"But gently my pets," cooed Maleficent. "Gently. I have plans for our royal guest."
A chill ran down Phillip's spine at the dark fairy's words. He grunted into the foul gag tied around his mouth, twisting at the ropes binding him. But Maleficent's goons were surprisingly strong, and his efforts did little to hinder them. Once outside the cottage, Phillip searched anxiously for Samson, hoping that at least he had gotten free. His heart quickly sank as he saw more of Maleficent's minions securing the panicking horse. Seeing Phillip, Samson snorted in anger and kicked at the stout creatures surrounding him, frantic to reach his master.
"Be still!" commanded Maleficent. She struck her staff onto the stone steps leading to the cottage's door. There was a powerful crack, the vibrations of which Phillip felt down to his very bones. Samson reared back at the sound, fear flashing in his eyes as his attention snapped to Maleficent. Obediently, he ceased struggling.
Maleficent turned to Phillip, studying him. Despite himself, Phillip shrunk back, the glint in her eyes rekindling some of the fear he had felt as a child when he had first seen her. Sixteen years later, and the memory was still so vivid in his mind. The dominating presence of the dark fairy as she had magicked into the throne room, the cruel pleasure in her voice as she cursed the infant princess, the terror Phillip had felt as he had pressed against his father's side. He was no child now, and though rage thrummed through him at his capture, he could not help the whisper of remembered fear flickering along with it.
Maleficent smirked as she watched the prince squirm against the ropes. "My, how you have grown," she said, mocking approval in her voice. "Hardly the little boy who cowered beneath his father's arm at an infant's christening."
Phillip bit into the gag, snarling at the fairy.
Maleficent only laughed. "I do not think we shall waste time and energy dragging you to the Forbidden Mountain. Those idiot fairies may return, and I would hate for them to try and steal my prize." She grabbed Phillip's chin, tilting his head up as she examined him.
The moment she touched him, a heavy drowsiness overcame Phillip. He staggered, and the goblins holding his ropes stumbled too, crying out as they struggled to keep him upright.
"Take the horse back with you," Maleficent said to her minions. Her voice sounded muffled and distant to Phillip, who was finding it increasingly hard to breathe with the gag cutting off half of his oxygen intake. "Be quick about it." She looked back to Phillip. "His Highness will come with me."
Alarm registered vaguely in Phillip's mind, but it was all he could do to stay standing as Maleficent reached for him. As her hand closed around his arm, all his strength was sapped from him. He groaned, unable to stop his body as it fell forward. But something caught him, and he sagged against what felt like an arm draped in silk robes.
There was another string of words from Maleficent, but Phillip couldn't make them out. Then a gush of swirling wind surrounded them. Phillip felt his body become oddly weightless, and so very cold. Then, he felt nothing at all.
When his awareness came back to him, Phillip found himself kneeling on a stone bridge leading to the entrance of a crumbling castle. His arms were still tied behind his back, and the gag remained in place. He was being held upright by more of Maleficent's goblins, their foul breath brushing his ears as they tightened their hold on him. He yanked weakly against them, revolted by their touch.
"Welcome, dear prince, to the Forbidden Mountain."
Phillip jerked his head up. Maleficent stood tall and regal, looming over him like a dark apparition. "Get him up," she ordered. "And take that gag off. His screams will not aid him here."
A clammy hand fumbled at the cloth and, with a particularly violent wrench, tore it free from Phillip's mouth. Phillip gasped, sucking in ragged breaths of air. Rough hands tugged at him, and he unsteadily climbed to his feet.
"Where is she?" he demanded, his voice hoarse from the gag. "What have you done with her?" The prospect of the forest girl being imprisoned here filled him with both terror and fury.
Maleficent chuckled and turned away from him. "Lock him up."
"Wait!" called Phillip angrily. "Where is she? You must tell me!"
"Move!" grunted one of the goblins. He shoved Phillip forward, forcing him to walk after Maleficent.
