It’s important to understand that this is all that fucking gnome’s fault.
If it weren’t for the gnome, Rumpelstiltskin wouldn’t be seated at his table valiantly trying to eat some kind of soup full of fish and tentacles and other… wiggly bits.
He wouldn’t be trying to eat it at all, mind, if it weren’t for the woman seated next to him who just so happens to have made the soup. Under any other circumstances, he’d have tossed it right out the window.
Or vanished it into the ether where it belonged. You know. Whichever.
It’s not that it’s bad soup. It’s probably very good soup, barring one small issue.
Rumpelstiltskin hates fish.
He hates the taste. He hates the smell. He hates the way the wee bastards dart around and stare all wide-eyed and unblinking. He hates anything with tentacles, too, thanks to a particularly unsettling and near fatal meeting with a kraken who, frankly, had no business being in that pond in the first place.
He doesn’t even know where she could have gotten the fish; he doesn’t stock them in the kitchen. Or the lake outside.
And yet here he sits, eating fish soup.
It really isn’t his fault.
He’d been traveling through the forest a week ago and he’d come across a gnome lurking by a well. A wishing well, the gnome claimed. It was clearly a scam to get coins from foolish travelers. The well was moss covered and rickety, the spring feeding it almost dried up. The gnome had propped up a hand-lettered sign that read Make A Wish.
It was almost laughable.
The gnome informed him that it was a special wishing well, that it only granted to those with wishes of pure intent. Rumpelstiltskin had remarked that the gnome should best work on his marketing campaign, that people would rather believe that their wishes would be granted no matter what.
The gnome had shrugged, said that he wanted to be honest. That he wanted people to understand what they were getting themselves into.
He’d endeared himself to Rumpelstiltskin with that. He’d been feeling generous that day, so he pulled a gold coin out of his coat and flipped it into the well.
He hadn’t given it another thought.
The next evening, a woman turned up on his doorstep.
And by “turned up” he means “marched up the front steps of the Dark Castle and pounded on the door in a no-nonsense manner.”
More curious than anything, he’d answered the door with a minimal amount of dramatics.
“I seek your assistance, Rumpelstiltskin,” the woman announced.
“I humbly request a position on your staff.”
“My staff? Dearie, I don’t have a staff.”
“But… I thought…” Her brow furrowed. “This is a large castle. If you don’t have a staff, who does your cooking? You’re cleaning?”
He wiggled his fingers in the air. “Magic.”
“Doesn’t all magic have a price, though?”
He might have fallen a little bit in love with her just then.
He ignored the question in favor of asking her to further explain her presence.
“My name is Belle,” she informed him. “I was a princess. I ran away.”
“And why would a princess run to my doorstep?”
“I was being forced to marry someone that I don’t love, someone that doesn’t love me. I won’t let others dictate my life. I make my own choices.”
“And your choice is to come here?”
“No one will think to look here. Even if they discover where I am, they’ll be too afraid to come here.”
“You’re not afraid?”
“Of course I am. But I had to try. Please, can I stay? I’ll be helpful, I promise.”
Surprising them both, he invited her in and told her she could stay. Of course, what he should have done was make her sign a contract that forbade her from ever bringing any fish or fish products into his castle.
He’d given her a room in the east wing, a list of duties, and she took to them happily, dusting and washing and somehow finding time to bully him into eating and sleeping. Now, a week later, he was still having trouble understanding her presence.
Then he remembered the wishing well.
It’s a ridiculous notion, obviously. There aren’t many wishing wells in the kingdoms. He knows of all of them. And he hadn’t even made a wish.
Well, alright, fine, he may have had a fleeting thought of a wish flicker though his mind, and it might have been something to the effect of I don’t want to be alone anymore.
But, come on. He hadn’t said it out loud. He didn’t even use the words I wish.
That’s just cheating, wishing well. If that is your real name.
Anyway, it’s just a coincidence. Probably. Most likely.
He swirls the soup around in the bowl for a moment (seven hells, is that eel?) before Belle breaks the silence.
“Do you like it?” she asks, glancing at him hopefully.
And she’s all pretty and sweet and smiling-at-him and at this point he thinks he’d probably go fight that thrice-be-damned kraken again if it would mean he’d get to keep her. So, really, what choice does he have?
He takes another bite.
“It’s delicious, dearie.”