|The Beast's Beauty
Author: Nadie2 PM
As a baby Bella was cursed with beauty and blessed with invisibilty. But even invisibily dosn't stop her from being the fairest in the land and claimed by the deeply wounded beast, who isn't what she expected.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Romance - Chapters: 3 - Words: 31,053 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 11-22-11 - Published: 11-15-11 - id: 2970918
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 1: In which my naval curse comes to claim me at last
My parents were poor peasants, but they are good, honest, hardworking, and determined peasants. It was because of all of these things that they managed to secure for my christening a good fairy. Of course, you know a good fairy never comes to a christening without an evil pixie coming along as well. Evil pixies are usually nothing to worry about. They are easy to appease. You give them a bit of flattery, a few pleasant dances, and a few delicious bits of cake and they are more than happy to leave off the cursing. But on the day of my christening the evil pixie had a toothache.
Pain, purely physical pain is one of the most powerful things any creature with nerves has ever endured. I am talking of the intense kind of pain which makes you wish, while it lasts for death if only it could ease the pain a bit. Emotional pain, and love, and hope, and dreams, and truth, and beauty, and all the other things which run deep in the souls of man pale when it comes the tyranny of physical pain. It is something which cannot be erased by flattery, or lessoned by a skillful dance, and cake only worsens a toothache. It was because of that toothache that I became a cursed.
That evil pixie, she bent over my cradle and said, "May she be the most beautiful face under the sun." The whole christening party gasped in horror, never having heard a curse so horrid.
If you are thinking, "How on earth is that a curse?" I know you are not from Candella. Our fair valley alms has a curse hovering in the alms above the village for as long as our elder's memory, and the memory of the elders which told them stories in their youth. This curse goes by the name of The Beast, and it lives inside of the caves at the top of the hills. Each year the Beast demands its yearly sacrifice-the fairest in the land above sixteen. This curse has lasted so long that there are none left in the village who could really be called fair. No one knows what happens to the ones that are taken, but we could be sure that they were never seen again.
There seemed to be no way to save me, because a good fairy cannot reverse the curse of a pixie, but can only give its own blessing. That good fairy was young, and still learning the ropes, so she circled by crib again and again thinking. Then finally she spoke, "May invisibility hide you from all eyes." Then my mother crossed herself in that archaic three fingered way of hers and said, "May it save my little baby."
In one split second I disappeared. Not only me, but the rattle in my hands, in fact anything that I held beneath a certain size became invisible. My father gave a surprised little grasp and groped toward the crib to find my small body. He picked it up, and ran his finger across my well formed face in shock. The room stayed silent.
I have often wondered what would have happened if I had not been given this gift. What would it be like to know since the day of your birth the day of your death? How different would it be to live a life without plans? But, I think planning is something deep in human nature, deep in human nature like ownership and longing to be among others, and feeling peaceful in nature. Something in humans you can't change. For even the very old make plans. Those so old they know they can never fulfill them, still the plans are made.
But I did not live a life without plans. I did not live a life with an expiration date. My fairy godmother gave me hope, and hope as every Pandora knows is the greatest of gifts and the greatest of curses, for often those two are the same.
My mother can tell you stories of raising the amazing invisible baby. I will not tell you these. First, because I doubt their truth, they are too convenient for my taste, but mostly I will not retell them, because they have the power to consume my heart with guilt for a thing I could not help, and I have spent too much of my life in senseless guilt If you want these stories you can find my mother in a clay house a block from the main street.
My first memory occurred when I was about three or four years old. My mother was brushing her hair in her bedroom. Longing for company drew me toward her. I looked into the mirror, a smooth piece of metal my father had shinned for her, on the wall, and saw her reflection. My small mind looked back and forth from her to the mirror, and from the mirror to her. Two of her, and none of me. "Mama," I said.
She startled, and said, "Do make some noise Little One."
"Sorry," I said childish guilt consuming me, "You can't see me, can you?"
She ran her hand down my silky hair and cupped my chin in her hand as she often did. Then she could stare deeply into the air which hid my eyes, "It is true that I cannot see your body, Little One, no one can, but you are not your body, no one is."
My father is a good man, a good man with a temper like a firecracker. The fuse was short, the explosion great, but anger soon retreating and leaving nothing behind. It was only a bit after that tearful scene with my mother that I spilled my soup (you try holding a bowl when you cannot see it or your hands). He reached for where he thought my wrist was to draw me in for a spank. He missed my arm, just barely, brushing it. My small mind grasped in an instant what invisibly meant. I ran, silently ran. For a while his anger ranged as he bumped through the house groping for me. He gave up and sat down, "You win Anabella," and he patted my knee.
I crawled on to his knee, knowing that his anger was gone. He tried to look into my eyes, but not having my mother's trick he missed by a small yet noticeable angle, "You are no ordinary, child." There was sadness, and longing, and pride, and something else I could not name in his voice as he said it.
When strangers meet me for the first time they are delighted by the novel idea of invisibility. They see it's benefits, and not it's liabilities. Trust me that I am no cynic when I say that invisibility lived has more liabilities then benefits. Oh, to be sure it, there would be some benefit of it if I choose for myself a life of crime or crime fighting. But the life of a student, invisibility does little for that.
My clever mother devised me a small stand which I could use to hold my book (if my hands held it, it disappeared). Still, each time I had to turn the page I had to look away to avoid the dizzy nausea which crept into my stomach. While my classmates could run a finger beneath their pages I sat on my hands. Writing was much more difficult. I could never see the pencil, nor that hand. Each time my hand brushed the paper (which is frequent, notice the next time you write) the paper disappears. The result was always sloppy barely legible handwriting which took me hours longer than my peers.
The schoolyard was as difficult as the schoolroom. Most games, tag, and catch and such could not be played when they could not see me. Other games, like hid and seek I was much too good at. The children were cruel bullies with me as they were with any child who shows the faintest signs of difference. This too is one of the deepest truths of humanity. We hate those who remind us not of ourselves. But I suppose, it was easier on me than most, for I could run from a punch, and so they could only hurt me with their words. Of course, words can be crueler than any punch ever could be. Running was the only thing I could really do at recess. I did as much running from their rocks as running races they always denied I won.
I begged my mother to let me quit. I volunteered myself as her helper, as a servant, as a washwoman, as any sort of backbreaking labor which could save me from the schoolroom.
"An education is a precious thing indeed. It is really the only thing which can never be stole from you. You will have an education no matter how much it costs you. It is worth the highest price, and my daughter shall have it."
I didn't understand then, why she pushed so hard. When you are a kid you see your parents as perfect, as untouchable, as flawless. But parents are just humans. My mother was trying to secure for me something she had been denied. My mother, I never noticed could not even read. Each day she returned from backbreaking labor in the field to backbreaking labor in the kitchen. Each night she rubbed the kinks out of her dish pan hands. She worked so hard, because she knew. Hard work of one generation, and education for the next is the only way that a family, any family can raise out of poverty. Even deeper than that…her intelligent mind had suffered from thirst for a lifetime, and she would save me from that.
To her credit, I did get an education. Perhaps, and education better even than the one she had hoped for me. For I learned hard work when I was very small. After years had passed I learned to write without as much effort. But still the effort came, you sort of get used to it, and cannot help working hard if you have spent your life at it. My memory was keen, sharpened by years of compensating for slow reading. So my latter schooling went well. My tongue was ready and able to answer every question the teacher had. I polished off every book in the school, memorizing large sections of some of them. Even walking across the mountains we call alms to trade some with the schoolmasters in other towns. Still there was nothing left for me to learn a whole year before the usual age of leaving school, sixteen.
My mother, through some sort of pleading which she was particularly good at, secured for me an apprenticeship at the dress shop. Mrs. Okten the dressmaker was no fool. She found out early I was of little use with a needle for all but simple hems (try embroidery when you can see neither needle nor work, amazing enough that I could sew a straight steam). In flattering customers into buying more than they needed I was particularly inept, and I frightened some of the customers. So I spent most of my time, invisible, working the books or sewing a seam in the back of the shop. When my mind could be spared from the work (which was often) I repeated the long memorized phrases from the books, the best of friends I had ever had. Anyway it was easier work than washing and scrubbing.
There was a sacrifice, some two months after my sixteenth birthday. A girl named Jane was considered the fairest by the elders and chained to the rock. She was older than the average sacrifice, twenty two. That meant she had been passed over again and again by prettier girls, and was no doubt by this time, beginning to hope she had escaped what shd'd dreaded all her life. She was married with a son of nearly three years which said sobbing "Marmar, Marmar," as they tied her to the rock.
I felt for her, after all she was nicer than most. Being six years older than me she had never teased me, being much too grown-up for that sort of thing. Of course, she had never defended me either, but as my mother always said some is better than none.
There was a fuss at the sacrificial rock the next morning, and I ran to see as did the rest of the town. Jane sat their sobbing. "He didn't want me." Rejection, even a rejection you have been praying for, is still rejection.
"What did you do?" The mayor said cruelly.
"I did nothing," she said, "he looked me over and said, 'she is not the fairest in the land,' and then he left. That is all." I noticed she was biting her lip to keep the sobs in. Jane was a womanly woman if anything could be said for her.
"The sheep," they said scurrying off in every direction. To a land like Candella, always on the brink between lack and starvation, the loss of a single sheep is a catastrophe. The loss of all the sheep, meant the death of a whole village. The land had long ago been covered by a sea, and the ground was still saturated with the salt of the sea. Nothing but a hearty grass we called mindin grew in that soil, and only our sheep ate mindin. Our sheep were necessary. That was why it was such an effective threat for the Beast to use. Of course there was no instance, in the memory of our elders, or the elder's of our elders of the Beast ever stealing the sheep, but we had no doubt that he could do it. If there was a doubt about it, you can be sure we never would have sacrificed so many good woman and girls.
They all ran off leaving poor Jane still tied to the rock. I walked toward her and slowly untied her ropes. She jumped when I first touched her, but then she simply asked, "Anabella?"
"Yes," I said.
"They think I am a bad shepherd, but I was willing to die for them. I was really and truly willing to die for them, and that is not an easy thing to say. It is all well in good in theory. But when it comes right down to it, and you are tied to a rock, your whole body wants to run. That is what being a human IS! But I knew what being a Sheppard meant. I would not have saved my life if it meant sacrificing there's. They don't know what that means," she said now free, but still sitting on the rock.
"No, they don't," I said. But I was beginning to, with a sinking of my stomach.
She looked at me with the sympathy I had felt for her only minutes before. She stood up, and moved away a bit. Meanwhile I sat down on the rock, still cool from the night. She was right, it was hard to sit there. Knowing, or rather not knowing what was about to befall you.
Jane looked at me, but she had nothing to say. I had nothing to say either. But we shared something profound. No doubt there had not been two sacrifices together, ever.
They returned, talking of the missing sheep. Worrying and fretting over the missing sheep.
"It's me," I said.
"Anabella," my father scolded. He had almost given up scolding me along with any other form of punishment.
"I'm the fairest, I may be invisible, but I'm still the fairest."
Jane was by now holding her son, and I heard a sob come from her throat. A few men rushed forward and tied me down. They held me more roughly than they really needed too, of course it was as roughly as they would have need to if I was struggling. But I wasn't struggling. My mother's sobs joined Jane's, except my Mom's sobs were different. They were heart wrenching sobs loud and swift. The shook her whole body and would leave her sick if they went on to long. I know, because I had inherited my mother's intense sobs as well as her intense laughter.
They left without much more ado, and I was left alone. I wished I knew only what would happen to me. Of course, there were guess. Most people thought he ate them. Some thought he married them (or as much as married them without a church of course). Some said both. All the common possibilities were worried out in the first hour, and then stranger and stranger thoughts came to my mind.
My father returned after two hours. My father didn't cry. He hated to hear others cry. He always thought it was the greatest sign of weakness. But he was as close to tears as I had ever seen him. His voice was quiet, "Anabella, why didn't you run?" He walked toward the rock, and untied the ropes.
"Papa, you raised no selfish daughter, I would not trade my own life for yours, and certainly not my one life for the life of a village."
"You are a fool girl. Run, run while you can! Do you know what the beast will do to you?"
"No," I said, my voice sounding strange and childlike, "Do you?"
Papa held me, and he rocked me back and forth. "No, my child, but I doubt it is good. Come with me, no one will know you are in the house."
"I will not live the life of a coward."
"You are important child, you were meant for better things."
My mother and he, they had spent their life on me. They had worked their whole lives that I might have a life of ease and pleasure. And here I was throwing it away. Throwing it away for a cause.
"This village is important, and hunger is a slow way to die."
"Would that we never asked the fairy to come at all. We wanted better things for you my child, and we got the worse."
"You did no wrong. Don't blame yourself. Blame the pixie, blame the beast, blame bad luck, but do not blame yourself."
He said nothing.
"Do you hear me?" I asked.
