Fantasy Fairytales princess in a tower cribbage briar rose

A Century of Princes

By H.L. Fullerton
Apr 28, 2020 · 726 words · 3 minutes


Story art by HL Fullerton.  

From the author: Briar and Rose are trapped in a tower by an evil curse. Or so the story is supposed to go. Here's a fairy tale retelling where the princess isn't exactly sleeping.

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Briar and Rose sit at a table in a cozy nook of their tower room, snacking on jam-smeared scones and playing cribbage.  Briar is winning; she always wins.  Mostly, because Rose believes it bad manners to trounce a guest and, although they've been together many summers, it's technically Rose's tower: she was here first.

"Muggins!" Briar calls, pirating points Rose should've claimed to finish the match.  If she ignores them, games last forever and, while they may have that long, Briar would rather not spend it on cards.

"You're so good at this game," Rose says and Briar scowls.  Replies, "Uh-huh.  Right.  That's me.  The Countess of Crib."

"Play again?"  Rose's gaze drifts to the loop hole—a narrow slit wide enough for arrows but little else—that serves as their window.  Half her face bathed in light, she squints towards the horizon, searching...

"Beautiful day," Briar says.  "Let's walk to the lake, have a picnic."  Ever since Briar disturbed Rose's slumber, grabbed her shoulder and shook her awake, she's tempted Rose with tales of outside.  Briar is a very good taleteller so Rose can't be sure there is a lake.  And what if she couldn't return?  Magic can be tricky.  Briar can come and go, but Briar isn't cursed.  At least, Rose doesn't think her friend is.

"I can't leave the tower," she says, although she shouldn't have to.  Briar knows this.  "A witch trapped me here with a spell—"

"You keep you here."

"—until my true prince arrives—"

Briar snorts.  She always does at talk of royalty.  "Over a hundred already have."

Hardly a hundred.  It couldn't be more than—Rose does a fast tally—ninety-nine.  Not that it matters how many fail to reach her chamber, she thinks, because it only takes one.  And until then, she has Briar.  "—and wakes me with a kiss—"

"Hello?"  Briar throws her arms in the air.  "You're already awake!"

"—will I—  Did you hear that?"  That rumble-purr noise (which had replaced clippity clop) indicating visitors, followed by a crashing clunk.

"No," Briar says, but she's lying. 

"I hear someone." Rose's voice rises in pitch until she's squeaking with joy.  "It must be June already.  Why didn't you tell me?"  June is good for two things: blackberries and princes, and Rose loves both equally.  Briar claims princes are frightfully stupid in person—"Berries have more sense"—but Rose thinks Briar exaggerates.  "Do I look okay?"

 Briar surveys Rose.  "You've some jam on your cheek.  Here, let me get it."  Briar takes a napkin and smears the jam across the corner of Rose's mouth until the girl resembles a murder victim.  "Perfect," Briar says.

Rose sweeps everything atop the table—cards, scones, dishes, tea pot, cribbage board, crumbs—into a hamper.  She tosses dresses and shoes under the four poster and smoothes sheets all while brushing her hair.  Then she pushes Briar into the wardrobe.  'Shhh,' she whispers, "We don't want him to hear you."

"This is ridiculous," Briar says.  "Why don't you just open the front door if you want a prince so badly?"

"That's not how enchantments work.  And lower your voice.  You're not supposed to be part of this."  She kisses Briar, once, quick; promises she'll still love her best; and then shuts her friend in the dark.

Briar watches Rose arrange herself on the bed and close her eyes.  Between her pallor and the jam, the stiffness of her limbs, Rose looks more corpse than sleeping beauty.

Briar sneaks out the back of wardrobe, down spiral steps and into the blackberries patch at the castle's front.  She collects berries for a pie, ignoring the scratch of stickers on her bare hands—they don't bother her.

A young man—prince number 100—comes over, thinking how lucky he is his car threw a flat a stone's throw from an ivied tower.  He's a pretty prince—all smiles and charm—and offers to help Briar pick the fruit.

They always do.

He reaches for a plump berry.  A bramble catches the back of his hand.  "Ow," he says and collapses before the blood fully beads.

Briar drags the sleeping boy into the cellar, pushes him onto the last, empty shelf, and covers him with mint leaves to keep pests away (the second-to-last thing she wants disturbing a century of princes is mice) then returns to the wardrobe to nap until Rose gives up this stupid charade and wakes her.

This story originally appeared in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show.