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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Quinn’s long legs ate the tower stairs two at a time. Belle lifted her skirts with both hands and marched after them, determined not to be left behind even though her calves were burning and she panted for air.
The stone steps here were worn in the center—as if thousands and thousands of people had once walked up and down—and the spiraling staircase was free of dust, cobwebs, and the grime that comes with neglect over time.
No carpets lined these stairs, unlike the rest of the castle, so it couldn’t have been a significant tower for the family that used to live here, but clearly it meant a lot to Quinn. Even when the rest of the building had fallen into disrepair, this tower had been cared for.
The door at the top of the stairs, made from dark wood and banded in iron, opened on silent hinges. Its latch clicked smoothly. And evening sunlight washed over Belle like a warm hug.
Quinn held the door open for Belle with a slight bow of their head, antlers spanning the door like a tree’s branches. She smiled as she stepped out onto the sun-heated stone, turning her face into the light with a delighted sigh.
The castle wasn’t unwelcoming, but Belle had missed walking into town in the mornings, humming in the light of dawn, eager to share her latest book adventure with Lukas. Her heart lifted as she took a deep breath of fresh forest air touched with the sweet scent of quince blooms from the courtyard.
When she finally opened her eyes, Quinn had closed the castle door and stood at the edge of the tower where a low stone wall barely came up to their hips. Belle joined them—resting her hands on the wall at her chest—and looked out over the forest and the valley beyond. Her father’s house was lost in the trees somewhere, small enough for both the roof and the garden to hide in the woods. Belle spotted a divide in the trees that wound like a snake toward the valley—the river. She followed that mark until she spotted the tallest building in town, the church, whos bell tower poked up over the trees with a red tile roof.
The rest of the village buildings were too small to make out individually, but Belle thought she recognized the empty space where the market was held each week and in the distance she saw the quiet shine of the bay, glittering under the evening sun like diamonds.
Seeing the town from this height gave Belle an entirely different feel. Down on the cobblestones when she walked from the bakery to the bookstore, the town was too big to contain in a single glance. Her worries with Gaston felt larger than life and impossible to escape. But from here the town was dwarfed by the forest and surrounding mountains, so small that she could miss it at a glance. Gaston was a big influence in that town. But the world was so much bigger.
Belle took another deep breath of wild forest air and felt a thread of tension, like a wire wrapped around her heart, untangle and fall away. She felt free for the first time in a long time. Her fear that Gaston might kidnap her or assault her father melted in the warmth of the setting sun. Her anxiety about being away from town settled until she could smile again. The towering perspective of the castle gave her space. Gaston and the town weren’t her entire world anymore.
Belle threw her arms out as if she could embrace the forest and laughed with delight.
She was on her own adventure, now, just like the women in the books she read.
Belle couldn’t wait to see where it took her.
Quinn’s goat-like ears perked up at her laughter and they looked down at her, surprised and curious. Belle contained herself to some giggles, then pointed to the bay behind the village. “What’s the sign for water?”
Quinn held up their hand and tapped their chin with three fingers extended. Belle tried to copy the gesture, but Quinn pointed to her other hand. She corrected. When she got it right, Quinn nodded.
Belle muttered to herself as she repeated the gesture.
Quinn knelt on the stone and picked up a small rock. They placed it in Belle’s hand, then made a gesture with two fists.
“Stone?” Belle asked. “Pebble maybe?”
Quinn made the rock gesture again, then expanded it with both hands like a ball. When Belle shook her head they pointed over her shoulder… at the mountain behind her.
“Oh! A big rock! The mountain!”
Quinn nodded, ears strained forward and eyes bright.
Belle asked for more words and Quinn provided: forest, village, castle, door—until the sun dipped too low to see their hands anymore. She repeated them all, committing their concepts to memory and practice so that tomorrow she could understand even more of what Quinn had to say.
Belle shivered as the night wind picked up, rubbing her hands on her arms. Quinn stepped close behind her, blocking the breeze and enveloping her in a soft, fur-lined hug that immediately drove off the cold.
Belle leaned into them, cozy and comfortable, all trace of her fear this morning wiped away by the view and Quinn’s gentle hands on hers.
She sighed with pleasure. “This would be a great place to curl up with a book during the day.”
Belle felt Quinn nod their head.
Maybe they already did that. Belle was still missing a book. Had Quinn brought it up here to read?
She looked up. Through the branching points of Quinn’s antlers, Belle could see the first stars just beginning to twinkle in the dark sky overhead. Quinn’s long face and mane were a shadow on the night. They tilted their head and one gleaming dark eye met Belle’s. Soft and intelligent. Warm. She smiled and settled deeper in Quinn’s arms, enjoying the quiet night.
Belle couldn’t cure Quinn’s ills or make them see what they didn’t believe, but she could be here, a friend, ready to talk or learn or just sit so that Quinn wasn’t alone. She could show them this castle wasn’t a prison or the limit of their world.