Disclaimer: For the last time, I don't own Beauty and the Beast or its characters.
The enchantress looked exactly as she had when Alexander had first seen her more than ten years ago, and in his dreams more recently. She was young and incredibly tall for a woman, with perfect creamy skin, full rose-colored lips, sparkling green eyes that matched her robes exactly, and flowing golden hair. The only main difference between now and their first meeting was that she was no longer the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. Even seeing her in the flesh again after so long, he thought Belle was lovelier. Belle's beauty was more genuine. Compared to her, the enchantress's looks seemed supernatural, almost too perfect to be real.
The enchantress glanced between Alexander and Lumière, and laughed, a light, silvery sound.
"Why, you don't seem pleased to see me," she said.
Alexander opened his mouth to say no, he wasn't pleased, but thought better of it.
She nodded to him, as if she'd read his mind. "Understandable. I don't expect you to enjoy our visits, after what I did to you."
"Visits?" Lumière repeated.
"So those dreams of you…they were real?"
"Of course they were. You knew that, didn't you? You certainly acted as if you believed we had those little conversations."
"I…I wasn't sure whether to believe them or not."
"You were right. I did my best to help you, when I thought you needed that extra push in the right direction. You passed your final test without any aid from me, however."
"Him." The enchantress waved at Lefou, who vanished. Belle and Maurice both jumped.
"Where did he go?" asked Belle, sounding alarmed.
"Where you two would have sent him—the late Gaston's home. I've just sped things up for you. All of the boring legal niceties transferring Gaston's property to him have been taken care of as well. He'll think you generously deeded it all to him a few days ago. I guarantee he won't trouble you again." She looked back at Alexander. "You could have easily killed him, or sentenced him to die, for threatening the woman you love. Many—if not most—other men in your position would have done so. Instead, you controlled your temper and offered him clemency."
She smiled at him, but it wasn't the mocking smile he was used to seeing. Instead it was kind, and he thought he detected a hint of pride. "You've become the ruler, and the man, you should have been had you not lost your heart at the deaths of your parents. You learned the lesson I set out to teach you—and more. In fact, you've surpassed my expectations."
He jumped down out of the cart, shaking off Belle's restraining hand on his shoulder. Slowly, he walked up to stand eye to eye with the enchantress. They were nearly of an equal height; she stood barely an inch taller. He remembered how she had loomed over him the night she'd cast the spell. She looked straight into his eyes without flinching.
"You think I didn't do you a favor by transforming you?" she asked, very quietly.
"I lived for ten years as a monster with nothing but a desperate, impossible hope that nearly drove me mad. Now that the spell is over, I don't even recognize myself in the mirror anymore. I was nearly killed because I looked like an animal, not a human. I wouldn't call that a favor," he said boldly.
"The hunter tried to kill you because he saw you as a rival for Belle's hand, not as an animal," the enchantress replied. "And that being the case, my spell saved your life. If Belle hadn't declared her love when she did and the spell hadn't restored everything, including your human body, you would have died. There was nothing I could have done about that. And do you really want to know what your adolescence as a spoiled human boy would have looked like? Or the tyrannical, womanizing man you would have grown into? I can show you, if you wish to see that. It's worse than anything you ever experienced as a Beast, believe me. The most terrible part of it is, you would have been desperately unhappy and not even known why, and you would have taken it out on anyone and anything that came into contact with you.
"Now, look around. You're about to marry a woman you love more than your own life, and who loves you back just as fiercely. You changed your ways for her, in order to become someone worthy of her love and respect. You have a beautiful daughter you'll help raise into a fine young lady, and more children if you and your wife so choose. You have a household full of servants who are loyal, and not because they fear you. You've become a good man who strives to do the right thing, not merely ensure justice is done. All of that came about because of the consequences of my spell. Now look me in the eye and tell me I didn't do you a favor, Prince Alexander."
"And Gaston?" he asked.
"What about him?"
"He was just as selfish and cruel as I once was. Yet you didn't transform him, or send him on a quest like Queen Guinevere did for Sir Gawain, even after what he did to Belle."
"Not everyone can be saved, Alexander. You've learned this by now. He made his choices, but unlike you, and Sir Gawain for that matter, he did them knowing the possible consequences. Though it was noble of you to offer him another chance." She sighed, and looked away briefly. "Seeing the future is a burden sometimes, knowing there are those that can't be helped even if I were to intervene. It all depends on human choices in the end, not on any sort of magical help—or punishment—I can bestow."
