Speak my name.
This story was begun in 2017. I felt inspired, but things changed, and I dropped it until recently.
I was in Wales with golf buddies. I noticed a single rose blossom in the short rough on the “links” between the sea and usable land.
I think it is fitting this story was finally finished in Cornwall.
The Welsh Rose
Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a lone Welsh rose. The rose lived along the saltwater strand in Anglesey. Anglesey, the magic island that seems to reach toward the west over the Irish Sea and past the Emerald Isle to far lands that some called Tír na nÓg before words were written as they are in these times. Tír na nÓg, a land many spoke of, but that none had ever seen.
The rose usually lived by the sea. Usually, that is, for the rose was enchanted and could move about at will. All of Wales was her domain.
Yes. For she was also the queen of all she surveyed. And all of Welsh nature served her when she wished.
In those times, she was the only rose in all those lands. And she often wondered, “Am I the only one of my kind? I have seen no others like me in all these lands. Nor have the kings and queens of Cornwall and Brittany, Galicia and Hibernia, the Picts and Celts, Caledonia, Lyonesse, and all the isles—all I have taken to council anywhere. They have all said they have met none like me.
“But I feel I have always been here. I remember the sun dawning long ago on a land of bare rock. I had long been in the dark, but then I felt the warmth, and I saw the light through the soft walls surrounding me, and I felt it was safe to open myself. And when I looked about, all I saw everywhere around me was rock and sea. And somehow, I knew my life’s work was to bring living things from the darkness and find the places where they could thrive in my queendom. For that was my work, that was my joy, that was my destiny.
“Yet, once my realm was fully alive—and all the colors of the rainbow thrived amongst and around the beautiful gray and black mountains and rocky seashores—I looked about and wondered what there was left for me. I only need to check on my lands from time to time. I only need to assure the balance is as it should be for green and earth, blue and white, red and rust, gray and black. That the sun would have enough yellow flowers to reflect the light he pours upon my land. That the silver rain has mountain streams, rivers and lakes to receive it.”
“I’ve done my mission so well that my land no longer needs her queen so very much. It practically runs itself!”
Then she would often go to the far coast of Anglesey. She would face the west. The sun would hurry across the sky from the east each day to look back upon her face. For indeed, the sun thought the rose was the most beautiful creation he shone upon. And when the sun would settle for the night—far off in the Irish Sea—he would give her one last look. He would bathe her in gold before blinking out far away and below the horizon.
Then she would sigh and wrap her petals about herself. She would nod her head and rest. And dream.
But the rose was sometimes—too often—sad. Despite the friendship of the sun and all the plants and creatures that now covered the lands and filled every space between the seaside rocks and mountains, she was lonely in her rest. She felt alone in her success.
“What is next?” she would sigh each night and look with longing to the west. For somehow, she knew there was something far away out there. Something she should know.
Years went by, or were they decades? Centuries? Time was endless long ago. Seasons came and went, but the sadness did not. It lingered like a weighty shadow just out of sight.
Then one year as spring was blending into summer, strange things began appearing on the shores. Creatures and plants and objects that the rose had never seen before. Some were dead or dying. Those that were not were ugly aggressive things. They would push out anything in their way. Or overgrow her friends and companions, choking them. Creatures slithered up from the depths and sought prey among the flora and fauna that lived and grew in such balance and harmony.
And in the west sometimes, the sky was tinted green. Sometimes gold. Harsh lights appeared. Can light be ugly? Can light be dark? These were. Then the lights would battle—flashing on and off. It had never been like this before.
And some tides brought different waters surging in. Gray black. Those shoals clashed with native waters. Tide smashed against tide. Wild water brought up dead or dying things which were cast upon the shore. She had the land shiver to shake these dread demons back into the water. The ground shook in its distress, and nothing was happy.
The sea often sizzled like a frying pan off the shores of Anglesey.
Times were anxious in the land of the rose.
One day, the sun came over the eastern horizon as he always did. It was a dim day, as if a shadow was trying to darken the world. At its end, when the sun had sailed his course to the distant west, he disappeared into a black horizon.
The next morning, he rose again and crossed the sky. This day, the blackness on the horizon had grown larger. When then the sun crossed into that blackness, all the light in the world went out.
So it continued each day. The western sky was like an approaching black wall.
Then one day, she awoke, and there was no sunrise. The land all about her was bathed in black darkness. The high noon was just a dim gray light. There was no color in the land any longer.
The next day was worse. As was the next and the next.
Then a rumble was heard like distant drums pounding constantly far away.
Each day, the sound became louder; it seemed to come closer.
