tagSci-Fi & FantasyBeauty And The Beast

Beauty And The Beast

bysecretsxywriter©

***Written at the request of my kindred spirit, Kristine. May you enjoy this version as much as the numerous other ones that line your bookshelf. *HUGS* ***


Once upon a time...

A merchant lived in a forest. His only daughter, Kristiana, had been a nursemaid to a wealthy family until the children became of age and the family no longer needed her services. Deciding to take some time for herself, she returned to live with her father.

One morning, before he left for the market, he said to her, "Kristiana, if you could have one thing that would make you happy, what would it be?"

"Finally being here with you makes me happy. I need nothing more." Kristiana hugged her father and gave him a kiss on the forehead. Then she waved as he mounted his horse and headed off toward town.

His mind still troubled him on his journey. He wanted to get something special for his daughter, but he no longer knew what she liked. And she hadn't been much help with answers herself.

She'd grown into such a beautiful woman while she'd been away. She was at least five-foot-five now, her brunette hair cascading down her back in soft waves. He remembered her mother pulling it back into pigtails not too long ago. And then Kristiana had hid it all twisted up on her head under a cap when she'd left to work for that family.

That was all before his lovely wife had passed away after the terrible accident. No one had known where the beastly dogs had come from. Mariel had been tending the garden out back when they'd run out of the woods and attacked her in broad daylight.

If only he'd been home at the time...

He sniffed and urged his horse on. Throughout the morning as he gathered the items on his list, he focused on Kristiana. On the present. And he kept an eye out for her gift, but nothing seemed right.

When he had finished his business, the merchant set off for home. The day had grown long, and the sun was already setting behind the trees of the woods. The wind grew colder, whipping his jacket about. With one hand, he struggled to hold onto the reins of the horse, his other hand clutching the satchel of merchandise tightly against his body.

The sky darkened, and soon rain pelted down, soaking through his clothes. A streak of lightning spooked the horse, and then they were racing through the trees, wispy branches stinging his cheeks. Once the horse had calmed down, the merchant paused and glanced around. But under the thick cover of leaves over him, he couldn't see the moon or tell which way to go. His only hope was that they could find some shelter and wait out the storm. His hope dwindled, though, as he led the horse among the maze of trees. He was completely lost, even in the woods he'd known most of his life.

Just when he was ready to give up, he noticed a dull light shining off to his right, and steered the horse toward it. As he drew near, he saw that the light belonged to a building. An inn!

Lightning lit up the sky, and the merchant gasped, tightening his grip on the reins as the horse reared up. The inn was actually a massive castle!

Stone walls stretched out in either direction beyond a looming gate, and towers disappeared into the night sky above him. No lights were burning in any of the windows, but a lantern swung on a post over the front door.

Sliding down from his horse, the merchant pushed open the gate and entered the courtyard. The horse whinnied at another crack of lightning, but it followed behind, pawing at the ground when he tied off the reins on a metal loop in the castle wall.

When he reached the door, he saw that it was open. Though he shouted, no one came to greet him. Gathering his courage, he went inside, still calling out to attract attention. On a table in the front hall, a splendid dinner lay already served. He lingered, still shouting for the owner of the castle. But no one came, and so after eyeing the food and listening to his growling stomach, the starving merchant sat down to a hearty meal.

His hunger satisfied, curiosity now plagued him. Why had no one met him at the door? Who had lit the lantern? Who had prepared the meal? He called again for any acknowledgement of his arrival. Upon receiving none, he ventured through the main room. At the far end was a grand staircase. He ascended, in awe of the paintings in elaborate gold frames adorning the walls.

From the landing, a corridor led off in either direction with several closed doors on each side. However, the first door on his left was open. A fire crackled in a massive stone fireplace that was taller than he was. Directly across from it sat a four-poster bed piled high with blankets and pillows.

It was now late, and he could not resist the invitation before him once again. He lay down on the bed and fell fast asleep. When he woke next morning, someone had placed a mug of steaming coffee and some fruit by his bedside.

