Sleeping Beauty's Daughters

BOOK: Sleeping Beauty's Daughters
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Dedication

For Kathy,

who has always been there to pull me from the quicksand

 

 

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my editor, Barbara Lalicki, who has taught me more than she could ever know. Thank you, too, to Andrea Martin, whose excellent ideas have steered me from the rocks more than once. Many thanks to the HarperCollins marketing, publicity, and sales staff—I deeply appreciate your efforts on behalf of my books. And to Laurel Long and Yvonne Gilbert: I can’t imagine my books without your beautiful covers and frontispieces. They are perfect.

 

Cheers to Maria Gomez—it was your title that started it off, and I’ve always loved it. Thanks, too, to Jennifer Laughran. This one’s not yours, but no one would ever guess it from your support and enthusiasm.

 

For their help and inspiration, I’m truly indebted to Shani Soloff and to my wonderful family. Jan, Stan, Ben, and, as always, Phil—you are readers (and critics) extraordinaire. There’s no way I could do it without you.

1

Of Honey and a Haircut

L
una had disappeared again.

I was always amazed at how easily my little sister got away from me. She was my responsibility, and keeping track of her was nearly a full-time job. I had searched the top floors of the palace already and was starting to get worried. If I didn’t find her before lunch, Papa would be upset and Mama would be frantic.

I ran down the stone stairs to the kitchen. It was usually deserted at that time of day, but I knew that Luna sometimes crept in when Cook was busy elsewhere and grabbed a leftover slice of cake or bowl of pudding. And my guess was right.

Luna
was
there, but she wasn’t eating. Instead, she sat in one of the wooden chairs that lined the long table where the servants took their meals. She was holding out a thick strand of her curly brown hair, pulling so hard it was nearly straight. I realized she had a butter knife in her other hand.

“Luna,” I said, “whatever are you doing?”

She turned her head to look at me.

“I’m cutting my hair,” she said, lifting the knife.

“Oh no—your pretty curls!” I protested, hurrying around the table to her. “You mustn’t!”

“My hair isn’t pretty, Aurora,” Luna countered. “It’s the color of dirt, not blond like yours. And it’s always tangled. I am sick to death of it, and I want it gone.”

“If you ever used a brush, it wouldn’t be tangled,” I scolded. “And you can’t just chop at it—you’ll look dreadful. Ask Madame Claude to show you how to style it.” Madame Claude was Mama’s hairdresser, skilled at weaving jewels through my hair and piling Mama’s fair curls as high as one of Cook’s soufflés. But I had to admit that she had never been able to control Luna’s wild mane.

Luna scowled. “You know that Madame Claude can’t tame my hair with hairpins or combs. If you think I can’t cut it well, then you do it!”

At first I shook my head. “Mama won’t like it,” I warned.

“I don’t care. I’ll do it alone if you won’t help.”

If Luna hurt herself, I would be blamed, and Mama would take to her bed in distress. And perhaps if I did as she asked, it wouldn’t turn out too badly. I moved behind her, took a handful of her hair in my hand, and brought the knife to it, gently at first and then harder and harder. Luna wrenched away.

“Ouch!” she cried. “Don’t pull so hard!”

“Well, this is a butter knife,” I said practically. “I don’t believe it will cut hair—it will barely cut butter. I think you’ll have to pull your hair out by the roots if you want to remove it. And then you’ll be bald, like Lord Edouard. Everyone will laugh at you, and you’ll never get a husband!” I smiled, to let her know I was teasing. But she wasn’t in the mood for a joke.

She grabbed the knife back from me, fuming. “I don’t want a husband. I’m not like you, always mooning about marriage and wedding dresses. I want to do things! Instead, we’re locked up here. Look at Mama—her life is so dreary. I couldn’t bear it if that were my fate!”

“You know Mama isn’t well,” I reminded her. “She needs peace and quiet. And I don’t believe she thinks her life is dreary.
I
don’t think it’s dreary. She’s a queen, after all. You’ll marry a prince and be a queen too when you grow up, and I will be queen here. That’s important and interesting enough for me.” Our parents had no son to inherit the kingdom, so it would be mine someday. Despite my offhand words, the idea had always terrified me. I couldn’t imagine being queen and ruling my subjects. How could I face all those strangers, listen to their problems, and dispense wisdom and justice as Papa did?

