Continuing Tales

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 12 of 17

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Civilised Existence

Belle knew every inch of the castle.

It wasn't just because she had cleaned every inch, which had helped. She also explored, especially now that there were no rooms that were off-limits to her. The room she now shared with Rumpelstiltskin had been a surprise when she first saw it by daylight.

For some reason, she always pictured dark drapes, flickering lanterns, mysterious bottles with gory contents on ominous shelves, and all the things that anyone who knew of him only by reputation.

Instead, he had a simple bed with a wooden chest on either side. The bed itself was plain, broad and thickly quilted. It wasn't even a four-poster, so there were no curtains to stave off the chill that descended in the night, but the blankets, eiderdowns and his arms were quite enough to keep her warm.

The grounds, on the other hand, were less familiar.

There was a maze, which she got lost in once, and spent almost six hours in because she was determined to find her way out on her own without calling for help. In the end, the pruning shears and some adventurous climbing got her out, though her dress never recovered. Rumpelstiltskin didn't say a word, but she had a feeling he watched the whole thing and probably enjoyed a good deal of entertainment at her expense.

Still, she was determined to get to know the place better, now that it was truly her home.

So what if she wasn't able to see the world? The estate was huge, and she was fairly sure there were probably at least two and a half other Kingdoms in it, if she ever got as far as the borders.

Each day when he set out to make his deals, Belle packed herself a basket, donned her cloak, then spun in a circle for ten seconds, and whichever direction she was facing when she stopped, she set out that way to see what lay ahead.

Three times in a row, she ended up back at the blasted maze on one particularly unfortunate day, and felt justified in taking another spin.

This time, she stumbled, as if something tugged on her ankle, knocking her off-balance, but when she opened her eyes, it was a new direction, and more importantly, it wasn't going to be another afternoon of hedge-trimming.

She set out at once.

Usually, she allowed herself to walk as far as her feet could bear, and once there, she would sit, take in the surroundings, enjoy them for a few hours, and then head back to the castle in time for a late meal.

The area was one she hadn't seen before, with rolling fields, and flowers. It felt almost childish to do it, but she gathered flowers as she went. They could be woven into a garland, once she got to the end of her walk.

It was beautiful, and she found herself wandering further and further. The smells of the grass and the trees, the birds singing, the rippling brook nearby. She wished that Rumpelstiltskin were there, so he could share it, even if he probably would wrinkle his nose and point out it was just a field.


She spun around, startled, the first time she had heard a female voice since the woman on the road.

An old woman was standing on the opposite side of the brook. She was bent, her hair grey, and she was leaning heavily on a staff. There was a basket at her feet and she offered a crook-toothed smile. "Milady is a long way from anywhere."

"Oh. No," Belle said with a smile. "I'm close to home. Can I help you? Are you lost?"

The woman shook her head. "Just passing through, my dear," she said. "I'm a trader, you see. I sell pretty things to ladies who can't get to market themselves." She waved back in the direction of the trees. "I was walking in the forests when I saw you, and thought you might care to take a look."

Belle looked down at her own basket. "I don't have anything I could use to buy your wares," she said apologetically. "I hope you didn't come all the way here, only to have to walk all the way back to your path."

The old woman laughed, her dark eyes crinkling. "No, child," she said. "If you have a piece of food to spare, an apple, perhaps? I have no need of wealth or fortune. I only seek to bring beautiful things to beautiful women."

Belle bit her lip thoughtfully. It would be nice to have something new for her hair, or a new necklace. Something eye-catching and pretty. After all, there was only so much you could do with a single wardrobe of clothing.

"Wait there," she said, setting down her basket and slipping off her shoes. She pulled her skirts up above her knees and waded into the shallow brook. The water was wonderfully cool and she splashed across to the other side. She sat down on the bank with a smile. "There. Now, I can have a look."

"Yes, yes," the old woman said, crouching down. "Look, milady. Look at this lovely necklace." She held up a shimmering jewel on a fine chain, then a delicate comb, patterned with red roses. "Or perhaps a comb for your lovely hair?"

"Oh!" Belle said. "That's beautiful."

The old woman smiled brightly. "Let's try it, shall we?" she said, loosening Belle's hair and dragging her fingers through it. Something caught Belle's eye, something that wasn't quite right. The old woman's hands were slender, smooth, young,

Belle pulled away, but the old woman had her by the hair and jerked her back. "Who are you?" she cried, struggling, her hair tearing away at the root.

"Someone you shouldn't trifle with, girl," the old woman sneered, ramming the comb into Belle's hair until it tore through flesh and blood welled up. Belle cried out in pain, then shock as a chill seemed to spread out from the comb, flooding her body.

She drew a breath and screamed, "Rumpelstiltskin!"

Civilised Existence

A Once Upon a Time Story
by Fyrie

Part 12 of 17

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