Disclaimer: I do not own Maleficent, this is purely a work of fanfiction.
I really enjoyed Mistress of Evil and thought Phillip and Aurora were quite cute but anyone who has read my other stories will know I have been for Aurora/Diaval since the first film and couldn't resist doing my own spin.
This was supposed to be Aurora/Diaval but Phillip and Borra wouldn't stop staring at each other. There's still plenty of Aurora/Diaval but Phillip is centre stage.
Part 1: The Beginning
Happy Endings make for a pretty finale but rarely are the reality. Hate cannot be vanquished with a single gesture, old prejudices are not easily pushed aside, and blood once spilt is difficult to wash out. The battle may be over but peace is far from won.
There is no time for a wedding when a kingdom stands in ruin, their rulers unaccounted for and a massacre on their grounds. There are plots to unravel, rubble to shift, wounded to attend, and the dead to be counted.
Prince Phillip has an army of warrior fae assembling in his courtyard, their siege temporarily halted following his mother's attempted genocide. Tempers run high on both sides. Thoughts of revenge and justice hang in the air like the red mist that killed so many Moor Folk. His twenty-three years of diplomatic training have not prepared him for such a precarious situation, but they will have to do.
When Phillip approaches Maleficent he has no thoughts of marriage or romance, only peace, surrender, survival.
He observes how the warrior fae marvel at the might of Maleficent (who wouldn't after that) – she possesses powers greater than any of their kind (a relief, seeing the destruction one Dark Phoenix can reap) – and he assumes she has some influence over the fae. Though, whether that's enough to appease them, Phillip isn't certain. First, he has to win Maleficent to his side and he isn't even sure he can do that. But he has to try, for his people, for peace.
Aurora, angel that she is, intercedes on his behalf and Maleficent seems willing to give him a chance. He will not squander it nor allow anyone else to do so; not his mother, not Percival, not even his father (should he wake). He asks for a truce, to form a treaty between Ulstead and the Moors, not merely by marriage but with a proper accord between their people through which they can suitably address each other's grievances and work together to find a resolution. He surprises himself with his own eloquence, legs shaking in his boots, adrenaline still pounding through his system, fully prepared to drop to his knees and beg if necessary.
The warrior fae he threatened steps forward – and Phillip sees his knights twitching for their weapons, sees the fae bristle their wings, sees this fragile peace slipping from his fingers before it's even formed – when Diaval pipes up.
"Excuse me, but would someone mind telling me what the cluck just happened?"
Phillip could kiss him.
"That's what I'd like to know," the warrior fae says, eyes locked onto Phillip who finds he can't look away, can't speak. His mind is drawing a blank at the worst possible time.
It is Aurora again, beautiful blessed Aurora, who quickly explains the truth of his mother's machinations and Phillip feels bile rising in his throat as her true villainy is exposed. It had all been a lie from the very beginning, the dinner, the wedding, a trap for Aurora and her family. His mother had done this. The woman who held him close and promised she only cared for his happiness had committed these atrocities, this betrayal.
Distantly, Phillip wonders how the others react to the news; the guards who carried out her bidding, Percival who was so willing to kill Maleficent. Are they as horrified as he or did they know and agree with their Queen? He doesn't want to look, his focus transfixed on the male before him. The warrior stares back, his gaze predatory, cutting him open so his insides are bared… what does he see?
Phillip might be caught in a standoff, but he refuses to blink.
"That's messed up," Diaval remarks as soon as Aurora has finished. Phillip concurs. His mother, who he admired for her strategic genius is nothing short of a genocidal megalomaniac.
"Now, who are you?" Diaval spins to look at the warrior fae still staring Phillip down.
The warrior grunts and pumps out his chest, wings fluttering. "I am Borra of the Dark Fae, a race whom the humans have hunted to near extinction."
"Right, yeah, and why are you here?"
Phillip watches, entranced, as the warrior's – Borra's– throat bobs, the corners of his mouth twitching into a snarl before settling. "We thought to use this wedding as an opportunity to avenge our fallen and turn the tables on the humans so they dare not cross our kind again. We did not anticipate them having weapons of such devastation at their disposal."
"Lord forbid the innocent people you sought to slaughter defend themselves," Percival snaps, stepping forward.
Borra bears his teeth in response and Phillip shoots the captain a quelling glance. This is exactly the sort of confrontation he wants to avoid. Does his friend not understand how close they are to war or does he not care about the body count so long as they are fae?
"Do not forget the innocent fae your queen slaughtered in the chapel. My people." Aurora rebukes in an uncharacteristic show of anger and Diaval brushes his arm against hers. With golden curls cascading behind her, blood streaked across her cheeks and eyes aglow with grief and fury, her ferocity rivals Maleficent's and the captain takes a shaky step back.
"I am so sorry," someone says and Phillip realises it's him. He's not looking at Borra anymore, all his attention turned to the woman he loves and the pain he can feel pulsing off her. Aurora gazes back at him and he cannot bear the heartbreak in her eyes.
"Aurora… Maleficent… Borra… Diaval…" He glances at each person his mother has harmed, chest clenching with sincere regret. "I am so sorry… what my mother has done, what my kingdom has done… it is a grievous wrong and I wish to make amends… I know nothing can ever undo what you have all suffered but if there is something… anything… I will pay it… please…"
He trails off, the words tasting like ash on his tongue even as they pour from his heart. It all sounds so feeble, meaningless compared to what has been lost…
Borra responds first. "You mentioned a truce."
Hope blossoms in Phillip's chest. Maybe they can salvage this.
It's hard work. There are a lot of talks, a lot of negotiations, plenty of arguments, and a ridiculous amount of paperwork. Phillip hasn't slept well in weeks, if he's not pulling an all-nighter trying to get the necessary documents sorted out, then he's lying awake haunted by the horrors his mother inflicted.
