Briar Ambrose: A Gender-Swapped Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, two queens, Rosalyn and Zaria, ruled the country of Thorn. The queens had money, fine clothes, delicious food, and a cushion-lined carriage to ride in every day. But, though they had been married many years, they had no children, and this saddened both of them.

One day, as Zaria was walking by the river near the garden, she saw a poor, little fish that had flip-flopped out of the pond and lay gasping on the bank. The queen took pity on the creature and threw it back into the river. Before the fish swam away, it said, “I know what you wish for, and in return for your kindness, you will soon have a son.”

What the fish foretold soon came to pass. The queens adopted a little boy, so very beloved that they could not cease looking at him, and they named him Briar Ambrose. They decided to hold a feast to celebrate.

Rosalyn sent the invitations to family, nobles, friends, and neighbours. And Zaria said, “I will have the fairies also, that they might give our son magical gifts.”

There were thirteen fairies in the kingdom, one for every colour of the rainbow (plus a few colours only fairies can see). But the queens only had twelve golden dishes. As everyone knows, a plain dish just will not do for a fairy, so they did not invite the violet fairy to the celebration.

On the night of the feast, twelve fairies came, each with coloured cap on their head and a long wand in their hand. They gathered in a ring round the baby’s cradle and gave all their best gifts to the little prince. The red fairy gave him goodness, the orange fairy gave him beauty, the yellow fairy gave him riches, and so on until he had all that was lovely in the world.

Just as the white, and eleventh, fairy had finished blessing him, the crowd was startled by a great clatter from the courtyard. The thirteenth fairy had come, with a violet cap on her head, and violet shoes on her feet, and a broomstick in her hand. She was angry because she hadn’t been asked to the feast, and cried out, “The queens’ son shall, in his eighteenth year, prick his finger on a spindle and die.” With that, she flew away, content that her revenge was taken.

But the twelfth of the friendly fairies, who wore a black cap and who had not yet given his gift, came forward. “I cannot remove this spell,” he said sadly to the queens, who were in tears, “but I can soften its mischief. When the spindle wounds the queens’ son, he shall not die, but shall only fall asleep for a hundred years.”

While the queens were thankful, Rosalyn still hoped to save their child from the curse altogether, so she ordered all the spindles in the kingdom burned. As the prince grew, the gifts of the first eleven fairies were fulfilled; he was beautiful, well behaved, good, wise, and everyone loved him.

Due to an unfortunate storm that kept them in another country, the queens were not at home on the day the prince turned eighteen years old, and he was left alone in the palace. Briar explored all the rooms and chambers, till he came to an old tower he had never visited before. Inside, there was a narrow staircase, which ended in a little door. When he opened the door, he saw an old lady spinning thread on a spindle. She hummed a tune while the wheel buzzed round.

Briar, who had never seen a spindle, was fascinated by how it turned round and round, turning wool into yarn.

“Would you like to try?” the old lady asked.

The prince took her place at the spindle and began to spin, but scarcely had he touched it before the tip of the spindle pricked his finger, and he fell down to the ground in a deep sleep.

The queens, who had just arrived home, and all their court fell asleep, too. Even the horses in the stables, the dogs in the court, the pigeons on the house-top, and the flies upon the walls fell asleep; the fire in the hearth stopped blazing; the spit that was turning with a goose upon it for the queens’ dinner stood still.

After many years, a large hedge of thorns grew around the palace until it was surrounded and hidden. Reports spread through the land that the beautiful Briar Ambrose waited there. From time to time, several princesses came and tried to break through the thicket into the palace, but none of them could make their way through the thorns, which laid hold of them, and they died if they were not cut out.

After many, many years, a young bard named Ballad, who traveled the land collecting stories, was visiting Thorn. She heard the tale of the beautiful palace that stood behind the wall of brambles, and how a wonderful prince lay there asleep with all his court.

People warned Ballad to stay away, for many princesses had died attempting to break through the thicket. But the bard said, “I am not frightened! I will go and see this Briar Ambrose. If he has woken, he will want to know what has happened these past hundred years.”

As Ballad came to the hedge, she played her lute and strummed a tune while she walked. She saw nothing but flowering shrubs, which she passed by with ease, though they closed in after her, as thick as ever.

She came to the palace, and there in the court lay the dogs, horses, and pigeons, fast asleep. And inside, the flies were sleeping on the walls, the spit was standing still, and the maid sat with a chicken in her lap.

She went on still farther, and all was so still that she could hear her own breathing. At last, she came to the old tower and opened the door of the little room in which Briar Ambrose was—he lay fast asleep on a couch by the window. He looked so beautiful that she could not take her eyes off him, and though she was tempted to kiss him, she didn’t, because that would be weird and creepy.

That very moment, the hundred years were ended. Briar Ambrose opened his eyes, and Ballad introduced herself and helped him up (you become quite stiff after lying still for a hundred years, you know).

Soon the queens also woke, and all the court, and gazed at each other with great wonder. The horses shook themselves; the dogs jumped up and barked; the pigeons took their heads from under their wings and flew into the fields; the flies on the walls buzzed.

Ballad was welcome in the palace by the queens, and she told them stories of everything that had happened in the past hundred years. Everyone liked her music and tales so much, that they asked her to stay in Thorn as the court bard. Briar and Ballad eventually fell in love with each other, but after they were married, she still preferred being called “court bard” to “princess.” They lived happily together, traveling to other countries and collecting their stories when they weren’t visiting the queens, all their lives long.

This fairy tale is a retelling, by Allison Alexander, of “Briar Rose” by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. To read more Gender-Swapped Fairy Tales, visit here.

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