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The Sleeper's Bride
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, depending on your definittion Romance
Summary: A woman wakes up after 100 years with patchy memory, and still hopes to find her bethroted
I remember passing through a town that swore they’d had a “sleeping beauty”, who had been on display in a glass coffin in the city hall for a century. They had at least half a dozen stories how she got there - her parents insulted a fairy, her father cursed having a daughter rather than a son, you know the kind.
All the stories agreed that she did wake up after a hundred years, and was, like you are when you sleep too long, not entirely clear in the head.
And here’s a story of what happened afterwards.
She awoke with her head full of grey clouds, and looked around, facing the crowd gathered to watch her wake. Nobody wanted to be the first to speak, but eventually she asked, “Where is my bride?”
That started everybody talking, because nobody remembered a story of the Sleeper having a bride.
The major did not feel all that good about letting her go on her own, but she was adamant that she had to find her bride, so he merely made sure she had good boots and a coat and some other provisions - she had brought money into the town’s kitty, attracting tourists, so it just seemed fair.
The Sleeper was glad to leave the town behind, because it seemed far too noisy. She followed a street that followed a stream, all three of them meeting a great river near nightfall. Since it was summer and the water was low, she decided to sleep under the bridge that spanned the stream.
When she awoke in the morning, a water spirit was watching her, eyes floating just above the surface.
“Good morning to you,” said the woman.
The water spirit laughed. “Are you lost?”
“Not more than anyone. I have lost someone, though. I’m looking for my bride.”
At that, the water spirit rose until she looked the Sleeper straight in the eyes. “Maybe I’m your bride.”
The Sleeper looked at her, was not sure. She could not remember much at all. “Kiss me. I shall recognise you if you are.”
So the water spirit embraced and kissed her, all rippling cool water stroking her skin and making her shiver.
“No, my bride is not cold like you.”
“So? Oh, well, if you want to go on, go on.” The water spirit disappeared with a splash, and the Sleeper took to the road in sodden clothes. But she kept walking, and sun and wind dried her off.
The land changed, and she found herself walking through a vast forest. After a while she left the road and looked for a place to rest away from all passers-by, when the leaves around her rustled like a gale shook them, and a tree spirit appeared. “What are you doing here? You should stay on the road.”
The Sleeper bowed. “I have been walking far, and would like to rest away from it. Will you allow me?”
The tree spirit nodded. “If you will tell me why you travel, you may stay a short while.”
“Thank you.” The Sleeper sat on a fallen tree to eat and drink. She offered of her bread to the hostess, who declined. Refreshed, the Sleeper said, “I slept a hundred years, or so they tell me. I remember few things but that I was to marry. I want to travel until I find my bride.”
“You don’t remember more? So I might be your bride?”
“Will you kiss me? If you are, I should recognise you that way.”
The tree spirit’s kiss was sap-sweet, and her hands were strong, but her lips and skin felt rough as bark.
The Sleeper said, “Thank you, but you are not my bride.”
“That is all right. You are more polite than most humans. If you go this way, up in the mountains, you may find help. The winds hear a lot of stories.” The tree spirit showed the Sleeper to a rarely-travelled path and bade her farewell.
So the Sleeper walked and walked, slowly but steadily, up to the high mountain where the wind spirits dance.
They barely took shape and asked her what she was doing up in their realm, while they played with her hair and coat.
“I am looking for my bride I had to leave behind long ago.”
One of the spirits went as still as they can, twirling in front of the sleeper. “I think I promised to marry a human long ago. Could I be your bride?”
“If you kiss me, I shall know.”
The wind spirit’s kiss seemed to fill the sleeper’s lungs and head, and her embrace blew between the sleeper’s clothes and skin, a light, wild caress.
“I’m sorry, you are not my bride.”
“It is as it is. If you meet a human who had an air spirit promised to marry her, will you tell her I’m sorry I forgot?”
The Sleeper promised, and walked on, down the high mountain, into scraggy, rocky valleys catching the heat of the sun.
Tired from the climbing, she looked for shelter to rest, and found a cave. There a fire spirit found her, and asked, “What is a human doing here?”
“I am looking for my bride,” the sleeper said, startled.
“Are you now. What does she look like?”
“I don’t remember.”
“So how will you recognise her?”
“By her kiss.”
The fire spirit smiled. “May I kiss you?”
The Sleeper thought the fire spirit might burn her, but she did not feel scared. “That would be kind.”
The fire spirit’s touch was soothing warm, her kiss hot, but not painful. This close, she smelled of incense.
“I remember,” the Sleeper whispered.
“And I remember you. Nobody else was brave enough to kiss me.”
The fire spirit gave the Sleeper back her name, so they could make their vows, and live together as they had promised, so long ago.