Kas, the rough draft

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  Here is the original rough draft of Kas. Please note that this is being posted in its "raw" format from when it was originally written. I hope you enjoy!


           Life has never been easy for me.  I was always the youngest child and the picked on child.  When my siblings weren’t picking on me, they ignored me.  Is it then any wonder why I usually kept out of their way and the way of the rest of society?  The way your own family treats you seems to have an effect on the way others treat you.
            With such philosophy, it doesn’t seem half so crazy when I say that my peers viewed me as some kind of science experiment gone wrong.  I was not like any of them.  I knew it and they knew it.
            It wasn’t necessarily about my looks.  I've been told that I could have been a model had I been a bit taller.  Granted, this was coming from my mother.  I can’t say that I was ugly, but that’s definitely not why I was different.
            Take for example, most girls my age liked to go out to a movie every weekend.  They had boyfriends who they made out with on a regular basis.  They were also always buying the latest CD’s and who knows what.
            I didn’t have a boyfriend.  I did not date.  I mean really.  Who would date a girl whose nose is stuck in either a book or who sings songs to herself while wandering around for no other reason than to just pass the time?
            Of course, who can respect or even like a girl who used to scream during the movie Ichabod Crane when the Headless Horseman throws his pumpkin?  Or better still, who can take a girl seriously whose head is always stuck on thinking about her favorite fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast?  I just don’t see this happening.
            Maybe part of my reserved nature has to do with the events surrounding my birth.  It had been in the summer during one of the worst storms recorded in our area.  I’m told that the wind howled and that with every crash of thunder I shuddered.  Definitely not the best beginnings.
            I suppose that you could say that these events are the foundation of my story, but the actual story begins near the opening of my junior year in high school.  We had just come to the end of summer, and I had decided to keep my job of flipping hamburgers because what’s a girl without money?  She can’t do anything.
            It so happened that my grandmother’s birthday fell about two weeks before school started.  Every year, we would go up to the family cabin to celebrate.  This year was no different, except it was rainier than I ever recalled it.
            The morning dawned actually quite brightly and free of clouds so my parents felt no qualms about going ahead up the mountains.  If it had looked like rain they might not have and risked Grandma’s wrath.
I prepared for an afternoon of boredom by packing a few things in a backpack to keep me occupied since I knew that my cousins wouldn’t want to hang out with me.
            The ride up the mountain was actually very uneventful, except that I felt queasy and wished that I had taken something for my motion sickness.  When we arrived I had to sit down to get my head to stop spinning.
            Everyone ran around doing their little thing, cooking potatoes, stepping on each other toes, that kind of thing.  Grandma went around supervising everything while Grandpa sat and read comic books.  After a while, it all became too much for me and I had to go outside.
            My parents, knowing what I was up to, made me promise not to wander too far.  I promised, of course simply because it was the only way to get them off of my back, not that I would have wandered off on purpose.  So, I set off to ease my boredom, thinking to myself and still clearly in sight of the cabin.
            After maybe ten minutes of exploring the areas that I had visited at least a million times I decided that I could go just a little farther without any danger.  As soon as I had lost sight of the cabin something else caught my eye.  To this day, I can’t recall what it was but at that time I felt as if I had to follow.
            It was not long before my surroundings changed.  Soft pine needles and aspen changed to menacing pine and brambles.  The change was so gradual that I didn’t notice until I stumbled into a thorny bush.  A smattering of blood showed on my hand from the scratches.  Prickles went up and down my back.
            The forest around me looked like nothing I had ever seen before.  The trees reached at the sky in ragged bands.  The ground was covered in rough stones and broken twigs.   It was also now darker and colder.  It smelled like rain.
            I walked on for a few more minutes, finally deciding that I was going no where in some place I was unfamiliar with.  For all I knew, there could be someone watching me, like a witch or a goblin, not that those fairy tale characters were actually real.  But, to be on the safe side, I called out.  “Hello?” 
My voice echoed through a forest that should have stopped my voice the moment it escaped my lips.  I received no answer except the loud crack of thunder.  A harsh wind kicked in and I thought I heard someone call my name.  Kas.
            At first I tried to find the source of the voice but gave up when I realized I wasn’t even sure if I was hearing what I thought I was hearing.  It would not have been the first time my ears had played tricks on me.  Besides, I didn’t want to get anymore lost than what I was already and following after a wisp of imagining was the surest way of doing just that.   I tried to shrug it all off, but the voice that knew my name would not leave my nerves alone.
            I became worried when the trees seemed to crowd more closely together.  These were as wide as a small house and reminded me of spruce.  I don’t recall having ever seen such trees before.  Their vastness almost consumed all of my attention when something else happened.
            I heard my named called again, louder.  By this time I was ready to jump if a mouse so much as peeped.  My heart was pounding in my throat this time.  I felt like someone was watching me, and it made geese run up my back.
            I heard another twig snap and the faint sound of a breath behind me.  My mind raced.  “Run!” It seemed to say.  “Run you idiot!  Run!”  I couldn’t help but follow the advice.  I ran.  I didn’t even look back.
            The tree branches tried to grab my clothing, but did not succeed.  The branches never seemed to go high enough to grab my long hair.  It was more like they were trying to trip me.  That thought made me run all the harder and I was not a runner.
            I heard my breath now, coming in short gasps as I imagined myself being chased by a pack of hungry wolves.  The trees seemed to reach out more than ever as my ears fancied wolf calls.  A root lifted of itself and tripped me.  I was still falling even when I hit the ground.

