There was a sorcerer in the mountains, they said. He was living in the dark, ominous castle on the top of the highest mountain. And he was cursed. Only two day in year, at spring and autumn equinox, he was able to leave his castle, but he had to return before the dawn.
Well, that meant his life was cold and drafty, a guarantee at this altitude. And a lonely one. Was he searching for a company during that day, every year? Perhaps he was, because half a year ago he met a woman from several years past and her son who turned out to be his son as well. The woman unceremoniously dumped the boy on him and left. But is the cold, dark castle a good place for six years old? And is there any help available for bitter sorcerers turned single fathers other than enchanted, moving suits of armor?
‘You want me to do what?!’
‘Miss French, please!’
‘Because you’re the best for this! And your father could really use what I’d pay!’
Belle French, his favorite librarian in the small town he visited on some equinoxes, threw her hands into air and shook her head.
‘I simply can’t believe this!’
‘Please, Miss French, I don’t have much time. I need to leave the town before the dawn.’
It was half past eight in the evening and the library was already closed. The noise of carriages outside on the main street were getting quieter, Storybrooke wasn’t a place where anything interesting happened at night.
Well, except his visits twice a year, but then again, he didn’t advertise the fact that he is the sorcerer from the mountains, and called himself Mr. Gold instead.
‘So, let’s summarize it, you just learned that you have a son. You didn’t know that you have a son. I can’t believe it! I know you for years, I thought I know you, Mr. Gold, but it seems no one can really know a man he meets only twice a year!’
‘Miss French, you’re the only person that I trust with that. And Bae needs you. I can’t look after him the whole time and the ah, servants, aren’t really the suitable guardians. Please, Miss French, he’s only six. He needs a nanny.’
Miss French continued to look at him furiously.
‘So, that’s all you want from me? Be a nanny for your son?’
‘Yes?...’ he squeaked. For all his magical powers, he was incurably shy and knew it. If he forgot, his mother would always remind him.
Miss French flailed her hands and turned away from him. Then she turned back, frowning.
‘Fine,’ she said. ‘For a month. Let’s try it, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll leave after a month.’
‘Half a year!’ he demanded. He couldn’t leave the castle to get her back to the town any earlier. ‘I’ll double your payment.’
‘Alright...’ Miss French said slowly and suspiciously. Then she pulled out a sheet of paper, ink and a pen. ‘Let’s write a contract. I’m not leaving until we negotiate everything.’
Rumplestiltskin eagerly nodded. It was a shame he was so desperate, but if he had to be, then Miss French was the only one person in the world that he was reasonably fine with.
Maurice French wasn’t exactly convinced about his daughter’s decision. But Mr. Gold was such a gentleman, a man of wealth and manners, and looked like a reasonable, reliable one. At least that was the public opinion in town. Belle herself was a good judge of character too, so Maurice decided to trust her. Given their debts, he didn’t have many other options.
‘Promise me you’ll be writing often, Bluebell.’
‘Of course, papa. Once a week at least.’
‘And where should I address my letters?’ Maurice asked, looking at Mr. Gold.
’Please give them to Mr. Jefferson. He will take care of delivery. Miss French’s letters will be sent through him as well.’
It felt weird for Maurice, but Belle didn’t seem worried.
‘We are in constant contact over business matters,’ Mr. Gold explained. ‘It will be the quickest and surest way.’
‘Well, my child, I wish you luck.’
He hugged his daughter and kissed her forehead. Mr. Gold took a step back, as if uncomfortable, but smiled a little. At least that was Maurice’s impression.
‘Bye, papa. We’ll see each other in six months. It won’t be that long.’
It will be, but with letters – and money – it will be bearable. Maurice just prayed for Belle’s safety and happiness among it all. Oh, and he hoped that Mr. Gold has a big enough library in his house.
Mr. Jefferson’s carriage was waiting for them, when Belle finally managed to pack two suitcases and one handbag with her clothes, some jewelry, and the most important thing – her favorite books. Then Mr. Gold helped her to carry it all downstairs, where Jefferson’s servants packed them into the carriage. Mr. Gold assisted her when stepping into the carriage and Belle just wanted to scream in frustration.
This wasn’t what she expected at all. She was harboring a crush on Mr. Gold from the moment she met him, in her library, five years ago. He was in Storybrooke twice a year regularly – amazingly regularly when she thought of it – during a business trip and always paid her a visit.
When she learned – from the man himself! - that he has a son with a woman he barely knew and he wanted Belle to be the nanny, she was ready to explode. Mostly out of jealousy, though she preferred to think of it as of justified fury and disappointment with his behavior.
All the same, she practically pounced on the occasion to live with him. Pounced with a sensible deal in writing, but pounced anyway. What’s more, she enjoyed the pouncing.
Mr. Gold didn’t try for any small talk during the ride and neither did Mr. Jefferson. It was dark outside, especially when they left Storybrooke, but suddenly Belle realized that they are on the road to mountains, not to river port to get a steamboat, nor to the train station, as she had assumed they would.
