Author's Note: This is my second story set in the Utena universe. I don't really know why I wrote it. Anyone reading it has most likely already watched/read Utena and therefore doesn't need a skewed and impossibly condensed retelling from me. I suppose it's because I was captivated by the idea of a 'legend'...That this could be a story about Utena and Anthy still floating around, being told, hundreds of years later, when no one quite remembers what happened anymore.
LEGEND OF THE ROSE BRIDE
There is a legend of how the Rose Bride came to be, whispered in the sound of the wind and the rain falling softly upon the grass. Everyone knows the story, but for all that it is never told, because there are some truths so painful that we cannot bear to hear them. And so the story becomes twisted and obscured, re-written in the minds of those who have witnessed it, who have seen with their own eyes the terrible truth of the Rose Bride.
I could tell you that this story is different, but I don't know for sure that it is. Maybe this telling is just like all the others, spinning fairytales out of the darkness, barely touching the edges of that which lies beyond, eternal. Only the wind and the rain, perhaps, remember things entirely, and we stopped listening to them many years since.
In these times of lesser things, I will do the best I can. Imagine a fireside on a cold winter's night, a small cottage hidden in the depths of a forest of fir trees. Snow falls heavily from laden branches, and within the cottage the scents of wood-smoke and mulled wine fill the air, weaving seductively through the words of this, the silent story that screams in the night, out of the mouths of storytellers with lips sewn shut. Hush now and listen carefully, and beware of the howling of the wolves.
Once upon a time, long ago in a world that might have been this or any other, there was a girl who loved her brother very much. He was a prince, and she was his princess, and they lived together in a great shining castle where pain and sorrow could not come.
The prince had his destiny; to protect all the maidens of the world from harm, and there are some who say the princess hated her brother for this. For, being his sister, she was the one girl he could not protect, and thus she grew jealous of all those selfish girls who were forever taking her brother away from her. Then some go further, and say she hated the prince for he had a purpose in life and she had none. In her loneliness, they assert, she turned to witchcraft to fill the void that the prince filled in every other princess's life.
And then the prince died. The princess killed him, so some say. Others say it was the world that killed him; that there were too many to save and his spirit waned and barely alive he crawled back to his castle to lay dying in his sister's arms and beg for her protection.
Either way, there was a mob outside that castle. A mob who demanded of the princess that she return to them their prince, and when she would not, the million swords of hatred came. They were not intended for the princess. They were thirsting for the prince's blood, to condemn him for his abandonment, his failure.
But the princess saw them coming. She rushed into the castle and drew up the bridge, and, in those last few moments before her world disappeared, she gave her body to save the prince. She took out her heart, and in the hole it made she placed the prince's sword. Her heart she sealed beyond the ends of the world, and with it went the power of miracles. The million swords battered down the drawbridge, and incensed by the prince's sword they took the princess and not the prince, and that became her fate. To live in torment, forever, pieced by the million swords of hatred intended for another.
The prince went mad at the sight of it, so some say. All his goodness, his kindness, his faith in the world was destroyed when he saw the swords stabbing into the body of his sister, over and over again, until all the castle was red with her blood. He became then, a reflection of the hatred he witnessed that day, and yet, in his fallen state he longed always to regain his lost splendour.
But there was no bringing him back, for the power of miracles lay with the princess's heart beyond the edges of the world. And so the prince began a game. He searched the world, using the princess, his sister, as bait, to find a prince strong enough to break down the door at the end of the world and set the power of miracles free. Then he would take that power for himself, and become once more the prince of old.
Not everyone agrees it went like this. There are some who say that the image of the prince was only ever a lie created by a power hungry lord, and he forced his sister to take the swords when the world discovered his deception.
This is a very old story that I am telling you.
But, at the end of it, there was a girl who kept a sword in the place where her heart should be, and her brother, who kept her in the place where a princess should be.
And that was the meaning of the Rose Bride, though only princess and fallen prince knew it.
His voice was always whispering into her ear, the beginning and the ending of her world, and he was mad, she knew he was mad, but she couldn't help listening. She wanted to believe his crazy plans to win back the power of the prince, to restore the fallen castle where she and he could live without pain or sorrow, as they used to do, before the mob came.
She didn't care how many gullible would-be princes died in the pursuit of that goal, or how many princesses were sacrificed on the altar of their glory. In her chest was the prince's sword, and she promised him she would do everything he asked of her.
The first time, she didn't realise it was happening. The swords were hurting her, so she cried in his arms while he stroked her hair and murmured in his deep voice what a good girl she was. His hands started to move tenderly over her body, touching her in places where no one ever had before.
From beyond the ends of the world, she felt her heart beat in defiance.
"Don't," she whispered.
"Hush now," he said. Already his fingers were inside her. "You know that this means sheath don't you? You have become the sheath for my sword, it is only right you should be this too. My princess. My lover."
"You mustn't cry," he told her afterwards. "You have brought this all upon yourself for being a witch. For making the world hate you by taking their prince away."
