story & art by Bella Thorne
Finding a word to describe Trump’s America is hard.
Like walking through Camp Crystal Lake in a bloodied white tank top,
that ridiculous and absurd has ever before been uttered by
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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?”
“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.
“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–”
“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.