall dissolve when the Sorceress is no more. The roses shall also serve to keep the Princess in the perpetual summer of youth, and prevent the Sorceress’s winter of age touching her.”


To be continued….

Click here for Part 6: Roses, Briars, Blood:Part 6

Comments are always welcome!

Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 4

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 4

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

Kimded

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Mp3: Roses, Briars, Blood: Part Four

When the Princess’s wedding day approached, the King grew anxious. He squabbled with the Queen when she interrupted his brooding and pacing the long corridors, with news of another wedding guest needing the Royal Suite, plus extra rooms for his retainers, or threats that the Prince of Bohemia was going to entertain the Court with his devilish collection of automatons, or that the entire west wing was haunted, so who could they expect to stay there?

The King nodded while the Queen worried on, but did not hear a word she said. He continued to ruminate, certain of only one thing: that whatever he did to protect his daughter must be kept absolutely secret.  After many weeks of deep conflict, he simply had her moved, in the dark of the night, into sumptuous, but neglected, chambers in a remote part of the Palace. These rooms were so rarely visited, he had to have a map drawn up just so he could find them again.

Now the Princess was alone. She spent the whole day looking out over the balcony, wondering if she would be able to see the Prince’s entourage approaching along the road for the wedding. But she saw  only the mountains , pines, clouds, and birds flying past on the wind. Her nurse was often asleep beside the fire, for the Princess made few demands. Because she was locked in, she saw no reason to wear the beautiful but uncomfortable  diamond gloves all the time, so they often sat on her dressing table beside her hair brushes and bottles of scent, outshining of all her other unnecessary jewels. Reading by the fire, she occasionally looked up from her book, and sighed with resigned expectation.

One night, the Princess was awakened when a shaft of bright moonlight was caught in the filmy curtains that blew into the room from the open window casement, setting the room alight, and like moonbeams, the nine ladies from the woods floated in, murmuring, and gazing at the Princess with deep eyes like shadows in their luminous faces. The sound of gongs rolling under the shimmer of silvery bells, came drifting down from someplace higher up within the Palace. The music was haunting and seductive. The Princess sat up to listen to it while the nine ladies stood around her bed in a ring of pale shadows.

“What is that music?” asked the Princess, for she thought she heard a voice among the bells, calling her name in  a scale of falling, ghostly notes.

Miiiraaa…Miiiraaa…Miiiraaa…bellellellellellell….

She was answered by a breeze whistling in, that blew the lighted curtains up so that they swirled like white smoke.

The nine ladies stepped forward as of moved by the sound of the bells. They swayed and rippled in the mottled shadows, there, and then not, and there again, like a flash of lightening. A low moaning chant erupted from them like a warning.

“Someone wants me?” the Princess said sitting up.

Miiiraaa…Miiiiraaa….Miiiiraaa….bellellellellellellll….

The Princess got out of bed slowly, and putting a long cloak on over her nightgown, walked toward the door of her chamber. She heard whispering voices, and felt the nine ladies touching her as if to hold her back, but the voice was calling, and calling, just audible under the steady jingling of the bells.

“Someone wants me,” she said. “I must go.”

The Princess was suddenly startled by a sharp whack! She turned to see the diamond gloves had fallen onto the floor. The nine ladies called for a storm. Winds began to buffet the room, and the sound of thunder rolled. The nine ladies stood before the door, blocking the Princess’s way.

Another, louder voice cried out.

“Mirabelle! What is going on in there?”

All of a sudden, the door grew as tall as a tower, and the nurse burst in, dwarfed in the doorway to the size of a terrier. The Princess screamed and ran back into the room. Spinning around, she came face to face with a tapestry of a dying swan edged with shining blue light.

The bells bonged and shimmered and the distant voice called her.

“I must go!” she cried.

Pushing the tapestry aside, the Princess found a gap in the wall. She hurried through it and entered a passageway with stair leading up into the darkness where the bells came from, and the voice was calling, calling, calling her.

*********

The bobbin of her spindle dangled from her long hand, spinning faster and faster, as the beautiful Sorceress stood before her enchanted mirror and watched the Princess ascend the stairs. She sang the song of her name, Mirabelle, insinuating her thoughts into the Princess’s mind as she had always done, stealing the girls’ many gifts, given by the nine ladies, for herself. Now she would take back the Princess’s whole body, for was she not the true mother of this child? Had she not given of her own essence so that the Queen could carry her to birth? Mirabelle would be hers now, for one-hundred years, long enough for the Sorceress to feed off of, taking in everything, even greater beauty, and adding another century to her life.

