“Aurora…Aurora,” a familiar voice pierces through the blackness lingering over me.
I sigh, content to remain in this warm, blissful blanket of oblivion-ness. Not to face once more the celebration of my sixteenth birthday…and the four princes who have come in hopes of winning my hand.
Yet my grogginess is already swiftly slipping away, replaced with reality. I grow aware of the stinginess in my knees and the hard cobblestones under me. I feel the warmth of the sun shining down on me. Birds’ songs fill the air. About me is a low buzz of voices, worried, puzzled.
“Dearest.” A loving hand gently caresses my brow. “Please, open your eyes,” the words are a mixture of concern and encouragement.
Another sigh escaping, I attempt to sit up and slowly open my eyes. My mother, the Queen, is kneeling beside me, her gold and crimson robe spilling around us. Her arm is around my small shoulders, offering support. Her eyes are dim as she searches my face.
I then become aware of the King, my father, standing over us. His face is full of anxiety, while his dark eyes are of a growing storm. He seems caught between worry at my well-being and impatience for the party to continue.
“Are you well?” Mother’s voice draws my attention to her. And tears are forming in her eyes.
I nod and try to stand, accepting the assistance offered by my friends. Flushing a little under everyone’s stares, I smile and brush myself off gracefully. “I am better now. It was strange… I pricked myself on one of the roses’ thorns and felt faint. I am sorry,” I say, deliberately easing the tension over the company.
For a moment I am puzzled as the Queen clasps her hands as though saying a silent prayer, her eyes brightening. Then the King takes my hand and presents me again to my suitors, assuring them I am fine. The princes voice their gladness at my recovery and smile kindly.
My smile in return is shaky. They are all handsome and perhaps nice as well. Yet I do not wish to have this decision before me. If only I could return to my swoon… I accept the first prince’s hand and begin to dance once more.
I smile as I hurry through the maze, stifling my giggles. Somewhere farther back I hear my friends calling out to me. “Where are you? Why won’t you tell us your secret?” they laugh. My dear friends… For a moment I consider stopping and letting them come with me. They would understand, I think.
My heartbeat quickens as I suddenly hear a new call, nearer. “Princess!” The princes are in the maze, I realize. The path I follow branches to the left and right. Footsteps, too heavy to belong to any of my friends, grow closer. Without thinking, I plunge down the path that ventures right. I gasp for air, darting glances repeatedly over my shoulder to see if I have been spotted.
This no longer is fun, a game as when I first entered the maze. Now I am trying to escape. I wish my friends had not tried to follow me, and then the princes would not have entered. I want to be left alone, not to feel like a prize that shall be won before the day is up.
“Aurora? Please stop, this has gone on long enough. You shall tire yourself out. Remember your guests. Aurora!” Father and Mother. Strangely, their voices are coming somewhere in front of me. I stop running, puzzled. Perhaps they are at the end of the maze.
My parents, friends, courtiers, and suitors, all call to me, closing in. Panic washes over me. I am trapped.
“Hurry on, hurry on!” the sweet voice urges me.
“Where?” I ask aloud, looking for a means of escape.
Suddenly I notice a part in the hedge. Hopeful, I carefully step through it into another part of the maze. The calling voices instantly grow dimmer.
“Come! You must go on to be safe!” the sweet voice calls.
Yes, yes. My name reaches out to me again. I run on, leaping, flying at times, leaving it all behind -- those who want to take me away to a foreign land, place a heavy crown on my head. I do not want to go back.
It is not until the hedges seem to try to touch the sky, their color turns dull, and the leaves under my feet become dry and brown that I realize my name is nothing more than a faint, fading echo.
Wilted flowers lie at my feet. Grass and trees are brown and grey. Black is the large lake. The pale sun does not peek through the dense forest. No longer do the birds sing. And I am a ghost – skin, clothes, hair all now chalk white, numbness long ago replacing my sense of touch, voiceless. In this silent world I roam and dream – of times past, people of old – alone, unheard, unseen.
Sometimes I have two visitors. They are the only ones who know who I am, who are able to see me. They are the only source of life and color in this hopeless, timeless place. One is dressed from head to toe in lilac, gaze piercing and gentle, smile kind, always silent and a little ways off. The second appears more frequently. Garbed in silver spider webs and black bats’ wings, eyes triumphant and mocking, grin wicked, voice sweet in my ear.
“Why so sad, Aurora? You wished to leave them behind, to escape from it all. And you have. Never again will you feel like an auctioned prize or worry about the future. It is over. Now, go, dance.”
And dance I must. Floating over the ground, the sweet voice orders me on. Often I see other ghostly figures – of the past, present, future, I know not – who are oblivious to my passing a hand’s length away. Whenever I glimpse a familiar, dear face, sweet laughter rings around me and I am forced to spin away and plunge deeper into the forest. And tears run down my pale cheeks.
My movements slow when my gaze finds and lingers on a handsome young man. Even through the grey hazy curtain separating our worlds, his depression, restlessness, longing is crystal clear. Perhaps it is because some of the things I see in his face match what I felt during my fateful birthday. Or maybe because I have a sudden, unexpected desire to be able to help him.
Who are you? Why are you are you so downcast? What are you seeking? I silently ask, drawing nearer.
He lifts his head and our eyes meet. Only, of course, he does not see me (none of the people who cross my path do). His gaze is dark, clear, and so sad, and I wish he might somehow see me as I reach out to put my hand on his arm.
“Dance, Aurora, dance!” there is a rare hard edge in the voice, sweet and thundering.
In the heartbeat before I turn away, the youth’s stare seems to sharpen and intensify, and he starts to reach out as though to…
I am gone, a force beyond myself pushing me away in a breathless dance. Voiceless to call out a plea to try to follow (“Foolish princess, as though he has the ability to hear and see, let alone follow, you.Never again will I see him.) And renewed despair surrounds me. I run and leap, imagining I’m running away forever from that awful voice. If only I had never listened to it in the first place. A second time I jump, my legs stretching out before and behind me, my arms reaching upward.
My dancing grows faster as I go deeper into the woods. On and on and on I race. Just before my feet leave the ground in a third leap, hands encircle my waist and lift me. And I sail…higher, longer than I ever have. Shock and joy wash over me as the hands burn against me, warm, secure, and protective.
He is here in my dream!
I want to see his face as I am lowered. Yet blackness swirls in on me, and the hands pull away, lost. No! Laughter meets my vain plead. Helpless, I can only close my eyes against the growing dizziness.
There is dead silence and stillness. Gradually I become aware of the darkness lightening strangely and of the light scent of roses. I stir, faintly registering the feel of something soft under me. Then arms and hands, foreign and yet somehow well known, are assisting me as I sit up. Sleepily, I open my eyes to discover dark ones gazing into my own, free of sadness and shadows, as though all his desires have at last come true.
Shyly, happily I smile at him. “You found me,” I whisper.
Then taking me in his arms, he kisses me. And at last I know my dream has ended.