Chapter seven: roses and the maze

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Help me.

The words echoed in Beau's head for days, becoming a mantra as he haunted the castle and its grounds.

Help me.

He couldn't escape her sky-bright eyes: they were there every time he closed his own, every time he entered the library. They were so ingrained in his mind that he even imagined he could see them peering out from beneath the veil of the beast.

Help me.

But how do you help a figure from a dream? How can you save a girl you've only seen in a portrait? He scoured the castle, looking for more clues about her identity: where she was trapped, how and why. He tried questioning the invisible servants whenever he could sense their presence in the room with him, but he never received any answers; either because they were bewitched not to speak, or were too afraid to. The only person he didn't ask - couldn't bring himself to ask - was the beast.

Days bled into weeks. Beau wasn't sure how long he had spent at the castle, seeing the beast only during the uneasy truce they called for library sessions and at dinner. They spoke little, looking at each other only when it was absolutely necessary. "Can you please pass the salt?" "Where might I find a book on dreams?" "Would you like lamb for dinner tomorrow, or pork?" Question. Answer. Question. Answer. Nothing more, but yet... The questions gradually grew longer and more frequent.

Questions about the menu prompted more questions in response: where did the food come from? Did the nearby village know who dwelt in the castle? Were they afraid?

"Everyone is afraid of me," the beast had replied quietly to that last question. There was no self-pity in her voice, nor anger. Just simple understanding - this was the pattern of her life, the way things would always be.

"Have you ever tried to break it? The curse, I mean," Beau mustered up the courage to ask her while they were walking in the gardens one morning. They'd met by accident; both out making the most of the warm spring breeze that had made its first appearance of the year.

The beast looked at him strangely. "What makes you think it can be broken?"

Beau didn't want to tell her about the strange dream he'd had his first night at the castle - not when it might lead the conversation onto all the other dreams he'd been having while he stayed there: sky eyes, proud lips, dark skin. He didn't know who the girl in the portrait was, but he knew the beast stiffened each time he approached it. He read enough in her response not to ask questions.

"Can't all spells be undone?" he asked instead. They had come along side a beautiful patch of roses: pale yellow puds preparing to bloom. Beau reached out a hand to touch the soft petals.

"Stop!" The beast said, making a move to push his hand away, recoiling at the last second before they touched. Beau withdrew his own hand from the blooms. "The roses in this garden are cursed. Remember, it was your father's removal of a blood bloom that brought you here in the first place."

"But these are different to the rose he brought home." He could still remember it, full and dark; fresh blood dripping from a green stem.

"Different but the same. Each curse is different."

"Are they linked to your curse? The one that enchants your appearance?"

"No," she shook her head before continuing, her voice growing quiet. "The curse on the roses here is much older. It was placed on them when I was a young child, before my parents... left."

Left. Abandoned to capricious nursemaids and courtiers, according to the dream.

"Where are your parents now?"

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