The merchant had breakfast and after tidying himself up, went downstairs to thank his generous host. But, as on the evening before, there was no one in sight. Shaking his head in wonder at the strangeness of it all, he went towards the courtyard where he had left his horse. To his continual surprise, his horse was no longer tethered to the castle wall but grazing beneath a tree in the sunshine.

Next to the tree were several rose bushes. Dotting the green leaves, glistening with the remnants of last night's rain, were the largest red flowers he'd ever seen in full bloom.

Thinking of his parting question to his daughter, he whispered, "It's perfect!" And then he carefully plucked a dewy rose from its bed.

No sooner had he reached for the horse's reins than a man sprang up from behind the rose garden. He wore a dark jacket over his tunic and pants that all looked of the finest material. His thick mane of hair was mostly gray with subtle streaks of blond, and it flowed down to his shoulders. But his brown eyes were bloodshot and gleamed with fire; his mouth was curled into a snarl. His wide shoulders towered over the merchant, and his large hands reached out to him.

"Ungrateful man! I gave you shelter, fed you from my table, and gave you a bed to sleep in! But now all the thanks I get is the theft of my favorite flowers!"

"Forgive me! Please, do not kill me! I'll do anything you say! The rose wasn't for me but for my daughter, Kristiana. I wanted to bring her a special present from my journey."

"I care not why you stole from me." The man whistled, and two large dogs, drooling and growling, appeared from around the side of the castle. "I shall put you to death for this slight!"

Trembling with fear, the merchant fell on his knees before the beast of a man. "Those dogs! They were your dogs?"

"What nonsense do you speak, thief?"

"Your dogs killed my wife!" The merchant wanted to scream in anger, but his voice barely came out as a raspy whisper. "They attacked her in our garden. Thankfully, our only child was gone and did not witness it. I returned too late to save my wife, but I saw the dogs before they disappeared into the woods again. All these years..."

The man dropped the paw of a hand he had clamped on the distraught merchant, but his voice remained a deep growl. "I shall spare your life, but on one condition. Bring me your daughter! I will not harm her, but she will remain a servant in my castle."

The merchant's heart leapt with joy at his own fortune. But then he felt his stomach twist with terror. He'd have to trade his life for his daughter's! They would both still be alive, but... No, she would never forgive him for leaving her alone in the world if he did not obey.

With his head hung low, the merchant nodded. "So be it. I will send my daughter to you."

"Take the rose. Have her bring it back so that I know it is her. Follow the path south until you get to a clearing, and then head west. This will lead you home." And then the beast of a man disappeared around the side of the castle with the dogs.

The journey home seemed shorter than he'd expected. After settling the horse in the barn, he trudged up to the house, his shoulders heavy.

Kristiana rushed out to meet him. "Father! Where have you been? I've been so worried!"

He fell into his daughter's arms, holding her to him, trying to remember how his grown little girl felt one last time. Then he ushered her into the house and proceeded to tell her of the events of the previous night and this morning.

When he'd finished, he reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out the rose.

"I'd do anything for you!" Kristiana hugged her father. "Don't worry, you'll be able to keep your promise. I will be fine. We will both return to the castle once you have rested."

"I fear what will happen to you. He promised not to harm you, but he said you would be his servant. I pray that he will be kind to you, at least. I will always love you, Kristiana, no matter what."

The merchant refrained from telling her what he had learned about the dogs. She need not distress over what she did not know and could not change.

###

Prince Dalemond paced the Great Hall, growling out his frustration. Would the old man honor his promise? He should have killed him and been done with it. That was how his own father would have handled a thief. Whether a loaf of bread, a bag of coins, or a rose off a bush, stealing was stealing.

But the knowledge that his precious dogs had killed the man's wife, had left his only daughter without a mother... It reminded him of his own loneliness. He had let his emotions overpower justice, and he'd caved in. At least he would have a servant in the house now.

He heard horses approaching, and then the squeal of the gate. He stepped into the shadows, waiting. There were voices outside, and then the pounding of the heavy knocker on the door.

"Enter!" His voice bellowed and echoed through the empty hall.

The wooden door slowly groaned open on its ancient hinges. By the day's dying light creeping through the open doorway, he saw the merchant step inside. A young woman in a dark-green, hooded cloak followed. She carried the red rose from his garden.

