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.

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Illustrations by Kay Neilsen, L.Lipman, and the film The Brothers Grimm

FINIS

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Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 8

Roses, Briars, Blood

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

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Roses, Briars, Blood : Part Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?…has my spirit fled my body?

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

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

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

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

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Roses, Brairs, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 4

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 4

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

Kimded

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When the Princess’s wedding day approached, the King grew anxious. He squabbled with the Queen when she interrupted his brooding and pacing the long corridors, with news of another wedding guest needing the Royal Suite, plus extra rooms for his retainers, or threats that the Prince of Bohemia was going to entertain the Court with his devilish collection of automatons, or that the entire west wing was haunted, so who could they expect to stay there?

The King nodded while the Queen worried on, but did not hear a word she said. He continued to ruminate, certain of only one thing: that whatever he did to protect his daughter must be kept absolutely secret.  After many weeks of deep conflict, he simply had her moved, in the dark of the night, into sumptuous, but neglected, chambers in a remote part of the Palace. These rooms were so rarely visited, he had to have a map drawn up just so he could find them again.

Now the Princess was alone. She spent the whole day looking out over the balcony, wondering if she would be able to see the Prince’s entourage approaching along the road for the wedding. But she saw  only the mountains , pines, clouds, and birds flying past on the wind. Her nurse was often asleep beside the fire, for the Princess made few demands. Because she was locked in, she saw no reason to wear the beautiful but uncomfortable  diamond gloves all the time, so they often sat on her dressing table beside her hair brushes and bottles of scent, outshining of all her other unnecessary jewels. Reading by the fire, she occasionally looked up from her book, and sighed with resigned expectation.

One night, the Princess was awakened when a shaft of bright moonlight was caught in the filmy curtains that blew into the room from the open window casement, setting the room alight, and like moonbeams, the nine ladies from the woods floated in, murmuring, and gazing at the Princess with deep eyes like shadows in their luminous faces. The sound of gongs rolling under the shimmer of silvery bells, came drifting down from someplace higher up within the Palace. The music was haunting and seductive. The Princess sat up to listen to it while the nine ladies stood around her bed in a ring of pale shadows.

“What is that music?” asked the Princess, for she thought she heard a voice among the bells, calling her name in  a scale of falling, ghostly notes.

Miiiraaa…Miiiraaa…Miiiraaa…bellellellellellell….

She was answered by a breeze whistling in, that blew the lighted curtains up so that they swirled like white smoke.

The nine ladies stepped forward as of moved by the sound of the bells. They swayed and rippled in the mottled shadows, there, and then not, and there again, like a flash of lightening. A low moaning chant erupted from them like a warning.

“Someone wants me?” the Princess said sitting up.

Miiiraaa…Miiiiraaa….Miiiiraaa….bellellellellellellll….

The Princess got out of bed slowly, and putting a long cloak on over her nightgown, walked toward the door of her chamber. She heard whispering voices, and felt the nine ladies touching her as if to hold her back, but the voice was calling, and calling, just audible under the steady jingling of the bells.

“Someone wants me,” she said. “I must go.”

The Princess was suddenly startled by a sharp whack! She turned to see the diamond gloves had fallen onto the floor. The nine ladies called for a storm. Winds began to buffet the room, and the sound of thunder rolled. The nine ladies stood before the door, blocking the Princess’s way.

Another, louder voice cried out.

“Mirabelle! What is going on in there?”

All of a sudden, the door grew as tall as a tower, and the nurse burst in, dwarfed in the doorway to the size of a terrier. The Princess screamed and ran back into the room. Spinning around, she came face to face with a tapestry of a dying swan edged with shining blue light.

The bells bonged and shimmered and the distant voice called her.

“I must go!” she cried.

Pushing the tapestry aside, the Princess found a gap in the wall. She hurried through it and entered a passageway with stair leading up into the darkness where the bells came from, and the voice was calling, calling, calling her.

