Authors: Alex Flinn
Tags: #mythology, #Young Adult Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fiction
April 27, 2010
f I hear one more syllable about spindles, I shall surely die! From my earliest memory,
the subject has been worn to death in the castle, nay, in the entire kingdom. It is said
that spindle, rather than Mama or Papa, was my first word in infancy, and I have little
doubt that this is true, for tis the word which lights more frequently than any other upon
my most unwilling ears.
Talia, dearest, you must never touch a spindle, Mother would say as she tucked me into bed
I will not, Mother.
Vous devez ne jamais toucher un axe, my tutor would say during French lessons.
I will not, I told him in English. If ye spy a spindle, ye must leave it alone, the
downstairs maid said as I left the castle, always with my governess, for I was never allowed a moment
Every princeling, princess, or lesser noble who came to the castle to play was told of the
restrictions upon spindles lest they have one secreted about their person somewhere, or
lest they mistakenly believe I was normal. Each servant was searched at the door, and
thread was purchased from outside the kingdom. Even peasants were forbidden to have
spindles. It was quite inconvenient for all concerned.
It should be said that I am not certain I would know a spindle if I saw one. But it seems
unlikely that I ever shall. Why must I avoid spindles? I asked my mother, in my earliest memory. You simply must, she replied, so as not to scare me,
I suppose. But why? I persisted. She sighed. Children should be seen, not heard. I asked
several times more before she excused herself,
claiming a headache. As soon as she departed, I started in on my governess, Lady Brooke.
Why am I never to touch a spindle?
Lady Brooke looked aggrieved. It was frowned upon, she knew, to scold royal children.
Father was a humane ruler who never resorted to beheading. Still, she had her job to
consider, if not her neck.
It is forbidden, she said.
Well, I stomped my foot and whined and cried, and when that failed to produce the desired
result, I said, If you do not answer, I will tell Father you slapped me. You wicked, wicked girl! God above
will punish you for such deceit! No one punishes princesses. My voice was calm. I was done with my screaming, now that I had discovered a bet- ter currency. Not even God.
God cares not for rank and privilege. If you tell such an awful lie, you will surely be
Then you must keep me from such a sin by telling me what I wish to know. Even at four or
five, I was precocious and determined.
Finally, sighing, she told me.
I had been a long-wished-for babe (this I knew, for it had been told to me almost as often
as the spindle speech), and when I was born, my parents invited much of the king- dom to
my christening, including several women rumored to have magical powers.
You mean fairies? I interrupted, knowing she would not speak the word. Lady Brooke was
highly religious, which seemed to mean that she believed in witches, who used their magic
for evil, but not fairies, who used their powers for good. Still, even at four, I knew
about fairies. Everyone did.
There is no such a thing as fairies, Lady Brooke said. But yes, people said they were
fairies. Your father wel- comed them, for he hoped they would bring you magical gifts. But
there was one person your father did not invite: the witch Malvolia. Lady Brooke went on to describe, at great length and in exhausting detail, the beauty of
the day, the height of the sun in the sky, and the importance of the christening service.
I closed my eyes. But when she attempted to carry me into my bedchamber, I woke and
demanded, What of the spindle?
Oh! I thought you were asleep.
I continued to demand to know of the spindle, which led to a lengthy recitation of the
gifts I had received from the various guests. I struggled to remain attentive, but I
perked up when she began to describe the fairies gifts.
Violet gave the gift of beauty, and Xanthe gave the gift of grace, although surely such
qualities cannot be given.
I did not see why not. People often remarked upon my beauty and grace.
Leila gave the gift of musical talent . . .
I noted, privately, that I was already quite skilled on the harpsichord.
. . . while Celia gave the gift of intelligence. . . . It went without saying. . . . Lady
Brooke continued. Flavia was about to step for-
ward to give the gift of obediencewhich would have been much welcomed, if I do say so
myself. She winked at me, but the wink had a hint of annoyance which was notI must
The spindle? I reminded her, yawning. Just as Flavia was ready to step forward and offer
her much-desired gift of obedience, the door to the grand ban- quet hall was flung open. The
witch Malvolia! The guards tried to stop her, but she brazened her way past them.
I demand to see the child! she said.
Your nurse tried to block her way. But quicker than the bat of an eyelash, the nurse was
on the floor and Mal- volia was standing over your bassinet.
Ah. She seized you and held you up for all to see. The accursed babe.
Your mother and father tried to soothe Malvolia with tales of invitations lost, but she
repeated the word accursed, several times, and then she made good the curse itself.
Before her sixteenth birthday, the princess shall prick her finger on a spindle and die!
she roared. And then, as quickly as she had arrived, she was gone. But the beautiful day
was ruined, and rain fell freely from the sky.
And then what? I asked, far from interested in the weather now that I understood I might
die by touching a spindle. Why had no one told me?
Flavia tried to save the situation with her gift. She said that since Malvolias powers
were immense, she could not reverse her spell, but she sought to modify it a bit.
The princess shall not die, she said. But as everyone was sighing in relief, she added,
Rather, the princess shall sleep. All Euphrasian citizens shall sleep also, protected from
harm by this spell, and the kingdom shall be obscured from sight by a giant wood,
unnoticed by the rest of the world and removed from maps and memory until . . . People were becoming more nervous with each pronouncement. . . . one day, the kingdom shall be
rediscovered. The prin- cess shall be awakened by her true loves first kiss, and the
kingdom shall awake and become visible to the world again.
