Instead, I wrote this.
Abhorrence & Allure: The Beast within the Beauty
By: Megan Green
Once in a village by the sea there lived a maiden named Belle. Belle loved all things that were as beautiful as she—jewels, cloths, and other finery. But even more than beautiful items, Belle loved handsome men. It was a source of pride for her and her family to mention how many young knights, adventurous sailors, and foreign lords came calling at her doorstep, eager to court the most stunning woman in the kingdom. But Belle was shallow, and she cared only for extravagance and luxury. So when a young man of exceptional quality arrived on her doorstep, Belle’s gaze only took in his bedraggled clothes and dirt-smeared countenance.
“Leave my doorstep at once,” she demanded of the lad.
“I came to call on Belle, the most beautiful maiden in all the kingdom,” the lad answered, peering behind her with ocean-green eyes. “Is she here?”
Belle was dumbstruck. Could he not see her face, the finery hanging about her neck and the jewels on her fingers? “I am Belle,” she answered coolly, “and I am not interested in beggars and filth.”
The man quit trying to peer behind her, instead choosing to study her face. “This cannot be. I was told Belle is the most divine creature in all the lands.”
“And so I am.”
The man considered her. “Hardly.”
Belle’s lip curled. “You shall remove yourself from my property at once. I do not wish to see your face ever again.”
The man shrugged. “So be it, but beware: three men shall call upon you, and they will be the wealthiest, most handsome men the world can offer. You will be unable to see this, and you shall turn them away. When the third leaves your doorstep, that lovely countenance will diminish, reflecting the beast of a soul you hold inside.”
Belle slammed the door in his face. She gave the man’s words hardly a thought as she returned to her trinkets and jewels, for—after all—she would certainly know if one of the world’s most handsome and wealthiest men was at her doorstep.
The next day, another suitor arrived at the castle entrance. He was destitute, his back hunched and his weight held upon a cane.
“I have come to call on Belle,” he said, “the most beautiful maiden in all the kingdom.”
Belle frowned. “I am Belle, and I do not want your attention.” She closed the door before he could say more.
The next day, Belle heard that a prince was in the village. As she went about her social activities, she spied him from afar. He was handing out candy from a bag hidden beneath a cloak on his back, his walking cane forgotten on the ground beside him as children giggled in a circle at his feet.
Belle was shocked. Well, she thought, I will surely not miss the next one.
One week later, another man arrived at her doorstep. “I have come to call on Belle,” he said, “the most beautiful maiden in all the kingdom. My name is Prince Ali. Please forgive my appearance; I was shipwrecked and my possessions were taken by the Great Sea. The rest of my belongings were scavenged by thieves.”
Belle laughed at the man standing before her, stooped in pain and hunger. His hair was disheveled, his face bruised and bleeding. “I have seen the likes of you before. Such stories of grandeur will not sway me, and I do not like liars.” And she slammed the door in his face.
A few days later, one of Belle’s maids whispered that a second prince had arrived in the village, swept in by the sea. His ship had been taken by pirates. The maid pointed him out through Belle’s window as he strolled through the village, a neighboring maiden on his arm who was far homelier than Belle.
Well, Belle thought, who could have known he was sincere? No matter, I will surely not miss the third.
And so she went about her business, but she did not attend the festivities celebrating the prince’s and neighbor’s betrothal the following week.
A fortnight later, Belle was in a mood. She could not choose a broach for the upcoming ball, and her maid was useless. Furthermore, all her callers had been far from wealthy; the last had offered a herd of sheep for her betrothal.
There was a knock on the door, and Belle’s maid appeared. “There is a gentleman wishing to call upon the lady,” she remarked meekly as her mistress threw broach after broach to the floor.
Belle straightened her back and smoothed her silk dress. “Very well. Perhaps he will be able to help me in these important matters.”
On the doorstep stood a man stooped in shadow, a cloak hiding his face. He wore no rings, and his clothes were plain and dust-covered.
“I have come to call upon Belle,” he said, “the most beautiful maiden in all the kingdom.”
Belle squinted her eyes. “Let me see your face.”
The man turned his head away. “I cannot, My Lady, for it has been badly scarred from a blade upon my saving a child from thieves.”
Belle grimaced. “And where do you hail from?”
“I come from a land far to the south, one full of forests and sunlight. My people are blessed with good weather and happiness, and my kingdom is prosperous.”
“Why do you not wear an emblem or jewels or rich clothing?” Belle asked.
“I have traveled many months, My Lady.” The man gave a fumbling bow from beneath his cloak.
