Tale As Old As Time
One morning, soon after the signing of the new peace treaty between Thornveld and Avonlea, Rumple found Belle sitting in their rocker in their bedroom, nursing Ariadne while Renè napped in the cradle. She was pushing the cradle with one foot and holding their daughter in her arms while she suckled. She was looking down at her baby and she had this dreamy contented look on her face. It was so serene and peaceful that he didn't wish to disturb her by breaking the silence, and so he just leaned against the doorjamb and watched her for several minutes, not saying anything.
He drank in the sight of her, his brown eyes sparkling with love for her, his heart, his soul, and the mother of all his children. Watching her with Ariadne reminded him of the statues of the Mother Goddess in the temple, with her holy twins on her lap. She bore the same look the Mother did on her face—serene, wise, and beautiful to behold. Her hair fell softly over one shoulder, clad in a pink wrapper and button-up rose print nightgown, which he'd made for her so she could nurse the twins easily.
He knew that some would say he was lucky, to have married such a beautiful woman, and one who was a princess, no less. And he was, but not for the reasons most people thought. He had fallen in love with Belle not just because of their physical attraction, though there was no denying they had plenty of that! He had fallen in love with her mind and her perceptive heart as well. Her quick wit and love of learning matched his own, and her heart saw past the crippled body and common spinner to the man hidden beneath it, the lonely man who had needed a friend as well as a lover, and someone who shared his dreams of a companion that would fulfill him in all ways.
And she had, beyond his wildest imaginings. As he quietly watched her, smiling a little at the tableau she unknowingly presented, love flowing like a quick rising spring flood through his body, Belle looked up and their eyes met.
"Hey," she said, her blue eyes crinkling as she smiled back at him. "Ariadne woke and was hungry, so I decided to feed her early, since Renè's asleep for once while she's awake. Come and join us, Rum. Most of the kids are still asleep, right?"
"Yes, dearie," he answered and limped over to the bench at the foot of their bed and sat down on it, nearby where she rocked the cradle and nursed their baby. "The only ones awake are Bae and Val, Caleb and Arthur are sleeping in still."
"It's a beautiful morning," Belle said, then she gently removed Ariadne from her breast and put her on her shoulder to burp her. Her daughter fussed a bit at being denied her breakfast even for such a small amount of time, crying irritably. "Shh, pretty girl," she crooned to her as she patted Ariadne's back. "You have to burp for Mama first, otherwise your tummy will hurt and you won't want to eat."
Ariadne fussed a bit longer, whimpering and squirming angrily, but Belle patiently rubbed and patted until she burped, then the queen put her back to nurse. "She's such a good baby," she told the king. "She's usually calm and happy. Renè's the more temperamental of them."
"She reminds me of Bae as a baby. He was a very content baby . . . unless Milah forgot to change or feed him, which was often when she minded him alone. It got so that I finally told her I'd take care of him and she could go to market, I should have known even then that she wasn't the mothering type. She wanted to hire a wet nurse, like we were nobles, complained nonstop about feeling like a cow, so I ended up feeding him with goat's milk rather than listen to her carping and nagging."
Belle rolled her eyes. "She sounds like some spoiled wench. I can't imagine a mother not wanting to feed her own child. The ladies don't do so because it's considered improper for a noble and it supposedly ruins one's figure, but I have heard many who wouldn't mind doing so, if only they had the courage to flout custom and expectations. Nursing my babies gives me quiet time with them and makes me feel peaceful and truly protective and loving to them."
"Perhaps you will start a new trend, Belle. For you know as well as I what the queen does so does her court."
"Perhaps I shall," his wife smiled. "After all, you did with your spinning class. Now you have half your fashionable courtiers holding spinning competitions in their salons."
The king chuckled. "Indeed, though their efforts leave much to be desired, as most don't have the discipline to truly master the art. Still, better they spin against each other than duel or drink each other under the table."
"I am sure their ladies agree with you." Belle winked. "I am lucky to have such a forward thinking husband, who has the intelligence to appreciate a wife who is unconventional in motherhood as she is in ruling her kingdom."
"Seeing you nurse our babies is a beautiful sight," Rumple remarked. "I never got the chance to experience that with Milah, because she never fed Bae when I was at home. Nor do I think she would have welcomed my presence while doing so."
His wife smiled serenely. "You are always welcome to be with me, Rumple. And share in all the twins' daily activities. I don't forget who showed me how to change a nappy."
"I think you're the first queen who actually wanted to learn such a common practical thing, instead of leaving it to servants."
"Well, I've always been a rebel," laughed Belle.
