The sun was setting deep in the west, casting a magnificent show of blues and pinks into the woods and painting colors on the pale grey walls of a great castle. It was not a particularly beautiful castle, with tall spires and stained-glass windows that let the winter sunsets into its halls. It was big, yes, but looked quite haphazard and lopsided when viewed from the outside. It was the seat of the Gargouille family, and had been for over four hundred years.
It had begun as a simple, modest house, but as the years passed and the influence of the family grew, additional kitchens, stables, rooms, and libraries had been added. A full-fledged reconstruction had never been attempted, so these extensions were just added on where they fit, and came together in an odd jumble of stone, angels, and gargoyles.
A large stone wall, mostly covered in ivy and moss, wound about the expansive property, and elaborate iron gates sealed it off from the rest of the forests. Pine and maple trees grew in the thousands around the castle, both in and out of the grounds.
What the castle lacked, the grounds made up a thousand-fold. Hundreds of flowers filled the gentle rises with scent and butterflies during the spring and summer months. Pathways filled with fountains, bushes and hedges wound all across the gardens. Dozens of expensive statues were hidden along the paths, made out of stone, marble, and even a select few were shaped out of glass.
But it was the roses that made the castle incredible. Rising from peasants to rulers, the Gargouille family had hundreds of roses that were as old as the first foundation of their castle. Roses lined the stone entrance and walkway that led to the great wooden doors that led inside, and formed hedge-walls to many of the walkways across the gardens. Flowers bloomed in reds, pinks, whites, yellows, purples, blues, and even marbled flowers of white and pink. They were indescribable and unique in their variety and the sheer number of bushes. And when winter came the rest of the gardens withered and died, but the roses remained. Even in the dead of winter, the roses bloomed.
It had not always been that way. After years of waiting for a prince, Theon Vincent Gargouille was born. He was the only heir to the Gargouille line, which had ruled wisely and fairly for the past centuries. His parents died when he was very small, and the boy became unmanageable in his grief. Nothing seemed to ease his pain or his tantrums, and in an effort to make the child happy the servants gave him whatever he might want. Whatever he asked for, he was granted. Long after grief and even memory had faded, he remained spoiled and demanding.
Fifteen years later on the eve before the Prince’s twenty first birthday, and deep in the heart of winter, a strange woman made the walk up the stone path to the great wooden entrance doors.
The servants were trying to prepare for a great celebration, for this birthday was when their prince would become an adult and claim his parents’ throne. The castle was full of activity late into the night, and so she remained unnoticed.
The woman was small, and her bare feet padded across the stony ground. Her matted hair blew stiffly in the winter winds, and it was a dull brownish color because of all the dirt and grime that encrusted it. The thin clothes that wrapped around her twisted form were nothing but rags and the skin beneath the holes and rips in the fabric was filthy and blue with cold.
Once she finished her slow, labored climb up the stone steps, she raised the great iron rings and knocked heavily on the door.
After a few moments, a man in his thirties opened the door. His brown hair was graying and he had the sort of bleary-eyed stare of a man who had drunk far too much wine for far too long. He looked slightly astonished at the old woman standing on the castle stoop, but before he could say anything she began to speak.
“Michel,” the voice from the sodden mass of rags was soft and musical, a jarring contrast to her appearance and the ungodly stench radiating off of her.
The steward’s eyes widened even more as she addressed him by name, and he could sense a great power from her bent form. He carefully set down the wine glass he was holding in his left hand and bowed slightly.
“Madame, may I be of service?” his voice was slightly slurred, but he was coordinated enough and seemed to still be fairly coherent.
“I wish to speak to your master,” she spoke again, and Michel found himself obeying even though he did not know why. And later, he found he could not remember the woman’s face, even though he was sure he had seen it.
Prince Theon came to his castle doors in all his royal glory shortly thereafter. Michel trailed behind him nervously, taking desperate sips of wine when he thought no one was looking.
Theon Vincent Gargouille, the first of his name, was heart-breakingly handsome. Deep blue eyes, tall stature, and dark gold locks that fell in artful half-curls around his shoulders framed a young and energetic face. It was a pity that his expression was so arrogant and the light in his eyes so shallow.
“Who are you to disturb my house at such an hour?” Theon spoke arrogantly, gazing at the visitor with distain. His house had hardly been at rest and he was not even in his night clothes, but it made no difference. She was an annoyance and disturbance to him, and so he wished her gone.
