The Keys: A Gothic Re-Telling of Bluebeard with Zombies PT One

have a few stories that have been out for a few years, so I think it time to share them on this blog. I found a sweet review of this one here: https://themodestvergebookblog.wordpress.com/tag/creepy/

Thank you Modest Verge!

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*
As his dark closet shows, Bluebeard was a collector at heart,
and even after dispatching a wife, could not let her depart? ——–Shuli Barzilai

*

I was only six when Mamma and Papa first took me to the Paris Opera to see a concert by the famous pianist, Monsieur Armand Guy de Rais. The moment he arrived on the stage, tall and gorgeous, with his wild blue-black hair and dark, sparkling eyes, I was smitten. Sitting at the jaws of a glossy beast of a piano, Monsieur played with such fire that my innocent soul was branded forever with the agony of passion. Mamma recalls me shaking and spattering my dress of cameo colored silk with tears. She chided me, but I’d been so seized by the violent beauty of his music, by his long fingers flying over the keys, yet touching them with exquisite tenderness, that I did not hear her.
I was shocked when he suddenly stood up and bowed for the applause. I tugged my mother’s sleeve: Is it over? It can’t possibly be over!

Suddenly everyone was towering above me clapping and shouting Bravo! leaving me in the dark, my view of Monsieur blocked by black coat tails and voluminous gowns.
Nine years later, we had to flee Paris. The rabble had broken into the Bastille. Fear swept us all out of the city on one giant wave. Mamma and I ended up in Brittany to stay with distant cousins while Papa remained to protect his house and treasure.

Those were days of great idleness for me. Even after so many years, Monsieur Armand remained my ideal of manhood. I had little to do but wander the gardens of the manoir fancying the unbearable sensation of his long pianist’s fingers stroking my hair and unbuttoning my dress. Imagine the thrill that seized me when my cousin, Delphine, told me of a ruined castle close by that bore the name le Chateau de Rais.

“Mamma forbids us ever to go there,” she said. “For it is the abode of highwaymen and cutthroats.”

Nevertheless, I rode the donkey to the fringes of the forest and stopped at the base of a high crag. At the top was a grim guard tower scaling high above the bastion of outward leaning curtain walls of dark blue stone. Foreboding rose out of the ground, silencing the earth.

Even the birds stopped singing.

Easting=484341,67 m - Northing=5372397,06 m

August prowled away with terrible news. Papa had not only lost his treasure, but his head to the hateful machinery of that bloodbath, la Revolution. There was also news of Monsieur Armand. He had arrived in Paris to perform a concert, but was seized by the rabble.

Mamma, in her widow’s weeds, wrung her hands more for him than she ever had for poor Papa. Mystified by the intensity of her grief, I buzzed with jealousy.

How dare she?

I stormed about the house, stood before the mirrors for ages arranging and re-arranging my wealth of pale brown hair, reassuring myself that my mother’s worn features were no match for my own pearly skin, large blue-gray eyes, or the perfect oval of my face. I changed my gowns before the mirror that was really the eye of Monsieur Armand, like a kind of doll, posing for his imagined delectation.

Delphine only laughed at me.

I laughed back, watching myself in the mirror.

Autumn arrived. Strong winds blew leaves of fire from the trees, denuding them all too soon. Winter gales shrieked in from Siberia. News from Paris was sporadic. Mamma despaired.

Our cousins had asked us to move out once the roads cleared. Tragically, our house in Paris had not only been looted, but gutted to the edge of ruin. We would be forced to continue to impose ourselves upon others in order to survive.

Shame rose up in me like a giant green lily. I was immobilized. My mother’s eyes told me I was no longer her daughter, but a burden to be disposed of.

“Too spoiled to work,” she said. “Too lazy and self indulgent to marry down.”

In the time we had left, Mamma grew industrious. Letters flew as fast as the weather permitted back and forth to relatives, friends, acquaintances…. Finally, judging by the light in her eyes, a solution had arrived.

445px-Gainsborough_-_Princess_elizabeth_of_the_united_kingdom

I was to be married.

Never mind that the man in question was twenty-four years my senior, or that his previous wives had all died under mysterious circumstances, or that he lived very far away on his own island in the Americas. He was rich, an aristocrat, and that was all Mamma needed to know to give me away.

Nevertheless I was excited. Though his image lived in my heart as a kind of ideal, I had no hope that a paragon like Monsieur Armand would desire me, let alone become my bridegroom. It was enough to know that I would be cared for amid all the luxurious trappings I required, in a far-away, fairy tale sort of place.

Shortly after the papers were signed, gifts began to arrive: gowns, coats, jewels, lingerie—-all of the latest fashion, most exquisite taste, and, as if my betrothed had already seen me, remarkably flattering. The shipments were always accompanied by bouquets of white flowers called tuberose whose strong, sweet fragrance warmed me into a kind of sensuous trance. The petals were always slightly brown at the edges for having traveled so far. Their beauty was therefore brief, but replaced so quickly by another bouquet that I had no time to mourn.

“Mamma, when will I meet my betrothed?” I asked, chafing. It was almost Spring. The roads would soon be clear, fanned by the warmer, drier winds blowing in from the Channel.

“You will take the ship to the Island of Iati. Monsieur will meet you on the dock,” said Mamma.

“I shall be alone on the ship? With all those sailors?”

“You won’t be entirely alone. Monsieur is sending a chaperone to collect you. She should be arriving in a few days. Don’t be frightened. I envy your adventure.”

“What is his name?”

Mamma’s brow creased with worry. She paced before the fire, then gave me the name as if she were under a curse for revealing it.

“Monsieur de Rais,” she said. “Monsieur Armand Guy de Rais.”

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Time passed in a dreamlike blur. Next thing I knew, my luggage and I were being loaded into a carriage bound for St. Malo.

I waved goodbye to our cousins, kissed Mamma. I recall the constant shaking and jarring of the coach and my soggy handkerchief. I don’t know why I was crying except that I was shattered through and through knowing I was to be married to him.