Not all that surprisingly, it is Ulstead which proves the biggest headache. His mother's prejudice has poisoned the people and it's a struggle to convince them neither the Moor Folk nor the Dark Fae mean them harm. Fortunately, with the curse broken, his father awakens and is horrified to learn of the bloodbath his wife has wrought and with nothing but sympathy for the fae's plight. The nobles and peasants alike are more receptive to their king's sunny reassurance but Phillip knows they must tread carefully if they wish to avoid further conspiracy.
It will take time for the trust to be re-built between the two races. The Dark Fae will not forget their years of being hunted, nor will the Moor Folk be willing to set foot inside another human structure for a long-time. However, Phillip feels hope budding within as he walks through the kingdom, speaking with the common people as a good leader should, and spies Diaval laughing with the locals while Aurora weaves flower crowns for children with the aid of Knotgrass and Thistlewit.
Then there is the question of his mother's fate. As compelled as he is to let her remain a goat forever, he has a duty to uphold the law and issue a fair trial. With notable distaste Maleficent turns Ingrith back into a human to stand trial along with any accomplices. It is a challenge unravelling the depths of his mother's treachery when it is near impossible to know which guards were simply acting on orders and who were all too willing to commit treason and murder. Lickspittle (the pixie his mother mutilated, Phillip remembers, with a shudder) is happy to give evidence, though his mother mostly kept him locked away, and many of her minions are eager to sell her out if it means a lighter sentence for them.
Phillip is glad he doesn't have to sentence his own mother, that grim task falling to the King, and though he can see it pains his father to have his wife imprisoned he agrees it is the right decision and another step to showing the fae they truly mean to make amends. However, it is not enough to ease his fears; he knows even locked away his mother still has influence. There are some who sympathise with the disgraced queen.
Phillip ensures the guards are ones he can trust (the ones who banter with Diaval, show respect to Maleficent, and express shame for their involvement in the massacre) and visits the prison twice a month, a different day each time, to confirm his mother is locked away, and the wards Maleficent cast on the prison are holding. Maleficent used blood magic (one of the strongest forms of magic) to prevent Ingrith's escape. As Phillip shares in Ingrith's blood he can sense the active spell whenever he nears the door. Each time his mother tries to speak with him, tries to invoke his pity, to beg his forgiveness, but he knows better now. Each time he leaves without saying a word.
Talks between the three kingdoms steadily grow less heated and more productive. Instead of shouting matches and intimation tactics there is genuine progress, concessions are made, accords are struck. Phillip stops wanting to bang his head against a wall and starts enjoying himself. Diaval makes quip after quip, met with laughter instead of threats and leave Aurora smiling. Percival shares soft looks with Shrike (which Phillip teases him about later) and Maleficent even attempts small talk. Borra roars with laughter at the King's jests, a fearsome sound that has half the congregation flinching until King John starts laughing too and soon mirth spreads around the room. Phillip realises he's smiling for the first time in what's felt like too long and catches Borra's gaze. For once the Dark Fae does not appear tense, shoulders lax, eyes bright.
Peace is starting to look possible.
Aurora returns his ring.
Months have passed since the day of their supposed wedding and neither of them has mentioned the engagement. In truth, they barely speak unless to discuss politics and when they do it is formal (stilted) like royals instead of lovers. He really should have seen this coming…
"I love you, Phillip, I do…" her voice cracks, hand trembling as she holds the ring out to him, "…but I can't… I can't… marry you… I'm sorry."
She is crying and it pains Phillip to see her like this, instinctively reaching out for her before he realises he may no longer be permitted. Mercifully, Aurora returns his embrace, squeezing him tight..
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she pants out, close to hyperventilating.
"Sshh, sshh," Phillip soothes, brushing his hand over her hair, even as his own eyes itch.
"I'm sorry but I ca- I can't… I'm sorry, I can't be your queen… not- not af-after everyth-thing that's happened… after wh- what your- your mother did…"
"Aurora…" Phillip pulls back, looking at her face, red and blotchy and beautiful.
"I know you're not her, I know you didn't know, but it's all I can think about when I'm here… she murdered my friends, they came to see us married and she massacred them… she framed my godmother, almost made me believe… she locked me up and I can't forget, I can't pretend… when I'm here I feel the walls closing in and… and… I'm sorry…"
Phillip wants to scream. Not at Aurora. No, never. He feels nothing but love and heartbreak for her. But his mother who has ruined so many lives with her hate and now stolen the sun from his own…
He wants to scream. But he can't now.
"I can't be your queen… I don't know how to be a human queen, I think I'd be pretty hopeless at it…"
Phillip wants to tell her she's wrong, that she would be the most magnificent queen Ulstead has ever seen – and besides she can't be any worse than the last – but he won't fight her.
"I was raised by faeries on the Moors… my place is there with them…" She looks at him, so sad and full of regret. "I will always be that girl in the woods…"
"And I will always love her…" He presses his lips to her forehead, one last kiss, and takes the ring from her palm. "But I understand… I could never be happy if you weren't."
"I'm so sorry, Phillip," Aurora whimpers, hands falling as he steps back. "I do love you."
He looks at her, sobbing, shaking, begging for his forgiveness, and longs to hold her again, tell her it's alright. But he doesn't know how to reassure her when his heart is shattering into a thousand jagged pieces.
"This won't change anything between our kingdoms. Our union remains strong, as I hope our friendship will be…"
It is perfectly diplomatic and very cold but it is all he can muster. Aurora eyes are achingly kind as she offers up a weak smile. "Thank you, Phillip."
"I'll send for Maleficent."
With that said, he turns on his heel and strides away. He keeps his word, sending a messenger to Maleficent, before heading to his private chambers where he collapses.
He doesn't emerge for the rest of the day.
His father takes the news hardest. King John had really warmed to Aurora.
"But peace, Phillip, what about peace!"
Phillip frowns. "We will still have peace. This alliance isn't built solely on marriage."
"I suppose, I suppose," his father sighs, slumping in his chair. "I shall simply have to wait a little longer to become a grandpa."
