Roses were hard to come by, but Maude liked the pale blue wildflowers that grew high in the hills. If he hurried, George could make it up there and back to the castle before dark. Maude would still be serving ale until late into the night, but if he stayed out of sight of certain housekeepers with rather strict ideas about where stable-boys belonged he could steal a few moments with her, perhaps even a kiss.
Luck was with him and no one saw him sneak from the stables to the castle proper. He even found a wild rose growing in a shaded corner where no roses should be able to grow.
He cut the deep red bloom from the thorny vine and looked around to make sure no one saw him.
There wasn’t a soul in sight.
In fact, the castle seemed entombed in an eerie silence. The usual bustling and raucous laughter that should be filtering down to the courtyard was conspicuously absent.
George looked at the rogue rose vine. Three more blooms had appeared even larger than the first. As he watched, the vines expanded everywhere, covering the castle walls.
He hurried away from the enchanted vine, only to find more of them everywhere he looked. Clutching the precious wildflowers to his chest, he dove in the nearest door, certain some strange enchantment was afoot.
Still, not a soul was to be found anywhere. Usually the castle teemed with activity, even late into the night. This night in particular, being the princesses’ birthday, the nobles should be busy celebrating far into the wee hours.
He carefully made his way up one of the back staircases, and had to climb over a sleeping guard halfway up. At the top of the stairs there were more sleepers… guards, maids, knights… all fallen where they sat or stood.
George hurried to the kitchens. The fires that usually blazed high and bright were banked and dying. Even the cats were asleep. He found Maude, slumped in a corner, a pitcher of ale spilled beside her and her mobcap falling at an odd angle, unable to contain her bouncy curls.
He stifled a yawn. She looked so adorable there. It would be so nice to lay down beside her, to rest his head in her lap.
A loud crash behind him brought him to his senses. The baker had been rolling out dough when he fell asleep, sprawled over the heavy table. But he must have squirmed in his sleep, and eventually rolled and slumped to the floor.
George scooped the sleeping maiden into his arms as another crash sounded. This time, it was a vine snaking in through the window. His eyes went wide as more roses bloomed and the sleepy smell grew heavier.
Carrying his ladylove, he ran back down the stairs. The vines were taking over the castle, and the thorns tore his clothes and rent his flesh. His vision blurred, but he plowed on, his feet remembering the path from keep to stable and out into the forest.
Once he was outside the castle, his head cleared. He turned and looked back towards the castle. The vines entwined every tower and covered every wall, growing thicker and thicker every minute. Maude still slept.
Not knowing what else to do, he carried her to his parent’s cabin. His father was a woodcutter. George could only hope that whatever enchantment was taking over the castle would not extend too far into the forest.
“Oh my goodness! What happened?” his mother exclaimed, rushing out of the cabin to meet him.
“The castle! Some kind of enchantment.” he gasped, carrying Maude into the tiny cabin. He set her down gently on his parents’ small bed, and she immediately snuggled deep into the pillows and blankets.
George’s mother shook the young woman gently. “Maude… Maude! Wake up, child!”
But Maude simply sighed in her sleep.
She did not wake that day, nor the day after that. When George tried to get to the castle to see if all the inhabitants were still asleep, he could not even get close enough to see the outer walls. Although the forest near his parent’s little home was untouched, the closer he got to the castle, the denser the underbrush became. When he cut his way through the underbrush, he eventually was faced with a thicket of vines so thick and so strong that he could not cut through them, even with both him and his father working with the biggest, strongest axes they had.
“Georgie, dear, what shall we do? I love dear Maude as if she were my own daughter, but I can’t take another night sleeping on the floor. I’m an old woman!”
George wrung his hands, pacing back and forth in the tiny cabin. “Well, there’s one thing we haven’t tried yet…”
“What Georgie? We must do something. She’s enchanted, just like the castle. And her parents too, are surely asleep with the rest of the castle folk.”
George knew his mother would not approve of the idea. But he needed her support… in case things went badly. And they could go very badly if he was wrong. “Well, I… you know I love her, Mother…”
“I know you love her, sweetheart. And she loves you.”
“Well, I… I was bringing her flowers, and I hoped I might steal a kiss–”
“Georgie! Bite your tongue! How could you think of stealing a kiss from dear Maude? She’s a good, sweet girl! She deserves to be treated with respect, not… not…”
George took over the conversation again as his mother sputtered. “I want to marry her, Ma! I wouldn’t be kissing her if my intentions weren’t honorable. You raised me right, and I’ll treat her right.”
His mother just looked from him to the sleeping maid, then back again. At first, her gaze was lost and helpless. But then a smile crept onto her face. “Well, it’s about time one of my children made me a grandmother…”
“Ma!” Georgie exclaimed, his jaw dropped at the suggestion. Of course, once they were married they’d have a dozen kids. Maude had hips made for birthing babies. He’d often admired them. “One thing at a time.” He took a deep breath. “I think I should kiss her. Isn’t that how spells like this are broken? By her true love’s kiss?”
“Oh Georgie, are you her true love?” his father asked, chiming in after following the conversation in silence.
Georgie didn’t have to think about the question. He knew the truth in his heart. “I love her, Dad. And I know she loves me too.”
With that, he approached the bed, sitting gently on the edge. Maude rolled slightly towards him as his weight bent the bed. Gently, he rolled her so she was on her back, then he leaned in and placed his lips over hers.
At first, he simply brushed her lips gently. He was afraid she would suddenly realize what he was doing, and give him a tongue-lashing or worse for taking such liberties. But then he pressed harder, turning a simple touch into true love’s kiss. A tiny noise escaped her throat, and he tilted his head slightly, enjoying the softness of her mouth.
She began to kiss him back, and when her hand reached up to touch his cheek, he knew that he had broken the spell.
“Oh Georgie…” Maude said breathlessly. She kissed him again, pulling him closer. When he pulled away to take a breath, her eyes fluttered open. “Georgie?” she asked, looking around her, confused. “Georgie!” she yelled then, shoving him away. “Oh, George, how dare you? Just because I gave you a peck on the cheek in the back stairway last night, you think… you think you can… oooh!” She was working up into a rage, continuing her chastisement as she scooted off the bed and away from him.
Fortunately, his mother smoothed things over. She caught the young woman in a motherly embrace, holding her and shushing her. “Oh, my darling girl, something terrible has happened! The castle is enchanted. All the folk are asleep, and the entire place is caged in vines. Georgie just barely rescued you… he was almost trapped himself!”
“The castle? Enchanted?” Maude blinked, and turned away from the older woman.
George was on one knee, a bouquet of blue wildflowers in his hand. Maude’s eyes softened, her initial offense having cooled. “My dearest Maude, I have loved you since the first day I saw you. Please, my darling, will you be my wife?”
George’s mother gasped and cooed, then wept outright as Maude went into George’s arms.
“Oh, Georgie! I love you too!” she exclaimed.
And they lived happily ever after.
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