“It is bitterly cold, my lord, and the dark is not even graced by the moon. The next town is miles away and I am far too old to reach it. May I take shelter here? In payment I can offer a rose, and the promise that your roses will never die.”
Theon stared at the beggar woman, unable to keep his lip from curling in disgust at her appearance.
“A rose? What do you take me for? My family has thousands of roses, and my house is busy with preparations for my birthday and crowning. There is no room for you.” He waved his hand in dismissal.
“I can work in the kitchen or do some other task if it be my lord’s will, if you would only spare me a cot inside and a bit of bread,” the woman pleaded, and Theon gritted his teeth. Although once a smart, inquisitive boy, he was now a spoiled man with a terrible temper.
“No, I said! Get your filthy rags off of my steps. I don’t want you spreading your disease and dirt about my house!” The young prince moved to slam the heavy doors closed when the beggar woman raised her palms towards him, and a rose grew from nothingness in her hands. It was a beautiful winter rose with white petals that were fringed with a pale silver-blue.
“Are you sure you would not take my rose, Theon Vincent Gargouille?” Her voice had changed, grown authoritative and full instead of the old rasp it had been. Michel shifted nervously, taking a swig from a bottle he’d taken from a passing kitchen maid when the wine in his glass had run out. He could sense something bad was coming, and he hoped to be completely drunk when it arrived.
“Would you like to spend the night in my dungeons, wench, with your stupid flower?” Theon raged, angry at her defiance but disturbed by the appearance of the rose.
“I see how you are then,” the woman said, and threw back her cowl.
Theon was almost blinded by light. An icy wind swirled snow around him, the force of it blowing the great wooden doors to the castle completely open.
When he could see again, the most beautiful woman he had ever encountered in his entire life stood before him. Her hair was long and wavy, hanging in locks that danced like fire in the winter winds. She was naked, and the snow glistened on her warm white skin.
Theon fell before her in reverence, unable to take his eyes off of the high firmness of her breasts, the curve of her stomach, and the patch of red curls that gave way into long, shapely legs. His clothing grew tight and he wanted her more than he’d ever wanted anything else.
“You are spoiled and petty, and care only for yourself,” the woman snapped. “You judged me only by my ugliness and the dirt that covered my robes, not by the person I was. I asked for hospitality, and you refused me. And now you are before me on your knees, wanting my body for your own pleasure.” She looked down at him, her eyes narrowed in distaste.
“You are unfit to rule this kingdom, for a ruler must think of others before himself. And as a person, you must realize that beauty is found within and not for your possession.”
“I beg you my lady, forgive me,” Theon said after the weight of her words sunk in. He feared her magic and he feared her beauty, so unnatural and perfect as it was.
“And why should I? You would show no mercy to me. There is nothing but greed in your soul. You will be a beast, a hideous beast, and your servants enchanted for they are partly to blame. Time will stop—morning will dawn and dusk will fall, but it will never rise on your twenty-first birthday. If you can find another to love you in all your ugliness and love her in return, you and your castle will be released. Then I would know that you could care about all the others that live in this land you rule. If not, you will remain a beast for all of time, and never claim your throne.”
Theon reached for her, the faint glow of her body reflecting in his eyes. He was pleading, yes, but his want of her was all consuming. Never before had he been denied anything, and he would not be denied her.
Theon chanced a kiss to the flat of her stomach, directly above her belly button. The enchantress made no move to stop him, and only helped him to his feet.
“You would not do such a thing,” Theon said softly, bringing her helping hand to his lips. “It would take away this pleasure I would give you,”
The redhead laughed, although not completely unkindly. She tucked the winter rose into the pocket of his waistcoat, and Theon trembled at her touch, convinced that she had fallen for his charms. No one refused him, and no one would dare harm him.
After placing the rose, the enchantress wound both hands into his golden curls, pulling his face close to hers.
“Love, or it will last for all time,” she whispered to him. Theon almost pulled away to demand what she meant, but then she kissed him.
She tasted like summer, bitterness, and above all else, power. He felt his mind spin away in passion and returned the kiss, moaning deep in his throat. The moan turned into an unnatural rumble, forcing its way from his throat.
The enchantress pulled away as Theon roared in surprise at the noises coming from his mouth. He felt his limbs twist and stretch, and roared again, this time in pain. His fine clothes ripped and hair sprouted all over his body, the same color as the golden curls on his head.
