Each More Beautiful

A fairytale by Robin Wood

I’m one of 12 princesses, each more beautiful than the last.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Except that “more beautiful” is a relative term. It would be just as true to say that I’m one of 12, each plainer than the next.

My youngest sister, Eleanor, is lovely, with golden curls, dimples, and bright blue eyes. In fact, the youngest four are all really quite stunning, in their separate ways. The three before that are fairly pretty as well. Megan, Princess number five, is just ordinary looking; nothing special, but nothing untoward. Juniper, number four in line, has an unfortunate squint (she will not wear her spectacles) and unruly hair. Grace, the third oldest, is sadly knock-kneed, but happily her dresses hide it. She also freckles and somehow manages to look rumpled most of the time.

Jasmine is the oldest. You’d expect her to be the plainest of all, and I suppose if your idea of beauty is based entirely on softness and femininity you’d think you were right. She looks exactly like our father the king, but without the beard. She inherited his regal, beaked nose, his height, and his breadth across the shoulders, as well as his straight dark hair and piercing blue eyes. Like him, she’s slender and athletic, and inclined to stride about bellowing. She’s also going to inherit his crown, so really, her looks aren’t terribly important. She has plenty of suitors.

I’m Gayla. Second oldest. And I’m a mess. I’m as tall as Jasmine, but also what our mother the queen describes as “heavy set.” She means fat. On someone shorter, as I’ve had explained to me many, many times, it might be considered plump or cuddly. On me, because of my height, it just looks formidable, and unladylike. I’m not at all athletic, so our father has explained to me that there’s no reason for me to be so tall. I’d love to be shorter, but somehow it’s been years since I’ve managed it.

I also have wiry mud-brown hair that knots itself into tangles and escapes from all attempts to control it. My eyes aren’t any particular color, and they’re weak, necessitating the use of spectacles (which I wear.) I have freckles. And a wart next to my nose. And I’m clumsy.

There are 12 of us because our father the king really, really wanted a son and heir. But that didn’t happen, and by the time my mother the queen had had 12 daughters in 14 years, my father realized what story he was stuck in. Privately, I think he’d also grown so fond of Jasmine he wanted her to have the throne, not some hypothetical son of unknown character.

I’d figured out that we were going to be 12 Princesses by the time I was 10. I’d also realized that I was going to be the one that never married. At the time, I was delighted, because I had very little use for boys; I found them loud, stupid, obnoxious, mostly sticky, and with a tendency to laugh at things that weren’t funny.

So I decided I’d grow up to be Court Magician instead, and help our kingdom that way.

That would have worked out better if I’d had some magical aptitude. I was great with potions, but not so hot with the magic itself.

When I was 11, I decided that I’d become a great scholar and historian. My vast pool of knowledge and incisive decision making would save our kingdom in its darkest hour.

But history bored me to tears, and although I loved books, and would read for hours at a time, the books I loved were fiction; especially fantasy stories about places with no magic, and no monarchy. Which weren’t exactly prime material to learn anything that would be useful in the real world.

At 12, it was my ambition to excel at strategy and tactics. I would be a great general, renowned throughout the continent, and opposing armies would quail when they heard my name. I blame that on General Wain, who my father the king employed that year to teach us older girls about the Art of War. I thought he was devastatingly handsome, and cut a dashing figure in his bright uniform, glittering with gold embroidery and so many medals they could have doubled as armor.

It certainly wasn’t because I like war. On the contrary, when I see someone in pain it hurts me, too, and I do whatever I can to ease it and make them feel better. I can’t even kill a bug. There’s not a chance that I could order troops into combat.

I was 13 when Eleanor was born, and my mother the queen said “enough.” In my mind, that pretty much sealed my fate.

In a world like ours, where Destiny and Magic are the most powerful of the Natural Forces, I figured that meant I was just a placeholder. It was clear that Eleanor was going to have some kind of adventure and wind up marrying a hero, and the rest of us would be the 11 Princess who weren’t the youngest.

So we grew up.

We learned all the things that young princess are taught, including Statecraft, and how to rule a kingdom. Even Eleanor had to learn that, because her Hero might also be a Prince. As both our parents, the king and queen, were fond of telling us, it’s immense help to a king to have a queen who is well versed in all aspects of statecraft, including trade and taxes. I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention, though, because I knew I’d never need it. Jasmine excelled in it, because she was going to have to rule after our father the king, which delighted him.

None of us could actually get engaged until Eleanor had had whatever-it-was, of course. But as the years went on it seemed that the palace was always full of various princes, courting one or another of us, or just hanging around. There’s no lack of small kingdoms like ours, which means lots of alliances and treaties. There’s nothing like a marriage to cement peaceful relations between kingdoms. I never doubted that Megan and even Juniper would wind up marrying some prince or other.

Grace has a lovely singing voice, so I assumed some blind harper would probably snap her up.

Which left me as the only one with no prospects at all.

By the time that Eleanor was 16, and it was reasonable to think that her adventure would happen soon, I was  29. Jasmine had taken over a lot of the State duties for our father, and I was helping with judgements and so on, but I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to do with myself once Eleanor was settled. Most of the younger ones had “understandings” with various princes by then.

I liked all the princes, which was good since a lot of them might wind up being my brothers-in-law, but I mostly sat back and watched rather than joining in. I mean, really, who would want to dance with me? If I stumbled, and I probably would, I might lurch against him and crush him like a bug! They asked, but I knew they were just being polite, so I always refused.

Instead, I concentrated on being happy for the younger ones, and tried not to think of myself too often.

Then it happened, right on schedule.

My parents noticed that Eleanor, who had always had a complexion like a blush rose, was getting paler and paler. She stopped eating, and started mostly playing with her food. She was tired and listless all day, and sometimes her bed looked as if she hadn’t been in it all night.

My father the king knew exactly what to do. He’d been preparing for this for years, after all. As soon as he realized that this was finally it, he sent one of his councilors to check on her in the dead of night. Sure enough, she was missing; but the door guard swore that she hadn’t left the room, and she wouldn’t say where she’d gone, or why.

He sent out a proclamation that very morning, announcing that he would give the hand of a princess in marriage to anyone who could solve the mystery.

All the princes who had been hanging around lined up. A fair number of young, unmarried men who weren’t royalty did, as well. (So did a few who were not young, but after a hurried consultation with my mother the queen, they were disqualified. The proclamation was amended to read “young men (under 35 years of age.)”

I expected Eleanor to perk up. After all, she’d been waiting her whole life for this. But I caught her peeking between the curtains at the line of men signing up for their chance, with tears in her eyes.

“Eleanor?” I said, as softly as I could. “Come to your Gayla,” and I held out my arms. She came, and leaned against me, crying her eyes out. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She burrowed into my shoulder, and then mumbled, almost too softly to hear, “I hate Destiny. Hate it, hate it, hate it.”

I sat down on the bench next to the window, and took her onto my lap. Great girl that she was, I was still much bigger, and had no problem at all cuddling her as if she was still six, with a banged up knee. “Don’t you want to have your Adventure?”

She sat up, and glared at me. “No! It’s stupid! Just because I’m youngest, I’m going to have to marry one of them.” she spat it out like a curse. This girl, who’d spent her childhood dancing around, singing and teasing the rest of us about her Adventure, no longer wanted any part of it! I have to admit, I was stunned.

She collapsed against me again. “Oh Gayla! I wish I was you, not me!”


She nodded, sobbing. “You’ll never be forced to marry someone you don’t like, while your True Love is out there.”

Oh. “Eleanor,” I said, as softly as I could, “Have you met someone you want to marry?”

She nodded. I handed her my handkerchief. She blew her nose.

“Are you sure that he’s not out there in line, in disguise?” After all, that’s what I would have done, if it had been me in love with a princess. This was the chance for anyone to win her hand, and our parents the king and queen wouldn’t be able to object, no matter what.

“He can’t be.” She sniffled.

“Why not?” I asked. “Oh Eleanor… he’s not a vampire or something, is he?”

She smiled sadly, and shook her head.

“Is he under an enchantment?”

She sat up and looked at me, as serious as I’ve ever seen her. “Can I really, really trust you?”

That hurt, but I tried to hide it. “Oh dear heart! Of course you can!”

She held up her little finger. “Pinky swear?”

I hooked it with mine, without a moment’s hesitation. “Pinky swear!”

She looked up and down the hallway. When you have 11 sisters, you learn to be cautious.

“He lives in an underground kingdom, and the gate only opens when the moon shines on it.”

“Ah.” My father the king didn’t want to waste any more time than had already gone by. He’d been waiting too long, and he wasn’t a patient man. So all applicants had to be signed in today, the same day as the proclamation, although from the looks of that line it would take weeks for each of them to have their night.

Unless the answer was found before that, of course.

“Okay. This is what we’ll do,” I said. I had her total attention now.

“If this batch all washes out, then our father the king will have to open the competition again, and your beau can nip out while the gate is open, wait for the morning and the new proclamation, and be first in line.”

She nodded mournfully. “But what if this group doesn’t all wash out?”

“I don’t suppose that you could just go without seeing your prince for a few weeks?”

Her eyes got huge, and she clutched her heart. “I couldn’t!”

“Not even if it meant that you’d be able to marry him eventually?”

She started to cry again, and shook her head.

“Then I’ll see to it that all the ones in this group fail. A sleeping draught is easy enough to make. If they’re asleep, they can’t very well follow you when you sneak out at night.”

She gave me a tentative, watery smile. “You’d do that for me?”

“To see you happy? Of course I would.”

So that’s what we did.

For the next two weeks, I fixed a sleeping potion every night, and every night I’d give it to that night’s prince (or whoever) as he got ready to wait and watch on the couch in Eleanor’s room. Every night, it made him super alert for the first 10 minutes or so, and then he’d sleep soundly. Once he was snoring, Eleanor would creep out, see her prince, and sneak back in.

Every morning, the poor prince (or whoever) would stand before the court, and admit that he’d seen nothing; just the princess laying there. Some of them said she was there all night, and some admitted that they weren’t able to stay awake, but none knew where she went. Only a couple were dishonorable (or desperate) enough to make up stories; but they had no evidence, and broke down under cross-examination.

Eleanor still looked wan, because she still wasn’t getting any sleep to speak of, and she was still not sure that our little ploy would work as we hoped.

In the meantime, all the princes kept hanging around, as they had for years, except now they were joined by an odd assortment of other young men, from the traditional soldiers and woodcutters to the occasional clerk or farmer. We even had one artist, a tall, handsome fellow, who painted little miniatures of all my sisters and thrilled them to bits. He offered to paint mine, too, but I didn’t want one. You wouldn’t either, if you were me. He was fun to talk with, though.

I did what I could to make them all feel comfortable and welcome. My father the king was at his most jovial, since the Long Wait (as he put it) was coming to an end. My mother was a little on the frantic side, as she prepared for a dozen weddings all at once. She was convinced that the rest of us would be married within the week, once Eleanor was “taken care of.”

For those two weeks, all went well, and I was sure it would continue to do so.

Then it was the artist’s turn.

As I handed him the potion, he asked me, “What’s this for?”

None of the others had asked; they all seemed to assume that I wanted my sister married as quickly as could be, so I would be on their side, of course.

