A/N: Hi all! What, I'm back again? Well only kind of. Those nefarious plot bunnies dragged me back, but who cares, Rum/Belle is too awesome. I don't know how often the updates will be since I have other stuff going on, but when inspiration hits ya (or bunny lasers), ya got to write! :3


A soft, bucolic tune hummed pleasantly from Belle's lips as she wandered aimlessly through a field of tawny tall grass. Thins stalks of brown came knee high and swayed in the pleasanlt winds of spring as though pawing at the beauty for attention. A dress of light blue fell to her naked ankles, shifting in the sprightly, warm breeze that joyously whispered the arrival of summer upon the spring winds. Rich brown hair was touseled through the playful wind as she allowed the air to kiss her face and the sun to warm her.

Her bare feet felt the warm moist soil under her toes, softer than the most luxuriant of carpets, as she rambled whimsically through the un-fallowed lands. A year ago the wide field would have been brimming with growing goods from the vassals and fiefs of the kingdom, but that had been before the ogres came to her land, before their peace and prosperity was tested by bloodthirsty monsters wielding spiked maces and donned in battle plate to conquer their home.

Despite her humming a melancholic sigh fell from the beauty's lips as the little tune tapered away with the gently swirling zephyr. The smile fell from her lips into a thoughtful frown. So much had occurred since the beginning of the war and the year that had raged betwixt the armies she was surprised she could even feel happiness anymore. People she had called friends all her life were either dead, fighting, or had shown their true nature by packing up and leaving the kingdom to fend for itself.

Banishing the despondent thoughts of lost home and lost people away, her soft gaze fell to the small cottage nestled on the edge of the large field. The small building was a quaint little domicile, erected of gray stone, and given to them by the widow of a man who died in the first battle with the barbaric ogres.

Instilled with grief and terror the woman had abandoned the home and promised never to come back. A shiver slithered up Belle's spine as she recalled the pitiful scene the woman had made when the dead were brought forth in heaps to be identified.

In her crying and ranting and pulling her long hair she spoke that whispers from the realms of the queen Regina were protected better than the little, back woods realm and its shabby hamlets. It was rumored than even the foulest of cities looked a bustling metropolis compared to even the grandest of one of King Maurice's cities. She had shaken her fist at the corpulent, tired monarch and swore to give her allegiance to some one worthy of leading.

Perhaps it was true, Belle had conceded as the woman was led out, but she had given up home and family and rather conveniently a neat little home far, far away from prying eyes aimed greedily for the wealthy towns and cities.

Neatly tended flowers of blues and dusky purples were edged about the foundation and dangled heavily with the life of spring. Curious, plump bees and butterflies took their fill of nectar and droned about pleasantly, almost lazily, in the afternoon around the home. Besides for the cottage a small red hen house and a lean-to attached barn with a single plump cow pecked and mooed away happily.

Her father, when revealing his plan to send her away, begged her forgiveness for such a paltry, pathetic hovel, but Belle never minded the incredible step down from the lavish courts and gilt rooms. She adored the tiny, clean cottage unlike what nobles and dainty ladies who swooned into a faint at the very thought of such mean living had assumed. Secretively sheadored the stone hovel far better than any castle.

Her papa had sent her there for protection as the battle neared closer to their capital. After their main city of Avonlea had perished to the might of the towering brutes he had at once wanted to move her away from the gore and bloodshed.

Ignoring her protest her father and bride to be had ordered her and one elderly servant to the small cottage lest the ogres win the war, and in turn slay her or worse.

It was a noble gesture to be sure, Belle knew, but the beauty was no timid, fragile flower. She knew how to hold her own with a stiletto blade or even a dirk. Her wits could stand on par with any man and once or twice without her fathers knowing she had fiddled somewhat with troop tactics that helped win decisive battles.

How she desired to be useful, but a woman's place, as many men in her realm thought, was not in the field of battle nor going over worn maps and tactics, but to be far away and wringing her hands in worry. To be helpless galled her to no end; to know she was expected only to raise an heir and look 'pretty' in times of peace made her fume in the depths of her heart!

Oh but despite her outrage she had agreed for the health of her father. The last thing he needed while trying to hire mercenaries to fight and making simple battle tactics was a stubborn daughter. He had pleaded she leave for the sake of her dead mother who would greive to have her child slain at the bloom of life, and that was enough to queel her protest.

