Read Devastation: A Beauty and the Beast Novel Online

Authors: MJ Haag

Tags: #love, #classics, #fairy tale, #beauty and the beast, #beastly tales

Devastation: A Beauty and the Beast Novel (4 page)

“But it will be soon. Some of the rooms
haven’t been touched in fifty years.”

“Why a butler and a teacher?”

“Because they were enchanted with me. I owe
them employment for as long as they want it.”

I nodded in agreement.

“Is there anything else, then?” I asked,
ready to leave.

“Yes. Konrall is missing a baker now. Going
to the Water will be a hardship on many. I’ve contacted the bakers
in the Water. Bryn and Edmund will be coming to take over the
bakery. I thought you’d want to know.”

Bryn’s rejection still stung too deeply to
feel any happiness for her opportunity. I inclined my head in
acknowledgement and stood at the same time he straightened from the
desk. The move brought us close. His breath fanned my face for a
moment. Then, he leaned in as if to kiss me. I turned my head.

“I’m not here for that kind of help,” I
said. “I never was.”

He sighed.

“Come back tomorrow morning to discuss more.
You’ll take your old room. It’s the only one still ready.”

I hurried away.

* * * *

The room was just as I’d left it with the
exception of the wardrobe. Two dresses waited within it, obviously
meant for me. Pretty, yet practical creations made by real hands. I
touched the taupe material of the first dress as I tried to
understand the turn my life had taken yet again.

The Liege Lord confused me. I understood he
depended on me to continue helping him. I could even accept the
dresses as a gift of thanks. But why place me in this room? I could
easily clean and air out another one for myself. And why had he
moved so close to me in the study? Did he think I could continue
with the physical side of the relationship I’d had with the beast?
My breast tingled at the thought while my stomach lurched in a
sickening way, giving me mixed signals.

I understood my reaction. Although I’d liked
everything the beast had done, I had not liked what the baker had
tried. Fornication wasn’t for me. Perhaps if the beast were still
here, I might eventually feel differently. However, if he were
still here, I wouldn’t have suffered the baker’s touch at all.

I sighed and moved around the room, looking
for something that might distract me from my dark thoughts.

Egrit saved me from boredom by knocking on
the door a few minutes later.

“I’m happy you came,” she said, stepping
into the room. “Your father sent me with a message that he’s left
to settle your home in the Water.”

I nodded, and she hesitated.

“Do you need anything?” she asked.

“No. Wait, yes. A way to occupy my
time.”

She grinned at me.

“I’m to clean the top floor and attic. Would
you like to help?”

The thought of staying in my room for hours
with nothing to do had me quickly agreeing. We walked to a dark and
dusty section of a seldom used inner hall on the other side of the
manor.

“Anything not of practical use or of
sentimental value, we’re to place in the main hall for trade,” she
said as she led me to a staircase I’d never discovered. Our skirts
cleaned the cobwebs from the steps as we ascended.

“Most of the rooms up here are guest rooms
and are seldom used, so very little should have sentimental
value.”

Dust danced in a beam of light that pierced
the dirty pane of the nearest window. I sneezed twice and followed
Egrit into the first room. We tried not to disturb anything until
we had a window open. With the breeze, we started cleaning and
sorting.

We finished two rooms by dinner. I grabbed a
quick bite to eat from the kitchen, washed up in the laundry, then
eagerly sought my bed before the sun fully set.

During the night, a sound woke me, sending
me into a panic; I’d never learned of Tennen’s fate.

“Shhh,” a familiar voice whispered. The bed
dipped, and a strong arm curved around me.

I froze for a moment then relaxed at the
feel of fingers gently working my braid free. I kept my eyes closed
and imagined the beast next to me.

Comforted, I drifted back to sleep.

* * * *

A knock woke me a second before Egrit opened
my door. I sat up quickly, remembering the beast’s visit, and
turned to view the empty bed next to me. Not the beast, I thought.
Alec. No, the Liege Lord. I wondered what it meant that he’d come
to me at all. Did he still have trouble sleeping, even after the
removal of the enchantment? If not that, then what? If he sought to
use me again, he would be disappointed.

“Are you all right?” Egrit asked.

“Yes. It’s just odd being here again,” I
said, slipping from the bed.

My dress from the day before waited draped
over a chair. Dust streaked it, but I wasn’t about to dirty another
dress when we would be cleaning more rooms today.

“I’ll leave you to dress,” she said, walking
to the bed. She set a napkin on the cover. “I brought you something
to eat.” She left the room and closed the door.

I quickly tossed aside my nightgown and
slipped the dress over my head. Straightening the bedcover, I eyed
the honeyed biscuit and wished for the magical trays the beast used
to leave me. But, not one to spurn food in any form, I grabbed the
biscuit as soon as the bed was made and took a bite on my way out
the door.

When I located Egrit, she was already busy
in a new room. I found cleaning a tedious chore best avoided under
normal conditions. That we cleaned rooms untouched these last fifty
years turned tedium into an exercise of willful perseverance.

Egrit and I had managed to complete two
rooms before Father found me.

“Would you have time to meet in his
Lordship’s study for the midday meal?”

I had no wish to see his Lordship; yet, the
need for air not clouded with dust had me glancing at Egrit.

“Go,” she said. “I’ll find my own food and
meet with you here when we’re both finished.”

I nodded and left the room with Father.

“You seem to have found a way to keep
yourself busy,” he said.

“Yes. I can see now why two maids are
needed.”

Father made a noise between agreement and
amusement.

“Lord Ruhall dismissed the other this
morning.”

Poor Egrit, I thought. Then realized I
should have thought poor me for I certainly would not leave Egrit
alone to deal with those rooms.

“Are you happy here?” Father asked as we
descended to the second floor. “I could still seek employment
elsewhere.”

I loved him so much for the offer.

“I am content,” I said, though I wasn’t.

I followed Father toward the library. My
nerves wound tightly as we neared. I swallowed hard as we entered
the library and crossed the rugs to the study. Inside, a tray
waited on a small table. Lord Ruhall sat behind his desk, reading
something. He didn’t look up at our arrival.

His dark head of hair was so dissimilar to
the shaggy coat of the beast. Yet, I found similarity in the
position in which he held himself in as he read. The connection
brought an ache to my middle, and I had to look away.

“Sit, Benella,” my father said. “I’d prefer
you didn’t touch the food.” He winked at me and brought me my
plate.

I sat and listened as Father and Lord Ruhall
began to discuss estate accounts over our meal. Besides the maid,
he’d let go one of the cooks as I’d suggested. The benign
conversation and Father’s presence eased my mind over the possible
reasons Lord Ruhall had asked for my attendance. I remained quiet,
enjoying the break and the food, and as soon as I swallowed my last
bite, I excused myself.

Egrit had already returned to cleaning on
the third floor when I arrived.

We finished four rooms that day, and my back
ached when I made my way to my room. Dust coated my skin, and my
stomach begged for dinner, but I didn’t care. I barred both doors,
stripped from my gown, ran the washrag over my face and arms, then
crawled into bed.

Sleep claimed me quickly.

Again a noise woke me, the slight rattle of
the door and a soft curse followed by silence. I smiled sadly and
closed my eyes against the tears that wanted to run down my cheeks.
I missed the beast.

* * * *

My days settled into a routine. Egrit and I
continued to clear four rooms a day, I ate an amiable meal with
Father and Lord Ruhall midday, and Lord Ruhall quietly tried my
doors each night.

The pile in the main hall grew and shrunk as
carts came and hauled away things for trade. Spare chairs from
already over furnished rooms, a few mirrors where there were
duplicates, scented candles—many, many scented candles—rugs from
rooms where they overlapped; I even placed a few questionable
portraits depicting women in various nude positions on the pile.
Egrit said nothing as I rid the manor of them.

The first week expired with little notice as
everyone worked from dawn to dusk. On the following day, I went to
join Lord Ruhall and Father for the midday meal and arrived before
Father. Lord Ruhall sat behind his desk as usual but set his book
aside as soon as I entered. He didn’t mention my locked doors and
kept the conversation strictly estate related as we waited for my
father to join us.

Thankfully, Father didn’t leave us waiting
long.

“The third cart just left. The estate now
has three hundred twenty-three gold, sir,” Father said as he came
into the room. “There were some portraits of value that the
merchant was too eager to take. Egrit bargained the price higher
than I would have thought to go.”

“Family portraits?” Lord Ruhall asked,
concerned.

A choked noise escaped me.

“I should hope not,” I said.

“Ah.” He changed the subject. “Now, what to
do with that amount?” he said, looking at me. It was the first time
in a week he’d directed a question to me.

I took a moment to gather my thoughts.

“The primrose seeds have been harvested and
re-sown, and the drive has been cleared,” I said. “I suggest
bringing one hand inside. Egrit and I could use someone to carry
the heavier items down the stairs. Then, set the other four to
haying. There is enough time to put up a good supply for winter to
allow for a horse or two, which we will need for tilling fields in
spring.”

“The estate records did show a savings by
planting our own crops. Do you have a different suggestion,
Benard?” he asked, turning to my father.

“I think Benella’s suggestion the wisest
choice and can offer nothing better than the purchase of a horse or
two with that amount.” My father glanced at me with a smile.

Lord Ruhall agreed to my plan with one
exception. All five workers would attend the fields, and he would
help clear the top floor. My back didn’t care who helped so long as
Egrit and I didn’t have to carry anything more down the stairs.

However, my easy agreement to his assistance
came back to haunt me the following day. Often, when I looked up
from whatever task occupied me, I found him watching with a nearly
indecipherable expression. At times, it hinted at anger and
expectation. At others, remorse. He was courteous and respectful
toward Egrit and cautiously cool around me.

I could find no fault in his behavior, yet
it angered me. My conversation with Henick echoed in my ears.
Inside, I had changed. A bitterness existed where none had before,
and I had no idea what to do with it. So I sought jobs that would
keep me away from his company as he walked to and fro, bringing
items to the main entry.

Egrit and I were working together in one of
the smaller guest rooms to hang a rug out the window to shake the
dust from it.

“We might be better off rolling them up and
taking them all outside for a thorough airing,” Egrit said, eyeing
the rug. Dust still stuck to it.

I nodded. I didn’t want to carry the thing
down the stairs, but holding that much weight out the window
strained my back fiercely.

Behind us, I heard footsteps on the wood
floor.

“It’s time to eat,” Lord Ruhall said.

“A moment, please,” I said, helping Egrit
pull the rug back in.

He waited by the door as she and I worked
together to roll the rug. When I stepped toward him, he motioned
for me to lead. We remained silent as we walked the halls.

In the study, Father waited for us. Lord
Ruhall sat behind his desk as Father said there was nothing new to
report. Our polite meal felt strained without estate affairs to
discuss.

“Perhaps we don’t need to meet as often?” I
said after swallowing a bite of stew.

Lord Ruhall flushed noticeably. Father
looked down, keeping busy with his meal as the Lord of the manor
shot me a disapproving look.

“We will continue to meet as we have.”

I nodded and concentrated on my own food,
and as soon as I finished, excused myself.

* * * *

Another two weeks saw the top floor cleared,
the purchase of two horses, and the estate coffers steady at three
hundred gold. The men worked to repair the stables with a few
leaving to hunt. Stag, boar, and fowl occasionally lay on the
butcher block in the kitchen as the two cooks put away stores for
winter. Per Lord Ruhall’s orders, they kept meals simple as their
days filled with storage preparations.

With the top floor cleared, I convinced
Egrit that we needed a day of rest. Before the house woke, she met
me in the laundry where I had two fishing poles waiting; the same
poles the beast and I had used so long ago.

“Are you certain he won’t mind?” Egrit
asked, doubt lacing her voice.

“I’m certain.” We’d made significant
progress, and we deserved a day of rest after the weeks we’d
worked.

Egrit and I left through the laundry door.
The light breeze teased stray strands of hair back from my face.
Not a cloud decorated the sky. It was the perfect day to be
outdoors. I stretched my stride, enjoying the walk. Egrit talked of
her man, Tam, and the money they were saving to purchase a home off
the estate once they wed.

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