Slowly raising her body to a seated position and rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Beauty sniffed at the air. She could have sworn that she had smelled bread, steaming hot and fresh from the oven. Desperately, she strained her nostrils, hoping for that familiarity, about to give up until… yes, there it was! Somebody- or someTHING, Beauty thought, judging by the state of the "servants"- was definitely baking bread in this castle. And Beauty was determined to find out who- or WHAT- it was. Silently and slowly, so as not to wake the sleeping Catalin, she lowered her body out of bed. When her feet reached the ground instead of freezing on contact with the cold silver floor, they were instantly greeted by a pair of lavender slippers. The slippers were as soft as wool, and the fur that lined them buried Beauty's feet in divine warmth. Bewildered, Beauty had wondered how her "handmaidens," the household objects, had known she would be up so early. Shrugging, she looked at her bed to find a royal purple silk dressing gown folded neatly on the bedspread. White birds and flowers floated over the purple sea of the robe as Beauty tied it on. Whatever woman lived here before I certainly liked the color purple! Padding gently over the floor, Beauty opened the door and shut it. Sniffing at the air, she began to follow the scent down the hall and back into the gallery of tapestries.
The spinning maidens, dancing aristocrats and hunting squires still eyed Beauty askance from their cross-stitched world, as if to say, ah, still here, are you Girl? What a disappointment. We are not accustomed to young women of your background in our sanctuary. Defiant, Beauty glared at a foreboding monk which looked like he wanted to hit her over the head with his gold-thread Bible. Well, you'd best become accustomed to it! She mentally countered, for it would appear that I'm to stay here for quite some time! Sniffing, she sauntered towards the door to the stairwell, noticing something she had not seen the night before. A poker, made of the finest spurned brass, was hopping down the hall ahead of her, its sharp point making irritating plinking noises against the golden tiles of the floor. As Beauty reached the door, it jumped into the silver handle and pulled it open before the astonished girl's eyes.
"There you are, Miss!" It cheerily told her. "And a very pleasant morning to you!"
"Th-thank you." Beauty stammered, unsure how to respond. This was the fourth supposedly inanimate object to speak to her in the past two days. Confusion filled her mind like a fog. How, exactly, she wondered, are these objects able to talk and to move? What has happened that would allow them to do this? At a loss for a better response, she curtsied deeply to the poker, who appeared to blush in response, and hurried into the stairwell. On sight of her, the torches in their sconces lit themselves, dousing the tower in light. The light sparkled off the brass in the castle's mortar as Beauty raced down the stairs. The warm, delicious scent of the bread became stronger and stronger as Beauty descended flight after flight of stairs. Finally, when it appeared that she had reached the bottom of the castle, it had reached its maximum strength. Someone was baking bread on the bottom floor. Praying that she hadn't stumbled upon the castle dungeon, Beauty warily edged out of the tower.
As Beauty entered the hall, she was hit with a sudden burst of warmth. The kitchen, she supposed, was nearby. Still following her nose, Beauty edged her way down the hall, which appeared to her to show a great contrast to those she had hitherto seen. Both the walls and the floor were comprised of the granite masonry that composed the outside of the castle, instead of the precious-metal tiles and silk-hung walls that made up the other floors. The windows on this floor were by far the dingiest; Beauty noted with shock that the grime encrusting them, a revolting grey-green color, smelled as if it were fermenting. The sorry windows appeared, in fact, to have not seen a sponge in years! Must filled the air, creating a choking smog which penetrated every room. The noise, as well, provided contrast; whereas both floors Beauty had been on produced a deadly silence, the noise in this corridor was deafening. A clatter arose down the aisle, and Beauty jumped in surprise as a group of brass fire-irons leapt past her. A few steps down the hall, and a childish shriek arose as a dozen silver spoons raced past her in fear. I mean no harm, Beauty mused, wondering if it were really she that they were afraid of or if she were on the same floor as the Beast. Shivering, she prayed that she was not. As she followed the scent, a queue of feather dusters, much like Melinda, bustled past her, gossiping. Another great clanking arose, and the girl backed against a wall as a suit of armor stumbled tipsily down the hall, loudly singing a drinking song in a fearsome baritone. Finally, Beauty's fingers found a door handle. The smell of bread wafted around her. This must be the kitchen! Relieved, she pulled the door open and stepped inside.
When Beauty entered the kitchen she found it to be alive with activity. A mahogany clock with a golden face and pendulum stepped gracefully around the room, laying freshly-baked loaves on the countertop as they were spewed out by a silver, slightly blackened cookstove. A group of pots hummed happily as they simmered on top of the stove, as a pan in its oven shouted, "This batch is done, George!" Goblets, knives, forks and spoons bustled in and out of the pantry, emerging with ingredients with which to create more culinary masterpieces. On top of the dusty, notched kitchen table sat Melinda, turning from side to side and giving orders, gesturing with her feathers to what needed to be done.
"Very good, everyone! Remember, we must do our best to concoct the most delicious food possible. We are no longer simply butchering His Highness's prey. We now have a girl living here who is used to dining like a civilized human being! We must accommodate her as she will be staying in this castle for the rest of her days. Let us make her life a bit more enjoyable!"
"Heaven knows she's going to need it, the poor thing!" A pot piped up.
"Thank you for your input, Helen. Now please focus yourself on the task of simmering your stew, we do not want it to burn. Jerrold!" She pointed a feather at a sharp silver knife who was lounging idly atop the granite counter. "Hurry and gut that fish! Colleen," she admonished, pointing a feather at a grey towel with a rose embroidered on its lower right corner, "look what you've done, Girl. You've upset the mixing bowl! Now please clean that up. Make haste, everyone. The girl will awaken soon, and she will likely be-"
"Blimey!" A large copper pot gasped, seeming to look up at Beauty. "Well, you said she was unique, Melinda, but you never told us she was this lovely!" Beauty blushed scarlet, which looked very odd against her red hair. She had never been complimented by a pot before. Melinda, jumping in surprise, turned to face her.
"Oh, ah- good morning, Miss Beauty! What a surprise! Everyone," She addressed the whole congregation of supposedly inanimate objects who were now gathering around the table to get a better look at the strange, beautiful girl who now found herself in their midst. "I would like you to meet Miss Beauty. This is the girl I have mentioned. We are to tend to her every need from now on." The household objects began calling out friendly greetings to the girl, and some bowed low to the floor in her presence. Beauty, startled, backed towards the door. This was not supposed to happen. She, a Baker's daughter, was not supposed to have a host of people- er, objects- tending to her every whim, bowing before her, calling her "Miss Beauty" as if she were some kind of Lady of Court. Unsure how to respond, she stuttered.
