At her first birthday banquet, Rosamonde was cursed to death by one fairy and then, in another fairys attempt to counter the magic, Rosemonde was condemned to sleep a hundred years if she touched a spindle. When Rosamonde turned sixteen, the curse came true in its own form. Rosamonde appeared asleep, her body lying on silken covers in a room deep in her fathers castle. But instead of sleeping, she was cast into knowledge. She saw through others eyes, feeling what they felt, thinking what they thought, always knowing herself as a helpless observer.
Once her journey started, it was very much like drowning. Her body was swallowed by a giant wave of knowing. She swirled in an infinite space, grasping for a harbor amid the noise of the world.
The first time her mind came ashore it was into the lives of Lucy and Wyan.
Every day Lucy waited on her stoop, waited for the village boys to come back from school. There was one boy in particular, a boy with green eyes. She waited for him while sweeping the stoop at the entrance to her parents shop. The stoop was very clean. It had been mopped, scrubbed, scraped, swept, painted, and swept again. It was bearing up well against the surging teen intensity.
Lucy waited on the stoop, one hand on the broom, and one hand picking at a loose thread at the cuff of her shirt. It was a nervous habit of hers that Wyan would find adorable in about three weeks.
Wyan walked past Lucy and didnt see her. Wyan was looking at the birds migrating past, wondering when he too would get to pick up and follow the wind home to a warmer place. Wyan was so busy looking at the sky that when Richard tripped him playfully, Wyan fell to his side, onto a rock. His leg was hurt, nothing broken, but his lungs emptied and he lay heaving on the pavement. Lucy ran toward him. She had pretty hair, and a gentle smile that didnt mock or pity him. She just approved of him. That made him comfortable. Lucy also had a very long neck, which Wyan could smell when she leaned over him to take a closer look at his leg. It smelled salty, and like her parents chimney, but it also smelled like a girl, less sharp than his own smell.
Rosamonde was swimming in Lucys neck; she was swimming in Wyans bruised thigh, and she was swimming in the sky with the migrating birds. She wondered if she still existed. She had a vague sense that, like her toes, which she had never considered until she wiggled them, she was around somewhere, though she couldnt quite locate herself in the picture.
Wyan started taking Lucy on long walks through the changing woods as fall set in. The walks included long talks interspersed with long silences. Nothing important was said, but both Lucy and Wyan looked forward to their time together, and they finished their respective chores in record time, which first thrilled and then worried their parents.
Wyan showed Lucy how to make stones skip. He did this by having her stand in front of him and placing her hand over his as he threw. Lucy liked Wyans hands, and the feel of his skin under her palm made her blush and grow warm. The back of her head tingled. Then Wyan placed his hand on top of Lucys while she skipped the stone. It was obvious that this was a bad way to teach someone, but it didnt stop them from trying, again and again, until they stopped throwing and just sat, hand in hand, quietly, smiling, watching the stream carry fallen leaves elsewhere.
On a dark Saturday night, Lucy took Wyans hand and she brought it under her shirt, placing it on her heart. She did this so he could feel her heartbeat, how it changed when he was near. What they both thought about was her nipples and the softness of the skin of her breasts. Wyan touched her slowly, without exact intent, and Lucy grew calm at first, and then she grew nervous and full of something she didnt quite know how to act on.
A week later, they kissed. Wyan kissed the corner of Lucys mouth, and she smiled and laughed. Wyan was grateful for the laugh, and he allowed himself to do something he had thought about. He licked Lucys lips with the tip of his tongue, tickling her, and then when she met his tongue with her tongue, they put their lips against each other, and they kissed and kissed and kissed until their knees trembled and they had to sit. Sitting led to lying down, Lucy brushing off twigs and leaves from her skirts on her walk home. Lucy smiled and remembered the heat in their bodies. The heat between them. Their shared heat. Despite his obvious enthusiasm, she knew that she was the fearless one. For her, falling in love and sharing herself were effortless.
Over the hundred years, while Rosamonde lay immobilized, the roses around the castle grew tongues in their urgent desire to find someone to free the princess.
* * *
Prince Innocent had originally set out to see his country. To see the fields, the villages, and meet the people away from court. He had planned to be away for a year, maybe two if he found something worth learning about. He came without pretense, just open curiosity and the will to be taught about the world, those things that had been hidden from him at the castle. He wanted to get his hands dirty; he wanted to become a man before he became a king. Solitude, striving, it all appealed to him. Maybe he would apprentice with a baker. He liked the idea of bread in ovens, of spending hours kneading, lost in thought, smelling yeast and flour.