"I know you do. Taking up your throne means you already understand a little of my burden, though the help you and Belle will dispense won't be magical." She smiled that lovely, genuine smile at him again, though a hint of mockery had returned. "You don't have to thank me. Your thanks can be by remembering one simple thing: Alexander, you've been kissed by a rose. You have to accept the thorns as well as the petals."
She took a step backward so that she could see Belle, Lumière and Maurice in the cart. "I wish all of you luck. Especially you, Belle. You haven't walked an easy road, either, and partially through my doing. For that, I'm sorry. But you're better for it, I think."
Belle nodded. "I'm not sorry to have Alexander and Gwen in my life, if that's what you mean."
"What a lovely way of putting it. You were always diplomatic. Reminds me of another brave woman I once knew." The enchantress snapped her fingers, and her delicate wand became a long wooden staff. She tapped it once on the ground, and her entire form changed.
For a moment, Alexander thought she had transformed back into the crone's shape she had used to test him. But though the figure was cloaked, it was clearly an old man standing there in deep blue velvet robes, a man with a long gray beard.
"Funny you mentioned Gawain," he said casually to Alexander, "His case was one I was quite proud of, too." He chuckled, clearly enjoying the younger man's shock. "Didn't I tell you not to allow appearances to deceive you?" He tapped his staff on the ground twice, and vanished.
There was a long silence. Finally, Maurice managed, "Would anyone care to explain what just happened?"
"I'm not sure," Belle said, her voice wobbling, "But I think that was—"
"I don't even want to think about it," Alexander interrupted. The idea of being tested by someone he'd thought was only a story was extremely unnerving. That he'd been found—dare he think it?—worthy, like Sir Gawain or King Arthur, was more unnerving still. He climbed back into the cart, and settled himself beside Belle. "Let's go home. We have a wedding to get ready for."
A month later, Alexander stood uncomfortably in the grand ballroom, holding himself back as hard as he knew how from pacing. Why he was this nervous, he wasn't sure. Most of the more important events since the castle's transformation had already happened. He and Belle had finally been married in the quiet ceremony both had hoped for. They hadn't consummated the marriage yet, but no one knew that but themselves. Alexander had promised to wait until Belle was ready, and was holding to it. However, it was unexpectedly comforting to have someone else there when he woke from nightmares, which had not entirely gone with the departure of the enchantress? enchanter? from his life. And he was there to hold Belle close when her sleep was disturbed with nightmares of her own.
The Regent Council had arrived two weeks after their marriage, and according to Cogsworth were "most impressed" with both Alexander and Belle.
Now, this evening, was the long-awaited grand ball. Every local noble and some of the more important merchants and other wealthy commoners of the province had been invited, and stood glittering in small groups on the polished floor. Alexander himself stood alone on the small dais built in front of the glass doors to the balcony. These would be opened later so the guests could enjoy the warm spring air, but for now they were closed for the start of the ball. He wore his best blue suit with the gold trim and ruffled white cravat—somehow all of his clothes that would have fit the Beast had changed to fit a man of his size.
The only person, in fact two people, missing were Belle and Guinevere. Belle's arrival as hostess would signal the opening of the ball, and Gwen would come in with her mother. Cogsworth and Lumière had already overridden Mrs. Potts' objections that a fancy ball was no place for a month-old infant. People would want to see the heir to the province, if only to make certain she was healthy. And she only need be there for a minute or two, then Mrs. Potts could whisk her off to bed. Gwen had already slept most of the day, so odds were good she would be wide awake by the time the ball started and ready to deal with two minutes of intense attention.
A flourish of trumpets announced Belle and Gwen were ready to enter. Cogsworth, dressed in so much gold braid it was hard to see the brown velvet underneath, came through the double doors first. He struck a long staff on the floor twice to command the attention of the already expectant room.
"Presenting her Royal Highness Princess Belle, her Highness Princess Guinevere, and her Highness's caretaker, Madame Potts," he announced. Then he stepped aside.
Into the room came Belle. Alexander's mouth went dry at the sight of her. She wore the yellow silk gown he had given to her for Christmas, the one with the wide skirt that cascaded like a glittering waterfall. She wore matching yellow gloves that hid her arms to the elbows and golden pearl earrings, but little other adornment: no necklace, no bracelets, no tiara, no other jewels of any kind. Her hair had been combed until it shone and piled on her head to tumble down in gorgeous brown ringlets to her shoulders. He couldn't wait to run his fingers through them and straighten them out again later. For now, he could admire the picture they made against her porcelain skin. She had looked beautiful at their wedding, too, but her dress had been far simpler, just a long white gown with a medieval-looking cut. That she would choose this dress, tonight, meant all that much more.