For a moment, I couldn’t think of anything to say. Then I said, “I just thought you might want something to drink.”

He reached out, and took the goblet, examining it carefully. Then he looked up, and pinned me with his gaze. “Do you bring this to all the suitors?” he asked.

I smiled. “Of course!”

He nodded. “Of course.”

I watched while he drank it, but the room was dim, and his clothes were covered with stains and blotches from all the paint. I never noticed him dribbling it down his chin, and into his smock.

He handed me back the empty goblet, and I smiled, told him to take care, and left.

My heart was lighter than usual, because the moon was waning. The next night there would be no moon, and it would be safe. More fool I.

The next morning, as usual, we all assembled in the throne room.

Eleanor looked worse than ever, because she knew that she wasn’t going to be seeing her love for a day or so. I was on edge, although I didn’t know why. My other ten sisters were getting impatient; they’d hoped to have this settled by now. The rest of the court was enjoying the show.

The trumpets sounded, the double doors were flung open, and the artist walked up to the thrones with a huge grin on his face. My heart fell to my slippers.

“Well?” my father the king bellowed. Not to be alarmed. He usually does.

The artist gave a sweeping and courtly bow. “Your Majesty, I have solved the riddle!” And he proceeded to lay out the whole thing. How as soon as the moon rose, my sister got out of bed, and tapped on the wall, opening a secret door. How she crept out, and he followed. All about the meeting with a prince dressed in white velvet, moonstones, and pearls. How they whispered vows of undying love, and spoke of the gate being closed except when the moon shone on it. He even had a tiny piece of the prince’s cloak, which had gotten caught on a bush, and tore off as he rushed to get back inside before the gate closed at moon-set.

As he spoke, poor little Eleanor got paler and paler. When he held up the scrap of white velvet, with tiny moonstones sewn to it, she was as white as it was.

Everyone in the court could tell that the story was true. There was no sense in denying any of it.

My father the king sighed, took her hand, and held it out to the artist.

“You have solved the mystery, and her hand is yours,” he said. I don’t think he was happy. He did love her, the most beautiful of his daughters, and she was obviously heart broken.

“Sire,” the artist said, “Your proclamation stated that I could have the hand of any of the princesses.”

My father the king blinked, and said, “You don’t want Princess Eleanor?”

He shook his head. “No sire. I have no wish to break a maiden’s heart.”

Eleanor smiled like the sun coming out. “Oh thank you!” she cried. I don’t think anyone has ever been so delighted to be rejected, before or since.

My father the king let go of her hand, and she quickly withdrew it. “I don’t understand! Would you rather have another of my daughters?”

He nodded solemnly. “Yes, sire, I would.”

“Well, which one?”

There was a rustle among my sisters. He was just an artist, although he was very handsome. I could tell that some were hoping it was them, and some were hoping he’d choose someone else, because of their “understandings.” Jasmine’s jaw muscles bunched, and I knew she was thinking that he was going to claim her, and through her, the throne.

But he smiled, and looked right at me. “Princess Gayla,” he said.

I sat there, stunned, while the room erupted in cheers.

Jasmine and Grace, sitting on either side of me, nudged me. I got to my feet, and stumbled over to my father. He took my hand, smiling as if it would crack his face, and put it in the hand of the artist. He’d scrubbed his hands well. There was only a hint of paint left, around his cuticles.

“Why me?” I asked, under the noise of the crowd.

He smiled fondly at me. “Because you’re the kindest.”

“But I’m so ugly!”

His eyebrows shot to the top of his forehead, and he stared at me. “Why would you say that? You’re lovely!”

I just stared back, thinking that perhaps he needed spectacles too.

He smiled. He has a wonderful smile. “You’ll make a striking queen, as well as a kind one.”

I smiled ruefully back at him. “Oh dear. I’m afraid that it doesn’t work that way. You have me, but not the title.”

“Oh, right! I was forgetting.” He grinned, and winked at me.

“Your Majesty!” he had to bellow almost as loudly as my father the king to be heard. But the crowd quieted as soon as he had.


“I have a confession to make.” He let go of my hand, and ripped off his old paint-stained smock.

You can guess what happened next.

Sure enough, under it he was wearing a doublet made of cloth of gold, with emeralds sewn in an intricate pattern all over it. “Art is only a hobby of mine. I’m really Prince Giles, heir to the kingdom of Luxinstan.”

I thought the cheering had been loud before. The court pretty much exploded at that. I mean really, hats were tossed, the trumpeters each started to play a different fanfare for no particular reason, children were shouting and jumping up and down. It was just bedlam. After all, Luxinstan is the largest, richest kingdom around here, and my father had been trying to set up an alliance with them for ages. Being allied through marriage pretty much meant that there would be peace in this corner of the world for the foreseeable future.

So my mother was right. She did have to arrange a duodecuple wedding, (which was probably less work than 12 separate ones, but still.) Eleanor married her Prince, and was glowing so brightly she was practically luminous. They got married here, and also in his kingdom, because, as she said, anything worth doing was worth doing more than once. Jasmine married the prince she’d picked out to be her king nearly a decade before, and all the others married the princes they had understandings with. Even Grace married a prince, not a blind harper after all.

It turns out that looks aren’t everything, although Giles still insists that I’m not lacking in that department.

But I do wish I’d paid a bit more attention during Statecraft lessons. Life is a weird, unexpected journey. You never know what you’re going to need.

So, that’s the new story promised every-other-Saturday. I’m sorry there’s no picture for this one. I’ve been pretty sick, and didn’t manage to make one. 🙁

I hope you like the story! If you want to keep ’em coming, please consider joining my Patreon. Thanks!

Bully for You

Another Kip Andrews story! Enjoy. It’ll be up here for everyone to read for free until July 2, and then I’ll be moving it to Kindle.

I was in the middle of a book when the big Glass in the living room chimed.

“Kip, can you get that?” My mother was in the kitchen, making dinner.

I sighed, put my book down and got it.

“Kip Andrews.” The glass cleared, responding to my voice, and revealed a very pretty lady with a huge smile.

“Hi!” she said, all bright and chirpy, “This is Dana from the Pertwee Magical Supplies Assessment Office. Is a parent home?”

“Sure. Please wait a moment.”

I went into the kitchen, “It’s a lady from some Pertwee place.”

Mom put down the apple she was slicing. “Oh good!” She hastily wiped her hands on her apron, and bustled out of the room, calling “Keep your fingers out of that salad!” over her shoulder.

Fair enough. I opened the drawer, and got out an eating knife. No fingers, as ordered.

A squeal from the living room stopped me cold, with my knife poised over the bowl. My mother is not the squealing type.

“Mom? Are you okay?” No answer. I dropped the knife, and rushed into the living room.


“Oh Kip!” my mom grabbed my hands, and twirled me around. My mom does not do things like that! I pulled my hands free.

“Mom, what happened?”

She clasped her hands under her chin, beaming at me, with tears in her eyes.

“Kip, we had the wood from the tree assessed. It’s all pure Lighting Struck Oak, grade 4, worth 3 ells a decidun. A decidun Kip! And we have a whole tree of it!”

We had a whole tree, because a couple of weeks ago, lightning struck the tree in front of our house, almost killing my brother, Jasper. Usually, lightning struck oak gets burned, or some of the tree isn’t energized. But this had been a big bolt, followed by enough rain to quench any fire. Grade 4 meant it was super charged, and the wood was sound, in pieces big enough to carve things out of.

“Now, we won’t get that much, of course. That’s retail, and we’ll be selling to them wholesale, but still, it’s going to come to several million!” My mom gave a little hop. I could see why. I couldn’t help grinning myself.

We were rich.

This was going to change everything.

By the time I got to school the next day, everyone knew. I have no idea how. I sure hadn’t told anyone. But somehow, the news had spread, and everyone was staring at me.

This was not going to make my life easier.

“Hey, Rich Kid!” I froze. I knew that voice. Lem Carter. He was the biggest kid in school by a fair piece, and he was an equal-opportunity bully. He picked on everyone. But there are degrees of being picked on.

Until two weeks ago, I’d been low on his list.

Yeah, I was hopeless in magic class, but I was a whiz in math. It evened out, at least in Lem’s tiny mind. Until I saved my brother’s life by using magic to get that tree off his throat. Some kids flat didn’t believe I’d done it, and Lem was their leader.

“I hear you got a pile from that tree. What say you give me a thousand or so?” He poked me in the shoulder. A tiny hint of what would happen if I didn’t.

I closed my locker, swiping the crystal to make sure he could see it was locked. Then I turned, swallowed the lump in my throat, and looked at him.

“Are you crazy? It’s not my money. It’s my parent’s!”

“Is that so? Hummmm… “ he rubbed his chin, pretending to consider, but his eyes were narrowed and gleeful. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to be content with whatever you have on you, then.” He grinned.

I scanned the hall. No teachers. Of course. Just his backup squad, cutting me off from everyone else.

I gave him a friendly smile. I hoped.

“Why do you think I have cash, Lem?” I could hardly hear myself over the pounding of my pulse in my ears.

His smile turned meaner than ever. “That’s a point. And I can’t ask you to glass it, you’d only stop the payment.” He paused. “I know! You can bring me cash tomorrow.” He stopped smiling. “At least 100.”

“Why do you think my folks would hand me 100 in cash?”

“You better pray that they do, Stunto. Just pray that they do.”

He laughed, and he and his so-called friends turned and sauntered away. I leaned back against the lockers, trying not to be sick. There was no way I could get that much money. No way.

After that, things just went from bad to worse. Of course. It was Tuesday, and that meant Magic Lab.

I’ve hated magic since I can remember. Two weeks ago, the very day that lightning struck, I realized it’s because I hate change. Magic makes things change into things they have no business being. I mean, I guess I don’t hate the magical tech, or anything. I’m not a Fudder. But tech is different. It’s not something I have to do, myself.

I had hoped that when I understood what my problem was, it would go away, at least enough to get through Magic Lab. But no such luck. It seems that just knowing why isn’t enough. I still had a hard time making myself do it.

So there I was as usual, making a mess of Larkin’s Smooth Surface. It has an easy sigil, which I’d already drawn, but it takes more power to activate than anything we’d done.

Mr. Wilfred had given us all little petri dishes full of dirt. Mine was mixed mud, gravel, and what looked like a crumpled candy wrapper. The spell was supposed to turn the whole thing into a polished slab.

Most of the other kids weren’t having any problems. Their dirt melted and flowed into what looked like marble.

But mine just sat there, stubbornly remaining a handful of dirt. Probably from the playground.

Jamie, who was next to me, leaned over. “Having trouble, Stunto?” she whispered. Then she looked quickly to the table past hers, where Lem was leering as he watched.

I didn’t blame Jamie. She didn’t want to be on Lem’s bad side. No one does. Of course, all his sides are bad, but you know what I mean.

I ignored her.

“Someone who can work half a tree of Lighting Struck Oak shouldn’t have any problems with a measly little smoothing spell.”

I sighed. “What are you trying to say?” I looked past her, at Lem. I knew who was the puppet, and who the puppeteer. And I wasn’t going to waste words talking with the puppet.

“Admit it, Stunto.” He left Jamie out, too. “That tree missed your brother. He broke his arm falling, and you stepped in and took all the credit. You just wanted to look a little less like the Magical Stunto that everyone knows you are.”

