Varenrose enjoyed walking amongst the impenetrable mist—wafting, lingering as if she were a part of the fog. As it drifted so did she. She seemed to float down the hill, her red hair billowing behind her as she ran while the wind intermingled with every copper strand. In these moments, she was a part of the heavens—a celestial being riding on the tails of the clouds as they touched upon the moors. Her bounding feet carried her to the river that coursed through the mountains, and into the valley. She waded through the sparkling waters up to her chest, and a vapor of whispered breath permeated betwixt her raspberry lips. Her skin prickled, and the fog began to blur her vision. As she hovered over the water she heard the heavy urgency of hooves shaking the earth beneath them, and her breath caught tight in her throat.
The echo of the mare enclosed her, and as she neared the shore she saw the perilous rider. He was a haunting figure riding a horse of ebony that terrorized everything in its wake. A blur of black he came. His tousled hair blowing in the wind. His eyes raging wild. He reared to a halt when his fiendish steed reached the river bank, and he peered through the fog that loomed before him.
“Is anyone out there?” he called.
Varenrose stirred, and from the shadows she appeared. Like a nymph, she arose emerging from the elusive waters below. Translucent beads of water adorned her eyelashes, and the flush of pink hummed in her cheeks. The fresh dew of her skin glowed in the very darkness that shrouded him, and as he beheld her he was bewitched.
He was a tortured soul, and though he tried to hide it, his eyes always betrayed him. They were brooding and clouded except for the faint flicker of golden embers burning in their center. Like a flame, they tantalized Varenrose. Her pulse began to race, and her heart beat hard against her ribs. She had seen him before. It was those tempestuous eyes, she thought.
Throughout the past year, she had been overcome with one recurring dream, and he was in it. She was always bewildered by him, but never afraid. The dream would sometimes vary, but one thing always remained the same. She would be exploring the moors, as she often did, and she would find him lurking in the shadows. Their paths always seemed to cross, and he would stare at her with those eyes ablaze with hellfire. They burned in her mind, and when she would finally look away she would see her arms, legs—her whole body—covered in blood. She would then awake in a hot sweat, her lungs heaving, her mind reeling from those haunting images. After she had the dream three or four times, she scrawled his image on her bedroom wall in the dead of the night next to her window. She looked at it often.
“Where are you going?” her voice echoed in the fog.
“It is forbidden.” He uttered, his voice dark and foreboding.
“Can I go with you then?” She asked as if she were not in control of her own mind.
Varenrose was now on the bank. Dripping, her white skirt clung to her thighs as she stood vulnerable before him in the remnants of her frock. Her knees knocked, and she hoped he wasn’t staring at her quivering legs beneath the transparency of her skirt. She had torn pieces of it off earlier that morning to make certain her body would not be restricted any longer. Traces of mud-lined its hem and muck stuck to her brown boots that were peppered with brass buttons. Stray leaves and brush had become intertwined with her hair as if they grew from her scalp. A crown of white roses and lilac lay upon her head.
“I don’t know, miss…?,” he ventured.
“Ingram.” She added. Quite compulsively.
He smiled, “Ah yes, Ms. Ingram. Can you?” he said quite dashingly—his mouth tinged with a smirk.
“I can do anything I very well please you smug griffin!” Varenrose exclaimed, now hot and indignant.
“Then what seems to be stopping you Ms. Ingram?” His eyebrows rose, and his lips curled into a sly smile. “Surely you wouldn’t get on a horse with a man you’ve never met, now, would you?”
“If I were you—Mr. Domhnull is it?,” she glanced at the family crest carved on the horses’ saddle, “I wouldn’t presume to know a thing about me, which obviously you don’t, otherwise you would know that it is not a matter of whether I know you or not, it is a matter of whether you have a horse or not.”
“My, my, have I made you quite cross Ms. Ingram?” he said shaking his head. “You certainly have your wits about you. I’m impressed. You don’t look like the conventional sort, what with your mangled gown there,” he gestured to her dress and she quickly crossed her bare arms, “may I ask what it is that you are running from?”
Varenrose breathed deeply. “Probably, the same thing you’re running from.” She uttered. Her eyes dazzled with a brazen look of sudden bravery.
He smiled wryly at her and offered his hand. She willingly grabbed it. Her touch made the fires of hell rise from his bones, and for the first time in years he felt excitement brimming beneath his dark exterior. With her free hand, she tightly gripped her skirt, and he lifted her onto the back of his horse. Timid, her arms encircled his waist and to brace herself she leaned forward. Her lips gently brushed against his ear and her sweet breath made him shiver.
