The Rose of a Beast

Chapter 1 - The fairy tale begins

Once upon a time, there lived a merchant and his three daughters. He lived in a grand mansion in Paris, surrounded by the finest that society could offer. He was fabulously rich, wonderfully pleasant and eccentric enough to be interesting but not crazy enough to be locked up. His three daughters were the toast of society. The youngest was named Gabrielle and was praised for her angelic looks and sweet temperament. The second was named Jacqueline and she was renown for her knowledge and remarkable felicity of expression. The eldest was named Elizabeth and she was a combination of both her sisters. She was pretty, but she had not the ethereal, lovely looks of Gabrielle. She was smart, but she lacked Jacqueline's passion for learning. She was a dream weaver, a lover of stories and a teller of tales. She could keep the children bound under her spell from the beginning to the last words of Le Fin, the end.

This is her story.

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"Father, are we there yet?" asked Gabrielle in a petulant voice. She was but sixteen and could be excused her tone. They had been riding hard since morning to find the village they were searching for. The wagon seats were hard and wooden, the horses were not the blood bays she was used to, but the stolid cart horse they had bought before they left their home forever. They were going to a small village in between Paris and Le Provence.

"Gabrielle, must you be so childish?" asked 18 year old Jacqueline with all the superiority that two years could give.

"Sorry Jacques, but I'm tired of this bumpy coach with it's stupid seats and stupid wood giving me stupid splinters and MERDE!"

The wagon had just hit a bump in the road.

"Gabrielle!" said Jacqueline, horrified, "Do not use such language in the presence of our good father. He will be most displeased."

"Mais non, Jacques, he merely sleeps on."

"Do not address me like that, my Christian name is Jacqueline and thus you will call me, sister dear."

"Jacqueline, Gabrielle, please stop," said Elizabeth quietly as she pulled on the reins to slow the horses. "We have nearly reached our new home and I really would prefer not to listen to you squabble incessantly."
"We weren't squabbling" began Jacqueline hotly.

"Yes," came their father's good-natured voice from the opposite side of the cart, "you were. Now, it seems that we've reached our destination so if you three could kindly help me up so that we can unload this cart."

"Yes, Papa" said Gabrielle meekly.

The horses had reached a small house on the outskirts of quiet, little village. As the old merchant, whose name was Joseph, got down from the cart he heaved the four trunks off the cart. Jacqueline and Gabrielle stood in the cart, waiting for something.

Elizabeth laughed. "Well, mademoiselles, if you are waiting for the footman to come and help you down, I'm afraid you will remain in this carriage with its 'stupid wooden seats' for quite some time." She alighted easily from the wagon and grabbed hold of the largest trunk.

As Elizabeth slowly but surely dragged the trunk up the steps, first Gabrielle, then Jacqueline got down off the cart and their father took the horses to the small stable.

Once all the trunks were inside, Gabrielle sat down on one of the wooden chairs with a huff.

"It's so small! The entire house could fit into one room of our old Chateau." She said disdainfully.

"Gabby, Gabby, Gabby," said Elizabeth, shaking her head, "if we had our old Chateau in the city, we would not be saddle sore nor would Papa be so careworn. We would be rich and you would once again have the society of Paris fawning over you."

"Well, we're not in Paris," said Jacqueline. "And I, for one, am planning on making the best of the situation. She marched off into the other room to go and see what the stove was like.

Gabrielle rolled her eyes.

"Let her go, it's her way of handling the situation."

"Yes, but why can't she handle it without being snotty and overbearing?"

"Well, why can't you handle it without being whiny and immature?" asked Elizabeth playfully.

"Lizziiiiiiiiiiie!" said Gabrielle as she snatched up a nearby pillow and flung it at her eldest sister. Elizabeth ducked and it hit their father who was walking back in from stabling the new horses.

"What a welcome into my own home!" in said in mock anger.

"Sorry Papa," said Gabrielle as she tried to stifle giggles.

"Well girls, I have some interesting news, where's Jacqueline, by the way?"

"Right here, Papa," she said as she wiped her hands on her apron and walked out of the kitchen.

"Ah, yes. Now, it seems that we've moved into a neighborhood legend, perhaps a fairy tale." Those last lines struck a chord in Lizzie's heart and she looked up with renewed interest.

"Ah, Lizzie, it seems I've grabbed your attention." Said her father with a smile,. He had been in a good mood ever since they had reached the village. But that was how Joseph was. He was always happy when doing something useful.

"Well, as the young man helping me with the horses, I believe his name was Claude, informed me, we are now living in a house that belonged to an insane, old inventor and his beautiful daughter Belle. About five years ago, both of then disappeared, only to return a week later with some bizarre story about a beast or animal in a castle, just through the woods. The town hero, a man named Gaston, took the men to go and find this beast, but they failed and came home empty handed. No word has been heard from Belle, her father or the beast since."

"I don't believe it!" said Jacqueline immediately.

"What a surprise."

"Lizzie," said Joseph, "not everyone is as entranced by these tales as you."

"I believe it!" said Gabrielle.

"Of course," sniffed Jacqueline, "You're her shadow."

"Girls, girls," said Joseph soothingly. "Why don't you go and see that interesting bookstore I believe exists in town."

"There's a bookstore? I'm going." Said Jacqueline immediately.

"I'll be right there." Said Lizzie.

"Gabby, do you want to come?"

"And do what, read?" she asked incredulously.

