Fic: Not A Request
Title: Not A Request
Summary: “If she doesn’t eat with me, then she doesn’t eat at all” - Rumpelstiltskin demands that his new caretaker dine with him every night. Belle does not take commands well.
Inspired by the part in both the Disney and Robin McKinley retellings of the Beauty and the Beast story, where the Beast demands they together every night, and Belle initially refuses. More a ficlet than a full fic, but I rather like it.
“Oh, and one last thing, dearie!”
He had returned: she had been calling for what felt like hours, desperate for a response from her new captor (she’d hoped employer, perhaps companion, but no, captor is the word). She’d been certain that she had been left to waste in this dark, dank little place, forgotten and alone.
“What?” she asked, holding back the lump in her throat. She would not give him the satisfaction of breaking her, of forcing tears from her eyes or sobs from her chest.
“You will dine with me, every night. This is not a request.”
She could hear his boots clacking on the floor as he strode away, but she would not be left silent twice, and if disobedience - if showing her backbone - would gain her a reaction, then she would rail and scream.
She heard him pause, imagined him spinning on his heels. “Excuse me, dearie?”
“No.” She repeated, no louder or harsher. Just that word, that one word of defiance, that echoes off the stone walls.
“Careful, girl,” he warned, dancing closer, “Disobedience on your first day may not be a wonderful start.”
“And neither would throwing your new maid into a dungeon!” she retorted, “I will cook and clean as you ask, that was the deal. But caretakers are not prisoners, and I am the former, not the latter.”
Her voice wavered, the tears of fear and utter, hopeless despair threatening to wash through her. But she’d done this much, made it this far, and words are all she had left. So she carved them, sharpened them to weapons, and threw them to his feet.
“Ooh, brave little thing” he cooed, “You sold yourself to me, dearie,” he reminded, as if she could forget, “So you will dine when and where I choose.”
“I would rather starve.” she said, voice trembling. “You threw me in a dungeon: you lost your chance for company then.”
“Company?” he scoffed, “Hardly that, dearie. I merely need to ensure each evening that you have not yet fled and broken our bargain.”
“Not much chance of that,” she muttered, “With me stuck in here day and night.”
“Oh, you’re to leave your cage to work,” he trilled, “And to eat. These are simply your quarters…” he opened the grate, and suddenly his face was right near hers, close enough that his breath - cool and sweet, when she thought it should be hot and rancid - was on her face. “Not the standard of royalty, hm?”
“I’m hardly royalty, Rumpelstiltskin.” She spat, “But I’d thought your manners to be better than this. This is not a way to treat an ally.”
“And when did we forge this alliance, dearie?” he asked, softly, still cruelly mocking and patronising, “Hm? When your father called me ‘beast’, or when the people of your lands made the sign of the devil at my back as we left?”
“You stole their daughter,” she replied, quiet as he but with a firmer, harder dislike, instead of the rippling mockery he revelled in, “How else should any of them have reacted?”
“With gratitude, perhaps, to the creature who saved their worthless lives?” he suggested, “Yours as well. How about a little fealty?” he smirked, and she scoffed, showing a dismissive confidence she surely didn’t feel.
“If I am a prisoner, then I need not be nice to my captor,” she replied, cooly, “I will leave this… place to do my duties, and nothing more. If you wish for fealty, Rumpelstiltskin, then you will have to earn it.”
“You will not come to dinner?” he checked, as if giving her a last chance to bow. “If you do not eat with me, then you will not eat at all.” He reminded her of nothing so much as a howling gale, destructive and unpredictable, loud and spinning, but calm at the very eye of the storm.
But Belle had always wished to be strong, like the mountains that surrounded both her home and her new prison. And winds could do much, but they could not topple mountains.
“Fine.” he whispered, silkily, “Then enjoy starvation, dearie.”
He slammed the grate shut, and stormed away.
Rumpelstiltskin found himself eating alone that evening, as he had every night before. He had snapped his fingers the moment the food was on the table, swung her dungeon door open.
She had to know what it meant, that she was to leave and return to the dining room.
