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Beyond Your Command

A NEW AGE OF FEMINISM

I asked 15-year-old Ella Noire to get together with some of her friends and discuss feminism – what it means to them, how it impacts their lives; are they activists, are they students & teachers; what effect does living under the construct of the patriarchy have on their lives.

Tune in for a glimpse into the minds of the next generation – the future is female, after all.

~ Verity Violet

The Gallery

WOMEN IN ART – SEPTEMBER 2017

by Clio le Faye

Hello! I’m Clio (aka Olivia Trimble), a second generation sign painter and muralist living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This month we are talking about what has led us to where we are today in our journey as feminists. I’ve reached out to three of the most badass artists that I know to see what they have to say about it.

I’ve always been inspired by strong women. It started with my mom and my grandma who are both hardworking and creative ladies. My love for art and support from my family helped me begin to shape my views on feminism. In high school I realized being an artist was an opportunity to be seen as an equal and display my point of view as a woman. The first artist that really captured my attention was Fafi. Fafi is a French graffiti artist who showcases very feminine characters who blur the lines of sexy and strong. She brought such a large feminine voice to a very male dominated medium. I love that about her. I knew from that point that I wanted to join the female art movement and make a voice for myself and other people who feel the same way.

There have been several times when I’ve been discouraged or not taken seriously because I’m a woman and I use that as an opportunity to fight back. For example, I had a teacher in college who pretty much told me I should find a different major because I wasn’t going to be successful as an artist. Just before the semester was over I ignored him and applied for an art scholarship which I won over 800 other students.

ARTIST: Monica Jordan

I’ve always been a feminist…I suppose what has evolved has been my explicit recognition of my beliefs as “feminism” as I’ve gotten older. Growing up in rural Arkansas, feminism was somewhat of bad word, mostly stemming from misunderstanding I think. The dictionary defines a feminist simply as a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. It’s only called feminism because women are the oppressed — the movement aims to bring women up to the same level as men, not grant them more opportunities or rights.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg” and “Thelma & Louise” were two portraits I had been envisioning for a long while, with no real intention other than paying tribute or “fan-girling” as I sometimes do.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of my heros. She was the first tenured female professor of law at Colombia University, and the second female Supreme Court Justice, “RBG” is an intellectual icon, an intergenerational spirit, notorious for her dissents — her first official act as Supreme Court Justice was dissenting.

ARTIST: Stacy Bowers

I think I’ve always been a feminist, whether or not I knew that was the word for it at the time. I grew up reading a lot of books that had strong girl leads, and my best friend was a tomboy. We played in the dirt, built fortresses, and didn’t back down from fights. I remember when boys started to physically pick on me in middle school, I’d fight them back. I had a very close group of girlfriends all through middle and high school, and we supported each other. We were the outcasts: the art nerds, the writers, the anime club, the dyed hair-havers, the baggy jeans wearers. We admired and supported each other. I’m lucky to have had a family that raised me to believe that I could be whatever I wanted to be as long as I kept learning, worked hard and stayed true to myself.

My feminism probably evolved first from my drive to take care of myself, be the strongest I could be, and let no one stand in my way into a broader, societal, universal push for change. I think a lot of people’s journeys through feminism probably start that way, looking within yourself and looking for fairness and justice and then seeing that you and your issues are part of much bigger issues, many of which don’t even directly affect you as an individual, but are part of the broader feminist struggle and therefore part of your fight.

 

Beating the Bechdel

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

by Mary Haines

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Starring Taron Egerton, Julianne Moore and Colin Firth, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material. It’s directed by Matthew Vaughn who helmed the first Kingsman movie and is known for quirky action films.
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Let’s get a few things out of the way first. I loved Kingsman: Secret Service. I’ve seen it 5 or 6 times. I love Colin Firth, and I love fun action movies. I did not love this movie. There are more reasons why than we will go into in this column because that’s not what we’re here for. What we’re here for is to talk about how Kingsman deals with female characters.