Michel dropped the wine bottle in horror, turning and running down the hallway, shouting at the top of his lungs. He didn’t get far before his own enchantment began. He watched in terror as his hands disappeared in front of him, their flesh spinning away into nothingness. He continued to scream even though it was drowned out by the ear-shattering roars of Theon as the entire length of his arms disappeared.
A dark shadow was cast upon the castle, and the sun no longer warmed its pale walls. No shafts of light filtered through the stained glass, and the angels became grotesque mockeries of what they once were. The forest around the castle grew wilder the more bestial its ruler became.
Finally the great castle fell silent, now a terrifying and ugly structure surrounded by savage forests. The servants had lost their bodies, and wandered about in confusion, unable to see each other or themselves.
Theon still stood in the doorway, the tattered remains of his clothes fluttering in the wind. The fine floor in the entrance way was scored with deep gouges from the claws on his large, wolf like feet. He had grown in height, and now stood almost eight feet tall, and the only part of his beauty that remained was the rich gold of his hair.
And so he lost his name and became the Beast, and fell to despair as ten unchanging years passed. Years with little companionship, for even though his servants could still speak and perform their duties, he could never feel their presence. They were never interested in speaking with him either, because he was the cause of their imprisonment. He was always alone.
One winter evening the fortunes of the cursed castle took a turn for the better. A merchant on the way home from a failed business venture was lost in a late season snowstorm, and stumbled upon the hideous castle in the woods. He didn’t wish to walk through the rusted iron gates, but the storm was growing fiercer around him and the forests were full of terrible creatures.
The middle-aged merchant tethered his horse to a tree inside the stone walls, carefully securing the old iron gates behind him. And then he gathered up his courage, and entered the old castle.
The inside was not in such a poor state of repair. Fires were lit, the carpets and floorings were in fine shape, and the alluring smell of roasting meat floated through the air. With every moment that his body warmed inside, his fears melted away into the winter darkness. He wandered about for quite some time, calling for a master of the castle or servants to ask their permission for his presence. The Beast knew he was there, but after the enchantress, he would refuse no one shelter. So he ordered his servants to lead the man to the dining hall, prepare a meal for him, and have a bed for the man to sleep in. Then he retreated to the north tower of his castle, wanting nothing more to do with the traveler.
When he arrived in the dining hall, the unfortunate merchant found a table set with more food than he had seen in a very long time, and he wished that his daughters were here to enjoy the feast with him. He sat down and ate his fill of roasted meat and potatoes, and afterwards was guided to a lush bedroom by some unseen force. The bed was turned down and the fire lit, and without a second thought he climbed into the covers and fell fast asleep.
Once he had awoken the next morning, the traveler again tried in vain to find his host from the previous evening. The castle had grown gloomy in the dim light of the grey dawn, however, and he felt his nervousness from the night before return.
“If I haven’t found the castle’s master by now, perhaps he does not wish to be found.” He muttered to himself faintly, wringing his hands. The castle had been warm and inviting the evening before, but now the fires had died and he could find no one. Dust thickly coated all the rooms but the grand entrance hall, the immediate rooms around the hall, the dining hall, and the bedroom he’d slept in. There was no sign of life anywhere. No clothes, music, voices or scurrying servants to maintain the castle. There were only large footsteps in the dust that no man could make, and looking at them made the hair on the back of his neck rise.
Deciding that he had already been terribly rude for not finding his host the eve before, the merchant decided to take his leave of the great house. The master of the castle was without a doubt a very busy man, and he did not wish to disturb him more. The castle did not feel right. He adjusted the cloak on his shoulders and tried to remember his way back out to the entrance hall.
It seemed to take a lifetime wandering through hallways filled with art too grimy to admire, kicking up many years worth of dust before he found his way out. With a thankful sigh, the merchant bolted out of the old wooden doors into the elements.
The sky was overcast and the day was very cold, but the snowstorm had died down sometime in the night. A thick layer of snow covered luxuriant, albeit dead, grounds that he had been unable to see in the raging snow.
While trudging down the snow covered path, a peculiar bush sitting off the stone walkway near the main steps of the castle caught his eye. It was a rose bush, still blooming and covered in delicate silver-blue roses, a color he had never seen before.
The merchant was on his way back from a far away port city, where he thought he could reclaim the fortune he had lost many months before, but he had found only disappointment. He hadn’t the money to bring back all the luxuries that his oldest daughter had requested, but the youngest girl had adored roses ever since she was a babe. He was sure she had never seen a rose like the blooms on the bush, and he didn’t want to return to his daughters empty handed, so he decided to bring a couple home as a gift.
