The Beauty of Being a Beast by Jennifer Estep

“Have the servants open the castle gates, go down into the village, and tell everyone that they are welcome to stay here until the Razors are dealt with,” I said.

Drury nodded. He hesitated, then looked at me again. “I’m sorry about Peter. That things didn’t work out.”

This time, I shrugged. We both knew that I had less than a week to break the curse, or I would remain a beast forever. We both fell silent, and a sudden, weird awkwardness arose between us, something that had been happening more and more lately.

Sometimes I thought that I should just take a chance with Drury and try to get him to fall in love with me. After all, we were fast friends, which was its own sort of love. But every time the notion struck me, I squashed it. Drury deserved to find his own happiness, with whomever he chose, not get further entangled in my family’s curse. Besides, I wanted to fall in love when I was ready, not be forced into it by some spiteful wizard.

Still uncomfortable, I looked away from Drury, and my gaze landed on the tabletop. The pinpricks that my talons had grooved into the wood glimmered in the light, looking almost like stars that a jeweler might etch into a pendant to enhance its design.

I flexed my hand, then curled my fingers inward, so that the sharp tips of my talons pricked my fur-covered palm. Anger sparked through me, along with determination. I might be cursed, but I was still the lady of this castle, which meant that I was its protector—and the protector of the nearby village.

Drury’s eyes narrowed. “Uh-oh. I know that look. You have a plan.”

I grinned at him, showing off my long, sharp teeth. “Absolutely.”

“What are you going to do, Griselle?”

“If Nigella and the Razors want to confront a beast, then I’m going to show them exactly how beastly I can be.”

* * *

Drury summoned the kitchen staff to clean up the uneaten dinner, and I left the dining room and went to my tower.

One of the servants had stoked the fire, so the large, square room was pleasantly warm. Fine tables and cushioned chairs, a four-poster bed tucked away in the back corner, shelves crammed with books, rocks, oddly shaped pieces of wood, and other trinkets that I’d collected.

The chamber looked like any other—except for the mirror.

The smooth, shiny, unbreakable glass took up one entire wall, stretching from the floor to the ceiling. Eifert, the wizard, had enchanted the castle so that every room featured at least one mirrored wall, and many of the stones on the outside of the castle were covered with mirrors as well. He’d told Jacinda, my great-grandmother, that it was a gift, a reminder that she only had a limited amount of time to break the curse, but it was really just another bit of petty cruelty. Eifert hadn’t wanted Jacinda or any of the other Mottern women to be able to forget what he’d done to them, not even for one second.

The sight of the mirror made me angry, the way it always did, but I marched over to it, lifted my chin, and stared at my own reflection. Brown fur, blue eyes, wolflike ears and muzzle. The image was the same as always, but it didn’t bother me.

In a strange way, I had come to appreciate and admire the strong, fearsome beast in the mirror. There was a beauty, a freedom, in being a beast. Before the curse, as Lady Mottern, I had been expected to act a certain way. Nice, polite, calm, demure. But as Griselle, as a beast, I could be who I truly was, which wasn’t always nice and polite. I was quite often acerbic and sarcastic and occasionally wild and vicious.

Oh, no. I hadn’t minded being a beast in a long, long time, but there was one thing about my reflection that did bother me: the dress.

For dinner, I’d put on a pink flowered dress, along with flat but feminine pink shoes. I had always despised the color pink, and I looked like a wolf stuffed into a grandmother’s nightgown. I shook my head, disgusted that I’d fallen into the trap of trying to make myself look more pleasing in hopes of gaining Peter’s interest and approval. The only person’s opinion I should care about was my own. Besides, I had a battle to prepare for.

So I stripped off the horrid dress and put on a far more comfortable dark blue jacket, along with black leggings and sturdy boots. I also belted a sword to my waist. When I was finished, I strode back over to the mirror and eyed my reflection again. Not only did I look like myself now, but I also felt like myself again, like the true Griselle.

I moved away from the mirror, opened a set of glass doors, and walked out onto the tower balcony. Mottern Castle stood on top of a tall ridge that overlooked the river, the valley, and the village of Dammerung below. As a beast, I had excellent eyesight and hearing, so I could easily see the servants running up and down the streets, going from house to house, knocking on doors, and calling out to the villagers.