No need to extend any further! Child sleeping, story (mostly) finished. I haven't extensively proofread, and there are probably some major leaps in logic and holes that should be filled, but screw it. Here 'tis!
Rose and Thorn
Oliver chased the stray ball down the hill of the park to a small clearing and found it resting underneath the toe of an old woman. He waited a moment, hesitant to approach a stranger, even one as frail and passive as this old woman appeared to him. She was dressed all in grey, a black shawl pulled round her shoulders. Her skin was the color of caramel, and her face was carved and pitted with deep wrinkles. Aside from the way she idly rolled the ball back and forth beneath the toe of her squared shoe, she seemed to be unaware of anything else in the world, Oliver included. Her attention was focused solely on the single rosebush that grew in the middle of the clearing.
Oliver cleared his throat the way he'd heard grown-ups do when they wanted to get someone's attention. His voice came out smaller than he had planned. "May...may I have my ball back?"
The old woman looked over to him, and made a motion as if to kick the ball, but thought better of it. She pulled the ball back beneath the bench.
"Do you like fairy tales?" she asked.
Oliver hesitated. "I...I guess so," he said.
"I will give you back your ball if you listen to a story," she said. "A fairy tale. Just one. It's been a long time since I've told it, and I could do with the practice."
Oliver momentarily considered abandoning the ball, but as she gestured for him to sit in front of her, he did so.
The old lady took a deep breath and then stopped, as if searching for the proper words. Then she smiled. "Once upon a time," she said.
Once upon a time, there was a young princess who was the sole heir to her father's throne. She was a headstrong girl, and though she was raised to follow the expectations of her gender, she had a quality of tough tomboyishness, which was perhaps befitting someone who might one day sit on the throne. The princess, whose name was Rose--
"Like the flower?" asked Oliver.
"Yes," said the old woman. "Now, don't interrupt me."
The princess, whose name was Rose, spent much of her life inside the walls of the castle and the adjoining parcel of land that was maintained and preserved for use by those who lived the privileged life that royalty commands. She was accompanied everywhere by teachers, instructors, counselors, and protectors. She never rode alone, but always alongside, or being followed by (because Princess Rose was an excellent rider). She never walked through the gardens without being constantly observed through the bushes by two or three others. She slept at night with a guard outside her door.
As a young girl, she never thought anything of it. This was the way of life she had always known, and she assumed that all children everywhere spent every moment under the watchful eye of protective adults. But one day, just after her thirteenth birthday, she was walking through a meadow with her locution instructor and practicing her enunciation, she spied a small ball bouncing from the forest across her path. Shortly after followed a boy, she supposed around the same age as she, with messy hair and a dirty face (looking a lot like yourself, in fact), bent and scrambling to catch the ball. As he finally caught up with it, he realized he wasn't alone.
"Oh, please don't tell on me," he said.
"Tell on you?" asked Princess Rose.
"Peasants aren't supposed to enter the royal gardens," said the instructor. Rose was about to protest that this didn't seem fair when the instructor clutched her by the elbow and began to lead her away.
"Wait, what's your name?" Rose called over her shoulder.
"Thorn," said the boy after some hesitation. "But please don't tell on me!"
Rose thought often of the boy in weeks to come. She lay awake in her bed imagining the lives of peasants who would one day be her subjects, and wondered why they weren't allowed on the grounds surrounding the castle, and what had led the boy there. The more she wondered, the more she desired to walk among the common people of her kingdom, to observe their ways of living, and most of all, to see the boy Thorn, who had made an impression on her.
She asked her father for permission to go to the nearby village, and he steadfastly refused. She practiced the skills of rhetoric and debate that she'd been learning, attempting to convince him that it was best for a future ruler to know about her subjects. Finally, she used the one tactic she knew would work. She opened her eyes wide, and said sweetly, "Please, Father? For your Rose?"
The next day, she went out with three guards armed with swords, and walked the dusty streets of the town. She rode past countless farms, barely standing thatched huts and gruff men hoeing the hard soil. When they reached the village center, she went to the market, seeing the sellers there arguing the prices of their goods. She went to the blacksmith, and saw him stoke the flames of his forge. She went to the church and spoke to the priest there in hushed tones.
"Where can I find the boy Thorn?" she asked him.
The priest looked at her with some disdain.