            I woke to soft clothe under my fingers as I clutched my fists.  This cloth seemed to be holding me down so that I could not move.  My first thought was that I was sick and then that I had slept in.  I wondered why no one had wakened me.  I recalled having been at the cabin, but all of the beds there were rock hard.  This one was soft, like a feather.
            My eyes instantly flashed open to be met by shadows tinged with dancing firelight.  The flames danced in a very large fireplace, highlighting ornate objects scattered around the room.
            Looking around, I found myself on a bed with what I’m sure had to be a silk canopy.   A small table lay just to the left, covered with brushes, combs, and other hair accessories.  I knew I would never be able to use all of them in my lifetime.  No elastics or pony tail holders.
            When I surveyed myself I was in for a shock.  I no longer wore a pair of blue jeans and a purple button-up shirt.  I was decked in heaps of deep-green fabric that made one of those 16th century ball gowns.  It looked like something you would only find in a movie or book.  My feet were even encased in silk slippers of the same hue.  I only found this out when I got out from under the covers.  Why I had shoes on is beyond me, especially in bed.
            An oil lamp graced a table near the fireplace.  I hastened to light it, hoping it would supply enough light to see the whole room.  Its light revealed an open wardrobe full of dresses.  I hurried over, hoping to find something less gaudy than what I already had on, like my own clothes, and succeeded in finding a dress that was more or less plain.  I probably could have worn it to church except that it did have a few jewels sown to the bodice. 
            Even though it was the only dress that could be considered plain, it still reached all the way to the floor and had a full skirt.  I put it on and left the green slippers on the floor where I had thrown the ball gown.  I couldn’t resist staring heavenward and rolling my eyes.  What was this world coming to?
            A small tap on the door commanded my attention.  It opened as I reached for the silver handle.  A woman, dressed as a maid in some old-fashioned movie, entered my room.  I took a step back, not daring to trust my eyes.
            “Miss,” she curtsied, “I have instructions to see that you are well and to see if you are ready to adjourn to dinner.”  She held the door open for me, probably noting that I was wearing something different than that green dress which still sat on the floor in a heap.
            I was bemused at first but my discomfiture must have shown.   My expression was probably a bit slack-jawed as she curtsied again.   What was going on?   Here was a young woman treating me like a fairy tale princess.  I had never, in all of my seventeen years, been treated like this, not even by a guy.  I decided that it might be better to wait to think this whole thing through, at least until after dinner.  I was starving.
            My confusion only became worse when what I guess had to be some version of a footman was standing just off to one side.  He offered me his arm as I entered the hall.  I didn’t have a clue except for what I’d seen in movies and read in books, so I placed my bare hand on his elbow.  I guess it was good enough because he started to lead me down the hallway.  (Who knows where the maid went.  Probably putting that dress away.)
            I was led to a huge dining room.  The table stretched from one end to a low dais at the other.  This dais held another, smaller table all laden with food with only one place setting.  The theme from the Twilight Zone ran through my head as I recalled bits and pieces of my favorite story.
            The footman led me to a fancy looking chair on the dais, the only one at the table.  I half expected it to turn of its own accord and allow me to sit.  However, the young man gently tilted the chair towards me as I sat to the feast before me.
            Other servants filled my plate with delicacies I could not name or even recognize.  One of these servants even cut my meat for me so that I needn’t bother with doing it.  I wanted to scream except I was too confused to really do much of anything other than meekly accept the unneeded help.
            I ate as quickly as I dared, hoping that I wasn’t offending anyone by hurrying through the courses.  At least I remembered those etiquette lessons my parent’s had thought necessary.  I doubt those servants would have done anything to contradict me, but plowing through a meal like an idiot didn’t appeal to me either.
 When I had finished, the footman came and collected me, leading me back to where we had come from.  I didn’t even look at my surroundings as we passed by.
            I found myself growing very tired which seemed odd considering I had probably taken the longest nap in history before I had eaten dinner.  I wanted to go to bed so badly, but luck was not with me.  The footman led me down the same hallways, but left me in the care of the same maid who had knocked at my door.   She led me through a different doorway instead of going inside the room I longed for.
            This new room was smaller than the other and was very warm.  Steam rose heavily from the floor.  A large, old fashioned, gold bathtub stood in the middle of tiles, towels, and soap.  Another maid waited by the tub.
 The first maid started to remove my clothes.  Before I knew what was happening, I found myself in only an undershirt and a petty coat.  She had just started to remove them when I realized my apparent danger and quickly moved out of her reach.
            “What do you think you are doing?!”  I backed away even more, just so that they couldn’t spring anything on me.  I felt like a trapped animal.  My hair brushed past my waist as I tried to dodge their hands. 
            “Please Miss.”  The maids looked flustered and confused, if that’s possible at the same time.  “You do not wish to bathe?  We only wish to serve you.”  I was stared at in such a manner as to make me feel I had offended them somehow, then a reference from a book I once read came back to me. 
            I glanced at them.  They couldn’t possibly mean to . . . No way.  They placed themselves around the tub confirming my fears.  I groaned inwardly then stared at them, gathering the courage to confront them in this manner.
            “I . . . I’m used to bathing alone,” I stuttered.  I’d bathed myself since before I was five.  How could I make them understand?  There just didn’t seem to be a way, without offending them that is.  I ended up submitting myself to their care, somewhat exasperatedly.
            It was strange to have someone else wash my back and hair.  I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed.  This was my body after all.  Why didn’t they have showers?  That was all I really wanted right now.  This place was surely backwards.
            The problem with the whole thing was that I didn’t feel like I could enjoy this.  Bathing with company in the room is just a not.  You can’t do it.  And I didn’t really seem to have any control over how long it lasted either so I had to just let them do whatever, with certain reservations of course.  I wasn’t about to let them wash certain bits of me.
            When my bath was finally finished, I was thankfully allowed to return to my original room.  However, even then, I was not free.  I had to endure while they fussed over my hair, combing out tangles and braiding it in long braids.  Then I had to wait while they dressed me in a silky nightgown, like a little child would a doll.  It was enough to make anyone scream.
            I was finally left alone, staring into the fire.  I didn’t know whether to rampage in a fit, simply cry, or just sit there forever.  The fire danced in the hearth and formed my family with its flames.  I felt like a knife had stabbed me through the heart.  I remembered that I was not with my family.  They must be worried sick.  I could just imagine them searching for me, but finding nothing.  Or, maybe, I was in the hospital and this was all just a dream, a fantasy induced by drugs or a coma.  I had hit my head rather hard when I had fallen.
            Then something not too unexpected happened.  I found myself becoming angry.  I didn’t want to be here any longer, dream or no dream.  I grabbed the robe my maids had left me and put it on as I ran out the door.  The hall seemed deserted.
As I ran to the end of my short hallway I came across a flurry of people. These maids and other servants saw my flight and tried to stop me.  I paid no attention except to go faster.  I didn’t like was going on, how I had no control, and I wanted out.
            There had to be a million stairs to the main floor.  I felt like I had raced down thousands of them.  They seemed to be unending until I finally hit the bottom flight that faced the main hall.  A set of large, double doors seemed to beckon to me from across the way.  Servants, footmen, maids, you name it, were everywhere.  Some called out to me to stop.  Others tried to block my path.  They only added to my frenzy.  Something was wrong with my world and I only wanted to escape from it.  I didn’t care if it was snowing outside and my feet were without shoes or socks, which actually turned out to be the case.
            I reached the doors and, with an effort, pulled them open.  I was struck by a sudden blast of cold air. Hard snow lashed at my face, but I didn’t care, even though my brain told that it shouldn’t be snowing this early on in the year.
            I was a panic driven animal, trying to escape capture or worse.  I ran on outside, not daring to look behind me for fear of seeing some creature like the Beast from my fantasies. 
            The sound of something hitting frozen ground caught my ears.  Horse stomp.  They were chasing me by horse.  It wasn’t fair. 
            I looked over my shoulder to see how close they were, not seeing the bushes in front of me.  They tripped me, their thorns trying to tear me to shreds.  I knew I’d twisted my ankle but it wouldn’t stop me.
            I got back up and limped as fast as I could, towards what appeared to be a gate.  My ankle throbbed and my body stung from thorn bites.  The gate loomed closer.  The hose hooves pounded in my ears.
            I was exhausted.  I just wanted to be home, safe and warm.  I wanted to feel my Dad’s comforting bear hug.  I wanted to hide and cry under my own blanket on my own bed.  I knew I wouldn’t get my way.
            My legs gave out from under me like broken matchsticks when I as no more than a dozen yards from my goal.  I buried my face in my arms and cried like a baby.  I was cold, tired, hurt, and scared.  When the horse rode up it looked like a giant, hideous monster.  A hard, angry looking face looked into mine for a brief moment.  I fainted, escaping into the dreamless protection of my mind.

