Aurora was pacing up and down her room. She was in an anguished state. She constantly kept looking at her hands and wondered something. She would stop in her tracks every now and then but then resume walking again. What was it that infested her thoughts?
The King had tried to find what troubled his wife but he was not successful. He held meetings with astrologers, magicians and even went to meet the witch who lived on the outskirts of his kingdom. But no one seemed to have any answers. He had finally given up. If it was something really serious she would speak it up. He engaged himself in the affairs of the state.
Aurora had become another woman. She was no longer the fair, graceful queen but a pale, scornful shadow of her former self. Everyone feared her fits of anger and no one wanted to stay in her company for longer than a minute. The King too found her unbearable and started spending longer times in the courtroom with his advisors. It was a dire situation.
One day all his subjects got together to speak with the King. They had a suggestion. It was supposedly her childlessness that was troubling the Queen and so they asked the King to take necessary steps. After they bowed and left the courtroom, the King laughed at his foolishness. It was so important and yet so trivial. He decided to have a talk with Aurora. Apparently it was time she gave an heir to the throne. When he reached her chamber, he found it empty. The whole palace was searched but Aurora could not be found anywhere. The King felt bewildered. Where could she have gone? A close confidante of the Queen reluctantly informed him that she had gone riding in the meadows. The King decided that he could wait till tomorrow and departed to his bed chamber.
Aurora had a lover. She was in love. Again. Or was it for the first time that she was experiencing love. When she reached the small stable beside the green cottage on the river-side she felt a surge of happiness she had not felt before. There he was, smiling serenely waiting for her. She flung herself into his open arms and a moment later kissed him passionately. She wanted to say a thousand things. She wanted to tell him how much she loved him and what he meant to her. But she could only say his name, again and again, as if it was a spell to strengthen this enchantment that had befallen her.
And in that one word she expressed the universe. She knew he understood. After a while when her passion subsided, Jacob led her to the bank of the river. It was their usual routine. Sometimes they sat at the foot of the hills, sometimes on the bank of the river. Sometimes they sat their silently gazing at the stars, at others he told her of the distant kingdoms he had visited and the wonders that were to be seen in the world. Jacob was not a prince but he had something which even the greatest kings of the world did not have – a free soul. Aurora secretly envied him. She wanted to be like him- a wanderer.
Tonight they sat beside the river. Neither spoke anything till it was time for Aurora to leave. It happened every day. She was growing weary of the palace.
“I do not wish to return Jacob. I want to stay with you. Please take me with you.”
Everyday she said this and everyday Jacob replied the same thing.
“I am no one to take you anywhere Aurora. You should be the one to take yourself anywhere you want.”
Every day she would ask him to run away with her and everyday he would say “But you are still a Queen.”
She never understood what he meant. She had declared a hundred times that she had no desire to be a queen but he always said that she was not ready yet.
How would he understand that she was ready? How can she make herself ready? These were the questions which plagued her mind all the time she was in the palace. Her inability to understand would make her resentful and then she would get into a passion throwing things around, punishing her servants on trivial things. She knew they had begun to call her the mad Queen.
When she returned to the castle after a tearful goodbye with Jacob she was informed by Annabell her faithful servant that the King had called for her. She asked where the King was and when she learned that he was sleeping, she retired to her bed chamber.
But sleep was miles away from her eyes. Sleep. That is what she had done for hundred years.
The servants lined up outside the Queen’s private chamber. Listening through the keyhole. The Mad Queen was in one of her fits. She was throwing things around while the King watched her helplessly.
Aurora could hear the whispers of the servants outside her parlor. It was enraging her. Her chest swelled and she drew a sword. The King decided it was time for some action and held her by her waist from behind while trying to wrestle the sword out of her hand. She struggled for a moment and then resigned. The King took a sigh of relief but trouble had only just begun. Aurora began to cry, hot, fat tears gushing out of her eyes like falls from a mountain. She was crying uncontrollably. The King did not know what to do. He decided to leave her alone and moved toward the door but then returned back. He stood irresolutely for a second then softly touched her on her left shoulder “Are you in pain?”
That was the most stupid thing he could think of and yet for Aurora it was of great immense importance.
“Yes…yes…yes” She replied amidst her sobs. “I am in pain. Pain you can never understand Philip.”
He sat down beside her and patted her head.
“I know, I know. I have a solution.”
Aurora looked up, bewildered. What possibly could he suggest to ease her pain?
