Everyone fell asleep. They fell over where they stood, or sat in chairs with their legs splayed and the heads back, bodies motionless save for their chests, which rose and fell with the slow, steady movements of sleep. She assumed that their sleep was dreamless.
She hoped, for their sakes, that it was. That it was, in fact, sleep.
She was not so lucky. She couldn’t move, but she saw it all as it happened, felt the castle like it was part of her.
It was well enough for a time--peaceful, if dull. She was aware, and the kingdom was asleep, but they were unmolested and the forest was quiet. A thin layer of dust settled over the sleeping castle, dimming the leaf greens and river blues of the ladies’ dresses to the color of moss and the sky at dusk. The dust made her nose itch, and she resented the constant reminder of her body, of what she could have been like. Though she could see everything within the castle, she couldn't bring herself to look at her own body lying motionless on the bed, the dried blood on her fingertip, her hair spread out like a wave crested by a small golden crown.
The thicket grew quickly. By the time she had lain on the bed for a year, the thicket was beginning to grow over her window. It wasn’t covered completely, not yet, but the thorny vines formed scrolls over the brickwork, over the window opening, over the castle.
Before three years had passed, the lacy shadows on the floor had faded into a deep shade. The sun no longer filtered through the window, and inside the room, the difference between night and day was slipping away.
The vines covered the castle now, their thorny tangles wrapping around the cornerstones and tall spires, covering the windows and doors. They’d woven their way into the castle, as well. There, they grew more slowly, but began to creep along the walls, covering the fine tapestries that still hung there. Long tendrils stretched across the floor, slipping between loose boards and twining around the furniture.
She liked them more for it. The long vines embraced and protected her courtyard, her castle, her keep. She couldn’t talk, could barely remember the sound of voices, but in her head she sang little songs to the last soldiers of the land, praising their honor and valor, their stalwartness. She sang of the beauty of the loose green leaves they wore over their wiry bodies and jagged spikes, of the tiny white flowers that bloomed in the places the sun still touched.
The room grew cold, hidden away in the deepest of shadows. Her window saw no sun, for the sun no longer penetrated the thicket. The vines, fed by magic and hate and fear, did not not need the sun. Their reach grew ever greater. The castle had been engulfed; to a passing traveler, it would be naught but a hill on which nothing of value grew. And inside, near the dark shadows of the curse, the tendrils spread, bit by crawling bit, consuming the tapestries, the stone walls, the wooden floors.
She came to embrace her fate. There would be no dreaded wedding to the foul-breathed son of the king of a wealthier kingdom, no bearing child after child in the hopes of a male heir, in the hopes of sustaining the kingdom. There would be no endless litany of balls and embroidery and petitioners, no royal name to uphold. There would be no slow descent from grace, helpless to do anything but watch as her beauty waned and her charm faded.
Here she would never grow old; she would live forever in the protective embrace of the thicket. Here she would be powerful, would be a warning, a mystery, a lure. She would be free.
Time lost its meaning to her, for inside the castle, it was always the same; cold and dark and solitary. The creeping vines reached the legs of her bed. She forgot that she was lonely, if not that she was alone. The sleeping castle mattered less to her, and as she forgot, the vines grew.
She forgot the green fields and dark forests, the drawbridge with its iron hinges, the wide, deep moat. She forgot the crumbling ramparts, the expansive courtyard, the guards at the gate. No longer content to merely cover, the vines subsumed it all, leaving behind dead, thorny tangles.
Years passed. The castle strained under the assault from the vines, its mortar weakening, stones slowly crumbling away. It was nearly more vine than castle.
She was still beautiful. She had been but sixteen when she had fallen, and she remained the same, just at the cusp of womanhood. The years of sleep had not aged her--her face was smooth and unlined, her bosom still full and firm, her figure plump and soft. Her eyelashes lay against pale cheeks; her lips remained tinted the color of a blushing rose in spring.
The world around her had faded first, but now she, too, began to disappear. The lace on her dress held together only barely, some of it nothing more than unbound strings against her breast. The sole of one of her delicate slippers had come partially unglued and curled back, the point of the toe touching her heel. Under the dust, her dress was more grey than it was blue.
She began, slowly, to lose things, memories, bits of herself that crumbled away. Her remembrance of time before was fading, her memories like looking into a cloudy mirror where, no matter how she tried, she could never find herself.
She realized, one day, that she was all that was left. Her curse had been to sleep; the castle’s other inhabitants had no such protection, and one by one, they had left this world. She was alone.
The vines crept closer, slowly, spreading across the floor. They no longer made leaves, so far from the sun that its warmth didn’t penetrate the thicket and stone walls. Even so, they grew, sprawling over the floor, twining around the legs of the bed.
The vines grew around her. At first it was a tendril around her ankle, then around her wrist. Her other wrist. Her foot. Her knee. Her neck. The vines snaked under her back, around her arms. Tiny thorns pierced the ruined lace on her sleeves; stems of bramble shot through her hair.
She had forgotten what it felt like to be touched, but she welcomed the vines. Their touch reminded her that she had a body; the pain of the thorns was almost enough to ease the pain of being reminded that it had not always been like this.
As the years passed, the vines grew thicker. The thorns grew, no longer content to merely scrape at her wrists and arms. She could feel them digging into her skin, slowly penetrating the soft flesh of her thighs, of her back. The dull, inescapable pain filled her as she waited for the years of the curse to pass.
The prince found the castle at midday. She saw him arrive, his grey horse marching proudly, his standard flying in the breeze. He approached the castle, the mountain of thicket, and tried to ride in, but the thorny tangles caught at his hair, his clothes, and he retreated.
On his second approach, he left at the foot of a tree his horse, his cape, and his banner. He advanced alone, on foot, sword drawn and gleaming in the sun. The sword slashed through the air, and the brambles began to fall.
The sun had begun to fade when he reached the castle, flushed and bleeding. The thicket had to allow people in, but that did not mean that it had to like it.
She slept, still, waiting as he drew nearer. The vines seemed to tighten around her, digging themselves deeper into her tender skin. She waited.
He strode through the halls, slicing at the thicket when it obstructed his way.
In the highest room of the tallest tower, he found her. She was as beautiful as rumor had said, and he gazed at her adoringly. Then, slowly, he made his way across the vine-covered floor, carefully avoiding the sagging bits and the palm-sized spikes of the vine’s thorns.
“My love,” he said, standing over her. He knelt reverently and, slipping one hand over her waist, gently kissed her lips.
Her eyes opened, and he smiled.
“My love,” he said again, hopefully. She gasped.
“No,” she breathed, and then she breathed no more.
Red blossomed on her chest. He pulled back, his hand sticky and dark where it had touched her. The vines crumbled to dust; the mortar gave way. The floor collapsed. The walls of the castle fell.
She slept no longer.
Deep in the forest, a three-day ride from the nearest kingdom, there lies a mound of stone and splintered wood. From the middle grows a sprawling rose bush, its leaves the color of springtime, its flower the color of first love, and thorns that will make you bleed.