The Rise and the Return

The East was in a period of great celebration. Daily parades marched through the village streets, every home and shop was decorated in colorful banners and wreaths, and handfuls of flower petals were thrown and floated through the air. Each citizen smiled, proud of what they had recently accomplished.

It had taken over a decade for the Sleeping Kingdom to fully recover from the horrific sleeping curse of the past, but at last, it had restored itself to the prosperous nation it had been before. The people of the East charged into the future, reclaiming their home as the Eastern Kingdom.

A week’s worth of celebrations concluded in the great hall of Queen Sleeping Beauty’s castle. It was so crowded, the entire kingdom seemed to be there; many had to stand or sit in windowsills. The queen herself; her husband, King Chase; and their royal advisor sat at a high table over‑ looking the festivities.

A small performance was taking place in the center of the hall. Thespians reenacted Sleeping Beauty’s christen‑ ing, portraying the fairies who had blessed her and the evil Enchantress who had cursed her to die after pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. However, luckily, another fairy reformed the curse, so that when the princess eventually pricked her finger, she and the entire kingdom simply went to sleep. They slept for a hundred years, and the performers took great delight in re‑creating the moment King Chase kissed her and awoke them all.

“I think it’s time we disposed of our little gifts from the queen,” a woman shouted from the back of the hall. She stood upon a table and cheerfully gestured to her wrist.

Everyone in the kingdom wore flexible bands around their wrists made from tree sap. In the years prior, Queen Sleeping Beauty had instructed them to snap their  wrists with the bands whenever they felt unnecessary fatigue. The bands helped the citizens stay awake, fighting off the lin‑ gering effects of the curse.

Fortunately, the bands weren’t needed anymore. Every‑ one in the great hall ripped them off their wrists and threw them happily in the air.

“Your Majesty, won’t you tell us again where you learned a trick like that?” a man asked the queen about the bands.

“You’ll think strangely of me when I tell you,” Sleeping Beauty said. “It was from a child. He and his sister were visiting the castle a year ago. He said he had used a band to keep himself awake in school and suggested the kingdom try it.”

“Remarkable!” the man said, and laughed with her. “Fascinating, isn’t it? I believe the most extraordinary

ideas come from children,” the queen said. “If only we all could be so perceptive, we would find the simplest solu‑ tions to the greatest problems are right under our noses.”

Sleeping Beauty lightly tapped the side of her glass with a spoon. She stood and addressed the eager people.

“My friends,” Sleeping Beauty said, raising her glass. “Today marks a very special day in our history and an even better day for our future. As of this morning, our kingdom’s trading deals, crop production, and overall consciousness have not only been restored but improved since the sleeping curse was cast upon this land!”

Her people cheered so loudly that the castle shook with joy. Sleeping Beauty looked to her side and shared a warm smile with her husband.

“We should not forget the horrible curse of the past, but when we look back upon the dark time, let us remember how we triumphed over it,” Sleeping Beauty continued. Small tears formed in her eyes. “Let it be a warning to all who try to interfere with our prosperity: The Eastern King‑ dom is here to stay and stands united against any force of evil that gets in our way!”

The approving roar was so loud, it actually knocked a man off the windowsill he was sitting on.

“I have never been prouder to be among you than tonight! Here’s to you!” the jubilant queen said, and the room joined her in sipping from their glasses.

“All hail Queen Beauty!” a man in the middle of the hall shouted.

“All hail the queen!” the rest cheered with him. “All hail the queen! All hail the queen!”

Sleeping Beauty waved at them graciously and took a seat. The festivities continued into the night, but just before midnight, the queen was overcome by a strange sensation— a feeling she hadn’t felt in years.

“Well, isn’t that bizarre?” Sleeping Beauty said to her‑ self, looking off into the distance with a smirk.

“Is there something wrong, my love?” King Chase asked.

Sleeping Beauty stood and headed toward the staircase behind them.

“You’ll have to excuse me, dear,” the queen said to her husband. “I’m rather sleepy.”

She was just as surprised to say it as he was to hear it, because Sleeping Beauty hadn’t slept in years. The queen had made a promise to her people that she wouldn’t rest until the kingdom was properly restored; now, looking around at all the joyous faces in the hall, both the king and the queen knew that the promise had been fulfilled.

“Good night, my love. Sleep well,” King  Chase  said, and kissed her hand.