ROXYKingsman writers don’t seem to be able to handle more than one female agent at a time, but when they write them, they do it well, I’ll give them that.  Roxy was one of my favorite characters from the first movie. She was strong, she was sensible, she was sure of herself and her abilities. She was also highly skilled and extremely competent.  This makes it all the more disappointing that she was barely in The Golden Circle.
GINGER: Probably the reason that Roxy was written out of the sequel, Halle Berry plays American tech support (Merlin’s counterpart), Ginger Ale. At first, she comes off as a bit of a shy nerd stereotype, but over the course of the movie, you realize that she’s intelligent, competent, and very confident with who she is.  She knows what she wants and keeps going after it, even in the face of unwarranted opposition. I just wish that the writing team could handle more than one female agent at a time because when they do them, they do them well.
TILDE: One of the most controversial parts of the original Kingsman came in the form of an anal sex joke at the end of the movie. I’m not going to pretend to be impartial, I thought it was tacky and tasteless and was “off” from the tone of the rest of the movie. It felt like an instance of using a female character solely as a sex object and that disappointed me.  I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when Princess Tilde showed up in the sequel as what promised to be a fully formed character. And she was …. for a while.  Then she took a hard right turn into “girlfriend who wants a proposal out of nowhere” that flowed into “girlfriend who leaves boyfriend without a word over one semi-fight.”  Which, naturally, then dwindled into a damsel in distress and she spent the rest of the movie needing to be rescued — again.

CLARA: Speaking of using a female character solely as a sex object … I present Clara. She exists to be a bad guy’s girlfriend, a prop for the main character’s relationship problems, and the personification of this edition’s sleazy sex joke. She was usable, disposable, and entirely expendable.

POPPY: Julianne Moore as Harvard businesswoman/domestic goddess/drug queenpin was probably the best thing about The Golden Circle and is responsible for one full star added onto this movie’s score.  Kingsman had a cool female henchwoman in the first movie. You couldn’t call Gazelle a fully developed character, but she definitely had style.  Poppy has style and substance. She built her own little world and commands it with a sinister charm and absolute authority.  Julianne Moore plays her with a scenery-chewing sense of fun that really brings the character alive and makes her outrageously memorable. That said, it’s interesting to note that none of Poppy’s guards or gang are women — thus cementing the theory that the Kingsman writers and/or producers can only handle one female character of any particular type per movie.

The Golden Circle is certainly not in the category of worst movies I’ve ever seen, but you can’t come close to beating the Bechdel test when none of your female characters ever interact with each other. If you have twenty front-line characters and only three of them are female, you have an issue. The Kingsman movies really do a wonderful job at depicting deep freindships and loving relationships between men — now they just need to extend that range to the other fifty percent of the human population and they might be getting somewhere.

It

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Starring Bill Skarsgard, Finn Wolfhard, and a cast of talented newcomersIt is rated R for violence/horror, bloody images,
and for language. Based on the novel by Steven King.  
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It is a classic horror movie.  It has murders and severed body parts, haunted houses, dark sewers, forbidding woods and monsters that come from the depths of our nightmares. It has a scary clown. A very scary clown. Perhaps the scariest clown in collective movie memory.  Bill Skarsgard’s portrayal of “It” is truly terrifying. He drools, he taunts, he tempts, and he kills. He jumps out from hidden corners and bends his body to scuttle up a flight of stairs after you. “It” turns itself into the image of your deepest, darkest fear and chases you down with purpose. If you are a fan of the horror genre, there’s simply no reason for you not to see and enjoy this movie.
*
Having said all of that, It delivers on deeper levels, as well.  If you’re a fan of King, you already know his propensity for telling coming of age stories with a sinister twist.  At its core, It is a movie about growing up. A group of seven misfits, aged 13, come together over the course of a summer and form an unbreakable bond. It is this enduring bond of friendship that ultimately allows them to defeat the monster that has killed classmates, friends, even relatives in the case of leading man, Bill Denbrough.
*
Bill forms one corner of a teenaged love triangle with new-kid-in-town Ben, and Bev, the Losers Club only female member.  Rounding out the 7, you have class clown Richie, smothered son Eddie, Rabbi’s kid Stan and homeschooled Mike.  Stan is often ostracized for his religion, and Mike because of his race. Together, they help each other survive the monster trying to kill them, coming to understand that it is their unity that makes them so powerful.
*
It’s not a stretch from there to understand that It works as a metaphor for the all-too-real perils of adolescence. Your friends, the community you build with each other, is all important. Particularly when you have a bad home life. Unsurprisingly, at least 6 of the Losers Club would rather be in the sewers than at home. (Richie‘s family situation goes unaddressed in the movie.) Bill‘s parents are so wrapped up in their own grief they have nothing left for his. Bill‘s status as de-facto leader of the Losers Club is unquestioned, and it is the loss of his younger brother that drives the whole quest forward.
*
Mike lost his parents to a gruesome fire and is kept isolated by his relatives on their sheep farm, made to participate in the gruesome work. Ben is not only new but fat. A condition that guarantees ridicule and abuse from his peers. Stan can’t live up to his father’s expectations and is chafing against the trappings of his family’s religion. Eddie is the victim of a classic smothering mother. Much more than the proverbial helicopter, she keeps her only son as close as she can, using him as an outlet for her own hypochondria.  As the only adult woman in the movie, Eddie‘s mother is a construct, built out of all the worst traits of motherhood, both real and imagined.
*
And then we have Bev. Lone female member of the Losers Club, Bev has arguably the worst home life of them all. Being raised solely by her father, Bev lives terrified and abused in her own home. When “It” manifests itself as Bev‘s worst nightmare, It doesn’t have to look far, just needing to don the face and form of her only parent. At 13, all of the kids are exploring their emerging sexuality, but Bev is the only one who is sexualized. Painting a perfect picture of the different ways boys and girls are treated, Bev‘s physical development has subjected her to sexual harassment from her classmates and the slimy smear of abuse that’s painted over her relationship with her father. When Bev is struggling to escape an attempted rape by her father, it’s not clear if he’s possessed by “It” or not. And that makes the scene all that more terrifying — the knowledge that there are fathers (and others) out there who do this to their children without the need of possession by an external monster is what should keep us all up at night.
*
Bev is also the fulcrum of a love triangle in the Losers Club, but it is a gentle, soft-edged triangle; no sharp points to draw blood. Ben has all of the longings of unrequited love but quietly accepts that Bev‘s feelings are for Bill.  He accepts this without anger towards either of his friends; he never expected that he had a right to Bev‘s love just because of his for her and there is no whining about being friend-zoned. For her part, although Bev chooses Bill for the short term, she chooses herself in the end and that’s a healthy message for thirteen-year-old girls. (Although, I don’t think many of them should be seeing It.)
*
It is a 4-star horror movie. It is a 4-star coming of age movie. It leaves us with the knowledge that while terrifying killer monster clowns are scary, what’s sometimes really frightening is the reality of being a young teenager. It shows us true horror through the eyes of 13-year-old kids.  To them, the killer monster clown is something that they can fight together.  What they can’t always defeat are the realities of their day to day life; not having control of their own destinies, under the power of adults who can’t or won’t enter into their world or their concerns, relentless bullying unchecked by teachers or parents, living in an abusive home.  The terror that should follow us home and into our nightmares isn’t Pennywise – it’s Mike‘s Uncle, it’s Henry Bowers, it’s Bev‘s father.  True fright comes from being powerless, and who’s more powerless in our world than children?

