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Do Not Wake The Sleeping Princess

K.S. O'Neill lives with his lovely wife, the writer Joy Kennedy-O'Neill, on the Texas coast, where he teaches math at a small college. He is delighted to be making his fourth appearance in Daily Science Fiction.

"Don't do it," he said, squinting at me across the tiny, smoky fire, enjoying lecturing his new squire.
"Rule number one. Don't wake 'em up. Bloody nutters they are, every sleeping princess in the world. Poisoning wells, torturing kittens, calling up demons, they're all mad. Family has 'em asleep for a reason, don't they? Make a show for the crowd, but don't do it."
He kept squinting, and I realized the blind old fool couldn't see a thing through the smoke.
"Well then... what do we do?" I asked as I brought him his goblet of spiced wine.
"What do we do? Provide a bit of entertainment, don't we? Festivals like this are the high point of a bloody little hillside kingdom's whole economic year, innit? Come from miles around, they do, to watch the tournament and see if the winner's kiss can wake the princess.
"Now," he continued, slugging his wine, "The tournament. There's an arrangement, d'ye see? They'll be a dozen, maybe twenty Knights at this festival."
"And we have to fight them?"
"Crowd's got to get its money's worth, innit? Tomorrow night we'll be at the Troll & Woodsman, little pub in the village. All the chaps will be there. They'll be a workup, d'ye see? Who fights who, draw straws for the winner, arrange how the purse gets split."
"The tournament's fixed?" I strove to sound shocked.
"Fixed? Well, it's arranged. See, first we play a bit of the tinker's game," and he tapped the hilt of his sword. "Now Clicker here, she's never so much as harmed a fly. Dull as a stick, light as a birch branch. But still, better to get two or three whacks in and then drop her and get to the clinch. "
He droned on and on, and I finally couldn't take it.
"Have you ever?" I asked. "Waked one, I mean?"
He stopped and looked somber. "Oh, aye. I buggered it. Few years back, when my eyes started to go. I pulled the long straw at the workup, and Black Robert O'Bedlam let me toss him a mile into a hay bale in the big finale." He shook his head sadly. "Missed the bloody hay bale I did, too. Broke his bloody collarbone. Bad day all round.
"Any rate, I went in to pretend to kiss her, as y'do, and I bumped the bloody bed with me knee. Of course any little bump will wake them, they're just asleep, you have to be bloody careful."
"What did you do?"
"Well, I scarpered, didn't I? Told the old fellow I needed the jakes and went over the fence, grabbed the horse and bolted. Which is why," he fixed me with a steely eye, "you leave your bloody horse in the village, innit? Armor and horse, that's the ticket. The kit makes the knight. No, no matter what, you can't lose your kit."
"What happened to the girl?"
"Bugger if I know. Probably still there, torturing kittens or something, the mad little cow...."
He paused, swayed once, and fell off the log. Finally. Bit of horse grass in the wine, put him out for hours. I rolled him over and started undoing the buckles of his armor.
What actually happened after he woke me? What do you think? Before sundown Father had sent for a cursing-witch to put me back to sleep. I was long gone by the time the old hag got there.
I have to admit, Father had a bit of a sit-down with me to see if I'd changed my mind first. Get married? Have a nice wee batch of crotch-goblins? Obey and be silent, mince and curtsey and leave off with the milkmaids and the barn girls and fighting in the yard with my brothers? Well, he had his answer there.
I took the horse and armor and left the old fool by the fire. Let him try to sort out what happened and what to do now.
I had plans. Had to make the workup at the pub, and contrive somehow to pull the long straw. The princess in this castle was called Katharine of Hillside; I'd wager she'd been no more mad than I was, just uncooperative or talky or disinclined to get married to some ancient relative when she was fourteen.
Well, we'll find out. Toss a few old codgers about, give her a good shake and see what comes of it.
It's time for some people around here to wake up.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 24th, 2017
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