A retelling of Disney's Beauty and the Beast
I do not
own any of the characters, plot, etc… of Beauty and the Beast. That all
belongs to Disney. Technically this story also belongs to
Global eXchange Services, where I interned for the summer,
because I had to sign my soul plus all my creative works that I did
there to them as part of the hiring process. Maybe they'll let me
take some of the credit...
To those who are reading this again because they are curious as to why it's mysteriously updated: I haven't changed all that much. Things have been edited for spelling, and some dialogue in the first few chapters has been changed so that it's not an exact clone of the movie dialogue. But other than that, it's pretty much the same. To any new readers: welcome, and enjoy!
Prologue: The Beginning of a Tale
There was a time in the Land of the Sun, which men of the West call Nippon or Japan, when the Daimyos ruled. These powerful warlords answered to the Shogun in his capital at Edo, and only in theory did they owe allegiance to the Emperor, who resided as a virtual prisoner in the ancient capital of Kyoto. It was truly the Shogun, surname Tokugawa, who ruled the land.
During this time no men of the West were permitted to set foot on the soil of Nippon. There were a few colonies on the coast where a tiny handful of Dutch merchants were given land and safe harbor for their trading ships. Rare was the merchant who sought profit in such a dangerous, unwelcoming land, but the possibilities for acquiring wealth were enormous. As the rest of the expanding Western powers fought for control of India, China, Indonesia, and the New World, the rare goods obtained at high cost from isolated Nippon brought great profits to those merchants who dared to make the journey.
Goods and ideas acquired in trade from these brave Westernmen were carefully controlled, and most of them did not move past the Emperor's palace or the Shogun's castle. But the Tokugawa were not fools, and they did see that these glimpses of an alien world were not all harmful to their power. They established a few, hidden schools where carefully chosen youths were trained in select wisdom from the West.
One of these fortunate youths was the Shogun's own son. A handsome lad and much gifted in the warrior arts, this only child was destined to become the leader of all Nippon when his father died. But because of his status he was the target of many assassination attempts, and his father grew fearful for the boy's safety. He built a special oshiro (castle) in the countryside, ordering that all of the finest craftsmen shape it to be both pleasing to the eye and wickedly foiling to any assassin. Thus the oshiro was a maze of corridors that even the hired servants could not navigate with any regularity. It was rumored that several of the sliding paper walls had been secretly given the power to move about on their own by a traveling magician, and that the same magician had made the oshiro impossible to find except by accident. Those specifically looking for it were doomed to wander endlessly in the forest that surrounded it on all sides. The oshiro's crowning glory was no magic, however, but architectural cunning: the nightingale floor leading to the master suite in the western part of the oshiro. No matter how light the assassin's foot, the floor would sing out a warning, a high-pitched cry that the designer claimed mimicked a nightingale. No one could pass that floor without the suite's occupants, and more importantly its guards, knowing that an unwanted person approached.
Though safe from his assassins at last, the Shogun's son grew up lonely and isolated with only his servants and guards to keep him occupied. He received fabulous books from the Dutch Studies school and occupied himself with scholarly pursuits, but with the passing years he grew exceedingly spoiled and arrogant.
One bitter winter evening, some of the young man's personal guards nervously crossed the nightingale floor to inform him that an old peasant woman had begged for shelter at the oshiro gates. The Shogun's son ordered them to throw the woman back out into the snow and turned impatiently to his most recent book. He was just tracing the outline of a two-masted schooner with one wistful finger when he heard the light squeak of the nightingale floor again. Sighing with irritation, he slammed the book shut and crossed the room to order the execution of the guards for offending him twice.
When he opened the doors, it was not his guards who greeted him but the twisted face of the old peasant woman they had spoken of. The shogun's son wrinkled his nose at her unwashed, straggled hair and torn cotton kimono. Her skin was red and chapped where the wind and cold had eaten at it, and her nose streamed clear liquid down her chin.
"Gomen nasai (I'm sorry, pardon me), my lord, but would you at least permit this humble one a place in your servants' quarters for the night? I apologize for troubling you, but it is bitterly cold outside," she croaked, her voice raw from the winter wind.
"How dare you disturb a son of the Tokugawa house, you wretched hag? Guards! Imprison this woman at once!" The young man started to turn away, certain his orders would be obeyed.
"Please, my lord. Do not be deceived by appearances. I can pay you for the inconvenience." The Shogun's son turned slightly as he reached to slam his door shut, and caught sight of the rich red flower the woman had pulled from her robe. It was like no flower he had ever seen, though he had come across its image in a book on Western botany: a rose. This rose was even more beautiful than the one in the illustration. If there was one weakness he had, it was his fascination with the Western world and its marvels. The young man started to reach eagerly for it, but remembered his dignity in time and drew his hand back. He smoothed his face once again into cold indifference.
"Go away, old woman. I have no use for you or your pitiful flower." And with that, he slammed the door to his suite and turned back to his precious books.
