by Mari Ness
The ghosts of dead princes hover around her bed.
Sometimes they argue about this. Some of them suggest that they might be disturbing her rest. Others think, under the circumstances, that disturbing her rest is just fine, thanks; indeed, her rest could use a little more disturbance. Others, less concerned about her, merely think that they should head elsewhere, do other things, see a bit of the world and what's happening to it. After all, they might be ghosts, but they aren't quite dead. It is an old, old argument, but one that never seems quite silenced.
In the end, none of them ever leave. At least, no further than the castle walls.
They number seven, or twelve, or fourteen by now, possibly more. They used to keep track, in the old days, when the bower held only two or three of them, when they still half remembered their names and memories, still knew which stories were theirs, and which another's. As it is, none of them can really remember who once dined with a talking cat, and who had been the seventh son of a seventh son, the unlikeliest prince, and who had grown up in distant jungles, never to see the snow until his journey here. (Although sometimes, a few of them still watch the snow fall in utter wonder, and think, yes, yes, I was the one in the jungles... only to find that memory, too, falling into mist.) Their memories merge, and when they speak to each other, they hear only their own voices whispering back, each voice indistinguishable from the next. And they have long stopped trying to count.
Still, they feel almost lucky, considering. They, at least, are awake, aware of the passage of the seasons and the years, able to move around the castle and its many towers, unlike the people they drift past on their wanderings, the ones who remain solidly asleep. The sleepers might dream--indeed, the princes think it quite probable that they do--but they do not move, do not stir other than to breathe, long, slow soft breaths that can only be seen by intent observers. Their hair and nails have grown long and tangled; their bodies continue to waste away, little by little, each year. The ghosts do not think the sleepers can survive much longer, but then they have thought that before, and still, the sleepers live, dwindling.