The Fairy Tale Series Part Two: Beauty

Fairy Tale 2: Beauty

In a time when magic was still believed in and people were still naïve to the dangers in world, a chef was the most celebrated in the land. Every recipe he created was delicious; so much so people would travel from far and wide just to partake of his delicacies. It was his love of food which had attracted his wife; a woman deemed to be the most beautiful in the land. The two married in their small cottage with only their families and the officiant present, all of whom wished them nothing but years of happiness and many, many children.

As the years passed, the couple was graced with three daughters and three sons; the girls all wanting to take after their mother, learning to dance, sing and play instruments and two of the boys wanting to  go off to have big adventures, slaying dragons and the like. The youngest, however, only wished to take after his father. He spent hours upon hours in the kitchen watching while his father stirred soups and sauces bubbling away in small pots on their wood burning stove; the smell of fresh baking bread always surrounding him, making him feel more at home in the kitchen than in any other room in the small house.

In the spring of the youngest son’s fifteenth year, his mother died unexpectedly. The event hit the family hard, as all expected it would. The chef’s daughters tried to do the things their mother did to maintain the house, but soon found they would rather be out with their friends and admirers and with two of their brothers rarely at home, that left the youngest to try and clean and still cook with his father as he’d always loved to do.

The death of his wife had been the start of a series of unfortunate events which had taken the chef from the heights of fame to the depths of poverty. He’d put all his faith and quite a bit of his fortune into plans to build a smallish eatery where he could do what he loved the most to do: cook. The people he trusted with his money and, in essence, his future, took everything and ran, leaving him with just enough to be able to buy a smaller cottage on the outskirts of town. His daughters, now unhappy they would be far away from their friends and admirers, pouted for weeks when they saw where their father moved them. His sons, not worried in the slightest at having somewhere to stay, continued seeking adventures.

The chef did what he could to carve out a small living for his family, taking jobs cooking for the elite of society for next to nothing, but still – he found himself often going without food, always making sure his three daughters and young son had something in their bellies.

And so things went for three years until the winter of the youngest son’s eighteenth year. It was at that time the chef had gotten word one of the men who’d stolen his money was going to be in town. He mounted up his horse and prepared to leave in an attempt to get some of his money back, but before he left, he asked his remaining children what he should bring them on his journey home. The daughters, of course, asked for dresses, shoes and jewelry, all that he could carry. The chef smiled, kissing each of the girls on the cheek before turning to his son.

“And what would you like for me to bring you home?” he asked, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder proudly.

The son thought for a moment. “There’s a special rose I need for a recipe. Do you think you might be able to obtain one for me?”

The chef smiled and nodded, knowing the rose his son was speaking of. He assured his son he would hunt high and low for the flower, not returning home until he found it. With a few final hugs and kisses, the chef mounted his horse and took his leave of his family, sure they would keep the house and each other safe while he was away.

When the chef reached the town, he was told the man he’d been looking for took the first ship out of the country. Upset he would not be able to bring his children the things they’d asked for, the chef sadly began the long journey home. He’d gotten about halfway when he was caught in a snowstorm. He pushed his horse until it was no longer able to carry him through the heavily accumulating snowfall. Climbing down from the beast, he began walking toward an odd light he saw through the trees of the forest he was in. He held the reigns tightly the closer he drew.

Upon reaching the place where the light was coming from, he opened his eyes wide at seeing a tall black wrought-iron gate and beyond that, a castle. The entire area was untouched by the snowstorm and the sun shone brightly, seeming to warm everything its rays touched. Cautiously, the man reached out, his fingers curling around one of the bars of the gate. He pushed, expecting it to be locked, but was surprised when it swung open freely. Mounting his horse once more, he eased it through the gate, exhaling in elation at the heat of the sun shining on him, warming him to his very core.

As he made his way closer to the castle, he looked around at the orange trees lining the path, each tree filled with large, heavy fruit and delicate white blossoms. He inhaled of the citrus fragrance deeply while smiling. Slowing his horse, he crossed the lowered drawbridge, looking over the edge at the crystal clear water below containing fish of every color of the rainbow. He was in shock and filled with awe at the sight.

He dismounted his horse and secured him before walking into the building. “Hello?” he called out, frowning when he did not receive a reply other than an echo bouncing off the stone walls.

He began walking through the halls, looking into the rooms, all kept pristine, which to the rational mind would mean there had to at least be servants skulking around the massive structure. Upon entering what looked to be a study, the chef smiled at the fire roaring in the fireplace and the deep blue couch pulled up close to it. Figuring he would wait for the residents to find him, he walked over and sat in front of the fire, enjoying the warmth it radiated. Closing his eyes, he rested his head on the back of the couch and quickly found himself falling into a deep slumber.

