by Eugie Foster
Beauty knelt over the cooling body of her husband, the prince. The elegant clock in the foyer, carved from ebony and teak, struck the midnight hour. The twelve tiny peals: the bells of heaven tolling, or the din of hell birds?
Knife strokes shearing through flesh as easily as heated wax.
Blood dark as despair and wet as sorrow in a spray across the marble tile.
The prince a discarded doll, head askew and half severed from his neck.
The gold of his hair, black now and matted with gore.
Seven, eight, nine.
The scald of his blood on her hands, her face, cooling in the wintry air, becoming sticky as old honey in a forgotten jar.
Fierce joy. Her wedding day promise to her lover achieved.
Grief, held in check these long weeks, released.
Beauty crumpled to the floor, the sobs wracking, shaking her slender frame as though they would wring her apart.
Her Beast had wooed her, stolen her heart, and loved her. She pined for her sweetheart’s jagged teeth, his clumsy touch, his sleek fur.
The prince–usurper, murderer–had been a disease, best purged and forgotten. When he came to her with his lies, she had wanted to shriek her fury and heartbreak. Nevertheless, she had not faltered through the nuptial plans, nor the ceremony, playing the eager bride in her satin gown and silver veil.
On the wedding night, the prince had been nothing like her Beast. Beauty trembled with remembered loathing. She had spent those hours yearning for the feel of the Beast’s phallus as it tore through her maidenhood, ached for the burn of his claws tearing into her shoulders and back.
The prince’s eyes were limned with regret as he brushed his fingers over the fresh scars on her alabaster skin. “I’m so sorry, sweet Beauty. Can you forgive me?”
Beauty only smiled, her teeth clenched behind petal-soft lips. “Of course, my prince.”
When the prince took her, she felt none of the ecstasy the Beast had given her. The prince entered her politely, almost apologetically, and thrust in her dryness as she lay motionless, spilling his seed in a dribble.
The Beast, how magnificent he had been. After shooting his burning spoor into her sore and newly breached cleft, he had held her down with his claws and buffeted her with his tongue–tasting her blood mixed with his semen. She had screamed in fresh delight as the Beast mounted her again, pressing her face into the fragrant, silken sheets as he rammed himself into her, rocking the bed with his urgency. The rapture of this last coupling was more than she could bear. She sank into blackness, her body shuddering in wave after wave of ecstasy beneath him.
When she awakened, the Beast was gone.
The next day she learned of the plight of her father and her sisters. She was honor-bound to go to them, but leaving her Beast was akin to dying.
Her return, a joyous reunion eagerly anticipated, turned instead into tragedy. If only she had not left her Beast alone! Perhaps the prince would not have found him such easy prey if she had been there to protect him.
She discovered her lover, dead and cold, his fur–once a molten cloak of bronze–lifeless and dry. Through sorcerous means, the prince whisked away the Beast’s body and spun a fabulous tale of a broken enchantment sundered by true love’s kiss.
Now, at last, justice had been carried out. The prince was dead. Through the clamoring voices of memory past and unbound grief, Beauty heard the wolves outside the castle. They lifted their voices to serenade her.
Eyes half-blinded by tears, eyelashes sharp as needles in their sheaths of drying blood, Beauty wrapped herself in a thick mantle. The bloody knife she left on the floor.
Her mare distrusted the stink of death that clung to her; she snorted and sidestepped in alarm. Beauty bent the animal to her will with hard voice and steady hands. The horse was a dumb creature, a wedding gift from the prince–docile and stupid, as the prince had expected his wife to be. Mounting, she lashed her to a gallop, riding to meet the wolfsong.
The great wolves coursed out of the forest, their golden eyes burning in the moonlight. As they circled, the mare squealed and bolted onward, blind with fear. Beauty clung to her back, unafraid, as they stumbled through the forest and into a clearing. A ghostly escort of steaming breath and jagged muzzles wove through wisps of moonbeam and snowy branches. Head down, the whites of her eyes showing, the mare stared at the baying pack.
Beauty slid off to alight on the frosted ground. She curtsied low to the largest wolf, the Wolf King. He bared his regal fangs and raised his tail to her.
“Hail, sire,” Beauty said. “I bring you tribute, fresh meat for your court. Will you grant me sanctuary as sister to the night?” She flourished an arm over her mare like a magician revealing a dove.
