Title: For Love of Aeneas
Fandom(s): Belle (2014)/Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Written: Autumn 2017 (this was my first venture out with Dido; this fic is actually a rewrite of a Beast/OFC)
Summary: Dido Elizabeth Belle would would be hunted for her money, but never respected due to the color of her skin. Needing to get away from suitors, she decides to go to France but on the road, her carriage magically loses its way…
Warnings: Dimension Travel, Racism, Fortune Hunting, Fairytale elements
Elizabeth’s words haunted her. She was an heiress now with £2,000 a year to her name. After she had refused to marry Mr. Oliver Ashford, she had decided to leave England even if for a short while. Miss Dido Lindsay had heard that in France they were more liberal in terms of people of color.
Now, she found herself in Provence. Dido had heard the fairy stories, of course, but could not find Villeneuve on a single map. So, with sheer determination she just cut out on the road, not really being able to read the signs, and hoped for the best with her French carriage driver.
Dido knew exactly when it happened. The road signs disappeared. Then the road stopped being a road. Well, no. That wasn’t quite fair. It turned into a gravel road and then a dirt road and then a trail. She should have turned around then, but the explorer in Dido wouldn’t stop. She even had a strange argument with her guide about it. They didn’t speak the same language, but they made signs at each other and he eventually turned the coach around, and she had gotten out of it, angry, determined to find what she had gone looking for. Later she would have sworn that some spirit had taken over her body.
“Well,” she said, turning to the stray dog she had picked up three days before and was determined to take home with her to England, “this seems to be us, Max.”
Maxim nipped at her heels as she got out of the carriage and she wondered why she was wearing her nice white heels out here in the French countryside. She was somewhere in a forest and she could hear a horse somewhere in the distance.
“That seems like the right place to head,” she told the dog. “We’ll find the village yet.”
However, it started snowing—and it was April. Dido was wearing a dress of pink silks, pearls, a summer hat, and no cloak. She turned to go back, but there weren’t even footprints to show where she had come from. All she could see were trees, not even a path. She took a step forward and looked behind her. It was as if she had not even been there a moment before. Maxim didn’t leave any footprints either.
“Odd,” she murmured, turning, her bell skirt flushing out around her.
There was nothing to do but press on.
The sound of the horse got farther and farther away—and the sound of wolves got closer and closer. She stood completely still, holding onto Maxim’s cuff, hoping that they wouldn’t sense her fear. One of the creatures was on top of a ridge and sniffed the air toward her and she slowly breathed in and breathed out. Do not fear, she thought, terrified out of her mind. Do not fear.
The sun set and she had set out in the middle of the morning. Finally another wolf let out a howl and they moved on.
Dido let out a long breath and then moved forward with Max. She came to a set of iron gates, covered in snow, and realized that she was at least close to civilization, somewhere warm. Her fingers were stiff and her feet were covered with snow. She wouldn’t be surprised if frostbite didn’t set in if she were forced to stay out in the cold in merely a dress meant for April all night.
The manicured gardens were like something out of a fairytale or perhaps Versailles, which she had visited early last week. She looked around in wonder and then took off at a run, as quickly as she could in her fine shoes and cold limbs, toward the haunting castle in front of her. She noticed that roses were growing, but she simply made a note of it. Running up to the door, she banged on it with a fist—once, twice—and the door opened, causing her to fall forward.
“Oh, thank the Lord,” she cried as she picked herself off the ground, Max running in next to her. Dido looked around and saw no one.
Undeterred, she stood up to her full height, tossing her black curls over one shoulder, and closed the door quickly behind her.
“Good evening?” she called, but no one answered.
A fire crackled to her left and, glancing around once more, she quickly rushed to it, shaking the snow off her hat and feet, taking her shoes and stockings off delicately and looking at where they had chafed her skin. She hissed but then lifted her feet delicately toward the flames, feeling the heat warm her aching skin.
Max circled the rug three times before settling down upon it. It was clear he approved.
After several minutes, she tentatively got to her feet and turned her back to the fire, warming her chilled body and felt warmth come back to her naked arms.
“There we are, Maxim,” she told her dog. “Everything is working out, strangely. Perhaps the carriage will come back tomorrow.”
A sound to her right startled her and she looked to see a dark room.
“Hello?” she asked, picking up her heels and walking toward it. She was startled to see a meal all prepared for her and, on the back of a chair, was a long cape lined with fur. It was red with gold trim and perfect gold buttons and, not one to kick a gift horse in the mouth, she put it on quickly along with the slippers she found next to the chair. “Thank you,” she told her invisible benefactor. “Merci, Monsieur.”
Looking at the meal before her, she found lamb with mint jelly and a glass of red wine. It was absolutely perfect. Picking up her knife and fork, she made short work of her meal and then sat back in her chair, drinking the wine carefully, trying to decide whether or not it could really be called a Merlot.
“C’était le repas à votre goût?” The voice was low, dark, and utterly seductive.
She stood up so quickly she almost spilt her wine. Looking about, she tried to make the speaker out, but she couldn’t see anyone. “Je parle français,” she answered quickly. “Mais je parle anglais.”
The voice did not answer for several long minutes. “Did you like it?”
“Yes,” she told the voice. “I love lamb.”
“Lamb.” The word was said perfectly, precisely, as if the voice did not know it.
She looked about in the shadows and then pointed down to her plate. “Lamb,” she repeated.
The voice was silent again.
Dido hesitantly looked down at Maxim and then back toward the shadows. “Thank you,” she began. “Merci beaucoup. I am terribly lost.” She shrugged her shoulders. Her French was perfect, her education had seen to that, but it was refreshing to be speaking English to someone other than a dog.
Another voice, then, entered the conversation. “Mon prince…” This one was higher, lighter, but definitely masculine. It was closer to her, and Dido looked around her in confusion.
“D’Accord,” the voice—the prince—answered, his voice irritated but still as seductive as before.
The second voice coughed. “Mademoiselle, we would like to offer you shelter for ze night.” It was definitely French and it was definitely close to her.
Looking about toward her, she picked up the candelabra and swung it about, trying to find the second voice, although she was leaving the first undisturbed. “Who’s there? I demand you show yourself—English speaker.”
“Why,” he answered, “you are ‘olding me!”
She looked at the candelabra, saw that it was smiling, and instantly dropped it over the plate, which unfortunately shattered.
