“Eva is... a graceful princess. She is intelligent, well-educated, and has good relations with most lords and ladies. She is a good match for any prince. But at the same time, she is a horrible person. She has no respect for the common people, no regard for their hard work. I have often seen her purposely trip or push servants just for her own amusement. She is ungrateful for the food prepared and for the luxuries people around her work to provide her. I have no doubts in my mind that she will be a horrible queen.” Leopold sighed wearily. “Cora was right – she is just a spoiled child.”
“Be that as it may, dearie.” A vicious grin from the imp sprawled on a nearby chair. “But I don't quite see how that is of any consequence to me.”
Leopold took a deep breath and straightened his back. “I summoned you here to propose a deal with you.”
The infamous imp pursed its lips mockingly, swinging one leg over the armrest, rolling the foot side to side. “One I assume pertaining to the not-so-lovely Princess Eva.”
“Yes.” Leopold gave a single nod. “I wish for you to change her. She is to be kind and compassionate and just. She is to feel empathy towards every person she meets, not just those of good standing. Her every thought and every action is to be for the people of our kingdom and their well-being and happiness. She has to want nothing for herself and accept everything graciously and humbly.” Leopold smiled to himself. “Then she will be the best Queen this kingdom could ever wish for.”
The imp giggled and tented its fingers, sinking lower on the chair. “Such pretty traits for a lady to have. Such a pretty price they will require.”
Leopold knew this. “The only price I cannot give you is my rights to the throne.”
“I don't want that useless thing. Not very comfy, I've already tried it out.” The imp rolled and shifted so that it was sitting upside down, with its head pointing downwards and its legs swinging over the backrest.
Leopold kept his expression neutral, waiting for the creature's decision.
The imp grinned pleasantly at him. “For changing your unsweet Eva sweet as apples, I'd like to have... something precious.”
Leopold folded his arms behind his back. “Please be more specific. I need to know the exact terms.”
“Uuuuuh, such a smart cookie.” The imp cackled and snapped its fingers. A contract appeared in front of Leopold, floating by his head as it unfurled. “Everything's in there.”
Leopold quickly read through the terms. All the traits he had mentioned were neatly written down, down to the last epithet. The payment section even contained the phrase 'something precious', which was promptly explained to mean his first born child. He kept reading and learned the punishment for breaking the deal would be the removal of his own kindness and intelligence, which would transform him into a cowardly and cruel King.
It all seemed fair enough. “I agree to the terms.” Leopold said, turning towards the imp. He promptly flinched, as the creature was suddenly mere inches away, grinning maliciously. “I must however add one stipulation.”
“Oh? Whatever would that be?” The imp asked in a singsong voice, skipping around Leopold to stand on his other side.
“If Eva were to become barren after the birth, I won't be able to give you the babe. I need to have an heir by blood. In such a case I want an additional note stating that if Eva is barren, I am allowed to break the contract with no negative effects to my person.”
“Such fair terms from a fair man.” The imp grinned and there was something deeply unpleasant in its eyes. “How about this. I will wait for the babe to be three months old. That is enough time for any witch or midwife to make certain your little wifey remains ripe. I will come then. Agreed?”
“Agreed.” The imp snapped its fingers again and the contract glowed brightly, the terms changing before Leopold's eyes. He grabbed the quill the imp held out and quickly sighed his full name and title. The moment he placed the last mark, the contract furled itself back up and the imp grabbed it, hiding it in a pocket.
“Pleasure doing business, your Highness.” The imp grinned crookedly and gave a deep bow.
“The pleasure is mine.” Leopold returned the bow and gestured to the doors behind him. “Come. I will lead you to Eva. You may change her, then go.”
“Ah ah ah.” The imp waggled its finger at him, its face twisted into a facsimile of a smile, golden eyes wide and mocking. “You should've checked the revised contract more thoroughly, dearie dear. It will come into effect only upon the exchange of goods and services. When you'll have my goods, I'll provide the service.”
Leopold clenched his teeth. “I cannot wait that long. We are getting married in a week. There is no telling how long it'll take for her to conceive. And even then it'll be a year before the babe is old enough.”
“Well, then, you'd better get to work.” And the imp disappeared, with nary a speck of dust out of place.
Leopold stared at the empty room for a few more moments, then sighed in relief. Yes, it would take some time, but at least now he had an assurance of success. Finally, he could stop worrying about what kind of a queen Eva would make. “Until we meet again, Rumplestiltskin.”
