Steel Roses: A Self-Aware Fairy Tale
On Valentine's Day 2019, we wanted to release a rose themed collection. We also hate Valentine's Day. So we wrote you self-aware fairy tales to go with the collection, full of heroes you can finally be proud of. We've added at least one new rose every year, so please enjoy the continuing fairy tale adventures!
Chapter One: Briar Rose
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young woman named Aurora who lived with her overly-protective parents, formerly the king and queen of the land, and three crazy aunts. She spent most of her days in her tower bedroom, reading romance novels and daydreaming. Apparently, a woman who lived in town had not been invited to her first birthday party, and it pissed this lady off enough to put a curse on baby Aurora. Shouldn’t she have, you know, cursed her parents instead of her? 1 year-olds haven’t exactly reached their full mental capacity, so maybe blaming the baby was an illogical move? Regardless, ever since, Aurora’s had to keep a low profile, and her parents stepped down from power to protect her.
Aurora’s gift was in spinning yarn; she had a natural knack for it. The evil woman who had cursed Aurora said that on her 15th birthday, she would prick her finger on the spindle of the wheel and she would fall into a deep, deep sleep that would last until true love came along. That sounded terrible to her, so she avoided the spinning wheel 99% of the time. But occasionally, she just couldn’t resist, and took great care to avoid the spindle. Whenever her mother caught her spinning, she had such a panic attack that poor Aurora had to throw a bucket of water over her just to calm her down. Plus, it wasn’t her birthday quite yet; she’d be fine.
So most of the time Aurora sat in her room, biding her time, being interrupted at regular intervals by either an aunt or one of her parents, making sure she was safely in her room, doing nothing, reading boring heteronormative fairy tales and hoping she didn’t need true love to come along and save her.She looked out her window and could smell the garden below; the wonderful scents of lavender and rose wafting up into her nostrils, and the strangely familiar scent of the woods just beyond the grounds. She loved plants, and gardening, and drawing scientifically accurate, incredibly detailed sketches of plants.
Alas, the dreaded 15th birthday finally arrived. Aurora’s parents gave her a new dress. Her aunts gave her yet another gigantic tome of love stories, which Aurora planned to quietly destroy later that night. Her true passion was plants, and gardening, but they didn’t seem to understand that. All they wanted was for her to fall in stupid love with some stupid guy. Before heading off to bed, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Sneaking into the room with the spinning wheel, she took her brand new book, and began to smash the spinning wheel to pieces. She hit off the spindle, placed the book on top of it on the floor, and stomped it to splintery little pieces. There. Curse avoided. Why was she ever given a spinning wheel anyway? Eyeroll.
Satisfied at the destruction of the spinning wheel and the book, she concluded this was the most satisfying birthday she had ever had, and went up to her tower bedroom and promptly fell asleep.
Just before midnight, from the dark corner of her bedroom, the evil woman from town emerged dramatically, her cape whooshing with a satisfying flourish. “So, you thought smashing the spindle and spinning wheel would mean you could avoid the curse, huh?” She smirked. “Guess again, Princess Smartass.” Out of her giant, billowing sleeve, she pulled another spindle, and smashed it into Aurora’s sleeping hand. Aurora didn’t even wake up to scream; the curse had automatically put her into a deep and total slumber.
The woman’s evil laugh echoed throughout the tower, down into the rooms where her parents and aunts had been sleeping. They all awoke, and ran up the stairs to Aurora’s bedroom, where they found the girl dead asleep, the spindle bloody on the floor. The woman had vanished; after all their careful planning and avoidance, the deed was done. The king and queen and aunts sat on the floor and sobbed, knowing their beautiful Aurora would be suspended in sleep until the right man came along to rescue her with his mouth. Weird.
Although the woman had told everyone the curse would be lifted upon true love’s kiss, that was total bullshit. She had no idea how long it would last, or if the girl wouldn’t just, you know, die in a couple weeks from lack of food and water. This was her first successful curse in years; all that mattered to her was that revenge had been exacted.
The news spread throughout the country and surviving lands like wildfire. Naturally, her parents set up her tower bedroom as a kind of kissing booth, charging young boys to come in and give their daughter a kiss to see if they were her true love. (Gotta make that money somehow; going into hiding and renouncing their royal heritage didn’t exactly bring in a ton of income, especially now that they no longer had a spinning wheel, nor a daughter to spin.) Aurora just laid in her bed in her new birthday dress in what seemed like permanent paralysis. Months passed, and still, she didn’t stir. Many men came and kissed her, attempting to wake her up from her reverie. None succeeded.
Except … every three or four nights, Aurora did awaken. You see, that curse wasn’t as foolproof as the woman had thought. Alone in her room around midnight, Aurora would wake up. One of the first times she woke up, she had gone down to the kitchen and raided the cupboard, bringing a stash of food with her. Once a month or so she’d replenish her stores: rosemary crackers, dehydrated meats, clove-studded oranges to keep under her pillow and hide the constant cedar and bergamot scents left behind by all the suitors traipsing in and out of her room. But most of the time she woke up, went to the bathroom, ate, and just went back to sleep. This, she thought, was really stupid. Yes, she knew that all these men were coming to kiss her and trying to gently wake her from this wretched eternal slumber; but really, her life was boring and dull and sleeping days and nights away was just fine with her. She even woke up occasionally from a kiss, but never bothered to actually stir or awaken. She never felt any deep, stirring emotions, which she surely would upon being kissed by her true love, right?
Time passed. On the eve of her 18th birthday, it seemed as if every man had passed through her bedroom to try and awaken her with his fishy face meat. She kept secretly waking up occasionally, although it was happening with less and less frequency. Now it was once a week that she would secretly wake. Her body had gotten used to stasis. But on this night, a visiting prince from a faraway land happened to be in town for a wedding, and heard about the sleeping beauty. He decided he must visit her the next day; he was certain that, as the most charming prince, his mouth would be the one to shake her awake and make her love him.
Thus, her 18th birthday dawned. The charming prince arrived and wooed her parents, who showed him straight up to her bedroom. “And now, I shall awaken your daughter with True Love! That’s what I call my tongue,” he announced as he crossed the threshold.
Sure enough, he swooped under the canopy, pulled her half-dead body into his arms, and jabbed his tongue into her mouth. He kept darting it in and out as he was kissing her, like he was some kind of lizard, just stabbing her tonsils with his tongue. She woke up, gagging, and nearly retched all over him from the sheer force of his fleshy mouth-knife. “OH WHAT THE FUCK!” she cried out, tears springing from her eyes.
“A-ha! I have done it! My love, my life, my true beauty, you are to be mine!” the charming prince cried out over the sound of her astonished parents gasping and clapping and crying.
“Our girl is alive! She’s alive; oh, you truly are her one true love! Do you know how many men have been here? We thought this would never work! You still owe us $10.95, though,” her mother exclaimed, running over to hug her daughter. Aurora shoved her mother away.
“Are you all insane?! I’ve been alive this whole time! You whored me out for money, and now this jagweed shows up and shoves his tongue so far down my throat I really did almost choke and die! Hell no, I’m out of here.” Aurora had already secretly packed a bag, and without another word, she pushed aside her parents, punched the charming prince in the dick, and walked out of the room.
She walked through the village, shocking everyone who saw her. “Yeah, I’m alive, I’ve been alive, whatever. I love myself, I don’t need any of you people.”
She walked through neighboring villages for many days, until eventually she found a little cottage with a mostly dead garden surrounding it. It appeared abandoned, and nobody in the little town seemed to own it. She turned the front room into a little shop, as it luckily had a spinning wheel, and soon she had enough money to restore the cottage. She planted fresh plants, and they bloomed tremendously.
Years passed, and with a successful business and blooming gardens surrounding her cottage, she was happy. She was alone on her own terms, growing cabbage and arugula and using her natural gifts. She was a talented herbalist, and preferred to spend her nights alone, reading and writing stories about loving yourself. She went on plenty of rants in public about the hypocrisy of heteropatriarchal culture, and the centering of romantic relationships as the most important ones. The neighborhood children all called her a witch because she was so unlike all the other women they saw. And you know what? Maybe, just maybe, they were right.
Scent Notes: A field of wild roses and lavender leading into the woods, cedar, a sprig of rosemary, freshly ground clove, bergamot.
Chapter Two: Glass Rose
Once upon a time, there was a young couple named Martha and John. One morning, they were sitting across from each other at the table, quietly eating breakfast. “Oooh, ouch!” Martha suddenly exclaimed, clutching her swollen stomach.
“Darling, are you okay?” John asked. Martha was getting to be quite pregnant, nearly 8 months along, so every little thing she did or said immediately made John pay attention. It was exhausting for the both of them, honestly, this hypervigilance, but it’s not like he could stop worrying about his pregnant wife or impending child.
“Yes dear, I’m fine; she just has a mighty strong kick!” Martha smiled and attempted another bite of eggs. The girl must’ve kicked again, because Martha dropped her fork and clutched her stomach again. “GodDAMMIT, ok, no more eggs, I get it.”
“Martha my dear, you have to eat! What can I fix for you? Toast? A cheese sandwich? Um ... you know I’m not a very good cook, but, I can try to make you some soup.”
“No John, I know exactly what I want. The cabbage. From next door. I see it every day from the window; I overlook her garden and I drool. It all looks so luscious and green and healthy and shit, oh wow, I would give anything for a big head of cabbage. Also some Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. But mostly the cabbage.”
“Alright, let me get ready, and I’ll go ask if I can have a head of cabbage….”
Martha squealed. “No, John; you must STEAL IT.”
John balked. “What? Why? I know we all think she’s a witch, but I’m sure if I give her some money, she’ll just sell us some.”
“NO. STEAL IT OR THERE’S NO POINT TO THIS STORY,” Martha screamed.
Staring down over the fence at the garden, John sighs, confused. “Okay, my love, I’ll steal you some cabbage. But it’ll have to be later, when it’s dark, so that witch doesn’t know about it.”
That evening, John snuck down into the garden. Passing blooming gardenia, bright red roses, grapefruits, kumquats, orange blossoms, and rows of herbs and pungent sage, he reached down and stole a head of fresh cabbage. Nearby was wild rapunzel. He considered grabbing some of that, too, but nobody knows what rapunzel is. Returning home, Martha grabbed the cabbage from his hands and finished the whole unwashed head in several gigantic bites, moaning with pleasure the whole time.
“Oh John, thank you; this was exactly what I needed.” She walked back to their bedroom and fell asleep. She slept soundly. Well, as soundly as a person can sleep who has just eaten a whole, raw cabbage. (Poor John.)
The next morning, the scene repeated: Martha refusing any other food, and John agreeing to steal from the witch’s garden. And this happened the next day. And the one after that. It was nearly a routine for John to sneak into the witch’s garden every night and steal some roughage for his wife to eat. The garden was so vast and seemed to replenish itself instantly, so he didn’t think he was really hurting anyone.
Two weeks went by, and John felt so confident in his theft that he wasn’t really thinking about it anymore. Every night he just swooped in, grabbed some greens, and left. An easy, victimless crime routine that kept his wife and soon-to-be-born child happy; what could be better?
On the third night of the third week of theft, he stepped into the garden and nearly ran into the witch. She smiled at him calmly while he shrieked and jumped back in fright.
“So, dear John the neighbor, you’ve been enjoying the greens from my garden every night for some time now, have you not?”
Looking at her up close, John was stunned. She was maybe in her early forties, did not look at all like a witch, and was in fact quite pretty and regal. Almost like a princess who had spent a significant amount of time asleep in a tower. But there was clearly something ‘off’ about her, as if she’d lived most of her life alone and spent her time reading, making tonics (probably a few with gin), and, tending her garden, and trolling men’s rights activists on the internet. He was quite right about all of this.
“Oh no, I am so sorry, my wife Martha is very pregnant, and all she wants to eat is the greens from your garden; nothing else satisfies her or our unborn child. Please, I am begging you, please do not harm me. I wanted to pay you for the food, but my wife said there’s no story in paying someone for their craft, so I had to steal. Please, please just let me go. I’m just a pawn in this whole story, I don’t know what’s happening!”
She smiled again; but this time it looked more like a sneer. “Oh, you’re going to pay me, alright. You do owe me. That child is mine. You’ve stolen from my garden when you could have paid me; so now, according to law, your babe is mine. Sorry about that.”
All the color drained from John’s face. “Martha will never let you take our child.”
“Oh? Is that so? Tell her she can keep eating all she wants from my garden until she goes into labor; that might help her decide. But there’s really no other option here. The girl is mine. Fairy tale law.”
John, shaking, slowly backed away and ran home. He told Martha what had happened. She stared at him impassively.
“That’s true; fairy tale law does dictate the baby is hers. I’m fine with it. What’d you bring back for me to eat?” she asked, shrugging her shoulders.
John threw the cabbage on the table and went to their bedroom to cry. Martha had already eaten several raw cabbages that day alone; you could smell it in the air.
He must’ve fallen asleep, because he woke up to Martha screaming in the kitchen. He ran out and found her in labor, being assisted by none other than the witch next door. His screams mingled with Martha’s as she pushed out the child. The witch started laughing with joy, cut the umbilical cord, and started to gently clean the babe. Soothing the little girl in her arms, the witch sang a soft lullaby. She had a beautiful voice, and clearly was ecstatic about having this child to raise as her own.
Martha was nearly passed out on the floor, her flatulence hanging like a cloud above her head, and John fell down next to her, wrapping his arms around her gently as she began to weep.
“Now now, don’t cry. I’m going to take good care of this little girl,” the witch said. She looked directly at John. “This is not your fault, John. Please don’t blame yourself.”
The baby, strangely, had not cried at all. She was calm, and allowed the witch to put a diaper on her and be swaddled up tight.
Shaking her head ruefully at John and Martha and the lingering smells, the witch left with their daughter. John wept openly alongside his wife. Martha looked over at him. “Do we have any cabbage left?”
John looked at her. He knew this was the end of their marriage. A few nights later, he snuck over to the witch’s house to see his daughter and was shocked to see the witch waiting for him. “John, I’m going to do you a favor,” she said. “I know this was not your fault. I’m going to teach you how to read, so you can understand fairy tale law, and not be stuck with that woman forever.”
So, over the next few months, John, his daughter, and the witch got together in the evenings to teach John how to read. (The baby didn’t really help, of course, except by being there and being cute, which is what babies are good for.) John learned to read, and decided to become a fairy tale lawyer. He left Martha and her cabbage stink behind, and went on to become a prominent fairy tale litigator. He spent lots of time with his daughter and the witch, and made sure his little one knew how to read and ask questions before signing a damn contract.
Years passed. The witch had raised a smart, clever girl. She was knowledgeable about herbs, trees, and had a weird interest in swordfighting, which the witch allowed her to learn as she would rather have the girl read about how to be a knight and how to fight than read any stupid romance stories.
When the girl was 10, the witch decided it was time to lock her away, just as she had been locked away most of her life. She’d had a giant glass tower built in the middle of the forest; a truly impressive piece of architecture. The girl, named Rapunzel, was a bit confused as to why she had to be locked away, and why the whole thing was made of glass in the first place.
“It’s for your protection,” her witch-mother told her. “People are awful. I need to keep you safe. Plus, you know I love you. I could’ve named you Cabbage.”
So Rapunzel went up the many, many flights of stairs to the top of the tower, which was filled with books of all sorts, a very comfortable bed, a giant bearskin rug, and many other comforts to make up for the fact that she’d be, you know, locked in here for years with almost no outside contact. Totally normal Tuesday discovery.
