Bête stepped out onto the balcony that overlooked the verdant grounds. The cold wind bit at the matted fur that covered her hands. She placed her clawed nails on the cold stone of the balcony and tapped them melodically. She looked at the world below. The overgrown, dilapidated ruin that had once been her family’s estate. Then, on the edge of her vision, something brown crept into the lush greens of her garden. A creature had appeared in her family home. A trespasser.
Time is running out. This could be our chance.
Bête rushed back inside. She crossed through the tattered ruins of her room. She crossed past the enchanted rose that wilted slowly, reminding her that the clock was always ticking. She ran down empty corridors, past stoic shining armour. She exited the large oak doors of the estate and barged into the sunlight. She stalked through the garden until at last the figure came into view. A man, old and fat, had made his way into her estate on a large brown horse. He had now dismounted and was smelling the luscious red roses of the garden.
Bête lurked amongst the bushes until she was hidden completely within one. She gazed at the old man who was rummaging through her garden. He had plucked nothing yet, and so would be spared … for now. The old man then fixed his eyes on the most precious, most scarlet rose in the entire garden and firmly plucked it from its place. Bête sprung from her hiding place to confront the old man.
‘Why do you pilfer my garden so?’ Bête demanded.
The old man quivered.
‘It is for my daughter. She asked that I return from my journey with a beautiful rose. I stumbled upon your estate by accident and hoped to take a rose from your beautiful garden,’ the old man explained.
Bête’s mind raced. A daughter.
‘Your daughter appreciates beauty?’ Bête asked, preening herself.
The old man shook in affirmation.
‘Then take the rose. Give the rose to your daughter as a gift from me. Then bring your daughter back here. If you do not follow my instructions, then I will stalk you in the night and rip you limb from limb,’ Bête explained, placing a clawed hand on the old man’s shoulder.
The man ran back to his horse and fled from the estate. Bête retreated back to her home and waited.
The man returned the next day with his daughter in tow. He knocked against the oak doors. The doors opened of their own accord. Bête watched from the shadows. She observed the old man’s daughter. A beauty who appreciated beauty. Bête emerged from her hiding place and confronted the pair of humans.
‘I am glad that you kept to our deal, old man,’ Bête said menacingly.
‘It was better than dying,’ the old man admitted.
Bête roared with laughter, throwing her head back. She then turned her attention towards the old man’s daughter.
‘Forgive my crude cordialities. I have been alone with my thoughts for so long,’ she explained.
They looked into each other’s eyes and Bête hoped that what she saw was kindness. Then, her father interrupted.
‘Beast, I have done as you asked. Now permit us to leave,’ the old man requested, stepping between his daughter and Bête.
‘Please, stay with me for a meal. Give me this one kindness,’ she asked.
The father began to bluster.
‘Of course,’ the daughter accepted.
Bête led the guests to the dining room. Bête sat the lady and her father at one of the dusty table and she sat at the other. Soon the dust was swept away as if by invisible hands. The wood shone beneath. Then platters of food seemed to wander through the air and land on the table. Bête took her favourite goblet and filled it with wine.
‘I don’t believe I caught your name,’ Bete enquired.
‘Nor I yours. I am Belle’ the daughter responded.
‘Pierre,’ the father smiled, a piece of pork already stuck upon his fork.
‘I am Bête. I had another name some time ago but I cannot recall it now,’ she explained.
‘Were you always a beast?’ Belle asked.
Pierre sputtered again, as if to chastise his daughter for her forwardness.
‘No. I was cursed by a vindictive fairy when I was seventeen. That was nine years ago now. What can I say, breakups are always tricky,’ Bête explained.
Between bites, Pierre commented.
‘Funny that. My Belle is about the same age. I’ve warned that she’ll only be marriable for a while longer, but she has rejected every man who desired her affections. Is there a man-beast in your life, Bête?’ Pierre gossiped.
‘Non. No man. You know how particular men can be about hair in the best of cases and well …’ Bête explained, as she indicated her hirsute body. ‘Not to mention that my affection lay elsewhere,’
Bête threw another furtive glance at Belle. Belle seemed to return her gaze with a slight smile on her lips. Pierre seemed to grow wise to the situation as he slowed his chewing on his meat. Pierre grabbed at a napkin and cleared the gravy from his lips. He then began to rise. As he stood, Belle shot up in her place.
‘Belle, I think it’s time we leave,’ he stated.
‘Father, I want to stay,’ she replied, almost immediately.
Pierre sighed. He marched off, in search of the exit. Belle excused herself politely and followed her father demanding that he listen to her.
Eventually, Pierre saw that there was no use in trying to argue his case with her. Belle was to stay. Bête agreed that Belle was permitted to leave whenever she requested. As soon as Pierre departed, Belle bestowed a furtive kiss on Bête’s cheek.
‘What was that for?’ Bête questioned.
‘I suspect you know,’ Belle responded, knowingly.
Belle walked with Bête around the grounds, exploring the once-grand estate. As they walked, they talked. As they talked, Bête fell in love. When they found themselves in the rose garden, Bête stopped Belle and asked her a question.
‘Belle, time is of the essence. Do you love me?’ Bête asked.
Belle placed a hand on Bête’s cheek.
‘I could certainly learn to. You stand a fairer chance than any man in my life, despite your beastly form,’ Belle explained.
Weeks passed and Belle and Bête eased into a domestic bliss. Gradually, the two women tamed the wild environment that the estate had become. Belle revealed her love of books. Their evenings together would often be spent with Belle reading a book while strewn across a chaise lounge. Bête would often sit with Belle’s head on her leg and play with Belle’s hair. The flower slowly wilted and Belle noted that she didn’t care if Bête remained a beast. As she explained: ‘Tis better to be a beast than a beauty in a cruel world’, and thus Bête grew comfortable. That was, until their domestic bliss was interrupted. Belle’s father had returned. This time with a barrel-chested suitor in tow. This was, as Belle explained, one of the men vying for her affections, Avenant.
‘Beast! Relinquish Belle,’ Avenant demanded.
‘Oh? You seem to be under the impression that she is being kept here against her will,’ Bête justified.
Avenant faltered for a second.
‘I … isn’t she?’ Avenant asked.
Bête and Belle shook their heads. Avenant adopted a more cordial posture.
‘Oh, well, you two ladies enjoy your companionship,’ Avenant excused, bowing.
He then turned and left, clutching Pierre’s forearm. As they left, Bête heard Avenant berate Pierre.
‘You lied to me, Pierre. So, what if your daughter loves a cat lady. I’m not getting on the bad side of those fangs and claws. Have you seen this pretty face? That’s the money maker. Let the spinsters live in peace’
Avenant ranted at Pierre as they made their way through the empty hall and exited through the large oak doors. Belle and Bête were left in peace from that moment on.