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Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away Read online

  She throws the book to the ground, where it skids to a stop under some rotting leaves. “Nothing! Or else someone has taken it already! We stole the book from the monks for nothing!” She storms off, stomping her boots and flailing her arms.

  “Um, do you think we should point out that we also stole two robes?” Handsome asks, lifting up the edges of the robes we both still wear.

  “We may want to wait until she calms down.”

  Veronica storms past us again, kicking up leaves and dirt and muttering swears normally not heard outside of an alehouse at closing time.

  “And when do you think that will be?” Handsome asks, eyeing her warily.

  “Hopefully before nightfall. I do not relish sleeping in the woods.”

  Finally, Veronica’s anger and frustration turn into quiet tears. Handsome scoops her up into his arms, where she soon falls asleep. I slip the discarded book into my own bag, then strap both my pack and hers around my shoulders. Onward through the woods we trudge. Map or no map, we are on a quest. And we are not quitters.

  Three days have passed since I was turned into the beast, and I have left my room only to eat. I have not even visited my lab, or the library, or the tallest tower to gaze at the heavens. Mother says I am depressed and has instructed everyone to “give me time to adjust to the shock.” I do not know that one can ever adjust to the shock of looking into the mirror and seeing a wholly unfamiliar — and utterly beastlike — face staring back.

  Before I saw myself in the glass, I had imagined that although my facial features were changed, I still resembled my old self. But that is not the case. Mother swears that when I smile, the old me comes across. But I have not smiled, so I cannot attest to the truth of that.

  Meals have been very silent occasions. My family cannot talk, of course, since although the door to where we eat is closed, the occasional servant scampers in or out to clear the plates. Parker must be paying them a goodly sum to do this job. Never has one of them looked me in the eye, or questioned why I wanted so many plates and ate so quickly. I am certain they never guessed they were actually feeding four people.

  Even Godfrey has left me alone, coming in only to bring water or the occasional book that goes unread on my nightstand. When he alerted Parker that Godfrey would be staying, Parker tried to get him to change his mind. But Godfrey stood firm, declaring that he would not feel right if Prince Riley were to return home to the castle only to find him gone. He would serve the beast in the hopes of learning more of the royal family’s whereabouts. Parker finally relented, loading Godfrey’s arms full of enough weapons to hold off a small army. They lie piled in a corner of my chambers.

  The door creaks open. “It is only me,” Mother announces. She and Father have held good to their word, always making their presence known. Alexander has been less obedient. Once he snuck up behind me at the dinner table and stuck a celery stalk into my ear. Even Father admonished him for that.

  I force myself to open my eyes and rub the sleep out of them. I no longer scratch myself by mistake, thanks to the gloves I now wear at all times. Mother tried cutting the long nails, but they grew right back. Same with shaving the fur off my arms, cutting my wild mane, or trimming my bushy eyebrows.

  My bed groans as I push myself into a sitting position. I have already broken two beds. We have reinforced this one with extra wood, but I still fear I may wind up crashing through it.

  “Is it time for breakfast already?” I glance out the window and see that the sun has only just risen. Concern floods me. “Is everything all right? Has something happened?”

  The bed creaks as Mother sits down and takes my gloved hand in hers. “We are fine, do not worry. You will shortly have company, however.”

  I quickly draw the blanket up to my chest. “Company? But I thought no one is supposed to see me like this.”

  “Do not be nervous. It is only the castle doctor. Godfrey has gone to fetch him from his home in the village. He will warn the doctor to uphold the same level of respect and confidentiality that he would give a real member of the royal family.”

  I am less than encouraged at this news. “But what if he gives me poison in the guise of medicine? I am certain no one would punish him for ridding the kingdom of the fearsome beast.”

  “He shall not give you poison,” she promises. “We will be certain of that. Our hope is that he knows of some remedy for your, er, situation. Also, I have sewn you some proper attire. I am no seamstress, and have no wish to use a needle ever again, but they shall do for now.” Mother places a heavy pile of clothes on top of my lap. As they leave her hands, they fade into view. It has been three days, but I have not gotten used to that sight. Early on, Father had tried to amuse me by having me guess what random object he would “pull from the air” next, but even that could not make me feel better.

  “All right,” I tell her. “I shall hope for the best. Thank you for the clothes.”

  She chuckles and pats my leg before standing up. “’Tis good that you cannot see the bandages on my fingers.”

  We feared it would be too hard to explain to the doctor why the beast chose to live in my room instead of the much grander chambers of my parents, so I am now awaiting his arrival in the library. It feels a lifetime ago that I last hid in here, wearing that horrid Harvest Ball outfit. My invisible family is hiding somewhere amongst the rows of books. I haven’t been able to focus on reading since my transformation, but seeing all these books now is truly making me miss it. The shelves are full of handsome leather- and velvet-bound books, some with clasps of silver, some tied closed with threads of fine silk. A yellow sun and white moon dance in the colored-glass windowpane, and I stand anxiously beside it. Or should I say, above it, since I am now taller than the top of the window.

  The doctor, who has attended me since the day of my birth, takes one look at me now and backs away until he is up against the farthest bookshelf. The handle of the leather case he always carries slips from his hand, sending it thumping to the ground. He wraps his crimson cloak tight around his large belly and stares. I have never seen this usually arrogant and decisive man quiver before any challenge in the past. Between Alexander and me, we have presented him with all manner of rashes, coughs, broken bones, and wounds so deep we feared they would never stop bleeding. He always managed to heal us, or at least he usually did not make us worse. Probably I should not be so hard on him. I doubt “How to Cure a Beast” was taught in his medical texts.

  “I had heard the rumors of a beast in the castle,” he says, his voice cautious. “I had thought the tales exaggerated. I see they were not.”

  “He will not hurt you,” Godfrey assures him. “He asks only that you try to restore him.”

  The doctor’s eyes widen. “Restore him? Restore him to what? Did he used to be a person? Who is he?” He inches a bit closer to me.

  Godfrey makes a sound, then closes his mouth. I can tell he is worried that he has said too much. I clear my throat and the doctor’s attention snaps back to me. I make my voice as deep as possible so he does not recognize it. “I hail from a faraway land and have hidden away in this castle for reasons of my own. I mean you no harm, but I do demand that you do everything in your power to heal me. To un-beastify me, as it were.”

  The doctor inches closer. “If I give you aid, will the royal family be returned safely?”

  I hesitate, not sure I can promise to restore the others to the visible world. The doctor picks up his bag and turns to leave. “Wait. I can promise you they will be unharmed. That will have to suffice.”

  The doctor pauses. “I suppose if I can un-beastify a beast, my name will be known far and wide. I might even gain a position in a kingdom much larger and more prestigious than this one.”

  Across the room, a book falls off the shelf, and we all jump. I have no doubt one of my family members did not approve of the doctor’s comment. Godfrey hurries over to replace the book.

  “That is certainly true,” I am quick to reply, “and I will persona