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Memory in Her Toes

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Her first step is in a meadow. She won't remember it. Who remembers their first step after all? Tremulous. Toddling. Toppling. Plop the wee distance of tiny chubby legs on soft green blades of grass that bend at the blow. She falls. All children fall.

She sits in the grass, considering whether or not she should cry. She does. For a hiccup. It is just a hiccup of a wail. Her Aunts flutter in whirl around her. They urge her to try again. They don't want her to give up and only crawl. Her Aunt Flora thinks longingly of lost wings and flight.

Aunt Flora wants to use magic to move little toddler legs.

Aunt Merriweather says, "Then she'll never learn to walk at all."

Aunt Fauna says oh so quietly, "We can't give away where we are."

Briar Rose laughs. Children laugh after all at odd things and lights and sounds that no one else can see. Even princesses. Even girls half wild in the green wood.

She will not remember that her first step was on plush green meadow grass. She will not remember the red poppies with their velvet petals. She will not remember the white puffs with their strands like silk floating from the dogwood trees, which fretting, chiding, laughing Aunts avoid as if they were small enough to be tangled in such things. She will not remember the satin petals of the bluebells dancing on the breeze. She will not remember the delicate lace of the ferns curling over the chuckling brook just where it emerges from the deep woods into the meadow.

She will not need to remember it. She lives it.

She does not wear shoes, but for winter. Simple carved wood when she wears them. Aunt Flora shows her how to make these shoes of wood.

They sit on the porch of their little crofter's home with its gently sagging thatched roof and the slightly bulging lines of the plastered sod walls. There are no straight lines in that house. There are no straight lines in the shoes that Briar Rose carves from wood for the winter days.

On the last day of winter, when the snows are all gone and the green grass pushes away all the frost, Briar Rose throws aside her wooden shoes and runs and runs and runs through the woods. Bare calloused feet, long used to rocks and branches and acorns, carry her. She sings to the spring breezes. She has the gift of song.

She sings to the animals, who are her only friends. They gather to listen to her gift. It is not a slight one.

She falls back laughing onto that wide meadow where she took her first step full of its velvet and silk and satin. Flower petals and long blades of grass.

She will not need to remember her first step. She carries the memory of it in her toes.

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She was fairly certain that she was asleep and that she was dreaming. Even in her dream, her finger throbbed with the prick of the spindle, which was silly. Briar Rose had pricked her finger more times on more thistles than this cold castle had stones.

She was fairly certain that she was in love and that he was wonderful. She was fairly certain that no one was going to make her marry some prince now that she'd found love. She was fairly certain that she was in danger. She was fairly certain that someone had said her name was not Briar Rose.

She was Briar Rose from the callouses on the pads of her feet to the tips of her long sun burnished hair.

She didn't want to dream of being in a cold stone building full of straight lines.

She decided that the best place to be was the meadow. It was her dream, so she was in the meadow. But it wasn't the meadow. Not her meadow. Oh, there were flowers and ferns and a chuckling brook with smooth moss covered rocks. Where the round curved branches of the woods should be, gnarled black thorns spiraled up and out and threatened to choke the meadow.

There was a green fire to the sky, which should be blue. It burned instead. An unkindness of ravens perches on thorns across from a murder of crows. They called out and the sound was deafening.

She covered her ears and she was on her knees in the meadow. Her knees knew the soft give of the earth. It wasn't a memory. Not in the strictest sense of the word.

Children fall.

She had fallen. Seeds fall and plants grow.

The memory of grass and woods had been grown over years into her bones. She dug her toes into the soft earth. Sun burnished hair fell forward across her face and brushed the grass. She brushed a finger for a moment on a satin petal.

She stood up and said to the breeze, "I gave you my name on a song. Please give it back."

The breeze sang, "Briar Rose. Briar Rose. Briar Rose."

She squared her shoulders at the name. That couldn't be taken. Not in dreams. Not by an unkindness of ravens. Certainly not by murders of crows.

She pulled seeds from her long sun burnished hair. She planted them at the roots of the black thorns until bramble roses grew. Their thorns were smaller and of a pricklier nature. They grew through the thorns brush. She didn't go to war. She simply covered everything with flowers and the flowers pulled the thorns tiny prickle by prickle apart.

The Ravens called out. The Crows called out. They dived at her, but she was not there. She was the forest. She was the silken down drifting from the dogwood trees. She was the red poppies turning sun ward.

Something. Someone set fire to her wood. Rabbits ran. Owls flew. Deer, kings of the green wood, ran. She was the spirit flying in advance of the burning bird. She flew and flew and flew until she gave out and was consumed. A pine cone popped in the heat and waited in the smouldering earth.

A briar rose grew from ashes as the dawn came and the green sky quieted to pink and blue.

Briar Rose awoke to love's kiss and laughed.

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The stranger who is her mother called her Aurora. The courtiers called her this name too. Her mother took her out into the palace gardens with a smile. She said, "The Good Fairies said you like flowers." She took Briar Rose by the hand and pulled her into a walled garden.

The flowers were grown in geometric shapes.

Briar Rose walked carefully in the silken shoes they had placed on her feet down gravel paths.

The shapes had meanings, but Briar Rose didn't know them. She smiled to hear her stranger mother explain the herbs and their properties. They didn't go alone. Royalty never went anywhere alone. There were courtiers and ladies and servants and pages and Briar Rose felt the wash of their voices like a fall of Raven calls.

When they called for Princess Aurora, she glanced down and wondered what that princess would have done in a thorn covered wood.

She slipped off her shoes sometimes, but the stones of the castle were wide and deep and carried winter in them every day. They defeated even hardened feet that grew soft without running. She was covered in too much dagged silk and slashed velvet and circling satin to run.

She went into her mother's garden by moonlight. She lost her crowds. She freed herself of so much everything. She and Phillip kissed in the rose arbor. She walked barefoot and so did he. They went into the hedge maze and lost themselves.

She talked to the animals and smiled every so serenely at the babble of court that called her more than a little fey.

She had fairy gifts and carried the forest in her feet.

When they crowned her Queen and Queen Consort, for in each life such must come, she went barefoot and with her sun burnished hair down.

In formal notice, she was Queen Aurora and associated with the dawn, but she signed herself Briar Rose.

Her heraldic symbol was the rose on a field of ashes.

Nothing could take that away from her.

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