A Rose in Winter
There once lived three royal brothers who lived together in a vast castle. Their parents had died when they were very young and the trio were raised by the castle staff who saw to their every need and whim. The trio wanted for nothing, entertainment of all sorts and education from around the world was at their beck and call. The two eldest brothers however harbored jealousy in their hearts for one another and it was this that would bring all that they had to naught and misery.
A beautiful young woman entered their lives and the middle brother fell in love with her. Seeing how much his younger brother doted on this woman the eldest brother pursued her as well. Flattered by the attention of both young nobles she entertained their attentions without heed to the consequences. The jealousy of the brothers continued to build until finally neither could stand it further and they challenged one another to a duel for the young woman’s hand.
The duel was brief and brutal. When it was settled the eldest brother lay dead at the feet of the middle brother who then sought the hand of the young woman who they had quarreled over. She however was horrified at the violence and so fled without a word, leaving the victorious brother with nothing but his brother’s death to console him. The younger brother, horrified at the actions of his elder brothers and having become a skilled enchanter through his many studies leveled a curse upon the entire household of the castle.
Though his brother begged him to show mercy he would not be swayed, saying that his brother had shown no mercy to their own blood and so would receive none in kind. The youngest brother turned his sibling into a mirror of his own heart, a vicious beast that terrified all who gazed upon its visage. The castle servants who had done nothing to stop the duel were turned into the items of their vocations, becoming intrinsic parts of the castle, forever trapped while the curse endured. As a final measure to ensure that his brother could find no escape from the prison fashioned for him the youngest brother sealed the soul of their dead sibling into a pack of frost borne wolves that haunted and hunted the forest surrounding the castle, ensuring that none could enter or leave in safety.
He gave some hope to his brother however, promising that if he could love and be loved by another even in the form of a beast that reflected his inner nature so fittingly that the curse would be lifted. With this final stipulation the youngest brother left the castle and his cursed siblings to their doom as the world around them forgot about the enchanted castle and its monstrous inhabitant. As the years stretched on, the cursed brother despaired of ever finding love and being loved in turn. He sank into a dark depression, brooding within the castle, trapped against leaving by the cursed pack of wolves that were the embodiment of his slain brother’s anguish and malice.
After all, who could pass through the pack of frost wolves to reach the castle? Even if they should do so, what hope did he have that they might love him or he them? Lost in despair, he became ever more bestial, abandoning all vestiges of his former nobility and humanity both and becoming just what his brother had declared him to be. A monster incapable of love or compassion towards others.
All hope was not lost however, in a nearby village once looked over by the castle a young woman was growing under the watchful eyes of her father. The father, a skilled artist, tinkerer and inventor doted upon his only child, raising her amidst his own creative genius and fostering in her a love of knowledge and an inquisitive mind. That she was also beautiful mattered little, it was her mind that her father treasured above all. It was only amongst the villagers that her beauty was truly noted and many among them envied and longed for her seemingly blessed appearance.
This young woman was lusted after by many within the town, but none so pursued her as the local hero, freshly returned from the wars of the kingdom and of marriageable age. Though he tried many times to gain her hand he was always rebuffed though her defiance and candor only seemed to enliven his pursuit of her. The young woman for her part found friendship in a scholar who lived within the village, his small library of books letting her escape from the inane life in which she found herself in. In her minds eye she traveled the world and lived the lives of adventurers and lovers and so was able to live out the life she so desperately longed for.
The time came one year when her father departed for the annual fair and she saw him off happily, knowing that as always he would return and bring with him wondrous gifts and trinkets. Most importantly would be the stories of what he had seen at the fair, of people from other places and the inventions and novelties which they had come to sell and share. It was these stories that she treasured most and so she looked forward to his return eagerly. However this time was different.
The father became lost in the woods, a vicious storm darkening his path and forcing him upon a road he had never traveled before. Soon the woods around him lost the glow of summer and fell into a snowy wasteland whose biting cold seemed to freeze to the very bone beneath flesh and blood. Unable to find his way amidst the desolation of the winter, the father soon found himself pursued by a pack of vicious white wolves that drove him onwards in their seemingly maddened pursuit until he came upon a great gate that swung open upon his approach. Apparently safe and within the grounds of a vast estate, the father hoped that he might find succor for the night against the cold until the dawn so that he could find his way once more.
