Beau and the Beast
Once upon a time there was a certain old widower who had been a soldier when he was young and who now lived in a large town as its watchman, along with his three sons. Two of the sons were plain, honest, God-fearing boys -- but the youngest son, whose name was Beau (which means "Beautiful"), was very different from both his elder brothers. Beau was a tall, handsome lad with jet-black hair and midnight-blue eyes, always laughing and making jokes. But although he was young and handsome, Beau was heartless and cruel. On duty as watchman, he often beat people pitilessly for small offenses; once he beat a thief to death, laughing all the while. His cruelty extended to matters of the heart; he wooed many maidens with false words of love and broke all their hearts, not caring that he had wronged them.
Finally a delegation from the town went to the boy's father, who though a stern old soldier was a good and forthright man: "Sir, you must do something about Beau! He beats the men who transgress the slightest laws till they are all lame and sore, and he laughs as he beats them. His lust leaves none of our girls untouched, and they weep afterward for all his lies of fidelity and love. Do something that will keep your son from battering our men's hides and our women's hearts! We know you will do what we seek, for though Beau is a heartless rascal you have always been honest and fair in your dealings with us." The old soldier said he would do as they asked, for he too grieved over Beau and wished to find something that would temper his son's cruelty.
That very day he called all three of his sons together and said, "I have owned a piece of property far from town for some time and it is worth a great deal of money. I am riding out to sell it, and I shall be gone for a few days. Is there anything you would like me to purchase for you while I am in the city?"
The eldest son, Antoine, said, "Father, buy me a red velvet cape with gold trimming, so that I may impress a girl who likes my uniform." The middle son, Jacques, said, "Father, I should like some new black boots with silver toe-tips; they are all the fashion now, and I wish to look fashionable when I go wooing." But Beau only laughed and said, "Father, don't buy me anything. Just bring me back a good big bunch of nettles, so that I can flog these churlish villagers when they step out of line on my watch!" Heartsore at his son's cruelty, the old soldier mounted his horse and rode away.
The piece of property owned by the soldier was a small piece of arable land a day's journey from the town and close to a great city. He soon found a buyer for the land, coming away with a good piece of money, and headed toward the city. He planned to purchase an enormous candle and bring it to the great cathedral, there to beseech the saints for guidance in how to deal with his heartless son.
But on his way to the city from the outlying area where he had sold his property, a great fog rolled through the branches of the woods in which he rode, thick and heavy as winter wool. As night wore on and the fog grew ever thicker, the old soldier soon was thoroughly lost in the forest far from any human habitation.
Just as the old man was sure he would perish in the cold of the dark forest, a great hedge parted before him, showing him a clearly-marked pathway. Puzzled, yet eager for any road that might lead to civilization, the soldier turned the horse and rode along the path. As he progressed, branches lifted and bushes split aside to clear a path. The fog cleared, until the soldier stopped in amazement before the gateway of an enormous estate, a vast marble palace decorated with many stone sculptures of animals and birds. The gate opened of its own volition, and the old soldier rode through the gateway and up the path to the mansion. A nearby stable opened its door by itself as the man dismounted, and the horse trotted into its warmly-lit interior, nickering with pleasure as the doors closed behind it.
The mansion doors opened, revealing an equally warmly-lit interior and, after a deal of trepidation outweighed only by the chill of the night air, the old soldier entered the mysterious estate. His repeated calls for the owner of the estate to show himself produced only echoes in a great hall lit by numerous sconces set in the walls, reflecting on blue and green tiles along the floor.
At the end of the hall was a fireplace carved in marble, with a fire crackling merrily and filling the area with warmth. Nearby was a table covered with a white linen tablecloth and set with crystal and silver, lit by flickering candles. On it were set a basket of fruit, a bowl of steaming soup, a carafe of red wine, a warm loaf of bread and a block of cheese. There was no one in the hall.
At the sight and smell of the food, the old man suddenly realized how hungry he was and sat down in the chair set for him. As he reached for the carafe of wine to pour himself a libation, the poor man almost died in fright; for what he had thought to be a carved-stone human hand that was part of the stone fruit bowl detatched itself and took hold of the pitcher, pouring the silver goblet full. After a quick glance underneath the table to discern that no-one lay beneath handling the pitcher, the man stared at the hand that was once more part of the fruit bowl for a long time, before picking up the goblet and taking a sip. But the wine was excellent, and soothed away any fears of witchcraft. Emboldened, the man began on the soup, watching with interest as other stone hands from the fruit bowl took turns carving cheese or slicing bread for him. Soon he was eating and drinking quite hungrily -- and if he thought that the stone caryatids and cupids along the fireplace seemed to watch him intently, he put it down to his weariness.
Indeed, after the fine meal, the man noticed a bed set in a niche close to the warm hearthstone. Too warm and well-fed to question it, he disrobed and was soon fast asleep beneath the thick counterpane.
When he awakened the next morning, the old man was as alone as he had been the night before. His clothes were laid out on the bed, neatly folded and as fresh as if they had just been washed and dried in the sun. This time the magical table was set with a bowl of porridge, bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee in a silver urn. After dressing and breakfasting, the man rose from the table to find the doors opening for his exit, which he took after another futile calling out for the owner to show himself.
As he walked along the path that led to the stable, a flash of bright red caught the man's eye. The path was bordered along the house with bushes, and from one emerged a single perfectly- bloomed red rose which was what had caught his attention. Awed, the old man looked at the beautiful rose for a moment; then he thought, "Surely, this simple beauty will move my son when nothing else will. Yes, I will tell Beau I have brought him his stinging nettle, and produce this thorny twig -- topped with this tender blossom. It could teach him a valuable lesson. The man who owns this estate has been generous with me; surely he will not grudge me a single rose." And so thinking, the old man drew his dirk and cut the rose from the branch.
The opening stable door slammed shut. Wind shrieked around the man, whipping at his cloak, driving him to his knees. It tore the rose from the frightened man's hand and blew it across the ground to stop between large, heavily booted feet.
The man looked up into the face of a Beast.
It towered over the old man, cloaked and caparisoned like a gentleman -- but taller and broader than any man, and covered all over with shaggy russet-red curly hair. Feral green eyes glared furious fire over a broad flat snout and long fangs. It was hideously ugly; it was like no animal the man had ever seen, not lion nor wolf nor bear.
"So!" the Beast growled in a deep voice to the quaking old soldier. One long-taloned paw snatched up the rose and clutched it to its shaggy breast. "I give you shelter and food for the night -- and you repay me by stealing a rose! You may have anything of mine -- all that lies within my lands you may have -- but never a rose!"
"F-f-forgive me, sire," babbled the old man, "I only--"
"Don't call me that!" snapped the Beast. "I don't like flattery! I have no title. I am the Beast. You have taken my rose. And now I will fight you until one of us is dead."
The old man had been a good soldier when he was young; but he was no longer young. Even then he would have been no match for this Creature... "Mercy, have mercy on me," he wept, falling to his knees, thinking only of his pilgrimage to pray for his son that now would come to naught. "I only wanted this rose for my son, my Beau, so that--"
"Beau? Your son?" The Beast glared at the old man, fur-tufted ears laid flat against its enormous skull. "Beau is the one for whom you took my rose?"
"Y-yes, that is why--"
The Beast cut the man short. "Then I must deal with Beau over this, not you. Go home, old man, and send Beau here to me."
Horrified, the man stared at the creature; even young, strong Beau would be no match for this Beast in a fight. "I came to save my son, not to lose him," he whispered.
"I give you three days," the Beast said as if nothing had been said. "At the end of three days either you or Beau must be here, or it will go hard with all you hold dear. My magic that fed and warmed you last night is powerful enough for me to do many things." The Beast glared at the man out of deep forest- green eyes. "Three days." The Beast clapped his paws together. The stable doors opened, and a magnificent white stallion cantered out, saddled and bridled as if for a nobleman. "You will ride my own horse. His name is Le Magnifique (the Magnificent One). He will take you anywhere you wish; you have only to tell him, 'Va ou je vais, Le Magnifique. Va, va, va!' (Go where I am going. Go, go, go!). But in three days either you or Beau must be here, facing me." The Beast flung the rose down at the soldier's feet, then turned and stomped into the opening doors of the mansion, which swung closed behind him.
Trembling with fear, the old man took up the rose -- what a price he had paid for such a thing! -- and mounted the Magnificent One. He leaned over and whispered, "Va ou je vais, Le Magnifique. Va, va, va!"
Instantly the white stallion turned and galloped down the path toward the opening gates, through the parting hedges and branches, and through the clearly-lit forest, back toward town.
When the old soldier returned to the town and told his sons of his encounter in the forest, Antoine and Jacques were horrified at the tale their father told of the Beast.
But Beau was furious. "You stopped to pick a rose for me," he sneered, flinging the hard-won blossom into the fire, "and you were attacked by a monster? It would have served you right if he had killed you!" He rose and buckled on his sword. "I'll go kill the Beast for you, old man, and bring his head back."
In vain did the old man weep and beg his youngest son to stay home and let him go back to face the Beast. "I'm old, I have lived my life; you won't have a chance against him!" In vain did Beau's brothers beg to go with him to slay the Beast. "You can't possibly take on such a monster by yourself, fighter though you are!"
"If I can't kill one filthy forest creature by myself I don't deserve to live," snapped Beau, who turned to go out to the waiting Le Magnifique.
A sound from his father stopped him for a second. Annoyed, he turned to order his father to silence; but the words died on his lips as his white-faced father bent down and picked up the rose Beau had flung into the fire. It had fallen out of the grate and onto the hearth; and it was as perfect and tender as it had been when the old man had first picked it.
The old man held the rose out to Beau like a talisman. "He has powerful magic," he whispered.
Beau might have shivered once, or it might have been the breeze from outside. He set his lips grimly and took the rose before whirling and striding out of the house; he mounted the stallion and said, "Va ou je vais, Le Magnifique. Va, va, va!"
The white stallion pointed his head toward the distant forest where lay the estate of the Beast and galloped away. The old soldier leaned on his two older sons and wept as his youngest son disappeared from his sight. He was sure he would never see Beau again; and for all Beau's heartless ways, the old man yet loved the boy and grieved for his soul. The grim-faced older boys led their frail father back inside the house.
Meanwhile Beau cantered through the town gates and across the countryside, admiring the speed of Le Magnifique. He decided that he would claim the white horse as his prize once he had killed the Beast. "The estate Father mentioned sounded very fine, too," he said to himself, "far too fine for such a brute to own. For myself it will make a splendid manor. I shall be a landed gentleman, and my older brothers will have to bow to me!"
With such nice thoughts Beau passed the day a-horseback, till he entered the woods that had trapped his father. As night fell, and fog and darkness shrouded everything in his path, Beau only sat the straighter on the white horse that never slowed its steady pace, one hand loosening his sword in its scabbard; he feared no wolf nor brigand, for his skill at the sword was unmatched. Soon Le Magnifique came to the place in the forest where branches and hedges moved aside from his path and closed themselves behind horse and rider. Beau looked all around him constantly. "I am ready for any magic you can throw at me, Beast!" he shouted; but his words fell flat in the dense fog. And his left hand never loosened its grip on the perfectly- bloomed red rose which he still held -- he could not bring himself to toss it aside during his ride.
The horse passed through the immense carved-marble gates of the hidden mansion and made its way to the estate door while Beau gaped around him at the splendor he could not have imagined. Yet for all the magic of doors opening and gates parting, the place seemed empty, deserted. Haunted.
Beau dismounted at the doorway and watched as Le Magnifique trotted into the opening doors of the stable, and stared as the doorway opened for him. Clenching his teeth and gripping the rose with his left hand, Beau drew his sword and shouted, "Come out and fight me, Monsieur le Bete! It is I, Beau! Come and fight someone who can fight back, you coward!"
The only answer was a soft beckoning light as the front doors opened wide.
Beau shouted his challenge again, and yet a third time. But no sound came from the opened door; no change in the light.
Now Beau was many unpleasant things, but he was no coward. When he decided that the Beast wished to take him on inside the estate, he did not hesitate in striding up the stairs and through the doorway, sword drawn and eyes searching for move- ments down the long hall. He found no more signs of habitation than his father had found on his visit, though he started and glared at the flickering lights in the halls -- caused by the sconces, shaped like human hands holding candelabra, which moved in the direction Beau walked. An experimental hacking at one of them showed it to be only stone -- and yet they moved as did human arms to light his way. He set his teeth and strode down the hall, gripping the rose. His shouts for the Beast to show himself and fight echoed and re-echoed down the hall to no avail.
At the end of the hall he found a table set for supper, exactly as it had been described to him by his father, and the same cheery fire warming the hearthstone.
"Well, the old man was fed and entertained before the Beast attacked him," thought Beau, who was feeling famished. "Surely such a huge Beast has no need for poison or spells to vanquish an enemy." With that thought, he seated himself -- turning the chair back to the wall so he could survey the entire great hall as he ate and drank. No one came to him, though the stone hands served him as they had served his father.
When Beau had finished eating, a row of sconces lit up, leading up a spiral staircase. He followed the flickering torches until a door opened in a wall and a curtain parted, revealing a salon fit for a young nobleman; a finer room than the soldier's son had ever inhabited before. A bed was prepared, the covers pulled back and the sheets warm to the touch (the bedwarmer just settling itself beside the fireplace in the hearth as he entered the room).
At first Beau sat atop the bed, fully clothed, sword drawn, alert for any movement. But as the hearthflames flickered down and drowsiness overcame him, Beau lay back onto the bed, bared sword laid across his body, and closed his eyes.
A growling noise nearby wakened him immediately. Beau sat bolt upright in bed, sword raised, and stared up into the face of the Beast. The ugliness of the monster was worse than description; brave and cruel though he was, even Beau quailed in fear at first sight of the Beast. But instantly he leaped out of bed, sword flashing.
"Put that back!" roared the Beast, every curved fang bared and glistening in the suddenly-flaring hearthfire, eyes gold in the firelight. "I have no sword!"
"Nor did an old man who came here three nights ago, Beast," sneered Beau, emboldened by rough immediate action. "You wanted to fight someone to the death, didn't you? Well, here I am. Try to kill me, monster -- the way you tried to kill me in bed just now!"
