Author's Note: I am currently editing chapters 1-4, as I'm not happy with them. The next chapter will be out as soon as possible.
Currently edited Chapter(s) 1.
They left the castle shortly after dawn. Their party was composed of 40 men on horseback , some wearing armour and carrying spears, others dressed in rich velvets and silks. Aurora rode at the head of them, sitting stiffly on the horse in the strange gown they had made her to wear, clutching desperately at the reins. Apparently it was 'unladylike' to ride astride the horse, and so she was forced to sit side-saddle and struggle desperately not to fall off. As if she didn't have enough to think about.
She was worried. She had gone to the castle to try and protect Maleficent, and now she was bringing 40 heavily armed men to her, with nothing but the blind hope that they would honour the banner of peace they carried. Perhaps she was as naïve as they thought her to be.
She had wanted to go alone. She had dared to suggested it once, but they had protested vehemently. They were not about to let their newly rescued princess go galloping back to the moors on her own. After that she had tried to argue that that they only need take a small group of men – half a dozen at most. They had agreed that they need only take a few men….and then summoned two dozen guards to escort all 16 counsellors and herself. She had not bothered to argue with them. They wouldn't listen. But that was before she had seen them. All of the guards were dressed in heavy iron armour, and carried and abundance of iron weapons. Evidently they were prepared to fight. When she had reminded them that they were going to Maleficent under the banner of peace, they had insisted that it was 'just in case'.
Aurora had no choice but to agree. As she rode out of the castle, with 40 men trailing behind her, armed with the weapons that could cause her godmother so much pain, she could not help but feel the unpleasant sensation of guilt twisting in her stomach. Maleficent had insisted that men were not to be trusted. What if she was right? What if the white flag they bore was nothing but a ruse? For all she knew they could be planning to attack as soon as Maleficent came into sight. Was she then nothing but bait?
She pushed the unpleasant thoughts aside. This would work. It had to work. She needed to forge peace between her kingdom and the moors. That was the only way. If it came to it and they did decide to attack her, then Aurora would just have to hope that Maleficent was strong enough to defend herself. The alternative didn't bear thinking about.
They arrived at the edge of the moors a few hours before noon. As they approached the wall of thorns, many of the horses began to tug on their reins, trying to shy away from the malevolent structure. Aurora couldn't blame them. She hated the wall. Just being near it made her skin prickle unpleasantly. She gripped the reins tightly in her gloved hands and urged her protesting mare forward.
When she sat in front of the wall she hesitated, unsure. Usually Maleficent who found her, unbidden. It had seemed that she had need only go near the wall before Maleficent would be there, moving them aside to allow Aurora to pass. Now Maleficent was nowhere to be seen.
Feeling incredibly foolish, Aurora called out as loud as she could. "Maleficent!"
The wall seemed to swallow her voice. She wondered whether she should wait, or continue to call. It felt absurd, calling to someone who was no doubt far beyond earshot. Still, Maleficent had never failed to come when she needed her before.
"How long will we need to wait on the witch?" Lord Rupert asked, urging his horse forward so that he sat beside her. Aurora did not bother to correct him. She had grown tired of trying to convince them that Maleficent was not a witch – no matter how many times she asked, demanded or ordered, they quickly returned to that form of address.
"As long as she takes," Aurora answered.
"What if she doesn't hear?"
"She will." Aurora had to believe that. The idea that Maleficent would not come was too terrible for her to contemplate. The memory of the previous evening was clear in her mind.
Hit with a spear. Badly wounded…most likely dead.
She would not believe it.
"Godmother!" she called again. Even to her own ears, her voice sounded frail.
Five minutes passed. Then another five. Behind her she could hear the men muttering to themselves, and every minute or so Lord Rupert would give a heavy, pointed sigh. She ignored them all. When 15 minutes had past, they began to argue. Some of them wanted to return to the castle. Others wanted to wait a little longer. Aurora did not pay attention to them. She would not leave. Now that she was so close to the moors, she could not go without knowing whether or not Maleficent was safe.
Another few minutes passed, torturously slow. More of the men were beginning to agree with returning. Whenever they tried to speak to her she just shook her head stubbornly, too focused to listen to them. Eventually, when she had started to give up hope, she heard something. At first she wasn't certain, but as the sound grew nearer, she recognised it. The steady beat of wings. Only one creature in the moors had wings strong enough to create that sound. She had never felt so relieved in her life.
"She's coming." Aurora pulled on the reins, forcing her horse to turn to face the assembled men. She thought it was better to warn them than to have them panic the moment Maleficent came into view. "Remember than we are under the banner of peace. No one is to harm her."
Again they tried to speak to her, but she didn't listen. She was craning her neck, looking at the empty sky, waiting.
