Chapter 60: The Good Thing About Associates
The best plans involved as few people as possible, preferably himself and the person he was using. He’d found that the fewer people who knew about the plan, the easier it was to make it work for himself and himself alone. He didn’t like to “need” people. Needing others was an idea born of society. All he needed was his magic, and in this case, he needed to make sure the other person who would be key in breaking Regina’s heart wasn’t doing it for him, but rather for himself.
“Not so fast…” he called after Jefferson the night after his spat with Regina. The boy had been out and about, gallivanting in some other realm filled with dead and diseased humans and other nightmarish creatures. Now that he was back, he wasn’t about to be honest and send him on this mission without allowing the boy to get something in return. He wouldn’t allow this to count as a favor, or for the boy to think that he was essential to his plan. Oh, deep down he knew he was, but that was the thing about knowing one’s importance, it had a tendency to bolster the ego. Jefferson didn’t need that, and he most certainly didn’t need Jefferson to think that he needed him. They already owed each other so many favors he could barely keep up. This one had to be done carefully. “I have another job for you…two actually.”
The boy paused on the stairs and then with a sigh dragged his feet back up into the tower. He almost felt bad for the poor lad, he had no idea what Jefferson did on these trips or if it was a trick of the hat, but whenever he came back he was always exhausted. He knew he’d been about to go below, crash into the bed that he used, and sleep for days. But this wasn’t a time for sleep. This was the time to plot.
“I’d like you to return to Oz.”
“For the shoes? You think enough time has passed?”
“I worry over what might happen if too much time goes by.” He knew, his future wasn’t to use those shoes, he’d nearly made peace with that, but there was still a part of him that wanted to try and possess them. Besides, there were other reasons for sending Jefferson to Oz and calling him back.
“I’ll get on it in the morning, shouldn’t take me too long to dig around and locate them,” he shrugged before turning to leave again.
“Ah!” he cried, making the boy pause again with an irritated sigh. He turned, looking tired and irate at being held up…perhaps now he’d know how he felt every time Jefferson insisted on spending the night or occupying the same room he did. “I’d like you to have care about when you return.”
“‘Have care about when I return’?” he mocked. “Can you just tell me what you want me to do?”
“Alright. I want you to return…in the middle of a lesson with Regina.”
“Aren’t you always the one promising death and pestilence and famine if I interrupt your business?”
“Perhaps but this time around I’d like to have you offer her a deal. It involves a certain…talent that you possess and I don’t.”
“You want me to take her somewhere.”
“No, I’d like you to offer to bring someone here for her. I’d like you to dangle the hope of having Doctor Victor Frankenstein from the World Without Color come here…and raise that dead lover of hers.”
Despite his exhaustion Jefferson’s eyes suddenly widened. “That?!” he exclaimed. “That’s the plan you’ve been working on?! That’s the reason you wanted me to take you to that land, to see that Doctor?!”
“Are you capable?” he questioned, ignoring his outburst.
“You know I’m capable I just don’t understand why there’s been so much back and forth! I could have brought him here before now and saved myself the trip!”
“Jefferson…” he sighed, putting his hands behind his back and stepping forward. “Despite what you may think, this castle…it’s not an inn. And some situations are far too delicate to cut corners. Regina must be the one to ask for this. I can’t do it on her behalf and nor can you. And with her jumping in and out of this castle nearly as frequently as you do…it has to look as though I’ve had nothing to do with it. My hands must appear clean in all this, and you! You must make the Doctor sound appealing so that she asks for you to bring him.”
“Yeah, right, I got it I know what to do, I’m a good salesman, but…”
“But?” he questioned. He’d been halfway to his wheel when he’d come upon that awful word. He didn’t like “buts” in his deals.
“What if he refuses to do it?”
“He won’t,” he assured him, sitting back down at his wheel so he could spin gold. He had found in the past, on those few occasions when Jefferson was wary of a task, it helped to remind him of the payment he would receive. And since spinning was so calming, he was hoping it might help him not murder the boy for his questions and steer the conversation back to what he really needed to discuss with him, and that was the matter of payment. “The deal with the Doctor has already been struck, and I think you’ll find he’s waiting for your arrival. I’ve already convinced him. Upon your return, it’ll be your job to convince, Regina.”
