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One Hundred Years
Rory breathed deeply to steady her pulse. She had heard footsteps distantly on the stairs, so she straightened her dress and lay down on the bed, hands clasped and lips pursed in what she hoped was an unassuming moue. Her eyes fluttered shut just as the heavy mahogany door swung open. The same footsteps that had jogged up the stairs were now cautiously approaching the platform upon which she slept.
She could feel his breath gently stirring her hair. His hand came to rest on the space above her head. He leaned closer, and—
“Come any closer and you’ll never leave this room,” Rory held her dagger to his throat. His dark eyes widened in surprise, but no other movement betrayed his shock.
“And what might I have done to offend you, my lady?” his voice reverberated through her cramped room.
“Can’t a girl just put a dagger to someone’s throat, no questions asked?” Rory swung herself up so she was sitting on the edge of the bed, all the while not relinquishing her hold on the man opposite her. “You’re awfully young, boy king.”
“As are you. And I’m only a prince yet,” he bowed his head, looking slightly sheepish. Rory huffed.
“Doesn’t matter. We can do this one of two ways. Either we both leave this room, and you cede your throne to me, or I take the ring that you’re being so careful about in that pouch on your waist, and only one of us leaves this room and rules the country. And I’ll give you a hint: it won’t be you,” Rory pushed her knife a little harder into his throat.
“Actually, there is one other way,” he put his hands up as a show of innocence. Rory narrowed her eyes. She’d had an absurd amount of time to plan this escapade — how could he have found a loophole so quickly?
“Oh, and what’s that?” Rory asked nonchalantly, her heart beating rapidly.
“You marry me,” the prince knelt down and proffered the ring. Rory scoffed.
“You’re serious? I don’t know you,” she said, stating what she thought was the obvious fact.
“Does that matter? You get what you want, a country, and I get to keep my life,” the prince smiled as though he was the smartest man alive. Unluckily for him, Rory was smarter.
“And you trust me, considering I just threatened your life?”
“Not as much as I’d hope to trust my future wife, but one must do what one has to to preserve one’s life. I’m Phillip,” Phillip flashed a smile again. Rory cringed internally as she executed a court-perfect curtsy and extended her own hand. Phillip pressed a feather-gentle kiss to her knuckles, and Rory rose.
“I’m Aurora,” Rory smiled demurely.
“Your manners are awfully good, considering you’ve been trapped in an endless sleep for… forgive me, but how long have you been trapped in this prison?” Phillip gestured to her living quarters.
“About one hundred years,” Rory examined her nails as Phillip’s jaw dropped. “And who told you I was sleeping that whole time?”
“I— well, I’d heard rumors—” Phillip blustered.
“Oh, boy prince, did your mum and dad never tell you never to listen to rumors? They are, more often than not, lies spawned to gather interest,” Rory sheathed her dagger and took the ring. At this, Phillip seemed to relax a little.
“Well, my lady, we must be off. We have a royal wedding to plan,” Phillip escorted her outside of the room for the first time in one hundred years.
“You were in there for how long?” Rory was tired of explaining the story to every servant and maid she came in contact with, but she had to be patient. Patience, after all, was what was going to earn her a country all to herself.
“A century,” Rory smiled benevolently at her latest audience, an excitable maid named Sophie.
“How terrible! You must be glad to be out and about,” Sophie beamed as she elegantly twisted Rory’s hair into an updo fit for a queen.
“Indeed I am,” Rory gritted her teeth as a pin went a little too far into her scalp. Sophie squeaked with remorse.
“Five minutes!” another maid, Becca, exclaimed from the doorway.
“She’s all ready! Is the prince prepared too?” Sophie asked, helping Rory out of her seat.
“He is,” Becca blushed for a reason unknown to Rory and hurried away. Rory could bet anything that Sophie would tell her the reason; the girl was proving to be an unending fount of information.
“Becca has held a torch for Prince Phillip since we were young. I’ve tried to explain to her that it’ll never happen, but to no avail. Clearly,” Sophie rolled her eyes a little and held the door for Rory. Rory raised an eyebrow and stored this information in a corner of her mind— she never knew when it would come in useful.
“You look stunning, my dear,” Phillip appeared from nowhere, swooping down on her and Sophie.
“And you look… the same,” Rory appraised Phillip with nothing more than a cursory glance, then returned her attention to the double doors ahead. Sophie stifled a giggle.
“You’ve got a sharp wit. I appreciate that,” Phillip winked.