A few seconds later she appeared. Maleficent swooped over the top of the wall, powerful wings buffeting the air, diving down to the earth. Aurora dug her heels into the horses flank, urging it onwards, tracing the path of Maleficent's descent. She landed a little way behind the men, wings folding back against her. Perhaps she was mistaken, but Aurora thought that she saw Maleficent stumble slightly upon landing. It happened so quickly, and before she could be certain of what she saw, Maleficent had steadied herself with her staff.
That's odd. Aurora thought. She had not seen Maleficent use her staff since the return of her wings. As she approached, forcing the lines of men to part for her, she looked closely at Maleficent. There's was nothing obvious, but Aurora knew her godmother well enough to know that something was wrong. She did not merely hold her staff, but leant on it, as though using it to support her weight. She was also paler than usual, and her eyes seemed distinctly weary. In a moment Aurora had unhooked her legs from her saddle and was sliding to the ground.
"My lady, wait!" called one of the men from behind her.
Aurora ignored him. She gathered her heavy skirts up in her hands and ran across the remaining distance between her and her godmother. She had intended to stop in front of her, but instead found herself flinging herself at the faery, burying her head against her chest and wrapping her arms tight around her. Maleficent gave a small grunt of pain, and her body stiffened momentarily before relaxing again. Awkwardly she put a hand on the small of Aurora back.
"They said you were dead," Aurora whispered. She could feel the tears she had spent the past three days fighting against begin to slide down her cheek. She bit her lip hard.
"Not quite," Maleficent replied. She put a hand on Aurora's shoulder and gently pushed her back. When she saw the tears she frowned. "Don't let them see you cry."
She cupped Aurora's chin in her hand and run the pad of her thumb along her cheek, wiping away the tears. At the gentle, intimate touch Aurora found herself crying all the harder.
"You're hurt, though?" Aurora insisted "I can see it."
"Hush," Maleficent said quickly. Her eyes darted over Aurora's shoulder, to the men who were no doubt watching disapprovingly. "It is nothing that won't heal. Now get yourself under control."
Aurora nodded. While she wiped her face and tried to take calming breaths, Maleficent spoke to the men behind her. The tenderness that was there when she spoke to Aurora was gone and instead her voice was pure metal, cold and commanding.
"Well, well. Quite the welcome party. Have you come to shoot more arrows at me?"
"We come in peace," Aurora recognised the voice of Lord James, the head of the counsel.
"Really?" Maleficent replied, in a tone that suggested she didn't believe it for a second. "I must say, I really was quite impressed with your determination. I would have thought that after 16 years of trying and failing to take the moors you would have given up by now."
It was Lord Rupert who replied, his voice an angry snarl. "Not until we have your head, witch!"
"What a charming man," Maleficent muttered to her.
"Lord Rupert," Aurora replied "He doesn't like you,"
"So I noticed." Maleficent raised her voice. "Your idea of peace seems rather different to mine."
"You will not be harmed," replied Lord James. "Princess, come back."
Aurora wanted to argue, but before she could do more than open her mouth, Maleficent had put a hand on her shoulder. "Go," she said softly. "They want to make sure I cannot use you as a shield."
Aurora hesitated and then did as she was asked. Lord Thomas rode forward, holding the reins of her horse and when she approached he dismounted to help her up into the saddle. She hated it. Sitting there, looking down on Maleficent, with so many men behind her. It felt as though she was siding against her.
"Why have you called me here?" Maleficent asked.
"This meeting is at the princess' request."
Maleficent raised her eyebrow slightly and looked at Aurora "Is it now?" She said slowly. "Am I to assume it was the princess who ordered your army to withdraw?"
"Yes," Aurora replied "Although I wish I had been able to do it sooner,"
"I am surprised you managed to do it at all. These fine gentlemen seem rather too eager for my death to allow their army just to withdraw."
"We want justice,"
Maleficent smiled. "Do not speak to me of justice. It is clear to me that men know very little about it."
"Says the witch who cursed a baby," Lord Rupert sneered.
Maleficent's eyes flicked briefly to Aurora. "A mistake," She said shortly.
"One which nearly resulted in her death-"
"Enough," interrupted Aurora. "This is not the place. "
"As you say, Princess. You will return with us, witch, to answer for you crimes."
Maleficent began to laugh, brilliant white teeth gleaming behind scarlet lips. Aurora gritted her own teeth in frustration. "You dare to command me?" Maleficent asked, mirth still ringing in her voice.
"Please," Aurora said softly. She urged her horse forward several steps. She wanted desperately to slip from the saddle and talk privately with Maleficent again, to make her understand without Lord Rupert's blunt 'diplomacy'. "I don't want us to have to fight any more. I want peace. But before that can happen we need to talk. It's the only way."