And so, Rapunzel stayed locked in her tower for years. Initially, the witch-mother came to visit a few times a week using the stairs and locking the tower shut tight behind her. After many years of no haircuts, Rapunzel’s hair was long enough for her witch-mother to climb it and visit her. Rapunzel didn’t see how this was easier than the stairs, but, whatever.
Whenever she visited, her witch-mother asked if any men had come to visit. And Rapunzel had told her the truth: no men came to visit. Her witch-mother apparently had some lasting PTSD from her own time locked in a tower and a bunch of men invading her life, so she was very cautious that the same thing not happen to Rapunzel.
When her witch-mother wasn’t there, Rapunzel read voraciously. Her favorites were tales of knights and armor and valor and bravery; she identified heavily with the male heroes and wanted to swan into battle proudly and rescue a maiden fair. She did not realize that she herself was supposed to be a maiden fair needing to be rescued. She slowly began to realize that this whole “being a maiden” thing was not who she actually was. Rapunzel started working out daily, and reconfigured her dresses into pants and jumpsuits. As a final act of self-understanding, Rapunzel chopped off her long, long golden locks into a rather fetching short pixie cut.
The next time her witch-mother came to visit, she was taken aback by Rapunzel’s new appearance. She’d climbed up the long rope of hair she knew so well, only to discover the hair tied to a hook inside, and not attached to her daughter’s head. Rapunzel was sitting in a chair, reading, and really rocking that haircut. The witch gasped.
“Darling Rapunzel, what has happened to you?”
“Please do not call me that. It’s been nearly 15 years since you locked me in this tower, and I’ve come to realize that I am not Rapunzel, I am Raphael. Please do use he/his pronouns and call me by my actual name.”
The witch-mother was taken aback, and had to sit down. After a long, thoughtful talk, the witch-mother understood, and realized she could let Raphael back into the world without worry.
“I do have a confession to make, mother,” said Raphael.
“Yes, please do tell me, dearest Raphael,” she answered kindly. What more could be said?
“It’s true that no men have been to see me while I’ve been in this tower. But … I’ve had a fair stream of women through this window since I was about 13. I wasn’t obligated to tell you. Fairy tale law, you know. I’m deeply in love with one woman now. Her name is Mary, and she is wonderful.”
The witch nodded; of course. Raphael had always vehemently denied and seemed disgusted by the idea that a man would visit and try to kiss her … him. Him. Everything made sense. She got up and gave Raphael a kiss on the forehead. “I think the world is ready for you, now.”
They climbed down the hair together, and sweet Mary was waiting at the bottom of the tower. The witch-mother hugged Mary, then Raphael, and wished them a happy life together. Mary and Raphael kissed sweetly and the three of them walked out of the woods together.
Scent Notes: White roses, gardenia, orange blossom, thyme, and Dalmatian sage in a summer thunderstorm, ripe grapefruit, kumquat, and red mandarin, white musk, neroli.
Chapter 3: Flame Rose
Once upon a time, there lived a young girl named Madeline. Her parents had adopted her at a young age. According to them, they were on a walk through the woods with her grandmother, and they found her quietly sitting under a tree. Nobody else was around, so they took the girl in and raised her as if she were their own. Which was convenient, as her father had been assigned female even before he had been born, so having the chance to take in a child seemed like a sign, or like something out of a fairy tale. Which was also convenient, because they were living in a fairy tale.
Madeline grew up with loving, doting parents and a witchy grandmother. Basically, she was living the dream. What a lucky girl! She even possessed the most incredible power: she could spin straw into gold. Okay, well, maybe not actual gold, but she was so amazing at spinning straw it might as well have been gold.
As she grew older and began honing her craft, world of her amazing abilities began to spread throughout the neighboring kingdoms. Eventually, word even reached the king himself, who didn’t understand hyperbole and immediately asked that the girl be brought to him at once.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men went and found Madeline and her parents. By now, she was nearly 18 and had some sense of herself. She absolutely did not want to go and see the king, but her parents realized there wasn’t really another choice. They hugged and kissed her goodbye, and told her they would come to her the moment she called for them.
Days later, arriving at the castle, Madeline greets the king. He’s a portly, unpleasant man, who is clearly delighted to see her.
“Young maiden! The tale of your incredible spinning has made its way through the land. Please, we would love to see your work in action. We shall have a test of your skills. Tonight, I’m going to personally lock you into a room in one of our tallest towers, and you shall spin me gold from straw!”
How many goddamn towers can there be in this land, seriously? Madeline laughed. “Wait, wait, wait. You think I can *actually* spin straw into real gold? You do realize that’s impossible, right? Whoever told you that was speaking metaphorically.”
The king grew terse; his mustache twitched impatiently. “I am the KING! And you shall do as I say!”
Madeline put her hands on her hips and cocked her head. “Well, what do I get out of this whole situation? Do I get to keep the gold?”
The king guffawed. “Absolutely not.”
Madeline shrugged. “So why bother with all of this, then?”
The king sighed. “Fine. If you prove to me that you are as talented as they say, you can marry my son, the heir to the throne.” He gestured to the far side of the room. “And, you know, I won’t have you killed. That too.”
She hadn’t even noticed that, sitting in the far back, there were two other thrones: one for the prince, and one for the princess. Madeline shuddered violently when she looked at the prince. Now, there’s no denying that he was handsome, but the expression on his face showed intolerable cruelty and disgust just under the placid surface of his skin. He was eating a turkey leg because of course he was. She would never, ever marry him. The girl sitting next to him, the princess, seemed repulsed just being next to her brother. She, too, was beautiful; her hair was the color of a bright orange rose, and the leather dress she was wearing fit like a glove. Madeline forced herself to look back at the king.
“Do I really have a choice in this matter?”
The king smiled. “So you agree, then. If you spin all the straw in the tower to gold, you’ll marry my son tomorrow. And won’t die horribly. Perfect. I love when things work out. Guards, take her away.”
Two guards grab her by the elbows and guide her out of the hall. She turned back and looked at the prince and princess on her way out the door; she could swear that the princess just smiled and winked at her. She winked back.
Up the steps to the tower, she saw a ton of graffiti on the walls. “Charming Wuz Here” was written in sloppy script near the doorway. Who the hell….? But she didn’t have time to think about it; the guards opened the door, shoved her in the room, and locked it behind her. Madeline was shocked to discover that the whole room was absolutely covered in straw; she was standing about waist-deep in it. Across the room, she could just make out a fine cedar bed, and next to it was a small dressing area, which contained the room’s only source of light, an old oil lamp. She parted through the straw and collapsed on the bed, crying. Why was the king so literal and stupid? Why did she have to marry his cruel son? She’d had such a wonderful, magical life, so why was she suddenly in this terrifying situation? She sniffed at the wood, trying to calm herself down with a scent that was almost like home.
“Hello!” she heard a tiny voice cry out from the windowsill.
Madeline bolted upright, terrified. “Who’s there?!” She looked and, incredulously, saw a small man perched up on the window. He definitely had not been there when she came in just moments ago. He had a funny little beard and an old, weathered face. He smiled at her. “Would you like me to help you out of this predicament?”
Madeline shook her head, then rubbed her eyes hard. Nope, weird little guy was still there. “This … this can’t be happening. This is the strangest thing. Who are you?”
His smile grew bigger, and he hopped down off the windowsill. His little body was completely covered, so just his head was poking out from the straw. “I’m here to help you! I can weave this straw into gold in no time. All you have to do is guess my name.”
Madeline stared at the little floating head in the straw. “This is a joke, right? This whole thing has to be a setup. Am I being Punk’d?”
The man laughed. “I can assure you, miss, that this is far from a joke. Go ahead; guess my name.”
While Madeline was being interrogated by a strange man, downstairs, the king and the prince (also strange men, honestly) were discussing their good fortune at finding Madeline and drinking mead, tequila, bourbon, scotch, and ale. The princess, Elizabeth, was sitting nearby and listening. They didn’t even pay attention to her because she was “just a woman,” and therefore, of no value to them.
“What luck, my son, that soon we shall have a mountain of gold to pay off our debts!” the king said, heartily chugging a glass of ale.
The prince eyed his father. “What if she can’t, though? What if it is just a rumor? You and I both know rumors are almost always true, but, what do we do if this one isn’t? We’re completely broke, and the city is bankrupt!”
The king hushed him angrily, and took a shot of tequila. “My son! Do not say such things loudly; others will hear you.”
“Like me,” Elizabeth said.
The king and the prince laughed. “Yes, but you’re a woman, so nobody cares about you,” said the king, before turning back to his son. “Look, I know we are gambling men, and that’s how we got into this predicament in the first place. But, how about we put a wager on this Madeline thing?”
The prince’s smarmy face lit up. “A wager? What shall it be?”
The king smiled. “My boy, if she can turn that straw into gold, you shall indeed marry her. And then we will lock her up, and force her to make enough gold so we can gamble on everything for the rest of our lives!”
“And if she can’t?” the prince asked, sipping his mead.
“Well, then we are going to abdicate the throne and get the hell out of here because we don’t really have another option. And we’ll kill the girl. For fun!”
Elizabeth had had enough. She wished she could run and tell Madeline of the nefarious plot, but she knew the guards were at the door. Instead, she stormed out into the night to take a walk.
Meanwhile, back in the tower, Madeline had had enough, too. “Okay, this whole thing is absolutely ridiculous,” she said to the little man. “I’m done with this.” She took off her outermost layer of skirt and began ripping it into strips, tying the ends together, forming a crude rope.
“What … what are you doing?” the little man asked incredulously.
“This whole thing is ridiculous and I’m not going to be a part of it anymore.” She tied her rope to the top bedpost, and flung it out the window. She stumbled through the straw over to the dressing area, and grabbed the lamp. “I’m burning it all down.” She flung the lamp into the middle of the straw, where it smashed and started to burn. The little man screamed, and with a strange popping noise, he had vanished.
The room was starting to light up, flames spreading quickly through the straw. Madeline stopped and smiled for just a moment, before hoisting herself out the window, and guiding herself down her makeshift rope.
Elizabeth smelled the smoke before she saw the fire. (Of course, because that’s how the old saying goes, or close enough, whatever.) Looking up, she saw the tower ablaze, and ran towards it. Imagine her surprise, then, to see the young Madeline calmly climbing down the side in her underskirt. Elizabeth ran to her, to help her climb down the last few feet, and try to catch her if necessary.
No need. Madeline descended the tower as if she’d done it 1,000 times before (must be in her genes, Elizabeth thought), and jumped the final few feet down, landing easily into a rolling motion and winding up at Elizabeth’s feet. Madeline popped up, completely unphased. “Oh, hey,” she said to Elizabeth, who looked astounded.
“What happened? Are you alright?”
Madeline shrugged. “As alright as I can be for someone who was basically taken captive and told she must do the impossible or be killed. Or worse, succeed in the impossible and marry your brother.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Well, I have some great news for you. And possibly, a brilliant plan.” She took Madeline’s hand and the two strode back into the castle, just as the tower began to collapse.
The king and the prince were waiting, alarmed at the news, convinced that Madeline was dead and their plan was for naught. “She killed herself and is taking us with her!” the king yelled, when Madeline and Elizabeth walked in together.
“Oh, thank goodness you’re alive! Did you rescue some of the gold you spun before this … uh … accident happened?” the king asked.
“It was no accident,” Madeline replied. “You asked me to do the impossible, because apparently, you’re a gambler and you’ve bankrupted your entire kingdom. And now, you’re totally screwed.”
The king’s face was turning a deep shade of plum. “How did you know about that?”
Elizabeth stepped forward. “Well father, I may just be a woman, but I do have ears. And a brain. Something you apparently never realized.”
The king was about to start screaming, but Elizabeth continued on.
“Oh no, you don’t get to keep speaking. You’ve done enough. Besides, I can’t hear you over the sound of your kingdom burning to the ground. I heard your bet with your darling precious son; you said if she didn’t spin straw into gold, you’d leave. We think that’s a great idea. We’ve come up with a five-year fiscal plan that we will implement to get this kingdom back into shape. And,” Elizabeth glanced at Madeline and smiled, “we plan to do it together. As the queens we really are.”
The king and prince were furious, but, they had lost the bet they had made, and fairy tale law was a bitch like that. “We’ll come back,” they said. “We’ll be back once this kingdom officially fails. And we will reclaim it.”
But they never got the chance. Revenge is a dish best served with a 5% compounding annual interest.
Madeline and Elizabeth got married the very next day. They found the little man; turns out, Elizabeth knew him. He was magical, and could indeed turn straw into gold, but he was also a sloppy drunk who liked to brag about his exploits trying to make women do as he wished by making them guess his name. They walked into Ye Olde Tavern, found him half-passed-out, and both screamed, “RUMPLESTILTSKIN!”
“OH SHIT DAMMIT FUCK A DUCK WHO--oh. It’s you two. What do you want?” he asked as he came to.
They locked him in a tower and made him turn straw into gold for a week to help reboot the economy. Together with strong investments, the queens made the lands the most prosperous they had been in a century. They ruled happily together for decades, and all was well.
Scent Notes: The scent of one perfect wild rose against smoke, cedarwood, and supple leather.
Chapter Four: Blood Rose
Once upon a time, there lived two queens who were married to each other. They had been together for many years, and were growing old. While Madeline had been beautiful, it was her wife, Elizabeth, who was truly stunning. Her hair had been a bright shade of orange; now, it was mostly naturally white, but Elizabeth adhered to a strict hair dying schedule. Madeline aged gracefully, embracing and openly flaunting her wrinkles, scars, and white hair; Elizabeth would sooner die than show everyone what she perceived as her faults. Really, she was still the fairest in all the land, but she couldn’t see this for herself.
One winter, Madeline took ill. While everyone thought she just had a minor bout of flu, it got worse. And worse. It soon became obvious that she would not live to see the spring. Elizabeth was beside herself. Her companion of so many years, her one true love, did not have much time left. She was terrified; Madeline had been the people’s queen. Elizabeth was the ice queen, the beauty, the slightly dark heart behind the scenes. The thought that she would now be old and alone was haunting her. The one thing she could still control was her looks, and she took even greater steps now to make certain her beauty stayed intact.
Shortly before she passed away, Madeline had a gift made for Elizabeth. Being that Madeline had been so popular, and because she had some powers of her own, she gave Elizabeth a magic mirror that would always reassure her that she was the most beautiful woman in all the lands they ruled. It was looking into this mirror and asking it, multiple times a day, if she was still the fairest one of all that gave her life some sense of distorted, narcissistic order once Madeline died. Elizabeth spent hours upon hours gazing at her reflection, applying makeup, dying her barely existent roots, anything she could see as a potential flaw that was fixable was immediately eradicated.
A few years after Madeline’s death, Elizabeth was spending yet another day transfixed in front of the magic mirror. She knew her looks were starting to fade, and she had consulted with several local witches to try and figure out the best course of action as to how to stop this dreadful aging process. One suggested a mask of honey and sea salt to scrub out and moisturize the pores. It did work, and it smelled delicious, but it didn’t seem to have any lasting effects. She used only the purest rose water to wash her face and body, and she quite liked the faint smell of rose that seemed to radiate from her very core. But still, she kept getting older. She knew on some level that she couldn’t stop the slow march towards death, and while a large part of her wanted to reunite with her dearest Madeline, she was becoming more and more obsessed and consumed by the idea of looking as youthful as possible.
It was on this day, after her honey and salt mask and rose water rinse, that the mirror told her the most horrible thing: she was no longer the fairest in the land. Far from it. A real beauty, nicknamed Snow White, had just turned 14, and what a sight to behold she had become: raven black hair, dark brown eyes, full red lips, and the smoothest, palest skin. It makes logical sense that a freshly blossoming young woman should be the fairest in all the lands, but something in Elizabeth’s brain finally snapped. Her obsession changed to this young woman: finding her, befriending her, and killing her, because only she could be the beauty. That was her one gift, and she intended to keep it, by any means necessary.
