I sweep the frost from the path, whisking it away, just as my lady always asked of me when winter came. Some small part of me asks why I bother, when it will only build up again, with no feet to wander it but my own, and that of my broom.
It’s a curse that brought this everlasting winter on the castle of my birth. A curse, and love. Though what the difference is these days, I’m only half sure I remember.
With the grounds cleared, I gather my courage, to walk among statues.
It is a strange thing to spend a lifetime as a humble servant, caretaker of a castle that is always full to bursting with socialites, dignitaries, peasants begging alms—and then to spend another in the selfsame castle walls, full of emptiness and ice. Full of statues of those who once walked.
I make my way through the houses of the peasants first, see old friends halted in their daily lives, the same today as they have been for nearly a hundred years. Their faces haven’t aged a moment, much less a day. My own face has had similar luck—after all, I’m a sort of statue as well.
I wander through the markets, eyes watching for anything that needs helping, but besides dusting snow off the shoulders of the baker and a few others, there’s little I can do here.
And so I make my way into the castle. Here even less is disturbed, and I merely walk through the servants’ corridors and the kitchens. I run a damp cloth over the table and the mantelpiece in the great hall to collect what little dust has fallen, and the majority of my duties are done.
The greatest is always kept for the very last.
The door to the throne room creaks in protest as I push it aside, and there are my dearest charges. On a dais in the center of the room, the loveliest of girls—just a child, in my old eyes. She is stretched out in her slumber, the only one of them who has been neatly arranged, the only one of them whose skin is not the color of ice. She merely sleeps—has slept for ninety and nine years.
Her father sits on his chair overlooking all with frozen, unblinking eyes. I’ve often wondered if the king dreams, if any of them dream but her. There is calm determination in his face, and only the tiniest shadow of guilt. It was his shortsightedness, of course, and that of the queen’s, that brought this calamity upon us all.
The queen’s face is not so stoic. It has heartache written on it, and wretchedness, but a tiny glimmer of hope, as well. This winterland was of her choosing, and it was done to please and console her.
I rearrange the silken blanket over my young mistress, giving my lady a reassuring smile, in case she still sees through her ever-weeping eyes.
They did their best to prevent this. The curse was brought, of course, when they overlooked inviting the dark witch to my young mistress’ birth celebration. She alone had been denied, out of all the fairy folk, and so she came of her own accord, pronouncing discord and pain.
But my lord and lady did all they could to halt its coming true. They destroyed each spindle they could find when they knew that it was to be the downfall of my young mistress, and when that didn’t seem enough, they hid the fair lady away from even themselves for nineteen years.
Still, what the dark witch spoke when she came to the castle in vengeance still came to be. My young mistress was discovered, pricked her finger on the last remaining spindle, and succumbed to sleep for a hundred years.
My lady was in despair. Her child had been raised by kinder fairy folk, and while she had had news of my young mistress through them, her first view of the girl since she was a babe was on this very dais, sleeping so as to be dead.
It was the same kind fairy folk who granted my lady’s wish—if my young mistress must sleep for a hundred years, the whole of the province would share her fate. I was asked to continue my role as caretaker, in an altogether different manner. How could I refuse my lady?
The hundred years are almost gone, I know from visits from those gentle fairy folk, who have been kindly to me in my years of solitude.
Soon a prince will come, rouse my young mistress, and the rest of the castle grounds will follow.
For now, I wrap another shawl around my lady’s shoulders, and hope that she will be pleased with my service when she awakes.