A/N: Just before Easter I spotted a children’s book by Francesca Rossi - a retelling of Beauty and Beast featuring wild bunnies. I am extremely jealous that I didn’t think myself of it for my Bunny Rumbelle series. So here is my version - based on Rossi’s book, but tweaked and fleshed out a little. I couldn’t miss this opportunity for more Bunny Rumbelle.
Something strange lives under the big oak on the border of the bog. Dark, smelly, with awkwardly shaped body and long, black ears. Instead of a fur it has leaves, dirt and mismatched feathers. It makes weird squeaking sounds as it moves. The rabbits are afraid to approach the beast. Old bunny Moe is sharing frightening details of his encounter with it. However, nothing can deter Moe’s daughter Belle when her curiosity is piqued.
Moe returned home from his trip to the carrot field frightened to the point of trembling and babbling incoherently about the beast from the bog. It took Belle as much time as it takes to eat the whole lettuce to calm him down enough so he could explain what happened.
‘A terrible creature!’ Moe said. ‘All dark, twisted, stinking unnaturally. It threw itself at me when I tried to rest under the big oak. It threatened to rip me to shreds! Oh, Belle, my child, it was even worse than the gossips had it. It was a miracle that I managed to escape! It wanted to kill me and it wouldn’t hesitate to do so. It was only because of the rain that I escaped. The rain that made me to seek shelter there made the ground slippery and the beast, awkward as it is, didn’t manage to hold and then chase me. Oh, Belle, I thought I’d die there!’
Belle murmured all the soothing things she could think of, but wondered what exactly that mysterious beast was. The next day, she talked to almost all the other bunnies from the warren but no one could give her any more details than Moe did.
Moe himself seemed miserable and sick. To her inquires he finally confessed:
‘The beast threatened to come here. It howled after me that it would come and take my child. Oh Belle, what if it does? It threatened to kill everyone here otherwise, but I can’t allow anything to happen to you!’
Belle felt the shiver of dread after her father’s words but quickly reminded herself that fear often makes things bigger than they truly are.
‘So it wants me, father? Well, I don’t think so. Who does it thinks it is to demand something like that!’
Her attitude cheered Moe up a bit, but other rabbits weren’t so easily calmed. The warren lived in perpetual fear of the beast that could come any moment to kill them.
It was only a matter of time when Belle was told to go, for the good of the warren. No one forced her exactly, but the pleas, the looks, the fear all around were even more of a pressure than being simply thrown out.
‘I have to go, father,’ she said as calmly as she could. ‘But I don’t think it will be as scary as we all think. It might be as well an exciting adventure.’
Moe didn’t seem to believe her, but there were other rabbits to protect, the warren was a big family. Moe might be heartbroken to see Belle go, but the young kits born a moon ago would be safe then. He understood it just as well as Belle did.
The way to the bog took Belle a better part of the day. It was a delightfully scenic route, with raspberry and multitude of flowers. Near the bog Belle started to spot more and more cranberry bushes. She loved cranberry and at least that would be a bright spot in her life if the beast would prove to be as dreadful as her father told her.
That is, if it didn’t kill her on the spot. Belle had to admit that she was feeling more and more scared as she approached her destination. She could feel her heart doubling its pace. The big oak was already in sight.
Sensibly, Belle wormed her way under thick, leafy bush to take a peek on the place and the beast if it were in sight. And there it was - Belle spotted the dark creature only after few moments. It lied in the shadow, hunched, with ears flopped down and looking rather pathetic. Aware that looks can be deceived, Belle decided to observe it a little bit longer. She moved a little bit closer and froze in panic when a dry twig snapped under her paw. The sound seemed loud enough to wake up a whole warren, but to Belle’s astonishment the beast didn’t react. She could see it was awake and yet it seemed that it didn’t notice anything.
Intrigued, Belle crept even closer. Perhaps the beast, being so scary and unpleasantly looking, simply didn’t have to care about any predators. Perhaps being here would mean that Belle was safe too. That would be a good change, she thought.
Finally, seeing as nothing was going to happen, Belle mustered all her courage and curiosity, and hopped out of the bush, right on the small clearing beneath the oak. Now the beast spotted her, leaping up to its feet and looking at her warily.
‘Um... hi,’ Belle said, hopping a bit closer.
‘What do you want?’ the beast asked sharply. ‘Came here to gawk at the beast, dearie?’
Belle cringed, because in part she indeed was, her curiosity making her look intently at the messy, misshapen body, the leaves and feathers, and other weird things tangled in the smelly fur.
‘I...’ Belle hesitated.
Should she explain? Or maybe the beast already forgotten about the threats made in the fit of fury?
