Once upon a time, in a kingdom in the Global South, a lovely little princess was born. At her naming ritual, a private and sacred event, the gathered adults blessed her with grace, thick hair, a good strong singing voice, and other princessly virtues. Everyone was having a lovely time, when the Ambassador from Europe barged in, furious at not having been invited.
“This barbaric ceremony is just another example of your backward heathen practices,” she cried. “We’re going to put you all to sleep until you learn better. Mind the thorns.” She cast a handful of magically modified seeds on the ground, and they grew quickly into huge spiky thorn bushes with lovely white roses whose smell put everyone to sleep.
The thorns took over the nation, and the Europeans, armed with hankies over their noses, claimed it in the name of their queen, put the people to underpaid work, and made a tidy profit selling Exotic Sleepytime Scent and Authentic Primitive Thorn-needles.
When she was sixteen, the princess pricked her finger on a thorn and woke up.
Many of the palace people, she found, had been engulfed entirely by thornbushes, remembered only by a stray bone or poem. But worse yet were the sleepers who still lived, stumbling around in shreds of finery and mumbling things like, “”But don’t you think we’re better off now in some ways?” and “We’d never have a needle business if they hadn’t grown all these bushes for us,” and “How pretty the roses are, so white.” She tried to wake them, but found she couldn’t; and so she tried instead to escape.
The thorns grew even thicker and sharper around the palace than within, though, and even with princessly grace she could not evade them all. They pinned her by her skirts, her hair, her bracelets. And once they had her nice and secure, they started to grow into her skin.
A prince came by soon after, blonde and smiling. He said “Oh, you must be a native princess! I’ve read about your people, so noble and musical.”
“This is screaming!” she screamed.
He nodded enthusiastically. “Traditional tribal screaming, so powerful!” he said. “I shall record your music and share it with the world!” So he did that, set her scream to a backbeat, made millions, and went on tours talking about how deeply her suffering had affected him. Since he’d never asked her name, he made one up.
Meanwhile, another prince came by. This one had a huge sword, which he swung around rather wildly. “I’ll save you, lovely chocolate princess!” he cried, and set about hacking at the thorns. But his aim was not the best, and he stuck his sword right into her leg. She screamed even more loudly.
“Oh stop overreacting,” grumbled the prince. “I got my thumb pricked once and you don’t see me complaining. Stop trying to make me feel guilty about being a prince! I didn’t plant these thorns, you know.”
She yelled, “GET YOUR GODDAMN SWORD OUT OF MY THIGH, ASSHOLE!”
He sniffed. “Well,” he said, “if you’re going to be so mean and rude you won’t have any allies at all will you.” And he stormed off.
The princess sagged against the thorns, worn out and bleeding. Soon afterward a nice white lady came by. “Oh,” she said, “your ritual scars are so cool! I’m going to dress up as a sexy thorn-princess for hallowe’en check out my ketchup blood and oh it’s okay if I do this in brownface right? Because my people are boring and civilized and don’t have a thorn ritual and I want to be accurate.”
“What,” said the princess, “the everlasting fuck.”
The lady replied, “Look, I’m just RESPECTING your culture, you should be flattered!” And she flounced off.
The prince with the sword returned with a gang of friends, then, and pointed at her. “That’s the bitch who called me names,” he said. So they all threw sticks at the princess and yelled, “How do you like it when YOU’re picked on, huh?”
Night fell. The flowers bloomed. The princess fell asleep.
The gardener’s daughter snuck over a little before midnight, a shawl over her nose and mouth, and shook the princess awake. “Are they gone?” she said. “We’re not supposed to interfere with the Authentic Primitive Thorn-needle business, so don’t draw attention; but if you can keep still I’ll cut you out of there.”
The princess was too tired to do anything else, so very soon she found herself free. The gardener’s daughter sat her down away from the roses, pulled out the thorns, and bound up her wounds with shreds of skirt.
“Wow,” said the princess. “You know so much about all of this! It’s amazing, I had no idea what to do about the flowers or the thorns or anything.”
The gardener’s daughter sighed and nodded. “Of course you didn’t,” she said, not without sympathy. “You’re a princess.”
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