Broken music filtered in through the thick stones of the palace walls, a last song to accompany their last look at the city in which they had been raised. A last melody for a last glance at familiar faces, a final beat of the drum for their final breath of sweet mountain air. They would not be coming back. War was a messy, bloody thing that they were powerless to stop. They'd offered treaties, they'd sent letters, her father had offered her hand in marriage to a man twice her age. But what did he want of beauty, of youth? Why would he want any of it, when he could stain the world with blood?
Heartbreak was something with which she was not accustom. Did it always hurt so much? The castle was empty, servants out in the streets to bid goodbye to their loved ones. Well, what was left of them. The men had all been dressed in armor, handed swords, men who had spent their lives washing dishes and grooming horses. They would not return. She could feel it in her heart, in her soul as she walked down the empty halls. Her pace was somewhere between a walk and a run, so quick that a stumble would send her flying forward. Her breath came in short gasps, each one accompanied by a broken moan. Was she dying? Her heart ached with every beat, her chest heaved, her hands trembled for her core had gone cold. And yet, her dress was too tight, too confining.
Love seemed so important, and yet, if felt like poison coursing through her veins.
It was robbing her of judgment, even more so than it already had. She knew, she was well aware of her growing stupidity as the desperation set in. At first her feet had told her to flee from the balcony on which the royal family watched the soldiers ride off to their doom. But it was too much, to lose him like this. Her father could take him, but he couldn't make her watch. Her father could take him...but he couldn't stop her from bringing him back. The servants quarters were in a part of the castle she rarely inhabited, and for a moment Rose found herself lost in her own home. She paused, spinning around, half convinced the shadows were chasing her. These halls that belonged to her had belonged to many before, and if ghosts did exist, they were as haunted as any halls could be. No one was following her, no one but the grief. A sob met her ears and she rushed towards it, hearing his final words in her head. "I love you Rose. Nothing will ever change that. Not time, or distance, or marriage, or babies. Whatever happens, whoever you become...I will always love you." She was counting on it. She was betting her soul on it.
The door gave way easily, banging against the wall with force. A lone servant sat on the bed, a middle aged woman whose secret Rose had kept since she was a child. Magic tricks had once made her grin and giggle. Now? Now she wanted a bigger trick. The woman flinched, caught hiding in her quarters when she no doubt had other duties to attend to. But Rose didn't care, she didn't even think on it. Her blue eyes were wide and wild, pale cheeks stained with a blush that was usually reserved for fevers, full red lips trembling along with the rest of her. The pale pink gown was rumpled, having fallen haphazardly off her shoulders. "Y-you!" She exclaimed, rushing forward to the woman whose tears still rolled freely. Her son had been sent away, her precious boy who was no more than sixteen. Rose herself was eighteen, foolish and young, desperate and careless. She did was no royal did, and dropped to her knees before the witch that had washes her dresses and cleared her dishes for years. "I need you to bring them back. Please. I need you to bring him back to me..." she reached for the witch, but the woman recoiled, suspicious. "Don't you think I would?" she breathed, trembling with the anger she felt towards this stupid, sniveling princess. What did she know of pain? "Selfish girl. I've lost my son! Don't you think I would bring him home to me, if I could?"
"Please!" Rose sobbed, reaching for her skirt. The witch's hand flashed out, swift and quick, backhanding her across the face. Rose didn't cry out, but rather, she went dead silent. Her hand cupped her face, feeling the sting as it started to throb. A sort of clarity came with it, but not the sort of clarity she truly needed. "Use me." Her bright blue eyes traveled up to the witch, filled with passion. "Use me. I'm yours. Whatever you need, just...bring him back. Bring them both back. We can bring them both back." The witch stared down at her, glittering tears falling over her pretty face. Yes, the princess was as beautiful as the flower she was named for...but stupid. Blind, and stupid. Still, if she could have her son, what did it matter? "Why would you give it all up? You're living a charmed life." She wasn't afraid of changing the princess's mind. It had obviously already been made. "True love." Rose replied without hesitation. The witch raised her brows. True love was as rare as anything could be, despite the fact that many children's tales believed otherwise. True love was not a thing of times like these. It came rarely to a select few, for most would not live to meet the one they were meant for. "If it's true love you want," she said softly, cupping the girl's chin in her withered hand. "It's true love you'll get."
It had been simple. A curse, to freeze time. A curse to make sure she would never age, a curse on the castle. Of course, she hadn't thought to ask how it could be broken, or if it could be broken. And there would be another curse, a curse to put her to sleep. She wouldn't wake until true love's kiss found her, no matter how violently she was shaken or how angrily her father screamed. They would have to bring them home, all of them. If they wanted to wake her, to revive their heir, her true love would have to be found. Every soldier, every man on earth would be beckoned, and it would be him who would wake her. The man who had groomed her horse with such loving hands, the man who had run his hands through her hair and held her close in the darkness of the stables. She knew. She was sure.
