What if the Sleeping Beauty Refused to Wake Up?
The rescue wasn't going at all how he planned. Prince Arpien intends to gain a throne and the sleeping beauty's heart with a single kiss that wakes her from the evil fairy's curse. But kissing the princess is only the beginning of a series of unforeseen obstacles: man-eating bugs, deadly spindles, talking lapdogs, and fiery pickles. The sleeping beauty is the biggest complication of all.
Princess Brierly is beautiful and Fairy-Gifted, but also...daft. After one hundred years of sleep imprisonment, Brierly refuses to believe this rescue is anything more than a tantalizing but doomed dream.
Arpien is drawn to the vibrancy beneath Brierly's indifferent exterior. Can they reclaim her kingdom? Do they dare trust in the Prince of the old tales to help them battle the evil fairy who cursed Brierly? What is the price of waking beauty?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)|
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His princess was dusty.
Arpien should have expected that. Anything lying undisturbed for a hundred years would gather dust. He'd crossed the ocean to find the right sword for this venture, but neglected to pack a feather duster.
Great Grandfather Herren had always referred to the enchanted princess's beauty as ethereal. It was, at least, unnatural. Her form outlined under the sheets was slender, the face delicate under the layer of grey. Her skin would be fair and clear, though the only evidence of that was the two streaks under her nostrils, where her breath had blown the dust away.
Arpien hovered over his enchanted princess. He had thought of her as his since childhood. Beautiful, ageless. The air would shimmer with magic as he kissed her soft lips, broke the evil fairy's spell, won a kingdom and her heart.
The anticlimax exhausted him. He was not going to put his mouth on hers until he mopped her off.
Arpien scanned the tower bedroom for a rag. The gauzy tatters of the pink and off-white bed curtains disintegrated at his touch. Oh. They were mostly cobwebs. He wiped the clingy strands on his trunk hose. The fibers twisted together like sticky grey yarn and finally fell to the floor. The age-swollen wooden dresser drawers complained and squeaked when he jimmied them open. Absent mice had long since shredded and remodeled the clothes inside into bedding. Absent, too, were the birds who had left a buildup of dried grass in the narrow openings of the archers' slits. White-purple droppings splattered the tapestries.
Sweaty, his arms scratched up by thorns, Arpien was still the cleanest thing in the room.
Arpien wadded the baggy, torn puff of his dark blue sleeve in his fist and wiped off the princess's mouth. She looked silly with that streak of white across her face, even less like a living human being than before. With clumsy hands he brushed off the rest of her face. Under one hundred years' filth, she was beautiful, he admitted. Even familiar, if beauty so extreme can ever be familiar. It made it easier to lower his lips over hers —
— and sneeze.
"Thorns and thistles!" He sneezed again. This was supposed to be romantic and exciting. Instead it was musty and about as warming as courting a corpse. In Great Grandfather Herren's name, he ought to at least free her from the Curse. Besides, he was a third son. He needed the kingdom. He bent over and planted a quick and decisive kiss on her lips.
Princess Brierly's eyelids flitted open and closed in an erratic rhythm, as though her eyelashes were a butterfly's wings. How long would it take eyes that had been sealed shut for one hundred years to adjust to the light of day? Her lashes stilled and framed two startling pools of blue-green. Her contracted pupils moved up to the headboard, left to the dingy bed curtains, and finally locked on Arpien, where he hovered post-pucker.
The princess's lips moved, but only a rasp came out of her mouth, as though her throat were lined with sackcloth. The line of her slender throat bobbed as she swallowed and tried again. This time she croaked.
It was enchanted princes that turned into frogs, right? Not enchanted princesses.
She must be scared and disoriented. He really ought to say something.
Thorns and thistles, this wasn't the speech he rehearsed at all.
"Fair Princess Brierly, my name —" He glanced away and back. "Uh, are you all right?"
Princess Brierly croaked at him again.
