No one had ever said it was possible to love a princess. No one had ever said it was allowed.
He wasn't a fool. He knew what he could have and what he couldn't. He saw things as they were and then he went to bed at night and dreamed. Was there anything wrong with mixing dreams and reality? Where did one begin and where did the other end?
He saw the Princess regularly. The gardens were her favorite places, and he was the gardener. She liked the sunflowers, though they were difficult to grow. Some said, many said, that sunflowers didn't belong in the royal gardens, but then again, they were the Princess' favorite, and who could say no to her?
She thanked him for growing the sunflowers. She said she liked the way they followed the sun. The sun was light. The sun was joy. The sun was hope. Whenever there was sun, there was a chance.
He believed that.
Often they would talk, when she came out for her visits. She liked to read, books about magic and things everyone said were not real but that everyone knew were real indeed. Fairies existed, as everyone knew. Magic existed, but it was not necessary to be controlled by magic.
Some things were stronger than magic.
She talked about the usual, palace events and court gossip. She talked about her books, of course. She talked about her life, how she felt, how some days she wanted nothing more but to run away and be free of magic and spells and the fear placed eternally over her head by people who thought that all there was to life was safety. She wanted to see things, swim in a lake surrounded by trees that reflected the full moon, visit a kingdom on the other side of the world where everything was just a little bit different or even better, much different. She wanted to climb a mountain, lie in an endless field of sunflowers even if they were scratchy, sail across the ocean to no place in particular–just more ocean. And she wanted to live quietly and marry for love and watch her children grow and play and make mistakes and learn.
And he talked as well. He asked her questions, and she asked back. He told her about his life, dull. He sort of wanted to be a soldier, but then again no one really wants to get killed. But if that were needed, he would. He wanted to fight a dragon. He wanted to build something so tall no one could see its top. He wanted to study as a scholar but not be horribly boring like so many were. She would laugh and tell him he could never be boring. He also wanted to sail across the ocean. He also just wanted to be happy.
Then one day they found her in the south tower. She had pricked her finger on a spinning wheel. The curse had come to pass.
He wasn't allowed to see her as they took her to her room. He wanted to give her a sunflower. If she were to sleep for one hundred years, a sunflower would sleep with her. A sunflower meant there would be a morning.
Then the fairy came. The fairy who took her magic and cast it over everyone. He felt the sleeping dust hit his eyes, and he vowed he would wake up in time.
Some things were stronger than magic.
And she slept, and he slept, and he didn't know what she dreamed, but he dreamed that vines, thick and harsh and void of roses, grew tall and deadly and covered the palace so that all would be dark and the sun couldn't shine through. And he dreamt that he would waken.
Maybe someone else was supposed to come. A true prince, or perhaps a knight, on a charging white stallion as if the color mattered. A prince or a knight armed with a sword and metal and bravery toward something worth nothing because a prince or a knight wouldn't know.
That sort didn't get the chance.
He made himself wake up, forced his eyes open. The rest of the palace slept. The vines were there, and it was dark, save for slits of light pouring in like rain. He ran through the rooms, up the steps, to the place where the Princess slept. It wasn't to be night time. Not always.
He kissed her. His sunflower, stronger than magic.