"I don’t go with *any* wines!" Belle exclaimed as they crossed from the rocks and breakers into a field of roses and pine saplings. "I’m a human being!"
"I know, but my doctor’s got me cutting down my soy intake."
The bravery tales didn’t suggest anything. So Belle drew from her life experience instead: "I can work!" the words out of her mouth almost faster than ‘I will go with you’ had come.
The ogre stopped. "What’re you saying?"
"Give me a task, something to do. If I do it, you let me leave. Alive!"
"Lovely, a traditionalist," the ogre enthused and set her on the ground. "What is your name?"
"Belle," she said.
"All of the weeds are to be gone by sun-up tomorrow; you’re sure you can do this, Belle?" the ogre asked.
"I can," Belle said.
"Good. I’d hate to make stew from your bones."
Belle had been working for hours, laboriously digging up pine saplings, when she heard a familiar voice.
The snark appeared, perching on a low oak branch, and she asked Belle, "Are you sure you know what you’re supposed to be doing?"
Belle yanked another pine sprout from the ground before she said, "I know what I’m doing."
A snarkish smile. "Not what I asked."
"Then speak plainly," Belle said.
Oh sure, take all the fun and challenge out of it. "What were you asked to do?"
"Remove the weeds from this field."
"Right," said the snark. "So why are you taking out the baby trees?"
"A weed is a plant that doesn’t belong, and roses aren’t weeds," Belle said. And I can’t see anything else growing in this field. "And I thought -"
"Am I helping you work?" she asked Belle sharply.
"Some would say so."
A better smile. "Your skills’re improving. I’m only helping you if I convince you of what to do."
Belle looked at her.
The snark sighed. "Consider the giant who hired you, the ogre who does business with Urashima. Think of him - his asthetics, his business, his hobby. Which *to him* would be the weed?" She paused, and said, amused, "*That* is helping." And then she rolled off the branch, vanishing into the darkness.
The snark groaned when Belle was halfway done replanting the uprooted pines. "Just ask," she told Belle.
"I didn’t say anything," Belle said, not surprised she hadn’t noticed the snark’s return.
"I know. And *very* *loudly*."
"It’s kind of personal."
Going to ask if I slept with your uncle? "I am a snark. We don’t have a ‘personal.’ Ask."
"Why don’t you and Romulus like each other? You’re both friends of my uncle," Belle said.
"Romulus swore his loyalty to Midas in exchange for a home in his retirement. *I* worked alongside Midas before and while he wore the Ears."
Some kingdoms give a laurel crown to their puppet princes. The Empire‘s client crowns had mule ears. "My uncle was a snark?"
"What makes you think he stopped being one" Did you think he got the golden touch from Rumplestiltskin?
"Would have noticed? What would you have been looking for?" A shrug to remove the sting. "Even had you known, you’re only human - and thus you see but you do not observe."
"How do you suggest I learn to observe?"
"Have you helped anyone?"
"I have," Belle said. "I never asked anything in return."
Good. "Did you receive anything in return?"
"I just said -"
"Did you? That was not what I had asked. Consider that your first lesson in observation," Snark said with a Cheshire grin.
Observation, huh? “Did you take my shadow away from me?” Belle asked.
“No. Ogres have their souls, snarks have their shadows, and humans don’t know what they have - until it’s gone.”
“I thought we were human.”
“Has anyone ever thought you weren’t a normal girl?” Snark asked Belle.
“Then consider us human with a trick or two up our sleeves.”
“Do we all have the same trick?” Belle asked.
“I cannot turn people to gold,” said the snark. “I can steal people away. Souls and shadows can’t grab much, but physical hands can.”
“What could a shadow touch?” Belle asked.
“Think about a normal shadow, the sort you once had…was there anything it couldn’t touch? Now envision it capable of covert actions.” And if you need to disappear, just retreat into it. She said something to that effect, and demonstrated it.
Which left Belle alone once more. She sighed and went back to work. If it’s not the pines, I can only see one other thing in this field, Belle thought. While digging up the saplings - which she had since put back - she had noted an absence of any underground plants, fungi, or burrowers. “Roses it is, then.”
Belle took a step towards the nearest rose, which told her “No” in no uncertain terms. The flower opened, and a form materialized between bloom and Belle.
