She was an old woman now. Ninety-eight, if her memory could be trusted. For nearly thirty years she had lived in a wooden cottage at the edge of Raventop village, right where the long grasses gave way to waves of dark bedrock. Twelve years ago her husband had died. Four years ago one of her great-granddaughters had moved in with her, to help around the house. She knew she would die soon. She was ready for it. She could use a long nap.
That’s why, when she woke up with a young man’s lips on hers, she thought he was giving her mouth-to-mouth. That’s why she laughed. But her laugh wasn’t her own, and her cottage had been replaced by a great hall.
She ignored the young man and tried to place the room. It must have been a room in the castle, but she couldn’t remember it. She had frequented the castle in the capital a great deal in her youth—the first time as a prisoner, but then for years as a servant, and finally as the youngest prince’s bride. Her life had been full of castles and people and parties then. Now Karawné and all his family were dead. He had died last, right beside her in bed.
The bed she had been moved from. Had they thought she was dead already? But she didn’t flatter herself that the new folk of the castle thought of her these days.
"Rose?" the young man asked uncertainly.
He looked twenty. No, maybe thirty. Or forty even. They looked younger all the time.
"Do I know you?" she asked.
And again, something was amiss with her hearing. (Amiss in a different way than usual.) It sounded like someone else was speaking. A younger someone.
"You are Lady Rose?" he asked with an accent. He was dressed for the court, but his skin was as pale as hers, like no one she had seen in decades.
She laughed and then frowned at the sound. "I was," she replied, easing herself upright. But though her head suddenly whirled with an unaccustomed dizziness and fatigue, her body didn’t need to be eased. She could sit straight up without rolling on her side first, and with barely the aid of her hands at all. She closed her eyes and held her head for a moment. Everything felt strange.
"But you are again, my lady."
She didn’t know what to say to that. The poor man must have been told she was someone else, though why he knew her name was a mystery.
Or maybe he meant to be kind to her before she died.
"It doesn’t trouble me, young man. I know my death is coming. It’s not so scary, when so many people you love have gone before you." She looked up at him.
He frowned. "But they are not dead," he said, "and I certainly hope you will not die soon either. They have all been put to sleep."
"Who has?" she asked, but suddenly she saw them. All around her were finely-dressed people lying on the floor of the hall. She looked at the young man more sharply.
"They are asleep, as you have been," he repeated. "The spell has been broken."
She opened her mouth and closed it, frowned and shook her head, stared and closed her eyes as he told her a story. It was familiar to her, but not her own. A spell, he said. A seventh fairy, he explained. Eighty years, he told her. A legend in his kingdom, he explained. Thorns around the castle, that had vanished when he had approached, he gestured. And the princess, waiting for a kiss.
Well, she didn’t think death would be like this. She wouldn’t have chosen to return to palace life. She would rather have returned to her quiet years with Karawné. If not those then the first years of their marriage, and their first child.
"Lady Rose," he said. "They are waking."
But she didn’t look at the people stirring on the floor. She looked at her hands, young and smooth like a child’s. She felt her long hair and saw that it still had its old golden-brown color. She wiggled her toes, and slid her legs out from under the covers. She wore a white nightgown, with a collar studded with diamonds. She was exposing more leg than she had in decades, but they were the legs of a young woman. A beautiful young woman. For she had been beautiful.
A middle-aged white woman with grey in her hair wove her way unsteadily through the others, dressed as a queen. She looked vaguely familiar. Behind her, the king replaced his crown.
"You are awake," the queen whispered, tearing up. She hugged her. "Rose," she whispered with emotion into her ear, "the spell has been broken."
"Do you believe in magic, Karawné?" she had asked him once, when they were young.
He had stepped closer, and touched her arms gently, his eyes filled with love. "How could I not," he had asked, "when the love of my life appeared out of thin air before me, glowing like the sun?"
She had been relieved that he had believed her, unlike the others. That he hadn’t believed that she had just forgotten everything, dreamed everything.
But now, apparently, she had dreamt everything. And what’s more, while everyone else had slept for eighty years as well, starting only a couple weeks after her, they had not dreamed.
She looked out of a bedroom window that she almost remembered. She could not have recalled the view before she looked out, but once she had, the city laid before her was familiar. Her mother’s face too, she knew now. She had gone back in time to her childhood.
The sea filled the horizon, the spice of salt on the wind. That, at least, was the same as home. After the excitement of yesterday, she had slept more than she had in years, well into the morning. A servant had attended her, who was kind and seemed to know her, but she missed her great-granddaughter.
"Did you dream while you were asleep?" she had asked the girl. The girl had shaken her head.
"I remember when you fell asleep, and everyone was in mourning." Her voice was young and sweet. "I remember that we didn’t know if you would wake, even though legend said that you would, because the last fairy changed the evil one’s spell."
