Part 1: "The Prince and The Rose"
"I just cannot understand why I could not have been invited!" Charmaine flounced so that the folds of her silk skirt billowed around her elbows.
"Oh give it a rest, Char!" Felice rolled her eyes as she lounged on the chaise in Charmaine's personal parlor. "All year, you've been harping on it. It wasn't everybody in the kingdom invited to Prince's birthday party."
"You're right," the self-proclaimed Most Eligible Maiden scoffed, "only the richest and most favored citizens received an invitation." She pouted elegantly. "After everything I have done, after all that my father has done, I don't know why it couldn't have been me!"
Felice yawned as she picked through the jewels and pearls displayed prominently on her friend's toilette table. She ended up with a pin topped by a rose cut from a single ruby. "Be glad you weren't there," she chided. "It wasn't like he was going to choose a bride—and then that evil witch showed up and turned him into a horrible beast!"
Char shook her head. "I heard she captured the prince and put the monster there in his place." She flounced onto the floor. "Poor, poor Prince Raul! Of course, I'm going to be the one to figure out how to break the spell; I would do anything for my prince!"
Felice raised her delicate eyebrows. "I heard the only way to break the spell is True Love's Kiss."
Char drew back in horror and grimaced. "Ugh! Kiss an ugly, hairy, slobbery beast?"
Felice smiled. "On the mouth."
Charmaine turned away and put her handkerchief up to her lips as she gagged. "No thank you!"
Her friend stood and moved in behind her. "What happened to doing anything for poor, poor Prince Raul?"
Char whirled around with wide eyes. "You're horrible," she said. "Of course... I... I would, I suppose... Maybe just once, very quickly..." She saw the teasing smirk on Felice's face and huffed. "Anyway, I highly doubt you would be willing to do as much for love!"
"Of course not!" Felice tossed her head. "I will just wait till the lads come running and then take my pick of the plain-looking ones without all the painful baggage of a tragic past."
Charmaine performed a quick pirouette in front of the mirror, admiring the way her skirts radiated around her shapely ankles. "I don't care about his past; he's a prince and the most perfect man alive and he's rich and he will love me and that is all."
A housemaid appeared in the doorway, bobbing her head in respect to the lady of the house.
"Miss? It's you're father, just returned."
Felice sighed and followed her friend out of the spacious bedroom, toward the stairs to the front hall. "All I am saying is that, when it comes down to it, Charmaine, I think you will feel very differently about love."
"Nonsense!" Charmaine proclaimed hotly. "I would do absolutely anything for love!" She scurried after her friend, only to find her father staring up at her, wide-eyed and rather disheveled.
Felice departed, leaving father and daughter to reconnect after his lengthy journey.
"Did you have a nice trip, father?" Charmaine chattered. "I had a rather beastly time without you. The tailor botched my dress again, and they ran out of my favorite Moroccan almonds at the store—and do you know what Venetia has been saying behind my back?"
The elderly man sagged and blinked at her as she prattled. He had a strange light in his eye as he waited till she paused for breath.
"Is it true?" He asked.
Charmaine stopped. "The rumors she has been spreading?" She asked.
Marius shook his head. "No... What you said to Felice; would you really do anything for love?"
Charmaine gave a little cough. "Well, perhaps... I mean, maybe not anything... 'Almost anything' would be nearer to the truth, but you know how these things are—"
"Do you love me, Charmaine?" Marius interrupted her this time. His eyes were wide and darted nervously as he spoke.
She gave a coy little giggle. "Of course I love you; you're my father!"
"Do you trust me enough to do what I ask?"
Rather than commit, the young woman's light demeanor fell and she squinted dubiously. "What did you do? What happened on this trip of yours?"
Marius fidgeted. "Well, on my way home, there was a big storm... I lost the path, but I found it again, and it was really difficult to travel against the wind—"
Fear wrapped its cold fingers around her stomach, creeping upward past the ribs of her corset. "Father," she repeated, "What did you do?"
By now he was babbling almost as earnestly as she had. "I found a gate in the middle of the road, see, and it was open so I just went inside to wait out the storm... I had no idea—"
"Get ahold of yourself!" Charmaine remonstrated her father. "Tell me what you did!"
"I... I might have..." Marius could defend his choice no longer. He sighed. "It was the Haunted Castle, and I had been an unwitting trespasser, and the Beast... The Prince caught me on the premises." He winced at the memory.
Charmaine stared at her father, aghast. "You met him? What was he like?"
"The Beast was fearsome!" He quaked as he said it. "He did not speak, but he made me understand that, as penance for my incursion, I was destined to be his prisoner for life!"
Charmaine detected a discrepancy in the story. "But... You're not his prisoner now, are you?"
Marius shook his head. "I begged him to release me; I told him that I had a family who expected me home, and he permitted me to leave, but only if another person took my place in his castle by nightfall today."
Charmaine glanced at the window, so prominently displaying a glimpse of the lengthening shadows under the golden glow outside. "Well," she turned back to her father with a smirk. "I can't say that I feel very sorry for the poor chap who has to take your place!"
An abrupt and awkward silence filled the room after the unfeeling comment. Marius continued to stare at his daughter, unsure of exactly how to convey the news to her, while it took several minutes for Charmaine herself to begin to realize that his predicament pertained to her more directly than it should have.
She gasped. "Didn't you find someone to take your place before you could leave?"
Marius lifted his hands. "We agreed on someone, but she hasn't reached the palace yet."
The fear traveled higher; it was in her throat now. "She?"
"I knew you have always professed feelings for Prince Raul—"
"Believe me, dearest, if there was any other way—" Marius reached for her hands.
Charmaine slapped away his touch. "No! Don't touch me, you traitor, you lying, selfish, inconsiderate... Man!" She spluttered. "How could you? How could you just send me away like that?" Large, theatrical tears filled her eyes, lending credibility to the fear shaking her whole body at this point. "Your own daughter!" She squeaked.
Outside, the carriage pulled into the lane and the driver ascended the steps.
"All is in readiness, sir," he reported.
Marius tried one more time. "Please, Charmaine, it's for the best. Maybe," he brightened. "Maybe you can be the one to lift the curse!"
"I will do no such thing!" Charmaine sailed out the door with the air of a sacrificial martyr. "For as long as I am exiled to that castle, I swear I will never consent to be in the same room as that monster!" She stopped and turned her head, glancing behind her without looking directly at her father. "And as for you, Father: you can be glad that I am staying at that castle forever, because I will never speak to you again!"
She climbed into the carriage, and with a crack of the driver's whip, commenced the long journey up to the Haunted Castle at the top of the hill overlooking the village.
-"The Glow" (A 3-Part Story)