"You must leave," he pleaded, "My heart will break if you do not leave."
"Yes father," I said and marched away. He looked the way my footsteps went and sighed, but he was not fooled. Still he left and returned to the city, heart heavy, and I returned to my rock. The rock was warm now, warmed by the midday sun. It was hard to stay on it. Hard when I knew that I could leave if I wanted to now without chains. I laid there all day. Imagining and planning for the horrors I would soon endure.
Night feel, and by now the terror was unbearable. Fear is perhaps the second strongest of all emotions, after grief. Fear, fear almost as strong as physical pain by this time. I saw him first from a long way off, a mere shadow on the hills at the horizon. He grew closer, and I was shocked by the humanlike walked. I don't know what I expected when they said Beast, but I assure you it was not this. When he was only a dozen feet from me I saw closely that he was more than humanlike, he was indeed a human.
He was tall, about six two I would guess, but he was not so tall that he was not a human. He was hairy, but not furry like a beast. It was human hair alright, hair like many men have on back and arms. Only there was much more of it, and it was much longer. It covered every inch of his body that I could see save the palms of his hand. His face was covered with a tangled mess of hair, and the hair of his head grew to the middle of his back. All of his hair was black, and long, and matted. But beast was still a misleading term. He was human, as human as I was (perhaps more so, being visible), merely a hairy human.
He came closer, and stood near the rock. I wanted to run, I wanted to escape. Somehow it would be less terrifying if only he were not so humanlike. I had been expecting a monster, a horror, a beast, and I saw instead a man.
"You may not be able to see me, but I am the fairest in the land," I said faintly.
"I see you, Bella," he said.
I looked at him startled, believing him for a moment, but then he groped awkwardly in my direction, and I knew he possessed no supper human sight. I allowed my arm to brush his, and he followed it down to my wrist. This he held gently, but firmly. I was relieved no more to have the choice to run away, moral battle is wearing when it is constant
When you are invisible you are touched a lot. People have an urge to know where you are so they reach for you, they bump into you, they sit on you,they grope you face to try to make mental pictures of what the most beautiful in all the land looks like. In short human contact was something I was used to, and it affected me on the whole less than most humans. But this was different, when my arm touched the soft hairs of his arm, I knew I was being touched. When he grasped my wrist I was conscious of each of his fingers. What's more, I didn't feel manhandled as I usually did as such touch. Instead, it felt good, gentle and good.
"Come," he said, and I noticed his voice was unused to speech. Like your voice is first thing in the morning, but even more unused. I thought of this man all alone in the hills, and I pitied him.
"Where are we going?" I asked obediently standing and following, grateful for the full moon's light upon the uneven ground.
"We are going," he said.
"Will you give the sheep back?" I asked.
"I have the fairest," he responded.
"What are you going to do with me?" I asked.
"It is better you not know," he said with a sigh, and I saw guilt and pain in his eyes and fear seized my heart. Here I was walking, willingly walking, off with this human. I had been prepared for a beast. I had thought that the beast would be some animal that would throw me over his shoulder, carry me into the woods, mate with me, and murder me. That I had feared but been prepared for. Here, looking at this man, somehow made it worse. The reality of the situation began to dawn on me, and I realized that I did not want him to mate with me, that I did not want that to happen even more than I did not want to die. The fact that he was human, made it all seem more real. Still I matched my pace to his, because I would rather walk to my doom than be carried to it.
"What is your name?" I asked.
"The Beast," he replied in that gruff voice unused to speech.
"Surely your parents wouldn't have named you the Beast," I replied.
"They did not, just as yours didn't name you Beauty, but none the less those are our names."
I bit my lip remembering he had called me Bella, and that in the language of one of our neighbors that word did mean Beauty. "My name is Annabella," I corrected.
He snorted, "You parents named you Annabella, but that is not your name."
"I don't understand," I replied.
He indicated with his head to take the left hand path with we reached a fork.
Suddenly a thought occurred to me. This man was young, perhaps he had reached the age of thirty, though I guessed closer to twenty five. The Beast must be older, must have existed in the long time before our elders were born.
"You are not the only Beast to haunt these hills," I said.
"You see more than most Beauties," he replied.
"Is there only one at a time, or are there many?" Perhaps there is a whole race, and each only is allotted only one sacrifice.I said grasping the new idea that I might be a wife for this man forever. This idea bothered me less than the others. After all my invisibility had evaporated my hope of marriage. I didn't know the Beast well, but he was kinder and gentler than the man of my village, and my invisibility didn't seem to bother him.
"There is only one Beast now," he replied.
My heart sank, if I was to be a wife, than I would only be one wife of many. That was not a life I would enjoy, but to save my village I would.
We walked on for a long time in silence, each of my attempts at communication being brought to a screeching halt by a single word or sentence from his mouth. I managed to learn little. Every once in a while he would take a glance at the air which hid me as if he were searching for something.
Finally after a particularly long pause he said, "You have no idea of your own beauty do you?"
"No one has ever seen my face," I paused, "Or body."
He smiled, "You choose you words wisely, for there are different kinds of beauty, I supposed since it is your physical beauty which determined your fate you ought to see it, at least once."
He drew a small hand held mirror from a pocket inside his worn jacket. It was a real mirror, glass one, something I'd never seen before, "Mirror, mirror in my hand, show me what Bella looks like."
The mirror swirled, and revealed a truly gorgeous creature. He used his free hand put the mirror in my hand he still held by the wrist with his other hand , and it disappeared. He looked confused.
I felt the warmth coming to my cheeks, the warmth that would have been a blush if invisibility could turn red, "Could you hold it for me? When I hold small things…"
"They becoming invisible," he finished, he took the mirror from my hand, and held it before my face. I took my free hand, and felt my face to confirm that this was really me. The nose, the lips, the eyes, all seemed to match. This creature, this person, had beauty beyond anything I had ever seen before. Curly bond hair circling about a well shaped heart face. Deep blue eyes intense, clear, and beautiful. Deep red lips. Flawless skin, and something else I couldn't quite identify which pulled it all together.
"That can't be me," I stammered.
"Oh, it isn't you Bella" he said with soft rippling laughter, "but it is what you look like," he said as he shoved the mirror back into its pocket, and continued to walk.
"What else can the mirror show you?"
"It shows whatever you ask for, if you are wise enough in your asking it can show you anything."
"What does that mean?"
"It means the mirror shows you what you say, not what you mean."
"I think most people mean what they say," he laughed, a strangely delightful laughter. "What is so funny?" I asked.
"People rarely mean what they say OR say what they mean," he said with a chuckle.
"They are quite different," I said, "I guess I proved your point."
He walked on quietly for a bit, "How did you come to be so wise?" I asked.
He looked toward the air which hid me, a bit startled, "Wise?" He pondered, "No one has ever called me wise before."
"If someone talked to you for more than a minute they must have noticed it." At his hurt look I wanted to suck the words back into my mouth, although I didn't understand why there were offensive.
"Sorry," I said looking down.
"I don't often get much conversation, and you are far more talkative than my average beauty," he said gruffly.
"I'm sorry, you would prefer silence," I said.
"I never said that, and you ought to be who you are even if no one likes it."
"That is an unusual thought."
He laughed, a bitter cold laugh, not the chipper one he'd laughed before, "It's bad enough that humans spend their whole lives trying to force everyone else to be exactly as they are. When the fail, they force themselves to be exactly as others are. So much uniqueness in the world, and you are, "all as much alike pins on a paper, with as much true sense and sentiment in your heads as well." I was startled, never before had someone else talked about the deep secrets of humanity. That had always been something I'd kept safe, inside of my head.
"What was that last thing, it was beautiful?" I asked.
"It's from a book that is not written yet. But a person known as Alcott."
"How can you read a book that has not been written yet?" He didn't respond. So I changed the subject, "I wish I was free from wanting people to like me as you are."
He smiled, a sad, calm smile, "I am not at all free from the desperate seek for approval, and you are much freer from it than most."
I suddenly realized what all of that meant. If, he did after all care what people thought of him, it must be a painful world for him indeed.
I turned the hand that he lightly held by the wrist. He held it so lightly I could easily turn it. I slowly, and gently rubbed his hand. The hair tickled my fingers, I wanted to pull away, but I didn't. He looked at me as if he could see the look in my eyes. So well, that for a moment I wondered if he could.
"You pity me?" he asked.
Pity was such a harsh word, I didn't want to agree, but my silence did it for me.
"It has been a long time since I have been pitied," he said, "There is something good in it, but it stings."
"I'm sorry," I said quietly.
"You apologize too much Bella."
We walked until the night was nearly gone. Then he paused at a cave. He led me in, and I expected him to follow. Suddenly my terror overwhelmed the noble sacrifice I was intending. I had been willing to be his wife. But suddenly the thought of having my wifely duties begin right now, on the floor of a cave, when I knew neither the man before me, nor on what conditions I would continue to exist when the act was finished, with all those thoughts a terror beyond all comprehension overcame me. Self preservation is a strong impulse, noble intend can not quite concur it. I flung myself at the far wall, preparing to use my invisibility to evade his advances. But he didn't enter after me, he simply rolled the rock over the cave entrance, keeping his hand over the entrance to prevent my escape.
I was shocked when I was left alone. It was like a reprieve, but if felt like a temporary reprieve. He fell into a corner and cried until all my tears were gone. After that I continued to cry for a while. Dry empty sobs which wracked my stomach with fear. It was my mother's sobs. The ones which made me think my diaphragm will burst. It makes my head pound, my eyes dry, and my stomach stretch.
That done, crying over, I assessed my situation. Besides the pain I'd caused myself by crying, so far I had suffered nothing but what my own imagination had done. The cave was as pleasant enough, for a cave. There was straw covering half the room, and some blankets sprawled over it. The walls were bare, and the slate slab of a floor dusty. In one corner there was a jar which contained a mixture of berries, meat, and nuts. Next to it was a jug of water. In another corner there was a stick.
Few outfits I owned had embroidery. All the people of my country loved embroidery, and everything they owned was covered in it. It was a sign of wealth, the more embroidery the higher your social status. My invisibility had prevented me from ever becoming an accomplished needle worker myself, relying on feeling alone. I had worn little of it as well, saving my parents the extra cost since no one could tell if I was decorated or not. But that day I had worn a gown with a bit of flare around the hems. I gingerly pulled one of the threads, and fastened myself a broom by using the thread to tie the straw around the stick. I swept one side, and then made a bed pallet with half the straw and blankets. Then I swept the other side and made a pallet just like it as far from the first as possible. I had some hopes that small hint would protect me.
Then I laid down and tried to sleep. No sleep came. I tried to reason with myself, I didn't know how long until he came back. If what I thought would happen to me did happen I would probably not sleep well for a while. Still no sleep came.
He returned, guarding the door with his hand. My whole body tensed up. He entered, "I see you made our beds."
Did you give my people back their sheep?" Before he could answer, I realized how foolish it was. I had just reveled my position to him. I moved quickly.
I tripped as I ran.
"Are you ok?" he asked.
He groped the floor, and tried to grab my hand. I snapped it away from him, pressing myself hard against the wall, emitting a dry hard sob. His mouth fell open at the shock of it.
"Bella, you don't have to fear that from me, ever." I believed him, and I relaxed. Using the sound of my breath he found and stroked me check.
"Then tell me what you will you do to me."
"Bella," he said looking away, "I will not hurt you, and I will take from you, at least, nothing which you hold dear."
"What will you take from me?" He asked, and his shameful guilty face scared me. For he had done me no harm yet, so he was feeling guilt for something that was still to happen.
He looked at the place where I was and said, "'Imagined trouble is often just as hard to deal with as real trouble,' Tomorrow I will take from you your beauty."
"That is all, afterword you may leave" he said with a laugh.
"There is no need to lie," I sighed.
"Why do you accuse me of lying?" he asked more confused than hurt. "Well, if I wouldn't be believed I don't think I can do much about it. Try to get some sleep, by this time tomorrow you will be free. Which bed would you prefer?"
"Either, did you free the sheep?"
"Will I be believed if I answer?" he asked sprawling himself on the nearest cot.
"Yes," I said.
"I set them all free." He examined the air which hidme "Why did you believe this, and not the other?"
"If you let the beauties free, they would have returned. No Beauty had ever returned."
"They were ashamed to come back without their beauty."
"Surly all those girls were not that silly."
He laughed again, "Sixteen is very young,"
"Do you mean me or them?" I asked.
He sat up and looked toward the air which hid me, "You are very old for sixteen."
I almost fell asleep, but then I said, "Beast,"
"Yes, Bella," he responded.
"You are not what I expected at all."
He laughed his wonderful laughter, "I'm relieved to hear that Bella."
The morning I woke to the sound of a song slow and soft and up and down and long, "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar," suddenly the song broke off and was replaced by a large rock rolling away from the entrance to the cave. He guarded against my exit with a hand holding a picture of fresh water.
"Good morning," I said softly.
"Glad to see you up," he said.
"Are we about ready to move out?" I asked.
He set the picture down to roll the stone above the entrance, "You can wash up and have breakfast first."
"You've already eaten?" I asked.
"Yeah, there is some penamin in the corner," he said indicating with his hand. That simple jester fielded me with longing. Pointing was something I would never be able to do.
"Penamin?" I asked.
"Travel food, not so tasty, but keeps your energy up."
I nodded walking to the basin, I scrubbed my hands, and my face. Then I undid my braid, running my fingers through my hair until it was all straight, and then tying it back into a tight braid.
The beast watched me, or rather the effect I had on the water, and the air which hid my movements. When I moved to the other side of the cave and had my breakfast. I think my elaborate washing cause the Beast shame. He began scrubbing at his face, and hands. Then he bashfully took out a brush, giving apologetic glances at the air which hid me before he brushed out the hair on his head and body. I didn't understand that, perhaps it was because he hadn't offered me the use his hair brush.
I had taken much more time over trying to look good than I ever had before. It was partly because, for the first time in my life I realized I was beautiful. I mean I had been told that all my life. But I had never really realized it before. The second reason was for the first time in my life it actually mattered what it looked like, because, for the first time in my life I knew that someone else could see me.
At long last my belly was full, I took one last swig of water. Penamin was not good tasting, but it was certainly filling, especially when water is involved. The Beast finished brushing his hair, and slipped the brush into his pocket. "Ready?" he asked.
I nodded. Even a lifetime of invisibility did not prevent such jesters. After all I saw them so often, "Yeah, I am ready," I said.
He stuck his hand toward me awkwardly, and I realized what the problem was. He wanted to grab my wrist, but he didn't want to grab anything else. More reason to believe him when he'd told me I had no fear of him taking anything from me but my beauty. To end his awareness I put my own hand on his arm by the elbow. He smiled at me gratefully, and slid his hand up slowly until he had me once again around the wrist.
"You know I wouldn't run away," I said.
He cocked his ear toward me. Already he was learning that if he wanted information on what I was thinking he had to get it from my voice alone. You don't know how important body language is unless you are forever cut off from speaking the true language of human kind. "I don't believe you would escape, but I'm sure it would be more pleasant for you to be untortured by the chance of escape."
I gasped, in less than a day this man knew me better than anyone save my mother ever had. He laughed at the gasp. "I have had beauties before, once in a while one of them was brave, though none so brave to stay on a rock untied."
We walked mostly in silence, but unlike the day before I was already learning to enjoy the silence. The Beast said nothing unless he said something very important or very wise.
We had traveled farther away from Candella than I had ever been. I had gone above the alms a few times on, something most in my village could not say. But this was two days walkaway. No one in Candella knew what was this far away. It was practically the end of the Beast set his feet upon a path. I stopped cold, I saw a small eye like thing hanging from a tree. The symbol of witches.
"Come on," he said.
"A witch lives there."
"If you want magic you must see a witch."
"I suppose you would need that in order take beauty from me, but are you sure she's safe?"
He laughed that delightful laugh he had, "Of course she's safe, she's a witch not a dragon."
"Are there such things as dragons?" I asked suddenly excited.
"I have never seen one," the Beast said.
I saw why he laughed at me the second that I met Miram. He ran out of the house,
"You're late, you're late, for a very important date, no time to say hello goodbye, you're late, you're late, you're late," she said bounding down the path towards us.
"I'm sorry, there was some confusion about which one I wanted this time," the Beast said.
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of the wall," she replied.
"But I have the mirror, and they don't," the Beast replied.
"They have eyes to see, but do not see." she said looking at his hand grasping my invisible wrist.
"Yes, I'm sorry," he said, "This is Bella."
She squinted at the air which hid me, "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye."
"No one understands her at first," he said apologetically.
But I did understand, "Thank you ma'am but you appraise me too highly."
She studied me, "do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today."
"Yes, I suppose delay will not make it easier." I said. She smiled at me, and we walked inside.
I didn't know what I was expecting, but I did think it would involve some sort of pain. On the contrary they gestured me to sit down by the table. She held a box, said some words in another language, than she stood up and replaced the box on the shelf.
"Both wisdom and ignorance cause courage," she said turning the beast.
But I answered her, "I know what you did, but I was not using my beauty."
