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27 July 2014 @ 02:37 pm
LJ Idol Season Nine: "The Certainty Of Thorns"  
The Certainty Of Thorns
lj idol season nine | week 15 | 918 words
Chekhov's gun.


It is not easy to live under a curse. The threat of tragedy looms overhead, never forgotten. The sweetest moments of childhood are muted when one knows the future that awaits, and every happy thought or feeling must be stored in memory against the terrible day when it all becomes for naught.

I was that cursed child, a king's daughter in a lovely, lesser-known realm near the outermost edge of the Dark Forest. My days were spent in the palace gardens amid the grass and flowers, or down at the stables where the horses soon learned the sound of my voice. My mother was kind and beautiful, my father wise, and they watched me with melancholy smiles and embraced me as often with hesitation as with almost-suffocating adoration.

They had no other children, and they had yearned many years for me with a mixture of fervor and obsession.

My earliest memories were of warnings. I was shown drawings and admonished never to touch anything resembling the objects therein. For quite some time, I thought it was a game. Spindles were such odd-looking things, and I had never actually seen one—surely, it was all make-believe? Later, I learned that my father had decreed that all spindles and spinning wheels be burned, and that none were permitted in our kingdom. I doubt our subjects welcomed the prospect of so much commerce directed at exchanging our kingdom's fruits and wines for something as simple as cloth.

Although I am older now, the warnings continue, as does the unending scrutiny. One of the things I long for—foolishly, I suppose, although I do so badly wish it!—is to simply be left alone. I am allowed solitude within my own chambers (despite the guard stationed at the foot of the stairs, always ready should I leave). But I cannot wander the castle grounds without an escort, and a brief visit to the village itself entails an entourage of nurses and knights, and the heavy knowledge of needing to be ever-alert to the possibility of danger.

It wears on me, without question. I believe it taxes my parents still more. They seem to age much faster than I, and their manner grows increasingly grim as my eventual womanhood approaches.

My sixteenth birthday is at hand, and I do not know what will become of me. A doomed princess has no suitors, and I cannot pretend to be anything else. I am rarely alone, but always lonely, and I often wonder if I shall be so forever.

"How will I ever marry, Papa?" I ask.

"Do not trouble yourself about that," my father says. "It will happen in good time." Yet I notice the faraway look in his eyes, and that his smile is uncertain.

The morning of my birthday arrives, and the castle is bursting with activity. Maids clean the lower floors from top to bottom, and ready the guest chambers. Footmen carry additional chairs and tables to the dining hall, and the kitchen is such a whirlwind that the head cook hastens me away. Yet, with all these busy preparations all around me, I cannot muster any excitement. Each passing year has only increased my parents' sadness and worry, and resulted in my being kept closer to home and watched so attentively that I feel I can scarcely breathe.

I move restlessly about the castle. Soon it will be so crowded that I shall wish for the dull days of winter, yet I cannot bring myself to hide away in my chambers just yet. Instead, I walk the long passages, finding a growing stillness as I move away from the common areas.

In the far corner of the castle, I come upon a tower I have not visited in years. The guard usually stationed here is absent, and it has been so long since I climbed these stairs that I no longer remember what the rooms above me look like, or even what purpose they serve. My curiosity is stronger than the sense of weariness that plagues me, and I slip up the stairs while the chance remains.

The room on the next level is empty, but for a damp tapestry covering the window. I continue upward, where I find another room on the top level. A faint light shows around the edges of its closed door, and I hear a peculiar whirring sound. Slowly, I open the door.

An old woman sits near the window, her foot working the treadle of some wooden construct. I recognize the rest of it from years of ink drawings and harsh warnings. It is a spinning wheel.

The woman beckons me nearer. "My dear," she says, "would you be so kind as to change the spindle over for me? Your eyes are surely better than mine."

I know all too well, I ought not touch the thing. My very existence seems to have been defined only in terms of this one, terrible thing I must not do.

