Yep. Title says it all. I’m doing a fiction-writing binge and I have no brainpower or motivation to spare for blogging, so here, have the first, oh, page or so of a Beauty And The Beast/Hades And Persephone/East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon retelling kind of thing. There’s a castle, and a scary-looking faerie who’s the King of Winter, and a merchant whose daughter eventually ends up as the Belle character, etc. I’m just kind of winging it, no plot or anything, just a writing exercise. And it’s unedited, so have fun with that.
There has never been a road in this forest before, but there is one now, dirt and cobbles and perfectly straight. There’s a tree encroaching on its line, but it is oddly transparent, shimmering and quivering and displaying the road through its trunk. The merchant swallows and leans down to run fingers through his horse’s mane. There is no snow on the road, although snow is everywhere else.
It is a magic road, that much is obvious, but it’s the only road, and the merchant is lost. His supplies are low, and his horse is colder and more tired even than he is. He will just have to stay watchful, and hope for the best.
“Come on, boy, let’s see what there is to see,” he murmurs, and clicks his tongue in the way that means forward. The horse steps onto the road gratefully, and then pauses for a long moment, one hoof in the air like a brass statue. The merchant narrows his eyes, and clicks again. Reluctantly, the horse moves forwards.
“It is possible you are wiser than I,” he says to it. “But we have no choice, my boy.”
It seems that they travel forever and no time at all, and when the merchant looks ahead, into the starting gale, he sees, dimly, the outlines of a castle. The road leads straight to the castle gate, and stops.
“Some faerie at work, I think, my boy,” he says, and dismounts, approaching the gate on trembling legs that make him rock unsteadily from side to side. He knocks, once, twice, and there is no resounding echo of fist on metal or wood, no dull thunk of stone. There is, instead, a delicate ringing, and the cold seeps through his glove.
“Ice?” he says, aloud, and the gate swings open. He reaches back for the horse’s reins, and clicks his tongue. Follow. The horse whinnies nervously, and hooks its head over the merchant’s shoulder. He stumbles under the weight of it, and laughs softly, stroking the horse’s face.
“We’ll be alright,” he says, gently. “I promise.”
They enter, and the wind cuts off. The merchant breathes out a sigh of relief. The high walls around the castle must be blocking the gale, although not entirely. He’ll be glad to get inside.
There is a stable tucked away beside the castle, and the merchant leads his horse into it. There are two other horses in the stable, in loose, roomy stalls, but he doesn’t like the look of them, and stables his horse as far away as possible. He pauses on the way out, trying to pin down what is so odd about them. They’re fine-boned, certainly, and impeccable, with shining white skins and narrow, elegant faces, but they look more like someone’s imagining of a horse than the real thing. The way people who’ve never had to muck out a stall or clean horse spit off their clothes imagines them. And they are soundless and still, only moving to track him with their gazes as he leaves. He shudders, and casts a glance over his shoulder at where his horse is standing, head hung low over the empty trough where his feed should be. There had been some, but it was unwise to eat in a faerie household, and it was better that the horse go hungry than be subjected to slavery or a curse.
The merchant leaves the stables reluctantly, and turns his face to the castle. The door swings open as he approaches, and he pauses before entering, uncertain. A gust of warm air draws him in, though, and he steps onto the carpet with a sigh. There is no one there to greet him when he enters, so he makes his own way, wandering across the hall with his cold hands in his pockets. There’s a creak and then a thud as the doors swing shut behind him, and he freezes, turning back to look over his shoulder with dread.
“Ominous,” he says.
He keeps walking up the hall instead of trying the door. This way, he can pretend it’s unlocked and he won’t have to panic. There’s another door at the end of the hall, one that silently opens as he approaches it. He pauses at the threshold, takes a deep breath. There’s some kind of meat cooking, something that makes his mouth water and his stomach rumble even as he tries to remind himself that he cannot eat. The smell draws him irresistibly through the door, and he almost doesn’t notice when it closes behind him.
There’s a long table in the center of the room, with two places set. One of them is at the head of the table, in front of a chair like a throne. The other is in front of the wooden chair closest to the door. The chair is drawn back invitingly. It does look delicious, and the merchant whimpers softly, his hunger, which had subsided into grudging acceptance, roaring to life. But he cannot. He can not, must not eat. Surely just a taste… No.
He turns away, resolutely not looking at the plate, though it pains him. It would not be so terrible to be enthralled by a faerie, if it meant eating like that. He’s heard that faerie thralls do not even recognize their own imprisonment, being able to pass their lives in joy and ease. He exhales, in a long shuddery breath. His stomach hurts. Goosebumps are prickling along his arms from cold, and he shivers, biting his lip and shoving his hands into his armpits.