This is one of my favourite stories, so I thought I'd make it my first real post here.
When I originally wrote it I'd just finished reading Lord Dunsany's "Time and the Gods" - essentially a long, loosely-interconnected series of short stories about the rise and fall of ancient gods. Dunsany's style is almost instantly recognisable, and I couldn't help but feel the urge to try and imitate it, just to see what would happen. There was, of course, only one series which would carry this kind of thing without devolving into parody...
So here it is: the Tale of the Rose, as I like to imagine Dunsany would have told it. So far his vengeful spirit has yet to hunt me down; I'm taking this as a good sign.
Somewhere, in a place with no name, lies a garden, wild and overgrown.
The roses which grow there bear flowers of deepest red; their leaves
sigh softly in the breeze; the morning dew drips silently from their
Lost, forgotten, they dream of past glories.
"It should not...
...was not ever thus."
Once, long, long ago, the roses of the world grew flowers of purest
white and knew the secrets of the gods. By day they shone with blinding
brilliance and gave comfort to the minds of men, but always they
struggled against the Lord of the Darkness, whose name was Fear, and His
eidolon servant Night.
The roses despaired at the power of Night, and ever made plans against
Him. And it came to pass that two children - a brother and his sister -
were abandoned in the place where the roses grew, and the roses knew
that, at last, they could act.
Between them the roses raised the boy and his sister, trusting their
thorns to guard the children from the darkness. To the boy-child they
taught the ways of chivalry and the arts of battle, and to his sister
they taught the deepest secrets of their magic.
In time the children grew, and the roses left them to find their way
together in the world. As a parting gift the boy was given a single
flower, which he wore always at his breast, and which comforted them in
To the young man every woman in the world was a princess, and together
the siblings fought to rescue them from the creatures of Night. Soon
the boy was known throughout the world, and men called him the Rose
Prince for the flower he wore above his heart.
As they travelled, many men saw, at last, that the creatures of Night
were no longer their masters and they joined the Prince upon his quest.
With their hands they built for him a great fortress, and at its heart
was a garden where the roses grew wild. Together the Prince and his
followers drove away the darkness from the lands of the world, and Night
fled before them in terror.
But Fear looked upon the world and saw the triumph of the Prince over
His servants, and swore vengeance against him. So He travelled far
across the land until, at last, He reached the mist-shrouded domain of
Death. Into Her dreams he crept, whispering tales of the Prince and how
he fought to free the world from Her dominion.
Death heard His words, and saw the truth of them, and She was sorely
afraid. Raising Her arms to the sky, she gave a great cry and called
forth Her dread warrior Time and His army of hours. Death told Him of
the Prince's quest, and so Time rode forth across the world, leading His
army to battle.
Against Time's army the Prince and his companions were powerless; their
armour crumbled at His touch, their bodies weakened and their swords
shattered. One by one they were forced to flee, and Time harried the
Prince and his sister nigh unto the gates of their fortress and slew all
those that they had come to hold dear.
Despairing and terribly wounded, the Prince rested within the high
walls, tended by his sister. Every morning she looked beyond the gate
to see the army of Time and knew that the walls would soon fall. In
desperation she called upon all of her vast power to create a weapon
with which to fight them.
From the depths of her soul she drew the silver chains which bound her
heart and forged them in the crucible of her magic. At last she went
unto her brother, who was barely able to stand, and said unto him:
"My beloved brother, I beg you, take this sword and drive back the army
from our gate while there is still time."
"But how", he asked her, "can I fight against Time, whose merest touch
She kissed him softly upon the cheek and answered: "This sword is
eternal, and He is powerless before it."
So the Prince rode forth from the castle and the army of hours fled
before him, parting like water before his blade, until he faced dread
Time looked down upon the Prince and smiled cruelly. He drew his
tarnished sword of rust and cracks, before which the very mountains
crumbled into dust, and met his opponent.
The Prince stood firm, holding forth his sister's blade, and their
weapons clashed like the sound of thunder. Shocked beyond measure, Time
saw His sword of rust shatter before His eyes and fled in terror from
Victorious and exhausted beyond endurance, the Prince was carried from
the field into his sister's waiting arms. She laid him down upon a soft
bed and bid him rest, barring the gates of the castle behind her.
For many days and nights the Prince slept, barely awakening despite the
tender ministrations of his sister. Inexorably the days wore on, and
soon there came whispered tales of the return of Night from faraway
lands, each more terrible than the last.
One morning the Prince's sister awoke to a knocking at the door.
Outside she found an old man with tears in his eyes who begged her to
return the Prince to them, so that his daughter might be saved.
"I'm sorry.", she replied, "He can help you no longer."
The old man looked back at her with anger in his eyes and left without
saying a word.