"You want me to return to the castle so we can talk?"
Aurora nodded. "Please, Maleficent."
"Why should I believe that it is not another trap? That the minute I step through the doors they won't drop another net on me and stab me with iron…"
"I won't let them," Aurora replied, trying to sound surer than she felt. Maleficent just raised a disbelieving eyebrow at her. "We have to try!"
Aurora felt tears prickling her eyes again. This had to work. It was the only way. "Please, Maleficent. Trust me."
"I trust you, Aurora. But I do not trust them."
Aurora gave her a pleading look, too close to tears to speak. Maleficent shook her head.
"Do not ask me to step back into that cage. I did it once to save you. I won't do it again."
She heard the sound of hoof beats and turned to see Lord Thomas ride up beside her. Maleficent eyed him suspiciously.
"My lady." Lord Thomas bowed his head respectfully. The suspicion in Maleficent's eyes changed to confusion. "I understand your hesitation. But we mean you no harm."
Maleficent fixed him with a cold stare. "I've heard something similar from the lips of a man before. He left me mutilated and in agony. For that 'heroism' you put a crown on his head."
"That man is dead," replied Lord Thomas "Some of us what peace as much as the princess does."
"Maleficent, please. You told me that I could unite our kingdoms. I don't know how else to do it."
Maleficent said nothing. Although her face was blank, Aurora knew that she was thinking hard. Eventually she said softly "Diaval said something to me a few days ago. He said that you had given me my wings. It was time that I gave you yours."
"I don't understand-"
"If you wish me to go with you, I shall."
"Please. I don't know what else to do-"
"I need to speak with the border guard. I shall be back in a moment."
Aurora nodded and with a thrust of her powerful wings, Maleficent took to the air.
"Has the witch fled, then?" Lord Rupert asked, as Maleficent disappeared over the wall. Aurora wheeled her horse round to face him.
"She shall return to the castle with us. She just needs to attend to a few matters first."
"So we must wait on her yet again."
Aurora bit her tongue. There was no point arguing. Instead she looked at Lord Thomas, who was sat beside her and whispered "Thank you".
The border guard were angry. When Maleficent announced her plans to return to the castle with Aurora they gave a terrible roar and began to argue in their harsh, guttural language. They trusted the humans no more than she did.
"I have told you," she said when they had quieted enough to let her speak. "We are doing this Aurora's way. She thinks it best I return with her, and so I shall. I just need you to guard the wall until I return."
She did not give them time to argue. She turned away from them and began to walk back down the dirt path, to the tree where Diaval perched, waiting.
"Into a man."
Diaval jumped from the tree and landed on his feet beside her. "You're not well enough for this."
"You're still healing."
"I said I'm fine."
Diaval gave her a disbelieving look but said no more.
"You will come with me. I need another pair of eyes."
"Someone has to stop you from getting yourself killed," he grinned
She waved him away and he took to the air, wings carrying him up over the wall. A moment later she followed.
Everything hurt. With every beat her wings strained agonisingly on her shoulders. Having spent the past three days almost constantly in the air had not done the healing process any good. Ideally she would have had a few days to rest them and allow her body the time it desperately needed to heal. But time had never been on her side. Now she had to go to the home of the humans, whilst her body was still healing from its many wounds. Whilst the skin had closed up, and the worst it had healed, she still felt pain every time she moved. Should the humans have some treachery planned (which was more likely than she would have liked to admit) then it would take a miracle to get her out of there alive. The best she could hope for was that they had not noticed her weakness. If they believed she was at full strength, then with luck their fear of her would keep them in check.
Aurora was waiting for her, with Diaval sitting on her outstretched arm. She seemed inordinately pleased to see him.
"Will you fly?" asked Aurora when she had landed.
Maleficent glanced back at the large group of men, all of whom were eying her suspiciously. The joints of her wings gave a twinge of pain at the thought of taking flight again.
"I will ride with you."
"Oh. We didn't think to bring a horse for you. You could ride with me?"
Maleficent felt the corner of her lips twist into a smile. "I doubt your men will think that appropriate. I can provide my own horse. Come, Diaval."
The raven merely gave an indignant caw and shuffled along Aurora's arm. Maleficent raised her eyebrow at him, waiting. A moment later he reluctantly soared from the girls arm to the floor and with a dismissive flick of Maleficent's fingers, the small body began to grow, until a large stallion stood before her. Aurora gave a laugh of delight. Several of the men gave shouts, cursing and muttering under their breath. Men tended not to like such obvious displays of magic.
