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La Belle Au Bois Dormant Dans Les Bois
What? Yes, I'll share your hearth tonight, and be grateful for it's warmth. It's going to rain, you know.
The air is damp, and smells of life, can't you tell? I'm Suzanna, by the way.
Don't you call it hearth anymore? But no, you don't have a fireplace. I am remembering things that no longer exist.
Where am I going? Home, I think. Soon. I'm headed up the road as far as it will take me. It's not a bad life, you know. I've learned many things by walking it.
Why, for me? Thank you, I'm partial to potatoes especially. We didn't have them very often when I was young, which makes them sweeter now.
Oh, they didn't grow well where I grew up. Too cold, just as it is here. Did you trade for them? Of course. I'm a fool at times.
Yes, my bracelet is nice, isn't it? It was given to me by a woman who knew more than I did. It looks like spun starlight, doesn't it? It's supposed to guide me and guard me and bring me home again.
But how can I repay you for this? I have little coin, but I know lots of stories. Will that be enough?
Really? But I insist. In fact, this one may interest you. It's about the castle on the hill, the one you can see from the road. How long has it been since someone last made it inside? A hundred years, almost? Then this is a good story to tell.
Once upon a time, that is how stories like this start, isn't it? Yes? Good. Anyway. Once upon a time, back when the castle was still the center of life for this country, there was a king and his queen. They were worried, for, while the queen had born six children, all had died at birth, leaving no heirs to the throne. At this point, even a girl would have sufficed, though it would have meant eventually loosing the country that had belonged to the family for generations beyond number to another king.
So, when the queen discovered she had yet again conceived, after bathing herself to help strengthen the child inside her, she went to her husband, and told him the news. He called the best doctors from all over the world to come tend to her, and their unborn child, and, when the girl was born, healthy and strong, rewarded them handsomely. His wife, unfortunately, wasn't strong enough to birth her first living child, and died soon after.
The king grieved privately for his wife, but got on with the business of running his country. The girl, his only daughter, was christened soon after. All the lords and kings from all the neighboring countries, and the lords from this one, were invited, and the little princess, pale as snow or sunlight even then, was much admired, and several lords with hopes of kingship and young sons began to make plans involving her.
But, of course, nothing ever runs smoothly for a family such as that one. This was in the days when magic still existed, and was plentiful, actually, so it was no surprise to anyone when four old women came to see the child. They were there to judge her, and her future, and to give her the gifts they thought would suit her best. It was tradition, and they only came to those of worth, which, in their eyes, was not wealth or land, but a promise of potential.
Potential for what? Who knows? They never explained. But they looked at the infant, staring up at them with curiosity that, though mild, was still there, for all that she was but a month old, and surrendered her to her fate.
So, they gave her gifts. Gifts that, while given as something a princess would use particularly, held different blessings.
The first made her fleet of foot and graceful of limb, but strong enough to endure. Her father, and the crowd, heard that she would be a good dancer.
The second made her gentle of voice and quick of thought, and sharpened her wits for the day she would need them. Her father, and the crowd, heard that she would sing and behave well.
The third made her wise enough to know her own loveliness, and how to use it, and when to make it go away. Her father, and the crowd, heard that she would be beautiful beyond compare.
There is one gift left for the girl, isn't there? Let me tell you of it, but first, of the curse that plagued her line.
Long before, an ancestor of hers had shamed the daughter of a woman such as these, and in revenge, she had told him, with the voice of one who was never wrong, that everything his line put their hand to would fall to ruin, and the greatest of his children's children's children would die for his foolishness.
And, in fact, his oldest son and heir, a good man and a just one, died in the war that started that fall.
But back to the girl, and her final gift.
As it came to pass, she was the only child of that ancestor's children's children. And so was the greatest. So it was upon her that the curse came to rest. And come to rest it did, in a crash of thunder and a scream of triumph. And maybe it was fate, or maybe it was luck, or maybe it was neither, but the last old woman did not flinch from the angry proclamation of death on the girl, to come in her sixteenth year.
Instead, she laughed, and gave her gift to the child who was to be their doom and salvation, and it, perhaps, was the greatest gift off all.
The fourth gave her the strength of will to survive, the strength of heart to know her own mind, and a hundred years to make a choice. Not death, she told the raging king. Sleep, a century of it, at the end of which that which is best for her and your kingdom will come to wake her. The king was placated, just barely, but brooded anyway.
The women left then, back to where ever they went between times when they were needed, and the infant princess was left to the care of her nurse.