“Believe what you want.”

“Oh, no. I’ll believe the truth. And the truth is that you are just a pathetic Stunto. You’re not fooling anyone. If you could do magic, you would. But you can’t, can you, Stunto?”

Around me, I could hear the whispers starting. “Stunto, stunto… “

Mr. Wilfred looked up, from where he was helping Sherri Therein, in the front of the room.

“Lem, do you need something?”

“No, sir.”

We all turned back to our dishes. I hate Magic Lab.

I tossed my stuff onto my desk, and looked over at Jasper. That’s my brother. He’s Perfect, you know. But right now, he has yellow bruises all over, especially on his throat, and his arm is in a cast.

He was reading, with his face all kind of screwed up.

I’ve been trying to be gentle with him, since the accident. I don’t really mean gentle; that’s not the right word. It’s more like he’s taken care of me, ever since I can remember. So I’ve been trying to take care of him. Like the power running the other way, or something. Anyway, I’ve been trying not to bug him.

But this was too much for me, and he was still my big brother, so…

“Jasper, I have a problem.”

He looked up, his eyes clouded. “Oh, for…   What now?” He sounded disgusted. He never sounds disgusted.

“There’s this kid at school, Lem Carter.. “

He rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Let me guess. He’s being a bully.”

“How did you know?”

“He has a brother in the year below mine. Bad news.”

I sighed with relief. I didn’t have to explain.

“Yeah, and he’s telling me that I have to bring 100 ell in cash to school tomorrow, and give it to him.”

Jasper frowned. “Where did he get the idea that you have that kind of money?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. It seems like everyone knows about the tree, and that we’re rich now.”

“We’re not rich now. We’ll be rich in a couple of months, when the sale of the tree goes through, and all the taxes are paid. That kind of money takes a while to set up and transfer.”

“Yeah, I know. I tried to tell him.”

“What do you want from me, Kip? I can’t go to your school and beat him up for you. This is your problem. You handle it. You know what to do. Tell someone, ignore him, make a joke – Mom’s told you all of this.” He went back to his reading.

“Jasper? But.. “

He slammed the book down. “Just leave me alone for once in your life, and don’t keep asking me to do everything for you! Okay?” He got up, and left the room.

He’s changed. I mean, I know he’s in pain and all of that. Mom says he’s coming to grips with his own mortality, whatever that means. But still.

My old brother’s superior attitude could be really annoying. But right then, I wanted my old brother back.

Did you know that you can mold mashed potatoes like clay? They’re lots softer, but they can hold a form, for a while.

“Kip, that’s enough.”

I looked up at my Dad.

“Stop playing with your food, and eat it.”

I sliced the head off the tiny statue of Lem, lying defeated on my plate, and dutifully ate it.

“What’s wrong, Kip?”

“Lem Carter,” said Jasper. Traitor.

“Who is Lem Carter?” my dad was puzzled.

“This kid at Kip’s school. He’s decided to extort 100 ell from Kip, or the beatings will commence.”

I glowered at him, but he ignored me.

“Oh Kip!” said my mom, putting her knife down. “That’s serious! What did your principal say when you told her?”

I looked away. “I can’t tell her. It’ll just make him worse. I was hoping Jasper would have some useful trick, or I wouldn’t have told him, either.” I shot him an accusing glare.

“I’m glad Jasper told us,” said Dad. “And we will certainly let your principal know. This ends here.”

But it wouldn’t. I knew it wouldn’t. It would only give Lem a real reason to hate me.

“Kip,” said my mom, “I’ve taught you how to handle a bully, haven’t I?”

I nodded. Only about a thousand times.

“A bully targets you because they’re jealous, to feel powerful, or to look popular. Some are being bullied themselves, or in other kinds of intolerable situations. You need to understand, reframe the bullying, and treat them with empathy and .. .”

I tuned her out. Yeah, yeah. Poor unfortunate bully. Acting out because they’re so unhappy. Yada yada. There are other ways to handle unhappiness that don’t involve making everyone else miserable. I’m sorry, but I didn’t pity Lem a bit. I thought he probably deserved whatever bad stuff might be happening to him.

“Understand? Kip?”

I snapped back, and quickly reran the conversation in my head. Oh no! They were seriously going to talk with my principal!

“Mom, Dad, really, I can take care of it. Okay?” He’d break my bones if I got him kicked out of school! Then I remembered my parents gushing over the idea of a new house. “Besides, we’re going to move soon, right? I can handle it a while longer. Please.”

They looked at each other doubtfully.

“Even if we had the money in hand, Kip, it will take at least six months before we can move. I really think we should have a meeting with your principal,” said Dad.

“But what if he was just kidding?”

“Do you really think that’s a possibility?”

“Maybe? Please.. Just don’t go to the school about it.”

“Okay. Unless he actually assaults you, we’ll let it ride. For now.”

Predictably, Lem was waiting for me in the hall by my locker.

“Hi, Stunto the Rich Kid,” he grinned, and held out his hand.

I don’t know what came over me, but I reached out and shook it.

His little cohort whooped with laughter, but he pulled his hand out of mine and scowled. “Yeah, good joke. I want 100 ell, punk.”

I smiled innocently at him. “I can understand that. I’d like 100 ell, too. But you know, neither of us actually has that kind of money.” In fact, I didn’t have cash at all. I’d made sure of that.

“Yeah? I gave you a whole day to come up with it.”

“I could explain how long it takes to actually get money when you’re selling magical supplies, but you’re not interested, are you?”

He grinned evilly. “No, I’m not. Tell ya what, since you don’t have cash, I’ll take that jacket.”

“This jacket? It would never fit you!” It just popped out.

“Yeah, that’s a point. Tell you what, give it to me, and I’ll sell it.” He smirked. “It would be nicer if you just handed it over now. I’ll get it, one way or another, and I’d prefer it without bloodstains. They’re such a nuisance to remove.”

He advanced, and I retreated, looking quickly over my shoulder. No teachers. How did he do that? If I tried to do anything bad, a teacher always popped up! Maybe I should do something against the rules now, and conjure one.

He took another step forward, and I took another back. Thinking about rule-breaking had given me an idea.

Most people need to physically draw sigils before activating them. But there are people who can do magic in their heads. They don’t need to draw anything. They just visualize the sigil on the thing they want to change, activate it, and wham.

I’d never been able to do that. I’d barely managed to do any spells, no matter how carefully I drew the sigils, except in an emergency.

Judging from the racing of my heart, this was one. And Larkin’s Smooth Surface has a really simple sigil.

I pictured it on the floor, as clearly as I could, and activated it as strongly as I was able. I couldn’t tell if the floor was any slicker than it had been. It was pretty polished anyway.

I took another step back.

Lem and his friends took another step forward. And it was perfect! Their feet went right out from under them, landing them smack on their rumps! They tried to get up, but they couldn’t; the floor was too slippery. They just kept sliding around, while the ones who hadn’t fallen laughed like loons.

And yep, there was a teacher, right on cue.

I reversed the spell as quickly as I could, and was relieved to see that worked too. As they climbed to their feet, I murmured, “You wanted to see me do magic.”

Lem glared. His face was brick red. “Just you wait, Kip Andrews” he whispered.

Oh no. I’d only postponed the beating. I was dead meat.

I couldn’t concentrate on any of my classes after that. Well, who could have?

Everything I knew about bullies and how to deal with them kept going round and round in my head. I knew that nothing worked with every bully, but there had to be something that would work with this one. Negotiation didn’t work. Joking didn’t work. Placating didn’t work. Nothing worked! It was horrible! There was nothing I could do!

But then I looked at Lem’s broad back in the seat in front of me, and remembered what Jasper had said, about Lem’s brother. For my whole life, Jasper had always been kind and patient; someone I could depend on. Right then, he was in a bunch of pain, and snappish from it, but even so, I knew he would never beat me up.

What would it be like to have an older brother like Lem had, instead. To be afraid of someone in your own family? Someone you could not escape?

His parents must be just as bad, or they would have stopped it.

That would be awful!

He didn’t even have any friends. All he had were followers, who followed from fear. I mean, I don’t have a ton of friends. But I do have a couple, and we’re friends because we like each other. He had no one.

It’s strange, but I really did feel sorry for him. I wished he could have a friend. A real friend, who wasn’t afraid of him.

How would I act around him, if we were friends?

I was musing it over, kind of lost in that alternate reality, when my pencil broke. Without thinking, I leaned forward, and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around, with his mouth open, and one eyebrow raised.

“Got a spare pencil I can borrow, please?” I whispered.

He glanced at the teacher, then back at me, and wordlessly handed me a pencil.

“Thanks!” I smiled at him.

“No problem.” He looked kind of pole-axed, and turned back to his work.

After school, sure enough, there he was by my locker. But his hands were shoved deeply into his pockets.

“Why did you do that?” he blurted out, as soon as I was in hearing distance.

I shrugged. “I broke my pencil, and didn’t have a spare.”

He shook his head.

“I really don’t have the money, you know.”

He shrugged. “It’s not important.” He looked at me quizzically. “I can’t figure you out, you know?”

“What’s to figure?”

Lem shrugged, looking puzzled.

I pulled the pencil out of my case. “Here. Thanks for the loan!”

He took it from me, and carefully put it in his own case.

Then he looked up. “You’re all right. You know that?” He turned, and walked off.

I thought about that all the way home. We’ll probably never be real friends. But at least he was off my back. And really, he’s not completely evil.


I was working on an embroidery panel for Sami’s wedding dress when I heard the unmistakable sound of a mouse skittering through the wall. My house is warded against natural mice, of course, so I checked the magic signature to see who it was.

Then I heard the scrabbling as he emerged into my pantry! I jabbed the needle into the cloth to hold it, and practically threw the whole piece onto my side table.

“Willoby Jamison Vogelman, don’t you dare touch my food in mouse-form!”

There was a flash of magic, and my great-grandson sauntered out of the pantry, with a brownie in each hand.

“How did you know it was me?” he asked with his mouth full. He was scattering crumbs everywhere. I have no idea why ten year old boys disdain little niceties like plates and forks, but in my experience they all do.

“I have ways.” One thing I’ve learned, with 3 children, 9 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren is never to tell them how you know things about them. Not until they are old enough to need the tricks for their own youngsters. Thinking that adults simply know everything is a powerful deterrent, and with a brood like mine, I need all the deterrents I can get!

He settled on the stool in front of me, chewing serenely.

“You’re making crumbs in my sitting room.”

In reply, he shoved both brownies into his mouth at once. They didn’t fit, of course. The child has a wide mouth, but I am generous when I cut my brownies. He made a valiant effort, but crumbs leaked everywhere. I thought about requiring him to return to mouse form and eat them off the floor, but he would probably enjoy that. So I just glared at him instead.

For some reason, that made him grin, which made the crumb problem worse. I decided to ignore him, and picked up the embroidery, making sure the charm that kept the white from getting smudged with anything, including chocolate, was intact.

Will chewed energetically and watched me work until the double brownies were gone.

“Why didn’t you want me to eat in mouse-form? I would have gotten full more quickly.”