"Rebel enough to declare you loved a spinner over a blueblood, and to argue your papa around to considering a mere spinner could be raised to the peerage and thence to be king."
"One of the best things I have ever done," declared the queen. She kissed the top of her baby's head. Ariadne had a thick thatch of fuzzy dark hair. Her brother had lighter hair that was much finer. "And when they are old enough to understand, I shall tell the twins the story of how their mama fell in love with their papa, and defied convention and the entire court to make the choice of her heart, which in the end proved best for Avonlea and best for her people."
"Sounds like a bedtime story, dearie," he teased.
"It's a tale as old as time," she refuted. "And I'll make sure our children know it by heart."
Rumple watched his wife nursing for a few more minutes before going over to peer down at his sleeping son. The baby prince slept with one thumb in his mouth, the picture of innocence and serenity. He was still in awe that these two perfect miracles had come from him, and he loved these quiet moments with the babies and Belle.
"You know there's a great possibility that the twins will have inherited my magic."
"I know. And I'm not bothered by it, Rumple. It's only natural they would. But with magic or not I will always love them."
"You are an extraordinary lady."
"Thank you. And I married an extraordinary husband. How are you coping with your time as Morgause's prisoner? You don't seem to be as troubled with nightmares as you were before. Or has that been something you've hidden from me?"
"No. I know better. But though my time as her prisoner was bad in its way, it also was different from when I was Lillith's dark apprentice. With Lillith I was utterly lost and broken. With Morgause, I still had my wits and my mind to bargain with, and I used those skills to help myself and Val. She might have captured me, Belle, but I didn't let her break me. And that makes all the difference."
"And Val? Has she come to you with night terrors? I've been so busy with the twins and the court that at night I just fall asleep like a rock. I wouldn't notice if a harem of dancing girls playing horns and cymbals invaded our bedroom, much less a little girl." Belle admitted, rocking their daughter to sleep.
"No, dearie. When I asked about it, she said that Arwen slept beside her and kept the nightmares away. I also hung a dreamcatcher above her bed, so that helps as well. But I think that as scary as Morgause was, Val never lost hope that I would come for her. And having Regina there also kept her spirits up. This was a crucible that, like a sword forged in fire, tempered and made us stronger. Which I'm sure Morgause did not intend when she stole us away."
"Tough on her!" sneered Belle. "Thank the gods she's dead and gone."
"You won't have any argument from me," the king said feelingly. "Tomorrow we have the ceremony to dedicate the monument for the fallen soldiers, then a week after that comes the christening."
"I sent all the invitations out weeks ago, Rumple. I hope your father received his."
"I believe he did. My messenger raven returned empty clawed. If he wasn't able to deliver it, it would have been brought back," Rumple mused.
"I look forward to meeting him. Will I recognize him, do you think?"
"You should. Look for a tall man with nut brown curly hair dressed in green and brown like a king's ranger. That will be Herne."
"I'm happy for you, Rumple," Belle said sincerely. "I'm glad that you have one parent still living and one that respects and honors you as his son, unlike that horrible bastard Malcolm."
"I am also. It's too bad that I didn't know him long ago," Rumple said with a regretful sigh. "But what's done is done. Herne seems eager to learn about me and my family. You know what he promised me for Bae."
Belle nodded. "Have you told Bae yet, Rumple?"
"Not yet. But I will when I tell them the truth about my real father," the king promised. "For now, however, I want to relax with my wife."
"How about you take your daughter and try and get her to sleep?" suggested Belle, handing Rumple his fussing child.
The Spinner King took the baby and held her expertly against his shoulder. "There now, my wee lass!" he crooned. "Aren't you sleepy? No? Well, perhaps this will help you."
Then he began to sing an ancient lullaby that countless mothers and fathers of Lochdubh had sung to their wee babes. Under his mesmerizingly soothing voice, Ariadne yawned, crammed her fist in her mouth, then finally put her tiny head down on the king's shoulder and drifted off to sleep.
The timeless magic of a papa's voice singing had worked like a charm.
Rumple made certain the baby was truly asleep before he laid her in the cradle next to her twin, then went to share some tea and cakes with the queen before he rejoined his council to hear the news of the kingdom.
Just before supper, the king sought out his elder children, finding them in the stables, playing with the wolflings. The wolflings were about eight weeks old now, and had their eyes and ears open and were quite playful and inquisitive. They were fuzzy gray and white balls of fur, each with the distinctive blue eyes of their kind. But Val noted that they each had differing shades of blue. The small she-wolf had eyes of brilliant aqua, but her brother had eyes the pale of a first frost. His littermate, the larger male, had eyes of cornflower blue, with an almost violet tinge to them.
Aislynn and Arrow had chosen names for them when they were two weeks old. Their daughter, who was almost pure white, save for a light gray mask over her eyes and ears, and gray edging her tail and forefeet, they named Eirwen (pronounced Ayr-wen), meaning "Snow White" in the Ancestor's tongue. She was a bright wolfling, and often the first to do something, like climb out of the nest Aislynn and her brothers were lying in.
The larger male, who was a dark gray with white paws and a white muzzle, accented with black about his face, ruff, and tail, Arrow named Airic, meaning "eternal ruler." This pup was bold and strong, and often impulsive, and could be found sticking his nose into things he shouldn't.
The smallest wolfling was a light silvery gray with the classic white legs, paws, and ruff of the grimm wolf. But on his forehead he had a white star. His mother named him Keelan, meaning "little companion", for so he would be to his Chosen mage one day. He was somewhat shy and the one who thought before he acted. He was also quieter than his siblings, and occasionally overlooked by his more outgoing siblings.
Currently, the three wolflings were romping with Caleb, Val, and Bae. Copper, who was nearly fully grown, was barking and allowing the wolflings to gnaw on his long floppy ears. The young hound was quite happy to have new companions to play with, and didn't mind his master also playing with them.
Rumple entered the stable just as Keelan jumped on Caleb and knocked the young prince onto the straw and began licking his face. Caleb was giggling. "Keelan, silly wolf!" He shoved the wolfling's muzzle away.
"Ow! Airic, no chewing on my hand!" Bae scolded, removing part of his sleeve from the dark wolfling's needle-sharp teeth.
Arrow whuffed at his son, who whined and licked Bae's hand in apology.
Val was dragging a rope for Eirwen to chase, calling, "C'mere, Eirwen!"
Arrow turned and sent a greeting to his sorcerer. Hello, Rumple. Come to see how the pups are doing?
"Hello, dearies," the king announced, causing his children to halt their playing and run over to hug him.
This also caused the wolflings to come over and jump on him, tails wagging, and licking and nipping his hands.
"Papa!" Caleb crowed, and was picked up in one arm.
Hi, hi, hi Rumple! All three grim wolves yipped.
"Easy there!" the king laughed. "Before you knock me down." He ruffled the wolflings' ears and stroked their cloud-soft coats.
"Well, Aislynn, looks like your wolflings are growing fast." Rumple grinned. He looked at his children. "Bae, Val, Caleb, I need to speak with you for a moment." He beckoned them over to a large haybale and sat down on it, with Caleb on his lap.
Bae eyed his father worriedly. "Papa, you're not gonna leave again, are you? I thought we were done with wars."
"We are, Bae. I'm not going anywhere. I simply needed to speak with you about something I learned when I was a captive of Queen Morgause."
"Did she tell you something, Papa?" Val queried.
"Not her, dearie. I had a dream, and in it my mama came to me . . ." Rumple explained what Ariadne had told him. "Later, when I was on my way home from the City, riding through the Guardian Wood, I met my father, Herne the Forest Lord. We spoke of many things, especially about how he feels about me and my family."
"Does he want to meet us, Papa?" Bae queried. The prince's small face was alight with wonder. "I never had a real god for a grandpa before."
"Me neither," Val agreed.
"Me too!" Caleb chimed in.
"Well, dearies, I spoke to him about that, and in addition to being glad that he finally learned about me and met me, he also wishes to meet you and your mama. He seems very excited to do so, and I have invited him to the twins' christening."
"Is he gonna be there?" Val wanted to know.
"Yes, I believe he will, and you can meet him then." Rumple shifted upon the straw bale, then said, "Bae, Herne wishes to offer you a place in his household. He says that he believes you will do well with his instruction as a ranger of the wildwood. I think that would be a good outlet for you, seeing as you enjoy riding and being outdoors more than anything else. But I told him I would ask you first."
"He wants to—to foster me?" Bae stammered.
"Yes, son. He recognizes your talents as a forestborn. I hope you realize what a great honor this is, Baelfire. Even so, you are free to refuse if you don't think this would suit you. The fostering would begin when you were ten and continue until Herne declares you ready to become a King's Ranger."
"How long will that be?"
"Probably about seven to eight years," Rumple mused. "But you can discuss details with your grandfather. If you agree to serve in his household."
Bae looked like he had just won the Royal Defender of Avonlea award. "Papa, why wouldn't I agree? I get to live with my grandpa, who just happens to be a god. And he's gonna teach me how to be a great ranger. That's so incredible!"