She came walking slowly, regally, across the ballroom to meet him, head high, a smile beaming across her face. The only hint of her nerves that he could see was in how tightly her hands were clasped before her. He could see the imprint of her wedding band on her left ring finger through the thin silk of the gloves.
Behind her came Mrs. Potts, carrying Gwen. Gwen looked as if she had no idea what to make of any of this, staring around with wide blue eyes and a very solemn expression. She wore a long white dress that reached at least a foot past her tiny feet and was trimmed with very soft lace. Alexander sighed softly with relief. At least she wasn't crying and seemed intrigued by the crowd rather than afraid.
Belle stepped onto the dais very carefully, and managed not to trip as she had when they rehearsed everything the day before. Alexander bent down and took her bare shoulders in both hands. He was supposed to just kiss her cheek, but instead ignored Cogsworth's instructions and kissed her lips, very gently and quickly. Belle smiled mischievously at him and whispered, "I hoped you were going to do that."
"Cogsworth can scold me later," he answered with a very slight shrug.
Belle turned and took Gwen from Mrs. Potts, who melted discreetly to the side. The three posed there on the dais for a moment, letting the crowd look at them. Then, at Lumière's subtle gesture, the orchestra began to play.
Alexander bowed to his wife. "May I have this dance?" he asked, as pompously as he dared.
Her eyes sparkled with suppressed laughter, but she looked down at the baby in her arms.
"We'll both carry her, only for a minute. Then Mrs. Potts can take her," he reassured her. Belle nodded, and allowed him to lead her to the center of the floor. Sliding a hand beneath Gwen, he spun them very slowly, as if this was exactly how they had rehearsed it. Both parents kept their eyes on the baby, smiling down at her, and she twisted her mouth up in an attempt to smile back. They did this for only a short time, but Alexander wanted to remember forever what it felt like, to be human again after so long, to hold both Belle and their daughter, and to forget about everyone else in the room.
Mrs. Potts came forward, and Belle placed Gwen carefully in her arms. Then she kissed the baby's cheek and Alexander smoothed Gwen's hair, before the nurse carried her away to bed.
Belle turned back to Alexander. There was a question in her eyes. For answer, he held out a hand. No over-exaggerated gestures this time, only a question of his own. She placed her hand in his and allowed him to draw her in close. As always, she fit perfectly into his arms. They looked at each other, realizing in the same instant that neither had danced formally for years. Other couples were coming onto the dance floor, and they stood completely still in the center of it all.
Belle was the first to laugh. "We'll get through this together," she said. "Come on. Just watch the other men. I'll watch the women." She took a step backwards, forcing him to move with her.
They stumbled for a minute or two, but they kept moving. No one else seemed to notice their mistakes. Eventually, they found their rhythm, and spun around the room with as much confidence as any of the other couples. Alexander saw Cogsworth, Lumière, Madame, Babette, and many of the other servants beaming at them from various corners of the room. Lumière even threw them a broad wink. Alexander grinned back.
A new song began to play, a slower tune, and Belle leaned forward to rest her head on his chest. "I still can't believe it sometimes," she murmured to him.
He didn't need to ask what she meant. "Neither can I. I never imagined what life would be like even if I did break the spell. That it would be this life—" He shrugged, lost for words.
"I understand." She leaned back to look at him. "Do you think someone will ever write a story about us, the way they did with Sir Gawain, and King Arthur and Queen Guinevere?"
"You always could. Like the book you made me for Christmas."
She snorted softly. "I wouldn't be up to the challenge. Besides, our story isn't over yet. It's just started."
Author's Note: Well, it's that time, folks. Oscar speech! I can't believe it's finally over. I've been writing this story since last summer. It seems like forever, and no time at all. I won't hesitate to say it's been one of my favorites, and I've gotten very emotionally involved. There have been way too many nights staying up past a reasonable bedtime to write just one more sentence that turns into two, three more… Anyway.
This chapter specifically: I thought I'd have some fun with the real identity of the enchantress, after all the time we spent at Camelot.
Usually I take this time to thank everyone who's reviewed my story personally by penname. However, in this case I think that would be impossible. I've never gotten so many reviews on any story! So I will thank all of you, every single person who reviewed, from the bottom of my heart. In particular, I want to thank the ones who left reviews with criticisms. Even if I didn't change anything in response to your critiques, they are always appreciated because they make me think.
I want to send a special thank you to the folks at Bittersweet and Strange. You were the ones who encouraged me to post this when I thought it would stay just a weird fantasy on my computer.
