Friday, December 02, 2005

The Legend of the Winter Rose

Winter arrived about a week ago. It is a cold white and gray world out there, muted and softened by several inches of blanketing snow. Its arrival came in stages, as colder temperatures now and then, accompanied by brief and fleeting snowfalls that never stayed more than 10 minutes at a time under Fall's bright sun. Our weather remained mostly beautiful and clear and relatively warm through the Thanksgiving holiday, but on the night snowed.

"It's snowing, Shiloh! It's snowing!" my sister Kami called to me excitedly as she went through the house turning off any light she could to better see the snow fall.

I wheeled in to watch as well. The night outside was dark and calm, silent except for the muffled rumbles of the occasional vehicles traversing our street. The white lights decorating the lines of our rock house provided the perfect gentle illumination for viewing the snowfall. The flakes fell softly, not heavily but not lightly either. It was as if Mother Nature had decided, now that the harvest and Thanksgiving are over, it's time for her to rest, time for her to set the stage for what is supposed to be the Season of Peace, the Season of Remembrance and the time when we say farewell to the old year and welcome the new.

"It's beautiful, it's so beautiful," Kami kept saying as she settled on the loveseat positioned before the bay window.

Indeed it was. We just sat and watched the snowflakes fall for awhile.

In addition to being seasons of peace and of remembrance, Winter is a season of magic. Anything can and will most likely happen...if you believe. Such as a rose blooming in the middle of Winter.

I don't know why, but I'm enchanted by the idea. I have been ever since I read Kathleen E. Woodiwiss' A Rose In Winter a long time ago. Perhaps it's the very idea or image of something so fragile and beautiful as the rose surviving and flourishing when, logically, it shouldn't. Perhaps it's also because the idea appeals to my inherent desire or need to defy or beat the odds.

There is a legend of the Winter Rose, of how it got its name and why it blooms in the midst of Winter. From long, long ago, it's a tale of everlasting love, of remembrance and of magic.

The Legend of the Winter Rose
In the age of the gods, when the Aesir ruled Asgard and over the Northlands still, and long before the lands of Áshbjörn were united as one country, there lived a mighty warrior and lord named Haaken. Haaken was a tall, fierce man, with thick ebony tresses and eyes of steel gray that could pierce a man through to his very soul. He had everything a Viking lord and warrior ever wanted: power, success, the love and loyalty of his people, enemies who feared him and renown. He had everything...except the one person he loved and wanted the most...the Lady Lin.

An auburn-haired beauty with deep blue eyes, the intelligence to match a warrrior's and a strong will, Lady Lin was the daughter of a powerful chieftan who was also an enemy of Lord Haaken. There was no way her father would ever allow her to be with and marry an enemy. Besides which, her father, Lord Erik, had plans for his daughter's future: Lin would marry the son of a neighboring chieftan, thereby solidifying an alliance between the two clans. Theirs was a secret and forbidden love.

Defiant and distraught over her father's decision, Lady Lin refused to meekly obey. The very thought of wedding with an arrogant, spineless, mean-spirited whelp when she could not be with her own true love was unthinkable. Angered by her adamant refusal, Lord Erik locked Lin in her room to await the wedding day. Desperate to be free, to escape and be with her love, Lin wrote a missive to Lord Haaken, telling him of her father's plans. A loyal servant sympathetic to her plight, who had also helped the lovers tryst many times before, took her ring to show Haaken and the letter, escaping into the cold winter day, pretending to be on an errand for her father. He rode hard and fast to the warrior's keep, knowing each day counted, as the wedding was only days away and the preparations already begun.

He arrived at Lord Haaken's two days later, tired and near frozen, his horse near collapse. When Haaken saw who it was at his door, he hastily took the servant in, giving him food and wine and blankets to warm him up while demanding news of Lin. The servant gave him both the ring and the letter. As he read his lady's brief message, the Viking warrior vowed he would be the only one to have her as his wife. He quickly devised a plan to liberate the Lady Lin from her father's home and to take her someplace safe. He would find sanctuary for them both, marry her and make Lin his wife in every way before bringing her home. Then, if her father and his men caught up with them, they couldn't rightfully take her back. She would be his.

Making the necessary preparations for a quick departure, Lord Haaken gathered food, wineskins, extra furs and blankets for warmth, his sword, dagger and any other supplies he and his beloved might need in their flight. Leaving orders for his household and people, he left his younger brother in charge, barely giving his lady's servant time enough to rest and a fresh horse before they took off to rescue Lady Lin.

They made it to her father's the day of the wedding. The confusion and hubbub of extra guests and servants worked in the men's favor to blend in wih the crowd. Disguised as a servant, Lord Haaken followed Lin's man through the throng to Lin's room. There, they found a guard at her door.

