Devastation: A Beauty and the Beast Novel

Devastation

A Beastly Tale

Part 3

 

M.J. Haag

Devastation

Copyright: Melissa Haag

Published: August 25, 2015

ISBN:
978-1-943051-99-1

Cover Design: Melissa Haag

 

All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise without express written
permission from the author.

Chapter 1

The tattered remnants of the world I’d held
so dear drifted from my mind. Anger and hate clouded my
thoughts.

I shook fiercely but refused to give in to
the tears that so desperately wanted release. My stomach cramped
from the recent abuse and the restraint to contain myself, and my
face ached from the blows Tennen and the baker had delivered. Yet,
the pain did not distract from the lingering feel of that
grotesque, vile man as the carriage rumbled toward the Water. My
skin crawled, and my lungs refused to work properly.

I remained so lost in the violent experience
that I barely noticed when the carriage pulled up before my
father’s house.

The driver hopped down from his perch and
offered a hand to help me down. I needed the help. The shaking in
my legs had only grown worse.

Once I was on my feet, the driver turned to
Father’s home and knocked on the door. Trembling in Mrs. Medunge’s
cloak and my nightgown, I stood behind the man.

Father opened the door, took one look at me,
and ushered me in.

“Benella, what’s happened?” he said,
wrapping an arm around me to steady me.

I could only shake my head. He tried
quizzing the driver, but the man bowed and said to expect to hear
from his master soon.

That penetrated my clouded mind. My stomach
dropped. The returned Lord of the estate. The image of him standing
so calmly burned my eyes; still, no moisture gathered.

As soon as the door closed, Father led me to
a chair then quickly left to pull water from the well. When he
returned, he dipped a cloth into the pail, wrung it out, and held
it to my cheek. I flinched from the pain and the reminder of what
had happened.

“I’ll fetch the physician,” he said, already
turning away.

“No.” I caught his hand to stop him.

I wasn’t hurt so badly that I could justify
what a physician would cost. I would recover. Yet, as Father faced
me with concern, I knew he would insist unless I explained my
abused appearance.

I averted my gaze as words spilled
forth.

“I interrupted an attempted thievery at the
beast’s estate,” I said, staring at the table. “The beast
was...elsewhere. The thief carried me to the baker. The baker
attempted to rape me. His grotesque belly saved me,” I said in a
broken whisper. “I’m shaken and bruised. Nothing that won’t
heal.”

“Oh, my girl.” Father knelt beside me and
wrapped me in his arms. His compassion almost released the tears I
struggled to withhold.

“I don’t want to go back,” I said in a
tight, pained voice. “They all play cruel games. I thought Aryana a
friend, but she’s the enchantress who has held the beast this whole
time. They were both there at the baker’s.” I lifted my head and
met my father’s agonized gaze. “Their presence stopped the baker,
but they otherwise stood by indifferently.”

“I’m so sorry, Bini,” my father whispered
with tears in his eyes. “I wish I knew how to fix this.”

I knew he meant more than the attack I’d
suffered. He pulled me back into a comforting hug, trying to
protect me as he had from Tennen’s bullying when he’d moved us to
the Water. Yet, instead of Father making the sacrifice he’d
intended, I’d been tricked into staying with the beast who I had
thought would protect me as zealously as he’d protected his estate.
Sadly, I had wrongly assumed his level of affection for me. The
ache in my chest continued to grow, but for Father’s sake, I
withheld my tears.

Father pulled away and offered me the use of
his room, along with some of his clothes. After I dressed, I sat on
his bed with my elbows on my knees and stared at my folded
hands.

All the advice Aryana had given or not given
made more sense. She’d used me in her game with the beast. As Rose,
she’d tried to dissuade me, thus steeling my determination to help.
As Aryana, she’d given me the knowledge I’d needed to navigate a
world I’d not understood. I recalled all the times she had said she
worried about me. She had been sincere; I didn’t doubt it. Yet, it
hadn’t been enough to stop her game.

Finally, tears fell hard and fast. With a
muffled sob, I curled up on my father’s bed. I cried until I felt
empty and numb. Then I just lay there, remembering not the attack
but my last days with the beast and his caring attentiveness. It
made the pain I already bore twist bitterly. How could I miss
someone who so easily watched my abuse and just as easily sent me
away?

A knock sounded at the cottage door more
than an hour later, jarring me from my thoughts. I recalled the
driver’s promise, and I felt a stab of pain through my chest. A
small part of me wanted Alec to rush through the door. Yet, if he
did enter, which Alec would it be? The mercurial beast or the cold
lord?

A shiver ran through me a moment before
Aryana strode into my father’s room without knocking. Though her
unannounced appearance shocked me, I didn’t sit up or acknowledge
her. Instead, I continued to stare at the space the door had once
occupied.

My heart continued to break as I realized
Alec wouldn’t come because there was nothing left to say.
Bitterness began to eat the pain. He’d gotten what he’d wanted. His
freedom. And by mere seconds, he’d made sure I’d left with the last
piece of myself for my husband. I almost snorted. Husband. There
would be no husband for me.

“Fifty years ago,” Aryana said, pulling me
from my musings, “Alec’s mother came south looking for a way to
help her son. She found me just before she died. Her story and love
for her son moved me enough that I gave her my word I would help
him become a better man, a man of whom she could be proud.

“When I came to the North, I could not
believe the depravity. It was simple to open the Whispering
Sisters. We serviced men, and I gained power from their lust. I
used that power to shift the balance. I cursed the beast and drove
out the dregs he had let in. Those of his servants who had stood by
and let their Liege sink lower and lower without attempting to
reason with him joined him in his enchantment.

“To give him hope, I set the price of his
freedom on one night of pleasure. His earliest attempts fueled me
so much that some of the energy seeped into the estate, making it
possible for him to control some of the enchantments when I allowed
it.”

When she allowed it. The phrase struck me
cold. She had been the one to control the vines, then. She’d
allowed Tennen to take me, even after witnessing his past crimes
against me. She’d sacrificed me so the Lord of the North might be
free. Whatever friendship I’d thought we’d shared had only existed
in my mind. The knowledge hurt me more than Tennen’s fist had.

“When I saw you, time and again, bravely
walk the mist surrounding the estate and boldly confront the local
boys, I knew you were the one to help him.” She paused for a
moment. “I’m sorry for the lies and all you have suffered to free
Alec. Yet, if he had been warned about your danger before dawn
broke, he would not be free now.”

I could feel her expectant stare but didn’t
meet her gaze.

After several long moments of silence, she
stood. Did she think her story would justify how she’d used me?
Anger and disbelief clawed at my insides.

“I’m sure his mother would be pleased with
the result,” I said in a raw whisper.

She looked down at me for a moment, her
expression closed, before sweeping from the room.

Father came to look in on me, but said
nothing as I continued to lay there and sort through my
thoughts.

When Tennen and Splane had started chasing
me, I hadn’t hated them. I understood their angry reaction to my
knowledge of what their mother had done with the baker. However, I
struggled to see any possible explanation to excuse Alec and Rose
from my burning resentment. The way she’d gone about trying to help
him was a mockery. And, how could he have held me and listened to
me read the night before, then make no move to help me when I
needed him most?

When my father checked on me a second time,
wringing his hands with worry, I decided I’d given those who’d hurt
me enough thought. To think of them further would only allow them
to harm me more. So I closed off my heart, sealing in the pain, and
sat up and gave my father a small, reassuring smile.

“Is there anything to eat?”

He nodded and went to the kitchen to fix us
a modest meal.

His attempt, boiled oats that looked more
like paste, made me smile. We ate while laughing about it. The
laughter didn’t touch me inside. I doubted anything would ever
again.

* * * *

For the next several days, I stayed indoors,
and Father remained my constant companion. When I asked about his
teaching, he declared he’d educated the sisters as much as he
thought possible for the time being.

I wondered if that meant we would be moving
soon. The thought stopped me. Would I be moving with him? I was of
an age where I should marry. However, where once I thought marriage
something to look forward to, I no longer did. The memory of the
baker pinning me to the lounge as he thrust down on me gave me
shudders.

For how long could I ask Father to keep me
as his dependent? I cringed, thinking of how he’d struggled to
provide for his grown daughters so far. Yet, what other options did
I have?

I contemplated the possibilities for my
future often; there wasn’t much else to do with my time.

Father left one morning and came back a
short while later with a package. Inside, lay a plain, coarsely
spun dress. Nothing fancy, but entirely suitable for leaving the
house, unlike my shirt and pants. I knew my seclusion needed to end
for his sake; so, I smiled my thanks and went to his room to
change.

When I emerged, he offered to walk with me
to the market street, but I declined. Content to keep my solitude,
I left the house alone.

Memories continued to haunt me and not just
of the baker. As much as I’d tried to lock away my thoughts of him,
the beast dwelled in my mind. I’d always known he would forget me,
but hadn’t realized how quickly, and I missed his mercurial
presence.

Needing a distraction, I walked to Bryn’s
new home to see how she fared as a bride. When I stepped in the
storefront, I was surprised to see her wearing an apron and
assisting customers. She looked tired, though it was still early
morning. I moved to the counter to see if she would have time later
to talk.

Bryn caught sight of me and marched
over.

“Your kind is not welcome here,” she said
with a malevolent hiss to her words.

A woman next to me gasped and took a step
back as if I were in quarantine again.

“My kind?” I asked, puzzled by my sister’s
hostile attitude.

“Whore,” she spat. “We heard what happened
in Konrall. How could you refuse the baker’s offer after lying with
him? Get out.” She thrust out a finger, pointing toward the
door.

I stared at her, my temper spiked and
spiteful. She called me a whore? She had another man’s babe growing
in her belly. My gaze flicked there, and she paled. Her hand
trembled.

“Have care with the titles you bestow me,” I
said, then turned to leave. Only the babe’s future held my tongue.
The innocent child she carried need not feel the sting of her
parent’s misjudgments and cruelties.

Word of the incident quickly followed me
home. Father said nothing when I closed myself in his room once
more to sit on his bed and consider my fate. I had no skills other
than my education; and with my new reputation as a whore, no one
respectable would want me teaching their children. The only
unrespectable place to teach—the Whispering Sisters—was out of the
question because of Aryana’s betrayal. Discounting a teaching post,
I reflected on my other skills. I could hunt and fish, but not well
enough to make a profit to pay for a home. Enough to eat,
though.

I shouldn’t have shunned the occupations
that my sisters had learned. Skills such as cleaning and cooking
would have been useful to gain employment as a maid; yet, the
effort I’d put into restoring the beast’s estate made my
incompetence at those skills painfully obvious. What did my future
hold for me now?

After bundling my shirt and pants in a pack,
I left the room. Father looked up at me with a slight frown of
worry.

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