Continuing Tales

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 5 of 33

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Kissed by a Rose

Nine years, ten months, and two days. That was how long the rose had been glowing above the small marble table in the Beast's suite. So often in that ensuing time since the curse had been laid he had wished to lose track, for the months and years to dissolve into empty blurriness. The rose would not allow it. Some nasty part of its magic meant that every time he saw it, he knew exactly how much time had passed since that fateful Christmas.

And how much time he had left. Five months and fifteen days. He would be twenty-five the next time April showed on the calendar. Even the grace period that meant the curse would go a bit more than precisely ten years before becoming permanent was depressingly close.

Why had she done it? After all these years, the additional time felt like an extra curse rather than a blessing. Living nearly a decade with an impossible hope grew harder and harder to bear the longer it went on.

There had been times, so many times over the years, when he had made up his mind to crush the damned thing. He'd never gotten so far as to lift the bell jar that protected the rose, no matter how firm his resolve had been. He wasn't even certain destroying it would succeed in making the curse permanent before the allotted time was up. If it was a symbol only, then things would continue just as they had.

It would be nice not to know exactly how long he had, however.

On this particular late October day, the Beast had been engaged in his usual activities: a combination of brooding and pacing, occasionally punctuated with bouts of despair that could only be alleviated by hitting something with one of his massive paws. At the moment, he had returned to brooding over the rose, thinking for the thousandth time about what it represented.

Years of his life, gone. All because of one mistake. And what was the magical cure-all? Love. Something he'd seen could never be depended upon. All the love in the world hadn't been enough to keep his parents alive.

A crash of thunder overhead distracted him. He jumped at the sound, his thick brown fur bristling for a moment. This storm seemed to have come out of nowhere. Usually he could tell storms were approaching while they were still miles away; his sensitive animal ears detected far-away rumblings and his fur grew heavier with the approaching rain. It had been a long time since he had been surprised by one. Annoyed that he actually been startled into jumping, he growled under his breath and stalked to the balcony just as the rain let loose.

He didn't actually go outside; his fur took hours to dry from a thorough soaking. Instead he stood glaring at the rain. The dull grayness outside matched his mood. It was during weather like this that he was most tempted to throw in the towel, to curl up on the wreckage that was his bed and forget about attempting to live his so-called life.

He needed leave the West Wing. Contemplating the rain, now that it was here, did not appeal. Nor did brooding over the rose, or even breaking something. Pacing the castle's vast halls might cure him of his current irritation with himself. Animals jumped at sudden noises, and he was not fully animal. Not yet.

Out of the suite's double doors the Beast stalked. He had long ago given up trying to walk on his back paws. Walking on two legs felt, to his formerly human feet, like tiptoeing everywhere. By now, all fours was instinct, and much more comfortable besides.

The Beast entered the main part of the castle, which consisted for the most part of formerly public rooms and included the ballroom, the throne room, three dining halls of various degrees ofspaciousness, and the main parlor that contained his favorite chair by an enormous fire. All of these could be found off the grand entrance hall, which soared up four enormous stories, the entire height of the castle keep. On the open corridors overlooking this vast space were more rooms, the second floor consisting of smaller parlors and salons for royal meetings as well as work space once used by administrators of the province. All were shut and empty, as were the guest suites on the remaining levels.

It was in one of these open corridors that he first heard the voices echoing up to him from the ground level. Ordinarily he would have paid no further attention; he did not particularly care what the servants did with their time when they weren't waiting on him. However, after over nine years trapped in an empty castle with a limited number of residents, he knew the voice of every one of them, even the lowliest. His sensitive Beast ears were good for a few things. Something was…off…about this set of echoes. It didn't sound like anyone he recognized.

Curious, he peered over the balustrade between him and the view into the entrance hall. It was just one story down, so there was no mistake in what he was seeing due to distance.

His servants Lumière and Cogsworth were leading an outsider, a plump human male, into the main parlor.

For the first half-second, the Beast thought he was hallucinating. Surely such a scene as this could not be real. No human had found his or her way to the castle since the curse had been laid. It was one of the primary reasons he had given up on the wretched spell ever being broken. Now…now he was tempted to rub his eyes in disbelief, something he hadn't done in years.

"…no, no! You know what the Master will do if he finds him here…" Cogsworth's voice brought the Beast back from his astonished paralysis. He glared down as the trio disappeared into the parlor, his wrath beginning to build. How dare this man come uninvited into his castle! How dare his servants, who of all people should understand the need for privacy, accommodate the stranger!

He didn't remember making his way down the main staircase and across the hall, so blinding was his rage. He did recall deciding to go quietly, which slowed him from charging into the room and attacking the man at once. Other than that, it seemed he blinked and he was flinging open the doors to the parlor that the servants had so thoughtfully closed behind them.