“Are you a fairy?” Belle asked. As far as she knew, only fairies changed size or place like that.
“Until they had us excommunicated for not bowing before the Hero, we were fairies. I am Hesperia Hesperides.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Belle said. “I’m Belle.”
“And what do you want with us, Belle? Some late-night murder in the name of Heroism and upon the altar of the same?”
“No!” Belle said, horrified. “I would never do that.”
“Then why were you about to reach for us?” Hesperia asked.
“To take you to safety.”
“Here is safe. Why should we leave?” asked Hesperia. “The soil’s good. We like it here.” My sister Dryad would have liked it more, the moreso with all these saplings. I tolerate the pine babies in honor of her.
“I promised -”
Hesperia interrupted Belle. “That’s not our concern. You promised something you couldn’t deliver.”
“Maybe there’s a way for everyone involved to get what they want,” Belle said.
“And what do you want?” Hesperia asked.
“For everyone to be happy.”
"You like it when people are happy, don’t you, Belle?"
"Everyone deserves to be happy," Belle said.
"By force, if need be?"
"Who would do that?"
"Someone who wants everyone to be happy."
"No, I would never do that!" Belle said.
"The King of White did, some say. ‘He used the magic of demons.’" The magic he learned before he abandoned his first wife. And speaking of demons… “You know that all magic has a cost.”
Belle nodded. “Deals, vows, spells.”
“Do you plan to use magic to move us?”
“I can’t,” Belle said. “Even if I could, that’s not me,” Belle said. “It won’t be me.”
Hesperia considered this, conferring with her equals, their roses drawing up into a closeness, a bramble.
Were I dishonest, this would be a perfect time to rip them out and send them away, Belle thought.
Hesperia returned to face Belle. “We accept, conditional on your answer to this question: where would you move us to?” It won’t be you, so it’ll be us.
“I know of a few places, and my journey’s not done yet - but no matter what, wherever I think you’d do well, I will ask you what you think of it.”
“We like,” Hesperia said. “We’ll go with you. Know this: what you are about to see cannot be destroyed by the likes of you - set it down where you think we’d like, and we’ll let you know.”
“’It’?” Belle asked, and the roses and their spirits coalesced into a shimmering light egg-shaped rock. Belle pocketed it carefully, and then set to work tidying up the field.
“You didn’t fail,” the ogre said, his voice waking Belle up from across the field.
“I said I would do it,” Belle said, marveling at how tired she had been, to sleep standing up. She’d always thought the accounts of being propped up on a shovel were tall tales.
“You did. One question - where are you going to go next?”
“Do you know where I can find Irene Adler? I need to give her something.”
“I do know. The detective lives in the city. You get there by following the road.”
“Why? We had an agreement, and we each upheld our ends of it.”
The road from the ogre’s was only slightly winding. Belle kept away from the roadside where grew octopus bushes, yateveos, generic trees and sphagnum moss.
After a few hours, two boys came out from amongst the trees to stroll alongside Belle with an air of practiced ease.
"Afternoon, ma’am," one boy said.
"Lovely day, don’t you think?" asked a second.
"I’m busy," Belle told them. "Go home."
"But we want to help."
"We’re quite ingenious - everyone says so," said the first.
"When they’re not using our names in vain," and both boys chuckled.
"You really want to help?" Belle asked them.
"Oh yes, very much."
"I’m looking for Irene Adler."
"No shortcuts," Belle warned them.
Tom and Huck looked at each other and shrugged. "Okay," they agreed.
It was nearly noon when the three of them happened upon a broken-down cart with one wheel on the opposite side of the road.
Belle had never changed a wheel or done anything similar, but that didn’t stop her from setting the wandered wheel upright and to roll the heavy thing back over.
Tom hesitated long enough to say, “This better not be to trick me into helping,” and he and Huck then helped.
When they were done and the cart was fixed, "Why would you help me, a Samaritan?" the cart’s owner asked Belle.
"Because it’s the right thing to do," Belle said.
The Samaritan woman nodded, pleased with Belle’s answer. "Wait here," she requested, and went to her cart for a book. "Here you go," and handed Belle a book.
"Oh, no, I couldn’t."
"You have helped me; let me help you."
"Okay," Belle said, accepting it.
