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Beau and the Beast (Redux)

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This fairy tale begins, as do all good fairy tales, with an extraordinary young person, a boy barely matured into a man. He had been destined to be called Benjamin after his grandfather, but the midwife and the other women attending the birth insisted that he was quite the prettiest baby born in the village for at least a decade, and the exhausted mother could only agree with the sentiment, naming him Beau.

Beau grew up to be as beautiful as his name, in both mind and body. He was an active child, mischievous and full of energy, but also good-natured, kind, and intelligent.

His childhood was marred by the death of his mother. After a period of grieving, his father married a young widow from another village, and Beau was delighted to become an older brother to her newborn son, his sadness slowly dispelled by having a sibling.

Anakin was also active, mischievous, energetic, good-natured and kind, though he was far more inclined to question everything and to get into trouble exploring, so Beau found himself often fulfilling the obligations of an older brother, chasing his younger brother and occasionally lecturing him quite crossly.

The story begins on one of those days, when Beau was considered an adult while his brother was half his age, still a child, and had disappeared. Again, Beau muttered ruefully to himself, glad that he had spent much time in the forest, or else he would be unable to track Anakin. The other young men in the village tended to stay closer to home, and the known paths, and had not developed the same skills as the two brothers.

Anakin had been particularly tricky this time, Beau realized, studying the ground, which could have several meanings. He was either working on his own skills, or testing his older brother, or he was exploring somewhere he knew he shouldn't and trying to avoid being caught and scolded fiercely.

The last, Beau feared, as he accepted that Anakin was headed far into the forest, in the direction of the castle.

Their village owed fealty to the lord of the castle, but theirs was the smallest, humblest, and most distant of the villages, so had tended to be ignored by the lord except for an annual visit. This neglect had proved to be to the village's ultimate advantage. The lord had lost his wife and son in childbirth, disappearing into an extended period of mourning. He had never emerged again, and curious rumors had spread, that something horrible had happened to him. No substantial information emerged, but the visits never resumed and the other villages suffered from the lack of the lord's presence and leadership. Beau's village had decided to hold an annual festival and market day to celebrate the coming of spring at the time that the lord would normally have visited, so their lives continued relatively undisturbed.

Anakin had been strictly forbidden to travel this far, for there were numerous dangers in the forest, wild beasts and highwaymen. The path was rutted and overgrown in places, winding through huge oak trees that occasionally blocked the sun. Squirrels scolded Beau for his invasion of their territory, and a variety of birds trilled their songs at him, though fortunately he encountered no large animals. He found some berries growing in wild thickets along the way to calm the growling of his stomach. As the day passed into evening and Beau's feet grew sore in his boots, Anakin's disappearance became more and more worrisome and the prospect of chastising him more appealing. Beau might even be forced to accompany the normal scolding with a spanking, to ensure Anakin's attention and obedience. He wondered what Anakin could have been thinking, to travel such a long way. Even if he reached the castle, the lord was unlikely to welcome an inquisitive peasant child.

Anakin's trail did indeed lead directly to the castle, and Beau paused outside its metal gates, both in dismay at Anakin's foolishness and amazement at the sight of the magnificent building. The white stone structure was tall and imposing, much grander than the village's plain cottages. The metal gate circled the castle, but to Beau's surprise, it wasn't locked, opening with a squeak at his touch. He entered the courtyard, shutting the gate behind him, and approached the castle, surprised that no servants interrupted his progress. It had been many years since he saw the lord, but he vividly remembered that there were always a slew of servants fussing around him.

Tentatively, Beau opened the castle door, calling out, "Mesdames? Messieurs? Anakin, are you here?" No one answered, so he stepped inside, after making sure his green tunic and brown breeches were straight, and trying to brush the forest dirt off his boots. Though he was only a peasant, he did not want to be disrespectful. "Mesdames? Messieurs? Anakin? Anakin, come here right now!"

Still no answer, so Beau advanced further in, torn with worry and the amazement he'd felt at seeing the castle exterior. The inside was even more beautiful, with graceful furniture, elegant tapestries, and thick rugs, the likes of which Beau had never even imagined and could not bear to step upon, walking around them. He was surprised though, at the castle's condition, once he had recovered somewhat from his awe and studied his surroundings with a more critical eye. The castle was clearly maintained, but only to a limited extent. Dust had accumulated on the furniture, some of which looked like it had been broken and repaired, and the tapestries and rugs could have used a good beating. If one of the women in the village were so careless of her housekeeping, she would find herself the object of derision from the others.

Finally, to his relief, he heard Anakin's voice answer one of his calls, and a fair head appeared at the top of the grand staircase. "Beau! You must come see this!"

"Anakin!" Beau called sharply. "We are not supposed to be here. Come down at once."

"You have to see this!" Anakin insisted, and then he disappeared, effectively ending the conversation.

The strap, Beau decided darkly. Anakin had been too coddled, and had never known its sting. Still, he ran up the staircase, accepting that he would have to grab hold of Anakin before he could drag him off.

The room Anakin had disappeared into was the most amazing of all, a room in one of the towers, its rounded walls covered with specially built bookcases, full of more books than Beau had ever seen in his life. Several large windows with glass in them allowed in plenty of light, revealing a table with several items on it in the middle of the room, two comfortable yet elegant chairs by the fireplace, and hanging over the mantle, a portrait of the lord. Two swords hung crisscrossed under the painting.

"Look, it's a chess set! Have you ever seen the like?"

Beau glanced at where Anakin was pointing, seeing a chess set as similar to the one they owned as a swan was to a duck.

"And this!" Picking up a long object, Anakin held it out to Beau. "It lets you see far away things close. It must have been designed by a wizard."

"Anakin, that belongs to the lord. We may be in his study. Put everything back where you found it. We must leave immediately."

"That's the lord?" Anakin stood in front of the fireplace, gazing at the portrait. "I only remember him a little bit."

"You were very young when he stopped visiting the village." Beau frowned at the portrait, realizing that it appeared to have been ripped across the middle and repaired. Had it been moved at some time, and dropped? He wouldn't have thought the lord's servants would be so careless with his portrait, not that it was any of his concern. But what about the furniture downstairs, that had been in a similar condition? What had happened here to cause the lord to go into seclusion? "Now let me have this." He took the long object from Anakin's hands, setting it back down within the dust outline.

"He looks very nice. Very wise."

"He was said to be both of those things. Now come." He reached for Anakin's hands, but the slippery child was on the other side of the table, picking up the white king.

"Look at this. Look at its carving. And it's stone. How long do you think it took to carve something like this in stone?"

Sighing, Beau grabbed the king and set it back in its place. "Right now, I neither know nor care. There are no servants here, Anakin. No people. Something isn't right. We must leave before we are discovered."

"You should have been so wise half an hour ago, before you invaded my castle," a voice said from the doorway, dangerous and smooth. Beau froze in horror, for he remembered that voice from when the lord would give a speech before the feast. Couldn't a servant have caught them?

To his surprise, Anakin looked absolutely petrified. He'd expected Anakin to be respectful and slightly apologetic, but still cheeky and inquisitive, not frightened into stone with wide eyes and trembling lips. What had happened to the lord?

Steeling his nerve, Beau turned, speaking as he did. "My Lord, we humbly beg – " but the lord wasn't in the doorway. Instead, it was a beast, unlike any Beau had ever seen. In form, it resembled a man, but the body was covered in brown fur with gray on the tips. It was huge, its head touching the top of the doorway, and the claws on its hands and feet were long and sharp. Its eyes were a clear crystal blue, but narrowed into slits, and it had a snout where its nose should be, with a mouth full of dangerous teeth. Oddly, it wore a long brown cape, tied at its neck and draping down to its knees.

"Anakin." Beau spoke firmly, and Anakin moved jerkily to stand by him. Giving him one squeeze on the shoulder for reassurance, he yelled, "Anakin, run!" With that instruction, Beau lowered his head and ran straight at the beast.

Though the fearsome monster was much larger than Beau, it was taken off guard, and Beau's momentum forced it to fall backwards to the floor. Unable to stop himself, Beau fell too, sprawling on the top of the beast; cheered as he felt the imprint of Anakin's boot on one calf as his brother ran over the tangled pair and rushed down the stairs.

Anakin would escape. He was a fast runner and would keep going until he reached the village. Whatever happened to Beau, his brother would be safe.

Leaping up, Beau attempted to flee, but one clawed paw circled his ankle, yanking him down, and Beau found himself rolled and pinned to the ground, a snarling nightmare of a face growling at him. He struggled, but his strength was useless compared to the beast's.

To his dismay, he heard a man's voice calling to the lord, and Anakin's shrill, "Let me go, let me go." A baldheaded man with skin as black as the night dragged Anakin up the stairs. "My Lord, what is happening here? I caught this boy fleeing the castle."

"They intruded into my study," the beast said, forcing Beau to his feet, holding onto his wrists. "They dared to invade the beast's castle to satisfy their curiosity."

"Sir," Beau addressed the dark man, who seemed to be in league with the beast, but was at least a man. "I beseech you. My brother is young. We meant no harm. Please let us go."

The dark man frowned at him, but didn't speak, looking at the beast to reply.

"I am lord and master here. You should seek my forgiveness, not his."

Was this beast truly the lord? Transformed by a curse of some devilish sort? An animal who had been a man? "My Lord," Beau addressed the beast respectfully. The beast's paws were like iron bands around his wrists, and the dark man was much larger than Anakin. They could not escape these two. "We meant no harm or disrespect. Please let us go."

"So you can return to your village and regale them with tales of the monstrosity you found? I think not. I will not be mocked."

"We will say nothing, my Lord. Nothing. You have my word."

"The word of a peasant," the beast sneered.

"I will swear it on my mother's grave. We will say nothing to anyone."

"Why should I believe you?"

Beau's temper was typically slow to rise, but he felt it now, shoving aside the fear and desperation, stiffening his spine. "I may only be a peasant, my Lord, but I am not a liar and I would never dishonor the woman who gave me birth."

With a suddenness that allowed Beau no time to attempt anything, the beast released one of Beau's wrists, catching both in one paw, using his freed claws to delicately scrape the length of Beau's face from temple to chin. He didn't use enough pressure to break the skin, but enough to make Beau shiver with awareness of the beast's ability to be dangerous, and quite likely deadly. "You are the beautiful one, the one who was to be called Benjamin. I remember you."

"Yes, my Lord. I am Beau and this is my brother, Anakin."

"Do you think me a fool? You offer to swear on your mother's grave but she is not his mother, is she? Why should her grave guarantee his silence?"

"Anakin is a very good child, my Lord. He will say nothing."

"Why? Because you tell him to? Do you think I haven't been watching both of you since you entered the castle grounds? If he was such a biddable child, then neither of you would be here."

Beau was unable to stop himself shooting a look at Anakin, which he was afraid revealed the accuracy of the beast's guess. Whatever curse had transformed the lord into a monster had clearly not diminished his memory or logic.

"You will stay here."

The suggestion shocked Beau, who was unsure what he meant. "My Lord?"

"You will stay here, as my companion. If no rumors of my appearance begin, then I will know he has stayed silent and I may release you. Eventually."

"No! You can't keep my brother prisoner!" Anakin struggled against the dark man, but was held securely, though the man did wince as Anakin's boots connected with his calf.

The beast reached out, grabbing Anakin's chin in one paw. "You will learn the value of silence and doing what you are told, or your brother will suffer the consequences."

Giving a strangled sob, Anakin stopped fighting, staring helplessly at the beast.

"Mace will escort you home. You will tell your parents that your brother was offered a position in my guard and accepted. His training and duties will prevent him from visiting for quite some time. You will say nothing to them of my condition. Do you understand?"

"Yes, my Lord."

Releasing Anakin's chin, the beast brought his nails down the length of Beau's arm, shredding the green cloth into strips, leaving his flesh exposed but unmarked. "Do you understand the ways in which your brother could pay for any disobedience on your part?"

"Yes, my Lord," Anakin whispered softly, his face revealing his fear as he studied the destroyed fabric.

"Good. Escort him home," he ordered Mace.

"Wait please." Beau tugged against the paws that held him. "Let me say goodbye."

The beast released his hands, and Beau rushed to hug his brother, squeezing him fiercely. "Be good, Anakin."

"I'm sorry, Beau. I'm sorry. I'll free you," Anakin promised. Beau had the dreadful feeling that he meant in some way other than doing as the beast demanded, but was afraid to say anything overt.

"Take care, Anakin. Take care and I will be back with you soon."

Then Mace and Anakin left, and Beau was alone with the beast. "My Lord," he said stiffly, and waited.

"Follow me," the beast said, and with a swirl of his cape, headed down the hallway. Beau did as he was bid, until the beast reached a door and pushed it open. "You will sleep here." Beau stepped inside, careful not to get too close to the beast, to find a bedroom dominated by a huge bed in the middle, with two matching chests of drawers. "It is late. We will talk in the morning." The beast shut the door, though to his relief, Beau did not hear it lock. He wasn't going to try to escape, but he didn't want to feel more of a prisoner than he was. Numb with shock at the events that had transpired, he sat on the edge of the bed, noticing for the first time a floor-length mirror in a wooden frame. The glass was spidered with cracks, as if someone had hit it once in the center, but Beau could see himself well, his long hair disheveled from the fight, his face dismayed, the plainness of his clothes making him look like an intruder in this magnificent castle.

Wearily, Beau began to pull off his boots. He was a captive for now, and a tired one. At least sleep would fix one problem.

~~~

In the morning, Beau was denied any chance to pretend that yesterday was a dream, for he had never slept on sheets so fine or under blankets so warm. Nor in a bed so dusty, he thought as he sneezed. Neither his nor Anakin's mothers would have allowed their bedding to reach such a state, but the castle seemed to lack any servants except the dark man.

To his surprise, there was a bowl of warm water outside his door, and a pile of clothes. Left by the lord or the dark man? He removed yesterday's clothes and washed quickly, before dressing. The tunic was blue silk, coming to the top of his thighs, and there were gray leggings rather than breeches, old-fashioned clothing. Perhaps the lord's when he was growing up? Certainly they had belonged to a member of the family, and not a servant.

Venturing downstairs, Beau headed toward the back of the castle, hoping to find the kitchen, as his stomach was reminding him that he had gone to bed without dinner. His belief that there was only one servant proved wrong as he entered the kitchen to see an elderly plump woman and a young blond girl having breakfast with the dark man.

"Oh my! He is as handsome as you said." The elderly woman leaped up from her meal to approach him and pinch his cheeks, a familiarity Beau accepted with good grace. Growing up as the most beautiful child in the village, his cheeks had been pinched often by the village women. "Though handsome is as handsome does. What sort of man are you?"

"Madame?" Beau asked, uncertain what she meant. He tried to be a good man, to respect his parents and God, and to take care of his brother. Was that not what everyone strived for?

"He accepted being held as surety for his younger brother's silence," the dark man said without obvious approval, "so he is at least self-sacrificing and not a coward."

"I could do no less for my brother. No one could," Beau said staunchly. "He is back safe with our parents?"

"Yes, your brother has been delivered home. And you have lived a sheltered life, if you believe that most people would sacrifice themselves for a member of their family. I am Mace Windu." The man bowed his head in welcome, with a small change to his expression that might almost have been a smile, and Beau bowed his head back, grateful for the kindness. "And this is Madame Yolanda and Siri."

Yolanda gave him an unexpectedly strong hug while Siri bobbed her head in greeting, still eating her porridge.

"Eat breakfast, you must," Yolanda said, serving him a large bowl of porridge.

Beau took a place at the kitchen table. This room reminded him more of home than any other he'd seen in the castle, but even here the furnishings were more elaborate, latticework carved around the edges of the wood table and chairs. There were no signs of neglect in this room, as there had been in the rest of the castle. "Thank you, Madame," he said, even more grateful when she set a cup of tea from India with a dollop of cream next to his bowl. "And thank you," he directed to all three of them, "for the clothes."

"The master ordered me to find clothes for you," Siri said. "There's a whole bunch of them stored in the attics. They're too nice for us to wear."

Finding out that the beast considered practical matters and seemed to have a concern that he be comfortable was reassuring. "They are too nice for me too, but I am grateful to have them." Glancing at all of them, he said, "May I ask – how do you come to be here? How many others are there?"

"There are only the three of us," Mace answered. "We are all who stayed loyal to the lord after his transformation." His tone indicated displeasure with those who had fled. "Madame Yolanda takes care of the kitchen and the food, while Siri cleans the castle as best as one person can. I do what I can to take care of the grounds and animals, and conduct the lord's business."

"And the master – how did – what happened to him?"

"The lord's business is his own, and he will tell it to you if he pleases. Or not." Mace's words were a rebuke, reminding Beau of his place, and Beau flushed but didn't protest, eating his porridge. At least he wasn't to be starved or imprisoned, and had some companions besides the beast.

"The lord can be very scary, but he can be very nice," Siri offered. "It's the transformation. It makes him quite cross at times."

"Yes. I did notice that," Beau replied dryly, but he smiled to take any sting from his words. "How am I to help with the household?" he asked Mace.

"You are not. You are not a servant here. The lord made that quite clear."

"I am accustomed to working, Monsieur Mace."

"You are to report to the lord in his study after you have eaten. You will do as he dictates."

The porridge, which had tasted excellent, was suddenly thick and lumpy, but Beau finished the bowl, sure that he would need sustenance to face the beast.

