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"What am I going to do."
Milah sat with her head in her hands as her closest girlfriend rubbed her back comfortingly.
"How long has it been since your last course?" Elizabetha said in a hushed tone.
"June, nearly two months ago now."
Milah sighed heavily, "I get dreadfully ill in the mornings too."
"Oh, Milah!" Elizabetha whispered, "How do you hide it?!"
"I get up earlier than everyone else and empty the chamber pots, that way Mother doesn't see it nor can anyone hear me wrenching in the woods."
Elizabetha caressed her friends long hair lovingly.
"-Yes it was him." Milah snapped, cutting Elizabetha off before she said his name.
She couldn't bear to hear his name.
"So that's why he left the village..."
Milah only nodded.
"What did he do when you told him?"
"He didn't do anything."
Elizabetha looked down at the rough planks of the back porch, "How many times did you lie with him?"
"Eliza!" Milah exclaimed.
"Well?" She asked with a stubborn stare, wanting to know about the girl she considered her sister and the painfully handsome drifter that had passed through their village.
Milah looked at her and narrowed her eyes, "Too many times to count." She answered in a level voice.
The crickets started to chirp in the grass behind them; the severe heat of that August day was turning into an equally sweltering night.
Elizabetha toyed with the frayed hem of her pinafore, "What was it like?"
Her eyes were downcast as she spoke, ashamed to ask such a question yet still wanting to know.
"It was like dying and then being brought back to life."
Milah spoke with such conviction, such reverence that her eyes began to mist.
"It's like making time stand still for a few moments, and not a thing else existed but us."
"Where did you go? How did you get away from your family and that whisp of a Spinner?"
Milah gave Eliza a conspiratorial smile.
"When Father was in the field and Mother was in town, I would put Michael and Reece in my bed for their naps," she giggled as she remembered the daily ritual, "knowing they would sleep for an hour or two and I would meet him in the wood."
"Weren't you afraid of someone finding you?!"
Elizabetha raised up on her knees, eager to hear more about the midday trysts between her dearest friend and him.
"When I was with him I didn't think of anything else, I couldn't. He was the world, my world."
"Mother said he was trouble the first day he showed up here carrying everything he owned on his back. She said he was a no-account."
"He's got more sense than anyone in this damned village." Milah clipped hatefully.
"What about Rumplestiltskin? What if he finds out! He'll tell the whole village you're a harlot!"
"He's not going to find out, no one knows about this, only you."
Elizabetha grabbed her hand, "I'll never tell a soul!"
"You've got to help me Eliza, I don't know what to do."
The two girls embraced, both of them scared and very near tears.
"It'll be alright!" Elizabetha whispered.
"Everything will be alright."
Milah began to sob onto her shoulder, "How?"
Eliza was quiet for a moment as she held her weeping friend, trying to rack her twenty year old brain for an answer to this awful problem.
Then she found it.
"Milah," she said slowly, "You said that Spinner was crazy for you, didn't you?"
"Yes, he loves me. What about it?"
"You've got to marry him! That's the way to fix all of this!"
"How can I marry him when he hasn't even asked me!"
"Oh he's going to ask you, very soon too I wager!"
Milah pulled back and studied Elizabetha's face, "How do you know?"
She smiled, "I heard Mrs. Stone tell my Mother when we took her washing the other day that her husband had finally sold one of those gold-washed wedding rings out of the case, and when Mother asked her who bought it she said that it was Rumplestiltskin the Spinner! Now what do you make of that!"
Milah was very quiet; her face was austere and hard, she suddenly looked much, much older than her twenty-one years.
Elizabetha continued to look at her searchingly, hoping that she would see the salvation in marrying Rumplestiltskin.
"But I do not love him."
"Now, you must think very hard on that which you seek dearie."
They were standing in a clearing, Master and pupil, far away from the castle grounds.
Rumplestiltskin had his hands on her tightly laced waist as he pointed her body outward facing the tree line.
Cora had her eyes closed, a large organdy bonnet shielded her fair skin from the midday sun.
The horse Henry had given her as an engagement gift stood patiently by, tied to a tree.
With her arms uplifted to the cloudless sky, she tried to picture the young Princess Eva dead.
But her teacher could see into her spell and was amused at what he saw.
"Why do you choose the easiest solution dearie? Use your imagination! Why kill her so soon? Why not make her suffer a little hmmm?"
The Dark One brought his lips close to her ear as he spoke, whispering murderous premonitions in place of sweet nothings.
"And how do you suggest I do that?" She said breathlessly.
He chuckled low and pulled her rear close against his groin, "Make her barren. Picture the sorrow of a childless marriage, the sadness and disappointment of a Queen who cannot produce an heir. Think of how happy you shall be when you are delivered before her."
Cora couldn't help but to smile.
She knew Leopold and Eva had celebrated their first anniversary recently, but no royal birth had been announced.
Maybe there was still time...
"A useless Queen, withered and dry inside."
Happily she recited a spell that would soon ruin Eva's life.
"Very good my dear, very good."
Cora turned to him and touched his face, "You've been so good to me, I've never known kindness like this."
He didn't recoil.
"You and I have a great deal in common."
"How so?" He asked, enthralled by her beauty.
"We're both black and rotten inside, but it's not our fault. Evil isn't born, I've decided that it is created."
"And who created you my dear?"
Cora's face betrayed her feelings, those feelings that were always hurt and crushed under the heels of the wealthy and privileged.
"Aye, I know the pain."
She looked down to the ground reliving in her mind all the humiliation she had endured since she was old enough to realize her poverty.
The betrayal of the man to whom she had entrusted her virtue.
The abandonment of their child.
Leopold denouncing her as a liar and con before the whole court.
And Eva, spritely Eva who had ruined her one chance at happiness.
"She tripped me, she stuck out the toe of her silk slipper and tripped me."
Cora looked over Rumplestiltskin's shoulder and into the wood.
"When I fell, spilling flour all over myself, I felt something inside me snap. I can't live the life of a Miller's Daughter, and I will never kneel before anyone again as long as I live."
"Why are you keeping me here?"
The pretty, blue eyed jade asked Regina calmly.
She had snatched the little maid upon the height of her victory and then threw her in a holding room.
Presently, Regina was standing before the girl, smiling that sinister, deadly smile of her's.
"Rumplestiltskin loves you my dear and that makes you extremely valuable to me."
"You're so wrong Regina, he doesn't love me at all."
Belle had tears in her eyes as she spoke, hating to remember and admit his rejection.
"He made you leave didn't he?"
Her beautiful prisoner nodded solemnly.
"Don't you see my child? He sacrificed you because he did not want to ruin you. He drove you out to save you, not because he doesn't love you, but because he does."
"You would say anything to get me under your thrall."
"Perhaps..." The Evil Queen mused, "But until the time is ripe I am going to keep you very, very close, Princess Belle."
There were hundreds of rooms in The Dark Castle, many of which to Belle's dismay had locked doors.
On this day, nearly a year into her stay with Rumplestiltskin, she found herself feeling incredibly idle and her active mind itched for something, anything to occupy it.
So she decided to go exploring.
The Dark One had been gone for five days, no doubt dealing with some poor, unfortunate soul or plotting to overthrow a Kingdom.
He wasn't there to supervise nor admonish her for peeking in places she should be.
Eagerly, checking over shoulder with each step, she scaled the grand staircase with feline grace and litheness.
She ignored the first landing she came to for she knew that floor all too well since her rooms were located there, and instead continued up to the third level.
Belle came to a darkened hallway that appeared to be very long and lined all the way down with dusty suits of armor.
She walked fearlessly down the corridor all the while telling herself that she must rip down the faded red velvet curtains and let some light into the eerie spot.
Cobwebs littered the swords and jousting poles of the hollow Knights-At-Arms making Belle inwardly lurch.
She loathed spiders.
Shaking off her uncomfortableness, she smiled upon seeing the first door.
It was like every other door in the castle, ornately carved with gilt scroll work and a large golden handle.
Belle grabbed the handle and turned, very pleased that it was unlocked.
Gingerly she stepped inside, leaving the door ajar so it wouldn't slam on her or jam.
It was a large room with plush red carpet and long red draperies that kept a little light out.
She walked over to one of the windows and yanked the curtains back, all the while stirring up ancient dust.
Sunlight came gleefully into the forgotten room as Belle made her way to every window, pulling back the fortiers.
It was a parlor room with several pieces of furniture covered with dingy sheets.
The fireplace looked as if it had never seen a bucket of water and rag; dust lay four inches thick on the little gilt end tables.
Other than filth Belle saw nothing of consequence and left not long after she entered.
Twenty rooms later, she still hadn't stumbled upon anything other than old furniture and cobwebs.
She had sneezed about ten thousand times and had not cured her curious itch.
But the fourth floor was calling her name.
Belle scaled the stairs two at a time until she came to the landing.
Instead of one long hall she faced an incredibly large stained glass window that created a fork in her road.
To her left there was a long corridor and to her right there was a corridor.
The left side looked dark and foreboding, but the right looked a bit cheerier with a lot less threatening cobwebs dripping from every angle.
