Chapter 6: The Library

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Almost a week passed before Beau next saw the beast. He'd been taking meals in his room, waited on by the invisible servants he'd been told about in his dream. And in between meals, he explored. The castle had an inexhaustible excess of rooms: glittering ballrooms bathed in soft golden light; cosy studies with roaring fires; bedroom upon bedroom upon bedroom. They were beautiful, endless and empty.

It wasn't until he had explored almost every room in the castle's east wing that Beau came across the best one of them all.

The library.

Marble bookcases had been carved directly into the walls, filled with so many books Beau could barely see the polished stone that housed them. Books on poetry, history and travel. Fairytales, sword fights and never ending journeys. Romance, tragedy and classics that Beau could remember his tutor recommending to him in the years they had lived in town, when reading was as essential as drawing breath, rather than luxury confined to stolen moments as the day drew to an end.

Sunlight gleamed through wide windows that stretched up from the floor to a ceiling three levels above Beau's head. The ceiling was a piece of art in itself - sprawling patterns of intricate swirls gleaming in a shimmering gold that picked up the sunlight and bounced it around the room.

Beau took a deep breath, spinning slowly on the spot so he could take the room in from all sides. He'd never seen a place of such wonder before, never dreamed a world so perfect.

Perfect, that was, except the figure at the far end of the space. She'd been curled up in an armchair of crushed velvet when Beau had entered, absorbed in a leather-bound book of fragile, faded pages. When the door had clicked softly shut behind him, the beast had stirred, looking up from the world of her story to the boy before her. She gazed at his wonder, imagining what it would feel like to see this room for the first time. She had learnt to read among its stacks; had come to take for granted the ever present abundance of words. Stories were her escape; her salvation; her only remaining link to the world beyond the castle grounds. And she would not share her most sacred space. She rose to her feet.

"What are you doing here?"

Beau drew back, the horror of her appearance painted across his face like he was a work of art: a study in terror. His green eyes widened, his brow furrowing. He was handsome even when he was fearing for his life, she was frustrated to notice.

"I..." he trailed off. This was why she'd had that spell cast over the castle's other occupants; she'd grown accustomed to not witnessing the blood freezing in someone's veins whenever she rounded a corner. She growled her irritation, causing Beau to take a step backwards.

She expected him to turn and flee, but instead he steeled himself, swallowing down his fear before he spoke.

"I was exploring. I thought that was allowed? You never said that I had to stay in my room."

"You don't, but..." she trailed off, unable to think of a good enough reason why he shouldn't be in the library. 'Can you even read?" she snapped when she couldn't think of one. "I'm not having you pawing through my collection just for something to do. This is one of the finest libraries in the kingdom - it should only be used by those who can truly appreciate it."

Beau coloured, not with fear this time but anger. "Of course I can read! Just because I didn't grow up in a palace doesn't mean I don't know how to appreciate literature. Besides, books are for everyone - it's that sort of backwards thinking that prevents people from picking books up in the first place. You can't be elitist about books!"

She shook her ghostly head, the veil remaining oddly motionless as she moved, as if the illusion didn't quite know how to animate her clothing correctly. Not that she was actually wearing a veil, Beau realised with a start. He wondered what she actually was wearing. If anything at all - did she even need to bother with clothes if no one could see? His cheeks coloured at the thought.

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