"You're not my prince," she denied. "I remember a time when you weren't like this. When you were kind and gentle."
But did she? She thought he'd been different once, but maybe that was just a story she'd made up to comfort herself.
He smiled at her, sadly. "Don't think it doesn't hurt me to see you suffer. But I do all of this for you. To become once more what I used to be; the prince you love. To regain the castle where we can live together as we once did, beyond the pain and suffering of the world." He tipped her face up towards his. "You do want that, don't you?"
Beyond the ends of the world, the princess's heart was silent.
A parade of would-be princes fell before them. All drawn in by the Rose Bride's beauty, they would fight duels to possess her, calling her the perfect doll without a heart. The final victor the prince would take to the ends of the world, and there he would die in the attempt to unlock the power of miracles.
Real princes are hard to come by in a fallen world.
When she first appeared, the Rose Bride despised her.
She was a girl filled with ignorant self-righteousness, with the foolish conviction that by following the ways of the prince she could escape her destiny of becoming the princess. She spoke nobly of setting the princess free, of the injustice of trading a girl like a mindless possession, but almost without knowing it she enjoyed the power her status as prince awarded her. Her brother's eyes watched this new girl hungrily, and that made the Rose Bride hate her all the more.
But the girl-prince kept on winning, duel after duel.
An odd sort of friendship began to develop. It was entirely against the Rose Bride's wishes, but she found it difficult to guard against that open, undemanding kindness. So much more dangerous, in some ways, than hate. And even then she might have resisted, if not for the fact that when her girl-prince kissed her, brushing chaste lips over her brow, or pressed her palm with her own warm hands, the pain of the swords would lessen, just for a little while. And in those rare quiet moments, the princess sometimes thought she could hear the echo of her long lost heartbeat.
But none of these things gave the princess hope, because she knew that even if the girl-prince reached the end of the world and unlocked the power of miracles, the real prince would not allow her to keep it.
Because a power like that, it wasn't for girls to use.
The prince felt threatened by this female imposter, perhaps, or merely entranced by the beauty of her unspoiled ideals. He enlisted his sister's help, and he'd seduced so many princesses that even this one playing prince was easy.
When they reached the ends of the world, the prince offered this girl-prince a deal. Instead of taking the power of miracles from her, he told her they could reclaim it together if she would become his bride. Then they would live in the castle as princess and prince beyond the call of pain and sorrow, and he would have his power and she would know her rightful place at his side.
Because, after all, it is easy to replace one princess with another, and by this time the Rose Bride was a tainted vessel very far from innocence.
"But what will happen to the Rose Bride?" the new princess asked, turning her too-sweet eyes to look at her friend.
The Rose Bride cast her gaze down, not wanting to see the knowledge of her coming downfall reflected back at her. Already she could feel the edges of the swords slicing her mind away. Her brother had promised her redemption but in the end he had chosen one more worthy than her. There stood the castle, resurrected from the ruin of time, ready to welcome the prince and his princess. There was the door at the end of the world, and beyond it lay the unknown darkness in which somewhere her heart was crying. She could almost smell the power of miracles in the air.
But it was not for her to receive. She would pay for this perfection with her suffering, just as she always had. She was a girl and therefore couldn't be the prince, and they told her she was a witch which meant she couldn't be the princess either. She was only a doll for the expenditure of hate, the sacrifice whose duty it was to take the swords, because the prince wasn't brave enough.
The eyes of her girl-prince stared at the her in horror as the shadow of the swords darkened the sky. They were flying so fast their steel was singing in the wind, a million swords of hatred thirsting for the blood of the prince but taking the princess who stood in his place. The hole in the Rose Bride's chest filled black with hatred for the girl who watched but would never know her pain, and her world turned to a metal cage of agony as sword after sword went in.
"No!" the girl-prince screamed, over and over again, each time a new sword entered, as if it was her own body and not another's that was being surrendered to the fate of unending torment.
The prince took her arm and tried to turn her away. "You mustn't look," he said gently. "It's a sight too ugly for a princess to behold. Come with me into the castle and you'll soon forget. You'll be happy again. Isn't that what you want?"
"No!" The girl-prince ripped herself away from him. "I remember now. I've seen the Rose Bride before, a long time ago in childhood. You were the one who showed her to me. You told me that she is what becomes of a fallen princess. But I swore then that I would save her! That's why I wanted to become a prince! That's the real reason. I will save her, from you."
The girl-prince raised her arm, and the prince's sword flew to her from its resting place in the Rose Bride's breast. Thwarted, the million swords of hatred exploded and began to circle in the sky, clashing angrily for a sacrifice.
Released, the Rose Bride fell to the earth and lay covered by her hair.
The prince began to laugh. "Go to your princess then, and save her. The power of miracles is within your grasp."
Without hesitation the girl-prince ran to the fallen girl's side. The sword clattered from her hand, forgotten, as she raised the bloodied princess in her arms.
