Continuing Tales

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 4 of 33

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Kissed by a Rose

Belle sat peacefully at the kitchen table. At the moment she was taking a break from mending, allowing herself another few pages of her new book in order to give her eyes something different to look at. A small, warm fire crackled in the hearth, with a kettle of tea hanging above it on an iron hook. The water would be boiling soon, and Belle was listening with half an ear for the pot's telltale whistle. Tea was one thing she could always keep down, even when her stomach could handle little else. It was lucky Belle read as much as she did, or she might have thought herself truly ill the first time she had inexplicably brought up her breakfast. She knew she was lucky; her morning sickness was infrequent and nowhere near crippling.

She turned a page. In the story, newly crowned Queen Guinevere was offering a riddle to Sir Gawain, one of her husband's knights, in exchange for mercy. Gawain had forced himself upon a helpless woman, and King Arthur's law decreed that such a man must die. However, Guinevere gave him a chance to save his own life by bringing her the answer to a question: what is it women most desire? In questing for the one true answer, Sir Gawain was able to redeem himself, and found a beautiful, faithful wife in the process. One of the things Belle liked most about this version of the King Arthur legend: Guinevere was as wise and clever a ruler as her husband. King and Queen were a partnership rather than a hierarchy.

The teapot whistled, and Belle went to remove it from the fire and add the tea leaves. She glanced towards the windows, which were letting in early afternoon light. Her father had left with his invention late the previous day on their big draft horse, Phillippe. Belle had spent the time since then taking care of mundane household chores interspersed with reading. Nighttime might have been a terror, especially since a storm had come through, but Belle had made certain no one could get to her by barricading all possible entrances to the house. After the last time she had been left alone, she was taking no chances. It helped that pregnancy seemed to come with often-numbing exhaustion. When dead to the world, she was beyond worry.

Belle settled back into her chair, sipping her tea. Soothing heat spread down her throat and throughout her body. Just as she was lifting the cup for a second sip, she heard it. Heavy footsteps coming up the dirt path. Only one man stalked like that.

The cup slipped from her hands to shatter on the floor. Tea flew everywhere. Belle stood frozen, watching the spreading liquid and hearing the bootfalls coming closer.

The knock—closer in force to a bang—finally roused her to move. Instead of heading for the door, she bent and began picking up the remains of the teacup. These she placed on the counter to be thrown out. Then she fetched a cloth to wipe up the spilled tea so it wouldn't stain the floor. All the time, she listened to the pounding becoming more insistent.

"Belle!" Gaston called through the door, his deep voice easily carrying. "Belle, open up!"

Belle looked around rather helplessly, casting around for something else to do. Anything to keep from having to answer the door.

"Belle, I know you're there!"

Belle sighed. There was no putting it off. However, no law said she had to actually open the door. Instead, she circled around to the window that opened onto the front porch.

Gaston was not surprised when the window swung out and Belle's face appeared; she had done this many times when he called on her. "There you are, Belle. Didn't you hear me calling?"

She ignored this. "Gaston, how many times do I have to tell you no?"

"No isn't an option, Belle. Everyone knows we're going to be married. I've been more than understanding of you not wanting to appear too eager, but this has gone on too long."

"When have I ever done something for the sake of appearances?" Belle asked, trying to hold her temper and keep her voice mild. If only she could get him to think about it.

Gaston paused. His heavy brow furrowed for a moment. "What does that have to do with you and me, Belle? It's a simple one-plus-one. You keep trying to complicate things that really should be very easy."

"It's not easy, Gaston. You expect me to agree to marry you after—after—" She couldn't finish.

She could feel his displeasure like a rumbling, growing storm. "It should have made it easier for you to agree, not harder. The man who claims a girl's virginity should be her husband, don't you agree? It's only right."

"But they should already be married," Belle hissed. Couldn't he understand? He'd taken away her only power—her right to say no. The worst part was he didn't even realize it, or recognize she had such a right. "Please go away, Gaston. You have nothing more to say to me."

Now the anger was practically vibrating off him. "I tried asking you nicely. But I've gotten tired of waiting. I came here to give you one last chance to be mine. You're coming with me, now."

"Where?" Belle backed away from the window.

"The tavern. I've got the whole village waiting for me to appear with you on my arm. The priest is there, and everything is ready for the celebration. We'll be man and wife before dark."

"But—but—" Belle's mind stuttered over this, trying to process everything and at the same time figure a way out of it. "My father. He isn't here to give permission, or give me away."

"He won't mind; not when he knows it's me you're marrying. Besides, he knows we've been seeing each other these last months."

There was some truth to both of these statements, enough that Belle could think of no argument. Maurice had certainly noticed Gaston's attempts at courtship, and if not for his daughter's displeasure he would have willingly given Gaston permission to marry her. After their conversation the previous day, Belle knew her father wanted to see her safe and provided for.

None of this knowledge helped her present situation.

"I'm flattered that you went to so much trouble on my behalf," she said carefully. "But my answer is still no. Even if I wanted to marry you, I could never think of getting married without my father present, especially since my mother can't be there. And my father is gone for the next several days, as I'm sure you know." In fact, the hunter had probably timed things, as he had last time, to make certain she had no one to defend her.

"Belle, you will marry me. Tonight," Gaston growled.


"You're shaming me in front of the entire town. I won't be rejected. Not this time." Gaston's face had been growing more and more threatening as he spoke. He raised a fist and punched the front door. It rattled ominously. Belle realized he meant to batter it down.

She whirled away from the window; first running to the door and barring it. Gaston crashed against it as the bolt slipped into place. Belle leapt away with a small cry. That wouldn't hold the huge man out for long.

A plan. She needed a plan. The heroes and heroines in her books always seemed to know exactly what to do in any crisis. They also seemed to have enough time to think things out rationally. All Belle's panic-stricken mind could really process was that she needed to get away. Far away.

