On her nineteenth birthday, Aurora did not have to travel to the Moors. She had been spending the past eleven days there, after a long and strenuous conflict between her kingdom and one of its neighbouring countries had finally been resolved and Aurora had decided that a break was well-deserved.
She spent most of her time in the Moors with Maleficent, except for the few hours each day when the fairy would fly over the realm that she had sworn to protect, surveying the land, stretching her wings, and swooping down every so often to check in with some of the Moorland creatures.
Aurora would spend that time wandering around, visiting her aunts, or engaging in increasingly complex conversations with some of the Moorland creatures in their native tongues. She enjoyed talking to Balthazar without Maleficent having to interpret, even though his language was a little hard on her vocal chords. Sometimes, she would just bathe in the river near Maleficent’s usual sleeping place, and dry off in the surrounding meadow, or climb one of the higher trees and watch Maleficent soar off in the distance.
The night before Aurora’s birthday, they had fallen asleep in the shadow of a large ash tree, after spending a delightful evening gazing at the stars above, telling stories about the figures they saw and what meaning they held to their respective kinds.
Aurora awoke in the glow of early morning light to the reassuring feeling of Maleficent’s wing draped protectively over her body. This was something that the fairy always did when they fell asleep together, and waking up to the soft graze of wings against her warm skin never failed to make Aurora feel comfortable and safe.
She inhaled the scent of grass and crisp morning air, and slowly opened her eyes. Maleficent’s motionless form came into focus as she blinked away the sleep. Aurora smiled when her gaze fell upon the fairy’s closed eyes.
She always appreciated being the first to wake up, as it was a rare occurrence. Maleficent had explained to her once that the adults of her kind only required about five hours of sleep, and that she would usually be awakened by the first rays of sunlight in the morning. It would often take Aurora another two hours or so to open her eyes. Sometimes Maleficent would have already left the rowan tree that they usually spent their nights in, but more often than not, Aurora would find her besides her in the morning, watching her sleeping form and smiling softly when Aurora opened her eyes, or staring up at the sky, lost in thought. Aurora suspected that Maleficent realised how much she liked to wake up next to the fairy, and that is why she stayed. Either way, she wasn’t going to complain.
Aurora watched Maleficent’s slow, steady breathing, felt the rise and fall of her chest in the movements of the wing draped over her. There was something about the look on Maleficent’s face, the serene, relaxed expression which the fairy so rarely allowed herself during her waking hours, that fascinated Aurora, and she spent a while simply gazing at the figure in front of her.
She did not know why she felt compelled to touch the fairy, but her fingertips were already caressing Maleficent’s strong jaw before she could think to do otherwise.
Maleficent opened one gleaming eye.
“Good morning, Aurora.”
“Sorry,” Aurora said, pulling back. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“No need to apologise.”
With this, Maleficent closed her eye again, draping her wing further over Aurora. She did not feel like waking up just yet and allowed herself to indulge in this simple pleasure. Aurora closed her eyes too, and soon found herself drifting back into slumber.
It didn’t even occur to her that today was her birthday until at least ten minutes later, when the realisation hit her like a blow to the chest and she was suddenly wide awake. She remembered the wish that had been forming at the back of her mind for the past few weeks now, and a pang of anxiety shot through her. There had been a certain form of intimacy to her previous wishes, one that relied on mutual trust, but Aurora suspected that this year’s wish would be met with a lot more reluctance.
When she finally worked up the courage to pronounce her wish, she did so in a whisper.
“Come to the human kingdom with me.”
A pair of yellow eyes opened immediately. Maleficent stared for a long while at Aurora’s hopeful expression, her own face lined with a mix of emotions that the queen could not quite read.
Then the fairy moved to sit up, forcing Aurora to do the same in order to release the feathers that she had been lying on.
“Aurora,” Maleficent began, her voice hushed and raw from sleep, “my dear, sweet Aurora.”
She lifted her right hand now, delicately tucking a lock of blonde hair behind Aurora’s ear. She waited to continue until she could bear to look down into kind blue eyes. “I want nothing more than to give you everything you want. But I cannot do this.”
Something inside Aurora wanted to protest, to argue that Maleficent had already carried her to her room after last year’s birthday party, and to remind the fairy that king Stefan had been gone for years now, his reign of terror long forgotten by the people in her kingdom, who instead looked at the Moors as a place of mystery and wonder, and that even those few who might still harbour ill feelings towards the Moors and its inhabitants had no way to act on their prejudice, as all iron weapons and even tools had been disposed of years ago – and in a much more effective manner than the spinning wheels. But as she looked into Maleficent’s eyes and saw the pain and fear that lay there, all of her disappointment and stubbornness shifted into compassion and understanding.
Instead of trying to press, she smiled.
“May I have another wish, then?”
Maleficent’s whole being seemed to shudder with relief.
“Of course, Beastie.”
Aurora spent a few seconds pondering, until a thought struck her, and she frowned.
“I can’t believe I’ve never asked you this,” she wondered aloud. “When is your birthday?”
Maleficent was visibly taken by surprise.
“Years are not used to measure lifetimes in the Moors,” she answered. “Some creatures only live to see a few seasons pass, while others may spend hundreds or even thousands of years on this planet. So I suppose it would not make much sense to celebrate birthdays.”
Aurora nodded thoughtfully.
“But when is it, though?”
Maleficent could not stop a smile from creeping across her face at Aurora’s so very human perseverance.
“I was born,” she said, “in the early hours of the shortest night of the year.”
“That’s only a few weeks from now!” Aurora said happily.
“Twenty-three days,” Maleficent confirmed.
“That’s settled then. My wish is that we’ll celebrate your birthday together.” She gave Maleficent a moment to protest, and grew more excited when she didn’t. “I can plan a party for you. It’ll be great! We’ll dance, and eat, and I’ll invite all of your favourite people.”
“So, just you then?” Maleficent offered with a teasing smile, prompting a blushing Aurora to nudge her in the side with her elbow.
“As reluctant as you are to admit it, I know that you’re fond of Diaval too.”
“Only because it amuses me so to see him stumble and fall when I shift him by surprise.”
“So we’ll do it then?”
“If that is what you wish.”
Aurora nodded furiously, her head already filling with a multitude of ideas to make Maleficent’s first birthday party the most memorable and amazing one she could possibly dream of.
There was no way she could give back in to sleep again now, so Aurora scrambled to her feet, wanting to wash her face in the nearby creek. She had barely taken a step, however, when a hand brushed her own, lightly taking hold of her wrist. Aurora turned back to Maleficent, who was looking at her with an expression she had only seen once before, on the evening of her sixteenth birthday. Before Aurora could ask if something was wrong, Maleficent spoke.
“You are so unlike any human I’ve ever met before. Your kindness, your ability to love, to forgive, I–” She stopped herself, contemplating her words. “When you met me, I was in a very dark place, and I never would have made it out without you.” Aurora took Maleficent’s hand in her own now and squeezed gently. “You gave me back my wings in more ways than one.”
Aurora smiled wide, and it showed the trust and openness that made her so uniquely her.
“I just want you to know that,” Maleficent added. She gazed into Aurora’s eyes, willing her to understand. “And know that I appreciate each moment of your presence.”
Aurora’s smile softened, and she nodded. “I do, too.”
“And maybe someday I will be able to grant you that wish,” Maleficent offered.
“I would like that,” Aurora answered, “but there’s no hurry."
She brushed her thumb against Maleficent's hand before letting go. Halfway to the river, she turned around and added: "Not when there's a birthday to plan!"