|To Sleep Perchance to Dream
Author: Faithless Juliet PM
COMPLETE. Queen Aurorette, the 'Beloved Lady' is dead, her daughter Aurelia left in the care of Brynhild, who will stop at nothing to gain the Kings love. Meanwhile the villagers are slowly succumbing to Brynhild's dream poison, and the days are growing longer, and darker. Sleeping Beauty retelling.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy/Romance - Chapters: 41 - Words: 81,145 - Reviews: 317 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 10 - Updated: 03-16-13 - Published: 09-03-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3055508
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Aurora awoke with a start. The heavy canvas of the tent flaps rippled and swayed in the summer wind. Sitting up, Aurora checked to make sure her mother was alright. Several times the winter before she had awoken to Brynhild calling out in her sleep; the same terrified chant of 'Aury! Aury!' and sometimes her father's name, or the occasional strange muttering of 'I'm sorry, please forgive me.'
Aurora waited, checking for any signs of movement or distress from the other cot but Brynhild appeared to still be fast asleep. She wiped a warm hand over her forehead which was slick with sweat. She had been dreaming, and she thought possibly afraid, but now in her waking state she could not remember.
"Oh—god…" she heard a cry from outside the tent flap. Aurora pulled the thin blanket back from her legs, her bare feet molding into the soft dry dirt as she made her way to the front opening and pulled back the corner flap. The night was heavy with a light kind of darkness. It was a strange pitch color that only summer nights offered; the moon was high and Aurora could see the canopy of lush starts bursting down from the sky like diamonds.
The wind howled, but Aurora heard no other noises. She scanned the parameter of the camp, and realized with the lack of activity that it must have been very late. Off in the distance she saw Dirk standing watch with a handful of other knights near the tree line. Their backs were turned to her and they seemed to be engaged in a quiet conversation of their own.
When she heard another soft cry Aurora stepped out of the tent. The wind rustled her chemise and even though the air was warm she wrapped her arms around herself. She moved toward the light from the tent nearest to hers. The pale canvas was lit with candle flame from the inside, turning it into a harsh and glowing saffron. Aurora could see the reflection of two bodies through the material as silhouettes.
"Ranulf," she heard from inside the tent, recognizing Senora's desperate cry, "oh Ranulf."
Aurora could see Ranulf was bent over Senora with her back to him. His blurry hands were caressing Senora's hips. She could see the shadow of Senora's full breasts slap against her chest as Ranulf thrust his pelvis against her backside. "Oh Ranulf," she cried out again, this time her voice more ragged, more pleading, and more insistent.
Aurora could hear Ranulf grunt in acknowledgement of Senora's tangled outcry and she watched their already hurried movements become more frenzied. Finally they both cried out in unison together and from her position outside the tent Aurora watched as Ranulf took Senora into his arms. He turned her so that she faced him and he pulled her close until he was kissing her. Their bodies molded into one solid mass of shadow behind the cloth and Aurora turned her back, not entirely sure what she had witnessed.
She could hear whispering after that, and Senora's lithe giggle. Aurora felt very exposed where she was and wrapping her arms more tightly around herself she hurried back to the sanctuary of her own tent. The images of Ranulf and Senora together burned into her mind; the shape of the woman's exposed breasts and the Duke's strange thrusting against her. Aurora shook her head, wanting to chase away the images.
"Milady Aurora?" The voice broke into her thoughts and Aurora jumped. "Forgive me if I startled you," she turned to find Kaspar staring at her. He had outstretched his arm toward her, thinking she might fall.
"I'm sorry," she echoed, suddenly conscious that she only wore a chemise. She moved her arms up to cover herself from exposure. "I did not see you there."
"Indeed," he began, "could you not sleep?"
"No, I—" the image of what she had just witnessed burst back into her mind, and she warned herself not to say anything. "—I could not sleep. Forgive me for troubling you Prince."
She turned to leave him. "No" he began, holding his arm out to her again, "I mean," he corrected himself, "there was no trouble. It is quite early," he continued, "I often rise early to tend to the needs of the day."
"I see," she smiled, but after several awkward seconds of silence she began to turn her back to him and reenter the tent.
"Here," he stopped her again, and when she turned back to him she saw his other hand was held out to her. A long thin stem was pressed between his two fingers and a large white flower dangled on the end.
