Briar Rose

By Jennifer Loring

Beyond the wood, perched upon a hillside as barren as the land itself, a solitary tower guarded the only real fruit ever produced within its borders. But she, as everything here, was dead; only the red roses in the briarwood, and those that snaked upward over the cold stone tower, into its single window, flowered now. Dreams, hopes for the family to continue its reign, died with her, an innocent girl sewing her wedding gown and a curse on a spinning wheel. The family too had passed away, leaving her alone in the monumental burial chamber erected for her. There was no door, no stair, only the window, and the briar rose thorns saw to it that no one got in. They said that she waited for the one who could awaken her and restore her to her kingdom.

Of course, a century had passed since these events, and no one knew if there really was a girl entombed within the tower walls at all.

The young king, always adventurous of heart, stepped into the briarwood one cloudless day with five of his men, determined to break the silence of the legend. They did not expect to be away for long, and brought in their pockets chunks of sausage for a snack. Yet the wood had other plans, it seemed, for the moment that they tread upon the path the gnarled, clawed hands of the tree branches closed in on all sides. It was perhaps a trick of fevered imaginations, remnants of childhood nightmares created by the stories of adults claiming that the wood was enchanted. Yet here only the roses had color, like crimson drops of blood in fresh snow, as if they had drained it from their surroundings.

"You know that kingdom is cursed," said one of the men. The king laughed at such cowardice--the girl was only eighteen at the time, and who was afraid of such a young, helpless thing? Besides, she was long dead, if she ever lived at all. "Don't you want to know whether the story is true? If you are frightened, then go home."

The man grumbled to himself but walked onward behind them.

The wood grew more dense, and darker. The party lost track of time, though it seemed but a few minutes had passed; the sun was setting, and all of the men protested going any further as their stomachs rumbled with hunger. Before them and behind them there were only trees and roses, an endless labyrinthine twisting path into nothing but more trees, and more roses.

"Go home, then!" the king shouted. "I will find out by myself."

The men stared in silence at him. He knew perfectly well that the briarwood was dangerous, perhaps even haunted, but it had been ages since he'd done anything truly exciting.

A hiss over the dead foliage beneath their feet alerted one of the men to the rose briar ensnared around his ankle. The king drew his sword, but the first man hadn't hit the ground before another thorny tentacle grasped the man beside him. One by one they fell around the young king, who hacked futilely at the roses. The sweat on his back chilled him.

His men clawed frantically at the hard earth, but it was frozen and did not yield. The briars dragged them, screaming, legs bleeding, into the depths of the wood while the king watched in impotent horror, his sword having barely nicked the outer skin of the vines. "Help us!" he cried to no one but the dead trees, and when only his voice answered he ran, directionless, for the man who held the compass was gone. He leapt over the deadly briars lest they snatch him away as well, his breath burning in his lungs and his throat.

Just yards away the trees broke at last. He prayed he would in another moment see his castle, but it opened instead onto a desolate and unfamiliar countryside. The sky was leaden with clouds, and all vegetation, the grass and the trees, all but the roses, were dead and brown. What blight withered this kingdom no one knew, for no one was left alive who remembered.

And the tower stood upon a hill, stark white stone against an ever-blackening sky. The face was completely smooth, doorless, and rose briars entwined it like the arms of a lover. The king walked up the hill, leaving his sword behind. The only way in, and up, was to climb.

Instantly the vampiric thorns pricked his palms, tiny flames searing his flesh, but he pulled himself upward. The climb seemed endless, and the very top of the tower was enrobed in massive black clouds. It might go on forever, for all he knew.

At last he reached the tiny window, hands bleeding profusely. In comparison to the rest of the tower, it was little more than a crack, and he wondered if he would even fit through. He grasped the edge and wriggled into the room, dropping to the stone floor. The only light was from the window, where the shrouded sun could barely enter; the chamber was much larger than he expected, large enough to hold a four-post canopy bed sumptuously decorated with silks. He lit a half-melted candle at the bedside, then parted heavy blue curtains and peered inside.

