The sun rays filtered through sheer silk curtains hung on large windows which opened to the large green gardens. The garden was alive with spring bloom and intoxicating fragrance of honey. The palace grounds had been opened for the commoners and the atmosphere was abuzz with laughter and mirth of merry making young men and women. But inside the palace the atmosphere was of gloom and desolation.
In the right wing of the palace, was Queen Aurora’s chamber. And presently Aurora was pacing up and down her room. Her face reflected the anguish of her heart. She was pacing up and down the room- sometimes with quick steps and sometimes with slow thoughtful steps.
Every now and then she rubbed her hands and looked at them. It was clear that she was deeply troubled but not a soul in the kingdom knew what troubled her.
The King, her husband, wished to know what ailed her but the silence which now pervaded their relationship kept him at bay. The truth was months after marriage cracks began to appear in their relationship. They tried to repair but bandages always leave marks. And so the status was that they barely spoke and their relationship was more impersonal than was between the king and his subjects.
The truth was Aurora had changed, changed beyond repair. She was no longer the kind, soft-spoken and considerate queen mother but had become a scornful, angry wife. Her fits of anger were dreaded and no one stayed in her company longer than a minute. The King too began to find her unbearable and spent more and more time in the courtroom with his advisors.
The divide between the King and the Queen was not lost at the King’s advisors and after much deliberation among themselves they decided to approach the King. It was a particularly bad day for the King when his advisors put forth their suggestion.
“Joseph, this is foolish. You think that in this situation she ought to have a child?”
“Yes, My Lord. I think she needs someone to indulge and what could be better than a child. Besides it is high time the Queen fulfilled her duty towards the kingdom.”
King pondered over Joseph’s suggestion. It was difficult indeed, very difficult but the prudence of the advice could not be ignored. After all Aurora will have to become a mother some day.
After he finished his courtroom duties, Philip approached Aurora’s chamber. He stopped just outside the chamber, not sure if he should go in. It amazed him how distanced he had become with his wife. He slowly pushed the door open. The chamber was quiet and window to the garden was open. He walked in and found the chamber was empty. He looked around, the bed curtains hung limp from the bed post and a slow wind flew in through the open window. With small steps he walked to the window and stood with his back towards the door. Where was Aurora?
A few miles away, on the outskirts of the kingdom a small hill rose on the banks of a brook. For past few months a young man had taken up residence in an old abandoned hut at the foot of the hill. He could be seen standing outside his hut with his hands at his back. He was smiling at someone. Soon the person approached near. It was Aurora on horseback. Her anguished state had subsided and a beautiful smile adorned her face.
The man reached forward and helped Aurora to unmount the horse.
“Jacob” Aurora flew in his arms and they remain clasped in each other’s arms for a long time. Afterwards Jacob held Aurora’s hands and led her to the river bank. It was their usual routine. Whenever Aurora came to meet him, they would sit at the river bank and talk. He would tell her of his adventures in far off lands, wonders he had seen while traveling and Aurora would listen entranced. She would often express her desire to travel with him, to see the world beyond her kingdom. 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.
They sat for hours till it was time for Aurora to return. The sun had begun its journey westward and the birds had begun their journey home.
“It’s time. You must go now.” said Jacob.
Aurora looked at him with sad eyes. She had begun to grow weary of the palace. After a pause she said “I do not wish to return Jacob. I want to stay with you. Please take me with you.”
Jacob stood thinking for a while, his brown eyes fixed at a point beyond the hills. At length he said,
“I am no one to take you anywhere Aurora. You should be the one to take yourself anywhere you want.”
With this he turned towards her and looked in her sapphire eyes and said “You need to go now. You are not ready.”
The ride back to the castle was painful for Aurora. Every passing vista made her heart ache. When she entered her chamber she found Philip standing at the open window staring at the setting sun.
Philip had retired to his chamber and left her vexed. What he said kept echoing in her mind, she was cross and what made her unhappy was the fact that Philip no longer cared.
When she entered the chamber she found Philip waiting. She expected some questioning, some enquiries, but Philip never asked where she had gone.
In calculated words he expressed his wish of having a child, commented on her duty towards the kingdom and took his leave. Aurora felt an unknown pain spear her heart. Was having a child just a duty? Hot tears began to pour from her eyes. Her knees began to tremble and she slumped on the floor in a heap.
Philip returned to his chamber but sleep was miles way. What just happened in the Queen’s chamber greatly perturbed him. HE began to wonder if he should have been tender towards Aurora. What was it that made him so cold towards her? He remembered the early days of their marriage when Aurora was satisfied with her life, curious about the kingdom, always asking questions. Then she began to question what was beyond the hills, what were the other kingdoms like? She wanted to travel and she wanted him to accompany her. But it was not possible for a King and unbecoming in a queen. “You are a Queen not a vagabond,” he had told her “how can you think of leaving all this behind.” Soon their disagreement turned to quarrels and now their lay an icy silence between them.
