Wednesday, 22 December 2010
The Frozen Rose
There was, a long time ago one of the coldest winters you might imagine. I read about it from the manuscript in the box I had found in the Deep Wood. Was it all true?
I don't know, but this is how the story went. I have merely updated the spelling and such. I don't know who wrote the manuscript, but from the writing I would date it to the early 16th century. The person was clearly literate though the manuscript was difficult to read for it's script which was in a beautiful but tricky hand. No doubt it was readable then. To modern eyes it is more difficult and it took me some time. Enough. To the tale itself, for such I account it to be rather than the truth, though I don't know for sure.
In the winter of 1536 anno domini, the rain did turn to snow and fell at first lightly, melting away just as quickly. In my garden the last of the roses had put forth a few tentative budding flowers. One began to bloom still and I praised it and pruned back the woody branches to let the flowers have more energy. Despite the cold the rose still persisted.
I had met Beldame Damson in the village and with her was the most charming woman, her god-daughter by the name of Rosa Elizabeth White. This young woman, modest in her manner yet quick of wit and of eye roused my heart in the cold of the winter. Her height was middling, her hair was dark like a raven's wing, her skin was white as the snow and her lips were red as the living blood. Still, though my heart unlocked to behold her and I found her to be most personable, I kept my composure. Beldame Damson invited me to visit her and Master Damson for I should find much in the way of good company. Yet, though Rosa Elizabeth was witty, there was something cool in her manner towards me. This I put down to her not knowing me and wishing to know more before making any rash judgement.
Nonetheless I accepted the Beldame's kindly invitation for she and I were both keen on our gardens and I had much respect for her good man. It appeared that Rosa Elizabeth had come to our village on account of her step-father's dislike for her great beauty, which he accounted a source of Pride. A very great sin. Yet I saw no evidence of Pride in the young woman, only a desire to be herself in all things. For my part I had been raised among women and saw them as no less than myself, though I was often told otherwise by many men.
The dinner I had at the Damson's was a goodly affair. Master Damson is a fine lutanist and his wife is in good voice at the lute's sound. For my part, I had brought my viol and we played in good part together. There was much merriment and the servants did dance finely I do swear upon my honour. Mistress Rosa Elizabeth sat quietly through all by the fireside and listened with a calmness that I barely noticed until we paused to take wine. She had on her face an expression that was a little wild, like that of a beast, tempered with a quiet amusement. I had not seen the like before, save upon my cat Astraea at the sight of a mouse.
So proud of my rose was I that I could not but mention it to my hosts and it was indeed much praised by them both. Mistress Rosa Elizabeth answered that a rose by any name was but a rose. The cold frost would kill them all. I was, I must confess somewhat startled at such talk, for who might detest a rose?
Yet I made some harmless comment and we struck up our music again. It seemed that she was disdainful and would rather leave. My love for her seemed to cool at her seeming contempt and I recalled being once told that the devil wears a pretty face. Yet for the sake of my friends I avowed I should remain polite and gentle with her.
As it grew late, I managed to steer the talk to her and her family. She had gone to her bed but my friends remained and told me little. I realised quickly that they knew little for she had appeared with some clothing and a letter apparently from her mother. The Damsons being goodly folk had taken Rosa Elizabeth in and cared for her.
"By my honour she is strange though," Master Damson said, "She eats so little and then she dislikes metals save silver and gold of which we have little as you know. Our wooden platters she loves well enough. She will eat meat without a knife. Her sewing is fine though and she does love to play upon the lute when nobody is by to hear her."
I went home that night my mind full upon their strange ward, my heart both loving and fearing her. It was only as I settled myself to sleep that I recalled that she had not spoken either the name of God or Our Lord at all. Not even in the way of country folk. I found this exceeding strange, for in an half hour it was unlikely that someone would not do so. Yet I composed myself to sleep and was roused in the morning with a sad John who informed me as he lit the fire in my bedchamber that we had got ourselves a frost.
"The Winter Rose is frostbitten sir," he told me sadly.
This saddened me and I recalled the words of Rosa Elizabeth from the previous night. How right she had been I told myself. I dressed and went out into the bright, frosty morning, my breath steaming in the air, the sun dazzling in the blue of the sky. I thought to give my Winter Rose a burial but as I brought my dagger near the stem, the frost seemed to recoil and fade from the rose. I knew then that I was in the presence of magic and had placed about the garden, as many iron objects as could be found. Directly the frost departed my garden and indeed all about the house.
Later that morning I was visited by Beldame Damson for some honey and wine, for it seemed that Rosa Elizabeth was not well and felt some dislike of the world as I myself have oft felt when all seemed wrong. I gave the Beldame both wine and honey and some cinnamon which I have often found raises spirits. I recommended an infusion also of St John's Wort which I know to have been of good effect upon low spirits.
Yet I considered much of what I had heard and seen and could only conclude that the seemingly innocent god-daughter was something more than any woman. I took two eggshells and betook myself to the Damsons house. There with the good Beldame's permission I took the eggshells into Rosa Elizabeth's chamber where she lay behind drawn bed curtains. I drew back the curtains at the foot of the bed on the pretext of keeping her warm and poured a little wine into the eggshells. These I put upon the fire to heat.
"What do you with the eggshells, sir?" she asked me.
"Why mistress, I shall brew a mulled wine in them for you," I answered her with a smile.
"By my troth," quoth she, "I have seen the first oak born and the willow too, but never have I seen anyone mull wine in an eggshell."
I bid her repent such blasphemy and tossed her my mother's small iron crucifix. With a sudden sharp cry, she seemed to age before my eyes and turn to a cloud of smoke before vanishing up the chimney. As if waking from a dream, I took the eggshells from the fire and turned to the room. It seemed still and quiet. I called for the Beldame who came into the room shaking her head.
"By our Lord! I feel as if I had woken from a dream and here you are lighting up the fire in my dead daughter's bedchamber. What a thing's this?" she asked.
I tried to explain but somehow I did not know where to begin. Rosa Elizabeth was never seen in our little village again. My Winter Rose bloomed up well as did the other three buds before the snow returned and all the plants slept. Some years later I met a fine woman from the village of Six Birches and we married. I told her my story and she accounted it blasphemous and bid me never repeat it again. I love her enough to obey her as I expect her to obey me and so I have not. To free my memory of it I have writ it down and placed it in this box that I have hid in the Deep Wood. Let whomever find it read it as they will.
So this tale I found and have offered it to you all in this wintertime. May you all be safe, well and warm. Have a happy Christmas and a better new year than you have ever had.