Ignoring me, Luna got up and moved around the kitchen, opening drawers and cabinets and then slamming them shut in annoyance. “Why are there no real knives in our kitchen?” she demanded. “No pruning shears in the garden shed, no scissors to cut flowers—or hair? Why don’t our guards have lances or swords? Why is there nothing sharp in the whole palace?”

“That’s how it has always been, and you know it.” I was surprised by her intensity. “Maybe Mama and Papa hid all the blades when you were born, fearing the damage you could do with a sharp instrument!”

Frustrated and angry, Luna raised the butter knife and tried to plunge it into the kitchen table, but its dull edge simply scratched the wood, and the knife bounced out of her hand, hitting a jar of honey and knocking it off the table to the floor. The jar shattered on the tiles, splattering honey on walls and floor and even on Luna’s skirt. She bent down to grab a large, curved shard of the broken glass.

“Ah! This will do it,” she said triumphantly.

“Luna, stop!” I cried in distress. “You know we’re not permitted to touch anything sharp!”

She brought the shard, dripping with honey, to her hair and sliced. A curl fell to the ground. I reached out to stop her, but she dodged away, still cutting. I flinched as I saw the glass pierce her finger. She grimaced at the sight of blood, but she didn’t stop. Oh, Mama would never forgive me for letting this happen!

Luna sliced through her hair again and again, leaving her locks scattered on the floor as she darted away from me. I chased her around the table, and she laughed and shrieked, overturning chairs and knocking a loaf of bread to the ground. I grabbed for her, but she danced out of my reach. Finally I just stood and watched helplessly as she chopped.

When not a single strand long enough to cut remained, Luna put the shard of glass down on the table. “There,” she said. But her voice sounded a little uncertain. Her hands were streaked with honey and the blood that still dripped from her wounded finger. Clumps of hair stuck to her dress. Her gleeful expression began to fade.

“What have you done?” I whispered.

“Yes,” Cook said from the doorway, “what on earth have you done now, Princess Luna?”

Cook’s broad form filled the door, and her eyes were wide with shock. Her face, usually pink from constant exposure to the steam that rose from cook pots and the heat from the kitchen fires, was now strawberry red with alarm as she took in the chaos of her kitchen, which she always kept spotlessly clean.

“Princess, you’re hurt!” she cried, seeing Luna’s shorn head and the streaks of blood on her dress. “I’ll get your mother.”

“No!” Luna and I exclaimed together, exchanging an anxious glance.

“Please, don’t bother the queen,” I pleaded. “You’ll only upset her needlessly. It’s nothing—no more than a scratch. We were just . . .” But it was too late. Cook had spun on her heel and was treading heavily down the hallway. I could hear her mounting the stairs, muttering to herself.

“Help me clean this up,” Luna begged frantically.

I looked about, dismayed. How had my sister done such damage in so short a time? We could never clean it before our parents came. “Oh, Luna,” I said in despair, “we don’t have a chance. And Papa will blame me.”

I wanted to leave her there to face the consequences alone, but I couldn’t. She took my hand meekly in her sticky hand, and we stood still amid the wreckage. It felt as if we waited for hours, but I’m sure it was really only a few minutes. The sound of boots clattered down the stairs and along the hall, and then our father was in the room.

Papa glanced at me and then stared at Luna with his piercing dark eyes, speechless. Behind him came my mother, her brow creased with worry. She drew up abruptly when she saw the state of the kitchen—the honey smeared about, the hair-littered floor, the broken glass.

Then the smooth skin of Mama’s face went as white as parchment. “The blood . . . ,” she whispered. Her azure eyes were full of terror, as if she had seen a ghost or a monster. I wanted to tell her that Luna wasn’t truly hurt, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak. How could a haircut—even one as ragged as my sister’s—make her so fearful?

And then, to my horror, Mama put her delicate, bejeweled hand to her chest and gracefully crumpled to the floor.

2

Of a Story and a Spell

I
screamed when Mama fainted, but Luna just stood there, shorn like a boy, dripping blood and honey. My cry brought the servants running, and then there was a huge commotion.

