Disclaimer: I own nothing but a deep fascination with Beauty & the Beast and an over-active imagination.
Title: As Sure As the Sun Will Rise
Rating: T for mild language and fantasy violence.
Summary: (Beauty and the Beast/AU) Desperate to get his eighteen-year-old daughter Isabelle out of London during the height of the German Blitz, army medic Marcus Prentiss makes a deal with the mysterious owner of Westmoor House. But there is more to Mr. Westmoor than they first realise; he holds a dark past and a dangerous curse. Trapped in the northern castle while her father tries to find a way to rescue her with the help of American volunteer Captain Grayson Allred, Isabelle slowly unravels the story of her secretive host and discovers that perhaps there is something worth staying for.
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Bellingham, Northumberland, England – July 1940
The wooden cart jostled along on the dirt track that cut its way casually through the towering green forest. Douglas Greer flicked the whip sharply in the air and the noise urged the old mare to quicken her pace. Not bothering to be subtle, the older man glanced sideways down at his passenger. He was a wee wisp of a thing, couldn't be more than eight years old, and he was huddled down in his wool coat as he stared around at the unfamiliar landscape with wide eyes. The boy – the tag attached to the buttonhole of his coat said his name was Henry – was supposedly some great-nephew of his masters, and he'd been evacuated to the countryside because of the war.
Douglas frowned distastefully. He wasn't looking forward to having a wee bairn around to look after. He was getting too far on in years to bother with the noisy things.
The mare snorted loudly and beside him Henry jumped in alarm. Douglas chuckled. "Twitchy wee mouse, aincha?" he remarked in amusement. The little thing didn't respond, simply gazing up at him with those bulbous eyes. Douglas mused that he looked a bit like a pale white frog. "Where you from 'gain, kid?"
Henry stared at him for so long Douglas thought he mightn't answer, and then he finally squeaked out, "Leeds, sir."
Douglas wrinkled his nose with disgust and didn't waste the energy in lowering his voice when he murmured, "City brat." He had never been fond of children, but he especially detested those from the cities. At least the ones who'd grown up in the country knew how to take care of themselves and their land. City brats were too soft, too cultured to be worth anything. "Don't 'spect none of that posh rubbish out here," he chided the boy. "None of them tellies or moving pictures. Out here we do things proper. Live off the land, we do."
"In this big ol' wood?" Henry asked and his voice quavering as he looked up at the enormous trees. Douglas reckoned he'd probably never seen 'em so big before.
"Deep in," he agreed proudly. "Wee li'l collection o' houses and farms in the forest, that's where we be stayin'."
"What about the bears? And the wolves and such?" Henry asked with pure, unmasked terror.
Douglas snorted. "Bears an' wolves the least your problems, kid," he said simply. At the horror-struck look on Henry's face, Douglas grinned and continued. "Ain't you neva heard about The Beast of Bellingham Wood?"
"The Beast?" Henry echoed, his pitchy voice barely above a whisper, as if saying it louder might call the monster to them.
"Well sure, everyone 'round here knows 'bout the Beast," Douglas said with an affirming nod. "Story goes there's a monster what lives in one o' the ol' manor houses deep in these 'ere woods. Westmoor House, it is. Just a few kilos from where we live. Says he used to be a man, once, long time ago, but his heart was so evil that the nature spirits turned him into a monster to match his soul. Covered in hair, with great big fangs and claws the size o' your wee hand. But the eyes, he still got the eyes o' a man. An' now he prowls these woods at night looking for wee lost souls to gobble up."
On the bumpy bench the little boy had cowered down inside of his coat until all Douglas could see was his enormous blue eyes and his forehead which has bleached to a ghostly white. Douglas barked out a laugh and urged the mare on quicker again. "We'll be comin' up on that house 'ere soon, there look," he said and pointed ahead to where a second trail broke away from the road they were on.
It was hardly more than a dusty narrow walking track, barely wide enough for a small cart to travel down, and the trees were woven together over it like the entrance to a gaping tunnel. An unnatural darkness seemed to hover over the area as if night had fallen early there. Douglas wouldn't admit it to the kid, but the place had always made chills race up the back of his neck whenever he passed it.
"That's where the monster lives?" Henry asked and instinctively shrunk closer to Douglas' side.
"Straight up there," Douglas concurred in a growl. He was having fun teasing the kid about the stupid old village story, but that didn't mean he wanted the kid curling up with him like a bleedin' cat. He nudged the kid back to his proper spot with his elbow. "If you look up there when we pass you can see a bit o' the house from 'ere."
The horse grew agitated as they reached the side path and she snorted, speeding up of her own accord for once. They hardly caught a glimpse of the house before the cart had passed, just enough to see a few dark, sinister details. The abandoned house was enormous and ancient, almost reminiscent of the castles that had once dotted the area, made of stones and wood so dark they were almost black. There were gargoyles on the towers and no life visible on the rolling green acres of land beyond the great black gate.
The house slid out of view as the cart rolled on and the boy let out a small squeak, huddling in on himself. "I don't want him to eat me," he muttered in fear.
"Then you keep an eye out, boy-o," Douglas said. "You don't need to worry about no wolves or bears, but you see a great hulkin' beast with the eyes of a man – sad, angry eyes bluer 'an the sky, they say – you run for your bloody life."
"You think he's sad?" the boy asked curiously, his head tipping to the side like a dog.
"I never seen him, but that's what they say 'round the village," Douglas said with a shrug. He honestly didn't think anyone had really seen that monster if it really existed. No one met up with a beast that big in the woods and lived to tell stories about it. "Old eyes full o' sad and pain and anger."
Henry had pulled the collar of his coat down slightly, looking as pensive as a wee little thing could, and then said, "I'll bet he's lonely. That's it. He pro'lly just wants mates, but no one will play with him 'cause he's scary looking." He looked up at Douglas with his eyes narrowed thoughtfully and asked, "Do you know how he can break the curse? The one the spirits put on him? Can't he turn back to normal?"
Douglas stared at the kid in awe and then chortled loudly. "This ain't no fairy tale, kid," he said, shaking his head. "Just a story 'bout a big beast that lives around here. It ain't lonely, and It ain't gonna be no-one's mate. It'll eat ya as soon as look at ya. There ain't no happy ever afters 'round here."
As the cart rounded the curve of the road into their little village, the sun was just beginning to set and the shadows had thickened on the trees. The lights from the cluster of houses and farms were the only things to break the settling darkness and Douglas felt relieved to be home. He was stiff from sitting on the cart bench all day and wanted nothing more than a nice glass of brandy before bed.
The missus of the house walked out to greet them as Douglas pulled the cart up beside the little manor and he tipped his head at her respectfully. " 'Ere he is, ma'am," he said, lifting the boy down from the cart and setting him on the grassy patch in front of the house.
"Thank you, Douglas," she said with a small smile. "Come along – Henry, was it? – let's get you settled."
"And don' forget, boy," Douglas called after them with a gruff laugh. "Keep an eye out for The Beast, yeah?"
In the distance, a long, mournful howl split through the growing darkness.