"These but be the Western and Eastern Wings then..."
The only thing she had heard about these particular sections of the castle was, "Never, ever go into the Western Wing! If I ever catch you down there I'll skin you alive!"
Needlessly to say Rumplestiltskin forbade it.
"But Rumplestiltskin isn't here..."
Bravely, she turned and began down the ominous wing.
He never told her what exactly lay in the Western Wing, but it couldn't been that bad or else he would have placed a barrier in front of it.
"It's probably just old bedrooms anyway..." She thought to herself as she trekked down the hall.
There were no windows lining this wing, no rusted hulls of metal standing ramrod straight, only strange statues.
Monsters, they appeared to be, beasts and scantily clad women sculpted in stone and marble alike.
One was of a warrior holding up the severed head of what appeared to be a woman, and in place of her hair there were snakes, angry and hissing, yet frozen in grey stone.
She grimaced, but was fascinated all the same.
On her left side she passed a marble lion with his teeth bared in a predatorily hateful snarl.
She noticed he was thinner than a lion would appear be, with a long scar cut into the left eye.
"Rumplestiltskin is a collector of the diverse indeed..."
There were so many other unnerving pieces, gargoyles and other frightening forms draped in blankets of spider web.
It was an intimidating place; something inside of her wished she had not come.
Belle had been walking down the wing for a good while, and still she had not found any doors.
A few torches burned dimly to light her way and they casted terrible shadows over the faces of the already fearsome statues.
Hurriedly she passed them by, silently vowing to never, ever come here again.
Then she heard it.
A strangled, broken cry that stopped Belle dead in her tracks
Burying her hands in her apron pockets, she glanced to each side of the corridor, afraid that someone or something was following her.
"I'm all alone here..."
Then she heard it again.
A guttural moan that sounded quite close.
With nervous eyes Belle looked ahead of her, the wing took a sharp turn to the right.
She couldn't just stand there surrounded by false, sentient beings that may or may not be moaning at her.
So she ran the rest of the way down the hall and followed the curve of the castle almost running right into the largest double doors she had ever seen in her life.
Married life was a fate Milah had resigned herself to.
Rumplestiltskin wasn't a bad man by any means.
He worked everyday to support her, sometimes even long into the night.
For the first time in many years she had a new pair of shoes to wear.
There was plenty of food for once too, fresh daily from the butcher and green grocer.
Milah didn't have to put anything on credit; her little change purse always had plenty of coin to buy the necessaries and anything pretty she might see.
They weren't as well off as some, but they were comfortable.
"What have you got there?" Her husband smiled as she bustled in with her grocery basket full and a large parcel wrapped in parchment.
Since the wedding a month ago Rumplestiltskin had bought her a few new furniture pieces; two chairs for the tiny front room, a chopping block in the kitchen, and a washstand for the small dining room.
Ivory colored curtains spotted with tiny red flowers hung cheerily on the two front windows.
Milah set her basket down on the rickety table with a pale blue table cloth and smiled brightly at Rumplestiltskin.
"Well what is it?" He laughed, rising from his wheel and going to her.
She thrust the box out before her, "Open it."
He gave her an amused look and took the package.
"Couldn't you give me a hint Wife?"
He pulled the twine off and ripped at the parchment paper.
"No, you'll understand when you see it...I hope!"
The Spinner grinned and flipped his long hair out of his face as he lifted off the top of the box.
Nestled inside was what appeared to be a pale pink blouse of some sort that buttoned up the front and had a high collar.
"Pull it out." She said eagerly.
Carefully he unfolded the garment and held it up in front of him.
Then he realized exactly what it was.
He had seen women wearing them in the village for nearly all of his life.
It was an expecting blouse.
She rubbed her stomach and nodded vigorously, thus affirming his assumption.
"I had it made at the seamstress' to surprise you, are you happy Rumple?"
Tossing the blouse on the table he quickly enveloped her in his arms.
"Oh my love, I have never been happier."
He lifted her from the ground and spun her around before kissing her passionately on the mouth.
"We've started our family." She beamed.
"Our family," he repeated, "our child."
Milah cupped his face tenderly, "Your child."
"Gifts from Henry?"
Her demon lover appeared, casually seated in the chair beside of her bed.
Cora was busy unpacking gowns, bonnets, stockings, and petticoats; all paid for with the King's gold.
"Of course, who else?"
She twirled a little lace parasol and flung it carelessly onto the divine behind her.
"It must feel nice to warrant such admiration."
He was sticking pins, but Cora was in too good of a mood to let him bother her today.
Her soon to be Father-in-law had taken her and Henry on a private tour of the royal jewels, letting Cora have her pick of the fabulous pieces and even allowing her to try on her crown.
Rumplestiltskin eyed the diamond choker Cora was wearing, as well as the matching earrings and bracelet.
"My goodness, the little Prince was in a very generous mood today was he not? Gowns upon gown, furs, capes, and diamonds too. What a lucky lass you are."
"Look here Sirrah," she snapped as she flung a white silk cape lined with silver fox over her shoulders, "I'm not going to let you take that snarky tone with me!"
Haughtily she glared at him, daring an impudent remark to pass his gilded lips.
"You've got me shaking in me boots dearie!" He cackled.
"You're impossible." She sighed, grabbing her lace fan and touching a protective hand to her coiffure.
"And where, pray tell, might you be going dearie? I'm itching to make a mess of you."
He rose and slinked towards her.
"Is that any of your affair?"
Cora shrugged his horrid hands away from her shoulders, pushing past him to the door.
"Yes!" He barked, snapping his fingers to still her feet with magic.
She fought to move but it was useless, she was glued to the floor.
"I haven't seen you in three weeks save for a few quick words and a sickeningly sweet smile."
He was only a few inches behind her, his breath hot on the back of her neck.
"I've been busy." She replied icily.
"Oh I know, your whole new life is one big cyclone of money and men."
He spat the words at her like acid.
"Implying that I'm a whore is no new insult to me Rumplestiltskin. Try again."
"You think you're a lady now don't you dearie? That you're an equal among the other high-born bitches of the court? You're not. You would be nothing without me."
He circled her as he raved, but Cora stood perfectly still with her head held high.
"Wearing diamonds and silk doesn't make you a lady-"
"Are you quite finished?!" She interrupted.
Rumplestiltskin grinned broadly, "Oh I'm just getting started."
"I can't take this anymore!"
Regina rushed into her rooms with her hands knotted in her hair.
Her teacher was patiently sitting cross-legged on her bed.
"Why whatever is the matter dearie?"
He cocked his head to the left in mock confusion.
Rumplestiltskin knew that she had quarreled with her mother over her up-coming marriage and Cora had used magic on Regina to force her attention.
"It's her!" She hissed, afraid that Cora would hear them talking about her.
"Well come lie down right here and tell me all about it my pet."
They were massive, imposing doors with two curved metal handles.
Standing guard on either side were two gilded statues, their faces masked by golden sheets carved into the structures.
One solemn torch burned in the short corridor.
Standing stock still, Belle's hand shook as she reached for one of the handles.
Then she heard the noise again.
It was impossibly close; almost directly above her.
She jerked her hand back and clutched her white throat.
"What was that?!"
Moments later yet another throaty wail cut through the air.
It was coming from behind the doors.
Clearly she heard it this time, a cry of anguish and torment.
"He couldn't have another prisoner, he wouldn't. He's changed!"
Should she go in?
"Maybe he does and, and I can save them, I must do the brave thing."
Belle recalled the Prisoner Rumplestiltskin playfully called "The Prince of Theives," and how she had helped save him.
"They might have a family..."
The one chance that whoever was suffering behind those doors had a family, a True Love, a Mother or Father waiting frantically for their return made Belle resolute in her decision.
She was positive the cries were emanating from behind that frightening door.
So Belle done the brave thing.
With a firm grasp she pushed down the handle and slowly opened one of the doors.
She placed the right side of her face against the smooth mahogany and tried to see through the small opening.
Her eye searched over what little bit she could see.
It was quite dark and cold, Belle felt the freezing air wrap around her ankles and she shuddered.
There were four windows lining the left wall, all had to have been well over twenty feet from floor to ceiling and all were tightly drawn with curtains.
She heard quiet moans, little fretting noises coming from somewhere inside.
Belle let the door open a little bit more, allowing her to turn and scan the other side of the room.
And what she saw nearly made her scream.
Rumplestiltskin lay on the largest bed she had ever seen.
Belle covered her mouth with a white hand as she watched him.
He was sprawled across the foot of the bed, fully clothed, with an expression of supreme pain clear on his illuminated face.
With his left hand he appeared to be stroking himself rather quickly as his right hand yanked and pulled angrily at the dark, rich bedspread.
Suddenly, another frustrated moan erupted from his throat.
Belle gasped quietly, afraid that he would hear her.
She was very much amazed.
She had never seen a naked man before.
Well, she had seen soldiers but they neverlooked as...erect?
Volunteering as a Nurse gave Belle her first glimpse of a partially clothed, male body.
But she hadn't regarded it as sensuously as she was now.
Those men were injured and had required serious aid; Rumplestiltskin appeared to be enjoying the ministrations he was applying to himself.
Belle knew she should not be looking at whatever it was she was looking at, but she couldn't seem to pry her astounded eyes away.
He looked so long and much firmer than what she had saw in the field hospitals.
And he was the same golden-green color there as everywhere else on his body.
Slowly he worked now, lifting his narrow hips from the bed when he pulled a certain way.
"He left his boots on!"
She giggled into the palm of her hand when she spied the knee-high, pointed toe boots he always wore resting flatly on the carpeted floor.
"It must have been an urgent need..."
He let out another low keen and threw his forearm over his eyes.
Belle could see from where she stood that his jaw was clenched incredibly tight.
"It must hurt?"
He rubbed up and down with a ferocious speed.
Then he spoke, a hoarse, cracked hiss of a name.
Her stomach leapt into her chest, terrified that Rumplestiltskin had discovered her spying.
But his arm remained across his eyes and he never stilled his working hand.
He bowed his body, lifting his pelvis up from the bed and released one, powerful wail.
She narrowed her eyes to attempt and see what was occurring now.
To her it looked like milk diluted with water running down his unmoving hand.
His chest rose and fell laboriously, as if he had won a monumental struggle against something.
Belle continued to watch as he laid quietly on the bed, recovering from whatever had overtaken him.
His breath came much slower and regular now.
He pushed his unruly curls away from his glistening forehead and sighed.
All he said was her name.
A quiet, heartbroken plea that she didn't quite understand.
It was erotic and stirring watching him and she felt a strange throbbing in her womanhood along with a sick quiver in her belly.
What has occurred here?
A hot blush snaked it's way across her chest and face, making her skin feel tight and itchy.
Her nipples prodded the cotton of her chemise; she found herself clenching and unclenching her lush thighs.
Rumplestiltskin tucked himself back into his trousers and buttoned his shirt up properly.
He rose languidly from the bed and rubbed his temples.
"She's driving me mad." He said, obviously torn.
But Belle didn't hear him, she was halfway down the wing; her auburn curls bouncing as she ran by the rows statues.
Her heart thumped wildly against her ribs as she ran, replaying the image of Rumplestiltskin over and over in her aroused mind.
But she didn't realize it.
Clutching her stomach, Belle fought to control her breath as she laid over the bannister.
Nausea overcame her along with an aching at the juncture of her lovely thighs.
She continued to pant heavily and instinctively thrust her hand between her legs, cupping the hurting mound through her skirts.
Still terrified she would be discovered, and partly ashamed, she fought to compose herself enough to make it to her rooms.
Flying down the staircase with blazing cheeks, she ran down her hallway on the second floor.
Belle nearly collapsed against the heavy wooden door, fumbling for the knob.
The voice came from close behind and made her scream.
She whirled around to face him, her back pinned against the door.
"Did I scare you?" He smirked.
Her hand grasped at her breast, trying to control her erratic breath.
"Not in the least bit!"
He eyed her up and down, then reached out to pull some errant cobwebs from her glossy curls.
She nodded, "Yes, I've been cleaning."
He flicked them away, "It must have been quite dusty where you were cleaning dearie."
"Oh it was, awfully dusty."
She had somewhat recovered herself, but her breast was splotched with red and sweat dotted the bridge of her nose.
Not to mention the lightheadedness that now accompanied the throbbing in her pelvis.
"You seem to be distracted my dear, is something bothering you?"
Casually he placed his left hand, palm down, beside of her head against the door, mimicking that day in the lab so long ago.
She tensed and shook her head, letting her curls bounce invitingly.
"You look winded." he brushed a curl away from her left shoulder and placed his hand directly over her thundering heart.
Belle felt her knees turn to jam.
"Your heart is simply galloping dearest."
She closed her eyes and silently willed it to slow down so Rumplestiltskin would hopefully leave.
She fought the confusing urge to grab his long, clawed hand and shove it between the meeting of her thighs.
"I'm quite fine Rumple really!"
"Are you sure?"
Amusement and false concern laced his voice.
"Positive!" She squeaked.
"Well," he withdrew both of his hands and thrust them to his hips, "Why don't you have a lie down then?"
"Yes," she tried to ignore his masculine scent, "I think I shall."
She turned and opened her door, but paused in the threshold.
"I thought you were away? How long have you been back?"
Her nervousness excited him.
"Not very long."
Belle turned and was about to close her door when Rumplestiltskin spoke.
"You know," he said as he folded his arms behind his back, "it's not polite to spy."
Her sky blue eyes grew wide with shock, but when she whipped around to face him, he was gone.