[Kaimee]: 5.Short stories.Briar Rose - The Sleeping Beauty

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2007-01-28 04:01:10
fairytale fantasy sleeping beauty briar rose statue stone prince princess
Sleeping Beauty
Flash fiction
A re-write of the common Sleeping Beauty story, written for Issue 13 "Fairytales" of Elftown's ezine, The Town Herald.

Briar Rose

© Kate-Aimee Conrick. All rights reserved!

It’s like a giant, tragic masquerade really. I can stand here all day, sweat trickling down my back and eyes darting around; absolutely motionless and pretending to be stone, but I can’t help thinking, being, living.
My arms grow heavy holding up the fabric of my gown, and sometimes I feel the balance of my feet almost shift…
Sometimes I meet the eyes of someone across the courtyard; a sneering visiting Prince caught mid-step up the shallow stone stairs leading to the hall, the merry eyed milkmaid over near the stables, or Baren’s eyes as his long body leans against the door jam leading into the kitchens. Sometime’s I’ll tear myself away from Baren’s glance to meet the milkmaids, or the prince’s, and their eyes speak as loud as shouts. We have all grown subtle here, a length of stare can tell a story.

We stand here all day, all night, except for that tiny dream time we each have at dawn. One after the other we’ll be freed. Freed, to quickly shuffle in the grey light to the cistern and gulp some water, grab some of the bread that rests there each morning and stuff it into our mouths. We chew it as fast as we can as our legs carry us back unwilling to our places, so that it might trickle down our throats for the rest of the day. For then we pretend we are statues, and cannot move to bring food to our mouths or close our throats to swallow it.

I’ve tried to fight it, tried not to return to that so familiar, so hated niche next to the stone stairs, where I’d been when it happened. I see sympathy in the other’s eyes sometimes on the hottest days; caught mid spin, to run, to save my sister… my position is not so easy to bear.
Although, my position was not so easy to bear while we were all in our proper lives either, I suppose. My life was shadowed by a sister whose very life was a tragedy waiting to happen, I had been saved only from that tragedy by only a few moments and even then; never saved from guilt.

Trained in all the stately ways, all the diplomatic dances and political urgencies, every nuance of the court and of the policies were drummed into my blood. My sister, the beauty of the kingdom, the butterfly of our lives… no one knew how long she had left. No one tied her to classes or fussy dresses or deadly boring gatherings.
No one remembered that my lot had been tied into the same curse, or that my life hung here too. Or maybe Baren does, he might if anyone does. I am invisible to my own court; I am only my father’s quiet helper, the second sister… to all but Baren.
The magic compels me to stay here, to stand, but it lends no strength to my muscles. The only thing that stops my arms trembling, my leg from falling... well, it’s that great force of will the magical compulsion puts on me.

Once when I fought the magic – for I’ve tried many a time – I thought in my head as if I were Baren. I imagined the day’s labours ahead, Baren’s duties as steward’s son, the hunt he’d lead out. And then sometimes it seemed I could trick the magic and let it guide my steps towards that man’s place. Once, oh but once and my most precious once, once I made it there and almost rested my lips on his. The magic only woke up when Baren himself thought so strongly of me and suddenly my legs were carrying me back to my place, back to a princess’s endless wait for the one man who could break the spell.

My sister, my ignorant happy sister, she never properly cared or understood the curse. My whole life has been a caution. I am the sensible twin; I watch her and have always been there to grab her hand, to stay the prick of the deadly needle.
It was my fault I was not there that last time. Every frozen soul in that court knew that I’d realised this in the instant the magic caught us up, my pose and stifled flight were evidence enough. Sometimes I caught sympathy in those eyes, and sometimes they caught hatred in mine.

And now we waited. We waited for the one man who could break the curse, and my Baren… Oh my Baren. He waited for me to marry whichever Prince Charming strode into our courtyard and swept me up, he waited to be my steward and yes, M’Lady me for the rest of our days.

Sometimes we had visitors in our wait. Young, brave men who strode among us came. They saw only statues, very few even felt our eyes upon them. Even those few sensitive souls simply crossed themselves in this place of evil and kept on. They were those who climbed to the top tower and kissed our sleeping princess, who dropped into their deaths across her pillow and slumbered the rest of their days.
Sometimes it was another. A grey shapeless form with a whispering cackle and a face forever hidden. Her laughs and taunts flitted through on the winds here, I spread a different tale, she whispers. Ahaha my dearest niece, I tell them of the Sleeping Beauty, no one remembers the remedy for your curse anymore! You’ll never be free. Her taunts lasted days sometimes, what else was there to mark the time all those days? And oh! When our hundred years are up, oh how I shall enjoy this one… little winds would flicker at the open neck of Baren’s shirt, and his eyes would bore into her own, but neither could fight the magic and neither could deny the inevitable.

