Continuing Tales

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 6 of 33

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
Kissed by a Rose

Belle was falling asleep in the saddle, kept awake only by worry for her father. Philippe continued plodding through the dark woods as if he knew where he was going. They had been on the main road for awhile, but then had taken a tiny side road nearly obscured by underbrush. The only real indication that there had once been a path was the half-rotted signpost. The words on it had long since faded, and anyway it was so dark Belle could never hope to read them. However, a wide swath of broken branches showed that someone had come this way recently.

That signpost was at least an hour behind them. Or so Belle guessed; it was hard to tell with so little moonlight filtering through the trees. Occasionally she heard distant sounds that might be animals in the woods, but they were never approached, not even by a deer or a bat.

The temperature began to drop, and kept dropping as the night went on. Belle drew her cloak tight. She began to shiver, though not uncontrollably.

Abruptly, they came into light, waking her from her drowsiness. She sat up in the saddle, only vaguely aware that Philippe had halted without her command. She stared around. They had entered a not-quite-clearing in the thick forest. Before them towered a pair of iron gates, stark even against the blotchy gray-black sky. These gates were enormous; even on Philippe Belle had to crane her neck to see their tops. At least thirty feet high, they pierced a stone wall that was equally enormous.

Belle could do nothing more than stare for a few seconds. What on earth was this? It looked like the entrance to a grand manor house, but she had never even heard that there might be one in the vicinity of the village. Was it abandoned? Sometimes such things happened, if the local nobility ran low on money or built an even grander home elsewhere. However, neither the walls nor the gates appeared deteriorated from where she was sitting.

"What is this place?" she asked, more to herself than to her patient, exhausted horse. Well, at the very least it was a place to rest until dawn. Philippe could not go much further. Even if it turned out to be abandoned, stone walls would provide shelter from the wind.

At her words, Philippe suddenly began to rear and plunge, making noises of distress. He kept his eyes fixed on the gates.

"Philippe, please!" Belle cried. She was a good horsewoman and managed to keep her seat on the bobbing back. The horse was too tired to get his hooves more than a few inches off the ground, but someone less firm in the saddle still might have been thrown.

She reached forward to pat his neck. He was still trembling. "Steady, boy, steady," she soothed. "Easy now, it's all right." The fact that the horse had had such a reaction, with nothing but the silent gates to frighten him, told her that things were not all right. He was as spooked as she at the atmosphere of this place. Still, they had no choice. They needed to rest somewhere.

Belle slid to the ground. When her feet touched, suddenly the world began to tilt so that she had to clutch Philippe's saddle in order to stay upright. Either this was some new symptom of pregnancy, or she was dangerously exhausted. Both options were unwelcome, and she thrust all thought of them away. Keeping one hand on the horse, she made her way to his head to take hold of his bridle.

"Come on, boy," she urged, tugging gently. "At least we'll be warmer for a little while. It can't be that bad." This last was as much to bolster her own courage as Philippe's. To her relief, he ducked his head and walked forward. Together they made their way to the gates.

Large as the iron monstrosities were, the gate Belle selected swung open with only a little force. It creaked loud enough to wake the dead, but Belle kept up the steady pressure until it was wide enough for both herself and her horse to pass through. When she had closed the gate behind them, she turned to find Philippe wuffling at something dark on the ground.

"What is it?" Belle asked him. She bent to pick it up, grateful that the baby was not large enough to interfere with this action yet.

The cloth form in her hands was instantly familiar. It was the wide-brimmed cap her father had been wearing when he had set out. So Philippe's horse instincts had been true. Maurice had indeed come here, somehow finding his way to this strange place in the middle of nowhere. Likely he had never made it to the fair.

"Oh Papa," Belle murmured, running her fingers over the hat.

She looked up, got her first glimpse of the house—castle—and restrained a gasp. It sat hulking and gray, reaching for the sky in many delicate pointed spires. The wide stone boulevard that led to this formidable place spanned a deep chasm; in fact, the castle itself stood on a point of rock in the center of a little valley so that the only way to approach it was either from the valley floor or across this bridge before her.

Belle liked the idea of crossing it even less than she liked the idea of entering the castle itself. But both must be done, if she were to find her father. Clutching the hat in one hand, she rose and took Philippe's reigns in the other. She was shaking as badly as the horse. "Come on, Philippe."

Together they crossed the chasm. Belle had been afraid the stone would be crumbling, but to her immense relief the entire bridge was sound. They stepped back onto solid ground and into a small courtyard before the castle's main entrance. Outbuildings ringed the left and right sides, including what looked like a stable. Belle led Philippe to the door and peered inside. It was empty, though there was room for dozens, perhaps a hundred, horses.

"Hello?" Belle called out tentatively. Nothing answered, though she thought for a brief second her eyes detected movement in the darkness at the back. She peered closer, but still no one answered her. She led Philippe inside the first stall. To her surprise, the straw was fresh. Someone had been here recently.