Then with the sound followed wind. It blew stronger and stronger each day.
One day (or night—it was impossible to tell) there was a big explosion just to the west. More explosions and flashes of jagged light ripped and tore at the sea and sky.
Stronger, stronger… violent whirlwinds scoured the land. The rose struggled to stay upright and remain in the earth.
Howling, screaming, flashing explosions, booms and crackles. The wind a storm unstoppable. The island made sounds of ripping and tearing.
Lightning bolts smote the land, and in their brief illumination, she could see things—just for a moment before all became dark frenzy again. Ugly, monstrous things that reached and tore and destroyed.
Later, in those moments of light, the rose looked all about. All about her was swept bare.
She stood strong against the maelstrom. She felt that if she could only resist, there would be some hope.
But the onslaught never abated. It gained strength in its victories.
At last, she weakened. Despair set in, and she felt there was no resistance left in her.
She felt she was being swept away as well. Her roots were being pulled from the earth.
Then a light. A pure white light flashed by her.
“Give voice,”—the words came from near her.
What did that mean?
She did not know what those words meant, but at last she faced the wind and rain and roars. She let her petals open fully, unconcerned they might be stripped away. And when she had opened completely, a mouth opened in the center of her.
“Give voice now,” a voice from somewhere and nowhere and everywhere said confidently, urgently.
“Why is my land being assaulted?”
The rose had a voice! It was at first weak and a bit shaky.
Whence it came, she did not know. But she knew she must let loose her royal commands.
The rose, seeming much taller and stronger then, stood firm upon the ramparts of her land.
The fury raged round and over her.
“Who assaults this land?!”
Louder, stronger this time.
Those words nearly out spoke the storm’s screams.
“Who assaults my land!?!”
The storm seemed to abate a little. The rushing crashing waves ebbed a bit.
“Who are you!?”
The storm hesitated, spluttering and splashing.
“Show yourself. I command this land, its sea and sky!”
Her proclamation was louder than the tumult all around.
The storm paused.
She then saw a face filling the sky. An ugly twisted face.
“I know you now!!” she roared. “I have seen you in the dreams of my beginnings.”
She saw the strength in that face falter, as if it was a mask and what lay behind its bravado was a coward and a bully.
Then the storm seemed to make a deep inhalation before retreating a bit, and then with a scream, water and wind and earth and fire fell from the sky and smashed upon all the land.
But the land was already blasted, and all this power smashed itself upon the rocks and mountains. It spread, covered and then dissipated into pieces which drained off into the sea.
The sun began to appear. His heat and light seemed to burn away the remaining damp shadows.
It was early morning, and the waters calmed and receded. The wind turned to a gentle breeze. The tortured land rested. Weary, battered, but somehow victorious in its last resistance.
The rising sun peeked over from the east. All he saw was barren rock. All the land was stripped of flora and fauna. Not a bird, not a sapling, nor blade of grass was to be seen.
And the sun said, “This land is once again as it was long ago.”
He rose a bit higher, and his first golden light lit upon two bits of color on a small lonely patch of links land not far from the lapping waters. It was surrounded by stones and bedrock.
And the sun said, “It is the rose. She somehow survived this devastation.”
And as slowly as the sun climbed, so the two bits of color seemed to straighten and grow. They stood only a couple of paces apart. They both turned and raised their heads to face the morning light. And so slowly, did they also begin to open and unfurl their petals.
And as the other’s face was beginning to be revealed and could be recognized, the sun said, “Another? I have never seen another here before. Not here.”
For it was a white rose.
“I have only shone upon white roses in the far, far west before now,” the sun said.
And when both roses had raised their heads to face the sun full on, and as their petals opened completely, the queen was able to look over and see she was not alone. And she saw who it was that stood with her.
“You are a man?”
For though she had never seen such a flower, she knew.
“A prince, your highness.”
“And you know me?”
“You are well known where I come from.”
“Are there many like us there?”
“There are many that look like me.”
“There are none there like you. None left.”
“That is a long tale, your highness, and must wait.”
And, as the sun reached deeper into the west, a band of light was reflected back toward the east. White, gold and green. The band stretched along the horizon as far as the eye could see from south to north.
The queen spoke wearily and dejectedly, “Are we being invaded now?”
“Ships, your highness. Our ships.”
And soon, each mast and sail could be discerned.
The fleet fairly flew in upon the western winds. It was golden sailed. The hulls alternatively green and white.
And as the fleet approached, one ship advanced to the fore.
Soon, individual men could be discerned at the bow and rails.
Their hair was silver white. Not the gray of age, but the shine of soft flowing precious metals.
All were clean-shaven, but for one foremost in the bow.
