The Sleeping Princess

Greetings, lovely readers! It’s been far too long, but I’m back at it again. Check in every Monday to get the latest update – there will be short stories, comics, and I will also be posting weekly rants over on my feminist blog (found here: https://msmcrantypants.wordpress.com/ ). Please give me a like and a follow, and check out my Facebook page (found here: https://www.facebook.com/cambrey.payne3 ) for more content, including YouTube chats and songs, and general fictionating. 🙂

– Love Cam

Once upon a time, there was a small kingdom, over which much of the old magic still held its sway. Despite many blessings, the king and queen were saddened, for they had no heir, and the queen had passed the age at which she could hope to bear a child. In a last, desperate attempt to save his family line, the king approached a fairy for help, though he had little faith in the old powers. The fairy agreed to help the king, but in return, she asked that the king return the Great Eastern Forest to the fairy folk, to whom the Forest had belonged before the king’s great great grandfather had conquered them many years ago. The king, hardly believing the fairy could grant him his wish, agreed.

In time, the queen seemed to become ill, and the king cursed the fairy who had promised him a future that now looked impossible. Yet the cause of the illness soon became clear, and the king’s despair was turned to joy, for the queen was with child. She was not young, however, and her pregnancy was difficult. It ended, as such things often do, with the queen’s death, even as the king’s wish was granted. As he held his only child, however, he felt no happiness. His cherished wife was dead, and instead of the heir he desired, he had been given a daughter. The king’s grief knew no bounds, and in his rage he refused to honour his promise to the fairy. In return for this treachery, the fairy promised him that he would not see his daughter reach adulthood. The little princess was cursed to die before her eighteenth birthday, a revenge all the sweeter to the fairy folk who knew how much greater the king’s pain would be once he had grown to know and love his daughter.
The king called out his army against the fairy folk who had thus cursed his family, and hunted down every last one he could find. But the fairy who had done the mischief, and all her court, retreated far into the Great Eastern Forest, where the king – despite all his efforts – could not find them.

It so happened that during this purge, three young fairy folk were captured who, rather than surrender themselves to inevitable death, offered their services to the king in exchange for their freedom. They told the king that, while they could not undo the curse that had been placed upon the little princess, they might yet be able to mitigate the worst of its effects. Rather than dying, they said, the princess would fall into a deep sleep, a sleep that would be ended when a worthy suitor bestowed upon her highness the kiss of true love.

The king, though now despising all things magical, agreed to spare the fairies in order to save his daughter’s life. For though he had not yet learned to value her as he would a son, she was yet his child, and he loved her. So the fairies cast their magic and were released, whence they fled to the North and away from their native lands, for fear their own kind would seek to punish them for their betrayal.

Time passed, as time does. By the time the little princess was three years old, there were no longer any fairy folk to be found in the kingdom, for those few who escaped the purge had gone deep into hiding. Life in the kingdom settled back into its usual routine, and the seasons continued to turn. The princess grew, and in the absence of her mother, became the centre of her father’s life. She was a handsome girl, and though rather indulged, was not mean-spirited and was only a little selfish, in the way of most privileged children. She was never told of the war that had begun because of her birth, and her father protected her most assiduously from any rumours, for fear she would blame him for his actions. As she approached her eighteenth birthday, however, she noticed her father’s increasing disturbance, and was worried for him. After many nights of entreaty and many professions of concern, her father relented and told her of the curse, and of the slim hope that had been granted him, for even now, he doubted the word of the three fairies who had promised to save his daughter.

The princess was naturally shocked by this tale, but found such fantastic ideas impossible to believe. She comforted her father as best she could, and tried to hide her fear that he might be losing his faculties, for surely such tales could come only from the most fevered of minds. Yet her doubts were proved false, for on the eve of her birthday, she was taken suddenly ill, and fell into a dead faint. She was carried to her bed, and the best physicians in the city were called to her service, but to no avail. The princess had sunk into a deep slumber, from which no medicine could revive her. The king was struck anew with grief, and his daughter’s continuing life was but scant comfort. For although she still breathed, she was gone from him, and he knew not how to awaken her.

His advisors, however, knowing of his agreement with the fairies, called upon all the young noblemen within their reach. At first, there were many volunteers willing to attempt to save the handsome young princess. But after the first young man kissed the princess, the other volunteers found themselves suddenly unwilling to take such a risk. For the fairies had neglected to warn the king of the danger of their spellwork: if a suitor who was not worthy of the princess were to kiss her, he would be instantly undone. And as fairies take their business quite literally, the undoing of the young nobleman was quite unpleasant and quite irreversible, as the very dust that made up his body was torn asunder and spread upon the four winds.

Despite this horrific danger, over the years, there were yet young men willing to attempt to awaken the princess. They met, every one, with the same end, and the princess remained deep in sleep.

In time, the king died, and his kingdom passed to his cousins, who, through continual squabbles over who had best right to the throne, eventually tore the kingdom apart, and it was divided up between the neighbouring countries. The palace, having little tactical, or any other kind of significance, was allowed to fall into disrepair. The inhabitants at first thought to move the princess, who, despite the passing of the years, was still as fresh and lovely as the day on which she had fallen into sleep. But there was no one brave enough to touch her, and she remained hidden in the palace, watched over at first by nearby villagers, but eventually forgotten. The villagers had only vague memories of what had happened to the castle, and stayed away for fear it was cursed. All that remained of the princess was her legend.

