Continuing Tales

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 12 of 33

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Kissed by a Rose

The castle was much more beautiful and interesting with two knowledgeable guides. Belle could easily ignore the snarling gargoyle faces; in fact, the cruel-looking reliefs faded into their stone backgrounds when daylight struck them full-force. Even the gargoyles carved high overhead were much easier to appreciate as works of art with the sun sparkling on their ribbed wings. Interestingly, Cogsworth had little to say about these carvings. He seemed to have a story about everything else, from the painted ceilings to the square stones of the floors, but about anything overly monster-themed he was silent. Belle wondered why this was, but when she hinted at her curiosity Cogsworth hemmed a little and changed the subject. Belle respectfully avoided this taboo from then on, though she mentally stored it away in the ever-lengthening list of castle mysteries.

It was lucky Lumière was also on the tour, or Belle might have grown quite bored. Cogsworth's anecdotes were interesting, and he often drew her attention to something she might have missed, but she didn't understand half of his terms about architecture. Or at least she thought it might be the architecture he was talking about. Listening to him, she felt quite ignorant despite all her attempts at scholarship.

Lumière had his own stories to tell. Instead of things, he talked about people. He would nod knowingly at a certain bedroom and launch into a risqué tale of intrigue that culminated in something dramatic happening within that very room. Usually that someone famous was conceived, or reported to be conceived. Belle might have found these stories insulting, or at least embarrassing, but instead she was oddly comforted by them. Children born of scandal could still accomplish great things, and possibly blot out the stain of their past. There was some hope for her baby, however small, to be more than he would be born into.

None of these tales had occurred any more recently than fifty years. Lumière claimed to have inherited them from his predecessor. "He was even stuffier than Cogsworth, if you can believe it, but he did enjoy his gossip." The candelabra winked at her while Cogsworth glared.

Most of the corridors still looked alike to Belle, though she was beginning to discern slight differences that would help her find her way. If she could find the main hall she always knew where she was, but there were several sprawling wings off the keep, as well as the many towers and turrets that gave the castle its forbidding appearance. The castle was even built into its rock pinnacle, though much of that underground space was used for storage rather than living.

Belle made her inquiry about the servants like Madame de la Grande Bouche and Monsieur Joli who were unable to move. Cogsworth and Lumière both looked surprised when she mentioned it. They glanced at each other, and Cogsworth started counting on nonexistent fingers, mouthing silently.

"There are not too many, I believe, chérie," Lumière said, ignoring his counterpart. "Including Madame and Chef, I think perhaps a dozen or so. I would not worry too much about them. They long ago grew used to their situation."

"I'd still like to visit them all sometime," Belle said. "Otherwise they might never see me."

"This is very kind of you, mademoiselle. I shall ask them and see what I can arrange. I am certain they will appreciate it," said Lumière. He nudged Cogsworth, though what that was supposed to mean Belle had no idea. Neither did Cogsworth, who just quirked an eyebrow at the candelabra in a puzzled manner and continued the tour.

Belle paid less and less attention as they wandered further. She had wondered, in light of her revelation the previous night that the castle was under an enchantment, whether these living objects were formerly inanimate and given personalities by the spell, or whether they were once human beings turned into objects. She was fairly certain now the latter was the case, based on unguarded remarks Lumière, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and even Madame had made. If nothing else, if they had always been objects they would not remember their predecessors. So where did that leave their Master? He was somehow part of the enchantment as well. But was he its originator, or a fellow victim singled out for special treatment? Belle could not begin to guess, though she rather suspected the former.

She was suddenly overcome with the desire to know. The onset of her curiosity was like a physical thing draping over her shoulders. In a lull in the commentary, she said carefully, "This is all so magnificent. The castle does improve on a second look, even if it is enchanted."

"Enchanted?" Cogsworth sputtered, grinding to a halt in the middle of the floor. Belle had anticipated this and stepped neatly to the side, avoiding Lumière's sudden stop as well. "Who said anything about the castle being enchanted?" asked Cogsworth in a voice that sounded like he was attempting to joke and failing. He shot an accusing glare at Lumière. "I ought to—"

"You ought to what?" Lumière repeated mockingly. "Has there ever been a time when you have defeated me at anything, you old lazybones?"

