The winter wind hit me in the face and nearly knocked me off my feet as I exited the massive castle.
"Philippe!" I called, and shortly thereafter my trusty horse came trotting towards me. Everything was blurry. I touched my hand to my forehead and wobbled a little. Philippe must have noticed because he walked over to me and stood so my back was leaning up against him. I stroked his mane gently, and he neighed softly, his voice almost getting lost in the storm. I looked him dead in the eye and I knew that he realized that time was of the essence. He looked desperate – concerned…like he wanted to help but he didn't know how.
"Just get me…to the…tavern…" I stuttered. I mounted him, pain shooting through me, for the position of riding a horse is not ideal to be in after you were attacked. I held onto his neck and he looked back at me, seeking a nod to show him that it was alright to move. I gently moved my head and he started trotting.
"No time for that, Philippe. I'll be okay. Just…GO!" I said, my voice determined. I barely heard him exhale before we were running through the blizzard, with the snow clouding my vision entirely, the cold so fierce that I could barely swallow. The pain in the lower hemisphere of my body was so awful that I found myself biting my lower lip to keep from screaming out in agony. "Hurry, Philippe…" I said in a whisper, incapable of saying anything more.
Maybe it was seconds, maybe it was hours. I don't know. All I do know is that eventually I saw the tavern come into view. A blurry view, but a view none the less. I was dizzy. As Philippe began to slow down I heard shouting. I did not like the sound of that at all. Philippe neighed loudly and I looked over to see Adam's horse, resting outside the tavern. The two horses locked eyes and Philippe made his way over to the other steed. Philippe leaned down so it was easier for me to dismount. I stroked him in gratitude, and lowered myself off of his back.
"I'll be back." I said softly, kissing the bridge of his nose. He looked at me sympathetically. Great. More sympathy.
I approached the tavern and peaked inside the window, where I saw the back of Adam standing in front of Gaston's chair.
"Get up so we can settle this like men," I heard Adam say.
"You know it's funny," Gaston started, and I could practically taste the cruelty, "From this angle, you look a lot less like a beast and more like a pathetic rat."
Without any warning, Adam lunged forward, and before I could think to do anything else, I threw open the door and watched as Gaston leapt up from his "throne" and Adam hit the floor, his attempt to attack Gaston thwarted by pure bad luck. I didn't have time to process what was happening before Gaston rushed back towards Adam and pulled him up by the collar, throwing him against the wall. The crowd that was gathered in this tavern started cheering.
"GASTON, DON'T!" I screamed, and everyone stopped and looked at me.
"Belle," I heard Adam whisper, almost inaudibly.
"Shut up, dick," Gaston retorted. "Oh, has the little beauty come back for round two?" I must say, I don't know if I have the energy. The last round was…shall we say, quite tiring." He started approaching me and five men from each side of the room stood up. His army. I hadn't seen half of these faces since they'd stormed Adam's castle. The men all looked at each other knowingly and nudged each other.
Suddenly, a feeling I hadn't quite experienced since the attack crept up on me, out of absolutely nowhere. It wasn't fright, it wasn't sadness. It was pure, unadulterated rage. These men had the audacity to know that Gaston had raped me, and they thought it was a…a joke? Gaston grew closer still and I found myself up against the door to the tavern. I took a deep breath and, just as he raised his hand to me, ducked underneath his arm and rushed toward Adam.
"Excuse you…" Gaston said, and I could feel him turn around and walk towards me. "Oh…Beast. In the heat of passion I forgot all about your fate."
Adam struggled to stand up. "Heat…heat of passion?" He said softly, with more anger in his eyes than I've ever seen before.
"Yes," Gaston started, undressing me with his eyes again. I pulled my cloak even closer to my body and helped Adam to his feet. "Belle and I were sharing another one of our intimate moments. I must say I really don't care for an audience when I get down to business. I think I'll get rid of you first before I have my way with her again."
"You stay away from him!" I spat, stepping in front of Adam.
"Belle, move," Adam said sternly.
"I won't." I said, standing my ground.
Gaston reached to me and touched my cheek with the back of his hand. I flinched at the touch, the memory, the pain. Flashbacks of that night roared through my head but I tried my hardest to separate them from reality. The reality was that he was trying to kill Adam and then take me. Fury sprang through me at full force and before I knew what I was doing, I started punching Gaston's chest.
I felt the burn of him grabbing my wrist. Another trigger. Suddenly I traveled back in time to that night. I could practically feel him sweating on top of me. I couldn't breathe.
I had to focus.
"Let GO of me." I said, and Gaston shot back with, "Not until you allow me to kill the beast…and succeed this time."
Part of what makes me "me" is that I don't really think before I say things. I don't think about how to word my way out of a situation. So, in the moment, what I probably should have said was something like, "I'll do what you wish, just don't hurt him." In an ideal world, he would have let Adam go, taken me as prisoner, and I would have plotted my escape later that night.
In the real world, what happened was that I screamed, "And why do you think that's going to change ANYTHING? How do you think killing him is going to make anything better for anyone? I will never be with you. If you want me, you will have to take me by force. You're not a man. A real man would never treat a woman the way you so naturally treat one. A real man wouldn't feel the need to prove his "manhood" by raping someone. A real man wouldn't feel the need to kill ANYONE. No, you're not a real man Gaston. You never have been."
Soon his hand was on my throat and I felt my airway being constricted. This was the end.
"I'm more of a man than you know, Belle," he whispered darkly in my ear, as the hold he had on my neck grew tighter.
I started seeing spots. I reached up to his hand, desperate to pry him off of me.
And then, out of nowhere, I heard a Pop!
It was unlike anything I'd really heard before. They say that you think you know what a gun sounds like but until you're in the moment, you don't know what it feels like to hear that sound. I felt Gaston's grasp on me stiffen, and then completely relax, as both he and I fell to the floor.
Gasping for air, I wasn't even sure what was going on myself. There was silence. Why was there silence? I put a hand to my throat, choking and breathing harder than I've ever breathed before. Confused and dazed, I looked up to the wall at one of the places Gaston had ceremoniously hung one of his shotguns. It was gone.
Trying to regain focus, I looked up and saw Adam leaning down towards me. I couldn't hear anything except a buzzing sound.
"Belle?" I saw him mouth, and he scooped me up in his arms. I could barely make out any figures, my vision was so blurred. I began to feel myself lose consciousness but I fought my body and won, willing myself to stay awake.
That's when I got the courage up to look to my left. And I saw the body. A hefty, tall, brunette pathetic excuse for a man lay there with his eyes open, and blood draining from his head.
I shook, uncontrollably. I looked to Adam and he dropped the shotgun. He picked me up and held me to him, and my hearing began to come back. As I felt us begin to leave the tavern, I could make out terrified men and women, standing up against the wall, some even huddling on the ground. They were whispering quietly to each other, or at least I think they were. My hearing was still fuzzy.
It was back enough though, that, I know for a fact, as we approached the door, Adam turned around and said loudly, "If any one of you touches a hair on her head again, your fate will be the same."
And with that, he kicked open the door, and walked us out into the stormy night. The last thing I remember was being hoisted up on Philippe, and the next thing I remember is waking up in my bedroom, feeling eerily similar to the way that I felt the morning after Gaston had hurt me the first time. It didn't matter that he was gone. I had a gut feeling that the pain he had already caused me would continue to hurt for quite some time.
I had no idea just how much pain we would have to endure in the upcoming months, though.
And neither did Adam.
I'm so sorry that it's been ridiculously long since I've posted a chapter. But this one was definitely one of the longest ones so far so I hope you enjoyed reading it!
I'm going to try to post more often.
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Thanks so much guys!