The King barked, deep and low, and his lieutenants trotted to flank him. They sprang in unison at the cringing horse, well practiced in this synchronized waltz of death. The King sank his teeth into her belly, opening her at the same moment as a fleet black wolf with glinting eyes tore out her throat. With a gurgling shriek, the mare tumbled down.
Surging forward in a tide of burning eyes set in shadow, the pack fed.
The Wolf King lifted his muzzle, red and stained with butchery. With a courteous snarl, he invited Beauty to join them. Sidling between a brindle-gray bitch and a lesser male, she tore off a steaming gobbet of horseflesh and tasted the raw flesh. The act of shared meat marked her as the pack’s newest daughter.
Beauty dwelled with the King and his people, running and hunting, free as the sky. Her finely embroidered cloth-of-gold shoes shredded from the sharp rocks underfoot, but she did not miss them for her soles grew tougher than leather. She cast off her bloodstained gown when its rustle alerted prey to the pack’s approach, and when the silken flax of her hair grew snarled, she took a sharp bone–from a fox whose neck she snapped with her own hands–and hacked it away. She left the honey-gold tangle as a gift to the ravens to line their winter nests.
A bitch laughed at her one night as they lay together, a pile of warmth and life, their stomachs full and distended from a fine hunt. Her wolfy mirth was response to Beauty’s confusion. In the straightforward manner of all forest children, the she-wolf had asked her pale sister when she would birth her cub.
Beauty had not wondered about the extra weight or the pains in her back; she had been too busy reveling with her wolf family to reflect upon it. But her rounded belly could admit no alternative.
Whose cub was it? The prince’s? The thought smoldered in her breast like red murder. She would tear the unborn babe from her body and strangle it before she bore a brat fathered by that filth. But how could she rip it out if there was a chance it was the Beast’s?
The wolves were careful with her. They roved closer afield and brought her meat when she grew too gravid to hunt. Wolf princesses and handmaidens–and occasionally the royal Wolf Queen herself–told her glorious tales of wolf heroes and silly ditties about prankster low-wolves to amuse her until the pack returned with fresh blood on their coats and meat in their mouths.
On a twilight eve, as Beauty lay propped against a tree–too heavy now to raise and lower herself with ease–listening to the Wolf Queen tell the story of “The Mouse Who Would Be Eaten,” the Queen halted her tale and pricked her ears. The bitch’s pelt was flecked with gray and her teeth were worn and yellow, but she could still hear the breath of a fawn as it hid, shivering in the underbrush. A growl thrummed in her throat.
Beauty struggled to stand.
A low drone, like an angry wasp, resonated in the air, ending in the Wolf Queen’s shriek. A woodsman strode forward, a spire of sharp metal in his hands. Beauty fought to rise, to defend the Queen as she lay whining with her life gushing from her side, the wooden barb jutting from her body. But the man was too fast, his attack unexpected. He swung his blade and stopped the Queen’s cries.
The woodsman sheathed his axe and leaned over her. “Poor creature. Who knows how long ye’ve been living with these animals.”
Beauty clawed and bit, but her pregnancy sapped her, made her weak. The man pinioned her hands with ease and tied her to his horse.
They traveled from the forest–he leading his unhappy horse and Beauty faint with pain atop it.
The babe was coming.
The first wracking spasms had begun when the man’s axe clove the Wolf Queen’s breast. Beauty refused to cry out, to display weakness before her enemy. But the cub leaped within her. It was like a great hand reaching into her womb, splitting her apart from within.
Through a haze, Beauty understood that the sickening sway of the horse’s gait had ceased and the hated man was lifting her down. She longed to tear out his throat, to feel his life fountain, hot and wet, over her face.
“Nellie!” he shouted. “Nell, I need you!”
A woman–brown and weathered with bright blue eyes–emerged from the shelter of a thatch hut. Fear was a blemish spreading over her creased face.
“By all that’s holy, John, what have ye brought to our home?”
Beauty became aware of another set of hands supporting her.
“I found her with a wolf, probably the same one that’s been taking our chickens. She’s mad. I couldn’t leave her, not with her being in her state.”
The woman gasped as she felt another tremor shudder through Beauty’s frame. “Merciful God. This girl’s in labor.”
The man swore. He broke into a staggering, jostling run. Beauty moaned despite her resolve.
