Gnarled old, but finely jeweled fingers rapped quickly against the tattered edges of a faded brown map on a large oaken table worriedly. It was the only noise in the grand room that held only a few select people who milled about in wariness, casting unsure glances in every direction, their eyes speaking louder than any words that could have been said.
The windows to the room had been shut and locked save for one huge glass rectangular pane that clearly displayed a multi-hued carpet of different tent colors on the ground as a dire picture of an all to real army camped and waiting just outside the kingdom borders.
Thick oily smoke curled from their camp fire mingling to seem like a volcanoes smoke, before an eruption, in the crystal clear sky. Even from his high point, one could hear the muffled sound of hammers repairing and fining weapons and armors, the sharp thunks as axes bit into the surrounding trees to create rams and siege vehicles. The barks of captains rang high into the air as they placed their troops in order or ran drills in preparation for the battle.
The king, Maurice, looked out upon the stirring enemy camp with watery blue eyes, his hands rhythmically still rapping against the table. There were probably more men out there preparing to invade his lands that he could see from the high perch in his castle study than the whole army he led! Alone, he knew he stood no chance against such a force that threatened to overwhelm his country and people.
"Where is he?" The king muttered through his scruff untamed salt and peppered beard anxiously. Only he could provide a chance to save his kingdom, even though all knew of his reputation of craftiness.
A soft hand landed on his shoulder tenderly, giving him a small comforting squeeze that temporarily banished all strife coursing through his aged body. His old calloused hand found the soft, letting a sigh pass his lips. Turning around he found his lovely daughter, Belle, smiling calmly kind at him.
Her maple brown hair fell in an array of loose curls that tumbled down her shoulders. Azure blue eyes flashed mildly to her father silently giving him comfort. Even though she did not like his desperate decision, she would not argue his wisdom, but add her support in the face of such a burden which he alone bore on his aging shoulders.
Belle, his only child. A lovely woman all the men in his kingdom would happy woo given they had such riches for dowries and courtship. She had granted audiences to princes, kings, earls, and dukes from all over the land, yet none had managed to gain his lovely daughters hand to wed. She was a lofty free spirit that forged her own path in the usual formal world of royalty. His Belle had ideas and dreams that would make the kingdom flourish with happiness when his time had gone. If of course, there was still a kingdom to be had.
His brief smile faded away at the thought of his daughter living as a refugee in another kingdom or slain in the heat of battle.
"Don't worry, father, it will be alright." Belle assured him, her tone soft as she smiled at him.
"Not with-out my help it won't." A voice casually stated suddenly in the room.
The tension in the room became palpable as all heads turned to the creature that had magically slithered into their presence like some dangerous poisonous snake that had managed to slide under the door unnoticed.
His hair was tangled about his head in thin onyx oily strands to the point where it gleamed in the candle light. Green grayish skin seemed almost like scales that covered his body that was richly garbed in colorful festive clothes, so that he almost looked jester like, except all knew that a beast with his power was nothing to laugh at.
With a slick ugly smile he swaggered up to the king, a sharp pointed finger nail inches away from his majesty's weathered features. "I see you're in quite a bind here; an army at your heels, not enough forces, everyone waiting for their glorious leader to save them from the maw of evil." Rumple giggled sadistically. "So you've called me, now what can I do for you?"
The king stammered in front of the grotesque lanky thing before him. He dabbed his lips with his dry tongue trying to sound assured, but only seeming small and helpless in the eyes of one so known for evil. "We need help to beat the foe back; my commanders tell me that if we defeat them here they will be gone for good."
The devious Rumple nodded, his sickly teal eyes flashing gaily. "Oh, indeed they will be." Putting an arm around the kings shoulder the magical fiend ran his hand through the air as if displaying a picture as he hissed into the king's ear. "Think of it, no more war for at least a thousand years, peace, happiness, and the rest of those sickening ideals. All for the right price of course."
