Originally published for Valentine's Day 2012.
She is sentenced. Sentenced to sew eternally, they say, until her spirit finally breaks. Or her body does, and lets her soul free.
They pretend not to care which, but the rough, tasteless bread and water occasionally fed through the hole in the heavy door tell her otherwise.
Her fingers are rough from the thread, and from the repeated wounds the needle leaves as she sews; they're almost invisible, barely drawing blood, but somewhere inside her she still registers the pain at this one. A low hiss escapes her, and she looks around fearfully, but they seem to have left her. For now. A sigh of relief, and she returns to her work.
Her hands were different, once; pale, slender, powdered. She thinks a long time ago she might have been a princess, but the memories are unclear, muddled in her mind. She looks down at her ragged, faded dress, once all whites and reds, and decides that she probably was.
Her hands tremble slightly. The needle bites into her finger once again, and she exhales slowly, drops the cloth; it's midnight black silk, and she can see the stars in it, sometimes. It's for them only, never her – any repairs to her own clothes are made with what look like the remains of old sacks.
She looks up at the window, just large enough to let a shaft of sunlight into the room, and at the walls; she walked a circuit of this room once, ran a ruined hand over every stone, and found that it was circular, carefully built that way. A tower, perhaps.
Those outside probably think her dead. It wouldn't surprise her. She has long lost track of time, and there is only now, here. Moment to moment. The movement of the needle. The silk in her hands. Her own quiet breathing.
She wonders why she is still young, still has colour in her hair and power in her limbs, and decides that it's probably their magic. It surrounds this place, invades it, and she can feel herself breathing it in.
She glances up sharply, the needle leaving one last small wound as she does, at a loud clang. The sound of footsteps, raised voices.
The door crashes open with a scrape of metal, a bang, and she has to shield her eyes from the candlelight; it's so bright, too bright after so many years.
No, not candlelight. It's a pale yellow, more like sunlight, and there appears to be someone holding it…
His clothes are strange, like none she's ever seen before, and he stares at her with wide eyes, and a hushed, "Oh God. Oh, God."
She finds herself doing the same, watching warily this stranger with his held light, his strange fashions and his muttered, useless prayers. He asks her question after question, voice hurried and low, but she just shakes her head and smiles slightly, wondering what "OK" is.
He sighs, raises a hand to his face, then looks back at her. "We'll… we'll get you someplace safe. Trust me?" His voice is tentative, almost afraid, and he holds out a hand; she notices that it's shaking, and wonders why.
She pauses. If this is another trap, another curse…
No. He seems as frightened as she is.
She begins to move, but the thread is tangled around her hand. She tuts crossly, hastily unwinds and removes it; when she has finished, he's still looking at her, and his hand is still raised, waiting.
She takes it, dropping the sewing that was on on her lap, and cautiously begins to follow him.
She leaves behind nothing but dust, silk, and a few strands of half-sewn thread.