A/N: Thank you so much to all of the people who have read, favourited, alerted, and reviewed this story! I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. I present to you now the second draft. I am much happier with it so far, and I hope you will offer your feedback if that kind of thing interests you. If not, and you still choose to read or even reread, again, I cannot thank you enough for your time and interest! If you'd like access to the first draft of this story, please feel free to let me know, as I have it stored on a blog with a password for just such a happenstance!
Sixteen years ago, a baby girl was born on the first day of spring. She brought with her boundless hope, which she bestowed not only upon the hearts of her parents, who had believed themselves for many years to be unable to bear children, but upon the hearts of an entire kingdom of people who so feared a return to the corruption of the not-so-distant past.
This baby girl was a princess, and though she could not by law be heiress to her father's throne, she would make an excellent bride to the eldest prince in a nearby kingdom with which her kingdom was hoping to merge.
For better or for worse, things have a habit of changing over the course of sixteen years. A baby girl grows into a beautiful maiden, a lonely young woman grows into a cruel and conniving menace, and a kingdom full of hope falls into fearful despair.
Today, when the sun set on the first day of spring, the princess was to be married. It was to be a celebration of a sixteen-year-long curse which the kingdom believed had come to an end, and everyone in the Land of the Three Kingdoms was invited. The guest of honour had, however, only been made aware of this most pressing engagement a few hours earlier. She had been understandably quite upset at this last-minute notice of her impending destiny and had desperately wanted not to attend.
Now, as she found that she could not move, nor even open her eyes, she noted with some irony that the aforementioned threat to her freedom was perhaps not so pressing as she had previously imagined.
The princess, whose given name was Aurora, but who much preferred to be called Briar Rose, as it was the only name she had ever known until today, did not know where she was nor how she had come to be here. She did not even know how long she had been here.
She wanted to run. Pace. Beat against the bars of her prison. But her prison was her own body and the only bars were the backs of her eyelids. It was as though she were asleep.
Holding onto thoughts proved difficult. As a person who had spent a great deal of her life alone, Briar Rose relied very much on her thoughts to keep her from losing track of what was real and what was her own private fantasy. Now, trapped between sleep and wakefulness, she found that her thoughts were fleeting, like bits of dreams, and that she had a great deal of trouble piecing them together. She knew that much longer of this aimless feeling would drive her mad.
She tried to remember the last thing she had seen, and this did not help. She was almost certain that her being wherever she was had to do with a spinning wheel. She could recall following a most entrancing green light up countless flights of spiraling stairs only to end up before the spinning wheel, and she could recall feeling strangely as though her entire life had somehow led her to that moment. The spinning wheel seemed at the time to make perfect sense—why had it taken so long?
But of course that was madness. Briar Rose wanted to shake the sense back into her head, but alas, she could not bring her head to move.
"Good evening, Princess Aurora," said a voice. It was low, rich in timbre and powerful, and it resonated in Briar Rose's very soul.
A most unpleasant sensation overtook Rose's body: she had had the impulse to jump in surprise at the sound of the voice, but her body did not respond to it. She was left only with the tension—the spring without the release—and it made her skin crawl.
Touch the spindle, echoed the very same voice. This one was not real—Rose could tell the difference between the real voice and the dream. Or was it a memory? Of this she wasn't certain. She felt simultaneously that she had never heard this voice before and that it had haunted her dreams for as long as she could remember.
Rose made the mistake of trying to cry out, to ease some of the tension, but this only added to her feeling of unease—the cry died on her lips, as though from lack of air.
"There's no need to be frightened, child," said the Voice. "You and your loved ones are all quite safe for the moment."
For the moment? Rose had not even had the time to consider that she might be in imminent danger, let alone that anyone else might be. To whom did this terrifying voice belong? Where were her aunts? Why had the voice led her away from them? Where was the boy from the woods? Where was she, for that matter?
"Patience, Princess Aurora," the Voice responded. The foreign name prompted Rose's stomach to attempt and fail to twist. Could the Voice truly hear her every thought?
The Voice chuckled and Rose was introduced to a new world of discomfort: chills down her spine without the ability to shiver. "Of course I can, child. It is my spell, after all, muddled though it has become. Would you rather I call you Briar Rose, perhaps? A rather excessively poetic name for you to borrow, but then, I would expect nothing less of the fairies you call your aunts."
Rose wanted to cry and instead felt like she was choking.
"There, there," said the Voice gently. "I did not mean to upset you any further. It is much to bear, I know."
