Sleeping Beauty

Now, no one can wake me anymore. No one pays attention to me anymore. No one can criticize me anymore. I’ll stay this way forever…

Idike’s story — the tale of Little Briar Rose — takes place in the third chapter; as the preceding chapter covers the recurring characters’ pasts, Idike is the second bride candidate on Lui’s journey. While travelling, Wilhelm passes on the information he has gathered about the kingdom’s princess, Friederike, which is a recount of the fairy tale up to the point of the sleeping castle surrounded by thorny vines. Bored with what he deems useless information, Lui leaves the carriage to enjoy the sight of the nearby flower field, and, in so doing, discovers a golden pocket watch buried amidst the flowers.

When the pair of them stop at the tavern that night and make inquiries about the castle of thorns, a masked woman — the local witch — warns them of its curse and urges them to stay away so as not to forfeit their lives like the many men before them. As soon as Lui dozes off, he finds himself in the flower field he saw earlier that day and encounters a beautiful young woman.

To his surprise, she has got quite the foul mouth: Not only does she insult his looks as a greeting, but also tells him to get out of her secret place. When she sees him reach for his gun without giving her so much as a reply, she takes the provocation even further:

“All right, just try to kill me! Try to stop my time! Forever…”

Lui fires the gun without hesitation — “If you’re so impudent as not to behold my beauty with your eyes, you don’t need to live at all!”, which, by the way, demonstrates exactly the kind of person Lui is. (In another translation, he fires so readily because he won’t stand for her insults, which is just as well.) Having dodged the bullet, the mystery lady is furious, and the two end up arguing about each other’s bad attitudes: She faults him for shooting at a lady and commenting on her flat chest, saying that she hates nothing more than people who judge others by appearances, whereas he criticizes her for trying to settle the argument with her fists rather than with words.

“How dare you! Don’t ever come here again! Someone who was born beautiful can never understand my feelings!”

As she snaps, thorny vines are flung at Lui and banish him from the dream field, though he manages to catch her name — Idike — and a glimpse of her pocket watch before forcefully awakening. Disgruntled about Idike, he drags Wilhelm along to have a good look at the ominous castle. While they gaze at the thorn prison and the skeletons it holds, the local witch appears and warns them again. A side remark about “Princess Idike’s cursed castle” makes Lui realize that Idike is the diminutive of Friederike, which means the lady he met in a dream is the very same princess he’s currently pursuing.

Having noted the similarities between the pocket watch he found and the one Idike carried, Lui starts an experiment: When he falls asleep while holding the object, it takes him back to the same dream — to Idike’s flower field. He shows her the watch and verifies her identity as the sleeping princess of the castle of thorns. Seeing the real watch that she buried long ago, Idike opens up and tells him her story.

The pocket watch was passed on by her mother, who received it from the King. Idike’s father was a distant figure with no interest in her or the Queen, so she desperately studied, practiced and strove for perfection to gain his attention. Yet, as if excelling in every field was something natural, no one ever acknowledged her efforts, instead only praising her for her beauty and criticizing her to extremes whenever she failed.

On her fifteenth birthday, she was once again neglected by her father as he headed to the tower of witches forbidden to anyone but him. When she followed him, she witnessed him having an affair with another woman. Upon confronting her, the woman disputed the story behind Idike’s birth — the prophecy of the crayfish — and said that the Queen had been raped while bathing. To hide the dishonour of Idike’s conception, the witches of the castle had been summoned to bless her. The woman also revealed the curse of the thirteenth witch, the uninvited guest: Idike was to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel on her fifteenth birthday only to fall into an age-long sleep. The woman taunts Idike to see the truth with her own eyes by touching the spindle of the last spinning wheel in the tower.

Idike realized that the entire court had always known that her good qualities weren’t her own, but the result of the witches’ blessings, which is why they had never praised or acknowledged her efforts and achievements. Deeply shocked by the woman’s words and unable to accept the truth, Idike cut off her hair, rejecting the beauty that was given to her and the false love.

In her anguish, she refused to listen to the Queen’s words, who pleaded with Idike to believe that she was indeed the King’s child. Idike buried the watch, and, still firmly wanting to believe that the woman’s words were nothing but lies (that her looks and intelligence were something given and that she wasn’t truly her father’s child), headed for the tower that harbours the last spinning wheel.