‘Mr. Gold, why?...’ she started, then paused seeing uncomfortable gazes of both man.
‘Erm, I’ll just go to sleep,’ Mr. Jefferson said quickly, and covered his face with a hat. That left Mr. Gold whose face was rapidly getting bright red, even in the dim light of the lantern behind the window.
‘So?’ Belle asked, aiming for a strong, decisive tone, despite the feeling that something very strange is going on. She still didn’t feel like anyone wanted to hurt her, but very strange nonetheless.
‘I... uh, Miss French... I’m sorry,’ Mr. Gold stammered. ‘I was afraid to tell you earlier, because you might have not agree... I know I shouldn’t have, I know, it’s just... my boy, Miss French. He needs you.’
‘Tell me now, then.’
‘I’m the sorcerer from the mountains.’
‘Is that your idea of a joke, Mr. Gold? All of this? Did you lie to me about your son too and we’re actually going to circle back to Storybrooke? Or is it just your way to make the journey more interesting?’
‘It’s true, Miss French...’ Mr. Gold sighed. ‘Look.’
He made a weird gesture and suddenly there was a book on Belle’s lap. Her book. One of her favorites that was supposed to be packed in her suitcase, which was strapped to the carriage’s roof.
Belle did the only sensible thing she could. She carefully put away the book and pulled out her contract, ignoring the growing urge to slap Mr. Gold as hard as possible for this.
‘It seems we have some points to renegotiate.’
Mr. Jefferson, grinning manically, left them on a small clearing between the pines. From here on Belle saw a path leading up to the mountains. No carriage could follow it.
Had she known that, she would pack much less. And Mr. Gold better help her carry it.
‘Erm, I’ll teleport us to the castle.’
‘We wouldn’t be able to go there on our feet. Even without any bags.’
Belle nodded. That was sensible.
‘The castle is almost on top of the highest peak of this mountain chain.’
That seemed excessive, but Belle supposed that all magic was. After all, if Mr. Gold could have a castle in such a ridiculous place, why not? It was at least unusual and interesting.
‘Are you ready?’
He didn’t specified that she should do anything special, so she supposed she was ready anyway. She nodded.
And the world whirled, then exploded.
Bae was born in a small village that lied between misty hills. For as long as he remembered, his mother was pointing at the high mountains on the horizon, telling him that his father lived there in a castle.
Bae loved stories, but he was also a very practical child, so he soon stopped believing it. Mom was telling him about his father also when she was angry and complained that she has other children – twins born to her and uncle Killian two years ago – and that his father could take care of him. But apparently there was no way to even notify Bae’s father about Bae’s very existence. That was another thing that convinced Bae that his father was anything but a sorcerer and castle-owner. Most probably, he was dead or otherwise gone for good. It hurt when Bae thought of it, so he tried to not dwell on it too much.
That said, Bae loved to imagine his supposed father the sorcerer. It helped, especially when mom and Killian didn’t have as much time for him as for the twins. Father would always have time for him. And in the castle Bae wouldn’t have to do too much chores. He didn’t mind working per se, but mom was strict and demanding, which wasn’t very helpful when Bae tried to enjoy his chores. He had to do them anyway, so enjoying it seemed like a good idea. But with father, it would be much easier, and it would be done quickly, so there would be a lot of time left to play. And father would play with him.
Bae spent years readily imagining his father, and then said father suddenly turned out to be real. It was the weirdest feeling ever. Even now, after half a year of living in an enchanted castle, Bae didn’t get used to that. Didn’t get used to pretty much anything, to be honest.
Still, Bae was a practical child. So when a moving suit of armor knocked to his room and announced that the master is back and would want the young master to appear in the living room, Bae politely thanked and followed it. Him. This one was named Jack and had a helmet with pointy thing at the top. Jack wasn’t much of a company, all the suits of armor were a rather quiet sort, but at least now they adapted to the names Bae gave them. He even heard once that they were using names talking to each other, and that filled Bae with pride. The only one who didn’t manage to follow it was papa, but this was still something to be worked on.
‘Gooodsss!’ Belle croaked. ‘What the... What was that?!’
She tried to look around her, but felt herself spin and lose balance and then plopped straight into a fluffy armchair. She was almost sure that the armchair wasn’t there a moment ago.
‘I’m sorry, Miss French.’ Mr. Gold said in the appropriately contrite tone. ‘It will pass in a moment.’
It was passing indeed and this time Belle succeeded in taking stock of her surroundings. They were in the large, stony hall with a big fireplace, but modern additions like armchairs, rugs, mechanical clocks and kerosene lamps were all over the place. It looked pretty cozy, especially the cheerful, warm colors of the rugs.
‘I’ve sent for Bae,’ Mr. Gold said, wringing his hands. ‘You can make your acquaintances with him. I prepared you rooms next to his, but first I thought we could eat? I will send your luggage to your rooms...’
‘Okay,’ she cut into his increasingly nervous speech. ‘It’s okay. I’m curious to meet him. And to see the castle.’
