Once and many times, there lived a man who, devoting himself to beauty, swore that he would take no wife unless she was as beautiful as a rose. Finding no such woman, he turned all his efforts to his garden, which, through the work of his hands, soon grew to be the finest garden in the land of Aveiah. All kinds of flowers he cultivated, lilies and orchids and violets, but the loveliest by far was the wild rosebush that grew at the garden’s very edge. From the day he first observed it, the man gave it the best of his hours, and, though he did not quite neglect the rest of his garden, all his care was for the rosebush. Well tended, it grew tall and slender, and its blooms were the most beautiful that anyone had ever seen.
All of the man’s neighbors marveled at the roses and said that they would make a fitting bouquet for a bride, just as soon as the man chose a woman to be his wife. But the man had long ceased to think of women. Spending not only his days but his nights in his garden, sleeping next to the rosebush, under the stars, he let his house fall into disrepair. He grew strange and solitary, and soon his neighbors no longer came to marvel at the rosebush, which grew still. All through the long summer, it grew, and some of its stems thickened, while the rest grew fine and soft, and, as it grew, the rosebush seemed to take on the shape of a woman. And, early one autumn morning, the man woke to find a young woman standing where the rosebush had been.
The woman was tall and slender. Her lips were as red as roses; her eyes were as green as leaves, and the man called her ‘Sulisiera,’ which means ‘rose’ in Old Aveian. For her sake, he fixed up his house, repairing the broken floorboards and the roof that had fallen in. Yet Sulisiera preferred to be in the garden. The man gave her fine silken robes and gilded sandals for her feet, but she always went barefoot, and her slim, long feet were always caked with dirt. Though the man spoke to her often, she never made any reply. She knew the tongues of wind and sun and growing things, but not the speech of people.
The man resolved that they should marry. He carved a new bed for himself and his bride, and hauled the long tables out of his house and laid them with a great feast in the garden. Seeing that none of his neighbors had come to the wedding feast, the man frowned, but the thought of his new bride kept him from sorrow. He met Sulisiera in the garden, and there were roses in her hair, and she had never been so beautiful. The man gave her sprigs of mint and vowed that she should have his mint-days; he pressed long beans into her hands and swore that she should have his bean-days; giving her wheat, he promised that his wheat-days were hers. And he gave her vines and figs and flax, and, at the last, he gave her roses. Just before he could give his bride the fire of his hearth, his lantern went out, but the man paid this little mind.
Sulisiera said nothing, but lowered her head and seemed to nod, and the man embraced her. As he stood with his arms wrapped around her, he felt her skin turn cool. Her hair grew vine-like, and, before the man could draw back, long thorns erupted from her skin and pierced him where he stood.
Soon snow fell and covered them both. The birds devoured the wedding feast; the roof caved in again and crushed the marriage bed. When spring came to the garden, there was only a rosebush, growing, wild, around a few pale bones.
Serafina Rogers is the author of a forthcoming poetry collection, A Witch’s Education. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of literary magazines, including Antiphon, Aji Magazine, and The Bookends Review. “The Rose Bride” is an excerpt from her currently unpublished novel, The Witch of Adravy.
Artwork: Bella Kotak, Sleeping beauty