"He's the witch's son," he said. "They live in the thicket by the river. But you shouldn't be inquiring about boys like him. He's well beneath you, and his mother, as I said, is a practioner of the evil arts."
But Rose wouldn't be dissuaded from seeing the boy again. When evening fell, as she and her guards rode back to the castle, she tugged the reins and dug her heels in, speeding toward the village. Because, as I said before, she was an excellent rider, and wasn't weighed down by the armor and weaponry her guards wore, she easily outpaced them. She was away in a flash, toward the thicket by the river.
When she arrived there, she found it a curious place, a structure overgrown by moss and ivy, such that the house looked as though it was growing out of the earth itself. She dismounted and nervously approached the door, where she knocked softly. The door was pulled open to reveal a woman, tall with raven colored hair, backlit by a flame that was burning inside.
"Yes?" the woman asked impatiently.
"I'm..." Rose briefly considered lying about her identity. "I'm Princess Rose."
"Do you think I'm a fool?" asked the woman, her jaw hardening. "Everyone knows who you are. What do you want here?"
"Can I speak to Thorn?"
The woman looked surprised. "Thorn? What do you want with Thorn?"
Rose thought for a moment. "I...I want to make friends?"
The woman smiled ever so slightly. "I suppose that's alright," she said. She stepped aside and motioned for the princess to enter. There, sitting at the table with a mouthful of stew was the same dirty faced boy she'd seen weeks back.
"Hello," he said, then finished chewing. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. In the hours that followed, Thorn taught Rose how to skip rocks across the river, Rose let Thorn ride her horse through the meadow, and twice they successfully hid from the guards that roamed the area searching for the missing princess.
When the sun had set completely, Rose realized with a heavy heart that she must return to the castle.
"My father will never let me come back," she said. "I've had such a wonderful time, and I'll never get to see you again." She thought a moment, looked at the woman.
"Is it true that you're a witch?" she asked.
"Only somewhat true," the woman said. "I have...certain abilities with flora."
"Is there any magic that can help me return?"
The witch pondered this question. The princess seemed to be genuine, and Thorn had enjoyed her company. She left the room, and returned with a cloak made of finely woven grass.
"This cloak will disguise you. After the sun goes down, you can use it to leave the castle unnoticed."
Rose took the cloak and pulled it around her shoulders. The effect wasn't invisibility, but rather Rose became plain, so that you might not even notice her as someone if she were standing in the same room with you. She thanked the woman, said her good-byes to Thorn, and returned to the castle.
She left her horse in the livery stable, wrapped the cloak around her and strolled undetected into the castle. There, she slipped into her room, put on her dressing gown, and went to the throne room where her father was anxiously pacing the floor.
"What's all the hub-bub?" she asked, faking a yawn. Her father was flabbergasted, but relieved that his daughter had apparently been in her room in the castle all evening, instead of lost somewhere amongst the villagers.
Rose didn't dare risk venturing out the next night, with the king's watchful eye still upon her. But following that, and every night thereafter, she wrapped the grass cloak around her shoulders and tip-toed down the path to the stables, then galloped on to past the village to the moss-covered home where she played with her new friend Thorn. They had an hour and a half together every night before Thorn's mother warned that Rose shouldn't leave the castle for too long, lest she arouse suspicion.
Through the years, they became quite fond of each other. First, they were friends. Then, they were best friends. Then, one day three years later, in the soft glow of a full moon reflecting off of the river, Thorn leaned over to give Rose a peck on the cheek. Looking sheepish, he apologized. He was shocked when she took him in her arms and returned with a fuller, longer kiss of her own.
The years had been kind to Rose and Thorn, but not to everyone else. Their relationship was one of the few things blossoming during this time period. Heavy periods of drought, waves of blight, and infertile ground had reduced the food supplies of the kingdom. The people grew weaker and poorer, and thus did the nation as well.
The king, having heard of the witch woman's abilities, called her to court. He asked if she could do anything to alleviate the crop problems.
"My power is not that great," she said. "I could perhaps raise one field of wheat, but I would expend all of my energy doing so. I'm sorry, but I cannot help."
The king, disappointed, sent her away. He feared the woman and her powers, but he feared the alternative even more. As his kingdom grew weak, others nearby began to look greedily upon it. The king knew that he must broker for some sort of protection from a larger realm, and he only had one bargaining tool: his daughter's hand.
