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A world all new

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In the morning, descending the tower's long spiral stair with Phillip, it had been all right - it had been more than all right. Daylight pierced the tower in long, slender shafts through the narrow windows - just like the arrows, Phillip explained, that these windows were designed to keep out. She peered through, looking out over the land. She knew, of course, approximately where it was where she had grown up, but at this distance she could not recognize a tree or hill or gorge.

"Can you see it?" she asked Phillip. "Where I met you?"

Phillip craned beside her, expression intent. "About there, maybe," he said, pointing. She leaned in close to try to follow where the line of his finger led. "Back from the river - where that dark tree is surrounded by light.ones, and the one on the right is taller."

She nodded, trying to fix it in a vision, close it away behind her eyelids. He pulled his arm back, his hand brushing her cheek gently. She smiled.

"It's beautiful," she said, opening her eyes again to look at the dawn and the forests and the fields.

"It's what you were named for," Phillip said shyly. "Aurora - it means dawn."

"Oh," she said, and now it meant more than the word her guardians had lain on her, as heavy and cold as the coronet they had placed on her brow, ringing with duty. This was what her parents had had in mind - this opening world. She could feel her heart growing lighter.

By the time they reached the bottom of the stairs, they had arranged themselves in a pose as formal as their parents could wish for. They promenaded; they bowed and curseyed; they danced. But it was already the third time they had danced together - their first was a woodland caper, and their second was a long, slow turn down a thousand stairs.

 

The castle had a different mood in twilight. When her mother presented a handmaiden to her - "Lina" - to sleep in her outer chamber and help her to dress and undress, Aurora knew her welcoming smile was a little anxious. "I won't disturb you, your Highness," Lina promised, curtseying, and Aurora nodded, but wondered if she might wish to be disturbed. She was not used to deference and privacy. She was used to bustle and company, and to falling asleep to the sound of her guardians' breathing.

She was used to everything one needed in a home fitting into a handful of rooms. Each of those beloved, familiar rooms had been cosy enough that she could barely lie flat on the floor in any direction, stretching her toes as far as she could, stretching her arms above her head - without touching the walls. If she had brought everything she'd possessed from the cottage, then, here, each thing could have had its own separate castle room. And she would never have found them all again.

In her bed, behind closed eyes, the impressions of the castle lay scattered like scraps of fabric and refused to piece themselves together. She could not yet imagine what lay between the sculleries and the galleries, the gatehouse and keep. She did not even have a memory of the castle, on approach, from her previous evening's journey - she had worn a hood low over her face and her eyes had been blurred with tears.

The next morning's dawn was overcast, with a sharp wind blowing past her balcony, and Phillip was not there to share it with her.

 

It was such a relief to see him again. Her parents were kind, and careful, and overbrimming with joy at her existence, but their warmth was weighed against her worries: they had been waiting for sixteen years for their daughter the princess. Was that what she was? She didn't know how to be her parents' daughter. Not yet, anyway, and try as they might - they were trying - their company was overwhelming.

But Phillip's face lit up when he saw her and she knew her eyes reflected hers. "There you are," she said, and then, a little helpless - she and Lina had been looking for a seamstress, because Aurora had insisted on going, not waiting, and Aurora had already forgotten the name of the wing where they would find her - "where are we, do you know?"

"I don't," he said cheerfully. "Perhaps we can persuade Lina to let us get lost together. We're halfway there." Lina giggled, but continued to lead them along the passageway.

"Is your castle like this?" she asked him.

"My father's castle is much smaller," Phillip answered. "When our kingdoms are united, they say, this will be our summer palace, and my father's castle is where we will spend our winters. But there are some common points..." They were passing a corridor that bristled with guards. "That must be your royal treasury."

"Oh?" she asked him, then realised how foolish she sounded. What was there to explain about coins and other treasures?

"When I was a little boy," Phillip explained anyway, "I would sneak away from my tutors sometimes - but there weren't many pages to play with, because they were all busy. So I'd sneak out to the ramparts, or to the treasury, and I'd hide around a corner, and I'd roll a ball over to where the guards were stationed.

"They knew it was me. They couldn't leave their posts, but they could kick the ball back. If I'd thrown it close enough to them. The nicest ones did."

Aurora glanced surreptitiously back at the treasury guards, trying to imagine men like them playing a covert ball game with a little boy. Imagining solemn, forward-facing men with wooden balls rolling around their feet. "Tell me more about your castle," she said, hoping for a hundred more stories like this one, to help her find a fit within this world that suited as well as the fit of their clasped hands.