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.
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.
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: