Continuing Tales

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 11 of 33

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Kissed by a Rose

Belle hadn't realized how hungry she was until the first tray of food was uncovered. She hadn't eaten in more than a day, except for a few odd cups of tea here and there.

The food was also delicious. Once the edge had worn off her hunger and she could actually pay attention to what she was eating, she marveled at how flavorful it all was. Even dishes that she recognized were many, many times better than she had ever had them. She had certainly never been able to cook like this in their little cottage kitchen. Her mother, who like her also had to learn cooking on the fly, had never had much time to experiment. She had fixed what she had known would turn out well and feed her family. This feast was the work of many people who had spent their whole lives doing nothing but cooking and baking.

Mrs. Potts, Lumière, and Cogsworth beamed at Belle's effusive praise. The staff even put on a small show for her while she ate, though to silence Cogsworth's scruples there was nothing particularly loud. Lumière and some of the other candlesticks sang while the featherduster maids and plate servers danced. It degenerated into a bit of a talent show when Cogsworth was persuaded to stand up and declaim a poem. After that, everyone wanted a turn to show off something small for the newcomer. Even Belle herself participated, once she was finished eating. She recited the first chapter of Arthur and Guinevere for everyone, or at least as much as she could remember.

"I had forgotten how good that story is," Lumière remarked to her once she was finished and the impromptu party was breaking up. Mrs. Potts had bustled off to the kitchen to see the teacups back to bed.

"You know it?" Belle asked, delighted.

"I haven't heard that particular version," the candelabra admitted. "There are many, many tales of le roi fois et futur."

"Yes, of course. That one happens to be my favorite." She thought wistfully of the copy left open on the little table in the cottage.

"I can see that," agreed Lumière. "And you tell it very well, with much feeling. Perhaps some other evening you will favor us with more?"

"If I can remember that much. I hadn't finished rereading it when I…left my home."

"It will come back to you. Or perhaps…you might find it in our library?"

"You have a library?" Immediately Belle's whole world was brighter. If she could spend her days reading, then living in the castle and even weathering her pregnancy might not be so bleak. She pictured a small, cozy room lined with handsomely bound books. Certainly enough to keep her busy for at least six months.

"Yes, of course!" Cogsworth had heard the question and come over from directing spoons back to the kitchen. "We have a very extensive library. If you are looking for a book, I feel confident in saying you are certain to find it. Except, of course, for anything recently published," he added scrupulously.

"How recently?" Belle asked, as if absentminded. In fact, she had been rather intrigued by Cogswoth's statement.

"In the last decade so," Cogsworth answered. Belle pretended not to notice the elbow Lumière thrust into the clock's side. But her brain had started to wake up, as if the shock of the last forty-eight hours was seeping away at last and a few things were coming together.

The castle hadn't always been this way. Ten years ago, it had been connected to the outside world. Hadn't she spent half her life reading about ogres, djinns, unicorns, magic spells, and other such impossibilities? Though she had to admit she had never read about these particular impossibilities—living objects, a monster made up of several different animals—she knew enough to recognize enchantment when she saw it. She hadn't thought she would see such things herself, but who did except in their wildest imaginations?

She stored this revelation away for pondering later. "I'd like to see the library." She stifled a yawn. "But maybe tomorrow?"

"Yes, it is quite late," Cogsworth agreed. He yawned himself. "Or quite early, I should say."

"Very well. We shall say bon nuit, mademoiselle." Lumière bowed to her.

"Good night. And thank you. Thank you all…for everything." By this she attempted to encompass their understanding, their acceptance of her condition, and their unasked-for kindness to her.

"Think nothing of it." Lumière waved his candle-arms in a gesture of negation. "We wish you pleasant dreams."

Still smiling, Belle went upstairs. She had a bit of trouble remembering which room was hers, but one of the feather dusters pointed her in the right direction. Now that the castle staff were getting used to her and she to them, it seemed they were not making an effort to hide themselves from view.

"Goodness, dear, where have you been?" Madame demanded when Belle came in and closed the door. "I woke up and found you gone! And I can't come looking for you, remember."

"I'm sorry, Madame," Belle said contritely. "I should have woken you when I went out."

"Yes, indeed," huffed Madame, but she seemed to think Belle was properly repentant, so she let the matter drop. She even assisted Belle out of her old clothing and into a silky nightdress. Belle clambered into bed, marveling again at how soft and comfortable it was. They bade one anther good night, and Madame extinguished the lamp.