Across the forest, at the edge of the land, Snow White lived with her seven older brothers. Their parents had tragically died a few years beforehand, and Snow White became their mother from a young age. She didn’t wear makeup, she didn’t care about her clothing, and she hardly left the house. Still, she was content, as she felt it was the right thing to do. Her brothers, bless them, had their quirks, and needed looking after.
Day after day, she did the washing and the cleaning and the cooking, with nary a complaint. She enjoyed the alone time while her brothers went to the mines all day. Every night when they came home there was joy and laughter and good food, and every day she spent alone in the quiet, cleaning up the mess from the night before while singing along with the birds that nested just outside the kitchen window.
Snow had a simple, pure, easy life. She didn’t even realize how naturally beautiful she was, which only served to enhance the fullness of her lips, and the length of her eyelashes. She had no idea that you could be obsessed with beauty; that the very notion of needing to be beautiful above all else could drive you to darkness and evil.
Elizabeth, being the queen, sent spies out to find Snow White. She didn’t want to hurt the girl at first; not necessarily. (Or if she did, she didn’t admit it to herself.) But once she found out that Snow White didn’t wear makeup, didn’t care about clothing nor anything to do with appearance, Elizabeth’s hatred intensified. How could a girl who didn’t even care if she looked good be more beautiful than she? Elizabeth always cared what she looked like; it was one of the few facets of her personality now that Madeline was gone. She realized just how cruel and evil and obsessive she was becoming, but it was too late. She didn’t care. Elizabeth decided to send for the girl. She needed her, and her youthfulness, now.
The guards set out; this time, instead of gathering information, they are to bring her back to Elizabeth, alive and unharmed.
It was a quiet, normal day in Snow White’s house. Her brothers had left to mine; she was in the midst of washing the breakfast plates and had a heaping pile of laundry at her feet, when there was a knock on the door. Snow White had no fear; she’d never had a reason to be truly afraid. Once the door was opened, the guards immediately grabbed her by the arms and dragged her away. The guards, of course, were entranced by her youth and beauty, but they were not monsters. They did not harm the girl on their days walk back to the castle.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth consulted with a different local witch. This one was known to be extreme: casting horrible spells, brewing potions of incredible strength, and completely owning misogynist Twitter trolls. She was not one to be trifled with. She told Elizabeth what she could do with young Snow White: first, poison her with an enchanted apple. While she’s unconscious, take some of her blood, mix it with dragon’s blood, honey, whiskey, and a sprig of mint (to hide the blood flavor), and drink it. It would restore her beauty and extend her life by many years. Elizabeth was excited. She had a plan; she would be youthful forever.
Snow White’s arrival to the castle did not go unnoticed. The fairest of them all turned heads everywhere she went, duh. Everyone who laid eyes on her was entranced. She was brought to the queen’s chamber door. One of the guards knocked, and then they let her in.
Elizabeth had gone to great lengths to make sure she looked incredible, and not at all like she knew exactly how many pores were on her own face (19,536; she had counted multiple times). She was sitting at a table, sipping a glass of deep red wine. A cheese platter and various fruit were laid out before her. “Please, Snow White, do come in. Sit down with me and let us have a chat.”
Snow White obliged. She was not afraid, although she was confused about what she was doing here and why the queen herself wanted to personally meet with her.
“Thank you, your majesty. May I ask why I am here?”
Elizabeth smiled in a way that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Of course! You are here because you are the most beautiful girl in the lands. I feel protective over you, as I used to be in that same position myself. We are here to chat about beauty, and perhaps you will find a suitor in the court.” She picked up and nibbled on a piece of sharp cheddar. “Please, Snow White, do go ahead and eat. It’s important for a queen to feed her … appetites.”
Snow White took several pieces of cheese and ate them, because cheese calmed her down when she was nervous. (How does cheese calm her down? Don’t ask.) They were making polite small talk, and Snow White was taking in the incredible surroundings of Elizabeth’s bedroom: the plush velvet curtains; the king-sized bed; the dressing area complete with wardrobe topped with bottles of perfume and makeup of all kinds; and the most incredible mirror hanging over it. “This is the most beautiful bedroom I have ever seen,” she said to Elizabeth. “I sleep in a small bed in our living room. There’s not a lot of room in our house.”
“Yes, I’ve heard you have seven brothers; that’s quite a lot of testosterone to deal with. Poor girl. You can stay here as long as you need. Perhaps even forever.” Elizabeth smiled that creepy smile again.
Snow White nodded; yes, she would love to stay here. She got up and surveyed the room, running her hand along the beautiful objects. When she got to the mirror, she paused to look at her reflection. Wow, she thought, I am incredibly beautiful. In her mind, suddenly, a warning flashed. LEAVE NOW, it said. SHE WILL KILL YOU.
An unfamiliar feeling of panic crept into her stomach, and Snow White turned around to find the queen directly facing her. Elizabeth held an apple in one hand, and a knife in the other.
“Darling Snow White, would you care for some apple? It’s organic, straight from the orchard just behind the castle.” She took the knife and began to cut a large piece. Ripping the chunk out of the apple, she held it like she was trying to airplane-feed Snow White. “Open up, darling; take a big, big bite.”
Snow White smacked the piece of apple out of Elizabeth’s hand, and at the same time, Elizabeth moved to stab her. They began to struggle; back and forth, the knife weaving dangerously between them. “You cannot survive, child! Give up; I will not allow you to live! I AM THE FAIREST! ME!” Elizabeth screamed, her sanity completely shattering.
“You don’t have a choice, bitch; GIVE IT UP!” Snow White screamed back. They continued to struggle on the ground. Finally, Snow White managed to twist the queen’s arm enough that she dropped the knife. Snow White rolled to try and grab it, but Elizabeth went with her. Knowing there was no way out of this for her, Snow White elbowed the queen in the face, breaking her nose. “No!! This was my new nose!” the queen howled in pain. Snow White got to the knife and held it up at the queen. “I will kill you if I have to,” she said. Elizabeth snarled. “Then do it.”
Snow White threw the knife across the room, away from both of them. Elizabeth laughed. “What are you DOING, you stupid child?” Suddenly, Snow White was running at her; Elizabeth couldn’t even react as Snow White bodyslammed her into her beloved mirror, shattering both the mirror and Elizabeth’s skull.
“Who’s the fairest one now, bitch?” Snow White asked. “Me. It’s me. And it’s going to be me forever.”
News of the queen’s death spread throughout the kingdom, but nobody was very sad. While she had rescued the economy years ago, she had turned evil and narcissistic after the death of Queen Madeline. It was decided that, as Snow White had killed her (even in self-defense) that she had earned the right to be queen. Fairy tale law is a cruel mistress. Snow White was made queen of the lands, and her brothers came to live with her in the castle, and they all lived happily ever after, finally getting to sleep in separate bedrooms.
Scent Notes: A proper English garden blooming with bright red roses, sweet honey, sea salt, and dragonsblood.
Chapter 5: Black Rose
Once upon a time, Snow White had reigned as queen for many years. She’d never been married, although she’d had a string of lovers, none had ever committed. What’s a queen without a king though? Historically speaking, more powerful and awesome, which is exactly what happened to Snow White. She had, though, successfully found seven brides for her seven brothers, and had a near-army of nieces and nephews who had grown up in the castle and she’d doted on as if they were her own.
Everyone loved her as a queen. She was kind, patient, and a very good ruler. After all, she’d had to start running a house full of seven men from a very young age; running a country was not that different, after all. Make smart choices, be as just as you can, don’t take shit from anyone, and enjoy your life as much as you can. And a string of hot lovers; that helps a lot, she highly recommended that aspect of her life.
She had always been a fan of good food, even when she had to cook it all herself. She longed to be back in the kitchen and to cook a meal from scratch; she did so occasionally. If she hadn’t been queen, she would have wanted to become a chef. The chopping of vegetables, the sourcing of ingredients, the complexity of salt with fat and acid cooked over heat was just intoxicating to her. Food is so delicious! Occasionally she did sneak down into the kitchen to prepare herself a scrumptious meal and feel like she accomplished something. Sure, running a successful country is an accomplishment, but it’s not something tangible, on a plate, that you made yourself and can then enjoy however you like.
The one less-than-bright spot in her life was one of her guards. He’d been fostered in the castle, and was a son of a nearby powerful king. The young man had become a pawn in a particularly sticky trade negotiation, or she would have sent him home long ago. She’s not sure how he kept being assigned to her, as she specifically began requesting anyone but him, and yet, there he was almost every single day. He was probably a fine enough person, but he was nosy and invasive and always trying to ask her questions about food and her weight, as if that was any of his business.
This morning, there he was, yet again, tasked with taking her breakfast order.
“My queen, what would you like to eat this morning?”
“Definitely coffee, please, and a very scrumptious breakfast sandwich: runny egg, thick bacon, caramelized onions, sharp cheddar cheese, and some arugula on whatever bread the baker has made freshest. And a side of potatoes, please. I had a long night.” She smiled and yawned, turning her face towards her bed, which until recently had been occupied by her and a few others. It was good to be queen.
“That sounds like a heavy breakfast. Are you sure?”
She arched an eyebrow. “Oh, I am absolutely certain.”
“No oatmeal? No fruit cup? A healthy acai berry smoothie topped with granola and chia seeds?”
“No, thank you. I know what I would like to eat, and I shall eat it if I want to.” He had been making these comments for weeks now, and the queen was starting to lose her cool. She knew she had to maintain her calm, or he would get a weird satisfaction out of seeing her aggravated by his words.
He turned away to head to the kitchen. She could hear him muttering under his breath. She called for him to return.
“You know, I have changed my mind. I’d also love a piece of rich, dark chocolate cake. There’s just something about having your cake and eating it too, isn’t there?” She smiled at him. He grimaced, and turned it into a strained smile. “Of course, your majesty.”
While waiting for her breakfast, the queen did her morning yogalates workout. Say what you will about the gimmicky name, that shit was intense, and left her feeling rejuvenated and flexible. Once her workout was over, she sat at her table and awaited her glorious breakfast sandwich. It would taste so good after all the various types of working out she’d been doing. Not that she made exercise a Thing; she just always felt better when she did.
Finally, the guard returned. She could almost smell the bacon … except, when he set the tray down in front of her, there was no bacon in sight. Instead there was a bowl filled with grey, unseasoned oatmeal, an acid-green colored smoothie, and an obnoxiously large bowl of fruit.
Snow White stared at the tray. “What the hell is this?” she asked, looking pointedly at the guard.
“Well, my queen, I’m just worried about your health, and I want to make sure you can continue to fit into your gowns. I’m just very concerned about your well-being; you are the queen! You need to live as long as possible,” he stuttered, getting less and less confident as he continued speaking.
Snow White was pissed. No, she was more than pissed; she was absolutely livid.
“My good guard, what did you eat for breakfast today?”
“Me? What did *I* eat?”
“Why, yes! If you are so concerned about my health, I’d love to know about your diet. Clearly it must be incredibly nutritious and delicious. Please tell me what you ate for breakfast.”
“I, uh, I had a double sausage patty sandwich with extra cheddar cheese from McFarmer’s that I grabbed on my way into the castle this morning.”
“Oh. So you are clearly very health-conscious. My goodness. I’m so sorry to have doubted your commitment to fitness. Please, you need this oatmeal far more than I do. Go ahead; sit and eat.” She got up from her chair and beckoned for him to sit down.
“My queen, oh, no, I couldn’t!”
“No, sir, I insist! Please. You are adamant about the benefits of a healthy breakfast; please, eat it.”
The other guard by the chamber door began to snicker. The queen smiled at him. The other guard kept on stammering about how there’s no way he could eat that himself, he was just concerned, he was trying to help her….
“Well, dear guard, as your queen, I’m afraid I must order you to eat this food.”
“Please, no, I can’t. It’s so … boring.”
A question popped into the queen’s head. “Sir guard, do you have a wife? Any daughters?”
“Yes, I love my wife and three beautiful daughters. I am very lucky,” he stammered.
“And tell me, do you make them eat this kind of food while you grab meals on the go from McFarmer’s?”
“... Only for their health! I know they’d rather I bring home the bacon, but turkey bacon is just as good, right? Isn’t it? I’ve never actually eaten it but it’s probably the same!”
Snow White smiled; a real, genuine smile. “Okay, you don’t have to eat this.”
His face relaxed. She understood! Oh, how wrong he was.
She looked at the guard at the door and nodded. He nodded in return, came over, and grabbed his coworker. “It’s time.”
“Time? Time for what?!”
Snow White laughed. “Well, I am a bit concerned that you won’t fit inside the stocks, but, that’s not gonna stop me from putting you there!”
And she did. The guard was placed in the stocks for three days, being fed nothing but gruel, often directly by the queen herself, who liked to employ the classic airplane technique, perfected after years of feeding young nieces and nephews. The whole town gathered to pelt him with fresh berries and pour green juice on his head, including his own wife and daughters, who felt it was only fair after all the crap he’d given them for years about their weights and diets. The queen invited them to stay at the castle while he was in the stocks, and each night, she herself prepared glorious feasts for them all to enjoy. Yes, indeed, it was good to be the queen.
Scent Notes: A vase full of blooming wild roses amid an impressive array of decadence: dark chocolate, vanilla bean, creamsicles, whisky and bourbon, and thickly cut, smoky bacon, all arranged in an old library in a dusty castle with wisps of patchouli in the air.
Chapter 6: Steel Rose
Sarah woke up with a start from a series of strange dreams. She’d been several different princesses, queens, and other fairy tale folk over the course of what was only a night, but had seemed like centuries. It really felt like she had been there; as if the worlds in her dreams were alive and bright, right before her very eyes.
But that was impossible. Right?
Dragging herself out of bed, avoiding looking into the mirror, Sarah headed to the kitchen to make her magical morning potion: coffee. Oh, coffee, you maker of merry, you necessity of #adulting, how Sarah desperately needed you this morning. She just couldn’t seem to focus; couldn’t seem to shake her head out of her dreams and into reality. Yes, reality: you have to shower. You have to get dressed. You have to get to work, and you have that second date tonight. Focus. You can do this. Snap out of it!
Nearly crawling into the bathroom, she forced herself into the shower. Perk yourself up, bitch; get moving! It’s Friday! It’s payday! The hot water relaxed her, then focused her brain a little bit more. She used her favorite rose-scented body wash, and scrubbed her self-doubts away. I can do this!, she thought. It’s just a Friday.
Hopping out of the shower, grabbing a cup of coffee, she starts getting officially ready for the day. Normally, there would be a semi-elaborate makeup routine: primer, foundation, concealer, a light contour, blush, highlight, eyeliner, lipstick, mascara…. Today, though, as she stood and looked in the bathroom mirror, she stopped. Sarah looked at her reflection, really, honestly took a good look in the mirror. She heard a voice in her head saying, “Yes, you are the fairest of them all.” That’s a bit far-fetched, she thought, but I’m really not bad looking. Huh. Maybe I don’t need to do all this….
For the first morning that she could remember, she decided to pare down the makeup: a smidge of undereye concealer, a quick brush of mascara, and a dab of blush on the apples of her cheeks. How did this small amount of makeup make her look better than a whole spackle job? Maybe this was a good life lesson: don’t hide your features; embrace the face you have, and make small adjustments if you feel like it (or have a date later). Huh. Staring into this mirror felt so familiar, she could nearly do it all day….
