Author's note: I hope you find this to your enjoyment. Please r&r – I would very much appreciate it!
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the fairy tales in here. I own faeries and faery tales, but not fairy tales, which are a different thing entirely.
A love story –
Of the price paid for a rose. Of a prince who was cursed to be a monster.
And of the girl who changed his heart.
My Beauty, My Beast
Once upon a time…
There was once a very rich merchant, who had…a daughter…called Beauty…
The name I was given on the breezy, early spring day of my christening – fourteen days after my birth – was Arielle Honorine Bellissima Rose Laclarien. However, the first true name that I ever had came from my mother, as she lay dying with nursemaids and midwives hovering about her during her last moments of life. "Rosebud," she had whispered, touching my head with her trembling, slender hand. "My little Beauty." And so I was called from then on.
And sometimes Arielle.
* * *
Perhaps it had been the sadness of my mother's untimely death that endeared my father to me after her passing. Or perhaps it had been the fact that I looked so much like her that my presence in his life seemed to be a consolation for her death. At any rate, I don't know what it was that made us become so close to one another, but I am entirely certain that I loved my father more than anything, and he cherished me more than the air he breathed.
I had no ordinary life as a child, with no proper family of a mother, father, sisters, and brothers and a house to live in with nurses, maids, butlers, footmen, and cooks bustling about on their business. Instead, my father took us on a whirlwind tour around the Known World, allowing us to visit every famous sight that there was. By the time I was seven, it had to be said that I knew quite a bit more about people, culture, and life in general than most of my peers. I loved my life with my father, and I loved the way that we never stayed in one city for long: three years, at the maximum, was our limit. I learned to see beyond people's faces and into their hearts, souls, and minds merely by studying their faces. If someone had told my father, "Oh, what a grand pleasure to see you!" I could instantly detect whether they meant just that or really, in their heart of hearts, "Oh, I wish the sky was falling! Rather that than this!" Thus was our life together, and we were as happy as mortals could possibly be.
Then, just before my eighth birthday, my father began to turn his thoughts towards plan concerning my future. He had long since marked that there were some – if only very few, however – disadvantages to my upbringing. I had never had the chance to be with other little girls of my own age and I had certainly never had a mother. Even the nursemaids that he occasionally hired to play with me and make sure that I went to sleep all right on the infrequent nights when he would have to be away from me never stayed long. And so, after much debate, which he kept shrewdly out of my knowledge, he decided that he would buy a grand house in the lustrous, grand city of Basilisk-Head, in the country Casilimoor, and that it was high time for him to remarry.
That decision was not made because he felt that he no longer cherished his wife's memory, but because I simply needed a woman in my live to love and nurture me as only a woman could. And what good fortune availed itself to him when into the midst of the crowded, people-filled streets of Basilisk-Head walked the lovely, enchanting, and supremely elegant Baroness Nelisia Argonté.
* * *
The Baroness was quite an intriguing woman. Anyone could tell, by looking at her, that she had been quite a beauty in her younger days, for even at the age of a few years on the right side of thirty, she was still remarkably lovely of face. Her manner was of poise and refinement and her voice, low and velvety, was enthralling to hear. Although her title indicated a court position, it had only been given to her as the result of her first marriage to a baron – who had died less than five years into their marriage – but she was quite penniless otherwise.
My father knew instantly, upon being introduced to her by a mutual friend at a party in Basilisk-Head, that he had met someone very uncommon, even in a city of such marvels. He wasn't the type of person to be completely taken in by someone's beauty or manners, however, and the match was not one of love-at-first-sight, although they did come away from it with affable regard towards one another. Nevertheless, Nelisia seemed to be in our lives for good by then. My father acknowledged her once at the Cathedral of the Three – blessed may They ever be – and I, innocent child that I was, asked him who the elegant lady all in mysterious, alluring black lace was, and he told me her name and that she was an acquaintance from a party that he had been to.
