A Retelling of Sleeping Beauty
By Cameron Dokey
"LITTLE PRINCESS, LOVELY AS THE DAWN, WELL-NAMED AURORE . . ."
With these seemingly innocent words, the fate of a newborn, princess is sealed. For years the king and queen despaired of ever having a child. When Aurore arrives, though the entire kingdom celebrates, not all are overjoyed. They use her christening as an occasion for revenge, and her young life is overshadowed by a curse of death almost as soon as it has begun. Those who can, intervene, but evil has a way of holding fast. A sleep of a hundred years following the pricking of a finger is the best that can be done.
And so Aurore grows up. Forbidden princesslike tasks of embroidery and sewing, she explores the great outdoors, reveling in the flora and fauna that surround her castle home. Then one day she meets a handsome stranger in an enchanted wood and begins an adventure the likes of which she never dreamed of.
This is the story of the Sleeping Beauty, here quite awake and given new voice. Taunted by fate, Aurore soon learns that although she cannot sidestep her own destiny, love itself is actually the most powerful magic of all.
Though I fear, Majesties, it will be even less to your liking.
At these words, a silence fell upon us. A terrible silence, like a blight.
I knew what the soothsayer meant. We all did. If the spells spoken over me in my cradle were fulfilled, the calamities which threatened to destroy us all would stop. All it would take was the prick of a finger. Followed by one bright drop of my life's blood.
I heard a rustle of garments as my father moved to stand beside me and my mother. "I want you to go back to your room and get a good night's sleep, Aurore. Don't let the ramblings of frightened fools keep you awake. In the morning, we will decide what must be done."
And though he turned away swiftly, he was not swift enough, for I saw the thing that was in his heart.
For his own fate. But even more, for mine.
THIS BOOK IS FOR:
Uncle Jack and Aunt Mary Ann, who, with the gift of a collection of stories about Princesses when I was eight years old, inspired a life-long love of tales which begin with "Once upon a time ..."
And it is for Charity, who made magic in my own backyard.
(A FANCY WAY OF SAYING INTRODUCTION)
I’ve heard it said (though I can't say whether or not it's true) that all good stories begin in the same way, with the exact same words.
Since I naturally want you to find my story a good one, one that keeps you reading as much for the comfort of familiar details as for the new ones that surprise you, I've decided to stick to tradition.
You know the words, don't you?
Of course you do.
Once upon a time . . .
There. Thank goodness that's over with.
Now that I've gotten the traditional opening off my chest, I'm free to tell my story any way I want to. Because isn't that at least part of the reason for telling your own life story? To tell the truth at last. Your truth, your way. Not the truth other people think you should tell in the way they think you should tell it. Which is really just another way of saying the way that makes them look best and feel the least uncomfortable.
Stories are tricky things, aren't they?
Because the thing about them is that the same events can be told any number of ways. It all depends on what you think is important, and, when the important stuff is happening, whether you're looking directly at it or looking away.
Here we come to my first true confession, which, coincidentally, may also be my story's first surprise. (By which I mostly mean that it surprises me.) Now that I've actually used those words (once upon a time) I have to confess that they don't seem so stupid and traditional after all. Actually I kind of like them. They have a certain ring. They conjure, like a spell.
And I suppose the fact that I'm not the first to use them doesn't automatically make me unoriginal. Isn't it the words that follow once upon a time that make a story truly come alive?
All right. That settles it. If I'm going to tell my story (which I am), I want to tell it right. So I think this means I need to start 6
over, this time really believing in once upon a time. Believing that it will draw you in, take you with me to a place you've never been before. (You only think you have—a thing that may well be my story's first surprise for you.)
Close your eyes. Now conjure up your favorite door within your mind. Perhaps it leads to a room you visit everyday. Or maybe it's for special occasions, the place you go to be safe and warm and comfortably alone. Perhaps the door is actually a garden gate, an entryway to a place filled with the mysteries of living things. Perhaps it's simply the front door to your own home. Are you going out, or going in? Never mind.
I'll tell you about the door I conjure. It is made of old, dark oak with iron handles and hinges. Not fancy, but sturdy and serviceable. A trustworthy sort of door. You know what lies beyond it, don't you?
That's right. My truth. My way. My story.
Can you feel its unseen forces gathering around you? The handle of the door slips from your hand and the door, my door, begins to open wide. Before you realize what you've done, you've accepted the invitation, put one foot across the threshold. That's all it takes. You're in for it now.
