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What If: A Tale Of Briar and Rose
Briar, Rose, Briar, Rose, Briar, Rose, those names click together so easily in your mind. Of course you know the story. You’ve grown up knowing the story and you’ve always known the story. It’s a classic. One of a beautiful, deserving princess, awaken from an enchanted sleep by her charming, winsome prince. They fall in love and get married, happily ever after, the end. You know of course then, that “Briar” is just a name. Not even, it’s just a little tag stuck on Princess Rose to hide her, to protect her, because princesses are helpless and need protecting. “Briar” is just a disguise, a mask, a thick tangled vine to obscure the sweetness of the bloom.
But what if things were just a little bit different? What if, just for an improbable moment, because of a typographical error, someone put an “and” between the two names, “Briar and Rose”? It would be like looking at it from a whole new perspective, wouldn’t it? Take it one step further then, if you can…
What if Briar was a person in her own right? What if she thought and felt and loved and hated just as much or even more than Rose? What if she was part of the story too?
I was born Princess Beatrice, sister to the Princess, you know, the princess of the fairy tales. For years after that I was called the other Baby, then Bea, then just B. It wasn’t until Rose and I were old enough to be a matched set that I was first called Briar, to contrast with Rose.
Rose wasn’t always Rose either. She was, for a few minutes after her birth at least, Princess Rosina Alianor, but most everyone pronounced her, “Pretty as a ladybird and sweet as a rose,” and so she stayed, permanently Rose.
Both our childhoods were happy, in a way. Royal children are always well cared for, and I had no material wants that were left unfulfilled, but Rose was more beloved or accepted or something of that sort. She was coddled and petted and treated as fit her royal status. The nursemaids dotted on her and she had a special place in every one’s heart, mine included. I might sound jealous, but I never was, because Rose was so special she deserved it. We all made Rose’s world wonderful, which only made it harder when it collapsed around her ears.
And as for my early years? I’ll put it this way, no matter what they say, nobody likes a clever child. Oh sure, they’re nice enough trophies to show off at court, but apparently, we can be rather…irritating. My parents liked me well enough, in their distant, regal way, but the nursemaids were equal parts afraid and annoyed. I was easy enough to take care, independent from the time of my first steps, so that wasn’t the issue. What was wrong was that I was rather disconcerting as a child. I had “wise eyes that didn’t belong to a babe” and “eyes that revolved around to follow you, but never looked you straight in the eye”, and “developed too quickly for a human child” or “was always using those big words that sounded insulting”… the list went on and on. As I got older I was proclaimed “unfeminine” or “a smart Alec” or “disrespectful to His Royal Highness so and so”. I was not actively cruel or nasty as such, just harder to love, and who would bother to give the effort when there was lovely, loveable Rose right there to take my place in their hearts? By the end of my childhood I thought I was without illusions, jaded even, but I did not truly know the real world.
I vividly remember the last night of my childhood. Even if it had not been what one would consider absolutely idyllic, it was familiar and known and safe for all that it chafed me. I was only nine but seemed older; Rose was seven but seemed younger.
There had been an inferno burning outside, big and wild; it was bright as day and it was my first warning of trouble. For all my pride in being grown up and not cocooned, I was slow to absorb the enormity of what was wrong. By the time I fully understood what was happening, even Rose knew something was wrong.
The last second of that dreadful day plays in my mind now still. I walked into the room and say my mother crying. I had thought of her as granite and steel, so to see her be so very human was a shock for me. There was no time to get over my shock. Her tearstained eyes widened with more tears, “The siege is lost. Go. Take Rose. Now.” My mother still had her usual air of command. Some things never change. I took Rose, and went.
I half dragged my little baby angel as I ran. I ran to get away from the danger that was everywhere. I ran just to run. Finally, I stopped. I sat and Rose collapsed on my lap. I traced the cupid’s bow of her pink lip and her miniature widow’s peak with my little finger.
Rose’s golden curls were limp in my lap and she sucked her petite pink thumb with her perfect, delicate lips, mouth somehow still twisted in a beatific smile. “I will never let anyone destroy this innocence,” I promised to the back of her head.
We lived. I lived. We survived. Rose survived.
I worked and foraged and tried and bled to make ends meet. I strived for the ultimate goal of Rose’s happiness. For her to smile or laugh was a great honor I did not deserve, but it happened anyways. I don’t know how, but slowly we learned to live.
I was mother and father and aunt and teacher and whatever else Rose needed. She thrived, and so did I. I learned that whatever I gave up, my new life meant freedom. I was almost close to truly happy.
Seven fairies, seven blessings. Those had been so long ago that I couldn’t remember it even then, but I’d heard stories. I was blessed at birth to be wise and to find love, and many other things besides, but none of those things could have helped me then. I should have known this was too good to be true, that she was too good to be true. Rose was a little bird, full of life and delicate beauty. She was also dying. It was surreal watching helplessly as she gasped, turned gray and blue, wondering if each breath was her last.
