I suspect I’m shooting myself in the foot posting things here, and not trying to get them published; but I don’t really need that? Anyhow, I really like this one.
I stood in the shadows at the blessing of the infant princess, the uninvited guest. They would not see me until I willed it, this King and his previously barren and bereft wife. The wife who sought me in shadows of my own, to solve the problem no midwife or physic had untangled.
Was it not my magic that saw his seed would find no fertile ground in her womb? Was it not my magic that sent the best of the knights in the King’s seeming to her bed? Was it not my magic that kept the King distracted with a seeming of my own, while his true wife lay with another? By rights I should be the guest of highest honor at this ceremony, if they were not so afraid of truth.
I listened to the gifts bestowed by my kin. Grace and beauty, kindness and wit, music and poetry. Dainty princess sweets to make her a delectable, predictable, pliable morsel for some prince. I felt an anger grow behind my breast bone, just above where my own child slumbered in watery peace. The shadows gathered to me, clothing me in ripples of black and grey, arching behind me in great wings. I lay a concealment on my own pregnancy, and stepped into their vision at the foot of the cradle.
“Hail, King and Queen made at last Father and Mother!” I made a mocking bow. “My worthy kin have set upon fair Rhosyn’s brow wondrous gifts, have they not?” I brushed a fingertip across the sleeping babe’s brow. The Queen trembled. The King would have had his knights drag me away, did they not fear my power. “It would be remiss of me not to bestow my own blessing on such a treasure, would it not?”
Reaching into the cradle, I lifted Rhosyn into my arms. Such a beautiful child, that my magic helped to make. “Graceful she shall be, kind and delicate as well. Indeed, she will be clever and witty and skilled in the gentle arts… and through those you will seek to twist and spin her into a pliable thread, to be woven in someone else’s tapestry.”
I raised the child up into the light dappling through the stained glass. Her eyes were open now, looking around without fear. “I tell you this- you will weave her into nothingness. Her heart is too great for the future you spin! You will spin and spin and prick her upon the spindle of marriage at 16, and she will die of it! Seek more for her!”
The King let out a great roar, drew his sword and rushed at me; but I had already returned the child to her cradle, and let the shadow carry me away.
Fools. Fools and perhaps I was the greater fool to think they would listen. Within days the tale was that I had cursed the child to prick herself on a spindle when she turned 16, and die. The King ruined hundreds upon hundreds of families by ordering that all spinning must be done by women in heavily guarded halls, and all thread for weaving bought from there. Gold lining his coffers from people forced to buy “approved” thread, silk merchants from out kingdom clothing the landed elite… all while the rest of the population build clothes from scraps.
I wait another 5 months. For all my child was conceived the same night as fair Rhosyn, my kind is longer in the bearing. A beautiful girl of my own, with my dark hair, and eyes a truly ‘royal’ blue. Hers is a name of magic, but to the world she is Briar- in keeping with the trend of girl babes named for the infant princess.
I come to the palace a simple washer woman, my babe upon my hip, seeking employment. While a subtle nudge of magic may get me a place, it takes no such arts to prove my worth once there. Within a month I am assisting with household chores, within six I am serving the Queen directly, and by midsummer the next year, I am in charge of the nursery, and have the young Rhosyn in my care. The Queen, once the child is weaned, has little to do with her; the raising of royal children is left to others. Under my hand Rhosyn and Briar will grow and thrive, and I will unweave the fate that royalty decrees for her.
The years pass. The girls are my treasure and my delight. As infants they toddle about the palace together, as small girls they play with toys in the nursery and find small treasures of rocks and insects and flowers in the garden. As girls on the edge of womanhood, they share secrets and blushes, have falling outs and teary apologies.
I teach them both the expected lessons of the nobility- history, hierarchies and etiquette, so that Rhosyn will be the delicate princess they desire- and I teach them the more practical arts; the uses of herbs and plants, the rhythm of the seasons, reading, writing and numbers. They accompany me through my daily tasks, and I set them to helping others of the palace staff, so that they learn the underpinnings of running a household, and by extension, a kingdom. Rhosyn must be able to lead, to understand, not just be a pretty rose on a throne controlled by others.
In the small cottage I keep outside the palace walls, I teach them both the deeper mysteries. They are both mine, in truth- my magic made them, and my magic runs through them. Brier will inherit my power for the kin-blood within her, but Rhosyn carries enough of me for the smaller magics. They learn spells for healing, for seeing the truth of a thing, for seeking that which was lost, and more. They delve into their studies with whole hearts and I often find them bent over one of my tomes, foreheads touching, looking for something new to learn.
The eve of Rhosyn’s 16th birthday draws near. She is in the council chambers with her parents and their advisors now, planning the celebration. Briar is curled on the rug in front of the fire, reading a book. We retreated to our chambers when the fuss started- I have no desire to be caught up in the planning. My ‘employment’ as her nursemaid and governess ends when she turns 16, I have no doubt they’ll retain me as the palace healer, and place Briar as her head Lady’s Maid. Well and good, perhaps this foolishness with the spindle and spinning wheels will end with her birthday, and I can go back to the larger magics. I am weary of disguise.
Briar’s head snaps up, and she lets out a small sound of distress. Moments later, the door flies open and a gasping Rhosyn flings herself into Briar’s outstretched arms. As if the comfort of another opens floodgates, the gasps become wrenching sobs, her slender body shaking so violently it seems she might break into a million pieces.
I pour a glass of water, and wave a subtle calming spell over it. Just enough to ease her, it would not serve to numb her completely. I sense that she will need her strong emotions, soon. She drinks, sputters, drinks again, and her breathing evens out.
The look in her eyes turns from sorrow to fury, and the tension in her shoulders is anger now, not distress. Briar strokes her face and makes soothing noises. “What is it? Sweetling, tell me!’
“They mean to marry me to Baron Caravint! The day after my birthday!” Rhosyn clenches her fists and looks up at me, her face a storm of emotions. I encourage her to go on.
“I’ve not even seen him since I was a little girl, he’s barely younger than my father!” Briar makes a very teenaged noise of disgust, and pulls Rhosyn closer. She snuggles into Briar’s arms and adjusts to face me.
“It gets worse. They informed me that the Baron is a great man, who, when my father dies, will serve as Regent “Until my son comes of age to take the throne.”. I’m not even considered competent enough to hold the throne! I’m just… just… a brood mare! A place-holder! The dowry is set, the contracts signed all without me. He’ll be here tomorrow, and they’ll make the betrothal public at the opening celebration.”
I sigh, weary to my bones. I know the Baron. He is a power-mad manipulator, who has been trying to have his fingers in the management of the kingdom since before Rhosyn was born. He would be a disaster as a ruler. They’ve ignored everything that Rhosyn has become, and woven her into nothing, as I said they would.
Rising from my chair, I kneel down before them on the rug, holding their clasped hands in mine. They are inseparable, my girls, and not just because I had the raising of them. They know each other’s mind as if they shared a soul. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.
“What do you want, Rhosyn? What do you truly want?”
She opens her mouth to respond, and then I see her pause to consider. She extracts herself from Briar’s embrace, and sits up straighter, thinking. I smile to myself- here is the ruler I created.
“I want Briar. I’ve always wanted Briar. She is my heart and comfort. Even when we were both fussing about Toby the stableboy, we were together. I know my duty would lead to me needing to marry and have heirs, but I thought I’d have more time, and more choice.”
Brier is blushing, even as tears trickle down her cheeks. She is a sensitive heart, this daughter of mine, but she waits- knowing as I do that Rhosyn has more to say. My Princess is thoughtful, and looks me in the eye.
“I can’t leave the kingdom to Caravint. He’d run it to ruin for his own gain. But I won’t marry him and try to rule from the shadows, either. Which leaves me few options.” She ticks off the possibilities on her fingers. “I stand up to my parents and refuse, which is a rather meaningless gesture. Or I raise an army and take the throne myself, at age 16. Or…”
“Or?” I prompt, knowing what she’s about to ask.