The king visibly shivered as if cold at Rumples touch, moving away from the ever grinning monster that stood in front of him calmly. Wiping sweat that beaded upon his wrinkled brow the king shifted his glance back to the window once more. If there was an option to push back the foe and offer peace, he could do nothing but take such an opportunity.
"What is it you wish?" He asked while staring intently out of the glass to the foe littered ground below. "I can grant you gold, gems, silks, wine, and the finest things money can buy!"
The devious fiend chuckled, shaking his head slightly. "That I can already have at the snap of my fingers. What need have I when I can conjure up a kingdom at the mere thought? No, I want…" His head scanned the room leisurely as if observing the expensive furniture before his eyes rested on the unwavering woman by the king's side.
Now she was a pretty one, one with hopes and dreams he'd yet to tamper with and crush. She stared at him, more curious than afraid, though when their eyes met she did not turn away like others but stared back as good as she got from him. Grinning maliciously, he pointed to Belle, she was an interesting one. "Her, I want, her."
"No!" The king snapped so viciously it slightly took Rumple aback, yet nothing but the same weasel grin sat plastered to his ever at ease features.
Striding in front of his daughter protectively his cloak swirled about him as the king took a step towards the magical monster. His face was smeared in a hard grimace, blue eyes flashing dangerously with his instinctive paternal urge to protect his child. "My daughter is not for sale, Beast!"
Rumple held a finger up, smirking at the king. "Ah, but would your people think the same. One girl for a kingdom. Think of the thousands." He mocked callously his hands clutched together in a mocking plea.
Maurice blinked, suddenly unsure at the ugly fiends joking yet truthful words. He could well imagine the blood spilt on the land from the merciless army scratching at their door. All the families whose lives would be destroyed and wasted. The hate and malice that would creep into a conquered people. But still, his daughter? His only family left upon the earth in the hands of the weedy little gnat before him.
"What will happen if we strike no bargain?" Belle asked inquisitively, though there was no masking the tremor in her voice. She had never been one to simply stand aside while court affairs took place, especially not when they were so directly involving her. All knew Belle made her own decisions on many matters; she was her fathers most trusted advisor.
Rumple shrugged his shoulder carelessly, still smiling gleefully. "The usual I suppose; men slaughtered on the field, women raped, children yanked away from their homes to be slaves in foreign lands, homes set ablaze." He yawned as if bored of the terror he evoked from his all too true words. "You know, what normally happens to the losers of war and all that."
"But if I strike this deal, will our victory be assured?" Belle persisted courageously. She would not let such vile things happen to her people. She could imagine the faces from the nearby villages stapled with terror as they ran for their lives from the forces barreling down upon them, all because she refused to strike a bargain with this…thing. She loved her people as any ruler would, and would not see them suffer such a fate for her sake. Still, a part of her screamed to run away and hide from the green eyes that searched her intently, and the smile that showed his yellowing small pointy teeth.
The fiend only nodded in reply, drumming his finger tips together steadily as he did so.
Sucking in a calming deep breath, she used the images of her people being decimated to spur her on. Nodding her head slightly she forced her words not to quake when they came out. "Then I will go with you, Rumplestilkn." She replied suddenly.
"No!" Maurice cried desperately gripping his daughters arm as if she would be whisked away at that moment.
"Yes!" Rumple hissed happily clapping his scaly hands in devious glee.
She would not sell herself to this crazed demon spawn, if he could help it. He would fight with every once of blood he had left to keep it from taking! Her azure eyes found her fathers confidently, as she nodded. "Papa I have to. What did you always tell me; that there are things larger than us in this world. This is one of those things." She replied calmly to her aching father.
Maurice could see in his daughter's eyes, she had already steeled herself to do it. She had her mother's stubborn will galloping through her veins. He knew there was no arguing with her in this state, her mind was made, even if he forbade it, all the magic in the world could not stop her.
