"Who’re you?" Emma asked the woman who was questioning the possible witnesses Emma hadn’t gotten to yet.
Those witnesses scattered, which didn’t seem to bother the woman. "Afternoon, Sheriff," she said and pulled a card from her wallet. "Here you go."
"Myra Able?" Emma asked, reading the card. "You’re a private investigator?"
"Fully accredited. Am I to interpret your look of surprise as a sign you never wondered how Storybrooke survived with only one police officer?"
"We had two. For a little while."
"That’s answer enough."
"Are you going to cooperate with me on this investigation, or do I need to send you home?" Emma asked.
"I could coordinate with you, Sheriff," Myra said. "But this is more May Noapte’s expertise. Ask Dr. He."
"I’ll do that," Emma said.
Myra started to walk away, but then she paused. "I just have one question for you," Myra said to Emma. "Before Henry Mills’ current obsession with believing us all to be fictional, do you know what preoccupied his mind?"
"He’s a kid," Emma said. "Henry was probably interested in dinosaurs or airplanes."
"Henry’s had the same fascination for as long as anyone can remember."
‘As long as anyone can remember.’ Emma recognized that as the same length of time that Regina had been Mayor or that anything in Storybrooke had been going on. "This doctor you mentioned…"
"Where would I find him?"
"There’s only one place he ever goes: home."
IN THE ENCHANTED:
Around the next bend they encountered a young woman - little older than Belle herself - sitting on the ground and giggling as she made sandcastles from mud and rotted leaves and shattered skulls.
"Hello?" Belle asked. "Do you need help or…?" Belle didn’t see the look on Samsa’s face.
The young woman clapped as stroppy craftlings pursued one another in tight circles before collapsing into a single mess.
"I’m Belle…" She noticed then that the sitter was mouthing… something which was turning a grain of dirt into a pearl
…into a shell
…into an armored wriggler
…into an oddfish
…into a hungry air-thing which
…became a thing which ran away.
The young woman squeed.
‘All magic has a price,’ Belle recalled. Was this talent for creation what you wished for? Belle wondered, while also wondering how much of Rumplestiltskin’s erratic personality was from the sheer number of deals he had made over however many years.
It doesn’t matter, Belle resolved.
"Yay!" said the other woman, who then vanished.
"She disappeared," Belle said to Samsa, seeing the fear on his face.
"If you say so," Samsa said.
“If you don’t think she disappeared, then where do you think she went?”
Where she went, what happened to her. “She’s gone on ahead to another part of the story,” Samsa said.
“This isn’t a story, it’s real,” Belle said.
“It’s all a story. The question is who’s going to tell it?”
As Belle contemplated that, she saw they had reached the sign informing them that they had reached the Troll Bridge. Crumpled trolls, lay scattered here and there across the bridge’s length and breadth.
Belle froze, vividly remembering stories about what trolls could to women and men alike. Just when she was contemplating turning around, heading back, and taking that other road. But then Belle noticed the wounds inflicted on these trolls, and she knew the right thing to do - and thus the brave thing to do - was to lend a hand, to help.
And so she did. Samsa watched the girl go from petrified to determined, so he followed her onto the Troll Bridge instead of going onto the bridge alone as he had been about to.
“What happened?” Belle asked. She had never before seen a wounded ogre before, much less a troll, but these trolls looked like they had nearly been squashed.
The trolls looked one to another, then at her. “You care?” one asked diffidently.
“I do,” Belle said. “It’s only right.”
“A double-cross happened weeks ago. It still hurts. The Lurker in The Woods went back on a trade she made with us, helping some prince. When we said we knew she was Snow White, she turned us into cockroaches and let her prince step on us.”
“That’s a horrible betrayal!” Belle exclaimed.
“Horrible, yes. The betrayal was when her father revoked the promise made to us, the promise of sanctuary.”
“Hence they live under the bridge,” Samsa said to Belle.
“That’s not fair,” Belle said.
“He did it when he returned from the homeland of his daughter’s mother.”
“And speaking of her,” said the first troll, “if our souls had been on our persons that day Snow White turned on us, we’d be dead.”
So...ogres are not the only ones able to move and hide their souls? Belle wondered. One of the trolls peered at Belle as she tied a splint to its half-mashed leg. Belle didn’t wince: for all their tusks and muscles and claws, they didn’t strike her as being dangerous. She knew, Ogres are and HE is!
"You will not kill me," Mashedleg said.
"I don’t want to," Belle said. "I want to help."
This didn’t seem to make sense to any of the trolls. "Why?"
"Because I can help," she said.
"Help us?" Mashedleg asked.
"Does this help include revenge upon our attackers?"
"I’m afraid I can’t do that."
"Of course; human," spoken in a way that suggested a stereotype had been confirmed. "Then a warning, good benefactor: beware of Snow White and her prince who is an imposter."
"Thank you for the warning," Belle said.
"You…are welcome. I have a deal for you."
"No deals!" Belle snapped.
Even the trolls flinched at that.
"I’m sorry," Belle said.
Unperturbed, Mashedleg said, "A reward, then. When you have attended to all my fellows here, I will fly you to wherever your destination is."
"That’s very kind of you," Belle said.
"It is a reward, not a kindness."
"Is it a reward if I said I would help you even without it?" Belle asked.
"Yes," Mashedleg said.
Looking down, Belle could see the mountain forests give way to… No, she thought numbly.
Three-quarters of the borders of her family’s duchy were lands now destroyed by the encroaching tide of ogres. But, as promised, the duchy itself was safe. ‘You have my word’ he had said.
In the depths of the Storybrooke Hospital, the duty nurse unlocked and opened the door to Patient Number Four’s room. “You can go now,” the nurse said, knowing only that this patient had to be let go - despite the paperwork and medical documentation arguing otherwise.
