Issue No. 12, Spring 2015

Briar Rose
S.E. Clark

I see you.

Shadows will do you no good here; your footsteps betrayed you at the bottom of the tower. The smoke on the wind, too. You’d do well to lay down your sword and sit. That chair will do. Mind the hair and fabric; I’ve just managed to untangle it all.

Don’t bother with your false surprise. Your grandfather must have told you stories about me since you were a wriggler. And you have it all wrong. I can correct you, if you’d like. Or you can try to lob off my head but I’ll have cursed your gallbladder into a hunk of lead by the first cut. And then we both lose. You more slowly, I suppose.

So, sit.

Thank you.

It’s simple, really—they should have just invited me. It would have saved a lot of heart ache. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Her parents did not invite me to the party, which was their first mistake. The other guests didn’t try to hide their disgust when I arrived anyway. Their second mistake, for no one insults a fairy, wicked though she may be.  I don’t think I’m wicked, but the word gets tossed around whenever I must correct such disrespect, so I’ll bear it. I may be the youngest, but it’s my rightful place to be honored with my sisters, and besides, a free dinner is a pittance compared to a gift a magician of my talents can give.

I made a grand entrance at the christening, true; crack of lightning, plume of smoke, high-collared dress. There in the hall the lass squirmed in her crib, gurgling and soiling herself, and when I picked her up, the queen gripped the front of her gown with white knuckles. As if she thought I would throw the babe against the floor—the nerve of her. I meant no harm, the lass knew it; she held up her own head on an unsteady neck, stared with quick, dark eyes and did not cry, which put her in my favor, honest.

I only wanted to scare her parents. I proclaimed my curse—that on her eighteenth birthday the child would prick her finger on a spindle and die—but evoked no magic. No summoning circle, no incense. I bluffed. Any idiot wizard could tell. I figured the child would die earlier than her teen years, as many children in this kingdom do, or she would live, never having to card wool or spin or even touch a sheep in her shiny, special life. Her parents would be pleasantly surprised. You could say I was granting the princess a blessing.

But some people, they just love to overreact.

The queen fell into the arms of the pallid king, shrieking. My sisters—the sober ones—glared at me from the banquet table. And I was pleased as a peach because the mayhem was firing up, when my middle sister, who could never resist the chance to look good, stood from her seat and coughed into her fist. A prim, professional ‘ahem’. I expected a scolding. Instead, she made me a fool.

I should’ve thrown a glass of wine in her face as soon as she pulled the wand from her bodice. The stink of magic poured into the hall as everyone’s hair stood on end. A light jumped from the tip of my sister’s wand like an ember.

“On her eighteenth birthday,” my sister said, “the child will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a hundred year sleep.”

That stupid bitch.

Magic bolted from the end of her wand. It sparked along the baby’s nerves and she began to scream. The king broke out of his stupor, called for the guards. I had barely enough time to drop the babe into her crib and avoid a nasty skewering. I vanished into a cloud of feathers, which must’ve seemed impressive to the court, but mercifully, they’ll never know I overshot my reappearance by a mile and ended up knee-deep in pond scum. My sister appeared at the pond’s edge, haloed in dandelion seeds. She added this charm to all her transport spells; ‘it looks ethereal’, she said. It’s ragweed. People sneezed when she showed up.

“Still haven’t worked out the kinks of that spell, little sister?” she said, “You’re better with animal transformations anyway. Turn into a sparrow and flitter away.”

“Drop dead, Myra,” I replied.

My sister tutted at me, which I hate above all things, and I would’ve wished a lightning bolt from the heavens to strike her if I wasn’t standing in tepid water.

Myra cleared her throat. “Euphegima, this fiasco didn’t have to happen this way. You strayed from the plan—”

I ‘strayed from the plan’? You cast magic! You cursed the princess!”