Phillip rolls his eyes and leaves the room, deciding a walk in the garden will help clear his head. It has only been a couple of days since he announced his engagement to the Moors Queen is off, but he wishes everyone would move on already and stop with the pitying glances. The castle is in a fluster, fearing the Moors may attack at any moment, as if vows of friendship mean nothing unless they come with a ring.
Phillip doesn't have the patience for their nonsense and is thankful he's not yet king; it is easier to slip away. Percival has even relaxed his guard, allowing the prince some privacy in his grief. For all his friend's misguidedness, Phillip appreciates the gesture.
The gardens are a good place to hide. The groundskeepers have done an excellent job restoring the shrubbery after it was trampled in the battle (there had also been some magic involved, a gesture of goodwill from Maleficent). He stops behind a hedgerow and heaves a heavy sigh, bringing out the engagement ring he still carries in his pocket. It is too soon, too fresh, but Phillip can't imagine loving anyone other than Aurora. Who could ever replace her in his heart?
He feels a gust of wind sweep over him, hears the clap of wings, and then a thump as something – or someone – lands behind him. Phillip slips the ring back inside his pocket and turns around coolly.
Borra leers, face inches from his own. "Hello Prince."
"Hello Ambassador," Phillip greets with every bit of grace and poise he has been taught to show a foreign dignitary - which Borra is essentially, feral nature aside.
"A little birdie told me your union with the Queen of the Moors is over. I do hope you are not so fickle in all your promises or shall we expect an army at our door?"
Phillip wonders if a little birdie is a reference to Diaval but he can't imagine the raven would gossip about Aurora like that. Maybe Percival let something slip to Shrike; he is always fumbling his speech around her. It's not like it's a secret anyway.
"Queen Aurora and I have decided our union is best left as friendship and nothing more. Our alliance with the Moors still stands, as it does with the Dark Fae… assuming you do not find us too fickle?"
He raises an eyebrow at the warrior, daringly. He's at risk of causing a diplomatic incident and ruining all the progress they have made but he wants to prove to this arrogant fae that the Prince of Ulstead won't be intimidated. If this is to be another standoff so be it, Phillip won't blink first.
Borra stares him down, amber eyes assessing, then when it becomes apparent Phillip won't be cowed his lips pull back revealing the points of his teeth and he makes a snarling sound that might be… laughter?
"It is good to know the Prince of Ulstead keeps his word."
"Is that- is that the reason you're here? You flew all this way to check I'm true to my promises?" Phillip asks, not sure if he is flattered or insulted.
Borra bristles. "Your own blood betrayed you. It is not easy to trust the son of my brethren's butcher."
Now Phillip is insulted but he doesn't allow it to rile him. He chooses not to remind Borra it was him and his brethren who were attempting to eradicate the humans when Ingrith sprung her trap. Phillip must take responsibility for his role in it all, however unwitting. Both sides suffered losses.
He regards the Dark Fae thoughtfully. "Since you're here, would you like to join us for dinner?"
Phillip tries to hide his amusement at the warrior's gobsmacked expression.
"Stay for dinner. I'm sure you'd like to relax and have some food before you fly home."
For once the warrior is disarmed and Phillip relishes in it. "Uh… I suppose..."
"Excellent, I shall inform the chef." And ensure they don't use the iron dining set.
He pushes aside the sense of déjà vu that tells him this is a bad idea and leads on. If his father is surprised when Phillip returns with a Dark Fae in tow he does well not to show it (Percival doesn't fare as well, almost dropping his sword, and looking dejected when he can't find Shrike).
Dinner goes significantly smoother than the last time they dined with a fae (all forms of bird are strictly off the menu and his mother's cat is shut away in the cellar). His father and Borra get on surprisingly well considering one is a peace-loving human and the other a brutish warrior fae. Borra seems puzzled by the King's enthusiasm, tensing when the latter claps him on the back and looking confused as he realises it's not an attack but a show of camaraderie. Phillip hides his smile behind a wineglass. Borra addresses him frequently throughout the meal, deliberately taunting, trying to rile the prince but Phillip counters all attempts with his own quick-remarks yet the fae's smirk only widens.
When it's time for Borra to depart Phillip follows him out onto the balcony.
"So, are you satisfied?" Phillip drawls, referring to their previous conversation.
"I am never satisfied, Prince." Borra's smile is savage and yet his eyes are not so cutting. "But it was good… to dine with… friends."
The Dark Fae takes off into the night and leaves Phillip reeling. When he finally stumbles inside, feeling flushed despite the cold air, he is met by the King, a soft look on the other man's face as he places a hand on his shoulder.
"I am proud of you, my son." His father hugs him. "I love you, Phillip."
Phillip closes his eyes, feeling a tear slip down his cheek, and hugs his father back. "I love you too, dad."
If he had been thinking properly at the time and was not so distracted by Aurora's distress, Maleficent's disappearance, and his mother's manipulations then he might have realised the power to break his father's curse was within him all along.
Phillip transforms the palace chapel into a garden in honour of the Moor Folk who were slain within. It is impossible to remove their carcasses now they are plants, so instead he fills it with life to memorialise the fallen. He sought Aurora's approval before enacting his plans but he has not seen much of her since their broken engagement. He knows she is busy caring for the Moors as he is his own kingdom but her absence weighs upon him like the ring he still carries in his pocket. However, she sends Knotgrass and Thistlewit to oversee the project; the faeries plenty eager to share their views and help the garden take shape.
The opening ceremony is the first time he's seen Aurora in months. She looks as lovely as ever, and while the grief still lingers, she has regained the colour in her cheeks and her eyes shine a little brighter. It strikes him how much of her light was diminished during her short stay in Ulstead. He watches her share smiles with the attending Moor Folk (understandably, many declined the invitation), soaking in the sound of her laughter as Diaval whispers in her ear. She never would have been at home in the castle. She belongs amongst the trees and the sunshine, not shut behind stone walls. He had been fooling himself to believe otherwise.