Shit, no, work! Gotta go fast! She ran out the door and walked her typical route to the office. She could smell the city: that familiar metallic note that clings to the inside of the nostrils. She loved that smell. She’d grown up in a small town in the woods in the middle of nowhere, and dreamed of tall buildings made of metal and glass, even if big buildings made of glass don’t make a ton of sense. It was one of her favorite parts about living in a metropolitan area.
Sarah made it to work at exactly 9:00am for the first time in weeks. Patting herself on the back, she walked confidently to her cubicle. People were staring at her new appearance, but she didn’t care. She felt powerful, like she could burn this whole place to the ground and start her own business if she wanted to. Why did that feel familiar? She’d never burned anything to the ground, and yet, the notion wasn’t completely foreign. Best to not throw down a match at 9:02am, though.
She spent the morning checking her email, making small talk with coworkers, attempting to look busier than she actually was: typical office life stuff. Someone had brought in donuts to the break room and she resisted the overwhelming urge to eat three of them. You have a date tonight, she thought. Control your appetite, it’s unattractive. Instead, she took the time to increase the amount she put into her 401(k) each month, and downloaded a new app to her phone to help track her expenses and save money. Because the best plans in life have a 5% return on investment, she thought, which didn’t really make a ton of sense in this context but hey, taking steps towards being fiscally responsible is never a bad thing.
At lunch, she walked to a nearby cafe to have lunch with her best friend, Megan. They tried to get together once or twice a week, because they realized their friendship was just as important as any relationship, and wanted to keep it strong. Over salads and iced tea, they rehashed their most recent dating fails, griped about work and money and all the usual things people get together and talk about over food. Sarah told Megan about her new money-tracking/saving app, and Megan downloaded it too. Best to keep everyone you know financially afloat and spread the good news, right? And Megan loved Sarah’s new look. “It’s more of who you really are,” Megan told her. “It looks like the real you is shining through, you know? You’re so pretty!”
Sarah floated back to the office, feeling better than she had in a long time. That is, until she saw Darren. Ugh. Darren started on the same day Sarah did (with less credentials) and managed to advance higher than Sarah had in the past four years. He never failed to rub it in her face when she saw him, because they both knew (even if it was subconscious for Darren) that Sarah deserved the promotions he’d managed to get.
“Hey, Darren,” she said as casually as she could muster.
“Hey Sarah! I was just wondering, um, do you have time to look at a presentation I’ve been working on for corporate?”
“Um, potentially? I’m kind of working-”
“Awesome, thanks! I already emailed it to you, and I’m due to give it in less than two hours, so, the sooner the better, thanks again! I totally owe you a drink at some point.” He bounded away, not giving her a second look.
Sarah sighed and rolled her eyes. Today had been going so well! Why, why, why did Darren have to be a massive tool and also be somewhat her superior AND terrible at his job? She opened up the PowerPoint file; it was riddled with spelling and factual errors, and made her cringe not even two slides in. Should she really do all the work for this jerk and not take the credit? Should she just not do anything and let himself look bad in front of corporate, the clients, and most of the company? He’d just get pissed and somehow blame her. What should she do?
She sat there, staring at the screen, trying to tap into some higher intelligence, some kind of sign about how she should proceed. Suddenly, it occurred to her: he won’t look at this before he opens the presentation. If he does, he’ll only look at the first slide or two. And she went to work. She’d wanted to set fire to something; why not have that be Darren’s career?
Two hours later, she sat in the audience, waiting for Darren to stand up and give his speech. She’d shown him the first three slides twenty minutes ago, which he approved, and promptly went to make sure his hair was in perfect place before giving the presentation. Now, as he stood up and began his speech, his back to the slides he was projecting and with all the confidence of a TED speaker, she watched as his career slowly died while he wasn’t even paying attention.
She’d left the terrible slides in, along with her notes and comments in giant, bold red font. Darren wasn’t even looking at the slides; he was just so arrogant that she had done his job for him. And, you know, she HAD, she’d also just left in all his mistakes to show people what an absolutely incompetent jackass he actually was.
Around the room, people began to giggle and point and look at Sarah. Some of the women discreetly high-fived her. At the end of the presentation, she’d crossed off his name and put her own, along with her title and email. It was then, finally, that Darren looked and saw what she’d done. He was furious, and started yelling about how this was all a prank, there was no way he was that stupid, she had tried to sabotage him!
The lights came on, and two of the senior managers escorted Darren out of the room. Most of the employees were laughing hysterically; it was an open secret that Darren was terrible at his job, and the whole room was thrilled that he was likely being fired. Then the senior managers called Sarah out of the room. Everyone clapped for her as she took a quick bow, and walked out.
They led her into a conference room, and asked her what, exactly, had happened. Sarah told them calmly, and said she would happily show them all the emails and work she had done on his behalf over the years, especially since he was promoted. That was enough for them. Darren was fired, and Sarah was promoted starting immediately, and with a hefty bonus (which was likely also a keep-your-mouth-shut payment, but whatever, money!).
Sarah was on cloud nine as she headed to her date that evening; she texted Megan to tell her that she had incredible news to tell her when she got home in a few hours. Megan said she hoped that there was even more juicy news to tell her AFTER the date, and wished her luck.
This was her second date with Steven, and she was fairly excited about it. Their first date was at a hip sushi restaurant that was a good meeting midpoint for the two of them, which was a good sign to her. She had been too excited to eat much; he was a very attractive man, and it intimidated her slightly. But overall, that evening had gone well; she probably had not talked as much, but again, nerves, and that seems normal for a first date with a very attractive human.
But today, today she was on fire! She was high on her own gorgeous face; on the way she took charge of her life in so many ways; how she had just gotten a gigantic promotion and bonus. This was the perfect day. Nothing could go wrong.
She met Steven out front of the steakhouse just a few blocks from her office. She was giddy and ready for a steak and a martini, maybe not in that order. She came up and gave him a quick hug, announcing that she was in the best mood ever and had a fantastic story to tell him. He smiled. “My, you are exuberant tonight!” he said, which struck her as a little odd, but she brushed it off.
They went inside and got seated in a gorgeous plush red booth, her favorite type of seating. The perfect day! The waiter came and took their drink orders: a stiff, dry martini for Sarah; a glass of chardonnay for Steven.
“So, what’s this wonderful news you have?”
And she launched into her story. How she’d finally fallen in love with her face; how she’d stood up to Darren at work; how she’d purposely sabotaged him. The waiter interrupted her to bring their drinks; she grabbed hers and took a big gulp before explaining how they had instantly promoted her and fired him and now she was going to eat and drink and celebrate victory and life and her excitement!
It was probably the most she had spoken all at once to Steven, who looked more repulsed as she continued. He did not look excited for her at all. When she finished her story, he was silent. Then, the waiter popped in again to ask what they want to eat.
“I’d like the filet mignon, medium rare, with steak frites and a side of the bacon brussels sprouts as well,” Sarah said.
“Excellent choice. And for you, sir?” the waiter said.
“Oh, uh, I’d like the steamed salmon with brown rice and a Caesar salad, no cheese, dressing on the side,” Steven said, and took a sip of his wine.
The waiter merely nodded, and walked away.
“Steamed salmon? Really? At a steakhouse?” Sarah asked him.
“Yeah; I try to eat healthy no matter what,” he replied. “One glass of wine, no red meat, no white flour, very little sugar, as many greens as possible.”
“Even on a date? Or, you know, as a celebration?” she asked.
“Well, I’m not sure what we’re celebrating. You clearly humiliated a coworker who needed help, instead of helping him when he needed it. And you’re talking an awful lot about how attractive you think you are, which is a very unattractive quality. Have you thought about seeing a therapist, perhaps? Maybe work through some of these issues you’re clearly experiencing?” Steven took a long sip of his wine.
Sarah sat there, flabbergasted. The old her would call the waiter over, cancel her steak and get a salad, and run to the bathroom and cry. But that was old Sarah. This is new Sarah; take-no-shit Sarah; I-am-beautiful-go-fuck-yourself-shitty-chardonnay-man Sarah.
Instead of crying, she chugged the rest of her martini. “Excuse me, I must go to the ladies’ room,” she said calmly.
“Be my guest; I’ll enjoy the quiet,” Steven answered.
On her way to the bathroom, she found their waiter.
“I’m so sorry to bother you, but, my date has turned quite sour. Could I get my dinner to go? And throw in a lobster tail, some mashed potatoes, and a slice of strawberry cheesecake?”
The waiter smiled. “Absolutely. Should I send someone to the bathroom to let you know when it’s ready?”
Sarah smiled. “You are very kind, thank you.”
She went into the bathroom, and immediately dialed Megan’s number.
“Well, that was fast,” she said when she picked up. “Are you on your way to his place or-?”
“Oh my god Megan he is the ACTUAL WORST,” she yelled, running into a stall. “He apparently only likes women who don’t eat, don’t talk, and don’t have opinions. He told me that I didn’t help a coworker in need and that it’s basically my fault Darren was fired.”
“What in the actual Hell is wrong with this guy?” Megan yelled. “You are so beautiful and amazing and wonderful. Are you okay? Do you want me to kill him? I know people.”
“No, no, I’ll be alright. I’m getting my food to go, plus a few extra things. The waiter is super nice and actually kind of cute. He’s sending in a waitress when my food is ready so I can grab it and leave.”
“Oh wow, yeah, that guy is awesome,” Megan said. “Please tell me you got expensive food.”
“Filet mignon, bacon brussels sprouts, frites, mashed potatoes, lobster tail, strawberry cheesecake,” Sarah said, exiting the stall to wait for the waitress.
“You are the greatest person I have ever met and I love you,” Megan said.
The waitress walked in. “Ma’am? Are you the one with the asshole date? Your food is ready.”
“Oh, thank you so much! Megan, I’ll call you when I’m home,” she said into her phone and hung up.
Sarah walked out, and grabbed her to-go boxes from the waiter. He winked at her. “Have a good night. I’ll go tell your date you weren’t feeling well and left and then give him the bill. And you might have gotten a few extra goodies in here, including my number.”
Sarah smiled. “Well, this is fantastic. Thank you so much. You might just be hearing from me later.”
She walked home, smelling her food wafting from the containers, mixing with the metallic city smell and her own rose-scented body. It was still a great day. And now she could end it the best way: in her bed, eating delicious food, on the phone with her best friend, and binge-watching bad reality TV. Damn, it’s good to be a queen.
Scent Notes: An enormous bouquet of mixed roses in a copper vase on a city street mingling with the metallic air, with whiffs of smoke, patchouli, dragonsblood, and incense from the hippie shop down the street.
Chapter 7: Wood Rose
Ellie sighed dramatically, rolling her eyes at her mother, Alice, who was relating for the thousandth time the odd stories of her childhood. It all sounded like a bunch of fairy tale nonsense to her; absolutely impossible and far-too-conveniently wrapped up, with so many fantastical elements Alice might be on drugs at this very moment. Alice saw her daughter’s eye roll, and pointed a french fry in Ellie’s face. “Seriously! I fell through the mirror into an alternate universe! I spoke to flowers and a giant caterpillar and had to outrun being beheaded by an evil queen using a flamingo as a croquet mallet!”
“Of course you did, mom, just like how we have ancestors who pricked their fingers on spindles and were trans princes and fell into weird sleeping comas but didn’t die. Okay.”
“Hey, to be fair, she was faking that sleeping coma thing. Life was weird, then; she did what she had to do,” Alice said, eating the fry she’d been pointing at Ellie, who rolled her eyes again and said, “Sure, mom,” in the most sarcastic tone she could muster.
“You don’t have to believe me right now,” Alice said calmly. “You’re sixteen; you disagree with everyone and everything. Just remember: keep moving forward, don’t forget your past, and if you ever end up horribly lost, just ask the nearest person, animal, or object which way to go. They always know.”
At this, Ellie excused herself to go up to her room. She had homework, and memes to look at, and probably 1,000 texts from her best friend Annie to sift through; she’d had enough of her mother’s crazy stories for one evening. Hours later she passed out, exhausted from pre-calc homework and in the middle of reading The Great Gatsby for her AP English class. She dreamt of fields of roses made of glass, and steel, and fire; she had to navigate through them to get home or she’d be lost forever, destined to roam amid these odd flowers. She awoke the next morning with a start; sweat covered her from head to toe, and her feet were aching as if she had been walking for hours. But that was impossible; she’d been asleep. Hadn’t her mom talked about anthropomorphic flowers last night? That’s probably where that dream came from. Still, Ellie felt a bit rattled, and told her mom about her dream as they both got ready for their days.
“Ahhhh, you’re lucky, you had a premonition. I never had one before my adventures. I hope you paid attention! Remember, you are not alone, and our family has a storied history of women surviving odd adventures, only to come out on top and become the stuff of legends. You come from a long line of terrifying women.” She nodded sagely. “You’ll get through it. You’ve heard all the stories. You’ll be just fine. I have total faith in you! One final piece of advice: don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.” Ellie was flabbergasted. “Seriously, that’s it? If something absolutely surreal happens I’m supposed to just have faith and smell the roses, and ask inanimate objects which way to go, and remember that my ancestors are badasses?”
Alice nodded. “Yes! Exactly,” she said, smiling. “Oh, you’re totally prepared; I’m so excited for you!” Ellie let out a frustrated sigh, grabbed her thermos of coffee, and headed out the front door to school. There’s just absolutely no way in hell this was really going to happen, right? She’d just had a weird dream, and her mother was warping it into something delusional like she always did. Maybe Ellie should have her re-evaluated by a psychiatrist. Maybe Ellie herself should go to a psychiatrist. She sipped her coffee, tried to calm herself down, and was bolstered by the appearance of Annie up on the street corner ahead, where they always met and walked together.
Annie had barely said hi when Ellie spilled all her thoughts and feelings about her completely strange dream, adding in her mother’s habit of claiming supernatural experiences that were probably just, like, bad acid trips in her youth or something. She didn’t mention the nagging, anxious feeling in the pit of her stomach that something was strange, but Annie could sense it underlying Ellie’s story. “Dude, it was a weird dream; I have weird dreams all the time. Last night, I dreamt my ex-boyfriend was trying to seduce me while also dating my cousin and I had to warn her to stay away from him and then we got into a fist fight. Dreams are just dreams, don’t read so much into it just because your mom seems to think dreams are real life.”
Ellie nodded and took a sip of coffee. They had just walked into the school, and she was feeling better. Annie always soothed her soul and made her feel more balanced.
“Alright, Ellie, I’ll see you in pre-calc soon. You’re gonna be fine!” Annie rubbed Ellie’s shoulder and went down the hall, turning left down the adjacent hallway towards her locker and her first period French class. Ellie walked down the hall and turned right, down to the end of the hallway to her locker. The first bell rang, meaning she had approximately three minutes to get her things together and head to English. Plenty of time. She set down her backpack and turned her combination lock to the right numbers, and pulled it open. There, inside, was an organized chaos only Ellie understood. Gum wrappers, old tissues, empty mini bags of Doritos, and plenty of pictures of her and her friends held up with silly magnets around a small mirror. Loose lipstick rolled around the top shelf, and Ellie started adding the contents of her backpack to the locker. Just before she closed it, she realized she’d accidentally put her copy of The Great Gatsby inside her locker, instead of keeping it out for class. As she reached in to grab it, she felt her foot slip, and she fell forward into her locker, bracing for the impact of her head on the cheap sheet metal.
Instead, she was surprised to find herself falling forward and down, down into a dark tunnel. She screamed, and her cries echoed around her. The detritus from her locker was decorating the walls of the tunnel and she realized she wasn’t falling so much as floating downward. Where she was going, she couldn’t tell, but it seemed to be quite far; there was no end in sight, just torn scraps of magazines and old bites of muffins floating in the air around her.
