A Kiss in Time

by Alex Flinn

Chapter 1

If 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 at night.

“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 alone.

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 better currency. “Not even God.”

“God cares not for rank and privilege. If you tell such an awful lie, you will surely be damned.”

“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 kingdom 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 welcomed 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 forward to give the gift of obedience—which 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 not—I must say—appreciated.

“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 banquet 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 Malvolia 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 Malvolia’s 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 princess shall be awakened by her true love’s 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 improbable. 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 disappeared 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 wouldn’t we eventually die, like old people did? Indeed, the cure seemed worse than the original punishment.