We say that it is romantic that a selfless beauty would choose to marry an ugly beast out of the kindness of her heart and out of love.

But you do not name yourself.

For why would a beauty call herself Beauty and why would a beast call himself Beast? They are names christened to them based on their outwardly appearances in a world, I suppose, filled with shallow people who call others just by what they see. A deadly trap, for what's inside, quite obviously, says more about who you are than the color of your skin or the shape of your nose.

And so I choose to believe, that in another world, this man and this woman were both named not by their looks but by the soul they carried within their bodies. Two souls that met to destroy old beastliness and create new beauty. Two people who came to learn self-sacrifice, healing, and love.

Two: one beauty and one beast.

Chapter One

In Audenland, trees are hard to come by due to the merciless spoilage of the land when kings had ruled with iron fists and Sovereigns had not existed. If one travels westward past the bounteous towns and into the marshes, small austere berry bearing trees could be encountered, straining to stretch feeble fingers toward the sun. These scarlet berries are hard picking, but if the agitating powder that falls from the surrounding leaves when disturbed is not enough to discourage a desirous traveler, its hard metallic taste surely will. Some blamed the death of the trees on the late King Belden whose whim of establishing a city that would hover above Lake Launce resulted in a tragic nonsuccess. Those people were surprised but also did not withhold their belief when magnificent oak trees sprang up from the center of the country a mere year after Belden's death. The oaks, in contrast with the marshy growths no one bothered to name, towered high above all nearby towns and as quickly as news spread of the appearance of a grandiose magical forest, the news of the sudden disappearance of the royal castle reached every ear in Audenland.

I heard of all this from my father, whose own ears are failing but sight and wit seem as keen as ever. As a merchant, he gained most of his wealth from trading overseas. When at the beginning of his profession he left home for months at a time, not only conducting the business but accompanying his ships to foreign lands, he is now prosperous enough to sit in his burgundy armchair warming his joints as servants approach occasionally with ink, quill, and documents to sign. I do not remember a time when he was away on a business trip, for those days also happened before I was born. I am now just past fifteen and nearing an age by which a young girl should be given away. However, in my household, marriage is not an overbearing concern. Both my sisters, Aubrianna and Asceline, who are older than me are yet unmarried despite the attention of many suitors. I believe they are aware that it is impossible to tell, if you are wealthy and comely, if the suitors' intentions are pure or out of material appetite. Even the most honorable of the men know that a handsome dowry is packaged with any one of us. My brothers are naturally scholarly and each is learning his own trade. My father doesn't care to be rid of us, for the manor in which we live is large enough to house ten times the family of our size.

Our house was renamed Rose Red by my mother. Its rich dark wood shines and looks like red velvet when the sun sets on certain days. I could never predict when those days would be but Vern explained to me that when it is cloudy the sun's rays reflect off particles of water in the air so that the sunset turns scarlet. My mother had a natural appreciation for the sunsets. I used to find her on many days sitting on her private balcony, staring into the distance, allowing the glow to surround her, to create halos around her head, to embrace her. She would embrace me, and take me onto her lap where she would whisper wonderful stories about Daphyr the fairy queen. I learned quickly from her how to believe in things that I could not see. I believed in the fairies and that Daphyr was their beautiful queen. No one else in my family quite believed my mother's stories - until they came.

It was a cloudy day. The sky threatened to crack open and pour out a flood yet it did not, as if an invisible force was keeping the rain from falling. My mother seemed tense and murmured to me that strange weather was often an omen. I sat close by as Darrel, Brennon, and Vern played aggressively with chess pieces, the checkered board forgotten and discarded near an armchair. At the time, I was barely more than four years old. When someone pounded on our front doors, I ran to hide behind my mother's skirts and trembled as Rose Red shook. I saw from behind lace and satin my father calmly standing with feet shoulder-width apart and gesturing with one hand for our large front doors to be opened. Next, I heard a boom and a roar of deep jubilant laughter. A well-dressed man entered with an equally splendidly dressed woman. But they were both at least a head taller than my father, who was a fairly large man.

"Thierry! Have you been expecting us?" the man chuckled loudly, not noticing the frightened looks on our faces. "I suppose you weren't. Well, then, might as well lift the spell – the clouds are practically bulging by now. There, now where were we?" The rain was finally pouring outside, so loud that nature's relief could be heard through the pounding of water.

The tall woman smiled benignly, red lips curving slightly. "I am Aurora. He is Haben. Queen Daphyr asked us to pay you a visit." She turned slowly, taking in everything before her. The wide entrance hall with a marble floor, the warmly colored sitting room where my brothers and I were playing, the grand staircase, and the brightly lit dining room, all set for a family dinner, branching out to the left. "Your house is beautiful. Rose Red, isn't she? Interesting that it is made of wood. Possibly built before Belden's rule? Yes…. It's been in the Roswoods family line for decades."

We all watched as she touched a wall of our entrance hall adoringly. Had it been a human caressing the auburn walls, we would have thought she was slightly mad, but from a fairy, the image was breath taking, moral, affectionate. She broke out of her trance and turned to us in her shimmering dress. "Shall we eat?"

"Yes! Thierry, good man, call us to the table, won't you?" Haben chortled, his hands resting on his broad stomach.

Our servants began to move at once, scuttling and bumping into one another. My mother picked me up and carried me into our dining room, festively lit with a candelabrum. No one except Haben and Aurora had spoken since the door was opened. There was a sharp contrast between the animated Haben and serene Aurora and the nervous inhabitants of Rose Red. Fairy visits were rare. No one could foretell their timing or reasons for emerging into the midst of humans but it was agreed upon that fairies should be treated with deference, considering the strength of their magic.

I was fascinated with the fairy Aurora, her otherworldly beauty was striking and I saw that all my siblings were gazing at her, too. Vern, seven at the time, however was obviously very distrustful of the two strangers. He took the place beside me as my mother sat at the other.

"Six! Six, Thierry! This is quite a family here, I'm impressed." Haben beamed at us. "Avalien. We knew you would end up happy."

My mother, who was the only one immensely pleased with the fairies' company, beamed back. "I truly am. Oh, excuse me, Haben, Aurora, you haven't met our children yet!" My mother placed her hand on my head. "This little one's name is Adele. That's Vern, Aubrianna and Asceline, they're twins, and that one's Brennon then our oldest, Darrel."

Aurora's eyes had not left me. "Avalien, you must be proud. They're a handsome group, and Adele…. She's such a pretty thing – if you don't mind me asking, she is an autumn child, isn't she?

That was the end of my memory of our only fairy visit, incredibly detailed for something out of a toddler's mind yet revealing everything and nothing at the same time…. Because they had come to our home for a reason and Aurora had taken an interest in me for a reason, reasons I did not know of until much later, told from the point of view of someone whose memory was clearer and more complete. The knowledge it would reveal will set both my destiny and my identity.