The dark fairy moved with a leisurely elegance, but somehow she was already far ahead of them. By the time Phillip and the goblins made it to the archway leading into the castle, Maleficent was nowhere to be seen.
"Is she here?" Phillip twisted his head around to glance at the horrid creatures pushing him along. "The girl with the golden hair. Is she here?"
"Cease yer jabbering," snarled one of the goblins. "Before I cut out yer tongue to silence you myself."
Phillip gritted his teeth and yanked particularly hard against the goblin who had spoken. In response, the goblin tore a rusted dagger from his belt and pressed it against Phillip's side.
"We can't kill you," he sneered. "But as long as y'keep most of yer blood, a few slices won't make a difference."
"No!" commanded a taller goblin. "We're not to harm 'im."
The goblin with the dagger kept the blade against Phillip's side. For the smallest moment there was an increase of pressure. Then, throwing the other goblin a murderous look, the creature sheathed the weapon.
"No more questions," the taller goblin said dangerously to Phillip.
Phillip tightened his jaw, rage burning in him as he was led down a winding staircase to the dungeons. They secured him in one of the cells, the shackles they encased his wrists and ankles in uncomfortably tight and cold. Then they left him, and Phillip buried his face in his hands, his thoughts brimming with worry for the girl he had met in the forest.
Why her cottage? And why take him? What purpose could any of this possibly hold for Maleficent? The only mortal he knew of that she had any interest in during the past sixteen years was…
Phillip froze as the most obvious – and ridiculous – answer came to him.
The girl in the forest simply could not be Princess Aurora. The idea was so laughable, he wondered if whatever spell Maleficent had used to transport them here had affected his mind.
Yet it made sense.
The princess had been sent into hiding shortly after the disastrous christening. No one, not even King Stefan and his wife, knew where she had been taken. The girl he had met was clearly not supposed to interact with strangers, and she had been exceedingly alarmed upon nearly giving him her name. Keeping her identity a secret would be vital if she was the princess.
Now that he thought about it, she looked remarkably similar to the queen.
It would also explain why Maleficent had been at her cottage – Aurora was the target of the dark fairy's malice. Perhaps she had discovered the princess the same day Phillip did.
If she was Aurora, that certainly solved the problem of his unwanted betrothal. Of course, it didn't matter to him if the forest girl was royalty. But it undoubtedly simplified matters.
It also made him question the validity of their meeting. Had it been a chance encounter of extraordinarily good fortune? Or had Fate had a determined hand in it? Did neither he nor Aurora really have any power over their future, no matter how hard they may try to thwart it?
Yet regardless if their meeting had been simple chance or intervention by a higher force, it did not change how Phillip felt about her. He wanted desperately to know where she was; if she was safe, his imprisonment would be easier to bear.
And why was he so important to Maleficent? Phillip frowned, trying to remember the terms of the curse. But he had only been a child when it had been cast, and the exact wording was lost in his memories of the event.
The good fairy Merryweather had adjusted the curse after Maleficent had left. But how? Phillip huffed in frustration as he tried to remember. There had been a key alteration, but it rarely had been mentioned afterwards, as everyone assumed that hiding the princess would render the cure unnecessary.
A ray of hope there still may be in this…not in death, but just in sleep…and from this slumber you shall wake, when true love's kiss, the spell shall break…
Phillip blinked. The fairy's words rang in his head as clearly as if she had spoken them to him in this very cell.
True love's kiss.
Did he love her? He gave his chains another violent yank as the answer burned in his mind. Yes. I do. Whether she is Aurora, or a simple peasant girl, I love her.
Unfortunately, the realization of the depth of his feelings for her did little to change the fact that he was still chained to a cell wall in Maleficent's dungeons. He set his jaw determinedly and grabbed the shackle around his right wrist in his left hand. He twisted and pulled, trying to slip his hand through the iron loop. Blood began to seep out from beneath the shackle as it tore at his skin, and Phillip growled in irritation at the futility of his efforts.
He would need a miracle to get out of here.
