Cumulative Words: 3755
Thud. “Ow!” A feminine voice followed this first outburst with some very unfeminine words, and then quiet fell over the small cottage on the edge of the forest where the girl called Rose Red had just managed to walk into a closed wooden door. The door opened, allowing the now-sore young woman to step outside into the kitchen gardens and smooth her skirts.
The girl turned around when her name was called, swayed, and caught herself before she managed to make herself fall over so soon after her face became intimately acquainted with the door. “Rosie? Are you okay?” The voice that called to “Rosie” was infinitely lighter and more lady-like than Rosie’s apparently was, although the effect may have been exacerbated by Rosie’s swearing.
“Yes! I’m, er, fine, I think.” Rosie wasn’t entirely sure that she was fine, but she’d had her share of bumps and bruises in her life, and one more wouldn’t kill her. Turning away from the open door, she shifted her basket, and went to collect some things from the garden. For their smaller needs, the three women who lived alone in the cottage were able to harvest what they needed from their kitchen garden, and get only more important or large produce from the farmers in their village.
The garden that Rose Red was gathering vegetables from was quaint, which was the overall feel to the cottage and surrounding village, but Rose Red knew that she and her family were always going to be outsiders. They had bought the cottage from the old woman who had lived there before them, and kept her on as a boarder. When she had passed away, they had paid for her funeral rather than look for her children to do it. Because the family had only lived there for a short time, they weren’t accepted into the small country town immediately. This suited them just fine.
The cottage itself was also very quaint. It sat at the side of the forest with a stream running out of it, which went to watering the gardens, and for doing any household chores that didn’t involve actually ingesting the water. On that, Rosie’s mother was adamant: water coming out of a possibly enchanted forest was not for drinking, eating, or otherwise ingesting. The whitewashed walls were offset by wood trim and accents. There were flower boxes in the window, which held (if Rose remembered correctly) peonies.
Rosie’s mother never told her daughters much about her past, but she raised them as well as she could. All the girls knew was that their father had stayed with their mother as long as he was able before having to return to his home. He had left her mother when Rosie was a toddler, but now as she reached her majority, Rosie didn’t remember him at all. Apparently, Snow White looked like her father, while Rose Red obviously took after her mother.
Rose had her mother’s coloring and talent for the healing arts and being the local white witch who didn’t really have any magical talent of her own. Rose wasn’t certain that her mother had no true magical ability, but whether or not her mother was Gifted, Rose certainly wasn’t. She’d never seen any indication of it, and it would be nearly impossible to have gotten to her age without having seen something. She had pale skin like her sister did, but where Snow White’s was crystal clear, without a blemish or spot, Rose had freckles on her face, and down her arms and on her shoulders. Her hair was jet black, with a hint of wave, but not enough to be considered curly or straight. Being rather tall, she was able to hide the fact that she was probably heavier than she ought to be. Her cheekbones were hidden beneath the fat on her face, which lent to her a sort of home-like air. Rose had a sweetness about her that her plainness could not hide, and therein lay her true attractiveness. Her intelligence and sunny nature would make her a catch for any man who would look past Snow White to see her.
Unfortunately, no one did. Rose didn’t begrudge her sister the attention, though. She would rather not have large amounts of attention paid to her anyways. The only time people looked at her anyways was when she was doing in some sort of situation that would cause people great amounts of laughter at her expense, like walking into the door.
Snow White, on the other hand, was blonde, which suited her name perfectly. She supposed that she took after her father, although neither Snow White nor Rose Red had ever met him. Snow was stunning. Where her sister was tall and heavy, Snow was petite, with big blue eyes and a perfectly straight nose. She was the perfect lady, never tripping over her own feet, never walking into closed doors, and she would never swear like her sister did.
She did, however, seem to float out the back door to meet up with her sister and take the basket from her as the sun climbed through the morning sky. The girls went inside together and were immediately called by their mother.
“Girls, I find myself running low on some things. It would be wonderful if you two would go out into the forest to collect them, if I gave you a list of what I need.” Rose Red nodded, but looked a little hesitant. The forest made her nervous. Snow White nodded immediately. She wasn’t scared of the forest at all, partially because she was more practical than her sister and did not believe as strongly in enchantments.