Six months into his journey, having visited with common folk and craving solitude, he walked down a path and he heard a loud rustling murmur sweeping over the hill. Over the hill and down to a clear stream, he found them: A wall of roses, arguing loudly, knocking him out of his reverie. They were chatty and overwhelming, insistent. The roses complained about the work of growing, the height and depth of the wall. They complained that no one tried to breach the thorn wall anymore. The villagers had grown tired of their chatter, had left these parts. The roses were alone, trapped among themselves, a wall of female discontent, hoping that someone would come for the princess and release them from the spell of language. They craved silence but couldnt practice it.
The prince stopped walking and turned to face the roses. They called out, Prince, prince, could you be a hero?
Another part of the bush rustled and said, There is a princess inside, more beautiful than the dawn, more beautiful than snowfall, more beautiful than death. A princess no one has seen in a hundred years. She waits, she sleeps, she is half ghost, half wish. You could be her destiny. You cant turn your back on destiny.
He looked around. There were fields, well cared for. Trees shading the road, each allowed its life by a farmer, each allowed its space, each at the mercy of mans will. It was an ordered world and he was its prince. He was on the road, looking for quiet in country lanes, camping in fields, enjoying the pale taste of rough gruel.
The prince paused then asked, A princess? Why would there be a princess in there?
Magic is dangerous. Everyone knew about magic.
The enchantment could end. The curse was for a hundred years. The time is right, and you are here.
I was just
taking a look around, he said.
Well, why not look here? said a self-important yellow rose.
They were mocking him. Where is the castle? he asked.
The castle is inside our body, the roses said.
How can anyone get there? he asked.
You have to go within and through, said the yellow rose.
That sounds painful was his comment.
Well take care of you.
Why hasnt it been done? He was a careful person.
They used to try. No one succeeded. They gave up. Now, we are rarely visited. People are afraid of us. Men are less interested in adventure than they used to be. Magic is old in the newness of the world.
The prince was silent.
Why dont you try? they asked as one.
No. Certainly not now. Let me think. He was well known for his bravery, the wandering prince, the peoples prince. His father believed in a strong body and a strong mind. They were a family of rationalists, gentle skeptics. He was not the kind of person to get tangled up in magical matters.
Think? When you could act? As you wish. The roses settled into silence again, waiting for him to ask them the usual questions.
He didnt want to go through a fifty-foot-tall thorn wall to wake up an enchanted female. He certainly had time to decide. Six more months before his parents would send for him. He was curious about the roses, although he didnt want them to know.
He camped at their feet, listening to them. He hoped the flowers would tell him their secretsthey were so obviously glad to have him there. That first night, and every night afterward, they reached out their tendrils and made him a canopy of roses to sleep under and he slept sweetly drenched in their smell.
* * *
Rosamonde was immersed in the romantic lives of women, swallowed by visions. For a hundred years, she saw every conniving move, every seduction speech, every romantic gesture men and women were built to share. She saw them grow tender near dawn, brought closer by a long night of confessions. She saw them rough; she saw them moan, beg, plead, and fight. She saw beaten and abandoned wives and husbands. She saw men sleeping while their women wept silently in bed.
She saw generations. The desire and the pain were so routine that she could look at a couple, the mans hands, the womans eyes and waist, and know, before a word was spoken, what would come of the pairing.
She saw and felt the sweetness of romantic hopes come true, the tender reunions by day or night after long absences. The shared meals, the childrens laughter, the hip against the hip, night in and night out. Both seduction and surrenderit was all revealed to her.
She realized loving was profoundly unoriginal. Romantic spectacle paraded for Rosamonde in a hundred-year pageant of gesture, intent, and intimacy. She felt the pleasures of desire but was acutely aware that it wasnt her own pleasure. Sometimes she wanted her own story. Other times she wanted no story at allshe wanted silence in her mind and soul. She wondered if she would ever wake. She felt lonely. She suspected that she was becoming oddenchanted, and full of knowing.
* * *
After he found them, the prince sat by the roses for days. At first they teased him, and then they grew used to his company and talked amongst themselves about the future. What the farmer would grow next if the farmer were wise. Which crops were new, and which crops were old. What parts of the land needed a rest. The roses also discussed the plants lying in the ground, dropped there by wind and water, waiting for the moment they could grow and be seen.