She seized her cloak from its peg beside the door, her mind still frantically churning. Nowhere in the village was safe; they would think she was crazy not to want to marry the town hero, especially if it was discovered she was already carrying his child. Safety was only to be found with her father. He was several days away on foot, but at the moment no distance was too great as long as she was traveling away from Gaston.

If she slipped out the back, she'd be able to slip into the dusky woods. Gaston could easily track her; his prowess at hunting at least was not exaggerated. But if she could just make the main road she might be able to encounter someone who would take pity on her and allow her a ride. It was early evening, however, which she hoped meant Gaston would have difficulty following once he realized she was not in the house.

Into the kitchen she went. Half a loaf of bread, two apples, and a small wedge of cheese went into a cloth napkin, which Belle tied up into a bundle as she let herself out the kitchen door. She flung the cloak over her shoulders against the coming chill and drew the hood up over her head. With luck, the dark color of the cloak would disguise the paleness of her skin, blouse, and apron and allow her to blend into the rapidly drawing shadows.

She crossed the meadow behind her house as quietly as possible. Behind, her, the sound of Gaston still battering on the front door faded. This was a good indication that her escape had not been detected. Only when she had entered the third row of trees that heralded the great forest which bordered their village to the east did she feel her chest begin to move normally. She hadn't even been aware of holding her breath.

Stopping to rest was not an option. The light was quickly fading, and to be lost in the forest at night was just as unpleasant of a prospect as being found by Gaston.

Belle had been walking quickly through the undergrowth for about fifteen minutes when she blundered into a stream. Her shoes and ankles were soaked instantly, and she could not suppress a small gasp. She hadn't even noticed the water's presence until she'd stepped into it. This did not bode well for continuing her foray into the darkening forest for much longer.

However, she did recall that the road ran over a stream less than a mile from the village. If she followed the stream, likely she would eventually find the road. With renewed confidence, she lifted up her skirts and started off. Wet feet were nothing to having a direction.

Happily, another twenty minutes of stumbling through the stream led her to open meadow. There, not far ahead, was the road, its wooden bridge over the stream painted in purplish rosy hues by the sun. Belle's feet were numb by this point. Out of the stream she hauled herself, and spent a few minutes rubbing her toes to restore their feeling. Once she was able to walk without pain, she started down the road.

The sun set, and the entire landscape was bathed in blues and purples. In other circumstances, Belle would have paused to admire the beauty of the picture: dark woods surrounding, with the paler road stretching ahead of her. As it was, her nerves contrived to make both the path before and behind seem slightly menacing. She kept her ears alert for any sound.

A crashing noise! Belle's heart thumped, but it took her only seconds to realize the sound came from the path in front of her. She ducked into the underbrush beside the road.

Hoofbeats quickly became discernible within the crashing, along with the pants and snorts of an exhausted, frightened horse. Belle felt indignation rising in her chest, pushing aside her fear. She loved animals of all kinds, especially birds and horses. Who could be abusing a horse in such a manner?

She was already extricating herself from the bushes when the horse in question came into view down the road.

"Philippe!" she cried. For a moment, she dearly hoped her father might be astride him, but her hope soon turned to confusion. Her father was not a great horseman, but even he knew better than to drive a horse so hard.

Confusion became fear. Philippe had slowed at the sight of her, enough that Belle could see he bore no rider at all. The cart with her father's invention was still safely hitched to him, but Maurice was disturbingly absent.

"Philippe, steady!" Belle called. The horse slowed even more, plunging to a stop in the middle of the road with a slight rear. Belle could easily see the whites of his eyes in the gloom.

"Easy, Philippe, easy, boy," she soothed. Running up to him and throwing her arms about his neck would only startle him again, though she dearly wanted to do it. He had clearly sustained a bad fright; the poor thing was trembling all over. She approached slowly, talking to him in a quiet voice until he calmed enough to let her near him. She stroked his nose and whispered soothing-sounding words, though their meaning was not so calm.

"Where's Papa? Oh, where is he, Philippe? Did he get lost in the woods somewhere? You can't have reached the fair, to be back so soon." The horse dropped his head slightly to touch her shoulder.

"There's my good boy," she praised. With deft fingers despite the dark she began to undo the harness that bound him to her father's invention. "We'll just have to go look for him," she declared. "You'll have to take me there. It's a lucky thing you're so strong; you haven't been completely worn out yet. We'll have to be brave together. Like King Arthur and his faithful hound, Cavall." The comparison wasn't exactly appropriate, but the storied king didn't have a legendary warhorse, and his queen didn't have a pet at all that Belle knew of. Still, she felt better for saying it; it seemed to give them both a little courage.

The horse's cart detached, Belle took up the reigns. Philippe sent her a reproachful look, but he didn't object to her mounting his broad back. Compared to either her father or the invention, her weight was almost nothing. She was too early in pregnancy to be much heavier. Clucking to him, she turned him back in the direction he'd come. It pained her to leave Maurice's cherished invention in the road like so much refuse, but taking it to the house was not an option. She gave it a regretful look as she urged her horse down the road at an easy jog.

Philippe's timely appearance had solved her immediate problem for her: she could easily outdistance Gaston this way. He might come upon the abandoned cart and still never guess it was she who'd taken the horse from his ties. Her escape was as clean as anyone could have wished, considering the circumstances. The past was behind her, for now.

Ahead stretched a different slew of worries: where was her father? How had he and the horse become separated? And how could she possibly hope to find him in the woods between here and the fair? And if she did find him, what then?

"I trust you, Philippe," she whispered. The horse flicked an ear back to listen. "Let's find Papa together. The rest will work out. Somehow."

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 4 of 33

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