"You, Sir, have fulfilled your promise. You may leave us."

The woman hugged her father without any tears, and then the merchant hustled out the door.

Prince Dalemond watched her from the shadows, the candlelight from the wall sconces bathing her in a soft glow. His heart pounded heavily in his chest. He'd never seen anyone so lovely.

Her dark brown hair hung in long ringlets on either side of her face. The color of her cloak emphasized the green of her hazel eyes as she slowly took in her surroundings. When she lifted her hand to push back the hood, her arm moved the edge of the cloak aside.

He gasped at the tight bodice of her cream-colored gown...at the swell of her breasts rising above the confines of the low neckline.

She was truly a beauty.

Something clenched in his gut, and he knew he would not be keeping her for a servant as he had planned. He did not want to tarnish one inch of her ivory complexion, flawless except for her cheeks tinged pink from her journey. He had not anticipated such a prize as her.

He stepped out of his hiding place. When the candlelight flooded over him, he heard her gasp. "Welcome to my home, Kristiana. You are my guest. Please, may I take your cloak?"

Kristiana took a step back, clutching one hand at the clasp at her throat. She stared for a moment, looking him over. She swallowed and then lifted her chin up, keeping her gaze from his. "How shall I address you, Sir?"

"My name is Price Dalemond. 'Your Highness' will suffice." He reached out and took her petite hand in his large one. She was shaking, and he gently squeezed her slender fingers. He raised her hand to his lips and placed the lightest kiss across her knuckles. He refrained from closing his eyes and sighing at the lavender scent of her soft skin.

"Well, Your Highness, you say I am a guest, but we both know that I am a prisoner." Kristiana pulled free from his grasp and squared her shoulders. "If you would so kindly show me to my chamber, I would like to retire for the evening."

She may have been a beauty, but he had never seen such hostility. Especially after he had extended his generosity to both her and her father. She was just as ungrateful as he had been. She should be happy to have her father still alive!

With a low growl, he spun around and marched toward the grand staircase. He had prepared a room down the North Hall hear his own chambers. But now...now he led her down to the last room in the South Hall. The furthest room from the only other person in the entire castle. If she felt like a prisoner, he would treat her like one.

Once they'd reached her new chamber, she waited until he opened the door, and then she entered with a minute tip of her chin. The room was dark and the air frigid. As angry as he was, he knew he could not leave her to freeze to death. Even his dogs deserved a fire on a cold night such as this.

She stood just inside the doorway. He stepped past her, feeling the heat of her through the material of his shirt as his arm brushed against hers. Pushing away the resulting rush of desire to have that warmth against the rest of his body, he crossed the chamber in four long strides. After he had lit a fire, he turned back to her.

Kristiana had moved to the window and drawn the curtain aside. He suddenly wanted to go to her, to apologize for his gruffness. But then he remembered the way she'd scorned him.

"Dinner will be served shortly." He made sure his tone relayed that it was a command.

"I'm not hungry." She kept her back to him. She stared out the window into the darkness instead.

A muscle in his clenched jaw twitched. "Suit yourself!" And then he stormed across the room, slamming the door behind him.

###

The moment that he was gone, Kristiana collapsed to the floor, her face in her hands. Warm tears wet her already hot cheeks.

"I love you, Father! I will stay here to keep your promise, even though I detest the master of the house. I will never be happy here."

She glanced at the door, remembering how the prince had towered at least a foot above her. How her hand had disappeared in his when he'd welcomed her. How while she feared him, something inside drew her to him. And that frightened her even more.

Her stomach growled, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of admitting she had lied. She removed her cloak and laid it across the winged armchair by the fire instead. Then she crossed to the four-poster bed, climbing up onto the simple mattress covered by a thin quilt. An even thinner blanket lay folded at the footboard.

An derisive grunt escaped when she thought of it. Meager accommodations for the prisoner. What else should she have expected?

The pillow was soft, though, when she laid her head down. She watched the fire flickering across the small room, thankful for at least that source of heat. Shivers shook her body, and she hugged her arms to her chest, curling into a ball on top of the quilt. Tears trickled down her cheek again as she thought of her predicament.