Hours later, Maleficent visited him to gloat about her plan to keep him here for one hundred years (a prospect that made him feel slightly sick). She also confirmed that the girl from the forest was indeed Aurora, though hearing the truth in her mocking tone only angered Phillip more.
It was only after she left that his miracle finally came.
He was glad he was sitting when the three good fairies conjured themselves into his cell, for his legs felt weak with relief at the sight of them. They freed him from his chains, healed his bloodied wrists, and armed him, but also warned him that there were still dangers ahead.
He did not care, as long as he could see Aurora again. Anything to free her from Maleficent's spell.
He was exhausted, coated in sweat and dirt and ash from dragon fire. He supposed he should feel victorious. After all, he had just slayed a dragon. But he just felt tired, and yearned to finish what he had set out from Maleficent's dungeons to do. His muscles ached as he stumbled up the winding tower steps after the three good fairies, but he did not slow. Aurora could not wait.
When he finally entered her room, it was like taking a breath of fresh air. There she lay, asleep under an evil spell, but alive. He exhaled shakily as he approached her. She was alright. She would be alright, he amended. As long as the kiss worked.
He all but collapsed to his knees by her bedside. Dread and doubts brushed his mind. What if the kiss didn't work? What if Merryweather's alteration to the curse had gone wrong? What if what he and Aurora shared wasn't enough to break the spell?
No. He refused to believe that.
Please. For Aurora. Please let it work. Carefully, he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers, willing his love to be enough. He pulled away, resting his arm on his bent knee as he watched. Hoped.
Aurora's eyes drowsily fluttered open. Phillip gave a gasp of relief, his shoulders sagging as the weight of apprehension was lifted. Aurora's gaze, hazy from sleep, locked onto Phillip's, and a slow smile spread across her lips.
"You…" she whispered. "It's you."
Phillip let out a trembling breath. "Yes."
Aurora's smile widened and, her movements slow from the spell's lingering effects, she raised her arms. Phillip bent closer and Aurora wrapped her arms around his neck, embracing him. He held her fiercely and pressed his face into her shoulder, drawing strength from her touch.
Cupping the back of her head, Phillip turned and pressed a fervent kiss to Aurora's temple. After dungeons and chains and endless thorns, the softness of her skin and lingering scent of pine in her hair was heavenly. As though sensing his need, Aurora drew him close, running her hand down the back of his neck. Then she stiffened and pulled away, a look of utter devastation on her face.
"What is it?" Phillip asked in concern.
"I don't know how you found me," said Aurora. "I wish I could say that our reunion brings me joy, but it is all for nothing." Tears sprang to her eyes. "I did not know, I promise I did not, but…" She gave a hiccupped sob. "I'm already betrothed." She grasped his hand, her eyes pleading. "I found out after we had met. I'm…I'm so sorry."
She doesn't know. She doesn't know who I am. Phillip stared at her. "Aurora…"
Aurora cringed at the name, and Phillip realized she most likely would have been raised under a different one. He wondered what it was. Before he could continue, a voice behind him spoke up.
"Dearest, haven't you realized yet? He is your betrothed!"
Startled, Phillip spun around. There stood the thee good fairies, full size again and looking both overjoyed and slyly amused as they observed Aurora and Phillip.
He had forgotten about their presence once Aurora had awakened. Embarrassment sprouted in him as he realized how personal he had acted to Aurora in front of them, and he glanced back at her.
Aurora was staring at the good fairies in confusion. Then understanding dawned on her face, followed by amazement…and the purest joy. She looked back at Phillip, tears of happiness shining in her eyes.
"I never did get a chance to properly introduce myself," he said with a smile.
Aurora gave a watery laugh as she embraced Phillip once again, pressing a kiss to his sweat-stained cheek. He joined in her laughter, beaming as he helped her slide off the bed and stand.
Aurora stepped back, taking in Phillip's appearance. Her lips dipped into a worried frown. "Are you…are you alright?"