It seemed forever before we stopped under the shadow of a passenger ship that loomed like a giant whale in the dock. Waiting for me was a small woman in a neat black coat. Black as night she was, and silent. When she saw me she smiled, made the sign of the cross, then, quick as serpent’s tongue, pressed a small gift into my hand.
It was an exquisitely cut crystal bottle with a silver stopper.

She gestured that I drink it.

Thinking it a welcoming custom of the New World, I drank the burning liquid down. Her gladness towards me lightened my heart. It was with great anticipation that I followed her onto the ship.

The ocean was sickeningly tumultuous, but the blustering winds filled the sails and sped the ship along. Quickly, quickly, I thought. You cannot sail quickly enough!

My chaperone was always with me, quiet as my shadow. Only once did she speak. Pointing to a dark mass of hills on the horizon, she smiled and shouted, “Iaiti! Iaiti! Home.”\

ss Great Britain, Halloween. 31 October 2015

Dressed in fine white linen, my hat wreathed with chiffon, I felt quite the young bride-to-be as I disembarked. It was wild place. Hill rose upon dark hill thick with trees and hot jungle flowers. My companion and I walked down the pier to meet an ancient cabriolet with two white horses waiting in the mud. The driver, black as my chaperone, lifted his hat and smiled in greeting. Where was my betrothed? As the cabriolet pulled off and climbed a steep, winding lane into the dusky woods, I could not help fearing what was in store for me in that foreign place.

At the top of the cliff, the ground leveled. We passed through a graveyard of stately tombs brightened with blue lamps. Fires burned along the paths. The sound of cicadas filled the air, surf crisping against the shore, and the faint, hollow heartbeat of drums.
By the time we drove through the high gate and stopped in the forecourt of the villa, all lit up for my arrival, my gloved, sweaty hand was clutching that of my dark companion. The first sight of my beloved was a great shadow looming in the lighted doorway.

His voice boomed as I stepped out of the carriage. “So, you have arrived in one piece, Lissette.”

I froze. He was not at all as I remembered him. He’d grown portly with age and over the fine, chiseled features of his face was a full blue-black beard. But the eyes were his; no one could mistake them, dark and shining with wit and charm. I stumbled toward him with arms outstretched as if I were pleading for my life, smiling as if such a mask could fool him.

He laughed.

“O, my little child so far away from home. Come inside,” he said.

His embrace was firm. The great bulk, smoothed by his silk dressing gown, was cool. Yet as I held him, I recalled the young, handsome version I had carried in my heart for ten years, and felt deeply the pangs of first love.

He regaled me with a feast of spiced meats, aubergines, oysters, and sweet cakes glazed with strange fruits. I was quickly drunk, not only on wine, but on the heady fragrance of tuberose. Armand grinned as if he expected me to become silly, but I was not. Rather I felt languid, cat-like, relaxing into my velvet skin, soaking up rich flavors and perfumes through my every pore.

Debussy

I woke in a rumpled bed, wrapped in white sheets spotted with blood. I had no memory of pain, but of exquisite tortures carried to crisis on the last, passionate crescendos of Liszt.

Of course I was alone, my god-like love having fled with the sunrise. Though I saw no timepiece nearby, the entire house was filled with a noise like hundreds of clocks ticking. Dismayed at my bloodstained nakedness, I drew on the beautiful dressing gown that lay in wait for me at the end of the bed.

I was about to go to the door when it burst open. A monkey came racing across the floor, whizzing and spinning around with the most awful racket. When it came at me, I screamed.

Armand entered, laughing.

“Oh, my little love, you’re so amusing. It’s only a toy. Vivienne has drawn a bath for you. I want you to look exquisite for breakfast. Wear the ruby choker. Scarlet suits you so well.”

He indicated the pool of liquid jewels on my dressing table.

“Red jewels around the neck are all the rage in Paris these days,” he said.*

RUBY Vivienne, a lovely half-caste girl, crossed herself when she saw me, drawing my attention to an ornate silver Crucifix hanging over her bosom. After my bath, she got me all tricked out in a creamy silk sheath with brown edges, my hair up in waves with a sprig of tuberose, and the choker like a bloody gash around my neck.

“Vivienne, when are we to be married, Armand and I?” I asked.

“Why, today, Mademoiselle,” she said. “Why do you think you’re all dressed up? Here, let me show you your veil.”

Vivienne went to the wardrobe and pulled out a mile of sheer white chiffon.
“See? We put that over your head with a crown of tuberose. You’ll look lovely, Mademoiselle.”

“Why always tuberose?” I asked.

“It’s Monsieur’s favorite.”

The house reeked of it.

“I should like real roses,” I said. “Red roses to go with my jewels.”

Vivienne wrapped the veil up silently.

“And what is that constant ticking sound?” I asked. “Doesn’t it drive you mad?”

“It’s Monsieur’s collection,” she said. “Perhaps Jean del Jean will show it to you.”

As if he’d been summoned, a wizened little black man appeared at the door. With a short bow, he held out his large, square hand, offering to escort me.

“Your new home, Mademoiselle,” he said, crossing himself as he took my hand. He too wore a heavy silver Crucifix.

AT LAST CORRIDOR

There was a long passage lined with cabinets, and behind the glass, moving in mechanical rhythm to their ticking, were hundreds of automatons. Beautiful wax heads, long necks, blinking glass eyes—-all women. Some danced, others played musical instruments, mechanical parodies of melody.

“They’re like music boxes,” I said. “Ingenious!”

Jean del Jean smiled and bowed with a flourish towards the cabinets. A few china dolls were mixed in, eyes staring wide in their frozen faces like the dead. Jean del Jean held up a long black key and opened one of the doors. Out came a large doll with a powdered wig and beauty spots, wearing a choker of rubies like my own.

“Le Reine Marie,” Jean del Jean said. He laughed as he grasped the key in her back and wound her up. The jaw moved and emitted a mechanical voice.

Permettez-eux de manger le gâteau.

“Let them eat cake!” I laughed at the infamous phrase.

