i was at buscot park recently where they have this beautiful series of paintings, 'the legend of briar rose' by edward burne-jones, and also i was re-reading some parts of les mis. and i was like "hmmmm... éposette au?"
1. The Queen
Once upon a time, a beautiful queen reigned in a kingdom far away.
This queen was named Fantine, and she was famed throughout the land for the fairness of her hair and the fairness of her rule alike. Although she was not of royal blood, her good heart, bravery, and beauty made her loved by all those around her, and it was for these reasons that she was queen.
Queen Fantine had no king by her side. Instead, she drew her support from her council of viziers: three wise women philosophers named Favourite, Dahlia, and Zéphine. But Fantine was lonely in her heart. While she loved her council and her people as a queen, she wished for a child whom she could love as a mother.
Learning of this wish, a wicked man name Felix Tholomyès approached Queen Fantine. He pretended to woo her, promising to love her faithfully and to give her a child.
Too trusting and kind to suspect any trickery, Fantine accepted his offer.
However, as soon as Fantine found herself with child, Tholomyès declared that he should be made king.
When Queen Fantine realised that his courtship had been nothing more than a grab for power, she was heartbroken, but – more strongly yet – she was angered. Her kingdom deserved a better ruler than Tholomyès, and her child would deserve a better father. With the help of her council, Queen Fantine banished him from the kingdom.
Some months later, a little princess was born. Because of how happy the child made Queen Fantine (and the inhabitants of the kingdom), she was named Anne-Euphrasie, although Queen Fantine always called her Cosette.
2. The Princess
When it was time for Cosette to be christened, Queen Fantine held an almighty banquet, inviting everyone in the land…
Almost everyone in the land. On the very edge of the kingdom was a dark, dingy inn, owned by crooked innkeepers, husband and wife – the Thénardiers. Knowing them to have been supporters of Tholomyès, Queen Fantine did not invite them to the banquet.
However, the Thénardiers soon learned of the royal festivities. Refusing to be left out, they disguised themselves and set off for the palace to take revenge – not armed with pistols or swords, but with a faerie curse. You see, at this time, magic was still alive in the land, and many people had faerie in their blood. The Thénardiers were no exception.
At such banquets, it was custom for magical folk to come forth and offer gifts to the newborn child. Some offered Cosette the gift of kindness, others the gift of loveliness, every person coming forth to give a gift until there was only one man left. This man was the owner of a factory, named Jean Valjean, and he intended to give Cosette the gift of wealth.
However, before he could approach the royal cradle, there was a crack of thunder. The palace doors blew open, and there stood the Thénardiers.
“So sorry to intrude!” cried Monsieur Thénardier, although he did not look sorry.
“So happy to be here!” cried Madame Thénardier, although she did not look happy.
Favourite, Dahlia, and Zélphine leapt up to arrest the Thénardiers. But Queen Fantine, who – as we have said – was trusting and kind, and wanted always to believe the best in people, held up a hand for them to stop.
“My good innkeepers,” she said to them, her voice as smooth and golden as honey, “I did not invite you here today, for I know you to have been no friends of mine in the past. But, on this happy day, I hope that we can be reconciled. Please, enter, take sustenance, and celebrate with us.”
The Thénardiers came further into the hall.
“Of course we shall,” said Monsieur Thénardier.
“But first,” said Madame Thénardier, “we would like to give the baby a gift.”
Favourite, Dahlia, and Zélphine looked from one to the other, and then they looked to Queen Fantine.
Fantine nodded her head, “If you come in the spirit of friendship,” she said, “then I will be glad of any gift you provide.”
The Thénardiers pushed past Jean Valjean, and drew up to the baby Cosette.
“Such a beautiful child!” said Madame Thénardier, “It is such a shame that she will never be a beautiful woman.”
A shadow fell across the hall, and Madame Thénardier went on: “For, in her sixteenth year, Cosette shall prick her finger upon the spindle of a spinning wheel, and she shall fall down dead!”
Then there was another almighty thunderclap, and the Thénardiers disappeared from sight.
A chorus of cries and sobbing leapt up from around the court. Soldiers were sent out immediately to hunt down the Thénardiers – but they, of course, would be long gone by the time the soldiers had reached their inn.
“Whatever shall I do?” cried Queen Fantine most mournfully.
