Infinity Entertainment Presents

An Insanity Works Production

A Luke Lynch Story

Mermaid and Beauty

Chapter 1: A Chance Encounter

"I don't want to have anything to do with him!"

These words, full of pain and anger, echoed through the mostly empty castle as a beautiful young woman grabbed her cloak and made tracks for the nearest door, which would take her to a walkway where her faithful horse, Philippe, was awaiting the next set of orders.

With chocolate-brown hair flowing through the air and eyes colored almond that were streaked with tears, the young woman jumped on Philippe's back and cried, "Take me back to Papa!" Always eager to obey, Philippe, knowing the way home, immediately reared up on his hind legs and galloped off through the snow-covered forest.

The snow was bright and purest white, making the trail easy to see, even in the pitch-black night which had now completely overtaken them. The moonlight was hitting the snow at an angle that gave it an almost supernatural glow. Had she not been in such a horrid emotional state-she had just been driven out of the castle by a Beast who had never truly learned how to love, and was now scared, hurt, and infuriated beyond any level she had ever been comfortable with-she would have slowed down and taken the time to appreciate the ethereal beauty that was now staring her in her face.

As it was, she took no notice, lost in the torrent of pure emotion raging through her and threatening to drown her at the very core of her being. Surprisingly, she found herself wanting nothing more than to give in to the flood and allow oblivion to consume her.

Belle Cartier was not a woman who often found herself dealing with anything like this.

A bookworm by nature, she possessed an innate curiosity and love of fantasy that was thought of as strange by all in her home: a poor, small provincial town in rural France. The town only held about a hundred people at the moment, so it wasn't considered important enough to warrant an official name.

Belle knew full well that she was gossiped about so much solely due to her odd nature. Wait, strike that. If she hadn't been blessed with such drop-dead-gorgeous good looks, the townspeople would have paid her no mind whatsoever.

But her blessing was also a curse: There was one man in the town who was always dogging her footsteps, never giving her a moment's peace: Gaston Cousteau. The young man was the most handsome man in town and the best hunter in, possibly, all of France. Women wanted desperately to be with him, even if only for one night, and men would have gladly given up everything they had just to be him.

Belle was the only one who saw him for what he was: a prissy, arrogant, pompous, and overall undesirable creep who only viewed her as an object; nothing more than a trophy wife. She didn't want to be a trophy wife; hell, the only kids she planned on having were possibly by adoption. Least of all did she want Gaston in her life in any way, shape, or form, and certainly not as her husband. The very thought disgusted her all the way down to her bone marrow, and she gave an involuntary shudder of revolt.

The only one even remotely affiliated with Gaston that she may have been able to imagine herself being with in any capacity was Lefou, Gaston's right-hand "yes" man...and Belle was pretty sure he was gay. Not that she saw anything wrong with that, oh, no. Belle was of a progressive brain, a forward-thinking mind, and if she were honest with herself, she wished Lefou the best of luck in finding his true love.

Which was also what Belle wanted the most out of her life: To find her true love, and to spend the rest of her days in his (or her, as the case might have ended up) company. It mattered little to Belle whether she ended up with a man or a woman. A strong believer in the concept of freedom of love, Belle wished only to love truly and be truly loved in return.

Unfortunately, she was one of only two in town with this worldview, and it was becoming clearer and clearer to her by the day that she would not find her true love in this poor provincial town.

She was drawing very near to her home now, and her thoughts turned to her father, Maurice, an aging inventor who had spent decades trying to prove his worth to the townsfolk. Most people liked him well enough, but thought of him as little more than a doddery old crackpot. Harmless, to be certain, for Maurice wouldn't hurt a fly, and everyone knew this, but a crackpot nonetheless.

Just you wait, thought Belle proudly as she crossed the town line. He'll show you all! And she pictured Maurice's latest invention, which he had built and fine-tuned for the past year, sometimes even forgetting to eat. It was intended to be used for painting houses, but all it had successfully painted thus far was Maurice, black with smoke and ash, and on multiple occasions. However, according to Maurice, all he needed was a way to iron out a few kinks, and he would be ready to present it at the upcoming town fair, which started in about two days' time.

As Belle rounded a corner and her farm home finally came into view, she saw a cart out near the entry path with her father's invention on top of it. The invention, which resembled nothing so much as a jet black furnace with hoses, was tightly secured to the cart via a series of ropes. Belle could think of only one reason Maurice would have loaded the cart.

He's done, she thought excitedly. He got it working! I'm so proud of him! Using the reins, she urged Philippe to go faster, and it was only a matter of seconds before she reached the front door.

When she walked inside, there was Maurice, eagerly chowing down on a heaping helping of his favorite dish, spaghetti and meatballs. (It was mainly Maurice's favorite because it was the only one he knew how to make. Belle did most of the cooking, and she immensely enjoyed it, but Maurice could make some mean meatballs when left to his own devices.)

As if a jolt of electricity coursed through him, his face jerked up from his dinner, and he quickly turned to regard the visitor. When he saw Belle, he grew a jovial grin filled with joy and happiness at the knowledge that his daughter was home safe and sound.

"Oh, my dear, sweet, beautiful, beloved daughter!" he cried as he ran at Belle and ensconced her in the biggest hug he could muster. "I've missed you so!" His voice was scratchy and a little whiny, and he was also a little hoarse. But at the same time, there was a slight, somewhat mellifluous quality to his speech, almost like he was trying to hit that one insanely high note in his favorite song, but couldn't quite get there.

"I've missed you as well, Papa," Belle gushed into his shoulder, and kissed her father's cheek.

"Did you see the things I saw at that castle?" asked Maurice eagerly.

"Oh, everything and more!" she revealed in wonder. "Talking and singing furnishings and dinnerware, a library beyond my wildest dreams, and amazing food...If only the Beast hadn't been such a...well, a Beast, I'd probably still be there!"

"Oh," said Maurice quietly, "you got on his bad side, eh?"

"And I was only trying to help him!" answered Belle, a hint of anger creeping its way into her words.

"Some people simply don't want to be helped," said Maurice wisely, running his hand through his flyaway white hair. "Those people, you simply got to say, 'OK, it's your lookout.'"