She notices him staring and his heart thuds in his chest, looking away quickly. Out of the corner of his eye he sees her say something to Diaval and then the raven is off talking to the King, with big theatrical gestures that capture everyone's attention. Aurora approaches and Phillip's heart drops.
"Hello," she offers a small smile which Phillip forces himself to return. "Thank you for the garden, it's beautiful. Flittle would have loved it, they all would."
"It is the least I can do, after- " he cuts himself off, not wanting to mention his mother. Aurora knows what he was going to say and he curses himself for the pain that flickers across her face. "I'm sorry."
"I don't hold your mother's actions against you, Phillip. You've worked so hard to make amends, to build peace."
Phillip doesn't feel like anything will ever be enough to atone for what the fae suffered at his mother's hands, what his ignorance allowed. "There's still more to be done."
"Well, you don't have to do it alone." She reaches for his hand and Phillip manages to stop himself from flinching, allowing her to take it. Her touch is as warm as he remembers. "As Queen of the Moors and your friend, I will do everything in my power to help in any way I can."
I miss you, he wants to say. I love you.
"I've been thinking about a bridge," he says instead.
The smile she gives him is blinding and Phillip decides he can bear the ache for this.
Borra scowls at the pile of paperwork Phillip is attempting to finish.
"What is all this?"
"Bills, decrees, private documents I shouldn't let you read," Phillip murmurs scribbling in ink. He doesn't attempt to the dissuade the Dark Fae's curiosity, he knows the warrior will do whatever he pleases, especially if he knows it displeases Phillip.
"More diplomatic nonsense," Borra scoffs, tossing the papers somewhere different to the original pile.
Phillip suppresses a sigh. "It is this diplomatic nonsense that will allow the fae free travel and ensure no one in our lands can hurt you without serious repercussions."
"If the humans seek war we will give it to them."
"Because that went so well last time," Phillip mutters, secure enough in their alliance to know a few jabs below the belt won't cause it to crumble.
"It must have, as we now have a prince conducting foreign negotiations on our behalf," Borra leers.
Officially, Borra is not supposed to be there. He flew into Phillip's private study rather unexpectedly through the open balcony. After Phillip finished lecturing him on the consequences of what would have happened if one of the guards mistook him for a threat it emerged Borra has no reason for visiting (or no good reason, in Phillip's opinion. Wanting to check his people's interests are still being taken into account seems a flimsy excuse when there is the monthly meeting of the Three Kingdom Alliance to do so). Not that Phillip minds seeing the warrior. He actually looks forward to their limited interactions, even if the Dark Fae spends most of that time trying to get under his skin.
As prince, Phillip has a woeful lack of friends. There's Percival, his best friend, whose responsibilities as Captain of the Guards keeps him as busy as Phillip's own royal duties, and who has been spending more and more time in the company of a certain Jungle Dark Fae.
There's Diaval, without whom Phillip is not sure an alliance would be possible, the raven being responsible for defusing much of the initial tension with his jests and charisma. Nowadays, Diaval acts as a go-between the kingdoms, an ambassador to the Moors, and is probably the one Phillip sees most often. They have become drinking buddies of sorts and though Phillip knows the raven's loyalties will always lie with the Moors – or more specifically, Maleficent and Aurora – he is thankful for the other male's friendship.
Then there is Aurora, his first love and tentative friend. She is kept busy by her queenly duties but makes a point of exchanging letters with him every week which a non-magical bird usually drops off. A lot of words go unspoken between them – at least for Phillip they do – but their friendship is genuine and Phillip enjoys their letters, swapping gossip and sympathising with each other's royal plights.
And there's his father, of course, but that is not the same. Phillip is glad for Borra's company. He might even call the warrior friend if he didn't think the male would vehemently deny it.
"Here," Phillip holds out a stack of parchment to the Dark Fae.
Borra glances at them but doesn't accept. "What is it?"
"The agreement outlining that any kingdoms wishing to trade with Ulstead must honour our terms and forgo any hostilities with magical entities including the Moor Folk and Dark Fae."
"Why would I bother looking at them when you've just told me what they say."
Phillip resists an eye roll. "I thought you might want to read them in detail."
Borra snarls, teeth flashing. "You mock me."
Phillip pauses, a retort dying on his tongue. He takes in the Dark Fae, the stiffness of his shoulders, the tension in his jawline. Something has ruffled his feathers (no pun intended). Phillip thinks back on their conversation. It's not unlike them to bicker, most of their interactions involve a battle of wits, but in this case Phillip genuinely wasn't trying to goad the warrior. There's something more going on.
"I don't understand."
Borra sneers but must read the confusion on Phillip's face because he huffs and turns his glare to the wall.
Cautiously, Phillip rises from his chair, moving around the desk so he's beside the fae. Borra doesn't acknowledge his presence but Phillip is undeterred. If the warrior didn't want to talk he would have left.
The warrior spins and growls at Phillip. "I can't read your words."
"Wh-what?" Surprised, Phillip processes this revelation. "You can't read?"
"Do. Not. Mock. Me."
"I'm not," Phillip lifts his hands in protest, running them through his hair, "I'm not, I just- I didn't realise… all our meetings… you signed the treaty…"
Phillip pauses, recalling the peace negotiations and how most of them had been verbal. When it came to drafting and finalising the papers it had been Udo and Maleficient who dealt on the Dark Fae's behalf. Borra and Shrike always added their comments after each passage was read aloud. Phillip feels silly for not noticing what now seems obvious but then nobody else had either.
"Why didn't you say before, we would have accommodated- "
"And give you more reason to think us ignorant beasts," Borra spits and something inside Phillip flinches. "We may speak the same tongue but we have no need for your scratchings. When speech is not enough we have our own system of symbols to communicate, but what thought have humans shown towards our language, our customs."
Borra freezes in his tirade. "…what?"
Phillip drops to his knee. Borra curses, scrambling back, wings knocking papers off the desk. Phillip pays them no mind, focusing only on the fae before him.
"Wh-what, what are you doing?"