Within the cottage, it was dark, windowless, lit only by the fire in the hearth. After the endless skies and wide, wide forest, Beauty found the stench of smoke and confined air smothering.
The man laid her onto a pallet of straw.
“Draw me water,” Nellie said, “and stoke the fire.”
Another convulsion rippled through Beauty’s belly; hot fluid drenched her thighs.
“Hurry!” Nellie cried as the dark stain spread across the straw.
He set the kettle over blazing flames. “Nellie, should I go? It ain’t proper for a man–“
“Don’t leave me alone with her!”
Beauty screamed at the bite of a new contraction, sobbing as the fit receded.
The woman held her. “That’s a girl.” Her voice was low and soothing. “It’ll be all right, Nellie knows what to do.”
Beauty fell back, panting. Sweat beaded her forehead.
“Who is she?” Nellie asked.
The man looked at the strange, feral woman, his eyes taking in the unblemished fairness of her milk-white skin and the straggle of thick, golden hair. It was tangled and filthy but unmistakably lustrous. “I–I thinks she’s the princess, the one who broke the spell up yonder in the castle.”
Nellie’s eyes grew round. “The one who freed the prince? We all thought she was dead, killed by the same assassin who did her husband.”
“I–I think the killer only got the prince. I think the princess–they says her name was Beauty–went mad with grief when she found her dead husband. M–maybe she ran off and has been living with the wild things.”
Nellie blinked and stared with dawning realization at her man. “Then, this babe, it’s the royal heir.”
John nodded, solemn and grim. “So’s you’d best take care with them.”
The woman’s hands, so steady before, shook. “I can’t!”
“She ain’t got no one else.”
Beauty howled when the next contraction gripped her. In the distance, faint but sure, she heard the answering cry of the pack.
Nellie pressed a damp cloth over Beauty’s brow, murmuring words of encouragement.
“It’s coming,” she said. “I see the crown.”
Another swell of agony crested, and Beauty rode it, writhing and contorting. With a mewling squall, her babe entered the world.
Nellie tied off the umbilical cord and severed it with her sewing shears.
“Is it a boy or a girl?” John asked.
His wife was silent, holding the wiggling, whimpering infant away from her body. The copper smell of blood lay heavy in the small room.
“It’s male,” she said at last.
Beauty stretched her arms out, reaching for her son.
John peered at the bundle in Nellie’s arms and averted his eyes. “God above and all the saints.”
Beauty tugged at the woman’s arm.
“S–she shouldn’t become attached to such a thing,” Nellie said. “It wouldn’t be healthy. Best if it dies.”
John shook his head, voiceless.
Beauty keened as Nellie backed away, understanding only that the woman was stealing her child. Her voice was joined and echoed by a multitude of wolf throats outside.
The door staved in as a gray-furred body, dagger teeth and gleaming eyes in evidence, leaped in. It was the Wolf King, his lieutenants and soldiers at his heels.
John threw up his arms as a mottled auburn wolf lunged. The huge animal knocked him down, tearing at his throat with growls like thunder.
Nellie screamed, dropping the swaddle of blood-soaked cloth and warbling baby. The King lunged and caught the trailing end of blanket in his jaws. He cushioned the soft bones of the newborn against his body. Two wolf soldiers beset the woman and brought her down. Her shrill bleats ended in a spray of crimson.
The Wolf King trotted forward, bearing the precious bundle to Beauty. Sobbing with relief, she took her son in her arms.
She looked into the gleaming, black eyes of her child and cooed as he sunk his tiny, sharp fangs into her breast. His clawed hands gripped her as he gave suck, drinking the pale pink mixture of mother’s milk and blood. Beauty stroked the matted, damp fur covering his head and smoothed down the light pelt of russet velvet that covered his body.
“My son,” she murmured.
The Wolf King and his warriors bayed their approval.
About the Author
In her own words:
I grew up in the Midwest, although I call home a mildly haunted, fey-infested house in metro Atlanta that I share with my husband, Matthew. After receiving my Master of Arts degree in Developmental Psychology, I retired from academia to pen flights of fancy. I also edit legislation for the Georgia General Assembly, which from time to time I suspect is another venture into flights of fancy. (more…)
About the Narrator
Jasmine Blake has been an avid enthusiast of fiction throughout her life and she is thrilled to be involved with this project.