Continuing Tales

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 18 of 33

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Kissed by a Rose

"Why did she do it?" asked the Beast.

"What?" asked Belle, a little startled. They had just finished another session with Arthur and Guinevere. It had taken about two weeks to get through what usually took Belle a day or two, but she was pleased nonetheless. Not only had the Beast agreed to continue reading the book after the first chapter, but he had been progressing nicely since then. At first he had needed help to simply interpret the letters. Then, he'd moved on to asking Belle the pronunciation and meaning of words. That decreased daily, and she could sense his growing eagerness each time he opened the book.

It helped that there was never a dull moment in Arthur and Guinevere. Belle occasionally took over reading when she sensed the Beast was getting frustrated with his own slowness, and she'd happened to be reading when Arthur pulled the magical sword from the stone that proclaimed him King of All England.

The Beast had actually exclaimed aloud: "So that must mean he's the King!"

"Wait and see!" Belle had said with a laugh. "I'll never finish if you interrupt."

The Beast blinked, and seemed to collect himself. "I'm sorry. I just…I never imagined books could do that."

"Do what?"

"Take me away from here, if only for a moment. All the books I ever had to read were boring, and I never got much out of them. When you read, it's like I'm really there, watching it."

"A good book will do that," Belle had said. "And I know what you mean. Stories like this one have kept me company for years, especially since we moved to the village. When I made mistakes, no one would speak to me for days. I'd get so lonely, but all I'd have to do was open a book and be somewhere else in a flash."

"I wish I'd known," the Beast had said wistfully. "It would have made living here more bearable."

"Things will get better now that you do know," Belle had promised. She waited a moment, until the Beast gestured impatiently for her to continue. Then she turned back to the book.

"Then, for the third time, Arthur drew forth the sword. And there arose from the people a great shout: "Arthur is King!""

"I told you," the Beast had said smugly. They'd smiled at each other, and continued reading.

Now, at the end of November, the Beast had apparently progressed enough not only to enjoy what they were reading, but to ask questions about it too.

"Why did she do what?" asked Belle.

"Why did Guinevere give Sir Gawain the chance to redeem himself after he…" He swallowed visibly.

"He raped a peasant girl," Belle finished for him.

"Yes. Why did the queen give him a second chance? He didn't deserve it. He deserved to die, just like the law said."

"Hmmm," said Belle. As it happened, she'd given a lot of thought to this after Gaston had forced himself on her. The story had suddenly hit in a new context. "I'm not sure, but I have a theory: it's because he didn't even realize he'd made a mistake until Arthur told him what the law was. It would be like punishing someone who'd never been taught table manners for eating with his hands. He'd have to understand why he was wrong before the punishment could work."

"But why punish Gawain at all, then?"

"The law was still there, demanding justice for the girl. He had to be taught to honor any woman he encountered, to make sure he would never do such a thing again. Beheading him would solve that problem, too, of course, but it's rather permanent."

The Beast looked away sharply. Belle could sense some sort of buried pain, but couldn't begin to imagine the source.

"I could be wrong. As I said, it's just a theory," she admitted, hoping he wasn't angry with her. "It might also be that Guinevere wanted to show mercy because underneath her exterior of a spoiled princess she was a kindhearted person and felt sorry for Gawain despite what he'd done."

"Giving Gawain an impossible riddle wasn't that kind," the Beast pointed out. "She couldn't know he'd find the answer. What if he'd failed, and had to come back and get executed anyway?"

Belle thought for a moment or two. "My answer isn't really a satisfactory one. In stories like this, when someone is given a test, if they're meant to succeed, they will. If the person is truly worthy, a magical force of some kind usually appears at the last minute to make sure everything works out, or turns out to have been guiding the quest all along from the background. Guinevere may or may not have been an unwitting agent in the larger story of Gawain's redemption."

"You mean she might have done it on purpose?"

"Who knows?" Belle shrugged. "That's part of the mystery of the story. Arthur and Guinevere were advised by Merlin, and he's clearly connected somehow with the magical Loathly Lady who appears at the last minute to give Gawain the answer to the riddle. Whether or not Merlin spoke to Guinevere on Gawain's behalf beforehand is something we can only guess at."

The Beast shook his head. "It would have been easier to just behead Gawain and be done with it. Less of a headache for everyone. Including me."

"Easier, maybe. But would that have been the right thing to do in the long run? He turns out to be worthy in the end, once he's learned his lesson and passed the Loathly Lady's final test. Beheading him in the beginning would deprive the world of the good man and noble knight Gawain became because he was given a second chance." She smiled. "It would also deprive us of an exciting story."

"Hmph," rumbled the Beast, but mildly enough that Belle could tell he was thinking hard rather than annoyed.

"It's still a headache," he complained after a moment. "Not everybody is worthy enough to deserve a second chance like Gawain. How do you tell?"

"You don't," said Belle. "Unless you can see into the future like Merlin. We more ordinary mortals just have to do our best."

"See into the future…" the Beast repeated under his breath.

