The first thing the fairies ever tell you is what will define you for the rest of your life.
“Your mother was a monster. It’s our job to make sure you don’t become like her. But you must follow our rules, or we will not be able to save you.”
It’s the only thing they tell you about your mother. They don’t mention a father at all. It’s only after years of being locked away in the same little hovel that the fairies finally tell you her name: Maleficent.
You do not get bedtime stories or fairy tales or much of anything at all. The fairies whisper over your head, voices too low to be heard, so you ignore them and imagine what it would be feel like to be wanted.
You can’t imagine it.
Still you try; daydreams of a loving family, of hugs and laughter, of playing games with someone where you are the prince and the princess but never the dragon or the witch. And you are wanted.
The hollow in your chest aches. It’s all you’ve ever known.
“Why can’t I go out?” you ask one day, tired of being trapped in the same little hovel, the same little field. Ahead is the forest, promises adventure and freedom and your feet itch to run into the wild and lose yourself completely.
The fairies flutter in worry and spin around you, guiding you back inside into the only space you’ve ever known. “You mustn’t go out,” they say in the same voice, “It’s dangerous!”
They don’t say if it’s dangerous to you or to what’s out there, but you know the answer.
You wonder if your mother was ever wild, if she every carried the same thrill in your veins that called for heart over mind. You wonder if that’s what got her killed.
When you are older, tall enough to reach the top cupboards on your own, the fairies finally tell you more. It’s not the full story, and it may not even be the truth, but you are lonely and desperate enough to listen to the fae and their ever twisting words.
“You’re mother was cruel and heartless,” they tell you, brushing hands over your hair that were once soothing, but leave you feeling trapped. “When the princess was born, everyone was invited to see her just days after her birth. Everyone but Maleficent. We gave the princess blessings of beauty and fairness and heart, but your mother arrive to curse the princess to fall into endless sleep on her sixteenth birthday.”
“But why?” you ask, trembling.
“She is a monster. They are cruel because it is their nature. She did what she did because she wanted to; there is no other answer.”
“Is that why the king killed her?”
The fairies pull away, and though the weight of their hands is gone, you still feel heavy.
They nod, “Maleficent cursed the princess to die on her sixteenth birthday. She was a threat and the king could not let her roam free to curse any others.”
The fairy who carries a blue glow speaks on their own for the first time. “Cold iron and righteous fury; with that he slayed Maleficent and freed the world from her cruelty. He could have killed you, but you were a child and he was a father. So he asked us to care for you, and we have.”
They all pull away and set to making dinner. When it is done, they prepare to leave as they always do.
You haven’t done this since you were a child, but you stop them and ask, “Where do you go? Why must you always leave me when I have no one else?”
“You know we can’t tell you.”
And with that, they’re gone. All that’s left is a quiet hovel and the tears you can’t help but cry.
Cold iron, you think. The most harmful material to fairies; you wonder if its touch burns. Wonders what your mother felt in her final moments.
You don’t sleep.
There’s someone outside. You can hear her singing.
Your heart flutters nervously in your chest; you’ve never met anyone before.
The fairies have been gone for days. You can’t rely on their flimsy protection, the only thing they ever give you. So you lay your shaking hands on the table and take a deep breath, then move to a window to peer out.
In the little field surround your hovel, is a girl with golden hair, eyes closed as she steps over the flowers without faltering. She spins, swaying with an invisible partner. At her feet, a rabbit hops around her.
And then she turns to face the hovel and opens her eyes.
Her eyes, that are bright and blue and looking at you.
It takes some time before she can coax you out. Her voice is soft and sweet, her hands gentle as they guide you to sit besides her in the flowers.
She calls herself Aurora, and when she asks for your name you freeze.
The fairies never call you by a name. You know your mother’s name, but not yours.
You don’t have a name.
When you tell Aurora, her brow furrows as she frowns.
“Well,” she says, “That just won’t do. Tell me, is there anything at all I can call you? I don’t want to refer to you as ‘The Girl With Magic In Her Eyes’.”
“Magic in my eyes?”
She reaches a hand out and cups your jaw. Her thumb brushes the skin below your eye. You freeze, and try not to lean into the touch.
“You have bright green eyes. I’ve heard only those with powerful magic can have eyes like yours.”
“I’ve– I don’t have magic.”
“Maybe,” she says, smiling, “You just haven’t found it yet.”
Aurora leaves before the sun sets. She mutters something about overprotective guardians, and promises to sneak out to see you tomorrow.
You hold the promise close to your heart and linger in the warmth of her touch.
No one’s ever touched you before.
But then, no one’s ever known you before either.
Suddenly, you look forward to each new day. The fairies don’t remark on your improved mood, but they seem to enjoy how you hum when you help them clean and garden.
They still leave, every afternoon, and in every afternoon, Aurora comes back for you.
She always smiles and sings and pulls you close.
You, always shy, always unsure, ask her why she touches you so much one day.
“I am alone, too,” she admits, “And I don’t want to feel alone. I pet the animals and let them sleep on my lap, but it doesn’t ever feel like enough. But then I met you, and I felt I found a friend. Why wouldn’t I always show you that I care for you?”