Begin at the beginning, the place where all good stories start.
You know the way. Of course you do.
. . . and so long ago that the time I speak of can be remembered only in a story, a virtuous king and queen (my parents) ruled over a land that was fair and prosperous (though it wasn't all that large).
Their kingdom being at peace, and their people being well fed and content, you might think the king and queen would be so also. But alas, it seems they were not. (Content.) For they lacked the one thing which would make their happiness complete: a child.
For years, the king and queen had dreamed and waited. Long years, and so many of them that, one by one, their hopes for a child began to pack their bags and depart. And this stealing away 7
of hope eventually took its toll. It compelled the king to do a thing he did not wish to do, a thing he never would have done, had he not lost hope for a child of his own. He named his younger brother's son as his heir apparent, the brother being deceased and therefore not available himself.
The boy's name was Oswald.
Not that anybody ever called him that. His propensity for skulking in corridors the better to learn other people's business (particularly their secrets), combined with his habit of playing nasty practical jokes based on what he'd learned, had earned him a nickname.
Everybody called him Prince Charming. Because he wasn't.
After many years of wishing for a child to no avail, a terrible day arrived. This was the day the king and queen awoke to discover that all their hopes were well and truly gone. But this turned out to have an unlooked-for benefit, for the absence of hope left a vacuum, a void. And now I'll tell you another thing I've heard said, and this I know is true: Nature hates a void. As soon as one occurs, something has to rush in to fill the empty space, for that is the way nature wants things to go.
And so it was that the void created by the desertion of their hopes turned out to be the best possible thing that could have happened to my parents. For in hope's absence, a miracle arrived.
On the very same day that she realized all her hopes had fled, the queen also realized she was with child. A thing that, when she informed her husband, caused both their hearts to fill with joy. So much so that all their hopes heard the ringing of it, halted in their flight, turned around, and raced right back home.
Between their hopes, their miracle, and their joy and wonder at both, my parents' hearts were therefore filled to overflowing before I was even born.
Many great things were predicted for me. Naturally, I would grow up straight and true, for that is what's supposed to happen when you are born royal. I would be beautiful if a girl, handsome if a boy. Above all, I would do my duty. First, last, always. When I put in my appearance on the exact same day the royal soothsayer had appointed, this was taken to be a sign that I would fulfill all these predictions, plus many more.
Several years and many disappointments later, my mother would be overheard to remark that the day of my birth was the 8
only occasion she could recall on which I had been dutiful according to her definition. When my father protested that she was being too hard on me, she settled for the unarguable statement that it was most certainly the only occasion for which I had ever been on time.
In spite of all that happened later, every account I have ever heard concerning my actual birth relates that Papa and Maman were so delighted that a child had arrived at last that they were willing to overlook the fact that I was a girl and not a boy, boys being the preferred rulers of kingdoms, as you must know. For reasons that my nurse once explained to me were largely reproductive, but that I don't think I'll go into here and now.
I was born on a bright but chilly day in late September. Nurse has told me that my very presence warmed the room, for, even then, my hair was bright as the dawn. It made such a perfect arc around my head that it resembled a halo, an aureole. A combination of circumstances that caused my mother to immediately proclaim that the only name which could do me credit was Aurore.
This though she and my father had discussed naming me after his mother, whose name had been Henriette-Hortense. But, as my father was not about to deny my mother anything in the moments immediately following my birth, that plan was abandoned and the deed was done. From that moment forward, I was called Aurore.
It was, and still is, the custom in the country of my birth to hold a christening when a babe has reached the age of one month old. How this period of time came to be decided upon isn't clearly remembered, but it's generally assumed that the reason is twofold. A month is long enough after the birth so that a baby no longer appears quite so wrinkly and red, thus sparing those who come to congratulate the new parents considerable worry in the way of coming up with compliments on the beauty of the child. A month is also thought a long enough period to determine whether or not the infant is a good match in temperament for the name bestowed upon it shortly after its arrival. Many are the girls who are born Charlotte but end up as Esmerelda. Or the boys who begin life as Wilfrid but end up as just plain Bill. Well, not many, perhaps. But some.
In my case, however, there was no possibility that I might, even yet, become Henriette-Hortense. My hair having apparently grown even more golden with each passing day, and my eyes 9
even more blue and my skin more rose petal-like, according to the nurse, anyway, the matter was considered settled. I was to be Aurore. First, last, always