"Which is, in essentials, what I did," agreed Belle. "But I'm going to miss the wait staff: Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts and Chip..."

"Oh, I loved Cogsworth," laughed Maurice. "He was the only one who had enough time for a nice chat."

"Speaking of nice chats," urged Belle, "it's time we had one. Tell me how you fixed the paint sprayer."

"Oh," Maurice began, "but of course, my dear! Please, pull up a seat; there's much to say! Help yourself to some dinner, as well; you must be starving. Now, it started when I noticed that one of the gears was a bit too small..."

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"And then I fired her up and she worked like a charm!" finished Maurice.

"I knew you'd come through, Papa," praised Belle. "You're going to steal the show at the fair."

"Oh," said Maurice modestly, "I don't know about 'stealing the show', but this will definitely make an impact!" He tried, and failed, to stifle a massive yawn as he finished speaking.

"OK, Papa," ordered Belle, though not unkindly, "time for bed. You've had a long, hard day; you need your rest."

"That I do," agreed Maurice. "But first, a bit of water, hmm?"

"If you insist," conceded Belle. "Shall I come with you?"

"Oh, no," declined Maurice gently. "I'll be fine. Besides, I'm not the only one who needs their beauty sleep."

"Pun intended?" asked Belle slyly with a raised eyebrow. Maurice, despite fully understanding the joke, replied with:

"Unintentional pun is unintentional." And he held up his palms in a gesture of surrender. "Anyway, off to bed with you, my child. I'll join you in Dream Land shortly."

"OK," joked Belle, "but the odds are low of us encountering Kirby." She giggled at the reference to a story she had read before her misadventures began, then made her way up to her bed. Before she could get there, though, she heard the sound of coughing coming from outside. She looked out a nearby window and saw Maurice doubled over. This in and of itself did not concern Belle, for Maurice was prone to coughing fits in his old age and line of work. What she saw and what she heard, however, made for two entirely different stories. Maurice sounded like he was fixing to hack up both of his lungs...and then, after putting something in his pocket, Belle saw him take two more steps towards the spigot...and collapse.

Belle was outside in two shakes of a lamb's tail. She ran to Maurice and almost fell on top of him.

"Papa, are you OK?!" she cried, worried. She turned him on his back, quickly, but gently.

"I...don't...know...Belle..." Maurice gasped hoarsely. "Doctor...Please..." And he resumed coughing anew. His arm automatically shot up in front of his mouth, protecting Belle from whatever may have flown from it. Belle instantly reached into Maurice's pocket and found a handkerchief. Upon opening it up, she saw that it was covered in blood...her father's blood.

The next thing Belle knew, she was on Philippe with her father draped across her lap, galloping at full speed towards the nearest doctor, which, thankfully, mercifully, was not very far away.

Please let him be OK, pleaded Belle silently. Please don't let him die. Not after all we've been through together...

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"You were right to get him here as quick as you did, Mademoiselle," praised the doctor, "and I wish I had better news to deliver. But..."

"Is he going to make it?" asked Belle anxiously. "Will he need surgery? Can you save him?"

"Alas," said the doctor apologetically, "if only my news were even that good. His coughing fit wrenched his heart muscle so badly that it ripped open, causing serious internal bleeding. The blood seeped into his lungs through tiny holes brought on by his other coughing fits. He was doomed from the moment he collapsed...there's nothing more I can do, except make sure his passing is as pain-free as possible. I humbly extend my sincerest apologies and condolences," he finished sadly.

Belle was in shock. Nearly catatonic, she slowly nodded to the doctor and croaked, "May I say my goodbyes?"

"Of course, Miss Cartier," acquiesced the doctor. "Who am I to deny somebody their last moments with a loved one?" And he tenderly led Belle to where Maurice lay, desperately clinging to life.

"Papa?" she asked hesitantly as the doctor walked away. Maurice stirred at the word, and his eyes found Belle.

"Oh, my daughter," he whispered. "Please, come to me..." And he extended his arms towards Belle, who staggered towards him, almost as if in a drunken stupor. When she drew near enough to him, she collapsed to her knees, and he embraced her warmly. Well, as warmly as is possible when one of you is at death's door.

"Papa..." she cried into his shoulder, tears beginning to flow from her soft brown eyes. "How are you feeling?"

"Better than I have in years," Maurice replied with all honesty. "The glory of Heaven is calling me, and I get to see my daughter one last time before I am admitted into the most amazing place in existence..."

"You won't die," Belle lied, her voice cracking and quavering, though she managed a small, sad smile. "The doctor says you're going to pull through this just fine."

"You never could lie to save your life," chuckled Maurice. "I guess I did a good job with you after all."

"You did beautifully, Papa," agreed Belle, her smile breaking.

"Pun intended?" Maurice asked, winking slowly.

Belle, feeling her own heart break in two, replied haltingly:

"Un...Unin...Un-intentional pun is...Is...Is unintentional." She could not prevent a sob from passing her lips at this point.

"Do not..." Maurice struggled to talk. "Do not...weep...for me. I can see...your...your mother," he added, his eyes widening. "She's...she's so...so proud...of us..."

And then, with a little shudder, Maurice Cartier became quite still, and his eyes turned into little more than small glassy orbs, sprinkled with light shining in through a nearby window from the stars they could not see.

"Papa?...Papa?!" cried Belle. She continued to mouth the word for several seconds afterwards, even though she knew her beloved father had now gone where she could not call him back.

The doctor came walking back into the room, having heard Belle's cry out for Maurice. Belle was now backed up against the wall with waterfalls for eyes, and the now lifeless body of her father was lying right where the doctor had left it.

"Miss Belle," he said gently, "if there is anything you require of me..."

"Your shoulder...would...be...be nice," stammered Belle in between quiet sobs. Immediately, the doctor opened his arms, and Belle collapsed into them, letting the tears...and the sobs...flow freely. The doctor fought back his own tears as he held Belle close, her body shaking with pain, grief, and anguish as she mourned the loss of the only person in her home village who had truly loved and cared for her.

It never got any easier, watching a patient die and being powerless to prevent it.

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Word traveled quickly in the poor provincial town, and all too soon, everybody in the village was offering Belle their condolences for Maurice's death. Belle, sensing the sincerity in their words, gladly accepted all of it: their gifts, their stories, their hugs...some of them even kissed her cheek, male and female alike.

The only ones from whom she heard nothing were Gaston and his crew, for which she was very thankful. However, along toward evening on the second day after Maurice's death, she felt a tap on her hip. She turned around, but didn't see anyone. Then, she heard a familiar voice.

"Mademoiselle Cartier?"

She turned downward, towards the source of the voice...and saw Lefou with a bouquet of flowers.

"Oh, bonsoir, Lefou," she greeted. "Are those for me?"

"Oui," answered Lefou quietly. "So you'll always have a bit of your father nearby." It was only then that Belle looked at the flowers: fleur-de-lises, all of different colors. It was no secret around town that these had been Maurice's favorite flower, a passion which he had passed on to Belle.

"Oh, how sweet of you, Lefou," thanked Belle, tears beginning to well up in her eyes again.

"It was nothing," replied Lefou. "I just wish I could be of more help." With that, he kissed the top of her hand as best he could, gave as deep and respectful a bow as he could manage, and turned to leave. Before he could do so, though, Belle had him wrapped in a hug, flowers and all, and was burying her face into his shoulder.

"You've already been a bigger help than most of the people in this village," sobbed Belle into Lefou's vest. "Thank you so much."

"Glad to be of service," answered Lefou, once Belle had put him back down on terra firma and released her grip. "Oh, and don't expect to run into Gaston during the funeral."

"I won't," acknowledged Belle. "Thanks again."

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The funeral passed by in a blur for Belle. Before she knew it, she was dropping a blue fleur-de-lis onto Maurice's grave marker, which the local mason had carved free of charge for Belle:

Maurice Cartier
May Your Legacy
Live On In Glory

That night, she was thinking about way too many things, as she often did when in a right state, and a startling truth hit her: her father, until she met the Beast, had been the only thing keeping her in France. She wanted to be free, but she didn't want to leave while she still had something here. So, she made up her mind to go back to the Beast's castle and see if she could try again.

When Philippe stopped in front of the castle bridge, she saw two small figures standing in the middle. As she drew close to them, she recognized them as a candelabra and a small clock.

"Lumiere!" she called out to them. "Cogsworth!" They both stirred at the sound of their names.

"Mademoiselle!" called out Lumiere in his rich, thick French voice. "Come in, come in, we have much to discuss!" His words were friendly, but his tone was worrying.

"Is something wrong?" Belle asked with trepidation.

"You'd better come inside first," urged Cogsworth, who carried a slight British bent to his lilting, dulcet tones.

Inside, Belle saw all the castle servants looking very glum. She sat down at the coat rack. Mrs. Potts began pouring tea into Chip without a word.

"Something's happened, hasn't it?" guessed Belle, apprehensive.

"It'd probably be best if Mr. Lumiere explains it," said Chip sadly, hopping gently over to Belle.

"Lumiere..." pressed Belle.

"Not long after you left," Lumiere cut to the chase, "our liege complained of pain in his chest. We did an immediate examination, and..." Lumiere hesitated. Then... "it turns out he had suffered...a pulmonary embolism," he finished sadly.

Belle was confused.

"How did he develop a blood clot in the first place? Did he break a limb or something?" she asked.

"No, milady," chimed in Cogsworth. "He had thrombophlebitis. He needed an injection of Heparin every day to prevent a clot from forming."

"We all knew this," added Mrs. Potts. "But on this occasion, he had run out of stock. We were powerless to help him."

"But a thrombophlebitic blood clot doesn't usually travel anywhere unless..." Belle's voice trailed off in horror.

"Oui, Mademoiselle," confirmed Lumiere. "He suffered a deeper venous thrombosis at the worst possible time."

"Did it kill him?" Belle asked haltingly, her eyes welling up again.

"The embolism? Non," answered Lumiere. "But that was only the beginning of Prince Benson's troubles."

Belle, registering the name, raised a perplexed eyebrow. However, that quickly fell back into place when she realized that Lumiere could only be referring to the Beast. Then and only then did the rest of that sentence catch up with her.

"You don't mean...You can't...This can't be happening..." breathed Belle, almost slipping into a comatose state.

"I wish it were not so," said Cogsworth, confirming Belle's fears. "The clot that caused the embolism...was not the only clot the Prince had developed. There was a second."

"And it went into..." Belle began, terrified.

"His lung proper," finished Mrs. Potts.

All the breath went from Belle's own lungs at that moment. The color was also gone from her face, leaving it chalk white. Belle's eyes also glazed over as she (figuratively) felt her brain implode and her heart disintegrate. Nobody needed to say anything else. Belle knew by the way this conversation was going what had happened to the Beast: The blood clot that had traveled to his lung...had claimed his life.

"Don't feel too bad for him," offered Chip. "He didn't suffer long; only about an hour and a half."

Inwardly, Belle was glad that the Beast's suffering was short-lived. But the fact still remained: There was nothing left for her in France; no reason for her to stay. Her father was dead. The Beast...no, Prince Benson...was dead. The townspeople, save for the bookshop owner, would never take any trouble to get to know her. She would forever be an outcast as long as she stayed here. And don't even get her started on Gaston.

She could move into the castle; become a hermit. But no, that was not who Belle was. Belle liked to go out and see the sights; socialize with whoever would talk to her. Besides, the castle, as much as she loved it, was simply too big for her to be practical. There was only one option for her, no other choice, nothing for it.

Lumiere's voice interrupted her thoughts:

"So, with Prince Benson dead, we are confined to these forms for the rest of our natural lives. Not the fate we would have chosen for ourselves, but we've spent ten years like this; we know how to work with these bodies. We'll make the most of it."

Lumiere's voice was defeated, yet somehow hopeful, and it brought Belle almost completely back to herself.

"Is there anything I can do?" she asked gently. "Anything at all?"

"At the risk of being too forward, ma chere," offered Lumiere, "you could take us on as your own."

"Wait, what?!" cried Belle, surprised.

"You heard the man," added Cogsworth, "or, rather, the candelabra: A servant is not whole without a soul to wait upon. Please, my dear...you're all we have." And he pressed his arms together at the tip, almost like he was praying.

Belle genuinely wanted to help them out, especially during this troubled time which was affecting all of them. But she simply had way too much to think about, and her little farm house just did not have enough room to spare for all of them.

Unless...

Belle considered the idea for a long while. Eventually, she managed to come to a decision. It was bold and risky, but if everything worked out the way she hoped against hope it would, it would be of great benefit to everyone.

"My dear friends," she began, "I extend my sincerest gratitude for your offer, and I humbly accept...on one condition."

"Oh," thanked Mrs. Potts, "just name it, dearie."

"There is nothing left for me in this country," admitted Belle. "Come away with me. We'll find a new country, a new home, and...hopefully...a new life."

"Of course, my dear lady," answered Lumiere without hesitation. "We'll leave as soon as you're ready."

"Wait!" cried out Cogsworth, ever the voice of reason. "We can't just go wandering pell-mell about Europe! We need a plan, we need to know where we're going before we get there!"

"Hey," offered Chip, "I overheard the Prince saying something about his...what was it...Oh, his lighthouse in England! He owns a lighthouse in England!"

"The Belle Tout Lighthouse?" asked Mrs. Potts. "Oh, that's a great idea, my boy!"

"Since when did Prince Benson own a lighthouse in England?" asked Belle, confused.

"Before he took on his princely duties," explained Lumiere, "Monsieur Benson loved to travel with what little family he had. The southern coast of England made an especially profound impact on him, and he purchased the lighthouse...and the cottage there...with a portion of his inheritance!" Lumiere finished with a flourish, as he realized what this meant.

Belle, too, had caught on.

"How big is the cottage?" she asked excitedly.

"Big enough for all of us, and with room for expansion if we feel so inclined!" chimed Cogsworth in an overjoyed voice.

"Any more questions, my dear?" asked Lumiere.

"Just one," admitted Belle. "How many carriages do you possess?"

"Enough to move the entire contents of this castle," answered Mrs. Potts.

"I don't think we'll need that much," mused Belle, "but that said, what are we waiting for? Let's g-" Belle stopped herself as a solemn realization hit her.

"Wait, doesn't Prince Benson still need a proper funeral?"

And all too soon, they were lowering the Beast's lifeless corpse into its final resting place and placing the mound of dirt as gently as was possible atop it. Belle placed the grave marker herself:

Prince Robert Benson
May Love Never Leave Your Heart

(Note from Author: The name "Robert", in the case of the Beast, is pronounced as "row-BEAR". I named him after his voice actor, Robby Benson.)

Several hours later, though it felt like no time at all to Belle, some select furnishings, to include the manservants, along with the entire contents of the library and kitchens, as well as a lot of the art that had been affixed to the castle walls, not to mention a small fortune in cash and jewels that they had found in a spare room, were all packed into the carriages. Belle snapped the reins on the four horses that were pulling the train, and they were off to England.

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It took a few days, but Belle and company finally arrived in England, in the harbor town of Eastbourne. She asked around town and quickly got herself approved for ownership and habitation of the Belle Tout Lighthouse and cottage by the local authorities. Heading west along the southern coastline of the city, she soon found it on South Downs Way: a white brick lighthouse of middling height with a small building next to it; no doubt this was where the lighthouse operators would have stayed. The actual cottage was across the street, towards the water, and just as Cogsworth had promised, it was quite sizable, easily with room enough for everything they had brought with them, and more. There was also a small beach in front of it with a dock and a rowboat that gave easy access to the open ocean.

(Note from Author: I am fully aware that the actual Belle Tout Lighthouse is A) situated atop a sheer cliff, and B) now being used as a bed and breakfast inn. But if I stuck to that, I wouldn't have a story, now would I? Anyways, enough with the fourth-wall breaking. On with the story!)

After walking through the house and figuring out where everything would go, the entire party set to work, and in no time at all, the move was finished. Belle brought three of the horses to a local stable, choosing to take Philippe home with her. She found a spot where the roof jutted out just enough that he would be protected from the rains, when they came, and tied him up there for nights.

Over the next few weeks, Belle got to know some of the Eastbourne residents, including the baker, the blacksmith, the fish merchant, the authorities, and, of course, the bookshop owner. Almost immediately, they showed themselves to be, more or less, just like the people in her old French home...with one notable exception: Nobody in town seemed to give two hoots about her bookish and aloof nature. They still gossiped about it, but only when they were out of topics to discuss. Also, as opposed to the snooty tones that were used back in France when she was the subject of discussion, these people chose a more curious tone, as if they actually wanted to know why she was the way she was.

Of course, though Belle never bothered to tell them this outright, all they needed to do was ask, and she'd happily fill them in. And some did ask, including a very old former sailor who refused to give out his name, but apart from that, was quite friendly and sociable. Often, he would regale her with a story or two from his sailing days...and when he did, Belle could feel the ocean fall and rise and see its rage and glory. She often caught herself lost in her imagination when he would tell these stories, and had to politely excuse herself in order to make it back home before her fish went bad.

She quickly learned, however, never to buy her fish until after she had met the old man, and, in fact, came to look forward to these stories with a kind of feral excitement: Not only did his stories last quite a while and keep her interest the whole way through...he never seemed to run out of them. In all the time she knew him, she only heard one story more than once, and it was by her own request. She also caught herself wishing to go out on the water and create some of her own stories. Never on a full-size ship, though: Belle wanted the ocean all to herself, so to speak.

It never once occurred to her to ask for lessons of any kind, however, until one (as it would turn out) very fateful day.

She woke up that morning as she usually did, prepared to go about her daily routine. The sun was just coming up over the horizon, and the sky was beginning to turn its normal, beautiful blue. Belle expected her usual rounds: saying hi to the baker, stopping in at the bookshop for a new book, meeting the sailor for some stories, and then buying some foodstuffs before heading back home.

