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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Early morning sunlight dragged Belle reluctantly out of bed the next morning. Elegant silk sheets pooled around her as she sat up in a bed she didn’t recognize in a gilded room that wasn’t hers. She wiped her eyes, blinking in confusion. Her bed was massive and the pillow seemed to be full of real feathers. Sheer fabric draped overhead from four corner posts. Even the mattress was fancy, springing back under her hand the way straw never did.
A single wide window dominated one wall of the room and very expensive clear glass had been set in a grid all the way across. It didn’t have any bubbles or ripples.
There was, however, a wardrobe with delicate scroll work and a decorative crest on top standing the wrong way against the window like it had been moved out of the way and never moved back.
The wardrobe turned itself around. In the place of the crest at the top was a jovial face lined in gold leaf that said brightly, “Good morning!”
She threw the fancy sheets and the heavy comforter off the bed, scrambling and tangling herself in the process. She twisted an fell, screaming again in her panic to get free, get away, run!
The wardrobe hobbled away from the window, with her little door handle arms held up toward her face in alarm.
Belle kicked herself free of the sheets but didn’t want to run past the wardrobe to get to the door. She scrambled backward on her hands and butt until she ran into the corner of the room where she curled up, shaking, eyes wide and breath coming too quickly. Her long shirt for sleeping tangled in her legs.
The wardrobe stopped in the center of the room near the foot of the bed. Her skinny door handle arms came away from her face only long enough to say, “Oh goodness.”
Belle stared, her breath heaving in her chest.
It really was an upright wardrobe with a face talking to her. That was actually happening.
“What…” Belle couldn’t form a coherent thought let alone a full question. “Who…?”
The wardrobe stood up tall with a wooden creak and said proudly, “I am Madam Armoire, the prima donna of the French opera and… well… now I’m a dresser.” Her brass door arms swept downward and she bent forward, wood creaking, to look at herself. The shape of the woodwork gave her a head, broad shoulders, and a taper down to small wooden feet without the convenience of legs. Or knees. Two white doors on her front opened and closed apparently at will, with the brass handles acting as emotive arms.
Belle shook her head. “You’re talking.”
“In fact, I can sing, as well.”
“I’m losing my mind.”
Madam Armoire chuckled. “I don’t know about that. But you will miss breakfast at this rate.” She opened her doors and pulled a dress out out of her chest, laying it on the foot of the bed. She kicked a pair of shoes out of her bottom drawer. “Come on, up, up! I’ll see if I can explain.”
Belle gathered her shift in one hand and stood on unsteady feet. The wardrobe didn’t seem threatening so much as very alarming. And as she hopped away from the bed and gave Belle more breathing room, Belle approached with curiosity.
“You used to be a singer?” she asked as she changed.
“A good one, too,” Madam Armoire said with confidence. She sang a quick refrain to prove it.
Belle clapped when she was done. “Oh, that was delightful!”
“It’s been years since I’ve been on a proper stage. Dressers aren’t exactly known for their singing voices, you know.”
Belle pushed her feet into the shoes Armoire had given her and leaned back on the foot of the bed. “What happened?”
Madam Armoire sagged a little against the wall with a sigh. “It was so long ago. I don’t even know what caused the commotion. The royal family was hosting a ball and I had been invited to perform. It was a wondrous night. Beautiful. A nasty storm had whipped up outside, but here in the castle none of us were bothered.” She frowned and looked into the distance. “Some kind of magic swept through the place. It touched everyone. I remember the guests running away into the night, but some of us didn’t make it out and we were… transformed.”
Belle shook her head. “You don’t know what caused it?”
“I was on stage when it happened, singing to a wonderful crowd. If you want to know the details, you’ll have to ask the heir. Quinn.”
Bell brightened immediately. “Quinn! That’s the guardian’s name? With the…” Belle made a gesture around her head. “Antlers?”
“Yes, oh! They wanted me to give you this when you woke up.” Madam Armoire opened her doors and shook a small internal drawer open for Belle to investigate.
She found a book inside. Belle picked it up. “The beginner’s guide to sign language.”
“Quinn can’t speak, so the household learned this instead. It’s faster than writing.”
Belle opened the book and skimmed the first several pages. “I remember that. Last night, when I helped them clean up in the garden.” She snapped the book closed with a gasp. “Are they alright? Do they need help?”
“Quinn is doing fine. They’re sleeping in the arboretum.”
“And my father?”
“We moved him to the next room over last night. Right this way.”
Madam Armoire lead the way out of Belle’s room and across a brightly lit hall with a plush rug running down the center. “It’s so nice to have guests,” Madam Armoire said. “It’s been so long since this place had a proper clean, you know.”
The wardrobe opened the door across from Belle’s and allowed her to enter on her own. “I’ll be out here when you’re ready for breakfast.”
Belle entered the darkened room quietly. Her father lay in the center of a plush bed like hers. She perched on the side of the bed and he shifted, his eyes fluttering open. Belle took his hand and said softly, “Good morning, Daddy.”
“Belle,” he said, his voice full of gravel. “I had the strangest dream. Gaston came to the house to call on you and this creature came down from the castle…” he trailed off in confusion as his eyes focused on the bed and the unfamiliar walls in the gloom.
“It’s not a dream, Daddy.” She patted his hand and stood to open the curtains and let in some light.
Her father sat up in the bed, struggling with his ribs bandaged, and managed to lean back against the pillows on the headboard. He touched the post on the bed nearest him, and gazed around the room in awe.
It looked much the same as Belle’s, a center bed, a standing wardrobe—not animated and singing like a person—and crown molding around the ceiling. Gold leaf in the wall paper. Flat, clear glass in the window.
“What is this place?”
Belle rejoined her father on the bed, the beads in her hair clinking as she cuddled close. “Do you remember a few days ago I told you about the guardian I saw at the castle when I was reading?”
“Their name is Quinn and something happened to them and the staff here a long time ago. Something magical. Lukas said they were cursed.”
Her father hugged her shoulder close. “We’re in the castle,” he said.
“You said Gaston came to call on me. Do you remember what happened?”
“It was all so fast. He spoke about hunting something in the wood behind the house and came to ask my permission to hunt the land. I denied him, of course, I know you don’t care for him and I wanted him gone before you came home. I don’t know why he drew his sword. Maybe he saw the—Quinn, you said?—maybe he saw Quinn first. Or maybe Quinn arrived after. I think… Gaston attacked them. How did I get here, though?”
Belle nodded as her father put more of the pieces together. “Quinn shielded you from Gaston’s attack and brought you here. Bandaged you. Gaston was still there when I got home, but I knew something was wrong right away. The blood…. There was so much blood, Daddy, I thought you were dead.”
“I’m not, I’m here,” he said, holding her tight.
“I found you and Quinn in the arboretum here in the castle. I helped Quinn clean their wounds in the pond and we stayed the night.”
“Good. That’s my girl,” he said weakly.
“Daddy, you’re still hurt. Lay back down and I’ll have some food brought in to you.”
He nodded and slid back down on the mattress with Belle’s help.
She found Madam Armoire out in the hall as promised and asked if breakfast could be sent up instead. The wardrobe assured her it could.
Belle found an extra blanket in the non-person wardrobe in her father’s room and curled up on an oversized chair by the window to wait for food. She opened the Sign Language book and started practicing.
It wasn’t long before Belle was drawn out of her reading by the sound of singing and the distinct clatter of plates approaching in the hall. She tucked the book away and opened the curtains at the window all the way, letting light flood into the gilded room. She opened the door in time to see a cart full of breakfast apparently driving itself and, dancing at the front singing a song about breakfast, was the candlestick Belle had used yesterday to light her way up the stairs.
She hadn’t known yesterday that the ordinary objects in the castle were really staff and guests, but she smiled as she realized the candlestick had shown her the way to Quinn in the arboretum without revealing himself. The light had turned toward the hall when she needed help. She’d dismissed it as old magic, but clearly the candlestick had guided her.
The cart trundled and hopped its way into the room, dancing to the candlestick’s song which finished with a flourish as the candlestick lifted the lids off the breakfast plates with a bow. The flame on his head flickered and danced.
Steaming plates of pancakes and fat sausage awaited. Jars of jam and syrup lined the edges of the cart. A tray of butter, two glasses of juice and a pot of coffee with extra cups crowded into the corner.
“Oh wow,” said Belle. She drew a folding tray out from the bottom of the cart and helped her father sit up in bed, perching the standing tray across his lap.
The candlestick set the dish covers to one side and lifted a plate. He hopped across the bed to deliver it and the cutlery danced behind him, lining themselves up on the tray in excitement.
Belle’s father grabbed her hand and leaned close. “Belle, my dear, I do believe I’m more sick than I realized. I think the candlestick was singing?”
Belle smiled and patted her father’s hand. “You’re not seeing things, Daddy. Remember I said the staff had been cursed?” She waved her hand at the candlestick. “They’ve all been turned into household items. My handmaid this morning was a standing wardrobe.”
Her father shot a glance at the wardrobe across the room, but that one didn’t move.
“Sir and Miss, it is my pleasure and delight to introduce myself,” said the candlestick with a flourishing bow. The candles on his hands flared to life as he posed. “I am Lumière, your servant in all things, your loyal maître d’, at your beck and call from dawn to dusk—well a little after dusk technically. If you have a need it is my calling to fill it, you have only ask.”
Belle took her breakfast plate and the drinks to the side table where she could eat, her own utensils eager to cut her pancakes for her while she dribbled jam and syrup on the pieces.
Her father took shock of a talking candlestick in stride, immediately asking after a straight razor to clean himself up and an extra set of hot towels for Belle to do the same.
Belle rubbed her chin, finding a day’s worth of growth there that needed to go. She nodded in agreement.
Lumière took to his task with urgency, leaving Belle and her father to eat breakfast together. They watched the candlestick burst into song as he left, the rolling cart under him dancing along like a trained horse. The door closed behind them. Belle and her father shared a laugh once he was gone down the hall. How absurd had life become overnight?
They ate well. Her father’s color came up and he seemed to gain much of his old strength back, which settled Belle’s concerns. The cart came back on its own with two sets of straight razors, soap, water, and hot towels, after which Belle felt quite refreshed.
She gave her father a kiss, settled him back into bed to rest, and set out to explore the castle. She wanted to practice her new signing skills with Quinn, and perhaps understand more about the curse on their house.
Her curiosity lead her into ballrooms, down hallways, into servants quarters and back, she found the kitchens, the wine cellar, and the sitting rooms near the rundown atrium at the entrance. Every room was neglected, dusty, the wood falling apart, the stone chipped and cold. Fabrics had started to disintegrate with neglect. Despite the charm of the staff, this house was not thriving.
Eventually she made her way back to the arboretum where Quinn knelt under the dying quince tree espaliered over the pergola in the center. She hesitated at the massive iron doorway. Quinn seemed to radiate an intense sadness and like an expanding bubble, it pushed outward, resisting Belle’s wish to move into it. It almost felt as if Quinn encouraged the mood, using it as a defense against anyone who might call them friend.
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