Authors: Ava Zavora
The doors were never locked, the gates always kept open. I could have left at any time, but I did not. I should have been in despair, alone in a ruined castle with only a beast as companion. I should have withered in fear, but instead something unexpected bloomed.
“You are a beast in body only. Never forget that.”
“But a beast nevertheless.”
“You have a soul. I see it in your eyes.”
“What you see is suffering. Even the lowest animal suffers. And the pain of
every thing I’ve ever touched, every breath I’ve ever strangled, every life I’ve ever cut short will reside in me forever.”
“I see the truth of you and it is beautiful, even in all its horror.”
“Beautiful? How can you see me that way, when I am despicable even to myself?”
way you see me--past all that I seem. It is beyond magical.”
I remember that afternoon in the rose garden, when you plucked a crimson rose for me. Its thorn had pierced you deeply. Your blood ran so
dark, it was almost black against your fur. Scarcely knowing what I did, I put your massive finger in my mouth and sucked the dripping blood. Gasping, but unable to pull away, you looked at me in shuddering silence. The rapture I felt, with you in my mouth—I could hear your great heart beat rapidly as your blood filled me.
You slowly withdrew and as you turned around to leave, in your monstrous frame I could see how you struggled to restrain yourself. You left me there in my red-stained dress. The air was filled with the scent of musk and roses so
heavy, I thought I would drown in it.
To this day I can still taste the blood you left in me.
I could not sleep that night and through the window of my room, I could see the full moon swell, white and milky. I heard you growling and grunting at the other end of the castle; you shook its walls with your restless pacing. I found myself outside your door and pressed against it, listening to what lay beyond. I said nothing, but you stopped your grunting. I heard you paw your way to the door and sniff the other side. Through the thick, rough wood, I felt the heat of your breath on my skin.
Before I could call you to me, I heard you jump across the room and smash the window down. When I
could no longer hear you running, I slowly walked back to my cold and empty room.
In the morning when you did not appear, I went looking for you, past long-forgotten, dusty rooms full of shattered idols and broken mirrors whose fragments no one had bothered to sweep away. I found you in the northern turret, slumped and defeated. You did not bother to wipe the blood from your face.
“You could stop if you wanted to.”
“I am what I am. This curse that rules my body, rules me completely. It is out of my control.”
“Not even for me?”
“Not even for you."
“And if I were to leave once and for all?”
I waited for you to draw me back, to ask me not to go. I stood still, waiting for you to speak.
With heavy effort, you turned to look at me. Had you asked me then, the question you had asked me every night since I arrived, I would not have refused you.
“I will not stand in your way.”
If I had not left, if I told you then what I felt, would everything have turned out differently?
But I did leave. And when I realized that hearts can be cursed as well and rule just as mercilessly as any spell, I returned to you.
As you lay dying in my arms in the rose garden where we once walked, the whole world dulled and darkened for us. I murmured every promise I could make, that I would never leave again, that I would stay for good and spend my whole life showing you who I truly was. My tears fell on your hideous face, where it mingled with the blood that soaked your fur.
“I love you,” I whispered, heart cracking open with every word.
Your eyes closed for the last time and silence shrouded us both.
A sound followed like a thousand mirrors breaking-the world splintered in light and darkness-then something as intangible as a sigh, as fine as mist being released from a fractured vial as I held fast to you.
A temporary ripple on the surface and then stillness.
Perhaps I was caught in the trickery and distraction of a spell undone—the spring that finally came after a hundred cold and barren winters, the gleaming castle with proud flags unfurling in the blue sky where crumbling stones used to be, the armies of servants now at our command, sound and clamor filling up the years of silence, and you, shining in the sun, alive, transformed, so different from the other. Shocked with the noise and bright light of the glamour after, perhaps I did not notice, as I should have, just exactly how different you were.
We live in that gleaming castle on a hill, a handsome prince wedded to his princess, each in perfect symmetry to the other, and we are envied for our life, which will be set in a story told for ages to come. But what will not be told is the price that needs to be paid, the lingering affliction of a broken curse.
Day after day I wonder, “What have I done?”
Countless courtiers and nobles in countless balls, the minstrels and the poets that pay tribute, all say the same, that I am the most beautiful woman they have ever beheld. Each time this declaration is made, your face is the one I seek. I meet only an inscrutable expression. It is there every time I catch your eye, which grows less and less frequent. The last time you have ever truly looked at me was the last time I held you in my arms, the last time any honesty had ever passed between us.
I watch you, do you know that? I search your face in vain for any trace of the other. I watch you and take note of the what moves you, the breathtaking sunset that awed you, the red rose whose rich scent you feasted upon, the books you read avidly, and I note, too, how you turn from me when I approach you by the window, not even a perfunctory comment when I dress my hair in roses, shutting the covers and saying it was nothing of interest when I inquire what you read. Even an absentminded pat on the head that you would give to a faithful dog, you do not bestow upon me. I remain the rose underneath my father’s glass, perfect and untouched.
You shield yourself with unfailing courtesy, and the exquisite manners that befit a prince, combined with your beautiful bride, the bounty of your land, the lords and ladies that bow to you and seek your munificence, have diminished in memory the many years you spent as a cursed monster. No one would dare mention your long exile or the rumored depths of your former depravity, dazzled by the brilliance of your court.
The land has been reborn with your transformation. The fields are rich with overflowing harvest, more fertile than they had ever been in all the years since before the spell. Your subjects are grateful and happy and just as fertile as the land. Every marriag
eable woman in the kingdom it seems now has an infant on her hip--all except one.
So if their prince has slight eccentricities, they are glossed over, or not noticed at all except by his watchful wife. No one remarks that the prince does not hunt as is his right. Instead, the poachers raise flagon after flagon, thankful for the abundant game.
No one notices that although the prince will serve mutton and venison, rabbit and pheasant on his table, no meat ever passes his lips.
Time and again I would watch you and look for aversion in your eyes to the animal flesh plated before you. Instead what I see I remember from what seems like long ago, the momentary, unguarded flash of wild bloodlust. I see the struggle possess your face when you think you are not being observed, the powerful animal hunger being forced deep down. How easily you could avoid any inner battle at all by banishing meat from your table, yet you do not make such an order. Your appetite rages, yet you do not,
would not satisfy it, and in time, I have come to see, the struggle itself strangely sustained you.
I hurry through the night forest alone, crunch of dead twigs and hard earth underfoot. I did not know the smell beneath the scent of pine and moss when my father led me through here that winter, but I recognize it now, that rot of flesh.
I hear wild things moving between the trees but have no fear - I have been in the company of beasts before.
There in a clearing is a solitary cottage, plume of smoke rising from the chimney. Through the window I see a lone woman stooping by the fire. She hears me and turns her opaque, cataract-filled eyes towards the glass, unseeing. She has been waiting for me.
An hour later I stumble out and make my way home. Her words echo in the black night, the imprint of her talon-like hands still on my cheeks when she had held my face.
“Such wasted beauty,” she had crooned. I did not ask her how she could tell. “You know what needs to be done. If only you have the courage to do it."
It was a small matter to have your manservant give me the key to your bedchamber. On this night my ladies perfume my bath with petals from the roses that grew in our garden. My hair is brushed with a thousand strokes until it shines like gold and my skin is softened to silkiness.
I gaze at the image imprisoned in the mirror, trying to see what you would see, and I realize I do not know what it is to be beautiful, anymore. With cold scrutiny, I can say that my reflection is more than pleasing. This is all I have ever known. This is all I have.
I dismiss my maidens, then walk alone to your wing, which you had chosen to be on the other side of the castle from mine. I unlock your doors quietly and walk in.
Your chamber is cavernous and dark, except around the fireplace where a fire had been lit, bathing a small sphere in red-gold flames. You are seated in a great chair, your head back, your eyes closed. You did not hear the doors open, so I gaze at you for a few moments, my back against the door. I could look upon you all night, if only you would let me. On a table by your chair, I see the open bottle of wine I had your manservant leave for you. It is still full. Ever so softly, for my feet are bare, I approach you. It must be the scent of roses that fill the air as I come nearer, for at last you open your eyes. I had hoped that the wine would have dissolved the stone walls in them. I am arrested in mid-footfall and stand a few feet away from you, unable to come closer. You look at me in silence.