Chapter 1: Prologue
November 10, 1793
To my grandson,
Louis, I write this letter to you on the eve of my execution. I have but one leaf of paper and a nub of chalk. I hope it will be enough. My single candle is already very low; I do not know how much longer the light will last.
Of course, if you and your mother have not made it across the channel then this would all be for naught. Even if you are there, safe from these troubles, there is no guarantee that this letter will ever reach you. I have made arrangements for a visit from my niece, but she has not yet arrived. I do not know if she was detained, or if the guards falsely swore to that promise simply so that I would hand over what was left of my money.
You have not met my niece. She is your cousin once removed. Her name is Élisabeth-Louise Moreau, the daughter of your grandmother's sister, Marie Moreau. I had met the woman only twice before she died, both times little Élisabeth-Louise had been very young. I have not seen this niece of mine for many years; I do not even know if she wants to see me, if she is in favor of all this… madness.
They executed the Duke of Orléans only a few days ago. And he was a Jacobin! To execute one of your own kind, what could that be but madness?
My own trial was a mockery of justice. How could I be accused of high treason? I am seventy-nine years old and I find standing up to be an immense struggle. What could I possibly do to them? What could I do to anybody? I am just a very tired, very old, old man.
I do not fear the coming dawn, though. I think if I am to be honest with myself I welcome it. I decided to write my last letter to you, Louis, because I think I owe you some sort of explanation. I have been your grandfather for all your eighteen years, and yet I do not think you know a single thing about me. I have not bothered to converse with you for any length of time, nor have I ever shown an interest in your life. To you I am just that ornery old man whom your mother makes you visit. And that is exactly what I am: a lonely and unpleasant old man who is unhappy with what God has given him.
That is not true. I have discovered that there is no God, dear Louis. It was a difficult lesson to learn, but I learned it well. No, I am unhappy with the what the Enchantress has given me. She is the only one I have ever known to possess such great power, cruel though she is in how she wields it.
Throughout my life I've had to watch those that I love die and perish all around me. For all I know you and your mother, my beautiful daughter, may be dead as well. I will be all that is left. Everyone dies and yet I remain. Here I am, almost eighty, and still healthy. What sort of irony is this?
Even my own wife, my beautiful, happy Belle, died before I. It was such a long time ago and yet I still feel the pain of it as keenly as I did then. I wonder if this was the sort of life the Enchantress intended for me. It was because of her that I met Belle, that I experienced the pain of falling in love. She gave me Belle and then she took her away, before we had even begun to live. She had such powerful magic; she could have snatched my wife from the jaws of death if she had wanted. But she had not. Or perhaps it is an even greater curse at work here, a curse not even the Enchantress can break, a curse that destroys anyone who would dare to love me. So I kept my distance from both you and your mother.
I admit that it was cowardly of me.
I know this letter will do nothing to make up for the coldness that I have treated you with, but perhaps it would give you a little comfort. Or perhaps not. I seem to remember my Belle writing a series of letters to your mother, to console her for the time that they would miss. I gave them to your mother on her sixteenth birthday, and yet years ago when I came across them in a chest the seal had remained unbroken. She had never even opened them. I do not know where they are now, or I would have given them to you. You may choose not to read this either, but I do not have anything else.
Let me first begin this letter by stating who I am. I am Louis d'Alençon, the son of Charles de France and his wife, Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans.
I am the Duke of Berry.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
First, you must never forget where you came from. You must always remember that you are descended from royalty. Upon the morn I will meet Madame Guillotine, and you, my grandson, will be the tenth Duke of Berry.
My father was Charles de France, and his father was Le Grand Dauphin, and his father was the great King Louis XIV, the Sun King. Do not forget your lineage! Though I have not seen you for some years now I have heard tales enough from your mother. A young man of only eighteen and already your name is quite well-known amongst the women of Paris. Even I, locked away in my desolate chateau, have heard rumors. They say you spend your days in leisure, hunting with your dogs for either bushytailed foxes or wide-eyed maids. The quarry dependent solely upon the setting. What have you been doing with your life, dear Louis?
The Jacobins have even claimed that your traps ensnared our late Queen Marie Antoinette. This, at least, I know to be an untruth, despite any claim you may put forth by your own pride. Our King and Queen had not been especially intelligent and they certainly had not been great rulers, but the love between them had been genuine. I had entered their presence on a few occasions and I saw well the shared looks between these two simple-minded fools.
Versailles has become nothing but a city of fools. It has been that way for a long, long time. Longer than I have been alive. My great-grandfather, the Sun King, built the palace. He had designed the palace so that all the nobles of France may reside there, under his ever watchful eye, leaving these once great men impotent and weak. Though the Sun King had faults a plenty idiocy was not one of them. There had never been a king like Louis XIV and there never shall. If we are ever united under one king again, that is.