“Like you were supposed to?” She paced the water’s edge, her feet hovering above the mud. “I told you to cast some little curse. Turn her blue, or into a cat. Something small. You escape, I fix it, and we both get what we want: you bolster your villainous reputation; I get a king and queen indebted to my kindness. But now you’ve complicated things.”

I climbed through the reeds and wrung out my skirt. “You didn’t have to use magic. You could have just lied, Myra.”

“But I’m no liar.” She scraped the underside of her nail with the point of her wand. “Listen, Euphegima. You wanted to be feared. And now you are. Beyond your wildest dreams.”

She paused. Frantic barking and the cry of trumpets echoed over the swamp.

“Best to skitter along, I think. Sounds like dogs.”

And in a miasma of pollen, she disappeared. The kingdom anointed her as their darling, and I became the boogeyman villagers scared their children with at night. Which I didn’t mind. Infamy grants a certain respect; you can have power and never owe anyone favors. It’s what I wanted.

But I was wrong.

Not about the infamy, of course. I’m saying this isn’t my fault, the princess’s curse. You don’t have all the details.

For one—she named herself Briar Rose. Her parents named her Rose but she never took to it, because when people think of ‘Rose’, they think only of the petals and never the thorns. She told me so. This woman asleep on the bed, with hair grown past her ankles. This is the princess you’ve been hearing stories about since you were a child. Her name is Briar Rose.

I put the christening behind me—left my highland cottage for a tower in the forest, bought on the cheap from a farmer who had no love for the king. The king’s men had taken his wife’s spinning wheel by royal decree, as with all such wheels, spindles, and distaffs in the kingdom, and burned them in the town square. Panicked, the shepherds sold their raw wool to whatever foreign merchant would take it. Textiles devolved into an underground industry; women smuggled needles in loaves of bread, knitted cloaks by candlelight. The price of imported fabrics swelled. Many went cold that winter; this was a long time ago, before you were a tickle in your father’s loins.

Some of the peasants blamed me for the disruption; but for many, it was the king’s knights, not I, breaking into their houses and bashing their wheels to splinters. Royalty can never understand what little their dramatics mean to people at risk of freezing to death. I kept my spinning wheel in the top room of the tower, where roses red as chicken’s blood had climbed the turret and shrouded the window. I cleared out all other rampant weeds except those. The vines held fast to the stone and bristled with thorns. They wanted to stay. And I obliged.

I’m a very obliging person. Briar Rose will tell you. For thirteen years I kept my neck out of the kingdom’s troubles, spinning fabric for the farmer to sell in the back of a pub. I stayed out of it, until she arrived.

I’d put on the pot for venison stew when I saw her through the kitchen window, this dirt-child stalking through my tomato plants. Poking at the ripe ones with a twig, like they were playthings instead of food.

The vines caught her before I did; they snaked through the garden and curled around her ankle. They pulled her off her feet and dangled her upside down like a skinned rabbit. She yelped and struck the vine a couple of times until a second tendril yanked the stick out of her hand.

I thought she was a nobleman’s daughter from her furred vest, studded with brambles though it was; I only realized the girl was the same child my sister had cursed when she looked at me. Same curiosity reflected in her gaze.

Her arms went slack and she swayed back and forth.

“Wow, you’re pretty,” she said. And perhaps I was a little aghast.

“Too pretty to be a witch. Are you?” she asked.

“Who said I was?”

The girl shrugged. Bits of twigs and straw fell from her loose hair. “People in the village. They said somewhere in the forest there’s a witch in a tower. But you don’t even look old enough to be one. Where’re your parents?”

“Buried under a rock. And you—you’re trusting villagers? They think if you look at a full moon you’ll turn into a wolf.”

“If you do and start howling,” she said, “they won’t leave their houses for a week.”

So I have a soft spot for mischief, and perhaps I was easily impressed back then. Perhaps it was being called ‘pretty’, something that’d never happened before, or since. That’s all she had to do to snare me; she called me pretty. It is the simplest, most shallow things that can strip away your sense when you’re young.