He turned around and walked to the rosebush, which was tall and wild rather than perfectly trimmed and cared for. The merchant examined the bush carefully, and chose the most perfectly formed rose bloom for his youngest daughter. He had barely pulled the flower off the bush when there was a tremendous thud that made the ground shake and an ear-splitting roar directly behind him. In his surprise, he dropped the rose onto the snow and tried to run. Powerful hands tore his cloak in their haste to grab him, and he was whipped around to face the direction from which the roar had come.
The man tried to bite back a gasp of horror, but a strangled cry escaped his throat despite his efforts. A hideous beast held him by the collar of his clothing, snarling at him with teeth as long as a man’s finger. The beast was huge, his entire body covered in stiff golden hair that bristled in anger. His face was that of both a wolf and a feline. He walked on two legs that were the deformed rear legs of a dog, and he held the trembling merchant in powerful paws that were almost human, but for their claws and size.
“I gave you run of my home, food and shelter for the night, and you would steal from me?” The beast roared at him, and the merchant stammered uncontrollably for a moment before piecing together a coherent sentence.
“My lord, I’m sorry…” he began, but the beast shook him violently, not waiting to hear his answer.
“Did you come all this way to gawk at the beast of the wood? Or did you think you could get a pretty price by selling my magical roses?” the horrible monster demanded, pulling the hapless merchant closer to his face so the force of his voice blew back the man’s graying hair.
“No, no! I didn’t even know that they were magical! My youngest daughter loves roses, and I thought I would bring one home for her!” he stammered, and a growl rumbled deep in the beast’s throat as he began to speak again. Then he paused, his deep blue eyes widening as an epiphany washed over his hideous features.
“A daughter?” he asked, a faint hope bubbling in his massive chest.
“Er…yes, my lord…” the merchant replied. He had not missed the sudden change in the monster’s demeanor.
“Theft is punishable by either servitude or death. Give me this daughter you speak of, or I will kill you for your trespasses.”
“My daughter? What do you want with my daughter?” He demanded, suddenly much braver when defending his daughter than when defending himself.
“It is not your concern!” the beast snapped, and threw the man onto the ice crusted path.
“You have three days before I come for you. Your life or your daughter.” With another vicious growl, he vanished back into the castle.
The merchant, being a fairly intelligent man, wasted no time in scrambling to his feet and getting off the beast’s estate. He ran across the grounds, slipping and sliding on a layer of ice underneath the snow. When he reached his big bay horse, he untied it from the tree, leapt on the gelding’s back and galloped off into the woods.
He did not stop until he reached his home, which was a small cottage a short walk from the town that bordered the untamed forests surrounding the beast’s castle. The small home was well-kept with a few rose bushes sleeping in the winter’s harshness. It was growing dark, and the light from the kitchen fire made the tiny windows glow in the dimming sun.
Relieved to finally be home, the merchant cooled down his horse and entered the cottage.
His two daughters greeted him lovingly at his return, asking of his trip to the city and telling him of their experiences over the time he was gone. The oldest was blond, tall and quite pretty, favoring her father in her looks. But it was the youngest daughter who held the attention of any who saw her. She was much shorter than her sister, with almond-shaped dark eyes and waves of chestnut hair. While the oldest girl gasped and fretted over her father’s tale of the murderous beast, the younger girl surveyed him calmly and intelligently.
“I will go, Papa, since you took the rose for me,” she said softly after his tale was done. The merchant shook his head violently—he had no intention of giving his favorite daughter to the beast. He’d taken the opportunity to see his daughters and say goodbye before he tried to escape the beast.
The merchant shared an emotional meal with his oldest girl, but the youngest stayed silent and did not eat.
“Do not think too much on it, Bella. You are young and beautiful, and I am old and have made and lost my fortune. I will try my luck at escaping the beast. But in the morning,” he added as he yawned. Then he fondly patted the dark-haired girl on the head, as if she was seven rather than seventeen.
He kissed the oldest girl on the cheek and the youngest on the forehead, and retired to his small bedroom.
Late that evening, after the remains of supper had been cleared and the candles extinguished, the merchant’s youngest daughter snuck from her father’s house. She took the big bay gelding and rode through the night to the castle of the beast, braving the darkness and the savage animals. She was an honest creature, and would not see her father die over a rose he had picked for her.
