A Rose Afraid of Thorns
I purse my lips, careful not to drip the poison. It coats my mouth in a viscous balm, threatening to take me should any slip inside.
She’s lying in our bed awake, sort of. Rose hasn’t really been awake in this world for some time. I haven’t seen life in her eyes for years. She’s just a beautiful shell, drifting away from everything she promised me.
We met just before she turned sixteen. I went riding in the forest and that’s where she lived at the time. I saw her twirling about and daydreaming, not like she daydreams now though. She wasn’t trying to escape anything. Rose was dreaming about me. Or, the possibility of someone like me, I assume. Her blonde curls looked spun of gold, swaying around her shoulders and reflecting off the sun. She was dancing around with some squirrels when I snuck up on her and charmed her with some footwork of my own. Her bare feet, stained green from the soft grass we danced on, clumsily grazed mine. She had no proper training but it only made her more endearing. Surrounded by drooping willows and a still pond, it was quite romantic. We told each other everything we wanted to hear.
“You’ll love me at once, the way you did once upon a dream,” she had said. It sounds kind of crazy, she always talks like that, but I really did love her in that moment.
I felt quite lucky when she invited me to her cottage that night. To my disappointment, she had a roommate. I didn’t realize they were celebrating until a cake was brought out, likely because the decorations were quite unconventional. They had weaved weeds and sticks into streamers that hung from their doorways, furs, and feathers were pinned to the walls, and candles lit by green flame were casting eerie shadows. Apparently Rose was moving. Her roommate, a fairy, wasn’t very happy about it, but they had plans to stay in touch. Rose was to return home to her kingdom. I knew then that we were destined because she was a princess.
We have married not long after. She didn’t adjust to our life in the castle well. I would often awake reaching for her in our bed, only to find she was curled up on the floor, next to the wide-open window. I tried to lift her spirits. We had balls with dancing, we had plays and poets visit, and she was finally with her family again. After some time though, she became restless. Rose wanted to live in the woods, she wanted to travel further and take up strange hobbies like knife throwing and jerky butchering. I suggested she try spinning instead as I had a room full of spindles for her. She wouldn’t go near it; A rose afraid of thorns.
Worst of all though, she was barren and we were broken. Without an heir, our kingdom will be lost to my petulant cousin. Rose grew distant and mute. I didn’t know what else to do. She was wasting her life and so now I’m pausing it.
I’ve sat beside her on the bed. She doesn’t look at me. Rose blinks slowly, the only evidence she isn’t a porcelain doll. I lean towards her, she’s unphased.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper.
My lips touch hers and for a moment she’s more awake than I’ve seen in years. Her eyes widen, she stares at me as her heart slows, her hands clench at my collar. And then those lids slide over her realization and she’s falling back onto the bed. The bed bounces along with her long curls. I arranged those golden locks to splay around her like her head is resting on a bed of straw.
I pull out a handkerchief and wipe the rest of the poison from my lips. I’m paranoid and spit.
The fairies flutter in.
“Is it done?” one asks me. I can’t really tell the difference between the three. I can’t even really see their features clearly, beyond their cloud of magic. Their haze sparkles, they’re small, frail, and pointy. They have elongated ears and horns, freckles and spots, crowns and claws. The fairies are draped in moss, bark and have little streams falling from them into eternity. They look like deer that have been stretched into children.
“Yes.” They can see that is.
“Good,” they say in unison. They’re a cold species. They had invested in Rose the day she was born, given her gifts like beauty, kindness, song, and grace. They could have given her a sense of humor, in my opinion. Fairies are fascinated by pure beauty, untampered and not yet blooming. They’ve been tending to Rose, preparing her for her rule, but I think they’ve ruined her. If only she’d listened to me. But Rose was drawn to them, to their strangeness.
The chill of their power and unpredictability trickles a tickle down my spine.
“Leave us,” they command.
I look to Rose as I leave and she looks more at ease than before. I realize I should have arranged more than just her hair. Her arm is bent at the elbow, draped across the bed, and she has one foot dangling off the edge while the other is tangled in sheets.