"But Bae, that means you're gonna have to leave home," Val reminded him.
Her brother sighed. "I know. But Val, that's how it's done in noble households. At least for boys it is. Girls usually stay home and learn from their mamas. Right, Papa?"
"Yes, unless the daughter wishes to go to a religious house or to teach or attend a university study program," Rumple answered. "Here in Avonlea, ladies are permitted to get degrees, though most stay home and attend balls and parties trying to make a good marriage."
"When I'm ten? Papa, that's crazy!" Val objected.
"That's nobles for you," the king laughed. "But as queen of Logres, you'll need to study at statescraft with your mama and me, Val."
"Okay," his daughter agreed. "What about Caleb?"
"He's going to be fostered with Arthur," Rumple replied. "But we can discuss all those options when you're older. Right now I just wanted to make you aware of your grandfather and your new heritage, Bae."
"Peter was right. I am a forestborn," his eldest declared proudly.
"You are. As am I. It's why you are so at home in the woods and with horses, and why have a special bond with the land."
"Does this mean that my grandpa will be visiting us a lot?" Bae wanted to know.
"That's up to him, dearie. You can ask him when you meet him."
"I can't wait!" Bae cheered.
Val smiled as she petted Eirwen, thinking it would be nice to have another grandfather, and interesting too to have one who was a god. She was lucky, she admitted to herself, because even though she had lost both her real parents and grown up with the horrible Paul Morinelli for a time, now she had the best papa and mama anyone could want, and was a princess besides. She also had a best friend who was like her, a sorceress, and now she also had a little sister and brother to care for and play with.
"I'm gonna send a letter to Lacey," she told her brothers. "We can see each other at the christening." Val intended to make Lacey one of her ladies when she was older, so that she could come and live with her at Logres, like Regina, who would be her Royal Sorceress. She also intended to ask Audra if she would like to be a lady-in-waiting too, so at least she would have some familiar faces in the kingdom she would rule.
"I need to send a letter to Tyr," Bae said. "And tell him about my new grandpa."
"Bae, wait a minute!" Rumple called before his intrepid son could run up to his room and begin to pen one. "You can't tell your friends about Herne being a god. You can tell him that you have a grandfather besides Maurice but not who he truly is."
"Why not?" Val asked. "Is it because he's like a superhero, with a secret identity?"
"Sort of, yes," Rumple agreed quickly. "But also because he'd prefer it if people didn't realize we have divine blood in our veins. Because then, dearies, people might try and attack us to hold us for ransom or something. So they could get favors from him."
"Like what Morgause tried to do," Bae clarified.
"Yes. So . . . tell your friends that I found out that my real papa wasn't Malcolm. He is a Ranger Lord called Huon. And you will meet him at the twins' christening. Understand?"
They both nodded. "Okay, Papa," agreed Bae. He ruffled Airic's ears. "I gotta go, boy. But I'll be back later. Go play with Copper."
The wolfling barked then went and jumped on the hound, and the two rolled over and over in the straw.
Arrow and Aislynn watched with tolerant amused looks in their expressive eyes, and Caleb wriggled down off of Rumple's lap to chase after the two wrestling animals, making the king shake his head ruefully and mutter about his hair going gray before he was forty.
Then he picked up the rope discarded by Val and began to play a game of tug-o-war with Keelan, who proved as stubborn as his sire when it came to getting what he wanted.
"Mama, when can Renè play with me?" Caleb asked the next morning as he shared breakfast with Belle and the twins in her morning suite. The little prince was peering over the edge of the cradle, where his baby brother was trying to shove his toes in his mouth.
"He's too little to play right now, Caleb," Belle answered, as she finished dressing Ariadne in a pretty purple smock with an embroidered bib and matching booties she had knit herself. She had finally mastered the art of knitting while she was regaining her strength after the twins' birth.
"Aww, Mama!" Caleb groaned. "All he does is sleep n' eat!" her son remarked disgustedly. "Him n' Dandylion!"
Rachel chuckled from where she was tidying up the bedchamber. "Laddie, soon enough you can play with your wee brother."
"But Rachel, I wanna play with him now!" Caleb huffed. He leaned over the side of the cradle and attempted to pick up Renè. "C'mon, Squirrely! Gonna show ya how to play knights!"
A startled Renè began to squall at the rough handling, causing Belle to look up from where she was putting a hat on Ariadne.
"Caleb! No!" she cried in alarm.
Rachel saw also and came to the rescue. "Caleb, dearie, ye know ye canna pick up yer wee brother by yerself!" The nurse gently picked up the youngest Gold, freeing him from his brother's attempt to make him into a living toy soldier. "Ye could hurt him, dearie!"
"Rachel, is he all right?" Belle asked anxiously, cradling his twin in her arms. Ariadne, hearing Renè crying, also began to fuss. " Hush, sweetling, Mama's got you."
"He's fine, Your Grace," Rachel assured her a moment later. "I think he just got a wee bit startled."
She rocked the baby prince and soon he stopped crying, staring up at her with eyes that were the same blue as his mother's.
"I'm sorry!" Caleb said, feeling guilty. "Don't cry, Squirrely! I won't hurt ya."
"Caleb, honey, you have to be gentle when you're around the twins," Belle remonstrated. "Right now they're babies and they can't do everything you can do."
"But why, Mama?" her son asked, his lower lip sticking out in an adorable pout.
"Because they have to grow up," Belle told him. "Just like you have to grow up before you can do all the things Bae can do."
Caleb scowled. "That'll take forever!"
Rachel grinned. "It only seems that way, laddie. Before ye know it, little Renè and Ari will be getting' into mischief just like you do!" She carried Belle's youngest son over to the changing area, murmuring, "Now let's get ye dressed, laddie, for the ceremony."
"Have him wear the blue smock and bib, Rachel," Belle ordered as she went to the window to allow her daughter to look out at the balcony with the rose trellis. "See, Ari? See the pretty roses? Mama loves roses."
Ariadne gurgled and reached her hands out to touch the glass.
As she did so, Caleb yelled, "Mama, Mama! Squirrely peed on Rachel!" Then the little spiritmancer busted out in a fit of giggles. "Funny, Squirrely!"
"Oh dearie dearie dear, scamp!" Rachel sighed. "Ought to've known to bring a towel to cover maself."
"Rachel, I'm so sorry," the queen began.
"Nonsense, Your Majesty," the older woman said. "The young prince isna the first boy bairn to christen me. My Stephen did too!"
"Funny, Mama!" Caleb squealed, laughing so hard he fell on his bottom.
That started Ariadne cooing and giggling, earning her a kiss from her mother, who crooned, "Ari, sweetling, isn't your big brother silly?" before she joined her daughter in laughing, and soon the suite echoed with the merry musical sound.
It was deemed too chilly for the royal twins to be outside during the dedication ceremony, so Rachel along with the new nursemaid Mistress Mary Poppins, waited inside the Great Hall of the palace while the king, queen, and the three elder Gold children attended the ceremony.
The dedication of the monument was something both monarchs felt was necessary to heal the wounds of their people and their kingdom. They also wished to honor all those who had given the ultimate sacrifice for their kingdom. So they commissioned a monument with all the names of those who had fallen, whether in battle against their enemies or at home as victims of enemy marauders. Rumple himself placed all the names gathered upon the etched stone face of the monument using his magic, so that all could read and see them clearly. They had placed a huge black cloth shroud over the monument once it was completed.
It was placed in the center of the market in the City, so that any who came might see and remember.
Rumple and Belle had invited all the family members of those who had passed away to come to the ceremony, and throngs of people flocked into the market square beside the courtiers and other dignitaries. The king and queen stood upon the raised platform that Rumple had spun straw into gold at that long ago Spring Festival, on a challenge from Cora Miller. Behind them were the two princes and their eldest princess, flanked by Arrow, Gwydion, and Stiletto. On the right side of the platform stood the Spinner sisters, Regina, and Peter, who amused their newest apprentice by making mocking faces at some of the more arrogant and stiff-necked nobles, causing Regina to forget her decorum and smirk behind her hand. Until Cassie reached back and smacked the mischievous youth on the ear.
"Mind your manners, lad!" Cassie ordered. "Remember, you're the king's Chief Forester now, not just a mischievous wood sprite."
"Just because I've got a title doesn't mean I have to be an old stick," Peter sulked.
Cassie glared at him. "Are you going to besmirch the king's honor by behaving like a knave, lad?"
"Oh, all right," grumbled the pixie-faced former mischief maker. "I swear, since Sir Derek came courting you, you've become a crashing bore, Aunt Cass!"
Cassie blushed rose red. "Peter Pan, would you like to become a tree for a month?" she hissed. "Or perhaps a carpet so I could beat the insolence from you?"
"Oh, do lighten up, Cassie," Athena grinned. "The boy's right, you have become a mite too serious since the Lord Commander has started walking out with you."
"Well, I don't want to scare him off," began her sister.
