• Home
  • Wendy Mass
  • Beauty and the Beast: The Only One Who Didn't Run Away Page 6

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

  Alexander pulls the curtain closed. I sit back in my seat, at a loss for words. The volume outside continues to increase, if such a thing is possible. Now I hear chants like “I will see you at the ball! Dance with me first!” and “No, me! I shall make the best wife of all!”

  Mother reaches over and pats Alexander’s knee. “And to think Riley was worried about you not having enough dance partners tonight.”

  Alexander winks at me and grins. But as the cheering gets more insistent, more frenzied, his grin fades. He presses his back deep into the seat and doesn’t peek out of the curtain again until the noise fades and the carriage is once again on the open road. A light rain begins to fall, and the sound lulls me back to sleep. I awake to the carriage lurching, and my stomach along with it.

  The rain has grown heavy. The dirt roads have turned to mud and the wheels keep sinking into it. The coachmen must stop to dig us out, only to have to stop again moments later. Finally, the horses give up even trying to make us move, no matter how hard the coachmen drive them. We have no choice but to wait out the rain. Maybe we shall miss the ball!

  Mother takes out her knitting. Father begins to recite a poem about a wayward traveler who meets a robber on the road, only to discover he is his long-lost brother. It must be the worst poem ever written. And it rhymes. Alexander starts humming to drown out Father’s words. Between the poetry and the humming, I am ready to stuff chunks of cheese in my ears. Just when I think I can take it no more, the sun breaks through and the rain slows, then halts completely.

  “Thank goodness!” Mother says, tossing her knitting below the seat. “Silas, do feel free to end your poem now.”

  But there is no stopping Father once he begins to spin a tale. We must simply wait until the wayward traveler and his reunited brother make up for all the years they lost by moving to a farm and raising goats. Admittedly, I have not read much poetry, but if it is all like that one, I do not see the art form lasting much longer.

  The coachman appears at the door to tell us that in order to dig out the wheels — which have sunk even deeper now — everyone must vacate the carriages to lighten the load. At this rate it would be faster to walk the rest of the way to King Rubin’s castle. Not that I will suggest that.

  Since there is nowhere to stand that isn’t knee-deep in mud, the four guards hop off their horses and allow the four of us to climb on. It feels so much better up here than in the stuffy carriage. Alexander and I share a glance, and I know he is thinking the same thing.

  “Mother, Father,” he says, circling his horse around to face theirs. “Shall we ride ahead a bit? The caravan will catch up soon.”

  “Excellent idea,” Father says, patting the mane on his large white stallion. “What say you, my darling queen?”

  Mother looks uncertain for a moment, and then a tiny gleam enters her eye and she nods. As much as she tries to rein it in, Mother has a bit of an adventurous streak in her.

  She alerts the guards that we will be going ahead. I can tell by the way the head guard, Parker, has crinkled up his face that he wants to tell my mother it is not a good idea for the royal family to ride alone in unfamiliar territory. I do not fault him for holding his tongue, though. It usually does no good to argue with Mother.

  “Please, Your Majesty, do stay on the main road,” he finally says, glancing ahead worriedly. “We shall meet you at the next pass.”

  She nods and turns her horse back around. Without hesitation, the three of us trot after her, sticking to the sides of the road where the puddles are not as deep. My mood lifts even higher. Out in the open like this, with the fresh breeze in my face, it is easy to forget my troubles.

  I ride up alongside Alexander. “Brother, do you recall the last time we four traveled on horseback together with no guards?”

  He shakes his head. “I believe I like it.”

  “I think they do, too,” I say, pointing to our parents, who are riding close to each other, giggling like children.

  We reach the next pass sooner than any of us wants to, and pull off to the side to await the caravan. I pat my horse’s flanks and he breathes heavily. “I think my horse is thirsty,” I tell the others. “I hear a stream.”

  “We must wait here,” Mother replies.

  So we wait. A few moments later, my horse begins to pant. “I truly think he needs to drink.”

  Mother glances at the horse and sighs. “Fine. Let us be quick.”

  We turn and enter the woods, with Alexander taking the lead. We stay close together. The sound of the stream gets louder and louder, yet I still do not see it.

  Father glances anxiously at the road behind us, now all but gone from view.

  We ride a few more moments as the rushing of the babbling water continues to intensify. Still, no stream appears. Just as I am about to suggest we turn back, we ride right into a small clearing. I can see the stream at the far side. It is surprisingly small for such a noisy thing. Other than that, it looks like any ordinary stream.

  The beautiful yellow-haired girl standing beside it, however, with her hand resting on an enormous buffalo, is anything but ordinary.

  “You should fight for him,” Clarissa insists as we climb into our beds. I am exhausted from the long, strange day and do not wish to discuss this topic any further.

  “I asked you to leave it be,” I tell her, pulling my blanket around me. Papa had recovered enough money to purchase a few more necessities. We now have blankets, chairs for the table, a few candles, and enough food to last three days. Four if we do not eat much.

  “But —”

  “Look,” I tell her, sitting up. I can only see her outline in the bed since we are saving the candles for emergencies. “Handsome is my friend. My first friend in years. I am not interested in becoming his bride. I am happy for him if this marriage is what he wants.”

  “But perhaps you two met for a reason.”

  I groan. Clarissa and her romantic notions! “Perhaps we did,” I reply. “But it is not to break up his engagement.”

  “Fine,” she says, flipping over onto her belly. “I shan’t mention it again.”

  I lie down. “Yes, you will.”

  “Probably,” she admits.

  Papa has hidden the clothes I was wearing the day of the fire. I cannot find them anywhere. I am afraid he has buried them near the outhouse in the backyard, where he knows I will not dig for them. I think Clarissa put him up to it. She says I am a woman now and must dress like it.

  I do not see how I am a woman today when I was a girl yesterday, but I allow her to pick out another of her frilly dresses for me because I am fairly certain I would be fired if I turned up at the apothecary shop in only my undergarments. Clarissa offered to tuck the dress with pins, but I do not trust her with anything sharp too close to my body. Her mind tends to wander.

  “This will be fun!” Clarissa says, bouncing along beside me as we make our way into town. “I was so bored all alone at the house.” She refuses to call it home. It certainly does not feel like one.

  I grip my lunch sack tighter. “Do not make me sorry I agreed to let you come to work with me.”

  “You did not agree. Papa gave you no choice.”

  “I hope the apothecary will not mind your presence.”

  “Me? Who would not want to have me around? I shall brighten up the place!”

  I glance sideways. It is true, she will. She has chosen her fanciest dress, which would be much better suited for a castle ball than for sitting on a stool in the corner of the apothecary shop all day. I think all the talk of Handsome’s engagement yesterday got Papa thinking that our only real chance of rising from the ashes is to marry one of us off. He was very quick to agree when Clarissa said she wanted to come with me today. The boys who had flocked around her this past year have quietly moved on. Whether they have found other girls, or whether they are no longer interested due to our fall from society, I know not.

  “You promise you will not get in the way?”

  “I prom