She paused and sniffed the air. Her stomach growled. I snapped my fingers and the vines released her. And, yes, I may have laughed when she fell into the grass, squawking, but I did invite her in for lunch. She picked at her vest for a moment, then followed. Hungry people are so easy to lure inside, it’s almost sad.

Briar Rose sat at the head of my table and I could tell then she was definitely a king’s daughter by the way she held her soup spoon, pinkie extended. Regal, until she shoveled whole hunks of venison between her teeth and chewed with her mouth open. I teased her, said that’s no way to eat like a lady.

“Maybe I’m not a lady,” she replied.

“And maybe I’m not either.”

The girl’s eyes widened. She swallowed her mouthful and barraged me with questions, you know the kind: ‘Then what are you? A monster, a fairy? Is your house made of gingerbread? Do you eat other children?’

I said, “Are you so fearless to ask me if I eat children while you are sitting at my table, devouring my lunch?”

“I’m not afraid,” she said, “You can’t eat me. I already know how I’m going to die.”

“How’s that?”

“On a spindle. I’ll prick my finger and die and wake up in a hundred years. The scullery maids whisper about it all the time.”

“You mean you’ll sleep for a hundred years.”

The girl sucked at her fingers. “Nobody can sleep for that long.”

It has been long. I keep thinking about what she said. Wondering if she dreams, or if she’s been trapped in darkness for years. I couldn’t bear it if that were the case, being a muted breath away from dead. You know the funny thing? I’ve spent nights watching for a leg twitch, a grimace, anything, so I won’t have to keep spinning through possibilities, like unraveling thread and never, ever getting to the end. Can you give me an answer? How does someone who sleeps for a hundred years ever sleep again?

No. I suppose you can’t.

That day, Briar Rose stayed in my kitchen until the sun dipped under the tree line. I shooed her out with a sack full of marbles and a promise not to tell her father where she’d been.

Teach me spells, she said. Teach me how to turn people into frogs.

Not my specialty, I told her, and shut the door in her face.

I didn’t think she’d find her way back. The forest has a way of disorienting people; it sends them home or lures them into its deepest pits. But the next week I caught her in my garden with her mouth around a tomato, and the next week, and the next. For years. I guess I’m happy she never figured out who I am. Not until the end.

I wouldn’t show her enchantments, so we talked a lot instead. While peeling carrots or field dressing deer, she didn’t care; one of my sisters gave her the gift of gab. We talked philosophy and art and science, how vast a change a hundred years can make. We gossiped boys and their gaping idiot mouths. We wondered what would happen in a hundred years, each birthday. It evolved every time.

On her 14th birthday she said she wanted to become a pirate queen.

On the 15th she hoped to wake to a new age of splendor and flying machines. She hoped I’d be there, too.

On the 16th, she talked about love. She’d snared a couple of rabbits that morning and I braised them in wine. As I cooked, she sat on the windowsill, shelling peas.

“My cousin’s getting married to a girl he met at a ball,” she said, “The reception’s tomorrow. His parents say it’ll be the grandest in all the land.”

“Another cheese tray I’m going to miss out on, I’m sure,” I replied.

Briar Rose squinted and leaned close. Her lips twitched into a grin.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen. Doesn’t like her at all. Said she’s a gossip, and her feet stink. He’s planning on running away.”

“With who? The chambermaid?”

“No. The stable boy.”

I laughed. Briar Rose pulled back and flicked a lock of hair out of her face. She’d cut it short, for a princess—hair the color of chestnut shells, clipped at the shoulders. She thumbed open the pea pods.

“It’s not so strange, is it?”

“What, the eloping?”

“No, the stable boy,” she said.

“No. Not rare for royals or peasants. But with royalty no one cares until some romantic twits decide to flee, instead of keeping things on the sly. It’s all about appearances. Some baron’s son running away with a stable hand? Priceless. His fiancé will have a lot to gossip about.”

Briar Rose sidled up to the stove, poured little green peas into the skillet. She leaned against me, head on my shoulder, watching as I threw in sprigs of rosemary.