The forest was a little bit cold, and Rose Red looked assiduously at the ground to avoid finding any roots with her feet, which she was apt to do. The girls had covered their dresses with their cloaks, which matched their names. Rose’s was red, and Snow White’s was, rather unsurprisingly, white. The sisters talked of where it would be best to get the herbs required of them, of village gossip, of the weather, the gardens – everything. They spoke of Snow White’s wish to have lived in a city where she could have had a debut and come “out”, but how she would never have done it because then her sister would be expected to do something similar, and Snow White would never force her sister to do something which she would despise, even though Rosie would have made her curtsy to society for love of her “baby” sister.
Most of the plants were easily found, cut, and put into pouches in the basket being held on Rose Red’s arm. Snow White held the knife (being less likely to fall and stab herself) and the list, with a pencil to mark off the things that their mother had requested. Due to Rose’s rather clumsy nature, she kept a small medical kit at her waist. She did not trust herself not to need her sister to stitch a wound, or to put a tourniquet on her somewhere. It had proved useful on numerous occasions.
“Maybe we should look up on the hill? I’ve found feverfew there before.” Snow White’s voice broke through Rose’s thoughts, making her jump a little bit.
“Yes, I rather think that would be a good idea.” The sisters turned and started to walk towards the nearby hill. From the top of it, they could see much of the nearby area. Rose was never sure what she would see from here, and was always a little scared of what could be living in the pond off to the east a little bit. She knew consciously that there wouldn’t be something like a Rusalka, but one could never be too careful. The path at the top of the hill had once been well-worn, but no one used it anymore. The villagers didn’t come into the forest, for no one would dare to cut wood from the trees. There was a man who came through the woods and collected deadwood for fires. If a tree fell, he would get some men from the village to help him cut it up and drag it out of the woods, unless it was full of life.
The man who collected the firewood was respectful of the forest. Because of its reputation for being enchanted, the forest had not found its way into being cut down to feed the fires of industry which raged in other parts of the country. For now, this area remained as it had for hundreds of years, the only difference being the clothing worn by the villagers (but even that had not changed much – country folk were more unaffected by the changing fashions of the cities).
Rose Red stopped to look at some plants, thinking she saw some feverfew along the side of the path. It wasn’t, and as she was standing up, she looked at her sister and saw that Snow White’s brow was furrowed, her features twisted with concern. “Do you hear that noise? It sounds like some sort of moaning, an animal in pain…”
Rosie raised her head, listening carefully. “I do… Should we look for it?” She bit her lip. Snow White would have suggested it anyways. She knew that. Rosie was more timid about walking around in the possibly enchanted forest. She also knew that animals could be dangerous when they were hurt. There usually wasn’t anything more frightening than a fox, but a fox could do some serious damage to someone with Rosie’s propensity for getting hurt.
“Could we, dearest? Please?” Snow White’s face was pinched with worry for the animal, whatever it was. Rosie nodded her assent, and began to walk towards where the noise was coming from. Snow White linked her arm with her sister’s as they followed the sound of the whimpering animal.
When Rosie had to go into the forest, she never went this far in, or in this direction. She never had to. It always struck her as darker than the other, for some reason. It seemed to Rosie to be discouraging people from coming over here. She didn’t doubt that her sister had done some looking around though.
At her sister’s gasp, Rosie looked up to see the source of the pained noise. Her face drained of blood, and she sucked in air through her teeth, fear causing her heart to pound. In front of the girls was a creature they never would have willingly gone this close to, especially not one with a gash like the one in front of them had.
It was a bear.
“Rosie, we have to help it.” Snow White’s voice was final. The bear’s head perked up at their voices. It looked at them pitifully, its eyes sad and pained.
“What?!” Rosie looked at her sister like she’d grown three heads.
