"Mama, can you tell us a story?"
Laya gently smiled as she tucked her youngest child in alongside Kara. Two inquisitive sets of blue eyes looked at her with anticipation, one pair dark, the other light. She shook her head. "It's late, my darling. You should be asleep as it is."
"But Mama, you're going to send us to Kara's home, so we should get stories every night until we go!"
Surprise filled her. "How did you know—?" She stopped herself as the obvious answer presented itself.
"I dreamed it," Gwyn answered. "We all went to the moon."
Laya gently stroked her daughter's fine hair. Gwyn nuzzled into the caress with the contentment of a child that enjoyed affection. Her poor darling had not yet realized what a unique curse her gift was. The power to see the future was something no one should ever have. Already there had been incidents that had needed to be smoothed over, prophecies innocently spoken that had come true. Laya had worked hard to convince those involved that her daughter had merely overheard things that she had naively repeated. She had made Gwyn promise never to speak of her dreams to anyone who was not family, not even her grandparents. For now, only she, Nial, and Adan knew what it meant when Gwyn dreamed.
Her sister had suffered greatly because of her gift for divination. The elder Laya had not only suffered prescient dreams, but visions that had imposed themselves without warning. It had been a great and terrible power that often drove her strong, proud sister to tears. The memories were enough to make Laya change her mind.
"Alright, my darling. One story tonight and straight to sleep. I'll even tell you one story every night until you go home with Kara," Laya said, lightly tapping her daughter's nose. "Deal?"
"Yes, Mama, I promise," Gwyn said happily.
She tapped her chin for a moment as she thought of what story to tell the two girls. Their eyes shone with excitement as they waited. Laya glanced over at Adan's bed. Her son was already fast asleep, but he somehow provided the inspiration she needed. She knew exactly which story to tell as she gently touched Gwyn's hair.
Once upon a time...
...there was a poor soldier. He had taken a wound, so while his hands were as strong as ever, he could not move as fast as he once had and could no longer serve. Unsure of what to do, he wandered far and wide, choosing his path at random.
One day, he found himself by a river without a bridge. He was about to turn around and go back the way he had come when he saw an old woman. The old woman had a longing look on her face as she stared across the river. He said, "Grandmother, why do you sit here alone?"
The old woman looked at the soldier and said, "I sit alone as I have no children or grandchildren to care for me. The bridge washed away and now I can't go home. The current is too strong, and my bones too old to try to cross."
The soldier thought about it and said, "Come on my back and I shall carry you across."
As they crossed, the current became stronger. The soldier's wounded leg threatened to buckle many times. Every step hurt him greatly, but the soldier refused to give up. The soldier was very tired when they finally got to the other side, and sat down with a heavy sigh. The old woman peered at him and asked him where he was going.
The soldier smiled and replied, "I hardly know." Then he added, as a joke, "Perhaps I should look for a princess."
The old woman said nothing for a moment. Then she said, "It is not hard to look for a princess, but it is impossible to see one. Follow this river south and you shall reach a wall of briars. On the other side is the enchanted domain of the Rose Princess."
"Have many tried to reach her?" asked the soldier.
"Many times many," said the old woman. "Those who did not give up never returned."
"Then I shall be the first to return," said the soldier.
"Take heed of her title and perhaps you will," said the old woman.
The soldier followed the river south for many days until he reached the wall of briars. It was a tall wall, as tall as a castle, with many thorns. The soldier walked around the wall for a time, but found no way inside. He stared at his hands as he thought about what to do. Finally, he said, "She is the Rose Princess, so surely she would not wish for me to cut her subjects. My hands are rough from the sword, so surely I can advance if I move the briars."
So he did. The thorns were wicked, but his hands were strong. The soldier advanced through the thick briars, pulling and pushing them out of his way. As he advanced deeper, he caught sight of the many who had not succeeded, the swords in their hands nicked from cutting, their bodies wrapped tightly by briars. He said nothing as his hands bled and continued onward.
After many hours of this hard work, he reached the other side of the wall of briars and stood in a field of roses. They were of many colors, blue and yellow, pink and red, black and white, and their perfume was so strong that he felt dizzy from the scent. In the middle of the field was a beautiful castle, but the soldier could see no path to it. For a moment, he thought of cutting his way, but decided against it, saying, "Surely, the Rose Princess would not like it if I did that. I shall take care where I step and how I move."
The soldier watched where he stepped and walked very carefully. More than once, he was tempted to pluck a rose to offer to the princess, but he dismissed the thought and went on. More hours of careful walking led him to the castle's gate just as the sun set. He entered the castle and went to the throne room. He opened its doors and went inside.
The Rose Princess frowned at him from a throne shaped like a bud. She was as beautiful as a rose, with lips as red as blood, eyes as blue as the sky, and hair as black as night. She asked, "Who are you, to be in my castle?"
"I am but a poor soldier who wished to see a princess," said he.
"Do you come from outside?" she asked, still puzzled, for she had never had a visitor before. "Why are you bloody?"
"I do indeed come from outside," said the soldier as he looked down at himself. "It was a bit of work to come here, as I did not wish to harm your subjects, and ended in harming myself."
"Oh, I see," said the Rose Princess. "I thank you for the care you took with my subjects. Did you only wish to see me?"
"Yes," said the soldier. "Perhaps I can bother you for shelter tonight? I am very tired from the journey, and ought to rest before I return."
"Oh, yes, of course," said the Rose Princess. "Please, eat dinner with me."
As the old woman had said, the Rose Princess did indeed rule an enchanted domain. Food appeared on their tables without servants to place it. Mops and brooms cleaned on their own. Everywhere was the scent of roses.
The soldier had fallen in love with the Rose Princess at first sight and talked with her the entire dinner. She asked him many questions, of people and cities and countries, and he told her stories, of the people and cities and countries he had seen. When at last, late at night, he went to his bed, he could only think sadly of his departure in the morning.
In the morning, before he could leave, the Rose Princess pleaded with him to stay. "Oh, please," she cried. "I have been so very alone for so very long. Can you not stay just one more night?"
The soldier agreed and escorted the Rose Princess as she walked through her domain of roses. The flowers parted before their ruler. These roses are not like ours, for the care of the Rose Princess meant they lacked thorns. If today, she did not pay as much attention to them as she usually did, they were tolerant, if not happy.
Once again, they spoke for many hours, the Rose Princess eager as the soldier told her many stories of the world. As she had only lived within her domain of roses, she could only stare wide-eyed when told of the wonders outside. When morning came, as it always did, she once again pleaded with the soldier to stay just one more night. Once again, the soldier found he could do naught but oblige her.
And so it went. Each day, the Rose Princess would coax the soldier into staying just one more night. Each day, the soldier did as she asked, and told her more of the wonders outside. As the Rose Princess paid more attention to the soldier, her roses grew jealous. They were accustomed to being the only objects of her affection, and it angered them that a mere man was taking what they thought theirs. The wind carried their voices to the Rose Princess.
"Get rid of him," they whispered. "Get rid of him! Get rid of him!"
"But why?" asked the Rose Princess, very surprised.
"You belong to us," they replied angrily. "You are either only for us or only for him!"
The Rose Princess was sad at their words and stared out of her window for many days, saying not a word. The soldier, worried by this behavior, finally went to her. Fearful, he asked, "Is everything all right?"
She looked upon him and gave him a smile that melted his heart. "I only wanted to look upon my roses one last time before we left to see the world."
At her words, her roses grew sharp thorns that they wear to this day. Seeing this, the Rose Princess took the hand of her soldier, and left with him to see the world. In time, they were married and lived happily ever after...