"The Edelweiss," she sighed, hoping she had pronounced the name correctly. "You remembered."
"Yes," he seemed relieved that she was pleased, "it is like you said, very beautiful, and very delicate, much like you."
Aurora smiled, and bringing the white flower up her face she inhaled the aroma deeply. "Thank you," she whispered. His kindness eased her mind tremendously.
"Well," he said, knotting both hands behind his back, "I shall leave you. There is still time to rest before we move on. We are nearing the boarders of what was King Frederick's land. By the rising of tomorrow's moon we will be on Manobriar soil again, and from there just a few days journey left."
"Are you excited to be so near your home again?" she asked, she kept the flower very close to her face in order to hide the blush that crept across her cheeks.
"Very," he said truthfully, "it has been a long and hard journey, but…" he added with a secretive smile, "it has been well worth it. Please," Kaspar bowed low to her, and she curtseyed in replay, "I will leave you to begin the day, until later…"
"Until later," she agreed.
Before Brynhild woke Aurora hastily dressed herself. Her dress was grey and not fit for someone as noble as Prince Kaspar but she had nothing else besides a brown dress that was of far lesser quality than the one she wore. She pulled her hair into a long braid and wove the flower he had given her into her hair directly above her right ear. Aurora hoped that Kaspar would see it in her hair for the remainder of the day, and she hopped that he would understand how much his gift meant to her.
When Brynhild awoke Aurora helped her dress and pin what was left of her graying hair under a muslin cloth.
"You must find me very frightening…" Brynhild said matter-of-factly; the awkwardness of the statement startled Aurora.
"Of course not momma," she kissed Brynhild's cheek; her lips could feel the sharpness of her mother's tiny bones jutting through the skin. "I love you. Why would I find you frightening?"
Brynhild shook her head, when she spoke it was as if in a daze. "Everything seems to have taken place so long ago, yet, it was yesterday." She took hold of Aurora's hand and grasped it tightly as her eyes widened. "I can't keep the memories – those dark times – at bay… everything happens so quickly in my mind, I can't…"
"Hush now momma, everything will be alright…"
When the soldiers came to dismantle the tent Aurora helped her mother into the litter. The wind was harsh and it tangled her long skirts about her legs. "Put on the cloak child," he mother instructed while Aurora pulled the blanket up to her mother's chin and tucked it under her arms and legs to keep the warmth in. The chill was stinging against her skin and she heeded her mother's words, clasping the red cloak around her neck with a broach and letting the vivid color fall over her body. She thought briefly again about what she had seen between Senora and Ranulf but she chased the image away. She couldn't ask her mother why they had acted like that. They didn't seem to be in pain, but she could still recall the agony of Senora's ragged calls, and the way Ranulf had grunted and moaned as he pushed himself against her. Aurora wondered if she should speak to Kaspar, or perhaps Dirk.
"Milady," Kaspar greeted her as she neared his horse. When he reached out to her she accepted his hands on her body. She had learned to go limp when she lifted her onto the horse's back, which made it easier for him to position her and less painful to be held momentarily in the air.
"My Liege...?" Ranulf's horse galloped to them from behind. His pulled in the reigns when he neared them.
"What is it?" Kaspar had apparently seen a hint of something unnatural in the Duke's eyes, but Aurora had not noticed anything.
"The scouts have seen wolves in the hills up ahead; dozens of them they say."
Aurora had been afraid of wolves since she was a girl. She could remember many cold winter nights where she sat up awake at night listening to their hungry bays and sinister howls. "Wolves…?" She choked out. Kaspar had pulled her very close to him and when she turned her face she could feel his warm breath on her skin.
"Do not be afraid," he whispered, and she watched Ranulf kick his mount back into a gallop and ride away toward the front of the battalion.
"I am afraid of wolves," she admitted. Kaspar motioned for the horse to follow Ranulf and break their position in the center of the line. They followed the Duke's path slowly toward the front.
"Do not be afraid," he said again. His hand pulled protectively on her abdomen. She had not thought she could get any closer to him but somehow he pulled her back more. "Wolves are the emblem of your people," he told her, slowing the mount slightly when they reined in behind Ranulf's lead. "That and crows. It is legend that King Frederick rode into battle with a wolf's head burnt onto the breast plate of his armor. They said he hunted his foes on the battlefield like an animal might stalk prey. My grandfather said that he was not a man at all. The people even sometimes tell bedtime stories that proclaim King Frederick was half man and half wolf."
"I wish I had known him," Aurora said sadly, but in her mind she tried to calculate the years between then and now. Frederick had fought and won the war against Igor, Kaspar's grandfather. "When was this battle?" she asked him. "How long ago did my father die?"
"King Frederick fought and conquered my grandfather over thirty years ago. There are very few left who still remember it."
"I am only sixteen…" she said more to herself than to him. She felt his palm squeeze against her at the waist. "My mother told me he died when I was a baby," she told him in explanation. "She always told me that he had been so pleased that I was a girl. He said that I would grow up to be just like my mother. He said I would be beautiful like her."
"You are beautiful," he added, "but you look nothing like Brynhild." Her face fell forward slightly, and he added, "They say King Frederick was copper haired," Aurora felt him finger a strand of her hair at the base of her neck, "copper haired like you are… You take after him, I think."
"Thank you," she offered, but she could feel tears of anguish and confusion burn the back of her eyes, and she had to swallow the stinging lump that had formed in her throat.
By midday the sky had turned into a harsh grey, and the winds increased. Not long after that the rains came, and they merged deeper into the wooded hills.
"It is very quiet!" She heard Ranulf say from his horse a few feet ahead of them. "The stillness is eerie, not even the birds are singing."
"It is from the storm, perhaps," Dirk responded. "We may be lucky in that it scares all animals away to hide in their dark caves and their dirty holes."
The wind rippled through the trees again sending a piercing scream through the forest.
Aurora stiffened on the mount,."It's only the wind," Kaspar breathed against her ear. She pulled her hand upward until it touched the arm that rested against her stomach, interlocking her fingers tightly with his.
"We should dismount!" Ranulf suddenly said as though he could smell danger on the air.
The wind caused a whirlpool effect and it seemed to move on all four sides of them, pushing and pulling like something unnatural. Aurora felt her red clock being pulled by the updraft. She had to hold it down with her freehand to make sure her vision remained clear.
Dirk followed Ranulf in dismounting from their horses, and they led the caravan forward with their swords drawn. "What do you hear?" Dirk asked. Aurora watched as Dirk scanned the surrounding hills, although she didn't see anything.
"What is it Anhalt?" Kaspar asked. When he reined the horse to a stop Aurora's heart skipped a beat. He was holding the caravan back while the two men continued to move forward at a slow and cautious walk.
"I can hear—something…" Ranulf scanned the parameter again until his face came to rest on one corner of the woods to his right side. He let go of the horse's long leather reigns and slapped the animal quickly on the backside causing it to skitter away toward the back of the line. Dirk followed suite, mimicking his comrade's actions.
"Stay here," Kaspar said to Aurora. "Take hold of the reigns tightly," he commanded. "Don't let them go." Kaspar dismounted, unsheathing his own sword. "All of you," he yelled to the men behind him, "stay back."
Aurora watched the three men encroach deeper into the trees with Ranulf leading them. The long silent seconds that followed were agonizing. The horses could feel the tension in the air, and like Ranulf, Aurora felt the horse smell danger on the air. Kaspar's mount skittered and backtracked, she could feel the animal's muscles tense underneath her legs.. It took all of Aurora's strength to control the animal to be still. The men behind her grew restless as well, and she heard fevered murmurings of speculation as to what the Duke had seen. Some warned that they should follow their Prince into the greenwood, while others warned that they should heed Kaspar's earlier command to stay back.
The rain was falling harder now, and her cloths quickly became damp and heavy. Aurora pulled the hood back and scanned the trees to the side of her. Water soon dripped down her face, but she didn't dare remove her hands from the reigns to wipe it away.
At first she only heard a strange rustle in the trees. It wasn't the wind, she was sure of it, but something smaller, and lower to the ground. When she first heard the growl it was so deep she originally thought that it was thunder, until she saw the pale glow of dozens of large eyes meet her own gaze through the trees.