“You’re better at sewing… Please, Rosie?” Snow White, who had sheathed her knife in the belt at her waist, grabbed her sister’s hands, eyes wide and pleading. “It’s in pain, and we have the supplies to save it. What if the wound becomes infected, Rosie? It will die!” Tears welled up in Snow White’s eyes, and, as usual, Rosie found herself unable to ignore her or deny her what she wanted.
“Fine. Give me the knife.” She pulled from her cloak the small satchel that had her emergency supplies in it, and took the knife from her sister. Warily, she moved towards the bear, her hazel eyes wide. When she knelt by the wounded animal, she reached towards it with trembling hands, and slowly pushed its fur out of the way. The bear, rather uncharacteristically of a wounded animal, didn’t attack her for causing it even more pain, but made a sort of moaning noise.
Rosie looked up at the animal she was tending to, and took a deep breath, her jaw clenching. Her normally pale skin was white as death with fear, and her breath seemed to tremble as much as her fingers did. She met the bear’s eyes, and for some reason, she felt that if she were to speak, it would understand her.
“This will hurt like… well, it will hurt a lot. If you move, it will hurt distinctly more. So hold as still as possible.” Rosie’s courage was all a bluff. There was no way she was that confident around a wounded bear, but one of the things her mother had taught them was that animals will respond to the appearance of confidence. If you look and act confident, then the animal will bow to your authority – supposedly.
She opened the satchel of emergency supplies and pulled out a needle, threaded it, and looked at the bear warily, then set the needle down on the pouch it was stored in. Biting her lip, she pulled out a small vial of liquid, and pulled the cork out gingerly. “Snow White, would you make sure that the needle is clean, while I clean the wound?” Her voice cracked on “would”, but she turned back to the bear anyways.
Where there had been pallor before, her cracking voice made Rosie’s face flush with embarrassment. She carefully poured a bit of the liquid from the vial on a cloth from the satchel, and corked the vial once more. While holding the cloth in her left hand, she used her knees and her right hand to unscrew the top on a metal flask full of water, which she then proceeded to pour on to the cloth. With her now wet cloth, she cleaned up some of the drying blood around the wound, but jumped backwards and grabbed for the knife when the bear roared and reared up.
Snow White had grabbed the knife first and was now standing between her sister and the bear. “Don’t you dare.” For someone so demure and ladylike, Snow White was remarkably defensive of her sister. The bear whimpered again and bowed its head.
“Don’t do that, Snow White. You’ll get hurt.” Rosie knelt once more by the bear, and took the needle her sister had cleaned, clenching her jaw. She pulled the fur away to expose the wound once more, and then began to sew. The bear made noises of pain, but didn’t move again, watching Snow White and her knife (although it was unlikely she’d stab him unless provoked) warily.
After several very tense moments, the sewing was done, and Rose Red wet the cloth again, to wipe down the wound one last time. She packed up her things, and stood up, moving backwards slowly. Snow White followed her, looking at the bear sadly. The bear stood up, testing out its foot gingerly. The wound had been caused by a hunter’s trap, and the stitching had helped it to keep from moving against itself.
Rose Red turned away, and finally noticed the feverfew that they had missed. She went to cut it and add it to the basket, as Snow White watched the bear as it seemed to bow to them and lumbered off slowly.
“Be safe, bear! Don’t hurt yourself more!” Snow White’s voice broke through the silence of the woods and Rosie whipped her head around to watch it move away from them. She stood up with the feverfew in its packet, and walked towards her sister, linking arms with her once more.
“Shall we go home again, dear?” Snow White’s voice was soft, and she placed a gentle hand on her sister’s arm. “Thank you for helping the bear. I could not have done it, and you are a much better nurse than I.” The younger sister smiled up at the elder as they began to walk.
“Good Lord, Rosie, you look as if you’ve seen a ghost!” Rosie’s mother stood up from her desk and swept across the room to put her hands on her child’s face. “What has happened to you?” Rosie allowed herself to be moved and sat in a chair. She looked at her mother blankly, and then into the cup of blackberry cordial that Snow White shoved into her hands.