When he awoke, the chef blinked a few times before rubbing the haze of sleep from his eyes. Raising his head, his attention was drawn to a small table set with a beautifully roasted chicken, stuffed with oranges which had, no doubt, been taken from the trees he passed as he came in. A silver bowl overflowed with roasted potatoes covered with salt and rosemary and another bowl was filled with sliced carrots that glistened in the firelight. The chef leaned over and closed his eyes as he inhaled of the heavenly scent coming off of the food. Smiling, he dug into the spread, not wanting to offend his mysterious, invisible host or hosts.

With his belly full, the chef stood, determined to explore the castle until he found his host or hostess. Each room yielded the same emptiness as the one previous to it and as he moved further into the castle, the chef began to get an uneasy feeling of being watched. He walked into the kitchen, the sheer size of the room boggling his mind as he moved around looking at everything from the large and small pots and pans hanging from hooks on the walls, to the sharp knifes resting neatly in various holders which lined one counter. Avoiding the urge to sneak into the pantry, the chef made his way to an ornate door across the room, hesitating to open it, slightly afraid at what he might find.

Opening the door, the chef gasped in awe at the sprawling room filled with every type of flower one could ever possibly want. Thinking he would be able to find the roses his son asked for, the man stepped into the room, his nose immediately filling with the sweet and delicate floral scent. He walked around, his fingers touching the petals of the various blossoms delicately. It wasn’t until he reached the back of the room that he saw a lone rose bush growing in a circular bed. He stepped closer to it, swallowing hard while he reached out and grasped one of the beautiful pink and lavender blooms. He began tugging at the bush, sure the flower would snap off at the stem, until he heard what sounded like a growl mixed with a hiss behind him.

The chef felt a cold chill run down his spine when a large shadow overtook him in the brightness of the room. He let go of the rose and turned, almost screaming in fright at the sight he was confronted with. A large creature – a beast – stood behind him, its fangs bared as it eyed him angrily.

“I have shown you nothing but hospitality and this is my repayment? You try to steal my roses?” The beast stood at least seven feet tall, its body covered with dark colored scales and patches of brown-gray hair. Its head was that of a snake with a lion’s mane surrounding it. The beast looked as though it could crush the chef into nothing and not give another thought to it in the slightest.

“F-Forgive me,” the chef stammered out, trying not to shake too violently in the face of the creature before him. He closed his eyes as the beast drew closer, its hot breath rushing over his face in gusts. “I was only trying to make one of my children happy should I return to him. All he asked for was this rose,” he said softly, hoping the beast would grant him his life if he knew the chef had children waiting for him.

The beast slowly eased back from the small man. “Your son wanted roses?”

The chef swallowed hard and nodded. “His name is Finn. He’s wants to be a chef, as am I, and he has been working on a recipe, night and day which requires this rose. I only wanted to make him happy.”

The beast stepped back, its hand moving up to scratch at its furry chin. “I will forgive you this trespass on one condition,” the beast paused and looked at the frightened man, its eyes narrowing slightly.

“Anything. Name it and I shall be obliged to make so,” the chef babbled, eager to please the beast.

“I will allow you to leave, but you must return in three days with your son. He must come of his own volition and stay with me forever.”

“And if he does not want to come here?”

The beast’s lips pulled back in a twisted grin. “Then you will take his place. And if you refuse, I will come to you and kill you and your entire family.” It stepped closer. “Is that what you want?”

The chef shook his head. “I will leave at once.”

“No,” the beast growled out. “You will stay tonight and leave in the morning. In your room you will find two trunks. Fill them with gifts for your children. In the morning, there will be a horse ready for you. It will take you home and when the third day comes, it will bring you and your son back.”

The chef could only nod as a lump formed in his throat.

“Good. Go – to the room which has been made up for you. Do not get up until the light of morning shines through your window.” The beast turned and left the room, leaving the chef to crumple to floor as a flood of tears fell from his eyes.

Making his way to the room prepared for him, the chef saw the two large trunks the beast spoke of. His gaze moved to the large wooden armoire resting against one of the walls as one door swung open slightly revealing dresses of every color and fabric hanging within. He hurried to the piece of furniture and threw open both doors, his eyes growing wide at the array of dresses and the mountains of jewels seeming to pour out of small chests at the bottom of the armoire.

Quickly the chef began filling the trunks, finding the more he placed into them, the more room there seemed to be. He continued until he’d tired himself out. It was at that point he turned his attention to the large bed covered with an sapphire colored duvet. He walked over and lay upon the bed, falling instantly into a deep sleep.

The chef found himself waking long before the sun came up over the castle. He lay on his back, eyes on the ceiling and mind trying to figure out how he was going to tell his son he’d been given to a beast in exchange for his father’s life. He exhaled deeply when he could think of nothing other than the absolute truth. He would take his chances his son would not want to return to the castle with him.

Once he saw the sun beginning to shine through the large window in the room, he sat up in the bed and swung his legs over the edge, his feet hitting the ground. He looked over to the fire burning in the fireplace and the small table set with breakfast waiting for him. He stood and walked to the little feast that had been laid out, hurriedly eating so he could begin his trip home to his children.

“Have you dined sufficiently?” the beast’s voice drifted into the room.

The chef wiped his lips and nodded as he placed the napkin on the small table. “I have. Thank you.” He stood and walked to the doorway. “I should take my leave of you now.”

The beast turned and began walking down the long hallway to the stairs, then to the first floor of the castle.

When the two stepped outside into the sunlight, the chef marveled at the large black stallion awaiting him and the gray mare loaded with the trunks for his daughters.

The beast turned to the chef. “Do not forget your promise to me. In three days you must return with your son.”

The chef mounted the black horse and turned in the saddle to look at the beast, nodding. “If he will not return with me, I shall come in his place.”

The beast nodded once and watched while the chef turned once again and began leading the horses down the orange tree lined path.

The trip back to his small cottage in the woods went a lot quicker than the chef expected or hoped. While he was anxious to see his children once again, he was not so much so to have the conversation with his son he knew he must. He eased the horses down the narrow path leading to the house, his stomach turning into knots the closer he got. He could see his son in the kitchen, moving around swiftly gathering things from the cupboards, no doubt cooking something scrumptious for the rest of the family.

He knew he’d been spotted when he saw his three daughters gathering in the front room before the door swung open and they rushed out, followed by their little brother. The chef smiled as brightly as he could, trying not to let on he was troubled. He dismounted from the horse, hugging each of his children in turn and asking his son to help him take the trunks full of clothing and jewels into the house.

He sat on the small couch in the front room with a smile on his face when his daughters opened the trunks and began squealing over the items inside. He delighted in hearing the girls lay claims to the dresses and jewels and fighting over some of the other things he’d placed inside the wooden containers. Eventually, his attention turned to his son and a sadness clouded his eyes when the young man sat in the only chair in the room, his eyes on his sisters as they went through the clothing as though it were Christmas. The chef bit his bottom lip. “Are you not happy to see me, my son?” he asked, slightly nervous at the answer he might receive.

“I am father. Though I had hoped you would be able to bring my gift as well,” the young man replied honestly.

The chef exhaled. “We shall speak after I have eaten. It was a long ride back home.”

The young man seemed to perk up, excited to share his latest recipe. “Would you like me to bring you something to eat here?”

The chef shook his head and stood. “No. Come, let’s retire to the kitchen. Let your sisters bicker amongst themselves.”  He smiled as his son stood and they made their way into the kitchen, warmed by the heat of the wood burning stove. He sat at the table watching as his son grabbed a bowl and filled it with soup from the pot bubbling away on the stove.
The chef sighed in frustration and sadness, not wanting to lose his son to a beast because of a mistake which was solely his, but he knew his entire family would be in danger should he not keep his promise to the beast. He watched his son as he moved around the kitchen, knowing he would miss seeing the young man smiling when he’d come up with a new recipe and excited to share it with his family. He would miss the smells which came from the kitchen when it was time for meals, but most of all, he would just miss the presence of his son in the house once he was gone. He’d gotten used to his other sons being gone, understanding their need to be adventurous and explore the lands beyond their tiny cottage, but to lose his youngest child, the last gift given to him by his wife? He was nearly gutted with the thought.

Seeing his father looking vexed, the young man sat at the table, placing the bowl and spoon he held in front of his father. “What has you so troubled?”

The chef took up the spoon and dipped it into the steaming bowl. He lifted it to his lips and tasted the dark brown liquid, smiling at the burst of flavors on his tongue. “This is absolutely delicious,” he said, purposely avoiding the question.

“Thank you,” the young man said proudly. “You’re trying to turn attention elsewhere. Mother used to always say you did that when there was a problem you could not solve. Please tell me what it is father. We can solve it together.”

Feeling he couldn’t keep the story of the beast and the rose from his son, the chef placed his spoon on the table and cleared his throat. “I am sorry I was unable to bring you the rose you asked for,” he said softly.

“It’s alright father. Just having you home is gift enough.”

The chef’s heart melted in his chest. “The truth is, I did find the rose – in the most unexpected of places, but I was unable to take one.” He stopped for a moment, composing himself before speaking again. “As I was coming home, I was caught in a snowstorm. I saw a light in the forest and decided to see what it could be. It was a beautiful castle, completely untouched by the snow. The sun was shining and everything looked as though it were perpetually spring.” The chef continued with his story, telling his son about the castle’s rooms, the food he was given to eat and the beast, at which, his son bristled slightly at its description. He bit his lip when he got to the part about trying to take the rose and the promise which he’d made to the beast. “In order to spare my life, my son, I had to make a promise to the beast for an exchange.”

The young man raised an eyebrow. “What did you exchange for your life?”

“You,” his father replied simply.

The young man was taken aback at the reply, not remotely expecting it. “Me?”

“When I told the beast I was attempting to take a rose for you, he was curious, I suppose. In exchange for my life, he has asked that I take you back to the castle in three days, but you must go because you want to, not for any other reason. You will not be able to return to us, ever.”

The young man nodded and sat back in the chair he occupied. He thought for a moment before he spoke, “Alright father. I will go to the beast. I could not bare it if you were to leave because of a request I made.”

“You’re sure?”

“I am. We will go back to the castle in three days. I will live out the rest of my days with this – beast.”

The chef felt tears forming in his eyes at the selflessness with which his son had made his decision.

Hearing their father and brother crying in the kitchen, the daughters went to investigate. The chef told the girls his story and of their brother’s decision to go back to the castle. The girls cried along with the two men, trying anything they could think of to get their younger brother to stay. They’d even gone so far as to suggest their other brothers could go and slay the beast before their brother was to return. The chef tried to calm his daughters the more hysterical they grew at the thought of losing their little brother to some terrible beast, but nothing worked. The girls went to bed with tears in their eyes, their cries able to be heard in every corner of the small cottage.

Although the family knew their time with Finn was short, they enjoyed being together as a family once more. The chef’s two oldest sons even returned home from the grand adventure they’d been on. When they heard of the plight of their father and youngest brother, they wanted to set out to find the beast’s castle immediately. Fearing for the life of his father, Finn persuaded his brothers not to go in search of the creature.

The morning the chef was to return to the castle with Finn, the family shared a quiet breakfast, no one wanting to speak of the inevitable, but all knowing that breakfast would possibly be the last time the family would be together as a unit. The chef watched his youngest child pack a few books into a leather satchel and declare he was ready for the journey. When the chef asked him if he was sure all he wanted to take were books, his son replied that as long as he had the books, he wouldn’t need anything else.

The two men mounted the large black horse, waving to the three young women and two young men standing in front of the cottage as they set out for the castle. The chef continued to apologize the further from the cottage they got. Finn could only try to calm his father’s fears and tell him he’d accepted his fate. While it did make a part of the chef feel a little better about things, he could not let go of the thought that the whole situation was his fault.

Reaching the castle, Finn opened his eyes wide at what he saw. The scene was just as his father had described it, right down to the orange trees lining the path up to the castle. The two men watched while the gate surrounding the land opened, the hinges squeaking loudly. The chef didn’t even have to guide the horse through the gate, it moved as if it were being called forward.

Finn looked at the trees, smiling and inhaling of the clean citrus scent which washed over him. As they passed a tree with a particularly low branch, weighed down by large oranges, he reached out and gingerly touched the fruit and the perfect white blossoms attached to it. His face then turned up to the warm sunlight surrounding him and his father. Though he was unhappy about having to leave his family, he did think that maybe he could find a way to be happy where he was to be imprisoned for the rest of his days.

The horse slowly walked across the drawbridge. Both Finn and his father looked at the fish swimming around in the water below. The sound of hooves going from wood to stone caught Finn slightly by surprise. He looked up when they passed through the archway and into the courtyard of the castle, taking note of the mosaics lining the walls showing a royal family. He turned his attention to where the horse was heading, marveling at the sheer size of the structure.

When the horse stopped walking, the two men dismounted and looked at each other when the doors of the castle opened of their own accord. Finn swallowed hard as he and his father began making their way up the stone stairs and inside. The young man eyed the tapestries covering the walls, each one seeming to tell a story in the lives of the royal family. He made a mental note to take the time to inspect them more closely once he was settled in.

Hearing the doors slam, both men jumped, turning toward the sound.

“Does that happen often?” Finn whispered, leaning close to his father.

The chef shrugged. “I don’t know, son.” He looked around, knowing the beast was watching them, but not sure where it was hidden. “Hello?” His voice echoed off the stone walls. “I have done as I have promised. Here is my son, Finn.”

The two men heard a shuffling from one of the darkened corners. They turned as the beast began making his way from the shadows. Finn tried to hold back his fear when his eyes set on the creature slowly moving toward them. The creature kept his gaze on the two men holding steady. It leaned close to Finn, inhaling deeply of the young man.

“Have you come here of your free will, Finn?” the creature asked, not turning its attention from the young man.

Finn swallowed and nodded, his tongue slipping from between his lips to moisten them before he answered, “I have. My father’s only mistake was trying to make me happy. It should be me here, not him.”

The beast appeared to smile as it moved back and stood straight. “I welcome you to my home.” It turned its attention to the chef, now shuddering slightly beside his son. “You may go old man.”

The chef, turned his attention to his son and hugged him tightly as tears began streaming down his face. “I am so sorry, my son. So sorry.”

Finn patted his father’s back and shook his head, assuring his father he would be fine in the care of the beast, though he did not know how he knew that. Turning his father loose, Finn turned and watched the chef walk from the castle, the doors closing on their own. He turned his attention to the beast, still trying not to show any fear.

“Would you like me to show you to your room?” the beast asked, eyeing Finn.

Finn only nodded, unable to speak the more he took in the creatures appearance. His heart thudded in his chest as the beast turned and began walking to the grand stone staircase. He followed behind, his attention going from the tapestries, to the paintings of various members of a royal family. Though he wanted to ask questions about the people he saw, he felt it better to keep his mouth shut and wait for the beast to tell him what he wanted him to know.

The room which was made up for Finn certainly was grand, more grand than the young man had ever seen. A large hand-carved bed sat in the center of the room, the coverings looking as though they’d been made of the finest silks in deep jewel tone colors. An armoire resided against one wall and Finn felt a little embarrassed he hadn’t brought anything to fill the cabinet with. He turned in a full circle in the room, taking everything in before he stopped and observed the beast standing in the doorway, watching him.

“I’ll take my leave of you to dress for dinner,” the beast said. “There are clothes for you in the armoire.” Without another word, the beast left the room, closing the door.

Finn walked to the armoire and opened it, smiling at the selection of clothing. Anything and everything he could or would ever want hung on hangers or was folded neatly on the shelves.He picked his clothes and dressed, careful to make sure he was presentable, though, how could one look presentable when their dinner company was a creature who looked as though it could either crush or eat you should the wind blow in the wrong direction.

Finn wasn’t sure what to expect at dinner, but what he got was such a complete surprise, it made him curious to learn more about the beast. He noticed the beast displayed perfect table manners, using utensils and a napkin in favor of using its hands or eating from the floor. He was filled with thousands of questions about the castle and the people he’d seen in the mosaics and tapestries and paintings. Questions about how it was a creature came to own such a magnificent castle, but most of all, he was curious as to the magic the structure held that it was untouched by the snow which seemed to cover everything else outside of the gates surrounding the property. Even though he was curious about those things, he never asked them, thinking the beast would tell him what he wanted him to know, when he wanted him to know it.

And so it went, day after day. Eventually, the beast began asking questions about Finn and his family and Finn, in turn, asked about the people he saw in the tapestries and paintings. Finn found the more the beast spoke of the people he’d obviously loved, the more he wanted to know. He also began feeling for the beast in a way he was unable to describe, at least to himself. He didn’t want to admit that maybe he’d began to fall for a creature who didn’t seem to be remotely human on the outside.

Finn was allowed to explore the grounds, every room open to him except for one which was locked on the same floor as his. He even went so far as to pick a few of the oranges from the trees. When he peeled one and took a bite, he felt as though he was in Heaven. The taste was unlike any other oranges he’d tasted before. He felt certain he would be able to use the luscious fruits in a recipe, but was he somewhat afraid to ask the beast if he might be allowed to use the kitchen, a room he’d not ventured to explore.

One night, six months into his stay, Finn resolved to make a request of the beast to explore the kitchen. He could feel the beast’s beady eyes following him when he walked into the dining room and made his way to the opposite side of the immense dining table filled with every delicacy either of them would want. He took his seat and placed his napkin in his lap, turning his eyes from the place setting in front of him to his lap.

“Something troubles you,” the beast said suddenly.

Finn slowly looked up. “I wish to explore and, possibly use, the kitchen here. Might I be granted the privilege of doing so?”

The beast thought for a moment. Finn never asked for a thing since he’d come to live in the castle. Why should he be denied the one request he had now? The beast nodded before speaking, “You may,” it replied.

Finn took up his golden fork, cocking his head slightly as he looked at his dinner companion. “And might I be permitted to cook for you?”

“Why would you want to?”

