Rumplestiltskin and Belle stood in the great room taking stock of the damage. Several of the tapestries were beyond repair, as were much of the furniture and the carpets. As they marveled at the smoky ruins, Belle slipped an arm around Rumplestiltskin's waist.
"With a good cleaning and a little polish, I think the table could be saved," Belle said.
Rumplestiltskin nodded. He looked at her warmly as he tentatively wrapped an arm around her shoulders. She responded to his touch by swiveling around into a full embrace. He breathed in the sweet floral scent of her hair which she had combed with her fingers and tied back with a piece of ribbon. Even now he felt the press of the wall.
The room was set to rights easily with a wave of his hand. All the damaged furnishings were removed and replaced with new ones from his endless collection. The debris and dirt vanished. The walls were patched and layered with a fresh coat of paint. Later, over a light meal of bread, fruit, and cheese, they spoke quietly about the future.
They agreed the marriage should be small, private, and held as soon as possible. They would travel to Odenhad in the morning and make the arrangements with the cleric. After the ceremony, they would return to the Dark Castle. Rumplestiltskin knew word would spread quickly about their marriage. He did not tell Belle about Jefferson's hat. There would be time for all of that.
There was much that he would have to make time for after the wedding. He had never told her about Milah's death. The list of his transgressions stretched on for ages. He told himself that she did not want to know these things and that she did not need to know his sordid history. But, was it fair to bind the girl to himself in ignorance? Guilt plagued him. One day, she would discover the whole truth: she loved a monster incapable of change. He could not amend the past, and he could not alter who he was. Their love could not exist as it did forever. And she would leave. Unless…
After Belle had retired to her room, he flew up the stairs to his study. He summoned a handful of gold threads from his treasury and set them out on his desk beside the two remaining hairs he had plucked from Belle's head. With a jerk, he added two hairs of his own to the pile. He passed his hands over the thin strands. The hair took on a shade of silver. Once enchanted, the filaments moved, weaving hundreds of interlacing knots. The ends attached and welded themselves together, tucking into the rest of the design so that not even Rumplestiltskin could unravel the pattern.
In his hand he now held two rings, identical save for their difference in size. He inspected the craftsmanship. This was a contract unlike any other he had ever drafted. It was forged not of ink or parchment but of gold and True Love. It was eternally binding. Once Belle slipped this little golden ring on her finger, she would be joined to him forever. She would be unable to remove the ring from her finger or herself from his presence. The same would be true for him for better or worse—worse being the more likely of the two.
The next morning, Belle blushed when she stepped into the great room. The bloom of color on her cheek matched the hue of her dress which loosely skimmed the curves of her body. Her hair hung free and flowing about her shoulders. She was radiant. As she passed by his seat, he caught her hand.
"Belle, I have something for you."
He held open his hand revealing the two rings. Belle picked them up to examine the fine details in the morning light.
She marveled, "You made these? They're beautiful." She handed the larger one back to him.
"Don't—" he started to caution her, but before he could get the words out, she slipped the smaller ring onto her delicate finger. She was not meant to wear it until the ceremony. He had not planned to tell her about the enchantment unless she expressed an interest in leaving him.
Belle must have noticed his distress because she furrowed her brow and said, "I don't understand. Is it bad luck to try on a wedding ring? You should know, I don't believe in luck."
With a broad grin she deposited herself into his lap and placed her arms on his shoulders. She embraced him quickly, lingering a few moments to press her cheek against his. It was long enough to awaken a desire which was only growing more urgent by the minute.
Distracted and unnerved, he suddenly felt awkward. He could not decide whether he should place his hands on the small of her back or leave them settled on the armrest of the chair. He stammered quietly, "Once you've slipped it on your finger, you can never be free of me." How did she always manage to elicit such frankness from his lips without a single word?
She ran her fingers through his hair. "Of course, that's what wedding rings are for." She removed her hands from either side of his head, removing the ring without difficulty. She held it up between her thumb and index finger with a smile.
"I don't understand," he said in amazement. None of his spells or enchantments had ever been so easily broken. "The ring—it's enchanted. You shouldn't be able to take it off."
Belle handed the ring back to him, choosing not to be angry at the manifestation of his insecurity. "You tried to enchant me with this? I told you before, Rumplestiltskin. Magical objects are mere shades of true magic. You don't need a shadow to bind me to you." She placed his hand over her heart then laid her hand over his, "My heart is yours. We are bound already. That ring is a symbol of the love in my heart—nothing more."
She rose to go and bring in the tray for breakfast. She called over her shoulder, "But, it is very pretty."
He flipped the rings over in his hand. He mumbled to himself, "Should have been a jeweler."
"A wedding?" the old priest questioned as he looked from one to the other. On the left was a shining beauty with clear eyes the exact shade of an ocean wave. On the right sat the grim, gilded imp who had so recently saved the entire village from certain death. "Tomorrow?"