My grandfather, on the hand, had not taken after his father. Le Grand Dauphin thought of nothing but the hunt, much in the same way you do. Friendly and generous, he was indeed, without a hint of maliciousness, but it was popularly stated that putting your ear to his head would yield the same results as if you had done the same to a seashell. A lot of whistling and the sound of waves, but not much else. My father was very similar to Le Grand Dauphin. Cheerful, the courtiers cried, and the people praised him for his generosity. But deep conversation was not to be expected when one conversed with Charles de France.
Of course, I know this simply because it was what was told to me. I never knew my grandfather or my father. Both died before I was born. I was born on October 29, 1714 at the Palace of Versailles, five months after the death of my father. My father, ever the avid hunter as his father had been, perished from being thrown from his horse during the chase. Of course my father's death was but one in many.
Some whispered of a curse. I believe it so. What else could explain it? How could the House of Bourbon, famous for producing so many sons, nearly become extinct within a few short years? First came the death of Louis XIV's heir, my grandfather Le Grand Dauphin, in 1711. Then, but a year later, my aunt, the mother of my cousin King Louis XV, was bedridden with smallpox. My uncle devoted himself to her care, never leaving her side, until he too fell ill. Both died. Their two children, including the King, also became ill with smallpox. The King's elder brother died when the doctor bled him too much; the King had almost been lost to the same fate had not his governess, Madame de Ventadour, fled with him in her arms from the mad doctor and hid within the palace.
I was spared from the disease for I had not lived at Versailles at the time. I remained in the company of my mother, Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans, residing at a number of palaces during these years including Luxembourg Palace, the Chateau de la Muette, and the Chateau de Muedon. After the death of Louis XIV and the ascension of the child-king Louis XV, we lived quite splendidly. My mother's father, Philippe d'Orléans, was regent to the new king and gave my mother a handsome salary every year. I traveled with my mother from palace to palace and banquet to banquet. I do not remember much of this time; the memories seem clouded as though in a fog. I just seem to remember a feeling of deep loneliness, of a sharp image of an empty playroom with no one but myself and a distant figure of a woman – my governess, I am sure, for it most certainly was not my mother. My mother was an intelligent, but arrogant woman, her excessive pride condemned by those who knew her. Never had there been a woman so sure of her own greatness, of her own goodness, of her own beauty and wit and high-born manner. She was indolent and apathetic, and the deplorable manner in which she neglected her child was decried by those at Versailles. In terms of personality I am most like my mother. I had heard that my mother's marriage to my father had been happy in the first few months, before she had turned on him like a coiling viper. I do not know if she had ever loved him, or even if she came to care for him, for I lost even her after a few short years.
My mother secretly married the Chevalier de Rion, much to the displeasure of my maternal grandfather. She died when I was five years old after giving birth to a still-born daughter. She had been twenty-three.
I was sent to Tuileries Palace after her death to be raised by my grandfather, the Regent. Unlike my mother, my grandfather was a dedicated administrator who strove to do good works. He attempted to restore power to the nobility that had been so long denied by the Sun King, only to discover that France's aristocrats were inept at making any sort of decision that did not involve deciding what color they would wear for the next ball. He did a great many other things, such as establishing an alliance between France and England whose histories had been soaked in each other's blood.
My grandfather loved me in a way that my own mother was incapable of. I am deeply grateful for the care with which he raised me, though I must admit I was not as appreciative of his tutelage at the time. I was too damaged, I suppose, just a bit too broken. Nearly every single person who came near me perished within such a short time. What was a child supposed to think of this? I could not bring myself to trust my grandfather or to indulge in his love for me. I knew instinctively that he would be lost to me and I did not want to feel that pain again. I remember how I would obsessively wonder if he would return whenever he would journey somewhere, so convinced was I that he would become lost and never find his way back home.
Not only did my grandfather raise me, but he reared the young King Louis XV as well. After the death of the Sun King, my cousin ascended to the throne at the tender age of five. He was only four years my senior and yet we did not spend much time together. It is perhaps because he was so very good. Or maybe, it was just that I was so very bad as a child. Now that I am an old man, I can admit that I was jealous of this cousin of mine. He was so close to my grandfather and I never knew how to gain that attention. Little did I know that I already had it! I threw terrible tantrums and bullied those around me, determined to get my way in everything. Regardless, Louis XV and I were usually apart, he with his duties as king and I busy with my fights. Still there was an odd sort of affection between us, one that was forged with the knowledge that we were both orphans. I think when I disappeared it was my dear cousin who took the news the hardest.