She had been sure.
Her father had seen her distant gaze, and he didn't like the look in her eye. One evening he summoned her to his chambers, where a beautiful woman with long, dark hair was waiting. Her belly was round, no doubt containing some man's child. Something filled her expression when she saw Rose, hate mixed with sadness that the princess would not recognize until it was too late. Her father broke the news. Roman, her true love, was married. It was his baby, his wife, and she had been...what? Was it possible to love two people at once? Or had she been his pretty little pet, his key to power, his fool? Rose had thought her world would shatter when he left, but now she saw the true horror in it all. Everything she had believed in, everything she'd devoted herself to, everything she'd been willing to sacrifice the kingdom for...was a lie. Worse, the rival King had agreed on a truce. After a second look at her painting, he had decided that her hand in marriage would bring him as much joy as war.
It was a new level of misery, but one she deserved. As she made her way back towards her chambers, Rose knew what she had to do. The witch's son would be coming home, there would be no need for a curse. That wasn't to say that Rose didn't want to drift off to sleep and await her true love, but she knew her duty. Hadn't she made enough mistakes? Everyone would be happy now, everyone would be saved. Everyone except her. The tears were just about to be set free, when something caught her eye. Oh. Oh, that was...odd. A spindle, a shiny silver spinning wheel in the middle of the hall. Well, she would just tell one of the servants and...oh. It was so beautiful. What was it for again? Oh, yes, making thread...her feet were moving on their own accord, carrying her towards it. What had she been so upset about? It hardly mattered, with that glimmering piece of sheer beauty before her. It was spinning all on it's own, glinting silver in the flickering light of the candles. One hand reached out, brushing along the wheel. The spindle seemed to be especially beautiful, it's sharp end gleaming as her pale finger pressed against it. Oh!
The came, spilling out and dripping onto the floor. The spell broke with the pain, reality coming back to her as the warm liquid trickled down her hand. Deep, it was deep, she'd cut it deep...but that pain soon faded. The witch stepped out of the darkness, a knowing smile playing on her lips. But she didn't know! Rose opened her mouth to protest, but all that escaped was a cry of pain. Her body seized, agony starting in her core and spreading through her limbs. Her legs buckled, head slamming into the cold stones as she fell in a lifeless heap. The feeling was fading, her mouth locked shut, eyes barely able to move as the witch knelt down besides her to stroke her hair. "Don't worry sweetheart. The next thing you'll know will be true love's kiss. It won't hurt for long, shhh, I promise...don't fight it...."But it wasn't true loves kiss. It was pain, and darkness, and dark thoughts swirling in her head. This was what she wanted, more than anything. But was it her fault? Was she guiltless? No, no. She was as guilty as they came....
The dark wasn't as peaceful as one might think. It was suffocating, smothering her, even if only for an instant. There was no sensation of lips, no warning, just blackness. It seemed like mere seconds before the feeling started flooding her limbs. It hurt, just as it had when it left. But it was the good kind of hurt, the kind that reminded you that you were alive. The wire holding her jaw shut came undone, letting her move to suck in a much needed breath. It was a loud gasp, a convulsion, like someone who'd nearly drowned coming up for air. Only, her throat was painfully dry. She coughed, shaking for no apparent reason, lifting a hand to press against her chest, and then her face, and then...it reached out.
Air, only air. She opened her eyes and the room was blurred, but as it came into view she saw no one leaning over her. No true love, only a ceiling that looked...disturbingly different. Aged. How long had it been? Where was her family? Sitting up didn't seem to be an option, but she managed to roll over and push herself up on one arm with a grunt of effort. Her vision was still blurring in and out, but she could see it, a figure in the doorway. "Did you..." her voice was hoarse, unused, with a hint of desperation. "Did you kiss me?" blinking hard, she managed to clear her vision. But the man in the doorway was no one she wanted to see. He was no one anyone wanted to see, horribly deformed. Burned, it seemed? His hair was gone, any sign of unscarred skin marred with black markings...thorns? They looked like thorns. He looked like evil, ugly evil. Perhaps he had come to take her to her maker? Perhaps this was her punishment. A gasp of fear escaped her, but she barely managed to move back in the bed. Her limbs seemed clumsy, weak, eyes struggling to stay open as the room spun. "Guards!" It would have brought them running, but there was nothing but the sound of her own voice that came back to her. Where were they? Where was everyone? The room looked so different, and the window...the window. Her window looked over the village below. So, how come there was nothing but a mass of trees? Her eyes eyes back to the horrible monster in the doorway, the one she was sure would kill it. "This is a mistake..." she whispered, but only because her voice was giving out. "This must all be a mistake..." And then, the true horror. Rose stared at him for a long moment, the color draining from her cheeks. She gripped the bedspread, trembling with the effort. In her eyes was the same terror that one might see in the expression of a man about to be hanged. "Did you...kiss me?"