Roses, Briars, Blood
My dark version of Briar Rose continues…
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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….
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Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 parts: