Actions

Work Header

A Bed of Thorns

Chapter Text

Rumpelstiltskin stopped the carriage without warning. Belle had been peacefully absorbed in the passing view, the winding and narrow road down the mountain being less closed in by pine trees than the road which led to Odstone.

"Why have we stopped?" she asked, tearing her gaze from the sheer drop to her right and turning to her husband. Rumpelstiltskin offered his hand and, when she took it, drew her with him to the left-hand door and helped her down. Belle went with him, trusting, and held his hand as he led her around the back of the carriage to the edge of the road. A narrow and rocky verge had been carelessly fenced with wood and wire there. It would do nothing to prevent the fall of a careless rider or a carriage that took the road too fast, but it made it a slightly less terrifying place to stand and gaze out over the drop.

Snow above, sheer rock below, and down at the foot of the mountain, a wide and dark river winding through farmland. "It's beautiful," she breathed, taking another step closer to the edge. Rumpelstiltskin would keep her from falling if the pitiful fence did not - Belle was quite sure of that. She would never have imagined such a barren landscape as being beautiful, but it was. More than that, she could imagine how the landscape would look come summer, when each steep little meadow was covered in grass and flowers.

"Our lands are bounded by the river," Rumpelstiltskin said, pointing to a cluster of little boats that looked like toys from this far above. "There isn't a ford for miles, and only one bridge nearby. That's how the local troll problem got started. They became ambitious and you can only charge so much of a toll before people go and find another bridge. They decided to move up in the world." Belle looked sideways at him, just in time to catch a self-satisfied grin on Rumpelstiltskin's face. She knew, then, without any doubt in her mind, that he had been behind the troll invasion of the castle; he had not merely come along and set the place to rights, as he had told her before.

Rumpelstiltskin did not steal. He fooled the world into handing him whatever he desired.

Suddenly, the sheer drop made her feel dizzy. Belle stepped back, gasping, and before her head had stopped swimming, Rumpelstiltskin had his arm across her shoulders, securing her tightly against his side. She would not have fallen.

"Where is it that we're going?" she asked, to cover her confusion.

"A little way beyond the bridge. It's known as The Apiary." Rumpelstiltskin kept hold of her as he turned and opened the near door of the carriage. Belle was glad that he hadn't had her descend on that side, so near to the edge of the road. It would have felt like stepping out into thin air.

"The Apiary?" Arranging her skirts while Rumpelstiltskin climbed past her to resume his seat, Belle frowned. She had seen many apiaries, usually just a small portion of land set aside for the beehives on a working farm or near an orchard. She had never heard of a place being named for them.

"Come spring, you'll see hives all over these slopes. Every man with a crop wants our host's bees on his land."

"Oh." Trying to enjoy Rumpelstiltskin's obvious satisfaction at the workings of his domain, Belle nevertheless couldn't hold back her questions. "Why those bees?"

"Crops thrive, that's why. And the honey has some quite magical properties."

"Magic bees?"

"From another land." Rumpelstiltskin met her look and his smile grew more genuine. "Not magic, as such, but they don't belong in this world. The effect can be magical. The honey cures, protects from disease. Crops are stronger, fruits more lush." He spread his hands. "When one of the bees happens to serve a magical blossom, the fruits of their labour are most welcome. Most valuable."

"And you don't take them for yourself?"

Rumpelstiltskin looked hurt.

"Why would I do that?"

Shaking her head, abashed, Belle reached for his hand and, grasping it in her lap, went back to gazing out of the window.

Rubbing her ring with his thumb, Rumpelstiltskin watched her. Belle could feel the scrutiny, like a little itch upon her cheek.

"Belle?" He spoke after what seemed like a very long time, while the carriage passed through what seemed like a tunnel comprised of sheer rock on the one side and dark trees on the other. She looked at him, waiting; looked into huge and worried eyes, and an expression of such sincerity that she melted before Rumpelstiltskin even spoke. "Scold me often, my darling," he urged, growing bashful as he said it, and looking down at their joined hands. "I know that I am a monster. I often forget that I'm a fool."

"Oh," Belle whispered, and threw her arms around his neck, almost knocking him off balance before he caught them both and, carefully adjusting their position on the seat, returned her fierce embrace. He buried his face in the folds of her hood, bunched at her shoulder.

By the time they let go of one another, both awkward and smirking, Belle felt better than she had all day. Whatever their faults, whatever their differences, there was strength to be found in one another if they were willing to reach for it.