“I’m so sorry,” she said to no one in particular, picking up the pieces of the plate with her hands and accidentally cutting herself. “I didn’t mean—“
“Vous êtes blessé,” the seductive voice said in alarm, and she could hear a heavy step forward, but still Dido could see nothing.
“It iz nozzing, nozzing!” the candelabra cried, getting up and lighting its candles, which had gone out. “The master is concerned zat you ‘ave ‘urt yourself. We will see to it. May I show you to your room?”
“Max may come?” she asked. Dido had given him the fat off of her lamb, hoping she wouldn’t offend anyone.
“But of course!” the candelabra replied. “Ee eez your companion een zis winter cold! Come, come. I will show you zee way.”
Hesitantly, she looked toward where the first voice had originated and picked up the candelabra, sticking her other hand in her mouth to stop the bleeding. “Come, Max,” she chided her dog, who happily followed her.
They moved up toward the grand staircase and to the left and she wondered why she wasn’t reacting more harshly to a talking candelabra. Part of her was convinced she was going to wake up and find this was all some bizarre dream—winter in April, wolves that didn’t attack, a haunted castle—all in search of a town that didn’t exist.
The room was simply stunning. Painted a lush pink above the white border at about the height of her hip, it was imprinted with gold and had large windows that looked out to the snow covered property. A fire was roaring in the grate and someone had even made a little nest for Max with a china bowl full of water for him.
“Who is the prince?” she asked the candelabra. “Why can’t I see him?”
“We are under a curse,” he said sadly. “Zee prince does not weesh for you to be afraid.”
She looked at him strangely. Dido was talking to a candelabra who appeared to be sentient. “Why would I be afraid?”
“We will come get you for breakfast,” the candelabra promised. “You weell find somethink to wear een zee drawers.”
Dido nodded and placed the candelabra on a stand in the hallway before closing her door, carefully locking it. She was thankful for the hospitality, but she wasn’t trusting of people—and talking household items—whom she didn’t know.
“There we go, Max,” she said, petting him before going to the wardrobe. She found a man’s nightshirt inside and quickly changed into it, only having some difficulty with her stays, her fingers still a bit stiff. As she snuggled into the covers, she prayed she wouldn’t wake up there.
Her prayers were unanswered.
On a tray with her café the next morning was a dress. Dido stared at it and then at the stockings and shoes that actually fit her as if by magic. Realizing these were the finest clothes that Dido had ever owned, she made an attempt to actually put them on and look well in them. Glancing in the mirror, she still saw a Lady Mulatto, something of shame to be carried around. Not even John Davinier had wanted her with her fortune and the access she had been able to give him to her uncle.
No one wanted her.
But your father wanted your mother and wanted you, a treacherous voice reminded her.
When she emerged after looking at herself in the mirror one last time, Maxim at her heels, she found that breakfast was ready.
It was porridge.
“There are no nuts?” she asked a clock who was standing on the table, watching her.
“I only ask because they make my throat scratch and sometimes it’s difficult to breathe.” She helped herself to a spoonful.
A bowl of something, it had a top on, slid away from her. It must be some sort of topping comprised of nuts then.
“Thank you,” she told the jar before looking in the others. She found raspberries. Not being a fan of porridge, but liking raspberries, she thought that this could only be a good thing.
“So,” she began again, “I was unaware we had a prince here in Provence. When did this happen?”
The clock blinked at her. “Quite some time ago, Mademoiselle. It is a small principality.”
“I’m surprised I never learned of it,” Dido mused. “I know my British history better, however. Of course, England’s claim to the French throne was always of interest.”
The clock looked at her. “I could understand why that would be fascinating to an English girl. Is it still under contention? We have been under this curse for so long.”
Dido could only look at the clock. “You’ve been under this curse for a great time, then?”
“Yes. Is it 1800 yet?” The clock looked at her so earnestly that she wasn’t quite certain what to say at first.
Finally, she decided to be as vague as possible. “No,” she told the clock. “I would certainly be an old maid.—Where’s the prince?”
“The library,” he stated decidedly. “He decided he better brush up on his English. He hasn’t had a use for it since—well—ever. His Spanish is quite good given our proximity to Catalan, as well as his Italian.”
She took a sip of her café. “Quite,” she realized. “This is my first time in France. I only write Uncle Mansfield every month or so. He won’t be worried for a few weeks yet.”
“I see,” the clock stated. “I can’t remember the last time it was summer.” He puffed out sadly. “I do remember the War with Austria quite well.”
She paused in her eating of her porridge. “Oh?”
“Yes,” the clock-man said. “King Francis married Marie-Antoinette to try to end hostilities, but there was a war anyway.”
Dido put her spoon in her mouth so she wouldn’t have to answer him.
A cloak was waiting for her on a stand along with gloves. Deciding to go outside with Maxim, she put them on, pulling the hood over her hair, which she had left down, and walked into the winter splendor. Still, her shoes left no footprints and she wondered at the magic of the place.
Playing with Max with a stick she found on the ground, she couldn’t help but feel like she was being watched. She turned to look at the windows, but only saw the reflection of the morning light, and hoped that she was just being paranoid but secretly wondered if the prince was behind one of those panes of glass.
The dishes were clearing themselves away when she came in for lunch. The candelabra was overseeing everything and she looked at him in confusion. “Did I miss luncheon?”
“Mais non!” he answered. “Zee master just feeneeshed. We were just prepareeng for you.”
“Oh,” she stated, settling into the chair to the right of the head of the table, where she had been seated the past two meals. “Do tell him I do not mind dining with him even if he is a large—pianoforte—or something. I know I am not supposed to dine with men and women of quality, but I was hoping your hospitality meant you would make an exception even if my mother was a Negro.”
The candelabra stared for a moment, and then bowed. “We ‘ave great respect for you and your mozzer. The master seemply eats alone.”
She accepted the answer as an excuse. “I do need to speak to him, though,” she told him sincerely. “I need to find my way back, surely.”
“Zere eez no way back,” the candelabra told her. “We cannot leave. Eet eez part of zee curse. No one eez supposed to be able to come. You are most perplexing, ma’amzelle.”
She blinked at him.
“What, no one?”
“You can go to zee village,” he suggested, “but zere eez no eenn.” He clapped his two candle holders together that served as hands and caviar was set before her. She was absolutely horrified but put a brave face on it. How she wished she could get some decent English cooking.