A dead hush fell over the room. The blast of air had put out the fire in the grate, leaving the room in near-complete darkness. No matter. The Beast could hear perfectly well what was going on. The slight gasp to his left was Lumière. A rattling of china closer to the fireplace was Mrs. Potts, now a teapot. Of course she would be here; she lived to make everyone feel comfortable. If she was here, her youngest son Chip was likely in the room as well. The Beast could also hear a muffled ticking that indicated Cogsworth the mantel clock was off to the right. The sounds he chiefly focused on were the noises made by a terrified old man. The Beast could almost hear his shivers.

The man was ensconced in his chair, his favorite one that looked like a throne. That pushed his already boiling temper off the edge. "There's a stranger here," he snarled in the direction of his servants.

"Master, allow me to explain," came Lumière's tentative voice. The Beast's ears had correctly placed the candelabra to the left. "The gentleman was lost in the woods. He was cold and wet, so we—"

The Beast was in no mood to listen to any sort of reason. He roared wrathfully, and Lumière fell silent.

Cogsworth broke in with protestations of his own innocence. He was also silenced by a roar. By this point, the Beast had stalked to the chair. The old man was frantically looking around the dark room, and an unfortunate—on his part—turn of the head brought him face-to-snout with the snarling Beast. He was treated to an excellent view of sharp teeth and a pair of furious human eyes set in a predator's face. Bad as the light was in the room, the Beast could see the stranger turn pale.

"My God," the man whispered. He scrambled over the arm of the chair, trying to put it between himself and the menace.

"Who are you? What are you doing here?" the Beast demanded, following easily.

"I—I was lost in the woods, and, and—" the man stuttered. His voice failed him as the Beast rose to his hind legs, looming over him.

"You're not welcome here," growled the Beast.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know…" The man put his hands out in a feeble gesture. The Beast had been about to usher the man to the front door and toss him out by his homespun shirtfront, but his eyes were caught for some reason by the man's hands. Human hands. The last time he had seen human hands had been his own, transforming before his eyes into horrible clawed monstrosities. It was all he could do not to shudder.

Hot shame raced through him. That this trespasser had seen him in his hideous state suddenly could not be tolerated.

"What are you staring at?" he snarled. The widening of the man's eyes only heightened the Beast's fury.


"So. You've come to stare at the Beast, have you?" snarled the Beast. He stood even taller, to his full height, every gleaming tooth exposed.

The man's wavering nerve broke. He bolted for the door to the entrance hall. Catching him was a simple matter; it was accomplished in a single bound. The Beast grabbed the man's arm.

The old man screamed, though no claws had pierced his flesh. "Please!' he pleaded, trying to pull his arm from the unbreakable grasp. "I meant no harm, I swear! I only needed a place to stay!"

"I'll give you a place to stay!" Now the Beast did lift the man by his shirtfront, not to carry him to the door, but to the castle dungeon. Unlike many older castles, the dungeon was located in a tower rather than belowground. This one had been infrequently used even before the curse; now every cell stood empty.

There was no key to any of these doors, and even if there were, the Beast would have had no idea where to find it. Nor did he want to wait while a servant fetched it. They probably did not remember where the dungeon keys were, either. However, it was a simple matter to insert a claw into the lock on one of the cells and twist, lifting the catch. Onto the moldy straw on the cell floor went the shivering old man.

The Beast slammed the door and locked it again with the same twist of a claw. He heard a rattle as the man flung himself against the bars set near the door's base.

"No, please," the trespasser begged. "You don't understand! My daughter…she's alone! She won't know what happened to me! Please, please…no! Wait!" His voice faded into echoes as the Beast stalked back down the tower stairs.

The servants wisely kept out of the path between the dungeon and the West Wing. The Beast did not want to see any of them, not after what they had done. They had brought a stranger, a human stranger, into their midst. How could they? They could hardly expect the old man to break the spell. What purpose would it serve to shower him with hospitality?

The Beast growled in frustration, knocking aside a small end table as he stalked down the hall in the West Wing that led to his suite. The servants might have let the old man in, but he was now his, the Beast's, responsibility. What to do with him? Now that his rage and embarrassment were ebbing, the Beast had to admit he might have acted unjustly. The man had not asked for so very much. Just shelter from the rain.

But he could not be released. A sentence, once issued, could not be revoked. Perhaps, in a few days, the old man could be set free to wander the castle. He could not be liberated entirely, but perhaps he might grow accustomed to living in a derelict castle…

He'd mentioned a daughter. A girl left alone, without knowing where her father was. For a moment, the Beast pictured a child of perhaps five, wandering disconsolately around an empty cottage, slowly growing thinner. He forced that image away. It was the man's own foolish fault for leaving his child to fend for herself. Such a thing was no concern of the Beast.

An uncomfortable feeling in his gut attempted to tell him he was wrong. He ignored that as well and curled up on the remains of his bed. His head had begun to pound slightly at all these new problems, piled on top of all the worry and care he normally carried around with him. The rose still glowed on the table. The enchantment had not been, and never would be, lifted.

The Beast groaned and turned his eyes away from the faint pinkish light issuing from the bell jar. Not for the first time, he wished the enchantress had taken away his ability to think like a human along with his human form. Animals never had to worry. They didn't recall much of the painful past. And they never tried to untangle the ugly knot that was the future, either.

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 5 of 33

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