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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1. Once Upon A Gypsy's Tomb

 

“Once upon a time, in a faraway castle, there lived a young prince...”

“Father, must we?” I asked impatiently.

He smiled at me kindly. “And what could be wrong, my dear Joséphine?”

I sighed quietly, averting my eyes in shame. “Just...You tell this story so often, Father. Why?”

“Ah, because there is always wisdom in these tales, Joséphine,” he laughed, eyes warm as he hugged me close. “You see, even though the events may be childish or false, the lessons are very valuable.”

I nodded slowly. “Yes, Papa...Will you continue your story?”

“Ah-hah! Yes, where was I?” he asked me.

“There lived a young prince?” I replied eagerly, settling in for the tale.

He laughed again. “Alright, alright. There lived a young prince who cherished beauty very much...”

 

9 Years Later

 

The wind was bitter and cold against my skin, winter settling in place of autumn around the world. Even so, we had traveled to this rumored castle for the blessed roses.

My dear mare Belle carried me easily through the gentle snow that fell like powder around us. Father led us, his grand black stallion nearly a phantom in his grace.

Ahead of us a castle loomed darkly, engulfing the horizon. A natural terror shivered across my scalp, heightening the exhilaration of the upcoming theft. Theft to society, sharing to us gypsies.

“It's only a legend,” I whispered to myself, forcing to keep my eyes ahead even as a beastly howl echoed behind me.

Father glanced back, wary. He met my gaze for a moment before calling, “The Beast is awake! Let's make this quick!”

The six of us spurred our horses onward, the sound of galloping hooves loud after the muffled silence. My pulse quickened, breath heavy and hot in the frozen air.

Out of a moment, ornate iron gates rose from the snow. We halted easily, Belle protesting uneasily as I led her gently through to the garden on the other side. All of us fell silent as we moved ever slowly forward, into the garden of legends.

Father dismounted, the rest of us following his example. The garden which should have been decaying was instead in full bloom. Vibrant green contrasted against the bright white of the falling snow. Peering out at us were gorgeous blossoms of every color imaginable, even a midnight black that appeared to absorb the light around it.

I was drawn to the irresistible midnight, barely restraining myself from plucking a rose from its thorny perch. Instead, I managed to force my feet to follow Father to the presence of purest crimson petals. Father was laughing raucously, glee in his eyes.

“Oh, we found it!” he laughed, turning to François eagerly. “The blessed knife, my friend?”

François nodded, a matching look of excitement alight in his eyes. “Of course, of course!”

He gave Father a graceful blade with an opal hilt embedded with gold. He laughed again, choosing a particularly pleasant bloom to cut free. We all held our breath, the air freezing further until, like ice too cold, it shattered.

“GET OUT!”

The otherworldly, terrible bellow startled us all. I had my knife out in an instant, eyes zipping around to find the voice's owner. The voice came again, a whispering wind.

“How dare you disturb my roses?” A hiss slithered through the moans of the trees, “Thieves! You think to pilfer my only glory without punishment?”

Behind us, the gates slammed shut. The horses all screamed and bucked before sprinting deeper into the gardens. Every noise became sharp and distinct in my ears.

“Show yourself, Beast!” cried Father, drawing his flamberge. He slipped the sacred knife into his boot slowly, eyes as aware as my own.

Dark laughter replied, “You cannot threaten your nightmares, Jean.”

François drew his sword. “Jean, how does it know us?”

“Your souls are worn on your sleeves, gypsies,” replied the laughter. A dark shadow appeared behind François. Before I could call out a warning to him, the Beast cut him down mercilessly. “You should all be more cautious, as I know more than your names.”

The shadow materialized behind Father. “I see everything!”

“Papa!” I screamed, lunging for the shadow the instant it rose to strike. I parried the blow, shrieking at it furiously.

“Ma belle, run!” cried Father in terror.

I blocked another blow. “Non, Papa! You run. Wisdom above ignorance.”

The shadow stopped, hissing again, “Then I suppose you understand that the only proper repentance for your crimes is the life of the transgressor. I do not take the theft of my roses lightly.”

“Then take me!” I retorted sharply, praying that I would not have long to regret the decision.

The shadow lowered its sword slowly. “Repete s'il vous plais?”

“Take me.”

“Non!” shouted Father in denial. “Ma belle, non!”