Arpien picked up a porcelain pitcher by the washstand. He scowled at the cobwebs and desiccated husks of bugs in its bottom and set it back down. He dug around in his battered doublet and extracted a skin of water. "Here."
Her head strained a few inches forward, just long enough for Arpien to notice the permanent indentation in her pillow. She flopped back down, and at last Arpien understood. Her atrophied muscles were too weak to allow her to sit up.
Curses left their marks.
Arpien eased down beside her. He cupped a tentative hand behind her head. Her hair slipped through his fingers like tangled silk, except for one matted clump. He tilted her head up so she could swallow the water he offered without choking. She grimaced and sputtered as though it were vinegar.
"Sorry." Arpien helped her roll on her side so she could finish coughing. "Are you all right now?"
She shrugged her eyebrows.
He took that as regal permission. He stood and cleared his throat. "Fair Princess Brierly." He whipped off his cap in the Half Bow of the Potential Wooer Upon First Stage Introductions and began again. "Fair Princess Brierly, my name is Prince Arpien Teric Elpomp Herren Trouvel of Conquisan."
Her rosebud lips quirked. Ah, his name must impress her. As it should — in Conquisan all young nobles practiced their names until they marched off the tongue with a military rhythm.
He puffed up and went on. "I have traveled many miles, across land and sea, valley and mountain. Many months, nay, years, have I sought this tower to fulfill a vow made long ago. In all my peregrinations, no woman's name but yours has ever rested on my lips. Now I humbly beseech your permission and claim the privilege of saving you."
She coughed, this time on her own dust. "Thanks."
Not the response he'd imagined for twelve years. The awkwardness of the situation drained his vocabulary, and he was left with no other recourse than to stare at her.
"Did you want to save me now or does later fit better into your schedule?" his princess said.
"Uh, now is fine."
He slipped his arm under her upper back and helped her sit up. He enjoyed the feel of her well-formed body in his arms, but his mind was equally occupied with the impolitic mechanics of it. He extracted her feet from under the blankets and planted them on the floor. It didn't even look like a natural sitting position, more like her legs were bent fork prongs.
She sat like that for a minute and narrowed her eyes.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Allow me to assist you."
She raised a finger to stall him. A pink circle, the size of a pinhead, scarred its tip. "No. Let me see if I can bend the rules."
She was like a newborn filly, but after several minutes she mastered her shaky limbs. She transferred her grip from the bedpost to his arm. They wobbled across the tower floor like a pair of knock-kneed dancers. The stairs that coiled up the highest tower of Castle Estepel had not seemed so narrow when Arpien climbed them as they did going down now. It didn't help that the points on the princess's shoes stuck out beyond her toes a full five inches. Arpien had never seen poulaines except in old paintings.
By the time they reached the bottom of the tower, Princess Brierly's legs trembled. She sank down on the last step and flashed a tentative look of triumph at him. The tiny smile awakened a new awareness in Arpien. She really was, somewhere under all that flaking cloud of dust, Beautiful. Capital-B Beautiful, in the way only a fairy Gift could make her.
"See? All I have to do is believe hard enough," she said.
"You're very strong, my lady."
"I haven't been this weak in years." She wiped her damp forehead on her sleeve and left a grey spot on the pink silk. She frowned at it.
Arpien knelt down in front of her. "My horse is waiting for us outside the gate. I can carry you there if you like."
"No. I'll conquer this."
Oh, but she really was strong. He smiled at her.
She blinked at him, as though taking him in for the first time. "You're too tall. And your eyes are the wrong color."
She had hero specifications?
"What's wrong with brown?" he said.
"Nothing. You've looked weirder. Remember that time you had antlers? Or the time you had an extra arm? Or my favorite" — her nose twitched — "when you melted into a puddle?"
"Uh — no."
She sighed. "Of course not."
After a few minutes' rest, she rose and they inched toward the stone archway. Thorny vines sealed the entrance.