"If he hasn't been scared off by now, he'll never be, little sister," Lenore said knowingly. "Now hush, the queen is about to address the people."
Rumplestiltskin lifted his hands for silence and the crowd hushed, awaiting the queen's speech.
Belle stepped up to stand next to the shrouded monument, and when she spoke Gwydion used his magic to amplify her voice so it was audible to everyone, even those at the very edges of the crowd.
"People of Avonlea, today we gather here to honor those who have fallen defending this kingdom. Whether it was in battle fighting the Thornveldians or Khan's ogres, or the darklings of Morgause, or defending their home and family, whether they are soldiers serving their king or a mother protecting her children, all the fallen are honored today. There is no greater honor and no greater love than to die in the service of your kingdom or defending those you love best. So today we come to remember those we have lost, and remember the sacrifice they gave so that Avonlea and all of us can live in peace and free from fear."
She gestured and Rumple snapped his fingers and the black cloth vanished, revealing the monument for the first time.
It was a towering obelisk made of shining black marble engraved with the names of the fallen in elegant gold script. At the bottom were the words "Gone But Never Forgotten. We of Avonlea Shall Always Remember".
"With this monument, the king and I have ensured that those who fell in this war shall never be forgotten. This monument was constructed from marble by master stone cutters and inscribed with the names of those who are gone by King Rumplestiltskin himself. The monument will endure any kind of weather and is impervious to dust, dirt, paint, and any attempt to deface it. For those who fell are heroes, and Avonlea shall always remember them who gave their lives for this kingdom and our people."
A great roar of approval went up from thousands of throats, followed by applause and several people wiped tears from their eyes as they gazed upon the monument.
Then the king gestured and a rose bush appeared at the foot of the monument, which had been placed upon a plot of ground. Its bright red blossoms were a brilliant contrast to the dark rock of the monument. Gasps of awe and approval followed.
"Now we invite all who wish to leave a memorial to do so," Rumple instructed, then beckoned to his children, all who carried something in their hands.
Bae was first, leaving a banner with the crest of the Royal House at the foot of the monument. He bowed after doing so, his small face solemn, then returned to the platform.
People clapped, and watched as Val did the same, leaving an armful of beautiful flowers from the royal gardens, curtseyed and returned to stand beside her brother.
Caleb was next, leaving a stuffed puppy, so the children who had died wouldn't be lonely.
This brought several tears to the eyes of those watching, and then others came up afterwards to place their own tokens, including cards, pictures, blankets and other momentos.
Soon the monument was surrounded with remembrances of loved ones, and the king then invited the people to attend a feast within the palace.
As the heralds blew a royal fanfare for the royal family, the king, queen, and the children turned to process to the royal coaches, surrounded by a contingent of guardsmen, a voice called out to them.
"One moment, if you would, Your Majesties."
Rumple whirled about at the familiar musical bass. "Father?"
Standing behind him was Herne, attired in his tooled leathers and cloak, a welcoming smile on his weathered oddly youthful face. He looked nearly as young as his son, his piercing emerald eyes taking in his newfound family. The Forest Lord waved a hand and everyone about the royal family appeared to freeze.
Belle gaped. "Rumple, what just happened?"
"Just a little time halting spell," answered her father-in-law. "I didn't wish to be interrupted while I meet you."
"Father, I thought you were going to meet my family at the christening," Rumple began. "Did you get my invitation?"
"Yes, and I will attend, son. However, I found that I didn't wish to wait before meeting your children and wife. Your elder children, that is," the god amended. "Thus I have come now." Herne's eyes twinkled. "Queen Belle, I can see why you, out of all mortal women, captured my son's heart. You are not merely beautiful to behold, but have a beautiful heart, one which enhances you beyond superficial appearances."
"You are most kind and gracious, sire," Belle murmured and curtsied.
Herne raised her, his large hands gentle upon her slender wrists. "No, my daughter. Family need not bow to me. It is my pleasure to finally meet my son's wife." He lifted her hand and kissed it with a courtly flourish.
"It is an honor to meet you—Father," Belle declared. "Now I know where your son gets his charming smile from."
Herne chuckled. "So you think my smile is charming?"
"Yes, indeed, sire."
"Your smile could stop traffic," Val put in. "Just like Papa's."
The Forest Lord turned to face his granddaughter. "Really? And you must be Valentina. Rumple told me many things about you, and now I see for myself he wasn't exaggerating when he said you were as brave and honest as you were beautiful and magical."
Val curtsied, grinning in delight. "Thank you, Grandpa."
"You are very welcome, child." He kissed her hand as well.
