Continuing Tales

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 9 of 33

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Kissed by a Rose

The Beast had realized his mistake not long after arriving in the West Wing. It was about three in the morning when he'd issued his order to the girl about dinner. That meant he'd have to wait almost a whole day until the appointed time.

He was too wound up to sleep at the moment, after all that had happened. The enchantress' magic mirror was a temptation, and eventually he gave in. Picking it up, he ordered, "Show me the girl."

The mirror glowed green and its surface clouded over. When it cleared, it showed a dark bedroom. Madame de la Grande Bouche was tucking a pale, slight figure into a four-poster bed. For a moment, the Beast was alarmed, thinking Madame was going to undress the girl, but Madame only removed her dirty, torn apron. The girl's clothes were not in much better shape, the Beast noticed. The path to the castle must be more overgrown than he'd imagined.

Madame moved out of sight, and the slight bloom of a lamp illuminated the girl's features. She looked so fragile, lying there alone. The fresh tear tracks gleaming on her cheeks made the Beast's insides squirm again.

He put the mirror down and the scene faded. The Beast ran a paw over his mane. This girl was a puzzle. When the old man had mentioned a daughter, he'd pictured a child. Then she'd arrived and had turned out to be a woman grown. And a pretty one, as well. What was a lovely girl her age doing unmarried and still living with her father? He'd heard somewhere that peasants tended to marry early. Courtiers did, too, though their marriages were usually arranged. He knew he'd probably be married by now, were he still human. Yet here was this gorgeous girl, who had to be at least twenty years of age if not more. Almost old enough be considered a spinster.

Money might be a factor. Neither the girl nor her father were particularly well-dressed. If she didn't have a dowry, then marriage to a suitable man could be difficult. He'd heard dowry suits before in his father's court. His mother had had trouble explaining difficulties with money to her young son, who had never wanted for luxury in his life.

Yet neither girl nor old man appeared starved, as peasants had sometimes when they came to court. Surely if they had enough to eat they could afford a small dowry. How much did a dowry cost, anyway?

He'd never thought about any of this before. It was all quite baffling.

He realized he'd curled up on his bed without thinking. Still turning things over in his mind, he fell into a restless sleep.

As he had so often in the last decade, he dreamed of that fateful Christmas, the night he'd learned an entirely new definition of 'hideous.' Yet in this dream, instead of an old crone, the enchantress looked like his new captive when she was led into the hall by the guards. She carried a bundle in her arms. She did not ask for shelter from the cold; instead she begged for protection from her husband, who had found out he was not the father of her child and now wanted to kill them both.

The girl was beautiful, but so the prince's mother had been. Neither had been faithful to their husbands. Such faithlessness did not deserve protection. The prince—a remote part of him realized that he was human, but a fully-grown man rather than a boy of fourteen—turned the girl and her child from the castle.

The familiar warning about allowing appearances to deceive him was issued. This time the prince, knowing what was about to happen, wanted to hesitate, but it was suddenly as if his body and tongue were too ingrained with the pattern to stop. In a cold voice, he ordered woman and babe thrown outside to her waiting husband. It occurred to him as he spoke that he sounded just like his father denouncing his mother before the court.

The girl and her bundle shimmered and vanished, replaced by the enchantress. Instead of her usual words about finding him without love, she said, "I once warned you about allowing appearances to deceive you. Even after all these years, you still see what circumstances first present, and do not seek to know any deeper. Take care. This is your last chance."

She brought her wand down towards him.

The Beast lunged upward with a gasp. It took a few moments for him to realize he was in his room in the West Wing, not in the main receiving chamber downstairs. He glanced downward, looking himself over. He had never been so glad to see his paws and tail. The room around him was as dark and shattered as ever. The enchantress was nowhere to be seen.

What had that dream been about? In all his years as a Beast, the nightmare of his final fifteen minutes of humanity had never altered. It was as if his own past had intertwined with the intrusion of the girl into his castle to create something entirely new and no less nightmarish. Had it just been a dream born of all the emotions of the past twenty-four hours, or something more?

He decided to try to put it from his mind. Shaking out his fur as if doing so would fling the dream away, he glanced at the balcony. The snow that had begun sometime last night looked as if it were settling in for the day. He was indifferent to snow, unless he went outside. Then the powdery white stuff had a tendency to get caught in his fur, melt, and send trickles of icy cold piercing through him.

He made his way downstairs to the kitchens. As he passed the entrance to the receiving chamber, he paused, thought briefly about going inside to check it, and dismissed the idea with a shudder. Both he and the servants tended to avoid that room if they could help it; for most of them, the transformation from human to their current state had taken place there.

The kitchens were already in full swing preparing for dinner that night. When queried, Mrs. Potts admitted that the newcomer was still asleep and showed no signs of waking.

"She's exhausted, poor thing," the teapot said. "It's best to leave her alone, let her get her rest. You'll see her tonight. Go on, now, sir," she added when her Master didn't move. "We've enough to do without you getting in the way!"