Upon entering the castle at the heart of the estate however he found no one to greet him. Call as he might, none sought to make themselves known to him though he was given a warm meal and a hot fire to relieve him of his weariness. He could not escape the unnerving sensation that he was being watched and so after finishing his repast he left the castle, thanking his unseen host graciously before hurriedly retreating and mounting his horse once more. However he paused before leaving, seeing within the estate’s gardens a vine whose vibrant red roses stood out amidst the snowy landscape.
Thinking of his daughter, he lingered for a moment to pluck a rose and so was set upon by a great beast that called him thief in a terrifying roar. Despite his pleas, the father was dragged away and locked in a tower while his terrified horse fled back into the forest to brave the white wolves alone. Ultimately the horse would find its way back to the village despite the predations of the wolves lurking amidst the snowy forest and it was in this manner that the young woman from the village discovered her father was in danger.
Riding back upon her father’s horse, she found herself pursued by the wolves who hounded her to the gates of the castle which once more opened as they had done for her father. Alone and frightened, the young woman explored the castle in search of her father. She was guided in part by strange voices and what seemed to be footsteps ahead of her that she could never catch the owner of. She finally found her father, locked in a drafty cell where he was shivering violently. Unable to free him, she was soon confronted by the master of the castle.
The fearsome beast challenged her, telling her that she should leave and forget about her doomed father. She however refused demanding that her father be released in exchange for herself despite her fear. The beast mocked her offer at first, but then seemed to reconsider. However her father refused, demanding that she be let free and that he remain. The young woman begged to be allowed to say goodbye to her father and was granted her wish.
However the clever young woman tricked her father and their captor both, throwing him out of the cell and locking herself inside. She watched as the bestial master of the castle dragged her father from sight, crying that he not be harmed though her words seemed to fall on deaf ears. The father was thrown into a lavish carriage that picked itself up and carried him away from the estate, back to the village where he and his daughter lived. With her father gone and safe, the young woman began to consider her predicament and a means of escaping.
She was not afforded this opportunity however as she was approached by her captor who offered her a choice: remain in the frigid tower or retire to a proper bedroom. Confused by this sudden act of kindness and suspicious she nonetheless consented and was led to her new room. The beast demanded she join him for dinner before leaving her alone once more. It was in this way that she met the other members of the castle’s household.
One by one, the former staff of the castle revealed themselves in their enchanted forms to her. She marveled at their predicament as they explained the nature of their curse that they shared with their master. Though she offered to help them in any way she could, none of them would tell her how the curse might be lifted, telling her that instead she see to herself and her own wellbeing first. Though she refused to join the master of the castle for dinner, she resolved to explore it in the hopes of discovering more about the seemingly enchanted estate she now found herself a prisoner of. Quickly she discovered that she had free reign over the majority of the castle and that her father’s horse was stabled and well fed.
However when she attempted to explore the west wing of the castle she found the castle staff blocking her path. Unsure of why they would impede her, she devised a plan to trick them and slipped past their guard to explore the seemingly forbidden portion of the castle. Within it she found paintings of three brothers and began to suspect that the master of the castle was not who he seemed but in fact some monster that had killed the former owners of the estate though this did not explain why the castle staff was so loyal to him. The destruction she found within the halls of the west wing did nothing to convince her that her theory was incorrect, all around her were signs of the violence of the beast that bespoke to just how dangerous he was.
It was during this exploration that she came upon the beast who reacted to her violently. He roared for her to leave, bellowing and snarling in fury. Fearing for her life she fled from him and the castle both and despite the entreaties of the staff she saddled her father’s horse and fled into the woods surrounding the castle. However she did not know the way back through the woods and soon found herself cornered and surrounded by the same wolves that had hounded her when she’d first come to the castle. Alone and with nothing more than a broken tree branch to defend herself from the wolves she resolved that she would not die quietly and had made peace with her death when the bestial master of the castle arrived.
He fought against the wolves, the gruesome melee spraying red hot blood across the frozen snow. It was during the fighting that the young woman took note of one wolf in particular that watched the beast intently, waiting until he was distracted to attack. Despite her better judgment, the young woman called out to the beast in warning, saving his life but not before he was gravely injured. Finally fighting off the wolves, the beast collapsed in the snow with little more than a grunting groan.