Then the Forest Lord looked at Bae. "This strong young warrior must be my eldest grandson."
Bae nodded and bowed. "Prince Baelfire, sire, at your service."
Herne shook his hand solemnly. "It is a pleasure to meet you at last. Your father has spoken highly of you, young prince. He has told me that you love archery and horses, is that so?"
"Yes, Grandfather. I won a prize in archery and also in jumping with my pony Night Dusk."
"A good start, Baelfire. Would you be interested in coming to the wildwood when you are a bit older, to serve in my household and learn from me and my rangers?"
Bae's eyes shone brighter than the stars. "Yes, Grandfather! More than anything!"
"Then so it shall be. When you are eleven, you may come to live with me and remain until your training is complete. But we shall talk more on that later," Herne said jovially. "In fact all of you are invited to spend time in my realm at my estate."
"And this is Caleb, Father. My middle son," Rumple picked up his spiritmancer son, who had been clinging shyly to his leg, and coaxed, "Caleb, dearie, say hello to your grandfather."
"Not Grandpa, Papa!" the toddler pointed out. "Stranger!" He buried his head in Rumple's tunic.
"No, Caleb. He's not really a stranger," Rumple began. "He's my papa. Like Grandpa Moe is Mama's papa."
The child thought about this for a moment before lifting his head and saying, "Not a stranger?"
"No. He's family, sweetie," Belle told him. She was afraid Herne might be insulted by Caleb's reaction. "Go on and say hello."
To their utter shock, the Forest Lord knelt on one knee so his head was level with Caleb and said in a voice that was softer than silk, "There's no need to be afraid of me, child. I don't bite."
"Biting is bad," Caleb informed the god gravely. "Papa yelled at me n' put me in the corner when I bited Arthur."
Rumple bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. So did Belle.
Val and Bae snickered.
"You should never bite your friends," Herne smirked, looking remarkably like a certain spinner. "Or your relatives." He held out a hand. "I heard you helped your papa save Avonlea."
"Yup. I made the bad ghosties go away," his grandson answered.
"That was a brave thing, lad. And if you can do that, surely you can say hello to your old grandfather, can't you?" encouraged Herne.
Slowly Caleb nodded. "I'm brave like Papa," he stated. Then he placed his tiny hand in Herne's large one. "Hi, Grandpa. I'm Caleb."
"It's an honor to meet such a brave lad," Herne said sincerely. He shook Caleb's hand. Then he reached into a pocket. "I would like to give you all gift." He withdrew several carved wooden amulets polished to a glittering golden finish. "These were made from wood from my holy oak tree. They are amulets of protection. If you ever have need, clasp it and speak my name and I or one of my guardians shall come to your aid." He placed an amulet in the shape of a hound around Caleb's neck. "Like the hound you are loyal and loving."
"Yes, now what do you say, dearie?" prompted his papa.
"Thanks!" Caleb said, then he kissed Herne's cheek.
Rumple thought he caught a glimpse of a tear in the ancient god's green gaze. But an instant later it was gone, as his father rose to give amulets to Bae and Val.
Bae's amulet was of a horse rearing. "The stallion knows the value of valor and the wisdom of the wind."
Val's was of a hart running. "Like the hart you are steadfast and your home is where your heart is."
Both children thanked their grandfather profusely.
Then Herne handed an amulet to Belle. Hers was of an acorn. "From an acorn springs a mighty oak, just like from a mother springs many children, or a queen a great kingdom."
Rumple's amulet was of a mighty pronged stag. "The stag is the king of the forest, just as you are king of your people. My blessing upon you and yours, Rumplestiltskin. I will return anon. For now—farewell."
He embraced his son, then waved a hand and vanished. Time resumed its course and no one was the wiser that a god had walked among them except those who bore his blood and his blessing.
The king tucked his amulet beneath his tunic, then without saying anything, boarded the carriage that would take them back to the palace, and the rest of his family did the same, still a bit awed and dazed from their unexpected visitor.
This was a day none of them would ever forget.
One week later:
". . . . with this sacred water, I bless you, Ariadne Serena Cassandra Gold, Princess of Avonlea, in the sight of your godparents, Linnea and Gwydion Llewellyn, and all here. You are dedicated to the Bright Lord and Lady and made holy in Their sight," the High Priestess intoned as she trickled warm water from a silver ewer on the heir to Avonlea's forehead.
Ariadne burbled and gazed up at the priestess curiously from Linnea's arms.
