Notes: I've been working on this story for a ridiculously long time and have only just gotten up the courage to post it. It's an Alternate Reality Rumbelle romance, which sometimes likes to pretend it's an epic drama.

Disclaimer: This is a not-for-profit work of fiction, I do not claim ownership of the characters or settings in this story.



Light can never love the darkness, not truly, not as it should. When light looks at the dark all of the shadows are burned away and all it sees is its own reflection. It might know, deep down, that what it's looking at isn't the reality of the darkness, that the darkness is beyond its own comprehension, but it will always secretly believe that there exists something that just isn't there. And darkness, in turn, can never love the light. How could you ever love something that burns with its touch?

Something that can never see you for what you are, and can never accept you?

Only shadows can love the darkness. Only night calls to night. Only night lets you see the stars that daylight burns away.

I am shadows. You are night. And I can see your stars.



In subtle ways she has always been reminded that she is the reason for her mother's absence. It's in the way her father looks at her sometimes, as if he's seeing someone else, someone older than she is, someone with darker hair. The look will be there, wistful and sad, but soon replaced with an affectionate smile for a favourite (for an only) daughter. There's a portrait in her father's sitting room that mocks her with its similarity to her reflection. Lips that look like hers, the shape of her nose, eyes that but for their colour could have been hers, and hair that is just a shade too dark. As if the painter were trying to recall her from memory, or from a description given by someone who has never seen her up close.

Belle tries never to look at that painting, and keeps her own small copy of her mother's image tucked away out of sight. Whenever she slips, whenever she finds herself looking at those pale greenish eyes, she remembers something that sends an unpleasant chill down her spine. The words of a stable-boy, no more than a year or two older than she, angry at her for something she can't now recall. How she's the reason her mother is dead. How the whole castle knows that Sir Maurice begged the healer to forget the child and spare his wife. Belle, the boy had said, has stolen her mother's life to save her own.

In tears, little Belle had run off crying to her nursemaid. But instead of telling the truth she had shown the woman her dress, dirty from playing in the stables, and told her the boy had pushed her down and struck her. Even then she'd known that Lady Constance's death was not a thing to be talked about. And, secretly, she had wondered if the boy was right. If she had stolen her mother's life.

It would have explained the satisfied little smile that graced her lips when she heard that the stable-boy had been dismissed, and the rebellious thought that he should have been whipped. If she had stolen another's life in order to live, it would explain the thoughts she had sometimes. Dark thoughts, best kept to herself.

Thoughts that never once left her lips.

Outwardly, as she grew from girl to adolescent, Belle remained the perfect noblewoman. Kind, humble, courteous, and dutiful. She learned her lessons without complaint, seeming to enjoy the simple beauty of fine sewing and embroidery as much as she seemed to enjoy the learning of accounts and politics. She was pleasant, and beautiful, and by her sixteenth birthday already her father had been tentatively approached by several families about potential marriages.

But Maurice always hesitated at the idea of sending his daughter away, so even though sixteen was a perfectly good age to marry, he claimed (politely, always politely) that his daughter was too young yet for marriage, but that he would happily talk of marriage in a year or two. Belle always smiled when she heard of that, giving her father a fond look. Secretly she was pleased, for although she felt she had little freedom to be herself while under her father's roof she knew full well she would have even less under the roof of a husband.

She was seventeen when the first whispers of a war made their way to their little border town. News carried by travelling tradesmen and refugees who were already fleeing the lands across the border spoke of ogres. Belle was there in her father's council room when the news broke, and she felt an odd flutter in her breast that wasn't fear. War - if it came to that - would mean many sudden differences to their little country fiefdom. It would mean many sudden differences to her duties. And though she would never see a battle up close, it would mean staunchly tending to the wounded and listening to the terrible tales of those who survived each battle.

"We must pray that it doesn't come to that," her father said gravely, and sent the messenger off to the kitchens for a good hot meal before he left.

"Yes," Belle agreed aloud, bowing her head solemnly. But in private, after dismissing her maids from her bedchamber of a night, Belle secretly prayed for the war to come. She didn't think about the lives that would undoubtedly be lost, or the cost to the kingdom, only the differences it would mean for her, the excitement and uproar.

Over the next few months there is more news as the war creeps ever closer to their borders. Belle found herself being given more tasks that take place in the still room, brewing, stockpiling and inventorying. She found herself overseeing the cutting and storing of linen, checking the wells, and buying more grain than usual. She wound her way through larders and sculleries, graciously thanking the maids and scullions who take the time to help her at her tasks. The only place she wasn't allowed to help was the armoury. Maurice had put his foot down on that. His daughter was to be kept far, far away from sharp objects and heavy plate armour, just in case his noble-minded child got any bright ideas.