~~~

"My Lord? Monsieur Mace said I should report to you this morning." Beau hovered in the doorway, the same doorway where he'd first seen the beast yesterday, desperately wishing he'd been able to drag Anakin away. The beast was curled on the rug in front of the fire, even more intimidating with the bright morning sun shining through the windows, making his fur glow.

"You recognized the chess set yesterday. Do you play?" the beast asked, rising from the rug.

"My Lord?"

"Chess. Do you play?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"Decently, I hope, but beggars cannot be choosers. Sit. You may have white."

Relieved but uncertain, for playing chess had not passed his mind as a possible first chore, Beau sat as directed in one of the chairs, which had already been moved close to the table. He studied the board, a little bemused at the fact that he was about to play a game of strategy with a creature covered in fur.

"Well? How long does it take you to decide on your first move?" the beast snapped, making Beau instantly move a pawn in a conventional gambit, wishing that he knew how well the beast played.

Disconcertingly well and very quickly, proved to be the answer as the beast checkmated him in a disgracefully short number of moves. He never sat, but prowled around the room, his cape swishing around his long limbs, barely glancing at the board before making his moves.

"You know the basics at least," the beast noted, tipping over the white king, and Beau felt his pride rise.

"I am not at my best this morning, my Lord. I can play better."

The beast placed his paws flat on the table, his blue eyes staring intently into Beau's. "Always play your best. Always."

"Yes, my Lord," Beau agreed obediently. "Will you allow me the chance to redeem myself?"

One of the beast's ears flicked. "You may have white again."

"Thank you, my Lord." Beau reset the pieces, noting that the beast did not try to help. Because Beau was the servant or because he didn't want to harm the pieces? He had handled each one carefully as he made his moves, as if he was cautious not to scratch them with his sharp claws. Beau felt a great rush of pity for the lord, a human mind and soul, capable of logic and reason, trapped in the body of a monster. He wanted to ask the beast questions, to find out how he had been transformed, but hesitated. As Mace had reminded him, it was the lord's decision whether to provide information to his captive.

Still, Beau studied the board, planning strategy in his mind, hoping that if he proved a worthy adversary in the game, the master might trust him and reveal some measure of what had happened to him.

~~~

The day had gone better than he expected, Beau reflected as he readied for bed. He and the beast had played four games, each one taking a longer amount of time as Beau learned how the master's mind worked, adjusting his strategy accordingly.

Unfortunately, the master had not unbent enough to tell Beau anything about himself, though he had asked a number of questions, mostly about Beau's knowledge and what he had learned growing up in the village. At first, Beau had thought that the master was determining how else Beau could be a useful companion to him. That supposition did not seem reasonable though, as not all the questions involved activities. How developed was Beau's ability to read and write? What did he know of literature, of mathematics, the sciences? Did he ride, hunt, could he shoot a bow? Could he dance?

The questions had been asked carelessly, impatiently, but the beast's mastery of chest revealed a keen and sharp mind. He had a purpose for his questions, even if Beau could not determine it. Beau answered honestly, thoroughly, aware that while his learning was considered quite significant for his village, he probably seemed like an ignorant peasant to the lord.

Confused by the day's events and mentally drained, Beau felt asleep swiftly, still thinking of the lord.

~~~

Beau assumed that the chess games would resume the next day, so was surprised when the beast pointed to a book and demanded that Beau read aloud. The book was on natural philosophy, and contained much advanced knowledge and many strange ideas. He stumbled over a few words, but soldiered on until his voice threatened to give out. The beast paced the room or stared out the window, listening.

"You stopped reading." The beast whirled away from the view. "Continue."

Beau struggled to wet his lips. "Yes, my Lord." His stomach chose that moment to rumble in protest at the length of time since breakfast.

"You are hungry."

"I am fine, my Lord."

"Do not lie to me," the beast roared.

Beau felt singed by the blast of his hot breath. "No, my Lord. I mean, yes, my Lord. I am a bit hungry. But I can continue."

"Be silent," the beast commanded, and Beau felt an unusual resentment at the contradictory instruction. He didn't have time to say anything though, as the beast prowled into the hallway, yelling for Madame Yolanda to bring lunch for Beau. The beast entered the room, going to stand by the window again.

Grateful for the respite, Beau set the book on the table, folded his hands in his lap, and waited. Madame Yolanda appeared shortly with a tray filled with cold meat, cheese, bread, a red apple, and a restoring glass of wine.

"You do not eat, my Lord?" Beau asked, noting the lack of a second plate. He began to devour the food in an unseemly fashion.

"I eat alone," the beast said shortly, and Beau wondered how difficult his teeth and paws made eating with human utensils. The beast came close to Beau, sprawling on a chair. "You read well, but you do not know all the words."

"No, my Lord," Beau agreed, happy for once that obedience meant he could answer briefly and keep eating.

"Do you understand the concepts?"

"Generally yes, my Lord." With his attention on his plate, it was easy to forget that he was talking to a beast. His voice was lovely, deep but with a pleasant lilting quality.

"But you have questions?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"From now on, you shall ask your questions when they arise, and you shall say when you are hungry."

"Yes, my Lord," Beau agreed, happy to have permission. His father had always said that the nobility wanted obedience, not questions, but the lord was clearly an unusual noble, in mind as well as body.

He ate his fill and was ready to resume when Yolanda entered with a fruit tart wrapped in a towel to keep it warm, insisting that he must enjoy it fresh from the baking. The beast nodded, so Beau ate happily, as both watched him, Yolanda obviously pleased with the compliment to her skill. And the beast… the beast's thoughts were difficult to determine. His eyes were expressive, but often watchful or angry, and the fur on his face hid any change of coloring that would help reveal his emotions.

After Yolanda left with the dishes, Beau took a last sip of wine, and picked up the book. "My Lord?"

"Yes? What is your question?"