"Here you go, Philippe," she said. She removed saddle and bridle, and by the time she was finished the horse was almost asleep. "Good boy. Get some rest," she praised, giving him one last pat. Though she did not want to leave him here by himself, with someone possibly around to disturb him, if she wanted to find Maurice and perhaps rest for herself she had little choice. She did hang her father's hat on a convenient hook outside Philippe's stall.

In the courtyard, she paused to peer up at the castle. There were no lights showing anywhere. However, if she looked closely she could see a chimney subtly releasing smoke into the frigid air.

The main doors to the castle were enormous; even larger than the front gates, if that was possible. Belle pushed tentatively at one to discover that it opened with only a minimal amount of creaking. She peered around it. "Hello?"

Her voice echoed through a cavernous hall. Belle had never seen a room so big, or so fine. The floors were made of dark marble, and the colonnaded stories and balconies above her of carefully carved stone. At the far end seemed to be a staircase, though she could make out little of it in the gloom.

Belle stepped inside and shut the door behind her. Immediately the air temperature seemed to rise several degrees, and she sighed with relief. Slowly, trying to look in every direction at once, she advanced into the hall. Little eddies of dust followed her movements.

In the center, she paused again, waiting to see if anyone would come out to meet her. If Maurice was here, taking shelter, then perhaps he had heard her enter. When nothing stirred Belle made her way towards the stairs.

"Is anyone here?" she called. Still nothing. Belle decided to conduct a thorough search of the place. Beginning with the second floor, she peered into every room, still calling out for her father. Or for anyone else who would answer.

The place was strange. There was dust and cobwebs everywhere, yet nothing she saw showed any signs of decay. Nothing was broken; there was no mold or slime. The expensive, delicate glass windows were still intact. All the doors she tried, except for those that were locked, opened easily without hindrance from rust or rotten wood. The carpets were worn in places, some window drapes had moth holes, and some of the wall paint was peeling, but that was the extent of any damage she saw. She also saw very few household objects such as candelabra, coat racks, or china. There were no clocks, and only one or two mirrors.

Eventually, she began to get the sense of some…presence. She was being watched, but whoever it was did not show themselves or answer her calls. Once, she thought she heard voices, but when she paused to listen there was only silence.

Suddenly there was a creak behind her. She spun. "Papa?"

There was no reply, but a door that had been closed before was now ajar. Flickering light spilled from behind it. Belle hurried forward and peered around the door. Sure enough, there was light in the room. It was coming from a spiraled staircase at the far end. "Hello? Is someone here?" Belle called. She thought she heard footsteps, and the light began to fade. Its source was moving away from her.

"Wait!" Belle called. She hurried up the stairs after the light, which continued to stay ahead of her as if guiding. There were a lot of stairs, and Belle began to pant. "Wait, please! I'm looking for my father, and I—" Abruptly the stairs ended as she came around a last curve. They opened into a stone tower room, lit by a three-branched candelabra set conveniently in a niche, and a flickering torch on a support pillar in the room's center. The room itself was empty, and very still.

"That's funny," Belle murmured to herself. "I was sure there was someone…" She looked around again. "Is anyone here?"

At long last, there was an answer. "Belle?" came a weak voice. Movement flickered, and for the first time Belle noticed there were doors set into the tower walls. Doors with bars.

"Papa!" Belle cried. She seized the torch from its bracket and flung herself down by one of the doors. From behind the barred grate set nearly at the floor appeared her father's beloved face. She thrust a hand between the bars, and he caught it in his, squeezing tightly.

"How did you find me?" he stuttered. Belle could feel him shivering.

"Your hands are like ice!" she exclaimed. Her walk around the castle had warmed her somewhat, but her father was as chilled as if he was the one who had been riding outside all night. As if to confirm her suspicions, he began to cough. "Oh, Papa, were you out in that dreadful storm last night? You must have caught cold, and here you are in a prison cell! We've got to get you out of there!"

"Belle, no."

"What?" she drew back in surprise.

A hand came through the bars to take hold of her shoulder. "I want you to leave this place."

She could hear the weakness in his voice, and fear for him was making her angry. "Who's done this to you?"

"There's no time to explain!" Maurice replied. "You must go. Now. At once. Before he finds you!"

"I won't leave you here!"

Belle would have argued further, but several things happened simultaneously in that instant. Something, something enormous, seized her shoulder and wrenched her around. Her torch flew from suddenly numb fingers. It managed to go dead in the process, leaving the room in semidarkness. There was a roar around her, a sound of pure anger that somehow managed to form itself into words: "What are you doing here?"

A higher voice, that of her father, shrieked "Run, Belle!" from somewhere behind her.

That was impossible, though whatever had grabbed her had let go. Belle found herself kneeling before Maurice's cell door with her back against it. A hulking shadow now stood between her and the staircase.