“Three eyes,” the patient said.
That triggered more memories, notably of who this patient truly is. “Yes, your Majesty.”
“Now’s not right. I need gather my thoughts. Time…soon.”
The nurse nodded. “Of course, your Majesty. Whenever you deem best,” and Nurse Three Eyes shut the door. She did not lock it.
No sooner had Belle’s feet touched the grass, than the webbed feet of the great swan let go of her, the swan transforming back into the troll Mashedleg. "Your father’s castle is right around the next bend in the road, as you requested," Mashedleg said.
"Thank you," Belle said. It would have been pure trouble had I asked to be brought directly to Father’s castle - trolls are kin to ogres, after all.
"You…are welcome. A request?"
"If I can help."
"Should you see any of my seven daughters, tell them they are welcome home." As if a clue, "They inherited my transformational power."
"I’ll pass that along, if I see them," Belle promised.
"I swear I‘ll do what I can."
"As I swore to do," Mashedleg said.
Belle frowned at his tone, then noticed that Mashedleg’s feet and ankles were badly singed - damage which hadn’t been there before. I never felt any heat or flames, Belle thought as he became a great swan again and took flight. "Goodbye."
As she walked the short remaining distance, Belle wondered if the old tales about trolls being harmed by being out and working in sunlight were true - or if Mashedleg simply hadn’t wanted to admit to being allergic to humans.
The castle doors opened, timed such that Belle didn’t have to slow down and closing once she was inside.
All the mirrors are covered, was Belle’s first observation. As is anything shiny. "What happened?" she asked.
"Plague?" said her father the Duke. "One of our knights made a wish for a way to kill the entire ogre army. Only once the wish was granted did he learn we had not failed with Rumplestiltskin as he had feared."
"Oh father," Belle said. I leave to keep away the ogre army, and there therefore are no ogres to catch this disease.
"But why are you here, daughter? While I am overjoyed to see you safe, that is tempered by caution, you must understand."
"I do understand," Belle said. "And I did not escape. Rumplestiltskin set me free. The agreement has not been breeched. I feel…” Belle said, and collapsed, her fall slowed by grabbing drapes.
“Summon King Midas!” Duke Mo commanded a servant. “And a cleric, and my physician.”
“She collapsed?” Midas asked, now in the tallest tower of the ducal lands, looking at Belle, not looking at Mo.
“She did,” Mo said. “My physician examined her while you were on your way here.”
“And he found nothing,” Midas said.
“Only the most superficial things, more of a cleric’s area of expertise than his own.”
“Hm,” Midas said, and walked around the room, transmuting all the reflective surfaces.
“My King?” Mo asked.
"I need a minute," King Midas said after transforming all the room’s glass into gold. "To say my goodbye."
"My King, I am afraid we cannot do that," the Duke said. "The clerics were insistent on that."
"Then I will not spare you the sight," Midas said, standing at Belle’s bedside and sliding a glove from one hand.
"Good King Midas, the clerics may yet succeed! Or we could -"
"Make another deal? When will you learn?" That is how I came into your family. That is why Belle left here.
"No," the Duke said, hanging his head, ashamed. “No more deals,” he resolved.
Without turning his head to the lesser man, Midas said with a glare in his voice, "You should have mourned Belle when you failed her."
"The deal was struck," the Duke said plaintively.
"When did clerics start making deals?"
Oh. You mean… "I could have handled my daughter’s return better than I did."
"No," Midas said. "You should have done so, and with only relief in your heart. Your prodigal daughter is no longer yours. I am taking custody of my niece. Her fate is my choice."
Midas stared at him. "You have robbed her of her voice by your acquiescence. Shall I silence you with a finger?" He did not wait to hear the answer.
King Midas reached down, gingerly touching the discoloration on Belle’s neck. "Peace," he promised her.
Belle’s eyes snapped open. She leaped out of bed - and darted to the window before anyone could stop her.
Calmly, Midas looked at the window, raised his bared hand, and pointed at the Belle-made hole. One of his servants - a woman - ran after Belle, exiting the window in the same way.
She dropped like a candle from the tower top to the reeds at the tower’s foot. The river’s tide took away her still form.
Her family waited for an attack - from the ogres, from Rumplestiltskin - but none came. They continued to wait in fear.
The Evil Queen felt the air in the room, letting the magical trail lead her up to the topmost part of the Duke’s tower. She knew of only one thing in any kingdom which had magic like this: A snark? the Queen thought with a measure of alarm. Not all of what I sense is from Midas. There are more now?
Thus it was a mixture of emotions that she used to throw open ahead of her the doors to the tower’s topmost room as she demanded, "Where is she?” Fear was one - a fear of spies and assassins, two tasks snarks always did well. And curiosity about what had become of the girl who had captured Rumplestiltskin’s heart - surely she can’t have died so soon.
"As I told you before," the Duke said. "My daughter has passed.”
That much is true. "All the glass in this room has been turned to gold. Why would you do that if you had nothing to hide?"
"My daughter’s uncle is King Midas, whose… eccentricities are to be endured. He left for his castle shortly before you arrived, Queen."
"Rest assured, I’ll have words with him as well," she said while making her way around the room where Belle had been kept once Rumplestiltskin had finished with her. "In the meantime -"
"Majesty, my daughter has died! Might you grant I and my household the same grace you yourself might expect, had you been so unfortunate as to lose a child?" the Duke asked, fully expecting to be struck dead for that.
"As it happens, I do understand that degree of loss," the Queen said. "Very well. Once your time of mourning has passed, you will answer whatever is put to you," she said, looking at the window which her sense told her a young woman had recently crashed through.