There was a pirate’s ship in the great hall. It stood in the middle of the room, just where the table had been when she’d gone outside to work in the garden an hour ago, the billowing sails stretching almost from one wall to the other. It took her a minute to realize that the boat wasn’t there in place of the table, it was the table. There was the scorch mark where she'd put a casserole dish down without a trivet. There was the weird purple stain that she couldn't get out no matter how hard she scrubbed. And there at the bow was a deep gouge where he’d thrown a hunting knife last week. He can’t fix the stain she’s asked about three times, it seems, but he can turn the whole thing into a ship that looks sturdy enough for the sea.
“What do you think, dearie?” The culprit in question, the strange man who can seem impossibly old one moment and a ten year old boy the next, was standing at the edge of the ship's deck.
“What are you wearing?” she asked. The hat is black and tri-cornered, with a feather sweeping back over his right shoulder. That she’s seen before, in some room or another. It’s the coat she’s curious about, a deep red velvet with gold braid. The buttons too are gold and there’s almost invisible embroidery on the wide cuffs that make her think someone must have spent weeks on making the sleeves alone. This is no ordinary pirate’s coat like the rag tag gangs she had seen near the docks when she was a girl.
“Do you like it? Until this morning it belonged to the most feared pirate captain in the realm, a man by the name of James Hook. He had a little problem with a crocodile, though, and we made a deal.” Rumpelstiltskin made a sweeping bow, somehow not dislodging his hat. When he straightened again he had a rope ladder in one hand. He tossed it down the side of the boat, the last rung landing a foot above the stone floor. “Come aboard, matey.”
“I’ll stay down here, thank you. I have chores to attend.” She’s carrying a basket of herbs to take to the kitchen, and as tempting as it was to see what a dining table turned ship looks like up close, it was a better idea to start dinner. He could get cranky if not fed after a day of making deals.
“You’d better step lively then. The floods are starting.”
She didn’t have a chance to ask what he meant before the water started to rise from the stone floor. It was at her ankles before she made it to the ladder, a far closer escape than the stairs. “Rumpelstiltskin!”
“That’s Captain Rum, dearie.” He offered her a hand once she was almost to the top of the ladder. She resisted the urge to hit him with her basket, but only barely. Her shoes were wet, and maybe ruined. “And you never said what you thought of my new coat.”
“It’s very... pirate like.” It’s hard to cover a smile, but she does because when he’s in a mood like this there’s no telling what he’ll do. Last week he’d come home with a tale of a thing called circus, and insisted on walking the narrow ledge of the battlement at the highest part of the castle.
She knows what's happened here, and it’s her fault in the same way that the new moat around the castle is her fault. He gets the strangest ideas from her offhand comments. The other night she’d slipped and called him Rum, something she usually only said in her head. It had been late, almost midnight when he’d returned to the castle, and Rumpelstiltskin was such a mouthful sometimes. She hadn’t been at all sure how he’d take it, once the word was out, but his cantankerous mood had vanished and he’d spent the next hour singing every sea shanty about rum that he knew. He knew quite a few, it turned out. Most of them were rather bawdy.
“It is, isn’t it? You, on the other hand...” He touched his finger to his chin, thinking, and after a moment flicked his hand in her direction. There’s a strange feeling of loosening and tightening. She looks down to find her dress gone, replaced by a billowing shirt of white and breeches that fit too well and ended just below the knee. Rum nodded his head decisively. “Better.”
“What did you do to my clothes?” She tugged at the shirt, but there was no way to make the fabric stretch any farther or hide any more.
“They’re in your room, no worse for wear. You couldn’t possibly climb the rigging in a dress.” He patiently explained his logic as if she was three years old. Belle rolled her eyes.
“I’m not climbing any rigging no matter what I’m wearing.” The rigging, she noticed as she looked at it, was made of rope that looked suspiciously like gold.
“It’s that or walk the plank.” He pointed out the intricately carved plank that looked a lot like the back of his chair.
“I can’t swim.” It was a rare confession for a girl who had grown up by the sea, but her father had been so protective of his only child so Belle had only watched the other children dive and paddle in the water. The water was halfway up the sides of the ship now, though, and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to touch ground.
“Well, then, that makes for an easy decision.” He tugged her hand as he ran to the rigging, his new coat flying behind him. “Come along, dearie. The view from the crow’s nest should be quite nice.”