“You think they’d notice if I ran away?” she asked. I snorted. She bumped me with her elbow.

“Wouldn’t it be fun?” she said, “sailing to the east, incognito. I’ve heard there’s a port like a jewel—the walls painted blue, red, vermillion. A city of colors. Wouldn’t it be romantic?”

“Like you could keep your mouth closed long enough to stay unnoticed. And I thought you didn’t like the idea of traveling alone?”

“I wouldn’t be alone.”

I saw then, as I opened my mouth to ask her ‘who’, that the roundness of her face had gone, replaced with a certain regalness to her jaw. She had tried covering a speckle of pimples near her hairline with powder and her lips were swiped with vermillion. The center of her gaze never wavered. I could see, as I could in my own face each time I stepped in front of a mirror, a flash of the woman she could become. And she was beautiful. My mouth went dry.

I threatened to whack her with a spoon if she didn’t stop talking nonsense. She snickered and blew kisses from across the table the rest of the day.

I thought she was teasing me. I thought she was dream addled, or worse, curious. But every time she pursed her lips, I blushed. When she grasped my hand, I squeezed back. I never put an end to, or began, anything.

Perhaps I am a coward. You princes never hesitate with these things, do you?

On her 17th birthday, she didn’t show. I waited with beer and cake until the crickets sighed in the brush, drank a stein and tried to sleep through the afternoon. But I dreamed of Briar Rose choking on weeds, or trapped in a ditch, or surrounded by wolves. So I left my tower and searched the forest. I couldn’t find her. I may have panicked, disguising myself as a blackbird and speeding toward the castle.

Yes, the same outside this window, past the trees. Beyond the wall is a courtyard with every fruit tree in this land and the next, tended by fifteen gardeners. All this, while their people couldn’t afford the thread to sow a button onto a cloak. So much for noblesse oblige.

I flew over the wall and into the courtyard where I found Briar Rose sitting with a woman I didn’t recognize, not yet. I eavesdropped from a lemon tree; I could barely see the woman’s face, shadowed by the brim of a hideous velvet cap. Something watery about her skin, like it floated on the surface of her bones. A glamour.

Briar Rose crossed her feet on top of the table. A globule of mud dripped down her boot and onto the glass top. The woman went rigid and her tight smile, which I’d seen a thousand times before, shattered the glamour; my sister sat across from Briar Rose, shaking with the urge to slap her boots off the table.

“That’s not very lady-like,” Myra said.

Briar Rose lifted her feet from the glass and slouched in her chair, legs set wide apart. Myra’s cheek twitched as she strained to keep her smile neat. If birds could laugh, I would’ve.

“I can work with this. This is fine,” my sister said.

Briar Rose held up a hand. “I don’t need a matchmaker.”

“Oh. Because of the curse? It is a bit of a time gap but we can make arrangements—”

“My parents said they’ve broken the curse.”

Myra smoothed out the folds of her dress. A bee drifted past, wings humming through a pod of dandelion seeds on the wind.

“How presumptuous,” she said, picking at the fabric. “Now I understand why they called for a matchmaker. But if you’re not worried about the curse—”

“I’m not interested in a matchmaker’s services.”

“You really need to learn not to interrupt!” Myra clutched at the lace trim, her voice high and tight. “And here I thought Jordana gave you the gift of wit.”

Briar Rose paused. “You were at my christening?”

Myra’s hands fidgeted across her lap. “Oh, no. But one hears rumors.”

She skimmed the garden, and I froze as her glazed eyes passed over my branch. She redoubled; her glance locked onto mine and she leaned forward in her chair. Her shoulders loosened and she settled back. Smug.

“My,” she said, “what an attentive little blackbird.”

Briar Rose turned around, and for all my sudden fluttering, my imbecile pecking at bark, she pierced through the veil of magic; the eagerness in her face betrayed us.

“Hello, pretty,” she said.

