Fairy Tales: rose woven
Disclaimer: Characters are not mine. Apologies if their use in the following is in any way traumatic.
Chapter 1: Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, there lived an old king, his lovely queen, and their five young sons. In a palace lined in silver, with towers capped in gold, the family flourished in wealth and merriment. As time wore on, the royal children slowly and surely grew from small boys to young men. They were all five handsome, all exceptionally bright and skilled beyond measure: princes of the rarest quality.
"They're off hunting everyday. Why, I hardly see them but for the supper meal," the queen lamented one afternoon as she peered out the window of her husband's office chamber. The children had grown so rapidly; it did bring tears to their mother's eyes to think of the time that had passed. How the royal parents longed to hear the happy laughter of youth once again.
"They are grown men now, my dear. We cannot expect for them to lie about all day. They crave fresh air and the thrill of the game. I remember; I was a youth once," the king replied huffily from under impressive stacks of parchment.
"Yes, quite right. But I wish they had stayed children just a bit longer."
There was a long, reflective silence, then suddenly the king spoke. An epiphany seemed to have struck him for he had stood up and leaned forward over his desk (carefully avoiding the stacks of documents) to stare inquisitively at his good wife. "Why is it that we have no grandchildren?" he asked.
The queen blinked at the strange inquiry. "My love, our children have not yet even married, how are we to have grandchildren? Although, darling, little grandchildren would be terribly wonderful..."
"Precisely!" the old king rumbled as he strode out from behind the desk to shout and wave his hands dramatically. "Call in the princes!" he hollered to his servants who immediately went scrambling. "Call them in at once!"
"Why, darling, what is this all about?" the queen asked as she came to his side.
In reply, the king merely gave a laugh of triumph; a secret ploy was undoubtedly hatching. So, within the hour, the princes were dragged reluctantly back to the palace.
The throne room was impressive in its splendor: high walls and massive doors, tapestries to be begged for, glorious glass paned windows that let in precisely enough sunlight, and the thrones themselves that effectively exaggerated the grandiosity of the kingdom rulers. But the young men, unaffected by the exquisite garnishing that they had come to be so familiar with, were more focused on their displeasure at having been so rudely torn from the hunt. They stood before their parents from eldest to youngest, all five. It is here that we make our introductions, let us begin with the eldest.
The first of the royal sons was an exceptionally poised lad, a model of valor and perseverance. They called him Heero, a name that proved all too fitting as the child grew. A master of the hunt, his aim seemed only to improve with each shot. He was the ultimate warrior: silent and stoic as stone, rarely ever perturbed. Those he came in contact with respected his unparalleled skill and intimidating calm. The voluntary distance that he adopted with most people made them wary and careful to stay in his favor. For the most part, however, he was a reclusive man, softening only for those who he either felt a strong respect for or knew well enough to have become comfortable with their company. And though he could hardly be characterized as ill humored or reckless, he was not without a hot streak. The temper he could let loose was more than enough to cover the mild times between its appearances, and everyone in the palace was more than relieved when it had passed. But all in all he remained fairly reserved. His seat as royalty seemed both appropriate and yet somewhat unfitting. He was more than capable of leadership and responsibility; however, his innately cold demeanor seemed an undesirable quality for a future king.
The second child, Prince Duo, was quite a contrast. Possessed of a ceaseless mirth, the boy was all smiles and laughter. As he grew, he too took to the game, with no less skill nor fervor than his older brother. But where Heero's instinctual competence drove him to enhance his already honed ability, Duo's natural talent for marksmanship and contest turned any sort of intense focus into a hobby rather than a serious pursuit. Indeed, he preferred to romp about and do as he pleased. And he could talk, my, how the boy could talk. Some said that Mother Nature was compensating for the lack of speech from Heero in the endless chatter that seemed to flow from Duo's mouth. He could talk himself out of any dilemma, or into any, if be the case. His sharp wit and sharper tongue made Duo's reputation as the clever jester quite well known throughout the court. This carefree, mischief-loving nature of the second prince resulted in many a practical joke (of which his phlegmatic older brother was too often the victim). But even the little prankster was not without a solemn side. His anger, if ever manipulated into presenting itself, could easily compete with the wrath of his intense, elder brother. But where Heero tended to harbor grudges for impossible lengths of time, Duo's anger generally faded quickly and easily, and soon he would be all smiles once again.
