Long, long ago , hidden in the forest,
there was a mighty castle . Deep in a ravine it began, and
its slender towers reached to the tops of the over arching trees,
giant conifers that shut out all light. The ravine seemed
bottomless, so dark it was, and from the unseen depths came the sound
of many waters falling. One slender bridge was all that connected
the castle to the forest floor where the trees began, for it had
been so designed that even if an army of ten thousand should seek
entry they needs must approach the single narrow portal one by one.
In the ancient courts and passageways
of the castle roamed a Beast. It is written that he was man-shaped for the most part, but
having a mane like unto a lion, and a long tail and ears as a
panther has, and on his head the curling horns of a mountain sheep.
His face was , save for the length and
sharpness of his teeth, that of a man old in years, his beard and mane
shot thru with grey. He himself could not have said how old for it
seemed to him he had always dwelt within the tumbled ruins of the
castle, as a beast lairs within any chance cave that offers shelter. He wore upon his back tattered robes that might have belonged to some great lord of old, but often and again he went on all fours ,
beast fashion and the rich fabric trailing on the ground had
become tattered and stained .
The castle within the wood was shunned for it had an evil name, and chance travelers coming in sight of
it when lost upon the many twisting paths between the trees would
flee all the more quickly when spying the hunched shape of the
Beast silhouetted on a high balcony , and the Beast, seeing that all
fled him , became ever more furtive and alone.
So it was with surprise and some alarm,
that the Beast glimpsed one day a pale figure wandering in the wood,
a slender maid it seemed who yet did not turn aside at the sight of
the grim towers thrusting forth from a chasm in the earth , but
instead turned to explore the edge of the awful gulf as if seeking a
way to cross. Filled with an emotion he could not name, the Beast
bounded down from the tower where he kept watch, down the flights of
dusty' rubble strewn steps to the single doorway that gave out onto
the slender tongue of stone which spanned the depths . With a bitter
twist to his face he threw aside the rags of his cloak and drew
himself up to his full height , standing by the open door as the maid
drew near to the foot of the bridge. She was young and dressed in a
fashion that showed her no seasoned traveler, her gown and slippers
bearing signs of ill contention with brush and briar, yet she
walked without fear, hair the colour of ripe wheat loose upon her
shoulders . At the foot of the bridge she spied the Beast standing
motionless in the open doorway who for his part was nerving
himself for the soul-shattering screams he expected .
No sound came. Instead he found himself
examined by eyes the colour of starlight on old ivy , with nothing
of surprise or alarm .
''May I cross ?' she said , with grave
courtesy.' I seem to be lost among these trees.'
'Here is no fit habitation for one such
as you' , growled the Beast, his voice harsh and rusty from disuse.
'Bats and spiders only seek to live among these accursed ruins. '
'Yet would I
venture it, ' returned the Maid, smiling, 'for evening draws
on and I have need of shelter. ' And so serenely she gazed, and so
confidently, that in confusion the Beast stood aside from the doorway
and clumsily bid her enter. She crossed the narrow bridge over the
unseen depths below, and it barely the width of her two feet
together without curb or handrail, as carelessly as if she trod a
wide avenue. The Beast looked on amazed.
'Have a care within ' he made to say
as she passed through the portal, 'these old ruins...'
The maid looked back at him as though
she suspected some jest,' Nay, sirrah,' she replied- ' for though an
army of housemaids would not go amiss , I judge these ancient stones
to be well laid andcrafted.' And indeed , instead of the
tumbled wreck he was accustomed to see a broad stairway rose in
noble curves to the upper halls , dusty to be sure, but unbroken. So
astonished was the Beast at this sudden transformation, that the Maid
was halfway up the stairs , her skirts gathered primly clear of the
dust which lay in fuzzy sparkles beneath the candlelight that shone
from sconces which had been dark holes in the stones as long as he
could remember, before he could follow and join her .
'M-my lady,' he stammered, 'this is
not...I am not accustomed...'
' You were not expecting visitors, I
understand.' she said sweetly ' It is no matter. I would be honored
to share whatever small repast may be your custom at this hour, '
Thinking helplessly of the half chewed
rabbit carcass he had put aside for his evening meal, the Beast
attempted to precede the Maid into the upper hall , stopping short
at the sight that met his eyes. Instead of the tumbled wreck of the
smashed oak table , festooned with cobwebs, a gleaming board laid
with silver platters bearing an assortment of cold meats and bread
and fat cheeses lay within, the whole brightly lit by even more
candles . Even the floor gleamed, magically free of the usual litter
of mud and gnawed bones.
'I see that I wrong your service,'
remarked the young lady, demurely seating herself , 'Your upper halls
– doubtless it is your custom to dwell in them rather than below.
