Friday, December 23, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday: "The Prince and The Rose", Part 3

"The Prince and The Rose": >>Part 1<< >>Part 2<<

Part 3

Charmaine alighted at the gate in front of the towering Haunted Castle. All the stories she had heard about this place leaped to the forefront of her mind and swirled there, like the fog around her ankles and leaching from the windows—or were those ghosts?

Charmaine shook her head and fixed her gaze squarely on the doors of the castle. She willed herself to think of only getting inside the castle. The breeze whipping past her increased, bringing a chill to whatever exposed skin it touched. She pushed on the heavy door, and it creaked open. 

"Hello?" She called into the stillness. Somehow the sound of her own voice in the dead quiet brought comfort, because it meant that she wasn't dreaming. "Beas—I mean, Prince Raul?" She spoke, traveling deeper still. "It is I, Charmaine—daughter of Marius." She made it through the dark, damp entryway, and into the massive ballroom that took up half the palace. Streamers hung like spectral shrouds from the ceiling, and the furniture lay cast about, many pieces raked and rent as if by massive claws.

Charmaine stopped in awe. So this was where it all began; the party she didn't get invited to—the one that had ended so badly for everyone.

A golden flicker caught her eye. In the black shadows of evening, the flame of a candle stood out like an inviting beacon. Charmaine scurried toward it.

A candle indeed burned in the hallway outside—a whole candelabra full, but who had lit them? Alcoves punctuated the long stone wall, and in each, a gilded stand of candles lit the way. Charmaine shivered at an errant gust, but followed the candles to a massive parlor, where a fire burned in the hearth, and a warm blanket draped over a soft couch. Beside the couch, there stood a table laden with a warm meal: a tureen of soup and a crusty loaf of bread, with a steaming pot of tea besides. Charmaine immediately sat on the couch and spread the blanket over her shoulders. The soup was delicious, and warmed her all over—but where had it come from? Charmaine set down her bowl and reached for the teakettle.

A flurry of movement caught the corner of her eye. She whirled to face it, almost knocking the teapot off its stand—but all she saw next to the hearth rug were a pair of slippers that had certainly not been there moments before. Intrigued, Charmaine kept the blankets wrapped around her as she padded over to trade her tired, pinching shoes for the soft, cozy slippers. Her feet fit perfectly into them. She stared in amazement at the ornate stitching, till the clink of dishes distracted her. She looked up at the table.

The magical meal, with its tasty food and pristine dishes, had vanished. Not even the crumbs are left. Charmaine blinked hard and rubbed her eyes, only realizing in that moment just how tired she was. She gave a loud, noisy yawn and stretched. Still, the only thing that moved in the room were the dancing flames in the hearth and on the candles.

"I suppose I ought to have a bed to sleep in!" She announced to her unseen host.
With a series of soft "poofs", the candles down another hallway illuminated. Charmaine held the blanket close and shuffled in the slippers. Once again, following the candles she made her way through the dark castle. 

Up a curving flight of stairs to a tower, and through a doorway, she arrived in a spacious room. There again was a roaring fire, and lavish bedclothes—but not another soul to be found.
Char dropped the blanket and changed out of her dress, slipping on the nightgown instead.
"Why," she gasped aloud. "Maybe this castle isn't haunted—maybe it's enchanted!"
It certainly seemed that way. Perhaps, if the enchanted castle favored her well enough, she would not have to so much as glimpse the Beast Prince before the spell ended. Charmaine settled into the soft bed and snuggled under the covers. She would be doing a lot of exploring the next day.

That night, Charmaine dreamed that she was home. She woke in her own bed to find her father standing next to her, apologizing profusely for the whole thing. Felice came in shortly after that, bringing with her a tall man whose face remained indistinguishable, no matter how hard she tried to see it. Charmaine felt excitement; this had to be the prince! She had never seen what he looked like as a man—now she would get her chance! She could hear him talking, but his face seemed always just out of view. Suddenly, he stopped talking and walked out of the room.
"No, wait!" Char cried, leaping after him—

Then the dream ended and she sat up in bed, wearing unfamiliar clothes—in the Beast Prince's castle. Charmaine huffed. Not even the small plate of cookies and milk on her bedside table could cheer her up after that disappointing vision.
"You had better help me be able to find a way to break the spell without seeing the Beast!" She announced to the whole castle.

Once out of bed, she glanced at her old dress. There would be no wearing it without her corset, and she could not get her corset on by herself. 
Charmaine sighed as her eyes slid to the wardrobe in the corner. Perhaps...

She strode to the wardrobe and flung open the doors. Such a fount of bright, rich fabrics graced her eyes! She even found several styles with front-lacing bodices—a bit out-of-date, but definitely nothing she would be ashamed to wear! 
"Now this is the sort of thing I like!" She cried happily, slipping on one of the dresses. 

Suitably attired, she left the room and went back down the stairs. This time, she noticed a few doors open. One led to the library, a spacious room lined with books of every sort, and high windows letting in brilliant sunshine. A pianoforte graced the dais at one end of the room.

Charmaine sniffed and closed the door. "None of that boring stuff, thank you! Stupid stories full of sloppy romance or dull histories—most definitely not for me!" She announced to the castle.

The next door led to the sun parlor, where a delicious breakfast awaited her on a small table. Charmaine sat down and helped herself, remarking to the empty room how delicious everything was. Once she finished, the young woman set about seeing what else she could find in the castle. 

Down another hall and up a flight of stairs, Charmaine discovered a sight that made her squeal with joy: an entire room of dresses and accessories, hats and boots of all sorts. 
"Now this will keep me happy, even if I have to stay here forever!" She cried. She spent hours trying on the dresses, parading in front of the mirrored wall where she could admire herself from every angle. At last, she tired of changing dresses and decided to see what else she could find. It pleased her to live so much like a princess, without having to deal with the monstrous occupant. 

"I'm lucky this castle's enchanted!" She mused, as she meandered across the great hall to another tower. "Father really has no idea what an opportunity he passed up! He must feel awful by now, thinking I am up here in terror, absolutely miserable!" She laughed. "Serves him right!"

She found a door slightly open down the hallway. Peeking inside, she saw no fire, no finery; it was altogether a miserable space. She almost closed the door again and moved on—but a rosy glimmer caught her eye. Charmaine stopped and peeked in a second time. On a lonely table sat a solitary rose, standing in a vase under a glass cover. It was so beautiful, Charmaine had to get a closer look. She glided forward, mesmerized by the glorious sight. When she was close enough to touch the table, she noticed something.

"That's odd!" She remarked, merely because she had developed the habit of doing so, "There's no water in the vase! No, it's silly, really," she snorted. "It's probably why it's wilting. The stupid beast has no idea—"

Just when she was in the act of taking the cover off, a ferocious growl issued right behind her.
Charmaine felt her heart seize in her throat—and it made her angry to be so terrified of something that she hoped would not dare risk hurting her.

"Stop right there, Beast!" She said, not daring to turn her head and look at him. "Yes, it's me, the girl who's been handed to you as a sacrifice—so if you hurt me, you'll never get another chance to break the spell! Now BACK. AWAY!"

The growl came, low and sustained, but it faded as he did what she asked. Charmaine felt the thrill of power coursing through her as she released the cover and let her hands drop to her sides.

"I'm guessing that's the rose the fairy gave you, isn't it?" Charmaine continued, waiting till she heard him grunt in confirmation. "We've all heard the story—goodness knows the poor provincial town hasn't had anything else happen worth talking about in the last year! I'll make you a deal: you don't bother me, and I don't touch your rose. If you get anywhere close to me, I will take this rose and run far away to watch it die, knowing that you'll never get what you want—But," she went on, as the growling behind her intensified, "if you do stay out of my way, and if I feel like it, maybe at some point I will decide to help you break the spell. Do we have a deal?" 