"No." Arpien dug the fingers of both hands into the cloth of his already bedraggled cap. "No, no, no. I just cut a path through these." He gestured at the blocked entrance. "I thought once the Curse was broken, the thicket was supposed to vanish. How did the briars grow back in less than an hour?"
"I planned this rescue years in advance. This can't happen."
Princess Brierly cocked her head. "Can't?"
Arpien straightened his spine. He wanted to play the part of the rescuer, not some defrauded little boy. "We'll have to restock our food supplies. Though with what, I don't know."
"I don't need to eat."
"You are most selfless, Princess, but I hope such sacrifice will not be necessary if we ration our supplies. I calculated an hour to cut a path from the front gate to the castle walls. Instead, it took me four days. According to my research, the vademecum sword was supposed to cut through the briars like cobwebs. But chances are it'll take another four days to cut through the briars again. I only brought enough food for three days, not eight. Once we're out of Estepel I can hunt game in the forest. Until then, we have half a loaf of bread."
"Herren, we could see what's in the larder."
"Herren?" The clues started to click together. "You mean my great-grandfather. Thistles, people always said I took after him, but I didn't think —"
Would she mourn Herren? Was it sick to think of his own great-grandfather as a romantic rival?
Arpien cleared his throat, removed his cap, and pressed his palms together in the Fifth Stance of Bereavement for Distant Relatives and Especially Good Cooks. "Lady, it is with deepest sorrow that I must relay to you the eternal departure of your betrothed, King Herren Trouvel of Conquisan."
Brierly sighed. "All right. What name do you go by, again?"
"Prince Arpien Teric Elpomp Herren Trouvel of Conquisan." His name lacked the vigor of cadence it had earlier in the day. "Herren was my great-grandfather."
"It must be a shock to you, that your betrothed is dead, but you've slept one hundred years."
"That explains the neck crick." She pressed her ear to her shoulder.
Arpien heard a pop.
"So did you want to check the larder or would you rather try eating the briars?" she asked.
"My lady, didn't you understand? It's been one hundred years. There won't be anything left in the larder."
Her idea defied logic, but that didn't seem to bother her. They found the larder as he'd predicted it — empty except for mouse droppings and some ancient stems of herbs left to hang overhead. A skeleton of a chicken hung on a spit over cold ashes in the hearth, every last bit of flesh picked or rotted away.
Princess Brierly squinted again, this time at the table.
"Now what are you doing?"
"Imagining a feast. Brambleberries and clotted cream and yeast buns with the steam still rising from them. Do you have any requests?"
"Thinking of food makes me hungrier."
"Come, what's your favorite?"
"Goose liver in stewed fruit." It wasn't, but he preferred to think of foods that squelched his appetite.
"If you like." She narrowed her eyes for a full minute, then shrugged. "Sorry, didn't work."
This childlike game of pretend was enchanting. Wasn't it?
They found several bottles of wine, but the only food left in the castle was a crock of pickles. Arpien sniffed them and singed his nose hairs. "Ugh. What is that?"
"Grandmother pickles. A Rosarian delicacy. You're supposed to bury them in the ground on your tenth birthday and when your first grandchild is born, they'll be ready to eat." She nibbled on one. "Still good. Try one."
The mere odor was spicy and pungent enough to make tears run down Arpien's face. "I'll have to be a day or two hungrier before I'm ready for those." But he found a cloth bag for the crock and carried it back to the entrance for her.
Arpien drew his sword from his scabbard and hefted it like an axe against the tough vines of thorns. It took him a couple dozen swings to slice through each one. Brierly leaned against the wall and watched him. He reinvested himself in hearty blows that engaged all his muscles.
"Let me see if I can sharpen that for you," Princess Brierly said.
Arpien frowned but handed her the sword. It looked like a large but commonplace steel sword, nothing of note except a small ruby cut in the shape of a teardrop and inlaid in the blade near the hilt. She pressed the blade between her palms and slid her hands from hilt to tip.