"I was not trying to kill you -- I only wished to see if you lived up to your name, Beau. I don't kill sleeping prey," sneered the Beast. "Nor do I beat unarmed people or seduce foolish girls."
Beau gaped, stunned at the Beast's veracity.
"I have great magic, Monsieur Beau," said the Beast coolly "I know the kind of creature you are, too, you see."
Fury flew into Beau; cold, deliberate fury. "All right, monster," he snarled. "I'll kill you, right here and right now Come on, then, and fight someone who can fight back -- I am not an old man!"
"Not here. Not now." The Beast turned his back dismissively on Beau who stood gaping in his clothes, sword half-raised still. "Sleep. I will not fight someone exhausted by a sleepless night. Tomorrow morning, after breakfast. Outside, by the grape arbor."
"I could come after you in the night, Beast," shouted Beau, still flaming-cheeked at the knowledge the Beast had of him, and wishing to instill fear in his enemy.
The Beast turned to look at Beau; the fire-gold eyes seemed to bore into his own. "That would not be wise," it said quietly; and menace rumbled through the voice. The broad hairy back turned. "Tomorrow." It left the bedroom; the hearthfire died down to a soft glow as the Beast left.
Beau laughed loudly after it. "I will win tomorrow!" he shouted through the closing door. He hung his sword-belt over a chair and undressed, sliding between the covers. But it was another hour before he could sleep, and he dreamed of gleaming eyes and savage teeth.
Next morning Beau found his clothes clean and neatly folded; he dressed only in the trousers, boots and muslin shirt, buckling on his sword. After breakfast at the magical table downstairs, he strode out through the immense doors to the outer estate of rolling lawns and dense growth along what looked like a neglected vineyard. There the Beast was waiting, wearing only a pair of black trousers and boots.
"Die, monster!" shouted Beau, drawing his sword.
The Beast waved a massive paw. Beau's sword went flying out of his hand as if it had been slapped away, turning over and over in the air before landing too far away to see.
"No weapons," the Beast growled. "We fight like men!"
Beau gave the monster a cold look -- to hide the sudden rush of fear -- and lost no time in stripping to the waist and standing bare-fisted before his adversary. He was strong, and good at fisticuffs.
The Beast glared at him out of cold green eyes. "Come, Monsieur, attack! Or are you only good at fighting when you have a cudgel or sword against an unarmed peasant?"
Beau roared and charged at the hairy creature. Seconds later he was flat on the ground with the wind knocked out of him. The Beast loomed over him, teeth bared (one long fang curved inward slightly); any prayers Beau could remember from childhood were blown out of his head by fear of his death. His strength had been nothing compared to the Beast's.
"This is no fight," snapped the Creature. "I want an opponent, not a silly sheep to kill." The Beast spurned Beau with one booted toe. "Get up! Get up and fight me!"
Boiling with rage and humiliation, Beau sprang to his feet and drove at the Creature's midsection with his head, hoping to take it off guard and wind it. This time he went sailing, not nearly as far as his sword, and landed hard on his back on the neatly- kept lawn.
"Stupid! Stupid bully!" snarled the Beast as Beau dragged himself to his feet, doubled over for breath. "The first man to challenge you defeats you! I won't soil my hands with your death, Monsieur Beau! I will have to teach you everything before I can challenge you to an honorable duel."
Beau glowered at the Beast, seeing only a hated adversary and not the monster that had frightened him last night. "Teach me, Monsieur le Bete? And I am to take my instruction from an unholy animal?"
The Beast dropped into a crouch and roared like a lion. "Come on, then! Or does your bravery extend only to your words?"
Beau, winded twice, answered with a roar that might have been made by a lion's cub. They locked together and began to wrestle in grim earnestness.
The two wrestled all morning. It was soon obvious to Beau that the Beast was not using a tenth of his strength to confound him at every turn and twist of the fight. When the sun hid the shadows of the statuary, the Beast stepped back, barely winded, held up both empty paws and snapped, "Enough." Beau, exhausted and dripping with sweat, only nodded and stood back, wrung out in every muscle and bone, feeling as if he'd been beaten by a mob of people with heavy cudgels. "Come back here the same time tomorrow morning, and we will continue. Go inside now. Wash, and eat." The Beast turned and strode away through the trees, leaving Beau to hobble back into the estate for a bath and dinner -- and to fall into an exhausted sleep on the bed.
The next morning Beau limped out, sore in every muscle and clad only in trousers and boots, and found the Beast waiting. Without preamble they set to, Beau wrestling with all his might and main, the Beast holding himself back.
This time as the Beast held up his paws and said "Enough," to an exhausted Beau, he added, "Come back tomorrow morning. Come back here every morning, until you are strong enough to take me on in a fair fight. In the meantime, feel free to roam the palace and the grounds. You may go wherever you wish."
"I shall not leave here until you are dead and our score settled," gasped Beau, still doubled over for breath. "If you are trying to trap me into fleeing, Beast, so that your sorceries can wreak havoc on me--"
"I didn't think you'd try to run away!" the Beast roared, and Beau flinched back at the creature's rage. "I assumed your honor would hold you here! I give you a courtesy and you spit it back in my face?" He whirled and stomped away through the arbor, shouting furiously, "How could you have the name Beau, when your manners and your breeding show you to be uglier than I am?"
Stunned, Beau stood and stared after the retreating Beast for a long time before turning to go back inside.
When he awoke from his after-dinner nap, Beau found new clothes waiting for him, better and finer than his shabby guard's uniform; they included a pair of black silver-toed boots that fit his feet perfectly, and a handsome red velvet cape lined with fur and trimmed with gold thread. He dressed slowly, his mind in turmoil. The Beast was angry with him, furious... and yet his magic provided food for him, and clothes finer than any he'd ever had. What was his game?
Beau spent the afternoon exploring the great empty palace. The estate was full of great paintings and marble statuary of all kinds of animals and birds, real and fabulous. One large room was full of shelves of books; the bottom floor boasted a wide gold-and-green tiled ballroom. One room was full of various odd objects such as leaden soldiers and glass ornaments; Beau stared in unease at a brooch shaped like a gold snake atop a small glass-walled plant holder. One hall, to his delight, held weaponry and suits of antique armor; much of it he had never seen before. For a moment he wished the Beast was there to tell him about them -- then he shook his head angrily. The Beast was his enemy, hell-bent on killing him over a rose...a rose that now lay on the desk in his room, a rose as fresh and blooming as the day it had been plucked, that had been thrown into the fire and had been returned unscathed. And a Beast that had not killed him, even though he could have done so easier than breathing at any time.
He ate his supper alone again, in a silence new to him; for it was a thoughtful silence. He retired in the same silence.
A fearful shriek in the night started Beau awake. Pausing only to don his cloak, he proceeded out of his door and entered the great hall just as the outer doors opened. The Beast entered, dressed in his fine garments. But they were torn and splashed with fresh wet blood; blood and tufts of animal hair slicked the great fangs and the fur around the Beast's maw; wisps of smoke curled from his clenched, bloody paws.
Beau only stood and stared as the Beast turned in silence to look back at the young man. His eyes were dreadful to see, a more horrifying sight than the smoking paws. The pain in the green-gold eyes; the guilt for what the Beast had just done...
That was not the gaze of a bloodthirsty monster.
