A/N: Edited! It was long overdue. Nothing significant changed, just some phrasing problems and a bit of description that I somehow just left out.
Just FYI, this story has no connection to Early to Bed. Some of the characters' back-stories overlap a little, but not completely, and the rules of this universe are different in rather significant ways.
Chapter 1 – The Visitor
Briar Rose smiled and lit from her bed. She felt a little dizzy when she stood, and she had to sit back down, but at the very least she was sitting up when Philip entered their room. Prince Philip of the North was a tall and exquisitely handsome man with light brown hair and eyes. His frame appeared at first glance to be slim, but he was actually rather brawny in stature—his shoulders were broad and his arms were muscular.
"Aurora," Philip repeated warmly when he saw her, then, "Aurora," closing his eyes and savouring the name on his lips.
This habit of his already made Briar Rose very uncomfortable, and she had only known Philip for a few days. Every time he saw her, he said her name this way several times, and he saw her quite a lot.
The worst, however, had been on their wedding night. She had been so nervous, for she knew absolutely nothing of men. She had only been informed of her duties for the evening perhaps an hour before in a hurried, whispered conversation with her oldest aunt…or she supposed her non-aunt, who, herself, knew little of men. Briar Rose had left the conversation trembling and feeling as though she might expel the nonexistent contents of her stomach.
And then, after the initial pain had passed, when she had thought, oh, this is not so bad, he had begun. Begun to whisper and murmur and moan and cry out Aurora and Briar Rose had, herself, begun to cry for how it shamed her. She was completely vulnerable—so much more vulnerable than she had ever been, which was saying quite a bit—and Philip, her one hope for a dream come true, for a familiar face who cared in this strange new place in which she found herself, called out for Aurora.
It was as though he were making love to someone who was not her.
She was not Aurora. She was Briar Rose.
"Philip," she replied, and she wondered what it must be like for him to hear the one he loved say his own name. She had considered telling him a few times, asking that he call her Rose as her aunts…well, as her…non-aunt fairy guardians did, but that was another kind of pain entirely. In any event, she doubted he would understand, for no one else seemed to, and considering how frequently he said her new name, she doubted he could learn to say her old one. Anyway, perhaps it was a good idea to try to leave the past behind. "What has happened? Is she…?"
Philip's expression darkened, "The creature is still alive—it awoke sometime this morning. The Good Fairies feel that it would be unwise to kill the beast. They fear that some greater evil might arise to replace it."
Philip refused to refer to the wicked fairy Maleficent, of whose existence Rose had just recently learned, by her name or as a woman. It was Rose's opinion that referring to her as some kind of monstrous creature only made her sound even more frightening, but who was she to argue? She supposed she must have personally seen Maleficent at one point before the wicked fairy placed her under the Sleeping Curse from which she had just awoken, but she did not remember, and so she had no grounds on which to judge how Maleficent ought to be referred to.
The being in question had, according to Philip, turned into a fearsome dragon, which Philip had defeated with his sword. When it had fallen, it had morphed back into its usual form, a green-skinned human-like creature. It had been imprisoned physically and with the help of the Good Fairies' special magic for just such an occasion, and Philip, the Fairies, and a small council of soldiers had decided to leave it in the dungeon of Stefan's castle, just in case it was still alive.
"Well, I agree," she said and Philip chuckled.
"You agree, do you?" he asked, patting her hands. "And why is that?"
Suddenly Rose felt very stupid. She felt a blush rising in her cheeks as she spoke, "Well, it wouldn't do to sink to her level, would it? It is…" Philip looked as though he was barely containing uproarious laughter, and Rose had to swallow before she continued. "I mean, it is noble to let her live when she would not have done the same. Besides, perhaps she could come to regret—"
Apparently this was too much for Philip, for he began to laugh, and when he put his arm around her shoulders fondly, she very much wanted to shrug it off. "My sweet, sweet Aurora. Such a kind heart."
Briar Rose wanted to cry. "Then why are you laughing at me?"
Philip attempted to sober himself, but his face was red from the effort. "That creature is pure evil. It could never feel any sort of human emotions."
Rose frowned, "How can you be so sure?"
Philip shook his head and kissed her, and then rose from the bed. "I do wonder what it must be like inside your pretty head, my Aurora," he said fondly. "But I must be off. There is still much to discuss."
Rose had spent much of her time, particularly recently, wishing desperately for someone to talk to who was not one of her non-aunts. They were very dear to her, but they were all she had ever known, and she wanted very much to know other things. She had been utterly devastated when she learned that her entire life was a lie, and it had been a great source of comfort to her—perhaps the only source—when she learned that Philip would be a part of this new life. She did not know him, exactly, but she knew that he loved her, that he had fought a fearsome dragon to rescue her, and that he would not let any harm come to her.
What was more, Philip had led the life Rose might have known if not for Maleficent's curse. Minus all the dragon-hunting and sword-fighting, of course. Rose had hoped that he might understand how lost and how out-of-step she felt in King Stefan's castle. She had hoped that he would stay by her side while she experienced these new and frightening things, and that when they were alone she might sometimes ask him questions about his life, about the things she might have known, but did not. Of course she would not take up all of their time that way, but she had hoped that, given that her feeling of isolation and insufficiency was so all-consuming, it might warrant a bit of attention.
Granted, she had only been here for a few days, and it wasn't as though Philip never had time for her. She saw him quite often. But during all those times, he came and went frequently, and at night, he quickly became preoccupied with matters which were not conducive to talking, and amid all of it, they never really had a conversation.
Adding to the pressing feeling of isolation weighing upon Rose's heart was that she was not exactly permitted to leave her room without an escort. She was still very weak after her bout with the Sleeping Curse. She still needed quite a lot of sleep, and she was prone to dizziness and vagueness of mind. She supposed she understood, but she personally thought that a little more fresh air and sunshine than she got from her balcony might do her good, or would at the very least ease her feeling of imprisonment in her own bedroom.
Rose found herself in the depressing position, after the great adventure she supposed other people involved in the situation must have had, of being exactly back where she started. Waiting for life to happen to her was just as disheartening, no matter if she was doing it in a cottage or a castle. She spent her days lounging in a luxurious bed, drifting in and out of sleep, waiting for someone to come and visit her.
Her non-aunts came by far less often than Philip did. Perhaps they sensed on some level that she was still hesitant to see them after learning of their great list of lies. Perhaps not. The last time she checked, they seemed to believe that the only reason Rose had been so upset on the night of her sixteenth birthday was because of the arranged marriage which would keep her apart from the boy she had met in the woods. But it was so much more than that, and Rose still could not quite look at any of them in the eyes and pretend that everything was all right.
According to the fairies, Rose was to stay in her room for the next fortnight, until the Maleficent situation was cleared up, and then she would begin lessons in such things as reading, writing, and etiquette. It wasn't that Rose had no knowledge of these things, but her experience was nowhere near what it ought to be if she were to become Queen. The fairies had tried to give her lessons, but in Rose's defense, until very recently, she had not known that she would ever have a use for such nonsense.
The matter of the wicked fairy Maleficent troubled Rose quite a bit. If she had died in battle at Philip's hand, that would have been one thing, but since she survived, Rose did not see the purpose of killing her rather than simply keeping her imprisoned. It seemed spiteful, and Rose was not certain how she would feel about Philip and the fairies if they gave into spite that way.
If anyone ought to be angry with Maleficent, it was Rose. Maleficent had condemned Rose to death when she had not done anything at all. On top of that, because of this condemnation, Rose had become Rose for sixteen years, and now had to become Aurora again and pretend that none of that had ever happened. And yet Rose did not blame Maleficent, for she had never encountered the wicked fairy. It seemed a bit like blaming nothing at all.
An idea occurred to her, and she tried very hard to resist it, for she knew she should stay in her room, but Rose desperately wanted to know what was happening. She did not want to have to wait for Philip to return and get only a snippet of the truth which he deemed appropriate for her delicate ears. She imagined they must be discussing the matter right now.
What if she went in search of their little discussion?
Rose walked over to the door. She still felt a little light-headed and wobbly on her feet, but she had been lying down quite a lot lately. Perhaps it would do her some good to walk around. She touched the door handle experimentally.
Her hesitancy surprised her. The door was not locked. It wasn't as though she was a prisoner. She chuckled nervously and opened the door. What did it matter if she took a little walk? And if she were to happen upon Philip and the Good Fairies, well, then, what was the harm in that?