After Heero and Duo came Trowa, the silent one. Prince Trowa was quiet beyond the measure of the word. Speaking in polite, clipped phrases, he was an observer above all else. His bright green eyes shone with an innate curiosity mingled with repose and imperishable self-restraint. It was he who spoke the voice of reason through all of Duo's mischievous humor and Heero's unwavering resolve. But he knew that it was best to avoid the two altogether if they were in the midst of an argument. Like the rest of the brothers, Trowa was an exceptional marksman. His aim matched even Heero's, and some argued that he perhaps exceeded his older brother in the skill. In fact, it was Heero himself who instructed the quiet prince in all that he knew of the art. That his protégé had in some ways surpassed him, Heero acknowledged with pride and a carefully hidden affection. Perhaps it was all the time they spent together on the hunt that caused some of Heero's mannerisms to ingrain themselves into the younger prince. Not quite as reclusive as his older role model, Trowa gradually developed a distance that allowed him to observe as his calm nature dictated. Never one to confront or demand, the third prince was the embodiment of logic and reason.
As Heero taught Trowa all he needed to know concerning the hunt, the fourth born son strained to maintain his health. Prince Quatre was born a sickly child. The queen had labored intensively to bring him into the world, yet his struggles followed him beyond the womb. For nearly nine years, he was confined to the palace, never to step beyond the protection of its walls. He was faithfully kept from any activities of physical exertion that might compromise his frail health. During this period, the young prince excelled in areas not yet explored by his three older brothers who adored the outside world. Where his siblings mastered the art of the hunt, fragile Quatre mastered the arts themselves. A painter, an author, but above all, a musician, by the time of his emancipation, his skill at more than five instruments far exceeded tutelage.
In truth, though he was instructed never to leave the grounds, his brothers had been sneaking him away to see the sights of the kingdom for over a year before they were discovered and the prince was finally allowed free roam. The trips were made under the cover of night nearly once a month. The task was easily accomplished between the five boys: while Duo distracted the maids with his ramble, and Trowa dealt with the guards in whatever way he saw fit, Heero always managed somehow to get the gates up so that when the youngest of the five brothers came sneaking out of the palace with Quatre close behind, the five had clear passage off grounds. These nighttime excursions had instigated a bond between all five that would last them a lifetime, a bond that fused brotherhood, camaraderie and friendship.
Despite or perhaps because of his isolation during his childhood days, Quatre's disposition was one of extreme tolerance, amiability and generosity. No one could stay mad at him, not even Heero. The boy's sweet, genuine smile could crack stone. This happy nature ultimately drew him close to Duo who strove to keep him away from Heero's frosty influence. And so, the little blond boy remained cheery, much to Duo's delight (he found Heero and Trowa's quiet, cold natures fairly tedious). But that never stopped Quatre from developing strong ties to all of his brothers. It was Quatre who introduced music to his older brother Trowa. After teaching him how to play the flute, Quatre and Trowa became quite inseparable. When Quatre was finally allowed to leave the palace and join the daily excursions that the boys took nearly every day, he was very much lacking in skill as compared to his brothers, so each one of them took their turns training Quatre in the game. And while he did become one of the best in the land, he absorbed the ability less naturally than did his brothers. However, this lack was more than made up for in his fencing ability. Like Duo, Quatre was a natural contest hand. The foil suited him much better than the bow, yet still, he would have chosen his lute over his sword any day.
The last prince born was named Wufei. The boy was a scholar of the utmost dedication. He spent whole nights up alone in the palace library contemplating points of philosophy and literature, arts and history. While his brothers obsessed over skill, he obsessed over knowledge. For months while he discovered the wonders of moral philosophy he would lecture his brothers so terribly while on the trail that one day they actually gagged him and tied him to his horse that they might continue their way in peace. The incident quiet effectively cured him of the habit. Though his nights were spent in the company of books and maps, the daylight saw him among his brothers on the hunt or in the training halls. A good shot though he was, his talent resided in his sword. Quatre had the grace, perhaps, but Wufei had the fervor. Concerning his social disposition, in spite of Duo's earnest attempts to mold the youngest prince into an open and sociable creature, Wufei was adamantly aloof. He was not as cold as Heero, nor as silent as Trowa, nevertheless he was just as antisocial.