The pair rode swiftly through the morning fog as they chased the dawn westward. Varenrose was happy to have left her life behind her, and hoped that it would wither and rot like the grass they trampled upon. She knew not where they were headed, but frankly she didn’t care. All she needed was an escape from her suffocating and painful existence. As she rode with her new companion, she thought about what had happened the night just before her escape.
“You will marry me you miserable wretch,” Soren hissed. He gritted his teeth and held Varenrose by her delicate wrists against the wall of her chamber.
“How dare you.” Varenrose uttered. “How dare you overpower a woman to make yourself feel strong. You are a coward Soren—one whom I could never love.” She was shaking but spoke with great conviction.
He screamed at her in a violent rage.
She struggled to get away, but he seized her by the hair at the nape of her neck.
“There now,” he said with a sinister chuckle. “That’s a good girl.” His grip tightened making Varenrose crane her neck in pain. He stole a fierce kiss from her mouth, and with it drew blood from her lip. He quickly swallowed it, and released her. Her head fell against the wall. Her skull rattled, and her lips stung. His kiss was a venom that coursed through her wretched frame, and it was then she realized what death might taste like. But she remained still. Never once did she cower before him.
Soren relished in her pain, and his lips parted revealing a devilish grin.
“You are mine Varenrose, and there is nothing you can do to escape my love for you. Tomorrow at sundown you will become my wife, and make a vow before god himself to be mine forever. ‘Til death do us part my dear,” He whispered in her ear, “‘Til death do us part.”
With that he left her, and slithered back from where he came.
It was then that Varenrose decided to run. She would get some sleep, and arise early the next morning to create her own fate. She splashed her face with cool water from the basin at her bedside table, and got settled into her bed. Her fingers ran over the etching of the dark stranger that appeared so often in her dreams. She hoped that she would see him tonight in her slumber. He always gave her courage.
Varenrose continued to travel with the dark stranger, and as they tread upon the moors she wondered about him. His name was Ezra she had found out. Ezra Domhnull. His name felt sweet upon her tongue. He was the type who would frighten most everyone, but she was not like most. There was a fierce intensity that dwelled deep in the caverns of his soul, and when she was in the midst of it she felt strangely awake. It was as if she were alive in an enchanting dream; she a spellbound creature, and he a lurid wanderer. His scent was almost intoxicating, and he was alluring. His lips were the color of cherry wine, and when he ran his tongue over them they glistened full and moist. Sometimes he would look at her and his hair would fall in his eyes as they burned with a hypnotic flame. His laugh was rich. His smile cunning. Varenrose felt there was something supernatural about him, but of course she couldn’t be sure of that. She imagined his marrow to be made of velvet, and that if he were ever slain he would bleed rubies. Most of all, however, she feared that if she left his side she would awaken from this dream, and he would vanish forever.
It was now early afternoon, she realized, just a few hours before the wedding, and she hoped that no one was looking for her. She had been traveling with Ezra for several miles now, and had told him all about Soren and how greatly she detested him. She couldn’t bear the thought of becoming his wife, so early that morning, after Nelly had dressed her in her wedding gown, she slipped out of the window and climbed down the elm tree in back of her house. She told Ezra how she had torn her dress to shreds, and had gone to drown herself in the river before he found her. When she saw him, the phantom she had often encountered in her dreams, her urge to die subsided and a new one formed. He was a signal of hope. Instead of ending her life she could start a new one. She would flee as far from home as possible, and disappear with this wayward rider and his feral horse.
Once she had explained this to him, he told her how thankful he was that he had found her that morning before she had the chance to take her life. He was compassionate towards her, and offered to help. She could hide away with him as long as she needed to and she needn’t be afraid. He would protect her. For this she was eternally grateful, and she couldn’t help but think that had she not met Ezra she would have been dead festering in the bottom of a river by now.
Suddenly, a majestic white stag crossed their path, interrupting her thoughts. Their horse reared its legs at the sight of it, and a gasp quickly escaped from Varenrose’s mouth. The horse steadied, and the creature merely gazed at them.
“Look, Ezra!” She whispered. “My father always told me grand stories of white deer like this,” she slowly extended her hand towards it, “He said that if you ever come across an animal white and grand like this one, you must follow it, for it will lead you to another realm. A world the likes of which we have never seen before.” She cooed gently in his ear.
The stag neared Varenrose, never taking its eyes off of her, and gently nestled its nose against the palm of her hand. She felt its cool breath graze her fingertips. Her eyes sparkled with delight.
“Of all the animals I’ve ever encountered, I never saw one quite like this.” She said her face beaming.