What Belle was not expecting, however, was an urge to sing a song this morning. Unable to stop herself, this is exactly what she did.

(Belle)
Harbor town
By the name of Eastbourne
A routine

Followed every day
Harbor town
Full of brand-new people
Waking up to say...

"Good day!" called a man as he opened his window to let in the golden morning sun.

"Hello!" greeted another man as he walked past Belle.

"Good morning, ma'am!" said a woman as she sipped her morning tea.

"Good day!" chimed in the blacksmith as he ran past Belle to his stand. Belle started to wave to him, then she noticed the baker on his way to his own stand. Belle started heading in his direction, singing:

There goes the baker with his tray, like always
The same old bread and rolls to sell
Every morning just the same
Since the morning that we came
To this lovely harbor town

"Good morning, Belle," greeted the baker as he arrived at his stand and finally took notice of Belle.

"Morning, Monsieur," answered Belle warmly.

"Where are you off to?" asked the Baker as he began to spread his stock out on his stand.

"The bookshop," answered Belle honestly. "I just finished the most wonderful story, about an elf boy and a talking red boat and..."

"That's nice," cut off the baker, though not unkindly. "Linda, the baguettes! Hurry up!"

Belle shrugged and resumed on her journey, heading in the direction of the bookstore. As she went on her way, she could hear a small group of women near the barbershop saying:

Look, there she goes, that girl is strange, no question
Dazed and distracted, can't you tell?
Never part of any crowd

(Barber)
'Cause her head's up on some cloud

(Barber and Women)
No denying she's a funny girl, that Belle

"Hello," called a man driving a horse-drawn cart.

"Good day," replied a woman walking in the opposite direction; obviously a friend of the driver's.

"How is your family?" asked the driver, but he was too far away to hear her answer.

"Hello," greeted a woman in line at a kitchen needs stand.

"Good day," replied the man working the stand.

"How is your wife?" asked the woman in line. Unfortunately, said wife got very jealous when her husband talked to other women in any capacity at all. Said wife was also right behind her husband, holding a wooden rolling pin, which she used to whack him, hard, on the crown of his head.

"I need six eggs!" cried a woman who had brought along three crying babies to the poultry stand.

"That's too expensive," mused a man who was looking at jewelry for his loved one.

Belle heard all of this and couldn't stop herself from singing, just before she entered the bookstore:

There must be more than this to seaside life!

With that, she opened the door and a tiny bell chimed, alerting the bookkeeper to the visitor.

"Ah, Belle," he greeted happily. "You know, Mademoiselle Cartier, if not for you, I'd be out of business!"

"Good morning," laughed Belle, "and thank you. Anyway, I've come to return the book I borrowed." And she handed it to him. It was a thick, red book, with a picture of a young, elf-looking boy dressed in green holding a fancy-seeming stick of some sort, perhaps a conductor's baton. He was standing in a red boat that had a fierce, yet wise-looking face that also carried an air of gentility about it, somehow. The title of the book was stitched in gold thread below this picture: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

"Finished already?" asked the book man, laughing.

"Oh, I couldn't put it down!" gushed Belle, moving towards the ladder attached to the nearest shelf. "Have you got anything new?"

"Oh, not since yesterday," admitted the book man with a chuckle.

"That's all right," answered Belle kindly, turning her gaze to the bookshelf. "I'll borrow..." And she scanned the shelf to see if anything leaped out at her. Very soon, her eyes fell on a book whose spine simply read: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Belle's heart soared: this was her favorite in the Zelda series, and she had read them all, save for one: She had heard rumors that a new story had hit the shelves recently, but had yet to find a copy of it. All she had to go on was a name: Skyward Sword.

But for now, Twilight Princess would do quite nicely.

"This one," she said triumphantly as she pulled it from the shelf and handed it to the book man.

"That one?" he asked, looking at the title. Then, laughing, he added: "But you've read it twice!"

"Well," began Belle, "it's my favorite!" And indeed it was. "Far-off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a princess in disguise! And not to mention a killer twist towards the end, with Midna!"

"Well," offered the book man, as he began to lead her towards the door, "if you like it all that much, it's yours."

"But, sir..." Belle began, overwhelmed by his generosity.

"No, please," the book man cut her off, "I insist!"

"Well, thank you!" exclaimed Belle gratefully. "Thank you very much!" And she walked towards the center of the square. A few people who were talking took notice of this and said:

(Men)
Look, there she goes; that girl is so peculiar
I wonder if she's feeling well

(Women)
With a dreamy, far-off look

(Men)
And her nose stuck in a book

(All)
What a puzzle to the rest of us is Belle

About now, Belle reached the benches in a small, grassy area in the center of the square, sat down on one of them, and saw the old sailor coming her way. She opened up the book to page sixty and said to him as he approached:

Oh, isn't this amazing?
It's my favorite part because, my friend
Here's where he meets with Midna
But he won't discover who she is 'til near the end...

A young woman who was doing business with the tailor saw this and noted:

Now, it's no wonder that her name means "Beauty"
Her looks have got no parallel

(Tailor)
But behind that fair fa├žade
I'm afraid she's rather odd
Very different from the rest of us

(Townsfolk)
She's nothing like the rest of us
Yes, different from the rest of us is Belle

"Well," began the old sailor in that classical sailor voice of his, "are you ready for story time with me today?"

"Actually," Belle suggested as a thought hit her, "I have another idea."

"Oh?" queried the sailor, surprised. "And what might that be?"

"Since you started telling me those stories of yours," revealed Belle, "something has awoken inside me: a desire to go out onto the ocean and see its majesty and wonder for myself."

"Would you be asking me for sailing lessons?" gasped the old man.

"Not necessarily," Belle explained quickly. "After all, I don't have access to a grand ship, and I hear that it's considered bad luck to bring a woman on board a sailing vessel."

"T'was in my day," affirmed the sailor. "I've been out of the water for quite some time, now, though, so I don't know what the norm is nowadays."

"I do, however," pressed Belle, "have a rowboat in my possession. Do you know anything about rowing?"