It was in this moment that the young woman saw her chance to escape, however something in her urged her not to leave the beast to his fate and so with the help of her father’s horse she took him back to the castle. With the aid of the castle staff she was able to get him inside once more and treat his wounds and it was in this manner that she learned the full reality of the curse and who the three brothers she had seen in the paintings were. Horrified to learn of what she was now a party to, she promised the beast that she would help him break the curse in exchange for her freedom. The beast scoffed, but thanked her for the offer nevetheless though he could not tell her how the curse might be broken and the servants of the castle were seemingly at a loss themselves.
Over the following weeks and months the young woman continually asked the master of the castle and his servants incessant questions about their curse. Trying with all the ingenuity her father had fostered in her to find a means to break the curse. The questions seemed to drive the beast to irritation however he was obviously working to control his temper. Finally he told her that her questions were intolerable and rather than try fruitlessly to find answers from those that could not provide them that she look in the place where she might find what she sought.
It was then that he introduced her to the vast library within the castle and revealed that he himself was an avid reader as it gave him the chance to escape beyond his prison. This admittance on the part of the beast revealed a kinship that the young woman had not realized they shared and soon the pair of them were pouring over the books of the library in search of answers. They became lost in their studies together, both learning from the other as he shared with her his education and she her passion for knowledge. Soon the pair could be found walking the halls of the castle together or within the gardens reading to one another as they not only sought the answers that the young woman needed but also shared their favorite books and explored new titles together.
In the midst of all this the staff of the castle dared to hope that their master might find love in the form of the new friendship he had forged with his captive and did everything in their power to encourage and foster the burgeoning relationship between the pair. It was in this manner that they encouraged their master to celebrate the winter holiday with the young woman, though it was continually winter within the castle grounds the festivities gave them all reason for merriment amidst their predicament. Ultimately it was at the suggestion of his servants that the beast asked if the young woman would consent to a party being thrown in honor of her birthday. While she was hesitant to agree to it at first, citing that they had better things to do she consented.
Meeting upon the grand staircase, both the young woman and the beast were surprised by their respective partner as both made an effort to look their best. After a hesitant and awkward greeting the pair ate a lavish dinner prepared by the castle staff and then danced together until the night grew late and they retired to the balcony. It was in this moment that the young woman revealed her affection for the beast, telling him that he had become her first real friend and that she was grateful to have met him. However there was one thing that she wished for more than anything: to see her father again.
To her surprise, the beast told her that she might in fact be granted her wish and revealed to her one of the many enchanted items that his brother had left behind when he’d left the castle: a magical mirror that would let her see whoever she desired. She asked the mirror to show her father and was horrified to see that he had been locked away in the village jail. Desperate to free her father she begged the beast to let her go to him and to her surprise he granted her wish once more. Though she promised to return and help him lift his curse he shook his head and told her that she was freed of any commitment to him and was in turn granted her freedom.
He set out with her into the forest, giving her the mirror to remember him by, he told her to ride and not stop until she had left winter behind her. He would run through the forest to draw away the wolves that would seek her out otherwise. It was in this manner that they parted ways. The young woman rode in safety back to the village in which she had grown up and demanded her father be freed. However she was told that he had been locked up due to his apparent insanity as he had been raving for months about a beast and an enchanted castle where his beloved daughter was kept prisoner.
Desperate to free her father, the young woman pulled forth the enchanted mirror and revealed the beast to be real. However the image she saw in the mirror was not what she had hoped to show. Instead of the intelligent and noble creature she had come to call friend, the villagers witnessed the beast being savaged by a pack of winter wolves. The villagers watched in horror as the beast tore the wolves limb from limb before staggering off, bloodied and battered into the forest.
Afraid of this seemingly vicious monster now revealed to them the villagers turned to their hero to save them. The same man who had tried to court the young woman over and over again rose to the challenge, mustering the villagers and setting to lead them into the forest to kill the beast. The young woman pleaded with him to leave the beast alone and free her father but he refused, claiming that she had obviously been bewitched by the creature and should be locked away for her own safety. Taking the magical mirror from her, the villagers locked the young woman in the jail with her father and the pair could do naught but watch as the villagers marched off to kill the injured beast.
