Beast

There is no beast so fearsome as a madman scorned from above;
There is no force so pow'rful as hope for impossible love.

Prince Gaston thinks that the legendary Assassin is the only hope for saving King Maurice's kingdom. But when the Assassin doesn't want to be paid in gold; he wants something that King Maurice's daughter and Prince Gaston's betrothed, Belle, can never give up; a human companion. Princess Belle offers herself up instead, and is whisked away to the Assassin's hidden fortress. But the more time that Belle spends with her captor, the more she struggles with balancing trust, forgiveness, and old fashioned common sense.

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1. Chapter 1

Book I

There is no beast so fearsome as a madman scorned from above; 

There is no force so pow'rful as hope for impossible love.

 

"It will never work," my father muttered. His face was in one hand, elbow propping him up on the table as though it were the only support he had left. 

"It will work," Prince Gaston insisted. "The Assassin has never once failed his employer." 

"His employers are usually drowning in gold," I snapped. If the situation were a normal one, I would have most likely been reprimanded with a silent look by my father for speaking so coldly to the prince. 

"Your kingdom will be as soon as we're married," Gaston pressed. 

"Oh, and you plan on having the week long ceremony done in the two days it will take for Desparkin's army to reach the castle?" 

"I can just give it to you, then, Belle," said Gaston. "Never mind the ceremony for now." 

"Even once we pay him, my Prince," said my father, setting his crown down on the table beside him. "Who is to say the rumors are true? Too shady, this Assassin." 

"Death by enemy armies or death by Assassin. Are those your only two choices?" Prince Gaston asked, staring the king in the face. 

"You should run, my boy," said the my father wearily. "Your kingdom will be safe. Mine is doomed. Take Belle and flee." 

"No!" I cried. I would never be a hero like my father's knights or the demigods in legends of old, but neither would I be a coward and leave my father and kingdom to the mercy of Desparkin's men. 

"No," Gaston echoed. "I intend to see the Assassin pull through and save your kingdom." 

"Then at the very least, one of my knights will take Belle to safety before he arrives." 

Before I could respond that I would do no such thing, a voice from above answered for me. 

"Bit late for that." 

There was a soft thump of boots hitting flagstones as a hooded figure dropped from the rafters. To either side of us, the few knights we had light darted forward, weapons at the ready. Gaston held out a hand, and they froze. 

"How long have you been here?" Prince Gaston demanded. 

"Long enough to know you don't trust me," said the Assassin, only a grin visible beneath the hood. "Disappointing, but smart." 

"Then you know that I'm your employer," said Gaston. He stepped forward, hand on the hilt of his sword. 

"Actually," said the Assassin, sitting down and propping his boots up on the end of our table. "You're not." He picked up an apple, tossed it in the air, then took a bite. 

"Of course I am," said Gaston. "I'm paying you." 

"No," said the Assassin, swallowing his bite of fruit. "You're not. It's not your kingdom I'm fighting for." 

"It will be in a week's time," said Gaston, gritting his teeth. 

"I'm not into future investments," the Assassin said casually. "I'm saving King Maurice's kingdom, and he'll pay the price." 

"What is your fee?" asked my father quietly before Gaston could argue back. 

"I need a serving girl," the Assassin suggested. 

"No." 

All eyes turned towards me. 

"I run the domestic affairs of the castle, I know those girls. You can't just take one to do as you wish." Images flew unbidden into my mind of just what this man might have in store for them. 

"Belle, one serving wench isn't worth the price of an entire kingdom destroyed," said Gaston, gloved hand taking my wrist. I wrenched my arm out of his hand. 

"I can't let one of those poor girls pay for our ineptitude in dealing with Desparkin!" 

The Assassin looked out of one of the stained glass windows, as though he could see right through it. "Well, there goes the great kingdom of Tearian. But a serving girl is spared! Till Desparkin gets here, 'course." 

My mind froze on a fantasy I'd entertained as a child. A daydream, starring me as the brave and noble princess, swording the enemy that dared make an attempt on her father's life. But now his entire kingdom would die, and I couldn't save it. 

Except that I could. 

"I can't let you take one of those girls," I repeated. Don't let your hands or voice shake, I chided myself. Smooth, smooth and hard as a porcelain cup. "But you can take me." 

My father stood up so quickly his crown clattered to the flagstones. Startled, Gaston drew his sword. The Royal Adviser, dear Peter, was frozen in horror. Our knights clenched their weapons more tightly, all on edge and ready to pounce. 

The Assassin was very, very still. 

"Belle will do no such thing," Gaston said, voice strangled. 

"Belle, no," my father whispered. 

"I know my name, thank you," I said. Smooth, hardened. 

Fragile. 