"May I begin at the start again? I have questions I would like to ask."

The beast nodded his furry head. "Proceed."

The afternoon was even more fascinating than the morning, for Beau stopped often, seeking clarification, and the beast gave lengthy and interesting answers. Fortunately, the beast seemed to approve of Beau's curiosity and encouraged it.

By the time evening arrived, Ben was exhausted yet exhilarated. Most of the villagers knew only the basics of education and the skills necessary for their trades. The beast was the wisest and most informed being that Beau had even known. Other than a sense of loss at not seeing Anakin and their parents, Beau thought he had never been happier or more interested.

He hoped that Anakin was not too distressed at the fact that Beau was a prisoner, for Beau himself was beginning to enjoy the experience.

~~~

The next several days passed swiftly, each one unique and yet following the pattern that the beast wanted a companion who would engage and challenge him. Beau read many days, science or literature or poetry, and each time the beast would insist that Beau ask any and every question that came to his mind. To take breaks from the reading, they played chess again, or the beast would show Beau objects of amazement, such as the farseeing device that Anakin had tried to show him, or maps of the country and surrounding lands, and they would discuss geographical principles.

They strolled throughout the castle, the beast talking of its history, the building techniques that had been used, and the history of his family. They also ventured around the grounds, examining the crops that Mace was growing, and the beast talked at length about what it meant to be a lord of a manor. He did not dwell on the impact of his transformation on the nearby villages, but Beau could see the sadness in his eyes when he discussed what a lord meant to the villagers, and how he should take care of the people, tasks that he could no longer perform.

Beau saw the servants only at breakfast and sometimes at dinner, depending on how long the master kept him. He enjoyed their company, though Mace was inclined to be dour, Yolanda given to whimsical pronouncements, and Siri often in a dreamland of her own. He ventured a few more casual questions but was unable to get any information on the lord's transformation.

Siri continued to bring him more clothes from the trunks, until he had a wardrobe at his disposal that was superior to anyone's in the village. He came to enjoy the silken fabrics, smoothing his hands over the long tunics as he settled them in place over the leggings. Yolanda sat him down one day, sharpening her knife and declaring that his hair needed trimming. It was the first time anyone other than his mother or Shmi had cut his hair, and she took off more than he expected. That evening, staring at himself in the spidery mirror, he could barely recognize the young man in the cream silk tunic with gold embroidery and brown leggings, with his red-gold hair brushing the top of his shoulders. If he hadn't known, he would have said a lord looked back at him.

To his surprise, dancing was added to the repertoire of activities the next day. "Dancing?" he asked, gazing around the huge ballroom. The room must once have been one of the most beautiful in the castle, with its wood floor, high ceilings and painted walls, but it had been one of the worst victims of the limited cleaning staff. "But why?"

"Do you dare to question me?" the beast growled.

Beau stiffened his spine and raised his chin. "You encourage me to question the meanings of writers and poets. Why should I question only those I shall never meet?"

To his relief, the beast's mouth twisted in an expression that Beau interpreted as a smile. "You are quite correct, my young companion. I shall answer your question in time. For now, you will obey my wishes for I am your lord."

"Yes, my Lord. I do know several country dances and enjoy them. We have always had dancing at the village festivals."

"Good. Show me."

Siri, however, did not know how to dance, and their only music was Mace beating a basic tattoo on a drum. Yolanda proved to be the best partner and surprisingly light on her feet. The experience was awkward at first, and difficult without enough partners to form rows or circles, but soon Beau became swept away by the fun of whirling Siri and Yolanda around the floor, their feet moving to the rhythm set by Mace. All three were laughing when the music ended, and Beau bowed deeply to his partners, who curtsied vigorously, if not elegantly.

"Master?" Beau asked, seeking approval from the beast, but he was gone. "He left?" he asked Mace.

"During the last dance," Mace replied, flexing his fingers. Feeling disappointed that the beast was not pleased, Beau lamented, "I thought he wanted us to dance. Why did he not stay?"

"I'm not sure the master knows what he wants these days." Yolanda pinched his cheek. "Thank you for a most pleasant experience, young Master. And now I have dinner to prepare." She left the ballroom, followed by Siri, who gave him a last curtsey and a giggle before she fled.

"I'm not the young master," Beau said to Mace, surprised that Yolanda would call him so.

"Are you not?" Mace asked, which seemed an odd question, as Mace knew he was a captive, though Beau had started to forget that fact. Mace did not wait for Beau to disagree with him, following the ladies from the room.

Uncertain what to do next, Beau searched for the beast, though he could not find him. He finally curled up in a chair in the study to be available when needed, and fell asleep.

~~~

Beau woke with the sensation of being watched, blinking as he searched for the cause, spying the beast's crouched figure by the fireplace. A fire had been built, warming the room, and there was no more sunlight coming through the windows. Evening must have fallen. "My Lord?"

"Are you hungry? Madame Yolanda left you food in the kitchen. The others have gone to bed."

"My Lord… what do you want of me? I understand your need for a companion, but why dancing?"

"You have learned too well to question."

"You wished me to use my intelligence, my Lord."

The beast rose, standing in front of the fire, staring at the portrait over it. His portrait. The size, the shape of the head, the noble brow and deep-set blue eyes, the color of hair and fur were all the same, but one was a man and one a beast. "I was transformed into this beastly creature by a sorceress."

"Yes, my Lord?"

"Most of the servants fled in fear, not only because of what happened to me, but also because I reacted in rage and anger. I destroyed much in this castle, smashed and broke irreplaceable things, for I could not bear to look at myself."

"I had noted, Master, that there are places where things seem to be missing," Beau said, hoping to encourage the beast to keep talking.

"Mace and Yolanda remained out of loyalty, and Siri because she was too young to go anywhere else. They have done immense service to this castle, keeping it in order as best they could."

"You are their lord."

"I cannot be, though." The beast's paws clenched, flexed. "I cannot break this curse and as long as I remain here, the castle cannot be restored to the grandeur it deserves. A lord is necessary, someone who can manage the household and the working of the land, who can visit the villages and decide on matters of justice, who can make the castle live again."

"I do not follow your meaning. You are the lord."

"But I will not remain so. You must take my place, Beau. You are intelligent, handsome, thoughtful. You care for people. You have all the qualities needed to be a good lord. You need more training and then you shall make this castle live again."

"I cannot, my Lord." He had been born a peasant; how could he be a lord?

"You will be. You must. It is your duty, to me, to this castle, to all the people in the villages."

"But you – you are the lord and master."

"I shall write a will, making you my successor, and then go live in a forester cabin in the woods. Mace and Yolanda will bring me food regularly, and I will be available if you need to consult me."

"I cannot," Beau insisted again. He could never display the same strength and wisdom as the beast.

"You must," the beast said fiercely, turning to look at him, blue eyes focused and determined, as if he could convince Beau to agree by power of his eyes alone.

Beau opened his mouth to repeat again that he could not, when a noise stopped him, the creak of the massive front door being opened. "Why would someone be leaving the castle at this time of night?"

"No one is leaving," the beast growled. "Stay here." The cape swirled around his legs as he sprang for the doorway, disappearing into the darkness of the hall.

Disobedience seemed to have taken hold of him tonight, Beau thought, as he rose and lit a lamp, cupping his hand around it to minimize the glow, following the beast. The castle felt alien, scary, patches of pale moonlight accentuating the blackness. Beau walked to the top of the grand staircase. He could hear whispers, men's voice, and see faint glimpses of light where the intruders also must be cupping their hands around lights.

He had no idea where the beast was, and wondered if his eyesight was like an animal's, better able to see in the night.

Lifting his lamp high, so it cast a glow down the stairs, Beau could see that there were at least three intruders in the grand hallway. "How dare you enter the castle without permission? Leave this place at once. You are not welcome."

