Sleeping Beauty: A Fractured Fairy Tale
Disclaimer: I don't own Rurouni Kenshin, and just to be safe I'll add that I don't own anything even relating to Disney. I don't think anyone owns the original story, since it's a folk tale.
In fact, I think that the story probably was a lot more terrifying back in the day before we had a neatly packaged animated version. Maybe I wanted to capture some of that human element again. Ah well.
With a minimum of fanfare, I'll simply say that I was inspired to write this and quickly. Therefore, if it doesn't meet my highly compromising standards (ha!) then I'm inclined to post it anyway. Hope you all find it fun. That's the intention. Just a fast little tale. . . or at least as quick as any of my shorts try to be.
It all started with a birth. A lot of things do, when you think about it.
Wait. Stop. That's not quite correct. We're getting ahead of ourselves. You see, if we are going to be accurate this all really started with a death.
Long ago, before an enchantress named Tomoe knew of pain and suffering, she had a fiancé. He was a good man, and a gentle man, but he was a warrior just the same. When she remembered him, later, all she could ever speak of were his hands and his voice. They were deft hands, ones that wielded a sword as skillfully as they could unknot her hair when he would sometimes brush it for her. His voice was gentle, a whisper through the leaves, and it reminded her of autumn. The memory of his voice surpassed even his name in her fevered mind. They had grown up together.
But this fall would never realize a winter, for a warrior is trained to fight and when they brought back the body no one was surprised, not even Tomoe. They were going to be married so soon, and if the villagers thought the girl cold because of her lack of grief, it was simply a relief to see a person not touched by the plague of tears that had been spreading in endemic proportions. The country was rife with civil war, and the new king had yet to be decided. Yet the politics and conjectures did nothing for the girl who watched her love and sanity be carried home to her motionless beneath a sheet. She did not cry, but for every tear she did not shed, another grain of something raw unfurled inside of her.
An enchantress was born. Born of blood, this poor child had no recourse or knowledge to deal with these powers.
Some stories were meant to end happily, but not hers, and when the understanding of this finally reached her inside of her almost coma-like sense of trauma, she considered taking her own life. Tomoe found that she couldn't take her own life. Not yet. He wouldn't have wanted that for her. Her powers, untrained and wild, lashed out at awkward times, earning her the scorn and fear of her people.
"Poor girl. . ." They said it behind her back, but few would chance her madness and sorrow to offer that human compassion which this broken girl needed so desperately.
So she left her erstwhile home, and she wandered. . .
And long. . .
Until the mountains swallowed her up and deep caverns were filled with her sadness. In those mountains she discovered monsters, but even these creatures of the underground feared her power, grown stronger now with passage of time and the intensity of her pain. They brought her gifts to appease the fluctuations of mood that threatened to destroy their homes if she was left alone. They gave food. One built a bed. But it was no enough, and the storms that raged outside of the mountain, making it forever dark a mile in every direction, killed off most of the sustaining plants. Only the cavern dwellers stayed to be her subjects.
And so the Western Spire was slowly constructed, where Tomoe lived with her army of creatures that she controlled but remained only vaguely aware of. It took only a few years for the superstitions to begin.
The edge of the kingdom was as rural as the rest, and slowly the tales spread, aided by the continuing war that sapped the finest youth from the farms of every common person and the castles of noble lords. They said that for every soldier killed, the wicked enchantress shed a tear of blood, drunk from the sacrifices brought to her.
If they knew that instead she wandered, near dead from exposure, about her wild and dark domain then perhaps they would have pitied her more. Or at all. She was a creature that needed pity, or perhaps something more and some think that that is what really saved the boy that day.
It was one of these lost expeditions that brought Tomoe to the narrow pass that travelers used to cross her mountains only if they were truly desperate. This winter had been particularly harsh, and this was the quickest way, but the monsters were hungry and even bodyguards could not make out the more vicious ones in the flurries of snow. Tomoe looked at clothes inside of a wagon, one of its wheels torn off entirely. A wolf bared its teeth at Tomoe, only to receive the same stony glare that she honored all threats with.
