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Arisia'19 Student Writing Contest - 1st Place Winner

The Sleeping Beauty

By Andrea Ferrara

The princess was beautiful, that much is true. She had a perfectly shaped face framed by long, golden hair. Her perfectly pointed nose rested above small lips, the corners turned up in a sweet, perfect smile. The expression on her face was otherwise neutral, as it had been for months.

When the curse first struck, the queen could not bear to leave her daughter's side. She spent every moment of her time in the princess's chambers and took up the responsibilities of caring for the girl. The queen took care to bathe her, clothe her, brush her hair, and even read to her occasionally, as she had done when the princess was a little girl.

She abandoned her self-appointed post within the week.

After that point the queen refused to even visit the princess. She cited heartbreak, claimed that she would never be able to look at her daughter in this almost lifeless condition again, lest the grief prove to be too much and kill her. And then where would the kingdom be? No princess and no queen, surely doomed.

In replacement of the queen's care, a handmaid was chosen. The girl, Margery, was plain and altogether unremarkable at first (and perhaps even second) glance. She was chosen simply out of convenience, as she had only a mother by way of family, who spent long hours in the castle kitchens. The girl was provided a bed and a curtained area of privacy within the princess's chambers, and the new way of life began.

Of course, every young man in the kingdom was asked to try breaking the curse. First, the nobles were invited, one by one. Then the knights, and the sons of successful merchant families. Eventually even the peasants were given opportunity to attempt to wake the sleeping princess with a kiss of true love.

When the young men failed, the grown men of the kingdom had their try. Then the old men. Then the boys. When none prevailed, word was sent to the surrounding lands. From far and wide men streamed into the kingdom by the hundreds to plant a kiss on the beautiful princess.

While these trials went on, Margery was kept busy assuring that the princess looked her best for the coming suitors. When she did have some time in between, she read books from the castle library.

On one winter evening, when the stone tower room was cold enough to show her breath, Margery was reading poetry. The words were so moving, she began to read the collection aloud. Her voice was low and soft, but the words she spoke evoked such vivid emotion that it was not difficult to imagine a scene in springtime, so alive and so unlike the current atmosphere. She finished reading, and closed her eyes, allowing for a few moments to soak in the words.

"Oh, don't stop. You have a very beautiful voice."

Margery screamed, and her eyes flew open. Still lying perfectly tucked into her bed was the princess, just as she had been left hours before. But at the foot of the bed sat the princess as well, a sort of ghostly version of her, at least, and she was smiling. Margery screamed again, and the spirit princess vanished.

A week passed before she tried reading aloud again. She waited until night, then began aloud, with the corner of her eye fixed on the princess in the bed. This time, she read one of the kingdom's old legends, about lake witches and dragon lairs. So engrossed did she become in her reading, that she forgot all about the princess and the task at hand until she had completely finished, late, late into the night. When she did finally turn the last page, she looked up to see for the second time the shimmery spirit of the princess, this time lounging on the pillows right next to her own body. She smiled hesitantly and gave a tentative wave.

"Please don't scream again," she said. "I'm sorry I scared you last time, I was honestly a little scared myself. I don't know how you did it, but you woke me up. My spirit at least, my body clearly slumbers on." "Your highness! I.." Margery stumbled for a response.

"You can call my Forsythia. I know it isn't proper, but I really don't mind. I'm just happy to talk to someone. It's been so long since I fell asleep."

Margery had known the princess's name, of course. But she hadn't heard it in a long time. The only visitors to the princess's rooms were the men who tried to break the curse, and when they talked at all they referred to her only as "the sleeping beauty."

"I'm glad you are at least partly awake, Forsythia. I'm Margery. I can read another one, if you'd like?"

And so they close, the handmaiden and her princess. It was difficult at first for Forsythia to appear, so the time between their visits was usually long. But when they were together, neither could be happier. They talked, and laughed, and told stories. Margery read many books, and Forsythia sang songs she knew. Margery also found that Forsythia was not the perfect princess that she would have expected. She was easily upset and could be quite cruel when she got angry. But she was also incredibly smart, and her face scrunched up when she laughed in a way that the queen probably wouldn't approve of, but that Margery adored.

The visits of men to the tower continued. With more and more practice, the princess could appear to her maid whenever she wanted, though none of the men could ever see her. They watched the trials together sometimes. This was always a time when they were silent. After a kiss, the princess usually hid herself from Margery, who didn't know if it was because she was embarrassed by the kiss or upset that it hadn't worked.

Over a year and a half after the curse began, Forsythia appeared to Margery with a single request.

"Kiss me. Please."

"What?" Margery was shocked, and she displayed it well.

"Don't you care about me?"

"Of course I do!" Margery scrambled to placate the upset girl. "It's just... the you that's lying on the bed isn't the real you. You are."

"That doesn't make any sense! It's me. It's just as much me as I am, even more so. That's my body, that's what I look like. The only thing I'm missing is my consciousness, and you can return it easily enough."

Margery leaned over the girl on the bed. The girl with perfectly combed hair that she herself had styled that morning. The girl whose cheeks wore make up, and who's eyes were closed, not shining back at her like she was used to. The girl whose mouth was small and unmoving and now sad-looking, compared to the smile she knew it was truly capable of.

Margery didn't want to kiss the princess on the bed, who couldn't respond in kind because it was just a fancy body. She wanted to kiss the specter at her shoulder, who was vibrant and alive and who would maybe have the guts to return the gesture if she only could. The girl who was sharp minded, who loved to listen to her handmaiden read stories, who came undone with a joke. The girl whose face crumpled with whiny, snotty tears when she was upset or jealous, and who snarled ugly when she was mad. The one who had shrieked with laughter when she tried to spook a cranky old man by pretending that she was a ghost haunting the tower.

Margery paused inches from the face of the sleeping girl on the bed then sat back up again slowly, with the intent of sharing her sudden feelings with Forsythia.

"I'm sorry, but—" She was stopped short with a kiss. The princess, now sitting up in bed, spirit gone from the air and rejoined with her body, grinned at her.