“You know that only lasts while you are a mouse. As soon as you became a boy, you’d have been as ravenous as ever. And I’d have been left with half-nibbled brownies, and tiny chocolate footprints all over the pantry.”

“What would you have done if I’d stayed a mouse?”

Will is one of the ones who always wants to know the outcomes of every possible choice. Not a bad trait; it will make him a careful, thoughtful adult. But at the moment, he’s still a child, and sometimes prone to repeating behavior, good or bad, to test the variables.

“I’d have dragged you out of the pantry by your tail, and warded it against you for a week.”

He looked at me, his hazel eyes full of mischief and speculation. “But would you have been able to catch me?”

I almost laughed. “We can try the experiment any time you like.”

He smiled and sat back. He has learned that when I’m that sure, it’s not wise to test me. Besides, I never, ever, lie to any of them, and they know that.

I finished the leaf I was stitching, and cut the thread.

“So, to what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked. There are times my family drops in just to visit, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t one of them.

“Mom sent me,” he answered. “She said to give you this.” He fished in his pocket, and pulled out a note. It wasn’t in bad shape, considering everything I was sure had happened to it since his mother handed it to him.

I set aside the embroidery, broke the seal on the note, and spread it on my lap, smoothing the wrinkles enough to read it. I was being invited to dinner on Friday.

That was odd. Not the invitation; I was frequently asked to join my various family groups to share meals, celebrations, and so on. But generally not in writing.

Will craned his neck, trying to see, and I realized that for some reason, Peg hadn’t wanted him to know I was coming. I folded the note in half, thwarting his efforts, and tucked it in my work basket. Peg hadn’t given me any details, so she was either assuming I could handle whatever it was on the fly, or that I already knew what was going on.

Sometimes giving grandchildren the illusion that you know everything can come back and bite you!

On Friday, I showed up at Peg’s house punctually at 4:00, as requested. I find punctuality important. It allows people to plan.

“Nana!” Peg greeted me warmly. “Thank you so much for coming!”

I laughed and hugged her as tightly as I could with one arm occupied. “Of course! Now, care to tell me what this is about?”

“It’s Steph. She’s very troubled, but she won’t tell either Greg or me what is wrong. We tried to send her to you, but she won’t go. So I decided to bring you to her.”

“Ah. Why the note and the mystery?”

She shook her head and smiled, “You know Will; he’s such a tease. If he knew, he’d be likely to taunt Steph with it, and close her up tighter than ever.”

Steph is one of my younger great grands. She’s only seven, and very quiet and reserved. Unlike the rest, she never changes into something unexpected and just pops over and lets herself into my house. When she does come to visit, she always knocks on the door, and always in human form.

I put the cake I’d brought on the kitchen table.

“Where is she now?”

“On the swings. She’s been spending most of her time there. What a lovely cake! You didn’t have to!”

I just smiled. If I ever showed up without something good to eat, I’m fairly sure they’d all wonder if it was really me.

I let myself out the back, and walked to the little copse where the swings are. I could see Steph, her back to the house, listlessly kicking the ground in a half-hearted attempt to swing. Something wrong, indeed.

She looked up as I took the swing next to her. “Grandnana. I knew they’d make you come.”

Might as well get right to the point. “They are worried, because they love you.”

She turned her head away, but not before I saw her eyes fill with tears.

“They won’t, when they know.”

Oh dear. This was worse than I thought. I stood up, gathered her out of her swing, and carried her over to the double glider. I’m so glad young children are small enough to pick up easily!

For a while, I just held her and swung gently, while she cried. “That’s right.” I murmured, “Let the tears wash the pain away. And know that I will always love you, no matter what.”

She wrapped her arms around me, and wept for a while.

“Now,” I said, “who did you murder?” She was startled enough to laugh, and doing that while crying caused her to hiccup. Loudly. Which made her gulp and half laugh again.

She sat up, and I handed her a handkerchief to dry her tears. She took it, took care of herself, and shook her head.

“It’s not that! You know I’d never do that, right?”

“I didn’t think so.” I gave her a squeeze. “So, we’ve established it’s not as horrible as murder. What is it?”

She sighed, and relaxed against me. “You know they teach shape-shifting in second grade, right?”

I did, indeed. Although my descendants  generally figure it out well before that. I’d never seen Steph – oh no. I knew where this was going.

Sure enough, she started to sob again. “I tried, Grandnana. I tried really hard. They’re going to kick me out of the family, aren’t they? Please don’t hate me, Grandnana! Please!”

I held her as tightly as I could, and covered the top of her head with kisses.

“Oh, my poor little Stephie! My very own, dear little Stephie! Of course not! I’m so sorry you thought that for a minute! You’re our own darling Steph, and we don’t care a bit if you can’t Shift! Not everyone can, you know!”

“Everyone in this family can! Everyone but me. I’m a failure.”

She was holding me so tightly that it hurt. She had accidentally grabbed a pinch of my skin, under my shirt. I’d have a bruise there tomorrow, but that was insignificant next to this.

“No, honey bunch, you are not a failure. Don’t say that about my great-granddaughter. Lack of one talent does not a failure make.

Besides, haven’t I taught you that people may fail at many things, but people, themselves, are never failures?”

She nodded, and sat up slightly, releasing her hold. Oh thank goodness!

“But you are so famous for shifting, and I can’t do it at all! People will make fun of me.”

I held her close, taking her hand in mine. She could hold my hand as tightly as she liked. “What will they say?” I asked.

“They’ll say I can’t Shift!”

“Is that true, as far as we know right now?”

She sniffed, and nodded miserably.

“Then say, ‘Yes. And?'”


I sighed. “People who tease are trying to get a reaction from you. Lots of times, they don’t care what reaction, as long as they get one. Any reaction at all makes them feel, just for a minute, like they mattered to you. Just for a minute, you saw them, and interacted with them.

“People need interaction with other people as badly as they need air and light. They’ll do anything to get it, even when they have no idea that’s what they are doing.”

“So, if I just say yeah, as if it’s no big deal, they’ll leave me alone?”

“Perhaps. They might also be reaffirming their group identity, showing their friends that all of them like the same thing, so they are part of the same group.

“The trick is a two prong approach. Let them know that not shifting is something neutral for you, like having dark brown hair or green eyes. But also interact with them doing things that make you all feel good, because it’s the interaction they crave.”

“But it’s not neutral! It’s one of the most important things there is! Ever since I was tiny, I’ve been waiting until I could turn into a bird and fly through the sky, or turn into a horse and run like the wind, or be a fish in the brook! And now I never will!”

I held her close, and felt the pain I would feel if I had to give up all those things. “You’re right. It’s hard to give up dreams and expectations. It hurts a lot. I know.”

“How? Did you ever have to give up anything?”

“Oh my darling, yes. Think how old I am. I’ve had to give up so much! So many dreams, plans, hopes that never happened.”

“Can you tell me one?”

Well, it was only fair. She’d shown me her pain. “The worst was when I realized I’d have to live without your GrandGrampa. I didn’t think I could. I’d always imagined us going on forever together. But life doesn’t go on forever, and his ended before mine.”

“How did you manage?” she whispered.

“By concentrating on the things I still had. Your grandpa, and your great-aunts, and all your aunts and uncles and various cousins.”

“And me?”

I squeezed her. “You weren’t born yet. But now that you are, yes, you.”

She was thoughtful as we swung for a while, and I left her space to think. I had memories of my own to think through.

Finally she said, “I can still throw a charm faster than Will or anyone, even if I can’t shift. If he wants an interaction, I can make his pants fall off!”

I had to laugh. “Well, yes. But that’s not quite the kind of interaction I was thinking of. That would probably not make him feel good.”

She laughed too. I was so happy to hear it. “Probably not! What is the most important thing, Grandnana?”

I could answer that one without thinking. “Being kind. And that’s not dependent on any talent or ability or skill in the world. Everyone can do that, no matter what.”

She nodded, thoughtfully. “I better go tell mom what’s been bugging me, huh?”

“Yes. Want me to come with?”

She turned, gave me a kiss, and slid off my lap. “No. I can do this. You’re sure she’ll still love me?”

“I’m sure. She might want to have you tested, or tutored, but that’s because she doesn’t want to give up her hopes and expectations for you, not because she doesn’t love you, even if you never shift at all.”

She nodded. “That makes sense. Okay. Love you, Grandnana!”

“Love you, Steph.”

She straightened her little shoulders, and marched off to the house.

I watched her go, her back straight and head up, and thought about my husband. I still missed him dreadfully, at times. But I know he’d be so very proud of our brood!

Stormy Weather on Amazon

I got Stormy Weather made into a Kindle book yesterday, and today it’s up for sale on Amazon!

I really should have researched the title before I used it. I had no idea how many other books were also called “Stormy Weather” although I certainly should have. It’s not like it would have been hard to do. Oh well, too late now! It’ll be easier when it’s just the name of the first story in the collected Kip Andrews book. (It’s a very short read – only 13 print pages, so it’s perfect for reading during break.)

If you’re a member of KindleUnlimited you can read it for free. If not, I’m afraid it’ll cost 99¢. Amazon won’t accept a lower price.

I’d like to thank everyone who read it here, and encouraged me. If you liked it, and you can leave a review, that would be great! Good reviews really help.

If you’d like to read any of the 3 stories that are still here, while they’re still free, you can find links to them below.

Beauty and the Beast Retold

A Little Bird Told Me – A Grandnana Story

May Eve

May Eve Story

It’s Saturday, and time for another short short. This one is just shy of 1000 words. I wrote it on May Eve, and thought I should post it before the month is over.

Hope you like it!

May Eve

It was raining that day. If it hadn’t been for the rain, none of the rest of it would have happened.

Without the rain, I’d have been out on the Lake, sailing to the Island where the woods were carpeted with spring beauty and glory-of-the-snow. I’d have been picnicking under the tender new maple leaves.

That was my plan for the day.

If it hadn’t rained, I wouldn’t have been stuck indoors. I wouldn’t have gotten bored, and decided to put together a wreath out of dried flowers and bird feathers and bits of this and that, all hot glued to an old form I’d been given for a long-ago housewarming. Without the rain, I’d have been far away from the house, and I’d never have heard the doorbell, even if it rang.

But I did make the wreath, and hung it proudly on the front door, where the porch sheltered it. And I was home, so when the bell rang I answered it.

At first glance, I thought it was a child, standing there as gray as the rain, dripping on the mat. I wondered who was letting their little girl wander around in the rain, without so much as a hat. But then she lifted her eyes, and I realized it wasn’t a child at all.

I can see you expecting me to say it was a Little Person. But it wasn’t.

She wasn’t human. No human has ever been born with eyes like that. Solid green, those eyes, with flecks of gold floating in them. No whites, no dark pupils, just shades of green, dancing like leaves in a forest breeze, burning as if lit from behind.

Those eyes captured me, and I stood there stunned, unable to move.

“Can I come in? It’s very wet out.”

I stepped aside, and motioned her past me. That was probably a mistake, in retrospect, but I wasn’t thinking really clearly at that moment.

“Ah much better!” she chirped. She scooted by, and straight to the fireplace. There wasn’t a fire, of course. I seldom turn on the gas, except for holidays and other special occasions.

“Your hearth is cold!” She gave me such a look! Accusation, disappointment, condescension, disdain, annoyance. In my own home!