They met once again at yet another party and had danced together, and, one day, Nelisia came to our house a short time after lunch as my father was once more bringing my mind back to my studies. She visited us for the brief span of five minutes and I was awed by her beauty and grace. She was so kind and warm, and so very happy to see me, as well, that I instantly adored her, as any child would after having been deprived of a mother for most of her young life.
Nelisia began to visit more and more often, and she would take me out for tea and walks in the park, and we would nibble on delicate little sandwiches together and watch the finely dressed ladies and gentlemen walk by, and then go down to the canal together and feed our leftover bread to the snow-white swans who lived there. Papa took us out to dinner and operas, and I would sit still as the famous mezzo-sopranos, baritones, and others performed their songs, as I reveled in the joy of being with my father and such an amazing, beautiful woman.
As the months passed by, I was also allowed to visit her apartment – for she was not yet a complete citizen of the city, having only come to stay for a short while, she had thought – and she showed me all of her finery there. Even though she was not rich, Nelisia certainly wasn't in the poor house. She had gowns of lace, silk, taffeta, brocade, satin, and some other sparkling, ethereal fabric that I couldn't name, and a host of others, all fairly spilling out of her fine twin wardrobes. I tried on her jewelry and sniffed her perfume, and she showed me how I would, as a young lady one day, put on my makeup and style my hair in precarious coils and waves atop my head.
She also told me that she had a daughter of her own, who was not too much younger than me: possibly only by a few months, if not less, she said. Someday, when that little girl came to Basilisk-Head, we would have to meet and she hoped that we would be the very best of friends.
Thus it was that Nelisia became so integrated into our little knot of love that my father decided to, at long last, commit himself to a settled life. He asked Nelisia to marry him late in the summer, months before my winter birthday, and she accepted. Before I knew what was happening, I was standing to the side of an altar as a white-robed priest wedded my father and the Baroness, bringing them into a state of lawful and blessed matrimony under the holy and revered rule of the sovereign Three.
* * *
I remember every detail of the ceremony: how Papa had spoken his vows quietly and firmly, with much warmth and affection in his voice, and how the gems in the rings on Nelisia's fingers had sparkled when he lifted her hand to place the wedding band on it, and how beautiful she looked in the filmy, pure white bride's gown with her delicate lace mantilla. I had worn a new gown of the softest, most luxurious pale pink velvet that I had ever felt, with lace and tiny pearls studding it here and there. On my head, crowning my pale blond locks, was a circlet of velvety pink rosebuds.
As soon as the wedding was over, my father, my new mother, and I had come to the reception to join our joyous guests. Nelisia was beaming, blushing and demure and quite scintillating with pleasure, as her friends congratulated her on her marriage and complimented Papa over and over again.
Then, something happened.
Upon turning from Nelisia and seeing me as I lurked, shy and timid in the face of all the new and adult people who surrounded me, one person – an old friend of Nelisia's, from her debutante days – gasped and cried out, "Oh, what a little beauty! Is she yours?"
My father proudly asserted this. Another gasp of delight.
"Oh, she's just dazzling! Where on earth did she get her face? I can see that she has your nose and chin," for I did, "but her eyes, and her hair, and those lips: she's so lovely! Nelisia, aren't you afraid of this little one's competition?"
Behind me, I had sensed a change in Nelisia's air, and I had turned around to see what was the matter with her. She was looking at me and her eyes suddenly flashed – but it was so fast and so fleeting and so totally alien to my child's mind that I didn't understand it. Then, she smiled sweetly, once again the same Nelisia who had played with me and loved me, and patted the top of my head, and said, "Well, Arielle and I just love each other. We'd never dream of competing, would we, dearest?"
I shook my head, clearing off whatever it was that had passed between us the moment before, and smiled back.
And so we began our lives together as a family. But little did I know that I had been mistaken that night about not one, but two things. First, that I would forever afterwards refer to Nelisia by her formal title, rather than as my mother. And second, that 'family' would turn out to be a very misleading description of my relationship with my stepmother and stepsister.
Only time itself would tell.
* * *
And now I bring you to a point in time about a month after Papa had wedded Nelisia. One day, she sent for her daughter: saying that, now that we were officially a family, we should all be together without delay. It went without saying that I was terribly excited about finally meeting my new sister.