“The view will be a stone wall.” Belle said with a sigh as she followed him up the ropes. She was glad not to be afraid of heights, and give him more ammunition. Who knew what he was going to do about her not being able to swim. “This room is going to be a disaster to clean.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m washing the floors and the walls for you. Rather nice of me, if I do say so.” The crow’s nest, looking suspiciously like a tea cup turned to wood, was only just big enough for the two of them. It felt strange, not to have the layers of skirt and petticoats between them when they stood so close, their hips almost touching.
“And what of your spinning wheel? Is this much water really good for it?” she asked, trying to find a hole in his logic. Also trying not to stare, because the coat really did fit him nicely and his shirt was untied to show more skin than usual. It didn’t help when she looked down and realized that his trousers were also just below his knees, and he only wore low black shoes instead of his usual boots.
“What do you think I used to make the rudder?” He was watching her, and she quickly looked away, pretending to look for the similarity between two wheels. If he’d been watching her than he knew she was watching him.
“And what did you use to make that?” A bright red bird flew across the room, coming from the direction of the stairs. It had been years since she’d seen a parrot, and she’d never seen a pet here in the castle.
“Pirates can be very rude. Sometimes they need a lesson,” he explained with a flourish of his hand. The parrot squawked and flew to the main topmast.
“You didn’t really.” But as the bird settled above their heads she could see a black spot around one eye that looked exactly like an eyepatch. “You’re not going to leave him like that, are you?”
“He’s much more amiable as a bird. Besides, it’s hard to commit thievery on the high seas when one is a bird; feathers don't hold guns nearly as well as fingers.”
“You can’t go around turning people into birds,” she scolded. Honestly, where did he come up with these ideas?
“Very well. You have my word I will not turn any more pirates into birds.” He bowed again, this time taking off his hat. When he righted himself he placed the tri-cornered hat on her head, pushing it back a bit when it fell into her eyes. “Better?”
“You are incorrigible.” But he was grinning at her, and it was hard not to grin back. She’d watched the ships, when she was a child, and had longed to go on an adventure around the world in one. She’d never left her father’s lands, though, not until she’d made a promise to protect those lands and all the people on them. She still hadn’t traveled, not any farther than her new home which was more confined than even her father’s estate had been, but there was a breeze that ruffled the feather in her hat, an ocean down below, and a man watching her who was more adventure than any foreign city could be.
“Thank you, dearie.” Captain Rum, who had been more feared than any pirate even before creating his own sea, swung himself out of the crow’s nest and back onto the rigging with a giggle that broke her resolve and made her grin. “Now come down and steer the ship. We’ve a pirate’s treasure to find.”
He was singing a sea shanty about bar wenches and rum by the time she managed to climb back down, not quite as easy as up since she couldn’t see where she was going. It took a few steps to get her balance; the table ship was swaying side to side. “There’s a treasure?”
“Of course there’s a treasure. What proper pirate doesn’t have a booty to seek or protect? And speaking of proper we’re going to need to get you a new name.” He stepped back from the wheel, gesturing that she was meant to take it. When she did she was surprised to look ahead and find that the far wall of the room barely resembled a wall at all. There was a sky of pale blue, water as far as she could see and an island in the distance. She could almost feel the warmth of the shining sun.
“There’s nothing wrong with my name.”
“Ah, but it’s not going to inspire fear in anyone, is it?” He hadn’t moved from his place behind her, except somehow he was closer to her ear, his voice lower. “Would you run trembling from a pirate named Belle?”
He was looking so smug, when she looked over her shoulder at him, so sure she was going to agree. Belle could almost see the ‘I told you so’ forming on his lips. “No, I probably wouldn’t. But then I haven’t run away from a pirate named Rum, either.”
She turned back to the imaginary horizon, turning the rudder with the same concentration he used when it was a spinning wheel. Her words hung between them, something more than the jest she’d meant them to be.
“No, indeed,” he finally said after a minute. The tone in his voice was one she’d rarely heard from him. Without seeing his face it was impossible to tell what it meant. Belle almost turned to look at him, but the boat pitched suddenly to one side. It was all she could do to hold tight to the rudder and keep upright.
“Storm’s coming,” he said. The exuberance was back in his voice again as he danced around the deck.
Belle looked up at the ceiling, wondering if he was going to make it rain. She wouldn’t put it past him. Suddenly a hand was at her waist and she was being spun into the same dance, no time to worry about rain or the water stains it might create. For a dance that didn’t look like anything they’d done in court it was surprisingly easy to follow his lead; then again she’d spent months learning to follow his lead and gage his moods. His moods were not so fearsome as the world thought, and even his snarls and silence were worth the cost for days like these.
“Storms are perfect weather for treasure hunts, don’t you think Captain Rum?”