So this was what her pleading and begging, her answer to everything had amounted to.
She'd felt it before, growing slowly day after day as the war raged on and she'd begged her father to change his mind and do this one thing for her, to summon the man that made him so nervous he didn't want to hear or even say the name. Now it was finally done. Her father had finally given in when the walls were breached. Now the wizard she'd read about in her books had received their request for help...and she really wasn't sure if she hoped he would come or not.
She had taken to reading in the war council room ever since she'd convinced her father to send that message. But it wasn't because it was comfortable to read in, the room was drafty, not hard to imagine considering the gaping hole in the wall the ogres had left there when they invade. In fact it wasn't even really to read at all. If anyone ever watched closely enough, they'd notice that she rarely turned a page in her precious book! Part of her didn't want to turn the pages, for fear she'd crinkle them or damage it in some way. It was one of the only things she had that reminded her of her mother. That, and the small pearl necklace that she'd been given years ago as they read this very book together, which she'd found sitting in a jewelry box days ago and now hung around her neck. A painful reminder of...
She swallowed her grief back down and stopped stared blankly at the page in front of her to pick up her head and look around the still tense room. No, they wouldn't notice she wasn't really reading. No one ever seemed to notice her. Not her father, not Gaston, not the soldiers or advisors. Not now, not before. But at the moment, that was just fine with her, just the way she wanted it. Let them forget about her, let them think she was just a silly, frightened girl that was seeking the company of strong, protective men. So long as it allowed her to accomplish her objective, she was willing to be seen as that.
She wasn't in this room to read. The truth was she'd begun to sit in the council room day in and day out so she could listen to what was happening with the war. It seemed sinister, to have to spy like this, but, if she didn't, she knew the answers that she would get when she asked about what was going on in the world beyond these crumbling walls. "Oh never you mind. I'm sure your father and Gaston will take care of it," her nurse had told her one too many times. And she'd tracked her father down enough over the past few days in the hallway to know the answer "I've done what I can, Belle, please leave the rest to me and stay far away from this business!" by heart. She hated that answer. She didn't want to stay far away from the business, especially if she'd been the one to instigate it! And if there was anything her days of sitting here had proved it was that her begging and pleading, the request that she'd made of her father, was beyond necessary. The more they waited, the more they stalled, the more she came to realize they were not "taking care" of it...at least not well enough.
It was dire. She knew it was from the reports she was hearing. The years this war had cost them had finally taken their toll and now they had reached the end of their rope, their options were gone, the resources dried up, and now all it seemed they could do was await the arrival of their last hope...their only hope. The tension was so thick in the room it was hard to breathe, probably because after all she'd read she wasn't sure if "hope" was the word their savior would inspire in others. From what she'd read, "fear" was probably more accurate.
Suddenly, the door to the room opened and there was a unison intake of breath among the occupants, which was quickly released. It wasn't him. Only one of her father's many soldiers, one of the few that was left anyway. Everyone silently gathered around the table, holding a map of her father's small kingdom. Even she shut her book and clutched it protectively to her chest as she strode over to listen carefully. No one noticed. The soldier placed a note into one of the advisors hands. "Sir, there's news from the battle field," he unfolded the note and paused for a moment. It was bad news, she could tell before he read it from his fallen face alone. Something bad had happened. "Avonlea has fallen."
The words fell from his mouth and sank into their bellies like rocks in an ocean. Her jaw dropped and she looked around the room over to Gaston, her half-witted fiance, who appeared to be choosing his facial expression based on what everyone else was doing. It didn't surprise her that it was taking a moment to process in his mind, but everyone else knew just the same as she did: this was bad.
"Oh my gods," she heard her father mutter tonelessly, in shock.
"If only he had come," Gaston said darkly, finally catching on to the horrible devastation three simple words had brought.
"Well he didn't, did he!" her father yelled at him over the top of her head. She knew he wasn't actually angry at Gaston, the boy could do no wrong in his eyes, he was only disheartened at what was happening to his kingdom. Small as it was, he loved it. They all did. Avonlea...it wasn't too far from here, only an hour or two on horse back. It was a lovely place, one of the few towns in her kingdom with a library. It was one of the largest towns in her fathers Kingdom and one of the strongest. They had a palace there, or at least they had. Now it was gone. All of it. Gone. That had to be what her father thought as he walked away from the table, his shoulders hunched in defeat. This was a tragedy. "Ogres are not men!" he tossed over his shoulder, before slumping down onto his throne.
"We have to do something!" Gaston said, offering little but the reminder of failure. "We have to stop them!"