mother!

I’m super excited to begin writing movie reviews for you from a feminist point of view. I’m doubly excited because the first assignment happens to be my favorite movie so far of 2017! 
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Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, mother! is rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity, and language. It’s directed by Darren Aronofsky of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream fame.  
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There will be think pieces piled on top of think pieces picking over the obvious religious topics that this movie delves into. I will leave those topics to those who are more qualified than I. At a basic level, Mother! Is the story of the Bible presented in a very fresh, new way.

*

Lawrence is Mother Earth (although never actually given that name). Bardem is called “the poet” throughout but is obviously a physical manifestation of a creator or God. The movie is a heartbreaking look at how humans have raped and pillaged Mother Earth over the millennia. You are forced by the direction of the movie to focus solely on Lawrence and her confusion, heartbreak, and fury as the events unfold around her. After watching, you will think twice before you fail to recycle or fill up your SUV.

*

But, if we take 3 steps back and simply look at this movie on its face, it’s every single married woman who is being neglected by her partner. Lawrence is firing on all cylinders here with a raw emotion that will feel familiar to every woman in the audience. She rotates between begging for her needs to be met and raging at being ignored by everyone around her. For this alone, I was moved to tears more than once. Mother is also never physically safe; her fear is familiar and therefore terrifying in its realness.

*

This movie is going to polarize audiences. There will be very few people who leave the theater without feeling strongly one way or the other. I am hoping that Aronofsky’s unique exploration of Biblical themes doesn’t turn off viewers and make them miss this masterpiece of a film.
*
I was completely swept away into Aronofsky’s world. I simultaneously wanted to hide my face and not miss a single second. I give my very first review score of a solid 5 out of 5 stars. I cannot wait to hear what each of you think of this movie in the comments!
 

NEVERTHELESS, SHE REGENERATED

by Miriam Aarons

Since its debut in 1963, Doctor Who has become a British cult- classic. Through the reincarnation of thirteen Doctors, the show possesses a unique ability to evolve with its audience. Unlike simply replacing the actor of a specifically defined character, each reincarnation of The Doctor allows the character to change without limit. From the series’ first Doctor, William Hartnell, to the most recent reincarnation of the twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, each actor has added depth and contrast to the iconic character.