“Announcing His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, and his soon-to-be bride Aurora!” an announcer ushered them in the court, where at least fifty pairs of eyes swiveled in her direction. Rory held her head high and, taking Phillip’s arm, walked inside to meet her people.
They were more judgemental than she thought they would be. One could hear a pin drop as she and Phillip walked to the front of the room and addressed the court. Phillip gestured for Rory to stand off to his side while he introduced her.
“I’d like to present to the court my fiancée, Aurora!” Phillip smiled and gestured for Rory to speak. She stared for a moment, bemused. Was that really his whole grand speech?
“People of the court,” Rory began, unsure of where her mouth was taking her. “My name is Aurora, and I am ever so glad to take on the role of your queen.”
Someone coughed and shifted audibly. Rory faltered for a moment and glanced at Phillip, who simply beamed and gestured for her to continue.
“My story started one hundred years ago, when an evil witch cursed me to remain in a tower. She wasn’t entirely happy with me at the time, but then again, what mother is?” Rory grimaced slightly. The court was listening more intently now, and there were some murmurs of shock. Her own mother cursed her? How barbaric. “Most people seemed to believe that I was slumbering for the entire century. This is a lie. I was entirely conscious and moving about during my imprisonment, and if not for the occasional bird and draft of sunlight that would wander into my room, I may never have believed in hope.”
Rory chose to leave out the part where she spent a long time plotting to overthrow her mother or whatever devil she had left in her stead by taking over the country and rallying an army of her own. It had been a crazy, uninspired whim at first, but the idea had seized hold of her and hadn’t let go. When she had heard that a prince may come knocking on her door, Rory had hatched her plan and waited.
“But I persevered. I waited for a long time for someone I had only met in my dreams,” Rory cringed at the thought of needing Phillip the way she did. “And he came. And now, I’m here to lead you as a benevolent queen.”
The room was silent for a moment before there was a smattering of applause. Not quite the uproarious cheering she had hoped for, but Rory had time to win them over. Phillip, on the other hand, looked like he was about ready to have a thousand tapestries made with her face on them.
The rest of the court proceedings passed in a blur. All Rory could hear was the blood rushing in her ears. If Phillip hadn’t gently taken her arm to lead her out, she may as well have kept sitting there until the sun set. She thanked Phillip distractedly and entered her wing, Sophie bouncing excitedly on her toes to greet her.
“How was the court? Did they love you? I’m sure they loved you. I heard from Becca that you made an incredible speech! I didn’t know it was your mother who imprisoned you! That’s awful! I should probably leave you alone now. I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning. Good night, Miss Aurora,” Sophie curtsied, and Rory dismissed her with what she hoped was a regal nod. She waited until the door had shut to flop onto the bed and run over the next stages of the plan.
Rory couldn’t sleep. Between the excitement of the day and the overly comfortable and plush mattress, there was no way she could fall asleep. She decided to sneak out of her wing to the kitchen to make a mug of cocoa.
There wasn’t a single guard posted outside of her room. Although relieving, Rory was going to have words with Phillip about security in the castle. She wandered around for a bit, glad she had had the sense to wear her slippers to protect against the cold stone floor. Finally, she found the warm kitchen and slipped inside to the stove. Unfortunately, she wasn’t alone.
“Ah, Aurora! Can’t sleep?” Phillip smiled at her, all of his teeth flashing in the dim lantern’s light. Rory dropped her “I-am-a-queen” pretense from earlier and rolled her eyes.
“Don’t talk to me,” Rory sauntered over to the cabinet and began rummaging through them.
“Are you looking for cocoa? It’s a favorite of mine too,” Phillip held out a small, rectangular tin with the sweet-smelling powder inside of it. Rory snatched it, and she could practically hear her mother berating her for lack of manners.
The two of them stood there in silence as Rory made her cocoa. When she was done, she poured it into a mug and turned around to lean on the counter, Phillip was standing right behind her. She stared at him for a second, suddenly struck with the realization that this was the second time that they had been this close together just that day.
“I hope you’re settling in alright,” Phillip asked, breaking the weird tension that had settled over them and stepping away slightly.
“I—” Rory cut herself off to listen.
“Something the matter?” Phillip asked, but Rory shushed him. From the corridor outside, someone was humming a melody that Rory hadn’t heard in ages. She set her mug down and shoved Phillip behind her, pulling out a dagger that had been concealed in her sleeves. Just in case. She had hoped it wouldn’t come in useful.
