Of Beast and Beauty – Chanda Hahn

Everyone dreams of marrying a prince—except for me. I am nothing more than a pawn for my mother’s revenge on the seven kingdoms. For she was betrayed by those close to her, scorned by her true love and cast aside like garbage. In return, she raised her adoptive daughters to be as beautiful as diamonds, cold as ice, formidable like the ocean, and as wicked as they come. Each kingdom needed to be taught a lesson, and I was the chosen tool, her sharpened blade that would cut the deepest into the heart of this particular kingdom—the kingdom of Baist. I would rip their future from them by marrying their prince and future king. But like all deadly weapons, my wedding was a two-edged sword, and cutting them would cut me deeply. For I am Rosalie, one of the adopted daughters of Lady Eville, and it is my duty—no, my joy to exact revenge on the realms, even if it means entering into a loveless and hate-filled marriage with the narcissistic crown prince of Baist. P CHAPTER ONE rince Xander’s fingers tightened around my hand painfully, his knuckles turning white, until I realized my own fingernails were digging little moon-shaped divots in his palm and had been for a while. I relaxed my hand; he mirrored my actions, and the pain ceased. We were pawns in a much larger game, stuck in an unwanted arrangement on both our parts, never having seen the other before meeting at the altar a few moments ago. Once I took his hand, my eyes were glued to the shimmering marble floor and my silk slippers that peeked out from under my too-short dress. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the crown prince looked like. I heard stories he was unpleasant and cold as the blizzards in the northern region, that he was cruel and shorttempered and tolerated very little in the way of women. Handsome, maybe, but I wouldn’t know because I refused to look his way or meet his gaze through my thick, imported, white lace wedding veil.

Under my ceremonial dress, the silk slippers had no soles and therefore wouldn’t carry me far if I decided to abandon my vow and run off in the middle of the ceremony. A clearing of a throat drew my gaze to my adopted mother, Lady Eville, who sat painfully erect in the second row, her dress of ornate silk as black as a South Adder’s skin. She made a gesture with her finger, and I couldn’t help but follow with my eyes to the beautiful young maiden sitting in the row across from her. Young Yasmin Nueva from the Busan province had been previously engaged to the prince up until a few hours ago. Today was supposed to be their day. Instead, I was standing in her place, probably wearing a wedding dress custom-made for her, and her shoes. No wonder they pinched. I couldn’t help but compare myself to his fiancée. She was petite where I was tall. Her golden hair fell over her shoulder, bedecked with sapphires and jewels that complemented her light blue eyes while my hair was black as a raven’s wings.

Her elegant ears sparkled as diamonds hung from her dainty lobes; mine were unadorned and had never been pierced. Light streamed in from the stained-glass window, catching her jewels as she sparkled and tried to outdo the bride standing before her. I had owned nothing as expensive as what Yasmin wore on a single finger. All of my jewelry was fake, or glamoured to appear real. My hand gripped the prince’s furiously, my anger needing an outlet at the injustice of my predicament, but I was able to calm my wrath as I imagined the prince’s face full of scorn. My lips curled up in a smile as I glanced to King Gerald’s puffy red face and then Queen Anya’s, her face pale and drawn. Joy flew through me as I witnessed their discomfort at receiving a dose of their own medicine. Vengeance for my mother. My arm dropped suddenly as the prince released his hold, but our wrists were tied together with elegant strips of lace and ribbon. It was customary for the newlyweds to be bound together the first full day and night—a symbol of their unity and love.

The priest didn’t ask us if we would honor or cherish each other; that was removed from the vows. In fact, there was a fair amount missing from the ceremony. It was painfully short, so as not to drag on the procession any longer than it needed to be. “I now present to you Crown Prince Alexander the third of Baist and his wife,” the court crier announced, leaving out my formal name as the crowd clapped slowly, hesitantly. Confused faces and looks covered most of them. The closest court ladies began to weep, and I swore Queen Anya fainted. Only Lady Eville, my adopted mother, stood to congratulate us. I should have smiled. After all, we had won, and she had gotten her revenge. But the enthusiasm wouldn’t come nor reach my lips.

I was married to a prince—though maybe not the most cordial of suitors—but this was still my wedding day and a celebration. It was the only one I would have, and I wanted to enjoy the delicacies, the pastries, and the royal food the servants had spent all week cooking. There would be music, light shows displayed upon the marble walls, and dancing. I had never attended a formal dance, and my feet were eagerly moving toward the back of the hall. I was sure the prince would be a phenomenal dancer. Prince Xander pulled me hastily down the altar steps, and I stumbled over my feet as I tried to keep up. I paused to greet the guests, but he veered left, dragging me out a side door into a darkened hallway. My thick veil made seeing difficult. The ribbon bit into my wrist as he swung me toward the wall and pressed my back to it. When he leaned close to whisper into my ear as if a lover would, my heart picked up and my breath caught in my throat as I waited expectantly.