Ezra was quiet for a moment in a silent reverie. He had never seen anyone lure a wild animal like Varenrose had just then. Then again she had lured him that very morning by the river. He thought to himself.
“Isn’t it magical?” She exclaimed.
“Yes.” Ezra replied in deep awe. “You possess a gentle charm Ms. Ingram. May it never leave you.” He said.
Ezra tightened the reins on his horse, and they slowly began to follow the stag into the forest before them. As they entered the dark woodland light filtered through the trees making Ezra’s eyes radiate like two rich amethysts. Varenrose watched as the limbs of trees gnarled all around her. The wind howled shrilly making the leaves rustle. They seemed to whisper secrets that lie deep within the old wood. After they rode several hours through the woods the great white buck, in all its grandeur, led them to an estate tucked beneath a hedge of knotted trees and briars. By this time it was dusk and the mystic animal vanished into the dim twilight. Ezra dismounted from his horse, and helped Varenrose do the same.
“Ms. Ingram, welcome to my home.” Ezra said warmly.
Her eyes grew wide, and they walked through the threshold together.
A month had passed since the jilting of Soren, and Varenrose had become well acquainted with her temporary home. She and Ezra had decided to go for a walk that afternoon so she waited eagerly for his return from town. He had lent her clothes of his sister’s that had been left behind from her last visit, and had gone to fetch some more for Varenrose to wear during the upcoming winter. His sister’s name was Aspen, and she lived about a mile or so south, just across the glen. When Ezra returned from his errand he greeted Varenrose bearing a long woolen coat with a roseate hue. It was double breasted with an empire waist, and was embossed with silver buttons.
“Try it on,” he said.
She held out her arms, and he draped it over her petite frame.
“Oh Ezra, it’s beautiful, thank you.” She said while fastening the buttons.
“It is my gift to you.” He said. He smiled at her, and thought she looked especially beautiful. “Are you ready to go?” He asked her.
She nodded, and he led her out the back door.
They strolled in the glorious afternoon light, and the air was fresh and crisp. They walked along the murmuring creek bed, and it wound through a small meadow that lay behind Ezra’s house. Varenrose adored the secluded homestead, and she relished the beauty of her surroundings. The leaves on the trees had begun to turn. The wood was a sweet medley of plum, red, gold, and deep orange. Autumn was truly her favorite season. Her cheeks were flushed, and her ivory skin was cold. She could barely feel the tip of her elfin nose. In soft waves her auburn hair gently caressed her ribs. As they walked their hands brushed. Varenrose’s pulse quickened. She very much enjoyed Ezra’s company, and over the past month they had grown quite close.
“Oh look, Ezra, it’s a fairy ring!” she exclaimed pointing just ahead of her. “We must stand in it! Just for a moment, please?” she asked.
“Alright my fairy, let’s get to it.” He said. He cocked his head to the left motioning to the lovely circle of daisies.
Varenrose broke into a run, and laughed like a child. It was quite melodious and echoed throughout the dark wood. Ezra followed until they both reached the ring of daises.
“Alright, step in it,” Varenrose ordered playfully. She was already in the midst of the fairy ring.
“Alright,” Ezra said stepping into the ring.
“Now, make a wish.” Varenrose said closing her eyes.
Ezra leaned into her and gave her a gentle kiss. Her lips were like sweet nectar. Varenrose warmed at his touch, and her eyes fluttered open.
“Forgive me Ms. Ingram—“
“Please,” she interrupted, “call me Varenrose.” She gazed at him lovingly, and she stepped a bit closer so their noses were touching.
He seized her lips once again and her mouth stung with pleasure. She grabbed his hand and they ran into a thicket of birch wood. He took to her beneath the trees, and she had never felt anything more exhilarating in her life. Breathless they lay intertwined. Their clothes scattered all around them.
In the months to follow, Ezra awoke next to Varenrose sleeping peacefully in his bed. He watched the cadence of her chest moving up and down as she breathed. They had spent a lovely winter together with no sign of Soren or any danger whatsoever. Ezra knew it would be extremely hard for Soren to track her to his home because he lived in the dark forest, and no one dared enter there. It was a highly secluded area, and it was deemed a cursed land. Ezra and his sister Aspen were the only ones who dwelled within its boundaries as far as he knew. However, that wouldn’t stop a man like Soren from getting what he wanted. He would eventually find them, and Ezra needed to be prepared.
Ezra considered asking Aspen for help. She was an enchantress known for her mysterious power, and she lived a lonely life banished from the village of Copplewell and exiled to her home in the woods. Most of the townspeople were afraid of her, and deemed her an outcast because she used magic. Ezra knew better than anyone else that people will fear what they don’t understand, and people definitely didn’t understand him or Aspen. Whenever Ezra went into town he would hear rumblings of the infamous “Domhnull children” and how they were dangerous folk not to be trifled with. They had their place in the dark forest, and nobody ever bothered them there.