Although the show’s canon supports unlimited diversity in casting, all twelve reincarnations of The Doctor have been cast as white males. Their ages, personality, and appearance have covered a wide spectrum; however, the character’s gender and race have never wavered. Although the character has an unquenchable thirst to provide support to the disenfranchised and build bridges of peace between hate, real-life minorities have remained unrepresented in his reincarnations. While a racially diverse Doctor has yet to be seriously discussed by the show’s writers and producers, Doctor Who will debut its first female Doctor in the show’s 2017 Christmas special.

The thirteenth Doctor will be played by British actress, Jodie Whittaker. Whittaker’s performance debut was her role as Jessie in the 2006 film, Venus. She has since acted in several films and television shows including Wired, Black Mirror, and Broadchurch. It was during her role as Beth Latimer on the BBC series Broadchurch that Whittaker worked with Chris Chibnall. Chibnall eventually cast her as the thirteenth Doctor when he took over the series from Steven Moffett.

Despite the shows consistent mantra that The Doctor can reincarnate into any physical and psychological version of himself, Doctor Who fans have deeply seeded opinions on whether changing The Doctor’s gender is the natural progression for the character or a betrayal to his identity.  Immediately after the announcement that Whittaker would play the thirteenth doctor, the internet erupted with nasty, sexist insults and dramatic odes to a fandom now lost forever in the minds of men (and even some women) who refused to imagine a world where this iconic character could be played by anyone other than a white male. For anyone who has been attention to Doctor Who fan pages for the last several years, the uproar was not a surprise. This subject has been deeply and viciously debated for years. Whitaker even felt the need to preemptively address the prospect of the backlash in her first statement;

I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.

It wasn’t too long before the sexist memes began to make their appearance in the threads of Facebook articles and tweets. This clever meme plays on the age-old classic “Women belong in the kitchen” mantra:

This next meme is full of such imagination and originality, the argument against a female Doctor may actually take hold in your mind, Dear Reader. Proceed with caution.

The female characters of the Doctor Who franchise have historically served as a companion to The Doctor. While these companions can be defined as strong, intelligent, unique female characters, The Doctor exudes abilities and characteristics companions do not possess. It is important for women and girls to see themselves in fictitious powerful roles so they can then see themselves life’s powerful roles. Beyond that, casting a gender diverse Doctor just makes sense. Thankfully, the negative responses to Whittaker’s casting were exceeded by positive, uplifting responses.

Tim DiChristopher with CNBC reports that the analyst company Amobee “counted 770,000 tweets around “Doctor Who” or the hashtags #DoctorWho13 and #Doctor13 on Jul. 16, the day of the announcement. For those that mentioned Whittaker, sentiment was 39 percent positive and just 6 percent negative. Amobee determined the remaining 55 percent of tweets were neutral.”

The constant reincarnation of a white male into a white male perpetuates the idea that anyone who is not a white male is not a desirable Doctor. The fear of diversity rears its ugly head even when diversity is the foundation of the character. Even a fictitious character from a fictitious universe who shape shifts and travels through time could not escape the hatred and bigotry of people who refuse to see the world beyond themselves. While Doctor Who has finally dipped its toe into the pool of diversity by casting a female Doctor, racial diversity doesn’t seem to even be on the table. The Doctors true potential will never be reached unless the writers and creators take direct action to ensure the Doctor’s diversity does not stop with white females.

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Cinderella Unchained

LIVING IN TRUMP’S AMERICA: A 2017 HORROR STORY

story & art by Bella Thorne

Finding a word to describe Trump’s America is hard.

 

Words no longer mean what they have always meant 
and statements are both true and not at the same time.
It’s  Schrödinger’s Dictionary.
The word that best describes our lives is uncertainty.  
*
What will happen next?
Will it be something ridiculous that causes helpless, eyerolling laughter?
(Covfefe anyone?)
*
Will it be incredulity as those around you discard facts and reality
with no explanation but willful ignorance?
They sat next to you in history class. They know this isn’t true.
It’s like living through Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
(the original movie, of course – although Donald Sutherland was very good in the remake.)
You realize that they know it, but they choose to ignore the truth to grasp at something more sinister.
*

Like walking through Camp Crystal Lake in a bloodied white tank top, 

it’s saying goodbye to people you cared about because you can never see them quite the same way again.
*
It’s being a less preposterous version of Jigsaw despairing over humanity
in your disappointment when you realize that love, equality, and respect are viewed as weaknesses 
instead of the strengths that you were taught, and believe they are.
*