Despairing, the young woman revealed to her father the true nature of the beast and the curse he was under. She explained to her father what had happened between herself and the beast and ultimately how she had been able to return home to him through the beast’s act of kindness. It was in this moment that an unexpected savior arrived. The young scholar who had so often let the young woman borrow books from his limited study opened their cell door and upon freeing them turned to the young woman and asked if she in fact loved his brother.
Though she was confused at first, the young scholar revealed himself to be none other than the younger brother and enchanter of the cursed beast. He had hidden himself here in this village to watch over his brothers, both living and dead to see if they could in fact save themselves from their own nature. Shocked by this revelation, the young woman nevertheless answered that yes, she had fallen in love with the beast much to her father’s shock. Seemingly satisfied with this answer, the enchanter returned to them their horse and the young woman and her father set off to the castle in pursuit of the villagers and save the beast.
The young woman and her father arrived at the castle to find it under siege. The villagers in the midst of an assault upon it but they were rebuffed by the enchanted staff of the castle who seemed determined to defend their home even if it meant their own destruction. Making their way through the embattled grounds and ultimately into the castle itself, the young woman rushed ahead of her father into the west wing to find the injured beast lying helpless as the village’s hero stood over him. The beast was bloody and battered from his battle with the wolves and the so called hero was reloading his pistol as he readied to deliver a killing shot.
Seeing this, the young woman rushed forwards, throwing herself between the beast and his would be killer. She begged for the beast to be spared however her pleas fell on deaf ears as the man who had so often proclaimed to be in love with her leveled his pistol at her and fired. For a moment the young woman thought that she might die, but the beast threw her aside, jumping upwards as the bullet struck him in the breast, savaging his assailant with his fangs. The beast collapsed upon the body of his killer as the young woman rushed to his side, turning him over as she cradled his great head in her lap.
He gazed up at her tenderly, wondering at her sudden appearance and attempt to save him. In that moment she revealed her affections for him, telling him that she loved him. The beast seemed gladdened by this declaration and spoke to her of his own feelings. However even as he did so the light began to fade from his eyes as he told her that he was happy to have seen her one last time. The beast died in her arms and the young woman burst into tears, begging him not to leave her, not after they had both revealed their feelings for one another.
It was in this moment that the young woman’s father joined them, accompanied by the beast’s younger brother the enchanter. Both gazed down upon the scene before them, the former with horror and the latter seemingly without care. The young woman begged the enchanter to lift the curse and restore the beast to life however the enchanter said nothing in reply. Growing angry the young woman threatened the enchanter, accusing him of being no better than the brothers he had cursed.
He laughed at this, asking if she understood what it was she was asking of him. For in restoring his brother to life he would have to sacrifice his own. Shocked by this revelation, the young woman offered her own life in exchange for the beast’s. Her father immediately protested, standing between the enchanter and his daughter. He demanded that his life be taken instead so that his daughter might live happily with the beast she’d come to love.
The enchanter smiled at them, raising his hands and vanishing in a golden shower of light. Dazzled by the display, the young woman and her father were surprised to hear a voice behind them. Turning they found a young man lying where the beast had lain moments before. Rushing to the man’s side the young woman realized that the curse had been lifted and the man now awakening before her was the beast with whom she had fallen in love.
All around them the castle began to restore itself, the damage the beast had wrought upon it over the years was repaired as was that which the villagers had attempted in their attack. The veil of winter that had lingered over the castle grounds for so long was lifted, restoring the estate and the forest beyond it to their former glory. Within the forest, the frost wolves that had hounded all who entered the cursed woods faded away into the glowing sunlight, the soul of the eldest brother finally granted the peace so long denied to him. Within the castle walls the staff, once cursed into objects now became people once more, hugging one another and crying tears of joy.
The young woman came to greet all within the castle on the arm of its restored master, beaming as the staff rushed hug her joyfully. With the curse lifted, the castle became a center of happiness within the surrounding countryside and its master and mistress renowned for fostering the arts and learning both. A school was opened within the castle and the young woman became its headmistress while her doting husband assisted her in her lessons. Meanwhile her father was given his own workshop within the castle where he invented and tinkered to his heart’s content, creating many wondrous and fascinating things that were unrivaled in their ingenuity and creativity.
Ultimately the young woman and the master of the castle lived their lives together in great happiness and contentedness, having a family of their own in whom lived on their love of learning and the compassion and understanding whose lack had once so cursed the castle and all those that lived within it.