The wolf backed away whining.
Tomoe looked in at the bundle the wolf had been nosing, when the bundle sneezed.
It was a baby. A perfect little boy with a patch of wild black hair on his scalp and shockingly colored eyes that seemed to glow blue green under her gaze, still blank, but cracking in this snow storm as if the sun had risen in this wagon. Ice floes started to move, exposing just enough of her heart to start it pumping again.
There was little she could offer this bundle, but as she gathered it to her and whispered the curse of her unconditional love, she heard his laugh and smiled herself for the first time in what felt like eons to her.
"We are siblings, little one." Her mind gained some footing, all for the sake of her bundle. "My darling brother. My Enishi." And as she stroked the soft hair of his head it turned white to her touch. This was her mark upon him, her favor, her inheritance.
She brought him home and fed him. The monsters soon felt the change in mood, and now once in a while the storms would cease their rage even if the boiling clouds never left and darkness held permanent sway over the mountain. Enishi grew up with goblins and night terrors for playmates, and the only one of them that he knew how to love was the girl who called him brother. But she was the most terrible of them all, and the most serenely beautiful.
For Enishi had brought back enough of her sanity to direct her energies. She was too powerful and too full of hurt, and she devoted her time to staring into the crystal globe that was mounted in the center of her great throne room. It showed her any portion of the kingdom, and in it they both saw acts of war cruel and terrible. Tomoe absorbed it, looking for something, while Enishi simply absorbed it.
When Enishi was six, a beam of light shone through the permanent clouds. Startled at this unprecedented turn of events, Enishi decided to ask his sister what had happened to cause this phenomena. The light had nearly blinded him, and he feared it. He moved down from playing with the ravens in the high tower down to the throne room where Tomoe was collapsed on the floor. His six year old self could not understand what was going on, so he simply sat and waited, surrounded by Tomoe's minions as they apprehensively waited for Tomoe to make a move.
Tomoe woke and picked herself up off of the floor. Her glance, like a hug in how it reassured Enishi, offered up simply fright to the creatures in the room besides those two. Light was gone, replaced by the play of lightening in dark clouds above.
"It is time to greet the new king."
Enishi simply nodded.
"Listen, I am NOT wearing them and that is final." Sanosuke sauntered through the street, on one side of the man he was addressing with the rude point of a finger.
"This is an official occasion. If you don't wear them then I will be forced to take action. I don't take insubordination lightly."
The laugh from the other side of the stoic leader made Sanosuke feel twice as disgruntled.
"It isn't as if people's are going to be surprised, Sanosuke. I mean, you've always been a fairy and so have I. We must simply make the best of it. Think of all the free food." Soujiro's optimistic take on things was not what Sanosuke wanted to hear.
"Listen, rookie, I have a reputation to uphold. . ."
"What reputation? You'll wear the wings or else I'll force you to wear the outfit too. The official outfit. We're a team, and you must be part of it." Aoshi moved forward with purpose towards the line of nobles that were moving towards the castle and away from Sanosuke who fumed and removed a wand from within a deep pocket.
A flick and a twirl of the wand later, Sanosuke was sporting his much hated wings.
"See? That wasn't so bad was it?"
"Shut your trap Soujiro. Your smile is starting to make my face hurt."
They bickered (or rather Sanosuke insulted Soujiro and Soujiro laughed it off) until Aoshi finally gave way just a little.
"Halt!" Aoshi turned to face his team. "You are embarrassing us, both of you. We fairies have a dignity to maintain."
"What dignity?" Sanosuke seemed incredulous. "We got assigned by the organization here because we messed up on that whole beast thing. You know it, I know it. We're the laughingstock of our kind anyway why not just accept it?"
Aoshi took a deep breath and counted to ten before he spoke.