In a moment Mama’s eyes fluttered open. Papa raised her from the floor and helped her to a chair as Cook and Jacquelle, the serving maid, fanned her and offered her water and wine. Mama’s dress was ruined, of course, from the sticky honey that oozed everywhere. I crouched beside her chair and took her ice-cold hands.

“Luna’s not hurt, Mama,” I said swiftly. “It was just a little cut from the broken glass. You see, it isn’t even bleeding anymore.” I glared at Luna, and obediently she held out her hand to show the wound.

“And you?” My mother’s voice trembled.

“Me? I’m fine!”

“Was . . . was there anyone else here?” The color began to return to Mama’s face. She gazed around the kitchen, her eyes wide and frightened.

I was confused. “Anyone else? Why, no. It was just Luna and me. She got it into her head to cut her hair, and I couldn’t stop her.”

Finally Luna spoke. “I’m sorry, Mama,” she said humbly. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

Papa’s expression darkened at her words. “Why is it, child, that you never mean the trouble you cause? Why would you do such an impulsive, foolish thing?”

Luna swallowed hard, and I felt a bit sorry for her. Papa’s anger was rare, but when it came, we all felt its strength.

“I wasn’t thinking,” she admitted, looking down at the floor. “I was . . . oh, I don’t know. I was bored, I suppose. I was so tired of my hair, and of everything. It’s always the same here! Nothing ever changes. I wanted something to happen, so I made something happen.” She sounded just a little bit proud then, and I frowned at her.

Papa shook his head, his fury gone as quickly as it had come. He could never stay angry with Luna for long. He didn’t even punish her after the time she built a fire in the stable to roast chestnuts and very nearly burned it down. If my horse had been harmed, I would never have forgiven her. But Papa pardoned her whenever she cried and apologized and smiled at him through her tears.

“And why did you not stop your sister, Aurora?” Papa asked me.

I gulped. “I tried. I did try.”

“She did!” Luna defended me. “She ran after me, but I was faster.”

Did Papa’s mouth twitch in a smile? “I am not surprised.” His voice was stern, but his eyes twinkled at me, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Are you feeling stronger, Mama?” I said, chafing her hands to warm them. “Why did you faint? Luna’s hair will grow back before long. And Cook can clean the mess.”

“Oh, Daughter . . .” Mama’s voice was so unexpectedly sad that I felt tears come to my eyes. “It was not her hair. It was the blood—the pierced finger. You do not know. . . .”

“Do not know what?” Luna piped up. “Why should a cut finger frighten you so? What
is
it?”

Mama looked at Papa, and he gazed back at her in silence. There was something strange in the air between them that made my heart beat faster.

“It is time, my dear,” Papa finally said gently, and after a moment Mama nodded.

“Time for what?” Luna was wild with curiosity. “Time for
what
?” she asked again. Papa put his finger across his lips, glancing at the servants who were still in the kitchen, sponging the floor and table and walls.

“We will take luncheon in the conservatory,” Papa told Cook, helping Mama up from the chair. We followed them out of the kitchen in silence, Luna dancing with eagerness.

“Aurora,” Mama said to me when we reached the main floor of the palace, “take your sister up to her bedchamber and help her clean herself. Luna, you will have to bathe—only hot water and lemon soap will get the honey out. Change your dress. Come to us when you are finished.” Her voice was stronger now, and uncharacteristically severe. I curtsied to her, pulling Luna into a curtsy too, and we scurried up the stairs.

The upstairs maid, Florine, who was not much older than I, brought hot water to pour into the copper tub in Luna’s room. She stared outright at Luna’s cropped hair as she prepared the bath.

“Heavens, Princess, you are a sight!” she said impudently. “You look like a boy in girl’s dress. It will take a year or more for your hair to grow back!”

Luna snorted, peeling off her ruined dress and stepping into the steaming bath. “I don’t want it to grow back,” she declared firmly. “I like it very well just like this.”

“Well!” Florine, scandalized, pursed her lips and shook her head. “No prince will come calling for a bald-headed princess!”

As expected, my sister was not displeased with this idea. “That’s one problem solved,” she noted as Florine hurried from the room. “I said I didn’t want to marry a prince—and now no prince will have me.”