When Ezra and Aspen’s parents were still alive, the family lived on the outskirts of Copplewell in a hearty cottage made of stone. Their Father, Reed, was a silversmith and had crafted many brilliant pieces in his lifetime. Their mother Luna was a spinner and had weaved many a beautiful cloth in her day. The four lived a blissful life together, and were beloved by the whole village. However, just like every family they had their secrets. Luna was a woman made of dust from the moon and she possessed a special magic within her. Every night her heart would glow just as the moon does and it was the source of all her magic. She had been sent to earth to be the guardian for all star-crossed lovers. Just as the moon has phases so did she, and when there was a new moon in the sky that is when she would disappear to help the lovers in need.
As children, Ezra and Aspen were taught by their mother to use the magic that they too possessed within them. Being half human and half moonchildren they were always told by Reed and Luna to be careful to never reveal their family secret. Luna’s heart was a source of infinite power, health, beauty, and riches and if they were ever found out there is no telling what a man would do to possess it.
One fateful night, a poor thief tried to steal what wasn’t his. Their window was shattered, and he slipped within their dwelling to cut out Luna’s magical heart. In his greed the poor beggar penetrated Luna’s chest with his dull knife in her sleep and Ezra was there to see it unfold. Blood spilled from her punctured heart. There were gasps. Screams. Wretched cries of agony. Blood curdled. Her breath wavered. Sobs of grief ensued. In his rage Ezra cried out with a scream just as deathly as the knife in his mother’s chest. The beggar stole away in fear just as quickly as he came. In his carelessness he left knocking over a burning candle. The house went up in flames, and only Ezra and Aspen had managed to escape. Aspen lay asleep in her bed, surrounded by smoke and flame, when Ezra had come to wake her. He took her into his arms, and they stole away from the burning abyss. Their cheeks were stained with tears as they ran from the only home they knew ablaze with a fire that left them destitute of all they had ever loved. Their lives as they knew it burned down with it. They never looked back.
The morning after the whole of their secret lives were revealed. Copplewell was abuzz with the scandal of the enchanted moon woman and her blacksmith husband teaching their children magic and the art of deceit. For their beloved neighbors whom they thought they could trust had lied to them. They had been practicing magic right under their noses! Magic; the root of all evil. It was probably what started the god awful fire in the first place. They had it coming. What devious and demonic people. These were the thoughts of the townspeople. In condemnation they were gathered by the ruins of the old stone house, charred in the blackest of blacks, gossiping of the latest tragedy and scoffing the remaining members of the Domhnull family. The poor children, Ezra and Aspen, barely twelve years old, had been chased from town to the forest. So it remains; the dark forest. It became a forbidden place where the Domhnull children lived—for everyone knew that only the dark dwelled deep within the forest.
Ezra vowed to stop using magic.
Aspen did not.
Ever since that day Ezra had never sought to use magic again, for he thought it to be the cause of all of his problems, but today he knew it might be the thing that would save Varenrose. And that was enough reason for him. So that morning, he left Varenrose a note saying he would be back shortly, and went to seek his sister the Enchantress.
Aspen agreed to help Ezra and Varenrose. She would put up a fierce barrier to surround the forest, and block anyone from entering. Aspen’s parting words echoed inside Ezra’s mind.
“Ezra, be careful. Take care of her. Don’t lose her like we lost them.”
He would not lose her. He was irrevocably convinced of this.
Days later, after he had met with Aspen, Varenrose had gone to visit with her. Aspen and Varenrose had become great friends over the course of the winter, and Varenrose went to visit her often. It had been a misty day, and night was quickly approaching. Ezra was sitting beneath the cypress tree awaiting Varenrose’s return. The fog began to roll in, and as dusk faded to darkness, he could see that there was a full moon illuminating the night sky. He thought of his mother.
The darkness of night was vast, but the light of the moon always reigned.
He saw a figure fast approaching him in the distance. It was too malicious to be Varenrose he knew that for certain. Although he couldn’t quite make out the face, he had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that it was Soren come take vengeance and out for blood. Ezra gripped at his knife, and rose to face the man who so often plagued his thoughts.
“Where is she!?” cried Soren in a jealous rage.
Ezra did not answer. He only stood guarding his house, waiting for Soren to strike. Soren did not deserve Ezra’s words. The only thing he deserved was the blade of his knife against his throat.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself?” Soren shouted as he came at Ezra.
