“Get to bed now or the troll will come and find you, and carry you off.”
It was a threat or warning or story that the young lady of the manor had heard plenty of times before. Elizabeth was not a child to whom bedtime meant much, not if she could get away with hiding a little candle and a book under her bedclothes. Normally the threat did have some weight to it though, everyone knew the troll was more than real enough to steal a child from her bed, especially if it saw a light flickering in one of the windows. Today though, she was thirteen. She was no longer a child to hide under the covers at the first sign of a specter, and as the only child and daughter of the local knight her bravery must be doubled.
“Will it really?” Well, maybe she didn't have to be brave all at once.
Her nursemaid looked over from where she had been laying out a dress for the next morning and saw the girl, with the covers pulled up to cover her arms and her dark brown hair covering the pillow. She turned away from the dresser and came to sit on the bed.
“Oh yes, the beast of the forest is very dangerous. On dark nights he comes out of the trees and will steal cattle and grain. He'll take you too if you see him, and whisk you away to his castle in the mountains where you'll never be seen again.”
The child pulled the blanket up to just under her nose then pushed them down again, putting on a face that was stubborn more than brave. “He has a castle?”
Her maid nodded, “Oh yes, a great stone castle full of spiders.”
The girl shivered, she didn't like spiders. She was still being brave though, so she didn't pull up the blankets or reach for her doll. “Why would a troll have a castle?” In truth, Elizabeth had always thought the troll would live in a cave when she thought about it at all.
At the words the nurse rolled her eyes and shook her head at the impossibilities of children. “The beast has a castle because he was once a man. But that is a long story and not one for tonight. All you need concern yourself with is that candle on your bedside lest he come and find you,” the nurse sent her a pointed look. “Now I will say goodnight little Betty.” She adjusted the girl's covers one last time, blew out the offending candle and a moment later could be heard closing the door.
There were matches in the drawer, so she could easily relight the candle if she chose. Tonight though, her mind was not on her stories, but on a man that turned into a monster and lived all alone in a castle in the middle of the forest.
Eventually, Betty would hear the full story of the creature. It came in bits and pieces begged from her nurse over more days than a normal little girl would stay interested. When she put the story together she understood it thus:
Once, before her father had been given these lands for his service, they had been ruled by a duke. The duke had been a man of great passions and great rages. When his wife declared she was with child he was overjoyed and the lands celebrated for three days. Then the child came and when the duke learned he had a son and heir his joy was doubled and the lands celebrated for a week. It was a month before the lord of the castle stopped toasting his son long enough to realize there was something wrong with the child.
The boy had never been heard to cry.
Doctors and wise women and priests were all called, and as each left without finding cause or explanation, the duke's mood darkened further. By the end of the child’s first year the whole of the kingdom knew of the child and none could give the duke a suitable answer.
It was not that the child was weak, far from it. He grew quickly and was rarely seen to face even the normal childhood ills. In the following years the problem might have been seen as a curiosity and set aside if not for the fact that as he grew the young lord not only failed to cry but to laugh, smile, raise a fist in anger or show any other emotion.
The duke, with no answer to this problem, grew more dour by the day. Often his wife would try to calm him but soon she stopped making trips from the castle and so when the duke went to survey his lands there was no one to curb his rages.
One of the duke's chancellors suggested at one point that if the boy had no emotions then he would surely have no fear, and earn glory on the field of battle. This pleased the duke for a time until the boy grew to an age where he should have begun training in the art of combat. The young lord had no talent for it which became plain at once, and the duke's mood again soured.
The boy was fourteen when the duke again tried to fix him, and by that point all the duke's lands were afraid of what their lord might do. Truly the child's condition was strange but the father's anger was by far more dangerous. This time the duke had found an old woman, skilled in the science of alchemy and rumored to be blessed or cursed with sight beyond sight.
Though the duke was confident as ever those around him feared that the woman like all those before her would fail in this task and that this time the dukes’ fury would be an end to them or their mistress or the young lord or even the whole of these lands. The crone looked upon the young lord when she finally arrived, humming and murmuring to herself before finally turning to the duke.
“I can unleash the boy's passions, but such a thing is not wise. God has decreed that this is how he should live and to change that would mandate a high price.”
The duke heard only of her potential success, ignoring the warnings she urged upon him. At last, she accepted the task declaring the price to be on his own head. When the duke asked what she would require, she asked for one thing only, a single rose in full bloom.
To find a rose out of season took some time, but before the month was out a rose was found and the spell prepared.
The spell was cast on an evening in mid autumn. Only one creature alive knew the truth of what happened there at the castle, for by the next morning the only thing alive in the castle and the village was a terrible green beast where once there had been a boy.
Ever since that day the monster roamed the forests around his home and the rages he unleashed towards anyone he found made his father's anger seem as a child’s tantrum by comparison. No one survived an encounter with it. All they could do was stay away and hope the beast would be content to be left alone.
When Betty had the full story she could not stop thinking on it. She knew a beast of such rage would be terrible indeed. Her own father would at times turn mean, but only when he was in his cups and that was bad enough. To live with such rage every day must have been a terror for the young lord and then to be engulfed by such anger. It was impossible to imagine.
Now that she knew the truth, or at least as much of the truth as anyone seemed to know, she knew how real and sensible her fear was. There was no denying that it was still there within her but it had changed, been put in its proper place and she could live with it. It was after all a child's fear, the fear of the monster lurking in the dark, and she was growing up. Any new fear that replaced it was tinged with caution and perhaps doubt. There were far more real things to fear then a monster she would never see.
At least, until she did see it.