The figure’s head spun round and round, unscrewing up the length of its neck, ticking louder until it popped off. Jean del Jean caught it in his hand as a stream of red ribbons spewed out of the neck cavity. He held the small head out to me laughing uproariously.
I recoiled.

marie doll

He was waiting for me at the gleaming breakfast table dressed in a black tailcoat and impeccable white cravat. He stood up as I, ungracefully hindered by the soft, clinging layers of my skirt, approached. His smile faded. His eyes clouded darkly.

I must have registered fright, for, as we sat down, his smile lit up again. Like a dog, I smiled back, hating my clumsiness.

“Bon appétit, my love.” He raised his glass of wine to me. I mirrored his gesture. I’d never drunk wine with breakfast before, but it did calm me. “Eat your croissant and peaches for now, then we shall repair to the garden to be married.” There was a little present beside my plate, tied with a red ribbon.

“Open it my love. It is from my private collection.”

It was an ivory box, about the length of my hand. With a turn of a little key, the lid opened. Inside was an ivory lady lying on an ivory couch, propped on one elbow, and completely nude. I gasped.

“A gift from the Orient,” Armand said. “From a bordello in Shanghai.”
I closed the box, blushing.

“Thank you,” I said. “Who is coming? Are there guests?” I felt sharply alone. Would Mamma completely forget about me?

“It is a shame your mother did not come with you, but you have me now.”

I nodded. The wine sprang to my head. A veil fell over my eyes. Someone helped me up. I was soon on Armand’s arm standing in a garden of bright flowers before a black priest. A ring was on my hand, but I had no ring for Armand. I was about to ask for it, when my husband grabbed me and fastened his lips on mine. Waves of fire rippled through me so hot, I fainted.

My sinuses stung by smelling salts, I awoke sitting at the end of a banqueting table. Through the fiery glow of a silver candelabrum I saw a frilly wedding cake, vases of tuberose and, so far away I could hardly see him, was my great love, now my husband, Armand.

There were guests, all artistes, glittering and posing like actors on a stage. Holding me tightly, Armand introduced me. I tried to make it a happy occasion. Shouldn’t all weddings be happy?

Soon the sun was going down, cicadas sang, the house ticked.
He went to the piano and opened the keys. The artistes draped their loose-limbed bodies around it in worship.

As he played I was six years old again, spilling fiery tears over my gown.

blue wedding

“Well, my little love, that was lovely.” Armand threw his cufflinks on the dressing table. “I have been called away. I’m leaving in the morning…”

“But, we have just been married!” I protested.

“It can’t be helped. While I am away, you must confine yourself to this suite of rooms. This house is very old. It isn’t safe to wander the upper rooms. They’ve been walled off for decades.”

“How long will you be away?” I asked.

He raised one eyebrow. “As long as it takes.”

In one movement he’d thrown off his coat and trousers and pinned me down on the bed. I was delirious! I gave myself up to him completely, hoping, in my heart, that that would be enough to make him stay.

It wasn’t. Despite my pleading, he left me.

.“He doesn’t love me,” I sobbed.

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The Roses of the Moon: A Tale of Gothic Fantasy by Alyne deWinter

I thought it would be fun to share some bits and pieces of my forthcoming novel, The Roses of the Moon and find out what people think. It has many faery tale elements woven int the narrative.

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The Roses of the Moon

Book One
Royal Hungary
1599
Winter

I
Dragon’s Blood
Blood

Increases potency and power

*

“Marcsa Virag, get away from the door!”

The voice struck like a blast of cold wind, blowing me into the shadows below the torchlight. The toes of my pointed shoes caught in the swirling hem of my shirts, tripping me to the floor. I broke my fall with my hands and lay winded for a moment. As I struggled to catch my breath I glanced around for my doll. She was gone. I turned to look back the way I had come and, through a blur of tears, saw my doll’s small, dark shape lying in a wand of firelight between the wall and the door that was cracked open upon the private chambers of the Countess Orzsebet.

>

There was a flicker of silence. I crept forward thinking that I might have time slip back and rescue my doll before anybody noticed, when suddenly the door opened wide, and in that shaft of light, the profile of a long-nosed mask appeared, surrounded by an elaborate circular neck ruff. A glimmer of bright fabric rained down from the mask to the floor and a single hand curled there around the handle of a long whip. The mask slowly turned to face me, its eyeholes stared in my direction, and the frill fanned out around it like the neck feathers of a great bird of prey. When the Countess saw me, she drew swiftly back into the room and out of sight, only to reappear and gaze at me again.

>

Captured in the beams of the Countess’s eyes, I was unable to move, frozen like a mouse crouching in the witch grass waiting for the descending claws. Suddenly she was walking towards me with a smooth, gliding step that reminded me of the small serpents that slithered into my chamber in the night and hid beneath my bed to escape the winter cold. The eyes behind the holes of the mask bore down upon me, baleful and fiery blue.

>

The corridor was colder and darker than ever now. The Countess Orzsebet, my mother, had sucked away all of the heat and light and taken it away into
her personal domain. My doll lay face down like a fragment of torn shadow. Her black hair was tangled. Her dress was draggled and ripped. With my
eyes still fixated upon my mother’s door, I leaned over slowly and picked her up. When I looked at her face I almost dropped her again. Someone had
burned out her eyes!

>

“Marcsa Virag, you have not seen what you think you have seen. Mark me! You do not remember a thing.”

>

Wheeling around, she threw my doll at my feet, floated back to her chamber and shut me out.

>
The corridor was colder and darker than ever now. The Countess Orzsebet, my mother, had sucked away all of the heat and light and taken it away into her personal domain. My doll lay face down like a fragment of torn shadow. Her black hair was tangled. Her dress was draggled and ripped. With my eyes still fixated upon my mother’s door, I leaned over slowly and picked her up. When I looked at her face I almost dropped her again. Someone had burned out her eyes!

