This is the final installment of "Isolde and the Beast."
The day before my birthday- my last day at the castle- was the hardest day I had ever experienced.
We stayed together all day. We never once left each other's side. I read to him all morning so we didn't have to talk about the fact that he would be alone again the next morning. We ate our lunch in silence. After lunch, we took a long walk in the gardens. We talked idly of the weather and various different topics that mostly revolved around the castle. Afterwards we returned to the library where James had a somewhat large and plainly wrapped package waiting for me.
"James, what is this?" I asked, curious. I hadn't expected a gift from him.
He gave me a smile, sitting down in his chair. "A birthday present. Open it and see what it is."
I grinned back and unwrapped the gift. I opened the box to reveal a beautiful fur-lined cloak. "What is this for?"
"It's still quite cold outside the castle walls. In here the weather stays beautiful all year long… You'll need something to keep you warm when you leave tonight."
"It's beautiful," I told him, admiring it. I wrapped it around my shoulders to try it on. It was warm and comforting.
"You look stunning in it," he told me quietly.
I put it back in its box and sat down on his knee. I leaned into him and we stared into the fire for some time. Before I realized what I was doing, I was singing softly.
"You do sing beautifully," he said as my song trailed off.
I looked to him, surprised. "Truly?"
"It's the most beautiful thing I have ever heard," he said, his voice sounding wounded.
I shook my head. "I doubt that, but thank you." I leaned in closer to him, resting my head against his chest. Soon I was fast asleep.
James awoke me several hours later. "Hello, sleepy head." He gave me a smile. "It's time for dinner."
I yawned and nodded sleepily. Suddenly he scooped me up in his arms. I squealed. "James! What are you doing!"
He laughed and continued to carry me out the door. "I'm taking you down to dinner, you silly girl."
I laughed with him. My giddiness was so natural around him. It felt strange to laugh knowing that I only had a few hours more before I needed to leave.
To my surprise, my father was waiting when we arrived in the dining hall. James set me down gently and I ran to my father. He smiled a little nervously after seeing James carry me in.
"I am so happy to see you. I was going to come find you after dinner," I told him.
He hugged me tight and said, "I was told I was invited to dinner."
I looked to James in surprise. He simply smiled at me and sat down in his chair. We sat down with him and began sharing stories of our childhoods. James was entertained by my father's accounts of my childhood antics and I was fascinated to hear James speak more of his own past.
Dinner went by much too fast and the three of us went to the library where I read to James one last time.
The clock chimed nine and James stopped me. "You should get your rest," he said sadly.
I closed the book slowly and nodded. "I suppose you're right."
I bid my father a sad farewell and he left James and me to say our own goodbyes.
"I have to ask you one last time," he said, his voice choking up. "Will you marry me?"
I shook my head. "I'm so, so sorry."
He nodded, and said, with his voice still strained with emotion, "I didn't expect you to say yes. You are right. You need to have a life of your own. You must promise me though, that you'll live it fully."
I began to cry. "I promise."
It took us almost an hour, but we managed to say our final goodbyes and part ways.
When I reached my room, Emma was sitting on my bed waiting for me. I went to her and cried into her shoulder. "We just have to think of this as a good thing," she said as she wrapped her arms around me. We sat quietly on the bed for a while, wrapped in each other's arms.
Finally I was able to control my weeping. We got up and started preparing for my departure. She helped me pack a small bag of my clothes and belongings to take with me. I had refused to pack until this moment. I didn't want to ruin my last weeks at the castle worrying about preparing to leave before I had to. When we had put the last dress we thought was useful in the bag and I had changed into a more suitable dress for travel, she pulled something from a drawer in the wardrobe.
"I found this when I was cleaning out your old room today. We're supposedly getting a new maid and I found this under the mattress."
She held out the very first book I had read to James. I took it from her and looked at it with surprise. "I forgot I had put that there," I told her quietly. "This was the very first book I ever read to him. When I forgot the tray, I went back to the library. He was still there in his chair, staring at the fire. He picked up the book and tried to open it but his claws were too sharp." I opened up the front cover to show her the ripped pages.
Suddenly, the clock chimed twelve. I looked at it in disbelief. I was eighteen. I was able to escape the confines of the castle at last.
"Are you ready?"
I looked at the book, then back at her. "As ready as I'll ever be, I suppose."
James sat in his study, unable to sleep. He wanted to run down and beg Isolde one more time not to leave, but he knew she had made her choice. He thought about watching her leave out the window then decided it would be too painful for him.
The distant chiming of the grandfather clock in the hallway told him that she was on her way out the gate soon. It was midnight and there was nothing he could do about her departure now.
Without thinking, he grabbed a nearby vase and threw it at the wall. It shattered loudly and the pieces flew all over the room. He growled angrily then roared even louder. The side of him that had disappeared over the past few months had returned. He was angry again. He felt less in control. Subconsciously he knew that he would be fully gone by morning.
