The castle was a sleepy, overgrown place. There seemed to be no humans about, and even the animals that lived there moved sleepily. The people of the village were never quite sure if it was inhabited or not, for legend said ‘yes’ and common sense said ‘no’. As with all mysterious things, legends had grown up around it as thickly and as quickly as had the briar hedge that encircled its walls.
The favorite legend of the people was the one about a sleeping princess and the handsome prince who would someday come to wake her.
“The princess will sleep for one hundred years is what the legend says, but I’m not too sure about it myself,” one woman said as she scrubbed at her washing.
It was one of the last chances to do washing outdoors before the autumn rains came, and many women had gathered to work together and to gossip.
“That’s the problem with them legends,” another spoke up, “because others say it’s fifty years, and they go even as far as to say the prince’s name will be Randolph.”
The first woman snorted and shook her head.
“Well, why shouldn’t it be?” an old woman said looking at them sharply. Old Mira was a fierce believer in the legends, and everyone knew better than to make light of them in her hearing.
The women silenced their tongues and lowered their heads respectfully.
“And besides, it’s been almost one hundred years since that castle went silent and the hedge grew. We’ll find out soon enough if the legends are true or not. And mind you, they never said he was a prince—just the true love.”
Maybe she had been around long enough to know the true story, or maybe it was just coincidence; for Old Mira was right in believing the legends. Ninety and nine years (and several days as well) before, the beautiful princess had pricked her finger on that fateful spindle causing her to fall asleep and the entire castle with her.
At the very time of this discussion when autumn was coming on and the leaves were turning to gold in celebration, she was laying stretched out on a luxurious bed in her chamber. Finely embroidered silken blankets were wrapped about her, and she was sleeping as peacefully as she had for close to one hundred years.
A small fire burned on the hearth replenished by one who had taken pity on the sleeping castle and devoted himself to serving his overlords. When he had first stumbled upon the strange sight, he had been a young boy out watching his sheep.
One stubborn ewe in particular was constantly wandering off, and he found himself having to follow her again leaving the dog to watch the other, more compliant sheep.
“She had better not have found the swamp again,” he grumbled aloud as he hiked through the underbrush following her trail. “As sure as my name is Ran, that ewe is worth less than her keep.”
Despite his grumbling, the boy really did enjoy his job and these excursions into the woods helped to make it a little more exciting. Still, the old sheep was a troublesome one, and he didn’t relish finding where she had gone this time.
She hadn’t found the swamp but instead something worse—a thick briar hedge.
“Hold on a minute, I’m coming,” he called in reply to her frantic bleating as he drew his long knife to cut his way through the thorns. To his surprise, they drew back at his touch and behind them a great castle loomed tall and still.
He untangled the sheep and caught her neck in his crook to lead her along; but they did not start back for the herd. Instead, he started towards the castle and stopped abruptly at the gate for it was open! Scratching his light brown hair, he studied the scene. The guards were there, all right; but their eyes were shut, and they were slumped over from a long sleep. Tiptoeing past them into the courtyard, he saw a sight that sent an excited shiver up his spine.
Everyone in the courtyard had fallen asleep at whatever they were doing and stayed in their positions all these long years. Even the cook was still poised to taste his stew, but the stew was of course quite a thing of the past. The birds that had made their nests in the deteriorating walls had apparently eaten it, and the fire that had warmed it was only a pile of dark ashes.
This last and very important detail had led Ran’s quick and benevolent mind to a noble decision. “I have no idea how they have kept warm all these long years, but this winter I know one thing—I will build their fires.”
And he set about doing that very thing. The ewe wandered off again; but he didn’t care, for he was quite busy gathering wood and starting the fires. Each room seemed to have more sleeping courtiers in it than the last, and he laughed with amusement over a chess game that was about to be won by the noble duke.
“He’ll be pleased to see it is still here when he awakes, though that will be ten years from now,” he said then lowered his voice because of the eerie echo. “Is that all the rooms?”
He knew that it wasn’t, for there was one more—with its door shut—that he hesitated to open. Squaring his shoulders, he decided that it would be best to do it and walked down the hall to open the door.
What he saw made him gasp in astonishment. There was the princess Briar Rose, realer than any legend and twice as beautiful too. He removed his shoes and walked over to her bedside to get a closer look. She looked no older for the many years she had slept and seemed to be only a few years older than he.
“When you awake, princess, I will be a grown man; but for now I will be your friend and build your fire.”
He moved very softly as he worked; for, although he knew that it would take a prince to wake her, the stillness of the castle seemed as if it shouldn’t be broken. When he was done, he stole one last look at the sleeping princess and left to find his sheep and return home.
He came faithfully for many days after that. Always he laughed at the duke’s game, always he saved the princess’s room for last, and always he removed his shoes and spoke a few words to her before leaving. Always he kept the true story of the castle a secret and laughed with the others when the legends were mentioned.
As the years passed and he grew into a man, a strange hope began to grow into his heart that maybe the prince would never come. Maybe she would awake by herself, and maybe… But he chided himself and set about his work as the true service it was.