When she arrived at the castle mid-morning the next day, she lovingly kissed the horse’s muzzle and left him to graze in the gigantic grounds of the castle. Then she pulled her hood over her head, steeled her courage, and walked up the path to the castle.
Reaching out with a delicate hand, she lifted the heavy iron knocker and let it fall on the door. It boomed loudly, and the poor girl jumped despite herself.
The great doors opened as if a servant was expecting her, but when she looked there was no one there that possibly could have opened it.
Both frightened and curious, the girl stepped inside, her eyes widening as she took in the sights the entrance hall had to offer.
“Are you the merchant’s daughter?” A rough voice asked from the shadows up the grand staircase in the room. The girl let out a shriek in surprise, swinging around to face where the voice had come from. She chastised herself for being rude, and peered into the darkness, trying to see the creature that had spoken to her.
“I am,” she spoke, raising her voice so she could be heard. It was rich and feminine, and the beast unconsciously shivered at the sound of it after so many years. So few people had come to his castle, and he had spoken to none of them unless it was to punish them. And none of them had been a woman.
“Step into the light and take off your hood so I might see you,” The beast demanded from his refuge in the shadows.
The girl raised her chin slightly, her eyes narrowing.
“Only if you do the same,” she countered, and the beast withdrew deeper into the shadows in surprise. The fact that she wanted to see him drained away any anger he might have had at her argument.
“Very well, but you must go first.” The tone he spoke in now booked no argument, and the girl obeyed.
When she stepped into the light and pulled the hood off of her head, the beast could not believe the fortune that had finally come his way. Her beauty was topped only by that of the enchantress, but hers was unnaturally perfect, and this girl before him seemed more human than the enchantress ever had.
After taking a moment to drink in her exquisite face and body, the beast cautiously slid into the light at the top of the staircase, twisting his face into a scowl, as if he was daring her to scream or faint.
The girl’s eyes widened and her lips parted ever so slightly, but that was the only reaction she had to his appearance. She curtsied politely, which made the long dark hair that was pulled away from her face slide over her shoulders.
“I am Bella Marchand, my lord, and I come in place of my father.” She spoke formally, in well polished words that did not match with the worn dress she wore. There was a long pause as she looked expectantly in the general direction of the beast. She did not yet have the courage to look him directly in the face.
“Might I ask your name?” she inquired after several moments of uncomfortable silence.
“I am the Beast,” he answered simply, tilting his head sideways as he examined her. He had met no one in his life who talked to him as she did – not as if she was subservient to him, but as if she was his equal. She was formal and polite and referred to him by his title, but he sensed no reverence in her use of it. All the other women had simpered, and thrown themselves at his feet as if they were a faithful dog. If the behavior wasn’t so fascinating he would have been furious.
“I can see that much,” she snapped. “But you must have a name, everyone has a name,” she finished, her voice much softer. The Beast, surprised again, could only merely stare at her for several moments.
“My…my name is Theon.” He said softly, not having heard or thought of it for a decade. He had been the Beast, and that was all. Theon, the parents he had loved so, the servants and the castle had left his mind, and he’d thought only of his ugliness and the enchantress that had cursed him.
And so Theon Vincent of the Gargouilles regained his name, and Bella Marchand the merchant’s daughter came to live in the castle. The rest of the tale is quite well known, of how the beast fell in love with the peasant beauty and she realized that she loved him once she thought he would be gone from her life forever. But when passing this tale onto children, the phrase “happily ever after” is often applied after they speak of the wedding and coronation of Theon Vincent.
It was a happy ending, to a point. Bella won over the heir of the Gargouilles with her intelligence, beauty and spirit, and Theon learned kindness from her treatment of him, and when he returned it she came to love the gentle being he could be. She saved him from death, when the villagers came to kill him by proclaiming her love for him, and the enchantress’s curse was lifted from the castle.
Within a year of their joyous marriage and the Gargouilles’ reinstatement as rulers, Lady Bella found herself with child. Theon, the servants, her family and the citizens of the nearby villages were ecstatic. They hoped for a son, and many more children to expand the slowly dwindling Gargouille line.
But when Bella took to childbed her screams filled the castle for two days. Theon paced back and forth, listening to heart-tearing cries until finally he heard the wails of a new child.
Nothing the midwives did could stop Bella’s pain or her bleeding, and she died shortly thereafter, leaving Theon Vincent with a shrieking baby girl who was christened Charisse Soliel the day the beast buried his beauty in the cold winter ground, under the roses that never died.
Copyright Morgon Luvall, 2006-2007