The door crashed back open. The Shogun's son spun, ready to shout for his guards—and froze.
A tall woman-taller than any he had ever seen-stood in the doorway where the hag had been. Gone were the filthy rags, the tangled hair, and the chapped skin. This woman's skin was as pale as the moon, her layered white kimonos were the finest of embroidered silks, and her long black hair reached to her feet. That is, if she'd had any feet. They were hidden by layers of slowly flickering flame and rising smoke. Like the rose, this sight was one he had read about but never dreamed of seeing: a yuurei, a female ghost-devil who had died in dishonor and now committed acts of retribution after death. The young man fell to his knees and bowed his head to the floor in the most humble, terrified position he knew. Sweat poured off his face and dripped to the floor as the yuurei drew closer and the flames at its feet grew hotter.
She chuckled grimly. He could hear the fire in her voice, a striking contrast to her snow-colored skin and robes. "It is far too late for such piety, son of the house of Tokugawa."
"Forgive me, great Lady. I meant no harm," the Shogun's son murmured to the floor.
"No harm?" She laughed again. "What do you think throwing me out into the storms of winter would have done to a poor old lady like myself? For such a coldhearted act as yours, you deserve dire punishment. I have seen this night that there is no Love in your heart at all."
"But, Lady, Love is not important to a mortal man like me," the young man protested, using the words of his tutors. "It is only Honor and Service that matter to a true warrior."
"Honor and Service," the yuurei sneered, mocking. "Has none of the wisdom of your tutors entered your brain? You, as the future ruler of the Land of the Sun, are bound to serve those weaker than you. You are bound to honor women, the elderly, and the poor. You have done none of these in your actions this night. You care for no one but yourself, least of all those closest to you and who depend on you for protection."
"Gomen nasai," he whispered.
"Not enough. For in all your studies, have you not read that the yuurei are vindictive above all? You are fortunate to have caught me in a generous mood. Your punishment shall not be eternal." She gestured, and the young man screamed as he began to change shape. Scales, fire-red and hard as diamonds spread slowly down his arms and across his body. He fell to the floor as his spine stretched and extended, becoming extremely flexible. His arms and legs grew shorter and splayed out to either side, his hands twisting before him to become clawed paws. A brilliant crest extended from his neck, and his jaw, now filled with daggerlike teeth, extended. Last of all he felt a scaly tail grow from his spine. Sprawled on all fours like a lizard, he tilted his head as high as it would go to look into his tormentor's face. He found no pity in her hard, dark eyes.
"A…a dragon? A monster?" he gasped, turning to look at himself. His head snapped back to the yuurei. "You cannot mean to leave me like this!"
"And I shall not. Look." She gestured, and the young man's katana sword, which he had named Nightingale, flew into her grasp. In the other hand she held the crimson rose, which now glowed with a life of its own.
"You plan to kill me with my own sword, then. I will not resist you." He rolled his head back on its flexible neck, exposing the tender white underside.
The yuurei sighed impatiently. "Males and their dramatics about loss of honor. You misunderstand me, young Beast." She held out the blade for him to see. The glowing rose vanished in a flash of light, and the blade of Nightingale was abruptly covered with intricately etched designs of curling roses on thorny vines. The dragon counted ten of the flowers in various states of maturity, from a barely open bud near the point to one that was wilting and losing its petals at the haft. "Look well," said the yuurei. "Ten flowers, one for each year that you have to undo my curse. They will fade and vanish in turn as the years pass. When the wilted rose is gone from the blade, you will be doomed to remain a Beast for all time."
"How can I undo the curse?" he rasped, his voice no longer smooth and cultured but throaty and cruel.
"You must learn to love a woman and earn her love in return before the final petal of the final rose fades. Not merely desire, but true Love that lasts beyond Time. Through such love you shall find the true meaning of Honor and Service."
"In this shape? No woman will ever love a monster as hideous as me!"
"Nevertheless, those are my terms. I leave the rest to fate." With a wild laugh that seemed to be half-scream, the yuurei dropped Nightingale to the floor and was consumed by the fire at her feet. Just as she vanished, she turned her burning eyes on the dragon and hissed, "Ten years. Do not forget."
The dragon stared his own hideous reflection in the mirrorlike blade of his beloved sword, now the symbol of his imprisonment. The crimson dye that edged the roses on the blade seemed to absorb the brilliant red of the scales covering his face. But soon the reflection was distorted by the steaming tears falling upon it.
Whew! The first chapter's out of the way, and yokoso (welcome) to all of you! Hopefully you'll like this new twist on Beauty and the Beast. I have always loved Japan, especially the legends about dragons and other fantastic creatures. The history in the opening of this story about Japanese isolation under the Tokugawa shogunate and the tiny Dutch colonies that were permitted are as accurate to Japanese history as I can make them, and I will try to include some Japanese terms in every chapter if I can. Please review and let me know what you think, I'd like some feedback before I write the next chapter. Cheers!