It’s having to face the reality that 4th graders have a greater grasp on our government than our sitting president —and that they certainly have more compassion.
*
It’s losing your ability to determine satire from the actual news because nothing that ridiculous and absurd

that ridiculous and absurd has ever before been uttered by

 “leaders” of our nation and that can’t have REALLY happened…..right? 
You must be lost in a Krugerian Nightmare.
It’s difficult — starring in our own collective horror movie —
helpless as other countries laugh, then stare, then gaze in horror at what HE has wrought.
*
It’s the spreading ache in the pit of your stomach as you accept that this is not just a nightmare,
racism, hatred, and fear have been given a home — yours.
*
It’s being told to respect your flag and watching the masses in their MAGA hats
put hands to heart in unison;
while YOU know that the stars and stripes
is tattered and torn.
Can she ever be put back together again?
*
It’s the dawning realization that you are afraid to fall asleep, 
not because of a monster in your closet, 
but because you don’t know what fresh hell
will be waiting to greet you when you open your eyes. 
 

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – The Beginning

by Cherie Perrault

Author’s Note: canon is based on the Once Upon a Time version of Beauty and the Beast, Belle, and Rumplestiltskin. Some dialogue is taken from episode 1-12 Skin Deep. No copyright infringement is intended.

Belle was not a conventional princess. She didn’t care about the things her maid and governess thought princesses should; the Enchanted Forest was a wild, wide world, and she dreamed of living a life outside of the court. Even before the Ogre Wars ravaged their lands, Belle had no time for dresses or dances, much to the consternation of her father, the king.

But when an ogre made its way across the front lines and into the neighbouring duchy, Belle’s life changed forever.

Her mother had been visiting with the duke and duchess that day. King Maurice had paced the length of the castle wall for two nights, awaiting his wife’s return, Belle gracelessly pacing behind him. “She’ll come home, Papa,” Belle had said. “The duchy is a two-day ride from home. And she’s just being careful!”

In two days’ time, Duke Henry himself returned her mother’s lifeless body, broken and bloody, in his arms.

Belle’s adolescence was marked by a thirst for blood. The obliteration of the ogre species became somewhat of an Arthurian quest for her–one that would not be quelled by any man, not even her father. He’d humoured her when she was younger, allowing her to play with swords instead of dolls, to follow his knights on her small horse, and even to learn rudimentary combat skills. But when a princess became of child-rearing age in Avonlea, there were obligations. The kingdom required an heir, and Belle was the last of their bloodline.

“I won’t do it, Papa,” she protested on the night she was to meet the duke her father had handpicked for her betrothal.

“Belle, please. The ladies in court find him agreeable enough. And the union would strengthen the kingdom. Finally, we’ll have access to King George’s army.”

Belle’s breath caught at the mention of the king’s army. It was almost enough of an incentive to consider the proposition… almost.

Sensing his daughter’s stern expression softening, the king pressed on. “Between the two armies, we should be able to secure the kingdom and push the battle further north.”

Belle’s blue eyes transformed into dragons at his words, all fire. “Draw the line back!” she yelled. “I don’t want to push the carnage into the Lowlands, Father. Who will protect the merchants and farmers? They’ve no armies, and don’t try to tell me King George will ensure their protection.”

“Belle…please? The Lowlands aren’t our jurisdiction.”

“You mean the commoners are not your concern.” She huffed out an angry breath.

“But Gaston, Belle. He’s expecting to–”

“I don’t care what he wants. And you can cast me out if it be your will, but I won’t marry him or any man.”

“No,” her father said, resigned. “I certainly didn’t expect this to be easy; nothing with you is.” He heaved his giant body beside her, sinking down into her bed and resting a heavy arm about her shoulders like an albatross.

“I’ll flee to the Lowlands if you force my hand. At the very least, I’ll be able to protect the midwives for a spell.” She raised her shoulders and lengthened her spine, tension coiling in her body as she prepared to launch herself off the bed like an arrow from a bow. “I’d sooner die to protect them than be a whore to the kingdom, Father.”

“Belle,” he sobbed. “You mustn’t think that way. You’re a noblewoman betrothed to a highborn man? for the sake of the–”

“A whore,” Belle spat. “You would sell me like cattle to the highest bidder. And I won’t do it. No one, no one decides my fate but me.”

A sob escaped her father’s throat. She hadn’t intended to bend, to be moved by him, but seeing her father, king of the realm, fall apart, threatened her resolve. “My darling Belle,” he said, his head lowered as if in supplication, “if there was any other option, believe me, I’d consider it. But we simply must protect Avonlea. You’re our only hope.”

“I know,” she whispered, placing her hand on her father’s. “And I will find a way to protect us. Not just the kingdom, Papa. Everyone.”

She never felt like a highborn, as they said. She didn’t believe in eugenics, and the notion of her birth didn’t really matter if the ogres destroyed every last human. Death, it seemed, was the greatest equalizer.