"We'll arrive all crumpled," Belle laughed, a bit unsteadily. She smoothed out her cloak, reflecting that nothing could crumple Rumpelstiltskin's leather.

"I shouldn't worry. Randall has hardly been married a year, himself." Rumpelstiltskin gave her a filthy little wink. "His second wife. I'm sure he remembers."

"Randall is the beekeeper?"

"Ha! No." Once more taking Belle's hand, Rumpelstiltskin spoke more freely than before. He sounded very nearly cheerful. "Randall owns The Apiary, and makes a fine profit from its estates and his river trade. Men of actual skill tend his bees for him."

"And his wife?" Belle tried to commit everything to memory, but it was as though several weeks of relative solitude had rusted her ability to absorb such knowledge.

"I've not met her." Rumpelstiltskin wrinkled his nose slightly. "I wasn't invited to the wedding. I never am."

The bridge was far wider than Belle had expected. Two or even three large carriages could have passed abreast across the river, and the whole thing was built of stone. It was not what she envisaged at the mention of a troll bridge, but it had been at least a hundred years since Rumpelstiltskin had evicted the trolls and taken over.

On a rise beyond the river, sheltered by old and tall trees, sat a grand old grange. The central building looked newer than some of the outlying barns, and Belle recognised the improvements of a man of wealth to a property that had stood since before anyone could remember. Although dwarfed by the Dark Castle, this farmstead beyond the foot of the mountain was one of the largest unfortified buildings Belle had ever seen. She caught glimpses of it as the carriage took a meandering road through water meadows, fish ponds and busy sheds nearer the river. Away from the water's edge, Belle saw cherry orchards, pasture, and figures hard at work in yet more distant fields.

"We're beyond your lands," she said, taking in everything as best she could. "Beyond the river."

"Yes. The Apiary helps to give Odstone its comforts. Not just the bees," Rumpelstiltskin added, seeing that she was genuinely curious. "Randall buys and sells along the length of the river. I don't trouble him until I need something special."

"Like my stove," Belle said, still harbouring the suspicion that it might have been sold by a person given little choice in the matter.

"Yes. In return for its weight in gold. I think Randall's probably more than satisfied."

"And his cook?"

"Hmm?"

"Nothing." They were passing the outbuildings of the main house, now, and Belle spotted several heavily laden wagons alongside one of them, each covered with waxed canvas. In spite of that, the place seemed unusually quiet; they saw no-one until the carriage drew up in front of the main steps and a small man darted down to open the door, chattering courtesies as he gave Belle his hand to assist her down from the step.

"My Lady, my dear Lady," he said, breathlessly. His anxious bobbing reminded Belle of the eager-to-please innkeeper, but this man was so short, so slight that Belle herself could have troubled him in a wrestling match. He was a fraction shorter than she, with a great and gleaming bald spot atop his greying head. That was all Belle saw of him, for several long moments, until Rumpelstiltskin jumped down from the carriage and rescued her hand from the little man's sweaty grasp.

"Randall," he said, calmly. Where Rumpelstiltskin had been glib and full of enthusiasm, in the coach, he was watchful and stern now. "My wife, the Lady Belle."

"An honour," Randall declared, straightening up enough that Belle could make out eyes bluer than her own beneath unkempt, bushy eyebrows. "They speak of your beauty, my Lady, but words cannot--"

"Yes, yes," Rumpelstiltskin said, cutting him off with a wave of his hand. "There's no-one fairer in all the world than my wife." The words lacked any of his warmth or whimsy; he was pinning the sweating man with the hardest of looks. "Are you going somewhere, Randall?"

Turning, Rumpelstiltskin gestured back to the wagons which had been tucked to one side of their approach. They were out of view from the door of the house.

"A new opportunity," Randall blurted, trying to usher them towards the door. "It's a long trip down the mountain, I shall order my finest mead."

Mead. Belle's insides gave a guilty lurch and she tried to ignore Rumpelstiltskin's prickly behaviour, and to give Randall a grateful smile.

"You sent the wedding basket with the mead, the gilded cups?"

"That's so, my Lady," Randall beamed. "To wish you joy and a fruitful union." His face crumpled with strain when he glanced again at Rumpelstiltskin. "So much gold," he said, distractedly. "A new opportunity."

With that, having failed to usher his guests inside, Randall turned and went up the steps himself, leaving them to follow.

Rumpelstiltskin caught Belle's wrist as she set foot upon the first step. "Be alert," he said, under his breath. "This place reeks of fear."