She fought hard no to roll her eyes. The words were poorly chosen. Of course they had to do something to stop this, but when every option was exhausted...eventually there was nothing to be done. Her father knew this, it was why he suddenly looked like a very old pauper instead of a proud man of noble blood. She couldn't let him give in this easily. He had to keep faith, keep believing. The entire room was looking to him for support and encouragement and if he didn't offer it, then the entire country would lose heart. And if that happened they may as well surrender this moment. Besides, hope wasn't completely gone yet. For all they knew the last chance they were waiting for just hadn't shown up yet. It was a long shot but it was more than any of the other brave soldiers in the room seemed to offer.
She set her beloved book down and stepped easily around the men, then sank down next to her father's defeated form, taking his hand in her own.
"They are unstoppable," he muttered sadly, his eyes distant, seeing without truly seeing his daughter. He'd been through so much in the last few months. Her engagement. The loss of his wife, her mother. The horrible turn this terrible war had taken. But giving up was easy, and, though neither of them liked the simple idea she'd come up with, it was all they had left to believe in. They had to cling to it.
"He could be on his way right now, Papa," she reminded him. But the expression on his face never changed.
"It's too late, my Belle," he muttered sadly, "it's just...too late."
She felt useless. And seeing her father in this state only made her feel worse. She wished she could do something, wished that there was something more that would help the situation. That she could bring her mother back or end this war, but those were impossible tasks! Deep down, she knew there was nothing that hadn't already been tried. Even if she did have another spark of an idea, no one here would listen to her anyway. Her own father barely listened, it was only after weeks of urging that he'd finally given in to her, it wouldn't be the same now. No one would look to her, or expect her to ever-
Suddenly something pounded on the door, startling her and everyone else in the strained room. "It's him!" she shouted confidently, relief spreading through her chest. "It has to be!" There was no one else that they were expecting, no one that would ever venture out here during the war,which left only one possible conclusion. Her heart leapt with nervous energy, for the possibility that someone else could do what she couldn't, that this would go better than her father thought it would. She didn't care what she'd read about this monster, if he could ease her father's mind and save her village then whatever he asked of them would be worth it.
Her father stood and they approached the door together. "How could he get passed the walls?" he muttered, almost nervously, forgetting that after the last attack, there practically were no walls to get passed. "Open it!" he yelled at the guards standing at the door who obeyed thoughtlessly. The tension seemed to heightened as she clutched her father's arm and heard Gaston draw his sword cautiously; the only thing he really knew how to do. But as the doors opened she and everyone else stared in confusion. There was no one there! But then what-
"Well, that was a bit of a letdown," they all jumped at the unknown voice, and turned quickly to see a man...no, creature really, sitting on the seat that was supposed to be her fathers. He gave a playful giggle as they stared, like something was funny but no one in the room jested with him. Everyone stood perfectly still, taking in the shocking sight of him. He looked like a man, well he had the body form of one: two arms, two legs, a head full of hair, two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. But his skin! His skin was a strange color, gold, slightly greenish even and seemed to sparkle as he moved. His nails were black, his teeth rotted. And his eyes, they reminded her of a lizards eyes. Cunning and shifty, like they could see straight through her. She found herself trying not to sneer at the strange man, if she could even call him that. This was what her begging and pleading had amounted to. She hoped looks were deceiving and it would be worth it.
Gaston pulled his sword and approached him like the threat the roll in her belly told her he was. "You sent me a message," the stranger said in a high-pitched voice ignoring his advance, "something about 'Help! Help! We're dying! Can you save us?'" he mocked giving them a childlike smile. She glanced at her father. This! This was really the sorcerer she'd read about? The great wizard?! He acted more like a child! "Now the answer is..." he drawled, glaring at Gaston, paying no heed to the sword in his hand, "yes!" he finally answered, batting the weapon away like it was an annoying fly, "I can." He tossed a tower from the map, that she hadn't noticed that he was playing with, at one of the advisers and the man caught it but only barely. Like her, no one seemed to be able to focus on anything but this creature.
She couldn't help it, strange and mysterious as he was, she was impressed with the way that he commanded the attention in the room. She found herself wishing that she could do that just as easily. She wished she could make people listen to her the way he did! "Yes I can protect your little town," he continued, his tone changing ever so slightly. He walked around the table and suddenly pointed a finger at her father. "For a price," he added maliciously. No wonder his tone had changed. She knew that his 'protection' wasn't going to come cheap. Clearly he'd never heard of doing something for the common good just because it was the right thing to do. This kingdom may have been small, only a few tiny villages that belonged to them, but it was still a good kingdom with good people, and it was for that reason alone that if he was going to demand payment, they would pay it. They would have to. The kingdom was looking to them for help, they wouldn't ignore them.
"We sent you a promise of gold," her father insisted, seeming to find his voice and stepping up to him.
"Ah! Now you see, um, I, uh, make gold!" he said like it was the most obvious, idiotic, thing in the world to suggest. Now that she thought about it, it was. She'd read that he could spin ordinary straw into gold somewhere in her book. But if gold wasn't the answer then what else was there for a man who had no need of riches? "What I want is something a bit more special," she didn't like the tone of his voice, it made her stomach turn nervously. "My price...is her".