"What?" asked Belle.

"Hmmm? Oh. You just reminded me of something, that's all." He studied his clawed paws intently for a moment, as if trying to work out a hard puzzle, then shook his mane like a dog. "Never mind. It's not important."

"If you say so." Belle stood up to stretch. She had to be careful. Now over four months into her pregnancy, the baby was having some effect on her balance. Belle didn't feel heavy or awkward—not yet. She just found herself tipping faster than usual if she twisted the wrong way. There was also no hiding her pregnancy anymore, no matter what clothes she wore. Mrs. Potts said this was because she'd been so slender to begin with.

Belle wandered over to one of the library's enormous windows. It was snowing again outside, and even a fire in the huge fireplace couldn't entirely ward off the chill. The landscape outside was beautiful, with the dark pine trees beginning to be dusted with white, but it still filled Belle with a slight sense of foreboding.

Quiet moments like this one inevitably made her think of her father. On snowy days they both would have been doing indoor things, only going outside when it was absolutely necessary. Belle would read by the fire, and her father would sit at the table near her quietly muttering over some small mechanism he was attempting to fix. What was he doing without her? Was he thinking of her, as she was of him?

Now, on this particular snowy day, she had the Beast instead of her father. The Beast, who was not such a bad companion in his own way. If someone had told Belle at the beginning of their acquaintance that she would ever value the Beast's company, she would have said that person was crazy. Yet they had been seeing a great deal of one another in the past few weeks. Mostly in the library as they sorted books and Belle helped him re-learn to read, but at other times as well. The Beast still avoided Belle at mealtimes, and in turn she never sought him out if she suspected he was in the West Wing. Any other time they might bump into each other, however, they'd converse for a few minutes, maybe walk the halls together, and then mutually part.

One of the best things about the Beast, Belle thought, was the way he really listened to her. Unless he was angry, at which times he was prone to shouting anyone else down, he always gave her his full attention if she had something to say. Belle found this unexpectedly refreshing. Gaston had certainly never heard a word she'd spoken, ever, and most of the villagers made polite conversation without really paying attention to anything but the familiar pattern of the words. Even her father, much as she loved him, always seemed to have his mind someplace else when she wanted to talk.

The Beast, however, would look right at her during a conversation. He was straightforward. He'd respond to the things she said, and not just what he thought she'd been going to say. Belle hadn't realized how much she would enjoy this seemingly simple thing. In turn, Belle tried not to keep conversations entirely focused on herself. The Beast wasn't very comfortable with talking—he seemed to not much care for the sound of his own voice. However, if he were to momentarily forget this aversion, as had happened in their conversation about Gawain, then he often surprised her with how intelligently he could speak. He was no scholar, of course, but his insights were thoughtful and carefully considered. Belle would admit only to herself how much she liked talking to him.

She turned to find the Beast watching her. He was still on the couch where she'd left him.

"Just watching the snow," she said.

"I didn't want to disturb you. You looked very…relaxed," he replied.

Belle looked down and realized she had one hand resting gently on the baby. She'd been catching herself doing this more and more frequently as the bump grew. Every time, she'd feel a rush of affection and protectiveness. This child was hers, no matter how he had been conceived. A little person growing inside her. Putting her hand on him was a reassurance that no matter what, he was wanted, and loved.

She glanced back at the snow, and something occurred to her. "Only a few weeks until Christmas."

"I know," the Beast snapped from behind her.

Belle spun reflexively at the anger in his voice. His hackles were straight up, something she hadn't seen in some time. "What's wrong?"

"I hate Christmas," he snarled.

"Why?" Belle was horrified. She loved the Christmas season—it was her favorite time of year. Somehow the thought of someone hating Christmas was even more distressing than not reading for a decade. Perhaps because even the illiterate people she knew liked Christmastide.

"I just do." He was getting angrier by the second, but Belle was comfortable enough with him by now to press the issue.

"You don't like decorating? Hanging stockings by the fire? A Christmas tree? Giving gifts?"

"No." His voice was flat. "There is no Christmas here. I've forbidden it."

Belle was flabbergasted. "But you can't—"

"That's my final word! I won't hear another mention of Christmas again, do you understand?" He swung his cloak around and stalked out, slamming the door hard enough to rattle the closest windowpanes.

Belle stood stunned for several minutes. She'd never imagined such a reaction. And to Christmas! No one she knew hated Christmas. Even the most hard-hearted person she could think of, Gaston, celebrated the season in fine style by decorating the tavern with greenery and buying rounds of drinks for his friends.

And now this…explosion. An outpouring of fury for no reason she could fathom—and the Beast had made it clear he wouldn't tell her. Every time she thought she was getting to know him, he did something unexpected.

She wondered if the servants shared their Master's opinion of Christmas. She'd start with them. Maybe they'd be a little more receptive to the idea of a celebration, and, with luck, shed some light on the Beast's reaction in the process. In any case, Belle had no intention of following orders and dropping the subject.

"No one can forbid Christmas," she said under her breath.

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 18 of 33

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