The one person whom I allowed myself to become close to was my tutor, Monsieur William Cogsworth. He was an Englishman and a Protestant, a shocking combination for the courtiers no doubt. I do not know how my grandfather came to be acquainted with such a man, only that he was quite impressed with his great intellect. I was less enthusiastic on the subject. I am no great scholar, something that no doubt exasperated Cogsworth. He drilled French, Latin, and English into my thick skull as well as geography, arithmetic, poetry, and French history. He attempted to teach me Greek but I threw my slate at his head. I was such a terrible student and would often bully the poor man. I do not know why he remained friends with me, but I am glad he did so.
Despite the problems of my own making, I truly enjoyed my time at Tuileries Palace with my grandfather and cousin. When I think on what it means to be a man I think of my grandfather.
I remember the little things, of how I sat with Grandfather in his library while he silently read. I remember Cogsworth stuttering away in his funny, broken French. I remember a tiny little girl, the Spanish Infanta Marie Anne Victoire, toddling after her fiancé the king with such a look of love and awe. I remember the king's coronation after he had reached his majority and how he flew into my Grandfather's arms. I had been so bitterly jealous when I saw the love between them.
Mostly I remember Grandfather's funeral. He died in 1723 when I was nine years old. I had watched the black carriage that held his coffin as it traveled down the streets of Paris to the cathedral.
So, you see, dear Louis, the curse is not simply the delusions of an old man. I had not yet reached my tenth year and already I had lost everything. If only I knew there was more to come!
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Your grandmother was not the woman I was meant to marry.
After the death of the Regent, the King left Tuileries Palace for Versailles and I traveled with him. Originally Versailles had been nothing more than a poor country village until Louis XIV dreamt up the plans for the most magnificent of castles. Now it is the jewel of France, a glittering pleasure palace for those who hold the king's favor.
Or, it was, I should say.
Upon our arrival at Versailles, Louis XV's advisors – the Duke of Bourbon and Cardinal Fleury – immediately began their search for brides for my cousin and I. Louis XV already had a fiancée: the Spanish Infanta Marie Anne Victoire. She was but a child at the time and completely in love with my cousin. Louis XV was not amused by this at all. He was embarrassed by this little girl, the belle of the court. He was a young man of fifteen after all.
My cousin was not of hardy health and many of his courtiers feared he would perish before producing an heir. In this instance Marie Anne was most unsuitable. The Duke of Bourbon sent the Infanta back to Spain and began to search for a bride of a more suitable age. In addition, he found a bride for me as well seeing as how I had no parents to make a suitable match for me. Although the search for my wife was not as urgent as the one for Louis XV, it was no less important for if my cousin died without an heir the crown would then pass to me as next in line to the throne.
The woman the Duke of Bourbon chose for my cousin was Marie Leczinska, the daughter of the dethroned Polish King Stanislas I. Put upon the throne of Poland by the Swedes after the death of King August II, the king was soon ousted by the only legitimate son of the former king, August III. Afterwards father and daughter lived in poverty, and the future queen held no dowry to her name. When the Duke suggested the exiled princess the courtiers thought it to be a joke!
It was said that when Stanislas received the news he rushed to where his wife and daughter were embroidering. "Fall to your knees and give thanks to God!" He exclaimed.
"Are you to return to Poland as King?" His daughter demanded.
"No," Stanislas replied. "You are to go to France as Queen!"
Queen Marie was twenty-two when she married by fifteen year old cousin. She was good looking, I suppose, but not especially pretty nor was she particularly clever. She was simple and kind and pious. Despite the difference in age, Marie and Louis XV fell passionately in love the moment their eyes were laid upon the other. It was near impossible to tear the king away from his wife's arms.
The same could not be said when I looked upon my own bride for the first time.
The Duke of Bourbon chose for me Marie-Anne, the second daughter of Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor. I was twelve when she came to the French court and she eight. I remember she was a delicate-looking thing and quite pretty, but I cared for her not. At that age, I had no use for a girl and found her presence to be quite burdensome. I voiced my displeasure quite loudly. I insulted the poor girl and played practical jokes on her. Every time she attempted to join in on my solitary games I would flee from her and pretend she was a great and terrifying monster whose ugly countenance would turn any man into stone when looked upon.
I believe she hated me, not that I blamed her for it. As I left boyhood and became a man I continued to ignore her and sought out the company of other women. Women that I had deemed more entertaining than she. As you see, dear Louis, you and I are not so dissimilar. I was much the same as you are now.
