This will be my last After Ever After story for a little while. This one I have taken one of my own favourite fairy tales as the jumping-off point – Sleeping Beauty. Disney comes under a lot of scrutiny for the lack of agency given to its early princesses. This is particularly the case for Sleeping Beauty, wherein Aurora (the titular Sleeping Beauty) had only eighteen line of dialogue in the whole film.
Even so, Sleeping Beauty is one of my favourite Disney films, for the simple reason that it is the first time that you really see the prince fight for the woman he loves. Before Sleeping Beauty, the princes were almost an after-thought; just showing up at the end to sweep the heroine off her feet. But Prince Philip has more character than that and really put himself on the line for Aurora, and I appreciate that about him.
Anyway, very little of that has much to do with the story that is to follow, other than to explain my choice in source material. For this story, I looked back at earlier versions of Sleeping Beauty, as Disney managed to gloss smoothly over the original curse, which was supposed to keep Aurora asleep for a full century; not to mention some of the more disturbing and macabre plot points that I won’t go into here.
In the end, it was the synopsis for the ballet version that I found resonated with me the most. This seemed to be the quintessential version of the tale that I remembered from my childhood. It is fairly similar to the Disney version, but does not skip over the one hundred years of sleep. And of course, they both culminate in the ever important kiss that awakens the sleeping princess.
The power of True Love’s Kiss is a common theme in fairy tales (particularly those that involve sleeping princesses – I’m looking at you, Snow White). It is said to be the most powerful force in the world and can outwit even the most iron-clad of curses.
So, this is what occurred to me when thinking about this story: What if the power of True Love’s Kiss came with a downside?
This story takes place a few years after Aurora has been woken up by her prince and is coming to terms with what that downside could be.
Insomnia: The Downside to True Love’s Kiss
She remembered her dreams vividly. Everything that had flited past her closed eyelids for the last one hundred years. She could tell the ones that had been dredged up from her own memories. Dreams of the cottage in the woods. The palace. The women who had raised her away from harm. Her parents – the king and queen. Dreams of spinning wheels on fire and sharp objects snapped in two and shuffled out of sight. She remembered dreaming of her own hand stretched in front of her, as if being guided by an invisible force towards the spindle; her blood blossoming from her finger as she fell.
Those had been her dreams. They repeated for years as she slept on in the cold tower. Then other dreams had joined them. Dreams conjured by the Lilac Fairy – her protector. She had visited her there. Watched over her, placed images in her mind of the world around her; keeping her company until the time came for her to be awoken. When the Lilac Fairy had found him – her prince, the one who would break the spell – she had brought with her dreams of his face, his voice. Dreams to let her know he was near. That the nightmare would end soon.
She loved him before she awoke and knew him instantly upon opening her eyes as Ture Love’s Kiss worked its magic upon her.
“Sleep well my love,” Aurora said softly, kissing the forehead of her prince as his eyes closed and he drifted effortlessly to sleep.
And how she envied him.
The blessed release, the peaceful nothingness of slumber that took him out of the world for a time. The release she would never know again.
It had been three years, two months, and twenty-seven days since the prince had awoken her from her one hundred years of sleep. From her dreams.
Aurora closed her eyes as her head sank into the pillows. She knew it was a waste of time. Her situation had been the same these three long years. Even the Lilac Fairy had not foreseen this side effect. Even she was at a loss to offer any sort of advice or remedy. It seemed even supremely magical and benevolent beings had their limits.
When Aurora thought about it – and she had thought about it, a lot, most nights for three years – it shouldn’t have been a surprise. True Love’s Kiss was, after all, the most powerful force known in the world. Powerful enough to counter even he strongest of curses. Rare enough to be utterly priceless when found. And just the force that when presented with a curse of perpetual sleep, would counter it with a blessing of perpetual wakefulness.
In the three years, two months, and twenty-seven days since Aurora’s awakening, there had not been a single moment in which she had enjoyed slumber. Not since his lips had first touched hers.
At first, she hadn’t minded this. She had spent so long asleep, quite literally dead to the world, that the last thing she wanted to do was drift off again. In truth, she had been afraid to begin with that if she did fall asleep again, it would be forever, and no amount of love – true or otherwise – would be able to wake her.
But when her mind had raced on and on and on for several weeks with no sign of stopping for even a light doze, she started to worry.
Her prince had been at her side, determined to find some solution; ready to be set on any quest to fetch even the rarest of items that could help. But there was nothing to be done.
It was some months before the Lilac Fairy returned to the kingdom with confirmation of Aurora’s fate. As the curse had been that of sleep, the cure was to remain awake. The Council of Fairies, so the Lilac Fairy had informed them, had debated this matter at length, each fairy theorising how long this phenomenon would last.
The Golden Fairy was convinced the effect would fade naturally over tie, that in a few years (maybe) she would sleep soundly once more.
The Silver Fairy was not so optimistic. She said the curse had been for one hundred years, so the cure would be equal in length.
“Am I likely to live that long?” Aurora had asked, half dreading the answer.
“If only I could tell, m’lady,” had been the Lilac Fairy’s reply.