Mr. Gold sighed in relief.
‘Good, that’s good.’ He turned hearing the door cracking. ‘Oh, here they are.’
Belle raised her eyebrows high, seeing at first only a big, moving suit of armor. Only after a moment she spotted small, dark haired boy in rich, red clothes. Both suit of armor and the boy stopped in respectful distance, boy’s eyes turned expectantly to his father.
Rumplestiltskin smiled at his son.
‘Hi, Bae. Did you have a good day?’
‘We were in the courtyard playing in the snow. Josh lost his head. Er, helmet.’
‘Josh?’ Rumplestiltskin looked at the suit of armor accompanying Bae.
‘No, papa,’ his son said exasperated. ‘This is John. Josh is the one with these round, golden things on his armorplate.’
‘Oh, of course,’ Rumplestiltskin cringed. It was always embarrassing to mess up suits’ names but in front of Miss French doubly so. ‘I hope you helped Josh with his helmet then?’
‘Good. Well, Bae, this is Belle French,’ he motioned to Miss French who smiled. ‘She will be your nanny.’
‘Yes. She will take care of you when I’ll be busy.’
‘I don’t want her.’
‘Bae!’ Rumplestiltskin admonished him quickly. ‘That was rude.’
‘I don’t want her,’ Bae repeat stubbornly, but with an edge to his voice that suggested an impending crying fit.
‘Bae...’ he said pleadingly. Miss French was the best he could imagine for his son. If he didn’t want her, what else was left?
‘Perhaps he just need to get to know me better,’ Miss French said gently. ‘I’ll be very pleased to be your friend, Bae.’
But Bae looked firmly at his feet to avoid eye contact. It wasn’t going to be pretty, Rumplestiltskin thought with dread.
Belle knelt to be on eye level with Bae. Mr. Gold was doing the same, though with his cane it was a bit awkward trick.
‘Bae, I’m sure we can be friends. I mean no harm. I’ll just take care of you while your father is working.’
‘Yes,’ Mr. Gold said with hope. ‘I’m working on that spell that doesn’t let me leave the castle, Bae. You remember, we talked about it. You want us to be able to leave the castle sometimes, right?’
Belle filed that information away for the future. A spell that didn’t let Mr. Gold leave the castle. Yet, he was visiting Storybrooke twice a year. Definitely a topic that needed a conversation. Presently, though, there was a more pressing matter on hand.
‘I don’t want her!’ Bae bellowed and turned on his heels to run away. Belle looked after him helplessly.
‘I’m so sorry...’ Mr. Gold said, then got up, a bit wobbly, and went after Bae. ‘Josh, take care of Miss Belle,’ he added, looking back. Then he was gone. Weirdly, Mr. Gold wasn’t using magic to teleport to his son. This was another thing that Belle was going to ask him about. For now, though...
‘I thought your name was John?’ she asked the armor.
‘Yes, madam,’ it, he, answered in dull, grave voice. ‘Master Rumplestiltskin did not succeed in remembering our names yet.’
‘I promise to do my best to learn them. Could you show me to my room, Mr. John?’
‘Just John, madam. If you could follow me, madam,’ John said, taking Belle’s luggage.
Belle followed John through the stone corridors. It was clear that Mr. Gold wanted to make the place as close to normal house as possible, whether for Bae or for himself. Kerosene lamps, rugs, pots with flowers, modern furniture were a bit chaotically spread around to cover the fact that this is indeed a medieval, stone castle. John opened an oak door and let her into a room that looked just as idiosyncratic as the corridors.
There was a modern bed with blankets and covers adorned with embroidered colorful flowers and a multitude of puffy pillows. Next to it was a dressing table with a big, oval mirror, and a wardrobe, both made of light, cheerful wood. On the other side of the room was a bookcase with books that Belle immediately felt an itch to explore, a fireplace, and an armchair with small tea table. On the mantle was placed a modern clock. The small door in the corner led to the tiny bathroom.
‘That’s lovely, John,’ Belle smiled.
‘Master Rumplestiltskin prepared it especially for you, madam.’
‘He said that you need to feel here like at home.’
‘That’s very nice of him, John. Well, you can put my luggage just there, next to the bed. And, uh... maybe I can help with the dinner then? I’m not sure when Mr. Gold and Bae would be ready...’
‘That’s the name by which I know your master. So, the dinner?’
‘Master is making his and young master Bae’s meals by magic, madam.’
‘There’s no kitchen, then?’ Belle asked surprised.
‘There is an old kitchen, but it was never used. There is no food stocked too.’
‘I see...’ Belle sighed. ‘Alright then, if I’m needed, I’ll be in my room. Mr. Gold would know where to find me.’
John left, and Belle started to search through the bookcase. Unpacking could wait. As far as she understood, she was stuck here to the next time Mr. Gold would be able to leave the castle – half a year presumably – but just in case she decided to wait until Mr. Gold and Bae talked. She hoped they both would be alright.