"This man is here to relieve you," the servant told the guard with an authoritive tone. "We will make sure the bride makes it to her wedding."

The guard looked from the servant to Haaken and back again, as if trying to decide if they truly were about Lord Erik's orders. The two men waited in silence for him to come to a decision, although Lord Haaken wanted nothing more than to take his hidden dagger and introduce its gilded hilt to the man's temple, and, having rendered him unconscious, take the keys to free his lady. Frustration welled up within his chest and his heart pounded with urgency, but he let none of this show as he and his ally waited. He merely stared at the sentinel, making sure his stance was relaxed yet alert. He needed to be ready to attack quickly if the man suspected anything amiss.

But apparently he did not, for after a few moments of deliberation and one last glance at Haaken, he nodded and murmured something about rest. He'd been on guard all night and most of the morning. He was glad to be done guarding an unhappy and unwilling bride. Giving the keys on an iron ring to Haaken, he wandered off in search of a remote and quiet place to rest. Dismissing him immediately from their minds, the servant and the warrior tried several keys before one fit and turned easily in the look.

As the door swung open to her prison, Lady Lin spun around in her wedding finery, ready to fight and rebel all the way to the altar. If she saw a chance, she'd run for it, she'd decided. But there was no need to. There, in her doorway, was the most welcome sight ever: her beloved Haaken, dressed in servant's clothing and her best friend and servant standing beside him. Her heart leaped and fluttered with hope and joy.

With a welcome cry she opened her arms and ran to her lord. Lifting herself on tiptoes and melting into his embrace, they exhanged a quick kiss loaded with promises of the future. Glancing furtively down the hall in either direction, watching for people, the servant cleared his throat and touched Haaken's arm.

"There's time enough for that later," he said softly and urgently. "We need to get you both away from here now."

The lovers nodded and broke away. Pretending to be the guards come to get the willful bride, the men positioned themselves on either side of her and firmly took hold of her arms. Each was playing a part, and each knew they had to be convincing. The servant had to act confident and authorative, belying his nervousness and fear. The bride had to look and act sullen and rebellious, tears of happiness hopefully being mistaken for those of sorrow, hiding the triumph, hope, love and joy she secretly felt. The lord had to consciously alter his bearing and watch where he set his gaze, knowing those things could give him away as a lord.

No one questioned them as they made their way down corridors, seemingly on their way toward the Great Hall and the wedding, for almost everyone was gathered there. The three knew they had to hurry. The real guards and Lord Erik, who should've escorted the bride to the ceremony, would come soon enough and find her gone. The lovers needed to be away, with a good head start. Instead of taking the last turn toward the staircase leading to the Great Hall, they turned right, and Lady Lin hurriedly led them down another hall and into her father's solar. She walked to the far wall and touched a secret spot an inch above her head on her right. A narrow door opened outwardly in the wall, revealing a black gaping maw--the entrance to the family's escape tunnel.

Taking and lighting a torch to illuminate the way, Haaken followed Lin into the drafty, chilly and musty passageway. Her servant brought up the rear as the door closed behind them, enclosing them all in silence. The passageway was narrow and dim, the flickering torchlight casting a warm orange glow along the walls and creating dancing shadows as they went. After they'd gone aways, the floor sloped down as the tunnel led to the right, heading toward the bay and the exit.

Finally making it safely out and away from her father's keep, the three hurried to where the men had hid the fresh horses they'd taken from Lord Erik's stables before entering his home. Haaken helped Lin mount a chestnut steed, then threw a fur-lined cloak about her shoulders for warmth. The horse, restless, did a few prancing sidesteps, wanting to run. Lin said her tearful goodbyes to and thanked the young man who had grown up with her, who'd been her best friend and loyal servant. Haaken, now mounted on a dappled gray gelding, touched Lin's knee and away they rode.

They hadn't gone too many miles before the bride and the two horses were discovered missing. Enraged, Lord Erik, his would-be ally and the groom gathered men together to question everyone and to search. One of the men loyal to the neighboring and guest chieftan found the tracks left by the two horses in the snow some ways away from the main hall. Horses were saddled and mounted, and the chase began.

Haaken's plan was simple. He and the Lady Lin would ride to the keep of his nearest ally and request sanctuary. There he would ask a priest to marry them, finally uniting them as lord and lady wife. They rode on and on, long into the afternoon and into a forest. They were hours away from his friend's still when the warrior noticed an approaching snow storm darkening the sky. He needed to find them shelter, and soon.