“Hello?” Ellie called out, turning a gentle somersault in mid-air. No response but her own voice. “Am I dreaming? Is this a hallucination? What’s going on?”
Quite suddenly, she landed on her butt with a loud thump. “Ow!” she said, looking up to see how far she had fallen. There was no way to tell; sparse light filtered down from above, and there seemed to be a small amount of light in the distance. Ellie stood up and walked toward the light she could see. Eventually, she walked up to a tiny door, which she couldn’t possibly fit through, but she opened it anyway as there’s no other way out. Somehow, the whole wall in front of her opened up, and she found herself in a gigantic forest. She turned around, but there was nothing behind her but more forest. She kept turning, trying to figure out where to go and what to do and where she came from, exactly, because tunnels don’t just disappear and you can’t just fall through your locker into a land of wonder and ... She got so upset, and so dizzy, she fell down and let out a sad scream, the trees swirling in the air above her.
Okay, she had to keep her wits about her. Think about the dream, think about what her mom had told her, because, either her mother had been telling the truth this whole time, or she was suffering from some kind of mental break that was all-consuming. Either way, going into a full-on panic wouldn’t solve anything at this point in time. There must be giant fields of flowers somewhere. She had to find the roses. “How do I get to the roses?” she yelled. “Anyone? Help? Where are the strange rows of roses?”
A beautiful butterfly landed on her nose, startling Ellie so badly she nearly sneezed it off. “Follow me, Ellie,” the butterfly said in what sounded exactly like her mother’s own voice. “Follow me to the roses you seek.” With her eyes narrowed and nearly crossed while trying to look at the butterfly, it rose, brushed its wings gently against her cheek, and flew away. Ellie took a second, realized she had no other choice and that her mother was right simultaneously, leapt to her feet, and took off after the butterfly.
She nearly lost the butterfly several times, but it seemed to sense when Ellie couldn’t keep up and slowed her flight down so the girl could catch her breath. The forest seemed to go on forever; several times Ellie heard small voices yelling at her to watch out, not to step on them, not to trip on that root, look out for that tree branch! She couldn’t tell if the voices were coming from other animals, the trees, the wind, or inside her own head. Wherever their origin, they helped her successfully navigate the chaos of the forest floor uninjured so she could keep her eyes on the butterfly. For that, she was grateful. Suddenly, they were out of the forest and a few hundred yards above a majestic grove of roses. Even from this distance, she could tell that they were the odd types of roses that did not grow in the world she lived in normally. These looked to be made from different substances entirely. Some shone in the sun like steel. Others lit up like flames. They were so majestic and strange, it was hard not to stop and be enthralled by them. “Wow,” she said. The butterfly flitted near her face, before settling in that uncomfortable middle distance that nearly made Ellie cross her eyes, and spoke.
“You must hurry, the Queen is on her way to cut down all the roses. She thinks they’re ugly and smell bad. She’s having them replaced with Corpse Flowers, which only bloom every seven years or so, and when they do, they smell like death. She’s an odd lady.”
“Okay, but what does that have to do with me?” Ellie asked.
“The only way out for you is to make a bouquet consisting of the following roses: Steel, Glass, Flame, Briar, Black, Wood, and Blood.”
“Ew, blood?” Ellie said. The butterfly flapped near her face, almost like she was slapping Ellie.
“Yes, because of their color. Calm down. But the hardest one to find is the Wood Rose. There’s only one in the whole garden, and you must find it, otherwise your bouquet will be incomplete and you’ll be razed down along with the fields of roses.”
Ellie shuddered. “Surely the Queen wouldn’t kill an innocent girl?”
The butterfly answered sternly, “Surely, the Queen has killed many innocent girls for many reasons. Go! There isn’t much time!” Then she flew away, yelling, “Remember your heritage!” as she went.
Ellie decided she didn’t have much choice, she ran down to the roses, realizing just how many there were as she got closer. There had to be hundreds of each varietal; the air was thick with the scent of roses of all kinds. She hadn’t, to this point, realized that roses could smell differently from one another. Up until now, a rose was just a rose and by any other name would smell the same as any other. But now she could smell, as she finally got to the edge of the grove, so many different types of rose she almost passed out. What a beautiful place! How could anyone want these gone? How could anyone hate such a sight, or such scents wafting through the air? No time to psychoanalyze, however; she had to make this bouquet, and quickly, or she’d never get out of here.
Ellie could tell immediately that the Briar roses were the ones on the outside of the grove; they grew together and formed a thick hedge of thorns. She looked down and found a pair of gardening shears with a tag saying “Use me!” on them, and cut a few large stems, pricking her finger in the process. “Ow!” she said, putting her freshly-stabbed finger in her mouth. A flash of images came through her mind: a tower, a spindle, an exceedingly long time in bed, and a cottage with a luscious garden. Huh. Weird, she thought.
All of these roses were obviously laid out with some kind of plan in mind; they didn’t just spring up here willy-nilly. Fairy tale logic, okay, think like you’re in a fairy tale. What would your ancestors have done? She walked down to the end of the roses of Briar roses, turned left, and saw rows of white roses, their petals shining like glass in the sun. She had a sudden, strong craving for cabbage as she cut the stem of the brightest, shiniest rose. Ellie could nearly see her reflection in the petals, but distorted, and she had much longer hair. She shook her head, and the image disappeared with a grin, and now, shorter hair. Maybe my mother isn’t full of it, she thought. Maybe I really do have fairy tale blood. Which, if I remember the stories correctly, means … a-ha! She’d rounded down and around the next bend to discover the rows of yellow, orange, and bright red roses dancing like flames towards the sky. Ellie saw the field burst into flames in front of her eyes; she cried out, and the flames evaporated as if they were never there. Her mind flashed with the image of a tiny, annoying little man who she instinctively wanted to punch, but that also faded quickly. “Fucking Rumplestiltskin,” she muttered, and she could almost hear his answer from a tower far off in the distance, his cursing that he couldn’t show up and “assist” her through her journey. Ellie cut the stem of the rose with a mixture of colors, the one that most looked like flames, and carried onward. As she suspected, she came upon rows of blood-red roses, so dark they almost looked brown, but each one absolutely gorgeous. “The fairest of them all,” Ellie whispered to herself as she chose the darkest rose, cutting the stem and smelling a distinct note of dragonsblood. She had a sudden desire to stare at herself in a mirror, but repressed it, carrying on. Her stomach rumbled. If only she had an apple. No, wait, not an apple. Some bacon. Maybe a breakfast sandwich. Cake? Why not all of it? As Ellie turned into the next rows of black roses, she understood. That’s why her sudden food craving had hit. These roses carried distinct notes of gourmet, delicious food, which sounds gross but was actually intoxicating. As she cut the stem on the boldest black bloom she could find, she pictured a table laden with food, with many women laughing happily while they ate. A glorious image that was cut too soon by the sound of machinery in the distance. Ellie stood, turned, and saw the razing equipment cresting the hill. She was running out of time! She could see the Queen’s crown on top of the long, blonde, silken locks that whipped behind her in the wind as she rode the foremost crane. Go, Ellie, go!
Steel is next, find the steel, she thought, running down and leaping over several rows of black roses until she came to the center row of grey roses. Her breath caught in her throat; they were so beautiful. She’d never seen grey roses before, and it took all of her willpower not to start cutting every single one. She didn’t have time for that. Cutting the stem of the most perfect rose, she saw flashes of a fancy restaurant, and eating steak in bed. She made a mental note to never stay on a shitty date, ever, and then started to panic. She hadn’t found any wooden roses. There’s only one. Where is it? Shit, shit, shit! Okay, fairy tale rules, let’s do this. “Where is the Wood Rose?!” Ellie yelled over the fast-approaching Queen and her minions determined to destroy the roses. As if on cue, she saw the butterfly flutter over her head, towards where she had begun. Of course it was right at the beginning! She ran back through rows and rows of roses, wishing she had more time to smell each and every single one. She leapt over when she could, and finally made it back to the front of the garden. The Queen was nearly upon her, just two hundred feet away and encroaching. But she couldn’t see it, no matter how hard she looked. She’d have to smell for it instead. Although the Queen was nearly there and her cackling made the hairs on Ellie’s neck stand up, she closed her eyes and focused on her breathing. She would find it; she had the power. By instinct, she reached out and smelled several roses, none of them correct. As the earth rumbled beneath her and the scent of burning tires screeched in, she bent her head down and was shocked to smell a deep, rich, woody scent. It was all rose and vanilla and sweet resins, all of Ellie’s favorite things. Without opening her eyes, she cut the Wood Rose. The Queen’s cackling turned to screams of pain; Ellie opened her eyes and saw that all of their equipment had vanished and the roses had thrown out their stems and vines and wrapped them around her and her lackies. The roses were safe. She was safe. She closed her eyes again and breathed in deeply. What a perfect bouquet.
Ellie opened her eyes to find herself in her bed, safely in her bedroom. She was sweating and panting, probably from that crazy dream. She sat up and breathed deeply to calm herself. Her hands weren’t dirty, there were no stab marks from thorns, and she was clearly safe in her bed. Just a dream. Just a crazy-ass dream.
But then she looked over and saw, on her dresser, a bouquet of roses of every kind: briar, glass, flame, blood, black, and steel. In the middle of them all stood her rose, the Wood Rose, confident and proud amongst its family, the true descendant in a long line of badass fairy tale folk. All Ellie could do was smile.
Scent Notes: Tiny wild roses blooming on the forest floor, rich, spiced rosewood, vanilla laced with patchouli and sweet resins.
Chapter 8: Stone Rose
Once upon a time, the queen was throwing a tantrum, again. She was pacing the halls of her wing of the castle, wailing to any and all who came near. Her staff dealt with this several times a week, so they were used to it. “There are NO PRINCESSES LEFT,” she wept, throwing pillows on the ground. “Nobody will love my son!” she wailed, emptying half her wardrobe into the room. “We will never have a royal heir! Our family is RUINED!” she screeched, smashing several vases. “My chambers are a MESS!” she screamed, throwing open the door to see two startled maids, who were waiting to be yelled at. “CLEAN THIS UP!” she yelled, striding down the hallway and ripping down a family pennant from the wall. “AND GET ME A NEW ONE OF WHATEVER THAT WAS,” she cried over her shoulder. She was going to see her son and get everything figured out. There has to be a princess from some faraway land, there HAS TO.
Not one for personal boundaries, she ignores the posted guard and throws open the doors to her son’s chambers. She finds him sitting at his desk, reading a book of poems he’d read so many times the pages were coming out. “Ugh, not that rubbish again, Jules,” she says, rolling her eyes and flopping dramatically onto his four-poster bed. Thunder began to clap outside, the only thing to applaud her over dramatic performance that afternoon. “Nobody wants a skinny prince who spends his time reading poetry and crying over the beauty of flowers and rocks or whatever.” Jules finally looks up and over at her, calmly and curiously. “Mother, you know that’s not true. I don’t care about being royal. I don’t care if she is royal or a peasant. I just want someone to love who finds beauty in a slab of marble and in the most delicate, blooming rose.”
The queen rolled her eyes again. “YOU’RE a delicate, blooming rose. Fine. No more princesses. Whatever woman wants to just show up and knock on the door, we’ll see if she can pass my test.” Jules sighed, and looked back down at his poetry. “Sounds great, mother; thank you.” The queen sat up. “Your bed is hard as a rock, Jules. Remind me to put a feather bed or seventeen on here; it’ll help you sleep.”
Also living in the kingdom is a young woman named Jacinda Mason. She lived in a time where people were named after their professions, and as her father, Brock, was a stoneworker, they were dubbed the Masons. Her mother had died when she was young, as is often the case in fairy tales, and accordingly she grew up tough. She eschewed dresses for slacks and began working with her father in mines and quarries since she was in her early teens. Now, in her mid-twenties, you could conservatively call her “jacked,” but that didn’t mean she wasn’t feminine and beautiful. Sure, she was stronger, taller, and generally bigger than most of the men she knew, and she slept on a slab of marble instead of a feather bed, and pretty much every part of her house was made of some kind of stone, but she still took care to always look nice and smell good. She kept her long, dark, thick hair in braids which she wrapped around the crown of her head while working or around other people, but once she was home she unwound and unplaited the braids and let her hair cascade in waves down her back.
Brock was proud of his daughter, but he wanted more for her. The men in their town respected Jacinda but didn’t want to marry a woman bigger than themselves, so she remained suitor-less. As the years went on, he could tell his daughter was a little saddened to just be living with her father, working in a quarry, spending her evenings carving stone into elaborate designs. He became determined to get her out of his house of stark stone and into a more comfortable home where she wouldn’t have to work so hard.
One day, he was taking a break around the donkey that carried the water down into the quarry for the men, and heard them discussing the latest antics of the queen. She was known for being a very odd, demanding woman, who was currently on a quest to find a woman delicate enough for her son, Prince Jules. He was a gentle, thin, kind man who largely stayed inside the castle as his mother thought he was too weak to do much outside. Lack of sunlight caused him to look a little sickly, and many rumors of his poor health spread throughout the kingdom. The queen wanted to find a woman sensitive enough to marry her son, as she believed that women should be fragile creatures. And, in her case, she absolutely wanted someone to match her son’s perceived weakness and delicacy. “Who would want to marry such a man?” the quarrymen asked, breaking rocks on their heads for fun just to show that they could. “Or marry into that family?” Brock stood there, thinking. It was true, the queen had rejected dozens of young women from their own kingdom, far-off lands, and everywhere in-between. Why couldn’t anyone stay and marry the prince? Was something wrong with him? He went back to work, consumed with the question of: why? As he left to clock out for the day, he ran into his old friend Slade, who used to work in the castle. “Slade, good sir! Can I ask you a question?” Slade just smiled and said, “Of course, as long as it’s not about the royal family!” Brock looked disheartened for a moment, before saying, “Well, it does. See, I’ve heard that the queen has started letting normal women meet the prince in order to finally have him wed. Why can’t she find someone to marry him? Is there something wrong with him? Slade shook his head. “No, he’s a fine man. She’s just a little dramatic and very particular. She wants a delicate daughter-in-law and she has this odd … test that she makes the women go through.”
Brock laughed. “You know Jacinda can pass any kind of physical test this woman could throw at her. Please, tell me, what is this mysterious test?” Slade looked at him seriously. “You cannot tell anyone that I told you about this. She could have me killed for spilling this secret.” Brock nodded solemnly and offered his hand. Slade shook it and told him, “It’s the pebble test. She puts a pebble underneath a huge stack of mattresses on the bed. If the woman can feel the pebble through the mattresses, she’s the one. So far, no woman has been able to do it.” Brock looked shocked. “But that’s impossible! Who could feel a pebble through so many mattresses?” “Nobody, and that’s the point,” Slade said sadly. “And I love Jacinda, but she isn’t delicate. Maybe let this one go?” Brock nodded and walked away, but all Slade did was make him even more determined for Jacinda to try her shot with the prince.
After work that evening, over a bowl of stone soup, Brock tried to bring up the subject lightly to Jacinda. “So, darling, I had a wonderful idea today. You should go to the castle and try to win the heart of the prince!” Jacinda nearly choked on her soup, spitting out a bit of grit involuntarily. “Father, you can’t be serious. That’s absolutely ridiculous! I am not a teensy, delicate princess! I would be laughed out of the castle in seconds!”