"And need I remind you who exactly it was who enchanted the rose with the wrong spell?"
Sano shrugged. "A frog is a beast."
"It isn't exactly big and fearsome now, is it?" Aoshi snapped.
"Hey, I'd be scared of a six foot frog if I were some random person."
"That isn't the point at all." Aoshi tried to salvage the situation. "At any rate, let's just greet the king later when we're all a little more. . . composed."
Soujiro was moving from the line with the rest of them when he heard a page boy talking to a flag bearer.
"And then the day we got the announcement, there was this flash from the mountain. . . the witch. . . she knows."
Even if his smile didn't falter, Soujiro felt his brow knit in concern. Tomoe hadn't moved from her tower in years, there was no reason to believe she'd make trouble today. What fault could she find with a christening?
His wings sprang to life, lifting his small form from the ground before he reduced his size and zipped after his colleagues. All they needed to do was give their gifts to the girl that had born to the newly crowned King Goro and his wife Queen Tokio.
This was Soujiro's first time in the field. Up until now he had been training with the other fairies his age. It was difficult to be a fairy in this day and age. People didn't have much faith in their gentle and beneficent magic, but when the invitation came to attend the christening of the new princess of this sadly depleted and still restless kingdom Soujiro knew he had to volunteer. While the other members of his class went on to be fairy godmothers or hermits awaiting deserving lost children, he knew he had to be active and make a difference.
Sanosuke and Aoshi were legend. Or at least Sanosuke was legend for his screw ups even as Aoshi was famous for somehow fixing them. It was just a sad twist of fate that Sanosuke took to people so well whereas Aoshi had a godchild run crying from him once (much to his displeasure). They were made a team not too long ago, and with Soujiro just added on, Aoshi seemed like he felt even more like he needed to bear up the responsibility of their success.
Well, Soujiro knew exactly what he was giving the princess, so there was nothing to worry about from him. The gods only knew what Sanosuke would gift the princess with. Knowing his it would probably be something ridiculous like good sword skills.
"Oi! Soujiro! Hurry it up!" Sanosuke's distinctive yell forced the young fairy to speed up and rejoin the duo.
"So, Sanosuke, just so we don't double up on anything, what are you giving the princess?"
Aoshi seemed to tilt his head back to try to catch the answer to Soujiro's question more easily. The tall man rubbed his chin, then chewed on the tip of his wand. Finally, a big grin spread across his face.
"Dunno, I was gonna wing it."
All three of them narrowly avoided a midair collision as Aoshi halted.
"No. Just no. You are not doing this to us."
"Don't worry, Aoshi, I have some things in mind. It'll be fine I promise. You get too serious about this stuff." Sanosuke fiddled with his wand in a nervous fashion, belying his casual tone.
Aoshi flew up and poked a finger into Sanosuke's chest. "This little girl has to live with this for her whole life. If you take this blessing as a joke, I swear I'll cut off those wings you complain about so much and feed them to a troll."
Even though he looked sobered, Sanosuke still stuck out his tongue at Aoshi when the other man had gone down to tell the attendant to announce their arrival to the court.
"That man takes this job a little too seriously."
Soujiro deigned not to comment.
"Their Excellencies, the fairies Aoshi, Sanosuke, and Soujiro." The loud voice below cued them into their needful attention.
"Looks like we're up." Sanosuke glowed red, to Soujiro's blue and Aoshi's yellow and the three of them enlarged and landed neatly before the thrones and the bassinet at the end of the large hall.
King Goro rose to shake Aoshi's hand as the Queen greeted all three of them with a hug. She whispered her thanks to each of them, and the fairies got an idea that perhaps it was this beaming queen who had been the inspiration behind their invitation.
As Aoshi traded the formalities with the king, Sanosuke and Soujiro wandered over to look at the princess with Queen Tokio as more nobles were announced and entered the hall busy with noise and movement. The laughing baby seemed oblivious.
