Princess in a Cage of Thorns
Idike appears in chapter three as the second princess and potential bride-to-be that Lui meets on his journey, her tale being that of Little Briar Rose.
Now, no one can wake me anymore.
No one takes note of me anymore. No one can criticize me anymore. I’ll stay this way, forever…
Rumours have it that there lies a sleeping princess in a castle surrounded by thorns. Victim to a jealous witch’s curse, she pricked her finger on a spindle on her fifteenth birthday, and succumbed to a slumber of a hundred years. Ever since, the princess and all the court that shares her fate have been waiting for the arrival of a prince who would lift the curse.
So goes Wilhelm’s report on Friederike, the kingdom’s princess. Bored with what he deems insubstantial information, Lui leaves the carriage to enjoy the sight of a nearby flower field, and, in so doing, discovers a golden pocket watch buried amidst the heathers. When the pair of them stop at the tavern that night and make inquiries about the castle of thorns, a masked local witch comes barging in. She 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 with a terribly foul mouth: After calling him an eyesore and hurling various insults at him, she tells him to get out of her secret place. Not about to take any more of that verbal onslaught, Lui reaches for the gun. The stranger is not impressed:
“What the—? Are you going to shoot me? All right, just try to kill me!”
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!, a very Lui thing to say), the mystery lady dodges, and the two get into a fight about each other’s lack of manners. As they argue, he drops a remark about her flat chest. When she tells him in response that she hates nothing more than people who judge others by appearances, he finds fault with her way to communicate through violence rather than words. She snaps:
“How dare you!
Don’t ever come here again! Someone who was born beautiful could never understand my feelings!”
Thorny vines fling themselves at Lui and banish him from the dream field, though he manages to catch the stranger’s 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 witch appears to issue another warning. A side remark about
Princess Idike’s cursed castle makes Lui realize that Idike is a nickname for Friederike, which means the figure he met in the dream is the very same princess he is currently pursuing.
Having noted the similarities between the pocket watch he found and the one Idike carried, Lui conducts 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. The sight of the real watch that she buried long ago prompts Idike to open up, and she tells him her story.
The pocket watch was passed on by her mother, who had received it from the King. Idike’s father was a distant figure with no interest in the Queen and the princess, so Idike desperately studied, practiced and strove for perfection to gain his attention. Yet, as if excelling in every field were only natural, no one ever acknowledged her efforts. Instead, they would praise her only for her beauty, and harshly criticize her whenever she failed.
On her fifteenth birthday, Idike followed her father as he headed to the tower of witches forbidden to anyone but him. There she witnessed his affair with another woman. In the confrontation that followed, the woman disputed the prophecy behind Idike’s birth, claiming that the Queen had actually been raped while bathing. To hide the dishonour of Idike’s conception, the witches of the castle had been summoned to bless her. As Idike learned of the curse that the thirteenth witch had placed on her, the woman taunted the young princess to climb the tower and see the truth with her own eyes.
Idike realized that the entire court had always known that her good qualities were not her own, but the result of the witches’ blessings, which is why her efforts and achievements never received any acknowledgement or praise. 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 along with what she now considers false love.
In her anguish, she refused to listen to the Queen’s words, who pleaded with her daughter to believe her. Under tears, Idike buried the watch in the flower field of her childhood, and headed for the tower that harboured the last spinning wheel. In her heart, she still firmly wanted to believe that the woman’s words were nothing but lies, wanted to believe that her looks and intelligence were natural, not magic, and that she was truly her father’s child.
In the end, Idike pricked her finger on the spindle by choice. But as she had feared, she fell into deep sleep — a confirmation of the reality she had not wanted to face. Time stopped for her, thorns took over the castle, and all its inhabitants fell into the same slumber, waiting to be saved.
Lui, despite having listened to her story to the end, shows no sympathy. He tells Idike that what matters is not whether she was given good looks or intelligence — had she not put effort into her studies, she would have lagged behind other people, gift or no. To him, there is no point in forcing people to acknowledge one’s own hard work, especially if the people in question do not truly care in the first place. He calls Idike out on her ignorance regarding the reality of political marriages, and the fact that rulers often take several lovers, simultaneously rationalizing her father’s actions as he does.
“Weren’t you always trapped inside this castle, inside this kingdom? You pity yourself and don’t feel understood. Isn’t that why you wish for someone to pass through these ‘thorns’ and rescue you?
From the moment people are born into this world, they are on their own. Don’t even think that you can gain anything by just waiting for a miracle! So long, sleeping beauty.”
With these unsparing words, Lui turns to leave. When Idike kicks him from behind, he starts to protest, but the words stick in his throat at the sight of her tears. Thorny vines spring up around her — protection or prison? — as Lui is removed from the dream once again.
For the first time in my life, I hated the cruelty of my own thorns.
Don’t ever come back!
When he wakes up, his thoughts linger on the princess of his dreams:
Sleeping beauty’s thorns wound everyone around her, causing them to bleed. And because they are afraid of the thorns, no one dares approach her… Taking matters into his own hands, he hunts down the witch to ask why she haunts the castle grounds, and gets her to confess that she was the one to curse the princess. As she did not anticipate the consequences to be this severe at the time, she has been making up for it by warning people to stay away.
After gathering all the information he needs, Lui resolves to break through the thorn hedge. When he reaches the castle, however, an enormous and gruesome manifestation appears in the darkening skies, looking very much like the projection of a witch covered by thorns through and through. It tells him to turn back; nobody can save the princess anyway. Thorns lash out at Wilhelm — and Lui shoots.
What Wilhelm mistook for a witch is, as Lui correctly states, Princess Idike herself. Lui shows her the drug that the 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. In truth, they were the King’s mistresses who resided in the forbidden tower, including the woman who lied to Idike out of jealousy for the Queen. As they did not actually 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 explain that the Queen herself must have been a witch, which is why witches were held in high esteem across 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, Idike created an illusion to protect her own heart when she locked it away. But for those around her, the thorn castle was no mere illusion, and it cost them their lives. Now that the mystery is solved, there is only one thing to do:
“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 this time, but in reality. Wilhelm, who stays behind, discovers the castle’s former inhabitants, all reduced to bones. Enchanted by the sleeping beauty, Lui gently kisses Idike’s lips, and the princess awakens from her slumber at long last.
“You alone have passed through all my thorns. Only you have managed to touch the bleeding me. You alone have found the real me.”
The spell finally broken, time has begun to move again. The frozen time of the last century catches up and lays claim on the last castle inhibitant: Idike passes away in Lui’s arms.
By the end of the chapter, Ludwig has sown a large amount of heather seeds all around the castle grounds. Come next year, they will be blooming purple with the flowers associated with Idike, just like the flower field that Lui saw before.
They suit her much better than the thorns…, he murmurs, then inquires about the next bride candidate and mounts 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 happily, she tells him not to come back no matter how much he yearns for her. (Interestingly, 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 have to go look for another woman again…