But now that she could leave, she didn’t really want to.
‘My father sent me,’ she said quickly. It was as good introduction as any and she didn’t really want to risk that the beast would attack her warren after all.
‘He... uh, was seeking shelter here a few days ago...’
‘Oh, I remember now,’ the beast said bitterly. ‘The fool who ate the last of my lettuce.’
Well, that was new to Belle. Moe didn’t mention any lettuce.
‘Yes, well...’ Belle said awkwardly. ‘You wanted him to give you one of his children, right? So here I am.’
The beast took a hesitant step towards her. Belle wrinkled her nose. She couldn’t help but notice the awful, unnatural stench that the beast emitted.
‘Here you are, indeed, dearie. Why? What do you expect now?’
‘I expect that you won’t kill any rabbit in my warren,’ she said much more confidently than she really felt. ‘You threatened my father with that and I’m here to prevent it.’
‘Then your father sacrificed you!’ the beast exclaimed suddenly. ‘What father does things like that?!’
‘No, no,’ she said quickly. ‘I wanted to come, everybody was scared. He didn’t want me to come. It was my decision. My father loves me dearly.’
‘I see...’ the beast deflated, looking down. ‘Very brave.’
An awkward silence engulfed them then. The beast seemed to shrunk a bit and was still looking sadly at the ground.
‘Um... what now?’ Belle asked at least.
The beast threw her a quick, unsure look, as if it asked the same question. It didn’t really seem all that threatening now.
‘My name is Belle. Do you have a name?’
She was rewarded with an irritated look.
‘Of course I have!’ the beast huffed.
‘Well, then maybe you can tell me?’
‘...Rumple,’ the beast murmured after some time, like a petulant kit.
‘Nice to meat you,’ Belle said ignoring Rumple’s incredulous look. ‘So, where would I sleep?’
Rumple looked like he wanted to ask her if she was serious, but just hopped toward the oak.
‘Only one burrow here, dearie. You would have to endure my smell and presence or sleep outside.’
‘I’ll take the burrow.’
Even the worst stench was better than open space where she could be attacked by fox or weasel.
‘As you wish.’
Days passed languidly under the big oak. Rumple showed her which paths were leading to the bog and were dangerous, then left her to her own devices. The first time she tried to sleep in the burrow it made her feel sick due to the smell, but after some time she adapted enough to drift off. She could eat grass and cranberries, lie in the pleasant summer sun, listen to the birds or observe spiders working on their nets. There was a small stream nearby where she could go when thirsty. It was nice.
However, after few first days of nervous waiting for something unexpected to happen, she started to grow bored. Rumple spent all time lying in the burrow or in the shadowy place she spotted him in at the first day. He answered to her questions with half-words and seemed to be doing his damnedest to not notice her. It was slowly starting to drive her mad.
‘Rumple!’ she said hopping to him lying in shadows. ‘Why did you wanted me here if you pretend I’m invisible?’
He threw her an alarmed look as if he really thought her invisible and she just materialized here out of thin air.
‘Rumple?’ she nagged, laying beside him.
‘You don’t have to talk to me,’ he muttered. ‘I won’t attack your warren.’
Belle sighed, exasperated.
‘I want to talk to you. I’m bored out of my mind!’
‘Go listen to birds, then.’
‘I’m listening to them the whole days! I want an actual conversation! Rumple, please...’
She sounded like a wee kit, but decided to not feel any embarrassment about that.
‘Why? You can’t even stand how I smell! I know you have trouble sleeping because of it. Well, now it’s your chance, go sleep outside the burrow, I’ll be watching for predators.’
‘Oh... Well... It’s considerate of you, and maybe some other time I’d like it. But I really want to talk, to knew you better. You’re my only friend here.’
’...‘m not your friend,’ he murmured, hiding his face between his front paws.′
‘Oh... So, anyway, how did you know I have trouble sleeping? Is it just because you think anyone would or do you have trouble sleeping too? We could talk when we both can’t sleep...’
‘I suddenly have some strange doe in my burrow, how do you expect me to sleep?!’
Belle fell silent, not sure how to answer.
‘Leave me alone, dearie. If you don’t want to sleep, then maybe I will.’
Belle sighed and moved a few hops away, then lied down where she could still observe him.
The next day he informed her that he was leaving. He’d be back at the dusk if everything went well.
Belle spent the day nervously hopping here and there, wondering what would happen if not everything went well.
When she spotted him it was already after sunset and she was frantic with nerves. She was surprised with herself too, not expecting to be so worried about someone she barely knew and who wasn’t exactly nice to her.
Belle hopped to him quickly, seeing him dragging something.
It was a lettuce, as big as he was able to drag, and two carrots.
