Tu est belle.
Tu est belle.
Tu est belle.
"He doesn't even know what he's talking about!" she told herself time and again, even going so far as to throw one of the notes into the fire, only to see a new one appear at the next meal. "I'm not beautiful--and neither is he!"
For three days, she moped around by herself, not even bothering to brush her hair most of the time, because what would be the point, if the only person she had to impress was the Beast--and she couldn't care less what he thought!
As the third day faded into evening, Charmaine aroused from her heavy, defeated state enough to realize that, come morning, it would be the end of her second week in the Beast's castle--and she was no closer to freedom than the day her father broke the news to her.
"I'll never escape!" she mourned. "I'm doomed to walk around this big empty castle, avoiding that hideous monster, eating my two solitary meals, until one of us is dead!"
The moment the words left her mouth, she heard a low grunt behind her. In the time it took to turn and look toward the door, Charmaine saw the sloping, ridged back of the Beast, just in the act of walking by the room. A frantic fear beset her--what if he'd caught her outburst? She waited, statuesque, not daring to so much as blink or breathe until the sounds of his claws clacking against the marble faded from her hearing.
She released her breath with a sigh. "If this is going to be my new life," she muttered to herself, "I suppose now is as good a time as any to make the best of it!"
She emerged from her room, checked carefully for any sign of the Beast, and upon finding none, she made her way to the stairs. This time, instead of going to the Great Room and waiting for her supper, as she had done for the past couple days, instead Charmaine decided to change things up. She took a sharp right turn and headed down the hallway that led to the courtyard at the back of the house.
Everything was the same slate-grey stone, from the flagstones to the archways and columns giving a closed-off atmosphere to everything. Charmaine felt her lip instinctively curl at the many large stone vases of dead limbs--or just bare dirt. She noticed as she wandered among the scattered columns that there were certain places that seemed to absorb all sounds. One could very much indulge in a profound sense of loneliness here. Charmaine settled in the depths of a recessed alcove between two small columns. She could feel the tears itching at the back of her eyes already, as words to suit her mood came to mind. Dead... Alone... Abandoned... Unloved...
A soul-rending roar reached her, even in the depths of her despair. Charmaine abruptly sat up and leaned forward, listening to the wailing, bone-shaking sound. Was it the Beast? What was happening to him? Had a handsome monster-hunter come to kill him in an attempt to free her?
She glanced up to the vaulted windows, shattered as they were. Somewhere inside there, the Beast howled at the top of his lungs. Had he seen her? Was he angry with her?
"I probably trespassed in that courtyard or something," she concluded as she bounded the steps two at a time.
She reached the door into the Beast's upstairs parlor, and the memories of what happened last time she ventured this way crashed over her. She stopped short, her fingertips just inches away from the door. She clenched her fist and drew her hand back.
"I shouldn't..." she whispered to herself--but at the same time, she couldn't move away from that spot. The sound of his roar haunted her. Was it pain? Anger? Sadness?
Charmaine stood rooted to the floor until her curiosity overwhelmed the sense of foreboding. She placed her hand against the rough surface of the door, braced herself, and pushed.
The moving door stirred up a cloud of dust from the floor--but beyond that, the only thing that moved was the wind.
"Beast?" Charmaine called in a tiny voice. Her straining ears didn't catch so much as an echo from that space. She dared to cross the threshold into the room. "Raul?"
Now she stood inside the space. It was much more disheveled than the last time she'd been in there--but other than that, not much had changed. There were the tattered curtains and the cobwebs and the inch-thick layer of dust over everywhere except where the Beast walked most frequently. There was the strange flower under its jar on the table--
Charmaine gasped and clapped her hands over her mouth as she laid eyes on what remained of the ethereal rose. It could hardly be called a flower any more; barely a handful of petals clung pathetically to a bowed stem, upon which the thorns outnumbered the petals. A familiar sight caught her eye, so familiar she almost missed it: a page torn out of a book, with writing upon it. Charmaine stared at it curiously as she moved forward. Had he left a note, expecting her to come in here after him? She read the inscription. Her hand trembled so badly she almost dropped the paper. She felt faint. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears in a triple cadence.