"I believe that is the common practice in such places, yes."

"No, I'll stay with Papa."

"Alright, goodbye."

"Au Revoir."

The two sisters strolled into town, pausing as all the new neighbors greeted them. Jacqueline soon found some erudite young man who was quite willing to listen to her views on every subject and followed her around in a bit of a heroine-worshipping manner. Lizzie soon found herself the object of scrutiny by a particularly tall man of about 28 years or so.

"Hello, " she said politely, "My name is Elizabeth Leroux. Who might you be?"

"I am Gaston Moncharmin. I'm sure you would love to come and walk with me," he said smoothly, taking her hand.

Lizzie could not really see a way out of the situation, so she complied and was dragged along the street, listening to Gaston Moncharmin's numerous exploits with detached lack of interest until she reached the bookstore.

"Monsieur, thank you for escorting me, but I must take leave of your presence. A bientot." She said as she nearly ran into the bookshop. Thankfully, or possibly not, Gaston did not notice her rudeness.

She made it into the bookshop and heaved a sigh of relief.

"Bonjour mademoiselle," said the bookshop owner, a pleasant, old looking man with glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose. "What can I do for you?"

"Do you have any fairy tales?" she asked.

"Fairy tales, but of course. One of my best customers loved them. Although, I believe she has become one in her own right."

Lizzie looked up from her frantic searching of the shelves.

"Do you mean Belle?"

"Oh, so you've heard about our legend, have you?"

"Yes, do you know any more about her?" asked Lizzie breathlessly.

"I'm sorry, mademoiselle-?"

"Leroux, Elizabeth Leroux."

"Mademoiselle Leroux, but I know no more than does the rest of the town and I believe you've heard the story already."

"Indeed I have," she chuckled wryly.

"Oh, so you've met the town Bon Homme?"

"Unfortunately, I have made his acquaintance."

It was the bookkeeper's turn to chuckle wryly.

"Well, if you'd prefer something more conventional, we have a beautiful book full of stories compiled by two men who call themselves the Brother's Grimm."

"Oh, they're tres excellent." She said.

"You've read them in that city of yours?" he asked with almost a hint of disappointment in his voice."

"Only a few," she lied. Little white lies were always quite useful.

"If you'd like, I could give you a copy of my book?" he said, the question apparent in his voice.

"What is it about," she asked curiously.

"La Belle et La Bette." He answered.

"Bien sur!" she exclaimed.

"To tell the truth," he said, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, "I did not write this alone. This is the product of quite a few letters of correspondence between me and the Princess, Belle."

"I won't tell a soul," she promised.

Lizzie walked back toward her sister, who was droning on and on about the affairs of state and the time she had been privileged to speak with the great Voltaire.

"Come on, Jacqueline, we must go and speak to the wonderfully brilliant chickens and cows that now grace our homes."

Fortunately for Jacqueline, her new admirer did not hear Elizabeth's comment, but Jacqueline turned crimson with rage and barely refrained from throwing her sister into the stocks.

When they got home, however, was a different story

"Elizabeth Leroux, how dare you do that? You could have humiliated me!"

"I didn't, did I?"

"You could have!"

"Yes, I also could have been the Comtess de Chagney if I had accepte dthat young Philippe's proposal. But why dwell on what ifs."

"As I recall, Lizzie, You never liked young Philippe. You thought he was, what was your terms, and egocentric fop?"

"Yes, Papa, but considering the man I met today, Count Philippe seems modest and humble."

"Pray tell, what wonderful man did you meet?" asked Jacqueline.

"A pompous idiot that stands about six foot 5 and cannot see past his own muscles named Gaston Moncharmin."

"Was he handsome?" asked Gabrielle curiously.

"Yes, Gabrielle, he was tall, black hair, nice demeanor when he's not trying to tell you about his heroic exploits. In plain French, he's never nice."

Joseph and Jacqueline laughed.

"I'm going to read my book" said Elizabeth as she climbed the ladder to reach the loft where she would be sleeping. It was small and rather austere, but anything was better than sharing a room with both Gabrielle and Jacqueline.

She opened to the first page.

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a young prince lived in a shining castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish and unkind.

But one winter's night, an old beggar woman came to the castle and offered him a single rose, in return for shelter from the bitter cold. Repulsed by her haggard appearance, the Prince sneered at the gift and turned the old woman away. But she warned him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty was found within. And when he dismissed her again, the old woman's ugliness melted away to reveal a beautiful enchantress. The Prince tried to apologize, but it was too late, for she had seen that there was no love in his heart. As punishment, she transformed him into a hideous beast and placed a powerful spell on the castle and all who were in it.

Ashamed of his monstrous form, the Beast concealed himself inside his castle, with a magic mirror as his only window to the outside world.

The rose she had offered was truly an enchanted rose that would bloom until his twenty first year. If he could learn to love another and earn her love in return by the time the last petal fell, then, the spell could be broken. If on the would be doomed to remain a beast for all time.

As the years past, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?

Elizabeth read until the sun went down, and began again as soon as she was finished with her chores. After four days, she had finished it.

…And they lived, as all fairy tales demand, happily Ever After. A year after they were married, their first child was born, a baby girl named Rose.

Lizzie smiled as she closed the book and fell asleep. She would return it first thing in the morning. Her last thought was how wonderful it would be to meet a prince like Vncent.

To Be Continued ~

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