Rose found it most disturbing to consider that if she did not know in her waking hours that a voice which encouraged her to hurt herself was most certainly not a friendly one, that voice would seem dear to her—as dear as the nameless, faceless, voiceless prince who kept her company in her more pleasant dreams. After all, when one had only ever known three names, three faces, and three voices, all of which belonged to one's dear, but overbearing aunts, it was understandable that one should become rather fascinated by anyone else one encountered, even if it was only in dreams.
The Voice chuckled and Rose was frightened out of her reverie. "Hurt yourself? I'd hardly call a little prick of the finger hurting yourself. You'd make a rather miserable seamstress. How is it you planned to make a living as a peasant?"
Rose felt vaguely offended, and though she wanted to think of a quick reply, she had never given the subject much thought. Her aunts had never made her learn to sew. She had only learned to cook and do the housework because her aunts were rather hopeless at it. She had always secretly wondered if she might make a living off of her singing. Rose grew embarrassed once more when she realized that this was no longer a secret to the Voice.
"Some profession for a respectable young lady," the Voice replied. "How would you ever find a husband?"
Rose's embarrassment grew tenfold. Well, she thought miserably, that doesn't matter very much now, does it?
"You're quite right," the Voice responded. "It doesn't matter."
What do you want with me? Rose wondered. Where are my aunts? Why am I here like this? Where is here?
"Does it matter?"
Perhaps not. Perhaps I'm only asking out of curiosity. Are you going to kill me? I think that you are. It doesn't matter. There's nothing I can do about it. I'm only curious. Rose was really beginning to feel mad. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. What a tremendous relief.
"I'm not going to kill you," the Voice replied to Rose's surprise. "You're lying in the tower room of King Stefan's castle where your aunts left you unattended. I suspect they're on their way to warn Prince Philip that I'm after him, but of course they're far too late for that. You're here because I wanted my curse carried out, regardless of how Merryweather tampered with it."
Merryweather, Rose's youngest aunt, was headstrong and argumentative, and she rarely thought before she spoke or acted. It came as no surprise to Rose that Merryweather might have unintentionally brought down the wrath of some unnamed evil force upon herself. Rose wondered idly what Merryweather had done to anger the Voice, and on an unrelated note, whether the Voice even had a name or corporeal form at all.
The Voice chuckled. "My name is Maleficent."
Maleficent! Maleficent was the name of the wicked fairy who had placed a curse on the Princess Aurora—or rather, on Rose, herself, because she and the Princess Aurora were one and the same. Rose's head began to ache. Why do you want to kill me? I'm not the person you want me to be. I'm not the person anyone wants me to be.
"Oh, but you are. Do you think it matters to the king and queen that you don't feel like you're their daughter? Do you think it matters to the kingdom that you don't feel like a princess? Do you think it matters to that boy you met in the woods that you're not the person he wants you to be? In case it has escaped your notice, princess, your thoughts and feelings are inconsequential. What matters is that you show up at the right time looking pretty and that you hold your tongue on any conflicting feelings you might be having about becoming a different person."
Rose's body was trying to cry again, and again she felt like she was choking. She tried to calm herself, but she only grew more frenzied as she began to feel starved for air.
The women she thought were her family were not even human. The name she answered to every moment of every day was not truly her name, but merely borrowed. The life she had always known was merely some sick game these women were playing at, and she could not even keep playing it. She must become a princess—she must become the Princess, the fabled Princess Aurora who had been hidden away for her own safety.
The future Maleficent described sounded absolutely lovely compared to this hell she was trapped in at the moment. She could not be herself, she could not be Princess Aurora—who was she, then? She was nobody. She might never move again. She might be trapped with her inconsequential thoughts forever, swirling round and round until they hardly made sense anymore, or until she finally choked herself to death trying to cry.
Cold fingers lightly touched Rose's temple and her thoughts were stunned into silence. The fingers ran through her hair slowly, a comforting gesture which made her entire body ache with the inability to react to it. And then the fingers were gone and she longed for their return.
"What matters to me," Maleficent continued, "is that you are not where you're supposed to be, playing the part you're supposed to play. Unfortunately, your fairy aunts, in keeping with their recent spree of bizarre and rather cruel ideas, have seen fit to put the entire kingdom to sleep along with you so that they do not notice your absence, though I might add that they are enjoying a much more restful sleep than you have been afforded. That spell is linked with the spell acting on you, leaving it even more muddled than it was before. As such, my plans have been delayed."
Muddled? What do you mean by muddled?
Maleficent sighed heavily. "Do you know anything about my curse, or have those bumbling old fools left you completely in the dark? Honestly," she scoffed. "I'm beginning to pity you."
