Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sample Sunday: Mira and the Beast meet at last

 After all of the agonizing anticipation, Mira and the Beast finally meet...

“Who are you?” I asked, my voice sounding hoarse and dusty.  My eyes wanted to dart about the chamber, but I was afraid of what I might see, so I resolutely fixed my gaze upon the light of the candle.

There was a long silence and then I heard a slight rustling from the other side of the library.  Someone was sitting in the shadowy far right corner, which was a good distance from where I stood.  That thought offered some comfort, and I felt the tension in my body ease slightly.

The silence became so long that I grew vexed.  It was unspeakably rude for this creature to sit in the chamber watching me but refusing to acknowledge me.  “I would appreciate the favor of an answer to my question,” I said.  I was surprised at the sharpness of my own voice, and relieved that the edge concealed a slight quaver.

From the corner came a deep rumbling that baffled me upon first hearing but, when I listened more closely, I realized it was a voice so roughened by bestial sounds it was nearly unintelligible. 

“Why do you ask who I am?  I would imagine you are capable of guessing,” the voice said.
Any courage I may have mustered was quickly quelled by the sound of that strange voice, but I did my best to conceal this.  “I suppose you think I should conjecture that you are the master of this castle, but I know that there must be servants, and I cannot be certain that you are not one of them.”

Another silence followed this declaration and then the voice rose from the corner once again.
“Indeed, there are servants in this castle, but you are incorrect that I could be one of them.  They are mute, as you will discover for yourself when you see them.”

“They are all of them mute?” I asked, astonished.  Had the beast purposely chosen them as his servants because of this—or had he done something to ensure they could not speak?

“Aye,” he said, and I noticed for the first time that he sounded…antiquated.  There was something odd about his accent and the manner in which he phrased his speech.

“You have been living here without another soul with whom you could speak?”  I was intrigued in spite of myself.

“By choice,” was the succinct response.

“Then why am I here?”  The question escaped my lips before I could stop it. 

The tension in the chamber crackled to life once more and I took a faltering step backward, bumping into one of the ladders that were spaced throughout the chamber, allowing access to the upper shelves.  My hand curled around the rail, and I found myself leaning against the ladder for support.

“You know why you are here,” the voice replied, at last.  There was a dangerous undercurrent in it, a low growl that had not been there before.

I could say nothing in response to this and, instead, turned to leave the library, but the voice stopped me. 

“There are some things of which we will never speak,” it said.  “But we must learn to live and even to converse with one another, for there is not another soul in the castle with whom we might speak.  Or do you believe yourself capable of enduring an eternity of silence?”

“No,” I admitted, though I was loath to answer the question. 

I heard more rustling from the corner and imagined that the beast must have been moving about impatiently, though I had no wish to look and confirm my conjecture.  I did not understand what was passing between us.  When he spoke, he gave me the distinct impression that the sound of my voice pained him, but he was making the assertion that he and I needed to converse.  The contradiction confounded me and, once again, my nervous tongue betrayed me.

“It seems apparent to me that you have no wish to speak, so why are you suggesting that we converse with one another?” I asked.

The beast growled and I tightened my hold on the ladder’s rail.  “What do you suggest?  Do you suggest I return to my quarters and remain there forever without seeing or speaking to you?”

“I suggest you do whatever pleases you,” I responded, an impatient edge to my voice.  “I also ask that you have the courtesy to tell me what it is you have planned for me.”

“Planned for you?  You are a guest in this castle.  You may do as you wish.”

“A guest?  I would have called myself a prisoner.”

“You have not the slightest idea what it means to be a prisoner,” he said.  The words were spoken so softly and were so layered with bestial growls that I nearly did not understand them.

“You frighten me,” I said, bluntly.  I could not fathom how it was that I found the courage to be so honest with him.  Perhaps it was simply because I had lived in such fear and gloom that I had not the tolerance for it any longer.  Perhaps I merely wished to provoke the worst so that I might weather the storm and have done with it.

“You have not yet seen me,” he said.

“No, I have not, but my father described you, and that description was enough to frighten me.”

“I give my word that, though I may frighten you, I will not harm you.”

“Why should I believe that?” I demanded.  “You threatened harm enough to my father.  Why should your behavior toward me be any different?”

“Your father stole from me,” the beast snarled.

I flinched but refused to relent, even though my heart pounded so hard that I thought it might burst from sheer terror.  “He did not mean to steal from you.  He was simply looking for a gift for me, and he did not know the rose belonged to anyone.”

“That does not change the fact that he took something that was not his.”

“And how was he to know that you did not wish him to take it?  You offered him food and lodging freely enough.”

“That is why he should not have dared to take more from me.”  It sounded as though the beast was exercising every bit of self-control he possessed not to begin shouting at me.

I was suddenly weary of this fight.  I had to admit that the beast’s words were not devoid of truth, though I felt his reaction had been unreasonable.  Papa had made a simple error, and a decent soul would have been more understanding.

“Very well,” I said.  “I have no wish to quarrel with you.  You do not know my father as I do, and it seems you will not be persuaded to believe anything different from what you have already decided to believe.”

“What I find curious is that you defend the man who sent you here to live with me,” the beast said, with a cruel edge to his voice.

“You think he sent me here?” I asked, amazed. 

“Why else would you be here?”

“I came here of my own free will.”

“Why?” the beast asked, sounding amazed in return.

“Why?  Is it not obvious to you?  I was afraid of what might happen to Papa should he return here, so I came in his place.  I could not help but feel responsible.  He brought the rose to me out of the goodness of his own heart, out of a desire to please me.  I could not allow him to be punished for the kindness of his actions.”

The beast said nothing, and I had the sense that he was finding it hard to believe what I had told him.  This was both surprising and rather sad.  Had he never loved another enough to wish to sacrifice his own comfort and happiness for the sake of the person he loved?  A life without sound was punishment enough, but what of a life without love?  What sort of punishment was that?