“These vows do not bind you to me in any way,” he growled harshly as he pulled our bound wrists between us. “Do not expect me to be faithful to you, or to care for you, you hideous creature of the night.” I sucked in my breath in outrage. “How dare you address me so? I am—” “No one,” he interrupted. “You are nothing to me, or the crown, and I wish to never lay eyes upon your face. You and your cursed mother. You did this to me.” His voice was filled with disdain. He pulled a bejeweled dagger from his belt and lifted it up to my cheek, running it down the lace. Through the thick veil, I could only make out that he towered over me, the halls still too dark to see any distinguishing features.

The dagger moved between us, and I felt a pressure on my wrist as he sliced through our wedding bindings. I gasped as the blade nicked me and the brightly colored ribbons spiraled to the ground, drops of my dark red blood littering the white tiled floor. “Leave my sight and never cross paths with me again,” the prince warned. “What about the wedding celebration?” I asked angrily. He couldn’t possibly mean for me to not attend. He dashed my hopes with a scoff. “There will be no celebrating. Go to your rooms and stay there.” Prince Xander stormed down the hall, leaving me furious and alone on what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life. Instead, I felt my mother’s words come back to me.

“Love is weak, but your anger makes you strong. Wrap yourself in your anger, and it will shield you from all who wish you harm.” My fingernails bit into my palms, and I flashed my bloodied wrist into the air. Fiergo. My power lit every sconce on the wall and in the palace. I twirled my finger in the air again, and the discarded ribbons along the floor flew up and wrapped around my wrist, creating a bandage. It wasn’t lost on me, the irony of my wedding bindings becoming my bandage, or how I knew this marriage would bring me and the royal family nothing but pain. I could accept that. Pain was a close friend. We got along just fine.

Straightening my shoulders, I looked across to the mirror on the far wall, my curiosity piqued as I wanted to see myself on my wedding day. Lifting my veil, I saw my black hair, flowing loose down my back; eyes so light they looked silver but when angered turned dark. My unsmiling lips were soft and full. They puckered as I recalled the prince’s words. “I hope to never look upon your face.” Pity, for I was beautiful. A cough came from behind a stone column in the hallway. “Who’s there? Show yourself,” I ordered. Now that my magic had lit the hallways, I saw the rustle of a pink skirt move as a young child peeked around the column. Wide, fear-filled blue eyes looked back at me and didn’t move.

I waited for the child to decide if she would run or stay. “They say you are a witch.” Her voice was filled with distrust as she stepped out from behind the column but didn’t come closer. “I think you’re a monster.” The tow-headed child stuck her tongue out and turned to run down the hall. Her retreating footsteps mirrored those of hundreds of other children from my village—although the ones from my village usually tossed rotten vegetables and dirt clods at me before scurrying off. There, I was a lowly orphan of Eville’s tower who was used to being desecrated by rotting refuse. But today, minutes after marrying one of the princes of the seven kingdoms and becoming a princess, I would again be pelted with rotting hate-filled words. Pressing my lips together, I ignored the child, like I had ignored the others before her. I didn’t blame them for their hatred; they didn’t know better.

I blamed the adults. Their minds were turned against the daughters of Eville since birth by their ill-informed parents. It was our mantle; their discord fueled us, taught us to ignore empathy and compassion and focus on our dark arts. Holding my head high, I ignored the sounds of revelry and music coming from the ballroom, squelched the feelings of injustice and desire to dance, and headed toward my designated rooms. A servant had shown them to me a few hours earlier. I couldn’t recall the servant’s name, but I was impressed by the wide open room with the pale floral rugs and table by a fireplace. Two overstuffed sitting chairs surrounded a bookcase filled with books beside a window that overlooked the garden and woods beyond. I had my own private bathroom with marble bath and vanity. A king-sized four-poster bed covered with white down bedding sat next to a hidden door in the wall, disguised except for the silver handle. I tried to open the door, but it was locked from the other side.

“Where does this room lead to?” “That is His Highness—uh, I mean your husband’s rooms,” the servant said. “Oh?” I replied, unable to keep the blush from my cheeks. Now that I was once again in my bedroom, I gazed at the locked door, knowing the prince was probably storming around on the other side. He made it clear that he would never grow to love me, his mind poisoned against my family, so he would never step foot into my rooms. I swallowed and bit back the taste of bitterness that crept into my mouth as I looked at my fancy prison. Here, in these rooms, I would grow old and die unloved.

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