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Rose-and-Thorn

Melissa Mead is still living in Upstate NY. Her Web page is here: carpelibris.wordpress.com. She can also be found on Facebook.
"On her sixteenth birthday, the princess shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die."
The other fairies stopped their one-upmanship to gape at their rival.
"That's true power, not giving silly gifts like beauty and charm," said the oldest fairy. "None of you can match that."
"I can try." The youngest fairy came forward, scattering the scent of roses over the sleeping infant. "The princess shall not die, but shall sleep for a hundred years."
Everyone in the room felt the enchantment snap into place. The other fairies, her rivals, looked at the youngest with new respect. But the oldest laughed. Her robes, stained and shadowed with a thousand ruthless choices, shook with mirth.
"Sleep for a hundred years! That shall sleep for a hundred years? Ha!"
She rent the air, and vanished.
For sixteen years, the young Fairy Rose-and-Thorn enjoyed her new standing among the Fae, while at the same time keeping watch for any sign that her old nemesis might try to undermine her christening gift by killing the princess before the fated birthday. Fairies (Evil ones, of course, not benevolent ones like Rose-and-Thorn) had done far worse to keep from losing face. At Rose-and-Thorn's urging, the King had all spindles in the kingdom burnt. Spinster women bewailed their lost livelihood, but they were only mortals, incapable of thinking on a larger scale.
On the princess' sixteenth birthday, Rose-and-Thorn came to the castle herself to assure that everything went smoothly. The baby was now a coltish awkward girl who eyed her suspiciously. The King and Queen disgraced themselves with bouts of uncontrolled weeping. It was almost a relief, as sunset approached, to follow the girl up the steps of the tallest tower, where her dreaded fate waited.
Rose-and-Thorn spent the tedious climb rehearsing the speech she'd make when she confronted the evil oldest fairy, but when she reached the top, the room was empty.
No one there. Just a spinning wheel, its spindle gleaming in a slanting ray of rosy light, and a neatly-made bed, with a comforter adorned with blood-red roses, and a ragged stuffed rabbit on the pillow.
"How'd you get up here, Mrs. Hoppity?" the girl murmured. She picked up the shabby thing and stroked it. Then she turned to sit on the bed, and caught sight of Rose-and-Thorn.
"You again! Why do you keep following me everywhere?"
"I... I... Don't touch the spindle!" Rose-and-Thorn grabbed the thing herself, clutching it to her heart. For just a moment she wondered if she could shield the girl with her own body, and keep the curse from happening at all. But the air buzzed with unease. The wrong person was touching the spindle. Fate was struggling to follow the path carved for it.
"Why would I want to touch the stupid spindle? What I wanted was to have a nice birthday without my mother and father bursting into tears every time they look at me. Without people whispering behind my back, or shutting up whenever I come into a room. Without some creepy strange woman following me everywhere." The mortal girl glared at Rose-and-Thorn. "But since I can't have that, I just want to sit here with Mrs. Hoppity and enjoy some peace and quiet. Now, would you please leave?"
"But... you can't." How could the girl just sit there, with the air itself crackling and stinging with unfulfilled prophecy? "The spindle...."
"Oh, forget the stupid spindle. Just leave me alone!"
The buzzing and crackling became shrieking. Rose-and-Thorn clapped her hands over her ears. Dropped the spindle. The princess came toward her, a look of concern replacing the irritation on her face, speaking words that Rose-and-Thorn could barely hear.
"...wasp? Let me... No, you sit... get your spindle."
The girl picked the gleaming thing off the floor.
"Ow."
Rose and Thorn heard that quite clearly. The otherworldly wailing stopped. The girl tumbled to the floor, unconscious. Rose-and-Thorn picked her up and tucked her into the waiting bed. Not quite understanding why, she put the shabby rabbit in the girl's arms before going downstairs to check on the rest of the castle.
Everyone slept. The King, the Queen, the courtiers, the servants, the very flies on the windowsills. Rose-and-Thorn swelled with pride at how much her power had expanded in sixteen short years.
Two days later panic replaced pride, and she understood why her old rival had laughed. The girl's eyes looked sunken, her lips dry and cracked. Rose-and-Thorn spooned water into her mouth and watched it dribble out again. Magic fed into her vanished like rain on an endlessly thirsty desert. The ivy leaves on the tower already rattled, dry and dead, their life given to the girl. To keep this girl alive for a century would drain every living thing in the kingdom. And beyond.
And wasn't a century rather long for a human lifespan? They aged so horrendously quickly.
The girl would not sleep for a hundred years. Could not. She'd die after all, and her rival would win.
That must not happen. The old fairy was evil. Everyone knew that. She, Rose-and-Thorn, must not allow that to happen.
She, Rose-and-Thorn, was the only being here who could survive a hundred years. Who could assure that a century from now the eyes of the girl on the bed would open. That she'd leave this tower. That Rose-and-Thorn's prophecy, and no one else's, would come true.
There was a way, if no one else saw. And the other sleeping mortals would be dead a hundred years from now in any case. They'd never know exactly when they died, or how.
"I'm sorry," she said. "But the evil fairy must not win."
Rose-and-Thorn dragged the sleeping bodies outside, placed them in a ring around the castle. At a word from her, they crumbled to ash. From the ash, roses began to grow, twining and twisting, seeking holds in the stone. They put out thorns, long and dagger-sharp. They bloomed; not the pure white blooms Rose-and-Thorn had expected, but deep, heart's-blood red, their scent intoxicating, overpowering.
Rose-and-Thorn's gown was stained with ash. She stripped it off and lay next to the sleeping princess on the soft comforter. She closed her eyes. She breathed in the scent of roses. Breathed out, and in again. Now there was only one person on the bed. She felt the gentle weight of Mrs. Hoppity in her arms. She was thirsty. But so sleepy. Maybe when she woke up, that strange woman would give her a drink of water.
Princess Rose-and-Thorn slept.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, May 6th, 2016


Originally, this was an upbeat, cheerful version of Sleeping Beauty. I'm still not sure what happened....

- Melissa Mead

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