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Fauna

Being brutalized for so long eventually makes one brutal in return.

This is my take on Sleeping Beauty. It does not have such a ‘lived-happily-ever-after' ending.

The rumble snapped Fauna’s attention ― horse hooves pounding into hardened earth. She cautiously peered down from her cave; a cliffside hideaway perched more than ten meters above the forest floor. 

A golden misty glow surrounded four horsemen who came to a halt directly below. Three had crossbows at the ready while the fourth lit their path with an oil lamp. The steeds, clad in royal garb, stamped and reared nervously in place as if they sensed evil amongst them. Steam fired from their flared nostrils like dragon's breath.   

“The daemon is out here somewhere,” the lantern-holder bellowed to his men. “We shan’t return to the King without its vile head.” With a jab of their heels, the hunters thundered further into the wood. She watched until their fading shaky light was swallowed by the night.

Fauna eased away from the opening, pressing her back into the cold damp granite. A sense of security uncoiled the silenced air she was holding in her lungs. Her heartfelt strong and steady, but rage pumped through her veins. Heated blood radiated the faerie-wings on her back with a low pulsating iridescence. ‘Daemon’ echoed in her ear.

Fae were long thought to be magical creatures, and magic brewed fear among the ignorant who sought blame for plague and famine, death and pestilence. Fear begot violence and violence brought unrelenting war ― mortal versus fae.

The plan when Petra had freed Fauna from her cage was to make it to the cave. Which she had; successfully avoiding the tower guards and their threat of arrows. He would rendezvous with her soon.

Fauna curled deeper into the cavern wrapping her wings around her body for warmth. Her consciousness ebbed on the edge of slumber. Both hands clutched the golden crown to her chest.

She had been captured by the King’s men during a foolish bid which she hoped might rouse her downtrodden army. The mortals had secured an upper hand in the war and were pushing deeper into the forest; fae territory.

In an attempt to rejuvenate the courage of her fighters, Fauna had snuck past the mortal’s front line. She flew to their village on a moonless night to steal the King’s crown. If she could bring it back to her men, it would surely revive their spirit, show them that the mortals were not invincible. But Fauna was blinded by her brazen enthusiasm and flew straight into a snare after snatching the royal jewels.

She was immediately condemned to a fiery death. Her wings would be clipped and delivered to the village healer to be ground into a paste for their mythical curative powers. While Fauna awaited her fate, she was caged and brought down into the dank dungeon buried deep below the castle. 

Whispers of spirits echoed off the cold stone walls to flood her ears with haunting breaths. So many lives lost, agonizing deaths at the hands of those who sought power. She listened to their laments. 

A man’s voice chased the ghostly murmurs back into the shadows.  

“Why do you not weep?” he asked, spinning the suspended cage only big enough for its occupant to crouch. His tone was not condescending, he seemed genuinely taken by Fauna’s fearless mettle.

Fauna didn't answer. She glared, wings glowing. She’d rip out his throat if only she could only jimmy the lock.

“You are quite impressive,” he continued. “No one has ever breached our defenses and reached the King’s chamber before. You’d have gotten away with it if you weren’t so audacious.”

His flattery washed over her in the same fashion that a duck’s back repels water, but she knew he was right about her lack of focus. The instant she had held the crown ― felt the power hidden within its girth ― she’d imprudently considered it a victory. Visions of her troops roaring praise in her honor had blinded her to the rudimentary snare set to catch flying fae. 

As if being caught wasn’t bad enough, having been snagged like a bat flitting from a belfry was demeaning.

“Fuck you, mortal swine.”

“I’m not your enemy here, just assigned to make sure you don’t escape.” He flashed a devious smile in the low flicker of the dungeon’s torchlight. “My name is Petra. Apprentice to the Royal Order of Kingsmen. Once I have been fully trained in the arts of battle and security, I will be assigned to stand by King Geoffrey’s side.” Pride beamed in each word. “And you might be?” 

“Stuck in this over-sized birdcage.” She rattled the bars and twisted against them to spin away from him.

They appeared to be similar in age, by looks. But fae grew at a much slower rate than mortals so where Petra appeared to be twenty-five, Fauna was ten times that in years.

“I admire you. You don’t seem like the others,” he said.

“Others?!” she spat.

“Sorry.” He shifted to stand in front of her. “That was crass,” he looked to the floor then back up to Fauna and corrected himself. “You don’t seem like the rest of your people. I have seen so many caught, caged, tortur–” He paused with his head lowered, then moved to take a seat on a stool; his sword lay to the side.

