Ceridwen’s First Letter
Dive into the mysteries of “Gather Ye Rosebuds” with a shortened version of Ceridwen’s first letter to a girl named Livnat.
The Forest of Dreams
Tir Na nOg
My dearest Nati,
You do not know me, or at least you do not know you know me. I am a distant relative, so distant that our connection is little more than a shadow of a thread across time and space. But relatives we are. And I need your help.
First, let me explain. If you have heard my name before, you have heard it in a story. You thought nothing of it – why would you? It was just a story. Snow White and Rose Red is the title most give it, but in truth we were Rose White and Rose Red, sisters, twins, as unlike to look upon as sisters could ever be, she with her dark hair and skin, lustrous black eyes flecked with gold, her lips dark red like the rose her pet name came from. Her given name is Edana, and mine, Ceridwen.
I am as pale as she is dark; pale as dawn. Where my sister has skin like deep amber, mine is like pearl. My hair is blonde to the point of whiteness, my eyes are grey. I am Ceridwen. I am Rose White.
What the story in the books does not tell you is that we are fairies. Not the fluffy, fluttery little things you may think of when you hear that word, but true, ancient fairies, immortal beings who cannot die (although we can be killed). We have some magic, though it does not compare with the mages and enchanters who study those arts. The realm we inhabit – Tir na nOg – exists in parallel to the mortal world. It is all around you, though you cannot see it, and there are other worlds also, stranger than ours. In olden times the doors between the worlds were wide open, and one could pass between them at will. Now it is harder. It takes magic, or strange accident, or great luck.
Our tale tells of two sisters who befriended a bear. The bear came often to their cottage in the woods – a cottage with red and white roses climbing all up the walls – and spoke to them in human voice. They fed him and warmed him and learned to love him, wild creature from the woods though he seemed. Nor was he the only creature from the woods who visited, though this is not often mentioned in the story books. A noble stag would come and stare with great dark eyes through the window, and when Rose Red went outside it would come to her – and her alone – and take food from her hand.
At that same time a dwarf was often seen by these sisters, wandering in the woods. A dwarf, like a fairy, is a magical, immortal creature and can only die by violence or misadventure. This dwarf was the most accident-prone creature I have ever met. My sister and I (for we are the sisters of the tale) came across him constantly in deep peril and saved him again and again from his own folly. Sometimes I think he did it on purpose, to be close to Edana.
The dwarf showed us nothing but anger when we helped him. But he had a fierce passion for my sister; I saw it in his eyes. I would not call it love – more like, it was the desire of the collector for a beautiful object. It was as if he wanted to capture her, to keep her in a glass case where he could look at her always. But my sister is not the kind of person to live in a glass cage. She is a tempest. She is brave and full of energy and life, and sometimes hotheaded and reckless.
One day we came too late. The dwarf had come across our bear – yes, our own sweet wild bear of the woods – in a clearing in the forest. We could hear him yelling insults and taunts as we took our morning walk. We ran towards the sound, my sister as ever swifter than I was, and we entered the clearing just in time to see the bear – our sweet bear, our gentle friend – reach out a mighty paw and kill the dwarf with one blow.
Then the amazement happened.
The bear transformed. He became human in front of our eyes. The dwarf’s body shrivelled into nothing and it was as if all that energy became the power that changed our friend into a man. He was young, beautiful to look upon, and wearing fur-lined huntsman’s clothes fashioned over a century before. When we returned to our cottage with our newly-changed friend, we found another man waiting for us – a man with great, dark eyes who would only look at my sister, my Edana, Rose Red.
To be brief, we married them. I wed the bear-prince, my sister wed his brother, who had been (as you have no doubt guessed) the stag of the forest. Both had been enchanted by the dwarf, and the spell could only be broken by his death, which as an immortal creature he had assumed would be never. The brothers, however, were not immortal. Time had frozen for them during their enchantment, but now they were human again and the clock started up once more, ticking them through their mortal lives. We were happy, we lived, we loved. We planted rose trees for them, yellow and cream. In time they grew old and died as mortal people do. We mourned them, but we knew what their fate would be from the beginning and we accepted it. We are grateful to have known them. We still live together in the cottage in the woods, with roses around the door. The memory of our husbands is sweet and not painful.
My sister has always been the most important person in my life. I love her like I love breathing. She is the one I could not do without. She is my other half, my opposite. Together we are complete. I am light, she is dark. I am quiet, she is full of life. I am timid, she is brave; I patient, she impulsive.
And so I come to the point of my story, and to the reason for this letter, my dearest Nati.
Rose Red has disappeared.
I am in agony. I do not know where she has gone or why, if she went of her own accord or if she has been stolen away from me, but I fear the worst. She has been strange of late, troubled and secretive, not like herself. She reads constantly from a shabby book of Shakespeare’s plays. I know she loves those plays, so where is the harm in that? But she broods and does not want to talk. And now she is gone.
I must find my sister. I need your help, my dearest Nati. Now is the time I must tell you that I sought you out for a reason. You are the great, great granddaughter of the great, great granddaughter of the great, great granddaughter of the great, great granddaughter of my sweet Rose Red and her Stag Prince. A tiny part of her being and her magic runs in your veins. You have courage, and that comes from her. I am timid and shy. I need to borrow your strength. Knowing that you are there and that you are on my side is such a help to me.
I have sent you some pressed rose petals from the white and red rose trees that gave Edana and me our pet names. They have some of our spirit in them, and I ask you to place them under your pillow when you sleep tonight. Some of your courage and brightness will come to me that way, and I will be stronger in doing what I have to do. Wherever Rose Red is gone, I have to follow her. Even though I am afraid, I have to help her. I have to get her back.
For your protection I also send you my gloves. If you see anything strange, anything that makes your skin prickle or your breath catch for no logical reason, beware. DO NOT TOUCH IT without the gloves on your hands. If Edana has indeed been taken by an evil force, we must take care. These gloves are powerful and will protect you.
Farewell for now, my dearest Nati. If fortune favors me I will write again, and hope to tell you how I found my darling Edana and brought her back safe. I am setting out on an adventure and I do not know to what dark places it will lead me. Truly, I do not even know where to start. Help me. Sleep with the rose petals beneath your pillow.
The Lady Ceridwen, Rose White