We were to be married when I was eighteen and she fourteen. However, the marriage never occurred. Marie-Anne fell in love with Charles-Alexandre of Lorraine. He was a soldier and a military man, a good man of what little I knew. I was happy to be rid of her. By this time my cousin already had several children with his wife and their continued procreation was quite assured. France was no longer in danger and I had no desire to be tied down to a wife. I spent much of my time traveling with grand hunting parties through the forests, always looking for another sport, another distraction. I hosted balls and attended parties, always made sure that I was at the center of every conversation and that I had caught the eye of every beautiful woman. To be honest I disliked the courtiers and nobles that flocked around Versailles like so many shining birds. I daresay I even hated them. Simpering fools, hanging on to my every word. I mocked them, insulted them. I was a cruel man and I enjoyed it. Those idiots, they laughed as well. I think they delighted in my cruelty as much as I did. I am not afraid now to say that I prefer living a solitary existence, but when I was younger I was afraid to be alone. I would have rather surrounded myself with people I hated than to be alone. I think… I think I was afraid of people leaving me and never returning like so many had before. Of course people do not always come back. In fact, they rarely ever do. There are so many things that can separate you from those you love. Revolutions, entire oceans, and even death… You must learn to be content with your memories, Louis, for sometimes that is all that you are left with. Do not fear suffering or pain or loss for these are things that you cannot escape from. Everyone must suffer, everyone must experience pain, everyone dies. Take comfort from wherever you can find it and know that everyone on this earth has felt the way you have.
These Jacobins think that they can make me afraid by locking me up in this dungeon, but I have already endured imprisonment and isolation and came out the stronger for it. There is nothing that I fear any longer, not loneliness and certainly not death. For three whole years I remained trapped within the walls of my own castle, unable to even feel the touch of another human being. I had accepted the inevitable then and I can accept it now. It is not such a scary thing, dying.
It was the year 1732 and I was eighteen years old. It was early winter and I had traveled to the Chateau de Mehun-sur-Yévre, the ancestral castle of the Duke of Berry in order to see to the preparations for a Christmas feast that I would be hosting. I was without my usual retinue of gossipy courtiers; the only companions I had with me were Cogsworth who I had retained as a companion and a man that I had only recently met named François Lumière. Lumière was part noble, part scoundrel, part servant, part artist, and part vagabond. He was something of a mystery at the French court. He was a traveler, and spoke several languages liberally but never fluently. He knew of artists and writers and royalty. Sometimes he pretended to be a noble himself, but he could never maintain the ruse and was always chased away from the courts of Europe when the plot was discovered. By the time he arrived at Versailles he already had made quite a name for himself. He was determined that he should be employed in my household and I, taken in by his sincere and easy amiability, took him on as my official valet. It was only later that I discovered the reason behind his wish to be employed by me, but that is a story that I do not have the time to tell. The midnight blue sky is already fading to shades of purple and gray, heralding the return of the sun.
The very night that I arrived there was a terrible storm. An old beggar woman came to my door and asked to stay the night. When I was told this I laughed in the old woman's face. Her wrinkled yellow skin was cracked with lines and there wasn't a single tooth inside her mouth. She stank of death and old age. Again she asked, and again I turned her away.
Terror descended upon the castle that night.
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
There was a great and terrible wind.
It rattled the delicate glass within its black iron frame windows and with a great shuddering heave it threw open the grand, solid oak doors as though they were made of nothing but thin, waxy paper. And there, at the entrance, stood not a wizened old woman but a giantess. She was nearly seven feet tall with flaxen hair that spilled at her feet in waves. Atop her head was a crown and in her hand was a delicate wand. I had denied entry to an enchantress.
She glided through my castle as though her feet did not touch the ground, like some nightly apparition. Every man and woman she passed flinched in fear and horror as their bodies began to twist and change. Their feet became rooted to the ground, transforming them into glossy wood or carved stone or brittle porcelain. No one escaped her wrath, not the children and not the wide-eyed maids and not the old men. It mattered not whether they were innocent or guilty, only that I, their master, had offended her. She forced their bodies into the shapes of objects, of furniture and art.
I fell to my knees and prayed to God for the first time in all my eighteen years that night. I prayed to the Enchantress, to Jupiter and those old pagan gods, to anyone who might hear my pleas for mercy. My cries fell upon deaf ears, if those ancient deities ever existed which I do not believe they do. When the Enchantress came to me she lifted her wand as though to strike me down. I cringed as her wand fell, felt it touch the crown of my head. Immediately I could feel myself grow large and heavy. My mouth became crowded as my teeth grew long and sharp. I saw my hands – a man's hands, pale and smooth from a life of luxury – turn gnarled and thick with dark brown fur. It was a curse that I had brought upon myself, she had said to me, for my hubris and my vanity. I and my servants were to live in these unnatural bodies until I learned to love and be loved in return. Such was her judgment and condemnation.
