fantasy, fiction

The Princess and the Beauty

I woke up with a story in my head. It’s a little bit of a thing, but it was fun to write. Enjoy!

Dayton Art Institute
The prancing horse

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a girl-babe was born. And in the manner of these things, when she was born, she was given a fairy gift. Her gift was that she would always see people as they really were. And animals, since this was a fairy-land, after all.

It came to pass that through fears for her safety, she was raised deep in the forest and almost never came into contact with people. Or perhaps it was that her gift combined with the utter honesty of a child was simply too uncomfortable for her father the King to bear. But in time she grew to her beauty, and became a woman.

One day while walking in the woods she saw a sight which dazzled her – a beautiful man was walking among the trees. She dropped her basket and called out to him, but he behaved most strangely, and evaded her in the thick trees and brush. She was not dissuaded, and returned the next day to seek him again. After a long time of wandering, she glimpsed him again, and ran towards him, crying out “oh, please don’t run, I just want to look at you!”

He practically vanished in his haste to get away, and she sank to the ground, mortified at her own behavior. How could a man be that beautiful, and what would he think of her, a mannerless girl in the woods? She didn’t think she could live if she didn’t see him again.

She was shedding a little tear, believing herself to be alone (other than the forest creatures, who she knew were discreet about such things) when she heard a terrible screaming. Snatching up her basket, she ran back toward her cottage, her skirts kirtled up above her knees. As she neared her home, she realized that the screaming and groans of agony were coming not from it and her nanny, but from beyond it, from the ring of terrible brambles and roses that had been planted for her security.

She dropped the basket in her yard, but kept the sharp knife in her hand as she kept dashing toward the screaming. No one friend or enemy should be left to suffer so. When she came in sight of the brambles she paused for a moment in dismay. A fine horse was tangled in them, hysterical with fear, and cowering under his hooves was a horribly ugly creature.

“Help me!” he cried out.

Setting her jaw, the girl came nearer the horse, talking to it to try to soothe it. As she finally caught the eye of the beast, it began to shake all over, but it stood still. She reached out with her knife and started to cut the brambles away, ignoring the way they cut her hands.

“Let me help.” A voice that sounded the way caramels taste made her jump. It wasn’t the hideous man who lay beneath the horse, still, but her handsome man from the woods.

They worked together in silence, shoulder to shoulder. Once the ugly man realized he could, he scrambled away from his mount’s hooves in abject fear. On hands and knees he got past the two who were ministering to the animal, and he didn’t return. She didn’t care. Her hands might be bleeding, but the man of her dreams had proven himself worthy.

When the horse was finally free she led all of them to her cottage, stealing glances from under her lashes at him, marveling that a man could look like that. She tried to ignore the other, who was coming as well.

When they were nearly at the cottage, the ugly one stepped in front of her boldly. “How can you bear to look at, at that?”

He pointed an accusing finger at the focus of her gaze.

She blinked in surprise. “He is altogether lovely,” she protested. “I never thought a man could be beautiful until I saw him.”

The other gasped and reeled backward. “Mad. You’re mad, and that’s why you’re out here in the woods. You think that gnarled dwarf is beautiful.”

She turned away from the face that hurt her to look at in its rawness and oozing sores, to see the chocolate-brown eyes dancing with mirth. “I am not the one who forced his mount to attempt an impossible jump into cruel thorns. And he helped release the poor animal. Beauty is as beauty does.”

The handsomest man in the world gave a shout of laughter and seized her in a hug, lifting her off her feet and spinning her around. Then he knelt in front of her and in caramel tones asked if she would be his bride. To this day I do not believe the spell has washed from her eyes, and they rule a very happy kingdom full of people who never, ever, talk about what their King looks like on the outside.

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