At some point, she must have drifted off because she felt someone watching her and she sat up with a gasp. But there was no one else there. It took her a moment to remember where she was—and why. She looked around at the fire blazing in the fireplace; her cloak on the chair; the plate of food on the table beside the chair; the blanket lying over her body.

She may be alone now, but someone had been in the room. Did she dare hope that it had been Prince Dalemond? Who else could it have been? Father had mentioned there had been no one else in the castle the night before.

If it had been her host, why did she even care? He was a brute of a man. Only a monster would demand on killing a man for picking a flower...or imprison a young woman as a hostage in his castle. She would be wise to keep her distance from him. Surely, she could find something to do to wile away the days she was being held captive. Because deep down, she just knew he would grow tired of her and this wicked game he was playing. Then he would set her free.

Kristiana was halfway across the chamber—no longer able to resist the tray of meats, cheeses, and fruit and the pitcher she hoped contained wine—when the thought occurred to her.

What if he did tire of his game...but he left her hidden away, forgetting about her instead of setting her free? She would never see Father again!

Fresh tears choked her throat. Somehow, she managed to clean the tray before curling up in the chair. Her eyes felt drowsy from the wine. Pulling her cloak over her, she succumbed to sleep. She dreamed that someone was watching her again. And then a warm body carried her. A disarray of memories followed, mainly of her mother.

She woke the next morning to sunlight streaming in the window, the curtains drawn aside. The fire still burned and a new tray of breads and fruit sat on the table. She stretched, yawning and then froze. She was lying in the bed under layers of thick blankets. It had not been a dream. Someone had carried her there.

After a quick breakfast, she washed her face at the basin filled with cool water. When she turned back to the bed, she noticed the wardrobe's doors were partially ajar. She slowly pulled the doors open all of the way and gasped. Inside hung dresses in a multitude of colors.

She couldn't help wondering why someone so mean he would keep her captive would also show such acts of kindness. 'His Highness' was an enigma. And a small part of her begged to understand him.

Choosing a pale yellow dress, she changed her clothes and brushed out her hair. It was time to explore her prison, such as it was.

###

Prince Dalemond had searched every room but one by noontime. Kristiana was nowhere to be found. He hoped she had not run away. Despite his frustration at her stubbornness last night, he had enjoyed watching her sleep. She had seemed so peaceful. So innocent. Besides, it wasn't her fault she was here. If her father hadn't stolen the rose...

He grunted and thought of her creamy breasts rising and falling in her sleep. How her lips had parted with a soft sigh when he'd moved her from the chair. How light her small body had felt in his arms. He'd wanted to kiss her but had refrained.

Now...now he wanted to scream. Where was she? How dare she hide from him!

He pushed open the final door, the door to the library, his breath huffing. And then he froze.

Kristiana sat in the window seat, the skirts of her yellow dress pooled around her, a small stack of books beside her. Her head rose with a start, and she dropped the book she'd been reading.

For the longest moment, they just stared at each other. Her heavy breathing drew his eyes downward. A low moan escaped as his gut tightened.

"Was there something you wanted?"

Her quiet voice broke the spell over him. He lifted his eyes to hers again, swallowing his honesty. Instead, he forced a smile and said, "It's time for the noon meal. Care to join me in the Great Hall?"

She blinked, opened her mouth, and then closed it. She tried again, and said, "Thank you, I shall."

When she stood, he felt his jaw drop as the skirt of her dress flowed to the floor. He was amazed that at least one the dresses he'd chosen fit her...and fit her so well. The bodice curved up from her hips, following the delicate lines of her sides and bust as it hugged her torso. The neckline dipped low, and the off-the-shoulder sleeves completed the elegant article of clothing.

"Is something wrong, Your Highness?" Her diminutive mouth turned down at the corners.

He blinked this time and cleared his throat. "No. Please, I shall escort you when you are ready."

###

Kristiana walked beside Prince Dalemond. He had insisted she take his arm. His large hand rested against his broad chest, and her fingers felt the tension in his flexed bicep.

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