His worries were compounded then, because they began to hear the distant thundering of pounding hooves somewhere behind them. "Father!" Lin cried fearfully. The horsemen, despite the snow, were coming hard and fast after the two lovers, gaining on them.

Desperately, the two spurred their horses faster, heading deeper into the darkening forest and hoping they'd find shelter and a perfect hiding place. But it seemed as if the rising wind was on the side of the men chasing Lord Haaken and Lady Lin; they were closing in like fiends from a nightmare.

Just as the first snowflakes fell from a leaden sky, the runaway bride and her love came to a spacious clearing, and there in the center, was a beautiful, magnificent palace. If they could just make the open gates and request sanctuary, they'd be safe! Riding as hard as their horses were capable of, the two raced toward and through the gates at last. Lin was ahead of Haaken and reined her protesting horse in with difficulty. At her lord's sudden cry of pain she reeled her mount around and screamed. Lord Haaken had fallen from his steed just inside the palace gates. A black arrow protruded from his back. The riders were coming ever closer.

Jumping down and running to her dying lord, tears blurring her vision, the lady snapped the end of the arrow off and then, with as much strength as she could muster, pulled the remaining part from the body of her lover. Turning him over gently, heedless of his blood staining her hands and clothes, she cradled him in her arms, sobbing.

"Oh beautiful, mighty Freya, goddess of love!" the Lady Lin cried. "Spare my love! Help us!"

"I cannot," said a voice sadly, a few feet to the grieving bride's left. As her attention had been on her fallen warrior and the men riding towards the palace, Lin had not seen the beautiful flaxen-haired woman dressed in pink walk down the palace steps into the courtyard. "I do not have that ability. He is headed for Valhalla and will be welcomed there with honor."

"NO!!!" sobbed Lin of the Broken Heart. "He cannot leave me! Please!"

"My love, please do not mourn so," Haaken said softly, his hand cupping her cheek. "With my sword in hand...I'm headed for Valhalla...and we will be together...again someday."

As his gray gaze dimmed and he spoke his dying words, Freya went to the gray gelding, retrieving the warrior's magnificent sword, which she gently handed to him. For a Viking warrior cannot enter Valhalla without his sword. The men who'd given chase had dismounted and gathered 'round the four near the gates.

Haaken whispered one last "I love you," before breathing his last, his hand dropping to the snow as his soul entered Valhalla at last.

Seeking to console the heartbroken lady, Freya, that kind and most beautiful goddess, touched her shoulder. "Your love will not be forgotten," she said, sympathy and compassion in her pale blue eyes. "Look you there." She pointed to a withered, snow-blanketed rosebush near the wall of her courtyard.

Before every pair of astonished eyes, a withered rose that had been touched by the blood of Lord Haaken began to bloom a deep red. The snow had begun falling heavier now, and a snowflake landed gently on an opening petal. There, it mixed with a tear that had fallen from the Lady Lin's wet face. Another amazing thing happend. Where the snow and tear touched the rose turned white, leaving only the edges red.

"From this time forth, this rose shall bloom as a symbol of your everlasting love, of remembrance and of magic," the goddess proclaimed. "For as long as this rose continues to bloom, your love will always be remembered."

She took Lady Lin in as a lady-in-waiting, and Lord Haaken's body was returned to his family and clan. He received a proper Viking send off, being dressed in his finest robes and furs. With his sword placed in his hands, the mourners put him gently in a boat, set it on fire and adrift.

To this day, on the anniversary of Lord Haaken's death, the rosebush in Freya's courtyard brings forth one perfect white rose edged in red even though it is Winter.


At 10:35 PM, Blogger Lois said...

On reading "The Legend of the Winter Rose" I was reminded to way back in 1979 when a friend wrote this story,for me and all her friends at the Community House where we worked and learned
"I am a romantic ,for all my years I have longed for a life that bears no relationship to my reality.
I watched the film Camelot the other night and I found my heart aching for the type of love portrayed.
The warm,caring acceptance of King Arthur for Guinevere,regardless of her love affair with Lancelot
Oh the marvellous depth and height you could experience with a love like that!
Do you know the sillest part of all is that I believe I could receive and return such a love"

Shiloh this friend went on to leave a marriage ,live with a younger man ,walk on white sand beaches ,travel the world much to the dark looks and disdain from family and friends....
Marg died 4 years ago from Cancer while living her dream in another far away country where the sun always shines..
Your story reminded me so of her....I hope she found the love she so wanted and needed
Lois (Muse of the Sea)

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Shiloh said...

Lois, I hope your friend that love too. I am what I call "a hopeful romantic." I believe in such a love, but it is very rare. That is what makes it special, though. I too am waiting and hoping for such a love.


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