"There!" she heard one of the men shout, followed by the quick slice of several more swords being drawn. She wasn't sure if it had been Kaspar or Ranulf's voice that called out, but she stifled her own scream.
Aurora watched one of the wolves jump out from the shadows and land on Ranulf's chest, sending him to the ground with a thud of muscle and bone. She heard another growl and several more beasts appeared through the trees. Men from the back of the line ran forward and her horse bolted back. She pulled the reigns tight, trying to control the animal. Aurora could hear shouts and the slash of swords. She heard a wolf whine in pain and then further shouting.
When she heard a howl from close behind her she yelped and the horse reared up, kicking its front lengths up dangerously. Aurora tried to keep hold of the animal but she found herself sliding back dangerously and her fingers could only grasp at the empty cold air. She hit the ground hard, and her fist instinct was to crawl quickly away, afraid that the horse would slam its hooves down on her.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw the horse run away, but the muzzle of a wolf quickly filled her line of vision. She darted away, feeling the murk and mud underneath her palms and her heels. She was on her back watching him. By the time she could stand the animal would have jumped on her and she would be unable to break away. She thought about screaming but at least for now the wolf was only staring her down and she worried that any noise on her part would startle it.
The wolf sized her up quickly, and for a moment she thought he might leave her for some other form of prey but she realized when he growled, baring his teeth at her, that he already knew she was the weakest link, and could easily be taken down. He lunged at her and she screamed. She brought her hands up to protect her face, expecting the bite and gnaw of his fangs upon her but she felt nothing.
When she opened her eyes the wolf was gone, but she could see Kaspar rolling away from her with the animal tangled across his chest. She could see that he had dropped his sword and was wrestling with the beast empty handed, keeping the creature who easily outweighed him away from his face with only his arms. She watched the wolf bare down, lowering his mouth to Kaspar's shoulder and she heard the pain riddled cry as the wolf bit down.
"No!" Aurora yelled, but neither man nor beast seemed to hear her. She ran to the discarded sword and taking it in her hands she slashed it down into the animals back. She felt the resistance as it cut through the wolf's spine and ribcage. Her arms burned from the pressure of holding the sword down but she would not let herself falter, instead she pushed it deeper inward, even after the animal stopped squirming and struggling under her hands.
"Aurora," Kaspar rasped, "he's dead now, let go of the blade."
She did, and the animal rolled away to the side, lifeless and cumbersome.
Aurora could see the pool of blood that had collected across Kaspar's shirt at the shoulder, and the puddle underneath him turning the grass and mud a frightening watery red color. She could see that it had spread all the way down his shirt and was collecting at his waist.
"Can you move?" She asked him, hesitate to reach out and touch him. He was laying very still in the muck, but he kept his gaze locked on hers. When she got closer she could see a small portion of his shoulder had been torn away, and the bone and muscle were exposed.
Kaspar coughed back a tangled cry, not wanting to show his pain.
Dirk ran to them. "Lean on me Liege!"He demanded and without asking for permission he lifted Kaspar under his arms and pulled him to his feet. Kaspar couldn't resist the urge to curse and yell when Dirk accidently touched the open wound. "You can still feel Liege? That's a good sign." Dirk looked to Aurora and she thought she saw the ghost of a smile cross his face. "They say that when you can no longer feel the pain then you are done for."
"We must get him to shelter," Aurora insisted.
"Yes," Dirk responded, and he led Kaspar and Aurora quickly down the little hill to a tent that was being set up near the end of the caravan.
Aurora saw the carnage of dead animals left in the wake of the attack. She saw Ranulf kneeling on the ground as though the wind had been knocked out of him. His sword laid out flat on the grass beside him, and Senora was crouched over him, addressing a wound on his abdomen. Aurora searched the litter out, wanting to make sure her mother was alright, and when she saw it untouched near the back she breathed a sigh of relief.
Dirk passed through the open entry of the hastily constructed tent and laid Kaspar on a cot near the back.
When Aurora entered she was shocked that the rain was no longer hitting her face. She shivered, not realizing it had continued to fall on her throughout her ordeal and that her dress and cloak were soaked through.
Kaspar grunted when Dirk cut away the torn shirt, and the sound was so pitiful that it jolted Aurora into action. "Let me see it?" She said, and Dirk moved aside, slightly startled by her authoritative tone.