The roses bickered. Who was most beautiful, which would remain the longest in bloom. They compared thorns; they competed for the attention of bees; they mocked the young roses on the vine. The roses huddled under the thunder and danced in the wind, some calm, some worried and full of dread. Innocent sat, ate, and washed his hair in the stream. Mostly he watched the roses, and they watched him. He waited to know them and they revealed themselves slowly.
When he had left the castles comforts, he had hoped to see what was marvelous in the world. A speaking rosebush was marvelous. He tried to engage them in philosophy. In dialogue. They just laughed and told him about the rain, how it felt falling, how they drank and bent and took in the rain and then how their roots were sated. They were sure there was nothing to know in the world but wind, rain, sun, and the movements of the birds and the bees and the small animals that ran among the stems and the thorns. Again and again they came back to the princess, the hidden castle, his destiny. They talked to him in romantic terms.
She too is a rose, has the heart of a rose. Our sweetness, our thorns. We are alike. There is no wind and no rain for her. Bring her back out in the open, bring her back so her roots can be sated, so she can drink her full. You too can share in the feast. Be her bee, her bird. Rest in her arms.
A woman like a rose. He thought about it.
* * *
Rosamondes ghostly self endured countless ends of stories. The agony of the ends made the pleasure of the beginnings more poignant and she grew more and more attached to the fleeting early moments of perfect happiness.
After eight years of loving him, Serena realized that Joffreys heart no longer belonged to her. She came to the realization when he started to make her breakfast. She asked him why and he said, No reason. Then she knew. There was a reason; there was something and she was in danger. Her heart was in danger. She started to watch him very carefully. His habits had hardly changed. He still went to the pub. Ate hearty meals. Had lunch with Henry on Thursdays. But he sometimes took walks on Sundays where before he might have worked in his woodshop. She followed him on a walk and nothing happened, she just saw him pick wildflowers on the side of the road, hold them in his hand and throw them away as he got closer to town. He stopped and waded into a stream by old Farmer Hatchs land.
She watched him at church, she watched him when they greeted mutual friends and acquaintances, waiting to see if he would betray anything, if his behavior changed. Joffrey drank the same well water and took just one bath a week. Joffrey hugged and kissed her still, but there was something missing. Her heart was always awake and sore. She was worried. It took a year, but by the following spring, Joffrey left her for a mermaid and Serena never saw him again. Fishermen reported seeing a merman with a scar on his back, and Serena knew they were talking about her husband. Serena stopped smiling altogether and ate only cold soup from then on.
* * *
After a hundred years, Rosamonde finally saw something new. She supposed it was a dream because no ones heart was breaking. Now, in her heavy sleep, she observed only the roses and a young man lost in the thorns.
Also, she was herself. She could sense her own will, her own thoughts, as she watched the scene. She felt in her sleep the body she remembered from long agoher old vehicle. She soared over the rose-covered castle, and below her she saw that the roses were parting to let a young man through. Neither roses nor man could see or sense her. She followed the man. He had blue eyes, dark hair, and a lean, muscular build. She guessed he wasnt much taller than she, but he had a natural air of authority, and he seemed quite flustered by his current surroundings.
* * *
Innocent was cursing quietly, his face set, his brow troubled. The roses prodded him with their thorns and closed behind him as he moved forward. The clothes on his back and thighs were full of snags, with tears and blood spots from the pricks. He was forced to continue advancing, head bowed, looking at his feet. The rose bush rustled and sang, growing quieter as he drew closer to the castle. There were voices talking over the noise. Some of the roses were muttering while Innocent shouted. He wanted to be heard above their din.
Ladies, ladies. Easy now. That hurts. Stop it. Im moving; Im moving. Cant you give me a little space?
A full, fading bloom, the color of old parchment, leaned toward him and said in her most encouraging voice, Listen, its only a little further upnot very far. Youve come a long way already. Just keep going; youll feel better very soon.
He was indignant as he answered, I just want a rest, please? He stopped in his tracks, but the roses did not stop; they dug into him and lifted him up, pushing him on. It was excruciatingly painful, hundreds of thorns nesting into his skin. He landed on his feet and he lurched forward onto the ground. They made room for his body to lie a moment, then when they grew impatient, they started closing in on him again. He felt increasingly claustrophobic.
Im doing what you want. He looked up at the roses, imploring with his eyes. Above him, he now saw the bleached skeletons that had been pushed up as the wall of roses had grown.
I see what youve done to the fine gentlemen before me. A shiver ran down his spine and his legs began to shake. I guess Ill keep moving then. I will keep moving. But stop hurting me. Youre getting what you want.