His beard fell below his chin and neck to the top of his breastbone. It blew left and right and sometimes split as the breezes changed.
The ship beached in the black-pebbled sea stones just off the shore. The bearded man leapt onto the shore.
The rose saw his face was as young as all the others, but the eyes that fell upon her seemed thousands of years old.
Instinctively, she bowed her head, as did her companion.
“Rise, my queen. You bow to none such as us. You bow to none from the west to the east.
She straightened then and felt herself grow higher and broader. And when she looked down, she saw she had become a maiden.
Her gown was of pink velvet with piping of rose red and gold.
Her eyes moved farther down.
She raised one gold sandal and then the other. She then did so again.
She then turned her gaze to the left and saw the white rose was half a head taller than her.
His hair was silver white.
He turned and faced her, and she saw his eyes were as golden as the center that had grown from his core as a flower. A circlet of gold rested about his crown and temples.
He was clad in all white silk. The seams were raised and green as thornless rose stems.
‘He is beautiful,’ she thought. ‘As fair as the rose he once was.’
He turned, and their eyes met—so briefly—for she quickly turned away.
The lord of the fleet approached the prince.
“‘Twas the queen, my lord. When she called upon the darkness to reveal itself, it was forced to show its face for all to see. Once it was exposed, its power was broken. It fell from the heavens and smashed itself upon the mountains.”
The queen listened and knew she had heard that voice before.
“Was it your voice I heard through the tumult?”
“I was sent from the west. I was able to pass through the blackness as a rose sprig. I took root upon your shore alongside you. I… I was… onnn… honored to be near you. I was… impressed… with your leadership and care for the plants and creatures on your lands.”
“And you spoke to me during the worst? I felt then I was about to be swept away.”
“Yes, I did. I was standing next to you.”
“You said, ‘Give voice.'”
“Aye. I did.”
“I did not know I had a voice. You knew I had a voice?”
“Aye. From long, long ago. Many things the enchanter could suppress. You called the darkness to reveal itself. And when the enemy’s visage was exposed, your next voice smote its power.”
“It is gone then?”
“Yes. Your enchantment is over.”
“And my land. My poor island. It was a garden for so many creatures and plants.” Her voice caught, and then a sob escaped. “I… I can cry now?!” she exclaimed in astonishment. She raised a hand and touched the tear falling down her face.
“Yes. A flower cannot weep nor can it laugh. You now have the power of both. And your land? We have brought shiploads of plants and seeds. We will spread and sow them across the barren stone. We will plant your fields and forest anew. The trees will grow swiftly, for they come from the enchanted islands to the west. Your home of long ago, my lady. Soon, this land will be rich with green and the colors of the rainbows, rainbows that will arc over this island each day. Look above us! Here is the first! The skies, even the heavens, are no longer enslaved. The flicker of life you held in your blossom has enlightened the deepest depths and highest heights.”
“But my friends—all swept away.” She gazed round herself at the lifeless land.
“Ships are close, bearing two of each bird and beast that dwelt here before. Soon, the sky and the ground will be alive with all that were here before.”
She suddenly felt weak, overwhelmed, but knew she could not sink to her knees. That would not be seemly, though weariness and the weight of all that had occurred came down upon her suddenly.
“Ahhh, but you have done much work. Body and soul. You must rest now. See over there? We have put up a pavilion for you.”
She followed his gaze, and there, just down the shoreline, was a vast tent of dark purple with thick golden seams and piping.
“Go. Rest. You have done great deeds this day. Your deeds have long held the darkness at bay. This day, you have won freedom for the west to the east. Tonight, we will have a feast, a festival! Ladies will bring you garments fitting for your place here.”
Later, as the sun began to set over the sea and the ships at sea, the shoreline became alive with figures carrying food and firewood. Tables. Casks of wine and ale.
Hundreds of torches were set in the ground. Soon they were alight! The festival ground was a circle. It was 311 paces in diameter. In its center, a stone circle had been raised. That was 31 paces across. Tables were set around just beyond the circle’s edge. In its center was a circular stage. Soon musicians took to the boards and began to play.
The queen was led to the high table at the far side of the circle. She was given the center chair whose back was the highest. The stage was directly across from her. From there, she could look over people and the shore and the ships and out to sea—the west. High and far to her right was Polaris, the north star. High above, Orion stood, his club raised in his hand far above his head. Soon, people began dancing round the stone circle. They carried long thick silk bands. Some were purple. Others gold. As more joined the dance, the ribbons became held at their ends and a circle of gold and purple light ran round and round.