That night she was in what seemed to be a ballroom and found an old spinet. There was a harpsichord but it seemed to have seen better days. She let her hands hold over the keys and then began playing rapidly, as she had been taught, in the modern fashion. She remembered playing this tune for the Ashfords. She paused, thinking of Oliver and what he was doing now.
“Why did you stop?” the voice asked from somewhere behind her.
Glancing behind her shoulder, she sighed. “A memory. My skin color makes me shameful in England. I am surprised at your kindness, especially as I could be anyone.”
“Skin color,” he repeated carefully, his voice dark, smooth, enchanting.
She held out her arm and let her finger trail across it. “Je suis nègre.”
“Vous êtes belle,” he countered.
She laughed. “You are the only one who thinks so.”
Turning back to the spinet, she played a quick and difficult piece by Mozart, enjoying the technical pitfalls that she had mastered. Dido knew he was listening, but when she was done, she simply extinguished the candles, curtsied in his general direction, and left the room, seeking her own bed.
He came to her two days later when she was in the portrait gallery looking at various princes and princesses of Provence. Dido couldn’t see him, but she could strangely sense him in the shadows before he even spoke.
“Bonjour,” she greeted with her slight French accent.
“Bonjour,” he responded. “You wish to leave.”
“I have to go home,” she told him earnestly, looking up at the face of a young man with blond hair and blue eyes, wearing a coat in the style of the one that her uncle wore, only far more ornate. “My uncle, Lord Mansfield, will be missing me. He would at least like a letter.”
The voice was silent for several long moments. “You should be married.”
Her head whipped toward him. “No,” she told him. “No one wants me but for the fact that I am an heiress, and even then it is not always certain.” She walked away from him, her mind turning to darker places.
“Heiress.” How could he make one word sound so seductive? It sent an involuntary shiver down her spine.
Turning toward him, she indicated what she was wearing by sweeping her hand from her shoulders down to her feet. “Héritière.”
“I do not understand how you would not be married for your face alone.”
“Then you are the only man in Europe,” she laughed, looking toward the shadows where he was hiding.
There was another silence and she continued to look at that arresting face. The voice seemed to be deciding something and she let him think on it.
“Comment vous appellez vous?” he asked in French.
She smiled at him. “Dido Elizabeth Belle. Et vous?” It was strange being so formal, but they were host and guest, one a prince and the other a mulatto heiress.
“Adam.” Adam. The name was said with the stress on the second syllable: ah-DAHM.
“Bonjour, Adam,” she tried. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“And you, Mademoiselle Dido.” He said her name in the French way: DEE-doh. It was strange, pleasant, charmant. She liked it from him, though she would find it annoying at best from others, she was certain.
There was a shift in the darkness and then he was gone. Dido felt bereft, as if his presence meant something to her, but she did not know what. She went to the window and looked out. All she could see was forests and although she knew she was not being held at the castle against her will, she also knew she would never make it back out through those trees.
It was a silly move to make. She had found the library, chosen a Shakespeare play at random after searching for anything in English for three whole hours, and then had placed herself at the dining table, waiting for Prince Adam. When the candelabra appeared, he stared at her.
“Mademoiselle,” he greeted, “surely you would be more comfortable elsewhere.”
“Surely I would not,” she disagreed, turning the page.
“But zee master—“
Dido looked up with her arresting brown eyes.
The candelabra just stared at her. “I ‘ave streect orders.”
“I wish to dine with Prince Adam,” she said in a decidedly British pronunciation. “I am staying where I am.”
However, only her meal was brought to her. She stubbornly sat there all day, not eating, and only gave into her hunger when fish was placed before her for her dinner. She wasn’t certain where the prince ate that day. However, it wasn’t in the dining room.
Dido got the message. She was not to seek him out. He would find her when there was something to be said.
She had stolen parchment from the library to make a calendar. Dido had been there for three months, everyone was gone from London, and she had spoken to the prince twelve times. That’s when the strange happened.
Unaware that anything had occurred, she went down to breakfast as usual, Max on her heels, and ate her porridge, slowly reading a novel by Alexandre Dumas. She thought since she already knew the story of the Three Musketeers it would be familiar. How wrong she had been.
Then she had heard the clanging.
“What is that?” she asked the candelabra.
“Anozzer guest,” he answered, his candles drooping.
“Oh,” she stated happily, getting up and quickly following the sound. However, she was unhappy with what she had found.
There was another guest. He was a man trapped within a cell. “Monsieur,” she wailed, coming up to him. “What happened?”
He looked at her in confusion.
She cursed under her breath. Then she felt it. The shadow. “Mon prince?” she asked, turning toward the spiraling stairs that moved upward. “What is the meaning of this?”
“He is a common thief.”
Pausing, Dido looked at the man. “What did he steal?”
The voice did not answer for several long minutes.
“What did he steal?” she demanded.
The sound of the door opening below drew her attention. Looking at the candelabra, she commanded, “Tell whoever it is that we’ll be with them shortly.” She turned back to the voice who seemed just out of her sight around a corner. “What did he steal?” Her voice, she knew, carried down the steps, probably down to whoever had arrived, but she didn’t care. When the voice still didn’t answer, she rubbed the back of her hand against her forehead in frustration. “So help me, Adam, you will answer me. You have this man in a cell!”
“Papa!” a girl shouted and the sound of footsteps came closer and the voice shifted backward.
“Adam!” she demanded again, but he just moved farther away from her.
“You are lady here. You are mistress. You decide.” He then disappeared completely.
Dido could hear crying behind her but she looked into the shadows, her hands in fists, and she turned to see a girl in simple clothes with dishwater brown hair, clasping at the man. She had discarded the candelabra and Dido picked it up. “What did he steal?” she asked the candleabra tiredly.
“A rose,” he answered sadly.
“Why is this a crime?”
“A rose eez our curse,” he stated cryptically.
Dido turned to the sniveling man and the girl. “Vous avez vole une rose?” she asked in disbelief.
“All this,” the girl asked in English. “For a rose?”
Dido sat down, her back to the cell’s outer wall. “It would appear so.” She leaned her head back, thinking. “A rose, a rose. A rose that grows in winter. The thing’s clearly enchanted.”
The girl looked at her pitifully.
“Are you from the village?” Dido asked, changing the subject.
“Yes. Villeneuve.”—The place that had started everything.