"Would you like to hold her?" Sanosuke couldn't believe he had been asked such a question, but the confidence that the queen held about her person reassured him.
"Sure, hand her on up." Soujiro hoped that the sometimes gruff but mostly flippant fairy knew what he was doing.
More importantly, he hoped that Sanosuke knew that babies didn't actually bounce. Not literally anyway. Of course, once the little girl was in his arms, Soujiro knew that his fears were ridiculous. Sanosuke couldn't take his eyes off the little girl, and the big hands cradled her to his chest even as she reached for his gravity defying hair and he laughed at her efforts.
The proud queen whispered to the two fairies. "You want to know what her name will be? We're announcing it after your gifts are bestowed."
Sanosuke just nodded, still entranced by the child.
"Kaoru. Her name will be Kaoru." Tokio looked at the blue eyes that took after hers with only flecks of her father's gold at the edges. "She was born on the day the war ended. Her father and I will keep this kingdom peaceful for her at any cost." Soujiro, for only a moment, felt the steel of her glance. Tokio took back her precious bundle from a reluctant Sanosuke.
Goro got the attention of the court, an assortment of uneasy allies and somewhat seething losing factions. Their fates were decided a month ago, when the civil war ended and Goro was chosen as the new leader. Or rather, he chose himself, as he held the banner of his enemy before him in triumph but stained with the blood of both of them. He swore on the day of his small coronation that he would destroy any evil that came before him. Little did he know that there was evil waiting for him that he could not conquer.
When their names were mentioned, the three fairies approached the bassinet. Soujiro first, then Aoshi, with an oddly reflective Sanosuke behind them all.
"My sweet laughing princess," Soujiro swept his wand up in a well practiced arc as he concentrated on the burst of power that came from within it. "I give to you the ability of being a good judge of character. There are many evils in this world, but there is good as well, and we are lucky if we can tell one from the other for people wear many faces. You shall see the reality. This is my gift to you." With the last words spoken he bound the spell to the princess, changing her fate.
It didn't need to be done, but people liked flashy magic and the rain of sparkling blue that accompanied his finishing waves produced a cascade of murmurs from the crowd. Aoshi looked irritated with him, since he disapproved of flashy magic, but Soujiro had set the standard and he would remain consistent. Aoshi stepped up to the princess.
"Precious princess," There was the distinctive sweep of Aoshi's wand, with its brisk movements. "You have as much beauty and intelligence as anyone can ask for in this world, and I see it in your fate. All I can offer you is courage. Courage to fight for your beliefs, to speak your mind, or to do what must be done. Fear is a powerful force in this world, but it will never rule your life. This is my gift to you." The shower of yellow glitter landed around the little girl, and she reached out small hands to catch what she could.
Sanosuke stepped up, and searched for his wand through pockets while Aoshi boiled in irritation near them. When he found it, and saluted the waiting crowd they gave a little laugh.
"Dearest princess. . ." But he got no further for above them the windows shattered and a burst of glass and snow rained down upon the screaming crowd. Sanosuke had leapt to cover the princess as she began to cry from the commotion. Tokio and Goro were quick to act as they calmed the crowd with a mere yell for silence. Goro was a leader of men, and Tokio commanded more than a little respect and fear by his side. The queen rescued her child from the bassinet and held her close and she wailed.
Darkness concentrated in the center of the room until a woman's form solidified, a child with wild white hair stood by her with a peculiar smile on his face. They were like demons in the midst of these frightened people. Those who had thought the tales of the enchantress in the western mountains was just a fabrication found they needed to revise their opinions. She was very real and strangely frightening for all her form was so frail looking.
Tomoe stood in a simple dress, shawl about her shoulders, thought she didn't look as if she felt any of the cold she had brought with her. Her glossy black hair was tied back, and her black eyes seemed to look deep into the well of her soul where turbulent currents barely stirred the surface. She looked around, as if surprised at where she found herself.