Beau turned to the magic dining table and plucked the linen serviette from it. He tossed it to the dazed, stricken Beast. "Here. Clean yourself," he said roughly, and turned to go back to his room.
"Beau..." Was that soft, gentle voice the Beast's?
"You have to eat, don't you?" Beau snapped without turning around. "So, eat. Just don't try to have me for dessert or I'll beat you black and blue tomorrow morning." He strode back to his room and lay flat for two hours, his head tumbling in turmoil with thinking.
The next morning, when Beau appeared for his wrestling lesson, the Beast met his calm look with one of equal coolness. They began wrestling with no preamble; Beau felt relief in struggling with something big and hairy and physical after all the turmoil in his mind the day before. And yet there was something new that day; the wrestling was more like the way Beau and his brothers had tumbled and fought and played together as boys. His fury and hatred were gone.
Days began to pass into each other, falling into a routine. Beau would meet the Beast outside every morning and they would wrestle and fight until noon. Then the Beast departed across the estate, leaving Beau to his own devices. As his strength and endurance grew, Beau had more leisure time to explore the palace and grounds. He inspected the weaponry and armor in the hallway, and even wandered into the library to look over the books of military history to see if he could learn anything about them for himself. One evening he started at the darkness closing in on the library; and realized that for the first time in his life he had spent an entire afternoon reading.
But loneliness and boredom began to gnaw at him -- and, more and more, he wished the Beast to be there, to explain something that puzzled him or to answer his questions. At mealtimes Beau ate well; but more and more he was conscious of an absence. In the library he realized more and more how little he knew.
One day, when he went out to the grape arbor -- now quite trampled and torn from their wrestling -- and found the Beast there, he saw the creature's eyes widen at the sight of him. Beau had dressed in a fine suit of clothes, including his red velvet cloak; all completely unsuitable for fighting. Before the Beast could say anything, Beau held up both hands, palms open, in the gesture the Beast always made to end the wrestling for the day. "Truce," he said. "I would like to talk with you today, rather than fight."
He imagined he saw a glint in the green eyes, but then the Beast calmly held up both paws. "Very well. Truce for today."
"Please, Monsieur," and now Beau's voice was as genteel as if he was addressing the Pope, "do me the great favor of showing me around your magnificent home."
The green eyes gleamed with unfeigned pleasure. The Beast grinned toothily, the one wry fang glinting, and said as he picked up his own shirt, "I would be honored, Monsieur Beau."
That was a splendid day. They spent it walking through the estate and talking; Beau found the Beast to be conversant on all sorts of topics and well read on them. He unrolled the long history of the various suits of armor to the delighted Beau and explained some of the more archaic weapons. When Beau admitted to reading books about the armor to try to learn more, the Beast nodded approvingly, but said, "You need more than knowledge of weapons and armor to make you educated, Monsieur Beau. Come." The Beast took Beau through his vast library, loading his arms down from the shelves, insisting that these were only the basics for a complete education; Beau looked around at the shelves of books yet untouched and grew somewhat faint.
At one point the Beast pounced on a book of poetry, opened it and read a favorite passage out loud. Beau stood at the foot of the ladder, enchanted by the change in the Beast's rough voice as it shaped the words into a musical instrument that played a beautiful song. He wanted very much to read the book of poems as well, but quashed the urge to ask for its loan with the ease of practice. No son of a soldier should want such things, as he'd been taunted before the boy learned to hide his love for poetry so well that he himself had forgotten it. When the Beast added that volume to Beau's stack and saw the young man's face light up, green eyes and midnight-blue eyes met in shared, perfect understanding. At that moment, for the first time, Beau did not see his companion's ugly snout or shaggy fur.
Dinner was a lively event. The Beast did not eat or drink; Beau scarcely noticed his own food -- the unending conversation was the true meat and drink shared during the meal. Never before had Beau had such company and such conversation; in town, his only such activities had been the boisterous noise and lecherous tales of his drinking companions.
After dinner they went outside to go walking over the lands that were part of the estate. The Beast led Beau to a pond in a wooded clearing, overhung with fronds and fed by a trickling rivulet; Greek statuary surrounded the pond.
"I call this Diana's Pool," said the Beast. "When the weather is warm, it is delightful for bathing." He eyed the rippling water with a deep longing, then shook his head.
"Do you want to swim?" asked Beau.
"No. No, it's nothing. I am thirsty, that is all," said the Beast, and turned his head away from the inviting water.
"Then drink!" Beau said. But he saw a flash of fear in the Beast's eyes; he looked at the water, and sudden understanding filled him. The Beast did not want Beau to see him lapping the water like a dog. "I'm going to go look at some of the statues we passed; I'll be back in a few minutes," he said casually, and walked up the path till he was out of sight of the pond. He admired the detailing on Minerva's Medusa-head shield until the splashing sounds behind him stopped. When he returned, the Beast was as he had been, save for a wetness around his muzzle-- and deep gratitude in his eyes. The pride that filled Beau was different than any he'd ever felt for his prowess at weapons or his handsome looks; he had never before felt the pride of placing another's needs before his own.
They walked around the pond, the Beast pointing out each of the marble gods and goddesses and listing their places in the pantheon. "And this beautiful creature is Venus, goddess of love and beauty," he said.
Beau looked at the lovely woman in stone -- and gaped. A sword was buried halfway through the statue, the blade and hilt protruding from her breast. "Why...that is my sword! I have not seen it since--"
The Beast nodded. "Since I struck it out of your hand that very first day, and flung it far away with my magic. The blade must have received enough magical strength from the blow to cleave marble."
Beau reached up to pull the sword free -- and tugged futilely at the unbudging blade. "I can't remove it," he gasped.
"Look at her face," the Beast said softly. Beau looked; and was appalled to see moisture trickling from the Venus' stone eyes. "She is weeping from the pain your sword is causing her."
"Then I must free it from her! It's been there so long--" Beau pulled and pulled at the hilt with all his strength. "Please, Monsieur, you must help me!"
"I cannot help you pull the sword." The Beast's eyes were gleaming malachites. "Only you, when you are truly strong, will be able to free the sword and end her pain."
Still Beau pulled on the hilt till his hands were raw; only when he released the hilt did he notice the trickling down his own cheeks. He hadn't cried since he'd been a very small child. There was a terrible pain inside him, a sickness. "Monsieur, I-- I--" he gasped, something turning in him. "Please, Monsieur, excuse me. I--I need to be alone," and he fled through the woods until he stumbled into a hollow. He flung himself to the ground and wept bitterly, heartsick and frightened by the intensity of what he felt inside. Names and faces filled his mind: Mimi, Marie, Nicole, Angelique, Celeste...dozens more he could not name. The women he had wounded and had made to weep had all come together in the form of that weeping, silently reproachful Venus.
When Beau came in for supper that evening, he was very subdued and did not eat much. The Beast sat with him and said little.
"I must become stronger," Beau said suddenly. "Truly strong, as you have said, to stop the suffering of that poor maiden." He looked at the Beast, and his face was very serious. "We must fight again tomorrow, and every day, until I am strong enough to overcome you. Then I can free her of the torment my sword causes."
The Beast nodded his great ugly head, closing his eyes to keep his own tears out. At the end of Beau's supper, the Beast rose and said only, "Tomorrow morning," and strode quickly across the great hall.
The next day the routine resumed, including the Beast leaving at the fight's end to leave Beau to his own devices. But after the day that had passed, Beau now found the solitude unbearable. He held his peace, however, and gained satisfaction from the fact that the Beast had to struggle more to overthrow him, and he was not nearly as exhausted at the end of the fighting as he had been. He bided his time and fell into the routine.
And a day exactly a week after that first conversation day, Beau came out to the arbor in his fine clothes and his palms up; and he saw the Beast's face light up before putting his own paws up in the signal for the truce.
The truce became a once-a-week occasion; Beau found a joy and fulfillment in that day that he had never gotten from his observing of the Sabbath day in town. He looked forward to truce-day more and more as time progressed, and always dressed and groomed himself carefully on those days. He discussed the books he was reading and asked questions; the Beast led him all through the fine grounds and the uninhabited palace, discoursing on architecture, Renaissance painters, the political hold of the Medicis on the Vatican, or the Greek myths which inspired many of the tapestries and paintings on the walls. Beau no longer feared being thought childish for asking so many questions; the Beast approved of his search for greater knowledge.
Beau was gradually able to hold up his own end of such discussions as he read more of the books in the library and was able to comment on them. The powerful feeling inside him during such discussions was a new experience for the bullying soldier. Always before Beau had associated books and learning with the wizened, humorless scholars in black robes that prattled gibberish all day in town and whom Beau had despised for their scrawny looks and inability to perform useful work. The Beast had taught Beau that physical strength was not incompatible with learning.
"And why, Monsieur, are there so many animals and birds carved everywhere?" Beau once asked, at which the Beast angrily snapped, "What else would you expect to find in the lair of a Beast!" Startled by the sudden show of temper, Beau apologized; a skill he had never used before his arrival at the mysterious estate, and at which he was becoming quite proficient.
Beau wondered how another's injured feelings could now make him feel as if he himself had been wronged. All he knew was that when the Beast was sad or angry, he himself felt pain and hastened to ease it with a joke or similar distraction. And when the Beast laughed or groaned at his word-plays, or traded passages of poetry with him in undisguised delight at the exercise, Beau felt sound and well. He felt...strong.
About many of Beau's questions -- mostly the ones about the stone hands that served him at table, or the clothes that fit him so well -- the Beast would only say, "It is my magic," and say nothing more. Beau, used to both the braggadocio of his tavern- mates and the cold silences of men with ugly histories, would then say nothing more, and ask him a question about astronomy or navigation. The Beast's silences were to be protected.
The daily wrestling that continued six days of the week had changed in tone completely. Now it was the playful roughhousing of two companions trying to best each other; they laughed and roared as they tumbled together. If Beau still remembered the original purpose of the wrestling, he did not give it much thought. He only knew that not even his brothers had the place inside him that this ugly creature had taken.
Every truce-day, Beau and the Beast went back to Diana's Pool, where Beau would once again try to pull his sword from the weeping Venus; he would emerge with his hands raw and his new muscles aching and dewed with sweat, and vow to return. The Beast watched this and said nothing.
New things appeared in Beau's suite; fine jewels and signet rings, intricate cloak-clasps and embroidered doublets, games and puzzles. He played the games with the Beast, though he shook his head ruefully and the Beast roared with laughter over his inability to master chess; the fine clothes he wore with pleasure, saving the best outfits for truce-days; the jewels and valuable ornaments he stored carefully.
Something began to move inside Beau, to stir him; his old lechery for beautiful maidens was a pale sickly shadow of what he now felt when he was with the Beast. Every day he felt gladdened inside at the sight of the Beast, even when they wrestled or had a furious argument. The creature's very ugliness was now familiar and known to Beau, and brought only pleasure associated with his company; the one wry fang he thought very charming and fitting to the assymetrical face.
Beau's nights began to make him restless; deep heavy dreams haunted him, dreams that stirred him to passion. He was not surprised at this, only a little embarrassed at soiling the fine linen sheets he slept upon; after all, he had now been many months with only the Beast for companionship, living in what seemed at times like a cloistered university. It was only natural that he would feel a hunger for what he had not tasted in a very long time.
But one night he dreamed of lying in the grotto by Diana's Pool at night, holding a slim bare young man close to his naked body in pleasure, russet-red curls tumbling over his arm and shoulder as he shared kisses with the beautiful boy--
He awakened in a sweat, and lay awake for the rest of the night listening to the roars and shrieks outside as the Beast pursued his prey. He knew what he felt for the Beast; and why the dream tried to justify it by changing the Beast to a beautiful man rather than a hideous animal. His soul was troubled; his heart was sore.
And now Beau's fledgling conscience bothered him. For the first time in a long time he thought of his father and brothers.
The next day was a truce-day. After breakfast, Beau asked the Beast if he might have some word of his family.
The Beast bowed his head. Then he said softly, "It was bound to happen. Come with me, Beau." He took Beau to his own chamber, a splendid suite not unlike Beau's, with the exception of a large silver handled mirror lying on the desk. Words in Latin were etched all around the silver frame. Beau looked at them, and found to his wonder that he was reading them; the languages he had been learning under the Beast's tutelage were taking root. He painstakingly translated the words etched all around the frame. "Winner loses...loser wins; captor frees, captive...encages?; beautiful breaks beast, beast breaks beautiful." He looked up at the Beast. "That is what it says?"
"Yes," the Beast said roughly, almost angrily, "it's a magic mirror. Ask it to show you what you wish to see."
Beau held the mirror up and asked to see his father. Instantly he saw the old man lying in bed, looking very frail and aged, his lips soundlessly forming Beau's name over and over. Appalled at the sight -- and ambushed by a sudden rush of tenderness for the old man -- he asked about his brothers; and saw both of them on guard, grim-faced, patrolling the streets. Their clothes were even shabbier than his had been; things had gotten worse. "He is alone," Beau whispered. "Monsieur, I beg you. Grant me a few day's leave to visit my father. He surely thinks that I am dead now, and his health is failing because of it. Only a few days to reassure him and my brothers, and to make them presents of some of my finery; they need this wealth more than I do."
The Beast looked into the mirror at the frail old man and the hard faces of the two young men. He was silent for a long minute. "Go," he said quietly, in the voice that recited poems. "I give you one week."
Beau seized the Beast's paw and would have kissed it in gratitude, but the creature pulled it away. "Do you think I want your father to die?" he snarled. He stomped to a small box and opened it, withdrawing a slender silver chain in a loop. "Here." He all but flung the chain to Beau. "Place this chain around your neck and it will take you to your father's side. At the end of the week, if you are wearing this chain, it will call you back. I will also send Le Magnifique to you, in case you lose the chain. But Beau...be back in that week; for I will be terribly lonely until then."
"I, too, will miss you, Monsieur," Beau said. "And thank you for you kindness." He held the mirror out to the Beast. "Here. I swear by Our Lady, and on my word as a gentleman, that in a week's time I shall return to your lands."
But the Beast gently pushed the mirror back into Beau's hand. "Hold it for me," he said. "Give it back when you return." The green eyes glowed brightly. "You have given me your word, Beau."