It pained Leopold greatly, having to wait. Eva became with child a few months after their marriage and two weeks after their coronation. The nine months of Eva being a horrible queen weighed heavily on his mind, and only the thought of the contract helped him fall asleep at night. If luck was on his side, once a year passed his Kingdom would have the Queen it deserved. Not this child in a pretty crown, ordering everyone and everything around her according to her own selfish whims.
The babe was born in the middle of summer. A healthy boy, with strong lungs and blond hair. The first time Leopold held the babe in his arms he nearly wept for joy. This was the first-born child, the price required in the contract. All now they had to do was wait for Eva to heal and ascertain whether or not she was barren. If Fate remained on his side, she wouldn't be and the contract would come into effect. Then they would become the truly beloved rulers and start helping their kingdom grow into the land of plenty he envisioned it to be. Soon, there would not be a man, woman or child unhappy under their rule. All thanks to this one baby and its sacrifice for the greater good.
“What do you wish to name him, my husband?” Eva asked, tired but glowing with her own happiness. Soon she would not worry about such selfish frivolities.
“I care not.” He remarked, returning the babe to her waiting arms. “As long as he remains healthy, any name will do.” The baby needed to survive to the three-month mark, after all.
Eva smiled and named the child herself. Leopold wasn't truly listening when she proclaimed the name. He smiled as the image of the perfect kingdom grew in his mind.
Leopold needed to be absolutely sure, so he employed three witches and four midwives to make certain Eva was not made barren by the birth. They all proclaimed she was fine, healthy and more than ready to provide another child.
Leopold was most pleased. Most pleased indeed.
So was Rumplestiltskin.
“Well well well, lookie the little tyke.” The imp grinned at the babe, lifting it from the bassinet. “Ain't he just a prrrrrrrecious something.” The creature purred, dancing across the room while holding the child in the air.
“I am happy you are pleased.” Leopold straightened his back. “I've kept my side of the contract. What of Eva?”
The imp stopped in front of Leopold and brandished a vial in its clawed fingers. “Have her drink this and the perfect Queen will be yours.”
Leopold took the bottle and held it up to the light. It was a thick mixture, with bits and odd colours floating in a grey mass.
“But remember.” The imp grinned, bouncing the babe in its arms. “It has to be drunk as is. No mixing it in with food or wine. It has to be drunk willingly, straight from the bottle.”
Leopold nodded and wrapped his fingers tightly around the little vial. “I will make sure of it. I thank you for your help.”
“And where is the unlovely wifey?” The creature asked softly, nuzzling its scaly cheek against the babe's hair. “Did she get to say goodbye to her little treasure?”
“She will give me true children soon enough. I bid you a good night, Rumplestiltskin.” Leopold bowed and turned to leave the room.
The imp giggled shrilly. “I am most curious what kind of King you will make.” It murmured, golden eyes flashing.
Leopold paused and smiled regally. “I will be the best King I can be. And Eva will be the best Queen she can be. Then everything will be as it should.”
“So much regard for your loyal subjects. So little regard for everyone else.” Rumplestiltskin grinned wider, then looked down at the baby. “And I know just what I'm going to do with you.” The creature glanced up at Leopold, expression pleasant like venom. “One last thing, dearie. Once she drinks it, it's going to get pretty ugly before it gets pretty.” It winked and disappeared.
When Leopold entered his private rooms, Eva was not sleeping as he had thought. Instead she was pacing the rooms, holding the babe's blanket.
“Leopold, I can't find our son.” She said as soon as she saw him. “I woke up and the cradle was empty. None of those useless servants knew anything, of course, and I don't know where our baby is.”
Leopold took the blanket from her hand and tossed it onto a nearby chair. “The boy doesn't matter any more. Drink this.” He handed her the vial, but she didn't take it.
“Doesn't matter? Leopold, I know you don't have much love for our son, but he's your heir. Has he been kidnapped? Was he ill, did the nursemaids take him?”
“Drink this.” Leopold repeated firmly.
“I will not until you answer me!” Eva demanded angrily. “Where is our son?!”
“Mind your place!” Leopold snapped. “I am your King, and I order you to drink this.”
Eva stared at him with wide startled eyes, then looked down at the small bottle. “What is it?”
“This is the future of our kingdom. This is what I traded the boy for.”
Eva gaped at him, her face paling. “You traded- what?” Her voice shook and she stumbled back, falling down onto a chair.