"I'm s-sorry to interrupt you in y-your work. I s-shall leave you n-now."
"Nonsense, Miss Beauty." Melinda replied congenially gesturing at a stool with her feathers. "Why don't you sit down here? If you are hungry, you only need say the word to George," she gestured to the stove who gleamed brightly at Beauty as if smiling at her, "and he will gladly prepare anything you desire."
Beauty gazed in wonder at the cookstove, which glistened in the dim light, winking at her as it continued to radiate heat throughout the kitchen. Blushing, she looked down at her chest, noticing for the first time that her nightgown was rather low-cut. Gasping in embarrassment at being thus exposed in front of members of the opposite sex, even if they were merely household objects, she drew her dressing gown closer across her body. The cookstove, who did not appear to have noticed, simply went on burning. Beauty shook her head.
"No, thank you. But that's very kind of you." She quickly added, sensing the objects' disappointment. They had meant well. She was simply not accustomed to this treatment. Until she had come to further understand this castle, she would accept little service from the household objects. However, she decided, as she was to remain in the castle for the rest of her days, she should try to become accustomed to them, perhaps even to form friendly relations with them. This could possibly be the adventure she wished for. To avoid offending her newly and unexpectedly-acquired entourage, she forced a smile.
"Pearhaps ze maidain ees thersty." The mysterious accent! Where was it coming from? Curious, Beauty slowly turned her head downward and found herself face to golden face with the mahogany clock. Another talking object, she thought, blinking at the clock, who swung his pendulum faster in response. I might have known. The clock went on. "Eef you dezheer vine, you nayd ownly ohpayn one off ze suites off ahrmorr. Ze vine vill flow rayght oot off zhem. I varn you, hoefver, zey ahr alavays eentoxicahted."
Beauty nodded, still unsure what to make of the talking clock. "Not right now, thank you…"
"This dunderhead here is Ludwig," George cut in, grunting in annoyance as the clock bowed before Beauty.
"A plaisoor too mehk your ackvaintahnce, Mees Bayutya." He purred, taking her hand in one of the golden flaps at his side and pressing his face to it as if kissing it. "Cahstla dahncing mahsteer ahnd ayscort aht your searviss." The light glimmering off of his golden face as he looked up at Beauty, Ludwig boasted, "I ahm knoown forr being a pahragohn of grahce anhd poonctualite."
"Or so he says!" George interrupted again, now choking with sarcastic laughter. Black smoke billowed from his smokestack as he tried to catch his breath. Beauty looked on, bewildered. Finally, George caught his breath and continued. "I'll admit he's punctual, but a paragon of grace? Don't make me laugh!"
"Eet's zese vooden leggs!" Ludwig interjected, gesturing at the small mahogany legs that held him up. Looking closely, Beauty could agree that those clumsy supports were hardly adequate for movement. However, I've never seen a clock that was able to move before now. Of course, she mused, she'd never seen ANY object that was able to speak or move itself prior to the day before. Before she could say anything, however, George cut in for a third time.
"Of course, we've no need for a dancing master or escort now, so the only place he'll be useful is down here in the kitchen with me! And let me be the first to tell you that when their highnesses imported him from a hidden kingdom all those years ago, they should have looked for more practical traits than punctuality. He is the worst help I've ever had down here, Miss. Always breaking the plates, and he can't even use an axe properly! Just yesterday, when he was supposed to be butchering the Beast's prey, he wound up sending a slab of meat straight into the wall! Of all the incompetent-"
As fast as lightning, Melinda jumped onto the table to intervene. Spreading out her feathers at both of them, she shouted "that's enough!" As everything settled down, she turned again to face Beauty. "Now then, Miss Beauty," she asked, "what brings you down here, if you are not hungry. Is there anything any of us can do for you? Is there, perhaps, anything that you might need?"
"No, no," Beauty dismissed her, shaking her head. "It's nothing, really. I'm sorry to interrupt, it's just that I smelled your bread baking, and…" She paused. Her face fell as the objects began to draw closer. What was the matter with the girl? The Beast was nowhere around, to their knowledge. Did she find her accommodations unsatisfactory? Taking a deep breath, the girl went on. "You see, my father…" Beauty gulped. Father! "My father is… was a baker… and every morning… my family would wake up early to bake the bread… and our house would smell exactly like this…" Tears began to flow from Beauty's eyes as she said this. Father! She thought. Stepmother, Charlie, Alfred, Mary! I'm never going to see them again. I'm trapped in this Beast's castle forever. I'll never speak to them again, or hold them. I'll never help Father in the shop, or look after my siblings, or seek advice from Stepmother. To think I complained of a boring life! To think I longed for adventure! Well, I've gotten what I wanted, but I couldn't have kept what I had! With reckless abandon, Beauty buried her head in her lap, sobbing as if her heart would break, mourning the loss of her family. They were not dead. They were only far away. Yet she was never to see them again. The smell of the bread had reminded her all too clearly that in a sense, she really had sacrificed her life for Chip's. Filled with sympathy for the peasant girl, the objects slowly edged around her. A small dishtowel edged along the floor to Beauty's foot and wrapped itself around her ankle, hugging it. Surrounded by the enchanted objects, Beauty gave rise to her grief and despair, uneasy and unsure in her new surroundings and in despair of ever again knowing familiarity.
Hidden in the shadows behind the door, the Beast heard her cry. He smelled the salty tang of her tears running smoothly down her pure, soft face; he felt the heartbreaking ache of misery that racked the Peasant Girl's body with every breath she took. Beauty's sobs broke straight through his hard shell into his soul. A slight twinge of an emotion the Beast had never felt before suddenly pricked through his rough surface. He wondered, for a moment, why the girl was crying. Had he made a terrible mistake in demanding her and thereby forcing her love for her father to bring her here? Should he return her?... Grumbling to himself, the Beast shrugged the feeling off. She'd come of her own free will, hadn't she? The girl had said so herself! Therefore he could not be blamed! Any petty dissatisfaction the girl could have with his castle and her life there was entirely her fault. And she had better become accustomed to it, because the Beast was not about to release her. Growling in his annoyance at the girl, and at himself for almost taking pity on such an unworthy personage as the daughter of the peasant rat who'd stolen from him, the Beast stalked up the stairs and burst into the mahogany parlor. He stopped before the fireplace, glaring at the portrait of the menacing king and his simpering queen.
"THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!" The Beast roared at his parents' images, who glared at him disdainfully from their frame. "IF YOU HADN'T THROWN THE WITCH OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE, IF YOU HAD ONLY SWALLOWED YOUR PRIDE JUST ONCE, THIS WOULD NOT BE HAPPENING! IT'S BECAUSE OF YOU THAT THERE'S A SNIVELLING PEASANT WENCH IN THE CASTLE ! AND IT'S BECAUSE OF YOU I'M IN THIS MONSTROUS FORM!" Furious, the Beast continued to roar until his throat ached, and collapsed to the floor, silent. He placed his ear to the floor and listened. Beauty's sobs still emanated from the kitchen. Scoffing, the Beast stalked out of the palace and into the brush in the surrounding area to hunt for prey. When he was to return, Beauty's tears would have dried, but her sorrow at leaving her family would be far from gone.
A week had passed since Chip the Baker and his second wife Cinderella had arrived at home in the middle of the night in tears. A week since they watched their beloved daughter and stepdaughter hand herself over to certain death, powerless to stop her. A week since they had had to tell their three remaining children that Beauty was gone. The memory of those horrible moments would forever be branded on the parents' minds. Charlie had opened the door to receive them, the hopeful smile on his face radiating his expectancy to see Beauty with them, unharmed. "Beauty's really going to get it this time!" they'd heard Alfred snicker from within the kitchen. "Forget the Beast, I'll bet that Father's going to kill her himself for running off like that!" Mary ran towards the door, her arms outstretched to receive her sister, calling her name joyously over and over. Chip and Cinderella would never forget how the expressions on their faces changed when they saw their mother's tears streaking down her face, when they saw their father's face in a knot of grief. Never would they ever be able to erase the images of their children's' reactions from their mind: Mary had become hysterical, throwing herself into Cinderella's arms and wailing; Charlie became deadly silent, staring into space, unwilling to accept the news; as for Alfred, he had stared at his parents for a moment, then ducked into the storage closet to mourn privately. The family had shared their grief that night, five members temporarily brought even closer by the loss of one of their own.
The next morning, funeral arrangements were made. Beauty's final resting place was to be in the village churchyard, next to the gravestone that Chip had purchased a year after the giantess attack for his first wife, Joanna. The Baker thought it only just that Beauty be symbolically buried next to her mother. He had had her to himself for the past nineteen years. Now it would be Joanna's turn. Due to the fact that Beauty's remains were inside the body of the Beast and therefore impossible to retrieve, the family had decided to bury the bouquet of roses that Beauty had requested, leaving one to stand in the window of the shop as a reminder of the daughter they had lost. Chip himself had requested that: the bouquet of roses had been the last gift he had ever been able to give his favorite child, the last request of the only child of his beloved Joanna. The roses were supposed to have brought her so much happiness and instead cost Beauty her life. Chip knew that as long as he may live, he would never forgive himself for stealing the flowers from the Beast. Because of his mindless thievery, he would never see his daughter again. Chip had never felt so similar to his father. Both had stolen prized greens from the garden of a magical creature, and both had lost a daughter as a result of their carelessness. The Baker could identify but three differences between them: whereas Chip's sister, Rapunzel, who was raised as a daughter by the witch who abducted her, was taken almost the moment she was born; Beauty was mauled to death by the Beast as a young woman- Chip had had her for nineteen years! During this time he had been able to love and cherish her more than life, more than riches, more than the moon; he had found solace and comfort from the loss of his first wife in watching her beautiful image grow and change and could not believe that he had thought of and inwardly reproached himself constantly for trying to leave her in the woods. Finally, whereas his father, Frexspar, had run away from his guilt, Chip had no intention of forgetting what he lost. Until the rose wilted, he would gaze at it daily, forcing himself to contemplate his own stupidity in causing the death of the child he broke a curse to get.
Finally, a week after the tragedy, a solemn procession made its way through the streets of the little village towards the churchyard. The town priest, an old man dressed in a flowing black cassock and wearing a somber expression led the group, holding a small wooden box in his arms. This box, which was to serve as the roses' coffin, was carved of the finest pale oak that the Baker could afford. Beautiful carvings decorated it: the front and back sides of the box were graced with beautiful cows, a whittled cape enhanced the left and right sides. The lid was the most spectacular of all: a wavy pattern which resembled hair formed its border, and in each corner rested a slipper. Following the preacher was the population of the village, dressed entirely in black. When Chip and Cinderella had begun funerary preparations, they had immediately told Jack and Red about their loss, who had comforted them in their grief and promised to be at the funeral, along with their own three children. They had intended for Beauty's funeral to be a small one. However, customers at the bakery soon noticed Beauty's absence, and the bakers had had no choice but to say what had happened. As a result, the group was accompanied by an uninvited guest: walking alongside the family was Raoul, who wore an expensive, double-breasted suit of black silk and velvet and exaggeratedly bemoaned the loss of his "love" Beauty ever so often. He had also insisted upon delivering a eulogy at the funeral, cementing this by telling the priest that he had been given permission. Truthfully, the vast majority of the village had arrived simply because of Raoul, feeling sympathy for the town hero's loss of his intended as opposed to sorrow over Beauty's death. People could be heard muttering such statements as "It all comes of having a willful personality. That Beauty was never like the other girls, never thinking of her future, always wanting to go gallivanting off into the woods where women have never belonged," and "Her mother was exactly the same way, and look where it got her! Crushed by a giant! You'd think Beauty would have taken a lesson from Joanna, but then I suppose the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree," and even "That Beauty was a disgrace! If Chip the Baker had been sterner with his daughter, if he had made any effort to put her in her place, things might have been different. But no! I always knew that Baker was never strong enough to handle his own children!"