>

I held my poor doll to my heart and ran as fast as I could down the rest of the corridor, almost tripping down a flight of wide sloping steps. I sped across the wintry cobbled courtyard where the ice-cold waters in the unicorn fountain were frozen in the air like silver ribbons. I plunged into a shadowy, smoky maze of arches and out again into the dim winter light of the Castle Courtyard that stretched behind the Main Gate to the steps of the Reception Hall. My steps echoed as I raced across the flagstones, scattering a flock of pigeons that flew around me like a storm. Finally I arrived at the tall, heavy doors to my wing of the castle and the guard let me inside. I slowed my pace down the wide corridor to the grand staircase that swept up to the galleries. My legs were heavy as I climbed into the gloom. I had to sit down to catch my breath. One look at my doll told me, more than words, that my mother hated me. I pressed the tip of my tongue against my teeth to calm myself. Above the top step, the landing stretched spaciously to the foot of an enormous tapestry of a beautiful walled garden where ladies danced with hares around a tree in the moonlight.

>

I fixed my gaze on the rich colors of the tapestry and finished my climb up the stairs. One either side of that weaving were two stained glass windows that shone hot for a moment and then dimmed, telling me that the sun had just fallen below the rim of the Carpathian Mountains.

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 12 : The Hyenas

Salome: The Seventh Queen: 12  : The Hyenas

by Aline deWinter

The wheat field glowed and bent in a slight breeze. They walked on for a while longer. Nothing changed.
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“How long have we been here?” Aaliyah sighed falling to the ground in exhaustion.
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“Give me the head of Jokannaan,” Salome whispered sharply to Aaliyah. “Give him to me now.”
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“The head, indeed. A mere fraction of a man, Mistress. How can he be brought back to life?” Aaliyah fretted, pushing the casque over the ground toward Salome.
>

“What you do not see, what I do see, is Jokanaan’s  immortal soul.” said Salome holding the Prophet’s head in the golden field that spread around around him like a nimbus of golden light. “He comes to me in the night like a moonbeam walking over a field of lilies, like a shaft of silver; his flesh is cold, cold as ivory.  His body is like the lilies of the field after the mower hath mowed. The roses in the garden of the Queen of Arabia are not so white as his body when he comes thus unto me. His hair is as black as the long black nights when the moon hides her face, when the stars are afraid. The silence of the forest is not so black. His mouth is like a band of scarlet on a tower of ivory. It is like a pomegranate cut in twain with a knife of ivory. The pomegranate flowers that blossom in the gardens of Tyre, and are redder than roses are not so red. the beauty of his flesh shall be made more glorious by the terrible command of Ishtar, Queen of Heaven and Mother of All of Life.”
>

As she spoke, Salome looked at her maids, from one to the other, searching for some semblance of a soul in their frightened faces. She looked around at the endless wheat field, down at her scarlet cloak flowing over the stalks like a wake of blood, at her jeweled feet sparkling on the golden ground, and smiled.
>

Etana met her eyes. “I too love a man. In Judea. A soldier. And now I shall never see him again. My spirit goes to him in the night. I wonder if he senses me…”
>

“You? Love?” said Salome astonished. “But you are a slave, Etana. Surely you cannot compare the  profane lust of a slave to the divine passion of a Princess before whom the King of Kings has scattered jewels, to whom whole legions must bow? Your love can only as that of the ass to the mule, the ewe to the filthy goat with its keyhole eyes. What can you know of love, Etana?”
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Etana closed her eyes and seemed to drift away.
>

Salome knelt down and caressed the casquet.
>

“Oh, Jokannaan.  Again you shall stand like a tower of ivory, shining white like the snows that lie on the mountains of Judea.  Your eyes gleam like dark emeralds, and your hair hang like clusters of black grapes. like the cluster of black grapes that hang from the vine trees of Edom in the land of he Edomites. Your lips shall be like redder than than the feet of him who cometh from the forest where he hath slain a lion , and seen gilded tigers. Its is like the bow of the King of the Persians that is painted with vermillion…There is nothing in the world so red as thy mouth…Suffer me to kiss they mouth.”
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“You’re mad,” Aaliyah whispered so softly she thought the Princess did not hear her.
>

“What is that?”
>

The cry of a hyena echoed across the field.
“Oh,” Aaliyah whispered rising to her feet. “Now we are pursued by wild animals.”
>

The cry again. A chorus of cries  broke forth, as of a pack of hyenas hidden in the wheat. Wild, shrieking music, as of bagpipes and drums began to play, and human cries rang out as of a soul in torment.
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“Are my music makers with us after all?” Salome cried glancing around, looking for her players in the field. “I knew they would not desert me!”
>

The serving maids glanced around as well. Aaliyah covered her ears with her hands.
“Oh, what is happening?” she cried.
>

“This is not ordinary music!” cried Etana. “It is the singing of some sorceress over her vessel of abominations.”
>
The music was all around them. Salome sensed that the tormented cries were very close to her, rising out of the earth. She scanned the monotonous golden horizon like a lioness looking for prey. Where are they? She strode forwards, in the direction of the sound, attentive, her eyes dazzled by the brightness of the land against the sky.
>

High pitched laughter riffled through the wheat. Hyenas! Salome screamed. Surely her fate was not to be dragged down and torn by powerful jaws.
>
Suddenly the waves of wheat undulated with the tide of trotting, scrawny, humped, hackle-raised backs;  the  still air reverberated with wild screams as the Dogs of Chaos raced  in for the kill.  Salome spun around  fixed on the sight of  a tall woman standing in the field gazing at her from over the top of the sheaves!


>
Salome fell back with a groan. The woman’s face was stiff as a mask, her head was large and her face round, on her head was a serpentine crown of wheat withys. When she smiled, and then her tongue hung out and her large eyes blinked at Salome as if she knew her.  The woman suddenly rose higher to reveal large, copious breasts and a full round belly.

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She began walking in Salome’s direction.

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The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford, a Paranormal Regency Romance: Part III

The Strange Marriage of Lady Crawford

a Paranormal Regency Romance

by Aline deWinter

Part III

Dark Robbie didn’t leave the table for the reason most people would have thought. Curiously disturbed, he went up into the wood to sit beside a well spring and watch the moon. There was a small, ivy smothered graveyard in the wood populated by Lady Mary’s ancestors, including the dark tomb of her father. On either side of the door were tall candles with fluttering flames and alabaster vases filled with lilies. He wondered if they were put there by cats. Tired from lack of food and near suffocation, Dark Robbie pulled his masque off, fell back in the grass, and dozed.