Beau nodded, his heart too full to reply, and left the room quickly to go to his own suite. He paused only to take up the bag in which he had cached his jewels, and slipped the chain over his head.
"Beau," his father moaned from beside him.
Beau started at the realization that he was now in the house he had lived in all his adult life, and was in fact in his father's bedroom. He turned to see the old soldier lying in bed as he had looked in the mirror. A sudden upwelling of love at the sight of this old man filled Beau, and he knelt and kissed the man's forehead. "Father. It is I. I have returned to see you," he whispered.
The old man's eyes opened. "Beau?" he whispered. "Am I so close to death? The monster devoured you long ago, my son."
"No, Father, I am truly here. The Beast let me visit you."
The old man's eyes gleamed with a sudden, healthy light. "Beau? You are really here? You have slain the Beast?"
"No, Father. I have been with the Beast all this time. The Beast and I have an understanding. He is no monster. He is horrible-looking, but he has the soul of a gentleman, and his heart is good. He is hardest on himself. He gave me leave to visit you, and to bring you these." And with only a fraction of the pride he had once had, Beau dug his hand into the bag and produced a handful of fine gems. "Sell them, Father, and pay your debts. I have gifts for my brothers, as well."
The old man stared in disbelief -- not at the jewels, but at Beau. Where was the heartless and selfish young scoundrel who had called his father "old man"? "You cannot be my son!"
Beau laughed -- not his familiar mocking laugh. "Oh, yes, it is your Beau. And not your Beau. I have changed, and all for the better, I assure you, Father."
When the two older brothers came in to supper that night, they were astonished threefold: firstly, by the sight of their father out of bed and sitting at table, looking happier and more well than he had been in months; secondly, by the sumptuous repast laid out for them when they had been living for too long on cabbages and bread; and third, by the well-dressed and soft- spoken young man who looked like their youngest brother Beau, who stood and said, "Antoine. Jacques. Please, make yourselves welcome. I would be honored to serve you tonight."
Beau answered their stunned questions as they ate hungrily, reassuring them that they were not seeing a ghost and that the excellent meats, wine and pastries were not witchcraft. Their eyes popped out of their skulls as Beau presented many fine jewels to the two. "Now you can dress as you wish, and not worry so about what the town pays you to march the watch."
Now it is a sad fact of life that some people can be angered, or even roused to hatred, by acts of kindness. So it was with Beau's oldest brother, Antoine. At his well-dressed sibling's careless generosity, and upon sight of the fine and expensive jewels, Antoine instantly became full of jealous hatred for Beau -- and full of greed for more jewels. "You have many more jewels in that bag, dear brother," he said cattily. "Are you, perhaps, going to build a monument to yourself and place it in the center of town?"
Beau's temper instantly flared at the vicious tone; but his fights with the Beast had taught him to stop and think carefully before speaking or acting. "No; these jewels I need for other purposes," he said calmly. "I have a great many debts to pay."
And so he did. The very next day, after sleeping soundly on his old pallet (with the bag of jewels beneath him), Beau set forth through the town, armed only with the bag. He visited the households of men he had beaten, and of maidens he had wronged. After holding up his bared hands to show that he was unarmed, he begged leave to speak to them. If it was given, Beau made apologies for his brutish behavior, and left the jewels one by one with the people he had wronged. Angry and frightened people were stunned by this courteous young lord that had taken the place of the savage bully they had known. Women heard the difference between this man's clear and honest admittance of wrongdoing and the handsome guard's wheedling and flattering. He saved the best and biggest jewels for the women, many of whom had been abandoned by their families: "Please, Mademoiselle, accept this from me as partial repayment for my evil. This will bring dowry enough for you to wed any man you wish, a better one than I, to give a name to the child I sired without thought, and leave you enough wealth to regain your good name." Now angry pride is one thing to have, but babes need to be fed and clothed; the jewels were accepted.
Many people were frightened at the very sight of Beau, and hid in their houses; or they furiously rebuffed him from inside, piling curses on his head. He would only nod, leave the jewel, and depart in sorrow for what he had brought upon himself. But others accepted his apologies, and forgave him; including one young woman who gave the jewel back to him, saying, "Monsieur, your apology is worth far more to me than this bauble. That is all I ever wanted from you." Beau accepted her proud gesture and left her home, feeling...strong.
Beau spent the days of that week with his reparations. His evenings he spent in the company of his father and brothers, speaking with them about the wonders of the Beast's estate.
But Antoine never thawed toward his youngest brother; he only gripped the jewels he had been given and glared at Beau, at the fine cloak like the one he himself had wanted, and the boots Jacques had craved. Now he had the means to buy them, but in spite he no longer wanted them. He heard his brother's stories, and he made plans.
It became general knowledge in town that Beau was going about unarmed. One day a furious man armed with a stout cudgel attacked Beau in the market square, shouting and cursing him; Beau recognized the man as the brother of the thief whom he had so cruelly killed. His life and jewels could have been forfeit; or he could kill again as he had before. But Beau's struggles with the Beast had taught him how to take on someone weaker and more helpless. He simply fended off the worst blows from the stick, moving around them so that most of them never touched him; and when the man wearied, he plucked the club from the man's hand and tossed it aside. Blows from fists and feet were handled the same way; shrieking curses he parried with quiet words of apology for the grief he had caused the man. When the man was exhausted and sobbing, sitting on the cobbled street, Beau rose and held a hand out to help the man to his feet. "I do not expect your forgiveness, Monsieur, nor your acceptance of my apology. But I will not repeat my cruelty. Let us go light a candle together for the repose of your brother Jean's soul." The people in the square who had witnessed the event murmured.
Beau was pleased at his father's growing strength and health, and the penance he was making was healing something inside him. And yet, amid his family and the rest of the town, he was lonely. He spoke to the scholars he had despised, and found several who responded with pleasure to his questions. A few pedants were just as dried and boring as he'd remembered; but now that he himself could hold forth on topics besides women and weapons, Beau began to understand the human beings who pursued knowledge to the exclusion of everything else. It was not a life he would live; but now he understood them in a way that he never had before. And always, his thoughts turned toward one scholar; one very ugly scholar.
All the time Antoine was growing more jealous of Beau. One time he sneered, "It seems you have been well-broken by your Beast, mon frere. Can it be that he has tamed you, the way the stallion 'tames' the mare?"
That was the time Beau came closest to striking him -- blind rage filled him at his brother taking what he shared with the Beast and turning it into ugly, animal lust. The insult to that noble creature... Only the memory of that creature's absolute chivalry ruling brute strength kept Antoine from feeling his brother's new strength. Beau glared at him in hostility; then in confusion, then with pity; he recognized the ugliness inside the righteous Antoine as that which had dwelled within Beau for far longer. How empty he had been; how lonely Antoine must be now...
That, unwittingly, was the final blow. That Antoine would not have -- not Beau's pity for the hatred he felt. He finished making his plans.
That night he whispered to Jacques, "Listen up, you fool. That demon has our brother under a spell. It is witchcraft! It is our duty to save Beau from that monster once and for all."
Jacques did not like to go against either brother. "The whole town is talking about the 'evil' that Beau has been doing all week," he said. "If what Beau is doing is 'evil,' then the Devil is doing God's work."
