His life was a lonely one. The servants were there, of course, but he never actually saw them. They always seemed to be just visible in the corner of his eye, the soft footfall at the edge of his hearing, the vaguely whispered scents of polish and steam in a room he entered. Occasionally he even caught a glimpse of a liveried arm in a reflective surface, but considering that the mirrors were all reduced to shards and the windows thick and muddled he did not quite think that these counted.
Some days he wondered whether he had been cursed at all. Did it matter, when there was nobody there to see what he had become?
Other days he wondered if the servants had always been quite so silent, or if he had only noticed now that they were all that was left besides himself in the castle.
And on certain nights he wondered if he had simply gone mad.
When the tradesman thrust himself into the garden and ripped out the roses, it was almost a relief to see the expression on the man's face. The shock and fear reassured the prince that he was not as mad as he might have been, that something in his aspect was indeed not right.
And when the girl arrived, her obdurate refusal to look at him only convinced him all over again that the curse must be real. Sometimes he thought he had imagined her just as much as the servants, hearing her light voice like the trill of songbirds newly returned in the spring or catching a faint whiff of roses where none should normally be.
It was when she began to come to dinner with him that he felt the first tendrils of hope. When he ventured into the kitchens and a scullery maid shrieked and dropped a plate, he believed for a moment that the servant's surprise was in seeing the lord and master where he did not belong rather than the sheer incomprehensibility of his form. When he saw himself distorted in the bowl of a spoon at dinner, he was almost certain he saw his old face.
The smile on the face of the girl across from him made his face contort. He panicked briefly and quietly before realizing it was the shape of his own smile, so long unused that it felt like a spasm rather than a normal expression.
The night that he died, it seemed fitting that he collapsed next to a running stream. The reflections in the water were as fragmented as the lights that danced along its surface. The sounds of the girl's voice burbled in his pointed ears like the babbling of the water. Perhaps there was no girl and he had simply imagined her, like the servants, in the last throes of death.
When he awoke to find himself pillowed on the girl's lap, the prince swore he could have seen himself in her eyes. The stream at their side grew still.