Roses, Briars, Blood
by Arlene deWinter, 2009
My darker version of Briar Rose continues to The End
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The silver puddle of his sword lying on the cobbles flashed as a lick of flaming dragon’s breath struck the air in front of Prince Agramant. He shot a look up at the gigantic beast, whose slit green eyes blazed in its slender snakes head. She gazed down at him almost kindly, as her sinuous, long neck curved around the turret, protective as a mother. “Well,” said the Prince to himself. “Weapons are useless, but I will have my Princess. I dreamed of nothing but her for what feels like a century.” Gallantly, the Prince dove into a shadowed cranny. Fire crossed the open space at his back, scorching the air so that it briefly took his breath away. The cranny turned out to be a short narrow passage between high walls that curved up the side of the tower. Overjoyed at this discovery, the Prince hurried up the slope, proud that he had foiled the dragon, and certain that the passage led to a door into the tower where his Princess was held captive, waiting for him to save her. Looking straight up at the sky far above him, the Prince saw the dragon watching him intently. Though he shivered inside, he raised hie fist at it and shouted, “You can’t get me in here! You may be large. Your may breathe fire! But I am small enough to slip through that door and get inside. Try setting me alight now!” The dragon cocked its head as if it could hear the Prince’s rant from such distance. As its head lunged back, the Prince had a brief moment to realize that, if the flames could reach him, he would be roasted alive within the stone oven of the walls instantly. But fear only spurred him on!
It was with a joyous laugh that Princess Mirabelle watched the dragon swaying over the tower. Suddenly, the dragon opened her vast wings spread so wide, that they blocked out the sun, and her flaming breath took its place like an enormous torch in the sky. In the now deep shadows, the air had thickened to fog so that the Princess had to rely on the beacon of dragon fire to find her way to the turret.
Finally, she saw the rose covered parapet just below. With a great sight, the Princess willed herself to land, and the minute her feet hit the paving stones, she rushed through the tall window casement that still remained open as she had left it weeks ago.
Inside, she heard the eerie, echoing sound of someone crying. It came from the direction of the bed chamber. Now somber, Princess Mirabelle went slowly. Through the chamber door she saw the Prince with his head in his hands moaning and sobbing as if his heart would break. She must be dead, thought Princess Mirabelle. But not so! For a voice rose from the bed. A voice as dry and spare as winter leaves, old beyond time. The Princess crept up behind the Prince and looked over his shoulder. There in the bed was her own body, aged and crumpled and dusty as a woman who had lived in captivity for one-hundred years.
Suddenly the room was filled with the scintillation of bells with deep gongs underneath, and a lashing flame of fire poured through the window. The sound of crackling embers jarred the Prince to his feet. But the Princess was not frightened, for within the flames danced the Nine Ladies from the Woods.
As the fire died away, the Ladies circled the bed murmuring a dark and resonant chant. The Prince, heavy with grief and disappointment, fell back on the bed. He did not see the Nine Ladies, nor Princess Mirabelle, but the Sorceress inside the desiccated body did. She lifted herself painfully up on her pillows, and stretched forth her arms as if to embrace the spirit of the Princess and the Nine Ladies in one. The Prince looked around bewildered, and when he suddenly beheld the spirit of Princess Mirabelle, he turned pale with a look of amazement and dread.
“What are you?” he shouted, his wild eyes glancing all over the room as if he could not locate the source of his fear. “Witches! The evil Sorceress’s minions! Your Mistress is dead and on her way to Hell.”
He stood up with shaking legs and reached for his sword. It wasn’t there, so he pulled out his dagger and began slashing at the air. Suddenly, the dagger was struck from his hand.
Princess Mirabelle felt herself grow heavy and, as if in a dense and glowing mist, she raised her hand before her face, and saw it.
You are showing yourself to the Prince in your true shape as Princess Mirabelle, the Nine Ladies whispered.
