The clock winked, and for the first time that day, Claude realised that he was dog tired.
He hadn’t slept for about two days, and he’d been running around frantically trying to prepare everything for tonight, for the girl was sure to arrive.
The maids had been sent out to town to buy the finest dresses (since the ones in the palace had gone all dusty and mouldy), and the palace had been scrubbed and cleaned to within an inch of its life, lavish food set out on the finest crockery and pewter-ware had been laid on the tables, as they had been for her father, for the mirror had revealed to the Prince that the merchant’s daughter would break the curse that had been laid upon the Prince and marry him. No expense was to be spared, for tonight was the night she herself was coming!
Personally, Claude thought that his highness was going a little bit overboard, and had quite possibly been licking and nuzzling some of the strange plants in the gardens, but the Prince had assured everybody including Claude that this really was the girl, he could feel it in his bones.
Claude sat down on a chair beside the grand staircase, slumped forward and let out a long sigh, ran his hands through his hair and looked up at the clock. It was smiling, fuck only knew why, but it was clearly very happy about something.
“What’s up clock?” asked Claude, sitting back in the chair and turning away to look across the hall.
“The hour is nigh young sir!”
“Tell me about it, we’ll all have to wait on this bint hand and foot for a while, it’s going to mean extra work.”
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man!” replied the clock, cheerily.
“Cometh the woman, you daft sod, it’s a girl who’s visiting.”
“Time waits for no-one!” said the clock, full of horological clichés.
“Yeah, well, I’d better head off and get changed into me fancy new duds”
“Every second counts!” chimed the clock as Claude beat a hasty retreat.
Claude headed to the servants quarters to get scrubbed up and changed ready to greet their new guest. Just as he got to the back of the palace, there was a flurry of pounding feet and he became aware of a big smelly animal behind him, panting with heavy moist breath right next to his ear. He turned around very slowly and looked up at the creature before him.
“Hello your highness, are you ready for this evening?”
The huge shaggy haired beast was on all fours, looking down at him with his mouth open to reveal two rows of strong sharp teeth framed by ridiculously elongated bottom canines. He was panting hard, long, broad pink tongue hanging out, and drooling slightly. Bits of plant matted his gold-brown fur, which was knotted in places where it had become tangled.
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah!” the Beast replied, nodding his massive head up and down rapidly “I been to garden, rubbing on the flowers, smell nice for girl!”
“Oh dear” said Claude as he looked down at the Beast’s paws. He knew what that meant, the Beast would be like a daft puppy for the rest of the evening. Well, there was nothing for it.
“Bath time your highness!”
The Beast looked mortified, then annoyed. “No bath” he replied, shaking his head emphatically.
“Bath” replied Claude firmly.
“No no no no. No bath!” insisted the Beast, gruffly, stamping his front paw on the carpet.
“Now now your highness, don’t be difficult. You do want to look handsome for the pretty lady don’t you?”
“Hmmph” replied the Beast, looking around uncertainly, then down at his long black claws.
“If you have a bath, and let me brush you afterwards, then I’ll cook some venison stew, with oatcakes and mead…”
“Mead? Ok ok.”
The Beast followed Claude to the royal bathroom, padding slowly behind him. Claude could tell it was going to be a long night.