Disclaimer: I do not own Beauty and the Beast or its characters.
Xavier went racing back to the palace on light feet. Never had he felt so free. This was what Charles Ferdinand must feel like all the time, the young boy reasoned: powerful. It was a wonderful feeling.
As luck would have it, one of the first people he ran into once he arrived back in the palace was Charles Ferdinand himself. Literally ran into—the boys plowed facefirst into one another in the middle of a corridor. Charles Ferdinand staggered. Xavier fell over heavily on his backside. Even in his newly restored body he did not have the weight Charles Ferdinand did.
The bigger boy turned his usual sneer on his cousin. "They're looking for you, dauphin. You're in big—" He stopped as Xavier slowly pushed himself up to his new height. Xavier stood as tall as he was able, thrusting out his chin slightly in order to dare Charles Ferdinand to comment on his altered appearance. He made certain to rest his weight equally on both legs as the fencing masters taught, instead of favoring his bad leg as he used to do.
The color ebbed from Charles Ferdinand's face. The young prince was gratified to see his cousin truly stunned for the first time he could remember. They stood staring at each other. Charels Ferdinand worked his mouth a few times before he could get sound to come out. Finally, he managed, "It's the baby. Princess Sophie. She's…they're saying…they're saying she's dead."
This was so far from what Xavier had expected him to say that this time he was the one struck dumb. Then he remembered. He had overturned his sister's cradle before running outside. He had just been so frustrated with Charles Ferdinand's teasing. Sophie had been crying, as usual, when he went into the royal nursery. He had stalked up to the cradle and deliberately pushed it over, then fled the moment her screams intensified.
And now his baby sister was dead.
Xavier knew deep inside that it was his fault. Baby Sophie had always been weak and sick. Pushing over the cradle had probably hurt her badly. Badly enough that within a few hours she had died.
For a moment the guilt threatened to overwhelm him. He had never liked the baby, always been jealous of the attention given her. But he had never meant to hurt her, really.
He had wished many times that she hadn't been born. He hadn't meant for her to die.
"You're lying!" he screamed at Charles Ferdinand. "Admit you're lying!"
"No, your highness!" his cousin cried. "The ladies-in-waiting are all saying it…the King and Queen and the bishop are all in the nursery. They were looking for you…"
"No!" shouted Xavier. His vision seemed sparkling with red flashes. Without thinking, he struck out at a small table sitting in the hallway. Something happened. His hand, especially the nails, felt very strange.
He and Charles Ferdinand stared at the table. There were now four long gashes in its polished wooden surface.
Charles Ferdinand went, if possible, even whiter than before. He turned on his heel and fled down the corridor, small pigtail flying behind him like a little beribboned banner of defeat. His royal blue coattails flapped up and down in a way that would have seemed comical to Xavier under any other circumstances.
The boy stared at his hand. Was it possible he had made those marks? His nails weren't strong enough. However, on close inspection he found a few wooden splinters under them. Other than that his hand appeared perfectly normal.
Xavier took a step and examined his face in the tall mirror above the table. His new appearance was still startling, but he looked completely human. Claw marks like that, he would have expected to come from some sort of wild beast. A bear, perhaps, or a wolf.
He recalled the old woman on the grounds turning herself into a wolf. Had she made him like her, able to turn into a wolf? The thought both chilled and exhilarated him. He leaned forward to look at his ears, half-expecting them to be covered with fur and pointy. He'd have to find the woman again, ask her what exactly she had done to him when they made their bargain.
At that moment, a maidservant with a tear-streaked face rounded the corner and saw him. She immediately hustled him away, scolding him for having disappeared when they King and Queen had been asking about him. She didn't even notice the table. Xavier did not point it out. The woman was also too distracted to even notice his changed appearance, or that he was no longer limping.
"Is it true?" he asked. "My cousin Charles Ferdinand has told me my sister Princess Sophie has died. Is it true?"
"The King has asked for you," was all she would say.