"Lady Belle!" Sarah, Belle's plump servant woman and guardian, hailed her from the homely cottage.

Thoughts banished by the kind voice, Belle perched her head to the sound and smiled. Sarah Potts was the picturesque look of a happy, beloved servant. Her light blue mop cap sat snugly over a mass of silver and golden honey curls. She had grown a trifle plump over the years, but she was as hardy as a draft horse and could work from sunup to sundown without a word of complaint. Her eyes were ecthed with aged crows feet, but laugh lines overcame the tiredness that came with being a maid. There was a ruddy quality to her dimpled cheeks that forever made her seem hard working and cheery.

She had served the royal family all her days, and had mostly loved her work. To Belle she had nearly become her mother since her own had passed to the land of shadow when she was but a tottering child.

A dark blue dress hung over her rounded form as she adjusted a small wicker basket in the crook of her arm. She smiled largely as her charge padded towards her like a leaf blow upon the wind as only Belle could. She was proud of her hand in rearing the princess and always liked to tote the fact as perhaps her one vanity.

"Now." She began happily as Belle leaned against the white washed fence that seperated lawn and field. She smoothed her dress free of wrinkles with plump fingers as she spoke in her normal no nonsence fashion. "I've hitched Philippe and we'll be off to town. I'll be back in a week with more supplies." Her smile crumbled to a thing line as her eyes narrowed in good natured suspicion. Far too long had she knew the mischievous, curious Belle and all the thoughts that rambled through her mind always up in the clouds. "I'll expect you not to wander into the forest unless you see sight of ogres. The field is as far as you go."

Belle sighed long suffering. "I promise my dear Sarah." She swore and patted the aging lady's weathered cheek tenderly.

The older woman seemed to chirp slightly in happiness, which reminded Belle of a pleasantly pleased bird, and dipped a small curtsey to the crown princess. "I'll hold you to that promise and I'll expect you not to get into any trouble Lady Belle." She waggled a cautionary finger at her charge. "You're not a young, gangly kneed lass any more gallivanting off on little adventures and stealing tea tarts and going into nooks and crannies to fritter the day away reading. You're a fine woman now, and I hope not to have any mischief from you."

"For that last portion, dear Sarah, I'm afraid I can't swear." The bright eyed beauty laughed merrily as she nimbly scaled the small fence; much to Sarah's irritation. Putting her arm about the plump matron's shoulders she led her to the cart and pawing Clydesdale horse who tossed his mane in eagerness to be off. "Come on. I'll follow you to the end of the path."

Once the pair was no more than a blot in a cloud of gray dust the beauty sighed once more. Her brilliant smile faded like a ray of light marred into the dust. Hands on her sinuous hips she stared forlornly at the tracks of dirt as though they were lines of her heart. Even Sarah had more freedom and adventure than she.

Who would the loving old servant come across in her journey, Belle pondered as her relentless imagination ignited. Bandits, runaway fiefs, vassals, pilgrims or deserters; all the adventures awaiting and she was stuck in remote part of the world! Why did everyone think she was too delicate a nature to take on any adventure. Her father had even worried about the trip to the clandestine sanctuary!

Belle's shoulders slumped dourly as she turned back to head to the cottage like a good daughter of a king would. Knowing Sarah she'd have already set out lunch of a few mushrooms and bread and cheese and leave a detailed note of what goods they hade left as though Belle had not arranged them all herself.

Most of the time she did more work than Sarah, by milking the one cow they had, fetching eggs form the chickens, toiling in the small garden and a host of other things to help the aging Sarah along. Besides, she reveled in the labor. To the beauty, the toil felt good; to know she could actually be useful instead of having servants fetch this and that.

Still, a frown came unbidden to her features. Sarah repelled her help when she could. She did not think it proper for a noble born lady to be doing 'commoner work'. But at least, Belle surmised almost grouchily, commoner work was better than doing nothing at all!

If Sarah Potts had it her way all Belle would do was sit languishing in the shade of the cottage in her finest gown awaiting Sir Gaston to ride up and deliver the news the ogres had been driven away and their marriage could finally be planned.

Such was the life of an exiled princess, she spat inwardly. No one wanted her to do anything and nothing ever, ever happened!