“Silence!” bellowed the Beast. I could feel its eyes on me, like daggers against my skin. In a soft, gentle voice he continued to speak to me, as if we were lovers, “Now, girl, do you understand what it means that I would own your life? You and your body would be mine to do with and command as I please.”

“Of course, monsieur,” I replied smoothly, eyes narrowed venomously. “Even if you wish me to run you through, your soul be saved.”

From the shadows came laughter. “Oh, perfect. Perfect. The rest of you, leave us. Now.”

“Non, non, non! S'il vous plais, monsieur!” begged Father in a whisper.

“No, Papa. Go.” I refused to turn and face him.

“Ma belle—”

“Go!” I repeated, regret hitting me with more force than I thought possible.

A soft sigh floated from the shadows. “Oh...Elle, dear girl—”

“You as well,” I ground out, glaring at its silhouette. “With one request.”

“Anything,” replied the Beast readily.

“My horse. Do you have a stable?”

“And it is at your disposal. Please, allow me to retrieve your mare whilst I guide your companions out.” The shadow moved and I heard my family's footsteps retreating from me.

A sudden wave of grief crashed over me, and my chest felt as though it should have split in two from the sobs that escaped me. Tears covered my face, freezing in the air. With a deep breath, I calmed and composed myself.

Already, I heard the Beast return behind me with Belle. “Ah...Is there anything I might get you, mademoiselle?”

“You have nothing that I desire, Beast,” I whispered, suddenly afraid of speaking any louder.

The sounds of crunching snow, and then a large gloved hand appeared to my left, cradling a perfect golden bloom. “Not even a rose? I believe your bravery has earned this.”

“I said I want nothing from a monster!” I snapped, whirling to face him. I froze, gasping in horror. “Heaven save me!”

The animal eyes that stared back at me narrowed frighteningly. “Save your prayers. Heaven will never hear you in this place.”

I stared at the beastly face, wanting nothing more than to flee. “You're the Devil, aren't you?”

Its face changed, hardening into a cruel mask. “Follow me. I will show you the stables, then your room.”

The Beast guided Belle past me silently. I followed only barely willingly, struggling to match its long gait. “My...My room? Am I not a prisoner?”

“By all technicalities, you are a prisoner,” it replied simply. The garden faded to a vast field of undisturbed, open snow. At the far end there were large stables; the right side of my vision was dominated by a castle. “It would be cruelty to not treat you as a guest, however, particularly when considering the circumstances.”

I thought on that a moment. “And what would a monster care for circumstances?”

Again, he did not answer directly. “Any creature may understand the nobility of your sacrifice.”

“Then you understand the injustice of your demands, beast,” I concluded, fighting a smirk.

He glanced at me, eyes narrowed, and I heard him stifle an outcry. “Very verbal for a lady. Has no one taught you the silence of your status?”

“Silence is for the dumb, and not every woman is dumb,” I countered, insulted by his crude presumption.

“A fine argument, to be sure,” he said quietly, and I dared think that he agreed with me in spite of pride. But a monster is a monster, regardless. So I remained silent as he insisted on tending to my mare, taking surprising amount of care with her. Respecting of my sudden silence, he led me back across that great field toward the majestic and daunting castle. As is swallowed the sky above me, I was filled with a dread that felt like I was going to the gallows.

The beast braced himself, one hand on each door, before he forced them open. The groaned in protest, the sound echoing on forever in the decorated halls behind them. I stood frozen, gaping as the doors gaped at me. The beast stepped back and motioned me forward, and as my foot touched the polished marble floor the walls and ceiling burst into candlelight, thousands of flickering wicks all at once. A shiver of fear ran down my spine, but I held my head tall and eyes focused. No one, man or beast, would have the satisfaction of my weakness.

The doors whispered shut behind me, the beast stepping up to guide us down the long hall. My feet were a delicate pitter pat to his powerful gait, knives against glass. On either side, smaller halls would branch off and twist out of sight. Angels, gargoyles and demons would guard these halls, eyes dead and cold. As soon as my back was turned, I felt as though they watched more carefully.

After time had long since died, we turned off onto a small wing with three doors. He stopped at the first door on our right, looking down at me expectantly. “This will be your room. Everything you need is here, and when you feel ready you may explore all of my grounds, but the high stair.”

High stair? I suppose if it gave me peace and quiet, I could avoid it easily. I nodded and turned to the door, which he opened without a word. I stepped in and left him behind, candles again blooming to life, the door of my prison clicking shut behind me.

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