So, I have peculiar, lucid dreams. I recognize some dream elements from my life–or books I’ve read, or movies/television I’ve watched. And then there’s the peculiarity that I have no idea where it came from. But dreams have their own logic, that makes sense only to the sleeping mind.

Dreams make good story ideas, if you can remember them, and constrain them into some kind of sense. Sometimes I try, because I like a challenge.

Once, I dreamed I was a run-away cursed princess, with a thorn embedded in the bottom of one of my feet. Despite being barefoot with a thorn in my foot, I was successful at eluding the people (mercenaries? palace guards?) who were sent to take me (I think) to a cloister. At one point, I was on an enormous tree-house-like structure, running along a maze of wooden ramps, and jumped from the ramp to the ground.

The ending of the dream kind of gives away the story, so I won’t put it here. After I woke up, I wrote it down, and later shaped in into this story.

The dream thorn is dark, curved, and sharp, like an improbable rose thorn.
Image from WikiCommons by Rude.

*      *      *      *      *

Once Upon a Time, an enchanted princess was engaged to a handsome prince—but the prince ran away with a maid and the fairy tale fell apart.

In Dylon, King Myron’s third daughter wept in her chambers. “How could Ronald do this to me?”

“I don’t know, Princess,” her maid soothed.

Sylvia collapsed on her bed. “Oh, just go, Lili! There’s nothing you can do.” Lili curtseyed and left the room. Sylvia remained face down on her bed for a while, and then sat up, pushing her bedraggled brown hair out of her face. She pulled her right foot towards her and stared at the bottom of her bare sole. “Damn thorn!”

A knock sounded at her door.

Sylvia swiped at the tears on her face and ran her fingers through her hair in an attempt to smooth it. “Enter!”

Two footmen in her father’s livery appeared, carrying a familiar chair. The footmen helped Sylvia into her chair, carried her to the throne room, and set her down in front of the thrones.

“We have heard the news of the prince of Githa,” King Myron frowned. “The situation is unacceptable. We’ll bring him back to do his duty.”

Sylvia nodded, keeping her gaze demurely lowered.

“You may leave us.”

Back in her room, Sylvia stared helplessly at her hands. Then she called for her maid. Lili looked doubtful as Sylvia explained, but fetched what her mistress wanted. “They’ll take me away, Lili. I’m an unfulfilled curse now. Please tell them I’m ill—stall as long as you can. Thank you.”

Sylvia slipped out the door, head down. The guards didn’t give the servant girl a glance as she scurried down the hall, arms full of laundry. Out of sight, Sylvia drew out a cloak and knapsack from the clothes and left the rest outside her sister’s room, adding to the pile of discarded outfits. She walked out the castle, and down the road, pushing on despite the pain in her legs.

The next morning, Sylvia rose from her grassy bed with a groan. She stretched the stiffness out of her body as best she could, and cut a staff from a fallen tree branch. Each passing day she felt tired, hungrier, but strangely free. When she ran out of food, Sylvia walked into a town, trying not to look to nervous.

“Hello, Princess,” a man said.

Sylvia stared at him, clutching her roughly cut staff tightly.

“Come, Princess. Let me take you home where you belong.” He reached for her, a reassuring smile on his face, but mockery in his eyes.

Sylvia hit him with her staff without thinking, somehow connecting with his head. He slumped to the ground. For a moment, all Sylvia could do was stare at his unconscious form, then she left before someone noticed what she’d done.

Kyle’s head pounded as he sat up. “She hit me!” He’d fetched run-away nobles before, and each one had been so exhausted they’d gone willingly. Kyle stood and brushed himself off. Well, clearly this princess wasn’t ready to go home yet, so he’d hire some help. He’d share his payment, but not the story of how she’d knocked him out.

Five days later, Sylvia walked into another town, having run out of food from again.

“Hello, Princess.”

Sylvia froze, recognizing the voice.

The smile he wore now was less mocking, and respect lurked in his eyes. “It took longer than I expected to find you.”

Sylvia edged backward, eyes fixed on him. He stepped forward, and she ran for the woods. A hand latched on her shoulder, pulling her to a halt.

“Oh, no, my lady. You won’t get away that easily.” She glared at the bearded face of the armored man holding her, and struggled fruitlessly as Kyle joined them.

“You led us on a merry chase, Princess, but it’s over.” Kyle looked at his hired man. “Escort the princess back to the inn. She’ll want food and a bath. We leave at dawn.”

“Damn you!” Sylvia cried. “I was making it on my own!”

Kyle blinked. “What makes you run so hard from the luxury of your home, my lady?”

Sylvia glared at him. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“As you say, Princess.” Kyle led the way. Sylvia followed the maid up to a room, and returned clean, her hair brushed, in a dress the queen had sent with Kyle. Kyle smiled at the anger in her changeable pale eyes. She sat stiffly by the fire, staring into the flames. Kyle joined her on the bench, and she tensed, but didn’t look his way.

“How did you get so far, Princess, with that thorn in your foot?”

“I created special shoes years ago,” Sylvia replied. “I couldn’t let my curse cripple me.”