Belle sneered. No gentleman would bow in such a manner or wear clothes of such low quality. He was just like the others who had appeared of late. “I am not interested,” she said, and turned away.
“I did warn you,” the man said in a familiar voice. Belle turned around. The suitor had removed his cloak, and she recognized the green eyes as belonging to the caller who had prophesized about the three princes. His hair was pulled neatly behind his head, his face clean and handsome. The crest of a single rose adorned his tunic. “You are blinded by beauty, and that shall be your curse. Until you are able to love unconditionally, you shall appear as but a monster—forever.”
Belle faltered. “Wait!” she cried, but he had already turned on his heel, his boots leaving her doorstep empty as he disappeared into the evening gloom.
Belle returned to her chambers in a daze. “Maid!” she called, returning to her broaches with shaking hands.
The maid walked in, saw her mistress, and shrieked. The laundered dresses she had been holding cascaded to the floor as she fled outside, screaming about monstrous beasts for all the village to hear.
Belle looked into the mirror and shrank back. Her face had turned stony grey, her once porcelain-smooth skin was now coarse and hard. The elegant locks that had fallen in torrents to her waist had become curved spikes, erupting outwards in jagged points, and her fingers were talons. Only her lips remained the same, ruby red and enticing.
Belle fell to her knees and wept.
Her maid did not return, and the rest of the servants fled upon seeing their mistress. Belle was all alone in the castle.
Word spread slowly about Belle’s new appearance. The gentleman callers trickled to a stop, one only calling every few fortnights, and then every few years until none arrived at all. Belle remained in her castle as the long days turned to months, the months to years, the years to decades. The trees outside grew taller and the village emptied as ivy covered the castle walls and stretched into the dilapidated wings, winding its course over the remains of broken mirrors and dusty jewels.
One day, quite closer to our time than one might believe, a small urchin happened upon the castle. He was hungry and in desperate need of sleep. He pushed past the great gates and knocked on the castle door. When Belle opened it, a cloak covering her face, he looked surprised.
“I have come for a safe place to sleep,” he said, swaying on the spot. A large, bloodied wound was upon his forehead. “I heard this castle is haunted, enchanted by monsters and beasts, but I have nowhere else to rest. May I please remain here until I am strong enough to carry onwards?”
Belle opened the door wider, somewhat reluctant to let such a filthy child into her castle. But it had been so long since anyone had come calling on her doorstep that she acquiesced. “Of course, young one,” she said, stepping aside. The years had changed her voice, allowing a small amount of humbleness to steal its way into the notes, just as the small animals and birds had snuck their way into the castle, making nests and homes that sheltered them from the cold nights. “However,” Belle continued, “you should know that I am not the most beautiful of creatures to look upon, though I was once upon a time.”
The child was too tired to respond. He gratefully fell into the dusty bedding Belle provided, too sleepy to note the cobwebs infesting his chambers or the howling wind poking its airy fingers through the castle walls. “Thank you,” he murmured, and fell asleep.
Belle spread seed upon the stone floor for the birds as the boy slept, a past time that had become a small comfort through her many years of solitude. She watched the boy’s chest rise and fall as the thrush and magpies hopped about her, one landing in the palm of her outstretched hand. She could smell the dirt and filth upon the boy’s attire from here, and lines that only came from time and worry had already spread around his eyes like spider web.
When the child woke, Belle provided him with food and tea and applied balms to his wounds. He ate voraciously. “Thank you, Miss. The wolves would have had me for breakfast if you hadn’t been so kind.” He looked at the cloaked figure sitting next to him, his child’s eyes inquiring. “My name’s Lambert.” He watched her expectantly.
“I am Belle,” Belle replied.
Lambert stared at her over the steam curling up from his soup. “Would you show me your face?” he asked.
Belle considered. “It may frighten you,” she said softly, but the boy was unrelenting. Belle removed her hood.
“I was beautiful, once upon a time,” Belle repeated, her eyes downcast.
The boy shrugged. “It’s not so horrible,” he said. “You’re not pretty. Your hair looks kind of funny and your eyes are reddish, but you seem like a nice person.”
Belle smiled at his childlike honesty. “Those are not nearly the compliments I once received, but I shall accept them.” She looked at his thin frame. “Would you like to stay here, child? You can come and go as you please, but you cannot tell others of my existence.”
The urchin considered her offer. “I cannot. But could I visit you?”
Belle smiled again. “Of course,” she whispered. She provided the boy with ointments to heal his wounds and most of the food she had saved for winter, including the seeds for the birds, and she sent him on his way. As Belle watched the boy leave, the smile slowly disappeared from her face. Loneliness settled in the castle walls once more, soaking it up as wood does water.