In her chambers, the queen changed into her favorite nightgown and slipped into her bed for the first time in over a decade. She felt as if she were being reunited with old friends. She had forgotten the feeling of the cool sheets against her legs and arms, the softness of her pillow, and the sinking sensation as she settled into the mattress.

The sounds of celebration could be heard in the queen’s chambers, but she didn’t mind; they were actually soothing to her. Sleeping Beauty took a deep breath and fell into a very deep sleep—almost as deep as the one during the one‑ hundred‑year curse, except she knew she could awaken anytime she wished.

When King Chase joined her later, he couldn’t help but smile at the sight of his wife sleeping peacefully. He hadn’t seen her look this way since the day he’d seen her for the first time.

In the great hall, the celebration finally concluded. The lamps and fireplaces were extinguished throughout the castle. The servants finished cleaning up and were dis‑ missed to their quarters.

All was finally quiet in the castle. But a few hours before dawn, the silence was broken.

Sleeping Beauty and King Chase were awoken by a thunderous banging on their chamber door. The king and queen instantly sat up.

“Your Majesty!” a man shouted from the other side of the door. “Forgive me, but we must come inside!”

The door burst open, and the royal advisor ran into the room, followed by a dozen suited guards. They surrounded the bed.

“What on earth is going on?!” King Chase yelled. “How dare you barge into our—”

“I’m so sorry, Your Highness, but we must get the queen to safety immediately,” the advisor said.

“Safety?” Sleeping Beauty asked.

“We’ll explain on the way there, Your Majesty,” the advisor said. “But right now, we must get you into the car‑ riage as fast as possible—only you. Traveling alone will be much less conspicuous than a carriage transporting you and the king.”

The advisor looked at her with frantic eyes, begging her to oblige. The queen froze.

“Chase?!”  Sleeping  Beauty  said,  and  looked  to  her husband—she wasn’t sure what to do.

The king was at a loss for words. “If they say you need to go, you must go” was all he could muster.

“I cannot leave my people,” Sleeping Beauty said.  “With all due respect, Your Majesty, you’re no good to anyone dead,” the advisor said.

Sleeping Beauty felt the pit of her stomach drop. What did he mean, dead?

Before Sleeping Beauty knew it, the guards had lifted her out of the bed and onto her feet. They quickly escorted her and the advisor to the door. She didn’t even get to say good‑bye.

They rushed down a spiral staircase to the lower levels of the castle. The stone steps were rough  on  the  queen’s bare feet.

“Someone please tell me what is happening!” Sleeping Beauty said.

“We must get you out of the kingdom as quickly as pos‑ sible,” the advisor said.

“Why?” she asked, starting to fight off the guards escorting her. No one replied, so she stopped in the middle of the stairs, solid as a rock. “I won’t move another step until someone informs me! I am the queen! I have the right to know!”

The advisor’s face went pale.

“I don’t mean to alarm you any more, Your Majesty,” he said, his jaw quivering. “But shortly after midnight, after all the guests had gone home, two soldiers on duty near the front of the castle witnessed a bright flash of light, and a spinning wheel appeared out of thin air.”

Sleeping Beauty’s eyes grew wide, and the color faded from her face.

“They didn’t think it was anything serious—a foolish prank to spoil our party this evening perhaps,” he contin‑ ued. “The soldiers went to inspect the spinning wheel and it burst into flames. As soon as it did, something else happened.”

“And what was that?” she said.

“The vines and thornbushes that covered the castle during the sleeping curse—the plants that were cleared out and dumped in the Thornbush Pit—are growing back,” he told her. “I’ve never seen anything grow so fast; nearly half the castle is covered already. The plants are consuming the entire kingdom.”

“Are you telling me that the curse in the Thornbush Pit has spread throughout the kingdom?” Sleeping Beauty asked.

“No, Your Majesty,” the advisor said with a heavy gulp. “That was just an old witch’s curse. This is dark magic— very powerful dark magic! The kind our kingdom has only been exposed to once before.”

“No.” Sleeping Beauty gasped, and covered her mouth.

“You don’t mean—?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” the advisor said. “Now please cooperate with us—we must get you out of the kingdom as quickly as possible.”

The guards grabbed hold of the queen again, and they traveled deeper into the castle; this time she did not fight them. They ran down the stairs until there were no more stairs to descend. They shot through a pair of wooden doors, and Sleeping Beauty found herself in the castle stables.