“You know where I live, blackbirds are vermin. We put them into pies.”

Briar Rose stood, stretching so the edge of her chemise climbed upwards, flashing a peek of her brown navel.

“They mustn’t have any taste where you come from,” she said, cheerful. “If you’ll excuse me, it’s sunny and I’m quite fatigued. I’m sure someone will lead you out.” She gave a half curtsey and jotted across the courtyard.

But for what should have infuriated my sister, she only seemed amused. She glanced at me and wagged a finger. Tsk tsk.

I didn’t linger. I flew towards the forest, made a sharp turn once I was out of sight. I huddled in an alcove in the west tower, where Briar Rose lived. The window below opened—a rope of knotted sheet slid onto the parapet below, followed by Briar Rose. She’d changed her clothes—a shirt knotted at the waist with a sash, pants with wide cuffed legs. A guard’s outfit; a little loose for her frame, but it suited her. She scaled the castle, practiced and sure, and headed for the forest. I glided before her, twisting through canopy until she stopped at a creek to drink. When I stepped out from behind a pine, human, she didn’t seem surprised.

“You’re late,” I said.

“Not by choice. My parents forced me to meet with her, I had no say.”

“Meet with who?”

Briar Rose grasped my hands, swiped a calloused thumb across my wrist.

“Coy doesn’t suit you,” she said. You can’t argue with some people.

We picked our way through the wood in silence. The shadows ripened into a thick, syrupy green as the sun fell towards the horizon. Soon, the lights of the tower and a hint of pinkish sky glimmered through the trees. Her pants caught on a rose bush and she tugged at it, groaning when it wouldn’t pull loose. I knelt down to untangle her.

She said, “You heard about the curse. You really think they did it? Got rid of every spindle in the kingdom?”

I wanted to tell her there were spindles hidden under the floorboards of every household. To lead her up the tower’s stairs and show her my spinning wheel with its spindle anchored to the bobbin, sharp as an obelisk. Then take an axe to it. I should’ve. I know that now.

“I think you need to be careful,” I said, “even if it’s true.”

Briar Rose stooped down. Her fingers ran down the length of the stem, riding the curves of the thorns.

“For all their faith in themselves, they won’t stop crying. I keep thinking how different everything will be when I wake up. Everyone gone. And I should be happy for the time I have with them, but I hate it. They act like I’m already dead.”

“They’re frightened,” I replied. “Fear makes people more stupid than they already are.”

“Are you afraid?” she asked.

I unhooked the vine from the fabric and set her free. She did not stand. We stayed huddled together; I could smell honey on her breath, the residue of tea.

“Let’s go,” I said.

“In a second.”

She jammed the pad of her thumb into the thorn, withdrew a jewel of blood. Pressed it against her mouth and sucked it clean.

“I just wanted to know what it’ll feel like,” she said and intertwined our fingers. A drop of blood trickled across my knuckles.

When we reached the tower, the sky opened into pillars of buttercream-colored clouds, hanging in the low sunlight. Even the starlings scattered throughout the yard seemed in awe of those magnificent creatures, twisting gold in a deep blue firmament. They cooed at the sky. Briar Rose gasped, startling the birds—they ascended into a black mist, the air whirling with the sound of a hundred beating wings. I squeezed her hand too tight, I’m sure.

“What does it feel like to fly?”  she asked.

“Like falling in a dream,” I said, “but you never need worry about landing. You sail on the wind. You trust it will take you to safety. You have to trust it will take you where you are meant to go.” And Briar Rose tangled her fingers into my hair and pressed her lips against mine and my stomach cinched and she tasted sweet and a little milky and I was so happy. She kissed me as the sun dipped under the horizon and turned everything blue.

“Run away with me,” she said.

My legs ached to go. We could board a vessel tomorrow; she’d peeked at the shipping charts, smuggled food and coin in her room. I wanted to leave with the taste of Briar Rose in my mouth.

