The Story


Once upon a time, a kindly king and his queen ruled over their kingdom from their beautiful castle.  Their land was blessed with acres upon acres of golden wheat fields, verdant forests and lush meadows, the harvests were bountiful and no enemy had breached the borders for as long as anyone could remember.  While nobody possessed great riches, nobles and peasants alike lived comfortably, and nobody ever had to go to bed hungry.

Yet the king and his queen were deeply unhappy.  Even after long years of marriage, they had no children.  Then one day the queen gave the king some good news, and the kingdom rejoiced as she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.  The naming ceremony, a very important event in the lives of the parents and the newborn babe alike, was to be held with due pomp and circumstance, and everyone who was anyone in the kingdom was to be invited to the feast.

But soon, the King was in a quandry.  There were thirteen wise women in the kingdom who, each in her own way, commanded great respect and admiration.  But the royal household could only boast of twelve golden place settings, and it seems to me the king couldn't have been the brightest candle in the castle, because he decided to invite only twelve of the thirteen wise women.

Really bad idea!

So the great day arrived and the castle kitchens had outdone themselves.  After the meal was over, the twelve invited wise women, one after the other, stepped up to the crib and gave the child their blessings.  Wisdom and health and beauty, virtue and happiness were some of the things they wished for the child.  Eleven of them had completed their wishes and the last wise woman was about to lay her blessing upon the child as the doors flew open and the thirteenth woman stormed in, her long black hair flying behind her, eyes gleaming with menace.  Yes, she was mad.  Boiling mad.  Her wicked laugh sent a chill down everyone's spine as she turned to the other women and proclaimed that the child should enjoy all of their blessings, oh yes -- but only until her fifteenth birthday.  For on that day, the maiden would prick her finger on a spindle and die.  Ignoring the anguished protests of those present, she swept from the room.

The queen was unconsolable at the horrible fate that awaited her precious child.  But then the last wise woman, who had not yet given her blessing, spoke up.  While it was impossible to set aside the curse, she could make it less severe:  The girl would prick her finger and fall to the floor as dead, but it would not be death, it would merely be a long sleep, a hundred-year sleep, and to assure that she would wake up not all alone as if abandoned by everyone she had known and loved, this sleep would overcome every living being in the entire castle.

The king had other ideas.  He immediately called for every spindle in the land to be collected and burned, until, at last, there was not a single spindle to be found in the whole kingdom.  Or so everyone thought.

The child grew into a maiden possessed of all the blessings of the wise women, a joy to her parents and all who knew her.  Every year she grew more radiant, so as her fifteenth birthday grew near, she was a beautiful, smart and pleasant young woman; potential suitors from neighbouring kingdoms began to take notice.  And everyone had taken to calling her "Beauty."

Her birthday was a brilliant affair, and even though the king was comfortable in his belief that there were no spindles where Beauty could possible get to them, not in all the kingdom, the queen suffered horrible apprehension.  Beauty knew nothing of all this, the horrible curse having been kept a secret from her.  After the lavish birthday luncheon, as the royal household and guests leaned back in their chairs to rest up for the next meal, or played parlor games and listen to the musicians, the girl went outside and wandered about the gardens to ponder her future.  Deep in thought, she didn't even notice that she strayed ever farther from the castle.  At last she found herself at the foot of an old, abandoned tower, not a corner of the castle gardens she had ever been to.  And being possessed of a normal curiosity, she pried open the heavy door, entered the tower and started upward, the steps winding and winding until at last, at the very top, she found a small room, well furnished, and imagine her surprise as she noticed an old woman, working with a gadget she had never seen before.  She asked about the curious thing and the woman replied, "why, I'm spinning."  But that meant nothing to Beauty.  Still, it looked like fun, and soon she asked whether she might try.  "Sure," said the old woman and the girl reached for the gadget ...

No sooner has she touched the spindle than that she sank onto a sofa, in a sleep so deep it resembled death.  And everywhere in the castle, everybody and everything went to sleep.  The king and queen fell asleep on their thrones, the fires in the kitchen quit crackling, the flies quit buzzing, the dog, mouth agape, fell asleep in mid-bark, the gravy being ladled over the roast stood still in mid-air, and the cook, who was just about to dish out a mighty slap to the head of the poor little kitchen boy stood still, arm outstretched.  Not a sound was heard, even the air went very, very still.

And so it remained.  A moment in the life of a royal household, frozen in time.

Before long, a thorny hedge started to grow around the castle, higher and higher it grew every year, until at last even the royal banner at the top of the highest tower was no longer visible.  Slowly, the folks who lived around the castle just sort of forgot about it.  Still, there were whispers about a beautiful maiden, asleep behind the mighty hedge, until such time that a brave prince would find her and wake her with his kiss.  And then claim her for his bride and become king, of course ....

Many a young noble thought it an easy feat to breach the hedge, find the beautiful maiden and become king.  Alas, as soon as a man had hacked his way into the hedge, it closed around him, the thorns held him fast and he died miserably.

One day, a young prince arrived from a far away kingdom.  He had heard songs of the legend of the maiden, of her beauty and charm, and already he was so in love with her that all warnings from the townfolks outside the hedge fell on deaf ears.  No, he wasn't afraid to die, he declared, if he couldn't have his princess, he just as well be dead.  Bravely, he grabbed his sword and started to hack into the thorny mess.  But he needn't have bothered:  As if by magick (and magick it surely was), the hedge parted before him and wherever there had been thorns, the vines brimmed with roses.  Deeper and deeper into the hedge he walked, until at last he arrived outside the castle.  Instict drove him to the tower, up the steps and into the little room where the princess lay sleeping.  He almost forgot to breathe as he looked upon the sleeping maiden, for she was even more lovely than he had ever imagined.

He bent down to kiss her, and no sooner did his lips touch hers than she opened her eyes ... and at the same moment, the royal household came back to life:  The king and queen and their guests opened their eyes and yawned and stretched, the fire started to crackle in the hearth, she soup just about bubbled over, the flies buzzed on their way, the gravy flowed over the roast, the kitchen boy screeched from the cook's mightly slap, and the dog barked merrily.

The little princess, however, took one good look and fell head over heels for the handsome youth.  Soon, a royal wedding was celebrated and a short time later, the old king gave the reigns of his kingdom over to the new couple.  They ruled wisely and lived happily for many, many years.  From the thirteenth wise woman, however, nothing was ever heard again.
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