The Whisper and the Rose.
A warrior was returning from a long war, one that he no longer believed in. He was tired and felt himself growing older. He was walking across a barren and desert place. His horse walked beside him with a drooping head. They had seen oasis after oasis but all springs and wells were dry and the water supply they carried was running very low. They had an urgent need for water. As the sun sank and the desert chill of night began they saw a crumbling sandstone palace ahead and plodded towards it.
Passing through the gate, the palace seemed deserted. Water ran from the mouth of a stone lion and into a pool on the other side of the courtyard. The warrior felt he had never seen a more beautiful clear water. It twinkled, reflecting the sunlight and distorting the blue and gold mosaic patterns around in the fountain bowl. He licked his parched lips and hastened toward it.
”Not so fast!” a man’s voice said. The warrior spun around, his hand on the hilt of his sword.
An old man advanced toward him through an archway. As the warrior looked around he saw people peeping at him from behind the carved screens around the inner wall but as his eye fell on them they scurried away.
The old man looked strong despite his age. He walked with a very upright, straight back and a manner of great self-assurance. His robe was richly embroidered, dark hues against black, but it was faded, as if the sun had bleached its colours almost entirely away. He held a black staff in his hand that glimmered slightly but he had no other weapon. He smiled grimly.
”I do not forbid a stranger and his horse refreshment Sir” he said ”But be warned that if you drink of this water you will place yourself in the debt of all who dwell here.”
”Very well,” said the warrior, ”Even if I can deny myself water I would not deny my horse. What payment do you require to settle such a debt?”
”I will but ask that you do me a simple favour,” said the old man. ”Now drink Sir.”
The warrior walked with his horse to the fountain and stood aside while his horse sank his muzzle into the water and drank a long time. When his horse had finished the warrior took a brass bowl that hung on a chain and dipped it into the fountain several times and drank until his great thirst was quenched.
The warrior then lived amongst the people of the palace for many days and no favour was asked of him. They lived a simple life. They kept goats and chicken and a few sheep but, in the evenings, when they sat around the fire together they made no music and if any told a story it was dark and grim and no-one ever smiled. Only the men sat close to the fire. The women sat a little way off, their faces veiled. They all wore sad grey robes and only the old man’s robe was embroidered.
It became clear that they rarely saw strangers and that it was long since they had travelled anywhere for trade.
After a few days of this grim life the old man came to the warrior.
”I ask you now to return a favour in exchange for our hospitality.”
”Yes, as I promised,” said the warrior.
”I want you to guard the stone box you see at the centre of the courtyard,” the old man said, gesturing toward the box.
”You will guard it alone every night and you must ignore anything you hear. Don’t trust any voice.”
”Very well,” said the warrior, looking perplexed.
”Don’t worry about this,” said the old man, leaning a little on his black staff. ”All that is in the box is a rose that grows beneath the ground and gains its light through the filigree stonework of the box. Also I want you to water it each morning. This must be done without fail so that it does not die.”
The warrior did as he was bid, taking a lantern with him. He stood beside the box and put the lamp on the floor beside the box. He peered in and was surprised to see that the rose was black. He wasn’t quite sure if this was caused by darkness and shadow but it seemed to be so.
As the moon reached the apex of the sky he heard a quiet whisper.
”Let it die.”
By the morning he thought he had only imagined the whisper and he took a pitcher of water and poured some down on the rose.
The next night the same thing happened. The whisper came again and said,
”Trust me. You don’t know what you do. Let this black rose die.”
The warrior watered the rose at dawn and went to the old man and told him what he had heard.
The old man just shrugged, ”I told you not to listen. This whispering voice is a strange illusion that afflicts all who guard the rose and it lies. The rose must not die. Our lives depend upon this. This place is under a spell and the black rose is our protection.”
Night after night the warrior guarded the rose. He even forgot his own journey and he turned a deaf ear to the whisper that came in the moonlight. Weeks and months passed.
One night the whisper sobbed and said,
”You are blind. Let the rose die. This man keeps us prisoner in our own lands. You know nothing of this place. You think he helps you. This water is free to all but for this man who stole my home. You have been tricked into an evil. Let the rose die and set me free.”
In the morning the warrior watered the rose but his heart was heavy and his mind perplexed. He realised he had no idea who lied and who told the truth. He had no way of knowing. He thought it might be wiser to trust a man than trust a whisper in the night. He decided to continue to keep his promise but he didn’t speak to the old man about it again.
The next night the whisper came again, sounding frustrated,
”If you don’t listen to me you will become as bad as them! You are falling under the same curse.”
For the first time the warrior spoke back to the whisper.
”Why do you say that?” he said.