There was the sound of a cough from amidst the rabble. Jean Valjean stepped forward.
“Your majesty,” he said, “I have not yet given my gift to the child. I was going to bestow upon her the gift of riches, but I see now that she does not need that. Instead, I shall give her the gift of love: with the strength of our love for her, she will survive the spindle, falling into sleep rather than death. Out of love for her, the entire court shall follow her into slumber, so that she will never be alone. And, finally, it will be love that will wake her: her life will be restored by true love’s kiss.”
3. The Woodswoman
By the time Queen Fantine’s soldiers reached the edges of the kingdom, the inn that stood there was empty as air. The Thénardiers had packed their bags, gathered their children, and fled to the wilderness in the south.
Although Monsieur and Madame Thénardier had too much bad in their hearts ever to be good again, their children were – if not good – not evil, either.
The eldest was named Éponine, and she was the same age as the Princess Cosette.
Where the princess grew up to be beautiful, Éponine was not quite beautiful; where the princess grew up to be kind, Éponine was not always kind; but Éponine was strong, and clever, and unafraid, and those were gifts enough to help her get by.
When Princess Cosette turned five years old, she began to learn dance, mathematics, and the ways of the court. When Éponine turned five years old, she began to learn trapping, woodcraft, and the ways of the forest.
For her tenth birthday, Princess Cosette received a harp, from which she could draw the sweetest melodies. For her tenth birthday, Éponine received a bow, with which she could fell enough food for a month.
And when Princess Cosette reached her fifteenth year, Queen Fantine allowed her to venture beyond the court, into the kingdom, to speak with her subjects and give alms. And, at the same time, Éponine’s parents allowed her to venture beyond the wilderness, into the kingdom, to sell her hunting prizes.
It was on that day, when both young women ventured further than they ever had before, that they met for the first time. Éponine was selling a fine deerskin jacket, this caught Cosette’s eye.
“What fine needlework,” Cosette remarked. “Was it by your hand?”
“Of course,” said Éponine.
“And who felled the beast?”
“That was by my hand, too,” said Éponine.
“With whom do you hunt?”
“I hunt alone.”
“But are you not scared to venture into the wilderness by yourself?” asked Cosette.
“I am not scared of anything.”
“You must be as brave as you are skilled,” said Cosette, and she bought the jacket.
Cosette was impressed by Éponine’s bravery and skill, and – in her turn – Éponine was touched by Cosette’s kindness in saying as much.
It soon became their custom to meet on their weekly excursions. Whatever articles Éponine had fashioned, Cosette was sure to love them, and to purchase them. But Cosette was not greedy: much of what she bought, she donated to the poor of the kingdom. She kept for herself only the items that were particularly special.
Although Éponine knew who Cosette was, she did not know that Cosette had been cursed by her parents.
As a matter of fact, neither did Cosette. Queen Fantine had kept the secret from her all these years, although she had made sure that every spindle in the kingdom was destroyed many years ago. And so, while perhaps they ought to have been enemies, neither of the two young women was aware of that, and so they were friends instead.
Gradually, Éponine found herself looking forwards more and more to their weekly meetings. She would try her hardest to create more complicated, more beautiful items for Cosette’s approval.
One day, Madame Thénardier said to her, “Why are you always so excited to go out on your trips?”
Normally Madame Thénardier did not care to ask about Éponine’s trips; she was happy so long as Éponine returned with gold in hand. However, Éponine was so different of late, that even Madame Thénardier had been forced to notice.
“I enjoy the change in company,” Éponine replied.
“Ah, so there is a man? There is always a man.”
“No, mother, not a man.”
“Then, a woman?”
“A princess,” said Éponine, with dreams in her eyes.
When Madame Thénardier heard this, she knew that the princess must be the child whom she had cursed so long ago.
“And you are making a gift for her now?” asked Madame Thénardier.
Éponine was working on her greatest gift yet, for it would soon be the princess’ sixteenth birthday.
“I have an idea for the most splendid gift of all,” said Madame Thénardier. “Something so rare, that not a single one exists in the kingdom.” And then she described to Éponine the nature of a spindle.
Being so clever and skilled a craftswoman, Éponine was able to create a perfect spindle with these instructions alone. Then she wrapped the gift in bright cloth, and carried it with her that week, to her rendezvous with Cosette.