He stood and kicked Isolde's basket of mending she had left behind. A book sat on the chair she used to sit in. He picked it up and ripped it apart. He wouldn't allow any books in the castle ever again. He would have all of the books in the library collected to be burned, along with every rose bush in the gardens. Nothing could remain that reminded him of her.
He knew she only had an hour to get out, so he stayed in his study until the hour was up, throwing things and yelling incoherent complaints. He paced back and forth like a caged animal. When the clock told him it was one o'clock, he left the study to storm down to the library to smash some more things.
As he descended the stairs on all fours- just like an animal- he nearly ran into someone. He didn't bother to mumble apologies and kept going at full speed.
He threw open the library doors, nearly pulling them off their hinges. He smashed every vase or sculpture in the room into millions of pieces. Once everything breakable had been obliterated, he moved to the bookshelves where he began ripping as many books as he could to shreds.
He finally had worn himself out and collapsed in his chair by the fireplace, the only unharmed thing in the entire room. He growled once more angrily then heard an amused voice at the door.
"Trying to read?"
The question caused him to turn his head sharply to look for the speaker with a fierce growl. At first, he thought he was seeing things. Leaning against the doorway was Isolde, looking thoroughly amused. James jumped up at the sight of her, stunned and confused. He could feel the monster inside him ebbing away. "Isolde! What are you doing here?"
She smiled then pushed herself off the doorframe. "Well, you nearly knocked me down back there. I wanted to see what you were in such a hurry to do so late at night." She laughed and walked over to him.
He struggled for words to reply. "That's not what I meant and you know it."
She shrugged. "I figured no one can mend your shirts like I can. I can't have you running around wearing tattered shirts or nothing at all. Besides, somebody has to keep you in line if you're going to act like that." She pointed to She walked by him and sat down in his chair. She held out a book. "I had forgotten I had taken this that first Monday I read to you. Do you remember?"
He looked closely at the book, remembering the day she caught him losing his temper over a silly book. "Of course I remember," he said cautiously, not knowing what she was getting at.
She smiled, remembering the day, too. "I watched you hold this book like it was a baby sparrow one minute, then throw it across the room as if it were the devil himself the next. When you caught me outside those doors I thought for sure you would be angry with me, but all you said was 'I'm sorry you had to see that.' You simply walked away."
He could hardly comprehend what she was saying. He just stared at her, wondering what she was doing exactly. Why wasn't she gone? What was she doing here in the library, sitting in his chair? He gave her a confused look, hoping she would explain herself.
"I did a lot of things for you over the past year," she said. "I mended your shirts, brought you tea, read to you… Now, I was wondering if you might do me a favor in return."
He stared at her some more. She didn't need to possibly ask for anything. He would go to the ends of the earth for her if he could. "I will do anything for you. What do you need?" he finally managed to say somewhat eagerly.
She blushed, looking down at her folded hands in her lap. "I was hoping you might give me a twentieth chance."
He blinked at her, confused. "What do you-" He stopped, realizing what she meant.
I smiled up at him as he absorbed what I had just said.
His face broke into a huge smile. When he spoke, his voice was soft and had a human quality to it- more so than it had before. It was full of love and hope. "I would give you a million chances if you wanted. I'm the one who should be asking for another chance." He knelt down by me and laughed. "Of all the times I've asked you to marry me, this is the only time I've done it properly." He took my hand and smiled at me. "Isolde, will you marry me?"
I grinned at him. "Oh James, I would be honored to be your wife."
Suddenly a bright light began to stream in through the windows, making the room unbearably bright. I covered my eyes and squinted against the sudden light, startled.
It stayed bright in the room for longer than I was comfortable. "What's going on, James?" I asked, still covering my eyes against the light. "James? What's happening?" I waited for a reply, but received none.
The light finally subsided and I found myself sitting alone in the library. The books James had thrown about were back on their shelves and the room itself seemed to vibrate with cheer. It was an odd feeling that I ignored. I was focused on what had happened to James.
"James?" I called out, worried. Where did he go? I stood up, looking around the library in a state of panic. "James!"
I ran out of the library, not sure where to go or what to do. "James?" I called once again, my voice echoing down the empty halls.
I searched everywhere in the castle, getting more and more frantic. I searched everywhere, coming to a dead end in each place I searched. As I re-entered the dining hall for the second time in my search, I caught a glimpse out the window of a man standing among the roses in the garden, lit up by the light of the moon. He was picking a bouquet of roses.
Confused and angry, I quickly made my way out to the gardens to confront the man. What was he doing in James's gardens, and why did he think it was fine to just pick roses that didn't belong to him?
"Excuse me!" I called out, storming up to him. "Who do you think you are, picking roses that don't belong to you?"
He straightened slowly then turned to me with a smile. His appearance startled me. He was wearing too fine of clothing to be a servant and he was breathtakingly handsome. His head was covered with dark, wavy locks. His smile was lopsided and I would have thought it to be absolutely handsome if I weren't in love with James. The man seemed to notice that I was taken aback and he laughed.