Belle knew what he was afraid of, but she had too much self preservation to want to try and join the guard or pretend to be a knight. She's not so stupid as to think one girl in plate armour would make much of a difference, and not noble enough to try it anyway.

Then the dam breaks, and the first ogres are sighted near the border. And all of a sudden, Belle finds herself in a nightmare she never could have imagined. She wakes one morning to the sound of horses trotting through the courtyard, the sounds laid over by the chink of armour and the voices of many men. She dresses herself as quickly as she can without the help of a maid, choosing a more simple dress than normal for its lack of ties and difficult laces. And by the time she arrives in the greater hall it's done. Without her knowledge, or her consent, without so much as a word of apology.



Maurice smiles at her as she approaches. The knight beside him, standing tall and proud in brightly polished armour, smiles at her as well. It's a polite smile, she thinks, and an assessing gaze. She can feel his eyes rake over her, down, then back up again, lingering for a moment at her hips.

"Ah, Belle," Maurice greets her warmly. "Just in time. Sir, may I present to you my daughter, Lady Belle of Avonlea. Belle, this fine young fellow is Sir Gaston of the duchy of Widow's Marsh. His father, Lord Henly, has agreed to send us a contingent of troops to fight the ogres."

"In exchange for your hand," Gaston adds, with a slight bow that she thinks is meant to appear gallant.

For a moment Belle is too shocked to make any kind of reply. She curtsies, remembering that courtesy at least. "Sir Gaston," she murmurs, recalling the sounds of men on horses and imagining a squad of knights milling about in the courtyard. She's heard of Widow's Marsh, of course. She knows of the duke, remembers hearing at some point that he'd had a son. "It's a pleasure to meet you," she says finally, a polite smile on her lips.

Gaston smiles back at her. An open, honest expression for an open, honest man. A perfect nobleman, looking for a perfect noble bride. Belle's beauty and breeding had always been expected to capture the attention of a lord. Widow's Marsh is large and prosperous. Even if he would miss seeing her mother's face around the castle, her father would be pleased with the match. Especially if it gave him the means to fight off their ogre invaders.

Pleasantries pass between them as Belle curses them both in her head, her smiles giving nothing away. For the next few days the castle is a hub of activity and she has no escape from her fiancé'. If she isn't being trapped into pleasant conversations and 'getting to know you' dinners, she's forced to listen to the servants gossiping about him and his knights. By the end of the first week her smile feels as if it's beginning to grow brittle. By the end of the second she knows it is, but by then there have been some attacks and brittle smiles are seen on more than one face.

A month, and half of the knights that Sir Gaston had brought with him are dead. Another week, and half of those left are either dead or fled. In desperation Belle's father sends a messenger to the King to ask for help. Belle thinks she may not be the only one who doubts the message will arrive in time.

They enter a siege a few days later. The ogres are surprisingly few, but it seems they don't need many to cause such terrible destruction. Belle watches their lands get torn to shreds from the window in her solar, stone-faced and silent. She attends her father's council meetings - meetings that have begun to grow in both size and desperation as more and more of the richer merchant families send representatives to speak to Maurice. She begins to dress ever more opulently and impractically, for if she is going to die in a siege or be crushed to death by rampaging ogres she may as well have some enjoyment before she does. And lately there has been little enjoyment to have. It seems only natural to her when some of the others follow suit, even her father beginning to dress in his finer court clothing instead of the comfortable cloaks and tunics of a country noble.

This particular meeting, Belle noted, everyone seemed to have followed suit. She saw velvets and slightly faded brocades where normally she would see plain linen and embroideries done by wives or daughters. And this particular meeting was also particularly grim. The last of Gaston's knights had just succumbed to his injuries in the infirmary. Uncharitably, Belle found herself wondering why it couldn't have been him. Now, even if they were somehow spared, she would not be. This meeting was a funeral either way, she felt. The death of the fief, or the death of her spirit locked away in a loveless (at least from her perspective) marriage. It could only be more depressing if the servants brought in a tray of dead kittens instead of the usual weak tea and stale biscuits.

A sudden commotion brought Belle to focus again, away from her dour thoughts. Something was happening out in the corridor, she thought, just as the doors to the council room burst open and in pranced the oddest, most bizarre looking man she had ever seen, followed by a contingent of hastily promoted peasant guards in ill-fitting uniforms.