To be continued…..

Top Image: Waiting Sorceress by Kimded

Click for Part 5: Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 5

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Roses, Brairs, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 3

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part Three

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

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With his daughter safely ensconced in a forest convent where the good sisters were ordered to keep strict watch on her, the King ordered every spinning wheel in the kingdom to be burned in the palace yard, on the same pyre that the Queen’s decapitated body, and her errant soul, had been sent up in smoke a month before. As he watched the fire from a high balcony, the King wondered, all the while, about the fate of the young Princess Mirabelle, tainted with witchcraft. Bowed down with these dark thoughts, he walked away from the spectacle, and sought solace in the shadows.

Of course without the means of spinning thread, the price of clothing increased. Much more time and  labor was involved in pulling the wool into yarn by hand, which was, yet, no where near as fine as wheel spun thread. Thus the serfs were forced to go about wearing the skins of wild beasts. The Court had always traded for silks and satins with the East, and the art of fashion thrived as the royal spinners tried their hands at stitchery, creating more fantastic garments than ever before.

All the while, the King’s army was out searching for the Sorceress, and though they scoured the forest and the mountainside, they could find no trace of her forbidding castle with its rings of high walls. The knights came back to the King’s Palace, fewer in number, and constantly bothering him with tales of an endless twilight atmosphere that clung about the forest. Strange apparitions appeared, floating lights, creatures with the bodies of animals and the heads of men, rows of trees with mirrors hanging among them that were impenetrable as walls, and the disorienting tinkling of thousands of bells over the deep pulsing of gongs. Strong men though they were, they were frightened.

The furious King had them all flogged and sent them out again, shouting “Bring back the Witch, or don’t come back at all!”

********

The beautiful Sorceress laughed. They had underestimated her. She had hidden the castle in a reflecting cloud of moonlight so that it merged with the trees in the forest. Then she ensorcelled herself in the most remote tower in the King’s own palace and bided her time, spinning.

The King married a new Queen who, unlike the first, was fat, rosy, and fertile. She gave him many strong sons who made a tremendous racket of noise in the palace, setting things alight and shooting objects through the air. The King was amused as his ministers dodged about with annoyed frowns on their faces, the favorite targets of the Princes’ high spirits.

Still, concern for his daughter buffeted the back of the King’s mind like a contained storm. In nine years, he had had no ill reports of her from the Good Sisters. In fact, he had had no reports at all. It was getting to be time to seal her betrothal to the Prince on the other side of the river. She must not get too old, or the alliance would be compromised. So the King sent a letter to the Holy Mother to ask about the Princess. Her answer was brief.

Greetings, Your Majesty,

The Princess is especially devoted to Our Lady of the Roses. She wears the emblems of that Saint, and it is our hope that she will take the veil as Sister Marie Rose.

Yours in Christ,
Mother Ignatius Teresa Barbara Josephine d’Annunciate

The King was not pleased about that.

So, on her tenth birthday, the King went to see his first born child.

He found that the nuns had grown anxious and possessive of the Princess, whispering to each other of their worry that the King would take her away from them.  When the King saw his daughter, he understood, for when she gazed at him with her light turquoise eyes, he was entranced. The simple black habit of the Convent was designed to erase vanity, but the Princess’s beauty shone forth more brightly, for it set off her pale skin and flaxen hair like a pearl on black velvet cushion. A single red rose was embroidered on her bodice with long hooked thorns that made the King think of claws. And under her sweet, docile manner, he detected a deep whirlpool of emotion, and sensed that she could see into his most hidden, secret parts. He decided not to pay attention to these thoughts, for he needed the Princess to be as he wanted her to be. He smiled jovially and rubbed his hands together as he approached Her stern Holiness.

“Ah, such a beautiful girl she has grown to be,” the King told Holy Mother. “ It is time for her betrothal, and I am sure the Prince will be well pleased with his bride. You have done an excellent job. I shall grant the convent more lands — perhaps the orchard that we passed along the way — as a reward for your kind nurturance of the Princess.”

“Thank you, I’m sure,” said Holy Mother.

The nuns looked askance as the Princess rode away with the King, worried about the watering down of her vocation as the evil worm of luxury entered her soul.

As he rode back to the Palace with his daughter, the King brooded. He remembered the danger of her fourteenth year — the year she was to marry the Prince — the year the curse was meant to take effect. One hundred years of sleep was like a death, was it not?