“You should have a child. You should become a mother!” He exclaimed triumphantly. Poor Philip, he hardly knew that he had renewed Aurora’s anguish.
Aurora looked shocked and her tears stopped falling. She stared blankly at Philip who thought it was a sign of agreement. He kissed her forehead jubilantly and left. Aurora fell into renewed sobs.
Aurora knew that Philip cared for her. He might even be in love with her. But she was not. She felt imprisoned. Why was it that she had no choice? She agreed that it was true love that awoke her, but now it was no longer there. The love had faded away in the years of longing for freedom. She longed to see the oceans and wished to visit the end of the world. She would often dream herself on a ship sailing toward an unknown horizon. Once she had told Philip about her dream and he had dismissed it as a childish thought. He had said “Aurora, You are supposed to be a Queen. You are not a vagabond. How can you think of leaving all this behind?”
She remembered how hard she had tried to devote herself to the works of the Kingdom but there was none to be done by a woman. All that was required of her was to dress up in the most exquisite of fabrics and grace everyone with her presence. She tried to do it but it was all so stupid, so vain. She had vague memories of the time when she was a little girl. She would run after butterflies, soak her dress in mud and laugh. She longed for that freedom. Why was it that she had to remain prim and proper all the time? It was these thoughts that slowly drove her mad and induced her with the fits of rage which had now become a part of her personality. There was only one place where she found solace, beside the river bank. It was there when she had met Jacob for the first time. He was a rugged looking tall man. There was nothing handsome about him. In fact he looked like a bandit but there was something which attracted Aurora toward him. He had an air of indifference about him. He looked like he had no care in the world. He was not affected by what others thought of him. They started meeting secretly and gradually Aurora fell in love with him.
Aurora decided that it was time for her to come clean about her night time escapades with Philip. She didn’t want to be a mother, not yet and definitely not with Philip’s child.
She was pacing up and down in her chamber when Philip came. It was almost midnight. When Philip first saw her, he was taken aback. There was something different about Aurora today. She looked like a different person altogether. She smiled. He had not seen her smile for what seemed like ages. She came toward him and held his hand. It did not feel right. Something was wrong.
Before he could say anything Aurora shushed him. She began speaking. It felt like she had spoken for hours. All Philip could understand was that she did not want to be a mother and that she was leaving him.
He sat down. He could not understand. Why would she want to leave? After all she had everything. She was the Queen. When he had composed himself he said “Aurora, you cannot leave. You are a queen. How can you leave?”
She smiled politely and said “I can Philip and I am leaving, but you won’t understand.”
And suddenly it dawned on him. He asked “Do you love another?”
She said “Yes” and left the room. Philip remained behind, wondering what she had just said, pondering over what went wrong.
Aurora was riding her steed, racing toward the familiar cottage beside the river. Her heart began to pound loudly when the cottage slowly came in her sight. She urged her steed to run faster. She did not want to be late anymore. But there was something wrong. The cottage lay in darkness. There was no light. Terrible thoughts began to cloud her mind. Had Philip known all along? Is he behind all this? She shrugged all such thoughts, and rode with hope in her heart. She climbed down her saddle when she reached the fence and reached the gate of the cottage running, tumbling. She cried “Jacob…come out…”
No one replied. There was definitely something wrong. She went inside the cottage and searched for the candle on the wooden rack by the door. The matchstick lay nearby. She lit the candle. The cottage looked fine. There was no sign of any mishap. She heaved a sigh of relief. She sat on the cot. Jacob must have gone to the river. But he did not return for an hour. Aurora was troubled now. She frantically searched for any signs of him, where he might have gone. There was a letter under the pillow. She suddenly had a feeling of foreboding. She opened it with trembling hands.
First I need to tell you that I love you. Never doubt that, even for a moment in your life. I have loved you like an ocean loves a river, like a mountain loves snow. None is complete without the other and yet they both can exist without the other. I love you and it anguishes my heart to leave you behind. But Aurora you must understand that the thing we both love most is freedom. Freedom is why you love me.
Dear lately I have felt that you have begun to rely on me. I do not want that. You can never find freedom till you stop relying on others. Freedom should come from within. Freedom is in your soul and it should come from within. Not from someone else. Not even from someone you love. Love frees, it does not bind. I know we all have to settle at some part of our life and it is a part of the journey. But it is not the time for me to settle, not yet. I cannot say if it is for you. You will have to look out for yourself.
In all these months I have known you I have learned one thing about you that you love freedom. You love freedom more than you love me. And that’s okay. The love I got from you is enough. But you were beginning to think that I am your key to freedom. No dear I am not. The only person who can truly free you is you, yourself.