Diaval took a minute to settle. He did not like the horse form. Four legs, that worked vastly different from those of a crow or a human, were more than he could bear.. He danced around, snorting in complaint and tossing his head vigorously. Maleficent just waited for him to settle. It was better to let him do this now than when she was on his back.
"That's cruel, godmother," Aurora admonished, although she could not keep the amusement from her voice.
"He'll get used to it," Maleficent replied. Eventually Diaval settled and she could ease herself carefully on his back. It was harder than she would have liked to admit, and as she sat she could barely keep the hiss of pain from escaping her lips. The journey would not be easy, and it certainly would not be pleasant.
Thankfully she had Aurora to distract her. They rode a little way ahead of the party, close together so that they could talk. Aurora told her of the past few days, and everything she knew of the counsel. The more she spoke, the more it became apparent that the child had swiftly changed into a woman. No one could have lived through the past week and not matured vastly and Aurora was no exception. Maleficent just hoped that this new found maturity had not come at too high a cost.
When Aurora tried to ask about the battle Maleficent shook her head. She did not dare say anything that could be overheard by the men behind them. Eventually, when the girl continued to pester her, Maleficent just said 'the wall defends itself' and refused to say any more.
When they had been riding for an hour a horse came up beside them. It was the man who had spoken to her earlier. Aurora greeted him with a friendly smile and a dip of the head.
"This is Lord Thomas, godmother."
Maleficent looked hard at him. According to Aurora, Thomas was the one man on the counsel who had shown her any form of friendship and seemed to sympathise with her cause. Maleficent didn't trust him.
"My apologies for interrupting, my lady. Some of the men don't like you talking with lady Maleficent by yourself. I thought it best that I ride with you."
"Thank you, my lord," Aurora replied with a frown. She looked troubled.
"Fools," Maleficent said softly.
The time passed slowly. Although Lord Thomas did his best to distance himself from them whilst riding alongside them, she and Aurora spoke very little and when they did it was only on unimportant topics. It was shortly after noon when they arrived at the towering city. The closer they came to it, the greater Maleficent's anxiety grew. The first time she had come to this accursed place she had been spurred on by revenge, barely able to feel anything but hatred and anger. The second time Aurora had been in danger. There was nothing that could have stopped her from going to her side. But now, without anger or desperation to motivate her, there was only fear. Fear did not motivate, it paralysed. Only by focusing entirely on the presence of Aurora could she stop herself from wheeling Diaval around and galloping back to the safety of the moors.
When they at last came to the towering gate that guarded the entrance to the city, Maleficent could contain herself no longer.
"Stop." Diaval halted at once. Aurora turned in her saddle to look at her. Behind her, the din of hooves on the stones came to an abrupt stop. Maleficent ignored them all.
The walls of the city towered above her. Rough, unnatural stone that blotted out the sunlight and stopped the winds. Iron gates and an iron portcullis with jagged teeth. And beyond this it would only get worse. More stone and iron. Roofs that threatened to crush, walls that caged and the very air you breathed was stagnant and dead. No trees. No plants. No light. No life. And of course the iron. How much of it did they have stored away just waiting for her. All too vividly she remembered the terror and agony of the iron net. The humiliation of being helpless as a dozen men jabbed at her with spears, laughing.
"Godmother?" Aurora asked softly. She had turned her horse and ridden up beside her. Maleficent just looked blankly at her, fighting desperately to keep her face emotionless. If she showed them fear they would kill her. If for a second they thought that she was weak they would not hesitate to seize the opportunity and strike. Still she could not make herself continue.
"I can't," she whispered to Aurora. "I won't."
She imagined riding up the castle, to find men with iron waiting for her. She imagined them stabbing at her and burning her, until her powers were drained and she was once again helpless beneath the terrible iron of men. And the worse fear, that once she was helpless they would not kill her, but burn the wings from her shoulders once again and lock her in this terrible place, somewhere in the bowels of the city, to suffocate in the prison of iron and stone.
She saw Aurora glance nervously at the gathered men. Surely by now she knew just how dangerous any sign of weakness was to them.
"We can't go back now," said Aurora quietly, leaning as close to Maleficent as she could.
"I know that. What if this is a trap?"
"You can guarantee that? You can promise me, without a single doubt, that the moment I get inside those walls they will not take my wings?"
Aurora hesitated. The she raised her chin and said with a voice filled with forced confidence. "I won't let them."
"Do not make the mistake of thinking you control them Aurora. They will obey you when it suits them, and disobey when it doesn't."
"Is there a problem, my lady?" called one of the men.
"No. We shall be continuing shortly." Aurora replied. Then to Maleficent she said. "Please, godmother. You have to trust me."
"I trust you."
"We can't turn back."
"I know that." Maleficent spurred Diaval on. There was no turning back now "Come on."