"where a distant king devours vines"
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Time Frame: 1x12 expansion
Characters: Rumpelstiltskin/Belle, Ensemble Cast
Summary: The tale as old as time was getting quite old, he reflected wryly. Or: Belle, Rumpelstiltskin, and those missing months between them.
Notes: So, I was content watching this marvelous fairy tale mash-up from afar – perfectly content, I tell you. And then the beautiful writers decided to tackle Beauty and the Beast (my childhood's heart and soul) with a brand new twist . . . and I was hooked in a very past-the-point-of-no-return manner. I was drawn in, and yet, I was also left wanting - because a forty-five minute show that had to share its time with the future Storybrooke verse, and that pesky thing called Valentines Day was not nearly enough to fill in all the blanks and answer all of the questions. I wanted more.
And so – ask, and the muse shall make sure that you receive! I plotted and planned and typed out my soul, and came up with this. This being all of the missing moments the show did not give us, and then a few more for spice.
That said, I hope you enjoy this fan's humble attempt to add to an already magical tale.
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words. And, once again, the title is a Pablo Neruda nick. Thank-you, Mr. Neruda, for once again being a beautiful, beautiful man with even more beautiful words.
"where a distant king devours vines"
"give me the hand out of your depths
sown by your sorrows
Throughout the earth, let dead lips congregate,
spin this long night to me
as if I rode at anchor here with you.
And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.
And give me silence, give me water, hope.
Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes.
Let bodies cling like magnets to my body.
Come quickly to my veins and to my mouth.
Speak through my speech, and through my blood. "
Prologue: "our stories, once told"
True to her word, the good Sheriff returned with his ice cream cone in hand.
Or rather, young Henry Mills was the one who took his flippant request as a true wish - passing the cone between the bars with a small smile and a curious tilt of his head. The child regarded him with too old eyes, filled with a magic that bloomed full and wild even within the shadowed lair that Regina glamored to be both home and castle. When the Sheriff's back was turned – more interesting than the man behind bars was the once-queen, and Emma regarded Regina with cold eyes, meant to cut - he called upon the memory of another time, another place, and made a face at the boy – all sharp teeth flashing, and dark eyes glinting wickedly. Henry's smile grew, amused.
"Thank-you, lad," he inclined his head to the child, and swallowed the your majesty that dwelt in the back of his throat; hiding the title next to the quick and clapping voice that would have chortled and mocked as he addressed him so. The last twenty-eight years had given him practice enough with that, at least.
"You're welcome," Henry chirped. "I didn't know what flavor to get you, so I hope that this is okay. It's my mom's favorite." At the simple earnestness in Henry's words, Gold couldn't help the grin that pulled at the corner of his mouth. It didn't turn and fill (a half moon on an imp's face), but it did pull. What a smart little prince the child was, gathering all of his dragons into one cave in his mind.
"Madame Mayor has a taste for superman ice-cream?" he asked, amused as he looked down at the multicolored cone in his hands.
The child's eyes glinted wickedly. "Nope. Not a bit," he said as if divulging a great secret, and Gold snorted. Of course.
And just like that, the mayor's witch-queen eyes were on them; slithering and dangerous. For a moment, Gold half expected her to use a forked tongue to taste the air. Instead, she only smoothed red tipped hands over her suit, choking away imagined wrinkled, her gaze sharp upon all in the room. In a voice that commanded, she said, "Henry, we're leaving."
After gleaning a last quirked grin from the child, Gold inclined his head in the closest thing he could manage to a bow in this world. Facades now vanished between Regina and him, he would have curtsied if it were not for his bad knee and the bars between them. Instead, he flashed his teeth once – knowing that she remembered them sharp and fanged. She sneered in return - a familiar enough look in either life, and he watched her until the town beyond swallowed both she and the child. He shook his head, and placed the chipped cup in his hand down on the cot beside him. Better there so that he didn't drip melted ice-cream onto the china, he thought. The dessert was all sugar – bubble gum and sweet berry and cotton candy all at once. A child's dessert with a hero's colors through and through.
Emma Swan watched the darker woman and her son even after they were gone – moving to stand by the window and peer through the blinds as the pair walked down the street. Only when they were out of sight, he imagined, did she finally turn his way. She was biting her lip, her dark eyes downcast, pulled down by the thoughts on her mind.
A parent absent the pitter-patter of little feet at their side was something he was not unfamiliar with. In that moment, though, he cared not for the weight of the look upon her. "I never took you as a fan of superman ice-cream," he commented idly into the air, drawing her gaze. She visibly squared her shoulders, made her mouth a severe line – like the string on an archer's bow.
She shrugged. "I always thought it smarter to never make assumptions. It keeps life's surprises at a minimum." She moved away from the window to sit back down at her desk – leaning back in the squeaky chair that the woodsman had always hated, and propping her boots up on a pile of folders with handwriting that looked suspiciously like the mayor's. She tapped her fingers idly on the holstered weapon at her hip as if it were both sword and scabbard to her.
He agreed with her, but did not say so. The cone was melting over one side. He licked absently at his finger to clean the mess.
"And besides, I'm actually pretty neutral to the flavor. Henry orders it for me." Her voice was absent of her attention, the words spilling from her mouth without thought as her gaze narrowed on him. She had a sharp look, that one; the shape of it as old as time to him. Her father James had been a brave lad, Gold remembered, but he had also been foolish - all heart and hands, body and soul. Fair Snow had been a smart one – then again, she'd have to have been in order to survive while the Queen burned down everything but the forest itself to have her heart delivered on a silver platter. So, it was brave hands and quick eyes begotten to the fairy tale child before him; moving her to wear leather and a sheriff's badge as if it were a knight's shield and armor. Magic, you see, could never erase everything, no matter how dark the curse.
And, of course, Snow's eyes were weighing in Emma's face when she spied the cup sitting next to him. In that moment, there was magic in her gaze. Idly, he wondered what she told herself that spark deep inside of her was. Perhaps she passed if off as empathy - the quick way she read people, instantly knowing their truths from their lies with only a glance. Always there would be a hunt in her veins, he knew. Dragons never could last without their scales for very long, you see.
"So is that it?" she asked dubiously, understanding without questioning. "That was what was all the fuss was about?" She didn't ask the hows and whys of Regina having her hand in the affair. Nothing went past their good Mayor's mirror gaze, and Emma knew better than most just how sticky the once-queen's hands were.
Her brow was raised. She was expecting a confirmation on his part, then. He ignored her for a moment, biting at the cone with now flat teeth. For the game she had walked into was older than her, and she still had lessons to learn about patience.
"And this was all you lost?" still she pressed.
The ice-cream at the bottom of the cone was a sick mess of color – yellow, red, and blue making a swirl of rotten fruit once mixed. For some things were not meant to blend together. Finally, he answered, "In part," in a hushed sort of voice. As if such a thing could be explained so trivially.
"You beat a man within an inch of his life for . . . a tea cup?" her voice filled with her disdain. Still there was curiosity. Frustration. She knew there was a story going on over her head. Under her nose. "And a chipped one at that?" she scoffed.
He brushed the crumbs from his knees. Felt his eyes narrow. "Within an inch of his life is a wee bit of an exaggeration, Miss Swan," he chose to remark instead of answering her. A pity too. It was nothing more than the flower peddler – the merchant-king with his thorn strewn hands – deserved. In another time, he had been so good at devouring vines, you see, and for a moment it had felt right to consume another again.
Emma snorted. "I interrupted, else it wouldn't have been an exaggeration."
He didn't argue. Instead he smiled mockingly, and picked up the cup once again. At one time, if he would have pressed hard enough, the jagged edges would have drawn blood. Over time, (a hundred such caresses, still counting), the chip had lost its teeth. Now, it was just a dulled edge. An old hurt, still fresh.
And she then asked, "Was it hers?" in a voice that was just a bit too knowing for his taste. He was hard pressed to hear whether it was James or Snow in her tone then. Both had had such a kindness spun into their very bones - sugar rotting their hearts, if you would. And look where loving had gotten them. Look what had happened when they stood against the dark.
His face told a tale before he could school it blank and cold; she read the whole of it anyway. "Oh, don't give me that look, Mr. Gold," she said. "If I didn't already hear it from your own mouth, I would have guessed - only one thing can motivate a guy like that."
If only she knew, he thought, his grip tight over the handle of the tea cup.
"So," she pressed. "Was it hers?"
He turned the cup in his hands, tracing a fingertip over the rim until his nail scraped against the dip of the chip. Blue eyes, more like ocean and horizon than the weightless sky above, stared at him in his mind's eye; more pain in their depths when she hurt the dinnerware than when he told her she would never see her home and country again. Such a curious creature she had been. Fascinating, and -
He inhaled. "Once upon a time," he said, his voice mocking, "it was." He curved his voice, made the lilt of it like a spell; as if he was striking her rather than showing his own wounds, tender and vacant.
The cadence of her fingers sped, dull on the synthetic casing of her service piece. He heard the ring of steel, even so.
"And now?" ever was the hunter present in her voice.
An exhale. "Not any more."
Not any more.
The food had not improved in the time she had been there.
Today's main course was a soup with a greyish broth and small chunks of vegetables swimming alongside what she assumed were noodles. She poked at it absently with her spoon, making shapes with the rising and sinking things floating within the liquid; spinning their stories within her mind in absence of anything better to do. For the last four years (she had been asleep before that, for she knew not how long – no one would tell her), she had had little but her own mind, and her own tales, to keep her company. She had no story of her own to entertain herself with (she was here, she was told, for her own safety. The doctors said she was a danger to herself – walking through open windows from high off stories as though she could fly), and so she contented herself with those of others.
She did not even have a name – no name she could remember, at any rate. And so she made up names for herself - trying out syllables and sounds until something right stuck to her tongue. To her teeth. (As if a right name could make a fairytale end; a curse render itself asunder). Today she called herself Theia, after the Titaness - the mother of the sun, and she of many names. She had just read the tale, the latest of many to pass before her eyes. There was nothing much to do in her tiny little cell but read, and so read she did, and read she did long. Her last book was a book of epic poems - for, oddly enough, where she could not tell her own name, she could read Latin; could translate its dips and turns, and hold the dead tongue like one living on her lips. And so she read the far off language aloud, liking the way the syllables bounced off of the four walls of her cell – a sacrifice of lips to the moonlight spilling in from her little window far above.
(And there memory flared like a dream: a memory of spells on scrolls, correcting the grammar of a man wearing dragon scales next to her. The memory of laughter in her ears - tinkling and pleased and yet still sharp as arrows upon a whet stone.)
If the food had done nothing to improve in the time she had been there, then the company most certainly had done nothing more than decline.
As always, there was the nurse who stood guard at her little desk right past her door – a hard and imperious woman whom Theia called Gorgon in her mind – for as her own name was a mystery, so were the titles of others around her. It was funner to invent names, at any rate, scribbling their tales over blank paper until there was a book to be held in her mind - words to fill in the missing pieces of her until the letters caught and stuck on each other with their stiff backs and curving lines.
Were her thoughts mad? She was told they were so, how ever much the dancing little memory in her mind chortled and clapped and stared at the ups and downs of her thoughts like she was something he wished to devour. Theia shook her head, wondering if that too was the madness in her, or the odd thoughts the pills sometimes pulled from her mind.
Besides Gorgon, there was only one other woman who came to see her in her small little kingdom. A woman with hair as black as night, and lips as red as the rose (and still not fair, never fair), who came once every two weeks. Theia knew her time well – she kept count of the days in her mind, scratched her nails into her palms and watched the tangles in her hair as it fell before her eyes.
The dark woman moved as if she were a storm over the horizon – all dark clouds and words that fell like lashes until the blackness of her covered everything. Her heels clicked against the linoleum. The grey tones of her blended into the stones of her cell (flat and smeared with chipped paint where she would have them rough and uneven; medieval, mystical), the only mark of color between them the red red gleam of her nails and the red red red slash of her mouth.
Theia called her Hecate in her mind, labeling the woman with a name that burned like a brand. Hecate: witch queen, and the crossroad's very mother. Always, she was the one holding a path open within her questions, but Theia knew not how to answer true. She did not know her right words.
And today was a day Hecate should not have come. Every day for the last four years, Hecate had visited every other Thursday, right before the sun went down. It was Wednesday, Theia knew the marks of the days in her mind.
"You're early," Theia informed the witch queen, wondering which crossroad that that heralded for her.
"I had cause to think of you today," Hecate said, her voice tender. "And your nurse informed me that you finished this last batch of books quicker than normally."
Theia narrowed her eyes, as if by looking at the walls she could see Gorgon beyond. Snake woman and spy both, it would seem.
"I've come to see what you remember today, my dear," her voice was warm, as if she were a mother addressing her child. Still, Theia heard her voice as if it was a snake slithering over glass.
"Nothing new," she whispered, rolling her thin shoulders in a shrug. Her elbows poked at her too big sleeves. She should be eating more, she knew, but Gorgon's culinary skills were as wretched as her conversation; and the thin soup before her never made her full.
A stare, long and slow upon her. Hecate's too dark eyes were more like gaps, rather than mirrors. Wishing wells, Theia decided, empty and false.
"A pity," the other woman whispered, her posture straightening until it was as if she were hung from the stones above her. Her tone turned like a sneer, any warmth gone once she received her answer.
Theia held the stare (you are not the first beast I have stared down, a voice whispered within her mind – the her that was her, but not. But the other her offered no memory as proof. No dream as truth.) with one of her own, her hair tangling before her eyes. "Do you have anything new to offer me?" To deal with, the same voice whispered; ever willing to barter, if both sides were equal with their wanting, and all.
It had been Hecate who had brought her the Latin books the last time she had visited. Theia wondered if there was something she was to unlock within.
Not answering, Hecate instead knelt down in order to open the brief case she had in her hands. She was careful to not let her knees touch the floor. The dust would sully the dark tones of her. Within the case, there were a dozen new books, and for the first Theia leaned forward, unable to contain her eagerness.
"Ripe for the picking," Hecate's voice slithered.
Unlike Hecate, Theia slipped from her cot and knelt full down on the floor, letting the ground sully her knees. Her heart hammered as she flipped tenderly through the titles, striking against the little chip of porcelain she kept in the pocket of her hospital gown – the one sewn right inside of her chest, over her heart. The little piece of china was the only thing she carried from before, and Theia cherished it, though she knew not why. Cherished it as she did her books, and maybe even more so, for if she ever had to choose -
She shook the thought away, and instead read the titles before her. Last month was Latin. This month, she held a half a dozen books in German – books which at first were gibberish to her gaze. But then, slowly, the titles began to translate themselves before her eyes. There were agricultural books before her, oddly enough. Books on gardening full blooms with thorns. A book on economics; how to manage and distribute the wealth of nations. There was a Norse book of webs and weaving – illustrations in ink within, depicting the Queen Frigg ever patient at her loom, the Norn sisters before their ever spinning futures. The leather binding of that one was ancient, written by hand rather than typed. Then there was Shakespeare – a traditional book of sonnets, their rhymes meant to be whispered from lips to ears. Hands to heartbeats. Of his plays she had only Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet to read – tales of maidens who drowned and fell asleep in snake venom deaths for love and the loss of it. Theia made a face, and wondered what kind of answer she would have to come up with to get Hecate to bring her a few more of Jane Austen's titles. Rather she even had Julius Caesar or Macbeth to read – betrayals and knives flashing rather than silly little girls with silly little dreams.
"I'll leave these to you then," Hecate said, her red lips wry and slashing; a cut made as if taken from a blade.
Theia nodded. Against her chest, the little porcelain chip pressed against her heartbeat. "Thank-you," she said, her voice more formal with the gratitude, rather than truly thankful. She was pleased by the books – for the break from her little world in the tiny cell, a moment's escape from her storybook dreams.
Her dreams . . . At that her gaze flickered, and she hid the thought away. Better to ponder that away from Hecate and her too empty eyes. Who knew what sorts of secrets they would steal and swallow.
"Until next time, my dear," Hecate said warmly, but still the title stung. Like a slap. Like unholy lips profaning a prayer was Hecate addressing her so, but she could not understand why she heard it as so. At her thoughts, Theia looked down at the book in her lap, disturbed, though she knew not why.
When the door to her cell shut, and her silence was once again her own, she picked up that first book. She ran her fingers over the spine of the book, over the cover and the title thick engraved upon it. Her fingers read the story before her eyes did; already such a tale before her even before she turned the first page.
She read until the words on the page before her blurred. She read until comprehension left her, and her mind could take no more of syllable and rhyme. When the lights in her cell flickered – Gorgon beyond her telling her that this day was done - she closed the book, and gently placed it down on top of the others, returning it to its brethren for the night.
When she laid down to sleep – limbs curled in close so as to keep her body heat her own (nothing different than cold dungeon nights and thin straw beds), she reached into that hidden pocket, and withdrew the small piece of porcelain she held within.
Once was, the tiny little sliver was sharp, but many such nights with many such touches had dulled it. She remembered when the edges of it could draw blood, but no more. Now, it was smoothed as if it were a river stone by her hand, imperfection done away with by both current and wave above.
"Goodnight," she whispered to the chipped piece, brushing her chapped lips over the china in a tiny kiss, though there was no one to hear. In her hands, the little piece warmed.
Holding it tight, as if it were a talisman against dark and broken things, she laid herself down to dream.
In dreams she remembered.
And in dreams he tried to forget.