"Please accept my apologies for it is I who has been ignorant. I should have familiarised myself with your culture and in failing to do so I have failed you."
Borra appears lost for words. "Prince…"
"Please educate me in the ways of your people so that I might better serve your needs."
Borra drags a hand down his face, muttering under his breath. "Idiot… get off the floor."
Phillip stays where he is, beseeching Borra with his eyes. "Do you forgive me?"
"You are impossible," Borra groans, a rumbling rising in his throat. "Yes, fine, I forgive you. Please stand up."
The please surprises Phillip and he stands. "Will you teach me more of your culture?"
"Don't feel obligated." Borra's stance is defensive, feathers ruffling behind him.
Phillip knows the Dark Fae are protective of their culture. Having been hunted to near extinction they are wary of revealing too much least the humans use it against them. But Phillip's intentions are pure.
"I want to learn… if you'll let me. I want to understand, want to know you better." He risks a step towards the male.
"Why?" Borra croaks, eyes scouring his face.
Phillip bares his soul. "Because you are my friend, Borra. You are important to me."
Borra turns so fast Phillip has to jump back to avoid being knocked out by his wings. When he spins round again he is holding a book snatched from Phillip's shelf.
"Then teach me too. It'll be an equal exchange."
"You want me to teach you how to read?" Phillip asks wanting to make sure he hasn't misunderstood and isn't going to be dropped out the window.
"And anything else you think is necessary to navigate all this diplomatic nonsense."
"Gladly," Phillip grins. "But maybe not that particular book?"
Borra frowns at the book in hand. "Why not?"
"It's uh The Language of the Flowers."
"Like the Moor Folk?"
"No, like red roses symbolise love, yellow carnations mean rejection… it's for courting."
Borra looks back at him, a crease in his brow. "Courting?"
Heat spreads across Phillip's cheeks. "When we wish to pursue someone romantically, flowers are a token of affection."
Understanding lights in Borra's eyes and a smile slides across his lips. "You gift flowers to your mate. Yes we do that too although we don't prescribe meaning to the chosen flowers."
"You call your other halves mates?" Phillip has only ever heard the term used for animals yet it sounds more meaningful than partners, more steadfast than lovers.
"Dark Fae are not so inconstant in our affections as humans seem to be. When we choose a partner usually it is for life."
Phillip frowns, sensing more behind what he is saying. "Inconstant… you're alluding to Aurora and I?"
Borra places the book back on the shelf.
Phillip grows more agitated as the silence stretches. "Do you still believe me fickle?"
"You love her and she loves you and yet you gave it up."
Phillip sighs and slumps against the wall, thinking of the drink he has stashed in his cabinet. "We wouldn't have been happy together… our worlds are too different."
"Horseshit." Borra slams his fist on the desk and more papers flutter to the floor (Phillip is not looking forward to sorting them all out again). "When you love someone, when you truly love someone, you fight to make it work, you fight for each other and damn the consequences. It doesn't matter what world they are from if your world is nothing without them."
Phillip stares at the warrior fae, his words rattling through his bones even as he shakes his head. "It's different for nobility. There are expectations, duties to fulfil…"
"To Hell with duty," Borra hisses. "Hold on to the ones you love before they are taken from you."
Phillip is speechless, stunned by the raw emotion the warrior is revealing. It feels alarmingly personal, like he's speaking from his own experience.
"Borra…" he reaches for the Dark Fae and is surprised when the other male lets him touch, fingers brushing against the hard muscled arm. "You lost someone."
Borra looks down and from the folds of his tunic he draws a feather, gazing at it with tender sorrow. "My mate, Greer, he was killed when humans invaded our homeland… I couldn't save him. I wanted to kill all the humans, to avenge his death. But I was injured and when I woke my comrades were carrying me over the ocean, fleeing the slaughter. It didn't matter in the end, the war followed us.
"Borra…" Phillip grasps for the words to somehow apologise for all the wrong Borra and his kind have suffered at the hands of humans, to express his condolences without belittling what it is he has lost, but all he manages is a useless "I'm sorry."
Borra tucks the feather back into his tunic and looks at Phillip, face unreadable. "When we met and you held your sword to my throat I thought it was over. You would cut my throat and I would see Greer again. But then you threw down your sword and ruined my plans."
"I'm… sorry?" Phillip offers, confused by the other's accusatory tone.
Borra's lip twitches upwards. "All I could think was how that fool Conall had been right and humans could be good."
Phillip knows of Conall from Shrike, he was the first Dark Fae to advocate for peace with the humans and his murder had led to the fae's attack on Ulstead.
Phillip runs his fingers down Borra's arm until he catches his hand. The startled male stares at him but doesn't pull away. Encouraged, Phillip places his other hand over the one he's holding, squeezing it gently.
"Too many fae have lost their lives at human hands. I want to be better than those before. Tell me how I can help?"
Borra's stare is as intense as ever and not for the first time Phillip feels as if something lingers in the air between them, unspoken. Then Borra's lips curl into a dry smile.
"You've done more for us than I ever thought a human would. When you first made us promises I had my doubts but you've proven yourself a faithful ally and a good friend."
He claps Phillip on the shoulder with his free hand then breaks from Phillip's hold, sauntering onto the balcony. Phillip stops to watch him from the doorway, realising with a surge of disappointment that the fae is leaving. Borra flares his wings preparing for take-off but loiters a moment, glancing back at Phillip.
"I'll return for our first lesson. Make sure it's a good one."
His smirk lingers in Phillip's mind long after the Dark Fae has flown over the horizon. Phillip waits until he can no longer make-out that spec in the dark then turns back inside. He takes in the papers scattered on the floor and heads for the drinks cabinet.
The bridge is finished in time for the First Anniversary of the Three Kingdom Alliance. It is agreed a celebration should be held and the Moors is chosen as a neutral location. Phillip rides across the bridge, admiring the intermingling of human and faerie craftsmanship. It is wide enough to support crowds of people as well as wagons and horses, with guards stationed on either side to prevent trespassing.