"So there is someone living here," one of the men said, swaggering forward fully into the light. Beau could see he was a rough-looking fellow, bearded and dressed in the clothes of a peasant. "A young lord," the man mocked. "Where are your soldiers and courtiers?"

Beau wanted to deny his status as a lord, but he had no reason to explain himself to these louts. "That is none of your business," he said coolly, for they had invaded the beast's castle. "Leave now before you get hurt."

"We've heard that there's treasure here, a rich treasure. We won't be leaving until you lead us to it."

"I will lead you to nothing except certain death if you don't leave." Where was the beast? And why hadn't Beau grabbed a sword from the study? Foolish, foolish stupidity, and now the ruffian's partners had come to stand behind him. All three started to walk up the stairs, short swords in their hands, and evil grins upon their faces, and Beau had to do something, or they might harm the others.

"You were given a chance," the beast said suddenly, his voice echoing in the grand hallway. "Remember that when you burn in hell."

The ruffians had the sense to look scared but not to turn tail and run, instead clutching their swords fiercely, glancing around, poised to attack. The beast's roar was like thunder as he sprang, arms and legs fully outstretched, face wild, fangs exposed, landing on the three, knocking them down as he slashed at them with his claws.

The battle was fast and decisive. The ruffians were too disorganized and scared to fight effectively, and the beast's claws were wickedly sharp, slicing through cloth and into skin and muscle, until the invaders were a heap of bodies at the base of the stairs. The beast crouched on the bottom of the stairs, and gave another horrible roar, as if the noise must purge the violence of the fight from him.

Beau ran down the stairs to the beast. "Are you alright? Did any of them hurt you?"

"You ask if I am alright? I have killed three people."

"You gave them a chance," Beau answered, well aware that the men would have killed him to get the treasure they sought. He had seen that truth in their leader's eyes. "You defended your castle and your people, as a good lord should." Where had those intruders heard that there was a treasure in the castle? Beau had heard rumors after the lord's seclusion, but nothing was said about a treasure.

"I – " the beast moved, and winced, one paw covering his upper arm. "I must remove the bodies. Siri should not come across them in the morning."

"I will help you."

"You don't have my strength."

"Then I shall take the smaller one, or we can carry them together," Beau said with a certain amount of asperity.

The task was not pleasant, but Beau had helped prepare his mother's body for burial, so he was not unfamiliar with handling a dead body. They decided against moving the bodies outside, not wanting them to be desecrated by a wild animal, instead dragging them into the never-used dining room, covering them with old cloths. Beau held the lamp up as the beast hastily mopped up the worst of the blood, conscious that the lord should not be doing such a menial chore, and noticing that he favored one arm. "Are you hurt, my Lord?"

"One of them cut me, but not badly," the beast said, dropping the last of the stained cloths over the bodies.

"Come." Beau curled one hand around the beast's paw. "I'll take care of your wound in the kitchen."

The beast followed him, more like a tame pussycat than a wild animal. In the kitchen, Beau pushed him toward a chair, then stoked up the fire and started a kettle to boil. With warm water and a cloth, he dabbed delicately at the bloodstains on the beast's fur, finding most of them to be the attackers' blood. He lingered on the cut on the beast's arm, brushing the fur away to expose the shallow cut, deciding that it was not deep enough to need covering.

As he worked, Beau realized that he had never touched the beast. The beast had grabbed Beau a few times, but Beau had never willingly touched him. He took more time than absolutely necessary to ensure that the beast was well tended, surprised at the softness of his thick fur and how good it felt to his fingers. This close up, he could admire the richness of the brown color, and how the gray on the tips gave it a dignified sheen.

He was almost finished when he realized the beast was shivering, faint tremors shaking his limbs. "My Lord?" He pressed his hand on the furry brow, but could not detect whether the beast's temperature was high. He stroked the short whiskers and cheek to offer comfort. "You seem unwell. Did I miss a wound?"

"I am fine," the beast insisted, though his tremors increased. "You should eat. You did not get your dinner."

"I am hungry," Beau agreed, stepping away from the beast, still worried for him. "Can I get you any food?"

"I do not eat in front of others. It is unseemly."

"You were magnificent tonight, defending the castle."

"You were the magnificent one," the beast insisted, "demanding that they leave. You will make a fine lord."

The idea still troubled Beau and yet, standing on the top of the stairs, looking down, issuing orders, had felt… right. Reaching out, he stroked the beast's arm near the wound, checking it, his fingers lingering on the beast's pelt. "You will always be the lord here."

"I must go," the beast said abruptly, and to Beau's astonishment, leaped out of the chair and ran from the kitchen. Beau started to follow but acknowledged that he could never find the beast if he wanted to disappear.

Resigned, he sat down and proceeded to tuck into Yolanda's excellent meal, still pondering what could have made the beast tremble.

~~~~

Beau spent the next morning helping Mace dig graves for the bodies, not in the castle's cemetery, but in the nearby woods. As they dug, they discussed why the thieves had expected to find treasure, Mace as perplexed as Beau. A number of people had invaded the castle over the years, but generally out of curiosity, not from any specific motivation. Beau feared that Anakin might have spread the rumor, hoping that a greedy interloper would kill the beast, freeing Beau from his captivity. He was a clever child, and capable of the occasional exaggeration to suit his own purposes. Beau didn't share his concern with Mace, thinking it wisest to keep his own counsel. When they finished with the task, Beau bowed his head in respect while Mace said a few words for the villains' immortal souls.

After lunch, Beau was finally able to approach the master's study. The beast seemed unchanged by the last night's events, though he did study Beau carefully before waving him over to one bookcase. He pointed at a decorative wood panel, and said, "Put your fingers there, and twist and – yes, you have it." The decorative panel opened, revealing a shelf of books. "You have been very sheltered in your village, but you will have to go to court to take over this manor, and present documents to the King. It is a very different world among the members of the nobility."

"Are these books on manners and etiquette?"

"They are books on matters much more dangerous and important," the beast answered cryptically. "Take one. I wish you to go to your room and read it."

"You do not wish me to read aloud to you?"

The beast's body trembled as it had last night, and harshly he said, "No," before disappearing again.

Beau studied the books inquisitively, finally selecting one that appeared well-handled, and retreated to the master bedroom. He had realized during one of the tours with the beast that he had been given the grandest bedroom in the castle, isolated from where the others slept. He settled in the chair by the window, wondering if the beast had put him in this room because he had intended from the beginning that Beau should become the lord. But then he began reading, and his attention was wholly occupied by the characters in the novel.

Beau was not ignorant of the facts of life. He'd watched his parents interact, shared his father's sadness when his mother died, watched his father woo and win Shmi. He had watched cows, horses, and other beasts copulate, had many frank discussions with his friends, and even kissed a few of the village's maids.

Nothing in these experiences had prepared him to read written words of how members of the nobility might interact, how they would tease and taunt and play games outside of wedlock, how a lady might share a leisurely afternoon with her maid or a footman, or a gentleman might have a quick, lusty dalliance with another gentleman while out hunting.

Beau grew faint and dizzy as he read, and once or twice had to stop and walk around the room to collect himself. His shaft grew stiff within his breeches. The story was so engrossing, he tried to ignore his body's need, but finally had to lie down and fondle himself until he found relief.

As he began to read again, he wondered why the beast chose to show him this type of book. Was it just another step in his training? Then he reached a particular passage describing how a man trembled at his lover's touch, and Beau remembered how he had so carefully stroked the beast's fur last night, and how the beast had reacted. Had the beast been aroused by Beau's touch? Was this why Beau had enjoyed stroking the beast so much, why he'd felt compelled to keep touching his fur?

His senses afire, Beau went to the beast's study, finding him in his frequent spot, curled on the rug in front of the fireplace. Beau knelt and began stroking him, the fur soft and smooth on the palms of his hands.

The beast rose on one elbow. "Beau, what are you doing?"

"I didn't realize. I didn't know. I didn't mean to torment you last night."

"I did not give you the book to put you under an obligation."

"It is not obligation." Beau pushed at the beast's shoulder, making him roll to his back. The beast was strong enough to resist Beau but didn't. Emboldened, Beau let his hands roam all over the beast's chest and shoulders. "It is wonder. I never dreamed anyone like you could have such feeling for someone like me."

"Someone like you? The most handsome young man in the country?"

"A peasant. A simple ordinary peasant and you a lord."

"A beast."

Beau's hands dropped to the beast's hips, upper thighs, and the area between, searching for the organ he hoped was hidden in the fur. "I have read much today of how a lover can be beastly. How he can claim and take another and give pleasure in doing so." The beast's organ rose from his fur, red and hard and like Beau's in appearance, though beastly in size. "You are magnificent, my Lord," Beau breathed, curling his hands around it and stroking, sitting on the beast's thighs.

The noise the beast made was somewhere between a growl and a whimper. His hands went over his head, staying there, but his fingers flexed restlessly as if he wanted to grab onto Beau.

The beast's reaction, the burning need in his blue eyes, the way his organ stiffened and leaked evidence of his desire, all delighted Beau. He wanted to repay this creature with a man's mind, to show appreciation of all that the beast had introduced him to, the new ideas and wonder of learning.

Beau slipped a hand between the beast's legs, finding his furry sac, fondling it while his other hand relentlessly stroked up and down the powerful shaft. The beast's muscles quivered under his fur, the gray-brown color shimmering in the candlelight, as if he craved to move, to fling himself at Beau. The knowledge that such a magnificent creature would surrender his control to Beau was astonishing. Beau stroked faster, until the beast gave a mighty roar, his head arching back as his white seed spurted onto his gray brown fur.

"You – " the beast sat up, cradling Beau's hand in both paws, nuzzling at his lips. His nose was soft and a little damp, the short fur on his snout ticklish on Beau's lips. "No one has touched me like that for too long."

"I have never touched anyone like that," Beau confessed. "I did it correctly?"

The beast's eyes seemed to darken, blue becoming smoky gray. "Has anyone touched you? The young maids or lads from your village?"

"A few kisses, my Lord. That is all."

"Take off your clothes." The beast brought his hands away from Beau's head, waving his clawed fingers in front of Beau's eyes. "I do not wish to shred them."

The demanding tone said that he would destroy them if Beau did not move quickly enough, so Beau replied, "Yes, my Lord," before standing and undressing. Standing naked in the middle of the day in front of another's eyes, he felt almost more decadent than he had while touching the beast.

"Your body is as handsome as your face."

"I am glad it pleases you," Beau responded, not able to stifle the compulsion to cup his hands over his shaft. The beast shifted into a kneeling position in front of Beau, his paws curling around Beau's thighs, the sting of his sharp claws touching Beau's flesh. The beast's tongue flashed out, licking at Beau's hands. Its surface was wet, warm and slightly rough on Beau's skin. He gasped, and clutched at the beast's head, digging his fingers into his fur, exposing himself fully. "Master."

"Yes," was all the beast responded, licking up and down Beau's shaft. The texture of his tongue on Beau's most sensitive area was amazing, making Beau feel like he was burning all over with sensation. His shaft hardened to an embarrassing degree, sticking straight out, craving more attention. The beast took advantage of its changed position to lick the underside, running his tongue frequently around the head.

Beau had touched himself, of course, even earlier that day, but only when his body insisted, and his own hand was a paltry implement next to the beast's tongue. He had never known such pleasure, such ecstasy, and could barely cope with the intensity and duration of the experience, finally crying out, "Master please! I can stand no more! Please!"

The beast's paws curved over his buttocks, his claws raking over the plump cheeks from top to bottom, causing Beau to tighten his grip in the beast's fur, his shaft swelling and throbbing as his body was swamped with pleasure. The head of his shaft erupted, his seed gushing out, and the beast's tongue flicked out quickly to drink as much as he could before it fell to the rug.

"Master," Beau said drowsily a long time later, as they lay together on the rug, his head pillowed on the beast's broad chest. He played with the beast's fur and occasionally rubbed the flat brown nipples he had found buried in the thick pelt. "I did not know that such pleasure could be created between two men."

"You have much to learn, my beautiful one. I will enjoy teaching you all I can."

Beau raised his head to see the beast's expression, wondering how he had ever found him difficult to read. "You cannot leave me. Not now that we have experienced this together."

"Eventually I must. You must become lord, Beau. This castle needs a master that people can accept."

Beau wanted to deny the truth of the lord's words, but knew the lord would be disappointed in him. The lord would put the needs of the villagers above himself, and he would expect Beau to do the same. "How did this happen to you, Master?"

"I have always loved men more than women, but a marriage was arranged for me, and I married as my father bid. She was a good, gentle woman, and we enjoyed each other's company. She made an excellent lady for the castle. She was to bear my child and we were both very happy. But then she died in childbirth with my son."

Beau rested his head on the beast's chest, stroking him soothingly, remembering when that news had reached the village.

"Though I had not loved her deeply, I was desolate at the loss of the two of them. The castle went into mourning. It was coming close to the end of the year, and the anniversary of my loss, when a woman came to the castle. She knew my mourning was almost over and said she was to marry me and to give me children. She claimed that she was part fairy and that our children would have special powers. In my grief, I spurned her. I told her that I would never love or marry another and that I hated the very sight of her."

The beast fell silent for a bit, and Beau kept stroking, waiting.

"She grew angry and offered herself again, reminding me that I needed an heir for the castle, but her words enflamed me, and I swore at her and affirmed that I would never love or marry again. It was not true, even as I said it, but I hated her for thinking she could replace the sweet lady who had given her life in an attempt to fill my need.

"She cursed me and said that if I would not marry or love again, I did not need to be a handsome man but instead should be a beast, that all women should know to avoid me. There was a thunderous noise and I felt great pain. I writhed in agony and watched fur grow on my arms."

"She was evil, my Lord."

"She said I should never become a man again until I learned to love and was loved in return. But how can anyone love a beast?"

Beau pressed himself close to his lord and thought it might be very easy indeed. But would a lord – even as a beast – want the love of a peasant?

~~~

Beau felt as if he must be changed in some fashion by what had occurred with the beast, but the others didn't seem to notice at dinner. "I wish the lord would eat with us," he commented.

"He is embarrassed by how he must eat," Mace said.

"He told me of how the sorceress cursed him."

"She was an evil witch," Yolanda said bitterly, "but at least she did not do as much damage as she wished."

"She wished to do more than transform the lord into a beast?"

Mace and Yolanda exchanged knowing looks, as Siri said, "That's so like the master, to not tell you the best part."

"It was hardly the best part," Mace said dryly. "Nothing good happened that day."

"The master did good for us, he did," Yolanda corrected Mace, who shrugged in acknowledgement.

"What did the master do?" Beau asked, wondering what his lover had omitted.

"The witch began to turn us into stone. She said a beast wouldn't need servants. The master was still recovering from his transformation, barely understanding what had happened to him, but he struggled to his feet and threatened to tear her from limb to limb if she didn't release us."

"He was so angry," Siri added, her voice hushed. "I was only a child but I shall never forget how ferocious he looked."

"But he didn't force her to change him back?" He tried to imagine even his own father or any of the village men being so bold and angry with a sorceress, and could not picture it. They were brave men, but they would be unnerved at the thought of confronting a woman with such mysterious powers. The memory of Anakin fighting with another child who had been bullying his friends leaped to his mind. Anakin might share the lord's recklessness.

"Put conditions on her spell, she had," Yolanda explained. "Fulfilled they must be for the spell to be broken."

"He must love another and be loved in return," Beau said slowly. Why did it hurt to think of the lord loving another? "He never tried to find some way to break the spell?"

"We've hoped and prayed for a miracle, but he remains unchanged."

"And who could love a beast?" Yolanda asked, but when her eyes met Beau's, he wondered if she had guessed his secret.

~~~

Beau retired to the master bedroom that night with hope in his heart. He undressed but did not put on a nightgown, instead sliding naked between the sheets. Taking up the book, he read by candlelight, letting the images wash through him, feeling himself becoming erect by the time the door opened, the beast slipping quietly inside.

"Am I welcome?"

"I hoped you would come, my Lord." He started to set the book down, but the beast shook his head.

"Read to me," he said, draping his cape over the cedar chest, getting into the bed next to Beau.

Blushing, Beau began reading at the start of the chapter, excited already, feeling the tantalizing sensation of the beast's big furry body against his own naked limbs. The lord touched him under the bed, rubbing one furry paw against Beau's side. The book seemed to fall from his fingers and his words sputtered to a halt.

"Master, please."

"Please what, my beautiful one?"

He captured the beast's paw, bringing it to his shaft. "I need you, Master. Please lick me as you did earlier. I crave to feel you again."

"I would do something else, something that may burn at first, but will feel even better."

"Anything, Master. I trust you. Do you wish me to touch you?" He sought out the beast's shaft, but now it was the beast's turn to catch Beau's hand.

"I want to come within you."

Beau knew what he meant, had read of how one man might penetrate another. "Please, Master."

The lord threw the covers back, exposing Beau's naked body and his own furry one. "Roll onto your hands and knees." Beau obeyed promptly, turning over and raising into the position as ordered. The lord stroked his back, his buttocks, and his thighs. "So beautiful, so obedient."

"Yours, my Lord."

"I cannot prepare you as fully as I wish," the lord said, one flick of his claws against Beau's skin explaining his meaning. "This may burn."

"Yes, my Lord. You said that. I am prepared."

"My Beau." The lord settled on his knees between Beau's legs, and began licking his back, to his buttocks. The warm nubbly tongue felt wonderful on Beau's skin. Then the lord's paws cupped his buttocks, spread the cheeks, and Beau burned to think of the lord's face so close to such an undignified part of his body. The lord's tongue licked all along the crevice, and excitement replaced embarrassment.

"My Lord," Beau pleaded. He wasn't sure he would be able to last until the lord had entered him. "You will make me spill myself."

"Come when you wish, my beautiful one."

He twisted his head to see behind him, his own white limbs framed by the brown-gray fur of the lord's massive body. "I want to know what you feel like."

"You will." The lord's tongue focused on Beau's opening, licking it diligently. "Come if you wish. It will help you relax."

But having received permission did not trigger Beau's release. Instead he felt hotter and hotter, need burning him alive as the lord's tongue teased him. His shaft ached but did not explode.

"You are as ready as I can make you."

"Then claim me, my Lord."

"Yes." A final nuzzle, and the lord bracketed Beau, one furry arm next to Beau's, his chest resting on Beau's back, his other arm holding his shaft, pushing it steadily into Beau's body. It burned, as the lord had promised, causing Beau's shaft to deflate. "You are alright?" the lord asked, nuzzling his snout into the long hair that covered Beau's neck.

"Keep going, my Lord. Please," Beau begged. It hurt, but not in an unpleasant way, and Beau wanted to know all of the lord, and offer him the satisfaction that he could find in Beau's body.

"I could not stop, even if it meant my life," the lord whispered, placing his other arm on the bed by Beau. His actions seemed to contradict his words, as he began to pull out, and Beau started to protest, but then he shoved forward again. The lord began rocking on his knees, each forward thrust bringing him deeper into Beau's body before withdrawing again. Beau relaxed as much as he could, his head hanging down. Then the lord pushed just a bit farther, and something miraculous happened, as Beau felt a place within his body flare in pleasure, a pleasure that swept everywhere, through his limbs and into his head. He gasped.

"I told you this would feel better," the lord said, with a tone that sounded like pride, a pride Beau could not deny, for no one and nothing had ever made him feel so good.

"Yes, my Lord, oh please, more," Beau begged.

The lord surrendered to his own desire and Beau's pleading, claiming him again and again, his thick shaft burrowing fully into Beau until his furry sac caressed Beau's skin with each forward thrust. Beau arched his back so that the thick pelt of the lord's chest rubbed against his skin, feeling surrounded, reveling in how the lord took and mastered him.

When the time arrived and the pleasure unraveled through Beau's body, making his release flow, feeling the lord receiving his own pleasure, hearing the lord's roar in his ears, Beau feared that he might pass out from the intensity. He dropped to the bed, unable to hold himself up, and the lord curled around him, cradling him in his arms.

"You have given me so much pleasure, my Lord, and taught me so many things I never dreamed of knowing," Beau whispered. "Thank you."

"It is I who should thank you, for allowing me to learn your heart and body, for knowing that you will make this castle live again. Tomorrow I shall begin to teach you to use a sword, the last skill you must learn."

Beau dropped his head to rub his nose on one of the furry paws, vowing to himself that he would learn so well and so slowly that the beast would have to stay with him a very long time.

~~~

Despite the persistent ache of knowing the beast planned to leave when they were done, the sword-fighting lessons were fascinating. Beau's father had taught him to use a staff, so Beau had some experience with weaponry, but a sword was a much more complicated tool to master. Though the beast's claws made curling his paw around the handle difficult, he was an excellent teacher, explaining strategy and demonstrating technique flawlessly.

"Back, you scurvy villain," Beau shouted, taking an exaggerated pose, smiling at the beast and raising his sword. They stood in the courtyard, the place they most often practiced, as they both enjoyed the pleasant sun.

"I shall conquer you," the beast swore, and Beau could see the promise in his eyes, both that he would win this bout and the one later tonight, or perhaps this afternoon.

Beau gave a shiver and attacked, his sword clashing against the beast's. They fought, circling each other, both taking turns attacking and defending, until Beau saw that the beast's eyes were looking past him. The beast's lack of attention confused Beau, for the beast had always instructed that he should never allow his attention to be distracted from the battle. Straightening from his fighting stance, Beau turned to see behind him, where Anakin stood, a bow in his hands, with an arrow cocked.

"Anakin, no!" he yelled, but it was too late. He felt the brush of air as the arrow flew next to him, and turned to track its path. It hit the beast squarely in the middle of his body, under his rib cage. The force made the beast seem to curl forward, his blue eyes shocked. He clutched at the arrow with his paws. "NO!" Beau yelled, knowing instantly that by the depth and location, the blow would be a killing one. "My Lord!"

He ran to the beast as he collapsed on the ground, falling to his knees and cradling the great shaggy head to his breast. "My Lord," Beau repeated, brokenly, unable to bear the thought of losing him.

"My beautiful one." The beast brushed at the tear running down Beau's cheek with one clawed finger, his voice weak and broken. "You must be lord now. Do as I have trained you. Marry and have children."

"You cannot leave me, my Lord. I will never love another."

"I have never loved anyone as I did you," the beast said, giving a gasp of pain. "Train the boy then. There must be a lord."

"Yes, my Lord. We shall make the castle live again," Beau promised, in awe at the lord's understanding and forgiveness of Anakin's desperate act. " I love you," he struggled to say, crying, watching as the light slowly dimmed in the beast's beautiful eyes, his head lolling back as the life left his body. "My Lord."

"I didn't know," Anakin said in a shaky voice, coming to stand next to them. "I thought he was keeping you prisoner."

"He was, at first." Beau reached out one arm, and Anakin rushed to be hugged. Beau couldn't bear to let go of the beast, so clutched both of them to him. "But then he became … more."

Anakin's eyes glistened with tears. "I'm sorry, Beau. I wanted to save you. I thought you were trapped because of me."

"It's my fault. I should have asked to visit you days ago. He was teaching me to become lord of this castle. He had so much knowledge and wisdom."

"I'm sorry," Anakin repeated, hugging Beau. "I didn't know."

Beau gave him a strong squeeze before releasing him. "We must honor him now. Please go to the stables. You should find the dark man, Mace, there. Let him know what has happened, and ask him to bring a cart here." A cart would be a poor sign of respect, but the master had been tall and broad. Mace and Beau would have a struggle to carry him. "It should have a sheet lining it." He would wash and bathe the body, and tomorrow he and Mace could dig a grave in the small cemetery, putting the lord to rest by his wife, son, and ancestors.

Anakin ran off toward the castle. Beau thought about telling him not to rush, that he wanted some time with his lord, but the boy was gone. He sat by the beast, stroking the fur, still warm from the sun, but knowing the body would begin to cool. The arrow still jutted obscenely from his chest, so Beau rolled the body to one side, finding that the head had passed fully through, emerging from his back, but had broken off when the beast fell. He coaxed the body back to lie on the ground and pulled on the shaft, removing the rest of the arrow, throwing it aside.

He should have tried to leave earlier, to see Anakin and their parents and reassure them of his well-being. He had known that Anakin wouldn't desert him. His foolish absorption with the beast had led to the beast's death. He gave a sob, felt the resumption of tears trickling down his face, and curled over, burying his face in the beast's pelt. Never more would he hear the beast's deep voice, listen to his wisdom, spar with him, feel the scratching of his claws on Beau's skin, shiver with anticipation as the beast pushed him to his hands and knees and prepared to claim him, know the power of his possession.

Despite the anguish he felt at the loss of the beast, he knew he must follow his dying wish. He would be lord and train Anakin to follow in his footsteps. When Anakin was old enough to take over, to marry a young woman and have children, Beau would retreat to the forester cabin, to live out his life in isolation, as the beast had lived these many years. It would be the only tribute he could offer his master.

The body twitched, though lost in his grief, Beau hardly noticed it. But then another, stronger, arms, legs and torso all quaking before stilling again. Beau sat back, perplexed. Then the beast's body spasmed, twisting and flailing, as fur fell off in great chunks. Beau scrambled backwards, watching in amazement and concern. Was this some effect of the curse, that the beast would not even be allowed a decent death?

The beast's mouth opened, roaring from the depths of his belly, as his features mutated, transformed. Light seemed to glow from his entire body, as pale skin replaced fur. Almost blinded, Beau glanced away, blinking his eyes rapidly, and when he looked back, the beast was no more. Lying on the ground in front of him was a man, a man he recognized from the portrait over the fireplace. His hair was longer with more gray in the brown, and a gray beard covered his chin, but it was definitely the master, the lord of the castle.

And he was alive, his breath shaky as he sat up and looked around.

"Master?" Beau asked tentatively.

"My beautiful one." The master looked down at himself, his naked body only loosely covered with his cape, and touched his own chest in wonder at the curly gray hair, so different from the thick pelt. He laughed, a truly happy sound. "I am cured. Your love has cured me."

"My brother… my brother killed you."

"If I had died, I would have died happy to know that you would take my place. But now I shall live for the rest of my days with you at my side. You will stay? You must." He reached out, and Beau threw himself into his arms, and their lips met for the first time in a kiss. The lord commanded Beau's mouth as he commanded his obedience and his body, firmly and completely, and Beau surrendered willingly, opening his lips for the master's tongue, sucking on it greedily.

The castle door opened with its normal squeaking, and Beau and the lord separated. They stood, neither able to take their eyes off the other. The lord wrapped the cape around his body, holding it closed as Anakin, Mace and Siri came running up.

"My Lord!" Mace cried, dropping to a kneeling position, happiness on his face. Siri's, "My Lord," was softer, and she too dropped to her knees. "You're alright," Anakin said numbly, as Yolanda came puffing up. "I'm too old to be kneeling, my Lord, but right glad we are to see you again."

"Please, my friends. Stand. You have kept me safe and protected and been loyal these long years." The lord squeezed Mace's arm, encouraging him to stand. "Everything will change now. The castle will live again. But you three will always be honored and appreciated for your service."

Mace and Siri stood. "My Lord," Mace said, dazed. "The curse has been broken."

The lord ruffled Anakin's hair. "By this young man, protecting his brother. I died but was reborn without the sorceress's curse."

"Does this mean I'm not in trouble?" Anakin blurted out.

"Anakin." Beau hugged his brother. "Just this once, you are not in trouble for disobeying me. Just this once." He smiled, and hugged Anakin again, knowing that it had been both the catalyst of Anakin's arrow and their shared love that had saved the lord. The conditions of the curse had been satisfied, and the lord reborn.

The lord scratched his face. "I must shave and dress. Beau, will you warm some water and bring it to me? Yolanda, I have longed to eat your food in a civilized fashion. Will you make some lunch?"

"I shall make you a feast," Yolanda promised, rushing off.

"Mace, Siri, you must begin to plan how many people we shall need. A butler and maids and groomsmen."

"Me, sir?" Siri asked, seeming a bit dumbfounded at the chore.

The lord smiled, soft and sweet. "You shall be my housekeeper now, shall you not?"

Siri bobbed a curtsey. "Yes, my Lord. If you wish, my Lord."

"I do. But first, why don't you show Anakin the castle? He must visit us frequently, since his brother will stay and be my successor and heir."

Mace and Siri nodded respectfully to Beau, perhaps only surprised that the plan would remain the same now that the lord was restored, but Anakin gazed in astonishment at his brother. "You will be a lord."

"I will," Beau said, barely able to keep his voice steady, his heart thumping at the thought of living the rest of his life by the lord's side. "And perhaps you shall follow me. Now go with Siri and see the castle." He gave Anakin a little push, and everyone scattered to their tasks.

~~~

The bowl was warmed by the hot water within in, and Beau carried it carefully into the master bedroom, setting it on the chest. The lord was standing naked in front of the mirror. "I am glad that I did not destroy them all," he said. "I wanted to see myself." He touched his own body, as if in amazement. "I am older and grayer than I was."

Beau stood behind him, his reflection shorter than the lord's. "You are still magnificent, my Lord." Feeling daring, he placed one hand on the lord's stomach. "Everywhere," he added, sliding his hand down to cup and fondle the large shaft, which needed little encouragement to rise up.

"I hope you are prepared to handle the man as well as you did the beast."

Beau scattered kisses on the lord's back. "I am sure the man can still be quite beastly," he murmured. "But I belong to the man as I did to the beast."

"And you will tame the man as well as you did the beast." The lord curled his hand around Beau's, removing it from his shaft. "Take off your clothes."

Stepping back, Beau obeyed, tugging his tunic over his head. "You do not have to worry about shredding them now."

"No, but I may still rip them off if you do not hurry."

"The others are expecting you to take your time washing and dressing. They will not disturb us."

"The others are not my concern. Knowing you as a man is."

Beau smiled, for he shared the sentiment, craving the lord's possession without the encumbrance of fangs, claws, and fur. He finished undressing, and was back in the lord's arms as soon as the last article of clothing hit the floor. The lord kissed him wildly, and Beau kissed him back as desperately, eager for more of his lord's mouth, the soft lips and greedy tongue. Running his hands up and down the lord's back, Beau realized he missed the thick fur, but appreciated the velvety feeling of the lord's skin. He gave a short laugh as the lord lifted him in his arms and carried him to the bed. The lord was as strong as a man as he had been as a beast, and Beau knew he would demonstrate that strength over and over again in the years to come. He soon knew the touch of the lord's fingers within him, making him ready in a way that the beast had never been able to do with claws, and then the press of the lord's shaft inside him while the lord stole his breath away with more kisses.

His lord, his master, his beast. Forever.

~ the end ~