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Beauty in the Beast

By eubanks

Fantasy / Romance

Prologue

Far away, in an obscure country called France, there once lived a beautiful young princess. She was almost eleven, specifically, and her name was Rosalynn.

She had no parents, as many princesses don't, yet she still was, somehow, a princess, who would someday be a queen. Everybody who lived and worked at the castle knew this. Princess Rosalynn knew it, too, and made sure that everyone else remembered. As a proper princess, she was quite rich and very beautiful, even for almost eleven years old. She was also spoiled rotten, as many princesses are, and terribly selfish. Anyone who came to visit her quickly found this out, but it is rather unwise to tell such princesses that they are spoiled and selfish, as they can have your head cut off for that sort of thing, so no one bothered to say anything about it.

Our story begins on Princess Rosalynn's eleventh birthday, which happens at the very beginning of spring, when the snow just begins to turn to warm, gentle rain. There was a grand party held at the castle and everybody who came had a gift for the princess.

Even on the day before the spring rains begin, it was still freezing cold outside. By evening, more snow was falling, thick and heavy. But inside the castle, it was warm and cozy as the guests presented their gifts to the princess.

"Many happy returns, your Highness!" said one couple, giving Princess Rosalynn a lovely book.

The princess scowled at it, flipping gingerly through the pages. "Is that all?"

"Yes," said the lady. "We hope you enjoy it very much."

Rosalynn turned to one of her servants. "Put it with the others."

The servant nodded, took the book, and placed it in a stack of other such presents.

Another lord and lady approached. "Many happy returns, Princess!" They presented her with a pair of lace gloves and a fan to match.

The princess sighed, rolling her eyes, and put the gloves on right away. The fan she laid to one side, in case she wanted it later. "Yes, yes, carry on."

The next present was received better: a lovely diamond necklace and set of earrings, as well as a large, gilded mirror. "Now, that's more like it," exclaimed Rosalynn, putting on the jewelry and holding up the mirror to examine herself.

"You look beautiful, Highness," said the lady who had given them. "A splendid sight indeed."

"Indeed, I do," agreed Princess Rosalynn.

At that moment, there was a loud pounding sound on the door of the castle. Everyone went silent as one of the courtiers went to see who it was. The guests looked at one another uneasily, murmuring quietly. Who could possibly be at the door at this hour?

The courtier came hurrying back. "Your Highness, there is an old woman at the door who asks a personal audience with you."

"Tell her to go away," said Rosalynn, still studying her reflection.

"She says she won't leave until she's seen you in person, Highness," said the courtier warily. "She says she must speak with you on an urgent matter."

Heaving another sigh, the princess got crossly up from her chair and went to the door, the mirror still in her hand. "Why can't she simply come in and see me here?"

The castle maitre d' hurried to her side. "Highness, I urge you, please, you must be careful. She is a stranger, whom you know nothing of. I don't know what her business is, but—"

"Oh, really, Lumière," retorted the princess. "I am certainly capable of handling myself against an old crone." Within another few paces, she reached the door and reopened it.

There was a blast of frigid air, making the torches on the walls flicker. On the icy steps outside stood a withered, hunched-over figure, wrapped in a green cloak and hood. One aged hand stuck out, holding something bright and glimmering.

"What do you want?" demanded Rosalynn. "Be quick."

"Fair princess," said the old beggar, her voice like cracked slate, "I come to beg shelter of thee from this bitter cold. In return, I offer this: a single rose, laid under a spell, beautiful beyond compare, as beautiful as the princess to whom I offer it." She held the shining object aloft, so the princess could see. It was indeed a rose; lovely and in full bloom, glowing brightly amid the dancing snowflakes.

The princess considered a moment. "Your offer is appealing," she commented. "Very well, then; your gift will I accept, for it is, as you say, as lovely as the one who receives it." From the woman's hand she plucked the rose, setting it in her hair. She glanced at her mirror, pleased with the affect, before turning back to the beggar. "But invite you in? I'm terribly sorry, but I have no knowledge of whom you are and I certainly don't want to alarm my guests with such wretched company. I should advise you to try the servant's door." With that, she shut the door in the old woman's face and retreated back into the main hall. "Fusty old hag," she muttered.

"Who was it?" inquired the steward.

"Only an old beggar," replied Rosalynn loftily, still admiring her reflection with its newly added accent. "She may call again at the kitchen entrance. If she does, see that Mrs. Potts attends to her."

The princess was halfway across the room when there was suddenly a loud, creaking groan. Turning back, she saw that something most peculiar was happening to the castle doors. They were bending outward, straining against their hinges, and something long and green was prying itself between the thick, oaken planks. Everyone gasped, staring in amazement as the doors suddenly burst open, a great light flooding over them all.

Into the room now stepped a most magnificent creature: a tall, lovely lady, clad all in green, shining with an ethereal radiance. The princess trembled, for plainly she could see that it was an enchantress.

The lady stood over the little princess, her piercing eyes glowing. "Fair is thy face, young mistress, yet I see thy heart, and it is as hollow and ugly as thou art fair. Therefore, I shall make thee as ugly in form as thou art of heart." She stretched out her hand to point at the child, her fingertips blazing with a bright, yellow fire. "This mirror, which thou hast so admired, I now make a window to the outside world; all things but thy own face shalt thou now see in it." Then, raising both hands out in a grand gesture, the enchantress cried, "I lay this curse upon thee and all thy subjects; not one of thee shall go unchanged."

The people standing about began to scream and panic. There was a rumbling sound as the floor around began to shake. Everywhere, the servants began to disappear; or, more appropriately, to change. Out of the corner of her eye, Princess Rosalynn watched as the steward suddenly shrank, his face horribly misshapen, his mustache stretching out straight, like the hands on the face of a clock. The maitre d' grew suddenly slenderer, his clothes running together like melting wax, flames springing to life on his head.

"Thus shalt thou all be to the end of time," said the enchantress, "unless the princess truly learns to love another, and has earned their love in return." Then, striding forward, the lady snatched the rose out of Rosalynn's hair. "And this shall be thy testament," said she. "This rose shall stay in full bloom until the dawn of thy twenty-first year. If thou hast not accomplished thy task by the time the last petal falls, thou shalt remain for all time as the beast thou art."

And now, something else was happening. Princess Rosalynn began to change, too. She watched as her hands were grown great and hairy, her nails transforming into hideous claws, her own body stretching, growing, bursting the pins on her dress. She screamed in horror, her voice changing into a great, snarling roar that echoed on and on through the night…

So it was that the wicked fairy laid her curse on the entire castle. All who lived there were changed into objects of their servitude, forced to go on in their duties as the instruments of their own work. As for the princess, she had been changed into a great beast; an animal-like monster, terrible to behold. Ashamed of what she had become, she hid herself away, never daring to leave the confines of her castle. The mirror was her only view to what happened in the outside lands.

Nearly ten long years of isolation passed, for no one dared come near the castle while it was inhabited by such a creature. As for finding love as the only means of breaking the spell, of that the princess despaired; a cruelty, no doubt, that had been the enchantress' intent. As the years rolled on, Rosalynn lost all hope of any redemption. For who could ever learn to love a beast?

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