The retinue for Ulstead consists of enough guards to protect the royal family without being seen as a threat, those courtiers who are unafraid to enter faerie land and any curious peasants. The King and Percival are among them but Phillip has ridden ahead, eager to reunite with his friends before they have an audience.
He doesn't need to guide his horse around the trees and foliage, Sampson already knows the path from all the times he visited Aurora. Less than a year has passed since their broken engagement but the memories of their time together feel like a distant dream. Although his love for Aurora goes on, his heart seems to have recovered, the pain faded. The ring returned to its box. He doesn't think he will ever stop loving Aurora but he is not as in love with her as he once was.
That doesn't mean his heart doesn't leap when he sees her in the glade, hair spilling like sunlight over a golden gown. For a moment he can't breathe, taken back to another time.
A shadow slips into view, lifting Aurora by the waist and spinning her round. Not a shadow, but a figure all in black. The lack of horns gives it away before Aurora shrieks his name.
The raven's easy laugh rolls across the clearing as he places the queen back on her feet. From this distance Phillip can't quite tell what they are saying but Aurora is making a lot of wild gestures while Diaval looks on, amused. Phillip suspects Aurora is wrinkling her nose in that adorable way she does when she's annoyed and thinks he has loitered long enough, about to call out, when Diaval suddenly pounces, capturing Aurora around the waist and heaving her over his shoulder. Aurora screeches, banging her fists against the raven's back, but Diaval just laughs swinging her this way and that before he loses his footing and the two of them go tumbling down. They are both laughing now, Diaval's merry squawks harmonising with Aurora's sweet delight, and Phillip cannot recall a time he and Aurora ever laughed like that together.
"He always makes her laugh."
Phillip starts, stumbling as he turns to face the Mistress of Evil. Maleficent stares back at him, coolly.
Floundering, Phillip bows awkwardly, always unsure how to behave towards the faerie. When he was courting Aurora she had acted as if he were a louse she would like to grind under her heel, their interactions mercifully limited. Since his mother's attempted coup, Maleficent has become a crucial ally, key to both the Moors and the Dark Fae, and perhaps the greatest threat to Ulstead if he were to fall from her grace. As a result he always endeavours to treat her with the reverence one might show a goddess. A powerful, vengeful goddess who teases her raven friend and presses kisses to her goddaughter's forehead.
She gives him a look that would set most men trembling but Phillip is accustomed to her brand of terrifying and knows this is mild compared to what she is capable. "Don't start with that toadying nonsense. I know you have a spine, you'd do better to straighten it."
Phillip rises, meeting her gaze. "You don't like me."
Her eyebrows lift. "My, my, we are feeling bold."
The polite thing to do would be to drop his gaze. But the polite thing would have been to avoid confrontation in the first place. He has seen Maleficent with the royal advisors; she does not suffer fools, but despises the meek even more.
"For daring to say something so stupid I will admit, I like you better than most." He tries not to goggle and fails if the amused turn of her lips is anything to go by. "Especially now you are not taking my daughter from me."
Her eyes travel back to the glade and Phillip follows. Diaval is lounging in the grass as Aurora fusses with his hair, weaving flowers among the midnight locks. They make a pretty picture, black and gold, dark and light. Except Diaval and Aurora are both light; naturally joyful, carefree spirits.
"I confess I am a little envious. Even I can't make her smile like he can."
Her expression is odd and Phillip feels the urge to reassure her. "Aurora loves you more than anyone."
"Not more, but different, yes. And no less special." Eyes like a frost-covered meadow settle on him. "She loves you, Prince."
"I love her," Phillip replies looking back to the woman who has a laugh like springtime and a heart of sun. "But that's not enough."
He thinks of Borra and what he said about fighting for love. But you cannot fight for someone who wants to be free. A heart cannot be conquered.
"I want her to be happy." Even if her happiness has no place for him.
"That's not all you want." Maleficent is watching him carefully and Phillip knows this is a test. He stares back, defiant.
"It's all I ask."
"Hmm." Phillip holds his breath waiting for her verdict but all she does is raise her eyebrows at him and begins walking in the other direction. "Come. Your party has made it across the bridge and I never miss a trick."
Phillip follows in step, feeling a smile creep.
The human congregation are shaken by Maleficent's sudden materialisation from the gloom but are put at ease when their prince pops up next to her.
"Mal!" His father greets with a wide grin and marches towards them, arms open with what Phillip realises with dawning horror is the intent to embrace the Dark Fae.
Maleficent seems to realise this too if her look of dismay is anything to go by and Phillip does the only thing he can think of to evade disaster, leaping in front of the faerie in time to restrain his father through a hug of his own.
"Father, so good to see you again," Phillip announces with false cheer.
"Uh yes, my boy… although we did see each other at breakfast…"
It is at that moment that Diaval and Aurora wander onto the scene.
"Oh, are we doing hugs?" Diaval exclaims and hurls himself at Phillip.
The prince staggers under the raven's weight and notices Maleficent fighting back a smile. Some of the nobles must notice too because there's a bout of anxious muttering before Aurora, in all her shining glory, steps forward, dispelling their doubts with a dazzling smile like the sun chasing away the shadows. (Her name is Aurora, word play come with the territory).
"Welcome to the Moors. We are honoured to have you here. Please follow us to the festivities."
Aurora guides them to her palace, constructed from enchanted wood and opalescent stonework. The adorning flora covers the castle from top to bottoms, green garlands decorating the hallways, and the tree canopies interlocking to form the ceiling. It is simply magical, unlike any manmade structure, and Phillip feels a swell of pride as the other humans ooh and ah at the stunning architecture. The faeries have put together a marvellous spread, everything feels warm and welcoming.
