When the spell
The gentle Prince,
His beloved slave
Paid the price.
His heart torn
By the thorns,
He never wavered
In his toil.
The Oracle "Prophecy Of The Apple" 14th Century C.E.
Once upon a time there was a gentle Prince, the most beautiful of all the royalty, and his slave was known as the most beautiful in all the land. The Prince and his slave were in love, though they kept this to themselves, as the Prince was destined to wed Princess Lana someday, and a slave could not wed his Master, in any case.
Yet despite all obstacles, they were devoted to each other. The Prince was beloved by all, for he was sweet and gentle and cared for his people.
One day the Prince wore raiments of gold, sapphire, and ruby, glittering in the morning sun. His beloved slave wore the same colors, though his robes were not as rich, yet he wore jewels in his hair and around his neck on his slave collar. The gardens were lush with color, and the Prince took his slave’s face in his hands, kissing him gently.
He turned at the sound of the quavering voice, an old woman in black rags standing at the edge of the gardens. She carried a basket filled with shiny red apples. She held out one to him.
“A gift, dear Prince.”
The Prince smiled. “Thank you, good woman.” He bit into the juicy apple, slumping to the ground as the old woman cackled.
“My Prince!” cried his slave, touching his Master’s face as he tried to open his eyes.
“Your Prince will sleep forevermore, whore,” cackled the woman, who vanished in a puff of smoke.
& & & & & &
The Prince and his slave disappeared from the castle gardens, but legend grew that the Prince slept his enchanted sleep in a glass coffin in a glade in the woods, tended to by his loyal slave. All were in mourning, and his slave was bereft.
Not soon after the enchantment had befallen the Prince, the Good Witch of the North appeared in the glade. She said to the grieving slave, “You can break the spell.”
Beautiful liquid-brown eyes looked at the Witch. “How?”
“You must weave a cape of flowers with blossoms that stay fresh, and they must be a thousand times a thousand in number.”
The Witch held up a hand. “It must be done a year from this day. You must not speak until the task is done. If you speak one word, the Prince will sleep forever under the spell.”
The slave closed his eyes, then opened them to look at the Good Witch. “I accept the task.”
The Witch nodded. “From this moment on, you will not speak until the task is done. When the cape is finished, drape it over the Prince and he will awaken.” She waved a wand and a silver bell appeared on the slave’s collar. “This will be the only sound you make until your task is done.”
The slave nodded, and the Witch pointed. “The flowers you must use are the thorn roses.” Her eyes were sympathetic as the slave winced. “Good fortune to you, loyal slave.”
She vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving the slave alone in the glade with the sleeping Prince.
& & & & & &
And so it was that the Prince’s devoted slave gathered the roses, his hands bleeding as he wove the flowers into a cape, a silent sentinel as he wove in sunshine and in rain, day and night, pushing himself to complete his task in the allotted time, the bell on his collar the only sound he ever made.
He slept by the coffin in rain and cold, eating little and bleeding every day as he picked and wove the thorn roses. A great sorrow welled up in him as he drove himself, day and night, gazing upon the peaceful countenance of his sleeping Prince.
& & & & & &
The morning after a storm, the glade burst into glory. Dew sparkled on the flowers and grass like diamonds, the rays of the sun shining down upon the Prince’s face.
A robin flew down and alighted on the Prince’s coffin, hopping around on the glass and singing sweetly. It bounced over and landed lightly on the slave’s shoulder, puffing out his redbreast, and the slave could not help but smile, the first time in a long time. He worked with renewed vigor, the cape beginning to take shape. The thorns were of little consequence, his heart beginning to hope.
No one disturbed him, his only companions his sleeping Prince and the merry robin. The sound of the birdsong soothed the aching place in his chest as he toiled in the days and nights ahead, confident that he could successfully complete his task. He even laughed at the robin’s antics as it bounced around and preened, a show-off if he ever saw one.
He began to sleep a little better, clutching the cape in his bruised and bleeding hands or using it as a blanket, careful not to tear his handiwork.
While enchantment was a thing to be avoided, it was also handy when the night was cold.
& & & & & &
The glade wept as the rain came down, the flowers bowing their heads as the slave worked, blood running down to mix with the mud and rain. If there were tears running down his face with the rain, no one could see, because the Prince was sleeping his enchanted sleep, and all around the land, all were abed, but the slave could not sleep. He worked feverishly, crying out as the thorns tore at his flesh and at his heart, because he could never give up, not when his beloved Prince needed him.
The slave bowed his head, exhaustion in his bones. The days were running like sands in an hourglass, and he despaired of ever completing the task. Even his little robin friend seemed listless, and he feared him ill. He had not come by in the last few days.
He dragged himself to kneel by the coffin, caressing the glass. His Master was so beautiful, a Sleeping Beauty. He wanted to cry out his sorrow, but dared not speak. He lifted his face to the heavens, letting out a soundless cry.
The rain came down harder.
A sound brought his head up. He nearly shouted, but clamped his lips shut. Scrambling from the bier, he launched himself at the gang of ruffians who had suddenly appeared in the glade and were now tearing apart the cape.
“This is wicked magic!” shouted the leader, raising his club and bringing it down on the slave’s shoulder. He cried out, but spoke not a word.
Others brought their clubs to bear, the slave on his knees as the rain poured down, mingling with tears of pain, and struggled to breath under the weight of the blows, the bell on his collar jangling in discord. He fought back but their numbers were many, and the leader attempted to smash the coffin, but was thrown violently back by some unseen force. The flowers surrounding the coffin snaked out and wrapped around the ruffian, who lashed out in fear.
Suddenly the robin appeared and swooped down, lovely birdsong now a shrill cry, pecking furiously at the leader and then on to the other men, who swung their clubs at him and cursed. When they saw their leader’s trouble, they yelled in fear as the vines came for them. They ran away, the vines letting the leader go. He ran even faster.
The slave cried in frustration, gathering the roses as he shook with pain and anger. The bedraggled robin sat on his shoulder, bright eyes dulled. The slave’s shoulders slumped.
Suddenly, he shied away from a hand on his arm, which was as green as the grass. He looked up in shock at a maiden with skin all green and flowers entwined around her ruby-red hair. She wore a short, leafy jerkin, and her feet were bare.
“Those blackguards will trouble you no more.” At his inquisitive look, she explained, “The Good Witch asked me to keep watch. My babies will keep you and your Prince safe.” She patted his shoulder and vanished into the bushes.
The slave blinked, then dropped his head in his hands and tried to ignore the throbbing pain in his back, shoulders, and arms. His heart was heavy, for he knew that he was going to have to start over. With a sigh, he began to gather the flowers, the robin gently tapping his neck and nestling on his shoulder.
& & & & & &
The days and nights blended into each other, season upon season, and the beloved slave worked harder than ever.
As the year anniversary drew closer, he slept not at all, barely drinking and eating enough to stay alive.
Finally, close to collapse, he was ready.
He dragged himself over to the coffin, dredging up a faint smile for his little bird as it hopped around excitedly on the glass. He struggled to open the coffin, weak and exhausted, but he managed to lift the lid, the robin flying up and hovering close. The slave carefully draped the cape over his beloved Prince and watched intently as he smelled the sweet fragrance of the roses.
Suddenly, his bell began to tinkle and the Prince’s eyes fluttered open.
“Beloved,” the Prince breathed.
“My Prince,” his slave answered in a whisper, his voice rusty.
His slave reached down and kissed his Prince, tears of joy glittering like dew on the roses as the robin sang a joyous song.