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. 

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Chapter 4

Unfortunately, this chap­ter was only up for one week and you’ve missed the win­dow! If you’d like to catch up or sup­port oth­er projects like this, please join my Patreon.

It was late after­noon before Belle left the town behind her and head­ed home. She’d nev­er regret a day spent at Lukas’ shop, but she real­ly did have chores to tend to and she’d skipped lunch so her stom­ach com­plained loud­ly the entire walk back. Thankfully, after ambush­ing Gaston with Laurien that morn­ing, Belle hadn’t seen any sign of him for the rest of the day.

Her bas­ket hung heavy on her arm with gro­ceries and sup­plies, her new books from Lukas tucked on the sides, and she nib­bled on a stick of aged sharp cheese crust­ed with soft herbs.

She was just lick­ing the last of the salty snack off her fin­gers as the cot­tage came into view. She expect­ed to find her father in the yard that stretched out from the front door, cleared painstak­ing­ly of brush and stone years ago by her par­ents, back when her moth­er had been preg­nant with Belle and refused to slow down for a lit­tle thing like a baby on the way. The stones lined the edge of the yard while a tan­gle of veg­eta­bles grew in their place, spilling over each oth­er in their race to the sun.

Her father wasn’t in the yard.

Instead, Gaston sat on the stone steps of the cot­tage, col­lapsed against the door, his sword a few feet away on the path.

Belle froze at the gate as her heart dropped in her chest and every hair on her body stood up in alarm. Gaston had nev­er come to the house before. He’d nev­er tried to find her out­side of town.

Gaston coughed rough­ly and spat some­thing red into the grass. Belle dropped her bas­ket at the gate and ran to him. Then she saw the blood smeared on the cob­ble­stones. The dis­tort­ed boot prints in the dirt. There were rips and tears in Gaston’s pris­tine hunt­ing coat and blood streaked across his face like he’d tried to wipe it away.

Belle screamed as she ran up to the door and Gaston lurched upright. His eyes wouldn’t focus and he seemed half-dead there on the step. Belle shoved him back and yanked her cab­in door open. Gaston grunt­ed. She paid him no mind. “Daddy!” she shout­ed, stum­bling to a stop inside the sin­gle-room. “DADDY!”

The cab­in had been torn apart. Feathers and hay from the bed­ding lay every­where, torn to shreds. The few books Belle kept at home were scat­tered, their pages strewn in every cor­ner. Glassware and bowls lay in shat­tered fans. The table had been flipped onto its side and near­ly every piece of cloth­ing in the cab­in seemed to be thrown in the air to land where it may.

And under Belle’s boots, a dark streak of blood across the doorway.

Gaston shift­ed to his feet slow­ly, his boots and pants scratch­ing on the stone. Belle whirled on him, fear burn­ing to fury in a white-hot flash.

I tried to save him,” Gaston coughed heavily.

Belle didn’t want to hear it. She shoved him off her front steps, dog­ging him as he stum­bled back­ward and shoved again until he fell on the cob­ble­stones as if all the strength had gone out of him at once.
“I was attacked by that mon­ster!” Gaston insist­ed. He swiped his hair out of eyes, drag­ging blood into the blond.

Where’s my father? What did you do to him?”

I didn’t—“

Don’t lie to me!” Belle kicked her boot into Gaston’s side, her fury over­flow­ing. She need­ed to find her father. All this blood….

Gaston’s tired, plead­ing face dropped in an instant. He grabbed Belle’s wrist and stood smooth­ly, one swift and angry motion.

He hadn’t been injured at all. Or even wind­ed. The piti­ful look on Belle’s front steps had been a ruse, just like every­thing else.

Terror quenched her rage as quick­ly as Gaston shift­ed moods and she tried to step away.

He held her fast.

The anger on his face twist­ed his hand­some lines into a beast. “I have tried every­thing with you. I’ve asked polite­ly. I’ve giv­en you gifts. I’ve invit­ed you to par­ties that the real women in this town would kill to attend—“

Belle yanked her­self free and stum­bled back sev­er­al steps, her breath com­ing in gasps and starts. Her heart raced in her throat. She was going to be sick.

Real women.

She’d known Gaston was a big­ot. Of course she’d known. But he’d nev­er said any­thing out loud, not where Belle had heard him, not in pub­lic when he pre­tend­ed to be gen­er­ous and kind. And when it wasn’t overt she could almost pre­tend it didn’t exist at all.

But the words were like a slap in the face. She couldn’t breathe.

She’d known and she’d tried not to.

She was too full of fear and hor­ror and anger to think straight. Tears over­flowed and her chest squeezed too tight­ly, Belle gasped. Gaston loomed clos­er, suf­fo­cat­ing her, his hero­ic veneer shift­ed into some­thing evil.

Belle whirled away from Gaston and ran. She tore past the gar­den, her feet find­ing the famil­iar path into the woods. Her tears made every­thing swim and she kept gasp­ing for air like she was drown­ing, but her boots were firm and her flight swift and sure.