"To be born in a duck's nest, in a farmyard, is of no consequence to a bird, if it is hatched from a swan's egg.," she said with a smile. Then her face grew somber, "It is better to give than to receive."
She took a necklace from the shelf next to the box.
"Even in your world that are not what stars are, it is merely what they are made of," she said.
"So this is a star?" she shook her head, and looked at the Beast.
"She's saying it is more than it appears to be," he translated. I smiled gratefully at him.
"So what does it do?" I asked.
"What is a color?" she said.
"Surly you know what a color is?" I asked, although I found it surprisingly hard to define it myself.
"But the rubies that reach the surface of the planet are dead rubies. The live ones you can eat," I looked at her, than I looked at the Beast.
"I know what you are saying, but I don't know what the necklace does," he said with apology laced in his voice. She pounded the table in frustration.
"I'm sorry," he said his voice laced with true sorrow.
"I think that human knowledge is essentially active," she replied calmed.
"Ok," he said, "What do I do?"
She put the necklace over her neck, "and then he laid his hands upon the chalice."
He took the necklace in his fingers, and stared for a long moment at her.
"What's happening?" I said feeling very left out.
He turned instead to her with a wide smile, "What is a color?," he repeated with a slight chuckle.
"What did it do?" I asked in frustration.
"It allows you to see, to see…" he was obviously stuck.
"There is a region of the brain which has no mate," she supplied.
"The soul, I just saw your soul?"
She tilted her head from side to side, "There were once two rivers the Tigris and Euphrates, and they flowed together."
"I just saw our souls combining," he said in amazement.
"What did it look like?" I asked in shock.
"Colors, swirls, waves, current, and shreds," he said.
He looked at her with worry, and she shook her head, "Nothing lasts forever."
"I'm lost," I admitted.
"I thought, I thought the union might be lasting," the Beast said, his voice edged with worry.
"It makes seen the things which are not seen," she said.
"So those unions occur anyway?"
She shook her head, and sighed. "Do not grow weary."
"I know it is hard work, but the only other way would be to stop talking, and you said you wouldn't do that again. Do these light shows show us something that happens all the time?" He asked.
"The letters could only be read in the moonlight, but the shimmering moonlight changes the letters."
"I understand, it is showing me the connection between us, but without it the connection would be different."
She smiled, "If a tree falls in the forest does it make a noise?" Then she turned to me, "Her face could launch a thousand ships," she said.
"You're giving me this because I was beautiful?" I asked.
"But the box of beauty was worth a hefty price" She replied.
"You're paying me? You paying me for taking my beauty?"
"Do not a borrower nor a lender be," he whispered almost to herself.
"I told you before I wasn't using it, you can have my beauty." She shook her head, and then grabbed my hand without much floundering. She was good at guessing where my whole body was from the sound of only my voice, better than anyone but my mother. Into it she put the necklace.
"You will need these gifts for your journey," she as growing in aggravation. The Beast tapped me.
"I thank you for your kindness," I said.
I turned to leave, and she grabbed my face gently in her hands, "Jacob I have loved," she said.
"Essau I have hated," The Beast said.
She shook her head violently, "Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest is Love."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean you hated anyone, sometimes I just can't help finishing a quote," He said.
She smiled at him, "to error is human…"
He smiled back, "to forgive is divine."
"How successful was it?" He asked looking at her.
"Psyches box is closed still," she said.
"When will it be opened?" He prompted.
She looked at him with pain in her heard, "She has lifted the lantern to see his face,"
He signed, "And he flew away."
She nodded, "It will be a long time until he sees her again."
I thought I saw a tear come from The Beast's eyes. "Thank you," he said slipping a packet into her hand.
She smiled at it, "Man does not live on bread alone."
He smiled, "But on every word that comes from the mouth of God."
She smiled again, and touched his face, "Parting is such sweet sorrow."
"It'll be a bit longer than morrow before I see you again Miriam," The Beast said sadly.
"He will bring into the light the things which the darkness hides," she said to me.
"Who will?" I asked.
"He who gives life to the dead, and brings into existence the things which do not exist," she said.
"Who is that?" I prompted.
"If you knock he will answer, if you seek you will find," and though she was calm, I was beginning to feel her frustration.
"I don't understand," I said.
"She can't say his name," The Beast said so softly she had to lean forward to hear..
Mariam sighed deeply, "A time, time, and half a time." He smiled, and patted her back.
"It was nice to meet you Mariam," I said.