In this gender swapped version of Sleeping Beauty, Beau has been learning magic from his fairy keeper not knowing he is heir to the kingdom instead of the forest foundling. As Beau begins to unravel the secrets of his life, he repeatedly runs into an exciting fairy named Cauley, who keeps teaching him clever spells. Beau soon discovers that Cauley is the son of the dark fairy, Meridian: the women who mistakenly gave Beau her magic. And now she wants it back.
“It’s another. It’s another baby.”
Those words had looped through the queen’s head for years. She should have run from the castle into the woods and lived as a hermit. Just escaped and never returned the moment she had seen the second little prince—a rival for his brother’s throne, an enemy after only his first breath. But duty had bound her. She’d stayed silent as the king and his ministers had ordered the boy away from his birth right. The king couldn’t kill his own son; it would have been a mark on his own soul. That was something he was not willing to do; what he was willing to do however was send his boy to the mountains to be raised by strangers.
To be raised to think he was nothing more than a peasant, while his identical twin brother ruled the land.
The scent of porridge always brought strange thoughts; ones Beau could never quite understand. Dark rooms with animal heads, faces of people he’d never met, bulrushes—so many bulrushes. It didn’t seem possible to have these memories, and yet, he did. Surely, he had lived in the forest all his life?
He heard Nyla coughing and quickly jumped out of his daydreams of grand beds with canopies and bearskins on the floor. Although Nyla was kind in essence, age and winter angered her so it was best to do as she instructed.
“Porridge is almost ready,” Beau called up the ladder.
The house was cold, as it always was this time of year. Although lately the frost seemed to be seeping into the woodwork, making even Beau’s twenty-year-old bones ache. The house in the forest had seen better times.
“Boy, where have you put my shawl?”
Beau glanced around the kitchen, certain he’d seen it only that morning.
“Oh, it’s here.” He grabbed it off the kitchen stool. “I’ll put it by the fire to warm it up.”
“Don’t set it alight.”
“That only happened once.”
“Once is enough.”
Beau couldn’t wait for spring. Nyla was decidedly happier when the earth woke up. Not to mention her flowers and herbs were readily available. Nyla belonged to a race of mountain people called ‘Old Ones’ who were able to ignore the laws of physics and science governing every other person in the kingdom. To remain eternally young, Nyla needed the milk of a special type of flower which only grew in one place. During winter, after her supplies ran out, she aged rapidly; her body no longer obeying the lies the flowers created. This winter had been the hardest, Nyla was too old at eighty-two to be living in the woods. Beau spread the shawl across the fire grate, careful not to burn it. Something caught his eye and he quickly turned to look at the kitchen window; a white world of snow and ice stared back at him. But he was certain he had seen something dark and quick dart across the glass. He raced across the house and to the door, throwing it open and peering around.
As usual, the silence of a forgotten world engulfed him. They were so high up in the mountains, they went entire winters without seeing a single soul.
“But I saw something.”
“Close the door, it’s freezing.”
Beau quickly shut the door and gazed at Nyla, her long hair hung to her waist in a waterfall of shimmering grey, her lined cheeks pink with the cold, her purple eyes the only sharp thing about her.
“Put another log on the fire, this house is freezing.”
It was hard to believe that Nyla was almost jolly in the spring, exuberant in the summer, and pensive in the Autumn. Why the winters had to be so hard, no one knew. Beau quickly did as he was asked, then picked up Nyla’s now toasty shawl and wrapped it around her. He served the two bowls of porridge and sat opposite her to eat.
“Not enough syrup in this.”
“We’ve run out of syrup,” Beau said.
Nyla sighed for so long she was in danger of falling over. Beau ate his porridge in silence but couldn’t escape the memories it invoked: large fireplaces with giant flames, tables and chairs set in front of them, a little boy eating at a small table. And people everywhere. How was it possible to have so many people in memories when months passed between sightings of them? But the strangest thing of all: a woman wearing a crown. Beau constantly wondered how he could have ever met a queen?
“What chores do you have today, boy?”
“I need to chop the last of the firewood and make bread.”
“What will you be doing today?” Beau asked.
“Making potions with the last of the flowers. We need to sell them at the fayre.”
Beau lifted his eyebrows in surprise. Surely, the woman wasn’t planning to head into town for the solstice? Not in this weather.
“Are you going to the fayre? Aren’t you a little…”
Nyla glared at Beau. “A little what?”
Beau bit his tongue. Nyla could not handle being called old. Call her whatever you will, but never suggest that she cannot control Father Time any more than anyone else could.
“I merely meant that the weather is bad, the town is a far way off. Maybe it would be too dangerous to go.”
“Boy, we need money. Now that I no longer live with the Old Ones, I must live as mankind has decided to live. That means I live with the need to make money.”
Beau scowled into his porridge. Nyla had never told him why she’d abandoned the Old Ones, only that she’d left and found him wandering alone in the forest so she had taken him in.
“We have to make money as the humans do,” she said again as though trying to convince herself that this was what she actually wanted.