He was dark-skinned, so much so that at first she thought he must be one of the foreigners from across the sea, but there was a quality to his skin that she had seen nowhere else. A kind of sparkle in the light, and a shade that was too close to grey or green to be anything natural. The oddity of his colouring was only enhanced by his choice of clothing - bold leather coat, high black boots, dark suede pants, and a hint of tarnished gold lace underneath a dark, high necked waistcoat. Expressive, long-fingered hands fluttered at his sides, tipped with dark pointed nails. This, she realised, would be the famed Rumpelstiltskin. With the guards trailing behind him like an entourage of nervous banner men he looked almost like a lord. Belle noted the sly expression on his face and thought; Almost.

"Sir," one of the guards was saying, barely a step behind the man and obviously trying to catch him before he came too far in, "sir, you can't -"

"I can," Rumpelstiltskin told him, voice an amused sort of trill, "and I will." Fingers flicked, and the guard clapped his hands to his mouth, eyes wide above them, while something wet and pink flopped to the ground in front of him.

A tongue, Belle realised, eyes wide. No blood, and still moving as if it were trying to talk, but a tongue just the same.

"And now that we've got that out of the way..." Rumpelstiltskin smiled sweetly, lips pressed together in an expression that mocked politeness. "I hear you're having a bit of trouble with some ogres. I might be able to help... for a price."

"You," Maurice greeted the implike man with such fierceness that Belle was convinced they must have met before, "we want nothing from you."

"Oh? Not even the lives of all your lovely peasant folk? Your merchants? Your... family?" Dark eyes swept lazily towards Belle.

Both Gaston and her father moved in front of her, a move so flawless it might as well have been rehearsed. Their backs blocked her view, but she could hear his giggle just fine. She saw her father shift, heard him clear his throat and ask; "What do you want? We can offer you gold."

"I don't want your gold. I make gold. No no no, for this..."

From the way half the room draws back from him, the way her father and fiancé recoil, Belle can guess where he's looking. She steps a little to the left so she can peer through the gap between Gaston and her father. As she's suspected, those dark eyes are fixed squarely upon her face.

"No. Out of the question," Gaston says, acting as if the matter is his to decide. Worse, Maurice chimes in with; "You can not have my daughter. Anything else. Not her."

"What a shame." Rumpelstiltskin smiles, sickly sweet. "No deal then." He turns to leave, past the guard who is still staring, horrified, at the tongue wiggling on the floor in front of his toes.


The man stops, but doesn't turn. The entire room turns to stare at her, and Belle realises that she's just spoken aloud. "Wait," she repeats, voice a little shakier now that she's begun. "Your terms? Me? That's it?" Belle feels her hands begin to shake and clasps them in front of herself. "In what -in what capacity were you wishing me, sir?" She waits for an answer (the whole room waits for an answer) but none comes, so she barrels on as politely as she can. "Wife?" He doesn't move. "Mistress?" Nothing. "Servant?"

The imp takes a single step back and turns slowly to face her, a theatrical move. He knows he's got the upper hand now, knows they're dancing to his tune whether they want to or not. "As it happens," he says cheerfully, "I am in the market for a caretaker. The last one died, terrible mess, such a shame, turns out not everyone is entirely familiar with the concept of 'forever'." An almost invisible eyebrow arches. "Are you familiar with 'forever'?"

"I am," Belle confirms, even as her father finally finds his voice; "Belle, no! You can't possibly be thinking straight. We will not deal with this... demon!"

Belle turns to her father with her most potent weapon, one she has never had to use on him. She stares at him with her mother's face and tells him; "If you won't, then don't. I decide my own fate, father. This is my choice to make." She looks back at Rumpelstiltskin. "Will you make sure that my friends, my family, our people, are unharmed? That they'll live, safe from the threat of ogres?"

"I can," he confirms. "And I will. Just say the word, dearie."

Belle unclasped her hands and gestured towards the mute guard. "He gets his tongue back."

He looks amused. "Of course."

"Then I will go with you, forever, and be your caretaker."

"Deal!" Rumpelstiltskin crows, above the sudden din of outraged voices. They can be outraged now, Belle thinks, because they know they are safe. They wouldn't dare if they thought there was any danger, if she hadn't just made sure of their protection. Filled with butterflies, trembling from head to toe, Belle still manages to push her way between her father and her former (she supposes it's former now) fiancé. She walks towards the imp, who thrusts out a hand for her to take. The second she does the din vanishes, and suddenly they're standing in a long, dark hall.

