I first had the idea for this story… well, a long time ago. It’s been in the back of my mind for years, but I never actually sat down and worked on it until June 2007 (which is when this version was written). I’m not entirely happy with it, and I might do some edits on it in the future.
The story is based on that of Sleeping Beauty, focusing on the story of the prince, not on Sleeping Beauty herself. I can’t really say more than that without spoiling it. Just read it.
I usually do a lot of research for my stories and poems. In this case, I had to read several different version of the fairy tale to make sure my recollection was correct and to get minor details right (and to make sure that, when I deviated from the fairy tales, it was intentional not accidental). I must also acknowledge my debt to those whom I conscripted into helping with the research. You actually were useful.
Once upon a time there was a king and queen, and they were sorry they had no children. At last, however, the queen had a daughter, and in celebration the king threw a great feast, inviting all his kinsmen and neighbors. The fairies, too, were invited, the six who were known to live in that land, to give their gifts to the young child. The babe was named Aurora, which is Dawn in the old tongue.
At the feast, however, after five of the fairies had given their gifts to the young princess – one promised she would have great beauty, another grace, one deftness, another gave her skill with music, and the fifth, wit – a noise was heard in the courtyard, and word came that a fell spirit had came uninvited to the feast. It entered the hall, looked about malevolently, and settled its eyes on the young princess. It declared, “Hear my gift, O King and Queen. This princess, this maid of beauty, grace, deftness, musicality and wit – she shall prick her hand with a spindle and die of the wound before she has reached sixteen years.” It then departed whence it had came.
The whole company trembled at these words, but then the last fairy came forth from where she had hidden herself. She said, “Assure yourselves, O King and Queen, your daughter shall not die of this disaster. I cannot undo this curse entirely, but hear my gift to her – she shall indeed prick her hand, but she shall not die from this, but only fall into a deep sleep, which shall last a hundred years. At the end of these hundred years a king’s son shall come and awaken her.”
An ash-grey horse slowly made its way down the road and stopped before the building. The sign above the door read “The Sleeping Lady”, and beside the name was a picture of a jug of ale. The man riding the horse dismounted, led his horse to the stable and walked into the tavern.
Compared to the other men sitting at the counter, he was quite tall, and only slightly stooped. His hair was golden, though his hood nearly covered it, and his clothing, though worn, was of high quality, and clearly expensive. He carried a small silver hunting dagger in his belt, and it looked to be worth almost as much as the entire village. But the men sitting at the counter noticed none of this.
The stranger walked up to the counter and took a seat, leaving his cloak on and attempting to hide the weapon. He sat there, wordless, among the men of the tavern for several minutes, accustoming himself to his surroundings. Finally someone spoke.
“So, goodfellow, what brings you here?” said the man next to him.
“Oh, alright… well, what’s yer name? I’m Roddick, by the way.”
“Call me Bill.” Short for William, son of Charles, prince of North Avansony, but he wasn’t fool enough to say it. The man would either fall at his feat begging for money and ruin any chance of a pleasant evening, or try to kidnap him and hold him for ransom. Better to act like a commoner, draw no attention to himself.
He was expected to talk to these people. That’s what commoners do amongst each other, he had learned. Well, he might as well speak of something interesting. “Say, could you tell me what’s the story behind the name of this place? The ‘Sleeping Lady’… I’ve never seen a place named aught like that before.”
“Oh, that. There’s a story behind that, all right.” Good, the man liked to talk. That meant he wasn’t expected to say much himself, just to listen. “You know we’re in the foothills of the great mountains. Well, on the slopes of the mountain, to the east of here, there’s this rock formation sitting in the forest. It looks like a castle in the right light. A tale’s been going about that it really is a castle, an old abandoned castle, and that ninety-some-odd years ago it was inhabited. But then some fairy put everyone in it to sleep, starting with the lady of the castle, who’s the most beautiful there ever was. And she’ll never awaken unless someone goes and saves her from the spell. But the woods’re dangerous, I hear.
“Anyway, this fellow” – he gestured at the owner, who had just walked in behind the counter – “named his pub after her, in remembrance of her misfortune. If she’s real, she probably appreciates it.”
“Yes, I guess she does…” Bill said. An interesting story indeed.
“Can I help you, sir?” the owner said, noticing the newcomer. “Perhaps you’d like a room for the night?”
“If you don’t mind. For now, how about a nice cold drink?”
In his room he was careful to bundle all of his finery inside his cloak and keep his dagger hidden but easily accessible. It was a nice enough room. The bed was an actual bed. A burnished piece of metal on the wall served as a mirror. He supposed they’d given him the best room available, and would charge him as such. He could afford it easily, but it still irked him. It seemed dishonest.
Still, nothing to get mad about, he figured. Nobles are supposed to be generous with those who need their help.
But the whole point of his journey was to get away from acting like nobility for a few weeks. Wars, quests, great enterprises, those were for the nobles. They thought only of glory.
That story Roddick had told… he’d heard most of the old myths. This one seemed different, though. It seemed close to him, too close. Reminded him too much of a purpose. Because it didn’t have a conclusion. It was almost as if it was inviting him to finish it. To go up towards the mountain, towards the so-called castle. But he had left to avoid doing any such thing.
He undressed, got into the bed, and drifted off to sleep. He would continue on his journey in the morning as if nothing had happened. No detours. Still…
The next morning William paid his tab, saddled up and rode away, heading south until he was out of sight of the town and then turning east. Towards the mountain, towards the castle that he was now sure was real.