Did it? To Belle, it reeked only of a well-kept farm and a man rightly uncomfortable in the company of the Spinner. Rumpelstiltskin's warning put a prickle at the back of her neck as she went inside the house, however; whether it was her imagination responding to his warning, or some sense of her own, Belle did feel that something was wrong. In fact, it took no mystical power to discern that something was badly wrong at The Apiary. Rumpelstiltskin was right - there was evidence of hasty packing for a move, with some pieces of furniture missing from where they had clearly stood for a very long time. Drag marks upon the floorboards and a rolled up woollen carpet in the entrance hall told the same story, while the frightened Randall seemed not to notice any of it. He led them into a room to the left of the foot of a wide, wooden staircase, his smile fixed and his brow glistening with sweat.

"Is a wagon load of gold all it took to get you out of my way, at last?" Rumpelstiltskin asked, all mock-surprise. He struck a pose near the doorway while Belle regarded the room. Large furniture had simply been left - a vast sideboard, a dining table, couches. It was the small things that had been removed, although the furniture was solid and valuable. "Are you leaving us, Randall?"

"I, uh, have business," the man repeated, collecting himself enough to yank on a bell-pull and summon a servant from elsewhere in the building. "A journey will be good for my wife. Please, my Lady. Make yourself comfortable here. Forgive the state of the place, I beg you?"

"Is your wife unwell?" Belle sat on the nearest of the two, wide couches. After a moment, Rumpelstiltskin came to stand behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders.

"Ah, yes, frail," Randall explained, apparently giving up any hope that Rumpelstiltskin would join Belle and do anything as sociable as to sit down, and opting to stand himself. "A rare bloom, but frail. The climate doesn't suit her, you know."

"What is her name?" She ought to visit the woman and pay her respects, if she could.

"Flora." Unable to keep still while, behind Belle, Rumpelstiltskin was unusually so, Randall went again to the hanging rope and yanked it, harder this time. This time, Belle heard the faintest jangle of a bell somewhere.

"I hope that she wasn't put out when my husband bought your stove, sir," Belle said.

Randall blinked at her, as if for a moment or two he had no idea what she was talking about. Then he found that sickly smile again, and gestured to Rumpelstiltskin.

"Enough gold to buy my own kingdom, for a cooking stove? I wish you the joy of it, my Lady, truly I do, and so does Flora, I'm sure."

"Fair exchange is no robbery," said Rumpelstiltskin, brightly. "But why such a hurry? You sent no word that you were leaving."

Belle turned, hearing a heavy footfall at the door. The man who had entered was humbly dressed, more as a labourer would dress than a servant in a grand house. Randall called to him, impatiently.

"Where've you been, man? Fetch up a bottle of the finest. I've guests here!"

The servant departed with a curt nod. Seeing their expressions, Randall gave an apologetic shrug. "Everything's in uproar," he explained. "Apologies."

"Try answers," Rumpelstiltskin suggested, releasing Belle's shoulders and moving to stand between her and Randall. "You're running from something, and you're going to tell me what it is."

The man went white. Belle had seen pallor creep over people before, but not like this; Randall's well-sunned face simply drained of blood, his eyes widening with fear. "And Belle wishes to meet your dear wife, I'm sure," Rumpelstiltskin went on, turning to give her an enquiring look.

"Oh, yes," Belle said, rising. "Very much." She could only follow Rumpelstiltskin's lead, until she understood this place better. Randall seemed to be an ordinary man, but more than ordinarily afraid of Rumpelstiltskin, who was not his master, this side of the river.

"She's so weak," Randall began, apologetically.

"But not too weak to travel in a hurry," Belle answered, before Rumpelstiltskin could say the same thing, and give it a knife-edge of threat. "Sir, you make me fear that something has happened to your poor wife that you don't want me to know about."

Her bluntness left Randall slack-jawed, as it had many a man when Belle came of age at her father's castle. Sir Maurice would excuse her by pointing out that his unruly daughter got things done with her obstinacy. Rumpelstiltskin merely smirked, delighted with her.

"I... I'll fetch her, then," Randall said, in the manner of someone outnumbered in a fight. "If you'd wait?"

Belle nodded, glad that it had not come to more of a fight. She truly was concerned for Flora, now, and could not leave until she had seen for herself that the woman was safe. Before Randall reached the door, a quiet yet penetrating sound stilled them all - the far off, unmistakable squalling protest of a tiny, newborn baby.