Still the Prince's condition grew worse, and with each passing day his
sister grew more afraid. Seeing this, the Lady Death rode forth from
Her vale of mists, bringing with Her Jealousy, who was the daughter of
Fear. To the castle of the Rose Prince They rode, and in the darkness
They watched at the windows and waited.
The Prince's sister slept uneasily, afraid for both her brother and
herself. Into her dreams Jealousy began to whisper, coming to her in
the guise of a thousand beautiful princesses, each of whom longed to
claim the Prince for themselves.
Meantime, the army of Night drew nigh, and the men of the world were
sorely afraid. In desperation they armed themselves and came to the
castle of the Prince to beg him to lead them. Finding the gate barred,
they hurled themselves against it in their terror, crying out to the
Hearing their voices, the Prince rose weakly from his bed, intending to
join them for his final battle. His sister saw this and begged him not
"I must", he told her, "for who else will fight for them?"
"Even if it means your death?" asked his sister, angrily.
"Even then", he replied.
"Then you are a fool!" she cried, and fled the room.
In vain the Prince struggled to stand, but now there was no strength
left in him and he fell back against the bed in pain.
Outside, his sister wept at his foolishness, raging against the men at
the gate and their petty princesses. In her anger she at last saw the
face of the Lady Death at the window, who spoke to her, saying:
"I will put an end to your brother's suffering, and he shall be yours
forever if you will only allow me to enter."
In reply, the Prince's sister opened the window and said only:
"Please, take away his pain, so that all the petty princesses of the
world shall have him nevermore."
Death smiled at her in thanks and caressed her cheek softly in one cold
hand. "Go then to the door, and send away the mob, so that I may do my
work in peace."
The Prince's sister turned and ran from the room, the touch of Death
still shivering against her skin. When she was gone, Death walked
softly to the Prince's chamber and lifted him in her arms. Her
fingertips brushed closed his eyes and she spoke but one word: "Sleep."
Soon his body grew as cold as the stone floor upon which he lay, and the
flies crawled all about him. And Death raised her hands and called to
the flies, saying:
"You are mine and he is yours. Rise up and leave this place."
And the flies rose up in the form of the Prince and made their obeisance
to the Lady. Together they crept from the castle and rode swiftly away.
In the gardens, the roses wept.
At the gate the clamour of the crowd grew ever louder, and the Prince's
sister grew angrier still. At last she flung open the gate, and the mob
fell instantly silent.
"Where is our prince?" asked one.
"Go away!" replied his sister. "He is mine, and you and your daughters
will never again take him from me."
In fury, the men took up their swords and fell upon her, their blades
piercing her body with terrible hunger. The earth grew slick with her
blood, and the men spat upon her body and left her to die.
In agony, her own blood choking her voice, she cried out:
"Lady Death! What of our bargain?"
And the Lady came to her and replied:
"Our bargain still stands, now and forever."
She pleaded with Death to end her suffering, but the Lady turned away,
"Lady! What of our bargain?"
Inside the castle the men of the world found their Prince, the sleep of
Death upon him, and many wept openly, for now there was none able to
hold back the dread army of Night.
Together they made for him a coffin of wood, and carved the figure of a
rose upon it for their remembrance. In the garden of the castle they
buried him, and upon his grave the roses grew flowers of deepest red.
At last, exhausted by her pain, the Prince's sister slept, and in her
dreams a thousand pincesses laughed. She woke with the dawn light to
find a gentle hand resting upon her brow, and she saw the face of her
brother, who was the Prince of the Flies.
His touch healed her of her wounds, but for her pain he could do
nothing, and he wept, because he still remembered who he had been.
"How have you returned to me?" she asked him.
"The love I have for you is stronger than the Lady Death will ever
be" he replied. "From this day forward, you are my only flower."
At this his sister smiled and kissed him softly upon the cheek.
"From this day on, I am your flower" she replied.
He lifted her in his arms and seated her upon his great horse, and
together they rode away. And soon Time returned to the castle, having
heard the fate of his hated foe. He sent forth His hours against it,
and the walls could no longer stand before him. Triumphant, He too
departed, leaving behind only ruins.
And from the power of their magic the Prince of Flies and his sister
built a castle of illusions amid the clouds. In his arms she found
solace from her torment, and there they lived from that day onward,
dreaming of happiness.
And in the world below there was none left to stand against the Night,
and Fear was once more its master. He looked upon the world and saw
what He had wrought from the minds of men and, seeing it, smiled.
In a place whose name has long since been forgotten, there lies a
garden where the roses grow wild. Beneath the cold earth lies a prince
in his coffin, entombed forever in madness; beneath his skin a myriad
roots writhe blindly, their thirst unending.
The roses that grow there bear flowers of deepest blood red; their
leaves whisper madness to the winds. In the rain and the morning mist
their petals shed his tears.