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 him.


'Have you taken a chill, my Lord? inquired his guest with a frown of concern,' Perhaps some of this mulled wine..'


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 Beast.


'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.



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