"They're safe," he tells her, dropping her hand like a hot brick. "Nasty ogres all taken care of, tongues all in their rightful places."

Disorientated by the sudden shift, Belle looks around, trying to figure out where they might be. A castle, or a fort of some kind, she thinks. "Where are we?"

"Lady Belle of Avonlea," Rumpelstiltskin says, mocking the courtesies of the noble class further with a bow, "welcome to the Dark Castle. My, ah, humble estate."

The way he says 'humble' makes her think it must be anything but. The reality is made plain as he leads her away from the great hall and further into the castle. She can tell, just from the height of the ceiling and the many doors that they pass - some open archways, some shuttered with carved oak doors - that the castle is at least as large as her father's. She sees no other servants, no signs of life, nothing but closed doors and lanterns without candles. Dark Castle indeed. Belle is out of breath by the time they stop, her impractical ballgown not made for traipsing up and down long hallways or flights of stairs. She sees this door, with its simple latch lock on the outside, and assumes it must be for her.

The doors in this part of the castle are simpler, solid bits of wood without any fancy carvings or inlaid glass. Rumpelstiltskin unlocks the door with a flourish and lets the door creak open on its hinges to reveal what she'd expected; A single room, furnished simply with bed, wardrobe, and vanity, an old leather chest at the foot of the bed. "Your room."

Belle steps inside, noting the single window. Glass panes, though dusty, let in enough light that this room at least isn't so dark. She stops by the chest and turns.

Rumpelstiltskin giggles, clapping his hands in delight.

Quite suddenly Belle realises that she must look ridiculous here, her fine ballgown a stark contrast to the plain furnishings of this simple single room. She blushes, but habit forces her to speak; "Thankyou," she says simply. "I'm sure I shall be quite comfortable here."

The grin falls from his features. It seems that was not what he'd wanted to hear. Whatever he might be thinking, the sudden seriousness is unnerving. Belle drops her gaze politely to the floor, as her maids often do. A coward's gesture on her part, but he doesn't need to know that. He doesn't need to see how unnerved she is by his sudden shift in mood.

"You can have a day to get used to things," he tells her, his voice a little lower now that he's not mocking, "after that it will be work. Come to the great hall tomorrow. Don't be late."

The door shuts on her before she can ask for a time. She hears the latch click into place and sighs to herself. Best make it early, she decides. Just in case. Belle looks around the room, a more thorough examination now that she's not being watched (or maybe she is, somehow, but she doesn't want to think about that). She takes a walk around the edges first, stops to peer out the grimy window at the tangled gardens below. It's not a lovely sight, not like the gardens back home, but it's not depressing either. It's just forgotten, she thinks, too much work for whoever had been expected to tend it, so they had let it run rampant. She sits on the bed a moment, running her fingers over the rough woollen coverlet. It's not as soft as her own, not as big, and not as pretty. But it has a mattress, sheets, and a thick blanket to cover them, and obviously she's just going to have to get used to it.

She stands, moving on to the vanity. It has a tiny three legged stool for a chair that wobbles a little when she sits on it, and in one of the small drawers she finds dusty pots of cheap cosmetics that have long since gone bad. But there's a brush she can use, and a yellowed old comb that looks to be made out of some sort of shell. In the other drawer she finds an empty glass bottle, a button, some glass beads, and a soft pink ribbon that's fraying at one end. The vanity's mirror is tarnished and spotted, covered with an ancient lace shawl that might have once been some sort of blue.

The chest is next. She peeks inside and discovers a spare blanket, a set of sheets, and an inordinate amount of handkerchiefs... most of which have the letter M embroidered into a corner, alongside tiny blue cornflowers. She also finds a pair of stockings, a single glove, and a mob cap in dire need of pressing.

Finally, Belle turns her attention to the wardrobe, wondering if it too will still contain bits and pieces left behind by whomever had lived in this room before her.

Indeed it does. Several dresses hang in the wardrobe, musty and in need of airing out. Most of them are simple work dresses, and she finds herself grateful for that.

Belle pulls one out and holds it up to herself to see how it compares for size. It's a little too big, especially around the bust, but a little alteration would fix that. She has a feeling she's going to need some more simple clothes. Belle puts the dress back and looks through the rest of them one after the other, judging how much she'll need to do to get them to fit. The last dress is a deep vibrant red velvet, trimmed in darker lace. A ball gown of a fashion that was in style ten or so years ago.

