The shriek entered through the open windows and echoed through the castle. The Queen shot upright in bed, assaulted by the fresh morning’s sun. The screaming continued as she jogged through the halls to alert the guards. Of course, they were already making their way towards the sound, so the Queen followed unnoticed. Outside, the cook stood over the garden, looking as pale as death. At the arrival of the concerned crowd, she looked up, and whimpered.
“I came to get tomatoes,” she whispered through quivering lips.
At her feet lied the gardener, or what was left of him. He had been torn to shreds. His blood was splattered across the vegetables and ground into the dirt. His limbs were unattached, his head evidently gnawed upon by something inhuman.
“Wolves Madame, the wolves are back,” the guard stated calmly, and started away.
“How could you? He was a perfectly humble man. No trouble at all,” the Queen pleaded uselessly.
The King cut his eyes at her, and sipped his red wine. “He had become trouble,” he finally said.
The Queen rolled her eyes and plopped into her chair. It was nearly dinnertime, but they had asked for privacy tonight. The King would not need to eat, anyways. And the Queen was losing her appetite by the minute.
“He grew, curious,” he continued. “Always out there, at all hours. He’d seen me on my runs. Eyed me when I’d come in.”
“Why would he be out so late?” the Queen asked, genuinely concerned.
“Watching me, I suppose.”
“Well, it would seem he got an eyeful.”
“Yes, it would.”
The King gulped back the rest of his glass’ contents and set it on the table in front of his Queen. She sighed, and refilled it. On the other side of the wall, the maid pulled her ear away from the door and gasped. Shakily, she ran back to her chambers, chased by the memory of the beast.
Outside, a thick fog was rolling in. The prince would be sending a carriage for Charlotte at dawn but in such conditions it was sure to be late. She wanted her last evening to be special, but could barely pull herself out of bed after the morning’s events. She had decided to visit her greatest confidante, the maid. Only she was not in her chambers when Charlotte arrived, but hurried in just moments later, grasping for air.
“What’s the matter Ellie?” Charlotte asked.
The maid turned with a start. She had expected her room to be empty.
“Oh! Princess, you frightened me.” She tried to smile and catch her breath but Charlotte was not convinced.
“Do tell me,” she insisted, rising from the bed now.
Still shaken up, Ellie broke into tears and embraced the girl. She wanted to blurt out the horrible truth, that the King was a monster – the beast she had seen so many years ago. But she couldn’t. Instead, she wept for Charlotte, who had to carry this man’s genes.
“Is it my father?” Charlotte whispered in a calm, omniscient, tone.
Ellie looked into her eyes and saw in them beautiful, pure, truth.
“We should get out of here,” Charlotte whispered lower now, never breaking her stare. When the maid did not respond she repeated: “Ellie, please. Let’s get out of here. I don’t want to go with the prince, nor stay here with my father.”
“You know?” Ellie asked.
Charlotte nodded and looked away. “I saw him, just before my… illness. He tore our coachman to bits and pieces. It was horrific. That’s why he – that’s why he got rid of me.”
Ellie fought the dizziness. The coachman? The coachman who had suddenly quit last winter? Of course, that coachman. How many of the resigned groundskeepers and castle employees had really just been – no. The thought was too much. Charlotte was right; they had to leave.
TO BE CONTINUED…