Even when the nights were spent exploring the Moorlands through Aurora’s inquistive gaze, Maleficent had never slept long after the dawn broke. Even when those nights had ended with the dawn breaking; sleep was just something that was unobtainable for the faery. So when she woke and felt the sunlight warming her from the west, she was puzzled.
For a brief flash of terror, she wondered if she’d been drugged once again, but that thought disappeared when she jerked upright and the unexpected weight of her wings dragged her back against the Rowan Tree. They were heavier than she remembered, and they were softer than her fingers remembered, and they were as whole as the night before that terrible, horrible morning.
Time travelled quietly around her as she stayed within the crooked branch of the Rowan until Diaval’s shadow swept over her face and blocked the sun. She opened her eyes to him shifting his weight from one foot to the other, and with a wave of her hand …
He’d grown used to her need to change him while he was mid-step, or just before a landing. He equated it to the nature of faeries and their need for mischief. This transformation was one of the nicer ones and he’d wound up crouched on the branch. He fell into the tree beside her and just smiled.
“Nothing, I’m just glad you are awake.” He held out a handful of hazelnuts and blacknuts for her, and she took them with quiet gratitude. She crunched down on the first, and her brow arched at his still-present smile.
“I thought ravens sought their mates in the Springtime?” She inquired, after taking several seconds to work the right amount of indifference into her question. She didn’t want to offend one of her oldest companions, but she’d heard things about how ravens acted.
Diaval gave her a look so quizzical that she cannot resist the twitch of her lips into a lightning-quick smirk. “We do -- what does that have to do with anything?”
Maleficent’s brow remained arched. He continued to stare at her until she deliberately, and carefully lifted a hazelnut up to her lips. The way Diaval’s expression morphed from confused to affronted is one that Maleficent cannot school herself for, and so she grinned widely as he sputtered in protest.
“You know I have a hard time telling if you’re pulling my tailfeathers!”
“It was funny.”
“It is not funny. Mating Season is a serious business, not a joke.” He really did look unamused, so she took pity on him. She nodded her head in apology and it took him staring at her until she started to feel guilt, and that was a feeling that crawled down her neck and spine like a spider and she didn’t enjoy it. Not before when he’d guilted her in picking up a young Aurora, and not when he guilted her into the chance for Prince Philip and True Love’s Kiss.
“I will not make light of it again,” she promised. Diaval seemed satisfied for his smile returned and he went back to watching her eat hazelnuts. She could stand it for all of a minute. “Where is the little beastie?”
“Aurora, you mean?” He gestured behind him, up toward the high cliffs that gave a magnificent overlook to the Moorlands and the lands beyond the boundary stores. “Up there, but I think she needs some time to herself.”
Maleficent nodded. That she could understand. She’d allow the Princess time to grieve as humans would … but what to do in the meantime? Her gaze raked along the Moorlands from her own tree, and she caught herself averting it several times from the Wall of Thorns. With Stefan dead and Aurora the obvious successor, was the Wall necessary anymore?
“Mistress?” He looked up.
She gestured towards the Wall. “What do you think?”
He twisted in his seat and peered at the Wall of Thorns with a furrowed brow. “Birchalin mentioned that he was looking forward to Patrolling once more. I think they miss the marshlands at the border.”
“It is where they are born and where they rest their dead,” Maleficent said, her voice quiet as she watched Diaval watch the Wall. “I will tear it down so they can have their land returned to them.”
“And … the human kingdom?” Diaval glanced back her way.
“Is Aurora’s, and she is not her father’s daughter.” There’s iron in her voice and it shocked her. She had thought trust lost forever when her wings …
They shift restless with her emotions, and she wanted to leave the conversation. Escape into the clouds was now possible once again but Diaval is one of her oldest companions and she cannot leave before she spoke aloud one of the many thoughts that had kept her awake. She fiddled with the torn hem of the dark tunic she wore and when Diaval fidgeted with the expectation to be turned into a bird, she finally blurts it out.
“You saved my life.”