"It's okay," she whispered, smoothing the tangle of the princess's hair out of her eyes. "I'll kill him. I'll kill him with the prince's sword."
The princess opened red-misted eyes. She didn't see the earnest face of her would-be saviour. It was the prince she saw, looming behind, a knowing smile playing on his lips. He already knew how this was going to end.
What would happen in a world without the prince? This girl who embraced her so softly was only a girl and therefore wasn't the prince, could never be the prince, and what would become of the princess without the prince? She would cease to exist. The prince was the only one who could protect her, save her, as she was sure he must have done so long ago, once upon a time, in those days that she couldn't remember.
The princess stretched out her fingers, desperately searching. Her hand found the prince's sword, and she flew out of her protector's arms. She might have been screaming. She might have been vowing that she loved her prince and no mere girl could ever take his place. That she had died once protecting her prince and would do it again, however many times it took, until he found a way to set her free.
And at the end of her frenzied attack, there was the prince's sword, embedded in the girl-prince's chest.
As the girl-prince swayed, the (real?) prince caught her. "You see," the princess heard him whisper into her ear. "The princess's loyalty will always be to me. You don't have the power of miracles. You're not the one."
Pulling the sword from her own chest, the girl-prince pushed him away as the black edges of the world turned red. Above them, the swords in the sky twitched eagerly. Through gritted teeth, she spat out, "I didn't come all this way to win the power of miracles." She looked towards the princess, and smiled. "Only to meet her, as I did once long ago."
On unsteady feet she staggered to that fast-shut door, weeping for the pain of the doll without a heart. As they fell, her tears melted the chains that barred the door, and with her blood-stained hands the girl-prince pushed it open. She, who was not a princess and not quite a prince, was the one who opened the door that lay at the ends of the world, and reaching into the darkness beyond, touched the heart of the princess that had lain so long asleep. As those rare and beautiful tears continued to flow, the Rose Bride felt them falling on her own cheeks, thawing skin frozen for uncounted years.
A voice inside her mind spoke to her, and that hole which had ached always in the centre of her being was suddenly filled with a bright warmth like sunlight and the unaccountable feeling of being loved.
"I'm glad I finally got to meet you," the voice whispered. "Right at the very end."
The last of her energy gone, the girl-prince sunk down before the door, coming to rest in a rose-coloured cradle of her blood. The restored princes looked upwards towards the sky in terror, and saw that the swords were starting to fall. But they weren't coming for her. Not this time.
The girl who had released her heart from the ends of the world took the swords as princess and prince both, and at the end of the trial there was nothing of her left.
It was strange, but everyone else went back to normal. Her brother was the same, droning endlessly about his lost power, while all around them the denizens of this tiny world acted out again and again the same blood-drenched rituals of pain.
But for her something was different. The girl didn't feel like a princess anymore, and her heart was back in her chest. It filled her up with power, the power of miracles, and she couldn't believe that her brother didn't notice the change.
There was also, giving her strength, the secret memory of that transcendent moment when her heart was touched, which she understood now was the certainty of being loved. She carried that warmth within her like a fire, and she knew it meant the one who had set her heart free wasn't dead. Even if her brother was too stupid to realise it.
"No one remembers her, now," he lectured her, meaning, you should forget her too. "That is what happens to those who defy the laws of the prince. They disappear, even from memory. Now, we must find the prince's sword. I believe it is lost somewhere at the ends of the world. You will help me, sister—"
"No," the ex-princess said. It was the first time she had ever interrupted him.
The shock in his eyes was amusingly child-like. "What?"
Her heart was hammering hard in her chest. She was overwhelmed with fear, elation, excitement, anticipation, and many other emotions she couldn't even remember the names of it had been so long since she felt them. There was so much – so much to feel after all this time that it was almost too much and she wondered if her newly found heart was going to burst right out of her chest again. But still she endured it. For her sake.
"You don't understand anything, do you?" the ex-princess taunted her once-upon-a-time prince. "She hasn't disappeared, she is merely gone from this world. From your world. She has found her freedom beyond the ends of the world, and I am going to follow her. You have no power over me anymore."
His promises and his threats followed her all the way to the door that stood at the ends of the world. She didn't hesitate to step through. The prince couldn't follow her, for he still hadn't found the power of miracles that lived within her heart.
One the other side of the door, the girl who longer knew what to call herself discovered that she was standing on a hill. There was sunlight on her face and grass beneath her feet and far below the blue glitter of the ocean.
The girl who had returned her heart was there also, with the warmth of summer in her eyes.
"I have no need of princes," was the first thing the once-princess felt obliged to explain.
"Good," the other girl replied. "I'm not a prince."
"And I am not a princess." Admitting this aloud, the girl who didn't know what to call herself felt rather at a loss. "What are we going to be then?"
The girl who had failed to become a prince paused, seeming to think about it. "How about we be ourselves instead?"
The girl who had escaped being a princess smiled. For the first time in an eternity, she felt her heart skip a beat.