You will go to the castle, said a young rose, melon pink and bossy.
Yes, of course, to the castle as agreed, he said in his most placating voice.
They put their thorns away, but he felt their leaves and buds. The leaves too had cutting edges and the hard buds were a thousand uncomfortable pebbles pushing against his body. He hadnt thought they would be so violent.
You must go to the castle, a fading bloom rustled. A shiver ran up the bush, and a jawless skull fell into his hands.
He was quiet for the next hour.
We chose you. You from among all the others.
The bush spoke as one, a thousand personalities coming to agreement at last. Wake her and we will be released. The enchantment wears on us. The more language we have, the less we hear the earth. Wake the princess and release us. We want to shrivel, die, and be renewed so we can take up the course of life again. Wake her and give us our silence back.
Why did you choose me?
A fat rose snickered, lowered to caress his cheek, and there was silence in the lethal hedge. The gesture filled him with dread. She was a dark bluish-red, a frightening color.
We know from our roots that there must be a change. We are also part of the spell. You will be the one to save us. She needs you more than you can know. We all need you. You will wake her. You will find a way.
She wakes up when she is found? He didnt understand.
No, you wake her up.
How do I wake her? This seemed important. Starving inside the castle walls was not an appealing prospect.
The blood-red rose came down to him, she floated in front of his nose, and he smelled her cloying fragrance. Find a way, Innocent.
His hands slammed into something hard. The contact bruised his wrists. He had reached a wall. His foot knocked a gilded door and it swung open into a hall.
The roses said, Walk out together or never walk again.
* * *
Finding her was easy. She was the only living person in the castle, the rest were skeletons.
When Innocent first saw Rosamonde, he was pulled in her direction. Her lips were red, dense and fleshy clouds; their trembling currents fascinated him. The rest of her face was still; her eyelids immobile, her cheeks pale and cold. In her long sleep, her lips had taken on the expressiveness he usually found in a persons eyes. He had never felt so absurd and so compelled by desire. And yet he was motionless. Exhausted, he was completely unprepared for the momentous beauty that lay like a trap before him.
Immobilized by longing, he wanted to run but knew he couldnt. He regretted the rash moment when he had said yes to the roses, feeling favored, feeling encouraged and able, strong in his young body.
In the window he saw the roses. Their thorns had broken the windows glass, which had shattered in a broken mosaic of colored shards on the floor. The lush blooms suffocated the space where the stars should have shone.
He looked around the room. There were inlaid pieces of furniture, rich fabrics, and detailed tapestries. They were hopelessly old-fashioned, in the style of his grandfathers mausoleum. But she was breathing and brilliant. He should have had the advantage, he supposed, being awake. But one step into the room and she had beaten him.
He leaned over her sleeping form. Swimming for a century among her comforters, she was a wave nestled against a rock. He felt her like the gravitational pull of the moon, dragging the tides against the shore. He kneeled by her side.
He heard her moan twice. He had to look away. What does a sixteen-year-old dream of? What does a sixteen-year-old know? What can a hundred-and sixteen-year-old know of life as it is lived face to face, all bad breath and turning points?
He wondered: what would it be like to wake up after one hundred years? Would she be crotchety? Was her mind a waste? Would her bones break when she tried to sit? His full bladder bothered him. He dug his nails into his upper arm to distract himself from the pressure and tried to compose himself.
I dont know how to wake you, he said to her. Tell me how.
She groaned again. He was very close to her body, hovering by her right shoulder. He touched her hand; her hand was soft and fine, long-fingered, and a little damp. Dust fell from his clothes onto her gown. The silence was overwhelming. She seemed to have her own source of light.
Rosamonde felt Innocent in the room. She sensed a clean soul, a straightforward hopefulness in his heart. That faint hope touched her after her years of isolation. She tried to lure him. She put her hand between her thighs. He rose to touch her face. His patience, his courtliness, was touching and ridiculous. Had she been a man in a room with a sleeping maiden, the things she would have done! His only defilement of her rest was to caress her cheek. How precious, how silly, how weak, how perfect. She smiled. She hungered for the power to shock him. She hungered to use her lips on his mouth; she hungered to see through her eyes and be herself. To open her eyes and see his closed.
She took his hand and brought it to her heart. He felt the rise in her chest. Still he did nothing. She summoned her will to speak. In her sleep she finally said, Kiss me. He did. And for the first time in a hundred years she did not know the ending between a man and a woman.