Let me be all right after I touch the spindle… Tell me it’s all a lie. I bet everything on it… Please…

Idike pricked her finger on the spindle by choice. But as she had feared, she fell into deep sleep and her time stopped, confirming the reality she did not want to face. Afterwards, thorns took over the castle, and all its inhabitants fell into the same slumber, waiting to be saved. Having heard her story, Lui shows no sympathy. He says that it doesn’t matter if she was given good looks or intelligence; had she not developed them, she’d have lagged behind other people eventually. In his opinion, there’s no need to force people to acknowledge the effort that went into it, especially if they don’t care in the first place. He calls her out on not accepting the reality of political marriages and the fact that rulers often take several lovers.

“Weren’t you always trapped inside this castle, inside this kingdom? You think: ‘Poor me!’ or ‘Nobody sees the real me!’ or ‘Why doesn’t anyone pass through these thorns and come to rescue me?’ From the moment people are born into this world, they are alone. Don’t even think that you can gain anything by just waiting for a miracle. So long, sleeping beauty!”

As Lui turns to leave, Idike kicks him from behind. He turns around to protest, but to his surprise, Idike is crying. Thorns spring up around her — are they protecting or imprisoning her? — as Lui is removed from the dream once again.

For the first time since I was born, I hated the cruelty of my own thorns. Don’t ever come back!

When he wakes up, his thoughts linger over the princess of his dreams: “The thorns of the sleeping beauty hurt everyone around her. They make them bleed. The thorns prevent anyone from approaching her.” He hunts down the local witch to ask why she haunts the castle grounds, and gets her to confess that she was the one to curse the princess; because she didn’t anticipate the severity of the curse, she has been warning people to stay away. After that encounter, he resolves to breaking through the thorn hedge — but when he arrives at the castle, a frightening and enormous manifestation appears in the skies. What seems to be the projection of a witch taken over by thorns tells him to turn back, as nobody can save the princess. Thorns lash out at Wilhelm — and this time, Lui shoots.

What Wilhelm mistook for a witch is, as Lui correctly states, Princess Idike herself. Lui shows her the drug that the local witch applied to the spindle, which turns out to be a fast-acting sleeping drug. There never was a curse, and the reason the thirteenth witch was excluded was because none of the twelve were real witches — they were the King’s mistresses who resided in the forbidden tower, including the woman who told Idike all the lies out of jealousy for the Queen. As they didn’t have any powers, their blessings were just part of the ceremony, not magic: Idike’s beauty and intelligence were all her own.

Lui goes on to say that the Queen herself was a witch, which explains why witches were highly valued in the kingdom. As Idike inherited those powers, the thorn castle is an illusion called forth by her despair in reaction to the effects of the sleeping drug on the spindle, an illusion created for the protection of her own heart when she locked it away. But for those around her, the thorn castle was no mere illusion, which cost them their lives.

“Time stopped for you alone. It is time to set it in motion again. Not that I care how many men died trying to enter this castle, but I doubt a prince more handsome than me will ever come for you.”

Touched by Lui’s words and finally set free of her own thorns and pain, Idike dispels the illusion, and Lui rushes forward to meet the princess — not in a dream, but in reality. Wilhelm, who stays behind, takes note of the castle’s former inhabitants, all reduced to bones. Lui is enchanted by the sleeping beauty, gently kisses Idike’s lips, and the princess awakens from her long slumber.

“You alone have passed through all my thorns and touched the bleeding me. Only you have struggled on this far. You alone have found the real me.”

In Lui’s embrace, Idike tells him how happy she is. The spell is finally broken, and time has begun to move again. “And they lived happily until the end of their days” — a fairy tale stock phrase that is taken literally here, as the frozen time of the last century catches up and lays claim on the last castle inhibitant: Idike passes away in Lui’s arms.

At the end of the chapter, Ludwig has sowed all the seeds he had bought around the castle grounds so that next year, they will be blooming purple with the flowers associated with Idike, just like the flower field that Lui saw before. To Wilhelm, he says that “They suit her much better than the thorns…” before inquiring about the next bride candidate and mounting his horse. As they leave, Lui turns back to reminisce about Idike, and she appears in his mind’s eye. Holding flowers in her arms and smiling, she tells him not to come back no matter how much he yearns for her. (Though another translation has perspectives switched, with Lui thinking: “You’ll never come back, will you. No matter how often I say I want to see you again…”)

The chapter concludes with Lui’s words:

“It’s all your fault. Because of you, I’ve got to go look for another woman again…”