This story is a re-imagining of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), as told by the Brothers Grimm (R. Meek & Co., 1876 edition)
It had been only a single gasp of air that alerted her to the trouble. Roselyn had been in the garden, admiring the strength of each and every flower before her, when a gasp caught her attention. It sounded desperate and afraid.
Roselyn lifted her skirt, so as not to trip on the delicate material, and hurried through the rows of plants, in search of the sound. When she came upon it, she was surprised to find it was a small and fragile looking woman, at least triple her own age. She was on her knees, fingertips clutching at the perfectly manicured grass.
“Oh my!” Roselyn dropped and took the stranger’s face into her hands. “What’s happened?” She did not ask the woman why she was on the kingdom grounds, wishing only to help, not scold. When Roselyn realized the woman could not speak in her state, she reached over to a nearby fountain and scooped the fresh, cool water into her cupped hands. She begged the woman to drink from them, and watched with relief as the woman obliged.
“Thank you,” the woman finally croaked, water dripping from her still cracked lips.
Roselyn smiled and stroked the woman’s hair. “Can I help you find your way home?”
The woman nodded graciously, and Roselyn sent for her best royal carriage. As the woman made herself comfortable in it, she reached out and took Roselyn’s hand. Her glare met Roselyn’s eyes, sharp as a knife. With enough intensity to stiffen Roselyn’s spine, she spoke: “You have granted me my life. Now I shall grant you one of your own.” She smiled then, a warm smile that Roselyn could swear had a sweetness she could taste. Knowingly, she placed her hands on her belly, which, over the next several months, grew and grew and grew.
Having thought they might never have a child, Roselyn and James were so very pleased with the gift. But Roselyn could not help but fear it might somehow be taken away as easily as it was given, as if all a cruel living nightmare. Following the birth of the daughter they named Gillian, the couple decided they would throw a grand celebration. Still nervous that Gillian might be somehow torn from her clutches, Roselyn insisted on having the child protected by magic.
“Roselyn,” James sighed in frustration, “we mustn’t take such a risk.”
For, magic was a finicky thing that always came with a price. James felt strongly that nothing was ever worth such a gamble, but Roselyn disagreed. She vowed to protect her child, in any way she could. This, to her mind, included taking great risks. So the night before the party, Roselyn took Gillian gently under her coat, and snuck out into the cold, dark night, and headed to the Land of the Fairies.
Now, the Land of the Fairies was not an easy place to find. Most knew where it was, but were unable to see it. It was said that it would only show itself to those with desperation in their hearts. Roselyn traipsed through the Dark Wood, fretting all the way that she would be deemed unworthy. But that simply was not so, for her heart was spilling over with melancholic fears that needed to be assuaged. The Land of the Fairies felt this, and immediately opened its doors to her. A golden light cut through the ice and snow, welcoming Roselyn with open arms. She entered, tears of joy streaming down her cheeks.
“What have you come to wish for?” asked a Fairy draped in red and white.
“Precious gifts to be bestowed upon my daughter. Gifts that will keep her safe. Strength, and Intelligence.”
“And are you willing to pay a price for these gifts?”
“So, it will be done. Under the next moon, at the stroke of midnight, your daughter shall receive our gifts and payment will be made.”
Roselyn nodded graciously, choking now on her own gleeful blubbers.
With no further questions, she was returned to the Dark Wood, and made her way back through the winter’s night to her home. There, she placed Gillian back in her crib, and snuck back into James’ arms, wrapped in her comforting secret.
The very next night, Roselyn and James threw their party. Gillian was honoured and showered with praise and presents. But, as midnight approached, Roselyn grew anxious. She rocked her baby in her grip and listened to the sound of her beating heart. Time seemed to move too slow, but finally, the clock struck twelve and as it did a thunderous bang sounded from the courtyard. Roselyn jumped to her feet, knowing what it must be. She watched, holding her breath, as the doors flung open and a new guest arrived. A Fairy, draped all in black with eyes as black as coal and nails like long black claws.
“I have come to give and to receive.”
The crowd froze and James turned to his wife, understanding fully what she had done, but not understanding at all why. His eyes, three times their usual size, stared at her unblinking.
“I can pay. Whatever it is, I can pay.” Roselyn spoke with a firm steadiness to her voice, refusing to look at anyone but the Fairy.
“Good. The Fairies will bestow upon your daughter strength and intelligence. You will have fifteen winters to watch her grow, but on the first day of her fifteenth year, the Kingdom will fall for 100 years; for you will have used up by then all of the power one family might have for one lifetime.” Though no one else had spoken, a new form of silence seemed to blanket the room. This time, it was heavier, weighed down by the knowledge that Roselyn’s doing had betrayed them all.
“I can pay,” Roselyn repeated.
“Then, it is done.”
James broke free of his shock and ran to his wife’s side. Rage overtook him.
“What have you done?!” He hollered so loud that the vibrations danced in the chests of each and every guest.
“What I felt was my duty.” That was all Roselyn would say. She made no apologies, and for fifteen years, she smiled each day, pleased with the choice she had made. For fifteen years, she felt not one twinge of regret. And on the eve of Gillian’s fifteenth year, she told her daughter so.
“Tomorrow will be a strange day. It may be sad. It may be scary. But know, it was done for good reason, and I would not take it back for all the gold in the land.”
Gillian eyed her mother suspiciously. She was too smart to be fooled or spoken down to.
