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A v a r i c e | S i x t e e n

S i x t e e n

❝La Belle et la Bête;

a tale gone astray.❞

AT THE BRINK OF MORNING I made my way through the forest to Lilith’s cabin only to discover she left me a note on the porch:

I was called into town. Visit me tomorrow.

Well, then. That actually wasn’t too bad. I hadn’t really wanted to come in the morning anyhow because I wanted to visit Marquise Trill now that she was able to have visitors. So, after trying the door to the cabin (maybe the book was in there and I could peek in it?) and it not opening, I went back to town.

The castle wasn’t in walking distance, and to get a carriage you had to order it like a week before. Luckily, I had friends who had horses. I hadn’t spoken to them in a while, however. It seemed like only a few days since Lydia’s death, but it had already been a month. I finally understood what people meant when they said that time was a mysterious force.

No one was home when I went to the friend’s house. I could hear horses in their stables, but I wasn’t going to just take one. That would be bad. Right? Right. Maybe if I left a note...no.

My savior came before I could convince myself to steal a horse. I really wanted to talk to Marquise Trill. “Cerise?” a familiar voice questioned. I turned around and smiled brightly at the man before me. He had been Lydia’s first real suitor five years ago. He was good looking and nice, but they had both agreed they weren’t very compatible. Now, Phillip was courting a young woman a town over named Madeleine.

“Hello Phillip.” I said.

Phillip was on top of a beautiful brown stallion, but began to get down. “What are you doing here?” he asked, not rudely.

“I’m in a bit of a predicament.” I started, smiling shyly at him. Phillip laughed and grabbed the reigns of his horse, pulling him closer as he walked towards me.

“Aren’t you always?” Phillip joked. When he stood in front of me, he became more serious. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, I want to go to the castle.” I said.

Phillip raised an eyebrow but knew well enough not to ask why. “I see. And you need a horse I presume?”

“And, perhaps, a guide if you don’t mind.” I smiled tightly and nervously played with my thumbs. Phillip smiled, reminding me of a real life Prince Charming.

“Of course. Let me just get another horse and get you settled and then we can go, sound good?” I nodded mutely. Phillip was a very talkative person, which I enjoyed. I hated doing the talking. I preferred to be silent and just listen. That was probably why Lydia and I got along so well and why she and Phillip were constantly fighting for attention with each other.

Oliver had been quiet at first, like me, but he soon challenged Lydia with conversation. They had a very friendly relationship, however.

When Phillip came back, he had two big horses with him. He helped hoist me up on mine, got me settled in with the reigns, and then got on his and led the way through our town. I wanted to wrap my cloak about myself to keep warm, but I was far too afraid of even slightly letting go of the horse’s reigns.

I had ridden horses before, of course. But usually other people were on it with me. By myself I had ridden only a few times. Phillip seemed to be able to tell and kept his horse as steady as could be, the perfect leader.

“So,” Phillip said, “how are you?”

I shrugged. “I’m doing good, I suppose. And you? You’re getting married soon, aren’t you?” He nodded and smiled and then, out of nowhere, told me he and his fiancée’s entire love story. I didn’t mind it. It kept him from asking unwanted questions and I was able to think about other things, like what I was going to say to Marquise Trill when I see her.

By the time we reached the castle gates, Phillip’s story was over.

“What business do you have here?” a castle guard interrogated in a loud, booming voice.

“I wish to visit Marquise Trill. She is a prisoner here,” I told them, straightening my back out and sticking my chin high up in the air to look sophisticated and purposeful. It worked. The castle guard nodded and the gates were opened to Phillip and myself. Phillip told me that he would wait outside of the castle, so as not to intrude. I thanked him and then went up the castle steps to the doors.

I knocked.

The doors opened almost immediately to a seneschal. “Hello,” I said as he looked me over.

“Who are you?” he asked. It wasn’t the seneschal I had met the last time I had been here. Although that one probably wouldn’t have recognized me anyways.

“Cerise Victoire. Daughter of Monsieur and Madame Victoire.” He stared at me for a moment and nodded, inviting me into the castle.

I stepped inside and looked around at the beautiful carvings and statues and paintings. “What may I do for you?” the seneschal asked nicely. He wasn’t smiling, however. I wondered if seneschals were allowed to smile. Or if guards were allowed to smile while on the job.

I doubted it.

“I’m here to visit Marquise Trill.” I told him.

He nodded. “Let me check on how we’re doing with visitors and I’ll get back to you. Would you like to visit Honor Hall while you wait or the library?”

Despite an immediate urge to visit the library and look up lycanthropes, I held myself back. “Honor Hall, please.” I wanted to look at the portraits again, especially the one of the girl.