Her? Her?! Was he pointing at her?! She couldn't tell because he had barely seemed to notice her, just like everyone else in the room. But from the way that her father was now looking at her, and the way Gaston had put his arm out in front of her told her that she wasn't mistaken. He was talking about her!
"No!" her father said, less than convincingly. It was a strange feeling. No one had ever noticed her before, but now they all seemed to be staring at her. And the way some of them were looking at her made her sick. It was like she wasn't a woman or even a person any more, but collateral. Some of them were actually considering this! Her heart was jumping erratically. Never had she thought that she'd ever think Gaston was a suitable husband, she'd grown up with him and just couldn't see him that way, and thinking about what she'd been told was to happen after they were married, what she needed to do with him to make sure their was an heir...it made her feel ill! But compared to this man…well, surely Gaston wasn't the worst person she could be forced to marry.
"The young lady is engaged…to me!" Gaston said in his normal dull monotone. Apparently she hadn't been the only person thinking about her new potential marriage. He was just the only one possessive enough to say something.
Rumpelstiltskin gave another childish giggle. "I wasn't asking if she was engaged!" he said moving around them, still paying her no attention. "I'm not looking for…love" he said, saying the word like he was disgusted by it and leaving her perfectly confused. If he didn't want her in that way, then what did he want her for? "I'm looking for a caretaker," he corrected, answering her question as if he could read her mind, "for my rather large estate."
Her nerves eased with the knowledge that he didn't want a wife but a caretaker. The position was beneath a woman of her royal blood, but even she had to admit it didn't sound too bad. Certainly not as terrible as marriage. Caretaker. That meant...what exactly? Becoming a maid? Looking after the "large estate" and it's occupants? How much could that entail? Cleaning? Organizing? Cooking? Laundry? She could do that. Well, actually she couldn't, but she could learn. And it wasn't like he was asking her to marry him and produce an heir as she was expected to with Gaston. But the smile on his face, it made her uneasy, what was the reason behind that smile?
"It's her or no deal," he said, finally coming to the bottom line.
"Get out," her father ordered in a less than forceful tone. Rumpelstiltskin smiled, still not looking her, and it was beginning to bother her. If he was going to include her in on a deal and barter with her future, the least he could do was look at her, maybe even ask her instead of her father! "Leave!" her father ordered loudly.
Suddenly Gaston's arm carelessly hit her throat as he pushed her back out of the way, like she didn't have the sense to move on her own if she was in the way. It made her hands ball into tight fists as she struggled to keep from snapping at him. It wasn't the first time he'd done that, and she hated it each time, even in the most pressing of situations.
"As you wish," Rumpelstiltskin muttered, before slowly walking toward the door.
No. No this couldn't all have been for nothing! Their Kingdom needed help and this man had the answer! But the price, it was just...
From somewhere deep down she heard a voice in the back of her head, one that sounded like her mother, ask if this was how she wanted to live the rest of her life. As someone no one listened to, no one paid any mind to, and had to beg to be heard. If she really wanted to be married off to Gaston like a prized mare, or produce an heir to the throne like livestock and be forever known as the pretty face beside the King! And that was if they could win the Ogre War.
What would happen if they didn't? What would become of her then? Of her father? Of their people? What would their life be like? Would they even survive? Would their kingdom? She'd already lost her mother, a brave valiant woman who had sacrificed everything, including her life, so that she could live-truly live! Was this really how she'd have wanted her to live out that sacrifice? Or would she expect more? Her mother had taught her she didn't need a sword to be a hero, just one word, one brave selfless action! An action she hadn't had weeks ago to save a dear friend. No, she wouldn't let that happened again because of her...she couldn't!
"No! Wait!" she called suddenly feeling every eye turn to her once again, looks of shock written on their faces. Even the man, the creature, Rumpelstiltskin finally turned to look at her. She took a deep breath and removed Gaston's arm before walking away from them and standing before the reptile man. She looked him over once and then swallowed hard trying to find her voice before her nerves got the better of her. Only a few words, she only needed a few words. She had to say them and it would be done. She had the courage somewhere, certainly she'd inherited that from her mother. Maybe if she did the brave thing, said the brave words, she would find that she really could be truly brave. Maybe she could be the hero, just like the men in her books...just like her mother.
"I will go with him," she said firmly, leaving no room for argument. And yet the room seemed to explode.
"I forbid it!" Gaston insisted.
"No!" her father muttered shocked.