"This time I'll—"

"Nobody told me anything. I figured it out for myself," Belle said, hastily interrupting the argument before gears or wax got spilled on the carpet. "I've read a lot of stories about magic and so on, and I was thinking—"

"Oh, dear! We haven't shown you the library yet!" Lumière interrupted. "And after you specifically requested to see it! We have been much remiss in our duties, Cogsworth."

"Wh—oh, yes of course!" Cogsworth said, instantly distracted from his wrath. "Come right this way, mademoiselle. If you don't mind, we'll bypass this unimportant staircase to your right."

"What's up there?" asked Belle, glanced towards it and involuntarily slowing down. It seemed as ordinary as any other in the castle; she had learned that most such staircases led to a wing of guest rooms, or some other addition to the main castle. This one had the inevitable gargoyle pedestals at the foot, and nothing else to distinguish it. She expected Cogsworth to tell her it contained more empty receiving rooms, and to move on.

Instead, Cogsworth began to hem and haw nervously. "Where? There? Oh, nothing. Absolutely nothing of interest at all in the West Wing."

"The West Wing?" Belle repeated. The one place the Master had forbidden to her? It had escaped her memory entirely, as she had assumed she would never find it and had no real desire to get lost searching. Now, here it was right in front of her. Her curiosity returned. Now that she had nearly confirmed the castle was under an enchantment, she wondered what might be kept hidden in the West Wing. Perhaps the key to the whole mystery?

Suddenly she was quite sure that was the case.

"Nice going," Lumière said to Cogsworth. He had clearly seen the expression on Belle's face and realized what it meant. "The library?" he reminded her, a little desperately.

"Oh, of course," she said. Her interest was not entirely feigned; even the mention of a library could always rouse her attention. "I think you said you had a lot of books?"

"Oh, yes!" The relief of the two servants at her apparent volte-face was tangible. "Mountains of books!" exclaimed Lumière.

"Forests of books!" added Cogsworth.

"Cascades! Swamps of books!"

"More books than you could ever read in a lifetime…" All the while, the pair was leading her away from the stairs, down the hall. Belle walked with them for a little way, but slowly dropped back until they were out of sight around the corridor. Then she backtracked to that staircase. She paused at the base, listening. No sounds came from above. Neither was there any noise from the hall down which Lumière and Cogsworth had vanished. Her little subterfuge had worked—almost alarmingly well, it seemed to her. She wondered how long it would take for them to realize she wasn't still beside them. Probably not very long. She would not have much time to look around.

Belle climbed the stairs, her fingers trailing lightly along the dusty banister. She kept alert for any sign of movement ahead of her, but there was nothing. When she reached the top, she peered up and down. To the right was a blank wall with paintings so covered in dust it was impossible to tell what they depicted. From the vague shapes under the grime, Belle guessed landscapes rather than portraits.

To the left—Belle stifled a gasp when she saw it. To the left was a disaster scene. The rest of the castle only looked worn. This…this was utter destruction. The paintings on the walls were shredded, and Belle could see claw marks in the stone. The remains of two curio tables littered the ground like so much firewood. The very carpet on the floor was in ribbons.

A sense of danger rippled down her back. She knew whose work this was. If he could do this to furniture, what could he do to her if he caught her? Common sense begged her to turn back, to pretend she had never seen this. Already she knew it would haunt her for some time.

She also knew that if she turned around now, she would wonder to the end of her life what would have happened. Another chance would never come. She forced her feet to move forward.

The gargoyle motif was particularly strong in this one short corridor. Everywhere agonized faces seemed to be staring at her, their eyes empty. She passed a shattered mirror, her own pale face reflecting back in multiple distortions. Swallowing hard, she moved on.

A pair of double doors blocked her path. Again, the gargoyle motif, this time manifesting as the door handles, which made a horrible horned face when the doors were shut. She would have to touch one in order to get inside. Belle hesitated, glanced behind her once, then steeled herself and pulled hard on the handle. The door opened with a creak she was sure could be heard clear into the cellars.