In contrast, on the other side of the font, her more volatile twin wailed angrily at being woken up and having something wet trickle on him as the High Priest intoned a similar blessing, "With this sacred water, I bless you, Renè Amery Herne Gold, Prince of Avonlea, in the sight of your godparents, Linnea and Gwydion Llewellyn, and all here. You are dedicated to the Bright Lord and Lady and made holy in Their sight."
At Bae's side, Caleb scowled and snapped, "Bad old man! You no make my baby cry!"
"Shh, Caleb!" Bae hissed, while around him the nobles tittered. "It's a blessing, and Renè's only crying cause he's cranky when he first wakes up."
"Like you," put in Val.
"Aww be quiet, Miss Rise-and-Shine," Bae rolled his eyes at his sister.
"Children, dinna quarrel!" Rachel scolded softly. "Or else no dessert an' early bedtime, ye wee scamps!"
"No!" Caleb shook his head. "No nap! Wanna play with Grandpa Huon!" He pointed a chubby finger at a tall man dressed in butter-soft brown and gold hunting leathers with a green cloak sitting in the royal pew watching the ceremony with glittering green eyes. His curly dark hair fell rakishly over one eye and his mobile mouth was stretched into a quirky smile that left no one in doubt that he was the true sire of the king, the discovery of which added yet another layer to the legend that was Rumplestiltskin the Spinner King.
Abruptly, the subject in question looked over at the children on the dais and winked at them, silencing their protests.
Next to him Maurice gave a rueful chuckle and murmured, "Belle and Rumple have their hands full with this brood."
"Aye, but that's half the fun of being a parent," Herne muttered. "Raising children who are just like you."
Maurice put a hand in front of his mouth, his shoulders shaking silently.
The Forest Lord smirked mischievously, one hand cradling the other two amulets he would gift the twins-a wolf for Rene, and a falcon for Ariadne.
Atop the dais, the king and queen of Avonlea each took a twin from their godparent and walked in front of the altar. Facing the people in the temple, Rumplestilskin lifted his daughter high, and intoned, "People of Avonlea, I present to you your future queen, Princess Ariadne Serena Cassandra Gold! May her reign be long and prosperous!"
Everyone clapped and stood for the heir to the throne.
Alarmed at the clamor, Ariadne started to cry.
The king immediately cradled her and hummed a lullaby, soothing her frazzled nerves until she nestled against him, sucking on his state medallion.
The queen then held up her son, and intoned, "People of Avonlea, I present to you your future Crown Prince, Renè Amery Herne Gold. May he always protect and defend this kingdom with honor!"
The tumult resumed, and like his sister, the baby prince sobbed crankily until Belle gave him a soft ball to play with.
Thus ended the christening ceremony and the presentation of the heirs to the people, a joyous occasion for everyone, and serving as reminder that though their kingdom had sustained some heavy losses and was still rebuilding, their monarchs were secure once again upon their thrones and so was the succession.
Beams of sunlight from the skylights struck the mosaic floor and caused rainbows to shimmer in front of the dais as the king, queen, and the royal children processed out of the temple, like comets in their glittering finery, trailed by their people singing a song of thanksgiving.
"Mama, was King Rumple really just a spinner once upon a time?" asked a small girl as she watched the procession go by.
"Yes, darling, and at bedtime I'll tell you the story of how an ordinary spinner became a great sorcerer king and saved Avonlea," her mother promised.
"Is it night time yet?"
"No, dearie, but now it's time to go to the great feast to celebrate the christening of the royal twins," her mother said with a smile, and her daughter pulled her along happily, for banquets in Avonlea at the court of the Spinner King were not to be missed, and the story would always be waiting.
In years to come, mothers everywhere would tell their children the story of how a lame spinner learned to believe in the magic of love, using it to transform himself into a sorcerer who fell in love with an intuitive bookworm princess, defied all the odds, and became the king of Avonlea, a story to inspire even the lowliest orphan, for anyone could become a hero in Avonlea, anyone at all, so long as you believed in the magic of the heart, for love is the most powerful magic of all.
A/N: It is with a combination of accomplishment and regret that I at last come to the end of this long tale and hope that you have enjoyed the journey along with Rumple, Val, Bae, Belle, Caleb and all the rest. When I began this four years ago I intended it to be a medium length novel as a tribute to a friend who wanted me to raise awareness for abused children and spouses. I hope that I have done that and more. I would like to thank my family and friends and all of my readers for encouraging me and keeping me going through this! This could not have been written without you, dearies! I hope this stands as an inspiration to all who have endured abuse to know there is hope, light, and healing so never give up! God bless and never stop believing in magic!~ Snapegirlkmf