She thought she had heard the songs before. Or perhaps they were the sounds of nature plucked from the spheres and distilled into melodies and notes. Jugs of wine came, and men and women poured the liquids, some golden others purple, into goblets before each seat, all 1311 of them. Firelight twinkled on the flowing liquid. The wine glowed back in response, as if it was alive, living light.
Soon, much of the dancing gave way to laughing and singing, though some continued while others left and others joined.
The musicians began playing songs that many began to sing along with. The rose thought she had heard many of the words before. They spoke of lands and histories that resonated with her at some deep level, just below memory and consciousness.
The feast went on for hours.
The rose found herself tiring. Actually, more weak than tired. She nodded and had difficulty keeping her head up. She allowed herself to be led to her pavilion. A woman assisted her on either side. One was clad in green velvet. The other in blue silk.
In her pavilion, they walked to her bed. It was tall and plush. She lay down on it and swung her legs up.
Legs… they felt so strange. And feet … she thought how strange it was not to be tethered to the earth.
Dreams came. Visions of a mother and father. Three sisters and three brothers. There were terrific battles. She saw thousands slain. Then she remembered. She had been in a palace. Her mother came to her room. She had a grievous wound along her neck and shoulder.
Her mother spoke, “My youngest Rose. You are all this is left of our family and clans. You must survive and carry our line on alone.”
“Mummy?” the little girl spoke in a tiny voice.
Her mother leaned over her. She spoke words the little girl had never heard before. Her mother laid her hands upon her temples. She felt life pouring into her through her mother’s hands. She became smaller and smaller until she was no bigger than a pip. A rose pip. She saw her mother take her between finger and thumb. A soft whistle, and a white dove flew to her mother’s hand. The dove gently took the rose pip into her beak and rose into the air. As she was flown away, she looked back and saw her mother fall to the floor and melt away to nothing. She tried to call to her, but had no voice.
The dove flew her through storms and tumult eastward. She flew for days and nights over a barren ocean.
On the fifth sunrise, an island appeared. The dove descended and landed on its western shore. The bird scratched into the sand just above the tideline. Into the soft depression, she gently set the pip. The sun shone warmly upon the spot. The dove covered the pip, then took flight and returned westward. She flew nineteen days and nights. On the twentieth, she alighted on the uppermost wall of a brilliant white castle’s keep. A young man clad in silver gabardine reached out to her and stroked her back gently. Gently.
He leaned in toward the bird and listened. He listened for hours and hours.
Then the bird rose up into the air and flew west, chasing the setting sun.
The far west where there is nothing known to man.
“I wonder if that magic fowl knows a land beyond our westernmost travels? A place west of the west?”
Then the young man called his father and related the story the bird had sung to him.
Her dreams and visions answered and posed many questions that night.
The sun rose, and with him, so did the queen.
The feast lasted seven nights and seven days. As the seventh day became the eighth night, a council came and met with her in her pavilion.
“Our work is done here, your highness. We have planted the plants. We have settled the creatures. This land is in your care again for as long as you feel it is needed.”
She bowed her head solemnly.
“I understand. It will be lonely here. But then I am accustomed to that. And there is much to do, I am sure. I must help the land rebalance. Only then can all things grow and live and die and renew, so all life can be sustained.”
It was a quiet solemn feast that night. Only forty-seven sat round the dais—the princes and princesses and captains, artisans and writers, singers and songwriters. For this night was to record the story of what had occurred here, so future generations would know of those dark years.
The next morning, she awoke to the sound of ropes creaking and wood striking wood. The sound of sailcloth rising, flapping and filling with wind.
She rose and stepped from her pavilion and looked to the shore.
The ships set sail. Each and every one. The rose stood on the western shore and wept silently at their departure. She had known companionship for the first time, and there it was leaving her. She raised her right arm in a saluting farewell. Then she sensed a presence next to her.
It was him. And he wore a golden crown which glittered in the morning sun. His blouse was the blue of the sky. His skirt the green of the grass. In his hands, he held a golden crown. It was greater than his own. It had three tiers. Upon it were representations of the sea, earth and sky.
“Your highness,” he spoke and bent his head. She took the crown and placed it upon her head, for she knew she must.
He stepped back three paces and knelt.
One thousand years passed. Or was it ten thousand? The land was rich with life yet again. It was also filled with roses of every hue in each corner of the land.
One spring day, the queen and prince met upon the shore of Anglesey and faced west.
“We can return now?” she asked. “Our work is finished?”
“Yes. We can pass to the west.”
And so their spirits rose and sailed to the west. And where they had stood, two roses grew. One red. One white. And there they grow to this day, their branches entwined as if in an embrace.