I did quite a bit of research, reading all kinds of articles about the psychological aftereffects of rape, trying to see how it would change someone like Belle. I've never been raped or sexually assaulted, but if you have, I've read that it helps a lot to tell someone you trust. No one should have to go through something like this alone. Like Belle, I hope you find your Beast—someone who you feel safe with and can open your heart to.
It is now time for my chapter title acknowledgements. They are all song titles. They are: "Prologue," "Belle," "Be Our Guest," "Something There" and "Beauty and the Beast" from Beauty and the Beast, "Flowers in the Window" by Travis, "Respect" by Aretha Franklin, "How Long Must This Go On?" and "If I Can't Love Her" from Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, "Breakaway" by Kelly Clarkson, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar, "Black Roses Red" by Alana Grace, "Heat Wave" by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, "Somebody to Love" by Queen, "Getting to Know You" from The King and I, "Stories" from Enchanted Christmas, "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (traditional Christmas carols),"You're the One That I Want" from Grease, "As Long as You Love Me" by the Backstreet Boys, "Kiss the Girl" from Little Mermaid, "If I Never Knew You" from Pocahontas, "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, "Far From the Home I Love" from Fiddler On the Roof, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, "Miracles Happen" by Myra (from The Princess Diaries), "Because You Live" by Jesse McCartney, "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, "Ever Ever After" by Carrie Underwood (from Enchanted), and finally "Kiss from a Rose" by Seal, which also inspired the story title. Whoo, that's a lot of chapters! As I said earlier in the story, I generally picked them because the theme of the song fit the mood of the chapter. If you listen to none of the others, at least listen to "Kiss from a Rose" once. It really sets the tone for the whole story that I was trying to create.
Recommended reading (also works that inspired me while writing):
"Impossible" by Nancy Werlin. It's a book about a teenage girl under an ancient curse to get pregnant at seventeen, give birth to a daughter, and then go insane. Only true love can break the curse, which is based in the ballad "Scarborough Fair." This is a wonderful example of a young man becoming a father to a daughter that's not his because he's fallen in love with her pregnant mother. I read this book after I started "Kissed by a Rose," and I knew I had to recommend it to my readers. My favorite line? "Her daughter forever a daughter of mine."
"Beastly" by Alex Flinn. This one is sort of over-romanticized, but it's a modern Beauty and the Beast story from the Beast's point of view, which is helpful research for anyone writing from his perspective. Flinn captures his utter despair and loneliness well. I do plan to see the movie when it comes out.
The classics: "Beauty" by Robin McKinley and "Beast" by Donna Jo Napoli. Any Beauty and the Beast retelling enthusiast should read these two books. "Beast," particularly, has some of the raw sexuality you rarely see in fairy tale retellings.
"Redeeming Love" by Francine Rivers. This is a retelling of the Biblical book of Hosea, set during the California gold rush. Go into this book prepared. You won't ever look at the healing power of love—even sexual love—the same way again. I don't normally read Christian fiction, but I picked this one up on a whim and haven't regretted it.
"The Wife of Bath's Tale" from the Canterbury Tales. My main inspiration for the Gawain story comes from this segment of the Tales. If you read nothing else of Chaucer, take half an hour out of your time to read this story. The language is obscure until you get into it, but if you get a version that's translated into more modern English you should be fine.
The Bible. Surprise! This is where the Christmas story is found, with the stuff in the book of Matthew about Joseph's decision to become the earthly father of Jesus. Also, 1 Corinthians 13, what is known as "the love passage" wherein criteria for true love is described. Belle cribs some of it in one of my chapters. You will hear these verses read at virtually every Christian marriage you will ever attend.
There is no "Arthur and Guinevere." I made it up, and all the parts of it Belle and the Beast talk about are a combination of Arthurian legends and my own imagination. (Sidenote: I am still mad that they changed the part in "Human Again" where Belle and the Beast are reading together from "King Arthur," as it is in the Broadway show, to "Romeo and Juliet" in the movie.)
I think that's about it.
Edit 2/2/2012: If you want to read more about Belle and Alexander and their future, I have several one-shot additions to this universe. They can be found on my profile: Face the Mirror, a short one-shot that happens between the chapters "Because You Live" and "A Whole New World"; The Christmas Rose, a story about the first Christmas in the castle after the spell is broken; and Daughter of the Beast, which centers around Gwen thirteen years after Kissed By a Rose ends.
Thanks again and again and again for reading, and I hope you enjoyed our time together.
Over and out,