The day arrived and I was dressed up in one of my finest gowns, bubbling with anticipation. Nelisia, who had gone to fetch her daughter, alighted from the carriage first, handed out by one of the footmen. Papa put his hands on my shoulders as we stood at the head of the steps that led up to our house's front entrance and I could barely contain myself from running down to meet them. Nelisia faced us and announced, a cool smile playing about her curving lips, "Doran," which was my father's name, "Arielle, this is Tizirra, my daughter. Tizirra, darling…"
A small, lithe, girlish figure materialized from within the carriage's shadows and came to stand on the cobblestones beside her mother. I found myself looking at a face completely unlike my own. Tizirra had inherited her mother's dark, smooth brown hair and flawless skin, but her eyes were slate blue – Nelisia's were deep brown with flecks of gold in their irises – and her lips were somewhat thinner and her bones were less rounded and graceful. I supposed that was because she was still a child and not yet fully grown into her features.
We stood there, staring at each other, and, for the first time in my life since that horrible moment at the wedding reception, I felt chilled to the very marrow of my bones, to the core of my soul, by the expressions in both Nelisia and Tizirra's eyes. But Papa and Nelisia took us inside and I helped Tizirra and her mother unpack her trunk and other things, and got her settled into the house.
And so it was.
* * *
All at once the merchant lost his whole fortune, excepting a small country house at a great distance from town, and told his children with tears in his eyes, they must go there and work for their living…
Several years passed. Tizirra and I grew somewhat older, into young ladies of twelve years, and sometimes I felt as if I was trapped in one of the horrible maze-of-mirrors houses at the festivals that we would go to. I couldn't explain what I felt towards Nelisia and Tizirra, but it wasn't what it had been before. Something had changed…but by the overall standards of things, we were a peaceful, if not contented family.
Then, one afternoon, my father came home from a visit to the docks – where news of his traveling ships, upon which his merchant's business rode, was received every now and then. I saw that his face was blank, haggard, and gray. Nelisia greeted him eagerly, but her face fell when she noticed his expression.
"Papa, what is it?" I asked him, running to his side.
He only shook his head, wordlessly, as he stared out the window of the grand parlor in which we stood, watching large drops of cold, depressing rain rolling down the glass. He moved his hand, and I saw a letter in it.
"The ships. They've all been lost – three, sunk by a storm far out at sea, and the other two…taken by pirates in a port somewhere in the deep south islands."
The horrible reality of what had happened dawned on us, and Nelisia fell, with a sharp, piercing cry that was almost a wail, into a chair behind us, as I stared at my father silently, trying not to show my own dismay at his words. Tizirra had also entered the room and was standing at her mother's side, stroking her hand and watching our father with her penetrating, cool eyes, bereft of all emotion. Papa shook his head again.
"We've lost everything."
* * *
It was decided that we should leave Basilisk-Head, since our house and practically all of our fine belongings would have to be sold in order to pay off the debts the we owed from our losses. Papa, before he had gone into the merchant business and married, had inherited from his long-deceased parents a cottage somewhere in the cold northern forests of a country known as Éindor.
Since it was the only other house that he had owned ever during the last years since my birth, it was to this place that we would journey and begin our new life.
Nelisia deplored the decision, but she kept her peace and did not say what she felt, as she was still quite a faithful and loyal wife who let my father make such major choices at this. Tizirra also did not seem to like the fact that we were leaving our beautiful home in Casilimoor, but she, like her mother, kept her thoughts bound in silence. I wasn't exactly sure what I had thought about this newest change in my life at that time. I knew, without a doubt, that I would follow my father wherever he went, and what he wished to do, I also would do gladly. Of course, it would be harder living on a farm in a remote place like northern Éindor. Papa had described it as all endless fields of emerald grass, known as moors, and forests upon forests of tall, shadowy tress swathed in mist, holding the kinds of secrets that no one could guess at.
Nelisia scoffed lightly at that, saying that he was telling us fairy tales.