Diaval’s restlessness stopped. He cocked his head toward her, eyes bright and black even in the shadow of the branches around them. “Mistress?”
“Maleficent.” She said. “You have earned the right to call me by my name.”
Diaval nodded, but frowned. “Why?”
“I just told you, and I don’t repeat myself --”
“Are you releasing me?” Diaval asked suddenly, surging against the wind and the branches until he is at her knee and staring at her with those very-same eyes. “Mist--”
“Maleficent.” Her voice is stronger. The iron audible underneath the lilting syllables.
“Maleficent.” It sounded awkward on his tongue and he grimaced with the name. “Why am I allowed to speak your name when Mistress has suited our friendship for seventeen years?”
“Is that what you considered this? A friendship? You were my servant.”
“I am your servant, but I am your friend too.” He reached out, brazen as the sun, and grabbed at her hand. His was coarse underneath her fingers, skin scarred with the imprints of feathers. “And if you are releasing me from the title of servant I would like to remain here with the title of friend.”
Quiet descended upon them and it broke when Maleficent took that hand over her own and squeezed. She couldn’t convey in words what she wanted to, so she hoped the gesture was enough. It must have been, for Diaval smiled and leaned back and that, it seemed, was that.
“If you grant me my wings, I will fly to the castle and listen for news. We should at least keep an ear out on the humans.”
“Into a bird.”
Diaval’s wings, for the first time, were not painful to watch for the first time in their entire companionship, and her gaze lingered on his form until the clouds swallowed it whole.
Alone, she huddled in the tree to regain the composure she’d built over seventeen years, carefully dressing herself in the neutral tones of the earth, shedding the black of her vengeance; and when it was complete, she climbed to her feet and dropped from the tree in a flurry of motion that her body remembered as if it’d never stopped.
The wind rushed to greet her, and it works through her feathers and along her robes. It was an old friend, eager to catch up with her and uncaring that she’d been gone for so long. The phantom of her scars twinged but vanished when her wings pumped and lifted her from the dive and out into the warm afternoon air that raised her high and higher. She didn’t break the clouds, didn’t yet dare to push through that mist. Her heart and body were still heavy with grief and she knew that she couldn’t bear that final crest into the heavens until that weight was lifted.
She flew towards the Wall of Thorns and hovered between two of the standing stones. She scanned the thorns beneath her, trying to pick out the right spot to begin the unweaving magic. Back and forth, she felt like a pixie flitting among the flowers and she knew she was stalling. She wanted to enjoy the flight for what it meant to her, but she could no longer think only of herself.
There was Diaval.
There was Aurora.
The Wall of Thorns unravels from the point directly beneath her, and disappeared wherever her shadow passed over. Back and forth, her wings stretch far and her magic called deep under the ground. The time for such defense was over and the land had done it’s duty.
It took much of her power, but the sun crept down into the eastern mountains and illuminated the high peaks of the cliffs. One such cliff held the presence of a girl, and the stare of that girl was a palpable knowledge. When the last of the thorns withdrew under the soil, Maleficent finally banked towards the cliff.
She landed with a soft ‘wuff’ of air, and it is not the most graceful she’s ever been, but Aurora smiled and went to her feet at Maleficent’s arrival. The faery felt nervous, and it showed in the way that her wings settled against her back, then rose up, then settled once again. The years of learning to be still, to have control seemed wasted when her wings didn’t care to understand the importance behind such lessons.
But the look of glee on Aurora’s face is enough to silence her internal reprimand. The Princess’ eyes are red-rimmed, and it doesn’t take the keen sight of a faery to see the dried tears on the girl’s cheeks. Still, Aurora has not shied away from her and that is something that is quite wonderful.
“You took down the Wall.” Aurora sounded as nervous as she did. “Why?”
“It was no longer needed.” Maleficent answered. She strode to the tree that sheltered the clifftop and nestled herself upon the roots there. She heard Aurora follow, but the Princess doesn’t join her in sitting. Instead, Aurora moved past her and above her, climbing up onto a limb just above Maleficent. The pair stared out over the oncoming night together and the conversation flowed like a river between them. There were eddies of silence and quick, fast-flowing rapids where the words tumbled over and over.
