By Rhea Mahajan
18 years ago
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, when chivalry and bravery existed in males and females always seemed to be damsels in distress, there lived a woman with her husband and two young daughters. She was expected a third child, but being fragile in health, had fallen sick. Her husband, who loved her very much, pleaded and prayed for a miracle to make her well again. One day, in the delirium of the fever, the woman cried out to her husband to bring her a rose. The husband- as determined as he was to make her, possibly final, wish true- was perplexed, as they lived in a dry land, where flowers were scarce and the only plants that grew there were a few crops. He then remembered the myth about a witch living in a lush, enchanted garden a day’s journey away. Making up his mind, the husband set out on the long trip to the witch’s house.
The next day, the man reached the gate that protected the witch’s home from trespassers. Seeing, at first, no obvious way to get inside without alerting the inhabitant of the gardens home, the man then noticed a tree a few feet away with low hanging branches…the perfect size for the man to use to climb up and over the wall. As he climbed to the top, he paused and looked over the vast courtyard in front of the house.
Scanning the garden, he glimpsed a patch of wild roses near the wall on the left side of the garden. Jumping down, as he had reached the top of the tree (which was adjacent to the top of the wall), the man crouched down and started to crawl slowly toward the roses. Reaching the first branch covered in prolific flowers, the man reached out to pluck one of the branch. Crack. The small noise echoed in the quiet courtyard. Too quiet. The man startled when he realized that he could no longer hear the chirping of birds or the rustling of the creek on the other side of the yard.
Sensing someone behind him, the man slowly turned around, clutching the rose tightly in his hand, the sharp thorns causing it to bleed. The man gasped in fear when he saw, in the center of a large ball of black fire, a woman with a livid expression on her face. With her violet eyes and red hair, she was indeed a frightening image to behold.
“Who dares enter my garden of Eden?!” the witch thundered.
“I do, Madame…” the man replied meekly, shaking with fear.
“And, what do you have in your hand?!” the witch continued, as if the man hadn’t spoken at all.
“A rose, my lady,” came the reply.
“So! You think that you can enter my garden without permission, and take a rose! Thief!” cried the witch. Her fire, in relation to her emotions, had flared dangerously outward and turned into a blinding scarlet red.
“Please, your…highness, I only wish to fulfill my wife’s wish. She might die soon, with my unborn child!” cried the man. The witch, unmoved by his display of desperation and despair, commanded him to touch her foot. The man, confused but still frightened, bowed down and did as she bid. The moment his hand touched her foot, a tugging sensation pulled the man forward, till his body was stuck to the witch’s feet. The witch shouted out a spell and with a quick flick of her hand, she teleported them to the front step of the man’s humble abode.
Knocking on the door, the man waited nervously, bouncing his gaze back and forth from the door to the witch standing behind him, who was studying the barren landscape around her. The man’s younger daughter, Elenora, opened the door.
“Papa?” she questioned, confused by the haggard expression on her father’s face and the scary looking woman standing behind him.
“Go find your sister and stay in your room,” her father said urgently.
Once his daughters, Cordelia and Elenora, were safely stowed away in their room, the man, following the witch’s instructions, led her to his wife, who was resting in the master bedroom. While taking the stairs, the witch formulated her curse, to cast upon the ill wife, punishment for sending her husband to get her a rose.
The minute the man opened the door, the witch- shoving him away roughly- shouted out the curse words.
The wife screamed as a lightning bolt, the curse, hit her. The woman rose into the air, encased in purple fire, vibrating with the energy of the spell. After a few moments, she collapsed onto the bed, gasping for air; then seeming to recover, sat straight up in her bed and turned to stare in horror at the witch. The witch regarded with some pity.
“I have spelled for your unborn child, who is a girl, to be born with beast-like features- claws, teeth, and fur. That is your punishment for stealing from my roses.” the witch said haughtily. At the woman’s gasp of horror, she continued to say “…but, she will only stay so by day. At night she will revert to her completely human form.” With those words, the witch disappeared in an explosion of blackish-red, sulfur smelling smoke.
Chapter 1: Arabella
“Bella! Fetch the soap and water and clean the floors!” shouted Cordelia, Arabella’s oldest sister. Arabella sighed. She should have been in charge of cooking, as was the normal duty of the youngest daughter in a family, but Delia was afraid that her claws would somehow contaminate the meal. Nora, following her sister’s reasoning (except applied to laundry duty), stated that her claws would have ripped the delicate fabric of her “gowns”, which were in reality as dainty and expensive as burlap sack.