'Doubtless,' answered the Beast,
gingerly grasping a platter of sweetbreads as if he expected them to
vanish in the next instant, and offering them to his guest with what
grace he could muster. The sight of the half-rotted fabric clinging
to his sinewy forearm halted the gesture however, and he hunched
over in a vain attempt to conceal the state of the rags that clothed
'Have you taken a chill, my Lord?
inquired his guest with a frown of concern,' Perhaps some of this
The Beast sprang to his feet with a
growl. ' I know not what enchantment you have wrought over these
ruined halls, or why , but I am as you see me, and once this grim
place was fit habitation for such as I!
The Maid gazed into his contorted face
gravely, as if seeking the answer to some riddle. 'But, my Lord, I am
no sort of enchantress,' quoth she at last. 'All here is as you see
it to be, and was done by your will, and none other.'
'What mockery is this?' cried the Beast
. 'Who do you imagine I am?'
'Why, who but the Lord of this Castle,
' she answered . ' And a wizard of craft and skill, as all the world
knows. In my youth,' she continued dreamily.' I heard many tales of
the Prince of Shadows and his enchanted Castle that needed no
human hand , but all was done by magic. Secretly I vowed that one
day I would see it for myself- and- here I am!' she ended with a
smile. 'So, my dear Lord, you have no need to dissemble. Will you
not put aside that mummer's dress and clothe yourself as befits one
of nobility and beauty? '
The Beast drew a long breath in
protest, drawing himself up to his full height to do so, when on an
instant he saw the tattered garment he wore change and become rich
apparel , deeply hued and edged with borders of purest gold. And in
that instant the mists cleared from his mind and he remembered who he
was. Down the long corridors of thought he peered, seeing the
futile waste of years spent hiding in squalor, and at last ,
searching thru memories suddenly illuminated he spied the Witch. He
saw her face, uncommonly fair, and the supplication in her eyes as
she offered herself in marriage...and then the flash of hatred when
he refused, the beautiful face contorted and no longer beautiful
'Your soul is as vile as your form ,' she had hissed then, ' I curse
you, from this day forward, to live like the beast you are, your arts
forgotten, your mind clouded, until one with pure heart seeks you
out of love .. and who will come near you now?' And the scream of her
furious laughter pursued him down the years until this moment , when
'You were the one!' said the Beast at
last, lost in wonderment. ' The one it was foretold would come and
break the spell!
The maid shook her head in surprise. 'I
know nothing of any spell, my Lord. I know I have left my retinue
benighted upon the endless paths of this dark wood, and I know I
have yearned all my life to meet you and see the wonders of your
enchanted Castle. Will you not therefore show it to me?'
The Beast took her hands in his and his
laughter boomed out like thunder on a summer day . ' Why, with a
willing heart, my Lady, ' quoth he.
So for a measureless time the Beast led
the Maiden from room to room, showing all the treasures his mind and
craft had created there. It became a game- he would ask her what she
guessed each closed door might conceal, and when the door opened,
whatever she guessed would in truth be there. When the maiden
realized what was happening, her guesses, in jest, became more and
more fantastical, until at last she named 'a blue and silver dragon
as tall as your tallest tower' , then screamed in alarm at the huge
form rearing snakelike on the other side of the opened portal, till
the Beast, smiling, caused the monster to bend his neck and allow
himself to be petted like a giant cat.
'Where is your kingdom, my Lady ?
'asked the Beast at one time.
The Maiden smiled sweetly .'Oh, it is never far from where I am,
' she answered .
And another time, he asked, ' Does not
my form repulse you?'
' Many who wear a fair face are beasts
within, ' she answered, as a shadow of sadness crossed her face, ' I
look into your soul and I find only Beauty.'
'Some say, ' murmured the Beast, 'that
to look into another's soul is but to gaze into a mirror.' But the
Maiden did not hear.
So the days passed, and it whether it
was morning or night none could tell for in the dark under the trees
the light came and went as the Beast wished , and at times the whole
Castle would be as a city with lights blazing forth from every window
and embrasure , and at others only one room showed illumination as
from a warm hearth fire.
Finally, at a time of morning in the
world outside, the Beast woke to find s strange golden light stealing
between the massive trees of his forest, the light as of a true
dawn, and not of his making. The maiden joined him on his balcony.
'Ah ! ' she cried , 'It has come.'
'What is come, my Lady?' asked the
'Oh, my kingdom, my Lord,' she
answered happily. ' I thought they would find me about now.'
'Does this...do you mean to go, to
leave here?' Asked the Beast , feeling a strange pang in his heart.
' I cannot live thus, as you do, ' she
replied, her voice gentle. ' Being but mortal and having no magic of
mine own.' The Beast made to protest, but she raised a hand and his
voice stilled. 'Besides, ' she continued calmly, ' There is one there
who waits for me.' And she turned to go , but paused and looking
into his eyes where jealousy and sadness strove for mastery, she
said , ' I shall never forget the treasures you have shown me. It
mayhap that I shall return one day, if you would have it so, for I
feel we have become friends., have we not? '
And with that she was gone, and the
Beast saw from his Balcony that she crossed the narrow bridge as
confidently as before , and was soon lost in the golden light pouring
through the trees.