But as he uncovered the large mirror by the spinning wheel, and enchanted it to gaze upon his maid’s new room, he found her sat on the floor in her ridiculous golden dress, arms around her stomach, staring at her feet.
The sun set, and she did not move.
She shifted around, tried to get comfortable. She didn’t even sit on the small cot she had been provided with until it was two hours until midnight, and even then he thought it was more necessity than desire.
She was a stubborn thing, this one, and strong. She did not cry and she did not seek to appease. He had been denied his will before, denied the chance to size up his new girl across the dinner table, to assess their worth. But they had never sat as calmly as she did, in their defiance.
He’d seen her eyes, and there was not a hint of cunning or guile there. Not like some of the maids he’d had, who had used arguments excuses to show that they wished to be his equal and not his servant.
Belle of the Marchlands, the daughter of Sir Maurice, and a former subject of King George, ruler of all the lands from the northern mountains to the Tamarin river.
Neither a weeper nor a grasper, apparently.
He heard her soft groan - her first noise all evening - at midnight. Her arms didn’t leave her stomach as she curled, still in her finery, on the cot, as tight as she could in those skirts.
He sighed, and swung the door invitingly.
He didn’t know why it was so important to him that this one show her obedience: usually, any girl who defied him this long found a bowl of soup and some tea at the foot of her bed, and the door locked for the night.
But he watched, and waited, and still nothing but a few more, soft groans of hunger, and a tighter little ball curled on her bed.
Eventually, he stopped watching.
But he could still see her, even with the mirror covered. He spent the next hours studiously not thinking about the gold and chestnut creature suffering in his cells, groaning her discomfort and yet still refusing to be a true prisoner.
The price of bravery, the wondrous courage she had shown in coming with him without so much as a flinch or a tear at leaving her home forever, should not be to starve for the entertainment of a monster.
It came to him more and more over the hours he left her: he kept grasping for a depth of cruelty, of hate and dark and poison, that simply wasn’t there.
For she had been right; of course she had: he had desired nothing so much of her presence at dinner than companionship. His loneliness should not cause such pain to one so blameless as she. It wasn’t his fault he languished as she did, despite the magic and the trappings of his lavish lifestyle.
She wouldn’t run away: she wasn’t the type. Stubborn as anything and hard as nails. A very rare pair of traits in one so highborn and pretty, so slight and delicate.
So he kept his word, at last. Six hours to the minute after she arrived in his home, Rumpelstiltskin decided to play the man and hide the monster.
She would dine with him, but he had not specified where, exactly.
He waved a hand, and made the food on the table dance and reform into an easily carried, silver dinner tray. It was still hot - it would be whatever temperature he wished, such was his control on his small spells - and smelt good even to his dulled senses as he carried it by hand down to her dungeon.
He was reaching out: he never reached out, never, but for this one princess he bent a little and allowed her her dignity.
It was his job, in this role he always crafted, to break her. To make her see that he was king and master here, not her, and that whatever kingdom she had left behind, she had left her titles and her finery there.
But she had a nobility of soul, if not of pure blood, that made her curl in her bed and barely whimper, even as hunger gripped her.
He stepped through her open door, and her eyes blinked open. They flew right to the food, the smell hitting her before anything else.
“I was trying to sleep.” She mumbled, and indeed, she did look weary.
He felt a little remorse for punishing her so, but had no idea where it came from. He had played with peasant girls and the daughters of emperors, and all had screamed or cried their misery and allowed his kindnesses - his poisonous little gestures - to calm them. All had been servants within hours of entering the castle.
Belle of the Marchlands was still a princess, for all that she was a mere knight’s daughter.
“I know, dearie,” he said, “Easier to sleep after eating.”
Her eyes narrowed as she sat up, the corsetry on her dress creaking a little. She looked horribly uncomfortable, but she did not yield. She looked from the food to his face and back again, and snarled, “Did you come to flaunt this in my face, then demand I come and play guest to my warden?”
His face twisted, and he placed the tray on the floor. He crouched there, looked up at her and sneered, “Why, would you prefer cruelty, princess? Or are you going to come off your throne and eat something?”
“What’s the price?” she asked, around parched lips and a dry throat, “What do I have to do?”
