The Rose

Ever since her mother died and her father disappeared, Belle has been waiting for this moment. Her daggers at the ready, her heart steeled with confidence, she faced him.

The beast.

Veangeace is a mocking thing.

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10. Chapter IX

   I slipped out of the bedroom padding down the flights of stairs, through halls and halls of pure silence. There were no servants around. In fact, the only servant I had encountered was the one I held a dagger to.

   Was he a servant at all? I couldn’t be sure, and at this point I didn’t care. I finally arrived at the front door. It loomed above me, the brass lionhead handles creaking as I opened the door.

   I wandered into the garden. A mere day ago I’d been scoping out the castle, waiting for something, anything to happen. Waiting for a prince to appear and let me kill him dead.

   How naïve I was.

   I did as the beast had done; trailed my fingers through the rose bushes, pausing only to sniff the beautiful scent that hung around them. It was like my garden at home; pure loveliness, full of blossoming flowers. I knew the language of flowers as well as anything. I knew what rose you should present to a potential partner, or a friend, or an enemy. Though, to be honest, I think the only rose one presents to an enemy is one laced with poison.

   I shrugged off my niggling thoughts. My fingers caught several thorns but I let them bleed. I had spent my whole life living in caution. I hadn’t bled in what seemed like an eternity. I held my fingers to my face, inspecting them. Bitten, destroyed nails from years of anxiety. Calloused palms from woodcutting and hard labor at home. Lines that cut deep. They were a fortune tellers dream.

   Now, crimson blood trailed from the tips of my fingers right down the base of my palms. I let it run, slowly moving my hand this way and that, changing the blood’s course.

   ‘You’re bleeding.’ I jumped, whirling around to face the beast. How had he snuck up on me? How could a beast so large be so quiet and stealthy?

   His piercing stare stayed on my hand. ‘Why are you just letting it run?’ His voice was almost a whisper.

   I shrugged. ‘Sometimes you feel so disconnected, it’s a wonder you’re alive.’ I started patting down my hand with the cuff of my sleeve. ‘I haven’t bled in… a while. It’s nice to know I’m still capable of it.’ I smiled cautiously at him. His look had become gentle, but those blue eyes were still so intense.

   ‘What woke you up?’ He asked.

   ‘Nothing. I couldn’t sleep in the first place.’ I said. I gazed out at the gardens, stretching far beyond us. ‘Where are your servants?’ I asked, motioning to the overgrown bushes. ‘You don’t seem to have a gardener.’

   He laughed, a gruff, empty sound. ‘I only have a couple. They all split the jobs amongst each other, but the garden is usually forgotten about.’ He looked down at the roses. ‘Pity, really. It could be so beautiful.’

   ‘It already is.’ I smiled once again. ‘Some things, no matter how rough around the edges, keep their beauty, even after they die.’ Tears pricked the back of my eyes. I allowed them to run down my cheeks. ‘My mother told me that.’

   ‘She’s right.’ His paws reached out, but he quickly retreated them.

   ‘She was.’ I emphasized the ‘was’. No matter what she told me in that room, he still murdered her. I still couldn’t quite forgive him.

   ‘What happened?’ He murmured, almost like he already knew. Like he had already made the connection. It was possible.

   ‘It doesn’t matter.’ I gritted my teeth. ‘What matters is she’s gone, and she’s not coming back.’ I laughed, a twinge of bitterness coming out. ‘Her kindness, no matter how prominent, didn’t save her. It never could.’ I said. ‘Which is why I’m so defensive all the time. I needed to learn how to survive from a very young age.’

   ‘Belle…’ He said, but I cut him off.

   ‘Forget it.’ I looked at him at last. He looked so sad, but it wasn’t a sympathetic sadness. It was a sadness that matched mine. I was grateful for it. ‘Why are you here? Wandering around in the gardens like a lost sheep?’

   I managed to beckon a smile onto his face. ‘Isn’t this where a beast is supposed to live? Amid the wild grasses?’ His smile stayed, but there was an uneasiness in it. ‘I love the gardens. When I was a prince, the castle was my safety, but as a beast, the garden is the only place I feel truly okay.

   ‘You are quite something, Belle.’ He continued. ‘You came to hunt me, but now you’re spilling your secrets like I’m your best friend. What brought about such a change?’

   ‘We did say we weren’t keep secrets anymore, didn’t we?’ I said. ‘Plus, I don’t have a best friend. I don’t have anyone to spill secrets to.’ I said it in an off-the-cuff manner, but the beast frowned.

   ‘Who doesn’t have a best friend? I mean, I don’t, but that’s different.’ He said.

   ‘The type of people who are hard to relate to. You and I are quite similar, when you think about it.’ I didn’t like to admit it, but it was true. Stand-offish, defensive, calculating… we were very much the same.

   ‘You should rest.’ He seemed uneasy. I didn’t push it. I started back toward the castle, but hesitated when he spoke again. ‘You are not the same as me Belle. You’re kinder than you give yourself credit for.’

   I glanced back over my shoulder, and smiled.

   I hoped he was right.

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