"If you can manage it," the young lady beamed.
"It's to be a small affair, very small," added the Dark One. "Take whatever gold you feel is an adequate compensation for the inconvenience." The creature known as Rumplestiltskin squirmed in his seat, wearing his desperation like an ill-fitted vest.
The priest cleaned his spectacles and cleared his throat. Gold was not the issue. Father Andrew was not entirely certain he should perform the ceremony. Could a demon, even a helpful one, wed a maid? The glare in Rumplestiltskin's eye told Andrew he could and should if he valued his life as a man of the cloth instead of a frog in the pond.
"Of course. At midday, you said?"
"Yes," they answered in unison.
The priest was glad the young lady had accompanied Rumplestiltskin into the church. Had she not, he would have doubted her willingness, her soundness of mind, and even her very existence. But, here she sat, looking very much like every other bride-to-be on the day before her wedding. However Rumplestiltskin had managed to win her heart, he would never know.
After discussing the business of matrimony, the couple promised to return the following day. As they stepped out of his drawing room, the priest called, "One more thing: You'll need witnesses."
They glanced at each other nervously. The maid shook her head. Rumplestiltskin answered, "We have none."
The priest held up a hand and offered, "I'll take care of it."
Rumplestiltskin paced nervously in the wings of the altar. He pulled at the collar of his tunic which chaffed his neck. Tradition insisted that both the bride and the groom be clothed in white linen. It was an unfortunate color and one he had unequivocally avoided since his descent into darkness. With a flick of his hand, he let the stitching out a bit. He took a deep breath, tossed his head, and said, "Much better."
Father Andrew took his place at the altar. Book in hand, he gave a little wave to the apses on either side. It was their signal to approach. Rumplestiltskin's knees nearly buckled at the sight of Belle in her bridal gown. It was pure white with sheer flowing sleeves. A golden sash settled on the curve of her hips and trailed off down the front of her skirt, dividing her body in perfect, equal halves. She had stepped out of another century, one that had been happier for him.
The church was empty save for the three of them. The priest checked a small pocket watch which hung from the end of a ribbon serving as a bookmark. He pushed his spectacles up to the bridge of his nose and said, "We'll wait just a moment or two for the witnesses to arrive."
Belle rocked back and forth on her heels making a soft clicking sound on the stone altar. The little white flowers woven into her hair bobbed gently with the motion. She glanced up at Rumplestiltskin, smiled demurely, and dropped her eyes again.
The church doors opened. A man entered carrying a violin. He was dressed fashionably but modestly. Rumplestiltskin thought him familiar but could not place him. The man approached the altar, gave a slight bow to both bride and groom, and took a seat in a chair provided at the front of the church. He struck up an elegant melody. The doors opened again, and a small child, a little girl, skipped in and tossed flower petals on the aisle. She was followed by another girl who handed Belle a bouquet of white roses. Another child, a little boy, offered Rumplestiltskin a single white rose to fix to his tunic. Anna waved hello as she stepped in and placed a small bunch of flowers on the edge of the front pew. John followed her, lighting several candles at the front of the church.
More and more people processed into the sanctuary, each one carrying a single decoration. The church transformed before their very eyes. Soon, it was illuminated with dozens of candles, ribbons, garlands of ivy, and flowers. Men filed in carrying chairs and were hurried off to an adjoining alcove where a table had been set up. A series of cakes and other dishes were laid on the table, decorated in similar fashion as the rest of the church. The people continued to file in, filling every seat, standing in the back when there was no more room.
Rumplestiltskin felt a hand take his. He looked up and saw that Belle's eyes had filled with tears. "Love never stands alone," she whispered loud enough for his ears only.
The last person who crossed the threshold of the chapel was Lord Desmond. He was greatly changed since their last meeting. His eyes were no longer swathed in heavy dark circles. His face was fuller, and his complexion was robust. His immaculate clothes bespoke of his wealth. The black armband which encircled his biceps indicated the sorrow of the loss which he shared with his people. However, he smiled as he walked up the aisle.
"We can work magic too," Desmond laughed. He winked at Belle and nodded at Father Andrew who began the service.
"Today we gather as a fellowship of friends to witness the union of these two who stand before us."
A lump formed in Rumplestiltskin's throat. Friends. A hint of a smile played at the corners of his mouth. He had healed their bodies in a single afternoon, but what they offered would last for a lifetime. Once again, his was the greater profit. He had won the friendship and respect of an entire village.
The priest continued, "If anyone has any reason to declare why these two should not be joined in the sacred bonds of matrimony, speak now." The brief pause stretched into decades.
Before all of Odenhad they pledged their vows of eternal faithfulness, devotion, and love. Belle's voice was clear and sure. His sounded small compared to hers; however, he spoke the words with more conviction than he had felt in decades.