But I cupped her hands in mine instead, feathered my lips along her fingertips.

“Your parents haven’t destroyed every spindle in the world. But they’ve done a fair job here. Why not wait until we know the curse has passed?” I said. “It’s only a year until we’re sure.”

Briar Rose bit at the inside of her cheek. Twilight settled on her brow, darkened her mouth.

“And if I’m still cursed?”

“Then you will be clever enough to prepare for the new world.”

“Will you be there?”

“I’ll try.”

“That’s not a good enough answer.”

“Then, yes.”

It is a promise I am keeping. One of few.

We pretended we weren’t running out of time. Seasons shuffled into one another like a deck of cards. The tower changed. Briar Rose left scraps herself in each corner: a stray sock under the bathtub, a bow propped against the kitchen table. On nights Briar Rose could slip out of the castle undetected, she climbed through the window and into my bed. I used to love to feel her sleeping against me.

One night, she unlaced my nightgown, gliding her tongue along my spine. As I trembled in my nakedness, she guided my hands to unravel her braid and it fell across her bare shoulders like ink in water. I tasted rose oil in the plush hollows of her body. She touched secret places. And we—no, there’s nothing more to say about it.

We made plans to sneak onto a boat and head for luscious ports. I could understand the fervor of her cousin and his stable hand, now. I used to think, in the seconds before I’d drift off to sleep that maybe this time my sister’s magic would fail her. That curses, like prophecies and fireworks, can decay after so many years. I even began to spin wool for a scarlet cloak, a birthday present. Something warm against the chilling sea.

The months grew hot and green. Seven days before Briar Rose’s birthday and I hadn’t been able to eat. I barely slept. I yanked weeds out of my garden, violently. When Briar Rose tiptoed behind me, covering my eyes, I almost sprouted wings.

“What’d you give me?” she whispered in my ear.

“What’re you talking about?”

“At my christening. What did you give me? Beauty? Grace?”

If I told you I nearly swallowed my tongue, would you believe me?

I cast her off, played dumb. No fooling her, though. She dogged me between tomato stakes, blocked the tower door with outstretched arms.

“Come on. I know what you are. You’re not a witch—you look the same as you did when I was thirteen. Not even witches can pull that off. Will you look seventeen forever?”

“Stop it.”

“You’re one of my fairies. You can’t give me wit and not expect me to figure that out. So what was your gift?”

She pulled us flush together, rested her palm in mine. Her free hand pressed into small of my back. My skin shuddered with gooseflesh.

“Do I have you to thank for my excellent dancing?”

“You dance like a sack full of cats. And there isn’t even music,” I replied, and Briar Rose hummed. We stumbled through the grass and accidentally trampled a bed of posies.

“Definitely not dance,” she said. Dirt crumbled into my shoes and slid down the heel.

“You know how to grow your own food and suture a wound,” I said, “You can take care of yourself, that’s gift enough.”

I broke away; she persisted, seized my shoulders. Her nails left marks.

“There must’ve been something else. All the fairies gave me a gift except one.” The muscles in her neck tightened as she swallowed. “Just tell me what it was.”

And I said nothing, not even when she whispered ‘please’, because if I opened my mouth I’d vomit. How stupid of me to dream that she’d never figure it out.

Do you know what happens to people’s faces when they look at a monster? Everything shrivels, except for the eyes. The eyes grow wide, glassy. They look at you like they do vultures.

“This is your fault,” she said.

“Briar, wait—”

“Never speak to me!”

She ran. I didn’t chase her, because I am definitely a coward. And after seven days, when I should have stayed home and waited, when I should have kept faith, her absence drove me out of the tower and into the air. I flew, small and feathered, to the castle, where I landed on a window sill and peered inside. The bedroom was empty except for the hand that lay, loosely curled, just beyond the door frame. I squeezed through the open hatch, shed my feathers; a sleeping maid sprawled out in the hallway, water from her overturned bucket soaking into her dress.

