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Spindles and Spires

Jenny Rae Rappaport is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and holds a BA in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. In the past, she has worked as a literary agent, a marine sciences field guide, and spent a semester observing monkeys as an intern with the Pittsburgh Zoo. She enjoys baking and photography, among other hobbies. Jenny lives in New Jersey with her family, where she divides her time between writing and herding small children.
You know the story. Everybody knows the story. The spinning wheel, the hundred years of sleep, and the eventual awakening by true love's kiss. Except he definitely wasn't my true love, and it wasn't actually a kiss--I still wake screaming at night when I dream about his body on mine.
Most people don't remember the children. Aurore has my golden curls, while Jour shares his father's raven-colored hair. Their skin is the palest green, like the undersides of new spring leaves; it is only to be expected, given the fact that their father is half-ogre himself. Their teeth, thank God, are normal.
After their birth--bloody, painful, and long--it didn't seem right to take one and leave the other, no matter who they resembled. So, I bundled them both like tiny dolls, stole my maid's good boots, and left in the dark of night. I do not recommend traveling with two newborns. In fact, I do not recommend traveling at all: it's messy, it's slow, and it will undoubtedly make your feet ache.
Sister Agnes tells me that God's will made me take them both. But was my husband, the Prince, also God's will? I think not.
I don't know whether it's his vanity or his mother that causes the Prince to lie about our disappearance. He certainly sends no troops after me; instead, there is a state funeral for his beautiful wife and children, three empty coffins laid to rest with great pomp and circumstance. Death after childbirth is common, infants are fragile like birds, and soon, everyone forgets that there was once more. The Queen Mother has likely had a hand in this as well; her ogre lineage has yielded a woman who is both cunning and cruel.
I do not, not for one minute, think that my children and I are safe.
While she bides her time, I bide mine. Sister Agnes teaches me which poisons are the most deadly; Sister Therese teaches me how to slide a knife between a man's ribs. From Sister Catherine, I learn the gentle art of the garrote. Sister Marie schools me in silent stealth, and Sister Margaret watches my children. It is the last that I am most thankful for because I am not sure that I have enough of me left to be both an assassin and a mother.
I kiss each dear head, when I tuck them into bed at the convent, and sing them lullabies from my childhood that are ancient tunes by now. One lingering look, one last caress, and then, I am back to practicing the only way to ensure our freedom. I do not know if it is God's will that has brought me to this place and these nuns and their strange ideas of religious vengeance, but it is enough--for now.
I make my move when the Prince announces his remarriage. I'm sure that the new Princess is docile, chosen by his mother for her biddability. I am equally sure that she does not know what lies beneath the surface of her new family's green skin.
My return to the castle is quiet: I sweep ashes from fireplaces, chop vegetables, and carefully poison my husband. He succumbs on the fifth day of Sister Agnes' special powder mixed discreetly in his food. His arrogance in refusing a food taster makes his death that much more fitting.
When the church bells toll their dirge, and the word of his passing travels through the castle, I remove my apron and pat my pockets--garotte, skeleton key, and my hidden knives tucked in boots and sleeves. I hustle up the servants' stairs, intent on the Queen Mother's quarters.
She is waiting for me.
"Little bird," she says, baring her pointy ogre teeth.
"No."
"Sweet little tweetling," she says, lunging out of her chair at me. We fight. I feint, she bites me, and we wrestle in the tapestry-hung space of her solar. My arm throbs with the venom from her teeth; that will have to be remedied later. Somehow, I manage to corner her, and her feet tangle in her dress.
"Pity," I say, advancing. She claws at me with her nails, but I twist, and stab at her with my knife. There is metal under her dress, and the knife clatters to the floor.
"Not so fast, little bird." She twirls away, suddenly mobile again. I race across the room after her, leaping on her back, and winding my garotte around her neck. She tries to buck me off, but I hold on even with my wounded arm.
"Why?"
"Because you were easy prey for him."
I tighten the garotte around her neck, and feel her sag under me. It is not enough; it will never be enough, but it will do for now. I leave her useless body on the floor, and limp into the hall, bandaging my arm with a strip of cloth. When I reach the second servant's staircase, the one that leads to the castle laundries, I stumble across my former maid. I am still wearing her good boots.
"Princess?" she says, and drops the load of dirty sheets that she's carrying, her face white with shock.
"No," I say, willing her not to look down at my feet. "My name is Rose."
"But, Princess? You died--are those my boots?"
It is definitely God's will that I use those boots to run away from the maid, down the corridor, and toward the stables. It is also God's will that I steal a horse and ride for home. And whether it is God's will or not, I will live and die by my thorns. My pricks are deadly; my petals are soft. Do not ever confuse me with a flower that can be plucked.
I kick the horse with my heel--once, twice, three times. The road is long, and the night is late, and none of that actually matters.
My children are waiting.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, November 19th, 2019


I grew up on the Disney version of fairy tales--sweet and sanitized. But good fairy tales always have a beautiful core of darkness to them, which is part of their appeal. For "Spindles and Spires," I drew inspiration from some of the older versions of the Sleeping Beauty story, ogres and all.

- Jenny Rae Rappaport
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