Chapter 10: The Beauty Within

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Beau was so busy fixing things on the farm that he didn't have time to sleep, let alone dream, until almost two weeks had passed. Louis's new wife was as useful as a chocolate tea pot - she seemed to view her pregnancy as a mark of royalty and sat in bed all day expecting to be waited on. Beau once caught her trying to convince little Rose to give her a foot massage. She was complaining on needing to stock up on sleep before the baby arrived, which was probably sensible since she snored so loudly the baby was unlikely to get any once it was born.

Louis and Gabe didn't quite retreat back into their old ways, but their motivation to keep the farm running dwindled and Beau was forced to pick up more than his fair share of the slack. His sisters and father seemed happy to have him returned to them though, and that was enough to keep Beau going.

When he did finally lay down in his little bed, which felt solid and bare after his time in the palace, he was transported to its ancient walls immediately.

The figment from his first dream was stood at the foot of his bed - this one four-postered and covered in silk and pillows. Glistening tears flowed down her cheeks like rain falling over silver.

"What have you done? You were supposed to save her!"

"I..." Beau spluttered, sitting up. "I had to return to my family - they need me!"

"Was there not room here? With clothes and food and space for all?"

Beau thought of the girls racing through the palace gardens and eating in the vast dining hall. Why had he never considered bringing his family to him, instead of leaving to go to them?

"I never thought about it - the palace wasn't mine to give..."

"The princess would have given it to you. Would have given anything to someone who wanted to stay with her. Someone who made her laugh and smile. Who wasn't always desperately trying to leave."

"But I never found the princess! I looked, but I couldn't find her anywhere. I don't understand." Beau's head was foggy with sleep but he tried to focus on the figure's words. There was something important in them, if only he could concentrate enough to discover it.

The figured laughed. "You were looking in all the wrong places, Beau. Remember - beauty can only be found within. But the petals of time are coming to an end. Think quickly; soon there will be no princess left to rescue and the palace will be lost to dust."

Beau awoke drenched in cold sweat. He pushed the princess to one side - he had no time for riddles or quests. But there was someone he didn't want lost to dust. Someone, he only now realised, who would have seen his request to return home as yet another abandonment. Someone who thought he was too reviled by her to want his family at the castle, when the truth was he'd just been too single minded to even think of it. Maybe, if they all works together, they would even be able to find the princess and break the beast's curse.

It was a perfect solution.

The moon glowed high in the night sky, shrouded in clouds and shadows, but Beau didn't want to waste anymore time on sleep. He jumped to his feet and pulled on his jacket and shoes. The golden ring the beast had given him hadn't left his finger since his return home (despite Louis' best efforts to pawn it for baby clothes) and he now twisted it three times.

It felt as though he was being pulled inside out; his guts and intestines yanked out through his throat. The ground vanished beneath him and he floundered, panicking. Then the air was replaced with fresh grass: lush and green and coated in dew. He was on his hands and knees in the palace gardens.

He looked up at the palace. It was dark and deserted, not a single candle lit, no merry fires burning. The large gates at the front of the property had been warped, as though attacked by an almighty force, so they could no longer be opened from the outside.

To his right, from the maze, Beau herd a beastial wail. He was running before he'd even realised he was moving, weaving between the thick green branches of the hedges. The path ahead of him was strewn with silver glitter, marking out his way so he wouldn't lose time in lost turns. Did he have the fairy from his dream to thank for that?

He ran and ran and ran, until he came to the centre of the maze and what he saw there froze his feet to the glitter strewn floor.

Gone was the shroud and the veil and the ghostly demeanour.

What faced Beau in the centre of that maze was the dusty skeleton of his only friend. She was lying on the floor. So thin, so fragile that the midnight wind blowing through the garden was likely to blow her away. Was she breathing? Did she have any organs left to breath with?

But this was only an illusion, Beau reminded himself. What he could see wasn't how she really looked, but what he feared the most. And it had shifted, because what he now feared most wasn't death incarnate, but the death of his friend.

"Beast?" He whispered as he approached.He wished, more than almost anything, that she had told him her real name. Beast seemed too harsh, too insulting to call her now. He was moved forwards with slow, careful steps.

She didn't respond and he panicked that he was too late - he had waited too long to return. Why hadn't he checked in on her using the mirror? Why had he let things get this bad before trying to return?

When he crouched down beside her and took her small bone hand in his, her fingers fluttered.

"Beau?" He had to lean forward to hear her. "Am I dreaming?"

"No," he said, his grip on her hand tightening. She was cold, so cold, and he didn't think that was part of the illusion.

"Why did you come back?"

"Because I'm sorry - I never meant to abandon you, never meant to hurt you. I was an idiot. I... I love you."

She laughed, the sound grating against her boned jaw like nails on a chalkboard. "How could you possibly love me?"

"Because you'd spend all day hiding in the library, reading, if you could. Because you dance without a care in the world. Because you put everyone else ahead of yourself, you silly, selfless thing, like sending home a boy too stupid to realise he was already there." He laughed, though the tears were falling now, dripping from his cheeks to her body beneath him.

He closed his eyes, trying to clear his vision and felt warm fingers on his cheeks, brushing the tears away. Warm and ... human.

Beau's eyes fluttered open and he gasped at the girl laying on the ground beside him.

It was her eyes he noticed first, sky-bright blue and glistening with tears.

{Sorry this has taken so long to write and post! Thank you all for bearing with me!} 

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