The Beast left, feeling miffed but not really angry. He did take up a great deal of room in the kitchen, and there was always the risk of stepping on someone. But for people like Madame de la Grande Bouche, the wardrobe, and Monsieur Joli, the head-chef-turned-stove, he was the largest creature in the castle by far, and the only one mobile enough to be a danger.

He spent the rest of the day trying to occupy himself. Nothing really suited his mood. How had he entertained himself as a human? He couldn't remember. Before his father's death he'd always had lessons or some sort of duty, with rarely any time to play. His room had been filled with toys, but those had somehow vanished in the move from his old chambers to the West Wing. Afterward, he hadn't been able to bring himself to care about much of anything. The four years of his life between his father's death and the curse, and most of the years afterwards as well, were a foggy blur punctuated by clear memories of his bouts of temper and despair.

In the end, he simply drifted around the castle until his stomach told him it was time to eat. Lumière met him in the main hall and led him to the smallest of the formal dining rooms. The room gleamed, and appeared as gracious as the servants could make it despite the gargoyle theme that repeated itself endlessly throughout the castle.

Cogsworth was directing the placement of the last few forks and spoons. He paused in his duties to bow in a distracted way when his Master entered. Mrs. Potts was perched on the mantelpiece out of the way, where she would supervise the food as it was brought in. Lumière hopped up to join her.

"How goes it?" he asked Mrs. Potts.

"Quite well," she beamed.

"Circumstances are satisfactory," Cogsworth proclaimed, as if the question had been directed at him. "All that remains is to announce the meal to our…other diner. Which I will do," he added as Lumière made to hop towards the door. "It's my duty as head of the household. It's your duty to stay here and make sure things go smoothly in my absence." Out the door he went.

"It's your duty to stay here and kick your heels…" mimicked Lumière once the clock was out of earshot. "Hmph. Well, I can at least make certain the fire is well built-up. How dreadful if the girl were to catch a sniffle because our fearless head of the household skimped on firewood."

"It is snowing quite hard," Mrs. Potts said diplomatically. The Beast chose not to comment; he was too used to the rivalry between his head of the household and maitre d'hôtel. Lumière stoked up the fire, and the three of them settled down to wait.

Eventually, the Beast lost patience and began to pace. "What's taking so long?" he grumbled. "I told her to come down. Why isn't she here yet?"

"Try to be patient, sir," soothed Mrs. Potts. "The girl needs time to get used to…to the way things are here. She seemed very unsure when I took some tea up to her. However," she added brightly, "she's a very sweet girl and I think she'll settle in quickly. Chip adores her already."

The Beast wasn't sure why Chip's opinion mattered, but if Mrs. Potts approved of their new resident it was a hopeful sign.

"Master," interjected Lumière eagerly, apparently unable to hold this comment in any longer, "Have you thought that perhaps this girl could be the one to break the spell?"

"Of course I have!" the Beast snapped. "I'm not a fool." The question had been bothering him frequently since she'd arrived.

"Good! So, you fall in love with her," the candelabra lit one of the candles that served him for hands, "she falls in love with you," he lit the other, "and poof!" He blew them both out. "The spell is broken! We'll be human again by midnight!"

Midnight? The idea was laughable.

Luckily, Mrs. Potts agreed. "It's not that easy, Lumière. These things take time."

"It's no use anyway," the Beast growled.

"Why?" Lumière asked. "Love can happen in the blink of an eye! You look at her, and in just a moment you'll know!"

"How can love take time and yet you know in an instant?" the Beast demanded. "You don't make any sense, Lumière. Besides, look at me!" He indicated his fur, horns and tail in one expressive gesture.

The two servants exchanged helpless glances. Finally, Mrs. Potts said, "Then you must help her to see past all that."

"I don't know how," grumbled the Beast. He didn't even know if there was any more to him than fangs and claws, other than the fact that he could think and talk.

"Well, you can start by making yourself more presentable," Mrs. Potts declared firmly. She hopped from the mantel to the dining table. "Straighten up!" she ordered. "Try to act like a gentleman!"

Her tone was so commanding that the Beast automatically did as she said. Straightening up was difficult, as he was built to walk on all fours. Acting like a gentleman would take work. He barely remembered his royal lessons in proper behavior. Something about keeping your elbows in…

"Ah, yes!" agreed Lumière, leaping to join Mrs. Potts. "When she comes in, give her a dashing, debonair smile. Come, show me the smile."

The Beast tried to pull his face into a semblance of a smile, but his attempt made the two servants wince. He could only assume too many teeth were exposed. How could he smile without showing teeth?

"But don't frighten the poor girl," Mrs. Potts put in, as if she had read his mind. "She's nervous enough already."

"Impress her with your rapier wit," added Lumière. The Beast wasn't sure what that meant, but he nodded and tried to take it to heart. Maybe this could work.

"But be gentle," advised Mrs. Potts.