“Wait here,” she stated, getting up and rushing up the stairs. “Adam! Adam!” she called. The walls fell away and she was circling a tower with nothing but air to catch her if she fell.
“Dido!” a decidedly deep, French voice called and she looked up to see a large beast with thin, long fangs at the edge of his mouth, shaggy hair about his face, and long horns.
Despite herself, she grasped onto the walls, but she steadied herself when she saw the hurt in his eyes. “Tell me about the rose,” she begged. “Make me understand.”
“I offer him my hospitality, like I offered it to you,” he stated carefully, choosing his English words precisely, “and he took part of the enchantment, the beautiful part.”
“He cannot give back the enchantment,” she stated carefully, “but you called me your lady. Can they not give me hospitality and show me Villeneuve? It’s why I came here. I was looking for the town even though everyone said it was nothing but a fairy story. Please, Adam. I will come back,” she added, in case he was afraid she would leave. The castle was oddly fond of her. She had a new dress every day, was fed, was offered distractions, and she knew he watched her from balconies and windows even when he didn’t speak to her.
“Dido,” he warned, using the English pronunciation.
She pressed her hands together and looked up to him. “And now that I’ve seen you we can sit together at mealtimes and perhaps read together. Think how good this will be. I will no longer be alone—you will no longer be alone. And I will get to see the town. Please, Adam. Indulge me. This way we don’t have to feed a prisoner and risk people coming looking for him.”
“He might tell now.”
“He might have told after he visited,” she stated, “but there’s no way to find this place. I came here completely by accident. I’m sure only one of your horses will know the way.” She was looking up at him and was startled when he walked down the steps toward her. He was quite a way above her and it took him several minutes to go around the castle although it would have been quite a short distance if one could leap that far down without—well—falling. He’d need to catch himself.
She noticed that he was dressed in a blue vest with silver designs and a matching coat in the style of the young man in the portrait. He even had the matching pantaloons. He was the best dressed—person—she had ever seen. Excepting a wig, well, he was downright elegant.
Adam came up to her and carefully reached out until a thick finger with a long fingernail was hovering just above her cheek. “You would be lady of my castle and mistress of my table?” It seemed as if he had been practicing the phrases, as if he had been preparing them, though why she could not say.
Dido looked at him. “Adam?”
Then he caressed her cheek and she thought she understood.
“Are you asking me to—?”
“The prince gave hospitality. The man must give the prince or princess hospitality.” The words were loaded with the depth of his seductive voice which was pulsing with the magic of the place, and Dido realized that this was why she had been kept here, warm and safe. He had wanted a wife and she had arrived as if in answer to this desire.
“I am a Lady Mulatto. When I was supposed to marry last, I was considered decent only because of my dowry. There is no way to claim my dowry here, mon prince.”
“I care not for your dowry,” he answered, “although it is, of course, customary. I care for you—nègre ou caucasien.”
She bowed her head in understanding, his fingernail, like a talon, tracing up toward her eye. “In name only,” she whispered her condition.
He looked confused.
Searching her mind, she needed to express it in the simplest way possible as she’d never had to express such thoughts before in another language. “Les lits.” She held up two fingers. “Deux.” He had to understand they would be sleeping in separate beds. She wasn’t sure she would survive—She swallowed. Aunt Mansfield had explained when she had become engaged to Mr. Oliver and she could not—it would be simply impossible.
His eyes closed for a long moment and he nodded.
Dido had just agreed to a marriage of convenience. She leaned up and kissed his cheek and then turned back toward the man and his daughter. They were still clinging to each other, and she reached out to touch the girl’s shoulder.
“It has been agreed,” she told her carefully. “As the future princess, you will offer me hospitality in Villeneuve. You will take me there and show me the village when I desire it. For this your father will gain his freedom. You are never to speak of the palace, of the prince, of the rose, of our winter. Is that understood?”
“Yes,” she cried. “When do you want to go?”
“Today,” she stated. “It is early enough. I think we have horses.” Dido looked around and found the lever to open the cell.
It was strange to leave the winter. Maxim ran along beside her, never leaving footprints, and Dido listened as the father and daughter—Maurice and Belle—spoke to each other. They stopped on a hill and Belle looked at her. “There it is.”
“I was looking for Villeneuve when I came across the castle,” she admitted. “It seems I was several hours off by horseback and I was on foot.”
Belle seemed to be struggling with something, her father just watching her.
“What?” Dido finally asked.
“How did you get—Adam—to change his mind?”
“He wanted to marry me. I was tired of being alone most of the time in that castle.” She shrugged. “I find him fascinating though his actions may appear irrational to those who do not understand him. Is there a tavern? A lady of my station could never presume to enter one but as I am a guest to be given a tour—” She looked at Belle sideways, finding it a little funny that they shared a name.
Belle laughed. “Yes. I should warn you, we’ll find Gaston. He wants to marry me and he’s absolutely horrid.”
“Excellent. Nothing like unwanted suitors.”—or even wanted ones like John Davinier. Still, he was in her past. Adam wanted her and while he might not be human, he recognized her for the person that she was, not for the color of her skin.
The two young women walked in together, Maurice having gone back to their home to lie down after having spent the night in a cell, and Belle pointed out Gaston. He was rather attractive, Dido had to admit. She handed several silver pieces to Belle who went and bought them ale.
It was then that Gaston approached her. “Qui êtes-vous, ma beauté?”
Belle came up and passed her an ale. “Elle s’appelle Dido et elle ne parle pas français, Gaston.—Here you are, Dido. That’s Gaston.” It seemed Belle did not realize that she spoke any French. She could continue with the charade. It might even be amusing.
“I gathered,” she answered, taking a sip of her ale quite happily. She offered her hand. “Bonjour.” Her accent was flawless.
He took it, stroked it, and kissed it.
Dido tried not to laugh. “I thought he wanted to marry you, Belle? Or is it the color of my skin?”
“No!” Belle objected in horror. “Gaston would never act in such a way simply because—and I thought he wanted to marry me, too.”
“Tell him I’m marrying someone else.”
“Elle est engagée, Gaston,” Belle informed him.
He flipped into English, surprising both Dido and, it seemed, Belle. “Anyone I know, dark lady?”
She caught the allusion to Shakespeare. “No, I don’t believe so, Monsieur.”
He grinned at her. “Is he as handsome as me?” Well, he certainly was full of himself.
“I do not believe that is possible,” she answered truthfully, laughing heartily with him. “However, I hear you are trying and failing to woo Belle?”
