Have I ever told you I have an obsession with fairy tale retellings? Because I do. So without further ado, here is my latest attempt at retelling an old tale…
Ah, Beauty and the Beast. A tale told time and time again. You’ve likely heard it too, listened to it on your mother’s knee and begged her to read it again when she closed her book of tales. Do you still love it? Does a smile come to your face when you remember it?
I’ll wager it does. Fairy tales often have such an effect on us. They teach us to believe in magic and love. They teach us we can defeat dragons and turn beasts into princes. They teach us to hope.
And Beauty and the Beast did that for you, didn’t it? You likely think you know every word of that story. You think you can recite it as well as you can tell the story of your own childhood. But you can’t. There’s something you never knew, something conveniently torn from the fairy tales because it was much too disturbing.
The beast had a sister. She had a name: Avelina. She had a face, one with blue eyes, fair skin, rosy cheeks, and long blonde tresses. And she had a story, too. I know, because the story is mine.
My brother, Crown Prince Adolph Wilhelm Frederick VI, was not born a beast. Yes, the moment he came from my mother’s womb, and perhaps even before then, he created a great fuss. He insisted everything happen his way, and the entire palace heard his wails when he felt slighted. But he also had a sweet smile, and an angelic little laugh. I try not to forget these things.
However, the older he grew, the more beastly he became. By age three, he controlled my parents’ court like a puppet master, making fools out of high officials. By age seven, he gave harsh reprimands to the servants, inflicting punishments on those who defied his wishes. By age ten, he dreamed up torture devices for my father’s prison.
How did he grow into a beast? Perhaps we are all born with a beast inside of us. But his beast was nurtured. My father nurtured it by modeling beast-like behavior for Adolph. The court nurtured it by giving him his way in every situation. Most of all, I think the beast inside Adolph was nurtured by his own beliefs. His beliefs that he was born superior to the rest of the world. For being fair, for being male, for being royal, for being heir. And they let him believe it.
I watched it happen with a measure of fear and sadness. I was three years his senior and, as the court members whispered, three times his better. Yet I could never inherit the throne. Father insisted on a male heir, and the only person the court feared more than Adolph was my father.
Years later, when my brother discovered he had grown larger than I, he beat me with thorns. He held me down, beat me, and laughed when the thorns tore my fair flesh. The court felt their sympathy, but turned a blind eye. No one stood up to Adolph.
When my parents discovered it, they felt disturbed, but not sufficiently outraged. Father had a talk with Adolph, threatening to take away the boy’s sweets if he beat me again. Adolph cried and promised that it was an accident. He couldn’t help it, he promised, but he would never do it again.
This satisfied my father. The court never suggested that Adolph be punished, and neither did my mother. So I decided to forgive my brother and love him the same. What was I to do? Only later did I realize why my parents did nothing. They could not face the fact that they had brought up a monster.
For a while, Adolph held back. But within six months, he wanted to have his fun again. So he pulled me out in the garden and beat my back, leaving me scratched and bloody next to the fountain. When he left, I leaned against the fountain and wept. A tear intermingled with a drop of blood, and they fell into the fountain together, causing the water to ripple.
I watched with fascination, gasping as the water started to spin round and round, and the wind blew my golden locks around my fair face. Then I watched as an enchantress emerged from the water. Her blue robes billowed over the entire fountain, and her exquisitely beautiful face radiated with pure power.
Now, you know this enchantress, don’t you? Or you thought you knew her. You thought she came disguised as a peasant asking for lodging, and when my brother refused her, she turned into her true self and cursed him. That’s what they wanted you to believe.
When the enchantress asked what ailed me, I explained my plight and the nature of my brother, the crown prince. The enchantress’s face reddened with a ferocious fury, her robes turning the color of blood. With a cry of outrage, she yelled out a curse.
Tonight the king and queen of this castle shall die
They’ll receive what they deserve without a cry
And the boy, the son, the heir with fair skin
Shall turn as foul without as he is within
The rest of the palace, because they didn’t speak
Shall lose themselves and turn to antiques
But if this beast can love and be loved in return
The curse shall lift and his life he shall earn
Without further ado, she waved her wand to cast the curse, then disappeared without a trace. And I watched my world crumble and fall.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I wandered the halls, waiting, wondering when something would happen. When the clock struck midnight, an awesome clash of thunder rattled the palace, and the enchantress’s curse rang through the air again. The thunder made me fall against a grandfather clock. For a moment, I couldn’t see through the pain. If only that moment lasted forever.
The second I could see straight, I found the clock had the face of the watchmaker, his wide fish-like eyes darting about. With a terrified scream, I scampered off, my slippers skidding on the marble floor. I ran and ran up flights of stairs until I reached my parents’ room. Instead of meeting a pair of guards at the door, I found the doors were the guards.
Pushing them aside, I fell at the foot of my parents’ bed, sobbing for fear that they had died. When I saw them lying side by side, still human, still resting, I allowed myself to feel a flicker of hope. But when I touched my dear mother’s fair face, it felt as cold and lifeless as ice. I screamed, feeling for an absent heartbeat. Then I felt my father, my darling tyrant, and his face felt just as cold.
For hours I cried by their side, and I believe the palace cried with me. It really did cry, since the palace had become the servants. Or the servants had become the palace. I’m not entirely sure which. Perhaps I shouldn’t have cried for my parents, the people who planned to entrust their kingdom to one as monstrous as my brother, but I could not help myself. I still loved them.
The grief had such a hold on me that I did not hear a beast roaring through the palace, and never did I hear him tear down the door and scream my name. I did not know Adolph was there until he tore me away from the bed, roaring my name again and demanding why I was not cursed.
When I saw him, a cold terror took over me, for he was the most frightening creature I could imagine. I do not even care to describe him now, for surely it would disturb you, and I don’t think I could sleep tonight if I did.
Rosy lips trembling, I told him of my conversation with the enchantress. As I finished, he stood on his hind legs, letting out a roar that blew the blonde locks from my face. In a furious, violent passion, he reached out with his claws and tore my dead parents’ bodies in half. Helpless, small, and weak, I begged and begged for him to stop.
But he did not hear, or refused to hear. The Beast tore and tore until nothing remained but a pile of feathers, shredded sheets, and unrecognizable body parts. When he finished his degenerate deed, he hovered over his heinous handiwork, panting.
Growling with dissatisfaction, he threw a handful of the mess behind him so that it landed next to me. I couldn’t help it. I let out a small whimper of despair as I covered my face, fearing what I might see if I dared look upon the space of floor by my side.
Remembering my presence, the Beast turned on me with a fury that could burn a kingdom to ash. “You Avelina, you worthless animal! This is your fault! Why do you remain fair and uncursed when I am a hideous beast? I’ll see to it that you live your days with a face as ugly as mine.”
So he took his great claw and slashed a wicked gash across my face, slicing open my fair features. Then he threw me over his back and locked me into a tower, where he swore I would remain forever.
For a year, I sat locked up in that tower and feared to no end. First I feared the Beast would come back and slash me to pieces. Though he never came, and as the seasons passed, I came to the conclusion that he had forgotten me or couldn’t stand to see a human face. Because even with the ugly jagged scar, I was more beautiful that he could ever be.
I watched him prowling the gardens, a frenzy of anger controlling his every movement. I watched the servants mill about as objects. And I watched the roses in the garden, the ones the Beast had beat me with, dying one by one. Hope seemed to die with it.
Perhaps you wonder how I lived all alone and without food. Some of the servants took pity on me and brought me morsels and water. Other times I went hungry. Perhaps you wonder why I didn’t leave my tower. You think if the servants could come in, surely I could go out. And you are correct. I could have left my wretched prison at any moment. So why didn’t I?
The answer is I feared. Yes, I feared the beast, but with time, I realized I feared something more. Every morning when I looked in the mirror and saw my once fair face, I feared I would see the face of a beast. I convinced myself I would see fur replace skin and claws replace hands.
Why would I fear such a thing? Because I had seen a human turn into a savage animal. I had seen an innocent baby grow into a horrendous boy who turned into a true monster. If my brother turned to a beast, why couldn’t any other person? And if any person could turn to a beast, why wouldn’t I?
Every day, I saw my flesh, eyes, and skin. I saw a human when I looked in the mirror. Yet my fear became so strong that sometimes I truly believed I saw a beast. And I decided it would be better, safer for everyone if a fiend such as myself remained locked in a tower and suffered for the remainder of her life. I decided I deserved to suffer.
So you see, it wasn’t the fear of the Beast that kept me imprisoned in my tower. It was the fear of myself.
You are likely wondering about the girl named Belle. And if you are wondering, then the answer is yes, a maiden did come to live in the Beast’s palace. At first, I felt relieved that the Beast would have something to distract himself with. If he busied himself with trying to break a curse, then he would never return to torment me.
Yet, I feared for the girl. So much so that I wished she would leave, despite the fact that she could break the curse. I feared the Beast would slash her face open just like mine, perhaps worse. When I thought of that, I wanted Belle to run away and never look back.
What happened next, you ask? Did Belle break the curse? The answer is that I don’t know. I didn’t see it happen. Because I ran away. Finally, I looked into my mirror and realized I was human. I was human, not beast, and I needed to leave the tower. I would not be a prisoner anymore.
So in the dead of the night, I escaped. I climbed down the side of the tower all the way to the garden. When I reached the rose bushes, I took one of the last living flowers and threw its petals into the fountain water. I do not know how or why, but washing my face in this water healed my scar so that it only became a thin line.
Then I ran. I ran out of the garden, over the gate, and through the woods until I reached a place where no one knew who Princess Avelina was. I settled there and built a life for myself. A life of a survivor, not a victim.
And what happened to the Beauty and the Beast? Well, I’ll wager Belle didn’t break the curse. I’ll wager the beast either killed her or she ran away. Or maybe she ran and kept coming back to torment herself. Because in real life, beasts rarely, rarely turn into princes.
As for me? Well, my part of the story has been kept quiet until now. It’s been wiped from history, replaced with the lies people want to believe and want to tell their children. But one day that won’t be. One day, I will tell my story, tell it for all to hear, so people can know they’re not alone if they live with a beast, if he tore their skin. I’ll tell it so that people will know what happens if they let themselves become monstrous. I’ll tell it in hopes that if my story is known, there will be less beasts in the world.