Author's Notes: I don't know why this chapter was so difficult to write, but I've spent the better part of a week putting the finishing touches on this piece. I still think it sounds a bit...weird in places, but that may just be my having edited and re-edited to the point that everything reads like Egyptian hieroglyphics. xDD It's one of the hazards of writing fic. As the author, it always sounds like the worst garbage ever known to FFNet until you've waited a couple weeks and can revisit your work with fresh eyes. As of now, the whole thing is just Klingon garble. T.T
I do like the overall train of thought. Don't worry, I won't spend the entirety of the story in the castle of the human kingdom. The first three or four chapters are for laying a foundation and reinforcing the connection of this story to the ending plot of the original 2014 film (that got retconned/massacred in the recent 2019 sequel). Because Maleficent's "heart is bright," as stated by the elderly Aurora in the first flick, our winged fairy isn't quite the angst-ridden blowhard that she is during the sixteen years of Aurora's curse (and the extra year or so prior to the princess' birth). She's still Maleficent, of course, but with more of that "weightlessness" that you see during Maleficent's youth. Aurora is still very much the Aurora of 2014, not the somber, family-abandoning imposter that she was in MoE. Diaval too is the character we know and love—bold, melodramatic, and full of affectionate snark.
And speaking of raveny things, I'm presently playing through The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief, a 2013 point-and-click adventure game for Xbox 360. Pleasing little gem, with a very lovable—if not bumbling—protagonist, whose name I've taken the liberty of using for the character of Ulstead's Captain of the Guard in my fic. (Not super fond of using OCs in my stories, but the world of Maleficent all but requires it if you intend on venturing any further than the borders of the Moors in building plot.) Keep an eye out for him towards the latter half of the chapter.
Disclaimer: Maleficent and all associated characters/stories © Disney. The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief © King Art Games, The Adventure Company, and THQ.
She might never have admitted it out loud—and short of excruciating pain of death, never would—but Diaval was a source of tremendous comfort.
The castle unnerved Maleficent. Even with the revitalizing presence of their "Beastie," the very structure of palace life was suffocating for the winged fae. Even the look of it was constricting: its tall stone walls and tumbling row of towers; the small, square windows and gates with iron bars; the inorganic feel of its fixtures and finery. Its design was such as to keep the inhabitants in, and unwanted visitors out.
And therein laid the baffling contradiction.
There were hundreds upon hundreds of rooms and corridors...but space was cramped. The ceilings stretched for days...but there was too little room to fly. For all the expanse of it, the castle was a cage. There was no sun. There was no open sky. The very ground she walked upon felt cold.
Like a bird trapped beneath a net.
At the chilling thought, her breathing hitched. Her surroundings spun. But she steadied herself with one blink, two blinks, as a shaking hand groped desperately for her second but equally reliable set of "wings."
Diaval, with an understanding he never voiced, positioned his head for her falling fingers, nudging them slightly with a soft bunt of his crown. His talons pricked at her kneecaps, his tiny raven toes leaving the faintest, four-pronged impression in the fabric of her dress. He croaked encouragement, and soon her left hand joined her right one in smoothing the sleek planes of his neck. It went crosswise with his nature to stay still for long. But in moments like these, when the fairy's stress was at its peak, he stayed near and unmoving until Maleficent calmed and the moment passed.
He could recall days, especially dark days, when she'd stroked his wings for what felt like hours. Though he'd often boasted of her inability to ever get along without him, he did wonder, soberly, what would have become of her without someone, anyone there to help buffer the hurt.
Thankfully, it'd been some years since such a day. Having the young Aurora to raise and care for had much improved the embittered fairy, rerouting hatred for the father into an affectionate, motherly love for the daughter. And Diaval too considered Aurora his own. Together, he and his "Mistress" had tended to the princess' needs—first as an excuse to "keep the little brat alive" (in Maleficent's words only), and later out of genuine love for the sole offspring either had ever known.
Aurora had taken the news of her true lineage quite well. ...Nor had she seemed overly surprised that the raven playmate of her youth had served as her primary caretaker since the now-infamous "christening curse." The pixies, fond of them as the princess was, were ill-equipped for handling much of, well, anything. That they had somehow miraculously seen her through to her adolescent years was a yarn even the trusting Aurora didn't buy. But they were still her "Aunties," bumbling inefficiencies and all, and not a floral crown or even the governing of two kingdoms would lessen the tenderness she held for them in her heart.
Maleficent and Diaval were, likewise, her "godmother" and "godfather," endearments used near-interchangeably with "parents." Some days she went as far as calling them "Mother" and "Father," unfamiliar as she was with her family of birth. Queen Leila, bless her, had died a tragic death of disappointment and neglect. And Stefan had met his just ends by, in actuality, his own hand. Though the fairy had yet to divulge the "particulars" of her past, the princess understood it was he, the king, who had stolen her "godmother's" wings. It had been a vile, sickening act...but the more forgiving parts of her couldn't help but pity the sad, grisly man he had become. She had called him "father" just once, unaware of who and what he really was, and vowing never again upon learning the truth. Diaval, the first "man" she'd ever laid eyes on in life, was the only creature worthy of the honor. And while Aurora mourned the circumstances of the late queen, the "mother" she loved was in the form of the magical fairy who'd overseen her care.