"It should be stitched," Dirk insisted after she had examined it for several long moments.
"Yes," Aurora insisted, "but we will also have to close the wound shut with fire. It is too large to be sown only." She had seen her far share of wounds over the years, but she remembered how one of the huntsman's sons had lived after a similar attack. The only way he kept the boy free of fever after the wound was by closing it with a hot blade.
"Fire?" Kaspar rasped. His body began to sway as though he might faint. Dirk took hold of his uninjured shoulder to steady him.
"Yes," Aurora said again, she tried to keep her voice calm. "It will hurt, you will have to brave… first we must sow the wound closed." She turned to Dirk, "Can some of the men start a fire? I'll need a clean blade as well…. And a flagon of wine…"
"Who's to sow the wound closed?"
"I can do it," Aurora said with surety. She had done it before, and she was not afraid to do it again. Dirk looked at her incredulously. "I've sown and woven thread my whole life." She looked first to Dirk, and then the Prince. "I am well practiced, I will be quick."
"Sire?" Dirk tested, uncertain how he should proceed.
"Do as she says Dirk," Kaspar told him. "Build the fire… whatever she needs." Kaspar met her gaze, and even though she could tell he was in great pain he smiled up at her.
"Be quick though," he admitted after Dirk had left the tent. "I fear I cannot go through this without moaning like a scared maiden."
"It's alright," she assured him. She cleaned the exterior of the wound as best she could with a cloth and bucket of cold water. Once she washed the blood away she was grateful to see that most of the skin remained. Although the wounds were deep it would at least be easier to not have to stretch the skin over the exposed muscle to close it, which would only cause him more unneeded pain. Aurora swallowed when she saw his bone exposed underneath the muscle, it was off-white and glistening.
Kaspar was breathing deeply, trying to steady his anticipation.
"The wine!" Dirk handed her the flagon when he reentered the tent.
"Here," she handed the jug to Kaspar. "Take a long drink." Kaspar eyed her wearily, "You will need it," she finished.
When he handed the wine back to her she poured some of it into a small bowl and dipped another cloth into it. "This will sting," she warned Kaspar as she dabbed the cloth against the open wound. Kaspar hissed through his teeth when the cloth touched the tender skin, and Aurora tried not to winch.
"The fire is being stocked," Dirk told them, trying to distract the Prince. "It will be ready soon."
"Make sure the blade is well cleaned before you put it over the flames."
Dirk left the tent again to oversee the other men by the fireside.
Aurora took up the clean needle and threaded it with the thick string Dirk had brought her. She did not ask Kaspar if he was ready, instead she laid her hand on his bare arm and squeezed lightly. "I trust you," he whispered, words meant only for her.
When the needle first met the thinner layer of skin Kaspar cried out. The sound was harsh and filled with pain. It made Aurora's blood curdle but she carried on. She pulled the needle through as quickly as she could, but she had to tend to the thread slowly as it pulled through his skin. She was afraid of it tangling or ripping; she did not want to have to start over. The middle of the gash was the hardest, and from the way Kaspar held himself tense and taught on the cot Aurora could tell that it was the most painful. She thought about speaking to him. Hoping to engage him in conversation that would distract his mind and body from the task she had to perform, but she stopped herself from speaking any words that were not necessary. She did tell him to relax more than once. His posture made it impossible for the wound to close properly.
"One more stitch," Aurora told him, and she felt Kaspar crumple into himself breathing a sigh of relief. "Dirk?" She called out from the tent flaps when she had finished.
"It's ready," he said from the fire side.
"Bring it in," she instructed, "...and bring two more men with you." Aurora studied the wound closely before the other men entered. It was closed as best she could get it, but blood still dripped and oozed from the corners and fell down Kaspar's back. She hoped that this would work. "You'll have to lie on your stomach," she told Kaspar. She thought that would be the best angle to close the wound, and it would be easier from the men to hold him down when he started to flop from the pain.
Dirk entered with the red hot sword in hand, the other two men trailed behind him.
"Hold him down," she told the two men.
"Are you certain this will work?" Dirk asked her. Aurora could see the fear etched across his face.
