Part 19: Once Upon A Dream
Janus felt silly as he knocked on Princess Emerald’s door. What would he do once she answered? He had a feeling she didn’t want pity. He had no love to confess. But…perhaps she would agree to comfort? To a walk through the garden? Thinking it only made him feel even sillier. “This is ridiculous, Janus, ridiculous!” he hissed.
The door opened. “Who’s ridiculous?” Emerald asked, her eyes widening. “And…why are you here?”
Janus tensed. He caught a reflection of himself in a huge mirror within Emerald’s room and realized how much of a mess he looked. His hair was sticking up in all directions, and his uniform was disheveled and dirty from his hike through the woods. “Um…” He quickly bowed and began trying to tame his hair. “Good evening, Princess Emerald. I was wondering if…well…if you would take a walk through the garden with me.” He couldn’t meet her gaze. “I…I have something I want to ask you, and I want your honest answer.”
Emerald stared at him with her brow furrowed in confusion. She shrugged slightly. “Oh…all right.” She went back into her room, then returned with a deep purple shawl that matched the dress of the same color she was wearing.
Janus began to offer his arm, but hesitated. “I…I’m not in the cleanest shape right now, after training and that race.” He felt heat begin to crawl up his neck.
Emerald giggled, but looped her arm through his. “That’s all right,” she said softly. A small smirk formed on her lips. “Did…you win?”
Janus shook his head as he led her down the hall. “Unfortunately not. I don’t know the woods that well, and I ended up getting lost.” He left out about the part where the fairies visited him. It was better off not speaking of it again. All they told were lies, anyway.
“That’s too bad,” she said. “I…wanted to come out and watch, but I wasn’t feeling very well.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” Janus said. He waited until they were outside of the palace and in the garden to continue. “Princess-“
“I said you could call me Emmy…remember?” She smiled up at him.
Janus couldn’t help but smile back. “Yes…right. Well…I was wondering…if something was upsetting you.”
“Me?” Emerald was silent for a moment. The gentle breeze made her hair blow back. Her eyes were focused on the stone pathway they were walking on, but Janus could see that her mind was focused on something else. After a moment, she glanced up at him. “Hunter asked me to court him today.”
Janus nodded slowly, and she looked towards the flowers they were passing by. “He…he wants me to marry him, but…”
Janus sighed. “You don’t want to.”
“I will learn to love him.” The determination in her voice was weak, but it was there. “The kingdom wants it. It will be a good match.” She nodded. “I’m going to do it, I just…it’s difficult to marry someone you don’t love as anything other than a brother.”
Janus nodded slowly, though he couldn’t say he related to the feeling. But he knew he didn’t want her to go through that. As much as he argued against loving her, he still didn’t want her to be hurt.
“Everything will be fine,” Emerald said, but it sounded more like she was trying to convince herself of that. She even punctuated it with a emphatic nod. “So…don’t worry about me, all right?” She stopped and turned to him, then hesitantly placed a delicate hand on his chest, right over his heart. “You’re not who everyone thinks you are.”
Janus couldn’t meet her eyes. A brisk breeze made him shiver. “Not this again…”
“It’s true,” she said with a quiet giggle. “Around everyone else you act all tough and cold, but you act different around me.” She tilted her head. “Why?”
Janus shrugged. How was he supposed to answer that?! How could he mention aloud the invisible string that seem to tether the two of them together?
Emerald clasped her hands behind her back and continued down the path. Ahead, willow trees lined the white stone path, and fireflies were coming out. They floated in the darkness like tiny stars, surrounding her, illuminating her.
A flashback of a similar scene hit him so hard it took his breath away.
~ ~ ~
Many years ago, when Janus was still a child, he had run away from home. It had been a terribly dreary day, with dark clouds and rainy weather. His parents had been consumed with his sister and how wonderful she was, saving their nasty comments for him.
Why can’t you be more like your sister, Janus? They would say.
Well, he was done with that. He was never going back.
He walked though a forest, sniffling and carrying a little knapsack with him. It only held a little food, water, and clothing — nothing that he could survive on for more than a few days. The forest was dark, and he could hear the rustling of what had to be wild animals in the distance. The rain had soaked his clothes and he was shivering. His heart was pounding from fright. But nothing would make him return home.
It had to be far past his bedtime, and he was beginning to grow tired. He certainly didn’t want to sleep in the forest that night for fear of the wild animals, but eventually his eyelids began to droop, and his pace slowed. Before he knew it, he was curling up, shivering, under a large tree.
The sound of tiny, crunching steps through the dried leaves startled him awake. His first thought instantly thought that there must be a bear in the forest, and it had smelled him. His hands shook as he clutched his pack to his chest. He wasn’t sure how long he had been laying under the tree, but it was much darker now. However, tiny lights were starting to appear. For a moment, they distracted him from the fear of a bear. One by one, thousands of the tiny lights flickered on, and they floated around the forest like stars.
“Wow…,” he said in a small, shaking voice. He reached out and caught one, then realized they were bugs. He had never seen a firefly before, but he had heard of them. He walked backwards, taking in the spectacular sight, when he bumped into what he thought was a tree. But when he turned around, gasping, he was face to face with a little girl.