Jerking around to Rumple, he searched the grinning beast desperately. "Please, there has got to be something else you desire, please don't take my daughter, please." He cared not if he begged in front of his entire kingdom, if it would save Belle a horrid fate he'd do it a million times over.
Rumple pursed his thin gray lips, staring off to the side, a finger tapping his chin thoughtfully for a few seconds. "Mm, nope." He replied cruelly. "It's the girl or you can start digging those graves now."
"It's not my father's choice." Belle replied firmly as she took a step to the ugly Rumple. Her blue eyes stared fearlessly into his green, as she stood proudly, shoulders squared and chin high. "I except."
Rumple chortled in devilish glee, starting down the lovely Belle once more with his sickly gaze that made a shiver crawl up her spine. "Goody." He replied smartly, his grin larger as his eyes continued their frivolous search of her.
Looking past Belle's shoulder, the fiend smiled a greasy grin at Maurice, before offering him a deep mock bow. "By dawn, your pesky army problem will be solved. Have fun running your kingdom, majesty." Grabbing Belle roughly with one hand, he wiggled his fingers at the king and his courtiers impishly, sniggering as he did so. "Tootles." He giggled cruelly then disappeared with Belle in tow.
The king took a step forward, his mouth agape as if not registering what had just been done. His heart jerked in his chest as he realized it had been the last time he would see his only child. He hadn't even gotten to bid her farewell. Her sweet perfume of wild flowers still lingered in the hot air of the court, a lasting memory forever burned into his mind of her. To think the last he ever saw of his beauty was her being hauled away to dwell with a beast.
A ragged sob escaped his lips as tear swelled in his eyes. He realized he'd been cheated in his deal; there had been no victory, only loss that tore his spirit in two. Falling to his knees, his body was racked as he sobbed for his daughter lost.
For Belle the world turned from the warm burgundies and browns of her fathers study to a blinding flash of brilliant white that made black and blue spots blink through her vision. Instantly she felt herself being jerked half blind through a cold hallway. She tried hard to keep herself on balance as she was hauled through winding corridors.
"Keep up, dearie; I have more things to do than lead you to your accommodations." Rumple snickered as he led her through his castle dungeons.
He was quite proud of his dungeon or collection room as he sometimes termed it. He had managed to wrangle quite a few oddities that called the foul dark place home sweet home, but Belle was most certainly the prettiest of his collection. He might even find a use for her if the mood took his fancy. He did have a huge home and it wasn't going to clean itself unless he made it do so.
As he came upon a single black steeled door he stopped sudden making Belle ram into him. He sighed in annoyance as he didn't budge, looking down upon her speaking officiously. "Here's where your situation stands, dearie. You bargained your life for your father's kingdom. That means from that moment you agreed, you became nothing more than another piece of my property. I own you. Do you understand?"
"I- I-." Belle stammered, looking around the frightening place before her. Taking a soothing breath she nodded sadly to Rumple. "I understand."
He grinned wickedly swinging the door to the cell open. "Good then, welcome home." He mocked before shoving her inside.
Belle only got a passing glance at the cell before the door was closed. A pile of dirty straw lining the floor, and a broken chair hunkered into a corner. The sound of echoing dripping told that there was water somewhere, and a tall thin window that couldn't even fit her slender arm through was carved at the back wall, but with no light shining through. The faint glimmer of white bone lying off to the side with a chain still clamped across its yellowing bone was testament that her cell had become only recently vacated.
As the door slammed shut and she was left in a world of darkness with only the dripping and the scurrying of curious rats, Belle finally felt free to let her emotions fly. Her hands felt along the black slimy walls till she could feel the tiny slit of the window and the chill air howling outside.
Settling down under it, she curled up with her knees tucked against her chest, and sobbed quietly for freedom, dreams, and hopes gone away that she would never know again.
Spinning at his wheel, the master of the castle frowned solemnly as he heard the soft cries of his captive echo around him. As he watched the flaxen straw turn into golden thread, he wondered why it did not feel quite right in his heart that she weapt.