            I woke to the same bedroom as before.  A cheerful fire was crackling in the fireplace.  The curtains were pulled away from every window, allowing the morning light to flood into the room.  A tray lay on a nearby table.  It was laden with fresh fruit and a bowl of cream.  There was even a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.  Breakfast, I thought.  No toast.
            My stomach growled, reminding me that I hadn’t eaten for a while.  I didn’t want to leave my bed, but my stomach won over with immense hunger pains.  Remembering I had twisted my ankle the night before, perhaps only in dream, I carefully slid my left foot, the unharmed one, to the floor.  It felt all right.  I slid my right foot to join it.  Sharp pain shot up my leg and I quickly took the weight off of it.
            After a minute or so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try again.  Clenching my teeth, I put my foot back on the ground and stepped on it.  I fell over in pain, making a sound like a drowning elephant.  I was sure that if it had not been broken before, it was now.
            I heard the door open and then an exclamation.   “Oh Miss!”  My maid was instantly by my side.  Her eyes were full of concern.  She helped me into a nearby chair where I wouldn’t have to put weight on my foot.  “Oh Miss, does it pain you greatly?  Don’t move; I’ll return soon.”  I watched her race through he door and down the hall.
            My mind was reverted back to my ankle otherwise I might have laughed.  The pain was excruciating.  I’m sure my ankle had swollen to twice its original size and was glowing an angry red.  I wondered why it hadn’t been wrapped up the night before.
            My maid returned with an elderly man who carried a bag that almost looked like the old doctor bags in TV shows.  He took one look at my ankle and sighed.  “You should not have put weight on it for at least four weeks,” he reprimanded me.  He turned his back to me while fiddling with a bottle.  “Here,” he handed me a goblet filled with an amber liquid, “drink this.”  It was not a request.
            I looked at the cup warily.  “What is it?” I asked.  The man grunted something about it being for the pain.  I took one sip and spit it out.  “What is this?!” I demanded.  “It tastes awful!”
            “Brandy,” he replied.  “What did you expect?  Lemon juice?”  He looked exasperated.
            “Brandy?!” I squeaked.  “You dare give me brandy?!”  I threw the cup to the floor, spilling the foul drink and breaking the crystal goblet.  “Keep it away from me.  I will never drink, let alone taste any alcohol again, ever!  I haven’t before this and don’t intend to start drinking it just to relieve pain.  Get out of my sight!”  I picked up a brush and threw it at him.  “Get out!”  I felt like throwing out a few unladylike words with the brush.
            “Humph,” he snorted.  “You can banish me for now, little child.  The Master will not be happy, I promise you.”  He left after I had thrown several more objects.
            My maid looked appalled and shocked.  I ignored her, being too busy tearing a strip of cloth from the bottom of my nightgown.  “Miss!” she protested.
            I waved her off.  “If you want something done right you’ve got to do it yourself,” I told her.  With my teeth clenched, I felt for broken bones, nearly screaming for pain.  Luckily I could not find any.   I just hoped that was a good sign, as I didn’t have a clue what a broken bone felt like.
            “Wrap this cloth around it, tightly,” I instructed.  “I’ll tell you if it’s too tight.”
            Timidly, she began to wrap my ankle.  “Surely you’d prefer for someone else to do this.” I cut her off with a wave of my hand.  “No, you’re doing fine.”  She continued to wrap until the cloth was all used up.  I tucked in the ends.
            “Who is the Master?”  My question was merely inquisitive, but it sent my maid into fits.  Maybe it was just because of the suddenness of it.  “Please don’t do that.”  She fidgeted.  “I can only guess who he/she is, or what.  One would say he, or she, is a great beast covered in fur.  My practical mind dismisses that assumption.”
            “Oh Miss, He is not a beast in any sense of the word.  He is usually good and kind, but lately, he’s been in such a temper.  I don’t know what to think,” she confessed.  Her hands went up to her mouth in the sudden realization that she might have said something she oughtn’t.
            This made me think.  He was not in his usual mood because of something.  Could it have been me?  “Is he. . ?” I hesitated, “is he mad at me?”  I waited anxiously for the answer.  Although why some stranger would be mad at me escaped my thoughts.
            My maid looked at me in shock.  “Oh no!  It is not you who makes him angry.  It is himself.  He is fighting himself over having taken you from your home.”  She again covered her mouth in horror as color crept up her cheeks.  My, what a chatty little thing.
            “A reluctant jailer,” I mused.  She looked at me questioningly.  “Never mind.  I’m still trying to puzzle this whole thing out.  It’s all sort of bizarre, but I know I’ll get it eventually.  There’s plenty of time for that now that it looks like I’m going no where fast.”
            A knock came at the door, interrupting my train of thought.  My maid answered it and was engaged for a few minutes by who I think had to be the same footman from the night before.  She quickly returned upon finishing her conversation.  “Miss, you must get dressed quickly.  The Master wishes to see you in the library immediately!”
            I nodded.  “Just one thing,” I spoke up, causing my maid to look up from the wardrobe, “Don’t call me Miss.  I have a name.  It’s Kas, Kas Lee Stanship.  I would prefer to be called by that name.  I would also like to know your name.  I hate to keep saying ‘you maid’ every time I want you or don’t, like as not.”
            “Oh Miss, I . . .” My hand cut her off.  “Kas,” I reminded her gently.  “Miss . . . Kas,” she trembled out the name.  I nodded encouragement.  “I’m called Jenny,” she blurted.
            “Thank you Jenny.  Now, I think the green dress will suit today.”  I pointed at the simple garment, definitely not the ball gown from last night.  She hurried to comply and I was soon ready to see my captor.
            Jenny called a manservant to carry me to the library.  This time I paid attention to my surroundings.  We passed numerous hallways decorated with suites of armor and paintings.  Hundreds of doors opened up on left and right, until we finally reached a set of high, double doors that held our final destination.
            The manservant set me on a cushioned chair of deep-red velvet, facing towards a blazing fireplace.  Large windows allowed light to filter through dustless shelves of books.  I could not see many of the shelves from my perch, but I was given the impression of the largeness of the room by the echoing of shoes on the tiled flooring.  I listened for the doors to close behind the servant, counting his steps.
            All of my senses clicked to high power with the shutting of the door.  An edge of uneasiness lined my stomach.  Anxiety pounded with every heartbeat. 
            Mom had always told me I had a sense of telling the future.  I sensed things that others didn’t, and often felt when things were going to happen.  I felt like something big was happening right now.
            “Kas.”  I felt a breath on my neck.  My head spun around to glimpse whom ever was there.  The room was empty.  “Hello?” my voice echoed around the room.  “Show yourself.”
            “Forgive me Kas.”  The voice was not unpleasant, nor was it beastish, but definitely masculine.
            “For what?” came my reply.  There was brief pause as if he was in thought.
            “I hold you captive.  It was I who brought you here.”
            “Just like the Beast,” the words escaped my lips.
            “No, and yes,” came the reply.  “In appearance, I am nothing more than a man.  In my mind, however, I am a monster.”
            “Who are you?”  My stress and anxiety were turning into anger again.  “What do you want with me?  Why are you holding me here?”  My hands had balled up into fists at this point.  “Why have you taken me away from my family?!”
            “You hate me then,” he said calmly.
            “You don’t give me any reason to like you, but I do not hate you.  I don’t think I’m capable of hate.”  My voice betrayed me with the venom of anger.
            “You did not feel like you belonged in your Old World.”  The statement shocked me into complete silence because I knew it was true.  How he knew it I doubt I’d ever learn.  “You never did.  People wondered why you spent so much time alone.  You would never tell them.”
            “How did you know?”  My question was no louder than a whisper, more rhetorical than anything else.
            “I know all about you,” he stated.  “You never cared for anyone the way I care about you.  Even your family always considered you to be the odd child.  You were always off in some other world, some other fantasy.”
            “You’re right.  I never did fit in.  I know I never will.”  I pushed back a lock of my hair that had fallen over my ear.  “You’re still not being fair though,” I said defiantly.
            “How so?”
            “I don’t know your name.  What do I call you?”  It was not my real question.
            He though for a moment.  “Call me . . . Call me Milord,” came the final reply.  “I will see to your welfare often.  I am satisfied.  You may leave.”
            I was aghast.  “But, Milord!  Are you blind then, to not see my predicament?!”  My words echoed without an answer.  He was gone.  “I have a job!”
            It snowed for the rest of the day.  I stayed in my room, hiding in the shadows.  The only source of light came from the flames in my fireplace. 
            I wasn’t hungry when lunch came. I picked at my food, not ever really tasting it.  I would have paced had it not been for my ankle.
            Jenny stayed with me every minute.  “Isn’t there something I can do?  Isn’t there a computer? a t.v.?  anything?!”  I was desperate.  “If all of this doesn’t kill me, it will drive me to insanity.” 
            Jenny looked on without comment.  She probably didn’t have a clue.  And to think that I wanted to go back to the “good old days”.
            “I’ve had it!”  My sudden outburst made Jenny jump.  “Jenny, I want the stiffest pair of boots you can find.  I’m going to leave my prison.”  She hurried to obey, only after giving me an odd glance.
            I limped over to the window, drawing the curtains aside.  I was unprepared for the splendor that met my eyes.   Delicate bits of lace gently fell to the earth.  Everything was covered in white.  The shadows only added to the beauty, and it was still only August.
            Beauty and The Beast.  I started as if someone had spoken.  “What?”  It didn’t repeat.  Beauty and The Beast indeed.  If anything, I was more likely the beast, me and my terrible temper.  I would have snorted at the very idea that the air seemed to be trying to convey.  This was the closest I’d ever come to living my fantasy, and the very air seemed to mock me.
            “Miss?”  It was Jenny.  “Kas,” I said without turning.  “Kas,” she hesitated.  A pair of boots was laid at my feet.  “Do you wish for me to . . .” I turned towards her, causing her to lose courage.  “No thank you.  I can manage, thanks.”
            While Jenny watched, I first put on the right boot and then the left.  She visibly resisted the urge to help me when I cringed with the pain my ankle gave me upon being moved.  I gave her a look that said stay put.
            The boots were stiff enough to fit my purpose.  They supported my ankle perfectly.  I tried them out by pacing the room.  I stilled limped a little, but I kind of expected that.  “Yes, these work wonderfully,” I assured her.
            I shortly dismissed her, after telling her I didn’t want to be disturbed.  I planned to make my way back to the library to find some kind of clue as to who my captor was.  It also wouldn’t hurt to find a book to pass the time with.
            On my way through the halls, I encountered no one.  It seemed that someone was making sure my request to Jenny was fulfilled.  I didn’t know whether to be thankful or wary.  My journey back to the library seemed to take less time than when I had gone there that morning.
            When I passed through the giant, double-doors, I realized that I had not really caught the actual enormity of the place.  It actually encompassed a total of three gargantuan rooms, lined with books from floor to ceiling.
            Every title you could think of was there.  Every author had at least two books in the assortment.  One never would have thought that there were ever so many books in the world.
            I wandered down rows lined with books, past furniture conveniently placed if one wanted to sit and rest for a bit.  I passed through what seemed like hundreds of rows before I came to the next room whose shelves faced in a different pattern, as if they protected a great treasure in the midst of the room’s large expanse.
            Following through this maze of novels, I finally came upon the middle where a pedestal sat.  On this pedestal sat a gold-bound, glass box.  A lock held it closed; allowing no one to reach its treasure, yet it showed frequent use.
            Inside the glass box lay a worn, leather volume.  Only the cover illustration was distinguishable.  It illustrated a girl holding an emerald-green feather to her cheek.  There was a red rose in her hair.  She had a sad, sweet smile that went straight to the heart, but you could tell that she was happy. 
            A man was also depicted, standing in the shadows.  He was hard to see at first because he almost blended in with the background.  You would never have known he was there if you didn’t really look, the cover was so worn.
            I felt like I knew him and her.  It was if they were a part of me.  I knew them, and they knew me.  We were bound, but I was sure I had never met either one before.  How could I know them if I had never met them before?
            I would have tried the lock if I had not heard the soft rustle of fabric brushing against cloth.  My senses were automatically alert.  I could even hear the grandfather clock that was just down the hall from the main doors of the library.  I tensed like a deer waiting to spring to safety.
            I heard breathing from behind a shelf that faced my back.  It seemed loud, but my senses were now so awake that I could have heard the dust settle, if there had been any dust.  It had to be Milord.
            “Hello?”  My inquiry rang hollowly.  “I know you are there.  Show yourself.”  I was ready to jump like a frightened deer if he actually did come out, or to be disappointed if he decided not to.  “Do you make it a habit of spying on your prisoners, or are you just being rude, or bored or is it both?”
            “Do not fear me.  You know I will do nothing to harm you, nor do I ever intend to be rude.”  His voice was still not animal-like, which calmed me a bit.  It was more quiet, gentle.  I realized that this voice could command or comfort, hurt or consul.
            “I’m not afraid,” my voice shook.  I heard the soft thuds of footsteps as he came closer.  
            “You tremble.  Has there been anything that I have or any of my servants done to cause such fear?  I had hoped that this morning would not gain such a reaction, but it appears to have achieved my fears.”
            “I . . . No,” I stammered.  “Everyone has been just great, too great, but you didn’t even listen this morning.  You left before I could really say anything!  That was rude.”
            “True; you do carry a point.”  I imagined his eyebrows raising a little bit.  “It was rude, but not on purpose.  My mind was on other things that needed to be taken care of.  There are some things that must take precedence to your concerns.”  I could imagine a touch of laughter in his voice.
            “I was going to ask you what I’m supposed to do about my job, but it doesn’t seem to matter.  It’s not like they can’t live without me; I only flipped hamburgers and everything, but that still doesn’t consul me on that point.”  I found my voice starting to gain in that unruly spirit that I tended to add when I was getting a little fired up in spirit.
            “You are angry then.”  It was not a question.
            “Of course I’m angry!  I was angry the minute I found out that I no longer had the freedom to go where I pleased.  I was angry the moment I was caught again.  I was even angrier when your so-called doctor offered me brandy for pain!  I was angry when I realized I had been purposely taken away from my family, my home, my life!  Everything!”  At this point I would not have been surprised if sparks had shot out of my eyes.
            “I don’t blame you.”  His voice was calm.  It made me feel ashamed of my anger.  “I brought you here against your will, yes.  You can only hope to make the best of things while you are here, hoping that I will let you go as the Beast let Beauty go.  Maybe I will someday, but that day is not today.  I can only hope that you will try to understand.”
            “Why should I try?  You won’t let me do anything by myself,” I shot back.
            “I allowed you to come back to this room, did I not?”
            “Sure, but what about all those maids and stuff?  They treat me like a doll! A little child who can’t do anything for herself!  You don’t think that’s not aggravating?!”  I wanted to turn around but something held me back.
            “I will see that you are not treated in such a manner from here on out,” he replied evenly.  “Consider this past day a test.  I can see that you are indeed a willful woman.  However, not everything can be as we want it.  Anger will get you no where while you are here.”
            I wanted to scream, throw pillows, but he was right.  Anger would get me no where, not here, not anywhere.
            My anger slowly drained away.  “I’m sorry.”  No answer came.  I whirled around to find myself alone again, except for the book encased in glass.  I was sure it held the answers I sought, to questions I didn’t even know I had.  If only it weren’t under a lock.