I snuck through corridors, stepping over guards and pages until I reached the banquet hall. The king and queen slumped in their thrones; they’d both gone gray since the last I’d seen them. I crooked a finger under the queen’s nose. A dandelion tuft floated out of her nostril.

The place reeked of magic.

I don’t remember rushing across the forest; only that I landed hard on the mat in front of my open door. I followed the stinging odor of magic through the foyer, the kitchen, up the stairs. The door at the top stood slightly ajar and I could hear grunting, a shifting of fabric, coming from inside. I flung open the door; my sister, elbows tucked under Briar Rose’s armpits, glanced up.

“Oh good,” she said, “Be a dear and grab her feet.”

Blood smeared Briar Rose’s thumb, left a trail along the stone floor. The spindle of the spinning wheel glimmered wet. Myra groaned as she hauled Briar Rose towards the spare bed.

“Help me. The floor’s no place for a princess to sleep.”

“Why would you do this?”

Myra rolled her eyes and dropped Briar Rose; her head thudded against the stone.

“Euphegima, please. Could you imagine the damage to my reputation if the spell didn’t work?” She gripped Briar Rose’s shirt, dragged her a few inches. “Nearly died when I couldn’t find her in the castle.”

“You put them all to sleep?”

“I didn’t want them to make a fuss. And besides—do you know how fast that kind of gossip spreads? A whole castle, dead asleep. They’ll be crying it from the hills.”

“They’re defenseless, Myra. They’ll be slaughtered.”

My sister paused. “Oh,” she said, and shrugged. “Well. So long as she’s here, a prince will come. I’ve got a hundred years to find a good candidate.”

She curled her tongue around her teeth and glanced up again. “It was the strangest thing. I nipped over on a hunch and here she was, at the doorway. Looking for you. I thought you might’ve lost your mind and eloped with her. Would’ve been a horror, tracking you down. So I told her you were upstairs, and—damn it.”

The seams or Briar Rose’s shirt split under Myra’s fingers; she recoiled.

“I broke a nail,” she said.

That’s when I wrapped my hands around her neck.

We drew blood; I snapped her wand, she threw me into my spinning wheel and the spindle pierced my side. I don’t know how we ended up so close to the window. Myra clawed at my lips, my eyes; I pinned her against the sill. My throat tingled, then burned. Magic erupted.

The rose vines across the window rattled; they twisted around Myra’s waist. I saw her mouth clench in surprise, a flash of her teeth, before the tendrils ripped her from the sill and hurled her down. My sister broke open on the grass like a pumpkin.

I stood at the window for a long time. Thought of burying her, but that’d be a waste. I grew vines from her bowels instead. They thrived, encircling the tower, the forest, the castle with thorns the size of a man’s index finger. The same briars you’ve cut through, which must mean a hundred years are up.

What’d you say your name was again?

Charming.

You’re polite, I’ll grant you that.

What’s this? It was supposed to be a cloak, but with so much time on my hands I kept spinning and weaving. I watched the most amazing thing sail over the forest—men flying in a giant balloon. Something as delicate as a sheet, yet it soars over mountains. Oceans too, I’d bet. A chariot like that can take you anywhere.

I’ve spun enough fabric for one. Don’t bother trying to convince me she should stay for the sake of her family; I know what your soldiers are doing to them in the castle. House cleaning. King-making. I can smell roses burning. It really is time, then.

Ah.

She’s already stirring. Once she’s steady and good and fed, she’ll be leaving. With or without me. It doesn’t matter. My sister gifted Briar Rose a bad end, you see—the least I can do is offer a clean start. Beginnings and endings thread together so well sometimes, I can’t tell which is which.

Keep that sword in its sheath, boy. I don’t know what your grandfather or his stories promised you but the princess doesn’t belong to you. She never did.

Briar Rose belongs to the new world.


S.E. Clark is a recent graduate of Lesley’s Creative Writing MFA program. She lives in an old Victorian house outside of Boston with two cats and several friendly ghosts.