I scrubbed her hair, rather more roughly than needed, with a sea sponge. “You may change your mind someday,” I pointed out, and squeezed the sponge so that water cascaded over her face and into her mouth, quieting her. “You’re only nine—you have plenty of time to think about princes.”

She shook her head violently, spattering me. “I will not,” she retorted with certainty.

I soaped and rinsed, soaped and rinsed her hair. Finally the honey was gone, and Luna stepped out and dried herself, rubbing her head hard with a towel. The hair sprang into tight curls around her head like a little brown cap. Uneven in places, it still was . . . surprisingly becoming. She did not look like a boy at all, but like a pretty, boyish girl.

“Why,” I said, “it looks rather nice!”

Luna pulled on a shift and ran to the mirror. The short curls revealed the heart shape of her face and made her hazel eyes seem much bigger and darker.

“Mama won’t faint at this, will she?” she said, smiling at her reflection.

“Well, I don’t think she’ll be pleased.” I was still worried about Mama’s swoon. “Princesses don’t have short hair.”

“This one does,” Luna said, turning so she could see her hair in the back.

I took a gown from the wardrobe and held it out. “Put this on, quickly. We must get back to Mama and Papa.”

But Luna would not be rushed. “No more combs or brushes! No more braids or ribbons! No more scorched hair from overheated curling irons!” She twirled before the mirror.

“Hurry up,” I insisted, tossing the gown to her. “Or I will go and learn whatever secret they are keeping without you!”

Dry and dressed at last, she ran down the stairs and into the conservatory ahead of me. The room was glassed in on all sides and warmed by the sun even on cold days. Flowers and greenery that would not grow outdoors in our windy, bitter climate flourished here. It was Mama’s favorite room in the palace, and mine as well.

Mama lay on a chaise in a fresh dress with a cool cloth on her forehead. A small table had been set nearby, and three other chairs were pulled up to it. I sat, tugging Luna down beside me. She tapped her feet anxiously as Papa paced the room, clearly upset. Jacquelle finished ladling soup into our bowls and left us.

Even then Papa did not speak. He sat in his chair and sipped his soup. I had the feeling that he was doing this very deliberately, to punish Luna by making her wait. He would not look at her. Mama, though, motioned Luna to sit beside her on the chaise. She ran her hand over Luna’s damp curls.

“It suits you, child,” she said. Luna beamed, then jumped up and went back to her seat to start on her soup.

I could hardly believe it. After all the frenzy—the broken glass, the haircut, the mess, and Mama fainting—was Luna merely to be complimented? I had to grit my teeth to keep my anger from showing. I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I wondered, as I often had before, what would have happened if I had been the one to misbehave. But I wouldn’t have. I never did.

I pushed down my exasperation and asked, “Mama, what is it? Why did you faint? You are not . . . ill, are you?”

“Oh, no, dearest,” Mama replied. “It is nothing like that.”

“Then tell us, please!”

Mama sighed deeply and looked at Papa as she had in the kitchen, as if for guidance.

“It is your story, my love.” He took her trembling hand in his. “You must tell it.”

“Then I shall,” she said simply, and she began.

“I have never told you much about my life. It is . . . not a happy story. I was one of two children born to my parents. My brother was very much older than I, handsome and full of life.”

Luna dropped her soup spoon with a clatter, and I gaped. Mama had a brother? There’d never been even a hint of any uncle. Why had we never met him?

Mama ignored our astonishment. “My parents adored him, but still they longed for a daughter to pamper and indulge. For many years it seemed their wish would not be granted, so when at last I was born, they were jubilant. All of our relatives, and all the important lords and ladies and dignitaries for many miles around, were invited to my christening. Of course I was an infant, so I do not remember what happened. But when I was your age, Aurora, my mother told me the story.”

Something in her tone made me shiver. I had a feeling that this tale would not end well.

“My brother was beloved by all. Many women fell in love with him. One of them was a distant cousin of my father’s, a beautiful woman named Manon. They spent time together, for she was witty and charming, but my brother made her no promises. He was young, and not looking for marriage—or even love—but just for fun. Manon attended the christening party, of course. Nobody knew, then, that she had fairy blood.”

