When Aoife awoke that morning, a steaming cup of tea and a plate of fruit were on her bedside, as she had grown accustomed to after having to stay here for so long. However, unlike before, a leather-bound book with an embossed pink and silver rose on the cover accompanied the breakfast meal. She wondered who would have given her the book. Surely not the beast, perhaps some willing servant or shy suitor instead? With trembling hands she took up the volume and cracked the spine, the thick smell of paper and ink winding towards her nose and distracting her from her quandary.
Upon a page marked with a pink ribbon were the words:
’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
Aoife took up the book and the food and passed the day in a window seat above the castle’s magnificent garden, alternating the exquisite sonnets of Shakespeare with the view of her beautiful flowers until she had read all the words it contained.
At supper that night, Aoife ventured a question from her host: “Have you ever been in love?”
The Beast erupted from his chair and stalked past the fire.
“Why would you ask such a thing?” he roared, voice transformed, whether by rage or by physical appearance she could not be certain.
“I’m sorry I asked.” Aoife closed her mouth quickly to conceal the sob building in her throat. She was too slow and it echoed in the corridors as she dashed from the dining hall to her chambers.
In her dreams, an alluring man spoke from beneath a balcony to her in riddles of eloquent words that made no sense and all the sense in the world. His blue eyes were eerily familiar and when she awoke, she could remember nothing he said except for the look of longing in his face.
The next day another book appeared with her breakfast. She pushed the plate of food aside and hurried to her window seat with the book under her arm, eager to absorb a new world of words and life. The words were themselves a connection, as though she was with her family again in the outside world. She missed them so dearly and yearned for a way to know of their health and happiness.
Aoife drew her fur cloak tighter and advanced further into the garden, eyes transfixed by the thicket of roses buffeted by the harsh wind. As she gazed upon the soft full petals of the crimson flowers, she considered her father at home. How he must have felt when the Beast threatened his life for the act of stealing a single blossom. How she wished she had never asked for the flower when he left; if she had not she would be home with her family, embroidering by the fire with her sisters. Aoife reached for one of the blooms to smell the sweet scent: roses were such a weakness of hers. A sharp pain touched her fingers and blood welled from a thorn prick in her finger, mingling with the petals and falling in fat droplets to the dusty ground below. She cursed softly and sucked at the wound, the coppery taste on her tongue. They gave her a new appreciation for the Beast: too hideous to venture beyond the castle walls without striking fear in others yet too intelligent and caring to remain within without yearning for something more.
Later that night, Aoife ate her supper in silence while the Beast watched from his chair at the opposite side of the table. He had inquired about the bandage on her hand but she had brushed it aside as a simple accident. A considered look filled his eyes and an idea began to take shape.