So this is the start of a new version of Beauty and the Beast that I'm working on, I've had random ideas for this particular one that I've been building up and saving for a long time until they finally decided to mold themselves together. I hope you like, sorry if it's a little long, please don't skim!
One more thing- a lot of different songs influenced me for the writing of this story so I decided to have a song correspond to each chapter, tell me if you like that/whether a song fits or not. The one for this chapter is Jacob's Theme by Howard Shore (from the Eclipse soundtrack)
Chapter I: The Beginning of Things
Once, in a time none but the scholars and scribes of history can still recall, the king and queen of a small northern country ruled over their people. And through the years these leaders where blessed with four sons; each a strong and worthy individual, filled with the potential that fate had bestowed upon them. But though the land was peaceable it was not immune to the disease of war. At first it had seemed like nothing: a mere trickle of easterners –soldiers intermixed with the farmers and passers-by. Soon though, what had been but a splinter in the land became a full- fledged onslaught of trained soldiers, each stronger and more sure of victory than the last. By this time in his life the northern king had reached old age and his bones wearied him so that he could hardly walk up to the battlements to view the oncoming enemy, much less ride out and face them with his men, however much he may have wished it. His two eldest sons- both trained fighters, skilled in the art of warfare- appealed to their allies in the south, bringing back more than enough troops to fight the invading army and together they rode out, willing to struggle tooth and nail to keep their country safe.
The two youngest sons, Richard and Gregory, were made to stay away from the fighting. Gregory, at thirteen, was hardly strong enough to keep aloft a broadsword, much less fight the practiced enemy troops. Richard, on the other hand, was kept at the castle for a different reason entirely. For if anything should happen to his brothers it would be he who would take up the crown after his father's reign had ended. But Richard, like many young people upon entering their prime, felt that if he rode into war he would be untouchable, a god among men, and this foolish confidence made him impetuous. So much so that one night he stole away from his home, and, disguised as a foot soldier, made his way to the front lines. The king and queen upon discovering their son's departure were enraged that he could commit such a foolish deed. But through their anger they saw that there was only one path left for them to take; Gregory, being the fourth child and youngest son must begin learning the ways of a ruler. With his father's health slowly deteriorating Gregory, never being the most scholarly of boys, threw himself into his studies. Almost never leaving the company of his tutors he only paused to take meals, if then.
Four years passed and the war still raged on with no end in sight. Then, one day, a messenger rode into the courtyard to deliver a crushing blow; that which the sovereigns had dreaded most had come to pass: their two eldest sons, who had ridden out in what seemed a lifetime ago, had been killed in battle. The news struck with such intensity that the people began to murmur about surrender but soon the whispers turned from sadness to anger, and a call for vengeance was added onto what seemed to be the ever growing list of ill deeds the enemy had heaped upon their poor land, and the war intensified. Another year passed and the king, knowing that he could not stay in this life much longer called Gregory to his rooms, intending to give him some last parting words of sense and wisdom.
Seeing his son walking towards him the king's heart twisted in grief, for the man who stood at his side was not the boy he remembered- with the mischievous smiles and lighthearted words. This person was thin, almost ragged, looking. Having always been pale his skin now showed evidence of deep circles under the eyes and the king once again silently berated Richard for having so selfishly left the kingdom, throwing to his brother a yolk that should not have been his to bear. Holding out his hand the king grasped Gregory's forearm, and was pleased to see that this man, upon closer inspection, was less thin and ragged then he had first believed. He looked down at his son's hands and saw the thin white scars of practice daggers and swords, as well as the smudges of ink and charcoal. And seeing this the king gave a little smile, knowing that the words he spoke next would indeed be true ones.
"My son, the burden you have carried has been a heavy one to be sure, but I can see that you have carried it better than I could have in your position."
Gregory smiled and his father was glad to see that some of the mischievousness had not yet left his eyes.
"Thank you Father." His son replied. "I've tried my hardest to do so."
The king squeezed his hand by way of answer and took a rattling breath before continuing. "The reason I called you here tonight was to tell you something, something that is in none of the books or grand speeches given to you by your tutors."
Sitting on the edge of the bed Gregory leaned forward to better catch his father's whispered words.