”Do you feel any wish to travel on and reach your home, as you did when you arrived? Don’t you see that nothing grows here but the rose? There is no music, no laughter. The place is grim and barren with no life and it’s the same for miles around this place. All is barren and deserted. No plant lives but this rose. You are strong and could ride away and yet you stay. Ask yourself why!”
The night passed and the warrior watered the rose at dawn as always. But all next day he thought. He wondered why he had not resumed his journey. He was even starting to neglect his horse. This startled him. He vaguely recalled that he never neglected his horse. He finally felt suspicious and a little as if he was waking from slumber and he resolved to speak when the voice whispered to him again that night.
He went to tend to his horse with extra care before he went to his guard post by the box that night. He felt sad that he had not spent as much time with his horse of late. The horse snorted and pushed against him. He rubbed his horses ears thinking perhaps it was time they just left this place, but he felt so lethargic the instant he thought it.
The warrior walked to his guard post feeling more tired than he ever had before. When the moon hung high in the sky he thought he saw a faint glimmer out of the corner of his eye. The feeling that someone was there grew stronger and he saw the glimmer again.
Then he heard the whisper.
”I beg you not to water that rose before you become truly like the rest of them! I know you feel it beginning now. Don’t water the rose. You only have to fail to water it once and I and my people will be released. Remove this terrible enchantment!”
The warrior suddenly heard in her voice the urgent honesty with which she spoke. His instinct told him she spoke the truth.
When dawn came he left the rose dry and turned to walk away. He heard a tremendous crack behind him as the courtyard split across the centre and up from the ground coiled the rose, on a stem as thick as an arm. The huge rose bent down its hideous, heavy head above him. It had fangs like a serpent.
The warrior drew his sword and hacked at the stem as the rose lashed about, snapping at him. The old man rushed into the courtyard shouting curses and pointed his staff at the warrior.
The warrior struck a mighty blow at the rose just beneath its massive head and it fell to the ground, spewing out an odious sap that made the warrior almost slip and lose his footing. In an instant the glimmer he had seen before appeared between the warrior and the old man and formed a shield that deflected a flash that shot from the staff toward him. The old man fell to the floor.
Behind the warrior from the box a beautiful white rose grew. It had a graceful stem that twined and swayed and many flowers were on it. From the glimmering shield the whisper spoke again.
”Warrior, pluck one white rose and throw it into my light.”
The Warrior acted fast and did as he was bid. The old man on the ground shrivelled up and vanished and a beautiful woman with the wings of a Fae stepped out from the light.
The beautiful Fae walked to the water fountain and filling a pitcher bought it back and watered the white rose and as she did so the people of the palace began to appear, looking bemused and rubbing their eyes, as if they just stepped out of a dream. They thronged toward the Fae. Slowly they all began to smile and talk. The courtyard was full of the wonderful, gentle perfume of the white rose.
The Fae stepped up to the warrior and gave him water from her pitcher and smiling she thanked him.
”You will soon see changes here” she said. ”Go to the walls and look out.”
The warrior climbed the stone steps that led up onto the parapet and looked out. As he watched he saw grasses and corn thrust up from the ground toward the morning sun and a spring arose from a rock a little way off and formed a pool that became a stream that ran out across the land.
He heard the water of a broken fountain at the gate begin to bubble. Birds appeared and bathed in it, splashing the water over their wings and dipping their heads. All the time plants were growing and he saw the land transform to the soft, fresh green of new growth where all had been desert before. He saw the beginning of the growth of trees nearby.
When he went back down to the courtyard there were children playing and a boy was playing a flute for girls who danced and chased each other, laughing. The men and women bustled about preparing a feast. The women had removed their veils and showed their lovely faces. The Fae sat beside the White Rose and smiled.
As soon as the feast was almost ready the people went to change into bright and colourful robes and they gathered flowers from a garden that had grown outside the gate and entwined them in their hair.
Soon there was food and music, laughter and dancing and all the time the Fae just smiled quietly beside the Rose. The festivities went on throughout the night, lit by lanterns and candles and the stars and moon that shone down from above.
In the morning the warrior went to the Fae and said,
”I will take my leave my Lady. I have delayed my journey far too long.”
The Fae nodded and plucked a rose. She handed it to him saying,
”This rose will never die and for as long as you live, or your children after you, you will never want for food or water, no matter where you are.”
The warrior placed his hand on his heart and bowed his thanks.
”I am only sorry to have tried your patience my Lady” he said.
”Ah no,” said the Fae with a wide smile, ”This was nothing. We had waited a thousand years for you to come. I admit I did begin to despair one night recently, but one night only. Hope never dies if you nurture it. It may lay deeply hidden, like a seed, but it can always grow. The name of this white rose is Hope.”
The warrior mounted his horse and rode out across the fertile land, the white rose in a pocket, close to his heart, as he kept it from then on.