"It's all a ruse, idiot! Haven't you seen that silver chain that Beau wears on his neck? It's a witchcraft to bind him to the monster. I think those jewels will turn into dung the moment Beau runs back to play bottom-boy for the Beast again! But there must be more, real wealth in that palace," Antoine whispered craftily. "Beau is bewitched and will not turn against the creature; it is up to us to save him. And we shall be far richer than if we begged Beau for scraps from his banquet for the rest of our lives."
As is all too often the case with weak men, the thought of wealth turned Jacques' mind towards evil. "How are we to do it?" he asked.
"Beau said that he was going back tomorrow, after Mass," Antoine said. "All we have to do is steal the silver chain, and the spell will be broken." He held up a slender silver chain, as like the one around Beau's neck as two peas in a pod. "I used some of dear brother's guilt-jewelry to have this made. Take this, and switch it with the one in his room!"
That night Jacques, being lighter-footed and smaller than Antoine, stole into Beau's room and took the silver chain from the dresser. He rummaged through the nearly-empty jewel bag, finding to his displeasure that all the jewels were gone, and took the only object he found there.
"Look at what he had!" Jacques hissed to Antoine, producing the silver chain -- and a large silver mirror.
"He was holding out on us, the vicious brute," Antoine hissed. He greedily snatched up the mirror, looked into it, and dropped it in horror. He had seen not his own face, but a hissing black serpent wearing his clothes. Curious, Jacques turned the mirror over...and saw a toad staring back at him. He dropped it back on the bed.
"More sorcery!" Anton snapped to hide his fear. "Put this back, you ass, or he'll suspect! He shan't go anywhere tomorrow," he gloated, holding up the chain. "We will be ready to meet this Beast -- and when he is dead, the riches of that palace will be ours!"
Next day Beau rose and donned the silver chain, not noticing the difference, and went to Mass for the first time in his adult life. Antoine and Jacques, on pretext of visiting friends, left their father at home alone and, taking the silver chain and their swords, made their way out of town as if for a Sunday walk. As the bells chimed to end the service, Antoine put on the silver chain, gripped Jacques tightly by the hand, and both vanished.
When Beau returned home, he made his tearful farewells to the old soldier ("I shall come back and care for you, Father, as soon as the Beast and I decide what we shall do now"). He went into his room, took up the jewelry bag, empty now but for the mirror, and waited for the Beast to call him back. Time passed and he grew puzzled. He fingered the chain. Finally he pulled the mirror out of the bag. "Show me--"
The mirror shattered. Shocked, Beau could only stare.
A horse's scream split the air. Beau dashed outside to find Le Magnifique waiting, cantering and whinnying in distress.
What had happened--
Beau leaped onto the horse's back. "Va ou je vais Le Magnifique, va va va!" he shouted.
Never had the horse run so fast. Never had Beau felt so sick inside; he clung to the reins and the very mane of the horse as Le Magnifique shot over the countryside, his mind so full of fear that he never noticed their speed. Why hadn't the chain worked? What had happened to the Beast? Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus... Our Lady who watches over the beasts of the field and the birds of the air...
The time dragged like fingernails over shale; only his knowledge that Le Magnifique was already running himself to death kept Beau from spurring the horse's sides in his panic to make it go even faster.
They dashed through the woods, brush and briar snatching at horse and rider both, crashing through the hedges before they could part for them. They shot through the gate to the estate-- and as Beau leaped off Le Magnifique's back and tore through the palace, he did not hear the foaming, bloody-mouthed horse crash to the ground, lifeless.
Beau raced past the cold dark sconces of the hallway that would not respond to him. He knew where to go, and he knew whom he would find there.
Out to the arbor. Through the woods. To Diana's Pool.
And there were Antoine and Jacques rising to their feet from a massive bloody body on the ground, wiping their damp swords on a hank of the Beast's cape.
"Have no fear, brother," Jacques called jovially, mopping his sweaty brow with the rag. "It was a hard fight, but your spell is broken. The Beast is dead."
With a scream of animal rage Beau lunged at both men, shoving them backwards. But it was Antoine he singled out -- Antoine, whose hate-filled eyes glittered in triumph, and whose neck bore a silver chain identical to the one Beau wore. "You murderers!"
Jacques, frightened, stumbled backward at this possessed creature attacking his oldest brother. He stared with wide eyes at the fight that went on, and stared nervously at the nearby wet-eyed statue that had a sword affixed through it.
"Sorceror! Monster!" Antoine screamed in rage, swinging his sword at his unarmed brother who fought like a berserker. "We were always second to you in Father's eyes! And you come back to us flaunting your wealth when you should have been dead! Did that animal give you those jewels for letting him mount you like a dog on a bitch? Did you lie with the demons he conjured? Catamite! Monster-lover!"
Beau forgot everything he had ever learned; blind, black rage guided his strong body and powerful arms now. And they were enough, at first. Antoine had been wearied by his battle; the Beast had not sold his life cheaply.
But Antoine had a sword; a blow from the flat to the side of Beau's head sent him reeling against the transfixed statue of the weeping Venus. "You are as bewitched as that monster," the elder brother hissed. "Beg God to forgive you for playing the sodomite with an animal, and I will kill you quickly, here and now. If you do not, we will drag you home in chains, and they will burn you in the church square for consorting with demons!"
Choking with fury and grief, head reeling from the blow, Beau could not think. He saw the hateful triumph on Antoine's face, the bovine stupidity and greed on Jacques'. It is the end, the end of everything, his mind wailed in utter despair.
Beau raised his fists to die battering his brother's face in-- and looked down at the prone body of the Beast. Gleaming green eyes looked back at him. They blinked slowly.
And a cool bath washed through Beau, lowering his arms, loosening his muscles, unknotting the sick twisting in his stomach. Cooling the raging fever that hatred had made in his mind; emptying it of all the poison and filth. And in its place, tenderness and love for his ugly companion filled Beau to the brim with strength, a strength like none he had ever known. I can't fight so savagely, so thoughtlessly. He would think badly of me.
Antoine stared, suspicion gleaming in his eyes. His sword swung into a defensive position.
Beau looked at cold, loveless Antoine with pity. "I don't need to fight you," he said softly. And his right hand rose above his head, took hold of the sword-hilt buried in the marble statue of the weeping Venus, and drew the blade out as gently as if he was removing a thorn from a child's finger.
Antoine went white. Jacques whimpered, stumbling back and crossing himself many times.
Antoine stumbled back also, face contorted in horror and hatred as Beau's freed blade came down into defense position... and was turned and resettled back into its sheath.
A bare-handed Beau confronted both armed brothers. He held out one open palm and waited. A shaking, pop-eyed Antoine tore the silver chain off his neck and flung it at the unwavering hand, which closed on it.
"Now," Beau said quietly. "Both of you. Take what jewelry you want as you go through the estate. Father's horse is in the stable. Leave. And never come back here again."
They didn't even stop to pick up their dropped swords; they tore for the stables in a straight line that would not yield them much jewelry on the way out.
Beau did not wait for them to leave his sight before he dropped to his knees beside the Beast. He pried open a clenched paw and draped the silver chain across it. "Lie still -- I will treat you." He pulled off his beautiful red cloak and tore it into bandages, which he began to wrap around the largest wounds. "How did they get past your guard?"