“Tell me what will happen.”
Roselyn sighed, “I’m not sure exactly. But the Kingdom will fall for 100 years, a curse of some sort, and that will not be good.”
And so it did, and it was not. The very next morning, when Gillian awoke, she found that all those who resided in the Kingdom, had fallen into a deep sleep. Her parents lay in their bed, peaceful, yet motionless but for the soft rising and falling of their chests. The horses, Gillian found, had too lost consciousness in their stables, and the stable boy was curled up next to them. In the kitchen, the cook lie on the floor, a basket of eggs splattered at her side. Even the butler had been taken by the fall, as Gillian found him folded over on a chair; a jug of spirit had been dropped and spilled from his hand. But Gillian, of course, was awake. Her strength had been too much for the curse to work properly on her, which she figured out very quickly, having such a high level of intelligence.
And so, Gillian realized she was now on her own. This made her sad, but there was nothing she could do about it, except to go on living. And she did. She made her bed, cleaned the eggs and the spirit, and slaughtered sleeping animals to prepare for the coming years. And so it went, a never-ending winter. It was as though time stood still in the Kingdom. Even the sleeping bodies did not age or stir. The exception was the garden. Gillian was careful to take special care of it, knowing her mother had been so fond of the flowers. Each time she watered it, it grew and grew and grew. Soon enough, the fallen kingdom was walled off and buried by a thicket of vines and thorns and roses of great height. This made Gillian feel exceptionally safe; so, when she heard for the first time a person approach her home, she buckled in defense.
Gillian watched cautiously from behind the protective foliage. It was a boy. He brandished a sword and a devious smile. As he fought his way recklessly through the vines, he called out to her.
“Gillian! I’ve come for you, my love!”
Gillian stepped back, guarded, to say the least. This boy was a stranger, and certainly could not love her. And so, she decided his motives were not to be trusted. Thinking quickly, Gillian armed herself with a sword to match his. Gillian tore through the thorns with relative ease, compared to the boy, and made her way to the stranger. When she got close enough that they could touch, she saw he had already failed at his mission, whatever it was. He was stuck in the thicket, thorns piercing him violently. When he saw her, he raised his head meekly.
“Princess…” he whispered. “Help me.”
His voice was weak, and Gillian saw the thicket was giving him a slow and painful death. Blood pooled helplessly below him.
Her own skin unscathed, Gillian raised her sword.
“What is it that you came here for?” she asked, a malevolent threat in her tone.
“To save you.” The boy raised an eyebrow, sincerely confused by Gillian’s own confusion.
“I don’t need saving. You do.”
Gillian raised her sword and thrust it into the would-be suitor’s heart, giving him a swift and easy death. She did this despite knowing whether he truly deserved it, or what he might have attempted to do to her if he had made it through before she could ready herself. The thought made her shudder and she vowed to herself that she would not let a thing like this happen ever again.
Retrieving thick work-gloves from the stables, Gillian set to work rearranging the vines and thorns so that they would better deter any other men with questionable ideas about her situation. When she was done, she gave a happy sigh, pleased with her masterpiece. It reminded her very much of a work of art, but with a clearer purpose and message.
Gillian passed the next several years gardening, reading, mastering her climbing skills, and watching men try and fail to reach her. Each time, it was the same. They’d come, they’d call out to her with some declaration of love or salvation, and then charge the thicket, only to foolishly die wretched deaths. In the beginning, Gillian enjoyed seeing them get what she knew they had coming, but eventually she grew tired of the repetition. So, when a strapping young man appeared, taking a whole new approach, she could not help but be intrigued.
“Hello?” He asked cautiously from the outside. He kept a safe distance from her trap. “My name is Harold. I hear there is a princess here. I only wish to ask if you are okay.”
Skeptically, Gillian came closer to the mysterious visitor. Never, in all the years that had passed, had anyone ever actually asked her if she was okay. They only assumed she was not. Gillian stepped out from her hiding spot so that their eyes might meet.
“I am. Why do you ask?”
“Good. I was concerned. I think it would be difficult to live alone like this. Is it?”
Gillian thought on this for a moment before realizing she knew the answer, only she’d never had to admit it aloud. “Yes. Sometimes, it is difficult. Lonely, I suppose.”
“Would you like some company?” Harold asked.
Again, Gillian was taken aback and had to think about it. “Yes,” she said finally. “That might be nice. Watch out.”
Gillian raised her trusty sword and ripped a doorway into existence. She slipped her hand through and held it out to Harold. He took it, and entered the Kingdom where the two of them came to know one another quite well. They became good friends, and overtime, something more. But, inside the walls of the cursed grounds, Harold stopped aging. Alarmed by this, Gillian asked if he’d like to leave.
“Only if you’d like to leave with me. I’m quite happy to spend my time with you. In here, or out there. Though,” he added. “Out there is quite beautiful.”
Gillian peered out through the thicket. “I suppose I could give that a try. When my parents awake.”
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “But I promised myself I’d give it 100 years.”
“Then, 100 years it is.”
Harold smiled and the two of them embraced, eager to see what the future would bring.
© Shyla Fairfax-Owen
Thanks for reading! This story is part of what I am affectionately calling my Grimm Project, wherein I write a collection of my very own wintry Grimm re-tellings. If you liked this, you might want to read my take on Rapunzel, Holly, Out There.