For the first time in months Belle's sleep was undisturbed. A pair of shadowed blue eyes still haunted the edges of her dreams, but she was able to ignore them.

The Beast woke up irritable, and not only from the residue of his misery the night before. He had also been tormented by his usual nightmare. It had been the same as always, not the strangely twisted version he'd seen on the girl's first night, but it had visited several times.

Mrs. Potts also seemed subdued when she brought in the breakfast cart. She did not chatter about the weather, or the menu for the day, or any other inconsequential things as she usually did. In fact, she didn't say anything to him except "good morning." The Beast wondered if she was still disappointed with him about his treatment of their guest, but he didn't ask.

"Tell me at once if the girl decides she's ready to eat with me," he informed Mrs. Potts before the cart left.

"Of course, sir," she answered. Something in her tone told the Beast not to expect to see the girl anytime soon.

That left what to do. Like the day before, none of his usual pursuits appealed. Eventually, he decided he would go out into the gardens. It wasn't snowing any longer, though the white powder was piled at least a foot deep in places. The Beast decided it would be worth wading through them and getting the snow out of his fur afterwards if he could escape from everything going on inside the castle, if only for a few minutes.

He went out one of the side doors into the castle valley, making certain at least some of the servants saw him go so they could fetch him. It was usually a habit to do so, carefully cultivated by his parents from sheltered childhood, but on this particular day he wanted to be easily found. The girl might change her mind at any moment.

Pushing his way through the snow did take his mind off things, at least temporarily. When he was trying to keep from being bogged down with snow clinging to his fur, he was thinking about only that. Whenever he stopped to rest, he started to get angry and frustrated all over again.

At last, he paused on a marble bench set on the side of an ornamental pond. He didn't need to catch his breath; he was strong, and knew from past experience he could run an entire circuit of the extensive castle grounds without winding himself too much. The bench seemed like a natural place to stop, however.

He glanced at his pawprints and realized he'd been going in a circle around the pond. He sighed. It seemed his usual habits had come to find him despite his efforts to escape.

What was he supposed to do about this girl? Yes, he'd already admitted she had a right to be angry with him. But that was another strange thing about her: she hadn't gotten angry until after he'd left. The conversation between her and Madame in which she had expressed herself so passionately had not been meant for his ears. When she'd spoken to him, albeit through the door, there had been no emotion in her voice at all except for that small hint of sardonic humor. Even in his anger, he'd noticed how practiced that dead tone sounded. It was as if she had trained herself not to reveal any emotion. He wondered, briefly, what he would have seen had he looked in the magic mirror during their argument. What would her face have shown that her voice did not?

He wished the magic mirror could show him. But no, it only showed the present, not the past or the future. It was usually the latter he wished for, so that he could see whether he might be redeemed or not. The past was painful.

He could ask Madame about the girl, but he'd have to do so at a time when the girl herself was not in the room. Which, given the current circumstances, did not seem likely. And he could hardly knock on the door and check! Just the thought made his face heat up. He could order her out of the room, but given her comments the night before, he didn't think she'd take kindly to one more thing she had no choice about.

So here he was, stuck in a circle he could see no escape from. He wanted to know more about the girl, but she wanted nothing to do with him. Which was his own fault. It was so maddening! Especially that, despite instinct telling him he should leave her to her own devices, she still intrigued him.

He set off again into the snow, this time towards the castle. Suddenly snow no longer appealed as a distraction. It was time to dry off in front of a warm fire with a bowl of whatever Mrs. Potts had fixed for lunch. After lunch? Probably back to the West Wing, to see if he could figure a way out of this mess he found himself in.

Belle woke feeling much more rested than she could remember feeling since discovering she was pregnant. She had also slept quite late; the sun was slanting sharply across her carpet.

"Well! There you are!" Madame said when Belle sat up and stretched. "Mrs. Potts was up with a tray, but we decided to let you sleep."

"What time is it now?" asked Belle blearily.

"Nearly noon. You were up quite late last night," the wardrobe hastened to add when Belle looked alarmed. "And Mrs. Potts tells me it's only to be expected. Given…you know."

Belle nodded. So Mrs. Potts had explained the situation to Madame. Still… "I've never slept this late."