<

When he woke, the moon was bright and high, remote and inaccessible as a Byzantine Princess. Through his half opened eyes, Dark Robbie saw lavender waving in the tall grass and honeysuckle tangled ivy encircling the trees.  A stone’s throw away, a hare was nibbling clover.  Something was moving nearby, steps in the grass, and a long shadow rippled through the trees.

<

“Bah! Its just the wind,” Dark Robbie muttered to himself

<

He was lying on a bank of dizzyingly fragrant may-thorn that made him want to sneeze. When he sat up to let it go, he noticed some dark shapes moving through the trees not ten paces away.

<

“What?” he whispered to himself, stifling his sneeze, and following the shapes with his eyes. “Its that blasted horse! And Lady Mary astride…”

<

He shook his head as if to knock sense back into it, for he had the unsettling impression that her Ladyship was stark naked, but that being impossible, he wasn’t sure.

<

When they were out of sight, Dark Robbie stood up and looked around. The moon was bright as a spyglass in a sky riddled with stars.  He stepped over the grass, flattening it under his booted feet and found, lying under a bush, an elegant dress of storm colored silk.

<

“Tah!” he cried as if he had stumbled upon evidence of a crime, “She’s…she’s…I’ve got to see this!”

<

Dark Robbie hurried back to the well spring to fetch his wolf masque and put it back on, reckoning it would make it more difficult for Lady Mary to notice him. Thus attired, he stole stealthily through the glen.

<

It wasn’t long before Dark Robbie reached a circular clearing of smooth grass surrounded by trees and a rocky terrace. In the midst was Lady Mary and the horse. She was lying face down along the horse’s muscular back, her face turned away from Robbie. Her long, fine hair hung freely down her bare back, frizzy as may-blossom. The horse had his eyes closed and rocked slightly on his heels as she caressed him.

<

“Oh, my love, the time is so short. I can hardly bear it,” he heard her whisper in the horse’s ear.

<

The horse snorted softly and pawed the ground with its hoof. Then he slowly kneeled, so Lady Mary could dismount. This she did gracefully, entwining her fingers in his black mane, and sighing with pleasure as she slipped down the side of his body. When her feet hit the ground, she groaned as if in pain and clung to the horse’s mane with feverish desperation.

<

“Aw,” sighed Dark Robbie. “She’s mad.”

<

He wiped tears out of eyes that he didn’t remember shedding, and when he looked up — Lady Mary was gone! The great black charger stood with its head up sniffing the air and began kicking up its heels in a kind of dance. Suddenly a beautiful white mare appeared behind him. She was dappled like the moon and her fine mane floated on the air, and around her head, like a cloud, enhancing the longing expression in her storm colored eyes. The two horses licked and nipped each other, gamboled and played, dashing this way and that, whinnying, and kicking up their heels with such pure joy that Dark Robbie had no wonder that he cried and longed to cry again. As darkness fell, they grew still, so still that Dark Robbie held his breath, and could not move.

<

Above the round clearing the starry constellation of Pegasus appeared, following Andromeda to the edge of the world. The two horses coupled then. Dark Robbie watched them, fascinated, compelled by some primitive attraction he could not shake. They whinnied and cried, rocking back and forth, until she let out an almost human scream and they broke apart.  After that she shivered, and fell to her knees. The black stallion licked her face and soon followed her to the ground. Spent, they lay upon the dark earth, their round sides heaving with their breaths.

<

Dark Robbie thought he must have blacked out, for when he opened his eyes, the moon was floating in the ragged tops of the trees, and shining into the clearing illuminating two shadowy human forms, standing still, like spirits from the Otherworld. He shivered as if he had been dowsed with cold water, and instinctively leapt to his feet, breaking several branches and twigs. They snapped loudly.

<

“What is that, my Lord?”

<

It was the woman who spoke in the voice of Lady Mary.  It was she who stood on the arm of a slim, dark man with long, smooth hair as black as midnight. Dark Robbie had to blink several times to be sure he saw right, for around their heads, like circlets of stars, were two diadems.

<

“What are they? Faeries?” he wondered with a shiver of dread.

<

“I smell wolf,” said the dark man.

<

“Yes, I see him gazing at us through the branches of the trees. I wonder what he has seen…”

<

“What shall we do with him?” the dark man said stepping toward the thicket where Dark Robbie was with his heart pounding and sweat pouring down the back of his neck.

<

“Perhaps I shall reward him, for his shape-shifting is nearly as good as yours,” Lady Mary replied.

<

At that they both laughed, the sound of it echoing into the night.

<

Dark Robbie felt faint, sure that his reward was to be dragged into Faerie and end his days in the madhouse on earth.

<

Lady Mary wrapped her arms around the dark man’s neck, stroking his long silky mane as she gazed intently at Dark Robbie. As they fell to the ground to couple again, Dark Robbie fell into a frenzy of lust and, howling like a lunatic, spilled his seed upon the earth.

<

Spent, Dark Robbie lay very still in the thicket and watched the moon, and then the stars, fall below the hills while sky paled to silver grey. He heard them moving about, heard the whinny of horses, and sat up to peer into the clearing. The white horse was lying on the near side of the black, pale as the dawn. Then he thought it was not a horse at all, but a long, white rock, or then, patch of snow that was dissolving to a pool of bright water. Suddenly, Lady Mary stood there, looking towards the low hills on the horizon. The black horse stood up soon after. They nuzzled each other and she whispered in his ear, causing it to flicker. Then slowly he knelt down so Lady Mary could mount him, naked and shining but for her long brown hair. As the first streak of dawn spilled over the low hills, they sauntered back towards the Priory.

<

Dark Robbie followed them, no longer worried about being seen, and still wearing his wolf masque as if he had so entered into the animal, he had forgotten who he was.  In the gloaming he saw various creatures, half animal, half human, coming out of the house to greet Lady Mary and the black horse as they crossed the abandoned garden.  The creatures swarmed around their Mistress and her Charger, hurrying them back into the house as the first rays of the sun brightened the far hills and turned the dewy grass into a sheet of molten gold.

