Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Excerpt: Sleeping Beauty & the Beast by Melissa Lemon

Trapped in a cursed sleep, the only experiences Princess Eglantine has are the ones in her dreams. There she meets Prince Henry of Fallund, a neighboring kingdom on the brink of war.

Meanwhile, Prince Henry's brother Duncan discovers a vicious beast imprisoned for murder. Captivated by her, he works to free her from both the prison bars she's locked behind and the ones surrounding her heart and mind. Sleeping Beauty and the Beast reinvents and seamlessly intertwines the classic fairy tales Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast.

I watch his face, a mystified far-off look in his eyes. He must be working it out on his own since my answers cannot satisfy him. Finally a look of recognition spreads over his brow, calming the wrinkles, settling the confusion.
"You're the princess? Of Cray?"
"Yes," I answer.
"The sleeping princess?" He is pointing at me now with a finger from his right hand.
"How did you know?"
I stare at him a moment longer. Who is he? What is actually happening inside this dream? I don't like his eyes so intently focused on me, blazing into my own eyes it seems.
"I used to know you when we were children," he admits.
A bustle of bodies and commotion bursts through the door.
"You'll have to excuse me," he says. "We have a meeting. Duke will show you down to the entry room where you may wait for me. I'd be happy to speak with you after our meeting."
"No, wait," I protest. "Are you actually a person? Can you really see me? And hear me?"
"Yes, of course I can. I'm not an invalid."
The men begin taking their seats around the table. A plump, curly-haired maid pushes a cart and begins to set tea cups in front of them. Steam rises from a teapot and the clanking and filling up of cups alerts me to the fact that I do not belong here.
"Who are you speaking with, Prince Henry?" the stout man beside him asks.
I've been talking to a prince. He didn't act very much like a prince. He holds out his hand toward me, answering the question with a nod of the head in my direction.
The man looks over to me, near my shoulder, about my hip, finally settling his eyes to the side of me, where on the wall just behind hangs an oil painting of the sea. The green and blue do not blend well, but crash into one another. It is noisy, like the ocean. Never once did he look me straight in the eyes. I have never in my life felt more like a tiny insect than I do in this moment. I may as well be a fly on the wall, or the moth flitting about the window, or the spider spinning its web in the corner of the floor where nobody would notice. I feel swallowed up by a sense of loneliness, nothing but a dreamer, a spectator to events that don't exist, an inventor of people and places.
"I do not see anyone in the room besides the men who entered with me, and you were having a conversation before we entered. Who was it you were talking to?"
"It was her, I tell you," he said. I feel grateful that he is no longer irritated with me, or at least if he is, I am not the one he is yelling at.
All of the men exchange glances now, not understanding the prince means me, who they cannot see.
"Did you get much sleep last night?" One of the men asks. His greatest feature is his large, pointed nose. "There is no one in the room but those of us sitting at this table and your maid."
"Oh, how can you be so impossible?" the prince asks. "Now is not the time for playing pranks."
"Ask your maid then," the stout man says. "She will have no reason to prank you, and her job would be on the line if she did."
"Oh, fine. Marie, do you see a young woman standing before the sea painting?"
She looks in my direction, her eyes closer to the mark than any of them, but I know instantly that she too cannot see me.
"No, your majesty." She immediately continues her work, setting places for others they must be expecting.
"But you can see me?" I ask, a strange, hopeful sort of nervousness arousing inside of me, as well as a longing to stay here. If only he can really see me, I want nothing more than to stay. He does not answer, but he does not need to. His dark hazel eyes stare directly into mine. After clearing his throat and looking away from me, he sits down.
"Let's get started, shall we?" he says.
"Oughtn't we to wait for Prince Duncan?" I do not know who said it exactly, someone to my right. I cannot take my eyes off of him—Prince Henry if that is his name. I do not ever want to take my eyes off of him. He can see me!
"Can you hear me as well?" I ask.
He pauses for a moment, halting the pen in his hand which had previously been scratching something on the parchment in front of him. He keeps from glancing up at me, but I know he heard.
"Is something wrong, Prince Henry?" Again, I don't know who said it. I keep my eyes locked on his nut-brown hair, lying straight on top of his head, cut short, spreading in two directions from an off-centered part. The door opens. The maid steps out, taking the noise of the cart with her.
"Henry?" another asks.
"We do not need to wait for Duncan," he replies.
I don't mind that he chose not to answer my question. I know my dream could end at any moment, so I persist, walking around the table and to the side of Henry. Prince or not, he can see me. I know he can. And if he thinks to ignore me, I plan to make that difficult for him, maybe even impossible. Now that I think of it, I should have just walked through the table and sat down on top of all the parchment. I'll try being tactful first.
"Okay, let's get started," the stout man says.
"What is your meeting about?" I ask the prince, leaning in close to him from behind.
He jumps back.
I must have startled him.
"Is something the matter?" one of the men asks. There are only three of them besides the prince: the stout one next to him, pointed nose closest to the door, and a man with nearly perfect posture across from Henry. It appears there is actually a stick in his back keeping any curving over at bay. He is the one who had spoken.
"No, of course not," Henry said.
"Are you sure?" I ask, plopping in the chair on his free side.
He grits his teeth. Impressed with how still and collected he seems, I watch his face redden. His eyes meet mine, and they hold a warning of sorts.
"I'm sorry," I say. "Is there something you would like to say to me?"
"Get. Out." It comes softly, but clearly.
"Out of what?" I ask. "The chair? Oh, sorry."
"Prince Henry, are you sure everything is satisfactory? Shall I call the maid for more tea?" the man with the pointed nose inquires.
"No," the prince says. "Charles, please continue." Prince Henry rubs his forehead and I almost feel poorly for behaving so cruelly. Almost, but not quite.
"Shall I call the maid for hotter tea? Is it hotter tea you need?" I ask him. "Or a doctor perhaps? Are you feeling unwell?"
"That's it," he says, slamming his quill onto the table and rising to his feet. He stomps to the door and exits the room. Naturally, I follow.
"What on earth are you trying to do? Make a fool of me?"
"No, of course not."
"Then why are you acting that way?"
"Because I've never met anyone who could see me before."
He stands there facing me, and for a moment I think I can feel his hot breath on my face. Perhaps I am mistaken, but there is no mistaking that he can hear me or see me, which gives me an idea. I reach out my hand toward him, all my fingers pointing at his chest. Wondering if I will be able to feel it beneath my fingertips in only a moment, I breath in deep, a distant crashing of waves sounding beyond the two of us.
And Stella's voice. I can hear Stella. I force my hand to close the remaining distance but it is no use.
I cannot feel him.
"What are you doing?" he asks.
I don't understand. Why is it that he can see me and hear me when the others can't? Why does he seem so real? I study my hand, disappointed that it was unable to do what I wanted. Ashamed, I cannot look at him. Stella's voice grows louder. The ocean calls me back home.

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