Arpien flung a hand toward her. "Don't cut yourself."
Brierly handed the blade back. "Sorry. Can't help you."
"That was supposed to sharpen the blade?" Arpien said.
"Not today," Brierly said. "So that's a — vademecum — sword?"
"Aye." He started swinging again. "I would have been here months ago but I had to find it first. It was no mean feat. You must seek the sword, and it must seek you, that's how the ballads go."
"They say the Prince of Here and There fashioned it himself, centuries ago when he ruled."
He went on about his sword as he chopped briars. When he paused to look back at her, she was slumping as though she were the one who made a habit of melting into puddles.
"Am I boring you?"
"I'm a little tired."
After a hundred years of sleep, the first thing his princess wanted to do was take a nap? "Is that safe? Falling asleep?"
"I don't think I have a choice."
He relented. "Of course you're exhausted. It will take some time to regain your strength. Sleep in peace, fair princess, knowing I will guard you. Sweet dreams."
She exhaled a half-laugh. "Goodbye."CHAPTER 2
This rescue wasn't going as Arpien planned.
Arpien paused to shake out his numb arms and gazed at the napping princess. The worst of the dust had fallen off her. Even smudged here and there, with a bad case of bed head, she was still the most gorgeous creature in the known world. He wished he were worthier of her. He wished his rambling conversation didn't put her to sleep. It never occurred to him that it would be a problem. The legends said only true love could wake her from the Curse. True love was never at a loss for poignant words, was it?
His oldest brother Cryndien always said that perception was everything. Be forceful, be articulate, be proud. How else will people know your worth?
Maybe Princess Brierly wasn't smitten with him because he lacked eloquence. As she snoozed, Arpien practiced several possible speeches in his mind. He had a bad habit of mouthing along as he rehearsed, which made it all the more embarrassing when he noticed Princess Brierly watching him.
"Who are you?" she said.
"Prince Arpien Trouvel of Conquisan." That kiss hadn't been as memorable as he'd anticipated, but how could she forget him completely?
"Did you sleep well, my lady?" Arpien winced. In six words, prove to her you are neither sensitive nor eloquent.
Princess Brierly cocked her head at him like a bird. She gave a tiny, high-pitched "hm" of mild fascination.
He fed her a slice of stale bread and several of the sweet nothings he'd been practicing. She seemed more interested in the bread. While he regrouped his loquaciousness, he told her the rest of his plan. "As soon as we're through the briars, we'll ride for Boxleyn. That's the new capital of Rosaria. We can make it through Sentre Forest in less than a week, but we can take longer if you need. Do you think you can ride?"
Lunch was over too quickly, and he picked the sword back up again. "A distant cousin of yours is King of Rosaria now, but once he confirms your identity, he can transfer control of Sentre Forest to us. I was thinking we'd rule out of Castle Estepel, but now that I've seen these briars"— he hacked at a leathery vine —"I'm dubious. This property may not be the most conducive to launching a new kingdom. The budget may be tight our first few years of marriage, until we can manage our exports more effectively, but overall, it might be wiser to build a new place instead of investing in this old one. I imagine you have sentimental attachment to the place, though. What do you think?"
"All right we move or all right we stay?"
"Whatever makes you happy."
"I want you to be happy, too, Princess."
"It doesn't matter to me."
That was the way the rest of the day went. He shared with her his long-cherished dreams for their life together, and she shrugged. Maybe she was still tired, but wasn't her complete lack of interest in her own future a little — odd? Was there something wrong with him — or with her? He was relieved when the dimming daylight gave him an excuse to quit chopping and talking. His arms, tongue, and mind ached.
"Time to go to sleep," he said.
"All right." Was that amusement in her voice? Too dark to read her face.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Waking Beauty"
Copyright © 2015 Sarah E. Morin.
Excerpted by permission of Third Day Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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