Please don’t wait for me. I may not return. Wanderers are not meant to. And don’t waste your time grieving, lamenting for me. Instead use your time to find yourself, your destiny, your freedom. Hope you find the true meaning inside you.
She read and re-read the letter and yet she was not satisfied. She drank his writing with her eyes. She caressed his signature, the last she would ever see. She sat like that for a long time, trying to understand his words.
It was almost dawn when she left the cottage and moved toward the river. It was so serene. She had always liked it here. She still held Jacob’s last letter in her hands. She sat on the rocky riverside and looked at the sun which was beginning to rise from behind the mountain. A pair of doves flew past her into the horizon. Aurora watched them fly till they became small dots against the scarlet sky. She looked at the letter in her hand. And suddenly it all made sense. She understood what Jacob had said.
She stood up. Her steed was grazing nearby. It was time to return to the palace for one last time.
There was uproar at the palace. Annabell came running to her when Aurora reached the palace. She briefed her about the King’s fits of anger and how he was uttering incoherent things. Aurora told her to stay behind. She went inside the chamber where Philip was waiting, angrily.
He spun around when he heard the door being shut. There she was, taller than she had ever stood before him. He would not let her talk, not this time.
He tried to grab her wrist but she held him aloft with her hand. His anger suddenly began to subside. He was not used to this strong Aurora. All his life he had known his wife to be weak, vulnerable, dependant. What had happened to her?
He said “Aurora, what has got into you? Have you been near that witch?”
Aurora interrupted “Don’t call her that. She is a woman like me like any other you know.”
Philip swallowed then began again “Ok. Whatever you say dear, whatever pleases you. Tell me what has changed you? You said that you love another but how can you? Don’t you remember? I kissed you. I woke you up from your enchanted sleep.”
Aurora looked at him. There was pity in her eyes but she did not interrupt him this time.
He continued “Wasn’t it prophesied that you will be woken up by only true love’s kiss? Wasn’t it my kiss, your true love that woke you up?”
He looked at her questioningly. He waited for her to answer. Aurora looked in his eyes, then held his hand and motioned him to sit on the bed. She then went to the window and opened the curtains.
It was time for her to say, to make Philip understand before she goes on her journey.
She began “Philip do you see that mountain at the end of our kingdom?” She pointed out of the window.
Philip nodded affirmative.
She asked “Do you know what lies beyond that?”
Philip said “No.”
Aurora again asked him “Have you ever in your life wanted to know what is beyond that mountain or where does the river Thelma comes from?”
Philip looked bewildered. What was the point of these questions. He said “No. But Aurora…”
She interrupted him “I have. I have wanted to know all this and much more since the first day I came here as your bride. I want to see the world, Philip. I never had the opportunity. I was asleep for hundred years and things changed and I didn’t know. I still don’t know. But I want to.”
She paused for words, kinder ones to make it less painful for Philip. “When you woke me up I had no idea who you were, I didn’t know what might be waiting outside for me. I was like a newborn Philip. So when you asked me to marry you I said yes. I was scared, not prepared. I never wanted to be a Queen, I wanted to be a wanderer Philip, a vagabond. “
She was facing the sun now. She turned back toward him.
“When you say that it was true love’s kiss that woke me up, you are right but Philip it was not your love that woke me up. It was my love for freedom that woke me up.”
Philip was now beyond bewilderment. He did not understand a word that Aurora said. He looked at her shocked. He could only say “What do you mean? I am not your true love?”
She smiled again and said “No Philip. You are not. I had been asleep for hundred years and my heart longed for freedom. It fluttered when you came along. You became the medium for my freedom, Philip. You know Philip my heart, inside of me, it is of a vagabond. I cannot stay at one place for a long time and I was forced to, for hundred years.” She paused. “I may be wrong. May be you are my true love. But it does not feel right at the moment. I am suffering and I am making you suffer. You are a King, Philip. You have a kingdom to look after and I dare say you despise it. But I am not a Queen. I never was. I hope you will understand. I am going and I need you to not come after me. I may return some day but that day is nowhere near. I give you right to remarry and have children. I won’t despise you for moving on. But please don’t wait for me. I am a wanderer and Wanderers don’t return.”
With this she turned away from him. She knew that Philip won’t stop her now and someday he will understand. She did not feel the need to pack her belongings. She just walked outside the palace barefoot, toward the stable. Her steed would be her only companion on her journey.