At the forefront of the procession, directly behind the preacher walked the Baker and his family. All were in tears, except for one person. Throughout the morning, Chip the Baker had been stoic, his face frozen into a neutral, yet shocked expression as the congregation processed through the streets into the churchyard to the gravestone, before which a hole had been dug for the roses. The Baker's thoughts were not in the present time at all. Instead, he moved through the process slowly, mechanically, as if in another world. He did not see the ocean of black surrounding him, the box in the priest's arms as he delivered his sermon. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. So the Lord giveth as the Lord taketh back. These words flowed over Chip's consciousness like dust in the wind. All he could see were visions of what had been. He saw Joanna, five months pregnant, yet still dancing spiritedly with him at Cinderella and her Prince's wedding, heedless of the fact that her now bulging stomach was causing her to stumble repeatedly. Chip had had to support her for much of the celebration. That was the day Chip had finally met his sister, Rapunzel, face to face. He sighed, brought momentarily to the reality of Beauty's funeral. Not all of the family was there to pay their respects: Rapunzel had died mere hours before Joanna; her twins, Beauty's cousins Chandler and Elise had been sent letters announcing Beauty's death, but neither of them had been able to come to pay their respects. Elise, who at twenty years already had three young daughters, was once again pregnant and had previously been advised not to travel for the time being. Chandler had, in fact, not yet received the letter, still being out at sea. Rapunzel's Prince had not even been notified. No doubt he would be too busy seducing some young maiden to pay his respects to the niece of the woman he had rejected for Snow White. Closing his eyes, the Baker again saw Joanna, this time in the shop, the infant Beauty whining in her arms. An exasperated look was on her face as she begged her husband to try to look after the baby for a little while so that she could rest; "I cannot take care of her all of the time," she had moaned when the Baker insisted that she was more suited for the task. Joanna had been born the eldest of eight siblings, and as a result had grown up taking care of her seven brothers and sisters. She had known everything there was to know about babies, but however she'd tried to teach her husband he'd never quite picked up on it. Chip fought back tears as he stared into the distance. Joanna had had nineteen years' rest now. Now she would have her daughter back. This time, however, Chip would not be able to see them together, to be happy in the company of his two favorite redheaded women. He was jarred out of these thoughts as Raoul strode purposefully through the crowd to address them. Chip fought the urge to stick out his leg as the arrogant suitor passed him. He had not given the man permission to speak, it was only through lying to the preacher that he had been allowed to air whatever stupid sentiments he may have had. It was only the memory of Beauty's kind nature that kept him from making a move.
Pompously, arrogantly, Raoul turned to face the crowd. Dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief, he began to speak, his booming hunter's voice resonating throughout the churchyard. "We all know that Beauty was sadly cut from this world prematurely when she stupidly offered herself to a beast. But what was Beauty's gravest error?" Here he paused for dramatic effect. Many villagers stared at him, hanging on his every word. Village girls sighed, feeling deep sorrow for the man that they had all wanted for themselves. Cinderella frowned at him, squeezing Alfred's hand gently lest he shout in indignation. Raoul went on. "I will tell you now. Beauty's gravest error was her refusal to marry me. If she had married me, she would have been given everything she could ever wish for. A rustic hunting lodge to live in. My kills to roast. My trophies to admire. Six or seven strapping boys and a beautiful little girl to raise and to one day make her proud. And of course, me. I would have been the finest husband Beauty could have wished for. If she had only come to me when the Beast threatened her father, instead of acting on impulse, you may rest assured that I would have tracked it down and killed it. Beauty would be alive and the head of the Beast mounted in her father's shop. Of course, we must pity Beauty. She was, after all, only a woman."
Chip listened, becoming more and more disgusted as Raoul went on with his "eulogy." While the name "Beauty" was often mentioned, the speech appeared to describe Raoul's personal vanity more than it did the tragic loss of the Baker's daughter. As Chip closed his eyes, he saw Beauty, two years old, walking down the aisle ahead of Cinderella at their wedding. A bright smile shone on her little face as she twirled down the aisle in the beautiful lace dress Cinderella had made for her. Chip remembered that day as if it were yesterday: Jack had stood up for him, Red for Cinderella, and Beauty had tossed flowers down the aisle; daisies, tulips, roses… roses. Chip's eyes teared up at the thought of roses as Raoul ended his speech. The Baker nodded, it was about time. As if overcome by emotion, Raoul left the funeral then, followed, much to Beauty's family's relief, by most of the village. A tall woman with her blonde hair pulled into a loose bun stood up next. Her figure was just slightly larger than the average woman's, whereas when the giantess had attacked, she had been a chubby thirteen-year-old. This woman was normally seen wearing nothing but red, however today she wore a modest black gown. She smiled sadly at Chip.
"I'm so sorry about what happened to Beauty, Chip." She whispered. "You can be sure that Jack and I will never forget her. I don't care what some of our neighbors think, Beauty was a wonderful girl. She was good, and brave, and Jack and I hope that our children grow up to be just like her. What do the villagers know, anyway?" she added defiantly, her true spunkiness beginning to shine through. "I'll bet that they all secretly wished they had a daughter like yours!"
Chip smiled back. "Thank you, Roberta."
Little Red smiled back and turned around, pulling up her tall, lanky, red-headed husband, Jack. The two of them walked to the front of the crowd to deliver their eulogy. As Chip the Baker listened to them describe how they each had helped bring Beauty into the world and how after the giantess attack they had been given the opportunity to help raise her for the first six years of her life and how Beauty had been a little sister to the both of them, he slipped back into his memories. He saw Cinderella, now his loving wife, heavily pregnant with Charlie. Five-year-old Beauty had hovered excitedly around her stepmother, always asking when was she going to be a big sister, was today the day they were going to go into the woods to get the baby, and could she please go too this time. Chip had had to explain to her that usually parents do not have to go into the woods to break a curse to get a baby and that her birth had been a special case. As Red described Beauty's innate longing for adventure, even at an early age, Chip again saw Beauty, this time six years old, begging him to let the nineteen-year-old Red teach her how to fell a wolf. Chip had refused to allow it, as he had decided upon Joanna's death that Beauty would never go into the woods alone. Now, looking back, he regretted that decision. Experience in fending off wild beasts might have saved his daughter's life! How could he have been so stupid? Jack and Red now made their way back into the crowd and Cinderella stood before them. As his wife began to speak, Chip saw Beauty again, thirteen years old and feeling ugly because none of the village boys seemed to like her; a fact that frankly, Chip had been quite pleased about. Cinderella had somehow managed to convince her that she was beautiful the way she was and that, eventually, the boys would notice this as well. This had proven all too true; this vision was soon replaced with one of Beauty, just the year before, complaining that Raoul would not leave her alone! Chip wished more than anything, more than life, that he had these moments back. Finally it was his turn. Standing beside the roses' grave, he addressed the mourners.