"It has to," she told him truthful, "or he will bleed to death, I am sure." He did not look convinced. "The man Ranulf almost killed that last day at the castle," she explained, "his son was attacked in a similar way and the only reason the boy lived was that the wound was closed fast and quickly. Even if the wound could close natural, the fever would still get into his bones and he would die quickly after that. This is the only way."
He seemed resolved to continue, "What should I do?"
"Hold him down. Be strong, but careful of the wound itself. He will struggle fiercely from the pain. I want to only do this once, but the harder he struggles than the least likely it will be that I can do it correctly the first time."
"Lads," Dirk turned away from her, "ignore our Prince's cursing that he will kill you once he gets off the cot, do not let him go for anything, or you will have both he and I to answer to when this is done."
The three men took their positions over the Prince. The two men stood at the lower end, each holding a leg and foot, while Dirk placed his hands on Kaspar's lower back.
"Don't be ashamed to cry out," Aurora told Kaspar. When the huntsman had done this to the child he had wailed and vomited before finally losing consciousness.
Holding the hilt of the sword up she positioned the hot tip over the wound. She could see the steam rising up from the reddened steel. Taking a deep breath she placed the blade on the wound. She refused to close her eyes or look away as she felt the flesh singe and burn underneath her. Kaspar yelled out and writhed under the arms of the men who held him still. Aurora could feel his movements vibrating through the sword. She held it to his flesh for only a few seconds but it felt like eternity. Throwing the blade to the ground quickly she felt Kaspar slump into the cot and his head rolled to the side. She kneeled down to face him, she was afraid he had fainted, but she could tell he was still alive and alert.
"Kaspar?" Dirk pleaded, joining Aurora on the ground to get a better look at the Prince. Aurora had never heard him address Kaspar by his full name.
Kaspar looked first from Aurora and then to Dirk. They watched his eyelids flutter before drooping half way down. "Get the wine!" Dirk ordered to one of the men who had already backed away from the unsettling act that had just witnessed. Gathering his wits about him one of the men stepped forward and filled a goblet with wine. Dirk took it from the man and held it to Kaspar's lips.
"I cannot move," the Prince slurred. His position on his stomach made it difficult to bring the cup to his lips.
"Try and sip it if you can," Aurora coaxed.
"You did well," Kaspar told her, apparently hearing the quiver in her voice. "You did what you had to do." He had gone hoarse from screaming. Both Aurora and Dirk could see that he had very little strength left.
"Sleep now my Prince," Dirk eased, putting the goblet on the sodden grass under their feet, but he and Aurora watched as Kaspar quickly fell into a deep sleep.
"It will be a while until he wakes," Aurora told Dirk. She remembered that the huntsman's son had slept nearly two days after the same ordeal. She knew Kaspar was stronger than a small child and she wagered that he would only sleep for a few hours, or perhaps just a full night.
Dirk sighed, "I should see to Ranulf, and some of the other men… will you be alright?"
"Yes," Aurora told him honestly, "I will stay with him."
Aurora did not recall how long Dirk had been gone, but she could see through the slit in the tent flap that night was falling. A beautiful azure blue glowed on the horizon, and she watched the first faint brush strokes of stars dazzle their tiny lights beyond the trees. As Kaspar continued to sleep she slowly brushed the hair away from his forehead and stroked his cheek. He did not wake from her touch but at one point he reached out for her and clasped her hand. He slept on, grasping her fingers tightly.
"How is he?" Dirk asked when he reentered the tent.
"He is well, I think," She admitted. "He's been in and out for a few hours now."
Dirk held a plate of cooked meat to her. "The men have cooked the beasts that have caused us so much trouble today," he told her as she took the plate. There was a large slab of meat on it, but she was not hungry. Her body felt tight and she was anxious. "You should eat Milady," he offered.
She put the plate on the ground beside her and looked up at him, "How is Ranulf?" Aurora remembered how she had seen him doubled over on the grass when Dirk dragged Kaspar away from the carnage. "Did he not also have a wound?" She recalled how diligently Senora had tended to him. Much like how Aurora had tended to the Prince.
"Yes," Dirk told her, "they took a small chunk out of his side, but he's alright. The Duke of Anhalt is not easily bested by either man or beast."
"Have the men seen anymore wolves."