“Special shoes?” Kyle repeated.

Sylvia unbuckled the row of buckles on her right foot, and when the final strap parted, a large opening ran along the side of her shoe. Carefully she eased her foot out and handed the shoe to Kyle.

He ran his fingers over the rows of buckles that held the shoe together, and pulled back the flap to look inside at the hollow on the bottom. “What a marvelous idea!”

“You sound surprised. Do you think I have no brain?”

“Milady,” he reached for her, and she shied away. Sylvia’s foot brushed the floor, and she screamed in agony.

Kyle stood, reached for her, and then hesitated.

“It is alright,” Sylvia gasped. “The pain will pass.”

“I hadn’t thought it would be so fierce. Why has no one pulled the thorn?”

“Only a man noble and brave of heart can pull it. But if he fails the curse’s test, he forfeits his life. No wonder Ronald ran.”

“Let me see.” Kyle knelt and examined the wickedly sharp thorn embedded in the sole of her foot. He wrapped his fingers around the thorn and pulled.

Sylvia yelped in pain, and then relaxed. “The thorn!”

Kyle turned over the thorn, examining the curved length. “No wonder it pained you so.”

“You—I—thank you. This will make my life in the convent less harsh.” Sylvia removed her other shoe, stood, and took a cautious step, then another.

“They’ll really put you in a convent?”

“I’m the third daughter, and not so pretty as my sisters. Ronald was my only hope. Princesses are bartering chips. If we have little worth, we’re locked away where we can’t find trouble.”

“I—I didn’t know.”

“It isn’t your fault.” Sylvia picked up her shoes. “I’m tired. I shall go to bed.” She climbed the stairs to her room, her steps slow.

Kyle stared after her, wondering if the others he had dragged home had returned to similar situations.

“Good morrow, Princess,” Kyle said as Sylvia came down the stairs. She smiled wanly in return, and sat to eat beside him.

Kyle paid his helpers and set out. The princess sat quietly on her horse, making no attempt to take the reins from him. He felt guilty for destroying her hope. “Can’t you marry, now that the curse is lifted?”

“I can only marry the man who pulls the thorn,” Sylvia stared at her folded hands.

“What?”

She looked at him then, eyes scornful. “Don’t worry.  I’ll tell them a beggar pulled the thorn, and left before I could speak to him. I will remain a spinster.”

“Is that what you want?”

“No!” Tears welled up in her eyes. “I hoped for the minor freedoms a wife is given, and a husband I could tolerate. I would have ignored his faithlessness, raised our children, and found happiness where I could.”

“Would you marry me, instead?” He asked without thinking. But as soon as he spoke, it felt right.

“Yes,” she said flatly.

“You don’t have to sound so happy about it,” he sneered, stung.

“You’ve taken all my choices away. Why should I be happy?”

“I didn’t-” Kyle paused. “I’m sorry. Let me start again. I admire you. I have rarely met a woman of your poise, determination, and…aim.” He touched his head, and Sylvia giggled. “I would be honored if you would marry me.”

Sylvia smiled shyly, “I accept your offer.”

“Tell me about yourself, Princess.” Kyle said.

“Please, call me Sylvia.” She paused to think. “I suppose I should begin with when I first figured out how to walk…”

When they reached the guarded castle gate, Sylvia straightened her spine and set her face in an imperious mask. “What are you waiting for?” She asked the guards. “I must speak to my father, the king, immediately. Let us in!”

The guards moved. Sylvia slid off her horse, tossing the reins to a waiting stable boy. Kyle hurried to keep up with her. “We’re in luck. They’re in court,” she whispered.

Then she swept into the room, walking past the crowds of courtiers without a glance. She curtseyed in front of the thrones. “Your Majesties, I bring good news. Our line no longer suffers under a curse. I have returned with my fiancée. We merely wait your approval to wed.”

“To a commoner?” The king asked, face red.

“But noble of heart, as the curse stated. The only man I may wed, bound to me by magic.” Sylvia looked up at her father.

“You-” The king began, stopped by the queen touching his arm. Kyle saw him glance at the watching crowd.

“We will arrange for everything,” the queen said coolly.

Two weeks later, Kyle waited for his bride. She looked cool and collected, until her eyes met his and a warm smile spread across her face. Her lips twitched as she fought to get her expression under control and finally succeeded.

“I’m not sure you’re allowed to look so happy,” he teased.

“I know, Mother will be disappointed, but I never thought I’d get to marry someone I liked.”

“Shhh,” the queen hissed, and both returned their attention to the ceremony. At its end, unprompted, Kyle kissed Sylvia thoroughly, and heard the queen’s disapproving whisper. “Show some decorum!”

“I have quite the in-laws,” he murmured into Sylvia’s ear.

“They’ll die eventually. Though, my brother is cut from the same cloth as Father.” She nodded to a tall, broad-shouldered man glaring at them.

“Wonderful.”

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About Caitlin Stern

I have a MA in English, and have so many fantasy/urban fantasy WIPs it's not even funny. I'm an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, biography, fiction, and anything else that catches my interest. I collect books, and bookmarks I find that are visually appealing and useful.

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