"All my life, I had wanted a child. Since I believed that both of my parents had died in baking accidents, at least my mother had, I was eager to begin a family of my own, as was my late wife Joanna. Therefore, beginning on our wedding night, we made every effort to conceive a child. However, no matter what efforts we undertook, Joanna never became pregnant. Even the strongest fertility potion the midwife could provide produced no effect. It went on this way for years into our marriage. Finally, after a fateful journey into the woods, we got our wish. My daughter's birth was owed to many others besides her parents and the grace of God. You see, a Witch had cast a spell on my father when he stole some rampion from her garden, leaving my family barren. That same Witch had also taken my late sister, Rapunzel. She agreed to lift the curse in return for a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. Without Cinderella's slipper, Little Red's cape, Jack's cow, Rapunzel's hair, and intervention from my father, my eldest daughter, and all my children for that matter, would never have existed. When our long-awaited child was at last born, Joanna named her "Beauty," not only for her physical loveliness but the beautiful fact that our childless life was over. Beauty had been my pride, my love, my joy ever since. When Joanna died, it was Beauty that enabled me to hold on and to face the future. Beauty was a good child, sweet and well-behaved, and a lovely young woman. She loved her stepmother as if she had been her own mother, and was a perfect sister to Charles, Alfred, and Mary. She was beloved by all who were close to her. When times were hard, Beauty remained cheerful and optimistic, knowing that as long as the family was together, we'd survive somehow. Beauty was selfless and true and brave. I owe my very life to her. Beauty died handing herself over to a Beast in order to save me. I will never forget my dear, sweet, beautiful Beauty, and she will always hold a place in my heart. I know that she is with her mother, my Joanna, and will never again know sorrow or pain. But in my heart, Beauty will always live on."
After the preacher had buried the bouquet of roses, the villagers dispersed, except for Jack and Red and family, who stayed with the Baker and his wife and children. Wiping a tear from her eye, Mary knelt before her sister's symbolic grave and placed a small daisy on it.
"Goodbye, Beauty." She whispered. "You were the best sister ever." Then, turning to Joanna's gravestone, she added, "Ms. Joanna? Take good care of Beauty for us, all right? You're her mother, I want you to keep her company in Heaven until we get there, please. Thank you."
Cinderella smiled slightly at her daughter's sweet gesture. Although Beauty had been nineteen years old, her little sister still thought that she would need to be as much looked after as herself. Cinderella put her arm around her daughter, becoming misty-eyed by her darling innocence and devotion to her sister. Chip, in turn, felt the tears which he had been holding back all day beginning to run down his cheeks. His Beauty was gone. He had been too late to save her, unable to stop her going. He wished that it were him in the stomach of the Beast instead of Beauty, that it were Beauty who were still alive. Beauty had not deserved to die. All she had done was to ask for a bouquet of roses. The entire predicament was his fault. He should have been eaten instead. But no, Beauty was dead, and there was no curse he could break to bring her back. First Joanna, now Beauty. He began to burst into sobs. Jack, seeing this, offered to take the children home, which the Baker accepted. As soon as his remaining offspring had disappeared into the distance, in a fit of grief, Chip screamed at his daughter's tombstone.
"HOW COULD YOU HAVE BEEN SO STUPID?!"
"Chip!" Cinderella cried.
"You knew that beast was dangerous! I told you about him myself! You knew that going to him would mean certain death! I told you not to go! I said that we would find another way! You should have stayed inside the house, Beauty, and waited! Maybe if I hadn't gone to the festival, none of this would have happened, I don't know. But you should have waited! But no. NO! You felt that you had to offer yourself to the beast! You snuck out of the house while we were asleep and fed yourself to the creature before my very eyes! Your insatiable desire to see the world and your determination to have your own way brought you out into the woods at night! And now look where it's gotten you!" Hysterical, Chip began to sing tearfully to his daughter's tombstone. "This is the beast I meant! Couldn't you listen? Couldn't you stay content within my four walls as I should have?" The tears began to flood the Baker's eyes, and to stream down his face as he went on. "Now you know what's out there in the world. No one stays untainted by the world… but that beast… BUT THAT BEAST!"
"We loved you as you were!" Cinderella chimed in. Together, they bemoaned the loss of their precious daughter and stepdaughter.
"EVIL BEAST, YOU HAD TO FEAST ON HER INSTEAD!"
Unable to continue, Chip collapsed to his knees, sobbing as if his heart would break. His daughter, Joanna's daughter, the only remnant of his first wife… his sweet, loving, beautiful Beauty… she was gone, gone forever. The Baker would never see her again in his lifetime. The tears flooded from his eyes, soaking the rose bouquet's grave. He couldn't even have buried his daughter. Every particle of what was once her body was now inside the stomach of the Beast, where he could never hope to reach it. ….. Softly, wordlessly, Cinderella knelt beside her husband. Wrapping her arm around his shoulder, she gently moved his head close to her neck. The Baker sobbed out his grief resting on his wife's shoulder as Cinderella, beginning to cry herself, sang softly to him.
"No matter what you say, children won't listen. No matter what you do, children refuse to learn. Guide them along the way- still, they won't listen. Beauty could only grow from something we loved… to something we lost."
"Sure as a wave needs to be near the shore… you are the one I was intended for…"
A month had now passed since Chandler had returned from his unsuccessful expedition, which had been ended early due to the wrecking of his ship, and the Prince still had not forgotten the mysterious girl with the beautiful voice who had saved his life. Quite the contrary- she now possessed every particle of his being. Every second of the Prince's life was filled with nothing but thoughts of her; what she might look like, the clothing she might wear, what her personality might be like, where she might be from. Her name, her age, her height, her weight, the color of her hair and eyes- all of these questions wafted constantly throughout Chandler's mind, leaving him restless. His waking hours were given to fantasies about the girl, fantasies in which he sailed the seas on an expedition and discovered her, fantasies in which he brought her to court, fantasies in which he proposed to her and she accepted. He daydreamed about their wedding day: seeing his beautiful rescuer walk down the aisle on a gaily decorated ship towards him, taking her hand in his as he promised to be a good and loving husband however long the two of them may live, kissing her at the altar; then the ball afterwards, where she would sing along with the music being played and the two of them would dance until they collapsed joyously. He would then take her sailing with him, and together they would see the world and taste whatever adventure came their way. They would have children: little princesses with their mother's beautiful voice and spunky little princes with their father's taste for excitement. At night, his dreams were filled with images of the girl. Her appearance varied every time he thought of her, but the voice always remained the same. Chandler only had the voice to go on in his search; however, it was permanently ingrained in his mind. He would find the girl. He mused on this, singing her little song to himself while he stared out of the castle's huge bay window overlooking the woods as a servant came in, announcing that his father requested his presence. Sighing, Chandler made his way towards the palace gardens, where his father, the late Rapunzel's Prince and his consort, Snow White, awaited him.