"Aren’t you going to ask me what it does?" The villagers were most insistent about knowing, given the rising costs of the ever-fewer books.
"If you feel there’s a good reason to give it to me, that’s good enough for me."
"I like you."
“Thank you,” Belle said.
Tom and Huck said some nice things and tipped their hats a little.
“I have to be going,” the woman said.
“Would you like some company?” Belle asked.
“I’m not going where you are,” she said to Belle. “And I have appointments lined up for all of the next week. But I wish the three of you well.”
“Bye,” Tom told the Samaritan woman.
Huck waved as she towed her cart away. “So, time to eat yet?” he asked.
“In a bit,” Belle said. So the three of them walked a bit further before stopping for the night and having a bite to eat.
After supper, Tom and Huck were leafing through the book in the evening light while Belle made the fire. "Look, here’s ‘How to make doors without breaking walls,’" Tom said.
"Or," Huck pointed out, "’How to revive a dead heart’ sounds useful. Or… ‘The cure for cancer.’"
Both boys asked, "What’s cancer?"
"How would I know?" Belle asked them. The voices within and around her informed Belle that cancer did not exist, that it is a made-up word …here.
Tom said, "This is weird - ‘The Palace Coup and ensuing Thousand-Year Tyranny of the man Hero of a Thousand Faces was ended by Queen Alice Sheherazad. Under the Tyranny, the Heavenly Sheherazads strengthened the Evil One so the Hero would not be unopposed. See also, the Hero-Fae Concord, demon activity during the Tyranny, Heroic scapegoat unto war.’"
"Look, Belle, a camel," Huck said.
Tom dashed up to reach for its head, saying, "We’ll get to town faster if we ride it."
The camel pulled its head away from Tom’s hands, and asked, "Will you abuse my generosity as well?"
"Never," Belle said to the camel. "Do you know the way to town?"
"I do. Follow me, please."
It was a lengthy walk, so after a while, Tom began to tell his tale of the fence painting. But the camel stopped in front of him, stopping them all. A frustrated groan was all the camel said.
"What?" Tom asked. "I thought I was rather clever."
"Perspective," the Camel said.
"Some things I stopped doing when I befriended a slave," Huck said, nodding.
"Once, I had a handsome and useful tail. I had expansive antlers. Then Deer asked to borrow my antlers, and Horse asked to borrow my tail."
"You could’ve said no," Huck said.
"And be selfish?" Camel asked, horrified at the suggestion. Calmer, "There is the town," looking down the hill from where the four of them now stood.
“Why? I just left. I have an appointment elsewhere.”
“Well, thank you for taking the time to walk with us,” Belle said.
"I’ll wait here," Hank told his dad once he’d parked at the curb and gotten out of the car, standing alongside it.
James Feinstein, his father, stood there, not yet taking any steps toward the jewelry store.
"Feet starting to chill?" Hank asked.
"Look, she loves ya, you love ’er, and she doesn’t think I should be abandoned at an orphanage - we both know how often that trifecta comes along," Hank said; next to never, is how often. "So you march on in there, and you buy the lucky lady a ring. Or I can go in there and tell the store employees the truth about what a terrific adoptive dad you are, and they cut the price in half."
"I’ll go," James said.
James didn’t get through the store door, before the building was rocked by an explosion - it threw him almost back out to the car. Glass was the least of things blown up and out.
In the smoke and particle-rich air, ears stinging and ringing, Hank knew who he was and who was in his arms: "Jim!" cried Huck Finn.
Kenneth Tenkiller stopped slicing the sushi as memories flocked into his mind, perching where he could reach them.
On the other side of the sushi bar sat Nate See, whose chopsticks weren’t getting any closer to his mouth - because he was starring at the fish-and-rice in naked horror. He had just remembered that he is the great eel named Tuna, lover of the lovely Sina.
"You should go; run away, swim for your life," said Tenkiller, said Tengu.
After a long day, Dr. Whale was ready to go home and relax, maybe see if Mary Margaret was in the mood for him to take her to dinner. Someplace better than Granny’s, this time.
But there was someone blocking his way. "Can I help you?" Dr. Whale asked.
"You let him die," Ishmael said. Ahab’s obsession was his own, that isn’t in dispute. But your ship was nearby - he could have been pulled from the water…Ahab might yet have lived. Ishmael pulled a knife.