There were four carriages in front of her. Each was circled by a dozen soldiers on horses and ready to depart at any second. Three of the carriages were bright and golden, of the queen’s personal collection, but she was escorted to the fourth, a small, dull, and unassuming one. The soldiers surrounding this carriage weren’t dressed in armor like the others, but were disguised as farmers and townspeople.

The guards lifted the queen inside. There was barely enough room for her to sit.

“And my husband?” Sleeping Beauty asked as she put a hand out to prevent them from shutting the door behind her. “He’ll be all right, ma’am,” the advisor said. “The king and I will be traveling as soon as we send out the decoy car‑ riages.  We’ve  had  this  planned  in  the  event  the  castle

should ever be under attack. Trust me; it’s the safest way.” “I never authorized such plans!” Sleeping Beauty said. “No.  It  was  your  parents’  order,”  the  advisor  said.

“It was one of the last things they instructed before they died.”

This news made the queen’s heart  pound  even  harder. Her parents had spent the majority of their lives trying to protect her and, even in death, they were still trying.

“Where am I going?” she asked.

“The Fairy Kingdom for now,” the advisor said. “You’ll be safest with the Fairy Council. The decoy carriages will be sent in other directions as a distraction. Now, you must hurry.”

He gently pushed her the rest of the way inside and shut the carriage door firmly behind her. Even the dozen guards surrounding her small carriage did little to comfort her. She knew the situation was beyond their ability to protect her.

The advisor nodded to the decoy carriages, and they set off into the night. A few moments later, he nodded to her driver, and like a cannonball, the queen’s carriage shot off into the night, the horses galloping at full speed.

Through her carriage’s tiny windows, Sleeping  Beauty saw the horrors that the advisor had described to her.

Scattered all across the castle grounds she saw soldiers and servants fighting off the rogue thornbushes and vines growing around them. The plants grew straight out of the ground and attacked them like serpents wrapping around their prey. The vines crept up the sides of the castle, break‑ ing through the windows and pulling people out, dangling them hundreds of feet in the air.

Thorns and vines shot out of the ground toward Sleeping Beauty’s carriage, but the soldiers were quick to slice them with their swords.

Queen Sleeping Beauty had never felt so helpless in her life. She saw villagers—some within reach of her carriage— fall victim to the leafy monsters. There was nothing she could do to help them. All she could do was watch and hope she could find help once she reached the Fairy King‑ dom. The guilt of leaving her husband and kingdom behind weighed heavily on her, but the advisor was right: She’d be no good to anyone dead.

The castle became smaller and smaller behind her as the carriage traveled away from the devastation. Soon they were passing through a forest, and all the queen could see outside were dark trees around them for miles.

Even after an hour of traveling, Sleeping Beauty was as scared as ever. She kept whispering to herself under her  breath  “We’re  almost  there…We’re  almost   there…” though she had no idea how close they were.

Suddenly, a high‑pitched whooshing sound came from the trees. Sleeping Beauty looked out the window just in time to see a soldier and his horse thrown high into the forest beside the path. Another whooshing sound swooped toward them, and another soldier and his horse were thrown into the trees on the other side of the path. They had  been  found.

Every second was filled with the terrified cries of the soldiers and horses as they were flung into the forest. What‑ ever was out there, it was picking them off one by one.

Sleeping Beauty crouched down, trembling on the floorboards of the carriage. She knew it was only a matter of time before all the soldiers were gone.

One final swoop took the remaining horses and soldiers with it; their cries echoed into the night. The carriage crashed to the ground, falling on its  side and skidding across the ground until coming to a stop. Everything was quiet in the forest now. There were no sounds of wounded soldiers or horses. The queen was all alone.

Sleeping Beauty crawled through the carriage door and carefully made her way down to the ground. She was limp‑ ing and she clutched her left wrist but was so frightened, she barely felt her injuries.

Was the attack over? Could she safely call for help or search for survivors? Surely, if whatever was out there had wanted her dead, she would have been killed by now.

Sleeping Beauty was just about to call for help when a blinding flash of violet light filled the forest. The queen screamed and fell to the ground, covering her face—but the flash only lasted a second. She smelled smoke, and then got to her feet and looked around. The entire forest was ablaze, and every tree had been turned into a spinning wheel.

There was no denying it now; the kingdom’s greatest fear had come true.

“The Enchantress,” Sleeping Beauty whispered to herself. “She’s back.”

Own it Today: