The Blue Rose

One of my very first stories

The Blue Rose

Blue rose

 

Once, long ago, in a time and place where fairies and witches still existed, there lived a princess. Unlike all the other princesses, the world over, she was neither beautiful, nor elegant, nor graceful. She was decidedly ordinary. Good, clever, modest, talented and hard-working but all of this meant nothing to the princes of the neighbouring kingdoms, for she had neither blonde ringlets nor raven locks; neither eyes of clearest blue nor of a bewitching green. Indeed, she looked like any other girl.

 

However, one day there arrived in the kingdom an impoverished duke. The son of one of the most respected, if financially unwise, nobleman of the realm. On his father’s death he had returned from his studies to his family’s ancestral home, intent on salvaging what he could of his inheritance. As a member of the nobility, and therefore of the king’s court, he found himself often in the palace and it seemed as though someone had, at last, seen the young princesses’ worth, for he became ever more attentive to her until at last, one day, he asked for her hand in marriage. The princess, who had long ago lost her heart to the duke, set off instantly to secure her father’s permission for her marriage.

 

The king, however, neither so young nor so good as his daughter, had his suspicions about the motives of the handsome, penniless stranger. He pointed out with patient reason to his daughter that she really had nothing to offer a husband: neither beauty, nor elegance, nor grace, only money – a thing the duke happened to need quite a lot of. She brushed her father’s objections aside but not before a tiny seed of doubt was planted in her heart and although she gave her yes to the duke, yet she looked for a way to be sure that the love he declared was true.

 

The very next day after the proposal the princess set out to find the wise woman who lived in the forest bordering the grounds of the palace. “Good Mother,” she said, “is there any way to know a man’s heart, to know whether his love is true or not?”

 

“There is, but the way is long and hard.”

 

“Nowhere is too far and nothing is too hard.”

 

“So be it…” and the wise woman told her of a rose, a magical rose which grew on the highest mountain at the furthest end of the world: a rose which grew but once a year and which reflected the heart of whoever held it. “Be careful, my child, for it holds great magic and only the pure of heart can touch it safely.”

 

The princess set out the very next day, alone. She travelled through forests, over lakes and under mountains. Saw the curling rage-filled waves of the northern sea; the dancing, coloured waters of the great waterfalls; the dark, terrifying recesses of the black forest. She survived storms, robbers, frosts and the hidden terrors of the mountain ways. At last, she came to the highest mountain at the very end of the world and saw the most beautiful snow white rose growing alone, surrounded by bare rock. Awestruck, she stooped and gathered it gently into her hand and watched as from the edges of the petals a warm yellow seeped into the rose until only the very centre was white. She carried it with utmost care back along the long torturous way home and eventually returned to her father’s kingdom, a year after she had set off.

 

Swiftly before entering the palace she took the rose in her hands and whispered the question, which lay so heavy on her heart, into its soft petals. “Does he love me?” On entering the palace her father, all the courtiers and the duke rushed out to meet her but before anyone could speak she turned to her fiancé and gave him the rose, saying it was a gift from her journey. As soon as the rose touched his fingers the heart of it turned an icy blue which ran quickly to the very edges of the petals. Then the icy blue colour of the rose seemed to spill over the very edges of the petals and settle into his skin until it could be seen tracing its way up his veins. Slowly, very slowly, the colour crept through his body, until he collapsed to his knees unable to stand. As all the courtiers gazed open-mouthed he sank backwards onto the floor, his body as ice, all colour gone from his skin until all that could be seen was the slow insidious creep of the blue ice reaching towards his heart. Finally, he lay completely still, frozen, the blue rose clasped in his hand and only the slightest wisp of breath coming from his mouth showed that he lived, trapped frozen within his own body.

 

Dry and desperate eyed, the princess turned to her father, “I have my answer, father, you were right.”

 

The still breathing body of the duke was laid in the crypt below the chapel, soon forgotten by all but the princess. Despite his betrayal, still she loved the duke for her love, once given, would not be taken back. Every day, week after week, month after month, she visited the duke. Unsure of whether he could hear or see, she nevertheless brought fresh flowers everyday, and spent hours telling him the tales of her journey, or the stories of those she had met, singing or simply talking into the unresponsive silence, her heart heavy with love and guilt for his fate.

 

Exactly one year after the princesses’ return, she came down to visit the duke as usual, changed the flowers that she had placed within his eyeline and prepared to begin her next story. Suddenly she noticed that at the furthest edge of one of the petals there was the faintest tinge of pink. She didn’t know what this could mean but her heart felt curiously lighter, and as she read a smile crept onto her face. The ritual of her visits continued, day after day, week after week, month after month, tear after tear, and each day (or so it seemed to her) there was a little more pink staining the petals of the rose until one day, five years later, there was only a tiny hint of blue at one corner. Her heart that night was torn between sorrow and a nameless joy. She hoped for things she could hardly put into words but feared also that those hopes would not be met. For the duke himself was still as cold and still as the day it had happened.

 

The next day she avoided her visit for as long as possible, making excuses of busyness when really it was fear that kept her away. When all her excuses had run out she took the key from the chapel and descended to the crypt, a bunch of snowdrops tight in her hand.

 

Quietly she opened the door and slowly entered, eager and fearful of what awaited. But as she entered, she saw what she had seen every day for all those years: The body of the duke stood as still as stone, unmoving and cold.   Her hand gripped the flowers tighter, she squeezed her eyes tight shut. She stepped forward as she did everyday and came and stood at his side looking up at his frozen features. Glancing at the rose, she could not see a single fleck of blue remaining. Suddenly, a greater fear seized her and she put her cheek to his mouth to see if that last sign of life had also been extinguished. His warm breath brushed her cheek and her heart beat again.   Stepping back she looked at him, unchanged, unchanging and she thought how cruel a trick the rose had played.

 

Each day she had come a little gladder. Each day, hope had grown. Everyday for five long years she had been waiting for this day and the day had come and nothing had changed and now, there was nothing left to hope for.

 

The tears that she had never cried came now and flowed down her cheeks, falling silently to the floor. She came and stood, once more, at the duke’s side and gripped his frozen hand in her own, letting her tears fall where they lay upon his pale skin. How long she stood, abandoned in her grief, she didn’t know but sometime later she stopped her tears and hid again behind her soft smile. She stepped back, ready to begin her daily ritual and arrange the flowers she had dropped in her sorrow, but as she started to withdraw her hand she felt a slight pressure which would not let her go. In surprise she looked down and saw the duke’s fingers curl around her own. She looked at his face and saw his eyes open.   Fear and uncertainty washed through her and she stepped back, this time the duke let her go.

 

She watched as slowly and cautiously he tested the movement of his whole frame.   His eyes caught hers and held and leaning forward to take her hand he explained that the love which had brought her every day to his side had melted the hardness of his heart. And that day after day his love for her had grown until it matched her own, upon which the rose had set him free from its imprisonment.

 

A tear slipped down her cheek and he stuttered to a stop. “I know your love did not fade,” he said, slowly, hesitantly, “but can you accept mine now, after so long? All I want is you, nothing else. Nothing but you.”

 

“Yes”

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