He nudged the carrots in her direction.
‘For you... if you have it...’
‘Oh, Rumple...’ Belle exclaimed, her heart melting for him. ‘Thank you!’
She helped him drag his bounty to the burrow’s entrance. She wondered how dangerous his trip was. Older rabbits from her warren, like her father, were sometimes going on such trips, but she was not allowed so far. She heard however of multiple dangers - predators in the forest, dogs and cats, and humans themselves on the field.
‘One carrot is for you, Rumple,’ she told him. ‘I insist. It was very brave of you to go, you deserve it.’
He sighed, looking sideways.
‘I’m not brave,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m just a beast that even predators wouldn’t touch.’
‘Were you always like... like this?’
‘...no,’ he murmured, hiding his face between his front paws as he seemed to always do when embarrassed.
‘It’s not your business, dearie!’ he said sharply, but with no actual malice. Belle observed helplessly as he snatched his carrot at retreated into the burrow, leaving her alone in the dark. She sighed and went inside too, hoping to be able to sleep.
She was woken up by a soft weeping and for a moment couldn’t place the sound. Then she realized it was Rumple - crying. She quickly hopped closer to him.
‘Hey...’ she said softly, as if addressing scared kit. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Nothing...’ he said stubbornly, not looking at her. In the dark of the burrow she could faintly see that he curled up on himself, as if trying to disappear in the soft ground.
‘Even if it’s nothing it may help if you talk. If you want to of course. If not, I can just lie here with you, until you fall asleep again.’
‘I’m not going back to sleep.’
‘Oh, did you have a bad dream then?’
‘You ask far too many questions.’
‘Well, you’re probably right, everybody tells me so. But I just can’t help it,’ she said with a smile.
‘Insufferable,’ he said, but she heard fondness in his voice now. ‘Just like...’
He paused suddenly, with a distressed, whimpering noise.
‘Rumple? What is it?’
She felt him sag even more, hopelessly.
‘Like my son...’
‘You have a son?’ she breathed. ‘Where is he?’
‘He died,’ Rumple’s voice was muffled by his paws. ‘He died and I become this monster...’
‘Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry...’ Belle shuffled closer, not minding the smell and dirt, nor his weirdly stiff fur. ‘You must be missing him so much.’
‘I should have died instead of him.’
‘Well... I guess you feel like that. But I’m glad I could meet you. I just wish I could meet your son too.’
Rumple made another soft, weeping sound, but he seemed more relaxed now. Belle nuzzled him gently. They lied down like this for a long time, until the hunger made them go out.
For the next few days it seemed like he was avoiding her more than usual.
‘Rumple...’ she tried for the tenth time, only to have him hop ungracefully in the other direction.
She followed him stubbornly.
‘Don’t shut me out, Rumple!’
‘Leave me alone, Belle!’ he answered furiously. ‘Just leave me alone!’
‘No, I won’t! You’re my friend, Rumple, whether you like it or not!’
‘I didn’t ask you to be my friend!’ he exclaimed, hiding behind his front paws as usual.
‘You wanted me here! You’ve told my father to give me to you! You wanted me here!’
‘No, I didn’t! He just ate the last of the lettuce I’ve collected with the help of my son the day he died! I wanted him to hurt too!’
For a moment there was silence, as Belle didn’t know what to say.
‘I didn’t expect any of this, dearie,’ Rumple continued, his voice muffled by his paws. ‘I didn’t expect your father to take any of this seriously. You see me, how am I supposed to kill the whole warren? I’m not a predator. I’m just... Unless I’d choke them all with my stench or frighten to death with my looks, yes dearie, that might actually work! So, now that you know you’re all safe, you can go back to them.’
With that he got up and hopped to the burrow, not waiting for her reply. After a moment, she followed him, trying to collect her thoughts.
‘Maybe you’d go with me, Rumple?’ she offered quietly. ‘You really are my friend.’
She received a soft harrumph in response.
‘I’m serious, Rumple. It could be good.’
‘Don’t be daft, Belle. The whole warren would run for their lives, screaming. And then, when they see that I can’t harm them, they will kill me.’
‘No, they won’t!’ Belle exclaimed.
‘Well, maybe not,’ he conceded. ‘But they would laugh and banish me. No, Belle. There’s no place for me anymore. Even predators won’t touch me. Fortunately for me, I guess, since I’ve lost a fair bit of my hearing since...’ He shook his head sadly.
That’s why he didn’t hear her the first day, Belle thought. His ears were a mess indeed, heavy, flopped, dirty.
‘Maybe something can be done?’ she suggested hesitantly.
‘No, I tried. Made myself sick trying to clean the... the monster’s hide. There’s nothing to be done.’
Belle sighed. Poor Rumple. But she completely didn’t know what to do to make things better.
It was a cloudy, damp evening. Belle and Rumple were grazing lazily, in a sort of unspoken agreement to just go along with the routines and not touch the difficult subjects. In effect they were doing most things in dull silence.
‘Do you smell it, Rumple?’ Belle asked, anxiously?
Rumple shook his head apathetically.
‘My sense of smell isn’t what it used to be as well.’
‘I think I feel smoke...’
Just then a red bird flew by.
‘The woods around the warren are on fire!’ it shouted, seeing Belle.
‘Oh no! Rumple! We have to go there and help!’
‘No, no, I can’t!’ Rumple took a step back, cowering. ‘I can’t!’
He didn’t budge, though, despite her pleas. There was no time to try to convince him. Belle just turned around and ran to her warren as quickly as she could.
When she got there, the smoke was making it hard to see or smell anything. She ran past many rabbits and other animals fleeing from the fire, but where was her father? She frantically tried to ask other rabbits, but no one knew.
‘I think he didn’t make it on time...’ said someone and Belle whimpered in pain, running towards her old burrow, despite the flames blocking the way.
But just then something pushed her back and when she managed to got up she noticed only a dark shadow disappearing in her burrow.
A few infinitely long moments later, Moe appeared, coughing and limping, but alive. The shadow - Rumple! - pushed him in the direction of Belle and then went back to the burrows.
Belle helped her father to get into safety, but all the time she felt her heart in her throat, beating wildly. Rumple! He came, he saved her father, and what was more, he turned back apparently for someone else. As soon as she got her father in safe distance from the burning woods, she turned back to find him.
It wasn’t even that difficult. She just saw him emerging from the smoke and depositing the last of her fellow doe Snow’s kit before the grateful mother. He spotted Belle then and made a few hops in her direction, but then swayed and collapsed on the ground.
‘Rumple!’ Belle screamed, terrified. She was by his side in an instant, trying to nudge him awake. Around them, big droplets of rain hit the ground, dousing everything in thick streams of water. All the rabbits tried frantically to find cover, all but Belle, who stayed by her unmoving friend.
‘Rumple please, please, wake up! Please don’t leave me! Please, I love you! Please wake up...’
She cuddled up to him, but then something was different. She took a careful look at him. The black goo, warm from the fire, was flowing down his body, washed away by the heavy rain, leaving behind a clean, white fur.
‘Oh, Rumple!...’ Belle whimpered. ‘Now you must wake up!’
It would be a height of injustice for him to be... cured or cleaned, or whatever this was, only to die in the same moment.
‘Belle...’ he moaned quietly, almost inaudibly in the rain, and Belle’s heart leapt up with joy.
‘Rumple!’ she laughed through tears. ‘Can you roll to your other side, sweetheart? You need to let the rain wash away all this mess.’
He obediently rolled over, a flicker of hope visible in his eyes. And indeed, when the rain finally ended, he was completely transformed into a perfectly normal - if completely wet - white bunny. A very handsome white bunny, if anyone asked Belle.
A wedding and a burrow full of their kits was soon to follow, for sure, Belle thought when they nuzzled into each other and she could properly feel his own scent for the first time.
‘We went to human’s field for some lettuce,’ Rumple explained when they returned to their burrow under the oak. Other rabbits, including Moe, went back to the warren when they were sure that the fire died. Fortunately, burrows themselves weren’t destroyed and soon enough the trees and plants would spring back to life.
Now Rumple, still stunned with all that happened, insisted on telling her the whole story.
‘On our way back we passed a puddle with something black and foul smelling. We gave it wide berth, but then a dog appeared in front of us, so we had to run back. Bae slipped on the wet ground and fell into the puddle. I hopped into it after him, tried to pull him out. But it was thick, sticky and once Bae’s head went underneath...’ Rumple whimpered and nuzzled into Belle’s fur. ‘The puddle was deceptively deep. I barely made it out when I realized that I can’t save my boy... The dog left us alone, didn’t even get close to the puddle.’
Rumple was trembling, so Belle gently nuzzled and licked his head and ears.
‘My poor sweetheart,’ she cooed. ‘How long ago it was?’
‘About two moons ago.’
It fitted the time when gossips about ‘the beast’ started.
‘I know nothing can bring your son back. But at least now you’re free of this black goo and we have met.’
‘Yes,’ Rumple breathed. ‘We did. Will you stay with me Belle? Forever?’
‘Of course I will.’
They cuddled even closer together. Forever might not be a long time for a wild rabbit, but at least theirs would be as happy as it can get.
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