“I am,” he agreed, “but that does not mean I cannot appreciate another beautiful woman, one with an exotic and I daresay thrilling past.”
“Well, you are certainly charming if nothing else,” she agreed. “As you can tell, I’m not from Provence. Tell me about this war I’ve been hearing about.”
That was certainly a subject he appreciated.
“This,” he told her after buying her a glass of wine, “was my rifle.” He held it out to her and she took it in her hands, carefully holding it.
“No,” he told her, coming up behind her, “like this.” His arm stretched over her arm and his finger pressed over hers and he aimed upward for over the door.
Feeling a little uncomfortable, she let go and gave him back his gun. “Perhaps you should show Belle,” she suggested. She gave him a soft smile before taking up her glass of wine. “I find that rather intimate. I think she may appreciate it—or you would.”
“Mademoiselle, you accuse me—“
“I accuse you of nothing,” she told him. “I am giving you advice.”
Belle had been returning their empty ale cups and came back, looking between the two of them who were both smiling at her as if they shared a secret.
Dido returned so late that she was afraid she would awaken the servants. She shouldn’t have bothered. They had stayed up for her, along with Adam.
Coming into the dining room to see if something cold had been left out for her, she was surprised to find him sitting at the head of the table, her place neatly beside him. “You didn’t have to wait up,” she told him, carefully placing a hand on his shoulder before sitting down. “I was just going to eat a cold slice of something before slipping off to bed.”
“It is our first day together and you were away. It was the least I could do.” His voice was just as deep and just as seductive. She glanced at him and then at the pie, which he was serving her. “Did you enjoy yourself?”
“Yes,” she answered. “I decided to annoy Belle. There is a young Captain who has asked for her hand and I had him show us around. I thought you’d appreciate the irony. He seemed to enjoy the attention of a woman who didn’t think he was dirt beneath her shoe. He’s terribly vain but not a bad man. He misses the war.” She shrugged.
“I was too young for the war,” Adam admitted. “Father wouldn’t have allowed it anyway unless I were commanding the forces. It’s how he died, actually.”
“Really?” This was certainly new information. “I didn’t know.”
“Yes.” His answer suggested he didn’t want any further inquiry so she kept her counsel.
“He tried to teach me how to shoot,” she began. “We were in a tavern however and we did not have a proper target and I did not think it proper to be so close without a formal engagement. However, we have one.” She looked at him expectantly. He was holding his piece of pie between his claws, careful not to crush it, and taking bites out of it with his monstrous teeth. As he didn’t answer, she thought she’d just ask. “Do you know how to shoot?”
“I do,” he answered her. “I did not think you would care for the sport.”
“Why?” she asked. “I am quite skilled at archery. I know I may not hunt with a gun as that is not ladylike, but surely it would not hurt to teach me to shoot at a target.”
“I thought, after this morning, you would not like to be near me.”
She paused. “You misunderstood me.” She picked up her utensils and began to eat her own meal. “I was worried for my physical wellbeing.” Dido really didn’t want to have to say it, especially as a young lady, but she wasn’t even certain how it was supposed to work between a human man and a woman without the woman getting seriously injured.
He looked up at her then, comprehension in his eyes. “Then I will teach you how to shoot.”
“Thank you.” She looked at him critically. “When were you thinking of getting married?”
Her fork clattered against her plate. “Tomorrow?”
“We have a chapel,” he explained. His brows then furrowed. “I want you in the West Wing.”
“What wing am I in now?”
“The Guest Wing.”
“Oh. Of course. That’s understandable.” She would miss her room, but she could easily move into the family compartments. Maybe she’d be allowed to keep her dresses there. At the moment they seemed to disappear in the middle of the night even though her door was always locked.
“I want one bed,” he then stated.
Fortunately, she had already swallowed the sip of wine she had taken. The goblet shook in her hand and she carefully set it down.
“Adam,” she began carefully, “I don’t think it’s possible—I mean, even if it were successful—I’m not certain I would survive a pregnancy—“ Dido wasn’t even looking at him now. She took the goblet again and shakily took a sip. “Mama told me very little, but what I do comprehend—“
A large callused hand with a hint of fur around the edges moved over her own. “I meant sleep.”
“Sleep?” she murmured, looking up at him with deep brown eyes.
“Sleep,” he agreed.
She took in a breath. “Very well. We can attempt it.” His hand, still pressed against hers, curled around her fingers and she was surprised when he raised it to his lips and breathed upon it in a shadow of a kiss. Dido gave him a smile, a hope for a new and steady life here in the castle, and he walked her to her door that night.
Curtseying to him for the first time, he bowed over her hand and slipped a beautiful sapphire ring on her finger.
“It’s beautiful,” she marveled, comparing it to the paltry thing Mr. Oliver had given to her, a small garnet.
“It belonged to my mother,” he told her in his deep seductive voice.
She looked up at him with her brown eyes, looking into his blue. “Is she in the portrait gallery? Did she have eyes like yours?” Her mind turned to her favorite portrait and his similar eyes. She wondered if he was some sort of relation.
“Her portrait is in my rooms,” he told her. “In our rooms.” He seemed a little uncomfortable at the idea that they would soon be wed, although he was the one who insisted upon it.
Dido paused. “Well,” she decided, “I’ll see it tomorrow then.”
Closing the door behind her, she looked at her bedchamber. It wouldn’t be her room as of tomorrow.
Max was curled up on her bed, and she knew she would demand that Maxim stay with her in their new shared apartments in the West Wing. Carefully undressing herself, she crawled into her nightshirt and into her bed. She looked around the room one last time, feeling sleep strangely claim her. Wasn’t one supposed to lie awake the night before one’s wedding? The night she had become engaged to Oliver Ashford she could not sleep, even without Bette asking her so many questions.
“Goodbye,” she whispered, and then she fell into slumber.
Her wedding dress was a dull gold and a ribbon was included. She teased out her hair and then tied her it back, thinking it an odd look, but deciding to humor Adam and the cultural mores of France.
She came down to see him in a matching gold coat. “Thank you for not making me wear a wig,” she greeted and he looked at her in surprise.
“I didn’t think you’d wear it.” She had never considered. Young women did not wear wigs in England, surely, unless of elevated status such as the Duchess of Devonshire.
“Not at home, surely,” she argued, “and not in the village.”