"My dear child," the old sailor laughed, "rowing is the first step in learning how to sail! You can't work a big ship if you don't know how to work the lifeboats!"

"So you'll teach me rowing?" asked Belle excitedly.

"My dear," began the old man, "let me tell you something I've never told anyone else: I was diagnosed with lung cancer not long ago. Stage 4, nothing they can do about it."

"I take it you were a smoker in your younger days?" tried Belle, a slight bit disgusted.

"Two packs a day whenever I wasn't sailing," admitted the sailor. "Not proud of it, but there you go. Anyway, when a dying man holds information that he considers to be of any importance at all, there is nothing he seeks more-"

"Than to pass it on?" offered Belle.

"Correct!" shouted the old man joyfully. "So, please, allow me to fulfill this dying wish. We start today."

"Of course!" thanked Belle, wrapping the old man in a hug. "Meet me at the Belle Tout Lighthouse pier this afternoon?"

"It's a date," laughed the old sailor, returning the hug, "pardon the expression."

Belle, feeling unabashed happiness welling up within herself, let loose the following:

There's so much more than this to seaside life

(Sailor)
I'll pass my knowledge on before I die!

As the townsfolk noticed that Belle and the sailor were going their separate ways, they all put their thoughts to voices:

Look, there she goes; a girl who's strange but special
A most peculiar mademoiselle
All of France thought it was sin
That she didn't quite fit in
'Cause she really is a funny girl
A beauty but a funny girl
She really is a funny girl...

That Belle...!

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Later that day, just as planned, the sailor and Belle met on the dock for her rowing lessons. She took to it immediately, being a quick study thanks to her bookish nature, and was soon rowing, backwatering, pivoting...even handling a good, old-fashioned capsizing and swamping like a champ. Very soon, the sailor had nothing left to teach her: Belle was ready for solo rowing.

"There's a fireworks show taking place tonight over Eastbourne Harbor," he informed her. "The view from the water is especially spectacular."

"I'll be sure to check it out," promised Belle. "How about you?"

"Oh, I can't," he said regretfully. "I have to return to the hospice and get an update on how long I have to live."

"Oh..." said Belle as she remembered the man's lethal cancer. "Well, however long you have left to live, I hope you enjoy it to the fullest."

"You've allowed me to do that today for the first time in a long time," revealed the sailor, "and for that, I am forever in your debt. However, I must go soon. You up for a story before I leave?"

"Ooh, yes," gushed Belle, "always!" And she sat down on the pier cross-legged. The sailor did likewise and then began his story.

"About twenty years ago," he started mysteriously, "there was a prince of Denmark; went by the name of Eric. I knew him well; he was a good man, a great friend, and a fine sailor. One day, we went out sailing these waters on a search for lost treasure..."

And the sailor went on to explain, in a way that only sailors can, that they had been caught in a storm, and Prince Eric was thrown overboard. When he could not be found during the night, he was unofficially presumed dead.

"Well, what happened?" pressed Belle, raptly interested.

"Hell if I know the exact details for certain," admitted the man, "but he turned out OK. His manservant found him on a beach the next morning, raving about some girl who had saved him."

"Who was she?" asked Belle.

"No one knows for sure," said the man softly, "but I have a theory. All he could remember about the woman was that she was singing when he came to and her voice was like the angels. To me, that says only one thing: His savior..." He paused for dramatic effect. "...was a mermaid."

The word stirred something in Belle's imagination. Mermaids...

"Aren't they the human/fish hybrids that save people from drowning?" she asked.

"You've heard of them," the sailor noted, impressed.

"Only insofar as the fairy tales about them," answered Belle. "There was one called The Little Mermaid that my father used to tell me religiously; it was his favorite. Didn't really have the happy ending I was hoping for, though."

"No," agreed the sailor, being familiar with the story. "It didn't, and I felt so bad for the wee lass. Anyway, do you believe merfolk exist?"

"Not really," admitted Belle. "Most of the things I believe are based in proven fact."

"Well," advised the sailor, "believe what you want. I will say only this: Prince Eric had no shortage of suitors, and he rejected them all as politely as he could. Not three days after the storm, this redheaded mute woman comes along. Not much to say, but very easy on the eyes. The two of them were married before the month was out. Somehow, she ended up getting her voice back, and when she spoke, it sounded like little bells chiming. That's all I know."

It was, indeed, something for Belle to think about. She thanked the man for his time, and he respectfully bowed and took his leave. Putting those thoughts about merpeople aside for the moment, she readied her rowboat: The fireworks would be starting any minute, and Belle didn't want to miss any of it.


Unbeknownst to Belle, during that very same day, a young mermaid, the envy of all in her home of Atlantica, was swimming off to a hidden cavern with a fishy friend of hers. She had just come off being lectured...again...by her slightly misanthropic father, King Triton, on the so-called "evils" of the human world. Her fiery red hair floated along behind her as she cut a swath through the water, using her bright aqua tail to gain speed and turn quickly when needed. Had they not been underwater already, the fish...and the small red hermit crab that was following her, unseen...would have seen that her vivid, deep, true blue eyes were tear-streaked.

As she opened the door to her cavern, she got a little too close to the wall, distracted by her emotions and racing thoughts, and almost caught her purple seashell bra on a rock that was jutting out from said wall. (As if she needed that kind of embarrassment, though she knew the fish would likely not care.) She managed to clear it, though, and made her way into the cavern proper, which was filled to the brim, ledge by ledge, stalagmite by stalagmite, with treasures from the human world that she had recovered from the shipwrecks that littered the sea floor.

This mermaid, Ariel by name, the youngest of Triton's seven daughters, longed to see the wonders of the human world firsthand. Her innate curiosity about other places had sparked in her an almost overwhelming desire to become human, even if only for a day. This did not sit well with Triton, who repeatedly rebuked her every time she even mentioned the human world in passing. This, in turn, did not sit well with Ariel, who often had to remind him that she was sixteen; not a little child any longer. He did not take this well, either, and it often led to arguments like the one she had just come out of. Not that she did not love her father, goodness no. She did love him, and very dearly, too. It was just...he was so...blind to what the human world had to offer.

