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Beauty and the Beast

Once upon a time in a far-off country, a successful merchant lived in a lovely cottage in the forest with his two sons and two daughters.

Whenever one of his ships came in to port, he would travel to town to sell the goods that they brought back. And every time, his children would ask him to bring things back for them.

"I want a great sword, encrusted in jewels!" said his sons.

"I want a golden harp, with strings made from silk!" said one of his daughters.

The oldest child, however never asked for anything.

"I just want you to come home safely," she would tell her father.

She was such a pretty young woman that her family took to simply calling her Beauty. And this was a fitting name, for Beauty most liked all the beautiful things in life: the sound of birds singing, a sweet line of poetry from a good book, the smell of fresh flowers blooming...

"Are you sure there is nothing I can bring you," asked her father before he left. "The other children have asked for so much."

Beauty thought about it for a second before answering. "I would love for you to bring me a rose," she said. "We don't have them here in the forest, and I do love the way they smell."

The merchant agreed with a smile, and giving his horse a kick, he was off. But when he got to town, he found out that his ship had been damaged in a bad thunderstorm, and there were no goods to be sold. With no money for gifts, he sadly decided to return home.

But soon the thunderstorm reached the land, engulfing everything in rain and wind and lightning. By the light of his lantern, the merchant saw a great castle in the distance, and decided to ask for shelter.

He was so tired that he didn't notice that the storm mysteriously cleared when he approached the castle. He found the front door open, and with no response to his calls, he entered.

The palace was beautiful, but strangely empty. The merchant he wandered into a room where a fire was burning and a chair was drawn up close to it. Exhausted, the man quickly fell into a deep sleep.

When he woke after several hours, his stomach was growling and he was still alone, but someone had already set a plate of food in front of him. It had been nearly a full day since he last ate, so he grabbed the food, promising to thank his host later.

He walked down to the garden, and found to his surprise that the sun shone and the birds sang.

The merchant was delighted to see a hedge of roses lining the path towards the stables, which reminded him of his promise to Beauty. He had stopped to gather one when he was startled by a strange noise behind him. Turning around, he saw a fearsome and angry-looking Beast.

"Who said you could take my roses?" the Beast asked in a terrible voice. "Was it not enough that I fed you? This is how you show your gratitude, by stealing my flowers?"

The merchant, terrified by these furious words, dropped the rose and threw himself on his knees. "Pardon me, noble sir," he said. "I am truly grateful for your hospitality, and didn't realize you would be offended by my taking such a little thing as a rose."

But the Beast's anger was not lessened by this speech. "You may be quite good with excuses and flattery," he cried. "But that will not save you from the death you deserve."

In despair, the merchant began to tell the Beast of all his misfortunes, the reasons for his journey, and his daughter's request.

"A king's ransom would hardly have paid for all that my other children asked," he said. "But I thought that I might at least take Beauty her rose. I beg you to forgive me, for I meant no harm."

The Beast considered this for a moment. "I will forgive you on one condition," he said. "And that is that you will give me one of your daughters."

"Ah!" cried the merchant. "Even if I were cruel enough to save my own life at the expense of one of my children's, what would I say to make her come here?"

"You mustn't force her to come," answered the Beast. "See if any one of them is courageous enough to save your life. In one month, if none of your daughters is willing to come, you must say goodbye to them forever and return alone. If you fail to keep your promise, I will come after you myself," the Beast added grimly.

The merchant reluctantly accepted the offer, thinking none of his daughters would agree to come to the castle. The Beast gave him a rose for Beauty, and allowed him to leave.

When he finally returned home, his children were upset that he didn't have any gifts for them. When he told them about the castle and the promise he made, his sons vowed to go to the castle and kill the Beast. But then the children turned angrily to Beauty.

"You should have asked for something more sensible than a rose," they complained bitterly.

Poor Beauty felt terrible. "Who could have guessed that a rose would cause so much misery?" she said. "But since I was the one who asked for it, I should be the one to suffer for it. I'll go back with my father to keep his promise."

At first, her father and brothers, who loved her dearly, refused to let her go. But Beauty had made up her mind. And when the day finally came, she comforted her father as they traveled there together.

As they neared the castle, fireworks lit the sky before them. When they reached the avenue of orange trees, there were statues holding flaming torches, and they could see the palace was illuminated from the roof to the ground, with music sounding softly from the courtyard. Beauty couldn't help admiring all the wonderful things she saw.

Once inside the castle, they found a fire burning and a table set with a delicious supper for two. They had hardly finished the meal when the sound of the Beast's footsteps could be heard, and Beauty clung to her father in terror. But when the Beast appeared, she greeted him respectfully.

"Have you come willingly?" he asked Beauty, who told him that she had. The Beast turned to the merchant. "Then you will leave, never to return again."

The Beast allowed the merchant to fill two trunks with gold and jewels, but then told him he must leave immediately. When her father was gone, Beauty began to cry.

The Beast seemed agitated. "Take whatever you need from the castle," he growled, and left abruptly.

Beauty found her room and cried herself to sleep. She dreamt that she was walking near a stream, when a young and handsome prince appeared.

"You will be rewarded for all you have suffered," the prince told her. "Do not trust too much to your eyes. No matter how I may be disguised, I love you dearly, and in saving me from my cruel misery, you will find your own happiness."

She awoke feeling better, and she set off to explore the palace. She wandered through rooms lined with mirrors, and others filled with books and musical instruments. In one of them, she was surprised to find a bracelet with a picture of the prince that had been in her dreams, and she slipped it onto her arm with a smile, and imagined he would come rescue her.

A moment later, the Beast greeted her at the doorway, he frightened her so much that she could barely look at him, and she didn't even notice the fine suit he wore.

He asked her what she thought of the palace, and as they talked, she began to think he wasn't nearly as terrible as he seemed.

But when he got up to leave, the Beast asked gruffly, "Do you love me, Beauty?"

Without thinking, she said, "No, you're a Beast!" and then looked down at her new bracelet.

"Goodnight then, Beauty," the Beast replied, as he ran off abruptly. She was relieved that he didn't attack her.

After that, the days took on a similar pattern. There were plenty of wonderful rooms and gardens in the palace to entertain her. But every evening after supper, the Beast came to see her, and always before saying goodnight, he asked in his terrible voice, "Beauty, do you love me?"

Beauty, thinking of the prince of her dreams, always answered politely, "No, Beast."

But the longer Beauty stayed at the castle, the less she was afraid of the Beast. She began to notice that he was actually very polite when he came to see her, and even seemed to be a little nervous. After a while, it occurred to Beauty that the Beast seemed more scared of her than she was of him.

She also found that she began to enjoy spending time with the Beast. Beneath his fearsome looks, he was actually very thoughtful and caring. And she felt sad because each night when she refused to marry him, he went away so sorrowfully.

But at night her dreams of the handsome prince soon made her forget about the poor Beast. She concentrated all of her thoughts on what the prince told her: distrust all appearances; let your heart guide you instead of your eyes.

Beauty found that she was quite content at the castle with the Beast. But she also missed her family dearly, and wondered how she would ever find her prince.

One night, seeing her looking very sad, the Beast asked what was the matter. She told him she wished to see her home once more. Though the Beast seemed sadly distressed, to her surprise he said she could go home.

"It makes me sad to see you go," said the Beast, in as soft a voice as she had ever heard from him, "but I want you to be happy." He handed her a beautiful ring, and said, "If ever you choose to return, just put this ring on your finger and you will be back at my castle." And with that, he left her alone.

When Beauty arrived back home her family was overjoyed to see her. When she told her father about her dreams of the prince, the part about not trusting appearances made him stop and think about the Beast, and how he was so kind to them despite his appearance. But he was too overjoyed to have his daughter back, and the family went to celebrate.

But though Beauty was glad to be back with her family, she also missed the castle, and its beautiful rooms, and even her talks with the Beast. And she soon noticed that she did not dream of the prince anymore, instead, after a few weeks, she began to have a different dream. In it, she was wandering through the palace gardens when she heard groans of pain from a nearby cave. She ran over to find the Beast stretched out upon his side, looking weak and frail.

After having this dream for several nights, she became very worried about the Beast. She decided she should go back to the castle to check on him.

Despite protests from her family, she put the Beast's ring onto her finger, and she was magically transported back to the palace.

She called out for the Beast, but he didn't come to her. Finally she remembered the cave from her dream, and ran out to the gardens. Looking around, she saw a familiar path and walked down it, coming to the very same cave she dreamed about. She ran inside, and found the Beast, lying motionless.

"Oh, he's dead," she cried bitterly. "I should never have left him alone here!"

She wept and put her hands over her face, but then she heard the sound of the Beast moving.

"Beauty?" he said weakly.

"Oh, how you frightened me!" she cried. "I never knew how much I loved you until we were apart!"

"Can you really love such an ugly creature?" the Beast asked faintly.

"Yes Beast, I love you more than anything else in this world!"

The Beast, suddenly sounding stronger and stronger, began to tell her a story in a gentle voice:

"When I was younger, a witch came to my castle. Seeing the warts on her face and her ugly green skin, I refused to let her in. So she put a curse on my entire palace. Because I had judged her by her appearance, she turned me into a terrible-looking Beast, and she said I would die unless I could earn the true love of a good woman."

Beauty suddenly realized that she had heard this voice before. The Beast stood up, and he began to sparkle with light, until the light became so bright that Beauty had to close her eyes.

When she opened them, she saw that the handsome prince from her dreams stood where the Beast was.

Hand in hand, the two left the cave, and found that the castle had come to life with lights and music, and in the sky, in letters all made of fireflies, was written: "Long live the Prince and his Bride."

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