In spite of her internal pep talk to the contrary, Rose felt very guilty, as though she were sneaking around, and she all but tiptoed down the hallway outside of her room. The meeting was surprisingly easy to stumble upon—it was almost as though she had truly not meant to find them. She heard the three Good Fairies' voices clearly echoing through the quiet halls of the castle and followed the sound to an unmarked room.
Rose pressed her ear against the door.
"No, that wouldn't do at all," said Flora. "Rose—Aurora…has been through so much already. What could she possibly gain by encountering Maleficent?"
"But Flora, you know Rose! She—"
"Rose or Aurora, she's too curious for her own good," finished Merryweather. "Don't you think she'll want to know who cursed her?"
"Aurora is weak, as you've all seen. It was a very great shock to her that anyone wanted her dead at all."
"And why shouldn't it be?"
"My point, Merryweather, is that I can see no reason for her to speak with Maleficent before the trial, and I can see many reasons against it."
A trial? But hadn't they already decided to let Maleficent live out the rest of her life in the dungeons? What would a trial decide?
"But won't it be a greater shock when she attends the trial, seeing Maleficent for the first time?"
"Fauna! Aurora wouldn't attend the trial! How absurd!"
"Well, I just thought, because it has so very much to do with her—"
"What Maleficent has done has little to do with Aurora and much to do with Stefan and Leah," Flora said firmly. "Besides, would you have kind-hearted Aurora listen to a death-sentence?"
"I suppose not."
Rose backed away from the door and ran back to her room, trying to calm the frantic beating of her heart. She had the awful sense that Philip had lied to her, and that her aunts were planning to lie to her, too. Had they not told her enough lies for one lifetime?
But she ought not to jump to conclusions. Perhaps Maleficent was to have a fair trial, and on the off-chance that the court decided in favour of…Rose swallowed the lump in her throat…death, they did not want her to have to witness that, for they felt she was kind-hearted and would mourn for Maleficent even if she deserved it.
That made sense, she supposed. Yet, Rose could not imagine any circumstance in which a person deserved death.
What if, as she had been trying to tell Philip, Maleficent came to regret her actions? People acted rashly. They made bad decisions. But they did not deserve to die for them. And if they died, they could never learn the error of their ways.
An idea began forming in the back of Rose's mind, catching like fire and spreading slowly until it was impossible to ignore. As soon as she noticed it there, she knew she must follow it, or she would burn forever for the knowledge.
Rose had to go and speak to Maleficent.
For one thing, this might very well be her only chance. No doubt everyone would want this trial over quickly, and apparently her husband and her former guardians had decided to keep her very much in the dark on the matter. Now that she knew…and especially now that she knew no one wanted her to know…Rose absolutely had to know more.
For another thing, it would get her out of this room. It had on more than one occasion occurred to Rose that doing as she was told wasn't going to get her the adventure she so craved. Additionally, if she continued to wait idly by for life to happen, in this particular instance, death might happen in the meantime.
Late that night, when Philip was snoring lightly and evenly, Rose crept from their bed and out of the room. She had only a vague idea of where she might find a dungeon—namely, underground, and so she wandered the castle stealthily for quite some time looking for stairs that led downward.
It was the first time Rose had seen much of the castle, and in this way, her very first adventure held far more excitement than she had anticipated. Though she found the main stairway with relative ease, she doubted that was her best course of action. She wandered past perhaps a dozen closed doors, musing that the castle was much bigger than it appeared to be from the outside, until she came upon another stairwell. This one struck her as eerily familiar, and as she made her way downward, she realized that these stairs also led up to the tower room.
Rose shivered and glanced over her shoulder at the path she only vaguely remembered taking, guided by a green light and an entrancing voice. It felt much more akin to a strange dream than to a memory, and the dream-memory ended with the top of the stairs. Though she had had a plethora of disturbing nightmares while she slept, the next thing Briar Rose remembered which could have even feasibly happened was awakening to Philip's smiling face.
When Rose reached the bottom of two flights of winding stairs, she was greeted with an open door revealing a hallway much like the one she had just left and another door made of metal bars separating her from another flight of stairs leading downward. It seemed Rose's search was complete.
