castle is entwined in thorns so thick they could carve the flesh from a roast
hog. A graveyard of bones, bleached and gargantuan, clutter the empty moat. Crumbling
pieces of masonry lay strewn across the drawbridge. It sits open, waiting.
youth, I, Prince Augustine, bravest of knights, have heard the stories: a
princess fair trapped in a spell for one hundred years. Countless knights have
tried to wake her, yet she slumbers still. The reason, I have considered, is surely
that these men were not pure of heart and deed. I shall be the one to wake the
maiden fair, and she shall be my bride.
dismount my horse, Plantamor, admiring the flawless plait of his golden mane, and
venture inside. My sword is drawn, ready to strike down any foe that might seek
hindrance to my quest divine, but there is no one. A lone crow caws as I open
the door to the tower. Dust and cobwebs are all that bar my climb. As I ascend
the steps, shafts of light guide me, growing brighter near the topmost room.
reach the oaken door, I knock, remove my helmet and make my way into the lady’s
a repulsive smell; a pungent, rotting, festering force. Rats scurry as I step
forward, hand covering my mouth and nose. The bed is at the end of the room: an
ornate, wooden four-poster creation, hand-carved and lavish—truly, a fitting
place for a princess. With purpose assured, I approach and draw back the tarnished
there, but something is wrong.
fingernails are long and claw-like, her hair a straggled mess, covering her
face and trailing off the bed in greasy strands. I choke on the stench, so
strong now it could wake a drunkard for a Sunday service. It is not her
fault, I tell myself. She has been cursed. Her beauty will shine through
once she has bathed and dressed.
is resolute, but my hands are trembling. I lay my sword to the ground, readying
to gaze upon her face. This is my quest, my Holy mission; the word of God
divine passed to mine ears through our most glorious King with the hope of
bringing us to this moment. With utmost care, I brush aside her hair. As I
reveal her face, a shaft of pure radiance bursts through the window causing spiders
to scatter from their matted, white nest. The light illuminates her face,
wrinkled and sunken. Perhaps, once there was beauty there, but time has taken a
lean down to kiss her.
then her mouth opens. The full scent of her breath wafts to my nose, and I spy
rotting black stumps that were once teeth. I fight back rising bile. This
must be a test of my faith; the maiden will surely return to her former beauty
upon receiving true love’s kiss.
all of my will and courage, I draw close to her disgusting mouth. Her eyes are
encrusted with yellow pus, but the lady begins to stir, eyelids fluttering like
twin butterflies trying to burst forth from their chrysalis prisons. I stand
there poised for what feels like an eternity, ready to fulfil my quest and the
will of God.
my shame, I falter.
thought enters my head: a poisonous, unholy thought. What if she does not
confess this a burden too heavy for my fragile heart to bear. Although it beats
fiercer in war than that of any man, it is tender in love. I could not bear for
this lady to suffer the tragedy of waking from her curse only to see her form cursed
again by time. It would be too cruel. There is only one kindness here.
for my sword. With quivering hands, I raise it to her chest. The tip presses to
her grey, worn flesh and a trickle of blood flows down to the bedclothes. She
moans. A maggot crawls from her mouth. The sword rises, and falls, and rises
again. It is a mercy, I tell myself. A mercy.
deliver the blow. I say a prayer and flee the accursed chamber.
leave her to her slumber. Another knight will come.
Care is an English writer of sci-fi, fantasy and horror. The narratives he
creates usually involve elements that are dark, mystical and otherworldly. His
debut novel about an anxious philosophy student who sees demons is currently on