"Don't feel bad, dear, everyone needs a day to themselves. Especially after all you've been through. It's no surprise you slept late. Now, what shall we dress you in today? Lunch will be sent up once Lumière and Cogsworth have double-checked that the Master is out of the way."

"Thank you. This really is too kind of you."

"Oh, it's nothing, child. We're all very pleased to have you here." Madame was sorting through her drawers as she spoke. "It's the first interesting thing to happen in…goodness, I don't remember how long."

Probably ten years, Belle thought. "But…I don't understand," she said aloud, hesitantly. "How is it that none of you seem to care that I'm having a child out of wedlock? It's not that I'm not grateful for your understanding, really it isn't. But you must know how things go in the outside world. I'm ruined forever unless I marry the father of my child."

"Who sounds like a real brute, to be sure," Madame put in.

"He is," Belle agreed. "I would never want a child of mine anywhere near him, let alone raised by such a man. But I know how I would have been treated in my village. No one would want anything to do with a woman having the child of a man she's not married to. Yet you're all being so kind."

"Hmmm." Madame looked thoughtful. "You're quite right: we do know how a woman who sleeps with a man who is not her husband is treated in the outside world. And it's perhaps because of that we're prepared to be more understanding. And we all know by now that this isn't your fault. Ah ha!" She pulled out a dress very similar in color to the one Belle had arrived in. However, it was made of light wool rather than cotton. "Here, slip this on. The castle can get drafty sometimes in the winter, though for the most part we're quite snug."

Belle pulled on the dress. Immediately its warmth settled over her. It was also much softer wool than she had ever felt. "This is wonderful. Thank you." Since the mood had shifted, she dared not ask more questions. She had a feeling Madame wouldn't answer if she tried to pry further into the castle's past.

Madame eyed her critically. "Well enough. It's a little tighter at the waist than I'd like. I'll have to see if I can let it out after today."

Belle looked down self-consciously. Sure enough, the dress was straining a little at the seams around her middle. Not enough to be uncomfortable, but enough to emphasize the slight bump underneath a bit more than her usual clothes did.

"It's because you're so slender already," Madame said knowingly. "Never fear, we'll have it fixed by tomorrow!"

"I can wear my apron today," Belle offered.

"But, dear, it's in such poor shape! Torn at the hem, and stained so deeply I don't know what will bleach it back…"

"Never mind, then. Unless someone has another I can borrow?" Belle asked doubtfully.

"Maybe Mrs. Potts can find you one in a linen closet somewhere. We'll ask her when she brings the tray."

Right on cue, there was a tap at the door. Belle opened it to admit Mrs. Potts on a rolling cart. There were several covered dishes piled on it.

"Here you are, child," the teapot said. "I'm dreadfully sorry to be late, but we had to make certain the Master was well out of the way before we ventured out of the kitchen. It's all cold things, too, so he won't smell it if he happens to pass by. I hope you'll like it."

"If it's anything like last night, I'm sure I'll love it," Belle answered. Sure enough, the lunch turned out to be delicious, and Belle tucked in happily.

While she ate, Madame broached the subject of the apron.

"An apron?" Mrs. Potts considered. "If we do have one, it's buried in a back cupboard somewhere. I'll send someone to look, but it may take some time."

"That's all right. I'll manage today."

"That reminds me. Lumière and Cogsworth have been putting together some sort of a formal tour of the castle for you. They wanted me to ask if you'd care to join them in the main hall?"

"I'll be happy to have a tour. Everything here still looks alike to me. If I'm going to live here, I should start learning my way around as soon as possible."

"That's very wise of you, dear. Come along, then." Mrs. Potts led the way out of the room. Belle paused to wave to Madame, who creaked a door resignedly back. Belle felt sorry for her, trapped looking at the same four walls for ten years. She hoped the staff had visited frequently, and wondered in almost the same instant how many others like Madame there were. Perhaps Cogsworth, as head of the household, knew. Maybe she could persuade him to let her visit them all.

As promised, Cogsworth and Lumière were waiting in the main hall.

"Ah, good morning mademoiselle!" the candelabra greeted.

"Good afternoon, I should say," corrected Cogsworth.

"Yes, yes, of course," Lumière replied impatiently. "Come along, chérie! There is a great deal to see!"

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 11 of 33

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