            The following morning dawned bright and clear, despite the glittering snow-covered grounds.  I ate a breakfast of French toast and apple juice.  My appetite had returned from the previous morning, partly due to the fact that my ankle no longer pained me.  Jenny had made an herbal poultice for the pain that seemed to numb more than just nerves.
            Having learned that I was set in my determination to be independent, Jenny had left a pair of clothes on the bed.  They consisted of a pair of squarts, a skirt-like pair of ankle-length pants, and a whitish blouse.  My newly acquired boots lay, freshly shined and polished, on the floor.
            I wondered at the choice of apparel, but not wanting to hurt her feelings, I put them on.  They actually made me feel a little bit more like me.  I had always liked the half-and-half approach to style.
              The knocking of the door broke my silent reverie.  A man whom I had never seen before stood in front of me.  He was of average heighth, about six feet tall.  His face was clean-shaven and tanned.  I wondered what he could possibly want with me and expected him to apologize for knocking on the wrong door.
            “Art thou Kas?” he inquired.  He obviously had not knocked on the wrong door.  “I am Huntsford, Master of The Horse.  I have been sent to escort you on a tour of the stables.”
            “Um, Okay,” I replied in a puzzled tone, wrinkling up my face as I spoke. “What do I have to do with stables or masters of horses?”
            “My Lord required it of me to see that you received some fresh air by way of a tour of the stables.  His mind is his own and I need not try to explain his reasoning.  It is enough for me to hear and obey his will.” 
            “Right.”  I nodded grimly.  What kind of speech was this?  Shakespeare?  ‘How long of a walk is it?  I need to know whether or not to find a stiffer pair of boots.   These ones seem to be softening a bit more than I would like,” I noted.
            “It is a fair pace, but there is no need for you to walk.  I will carry you.”  With that, he picked me up in his strong arms and carried me down the hallways.  There was no time for protests.
  When we reached the main door, he set me down long enough to drape a long cloak over my shoulders, making sure that I was well covered by the woolen cloth.  It was then back to being carried while others held open doors for us to pass through.