At first the two races seem reluctant to mix, wary of one another. It is not the first time faeries and humans have interacted as allies but it is the largest gathering since the wedding massacre. The first hours are spent mingling with the various attendants, exchanging pleasantries and coaxing the humans into conversations with the Moor Folk. As soon as the music starts Thistlewit pounces on him, insisting he ask her to dance, she shifts into her human form for the occasion and he twirls her around for two songs before Knotgrass cuts in (also in human form) and requests a turn. Phillip is happy to oblige with the request until the dance ends and Thistlewit returns for another go. Phillip finds himself pulled back and forth between the two faeries, head spinning and feet sore from all the dancing, until salvation comes in an unlikely form.
"Ladies," Maleficent clucks appearing just as a fight seems about to break out with Phillip in-between. "Shall we let the Prince rest. We wouldn't want to wear him out."
The faeries grumble but are ultimately too afraid to argue, slinking off to acquire new dance partners.
Phillip breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank you."
"Consider it repayment for your earlier intervention," Maleficent replies with an air of indifference that Phillip suspects is for show. "Beside I think there are others after your attention."
She tilts her head and Phillip follows her direction, jolting as he spots Borra looking uncomfortable amongst a swarm of doting women. Phillip hadn't noticed the Dark Fae arrive, too busy making small talk and dancing. He scans the rest of the room and yes, there are more Dark Fae intermingling with Moor Folk and humans alike. Some he recognises, others he doesn't. His gaze flickers back to Borra and their eyes lock. Phillip quirks an eyebrow as the other male looks at him beseechingly.
"The dashing prince off to rescue another damsel in distress."
Phillip glances back at Maleficent, a brazen smile dancing on his lips. "You think I'm dashing?"
Maleficent doesn't roll her eyes but only because the look she gives him is so stony he doesn't think it possible. He has seen this look directed at Diaval countless times and assumes he's safe enough, though decides not push it lest he become a bird himself.
"Try not to get eaten, little prince," she imparts before swanning away.
Phillip is not sure what to make of that comment but shakes it from his mind. As she said, he has a damsel to save. He acquires two flutes of faerie liquor from the banquet table, managing to swerve all efforts to drag him into further conversation and glides across the room in time to prevent Borra from breaking the wrist of one particularly audacious lady as her hand wanders further than is decent.
"Pardon me, ladies, but might I have a word with the Ambassador alone."
The noblewomen pout, evidently used to getting their way.
"Oh but my Prince, this is a party, surely the politics can wait," one of the women protests, unaware parties are the perfect time to schmooze and build connections, in fact, most parties are held for the purpose of political manoeuvring.
Phillip smiles good-naturedly. "I am afraid the work of a ruler is never done. Please, we wouldn't want to bore you with our talk of trade and legislation. Do enjoy the festivities and I may be able to join you once my other duties are complete."
The noblewomen giggle at the prospect of time with the Prince and one-by-one they trickle away, casting a few longing glances at Borra. Once they are gone Phillip turns to Borra offering him the spare flute.
"You looked in need of assistance."
Borra accepts the drink with a frown. "Are all human women like that?"
"No, not all of them. But a lot of the aristocracy are, yes. Comes with a sense of importance and the desire to social climb."
"That doesn't explain their interest in me. I have neither wealth nor lands."
"True but lust is a strong motivator and few will have encountered a handsome fae warrior with an aversion to shirts before." Phillip pauses to sip from his glass and Borra makes a choking sound. "Are you well?"
"Fine," Borra grits out. "You speak from experience?"
Phillip shrugs. "As prince and heir to the throne I am forever being mobbed by nobles trying to pawn me off on their daughters, sisters, cousins… Aurora was a nice reprieve for a few months."
"I thought… you and Aurora were together for five years…?"
"Yes and no…" he fiddles with the stem of his glass. "We'd known each other for five years before I proposed and until then no one in my court took it seriously… especially not my mother." Oh the clarity hindsight brings. "Until the vows are exchanged I am considered fair game. Even then, kings and queens have been known to have affairs. I would never and I don't think my father did either despite my parents not being a love match, but it's sadly not uncommon."
"Humans are strange," Borra states and Phillip laughs unexpectedly. "The Dark Fae show their affection by presenting a feather to their intended mate. If the other accepts then they will wear the feather to symbolise their mating and all the other Dark Fae will respect their bond. Very rarely are their contestations after the bond has been accepted."
"Mating is like marriage?"
Phillip and Borra have shared a number of different human and Dark Fae customs with each other since their talk a couple of months ago but the topic of mating has never come up again and Phillip doesn't want to pry knowing what a painful subject it is for Borra. But seeing as the Dark Fae brought it up himself…
"Similar. Dark Fae tend to mate for life, rarely do mates separate."
Phillip gulps the rest of his drink. The thought of such devotion, when Phillip's line has only married for convenience, sends a thrill down his spine. He is tempted to push for more but decides now is neither the time nor place. Phillip looks at Borra and does a double-take.
"What is on your head?"
Borra touches the flower crown encircling his horns in a gesture that could be self-conscious. "Aurora made it for me. It seemed rude not to accept."
Phillip chuckles. "You look good."
Borra grunts and comfortable silence settles between them. Phillip casts his gaze around the festivities. Percival and Shrike are as inseparable as always. Udo and Maleficent are conversing in a corner. His father is busy befriending every faerie he comes across, beguiling them with tales Phillip has heard a hundred times before; amongst them is Lickspittle, who seems much happier now he has settled in the Moors. Diaval appears to have fallen into the trap of dancing with every single noblewoman and Phillip wonders if he will have to rescue him sooner or later. Aurora is radiant among a crowd of courtiers who flock to hear her speak and garner favour, looking every bit a queen.
"She is kind, your Aurora," Borra says. "Kinder than I knew humans could be. I see why you love her."
"Aurora is unlike anyone I have ever met," Phillip admits with soft pride. "I love her very much but she is not mine."
"She loves you," Borra emphasises as if that's the whole point.
"Yes," Phillip agrees, feeling a sense of déjà vu. Is he to be interrogated by all Dark Fae today? Maleficent, he understands, but what's Borra's stake in the matter? "But our paths have diverged. We are not each other destinies."