“How thoughtful!” cried Cosette, on receiving the parcel.
“Mind,” Éponine warned her, “it is a delicate gift. You had better wait until you are home to open it.”
Cosette agreed that she would. Then she leaned in and kissed Éponine on the cheek.
As Cosette rode away, Éponine watched with her heart full and one hand to her face.
4. The Thicket
When Cosette reached the palace, she unwrapped the spindle, and – by the power of the curse – pricked her index finger upon it.
Immediately, she swooned in a deep, dreamless sleep. The people of the palace had time just enough to transport her to her bed before they too fell unconscious. Queen Fantine, her viziers, and all of her court – they all slumbered under Jean Valjean’s spell.
Around the palace, a thicket of thorns sprung up, forming a barrier to protect everyone from the outside world.
Word travelled slowly in the wilderness, and Éponine heard nothing of the events of the court.
One week later, she set out to meet Cosette exactly as normal. Well, not exactly as normal: this time she felt as light as a mote of dust, as bright as a flash of sun: her heart raced faster than she had ever thought possible. She was in love.
She reached the market where she normally traded in the swiftest time ever. But the royal entourage, with its royal leader, was nowhere to be seen.
When Éponine learned from a fellow trader what had befallen the princess, she wanted to scream at the heavens, or rip up the earth, or smash the trader’s stall into a million shards. But she didn’t. She had never been told that true love’s kiss would save Cosette, but something in her heart told her to travel to the palace nonetheless.
Already, many men had tried to breach the thorny wall, chopping it with axes, hacking it with swords, singeing it with fire: their efforts did nothing more than thicken the ticket.
By the time Éponine reached it, it had been declared impenetrable. The men had given up, and gone home to their dinners. Only one person remained at its edge: an old man with a kind face.
“Who are you?” Éponine asked him. “What can you tell me of this enchantment?”
“I am Jean Valjean,” said the man, “and the enchantment is mine.”
Éponine plucked her bow from her back, and slowly aimed an arrow in his direction.
“Violence will not help you, woodswoman,” said Valjean, “for it is not true strength.”
“Then what is true strength?” asked Éponine.
“Love – that is the key to lifting this enchantment. True love’s kiss will awaken the princess, and it is love that will penetrate this thicket.”
Then Éponine understood: the men had all failed because they had tried to fight the thorns. They had been afraid of the enchantment. But Éponine was unafraid: she had grown up in the wilderness; she knew all the ways of the forest; she understood the souls of the beasts and the plants that lived in it; and she loved it. It did not require brute force to part the thicket – indeed, the thicket could not be parted. To travel through it, one had to be clever and careful.
As if she was hunting, Éponine looked for the animal paths. With deft movements, she followed these meandering, looping tracks that led her every which-way through the thorns, turning here and there with the peculiar logic of the natural world. Finally, when she thought she could go no further, the darkness of the thicket gave way to the light of day. Éponine had reached the palace gates.
Everywhere, people slept where they had fallen, draped in odd positions along the corridors and across the furniture. Éponine navigated the palace, looking for the princess’ bedchamber.
At long last, she found it at the top of the tallest tower. There was Cosette, sleeping as gracefully and as beautifully as she did everything else in life.
Éponine crossed to the bedside. She knelt down. She looked at Cosette’s beautiful face, and wondered if she dare kiss it. Did a woodswoman like her truly deserve to love a princess like Cosette?
Then Éponine looked around the chamber, and she saw that it was decorated with many objects of her creation, and she knew that Cosette loved her too.
Still not quite bold enough to kiss Cosette on the lips, Éponine lowered her mouth and placed a kiss upon Cosette’s cheek. It worked: it is the true love that counts, not the nature of the kiss.
With a noise like a thunderclap, the great walls of thicket fell away from the windows, and Cosette stirred from her rest. She opened her eyes and looked at Éponine.
“Éponine,” she said, “I am so glad that you are here.” And then she sat up and kissed Éponine on the lips, and it was a kiss full of all the gifts she had received as a child: a kiss that was kind, and lovely, and full of love.
5. The End
After many happy years as queen, the day came for Fantine to retire, to spend the rest of her days comfortable and content.
In her place, Cosette became queen. Just like her mother before her, Cosette ruled with fairness, with compassion, and without a king. She ruled with another queen instead.