"Shower her with compliments."

"But be sincere."

"And above all…"

The Beast, tired of this litany, covered his ears. He couldn't shut them out entirely, especially when they said in unison, "You must control your temper!"

He also didn't miss the creak of the door handle. All three of the room's occupants turned towards it.

"There she is!" Lumière's whisper was almost prayerful.

However, it was only Cogsworth who poked his head around the door. He looked nervous, a sure sign of bad news.

"Well? Where is she?" snapped the Beast.

"Who?" asked Cogsworth. Then he laughed nervously, as if the previous statement had been one of his usual poor jokes. "Oh. The girl. Actually, she's in the process of…well…circumstances being what they are…she's not coming..."

It took barely a second for this to register with the Beast, at least partially. "WHAT?"

She wasn't coming? She'd actually had the nerve to defy a direct order? Where did she get the right? He'd told her to come to dinner. She had to come.

He was up the stairs before he'd consciously given his legs the order to move. It seemed he blinked again and he was at the door to the suite he'd given the girl and one massive paw was crashing against the wood.

"I thought I told you to come down to dinner!"

"I'm not hungry," came her calm, cold voice back. She didn't even bother to open the door.

"You're hungry if I say you're hungry!" he roared.

"Don't be ridiculous." He actually heard a tremor of a laugh in her otherwise uninflected voice. "It doesn't work like that. You can't just go around ordering people to be hungry or not. Besides, it's rude."

The thought of her laughing at him made him even angrier. "Rude, is it? You come out, or I'll break down the door and—"

"Master," Lumière said, very quietly. The Beast hadn't even heard him approach. "I could be wrong, but that may not be the best way to win the girl's affections."

"Remember, be a gentleman," Mrs. Potts added.

"But she's the one who's being difficult!"

"Try again. Gently." Mrs. Potts insisted.

Gentling his voice as much as possible, the Beast growled, "Will you come down to dinner?" Even to himself, he sounded sulky.

"No, thank you just the same." The answer was coolly delivered, leaving no room for argument. The Beast turned back to his servants with a helpless gesture.

"Suave, genteel," suggested Cogsworth. It took the Beast a few moments to remember the meaning of those words.

Summoning up as much royal dignity as he could manage, he said, "It would give me great pleasure if you would join me for dinner." He was still unable to keep the temper from his voice.

"Say please," urged Cogsworth.

"Please," the Beast repeated dutifully.

"No, thank you." As icy as before. Her voice was dull; no passion, no fear. The tone almost sounded practiced.

Fury washed over him. "You can't stay in there forever!"

There was iron control in her voice now. "You can't make me come out. I said no, and I meant it."

"Fine. Then you'll starve." The Beast whirled on his servants, pitching his voice loud enough to carry through the door to the room's stubborn occupant. "If she doesn't eat with me, then she doesn't eat at all." Then he whirled around and stalked down the corridor towards the West Wing, muttering the entire time.

"I ask nicely, but she refuses." He stormed into his room, knocking aside a chair. It crashed against the wall with a splinter of breaking wood. "What does she want me to do, beg? Well, she can forget it!"

He seized the mirror again and demanded, "Show me the girl."

The mirror obediently displayed the inside of the girl's rooms. She was perched on the bed, talking to Madame. Her arms were folded resolutely.

"The Master's really not so bad once you get to know him," Madame was saying coaxingly. "Why don't you give him a chance?"

"A chance?" snorted the girl. "A chance to do what? Shout at me again? That's all he's ever done."

"He does have a bit of a temper…"

"And why would I want to get to know him? So I can appear and disappear at his pleasure? I get no say in the matter. I'm sick to death of having my choices taken away from me!" The girl flung herself down on her pillows and began to cry. Madame tried to soothe her, but to no avail. "I'll starve before I eat because someone ordered me to," the girl declared. "And I don't want to have anything to do with him, either."

It took a great deal of effort for the Beast to place the mirror back on the table next to the rose rather than drop it. It went dark as he set it aside.

She wanted…a choice? The Beast was a little confused. Hadn't he given her license to come and go as she pleased in the castle? She had agreed to stay here in the first place; in fact, she had suggested it. That had been her choice.

As for dinner…no, it was true, he hadn't given her a choice. Now that his temper was cooling a little, he could see that she could possibly resent being ordered about. She might be a peasant, but she wasn't a servant. And she had no idea of his former status. He had taken it for granted that she would do what he said, based on an idea of his rank that, for her, didn't exist. Or because she feared him, which she clearly did not. The fact that everyone else in his life obeyed his orders didn't seem like much of an excuse.

Mistakes. That's all he seemed capable of making. Especially around this girl, who now wanted nothing to do with him.

"It's hopeless," he sighed, running a paw through his mane. In so doing, his eye was caught by the glowing rose.

Five months, thirteen days.

Kissed by a Rose

A Beauty & the Beast Story
by SamoaPhoenix9

Part 9 of 33

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