The radiance of a rose. The grace of a swan. Reason and dance, song and composure. Six gifts they had given, before that happy day had gone wrong. The seventh fairy had hidden, suspecting that the old fairy—the eighth—whom no one had known still lived and had thus not been invited with all of the other fairies in the kingdom, had only put on a show of having her anger placated. When the eighth fairy had cursed the baby to die at the prick of a spindle, the seventh fairy had used her power to change the spell so that instead of dying she would sleep and wake to a prince. Rose remembered the story now, though she did not know if it was true. She had been beautiful and she could sing, but her dancing days were long over and wrinkles lined her face. And who was to judge reason? But this was the story the whole city was talking about, whether this be a dream, or the life she had lived.
"I remembered everyone gathering, the city in black."
The black had been taken down now and replaced by colors of celebration. These people, at least, hadn’t lost their loved ones: everyone’s time had frozen, and everyone was still there when they opened their eyes.
"And I remember falling asleep. I don’t know how, but some people are saying the seventh fairy came back, and put everyone else to sleep too, so we could all wake together. When you were kissed, with the kiss of true love!"
And then she went on with some fanciful nonsense about falling in love with strangers just because they were princes. Though, in the girl’s defense, Rose had married a prince in the end. But he’d hated being a prince when she met him. She remembered that too. She wished he were here now, whenever, or wherever, now was. She had hoped that she would see him when she died. Instead, she was surrounded by people who thought he hadn’t existed.
"You’re beautiful," this new prince had told her more than once last night. He had said nothing more substantial. He was thirty-eight, a third son from a kingdom across the water. Everyone, including her parents, spoke of their upcoming marriage. She was too old for such things, and such men.
A knock came at her door. "Lady Rose?"
She turned from the window and called, "Come in."
A shy young maid entered. "His Majesty the king inquires why you have not come down to eat," she said, curtseying low. "He is worried you are sick or have forgotten the way."
Her eyes crinkled. Or they would have, if she had any wrinkles left. The worries were the same, even if their cause had changed.
"Thank you," she wished kindly. "I had forgotten. Could you tell me the way?"
"I can show you, if you would like, My Lady."
"Thank you, but I will go down myself. Where are the stairs?"
The girl gave her directions and left. Once she was out of sight, Rose turned in the opposite direction. Before she had gone three steps her handmaiden rounded a corner in front of her. She had dismissed her as soon as she had woken, not needing the help in dressing, for once, and marveling at the experience.
"Lady Rose," she called as she neared, her eyes bright, somehow turning the title into a familiar name. "Have you remembered much more?"
"Some. Do you know how I can slip out?"
The girl’s eyes sparkled. "Is it her?" she asked. "Are you still in love with her, instead of the prince? Or do you love both?" she whispered conspiratorially.
"I wish to go for a walk in the city."
"Of course," said her handmaiden, gesturing to a small archway behind her. "You always used the servants’ stairwell for your walks." She winked and walked past her.
As Rose walked down the stone spiral stairway, she tried to remember so far back. She had loved once, before Karawné, with the devotion of a teenager. That’s what the girl must have been referring to. She had mourned her for years, but now she couldn’t even recall her name.
As she found a way out into the street, she remembered some of her youth. She remembered escaping the castle and her pampering parents and searching for adventure in the streets, running wild over rooftops when none of the children would play with her. Today, as she walked, everyone she passed smiled at her in a friendly way, welcomed her back and complimented her on her beauty, and it was all vaguely familiar like the notes of an old song. Whether by memory or chance, her steps led her to a wharf where ships were markets of activity and repair.
She was struck by a memory, tough and vivid. She had stood here once, the same cold wind blowing off the water and through her hair. She had watched a ship sail away, and had wished with all her heart that it would come back.
She listened to the gulls and the waves and the shouts of the people. She let the memory ebb and flow, nearing her with each gentle wave. She had known loneliness in her childhood, but she had also known love before Karawné. She had known a friend. She had known words, and the heartbreak when words become silence. Familiarity was broken by misunderstanding, words choked by doubt.
She turned to see a teenager, her clothes salt-stained and travel-worn. Her eyes were earnest and troubled as only love can make them.
As soon as she said the name Rose remembered it, but the face was still a stranger’s.
"Eva," Rose repeated.
Eva’s eyes were darting back and forth across her face, searching for a confirmation long gone.
"Some have said you are ill from the sleep?" Her whole body was tense, as if she were trying not to reach out to her, or afraid of what she might say.
Rose shook her head. "I am well." Her mouth tweaked. "Better than I have been in a long time, in fact, but I am having trouble remembering things from so long ago."
"Do you remember me?"
Rose was silent in the face of such emotion. “Status,” she thought. That had been at the root of their argument, at the beginning of the silence. But it was all so long ago.
"You remember?" she asked softly. The poor child.