She vanished, leaving behind a magic mirror and a single red rose as a symbol of her power, of time and love, of my imprisonment and freedom.
I was trapped in that chateau for six years. I, a prisoner in my own castle! I hid myself away, deep within the chateau's walls. I did not want to be seen. I was a beast, a monster, some creature that was part man, part wolf, and part boar. I was consumed by a dark depression. I was alone in my gray stone castle, my servants reduced to household objects, their voices echoing their pain and shame off the cold walls. I would not see another human face for years, not even my own. I came to believe that I deserved every moment of torment. If I am honest, I believe that still. I was told I was handsome in my youth and accepted those compliments with an air of entitlement. I was vain; a preening swan who had not yet realized that it was merely a duck. Even now when I walk past a mirror there are times when I am surprised that my reflected face bears no horns or fangs.
My cousin the King came in search of me when I failed to send word to Versailles. When he came to the Mehun-sur-Yévre he thought it to be empty and desolate. The servants were silent and unmoving and I was hiding away in a secret room, unseen by all. No one wanted to reveal their shame. I heard Louis XV call for me and the footfalls of his guards, but I refused to reveal myself. He eventually left and I wouldn't see him again for many years.
Six years! How could I describe my captivity to you, Louis? My thoughts pulled me down into a dark pit where no light could ever hope to reach me. I was a great lumbering beast with the visage of a monster. One time I broke a plate. The servants entrusted me with the task of freeing them. So long as I remained a beast, so they would remain mere objects. My housekeeper, an English woman by the name of Madame Potts, became their leader. She had a natural command: her left hand gentle, her right firm. It was borne from directing her legions of maids as a general commands his soldiers. When she entered my service she had a child with her, a son but two years old. He was not a boy any longer, but a tiny, delicate teacup. No mother could endure such a thing, and she was determined to break the spell by any means. She pleaded with me, argued with me, cajoled me; all in an attempt to force me out into the world, to try and find someone to love. I refused every time. One evening I raged against her, yelling abuse at my housekeeper. She was constantly pushing, always striving, and I was bitter. I threw my arms out in a wide gesture, still unused to my unnaturally large body. I knocked my giant paw against the table and down came crashing a plate. It shattered and at the silence that emanated from it I knew that whatever poor creature it had been was dead. I learned later that the plate had once been one of Madame Potts's scullery maids, a girl of only fourteen, dead and without a body to bury. If the servants had blamed me for her demise, they did not say it, although they were quieter, more cautious, and the porcelain more wary.
The years blur into one another, although even now with my memories tempered with time and age my imprisonment seemed long and arduous. From time to time young adventurers would steal inside the chateau, drawn to its mystery and the valuables left behind. There were rumors: that my ghost haunted the chateau, that I had sold my soul to the devil and the devil had taken both my castle and his due. I would frighten them away. If I was feeling particularly wrathful I would lock them in the dungeon for a month or two before chasing them out. I felt wronged and so I made it my mission to wrong those who would cross me. Then, one night, an old man entered my chateau. I locked him away, same as with so many others. Only this time a girl – his daughter – came in search for him.
She was a beautiful creature, but seemed rather nonchalant about this fact. That was always something that used to bother me. How could she be so unconcerned about her own loveliness? Didn't she know what it was like for those who were less fortunate? A pretty face was a gift, one that she would have squandered if she could had it been possible.
The woman's name was Belle de Villeneuve, your grandmother. I cared not for her name then, only that she could break the curse. I offered an exchange: her father's freedom for her imprisonment. She accepted readily.
Only once I had her I did not know what to do with her. It had been six years and even then I had never truly wooed a woman. I had done well, but only through my looks, on impressive displays of wealth, on cruel witticisms and aloof, untouchable behavior. I had neither looks nor money, and could not afford to be aloof. Most of the time I found myself trying to impress my will upon her as though she were one of my servants. She refused to obey me, often deliberately going against my wishes just to be spiteful. She would not be content until she had impressed her will onto me. It was the meeting of an unstoppable force against an unmovable object. We spent a great deal of our time arguing, but somehow through our verbal battles we grew to understand one another. Day in and day out we argued – or avoided each other because we were arguing – but after a week or two the fights became less heated. The anger was displaced by a sense of childish fun, turning our spats into games we would play. We became friends soon enough, but it was when Lumière, that consummate lover, who suggested I bequeath to her my library that our feelings began to change. She had so loved that library and every book held within was like a treasure to her.
