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The Death of Each Day's Life

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These days she never sleeps. She's had her share of sleeping, these last hundred years, and of dreaming. Sometimes at night when the castle is silent, she wanders the halls, trailing her hand across cool stone, stopping to caress the lintel of a window or to peer through a doorway.

The castle is beautiful to her like this; for through all her years of sleeping, it appeared in her dreams as a living, breathing thing, pulsing with life, people bustling everywhere. It never slept.

Now it does.

When she woke for the first time in a hundred years and the last time in her life, she could feel the silence of the castle around her, sleeping with her but slower to wake, and she was fascinated. By the time she and her prince walked down the tower's stairs, the castle was moving again, vibrant and alive, as all of the newly wakened inhabitants hurried to put things to rights.

But at night the castle falls silent again, and she can see sleep all around her, sleep that she can no longer inhabit, sleep that she never saw face-to-face in all the years she slept.

Sometimes she kneels and gently strokes the head of a dog, snorting and slobbering beside a banked fire. It turns over in its sleep, does not wake up, and she moves on.

Sometimes she stares out a window into the darkness, and the swoop of bats through the night sky forms a counterpoint to the slumbering castle around her. She feels like a bat herself, alert and alive and she laughs from the joy of it, careful and quiet so nobody wakes.

Once she looks in on the servants where they sleep and stands listening to them breathe, but she does not do it again, because it feels rude, oddly intimate, and this is not an intimacy they chose.

During the day she is a good queen. She listens to her people, she pays attention to her counsellors, she researches droughts and wars and economics. She loves her husband and he loves her in return. They balance each other well, king and queen, and their country prospers.

But at night they are different creatures. He does not understand, but he loves her, and he accepts.

When she was newly woken, at night she would go to bed, lie down, stare up at the ceiling for hours. She knew she would not sleep, but still she hoped that she might become accustomed to the patterns of nights and days that everyone lived. By the time of her marriage she knew this would not happen.

Her husband has grown used to her habits, and on the nights she gets out of bed to wander, he does not protest. He doesn't even wake.

But on the nights she does not rise, she lies in bed cradling her sleeping husband in her arms, admiring the soft relaxed lines of his face, counting his even breaths, feeling the slow beat of his heart against hers, and she holds sleep to her like a lover.