She feels somewhat morbid when she holds this one up against her body, but given that its previous owner was dead she can't see the harm in it. Probably she is ten years dead, Belle thinks, given the lack of personality the room has. She wonders if Rumpelstiltskin has a rotation of rooms that he puts his caretakers in, or if time just doesn't mean quite the same thing to him. She had assumed that he'd meant that his last caretaker had died recently. Evidently that wasn't the case.

The last items in the wardrobe are a few sturdy aprons and a single heavy travelling cloak. She assumes there are petticoats and stockings somewhere. And if not... well, if not, it's hardly going to matter. She has the distinct impression that it would be incredibly rare for company to call at the Dark Castle.

Belle sits herself back down on the bed, hands in her lap. She has nothing here from her home, no tiny keepsakes or mementos. She has nobody, and nothing.

Except this rather ridiculous dress. She can't help it then. She giggles a little. Well... she did pray for things to be exciting.



She slept badly, unused to the bed, the odd creaks of the castle, and the lack of nightclothes. Without any nightgowns, she had been forced to sleep in her undergarments (or go naked, but that had never been in the cards, thankyou), and the night had been an uncomfortable one. Belle woke stiff and sore from a night of tossing and turning, sometime in the gray light of pre-dawn. She thought about trying to sleep a little more, but decided against it as a necessary precaution against being late, and sighed as she realised that meant getting up.

The flagstone floor was cold against her bare feet as she dressed, doing the whole thing out of order so she wouldn't be chilled in the early morning cool. As a result her stockings wound up a last priority, and by the time she'd put on her slippers her toes were so cold they were almost numb. She spent a couple of minutes brushing her hair before tying it back as best she could. The style was far too plain for her dress, but that couldn't be helped.

Done and dressed, Belle approached the door. The handle turned, but the latch was still in place, and so the door didn't open. Confused, she wondered for a moment if this wasn't some sort of game. If he planned on keeping her locked in here and then punishing her when she didn't show up to the great hall on time. If that were the case... Belle looked around the room again, thinking of things she might use to unlatch the door. It was a simple lock. All she needed was something to push the latch up and she would be able to get out. She spied the comb she'd used just a minute before and smiled to herself. It was thin enough, she thought, and snatched it from the vanity to test her theory.

The comb was thin enough to slide through the slender gap between door and frame, and just strong enough that with a little bit of jiggling she managed to lift the latch and unlock the door. Pleased with herself - and feeling very much the daring bandit - she replaced the comb and strode out into the hallway. It took her only a short time to find her way back down to the great hall, with only one wrong turn to delay her, and soon she was standing in the same big hall she'd arrived in yesterday. There was no sign of Rumpelstiltskin, which she took to be a good sign. There was no way she could be considered late if he himself wasn't even there yet.

Thinking of things she might do until he appeared Belle made her way towards the fireplace at the very end of the hall. There was a scuttle full of chopped wood beside the hearth, which glowed with the embers of last night's fire. Belle crouched down to add a couple of the pieces to the hearth, careful not to smother the embers. She stood when the fire began to take hold, dusting her skirts off as best she could with nothing but hands to help her.

With nothing else to do just yet, she gave in to curiosity and began walking around the edges of the room, examining the things she found without touching them. There were cabinets full of books and curios, paraphernalia the like of which she'd never seen sitting comfortably next to more familiar items such as tea pots and tankards made out of some silver metal. Pedestals housed more odds and ends, the majority of them large vases full of flowers that had long since shrivelled and died, nothing more than flaky petals and cobweb-thin leaves on spindly sticks. There was a spinning wheel and chair in the corner by the hearth, which she thought was curious, and even more curious the basket full of straw that lay on the floor next to it.

Looking up, Belle noted curtains along one side of the room, and a row of three dusty chandeliers hanging from the ceiling – all of them made from some kind of crystal, and all of them in desperate need of cleaning.

"So. You're here."

Belle jumped a little, startled, and turned quickly to face the direction the voice had come from. Rumpelstiltskin stood at the other end of the table, dressed much the same as he had been the other day, only without the dark leather coat, a suspiciously unhappy look on his face.

"I am," Belle confirmed, clasping her hands together in front of her and lowering her eyes like a proper maid would. "You told me not to be late."

"Yes," he replied sharply. "I did." He was silent a moment, then gestured suddenly towards a door to Belle's right. "Kitchen's through there. Make some tea, and then we'll talk about your duties."

"Yes, sir," Belle nodded, and left for the kitchens. She had a feeling that the words 'we'll talk' were more likely to mean that he would talk and she would listen.