Our parting was bittersweet. In those weeks together my friendship for her had bloomed into love. I had wished to proclaim my feelings to her and so planned a rather elaborate ball that January 6. I had been rather uncaring and harsh to her concerning her god that Christmas, and had wished to make it up to her. So, I sent her a formal invitation for a Twelfth Night celebration (not that I called it as such, even then I did not want to concede, but that was what it was). She was delighted by the whole affair. Together we feasted and danced, ringing in a close to those twelve days of Christmas. It was the perfect opportunity to tell her, but I was unsure and afraid. I had never been in love before and I did not think I was a creature that could be loved. I was not a man any longer and Belle… Belle was many things. She was this strange peasant philosopher, a girl that was extraordinary by any means. But she was a good woman, a good Christian, and I was an animal regardless of my speech and mannerisms. A love between us could not exist. Instead I asked her if she was happy with me and she told me yes. I was surprised and elated at first, unknowing that she would end that sentence in an "if only." I asked her what she desired and she told me she wanted to see her father once more.
The magic mirror that the Enchantress had given me held the power to show me anything I desired. I had never used it before I met Belle, for the only thing that I desired to look upon was my own true face and I had not the nerve to summon that image before me. I gave her the mirror as a parting gift and sent her away to be with her father. I freed her knowing that I would never see her again.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
A week passed before I saw my Belle again.
I can barely remember those days. I had given up completely on becoming a human when I let her go. I was completely empty, devoid of all signs of life. I knew my servants must have despaired, but I just couldn't bring myself to care anymore. Belle was simply no longer a means to an end. I saw her for the person she was, the person that I loved. Not some vague, unknown creature whose sole existence was to set me free of this curse. I would have gladly remained a Beast if I could have been with her.
Louis, I hope you find someone who is to you what your grandmother was to me. Someone to respect and admire. Someone whose thoughts and dreams are important to you, important enough to give yourself up to them.
I spent my days like the unknowing dead, like a shade from Homer's Odyssey, merely the afterthoughts of the man I was. But then there came a caller at my door.
Not my Belle, though. It was a man, a peasant in revolt who had brought with him his rabble. I was to later learn that this man was Gaston Avenant. He was handsome, more handsome than I was when I was young and human, but his mind was devoid of anything remotely good or interesting. I am no scholar; that position was held by my Belle. I hadn't the patience to pour over the dry rhetoric of all those philosophers she dearly loved. But even I, with my own resistance to education, was like Socrates to him. Avenant had pursued Belle unsuccessfully before she came to be with me, and when she tried to return to my castle he locked her away and was determined to destroy his rival by any means necessary. He had roused the nearby village into a frenzy, calling me the work of the Devil, and proclaimed my existence to be an affront to God.
Of course, I knew nothing of this at the time. I only knew that this peasant man had come to kill me. I didn't much care.
He burst through the doors and entered my rooms where I was immediately struck in the shoulder by one his arrows, and although it was painful it did little damage. My thick fur and skin kept the arrow from piercing deep into my flesh, leaving nothing but a minor flesh wound. Yet still I did nothing. He came at me, kicking and punching, but I refused to move. What did I care? It was only when I saw Belle rushing towards the castle doors did I begin to feel a little of myself return.
I heard her call out my name and before I knew or understood what was happening I was rising, fighting back against this inhuman monster.
His strength was no match against my own and I had beaten him back. I was willing to leave it at that, to let him go free. I had Belle and he did not and that satisfied me. I turned my back and he plunged a dagger into it.
Unlike the arrow, the steel blade made my entire body feel like it was on fire. My legs suddenly felt numb and I was no longer able to stand, my arms swinging wildly. I unknowingly knocked Avenant over the balcony, sending him to his death, and almost joined him myself had not Belle latched on to me. I felt… light and unsure. It was like I was underwater. I couldn't see Belle, but I felt her lips graze against my ear and heard her softly whisper "I love you."
Then I felt nothing at all.
When I awoke I was a man once more and Belle stood before me, frightened and unsure. I walked as though I was a newborn foal, unsteady upon my own feet. The feet that I had been born with! They were slender, like a human's, no broad pads and claws, no tail to keep my balance. I was dimly aware of the wet stone, shockingly cold, against my bare skin. I took a step forward and Belle took a step back. How ironic that she would advance towards a beast but shy away from a man! I did not know how to convince her that I was the same person that she had always known, but I found that I did not have to. I don't know what she saw in my face that made her see the truth, only that when she looked at me it was the same as she had always regarded me. It was a look of love.
The curse was lifted not only from my own body but from the bodies of my servants as well. No longer were they the twisted forms of some inanimate object, but human men and human women once more. Most fled the castle in search of loved ones they had not seen for many years, but a few stayed. Madame Potts and Lumière and, of course, my long faithful companion Cogsworth, they had all stayed.