“But on your wedding day?” he looked at her with hopeful eyes.
She paused. “I refuse to powder my face,” she finally agreed, thinking how ridiculous she’d look.
Being led back to her room by a coat hanger, which had the wig in question, she allowed her hair to be put up in a net and then the tall wig to be placed on her head. Her hair was now gray and it was an odd contrast to her skin, but she allowed it. She stared at herself for several long moments, looking at the gold chain of beads flowing from one gold bow to another and realizing that this particular wig had been made to go with this dress.
They were married by a copy of the Latin Vulgate. Dido had to be prompted into saying her responses as she was hung up on all of the Latin, and in the end another ring was slipped onto her finger. The kiss of peace was given to her on her hand, and she moved onward from the little chapel to an elaborate feast prepared in their honor.
She noticed that all of the walking and talking household items were looking at her expectantly as if she were supposed to do something, but she hadn’t the faintest idea what.
That night was the first night in her new rooms. She allowed the coat hanger to undress her and was surprised to find a negligée waiting for her. She looked at it in surprise, but put it on. It was made of the finest silks and fortunately had sleeves, but she felt a little naked in it.
Waiting for Adam, she crawled into the large bed and saw a sampler on the far side. Picking it up she saw it was of a rose and she traced the pattern.
“Do you sew?”
She hadn’t heard him come in.
“Yes,” she responded. “I was working on the most beautiful sampler when I left England.” Dido didn’t look up but she could tell when her husband—her husband—entered the bed. “Would you like me to finish this one for you?”
“Will you make it beautiful? My mother was working on it before she died.”
Without glancing at him, she traced the lines. “I will draw out my plan for you so that you may decide,” she told him. Dido then placed the sampler to the side, wondering at the story behind it, and glanced up quickly before lying down and turning away, uncertain what to do.
A warm, furry arm came around her and pulled her to a fur-lined chest. “I am glad you are mistress of my castle.” His deep voice resonated around the room. “I want this to be your home.”
“It is my home, strangely,” she answered. “I’m not leaving you.” And, despite herself, Dido meant it.
She awoke to the feel of long fingers in her hair. It was surprising and as her eyes blinked open, she looked at the strange, ornate room and wondered where she was. Her memory coming back to her, she turned toward the source of warmth behind her and whispered, “Adam?”
“I’m here,” he promised.
She looked at him with her dark brown eyes. “We actually married,” she checked. “We’re here—together.” She placed her hand in front of her face and looked at the sapphire engagement ring and wedding band and perhaps stared a little in shock.
He looked hurt for a moment, but she reached up and touched his cheek lightly.
“I hope that does not disappoint,” he murmured in his dark voice which was utterly intoxicating.
Dido was lost for words. “No,” she finally answered. “It’s just, six months ago I had imagined a rather different life for myself, but I suppose you might have as well.”
“I had not ever expected to be married,” he admitted, his fingers still combing through her hair, somehow not getting caught in the negro curls. His words were as precisely chosen as ever. “I am not sure I had expected it to be so comforting.”
Comforting? Dido hadn’t imagined that her presence was comforting at all, but if he found it so, she was glad she could give him something in this marriage as she was denying him almost everything one would expect.
“I thought I would be—“ she paused, but he nuzzled her forehead and she laughed. “I was engaged to a man whose family saw me as their shame because my mother was a slave from a Spanish cargo ship. Six months ago I had recently become engaged to the younger of two sons. He coveted my dowry and I think he did hold at least some inclination for me, but I found I could not bear to be found only barely acceptable by his family. I am barely acceptable in my own.”
His gentle movements paused. “How does your own family treat you in Angleterre?” he asked in confusion.
“I may not dine with the servants because I am above them,” she quoted, “but not with my family because I am too low. I may meet guests after dinner when the rules of society are more lax but may not draw attention to myself. Except for the one peculiar case, I may not marry as it would render me ridiculous.”
He looked down at her in what could only be described as a loving way. “It is not so here, and it is not the enchantment that makes me speak so.”
She glanced up at him. “Yes, the enchantment no one will tell me about.”
“It is best,” he reasoned, his claw coming forward carefully and tracing down her cheek. “But I am content to spend my enchantment with you.”
Her brows furrowed and she just looked into his arresting blue eyes. “Is it early?” She couldn’t comprehend why they were still lying there, lazily, as if they hadn’t a care in the world. Usually she got up, dressed herself, and went down to a waiting breakfast.
“It is quite late, but I told the servants to let us be. Your dog has been seen to.” He was still stroking her cheek, back and forth. That odd look in his eyes hinted at a deep emotion that thrilled and yet frightened her. It almost reminded her of John Davinier and yet was more unhindered.
She pulled away carefully and sat up. “We shouldn’t keep that candelabra waiting,” she tried to explain. “He’s quite stern with me when I do something that does not fit within his plans.”
“There are no plans,” Adam insisted. “We are newly married.”
Dido glanced at him, not willing to say the usual inducements to married couples did not apply to them, but then a painting caught her attention. It was off to the side of the bed, several paces away, and she was immediately out of the bed, going around the four posters, and into the darker part of the room. There, hanging on the wall, was a portrait of three figures. Two men, one—she was certain—was the man she so admired in the portrait gallery, had claws tearing them apart so they were almost unrecognizable, but the woman was untouched. She had dark hair and Adam’s beautiful blue eyes.
“Is that her?” she asked. “Your mother?”
He came up behind her, placing his large paws on her shoulders. “Yes. That’s Mother.”
“What was her name?” she asked, taking in the handsome woman.
“Comtesse Madeleine. Princesse Madeleine after she married Father. You can’t make him out.”
“He’s the man standing, isn’t he?” she asked, looking closer. “The one with brown hair. He must be. His eyes are—“ Dido moved out of her husband’s embrace and gazed closer. “Are they dark, Adam?”
He was looking away, not saying anything.
“Adam,” she begged, coming up and placing a hand on his bare chest. “Are you the young man in the portrait gallery? The one I look at so often?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” he stated sullenly, his voice darker than usual.
She wouldn’t let it be, however. “Find your robe or I’m taking you like that in front of all your servants.” When he didn’t move, she grabbed his paw and took him out of the apartment and found her way toward the stairs and back to the portrait gallery. She saw the candelabra, and smiled at it, but she didn’t let it deter her from her mission.