The beast stopped growling and grunted once.

Charmaine felt the flush of pride—tempered somewhat when she realized that, with the beast standing behind her, there was no way to leave the room without seeing him. 

"I'm going to leave now," she said. "I am going to close my eyes and walk out of here. Remember our deal!"

She heard his heavy panting, but he made no move. Her nerves were strung just about to their breaking point as she closed her eyes and slowly turned. Placing one foot in front of the other, Charmaine edged toward where she remembered seeing the door.

Behind her, the beast grunted and growled at her, but Charmaine fought to ignore the unsettling noise as she concentrated on getting out of the room. 

A heavy object landed on her shoulder, and she felt a sharp pain as she wrenched away. Her eyes flew open—it was the Beast, reaching out his claws toward her!

Charmaine nearly tripped over the squat statue right in front of her, but she threw her arms over her head. 

"Get away!" She whined, flailing and charging. One of his claws connected with her face and arm, a stinging slash in her terrified retreat. "Ugh! You're so ugly!" Shrieked Charmaine, nearly tripping over her billowing skirts to get away from him. Once safely out of the room, Charmaine didn't stop running till she returned to her room. In the tall mirror, she surveyed the damage: blood dripped down her cheek and arm. The dress she wore had ripped in a few places, more from her terrified struggle than the Beast himself. The pain finally registered, and she burst into tears. "YOU HURT ME!" She shouted for him to hear. "THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT! YOU MONSTER! I WILL NEVER LOOK AT YOU AGAIN!"

She heard something scrape against the stone floor outside the door. Opening it, Charmaine found a bowl of water and clean bandages. She cleaned her face and wrapped her arm, but the damage was done. There was no hope of returning to her beautiful self now. 

Charmaine spent a miserable night dreaming of her encounter with the beast, and when she awoke in the morning and checked the mirror, there it was: a wide pink scar on her perfect face. 
This was completely not what she planned. Deal or none, curse or none, she was going home. "And none of you better stop me!" She shouted to the enchanted room as she wrapped her cloak around her shoulders and swept down the stairs.

At the bottom of the tower, she emerged into the great hall—and nearly collided with the Beast. 
"Oh!" She gasped, jumping back as if he would reach out and scratch her again.

But how could he? At the moment, his huge paws with their vicious claws were full of a tray set with the same breakfast she had eaten the previous morning. Charmaine's mouth and eyes jerked wide open as she realized what this meant.

"YOU?" she gasped. "This whole time—the castle... it can't be!" She felt the sobs rising in her thrust again as her emotions spiraled out of control. "NO!" She slumped to the floor, weeping. "There... there is no enchanted castle, is there?" She glanced around. "I'm alone here... with you."

The Beast bobbed his shaggy head as if nodding. He held out the tray to her, but Charmaine scrambled to her feet. "Absolutely not!" She said. "I will never accept anything from you! Stay away from me, you monster!" She ran toward the outer courtyard, headed for the gate that led to freedom—

But the gate was nowhere to be found.
Charmaine stopped and looked from one corner to the other. She ran to every corner and searched the entire perimeter, but all she could see was one continuous wall. 
"NO!" She screamed. "NO! NO! NO!"

Charmaine ran back inside, back to her tower. The Beast had left the tray of breakfast outside her room. Charmaine ran inside and threw herself at the window, but it was no use. She could still see the unbroken wall, so high she could barely see the woods on one side, and the impossible precipice on the other. She was trapped with the Beast, in a castle not enchanted, but abandoned. There was no way out. She couldn't be sure if she would ever see her father or the rest of the town ever again. 

Charmaine crumpled to the floor and sobbed.

Further Reading:
-"Heartsong" (A 7-Part Story)
-"Arthur and The Egg"
-"The Glow" (A 3-Part Story)

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