Rosemina first encountered her curse at age five when the neighbor boy chased her behind the rosebushes, pressed his sticky, candy-covered lips against hers and promptly fell down dead. To this day the taste of chocolate and the scent of roses are synonymous with death in Rosemina’s mind.
Rosemina’s beauty was exquisite. So lovely was she, that every boy who laid eyes upon her felt compelled to kiss her. And so it was many years, and many ill-fated kisses, before Rosemina and the rest of the village came to understand it was not merely misfortune that caused all of her suitors to die. It was Rosemina.
You see, her lips were poisonous.
The town leaders held a meeting and it was decided that Rosemina must be confined to her house whenever possible. At those times when it was necessary she venture out, her lips must always be covered, lest any boy unable to control his urges be killed.
Rosemina’s father built a cottage in the forest at the very edge of town and there she spent her days, shunned and alone.
The years passed and Rosemina grew both lovelier and lonelier. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, Rosemina made a wish on a falling star. Let there be one soul whose life would not end with her kiss. One soul she could love and be loved by.
The next morning Rosemina woke to a vigorous pounding on the cottage door. Her father’s shouts brought her into the front room where he struggled with men in full armor. “You will not take her! I forbid it!”
“What is this, Father?”
At the sound of her voice, which was almost as lovely as she, the men released her father. They swayed at the sight of Rosemina and she was glad to see that as a precaution, their helmets had been sealed shut.
Rosemina listened with budding hope as her father explained that the King’s son had heard tales of her beauty and wanted to be the one to break her curse himself. She did not hear the edge of fear in her father’s voice, only the news that her wish had come true. For, surely, if anyone could break her curse, it would be a prince.
Rosemina was dizzy with happiness, an emotion so unfamiliar that she stumbled more than walked her way to the awaiting carriage. She barely noticed the way the King’s men avoided her once she was safely locked inside. Rosemina found it far more exciting to watch the world go by knowing that this time, it was she leaving it behind.
It was only when they arrived at the castle, with its great outdoor stage and crowd of spectators, that Rosemina became nervous. Before she had a chance to dwell on her fears, she was yanked from the carriage by more hands than she had ever felt at one time.
The Queen’s ladies oohed and ahhed over her as they pulled her along stone corridors, stripped her of her “filthy rags” and shoved her in the deepest, warmest bath she had ever felt. She had a moment, before the scrubbing began, to think that if heaven were anything like this, being put to death would be just fine.
When Rosemina was dressed in so much finery she could hardly stand upright, the Queen paid her a visit. Rosemina felt her cheeks go warm under the older woman’s gaze. The Queen made a slow circle around Rosemina, piercing her with a glare. “Do you intend to murder my son?”
Rosemina gasped at the Queen’s directness, but held her head high when she replied. “No, your Highness.”
The Queen cocked her head, her voice a touch warmer this time. “This curse, what do you know of it? Who cursed you?”
“I know nothing, your Highness. I believe I was born this way.”
The Queen pursed her lips and glowered at Rosemina. “Hear my words, girl. Our wisest physicians and most powerful sorcerers have prepared protective potions and talismans for the Prince, but if you bring death to this castle, it’s your head I’ll have.”
Rosemina drew in a shaky breath. “Yes, your Highness.”
“Cover her,” said the Queen to her ladies. She left the room as a velvet hood came down over Rosemina’s face, shrouding her in darkness.
As she was lead to the outdoor stage, Rosemina reminded herself that in the old stories, it was always the Prince’s kiss that broke the curse. Soon she would be free. No longer the town pariah, but a princess.
Rosemina knew she’d reached the stage when she heard the murmur of the crowd. The velvet hood was pulled gently from her head and the audience gasped. She found herself looking into the astonished eyes of the Prince.
His face broke into a wide grin. “You’re even more beautiful than the stories said.”
Rosemina tingled with pride. For the first time in her life, she was glad to be beautiful. Glad that someone wanted to kiss her. “As are you, your Highness.”