He waved a hand, “Caretakers are equally taken care of, are they not?” he asked, with a small smile - he was trying, he was trying, and he never tried but this brunette not-quite-princess had crawled under his skin already - “Come, eat.”
“I want to pay it.” She said, even as she stared at the food longingly, “I want-“
He sighed, crossing his legs on the floor and pulling the top off of his plate, “A smile, dearie, then.” He said, impatiently, “My price is a smile.”
“Okay.” She nodded, satisfied, and reached first for the pitcher of water he had brought, pouring a goblet for herself and gulping it down greedily. She sank to the floor in her golden dress without a second thought, mimicking his posture beneath her skirts and attacking her food - meat, vegetables and sweet potatoes, simple but entirely filling - with vigour.
He watched her eat for a while, picking at his own food with less enthusiasm.
“Did they not feed you at home, then?” he asked, after a while, and she looked up, startled as if she had entirely forgotten he was there.
She looked at him, a little pointedly, “They did. But I left home before the evening meal, and you were not forthcoming with food on the journey.”
“Ah.” He nods, looks down, almost chastened: how long has it been since he felt chastened by someone?
It’s the coward in his soul he ends up blaming, the one so easily cowed by someone braver and stronger, more capable, than he himself could ever be.
He likes to play with people such as they, dangle them and toy with them until they are forced to admit to the same fear, the same weakness, he has always been so filled by.
But Belle is… different. Not arrogant, not tempestuous or screeching, not trying to trick him.
He doesn’t think, anyway.
She slows her furious eating, and her movements are suddenly instilled with a learned kind of grace, the sort he supposes princesses are taught from a young age - although her father was a common soldier by birth, and she is a princess only in manner.
She looks up at him tentatively as she finishes her food, and catches him watching her.
She smiles, and it’s like watching a rose bloom before his eyes, like the sun coming out after a hundred years of night.
“Thank you, dearie.” he says, and if he means it to sound callous or mocking then he feels he missed the mark, somewhat. His new maid is beautiful beyond the telling of it, and her smile is something to be treasured. It’s genuine.
“Thank you.” she replies.
The smile is gone as fast as it came, but at least he has seen it.
He would like to see it again: the Castle is dark and cold, and a little drop of sunlight never hurt anyone.
“Would you like to see your room?” he asks, out of nowhere, because a dungeon is no place for a lady and the maids only ever sleep there one night anyway.
“I have eyes, Rumpelstiltskin,” she says, a little tartly, “I can see it perfectly well.”
“You can see three flights up and two corridors along?” he asks, feigning astonishment, “My word, dearie, you do have talents.”
“My room… is not this one?” she asks, carefully, “Not the dungeon?”
He shrugs, nonchalance, “You asserted that you were caretaker, not prisoner. You need not be frightened here, dearie, you were correct.”
“Because you will write home, soon enough,” he grinned, all pointed teeth and malice, “And the first night should be spent in a dungeon, when a beauty lives in the castle of a beast.”
“Then the night I shall spend in the dungeon.” she said simply, calmly, as if it were the most obvious and rational idea in the world.
“I am not some wilting flower, you know,” she said, firmly, “And much as I’d like a soft bed and pillows, this was where you put me, so this is where I’ll stay.”
“I could order you.” He fiddled his fingers, nervous, “I could command.”
“And what would you do if I disobeyed?” she challenged, “Lock me in the dungeon again?”
“You shouldn’t be down here.” he said, a little helplessly, and when did she make him helpless? He rallies, draws himself up to his full height, and snaps his fingers.
Her golden dress melts in a cloud of purple smoke, and she is clad in a silken nightgown, her hair soft and loose around her face. The cot is a full bed, and the dishes are gone.
He leans in, so his face is inches from hers, and she seems torn between laughter and defiance. “I find, dearie, that when the world fails to move for me, then I can simply move the world to suit.”
He stands back, and she folds her arms self-consciously across her chest, “Goodnight, Rumpelstiltskin.”
He sweeps her a mocking bow, and leaves, locking the door behind him. If she chooses to sleep in the dungeon, then she can have the full effect.
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