So she cloistered herself in her room and studied. If she couldn’t fight with blades, she’d simply outwit them all: the ogres, her father, the armies, everyone.

Belle was a scholar, a collector of books, even the heavy tomes condemned by the clerics. But she prized knowledge over religion and willfully challenged the gods by studying the darkest of magics. One night, well after her father had retired to his chambers, Belle sought out a forbidden book of spells and incantations from the castle’s massive library and dragged it back to her room. She’d heard tales of a sorcerer so evil and so powerful that the ogres would tremble and fall at the mere mention of his name.

“Dark One,” Belle whispered, clutching her pillow to her breast, “I summon thee.” She pricked her thumb with a knitting needle and watched her blood fall in rivulets onto the stained page of the old book. “Rumplestiltskin, I summon thee. Hear my call, and my bounty is yours.”

The room was dark, and she narrowed her eyes, seeking out the cloaked figure like the one in the drawing on the page. “Please,” she whispered. “I need your magic.”

She lit a candle and watched the light throw, making the corners of her room darker still, fathomless. The shadows on her wall seemed to lengthen, and her teeth chattered, a sudden chill crawling over her. Her skin erupted into goosebumps, and she would swear she could feel each tiny hair on her body stand on end.

“R-Rumplestiltskin,” she repeated, unable to stop her voice from shaking. “Please…I summon thee. Hear my call and–”

A manic giggle shattered the silence. “Oh, enough of the pageantry, dearie. You have my attention.”

Belle dropped the candle, nearly starting a fire as the flame licked her bedskirts, but a heavy boot stamped it out before it could feed and spread.

The boot was quite beautiful: a dark crocodile skin laced to the knee. Did demons wear beautiful clothes?

She followed the line of the boot, up a pair of leanly muscled legs clad in tight leather breeches, further up to tapered waist and chest donning a heavy, brocade waistcoat. She swallowed a sharp-edged lump in her throat as her gaze settled on a pair of preternaturally large, golden eyes.

This was the dark one? He was hardly taller than her own meager height, and he was, well, kind of shiny, like his skin was speckled with gold dust. Shouldn’t he be…darker? More terrifying? Less…thrilling to the eye.

Belle always did find beauty in the oddest things.

“Rumplestiltskin,” she said finally, surprised to hear her voice wasn’t shrill. “Thank you for coming. I’m afraid my kingdom is in dire need.”

“Yes, yes.” He waved his hand as if bored. “I heard your call. Something about… help, help, we’re dying. Can you save us? The answer is, yes.” He swatted the book out of her hand and giggled like a cunning child. “I can save your little kingdom… for a price.”

“I assume there’s no sense in offering you gold.”

“I make gold,” he replied, with a flourish of his hand.

“I’ve heard.”

“Oh? My reputation precedes me, does it?” he trilled. “Good. Tell me, princess. What else have you heard?”

“That you’re a monster. A beast who makes deals with women and men for their firstborn babe.”  Belle did her best to keep her eyes on Rumplestiltskin’s face, but she faltered as he grinned a mouthful of sharp teeth at her.

“I am a monster. ‘Tis true. But not the monster you think. I’ll tell you what… I’ll make you a deal.” He paced a circle around her, seemingly watching her feet before his eyes rose, lingering at her waist and her breasts before finally settling on her face. Something he saw in her eyes seemed to catch him off guard. His careful, almost farcical face took on a wide-eyed, gap-jawed expression.

Several minutes seemed to pass as they contemplated each other. It felt like a sword fight or even a choreographed dance, Belle thought. Her mouth stretched into a smile as she narrowed her eyes at him.

“When two people each have something the other one wants, a deal can always be struck. You know what I want, Rumplestiltskin. Tell me…what is it you want?”

“I’m thinking,” he groused.

“Think harder.”

“Mouthy, mouthy! I could turn you into a snail, you know.”

“You could,” Belle agreed, still grinning. “But you won’t.”

He cleared his throat. “You sound awfully sure of yourself for a girl whose kingdom is at the brink of complete annihilation. You’d do well to show some respect.”

“Woman,” she corrected.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I’m a woman, not a girl. And I grant you pardon for that transgression.”

He growled then, wrapping his hands around her neck. Belle knew she’d crossed a line. Intellectually she understood she should be afraid, but Rumplestiltskin’s grip didn’t tighten. It was like he was trying to frighten her.

Trying and failing.

Possessed by a fool-hearted courage and the odd conviction the sorcerer wouldn’t hurt her, she held his gaze. “We’re at an impasse. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t come to an agreement? I’d certainly be disappointed.”