The news will be out soon. They’ll spin a tale of her suspended life to preserve our kingdom, a valiant sacrifice for a princess who cannot bare an heir instead. They’ll paint and plaster my resting beauty across the city. She’ll be awoken when I die, to continue our family’s rule.
There’s a crow, perching on the windowsill in the hallway. It’s been watching me. I leap for the bird, but it’s gone already and I know exactly to whom. I rush to the armory. My role now is to defend Rose, and the biggest threat to our plan was the fairy who shared her cabin in the woods. I know that woodland witch is out there, that great green fairy, Maleficent.
My briar rose, they’ve made her nothing more than a sleeping beauty. Taken her away and holed her up in a concrete castle, boxed her into their rituals and pastimes. Such frivolity. Don’t they know what treasure they collected from me? I think of her voice, how she’d sing melodies that even the toads could harmonize with. We’d dance about the cottage, smoking jerky and throwing knives. We’d weave weeds into each other’s hair and domesticate the wildest of creatures. She was so fearless, after a bit of convincing that is.
And now that they’re displeased with their molding of her, they’re trying to start over. They’re changing her narrative by taking her out of it. Couldn’t they have just given her back to me? I resist the dragon roaring inside of me. I am livid and my anger breathes emerald fire.
I can’t waste any more time. I let the beast take over and then I’m soaring. Wings and wind and I’m made wicked. I launch out of the forest and cross the kingdom. I spot the town messengers, news of Rose’s sleeping spell swarms the villages. I resist the urge to burn them all down. I don’t want her to wake angry at me. I halt before the castle. Those damned fairies have charmed it. They’ve wrapped her resting place in thorns, how typically poetic of them. They knew I’d arrive as a dragon.
And so I shove the beast down, like swallowing the pit of a peach. I stalk under the enlarged thorn bush, and up to the castle threshold. The prince steps out to greet me then.
“I trusted her to you,” I say, lethally calm.
“I did my best,” he says. He’s got a long sword in his hand.
“Liar. You did what was easy. You let them drain her away to nothing,” I say.
“She let them do it too. And where were you while all this happened?”
I hiss at him, that fire leaks from my nostrils. “I wasn’t allowed to interfere,” I say tightly. Buffoon. He’s just making excuses now.
There’s no sun left to light our standoff. Storm clouds move in, invited by the night's events.
“Let me take her,” I offer him one chance.
“I can’t do that.”
He keeps talking as I release some of my magic, green light bounces shadows off his face. They mock him; make his cheeks less sharp, his eyes less determined.
“It’s not just me playing this game. The other fairies, they’re really behind it all,” he rambles.
I don’t bother with replies. I’ve circled him into a dining chamber.
“She never liked living with you,” he’s wielding words now, stabbing me with sentences. I scoff. But he’s wounded me. I know there’s truth to that. I know my ways weren’t natural to her.
“Why do you think she never wrote back? She was glad to get away.”
I believe him. Really, it only took a handsome prince and promise of a fairytale for her to leave. What could I have offered her anyways?
I still don’t have words for him, nothing that he couldn’t see through, at least. I should’ve sharpened this weapon too.
I’m within arms reach now. He swings his sword, it gashes me open, but I don’t spill any blood.
“You failed her,” I whisper to him. “Worse than I ever did.”
He doesn’t argue. And at first, he doesn’t scream as I set fire to him.
I’m a swirl of cloak and fire as I ascend to her bedchamber. I sense them before I see them. The three little fairies are outside her door.
“You shouldn’t have come here,” they say.
They start swaying, blue and pink dust fills the room. I can feel it reach inside my throat. A dry and full dust that tries to pry oxygen from my lungs, but it doesn’t work. With a wave of my hand, it’s dissipated.
Their eyes are full of such anger that it transforms their small figures. They’re hideous. Horns are pointed and teeth elongated, they sprout weeds and their streams dry up. But these fairies aren’t designed for combat. They know they have no chance against me.
“You’ll ruin her,” they say.
“You already have,” I say.
The fairies value self-preservation over all else and so they move aside. Smarter than the prince, and yet I’m more inclined to kill them for not putting up a fight.
I’m through her door a heartbeat later.
And there she is, my Briar Rose.