"What a mess I have made." The shards of glass that covered the floor glowed purple and reconstituted themselves into windows above once again. Still, it was as cold as winter despite the summer sun outside.
Now turning her attention the baby Sanosuke and Tokio guarded, Tomoe looked almost tender. The boy at her side captured her glance next, but as if he reminded her of something, her eyes became hard again.
"I have yet to thank you, dear king, for ending the war. The war that you gained your kingdom through. That you also gained a wife and a child from, while thousands died for and because of you. . . Perhaps I can show my thanks by offering my own gift to this little child of yours."
Soujiro felt stabs of guilt. If only he had said something. . . maybe they could have come up with a plan. Both he and Aoshi's magic was severely depleted after their gifts and it would be days before they had enough power to face up against the likes of Tomoe. Sanosuke was their only hope, but there was no way he knew what to do and the spell he had started would be lost if he did anything to bind the witch, as well as possibly fouling whatever magic he tried to transform it into.
He also knew something else: that Tomoe was only human, and a human did not have the energy or ability to offer a gift like fairies did without paying a terrible consequence.
"Listen well!" Her soft voice rose in volume, becoming a booming presence of its own before those assembled. "The princess will indeed grow up strong and good, lovely and loved, possessing every blessing. . . but" The entire hall seemed to be holding their breath. "Before the dawn of her eighteenth year, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and enter the sleep we never exit. She will die as all mortals must. Unlucky princess, this is my gift to you. . .and to your kingdom." The three fairies saw her purple binds of magic encircle the baby and were helpless to prevent it. Tomoe was using her very life force to cast this magic. She would not live long past this day, and they need only wait for her reign of malice to end even if her curse would carry on.
The little boy clung to her skirts as she nearly collapsed before them all. With a cough, Tomoe rose, and with the second smile she had given since the day she beheld her dead fiancé, she vanished.
Those present were left to their shock.
With a tightening of his lips, the general once known as The Wolf but now known to all as their sovereign turned to the fairies with accusations in his eyes but only a question on his lips:
"Can you undo this curse?"
Aoshi, stoic as always but still moved by his helplessness, found himself unable to express anything to this father. He looked to Sanosuke, the tall dangerous looking man who found himself captured in the gaze of the baby who had only stopped crying when Tomoe had fled.
"Your majesty, 'once a gift is given it cannot be rescinded'." The official words sounded strange on Sanosuke's lips, as he invoked an ancient rule that their kind had not been obliged to explain in centuries. "But I'll still do what I can for the kid."
Sanosuke concentrated, trying to think before he finished the ritual he had begun previous to Tomoe's entrance.
". . . any gift I could give you would do little I'm afraid. Instead of talents, I'll give you a chance. Instead of death, I offer you a half-life. For sleep you shall enter, but from sleep you will awaken through the tried and true power of a kiss. True love shall save you, and for love you shall wait, preserved from time or decay until he arrives. This is my gift to you."
Tokio nodded to Sanosuke, baby still clutched to her chest, thanking him while her throat was too choked for words to escape.
People began to move and breathe again as they felt the need to talk about what they had witnessed. It was an ill omen for the new king to face such a thing, and already his enemies had forgotten their terror of the specter of Tomoe and instead reveled in this turn of luck. The Wolf may be strong, but this would eat at him, and if he showed any weakness they would strike at him and claim his power for their own. Tomoe's gift was malicious not only to the king but also for his fragile peace.
Goro was only too aware of the mixed glances of pity and greed. He told Aoshi to meet with him later that evening to talk of what he could do to prevent the curse from coming to pass. Aoshi agreed that they could put together a plan, and the three fairies dismissed themselves.
It didn't take long to find an empty room in the great palace. It was a storage chamber, filled with broken chairs, cracked mirrors, rusting suits of armor, and some outdated sets of china. Sanosuke tried to sit on a chair only to land on the floor with a crunch of old wood and a loud expletive.