If she had thought the corridor was bad, the room waiting behind the door was worse. It looked like a suite. This might have been the living area, had the shattered couches been intact, the paintings not shredded heaps of canvas, the carpets nothing but balls of silken fluff. For a moment, Belle could only lean against the door and stare. Then she shook herself and stepped into the room. The motion sent a few of the silk fluffballs skittering away in the breeze.

She had never seen devastation such as this. The suite must once have been magnificent. All the materials—from what she could tell—were the finest money could buy. She strode through the room, sadly touching a clawed walnut chair here, a tattered brocade curtain there, as she made her way towards the rest of the suite.

The next room was a bedroom, if the mangled former four-poster in one corner was any indication. This room was not in any better shape than the last. However, one painting to her left caught her eye. It was ripped like the rest, but not entirely shredded, as if the one who had done it could not bear to destroy it beyond recognition.

This painting was a portrait of some sort, and only of the head and shoulders. She thought the subject might be male, from what little she could see of his clothing. He had flowing hair of an unusual tint that seemed to combine blond, red, and light brown. There was little else Belle could tell about him; the portrait was ripped right across the face.

Except for the eyes. They were an arresting, memorable, summer-sky blue. She had seen eyes like those before.

Was this the answer, then? Had the castle's Master also once been human? Belle had a hard time believing it. The servants were so human in every way but appearance it was hard not to see them for what they were if one was paying attention. Their Master, however—he acted as nothing more than a beast that somehow had the ability to speak.

Of course, she had known someone whose only claim to humanity was his appearance. But why then, if this castle's Master had once been human, had he warranted such a transformation while Gaston was allowed to remain a man after what he'd done to her? Belle shook her head stubbornly. No, there had to be another explanation.

Still, she couldn't seem to move away. Her fingers reached out involuntarily to touch the portrait. Carefully, she took the delicate fabric hanging from the rip across the subject's face and pulled it up to its rightful place again so that the picture was complete.

He was younger than she'd first thought, hardly more than a boy. Perhaps fourteen at most. The artist had not been able to soften the stark contrast between the strong bones of the boy's face and the hollowness of his cheeks and eyes. He might be handsome as a man, but as it was he needed to grow into his chiseled looks.

A flicker of light caused Belle to spin, thinking Lumière had caught her. No one was there. However, the light continued to shine from behind a hanging curtain. Tilting her head curiously, Belle peered around the curtain to find a small place surprisingly clear of destruction. True, there was little to destroy, just a small round table at about waist height sitting in front of the entrance to a balcony. However, the marble table was upright and unmarked. And sitting on it…

A blooming rose, under a clear glass bell jar. Belle knew at once she had found what she had come to the West Wing looking for. Not only did this rose glow with a soft pink light, but it was floating, severed stem down, an inch or two above the table. As she looked at it, a phrase floated through Belle's head.

Five months, twelve days.

Belle blinked, and drew back. Five months and twelve days? What on earth could that mean? She glanced at her belly. Her time would be in six months or so, if she'd calculated right. Might this rose be predicting when her child would be born? What a strange power for a simple rose to have, even an enchanted one.

She stepped around the curtain and confronted the rose again. This time a different phrase: nine years, ten months, five days.

It made no sense at all. Nine years, ten months, and five days was an arbitrary number to her. She'd been eleven or so at the time. Her mother had still been alive, and they had been living in…Marseilles, perhaps. Nothing significant had happened that she could recall.

She looked away, and back again. Five months, twelve days.

It now seemed logical that these dates had nothing to do with her, or the baby. They were some part of the magic spell on the rose. Belle approached it cautiously. As she drew closer, she saw that it was not perfect and lovely as she had expected a magical rose to be. It was wilting, and there was a pile of petals on the table under it.

She was still sure, however, that this was the key to every mystery in the castle, if only she could unravel it. Like a heroine in one of her fairy tales. Gently, she lifted off the bell jar and set it aside.

A light breeze ruffled the rose's petals, and another drifted downward towards its fellows. It landed on Belle's outstretched hand. She felt a slight tingle as it touched her skin, but nothing else happened. With reverence she placed the petal in the pile with the others, and reached out to touch the rose itself.

A shadow suddenly passed over her. She yanked away as the bell jar slammed down where her hand had been just moments before.

And looked up into a pair of furious blue eyes.

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 12 of 33

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