Furious, the young woman kicked at the earth sullenly. Pain erupted in her bare foot as she struck something hard. A yowl of pain blurted from her mouth as she fell to the earth clutching her aching appendage. Part of her prayed the noise had not been taken by the wind to Sarah's ears. In moments she would have galloped back around and re-planned her trip in a few days to see to her ward.

Her foot throbbed abominably as though a hammer struck inside. Taking a peek at her injured foot, she wagered there would be a bruise in the morning, and Sarah would give her cain if she somehow saw the mar. There was nothing broken she could tell, but that did nothing to help her mood.

Had she stubbed her extremity on a rock, she pondered inwardly. Curious as to what had struck, she pawed at the soil grumpily half expecting to feel a rounded stone. Instead, her hand met something hard and firm, but nothing that felt like rock.

Ignoring the throbbing pain in her foot she rested upon her knees, heedless of sullying her dress, and dug at the earth with her hands. "What in the name of-." She paused as she saw the filthy top of an old wooden box.

The box, as dark black as the soil, looked like som ancient artifact. Dirt caked the crevices and mud and muck lined the chest ingrained into every dip and hallow.

Too many it'd look like an old box forgotten on the road way in travel or buried by a young child who thought to keep his treasures safe. The chest looked completely ordinary and yet something nagged the beauty as she scraped away the excess dirt. Wood rotted and by the looks of it a plow would have uprooted or destroyed the box ages ago.

A low murmur of thunder made the beauty jerk her head up. In the distance a mass of gray clouds harried the horizon. The first storm of the coming summer. Without thinking, the beauty snatched up the filthly box in her delicate grasp. Clutching the vessel to her chest she hurried to the cheery cottage, half limping. At least, she surmised with a bit of happines she'd have a little something to keep her occupied if only for an evening.

Rain was just beginning to patter insipidly at the windows as Belle sat down in front of the box. After a quick lunch and a limping scramble to make sure the chickens were safe and cow would not bolt from the attached barn, she put on a clean dress and put a bit of ointment on her bruised foot to soothe the ache.

Now safe inside with all the chores at an end, the beauty was happy to watch the storm rage in all its magnificence whilst she turned her attention to the box on the table. The small wooden box truly did look as though some one had given it to a child. Not even a lock was attached to the lid.

"It could be a ruse." She mumbled to herself, a bad habit she had when alone to long with her ever rambling thoughts and imagination. She tapped a finger to her chin thoughtfully. "It could be a pirate's hoard of jewels or the spell book of a long dead sorcerer."

She was only dreaming, she knew. Something so magnificent could never be real and never be found by 'that strange girl, Belle'. Still, she had to dream.

With a deep breath the beauty steadied herself. The lashing tongues of silver lighting and growl of thunder added to her excitement as her pried open the box slowly. A musty scent, thick and sickening, arose from the box, holding testament to its age. For a moment she though she saw the glint of gold in the candle light, but her shoulders drooped the next moment.

Junk. Child's junk.

A few pretty pebbles, crumpled leaves, a broken toy, one hawk feather, and a rotting straw doll with a stiched smile lay in the old box. All the things a little child would love laid before her.

Despite herself, Belle sighed in disappointment. Placing a hand under her chin she couldn't help but feel cheated. "Always the fool, Belle." She chided herself. How stupid of her to actually think something wonderful and magical lay in the chest!

Perhaps what her father and Gaston said was truth; perhaps all her fervor for books had turned her into a woman with a head of useless information and incredible dreams.

Nudging the box in frustration she had no idea how perilously close to the table precipice the box sat. Before she could move to grab the container the box crashed to the floor in a littered heap of forgotten children trinkets.

Belle sighed, a habit she inwardly told herself to abandon and rose to put all the junk back inside. In the sputtering candles flame her vision caught something silver that lay under the upturned box.

Kneeling, she ignored the childish baubles rolling about on the floor and even the deluge of rain slamming upon the sturdy stone cottage. A piece of thin wood had broken from the tumble and lay in a small heap next to the box.

"False bottom?" She asked herself aloud.