“The King intends the same for you. He is hell-bent on finding your village in the forest.”

“Generations of you simpletons have searched, still you are unable to find us. I shall not relinquish even the slightest trace of a clue.” She took a breath, then spoke calmly. “No matter the pain you think you can inflict upon me.”

She sat and pulled her knees to her chest, wings dimmed and tucked flat against her back.

“I don’t believe in it… the torture,” he said. “Seems like senseless violence to me. All of this does. But who am I but a lowly guardsman? I’d be in the cage next to you if I spoke my true voice.”

It was hard to read his face in the low light but once again his tone seemed sincere. Still, Fauna proceeded with caution for fear of it being another trap.

“You could free me.”

“They’d hang me without even holding a trial,” he scoffed.

“You can say I overpowered you. Used my magic to put you under my spell.”

“Can you? Use magic?” He was leaning forward now, forthright in his curiosity.

She studied him. 

He was weak, by warrior’s standards. Not physically. Physically, he was well-toned and muscular. By her judgment, he stood at least chest-high to a horse’s mount, broad shoulders and chiseled jaw. But mentally he was like a sieve, candidly revealing empathy. It was most likely his youth and inexperience. Her immediate assessment, however, was that Petra was not resourceful enough for him to be conniving a trap.

“Free me and I will show you,” she sneered.

Fauna was battle-tested. She had seen and done things that would give Petra night terrors. Life for her was a means of survival from the constant threat of mortal tyranny. Her pugnacious bloodthirst was born from necessity; a desideratum to eliminate the humans. And she did know magic. 

“I may be young and foolish,” he replied, “but I am no fool. Tell me your name, earn my trust.”

Weakness. She pounced.

“I am Fauna, daughter to Finn and Gislle Caspian. Once commissioned to watch over the mortal Princess Rose, generations before you were even born and long before humans sought to eradicate my people.”

“The start of the war…” he murmured to himself. He immediately stood, steadfast as if suddenly realizing he was in the presence of more than just a mischievous thief.

“I’ve only ever heard of the tale of Princess Rose as spoken by my grandmother. Bedtime stories used to weigh down children’s lids. Legends told of evil spells and magic, later driven into the minds of adolescents to further the hatred, the fear.” He was stepping towards her now.

She watched him closely. Silent.

“Halfheartedly, I wanted to believe that they were not real, but―” his voice cut, she sensed conflict in his face. “How? How could your people be so...ruthless?”

She wanted to spit at him. Propaganda. The heat of her wings once again warmed against her back.

Fauna’s mind was always working, formulating, strategizing, scheming. Petra was not the head of the snake, merely a key and steel bars still held her from her ultimate mission. His knowledge could prove useful. She breathed deep and adjusted her tone, like a mother consoling an injured child.

“Rose was my friend.” Her voice was barely above a whisper. “For years, fae worked and dwelled alongside man. Our villages were one. No war, no violence. But a horrible plague swept the land and only the mortals were dying, so we were to blame.” She paused and looked into his eyes before continuing.

“The Princess fought for our honor, but she was silenced by the masses and fae were cast out to live amongst the forest beasts. When the death of humans didn't stop, a decree was set forth and hunters soon flooded the woods. We had no choice.” She paused and narrowed her eyes. 

“You see, Petra, being brutalized by loss for so long eventually makes one brutal in return.”

He swiftly grabbed a torch from its wall mount and came closer to her.

“Do you still want to see magic?” she asked him.

Petra stood frozen, unsure.

“Come. Press your lips to mine. I will show you.” Exasperation was woven in her tone. “What are you afraid of, young guardsman?” She looked at him, waited for his stare to meet hers then set the hook. “This is your chance. This is where you become part of the fable!” 

He stepped to the cage as if in a trance, torch raised between their faces. An admiration bordering on lust glowed in his pale-blue eyes. She knew it was more than a craving for the flesh, it was also his thirst for affirmation.

Fauna pressed her face to the bars. Petra leaned forward. Their lips pulled together like two magnets, connected. 

She instantly seized his mind, filled it with imagery. Flashes of Princess Rose laughing and chasing butterflies in a field with a slightly younger-looking Fauna. Faeries floating around an orchard of vibrantly green trees, plucking bright red apples, and tossing them down to maidens who gathered them into bushel baskets.

Unbeknownst to him ― while their fervent tongues swirled and Fauna directed the reverie in his head ― she was pulling from his subconscious.

Behind her lids, she saw a room and a table strewn with what looked like game pieces. The King and three of his men were plotting. The vision she was seeing was Petra’s as he guarded their side. She could not hear their words, but the rudimentary map clearly showed that they were on a course to finding her village.