There were, at times, young men who came to explore the Great Eastern Forest, and who often travelled afterward past the castle on their way to more adventures. Hearing the legends, they would venture to explore the castle in search of the mysterious cursed princess. They never returned.

One day, over a century later, two young knights approached the village, fresh from seeking adventure in the Forest. One, Darion, was a nobleman from a neighbouring country, the other his cousin, Elina. They cared little enough for one another, for he resented her superior skill with a sword, and she his legal right to her father’s property (for her father had no sons). Their fathers had sent them on a Great Tour together in the hope that the sharing of trials and adventures would do what two decades companionship had not. Their plan was unsuccessful, however, and the pair arrived in the village as unsatisfied with one another as they had been at the beginning of their journey.

As with most noble adventurers, the pair broke their journey at the Grey Pony Inn, where they were treated by the innkeeper to the old tale of the castle. Darion was greatly struck with the idea of a sleeping princess and a cursed castle – not least because, should the princess exist, this was a campaign in which his cousin could surely not best him – and, though Elina doubted the veracity of such legends, she was yet interested in exploring the abandoned castle for its own sake. Both had seen enough of fairy folk in the Great Eastern Forest to know that such places could, indeed, be hubs of magic and adventure, and they had not yet had enough of either to content the voracious appetites of the young. To the castle, therefore, they went.

Darion, claiming the right of the eldest (by a mere seventeen days), was the first to ascend the stairs, which were blanketed with dirt and the banister wound around with thorned vines that crept underfoot and sought to trip the unwary. They made their ascent safely, however, and set about making their separate explorations of the upper floors of the castle. After some time, and finding nothing of great interest beyond a beautiful prospect of the distant mountains, and some interesting historical architecture, Elina decided to seek out her cousin so they might return to their inn and prepare for their departure the next day. After searching for some time, she found him in an upper room that she had not yet explored, standing over a large, canopied bed. When she asked him what he did, he would not reply, and coming into the room, she saw why. Upon the bed lay the figure of a young woman, perhaps a little younger than themselves. She was clearly sleeping, and, though covered in a layer of dust, appeared otherwise quite healthy. There was still colour in her cheeks, and her breathing was deep and even.

Darion could not draw his eyes from the young woman’s face. His expression was rapturous, although Elina knew him well enough to understand that it was not the young woman who captured his fancy, but rather the prospect of further adventure, further risk, and – if he should succeed in waking the legendary princess – further glory. Elina, however, felt no such emotions, and warned her cousin to be wary of the curse of which the innkeeper had warned them. While she voiced her concern for her cousin, however, she could not help feeling sorry for the sleeping princess, who had been the unknowing subject of so many Darions over the decades, and who would probably, were she to ever know of it, be quite horrified at the attention her poor sleeping form had received. Were she to ever be so cursed, Elina thought, she would want such a protection as had been offered this maiden, for she was sure it was only the fear of being dissolved that kept unscrupulous men at bay.

Darion, however, comprehended none of his cousin’s sympathy, nor any of her fears. Taking off his gloves, he knelt beside the sleeping princess and laid a kiss on her flushed lips. The princess moved not a muscle, and Darion, after regarding her hopefully for a moment, stood. He turned to his cousin, intending to deride her for baseless fears, but found he could not speak. His disappointment turned to horror, but only briefly, for the fairy curse took hold quickly, and he had not even time to scream before he was transformed into dust and blown away upon the late breeze.

Elina, watching Darion’s undoing with more shock than despair, was frozen to the spot. It was one thing to hear of such magic, and quite another to witness it. It was many long minutes before she could force herself to move, and when she came to her senses again, she was overcome with disgust and pity when she realised that much of the dust overlaying the princess’s form must have come from countless undone suitors.

Although it made her sick to her stomach, she approached the bed and, keeping her gloves on, began to brush the dust from the princess’s sleeping form. After a moment, however, she found there was no respectful way to do so properly, and decided that the only course of action was to return to the inn for some blankets, which might be used to brush the dust off, and then to cover the princess against further injury. As she stood to leave, she laid one gloved hand on the bare hand of the princess.

“I shall return soon,” she assured the sleeping girl. “Have no fear. I will not harm you.” And, all unthinking, she kissed her gloved fingers and laid them on the hand of the sleeping princess, as if to reassure her, for she felt keenly sorry for the girl. Then she turned to go.

Elina had almost reached the door when she heard a rustling of fabric, a creaking of ancient bed-ropes (it was surely only magic that could have kept them intact so long) and a drawn out sigh. Turning, all astonished, she saw the princess sit up, blinking in the late afternoon light and utterly bemused to find her bedchamber ruined and inhabited only by a strange knight.

I will leave it to the reader to decide for themselves what happened next, but I think if they were to imagine that Elina’s comforting presence went some way to easing the pain of a century’s sleep, and led eventually to more adventuring, in which the princess (whose name was Penelope) happily joined as Elina’s closest companion, they would not be too far from the truth.

And it remains only to be observed that fairy folk rarely observe the limiting customs of such small minded humans as often occupy the ruling classes, and that perhaps they know better than such humans what they require. (And perhaps, most important of all, the fairy folk should never be treated as tradespeople to have demands made of them, but that is a lesson no human has yet learned, and I suspect no human ever will.)

This work is based on the traditional fairytale ‘Sleeping Beauty’. This adaptation is the property of Cambrey Payne 2017. Do not repost without original link, and acknowledging sources when sharing.

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