Dido came to the particular portrait and showed it to her husband. “Tell me he does not look like the young man in the picture. He must at least be a relation. If he’s not you, is he a brother? A cousin? Is he you, Adam?”
“Come back to bed,” he wheedled, hurrying, wrapping an arm around her waist. “It’s warm there. I can have Lumière bring us our breakfast.”
“I don’t know who that is unless it’s the candelabra,” she answered. “But please, Adam. Indulge me. He has your eyes. Nothing else, really, but you’re a different species, so I suppose that can be explained away, but if it’s part of the enchantment—“
“Dido,” he explained carefully. “Do not question the enchantment.”
“But shouldn’t I know if my husband was once human—that if we ever had children, that they might have the potential to be human again? Can I not know and look at a portrait and think, ‘This was my husband,’ or ‘This was his great-grandfather’?”
Adam looked completely lost. “He was a prince of this principality,” he answered. “He was selfish and vain and no one loved him except for his mother, and that was only when he was a boy.”
Realizing this was the only answer she was to receive, she looked up at the painting. “That is a sad tale. Do you think, perhaps, you have a painter and someone might paint us for the gallery or, if you don’t want to be on the walls, at least me?” Dido looked at him hopefully. “If the spell is ever lifted, I want my uncle, if he ever finds this place, to look up at this gallery and know that I was here and I was valued. That I was not painted in subservience to a slave owner, to my own husband even.” She remembered the horror she felt when she was to be placed beside Elizabeth but here, with Adam, she didn’t feel like she was separate because she was a mulatto. Dido couldn’t explain it. Here, in France, it was strangely different.
“Is that your wish, Dido?” he asked her solemnly, his voice utterly seductive. “To take your place among the princes of this castle?”
“Yes,” she answered breathlessly, “in the dress I arrived in and my hair in the English style so people will know where I came from.”
“Then it shall be my wedding gift to you,” he promised, leaning forward and kissing her forehead.
Her eyes fluttered shut in happiness and Dido wondered at herself. “Thank you, Adam,” she breathed, “and now you can take me back to bed.”
He laughed fully before swinging her into his arms, her face nestled in his fur, and he leapt across the stairs until she was curled among the sheets and furs.
The candelabra came in with their meal, more porridge with several toppings, all the fruits she favored and when Adam asked after the nuts, Dido had to tell him that they could make her ill.
“Nuts sicken you,” he stated carefully.
“Tree nuts,” she told him. “Not peanuts. I am sorry. However, you are going to have to live without them.”
“I thought it was an oversight when they were missing yesterday, but I see my servants were deferring to your health.”
“I fear so,” she agreed, laughing at the sad look on his face, kissing his cheek to elicit a smile. “Think of it this way, if you are ever tired of me or want a different princess, you can easily dispose of me without ever looking guilty.”
A horrified look then passed over his face, which made her giggle. “Dido, I would never do that to you. You are my princess. I am—“ He paused, looking for the word and she waited patiently. “—honor-bound to protect you.”
“And I am grateful,” she promised him, settling herself against his chest as she took a bite of her porridge. Dido had gotten rather used to it. “Every little girl dreams of being a princess, but I never thought I’d get to be one. I was simply the infamous great-niece of the great Earl of Mansfield and daughter to Captain Sir John Lindsay.”
Adam seemed to take offence at that. “You are now the beloved Princess of Provence,” he told her. “You have a regal bearing and a name to prove your position in society.”
Before she could answer, Maxim came in barking and jumped on the bed to Dido’s happiness and Adam’s consternation.
Of course, they didn’t stay in bed all day. Adam let Dido out to go get two copies of The Tempest so they might read aloud to one another. She made different voices depending on her character, urging him to do the same, and it ended in a pillow fight, which Adam had originally called “juvenile” before joining her. At one point he caught her around the waist and they were breathing heavily and, in the end, their eyes boring into one another’s, she lay her head down upon his heart.
The first days of her married life were spent in front of a canvas. No one was behind it, but each day when Adam came to claim her, there was more paint on it and she was beginning to take form. A crown was placed on her head along with a blue sash across her dress, but otherwise she was dressed as she had been when she arrived.
“I insist upon writing the date and my full name on the back of the portrait before it is placed on the wall,” she told Adam over dinner one night, having changed into one of her finer silk dresses. “If someone finds it one day, I want them to know.”
“Cogsworth said it’s still before 1800.”
“I don’t know who that is,” she admitted.
“Oh. Yes. However, I do not know how soon any of my family will come from England. Surely you can understand.” She looked at him with large brown eyes.
“You love them very much,” he stated with conviction.
“Yes,” she agreed. “They were all I had before I married you. It’s very lonely being cut off from society. You see it all before you, all before your sister-cousin, and yet you cannot take your place within it.”
The next day a simpler dress was laid out for her. Dido put it on behind her screen and waited for Adam to escort her down to breakfast. She was surprised by the fare of cheese and bread, which they hastily ate before they ventured into the snow.
A target had been set up and Adam brought out a gun.
“Here,” he stated as he held it out to her, and she held it before her. His arm came around her waist so her back was ramrod straight against his back and he placed his cheek against hers. “Look down the barrel,” he instructed, his breath into her ear. “Now, when you see your target, pull the trigger.”
She shot off a bullet and while it didn’t hit the eye, it still hit the target.
Adam took the gun from her and reloaded it. “A good start,” he told her. “Now you must try again.”
Despite herself, Dido found that she was blushing.
“I’ve been counting the days. That girl comes tonight to take you back with her tomorrow,” Adam stated petulantly over dinner. “You will be back with her handsome fiancé.”
She laughed openly at this. “Gaston? Please, Adam. I’m a married woman. Give me more credit.”
As if on cue, there was a knock on the door and Adam stood from his seat and disappeared into the shadows.
“Adam!” she called desperately. “Adam! There’s no need!”
Footsteps came forward and Belle appeared in the doorway. “Dido?” she asked. “Were you calling your fiancé?”
Dido put her head in her hand. “Husband,” she answered. “We were eating together, but he does not much care for company. Please,” she indicated the chair beside her where a place was already being set for Belle. “Join me for the rest of dinner. We’re having salmon.”
“Fish?” Belle asked excitedly. “I haven’t had any in such an age!” She took her seat happily and instantly began eating so quickly Dido doubted she was savoring the flavor.
