The autumn wind blew violently against the small cottage, sending a chill down the young woman's spine, despite the fire in the hearth.
"Belle you don't know what you're doing!"
Belle 's father sat in a well worn stuffed chair, blankets wrapped around his frail frame. She looked at him with sad eyes.
"Yes, I do, Papa." She was beyond yelling back at him at this point, not wanting to upset him further, instead speaking with a resigned sort of calm.
Belle sat at the small table in the front room. A marriage contract lay before her on the surface. At her back, royal guards stood at attention. A representative for his royal highness, Prince Adamos, stood by her side.
"His highness has offered his hand in marriage." She said much more firmly than her nerves should have allowed. She prayed that her father's failing eyesight would overlook that her hands were shaking. "I will accept."
"A man that you have never even met?" Maurice roared, and for a moment, Belle was terrified that he would actually launch himself from the chair. "A man who does not even come for you himself? "
The prince's representative coughed uncomfortably beside her, possessed of enough tact to let father and daughter have their moment, though in his mind, the Honorable Lumière Auguste knew that there was no way that he was leaving without the girl. Lumière swallowed the sting of guilt. She was the most beautiful creature that he had ever seen, perhaps twenty years of age, with rosy skin, deep, dark eyes, and hair the color of polished mahogany. That beauty was to be her downfall, as it was what had caught the prince's eye when they had passed her out riding in the fields one day. Lumière had prayed that her beauty would conceal a vain, childish character, much like the prince's own – but no. To his horror, not only was this perfect creature beautiful, but kind and selfless as well. And he would deliver her to a monster – to his master – a vain prince who had never had a selfless thought in his life. The kind of man who would propose marriage to a beautiful peasant girl only to most likely abandon her when he grew bored. Lumière loved the prince, the boy whom he had served since birth, the boy that he had once affectionately called Adam. Every servant in the palace had doted on the young prince, the only child of French King's long dead brother and his wife. Perhaps they had all loved him too well, spoiled him beyond saving – for it was moments like this when Lumière felt hate.
"What other choice do I have Papa?" Belle's voice broke through Lumière's morbid thoughts. "Marry Gaston? Stay here and suffer his attempts? Which I will remind you become more and more drastic every day."
"We'll move away. "
"With what money?" Belle shook her head sadly. "Papa, you're growing older, growing sicker." A tear fell almost gracefully down her face. She dashed it away quickly. "Papa," she said against a burn in her throat, "you are weaker every day."
Only last month, Maurice had been wounded terribly on the way to a country fair. Lost and alone, he had been come upon by wolves in the forest. If not for the speed of his horse he surely would have died. Maurice had outrun them, but only barely before one had jumped up and taken a nasty bite at his leg. The infection had almost killed him. He could barely walk.
"Do not insult me by insinuating that I cannot take care of my family."
"No Papa, of course you can. But now I can too. I will marry the prince. I will be able to care for you beyond our wildest dreams. "
"Belle – "
"I will not marry Gaston!"
"Better the devil you know!"
Belle only shook her head.
"Belle no! No, I won't let you do this. You!" he sneered at Lumière. "How dare you come in here with you guards and your pomp and your marriage contracts from a man who is not worthy of his title!"
"Monsieur," Lumière said with a start. "Do not presume to insult – "
"I'll insult whomever I damn please! This marriage offer is an insult to my daughter. Belle" he said turning his face back to her. "My girl, my beautiful girl. I know that you have greater dreams than this, of being a beautiful bird locked in a gilded cage. I'm old, my darling. I've lived my life."
"If I marry your master," Belle said turning to Lumière, ignoring her father's words, though it nearly killed her to do so. "If I marry him, will I be able to keep my father in comfort?"
Lumière nodded. "His highness is almost always concerned with his own affairs. I have no doubt that he will leave you in peace to attend to your own."
Belle closed her eyes and took a breath.
"Belle!" Her father wheezed from the corner. "Belle I forbid it!"
But he could not move fast enough, and with a flourish, the beautiful young girl signed the marriage contract.
"Very well," Lumière said. "We will leave tonight."
"Tonight?" Belle stammered. "But I can't possibly – "
"A full compliment of servants will be here within the hour to care to your father's every wish. But Adamos is not to be kept waiting. We shall leave tonight."