"You will sacrifice yourself for a serving girl?" asked the hooded man. 

"For all the people of this kingdom," I corrected. 

Would he actually sacrifice me, my irrational mind asked. In the terrifying moment, anything seemed possible. 

"She will not-" started my father. 

"She will." The Assassin stood up. "The fee is payed, you will be spared, the princess is mine," he said. "We all win." 

If facial expressions are anything to judge by, Gaston doesn't think he's won, I thought in shock. What had just happened? I had just given myself away. Not as a wife, but as no more than a slave. To a man so shrouded in myth and legend that, until tonight, I hadn't truly believed in his existence.

"What will you do with her?" my father was quietly. 

"I told you. I need a serving girl. My own home's a mess." 

My father looked at me helplessly, as though silently begging me to change my mind. 

"Give us the week," Gaston begged. 

"I'll give you... eh, twenty seconds." 

Gaston began to argue again, but feel silent when the Assassin casually pulled out a knife. 

"I may never see you again," my father said in a broken voice, tears spilling out of his eyes. 

"I love you," I said, knowing I hadn't seconds to waste on any other words. My own voice was cracking. I placed my trembling lips on his tear-streaked cheek. 

"Twenty seconds up!" 

I pulled away, brushed past Gaston and the knights, and stepped through the doors of the great hall. My mind still hadn't truly comprehended what I had done. 

Behind me, I heard the Assassin say, "-brave girl. You should be proud. Saved a whole kingdom! Maybe an annual parade in her honor or something. I love a parade." 

"You're a beast," my father hissed. 

"Oh, you have no idea," said the Assassin. Following the enigmatic statement was a chorus of gasps and shrieks. 

My father cried out, "Belle, no! You cannot go with him!

The door shut. There were footsteps. Then the Assassin beside me, rearranging his hood. 

"What did you do?" I asked. You could hear the tears straining my voice. "Did you kill someone?" 

"Let's just say I showed them the monster I am," said the Assassin in a dark voice I had not yet heard from him. 

"You will keep your word," I pressed, trying to make my voice equally dark. I stared straight ahead, not daring to move lest I break into tears. 

"I'm a creature of honesty, Princess Belle. But I don't advise looking for any other chivalrous qualities." He started straight ahead as well for several moments before beginning to walk. 

"Where are we going?" I took my skirts in hand, walking after. 

"No more questions for now," the Assassin called over his shoulder. 

I felt rather like I was walking through a tunnel. Everything I knew and loved was behind me, but I could only walk forward. I could only see the end, only think of this precise step and nothing more. No grief, no anger, not even fear. Only following the beast that was now my master. 

The Assassin did not talk during our walk. He did not speak again for several hours. I don't know how far we walked; it was, however, a considerable distance. Had I been myself, I'm sure I would have despised every wretched step. But I was in shock, or some similar state. The hours long trek had been but a sliver of my existence. 

The Assassin stopped in front of a massive iron-wrought gate. Each spoke must have been at least three centimeters in diameter, interwoven with what would have been a gorgeous pattern of vines were it not overgrown with it's real life counterpart and a myriad of spider's webs. 

The Assassin's sudden stop jolted me from my trance. He unlocked the rusted gate and pushed it open. I winced at the piercing squeal of the hinges; if the lack of movement had not awoken me, the sound surely would have.

"I trust it's now obvious why I need a serving girl. The rest of the castle is in a similar state," he said. 

A castle it was. A bulky fortress that put my father's delicate palace to shame. If the stone fortress were not intimidating enough in sheer fortitude, the spiked iron flour-de-lis and gruesome gargoyles would be fearsome enough to ward off unwanted intruders. 

I stepped through the gate, looking quickly at the ground after realizing I had been gawking like a country bumpkin in the city. The Assassin shut the gate behind me, then led the way to the massive front doors. I meekly followed. My mind snatched onto the idea of having to clean the behemoth of a castle. 

The Assassin threw open the front doors and turned to face me, arms still spread wide. 

"Your new home." 

"For forever," I said, voice small. 

"Follow me to your room." He scooped up a set of rusted skeleton keys and walked out of the entrance hall to a stair-case. 

I followed, my slippers clicking on the flagstones as he led me down into the castle's bowls till we enough stories under the earth that I knew this would be no normal room. 

"You're jesting," I protested. "The dungeon?" 

"Consider it a secure sleeping area," he suggested. 

"You're jesting," I said again. 

"Are you suddenly finding your kingdom no longer worth this?" asked the Assassin softly, dangerously. 

I went into the cell. 

"And so, the princess holds out!" he said with a grin. "I'm off to save her people. Rest well. You'll need the beauty sleep... you'll be working hard tomorrow." 

 

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