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I venture out when the sun has fully risen. I peek in on the girl, but she’s still asleep. There isn’t much to do, so I wander the halls. I find the beast in a small room, rather like a study. Books line the walls and a fire burns in the hearth, making the room cozy. The beast has managed to curl his mass up in front of the fire. It raises its head and looks at me curiously. It sniffs and a look of recognition crosses its face. It amazes me how expressive it is. I cross over to it and hesitantly pat its head.
“Well, my beast, I hope you fare better with the girl than your counterpart did. He nearly frightened her to death. And now he’s trying to dictate her emotions. He’s in for a nasty surprise, don’t you think?”
The beast nods its head, but I don’t know if it agrees with me or simply has an itch.
“She’s a nice girl, Ingrid. Perhaps a little slow, but she has spirit. She’ll be a challenge for the prince, that’s for sure.”
I tidy up the room, but there isn’t much to do. I check on the girl periodically and she finally wakes, just before lunch. I conjure a tray of food and knock softly.
“Come in,” she calls.
“Good morning, dearie. I’ve brought breakfast. I hope you’re hungry.”
She nods and digs in with gusto. I’m a little shocked. “When did you last eat, child?”
She swallows. “Breakfast yesterday, before my father came home.”
“I’ll be having a word with those men,” I mutter darkly. “How they expect you to survive without food is beyond me. Thoughtless, muscle-brained idiots!”
The girl finishes her breakfast and I step outside to vanish the tray. I wait while she changes. She opens the door and steps out in a beautiful light blue gown.
“Would you like me to show you around this morning?” I ask. “I don’t have much to do today in the way of chores, so I can help you get familiar with the place.
She hesitates. “The prince is gone?”
“And the animal they told me about?”
“We can avoid it if you wish, but to be honest, it’s much better company than the prince. It looks rather fierce, but acts like a pet dog. It’s very gentle. I’ve never once felt threatened by it.” I didn’t add that I had only interacted with it twice.
“I don’t know. Let’s not look for it. I’m sure we’ll stumble across it eventually, right?”
“Of course, dear. Whatever you want. Now, where would you like to begin? The library? The music room? The kitchen?”
“Well, I do like music,” she says uncertainly. “But I don’t know how to play any instruments.”
I wink at her. “These instruments don’t need you to play them,” I say. “Remember what I told you about this being a fairy castle?”
Her dark eyes brighten. “Can we start there?”
We head downstairs and through the hallways until we reach the music room I made. It’s bigger than the other rooms, with enough space in the middle to dance. The girl sits in a chair close to the instruments and watches raptly as they begin to play. Enchanting objects to move on their own is an easy spell, one of the first a sorceress learns. It surprises me, but watching the girl enjoy the music so much fills me with pride and happiness. It’s nice to have my work appreciated.
After a while, the beast ambles into the room, probably curious about the music. Now there is one who doesn’t care for my spells. It stops abruptly as it sees the girl, who also freezes. I don’t know what to do. Introductions seem useless, but neither is moving, or even blinking. I wonder if they’ve somehow been turned to statues. Even the instruments stop, as if they sense no one is listening.
I’m about to break the silence, when the girl rises. She slowly approaches the beast and places her hand on its brown shaggy coat.
“I’m Ingrid,” she says. “I think I’ll call you Bear.”
I suppose it makes sense. The beast looks mostly like a bear. If the bear was feral. And rabid. But maybe she’s trying to make it seem less scary.
Bear nudges her hand with its head. She laughs.
“You like that name? Good! Will you sit with me and listen to the music?”
I don’t know if she actually expects the beast to understand her, let alone answer, but it shambles over to her seat and plots down next to it. The girl laughs in delight and sits, resting her hand in its warm fur.
Well that went better than I expected it to.
I leave the two in peace and seek out Lars and Karl. They’re patrolling the grounds, arguing about whether this plan will work.
“Of course it will work,” I snap and I appear behind them. I have to admit, I enjoy the way they jump in surprise. “But only if we work together. That prince of yours is hopeless.”
“Surely it can’t be that bad,” Karl protests.
“Last night he ordered her to love him, threatened to starve her until she does, and insulted her. He didn’t even bother to ask her name. I had to keep him from finding her room after she left because I was worried for her safety.”
The men look shocked. I suppose they expected at least some manners.
“Then again, it’s not all that surprising, considering you didn’t even feed her yesterday,” I say to Karl pointedly. He has the decency to look ashamed.
“Has she encountered the beast yet? It will probably scare her more than the prince does,” Lars says.
I snort. “She’s made it her pet. She even named it Bear. I left them happy in each other’s company.”
“Incredible,” Lars says. “Maybe if she and the beast form a friendship, it will carry over the the prince’s human form.”
“I doubt it,” I mutter.
“It’s a start,” Karl insists. “They must begin somewhere.
I agree, but it seems like a weak start. Perhaps too weak. For the first time, I think I might actually fail my test.