Welcome to Beauty’s Beast, book 3 in the Black Trans Fairy Tales series. This novel­la is releas­ing one chapter/week on the blog ahead of pub­li­ca­tion. Three chap­ters will be avail­able for free, after that, they’ll only be up for one week. If you miss a chap­ter or would like to sup­port projects like this, join my Patreon.


Chapter 2

The quince tree bloomed pink and red, a thick cur­tain of flow­ers that crawled up one wall of the crum­bling cas­tle court­yard where Belle loved to pass the day read­ing in the sun. There were sev­er­al quince here along the perime­ter. Once upon a time they had been espaliered along the wall in neat, orga­nized rows, cov­er­ing the stone from one end to the oth­er. Since the cas­tle was aban­doned, though, their branch­es grew in every direc­tion, tan­gling with each oth­er and cre­at­ing a half-canopy sim­ply over­run by blooms.

The remains of two long stone bench­es held up in one cor­ner, where Belle liked to sit, and there was a tan­gled, thorny pile of ros­es in the cen­ter of the court­yard that could have been a foun­tain once. She liked to imag­ine the queen of the cas­tle sit­ting among her gar­den, sip­ping tea in the ear­ly after­noon sun. Perhaps gos­sip­ing with the Ladies for hours.

There wasn’t much left intact out­side the cas­tle. It had been aban­doned before Belle was born and when she was younger she mapped the entire perimeter—where out of con­trol thorn bush­es allowed. The front gates were barred with iron, and the two side doors she found were like­wise secure. She’d nev­er been inside. Most of the stonework had been over­grown by the for­est when she dis­cov­ered the place, and every year, the green­ery inched a lit­tle high­er up on the walls. Belle kept only a sin­gle path clear to the court­yard under an arched wall still intact. And the stone bench, of course, where she loved to sit and read.

Rumors in town said the cas­tle was haunt­ed by the roy­al fam­i­ly or cursed by some witch and every­one inside died in a sin­gle night. Belle didn’t believe a word of it. She’d enjoyed this place for years with­out a sin­gle hint of a hunting.

Birds made their nests in the quince trees and chick­o­rees ran along their branch­es, chat­ter­ing at each oth­er to nego­ti­ate for food. Roses bud­ded in red, yel­low, and pink, each bush a rogue plant burst­ing up through the stones. Rarely, the deer passed by, their dark shapes step­ping through the trees just beyond the arch in the wall with care­ful pre­ci­sion. Their dark eyes spot­ted her in the court­yard, watch­ing war­i­ly, before they moved on. Belle liked to leave a hand­ful of nuts for the squir­rels when she arrived and watch them hop across the court­yard to col­lect them while she read, their tails wav­ing like flags.

Nature made the stones beau­ti­ful now, but what a glo­ri­ous place this must have been when it was maintained.

Leaves rus­tled under the arch. Belle glanced up, expect­ing a bird. She spot­ted a crea­ture as big as the stone wall. Their huge antlers, like a deer but much larg­er, scraped against the top the arch, which was so tall that Belle couldn’t touch it even when she got a run­ning start. It wasn’t a deer, though. They stood on two shag­gy legs, had a bulky body like a bear, the face of a goat, and a thick mane around their shoul­ders like a lion. Shaggy arms end­ed in very human-like hands on the wall of the court­yard, rustling the leaves there.

Belle swal­lowed, her eyes grow­ing wider as she took in the cloven hooves the size of din­ner plates and bil­low­ing breath like steam.

She didn’t find her­self afraid. The crea­ture seemed more at home in the ruins than any oth­er. But Belle held her breath as they watched one anoth­er and she knew any wrong move would break the spell. She saw curios­i­ty and long­ing, but also fear. Belle had been com­ing to this court­yard for years. How long had this crea­ture been watching?

Belle soft­ly closed the book in her hands. The creature’s eyes snapped to the motion like a wary ani­mal caught in the stare of a preda­tor. But that couldn’t be right. Belle was half their size. And those horns…
She put the book on the bench. “Hello,” she said gently.

The crea­ture looked up from the book. Did they speak?

Slowly, so care­ful­ly, Belle stood up from the bench. “My name is Belle,” she said.

The crea­ture fled. They were gone so quick­ly a breeze gust­ed through the court­yard behind them and it took Belle a moment to real­ize they hadn’t just dis­ap­peared, they’d run away. She grabbed her dress skirt and ran to the arch. She fol­lowed the only open path in the over­growth but that led to a cor­ner with a door to the cas­tle that was barred and unmov­ing. Ivy crawled around the door jam and obscured most of the wall. The door itself, a heavy tim­ber band­ed with met­al and studs.

Belle shook the han­dle but the door just rat­tled against its lock. She frowned and back­tracked along the path. The crea­ture had large, pow­er­ful legs. Had they sim­ply lept over the over­grown thorn bush­es and van­ished into the forest?

Belle peered into the woods for a while, seek­ing any sign of move­ment or a hint of those great antlers. But even­tu­al­ly the birds resumed their singing and the chick­o­rees their chat­ter­ing with­out any sign of some­thing larger.

Curious, Belle returned to the court­yard. She tried to remem­ber the sto­ries about the cas­tle, of haunt­ings and curs­es, but she didn’t have the details. She’d have to ask her father. And Lukas. He prob­a­bly had a col­lec­tion of myths she could read.

Belle col­lect­ed her bas­ket and froze at the bench. Her book was gone. She checked the ground and under the bench. No book. But here, hoof­prints fresh in the wet moss. Prints larg­er than her hand when she stretched her fin­gers wide.

She looked up at the cas­tle, scan­ning the tops of the court­yard walls for any oth­er way in. Unless there was a secret door, the crea­ture had to have snuck past her on the path or come around the back and scaled the wall. She couldn’t imag­ine it.

There had to be a secret door. Maybe they were watch­ing her now, wait­ing to see what she would do about the miss­ing book.

Belle straight­ened her back and cleared her throat, pro­ject­ing her voice into the court­yard. “That book is one of my favorite. It’s book two in a series but I can bring the first one from home next time… if you want to read them.” She glanced around the crum­bling stone and over­grown quince.

Nothing and no one talked back but the birds.

Belle nod­ded once, checked her bas­ket for the can­teen she’d brought—that was still there—and made her way out of the court­yard to the for­est path she’d worn between the trees. Next time she’d bring extra books. But not before she spoke to Lukas.

Chapter 3