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art by Eleanor Bennett

A Little Sleep

Melissa Mead lives in upstate NY. You may have seen her stories in DSF before. She's a member of SFWA and Codex, and her Web page is carpelibris.wordpress.com. Go to Twisted Fairy Tales to read the other stories published so far in Melissa's series.

The princess searched the throne room, the stable, the scullery... no spindles anywhere. Her father had been most thorough. It had taken her a year of questioning every old woman she met just to find out what a spindle was, and longer still to extract the details of the curse from the servants without alerting His Majesty.
"One hundred years," she muttered as she rummaged through her late mother's hope chest. It was nearly empty, which struck her as oddly appropriate. It held some scraps of yellowed lace--a tiny, unworn christening gown for the infant prince who had died with Mother, and taken her father's heart with them.
None of her fairy godmothers' gifts had done any good, then. She couldn't sing or play his grief away. He scorned her wit, since no girl-child, however clever, could inherit his throne, and her beauty only reminded him of his lost wife.
So the princess used her fae-given wit and grace to keep out of her father's bitter eye. He followed her progress in her lessons with the cool interest of a man calculating the worth of a bargaining chip. She must have tallied up in the "assets" column, because now the palace gossip was all about the suitors the king was lining up for his daughter. Men who knew the worth of a bargaining chip, if nothing else. All her father's age or older, with hard eyes and thin mouths.
One hundred years from now, they would all be gone.
The princess climbed the tower stairs, her calves burning. This was the only place left to look.
She pushed open the door. An old woman sat by the window, spinning. The princess, suddenly frightened, watched the spindle dance, the way a bird watches a cat. She could, if she wished, leave this tower for the choices below. At least those choices were recognizable.
"Which one are you?" she blurted.
"Pardon, child?"
"The one who cursed me with death, or the one who changed the curse?"
The woman didn't pretend not to understand. "Does it matter? The curse says that you'll sleep for a hundred years. Nothing can change that now."
"I could refuse to touch that spindle."
"You could. You could go back down and marry your father's chosen man. He might be the prince of your dreams."
"Or you could take your chances with the sleep. Alone. Helpless."
"I'll be asleep. I won't know anything until I wake up. And there'll be a true prince waiting."
"Not all princes are honorable, Dearie. There's more than one possible ending to your story."
"Do you know which one I'll get if I touch that spindle?"
The old woman said nothing.
The princess looked back toward the door, and shuddered. She grasped the spindle. Her knees buckled. The old woman caught her, carried her across the room, and laid her on a waiting bed.
"You want to know which one I am, Princess?"
She bent down and whispered in the sleeping girl's ear. Then she straightened, sighed, and left the room.
Outside the window, the thorns began to grow.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013
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