I’ve seen my fair share of manure working at the castle, but I was never prepared for the smothering amount of horseshit that I found myself lying in that morning, both literally and figuratively. It was unpleasant enough waking up in a mound of horse droppings, but to then learn that you had been lying there for a hundred years while the world went by was something else entirely.
From what I understood – and considering I didn’t have a formal education at the time, I’m surprised I even could make sense of it – the princess was smitten as a babe with an oddly specific and confusingly elaborate curse, resulting in herself and every person in the castle falling into a deep sleep after she pricked her finger on a spindle. One hundred years and an unsolicited kiss later, everyone was awake again and all was well. Although all was not well. In fact, despite all the buzz and celebrating that followed in the castle banquet hall, things were really rather awful on my end of things.
Of course, only the people at the castle were affected by the spell. The rest of the kingdom continued on with the rest of the world, although it wasn’t really the kingdom anymore. Within a year, some foreign warlord or tyrant wizard took over the land as its new ruler. They didn’t do a bad job, too – after years of trudging through Summer dust or Autumn mud along the East Road, walking on paved cobbles made me feel like a king. The folk riding in carriages still gave me the same looks, though they wore slightly different clothes. A stable boy remains a stable boy, even after a hundred years.
I didn’t have any family at the castle. I worked and lived at the stables for the most part, but five miles to the East, at the edge of the Withered Wood, my parents and infant brother lived in a small village. I even had something of a sweetheart there. Come harvest time, the chamberlain would give me permission to travel there and help bring in the crops, perhaps chase off the odd goblin hiding in a stack of hay. My brother used to wait by the bales and ambush me as I passed, scattering gathered hay from my shoulders like golden sparks from a smith’s forge. Caleb was craftier than any wild goblin. His daughter said he made it to ninety-two. She’s old enough to be a grandmother herself now, and indeed she is. It’s a comfort to see something of Caleb and my parents in her face, in the smiles of her children and her children’s children. It’s only an echo, like me, but it’s a comfort nonetheless.
I’m not a stable boy by profession anymore. As it turns out, those who slept for a hundred years at the castle are goldmines for wizards or scribes studying the mystical preserving properties of malicious curses turned benevolent. A travelling mage offered to teach me what he knew if I allowed him to study me, and now I teach intermittently at a school. Every now and then, though, I find a quiet spot outside the village, perhaps in a field, and lie down in a patch of hay. I close my eyes, feel the sun on my face, smell the manure in the field across, and for a moment I’m almost back at the castle stable, dozing outside in the afternoon sun.
A stable boy remains a stable boy, even after a hundred years.