Upon the bed lay a girl dressed in a yellowed bridal gown of seven skirts, with silver bells sewn along the hem. And she was whole--not breathing, not living, but whole nonetheless. Her flesh was pink and healthy, her dark ringlets soft and shiny. She was the most beautiful creature his eyes had ever been blessed to see. He barely recalled that he began his journey with five others whom the forsaken forest claimed for its own company. There was only she. It could be no coincidence that he was the only one to survive the wood; destiny brought him to her, to claim her as his own. "You are real," he whispered. The air was heavy with the perfume of roses, and a pink haze hung in the room, a delicate fragranced mist that cloaked her as much as the bed curtains did. He touched her cheek--warm, silky, yet no breath escaped her lips.

Already the king loved her, this dead beauty. He sat beside her on the bed and gathered her rag doll body into his arms, caressing her flocculent hair. "I would make you my queen," he said, and kissed her heart-shaped face.

But it was not enough. He wanted to know her, to love her, to learn all the secrets of the mysterious girl in the tower. And so, as delicately as possible though she did not stir, he slipped a hand beneath the ponderous skirts that crackled as the dead leaves outside, beneath crinoline and satin until he encountered warm, yielding flesh, soft hair, a moistness like honey upon his fingertips.

The girl's head rolled back, limply. He lay her on the bed again, mediating on this curious state of her body. If she were truly dead, would she not be stiff and cold? Surely she would not at his touch flow with such elixirs as this. A spell then, perhaps. A slumber of a hundred years and beyond, and what would break it? Not a kiss; not a touch.

She had not moved, not so much as a flutter of her eyelashes, yet he was certain that her lips had curved into a slight smile.

"I will return to you tomorrow," he murmured in her little seashell ear. Then he closed the curtains, and the briar served as his ladder back down the face of the tower.

For fear that he would never find his way back to her if he returned home, the king stayed in a hamlet to the east of the tower. Though its residents were hospitable, they refused to speak of the girl, and would not even accept gold in exchange for their words. But every now and then a single word, "Witch," was muttered as townspeople hastily retreated to their homes.

It was entirely possible, for she had bewitched him with her beauty. She claimed his every thought for her own. But he never heard such pronouncements against her in his own kingdom, only a vague recollection of a story that may or may not have been about her at all. A girl who plotted against her betrothed even as she sewed her wedding dress, a girl who called upon the black arts for assistance in claiming his kingdom for her own only to have her plan backfire…

At dawn, the young king made the arduous climb to the window. He rushed to the girl's side and embraced her, smearing her white cheek with the blood of his thorn-stabbed hands as he kissed her. She only waited to be awakened, and he was determined to uncover the curse if he must spend the rest of his life in this tower. He must have her. He unlaced the bodice of her gown, and her small, coral-tipped breasts rolled free. Gently he pulled her arms from the flowing bell sleeves, slid the gown down over her hips and smooth, creamy legs. The king folded her dress and tucked it beneath the bed before tearing at his own clothing, then parted her milk-white thighs and exposed the glistening pink folds hidden by a thatch of curls. Her body offered no resistance. At once he was inside her, but even the grinding of his hips against hers did not wake her, and her unresponsiveness did not thwart him. He couldn't stop now, for despite her stillness her sex clenched around him, he was sure of it, and exuded yet more fluids. He could not think to ponder such a strange reaction as he lifted her by her thighs, plunging his cock deeper into the valley unexplored for a century, if ever. She was soft, warm, wet, like a living woman. But her head flopped back even as he pumped his seed into her, and rapture shuddered violently through him into her, rippling outward as the currents of the wake left by the Royal Fleet when it sailed down the great river.

The king collapsed atop her, spent. He wished her eyes would open, or her chest would fill with breath, anything to indicate life. If his subjects learned of this, they would think their king mad. And then, perhaps, he might too be walled up. He kissed her slender fingers, placed the tip of each one in his mouth. His tongue glided over her index finger but met with something besides skin, something embedded in her flesh. The young king sucked at it, and the wooden splinter pierced his tongue.

The haze was opaque suddenly, a whipped rose-petal fog, so cloying in aroma that his head swam with nausea. As he succumbed to darkness he heard a quiet sigh beside him, the rustling of sheets, the awakening of the girl.

The End

Copyright © 2003 by Jenifer Loring

"My work has been published in the webzines The Door to Worlds Imagined, Disenchanted, and Peacockblue, and in print in Parchment Symbols, Blue Food, and Scared Naked. I have also had three dark fantasy/horror stories featured on the Erotica Readers Association website. I currently reside in Pittsburgh, PA."



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