This story was written in response to the following prompt on r/WritingPrompts:
When the Woods told the Beast Prince his new bride had arrived, he had expected to meet some foreign princess curious about his monstrous features, or maybe a witch seeking access to the Woods’ magic. He didn’t expect a very determined-looking miller’s daughter.
She poked and jiggled the straw between her teeth and examined a bit of mutton skewered on the tip, then flicked the straw away. “Look, it’s a win-win. You marry me, and we take this show on the road.”
“This show,” said the Beast Prince, scratching his cheek with a claw. “You mean me.”
“Yes, I mean you! But you’re not the only one, I got a whole stable of performers chompin’ at the bit to get out there and wow the kingdom at large.”
He wrinkled his snout. “Stable? It’s some kind of animal show?”
She waved her hand as if at a fly. “No, stable is biz talk, ignore it, it’s how I talk and who I am, sue me, can’t help it, I grew up in the biz, you know.”
“Didn’t you say you were the miller’s daughter?”
“Well, Beastie, now I think it’s my turn to be offended! Sure, dad crushes grass into dust for a living. And so did his dad before him, and his dad before him.” She pulled a pipe and pouch from the pocket of her worn cloak. “And you know somethin’? I’ll betcha a hundred gold pieces my brother’s gonna wind up cranking that stone just like the rest of ’em.” She sprinkled shredded tobacco from the pouch into the pipe. “And that’s fine, people gotta make a livin’! Times are tough. Just the other day I heard a story ’bout a foundryman, on his way to deliver a stack of ingots? Listen to this…” She plucked a candle from a sconce on the wall and used it to light her pipe. “This guy, his cart gets stuck in the mud, he jumps down to help the horses pull it out, slips in the mud, and crack!” She slapped her hands together. “Horse steps on his hand—like a bunch o’ grapes. His right hand, y’see, the good one, not the ‘satanic’ one. Well, now his good hand’s a mess, so he’s gotta learn to do everything with the devil’s hand, see, which means now nobody trusts him, and he can’t hold more than a damn walking stick.”
The Beast Prince stared. His back had started to ache. He didn’t normally spend so much time in the sitting rooms of this castle, and the chairs didn’t conform to his body’s quadrupedal shape; he only sat like that to put this guest at ease.
It was his first sit-in guest since his exile. Visitors usually shouted curses from their wagons, or stood at the bottom of the front steps just long enough to get a good look before running back into the woods.
But this young woman was in the door before he had pulled it completely open, swinging her hands and saying, “Beastie, you don’t know me, but you’ll be happy I came! Have I got a proposition for you!”
She’d stepped into the middle of the grand foyer, lit by a yellow spotlight of setting sun that shone through the grime of broken windows, and she turned to him and lowered the hood of her cloak. The Beast Prince raised his paws to block the blow of the electric bolt or whipping wind that might blast from her sleeves.
But none came.
There was nothing evil in the young woman’s face. She smiled through crooked teeth, but there was something in that smile, and something in her pale green eyes, that was disarming. She had the look of a merchant counting money at the end of a good day.
Now those green eyes held his in the flickering light of the cobwebbed sitting room. The candles crackled as the layers of dust burned away from their tips.
“Just tragic,” she said. “Needless to say, the guy’s foundry business, well, foundered. His production slowed, he’s got no sons to take over, and being a lefty now his wife’s too scared of him to try for a son! So, what does his story have in common with yours?”
The Beast Prince thought. “People are scared of me?”
“Sure, absolutely, and that’s a real shame. My heart goes out to you. Touched by the devil and all that.”
“It was a witch.”
“Beastie, I gotta tell ya, to all the pointy-headed boil lancers in that village, and even the villages beyond—hell, this whole damn kingdom—a witch and the devil are the same thing. And you wanna know the real tragedy of it?”
He rubbed his back with a paw. “Would you mind if I sat on the floor?”
“Make yourself comfortable, this is your place! And I promise I’ll be outta your hair in a minute. But first, tell me, do you wanna know the real tragedy?”
“What?” The Beast Prince settled onto his stomach on the stone floor, and felt his spine realign itself. “I mean, yes, I do. What is it?”
“The real tragedy is that they lump you in with those monsters, too. Witch, devil, and Beastie, all the same to those foot lickers. But I know you’re not evil. Hell, I’m not even convinced witches are all that evil; I agree with some of their stances on women’s rights—but don’t tell the villagers I said that.” She winked and puffed her pipe again, but it had gone out, so she took the candle to light it again.
The Beast Prince watched a drop of wax fall and solidify on the cold floor. “But what do the foundryman and I have in common?”
“Ah, see? You don’t miss a trick. That attention to detail will take you far! Puts you one-up on the rest of those leather sniffers.” She held her hands as if presenting a painting. “What you have in common with the left-handed foundryman is: a lack of insurance.”
“Think about it. No sons, basically no wife, and no business. What’s he got to fall back on? Alone in the world, and nowhere to reach for support. Fell flat on his face.”
“So you propose we marry so I have… support?”
“Don’t think of it as support so much as representation. We tour the land with a group of other hand-picked young talent, and show you off to all the apple-heads who’ll pay—and let me tell you, they’ll all pay—and they’ll learn you’re not such a scary guy. They’ll like you. You might even get another shot at princedom!”
“But… why do we have to be married?”
“Legitimacy! If they see the big, dangerous Beastie’s got a wife, they’ll think, well, he must be doin’ something right! We have a big ceremony at whatever church’ll have us—don’t worry, there isn’t a church in the world that’ll turn down a bribe. We make a big deal of the whole thing, get all the town criers screamin’ scandal about it to everyone.”
“We can’t do that, they’ll trap us in the church and set it ablaze!”
“Ah, no, we’d get ’em on a legal technicality—you are still royalty, after all, are you not?”
“I don’t think so. My parents were the ones who put me in exile here.”
She tisked and picked a bit of tobacco from her lip. “Backstabbers to save their own royal faces. I know the type—the biz is full of ’em. But you were just caught in the crossfire! The witch who turned you only did it to get at the King. And it worked! The King—your own dad—flipped his crown and sent you away to clean the supposed stain,” she made bunny ears with her fingers, “on his reputation. Disgusting.”
His head rose, showing teeth. “You can’t speak that way about my father!”
“Sure I can. And you should too, Beastie. For the first time since your little accident, someone has come to help you.” She made a fist and grinned. “Are you gonna answer the call?”
The Beast Prince lowered his heavy head onto the stone and billowed dust with a sigh from his snout.
She held the pipe in her teeth and watched his eyes.
Finally he shrugged. “Okay, what do I need to do?”
“Fantastic! You won’t regret this! First, I’ll need a down payment on my services to get things rolling with the church.”
“If we’re getting married, isn’t it you who pays me the dowry?”
“Wow, I propose marriage and a successful life in showbiz to a damn werewolf, and now he wants to get conventional on me?”
“Okay, okay,” he pushed himself to his feet and stretched his back. “Wait here, I’ll fetch it.”
“Take your time.” She listened to his claws scrape down the corridor.
A “tsst” came from across the foyer. She saw the man’s face in a broken windowpane. She scowled and shooed him away.
He gave a thumbs-up with a mangled right hand and ducked back out of view.