Frozen with his back to them, as though pinned by Rumpelstiltskin's stare, Randall sagged.

"I don't know where people get the idea that I steal away babes," Rumpelstiltskin said, with a manic pleasantness that struck a horrible discord with the child's feeble cries. "It's quite offensive. A ton of gold for your cooking stove, yet I just turn up and make off with your child, is that it?" He spoke with the precise animation of his pantomime gestures, pointing upwards with both fingers towards the sound of crying when he finished speaking.

"I, uh... no," Randall protested, turning back in the doorway and looking desperately to Belle before he addressed her husband. "No, Lord, of course not. My wife is... very weak."

It was only a lie by omission, yet being caught in it had wrung all the twitching, nervous energy out of Randall. He looked as if he might fall to his knees and weep, and Belle felt for him. Was he truly afraid that they had come to take away his newborn child?

No, Belle decided. The packing and preparations were well underway - this had been done in absurd haste, but not since their coach was spotted on the mountain road!

"I'll visit your wife," she said, no longer certain what it was that she suspected, but more concerned than ever for the safety of Flora. "I'm sure my husband will want to congratulate you," she went on, slipping past Randall's unmoving figure and turning back to face Rumpelstiltskin over the man's shoulder. He held her gaze a moment, his expression unreadable. The cold suspicion in his eyes, however, would have been obvious to anyone. He gave her a tiny nod before returning his unblinking stare to the drooping Randall.

Belle had only to follow the sound of the infant's cries, which were soft enough, but persistent in their frustration with the world. Up two flights of carpeted stairs, turning to her left at each half-landing, then along a brightly-lit corridor to her right, where a red painted door stood opposite a generous and sunny window.

Gently, Belle knocked upon the door. She expected a maid to answer it, and barely made out the faint call to enter. A woman's voice, and so weak that the tiny protests of the unhappy baby almost drowned her out.

The door opened onto a darkened chamber, heavy curtains almost closed across another huge window. To Belle's right, the woman was trying to prop herself up in bed, mumbling urgently. Pleading. Why had the poor lady no servant to help her? She was plainly unwell and the room smelled of sickness, while the infant lay beyond the mother's reach in a heavy old crib of dark oak.

"Here," Belle soothed, carefully scooping the baby up in both hands and bringing it to the bedside. "Flora?"

The woman nodded, eyes closing in relief as Belle gave her the baby. Falling back into her pillows, Flora fumbled at the buttons of her nightgown until Belle sat beside her and helped with that also.

"Where's your maid?" she asked, relieved that the baby's noisy fretting stopped the very moment it was provided with Flora's wide, flat nipple. Belle kept one hand beneath Flora's arm, seeing how she shook with the effort of keeping her child in place to suckle. After a few moments of urgent thought, Belle reached past her for two big feather pillows and helped her to prop the baby in place, Flora's arm cradling the baby and her arm, in turn, cradled by the pillows.

"Thank you, thank you," Flora breathed.

Randall had not been lying about his wife's weakness. As desperate as she had been to tend her crying child, Flora was barely sensible to the world around her. She lay, now, in a feverish daze and did not seem to hear Belle, or even to notice the child at her breast, in her exhaustion.

She was a dark haired woman, blessed with full and thick curls. Belle could make out no more than that until she went to the window and pulled one curtain aside to shed light upon the bed. Flora turned her face away from the light with a quiet moan of protest, while the baby paused briefly in its busy suckling before resuming with the same eagerness as before.

Flora was darker skinned than Belle, and had the exotic look about her of the sea captain's wives who had sometimes been among her father's guests. Her fever had taken the warm summer colour out of her face, though, leaving her a blotchy combination of pallor and red fever framed by sweat-damp hair. It was plain to Belle that the woman was deathly ill, and a cold anger filled her up and drove out her fear, because someone had chosen to leave her alone here, too weak even to lift and nurse her own babe.

Belle strode to the door, yanked it open and caught a breath, considering what she was about to do.

What else could she do?

"Rumpelstiltskin!"

He came at once, faster than any ordinary man could have moved; Rumpelstiltskin was at the door by the time Belle had returned to Flora's side and sat again upon the bed.

"Belle?" She turned her head to greet Rumpelstiltskin, and heard heavy footsteps pounding their way upwards. Randall, she thought, and for a moment was full of such disgust that she could have gone tearing off to intercept the man and beat him with her fists.

