The sisters felt the first blow rather than heard it. Without thinking, each put a hand to their heart. The beating within echoing the thumps throbbing across the forest. The sisters exchanged a glance. “They’re back, Rose”.
Everything had been peaceful for so long now, living as they were so far away from the madding crowds. Away from misunderstanding. Rose and Sloe ventured out only when the carnival came to town, when spirits were high and colourful, and nothing seemed quite real. As they aged, it became easier to go unnoticed, to be the hunchback herbalist with reliable potions, to be the lonely old woman from the woods.
In their youth, life had been so very different. Rose was a beautiful as any bloom, pink and blushed with red red hair. Sloe, white of face, hair so black it shone blue. They had travelled with the circus, danced for kings – and princes. Ah yes, princes. Their mother, WhiteThorn Mae, had told the girls all the old stories, all the warnings. Still, true to form, along came a Prince, and the trouble began.
Any child of the Rose family has thorns. They will catch you and the poisoned tip will grip deep into your flesh. The poisoned tip will rot inside you, spreading through your veins until one day your heart just stops. To share a kiss with a child of the Rose family is a dangerous undertaking. To steal a kiss without asking is suicide.
Stories of the Prince killers spread far and wide. Embellished, untrue, believed.
The Sisters backed into the safety of the forest and let their family, black thorn, white thorn and red, grow and protect them, but stories persisted of a fair princess held captive by the dark witch. Of an old crone of woods, whose wicked ways were responsible for all ill that befell the town.
‘Burn the Witch’ would seem like a good idea once in a generation. The old people who remembered would try and talk sense to the young, but no one ever listened. Fanciful tales from the frightened old. A forest that killed, that left deep scars should you be fortunate enough to escape? Tell that to the children, they said, and gathered their high spirits and axes, and headed to adventure.
Rose sighed, and looked at her sister’s face, clouded now with worry and foreboding. “We could go and meet them – tell them”.
“They’ll not listen, they never do.”
The sisters stood a moment or two longer, listening. The hunt was yet miles away, hacking at the almost impenetrable wall of nature. Baying dogs, excited voices, trumpets to call order. These sounds travelled on the cool morning air, travelling easily where nothing with more substance than a ghost could pass. The sisters were old now, and did not welcome the intrusion, the dredging up of the past. They turned and headed for their cottage, using the branches on either side for balance, their hands automatically missing the thorns. They knew how the day would end, and felt great sorrow.
At Winter’s end, when the blackthorn flowers first appear like little stars of hope, and at September time, when the hedgerows at Prospect Field turn blue with sloe and red with rosehip, watch for Rose Red and Black Thorn, Red Thorn and Sloe. Stay on the path, pick only what you need, and leave the rest in peace.