The suitor came a week after Rose's seventeenth birthday, the spoiled prince of a larger kingdom with a larger army. Rose and her father sat in the throne room as he arrived, adorned in fine delicate fabrics lined with sparkling metals and gems. He strolled to the king, glanced over Rose as one might a horse being sold, and said, "That will do. That will do just fine."
The king looked over at Rose embarrassedly. He hadn't warned her about the impending marriage, hoping that the prince could successfully woo his daughter, and not encounter her reactionary, defiant side.
"What does he mean, father, when he says, 'That will do?'" she asked pointedly.
The king tried to explain, but all that came out was, "Well," and "You see," and "I, uh."
"I think I understand," she said. She turned to the prince. "I'm sorry, I can't marry you. Don't be insulted, but I love someone else."
This came as news to the king, and to the prince, who, despite her request, was insulted.
In fact, he bellowed, "I've never been so insulted in all of my life!"
"You love someone else?" her father interrupted. "Who?"
Rose hesitated. She knew that answer would only lead to more questions. But she wanted to be honest.
"Thorn, the son of the woman who has powers over plants," she admitted.
Both men looked at her slack-jawed for a moment before the prince spoke: "Spurned for the son of a witch? And I thought the insult could cut no deeper." He turned to the king. "But surely, you realize your daughter has no say in this matter. A truce has been struck."
The king remained slack-jawed, his gaze darting back and forth between his daughter and the prince. "But, I...."
"Oh father," cried Rose. "What have you done?" She ran from the throne room in disgust.
The king continued to stammer after her long after she was gone. The prince watched for awhile, before the thin guise of a smile bent his face.
"There is a way through this," he said. "Of course, there always is." He leaned forward to whisper conspiratorially.
An hour later, the king found his way into his daughter's room, where he found her removing a strange grass-woven cloak from a trunk.
"There is a way through this," he said to her. "There always is. Go to your Thorn, tell him of your love, and instruct him that he must come to formally ask for your hand. Then, we can break the bargain with the prince as you will already be betrothed."
Rose dropped the cloak and hugged her father tight, when she should have hesitated to search his eyes for the truth. As she sprinted from the room, he felt sick to his stomach, for he knew that Thorn already waited downstairs in the throne room for an audience with the king. He strode down to find the prince already circling the peasant boy and chuckling to himself. Seeing his ragged clothes, the king guessed that the witch had put some sort of spell on his daughter, hoping to access her riches. The king strode past the boy, seated himself on his throne, and gripped the arm rests.
"I understand your name is Thorn and you are the son of the witch woman," the king began. Thorn nodded. "I also understand that my daughter loves you."
Thorn didn't know what to say. For one, he knew this was a secret that carried consequences were it to be known by the king. For another, Rose had never actually said the word 'love' to him, and he was elated to hear it. The mix of emotions showed on his face.
"You may as well tell me everything, boy. From the beginning."
And so Thorn did, in detail, for he was not a great storyteller, from the first time they met in the clearing to their latest rendezvous the previous evening, where Rose had read him poetry, and he'd showed her how to tell poisonous mushrooms from edible. As he spoke, the king was moved by the earnest and innocent affection the young man had for his daughter. He looked to the prince, and then to Thorn, and knew deep down whihc would make his daughter happier.
Thorn took so long to tell his story that Rose had time to reach his home. When she knocked on the door this time, Thorn's mother came to it ashen and pale.
"What do you want here?" she asked. Rose was taken aback.
"I've come to see Thorn," she said.
"Come to see Thorn?" said the mother. "Your father sent two palace guards to fetch my Thorn nearly a half hour past! What have you done, girl?"
Rose's countenance fell, her hand darting to her open mouth. She didn't know what was happening, but it certainly wasn't good.
"Come with me," she said, starting toward her horse. "We have to get back to the castle."
The prince was not as moved by Thorn's story as the king had been, and, as the king had earlier, he guessed that some trickery was involved. He could see no other reason for a princess to cavort with a commoner such as this, and certainly no reason for her to choose him over the handsomer, richer, more regal prince.
"Nothing but lies," the prince said. "He wastes our time. Get on with it."
"Get on with it?" Thorn asked.
"Y-Yes," stammered the king. "You see, we thought we might bargain with you. Offer you a f-fee to end your meetings with my daughter, and to never speak of them to anyone."