The Prince’s eyes widened with surprise and then he laughed. “I think I’m going to enjoy having you as my wife.”
Rosemina’s cheeks ached from smiling. Her years of suffering had been worthwhile if only to bring her to this moment.
The Prince held up his hand and the crowd silenced. “Now, let’s take care of that curse, shall we?”
Rosemina nodded, no longer caring if she appeared too eager. The Prince cupped her face in his hands and leaned forward. His lips were soft and warm and gentle as they touched hers. She sank into them, certain that this was what kissing was supposed to feel like. All too soon, the Prince pulled away. She opened her eyes and he grinned with pride. The crowd erupted in cheers.
Rosemina laughed with joy and relief when the Prince reached for her hand and held it aloft in victory. She looked back at the King and Queen who smiled from their thrones.
The Prince gave Rosemina’s hand a reassuring squeeze and she turned to him just in time to see his face go slack. “My lord?”
Without a word, the Prince collapsed dead at her feet.
A stunned silence befell the spectators. Rosemina stood frozen, gazing down at the Prince’s body, willing him to wake. Surely, he was playing a trick. He had been protected by the kingdom’s finest physicians and most powerful sorcerers. If anyone were to break her curse, it would be him.
When the Prince didn’t rouse, the Queen ordered her men to arrest Rosemina. But Rosemina was light on her feet, and the men were clad in heavy armor. She pushed her way through the crowd and headed into the forest. She ran as fast and far as she was able, until she came upon a small clearing where she fell to her knees and wept.
“Hello,” said a voice from the shadows of the wood. The figure of a young man came toward her. Rosemina shied away, not wanting to meet the eyes of anyone, let alone another man. “Don’t be frightened,” he said. “My name is Johnathan.” The man held out his hand.
“My name is…Magnaline.” Rosemina pulled her hood up over her head and tried to shield her face. She knew that if he were to see her, he too would be compelled to kiss her. She would not send another innocent man to his death. “Don’t look at me. Please.”
Johnathan laughed. “I wouldn’t dare,” he said as he stepped out of the shadows. Johnathan was plain but handsome. His well-groomed hair fell over his ears in light brown waves, but the feature that stood out to her most were his eyes, cloudy grey and unfocused.
“Yes, but even I know that you’ve been weeping. I don’t live very far. If you’d like, I could offer you a meal and a place to sleep, and return you safely to your home in the morning. ”
Rosemina knew, as horrible as it were, that if this man proved to be untrustworthy she needed only to kiss him. Having nowhere else to go, and not much light left in the day, she accepted his offer and followed him to a quaint little cottage nestled deep within the forest.
Johnathan prepared a small meal for the two and readied his own bed with clean linens for Rosemina. He hadn’t asked why Rosemina had been crying or where she had come from, but she felt after the kindness he’d shown her, that he deserved to know her story. “My name isn’t Magnaline,” she said.
Rosemina detected the amusement in his voice. “You know who I am, don’t you?”
“I’ve heard tell of a girl so beautiful that no man can resist her kiss.”
“And you’ve heard of what becomes of such men?”
“I have. And I know that this girl was summoned by the Prince only this morning. One can only assume the lady’s curse remains unbroken?”
A wave of sadness overcame Rosemina at the mention of the young Prince.
“Rosemina?” Johnathan reached across the table and caressed her cheek. “May I?”
“Yes,” she whispered. Johnathan moved his hand down her chin. He felt her jaw, her nose, her brow. “You are beautiful,” he said. A tear fell from her cheek onto his thumb. “Come.” Johnathan stood and pulled her to her feet.
“No,” she said. “You mustn’t.”
He smiled. “I cannot be compelled to kiss you, Rosemina.” He held out his hand. “Perhaps I could be the one to break this curse.”
Rosemina hesitated. If she took his hand, he would pull her to him. He would kiss her, she was certain. She wanted more than anything to break her curse, and he was a man who could not be lured by her beauty. A man who could kiss her of his own free will. But if it didn’t work, could she watch him die at her hand?
“I promise you, it will be worth it,” he said. “For the both of us.”
So distraught and full of longing, Rosemina made her wish again, Let there be one soul whose life would not end with her kiss. Let that soul be his. She stepped closer to Johnathan and took his hand.
He wrapped his arms around her. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to hope. Johnathan’s lips brushed her nose, then her cheek. As his kisses neared her mouth, a pounding at the door startled them both. Johnathan motioned for Rosemina to be still.
“Woodsman! Open your door, by order of the Queen!”
Rosemina was at once frightened and relieved. The guard at the door was surely here to escort her to the gallows, yet he had very likely saved the Woodsman from meeting the Prince’s fate. Rosemina stepped away from Johnathan, covering her traitorous lips with one hand. How could she have thought to kiss him when he had been so kind?
“Woodsman!” The guard shouted again.
“Cover your face,” he spoke softly to Rosemina and gestured to the bed where a small pile of blankets sat folded at the foot. “All will be well. I promise you.”
“Wait,” she begged as the guard again pounded on the door. It was not only her face that would belie the truth of her identity, but the satin and velvet of her garments. With her hands moving as quickly as her heart, Rosemina wrapped herself from head to toe in the gray and brown blankets of homespun and wool.
Just as she lowered a thin piece of gray wool over her face, the Woodsman opened the door, for fear the guard would burn his meager home to ashes. As the guard pushed Johnathan aside to enter, Rosemina could see through the fibers before her eyes that the Queen had again ordered his helmet sealed at the neck. Her kisses would be no defense against this man. It would take the magic of the Queen’s sorcerers to unbind that metal.
“Please,” Johnathan opened his hands before him. Empty as they were, Rosemina now knew they saw the world as clearly as did her own eyes. “Forgive me, good sir, my wife is ill and tired and wishes no visitors. What is it the Queen desires of a humble Woodsman and his wife?”
Rosemina found it difficult not to gasp and fidget as Johnathan spoke. Again she thought of the Prince and his beautiful smile as he said the word ‘wife.’ Only a few moments after, he was dead.
The guard loomed very near Rosemina. She could see as little of his face as he could of hers, but she was certain he scowled behind the metal shield. Much as she wanted to, she did not move lest her wrappings fall away and reveal the riches hidden beneath them.
“Your wife, you say?” When the guard spoke, his breath was strong and sour through the grate. Rosemina stifled a cough and wondered that more people weren’t killed by kisses. Surely a mouth that rotten was every bit as poisonous as her own lips. “What’s wrong with her face?”
“As I said, she is quite ill. The – light. It’s too much for her eyes.” The pause was a small one, but noticeable and Rosemina coughed in the hopes of convincing the guard of her illness. But it was not enough and the guard demanded she remove her shawl and turn her face to him.
It took very little imagination to know the guard’s lips curled back over his rotten teeth as Rosemina slowly removed the cloth from her head. “Now, prove she’s your wife,” the guard said and Rosemina shivered. “Kiss her.”
“No,” she whispered as Johnathan took her face in his hands, but he whispered over her lips that all would be well. But Rosemina was not convinced. No man in his right mind would have moved to kiss her so quickly. There was no doubt in her mind that Johnathan had been compelled.
His lips fell on hers before she could draw another breath to protest and even as the warmth of them soothed her, she felt that this kiss was no different from all of the others. Again she cast her wish to the sky, Let there be one soul whose life would not end with her kiss. Let that soul be his, but even as she did, she remembered the smell of roses and despaired.
If she could have made that kiss last a lifetime, she would have, for his lips were sweet as honey. But Johnathan, who was perhaps more aware of the guard’s gaze than Rosemina, pulled his lips from hers. It was done, her fate and his sealed with a kiss. She would either die today or a Woodsman’s wife.
Rosemina drew a deep breath, looked into Johnathan’s clouded eyes, and again dared to hope.
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