"I remember you. Every moment of every day I remember you. When I sailed away I dreamed of seeing you on the opposite shore, and it was only when you weren’t there that I realized how stupid I’ve been. I hurt you, but I didn’t think I could matter to you as much as you did to me. Rose, Rosebud, I came when I heard of the spell. I came to help you or to wake you if I could. But that prince woke you instead."
Again, the searching eyes.
"Eva," she said slowly. "I do not remember much of the past."
Eva’s mouth opened and closed.
"I remember eighty years of another life. I am an old woman now, and that may be hard to understand, seeing me like this—" she raised her slender arms and dropped them "—but it is the only way I can explain this to you. I do remember you—"
Eva inhaled with relief, hope sparking in her eyes.
"—but all I remember is loving you, and silence. I remember watching your ship sail away, and that is all. I remember marrying someone else, having children with someone else. You were the first person I loved, but I was only a child then, and it was so long ago now."
"But the rest was a dream," Eva said in a rush. "The dream will fade. We’re here again."
The look in her eyes reminded Rose of Karawné. She smiled sadly.
"If it was a dream," she said steadily, "then my life was a dream. I am a dream. There is nothing for you here," she said, placing a hand on her heart. "Not now."
"Has not asked me yet about anything, but he will learn. He is nothing to me, if that comforts you."
And for a moment, it did seem to comfort her, but then the earnestness was there again.
"So you do remember me. The memories will come back. I couldn’t remember everything for the first few hours either. No one could. Maybe yours are just slower."
"My sleep was different," said Rose sadly but firmly. "I can give you nothing, Eva. Thank you for your affection, but I must return to the palace."
"My affection," Eva repeated. "My love. I love you Rose. I’ve always loved you. I was an idiot, Rosebud. Forgive me—"
"Lady Rose? Excuse me."
The prince stood there waiting. Prince Tiran was dressed smartly and by convention, though he defied it by being alone and on foot.
"Goodbye, Eva," said Rose. She walked toward the prince and away.
The first time she had really noticed Karawné was on her nineteenth birthday, nearly one year after she had arrived in his kingdom. It had been one of the worst days in her young life. She couldn’t recall if anything bad had even happened that day, or if it was just the lack of everything she cared about that had gotten to her. Eva, her parents, her friends, her home.
A great storm had struck in the evening, lighting flaring in the sky every few moments and thunder shaking the castle with its roar. Everyone had stayed inside, and that’s why she had gone out.
The castle had sat between the town and the lake. On the edge of the lake was an old crumbling watchtower, its stones dressed in moss and weeds, half a staircase still spiralling to the top. That’s where she had gone, climbing up until she was as close to the crackling clouds as she could get, as close to the wind and the rain and the lightning. That storm had been her, its rage hers, its destruction hers. She had known that she could have been struck by lightning on top of that watchtower, and maybe she’d been daring the lightning to do just that. It had been so loud, and she, so absorbed in herself and so taken by the storm, that she hadn’t even noticed Karawné until he had touched her arm.
She had barely looked at him, barely responded to his words of concern. She had been frustrated at this sign that she couldn’t really run away from it all. But he stayed and kept speaking to her until he was sodden too. And then he made her laugh. She had been so startled that she had looked at him. She still remembered that moment. He hadn’t been the best looking of young men, but his eyes had been bright and his smile ready and kind. Those things hadn’t changed with age.
"Did you hear that?"
They were almost back at the castle, on one of the main cobblestone streets.
Rose shook her head at Prince Tiran. "My hearing isn’t—" she began, and then faltered as she remembered that her hearing was as good as it used to be.
"Hear what?" she asked.
"The story they were telling."
He paused, and she glanced back at the group of children they had passed.
"Our story’s changing with the hour," he said with some mirth in his eyes. "The "Sleeping Beauty" was asleep for a century in that one, and I fought off a dragon."
"You’re becoming a hero," she said. And maybe he was not the man he seemed, because his forehead furrowed in thought, at that.
They paused as a squeaky carriage rolled by, and then crossed the street and joined the throng heading into and out of the castle. Rose was in no hurry to return.
"Will you take a turn with me in the gardens?" Prince Tiran asked as they both paused at the bottom of the steps.
"Yes, thank you," she said with a nod, and they circled around the castle.
The castle gardens were quite beautiful, with stone footpaths wending their ways through flowers of all sorts and under fruit trees and ashes and poplars. A built pond made up the centre, with a carved fountain in the middle. But she missed her own garden.
"I don’t believe in magic," said the prince as they slowed to a meander.
How could I not? he had replied.
"I suppose it’s ironic," he continued when she glanced at him, "that it is me who is caught up in this story. I was told it as a boy, you know. My father was born in the year of the spell. So long ago."
He at least understood that, and didn’t expect her to remember him.
"I remember every year," she said softly.