So, her job ended up being cleaning and maintaining the house.
Being part of the lower, merchant class, new possessions and expensive clothes were a rarity. The bulk of their money had been spent in her father’s investments, and the rest went to food.
Being the youngest, Arabella rarely got to make decisions and have her say in matters. She also got the hand-me-downs and the hardest and dirtiest tasks- amongst them her current job. Overall, life was great. Her only solace was her father’s large collection of books. Arabella was avid reader, which was a good thing because inside the house- where she could safely stay without being mocked by the villagers- there was not much to do, besides chores. She devoured books, no matter what kind, fact of fiction. For instance, her current novel was a fairy tale romance. Bella had just reached the part where the prince was about to kiss the princess awake to break her curse. Arabella believed that she would never find her Prince Charming, because of her curse of having claws and fangs during the day and normal, human features by night. True love-
“Bella!” Delia shouted, startling Arabella out of her daydreams. Why can’t she bother Nora for once? Just because I’m the freak of the family doesn’t mean she should bug me about everything! Sighing, Bella trudged toward the well in the luscious backyard. Glancing around to make sure no one was watching her, Bella silently drew the water from the stone well, filling the two pails she had brought with her. As she walked back into the house, she thought about which route she would take on her walk tonight. Since Bella wasn’t allowed to leave the premises of the house during the day, until sunset (when her curse reversed), she made it a point to take a midnight stroll in the outskirts of the village and past the castle that resided at the top of a hill
The day passed, as boring as normal. Bella’s sisters chattered about nothing of importance, only shallow topics such as clothes and boys. Ugh, boys. So (not) handsome, so (not) strong, so (not) brave, so (not) intelligent. Yeah…that last one especially. In this particular instance, it was Nora who had exclaimed about ‘the butcher’s son joining the men’s pie eating competition.’
“Have you seen him? All that red hair and brown eyes, he’s so dreamy!” continued Nora.
“Ugh, no! Did you forget about his freckles? They’re all over his face, and his hands, and his feet…. I honestly prefer Tobias Morley. Blue eyed and blonde haired? My perfect Prince Charming!” said Delia. At this point, Bella had left. Too much dumbness in the room. Honestly, who really believes in ‘love at first sight’ or ‘happily ever afters’. Regardless of being a fantasy book lover, Arabella was a firm non-believer of real-life fairy tales. And with my curse, who would want to be with me for the rest of their life? It’s not like there’s a cure that can magically fix my face and hands and feet. Waiting for sunset to arrive, Bella made dinner to pass time. At one point she left the kitchen to greet her father.
“Papa, how was work today?” Bella asked, as was her customary question.
“Just fine, mon petit papillon. I made quite the sales catch today. A fellow from the Beaumont Castle, you know the one on the hill, came to tell me that from now on they would be hiring my services for fulfilling any, ah, what did he say…‘références artistiques’. Ha, ha! That fool, Fabriçon must have gotten himself fired. All his little flourishes and his annoying little ‘aha’ or ‘oh mon dieu’!” As he spoke, Bella’s father’s (whose name was Mauricio) Italian accent grew thicker. This often happened when he became excited or angry.
While her sisters and her parents had all lived in Italy for a portion of their lives, Arabella was the only one who had lived her whole life in in the countryside of Paris, France. When Bella’s mother had died giving birth to her, Mauricio had decided to move to France to start his life over, as it was too difficult to stay where Bella’s mama had once lived.
Once twilight had come upon the village, Arabella silently slipped out onto the street, wincing as she accidentally kicked the watering can sitting on the doorstep. Nora, who was in charge of caring for the garden, must have forgotten to replace the tin can to its proper spot in the shed. Bella sighed, as her foot now hurt, but her mood brightened not after long, as being a normal 18 year old was always something to be enjoyed by a beast-like girl.
As she rounded the path that led outside of the village, she paused, gazing at the magnificent architecture of the castle. She could see swirling turrets, with spacious balconies, and sloping roofs covered in copper shingles, shining in the light of the full moon. Continuing on her trek to the top of the hill, Bella decided to go through the royal maze (to add an interesting twist to her usual path). Of course, it was made all the more dangerous, and exciting, because the common folk weren’t allowed into the royal grounds or any of their properties, only if they had an invitation.
Arabella cautiously dreamt along the outer edges of the hedged maze. All too soon, her journey had to be ended, because of the voices that she heard ding her way. Voices? That’s not multiple people talking…it only one person singing off-key! Thinking this, Bella sighed in relief. But as she turned to go back the way she came from, Bella fell face-first onto a wall…that was breathing? Giving a slight shriek and leaping away from the hands that were about to clasp her arms, Bella felt her eyes widen when she found the amber colored eyes of the Prince of Archenfield staring at her.
“Oh, my! Your Highness!” Arabella exclaimed, as she slowly backed away from Prince Lucien.
“I am sorry. Don’t let me deter you from your path, mademoiselle.” the prince said, in a deep, baritone voice that made goosebumps erupt on Bella’s exposed arms.
“Thank you, your-”
“Please, let us dispose the formalities. I have heard ‘my lord’ and ‘your highness’ all day, now I would like to relax the stiffness of speech. Call me Luc. Now, what brings you to the Tordu Maze at this hour?”
“Um…just a late night stroll, your- Luc. Not to be rude, but was that you singing?” Arabella really didn’t think it was. I mean, who can sing so badly if they have a rich voice like Luc’s. Then, noticing his sheepish expression, Bella’s astonishment became abundantly clear on her face. It really was him! Wait till I tell Papa!
The prince had been rumored to have no faults, and gossip at the village of Conques was continually filled with his great achievements and his talents. Majority of the rumors were about his strength and athletic ability. There were also some about his…endless line of lovers, But, looking at the man (for he looked to be in his young twenties) in front of her, Bella could not see the described “ox of a man, standing at a height of 6’10”, with arms the size of barrels…”. Instead she saw, a trim, but muscular, figure with sharp cheekbones, light brown hair, and sharp nose. Taking in his features, Luc looked more to be fox-like than any other animal.
“Shall we walk?” Luc said, breaking Arabella’s trance, “Forgive my rudeness, mademoiselle. What is you name, my lady?” Bella panicked. She couldn’t very well tell him her real name. What if he came to the village to ask about her? What if he recognized her from Papa’s descriptions of his daughters? What if…? I’ll tell him Mama’s nickname for me, Farfallina. Before her mother had given birth to her, according to Mauricio, she used to call her unborn child her ‘little butterfly’ in Italian, translating to Farfallina.
“I’m Lina. Do you not have anything else better to do than walk with a…villager?
“I came out here to relax. I can’t think of any better way than to hold a conversation with a beautiful, intelligent young lady.” Bella blushed. As bad as she felt about lying to the prince, she was rather charmed by his good manners toward a merchant class member. As the night grew steadily darker, Arabella and the prince continued on with stimulating conversation and the fun of finding the exit of the maze. Surprisingly, even though Luc had lived in the castle all his life, he still hadn’t memorized the path of the maze. When they finally reached the end, Arabella was rather reluctant to go. She was still reeling from the thought that the best night of her life had been made so by spending time with the Prince of Archenfield.
“Well…I guess this is goodbye, Luc.”
“I wish…please don’t go. Can we meet her tomorrow night, and perhaps every night after that you are free?” Bella hesitated. But…this was the prince. How could she refuse him?
“Alright. But, how will I know if you won’t be able to come?”
“Do you know where the Fairy Stump is?”
“Of course. What about it?” The Fairy Stump was a cut tree near the edge of the village. The “fairy” part came from the ring of colorful fungi around the stump, which looked like a fairy dancing circle.
“If I can’t come then I will send my falcon to drop a piece of colored fabric in the hollow of the stump. If you can’t come, then put a feather. Does that sound manageable?”
“Yes. I’ll see you tomorrow!” Saying this, Bella turned to leave but was stopped by calloused hand on her wrist. Staring at it for a moment, Arabella glanced up at the prince.
“I just…wanted to thank you. For being my…friend.” Luc smiled bashfully. Lina nodded, and left, her light blue skirts swishing as she ran back toward the village. He sighed. She seemed so…ordinary- with her blue eyes and golden brown hair-, compared to the ever-giggling ladies of the court, with their powdered faces, elaborate (yet, rather gaudy) wigs, and poofy dresses with garish, pastel colors, covered in bows and lace. He didn’t know who came up with the fashion, but apparently it was supposed to be attractive. Unfortunately for the court females, the effect was quite opposite. But Lina…she was so normal, and real. Launching into another off-key song, this one about lovely maidens and true love, Lucien ambled down the path that led up to the castle; looking for the next night.