Now that I was a man once more there was nothing to keep me locked within the castle walls any longer. I barely waited a week before I married my Belle.
We did not stay at the chateau for very long. I was restless and anxious; it had been years since I had seen anything other than the cold stone of Mehun-sur-Yévre. I needed to be free of it, to truly experience my emancipation. I sent word to Versailles that the Duke of Berry had returned and made my way there almost at once with my new bride by my side. I was aware that the fawning courtiers that lived inside the glittering palace of the king would not accept my bourgeoisie wife. It simply was not done and bordered on illegal. How could a simple plebian possibly be a Princess of the Blood? Perhaps she would have been accepted if we had had a morganatic marriage, the title of Duchess denied to her, our marriage a known secret. But I did not want that. If she was to be my wife then she was to be my wife in all things. I did not much care for what the courtiers said about us; my cousin the king did not deny our marriage and so it mattered little what they said. Louis XV always was a bit of a romantic.
I had forgotten though just how vicious Versailles could be. Belle was dazzled by it, and there is no denying that Versailles is luminescent. But underneath the beautiful and charming veneer there lies a dark sneering emptiness, full of hate and bitterness and boredom. You, yourself Louis, should know all about that. I found that I could no longer understand my peers, my own relatives. Even my cousin seemed so strange to me. All those rules, and manners, how to sit, how to drink, who to speak to whom and who not to speak at all. It was all so arbitrary. I felt as though I were in some faraway place, China or Japan perhaps, trying to understand their foreign language and strange customs. For six years I had wanted nothing more than to be free of Mehun-sur-Yévre, but then at Versailles all I wanted was to be back home. I hid myself away most of the time, only dragging myself away from the sole company of my wife when the King demanded it of me. Belle attempted to maintain appearances, but the stifling controlled life of Versailles wore her down as well. The final blow came during the war with Austria when my wife spoke her support for the new queen, Marie-Thérèse. The Comte de Charolais hurled insults her and I stepped up to defend my wife's honor. There was a duel and I came away relatively unscathed, although you wouldn't have known if you had heard your grandmother speak of the incident. The Comte was injured in the leg and never walked the same again. As punishment for destroying the tranquility of Versailles, my cousin banished me from his palace. Belle and I returned to Mehun-sur-Yévre and there has never been a time that I had been so happy as then.
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
I suppose it should not have come as a surprise that I would lose my Belle so soon. One would think I would have been prepared for it. Still, to know that something is true is not the same as accepting it as true. I knew – how could I not? – that the Enchantress's curse still followed my footsteps like some long-forgotten ghost. The thought seemed to haunt me. Behind every happy smile of mine there was the knowledge that this would all one day end.
On February 12 in the year 1746 your mother was born. To be honest, Louis, I was terrified. Childbirth is not glamorous, or magical, or beautiful. It is frightening. Madame Potts had tried to persuade me to leave, claiming it was not right for a man to be there in that realm of women, but I would not abandon my wife in her hour of need. The blood and fluid that heralded your mother's arrival shook me to my soul. I did not know how any creature could survive it. My own mother had not. But to my Belle? It seemed to be but a trivial matter to her for she was laughing and smiling before the hour was out. I could not believe my good fortune that I had not lost her.
I began to wonder if perhaps I feared nothing but shadows. I had paid my penance after all, why would I not be given my so desired happily ever after?
But, of course, it was not to be. Less than a year after your mother's birth my Belle died. She had survived so much, only to be defeated by cold winter rain and a cough. We were out riding and should have sought shelter when the rain came, but we did not. It was such a simple choice, a thoughtless decision. To think a lifetime of loneliness sprung from a few hours of joy.
What am I to say after this? Your grandmother held my world in the palm of her hand. Your mother, my Rose, needed her father then but I could not bring myself to the task. I did not know what to do with her, to love her as she needed to be loved. With Belle it had seemed so easy, but without her I was lost. I spent my days in the garden, perfecting the flowers that bloomed there. Your grandmother had had her library, and I my garden. The task of gardening soothed my trouble mind. I could forget anything.
However, soon I would be forced to face my responsibilities. In 1748 my good friend Lumière died, followed by Madame Potts in 1751. Since Belle's death Madame Potts had become Rose's nurse. She cared for the girl, soothed her and loved her as deeply as she had her own son. Their deaths were hard to bear so soon after having lost Belle. At Madame Potts's funeral I looked at my daughter who stood beside me, this solemn little creature with brown eyes, and realized that I did not know anything about her. I made a promise then to be a better father to her.
That same year Louis XV invited me back to Versailles. Invite would not be the correct word, in truth. One did not simply say "no" to the King of France. I returned to Versailles, bringing with me Rose, Cogsworth, and a maid named Babette who had been Lumière's faithful paramour for so many years. She had been trapped within the chateau during my enchantment as well and I felt obligated to give her a comfortable existence for the rest of her life.