<

Dark Robbie gave chase. As he crossed the patch of grass beside the wellspring, he saw that the door to Lord Crawford’s tomb stood open, breathing forth its ghost. His ears pricking with alarm, Dark Robbie came to a heap of discarded shoes, dark with damp in the middle of the lawn, and crouched there, sniffing them, intoxicated with the rich smells of feet and old leather. As the Lady Mary disappeared into the house, he was reveling in them.

<

Then, for a brief moment. his hackles rose. A man was standing over him, wearing a long black coat, with a mane of silver hair, looking down at him. Dark Robbie felt himself cower as the man placed his hand over Dark Robbie’s head and everything went black.

Top photo: Simon Marsden: www.simonmarsden.co.uk

End of Part III

Free Halloween Faery Tale: Roses, Briars, Blood



It is time to adventure into the darkest night, to places of sorcery and transformation. In honor of the Old Year passing, I am offering a free copy of my original Gothic Faery Tale found in these pages, a revised version of “Roses, Briars, Blood”. I hope you enjoy it in this new format, where it can read in the right sequence, and if you like, printed off and held in your hands, and shared.

It has come to my attention that the old link was not working. It is fixed now and hopefully, I have given you enough information to be able to find the link quickly and easily.

Just put your name and email address in the box below. After that, you will receive a confirmation email in your inbox. Click that and you will be sent another email with a download link for the book.

I hope you enjoy this version of Grimm’s “Briar Rose”.

I have made it shine like a diamond for you.

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

Roses, Briars, Blood

by Arlene deWinter, 2009

My darker version of Briar Rose continues to The End

*****************

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Roses, Briars, Blood – Part Eleven

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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.

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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.

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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

FINIS

Thank you! I hope you enjoyed this story. If you would like this story as free e-book, beginning at the beginning of course, including a series of podcasts of the same, please come back.

For now, here are all the parts in case you found this page all be iteself

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 10

Roses, Briars, Blood

My darker version of Briar Rose continues….

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Roses, Briars, Blood: Part Ten

As the priests tied Princess Mirabelle to the stake, the rabble, raising their fists, screamed curses at her. From her senses spinning with  fear, all she could see was a sea of contorted black holes spewing waves of pollution into the air.

“This is a mistake! I am Princess Mirabelle!” she cried as the ropes went around her waist.

As the smoldering brands were being laid at her feet, the Princess marveled that these villagers could have been no more than infants in the Sorceress’s time. Many of them had not even been born, yet they acted as though they had been harmed by the Sorceress personally, had been present at her exile.

**********
Such is the power of tales, she mused as the Executioner lit the scrawny kindling, that they believe the dead past can still harm them.

“Sorceress!, Witch! Now we will watch you die!”

As she stood bent and wild eyed, the Prince of her dreams rode by on his ornately caparisoned white horse. He sneered her as the flames bloomed at the edges of the pyre.

“Now I shall go and find the real Princess Mirabelle,” he shouted over the crackling of the flames. “I’ll see what you have done to her, you Witch!”

The Prince charged off in the direction of the forest followed by his entourage of fifty armed men.

The heat grew stifling and the Princess closed her eyes against the brightness of the flames. Her heart fluttered in dread of the fire singing her hair and licking her bare feet.What would happen when it reached the hem of her shift? And as she trembled and cried, she heard the sound of voices singing her name.  The dancing flames grew taller, and as they danced, they became Nine Ladies who mysteriously walked out of the inferno to encircle Princess Mirabelle.

Mira…Mira…Mira….belllllle. Do not be afraid. Did you not know that you are immortal?

“Oh, please!” the Princess murmured. “Take me out of here. It is a terrible mistake.”

Suddenly, a wand of fire swept up the back of her dress, and the ropes that held her to the stake broke. Princess Mirabelle crumpled down and would have fallen fell face first into the blaze if something hadn’t lifted  her up in time.

The power of flight is still yours, Princess Mirabelle. Had you had forgotten it?

She was floating in the air looking down at the drunken, leering crowd that danced in a ring around the high, snapping fire, celebrating her death, as the Sorceress’s body was consumed in the conflagration.

I am not the Sorceress. She is dead. Now I must go back to the castle before the Prince gets there. I must show him who I really am…

The nine ladies accompanied the flying Princess back to the Sorceress’s castle.
As they flew over the forest, she saw the Prince and his entourage had passed into the region of winter, and were fast approaching the first of the ring walls whose stones were barely to be seen under its cowl of snow, and the wild tangling branches of the briar roses.

At the sight of the wall. Prince Agramant reined in his steed and stood up in his stirrups.

Under a trellis of briars he was able to see the structure of the castle gate. Disconcertingly, he also saw bones hanging on the wall, whose ripped and ravaged silk doublets and satin cloaks flapped like the flags of Princes in the bitterly cold wind, catching on the thorns of the blood red briar roses .

Impatient, and jealous that others had tried to assail his rightful Bride, the Prince shouted at the gate.

“The enchantment is over! The Wicked Enchantress is dead, burned to a crisp, and her soul damned into Hell. Let me in, in the name of God!”

And slowly, the gate was filled with light. And as the light grew, the roses that hung upon it began to sizzle and burn as if they too were subject to the fire. Now the gate stood open, and the dazzled Prince went through.

********

As she watched the Prince pass through, in that way, from one gate to another, as he made his way up the mountainside toward the castle, Princess Mirabelle’s anxiety increased.

“We must hurry! If he gets into the tower before we do, he shall awaken the sleeping Princess, and thinking she is me, will marry the Sorceress!”

Now the Princess felt as though she was flying through syrup, and wondered if the Sorceress was already awake and trying to prevent her getting to the tower in time. Then she remembered that there was a great force field around the castle, proving the enchantment of that place was not quite over yet.

“We must stop him!” the Princess cried as she watched the Prince trot up the the paved parapet that sloped up to the door of the tower.