The kitchen was only a very short distance from the great hall, through a tiny corridor that had been plastered and painted white. The kitchens themselves were large and airy, with two large tables in the middle for preparing meals. Hooks hung from the ceiling, waiting bunches of herbs, or sausages, or vegetables. There was a large pot-belled oven for baking bread, and an even larger stove with an array of iron pots and pans hanging on the wall above it. There was a basin and pump for water, a large amount of knives, forks, skewers, and spits, and a massive cabinet full of cups, plates, trays, bowls, saucers, and two twelve-person tea sets. One of which was fine white porcelain, and the other of which was a muddy greenish colour that had seen better days.

Belle chose the white set, and a silver tray, and put everything she would need on one of the two large tables. She dealt with the kitchen fire first, then found a kettle amongst the pots and pans that she could fill with water from the pump. Tea was only a touch harder to find, sitting on a shelf in the larder in an unlabelled jar that, again, could probably do with a tidy.

It took her longer than she would have liked to brew the tea and get everything onto the tray, but she was pleased with the final result. She picked up the tray carefully and walked back to the great hall, hoping that her first attempt at a tea tray was as good as it looked.

Rumpelstiltskin sat at the head of the table, back to the hearth. He watched her as she approached and was silent as she set the tray down on the table.

"I'm sorry," she said, hesitating at making him a cup, "I'm not sure how you like it…"

"Just plain is fine, dearie."

Belle nodded, poured the tea, and set the cup and saucer down in front of him. She stepped back then, and waited.

"Pour one for yourself too, you might as well."

Obediently, Belle poured another cup, sweetening hers with a single spoon of sugar. She didn't presume to sit, knowing that most lords (her father included) often found it rude when a servant sat in their presence without permission. And as she was obviously a servant now, Belle thought she might as well try and prove that she did know how to behave.

Rumpelstiltskin regarded her in curious silence for a moment. Then, all at once, he began to speak. "Your duties here are simple. You will cook, you will clean, you will launder my clothes. You will bring me tea in the afternoons and fresh straw when I am spinning. You will not shriek, weep, whine, or whimper. You will remain far, far away from the north tower and you will not, for any reason, leave the castle grounds. Understand?"

"Yes, sir," Belle replied, thinking that so far none of the requests were unreasonable. "And the gardens?"

"Ignore the gardens. I always do."

That was a relief. From the parts she'd seen from her bedroom window it looked the sort of mess that would take a team of gardeners years to get into order. "And… is there anything else I should know?"

The curious look was back for a moment, quickly replaced with a smile. "Nothing on the ground floor will hurt you, but if you try to open any of the locked doors on the upper floors you will be turned into a rabbit and eaten for dinner."

Belle nodded, then had a thought. "Even mine?"


"My room is on the second floor, and it was locked, and I opened it," Belle pointed out.

"… well I can hardly turn you into a rabbit on your first day, can I? Any room except yours," he amended.

"Might I know where to find things for sewing?" Belle enquired, figuring that sooner was better than later. "I will need them to tailor some dresses so that I might have work wear. It hardly seems practical to go about in this gown if I'm to be cleaning."

He was looking at her oddly now, as if she'd magically sprouted another head, or as if her current one had just changed shape into something entirely unexpected. "Of course," he said, standing suddenly with a flourish of his hands. "Try the door to the right of yours. And if not, the second store room on this floor. Now, remember. Tea in the afternoon."

"I will remember." Belle nodded, and bobbed a polite curtsy even as he plain vanished from sight.

Belle waited a moment just to see if he would reappear, then sipped her cooled tea thoughtfully. Second store room on the ground floor… she would try that one first before venturing up the stairs. But first…

She collected the used cups and returned the tea pot to its tray. The whole thing she carried back through into the kitchen, debating a moment before deciding to simply rinse it all in the wash basin. That way at least it would be passably clean for the afternoon, and the day would give it all time to dry. With that done, and the used cups set out to dry, Belle headed for the store room.

It was a dry, dusty room filled with old rugs, bolts of cloth, boxes, baskets, and all manner of potentially useful bits and pieces that had all been stuffed in on top of one another. All in all there was barely enough room to wind her way through to the centre, where she found a sewing kit and a basket full of brightly coloured thread. She rummaged through the basket until she came up with a few plain colours she thought might match the dresses in her wardrobe and tucked them into the sewing kit. She had at least a few hours yet before lunch, so she might as well use a couple of them to try and tailor at least one dress down to her size.