Father Andrew methodically proceeded through the ceremony. "Let us continue the service with the exchange of rings." He held the two golden bands up in the air and continued, "These seamless circles, without beginning or end, serve as a symbol of the love we feel which binds us to one another."
Belle smirked. She mouthed, "Symbol."
His hand shook just a little as he slid the ring onto her finger. Her hand was as steady as her gaze as she gently pushed the band onto his. The feel of a wedding ring was not unfamiliar. It awakened an emotion with which he was well-acquainted: fear. As the priest spoke, Rumplestiltskin fiddled furtively with the ring. It held fast.
"Marriage is the most blessed of contracts."
And binding, thought Rumplestiltskin as he pulled against the ring. Although it had slipped off Belle's finger as easily as if it had been dipped in butter, he could not budge it. Belle looked at him with concern in her eyes. He smiled apologetically.
"In marriage there is no fear, only faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love, which provides a barrier against all hate, covers any evil, and provides a shelter from all of life's storms. In this sacred trust, we find the full and free expression of the affection we feel for one another."
Rumplestiltskin was close to panic. What had he done? They were bound together by symbol and ceremony. How could he ever hope to make Belle happy when he could not provide the full and free expression of his love? He would forever be forced to hold her at a distance. The bloom of her love would fade and wither. She had cursed herself by marrying him.
"Now, by the power invested in me by the gods, the church, and this community, I pronounce you husband and wife. I invite you to enjoy your new freedom and kiss your bride."
Belle's mouth fell open, and she glanced first at the priest and then at Rumplestiltskin. She held up her hand as if to apologize. In their urgency to schedule the ceremony, they had forgotten to mention the necessary alteration to tradition. Now, in front of all these people, Rumplestiltskin would be forced to humiliate his bride by denying her his affection. But, when he looked once more into her eyes, full of love without condemnation, he struck his final bargain as the Dark One, exchanging a lifetime of shadow for a lifetime of happiness—however long that life might last.
His lips brushed against hers for the first time since that fateful night in the early spring. With an eagerness that pulled from the center of his being, he reached for Belle and pressed her close against him. In her lips there was a softness he wished to sink into and rest forever. The longing of three hundred years of loneliness and blackness drove them together in such passion, he was only vaguely aware of the cheer from the congregation. He stopped only to catch his breath, but it would not come. Beneath his feet, the floor was shaky and unsteady.
He clung to Belle, forehead leaning against forehead, and whispered, "I'm spinning."
"So am I," she whispered, her lips brushing against his cheek.
"Don't let me go," he pleaded, afraid he would fall.
"Never," she vowed as he leaned into her all the more. The woozy feeling returned, stronger than that first evening by the great wheel. Like the draining of a wound, he felt all the blackness leaching from his body. It was painful, dizzying, and disorienting. He shook his head, but the feeling did not subside. He was emptying out, becoming hollow. His lips found hers again, and they stood before the crowd which had gone deathly silent.
A loud, sardonic laugh came from the back of the church. The townspeople parted way to make room for Queen Regina, dressed for the occasion. Belle and Rumplestiltskin glanced in her direction as she loped down the aisle, flinging her elaborate black sequined skirts to the sides with dramatic flare.
Rumplestiltskin quickly looked down at his hands. The nails were smooth and pink. He pushed back the sleeve of his tunic. The skin on his arms matched the pale flesh on his hands. As quickly as the hollowness came, it began to ebb away. The emptiness slowly filled with a light which warmed from within. He looked at Belle who confirmed the change with the slightest nod of her head. Even now she was smiling at him, her hands clasping his. She was luminous.
"Belle, I'm so sorry. The dark power is gone." Belle did not let release him. Her eyes were full of joyful determination. She turned to stand beside him, her dark hair flowing over her shoulders, and share in his fate.
Regina smirked, "Well, well, well, the Dark One takes a bride. Let me be the first to congratulate the happy couple. But, wait, it appears you're no longer the Dark One. You're Rumplestiltskin, the coward." Regina shot a sardonic look at Belle, adding, "Just an ordinary man!" She fired one mighty crimson blast with a force that extinguished the candles at the altar. It was aimed directly at Rumplestiltskin.
The congregation gasped as a brilliant white light filled the church, temporarily blinding those who did not shield their eyes. Within this radiance all other colors were contained. The light was accompanied by a noise not unlike the sound of a sword being pulled from its scabbard, but longer like the note of a song. A second, dimmer, light flickered briefly and then was gone.
As the brightness slowly faded, vision returned to the congregation. The people of Odenhad saw Belle and Rumplestiltskin standing, chests heaving in front of the altar. Regina had vanished. Belle stood with an arm protectively shielding her husband whose posture was far more aggressive. With one arm wrapped around Belle's waist and the other extended, he looked as if he were headed to battle. The effect was a strangely defiant protective embrace. A two-person army. The congregation cheered again.