I’m dreaming but all of it’s real. I’m stuck in the loop of my life. That bastard betrayed me. I gave up everything for him; I gave up my life with Maleficent for some pipe dream of a prince. I suppose I loved him, in the way I was supposed to. We never knew how to love each other well. We were in love with who we thought the other was, while both pretending to be someone else. My prince hated the fairies and their magic and yet, the hypocritical bastard has leagued with them to envenom me.
I feel languid as I’m drawn into a memory. The cottage, on the day I first stayed. I was just a child when my parents gave me to Maleficent. They had promised her their firstborn, in exchange for the ability to conceive one at all. My family line notoriously struggled to produce heirs. Their bargain was temporary, I could return to them when I was sixteen if I still desired to. My fairy caretaker was determined to convince me that I wouldn’t.
Maleficent left me to sleep in the stable that first week so that I would learn to appreciate her meager luxuries. There was an arthritic bed and feeble quilt, the walls decorated as if the whole cottage was an armory, and no mirrors. I caught my reflection in one of the axes. My drugged mind has made it horrifying. My eyes are drooping into my cheeks, I have only a few strands of stringy hair stretching from my head and my skin is spotted. I try to scream. Well, I try to, but my voice doesn’t work here. I try to tell myself it’s only a dream.
“We mustn’t make a brat out of you. Or else I’ll be inclined to keep you forever.” Maleficent is watching me examine my new home. She was cold and distant at first, or maybe I was. We didn’t really speak for quite some time. It was even longer until she showed me her magic. And just like that, the thought takes me to the moment.
We were walking in the forest, my toes were forever green and my heels were black. I’d long since stopped wearing shoes. I asked her why they called her a fairy if she didn’t have any magic.
“I do have magic,” she said.
I didn’t buy it, so she showed me. She pointed out a squirrel, scavenging in a nearby pine. I didn’t hesitate in chucking my knife through its skull, just as she’d taught me. Maleficent plucked the squirrel front the tree I’d pinned it to. She held it with such care that I thought she was going to breathe life back into the creature. Instead, she blew green flames that disintegrated the animal instantly. I was enamored. I hadn’t felt first time wonder quite like that until I fell in love.
I’m dancing in my forest. It’s the day before I returned home. She’s sent me out to collect berries to top the cake she’s making. It was the first time she had spoken to me since I told her I didn’t want to stay. I was dancing for the last time in the forest when he snuck up on me. I was daydreaming of someone just like him. He was everything I thought he was supposed to be. He was tall and strapping, with a heroic voice and a big sword. We married almost immediately. He was handsome and charming. And boring. He told bad jokes and had uninteresting interests. I had wanted something new without realizing what I had was more exciting.
The fairies were as close to magic as I could get. Their power was subtle and manipulating, where Maleficent’s was brute and sensational. They were cunning and scheming with shrouded intentions. They were teaching me to use my own charms and secrets to wield power. I was too consumed by that potential to look closer at why.
I’m sitting at my armoire, turned away from the mirror. They’re discussing my slow progress, my fatigue from their lessons, and my inability to be energized by anything else in my life.
“We need more time,” they hissed to themselves. I’m watching this happen again and seeing how obvious it all was.
Screw them all. I’m done being their pretty plaything to pull and fight over, to dress and mold and train. I’m done being a pawn everyone else’s game. My induced fever dreams continue to show me all the reasons I now clench the knife.
She’s tucked into bed like a child’s toy. She’s been made up and arranged and for a moment I feel as if I’m staring into her casket. But her chest rises, unnaturally slow. I kneel next to the bed and stroke her cheek. It’s nearly translucent. Her hair is too fine, well brushed and devoid of our weeds. They’ve colored her lips, likely to hide the residue of the poison. Her pout will forever be pigmented black.
I lift her hand, devoid of its once sun-kissed tint. I pull out my spindle and prick her finger. I wait for her to awake.
Her eyes don’t flutter open, she doesn’t gaze at me like her hero, her hand doesn’t reach for mine. Instead, Rose gasps and shoots upward, she’s pulled a knife from under her pillow and thrusts it hilt deep into my heart.
“Checkmate,” she whispers. My emerald flames drift from my mouth with my last breath. She breathes it in and her eyes glow with the power she’s stolen from me.