She reflected on this, Ariel did, as she played with one of the many forks that she had collected over the course of many expeditions. The little fish, called Flounder, swam up to her slowly.

"Ariel," he asked gently, "are you OK?"

"If only I could make him understand," she replied softly, but sadly. Unseen, the crab (by the name of Horatio Felonius Ignatius Crustaceous Sebastian, better known simply by the last of his five names) had also entered the cave...and could only stare in shock and awe at the scene that unfolded before his very eyes.

"I just don't see things the way he does," admitted Ariel. "I don't see how a world that makes such wonderful things..." She indicated the treasures in the cave before turning to regard Flounder. "...could be bad," she finished. Then, in a voice that would have made the angelfish cry, she sang:

Look at this stuff...Isn't it neat?
Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?

She placed the fork in a candelabra nearby before continuing:

Wouldn't you think I'm the girl
The girl who has...
Everything?

She now started to slowly spin in place, regarding her impressive collection of relics.

Look at this trove
Treasures untold
How many wonders can one cavern hold?
Lookin' around here, you'd think,
"Sure...she's got everything"

Ariel shrugged her shoulders before going off to the silverware and other gadgets.

I've got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty

Very quickly, she swam over to where the books and paintings were stored.

I've got whozits and whatsits galore

Then, she grabbed a box from the miscellaneous items and swam up to Flounder with it.

You want thing-a-ma-bobs?
I got twenty.

And she proved it by opening the box, revealing approximately twenty objects which Flounder could only stare at.

But who cares?

Ariel sadly shut the box and put it down.

No big deal
I want more...

She looked skyward and extended her hand to the heavens before slipping into almost a daydream-like state.

I wanna be...where the people are
I wanna see...wanna see 'em dancin'

She swam over to a music box decorated with two porcelain ballet dancers, almost as if to emphasize her point.

Walkin' around on those...

"Whaddya call 'em?" she asked Flounder, who had been keeping pace with her. Then, the word hit her:

"Oh, feet." And Ariel gently grabbed Flounder's caudal fin with both hands and pulled on them to imitate walking. This was Flounder's tickle spot, and he could not suppress a small stream of giggles.

Flippin' your fins, you don't get too far
Legs are required for jumpin', dancin'

Ariel now took hold of Flounder by his wing fins (can't remember what their right name is to save my life) and imitated a dancing motion.

Strollin' along down a...

"What's that word again?" she asked herself. Then it came to her:

Street

Rising upwards the whole time, she continued:

Up where they walk
Up where they run
Up where they stay all day in the sun

Wanderin' free
Wish I could be
Part of that world

She now let herself begin to float back down to the floor of the cavern.

What would I give
If I could live
Out of these waters?

As she hit the floor, she made as if she was soaking up the rays of the sun on a beach.

What would I pay
To spend a day
Warm on the sand?

Then, she remembered another of her fantasies about the human world:

Betcha on land
They understand
Bet they don't
Reprimand their daughters

Bright young women
Sick of swimmin'
Ready to stand...

And she shot up towards where the cavern's roof opened out into the wide ocean.

And ready to know what the people know

She grabbed a book and speed-read through a few pages, as if looking for something.

Ask 'em my questions and get some answers

She now swam up to a painting of a man sitting next to a lit candle, touching the flame in the picture.

What's a fire
And why does it...
What's the word?
Burn?

Going up to the small hole in the ceiling, Ariel extended a hand through it, as if symbolically reaching for the skies. Sebastian could have fit through, but Flounder and Ariel could not.

When's it my turn?
Wouldn't I love
Love to explore that shore up above...

Out of the sea

Ariel, bringing her hand back to herself, gave an exhalation that was a blend of a sigh and a sob.

Wish I could be...

Part of that...world

Ariel turned her gaze back skyward one last time, regret beginning to fill her heart. Maybe she would just have to live with the fact that she might never walk on land.

But, consequences be damned, she was going to give it a shot if it was the last thing she did.

At that point, she saw the sky flash yellow for a split second, then heard a muffled boom. Excitement filled Ariel's heart: The humans were launching off what her absentminded seagull friend, Scuttle, had called "fireworks". She had seen these before, and they were quite the amazing sight. She immediately made tracks for the door to her cavern, and then to the surface. She was not about to miss this. Gently and politely sending Flounder away, she quietly broke the surface of the water and looked around. It didn't take long before she saw the fireworks. They were coming from a nearby landmass that she had seen many times. She considered sticking around until they stopped, but then she remembered her father. He'd kill her if he caught her going to the surface again.

So she was about to dive back under when her eyes found a small rowboat. She saw that there was a human in it, and decided to investigate a little more closely. When she got near the boat, she saw that the human was a woman...and the most beautiful woman Ariel had ever had the good fortune to lay eyes on. Medium-length chocolate brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, while soft almond eyes gazed dreamily at the fireworks. Her facial features matched her eyes: soft and gentle; truly captivating.

Ariel moved around to the other side of the boat for a better view of this woman's face. Lost in the fireworks, she took no notice of Ariel, who was soon lost in the woman's beauty. Those cheeks, her soft pink lips, and especially her eyes. Soft as they were, they had the glint of high intelligence about them. Ariel had no doubt that this woman could back herself up if ever the situation warranted her doing so.

The fireworks illuminated a thick layer of clouds that had gathered. Ariel recognized them as rain clouds and hoped the fireworks ended soon; she wished for no one to get hurt, and there was something about the idea of fireworks in a rainstorm that just terrified her. Thankfully, the rain held out long enough for the fireworks to end safely: no sooner had they stopped than Ariel felt a few drops of rain on her face, which quickly became a full-on torrent. Though the winds did not pick up, there were signs of lightning within the clouds.

Ariel did not have to wait long before the first bolt struck.

And, to her horror, it struck the one place Ariel was hoping against hope it would not strike.

The bolt caught the stern section of the rowboat...far enough away from the woman that it would not harm her directly, but close enough that the entirety of the bolt hit the boat. The sheer force of kinetic energy transferred from the bolt sent the woman flying out of the boat and towards the open ocean. She hit the water with a definitive splash, and by the looks of things, was rendered unconscious by the impact.