Brock smiled. “That’s where you’re wrong, darling.” He then laid out his whole plan, and let Jacinda know the queen’s gambit from start to finish. He told her about the plot the queen laid out in finding a suitable match for her son, the beloved prince. “I’ve already asked one of the guy’s wives to make you a gown. You’re going as soon as it’s convenient for the plot, and everything is going to be fine,” Brock said, as Jacinda sat in wonder. Could she do this? Could she leave her father and her life behind for a life of privilege and comfort? She’d never considered that a swarthy, big-hipped, tall woman like herself could marry a prince. But maybe that made the most sense? The prince was supposed to be sweet and kind. She already knew she’d be bigger than him, which gave her some anxiety. But she was bigger than almost every man she knew, so how would that be different? She took a sip of soup and got lost in her thoughts. Why the hell couldn’t she be a princess? What was wrong with her? Absolutely nothing. She was gorgeous, kind, talented, and well-loved in her community. What would be the harm in trying? The worst case scenario was just that she returned to this house and her sweet father. The only thing she might regret was not trying. Plus, she was the antithesis of all the other princesses who had tried out for this wifely role. Maybe what the prince needed was her? And, if she hated him, she would just say she slept like a baby and be sent home. “Alright, father, I agree. Let’s give this a shot.”
A week later, the queen was pouting yet again. They’d already seen a handful of “standard peasants,” in her words, and they were all far from delicate enough. In fact, most of them had calloused hands and appeared to have done actual physical labor. What kind of princess has done hard labor? She burst past the guard yet again and into her son’s room, flopping onto the bed face-down. “Damn this bed is hard, what is wrong with you?” she asked at the back of Jules’ head. “I think, dear, we’ve run out of women in this world. I don’t think we’ll be having a wedding.” At that moment, a bolt of lightning split the sky, and the skies opened up. “Great, and now more rain! Can this day get any WORSE?!” On cue, a servant knocked and open the door. “Your majesty, a new woman has arrived to meet you and Prince Jules.” “DAMMIT, FAIRY TALE TIMING!” she screeched. “Fine! Let her in.” She threw herself back down dramatically into the pillows and screamed. Jules finally acknowledged her. “Mother, I do believe my future wife has arrived. I cannot wait to meet her. I bet she is kind.” The queen threw several pillows at him before getting up and storming out the door.
While his mother detested what she saw as his weakness, Jules was actually a very sensitive, sweet, and kind human being. He was handsome in a pale sort of way, and he was very in-tune with nature and his own spirit. He was self-assured and a naturally quiet person who preferred to be alone or with one or two friends. Who needs more friends when you already have two? His other favorite activities were reading and writing poetry, and long walks on the castle grounds under the moonlight.
He stood up to put on his favorite blue velvet blazer his mother said made him look “too feminine,” which had only made him like the garment more. He styled his shoulder-length golden locks, and took a quick swig from his goblet of wine, before turning on his heel and striding purposefully out of his chambers. He makes it to the hall in time to see his future wife enter. She’s so perfect he almost faints. She’s in the most stunning red and gold gown, sleeveless to show off her incredibly muscular arms. She’s at least 6” taller than he is, and her presence and size command the entire room and all who look upon her. Her hair was wrapped around her head in braids with golden floss woven through. He wanted to run and have her scoop him up in her strong arms and carry him away from this place. A faint whiff of rose is emanating from her, dripping off delicately with the rain that just caught her as she arrived at the castle. She’s glistening with droplets. Yes, this is her. This is his wife.
Jacinda stood in the entry hall, dripping slightly from the rain, and thanked the servant who brought her a towel to dry off. She noticed a handsome man in a blue velvet blazer staring at her, mouth agape, from a few feet away. “That must be the prince,” she thought. “Yeah, I could scoop him up and toss him around a little bit. This could work out perfectly.”
As she imagined ripping the blazer off his body, the queen entered from the other side of the hall. “Why! Who could this impressively toned woman be? What are you doing here? What’s your name?” The queen’s cleavage was popping so far out of the top of her corset Jacinda thought they might come loose and hit her in the face.
“My name is Jacinda Mason, your majesty,” she said, bowing low. “I’ve heard you’re looking for a delicate woman for your son to marry. Well, here I am!” She stood and grinned and threw a quick wink at the prince, who stumbled backward in awe. Was he about to faint? He could use some sunlight. She could help with that.
The queen smirked. “Well, I’ll be the judge of that! Come. We have other out-of-town guests arriving shortly for supper. We’ll show you to your guest room, and then you may join us once you’ve had a chance to dry off.” She smiled a wicked smile, caught a passing servant, made them grab Jacinda’s heavy suitcase, and shoved them in the direction of the room Jacinda would be staying in. As they walked past the prince, he scuttled back against the wall and gave a deep bow. She wiggled her eyebrows and gave him another wink and this time he actually fainted. The servant ran over and picked him up. The prince came to quickly, and looked very embarrassed. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Your beauty has just overwhelmed me. I shall lie down before supper.” He hurried off, looking excited, as the servant redirected her down the hallway.
The room she was staying in was apparently in the basement, and as they descended the stairs she caught a faint whiff of mosses and stone. The servant finally opened a door at the end of a cellar hallway, and she thanked him as she stepped inside. Maybe part of this weird princess test is the ability to route yourself through this place?
The room itself was perfectly ordinary and just fine, except for the bed. On the bed frame was at least 20 feather beds and dozens of blankets and pillows, all stacked so high there was a ladder perched alongside it so she could get to the top. Her father hadn’t been lying about this! This is crazy! She walked over and easily lifted the stack of mattresses. Sure enough, underneath the bottom mattress there was a pebble. This was the queen’s test: if she had a poor night’s sleep because the “bed was so uncomfortable!,” then she was fit to be a princess. Because of a pebble underneath hundreds of pounds of down. An impossible feat! Surely no one could pass this test. She pocketed the pebble and set about drying herself off for dinner, formulating a plan all the while.
A short time later there was a knock at the door. “Madame, dinner is starting in fifteen minutes. Please come up to the dining room when you are ready.” Before she could answer, she could hear another set of footsteps, and to her great surprise, the queen herself walked in.
“Well, I see you’ve dried off and made yourself look more … presentable,” the queen said with a distinct note of distaste. “You’re not any princess from faraway lands that I’ve heard of, and I can tell by your physique that you’ve worked many hard days in your life, so you’re absolutely a commoner. No son of mine will marry a commoner.” She smirked at Jacinda, who merely stood there calmly. Years of being harassed by quarrymen had taught her to keep her cool. Besides, she knew she was strong enough to rip the queen in half if she felt like it, and she let the queen know that by yawning and lifting up her right arm to hide it, “accidentally” flexing and startling the queen so badly she jumped back a step.
“Excuse me, your highness, it’s been a long travel day. As you suspected, I’m sure, I walked many miles to get here and arrived just as the storm was moving in. I look forward to a restful night’s sleep after dinner.” She put on her best fake smile and curtsied as low as she could, making sure to flex her deltoids as she did. The queen made a series of grunts as she hastily left the room. Jacinda waited a few moments before discreetly following behind the queen so she could get up to the dining room without having to bother one of the myriad servants frantically running to and fro. It seemed like there were hundreds of them in the castle! She hoped the prince was kinder to them than the queen was.
A few minutes later they were safely above ground, and Jacinda was introduced by the queen to the visiting family and friends who had arrived for dinner. “This is Jacinda Mason. She is a commoner who has arrived tonight to try and win my son’s affections, wed him, and become a delicate, dainty princess. We’ll see how that works out,” the queen said with an evil laugh, which was echoed by most of the guests in the room. Jacinda bit back her anger and curtsied deeply, keeping the eyes of the prince on hers. “It is most wonderful to be here tonight, your majesty. I thank you for the opportunity. It was you who said that your son could marry a commoner, as you have so expertly managed to run off all other royalty from marrying him.” A few of the guests let out gasps at her bluntness, but she could see the prince quietly laughing behind his mother’s back. The queen looked stricken. “Well, that is an interesting perspective, Jacinda. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. But now, let us all sit together for a delicious meal, shall we?”
The guests went and sat at the exceedingly long and heavily-laden table. Unsurprisingly, Jacinda and Jules were sitting as far apart as physically possible, with Jules tucked safely next to the queen, where she could keep an eye on him. Jacinda was sitting between two uncles, one of whom was so old he was basically an infant, as he kept falling asleep throughout the meal and more than once nearly stuck his head in his plate of food. The other uncle was far more engaging and sweet, and Jacinda struck up a lively conversation with him. After many stories and a great deal of banter (and wine), his tone turned conspiratorial.
“My sister might be the queen, but she is bloody awful,” he whispered. “You are wonderful, and I am rooting for you. You know about her ridiculous test, I’m assuming?”
“The one where she places a pebble under that huge amount of feather beds to test how sensitive I am?”
“That’s the one! How do you plan to deal with that?”
Jacinda smiled. “I actually have a very easy solution to that problem. Don’t worry. This is only my first dinner here; it is far from my last.”
“Well, just in case this is helpful, we aren’t actually a royal family by blood. She married into this mess and when her husband, the king, died, she’s just been so powerful that nobody has tried to usurp or challenge her. Fascinating, isn’t it? How power corrupts?”
Jacinda just smiled. “And you’ve just made my plan even better. You’re my new favorite uncle!”
He laughed uproariously and they clinked their wine glasses together so hard that they shattered, red wine spilling all over the table and their desserts. It only made them laugh harder. Her un-princess-like behavior was startling most of the other relatives and guests, most of all the queen herself. In all honesty, the queen didn’t care about the delicacy of a lady. She liked strong, smart, tough women, because that’s what she was herself. That was also the problem. The queen had to be the center of attention, the most beautiful, strong, smart, charming woman in the room. She wanted a dainty daughter-in-law to push around. Her absolute nightmare had come true with the arrival of Jacinda.
At that moment, Jacinda stood up and announced that she was retiring to bed. “I shall walk you to your room, so you shan’t get lost,” Jules said as he sprang up from the table and practically ran to her side. “A SERVANT IS GOING WITH YOU!” the queen yelled, and a servant popped up out of nowhere to follow behind them. “Wow, you really do not have any privacy here, do you?” Jacinda asked Jules. “It’s okay, this is Carl. Carl’s one of my few friends; he’ll give us space.” True enough, she turned around and saw Carl several yards behind them, walking slowly, stopping to admire artwork and giving them lots of room to talk. After a few minutes of formalities, Jacinda laid out her plan to the prince, who was floored and amazed at her brilliance. “You really are going to be the perfect wife, aren’t you?” Jacinda smiled. “Yes, I come from a long line of terrifying women. My own mother passed when I was young, but I carry her strength within me. We shall be wed within the fortnight.” Jules kissed her, impulsively, hardly realizing he was doing so. It was perfect. When they finally separated, they heard Carl’s impressed whistle float down the hallway to them.
“Oh, yes, Carl! Please, do come here. We need your help with something.”
The next morning, Jacinda awoke with a smile on her face, the sun streaming inside in bright rays. She had slept on the floor, as no person in their right minds would sleep on a precarious pile of mattresses. It’s a wonder more women hadn’t fallen off and injured themselves! She had taken a few pillows and blankets and made a nest on the floor, where she had slept quite soundly. Suddenly, the queen burst into the room, clearly ready to take on Jacinda and prove that she had slept on top of the mattresses without issue, so you can imagine the shock on her face to find Jacinda sleeping on the floor. “Good morning, your highness,” she said breezily. “Your giant stack of beds was insane so I slept down here.” The queen gasped and sputtered, unsure what to say. “Well! I suppose you were uncomfortable up there which does prove my test right, I guess, except you didn’t even sleep there! How am I supposed to know if you’re able to be a princess if you won’t even sleep on the mattresses?”
“Looking for this, mother?” Jules asked as he came out of the washroom and into the bedroom, holding the pebble that had been under the mattresses. The queen’s jaw fell open. “You slept here, with her? On the FLOOR? I am disgusted! Filthy pigs, the both of you! You should sleep soundly on feather beds, as I do! As I did last night while you were rolling around on the dirty ground.”
“Now, now, mother, don’t be so cranky. I stayed with Jacinda as I intend to make her my wife, as soon as possible. We spent most of the night talking, and we have so much in common. She’s wonderful, and we shall be wed, because who cares about a pebble test? How did this even become a thing?”
“Well, as the queen, I forbid it. It is foreboden! You cannot marry each other!”
Jacinda wrapped a blanket around herself and stood up. “First of all, that’s not a thing. Second, sleeping to see if someone can feel a pebble is also not a thing, and a test you yourself failed.”
The queen stared at her blankly. “What do you mean I failed the test? You were the one taking it!”
Jacinda smiled. “That’s where you’re wrong. See, Carl, our friendly servant, placed a nice thick layer of gravel underneath your own featherbeds last night to see if you felt it. Apparently, you did not, and that’s far more than a pebble, wouldn’t you say?” The queen looked sick. Jacinda continued. “Plus, I happen to know you yourself married into royalty, and that’s why you’re having such a hard time with this situation. You don’t want your son to marry into royalty, because you’ll be usurped as he and his wife rise to power, but you also don’t want him dating a commoner because, like, ew, gross. But as it turns out, my mother was a member of the royal family in Estonia. In fact, she was the queen. She left to marry my father, a commoner, who raised me after she died when I was young. So I do have royal blood and, sorry to say, your son and I have fallen in love. Your plans have failed.” Jacinda dropped the blanket, revealing her strong, tall, substantial physique, and gave a deep pretend curtsy. “Your majesty.” Jules laughed so hard he nearly fainted again. “Okay, clearly you have a vitamin deficiency and we’re gonna work on that once we get married,” she said to him as the queen stood there in shock and horror.
“Oh! One last thing,” Jacinda said. “Once we marry, this is your new living quarters. We will rule the kingdom as a couple, and you get to live in the basement. We’re planning to wed within the fortnight. It depends on how quickly I can carve some rocks into roses for my bouquet. It’s a family tradition, you see. Now, off you pop! We have some wedding business to attend to.
The queen just stood there, mouth agape, looking like a marble statue of herself. When she finally regained her senses, she did a small curtsy, and ran out of the room as fast as she could.
Jacinda and Jules were married nine days later, in a huge wedding that was celebrated around the country. They caused a sensation when, after the marriage was official, she picked up her groom and carried him back down the aisle while they kissed. Her father moved into the castle and spent his remaining days in leisure, helping Jacinda find and prepare new marble to redecorate the castle. The queen was hardly seen from again, spending all her time in her new basement quarters, obsessed with finding and collecting every single pebble she could. She called them minerals. And they all (well, minus the queen) lived happily ever after.
Scent Notes: Moss-covered stones warmed by the sun and shining with a recent rain. Wild roses, heather, tuberose and labdanum blend with a drop of oakmoss.
Chapter 9: Paper Rose
Once upon a time, there was a woman named Cindy, who was currently in the midst of sighing dramatically. “Why does nobody take me seriously?” It was Friday at 9PM. It was also the earliest she’d been home all week — as a litigator trying to make partner at Tremaine Thomas LLP, ‘early’ evenings like this one were a rarity for her. She’d been drudging her way through for years, slowly working her way up. But it wasn’t easy, as she was earth-shatteringly beautiful, and nobody believed that she had a brain to match. Which was absurd; she had litigated some of the highest profile cases for the firm and, more importantly, WON them. A lot of her colleagues, however, thought she won only because she had a pretty face and juries naturally trusted beautiful people. She knew this to be somewhat true, of course, as the aggressively handsome and hirsute lawyer in a neighboring land had won several cases by somehow having all-female juries who swooned over him and agreed with everything he said. This was before he was disbarred (not for any of his indiscretions, of course; he commingled client funds), and she heard he now ran a popular tavern in a neighboring kingdom that was always full of beautiful women and decorated conspicuously with antlers of all sorts.