He didn’t reply for a moment, and they rounded a bend.
"I don’t believe in magic," he repeated. "And I also don’t believe that you are my wife because I took the great liberty of kissing you while you slept. I apologize for that."
She shook her head as they passed beneath a weeping willow.
"I would have your consent to marry me."
"If you don’t believe in magic," she replied instead of answering, "then what do you believe in?"
"I believe in strength and courage. In persistence. In goodness. I believe in a level head and a willingness to listen. I believe in numbers. In economics and trade."
"Has a place, when truth is heeded."
"Is of utmost importance."
He paused. "Can get in the way. But I think it too is of utmost importance. Without humility there is no understanding, no level-headedness. There is rashness and foolishness, and those I do not value."
They walked along a bed of red and pink roses.
"It has been eighty years," Rose mused aloud. "I know that. You know that. But not many others feel it. A great deal must have changed in the world. Our old alliances may not exist."
"They could be renewed, but changes would have to be made. This kingdom used to trade largely in finished goods, but your technology is nearly a century behind. Your wood can still be exported, but after a little while, maybe a year, of your goods being welcomed as a novelty, something would have to change. Your ships are slow, your workers slow too."
He had thought about this. "What would you do?" she asked.
"I would bring those advances here, to those who would wish them. I would make this kingdom prosper again."
They stood at the edge of the pond and watched the fountain. Prince Tiran said no more, and so she was able to stand in silence for a moment. This was too much excitement for her. She missed slow days spent watching the sea. She missed tending her plants. No one, she realized, had ever stopped to ask whether Sleeping Beauty wanted to wake up.
But this world was still going, even if hers was over. So much was happening here. There were so many people caught up in it. She tried to imagine the future the prince proposed, but it faded into the steady sound of water falling into water. The wind bent the reeds and the sun sparkled on the water. She missed solitude.
They both began to walk again, without words. He wasn’t a bad sort, she thought. And he could respect a shrewd woman. He could do good here.
At the edge of the garden, before they left, she stopped. "Yes."
"Yes, I will marry you."
Their second child was nine when she drowned. Karawné had been watching her. He had taken their eldest son and daughter swimming in the ocean, not far from where they had lived back then, on the edge of the capital. Rose had had their youngest with her, and had come later to find everyone staring tensely, silently out at the water. Their son made it back gasping, his tears mingling with saltwater, but their daughter’s black head had only bobbed out farther and farther into the distance on the rip tide before vanishing beneath the surface.
She remembered so many emotions. She had shouted at Karawné.
"You were supposed to be watching her!" she had screamed, striking his chest. "Why didn’t you go after her? You were supposed to be taking care of her!"
"I choose you," he had said, a tear falling from devastated eyes.
"No!" she had yelled, hitting him again, tearing his chest with her claws. "You know to watch for rip tides. You know she could swim. You were supposed to be watching her!"
"I choose you," he said again. It was a line from their wedding vows: I choose you, you and all your faults.
"I choose you; I love you; I’m with you."
It was all he could say, all he could promise about the years to come spent mourning their daughter.
And the words had calmed her, standing there in his gentle embrace, in the midnight black of his arms. She had turned from him and hugged her son. His expression had been as shocked as Karawné’s. She had led them home.
Rose felt that same calmness now, after having made her decisions. She sat in her room, finishing up the wedding sash she had made for Prince Tiran over the last few days. Normally they were plain, white with tassels, made to be worn by a groom for the first three months of his marriage. But now she added words to the inside, for his.
Strength, courage, wisdom, humility, compassion.
Maybe they would help.
The last two days had been filled with feasting and celebration, and this morning had been the formal ceremony. They were fully married now. All that remained of the day’s traditions was for the prince to return from the hunt, for her to hand him his sash, the final feast tonight, and the marriage bed.
Rose finished the sash and placed it neatly folded on her dresser. Her hand slid beside it to the pile of charcoal drawings she had made in the past few weeks. There was one of the moment she had woken, with the sleeping bodies strewn around. Another of Eva, her eyes troubled and her back to the sea. There was one of the old castle and the old king and queen whom she’d met when she had first arrived in Karawné’s kingdom. There were some of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
And then there was picture after picture of Karawné. She drew him on their wedding day. She drew him the day they lost their daughter. She drew him sitting by the sea, his face lined with age.
The most detailed drawing she took with her to her bed, for anyone who might understand. She lay down, her head propped up on pillows, and looked at it once more. It was a picture of Karawné as he had looked before he’d died, standing in front of their cottage, in front of their garden and the sea, and welcoming her home with that smile that had never changed with the years.
She lay the drawing beside her and picked up the mug of tea she had placed by her bed. She cringed at the bitter taste, but Bluefang was fast and nearly painless.
She had done what she could here.
“I choose you,” she whispered, aloud or in her head, before closing her eyes one last time.