Finn smiled. “You have provided me with nothing but delicacies for these six months. I would like to return such generosity.” He thought he noticed a hint of a smile pulling back the beast’s lips.

“Choose a night and we will dine on your delicacies,” the beast replied, relishing the happy expression he received from Finn at his approval.

That very night after dinner, Finn disappeared into the kitchen. He walked excitedly around the spacious room, taking in the large brick oven and wood burning stoves. He ran his hand over the stone counters and the large pots and pans, cringing when they clanged together, slightly afraid the noise might disturb the beast. When it did not storm into the room, he continued his exploration until he drew close to the ornate door at the opposite end of the room. He reached out for the handle and jumped when the beast grabbed his wrist.

“Be careful what you touch in there,” the beast said, letting go of his wrist and leaving the kitchen without another word.

Finn opened the door and walked into the large flower filled room. He inhaled of the sweet scents all mixing as he strolled along the walkways through the plants and flowers. He touched some plants with reverence and stayed clear of others. When he reached the back of the room, he saw the roses he’d coveted and asked his father to bring him. Sniffling lightly, he dropped to his knees when tears began pouring from his eyes.

Finn was so involved in his tears and pain, he hadn’t heard the beast crossing the room quickly to where he sat on the stone. He felt the beast’s hand on his shoulder and looked up, his face completely tear-stained.

“Finn?” There was no question which needed to be asked by the beast, he could understand clearly why it was Finn wept.

“I miss my family – my home. I wish I could see them once again. Though – I would never ask that of you. I will stay here and keep my promise.”

The beast thought for a moment before raising its right hand and removing the gold ring encircling the second finger. It took Finn’s hand and slipped the ring onto the same digit. “When you wake in the morning, you will be home. You may stay with your family for three months, but at the end of that time, you must return here. Turn the ring on your finger three times before you go to sleep on that night and you will find yourself back here in the morning.”

Finn jumped up and wrapped his arms around the beast tightly.

The beast, apparently not used to the affection being shown him, cautiously wrapped his arms around Finn’s waist, exhaling deeply at the feeling of a body close to his own. His eyes closed and his arms drew a little tighter around Finn.

Finn cleared his throat and stepped back, face red and eyes on the stone floor. “Forgive me, dear beast,” he said quickly, worried he would no longer be allowed to leave the premises.

“There is no need for apology, Finn. I am overjoyed that I have made you happy.” The beast tried to smile. “You will find three trunks in your room. Fill them with gifts for your family before you lay your head down to rest tonight.”

Nodding, Finn looked up with a smile on his face. “Many thanks.” He hurried to the door, turning to observe the beast still standing in the same place. He saw the beast look at the rose bush and heard it sigh when one of the pink and lavender petals fall to the ground, shriveling upon contact with the soil of the flowerbed.

“I hope you will keep your promise to me, Finn,” the beast said, turning.

Finn hurried to his room so the beast would not know he had witnessed the scene. Doing as the beast told him, Finn began filling the trunks with cloth, dresses and jewels and just as had been told by his father, he found the more he placed in the trunks, the more space there seemed to be. When he deemed the items in the trunks to be more than enough for his family, he yawned and lay upon the bed, thoughts of his home and his family floating through his head before sleep overtook him.

When morning broke, Finn slowly opened his eyes, frowning at the familiar, yet at the same time unfamiliar, surroundings. He sat up in the bed, rubbing at his eyes while the chatter of his family drifted through the door. He smiled and stood, hurrying from the room and scaring his family when he appeared. Happy to see him, Finn’s family crowded around him, hugging him and placing kisses to his cheeks. He was slightly hesitant to answer when asked how it was he’d escaped from the beast. He hadn’t wanted to tell them that after three months he would have to return to the castle.

“Let’s just enjoy the moment we have together now,” Finn said when his brothers and sisters pressed the issue.

The chef quieted his children, allowing his youngest son to change the subject to the trunks which had been in the room with him when he’d woken up. As expected, his sisters fought over the dresses and cloth while his brothers made claims to the jewels. Their father only sat back, obviously enjoying having his family back together once more.

It was on his first night home Finn began experiencing dreams which would haunt him every night when he fell asleep. The dream was always be the same; the handsome prince from the paintings in the castle was stretched out in a large meadow filled with lavender and white flowers. For the first few nights, the prince didn’t say anything, just smiled as though he were looking upon someone with love. The dimples on his face were something which stayed with Finn during the day making it so he was more than eager to go to sleep when night enveloped the countryside.

The dreams started to change from the prince not speaking to him, just smiling and reaching out for him, to the prince speaking to him; telling him to look with his heart and not his eyes. Look with his heart and not his eyes? Finn wasn’t sure what he meant by the reminder. He’d taken the words and kept them in the back of his mind as he went from day to day, knowing the time for him to return to the castle was fast approaching.

Two weeks prior to Finn having to return to the beast, his dreams changed once again. The once lively and handsome prince began looking sickly, but still, the message was the same; for him to look with his heart and not his eyes. His heart began to ache when he saw the way the prince was deteriorating right before his eyes. He wanted nothing more than to go to the man and hold him, comfort him, tell him everything would be alright if they could just figure out what was wrong and what they could do to make the situation right once more.

The night he was to return, Finn enjoyed the dinner he shared with his family and said his goodbyes, his heart breaking slightly when his sisters and father began to cry. He assured them he would be perfectly fine and he would try to convince the beast to allow him to return again someday. He went to bed, taking care to turn the ring on his finger as he was told to do before falling asleep. He didn’t dream that night, but when he woke up, he was in his bedroom in the castle and his mind was still filled with the thought of looking with his heart and not his eyes.

He got up from the bed and dressed as he did every morning and went down to the dining room, a little surprised when he didn’t find the beast sitting at the table. He ate the food laid out for him before he stood and began looking though the castle for his host. The last room he checked was the one off the kitchen, the room filled with flowers. He looked over the garden which had once been full of beautiful blooms, but was now filled with withering plants. Fearing the worst, he made his way to the back of the room, his heart shattering at seeing the beast laying in a heap on the floor in front of the rose bush which looked to Finn to be nearly dead.

Hurrying to the beast, Finn dropped to his knees, taking great care to roll the beast over into his lap. “What has happened to you?” he asked as tears formed in his eyes. He sniffled while gently cupping the beast’s face. He ran his fingers through the thick reddish-brown mane surrounding its head. He was surprised to find the fur much, much softer than it looked.

“I was certain you had forgotten the promise you made to me,” the beast said softly. Its eyes turning to meet Finn’s.

Finn shook his head. “I couldn’t ever forget you, dear beast. You have treated me with nothing but kindness. Everything I could have wanted – you have provided.” He looked around helplessly. “What can I do? What do I do?” He blinked when he felt something cold and wet land on his cheek. Looking up, he frowned at what he’d thought would be an impossibility; snow falling indoors over the two of them. Feeling the beast going limp in his arms, Finn looked down and let the tears building up in his eyes begin to stream down his cheeks. He leaned over, covering the beast’s body with his own as the snow continued to fall, while behind in the flowerbed, the petals slowly fell from all of the roses on the bush, the delicate items turning brown and shriveling as they hit the ground.

Finn eventually got up and, though it was really awkward, moved the beast to the one room he’d not ventured into, the beast’s own. He placed the helpless creature on the bed and laid beside it, his arms wrapping around the solid body, hands stroking over the scaly skin covering it. It was in those long moments the prince’s words made sense to him. He buried his nose in the beast’s mane and inhaled of the sweet rose scent which seemed to be embedded in the fur. He whispered what it was his heart knew for many months. The three words he wouldn’t, nor couldn’t, have said before:

I love you.

Finn fell asleep, saying small prayers that when he dared to wake, the beast would still be beside him, breathing deeply with the calm of sleep.

Finn woke with a start, his eyes slowly focusing on the stone wall he was facing. Slowly the memories of his arrival back at the castle drifted back into clarity and he turned in the bed quickly to find the handsome prince from his dreams sleeping soundly beside him. He sat up, reaching out to touch the man beside him, but holding back, afraid he was dreaming. He rested his hand on the prince’s bare chest, swallowing hard at the feeling of the warm skin and the strong heart protected beneath skin, muscle and bone. His fingertips moved over the planes of his chest, up to the man’s strong jaw. He pulled his hand back quickly when the prince opened his eyes.

The prince smiled and gently took Finn’s hand in his own. Lifting it to his lips, he placed delicate kisses to his knuckles and to the palm while his golden eyes never left Finn’s face. “Thank you, Finn,” he whispered, pulling him down close. “You have broken my curse.”

“But – how?” Finn was dumbfounded. Even with everything he’d experienced since he came to live with the beast, waking up to find the prince of his dreams laying in the creature’s place was still something he couldn’t wrap his head around.

The prince sat up and smiled, the dimples Finn knew so well, very prominent on his face. “I was cursed to live as a beast until the one who could see past my outward appearance found me. And here you are.” He leaned closer to Finn until their noses were but a few centimeters apart. “Here you are,” he whispered. He placed an innocent kiss to Finn’s lips, pulling back hesitantly to gaze into the other man’s eyes.

Finn laughed softly. “I – don’t even know your name,” he said softly.

“I am Prince Bryce.” He smiled and kissed Finn again.

Finn parted his lips slightly and slid his tongue out to run along Bryce’s bottom lip. He moaned softly when the other man responded by deepening the kiss and wrapping his arms around him tightly.

The two men kissed and explored each other, Bryce undressing Finn as they went along, kissing him in various places and making mental notes of the things the other most responded to. Bryce touched Finn’s skin reverently, as if afraid he would scare him if he was anything less than delicate.

Sensing Bryce’s concern, Finn laughed a little. “I am not made of porcelain, Bryce. I won’t break,” he whispered as he leaned up, his lips meeting the other’s insistently. He laid back, pulling the other man with him.

Finn watched as Bryce sat back on his haunches and began the task of preparing him for making love.

“I have wished for this from the moment your father brought you to me,” Bryce said as his fingertips brushed over his muscular stomach, trailing down to the dark hair leading to Finn’s cock.

Finn inhaled deeply, breath shaking with anticipation as Bryce slowly leaned down and placed a kiss to his stomach. He chuckled softly at the slightly ticklish feeling left behind when Bryce sat back up.

As discreetly as he could, Bryce spat in his hand. He smiled at Finn when he reached down and ran his hand over his length. He moved forward, his cock firmly in his hand as he began pressing against Finn’s entrance, his eyes locked on the man beneath him. Biting his bottom lip, Bryce pressed harder, holding in his groans of pleasure when Finn’s body finally gave way to him, allowing him to slowly slide inside.

Finn felt his heart beating hard in his chest as Bryce showered him with all the desire he had clearly been denied began to pour out of him. He noticed Bryce was reluctant to break eye contact with him at all and that kept him from closing his eyes though the happiness coursing through his veins urged him to time and again. He eagerly accepted a kiss from Bryce, gasping and breaking it Bryce thrust his hips moved slowly.

The two men exchanged kisses and caresses, discovering each other as much as they were giving the affection they knew the other needed. All the time they made love, they were unaware that the rose bush began blooming once more, the blossoms larger and more vivid in color than before. The remnants of the dead flowers, having turned to dust, were blown away by a mysterious wind which swept through the garden.

Bryce reached down, his fingers curling around Finn’s length. He smiled when Finn moaned loudly and let his eyes fall closed for the first time since they’d began making love. He thrust in and Finn wailed his name passionately. He held himself in place while his hand moved faster over Finn’s length.

“In all my years alone, I have never dared to dream I would find someone who was as receptive to me as you are, Finn,” he said in a tone that sounded as though he was thanking whichever god had seen fit to bring Finn into his life.

Finn opened his eyes and cried out as his body began shuddering hard, his orgasm hitting him hard and swift. He closed his eyes tightly and moved his hands to Bryce’s shoulders, his fingers digging into the flesh. He gasped out Bryce’s name repeatedly until the last shudder left him feeling dazed and more than satiated. He smiled lazily as he loosened his fingers from Bryce’s shoulders and let his hands fell to the bed.

Smiling, Bryce gripped both of Finn’s hips, holding them up while he began to plunge without abandon into Finn’s more than relaxed and over stimulated body. He closed his eyes and gasped, dropping his head to Finn’s chest as he came hard. He inhaled deeply as he slowly pulled himself free of Finn’s body and laid beside him.

The two lay quietly, breathing heavily, basking in their post-sex glow. Bryce turned to look at Finn, reaching over and cupping his cheek with a smile. Finn placed his hand on Bryce’s, returning the gesture before turning his face into Bryce’s palm and placing a kiss there.

“I think your family should move here – into the castle – with us,” Bryce said suddenly.

“You would do that for me?”

Bryce gently rubbed his thumb over Finn’s cheek and nodded. “I would do anything for you. You have given me my human life back. If you would rather they not…”

“No, no, no. I would love that very much,” Finn replied with a smile.

“Then it shall be.”

The prince made good on bringing Finn’s family to live with them in the castle. Finn’s sisters were overjoyed at the overabundance of cloth and dresses, his brothers loved the jewels, which they used to finance their adventures and his father loved cooking in the kitchen with his youngest son beside him while the prince would sit at the breakfast table in the corner.
And the rose bush which had started the whole arrangement? It began stretching out across the back of the garden room and up the walls, the blooms more vibrant than they’d been before Finn moved into the palace, a sign of the love growing to fill the castle just as it had once been filled long before the evil curse had taken over.

Those roses continue to grow today long after Finn and his prince, who was once a beast, have died. They stand as a symbol of what the power of looking with the heart and not the eyes can do.

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