"She's terribly ill," Belle said, scooping the child away from Flora when she saw that it had fallen asleep at the breast, and carefully covering the other woman before Rumpelstiltskin could approach. "Help her, please!"

Rumpelstiltskin touched Belle's shoulder, standing beside her and peering down at the occupant of the bed. Randall was calling, breathlessly, as he lumbered towards his wife's chamber.

"Wait, please, stop! Please!"

"He means to travel with her," Belle said, her anger boiling over. "She'll die, any fool can see that she'll die." She clutched the tiny bundle to her shoulder as she spoke, feeling the baby give a shuddering sigh at the edge of renewed howling.

"Randall's no fool," Rumpelstiltskin said, and for a moment he fingered the back of Belle's neck, tenderly. "You have a soft heart, little wife."

"I have a heart," Belle answered, standing, turning to face him, the baby clutched close. "So do you. Help me."

They were locked, eye to eye, when Randall finally caught up with them and burst through the door, panting. Belle had half expected him to be brandishing a weapon, but all he seemed to have brought with him was a desperate defiance and the stink of sweat. Leaving Rumpelstiltskin, Belle crossed the room and confronted the little man, his child safe in her arms.

"What are you running from that you'd throw away her life?" she demanded, stepping back automatically when Randall tried to take his child from her. "My husband can help her, but I know him. If you anger him, try to trick him, nothing I say will move him." She lifted her chin, proudly, to quell her own tears of anger. "Everyone knows that he has no heart."

Behind her, Rumpelstiltskin giggled.

"Please," Randall whispered, holding Belle's gaze. His eyes were brimming with tears. "Please. It's all gone wrong."

"Your wife is clinging to life," Rumpelstiltskin told him, moving to stand behind Belle. "And you'd put her in a carriage. Take her on a boat, amidst all this hurry and neglect? Why? To keep me from discovering your... happy news?" He reached around Belle and pointed at the baby.

Gulping, Randall looked towards the bed, then back to Rumpelstiltskin.

"My wife is quite correct," Rumpelstiltskin went on, conversational. "I may help your wife because my wife desires it, because she's a sweet treasure who likes a happy ending." Leaning a little, he touched the child's dark forelock with one fingertip. "Perhaps even because a child needs a mother. I have no reason at all to spare you anything. There's been magic here."

"No!"

"She reeks of it!" Rumpelstiltskin rarely raised his voice. When he did, even Belle jumped inside her skin. "Dark magic. Vast magic. She and the babe. When was it born?"

Randall's mouth worked in silence for several moments, then he squared his shoulders. Belle could see that he was beginning to understand.

"It was the day Janek came with the wagon, for the stove," Randall muttered, looking at the ground. "You were away, Lord, or of course I would have sent word of our joy."

Liar, Belle thought, and turned away from the man in disgust. She had hoped they might find some information by going where Jules had been during his final days; she had not considered that they might stumble upon filthy secrets, so near to home. In her arms, the baby whimpered. At least neither it nor Flora seemed to have been neglected for long; both mother and child were freshly dressed in clean cottons. She carried the infant to the window to have a proper look at the wrinkled little face, and was rewarded with the barest glimpse of blue eyes beneath squinting, flaking eyelids. A beautiful child.

"Randall," Rumpelstiltskin said, drawing out the last syllable, playfully. "A boy returned from here that day and brought a plague to my happy little town. A plague that killed every boy, even those not yet born, save the one I returned in time to cure. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

More collected, her anger under control, Belle turned to watch the two men. Rumpelstiltskin had struck one of his playful poses, while her back was turned, but she knew that he did not think this a game. His words were cold, even as they danced about the octave, making their dark and teasing music.

"Of course not," Randall said, scowling, and pushed past Rumpelstiltskin to go to Flora's bedside. He sat, gently removing the pillows that Belle had left beneath her breast, and touched the back of his knuckles to Flora's brow. "Will you help her, Dark One? For your own wife's sake?"

"If she can be saved, I will save her," Rumpelstiltskin answered, quietly. "For my own wife's sake."

Belle breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn't been sure. Not sure that she could ask this of him, before witnesses. She had not been sure, either, what she would do if he refused her request.

"What's the baby's name?" she asked, lowering herself to the window seat so that she could rock the blanketed bundle back to sleep.

Randall looked towards her, startled.

"...Edith," he said, after a moment, and didn't meet Belle's gaze.

