Epilogue: Show of Petals
The candles flickered in the silence of the halls, yet their swirling smoke whispered to each other that death had fallen on this place, that it lay moldering on the edges of fallen rose petals, that it sank deeper, deeper, with every hour that passed. And the ghosts of wolves howled at the mother moon, pregnant with potential.
They had come to gawk, those who had found them so entangled, the maid of the city and lord of the castle. They had marveled at them, gasped at his disfigurement, lamented her untimely undoing, and cursed the one who had sent a bullet through her, the jealous lover who hurtled himself beyond his own crushing guilt.
For mobs are cunning creatures, so very quick to project their own proclivity onto another, and thus free themselves of that which they should be facing. And now they wished to have blood for blood, to make up for the blood they would have shed, a monster’s blood they now saw belonged to a man, and yet one for whom they saw little cause to grieve.
What a hideous spectacle, this! What a waste of a young blossom’s devotion! But the dear always held strange notions in her pretty little head. She always dreamed of journeying far beyond where good little girls would ever dare to tread. But surely they are able to find sympathy to extend to their limp, embracing forms, and wrapped up as in a novel’s fantasy, the onlookers wish to transform their meaner thoughts through public offerings of mourning.
Yes, they will have a funeral, a fine funeral, with priest and all, after they are laid out in state for the night, the long night, and the wait for the dawn. They would gather and gossip, and shed tears over their casket. For they are dead now, and somehow it is easier to have empathy for the dead than the living. They are seemingly defanged and declawed. Their oddities and ugliness are alike laid to rest and silenced with their cold hearts. There is a certain sense of safety and superiority in weeping over the coffins of the dead, if the tears are all-too-easily dried.
But the rose waited in the shadows after their departure, and her petals waited through the night. For though the villagers had gone to wreak their wrath upon the killer, her spirit was a patient one, listening to the ticking clock that mourns, and the candle holder than trembles, and the dovelike feather duster that lay down her wings to die. She waited; though this night felt like a hundred years, she waited. She waited…for the groan of the great doors…
For the only one who could truly hold vigil had come. There was a scratching of cane against floor, of legs being dragged limply, of body supported by another. He should not have come, the other says, should not have come. He has been injured beyond repair, he should not have come…
But Gaston was there nevertheless, leaning on the faithful LeFou for support. The villagers would never have expected him to venture out to this place, and even they were too exhausted by the events of the past two days to continue their howling outside his house. And so they had slipped out. LeFou had tried to persuade him against it, tried to warn him it was too much of a strain on him, that the doctors had warned him against stretching that thin thread of life already so taut.
And yet the crippled hunter would have none of it. No, no, now that he was here, he intended to remain. With every effort at being dragged forward, he was more set upon his course, the only way it could be. Soon he was in front of the corpses, down on his shattered knees, forcing his injured spine to hold him up before the casket. He clutched it hard with both hands, feeling the smooth wood along the border, and the smooth material lining it. He reached farther, deeper, and felt the cold smoothness of her hand with his own. It chilled him, chilled him down to the broken place of his bones, the empty, split, surrender of it all…
And he fell down, his hands braced against the floor.
“Je suis profundement desole…” he whispered into the dark. “And I did not even say goodbye…”
He turned and saw beside the coffin a small glass orb, and within was a shriveled stem and drying rose petals scattered beneath it. He knew in that moment he had to have them.
Slowly, he started to force himself up. LeFou started forward to him, but Gaston waved him back. “I must…do this…I must face this…alone…”
Up, up he rose, on his elbows, on his knees, with burning pain running like fire up a bent spine, up and down his twisted back. And out he reached…he reached to the farthest extent of himself, a place which he had never before visited. Perhaps, for all his courage on the field, he had always feared it most. But now he braved it, and felt himself melting away in the white-hot extremity of it. He had been driven to the edge, to the brink, like a rushing rapids pouring over the falls.
He touched the glass, and edged it upwards, inch by inch, until it finally tipped and rolled over onto its side. Then it tumbled, and fell, and shattered on the floor. And yet the rose petals were his now, all his…to let go…
He scooped up the petals in his hands, once stained red, and felt their remaining softness against his fingers, akin to the softness of her death-chilled skin. The dead edges crumbled away, and only purest of velvet remained. He would give them to her now, his final gift…
And so Gaston scattered them openly, and the pain shot through his arm as he released them over the dead, and he fell, face flat to the floor. And in that moment, that last melting moment in time, he knew he himself had shattered. And he knew intuitively they were no ordinary petals. There was a shimmering dance as the petals came to life and his own soul took flight from him.
He was not there to see the first stirrings of the dawn piercing through the room’s stained-glass window, nor the chiming of the clock in the vacuum of time starting again, nor the breathing, at first imperceptible, within two breasts, and the wounds that healed, and the eyes that opened.
But LeFou saw, and was awed, and was grieved, and held the fallen soldier in his arms.
“Adieu, au revoir, mon ami…”
Time rolled on and away. Many changes came and went with the rustling of the wind, yet some things remained steadily the same.
Each week, two roses placed on the grave of Gaston in the old churchyard. One was blood red, brought by the lady of the high castle, now married to her Marquis. She also brought life and learning back to the lonely halls and even into the backward village. The castle doors were opened, and the people given use of the precious treasures contained within the humungous, long-hoarded library.
Parties once more took place within the castle walls, and where people might once have remarked upon the Marquis’ selfishness, they now commented on his unbounded hospitality. The scar on his face seemed to recede from people’s minds the more they saw him smile. They said he made an admirably loving husband to his wife, and father to his growing brood of children.
Yet for all the fresh excitement in her life, Belle never forgot to attend the grave of the hunter from the village who had once desired her more than life.
The second rose placed there each week was from a prominent tailor in the village. It was white, like snow clouds blooming in winter-blue sky, and grew fresh beneath the shop which had brought so many customers into town in recent years. He made fine gowns for ladies and fine frocks for the gentlemen, and many, many fine parasols to accompany the outfits. With the patronage of the Marquis, the people began to respect him and his talent more than they ever had, and the prosperity he brought did nothing to hurt that, either.
Yet he never did forget his Gaston. He could never forget him, try as he might sometimes, try as he meant to move on and away. He knew the devotion in his heart would remain there through the years. It was knit into him as deep as the flow of his blood, and as deep as the roots of roses.
Avellina Balestri (aka Rosaria Marie) is one of the founding members and the Editor-in-Chief of The Fellowship of the King, a literary magazine with a strong Tolkienite influence (which, by the way, is open to submissions). She reads and writes extensively, and eagerly seeks out the deeper spiritual significance of popular fandoms such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games. And yes, she does have a soft spot in her heart for classic Disney movies, The Princess Bride, and Merlin 😉 She is also a recording artist, singing traditional folk songs and her own compositions as well as playing the penny whistle and bodhran drum. She draws her inspiration from the Ultimate Love and Source of Creativity, and hopes to share that love and creativity with others.