She broke the kiss with a jolt, dropping the torch from his grip and sending it clamoring onto the cobblestone floor. She needed out. Now. She calmed her raging heart and spoke.

“Do you see?” she asked breathlessly. “How life once was?”

“Yes. Yes.” He spun away, running a hand through his flaxen hair.

“Free me, Petra. I will pull my people from our hidden sanctuary. In time, when we are safely settled elsewhere, I will reveal only to you the path into the abandoned village. You can lead an  insurgence confirming our vacancy. You, Petra, will be the hero of the story.”

He snatched the torch from the floor and flashed it to her face. Intensity charged the air as he analyzed her truthfulness. She could hear his breath. And in her blood, Fauna felt his mind working.

“There is a cave,” he finally spoke. “To the west. Two kilometers as the crow flies. It will be on the backside of our weakest flank in the front line.”

“I know the cave well,” she replied. And he clearly knows more about the invasion.

“To escape, you will need to get back through the King’s chamber. They have not yet reset the snare.” He was pacing to and fro in short strides. “If you are caught,” he turned and pointed the sharpened tip of his sword to her, “they will kill you on the spot.”

“Do not worry about me, Petra.” 

“I will give you a head start before I wake the King. Be forewarned, he will send his best trackers. But, I believe this escape will best his pride and hold him from initially launching the full-fledged attack. I will meet you in that cave and we will wait for first light.” He turned to her, an extended hand holding the cage steady. “In the morning, I will lead the men away from that western flank long enough for you to slip past.” 

“I underestimated your prowess. You will make a fine kingsman one day.”

Shaky fingers slipped the iron churchkey into the lock. He hesitated. Fauna slid her hand through the bars to caress him. “It is almost over, Petra.”

A snapping clank echoed the dungeon walls as he twisted the key.

                                                                                             

In the cave, Fauna’s attention was once again roused, this time by a rustling. She slid on her belly to the edge and peered down into the dark. A silhouette of a man appeared to be using the vines to scale the cliff. Petra. 

As he neared, she held out her hand and helped heave him in. He was breathless from the run.

“I was right,” he huffed. “The King sent four hunters―”

“They passed well over an hour ago,” she interrupted. 

“Good. They are not likely to double back. We have some time. It will be light soon. We should rest.” 

The cave was not large, but spacious enough for two bodies. As they huddled for warmth, Fauna ran a hand over the polished handle of Patra’s sword. Countless lives taken by the blade of ones similar. She unfastened where it was being held to his waist and slid it aside.

Petra was not to blame, not entirely. But his soul was that of a mortal and Fauna knew how that would ultimately narrate his fealty. He had knowledge and she had power. Perhaps a meld would reveal to her an end to the epic.  

Petra stroked his fingers through her short-cropped hair and down along her cheek. It was a gentle calming caress as if he could feel her mind working.

“What you showed me back there in the dungeon,” he whispered. “That was real? Tell me that was not trickery.”

Without an answer, she stood, hunched against the rock ceiling. He slid his back to the wall. Fauna kicked off her boots, shimmied her velvety trousers down and off, then straddled his waist. His hardness pressed against her even before she leaned in to kiss him. 

He would understand soon enough. 

As their bodies connected she kissed him and once again illuminated his mind with images. 

This time the story in his head intensified, hitching his body and breath as if he had plunged into an icy stream. His eyes were open staring blankly past her, like he was watching the cave wall come to life. Each movement brought more depth and clarity to his illusion. 

Fauna felt the rapid thrum of his heartbeat. Low moans filled the cool predawn air. With soft delicate hands, she cradled his jaw and kissed him deeper. Petra’s back arched as she took his body to places he had never felt before. 

Fauna tightened her grip on his face and pressed her lips more firmly until her breath became his. She pushed his spirit further into the story and Petra became more than just an observer to the days of old. In his mind, he was now an occupant.

She drew her lips away allowing his heart to slow; breathing almost at a standstill. Covering his eyelids with her palm, she slid them closed. Petra slumped into the rock, limp. 

“Sleep, young guardsman,” she lovingly whispered to his ear. “You have given me what I need and for that I am in your debt.” Her suspicion of his subconscious knowledge of the King’s initiative was accurate, as was her assumption of its usefulness. 

Stepping over, she laid him flat and slid him to the deepest part of the cavern. His sword was placed down the center of his body, both hands brought up to clasp the handle which lay on his chest. 

Fauna quickly redressed and knelt over him. 