The old woman smiles hopefully at me. I do not know whether she is merely a servant going about her usual work, or whether her smile is false and she has arranged all of this to trap me.

I no longer care.

"Forgive me," I whisper—to her, to my parents, and to all others who will grieve.

Then I reach out and thrust my fingers down on the spindle's pointed end—Oh, how sharply it pricks!—and let the gathering darkness carry me toward my fate.

-- / --

If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.

cindytsuki_no_bara on July 27th, 2014 10:03 pm (UTC)
this is very interesting! i like the idea that sleeping beauty might have pricked her finger on purpose, because she was just so tired of always being on her guard and never being alone.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors: Fantasy Foresthalfshellvenus on July 27th, 2014 10:09 pm (UTC)
One of the things that this prompt spoke to me about was inevitability. I thought of various fairytales and their necessary elements, and as soon as Sleeping Beautiy came to mind, I hit upon, "How does the character wind up doing the one thing she knows she shouldn't?"

And living under that impending sense of doom... oh, how exhausting that would be. I can't blame her for just wanting to get it over with!

bleodsweanbleodswean on July 27th, 2014 10:28 pm (UTC)
Oh! I REALLY liked this!!! The inevitability of fate. Seeing a "choice" through the Princess's eyes! Nicely done! (Did you consider introducing the spinning wheel and spindle in its own stand-alone segment in the very beginning?)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 28th, 2014 12:31 am (UTC)
I actually did not-- this whole piece was driven by the emotions, for me, and how hard it might be to live that life. It had to color her relationship with her parents, with fear never very far from the surface (as a parent, you understand why).

I did initially think about crack (random crack for no firm idea), but my husband started banging his idea around and I decided there was no way I could top that. ;)

Jennkickthehobbit on July 28th, 2014 01:11 am (UTC)
I love this—you manage the dramatic tension really well and make this into more than just another fairytale retelling.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 28th, 2014 06:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I thought about a few other fairytales and their crucial components, but this was the one that seemed most driven by something the character could know was coming and could avoid... but didn't.
favoritebeanfavoritebean on July 28th, 2014 07:59 am (UTC)
I always imagined that the character in Sleeping Beauty would willingly prick her finger. The pressure and isolation just seems overbearing to me.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 28th, 2014 06:26 pm (UTC)
You could tell this story as if her parents always kept her innocent of her fate and tried to manipulate away all of the danger in secret. That almost predictably leads to the child stumbling across the one thing that can harm them, because they never learned to be afraid of it. As a parent, I can't recommend that approach.

But if the child knows what the danger is, and is still endlessly watched over and never free of the sense that her doom is coming anyway... that's a more interesting story, somehow, partly because it is a terrible way to live.

At some point, people get tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop, and decide to trigger the dreadful event rather than keep living in fear of it.
adoptedwriteradoptedwriter on July 28th, 2014 07:43 pm (UTC)
I like this take on the topic. Got my Once Upon A Time Fix too! I liked it! AW
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 29th, 2014 06:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

Boy, I haven't watched OUAT since early S2, when it went majorly Disney-canon. Did they eventually cover Sleeping Beauty's story?
(no subject) - adoptedwriter on July 30th, 2014 03:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on July 30th, 2014 04:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - adoptedwriter on July 30th, 2014 04:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
rayasorayaso on July 28th, 2014 09:06 pm (UTC)
This is such a wonderful entry! Part of what I love is the way you used the prompt, to show "Chekhov's gun" in action through the spindle. You introduced the spindle, which gets used, just what Anton wanted. The idea that Sleeping Beauty willingly pricks her finger because of the burden of the curse is great. You also did an excellent job in making use of words that sound "old-fashioned" to give a real fairy tale feeling to this.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 30th, 2014 09:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I rejected a couple of other ideas before getting to this one (including one involving repetition, where the avoided thing was the key to ending the cycle). But this was a story worth telling, just to explore the other side of it. :)
penpusherpenpusher on July 29th, 2014 05:43 am (UTC)
What a bittersweet spin, if I can use that word, on the classic fable.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 30th, 2014 09:23 pm (UTC)
I'd say that fits perfectly! Wanting life to be more than it is, and knowing that the path it is on is not heading that direction, is such a sad existence. The only choice left is the matter of "when" the tragedy happens, and sometimes a person embraces the terrible simply to have what little control of it they can.

Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting. :)
tatdatcm on July 30th, 2014 01:59 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed this retelling of the old fairy tale from another angle.

I always imagined Sleeping Beauty was so protected that she didn't know what the spindle would do. I like your take better. Even a kind prison is prison.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 30th, 2014 09:26 pm (UTC)
In hiding the information from her, her parents would still bring about her doom (she would never recognize the danger of the spindle). But in knowing the danger, there is a hope of avoiding it... while having to live with the burden that sometimes curses fulfill themselves.

Even a kind prison is prison.
This such a great description. The day-to-day might be gentler, but in the end, life's door is still locked.
uncawes on July 30th, 2014 04:06 am (UTC)
Rebellious teens tend to be more rebellious the more they're controlled.
Good for her, and let's hope the next chapter involves that elusive suitor she mentioned
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 30th, 2014 09:29 pm (UTC)
Rebellious teens tend to be more rebellious the more they're controlled.

And perhaps most normal people, in general. If you're going to be 'punished' for what you might do, or what someone thinks you've done even when you haven't... you might as well enjoy the crime.

It isn't a good choice, but you can sure see the logic in it.
Es'kaeska818 on July 30th, 2014 07:39 am (UTC)
Super loved this introspective look at a Princess we all think we know so well :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 30th, 2014 09:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! :)
mistearyusdiva2mistearyusdiva2 on July 30th, 2014 09:10 am (UTC)
I super loved this version of the fairy tale and how you have linked the aspect of " inevitability " to the prompt. Sometimes we humans do make a choice to get ourselves into something we know isnt all that right ....and maybe thats how it becomes inevitable. Well Done :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 30th, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
and maybe thats how it becomes inevitable.

That is one of the running threads in fairytales (and sometimes fantasy) that consistently fascinates me. In trying to avoid the thing you dread (here, losing a daughter), sometimes you actually cause it.

That's the tragedy of inevitability, but it makes for interesting storytelling!
Teo Sayseternal_ot on July 30th, 2014 02:11 pm (UTC)
Aha! I liked this approach..though the end was Inevitable still it kept me hooked till the end..and that's a feat very less writers can achieve..best use of Chekhov's gun..Well done! Kudos!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 30th, 2014 09:31 pm (UTC)
I'm glad this still held your interest, even knowing where this part of the story usually ends.

The narrator herself cannot be sure, but at the same time... living with dread can become worse than the thing being dreaded, if it becomes oppressive enough.
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": Once Upon a Timeroina_arwen on July 30th, 2014 05:39 pm (UTC)
Excellent approach - I love that the princess took her fate into her own hands, so to speak!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 30th, 2014 09:32 pm (UTC)
I can't really blame her, either. With such a hopeless future ahead, at least under the current terms, the only thing that might change it was finding out that the curse was not true-- or that it might not work the way she had been told.

Sometimes, it's worth the risk!
mamas_minionmamas_minion on July 30th, 2014 09:01 pm (UTC)
Intresting, I guess being made a virtual prisoner for most of your life , you would seek any type of escape even this one. Nicely done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 30th, 2014 09:34 pm (UTC)
I guess being made a virtual prisoner for most of your life , you would seek any type of escape even this one.

That is pretty much the life she was living, and after awhile I can see it being so tense and joyless and hopeless that you might choose the terrible "next thing" sooner rather than later. It isn't a fun choice, but it would be a relief.
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on July 30th, 2014 09:57 pm (UTC)
I can see where she'd feel that was her only choice, after being smothered like that.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on July 31st, 2014 08:37 pm (UTC)
It would be like living under the Sword of Damocles. After enough time and enough fear, you would reach a point where you just want the sword to fall and free you of that trap.