"Isolde! I was just picking these for you." He held out the bouquet to me, ignoring my questions.
I took a step back as he offered the bouquet. "They aren't yours to give! Who are you and how do you know my name?"
He walked closer to me, smiling all the while. Something about his smile tugged at something in the back of my mind. He continued to speak, still disregarding my inquiries. "That dress looks beautiful on you, though I did have Emma make a much simpler wedding dress already. It appears the enchantress wanted you to have something fit for a queen instead."
Confused, I looked down at what I was wearing. To my surprise, I was not wearing the dress I had been wearing for my departure. Instead of my plain traveling dress, I wore a fine ivory gown stitched with silver thread. Along the hem were intricately embroidered silver roses. I gasped. How had I not noticed it as I ran about the castle? "What is going on? What are you talking about?" I demanded. "Who are you?"
He took another couple steps closer to me. "Isolde, look closely. Don't you recognize me at all?"
I stepped back again as he approached. Scoffing at him, I said, "Why on earth would I-"
Then I saw it. The silvery gray eyes looking back at me were far too familiar. I had looked into them every day for nearly a year. They were the eyes I had fallen in love with.
I didn't know what to say. I couldn't speak. I opened my mouth and only one word escaped my lips. "James."
He broke into a huge grin and dropped the roses to wrap his arms around me. He lifted me and spun me around in a circle. As he set me back down on my feet, his lips met mine in a warm kiss.
He pulled away and placed a hand on my cheek. "It was so hard not telling you that the curse could be broken, that you wouldn't have to live here forever- or leave me here all alone. The moment you expressed your love for me, I was no longer immortal and I could remember my life before the beast. When I dreamt of my life as king, I also was visited by the enchantress. She reminded me of how my curse could be broken and told me that you couldn't know."
"Oh, James. I'm so sorry I wouldn't marry you earlier," I said quietly.
He shook his head. "No, don't be sorry. You didn't know. You couldn't have known. It's fine now. It's perfect. Now we have each other for the rest of our lives."
The enchantress visited them at sunrise that day, appearing pleased that everything had happened properly and as it should.
"King James, you have a kingdom waiting for you if you wish to take it back. If you choose not to go back, you can take up permanent residence here and I can give you proper status to return into society."
He looked at Isolde, who gave him a smile. He smiled back and said, "I don't think I want to return there. There are too many memories and it has been far too long. This is where my life is now. This is where we shall stay." He wrapped his arm around his love, pulling her close.
The enchantress nodded. "Then so be it, Lord James and Lady Isolde. This is now your home. You are now in charge of hiring and paying salary to your own servants. The current servants will be given the option to stay or leave. I think you will find that many of them may wish to leave, though not all.
"You are now free to come and go from the castle grounds as you wish. You are longer prisoner to the curse or to me. You have both proved that love conquers anything." Suddenly, the sky brightened and a new day was already beginning. The enchantress gestured to the castle. "I believe that you have a wedding to attend."
They walked back into the castle, where they found roses arranged and strewn about elegantly. They entered the unused ballroom which had been set up to accommodate a wedding. All the servants waited patiently in the rows of seats. Isolde looked out over the crowd and was startled to see that her brother and sister and their families sat at the front, looking happy and eager to see their little sister once more. The enchantress had appeared at the front, ready to wed the two in matrimony. Isolde's father waited at the door to lead her down the aisle. Emma stood with him, holding a beautiful flower bouquet. She held it out to Isolde, who took it obediently.
James walked up to the front to stand and wait for her as she was outfitted with a veil. Her father took her arm and led her to the front while another servant played a beautiful violin processional. She couldn't believe it was happening so fast. She was so pleased to be there, though. She couldn't imagine that a better, more beautiful wedding had ever taken place before. Her family, once separated, was reunited. She was marrying the man of her dreams. She felt herself glowing as she made her way down the aisle to the handsome man that was soon to be her husband
Then, they were saying the vows. It was unreal to the both of them. It was like a dream with the atmosphere of sweetly scented roses and beautiful music. It was perfect.
"You may kiss the bride," the enchantress said with a smile.
As James leaned in to kiss his beautiful wife, the enchantress called out over the crowd, "And they shall live happily ever after."
Thank you to all of you faithful followers and readers and reviewers! You really have been awesome. I do want to thank Abi-Cadabby, because the fading of his animalistic features was added thanks to your review! Thanks to Clara Spencer too- your review also helped motivate me to add the idea as well. All of your reviews were very much appreciated, everyone!
I won't be posting any more stories any time soon- I have just about 100 days left to finish planning my wedding and absolutely nothing is getting accomplished as it is. However, if you have any suggestions, recommendations, or requests, I would gladly take them into consideration!
I have had one suggestion for Rapunzel (thanks, MortalMeg!)- which I think I might have some good ideas for. If you guys want to offer any ideas towards the story, I will make sure to credit you for your help and update you personally when it is up & running- if it ever does get there.