She turned back to her own meal, a little morosely. Dido felt Adam’s absence desperately. She nevertheless played the hostess and eventually showed Belle to one of the smaller guest rooms. “I think there should be something for you to sleep in. Someone will come get you for breakfast early in the morning for the trip. I tend to eat in my rooms, so if I’m not there, please eat without me. You can send the candelabra for me or the clock.”
“That horrible man really takes all your time?” Belle asked in concern.
“He’s not a horrible man,” she stated quite emphatically. “Roses have a very powerful meaning in this castle. Stealing one of the treasures here would be more permissible than stealing a rose. I cannot pick a bloom and I am princess of this castle.”
“That’s absurd,” Belle stated.
“It’s something you do not understand,” Dido corrected. “You should not pass judgment especially as your father is free for his transgression with only hospitality being asked. Goodnight, Belle.”
When the door had closed and Dido had stepped onto the staircase which separated the East Wing where the guests were lodged and the West Wing, she turned to the candelabra, “Watch that girl. I don’t trust her.”
“Mais oui, Princesse,” he agreed before hopping out of her hand and back toward the East Wing.
Dido sighed and walked toward her rooms.
Adam must not have heard her for he was further into the suite where snow was falling, the glass from the windows gone, hovering over a single red rose in a glass covering, most of its petals fallen and molding beneath the stem.
“It’s suspended in air,” she murmured, coming up behind him. “Is this part of your enchantment?”
“It’s a clock,” he responded, taking her hand and then holding her to him. “It tells me how much time I have left.”
“You must have at least ten petals,” she reasoned, not daring to touch even the glass. “No wonder your roses are so important to you. They’re reminders of this one. How cruel to leave them forever flowering when this one is slowly dying.”
“Your propensity to understand,” he said, his words once again careful and precise, “truly amazes me.”
She turned in his embrace. “Thank you.—Come to bed. I must rise early.”
“I do not wish for you to leave me.”
“I must leave to return,” she said, using a somewhat silly argument. “Won’t you be that much happier to have me back again?”
“Your portrait’s not yet done,” he sulked.
She looked up at him before pulling away and walking toward the bed where her silken nightdress was laid out for her once again. Dido felt him come up behind her and help her with the early stages of getting undressed. His claws were incredibly useful in taking off a corset.
“Nearly,” she argued. “It can wait a day or so.” Feeling herself freed from the corset and better able to breathe, she slipped it over her head, grabbed the nightgown, and went behind a privacy screen. She knew now that Adam would go and change himself, always leaving his torso free so she could snuggle into his warm fur.
She woke once again to the feel of his talons against her skin, this time across her shoulders. Her fingers pulled against his fur, burrowing in deeper, and he seemed to purr at her. Dido’s eyes opened and she looked up into the haunting blue ones of her husband. “There’s only candlelight.”
“You must eat and dress,” Adam told her as she sat up and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. “Promise me you will try to be home before midnight.”
“Although I will not have our talking clock, I will do my best,” she promised.
She ate her porridge and allowed her husband to dress her in reds and browns, accepting the riding leathers from him before going down and meeting Belle who was finishing her own porridge.
A teapot Dido had never seen was pouring her tea.
“A moment, if you would,” she said to the teapot. “I’m English. We drink nothing but tea.”
“Oh,” the teapot said, blinking at her. “I’m sorry, dear. Master’s orders. He said you were to be treated to French hospitality.”
She ground her teeth. “This is not over. I want Earl Grey tomorrow for breakfast if you have it unless mon prince really needs a proper coffee drinking wife, though why I could hardly say. He did choose to marry me, after all.—Belle, are you drinking that?”
“You look like a crazed beast—have it.” She slid the cup forward.
Dido picked up the cup, found some milk, and took her first sip of tea in over five months. She sighed and happily sat down in the chair that belonged to her husband. “I’ve decided, Belle, that men never made sense. There was this man who wished to marry me—“
“And you did not marry him?”
“No,” she answered. “His brother insulted me constantly. It was bound to not end in marital felicity.”
“Gaston hunts. I feel sorry for the creatures.”
“At least there’s food for the table,” Dido pointed out.
The girls laughed together.
When they got up, Belle asked, “What does Prince Adam do?”
“I’m not certain. Currently I’m sitting for a portrait and he usually leaves me be. I know when I first arrived he spent most of his time learning English. My task, when I’m hung up on the wall, is to brush up on French musical compositions. When we’re alone together, we read Shakespeare or are just being generally silly newlyweds.”
“Are newlyweds silly?” Belle asked as they got up onto their horses.
The sun hadn’t risen yet but the sky was gray.
“Well, I don’t expect it’s usual to start pillow fights. I am not certain how it is possible, but I love that man sometimes…”
The horse neighed at that moment and Dido was thrown from her seat. The earth trembled beneath her and after checking on Belle, she instantly got up and, grabbing the columns that led to the castle, she rushed into it, calling for Adam. She saw a man whom she had never set eyes on the stair in livery and a wig, but she just ran up to him and begged, “Where’s Adam?”
“He is where you left him!” he insisted and Dido ran farther into the West Wing.
“Adam! Adam!” she cried, not seeing him. The bed was empty with its sheets all tangled and she glanced up to see that the painting had been restored. The beautiful man from the portrait gallery was the same young man sitting between Adam’s mother and a man with dark eyes and dark hair. She wondered at it before rushing forward, past the bed, and into the area of the compartment where snow had drifted in.
However, there was no snow. The windows had closed up with glass and the rose—the rose had sprung to life. There was a moan from the ground and recognizing the half pants, she screamed, “Adam,” and came to the figure—but he was human with blond hair that came down to his shoulders. The mass of limbs untangled themselves and the handsome man from the portraits looked at her, the same blue eyes she had come to adore looking out at her from a new face.
“Adam?” she asked in confusion. “How is this possible?”
“You broke the enchantment. You said you loved me.”
She searched back through her memory and then went back to what she had said to Belle.
He reached for her, but she pulled back, confused.
“It is I, Dido,” he promised, the same familiar lilt to his English. “Last night you told me you must leave me to return and would I not be happy to have you back again.” This man looked back at her hopefully and she looked into his eyes, seeing the same love that had so thrilled her, and she fell into his embrace, kissing him for the first time. When he pulled away from her, he asked, “Say it, my love, for I have not heard the words.”
She laughed and cried and cupped his cheek, whispering, “I love you, Adam, although I have only just admitted it to myself.”