"No one decides my fate but me!" she turned to shout at the two of them. Something in her snapped, irritated with the way she was treated and how they thought they should have more say over what she did and didn't do in her life than she did. It was her father trying to convince her not to go to Arendale all over again! Only this time she'd have the promise that everything would work out! She'd never get Anna's life back, she'd have to live with that for the rest of her life, but maybe...maybe she could ease her burden, by countering one terrible deed with a good one. One selfish act had cost a woman her life, maybe one selfless one could save hundreds.
"I shall go," she said, turning back to the creature before her, her outburst silencing the two of them.
"It's forever, dearie," he commented with childish glee.
Forever. An eternity with this man no doubt would truly feel like an eternity, she'd grow old and die in his shadow. But she thought of the villages, her own and the others, the families, the children, all the mothers and fathers that would benefit if she did this. She wouldn't be nobility anymore. She'd be less. Prisoner forever. Caretaker. Forever! She could live with that. She could learn to live with it. She could figure this out one step at a time, one day at a time. She had to, for them, for her own mother and father, and in a strange way she couldn't understand, for herself as well. But she had to be sure first. If it was forever, then she wanted to be clear exactly what "forever" bought.
"My family, my friends, they will all live?" she stated her expectations clearly, leaving no room for loop holes, no room for him to fool or trick her, as she'd heard he often did. This was her deal now, it wasn't her father that could save everyone, it was her.
Rumpelstiltskin gave a small innocent bow. "You have my word."
Then her fate was sealed. She'd always wanted to be in charge of herself, to plan her own future, but she certainly never thought this was where it would lead her. She pushed the regret, the "what if's", the possibilities, the fears and nerves out of her mind, and managed to find the right words once again.
"Then you have mine." She didn't leave room to mourn, "I will go, with you, forever."
"Deal!" Rumpelstiltskin giggled more gleefully than before and jumped up and down excitedly. She watched him curiously. This was it then, this...this childish powerful creature was her new future. She remained stone faced, not allowing anyone to see any of the emotions passing through her. She could do this.
"Belle," came her father's voice behind her. "You cannot do this," she turned to him and rested her hand on his chest, trying to keep her face brave and not cry. She'd been separated by her mother by force of death and now she was voluntarily doing it to her father. It was hard to see now, but this was the right thing to do. He would remain, he would live, he would continue to rule. That was all that mattered. She had to be brave for him, after all, this was for him. "Please," he begged, "you can't go with this...beast!" he spat glaring over her shoulder to the creature about to take her away from this life.
"Father, Gaston..." she looked at the pair of them, she'd known them both her entire life, and cared for them both, no matter how dull and stupid she thought Gaston had grown up to be, no matter how demanding and controlling her father could be. Separating from them wasn't easy, but it had to be done. "It's been decided," she said firmly, trying to tell him that things were not going to change. Their desperate pleas were useless.
"You know..." the sinister voice muttered behind her, she could hear his footsteps coming closer to her, feel him lurking just over her shoulder, "she's right." She glanced at him, still wearing a face of indistinguishable emotion. "The deal...is struck!" he said, in a way that made her stomach flip over. But looking at her father she could tell that it had gotten the point across to him. It seemed to have killed his hope, she only wished that some day he would realize that she was doing this to give him hope, to give him and everyone else a chance at life. "Oh! Congratulations on your little war!" Rumpelstiltskin taunted needlessly.
She wished she could explain this to her father in private, she wished she had time to make it better, to tell him good-bye, and most of all let him know how much she loved him. But before she knew what was happening she felt a hand at her waist, gently pulling her away from him, and one at her back, pushing her forward, ending her old life and beginning something new.
Hi! For those of you that are just checking out this fiction, welcome! For those of you who are a fan of the Moments Series, welcome back! I hope you'll enjoy this fiction. It's the first in the Moments Series, a series that is an attempt at an accurate portrayal of Belle's perspective during the Once Upon a Time series. This fiction features everything that happened in the Enchanted Forest from the moment that Belle makes her deal with Rumpelstiltskin up to the moment the curse takes her to Storybrooke. The scenes that we saw in 4x06, Belle's past before Rumple, they will not appear in this fiction, they will appear in a separate fiction, a prequel that will be released at a later date, possibly the winter hiatus of season 5.
Because I am working to keep this series as accurate as possible, there will be changes made to this fiction, new chapters added every hiatus and summer, as needed, to make sure it stays up to date. But I won't bore you with those details, if you really want them check out the authors note at the end, it'll explain everything. Just know for now that we are updated through 4x22 which of course really just means we are updated through the short story in the OUaT comic Out of the Past. A&E have spoken and said it is canon and so you will find it here. If you want to continue to receive updates for Known and Unknown or any of the Moments Series fictions I've created a twitter account you can follow all year long! Follow Montreat11 on Twitter for updates! And if you enjoy this fiction, please review! I always enjoy those wonderful gems waiting for me in my inbox and I love writing back to thank you personally for reading and reviewing! It helps me know that I'm doing a decent job. Peace and Happy Reading!