The boy allowed himself to be herded. Too many shocks in one day was settling a kind of numbness on him.
In the nursery, his parents and remaining sister and brother were waiting for him. The Queen and Marie Thérèse still had tears streaming down their faces. Louis Charles just looked confused at what all the commotion was about. They all turned to the door when Xavier was brought inside.
The King's face became stern. Marie Thérèse appeared both relieved and puzzled. The Queen's sorrowful face smoothed into an emotionless chill.
"Come here, boy," Louis XVI ordered. Xavier bristled a little. His father had never used that tone with him before. That was the tone reserved for common subjects, not his family. However, Xavier dared not disobey. He approached the King and bowed correctly. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Marie Thérèse's eyes go big as she saw him walk without a limp.
"Child," said Marie Antoinette from her chair. Her voice sounded horse, as if she'd been ill. "Tell us what happened this morning."
For a second, Xavier panicked, his numb shock fading. They knew about the bargain with the woman in gray! How could they possibly know already? Yes, he looked different, but they couldn't know how it had come about!
Both of his parents went colder at the obvious guilt on his face. "You pushed over the cradle, didn't you?" the Queen demanded.
So that was what they were on about, not his bargain! Xavier felt a little relieved, though he still did feel bad that his sister had died. Yet, the deed was done. He saw no point in denying it. It wasn't as if they could punish him too harshly. He was the dauphin de France.
"Yes," he said. "I pushed over the cradle."
"But why?" the Queen asked. Her voice broke just a little.
"She wouldn't stop crying. It made me angry. But…" here he hesitated. "I didn't mean for her to be hurt. I just wanted her to stop crying for once."
"That doesn't change the fact that your sister is dead," said the King harshly.
"It was an accident," Xavier protested.
"You just admitted you pushed over the cradle on purpose," Marie Antoinette pointed out. "Louis Joseph, your sister has always been sick. That's why she cried so much. What did you think would happen?"
"I…" He had no words. He hadn't thought. That was the truth of it.
The King and Queen looked helplessly at one another. The King's heavy face went a deep crimson. "I want Count von Fersen out. Banished from court," he said unexpectedly.
Marie Antoinette's mouth dropped open. "What has Axel to do with this? It is our son we must deal with!"
"You can't expect me to believe it any longer. No son of mine would do so callous a thing as to kill an infant, his own sister."
The Queen was stunned for an instant. Her own face went red with fury. She swept a hand at Xavier. "Look at him, Louis! He's the spitting image of you! He is the dauphin, a Son of France!"
Everyone else in the room had been listening to this exchange with astonishment and horror. None more than Xavier. He knew the man they were talking about, Count von Fersen from far-off Sweden. He knew his mother preferred to spend time with the count than with her own husband and there were whispers about the impropriety of their friendship among the courtiers. But the King seemed to be implying that he, Xavier, was not in fact a prince but the son of that lowly count. And all because he had accidentally killed his baby sister.
Suddenly he felt his hand seized. He looked up to find Marie Thérèse. She had Louis Charles by the other hand and was forcibly dragging her two brothers from the room. Xavier was too stunned by what he had just heard to resist her painful grip. The princess gave a meaningful look at the nursemaids still in the room. Obediently they bowed their heads and accompanied the royal children from the room.
Once in the next room, Marie Thérèse handed Louis Charles to one of the nurses. "Don't speak a word of what you just heard," she warned. "It was not for your ears."
"Oui, princess," said both nursemaids. They curtsied again and left.
Marie Thérèse and Xavier regarded each other. "It was an accident, I promise," Xavier finally managed.
"I believe you," his sister said. They both winced as renewed shouts, muffled by the walls, echoed from the nursery.
"What did Papa mean? Does he really think Count von Fersen is my father?" asked Xavier. "That I'm not a prince?"
"Papa is angry about the death of our sister," Marie Thérèse said. "He does not mean what he says. Maman is right. You look just like him." Her eyes narrowed as she thought of something. "More so now than this morning. What happened to you, Xavi?"
