Her Serene Empress of Rose

A review – and a long-ago tale – of Amouage “Epic Woman”

Very many sunsets ago in the fabled city of Samarkand lived a widow who had grown rich from the many rivers of treasure that flowed through like water from all ends of the great Silk Road. Silks, samite and ebony from faraway Cathay, spices and perfumes and gems from India to the far south, rare and costly incense from distant, mysterious desert trees, woods and essences from Chenla of the many wondrous stories the merchants exchanged like their goods in the teahouses by the riverside on breathless, hot afternoons.

The widow herself was of indeterminate age, not quite old and wizened by her years, but not so young she was an easy prey for the traders out to make a profit. Once, so the local gossips said, she had been a slave girl brought from a mountain kingdom to the south and west, but this slave girl had somehow managed to marry into a trading house, and when her husband died, she had continued his business, handling merchants and caravans and all manner of goods and trade with equal and admirable ease. No merchant was ever short-shifted in a trade, no caravan mistreated, and even the camels she knew to make happy in her care.

Like all women in any age and indeed all traders, this widow had a secret. In a private, locked room in her apartments grew her most prized possession. Not a huge Indian diamond sparkling in the sunlight, not any bauble or trinket of any empire north, west or south.

It was a rosebush. No more, no less, nothing else. One small, perfect rosebush, easy to overlook on its ebony tray in a sunlit spot were it not that it flourished in a priceless, ornate vessel of jade the green of the riverbank willows. It was a rose bush, yet no rose bush ever held such velvety blooms of such a ruby hue, and no rose along the Silk Road east or west ever held such a scent. To breathe it in was to know the true significance of the word ‘rose’, to know this rose was to know the secrets of all roses who ever bloomed, and any woman who loved roses. To know this rose was to know the very soul of a flower beloved of the world entire.

Yet today, this day like any other in the still heat of a Samarkand afternoon, the time had come for the rose bush to move on. The widow, her black eyes smiling through the fragrant steam of the silver tea tray, leaned forward on her pillow. This man, she knew to tell, had not come from Samarkand. He could have been from anywhere further west along the Great Road, from Persia, perhaps, or further south and west still, from Damascus of the many marvels, or the storied Bagdad where the great Harun ar Raschid ruled still, so it was said.

He was a tall, upright man in his late thirties, with the watchful, guarded eyes of a desert hawk, and as any hawk would, he never looked away from the widow. “You have cared for your secret well these twenty years, and you have prospered because of it. I was told to bring it on, many, many leagues away to where the incense trees grow beneath the desert stars, and to give you this…” he reached in his robe and laid a small object on the costly carpet – “as a reminder of your pledge.”

It was a carved rose in a singular hue of jade, the cloudy pink of a fading sunset, and the widow had not seen it for over twenty years. It was indeed a reminder of a promise she had made so many years ago, a promise that this rose bush would never wither, never die, and so long as she held faithful to her pledge, her care should be rewarded. Indeed it had, and yet, as the widow saw the sunlight through the screen sparkle on the jade, she felt a pang deep within her soul to realize she would never breathe its scent again, never know such a heartfelt, visceral joy. There would be other pangs, other joys, this much she knew, but none like this little rose bush.

The sun streaming through the latticework of the window onto the carpet was not enough to comfort her. Nevertheless she had promised, and she never made a promise she would not keep. It was time. That jade rose before her was proof. She sighed, clapped her hands to summon a servant, and sent for the rose.

“You will tend it with care?” She grabbed the man’s sleeve as he prepared to leave with his little treasure. “You will make certain this rose will not perish on its journey?” In her eyes, the man read a fervent plea, as earnest and as passionate as any mother’s for a beloved child.

“This, lady, is a rose that will never die so long as my people tend it,” he simply said, before he wrapped it with the utmost care and bowed before her. “As you gave your pledge, I give you my promise.”

He was gone in an instant down the teeming Samarkand street, golden in the late afternoon.

All along the wide and winding Silk Road the little rosebush traveled, and as it did, it seemed to absorb the many scents of the goods it met. Spices in a pouch on a passing camel, rare woods from Chenla and India on a merchant’s laden wagon, the jasmine and geraniums blooming in the courtyard of a Persian caravanserai. At last the rosebush came to grow in a secret oasis in a hidden mountain pass, where the Bedouin stood guard beneath the stars by their own costly treasures of myrrh and frankincense, and those, too, the rose absorbed and enriched with its presence.

For over a thousand years and many more the rose bush grew in its hidden valley oasis, grew and bloomed and thrived, forgotten by all but one family who kept their secret well, until the day came, as it had so long before, when it was time for the rose bush and its secrets to move on through time and out into a wider, wilder world.

One day, a perfumer in an Omani teahouse heard a rumor of a rose in a remote oasis, a rose unlike any other, a rose that knew all secrets and held all its history and all its long journey within the velvet folds of its blooms. As the perfumer stared into the depths of his peppermint tea, he thought to himself; “Such a rose is like a fairy tale. It never existed as anything but a rumor. But if it doesn’t yet, then I shall create it.”

So he did.

Yet in a remote and hidden oasis in the mountains, a deathless rosebush blooms still, for so long as one heart, one soul can truly love a rose, it will never die.

Notes: Pink pepper, cinnamon, damascene rose, geranium, jasmine, tea, amber, musk, frankincense, oud, sandalwood, guaiac wood, patchouli, vanilla and orris.

Amouage Epic Woman is available at Luckyscent, Aedes and First in Fragrance, and from the Amouage website.