“I believe it is you who will have to answer for your behavior.” Ezra spoke his voice dry and grim.
“Excuse me?” Soren exclaimed grabbing Ezra by the collar.
Ezra’s fist tightened around his knife
“You beat her!” Ezra shouted. “You treated her like she was your own possession to mistreat and thwart with your vile hatred!”
“Do not shout at me peasant!” Soren struck Ezra with his gnarled knuckles leaving a bruise on his eye. “You speak of her as you know her, now where is she!?”
“I love her, and I’m sorry she ever got entangled within the grips of your cruelty,” Ezra swung his blade at Soren’s chest but missed and stabbed him just beneath the collar bone “Now answer me this,” shouted Ezra as he grabbed Soren by the arm and wrought him to the ground, “do you think she ever loved you? Because if you truly thought she did, you wouldn’t have had to force it out of her like a powerless little boy!” Just as soon as his words were spoken Ezra’s knife slipped between his fingers and landed two feet behind Soren. Soren began to draw his sword so he could strike. Ezra quickly dodged him and ran to retrieve his knife. When he turned around Soren had escaped. He was lurking somewhere in the fog no doubt waiting to sneak up on Ezra. But Ezra knew this forest better than anyone, and he had the advantage.
Gripping his knife and keeping his eyes on his back, he ventured into the thicket of trees to search for his enemy. The night was still. Ezra steadied himself and waited. He saw his breath escape into the night before him. For several minutes he stood in the cold hoping that he would prevail.
Suddenly, he heard the snap of a twig behind him. He turned around and walked into the fog to kill his enemy once and for all. He saw him drawing closer but his face was hidden by the shadows and mist all around them. When he knew Soren was in reach he decided to act fast. He swiftly drove his knife into his heart, and he heard a piercing scream. He looked down to see the face of the man he hated so dead once and for all, and when the fog finally cleared, Ezra plummeted to the ground.
In his arms, bleeding before him was Varenrose.
Trembling he frantically removed the knife from her chest.
“My love—what have I done?” he cried his fingers covered with her precious blood. He embraced her and saw that her breathing was scarce and he began to weep. “Soren is here—I—I thought you were him, I’m so sorry.” he whispered quivering and groaning. He made sounds that were not human.
“Ezra—“ she spoke her voice weak and wavering. She grabbed his hand and pulled it to her beating heart. “I-I love you. My heart, it still beats for you, even now. See?” she smiled weakly and heaved as more blood escaped her.
“Don’t leave me Varenrose—I can’t lose you.” He sobbed. He kissed her sweet mouth, he knew, for the last time.
“I will never leave you.” She said with a flicker in her eyes. Her breath was a sweet melody of death and it drummed with the final beat of her heart.
Ezra’s tears fell upon her perfect face. She was gone, and as he held her body lifeless in his arms his head fell back in anguish and a deep cry bellowed from his mouth.
Hearing this, Soren had emerged from the trees, and he could not believe what he saw. He crept swiftly behind Ezra and lifted his sword to kill him. But before he had the chance he felt the sting of a blade against his neck and Soren’s head fell to the ground. Clutching Varenrose, Ezra turned to see Aspen standing over Soren with a bloody sword in her hand.
“You’re a damn fool,” said Aspen, “but you saved my life once. I had to save yours.”
Ezra gently laid Varenrose on the forest floor, and stood to hug his sister. Aspen wrapped her arms around her brother’s neck. They both cried.
That night Ezra and Aspen carried Varenrose to the meadow by the murmuring creek bed. They dressed her in a gown that was spun by their mother in golden fibers that made her body glimmer in the night. That is always what she had been; a light piercing through the darkness. They buried her in the earth with Luna’s heart that Ezra had kept since the night of her death, and waited to see if their mother would help them. They waited the whole night through, and nothing happened. Varenrose remained still. As the sun rose Aspen sang “The Parting Glass” over the beautiful girl with white roses in her hair that lay in the sweet sepulcher. When the glory of the dawn spilled across the sky, Ezra swore that he could hear her whispering to him in the morning wind.
A week later, Ezra arose one morning to visit his lost lover’s grave. He walked towards the meadow, and when he reached her grave, he saw that wild roses had sprouted where she had been buried deep within the earth.
“That is just like her,” Ezra said with a smile, “to create beauty in such a tragedy.”
“Hello Ezra.” A sweet voice reached his ears.
He turned and beheld Varenrose in the golden splendor of the sun shining on her gown, and the white halo of roses that crowned her head.
Words by Faith Moen // Photography by Kandis Marino
© 2015 Reef Magazine