Today I got to thinking, what about Aurora? Forget about Disney. Forget about meeting Philip in the woods and sleeping for all of five minutes before your dramatic rescue. Think about sleeping for 100 years and being awakened by a stranger, after 16 years as a peasant girl. What sort of readjustment is that? How frightening?
And this is the story that was spawned:
Stone presses down on my body, a hot whisper in my ear. I don't recognise the musky smell that suffocates me; it is leather and horses and something else. Unfamiliar. Not right. I can't think. My muscles are reacting to the weight, but as I struggle the stones press harder, burning and clenching. I am blind, trapped in the darkness. Why am I blind?
I open my eyes.
A man rears up and I'm released from the crushing weight. I feel light, like I will float up to meet the dusty canopy stretched over the bed. A bed? I don't remember going to bed. I don't remember much at all. I blink. My eyelids feel rusty from disuse. Sleep encrusts them, tangles my eyelashes. I try to sit up. My muscles tremble and I don't know if it is from weakness or fear. I stare at the man, and my heart makes thunder in my ears. I don't know him. I don't know why he was touching me. Instinctively, I reach down and find my skirts are spread flat against my legs. He hasn't done that. I don't think he has. Not yet.
But it's there. I can see it in his dilated eyes. The wildness I can smell off him. The fall of his breeches has been loosened.
“Princess.” His voice is scratchy, torn up. A faint flush stains sharp cheekbones. Breathe, I tell myself. Breathe. I have witnessed this scene before, when the farm cat has cornered a bird. Its eyes looked just like that. Dark. Watchful. Tense with violence. His words penetrate. Princess?
Then, just like that, I remember. Princess. That was it. I was a Princess, shocked, reluctant and badly trained. Princesses are reared from the cradle. They walk with books on their head. I remember that particularly, the idea of walking with a book on my head. It seemed an odd use for a book, when books are so precious. There had only been one book in the cottage I had called my home and it was scrawled with odd symbols and dark, inky pictures. A book for secrets, not deportment.
Me, a Princess.
“How did you know that?” The words escape me like in a pale thread, curling up through the air. His eyes narrow. It was the wrong thing to say and so he ignores it.
“I'm here to rescue you.”
“From your enchantment.”
His mouth stretches as if he is trying to smile. It doesn't come easily to him. For the first time I notice the scratches on his face, on his hands. His sleeves are tattered, sliced up to the elbow but the fabric is fine. There is ermine on the collar that sits high against his neck. It makes no sense.
“I don't understand,” I whisper.
This time his mouth thins. I am watching him like that trapped bird. My eyes dart, seeking the corners of the room, the exits. He notices.
“Your enchanted sleep. You have been asleep for one hundred years. I rescued you.”
I stare at him. “One hundred years?”
“To be awakened by Love's True Kiss.”
The flush on his cheeks darkens. “Yes.”
“In time. We are to be married.”
“What?” I sit bolt upright now. Shock has galvanised my slack muscles.
“My lady, I woke you.”
“And so you get to marry me? Because you woke me?”
“Because it is true love. If it were not how I could I have awoken you?”
“You don't know me.”
“I know enough.” His eyes slide down my body, down the tight laced bodice and the skirts that have dragged up against my pale calf. I remember now, my aunts dressing me. The preparations were elaborate. Rose water for my skin; oils rubbed through my long fair hair. The dress they had fitted to my body, tight and stiff, so unlike the homespun gowns I used for blackberrying and milking the cow. I felt like a parcel, wrapped up, ready to be delivered. And I was. Oh God, I was. His lips stretch again. “You're mine now.”
He reaches out and his fingers graze my jaw, stroke my lips. He rises up onto his knees and I realise he is going to kiss me. Those alien lips will touch mine. I don't need a book on my head for my spine to remain straight. I am frozen, each tiny sinew locked into place by horror. He is a stranger to me, this ragged knight with scratches on his face. I don't want him to touch me.
“Aurora.” His tone is reverent. “My lady.” His breaths are ragged, uneven. I see his body change, his muscles move beneath his cloths. This is it. I remember how the cat played with the bird, allowing it almost to escape, dragging it down under her heavy paws, claws curling deep into its thrashing body.
“My name is Briar Rose,” I whisper. “Briar Rose. I live in the forest.”
He hesitates. “No one blames you for that, my dear. Your seclusion was for your own protection.”
I want to tell him that I milked a cow. That my fingers bear calluses from carrying a pail. That I can barely read and remembered the lists of chores by song. That I don't know how to use more than one knife and fork. That I eat peas with my fingers and curse when I trip. I am a country girl. A peasant. Not a Princess. I want to tell him that my body is my own. That if he touches me I will tear his throat from his neck and scream like a banshee queen. But I don't. I don't.
I lower my eyes and breathe deep, hard to stop the tears swelling beneath my eyelashes. I am a Princess.