It was her "parents" the pretty princess now observed, once again nestled in their selective seating at the front of the Great Hall. As was expected of the pair, the fairy sat with her back straight and head high, regarding the commotion of the crowd with a sort of repressed unease. Diaval, never more than an arm's reach away, had perched himself atop Maleficent's lap, his raven body still and his uncommonly kind eyes drinking in the excitement of the room. Aurora couldn't recall ever seeing one without the other, but was uncertain to the exact nature of their relationship. She knew well enough not to ask outright—she doubted it would do much good if she did—even as her girlish, romantic mind ran wild with secret hope.
But for all the fun she had watching them together, Aurora wished they would at least attempt to intermingle with the palace court. They were parents to the soon-to-be queen of the human kingdom, and as much as she considered the Moors her home, the humans of the land were her own kind. She had a responsibility to them. By and large, they needed far more guidance and moral steering than the whimsical Moors ever would. The whole point of their "gatherings" was for both sides to learn how to respect and communicate with the other. For that, Diaval was clearly the better choice. But there was nothing for it in his present form, a raven who could only "caw" and "squawk" and "screech." And for reasons Maleficent had yet to share, she steadfastly refused bringing him to the castle as a "man." The fairy herself made for a poor conversationalist, so accustomed to solitude and lacking in even the most basic of social graces.
Dealing with her "godmother" required a certain "thick-skinnedness," Aurora knew. She wasn't a "wicked" or mean-spirited thing, but the Moors were a land of forthcoming creatures, ill-versed in lies, trickery or deceit. And thus, their language and mannerisms were more...direct. They felt and lived as the moment decreed. They were as kind as anything could be, but were irreverent of pomp and circumstance. Even the crowning of their "queen" was as simple as a coming together of the inhabitants to place a pretty gold circlet on a head of pretty golden hair.
Her "human" coronation would be nowhere near as cut and dry. There would be dress fittings and guest lists and the Creator knew how many decorations to be hung. There would be food enough for three kingdoms, a lavish ball, and no small amount of wine. All of which would take time and planning to prepare. It would likely be some weeks, maybe even months, before Aurora "officially" ascended the throne. It was her hope that between now and that time, humans and her "godparents"—and by extension, all the people of the Moors—were on more amicable terms.
...Which wasn't at all likely to happen with the fairies and humans clinging stubbornly to opposing sides of the room.
She had been mere seconds from thrusting the closest royal she could find into an audience with the fae, when in a surprising stroke of fate, a quartet of able-bodied young men segregated themselves from the crowd. A curious silence fell over Aurora and the other guests as they marched with a warrior's stride to the expanse of space before Maleficent and her retainer bird. With but a glimpse of their dark blue uniforms, Aurora recognized them immediately as elite soldiers of Ulstead. They had been among the first of the visiting dignitaries to welcome her return, Ulstead having sent their sole heir and prince ahead in the hopes of securing, through marriage, a mutually beneficial political alliance. Leading the esteemed pack was the prince himself, Philip, dressed in an equally dashing suit of blue with gold trim. The fine buckles and trappings of their attire glowed warmly under the light of the candelabra, the group maintaining a polite distance at the sight of Maleficent's cautious eyes and expanding wings.
Pleased as she was with the development, Aurora had to question the wisdom of introducing soldiers, of all people, to the inherently combative fae. Yet none of the men were armed, and Philip stood as a barrier between Maleficent and his company, bearing an outstretched arm and a charming smile.
"Lady Maleficent," he greeted with a formal bow. "What a pleasure it is to see you again!"
The fairy raised a skeptical brow. "Is it?"
"Why of course! With as highly as her highness speaks of you, I feel as though there is no greater honor than having the protector of the Moors here as our esteemed guest."
The look on her face suggested "Lady Maleficent" was not impressed. But the prince, unaffected lad that he was, didn't miss a beat.
"May I introduce Anton Jakob Zellner, Captain of the Guard and personal escort to the Prince of Ulstead." To that he offered a bumbling laugh, sheepishly rubbing at the back of his neck. "That's me, of course."
The childishness of the response made Aurora giggle. Philip, bless him, was as honest and good-natured as they came. But he lacked the elegance of a more refined royal.
The princess liked him that way.
"Your ladyship," the captain stepped forward with a formal bow of his own. "Allow me to echo the prince's sentiments. Tales of your combative prowess have reached even the halls of the neighboring Castle Ulstead. And whatever side we fight upon, soldiers respect soldiers."
Posture erect, he balled his right fist, raising it to rest firmly against the peak of his left shoulder blade.
"From one warrior to another, I offer my welcome to the human kingdom."
The two soldiers standing behind him repeated the action in kind.