"What's happened?" Rumplestiltskin asked.
"I don't know," she stammered.
"A mirror!" Rumplestiltskin shouted. "Quick!" Several pairs of footsteps echoed off the stone floor of the cathedral.
"But, the queen?" Belle asked hesitatingly.
Rumplestiltskin could not take his eyes off of Belle. He answered, "I don't think we have to worry about her anymore."
As they waited, Belle glanced down at her dress, probably to see if it was singed. She caught a glimpse of something pale like moonlight, but soft in texture. She picked it up and rolled it between her fingers. "My hair!" she called out. It was the first time he had ever heard panic in her throat.
Rumplestiltskin cupped her face in his hands, "It's beautiful. You're beautiful." He kissed her lips once more.
She could not see it, but she was transfigured. Her hair was not the only aspect of her being which had been altered. Her eyes, once the color of a summer sky, were paler now, the color of ice melting in the first thaw of spring. Her skin was fairer and all about her was a faint shimmering aura. The stunning dress was even more becoming now, drawing attention to her new grace rather than to the fabric itself. Someone handed him a mirror, which he pushed into Belle's hands.
She mumbled, "The White Lady."
She glanced up at Rumplestiltskin with her new eyes and held up the mirror in kind. Hers was not the only metamorphosis. He expected to peer into the face of the shepherd he had abandoned on that cursed night so long ago. While his skin was devoid of the gilded tint which had at times appeared as scales, he didn't resemble the man from his past either. Time had slipped away from his features, leaving him neither old nor young. His complexion glowed with the warmth of a hundred summers in open fields. His eyes, which had once been a dark brown, were lighter now like amber. His hair was the color of freshly cut straw. He smiled, and his teeth were familiarly positioned, but free of stain and decay. The faint light which illuminated his features glowed within him as well.
"What's happened?" he asked in wonder. A force of habit, he waved his hand in the direction of the unlit candles. They ignited instantly. The new light, which had slowly begun to fill his soul, overflowed.
A tinkling voice just above his head caught his attention, "You have become what you were always meant to be, Rumplestiltskin."
It was Rheul Gorm, the Blue Fairy. He shuddered slightly at the sight of her blue wings shimmering in the candlelight. When had she arrived and how had she known where he was? How very like a fairy. He felt a mild sense of irritation at her presence. Some feelings did not die as quickly as a curse.
"What am I—" his eyes darted toward Belle who was so like him, "What are we?"
The Blue Fairy shook her head, "I do not know. I have never seen magic like this. You are new creations, forged in the bonds of love."
"Old magic," Belle whispered excitedly. She pressed his hand, and he felt the power within him grow stronger.
He kissed her cheek and whispered back, "The best magic." To the Blue Fairy, he said, "There are so many questions."
"None of which, I'm afraid, I can answer," answered the Blue Fairy, who intentionally fluttered just out of reach.
Belle pressed his hand, "We'll find the answers together."
"Yes," he murmured. Testing the limits of his second sight, he was almost overpowered by the force of his vision. He might have stumbled had Belle not held tightly to his arm. He saw the two of them wandering the worlds together. Helping, saving, building, advising, and, always, loving. He saw their great power, greater than any he had ever encountered. They needed no potions, spells, or talismans. There was no need to bottle True Love. It flowed freely between them, passing from heart to heart, the source of their power. With love, he saw they would overcome all obstacles. With love, all things were possible.
Belle, who appeared to have seen the same vision, wondered out loud, "Do you think we could find Baelfire?"
"I don't know," answered Rumplestiltskin. He considered the way Belle had loved him and what it had accomplished. He added, "Love always hopes."
She answered, "Love never fails."
First, I want to say thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to read True Magic. I hope you enjoyed it! I would love to know what you think of my story. All your comments are welcome, so feel free to leave a review below. For those who have written reviews, please know how much it meant to me. I treasure each one.
Great big Oncer Hugs to all who voted and helped True Magic win "Best Multi-Chapter Fanfiction" in the 2013 Once Upon a Fan Awards. Your love & support for this story is humbling. The other nominees are truly gifted writers, and if you haven't read Hooked, you're really missing out on a fantastic adventure and some stirring Rumbelle feels!
Finally, I have to thank the creative team behind ABC's hit show "Once Upon a Time." Without your efforts, imagination, and talent, this story would not exist. Thank you for letting me borrow your world and your characters.
If you enjoyed this story, please look at my other OUAT fanfiction, also available on this site. Feel free to contact me on Twitter ( BrookeSummerlin). I love talking about the show with other Oncers.
Love and Blessings,
Brooke Summerlin, A Petal on the Rose