Wordlessly, I walked over and flipped the switch. With a whoosh the gas caught, and blue flames licked the artificial logs.

She started, and then peered at the fire. “What is this? You’re no sorcerer!”

I shook my head. My voice was still not working.


She pointed a surprisingly long finger at me, and I found myself saying, “It’s a gas fire. Natural gas is piped into the house, and a spark from the electronic ignition unit causes it to burn, but very cleanly. There’s no ash, and no smoke.”

“Huh.” She turned back to the blaze. “Well, it’s truly fire, so I suppose that’s legal, even if it doesn’t smell right at all.”

She turned her diminutive back to the warmth, and shook her hair out with both hands. In no time at all, it dried to white frizz like a dandelion clock, all over her head.

“So, I suppose we should come right to the point,” she said.

“The point?”

“Why I’m here. Are you daft?”

“I’m not sure.” Ten minutes earlier I’d have said not a chance, but I was standing there talking to someone who wasn’t human, and I had no idea if anyone else would even find her visible. So yeah, of course I was questioning my sanity. Wouldn’t you?

She peered up at me, and then around the house, or as much as you can see from the living room. “Not bad, although it’s been far too long since you washed your curtains. Still, I’ve seen worse.

“Okay, I’ll take the job. Payment will be a full saucer of cream, delivered nightly, and mind it’s fresh! I’ll have none of the waste that you’re thinking of giving to the pigs.”

“Wait.. what? What job?”

She looked at me, my own puzzlement reflected on her tiny face, and then scampered to the door, and threw it open. “There’s the sign, right enough, hung smack dab on the middle of the door, on May-Eve.” She pointed to my new door wreath. “Did you think no one would answer?”

“I … Did I… Sign for what?”

She stared at me for a moment, and then started to laugh. I’d never heard such a sound, like a brook chuckling, and butterflies dancing, and bright ribbons waving in the breeze. It was pure merriment. I had to laugh too. I couldn’t help it.

“Oh me, oh my!” she gasped for air, and then sat right down on the floor, pointing weakly at the wreath.

“You’ve no idea, do you? Well, that’s just too bad. I was looking for a new situation, and I’ve found one! You’ve hung the sign, and invited me in. You kindled your fire anew for me. It’s all signed and sealed, according to the old laws. The contract is made, and now you’re stuck with it!”

“Stuck? What?”

She hopped up and skipped over to me, where I’d collapsed on the couch. As quick and soft as a kitten, she patted me several times on the knee, and said, “It’s okay. You’ll get used to it. But don’t forget the cream, or you’ll wish you’d never been born!”

Then she twirled around once, and vanished.

But she didn’t leave. Oh no. She never left.

I’m not saying that I’m not grateful for her help at times, although I’ve learned not to say “thank you.” Not ever.

But you see, that’s why I need cream. The freshest you have, please.

If you enjoyed this story, please consider joining my Patreon. You’ll be able to read the stories early, and I’ll be able to write more of them!

One of Those Days

The news has been really discouraging for the last little while. I’m so very, very tired of all the bias and judgement. So yesterday I wrote a tiny little piece of flash-fiction, and I’m posting it today, even though it’s not Saturday. Hope you like it!

It’s been one of those days. Do you ever have them? I’m achy and cranky, and I can’t settle to doing anything.
From the time I crawled out of my warm little nest this morning, all I’ve wanted to do is crawl back in.
I can’t even decide what gender to be, or what skin color, or age, or orientation or anything.
Usually I have a hard time deciding because every choice limits the rainbow of possibilities. If I pick a middle aged straight man, I can’t skip down the street no matter how much I feel like skipping. If I decide to be a 7 year old mixed race girl with a mass of curly red hair, I can skip, but I can’t buy lunch without people calling Social Services. If I settle on an androgynous teenager, I can get lunch, and probably even skip, but what will I do if I need to pee before I get home?
You know how it is.
But today, I can’t make up my mind because everything I can think of comes with more responsibility, or more hassles, than I want to deal with.
If I choose a large black gay man, white women are likely to pull their children out of my path. If I choose to be a straight Latino cis female, then I have to watch every word, and put up with endless nonsense, just to let my hair flow and wear a pretty dress and strappy sandals. I could be an old woman, not a young one, and become pretty much invisible; but not if I wanted to wear that dress and sandal combo. People would frown, and think I was behaving inappropriately.
Usually, when I feel overwhelmed by it all, I just go as a nondescript white male of indeterminate age. That seems to be the default in the culture I’m currently studying, so it’s easy to blend in and not be noticed. But the thing about that is you have to be strong, and can’t cry. And I feel like I might burst into tears at any moment.
I’ve been standing in front of the Wardrobe, dithering.
I could be homeless. Homeless people are invisible, and can cry or even talk to themselves without anyone giving them a second glance. But if I go out like that, I’ll have to stay out all day. Homeless people can’t step into a store or other public place, even though they are more in need of them than anyone.
I nearly just gave up and crawled back into my nest, but reports are due next week, and I’m behind. I can’t afford to waste a full day.
I need to find something that will let me go out in public, and just be however I feel like being at the moment, without anyone judging me, or attacking me, or barring me from participation in society.
Just something that everyone will treat with kindness, dignity, and respect.
Got any ideas?

Picture Attribution; Unity in Diversity by fady habib Used under a Creative Commons 2Generic License. Resized and lightly cropped on the top and bottom, to fit this format.

Beauty and the Beast – Retold

My retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

©2016 Robin Wood

Once upon a time, long ago in a far away land, there lived a rich merchant. His wife had been dead for many years, but he had three lovely daughters, each fairer than the one before. The eldest was named Hope, the middle daughter was Faith, and little Beauty was the youngest.

One fine day in early June the father got word that one of the two ships he owned had been spotted out at sea, and should be in the harbor by the end of the week. So he made plans to set off for the city, and be there to greet it.

He put on his best coat, the blue one with the big brass buttons, and put his finest hat, the purple one with the curling white feather, on his head. But before he mounted his fine white gelding, he asked his daughters what they would like him to bring home from the city; for he expected a great deal of money from selling the cargo the ship had in her hold.

“I would like a coral necklace, please!” said Hope, “to wear on my wedding day!” Not that she was engaged, you understand. But she had high hopes.

“I would like a set of silver candlesticks, please!” said Faith, “to burn during my prayers!” For, as you might have expected, Faith was very spiritual.

“Done and done!” said their father, “And what would you like, Beauty?”

“I don’t want anything, Papa,” Beauty said, “I have everything I need already!”

“That’s very sweet, my sweet,” said her Papa. “But I have to bring you something! Can’t you think of anything you’d like?”

Beauty smiled up at him. “Oh, Papa. If it will make you happy, bring me a single rose.”

“Are you sure?”

“Perfectly sure!”

So the father swung himself onto his fine horse, and set off in the bright sunshine.

But when he got to the city, he found to his horror and dismay that there had been a terrible storm the night before, and his strong ship had gone down with all its rich cargo, almost in sight of the dock. The only bright spot was that the brave Captain and crew had made it to shore, just barely, by constantly bailing the lifeboat.

However, there wasn’t a chain, or a plate, or a scrap of cloth left from all the fine cargo. Insurance hadn’t been invented yet, either, so it was all really and truly lost.

The father had to sell his fine horse, and the clothes off his back, to pay the crew; and at that they didn’t get full wages.

There wasn’t a brass coin left to buy fine presents for his daughters. In fact, as the father set off on foot to walk the gloomy miles back to his home, he reflected that he would be lucky if he didn’t have to sell some of the presents from pervious trips, to buy food until the next ship was due. And if that one sank, they would be ruined. Paupers, beggars, homeless waifs. His poor daughters! Ah me!

So, full of despair and close to tears, he trudged wearily along, not paying particular attention to where he was going. At last, heart sick and hungry, he raised his head and realized that it had grown nearly dark, and he had no idea where he was. All around him grew a thick forest, when there was no forest at all on the road between his home and the city!

He was quite lost.

At that moment, of course, it began to rain. It always does, when things are at their darkest. Have you noticed? Because, you know, rain seems dreary and dismal. But really, it’s a promise of growth and life. We always do get such promises, when things are at their worst. But we seldom see them for what they are.

The poor father certainly didn’t see any promise in the rain. To him, it just meant that now he was cold and wet, as well as exhausted and sick at heart. And he seemed to have a blister on his right heel.

He thought about just giving up, and sitting down in the middle of the road.

At that moment there was a huge roll of thunder and lightning struck somewhere quite close, and he realized that it wouldn’t help his daughters at all to have him drown, or disappear, just as their fortunes seemed to turn for the worse.

So he started to run down the path, searching for a welcoming window between the trees, or the flicker of a wood cutter’s fire. Any place that he could find a bit of shelter.

The storm got worse, the trees got denser, and his breath grew shorter as he ran. Just as he was about to really give up, he saw a glimmer of light ahead. Was it? Yes! It was a window! And not the window of a cottage, either. This was no wood cutter’s house!

He broke out of the woods, and found that he was facing a stately palace, with beautifully manicured lawns and flower beds, tall stone walls, statues, and fountains gurgling in the rain.

For a moment he stood stunned. Imagine all of this within a days ride of his home, and he’d never known any of it was here! But then there was another crash of thunder, and with a little yip, he ran up the wide drive to the ornate iron gate, and reached for the bell pull he could dimly see there.

Before he could touch it, the gate swung open, all by itself, and light flared by the tall double front doors as the lamps on either side of them burst into sudden life.

Marveling, he walked up the broad marble steps. As he reached the top, the door swung wide, and he saw the lamps lighting themselves, pair by pair, to illuminate a hall with rich paintings hanging on the walls, and a deep piled carpet just the same shade of green as a mossy glade.

“I’m terribly sorry,” he said, as he stepped timidly into the hall, “But I seem to be dripping on your carpet.”

Not a word came in reply, but the farthest pair of lamps flickered off, and then back on again, as if beckoning him forward.

So forward he went, wondering at the rich furnishings, following the lamps that lit themselves in front of him, and extinguished themselves behind. It was all like a dream, somehow.

They led him to a sumptuous dining room, with a wide hearth where a cheerful fire crackled and leapt. As he stepped closer to the fire, he found a thick towel to dry himself hanging on the fire screen, toasty warm. And there was a dressing gown; red (his favorite color) embroidered with gold and purple, laid out on a comfortable chair. He quickly toweled his hair dry, slipped out of the wet and threadbare coat that he’d bought for a penny after he’d sold his good one, and slipped into the beautiful dressing gown. It fit him perfectly, and was toasty warm to boot! He took off his shoes – he did have a blister – and put on the velvet slippers that were under the chair.


He was just about to collapse into the plush cushions with a sigh of relief, when he heard a silver bell strike a clear note behind him.

“Oh, my dear host!” he said, straightening up and whirling around, “I am so very grateful…” but there was no one there.

Puzzled, he looked away from the door of the room, and noticed that in the time it had taken him to put on the robe and slippers, somehow a meal had been laid on the table, with fine china, silver, and crystal glinting in the light of two tall tapers.

But there was only a single place setting.

Slowly, he crossed the room. When he was close enough to reach the chair, it whisked itself away from the table, and waited expectantly for him to sit. He did, and it obligingly pushed itself in for him.

He reached for the cover of a silver dish, from which a most delicious smell was emerging. But before he could quite touch it, it lifted itself to reveal a savory soup. A silver ladle poured a generous helping into a soup bowl, which then settled itself on the silver chaser in front of him.

It was every bit as delicious as it had smelled.

When he finished it, the dish and chaser took off, and sailed away towards the door. At the same time, the cover flew off another dish to reveal a pair of chops, perfectly cooked and seasoned, in a bed of roast apples and potatoes. A silver knife and fork helped him to a generous serving, all by themselves, and then another dish came forward, floating in the air, and offered him a golden roll, with a crisp crust, and a pat of butter. Meanwhile, a cut-crystal decanter lifted itself, hovered for a moment by his shoulder for his approval, and then silently poured an exquisite white wine into his glass.

So it went through the meal. All his favorite dishes were revealed, and he was given as much as he cared for of each, until he had finished the port and trifle at the end.

He was excellently served, but there wasn’t a servant in sight. Nor did his host ever show himself. He ate entirely alone.

Finally, the candles on the table went out, and the one by the comfortable chair lit itself, inviting him to settle for a rest, with a good book, a cup of coffee, and a single piece of chocolate. It was more and more dreamlike, so he walked to the chair, as if in a dream, and read strange poetry that he had never heard of before, while sipping truly marvelous coffee, until his eyes were too heavy to stay open.

At which point, the book gently took itself out of his hand, and the candle on the table rose into the air, and waited for him. Obediently, he stood, and followed it to a comfortable bed chamber, where he wasn’t surprised to find a night shirt, just his size, laid on a lovely, soft bed. With a happy little sigh – it was such a nice dream – he settled into the bed, and fell deeply asleep.

He woke to birdsong, and was quite surprised to find that he was still in his dream although it was bright morning now!

His own clothes were folded on the chair next to the bed, clean, pressed, and mended. But the sight of those clothes reminded him that even if this was all a very pleasant dream, the shipwreck, and the wreck of the greater part of his fortune, were not.

So it was with a gloomy countenance that he retraced his steps of the night before, guided this time by the silver bell, to the dining room and a breakfast of fresh fruit and perfect, flakey croissants, with more of the marvelous coffee. He no longer expected to see his host, or the servants who were taking such good care of him.

After he’d eaten, though, as he made his way (following the silver bell) to the great front door, he did rouse himself enough to look around, in case his host should appear. But no one did.

The door opened itself onto a bright, rain-washed morning, full of light and the sweet sound of hundreds of birds singing their hearts out. Before he stepped out into it, the father paused on the threshold long enough to turn, and say, “Well, my host, I have no idea who you are, and I haven’t seen you. But I thank you for your hospitality. You probably saved my life last night, and I am grateful.”

Then he walked down the steps into the garden.

Now that it was daylight, and he could see it, he found himself marveling again. (And he thought his marveling juices were all used up!) The gardens were gorgeous. There were marble fountains splashing pure water into wide bowls filled with furtive goldfish. There were tall, graceful trees, with white painted benches below them, and swings hanging invitingly from their branches. There were statues of fauns and nymphs, peering coyly from behind flowering shrubs and boxwood topiary.

And everywhere there were roses! The air was heady with the scent of them. White roses, pink roses, yellow roses, red roses. Roses in bud, in bloom, and blown, so the ground was heavy with rose petals. And not a sign of blight or bruise or bug-chewed leaf anywhere. Never, in all his life, had the father seen so many perfect roses!

At the sight, he thought of his little Beauty, and realized that although he was doomed to disappoint his other daughters, he could still bring Beauty her single rose. Surely, with this wealth of blooms, his host wouldn’t mind if he cut just one, to bring to his daughter?

No sooner did he think it, than he brought out his pen knife. No sooner was it in his hand, than the deed was done.

But as he cut the rose, there was a scream, like a woman screaming in pain, and a cloud passed over the sun, plunging the garden into darkness!

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” The words were more a roar than spoken words. And before the startled father could draw a breath, a huge beast was in front of him, towering over him, snatching the rose from his hand.

“I took you in during the storm! I fed you and sheltered you! I gave you a bed to sleep in, and a good breakfast! You thanked me! You said you were grateful, and I’d probably saved your life!! And this! THIS!” he shook the rose in the cowering fathers face, “THIS IS HOW YOU REPAY ME!? HOW DARE YOU!!”

The father was on his knees by this time, groveling in the grass, with his hands up in supplication. “I’m sorry!” he wept, “I didn’t mean to offend! I had no idea they meant that much to you!”

The beast lowered his paw, although he was still snarling, with his long, pointed teeth showing through the coarse hair that covered his face. Behind the hair he had tiny, red eyes, and great curling horns that came to very sharp points. His large ears, also pointed, were laid back flat, and his mane, which was as coarse as a boar’s, stood up straight.

“Why?” he asked, in a voice that was more a growl than a roar, “Why did you desecrate my garden?”

“It was a gift for my daughter” gasped the father, “For my little Beauty.”

The Beast lifted his chin, and glared sideways at the father from one of his little red eyes. “Tell me about this daughter,” he growled.

So the merchant told him. About his three daughters, and the promised gifts, and the ship, and the rose. And about the beauty, intelligence, grace, and goodness of his daughters, especially his youngest, and how very much they needed their father.

Eventually the Beast seemed somewhat mollified. “Very well,” he said, handing the rose back to the father. “You may take Beauty the rose.”

The father sighed with relief, and scrambled back to his feet. “Thank you, sir,” he said, “I’m.. ”

“BUT,” interrupted the Beast, “We’ll see if she’s as good as you say she is. Give her the rose, with my compliments. And tell her that, instead of killing you now, I’ve decided to spare your life. In exchange for which, she must come and live with me for seven years.”

“Seven years!” gasped the father! “No! Please, sir! Not that! Ask anything else of me, and I’ll do it if I can! But not sell my little Beauty into captivity for seven years!”

“You would prefer I kill you now then?” growled the beast, stepping nearer to the terrified father.

“No! No!” he gasped. “I’ll give her the rose, and say goodbye.” He took a long breath. “Then I’ll come back and you can kill me. You have my word.”

The Beast lifted his chin again. “Humm… we’ll see. Ask her, and do what she says. If she chooses to come back in your place, then send her. If not, then come back yourself, and I’ll kill you then.”

“Done,” wept the father, miserably. And he took the rose that he had paid for so dearly, and turned to go.

“Wait,” growled the Beast. “I’ll send you in my coach. And I’ll send three chests of gold and jewels with you as well. It wouldn’t do to deprive such paragons of womanhood of both their father and their fortune. And if Beauty does choose to take your place, you’ll have gold to console you until she returns.”

Sadly the father turned to the Beast. “I pray she doesn’t choose to come,” he said, “But if she does, no amount of gold can ever console me for the loss of a daughter.”

The beast just curled his lip. “We’ll see.” he growled. “And I’ll be watching you; so don’t even think of disobeying me. You’ll have one day to say your goodbyes, either way. The coach will return in the morning, and pick up whichever of you is to be the passenger. Now GO!”

The father turned, full of fear, and fairly leapt into the fine carriage that had appeared by the gate. He wasn’t surprised to find that there was no horseman to drive it, and, indeed, no horses to pull it! But the carriage fairly flew anyway, and in a twinkling, it had pulled to a stop in front of his own house.

His daughters came racing, with laughter and cries of welcome, to greet him, and wonder at his strange conveyance. But he alighted slowly, with a heavy heart, and hugged them tightly without a word.

The three chests of treasure (and they weren’t small ones) placed themselves on the ground, and the carriage whirled away in a sprinkling of gravel, leaving them alone.

“What’s the matter, Papa?” Hope asked, sobered by his manner. “Why so sad, when you obviously did well?”

“What happened to your fine clothes, Papa?” asked Faith. “Why are you dressed in these mended tatters?”

“Why are you crying, Papa?” asked Beauty. “Please, tell us! Whatever it is, we have you safely home again, so it can’t be that bad!”

“Ah, my girls, my girls,” said the father, “The ship was lost, and the better part of our fortune with it. And here, Beauty, is your rose; and never has your foolish father made such a bad bargain, or paid so dearly for so little.” And he drew them close, and told them the whole story.

When he finished, they were all three pale, but none more so than Beauty.

“Oh Papa,” said Hope. “This is horrible. But the Beast can’t be that much of a monster! I’ll go, and explain, and I’m sure he’ll let both you and Beauty stay with us. We can give him back his gold. We don’t want it.”

“Oh Papa,” said Faith. “It is horrible. But Hope is right. We will all four weather this storm. I’ll go and pray that the Beast see reason, and that his heart will be turned towards us. He can take back his jewels. We don’t want them.”

“Oh Papa,” said Beauty, with a brave little smile. “It’s not as horrible as all that! Of course I’ll go to live with the Beast for seven years. It’s only seven years, after all. That’s not forever. And you never saw the Beast until you cut the rose, right? Perhaps I won’t see him either.”

“No, Beauty,” said the father, “I can’t send you to live in isolation with a Beast like that for seven days, let alone seven years! I won’t hear of it. And you two,” he continued, turning to his older daughters, “are to stay far away from him as well. Pray if you like, Faith, but Hope, you are not to try to talk to him. My mind is made up, and I’m putting my foot down. When the coach returns tomorrow morning, I’ll be the one who boards it. The treasure can go for your dowries, so you can all get good husbands to take care of you. But my foot is down!”

“Papa,” said Beauty, and her lip was trembling as she said it, but she said it anyway, “Didn’t the Beast tell you that you were to do what I said? And that he’d be watching to make sure you did?”

The father sighed. “Yes. There is that.”

“Then,” Beauty firmed her jaw, and looked steadily at him, “I have decided. When the coach comes back, I’ll be the one who boards. Now cheer up, it’s only for seven years!”

So they spent the day, trying to be cheerful, each for the sake of the others, and pretty much failing miserably at it. But Beauty got packed, and given keepsakes, and there was a last family dinner before they parted for seven years. No one mentioned that it might be forever; because seven years is a long time.

Anything can happen in seven years! Little children can turn into teenagers in seven years, and often do! In seven years, teenagers can grow up and get married and have children of their own.

The next morning, they were all waiting in the yard when the coach, flashing gold and polished wood in the June sun, pulled up to the door. Beauty kissed her father and sisters, and climbed in. The door closed itself smartly, and Beauty leaned out the window to wave goodbye, but they were already far behind. So she settled back in the soft cushions for a good cry, but she was already at her destination!

She expected invisible servants to help her; but instead, there was the Beast himself, opening the door of the coach.

A most dreadfully ugly and ferocious Beast he was!

He was standing upright, like a man, but he obviously wasn’t built for it, and was having trouble. He was dressed in rich clothing, cut to fit him as well as possible. But the fine lace on his cuffs was filthy, as if he’d been dragging them along the ground. And the velvet of his breeches was all creased, almost, thought Beauty, as if he’d scratched behind his ears with his hind leg.

He wasn’t wearing shoes, which was a good thing, thought Beauty, since the claws on his paws would have cut them to ribbons in an instant.

His hair was coarse, dusky brown, and looked bristly, although it was clean enough. He had a nose that was partway between a wolf’s nose, and a pig’s snout. His tail, which poked through a hole in his breeches, was rather like a wolf’s; but the hair on it was scraggly, and the skin showed pinkly through the hair, more like a rat’s tail, or a pig’s.

And he smelled.. well, he smelled like a Beast, and not a terribly pleasant one. It was a musky, dark, unhappy smell.

He reached out a paw, to help her from the coach, and Beauty tried not to flinch. But she couldn’t help shaking a little. He was so large, and so fierce looking, with tusks that poked above his bottom lip even when his mouth was closed.

His nostrils flared, his mane bristled, and his eyes really were as red as her father had told her. “I’m not going to eat you!” he barked.

She lifted her chin. “Yes, I know, You have promised to return me safe and sound after seven years.”

His lip curled. “I never said that.” he growled. “I said that you were to live with me for seven years, in return for your father’s life. I never said a word about what would happen when the time was up.”

“Oh!” said Beauty, shocked out of her certainty that it would be all right, eventually. “But you will return me! Won’t you?”

“Would you have come if you thought I wouldn’t?” asked the Beast.

“Yes. Yes of course. I couldn’t let you kill my father!” Now that she saw him, any lingering doubts that he would have done exactly that had fled. “But you’re not going to kill me after seven years, are you?”

The beast sighed heavily. “No. I’m not going to kill you at all, ever. If you want to leave after seven years, you’ll be free to go.”

“Oh, good! I’m sure that I shall.” chirped Beauty, almost cheerful in her relief.

“Yes.” said the beast, and his great head drooped. “I’m sure you shall too. Well, until then, welcome to your new home. If there’s anything you would like, simply say what it is, and it will be given to you.”

“My freedom!” Beauty responded instantly.

“Except that!” growled the Beast, and his eyes glowed redder than ever.

“Well, it was worth a try.” said Beauty.

The Beast looked at her sharply, and his lip curled, showing pointed canines that didn’t seem to go with the tusks, as his eyes darkened until they were nearly brown. “I suppose it was, at that.” he said, in the most human like voice he’d used yet.

Beauty just stood, and looked at him. He shifted uneasily. “You like roses?” he said.

“Oh yes!” and now Beauty looked beyond the Beast, and saw the gardens. Enchanted, she ran into them with a cry of delight. Behind her, the beast gratefully dropped to all fours, and then sat on the ground with a whuff.

And so life in the enchanted castle began for Beauty. Gradually, it turned into a routine.

In the mornings, she would waken and invisible servants would help her wash her face, comb her hair, and dress in a new gown. Always a new gown, always a color she’d mentioned she liked the day before, or a design that she’d spoken of, or with embroidery that pictured something she’d remarked on.

She would eat breakfast in the dining room, always alone, always fresh fruit, meltingly wonderful bread of some kind, cream, and coffee.

After breakfast, she’d go into the gardens, and wander among the flowers for a while, or, if it was raining, she’d go into the library (there was a vast library) and read the strange and wonderful books there.

Luncheon would be taken, also alone, al fresco in the garden if the weather was fine, or in the conservatory if it rained. She loved that; the rain on the glass panes was as beautiful, in its own way, as the sun on the dewy garden.

After lunch, she would read for a while, or practice the spinet, or do a bit of drawing or embroidery until she was summoned to visit with the Beast.

Sometimes, she would see him in his private study, where he’d be lying on cushions while they talked. But more often, she would sit on one side of a screen, while he … sat? Lay? Stood? Was on the other.

They would talk about this and that, everything and nothing. He wanted to know all about her life, and her sisters, and what she thought about his books, and his garden, and his castle. He asked her opinion about things that were happening in the world, and about her hopes and dreams.

In turn, he would wax eloquent about gardens, and art, and poetry, and occasionally politics. He’d talk to her about horses, and fashion, and great cities of the world. But never, ever, about himself. Any questions about his life, or his family, or his hopes and dreams would be turned aside. She learned that if she pressed him, he would cut the visit short.

In the beginning, the first few days – well, to be honest, the first few weeks – she would do that when she felt that she could no longer bear the sight, sound or smell of him. Just ask him about himself a few times, and the visit was over, leaving her was free to go and explore the castle, or return to the gardens.

But as the weeks wore on into months, she found that she was really enjoying these visits. They slowly became the highlight of her days, and she found that she was thinking about them, even when she wasn’t with him.

During dinner, for instance, when it was just her and the silent, invisible servants, she would think about the things he’d been telling her, turning them this way and that in her head, finding different ways of looking at the world through his eyes.

During the hours between dinner and time for her bath and bed, which she usually spent in the library (when she wasn’t exploring; the castle was huge, and fascinating) she would memorize passages in books that she wanted to ask him about, or spend time in the reference section, looking up something that he’d said.

At night, before she fell asleep, she’d invent clever turns of phrase that she was sure would amuse him the next day.

One day, when the bell rang for supper, she found herself saying, “Oh Beast! I wish it wasn’t supper time already! I miss you so, after our visit is over! Can you please have supper with me, just this once?”

He was reclining on his cushions, so she could see his face. He looked very surprised. “Oh! Umm… my! Oh!” he grumped into his chin whiskers. “Urrrumph. Well, no not dinner. I am a Beast, you know. Knives and forks defeat me.” and he spread a paw, with its huge talons.

For some reason, that made Beauty laugh, and he curled his lip in what she now knew was his smile, with a twinkle in his deep brown eyes. (They were only red when he was angry, which almost never happened now.)

“But I can come and see you after dinner, if you like. I’ll help you explore the castle. Some parts I don’t think I’ve seen for years!”

So the routine changed slightly. Now, after dinner, the Beast and Beauty explored the castle together.

She was running gaily down a corridor, and he was pretending to chase her, when she realized that it was not only difficult, but probably painful, for him to run on his hind legs.

“Dear Beast!” she said, panting and laughing. “You don’t have to stand on your hind legs on my account. I’m perfectly sure I can outrun you even if you went in the natural way.”

He stopped, and kind of choked.

“What’s the matter?” she cried, “Did I say something wrong? I didn’t mean to! Oh, please forgive me!”

“No, no” he replied, still sounding a bit strangled. “I just don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I don’t try to walk like a man just for you, you know. It’s more than that. But.. there’s no way you’d be able to outrun me if I went on all fours!”

“Oh no?” Beauty tossed her head. “Let’s just give that a test, shall we?” and she took off like a bird.

In an instant, the Beast was racing past her, then rounding in front of her, and cutting her off. Grinning like a fool, which meant all his teeth were exposed, in all their pointed glory. On all fours like that, he was fast. He was also larger than she’d expected, and more.. well.. beast like. She stopped stock still, pale as a ghost.

He dropped to the ground, almost cowering, paws over his face so only his eyes showed, deep and brown, “Oh Beauty! What have I done?” he whispered. And to her amazement, she saw tears welling in those brown eyes.

Her heart went out to him, and she knelt down with him, taking his great paws into her hands. She’d never actually touched him before. “Beast, dear Beast. It’s all right. You just startled me a little, that’s all.” and she kissed his knuckles.

He stared at his paws, and then turned his head away. “I think this is enough visit for one night,” he choked.

“No, please, please, Beast. Don’t send me away because I was startled! I just didn’t know.. I’d never seen you on all fours before. It won’t happen again, I promise!”

“Too right,” said the Beast bitterly. “It won’t. You will never see me on all fours again.”

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it!” retorted Beauty. “I want to see you on all fours! I don’t mind that you’re a Beast! I just wasn’t expecting it, and now I will be!”

“No, Beauty,” and the Beast struggled to his feet. “I will walk like a man in your presence, no matter the cost.”

“Well, if you won’t go on all fours, then I will!” said Beauty, And she rolled onto her hands and knees and began to crawl down the corridor.

There was a strangling sound behind her, and she turned to find the Beast on his haunches, with his face in his paws. “All right, you win!” he shook his head, while his lip curled. “I can’t do anything if you don’t wish me too. And I’m somehow compelled to obey your every whim.” He looked at her, wonderingly. “How did this happen?”

“Well,” Beauty said, complacently, “You struck a bargain with my father… ”

So the Beast walked on all fours, and Beauty strolled next to him, with her hand on his neck, which was about shoulder high to her. She didn’t quite dare to put her arm around it, although she did want to. His hair turned out to be very soft to the touch, for all it looked so coarse and bristly.

And now a new routine began, and was swiftly settled into. Beauty still spent all her meals by herself, but most of the rest of the day she spent in the company of the Beast. It turned out that it was, indeed, painful for him to walk on his hind legs, and he’d limited their time together because of that. And also, of course, because he was a Beast, and was afraid that he disgusted her.

That much he would tell her; but except for that, his life remained a forbidden topic. She asked if she was allowed to ask, and when he told her no, she didn’t; because she didn’t think she would be able to bear it if he left her alone now.

As time passed, she noticed that there was snow in the woods outside the garden. Eventually, the snow melted, and early spring flowers appeared. But inside, it was always June. “Why is that?” she asked.

The Beast laughed. “You might not have noticed,” he said, grinning at her, “But the castle is under an enchantment.”

“Is it now?” she laughed back, “I don’t suppose that you can tell me about it?”

“No. No I can’t.”

A new thought occurred to her. “Are you the Enchanter, or are you under an enchantment too?”

For the merest heartbeat he looked stricken. Then he smiled, and said, “I’m a Beast, as you see me; but I’m under your spell.”

She smiled back. “Good.” she said. “And you have to tell me whatever I want to know, right?”

The Beast looked at her warily. “If I can.” he said.

“Then tell me how you know so much about the world, when you never leave this castle.”

“Oh, that! I can tell you all about that!”

And from the pocket of his jerkin (he always wore clothes, even when he was going on all fours,) he fumbled a silver mirror. “I can see the whole world in this mirror.” He hooked it between two pads with the claws on his other paw. “Show me a caravan on the desert!” he said, And there it was, in the mirror, as bright and clear as looking through a clean window.

“It can show you anything?” asked Beauty.

“Anything. You try it.” and he handed it to her.

She barely dared breathe, as she took the precious thing in her hand. “Show me… ” her voice failed, and she cleared her throat. “Show me my father’s home.”

And there it was, tiny and clear. Her father seemed to have done well, investing the gold and jewels the Beast sent. Or perhaps the other ship had come in. How long had she been living with the Beast, anyway?

There were new curtains at the windows, and her sisters looked better dressed than ever. But they also looked sad.

“Can I hear them?” whispered Beauty.

“Yes.” she could hardly hear the beast. “Just say you wish to hear all that is said.”

“I wish to hear all that is said,” said Beauty, in a tremulous voice.

Faith was putting tulips and daffodils into a vase. “Beauty would have loved these.. ” she was saying.

“Faith, I’ve told you and told you,” said Hope. “Don’t talk about her in the past tense. Beauty is going to love these, when she sees the garden that we’ve planted for her.”

Their father put down the book he was reading. “Beauty, if she still lives, is enjoying a garden that puts any other I’ve seen to shame. Cursed thing. I wish I’d never seen it. This is all my fault.”

Hope and Faith ran and put their arms around him. “Oh Papa, it’s not anyone’s fault. How could you have known? It’s just a thing that happened!”

“And besides,” said Hope, “One year is nearly gone already. Just a bit more than six left before she’s home again.”

“Do you really think so, Hope?”

“I know so, Papa.”

and the image faded.

Beauty lowered the mirror. “Oh Beast! I have to go see them! Please let me!”

The beast turned away from her, and spoke so softly she had to strain to hear him. “I thought you were happy here.”

“I am! Oh Beast! Don’t you see? That’s why I have to go and tell them! They are so sad, and I’m so happy! It’s not right! They need to know how happy I am, so that they can be happy too!”

“Are you really happy?” he turned and looked at her, and his eyes now reminded her of a very sad puppy. “The first thing you did was look at them.”

“Well, yes!” she was a bit exasperated. “They are my family, and I love them, and miss them. But that doesn’t mean I’m not happy here! I’ll come right back, I promise! I just want to go and see them for one day, to tell them how wonderful it is here. Just one little day.”

“One day? You promise?”

“I promise. Just for one short little day. I couldn’t bear to be away from you for much longer than that, anyway!” and as she said it Beauty realized, to her surprise, that it was true.

“Okay.” said the Beast. “You can go and see them for one day. Just one. I’ll miss you so much that I’ll start to die, as soon as you go. If you’re not back in three days, I’ll be quite dead, and after that, it doesn’t matter if you come back, or stay forever.”

“Oh, don’t be melodramatic, Beast. You’ll be fine.”

“No, honestly. I won’t. I will really die. So if you care for me at all, don’t stay away more than the single day.”

“Of course I care for you! And thank you, Beast! Thank you so much!” and she leaned forward, and kissed him quickly on the nose. Then she jumped to her feet. “I’ll go pack!”

That night she spent with the Beast (she insisted that he be there, or he would have gone and hidden.) She only packed one dress, since it was only for one day. Mostly, she packed presents for her sisters, and for her father. She kept thinking of more things to give them, and the Beast kept producing them, until she had several quite large trunks. She tried to jolly him, and get him to share her good mood, but he remained morose, no matter how often she protested that she was going to come right back, the next day.

“Is this what it felt like to you, when you were packing to come here?” he asked her. She stopped, and put her hands in her lap, looking intently at him.

“Yes, it was, I think. Like the world was going to end, and I’d never see the people I loved again.”

“Oh Beauty! I’m so sorry I ever did that to you. I was being quite selfish, only thinking of me, and what I needed. If I’d known what this was like then, I never would have done it.”

“Well,” she said, returning to folding a silk scarf for Hope, “I’m glad you did. Because I was being a silly goose, like you are now. If you hadn’t driven that bargain with my father, I never would have met you, and then.. Oh, I would have missed so much!”

“Really and for truly-oh? You really really feel that way?”

“Yes, I do. And I really really will be back day after tomorrow. Now be a good Beast, and hand me that gold bracelet.”

So it was done, and the next morning, the coach was waiting in front of the castle to take Beauty away. “You’ll send the coach for me, tomorrow morning?” she asked, with her foot on the step.

“No, Beauty. I can’t. You have to chose to come back here,” and he handed her the magic mirror. “As soon as you want the coach, take out the mirror, and say, ‘Bring me my coach,’ and it will come. But until you do, I am powerless to fetch you back.”

“Oh! Well, but that’s okay, then. See you tomorrow morning, Beast!” and Beauty sprang into the coach, and was off. She leaned out the window to wave goodbye, but he was already far behind. So she settled back in the soft cushions to think about him, but she was already there!

“BEAUTY!” Hope was shrieking as she ran from the house! “YOU’RE BACK! YOU’RE BACK!” Her cries brought Faith, and their Father, and all the servants running as well.

“Oh, my little Beauty!” and her father folded her, weeping, into his arms. She found that her eyes were filled with tears, too. “You came back! The beast didn’t kill you after all!”

“No, of course not!” she replied, laughing through her tears, “He wouldn’t harm a fly! Well, unless he was hungry. But he’d never hurt a person. He’s really very good, and wise, and kind, and gentle, and .. oh wait until I tell you all about it. And he’s sent a lot of presents for all of you!”

“You mean he let you bring presents for us,” said Faith, “But the best one of all is you! I can’t believe he actually let you come home! And six years early!”

“Oh, I’m not here for good. Just for a visit.”

“Ah. Well, how long can you stay?” asked her father.

“Just the one day. I promised.”

“Wait,” said Hope, “So you’ll be leaving tomorrow morning? That’s not nearly enough time! Is he sending the coach for you?”

“No, no. I can call it whenever I like. There’s a magic mirror!” and she pulled it out to show them.

“Oh, that’s okay then. Just stay until tomorrow noon, please oh please! There’s going to be a picnic, and I’m sure that everyone is going to want to see that you’re safe, and happy. Did you say you were happy?”

Very happy!”

Her sisters shook their heads in wonder. “Well, I don’t see how,” said Faith, “But if you say you are, I’ll take your word for it.”

“Do that!” laughed Beauty. “But come see your presents!” and she led the way to her trunks, opened them, and began distributing gifts.

The next day at the picnic, everyone was pleased to see Beauty, safe and sound. Of course, they didn’t know what had actually happened to her. (Her father had wisely decided not to mention the Beast, especially after combing every inch of the way between his home and the city, and failing to find any sign of the wood, or the castle.)

All they knew was that something had happened, and her family was sad, and her father blamed himself. But now here she was, safe and sound and glowing with health and happiness, so whatever it was, it couldn’t have been that bad, now could it?

At the picnic, Hope was so happy that she was glowing, as well, and her beau actually proposed to her!

So, of course, Beauty couldn’t leave after that! She had to stay one more night, and help to plan the wedding. She was sure the Beast would let her come back for it, but there was so much to do! Maybe the Beast would provide a wedding dress. What should it look like? Exactly? And what food should the Beast send along?

So another night slipped away. Beauty had now stayed away two whole days.

When she woke on the morning of the third day, Beauty reached for the mirror, to look in on the Beast and make sure he was all right before she got dressed and called the coach. But just as she did, Faith burst into the room, with more news.

Their father’s newest ship had come into harbor! He had four now; it seemed that everything he did was charmed since Beauty went to live with the Beast. A ship coming in was exciting enough, but this particular ship had, as one of the passengers, their own cousin!

Yes, it turned out that their mother’s brother, who had been assumed lost at sea before she had married their Papa, hadn’t really died at all! He had been cast away on an island, where he married one of the native women. And now their own cousin, who was as dark and dashing as a Spaniard, had traced them and was on his way to meet them!

Well, she couldn’t leave with THAT going on! She had to stay to meet him too! And he was, indeed, dashing and handsome and debonaire. Uncle Paul appeared to have made quite a bit of money out in the South Seas before he managed to trace his dead sister’s family.

It was quite late at night before she got to bed, and she was too tired to look in on the Beast. ‘I’m sure he’s perfectly all right,’ she said to herself, as she drifted off to sleep. ‘And I’ll go home tomorrow. First thing in the morning.’

Late that night, in the darkest hour, she woke with a horrible foreboding in her heart. In a panic, she reached for the mirror. “Show me the Beast!” she said.

And there he was. He was lying stretched among the roses, crushing a handful of them in one paw. His eyes were closed, and his breathing was shallow. His beautiful clothing was torn and filthy. From one corner of his mouth, a trail of blood wound into his chin bristles. He was, quite clearly, dying.

“NO! NO!” she screamed, struggling out of bed. The noise woke her sisters, and they came running into her room.

“What is it? Beauty!? What’s the matter!?”

“It’s the Beast! He wasn’t being melodramatic. He really is dying! I must go to him, now!”

“You can’t go now!” said Faith, scandalized. “It’s the middle of the night! You’re not even dressed!”

“I don’t care! I’ve stayed away too long!” Beauty was crying now, “My beautiful, wonderful beast is dying, and it’s all my fault! I’m going now! Bring me my coach!”

And it was in the yard.

Barefoot, in her nightdress, uncombed, Beauty ran out to it, her sisters running after her. “At least put on a robe! And hug us good bye!”

“No time! No time!” cried Beauty, wrenching the door open, and scrambling inside. “Go, go, GO!”

And they were there.

Almost blinded by her tears, Beauty burst through the door, and ran into the garden, heedless of the fallen rose thorns that pierced her bare feet. “Beast! Oh Beast!” It took her several panicked, precious minutes; but she found him at last.

“Oh Beast!” she flung herself on him, holding him, stroking his hair, smoothing his whiskers, weeping and weeping. “Beast, you mustn’t die! You can’t die! I forbid you to die! Please, Beast, please, please, come back to me!”

The Beast managed to open one eye, although it was clearly a struggle. His lip curled, ever so slightly. “Beauty” he croaked. “You came back… ” and his eye closed again, as his huge head lolled to one side.

“No!” screamed Beauty, “No! You must not die! You can’t, you can’t. Oh Beast, Beast! You can’t die!” She pounded on his chest. “You can’t die, Beast! I love you! Come back to me, Beast. I love you! I love you!” and she buried her face in his chest, smelling his dear beast smell, crying as her heart broke.

And he must be dead, because he was shrinking, dwindling, all his hair falling out. And the morning must have come, because it was getting bright, and brighter. It was so bright that she gasped, and sat back, looking at the body of her dear Beast. Which was glowing! Too bright to look at!

She covered her eyes, and peered through her slitted fingers, as he glowed, and changed, and became… a man!

He gasped, and sat up, and looked at his hands, then looked up at her, as the glow around him faded. “Beauty?” he said.

“What.. who.. where is my Beast!?”

He made a strangled sound, as if he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Here I am. You’ve done it. Oh Beauty… ”

He laughed aloud, a warm, joyful, human sound, with just a touch of a growl about it, “Beauty! You broke the spell! You did it! I’m a man again!” and he sprang to his feet, catching her up by one hand.

“You’re.. you’re my Beast?” She looked deeply into his bright brown eyes and knew it was true. “You’re my Beast! And you’re alive! Oh, Beast! I was so afraid I’d lost you!” and she went into his arms, crying and laughing herself.

Well, of course they got married, with all Beauty’s family (including her lost-and-found cousin, and her new brother-in-law) at the wedding. Also in attendance were all the faithful servants, who could now be seen and heard.

It turned out that the man formerly known as Beast was really a Prince, and also an Enchanter. He had been vain and thoughtless as a young man, and he’d quarreled with an enchantress, ages ago.

She had told him he was the most unloving person she’d ever met, and he needed to be taught a lesson.

He’d told her that he didn’t need to be loving, since he was handsome, rich and powerful.

Well, that had been too much for her. She’d gotten the drop on him, and turned him into a Beast, making all his servants invisible and inaudible to everyone but each other, to teach him that people need love more than they need anything else. Because, you know, it really truly is the most important thing anywhere.

By the terms of the enchantment, he was doomed to live as a Beast until he found someone who would love him for himself, without knowing that he had ever been a man. Which is why Beauty’s love had shattered the spell.

Naturally they ruled the kingdom wisely and well, since it was disenchanted again too. Eventually they had several children, and they lived as happily ever after as anyone can expect, and more than many do.

And that’s the end of this story.

Now, isn’t it time you were in bed?

Picture from Dover Books