"When you are made king there will be many people who will want from you the impossible. Your job as monarch is not to deny them those expectations, nor hide them away as if they never were, but to see that they become the norm."
"But what if I can't?" Gregory asked, feeling suddenly that all the fears that had been building up inside him for the past five years were suddenly bursting forth. "What if I can't live up to their expectations, I don't know if I'll be able to succeed at this, and what happens then?" he asked in a rush.
The king smiled at his sons protestations. "Then you pretend," he said simply, "pretend you can succeed, pretend they are asking for nothing when in fact they ask of you everything. Pretend until you've done it for so long that what you believe to be true really is."
But the king saw his son's expression was still creased and anxious and he gave him a reassuring smile. "Do not worry about making mistakes, because you will make mistakes. The trick is to never make the same one twice."
It was winter when they laid the old king down into the earth. After the body had been put to rest, the ground back in its place, Gregory began to make the slow walk back up to the castle. He stopped short though when he saw his mother a ways away, staring at her garden.
Even the most stubborn of men had to admit that the queen's garden was extraordinary. The crown jewel, some said, of the entire kingdom. Every flower that could grow in the northern land lived in that place. It had been a gift from the king in their early days as man and wife and throughout the years it had flourished. But the one flower that was the queen's favorite and had soon become the unofficial emblem of the country were her roses. Now, roses in general do not care for such cold climates, but through the careful tending of monarch and gardener alike, they had been able to make the delicate plant flourish and it had soon become the prime occupant of that space. The queen fingered one such flower now as her son came to stand beside her.
"We're alone now, you and I." The queen said, sighing a little as she did. "I never thought it would be like this Gregory. We had a plan for you all, things just…fell through along the way."
"It wasn't anything you could have prevented, Mother." Gregory answered, hoping to coax her out of her melancholy thoughts. "It was just the way things turned out."
"At least I still have the roses." She said, a sad smile lifting her lips slightly. "Your father planted them for me you know, when we first met." There was a pause, Gregory watched his mother intently, he'd never heard this story before.
"I asked him why he would even think of planting such fragile things in a place so cold." She continued. "But he told me, 'roses are like people Margaret, they're constantly surprising you. Sometimes the slightest chill will bring them to their knees and they'll need all the help they can get, while at others they'll show you their thorns and fight till the very end.'" She bent down and plucked one of the flowers and placed it gently into the soft black fabric of her son's lapel. "Never underestimate people Gregory, for they're always doing surprising things."
And indeed what the queen had said was true, for it was only a year after Gregory was crowned king of the northern lands and all its inhabitants that the most surprising thing of all took place. Word had come earlier that year from an injured foot soldier that Prince Richard had been stationed at the same camp as himself. When questioned further about this the man confessed that a sickness had run through the men like wildfire over the winter months, and it was very unlikely that the crown prince had survived, but the soldiers information was a tad faulty because on a bright spring day Gregory looked up from the bent and torn war maps he and his generals were poring over to find his brother standing in the doorway of his workroom.
Gregory stood, dumbfounded for a moment before finding his voice. "Richard." He said softly, staring wide-eyed at the person before him.
The young king walked slowly towards the man, hardly blinking as he stood before him. Richard looked back and gave him a crooked smile.
"It really is you isn't it?" Gregory asked, still trying to wrap his head around the fact that Richard was not only alive and well, but here, speaking to him as if no time had passed between them at all.
"Well of course it's me." Richard said with a chuckle. "Who else could it be?"
He had a point there. Gregory thought to himself. Out of all his family Richard had always been the shortest, much to his chagrin, what's more unlike his brothers' dark eyes and hair he had always been fair faced and blue eyed. This was why above all else his father had always good-naturedly called him "our little golden boy". But, Gregory noted as he eyed this man who seemed to be both his brother and a stranger together at once, the passage of time had left its mark; no mistaking it. For one thing there was a hunger about him that Gregory did not think he remembered from their childhood. It wasn't just the way the skin about his face seemed to be stretched across the bones but also something in the eyes: an intensity that, if he were forced to say, reminded him of the wild animals that he and his friends would hunt for sport when the weather was fine, a look that seemed to speak of desperation and hostility. The voice too, had changed, no longer was it the quiet and thoughtful one from years ago, but hoarse, with a ravaged tone that matched the eyes far more than the king liked to admit. Gregory quickly shook himself of these thoughts, what could he possibly be thinking? This was his brother, for goodness sake! The one who had taught him the best times for catching small game and evading his tutors and nurses, so his face had changed, it did not matter. And, he told himself stubbornly, it had all the world to do with just how long they had been apart, never mind the war or what Richard may have seen there. He was determined not to let his own misgivings threaten what should be a well-needed celebratory occasion for the kingdom. So Gregory ignored the doubts in his mind, and moved to embrace his brother, telling himself that he was truly happy to have him home.