"We'll sail away on a ship… as silver as…the moon. And the storm will turn to sun… on an island… where the earth and sea… are one…"
Under the sea, Brina was lost in fantasy as well. Kneeling in her garden, her fins rested haphazardly along its rock border, she picked up a red blossom in her small hands and held it close to her chest, singing to it. For the past month since her sixteenth birthday, all she could think about was the handsome, charming, perfect Prince Chandler she had pulled from the storm. How the weight of his body had pressed majestically onto her shoulder as she'd thrashed desperately in the relentless waves to bring him to shore. How her hands had molded themselves around his head as she sang to him, her fingers digging into his soft, browning skin. How his hair had smelled like the salty breeze blowing over the ocean's surface. She shivered in delight at the memory. A month after the rescue and the very thought of him still stunned her like the sting of a manta ray. If she hadn't seen him with her own eyes and touched him with her own hands, she would have sworn that he was nothing more than a dream; the man was just too godlike to be really true. Yet he was. For days after the rescue Brina had tried to forget him, had constantly played her grandmother's warnings against humans in her head, had endlessly strained her brain in her effort to remove the Prince's face from her memory. Sadly, all of her efforts had failed; she only succeeded in making herself want him more than ever. Yet, this was not so tragic. Brina had never been in love before. She had never known how it felt to want someone so badly that she would do anything, go anywhere and face anyone for like her sisters had: Aquafina had announced her engagement to a merman king from a distant sea five months before, Misty had had a long succession of mermen callers ever since she was old enough to be attractive to males, the son of the Sea Queen's Head Advisor had been courting Oceane for years and was rumored to be considering asking for her hand, Liat had recently begun flirting discreetly with a renowned scholar who was a frequent dinner guest at the palace, and Coraline had had a crush on one of the castle guards for as long as Brina could remember. Brina had been happy for her sisters, but a small part of her heart was given to jealousy over the fact that they all had found a man whom they adored and she had not. Now, however, Brina had found a prince who, in her eyes, was more perfect than all of her sisters' beaux combined.
Putting down her flower, Brina gazed lovingly at a tall, marble object standing regally in the very center of her garden, surrounded by anemones. A statue of a human towered over the plants, its white marble gleaming in the shimmering water. It stood tall and proud, its muscular legs exuding strength and power. He wore an odd-looking suit that appeared to be made of many square pieces of coral fastened together all over his body. In one arm he carried a frightening object about the size of his head; a cylindrical object with a clamplike opening where the human's mouth would be and a razor-sharp spike at the top. Brina assumed that this was some type of lobster trap and shuddered every time she looked at it. His other arm was raised towards the surface, holding a long knife into the air. His eyes gleamed heroically at the mermaid as she stared at him. Brina had found this statue two weeks ago when she had been out swimming and had found the remains of a floating object much like her Prince's, decomposing on the sand after a terrible wreck. The statue didn't resemble Chandler at all, except for the fact that it had legs and a face, but its very humanity reminded Brina so much of the one she loved that she immediately took it home. She now looked at it every day, wondering if Chandler even remembered her. Somehow, someday, she'd decided long ago, I am going to be with him. The mermaid smiled as she remembered this, and blew the statue a kiss. I will become a human. I will find Chandler. And then, nothing and no-one will ever separate us. All I need is a little help, and then my Prince is as good as forever mine.
"Brina!" A call resonated from the castle. Startled, Brina turned around, wondering who had addressed her. She saw Oceane waving out the window at her, surrounded by their other sisters. Brina turned towards the palace.
"Coming!" She called out, flipping happily up through the water towards one of the palace windows, through which she glided to receive her sisters in one of the many coral halls of their home. The mother-of-pearl tiles glinted on the floor in the reflected light from the burning ball above the surface of the surface as the five mermaids sat on them, their backs against the pink walls of the palace as they babbled incoherently to each other. As soon as she saw Brina, Misty leapt up, dropping the seashell necklace she was polishing, and swam over to her, backing her against the wall.
"All right, Brina!" She ordered, her blonde hair flying into her younger sister's face from the force of their impact. "We've given you a month. Now it's time for you to share. What happened to you when you went to the surface?"
Brina trembled inside at the mention of her surface venture. When she had returned from her excursion, after the Captain had come to Chandler's aid, she had gone straight to her bedchamber where, sitting in her clamshell bed, she had thought about her handsome human all night. Knowing that her grandmother was completely against the idea of any of her granddaughter's so much as going near humans, let alone saving the life of one or falling in love with him, Brina had wisely decided to forego telling her family about what she'd seen on the surface. Her silence about the subject had gone unrevoked for the past month, but Brina knew that it was too good to last. Sooner or later, someone was bound to notice her lovesick state. Now, the hour of judgment was upon her.
"Well, Misty, surely you don't need ME to tell you what's up there," she stuttered. "I mean, you ARE, after all, three years older than I am. You've seen it many times before!"
"She isn't talking about that." Aquafina rose, gently placing her sampler on the ground as she did so. "You know that, Brina. Something strange happened to you while you were on the surface. Something that, well, I'll simply say it didn't happen to any of us."
"You went up there for a few short hours a normal, carefree mermaid. You came back besotted." Coraline added, looking up from the book she had been reading.
"But by what? Hmm?" Misty interrupted. "That's what we are all wondering about, Brina. What has caused this sudden change in our baby sister's personality?" Brina made no response. "Come now, Brina! Why the silence? You've never kept secrets from us before!" Mulling this over, Brina decided that her sisters were right. She had always confided in them before. They had always been reliable sources of advice for their sister. Maybe they could help her find a way to be with Chandler!
"Well… all right!" Sighing in anticipation of what was to come, Misty finally relented and backed away, letting Brina swim to the center of her sisters. Beaming with excitement, Brina began to tell her story. Caught up in the memory, she closed her eyes, reliving it, feeling once again the daze she found herself in when she first saw her Chandler, the terror she felt as she saved him that he would not live, the happiness she had felt when she had saved him. As she told the story she thought that maybe, just maybe, her sisters might feel the same way that she felt. That they might support the fact that their sister was in love with a human and perhaps, might be willing to help her. However, when she opened her eyes, she saw her sisters' faces frozen in expressions of shock, their jaws dropped almost to the sand. Aquafina was the first to break the silence.
"No, Brina." She stammered. "No, you're not. You're not in love with a human, Brina."
"Yes!" Brina giggled, "I am. I love the human prince Chandler, Aquafina. I cannot help it, but I do."
"Well, you'd best help it!" Liat chastised. "It's unheard of! You know what Grandmother always says!"
"Humans are barbarians! Humans are graceless and vile," Oceane quoted. "Beware young mermaids, the humans are dangerous. If you meet one, your days have met their end!" Oceane seemed strangely sad as she said this.
"But my Dear Sisters," Brina insisted, "Chandler's not like that. He's kind and he's brave. Didn't you listen to my story? The only reason he ended up in danger in the first place was because he was trying to save the other humans from the bright, hot waves crashing inside the floating object! I know I can be with him! I know it!"
"Well, believe whatever you will," Misty admonished. "But I wouldn't tell Grandmother all this."
"Tell me all what?"
A hush came over the mermaids as Assyria, Queen of the Oceans, entered the hallway, her long, purple tail trailing behind her, the twelve oysters attached to her fins scratching at the tiles, the pearl chain around her tail dangling in the water. Her silver hair, which flowed like waves about her body, sparkled with the salt of the oceans, aided by a silver and pearl tiara resting on her head. Around her neck rested a chain of the finest pearls under the ocean, donated by the most respected oysters beneath the waves. Bangles of sea glass covered her wrists. Although she was very old- almost three hundred years- there was not a wrinkle on her face. Her entire personage bespoke a majestic aura. In awe and embarrassment, her five elder granddaughters hastily swam from the hall, leaving Brina to face their grandmother alone.
"Come now, Brina," she gently chastised. "What is it you are hiding? Do not keep secrets from me."
Bina shivered. Although her grandmother appeared calm and collected, she knew that on the inside, Assyria was tense and impatient. The Queen of the Oceans tolerated no contraband. If Brina did not tell her her secret now, Assyria would stop at nothing until she found out. Stuttering, she found her voice.
"Grandmother, I… When I was up on the surface, I saw a floating object. On it was a group of.."
"Humans?!" Assyria cut her off. "Brina, my Dear, tell me that you did not go near them! Please say that you avoided them!"
"Actually, Grandmother…" Brina faltered. "there was a storm at sea. One of the humans was blown off of the floating object. And- and I saved him, Grandmother. I saved him! I carried him to an island, and I stayed with him until he awoke. And he was beautiful, Grandmother, and he was perfect, and I-"
"No, Brina. No!"
"And I've fallen in love with him!" She blurted out. "Oh Grandmother, please! I know that you feel that humans are beneath us! But please, I have fallen madly in love. Isn't there something you can do to help me to be with him? Perhaps you know someone who can be of assistance. Someone with magical powers, or who is in direct communication with the humans who can-"
"No, Brina." Her grandmother snapped. "It is out of the question. No. You are never to mention this to me again. I forbid it!"
"But Grandmother, please-"
"Enough!" Assyria sighed, running her hand through her hair in exasperation. Brina moved towards her, intending to utter a rebuttal, but her grandmother interrupted her. "Brina... the time has come that I told you about your parents."
Brina reeled back, surprised. This was not what she had expected. What did she mean by that? "I thought they died in a swimming accident… in the middle of a storm."
Assyria shook her head mournfully. "No, my Dear. It is time you knew the truth. Your sisters learned it as well at your age." Sighing deeply, as if about to cry, she braced herself and continued. "One day, your mother and father decided that they needed to take a rest from their royal duties. It was during the Great Seaweed Famine, you see, and the peasants were continually badgering them with their concerns. Being the saintly figures that they were, they did their best to accommodate every problem that could arise, but it grew to be too much. Therefore, on that fateful day, they left the steward in charge of the royal affairs and they set off for a much-needed swim." She paused, drawing for breath, choking on her words. "They never came back. It wasn't until a few days later that I learned the awful truth. A fleet of floating objects like your human's were hovering over the area where they were swimming. And hanging over those floating objects, into our waters, were scores of nets. The humans were in the midst of one of their hunts. Your parents saw the nets and tried to swim away, but were caught along with a school of fish. The humans that caught them were… especially barbaric. They saw that they were mermaids, saw the halves of their bodies that resembled those of humans, heard their screams… but paid them no mind at all. Your parents' tails were brutally chopped off and they bled to death. Their bodies were then tossed overboard, where they evaporated into sea-foam. The tails were given to a human prince, who had them served to his mistress. There was a storm the night they were caught, so I told you girls that they died in it, feeling that for the time being, you were too young to handle the truth. I told all of your sisters the truth when they turned sixteen." Tears flowed from Assyria's eyes at the memory. "Those evil humans. Not a care in their minds for the lives of merpeople, no respect at all for them. My beautiful daughter… her charming, brave husband… food for the barbarians! You see now, Brina, why I cannot let you pursue this human you speak of. You will only end up hurt, my Dear. The humans will see you only for the value of your tail. Please, Brina," She begged, her voice taking on an anxious tone. "Be happy with your life beneath the waves. Forget about the human. If you do not, it will end in your death. Live your life under the sea until your days end peacefully, and you become foam on the sea's surface. Be wise, Brina."
Brina was stunned. Her parents had been killed by humans? New grief welled inside of her as she thought about this. No wonder Oceane always looked as if she would cry when she heard about mermaids' tails being chopped off and sold. That fate had befallen their own parents! Horrified, Brina tried again to forget Chandler. He's a barbarian, Brina, she tried to convince herself. You should not have saved him. Better to have let him drown. If you pursue him, you will likely end up like your parents. Yet would Chandler do that? Something told Brina that he would not. Hadn't he been there when the other humans needed assistance? He had nearly given his life to save them! No, Brina decided, he would not harm her. Struggling, Brina found her voice.
"Grandmother, you're wrong! My Prince would never do such a thing! I know it!"
Assyria glowered. Her impudent granddaughter was committing the gravest possible offense to her parents' memory. "Brina," she snapped, "You are not to speak of this human again! You are not to look for him when you are on the surface. In fact, until I feel I can trust you not to go in search of him, you are not to go near the surface. We shall say no more about this."
"I am sixteen years old!" Brina shouted at her. "I am of age! I think that I am old enough to understand what is best for myself! I am going to find my human, and like it or not, I am going to be with him! Whether it pleases you or not, I am in love with Prince Chandler!"
Her words were cut off there. In a fit of anger and concern, Assyria slapped her granddaughter across the face. Brina reeled back in shock, a red mark forming on her right cheek. Gasping in horror at herself, Assyria rushed to her granddaughter, full of remorse for letting her anger go so far that she would hit her own flesh and blood, but she was rebuffed. Hurt, Brina swam from the room, as fast as her fins would carry her, holding her burning cheek in her hand. That did it. She was going to be with her Chandler. If her grandmother and sisters couldn't help her, she was going to sneak out that night in search of someone who could. Someone who would help her, that is, if Brina were willing to pay.
In the deep, pitch-black dark of night, the Beast's castle was still in peaceful repose; at rest in a separate universe of dreams and visions until the arrival of morning. In the kitchen, George the cookstove snored, putrid black puffs of smoke belching from his oven at every snort. The kitchen utensils and towels slumbered in piles all over the room, waiting to rise with the sun and be called into duty by Melinda, who had collapsed into a heap in the red parlor. The embroidered figures in the tapestries seemed to relax in their rigid positions, as the peasant could not intrude upon their surroundings until morning. Somewhere in the palace's depths, a crowd of suits of armor polished off a crate of wine bottles, becoming tipsier by the second until they loudly fainted to the floor. The poker tossed and turned in his post at the door to the hallway to Beauty's room. Ludwig had laid himself down on a luxurious cashmere carpet somewhere in the castle and lay dreaming of the day when he would possibly be able to dance with the poise and grace of his former glory, instead of tripping over the four clumsy legs that held him up. By the large front door of the castle, a platinum coat rack snored gently. In the purple bedchamber, Jaqueline lay flat on the vanity table as Vivienne stood rigid in the corner, her doors gently folded shut. The candles in the chandelier above burned dimly, as if about to go out, only barely illuminating the sleeping face of the room's beautiful tenant. Lost in the atmosphere of her dreams, Beauty floated once again on a misty haze. This seems familiar, she found herself thinking as the swirling clouds carried her. Yet I suppose all dreams do. But where have I seen this place before? Little had she had time to wonder when the fog in the center of her vast nothingness swirled, forming into the shape of a man. As Beauty blinked, the handsome prince was before her again.
"Hello, Fair Beauty. Will you marry me?"
Beauty sighed. Another proposal. Her head spinning, she wished with all of her being that the mysterious prince would understand that there was no question of her marrying a man she had only just met. It was not proper. There were vows, ties, needs, standards… in short, she could not attach herself to him without proper acquaintance.
"I am sorry, Sir, but I cannot accept your proposal."
The Prince, however, was unfazed. "But you must, Beauty. I cannot live without you. Marry me. Marry me. Marry me, Beauty!"
"I cannot! I will not! For God's sake, I don't even know who you are! Please let me alone." In her bed, Beauty tossed and turned frantically, becoming entangled in her lavender satin bedsheets and violet cashmere blankets; moaning out refusals, rebuttals and rejections.
As the castle slept, a series of small, eerie footfalls scuttled across its marble tiles. A mouse sprinted down the hallway, desperate to make it into its hole before it was apprehended. Something streaked behind it in hot pursuit, and that something was not about to let its prey escape. Silently the small figure crouched and in a flash of black fur, pounced upon the mouse, killing it instantly. Smirking in her satisfaction, Catalin pulled herself to her haunches and licked her paws, pleased with her work. 3.7 seconds, she mused, picking up her freshly slaughtered snack. Getting better, Catalin. When your gift is finally appreciated, what a little warrior you are going to make. Once you are accepted into a legion of.. Catalin's thoughts trailed off there. She was never to be accepted into a legion of anything. Due to her rash impulses, she was trapped in a castle with a naïve peasant girl and a rampaging, bloodthirsty beast. It had been a month since they were first trapped inside the castle, and so far the Beast had shown no intention of relenting in his vow to keep them there forever. Beauty had been avoiding the creature since their arrival, keeping to her room with the exception of meals, which she made sure to always take in the kitchen when the Beast was out hunting. Peasant Girl, that may just be the smartest thing you've ever done. Catalin had run into the Beast multiple times, and he didn't seem to be fazed by her claws, which she kept at their sharpest, or her sword, which she kept brandished every time she saw him. For once, Catalin doubted her abilities. She wondered if she really would be able to protect the Peasant Girl. Well, as long as she was not betrayed, she'd try. She hoped Beauty would not betray her. The last time Puss in Boots had put her trust in a human, she'd been betrayed, and… well, she'd better not be betrayed again. Silently, Catalin carried her prey to a barren corner of the castle to eat in peace and await the morning.
OK. First off, sorry for the delay, AGAIN! You would not believe how busy I've been. Secondly, the mysterious accent has now introduced himself as Ludwig. I promise that at the end of every chapter in which he says ANYTHING I will include a "Ludwig-to-English Dictionary." This chapter, what he said, in order, is: "Perhaps the maiden is thirsty." "If you desire wine, you need only open one of the suits of armor. The wine will flow right out of them. I warn you, however, they are always intoxicated." "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Beauty. Castle dancing master and escort at your service. I am known for being a paragon of grace and punctuality." "It's these wooden legs!" Thirdly, I know that in all versions of the Little Mermaid, there is a father. But from what I remember of the original, he rarely showed up and instead the grandmother basically ran the whole "stay away from humans" thing. So in my version, there is just the grandmother and Brina's parents… well, we know what happened there. Fourthly (is that a word?), YES I named the Mysterious Man "Frexspar". YES after "Wicked." Fifthly, you may have noticed that Chandler not only knows that he has a peasant cousin, but has obviously had much close contact with her. I always figured that the Baker, although he may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, is not so dumb that he would not eventually put two and two together (making four) about his sister.
We now know the present situation of the Baker, Cinderella, Jack, Little Red, Rapunzel's twins, and the Baker's Child…but what happened to the Witch? Find out in the next chapter.
I believe I don't have to tell you that if you flame me, the only use it will go to is the manufacture of magic baked beans?