“Or, magic. I know there’s more than you’ve taught me. I know the stories from when I was born. Can you do it? For us?”
I gaze at them both. They will thrive, these beloveds, in a world of their own making… if I do this. Haven’t I said there is nothing I wouldn’t do? I nod solemnly. Their faces light up, and my heart begins to break.
Rhosyn I send to the garden for a rose, Briar I send to fetch a bit of wool roving from the pile rejected by the weavers. While I wait I cast a spell of avoidance on the door so no one will interrupt the working, and I take a small wooden wagon down off of a shelf of curios.
I am sitting in my chair, holding the wagon when the girls return. Briar looks at it in confusion.
“Mother, isn’t that my little wagon from when I was little? What in the world are you doing with it?”
I motion for them to sit. “Watch and see.” I undo a hinge there, push a cotter pin out there, and when I am done, one wheel and the handle has become a serviceable drop spindle. Neither of them has seen one before and they cock their heads at me in just the same way, making me laugh.
“Give me the wool, silly girls. And a bit of hair from you both.”
Wool in hand, I begin to spin, twisting the strands of their hair in. As the thread begins to grow, I reach out with my magic. This will be a living spell, and it needs life to sustain it. The tendrils of magic seek through the palace, finding each person, and catching their life force into the spinning thread. Just a drop or two from each- not enough to end their life, but all around the palace, the people begin to droop into sleep. The cook slumps over a bowl of dough. The stable boys slide against stall walls. The council and court, still arguing after Rhosyn’s dramatic exit, lay their heads down on the great table and close their eyes. The animals I leave awake, no sense in punishing them for the foolishness of their masters. But in moments, every human in the palace but the three of us is in a deep magical sleep.
I take the thread from the spindle, and wind it around the stem of the rose, singing a deeper spell into it as I wind. Sleep, stasis and security. These will keep the palace and the kingdom safe, and the girls free. I hand the rose to Rhosyn, and pluck another hair from her head.
“Everything is ready, my loves. Take horses from the stables, and provisions from the stores. Pack those things of your own you can’t be parted from. You’ll live in the cottage for a time, but where you go from there will be entirely your own path. When you are outside the gate of the palace, Rhosyn must prick her finger on the rose’s thorns, and plant it in the ground at the base of the wall.”
Rhosyn frowns, but Briar understands at once.
“You aren’t coming with us!” she accuses.
“No. I must be here to maintain the spell. Go out into the world. Tell all who ask that the curse struck the Princess Rhosyn down before her birthday, and only when someone who is worthy of her and the kingdom will the barrier fall.”
They cling to me, and weep. I weave a gentle spell around Rhosyn turning her distinct platinum locks a softer brown, her deep blue eyes become grey. No one will guess her the princess now. I help them pack. They wander through the palace, wondering at everyone sleeping. We laugh out loud at a particularly obnoxious courtier, who has fallen asleep on a plate full of pudding.
We load a wagon with supplies and goods. They claim a cat and her kittens from the kitchen, a puppy from the litter that is newly weaned, and a small assortment of fowl. All the while they tell me of their plans to turn my cottage into a healing hall and small working farm. My heart is full of their hope and promise, even as I prepare to lose them to the world.
The sun is setting, and we say goodbye in tears. I watch as they pass through the gates, and pause outside the wall to plant the blooded rose stem. The magic swells, grows… I climb up the stairs to the highest tower. With each step my illusion of simple herbwife falls away and I am myself again, for a time.
My wings spread to catch the sunset breeze, I watch them wend away from the palace. Thick brambles and briars climb the walls and coat the palace in a profusion of roses. I feel the stasis spell taking hold. It will cause even me to sleep. It takes a few moments to turn this tower room into a rose-themed bed chamber, a few moments more to change my seeming into that of the not-yet 16 Princess Rhosyn.
Laying down on the bed, a rose clutched in my hands, I smile. My girls are free, their destinies aligned. And in the end, perhaps a hundred years from now, someone worthy will find me and the kingdom will be mine.