Years later, a maiden stumbled upon her doorstep, pushing open the castle door without any greeting. She was snow-covered and shaking, her feet bare against the cold stone floors.
Belle was polishing the silver wear, lamps, and dish wear, a task she had begun after the boy’s visit so many evenings before. However, he had never returned to drink or eat from the glittering containers or see the flames twinkle upon the jeweled lamp.
“It is discourteous to enter someone’s home without permission,” Belle said from the shadows. The maiden jumped.
“I do apologize. I wasn’t sure if anyone lived here or if it was just a story,” she stammered.
“How can I help you, child?”
The maiden wrung her hands. “It’s my son, Miss. He’s sick, and my friend—he said if ever I needed help I may find it here. I heard this castle is haunted, enchanted by monsters and beasts, but I have nowhere else to go. Will you please help me?”
Belle thought. “Is your acquaintance’s name Lambert?” The maid nodded. “What ails your child?” she asked.
After hearing of the illness, Belle quickly made her way through the dark corridors and to the library, the only chamber she had tended to through the long years. She had found many answers within the books that circled to the ceiling, but never how to cure her curse. Today, she pulled a volume of medicine from the shelves and used it to discover the correct spices and herbs, grinding them together with a pestle as the maiden watched. When she was finished, she handed the ointment to her.
“Thank you so much,” the maiden said. She hesitated. “My name is Sabine. Would you show me your face?”
Belle considered. “It may frighten you,” she said, but the maiden did not relent. Belle removed her hood.
“I thought it would be much worse,” Sabine said. “May I visit you again?”
Belle smiled. “Of course.” She provided the maiden with fine furs and warm clothing, emptying much of her own wardrobe. She also gave her the jeweled lamp to keep the forest predators at bay, then watched as Sabine disappeared into the dark landscape beyond the gates. Loneliness settled in the castle walls once more, soaking it up as wood does water.
Many moons passed until another knocked upon her door one rainy day. Belle had just made tea, a daily ritual she had started after the maiden’s appearance. She saved the only intact teacup for Sabine, drinking out of a chipped one herself. But Sabine never returned to taste the delicious tea that smelled of pine.
Belle ran to the door. It was a young man, thin and dirty. He looked at the cloaked figure in the doorway and held out his hands imploringly. “Please, Miss. My mother told me stories of a woman who lived here. She said you might help.”
Belle stepped aside, delighted at the company. “Please, come in.” She gave the man food and drink and a warm blanket to dry off the ocean spray that had wrapped itself around his body.
“Thank you,” the man said.
Belle regarded him from under her cloak. “Is your mother’s name Sabine?” she asked as the tea’s steam floated in the air between them.
“Yes,” the man answered. “I come seeking advice. Because of your help, my family has flourished through the illness that scourged our land. We care for our village and the people within it in what modest ways we can. And now that I am a man, I have fallen in love with the most beautiful maiden in all the lands. However, I cannot afford to win her hand, for her family is rich and we are poor.”
Belle smiled. “Are you quite sure this maiden is beautiful, inside and out?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” the man said. “She uses her wealth to help our small village, she works alongside the people in the fields, and her only wish is to aid others—even at the expense of her own well-being.”
“Come with me.” Belle led her visitor through the empty corridors and to a chamber laden with gold and jewels. “Please take it. Use it to help the village, but don’t forget to work with the people in the fields and feed the hungry.” She added the last teacups and teapot, both gilded in gold, carefully to the pile. “These will also fetch a pretty amount, though I fear time and anger have destroyed the entirety of the set.”
The man’s eyes widened as they took in the wealth around him. “You are quite sure?”
“I am sure.”
He looked at her cautiously. “May I see your face?” he asked.
Belle hesitated. “You may, but it will frighten you,” she said.
The man was unrelenting, so Belle removed her hood.
She looked at the floor. “I am hideous,” she said softly, “and so lonely that each day feels as though it was an eternity. I was once thought to be beautiful, but I know now I was not.”
The man smiled, and Belle watched with astonishment as his brown eyes turned to ocean green and the dirt on his face disappeared. “Now,” he said in a familiar voice, “you are the most beautiful maiden in all the lands.” A cloth rose blossomed on his tunic, the thread crawling up and around his chest. He held up a small, pearl-lined mirror.
Belle considered the image within the frame, the elegant locks that fell in torrents to her waist, the porcelain-smooth skin and the ruby red lips. She blinked. Her own eyes, blue instead of red, stared back at her.
“My name is Prince Adam,” the man continued. He held out his hand. “And I have come to call upon the most beautiful maiden in all the lands.”