She grew, as children do, and was, indeed, lovely and graceful and, above all, smart. Smart enough to know that she was not loved, or cherished, or anything of the sort.
Why? Because she was a girl. Princesses aren't that useful, you know. Not until they're older. But who would want to marry a girl would would essentially die before she could bear a child of her own? And so, she was not useful, and was not loved.
When she was four, her father took a second wife, who, at the end of the year, bore him a son who had a surprising resemblance to his sister. His birth was greeted with fanfare and celebration, not the least from his sister, who did not resent him for his birth. She, in fact, became his closest confidant, and loved him with everything in her. He, in turn, loved her with the bright joy of a child, and kept her secrets.
The one she held dearest was that she liked to run until she fell and couldn't get up anymore.
Yes, run. She had been given the speed and grace and endurance to do it, and do it well, and it was a glimpse of freedom for a girl who had never been allowed to leave the castle in which she had been born. It didn't stop her, though. She was sharp, and knew where to walk so that no other would see her.
And it was one of the secrets she taught her younger brother, and that he kept safe for her.
The one she never told him was her curse, because she could not bear to watch him weep, as she knew he would. He would be eleven, still a child, when she essentially died, and she would not taint their bond, the only one of it's type she had, with the knowledge of this event.
And so they grew.
Was she beautiful? Some would say so. But it was not a gift from a wise woman that made her so. Any beauty she held was hers by birth, and not any trick of fate.
By the time she had reached her sixteenth year, she was fair of face, as pale as sunlight, and just as warm, with long, graceful limbs and a slender, lovely figure. And though she was now of an age to be married, the air in the castle grew grave, and she became melancholy, and spent as much of her time as she could with her brother, for she knew she would soon leave him.
That year, at midsummer, when her brother and father had gone out hunting, and her stepmother was sitting with her ladies, weaving a tapestry, she walked through the halls of the place of her birth, memorizing every stone, every decoration, every room. Eventually, she came to a stairway she had never seen before, and, despite her trepidation, climbed it.
At the top, in a small, round chamber with only one window, an old, old woman sat, spinning out a thread so fine it was almost invisible. The princess came and sat beside her, and, after a time, asked to be taught whatever the old woman would teach her, because, while she knew how to spin, she did not know how spin as well as the old woman did.
And the old woman looked at her, and saw that she was not afraid of what would come, but also knew it would, and only wished that she could keep that which she loved with her. And so the old woman, who had been the one, all those years ago to curse her and bless her in the same breath, for it was her daughter who the princess's ancestor had shamed, took her hand and guided it to the spindle, removed a single strand of the airy filament, and wrapped it around her wrist. It was to take her to the place where she could learn of the choice she had to make, and take her back again when she had made it, and keep her safe as she moved between.
And then she pressed the princess's hand to the sharp end of the spindle, until her skin broke, and she began to bleed.
The princess did not cry out or struggle, but shed a tear or two for the family she would never see again as she began to sink into herself, and the sleep that would bind her until she knew what she must do.
It was only a hundred years, which isn't that long, if you think about it. Oh, long enough, certainly, for the climbing roses in the garden to wind their way up to that secret tower and bloom beside her, where she sleeps alone, curled up on a cushion and covered by a blanket, as if she was only taking a nap. Which it is, in a way. A very long nap. And the spirit may wander in dreams, you know, so she at least would not be lonely. And she must have learned much on her journey, don't you think?
Is it really? Those poor boys. The roses have very sharp thorns, you know. And the princess will not wake for one who will not love her. And they are but boys. What do they know of love?
But, if it proves to themselves that they are truly men, then let them go. Traditions are an important part of life.
Your son is up there now? How... ironic, I guess. That you should take me in on this of all nights. He's very handsome, you know. Someday, someone will walk in this door and marry him for that smile.
The princess? Yes, she was real. At least, I think she was. It's hard to remember, sometimes. Her brother was named Alexander.
Why, yes, that's the family! And isn't it funny, that her name would be Suzanna too?
Alex was a sweet boy, you know. Pretty and smart and strong and everything he should have been. Musically talented, too. He wrote that pretty little piece that's playing right now.
The choice she had to make? Trust. She could sleep forever, safe and cared for in the haven that was her prison. Or she could give her fate up to the hands of God, and wake when it was right for her to do so, with the understanding that there would be someone who loved her more than life, or death, or anything in between waiting for her.
What did she choose? Love, I think, though I've heard it told differently. It's been a long time since then.
Thank you for the meal. It reminded me of much I had forgotten.
Yes, I think I am turning a bit transparent. I must be waking up. I'll see you again, if I do.