Even as the days grew fewer for the prince to come, he still came to the castle to do his work. Excitement in the village began to grow, and there were whispers and rumors about seeing whether or not the legends were true. They had never wholly believed them, but now when the time was almost ripe it was more interesting to believe than not to.
About the time that winter was coming and the mountain pass was completely blocked, the one hundred years was due to be up. Ran went about his work that day with a deep sorrow in his heart.
“Tomorrow it will be one hundred years since you have fallen asleep, princess. Your prince will come, and it is time that I say goodbye.” He looked down at her sleeping peacefully so oblivious to his pain but told himself that if she had only been awake she would have known. “It is strange for one to love someone that has never spoken to you before, but from knowing this castle I know you. I have seen what you are like,” he looked away towards the fireplace and steadied his voice. When he looked back at her he thought he saw a small tear slide down her cheek.
On a sudden impulse he reached down and wiped it away but was startled out of his wits when she began to stir from her dreams. Running towards the window, he only had a few seconds to jump out of it before her eyes flew open and she sat up.
Yawning, she looked around the room and said sleepily, “He has been here.” Getting up out of her bed she straightened the covers a little and looked out of the window at the beautiful bright sky. “Oh, it is good to be awake.”
“Indeed,” her mother said from the doorway, and they embraced each other in the joy of the moment.
“What are these?” the Queen asked holding up the pair of boots near the fireplace.
“They must belong to the prince,” Briar Rose said excitedly but when she looked closer she saw that they were not the shoes of a noble but of a very common man.
“Where is he now?” the Queen asked.
“I never saw him.”
“He will come back.”
All day many fears washed over the princess as she went about her usual routine. She had woken up a day early. Would the prince still come? If this man was not the prince, who was he and how had he awakened her?
There was extra work to do which helped to keep her mind busy with other things; for after all, when the housekeeping hasn’t happened for one hundred years there is plenty to do when you begin again. The cook and his helpers set about finding food somewhere, and the castle was cleaned from top to bottom. The princess was everywhere lending an extra hand for even royalty must help when there is quite a lot to do.
Still, when darkness began to fall and things had a little more order, the princess was left to think. It is very dangerous for one to be left alone with worried thoughts, and the princess wisely told them to her mother and her father.
“Mother, you do not think that the boots belong to a prince, do you,” she stated rather than asked.
“No, Briar Rose, I do not,” her mother said frankly.
“How then could he wake me up if he was not a prince?”
“Daughter,” her father said, “when you pricked your finger on that spindle, Old Mira told us what would happen. She said that your true love would wake you, but she never said he was a prince.”
“From all appearances, this man who left his boots has been building the fires here every winter for who knows how long. True love means sacrifice and loyalty such as this—do you not think this is princely enough?” her mother said smiling.
“Will he come back? I didn’t sleep quite one hundred years, you know. And will he mind my scar?” the young woman said looking at the finger she had pricked so long ago.
“Briar Rose, you must trust God that when He brings the man perfect for you He will take care of all the details. A little scar is nothing, if you have a beautiful heart. Goodnight, my daughter,” her father said laying a hand lovingly on her shoulder.
“Goodnight, Father. Goodnight, Mother, and thank you,” she said hugging them each in turn.
She need not worry. It would all happen as God had planned. The sun slipped lower in the sky as she stared out the window at the thick hedge. Father had said they would leave it up one more day, but then the men would have to work hard at burning it out the next day. What was the man who had left his boots like?
She yawned sleepily and turned towards her bed. Laying down on it, she prayed for patience and fell asleep. As she slept she dreamed a beautiful dream. The winter air was cold and sweet and little snow flurries drifted down to cover the unsightly hedge in a beautiful coating of frosty white.
A man was coming towards it out of the woods with a gray and white dog at his heels. As he reached the thorns, he reached out a roughened hand to touch them; and they sprang back as if they were gates. Then he strode up to the gates of the castle. The guards said something to him and he gave a reply, but the princess could not hear anything in her dreams.
That didn’t matter for they let him in anyway, and he spoke for a long time with the King and the Queen. She smiled in her sleep when she saw him for he was wearing boots exactly like the ones they had found in her room that morning. She didn’t care that he was dressed like a shepherd. He was nice looking anyway and so very, very kind!
The dream was beginning to go on, when the princess felt a light touch on her shoulder, and she opened her eyes. There he was. He had actually come.
“It’s you! I knew you would come back,” she said smiling up at him.
“My name is Randolph. Once I knew I could awake you, I knew it was all right. Your parents have agreed. Will you marry me?” he asked smiling back and helping her sit up.
“Yes, yes, I will. Definitely, for I know you have a princely character. How long have you been building the fires, anyway?” she asked studying him.
“Long enough,” he replied. “Long enough to know that you are a princess indeed.”
“I have a scar,” she said almost irrelevantly showing him her finger where she had pricked it on the spindle.
“I am a shepherd. That plant out there is a hedge. But when God has a beautiful plan, He uses everything for His purposes.”
Briar Rose smiled at her prince, and Randolph smiled back. Her parents smiled at both of them, and God smiled at the fruition of His beautiful plan.