It’s enough to make you cry, but all she does is gather you close in her arms and holds you tight.
You hold her back, and wonder if this is what it feels like to be wanted.
“I still don’t know what to call you,” Aurora says one day, as you both lay in the flowers, turned towards each other with your hands clasped between your chests. “'I’ve been going between different names for you.”
“Green eyes, the girl with the beautiful laugh, the mystery in the forest, sunshine,” Aurora pauses and brings your hand up to brush a kiss against your knuckles, “Lovely.”
You pull away to hide your face behind your hands and whine. Aurora laughs, bright and beautiful, and the rest of the day is lost in light.
The fairies have been frantic lately. They flutter around the hovel, worrying about she’ll be sixteen soon and there are no spindles in kingdom, but a curse is a curse and can we really keep her safe?
You don’t ask. You pretend you don’t hear. Whoever they are worrying for, it is not you. After all, your sixteenth birthday was many months before.
Still, you hope whoever it is will be okay.
The last time you saw Aurora was three days ago, when she danced with you and told you she won’t be able to see you the next day, for it was her birthday and with so many eyes on her she wouldn’t be able to slip away.
You assured it her was alright, pressed a kiss to her cheek, and wished her a happy birthday.
She leaves with a glowing smile and says, Tomorrow, we’ll be the same age!
But she doesn’t come back.
She’ll be sixteen soon, you remember.
No, you think, but your blood runs cold in your veins and you know better than to lie to yourself.
Despite how you longed to leave and lose yourself in the forest, you find yourself stuck at the very edge, terrified of what lies ahead and to leave behind the only thing you’ve ever known.
But it’s not the only thing that you’ve ever known. Not anymore. Not when you have Aurora.
Even in the day, the forest is tall and imposing, and you wonder if you really can do this. You don’t know where to begin, where to find Aurora.
There’s only one way you can go: forward.
It takes the day. It takes most of the night.
You wander, lost and scared, but you push on regardless and put one foot in front of the other until you find a little cottage, bigger than your hovel and covered in flowers and vines. You peer into the windows, but the cottage is empty.
Inside, the fireplace is still warm, the embers still glowing a faint orange. If Aurora is anywhere, it must be here, so you stay and look around, waiting and hoping and even daring to pray to gods that have never listened to you before.
The fairies come in, at sundown, and you think the gods have finally answered you.
They startle, then titter around you, flying too fast for your eyes to keep up with.
“What are you doing here? You shouldn’t have left, it’s too dangerous!”
“Oh, we were so worried when we couldn’t find you!”
“Are you alright? Have you gotten hurt at all?”
For once, their care and concern feels sincere. This is not done out of obligation; no, they truly do care for you.
You stand, and let them look over you. “I’m alright,” you say, “Scared, but alright.”
It takes a few minutes before the fairies begin to calm down and let you go. When you sit down, you catch a blur of red and green flying into the kitchen. The last fairy hovers in front of you, a gentle blue glow that reminds you of moonlight.
“Why did you come here?” the fairy asks.
You hear a soft sigh, and then the fairy glows brighter, bright enough to make you shut your eyes and turn away. When the light subsides, a tall woman kneels before you, pale hands on your shoulders. Her eyes are a bright blue, her skin is covered in strange patterns, and behind her are the barely visible outlines of wings.
The fairy’s true form.
“What do you know about Aurora?”
You think of sunlight days dancing in flowers, her laugh, her golden hair always soft under your fingers, how she giggled if you brushed your hand along her side, the songs she would sing for you.
“She’s kind,” you say, “And beautiful. She loves to sing and dance and dreams more than I do.”
The fairy smiles, but her eyes are sad. “Aurora is the princess Maleficent cursed. We did what we could, but the curse is strong. She went to the king for her birthday and fell into an eternal sleep.”
No, you think. But your voice fails you and all you have left is silence.
“I’m sorry,” the fairy says, “We know how happy you made each other. If we could take her place, we would in a heartbeat.”
I would too, you think, but all you say is, “Please, tell me everything. Be honest, and tell me from the beginning.”
When Aurora was born and blessed and cursed, the king did whatever he could to protect her. He destroyed spindles and went to every fairy and witch in the land in search of help. But Maleficent’s magic was too strong, and no one could remove the curse. And so he begged the fairies to take Aurora somewhere safe, away from humanity, so that she would never encounter a spindle.
And then he went and killed Maleficent.
The fairies accompanied him, protected him, and guided him until he struck the cold iron into Maleficent’s heart, unprotected even as a dragon. He searched her home in search of a cure, but nothing would undo the curse.
For years, Aurora lived safe in the forest. But on her sixteenth birthday, she heard the full story and ran away to meet her father. The curse took hold of her and led her to a spindle, where she pricked her finger and fell into eternal sleep.
“The only way to save her, we believe, is true love’s kiss.”
True love, you think, doesn’t exist. There’s no saving Aurora.
“Where is she?” you ask.
“Eat something and sleep first,” they answer, “Then we will take her to you.”
So you eat even when each bite feels like a stone in your stomach. You sleep, even though it takes hours before you drift off into blurry colors of dreams.
And then you go.