She set the bag of takeout on her kitchen counter, walked over, and fed her trusty goldfish, Ralph. “Oh, Ralphie, you’re getting an early dinner tonight!” she cooed, as the goldfish wiggled to the top of the bowl and gobbled down some pellets. If only she were so easily satisfied. Cindy walked back over and opened several containers of Chinese food and ripped apart a pair of chopsticks. She took a few bites out of one container, set it down, and picked up a different container, standing and eating over the sink. She rotated through the containers several times, then picked one up and took it over to the couch. Then she turned on the TV and surfed through, trying to find something soothing and mind-numbing to watch, and eventually settled on a marathon of an old house renovation show. Several episodes and cartons of Chinese food later, she was still somehow not tired. Her brain was twitching; she couldn’t fully relax. A book! That would do it! Something soothing that would also stimulate her gray matter, that’s just what the non-doctor ordered. And perhaps a bath? It had been a minute since she’d taken a bath, she’d so rarely had the time lately. A quick shower every day or so had become the norm, and in the mornings she just couldn’t bear to get up early enough, dry shampoo had become her best friend. She turned on the tap to the hottest water she could stand, and plugged up the tub. In about fifteen minutes she’d be in toasty bath heaven.
The selection of a book to read in the bath was something of an art, and one she had honed over years of experience. Tonight she knew she’d be reaching for her favorite book, a tome of fairy tales gifted to her by her great-grandmother a long, long time ago. It had apparently been in the family for generations, and included non-traditional fairy tales as well as the standard classics. It was her favorite “lose herself from reality” book. She went into her home office and grabbed it off the shelf, in the spot she always kept it. Walking back to the bathroom she swung into the kitchen and poured herself one “responsible” glass of wine, and brought both into the bathroom. She lit a candle, poured in some bath salts, and readied the bath tray with the book and the wine. She turned off the water and got in, murmuring, “Hot! Hot!” to herself as she slowly sat down. After a minute or so, her body adjusted to the heat, and she relaxed. She picked up the book in one hand, and the glass of wine with the other, and started reading.
She stayed in the bath until it went cold, having read several fairy tales and finished the glass (with maybe one quick trip out of the bath to get the rest of the bottle — allegedly — Cindy lacks sufficient knowledge to either confirm or deny the allegation). Getting up and toweling off, she contemplated some of the newer fairy tales, at least one of which she was certain was based on her great-grandmother’s life. She contemplated the inscription: “Remember that you come from a long line of terrifying women.” That had always comforted her, especially since her mother had passed away when she was young, and she’d been raised by a half-absent father and a series of increasingly wicked stepmothers and step siblings. Come to think of it, her life had been a little bit like a fairy tale: a semi-orphan girl rises through a tough childhood to make something of her life, complete with allegedly devastatingly good looks. Maybe she could write it down, write a fairy tale of her own? That would be cool. That could prove she had brains and it was something to do that wouldn’t be directly tied into her law life but keep her sharp and satisfied in her downtime.
A fantastic idea! It was late now, just before midnight, but that wasn’t stopping her tonight. She headed to the kitchen for another bottle of wine, poured another glass, and sat down in her office at her desk, still in a robe, her towel around her head. She took a large sip, and was about to open her laptop when she spied an old notebook her great-grandmother Rose had given her shortly before Rose had passed, along with a very old fashioned fountain pen that she’d never quite mastered. She didn’t remember getting them out recently, but there they were, propped on the desk. Well, now seemed as good a time as any to try it out again. Maybe this time she wouldn’t get ink all over her … everything? She flipped open the notebook and saw the inscription: “To my beautiful and magical great-granddaughter, use this notebook wisely, and remember to always be fair, just, and most of all, kind. Remember: You write your own destiny. Love, Grammy.” She teared up a little bit and took another gulp of wine. She turned to the first page. The notebook was empty, as expected, so she began to write:
“Once upon a time, in a magical land far away, there was a young woman named Cindy. She was beautiful, and lived in a small house with her father, stepmother, and evil stepsisters. They were cruel to her, making her do all the chores, telling her she was ugly and would never be loved. They made Cindy cry every day in her tiny room. Her only friends were the small rodents that inhabited the far corner and ate at the straw of her mattress every day.”
She paused her writing, and reached for her glass of wine, but it was gone. She shook her head and looked around. She was no longer in her comfortable apartment; she was in the tiny room with the mice she had just described. She could hear the voices of the stepsisters just outside the door, taunting her. Cindy closed her eyes, and took a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. “I’m asleep, it’s a dream,” she thought. She opened her eyes … and nothing had changed. She could see the handle of the door beginning to turn, so she did the only thing she could think to do: Rip the paper out of the notebook and tear it to pieces, thereby destroying her words, and hopefully, this world.
Once the paper was shredded to bits, she was back in her apartment, at her desk, her hand reaching for the glass that had just reappeared. Bits of torn paper floated through the air and landed all over her and the ground. Of course, she was so simultaneously relieved and terrified that she knocked her wine glass over and spilled it all over the floor. Cindy barely noticed. “I need sleep,” she mumbled to herself, stumbling throughout her apartment, touching every wall, telling herself that she was, indeed, safe and sound in her real world life. When she finally got to her bed, she climbed under the covers, and was asleep almost instantly.
She slept through her alarm the next morning. Sure, it was a Saturday, but the billable hour grind didn’t take weekends off so neither did she; Saturday mornings were supposed to be for a workout, breakfast, and spending the morning catching up on client correspondence (what client doesn’t feel special to have a lawyer dedicated enough to email them on a Saturday?), oftentimes in the office. Instead, Cindy awoke with a jolt several hours past her alarm, with a headache and general feeling of “blech” in her body. Stupid wine. She sipped some water and took some aspirin, then dragged herself into the shower. Sure, she’d taken a bath the night before, but without a shower this morning, she wouldn’t be able to do much of anything. Twenty minutes later, she felt semi-normal, and ordered in breakfast and fancy coffee for herself, before planting herself at her desk to begin going through stacks of legal paperwork. Her firm was currently advising the local monarchy on the ins and outs of royal succession law, so that the crown prince could take the throne free of troublesome questions about whether it was “technically” “legitimate.” But somehow his personal estate had become embroiled in a mess of legal paperwork he had signed throughout his early adulthood before his father passed. The prince didn’t know what was going on, but he seemed to be a decent fellow. To her eyes, it seemed as if his trusted advisory staff had made him sign over … well, his life, basically, and his rights to take control of the kingdom. The prince claimed that he had never intended to agree to the terms of almost everything currently bearing his signature, and that his grand viscount and other members of his staff had either forged his signature or had him sign the paperwork under false pretenses. For example, claiming the paper he was signing was to allow the household staff to be paid, when it was actually a waiver of all potential claims against his viscount. Never trust a viscount! But nobody in her firm seemed competent enough to understand that she had some great arguments for the prince based on admittedly obscure case law, and they kept ignoring the finer points of contractual language that only she seemed to be able to discover or correctly interpret. Or perhaps they had more nefarious intent? She couldn’t quite tell, but she knew the prince was close to giving up and also seemed to ignore her findings every time she brought them up. He often even accused her of trying to turn the paperwork around on him, when that was the exact opposite of what was happening.
The doorbell rang, and it was her much-needed breakfast. The next several hours were spent bent over at her desk, eating breakfast and drinking her elaborate coffees (she’d gotten two, one hot, one iced, because she knew herself) while poring over documents. Eventually her brain started yelling that it needed a break. There were only so many forum selection clauses and limitations of liability one could look at even with a not-hungover brain, let alone one that was recovering from being partially pickled in wine the night before. She looked out the window at the park across the street, which was always highly manicured with blossoming flowers. Everyone in the park looked perfect, with nary a hair out of place even if they were chasing their kids, or running with their dogs. Bluebirds were perched on her windowsill, chirping a delightful tune. The sun was shining, with nary a cloud in the sky. It was a perfect day outside, as it nearly always was, she realized suddenly. The weather was 73 and sunny all the time, minus the Christmas season when there was always the perfect amount of snow, and whenever something terrible or nefarious happened in her life, there was a corresponding thunderstorm. Then her brain, still angry with her, reminded her of what happened the night before. That was just a dream, she tried to say to herself, then looked back down at the prince’s paperwork. Wait a minute, she thought. Who even has a king ruling them anymore? Why did the monarchy need lawyers when the whole point is to have one person who just says what the law is? And how does she live in a place with multiple kingdoms around, each ruled by a different, either extremely beneficent or extremely maniacal, king? What is happening? Was she … no. There was no way her life was a fairy tale. Was there?
She picked up the book of fairy tales, and began flipping through the pages frantically, looking for a clue. Towards the end of the book, a drawing fell out. At first, she thought it was an illustration from one of the stories that had come loose and fallen out from being read so much. It was a fairy godmother soaring above a park in mid-flight, a huge grin on her face. It made Cindy smile at first, but as she inspected it, she realized it wasn’t an illustration, and it wasn’t any fairy godmother. It was a photograph of Grammy, mid-flight over the very park Cindy could see from her window. “No way, no way, this is not happening,” she muttered as she dropped the picture. She started to stand up and felt too weak, and fainted in her chair.
When dawn broke, Cindy awoke to those damn bluebirds on her windowsill again. She’d had a vague dream about her great-grandmother explaining a set of writing rules to her. Rules that would allow her to write her future but not be a jerk because, for example, if she wrote that she was a billionaire, that money would come from other, real people, and dramatically impact her local economy. Plus, she cannot change herself mentally or physically (well technically she could, but this had ended very poorly the few times it was attempted in the past), she could only change the way people and situations reacted around her, and if it was too far from the heart of a situation, it wouldn’t work. Used properly, the magic was, in effect, luck. It was hard to process all she said, though, because in the dream Cindy had been in her high school hallway, naked, trying to cover herself and get home to put on clothing with her Grammy flying after her, telling her the rules while her classmates pointed and laughed as she passed. It was awful. She stood up, bleary-eyed, and went to feed Ralph and make coffee. When it finished brewing, she poured it into the largest mug she had. Maybe it was actually a soup bowl, whatever, this was the required amount of caffeine for this morning after a weird night’s sleep in her chair at her desk while processing the world-shifting news that she was in a fairy tale with her own magical fairy godmother. She opened her freezer and pulled out some pastries and popped them in the toaster. A delicious, healthy breakfast, obviously.
Once the pastries had popped and she smothered them in their frosting, she took her mug/bowl and plate over to the couch, turned on a random true crime documentary, and turned her brain back off. Well, she tried to, at least. When the pastries were consumed and the plate licked clean of crumbs and drippy frosting, she refilled her coffee and went into her office. She opened the journal, and picked up the fountain pen. She had an idea and she had to try it. “Once upon a time, there was a princess named Cindy. She lived in an apartment with her gray tabby cat named Ralph.” On cue, a gray tabby cat walked into her office, mewling sweetly. Cindy screamed and ran into the kitchen. Sure enough, there was no evidence of a fish, and plenty of evidence that she had a cat, i.e., some claw marks on her couch. She went back into the office and pet the cute little kitten. “I’m so sorry little one, but I am quite attached to my fish. He’s much easier to care for.” The cat snuggled against her and purred, and her heart melted. She snuggled new Ralph in one arm while she picked the pen back up and wrote, “She also had a goldfish, also named Ralph, and cat Ralph always left him alone.” She took cat Ralph in her arms and walked back into the kitchen. “Real Ralph, you’re back!” The goldfish blurbed his mouth open and shut in his bowl, and she dropped a few extra pebbles of food in as a treat. True to what she’d written, cat Ralph paid no interest in his fishy brother. “Fine, I have two pets both named Ralph now. Only one can respond to his name, anyway,” Cindy said, walking into the living room. She grabbed a blanket and made a little nest and plopped cat Ralph into it. He purred and almost immediately fell asleep. “Okay, I’m going to put on clothes, leave this apartment, and go get things for this cat and possibly some lunch for me. Maybe I should eat a salad?” she said. “Probably not, but it’s good to dream.”
Fifteen minutes later she was about to head out the door when a little voice in her head forced her to double back, go into her office, and grab the notebook and fountain pen. Perhaps she’d need to rewrite her life at a moment’s notice? Apparently that was A Thing she had the ability to do now, so she’d need to get more ink for her fountain pen as well. No telling when that might run out, especially as she still left a lot of large ink blots as she wrote with it. Growing up with the dawn of technology meant her handwriting left a little bit to be desired. Being a lawyer also didn’t help matters; her writing could be just as indecipherable as her doctor’s. She strode out the door and into the park. Just like yesterday, it was a blindingly beautiful day outside. The park was full of perfect, fluffy little dogs, all groomed to within an inch of their lives, and beautiful children in outfits that were adorable and probably way too elaborate for your average child to wear to run around and fall down in the park. (Three piece baby suits with a tiny monocle and cap? Really?)
Cindy was still transfixed by the complexity of the children’s clothing when she came to the closest park bench and, by reflex, sat down, entirely ignoring the fact that there was already someone sitting on it and she’d sat straight down on his lap. She realized her mistake instantly and stood up, flushed, saying “Oh I am SO SORRY! I am so sorry!” just a little too loudly. “Shhh, it’s okay, it’s fine, please sit down,” the man said. “Sit down and be quiet, I don’t want to attract attention.” She thought this was strange, but sat down and then properly looked at the man. It was, undoubtedly, the prince. Her eyes widened, and he stopped her before she stood to curtsy and greet him properly as she had been taught to do. (As the only woman at her firm, she’d found it degrading that she was expected to curtsy for her client every time he entered or left the room, which he did frequently. Everyone else just had to bow politely. She hardly ever wore dresses, and it was so awkward to curtsy in a pantsuit, using the flared bottom half of her blazer as if it were a large skirt every time.) “I’m so sorry, sir, I must be off,” she said, running back towards her apartment and hiding behind a tree. “Sitting on his lap on accident? Really? Is that the best we can do here, a silly romantic comedy movie trope?” She pulled out the notebook and continued her story from earlier. “Cindy left her apartment for a stroll in the park, and encountered the prince as he sat on a park bench, and then arose to greet her.”
Sure enough, she suddenly found herself walking back through the park, this time knowing where he was so she wouldn’t sit in his lap. Which was fantastic, except this time as she neared him, he suddenly stood upright as if to greet her, and the two physically slammed into each other, knocking them both to the ground. “DAMMIT!” she yelled, standing up and running back behind the tree again. She took a moment to catch her breath and calm herself down. Nobody around them seemed to notice, though the prince looked flustered as he made sure no gaze was directed his way. “Okay, think about this calmly, Cindy. Is there a different part of the park you could try?” She looked around. There was a fountain not too far away. Perfect! This time, I can be perched on the fountain looking dainty, and he can come and greet me. I am part of his legal team, after all, she thought to herself. She crossed out the line she’d written moments ago and now wrote anew: “Cindy had strolled around the park and was sitting near the fountain, enjoying the scenery, when the prince came up to speak to her.” As she wrote, she felt herself being transported across the park and sat directly on the ledge of the fountain. She looked up and saw the prince walking toward her. She put away her pen and notebook and set her bag down at her feet. The prince was just about to greet her when a voice from afar cried out, “There he is! Get him!” “I must away!” the prince yelled, and in his haste, he accidentally pushed her into the fountain. Cindy screamed, then sat there, soaking, humiliated, until she could find a little bit of her dignity to get up and get the hell out of there. “Are we really going to run through all the cliche little meet-cutes in the world? I just want to talk to the man! He is, after all, my client. Sure, he’s handsome, but this isn’t a typical, romantic fairy tale, yeesh,” Cindy mumbled under her breath as she dragged herself out of the fountain.