Soujiro tried to think of what he could do to help. "We could turn the princess into something that has no fingers, like a— oh I don't know. A rose?"
"A flower? That has it's own set of problems. All it takes is a careless gardener and she'd be dead in the soil." Sanosuke snorted as he tried to put the chair back together unsuccessfully.
"Well you aren't exactly coming up with any solutions." Soujiro didn't stop his smile, but his tone was impatient.
Sanosuke looked defensive and brandished a chair leg aggressively. "I did what I could, ok?"
"Both of you stop it!" Aoshi wasn't in the mood for this. Another failure. . . he was bound by his guilt. He needed to do something to make it up to himself, to that helpless child, to the world. And then he thought of it. "We'll just have to raise her ourselves."
"Excuse me?" Soujiro turned to face their leader, as did Sanosuke.
Aoshi looked slightly ruffled. "Well, it isn't unprecedented. I mean, we know best how to protect her. Fate has been changed before. Besides, soon the sorceress will be dead and what can she do beyond the grave? We are not incompetents, are we?"
Sanosuke seemed to be seriously considering the idea. For his behalf, Soujiro still thought it was madness.
"Eighteen years! That's almost two decades of taking care of a child! We'd be out of commission for so long. . ."
"What makes you think we finished today's mission? That girl became our responsibility the moment we walked in the palace doors. Just because we aren't official fairy godfathers doesn't mean we're absolved from commitment. We will do our part and gladly. If not, then Sanosuke and I will continue it alone. Right?"
His partner nodded. "My uptight friend is correct. This is our duty. Besides, I like the rugrat. . . .hmmm . . . 'Uncle Sano'. . . I like the sound of that."
This sort of peer pressure was almost impossible to resist. Soujiro quickly made his decision to stay. And so their sentence was decided.
With a deed for some land in the eastern portion of the kingdom and a basket full of baby Kaoru, the three fairies stole into the night. The king had been reluctant and the queen even more so, but Aoshi made a strong case. Goro had enough on his plate needing to secure his power base and to make sure no new wars began rather than worry after the health of his daughter. If these fairies could protect her in a way he could not, then both parents were willing to let go. But only until she turned eighteen. Then she would have to return to them. Tokio held her daughter well into the night before she left, and the noble lady held back her tears as she waved the fairies off.
While the queen held back her tears in the castle, Enishi was in the mountains of the west holding back his own from spilling onto the dying form of his sister.
Tomoe was delirious with fever and tried to reassure the boy that it would be ok and she was sorry. The madness had lifted from her eyes entirely, like she had just stepped out of a nightmare into the daylight. She spoke of strange things, of regret and broken promises. Now that death was near to her she realized what mattered the most.
She had existed in a world of death when she had so much out there to live for. Her mistakes were beyond the scope of her ability to mend them. Instead she tried to pass what power she had left to Enishi.
"Don't let it go to waste. . . don't be what I was. . ." She spoke so faintly into his ear that he didn't know what she was trying to say. Six years old was too young to be left alone, and both of them were all too aware of this.
"I'll finish your work sister, I swear it. I'll make them pay." It was like watching him losing his childhood and Tomoe's shattered heart couldn't break any further.
Tomoe smiled for the final time, her turbulent black eyes finally settling their currents. "You don't understand. I failed you, dear brother." She was fading away but she clutched at life to try to dissipate some of the poison that was already seeping from the boy. Maybe the only true curse she possessed was her love after all.
"Please don't. . ."
But her request had come to late to save either of them.
Enishi wailed, and a new storm began above their heads. Now he owned everything Tomoe had—both her power and her agonized emotional instability. She had gained her peace too late and at great cost.
When Enishi ordered the monsters to bury Tomoe the next day, they instinctively obeyed, knowing this boy now held the power of their personal god.
He had to grow strong.
He would make them pay.
And he had to find that baby girl.