She wanders the castle late at night, a haunt that startles the servants when she finds them flesh to flesh in the darker corners of the place. She doesn’t mean to interrupt their trysts; she just can’t sleep.
She slept for a hundred years. Most thought that was the curse of the evil fairy, but it wasn’t. Not for her, at any rate. The years passed in a heartbeat, dreams keeping her company as she lay unchanging behind the forest of thorns while the world grew colder and uglier.
She knows her sleep was a curse for those who loved her, who no doubt hoped that someone would break the spell, wake her up, and restore her to the loving bosom of her family.
But no one could, not till her prince woke her, the man she does not sleep next to because her restlessness disturbs him.
She thinks the wildness in her eyes also disturbs him. Her inability to laugh at his jokes because she does not find him funny, not when sleep eludes her, when dreams waft away as a possibility for others, not for her.
She has heard the doctor tell him that a person can go mad if they are deprived of dreams for too long. She wonders how the doctor knows this. Did he do that—keep some poor soul awake until his mind split apart, until he screamed from the lack of the solace of dreams?
“My lady.” It is the prince; he is very good at finding her.
“Come to bed?”
He does not mean to sleep. She has her own rooms where she can toss and turn and light the candle and blow it back out again without disturbing him. He wants to be with her, to take her.
He earned that right when he forged his way through the thorns, when he woke her with his kiss.
He has never asked her if she loved someone before she was cursed, or if she loves him. She thinks he does not care.
She thinks he would like to get an heir from her before she has gone completely mad. She imagines he will not let her keep the baby with her, that he will fear for the baby.
She thinks he might fear her on his own behalf. He does not look like a husband come a wooing, but one who wishes to do his duty and be told that finally his burdensome, non-sleeping wife has accepted his seed and will deliver a child.
She wonders if he will want to have more than one.
“I am not tired.” This is, of course, a lie. She is exhausted—she simply cannot sleep. The final piece of the curse. Wake from eternal sleep and the other side of the coin is eternal wakefulness.
“My love”—he stumbles over the endearment—”I mean that I need you.”
That is true. He needs her to give him a child. Since he so unwisely married her before he knew of her nighttime wanderings, so flush with triumph over beating the curse when so many other princes failed.
She never knew they even tried to rescue her. Her sleep was peaceful. Her dreams lovely. She misses them. She believes she dreamed an entire world for herself when she slept in that thorn-wrapped tower.
She knew peace: she does not think she ever will again.
“You wish me to do my wifely duty?” She wants to state it that way, as a duty, something to be borne not enjoyed—not needed the way he says he needs her. It is not that he is unkind to her, it is just that after living in a world of dreams, he is a pale shadow of what she created for herself.
Lying with him is messy and immediate, and she detests how it grounds her in the life she lives, in the restless days anticipating not slumber as her ladies do but endless vigilance.
She has gone to the priest. She has called for the fairies. Any of them, even evil ones.
The priest has no remedies and the fairies do not answer.
James moves restlessly and finally says, “Yes, I wish you to do your wifely duty.”
“We should understand each other. Speak plainly.” She knows her eyes are hard by how his expression changes.
“Of course.” He looks down. “I have tried to make you happy, Beauty.”
She does not think that is true. He tried to make himself happy with some attentiveness to her needs—at first. But her happiness has never been an issue for any of the princes who stormed the thorns—had it been, they would not have sought to wake her.
But she says none of this. She says, “I know,” because it is the easier thing to say.
She follows him to his room and lets him remove her robes, and she keeps her eyes open but then sees him close his.
He will not look at her?
As he finds completion in her flesh, she murmurs, “I was happy. Before you woke me. I had my dreams and they were beautiful.”
He lies collapsed on top of her, breathing hard, and tightens his hold on her arms, but she thinks it is possession that drives the firmness of his grip, not hurt, not love rejected.
“You may return to your room.” He rolls off her and faces the wall.
“Perhaps this time I will conceive.”
“Perhaps.” He does not sound hopeful.
This too may be part of the curse. She is over a hundred years old—can she conceive? Even if her beauty did not dim, perhaps the part of her that can create life did?
“Good night, Beauty.”
“Good night, James.” She can see there is some level of misery in the way he lies so still on the luxurious bed that she should share, so she gives him the best gift she can: “Sleep well.”
Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. She has stories and poems published by: Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Grimdark, Athena’s Daughters 2, and others. She is editing an anthology, A Quiet Shelter There, which will benefit homeless animals and is due out in this year from Hadley Rille Books. See more at http://www.gerrileen.com. This story was first published in the 713 Flash Contest by Kazka Press.