Every fairytale has a beginning. A spark of truth, that when fanned by enough retellings, political intrigue, or a parent trying to teach their child not to venture out into the dark, becomes something else entirely. This occurs to me, not for the first time, as I watch the little redheaded girl clutch the thin book with the gold lettering to her chest. I swipe her mother’s library card, and the child asks, “Mummy, can we get this one, too?” She shows her mother the title. Sleeping Beauty.
“Of course, darling.” The woman adds the fairytale to the stack of things she’s checking out.
Sleeping Beauty—the words alone twist a phantom knife in my gut. But over the years I have perfected the blank face of someone who isn’t interested, who doesn’t let things bother them. I’m a duck, and the words are water.
Except they aren’t. For over nine hundred years, they’ve been anything but that.
I know the text of almost every version by heart. I wish I didn’t, but the story lingers like novocaine, the words numb in my mouth.
“The Princess shall prick herself with a spindle on her fifteenth birthday and die!”
Arthur would turn over in his grave if he knew popular culture had turned him into a woman.
I swallow the urge to tell the little girl that her book isn’t right, that no one got the damn story right. Instead, I put on the blank face of the underpaid worker, and scan the books.
“What thing is that which twists round so merrily?” inquired the maiden, and she took the spindle to try her hand at spinning. Scarcely had she done so when the prophecy was fulfilled…
If I could, though...if I could admit that magic was real and that all fairytales came from truth, I would tell the little girl that Aurora (or Briar Rose or whatever name the warped version you’re reading says it is) is actually Arthur. The same King Arthur in the book that I saw her put back on the shelf just a few moments before—the once and future king, the man with whom my destiny, my entire being, is entwined.
But I can’t say a damn thing. They’d think I was crazy. I can’t say that King Arthur of Camelot was a real person, let alone that his body lies somewhere hidden, cursed into eternal sleep. Someone might lock me up. If they found out about my magic or how old I am, they might even do experiments on me as though I were some kind of lab rat. And I can’t let anyone do that, because I must be here. I must be vigilant. I must keep my eyes open for signs of Arthur.
Now around the palace a thick hedge of briars began growing, which every year grew higher and higher, till the castle was quite hid from view, so that one could not even see the flag upon the tower.
I scoff to myself. If only my task were as easy as looking for an overgrown hedge. I scan the books and hand them over. I watch the mother and daughter walk out of the library. The little girl is so happy to have books to read, and my blank face slips a bit. A small smile creeps onto my lips, only to fade again with the weight of truth.
I touch my lips with a wrinkled hand. I think that maybe it’s time to be young again. Start looking in a new town. Work in a different library. Or maybe a music store this time. Whatever meaningless job I choose, whatever facade I use as a disguise, my purpose in every city in England never changes.
After the lapse of many years, there came another King’s son into the country, and heard an old man tell the legend of the hedge of briars: how that behind it stood a castle where slept a wonderously beautiful Princess named Briar Rose, who had slumbered nearly a hundred years.
A hundred years was one heartbeat among many. For nine hundred and ninety nine years I have followed my destiny. I search for the dreaming king.