Ariel wasted no time. She swam like the Flash over to the woman, who was indeed unconscious, grabbed her by the waist, and brought her to shore.

Ariel knew that she should just get out of here now while she had the chance; eliminate any and all chance of her father finding out about this latest sojourn to the surface. But her heart said to stay with the woman until she regained consciousness. So that's what she did.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Dawn eventually came, and the woman still had not come around. Ariel had not slept a wink, but she didn't feel tired. Whether that was due to adrenaline or not remained to be seen. Soon, she heard a familiar squawk. She looked up and saw Scuttle flying towards them. He landed next to the woman's head.

"Is she...dead?" asked Ariel softly, hoping against all hope that this was not the case.

"It's hard to say," admitted Scuttle, after prying open one of the woman's eyes. He then headed down to her feet, taking the right one and pressing the side of his head to it. Obviously hearing nothing, he delivered the devastating news:

"Oh, I...I can't make out a heartbeat," he said sadly to Ariel.

Ariel looked back towards the woman's face, ready to give her last rites, when she noticed the woman's chest gently rising and falling.

"No, look!" Ariel reported, overjoyed. "She's breathing..." And she gently moved a stray bit of hair out of the woman's face.

"She's so...beautiful," Ariel mused to herself. Very quickly, she realized a surprising truth: She was falling for this human woman, and very hard, too...almost hopelessly so. Ever so tenderly, ever so softly, she placed the same hand she had used to move the hair onto the woman's cheek and, after gently turning the woman's face towards herself, began to stroke it lovingly, almost like she was petting a cat. Feeling a song coming on, Ariel didn't even bother to stop herself:

What would I give to live where you are?
What would I pay to stay here beside you?
What would I do to see you
Smiling at me?

Where would we walk?
Where would we run
If we could stay all day in the sun,
Just you and me,
And I could be
Part of your world?

By this time, the woman was coming around, having opened her eyes and fully registered Ariel's presence. Ariel knew, somehow, that the woman knew who had saved her. As the woman took Ariel's hand (the one that was on the woman's cheek) in her own, they both smiled at each other, and Ariel was about to introduce herself when she heard a small voice coming from very close by, on the beach which they both now occupied. With no time to waste, Ariel bolted, jumping back into the water and swimming behind a nearby rock that was jutting out of the water. Flounder and Sebastian joined her there and watched the goings-on.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Belle had never imagined that she could have the good fortune to look upon something so beautiful and magically wonderful. Despite her rescuer obviously being a woman, she had felt a strong urge to lean in for a kiss, just to see how she would react. Unfortunately, the sun had been shining at just the right angle to obscure almost all of her savior's face. All Belle remembered was a voice that would have made Lumiere cry at its beauty.

"Miss Belle!" she heard a child's voice calling her. Belle recognized it as belonging to Chip.

"Right here, Chip," she responded weakly.

"You gave us all a terrible fright," said the teacup, leaping up to her pocket. "What happened? I saw you go flying into the ocean; we all thought you were dead."

"I almost was," answered Belle. "But a woman...rescued me. When I came to, she was...singing." And she stared off into space, remembering the amazing singing voice of the woman who had saved her life.

"She had the most..." Belle searched for the right word, and eventually found it: "...angelic voice."

"Not that I don't believe you," the little cup replied, "but I didn't see anyone else; just you."

"Oh," said Belle sadly. "Well, better get back to the cottage; Cogsworth probably blew a gasket worrying about me."

"He wasn't the only one," laughed Chip as Belle started back towards the cottage. Little did he know that all she could think of was her rescuer.

Whoever you are, and wherever you are, Belle vowed to herself right then and there, I will find you, and I will figure out how to thank you for saving me.

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"We just gonna forget this whole ting ever happened," suggested Sebastian in his smooth reggae voice. "The Sea King will never know. You won't tell him," he motioned to Flounder, who shook his head, "I won't tell him. I will stay in one piece." And he looked towards Ariel with his claws pressed together, like he was praying.

The only thing on Ariel's mind was the woman she had saved, and figuring out a way to see her again. Until then, she'd probably work on a painting of this woman. And she now had a name for the woman she loved: Belle. She climbed up the rock, so as to get a better view of Belle as she walked away. For the third time in the span of about twelve hours, Ariel felt the urge to sing, and gave in to it:

I don't know when
I don't know how
But I know something's starting right now

Watch and you'll see
Someday I'll be
Part of your...world

As the final word left Ariel's lips, she struck a classic mermaid pose on the rock just as a sizable wave came along and broke against the rock, creating what any onlookers would have remembered as a very dramatic image.

Unbeknownst to Ariel and company, two slimy moray eels were now poking their heads out from the water, watching the scene with rapt interest.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Earlier that night, back in France, Gaston Cousteau was sitting in a bar talking to his cronies.

"And nobody's seen Belle in town for three weeks!" he cried. "Where in the blazes could she have gone?!"

"Don't worry, Gaston," called one of his men from the back. "We'll find her."

Right then, a new voice from the door made its presence known with three simple words:

"I already have."

Gaston jerked up at the phrase and his eyes darted towards the door. What he saw was a traveling man on his payroll, an old hobo that needed a little extra cash, which Gaston was not afraid to shell out when called for.

"What did you say?" he asked, a dangerous glint in his eye.

"I have found Belle Cartier," the man repeated. "I know where she is even as we speak."

The glint in Gaston's eye became a gleam of triumph as he spoke the words he had been waiting to say for almost a month:

"Take me to her...right now."


A/N: Holy Romulus, what an opening act! A full 10,500 words even, and a lot was going on! Now, if only I could submit this story for NaNoWriMo! XD Ah, well, life is not perfect. Hopefully, I didn't make you fall asleep with what happened here. If I did, you better break out the trucker's adrenaline, because I have some great shit in store for you guys!

Also, a special thanks to DeviantArt's XavierHaven and our very own Crazy Cat Lady for giving me the go-ahead to write this, inspired by both their AriBelle works. Crazy Cat Lady also agreed to be my beta for this story, so extra special thanks to her.

TBC...