Righting the box, she found only a tiny portion of steel sticking out from a fine satin wrap of blue. The tip of a blade poked out gleaming in the bickering candle light merrily. There wasn't an inch of tarnish upon the exposed sliver setting Belle's curiously into an inferno. What sort of blade under damp earth and in a wooden box did not fall prey to the teeth of tarnish and rust?

As she hefted the blade in her hand, she noticed it was lighter than any steel she'd ever felt, even the dagger she had strapped under her dress was heavier.

Wondrously, almost solemnly she removed the cloth, letting it tumble forgotten to the floor. In her hands rested a kris. The wavy blade was without blemish and the hilt wrapped in supple black leather. The only oddity to the magnificent blade was a named inscribed, nay branded, to the silver steel as a brand was put on sheep and cattle.

Peering intently in the ever darkening light, the beauty read the strange word in a confused whisper. "Rum…Rump…Rumpelst….Rumpelstiltskin?"

In an instant the wildly guttering candle light flames died. Not even a wisp of gray smoke curled to the air. The pattering rain halted, but the clouds did not whisk away. Heat evaporated into a chilling coolness that made her breath appear before the startled beauty. It was a though the very elements had ran away in fear leaving all else to fend for itself.

A malicious presence roiled into the homely cottage like dark fog. In her minds eyes, or perhaps her terror ridden mind, purple mists curled under her feet like the vapors of a dangerous morass before vanishing like smoke. The shutters once open, but secured, clattered wildly though the wind had died down to nothingness. And then it all stopped.

In moments though the noise had quieted, the rain began again, and the house seemed normal she knew another…thing stood in the room with her. She couldn't see the thing, but she could feel the tangible presence and hear the steady, soft breath behind her.

The hairs upon her arms and the back of her next danced upon end. Blood pounded through her ears and her heart jerked wildly. Clasping the leather dagger handle for all she was worth, the brave beauty gulped and stood in one motion. With the blade tight next to her drumming heart slamming against her bosom, she turned about ready to stab, even if she could, at the thing that had entered her home.

Taking a deep breath she bolstered herself and turned about. No one was there. In the drab grayness of failing light from the world nothing met her gaze. Perhaps the storm and her imagination had gotten the best of her. For a moment the beauty breathed a sigh of relief, briefly flickering her gaze down to the mess left on the floor.

A cry of terror nearly wrench past her lips as she viewed a wiry, leather garbed…thing upon its hands and knees in the shadows before her. It's face was turned to the floor leaving a curtain of long, fifthly, matted brown hair covering its features. She wished to scream, but the noise could not be strangled from her numb throat.

For long, tortuous moments for the beauty neither spoke. Both simply breathed; Belle in terror and the creature in exhaustion or fury, or mayhap both.

After what felt like forever to the beauty it spoke in low subservient tones laced with a trill. "You called, my mistress." The thing hissed, but there was no denying the intense anger under the words. In what little light that could be seen from the creature its hands, or claws gripped at the floor until marks scored the cold stone.

"I…I called you…?" Belle replied in a stammer, more surprised the straggly haired thing could speak than what it claimed she'd done.

It was obvious the being was trying to rise, but there it remained upon its hand and knees, its head down amidst a veil of straggly brown hair as though riveted to the floor and the shadows. He might have snarled, but Belle could not be sure with his presence mostly adumbrate. "It is my name on the dagger, mistress. You summoned and your slave must come."

The beauty's mind whirled crazily. Names, summoning? "I don't understand." She peered more intently into the blackness where the being was shrouded. "Who are you? Will you please come into the light?"

The thing leapt to its feet in the blink of an eye. It wasn't particularly tall, yet still dread pooled in Belle gut. With one long step it strode vilely into the dying light of the window. His skin glittered like gold and gray ash in the last, sullen rays of day and his eyes were a voided black without orb or iris.

Belle stifled a scream of abject terror and stepped back till her body hit the cold wall like a trapped rat in front of a ravenous tiger. She clutched the dagger for dear life, reveling in the little safety the weapon gave. Her hair rebelliously wafted over her face, but she had forgotten any discomfort in front of the thing before her.

He glared at her furiously, his mouth pursed as tough he did not wish to speak. His jaw was locked tightly and yet his mouth opened anyway as though not under his own volition. "My name is Rumpelstiltskin, the Dark One." His face twisted in disgust as though he had just eaten something poisonous he was trying to spit out. "And I am now your slave."