• Home
  • Wendy Mass
  • Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away Page 5

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

  Alexander says something and Father laughs. It sounds like they are right outside the door! Why will they not move on? Why choose this spot to have a conversation? As quietly as possible, I slide the lock closed.

  Since I’m stuck in here, I might as well pick out a book. Father collects rare, old books, and has many that are unequaled in their beauty, even in kingdoms far larger and richer than our own. More arrive each month, too. I walk slowly around the room, careful to avoid the one window. I don’t want a gardener snipping the hedges to spot me.

  “It’s really not that bad,” a voice behind me says. I am so startled that I grab on to a random book, yank it out, and hold it over my head like a club. I whirl around to find myself facing Freddy. I look from him to the still-locked door, and back again. “How did you do that?”

  “Do what?” Freddy replies.

  “Enter the room without coming in the door. And how did you find me?”

  Ignoring the first question, he holds up a small ear of corn. “I found this in the hallway. I know you do not want to go, but it is tradition for a visiting prince to have the honor of dressing as the ceremonial symbol of the harvest.”

  “I cannot wear this,” I argue, lowering the book that I had still been holding over my head.

  “Now that we know it fits, you do not have to wear it on the ride, but they will expect you to put it on when you arrive at the ball. We must get back to your room now, for the royal caravan is to set out very soon.”

  I shake my head. “I cannot possibly go. I happen to be right in the middle of this excellent book, and I make it a habit never to put down a book mid-chapter.” I wave the book in the air for effect.

  Freddy leans forward to examine the cover of the book in my hand. He chuckles. “I have no doubt that Fairies, Goblins, and Witches of the Western Kingdoms is proving excellent reading material considering there ARE no fairies, goblins, or witches in the western — or any other — kingdoms, but I must insist you allow me to escort you back to your room to change or else you shall certainly be late.”

  I redden in response to the book title. As a man of science, it is embarrassing to be caught reading such things. Or even fibbing about reading them.

  He continues in response to my silence. “I beg pardon for being blunt, but what other option do you have? Hiding away in here while your father sends his best knights to find you?”

  I set the book down on a small round table and attempt to fold my arms across my chest in defiance. This would work better if a butternut squash and an ear of corn were not in the way. So I stick out my chin instead, and ask, “Since when did you get so bossy?”

  He laughs. “Since your mother told me that if I do not get you into the royal coach on time, she will put me on dung chute duty and make me sing for my supper.”

  I shrug. “Idle threats.”

  “Perhaps,” he says. “But I would rather not chance it. I sing quite off-key.”

  I do not budge.

  “Come now, Prince Riley. This is just for one night. A great alchemist can handle anything that comes his way. Now hold your head high and be the best symbol of the harvest King Rubin’s guests have ever seen!”

  “You will make a better knight than you think,” I grumble. “You are very persuasive.”

  “Thank you,” he says, relaxing his shoulders a bit. “Now let us go quickly.”

  I wait until he gives me the “all clear” in the hallway before following him out. It is only once I am back in my regular traveling clothes and Freddy has left me at the coach that I realize he never told me how he entered the library.

  “I am concerned that you find my ongoing misfortunes so entertaining.”

  Handsome is doing a poor job of stifling his laughter as he watches me scrub my shoes in the apothecary’s sink. I try my best not to disturb the plants soaking there. “I am sorry,” he says, gulping some air. “I told you I laugh when I get the nerves.”

  I point my shoe at him. “You do not seem nervous. Only full of mirth.”

  “’Tis better than what that poor sap is full of,” Handsome says, gesturing to the corner of the shop. The village doctor and the apothecary are in the process of carrying the poisoned man out, where a carriage awaits to take him home.

  For the first time, I allow myself to feel a powerful wave of loss for my previous life. If this were a normal day, I would be able to walk three blocks to my home, where fresh water would quickly be heated for my bath. My clothes and shoes would be properly washed clean of the guts of animal and man. Of course, if this were a normal day, I would not HAVE the guts of animal and man on my clothes and shoes. I scrub harder.

  The apothecary storms back inside, grumbling about how much money the carriage ride will cost him. He stops when he sees us, as though he had forgotten our presence.

  “You still want that job?” he asks wearily. “It is demanding work with no room for error.”

  I nod.

  “You can read?”

  I nod again.

  “You can grind seeds, shred roots, mix lotions, boil teas?”

  “I can.”

  “And you will promise not to attempt to diagnose any illness in my absence? You can see how well that worked out the last time.”

  “I will not,” I promise.

  “Fine. We shall try it for a week. Now go. I have a splitting headache.” He heads over to one of the many rows of small wooden drawers lining the wall and pulls one out labeled Willow Bark.

  I push my wet shoes back on my feet and turn to go.

  “Wait,” Handsome says to the apothecary. “You did not tell us Beauty’s wages.”

  “A pound a week,” he says without turning around.

  Handsome and I stare at each other, wide-eyed. We hurry out before the apothecary changes his mind.

  “Life is looking up for you!” Handsome says as we head down the street toward the south end of town.

  I allow myself a small smile. “Now we shall see if I truly can grind, shred, mix, and boil.”

  “Something tells me you are a fast learner.”

  I glance up at the sky. If we do not move quickly, Handsome will be walking back from my house in the dark. Even for a boy his age, nearly sixteen I figure, it is not safe. “We best hurry.”

  “I just need to drop off this bread at the monastery, and we shall be on our way.”

  The square is bustling with people leaving their jobs or buying food at the marketplace. Three shillings a day is more than enough to buy my family a proper meal. I believe I have a skip in my step. Clarissa would be pleased.

  The monastery is attached to the village church by a long hallway. They are only a block away, and we arrive without any more distractions.

  “I would invite you inside,” Handsome says, pulling open the heavy door, “but the monks are very private. I can go only to the kitchen and no further.”

  Father used to drop books off here for the monks’ library, but we were never allowed inside. Judging from what the monks have purchased from him over the years, I imagine the library is quite grand. It’s probably best that I stay outside anyway. I worry my fib to Clarissa about the cause of the fire still hangs in the air above the last pew of the church, trapped there in the shaft of light. I do not want to go inside to find out.

  He returns only a moment later, stuffing the now-empty sack into his pocket. Before he reaches me, a little girl runs out from the back of the monastery. She looks to be no older than nine or ten, with hair so yellow it is nearly white. She reminds me of a drawing I saw once of a fairy girl. Not that fairies truly exist, of course. At least, not anymore. Still, I catch myself looking to see if the tips of her ears are pointed. They are not.

  “Wait, Handsome!” she calls out.

  He stops and turns to her. “Hello, Veronica.” He bends down to her level. “What can I do for you this fine evening?”

  “Did you find it?” she whispers.

  He shakes his head. “Not today, but I shall keep looking.”