She turned to see if the Nine Ladies were still with her and found, to her dismay, that she had merely been talking herself. Suddenly, a loud roar split the air like thunder! Princess Mirabelle spun around and, in  her utter terror, almost lost altitude.  An enormous dragon was coiled around the turret where the Sorceress slept, spewing flames at the Prince as he climbed towards the entrance. The Prince’s horse reared, bucked him to the ground, and swiftly galloped back down the parapet. The Prince stood up and pulled out his sword to face the monster. It seemed to laugh at him as a flame licked the sword and it fell to the ground like melted wax.

As the Nine Ladies in the form of a dragon, for she knew that was who it was, held the Prince at bay, Princess Mirabelle was able to float through the tower window and into the chamber where her nemesis lay, in all her golden glory, waiting for the Prince’s kiss.

********

To be continued…The last installment comes next!

Please comment! It is so wonderful when you do.

Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 parts

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 9

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 9

My darker version of Briar Rose continues…

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Roses, Briars, Blood – Part Nine

Princess Mirabelle shimmered in a sorcerous gown of liquid red silk, as she went to the tower window.  She gazed longingly over the steep forest. There were little horse trails winding among the trees that led up the snow dusted castle walls. But whoever rode those trails to the castle would never get in, for the gate was buried under the thick, luxuriant cascades of deep, dark red briar roses.

Beyond the forest, across the river, as the crow flies, was a Kingdom. Its turrets and towers poked up above the trees. Princess Mirabelle wondered what riches such a place held. She wondered about the inhabitants, were they awake or asleep?  Were any of them Princes?

She was compelled to climb the stair to the top of the tower for a better view. There was a bell up there. She did not fancy bells, for she associated them with her captivity and the long sleep she feared would overcome her again. Rather, she loved the air, and the wide sky. The Princess walked around the parapet that encircled the turret with her arms reaching toward the sky. All around the castle was forested mountainside lit up by threaded waterfalls. Rows of circular curtain walls fell away from the base of the castle, down the hill of trees, all of them covered with roses. Marveling at such rich growth of life, excited by her freedom, the Princess stood upon the parapet raising her rams like wings as if join the flock of crows that swirled around her in the sky. Suddenly she toppled over. Falling, she marveled at how the ground came towards her until, something lifted her up and she found herself moving  through the air in the direction of the setting sun.

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The beautiful Sorceress lay in the coffin of Princess Mirabelle’s sleeping body. She dreamed of flying over the forest to the Old Kingdom where they slept out their one-hundred years of enchantment. She tried to lift her fingers, but they would not move.  Perhaps she should have timed her switch better, but then she had grown old and would not have lived much longer. Now she lived between death and life, waiting for the Great Clock to fill the castle with its clanging at the end of time, waking her for another incarnation, or better yet, waiting for the embrace of a handsome Prince.

Princess Mirabelle set her feet down on a snowy cobbled clearing in a forest that grew inside the ringwall of a castle that was hauntingly familiar. There seemed to be no one about. It was as silent as one of her dreams but for a sudden whistling whirlwind of snow that swept her skirts above her ankles, freezing her bare skin.

She glanced around, overcome with a strange sadness, for the once majestic buildings were overtaken by great trees whose roots broke through the walls, cracked open the foundations, merged with the corners of the masonry, and thrust branches out of windows like invading giants. The Princess found a yawning portal, its once stout double doors breached open and hanging from their hinges like broken wings. She went inside hurried along by a snowdrift at her back.

The short passage led into the great hall where a waxworks banquet was taking place — or so it seemed, for all the figures had stiffened into postures that no living person could have held for very long. This was especially true of a few contorted acrobats whose taunt, muscled flesh showed through tattered silks and satins worn through by the elements.

At the head of the banqueting table was a King caught in the midst of an excited conversation with the empty space beside him. His face was shockingly familiar in a way the caused tears to start in Princess Mirabelle’s eyes. She fled from that place out into the forest. The trees had come so close to the doors of the palace that it would not be long before they got inside.

It was with a shock that Princess Mirabelle discovered that all she had to do was think of a place that she wanted to go to be lifted into the air and moved in its direction. This was why she was suddenly looking down at the river, and crossing over it to the Kingdom Beyond the River. As she got closer to it, signs of life struck her with such brilliance that she almost halted in midair and began to fall.

This is where the Prince is, thought Princess Mirabelle. I can feel it.

The village around the castle was a great tumult, for the citizens of that Kingdom were at war with each other. Princess Mirabelle did not understand such things so she ignored them. All she could think of was the Prince, and how she had longed for him all through her mysterious sleep. She set down on a grand staircase and almost floated in her hurry up to the gallery. Several magnificent rooms opened out along the corridor, but never the right one, for they were all empty. Finally she came to a closed door at the end of the passage. Almost ignoring the barrier of the door, she went inside.

There were three biers flanked by several tall, flickering candle branches, solemn as a church. One the first bier was a King snoring peacefully. Could he be asleep as she had been? On the second bier was, indeed, a young Prince so handsome, and so pure in his repose, that the Princess would have kissed him awake at once if her eye had not been caught by the third bier. The figure on it was surely not asleep, for it was enclosed with a casquet of glass. And inside was an old Queen all in white, her skin unlined, smoothed, as it was, over the angular facebones of the dead. A large bouquet of briar roses spilled over her body as if they spouted from her folded hands.

The sight of the dead Queen gave Princess Mirabelle pause, for she looked older than the King by many scores of years.

The Prince was smiling in his sleep. What did he dream of? Princess Mirabelle could not wait to ask. She leaned over him, kissed his mouth, and then drew back to watch. Slowly his eyes fluttered open. The pupils were very dark. He shook his head slightly, yawned and stretched, smiled to himself and suddenly looked up at the Princess.

“Good morning, my Prince!” she cried holding out her arms to embrace him.

But rather than rushing to her in a heat of gratitude and love, the Prince shrank away.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “Witch! Sorceress! What have you done?”
The Princess was stunned. “But I am not the Sorceress. I am Princess Mirabelle.”

“Fie! You are not. You are that same witch that put a curse upon that other Kingdom. You were exiled into the mountains a long time ago. I know your face.”

The Princess’s heart sank, for she realized he was right. The long dark hair, the sinuous, sensuous body sheathed in its blood red gown, the age old  wisdom in her eyes, the magic of her flight… How had she come to be the Sorceress? Inside she was still Princess Mirabelle!