"You want to...bribe me to stay away from Rose?" Thorn asked.
"That is, I believe, I mean to say," said the king, "The long and short of it."
"But I love her," Thorn said. "And...if you've brought me here then...then she must love me too."
The prince resumed his circling. "Enough talk. This is obviously the work of an enchantment."
"No...." said Thorn.
"Send your guards to the princess' room, and seek this cloak. No doubt we'll find that it has the stink of a bewitching spell upon it."
"No...." said Thorn.
"And as for you," said the prince. "I've dealt with enchanters before, and there's one sure way to break their spell." He drew from a sheath at his side a small sword.
"No!" said Thorn.
"No!" said the king.
"Yes!" said the prince as he lunged with the blade.
When Rose and Thorn's mother arrived in the throne room, the floor had been stained crimson by the flow of Thorn's blood. He curled on the cold stone, the prince's sword still in him, his eyes wide and lifeless. The prince held Rose's cloak in his hands, muttering to himself that the magic seemed to have worn off of it. The king still sat on his throne, his eyes fixed on some invisible point in the distance. His mouth moved, but no words came.
Rose ran to Thorn, her arms stretching around him. She jerked her head up to look at her father.
"Why?" she yelled.
The witch woman still stood at the door, horrified at the sight of her son's prone body and the blood that had poured from him.
"WHO DID THIS?" she shrieked.
The prince dropped the cloak and reached for the sheath at his side, but found it empty. His action revealed everything.
The witch glared at the cloak near his feet, gazed up across his ostentatious clothing to his now cowardly face.
"Grass," she said, waving her hand, and the prince exploded into a thousand kernels of grass seed that fell on the floor like a thick mist. She turned her attention to the king.
"Who did this?" she demanded. The king shifted his attention to her, and, though his mouth moved, no words escaped.
"Mums," said the witch, and where there was once a king, there was now a collection of fat yellow flowers.
Rose, who still kneeled at Thorn's side, watched in horror as the witch distributed her wrath.
"No! Father!" she cried, and began to run to him. She stopped as she saw the witch turn on her. Rose stood, covered in the blood of the one she loved. Her hands fell to her side.
"My Thorn is dead, my father gone. Do me too," she said. She lowered her eyes from the witch. "I don't want to live as I am any longer."
The witch's heart was a torrent of emotion. This girl, and her father, were in some way responsible for her son's death, and yet....
The woman ceased telling her story. Her breath came slow and deep. Her eyes fixed upon the flower in the clearing.
"And yet?" demanded Oliver.
The woman blinked a few times and shook her head as to clear it.
...And yet, she, like her son had grown to love this girl over time. But her hand had begun its motion and her mouth was uttering the word before she realized what she was doing.
Where once there had been a beautiful, independent princess, there was now a new and strange blossom, its petals red as the blood that had stained the dress.
"Rose," the witch had said.
She stood still for a moment. The guards, who had at one time been ready to advance, now cowered at her power. She slowly walked to the flower on the floor, picked it up, cradled it in her hands. She traced the tip of her finger around the delicate petals. She took a breath and carried the flower to lay upon her son's body. She waved her hand for the last time.
"Thorn," she said. The boy was gone, in his place the thick green stem at the base of the blossom.
The guards finally surrounded her. She was arrested, and they tried to execute her, but it never took. The kingdom fell, as all kingdoms do, and eventually, the woman, the princess Rose, the murdered boy Thorn, the haughty prince, and the hesitant king were all forgotten. But I remember, and I tell you so that you will know the story of the rose and the thorn.
The woman stood from the bench and walked to the flower bush in the middle of the meadow.
"The flower, you see, at once breathtaking and tragic. Seen by all as something most beautiful when plucked. And the thorn, ensuring that all who know that beauty must feel the sting of pain. Forever the two of them intertwined."
The woman turned to Oliver. He saw that she had tears in her eyes.
"I didn't mean to...it's just that...I loved my son very much," she said.
Oliver realized suddenly that the woman had abandoned his ball. The deal mostly kept, he darted for it, and sprinted back up the hill where his friends had already begun calling for him.
"What was that about?" one of them asked when he reached the peak.
"I don't know. Some sort of story about gardening, I think," he said. He tossed the ball into the group of children, and off they went giggling and playing in the afternoon sun.