New to the story? Start with Chapter 1, Briar Rose, here.
Or, read the previous chapter, Wood Rose, here.
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.
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.
Read the next chapter, Paper Rose, here! Check out all of the scents and stories in the Steel Roses anthology here!
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.