The Prince jostled the King awake.

“Look father. Look! See who has visited us. Wake up will you! Look!”

The King sat up, startled out of his sleep, and glared menacingly, first, at his son, and then at Princess Mirabelle,

“Ahhh!” he cried. “What is she doing here? Don’t look at her eyes Agramant. Avaunt thee Witch!”

The King pointed his fingers at her in the sign of the horns.

This was how poor Princess Mirabelle found herself being led to the stake. The outraged citizens forgot their war with each other and focused all of their rage upon her. Had not the Sorceress caused the friction that raised the fire of war by obstructing the Succession with her curse of sleep?

“But I am not a Sorceress. I am Princess Mirabelle. I was cursed as well.”

Her sincere protestations fell on deaf ears.

Castle ruins image by Andy Duffell

To be continued…

Click here for Part 10: Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 10

Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

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.

\

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.

*********

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

Roses, Briars, Blood: part 7

Roses, Briars, Blood

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

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Roses, Briars, Blood: Part Seven

The beautiful Sorceress was gazing at her reflection in a tall mirror. Her face was like a sundial on which the passage of time was kept by the balance of light to darkness, and now the shadows lingered around her eyes, and the forelock of her raven hair was powdered with sudden snow.

Yet the face of the Princess Mirabelle retained the freshness and bloom of youth, and like sunlight captured in clear crystal, she glowed with a ceaseless inner light. The roses around her bed never faded, rather they grew in lush arrangements, as if jealous of intruders in the Princess’s domain. Sometimes the Sorceress heard voices around the Princess’s bed, humming a low minor air and then drifting away.

The nine ladies, she thought resentfully. Will they never cease? They were meant to work for me!

Restless and unhappy, the Sorceress went out to wander the the labyrinthine paths of the snowy garden. Her reverie was suddenly broken by a strange undulation in the roses that trellised the walls of the tower. She quickly drifted over the snow to see what it was, and what she saw froze her blood.! A young man, handsome enough to be a Prince, was standing among the strong branches of the roses, climbing up wall of  the tower.

How had he found his way through the mirror clouds? The Sorceress stood directly below him on the path, and stared up at his violet cloaked back, but he took no notice of her.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” she shouted.

The young man, startled, turned to look down, lost his grip, and slipped. He fell and fell until he was caught in the tangled rose branches, and buried under the blossoms. The more he struggled to free himself, the tighter the thorns held him, until finally, he grew still, and moved no more.

As the Prince’s cries faded away, the beautiful Sorceress flew back to the tower chamber where Princess Mirabelle was sleeping. She paced around the curtained bed, so like a bier sometimes, or a sarcophagus. What magic did the Princess do in her sleep to draw them to her, for surely she lived in an endless dream, or she would not be sleeping, but dead.

Perhaps in her dreams she spins. She sends out threads like spiders silk. The threads attach to Princes, as she wills, and then she pulls them to her, wishing for rescue before the time is up. The Sorceress brooded over this for a long while.

The Sorceress stood before the enchanted mirror and looked out into the world.
She saw another Prince on a fine horse, coming through the forest towards the castle.

They know about us, Princess Mirabelle. But how do they know? No one from the Palace could have told them.

A sweeping gray cloak hung in the wardrobe. It had enough fabric to hide the graceful slenderness of the Sorceress’s body, and the hood was deep enough to conceal her face as she went through the streets of the Kingdom on the other side of the river.

The winter that held sway in the mountains, gave way to high summer in the valley, and when the Sorceress set her feet down in the courtyard of the Castle in the Kingdom on the Other Side of the River, the Courtiers looked at her strangely.

“Hallo, old woman, isn’t it warm for that cloak? Mind the heat.”

“Yes. It can be dangerous for one of your years to become overly hot.”

Stung, the Sorceress drew herself up to her full height, and turned the glowing lamps of her eyes on them.

“Oh, she’s mad,” one of them scoffed. They hurried away.

Oh, I wonder…The Sorceress covered her face with her hands, feeling it for lines. It must be this cloak that gives them the impression I am old…

Slipping through the narrow cobbled streets, the Sorceress made her way to the Palace, for wasn’t that where Princes lived? Soon the fine portal loomed before her. Smiling and coy, she had only to slip a golden coin into the hand of the smirking guard to be allowed inside. The great doors opened and the light of a thousand candles shone through.


Inside the Palace hall, the atmosphere was subdued; the elegant Courtiers walked quietly in slippered feet, their rich satin clothes glowing in the candlelight. They spoke in whispers, as if to make a sound would bring on a terrible headache. A grand staircase rose toward magnificent windows of colored glass. As the Sorceress ascended the stairs, she heard voices floating and echoing in the chambers above. Wrapped in her gray cloak, she was like rain upon a window, or a shadow cast by torchlight. Blended thus, she moved from corner to corner, following the sound of the voices without being seen. Suddenly a door opened and a Queen walked out. She was dressed all in white as if in deepest mourning. A small crown was perched upon her head, and her once lovely face was creased with lines.  A priest walked beside her, bent towards her in sympathy.

“I fear I will be dead before they wake,” said the Queen. “ It has been so many years…”

“”Ah, Your Highness, they sleep under deep enchantment, for they do not age as we have. If we could only find the witch that cast this spell upon them, I am sure they would be restored to you.”

“But we have sent forth many search parties. They return claiming the Sorceress must surely be dead by now. There is a strange tower in the mountains, they say, covered over with red roses. The Sorceress’s Tomb they call it. You don’t think she is immortal do you?’”

“Impossible, Highness. Only the soul is immortal, and she does not have one.”

The Sorceress watched the white Queen and the priest go down the stairs, and when they were quite well away, she hurried on her silent feet, for they did not quite touch the ground, toward the lighted chamber they had left.

Ringed by candle branches, laid out on twin biers, she saw a King and handsome Prince in the same deep slumber as Princess Mirabelle.

Top image from the film :The Brothers Grimm

To be continued….

Click here for Part 8 : Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 8

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Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis