Anon prompted: Belle as the princess who did not laugh or smile after her mothers death. Desperate the king sends out an order that whoever can make her smile and laugh wins her hand.

The Price of a Smile

"Papa, why are you doing this?"

It was not one of his better ideas, Sir Maurice would readily admit that. His bright and beautiful girl had not shown any sign of happiness since her mother's death a year ago. He missed her smile, the bright peal of laughter that used to fill the hallways of their home. He had lost his wife, he didn't want to lose his daughter as well.

He had heard of other diplomats and royals sending out decrees through their kingdoms for tournaments, competitions or a mastery of skill to be presented for a prize. Sometimes it was for gold or a position of power but most of the time, it was the hand of marriage for a young lady. It didn't feel right putting his Belle's future out there as a prize but after a year of no joy, something drastic had to be done.

"It's for your own good, sweetness."

She sighed unhappily next to him as they strolled through the corridors to the main hall. "How is this suppose to make me happy? Being married off to the first person to make me laugh?"

He slipped an arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "You're sixteen, Belle. Marriage is on the horizon for you already. And to find someone who can make you smile, laugh and enjoy time spent together is a good foundation for a marriage. It is sturdier than a marriage done for political gain, that is for certain."

Ever quiet and subdued, Belle just ducked her head and kept her silence.

"What would make you happy, Belle?"

"A world that doesn't change."

"Indeed. But how about something that your Papa could manage?"

"Let me have the final say."

He stopped their walk and turned to her to face him. "You will always have the final say. Don't forget what your mother told you."

Belle stared at the floor. "No one decides my fate but me."

The words lacked the conviction he usually heard behind them but hopefully, one day, she would say them with meaning once more.

Tired of the desperate attempts of earning a smile from the knight's sad daughter, Belle escaped from the confines of the castle one afternoon. The village boys had lined up for days with humorous anecdotes, outlandish clothes or trained animals. Although entertaining, none of it brought her joy.

They weren't doing it for her because they cared about her. They were doing it because she held a station in the little sea side village. They were doing it because she was pretty, a little trinket to hang on their arm. These were desperate attempts at winning a prize and it humiliated her every time a boy walked into the court for his attempt. Her father was growing weary of the nonsense as well and would hopefully call it off sometime soon.

She tugged her cloak tighter around her shoulders as she wandered through the marketplace. The merchants were out today, hawking their goods and she hoped to distract herself with the wares from exotic places. Food, fabric, jewelry, there were so many things to look at and wonder about where they came from.

There was one stall that was selling hanks of wool. The spinner herself was sitting in the back working the large wooden wheel while her son was managing the sales. Belle's mother had knitted when she had taken to bed with her illness. She had been working on a shawl for Belle's wedding but never finished. Belle knew she should take up the needles and finish it herself but she couldn't bring herself to do that.

Her eyes roved over the dyed colors that were on display. Her knitting skills were seriously lacking so before setting out to do the intricate patterns her mother had been capable of creating, she should start with something simple and easy. The boy, who couldn't be more than ten, popped up cheerfully on a small stool behind the counter so he could be on eye level with her.

"What are you wishin' to craft, my lady?"

"A scarf, perhaps." Belle pointed to a hank that had been dyed a vibrant red. "What about that one?"

A man standing next to her tutted.

She turned to him in surprise, not realizing he had been standing there when she had approached the booth. He was dressed simply but with quality. His hair was shoulder length with a slight wave and his stature was slight. "Is there a problem?"

He turned his head to her and he smiled slightly. "The red hank is sheep's wool, it would be far too scratchy for a garment worn against the skin. You would do much better with lamb's wool, perhaps with some cotton threaded into the mix."

She turned back to the boy who nodded. "Very well, what colors do you have in that blend?"

"We don't have red but we do have," he produced a deep blue hank, "this one. It would match your eyes, my lady."

Belle nodded. "Very well, I will take that one then."

"Allow me," the stranger reached in front of her and dropped a gold coin into the boy's waiting hand.

"That's not necessary," Belle protested.

"But of course it is," the stranger smiled, his brown eyes both warm and mysterious, "I was the one to convince you of your purchase. It's only right of me to take responsibility for the purchase."

Her father had taught her to be gracious to strangers but she bristled under the assumption that her decisions were not her own. Raising her chin, she dropped her own coin into the boy's hand before moving further into the market square. It wasn't until she stopped in front of a glass blower that she realized she had forgotten the hank of blue yarn and was empty handed.

Swallowing her pride, she turned back and almost ran into the stranger, who was holding her purchase in his outstretched hand. "Looking for this, dearie?"

"Thank you," she managed to mumble through her embarrassment. She tucked the yarn into a hidden pocket on the inside of her cloak. He deserved some appreciation for bringing her the hank after her previous rudeness. "Would you care to walk with me for a spell?"

His smile was slightly bashful. "I would."

Belle started moving through square. "Are you a merchant?" She highly doubted he was since her father knew every one of the merchants and fleet captains that came to their port. She had never seen this man before.

"No, just merely a traveler passing through."

"And your name?"

He paused, longer than necessary for something as simple as a name. "Spindleshanks."

They passed by a market stall that was selling thick carpets from Agrabah. Belle stopped to admire the color work and detail of design. Her father had one similar in the council chamber.

"The carpets of Agrabah are the highest quality you can find," Spindleshanks stated. "So much so, the streets are covered with them."

"No," Belle shook her head. Carpets were made the inside of castles and political chambers, not for the out of doors.

"He's right, my lady," the stall owner answered. "We carpet out marketplaces and streets. It's true."

"You've been to Agrabah?"

The stranger nodded. "Yes, I have. I've been many places. That's why I like coming to markets. It reminds me of all the places I've been."

They moved on slowly and entered into the produce section of the market. "I like to come because it reminds me of my mother."

"Your mother was a merchant?"

Belle shook her head. "Merchant's daughter. But she travelled with her father. She would help set up and run the booth at various marketplaces. It was how she met my father. She would bring me down here when I was a little girl and introduce to me to all these people she had met on her travels."

"You wish to see the world as your mother did."

Belle nodded sadly. "I don't think that will happen now."

"And why not?"

"I will be married soon, most likely, and husbands don't like their wives to travel."

"Not all husbands feel that way." He flashed her a smile. "Not if they're allowed to travel with their wives. It could be quite an adventure really."

"And what of children?"

He shrugged. "Children travel."

Belle felt a small smile tug at the corner of her lips but she quickly stopped it. The boys and men who had come into her father's court she had known but this man she does not know at all. He may not even know about the decree but she wasn't about to risk it and schooled her face into a mask of interest and nothing more.

"So," she said, "tell me about your travels?"

And he did. They spent the afternoon wandering around the marketplace, sampling fruit from across the sea before moving back into the goods portion. He spoke more of Agrabah and the lands beyond it. He told her of islands that dotted the expanse of the ocean and sweetest tasting fruit found there. But it was the western mountains that he spoke of with the most fondness. Apparently he liked the snow more than the tropical weather and preferred the harshness of the mountains than the sweeping sand dunes of the east. It was fascinating, listening to him speak of these faraway places and she suddenly felt the sting of grief even more.

"Dearie?" He gently touched her elbow and seemed to produce a silk handkerchief from nowhere.

She took it with a nod of thanks and dabbed her eyes. "I miss my mother."

"Of course," was he said and continued to lead her through the square.

The stalls and shop fronts were closing up for the evening. She should say her farewells to this mysterious stranger but she couldn't seem to bring herself to leave his company. But he had spent his entire afternoon in her company and surely must have postponed other business to entertain her. There was one thing that she needed to know before she released him to the world and his travels.

"Why were you at the spinners stall?"

A sad smile crossed his face. "I like to watch the wheel. It helps me forget."

"Forget what?"

He looked slightly perplexed for a moment. "I guess it worked."

A trilling laugh came from him and before Belle could stop herself, she was laughing with him. Quickly, she clapped a hand over her mouth and glanced around to see if anyone had noticed her brief outburst. Thankfully, no one seemed to paying her any mind except for her companion.

"Ah," he pointed to her, "so you're the one. Does this mean that I am to go home with a wife?"

Belle sobered immediately. "That was the decree."

He steered her away the dwindling crowd. "How about I make you a deal?"

"A deal?"

"Yes, dearie, a deal. I'll come back when you need me. If you don't want to go with me, I'll give you my help and say the debt is already paid. If you do want to go with me, then you will be my price."

"You're not just a traveler, are you?"

"Are we ever just who we are?"

She replayed the words of his deal in her head. He would return when she needed him. It was her choice to leave or stay when he returned. Either decision would not affect his willingness to help her. It was safe deal as far as she could tell. "The choice will be mine?"

"Of course."

"Alright. I accept your deal."

He bowed deeply. "Then I look forward to our next meeting."

She inclined her head and when she looked up, he was gone. She went back to the castle and when she saw her father, he was the one that she rewarded with a smile which put a quick end to the decree.

The ogres had finally come to their land. The smaller, out lying villages were falling rapidly as the monsters advanced towards the sea...towards them. Belle had refused to leave with the last evacuation to Charming and Snow White's lands. She would not leave her father. There was still a promise that needed to be kept and if her suspicions were correct, the promise was about to be fulfilled.

They were waiting for Rumplestiltskin to come to their aid.

She knew the name he had given her four years ago was not his true name. She had replayed their afternoon in the marketplace over and over again in her mind and his identity could only be that of the Dark One. Why he had chosen to spend an afternoon regaling her with stories, she couldn't figure out but it hardly mattered. They had made a deal. He would come and she would leave with him.

When he finally did appear, she struggled to find the traveler she had encountered. His hair was curlier, his skin a greenish-gray and his eyes were more reptile than man. Gone were the respectable and tame clothes she had seen at their first meeting. He was dressed in leather and spikes. She wondered if this was the Dark One and she had walked with Rumplestiltskin. Would the demon honor the deal she had made with the man?

But then he names his price, which is her, and realizes he does remember. Of course her father and Gaston, her betrothed who she was certain would never become her husband, refused the price. She stopped Rumplestiltskin's retreat and stepped up to him herself. She concentrated on the planes of his face, the curve of his mouth, even the strange eyes, searching for the man she met when she was still a girl. She finally can see him, lurking beneath the surface.

"I will go with him."

He laughed, clapping his hands together while everyone else thinks she's sacrificing herself to a soulless monster. Words spoken from a deathbed from a pleading mother to her independent daughter come back with force as she turns to face her father.

"No one decides my fate but me."

The realization in her father's face was almost enough to undo her confidence in this decision. He looks betrayed but then resigned.

Rumplestiltskin gave her one last chance to back out. "It's forever, dearie."

She remembers his promise. She can chose to stay here and he will still save them. But her mother wanted her to see the world and she wants to do it.

"I will go with you, forever."

She said her good-byes to her father and Gaston. She tried to reassure them that she has no fear in this arrangement but no amount of reassurances will work. She felt a hand splay across her back and Rumplestiltskin whispered words only for her to hear.

"Now is not the time to explain matters, dearie."

She looked at him pleadingly, not wanting to leave her father with worries and fears. He seemed to understand and nodded slightly. She trusted him and moved with the gentle guiding of his hand on her back when Rumplestiltskin spoke again.

"Her father is allowed to see us off, that is all." Once they are out of the war room, he turned to her. "Gather whatever you wish to bring with you and place it in the trunk that you will find in your room. Once the lid is closed and latched, it will disappear. Make sure everything you want is in it before you lock it."

"I understand."

She hurried off to her room and watched as her father and Rumplestiltskin kept moving towards the entrance of the fortress. She wasn't certain what would be discussed, but her father was most likely making pleas for her release. She wondered if Rumplestiltskin would tell him of their prior deal or if he would leave it to her.

True to his word, there was a large trunk open in the middle of her room, waiting for her to add contents to it. She dropped all her petticoats, corsets and underthings in first before laying a couple of her favorite dresses on top. Her small collection of books went next, along with various ribbons, combs, oils, lotions and jewelry that she had acquired over the years and from her mother. There really was nothing else that she wished to take from her childhood home. With a satisfied nod, she closed the trunk and locked it. With one blink, it was gone.

She reached into her empty wardrobe and pulled out the blue scarf that she had made from the hank Rumplestiltskin had purchased for her and twined it around her neck before pulling her cloak over her shoulders and latching it. When she turned towards the door, her father was standing there, solemn and serious. Belle went to him and squared her shoulders.

"This is my choice."

Maurice swallowed. "That's what he said. But that is all he would say."

"It's the truth." She took her fathers arm and started the walk through the corridors of the stronghold that had been a home for as long as she could remember. "Do you remember when you sent out the decree that anyone who would make me smile or laugh, could have my hand in marriage?"

"Of course, but what does that-"

"I met him, Rumplestiltskin, though I didn't know it was him at the time. He was in the marketplace one afternoon and we spent the day together. Right before we parted ways, he made me laugh. He said he would come back at a time when I would need him and that if I wanted to go with him, I could. If I wanted to stay, he would still offer his help and I could stay."

"And you want to go?"

Belle smiled, something that had come increasingly easier since that afternoon in the marketplace. "I do. I want to see the world. Besides, you said that finding someone that makes you smile and laugh is a better foundation for marriage that one made for a political gain."

"Oh Belle-"

"Papa, it'll be fine."

They reached the front entrance where a dark carriage was waiting, Rumplestiltskin standing by the open door. Belle started to step towards him when her father held her back.

"She won't be a prisoner?"

Rumplestiltskin shook his head. "Absolutely not."

"I'll be able to see her?"

"Whenever she wishes it."

"I want your word."

Rumplestiltskin bowed slightly. "You shall have it."

"Papa." Belle waited until he finally pulled his line of vision from Rumplestiltskin to her. "My fate is this." She had known it from that afternoon, before she even knew his actual name. Everyone would see her go off with a monster but she knew she was going with the man. And he wouldn't have come back for her without feeling the same way.

Her father kissed her forehead and finally released her. She gave him the most genuine smile and hoped it would be enough to sway him. When she saw the corners of his mouth release a frown, it gave her hope that he would understand some time in the future. She turned to Rumplestiltskin, who had his hand stretched out, palm up towards her.

"Last chance, dearie. It is forever."

Still smiling she slipped her hand into his. "Forever."

White and gold threads of magic wove around their clasped hands and vanished as quickly as they had appeared.

"Slightly more sturdy than typical wedding vows, my dear."

She gave one last look to her father, pleading for his approval and found it in the slight nod that he gave her as Rumplestiltskin helped her into the carriage. He followed immediately afterward and the carriage lurched forward.

"Now," he rubbed his hands together, "there's a world to see if I remember."

Belle moved to sit beside him, despite his slightly startled expression. "I remember you speaking very highly of the Western Mountains."

He swallowed at her closeness but managed a smile of his own. "Indeed. We'll start with home."