Maleficent spoke more, and Aurora listened as the faery told her of the goodness that had once filled King Stefan’s heart. She told the girl of a boy who had once aided her in calming a fawn trapped in the mire after a sudden spring storm, and she told the girl of a young man who had had dreams that once were as bright and wonderful as the Moors that they loved.
Aurora listened as Maleficent spoke of a time before the dark depths of ambition had seized the king, and then she listened more when Maleficent spoke of the beauty and good nature of Aurora’s mother. “I had only met her that once,” she said, eyes intent on the moon that illuminated the castle. “She had seemed kind.”
Aurora moved down from the branches as the conversation went on into the early twilight, until she tucked herself between the rough bark of the tree and the woven fabric of Maleficent’s robes. The princess does not duck away when powerful wings unfurl and settle around the pair to protect them from the chill of the night.
When Maleficent’s words have stopped falling, and the silence around them is a comforting one, Aurora is the next to speak. Revealing her kind heart, she forgave Maleficent, and then forgave her again - loud enough that it drowned out the faery’s protest.
They come to another eddy of silence, and in the lapse of words, Aurora turned herself into that wing - and only after a hesitant nod from Maleficent, she ran her fingers over the feathers for the second time.
“I have been told that I have my mother’s wings,” Maleficent watched her. “She died when I was very young. I can’t remember her voice, or how she looked, but I remember her wings. They would lift over us when the rains came, and she would tuck me beneath them when the night fell over the Moors.”
“What happened? To them?” Aurora lifted her head, the question as gently given as one could ever ask such a thing.
“They died protecting the Moorlands when King Henry had first attempted to claim them.” Maleficent answered as precise as she could manage without inflicting emotion into the words. It was not Aurora’s fault that her lineage was stricken with the greed and violence of her ancestors.
“He was my grandfather, wasn’t he?”
Aurora lowered her chin, tucked herself further together underneath the shelter of Maleficent’s wing, and scowled at the ground. “So he was as bad as my father.”
“ … your father never struck against the Moors until after the Curse.”
Aurora lifted her eyes, and the moonlight reflected within them. It was not the first time Maleficent discovered that Knotgrass’ wish had truly blossomed in Aurora’s blood, but it was an acknowledgement the same way one looked at the sunset and saw the glory of nature painted over the sky. Maleficent was one of the fair folk; beauty was appreciated wherever it lay.
“So, it was the Kingdom that changed him?” Aurora broke the gaze, looking back out once again.
“I don’t know. I only took the crown of the Moors so the land would listen to my commands. We are not a people used to the rule of a king or a queen, so I can only tell you that my own darkness was fueled by a pain so unimaginable that I hope you never once experience it in all of your days.”
Aurora smiled again. “You promised to protect me as long as you live, I think I will never have to worry about that.”
Maleficent paused. Considered Aurora, then felt a little exposed. “You were sleeping, how could you…?”
“I just knew. It is why I am forgiving you though you have never asked for it.” Aurora canted her head until her cheek rested against Maleficent’s shoulder. She seemed to sense the faery growing uncomfortable, for the subject changed. “Where is Diaval?”
And it was a subject change that made Maleficent relieved, and a little curious as to the gift Thistlewit had bestowed upon Aurora. “The Castle. He is listening for what they plan to do.”
“And if I don’t want to do what they plan to do?” Aurora pulled away only enough that she could see Maleficent’s eyes as the faery answered.
“We will cross that bridge when we reach it; but you will not have to make that choice now.” or for a while yet to come." Maleficent reached out with both an arm and a wing to carefully bring Aurora back. "Tonight and for the next few days, you are free of any expectations, I promise you."
Aurora lowered herself back against Maleficent’s side, and the two of them fell once again into a comforting silence as they waited the return of Diaval and the news he would bring.