The Princess’s Kiss by Chuck Rothman [fantasy]
The castle is quiet during the day. I like the solitude, but it is far different in the old days.
Back then, the day was filled with bustle and sound. There were suites to be cleaned, and visitors to meet. Chamber pots to be emptied, gambling and cursing among the men, quiet chat and embroidery among the women. There were dogs wandering the halls and the smell of the midday meal being prepared. The laughter of children and the scolding of parents.
All gone. Now I am the only one left.
Except for Lady Orpha.
She sleeps on her bier as she has for years, barely moving, barely breathing. One might think her dead, but I know better.
Once she fell into this state, there was no more joy. Her father, the king, died of a broken heart. Her mother wasted away from fear. The other servants left, no doubt fearful of whatever spell as affecting her.
Which left only me. Fritz the Stupid, they called me. Perhaps that why I remained as the castle became a ghostland and the thorn bushes grew to block the path. I had my room and my garden, and no one could call me that name.
But even empty, the castle requires care. The dust still threatened to cover the floors and tables. It became my job. I would clean them so they were spotless, waiting for the people to return and the next meal served. There were no chamber pots to empty, a job that in the old days had always fallen to me. Some of the young boys, distant relatives of the king, would think it great fun to empty them on me, laughing like braying asses. They would lay traps to get me covered in shit, and I fell into them more often than not. “Fritz the Stupid,” they’d chant in their singsong voices. “Fritz the Stupid.” The words still ring in my ears.
They’re gone now. All gone. It is my victory.
Cleaning does not take the whole day, of course. Sometimes I go into the throne room and pretend that I am the king. I rule my kingdom with a just and even hand, and spread death to my enemies.
Other days, I spend in the kitchen, like I did with my mother when I was a boy, mixing together the vegetables from my garden and spices and herbs into a meal that would have been fit for the king. I am a fine cook. I got it from my mother, who prepared the king’s meals. She is gone now. I am alone.
But, more often, I go to the princess’s bedroom.
I watch her sleep. She is in such a deep slumber that she cannot know I’m there. Her beautiful face twitches from time to time. I take that as a sign she’s trying to smile at me.
I watch. There were other beautiful women in court, of course, but they would laugh and call me monkeyface, dogface, turdnose. Many other names.
The Lady Orpha says nothing. I like that. It gives me feelings.
I am a man. And watching her gives me thoughts that any man would have with a beautiful woman near him. I touch my parts. I know that’s a sin, but I don’t care.
I have kissed her several times, dreaming that she would be grateful for releasing her from her spell. But I am neither handsome nor a prince. It did nothing.
Once, I gently slipped the top of her gown from her breast and stared at it until my shame took over and I ran from the room.
I didn’t do that again.
So, each day at sunrise, I leave my room near the castle kitchen and spend time at what used to be my job, doing what repairs I can, looking after the flock of chickens and the castle’s garden. My life was not one of adventure. I like it that way. Cleaning the dust from the castle, cooking my meals, and watching over the princess. Returning to my room as the sun sets — I don’t like the dark — and dreaming of the princess.
It all changed the day the prince arrived.
I do not know how he navigated the thorns. All I know was that I found him in the courtyard, his clothes bedraggled. “Where is she?” he asked.
I knew who she meant. He had come to wake her. To take her from me.
I could not let that happen. “Dead,” I said. “Wasted away to nothing.”
A frown darkened his brow. “Impossible,” he said.
“You have come here for nothing. She is gone.”
He walked closer and pressed his sword to my throat. “I don’t know what spell the bitch has you under, little man, but it will end for her today one way or another. Take me to her, or do I search the castle myself?”
“I will take you,” I said. I don’t like to lie. I’m not good at it. But I needed to draw him away. “This way.”
I led him to the far corners of the castle. I knew my trick would not fool him forever, but I needed time to think. I did not want my princess taken away from me.
I spend an hour leading him on a wild goose chase, taking him to the farthest towers of the castle, and to the deepest dungeon. I hoped to let him get in front of me, to find a way to kill him. Maybe a knife. Maybe a push out of the balcony.
But the prince did not trust me. “Enough!” he said. The sword was at my throat again, this time its sharp blade drawing blood. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, but it ends now. Time is wasting. Where is she?”
I said nothing.
“Bah,” he said. “I will find her myself.” He thrust at me.
I dodged. The blade caught me in the side, but not enough to pierce the skin. Then he took the hilt and clubbed me on the head with it.
I fell to the floor, dizzy. “Don’t waken her! She belongs to me!”
“Belongs to you?”
“Please,” I said. “I have watched over her. I have loved her.”
He stared at me as though I had two heads. “Don’t you know what she is?”
I could hear the hot scorn in his words. “A sleeping princess.”
He didn’t say a word. It was as though all speech had been taken from him.
“I know the story.” The story my mother told me, again and again. It was my favorite, because it had no monsters to scare me. “The princess sleeps until the prince kisses her. But you don’t deserve her. I do.”
But just as I said them, my words rang hollow. I could not awaken the princess; I had tried. And even if I had, would she have consented to marry me? No. I was thinking only about myself, and not about my love.
Better for her to be awake than lost in unending sleep.
“She’s this way,” I said, dejected. I should have known I could never achieve my dream. Men like me never do.
I led him to her room where she slept. “Here she is,” I said. “But treat her well — ”
From somewhere in his cloak he pulled out a wooden stake and a hammer.
“What do you need that for?” I asked.
“What do you think? To kill the bitch.”
I could not conceive of wanting to kill that beauty. “What? Why?”
“She is a monster. She rises in the night and preys on the village. The thorns were there to keep her inside, but they do no good.”
“She has slept all these years. I have never seen her awake.”
“Have you seen her at night?” the prince asked.
He was right. I did not like the night, with its noises and darkness. I stayed away from the palace, safe in my room. “No,” I said. “But I sleep in a room here in the castle. If she were a monster surely I would be one of her easier victims. Why is that?”
“Cretin. It’s the garlic. You reek of it!”
“Garlic?” I liked it in my cooking, and kept some hanging near the kitchen door.
He advanced on the princess. “Leave her alone!” I shouted.
“Stop being so stupid.” He had the stake in his hand, and a mallet in the other, ready to plunge it into her heart.
But I barely saw. “Stupid” he called me. The word hurt like a lash on my back, like salt on a bleeding gash. It had not lost its power to wound me, even after so long a time.
Years of rage that I didn’t even know I had bubbled up in me.
My hands, strong from work, grasped his neck, pressing, pressing, pressing. Harder, harder. “I am not stupid,” I shouted, screaming in his ear and I felt him grasping for breath. “I am not stupid.”
When my frenzy was over, he was limp. I tossed him onto the stone floor, the back of his skull hitting it with the satisfying thump, like a melon against a rock.
I stared at him. The stake had fallen atop the princess. I tossed it off into a corner.
I leaned over at her. It was several hours until nightfall. No matter.
I gave her a kiss, long and hard, tasting blood on her red lips.
She stirred, just a bit. One eye opened.
“I will be ready for you, my princess,” I said. “In my room by the kitchen.”
Her eye shut again.
I left the room, kicking the prince just to show him that I was no fool. He made no sound.
Overjoyed, I returned to my room, and tore away every last morsel of garlic. Then I lay on my pallet to await the princess’s kiss.
It would be like a fairy tale.
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