Yesterday started beautifully. Spring is here in earnest now, and the flowers are in full bloom. The garden is just to die for, honestly. It’s like none I’ve ever seen before, and I have traveled quite a lot! Abroad, in the finest of estates, nobles prefer a perfectly organized mixture of pretty trees and flowers. There are usually many open spaces, and the gardens are rarely ever functional beyond producing some apples and other simple fruits. I’ve even seen elaborately sculpted bushes made to look like exotic animals. But here, the Royal Arboretum surpasses them all with its wild and yet methodically placed flora, made to look more like a magical winding forest and nothing like the vast and vain grounds of nobles. Here you can find quaint resting areas surrounded by small streams, and guarded by statues of gods; and the vines that creep over the chiseled stone only add character to the enchanted place. Searlus seems to love it just as much as I do, as he spends most of his afternoons amongst the roses and other flora. However, he is out of sorts. Again. It’s been six months since I arrived at the castle, and every month is the same when it comes to his moods. I’ve discovered a pattern, you see, and it’s quite an interesting one indeed.
It cannot be chance that his temper coincides with my own irritable moods during my moon time. Maybe I annoy him. He is a creature forged by magic, after all, so perhaps he is empathetic? In either case, I feel guilty that I might be causing his distress. And his misery seems greater than my own, if it could be believed. Yes, during this time, I’ve seen him wandering the grounds at unspeakable hours. His presence wakes me. The more time I spend here, the more in tune with him I seem to become. In fact, not just with him, but also with the castle, the grounds, the animals, and even the trees. Magic is such a curious thing. By the by, I’ve recently begun to study alchemy and other old magical crafts, but I’ll get to that later. In any case, I know he does not get much sleep, if at all, during this time. I’m sure that doesn’t help with his already quite brooding nature. If only he could accept himself as he is, he’d be happier for it - as would I.
It would be such a simple thing, to sit him down and explain that I never even saw a beast to begin with. I mean, he was shocking, I cannot lie about that. But he doesn’t understand that I did not have any glamorous fantasies about how my life would be here when I first arrived at his doorstep. I knew what to expect. No. That’s a lie; I did not. I thought I knew what to expect. And quite honestly, I’d expected worse!
The others who offered themselves during the Courting Festival forgot the King’s appearance and what transpired behind the gates as soon as they were released the next morning. With no details and such sheer lack of information, you can imagine the rumors that sprouted and how rampant and disturbing they became over time.
The whole village knows he was deformed in some way since his birth. It is no secret that an Alchemist was summoned to save the Prince. However, the Alchemist had no other choice but to exchange another’s life for the babe’s. I know this from my recent studies on the subject. The story goes that his mother willingly offered up her own life, but the King would not allow it. The prince was dying, and no one else would sacrifice themselves. So, the Alchemist used their exotic pets to make quick work of saving the baby boy. And save him he did. A chimera is what they called him. A monster. An abomination.
Very few have lain eyes on the Prince. The Queen herself started the courting festival, for she was afraid he’d live a lonely life, with no one to love him. And when the King died young, and the Queen Mother followed shortly after, he dismissed all of his servants, leaving the courting festival as a tradition.
Only one young woman stayed longer than a night, but she too left the castle eventually, with only her pittance for trying and no memory of her time there. My life was already over when my husband died, and Papa is such a frail man… I couldn’t care for him - or myself for that matter, any longer, and beauty was all I had left. It was either the brothel or try to woo the monstrous King Searlus. I chose the latter. It paid better.
Oh, but why am I dwelling on such sad memories now? For some time now, I’ve felt renewed. I have hope once more, and I have my dear Searlus to thank for that. He has been kind and patient with me. He is still rigid with his rules, and that irks me to no end! I see no reason why I cannot have contact with the outside world, with my own father, for goodness sake! And can you believe I have a curfew? Me? Honestly, a grown woman, a widow, and former first-mate, under strict orders to lock herself in her room after dinner and not come out again until breakfast time! I’d be more defiant about the whole thing, but I signed a contract, and I always honor my word.
In any case, I have enjoyed my time here very much. I must admit, it was rough going at first. He can be so frustrating - but he says the same about me. The thought makes me smile now. Though he may look like a beast, he is so very obviously a man. Bullheaded. Not that he looks like a bull. Oh, sometimes I could just rip my hair out, and yet, other times… No, I must not think about that. I need more time to sort out my feelings. Gerard was my life, and the guilt of letting another into my heart is sometimes too much to bear. The mourning period has only just ended, but a year is not enough. Not for me. Searlus helps me to forget my pain… my Gerard. Sometimes it is a wonderful relief, and other times, especially during my moon time, I want to punish myself for being so unkind to my late husband’s memory. Papa never remarried after mama died. Maybe I am to have the same fate.
I care for Searlus, I do, I might even… No. I cannot let myself think about it. To name it is to make it real, and I am not yet ready. He is in no rush, anyway! Why do I even feel such urgency? Searlus is happy with just my company. My friendship. I’m not even entirely sure he has romantic feelings for me though he sees to my every need, that is certain. I’m quite sure I could ask him for anything - within those ridiculous rules, of course - and he would grant it. I catch his lingering gazes here and there, but it could be that I am still as strange to him as he is to me.
Though recently, we’ve begun to touch. The first time, I had stayed his hand when he tried to offer me more wine at dinner. The poor soul dropped the bottle in a clumsy fit, and its contents spilled all over me. I laughed as we both tried to right it, making an even greater mess when we knocked over his glass as well in the process. He was a stuttering mess, and I couldn’t help my amusement at seeing him so disarmed. But, he thought I was laughing at him, and the merriment ended quickly. The fool. But he is not a fool, however, far from it. He is so intelligent, and I love our conversations. He has as curious a mind as I do. In fact, I found him later that evening, brooding in the library. He apologized for the whole affair.
“Forgive me,” he said to me. Goodness, he was a sad sight. He was slumped over in his favorite chair by the fire, his eyes cast down in shame, and his hands balled into fists. “If you wish to leave, I cannot fault you.”
“Searlus, honestly, do you really think I’d march out the door for something so trivial?” I asked incredulously. “What kind of person do you think I am?” I laughed good-heartedly, but he dropped his head further and furrowed his brow. I instantly remembered how many others had abandoned him over the years. “I am not angry with you,” I told him gently while I knelt before him and placed my hand upon his broad, furry fist. He tensed, and his eyes grew wide. “Does my touch bother you? Shall I remove-”
“No,” he interrupted hurriedly as if I was about to wrench my hand away. “I - I raised my voice.”
“You yelled,” I corrected.
He grimaced. “Yes. I yelled at you earlier. I thought you’d be angry with me.”
He kept his gaze on our connected hands. I could read the pain in his eyes, and I wondered whether it was the thought of me being angry or my touch that was causing him such misery. How long had it been since he’d felt the kind touch of another living soul? My heart broke for him.
“I am not angry, but never yell at me like that again,” I warned him with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. “Or I’ll have to show you what a sailor’s wrath really looks like. Be afraid, your Grace. Be very afraid.” I smiled at him, and he smiled back as he carefully grazed the rough pad of his thumb over my wrist.
My blood runs warm, just thinking of it now. Since then, he pretends not to notice when I touch him. I can tell he enjoys it and finds it quite special. He becomes so shy and gets lost in whatever musings are transpiring in his quick mind. Adorable and so endearing. Damn him. My intention was only to stay a night, as the others had, and get my pittance. But his lonely soul called out to my own, and I stayed. No promises were made. I can leave whenever I like, but if I go I cannot return, and I will also lose all memory of being here. I cannot even bear the thought.
I’m allowed to receive letters but not to send any in return. My father wants for nothing except his daughter by his side, and he worries so much about me. I wish I could just write to him and tell him that I am happy. Happy. Am I happy?
I’ll have to think about that later. I am going to seek him out. Wish me luck, for I intend to voice my theory about his abilities. I admit, it will be quite embarrassing to speak of my moon time to him, but I think of it as testing his maturity to see his reaction. Men do not like speaking of such things and prefer to ignore anything they would deem unsavory in a woman. But Searlus is different in so many ways. Let us see.