Ashes of Roses

“Only one thing can heal me,” She said. “I must change what I did.”

“Ask me for another gift,” I said. “I can give you a new life far from here, with no memory of the demon that haunts you.”

“That would be another lie!”

“Pray then for a repentant heart, and peace will come –”

“Do you think I feel no remorse?”

In the ringing of her laughter I saw again the demon savaging her sister as she watched and did nothing. He saw her as he cast aside the dying child and went on his way, leaving a shard of her soul impaled upon the memory of his sneer. She watched unmoving the last of the light fade from the pain-crazed eyes, the last rattling breath grow still in her sister’s torn throat, and thus began her long despair.

“Give me one more chance,” She said. “And I will not walk the coward’s way.”

We debated, we Wise Ones of the mountains. We could not turn back time. But – were it only an illusion, it would nonetheless be no lie to her … Her redemption could be as real as the anguish now festering in her heart.

As she stepped forth now the knowledge was already within her – but she stood petrified as before, and I could do nothing. With the chasm opening before her, she shrank from her salvation and watched.

Afterwards, as she donned the robe of the exile and crushed the smouldering ashes of roses deep into her forehead, the tongues that should have uttered the traditional farewell were silent, for all her people had seen her disgrace and their own with it. They too had watched – and done nothing. Again.

“One day I will go home,” She always said. “Tomorrow, I will rise with a smile on my face…”

But her people shunned her, until the demon came again. Then they hunted her out and bound her to a stake as an offering.

“Now,” Gloated the demon. “You are mine forever.”

She smiled at the demon as only she could smile whose one crime was to have survived him before. “You broke me that day,” She said. “Or perhaps I was broken already, and you forced me to see it. But if I was born a wretched coward, daughter of a people more craven still, you at least shall not have any more of us to consume. Avaunt!”

She waited out the last thunderings of the demon’s rage, laughing, still laughing, as he vanished. Now all of a sudden she was a heroine, and they would have fain have borne her home in high honour, but she shook her head.

“Go with them,” I said to her. “Go home. Tomorrow is here.”

“Aye,” She said softly. “And so I rise with a smile on my face.”

Every year, they put wreaths of laurels upon the elegant marble tombstone. But when I go there, I scatter an urn full of ashes of roses at her feet.

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