Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 8

Roses, Briars, Blood

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

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Roses, Briars, Blood : Part Eight

A tall shadow was was standing at the side of the bed. The shadow was always there, watching. It wore a choker of rubies that were cut to look like roses that shone in the hollow of it’s throat. The central pendant drew the eye, for it hung like a wet drop, dangling slightly forward. The Princess did not think that it was possible to cut rubies into the shapes of roses. The stones were set in a circlet of thorns made of blackened silver that pierced the shadow’s throat, opening the soft white skin so that drops of  scarlet blood trickled down, soaking the roses. The eyes of the shadow rolled up in her head so that only the whites showed, and then they glared down at the Princess, wild as a tiger ready to pounce.

The Princess tried to lash out at the apparition, to escape, but her body was locked, rigid as stone. Often when the night mare seized her, the warm presence of Nine Ladies form the Woods wafted around her bed, smiling and consoling her, lulling her with their songs, dissolving her nightmares in a sea of velvet oblivion. She called out to the Nine Ladies now.

Please help me…Make her go away…help me…where are you? Oh please come…help me…

Her cries did not echo back to her, but stayed cushioned in the silence of her mind, like the earth muffled under its coverlet of snow.

A cold blast of air came into the room, empty and bare as the branches of the trees that pierced the sky like spindles. Then the Princess saw the Nine Ladies, ethereal as the petals of faded flowers hanging by their necks from the trees, each one emitting a soft light that glowed from within, like a lamp. Their heads drooped down on the slender stalks of their bodies as they shifted back and forth in the breeze.

The face of a dark lady was staring at her from the inside of  a mirror…

Princess Mirabelle fell through a trapdoor in the floor under her bed. The well was netted with briar roses. And caught among the flowers were young men with staring sightless eyes, and further down, the deeper  below the ground she fell, the young men were naked, and then green, then black until, finally, they were bones.

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The beautiful Sorceress pondered what to do. On her return to the castle, she had found the bodies of nine more Princes impaled on high hedge of briar roses that grew around the castle like a wall. She laughed at the young men sacrificing themselves for a dream.

She could not erase from her mind the sight of the King and the Prince from the Kingdom Beyond the River sleeping the enchanted sleep of Princess Mirabelle, nor the aging of the Queen in comparison to them. She could not help worrying that, when the one-hundred years had passed, that they would come back to life and, in her frailty, strike her down to take the Princess away.

Pacing the floor in front of her magic mirror, the Sorceress watched for the Nine Ladies from the Woods, for she was sure they came in through the mirror. At the same time, she watched, from the tail of eye, how the sand piled up at the bottom of the Hour Glass of One-Hundred Years. This accumulation of time drove her back to the mirror to look at the map of her loneliness on the moon pale surface of her face, and she saw the shadows of the years stretching over it.

The Sorceress had come to believe that she needed Princess Mirabelle to stay alive. She had gradually  absorbed the girls’ qualities, given, through her, by the magic of the Nine Ladies. She drew the qualities into herself so that all the grace, the lilting voice, wealth, power, beauty,  and true love became part of her. She perceived that the body of the Princess Mirabelle did not grow toward death as all else did, that it was only an empty husk, a shell. If only she could get inside that shell! Then, as Fate decreed by sorcery, the Prince would come and wake her, and she would live the life of a Princess, and at the end of one-hundred years, be young and beautiful for a lifetime more.

But the Princess was more than an empty shell, and the Sorceress knew this. For she still had the power to draw Princes to the castle, and sometimes the expressions on her face changed so that the Sorceress knew that she dreamed.

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And then, one day, Princess Mirabelle dreamed that someone leaned over her and gave her a kiss. Startled she flinched and clutched the stems of the roses lying on her breast with her fingers. The sting of the thorns woke her. Lifting her arms, she reached up to embrace her savior, the Prince, but met nothing but air. Startled again her eyes flew open to a haze of firelight and a  distant window cobwebbed with frost.

I’m dreaming again…How many times have I had this dream? But this time it felt so real…

Suddenly the Princess was lifted into the air, and set upright on her feet. Contact with the floor felt strange, she was dizzy and weak with her head high above her shoulders, and her back exposed to the cold emptiness. A wintry blast shook her. She walked a little way, circling stiffly back toward the bed, wondering where the handsome Prince was, and not seeing one, thought she must be having a dream more vivid than usual. The Princess looked down at the bed and saw that she was still there, sleeping, her lovely, blooming face nestled in a mass of pale hair, and wearing a faded green gown with tarnished sequins spotted with dried blood.

What?…has my spirit fled my body?

Looking around, Princess Mirabelle thought to enjoy her new found freedom from her bodily prison and slowly circled the circumference of the room, examining the various rich objects, warming to the texture of soft fabrics, inhaling the scent of roses mixed with ambergris and a low note of something unknown to her, until, fascinated by their gleaming in the winter light, she was drawn towards the mirrors.

A once beautiful lady, with long white hair like a blast of snow on the wind, looked back.

The Princess stroked the long, plait that hung over her shoulder, and as she stroked the unfamiliar tresses, they turned dark. She gazed at the pale oval of her face, still unlined, but distant and marked with sorrow. As she gazed, she realized she was looking at the lady with the ruby choker, and that there was smear of blood over her lips. And that the longer she looked at her, the younger she grew.

Click here to continue: Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 9

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Roses, Brairs, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

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