“Show yourself!” Rory demanded. The humming stopped, and in walked Sophie, holding a bucket of oil and looking extremely caught red-handed.
“Ah, Sophie! Looks as though we’re all up, and at the same time, too!” Phillip said nervously from behind Rory. She was glad he hadn’t decided to move.
“Is there a problem, Miss Aurora?” Sophie asked nervously, setting down the bucket.
“What are you doing with that?” Rory gestured with the knife towards the oil, and Sophie flinched.
“What do you think? Just cooking oil, is all,” Sophie said in a nonchalant tone, although Rory could see her beginning to panic.
“Nice try. There used to be a little blue bird that would come and sit on my window sill and sing that song to me,” Rory said, humming the beginning of the song. As though she couldn’t help herself, Sophie finished the tune. “At first, I thought it was a melody that was being sung throughout the town and the bird had simply picked it up, but my mother happened to mention that all the woodland creatures had retreated to the forest and were nowhere to be found.”
Rory could still remember that day. Her mother, seemingly ageless as Rory now was, came to visit every once in a while to test out her latest favored torture method. Poisons, curses and jinxes, and good old weapons. While she left Rory on the ground, panting and hating every second of her life, she would boast about her latest conquest.
“Ah, Rory, you should have seen their faces. The father was wailing, ‘don’t hurt my little girl!’ The mother was saying, ‘Lenora, Lenora!’ And I simply continued bringing justice to my kingdom and ending her life. It was glorious, Rory.”
“Today, Rory, we got rid of those pesky rebels.”
Words simply aimed to taunt her. “You should have seen it,” and “If only you could have been there,” should have stopped hurting after a while, but Rory’s lust for freedom seemed to multiply with every awful bit of news her mother brought her. During her worst days, she hoped, in some masochistic way, that her mother would visit her that day, if only to hear what was going on in the country she loved and missed so dearly.
That was when she figured out that the bird on her sill was nothing more than another one of her mother’s taunts. Where else could it have come from? The last time it visited her, she threw her last ink pen at it and it flew away, now injured in its wing.
Rory later found a few spots of blood on the sill where it had been perched. She kept it there as a reminder. If she squinted and tilted her head, it almost looked like a dragon.
“So, little bird, I’ll ask you again. What are you doing with that?” When Sophie didn’t answer, Rory stalked over to her and jabbed the knife in her face. Sophie squeaked. “Who do you work for?”
“Myself,” Sophie dropped the docile demeanor, and snatched the bucket from the counter. In one swift movement, she doused Phillip with it. Rory almost scoffed. Was that the best she had?
Then, she snagged the lantern from the wall and held it near Phillip. In a different light, the situation would have almost been funny. Rory holding a dagger to Sophie, Sophie holding a lantern to a drenched Phillip, and Phillip looking absolutely terrified.
“Move any closer and the prince gets it.”
Rory panicked and tried to stall for time while she assessed the situation. There wasn’t much else she could do without Sophie dropping the lantern and setting Phillip ablaze. “I thought you worked for my mother?”
“After she was vanquished by his father,” Sophie jerked her head in Phillip’s direction, “I had nobody. No family, no beau, nothing. So, what better way to honor the only family I had by continuing her legacy? I decided to lead you to the crown, befriend you in my human form, then take over and reign over the country as I should.”
“And you thought that would work?” Rory moved almost imperceptibly to her left.
“Did it not?” Sophie laughed. Phillip shuddered as the lantern swung in her hand.
“Not quite. Now!” Rory and Phillip both smashed their mugs of cocoa on Sophie’s head, and the girl collapsed.
“One bird with two stones, I suppose,” Phillip laughed nervously, and immediately quit at the look on Rory’s face.
“We have to move before she wakes up. If she wakes up,” Rory seized Sophie’s arms. “Well?”
Phillip made a small noise of complaint and took up her legs. “You seem awfully calm about this.”
“A girl reads a lot of murder mysteries when she’s trapped in a tower for a century,” Rory laughed at the look on Phillip’s face. “It’s a joke, boy prince. Calm down.”
Phillip nodded, but he looked slightly unsettled. They stuffed Sophie inside a sack, and Rory tied a complicated knot around the opening. Then, she had Phillip open the back door, and Rory tossed the last of her mother’s legacy out of her life.
When she came back in, Phillip was looking at her with something like awe in his eye.
“I’m glad you let me live,” Phillip winked, and Rory barely suppressed an answering grin. Maybe she might extend his life, just a little longer.