She was beautiful, with golden curls, large blue eyes, and fair skin. She was carrying a basket of flowers in her hands, and was wearing a brown dress that appeared to have grass stains on it. She stared at him with her mouth hanging open, studying him as if she had never seen another human being before. Then she seemed to recover herself, and she smiled sweetly. “Are you lost?”
“Um…uh…” Janus couldn’t find what to say, and ended up only nodding.
The girl grinned and took his hand. “Come on, I’ll show you the way out!” She was dragging him away before he could protest. “It’s not so scary in here once you get used to it. Not many wild animals are here, only nice ones. That’s what my aunties say!” She chattered the entire way about this and that. He couldn’t remember the details, but he remembered feeling at ease with her after awhile. She eventually let go of his hand and they walked side by side.
The fireflies danced around them, and the girl reached out to grab one, but missed. “Aren’t they pretty? They’re my friends, you know? Everything in this forest is my friend.”
Janus still hugged his pack to his chest. “Can…can you talk to them?”
The girl shook her head. “No, silly! I just be nice to them, and so they be nice to me!” She grinned at him again. “And I guess since you’re in this forest, you’re going to be my friend to now, too. I’ve never been a friend with any real people before, ‘cept for my aunties of course!”
“Me neither…,” Janus whispered. He clutched tighter to his pack as a pang of homesickness suddenly struck him. All at once, big tears formed in his eyes and and voice quivered. “I-I…I was running away from home, but…now I want to go back.”
The girl’s wide smile disappeared. “Run away? From your home? Why would you want to do that?!”
Janus sniffled and used one hand to wipe away his tears. “I don’t like home. I don’t like my sister or my mom and dad!”
The girl looked as though he had insulted her. “You– How can you not like your own family?!”
Janus shrugged. What could he say? “Because…they don’t like me.” He looked at the floor. He knew it was the truth. They told him so all the time, and not only with words.
The girl was quiet for a moment, then bit her lip. “Well…I can show you how to get back home, if you want to go back…”
The fireflies clustered around them, and for a moment, Janus wanted to stay right there. He could live with this strange girl in the forest and be her friend, just as she said. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was dark…he could learn not to be afraid of the dark. But the more he thought about never going home again, the worse his homesickness felt. Despite what it was like at home, he could hardly imagine it any other way. And it wasn’t so bad all the time, after all.
After awhile of thought, Janus nodded slowly. “I want to go back…”
The girl’s smile returned, though only slightly. She took his hand again, then led him back through the forest. He told her what his home was like and the town he lived in, and she guided him there as though she knew the entire forest and where all the surrounding towns were.
“I’ve explored a lot around here,” she explained. “I’ve lived here a long time.”
That was enough reasoning for Janus, who was starting to get sleepy again. He was stumbling by the time they reached the border of the forest. The town he lived in was all darkened for the night, but he would be able to find his way through it.
“T-thank you,” he said softly. His eyes were glued to the ground. Without the fireflies around, he couldn’t see her smile, but he could hear it in the sound of her voice.
“Your welcome!” she said brightly. “Now I better be getting home before my aunties worry! Oh, but before that–” She stopped and put something in his hands. “It’s one of the roses I was picking before I found you. You can have it! And…just so you know…I don’t know if it’s really true that your family doesn’t like you, but…if that’s true…” She trailed off, then took a deep breath. “We’re friends now, okay? No matter what, I’ll always like you!”
Janus felt heat rise to his face. In the darkness, he couldn’t see her expression. Before he could reply, she was disappearing back into the forest where the clusters of fireflies immediately began to fly around her, casting her in an otherworldly glow.
~ ~ ~
Janus staggered backwards, his hand pressing against his forehead. How had he forgotten that night? Had it been so long ago that his mind had simply casted the memory out? And the rose…where had the rose she had given him gone?
He glanced up at Emerald’s voice. She was coming back towards him with her brow furrowed. “It’s…it’s nothing…”
“But you’re so pale,” she said. She reached out and touched his arm. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
How could he have forgotten that girl…the girl who said she would be his friend. The girl who said that no matter what, she’d always like him? He remembered hanging on to that hope as a child, that someone in the world cared about him. But as he’d grown older, the hope had died out. And now here was the very one who brought that hope to him. She had been with him all this time and he never realized it. He had been the one to kiss her and break the spell that was over her.
He looked at her with wide eyes. “I know you,” he said, breathless. “We’ve met before.”
~ <♥> ~
As if to make up for the last part, this one is pretty long, possibly the longest one so far! Anyway, I’ve been really looking forward to this part! Obviously I’m a big Sleeping Beauty fan, and with this being a Sleeping Beauty retelling, I wanted to add some references to the original movie. The title, of course, is the name of the song Prince Philip and Aurora sing in the movie, and it’s one of my all time favorite Disney songs. Then we have the very words Prince Philip said to Aurora there at the end, “we’ve met before”. I really enjoy putting references in my stories, so I hope you liked them as well!
But hey…now that Janus remembers his first meeting with Emerald, will it change how he feels about her? We shall see!
Let me know your thoughts on this part in the comments below! As always, God bless y’all and have a wonderful weekend!