Phillip glanced down at his clothes. They were stained from the grime of the dungeons, and torn from sliding over cliffs and fighting through a forest of thorns. In fact, his sleeves were so shredded in some places that his skin could be seen, which had been scratched bloody by the barbed plants. His cape hung around his knees, the edge of which had been singed by dragon fire.
"Oh," he said simply. The exhaustion he had felt when climbing the stairs to Aurora's room quickly resurfaced now that he wasn't focused completely on her. If he was being honest, he wasn't sure he could stay standing much longer.
Then suddenly the three fairies were surrounding him and tugging him away from Aurora.
"Poor dear," tutted the one dressed in red. Flora, he remembered vaguely.
"We'll have you cleaned up in no time," soothed the thinner one in green. Fauna.
"Humph," grunted Merryweather. Phillip had no trouble remembering her; she always seemed to leave a notable impression of herself wherever she went. "We should have turned Maleficent into a toad and been done with it, like I said at the beginning of this whole mess."
"Maleficent?" asked Aurora.
"Don't worry about her, love," said Flora. She picked up the end of Phillip's cape, shaking her head as she examined the ruined cloth. "Phillip saw to her quite thoroughly."
Aurora looked sharply at Phillip, concern in her eyes. Phillip just shook his head at her. Fauna took one of his hands and turned it over, searching for any burns from the fire.
Merryweather gave Phillip a proud pat. "Couldn't have done a better job. I only wish I had done it myself."
Phillip grinned at the fairy, who gave him a wink.
Flora plucked at Phillip's tunic, nodding to herself. "Yes, that will do fine," she muttered thoughtfully. "Fauna, why don't you go first."
Fauna hummed happily as she raised her wand to Phillip's palm. Phillip tensed, eyeing the wand warily. But he forced himself to relax, knowing that he was safe with the three fairies. Fauna's wand tapped his palm once, and Phillip felt a wave of magic ripple throughout him. Immediately, the fatigue was stricken from his body; he felt as fresh and vibrant as if he had just woken from a long, gratifying sleep. Even the scratches on his arms had been healed.
Flora nodded at Merryweather, and together they raised their wands. At the same moment they tapped their wands to Phillip's clothes – Flora to his tunic, and Merryweather to his boots. Another surge of magic, and Phillip looked down to see that he was now dressed in a completely different outfit. The clothes were of formal attire, and thoroughly clean of any battle tears.
"Thank you," he said sincerely. The fairies smiled warmly at him.
Satisfied that her aunts were done, Aurora stepped forward and took his hand.
Flora straightened suddenly, as though realizing something important, and waved at Phillip and Aurora impatiently. "Goodness! The rest of the castle will be waking up by now! You both are needed in the throne room." She gave Aurora a loving pat. "Your parents are waiting, dear."
Aurora sucked in a nervous, but excited, breath. She looked up at Phillip. "I suppose we don't have time for explanations, but I shall need one about all of this later," she said, gesturing to his clothes. "Obviously you had some challenges getting here."
Phillip chuckled. "Very well." He turned so that he was fully facing Aurora and took both of her hands in his. "But before we go down, I must ask. I know we are betrothed, but I do not want us to marry because of that. I only want you to be my wife if you love me, as I love you." He gave her hands a squeeze. "Aurora…" He paused and tilted his head curiously. "You know, you still haven't told me your name. The one you were raised with, I mean."
Aurora smiled. "Briar Rose."
"Briar Rose," he repeated softly. How easily the name rolled off his tongue. He raised her hands to his lips and pressed a kiss to them. "Well then, Rose…will you marry me?"
Overwhelming joy broke through Aurora's expression. "Yes," she breathed. "Oh, yes."
Exhilaration coursed through Phillip and, grinning broadly, he wrapped his arms around her to draw her into another kiss. He kept it short though, as the three good fairies were still present in the room. Releasing Aurora, he held out his arm to her. She took it, gazing up at him adoringly.
Together, they followed the fairies down into the throne room. There they danced before their families and friends, happiness in their eyes and love in their hearts.