“I will not repeat myself again, Eva.” Leopold stepped closer and grabbed her chin. His fingers clenched into her soft cheeks as he tilted her head upwards, making her look at him. “Drink this now, or I will be forced to trade you away as well.” He said, voice cold as steel.
Eva's eyes filled with tears, but she obediently took the vial. Her hands shook as he popped it open, but she swallowed the concoction as ordered, gasping with a sob when she was finished. The vial fell from her fingers as her body convulsed, and she fell to the floor with a choked gasp.
It was morning by the time she stopped convulsing.
The funeral was a solemn affair. The little coffin was laid to rest in a crypt and everyone was suitably remorseful and saddened by the loss. Leopold and Eva stood by their first-born's grave, staring at the cold marble slab well after everyone else had returned to the castle.
Eventually, Eva touched his shoulder, pulling his attention towards her. “We should go inside, my darling husband.” She said, kindness glowing in her eyes. Her voice was soft, her tone gentle. “The air is turning crisp, and I would not wish to lose you to a sudden sickness as well.”
“I must grieve for my first-born child, Eva.” He said, looking back at the grave.
“This is a tragedy every parent fears.” She said, wise beyond her age. “But as much as it pains me now, I know we can still have a future. We will have more children, and they will be healthier. They will not simply fade in their sleep.” Her voice was heavy with grief. “We will always carry our first baby in our hearts. He will never be forgotten.”
“His memory shall live on.” Leopold agreed, looking back at his beautiful wife. Already he loved her so.
“Yes.” She visibly hesitated, then gently lay her hand on his elbow “I've been thinking we could turn this tragic memory into joy.”
“What do you mean?” He asked, confusion marring his stoic expression.
“He was such a happy baby and the thought of the anniversary of his death being as grim as today fills me with even greater pain. I want to organize a grand ball next year. Instead of mourning his passing, we could celebrate his short life. We could invite all the children from our kingdom, both commoners and nobility and prepare entertainment especially for them. Our son is gone, but there are so many other children still out there. Giving them joy on this sad day would be better than wallowing in pain and sadness.”
Leopold smiled at his perfect Queen and pulled her close. “I agree, my wife. That is a very caring idea.” He looked back at the little grave and smiled wider. He has not yet made a better decision.
“You did what?!” The peasant woman yelled, staring incredulously at her husband.
He smiled in her general direction, a rag tied around his head. “I made a deal with Rumplestiltskin. My eyes for a baby of our very own.” He shifted his grip on the bundle he held, lifting it a bit higher for her to see.
“What in blazes made you think that was a good idea?!” She demanded, stubbornly not looking at the babe.
The smile slipped slightly from his expression, but he remained stubborn. “You've always wanted a child so badly. I could tell.”
“So you crippled yourself?!” She shrieked, wiping the tears from her face.
“Your happiness is my air. When you are unhappy I suffocate.”
“You are a moron, not an poet! How could you give your eyes away?! How will you sculpt when you can't even see?”
“I will learn to see the wood and stone with my hands. I don't really need my sight. All I need is you. And now him too.”
She took a gasping breath and looked down at the bundle in his arms. “... it's a boy?”
“Yes.” He smiled happily. “And he's the most beautiful thing that I've ever held in my arms. He's ours. Our son.”
The wife's eyes were still filled with tears, but she finally came closer, kneeling by her husband. She pulled down the old blanket and looked at the babe, smiling brightly when she saw him. “He's gorgeous.” She whispered, pressing a gentle kiss to the baby's forehead. “Are you sure he's truly ours?”
He nodded. “Yes, I signed a contract. No one will take him from us, worry not.”
She let out a small sob, gently touching the rag covering his eyes. “What about you? You're blind now. How can you be okay with this?”
“Oh, it'll probably hit me later on. For now I can hear the joy in your voice. And I can feel how warm he is. I will adapt and we will be happy.”
She smiled and kissed him sweetly on the lips. “Thank you. You're a fool, but thank you.” She looked back at the baby, and smiled wider. “We'll need to give him a good strong name.”
“Let's name him Marcel.” The husband proposed, hugging his son close. “Little Marcel.”
Rumplestiltskin blinked slowly at the small family from his hiding spot, watching as the new parents smiled at their child. He observed them for a few minutes more, then he disappeared back into his castle. He flopped down onto his favourite chair and closed his eyes, looking through the strands of possible futures, trying to find the one that would be in the sea of could-bes. He was most curious about what kind of a ruler Leopold would turn out to be. What kind of future awaited him and his 'new' wife.
Oh. Now this he could definitely work with. He grinned to himself and laughed.