A dream of thorn & bramble


aurora

Aurora gazed down at her tiny son, where he lay in his ornate crib. His face was puckered and red with fever, making him appear like a wizened homunculus. The Queen felt tears rise to her eyes. Shoulders squared and fists clenched, she was filled with helplessness, anger and frustration. Is this how her parents felt, all those years ago? Of course she and her husband had tried everything to find a cure: doctors, wizards, sorcerers, even witches – that’s how desperate they’d become – but nothing worked.

Aurora stepped onto the balcony and looked out over her kingdom. It lay sprawled before her, a fairytale confection of quaint cottages, twisting cobbled streets, lined with all manner of shops, and squares filled with market stalls. It all seemed so serene, so normal – for now. How much longer could they keep the truth hidden from the populace?

She gripped the balustrade, until her knuckles turned white; for a family to be cursed once was bad enough, to be cursed yet again was… Swiping at the tears filling her eyes, Aurora’s shoulders bowed beneath a black weight of depression. When the spell that bound her and her family had been dispersed by her now husband, they’d thought themselves the luckiest people alive. Who could possibly guess at what awaited them down the years?

The Queen turned to look back into the room, her gaze fixed on the crib. This was worse, far worse. She had only slept; this time round her son would die if something wasn’t done.

She drew a hand down her face. She was so tired, having scarcely snatched a moment’s rest since her son’s illness had begun. Every time she did, the dream swamped her mind and even now sat like a canker in her waking consciousness. 

It always began in the same way. Aurora would find herself standing at the edge of a forest, with two roads stretching away before her. One was lined with ashes and weeds, withered and half dead. The other was lined with gold dust that glittered and shone, enticing her to step onto it and follow its length to an unknown, but glorious destination. Every time she woke, she would find one of her slippers filled with ashes and the other filled with gold dust. She threw up her hands. What was she supposed to do? It was obvious the dream had something to do with her son’s illness, but what? She’d discussed it with her husband, but he too was baffled.

As she looked down into the courtyard, her gaze fell on an overgrown bramble bush. It was a survivor from the days when the castle had been enmeshed in an almost impenetrable thicket. A thought sleeted into the Queen’s mind and her eyes widened. Of course! She knew what the dream meant now!

The original spell had included a proviso that the curse would be lifted, should a man of valor manage to gain access to the castle and free them from their eternal sleep. And he had. The weed infested ash path in her dream must surely lead to her son’s imprisoned spirit. If it could be traversed and the barrier that no doubt lay at its end penetrated, then the child’s health would be restored. But this time she would have to be the one to break through, for her husband was far away, searching for someone or something that could cure their son.

Aurora hurried back into her chamber. She paused at the foot of her bed, adjacent to the baby’s crib, and gazed down at her slippers. The left was filled with the glittering gold dust, the right held the grey ash. The gold was a lie, an enticement to abandon her baby to his fate.

The Queen sat down on the bed and then stretched out a hand to grip the edge of the cradle. Holding her breath, she eased the right slipper on, wincing as the ash rose up between her toes. Her eyes closed of their own volition and for a breathless moment, she felt as if she was falling into darkness – into madness. Then dim light filtered through her eyelids. When she opened them she was standing at the head of the ash path. Heart thudding in her chest, she took the first step towards her son’s salvation.

When she reached the thicket, she stopped to stare up at it. It towered above the Queen, a thick mesh of tangled brambles and thorns, seemingly unbreakable. But deep within its confines, a pure white light pulsed. Hope filled Aurora. She’d been right; her son’s soul was in there. All she had to do was rescue it.

 Breath caught in her throat she stretched out a hand, ready to take back what was hers.

 thicket

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