Luna’s eyes widened at this, but she didn’t interrupt.

“Though he was so much older, my brother was devoted to me. Even at the party, with all the guests to attend to, he hovered over me, picking me up whenever I fussed.”

Mama hesitated for a moment and then continued. “Manon and my brother danced once or twice, as they had at parties many times before. Now, though, my parents saw clearly that Manon had fallen in love with him. It made them uneasy, and they planned to speak to him about it. But before they could, my brother became captivated by another who had come to the party. Her name was Emmeline, and she was my father’s godmother.”

“Your grandfather’s,” Papa corrected her.

“She must have been ancient!” Luna exclaimed.

“She was quite old indeed, but she had fairy blood as well, so her age did not show. My brother turned all his attention to Emmeline. He could look at no one else. They spent the rest of the evening together. They talked and danced and . . . kissed, as my brother held me in his arms.”

I could picture the scene perfectly: the two beautiful fairies vying over the handsome prince who held the tiny baby. “Did Manon see them kiss?” I had to know.

“Yes, Manon saw,” Mama replied. “My mother said she turned quite pale. Then my brother made everything worse. He held me in one arm and with the other lifted his goblet, saying, ‘A toast to my baby sister Rosamond, who is as lovely as the day. To Rosamond, who has brought to me the joy that is Emmeline!’”

“Oh, Manon must have been so mad. What did she do?” Luna asked.

“Nothing at that moment. Everyone laughed and raised their glasses high, and the party whirled on. Later, though, at the end of the celebration, friends and relatives approached my cradle. One at a time, they wished me well. But when Manon reached me, she leaned over me and spoke so all could hear. What she said was so terrible that it made my poor mother faint dead away—just as I did today.”

Mama paused again. The room was very quiet; even Luna was still. Papa reached across the table and covered Mama’s hand with his, as if to give her strength.

Mama went on in a low voice. “She put a spell on me, a mere babe in swaddling clothes. ‘Princess Rosamond, you shall be cursed,’ she said. ‘When you reach the age of sixteen, you shall prick your finger and die.’”

I gasped in shock, my hand flying up to cover my mouth.

“What a dreadful creature!” Luna cried. Then she paused to think. “But she cannot have been very good at curses, Mama, for here you are, quite alive and well.”

Mama smiled weakly. Jacquelle came in to remove our soup dishes and serve the meat, and we pretended to apply ourselves to our food until she departed. When she was gone, Mama laid down her fork and spoke again.

“Everyone was milling about in distress after Manon’s pronouncement. In the confusion, my brother and Emmeline stepped forward to my cradle. Emmeline said, ‘Princess Rosamond shall not die, but shall only fall into a long sleep. And she shall awaken if a prince with a true heart finds her and claims her with a kiss.’”

“That was you?” I asked Papa. He looked at Mama with an expression of such love that I knew the answer.

“So it did happen!” Luna clapped her hands. “You pricked your finger, and you fell asleep?”

“Yes,” Mama replied, “but it did not happen for many years. After the christening and the uproar that followed, the two fairies disappeared. It was not long afterward that my brother disappeared as well.” Tears glistened in Mama’s eyes. “My parents searched for all three far and wide, but they never found a single sign of them. Oh, but they were devastated!

“Having lost one child, they were terribly afraid of losing me as well. I was closely watched, but I was allowed some friends and went riding and dancing now and then. I also learned practical things—how to spin and weave, though not to sew, for my mother feared needles and pins.”

Mama’s voice faltered, but she went on. “One day when I was sixteen, my parents were away. They rarely traveled, and when they were gone I missed them very much. I sat in the tower room that afternoon, for I could see the road from its windows, and I wanted to watch for their homecoming. I was spinning silk thread, as I often did, and I pricked my finger on the spindle.”

“Oh no,” I breathed.

“It happened just as Manon had foretold. I remember staring at the drop of blood as it fell—how long it seemed to take to reach the floor! And then I felt Sleep overwhelm me.

“For a time—I could not say how long—I could still sense the world. A spider wove a web above me. A bird called outside my window. Mice skittered across the floor. But at last Sleep claimed me absolutely. And all in the castle slept with me, falling where they stood.”

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