"What kind of world do you think we live in, darling?" she had asked him. "Magic and creatures from other worlds hardly frequent our lives anymore."
My father just smiled at her, and replied, "You never know. In Éindor, one of the greatest faery tales, actual faery tales, mind you," he told a listening me and Tizirra, "Not simply the kind of tales that people make up – real faery tales – started."
The story of King Arin and Queen Elladine.
It had been one of my favorites ever since he had first told it to me in my much younger years. Even at the age of twelve, nearly thirteen, I was still enthralled by the enchanting tale of the beautiful faery princess and her handsome enchanter love, who had traveled the entire country of Lærelin in search of a fabled city and finally conquered a great evil together, then lived in happiness ever afterwards as king and queen.
"Yes, but even your so-called real faery tales are somewhat far-fetched," Nelisia said, watching as our servants wrapped yet another crystal candlestick in linen, preparing to take it to be sold. It was a grim day that had to be faced in our house: our possessions were being removed and put up for sale, and my father was trying to keep our minds off of it by speaking of other things. Namely, our new life in Éindor.
The very name of the country made my spine reverberate with thrills of some strange feeling of both excitement and anticipation…although I didn't know why. I turned back to my father.
"Why do you say that?" Papa asked his wife, fondly.
Nelisia sniffed and said, "Well, first off, it is said that they have lived out these three-hundred years since their marriage and coronation without aging a day. I know," she said to the look on my father's face, as he appeared about to add to her words, "They're immortal – but what good do you think having a good heart, a passably pretty face, and immortality is if you can't even use it to increase your standing in power? I haven't exactly heard of her Royal Lærelinorean Highness making any exceptional moves in politics or foreign affairs recently. And what about that pretty face anyway, Doran my love? In all likeliness, she uses night creams and grease paint to disguise the effects of aging on her features. Now come along, really!"
Papa simply smiled again and turned back to Tizirra and me, and said, "Four hundred years ago, before the War of the Crown," For so the events surrounding the story had come to be called, "Magic ran free in Éindor, with faeries and dragons and sprites and all sorts of creatures, whatever you can think of, gadding about like real people. And, no matter what anyone else may tell you, I believe that there is still much enchantment to be found there…you don't even have to go looking for it."
He paused for effect.
"It…will find you."
* * *
Not long after that, we left our house in Basilisk-Head forever and boarded the ship that would take us from the port in that city to Éindor. Nelisia pleaded seasickness and therefore was barely seen above deck for most of the duration of our journey, but Tizirra and I passed our time with Papa and kept a moderate level of sanity. Being cooped up in a small ship's cabin was a bad thing, especially if it involved two young girls who would have much rather been out and about.
Finally, the first glimpses of the island country that we had been told so much about came into view. Papa pointed to the dark, inky line that was the shore where we would disembark from our voyage onto, and told us, "There it is, loves. Your new realm of wonder and enchantment – the Island itself."
I leaned far over the ship's ledge, peering through the gray early morning mists. In the distance, I saw mountains: tall, looming, and imperious mountains, which stared benignly down at us, mere mortals, as if we were almost too small and insignificant to be noticed.
The air here was different, I realized.
In Basilisk-Head, and in the other countries that I had visited, the air had been steady and regular: tamed by the presence of thousands of human souls over the many long centuries. But here…here it was different. I couldn't exactly put a finger on how it was different, but I knew that it was. There was some greater aliveness of the air: some sparkling, fresh, tingling aliveness, like the night sky was just after a bolt of lightning had struck into it and then vanished. Something magical.
Éindor is going to be quite an adventure, I thought.
I had no idea.
* * * * * *
When they came to their country house, the merchant…applied…to husbandry and tillage; and Beauty rose at four in the morning, and made haste to have the house clean, and dinner ready for the family. In the beginning she found it very difficult, for she had not been used to work as a servant, but in less than two months she grew stronger and healthier than ever. After she had done her work, she read, played on the harpsichord, or else sung whilst she spun. The family had lived…in this retirement, when the merchant received a letter…