"The Legend of Ashiun," Lionheart tells Rose Red, "is one of the oldest Faerie stories there is. I have it in a text back home. One of the engravings shows the older brother approaching the gateway to Death's Path. It was a cave that looks exactly like this . . ." (p.35).
A wolf's head, shaped in stone, uncarved. That's what the cave on the mountaintop looks like.
But it was still just a cave. Leo sagely stated as much.
The girl tilted her head at him. "Shows what you know" (p.34).
Rose Red, even at that young age, is aware that there is much more going on with this cave than Leo realizes. But it is Leo who first gives her some idea of how old this secret, nearly inaccessible place might be. He tells her the Legend of Ashiun, and how two Faerie brothers passed into this cave, the one searching for the Dragon himself, the other, seeking to save his brother. The lost brother was at last saved, but only after he had killed the other.
A sad fate for two famous warriors, servants of the Prince of Farthestshore. And a tale to which Leo knows no happy ending.
But the story continues for the cave at least. For though knowledge of its workings has passed into nothing more than myth, it is still what it has always been: A gateway between the mortal realm and the realm of Death.
Every night, when Rose Red dreams, a dark voice calls to her. And she rises up in spirit and, flowing through a dreamlike landscape, she climbs the mountain to the cave and enters in. There, in a pool of hot water, she sees the face of the Dragon, disguised in a man's form. There, every night, he tries to convince her to take his kiss.
What becomes of Rose Red at her continued refusal, you will have to read for yourself. For the moment, at least, we will consider only the cave.
Though at first the cave may seem to have a set location, we quickly learn that the gateway to Death's Realm is not so limited as all that. As the story progresses, and Rose Red leaves the mountain to serve as a chambermaid in the house of the Eldest, she incites the wrath of the Dragon. He comes down to the lowlands, takes the Eldest's House, and grafts it onto his own, otherworldly domain.
So it is that Rose Red finds herself standing in a doorway of the House that should lead to a simple servant's stairway. Instead:
It gaped like jaws, and there was no stairway spiraling up. Instead, a tunnel lay beyond the door, a tunnel leading down, down, into darkness. As Rose Red stood in that doorway, her hands clutching the frame, she thought she heard a trickle of water, a stream, deep inside.
It was the mouth of the mountain monster's cave. Here, in the Eldest's House. A stench like death rose up to meet her (p. 231).
No matter where she runs or how she tries to hide, she cannot escape the darkness pursuing her. She cannot flee the path she is called to walk.
But there is more to the story than destiny and doom. Though the Dragon may do all he can to convince her that this gateway and this darkness belongs solely to him, he is not so powerful as he portrays himself. Even in Death, hope may be found . . .
The development of the mountain monster's cave came from short stories set in this world that I wrote back in high school and early college. Originally, this cave played a key role in the Legend of Starflower, though, oddly enough, it doesn't feature even once in the novel Starflower coming out later this year. But it survived to have a role in Veiled Rose and a small but important part in Book 5, which I am currently drafting.
I always enjoy seeing which aspects of those original stories I invented so many years ago make it into my professional work. Rose Red herself and the whole story of Veiled Rose developed much, much later. But they move and breathe very naturally in the original world I was writing about at age 17!
So the moral of this story is: Never throw out any of your writing, no matter how simplistic or silly it might seem to you. Sometimes all it needs is to sit a few years, giving you time to experience the life you need to in order to tell the story the way it really wants to be told. But in the meanwhile, let it sit, let it marinate.
Oh, and work on other projects!