J'ai fini. "I am finished," it declared.
Charmaine woke from her mortified stupor at the sound of a sharp crack. She blinked and watched as yet another petal broke away from the top of the rose stem and wafted to the table's surface. When the last petal falls... her thoughts followed that logic to it's likeliest conclusion, even though up to this point there had been no sure way of confirming it.
"Come on, Charmaine!" The young lady groaned at herself. "Of course you know his fate--the only question is, what are you going to do about it?"
She stood there long enough for yet another petal to fall, and then Charmaine did the very last thing she ever anticipated doing: she went after the Beast.
She couldn't be absolutely certain where he went, but the moment she entered the sunroom, with its massive bay of windows offering a three-sided view, she saw a flickering light glinting in the garden. Of course! The last time anyone had seen Raul as a human had been in the garden. Charmaine hurried for the nearest door and dashed down the long path to the overgrown yard.
She could hear the commanding voice before she saw them.
"Of course you tried. But all of your best efforts just weren't enough."
Charmaine saw them, the Beast and the Fairy--she was so pure and so fair, her skin fairly glowed, and her clothing enrobed her with a richness that surpassed even the clearest diamonds. Beneath her, the cowering, groveling, slovenly Beast barely looked like more than a heap of garbage. He let out an unearthly moan.
"I would that it were not so," said the Fairy, lifting her hand. "But I made you a promise, and I cannot rescind my word--"
Charmaine hardly had a moment to contemplate the best course of action before she suddenly screamed out and flung herself between the two entities. She found herself actually deigning to lay hands upon the magnificent Fairy, her own skin dark and ugly against the clear whiteness of the hand she held.
The multicolored eyes fixed on her.
"You are the damsel sent to lift the curse?" she asked.
Charmaine felt a massive weight settle around her shoulders, causing her to stoop and dragging the words back into her mouth as she tried to say them. "I--I am... I was sent to live with him."
The Fairy lifted her gaze, looking toward the place Charmaine knew was the window to Raul's chambers, where the flower stood. She blinked, and the Fairy held the flower in her hand. She peered at it closely. "But three petals remain." Her gaze shifted back to Charmaine. "You did not love him."
"So?" Charmaine retorted, standing up straight and setting her chin. "I don't see how that matters. I'm asking you--begging you--now to let him go."
The Fairy's face did not change. "Why do you beg now on his behalf if you did not care enough to break the spell sooner?"
The words struck into Charmaine's psyche. She fought to keep her voice calm and steady as she replied, "I'm begging now because I realize it's not about me and whether I harbor feelings for the Prince or not. It's about him--he's the one you're punishing, but he's not the same sort of person he once was!"
The Fairy lowered her hand, and folded her arms. "Speak on," she said. "The reason for this curse was because he took that which was not rightfully his, claimed a right to behave however he wished, and did not bother to acknowledge others more powerful than himself. Yet you say he has changed?"
Charmaine nodded, feeling the rush of emotion rising up to choke her. "Oh indeed! Since I first arrived, he has done nothing but care for me, preparing food, allowing me to roam where I wished, providing what he could for my comfort," the words caught in her throat and the tears itched at the back of her eyes as she recounted her experiences. "When I responded in fear and anger, he withdrew and heeded my demands. When I expressed more affection for the idea of receiving a visit from a friend in the city, he risked his life by going down to the village and retrieving her--something he'd never done for himself, but he did it for me." The conversation with Felice leaped into her mind, and Charmaine hung her head. "He--he paid me compliments, he's only ever been gentle--and in return, I've screamed at him, called him names, and blamed him for every little thing that happened to me." She lifted her tearful eyes and looked the Fairy right in the face. "If anyone deserves the punishment of becoming a monster and the curse of eternal isolation, it's me! I'm the monster! Prince Raul has seen the error of his ways and mended his choices, but I have continuously made things so much worse by what I've done!"
Her knees buckled, and Charmaine fell into a crouch next to the weary and slumping Beast. She lifted his head to see his eyes.
"Your highness," she murmured, "I am so sorry for the way I've treated you! All the things I said about you, the way I reacted to your kindness with only spite and anger and bitterness--the fault wasn't yours! It was all mine!" Her chin trembled, but she gently supported him as he shifted to a sitting position. Holding his terrible claws in her hands, she looked into that awful face and pronounced the words, "Tu es digne." You are worthy.
The Beast groaned and turned away, but Charmaine persisted. "No, listen to me! Tu es digne--I don't know how much longer I can say it to you, but you deserve to hear it at least as many times as you called me beautiful. You are worthy, Prince Raul! You are worthy!" Her eye fell on the rose in the Fairy's hand, and she sniffed. "I'm like that stem--you bore the sting of each of my thorns because you believed there was a rose among them..." She was crying in earnest now. "But I only showed you more thorns for your efforts. I'm nothing but a wilted, empty stem! You are worthy of someone who can reward you with a better love than you've gotten from me! You are worthy of true love, Prince!"
"Enough!" declared the Fairy, and she clapped her hands together.
A bright flash of light sent Charmaine reeling backward, her hands over her face. She cowered on the ground, expecting at any moment to feel her skin warp and change into a beast-like form--but none came. Instead, she felt a pair of warm, strong hands grasp her by the arms and lift her up.
"Charmaine?" asked an unfamiliar voice, low and warm.
Charmaine lowered her hands, leaning against the other person. The Fairy had vanished, and there was no sign of the Beast anywhere, either. Instead, Charmaine found herself standing beside a rather unkempt young man, with a thick beard and shaggy hair--but when he smiled, she took one look in his eyes and knew.
"Prince Raul?" she gasped. "But I thought--"
He chuckled, scratching at the side of his face. "I suppose your words must have swayed her somehow. You managed to break the curse, after all!"
Charmaine still struggled to understand this turn of events. "But then, if I broke the curse--" She lifted her hands up to her face. Her fingertips connected with a series of ropy scars. "I'm still..."
Raul grabbed her hands and caressed them. "Still what?" He challenged. "You still have the scars--but haven't you been listening, Charmaine? I've told you every day since that moment that you're beautiful--and for what its worth, I still mean it. You see only the thorns, but I've been looking at the rose this entire time." He dropped her hand and ran his fingers over her scars, himself.
Charmaine closed her eyes, relishing the feel of his skin against hers. The pair linked arms and turned back toward the castle. It was still every bit as ruined as it was before--but this time, there was no wall separating it from the rest of the kingdom. She leaned her head on his shoulder. "What is going to become of you--become of us--now?"
Raul sighed. "Well, since I was cursed by a Fairy to remain a hideous beast indefinitely, I am fairly certain my father already disinherited me, which means his crown will go to my cousin, and a new line of succession will begin." He escorted her to a low bench in the courtyard and sat next to her. "I'm afraid I'm no longer a Prince."
Charmaine considered this turn of events, searching for any hint of disappointment but her newfound feelings remained as strong as ever. "I don't care that neither of us can be royalty anymore," she declared. "I wouldn't even care if my own father wouldn't take us back, either. I trust you to take care of us, with or without riches and finery and status."
A sly smile inched across Raul's face. "My! Listen to the little mockingbird change her tune after being faced with an imminent curse!"
The words might have stung the Old Charmaine, but New Charmaine just laughed.
"As far as whether or not your father will accept you back," mused the former prince, "I can reassure you that a little bit of humility can tame the most ferocious beast." As he spoke, he tapped her on the shoulder.
Charmaine blushed as she recalled Raul's own display of humility in the face of her beastly behavior.
"Whatever happens," Raul sighed as they re-entered the castle, "I promise, Charmaine, that I will be there for you, I will be with you wherever life takes us." He stopped in the doorway, taking her hands and staring right into her eyes. "Dearest Charmaine, in return for breaking my curse, I give you everything I have--which is to say, merely myself, if you'll have me."
Looking into that clear, wholesome face, Char felt a sense of optimism and confidence such as she'd not experienced a long time, if ever at all in her life. "Dearest Raul," she replied, "I accept you for who you are, nothing more, nothing less."
The couple shared a tender kiss, and the Prince and his Rose lived in joy for the rest of their days.