Occasionally they heard great crashes from their surrounding wall of thorns, as some young knight cleaved his way through the roses. Briar and Rose, she thought bitterly, and every man who comes will have heard only the one Princess; that one dreaming death up there in the tower, that one named Briar. Never will they stop to heed the warning in her name, to wonder where the Rose of this castle is.

Forty or so years ago, before their kingdom froze in time and every citizen took up this statue game, back then the names of the two sisters had been well known. Now when they were remembered it was as if the magic stole a bit of the tale; one sister trapped in a tower and the other... the other? There can’t be another. Our young men waste themselves on the Briar Rose! No old voice reminded them of the kingdom’s tradition, no one spoke of the twins that were born of every King and Queen in that land. No one spoke of the statue King’s sister, of the wretched, cruel, spiteful creature she was now. No one spoke of the tragedy when she drowned, or of the magic she had that bore her up again; of a ghost left to destroy her brother’s second daughter, a spell aimed at the young heart of the kingdom that burned brightest. Most had now forgotten her sister, waiting down in the courtyard, passed by knights and princes and brave men.

Eyes clawed at each other in desperation sometimes, wanting to shout and scream and storm to the world the statue princess’s name, wanting to warn these young men of the death that waited for them. Each statue felt jealousy for the boys who would sleep until the time was up. So, they’d die at the end. No waiting for them, only sweet, sweet dreams of sleep and rosy warm skin. Those boy’s hips would shift a bit in their dreams, up in that tower, and the Princess would sigh a little in her sleep and smiles would spread themselves across her lips.

Eyes down in the courtyard would bore at each other, lover’s speeches in their looks when those little sighs and moans crept down to their eyes. Merry glances from the milkmaid when she caught their eyes, and almost the sound of a groan from the visiting prince, caught so long ago coming to secure a marriage into this kingdom, this vile, cursed place.

They spent endless days staring, and then every night a solitary torture when eyes could not seek each other in their dark corners.
Years passed. Rain beaded on their lashes and sun cracked their lips, spiteful winds whipped at their clothes and threw these false statues off balance.
The light dimmed cloudy blue in her love’s eyes, even though his body had not aged outwardly a single year. For his eyes had spent those 70 years yearning, living; they were old. No longer could he seek her across the courtyard, and one day as she gulped her share from the cistern she looked over and he no longer tried.

Soft dawn light spread on his stone grey skin, and she broke away from her set steps and drove her body with all her will towards him. Winds turned her back and then air itself seemed stone and she stopped, barely a step from him. Reaching out she felt the folds of his fine shirt carved from the finest marble, felt his cheek ever soft and beautiful but cut from that solid stone.

She let the magic herd her back to her place and let her eyes close. One hundred years passed with her sisters sleeping moans and sighs and little gasps of pleasure drifting their way down into that Kingdom. One hundred years passed, and then one day the waiting princess's arms collapsed and she fell to her knees with every muscle trembling. A high keening reached out from the hall as husbands found wives turned to stone, children nuzzled their parents and found hardness, sisters turned to brothers and found death. The cry raised higher, issuing from the throats of all but one person in that place.

The princess dragged herself forwards, fighting muscles long past exhaustion. Her eyes met those of the visiting prince as he staggered and turned to leave, hatred glaring in his gaze and no words needed after so long. She dragged herself across the courtyard, once holding onto that cistern she hated, gasping and resting there until she could pull herself to her feet. She reached her stone lover and clung to him, and as her lips touched his she felt the cold seeping from them, and then her own lips stayed their motion. In his arms she remained, still again after such a short reprieve in living. But this time her young body slept a sleep more dreamless than her sister’s, and the milkmaid's eyes were full of sadness for the story she'd watched this past hundred years.
The witch had killed the second sister; quiet heir to this kingdom and all to their hearts, the twin who's mind and heart and will burned brightest. The older sister sighed and gasped in pleasure still, in her deep, endless sleep.

2006-02-15 Po: Beautiful and evocative. Maturely written. Great twist on the typical tale. No CC needed.

2006-02-15 Kaimee: It needs it's saggy ass (tehe) edited missy :P

2006-03-26 dmeredith: I think that this is well written and evocative. The only major suggestion that I would make is that for about the first two thirds of the story you are telling the tale from the perspective of the younger sister, then in the final couple of paragraphs it abruptly shifts to the view of a neutrally observing narrator. It honestly may just be a question of taste, but I felt like the change interupted the flow a little. Otherwise very creative take on a familiar story.

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