The door made of metal bars appeared to be locked, but the lock did very little, as the door was not properly closed. It made an ear-splitting creak when Rose pulled it open, but Rose knew all too well that no one in the main part of the castle could hear anything going on in this stairwell. If the Good Fairies crying out for help and the voice of the very wicked fairy who posed such an immediate threat to the kingdom did not alert the scores of guests to the castle that evening, Rose doubted that a screeching doorframe would catch anyone's ear now.
Rose had to hold onto the wall and feel her way down each step, for all of the sconces in this part of the stairwell had burnt out. She could see a faint glowing light around the bend, but that did not help her find her footing on the winding staircase.
At last, Rose began to see the faint outlines of steps, and then she ran out of steps and continued along level ground.
"A visitor?" a voice called from the darkness. It was soft and low, almost frail, but resonant, so that Rose could tell that it was a mere echo of the power the voice could hold.
Beyond that, the voice was almost familiar, but Rose felt she had never truly heard it before, only its shadow, as though in a dream.
As Rose approached, she saw that there were bars. Behind the bars, she could just make out a shadowy figure of a person, possibly seated, definitely in chains.
"I was not expecting anyone so late. More secrets, I suppose?"
Rose approached carefully and as quietly as possible, though she was certain the wicked fairy could hear her, anyway. She wanted very much to get a better look at the shadowy figure before it got a look at her. The figure raised its head.
"My dear sir, you insult me," it said. "I can hear you. Step into the light, if you please."
Rose did not know why she blushed—embarrassment seemed an odd thing to feel. Still, she did as she was told and stepped into the light.
As she did, she found she could make out more of the prisoner's features. It was a woman with long, dark hair and very slender limbs. Her skin was possibly tan or olive, and her facial features were very sharp. Rose thought she could make out scars across the woman's face. Despite the fact that she was chained to a bench and to the wall behind her, there was something very regal and commanding about her presence.
"Well, well," she said and Rose could see the glint of torchlight upon her teeth as she smiled. "The Princess Aurora. I hope you will forgive me if I do not bow," she bowed her head, but judging from the numerous chains Rose could see, that was probably the only part of her body she could move. "To what do I owe this most surprising visit?"
Rose was, herself, quite surprised by such an amiable greeting. Emboldened by the prisoner's apparent willingness to talk, she stepped a little closer. "Are you Mistress Maleficent?" she asked.
Again the light glinted off of her smile. "At your service."
Rose shivered. "Philip said…he said his sword pierced you straight through the heart. How is it that you're alive?"
"It pierced my dragon form in the chest. The anatomy of dragons and fairies is understandably rather different."
Rose considered this, "But still, it must have been an awful wound."
"Yes, quite," Maleficent replied. She paused for a moment, then, when Rose said nothing in response, she continued. "However, wicked fairies are very difficult to kill, you know. As long as we survive the initial damage, our bodies can usually heal themselves."
"Truly?" Rose asked, daring to take another step forward. "That's remarkable! I admit I know nothing of wicked fairies."
"But you know of good ones," Maleficent offered.
Rose bit her lip, "I didn't know that I knew of them."
"Hm," Maleficent nodded. "Heaven forbid they should warn you of the peril you faced."
Rose was going to agree passionately, but suddenly she remembered exactly whom she was talking to, and she felt the need to defend her fairy aunts. "They were only trying to protect me."
"And a fine job they did of it," Maleficent said, and the amusement in her voice sent a chill down Rose's spine. "Sending puffs of their oh-so-colourful magic up into the air for any passer-by to see."
She should have defended them a bit better, perhaps, but she did not much feel up to it at the moment.
"But that is a matter of little interest to me," Maleficent said. "What is of great interest to me, Princess, is why you have come to visit me."
Rose suddenly found it very difficult to breathe. "I…well, I…"
"Have you come to lay eyes upon the monster who wanted you dead?" Rose's knees nearly buckled under her, and she grasped at the nearby wall for support. Maleficent chuckled. "It's as good a reason as any. This is likely your only chance. Tell me, am I what you expected, Princess?"
Rose bit her lip as she contemplated posing the question she desperately needed to ask. "Only chance?" she managed at last. "Philip said that they were going to…well, to keep you here."
"Hmm," Maleficent thought for a moment. "Perhaps he thinks you too kind-hearted to handle the truth." She tilted her head slightly. "Or too weak."
