Thursday 30 April 2020

Flowers and Romance, with more excerpts. Part 2

Flowers and Romance – More Excerpts


I often use flowers and seasons, and the folklore and symbols attached to these, as ways to point out contrasts in my stories. So in “The Snow Bride” I have the harshness of winter set against my heroine and hero’s dreams of summer – a clue to their developing feelings and relationship. The Green Man, too, is an old figure in folk lore and a powerful symbol of rebirth and renewal - a sign of Magnus' own changing circumstances.

They plodded another mile, then Magnus admitted they should stop. Even on the old west road, which they had stumbled onto at midnight, going was onerous. The horses were weary, heads down, stumbling, their hooves covered in snow. When the snow turned to a biting sleet, everyone had endured enough.
          Before him Elfrida was silent, uncomplaining, though God knew she must be chilled and weary. It was she who noticed the forester's hut, set back from the road behind a holly tree. She tapped his arm to alert him and he called orders to the others, his voice cracking in the cold.
          The forester, whoever he had been, had abandoned the hut, but it was just big enough for them all. Magnus knocked out a panel of wattle to enlarge the door and they brought the horses in.
          While he made a fire just inside the doorway Elfrida slipped off into the darkness. When she returned the men had bedded down and were chewing whatever rations they had with them. Magnus patted a lump in the floor beside him, close to the fire, and she lay down without a sound.
          Magnus rose and put what remained of the door back across the threshold as a barrier and wind-break. Checking it was secure, he knocked the snow off his cloak and stretched out again beside Elfrida. As soon as he closed his eyes he slept, and dreamed.

          It was summer and he was in a pleasure garden. Protected by a stout stone wall, it was bordered by fruit trees and ripening vines and filled with small sparkling fountains, the like of which he had not seen since his return from Outremer. One fountain played over a turf seat studded with marigolds and daises. Magnus ran his fingers through the damp flowers and he heard a woman sigh with contentment, a welcome sound.

          Elfrida always knew when she was dreaming and this time was no different. It was midsummer and she strolled in an orchard filled with fragrant apple blossom. She carried a twig of mistletoe, its waxy berries still in impossibly fresh bloom. Above her head finches darted and sang and bees buzzed in lazy contentment, dusky with pollen. There was a hay stack beneath an oak tree and a green man smiling at her though the heavy white-green pomanders of a guelder rose. 

          "You have a gentle, courteous touch, Sir Magnus."
          Elfrida sighed again and stretched out on the turf seat. Where she lay down roses sprouted and burst into flower, their petals as soft and flawless as her skin. She smiled, and in the wonder of the moment Magnus could not tell if she was clothed or not. From a blower of white and pink rose petals, she held out her hands to him and smiled a second time, trusting and warm, her bright eyes filled with admiration. "Come."

          The green man sprang down from the branches of the guelder rose and became Magnus. He bowed to her, a warm breeze ruffling his black hair curls. "My Lady."


In the sequel to "The Snow Bride", I use medieval beliefs to explore how flowers could be used in magic and for more sinister purposes than courtship. 

In"A Summer Bewitchment", Elfrida explains to Magnus about valerian.

Outside in the warm, still evening they walked arm in arm, both carrying panniers, and Elfrida shared what she knew of the stranger with Magnus. He in turn told her what he had learned of Rowena from the priest. It was, she thought, strangely companionable, but she wished they were speaking of less dark, mysterious matters.
“Valerian is a magic plant,” she explained, skirting carefully around a flowering elder bush. “It has many uses. One is as a lure. To seduce.”
“And the hare’s foot?” Magnus nodded to the elder bush as he stalked by, a grudging acknowledgement. “The rosemary I know from you is a guardian against evil spirits, so is that good?”
“Because he protects himself from demons and the like does not mean he is not evil himself.”
“Well spoken! The stranger’s mention of a Holy Mother?”
“The hare protects him from all danger. It is a creature of magic. The mother he reveres may be the Virgin, but he worships her in older ways.”
Magnus raised his black brows in silent inquiry.                              

“The wreath he leaves in thanks and sacrifice, of valerian and elder blossom, marigold, wild thyme and daisy, is made of flowers pleasing to the older gods. I have seen such posies left at ancient standing stones and statues, at rock carvings of the horned god.”

As flowers are often seen as decorative and signs of peace, healing, love and respect, I wished to show a scene where my heroine Elfrida also uses them as instruments of revenge. She and Magnus have been deliberately insulted at a noble's house by Elfrida being offered a gown to dress in that is little more than a rag. She uses flowers gathered from the common land to transform it.


“These are beautiful.” Elfrida meanwhile was lifting up stems of corncockle, of oxeye daisies, of lilies and white roses. She gave him a look warm with gratitude. “Truly beautiful living jewels.”
He smiled, to prove he was not aggrieved with her, and watched in burning indulgence. Flowers flashed under and through her nimble fingers, a cascade of whites and purples, shot through with gold. Elfrida was charming them, using her magic to pin and fasten the blooms to the dull brown gown. In moments, as he leaned against the door, ignoring another careful knock, she threaded flowers into sleeves and made a belt of lilies worthy of Solomon. Her face glittering with concentration, she stripped the roses of their thorns and fashioned them into a crown.
“My lord.” A plea beyond the door.
“Hold!” Magnus ordered, his cheek against the wood.
When he twisted round again Elfrida was robed in her gown and plaiting her long hair. “Splendor
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in…” The oath died on his lips. At times his wife’s beauty was almost unearthly, utterly peerless. How? He wanted to ask, but it was Elfrida herself and what she could do.
The brown dress was transformed, enchanted by the woman wearing it and her flowers. She was a living tapestry, her face that of an angel’s, her unveiled hair brighter than a dragon’s flame and crowned by white and pink roses. Sleeved with oxeye daisies and corncockle, belted by lilies and garlanded with golden marigolds, the sweet fragrance as she moved was rich as the summer itself.
There were even flowers for him, Magnus realized, as she secured a spray of oxeye daisies across his chest.
“Hey!” he half-protested, but she wagged a busy finger. “Today, you are my lord of flowers. These are your banner.”


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