She sat in a nearby field to dry herself off and gather her thoughts. Clearly, she was supposed to meet and talk to the prince today, but her efforts were going awry. This whole “you can write the world around you and your future because you live in a fairy tale and you didn’t know it” thing was not all it was cracked up to be. “Okay, let’s keep it simple,” she thought, taking the notebook and pen back out. “He’ll recognize me because I am his lawyer and he will respect me and we will have a totally normal interaction,” she murmured to herself as she wrote. Sure enough, she found herself dry and walking calmly across the park to where the prince was sitting. She stood in front of him and greeted him. She was about to do the requisite curtsy of dread and doom when he held up a hand and stopped her. “Yes, I remember you, you’re on my legal team. Please, just sit down and don’t draw attention to us,” he said. “Well, I think people are going to notice your hair, your highness,” she said. “Whatever do you mean? I’m in disguise! I snuck out to be alone to think. Nobody can recognize me with different hair,” he said confidently.
Certainly, if he was wearing the wig correctly, he might have been able to fool passersby that he was not the prince, at least upon first glance. But he was wearing the wig as a hat, not as a proper substitute for his real hair. The straight brown wig sat upon his head of golden curls almost like a coonskin cap. It was likely to draw more attention than it would camouflage him from the public. Cindy suppressed a giggle. “You’re wearing it incorrectly,” she informed him. He looked at her like she had suddenly sprouted six heads. “Nonsense! I asked my closest confidante and he told me I was a master of disguise; I had to take it off my head for him to even know it was me again!” “Aha, I see,” she answered solemnly. “Perhaps it was knocked askew at some point? May I fix it?” “Please do!” he said. “That is likely precisely what happened, and once it is fixed, nobody will notice me.”
She just nodded as she forced it down onto his head, covering most of his hair, though a few golden locks absolutely escaped the bounds of the wig. “That is rather snug,” he said, but he checked his reflection in his phone the moment her hands left his head. “Perfect! I am completely in disguise,” he said. She looked at him in amazement.. “So, since you’re on my legal team, may we speak freely?” he asked. She nodded politely, instinctively knowing that a prince in disguise out in the world likely wanted to talk to someone outside of his immediate sphere of influence, and someone with his best interests at heart was all the better. “You’re the only woman on the team, and the only one who keeps raising potential issues and saying there are, indeed, problems with the paperwork that nobody in your firm seems to agree with. And, I admit, I do not believe you myself, because my own people tell me not to trust anyone outside the castle walls.” “I see,” she said quietly. “Well, I do hope that I can convince you to trust me, because I am damn sure these agreements won’t hold up before a judge, and when I am damn sure about something like that I am never wrong.” He gave a small nod. “Now I see,” he said. “I was, apparently, wearing this wig piece incorrectly, so perhaps my confidantes are not all they seem to be. A similar thing happened a few days ago, when they assured me that my outfit looked fantastic, but even I know that you cannot wear leopard print pants with a zebra print top and a hot pink sequin pleather jacket to a casual brunch without looking foolish!” “Yes, now you get it! Well, now you kind of understand part of it, your highness,” she said. “But that’s a great start!” In her mind, she thought, “Wow, he owns all those pieces of clothing? Who dresses him?”
He turned suddenly and grabbed her hands, frightened, like a dog who heard a whistle only he could hear. “I must leave soon, they draw near,” he said cryptically. “But could you teach me more of your legal ways? I fear I do not understand enough of what is happening to me and my estate to effectively know what to do, but nobody talks to me like anything other than a handsome prince. It is infuriating, yet also, extremely flattering, and it is all I know. Will you help?” Cindy nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! That’s all I’ve wanted!” she responded. “Come to the law office tomorrow and I’ll begin to teach you. We can start with basic contract law—” That’s when she heard the voices, too. “I must go now,” he said, darting up and quickly away through the nearby grove of trees. A few moments later, guards and members of the royal staff that she knew from sight came darting over. “Who was that man with you?” one of them asked. “Have either of you seen the prince? He has left the grounds unattended and we cannot find him. We were hoping that you or your attractive blond gentleman friend could help.” It took every fiber in her body to keep herself from bursting into laughter. Cindy controlled herself and answered calmly, “I do not know him, sir, we were strangers chatting in the park. He just left, and neither of us have seen the prince. I am so very sorry.” “Thank you for your help, kind lady,” the gentleman said, tipping his hat, and he and the rest of the party began walking the wrong way. When they were safely in the distance, she burst out laughing. “How did that horrid wig actually disguise the prince from the people who see him every single day?! Something is very rotten here, but also, very funny.” And as she sat with that thought, she got quite sad. There is something terrible about people who saw him every day not recognizing him with the wig on, or were willing to pretend they didn’t recognize him and just let him be alone while they pretended to find him in some display of over-the-top faux concern. “Remind me never to become royalty,” she murmured to herself, then walked out of the park and down the road to the shops.
It was past midday now, and she needed real food, along with the cat supplies and extra fountain pen ink she originally set out for when the world told her that she needed to meet the prince and get this extra information and set forth … whatever was about to be set forth. “I need more coffee,” she mumbled, going into her favorite cafe and sitting down at a small table by the door. Cindy didn’t even have to order; the waitress was already bringing over a nitro cold brew with extra foam, cinnamon sugar, and whipped cream. Cindy thanked her profusely before plopping a straw in the coffee and slurping down a quarter of it gleefully. The waitress gave her a little wink, and Cindy called her “an absolute doll” before she ordered a sandwich. After she ate and re-caffeinated, she headed to the shops to get food and toys for the cat, and the elusive fountain pen ink. The fancy stationery shop did, indeed, have the ink needed for her pen, so she bought out their entire stock. No sense in running out in the midst of writing her future, right?
Cindy hurried home, grabbing more takeout on her way, including a side of roasted vegetables that she knew she’d pick at and eventually force herself to eat. Perhaps she could write down that she had developed a fondness for foods like vegetables and oatmeal and then, magically, she would? She made a mental note to try that … eventually, no need to push her luck with that at this moment. There were more pressing matters at hand, like getting the prince to understand damages for breach of contract! She knew it wouldn’t be easy. The prince seemed to suffer from too-handsome-man syndrome. This wasn’t a real thing, obviously, no medical doctor would diagnose it, but she saw the signs. It was similar to how people treated her, except she had brains to match and could recognize what was going on. The prince was crippled by his royal status and being waited on hand and foot his whole life combined with his very conventionally attractive good looks. It was like, because he was so handsome, he could just do whatever, and he believed whatever was told to him. For example, she could assume that he played every sport terribly, but all the people around him told him he was the best player of that sport they’ve ever seen and asked him to give their kids lessons. He’d kick a soccer ball with his toes and miss the goal and everyone around him would applaud. He’d get the highest score in a game of golf and everyone would tell him he’d won. Things like that really do a number on a person, particularly one who grows up in immense wealth and privilege to begin with. Situations like this one do not end well for the person being duped, even if they are spectacularly handsome and rich and royal. But Cindy was fairly certain that, though he was not brought up to think at all for himself, there was a tiny ember of self-assurance and questioning that she could fan into a fire of full self-esteem and intelligence with just a little bit of hard work on both their parts. She just hoped he was willing and able to do the work required.
She was finally home. She dropped her bags in the kitchen and fed goldfish Ralph, then popped the dinner she’d picked up in the microwave to heat it up to eat while she did some all-important writing about how tomorrow would go. Kitten Ralph had been screaming for wet food the moment she walked in the door, so she got out all the new cat supplies and fed him, then got out her own dinner and carried it to her office. It was a nice change of pace, actually, to sit at her desk and eat while writing with a fancy fountain pen instead of sitting on her couch shoveling food in her mouth while half paying attention to whatever TV show was currently trending played for the evening on the screen. The writing engaged her brain in a different way than she was used to, and it was invigorating.
She began writing out tomorrow in extreme detail: She’ll read a new high court opinion on the front page of the GrimmsLaw database in the morning that will change the prince’s legal situation completely: the court will hold that agreements within the royal family and palace can only be considered valid if each party had their own dedicated legal advisor, retroactively including all previously signed contracts. This would give the prince an escape hatch from every agreement he had been trapped in, since all his advisors had been conflicted in one way or another. Plus, she’d teach the prince about basic contract and royal succession law and how to proceed in the future. It was genius! She was thrilled with her brain for coming up with this plan. Finishing her dinner, she closed the book and went straight to bed, exhausted, kitten Ralph curled up next to her.
Early the next morning, Cindy awoke and went about her morning as quickly as possible, nearly forgetting her notebook as she ran out the door to get to work. Even though she arrived just before 7AM, she was one of the last people to arrive at her office that morning, which drew looks of consternation from the senior partners at the firm. She still greeted them cordially, as she always did, as they just nodded in response while giving each other eyes that implied that Cindy had arrived super late, drunk, and naked. She hadn’t written up her arrival the night before as she’d been so excited to write up what would happen once the prince arrived, and made a mental note to write in her arrivals and departures at work to avoid this in the future, if at all possible. But she worried she would never make partner as she never seemed to make the higher-ups happy, no matter how hard she worked or how many hours she billed. Once she was safely ensconced in her tiny office, she rolled her eyes, then calmed herself by taking a large gulp of coffee and a bite of her croissant, then opened a browser window to see the opinion she had written about showing up. “Success!” she said aloud, flakes of pastry clinging to the corners of her mouth.
At precisely that moment, the prince burst into her office. “My good lady attorney, hello,” he said with a bow. Cindy stood up hurriedly and curtsied. Well, as much as she could curtsy in an office so small she had to squeeze between the wall and the edge of her desk to even get in or out of it. She kicked her desk coming up from the curtsy, but pretended she didn’t while she cursed under her breath for a second. “My viscount and associates will arrive at precisely 9AM, so please, do tell me what we can do before they arrive, as they do not know I have fled the castle.” They both sat down, and Cindy explained the opinion she’d plotted into existence. Then she started going into the basics of contract law, Monarchy 101, what each member of his advisory staff is supposed to do, etc. The prince, as hoped, caught on relatively quickly as she explained things in the simplest terms she could. He seemed appreciative of someone actually taking the time to explain things to him, instead of just taking advantage of him or assuming he couldn’t possibly understand.
Time flew past, and suddenly it was ten minutes to nine. Cindy gathered up her things. “Are you ready?” she asked the prince. “I am, indeed, dear Cindy.” He suddenly took her hand and looked her in the eye. “I very much appreciate you taking the time to teach me things. You are brilliant and kind and the best member of my legal team here at this firm. Thank you.” He shook her hand, and their sustained eye contact flustered them both for a mere moment. She took her hand away and cleared her throat. “You are so welcome. Let’s go in there and kick their asses, shall we?” The prince chortled so loudly and suddenly Cindy startled back. “That was highly amusing, thank you for that humorous joke,” he said. Then he was serious again. “Before we go in there, can you write something for me?”
At exactly 9AM, the prince left her office, followed closely by Cindy, who had her extremely full briefcase in hand. They went into the boardroom where the prince’s advisory staff sat on one side, and the rest of the prince’s legal team from her firm sat across from them. All the men stood to bow to the prince. The viscount stayed standing and opened his mouth to speak, but the prince held up his hand. “Do not speak, sir, as my good lady lawyer has something important to tell you all.” Cindy beamed at the assembled men and then spoke at length about the new high court opinion and how the prince would need to go over all his paperwork and be assigned a dedicated and loyal legal advisor to go through everything he’d ever touched, basically. The assembled men looked at her, bored, all of them clearly wishing she would just be quiet and go along with the status quo. When she finished telling them all that she would be the prince’s new permanent legal advisor, the men on both sides of the table burst into laughter.
“Oh, sweetheart, you are HILARIOUS,” the viscount chortled. Cindy looked stricken; the prince looked furious. “She speaks the TRUTH!” the prince shouted, silencing the room. “How dare you all mock us!” This was not how she had imagined this going when she’d written things down. Had she missed something? As it turned out, yes. “That opinion was written by the high court for a neighboring kingdom,” the chief legal officer said. “In our realm, it’s at best a suggestion, not a rule, as you’d know if you paid attention in law school. And we found nothing wrong at all with the legal paperwork; the prince has validly signed all of these documents and there’s no way he can contest them.” The rest of the lawyers agreed. Good thing the prince had formed a backup plan. He was far more clever than anyone had given him credit for, including Cindy herself. She’d suspected he had some intelligence lurking below the surface, and she had not been wrong.
Cindy and the prince just smiled as she pulled a new piece of paper from her briefcase. “Well, that’s just fine,” Cindy said. “The prince and I conferred, and he established a Royal Decree that abolishes sovereign immunity from lawsuits … including for all royal staff in their official duties. As his counsel, I oversaw and drafted it myself, and with this fountain pen, he’s going to sign it right now.” She handed him her beloved pen, and everyone watched as the prince signed it. “So what?” the viscount asked. “That just means we can sue him harder if we want to!” “That is no longer the case, my soon-to-be-former viscount,” the prince said. “I hereby announce that I am abdicating the throne, and I intend to sue the pants off of all of you as a normal, regular human man.” At the mention of the words “human man,” Cindy rolled her eyes internally. Then he looked over at the legal team. “And you’re all fired, except for Cindy.” “And I quit this horrible firm, and I’m starting my own practice,” she announced with great pleasure. The chief legal officer stood up, beginning to yell obscenities at everyone else in the room, though most were directed at Cindy and the prince. The viscount joined him, and it devolved into an all-out screaming match. “My good lady lawyer,” the prince said as he extended his arm. Cindy closed her briefcase, took his arm, and the two calmly walked out of the conference room, then out of the office into the bright, sunny day, the cacophony of yelling fading behind them as they walked away.
“You can stay with me if you’d like; I have an office at home you can sleep in. It’s not fancy, but, you don’t really have anywhere else to go, and I will treat you like a real person,” Cindy said as they strolled down the sidewalk towards her apartment. “That would be lovely,” the prince replied. “I believe you could teach me a lot of things about the world, as there is so much I do not know yet,” the prince responded. “Well, you learned about royal abdication and sovereign immunity somehow. I didn’t teach you those things. How did you find out?” The prince stopped walking and turned to face her. “Did you know that there are rooms full of books called ‘libraries,’ and you can look up information of all kinds? Then you write that information down and read it, and it’s called, ‘studying.’ Then that information stays in your mind and you somehow know these things? That’s what I did this weekend after our meeting in the park. You inspired me. I can never thank you enough,” the prince said, beaming. Cindy laughed. “I did know most of that, yes, and I’m so glad I could inspire you to learn. I can show you the world, the real world, with no ill intent, I promise.” She smiled at him. “But first, I realized, I don’t even know your first name? Everyone always just called you ‘the prince.’ What is your name?” He looked puzzled, as if he was trying to remember something buried deep in his memories. “I think it’s … Ernest, though nobody has called me that in a very long time.” “Ernest. It fits you. I like it. Hello, Ernest. Let’s go live happily ever after!” She held out her arm again, but the prince hesitated. “Cindy, you should know … I really like you, but I prefer the company of men.” Cindy burst out laughing. “That’s fabulous; I prefer the company of women! In fact, let’s go to my favorite cafe, I’m seeing one of the waitresses there.” Ernest laughed his booming laugh, took her arm, and the two kept walking into a happily ever after better than she could have ever written for herself.
Scent Notes: A vase of blooming white roses next to a handmade journal overstuffed with pages. Spicy aromas of clove and cardamom waft through on the breeze from an open window.