The White Rose
By Laura Schiller
Series: The Faerie Path
Copyright: Frewin Jones
Heavy summer rain pounded on the cobblestones of a courtyard belonging to Hampton Court Palace in the Mortal World. Edric Chanticleer, Faerie courtier and estranged lover of the Princess Tania, fought to keep hold of his umbrella as the wind tugged it this way and that. He looked up at the tower where, in his home world, Tania's oldest sister Eden practiced her Mystic Arts. The Oriole Glass, her stained-glass window, looked grey and grimy and not at all the sort of thing one could use to travel between worlds. It was a foolish idea anyway, he told himself, with a sigh. Tania has the Gift, not I.
Tania. Even thinking her name hurt him in some indefinable place deep inside.
Stubborn, stupid girl. How he loved her. But how could he explain himself without setting her temper off again?
He had come here to ask for advice. His preferred choice would have been her mortal parents, but given their distrust of him, that was a bad idea. He wanted to talk to someone who knew Tania, who could tell him how best to apologize to her and mend their relationship. And while he was in Faerie, maybe he would pick up a gift for her as well. Something to remind her how much she loved the Faerie Realm...and how much she and Edric loved each other. It was not a bad plan.
Except that the Oriole Glass wasn't lighting up.
He shivered and paced back and forth as the storm blew into his face. How much longer would he have to wait?
A hint of golden light unfurled in the center of the window, like sunlight, except that the sun was completely hidden by a mass of storm clouds. Edric closed his umbrella, stashed it in his backpack, took a running jump at the wall and, just before falling, grabbed hold of the window ledge and hauled himself inside.
It felt like moving through a thin layer of honey; he half-expected the glass to stick to his hair and clothes, but he came through on the other side looking no worse than before – wet and breathless, but unharmed.
He felt the change immediately. Even in this musty, darkened room, the air still smelled cleaner and purer than smog-infested London. He looked around at the shelves lining the walls, careful not to touch anything; in a mage's workshop, appearances could be deceiving. There were books of all sizes, most of them old and battered; dried herbs hanging from the rafters; a small glass jar full of shimmering turquoise wishpearls, and several strange crystal instruments he did not recognize. It did not look altogether like the haunt of horrors Tania had described – Eden must have done something about the monster faces and threatening voices after her return to normal life – but still, it was not what he would call comfortable.
"Welcome, Master Chanticleer."
The shadows moved; a human-sized shadow approached him, taking off the hood of its cloak to reveal Princess Eden's face. She raised an eyebrow at him; he began to feel nervous, like a small boy in front of a stern teacher.
"Good evening, Your Highness," he managed to say, sweeping into his best bow. "Pray forgive the intrusion into your home. I have come to speak with you...concerning your sister."
"Tania?" Concern flashed across Eden's wide blue eyes. "Is she well?"
"How fares your search?" Eden's face and voice sounded eager, making her look younger than she was. The search for Titania meant so much to her.
"At a standstill, alas," Edric admitted. "Which is why I have come to seek advice. Princess Tania and I have had...a quarrel...and cannot continue the search together."
"Have you hurt her?"
Eden's eyes flashed; he had forgotten how intimidating she could be.
"'Twas not my intent to do so," Edric said, following up with the entire story. How Tania had met with a medium in spite of Eden's warning and just barely escaped Gabriel Drake. How on hearing this, Edric had lost his temper and shouted at her. How he'd accused her of not caring enough about the search for the Queen because she seemed so comfortable in the Mortal World. As he spoke, Eden listened, an anxious crease forming between her eyebrows.
"I see," she murmured, resting her head thoughtfully on her chin. "So you fear the choice Tania will make – whether she will choose to stay in this world or that of her mortal friends and family."
He blinked. That was not what he had said...but then, it made sense. That painful twisting in his heart when he had seen Tania laughing with Jade...as if she belonged in that noisy street, on that Isenmort chair. So different from him and his world.
"You are wise, my lady," he admitted with a sigh. "That is indeed my fear. Were she to choose the Mortal World as her home..."
"You would have to choose." Eden's eyes softened with compassion. "Between your home and your beloved."
He remembered Tania looking up at him, her eyes full of hurt and confusion. You have no idea how hard this is for me, she had said. Now he began to understand. To him, the Mortal World had always been a terrible place, full of death and danger; to her, it was a home where loved ones lived. They were both faced with a hard choice.
"We must abide by Tania's choice," he said reluctantly, "Whatsoever it may be...yet still my hope remains that her heart will turn to Faerie."
"That is my hope also." Eden smiled at him with understanding. "Therefore, Master Chanticleer, I will give you the perfect gift to melt my little sister's heart and subtly remind her of her Faerie birthright. Come with me."
She swept briskly down the stairs, her cloak trailing after like bat wings as Edric followed. They left the tower and went outside in a blaze of sunshine, Edric half running to keep up with Eden's long strides as they made their way to the palace gardens.
It was a lovely place, with soft grass like an emerald green carpet underfoot and clouds of white butterflies floating above their heads. Tall white lilies, fluffy carnations, proud silky tulips, sword-shaped clusters of gladiolas and snapdragons and many other flowers blew in the soft summer wind, releasing their sweet, intoxicating waves of scent. But more than anything, there were roses – deep crimson roses, pale pink roses, golden ones with a flush of pink at the heart, and one bush in the very center of the garden, which carried tiny, creamy white blossoms which smelled like crisp apples dipped in honey.
It was by this rosebush that Eden stopped, pulled out a pair of shears from her cloak, selected the largest and most perfect bud, and snipped it off.
Edric took it and held it to his face. There were no thorns on the stem. The petals were touched with pink at the tips, as if the flower were blushing. It was sweeter than anything he could have imagined...therefore, it was perfect for Tania.
"Many thanks, my lady," he murmured. "Though..." with an embarrassed little smile, "I am sorry it had to be cut."
"No need. Once it is planted in the earth, even in the Mortal World, this rose will flourish and grow into a fine, hardy plant if only it is tended with love. This variety was Mother's favorite...surely it will give Tania much delight, even if she does not remember."
For a moment, Eden's eyes were misty. If she had not been such an imposing royal personage, Edric would have hugged her. Instead he bowed, trying to think of something appropriate to say and coming up blank.
"Come now," said Eden, taking a deep breath and looking as cool and calm as ever. ""Tis high time you returned." She set off at the same brisk pace, leading Edric through the gardens, back to her tower and up the stairs. He didn't want to stuff the rose into his backpack with all his possessions rattling around, so he carried it in his hand all the way.
"Fare you well, Master Chanticleer," said Eden, briefly touching his shoulder. "May angels of mercy attend you on your path."
"Farewell, Princess," he replied, before climbing back through the Oriole Glass.
Once he was safely on the ground again, the glass had lost its light. The rain had stopped; he was looking up into a clear, velvety night sky lit with the glow of thousands of city lights. He had better get out of here; he doubted whether Hampton Court was open for visitors at this time.
As he made his way by bus and underground back to the small, dingy hostel he lived in, Edric kept looking down at the lovely white rose in his hand. Like Tania and himself, it came from Faerie, but if tended with love, it would thrive and grow even in the polluted earth of this world.
White for peace. For a new start. A white rose as beautiful and sweet, as strong and enduring, as the girl it was meant. His fiery teenage princess with the gold dust in her eyes. His Juliet. His Tania.