"My magic cannot be used against my own magic," the Beast whispered. "They had the silver chain I gave you."
"The chain they stole from me," Beau said grimly, his hands never slowing in their job of binding the Beast's many wounds. "Let its magic heal you now. When you are out of danger, I will hunt my brothers down and teach them--"
A massive paw, so terribly weak and feeble, rested lightly on Beau's wrist, the chain slipping free. "No," the Beast said, his voice hoarse with pain. "Stop what you are doing, Beau. My wounds are bleeding too badly inside. Death is coming to me."
"Then I'll fetch a surgeon! Le Magnifique!" Beau shouted, fear and panic sharpening his voice. "Le Magnifique!"
"He is dead, Beau. Le Magnifique gave his life trying to save me. Soon I shall join him; another dead beast." The Beast looked at Beau, into the disbelief and pain in that face. "What I have longed for, what I have dreamed, will not happen," he whispered, grief swimming in the deep green eyes. "But I am glad that you are back, Beau. I had wanted to continue our conversation. Now, at least, I shall not die alone."
Beau embraced the Beast's head and kissed him, pain rising to flood his eyes and run down his cheeks. "Ah, Monsieur, it is unkind of you to die just when you have opened my mind and my heart. I have never had such a friend. I have never felt for anyone what I have felt for you. No one else has ever--" He choked, his entire body shaking with sobs. He laid his head next to the terrible shaggy head, murmuring, "Mon pauvre Bete. Mon beau Bete." ("My poor Beast. My beautiful Beast.")
The pain-filled green eyes grew bright and full at the words; then again began to dull and glaze over. The body grew heavy; the beautiful eyes in the ugly face rolled up and closed; the body shuddered into stillness, even as the tearful Beau whispered, "I love you."
And the Beast was gone. His body disappeared under Beau's hands; Beau's fingers sank into the soft soil beneath. He clawed futilely at the loose dirt as if trying to find the body. He felt hollow inside, his insides aching with emptiness and pain; his heart breaking with the weight of his grief. He wanted to die. To have found the love that would fill his empty, loveless life -- and to have lost it before expressing that love, lost it forever...
He whirled around at that soft voice, sword halfway out of its sheath, blinking the tears out of his eyes.
Behind him stood a handsome young man, dressed in the splendid garments of the Beast. A man with a head of curly russet-red hair. He smiled at Beau. "Beau. It is I."
Awestruck, Beau rose to his feet and looked at the man, who was of a height with him, and looked about his own age. He shook his head in disbelief for a moment -- but the eyes he looked into were his answer. For the man's wide and beautiful green eyes, with their fey slant, were the same as those of his Beast. "It is you," he said softly, overcome with wonder.
"A magic spell," the young lord said bluntly, and smiled at Beau -- who was charmed to the point of pain to see that the man had a chipped tooth just where the Beast's fang had turned in. "My family has held this estate for generations. It is a great household. I cared for none of it; I was proud of my solitude and despised most of the people around me. All I desired was to have my needs seen to and to be left alone.
"One day I screamed at a beggar woman; as you've seen, I can have a terrible temper. She turned out to be a powerful sorceress. Don't ever scream at strange women, Beau." He grinned.
Beau beamed, feeling a ray of sunshine light him inside; man though he was, this young lord was his own dear Beast. "Very well. I shan't," he replied.
"She said a beastly temperament should wear a beastly form -- and she gave me one. She transformed my entire household. She wasn't very good-tempered herself... But she had a slight change of heart, and gave me one way to break the spell. Only one." One graceful long-fingered hand touched the blossom still pinned to Beau's torn and ragged Sunday outfit, the rose that had not taken any damage from the fight. "She planted an undying rose. And she said, 'One day, someone will pluck this rose. The one for whom the rose is intended will be the one to break the spell. Fight him to the death, and you will be free.'
"And so I lived in my enchanted palace, all my needs seen to...and I was completely alone. As I had always wanted. Years passed. I waited for the day the spell would break, longed for it; I was determined to fight whoever picked the rose, no matter who it was. If it had been a frail old woman or a barely- walking child, I told myself, I would yet attack that person and show no mercy."
The man frowned and shook his head. "But then you came, and I saw that it would be no fight -- it would be slaughterer's work if I killed you. I would be a greater beast than I was already. So I decided to train you and make you stronger, so I could fight an equal. But then, we began to know each other. And I saw that your ugliness was caused by no knowledge in your mind and no love in your heart. And as you changed, and grew stronger and wiser; when I began to see the heart you have hidden all your life; when, for the first time in my life, I responded to another's heart and spirit..." He shook his head again. "How could I kill you just to free myself, my Beau?"
From the house they heard shouting and cheering, many people. The man followed Beau's glance toward the estate where people could be seen running in and out, filling the air with laughter and joyful squeals, and said, "The animals and birds carved everywhere, and the hands that served you, and the invisible bringers of your clothing, were my servants and my household, all under the witch's spell. You have freed many people today, Beau."
The broken mirror still lay in the long grass by the wall where Beau had dropped it in his haste to come after his brothers. Beau lifted the silver frame, still adorned with a few shards of broken glass, and brought it back to the young lord. He read again the Latin inscription: "Winner loses, loser wins; captor frees, captive encages; beautiful breaks beast, beast breaks beautiful." Beau looked up from the mirror, his eyes alive with the fitting together of events, and said, "We fought to a draw; neither of us won or lost. You freed me, and I came back to you. I broke your heart by leaving, and you broke my heart as you lay dying." He laughed for the joy of having solved yet another puzzle.
The curly-haired man with the Beast's green eyes smiled. "We have saved each other, Beau. We did fight to the death; the death of my spell. The death of the Beast."
"The death of my evil and ignorance," murmured Beau. "The death of my beast."
The man took Beau's hands in his own. "And the death of our solitude, for both of us." He smiled. "Both of us have learned to love. The spell is broken." His eyes asked a question; Beau's eyes affirmed that he had spoken truly for them both. The joyful noise of the unsorceled household went unnoticed.
"Send for your father, Beau," the man said. "He shall come and live here with us." His eyes never left the midnight-blue eyes he adored. "We shall be joined, you and I; our two hands made one. This land and this estate shall be yours as much as it is mine. You are worthy of it, mon Beau; for now you have true nobility in your soul."
Full of a joy that swelled his heart with beautiful pain, Beau drew the red-haired man forward, kissed his cheeks as friends and family members do, and murmured, "Ah, mon beau Bete." He was rewarded when the man chuckled -- and there, in that laugh, was the undercurrent of the Beast's growl.
And then Beau took the curly head between his hands, and looked into the green eyes he had come to love. He remembered restless nights, and seeing a young man with tumbling red curls... "I've had dreams," he whispered.
"I too have dreamed, mon Beau," murmured the handsome young lord, caressing Beau, taking his head in his graceful human hands. "I have dreamed of a spell broken, and the one I love most lying in my arms."
"Yes," Beau said softly, simply. "Yes, my love."
And the two joined in a lovers' kiss.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Other Times and Places 3, edited by Nina Boal, ITP Press, 1992.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is based almost entirely on La Belle et Le Bete, Jean Cocteau's enchanting 1946 film -- as far as I'm concerned, the definitive interpretation of this most beloved of fairy tales.