“I’m choking you!” he yelled, his hands limp around her throat.

“You’re not, I assure you.” She covered his hands with her own.

He made the most agitated noise, like the whinny of a horse, and turned away from her. Belle panicked then, not because she was afraid–the nervous energy that rose from her stomach into her chest was unlike anything she’d felt before–but she wasn’t scared.

“You can have me,” she said before she would allow common sense and self preservation to stop her. “In exchange for stopping the ogres, you can have me.”

“Have…you?” he all but stuttered, his eyes quizzical.

“Indeed.”

“Brave.” He said the word in a whisper, and Belle wasn’t sure if he’d meant to speak at all.

“Foolish.” She smiled.

“What would an old beast like Rumpelstiltskin want with a beautiful, young princess… besides the obvious, that is?”

“My father would trade my virtue for the safety of his kingdom. No one decides my fate but me. If I’m to be a whore, at least the choice will be my own.”

“I’ve no interest in your body,” Rumplestiltskin spat. “But I will agree to your deal. You will be my companion in exchange for the safety of the kingdom.”

“No,” Belle said quickly. “Not just my kingdom. The Lowlands, too. And all the other kingdoms of the realm.”

He raised an eyebrow. “All of them?”

“Yes. Everyone, everywhere will be safe.”

“Very well.”

Belle swallowed a surprised squeak. “You’ll do it?”

“I agree to the terms of your deal. As long as you agree to mine.”

“I already said I’d go with you. Is there more?”

“Not more.” He placed a tentative hand on the small of her back. “Less. You offered to be my whore. I won’t accept sex as payment. I only seek your company.”

“You mentioned being… your companion. What does that entail?”

“Drinking tea and playing chess.”

Was he blushing?

“I will go with you.”

“It’s forever, dearie.”

She should have been petrified, but an odd warmth sat at the base of her spine and threatened to set off explosions of heat throughout her body.

“I’ll go with you. Forever.”

The kingdoms were safe, and Belle was a hero.

Yes, that was the story Rumpelstiltskin himself spread from tavern to tavern. He’d used a glamour to disguise himself as a sea captain, drinking ale with the local men and women. There was a gaiety in the air, a relief so palpable the sorcerer almost forgot himself, surrendering to the celebrations.

The lands were free, the scourge of the realms destroyed. No more children would be sent out to war. No more villages would be leveled by cruel and merciless gargantuan monsters.

If Rumplestiltskin was being honest with himself, he’d admit it had been wrong of him to have allowed the war to wage for so long when his magic could’ve stopped it years ago. But he shook his head as if to dislodge that errant thought.

He’d been spending too much time with Belle, and she made it easy to forget that he was no longer a man, but a pathetic, cursed monstrosity.

His anger, his fear, his darkness simmered like water in a pan, threatening to boil over with enough fire. One village in particular, deep within the Sherwood Forest, stoked the flames of his rage. There were whispers among the people of Sherwood of what Belle, Lady of Avonlea, had traded to strike a deal with the sorcerer.

Whore, they taunted. Consort to The Dark One.

One particularly unfortunate soul, the Sheriff of Nottingham, had suggested purchasing Belle for his own use.

“Certainly you can spare her for one night,” he’d said.

Rumplestiltskin tried, he really did try to be less of a monster for Belle. While she was happy to have him destroy ogres, he knew she wouldn’t approve of him slaughtering this worthless cur.

“She’s not for sale,” he said.

“Just an hour? I couldn’t possibly do much damage to her in an hour.”

“Let me see,” Rumplestiltskin replied, and transformed the sheriff’s cock into a snake.

A poisonous snake.

“How was your trip to Camelot?” Belle asked, pouring tea into Rumplestiltskin’s favourite cup–the one she’d accidentally chipped on her first night in his castle many months ago.

“Good for me. Bad for Camelot.” He smiled, careful not to show his teeth. “How were things at home?”

“Boring,” Belle said. “I still don’t understand what was so dangerous about my tagging along!”

“There are magics that even I can’t protect you from.”

“I don’t need your protection, Rumple!” She pounded her fist against the wooden dining table, and Rumplestiltskin winced, wondering if she’d bruised herself. “I’m not as fragile as you think.

“I brought you a gift,” he replied, changing the subject.

She placed her cup down and scrutinized the single rose that materialized in his hand. “I’ve no use for flowers, Rumple.”

“Look closer, dearest,” he said, and the rose suddenly became enveloped in a fog of purple smoke, sweet and cloying. When the air cleared it was replaced with a gauntlet.

Belle nearly broke another cup as she jumped out of her chair and ran over to him. “Is that the Gauntlet of Camelot?”

“‘Tis indeed.”

“I know about this, Rumple! In the Arthurian legends, it was said to have the power to uncover any person’s greatest love!”

The sorcerer clucked his tongue in jest, handing her the glove. “Actually, it reveals a person’s greatest weakness. It’s highly important to know your enemies’ weaknesses, and it just so happens that what makes people weak is love. That’s why the gauntlet will, almost without fail, lead you to whatever the person loves most.”

“Love is weakness,” Belle repeated. She used to believe that, too. “And you’re giving this to me? Why?”

Rumple frowned. “I– I’ve no need for it. It clashes with my collection.”

Belle curled up on the floor beside the large hearth, reading a book that was bigger than her; Rumplestiltskin didn’t bother deciphering the cover. He sat motionless at his spinning wheel watching her curiously. Her long, chestnut hair fell like spun silk around her face, and her skin flushed, probably from the heat of the fire.

“Not in the mood to make gold,” she murmured, turning a page.

“Pardon?” He almost jumped a foot in the air.

“I like to hear the wheel. It’s been oddly motionless today.” She shrugged.

He stretched his legs. He hadn’t realized how stiff his body felt until he tried to move. How long had he been watching her, exactly?

“I’ve been thinking,” he said lamely.

“Hm. Dangerous business, that. What’ve you been thinking about?” She put her book down and narrowed her eyes at him. She studied him the same way she contemplated the chess board before taking his queen.

“You had a life before all this… family, friends. What made you decide to come with me?” The words left his mouth before he had a chance to consider them.

She laughed, not in a taunting way, no. Her face flushed and her eyes sparkled, as if with excitement. “There aren’t many opportunities for women like me in Avonlea. I’ve always wanted to live a life of adventure. Honestly, I’d spent so many years dreaming about fighting ogres, now that they’ve been defeated I find myself a little unfocused.”

“So it’s adventure you seek?”

“It’s adventure that I’ve found.”

Belle’s stomach was in practically in her feet as she placed the gauntlet over her hand. “Rumplestiltskin,” she whispered.

Heavy on her hand, the glove pulled her out of chambers, down several flights of stairs, and into the bowels of the castle–the only place Rumplestiltskin made her promise never to go.

The stone beneath her feet shook, and a dagger rose from beneath the cracks, drawn to the gauntlet like a magnet. “Rumplestiltskin,” she whispered, the word etched into the steel.

“Careful, dearie,” she heard from behind. “You hold all the power in the world in that glove.”

“Your greatest weakness is a dagger?” Belle asked, clutching it in front of her, the blade angled toward the sorcerer. “The thing you love the most?”

He nodded, a violent grin slicing across his face. “The source of my power.”

“How does it work?”

“You’re not asking the right questions!” he snapped.

“Well… if it’s your greatest weakness then it can probably destroy you. If you love it then… it’s very powerful. But why do I hold all the power simply because it’s in my hand?”

“Getting warmer, dearie.” His golden eyes appeared black somehow, in the dark underbelly of the castle, save for a glint of light that reflected the blade in his blown pupils.

“I control your power when I wield it.” The notion should have thrilled her. She’d always wanted to be powerful, but something had shifted between them in this moment. Her chest constricted.

“Command me,” he taunted.

“Why?

“Because it’s why you agreed to come with me, after all. To save the world and be the hero? You pretend to care about me, but it was always about the power.”

“Oh, Rumple, you utter fool. It was never about the power. If I leave tomorrow, would you bring back the ogres?”

“No,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Don’t you know why I stay?” Belle asked, dropping the dagger to the ground.

“Don’t say another word,” he growled.

“I didn’t intend for it to happen, Rumple. I know it wasn’t part of our arrangement, but I–”

“You don’t.”

“I love you.”

The sorcerer pushed his dagger back into the ground, ensconced deeply in the stone like Excalibur itself, and then looked at the princess, contorting his face in disgust. “Stop lying!”

“Why won’t you believe me?”

He flew to her, grabbing her arms and shaking her, yelling, “Because no one could ever, ever love me!”

“You wanted me to find the dagger,” she whispered. “You were falling in love, too, and it scared you.”

“Get out!” he screamed, his fingers biting into her arms.

“You’re a coward, Rumplestiltskin. You could be happy if you just believed that I could love you! But you couldn’t take the chance.”

Belle wouldn’t die from a broken heart. She was a warrior, now armed with the Gauntlet of Camelot and the Dark One’s dagger. If Rumpelstiltskin’s true love was his power, then she would see to its destruction and free him from the curse that gnarled his soul. She just needed to find a wizard strong enough to destroy the dagger.

They would be together. No matter what the price.