A Century of Princes
by H.L. Fullerton
Read by Alethea Kontis
Listen to the audio version
Briar and Rose sit at a table in a cozy nook of their tower room, snacking on jam-smeared
scones and playing cribbage. Briar is winning; she always wins. Mostly, because Rose believes it
bad manners to trounce a guest and, although they've been together many summers, it's
technically Rose's tower: she was here first.
"Muggins!" Briar calls, pirating points Rose should've claimed to finish the match. If she
ignores them, games last forever and, while they may have that long, Briar would rather not
spend it on cards.
"You're so good at this game," Rose says and Briar scowls. Replies, "Uh-huh. Right.
That's me. The Countess of Crib."
"Play again?" Rose's gaze drifts to the loop hole--a narrow slit wide enough for arrows
but little else--that serves as their window. Half her face bathed in light, she squints towards the
horizon, searching . . .
"Beautiful day," Briar says. "Let's walk to the lake, have a picnic." Ever since Briar
disturbed Rose's slumber, grabbed her shoulder and shook her awake, she's tempted Rose with
tales of outside. Briar is a very good taleteller, so Rose can't be sure there is a lake. And what if
she couldn't return? Magic can be tricky. Briar can come and go, but Briar isn't cursed. At least,
Rose doesn't think her friend is.
"I can't leave the tower," she says, although she shouldn't have to. Briar knows this. "A
witch trapped me here with a spell--"
"You keep you here."
"--until my true prince arrives--"
Briar snorts. She always does at talk of royalty. "Over a hundred already have."
Hardly a hundred. It couldn't be more than--Rose does a fast tally--ninety-nine. Not that
it matters how many fail to reach her chamber, she thinks, because it only takes one. And until
then, she has Briar. "--and wakes me with a kiss--"
"Hello?" Briar throws her arms in the air. "You're already awake!"
"--will I--Did you hear that?" That rumble-purr noise (which had replaced clippity-clop)
indicating visitors, followed by a crashing clunk.
"No," Briar says, but she's lying.
"I hear someone." Rose's voice rises in pitch until she's squeaking with joy. "It must be
June already. Why didn't you tell me?" June is good for two things: blackberries and princes, and
Rose loves both equally. Briar claims princes are frightfully stupid in person--"Berries have
more sense"--but Rose thinks Briar exaggerates. "Do I look okay?"
Briar surveys Rose. "You've some jam on your cheek. Here, let me get it." Briar takes a
napkin and smears the jam across the corner of Rose's mouth until the girl resembles a murder
victim. "Perfect," Briar says.
Rose sweeps everything atop the table--cards, scones, dishes, tea pot, cribbage board,
crumbs--into a hamper. She tosses dresses and shoes under the four poster and smoothes the
sheets all while brushing her hair. Then she pushes Briar into the wardrobe. "Shhh," she
whispers, "We don't want him to hear you."
"This is ridiculous," Briar says. "Why don't you just open the front door if you want a
prince so badly?"
"That's not how enchantments work. And lower your voice. You're not supposed to be
part of this." She kisses Briar, once, quick; promises she'll still love her best; and then shuts her
friend in the dark.
Briar watches Rose arrange herself on the bed and close her eyes. Between her pallor and
the jam, the stiffness of her limbs, Rose looks more corpse than sleeping beauty.
Briar sneaks out the back of the wardrobe, down spiral steps and into the blackberry patch
at the castle's front. She collects berries for a pie, ignoring the scratch of stickers on her bare
hands--they don't bother her.
A young man--prince number 100--comes over, thinking how lucky he is his car got a
flat a stone's throw from an ivied tower. He's a pretty prince--all smiles and charm--and offers
to help Briar pick the fruit.
They always do.
He reaches for a plump berry. A bramble catches the back of his hand. "Ow," he says and
collapses before the blood fully beads.
Briar drags the sleeping boy into the cellar, pushes him onto the last, empty shelf, and
covers him with mint leaves to keep pests away (the second-to-last thing she wants disturbing a
century of princes is mice) then returns to the wardrobe to nap until Rose gives up this stupid
charade and wakes her.