"Edith?" Rumpelstiltskin gave him a pitying look, and Belle frowned down at the baby, wondering what was the matter with the name. "My dear, Randall seems a bit confused." Approaching, he held out his hands for Edith, then waited with an expectant expression when Belle did not move. She thought that he would not harm the babe, but... could she be sure? Rumpelstiltskin was angry, frustrated, and quite probably a hair away from doing something awful to Randall if he suspected foul play, but the child...

Belle lifted her, with great care, and let Rumpelstiltskin take the baby into his arms. He smiled down at her, with every sign of genuine pleasure, and touched the tiny nose with a black-nailed finger. Then, to Belle's dismay, he began to unwrap the poor little thing from her blankets, dropping them carelessly into Belle's own lap as he went. Beneath a cotton shift, the baby had only a muslin napkin, which Rumpelstiltskin deftly removed while holding Edith cupped in his left hand.

"She'll get cold," Belle protested, although she could see no actual harm in this strange behaviour. Randall, she noted, had stopped watching and buried his face in both hands, bent over his wife. "Let her be, she'll catch a chill."

"Oh, newborns are hardier than they look," Rumpelstiltskin said, still smiling. He turned to show her his handiwork, the child's skirts folded up about her tiny midriff, and Belle saw.

His tiny midriff. Definitely, most definitely, his.

"It's not a mistake easily made, that," Rumpelstiltskin observed, lifting the baby in both hands and letting the gown fall back to his heels. "Randall, am I meant to believe that you got yourself a son, even this late in life, without being able to tell cock from cunt?" This question delivered, Rumpelstiltskin drew the infant to his shoulder and began to soothe him there, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to menace a man while pacifying a babe. Belle couldn't look away. "Would you like me to draw you a diagram? Even at this size, it's possible to spot the difference." He sniffed in disdain. "Are you really going to name him Edith?"

"Edward," Randall mumbled into his hands, then managed to straighten himself. "His name is Edward, for Flora's father. A son, they said. I thought I'd never... I'm getting old, and I thought I'd leave nothing behind. They told me I'd have a son. A beautiful wife. I didn't know... I never meant..."

Rumpelstiltskin bristled, taking another step towards the bed, and Belle stood up quickly.

"Your son lives, while the sons of Odstone brought death to my lands. From here! From you! What magic is this? Who offered you... this?" He nodded awkwardly to the baby, who slept on, perfectly content, tucked beneath the curl of Rumpelstiltskin's cured mantle.

"Whatever this man has done, his wife needs help," Belle said, pleased that her voice sounded so clear, so rational. "This can wait, Flora needs our help now."

He turned to glare at her, but it was not the boiling, irrational rage that Belle had expected. She could see her own misery reflected in Rumpelstiltskin's eyes. Perhaps he could see his anger in hers, also. Belle held out her arms for the baby. "Please," she said. "Help her."

Wordlessly, Rumpelstiltskin returned Edward to her. He touched her cheek, so gently, before rounding on the bed and striding back to drag Randall from his wife's side by the collar. The man stumbled backwards, barely managing to keep his feet, and then hurried to take refuge beside Belle.

"I meant no harm," he said, wringing his hands while they watched Rumpelstiltskin sit beside Flora and turn back the bedclothes to her waist, feeling for the pulse behind her ear. "No harm. A son, that's all. They said I'd have a son, that it was meant to be."

"And there was magic?" Belle asked with a mechanical detachment, too worried for Flora to think much of the husband beside her. Rumpelstiltskin said that Randall was no fool. He had to have known that their hasty flight would likely kill the woman who had borne him the son he wanted so very badly.

"I... nothing was said of magic," he moaned.

"There's still a price to be paid for it," Rumpelstiltskin told him, tartly. "The poisoned blood in your wife's veins, for one. Shut up. Get out. Stay with Belle and the babe, downstairs."

"The child gives her strength," Belle said, doubtfully, remembering how Flora had roused herself at his hungry cries. "And he needs her milk. He barely suckled."

Rumpelstiltskin considered, then gestured towards the rocking cradle. Belle returned Edward to his nest and covered him carefully with the blankets, setting the cradle to rock with a gentle nudge of her hand.

"Wait below," he said again, and laid his palm over the row of pearl buttons at Flora's chest, between her engorged breasts. "And Randall, I suggest that you obey my wife as you would me, while you wait." Belle heard the effort in Rumpelstiltskin's voice - saw the depth of his concentration, and hastily pushed the defeated Randall out of the bedroom door. "Her goodwill is all that protects you, now."