“Rosie saved a bear while we were in the woods. It was wounded, and it was crying, and Rosie saved it by sewing up the wound on its foot.” Snow White ran her hands over her sister’s hair, pulling out the pins holding it up. With a pat to Rosie’s shoulder, Snow White went to the room that they shared and got her brush, then went back. It was a ritual in the small cottage, that when something was wrong with one sister, the other would brush and restyle the first sister’s hair, which was what Snow White was doing now for Rosie.
She hadn’t done something like this in a while, and as Snow White’s fingers ran deftly though and over Rosie’s hair, Rosie told her mother in shocked, frightened, halting sentences the story of what had happened. When the telling was done Snow White shook her head and looked at her mother.
“The bear acted most curiously, Mama. I don’t understand. If it had acted like a normal bear, I never would have asked Rosie to help it.” Snow White knew her mother was a bit upset with her for asking Rosie to help the bear, but her mother shrugged.
“I don’t know, dear. The forest is strange, I tell you this on a regular basis.” She made a face that generally denoted that she was thinking very hard about something. “It is possible that the bear was an enchanted human and would have human characteristics, but even so, it acted very strangely.”
“I spoke to it.” Rosie spoke up suddenly. “It was like it understood me.” Snow White nodded.
The subject made no reappearance for three days, until the three women were sitting at the kitchen table once more with mugs of cocoa all around, discussing the upcoming harvest season.
“The weather is supposed to get stormy soon. I hope there’s enough time before the winter storms set in to get the harvest in.” Snow White stirred her cocoa idly, and blinked as a knock sounded on the door.
Rosie stood before Snow White could, and went to the door to open it. The man who stood there was dressed in finery beyond the means of any of the women at the table. He was obviously a nobleman of some sort, and Rosie managed an awkward curtsy. Seeing Rosie do this, Snow White and her mother stood up and joined Rosie at the door.
“Rosie! Invite him in!” The hissed command from her mother made Rosie jump slightly from her observation from the nobleman on her doorstep.
“Oh, er, right. I forgot. Won’t you please come inside, my lord?” Rosie stepped away from the door and let the man inside. He stepped inside and closed the door to make sure the heat didn’t escape.
Feeling a little awkward, Rosie went to the cabinet and got out another mug. “Would you care for some cocoa, sir?” The man looked up at her from his observation of the room.
“That would be lovely, Miss…?”
“Rosie, sir. Rose Red.” Rosie poured him the last of the cocoa from the pot on the wood stove. The village hadn’t gotten gas yet, let alone electricity, and that suited the women just fine. Holding her skirts out of the way, she went and handed it to the man. “Please, have a seat.”
The man sat, as did Rosie and Snow White, and their mother, who spoke next, trying to break the silence. “How may we help you this evening, sir? I take it that this is not an emergency for which you will need my help?”
“Pardon my rudeness, madam, I have not yet introduced myself. I am called Charles, and I am more formally known as Viscount Mortland.” He did not stand and bow, merely bowed his head to Rosie’s mother across the table.
“And how may we help you this fine evening, milord?” As her mother spoke, Rosie took the time to look at the man who had shown up on their steps. His hair was nearly as dark as her own, and it was fashionably disheveled. Unlike the women he was sitting with, his skin was tanned, but in a way that said that his skin was naturally dark, not suntanned. He was handsome, too, no doubt about that, and he was looking at Snow White.
“A few days ago, your daughters found a wounded bear in the woods, and Miss Rosie stitched up his leg, at the urging of her sister. Miss Snow White’s concern, it turns out, was enough to save the bear from an eternity as such, and he was returned to his natural form. Me. My brother and I were cursed to life as bears after angering a magician.” Snow White was watching Charles as he spoke, her eyes wide as saucers.
“I… It was certainly Rosie who saved you!” Her hands were clasped in her lap, and she gestured to her sister. “I did nothing!”
“On the contrary, without your intervention, Miss Rosie would have run, as well she should have. A wounded bear is dangerous.” Charles bowed his head. “I come with a difficult and possibly strange request.”
Rosie’s mother looked at him a little strangely, as if she knew what he was going to say, but she was determined to make him say it out loud. “What can we possibly do for you, milord?”“I would like to have Snow White’s hand in marriage.”