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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9. Once Upon The Thunder's Echo

 

I moaned and sighed as I stirred to the sounds of a thunderstorm. Turning first to my window to watch the rain for a moment, then to my other side to continue sleeping, I gasped and started. As lightning allowed me to see that deep into the room, the apparent outline of my captor sat in the chair beside the vanity, nestled back into it.

“Forgive me,” he said quietly, subdued. Thunder and lightning crashed and flashed, and I saw him cringe into the chair. “The storm frightened me; I came to see if you were affected similarly.”

“No,” I replied in a small voice. His presence in the room had given me quite a fright, though! He saw and understood this, shifting and leaning forward in his seat.

“Would it bother you terribly if I remained here? The rest of the castle is disturbingly...lonely,” he chose the word and spoke it delicately, like a knife he might injure himself upon. Another clash of thunder, and I heard his whimper this time.

I sat up to see him more fully. “Is a beast so terrifying as you truly frightened by some thunder?”

He sighed heavily and nodded. “Yes. The rooms and stones echo with it, and they remind me... I loathe the loneliness of the storm. It mortifies me.”

My eyes focused on the creature's face. From the poor lighting and hideous features, it was troublesome to tell what he was emoting, but I finally found it. Sadness. Terrible, haunting sadness that made me want to cry for him. So I did, and then shivered with a sudden chill that I had not noticed settling upon the air. In spite of it, I pulled myself from the warmth of the blankets and placed my bare feet on the freezing stone floor. As I walked over to him, I was grateful that the vanity was set atop a thick rug that relieved my feet of the stone.

I held my hand out to him, trembling slightly. Whether it was the cold or a fear, I could not tell for the life of me. He looked up at me uncertainly, animal eyes unrelenting in their sadness. He only stared at me as I shivered, reaching out to him, and then thunder rang out again, startling me. I fell forward, weak and unbalanced, onto the creature. He caught me and paused for a moment before pulling me closer. He cradled me like a child—for that was the size I was to him, a small child—wrapping his arms and cloak around me. I sighed as the warmth surrounded me, though I still shivered as the muscles and bone beneath my skin took a moment longer to warm.

“I'm sorry,” I whispered, averting my eyes. I shifted like I may stand, but his arms tightened around me.

“An accident,” he dismissed, taking my cue and whispering as well. He pulled the cloak tighter, tucking it about me carefully. “You feel so cold.”

A sudden shiver wracked through me. After a moment to recover, I realized that all he wore beneath the cloak were pants. I stared at him in shock. “How are you not?”

The sadness in his eyes lessened and he smiled slightly. “Just as a wolf or bear would not be cold, I am not. Can't you feel it, the thick fur between my skin and yours?”

I gasped, feeling about with my hand beneath the cloak. I found what felt like a hand of his own, and guided it slowly so that I could study it from outside the cloak. “Yes. It's so coarse...”

“Do you find it uncomfortable? Would you prefer the bed's safety and comfort?” he asked suddenly. He pulled his hand from mine, retucking the thick cloth. I looked up at him in surprise, wondering to myself what I wanted. After a moment to ponder, I shook my head, bewildered by myself.

“No... It's warmer here.” But I yawned, now fatigued as the warmth seeped into my bones to lull me back to dreams. I shifted, using one of his arms and his shoulder to brace against, so that I was curled on his lap. My head was still the only part of me exposed to the chilly air, and I rest it against his chest so that half of my face was warm. Beside me, I could hear the thunderous beat of his heart.

He placed a hand on the exposed side of my face, so that all of me was warm and shielded from the cold air. “Are you comfortable?”

“Yes... thank you,” I sighed drowsily. As if by some secretive will inside me, my hand found his own beneath the cloak and held it tightly. My hand felt small, his monstrously large, as my fingers curled about it and were held back, by hand and fur alike.

I felt something on my hair. “Bonne nuit, mon belle.”

When I woke, I was nestled into the blankets of the bed, stretched to my fullest. I sighed and looked about, recalling what had taken place last night. I startled to full awareness, sitting up abruptly and scanning the room. The beast was nowhere to be found, but I saw a tray with breakfast—still warm—sitting beside the bed. Set gently to lean against a glass of water, there was a single piece of paper.

 

Merci Beaucoup

 

A smile touched my lips, startling me. What happened last night, it had all been real? The beast afraid of the thunder, and then him keeping me warm? I had thought it may have been a dream for a moment. Not a nightmare, surely, but something oddly fantastical that must have been too much to be real. Me, sitting in the arms of a monster as I slept? That monster caring enough to not devour me, as well as ensuring my warmth? Oh, it was all absurd, but then, things had been strange since I came to this castle of mystery.

There was a knock on the door, quiet and tentative.

“Bienvenue,” I called, pulling the blanket around myself to hide my nightgown. In the dark where he should not have been able to see, I was comfortable without the extra cover. Now, though, with the light of the gray day pouring in through the grand windows, I felt particularly under dressed.

The door opened, and he entered with an armful of wood for the fireplace in my room. Politely, he kept his eyes averted as he strode over to the hearth. This morning, he wore a shirt in addition to the common pants and billowing cloak.

“Bonne matin,” he greeted with a smile. He knelt beside the fireplace, situating the wood and setting aside the extra in a neat pile for me. He then lit a piece of tinder, placing it in the fire and waiting until it began to blaze. “Enjoy your breakfast, miss.”

“Wait,” I called when he stood at the door. “When did you leave?”

He turned and looked out the window. “Sunrise, I presume, from what I remember of the lighting. It is surprisingly difficult to be precise when there is cloud cover, however.”

I laughed quietly at that, and sat. We were both there in the silence, neither of us moving. It was when he gave a small bow and turned back to the door that I said, “My name is Joséphine.”

“Enchanté,” he murmured, looking at me now with a joyful smile.

“What are you called?”

He chuckled. “Oh, if only I could remember. It's been years since anyone wanted to know... If I find my name, I shall inform you.”

I frowned sadly, deeply, wanting to reach out and comfort him. “What should I call you until then?”

He thought a moment, face taking on that ghostly sadness that it had last night. “Laid.”

I wanted to cry, witnessing the regret and feeling the sudden distance between he and I. Just as I was about to leave the sanctuary of my blankets, he said “Excuse me” hurriedly and ducked out of the room. I did cry. It pained me greatly to see such a kind heart suffering so. My own heart was throbbing painfully, thinking that he would be wandering this castle alone.

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