Once Upon A World Away

Once upon a world away, the gypsy swore her life to stay. Grasp the rose but not the thorn, the poison is your burden borne.

In this Beauty and the Beast story, Josephine and the band of gypsies she calls family are professionals--hunting legends and claiming the prize to share as they find fit. But the rose garden of a cursed castle turns out to be too much, and Josephine's will is put to the test when she gives her life over to the lord, a horrible beast with more secrets than the castle can hide.

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3. Once Upon A Broken Vow

The Beast paced in the room of the high stair, pausing every so often to stare down at the woman adoring her mare, several floors below in the snowy field. Every time he made to look, his heart twisted with the fear that she would vanish. Finally, he turned to a wall covered by heavy velvet drapes. He pulled them back to reveal a grand, ornate mirror. Standing before it, he stared at the reflection that magic bound him from.

“Mirror, I need guidance,” he pled, and his reflection looked back at him with new eyes.

It turned this way and that, appraising the Beast. “Whatever for?”

“There's a woman in the castle! Please, I need to know—” he began excitedly, cut off by a hissing chuckle on the other side of the glass.

“Please? You know how this story ends, and you know what your fingers will grasp, by the end,” it replied with a cruel chuckle. A smirk curled its lips. “I will give you this: Turn to your window.”

The Beast let the drapes fall closed behind him, infuriated by the mirror's words. As he stepped up to the window, his eyes searched the ground below. At the gate, he found what he searched for, a beastly bellow echoing throughout the ancient halls.

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

I would escape now, the reigns in my hands welcome and familiar. As the gate stood open before me and I walked my horse through, I looked back at the castle, thinking I might almost miss it. About to turn back to my path, I saw the beast charging toward me and the gate, and I screamed in terror. When I looked in the other direction to flee, wolves stalked about me and the horse, who panicked and reared and bucked and ran back into the gated gardens with their safety.

The beast bellowed and snarled, one raised arm towering high above me. For the briefest moment, I thought that running to the wolves would be safer. When he brought that arm down, though, instead of my own face that was hit it was that of a wolf, so close it could have bit me. It whimpered and yowled when I heard the sickening crunch, and it hit the thin layer of snow with a terrifying finality. Another came close, and another and another. And he howled in pain as one of the many he fought back dug its teeth into his flesh.

I backed away, frightened, and saw a lone wolf staring at me. I froze as it came forward, teeth bared, maw dripping, eyes crazed. Then he was there smacking that one away, too, one arm holding his side protectively. The wolf yelped and scampered off. He turned his massive, contorted face to me.

“You should have stayed where it was safe, you silly girl!” he snarled, limping back to me. I stumbled my way back inside the gates, away from his anger and blood and horrified by my own imprisonment. “What were you doing, coming into the snow at night with no warmth, no protection?! Are you mad?!”

I shook my head, beginning meekly, “I only wanted to go—“

“OF COURSE!” he shouted viciously, the gates slamming shut behind him. He locked it by pulling a chain about the iron bars, securing it shut. He growled, then said more quietly than before, “Of course, you only wanted to go. The maid only wanted to go, the chef only wanted to go. But you...You will stay here with me, even if you die here.”

I exclaimed in shock, tears in my eyes feeling like they might freeze in the outside air. “No... you can't! You can't keep me here like that!”

“I WILL!” he yelled back, then cried out in pain. He gasped, holding his side again and stumbling before keeping his balance. “Now, get back inside. I will tell you when you may go out again.”

I stood my ground, the freedom that I still possessed refusing to crawl back to a cage. “No.”

He froze, turning to me slowly as he apparently still struggled to stand. “Excuse me?”

“I said no, you overgrown kitten,” I repeated sharply. I glared at him. “After all, what are a few wolves but child's play? And what would be more ironic for a beast than the lacking of even a brittle spine?”

He growled at me threateningly. “You will be silent, woman, or so help me...”

I laughed at his threat. “You'll what? Purr? How terrifying.”

Snarling, he glided across the snow to tower over me. “If you have any desire to see morning's dawn, you will desist.”

I called his bluff. “And who says I want to survive another damned night, trapped in a haunted hell staring at nothing but you?”

Crying out in fury, he raised one arm and struck me. I fell to the ground, stifling a cry of pain. After a moment I could recognize the horror in his eyes, and another moment later I realized how heavily I was bleeding onto the snow. I hissed, the first pain of the frigid air blasting the wound on my face like, ironically, fire.

I wiped blood from my face futilely, staring up at the beast defiantly. “Well, at least now you're communicating. Spineless, but communicating.”

He stared at his hand for a moment, then back at me. “I never meant--”

“Of course you did,” I spat, wincing as I stood. My head throbbed sharply. “I don't know who you're angry with, but it does some good to at least unleash. Although, unleashing on a woman is less...respectable.”

For a moment he forgot his own wounds and made to assist me. “Truly, I am sorry. Let me--”

“Oh, please! I'm a woman, not proper. I can limp on my own, just the same as you,” I snapped, groaning as the world spun for a moment. “Although, it may become necessary.”

He hurried to help steady me, awkward. “Ah...”

I wanted to glare at him, but my knees began to fail me then, my vision covered with red much more swiftly than I had anticipated. Despite my loathing of weakness, I fell into it with little hope of clawing my way back. The Beast wrapped an arm around my shoulders and, with a strange dreamlike stillness, swept my legs from beneath me. There was the sensation of motion, the heavy breath of his running, and my eyes giving in to sleep with the finality of the castle doors slamming shut against the icy world.

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