So the King sent forth a summons for the best, most talented silversmiths, from everywhere in the world, to make his daughter gloves of silver, hinged and padded inside so that her fingers could move, and so the metal would not pinch her pale, delicate skin. A great artist came from Venice and created a pair of gloves woven of real silver thread with cuffs embroidered with a motif of roses, set with rubies, and with beautiful, tapering fingers jointed in all the right places. When the Princess pulled them over her wrists, she went into ecstasies as her hands shone and sparkled in the sunshine.

“Nothing shall pierce those fingers now, my child!” said the King. “Now you are doubly safe.”

And each year after that, new gloves were fitted and made more elaborately than the ones before. Her eleventh year saw a pair of hands encrusted with pearls, the next pair were made of ivory and gold, and so on, The Princess could do nothing with such hands except admire them. She was tired most of the time anyway, so it didn’t really matter. She was content to sit beside the moat under a tree and look at the swans, or stroll along the labyrinth in the walled garden, or sit in the rose entwined bower beside the well, affecting a vacant look, for she did not like personal questions.  But deep inside, dark images moved in and out of her inner vision, obsessing her, drawing her away from the world, draining her of all her qualities. She constantly sensed she was being watched, and once she thought she saw a woman spying on her from the trees, and once a face, that was not her own, was looking up at her from under the water of the moat.

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The Sorceress watched Princess Mirabelle from an enchanted mirror, fascinated by her increasingly eerie, white beauty as she grew from child to young woman. She was amused by the jeweled gloves the King had so painstakingly made for her, as if Fate could be thwarted by such means!  And the nine ladies from the woods were but to be mocked!
They guarded the Princess by standing in a ring around her bed at night, and accompanying her on her walks about the palace grounds. But, though protective, the influence of the nine ladies was isolating. They created an impenetrable night around Princess Mirabelle that kept, not the Sorceress, but all other people, away.

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On Princess Mirabelle’s fourteenth birthday, the King held a great celebration, calling to witness every single living thing in the kingdom. A fine artist from Milan presented the Princess with gloves made of nothing but diamonds, proclaiming them hardest substance in the world, impervious to all penetration. Princess Mirabelle was amazed at how her hands caught the light and cast rainbows on the walls and ceiling, turning frosty in the moonlight, or  deep red in the nimbus of the fire.

But her joy was short lived, for Mirabelle’s fourteenth year was one of increasingly dark moods, nights of bewildered tears, and blood. Her hands swelled and hurt inside the stiff gloves so that she often took them off. On the nights of the full moon she lay in bed unsleeping and saw, or thought she saw, tall faeries standing around her bed. They wore filmy gray-green gowns, and on each of their heads was a bi-horned headdress that shone like the moon.

But they were only impressions, really. Like creatures in a strong, vivid dream…

Spiral in Pine Woods image by Stu Jenks

To be continued…..

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Link to next part: Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 4

Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 2

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part Two

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

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Now the Queen was adored again.

The King sat next to her at the banqueting table, beaming. He was surprisingly glad that the child was a girl, and explained to his skeptical courtiers that he had always wanted to seal an alliance with the powerful kingdom on the other side of the river. This daughter would certainly grow to be beautiful, and worthy, of the hand of the Prince. And the Queen, having proven herself,  could strive to do better next time.

“Because of our daughter, we may look forward to our future with confidence,” the King said to the Queen one night as he removed his nightshirt and got into bed. “Let us make a son now. Come on, my love. Snuggle up!”

The Queen recoiled. The thought of another birth frightened her. She could not tempt Fate again by going to the Sorceress twice. As it was, she didn’t know how to tell the King that the most horrifying woman in the realm was to be invited to the baby’s Christening.

As she lay under the King, dark thoughts began to cloud the Queen’s mind.The image of the beautiful Sorceress entering the hall in a dark slithering gown, sitting down to dine among the nobles of the land, capturing the candlelight just to steal the glamor of the night, smiling her serpent smile at the Holy Father… What if she stood up and raised a glass to the Queen, congratulating her on the birth of a child? Drawing undue attention to herself! The Queen almost gasped as she imagined her guests rising in protest, crying, “Seize the witch!” — Not the Sorceress who, by magic, slides away into the shadows, but the Queen!

She stared up at the Danse Macabre on the wall opposite the bed, and stifled a scream.

When the time came for the baby’s Christening, the King called for a grand celebration. Bells rang throughout the kingdom as the Holy Father and his Cardinals processed through the narrow streets to bless the tiny child whose unexpected survival brought so much happiness to the King, and fulfillment to the Queen. The Princess was to be called Mirabelle because of her beauty, and her miraculous birth.