My return to Versailles was not well met. I'm afraid your mother and I were not well-liked at court, although you probably know all about that. Did you know they used to call your mother "the little nun of Versailles"? Your mother is a dour creature, severe and serious who never smiles without a reason to. So unlike my dreamy Belle. Rose looks so much like her, very beautiful and graceful, but with none of her mother's spirit. At the tender of age of five she would chide the courtiers for their childishness, for laughing too loud, for their silly games. What a sight that was to see! I found it humorous that this little doll of a girl said out loud what I am sure many were thinking. Of course if your mother was the nun of Versailles, they called me the old hermit. I was generally ignored by the populace, save for my cousin, and that suited me fine. I lived a quiet, solitary existence and I was quite happy with that. I only wished that I had a garden, to give me something to fill my hours with. But then it isn't proper for a Duke to go digging through the Versailles dirt, is it? That was what the gardeners were for, the commoners.
Life was boring; although I'm sure you'll find that hard to believe. The pleasures of Versailles are well-suited to your tastes, dear Louis. Very little happened to me while living there. I heard that Chip, Madame Potts's son, had joined the French navy and was captured by the British at New France in 1755 where he was held as a prisoner of war. My ever faithful companion Cogsworth died in 1762. Two years later in 1764 your mother married your father. I was quite shocked to learn of Rose's chosen husband. To be honest, I was surprised that she had chosen to marry at all. I was convinced that she would be destined for a nunnery. Like me you never knew your father. Your father was Louis Charles de Bourbon, Count of Eu. He was the bastard son of King Louis XIV and Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon and was already 63 when your mother married him. I knew little of your father. Like me he was a solitary creature who preferred to remain on his Chateau d'Anet where he spent his days hunting and supporting his many charities. I heard that he was well-liked by the common people and very generous with his wealth and kindness. Your father died at the age of 75, two months before you were born. I express my utter surprise at your conception.
After your mother's marriage I left Versailles to retire to my Chateau de Mehun-sur-Yévre with only dear Babette as a companion. After the deaths of so many of our friends and loved ones we had become close. There were many rumors amongst the courtiers that I was having an affair with my maid, but it was not true. She was merely a comfort to me and a dear friend. I had ensured her a life of luxury in my will if she was to outlive me, but she did not. She died in 1782. Of course you know that my cousin, Louis XV, died in 1774. When I heard it was smallpox I was surprised and yet, in a way, I wasn't. The Curse of the Bourbons had haunted us, what else would kill my dear cousin but the same disease that murdered his entire family? The disease he barely escaped from as a young child? When my cousin's grandson, Louis XVI, ascended he seemed so young to me although he was older than his grandfather when Louis XV came to the throne. That poor, stupid fool.
We have rarely seen each other during these past few years. You and your mother spend your time either at d'Anet or Versailles, while I remain at Mehun-sur-Yévre. I had preferred to be alone, but now as the time draws nigh I cannot help but look back in regret. If only I had not remained so wrapped up in my own anger and sorrow and loneliness. Would your mother have been happy? Would she have smiled more? Would you have been kinder? More thoughtful? I was terrified when I heard of the revolt and the deaths of our King and Queen. I feared for the lives of you and your mother. I fear for them now. Are you safe, Louis?
The time for all that has passed now. It is done and the light is beginning to peak through the dark sky. Élisabeth-Louise has failed to come.
With all my love,
The Duke of Berry
Louis clutched the folded parchment tightly in his fist as the cart parted the crowd. His legs shook in exertion from standing for so long in the bumping cart. He was tired, but that would soon be over.
The crowd jeered at him as the cart came to a stop and he was led out into the square. Before him stood the imposing Madame Guillotine, the source of France's fear and trepidation. As Louis was led up the steps he looked out into the crowd, the sea of dirty and angry faces swarming all around. Then his eyes fell upon her. How did the crowd not see her? She stood at least a foot taller than anyone else there. A crown sat delicately upon her yellow hair, so brilliant that it did not look real. It must have been one of her spells, a spell to shield her from all but his eyes. Why had she chosen now to come? All his life he had hated this woman, this Enchantress, and here she was. She had cursed him, in so many ways. Was she here to see it through? To see the end of the Bourbons? She did not look happy.
He saw her give him a sad smile. He did not know what it meant.
He was pushed to his knees and his head was fitted onto the board, blocking the Enchantress from his view. He hadn't had any last words. He stared down at the wooden floor of the execution block. He could see the knots and grains within the wood. He could count the lines.
Louis gripped the letter tighter.