“You will be safe here. I’ll come for you once we have eliminated all threats. If it takes more than one hundred years, I shall not forget you.” She placed the King’s stolen crown on Petra’s head, lit her wings with a dull opalescence, and disappeared into the forest.

                                                                                             

Commotion filled the forest air. Mechanical sounds. Buzzing, chopping, men whistling sharply and calling to each other with barks and shouts. Deforestation. 

“For Christ’s sake, Iver! Get that goddamn buzz-saw over to Radna. The cave is somewhere on that precipice and we are going to find it if I have to light this place up and work you donkeys through the night!” A large man stood on the blade of a steam-driven plough, a dark-earthed path carved in its wake. 

He stood tall, with broad shoulders. Crystal-blue eyes surveyed from beneath a tuft of blonde hair; unruly from the jungle’s unrelenting humidity. His attention swung back and forth from the workers to a folded map on worn parchment.  

The cave and its occupant had been encapsulated with over two-hundred years of thick lustrous overgrowth. As the cutting and chopping neared and layers were peeled away, dappled sunlight finally pierced its darkness. 

“I think we’ve got something, sir!” 

Fineus hopped from his perch and trudged laboriously to the base of the cliff. “Yes, yes, I see it up there. Get these damn vines away.” 

The men yanked and ripped, hitching chains to the trunks and pulling with the plough machine. With a thunderous crack, the grand tangle of limbs came crashing down. Ashen-grey granite, etched with the remnants of vine tendrils, towered mightily over the forest floor. 

“Well, I’ll be goddamned,” Fineus murmured. A smile squeezed his cheekbones into plump balls like he had acorns tucked under each eye. He took a deep breath. “You men stay here. No one but me.” He met each of their stares for confirmation before beginning his ascent. 

His wings fluttered, beating at the pace of a hummingbird, yet he rose slowly as if his massive frame was too much for them to carry. But the slow rise was not for lack of wing strength, his heart pounded inside his ribcage like a bull trying to escape its pen. Fineus was nervous. 

He finally reached the opening and took to a knee. The beating wings slowed and tucked flat to his broad back. He brushed away his sweat-laden hair and stared at the body. 

As best he could tell, there was little change from when Fauna left him, save for some dust and a few cobwebs. Far less than the vast span of time should have accumulated. The sleeping man’s face showed no signs of being touched by time. 

Fineus drew his pistol from the holster looped in his leather belt. Shaking hands spun the firearm and juxtaposed its stock to that of the sword still clutched in the prone man’s hands. The craftsmanship of the handles was an identical match. 

“Petra,” he whispered to the cave floor. “Right where she said you’d be.” Fineus crouched closer and placed a hand on the man’s chest. A slow rise and fall could be detected, very subtle, but it was there. 

“She taught me so many things over these years,” he continued to speak softly, afraid his words might escape over his shoulder. “The wonderment of life, the sanctity of death. And the fables… Oh, sweet Petra the fables that were the nightly courtship to my dreams.” 

Fineus pulled the folded map from his breast pocket bringing the incantation scrawled at the bottom into the faint glow of sunlight.

Only the act of a true-love kiss, shall pluck the spellbound from the abyss. 

He didn’t need the handwritten note, for he had committed Fauna’s words to memory. But an awakening of this magnitude felt ceremonious and so he read them aloud. 

“Only the act of a true-love kiss,” he leaned closer, “shall pluck the spellbound from the abyss.” 

His breath cascaded over Petra’s pale skin as he pressed their lips together and held. Seconds passed. A precious moment in time that Fineus would never forget; only pulling away when he felt the stir. 

Petra blinked his eyes open and closed several times, squinting to shield them from the burn of light. A low grunt emanated from his core as his breathing fought to restore to normalcy. 

Eventually, through his skewed eyelids, he was able to connect with the figure before him. 

In a gruff and firm baritone, Fineus slowly spoke as if Petra were a child hearing words for the first time. “Let that which Death shall burst asunder, course the heart’s lifeblood with the beat of thunder.”

He removed the crown, promptly sliding the sword from Petra’s weakened grip and nudged the barrel of his pistol to the frightened man’s temple. 

“In the end,” he said sternly, “it will not matter who was right and who was wrong. In the end, we will be unapologetic for our differences, only resurrected by the voices of those bound to servitude telling centuries-old fables. In the end, no matter who we save, no matter who we love we will be reduced to carbon, bones left to fossilize the earth.” He took in a deep breath and smiled. “Welcome to the new world… father.” 

                                                                ~ THE END ~ 

 

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Copyright © Thought of and written by me. Do not copy or re-post without my permission.

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