Philip decided to talk to Aurora again – in better words, to tell her about her responsibility to have a child. When he returned to her chamber, he found Aurora on the floor crying inconsolably. He stood irresolutely for a moment, uncertain what to do. Then he knelt beside her and began to pat her head. Aurora stopped abruptly and raised her head to look at him. Her eyes were red with tears and her face had the most pitiful look that Philip could swear he had never seen even in a beggar.
When Philip left Aurora began to cry for her heart ache was unbearable. She remembered all the talks Philip had given her about her duty towards the kingdom. She remembered the early days of her marriage when she had expressed her desire to travel around the world and see new places, Philip had rubbished her entreaties by saying that they both had a duty towards the kingdom and their subjects. Aurora had tried to busy herself in the works of kingdom but there was scarcely any serious thing to be done by a woman. All that was required of her was to look good and grace everyone with her presence.
In no time Aurora found herself dissatisfied with her existence. She found all of it vain. Surely there was a greater purpose in life. These questions made her mad. There was only one place where she found tranquility, at the river bank. And it was here she first met Jacob. Jacob was a vivacious young man who was full of wonderful stories about far off lands and strange creatures. Listening to his talks and wondering about his marvelous adventures Aurora did not realize when she fell in love with him. Over the time she had begun to see him as her redeemer, someone who would take her away and show her the wonders of the world.
When she began to cry all this went through her mind. She thought she was too close to her freedom and now it was being snatched away again. She was expected to become a mother and stay in the castle forever. It was pitiful and she could not but feel pathetic about herself.
She did not hear Philip coming back and became aware of him only when he patted her head. It all came out suddenly and in the heat of the moment Aurora confessed about her relationship with Jacob.
Philip was flabbergasted. Not even in his dreams had he thought of Aurora having another lover. Wasn’t it true love when he woke her up from hundred year’s long sleep? It wasn’t supposed to be this way. But Aurora seemed to have made her mind.
She tried to express her regret but failed for what she felt was not regret only pity for their failed relationship. Philip had not said a word after her confession and had slumped on the soft bed. HE held his head in his hand and sat like a man whose world had come tumbling down. Aurora stood before him, ready to hear his accusations, ready with her answers but none came. The window was still open and Aurora could see that the night sky had begun to get darker and faint glimmer of stars were visible. If she had to go she must leave before it was too dark.
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. 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. With trembling heart 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 and turned around. An eerie sight met her eyes. The cottage was empty. There was no sign of life around. The bed was empty, the corner stand which held a water pitcher stood forlorn. Few of the paintings which Aurora had once brought to make the cottage look more homely hung on the wall desolately. Her eyes welled with tear. Was it her mistake to tell Philip about her love for Jacob? Had he been so prompt to take a new prisoner? Such terrible thoughts began to cloud her mind when her eyes fell on a parchment stuck on the window sill. It was a familiar writing. Jacob had curled the r’s as usual.
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 point in 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 soul. 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 and sat on the rocky riverside. The sun had begun to rise and the sky was painted red with early morning rays. 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.
When Aurora reached the palace the sun had finished his ascendance and soft warm breeze filled the air with sweet smell of morning flowers. Aurora stopped in the palace gardens and inhaled the fragrance of flowers and strangely they smelt like freedom. She smiled. Had she gone mad?
She found Philip sitting in her chamber. It looked like he had not moved a muscle since their confrontation. She realized it was going to be tough but also knew that it was necessary for her own good and for Philip’s.
When Philip heard her footsteps he raised his head and looked straight in her eyes, something they had been avoiding for a long time now. Aurora too did not avert her eyes and looked back at him. She did not want to screen the truth that her eyes were ready to speak.
At length Philip spoke, “So you have made up your mind?”
Philip said “And what happened to our true love? You do know what the prophecy said about your hundred year’s sleep.”
Aurora did not speak at once. Philip owed her some patience.
“I know very well about the prophecy and I am sorry that you have to go through all this.”
“Go through all this. Is that all you have you to say?” Philip stood up and his face became clouded. HE had been withholding his anger for a long time but he could not any longer.
“HAVE YOU GONE MAD?” Philip said bellowing. “You want to ruin our marriage for your little whim?”
“What you are calling a little whim is my long harbored dream.” Aurora replied calmly.
“Dream…Dream. So this kingdom…the throne…it means nothing to you…its nothing before your dream?”
“It is. But this kingdom, this throne you talk about has all along been YOUR dream. It gives you satisfaction to know that you fulfill your duties. But me…I spend sleepless night. There is no purpose in my life. I have a meaningless existence. What am I just a queen who does nothing else but looks beautiful? You want us to have a child because the kingdom needs an heir. But have you asked yourself if YOU want to become a father? I don’t want to become a mother, not now, not because I have a duty to become a mother. What am I to you? You braved the thorns around my kingdom to wake me up because you had to prove your worth. But have you ever asked yourself if you truly love me.”
Philip looked at her dumbfounded. He could not believe that Aurora, of all people, would say such a thing. He recovered and said “Wasn’t it true love’s kiss that woke you up from your cursed lips? Do you forget that you were destined to sleep for hundred years if not woken by true love’s kiss?”
“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. I had been asleep for a long time 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 not now. 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.