He led me to the familiar place. “I’ll be back in a moment.” He told me, and then left.

I walked around Honor Hall, looking at the statues and paintings and plaques and reading all the words, even if they weren’t in languages I knew. I had been forced through my childhood to learn many languages. At the time I had been annoyed, but now I was happy to have such knowledge. Not many other people did.

Finally, I was standing in front of the portrait. Just like the others, there was no name other than the crafter’s. Zachariah Williams. It wasn’t useful information, really, but it was something. I studied her. She didn’t look the usual warrior. She wasn’t big or buff or evil looking. She looked like she was the definition of poise. She was perfection. She was beautiful with gorgeous brown hair the was pulled back away from her face and clear white skin. Her eyes were dark and soul-touching. She wore a modest green dress.

“I’m sorry Mademoiselle, but Marquise Trill has far too many visitors today. We cannot permit her another one. However, perhaps she’ll be free tomorrow-”

I shook my head and smiled at him. “That’s okay. I do have a question, however.”

The seneschal nodded and stepped inside Honor Hall to where I was. “Who is this?” I nodded to the portrait.

“That is the beautiful and heroic Princess Rosepétuel Abel.” He told me, looking her over with appraisal.

“Why heroic?” I asked, frowning.

“She defeated la Bête and, rumor has it, an evil witch.” He smiled at me. “Truly, I just think she is on the wall because of how beautiful she was.”

I nodded, still looking at her. “La Bête? The beast?” I questioned.

It wasn’t a very put together question but he still understood what I meant. “Indeed. I believe we have a picture of him, too.”

The seneschal led me toward the end of the portraits and nodded toward who I assumed was a war hero. I winced at the markings and scars all over the poor man’s face. “Why was he called the beast?” I asked.

The seneschal shrugged. “It’s just an old wife’s tale, really. They actually ended up reigning over a kingdom together, as husband and wife. There are stories about it, but none of them really get the full truth.”

“Where are the stories?” I questioned, turning ot face him now.

The seneschal was taken aback. “That’s really not information I’m supposed to-”

“Where. Are. The stories?” I said again, looking him in the eyes and letting my power convince him to do what I wanted.

The seneschal’s back straightened, his chin raised, and his eyes glazed over. “There are stories in the archive.”

“Take me there.” I ordered him. In answer, all I received was nod. The seneschal turned and led me past many doorways, including the dining hall. We went all the way to the back of the castle until we had reached a very locked door. The seneschal had the keys, as I thought he would. He unlocked the door and then proceeded to open it up for me.

I went inside. All around me were old, old parchments and books and stacks of paper. I would be lost in the pile. I turned around. “I need you to get me everything you have on la Bête, the princess, the witch, and...lycanthropes.” The seneschal nodded and did as I had asked.

I waited for him and wondered if the compulsion would wear out any time soon. I doubted it, but I was still new to this. Maybe I had used too much on the poor fellow. What if he was stuck in this dizzy state for the rest of his life?

He wasn’t, sort of thankfully. He got out of the trance a few books in. I just told him what to do again and he got back to it. At least I knew my compulsion wasn’t strong enough to keep him like that forever. Or, perhaps, my power was strong enough and Lilith had just trained very well to only use what I needed. I doubted the latter, but it was a nice thought.

“This is all we have,” the seneschal said. His voice had changed, too, I noticed. It was monotone, no emotion.

I nodded and smiled. “Thank you. I’ll show myself out.”

The seneschal had been nice - or perhaps smart - enough to give me a basket for all the stories. I left with the basket in hand and exited the castle with the seneschal still in the archive room. Phillip was waiting for me outside and when he saw what I had with me, he frowned and cocked an eyebrow.

I smiled. “Just a little light reading. Marquise Trill wasn’t up for a visit today.” He nodded and led me off castle grounds.

I didn’t feel safe, however, until I was off the horse and in the warmth of my own home.

“Welcome home, Cerise,” Mother called from the kitchen. I said hello back before rushing into my room and closing the door behind me.

I had never used so much of my power before and it had taken its toll on me. I was tired and worried that the seneschal knew what I had done. Maybe he would just snap out, confused about his surroundings and figure that he had passed out while on the job or something.

I was hoping anyways.

I got on my bed and pulled the basket with me, fishing out the oldest looking parchment inside.

La Bête et la Sorcière it read on the front. I put the rest of the stories in the basket and set it on the floor before getting myself comfortable. Hopefully, this story would have more answers to do with the lycanthropes. And if not this one, surely one of the others would.

It would be a long night.

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