The Prince looked confused with emotions he never knew he had as he looked at the ghost of Princess Mirabelle. He fell to his knees and clasped his hands as if in prayer. “Oh, you are an angel come to me from Heaven. But I am too late. The Sorceress’s curse has destroyed everything.”
A cry came from the bed. The Sorceress, in the ancient body of Princess Mirabelle, sat up, leaning weakly against the opulent pillows, and whispered.
“Come to me. Please. Have your old body back. I would rather be a spirit than this.”
The Nine Ladies sang a deep and powerful song, and inside the song were words that only Princess Mirabelle could hear. And underneath that was the shimmer of a thousand silver bells.
You are immortal, Princess Mirabelle. Take back your old body and be young and beautiful again.
But what of the Sorceress?
There was a deep rumbling sound as of Nine Ladies conversing among themselves. Then, like a cold north wind their words struck her.
We cannot kill, and we have an ancient pact to assist the Sorceress in all her magical works. Therefore we would have you share the body. That way you, Princess Mirabelle, shall have the powers of the Sorceress, and the Sorceress shall learn to how to be gentle and kind, and to receive love. In that way, your magical powers will be used only for good. Go now, and embrace your other half.
And before the Prince’s stricken eyes, Princess Mirabelle embraced the Sorceress, and slowly melted like snow until she disappeared.
The Prince leaped to his feet in shock and horror.
“What are you doing? How can you, my Angel, embrace a Devil?”
As he stared in fixed confusion at the ancient body in the bed, he saw a change. The face smoothed out and began to glow, the hair came alive with shimmering gold, the eyes sparkled, the whole body became firm, supple, and young. The Prince spun around as if he would faint, but he gripped the bed post and stared as his Princess Mirabelle, the exact copy of she who had gazed down at him from the balcony so long ago, the exact replica of the face in the miniature that still hung about his neck, looked up at him with eyes of love.
“Come to me, my Prince. Kiss me and I shall be yours.”
The Prince stumbled forward and fell on the bed next to the beautiful Princess. Reaching, he placed his hand on the back of her neck, pulled her towards him, and kissed her. Suddenly, the very air trembled and an ethereal shout went up, and the bells rang louder than ever, as for a wedding.
Prince Agramant carried his Bride back home to the Kingdom Beyond the River, and on hearing how the whole castle had awakened from its enchanted sleep as if no time at all had passed, he brought Princess Mirabelle back home to her family who was just as young as they were before, except for the Traveling Players who had held their grotesque postures for so long that they would have been stuck that way for the rest of the lives but for the Magical Ministrations of the Princess.
A great wedding was held that brought the two kingdoms together. The only point of sadness was that the Prince’s mother, the Queen was dead. At this father, the King, wept both for joy and sadness.
Because of the marriage, peace came back to the Kingdom Beyond the River, for now the citizens knew that there would be a proper heir to the throne.
Prince Agramant and Princess Mirabelle lived happily ever after as long as the Princess’s mild and loving nature held sway. But sometimes, she was taken over by a dark twin who doubted Agramant’s love for her, and said biting, sarcastic things. Agramant was forced to understand that he had not just married a Princess, but a Sorceress as well, who in her spite that he had spurned her former dark beauty in preference to that of Mirabelle, smashed mirrors in his face, turned him into a dog, fed him on slops, and walked around naked with a cage about herself to which she alone had the key. Because of this the Prince could take nothing for granted and was forced to show his love by treating his wife with generosity and kindness no matter what mood she was in. This was not just to insure peace in the house, but also because the dark twin, the Sorceress, smelled of jasmine and roses, and was lit from within with a magical glamor so deep that he though she was a creature out of dream. Once she forgave him, she moved with a seductive power that the Princess, for all her bright beauty, warmth, and goodness, could never have indulged in alone.
As for her immortality, the Princess, now the Queen, passed this on from herself to the King in the way of roses and briars that is known, and has gone on, for thousands of years.
Illustrations by Kay Neilsen, L.Lipman, and the film The Brothers Grimm
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