Roses, Briars, Blood
My dark version of Briar Rose continues…
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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: