Status: once upon a time, there was a co-write...

Broken Illusion


Sat with her knees to her chest, Belle Beaumont was immersed in the fictional world of Karun – a world of freedom, magic and possibility. Its characters were strong willed and ferocious, but tender towards their loved ones and dedicated to their ruler. The main aspect of the world that she loved was that their Queen was fair and loving, a sharp contrast to the King that ruled her kingdom. Everything she desired in life existed within the pages of this world, and no matter how often punishment was proclaimed for those caught with books, she never once gave up her secret reading in the early hours of morning.

After reaching chapter two, she closed the book and laid on her bed, reaching over the side and placing it on the small stack that she kept before moving the floorboard back into place and removing any trace of them from sight. As the books used to be her mother's possessions, she treasured them enough to be weary of the sudden house invasion that the King's guard were granted to undertake.

"Belle, are you awake?" her father called through the door, rapping his knuckles lightly against the wood.

"Oui, papa," she replied, pushing the covers from her legs and getting off the bed. Dawn was just breaking but Belle knew she had to be ready promptly today as the King's procession was riding through town while he made his spot-checks of his people. It was rumoured that he could tell when someone was associated with witchcraft just by looking into their eyes and each time he rode through their town, her father worried that he might look into her eyes and accuse her of witchcraft, something which can not be proved against. The punishment for all people accused was death, and the King chose the form of burning those traitorous people alive. He thought it gave a clear warning across his kingdom and many agreed with him.

Stripping from her night clothes, she pulled on her nicest blue dress that dropped down to her ankles and was modest. They were all required to look their best whenever the King would be in their presence, despite the fact that they all had work to do before and after that meeting. Getting a stain on her dress would be a pain to remove but she knew it was more than likely that she'd end up with more than one stain as she was made to work in the garden of the castle just outside of her town – the home to Prince Adam, the King's nephew. Her father once told her that there was no relation between the two and that Prince Adam was a descendant of the rightful ruler of Larue, but he did not elaborate as they were not allowed to speak the native language of their kingdom outside of their homes – in fact, they weren't supposed to speak it inside their homes but no one could stop them as of yet.

She left her room and entered into the kitchen where her father sat at the table with a tired look on his face. "We do not have enough food," he murmured, his head resting in his palms as a sign of defeat.

A look in their bare cupboards confirmed her father's words and Belle stood by the table, chewing at her lip. "I brought some bread yesterday."

"Oui, but we have to give that to the King."

"I can take the whipping, papa. You need to eat." She sat in the chair next to him and placed her hand on his. "That monster can have anything he wants but you, you are weak and need to eat."

Her father placed his other hand on top of hers and looked in her eyes. "Your mother said the same thing, and she was accused of witchcraft. I do not know what I would do if you shared the same fate."

Smiling reassuringly, she kissed his hand. "You raised a smart girl. I am no fool to speak out of turn," she told him before removing her hands and unwrapping the bread that sat on the other side of the table. Carefully, she broke the end off and handed it to her father before wrapping the remaining bread back up. She saw no use of wrapping it because the one end made up half the loaf, and that wasn't even a sufficient amount for a meal, but she had to preserve its freshness.

Belle busied herself with brushing the floor and filling up the bucket in order to soak some clothes in, and just before the town's bell chimed, she'd finished with scrubbing at a stain that just would not come out of her work dress. As she dried her hands on a scrap of cloth, she stared at the small piece of bread that was left on the table and wondered whether she should even bother giving it to the King today. He did not deserve to get their hard-earned food but unfortunately, he took it in order to retain obedience and control over them. It worked so well that there had never been an act of rebellion against him that she knew of – except, of course, those accused of witchcraft. And the men in his royal court that he often accused of conspiring against him.

Deciding to grab the bread from the table, she slipped on her shoes and left the house. There were already people lining the streets to wait for the procession and without a second thought, she joined a small group of women by the well. Before anyone could utter a word, a trumpet sounded and the sound of horse hoofs approached, making all who lined the street drop to their knees. Then the sound of wheels could be heard and the carriage of the King rode into sight, approaching like a menace with its rattling wheels and heavy horses.

About halfway down the street, and not so far from where Belle was knelt, the carriage came to a halt and the door swung open, revealing the King. He was tall and domineering, his stare being rumoured to be so cold and petrifying that it froze people to their spot until he decided to break eye contact, which was why no one attempted to meet his eye.

"My people," he proclaimed, his voice projecting down the street, "what a fine day it is to come across those who are against me." A chill ran down Belle's neck at the thought of him having already spotted someone who was involved in witchcraft. "Is it not disappointing that I should have to seek out traitors among my own people? That the very people whom I care for and rule with in mind are conspiring behind my back? My kindness to allow you to have such freedom – to allow your daughters to remain at home, to allow your wives to work for a wage, to allow you men to keep your properties – is thrown back in my face through the actions of one or two of your fellow citizens."

He was stepping closer towards the well as he spoke and Belle clenched the bread tighter. "So as of today, there will be more rules put to you and if any should be caught breaking them, well I'm afraid you will have to face court. But of course, court takes a while so what should the punishment be while you are still free in your town? Oh, I know – fifty lashings. If it is a daughter, the father must deliver each lashing, if it is a mother then the son must do it, and if it's a man then the guard of the town must deliver the lashings." As soon as the words left his lips, a quiet buzz sounded through the people as a result. Some sounded angry, others afraid. Belle felt both.

The King stopped where he was and placed his hands behind his back. "You by the well, look at me," he commanded, and the five women and Belle raised their heads. "Is it not a terrible knowledge that our women can be traitors?" He sighed and looked almost pained as his eyes swept over each of the women, and it was only when his eyes rested on Belle that she felt for certain it was she who was going to be sentenced to death. But there was a collective shock when he narrowed his eyes at the girl next to her and said, "The girl in the red is a witch and I hereby sentence her to death!"

Immediately, there were shouts of protest from the girl's family as the King's guard rushed over to her and yanked her up by her arms as she sobbed in fear. "Please, I would never go against my King," she bawled, trying to free herself from their grip. "I'm not, I'm not a witch! Please. Father, tell them. I'm not a witch." Her words fell on deaf ears as the guards dragged her over to the King and forced her to her knees.

"You shall be questioned in relation to more traitors and then at sunset, you will burn," he hissed, bending down to her level and running a hand down her cheek. There were more cries of her innocence as he leaned forward and pressed his lips against the sobbing girl's mouth, giving her the seal of her death. Belle could not watch as he did it, from fear that she might cry at the fate of the girl. She also could not watch as she was dragged away, but found herself watching as the King climbed back into his carriage and after a silent moment, the procession started again and he went further down the street, away from their town.

As soon as the procession was far enough away, one of the town's guards announced that the food collection would be by the church and that everyone must provide something sufficient for their King, and that later on in the day the new rules would be announced. Everyone started standing up and cluttering in the street, discussing the girl who had just been accused and how unfair it was. Belle stayed by the well, dusting her dress off before she noticed that the girl's food was on the ground and as quickly as she could, she scooped it up and made her way home to drop the half loaf in the kitchen. At least she would be able to make something for dinner tonight with it.

Belle dropped the girl's food off at the church and set off down the lane towards Prince Adam's castle, the silence of the journey doing nothing to ease her thoughts. She did not know the girl who had been sentenced but she could not have been much older than she was and her life was over. It made her angry that the King could be so cruel and heartless like that, but it also made her sad that the kingdom she lived in allowed acts like that to happen on a regular basis. No one ever attempted to go against the King and she was sure that if everyone decided to fight for their freedom, they'd win because they vastly outnumbered the King and his guards.

Arriving at the castle made her heart sink, but knowing that she had to get money for food, she got straight to work in the gardens. The roses were tended to, the ground sprinkled with water and the hedges trimmed. Everything was going as normal as can be until a cloaked figure opened the gate and stepped into the castle grounds. Belle didn't pay much attention to the figure and continued picking enough flowers from the beds to make up a decent vase so she missed the figure entering the castle, disappearing for a few moments before reappearing as they ran out of the gate.

When she'd finished picking all the flowers she needed, she turned and went into the castle. The vase she had in her hands normally sat on the small table by the staircase so she went straight in that direction, arranging the flowers as she went. With her attention elsewhere, she didn't notice someone lying in the shadows so when she placed the vase down and arranged them for the last time, a hand grabbing at the hem of her dress startled her in such a way that she bumped into the table, sending it and her crashing to the floor, making her dress tear from the fall. The hand held the piece of her dress that had ripped, but it wasn't that she was staring at in horror.

It was the fact that there was no man in Prince Adam's clothes.

There was a beast.