• Home
  • Wendy Mass
  • Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away Page 12

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

  We find the portly innkeeper behind a large desk. He is adding up a pile of coin. It seems dangerous to me to have so much money lying about like that. I take a step closer and hear a growl behind me. A very large (VERY LARGE) man wags his finger no at me. I step back again. Now I see why the innkeeper is not worried.

  When he is done counting, he slips it all into a pouch around his waist, and cinches it closed. “What can I do for you children this fine eve?”

  Handsome steps forward. “My, er, cousins and I would like a room, if you please.”

  I step up beside him. “My father, Alistair, is the bookseller from the village on the south side of the woods. He said you would know him and that you would give us the best room in the inn.”

  The man smiles. He is missing quite a few teeth. “How is old Alistair? Fallen on hard times, last I heard.”

  I nod. “He is doing his best.”

  “Book business is a tough one,” the innkeeper says. “Can’t stand reading myself.” He gestures with his thumb to the huge bodyguard. “Now, Flavian here, he cannot get enough of books. Always got his nose in one.”

  We look at Flavian in surprise. He just grunts and pulls out a small book of poetry from his pocket. The book practically disappears in his huge hands. Flavian seems a very fancy name for a man with a shaved head and a hoop earring, but who am I to judge whether a name fits a person?

  The innkeeper holds out his hand. “For three shillings you can have the best room I got and dinner before you turn in.”

  Veronica crosses her arms. “How much is the worst room?”

  He winks. “Three shillings.”

  “Then what is the difference between the best room and the worst room?” she asks.

  “Well, those who don’t mind a little lice and fleas take the worst room.”

  Veronica drops three shillings into the innkeeper’s palm. “Best, please.”

  After a dinner of weak vegetable stew that did not fill any of our bellies, we settle onto our pallets of straw. The thin blanket underneath me does little to protect my back from the pointy edges. While the room is tiny and damp, and the ceiling is so low that it grazes the top of Handsome’s head, it does appear pest free.

  Veronica and Handsome fall asleep as soon as they lay down their heads. I had finally adjusted to sleeping in the silence of our new house, and now I am in the middle of a busy town again and the noises are keeping me awake. It does not help that an alehouse below the inn is open all night, or that a pack of wild dogs has not stopped barking in the distance since the sun went down.

  I reach for my bag in the dark and pull out the monk’s robe. I spread it atop the blanket and lie back down.

  But still I toss and turn. I pull the robe’s hood up over my ears, but I can still hear the noise, both inside my head and outside the walls. At home, it used to make me feel better to embrace one of my books. Now the only books anywhere nearby belong to a giant of a bodyguard down below. He does not look like the sharing type.

  I stare at the low, cobwebbed ceiling for a few moments longer before I remember that I do have a book! The one we stole! I reach into my pack again and feel around until I find it. Lying back down, I rest it upon my chest. Just the weight of it makes me feel better. I allow my hands to brush over the cover, feeling the indented letters in the leather, the still strong cord of leather wrapped around it to keep it securely closed. The book must not have gotten much use, because the covers are still soft and thick. Usually, by the time Papa gets his books, the stuffing material between the wooden boards and the fabric has flattened. But these are still quite puffy. I place the book under my head. Ah, almost as good as a real pillow. I may even be able to sleep now.

  Then I jump out of bed and stand up so fast I slam my head into the ceiling. Handsome and Veronica startle awake at the noise. “What is it, Beauty?” Handsome asks as I feel around my head for blood. “Are you all right? What happened?”

  “I’m all right.”

  Veronica rubs her eyes. “Has dawn come already?”

  I shake my head, an act that hurts. I push through the pain.

  “Then why are we awake?” she snaps.

  “Because I know where the map is!”

  A knock on my door awakens me for the second morning in a row. “Mother?” I ask, pushing myself up as the door inches open. “Is the doctor back with the elixir already?” The door closes again, and I get a whiff of something I cannot identify. Is Mother bringing me breakfast in bed?

  “It is Alexander,” my brother whispers. “Mother and Father slumber still.”

  A glance out my window shows me that dawn has not yet arrived. I lie back down on my pillow. “What do you want, brother? I did not sleep well. I blame the leeches.”

  “I have something for you,” he says.

  “No, thank you,” I reply, turning over. “The last time you said that, you gave me the measles.”

  “I was five!” he protests, pulling at my shoulder. “Sit up.”

  I groan. “What is it?”

  He places the candle in a brass holder on my nightstand and I hear him rustling in a pocket. “Hold out your hand.”

  I am too tired to argue. He drops a small object onto my open, gloved palm. I bring it closer to my face. The faint candlelight reveals something that looks like a small bone, like a finger bone. Like a person’s finger bone. Fully awake now, I quickly yank my hand away and the hard white object drops onto my bed. It gives a little bounce before settling into a fold of the blanket. I sit up and scoot a bit away from it. “What is that?”

  “It’s a finger bone,” Alexander says plainly.

  I stare at the spot his voice is coming from. “Whose finger bone?”

  “Some saint, apparently. I got it from the pardoner last night. It cost me forty shillings, so it better work.”

  My eyes widen. “You left the castle?”

  “Shh! Mother will hear you.”

  My mattress flattens as he sits down on the bed. “I went to visit my horses down at the stables,” he explains. “I wanted to make certain they were being cared for properly. When I got there, I found the pardoner out front, selling pardons like they were the last plum pies on May Day. I was lucky he had any left.”

  “But how did you talk to him without revealing yourself?”

  “It was the dead of night and easy to hide in the shadows,” Alexander says. “The pardoner is well used to dealing with people who are unwilling to show their faces.”

  “I still do not understand. Who is buying all the pardons?”

  He doesn’t reply. The bed creaks a bit as he shifts.


  In a low voice he says, “Everyone. And from what I overheard, it is because of you.”


  “Not you, of course. The beast.”

  “But I am the beast.”

  “All right, then. It is because of you. Sorry, brother.”

  “But I still do not understand.”

  “Well, from what I could gather, the townsfolk want to cleanse themselves of any wrongdoings in the hopes that you will spare their lives. I watched the cobbler purchase a whole shank bone! I am fairly certain that was from a cow.”

  “For what did he seek forgiveness? For making uncomfortable shoes?”

  “He did not say.”

  Staring at the hollow bone, I ask, “But why did you buy me a pardon?”

  “I figured if the doctor’s elixir does not work, a pardon for your sins could be your only hope.”

  “My sins? What sins?”

  He pauses for a moment. “Well, you are not a very good dancer. And you do not always pay attention in your lessons. And, well, you eat a lot of pies and nutbread.”

  I roll my eyes. “Those are not sins the last time I checked.”

  “True, they are not as bad as spreading falsehoods, or thievery, but … well …”

  I put my hands on my furry hips. “You think I did something to deserve this, do you not?”