The Queen’s joy was feigned, for in the midst of the clanging and bonging of the bells of the city, she heard those other bells ringing far off, but distinct — the bells she had heard at the castle of the Sorceress. Her heat sinking into her stomach, the Queen brooded on the sound, trying to tell how close the bells were, and if they were coming any closer. Her face, squeezed into its tight wimple, was a mask of maternal joy over utter terror. She had decided that her commerce with the Sorceress had all been a dream ( how else could the midwife not have seen her and those faeries ringing her bed?). So she did not invite the Sorceress to the Christening.Now she shuddered, for she knew that, invited or not, the Witch was coming.

The Queen looked at her child in the bassinet beside her and smiled her rare smile. The baby daughter was beautiful. Suddenly, just as she began to warm toward the sleeping infant, her nurse came to take the baby behind a rosewood screen so the Queen could be free to entertain  her guests.

The bells rang the hour. They rang another hour. And another…

The celebrations were getting long. The noise and the crowd exhausted the Queen. She was sitting, languid with fatigue, beside the King at the head of the banqueting table when the First Cardinal came forward to call them to the Cathedral for the Christening. Waking from a doze, the Holy Father nodded. He stood up ready and smiling, his eyes twinkling from too much wine.

They all proceeded to the Cathedral and crowded into the alcove where the baptismal font stood on an altar carved with leaves to look like an archaic, sacred well in the center of  a dark forest. The Princess was lying in a gilded ivory bassinet beside the altar, tended by a nun who seemed intent on keeping the Queen at bay.

Just as the Holy Father was about to begin his sermon on the blight of Original Sin, and the necessity of God’s grace, the sounds of  powerful wind, thundered, banged, and echoed through the arches and the columns, rising to the ceilings and whistling down the aisles. And under that roaring were deep gongs, and the faint, silvery scintillation of the bells known only to the Queen…


Alarmed, the Queen stood up and instinctively pushed her way through the crush of guests to rescue her child. When she got to to the altar, she froze dead in her tracks, for standing around the bassinet, in a glowing green haze, were the nine ladies from the woods. They looked at the Queen with eyes like green flames, as out from among them, walking forward like Doom, was the beautiful Sorceress.

“My child! Give me my child!” the Queen cried. Her voice rang loud in the heavy silence of the vault.

The Sorceress hissed at the Queen, her eyes like whirlpools filled with strange sparks. She rose up above the the crowd,  revealing herself to the nobles and courtiers, the Cardinals, the Holy Father, the King! Wickedly, she hovered in the air in the House of God!

“NO!” screamed the Queen, dragging her long veils behind her to reach the Princess Mirabelle, yet her eyes fastened on the Sorceress and the long snaky tail uncoiling under her gown.

The Sorceress looked down at all the guests who had, to a man, gone rigid with shock. Even the King and the Holy Father and all of the Cardinals stood petrified in the liquid  violet light shining forth from the Sorceress.

“So Your Majesty, you don’t deem me worthy to attend the Christening of your child — a child who would never have been born without my magic. Therefore, I shall take back what I have given. When Princess Mirabelle reaches the age of fourteen years, she shall prick her finger on a spindle and die!”

“No! No!” cried the Queen. “I beg you. No.”

The Sorceress turned her baleful gaze at the Queen who seemed to have shrunk like a melted candle. “If you had kept your side of the bargain, you would have borne the second child to term as well — a son — and the kingdom would have thrived because of him.”

“What do you mean?” The Queen, in despair, covered her belly with her hands, glanced at the King, and fainted on the spot. His face slowly melted into a mask of rage.

A soft voice lilted over the now frantic babble of the guests, and filtered into the Queen’s ear as she swam just below consciousness.

“The child shall not die, my Queen. Rather, when she pricks her finger, she shall fall asleep for one-hundred years, or until a Prince wakens her with a kiss.”

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The next morning, the Queen was escorted to the tower and locked in. Several months later, she gave birth to a healthy boy who howled his way into the world like a wild animal or a madman. After that, she was beheaded in the public square.
Her bewitched, dismembered corpse was then burned in the fire so she would not come back to haunt the King.  He began to  wonder about the soul of his daughter. When, three days later, the baby boy died, what was left of the King’s heart died with him.

The Princess Mirabelle was sent into a convent in the forest, to be cared for by nuns.

To be continued….

Click here: Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 3

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Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis