Pierre arrived home the following day, aged ten years and quivering like a leaf trapped in an autumn breeze.
"Father! What's wrong?" Beau rushed forward to help his father dismount Philippe. He could hardly hold himself up and had to lean against the horse to stay on his feet. In his left hand Pierre clutched an extraordinary red rose, the colour of fresh blood and the size of a clenched fist.
Pierre shook his head and gestured towards the house. Beau led his father inside and helped him down onto a kitchen chair. He fired up the aga to boil the kettle and rummaged in the cupboards for a morsel of bread.
"Father!" Rose and Clara's eyes lit up as they entered. They hugged their father and took the seat on either side of him, beginning to chatter at once without seeming to notice his fragile state. Estelle's grey eyes were far more wary when she entered.
"Father, are you okay?" She asked him, placing a hand on his shaking shoulder.
Pierre did his best to rally a smile but, upon failing, shook his head.
"Where are our gifts?" Louis asked as his great bulk filled the doorway.
"I can't see my horse," added Gabe as he entered behind him.
Beau glared at them. "He's barely conscious. I hardly think this is the time-"
"No, no, it's okay, Beau. They are right to ask." Pierre sighed deeply and put his head in his hands. "There was nothing: no fortune, no goods. It had all been seized before I arrived, to pay off my outstanding debts."
"So we're not rich again?" Clara asked sadly.
"I'm sorry, my petal, we're not."
Gabe growled and kicked a chair but Louis started forwards, his eyes fixed on the rose Pierre had placed in front of himself on the wooden table.
"I see our darling brother has still been graced with a gift. Once the favourite, always the favourite." He reached out a hand towards the bloom, but Pierre clutched it to himself with a speed they hadn't seen him employ in years.
"Don't touch it... You cannot touch it. The cost of this rose is unimaginably high."
"So that's where the money-"
"Not money, you fool." Pierre rounded on his son, his eyes wild. "The human cost!"
"What do you mean, father?" Beau said, placing a cup of tea on the table in front of him.
Pierre shook his head, reluctant to say anything more.
"Father, please. What is going on?" Beau sat down beside Rose and fixed his father with a piercing stare.
"I have made a grave error," his father began, his eyes lowered sadly to the rose clutched between his fingers. "I overstepped the kindness offered to me by a stranger on my return home and took that which was not mine to take: cursed petals from the garden of a horrendous monster."
Gabe laughed. "What nonsense is this? Have you lost all leave of your senses, old man?"
"Father, explain. Please," Beau implored, glaring his brother into silence.
"In taking this rose, I have tenured myself to servitude in the castle from whence it came."
"For how long?" Estelle asked, her eyes wide with alarm.
There was an outcry among the children. Even Gabe and Louis had the grace to look shocked.
YOU ARE READING
Skin DeepShort Story
A tale as old as time with a rather different twist. When Beau's father steals a cursed rose from the garden of a terrifying beast, Beau bravely offers to take his father's place in servitude. Cursed to appear in the form that will terrify the beho...