"Who's there? Who are you?" Belle asked, voice trembling.

"The Master of this castle," the roar replied, now muted to a growl. The shadow shifted, and Belle could see an outline of a huge, hairy creature, though most of it was swathed in a dark cloak. There was also a slight glitter that might have been eyes.

She gathered her courage. "I've come for my father. Please, let him out. Can't you see he's sick?"

"Then he shouldn't have trespassed here!" The roar had returned.

Terror kept Belle glued to the floor. What was this thing, clearly an animal of some kind, yet speaking in a human tongue? In a way, it was worse than confronting Gaston. He might be an animal in human form, but she knew what to expect from him. This was completely outside her experience.

Maurice sneezed behind her, and Belle was roused to her purpose. "But he could die! Please, I'll do anything."

"There's nothing you can do," snarled that disconcerting voice. "He's my prisoner." The shadow began to move away, towards the stairs.

"There must be some way I can…" An idea occurred to her. It was a dreadful idea, but Belle could not bear to simply walk away and leave her father there in the cell. At least she wasn't ill going into it.

She leaned forward, and found her face in a shaft of weak moonlight from the room's single window. "Take me instead," she offered.

The shadow paused. It seemed to eye her; she saw the flash of white again. "You?" the voice asked. The growl softened to a muted rumble. "You would…take his place?"

"Belle, no!" Maurice exclaimed. "You don't know what you're doing!"

Belle glanced at him, then back to the shadow, which had come even closer. It definitely had eyes, blue ones that reminded her of a summer sky. "If I did, would you let him go?" she asked.

"Yes." The voice was almost a whisper, now. "But," it continued, "You must promise to stay here forever."

Forever? That was not something Belle had considered. A few months, perhaps. Maybe long enough that she could have her child in peace, without it being the greatest scandal the village had seen in years. As neglected as her father had been, she doubted the castle's Master would pay attention to any goings-on inside the cell, even the birth of a child. But this was no place for a baby to grow up, with a prisoner for a mother and a hulking monster in the shadows.

Belle was caught between her father and her child. She wanted neither of them to suffer. But if she did not agree, she would have to walk away from the castle and leave her father here, knowing he would soon be dead. She would also be destitute, unless she returned to the village and married Gaston. None of these things was conscionable. And if she stayed…perhaps in time she could get the Master of this place to send the baby to Maurice. The child, at least, should not have to pay for what she was about to do.

Still, Belle wanted to see her adversary before she completely made up her mind. "Come into the light," she asked.

The eyes widened, but the shadow came forward into the shaft of moonlight. As it did, Belle's frightened mind fixed on details rather than absorb the whole of what stood before her. Clawed paws, the back shaped like those of a dog, the fore like enormous padded human hands complete with thumbs. A body covered in brown fur, built like a bear. Tattered breeches covered its more sensitive parts, but from its voice there was little doubt that this creature was male. An equally tattered cloak fell from shoulders to floor. The whole body, standing straight, must have been at least seven feet tall if not more.

Suddenly Belle was staring into his face, and she could not help gasping. It was a nightmarish blending of several animals at once: short, pointed ox horns; horse ears; wolverine-like snout filled with sharp teeth, two of which jutted above the lower lip; a tangled lion's mane; and a goat's small beard. The blue eyes which she had noticed before were set incongruously into this mixture, shadowed beneath heavy brows.

For an instant, those steady eyes clouded as if in pain, but they held Belle's gaze.

It was Maurice who broke the silence. "No, Belle! I won't let you do this!"

Belle wanted to hug him. He didn't even know about her child, and yet he was willing to sacrifice himself. She couldn't let him do it. However, neither was she brave enough to look at the monster before her again. She stood, but kept her eyes on the floor.

"You have my word."

"Done!" The roar was back again. She felt, rather than saw, him move past her, heard him unlock the cell door. Her knees had given way beneath her. She put both hands to her face as if to press in the tears. It would do neither her father nor herself any good if she was crying when they parted. Forever.

Maurice was beside her then, putting an arm around her. "Belle, listen to me, it doesn't have to be this way," he said quickly. "I'm old, I've lived my life—"

Before he could continue, he was seized bodily and hauled from the room by Belle's new jailer.

"Belle!" her father cried, reaching for her.

"Wait!" Belle wailed after them. They were already gone. Belle rushed to the window—she didn't think her traitorous knees could carry her down that flight of stairs. Luckily it faced the castle's main entrance. She watched as Maurice was thrust into what looked like a closed sedan chair, which walked away on spindly wooden legs towards the main gates. This would have seemed much odder to her had she not been more focused on the sedan's occupant.

The tears did not begin to fall until the chair had faded from view. Then Belle put her head down on the cold windowsill and sobbed.

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 6 of 33

<< Previous     Home     Next >>