“But Nyla…the fayre is so far, how will you make it?”
She stood up. “I shan’t be going.”
Beau frowned at her. “But you just said—”
“I said I was making potions, I never said anything about going to the fayre myself. You shall be going.”
Beau tried to hide the look of rapture on his face. He buried himself low over his bowl and ate his porridge quickly. He couldn’t let Nyla know that he had been dreaming of such a task for what seemed like years. Although he was free to roam the forest, he was not truly free to do as he wished. Beau had spent his teenage years testing his boundaries, seeing how far out he could go before the shadow of Nyla fell on him. It turned out, he couldn’t go far. And now here was Nyla practically giving him leave to wander to the end of the kingdom for who knew how long. There would be other young people there, someone else to talk to besides the ageing sprite. Beau held his breath excitedly, there would be men! He gripped at the spoon until his knuckles turned white.
He had once, many years ago, found a book in Nyla’s chest: a small thing, not much bigger than his palm, but it had been filled with the most delectable of sketches. Naked people in beautiful positions, being fondled by other naked people. They had all made his stomach tingle, but that had been nothing compared to how the last few drawings had made him feel. Sketch after sketch of men, burly and naked, their cocks thick and almost touching their belly buttons. The rapture on their faces as they manipulated their own rods. The ecstasy on their faces as other naked men used their hands or mouths to exult. Beau had memorised those drawings until they were all he dreamt about at night, he liked the tendrils of excitement they brought to his solar plexus. But soon that hadn’t been enough, and he had sneaked back to the chest while Nyla had tended her plants. Beau had poured over the pictures again, trying to find the way out of the constant loop of never having enough, when suddenly he realised the answer had been right in front of him the entire time. A Viking like man on his knees with an axe in one hand and his own cock in his other, complete with an expression of divine fulfilment.
That was the day Beau stole the little book, took it to his own tiny cloister, locked the door, closed the shutters and hid in the corner with just enough light to see the sketches. He liked the pages which included women, but he liked the men more. He always had. Handsome men caught the breath in his throat and made his stomach flip over. Women never did that to him. He’d flipped over to his favourite sketch: a Viking propped up on an altar, a man standing above him, his cock buried deep in the warrior’s mouth. Between his own spread legs was another man sucking on his meat. Beau wasn’t sure which of these men he wanted to be, surely, they were all to be envied. While he had worked his own shaft, his mind had him playing the role of each of those men. It would become his favourite sketch for years. He no longer needed to look at it to know every line.
At the breakfast table, over his porridge, Beau smiled at the memory. The first time his body had exploded over that sketch had been the best time. Although he’d stolen the book again and again, like everything, it had become dull. The men became boring, the pictures had lost their lustre, and even Beau touching himself had become routine. You can’t surprise yourself with your own touch, you can’t re-imagine the same men in new ways, you can’t pretend something old is somehow new.
But the sight of new men at the fayre might change all that. Beau wasn’t socially awkward enough to think the men would be walking around with no clothes, but he could put new faces to the men in his fantasies and maybe that would make the excitement return.
When breakfast was over, Beau stood up, cleared the table and washed the dishes in water made from melted snow. The winter had some uses. Nyla left the house and went out into the greenhouse to make her potions, Beau could see her tending to plants that she wouldn’t need for weeks, and sacrificing the ones which would be journeying to the fayre.
Beau knew he was supposed to practise the new spells he had been taught the day before, making Nyla money was one of the ways he was expected to repay her for taking in the foundling. But she’d never actually explained to him why, as a human, he was able to do these spells. Beau was beginning to believe there was more to his story than Nyla was letting on. He was also no longer interested in learning to give humans what they thought they wanted. He needed more from life than to be a glorified snake oil salesman. Still, people journeyed from all over the kingdom to seek Nyla’s help, sometimes she gave it, other times she redirected the people to another powerful elder, who still lived with the Old Ones. But no matter what the ending, Beau had been instructed to hide in the root cellar beneath the house until they were once again alone. No one was to know there was a foundling living with Nyla. Beau knew to lie if he was ever caught out in the forest.
“I’m the son of a logger and trapper,” he would say in mimic of the lie.
He had yet to use it in fifteen years. No one cared about a child running loose in the forest. There were always children running between the foliage.
But for Beau, the life of secrecy was getting old. The idea of mastering spells and potions to give to other people was getting old. He wanted more from life.
Something darted across the window, and Beau quickly turned around to get a better view, but he’d missed it. Whatever it was crossed the opposite window and he raced to the door, threw it open and ran outside. He double blinked at the view on the ridge, a man on a white horse galloped through the snow.
How’d he get a horse through the forest?
He had no time to wonder, he dashed up the snowy hill, ignoring the cold on his bare hands, not bothering with the fact he had no coat. Once he was at the top, he quickly realised he was alone. He spun on the spot, searching across the valleys. There was only the forest and in the far distance, the town.
How had the horse and rider disappeared so quickly?
Beau glanced down at the snow, but saw only his own tracks. Where were the hoofprints? Where were the signs that he’d seen what he’d seen?
