This is a short short story thrown together in a flash challenge. Would very much like to extend and workshop into something more betterish.

Folly and Roses

I - The Bright Road

My horse threw me on my way from the city of April. Wizards don't often fare well with horses or with cities, but I was young then. There was a woman I loved who lived in April, and that went as it often goes, so my poor heart had need of conveyance faster than my feet. I lay where I'd fallen for a while, not dissatisfied, for now it seemed that the world had some balance to it: my bruised and twisted body now made a match with my heart, and the stolen horse was returning to wherever it more truly belonged. I didn't mind trouble or sorrow; I minded that vertiginous sway of things not being as they ought to be. You may say that a broken heart is not as it ought to be, but we wizards make a goodly part of our living by considering context.

I had got far enough away that the road was no longer paved. The dirt line was narrow and brambles grew over onto it here and there, and I saw no other travelers. The sun was low and cast a red sheen on the dirt. I tested my body, found it as functional as my heart, and stood carefully. But when I turned around, the single narrow path I had been following was now three paths, and each with a different sky. One was guarded by a filthy little dwarf, one by a bear, and one by a low wall of thorny roses. It only took a minute's thought for me to choose the path guarded by roses, for, you will recall, I was in love. Also this road was on the left, which is the direction wizards often tend towards, and it looked bright and hot on that road, and I felt I would see clearly there.

So I walked through the roses, letting them pierce and rip at me, for no good will come of hacking at magical roses if one is not a prince. When I turned again, as one does, they were of course vanished, and I set off down a broad empty road paved with white stone, with desert on either side. As I walked, I thought of that woman, dancing or sewing somewhere in April, and this quenched my thirst and shaded my head. Still, I grew uncomfortable with only one story singing in my head, so it was with relief that I saw something, a strange bulky shape, crest a nearby dune and head for my road - friend or foe, it was something new to consider, and for that I was grateful.

The bulky shape had skinny legs, I saw as it grew closer. Skinny, tireless legs, faster than one might think, especially in the desert where things that are far away can seem so near. Soon enough it called out, "Hallo!" and waved a skinny arm to stop me. Even if I hadn't already been interested in company of whatever kind, I would have stopped, for we wizards make a goodly part of our living by paying strict attention to anything that speaks to one on a road. I waved back, and stopped, and presently I saw that the creature was just a skinny person carrying a very large burden on its back. Soon after that, I was shaking a rough hand and staring into a very ugly face, which smiled and spoke in the clattering noise of a street urchin.

"Good sir! Bells and buttons, 'twas right goodly of you to stop for us, you! We've been out here longer than a virgin's wishlist, we have, and there's nothing as folds a road like another pair of feet, providing there's a brain and tongue to match. I'm called the Snaggle. On account of the chompers," said the creature, smiling at me to show a terrible set of narrow, jumbled-up teeth. Some were missing, some were gold, all seemed like they'd simply been thrown into their home with no consideration for where they might land. I peered at the face, could not decide if it were a girl's or a boy's, and then decided not to try to assign titles where none were due. It would have been as reasonable for me to try to decide whether it were more like a duchess or a count. Really it resembled nothing so much as a rat, with small black eyes and a narrow, hungry face.

"I'm called Folly," I said. "Who is we?"

"Bless me with a hazel switch! I been out here too long, musta got sand in my head." The Snaggle crouched down, slipped out of its burden, and started untying knots, and I stood back. But then the rat swooped away some sheer fabric and there was a lady in her satchel. She was old and white, dressed in gray silk, and had folded up quite neatly. She looked out at me as though from an opera box, and presented a gloved hand to be kissed.

"This here's Rothe," laughed the Snaggle.

"How did you get here?" said Rothe, her voice smooth and cold, as these older ladies can talk sometimes. I told her my little story, and she laughed at me.

"Where does this road lead?" I asked, and perhaps I sounded a little hurt, because she patted my arm.

"I won't tell you," she smiled. "You've already been told twice."

"And what is over that dune?"

"Another dune," she said.

"Will you tell me how you fit on the Snaggle's back, and how you were carried so far?"

She smiled widely, so I could see that her teeth, though very small and white, were not the teeth of some monster or angel. "I have grown very light, and very white, though once I was round and rosy."

The rat sat down and took off its boots, shaking them out, so I sat down too, knowing that it was time for a tale.


II - The Lady's Story

I think you know some of this story, for you strike me as the kind. I and my twin sister Parsie lived, as girls, in a cottage in the woods with our widow mother. A house of women will take on clear faces, and so mine was the face that the beasts and huntsmen saw and hers was the face that the travelers and visitors saw, and few saw us both at once, for we were too different to fit into one set of eyes. My sister was slim and silent, knew her prayer book, ate moderately, covered her skin when we went out. I was rowdy and let the sun burn my skin and the hunstmen burn my heart. One day a bear came to see us and he knew us both. Parsie saw fine cloth-of-gold under his fur once when I hit him too hard, but I only saw fur. So we loved him as we might love a mirror that we could both stand before.

There was also dwarf we were kind to, though it had caused our bear some trouble. We were not sorry; we loved this dwarf. For the dwarf, loving neither of us, saw us both as well. He would spit at us whenever we helped him, and slap at our fingers, and whenever one of us said something he would plug his ears and tell us he'd already been told twice. The bear killed the dwarf one day and turned into a man, and as a man, he wanted to marry Parsie. He wanted to marry me, too, so he tried to give me his brother. But I couldn't be consoled.

"You don't know what it's like," he said. "When you talk to me, I think I'm a bear again."

I shouted at him then, asking what he could ever know about being two things. For I was twins, there were two of me, and now there was no one to love both the white face and the red one, or to hate both the gentle hand and the firm one. Whatever was said to either of us, I heard twice, through my different ears. How could his trial compare? He was not two men, he was a man and a bear, and one fit inside the other! And now the bear was gone anyway. He had cut and plucked us only to get through us, to continue on his path.

So I said I would never love again, and would learn the trick of fitting inside things, that one day I might emerge. I found Beede here who is a cousin of that dwarf, and who is also a horder, and I search the world and turn away from it in my fashion. I stay far from the forest. I have grown white and still as my sister, and she, in love and joy, has grown as round and golden as I.

III - The Answer

The lady finished her tale and waited.

It only took a moment's thought before I scooted over to the Snaggle, took its face in my hand, and kissed its awful mouth.

Then I saw that it was not the Snaggle at all but the woman from April in my hands, and she smiled so sweetly.

"Well," she said. "What do you have to say to me?"

I smiled back and answered, "Nothing."