She didn’t look back. She couldn’t. If Gaston want­ed to chase her down, he’d find her hard prey to catch. This for­est was her back­yard. Her sanc­tu­ary. She knew every root and stump and leaf. She knew every turn in the trail.

Gaston would not catch her.

Belle sprint­ed like the deer she’d seen on her morn­ing walks, every foot sol­id and sure. The for­est unfold­ed before her and the leaves obscured her trail behind. In two heart­beats she’d dis­ap­peared. In three she’d lost Gaston. In four Belle ran out of breath.

And she stum­bled to a stop at the edge of the castle.

She dart­ed into the court­yard, run­ning on more instinct than log­ic. The cas­tle crea­ture had seen her here before. Maybe they could see her now?

She spun in a tight cir­cle, check­ing all door­ways and arch­es, look­ing for signs of life.

And on the bench she spot­ted blood.

With a cry she rushed to the stone. She cov­ered her mouth with one hand, pray­ing it wasn’t human. Then imme­di­ate­ly pray­ing it wasn’t the castle’s guardian either.

It had bet­ter be Gaston’s blood. Belle want­ed him to—

She stopped that thought and with one trem­bling hand, mea­sured the smear of blood she had found. Five fin­gers. A human print. And small, like hers.

Gaston’s hands were the size of din­ner plates. This was her father. It had to be.

Belle whirled away from the stone and stum­bled through the back arch­way, shov­ing over­grown bush­es aside to find the sol­id wood­en door fixed to the cas­tle walls.

She col­lapsed against the door, fear shov­ing tears from her eyes and mak­ing her shake. She pound­ed on the wood, sob­bing more than plead­ing for the guardian to answer the door. Her father was around. 

Somewhere. Injured.

She couldn’t do this alone.

The door creaked as it tipped inward.

Not the move­ment of some­one open­ing the door for her, but the move­ment of a door left unlatched. Belle stum­bled inward, so sur­prised she hic­cuped on her next sob, and her shoes clicked on pol­ished stone.

Belle grabbed at her skirt and wiped her face clean of tears, forc­ing her­self to breathe slow and steady. She had to calm down. To think. She couldn’t help any­one in a panic.

Belle pushed the door open all the way and day­light spilled into the hall. It wasn’t dark exact­ly, but a thick lay­er of dust and cob­web spoke to how rarely this pas­sage was used. The stone walls were cool to the touch, and sev­er­al can­dles mount­ed into them had burned down their bases years ago. But the foot­prints on the floor, dis­turb­ing the dust, said some­one had come through recently.

Belle pressed her hands to her hot face. She sniffed and took two deep breaths, try­ing to calm her rac­ing heart and the painful con­trac­tions in her chest.

Then with more reck­less­ness than brav­ery, she pushed the door closed behind her and marched into the cas­tle seek­ing the guardian who lived here.

The hall­ways gloomed with neglect. Paintings hung in frames on the walls, indis­tin­guish­able under the dust. Skinny side tables with tiny cab­i­nets and del­i­cate glass doors perched on either side of the hall, their brass knobs tar­nished and dull. The ceil­ing stretched high­er than Belle expect­ed, the peaks lost in the shad­ows of time.

Every inch of the hall felt aban­doned and if Belle hadn’t known for a fact the wood­en door had been locked only a few days ago, she would have assumed no one lived here at all.

But the trail of swept dust on the floor lead her onward and Belle followed.

She emerged into a large room from the side, clear­ly a servant’s entrance meant to be out of the way. A thick red rug ran the length of it, dec­o­rat­ed with fine embroi­dery in gold. The room lead direct­ly to a sweep­ing stair­case and the rug crawled up to the very top. On the right-hand ban­is­ter, a small can­de­labra with three burn­ing can­dles, cast the only flick­er­ing light in the room. The space yawned with empti­ness.
Belle took the can­de­labra in hand and noticed the brass shined from bot­tom to top. Someone was keep­ing this piece pol­ished. She lift­ed the light and fol­lowed the rug up the stairs.

Silence thick­ened like the dust on the ban­is­ter. Belle felt the sound of her breath­ing echo off the walls like a phys­i­cal thing, push­ing her back. Almost as if the cas­tle was try­ing to con­vince her there was noth­ing to find here. To just go home.

To stop looking.

Belle tight­ened her grip on the can­de­labra and marched down the rug at the top of the stairs. Nothing and no one would stop her from find­ing her father. Not Gaston, not the cas­tle guardian, and cer­tain­ly not some spooky cas­tle magic.

But the num­ber of rooms, hall­ways, and addi­tion­al stairs that branched away from her now gave her pause. If she were a larg­er-than-human cas­tle guardian with a wide rack of antlers liv­ing alone…. Where would she stay?

Belle turned a slow cir­cle in the mid­dle of the rug as she con­sid­ered her options. “If I had to car­ry some­one injured, I wouldn’t go very far,” she mused out loud. “And I would need room to tend to them.”
As she turned, the light of the can­de­labra seemed to lean toward an unadorned hall­way off the main rug-path. It could have been a trick of her eyes, but Belle fol­lowed the sign any­way. The short hall branch end­ed at an elab­o­rate set of iron-wrought doors. They tow­ered over­head, small pin­points of light fil­ter­ing through thick stained glass. The iron­work resem­bled a tree that split into vine-like branch­es. Each glass win­dow hung from a branch like a fruit. There was sun­light on the oth­er side of these doors.

Belle pressed her free hand to the smooth han­dle and stepped inside.

Waning after­noon sun, like a fil­ter of gold, slant­ed through aged glass in all direc­tions. While the cas­tle had been hall­ways and bricks at per­fect angles, this room stretched taller than the trees it con­tained, a glass dome so large the panes seemed to get lost in the sky above. This room wasn’t dusty, though the gar­den it con­tained had been neglect­ed for a long time.

Raised beds lined with mar­ble lay bar­ren. Ivy vines, like the ribs of some giant crea­ture, crawled up the dome and criss­crossed the glass. In the cen­ter of the dome, a huge vine, or maybe a tree that had been trained, crawled up and around a wood­en per­go­la. It was near­ly emp­ty of leaves, just bare wood gleam­ing in the dap­pled sun­light worn smooth by a thou­sand strokes of hands.

The cas­tle guardian knelt in the small court­yard under the per­go­la, their antlers stretch­ing near­ly to the vine above. Their eyes were closed, hands on their thighs, hooves tucked care­ful­ly under­neath their body.
And they knelt over a prone body laid on a stone bench.

Belle rushed across the dec­o­ra­tive tiles but her knees gave out at the edge of the raised beds and she crashed, sud­den­ly weak with fear, against the mar­ble. She had to put the can­de­labra down or risk light­ing the leaf lit­ter and dry, dead plants on fire.

The guardian looked up and Belle rec­og­nized a weary expres­sion on their face. One worn down with time. It was clear even through the strange goat-like muz­zle and wide eyes. Some things sur­passed species.
Belle heft­ed her skirts and climbed to her feet. The sight of the guardian was both fright­en­ing and com­fort­ing. They remained seat­ed as Belle approached in spurts of brav­ery until she rec­og­nized the tight­ly curled black hair of her father. Then noth­ing could keep her away. She ran to him despite how close it put her to the guardian and draped her­self over him, afraid for a heart-stop­ping moment that he was dead and gone.

Then his broad chest lift­ed as he breathed qui­et­ly, asleep on the bench. “Oh, thank the stars,” Belle whis­pered. She kissed his fore­head and inspect­ed her father. Clean white ban­dages wrapped one of his arms and more wrapped around his ribs, stark against his dark skin. Expertly tended.

The guardian had done this.

Belle turned to them, still kneel­ing on the bro­ken tiles of the pago­da. Their long goat-like face drooped with exhaus­tion, ears dan­gling. If antlers could hang low, they would have. The guardian hugged them­self under Belle’s scruti­ny, as if they were the one afraid.

Belle went to her knees in front of the guardian and touched their furred arm. “You did this for him?”
The guardian nod­ded, a gen­tle motion so their antlers didn’t whack Belle on the head.

Thank you. Thank you,” She said. “I don’t want to think of what Gaston would have done. That man is a beast and he—“

The guardian flinched at Belle’s words and she snapped her mouth shut, sud­den­ly embar­rassed with her­self. “I’m sor­ry,” she said. “I’ve got­ten ahead of myself. I’m Belle. This is my father, Maurice. The per­son you no doubt fought with is called Gaston and he’s an awful person.”

Belle gasped as she remem­bered the sword cov­ered in blood and the smears around her house. “Oh my stars, are you hurt? Please show me.” Belle scram­bled to her feet and found the ban­dages and sup­plies used to tend her father at the foot of the bench. She gath­ered them in hand and cir­cled the guardian, only to cry out in shock when she saw their back. Long cuts from shoul­der to hip criss­crossed their back, ooz­ing slow­ly and mat­ted with blood. Belle swal­lowed her pan­ic and looked around the gar­den. She need­ed more than a small bot­tle of dis­in­fec­tant for this. Their back looked like Gaston had tried to hack through them with his sword just to get to the oth­er side.

Belle spot­ted a flow­ing water­fall that dropped into a pond. Once, the pond had fed a shal­low stream through the gar­den, but that path was clogged with leaf lit­ter now. The water still bur­bled out of the falls and appeared clear, though. It would have to do.

With a plan, Belle’s shakes sub­sided and she dropped her sup­plies at the edge of the pond to help the guardian clean up. Where had that can­de­labra gone? She found it on the stone bench beside her father and hand­ed it to the guardian. “Come. Let me help you get cleaned up.”

Chapter 5