Had he seen it?
Maybe it was a ghost.
He twisted around once again and startled at the sight. The man and horse had snuck up behind him, and stood in the sunlight staring at him in amusement. Beau frowned at the snow beneath them, it was smooth as though the horse hadn’t walked over it to get to him.
Slowly, he lifted his eyes to the man, his breath catching and his heart hammering. The horseman had dark, scruffy hair (so rare for this part of the kingdom), the smatterings of an ebony beard on his pale skin, and the bluest of shimmering eyes. Beau found himself gazing at this lovely stranger as though time and manners were of no consequence. The horseman raised one eyebrow, breaking Beau’s thoughts. He quickly shook his head and gaped at the horse who left no tracks. Was the rider some sort of sorcerer? Beau didn’t know enough practical magic to protect himself from this stranger…he only knew silly little love potions.
“Most people put warm coats on in winter,” the man said in a husky voice.
Goosebumps erupted across Beau’s body, not from the cold but the melody of this man’s speech. His accent was not one from the mountains, the vibrations of his words were like the wind, and Beau could imagine himself listening to that cadence in the dead of night for the rest of his life. He blushed and rubbed his arms.
“I was too busy to put a coat on.”
“Too busy stalking me, you mean.”
“I was not stalking you. I saw a horse on the ravine, which is a miracle in itself.”
He took in the undisturbed snow, he was willing to bet that wasn’t the only miracle.
“So, you saw a horse and instantly ran out to greet it. You surely are horse deprived.”
He glared at the stranger, at his dark hair and eyes; his cheeks rough with a scraggly beard; his mocking smile. He may have been easy on the eyes but Beau wasn’t going to let him think he was welcome to do whatever he wanted on the mountain which was his home.
“Why are you on my mountain?” he asked.
Beau squared his shivering and quickly turning blue shoulders, lifted his chin as high as it would go without making him appear odd, and pushed his chest out. “Yes, this is my mountain. I live here, and you are…you are…” What was he?
Was that the word? He’d never had to use it before.
The man smiled at him. “Listen here, Squeak, this mountain…this forest…belongs to the Old Ones.”
“And I am an Old One.”
Beau always allowed himself one lie a day.
The man instantly changed, he was no longer cocky and jovial; he sat up straight in the saddle and quickly glanced around in panic. Even his horse seemed agitated. Beau’s eyes widened as the pair sank into the snow. It had been a spell to keep the horse afloat, and now that Beau had broken the man’s concentration it had broken.
“You really should learn how to keep spells going even when you aren’t wholly focused on them,” he said.
It was the horseman’s turn to glare. “Do not tell my mother you saw me,” he instructed.
Beau frowned, why and, more importantly, how would he?
“Thank you,” the rider said with a dashing smile.
He nudged the horse which kicked up powdery snow and trotted off. At the last minute, he swung around and rode back to Beau, halted the horse, stripped off his coat and threw it at him. Beau caught it amid a waft of vanilla.
“Stay warm, Squeak.” He smiled at Beau, turned his horse and galloped off, spraying snow and ice as he went.
Beau wrapped the coat around his freezing body and felt instantly better. It was still warm from the rider’s skin, and aside from the unfortunate horsehair, it was a good fit on him. For the first time, he didn’t appear the proverbial foundling.
He laughed and walked back home, desperately trying to figure out what sort of spell would keep a horse from sinking into the snow. Levitation maybe? He shook his head, that was a parlour trick, not actual magic. And why was the rider so afraid of the Old Ones? Sure, there were those who did dangerous magic; there always would be. But mostly the Old Ones were a peaceful lot, who were there to use their powers for the greater good of all. Beau stopped and glanced back up the ravine, was the rider one of those using dangerous magic? Was there now a price on his head? Was he escaping? Had Beau thwarted his escape by ruining his spell? Would the Old Ones be after Beau for information?
Stop being silly. You read too many books.
One of Nyla’s prices from her clients was books by the trunk full. There really was no more space beneath the house to hide because of the mountain of books. Mostly love stories, Nyla was a sucker for love. Hence why she had the best command of a love spell. But hidden in the cellar were gems of adventure, mystery, horror, intrigue…all books that Beau loved. And now admittedly, those books were governing his thoughts about the strange man on the horse. He stuck his hands into the coat pockets and fished around. He pulled out an empty flask, an empty vial which smelt of saffron, and lastly a book no bigger than his hand. It reminded him of Nyla’s book of raunchy sketches, the designs of the drawings were the same. But that was where similarity ended. This little book was entirely about magic which Beau had never seen before. The spells before him gave the caster the ability to transform their entire bodies to water, or ice, or snow. Or even become fog-like so as not to leave a trace of themselves. He gazed up at the ravine, the man must have been using the magic to make himself and his horse the steam that floats over snow in the sunlight.
This was dark magic Beau had never come across.
So, the rider was a sorcerer. And maybe his fear of the Old Ones was justified.
Was he fleeing the kingdom?