And so, these five princes, equally handsome and equally refined, stood in the throne room before the king and queen, each warily taking note of their happy, red-faced father, and their joyfully grinning mother.
"What's this all about, father?" Heero said in his quiet, direct manner.
The king frowned, suddenly grave. He stood from his throne and began to pace slowly with his hands locked together behind his back. The boys understood this to signal the beginning of an imminent lecture. "Boys," he bellowed, "when I was your age, do you have any idea what I was doing?"
"Hunting, perhaps?" one of the princes replied testily.
"Don't be impertinent, Duo," their father reprimanded automatically before continuing on uninhibited. "What was I doing? I was out courting your mother: bringing her flowers, sprouting poetry, and engaging in hard-to-digest serenades, all the while trying to convince her father that I was worthy of his daughter's hand in marriage." The boys cringed at the overly detailed review. "You boys are all grown men now. It's time you started acting your age." He pinned them with an expectant look.
Quatre spoke up hesitantly, "I don't think we're quite understanding-"
"You need to get married!" the king roared. "I want daughters-in-law! I want precious, little grandchildren that I can coddle and spoil! I want all of you married! Soon!"
The princes were shocked perhaps, but were more than ready to fight the decree. "Father, that is hardly a reasonable request," Trowa interjected with his trademark calm. The other princes nodded, figuring that this was simply another one of their father's crazy schemes that could easily be bypassed by the usual tactics. They were not, however, ready to face their bright-eyed mother.
The queen stood from her throne and went to stand before her sons, her eyes gleaming. "Oh, my children," she sobbed under joyful tears, "it is so lonely here in this palace with no one to pamper and care for. You all have grown now and won't allow me to do so for you." The young men began to fidget in discomfort feeling the edges of guilt creeping up on them. "What joy you'll bring to your old, lonely mother when you bring home your beautiful brides, to finally have women about the palace to keep me company. And it will be so fulfilling to finally be a grandmother; after all these years, to have children about again..." She sobbed a bit more for good measure. The boys began to visibly squirm. "My sons! You've all grown so; it makes your mother proud." She ruffled their hair and gave each a wet, motherly kiss on the cheek. In the face of the queen's motherly tears, each prince grudgingly nodded and returned her affections. Such are the manipulative powers of a mother, especially a royal mother.
"It is settled then!" the king announced. "The princes will seek the oracle first thing tomorrow morning!"
The next day, just as prescribed, the procession, which included the king, queen and their reluctant sons, made the trek through the outlying woods of the Royal Hunting Grounds to the cave temple of the divine oracle. There were three occasions that called for visits to the royal oracle: after a royal birth, at times of war, and when a prince sought a bride. As the party approached the end of the road, they came upon a vast clearing that opened up to a delicately chiseled cave entrance; from within the cave's black belly, an old man emerged and drew near them. He was a wiry old man though he stood with a dignified stance. In the slits where eyes should have sat there gazed back two shiny, glass marbles. In his right hand, he held a half-length staff with a chiseled knob into a branch of laurels. His countenance was one of wisdom and patience, a gracious knowledge. He bowed his head low and asked, "What, my princes, would you have of me?"
When none of the five would speak, the king shot them a penetrating glare. Letting out a small sigh of exasperation, Heero spoke in answer: "You already know."
The divine one nodded and raised his head, holding his hands clasped before him atop his cane. He gave his answer confidently: "Your brides lay scattered, some in far reach, some near at hand. Four must journey: two across the seas, two over the mountain ranges. The fifth must remain at the palace."
"Will this take long? Or will we be able to return before all the good game moves on?"
"Duo," the impatient prince's mother chided quietly.
The oracle shook his head. "That, I cannot see, my prince."
"Which two sail the seas, which two must cross the peaks, and which is to remain?" asked Trowa.
After a thoughtful moment, the oracle answered, "The first two must go east, beyond the mountains. The third and fourth must set sail across the waters to the west. The youngest must remain at the palace."
"And when must they depart, good man?" the king asked anxiously.
The oracle smiled tolerantly. "Immediately, my king."
"I can't believe we just got suckered into getting married," Prince Duo whined.
"And how come he gets to stay home?" Quatre added as he flopped onto his bed pointing vaguely to the young man in the chair by the window.
"And hunt!" Duo added with envy.
"This is irrational and pointless," Trowa declared in an atypically defiant tone as he strode through the doorway. He nudged the figure on the bed. "Quatre, do you have an extra-"
At that moment, Heero entered, looking altogether too smug.
"You look... happy," Wufei observed from the corner of the room, putting down his book wearily. The older brother nodded affirmatively still wearing a smirk. The youngest prince continued: "I hope you don't plan on leaving with the express intention of not finding a bride. If you come back empty-handed, father will be angry and mother will cry." Here he added an irritated sigh. "And don't think that you can just leave and never return, because father will have us out searching for you until you're found. And stalling would be just as bad, seeing how impatient father is. That's where Duo gets it from, you know." He paused examining his oldest brother who was glaring angrily at him, his smirk long gone. Clearly, his intentions had been just as his brother had implied. "Why, Heero, you don't look quite so happy anymore." The youngest brother smiled wide. Prince Heero growled and exited the room without having said a word. Wufei picked up his book and shook his head.
"Stop reading and give me a hand," Duo groaned. With a sigh, the younger man set the book down once again and went to help his brother tug some strange object out from beneath Quatre's bed.
The next day, the princes stood at the castle gates. As one they approached their father to receive his blessing. The old king stood straight-backed, beaming with pride. "We don't know when we'll see you again. Stay well. Look after each other," he said, looking to Trowa before patting Quatre's shoulder in paternal custom. "We await your return."
With a bow, the four journeying princes turned around, mounted their steeds, and made a slow (rather reluctant) departure.
"Father, I would accompany them to the main road," Wufei announced and the king conceded. Soon the five princes found themselves riding out of the palace gates just as they had done so many times before. Only this time, there would be no hunt and no return at the end of the day.
They rode in silence; each man deliberating their present predicament. For each, the prospect of marriage was undesirable and, in all frankness, absurd. At this point in time, the use of wives quite eluded them. Having lived, on the whole, independent and secluded from the airs of women, none of them had extensive experience in romance or any true affection of that sort. None had felt the pangs of heartache before, let alone any significant stirrings of want or passion. Their knowledge of love was domestic and familial, patriotic or formed of responsibility to state and kingdom. Romantic love was a diversion that they may have trifled with for fun on occasion, Quatre and Duo being notorious for their flattery and flirtation, respectively.
And so, this new mission rather baffled them all. For what use was a wife to a hunter? To a prince? To a king? Well, certainly, one kingdom could not be ruled by five kings. Nor could it manage well without a queen... or an heir. (They shuddered at the thought.) And so that was the collective logic. As men and especially as princes, the brothers had always known such a journey, the shift from uninhibited bachelordom to chained and shackled married life, would await them. However, they resented the disturbance it created in their orderly lives. The luxury they were given as princes, the luxury of seeking a suitable princess bride themselves, the luxury of following such senses as the pullings of one's heartstrings, became a paradoxical mystery. How could they "follow their hearts" when their hearts were telling them they didn't want wives in the first place? Thus, unable to make comfortable sense of their exasperating situation, the five continued to ponder their predicament.
"We may not meet again for many days, brothers." Prince Quatre spoke first. Though his eyes focused on the path, he was guarding the expressions of his siblings by the corners.
"I'll miss the hunt," Heero answered simply.
Trowa nodded and gestured to the juncture before them. "The road splits."
Dismounting, the group stood aside from the escort party to exchange a final farewell. Having never before been separated for such an extended amount of time, the brothers awkwardly approached the task of parting. Taunts, warnings, and a fair share of advice (most of which was lovingly ignored) eventually gave way to warm wishes for luck and speed, as well as promises to return intact.
"Very well then," Wufei declared as the round of brotherly embraces were completed. "Which way do you ride?"
"Quatre and I go left," said Trowa as the boys remounted.
Checking his bags once more, Duo gestured toward the expansive range of mountains to the east, "We go right. Brick's Passage is the quickest way over the Peaks."
"It's dangerous," Quatre said sternly. "Why aren't you taking the main route?"
Heero shook his head. "Like Duo said, Brick's is faster."
The second prince nodded. "The sooner we go, the sooner we're home."
"Besides," Heero added, "with the Faire moving in this week, the Main road'll be packed. It'd take twice as long. Even without the occasion, the ride would take over three weeks. Brick's will get us over in less than two."
"That's assuming you don't run into any trouble," Wufei added.
"Us? Get into trouble?" asked Duo as he exchanged smirks with Heero.
"You two are hopeless," Wufei snorted, though a smile lay on his lips.
"Alright, we're off. Now, don't do anything stupid while I'm not around to do rescue work," Duo addressed his three younger brothers.
"Shouldn't we be saying that to you?" asked Trowa with half a grin.
"Farewell, brothers," called Quatre as he urged his horse forward.
"Send word," Wufei shouted as the escort team split in two, one half following the pair headed for the sea port, the other half following the pair bound for Brick's Passage.
"We will," Duo called back.
"Take care of mother and father," Heero ordered, right before taking off at a steady gallop.
"No fair!" shouted Duo as he sped off with a slight wave of the hand. The two disappeared down the road leaving a trail of dust streaming behind them.
Turning back to the left road, Wufei watched as Trowa turned in his saddle and gave one last wave before the pair disappeared around the bend. Feeling decidedly lonely, the youngest prince slowly turned his horse around and headed out for a ride.
"What do you think about all this?"
"Trowa, we've been sent off to find brides."
Quatre waited, but no response was proffered. "Trowa," he prompted.
"What do you think about it? And don't ask what 'it' is."
Trowa gave him a sidelong look. "What about you?"
Quatre shook his head, "Answering questions with questions; you never give straight answers, do you? Rhetorical question; don't answer that." He tossed a blond lock out of the way as he raised his eyes to admire the clear blue sky. The clarity he found there was antithetical to the turmoil the present situation had wreaked on his perfect peace. "Why do we have to do this anyway? Everything was fine the way it was."
Trowa looked at his younger brother and noticed the melancholy expression on his face. "Nothing is going to change." Quatre arched a brow in challenge. Shaking his head, the quiet prince smiled lightly and said, "We'll be married but we'll always be brothers; nothing can change that."
"But you know what they say: only a woman can come between two men."
Trowa snorted. "Well then, what can they do between five brothers?"
Quatre smiled, sufficiently appeased. With a slight chuckle, he asked suddenly, "Can you imagine Heero?"
"Imagine him what?"
Quatre had to laugh out loud. "Can you imagine him trying to court some poor, unknowing young lady?"
The older brother grinned lopsidedly. "I can't imagine him doing anything for a woman. You know how he gets."
Quatre chuckled as they both returned to the referenced memory.
Several years ago, while the eldest prince was still just trespassing on manhood, he made the mistake of appearing in public in full attire sans escort.
It had been a particularly uneventful day: the morning reception, brunch with some aristocrat or other, an afternoon filled with mindless "princess prattle," as Heero chose to call it (for the aristocrat had many daughters). After being dutifully pursued for well over two hours, the young prince firmly excused himself and stormed out of the palace gardens where the royals were having tea, hopped right over the fence, and followed the road where it took him.
Needless to say, the sight of their handsome and eligible prince striding impressively down their lanes drove the townspeople into a healthy frenzy. They somehow distracted the young man enough to get him bloody drunk and shower him with the kisses and affections of the local village girls. That evening, when a troop of royal guards finally tracked him down, he was passed out in the village tavern where four or five young ladies were brawling over whom had the privilege of taking the prince home with them. Because of that rather embarrassing incident, Heero had developed an instinctive wariness when around persons of the opposite sex. His treatment of women was never disrespectful, just not ever particularly gentlemanly. The idea of a romantic Heero was amusing and bizarre. His future wife would hopefully be a tolerant woman.
"But you know who I'm most worried for?" Trowa asked with a mock worried look on his face. Quatre made an inquisitive sound. "Wufei."
The blond prince grinned and nodded, "That boy's worse than Heero."
"True," the other responded, "but it's not his dire male chauvinism that I'm worried about."
Trowa chuckled lightly. "Once the neighboring kingdoms hear about our eligible younger brother, he's going to be flooded with royal visits. Now that we're all fair game on the royal consort market, every wearisome princess and noble's daughter we've ever met is going to come flocking back, not to mention the droves that will be showing up for the first time."
Quatre's heart went out to his little brother as he shook his head and said sincerely, "I hope he doesn't kill anyone."
Sally walked with efficient, purposeful strides. She kept the same comfortable, quick pace that had taken her down the back road out of her family manor two hours prior, just after breakfast had completed. Today, stepmother had discovered a sudden craving for strawberries and in so discovering, had sent her slave stepdaughter off to town with orders to fetch her a basket of the coveted berries from the market. Despite the mindlessness of the task, the girl set out without protest or complaint. The family was under the impression that the trip would take a good portion of the afternoon, six hours there and back: a frustratingly tedious journey to make on foot. They were unaware, however, that by cutting through Blackly's Wood, she could reach her destination in less than half the time. Strategically failing to mention this minor detail, the young maiden hummed a soft melody, looking forward to the swindled free time she could now spend perusing through the various stands at the modest, but bustling, town market.
Her appearance was supremely less than presentable. The servant rags that adorned her trim body needed washing and mending, badly. Her thick blond tresses were strategically twisted into two neat coils, effectively keeping the strands from pestering her face. Though its color was pure and its shine shone clean, she hadn't the time to brush it out properly in the mornings prior to breakfast and her housework chores, or between the errand running of the afternoon and the supper preparations of the evening. After supper, her chores about the house continued in similar fashion, taking her well beyond the dying of the light. Candlelight was allowed her strictly for working purposes only, and a girl cannot be expected to brush her hair in the dark when she can sleep instead. The maiden girl lived a busy and laborious life, a life not suited to her beauty and spirit.
Meandering down the road, her sharp ears picked up the sounds of something approaching from behind her. Turning to look, her concentrated blue eyes spotted a figure in the distance and she moved slowly to the right side of the road in anticipation of the horseman flying down the path towards her; riders in such haste never slowed for pedestrians. She pulled on a strand of hair that had somehow loosed itself and studied the line of wild shrubs and herbage that sprouted up gratuitously alongside the path. Crouching to examine a particular species of flora that she found especially beautiful, she heard the telltale clatter that signaled a galloping horse. As the noise neared her, she held her breath and squinted her eyes closed to avoid any of the hassles that generally occurred when one was left in the wake of a galloping horse and its dust trail. When the hoof beats slowed to a trot, a walk, a halt, the girl hazarded an eye and blushed foolishly when she found herself looking up at an enormous black horse and its expressionless rider. She let out her breath now and peered up at the stranger.
"Excuse me, would you be missing a coin pouch?"
'Tall, dark, handsome; and Noin says they don't make 'em like that anymore,' Sally thought as she stood to reply. The man was indeed handsome, far better to look at than any of the boys in town or the farmhands that worked the land with her. "No, sir," she said aloud, thanking God that she had managed a reply at all, "I have mine right-" Patting the large pocket on the right of her bulky second-hand skirt, she discovered it to be sickeningly empty. Sticking a hand in as if to make sure, her fingers made their way right through a giant hole at the bottom of the pocket. She looked down at the offending hole and her fingers that waved back up at her. Forgetting her company, she grumbled, "Oh, for cryin' out loud! This is ridiculous. This thing grows holes faster than I can patch 'em!"
The rider made a coughing noise and she blushed appropriately. "Would this belong to you?" he asked, producing a tattered looking white pouch with silver trimmings. Sally nodded and he tossed it down to her.
"Thank you," she murmured feeling horridly foolish. What would have happened if she had gotten all the way to the market only to discover she hadn't any money to pay for the fruits? What would have been her punishment? How many lashings? How much more work? She shuddered at the thought.
"Good day," the rider said silently before continuing on down the road. Watching as the rider gradually picked up his pace, she couldn't help but feel a sense of awe and immense gratitude. Where had this handsome stranger come from? What incredible luck that he happened to come by. Sally closed her eyes, standing there on that quiet road, and etched his face into her memory.