Lovely Exchange

The arrival of dawn coincided perfectly with the one minute that Teress had managed to get any sleep at all. All through the night, two things had kept her awake. For one, she wasn’t used to sleeping with a man – at least, she wasn’t used to sleeping with a man of her own accord – and for another, she had been afraid that she would slip back into her curse the moment she rendered herself unaware to the world. But she needn’t have worried; she slept only for one minute, and she slept only one minute exactly. Even though Teress woke groaning at the pain that wracked her poor sleepless head, she still felt a strange kind of relief. It seemed that she had just closed her eyes before sunlight invaded the room. She hadn't missed much.

Rolling onto her side, she reflexively reached to wake the person next to her. With some alarm, Teress realized that in the one minute she’d been unconscious all her unease about Cassis had mysteriously vanished; it felt right to have this sleeping body next to her. Perhaps that was only her sympathy speaking. Teress had been put into an unwilling sleep as well, so by all rights it wouldn’t be ethical of her to harbor a dislike for Cassis simply because he was burdening her. Withdrawing her hand, Teress left the inn bed to take care of her personal needs, before she would deal with Cassis. She took a lukewarm bath that was unfortunately the best her current lodgings had to offer, and then she donned her previous day’s dress once again.

Before bending down to slip the prince piggyback-style over her back, Teress reflected that she would need a new dress soon. This one’s smell belied it years.

Downstairs, there were no words with which Teress could explain why she carried Cassis the way she did, so she assumed the outlook “money will speak in ways that words can’t”. She paid the innkeeper as quickly as possible before hurrying out the door, and away from his leering gaze. Ghoul was waiting obediently for her in the main courtyard. Teress was about to place his owner on him immediately when an establishment’s groom came up and interceded, “Pardon, miss, but he hasn’t yet had his shower.” The princess grimaced. All right. She wasn’t about to deny Ghoul a good clean wash when she’d had hers; so, she waited another minute. The horse’s coat came out better-looking for its wash than had her damp hair. Idly, she wondered what had happened to the silky brown locks she had once adored, while she saddled Ghoul.

Silly girl, she didn’t know that her beauty had been kept preserved by a sleeping spell for six years.

Teress had fallen asleep at the age of 14. During the years that she’d remained enchanted, she hadn’t aged at all. So technically, although Cassis was 20 when he walked into her life, he and Teress were the same age. What I mean is, they were born in the same year.

How that pertains to the princess’ beauty is obvious of course. Her youth and good looks had been sustained through her sleep, but the body can experience a lot of shock after much disuse. Teress’ coiffed hair probably would have withstood a little rain but submerging her head in water had been a brutal attack. In time, once her hair dried it would return to perfection. However, until then she could suffer to look like a normal girl.

Teress took Ghoul’s reins in her hands, and she departed the town of Sleepy Mills at a brisk trot. A vague sense of direction pointed her towards the generally correct path to the dwelling of the Witch of Slumber, but a sense of foresight also prompted her to make one stop on the road. Coming up alongside a modest apple seller’s stand, Teress asked an old woman kindly, “What gift must I bring to the Witch of Slumber to ensure I get an audience?” Everyone knew a witch’s services didn’t come for free.

The elderly lady beamed. “Why, bring her an apple, dearie.” She wasn’t lying; the Witch of Slumber really did favour fruit. More importantly, when Teress left the apple stand, Yainy packed up her things as well. The Witch of Memory didn’t get much business, which explained her moonlighting – for who was willing to forget in exchange for oracular advice? You would forget what your question had been as well! But if Yainy brought the news that two royals sought her out, maybe Miria the Witch of Slumber would entertain her colleague; in her best possible imaginings, Yainy would get to taste one of Miria’s infamous tea cakes.

Business was slow. The Witch of Memory was bored. With no better reason than boredom, Yainy attached herself to this story by going to tell Miria that Princess Teress and Prince Cassis came to see her.

The End

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