The Valley

Chapter 1: Another Year

The sunlight streamed through the window, covering his face in a warm embrace. Rumplestiltskin opened his eyes, blinking rapidly as the light blinded him. He reached up with one hand, brushed his hair out of his face and wiped at his eyes thoughtlessly. He sat up, stretching his back to adjust from the uncomfortable position he'd slept in the night before and groaned as his body adjusted to being awake.

Standing, he pulled on his woolen shift and tunic, brushing the dust off of them carefully. He pulled on his shoes, old and ragged but still functional and began to prepare for his day. Normally he awoke before dawn, preparing a small breakfast – when he had the means to do so – and afterward he would gather his materials, sit at the spinning wheel he'd inherited from the spinster who raised him when his father took off, and spin the rest of the morning away. Today he'd decided to allow himself a couple extra hours of sleep. He felt he deserved it. It was his birthday, after all.

The change in his schedule threw him somewhat, but he skipped breakfast – he was used to forgoing meals – and sat at the wheel to spin. The steady rhythm of the wood spinning and the wool in his hands sliding gently from his fingertips into the mechanism lulled him into an easy mindset. He felt as calm as a babe being rocked at his mothers' breast, and he allowed his mind to wander to how he would like to celebrate his day.

A small party, with a few friends and some cheap ale and a plate of small cakes from the local bakery would be the perfect end to such a day. Alas, he had no extra money for cakes or ale. And, being the son of a coward, he had no friends either. But he had his thoughts, and he could imagine such a party, with people surrounding him, patting him hard on the back and congratulating him on surviving yet another year.

And that was it, wasn't it? Surviving. It was all he knew, and he wasn't even particularly good at it. While the nobles and the wealthy celebrated the fact that they'd lived another year, and toasted to more time to enjoy their lives of finery and splendor, the people of his village- and so many villages across the lands – celebrated the fact that they'd survived. The more pessimistic of men, often drunk, would question whether it was a feat worth celebrating.

Rumplestiltskin couldn't help but agree. He did not begrudge his life; not in the slightest. He was grateful for what he had, but he was always very aware that just beyond his reach was a world that contained more.

And more was something he knew he would never amount to. He would never have a sturdy, warm home nor a wife to share his bed with. The former was not so bad, but the latter….

He was past the age most men were when they married. Today marked his twenty-ninth year and many of the men who married were slightly younger. In the village they married young so there would be more children produced to help in the family trades. He knew he was ready for a wife, and he knew just who he would like to have as such, but he pushed those thoughts aside. No use in dwelling on things he could not have.

He spun for most of the morning and when he finished he wound up the wool he had carefully spun and placed it in a basket. Grabbing his shabby cloak that was hardly useful in its old age, he left his shack and made his way down to the market, intending to sell his wares. The market in the village was a busy place, people crowded in the narrow pathway, trying to reach vendors who were selling fresh produce, trinkets, breads and cheeses. Rumple pushed his way through the crowd, receiving several scornful looks from those who even deigned to look his way, and finally came to the end of the row of booths where his destination lay.

He approached the booth at the end, occupied by a gruff and portly man with a thick beard and even thicker eyebrows. He was an unfriendly fellow, but he was fair in his prices and though Rumplestiltskin held the man in little regard, he depended on him to buy his wool, and therefore said nothing out of turn.

"What have ye got here today, Spinner?" The man asked, his voice dry and rough.

"S-Some wool," Rumplestiltskin stuttered out softly. He was not skilled at bargaining, and his nerves always pushed their way to the surface any time he was supposed to be the least bit forceful. He was not the only spinner in the village, but certainly the most disliked, and if he did not accept the man's offer, he knew there would be others who would gladly take it, even if their work was half the quality of his.

Everyone knew Rumplestiltskin was a skilled spinner, but no one desired to admit it. He was always paid less than what his wool was worth, but he found he did not have the heart to argue with those who could just as easily drive him from his home, son of a coward that he was.

The vendor, Ebert, grabbed the wool from Rumplestiltskin's basket and examined it closely, feeling the material with his rough, thick fingers. He sniffed indignantly and shoved his hand into his purse. He pulled out six shillings and held them out for Rumplestiltskin, who gaped at the amount.

"Six shillings?" He gasped. "Ebert, my wool is worth more than that and you know it!"

Ebert gave him a hard glare and reached into his pocket and pulled out one more shilling and slammed them down onto the table, rocking his entire booth. "You ought to be grateful I give you that, Spinner," he said harshly. "You forget who you are. You're the son of a coward and you're no less a coward than your father. I can take my business elsewhere if you think you're too good for my coin."

Biting back the tears that stung his eyes, Rumplestiltskin slid the coins off the table into his hand, keeping his head down in shame. Ebert was right. He had no other choice but to accept what the man offered, even if his wool was worth more. He could not afford to be picky. He hefted his basket into his hand and turned away, counting the money again. Seven shillings. He had supplies he needed, and he had to eat. It would not be hard to decide what to buy; he knew how to make his miniscule earnings last and this time would be no exception.

He pushed his way back through the market, trying to make his way to the vendors he needed items from without any problems. He managed to get some food; cheese and bread and some dried fruit, but that left hardly anything for more wool. While some spinners were able to afford to buy and raise their own sheep, Rumplestiltskin was not so fortunate. He was saving up for one, but he had not yet managed to save enough of his earnings to even buy the smallest, most pathetic sheep.

He returned home and stored his food, then took one shilling and dropped in in the small clay cup he used as his fund for a sheep. He placed the jar under the basket that held his spinning supplies to keep it hidden. After securing it, he grabbed a jug that held the last bit of ale he'd purchased a few weeks ago. He'd saved this bit just for today and after he gathered a few bits of dried fruit onto his plate, he settled at his wheel and began to spin as he ate his birthday supper.

He spun until late that night, hoping to use the last bit of the material to make a worthwhile trip back to the marketplace the next day. He spun the last of his wool and sighed heavily as he wound it up and placed it in his traveling basket, ready to go first thing in the morning. Perhaps if he could get to Ebert right after he'd set up he could catch him in a better mood, if such a thing were possible with the hateful man.

He tipped back the jug and finished off the last of his ale, sighing in bittersweet delight at the novelty drink he could only afford of the most special of occasions. He wiped his hand against the corners of his mouth and looked down at the empty jug in his hands. He's enjoyed the small treat, but it was time to go to bed and rest for the next day. He'd allowed himself one day to work less than normal, but that was not something he could get in the habit of doing. He couldn't afford to.

He returned the jug to where he'd retrieved it and pulled off his shift and tunic. He had no nightgown, and so he slept in his pants. He removed his shoes and crawled into his small bed. It was tiny and uncomfortable but he was grateful for it nonetheless. He looked over at the candle he'd lit when he came home and watched the flame dance and bounce contentedly where it stood. He wished he could be like the flame, bright and burning and beautiful. But he was Rumplestiltskin, and no one wanted or needed him. He was alone in this world and he could not forget it; not even for a day.

He sighed and blew out the candle, letting his loneliness wash over him as the darkness settled over the shack he called home.

Author's Notes:

I do not own Once Upon a Time or any of its characters. Some dialogue in this story is taken directly from the episodes. I claim no ownership of those lines. All original characters, events, and places belong to me.

Chapter 2 will be posted October 25!