Only she ever called him that, and had done so ever since he asked her to call him anything but "Louis" or "Joseph". It had become a joke between them. Still, he didn't feel comfortable telling his sister about the old woman. She had said not to tell anyone how he had been healed. "I'm just better," he said evasively.
Marie Thérèse's expression said she did not believe him. However, she said nothing. She only looked a little hurt. "Don't stay here," she finally said. "You will only overhear upsetting things, things that have to do with Papa and Maman more than us or even baby Sophie. But don't go too far. Papa and Maman will be even more angry if they have to send the guards looking for you."
They left in different directions. Xavier longed to go outside again but with Marie Thérèse's words in mind he didn't dare. Instead he wandered down to the Chapel Royal, where they heard Mass. It was deserted at this time; even the priests were off on other business.
The numbness began to fade suddenly, leaving Xavier with a deep, aching despair. He had killed his sister. His parents were fighting because of him. What was he going to do? He had just about started crying when he felt fur brush against the backs of his knees.
He turned to find the old woman standing there. "My sister is dead," he blurted out. "I killed her. I didn't mean to."
"I know," the woman said. "But you shouldn't be too upset. She was sick all the time. Now she isn't sick anymore. I'm sure she's…much happier where she is now. If she were here now, she would probably be thanking you for sparing her more pain and suffering. And, she won't bother you again with her crying. Isn't that something to be happy about?"
Put that way, it made sense. It was a relief to know that she wasn't going to be keeping the whole nursery awake at night anymore. And it was true that baby Sophie was no longer sick. She must have been miserable, to be crying all the time. Maybe the old woman was right.
"I'm still in trouble with my parents," he pointed out. "They're angry, even if it was just an accident."
"You are the dauphin de France," the woman pointed out with a hint of scorn. "What are they going to do? Execute you? Throw you in a dungeon? Of course not! You are foolish to worry about what they might do to you."
Since this was just what Xavier had been thinking himself, he could hardly argue. It was reassuring to have the old woman confirm his thoughts.
The woman saw his expression clear and nodded in firm approval. "Good lad. Push those thoughts from your mind. I have brought you other things to occupy it."
Xavier remembered what had happened when he had gotten angry with Charles Ferdinand. "Can I turn into a wolf?" he asked eagerly.
She laughed. For some reason he didn't like the sound, but chose to ignore the feeling.
"No. With time and training, you will be able to become something much greater."
Any sorrow or guilt he felt vanished in an instant in his excitement. "Show me how. Please."
"Remember I told you it would take years," she warned.
"I don't care." He looked at his hand, the one that had briefly become a claw. He remembered the hot flash of excitement when he had found the wood splinters of the table under his nails. He had done that. It had felt powerful, wonderful. Even more so than being able to run on two good legs.
Author's Note: Um, wow, a lot of heavy stuff in this chapter. So anyone who cares a lot about French history will notice that I have been tweaking some dates. Baby Sophie Hélène died of tuberculosis in June of 1787, not in the wintertime, but the winter setting is more appropriate to my story. There was no suspicion of foul play in her death. However, there has been some speculation that Louis Charles, Xavier's younger brother, was in fact the son of Marie Antoinette's maybe-lover Count Axel von Ferson. Again, I took some liberties. It is also documented that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI had a cordial and friendly, if not particularly passionate, relationship. I altered this to give Xavier a very unhappy home situation and myriad reasons for him to want to become a bully at a very young age. Apologies to Marie and Louis; normally I sympathize with them as for the most part they were just the wrong people for their unfortunately hereditary jobs.
Updates for this piece will come very slowly for a number of reasons. It has taken me a few months of thinking and research to get this far, and it will take still more for most of the upcoming chapters as well. It also doesn't help that at this point I don't particularly enjoy spending a lot of time with these characters so I find all kinds of excuses to do other things.