Ceinwen has been taken to the palace. Now she must face the Beast and see what she is going to have to face.
A door to her right opened. It was, from what little she could see where she was standing, an elegantly appointed dining hall. Once she was sure she could make the walk without falling over, she moved slowly into the room. A chair was pulled out for her and she gratefully sat down. A moment later, she heard something like the brief susurration of sound and a large shadow seated itself at the end of the table. “Welcome, Ceinwen. I trust your journey was not too unpleasant.”
There was a hint of a hiss in that voice, and Ceinwen wondered what form this beast was forced into. “I have not been on many journeys, but this one was comfortable enough until the horse.”
“You do not like horses?” he asked.
“I can't ride,” Ceinwen said. “I've never been on a horse until today.”
“Why did he not bring you on foot. The climb is only a short one.”
“Something about not wanting to be anywhere near the village after sunset,” Ceinwen said.
“Ah yes. The curse on my village,” he said. “I do hope you find the food here to your liking. My cook is very good at what he does, even if he lacks imagination.”
Ceinwen looked down and her plate was full of food. While they were exchanging pleasantries the servants had served her. “My lord, I am used to a plate of the most simple foods, with only a rare sampling of the finer things my brothers and sisters ate regularly. This looks to me to be wonderful.”
“You need not address me as 'my lord', Ceinwen. Only my servants address me as such. To you I am simply Beast. It suits me better than my old name these days,” the Beast said.
“It seems rude to call you that,” Ceinwen said.
The Beast snorted. “My lady, I am a monster. I have no illusions about that.”
“If I am to call you Beast, please do not call me 'my lady',” Ceinwen said. “I am Ceinwen, and nothing else.”
There was a hissing gurgle that Ceinwen took to be laughter. “Tell me then, Ceinwen, why your family ate better than you?”
“It was my choice, really. I could have asked for what they were eating but most of the time I didn't want to spill anything on my work. I was a journeyman weaver when – when our fortunes turned sour,” Ceinwen said. She didn't want to upset the Beast by telling him the truth of her journey there.
“Did Master Spellmeyer pull you out of the work houses? Is that where you got those scars?” the Beast asked.
“He saved me from the work house, yes,” Ceinwen said. “But no, I didn't get these scars there. When I was a child, our house burned down. My father died rescuing all of us. During the rescue, one of my father's wolfhounds went mad and attacked me. I was mauled severely before they could get the thing off of me. Or so I have been told. I have no clear memory of the event, for which I think I'm grateful.”
“I see.” The Beast fell silent, turning his attention to his food. Ceinwen did likewise.
“The food was excellent,” Ceinwen said, when the last of the dishes had been cleared away and only a bowl of fruit remained. The Beast's end of the table was still shrouded in shadow. “I should perhaps withdraw for the evening.” She smiled. “Assuming I can get back up the stairs without falling over.”
“Before you go, I wish to show you something,” the Beast said. “And then I will send Eleazar to assist you back to your room again, if you would like.”
“All right,” Ceinwen said.
The Beast rose slowly from his seat. He took a few steps forward and then he was in the light. Ceinwen couldn't hold back the involuntary gasp that escaped her but she did her best not to scream. The Beast stood hunched over, his head about level with hers though had he been standing straight he would have towered over her. His body was covered with a pattern of scales in shades of red. His head was narrow at the nose but widened out and was framed by a row of tiny bone spikes.
His fingers were long and thin, and ended in delicate looking claws that had to be stronger than they appeared. His eyes watched her, large and black, from the sides of his head. “If you are afraid, I can understand,” the Beast said softly.
“You are a little frightening,” Ceinwen said. “But I'm not going to run away.”
“You have more courage than most. The majority of the women Master Spellmeyer and his predecessors have brought me have fled my presence screaming,” the Beast said. “I will bid you good night, Ceinwen. Eleazar will be along shortly to assist you.”
“Thank you,” Ceinwen said. “And good night, Beast.”