The cursed princess in the castle tower was asleep for a very good reason. The people of her kingdom were only safe during the day… and even then just barely.
Prince Philip wasn’t exactly inclined to listen to good advice. As a child he ate sweets before dinnertime, and crept off to play with the faeries in the wood.
The fae didn’t want him, which possibly tells you all you never needed to know about Prince Philip.
Now that he is grown, though, he pays specific attention to the don’ts that people tell him. Just so he can do them and seem brave for surviving. Things like, Don’t go into the swamp, or, Don’t seek out the menacing beast, had increased his reputation as a mighty warrior.
Don’t go to the Empty Kingdom…
He had to find it, first. One hundred years of neglect had practically erased it from the map. Yet there were still neglected roads to a place nobody went.
Don’t seek out the castle…
The houses were remarkably preserved, despite the fact that thorny briars choked out every other form of life. Philip had long since swapped his sword for a sturdy, robust axe. Long since turned his horse loose. A mighty war steed did him no good in a kingdom of weeds.
He had plenty of fuel for his fires, and meals of mushrooms and rabbit after he devoured the contents of his saddle bags. And lots of exercise. And mocking-birds for company.
The old stories told of a magnificent treasure inside the castle. Of a miraculously-preserved maiden. And Philip had to see if it was true.
Don’t step inside…
The weeds were not inside. Everything was perfectly preserved. Well. Almost everything. Banquets on the tables had long since rotted. Rats made their nests in the skeletons of dogs. Everything that the vermin could reach… they had. There was a definite tide-line of decay around the ground floor.
Don’t climb the towers…
The castle was magnificent, in its heyday. Stained glass decorated the windows. The walls were faced in marble, inlaid with gold and ivory. Were he more avaricious, he would have spent many happy hours levering wealth out of the very walls.
But Philip had his mind on another prize.
Don’t seek the Princess…
Philip stepped over human bones as he approached her bed. Her room, apart from the skeletal carpet, was fabulous. Lined with jewels. Hung with tapestries. Every window full of stained glass pictures. And old, old story.
A maiden with hair of gold and red, rosy lips. A witch. A curse. And waiting… waiting for a kiss.
All these other bones had to be others who had failed before.
Do not kiss her…
Her hair was, indeed, gold. Her lips, rosy red. Her skin like alabaster. Her eyes were closed and her chest gently rose and fell in the rhythm of solid slumber.
Philip did not notice that his axe fell into a rusting pile of axes and swords by her bed. He had eyes only on her face.
So lovely. So beautiful.
She had to be his.
Philip sat by her and leaned into her lips. Felt her cold flesh quicken and move beneath him. Felt her hands against his arms. Welcoming.
Her eyes were not sea-blue. They were red. Their slit pupils widened as she opened them.
And sharp fangs bit into his lips and tongue.
Sharp fingers sank into his arms.
Too late, he tried to wriggle free. Tried to get loose to reach his axe. Tried to grope for the blades he had foolishly left outside her door.
She would never be his. He was hers.
Her serpentine tongue choked off his air as she drank up his blood. He was dimly aware of her chewing his flesh from his bones as his mind fled from pain and his life fled his body.
Sharp talons tore away his armor and raiment. Scattered it to the corners with the armor and sad scraps of others who had not listened to the story. And in hours… less than hours… his bones would join the carpet of men who felt that they could possess her.
There was a reason why the Empty Kingdom was so empty. Why the briars and thorns grew so thickly. Why nothing alive went upstairs and why, if it did, it never came down again.
She is roaming, now. Wandering her empty kingdom and looking for more flesh. Do not look for her. Do not sleep with your windows open. Do not leave your door unbarred.
She is hungry.