What is the evil fairy wasn’t so evil after all? What if it wasn’t her fault? What if she was only answering the desperate prayer of a child too young to not to believe in magic? What if as hard as she could try, she could only give the poor sick girl sixteen years and dreams? Only sixteen years and dreams…
When your only twelve and have lived an tough-is-an-understatement life, unbearable things seem not so bad and reasonably okay things are just through the roof. When they, as in the old palace guard, came for us and told us, “My Princesses, your royal parents are safe now and they beseech you to come to them,” I was a little bit of everything. I was shocked, skeptical, amazed, awed, elated, and just a teeny tiny microscopic bit sorry. I honestly enjoyed the freedom of what was my “adult” life in a way Rose and indeed, no one else could understand. I loved the stink and the sweat and the calluses! I loved being able to read as much as I wanted and insult anyone I wished! I liked my tatted boy’s clothes!
Then I steeled my wills. How stupid was I? Rose wanted a palace life, so, so would I. “It’s good for Rose, Good for Rose, good for Rose…” became my mantra. By the time we arrived at the palace, I’d convinced myself I wanted to live there.
I was almost happy at court. The fierce sun of my exile had suited me. Whereas I was sallow and sullen before, I was now exotic and strong. I grew my hair out and kept the latest fashions. There were admiring eyes on me now, and I was known for something other than my intelligence or insolence. Rose might have shined with a warm radiant sun, but I shone with the bright full moon. I was restrained more than ever, by my age as well as my gender now, but my bonds did not chafe. I was a caged bird making the best out of it, singing to my fullest, to accompany my fellow, more radiant bird. If Rose was happy, I’d be too, just because of her.
There was one eye I wish I didn’t catch. I basked in the attention, but was always careful to let it fall mostly on Rose. She either liked it or didn’t notice it, but was happy either way, and I was happy to leave it like that.
Oh if it weren’t such an important eye! It was the eye of the prince that fell on me. But not just any prince, he was the Sun’s Son, the heir to the throne of the Great Kingdom of the Sun. He was charming and winsome and handsome and dashing, I could have had him for my own, but it was wrong for me to have him. He was a creature of the light, his very title suggesting as much. He rightfully belonged with, no, belonged to Rose. They were a perfect fit, loving, lovable blonds who radiated warmth and contentment. Of course I returned his affection. I was attracted to him as a lowly moth to a dazzling flame. It was so wrong, but felt so right.
Caught up in this mess, Rose’s sixteenth birthday came and passed.
What if it was not a malignant fairy that was hindering the prince? What if it was a compassionate one? What if she spared him from coming into the slumbering castle out of mercy? What if, once there he would have to make a choice? Is it really fair to force him to choose? Was he even capable of making that choice?
The fairy gave us sleep as a last gift. Everyone fell into a deep slumber to give us time, just a little more time. Rose’s will was never strong, and she fell into sweet hibernation almost immediately after the rest of the castle. Suddenly, and idea formed in my head. But just as my idea became concrete, I too fell under the enchantment.
I slept and awoke in a giant circular room. There was a loom set up, but it was too big for any person or rather human to weave on. The patterns of the woven cloth were so delicate and elaborate that I could barely see the outline of what the shapes from where I stood. I took a small step forward and the room took a big lurch backwards. Now, I was close enough to the loom for the tip of my nose to brush it. What I saw was so beautiful I sneezed.
There was a great blossom, a red rose I think, on the bottom of the tapestry and from it two intertwined vines reached. The vines were covered in figures of babies, then children, then elegant ladies in various scenes. With a gasp, I realized that the figures were Rose and I. One vine was her fate and one was mine, but they were so intertwined that it hardly seemed to matter. They both got brighter and brighter as they reached upwards, hers with a warm glow like sunshine, and mine with a fiercer wilder light. Suddenly, about sixteen hands up, the vines diverged. They were no longer twisted or even parallel, they became two separate entities entirely. I looked to the left one, now so bright it burned my eyes, and was awarded a strong sense of shame, as if I’d been caught peeking into someone’s private business. I looked to the right instead, and saw myself. Not just myself as myself, but myself as the prince’s beloved sharing a smile, a queen sitting with a king, a young mother holding a babe, and an old wise woman alone. Then just out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of crimson light. Rose’s vine was becoming no more, it grew smaller and thinner and brighter and brighter, until I could not see for the light. I screamed in anguish, Rose, my permanent Rose could not possibly be no more! I felt fey lips on my forehead, a brush of wind in my ear,
“My child, you made your choice. Be happy. Your sister is happy for you as you were for her.” I tried to cry out, no, that I would not let Rose’s vine, her future fade, that I would make it so that there could be the both of us, but I felt the breeze caress me with a forceful feeling of no.
A softer, lighter voice-wind brushed me, “Be happy my sister, not for me but only for yourself. Only for yourself and always for yourself. You have given enough, time to receive.”
It was gone as soon as I sensed it, and I knew I could not call it back, could not call her back. What felt like my head dropped to my knees, I knew no more…
A new breeze brushed ear, “Just a dream,” it said. “We all fell asleep. And I too dreamed curious dreams. But never mind, for today is most important…” I was about to protest that it had all been real, too real when I felt this breath kiss me as well. Warm soft lips touched my forehead and my mouth. These kisses were much more real, more substantial than the fairy lips or the ghost voice. They were kisses from my Prince.
Did the Princess live happily ever after? Was it all a dream? Does it matter? This is all just a “What-if”, Right?