But it had been the Diamond Fairy’s theory that had given Aurora pause. If she had been able to sleep at all, this would have been enough to keep her awake on its own.
The Diamond Fairy, in her understanding of True Love’s Kiss, theorised that its effects would only last as long as the beholder endured. That as long as the prince lived, Aurora would remain awake. That upon the moment of his death, she would sleep again.
Next to her, the prince snored – a deep, raspy, nasal sound that reverberated through the pillows and into her ears. Aurora’s eyes opened grudgingly, her lips pursed. A mixture of annoyance and jealousy squirmed through her thoughts as she turned her face towards him and watched him sleep on. Each sound that issued from his throat dug a little deeper into her as she waited for the noise to stop.
After a while, he shifted in his sleep and settled. Silence followed. Seconds ticked by without the prince’s sonorous slumber. Aurora sighed with relief and left her irritation abate on a deep releasing breath. As the last of the tension left her –
The noise erupted from him once more.
Aurora shoved the bedsheets aside and clambered out of the bed, away from the prince before she did something she would regret. As she paced the chamber, her mind returned once more to the Diamond Fairy’s theory on her situation.
The thought had crossed her mind – fleetingly, of course – that the answer to her predicament was simple. If sleep would return to her at the prince’s demise, then that could be arranged. Her father was the king, after all. He knew people capable of taking care of these things discretely.
Or at least, he had known people. She reminded herself that her father and mother, and members of the court, had been asleep for a century with her – the entire castle suspended and forgotten for all that time. It was likely that the assassins he had known had perished long ago. She couldn’t imagine they had all been within in the castle bounds when the curse took effect.
There had been nights recently when her mind had begun to circle around various scenarios wherein the prince’s death would be seen as an unfortunate accident. Scenarios that usually involved a patch of water at the top of a long stone staircases, or worn out leather on the strap of his horse’s saddle. A few even took place by the river after a particularly heavy fall of rain.
One of the simplest solutions she had divined in her more morbid musings was simply to smother him as he slept. In all honesty, she had considered this just to stop the incessant drone of his snoring.
She did not care to dwell on these thoughts. Not because she could not bare to lose the prince, though she did admit it would be a dreadful tragedy to endure, but because she kept coming back to the Diamond Fairy’s cryptic words.
The phrasing of her prediction had always troubled Aurora: that upon the moment of his death, she would sleep again.
There was a finality to it that she could not ignore.
Aurora couldn’t help thinking that this sleep would be forever. That once asleep, and without her true love to rouse her again, there would be no end to that slumber. The curse would be permanent. She would sleep until her heart ceased to beat.
She had wondered if she would feel the moment that happened. Would it play into her dreams? Or would her dreams just… stop?
The prince continued to snore as Aurora slumped into an armchair by the window. She shifted the cushion from the back of the chair and settled it in front of her, her arms hugging it to her chest.
Even with the knowledge of what the Council of Fairies had deduced, the prince had been determined for a while that a solution could be found. He had announced that he would neither sleep nor rest until his princess could do likewise. As it turned out, this was merely a figure of speech. It was less than two days later that his eyes had drooped, and he slept soundly again. But the spirit of his proclamation lived on. He scoured the land for physicians and alchemists, apothecaries and hypnotists. All to no avail.
The concoctions brewed by the former three groups did nothing but dull her mind and body until she was all but a fumbling drunk lolloping and crashing around the castle, still fully alert despite her sluggish limbs. As for the hypnotists, if she hadn’t thought them to be charlatans before encountering them, she certainly did afterwards.
It was not long after a particularly irksome hypnotist had taken his leave of the castle that Aurora had insisted that the prince stop his efforts. Clearly, the fairies were right. Nothing short of ending his life could bring her any kind of release. And she was not prepared to entertain that notion. Publicly, at least.
That had been just over two years ago. Now, on her one thousand one hundred and eighty third restless night in a row, she was willing to admit her resolve was wavering in that regard.
Most people struggled to stave off sleep for more than a few nights before they were miserable and unbearable to be around. In all of this, Aurora was aware that she had never felt exhaustion – not in the same way most people would describe it – but her fair nature had taken a beating. Her courtiers and servants pretended not to notice, but she knew there were times – particularly in winter when the nights were longest – that she was aware they pandered to her every whim, afraid to upset the fragile equilibrium of her mood that day.
The days she found hardest to mask her frustration were the days that her mind refused to move on from her ever-present conundrum. Today had been one such day.
Could his death put her back under the power of the curse? Was it better to be forever awake than trapped in her own world of dreams for another one hundred years? Or longer.
In her present frame of mind, one hundred years of sleep seemed the same to her as one hundred seconds. Having gone without it for so long, she wondered if she would know the difference?
A chill ran through her as a gust of wind forced its way through the window cracks and ruffled the heavy damask curtains and illuminated her prince’s face. He was so serene in his slumber. His features so contented and relaxed. She couldn’t help wondering what he was dreaming about right now.
And how she envied him.
The chill met her again and the longing to be warm under the bedsheets over-took her restlessness. With a wearied sigh, she rose from the chair and made her way back to the bed.
The cushion still held in her hand.