Dirk scoffed. "We're not likely to. A group of men are out now hunting them into the higher hills. Last I saw they were running away with their tails between their legs, we'll not see them again on our journey." Dirk studied the untouched plate of food at her side. "You should eat," he said again.
Aurora gave him a weak smile, "In a little while, perhaps…"
Sometime later, after Dirk had left her, Aurora fell asleep against the side of the cot. She tucked her legs under her chin and let her head fall close to Kaspar's. His hand still held hers.
"Aurora?" she heard as a whisper in the night. The inside of the tent was inky black with shadows except for the opening where the glow from the campfire slithered through the gap. "Aurora?" she heard again, and the voice pulled her up from sleep.
"Kaspar?" She whispered into the darkness. Her hand was still in his, and her face had fallen sideways against the cot.
"It's almost morning, I think…"
"How do you feel?" She asked him.
She thought she could see him smile through the darkness, "I feel like a wolf tried to feast on me yesterday." She laughed, and his voice sobered, "I feel like I am holding your hand."
"You feel right," she teased. "At least I can be sure a fever has not gotten into your bones and you are in a delirium."
He chuckled. His laugh was deep and she felt the cot giggle at her cheek. "Have you stayed here all night?" He asked. "Have you slept on the ground beside me all this time?"
She felt him shift from his stomach to his side, and he heard him winch in pain.
"Don't try to move," she warned, and she let go of his hand to pull herself up to her feet. "You could further damage yourself if you move about too much." He pulled her down until she was sitting on the edge of the cot beside him. Aurora moved her hand over his face, pulling his hair back again, and checking his temperature.
Kaspar sighed, "I should wound myself more often if it means getting the chance to wake up with you beside me."
She tilted her head to the side and her smile grew wide. She was sure in the darkness that he could not see her.
Kaspar moved his hand up to his face and took her palm away. He held her fingers open, stroking their length, and feeling the softness of her palm.
His touch made her feel bold, "Kaspar," she began, "when you started this journey did you really except to find a Princess who was cursed to sleep for a hundred years…?"
"I don't know," he said honestly. "All my life I've heard tales of her – of you – how you were trapped and cursed. How you were descended from King Frederick, the man who had fought so savagely against my grandfather, yet valiantly spared his life. I have dreamt of you since I was a boy. Dreamt of finding you," he went on, "dreamt of his moment." He brought her fingertips up to his mouth and kissed them. His lips were warm. His touch made her breath hitch in her throat.
Aurora had to use all of her control to steady her voice. "And now that I am here?"
"It is everything I ever dreamed of." He reached his other hand out to her. His fingers crawled up her arm and to her shoulder. His palm pushed her forward to him, and when she was close enough he kissed her. His mouth was warm and sweet on hers. They tasted each other for the first time in eager deliverance. Aurora felt him sigh against her, and she moved herself closer. Her body sank against his to better accommodate the kiss. "I love you," he breathed against her face. "I have wanted to do that since the first time I laid eyes on you in the woods."
She hummed in satisfaction when he pulled her face down to his chest and moved over so that her body could fill the small empty space on the cot. Aurora moved her mouth up to be kissed again but he stopped her. "No dearest," he sighed, coaxing her face back down to his chest. "We've plenty of time for that…"
"But," Aurora insisted. She was hungry for him in a way that she could not explain.
Kaspar chuckled again, "I'm afraid if you kiss me again I will not be able to stop myself."
"Stop yourself?" she mimicked.
"Yes," he said with finality. "Now go to sleep dearest. Rest yourself. We ride out in a few hours. By nightfall, god willing, we will be home."
"Home," she tasted the sensation. She hoped she would like Manorbriar. She hoped that Kaspar's people would like her.
"Home," he said again. "Our home." His hand stoked her hair and lulled her into sleep.
That night she dreamed that her father appeared to her in his battle armor, wielding a heavy sword. She dreamed that his sword point stuck the heart of her mother while she slept in her tiny litter. In her dream Aurora cried out for him to stop but he did not listen to her. Her voice turned to a flock of crows when it burst through her lips. Her pleas lost on the feathers of so many wings. Her heartache soared upward on the backs of those creatures. They seemed to caw and bark her name through their pointed beaks. They seemed to mock her, and her feeble attempts to cry out.