Chapter 3: Flame Rose
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Scent notes: wild rose, cedarwood, smoke, leather.
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 is 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, and typing 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 lightt up, 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 wishes 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: wild rose, cedarwood, smoke, leather.