The next month was filled with all manner of feasting and dance to mark the arrival of the king's brother, whom people had now taken to calling 'the soldier prince'. For the first few nights Richard had indeed enjoyed himself thoroughly, wine and food were aplenty here and it made his eyes go wide to see it all laid out before him. He may have been a prince, but for a long time now he had lived as the poorest beggar would. The company, too was much better and far kinder on the eyes than any he could remember during his days encamped on the battlefield. Beautiful women seemed to appear from nothing right before his eyes. As soon as one arrived three more would follow, each looking as sweet and enticing as the meals before him. But it would not last.
As the month ended, and with it the celebrations, the court and its king soon fell back into their daily routine of politics and gossip, strategy and intrigue both on the battlefield and off. Richard hardly saw Gregory due to the daily meetings the king held with his counselors and generals in hopes of bringing victory to the country, and with it the end of the war. He hadn't minded very much at first, but it wasn't before long that Richard began to feel a cold stab of jealousy within his breast everytime he caught a glance at his brother. Constantly Gregory would be surrounded by admirers and advisors alike, the man was hardly ever alone and a phrase began to intrude upon Richard's waking thoughts and sleeping dreams, one that would soon become a mantra for coming events. That should have been me.
Midsummer's Eve opened onto the kingdom bright and clear, and looking out at the rising sun the king's own mood rose to meet that of the translucent blue sky before him. One of the enemy's largest battalions had just suffered a crushing blow from the northern army and news from Gregory's spies were arriving daily with information that would become very profitable very soon. Soon. He thought, leaning against a balustrade overlooking the courtyard. Soon the war would be over, soon the country could work to rebuild what had been destroyed. Soon. The word had never seemed to hold such promise.
Unfortunately this same word encircled his brother's thoughts as well; thoughts which over the months had become considerably less favorable towards the new king with each passing hour. Ever since that single prick of jealousy had swept through him the feeling refused to depart and instead spread and infected his mind like a plague. Soon his plan would go into action, the pieces were in place all that was lacking was his consenting word.
Standing near the gates of the castle, Gregory finished tightening the straps of his bandolier and lifted himself onto his mount. Surrounded by his retainers and lords of the court as well as a few of the braver ladies they waited, a little impatiently, for the last of their party to arrive.
He never used to be late. Gregory thought to himself as Arion, his horse, shifted from side to side in anticipation for the hunt. He couldn't exactly blame the beast, he was just as excited, though he liked to think that he was a bit better at concealing it. The hunt was an event that happened every year during the warm months and served as an opportunity for each man not only to show off their skill with a bow but also to speak with the king about any and all matters that may have escaped his attention otherwise. It was a time for politics as much as it was for sport and Gregory wished to start this, the first of what he was sure would be many hunts, as soon as possible.
If only Richard would arrive we could proceed! Gregory had noticed a change in his brother ever since his arrival and he hoped that today he could learn why the prince had become so introspective and unsettled. A sound to his right caught his attention and there, as if Gregory had called aloud to him, was Richard.
A half smile played on his face as he spoke a hasty apology for his tardiness. Gregory hardly heard the words though, and only gave himself enough time to turn and grin back before leaning forward with the other gentry into a full gallop towards the nearby forest.
So that's chapter one! I'm truly very excited about this version I'm writing and I hope everyone enjoyed it. Please review or favorite if the mood strikes. OH, and one more thing. Not only did a lot of songs influence my take on Batb but a boat-load of pics did too. I started up a blog on wordpress and if you want to see the images that inspired each chapter you check out here: aworkoffiction . wordpress . com