Maleficent, visibly taken aback by the speech, offered a nod of acknowledgement to the captain and his two guards. Aurora would take puzzlement over hostility any day, though her "godmother's" nervous stroking of Diaval's feathers did not escape the princess' attention.
It did not escape the watchful Zellner's either.
"Fine friend you've got there," he offered warmly.
"This is Diaval," Philip, ever the cheerful obliviant, offered with a primp of his coat. "He is the…" A clunky pause. "He is Maleficent's, er, well…"
Uncertain how to explain the multi-faceted bird, the prince's voice trailed off. He wasn't sure what he should say, or if the one or two things he'd ascertained he could say, being so poorly versed in fair folk etiquette and only half-understanding of what Diaval and Maleficent even were. Staying in the good graces of Aurora's "godparents" was key if he had any hope of someday marrying the princess. But Maleficent and Diaval weren't traditional "parents," and Aurora wasn't a traditional "princess."
He wasn't quite sure how to proceed.
Sensing his discomfort, Aurora swooped in to save the fumbling prince.
"He is Godfather," she interjected, not a second's hesitation in her words. "He helped raise me, alongside Godmother."
As was always the case when she introduced Diaval, the raven, as her "father" or "godfather," she received no shortage of peculiar looks. It was to be expected as, in his present form, he was no more to humans than a large, pretty bird. Rumors had circulated through the court of her "suspect faculties," and whether the princess suffered the same "malady of the mind" that had plagued King Stefan for the bulk of his reign. Only Philip knew the truth—that the raven's form shifted at her "godmother's" will—but to say as such would only further the people's uncertainty to the soundness of her mental state.
It would have made things much easier presenting Diaval to the court as a man. But that was a point on which her "godmother" had insistently refused to budge. A part of Aurora understood. Maleficent was a possessive creature by nature, a characteristic fueled all the more by Stefan's treachery and the loss of her wings. Diaval had served as a "replacement" for the ones she'd lost for over seventeen years. Yet even with the return of her body's own, she considered him no less her "wings" than when he'd navigated the skies in her stead. In a sense, Diaval was as much a part of her as the feathers protruding from the joints in her back. To lose him now would be no different than when Stefan had sawed off her own those many, many years ago. It was evident with how she covered him, her hands forming an almost protective shielding between herself and any creature that approached who wasn't the princess. It was both sad and endearing, and Aurora hoped that with time, what little was left of the brokenness in her "godmother's" heart would heal.
For his part, Diaval showed no concern. He seemed as blithely accepting of the situation as he was all situations, his raven body puffed and his beak moving about in what Aurora assumed was a very prideful "hello." She giggled again at the sight of the soldiers, their eyes widening at the bizarre, humanlike behaviors of what they perceived was a common bird. The more mischievous part of her wished Maleficent would flick her wrist and will him into a man, just to see the faces of the crowd as he manifested in wisp and smoke, tall and lean and ethereal as only Diaval was.
But Maleficent was not feeling tricksy today.
Whether the unexpectedness of the speech or an acceptance that the soldiers meant no harm, the horned fairy visibly settled, resuming her reverent soothing of Diaval's feathered physique. The barest of smiles formed as her forefinger moved to the sensitive spot at the dip of the raven's neck. He wobbled druggedly at the sensation, as Philip and the soldiers watched with rapt interest.
"Quite the spoiled pet, isn't he?"
The shared exclaim that immediately followed—"He isn't a pet!"—made the group flinch, Maleficent and Aurora glaring sternly at the insinuation that Diaval was a "kept animal." Both "godmother" and "goddaughter" knew it was a misspeak of ignorance, but the simplifying of Diaval's identity ruffled feathers—one of gold, one of earthen brown—just the same. Regret was evident in the face of the captain of the guard, his hands raised in a gesture of no intended disrespect. It was a greater breach of etiquette than the poor captain could comprehend, but the apology sufficed. For though Maleficent's eyes were hard, the wings that had flared out in offense slowly lowered to a place of rest at the fairy's back.
Softer, but to reiterate the point, Maleficent emphasized with a look that Diaval was indeed more than what he seemed. "He isn't a pet." She paused, her hands returning once more to the gingerly caressing of her nestmate's head. "Spoiled and insufferably indulged? Yes."
A palpable relief washed through the room, Aurora laughing at a caw of protest as the raven bounced animatedly on Maleficent's knee. Snickering, the fairy snuck a hand around back to tug at one of Diaval's ebony tail-feathers, eliciting playful pecks and pokes from the raven's beak.
The candelabra flickered as the evening wore on. Zellner and the guards were the last—and only—visitors of the night; no one else came forward for an audience with the fae. Tension dissolved, Philip and his company retired to a private gathering across the Hall, leaving the happy huddle of fairy, raven, and princess to their own.
Perchance it was only a trick of the light, but the gap separating the humans and fae folk, the sides to which they had been so stubbornly "stuck," seemed not quite so far apart as they had before.