Rose swallowed the lump in her throat and steadied herself. She chose her next words carefully, trying not to sound as frightened as she felt. "Do you think me too weak to handle the truth?"
Maleficent considered this a moment. "The truth is that King Stefan has assembled a council of sorts to perform a trial, but it's all for show for the Good Fairies, who believe that if they kill me, some greater evil will rise to replace me. The King wants me dead, though, and so dead I shall be."
The words caused Rose's heart to wrench painfully in her chest, and she felt her eyes begin to water. "I was told King Stefan was a kind man."
Maleficent said nothing for a long moment, then gave a sort of half-chuckle. "You are very kind-hearted, aren't you?"
Suddenly empowered by the strength of her emotion, Rose approached the bars which caged the wicked fairy. Rose's breath caught in her throat.
Wide, dark eyes watched her carefully, perfectly arched eyebrows furrowed in suspicion. The fairy's lips were a deep red, and across her mouth in a jagged line ran one of two prominent scars on her face. The second was across the middle of her face, over her nose, as if someone had slashed at random to hit her. Her hair was very long and very dark, and it stuck out at odd angles. Some of it was plastered back from her face as if by sweat. Her skin was flawless and smooth apart from the scars. From afar in the dim light it had looked like a darker natural skin tone, but it was actually a light forest green.
The wicked fairy Maleficent was the most beautiful creature Rose had ever seen. Rose could hear and feel her heartbeat as though it were in her throat. She leaned closer to the bars. Maleficent, who had recovered her stoic facial expression, raised her eyebrows as if in a challenge. Rose slowly, carefully reached up and touched one of the bars. She waited a moment, then reached past the bars and touched Maleficent's cheek with her fingertips, steering clear of the scar in case it was a recent wound.
Maleficent's expression of aloof haughtiness changed abruptly. She curled her lip and something rather like alarm danced in her eyes, frightening Rose into drawing her hand away.
In a motion so quick Rose might not have caught it had she not been so close, Maleficent's eyes flicked down to Rose's hand and back up, assessing whether the danger of being touched again had passed. Rose rested her hand on one of the bars in silent apology.
"So tell me, Princess," she hissed with a little tilt of her head, her cool demeanour instantly restored, and Rose could not help but notice how dark and expressive her eyes were as they reflected the dim candlelight, "has Prince Philip secured your happy ending for you? Have all of your dreams come true?"
Rose bit her lip and looked down, focusing her eyes on Maleficent's hands, which were, as could be expected, as long and spindly as the rest of her body, and were confined by chains that did not look the same as the others. She could think of no answer to give this beautiful and terrifying woman who was bound and chained and condemned to death.
"I…I never wanted any of this," she said at last, but that was hardly an answer at all. She looked up into those captivating dark eyes which now regarded her with a glint of curiosity.
"The chains around my wrists have caught your eye," she said. Rose blushed, but she supposed Maleficent couldn't tell in this light. She nodded.
"They're quite remarkable, really, if magical artifacts interest you."
"They do," Rose replied quickly. Perhaps terrified was a better term for what anything magical did to Rose, but magic fascinated every bit as much as it frightened. Briar Rose had grown up surrounded by magic, enveloped in it, and even chased by it, and yet she had not known!
A small smirk graced Maleficent's lips, and she lifted her hands so that the odd chains stood out. "Good and wicked fairies are natural enemies, and they have various defenses against one another. Some good fairies are very powerful—they make your three little old aunts look comical by comparison—" Rose flinched involuntarily at the word aunt. She was sure it did not escape Maleficent's notice, but the wicked fairy continued speaking, anyway. "Most good fairies live by a set of rules, a code which states that they may not directly harm another creature."
This caught Rose's attention. The way Philip boasted of his battle with the dragon, it was as though he had fought it alone; however, she suddenly wondered whether that made sense. "Did they…" Rose bit her lip. It seemed stupid to ask the wicked fairy any questions, and yet in the past few minutes, she had learned more than she had in years from anyone else. "Did the good fairies…enchant Philip? To…to fight you?"
Maleficent chuckled, "Of course they did! Mortals are no match for wicked fairies. My kin have fought singlehandedly against entire armies and won. We can take out hundreds, even thousands of men at once."
Against her better judgement, Rose leaned in closer, almost pressing her face against the bars.