            The stables were immense.  Hundreds of horses were stabled in separate stalls, each one being large enough to hold two horses or more.  A long walkway lined every stable, being wide enough to allow several horses to ride abreast of each other, plus keeping room for the benches that were thankfully placed every fifty feet or so.
            The Master of the Horse left me on one of these benches, then walked down the long walkway to disappear around a corner.  I huddled into my cloak, wondering where the exercise for me came in.  So far I had been carried, not being allowed to walk a single step.  The Master of the Horse had gotten far more exercise than I.
            I was wakened from my reverie by the sound of a snort.  My eyes quickly looked up to fall upon the most gorgeous horse I had ever seen.  She was pure white, except for the silver star on her forehead, and her mane and tale.  She was a queen’s animal, or a princess’s at the least.  Her long silky mane reached down to her flanks in silver cascades.
            She neighed, then stuck her warm nose into my lap, letting me feel her shiny coat.  “Oh, you’re so beautiful,” I whispered into her mane ignoring everything else around me.  I wanted to be pleased so badly.
            “She is, isn’t she?”  The Master of the Horse strolled around from behind her, a smile in his eyes.
            “I’ve never seen anything like her.”  I looked up longingly at her smooth features, noticing that she was saddled.  “I wish I could just look at her forever.”
            “Wouldn’t riding her be better?” he looked at me with a funny little quirk to his eye.  “That’s the only true way to learn her paces.”
            “Oh, no.  No.  I couldn’t.”  I shook my head for emphasis.  “She is meant for someone far greater than I will ever be.  No, it’s better not to even think about it.”
            “Milady, she is your horse.  She will allow no other to ride her,” he coaxed.  “She was meant for you.”
            “No, you don’t understand,” I rose to my feet.  “I’ve never ridden a horse in my life!  I don’t even know how!  Besides, who could possibly teach me how to actually ride one worth beans?  It can’t be done.”
            “It can be done, milady.  The Master had already guessed at this.  Your horse is the gentlest creature and will not let you fall.  The Master trained her himself.  Besides, I will teach you.”  He looked in total earnest.  I didn’t know whether to trust him or not.
            I looked around, hoping to find some kind of escape, realizing that I was near the middle of the building for just the purpose of thwarting what I had in mind.  But he did have a calming tone in his voice, probably to tame wild horses but it was working on me as well.  “All right!  I will let you teach me. But I’m a slow learner.”
            He laughed at this, lifting me onto the saddle.  “There you are little lady.  She becomes you.”
            “I would think not,” I retorted, but then I looked down.  “Wow,” I exclaimed.  The horse shifted under me.  It was a long way to the ground.  I swallowed, realizing that I had twisted my fingers in the long mane.  “I feel like I’m going to fall at any moment.”
            “Remember, Beauty won’t let you fall,” he smiled as he snapped on a leader rope.  He led us outside, taking us through a sleeping garden.
            “Beauty,” I breathed.  “The perfect name.  I wouldn’t have chosen any other,” I commented, my hands still twisted in the long hair, “If this had been a different story that is.  I can’t believe I’m doing this!”
            “Today, I will take you on a tour of the grounds,” The Master of the Horse stated, changing subjects.  “There are many things to see, even in winter.  Tomorrow, I will begin to teach you how to ride.”
            He took me to many different gardens, all of the flowers in bloom despite the snow.  Each garden seemed to specialize in one color.  One was filled with pink flowers, another with all yellow, and so on.  I was disappointed to find that not one held a single rose, my favorite flower.
            I sighed heavily.  Beauty rolled her ears back as if to catch a whisper.  It made me laugh.  “You silly thing.”  I scratched behind her mane.  She looked back with a look of appreciation.  “No roses,” I murmured to her.  “Not a single one.”
            By the time we had returned to the stables, I was more convinced of this being a Beauty and The Beast tale in real life.  I was in a place like the Enchanted Castle, riding a horse named after the main character.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a large, hairy beast in front of the castle.  Things were weird anyway. 
            There comes a point when nothing is surprising anymore, even if it really is.  Maybe that’s why the next few weeks flew by faster than a crow.  There was only one thing I couldn’t figure out.  If the main character was a horse, what character was I?

            True to his word, the Master of The Horse had taught me how to ride.  It had taken about three months to learn, but I could at least get Beauty to go more or less in the direction I wanted her to. .  (I had told him I was a slow learner.)
I was also able to get rid of the boots.            My ankle had almost completely healed and I now wore a shorter shoe that didn’t reach my knee.  Things were starting to look brighter.  Even the snow had melted.
            Christmas came.  I found a snow globe on my bedside table.  It contained a small village of intricate detail.  It also played a song I had never heard before but left me feeling so peaceful I wanted to cry.
            To show my gratitude for this gift, I drew a picture of Beauty, the horse, and left it on the library mantelpiece.
I don’t know if he ever got it, but it was gone when I came back later that day.

            Time flew quickly.  I had now been here for about five months.  My attachment to my new life grew.  I loved riding Beauty, talking with Jenny and my occasional visit from my “host” whom I never saw more than a shadow of.
            My favorite occupation changed from just wandering, to riding Beauty.  One day, I decided to visit the immediate forest outside of the boundary fences.  Spring was well under way so I had no trouble with ice or stubborn snow.
            I had never seen such a green forest before.  The leaves were emerald-green.  The floor was covered in soft colored moss.  Tiny flowers budded from bright plants.
            I gave Beauty her head, allowing her room to roam freely while I looked at the scenery.  She chose to follow a well-marked path that led to a small, enclosed meadow full of wild flowers.  Their sweet perfume tickled both of our noses.
            We spent hours there, just being lazy and admiring nature’s spectacle.  Only when I noticed how high the sun was did we turn back to the castle.
            A shadow crowded the entrance to my new sanctuary.  I almost wished I had mounted Beauty, my legs trembled so.  Was it a wild animal?  I didn’t know whether to scream and run for it or just stand there and hope that what ever it was would go away.
            It turned out to be a young man on horseback.  His hair was a dark, rich brown.  His eyes flashed as green as the forest.
            He wasn’t ugly, nor was he quite handsome.  I’d say he was in between, probably someone you could befriend without disgust at physical appearances, but who am I to be talking about that?  I doubt I looked any better.
            And his horse, it was a deep, chestnut-red with a thunderbolt on its brow.  Its mane flowed in the light breeze like silk.  Its eyes were chocolate brown.
            The stranger must have been as surprised as I was because he almost lost his seat.  However, he managed to regain it before he had a chance to fall off.
            We stared for quite some time.  It was as if our eyes were locked, but really weren’t.  Time did not exist. Only we, two strangers, existed.
            My left hand fell open, dropping the flowers I had picked.  He dismounted to pick them up for me.  My eyes followed his every move. 
            He bent over and gently picked up each fallen bud, then arranged them and put them in my open hand.  He smiled, as if he were unsure of himself.
            I returned the shy smile and tried to thank him, but no words passed my lips.
            He bowed to me, sweeping his feather-plumed cap across his chest covered in gold baroque.  I found myself curtsying like one of the great ladies one finds in movies.
            He remounted, then raised his hand in farewell.  In a blink of an eye, he was gone.  It was as if he had never existed, except for that his feather had fallen to the ground.
            The luscious, emerald-greenness blended with the floor.  Only the golden speckles revealed where it had fallen.
            My hand trembled as I reached for it, grasping it like a precious flower.  I slid it through my bound hair, letting its silky threads caress my cheek.  I wished I had had a mirror to see how it set off my face.
            I rode slowly, contemplating what had just happened.  Who was this strange gentleman?  Where had he come from?  Was he real?  Why was he here?
            I returned to the castle as the sun set over the distant hills, still pondering about my strange visitor.

            That night I could not sleep.  At first I dreamed of the mysterious gentleman.  He seemed to be trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t hear what he wanted to say.  I found myself pacing, trying to remember his face.
            I did not feel well.  I’m sure I had a fever.  My mouth was parched.  I tossed and turned without relief until midnight.  I then fell into an exhausted sleep. 
            I saw my family.  They were looking for me, but couldn’t find me.  I tried to call out, but my tongue was heavy in my mouth.
            Suddenly the scene changed.  Flames licked at my old home where my family was trapped.  They were in pain, surrounded by fire.
            I saw them praying for me, even in their pain.  They still held the hope that I was alive some where, and safe.  It was too horrible to bear.  I knew I was supposed to be with them, but I viewed them as a stranger would in a television show or movie.  I couldn’t help, which was the worst part of all.
            I tried to reach them, but someone or something held me back.  I tried to break free but couldn’t.  I had to watch my family burn in unquenchable flames, even as I struggled to help them.  It wasn’t fair.
            Tears fell from my eyes.  Whoever had tried to keep me away from my family now comforted me in my tears.  I was rocked, as a small child might be to calm away his fears.  I just wanted to feel the warm embrace of someone who really cared.
            Arms enfolded me as I cried, soothing and quieting me.  I didn’t know who held me.  My eyes would not open.  I couldn’t think of anything else to do so I tried to bury myself in the warm embrace.  I’m sure whoever held me was surprised by my actions because he drew slightly back.
            Morning came and someone still held me like one would a child.  I began to stir and felt the person leave my side.  My sleep filled eyes could only see a vague outline, but I’m sure it was a male.  When I had blinked my eyes fully open, he was gone, a phantom of the night.
            All that day I felt like I was being followed, but every time I turned to look behind me I found nothing but shadows.  The castle was starting to give me a serious case of the creeps.  I wanted out.  I wanted to be with Beauty, but that was momentarily impossible because of a heavy rain.
            The halls were uncommonly quiet.  Only my soft steps echoed down their expanses.  I now felt like I had been abandoned.
            Night came again.  Jenny made no comments as she brushed out my hair.  She slipped out just as quietly, before I could even say a word.
            My dreams were again haunted by dreams from which I could not wake.  I saw the gentleman again.  He was calling out to me.  It almost seemed like he wanted me to run away. 
            My dream-self hesitated.  I turned to face him, only to find a hideous monster in his place.  I wanted to scream but fear held my tongue.
            I found myself running, the monster hot on my heels.  He chased me through rugged terrain, forests, valleys, and mountains.  It seemed like I had been running forever, until I suddenly found myself on a cliff edge.  There was no where else to go.
            The monster closed in.  I trembled, sweating profusely.  My breath came fast.  My heart thumped like crazy.  My feet slowly inched to the edge of the precipice as I faced the beast one last time.
            I was suddenly falling, screaming.  They say that if you dream that you are falling and that if you land in your dream, you are dead.  I didn’t know if this was true but was sure that I would find out for sure sooner than I wanted..  I could see the ground rising to meet me.
            My eyes flew open, my breathing still labored.  For a moment I was sure I had seen the gentleman’s face.  I blinked only to find Jenny’s in his place.  She was sponging the sweat off of my face with a cool cloth.
            Later, despite her protests, I left my rooms and went in search of the library.  I knew The Master would be there.  I knew he would have some answers.

            In the library, I saw his face.  I saw it outlined so clearly.  He stood by the fireplace in the library.  His hair was dark.   His smile was the most beautiful smile I had ever seen.  His eyes were a deep hazelish green.
            He was not overly tall, but taller than I stand.  He looked like he was very strong.  His face was not necessarily handsome, but his smile lines made up for that.  Yet you could tell his anger was quick and harsh when invoked.
            I wanted to touch him, to be sure that he was real.  I walked towards him, hand outstretched.  He didn’t move.  I reached out to touch him, only to find nothing there.  I was disappointed.
            “Kas.”  I whirled around, too fast.  The room spun.  I collapsed onto the floor.  I felt someone behind me, lifting me to a nearby coach.
            “Kas, you should not be here.  You are ill.”  I felt him withdraw into the shadows.  My head hurt.
“I had to ask you something.”  My voice was not steady.  My throat hurt horribly.
            “What is it?  Ask anything.”
            I swallowed before answering.  “Can you see things?  I mean can you see my family the way that Beast did in the stories?  Do you know . . .?”
            I heard him sigh sadly.  “To a point.  They are not dead.  There was not any fire.”
            I visibly relaxed, then tensed up.  “You saw my nightmares.”
            “Yes.  I was the one who held you.  I was with you every night.  We have been battling for your life for over five days,” he said as calmly as one would announce the weather.
            “Five days?!”  I suddenly felt very faint.  “Battling for my life?”  I was sick at heart.  “But. .  . But, they were just nightmares, weren’t they?!”
            “I wish I could tell you as much but I would be lying to you, and I can’t do that.  This past week has been a nightmare for me too.  I thought I’d lose you.  You’re fever only broke this morning.”
            “Who took care of me?”  I was seeing the worst with that quack who had tried to give me brandy for pain when I twisted my ankle.  The very thought repulsed me.  “It wasn’t that quack was it?”
            The Master laughed.  “No, not that quack.  He left the castle on your first encounter.  I’m sure he had never met anyone like you before.  He will not come back.  No, Jenny and I took care of you.  Some of the other maids and footmen also helped by bringing water and other supplies.”
            I sighed with relief.  “If I had seen him again I’m sure that I would have screamed and thrown things at him.  He really made my blood boil.”
            He laughed again.  “I’m sure that I would have liked to see that.  It is not every day that I meet one with a temper as fiery as yours.  I’m sure you would have taught him a lesson that he would never forget.”
            I did not share in his humor.   My mind had traveled elsewhere.  My thoughts were now on the past days.  It was spring, so I had obviously missed some of my siblings’ birthdays.  If I had counted correctly, it was now Easter and almost my birthday.  It would be the first time that I had ever spent it away from home.
            I suddenly felt very lonely.  A tear rolled down my cheek as I thought about it.  My family would miss my birthday, and I really wanted them to celebrate with me.  I missed them so terribly.
            “What is it?  What is wrong?”  I heard concern in Milord’s voice.  “Kas, tell me.”  I could almost feel his hand turning my chin upward.
            I hung my head, not wanting him to know.  “You have been really good to me.  How can I tell you without seeming an ingrate?  Besides, I don’t want to burden you with it.”
            “Kas, this is not you talking.  It must be the fever,” his voice sounded slightly worried.  “This sounds nothing like my Kas.”
            My Kas.  I felt something pierce my heart.  Tears flooded to my eyes.  My Kas.  My hand pressed against my chest in a vain attempt to quiet my heart.  Did this mean he loved me then?  Was this love?
            “Kas, please tell me.”  His voice filled with compassion towards me.
            “I, . . .” my voice cut me off.  I started to blush.  “My Lord, I . . . my family.  You.   Oh I’m so confused!”
            “Take your time,” he offered kindly.
            “My birthday.  It’s only a few days away and it will be my first away from home.  I really miss them a ton.  It will be so strange to not celebrate with them.”
            I felt his reassuring hand on my shoulder.  “I understand how you must feel.  I also miss my family.  I am the only one left of mine.”
            “I’m so sorry” My hand slid upwards to cover his hand.  “At least my family isn’t dead.  How can you stand it?”
            “You learn to live with pain,” he replied as he squeezed my shoulder and removed his hand.  “It’s not easy, but after a time it is less hard to bear.”
            I sat there, hours after he had left, thinking.  I finally returned to my rooms with many things on my mind.  Sometimes life could be really cruel, only to turn around and surprise you even more.

            The morning of my birthday dawned bright and clear.  I was already outside when the sun rose in its brilliant splendor, fully recovered.  Dew covered the grounds, catching the brilliance of the changing sky.
            My heart wanted to soar with the morning birds that flew in such beautiful patterns.  It was the most beautiful sight that I had ever seen.  I knew that I would never see another sunrise like this.  It was a one of a kind deal, just for me.
            The early hour confused Beauty as I saddled her.  I usually rode her in the afternoon, but she didn’t seem to mind too much.  She and I rode for hours about the grounds.  We returned to the castle neigh unto the hour of noon.
            Upon retiring to my room to change, I found a simply wrapped package and a deep blue, long-stemmed rose.  The rose sat in a crystal vase that shone in the afternoon light.  I had never seen anything like it before.  It was gorgeous.
            The package contained a glass bottled filled with en emerald green liquid.  It had no sent or taste that I could detect.   A small golden hoop dangled from the crystal cap, capturing droplets of the liquid in bubbles that burst with a red spray.
            I knew it was from Milord.  Had he been there I would have hugged him.  I wished he were there.  I went to the library hoping he would be there.  I saw his shadow behind a bookshelf.  “Do you like your gifts?”  He sounded anxious to please me.
            “Oh yes, Milord!  I’ve never seen such a rose.  Nor have I seen such a wonder as this bubble stuff.  It truly must be magic,” I breathed.  “Thank you.” 
            “I have one more gift for you.”  He sounded sad.  “Much as it hurts me, I must give it to you.”
            “What is it?”  I was full of concern, inwardly drawing back from hearing it.  What could he give me that would cause him so much pain? 
“Kas, I have grown very fond of you.  I cannot deny you anything.  You miss your family and wish to be with them again, don’t you.”  It was not a question.  I could hear the tears in his voice.  
            “Yes, I do want to see them again, but . . .”
“My last gift,” he continued, “I give you your freedom.  You are free to go as and when you choose.”
            “What?!  What do you mean?”  I was bewildered.  Surely he hadn’t just said what I thought he had.
  “Go to your family.  They need you more than I.  It was wrong of me to take you away from them.  Take my gifts to remember me by, and take Beauty.  She is truly yours and would surely die without your company.”
            I could not speak.  My throat was held tightly by tears that I refused to let fall.  They brimmed at my eyes anyway, threatening to fall at any moment.  “But . . .” I left the last part of the sentence unsaid.  Unable to overcome my sudden sense of loss, I ran from the room, Milord calling after me.

            I found a saddlebag to put my possessions in it, all that I thought to take with me.  The dresses and other accessories I knew I would leave behind.  My heart was heavy as I placed the snow globe inside.  I was reluctant to leave.  I had grown so fond of the castle.
            Jenny cried softly into her apron as I changed into the blue jeans and purple shirt I had not seen for months.  I cried as I placed the emerald green feather in the bag, with the rose that I had wrapped in a damp cloth.
            Beauty was waiting for me in the stables.  Her saddle and bridle were already in place.  The same man who had taken me to see Beauty for the first time was there once more to help me to the saddle.  He too looked like he wanted to cry.  I waved half-heartedly to him and the rest of the castle staff as I pointed Beauty’s nose towards home.  I had been commanded.  I had no choice in the matter.    
            I rode her out to the gate.  I did not turn around again to wave or say a final good-bye, even though I knew Milord watched from a window.  I don’t think I could have stood it.  Besides, I was so used to not seeing his face that it almost seemed a taboo to do so.
            The forest seemed to be more shadow filled than before.  It lay restless before my feet.  It made me feel uneasy.
            We traveled slowly for fear of the twisted roots and branches that lay too still.  I fancied I heard the Master as I lost sight of the castle.  “Remember me, Kas.”
            Several hours later, the light was barely enough to see my hand when I put it in front of my face.  It seemed to be the perfect time for wolves to come out of hiding and I was right.  They came from behind.  I hated my sense of premonition.
            I doubt I would have known they were there if one had not howled.  I was jumpy already. 
The wolves chased us down a steep embankment, leaving Beauty in a lathering sweat.  One attacked from the side.  Beauty reared up, knocking me out of the saddle.  My head hit on a stone, sending me for loops.  The last thing I remember thinking was “maybe you will be stuck with me, one last time.”  Then the darkness fell.
            It was light when I woke.  I was lying on a hard surface that poked at my side.  I smelled earth and smoke.  I saw trees, and in the distance, the cabin.  I was home.  The saddlebag rested by my side.  Nothing was broken, but Beauty was gone.

            Everyone was at the cabin, which surprised me.  It looked exactly like it had before I had started this whole adventure.  I walked inside in kind of a daze.  My mom was sitting on one of the old couches in the living room area.  I asked her how long I had been gone.  It surprised me that she didn’t seem too surprised that I was there.  What did surprise me was what she told me.  I had only been gone about half an hour as far as she could tell.
            It didn’t seem possible.  I’m sure I had been gone for at least six months.  My hair was longer, if only by an inch or so.  I had the memories, yet it seemed that no time had passed at all.  I couldn’t have just been a dream.  It couldn’t have been, after all, I still had the saddle bag.
            Several weeks passed by, in the usual way that they do.  I went to school.  I went to work.  It wasn’t the same.  Something in me had changed.  I was quieter, more thoughtful.
            At work I could still do everything with the same skill, or lack thereof, as from before that day at the cabin.  It is true, however, that I had to put my mind more to the tasks set at hand.  Had I not done so, I would have paid less attention to my surroundings and probably have injured myself.  Milord would not have liked that so I persevered.
            At school, the differences were more notable.  I tended to drift away into a daydream more than I once used to.  My friends told me that I always seemed to be miles away, and, in part, they were right.              Only a very few of my old friends put up with my changes, accepting the fact that I had experienced some kind of awe inspiring situation that had made me rethink my life, at least for the most part.  I don’t think I quite convinced them to that affect, but they stood by me just the same.  I was thankful for that.  It gave me a firmer grasp on “the real” world, more so than what I currently had.
            I did tell one friend about my experience.  She didn’t believe any of it.  She said it was a good story, but that it couldn’t possibly be real.  Things like that simply don’t happen, but I knew better than that.  I still, after all, had many things that I could use to prove my story, if I really wanted to.  I trusted my heart in that it was better they thought it only a story.
            Two months passed by in a sluggish manner.  Time just seemed to drag on and on.  Because of this dragging sensation I felt more tired every day.  I also lost most of my appetite, eating only one real meal a day.  Both my parents and friends began to really worry, but the doctors I was forced to go to said that I was fine.
            Still convinced that something was terribly wrong, they made me go to therapy.  The therapist was nice and all but didn’t really help.  After all, how could one help an acute pain of homesickness for a place that isn’t really home?  I knew that what had happened was real.  I had tangible proof, but I knew that they still wouldn’t believe.
            Instead of telling the therapist about my story, I would just sit there, staring at the wall.  I was actually a million miles away, wondering what Milord was doing at that exact moment.  Either that or I was wondering about that gentleman I had chanced to meet in the forest glen that one day.  I still had that startlingly green feather.
            The therapist finally told my parents that I was just going through a stage and that it would pass.  He explained that I was most likely soul searching, seeking deep inside myself for who I was.  He used a lot of technical terms that my parents seemed to understand, but I knew that they had no clue.  However, they were satisfied with the explanation.  Since they were assured that nothing was wrong they stopped pestering me about it, and I no longer had to go to therapy.           
            Christmas came and went, as did most of my melancholyness.  I was reacquainted with my prior life, and even though they say you can never go back, I found that I could start out from where I left off, with minor changes.  It was almost like rediscovering myself over a long period of time.
            The one friend that I had told my tale to still liked to talk to me about my story.  It was almost as if she were starting to believe me, almost.  One day, after discussing the gentleman, she presented me with an idea.  She suggested that I write down the story in hopes of getting it published.
            I thought the idea to be a good one, so I started almost as soon as I got home from school.  Now all the time that wasn’t spent at school or at work was used to write this manuscript that you see before you.  It was no small task, I guarantee you.  It took many revising before I was sure that I had gotten everything exactly right, but I’m sure that you are more interesting in what happened next than in how long it took me to write it all down.
            Time crept more quickly after I had dedicated myself to writing.  Pretty soon, my birthday had come again.  I hadn’t seen Milord or the castle for a year, at least to my mind’s eye.
            My friends threw a modest sized party, inviting over some boys who hoped that I would accept an offer of a date now that I was a bit more exciting to hang out with.  I wasn’t much interesting in them though and they left with slightly crushed hearts.
            That night I had a nightmare.  My family had turned against me.  At every corner, one of them held a knife, ready to strike if I came too close.  I tried to keep out of their way, but couldn’t always find a safe path where they were not lurking.
            I saw the shadow of Milord in the distance.  I could have recognized it anywhere.  I tried to make my way to him.  I called out but he didn’t seem to be able to hear.  His shadow turned from me and faded away like mist as I ran towards him.
            “Kas.  Kas, wake up.”  At first I did not recognize the voice.  It seemed so far away, like it was coming from down a long tunnel.  It finally took shape in my mind.  It was my sister.
            My eyes fluttered open.  They were moist with tears.

            The bus came early that morning.  School seemed to drag far more slowly than I had ever felt it drag before.  My friends noticed it but made no comment, all but one. 
            It was lunchtime and I had again skipped out on eating.  My friend sat down by me, also choosing to skip lunch.  She asked me what was wrong and it was all but an effort to not tell her about my dream from the night before.
            “ I don’t know what to do,” I told her.  “It’s almost like he was turning all of his hope away from me.  Or like I have grown so far away that he can no longer reach me.  I have to go back.”
            She didn’t seem to understand.  I tried to explain, but couldn’t.  All I knew was that I had to go back because, somehow, that was where I belonged.  That was where I needed to be.  It was home.
            The next day would be a Saturday.  I invited her to spend the night with me, after she promised to take me to the mountains on the following morning.  I would have gone that very night, but I knew that she needed time to say goodbye to me, even if in her mind, only for a day or two at best.
            Mom didn’t mind me having her over for the night so we set up camp in my room.  Before either of us went to bed, we both brainstormed on what I might need to take with me. I’m sure that she was just humoring me with all of this preparation. 
            I think that it was only after I pulled out the saddlebag that she really started to believe.  She was surprised to see the different objects, especially the snow globe and the emerald-green feather.  She fanned it down her neck like a waft of silk.  It made me laugh.  Those items that I had taken out where the last to go back into the bag.
            I could tell she wanted to talk about it, but I was tired.  She didn’t press me for which I was thankful.  Maybe she did believe me.

            I slept fairly soundly for most of the night.  Near dawn, I dreamed the same dream from the night before.  I woke sobbing.  My friend never made a comment.  It was she who made the excuses to my mom as we left the house.
            The drive up the mountains was fairly quiet.  Neither of us spoke.  She didn’t even turn on the radio.  We finally reached the cabin around noon.  We had a quick picnic and then tried to say goodbye.
            I noticed that she was holding back something.  I asked her what it was and she finally gave in and told me. 
            “Last night, I heard you cry in your sleep.  I heard you calling for Christopher.”  She looked at me as if to ask whom he was.
            I didn’t know.  I had never known anyone named Christopher before that I recalled.  Could it have been possible that that was Milord’s true name?  Or, perhaps, the Gentleman’s?  I banished that thought as impossible.  I didn’t even know his name, how could I call it out in my sleep?  I told her as much.
            Her only suggestion was that it was his way of calling for me.  It was only then that I realized just how much she really did believe me.  I hugged her in thanks for that brief space of time, tears threatening to fall.  I knew that she understood why I had to go back.  There was no getting around it.
            “You know, he was right all along,” I sniffed.  “I never really did belong in this world.  It just took something like being lost in the woods to realized that.”
            “I’ll never forget you,” she whispered as we hugged one last time.  “I’ll try to let others know what happened.  You just finish that story and try to get it published in my world, okay?”
            I nodded as I sniffled.  “Now,” she said, “ turn to the mountains.  Walk that path that only few can find.  Don’t look back.  Keep your eyes ahead.  I’ll always remember you.”  We hugged on last time.
            Dark thunderheads had paced us all the way up the mountain.  They now fit together like a giant puzzle.  “You’d better get down the mountain before that lets loose,” I warned.  “You be careful driving back.  Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”
            She nodded as I shouldered the saddlebag and turned towards the trees and the heart of the mountain.  I felt her eyes follow me until I was out of sight.  I did not look back.

            Thunder rolled as I went deeper and deeper into the dense foliage.  The trees were still the same, even after an hour of hard walking.
  “I should have at least reached his forest by now,” I said out loud.  I had to have been walking a good couple of hours and still no sign of where I should be. 
            “Milord?” I called out.  There was no answer but the rain.  “Christopher?”  More thunder rolled as lightning struck at the trees.  “Christopher?”  I yelled this time to hear myself over the thunder.
            Over here.  It was not a spoken command, but something more felt than heard.  This way.  I followed as the rain was joined by a fierce wind.  I was led to a thicket of thorns.  In here.
            I looked at those thorns remembering the ones that had stung me at the castle.  I shuddered.  “You can’t be serious.”  The limbs beckoned wildly.
            “All right, all right.  I’m going.”  I pushed aside a branch and entered the thicket to find myself by a tall tree.  I was in Milord’s forest at last.
            I rested in the tree’s protective arms where the rain couldn’t get me for it rained here too.  I was so tired, but I made myself go on after only a few minutes rest.
            More hours passed.  I no longer knew whether it was day or night.  The clouds were too dark to tell either way.  My hair was a mess and my clothing was soaked despite the raincoat I had thought to bring upon hearing forecast of storm.  I was glad I had not worn makeup.  Even waterproof mascara would have run.
            I was bone tired.  My legs didn’t want to move another inch, let alone my feet, but I couldn’t stop now.  I had to find the castle.
            I was sure I was dreaming when I heard the pounding of horse hoofs.  I heard a loud whinny to my right and barely saw the extended arm of the rider.  “Give me your hand.”  I knew that voice but couldn’t place it.  I was ready to collapse entirely.  “Hurry!  Give me your hand before you drown!”
            I gave him my hand and he pulled me up in front of him as if I weighed next to nothing.  It felt wonderful to have his arm wrapped around my waist, supporting me.
            “Beauty?” I asked.  The horse neighed as it lunged forward.  Could it be?  My thoughts were all in a jumble.  “Christopher?”  He gave me a comforting squeeze  “It’s all right Kas.  We’re almost home.”
            We galloped to the castle in less time than it had taken me to ride from it.  It felt good to be home.  A footman caught me as I slid to the ground and took me to Jenny.  I was undressed and given a warm bath, then brushed up to bed in a silk nightgown.  I felt like I hadn’t slept for a week, even though it had only been one day.  I slept like a log.
            The morning was the first I had enjoyed for a long time.  As soon as I was dressed I headed for the library.  My feet took me to the book encased in glass.  It was just as I remembered it.  There was the girl with the green feather and a rose in her hair.  There was a man in the background.
            “That feather,” I exclaimed.  “I’ve seen it before.  It’s the one the gentleman in the glen dropped.”  My hand rose to my lips as my eyes grew more round.  “Why, that’s me!  And that must be . . .” I stopped at the sound of footsteps.  I turned and there he stood, the gentleman.  “Christopher.  Chris.”
            “Yes,” he said as he held out a long-stemmed, red rose.  He put it in my hair, just as in the picture.  “I’ve been waiting for you for a long time Kas.”
            I hugged him.  “It was you all along. Why didn’t you tell me?  I should have known it was you.”
            “I had no choice.  Kas, I love you more than anything in the world.  I didn’t know whether you would hate me or love me for it.”  He took my hands into his own.  “However, there is something I must ask you.”
            “Yes?”  My heart started to pound in my chest.  My hands felt clammy.  My breath came shorter and faster as I anticipated his question.
            “Kas,” he took my hand, feeling my anticipation.  “You have suffered much because of me.  I can’t take you away from what is rightfully yours.  Did you return out of pity or out of some other emotion?”
            Whatever it was, I had not expected this.  “Why did I return?  How could I not return!  This is my home.  This is my life, my world, my place.  This is where I belong.”
He looked more nervous as he slowly went down to one knee. ‘Then I hope you will not think me too forward when I say that I would be honored if you would be my wife.  Will you marry me?”
            I half expected fireworks to erupt all around me, but the only ones that went off were in my heart.  There was no physical transformation, although we had changed in spirit.  It was not like the story book endings, even though things became clearer as if they had finally come into focus.  We were the same, but not quite as we were before.
            We didn’t kiss.  We just held each other in a warm embraced as I whispered in his ear the one word I had longed to say for quite some time.  “Yes.”
            Some servants clapped while others cried and held to each other in happiness.  I well understood how they felt.  I didn’t know whether I wanted to laugh or cry myself.
            “You always knew, didn’t you?”  I looked into Christopher’s eyes.  “My place was always here, and I have finally come home.”


            We were married three months later, and no more than a year later, the castle was to hear the pitter patter of little feet.  There were ten sets in all.  My parents and sibling visited as often as their busy lives allowed.  My one friend visited more often and was made the godmother to many of my children.  It was a happy life.

            Now, I suppose you might be wondering about the book in the glass.  You are reading it right now, as you might have guessed.  Even though Christopher had read it many times before I had even entered his life, he never knew if I would come back.  That part was never written.  Now he knows.
            The author’s name reappeared after we were married.  I’m sure you can guess the name.  I finally got around to finishing the book and got it published.  It has the exact same cover.
            Just a question, which one of us was the Beast, or was there ever really one?  I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

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