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The bobbin of her spindle dangled from her long hand, spinning faster and faster, as the beautiful Sorceress stood before her enchanted mirror and watched the Princess ascend the stairs. She sang the song of her name, Mirabelle, insinuating her thoughts into the Princess’s mind as she had always done, stealing the girls’ many gifts, given by the nine ladies, for herself. Now she would take back the Princess’s whole body, for was she not the true mother of this child? Had she not given of her own essence so that the Queen could carry her to birth? Mirabelle would be hers now, for one-hundred years, long enough for the Sorceress to feed off of, taking in everything, even greater beauty, and adding another century to her life.

To be continued…..

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Roses, Brairs, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 3

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part Three

My dark version of Briar Rose continues…

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With his daughter safely ensconced in a forest convent where the good sisters were ordered to keep strict watch on her, the King ordered every spinning wheel in the kingdom to be burned in the palace yard, on the same pyre that the Queen’s decapitated body, and her errant soul, had been sent up in smoke a month before. As he watched the fire from a high balcony, the King wondered, all the while, about the fate of the young Princess Mirabelle, tainted with witchcraft. Bowed down with these dark thoughts, he walked away from the spectacle, and sought solace in the shadows.

Of course without the means of spinning thread, the price of clothing increased. Much more time and  labor was involved in pulling the wool into yarn by hand, which was, yet, no where near as fine as wheel spun thread. Thus the serfs were forced to go about wearing the skins of wild beasts. The Court had always traded for silks and satins with the East, and the art of fashion thrived as the royal spinners tried their hands at stitchery, creating more fantastic garments than ever before.

All the while, the King’s army was out searching for the Sorceress, and though they scoured the forest and the mountainside, they could find no trace of her forbidding castle with its rings of high walls. The knights came back to the King’s Palace, fewer in number, and constantly bothering him with tales of an endless twilight atmosphere that clung about the forest. Strange apparitions appeared, floating lights, creatures with the bodies of animals and the heads of men, rows of trees with mirrors hanging among them that were impenetrable as walls, and the disorienting tinkling of thousands of bells over the deep pulsing of gongs. Strong men though they were, they were frightened.

The furious King had them all flogged and sent them out again, shouting “Bring back the Witch, or don’t come back at all!”

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The beautiful Sorceress laughed. They had underestimated her. She had hidden the castle in a reflecting cloud of moonlight so that it merged with the trees in the forest. Then she ensorcelled herself in the most remote tower in the King’s own palace and bided her time, spinning.

The King married a new Queen who, unlike the first, was fat, rosy, and fertile. She gave him many strong sons who made a tremendous racket of noise in the palace, setting things alight and shooting objects through the air. The King was amused as his ministers dodged about with annoyed frowns on their faces, the favorite targets of the Princes’ high spirits.

Still, concern for his daughter buffeted the back of the King’s mind like a contained storm. In nine years, he had had no ill reports of her from the Good Sisters. In fact, he had had no reports at all. It was getting to be time to seal her betrothal to the Prince on the other side of the river. She must not get too old, or the alliance would be compromised. So the King sent a letter to the Holy Mother to ask about the Princess. Her answer was brief.

Greetings, Your Majesty,

The Princess is especially devoted to Our Lady of the Roses. She wears the emblems of that Saint, and it is our hope that she will take the veil as Sister Marie Rose.

Yours in Christ,
Mother Ignatius Teresa Barbara Josephine d’Annunciate

The King was not pleased about that.

So, on her tenth birthday, the King went to see his first born child.

He found that the nuns had grown anxious and possessive of the Princess, whispering to each other of their worry that the King would take her away from them.  When the King saw his daughter, he understood, for when she gazed at him with her light turquoise eyes, he was entranced. The simple black habit of the Convent was designed to erase vanity, but the Princess’s beauty shone forth more brightly, for it set off her pale skin and flaxen hair like a pearl on black velvet cushion. A single red rose was embroidered on her bodice with long hooked thorns that made the King think of claws. And under her sweet, docile manner, he detected a deep whirlpool of emotion, and sensed that she could see into his most hidden, secret parts. He decided not to pay attention to these thoughts, for he needed the Princess to be as he wanted her to be. He smiled jovially and rubbed his hands together as he approached Her stern Holiness.

“Ah, such a beautiful girl she has grown to be,” the King told Holy Mother. “ It is time for her betrothal, and I am sure the Prince will be well pleased with his bride. You have done an excellent job. I shall grant the convent more lands — perhaps the orchard that we passed along the way — as a reward for your kind nurturance of the Princess.”

“Thank you, I’m sure,” said Holy Mother.

The nuns looked askance as the Princess rode away with the King, worried about the watering down of her vocation as the evil worm of luxury entered her soul.

As he rode back to the Palace with his daughter, the King brooded. He remembered the danger of her fourteenth year — the year she was to marry the Prince — the year the curse was meant to take effect. One hundred years of sleep was like a death, was it not?

So the King sent forth a summons for the best, most talented silversmiths, from everywhere in the world, to make his daughter gloves of silver, hinged and padded inside so that her fingers could move, and so the metal would not pinch her pale, delicate skin. A great artist came from Venice and created a pair of gloves woven of real silver thread with cuffs embroidered with a motif of roses, set with rubies, and with beautiful, tapering fingers jointed in all the right places. When the Princess pulled them over her wrists, she went into ecstasies as her hands shone and sparkled in the sunshine.

“Nothing shall pierce those fingers now, my child!” said the King. “Now you are doubly safe.”

And each year after that, new gloves were fitted and made more elaborately than the ones before. Her eleventh year saw a pair of hands encrusted with pearls, the next pair were made of ivory and gold, and so on, The Princess could do nothing with such hands except admire them. She was tired most of the time anyway, so it didn’t really matter. She was content to sit beside the moat under a tree and look at the swans, or stroll along the labyrinth in the walled garden, or sit in the rose entwined bower beside the well, affecting a vacant look, for she did not like personal questions.  But deep inside, dark images moved in and out of her inner vision, obsessing her, drawing her away from the world, draining her of all her qualities. She constantly sensed she was being watched, and once she thought she saw a woman spying on her from the trees, and once a face, that was not her own, was looking up at her from under the water of the moat.

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The Sorceress watched Princess Mirabelle from an enchanted mirror, fascinated by her increasingly eerie, white beauty as she grew from child to young woman. She was amused by the jeweled gloves the King had so painstakingly made for her, as if Fate could be thwarted by such means!  And the nine ladies from the woods were but to be mocked!
They guarded the Princess by standing in a ring around her bed at night, and accompanying her on her walks about the palace grounds. But, though protective, the influence of the nine ladies was isolating. They created an impenetrable night around Princess Mirabelle that kept, not the Sorceress, but all other people, away.

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On Princess Mirabelle’s fourteenth birthday, the King held a great celebration, calling to witness every single living thing in the kingdom. A fine artist from Milan presented the Princess with gloves made of nothing but diamonds, proclaiming them hardest substance in the world, impervious to all penetration. Princess Mirabelle was amazed at how her hands caught the light and cast rainbows on the walls and ceiling, turning frosty in the moonlight, or  deep red in the nimbus of the fire.

But her joy was short lived, for Mirabelle’s fourteenth year was one of increasingly dark moods, nights of bewildered tears, and blood. Her hands swelled and hurt inside the stiff gloves so that she often took them off. On the nights of the full moon she lay in bed unsleeping and saw, or thought she saw, tall faeries standing around her bed. They wore filmy gray-green gowns, and on each of their heads was a bi-horned headdress that shone like the moon.

But they were only impressions, really. Like creatures in a strong, vivid dream…

Spiral in Pine Woods image by Stu Jenks

To be continued…..

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Roses, Briars, Blood is in 11 parts:

Roses, Briars, Blood: Part 11: Finis