"I don't know where your fairies acquired these," she said, indicating her chains. "They are specifically designed to render a wicked fairy powerless. They suffocate our magic, so to speak, and slowly, over time, drain it."
Rose inhaled sharply, "But that means—if they simply left you here, alive, you would lose your magic?"
"Correct," Maleficent nodded. "Not all of it, of course, but after…perhaps a decade, my magic would be too weak to do much of anything besides keeping me alive."
"But then," Rose bit her lip and looked away, "I don't understand why they intend to…to kill you."
Maleficent tilted her head and studied Rose for a moment with those piercing, dark eyes shining with torchlight. "It is a much better ending to their story, isn't it? The evil beast was vanquished and the Prince and Princess lived happily ever after?"
Rose wanted to cry. "That isn't a very good reason to take someone's life."
"You know," Maleficent began slowly, softly, "another interesting thing about these chains is that they have no key."
"What?" Rose looked up. "Then they can never come off?"
Maleficent shook her head, "No, they can come off at any time. Anyone can take them off except a wicked fairy."
Rose's eyes widened. "That's…well, it's odd, isn't it?"
"Presumptuous. Arrogant. Or odd, yes," Maleficent smirked. "So I have a proposition for you, Princess Aurora."
"You implied earlier that you are unhappy. I don't know to what extent you're aware, but I am a rather powerful sorceress. If you were to set me free, there is little I could not give you in return for your mercy."
Rose's eyes flickered down to the chains on Maleficent's wrists, and then back up to those dark, dancing eyes, down to the ruby red lips, over the scars, and for one wild moment, anything seemed possible. Maleficent's expression was impassive, but Rose knew what her request meant. It was the difference between life and death.
Suddenly something very important which had slipped Rose's mind occurred to her, and she jumped back from the cell as if burned. "You want to kill me."
Maleficent's features formed a strange, unreadable expression and she averted her eyes for a moment. "As I'm sure you have surmised, if you were to set me free, you would be saving my life. I suppose it depends upon how you assess my character as to whether you believe I would truly repay that kindness by taking yours." She sighed, "In any event, I only ask that you consider it, Princess. I have nothing to lose by asking, and I doubt your Prince will be permitted to execute me tomorrow."
This, or perhaps a combination of things, made Rose's stomach churn and her blood run hot. "You've been lying this whole time, haven't you? You've just been trying to manipulate me into helping you so you can carry out your plan! Well," she almost shouted, backing up haphazardly into the wall, "I am not the weak little fool everyone thinks I am! I will not die of stupidity before I have even lived!"
Rose ran around the corner and up the stairs, tripping and falling in the darkness several times, for she could not bring herself to slow down, to breathe, to think.
She ran all the way up the stairs, not even hesitating as she was stricken by the peculiar sensation of having walked that winding staircase in a dream. She raced back to her room and slid carefully back into bed next to Philip, who was still snoring quietly. She turned to face away from him and began to shiver violently. She thought of song after song to try to drown out her thoughts, but they kept resurfacing from the swirling melodies to haunt her.
She turned her head to look at Philip, the man who had risked everything to save her, or perhaps he had only been enchanted to do so by the good fairies. Perhaps this fight of which he told everyone who would listen was nothing more than a set-up by the three women who had been lying to Rose since she was a baby.
She thought of Maleficent, exquisitely beautiful even in chains, frighteningly powerful even in her weakest state. She imagined what it would be like to see her at her best, and she imagined that it would be unbearable. Rose could hardly handle Maleficent behind bars. She would be completely overwhelmed by Maleficent free, devastatingly beautiful and positively glowing with devastating magic.
Rose now held the wicked fairy's life in her hands, and this, too, was terrifying. She almost hated Maleficent for it. She knew her heart would ache for Maleficent every day of the rest of her life if she did not set her free, for it was now officially Rose's fault if that exquisite creature was put to death.
But what if it wasn't her fault at all? There was the very, very distinct possibility that Maleficent had been manipulating Rose throughout the greater part of the conversation, as soon as she had realized that Rose might be gullible enough to help her. What if Rose was smart to let the wicked fairy die, even though Rose, personally, thought it was spiteful and unnecessary to kill her?
Several hours later, after Rose had been debating the same points over and over and had still not reached a satisfactory solution, she fell into a restless sleep.