"So that's it?"
"That's it," Phillip reiterates and if his tone is a little bittersweet well who's to know
"Hmph, not much of a happy ending."
Phillip shoots him a lopsided smile. "Peace not good enough for you?"
Borra grins back. "I told you, Prince. I am never satisfied."
Phillip stays with Borra for as long as he can before duty draws him back into the fray. He resumes his circulation of the crowds, following up on his promise to speak with all the noblewomen, while always making sure he has an escape plan, moving on from human to fae with the ease that comes with years of practice. He is in the middle of a pleasant conversation with Udo and some of the royal advisors when Aurora calls for a toast in honour of their first year as allies and to the many years to come. It's a good speech and Phillip applauds ardently, along with everyone else.
After that the festivities begin to wind down, most of the human guests choosing to depart while it's still daylight. The sun is starting to set, casting the Moors into amber and rosy light, the music has turned soft and lilting, when Phillip turns and Aurora is smiling up at him.
"Would you like to dance?"
Phillip hesitates for a second before a smile slides across his faces and he leads her onto the floor. Aurora has one hand in his, the other goes to his shoulder, he rests his own on her waist and then they are twirling just as they have done many times before.
"Congratulations on hosting the first human and fae celebration. It is a huge success."
"You think so?" Aurora smiles nervously. "My heart has been in my throat the entire time. I keep waiting for something to go wrong."
"Give yourself some credit. You have been a wonderful hostess, truly."
"Thank you, Phillip. I am sorry we haven't spoken before now," she looks up at him shyly. "How have you been keeping?"
Phillip gives an exaggerated sigh. "Busy."
Aurora giggles. "Yes, I gathered from your letters. It's been the same here. Who knew peace could be such hard work?"
"Yes… but it's worth it, isn't it?"
"Oh yes, absolutely," Aurora exclaims. "Oh, Phillip, it's better than I ever hoped."
Hearing her joy sends a warm flurry through Phillip. "I am happy that you're happy. You deserve it, Aurora."
Something shifts in her cornflower eyes, the light doesn't dim but a sadness sets over them. "Phillip… I am sor- "
"Don't be." Phillip closes his eyes and when he reopens them he makes sure she can read the truth in them. "Don't apologise for being true to your heart. It wouldn't be fair to either of us to pretend otherwise. I will always love you, Aurora. There is a place carved out in my heart that will only ever be for you," he takes a breath, "But… just because we are not each other's Happy End doesn't mean we won't find them. I wish you every happiness, Aurora, and for as long as you will let me I would like to be your friend."
Aurora sniffs, eyes taking on a watery sheen. Phillip really doesn't want to be the cause of Aurora's tears, not least because Maleficent will turn him into a toad. However, Aurora manages to keep composure, smiling in spite of the sniffling.
"I love you too, Phillip. I will always want you in my life. I am sorry it won't be as we once thought but I'm grateful for your friendship. You mean so much to me."
Phillip rests his head on hers, humming a soothing tune as they sway back and forth. He lets the moment stretch out, cherishes the chance to hold and be held by someone he loves.
"I hope you find your Happy End," Aurora mumbles into his shoulder.
"You too, Aurora."
He kisses her on the cheek and spins her one last time. Aurora laughs, golden curls flare like a halo around her head and she is ethereal captured in the glow of the sunset.
"Go," he whispers and releases her. The momentum sends her spinning into Diaval's arms who catches her with a bemused smile.
Aurora gasps and glances back at Phillip. He smiles, bowing to them both. "Enjoy the dance."
Diaval takes the lead, whirling Aurora into motion and they both laugh as they stumble against each other, not following any formal dance steps but in sync nonetheless. Phillip leaves them to it and heads to where Percival and Shrike are tangled up in each other at the edge of the room.
"Pardon my intrusion."
The couple don't appear to mind, bright smiles never failing.
"Phillip, what a splendid party!" Percival exclaims.
Phillip squints at his usually stern-faced friend. "Percival, are you drunk?"
"The only thing I am drunk on is LOVE!" The Captain declares, wrapping his arms around Shrike and doing his best to spin her without getting smacked in the face by her wings.
Shrike smiles indulgingly. "He might have had a few. Humans are more affected by faerie liquor."
Phillip himself is feeling a pleasant buzz though he tried to pace himself. He is not so lightheaded he misses the colourful feather pinned to Percival's breast. Phillip does a double-take then gawps at the couple.
"You two are mates!"
Shrike looks stunned at the acknowledgement but Percival wraps his arm around her shoulders and she visibly melts.
"Yes!" Percival beams and a grin breaks across Phillip's face.
"Congratulations!" He hugs the two of them, Percival responding with brotherly enthusiasm while Shrike is more tentative though no less pleased. "When did this happen?"
"Earlier today," Percival says with barely contained glee. Phillip doesn't think he's ever seen his friend so giddy and he shares in the elation.
"I'm surprised you know of mates, Prince," Shrike remarks with a shrewd look. "It is a Dark Fae custom."
"Borra told me."
Something glints in her eyes. "Did he?"
Phillip flounders under her keen focus and looks around for a distraction. "Where is Borra?"
"He departed with some of the other Dark Fae, not long ago."
"Oh." The pleasant feeling in his chest deflates. "I uh- I didn't see him go."
He thought Borra might have told him if he were leaving.
"You were dancing with the Queen."
Phillip ducks his head, taking a second to compose his expression before he's smiling again. "Tell me everything."
Shrike looks on with fond exasperation as Percival begins to wax her virtues while a warmth settles inside Phillip as he looks at his friends, both from different worlds and yet very much in love. This is what peace can bring.
Eventually, when the moon has replaced the sun and all the stars are twinkling, Aurora generously allows them to stay the night as Phillip struggles to drag his father away from his new faerie friends. They depart in the morning, waving the Moor Folk farewell and make the trek across the bridge back to their castle, the feeling of contentment carrying Phillip forward.
Upon arrival he is informed his mother is dead.