Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sample Sunday: Angering the Beast

After spending a night in the Beast's castle, Mira's father takes what he thinks is the perfect gift for his daughter and suffers the consequences...

Peering out, I could see that the man was approaching the gates.  He paused as he reached them, glancing back over his shoulder.  I moved into the shadows, concealing myself from his gaze.  He stared at the castle for several long moments before stepping down from his wagon and walking carefully across the gravel path to the castle walls, casting glances about him as he went.  I was perplexed, but then I saw his object.  Slowly, he approached the castle wall and reached out a hand to touch one of the roses.  I went perfectly still, my spine rigid.  Reaching into his pocket, the man pulled out a small penknife and used it to cut the rose from the vine. 

Pure, sheer rage washed over me like a black wave, and I let out an ear-splitting roar.  Before turning from the window, I could see the man start, his face as pale as milk.  I ran on all fours from the second floor, down the stairs, and burst through the front entrance of the castle.

“Merciful heaven!” the man shrieked, dropping to his knees and throwing his arms over his head at the sight of me.

He was tall and thin with arms and legs that were ropy and well-muscled.  His hair was a drab shade of brown, and what I could see of his face was very plain and trembling with terror.

“You dare to steal one of my roses?” I roared.

He cried out in terror.  “For-forgive me.  I d-did not mean any harm,” he said, sinking closer to the ground, as if he sought to sink directly through it, the rose still clutched in his hand.  I could see a bright spot of blood on his thumb from where he had pricked himself with one of the thorns.  He had dropped his knife and it laid useless on the ground, far too small to be any threat to me and my rapier-sharp claws.

“You did not mean any harm?” I asked, my voice lowering into a deep and menacing growl.  “I offer you my hospitality, feed you and shelter you for the night, and you repay me by taking what I hold most dear?”

“I did not think anyone lived here.  I did not think the rose would be missed,” he said, in a small and terrified voice.

“Then who fed you, built you a fire?” I asked, astounded by the stupidity of his statement.

“I am sorry.  Please, I beg you, have mercy on me.”

“Mercy?  Why should I have mercy on a thief?  I should strike you dead where you cower,” I growled furiously.

He lowered his arms and looked up into my face.  I could see an expression of abject terror in his eyes, and a shudder of revulsion passed over his features.  I raised one of my arms, ready to strike him down, but he held the rose out and pleaded with me.

“I beg you, do not kill me.  I have three daughters waiting for me at home.  What will become of them if I do not return?” he asked, his voice pitiful.

“Your daughters are none of my concern!” I shouted unthinkingly.  “Why did you take my rose?”

“I took it for my youngest daughter.  Her sisters asked me for expensive gifts, but she asked only for my safe return.  I wanted to bring her a book, but could find none,” he babbled.  “She is such a good child, such a kind and generous child, and I could not bear to return without a gift for her.  When I saw this rose, I knew that she would love it.  She has always loved flowers.”

Slowly and in spite of my rage, my mind was beginning to work.  This man had three daughters, one of whom he described as kind and generous and who loved roses.  Surely it would be a waste to simply kill him.  Perhaps there was another option.  I was silent for so long that the man ceased to shake and sob and went into what appeared to be a state of shock.  His eyes went dull, and I knew that he believed I was going to kill him.

“You have two choices,” I growled, speaking slowly.  “Your first choice is to go home and, in a fortnight, return to me.  You will be placed in my dungeon as my prisoner, where you will die.  Your second choice is to send your youngest daughter to me in your place.  I will not confine her to the dungeon, nor will I mistreat her in any manner.  She will be well cared for and protected in my castle, but she must remain with me forever.”

The man began to shake and sob again.  “Please, have mercy!  I will not send my youngest to you!  But if I die, how will my daughters survive?”

“Those are your choices,” I replied coldly.  “I care not what difficulty they cause you.”

“Please, sir, I beg you…”

“Silence!” I roared.  “Be gone before I change my mind and kill you after all!”

My words spurred the man to action.  Without looking at me, he clambered up into his wagon, his hand clutched so tightly around the rose that it was white.  The rose itself was a deep, deep crimson, the color of the blood that ran from the puncture wound in the man’s thumb.  The horse was nearly screaming in fear.  His eyes rolled back in his head, showing me their whites, and he reared and nearly toppled both the wagon and himself.  The man managed to hold on and, as he applied the whip, the horse shot forward and sped out of the gate at breakneck speed.

I stood watching the man as he disappeared in a cloud of dust down the road.  Then I closed the gates and walked back into the castle, finding my servants assembled in the great hall.

“I expect you heard every word of that exchange,” I growled.  They stared at me with their blank eyes but did not move.  “Then you know what needs to be done!  Ready both the dungeon and one of the guest chambers!  We shall be prepared to deal with whoever returns here in a fortnight’s time.”

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