Rose did know about the curse as it pertained to Princess Aurora, but the information had not seemed especially relevant to her until a few hours ago…or at least that was how it felt. She had no way of knowing how long she had been here, and Maleficent only seemed to be answering questions when it struck her fancy. Rose supposed she understood—villains in stories were usually only interested in giving something if they got something out of it, and it wasn't as though she had any information worth knowing.
Rose knew that Maleficent had appeared at her christening and cursed her to fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday. The part she found difficult to piece together was when the three good fairies—who were one and the same with her aunts—had kept her, the princess, hidden for sixteen years, because Maleficent's curse could only be acted out if Maleficent found her. Or something like that. It was all very confusing when she tried to remind herself that she was the princess.
Rose's thoughts were once more interrupted by Maleficent's cold laughter. "I cursed you to prick your finger on a spinning wheel and die! Was the spinning wheel bit too risqué for their little tale?"
So Maleficent did mean to kill her. Rose didn't know why this information should surprise her, but she still felt oddly betrayed. But then what did Aunt Merryweather do?
"Calm yourself, child. I already said I don't plan to kill you. I shan't keep repeating myself to soothe your nerves. Merryweather, the Mistress of Misplaced Aggression, used what little power she possesses to weaken my curse so that, if you pricked your finger as I stipulated, you would fall into a deep slumber. Though I must say, her idea of a deep slumber and mine differ significantly," she chuckled to herself.
"Unsurprisingly, her magic and mine do not mix well, and so why she didn't give a less volatile stipulation than True Love's First Kiss is beyond my comprehension. I do hope for your sake that you haven't been kissed by someone already?"
Of course not, Rose replied, feeling embarrassed again. I've scarcely even met anyone.
"Well, Prince Philip seems quite taken with you, and his family isn't well-known for ironclad self-control, so I thought I should ask. It would be distastefully bad form of me to leave you without any hope at all, now, wouldn't it?"
Prince Philip? Of the North? It occurred to Rose that Maleficent had mentioned his name once already. Rose had never laid eyes upon Prince Philip, and had only learned that she-or rather, Aurora-was betrothed to him today. What did he have to do with anything?
The smile in Maleficent's voice chilled Briar Rose to the bones. "Oh, did I neglect to mention that? You two make quite a charming fairytale, you know!" Her voice turned syrupy sweet, almost too sincere. "A peasant girl falls in love with a mysterious man. A prince falls in love with a peasant maid. It can never be, but wait! That peasant's blood runs blue, and the royal Daughter of the Dawn has been betrothed to her handsome stranger since birth!" Maleficent barely choked out the last word before dissolving into laughter.
The boy in the woods…the nameless man she had lost before she even had him at all…was Prince Philip of the North, the same man to whom Princess Aurora had been betrothed since birth?
"Yes, isn't it sweet?" Maleficent hissed and Rose's body was overtaken by unrealized shivering. "I'm certain you two will be very happy together if I ever decide to release him from his accommodations in my dungeon."
Innumerable questions swirled in Briar Rose's head. She wanted to beg for the boy's—for Philip's release, to sell her soul, to give her own life for his, to pledge to do anything Maleficent could possibly want of her for the rest of her days. She wanted to scream and cry about how unfair her life had become, to beg nobody in particular to go back to the way it had been only a day ago. But the only thing she really needed, the only thing that would make any other request or offer or bargain on her part even fathomable, was the ability to react. Everything Briar Rose had ever known had turned suddenly upside-down and had ever since kept spinning and breaking into irreparable pieces, and she could not even properly grieve all that she had lost.
When Maleficent spoke again, much of the coldness was gone from her voice, as was the sickening sweetness. She spoke softly and evenly. "I'm afraid that would require adding more magic to this spell, Briar Rose, and it's volatile enough as it is."
Why should you care?
"I care," Maleficent replied, and that coldness, that hardness in her tone was back—she sounded almost tired, "because I am going to win, and then this is going to end. No more games, no more variables."
So what? So Rose was going to be stuck like this…
"Until you receive True Love's First Kiss, my dear," Maleficent said sweetly. "Unfortunately, your current flame is all tied up at the moment, and every other eligible bachelor in the realm seems to be napping on the job. So," Maleficent's voice began to fade away, "unless you fall in love with me," she chuckled cruelly, "it seems you're out of options."
Rose sensed Maleficent's absence long before the haunting echoes of her laughter had died out. She wondered whether it was because the room had grown warmer or colder, and spent the next several hours thoroughly stunned that she could not tell which it was.