Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick
It’s whispered she preferred the beast.
That’s what the servants say. Wicked things, they were better off as candlesticks and teapots. They come into town and whisper their nasty tales to the baker, the bookshop owner. To people who knew her, before.
“She was such a nice girl,” they say, voice syrupy with fake regret. “We don’t know what happened to her.” The bookshop owner only shakes his head, but the baker runs home to tell his wife.
“I knew it,” he says, not bothering to hide his glee. “I knew something wasn’t right with her.”
Horrible gossips, ungrateful, mean-spirited busy bodies. She saved them all, and this is the thanks she gets.
I’m sure it’s a lie. I grew up here. I knew her, once. I’m sure she’s very happy.
I’m sure it’s all just gossip, the way they say she looks at him now. At his weak human chin and thin human hair and his human height, just an inch or two above her own. The way her hands caress the air above his head, the phantom space where his horns once sat. How he flinches when she does this, as though he can feel her touch, as though he hates the memory of those fingers gliding along the bone.
I’m sure it’s not true, the disappointment they say flickers across her face when he strokes her cheek with his fingers. I’m sure she does not wish it were a single claw, so sharp it almost cuts her from eye to lip. So sharp it could gut her without a thought, leave her entrails splattered across the foyer like terrible floor markings. This way to the library.
I’m sure she loves being able to come and go as she pleases. I’m sure it’s just stories that she demands he play those terrible games, where he locks her in his dungeon or in her bedchamber. Where he grasps her wrist too tightly, and throws her, shaking and sobbing, into some dark and strange room. “I will beg,” they say she says. “But you must not let me out.”
“Perhaps,” they say she suggests, “you could threaten to kill my father.”
She wouldn’t force him to do that, not when she knows he hates it when she pleads with him to shout at her. To say terrible, hateful, violent things that she laps up like milk. She knows he hates it that she turns in disgust when his shout is meek, not the roar it used to be.
They whisper darker things as well. That she asked him to kill a wolf, just to prove he still could. To prove he was still the thing she loved. That she threatened to put herself in danger, to force his hand.
“Would you still rip and tear and slaughter for me?” they say she asked.
They say that he refused, and went down on his knees and begged her not to ask that of him.
“If you love me,” they say he said, “you will not ask me to kill again.”
They say she looked at him like he was less than a man, less than a dog. They say they saw her leave the castle that night, and return before the sun rose, alone. The next morning, on my walk, I saw a dead wolf, his throat slashed, the leaves around him damp with blood.
I’m sure this is just a coincidence.
Someone, the clock I think, or maybe the feather duster, even said she went looking for a sorceress. That she left for a week, and refused to tell him where she was going. She took a horse, and a great sack filled to the brim with red roses. She went into the deepest forest, they say, and found the witch. They say she banged down the door until the sorceress answered, and tossed the sack of roses in the air, so they rained down around them, petals and thorns everywhere. They say she asked the witch to curse them, like she did before.
“I will give you anything,” they said she said. “Castles and kingdoms and sacrifices of blood and smoke and my soul, if you wish. Anything at all if you do this for me.”
They do not know what the sorceress said in return. The bag looked empty when she came back. But, they whisper, it only takes one rose.
It’s all nonsense. But I do wonder, sometimes, if she would have been happier with another. If something in her blood sang for cruelty and carnage, if she buried that under stories of beanstalks and ogres and princes in disguise. If she might have said yes to a different proposal, a common brute, if only she hadn’t met the beast she thought she loved. If she saw his size and his rage and his fangs and thought yes, no man can compare to this. Finally, I have found him.
What could another man offer, how could his human hate ever be enough for her?
It’s a terrible thought. I shouldn’t think such wicked things. She is good, and she is kind, and she will adjust to this new life. She just grew used to his old ways, that’s all. Soon, she will learn to love his gentleness. She will prefer the silk of his flesh to the coarse fur that once ran down his body. She will awake without deep scratches from his nightly embraces, and she will not miss the sting of them. She will be happy, and she will laugh at her old self. She will shake her head in disbelief at the things she used to crave. Soon, perhaps, she will be a mother, and when she tells her children about her love story she will skip over the messy bits.
Still. They say he won’t raise his hand in violence to her, and she hates him for it.
These stories go around the village, but I don’t believe them.
After all, wouldn’t that be his terrible luck. To find a princess who was searching for a monster all along.
Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick (she/her) is a writer and digital content specialist. Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Maudlin House, Bustle, and the Barnes & Noble Book Blog, among others. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and black cat. You can find her on Instagram at @shaunyfitz.