It was a clear path at first, more park than forest. After about half an hour he began having difficulties, and had to dismount, tie his horse to a tree trunk, and continue on foot. A few minutes later, he was more climbing than walking through the dense underbrush. Then he found himself facing what appeared to be a wall of thorns.
“Dammit,” he muttered. why couldn’t they have planted a a bit less painful wall? They had these in North Avansony as well. They had always irritated him there. Stupid nobility, making something so cruel merely to make the journey more epic. It was almost as if they had designed the castle to be put to sleep and broken into.
He drew his silver dagger and began hacking at the vines.
Just then something fell on top of him, knocking him slightly off balance. He looked down and saw a half-decayed skull rolling on the ground, newly detached from a mass of rotting flesh and finery. “I guess I’m not the first one to try this.” Of course not.
He persevered, though. He wouldn’t, couldn’t fail. He was the son of Charles, King of North Avansony. You died in a myth because you weren’t up to the challenge, but he knew he was. He would emerge triumphant. This man, this man without a head – he had been judged unworthy.
That’s what they told him. But he couldn’t get it out of his head that the reason he had left home was to get away from those noble ideas. He had left because of that, and yet here they were breaking their way into his head and not letting his think straight. He had been indoctrinated too well.
He kept on for another twenty or so feet. As soon as he took a step forward, the vines closed in behind him, leaving him just enough room to maneuver. It would be just as easy going forwards as backwards. He had no idea how much farther it was – at home thorn-bush walls were only a few feet deep – but it couldn’t be much more. He supposed the thickness meant it was more epic.
He saw a few more corpses in the vines, but nothing else. Some more unworthies. Was he unworthy?
Finally, he cut off a branch and could see daylight through the gap it left. “It’s the end of the tunnel!”
He quickly tore through the remaining vines, and made to step out into the clearing in front of him. Through the hole he had created he could already see a mossy, dark-stoned castle, gate wide open, porter leaning against the door asleep, maids in the courtyard at rest as well. A window on the tallest tower revealed a room that undoubtedly held the ‘sleeping lady’.
“The stories were true! Thank you, Roddick!” Maybe the people at home were right after all. When he got home he’d tell them as much. And they’d agree, and say that he was right to go out and prove it for himself, and that now he had made himself immortal. Up there, in the tower, the lady –
A vine wrapped around his leg and pulled him backwards from the sight of the castle. The living vines grew back, plugging the hole he had created, swallowing him up. He was drowned in a sea of thorns. They pierced him, through his arms, through his legs, through his side.
As he lay suspended in air by the plants, his hood fell off his head and his cloak from his back. All of his finery was revealed for the world to see. He groaned quietly to himself, struggled for a short while, and then all was still.
He knew that he was dead, or almost dead, as good as dead. Prince William of North Avansony had been defeated in battle by a vegetable. Hell kind of an epic that was. And still those men back home wouldn’t ever hear of it and would keep on with their tales and never stop because everyone who tried to stop it would be dead and forgotten…
Well… ‘defeated’. Maybe Will had died, but a dead soldier does not a defeat make. He’d been to war. He’d lost men, and avenged them with his blade. The men had died, but North Avansony hadn’t been defeated. Maybe it was the same here. Just a fallen soldier.
Who would avenge Will of North Avansony? Maybe another prince would come along and try what Will had tried, but this time, succeed. It wouldn’t be that unlikely. He’d seen the corpses in the vines, and now he was one, sitting there for later princes to avenge. Without knowing it. He hadn’t known he was fighting for those corpses until he was one.
Why had he failed, though? He was a good prince. Tall, handsome, strong – he had cut his way through the vines, they just pulled him back. At the last second. He didn’t understand it. The myths had nothing to say here. By all rights he should have made it. Not been killed. Not failed.
His thought returned to where it was right before he was pulled back. He felt sorry for the Lady. She’d been there ninety-some-odd years and hadn’t spoken to a soul. Ninety-some-odd years… perhaps if he had tried a few years later, at an even hundred, he would have made it. That’s it. It wasn’t his fault. Sometimes you’re just outnumbered.
He laughed, but the effort just made him cough painfully, bringing up blood. Had to keep still. No humor in dying.
Well, his fate wasn’t that bad anyway. He has the peace he had wanted, didn’t have to worry about the men back home. He would eventually be avenged. Now he was part of Roddick’s story. Part of a story, a myth even. An epic. Not everyone’s so lucky. To think he hadn’t believed in epics.
Ah, whatever. Now he was rambling. He’d heard people do that right before they die. Ignore it, it’ll soon pass.
Three years later another horse came ambling down the road, stopping in front of the tavern. The rider went in, pausing only to secure his horse’s tether.
He was somewhat tall, with dark brown hair and gold-trimmed clothing. He wore a sword at his side concealed by his cloak. He was a prince; but to the men at the counter, he was just another well-off merchant passing through town. They noticed nothing.
He came up to the counter and turned to the fellow next to him. “Who here can get me something to drink?”
“Oh, the owner’ll be in here soon enough,” he said. “Until then, let’s swap a few tales. I’m Roddick, what’s yer name?”
“I’m… Tom. All right then. Could you tell me the story behind the name of this place? I’ve never heard of aught like it before.”
“Oh that, sure. Well, you see, a hundred years ago…”