But that is stupid! I burst out. If the entire kingdom is asleep and forgotten, who will
be left to kiss me?
Lady Brooke stopped speaking, and then she actually scratched her head, as persons in
stories are said to do when they are trying to work some great puzzle. At the end of it,
she said, I do not know. Someone will. That is what Flavia said.
But even at my tender age, I knew this was improb- able. Euphrasia was small, bounded on
three sides by ocean and on the fourth by wilderness. The Belgians, our nearest neighbors,
barely knew we existed, and if Euphrasia disap- peared from sight and maps, the Belgians
would forget us entirely. Other questions leaped to mind. How would we eat if we were all
asleep? And wouldnt we eventually die, like old people did? Indeed, the cure seemed worse
than the original punishment.
But to each successive question, Lady Brooke merely said, That is why you must never touch
And it is nigh upon my sixteenth birthday, and I have never touched one yet.
omorrow is my sixteenth birthday. I do not suppose it necessary to explain the furor this
has occasioned in the kingdom. Tis a heady occasion. Each year on my birthday, guests come
from around the world to celebrateand they bring gifts! Diamonds from Africa, crystal from
Ireland, cheese from Switzerland. Of course, my sixteenth birthday is of special import.
Rumor has it that a ship has sailed the world over, collecting items and persons for my
pleasure. They say it has even visited the British colony on the other side of the world.
I believe it is called Virginia.
But more than guests, more even than presents, is the actual hope that this whole spindle
business will end today. Before her sixteenth birthday. That was what the witch Malvolia
had said. So tomorrow Mother and Father will rejoice at having completed the Herculean
task of keeping their stupid daughter away from a common household object for sixteen years, and then I
can live the ordinary life of an ordinary princess.
I am ready for it.
It is not merely spindle avoidance that has been my difficulty thus far. Rather, because
of this, I have been effectively shut out from the world. Other young maid- ens of my
station have traveled to France, India, and even the wilds of Virginia. But I have not
been permitted to make the shortest trip to the nearest kingdom, lest one of the populace
there wished to attack me with a spindle. In the castle, the very tapestries seem to mock
me with their pictures of places I have never seen. I am barely allowed outside, and when
I am, it is only under the boring chap- eronage of boring Lady Brooke or some other
equally dull lady-in-waiting. I am fifteen years old, and I have never had a single
friend. Who would want to be friends with an oddity who has never seen anything or done
anything and is guarded night and day?
Likewise, a young princess my age would ordinarily have dozens of suitors questing for her
hand. Her beauty would be the subject of song and story. Duels would be fought for her.
She might even cause a war, if she were beautiful enough, and I am.
But though my beauty has been spoken of, raved of even, there has not been one single
request for my hand. Father says it is because I am young yet, but I know that to be a
lie. The reason is the curse. Any sensible prince would prefer a bride with freckles or a hooked nose over one like me, one who might fall into a
coma at any instant.
There is a knock upon the door. Lady Brooke! Your Highness, the gowns are ready for
viewing, she calls from outside.
The gowns! They have been prepared especially for tomorrow. It will be the grandest party
ever. The guests will arrive at the palace door in carriages or at the harbor in ships.
There will be a grand dinner tonight, and tomorrow a ball with an orchestra for dancing
and a second orches- tra for when the first tires. There will be fireworks and a midnight
supper and magnums of a special bubbling wine made by Benedictine monks in France, then a
week of lesser parties to follow. It will be a festival, a Festival of Talia. I will be at
the center of it, of course, courted by every prince and raja, and before it is over, I
will have fallen in love and I will be sixteen, cured of the curse.
Your Highness? Lady Brooke continues to knock.
The gownsI need one for tonight and several for the ball tomorrow and a dozen or so more
for the com- ing weekmust be perfect. And then, perhaps Father will speak with the tailor
who designed the loveliest one and have him create fifty or so more for my wedding trip
around the globe.
Truth be told, it is the trip, rather than the wedding, which appeals to me. I care not
for marriage at someone elses whim. But it is my lot in life, and a cross I must bear to
gain the wedding trip. I am more than ready to leave Euphrasia, having been trapped here for almost sixteen years. And, of course, my husband shall be
handsome, and a prince.
I fling the door open. Well? Where are they? Lady Brooke produces a map of the castle. I
take it from her. One has to admire her organization. I see now that Lady Brooke has marked out the rooms which will be used to house our numerous
royal guests. Other rooms are marked with a star. What is this?
On the occasion of your last birthday, you told your father that, upon the occasion of
this birthday, you required the most perfect gown in all the world. Your father took this
request quite literally and sent out the call to tailors and seamstresses the world over.
Chinas entire haul of silk- worms has been put to this task. Children have been pulled
from their cottages and huts to spin and sew and slave, all for the pleasure of Princess
Talia of Euphrasia.
Very good, Lady Brooke. I know she thinks I am silly and spoiled. Was I not gifted with
intelligence? I also know this not to be the case. How can I be spoiled when I never get
to do a single thing I want? I did not ask that children be pulled from their cribs to
slave for me, but since they were, is it not only courteous to gaze upon their efforts
and, hopefully, find a dress or two that will be acceptable? I can already picture the
gown in which I shall make my grand entrance at the ball. It will be green. The map?
Yes, the map. Each tailor was asked to bring his twenty best creations, all in your exact
measurements. Your father believed that you might be overwhelmed, gazing upon so many gowns at once. Therefore, he decreed that they be placed in twenty-five separate
rooms of the castle. In this way, you may wander about, choosing as you will.