“I assume my wage will be the same as it always is?” he questioned finally.
“And more if you play your cards right!” he declared, spinning himself on the stool so he faced his companion once more.
“More? In what way?”
“Oh, I’m sorry…I thought you knew what to do!” he taunted.
Jefferson opened his mouth, but then closed it again as his eyes wandered in his sockets as if searching for something. Obviously, he wanted him to tell him what he had in his mind, but at the same time he didn’t want to admit he didn’t know what he was talked about as he’d stated. Rumpelstiltskin merely smiled. It was a low blow, but when it came to Jefferson, sometimes he couldn’t resist the temptation to remove some of that smugness he held onto so dearly. Finally, he sighed and shrugged in defeat.
“I don’t know what to say, and I’m exhausted. Can you just tell me what you are thinking, Mister Gold, Sir?” he questioned, batting his eyes like the small child he knew he was trying to make him feel he was. He refrained from laughing as he rose to his full height. It was just one of the many reasons he didn’t like having the boy stay here. He knew their relationship was well defined, Jefferson was a Realm Jumper, he paid him to find objects of great importance, and in return, he turned a blind eye when the boy all but lived in his castle. But there were times that he worried Jefferson thought it was more. That was why what he was about to suggest made so much sense. It should work for Jefferson, but it should also spare him more of these fatherly conversations. He had a son. He wasn’t in the market for a new one.
“Well, I’m the mastermind in this little project, dearie, but if you do make the sale appropriately, Regina will never know it! Which means you could potentially claim a little fee from her on your own.”
“More money! I wouldn’t turn that down.”
He let loose a giggle at the simplicity of his thinking as he sat back down at his wheel and began to spin once more. “You need to think a little bigger, dearie! Broaden your horizons. Regina is the Queen of a very large Kingdom, one that does not permit Realm Jumpers to use their magic unlike…say…my Kingdom.”
“You think I should ask for what? A change in the law?”
“No!” he hissed, rising to his feet again and dancing closer to him with every single syllable. “No, no, no! That would open the entire Kingdom up to your kind, that’s the last thing you want for business if you want to be the sole authority on the subject,” he explained as he circled, roping him in further. “No, what you want…is a royal pardon.”
“A royal pardon…like forgiveness.”
“Exactly!” he shrieked, moving back to step in front of him. “You want permittance to practice your craft and jump from realm to realm so that you are not so limited within her Kingdom. That hat of yours only takes you realm to realm. Aren’t you tired of only ever hopping place to place, then beginning that long, long, long…long trek home each and every time?” he questioned. He knew the answer to that was “no”, not recently because he hadn’t been “home” in so long. Not being able to jump to any place he wanted in this realm was the reason he stayed at the castle so often! But everyone, even Jefferson, dreamed of having a home. And it was clear the moment Jefferson began to smile that he had missed that aspect as well no matter how much he might have claimed not to in the past.
“It would be nice. Wouldn’t help me in King George’s Kingdom, but hers is certainly closer to home than yours is.”
“Indeed,” he muttered, sitting back down at his wheel. And it would certainly benefit him. He might actually get his solitude back once more and not have to go in search of breakfast only to wander into his Great Room and find Jefferson waiting there for him.
“So, is this what you do all day?” Jefferson questioned, suddenly appearing at his side, leaning against the bookshelf by his wheel with his arms crossed over his chest and that smug look of interest on his face again. So much for beating that out of him. “When you’re not with Regina, that is? You sit up here in your little tower and scheme; just think about deals others could make.”
“Mmm…mostly,” he answered as he began to spin the great wheel and work the wool in his hand into thread. There was something poetic about it, about individual fibers that had nothing to do with one another coming together, spinning into a tight, neat piece of workable thread. He supposed that Jefferson was right. Even when he wasn’t spinning fiber into thread, he was almost always certainly spinning something or someone into something useful. And he always would, until the day that curse was cast and he was back with Baelfire again.
“And they come from everywhere? Just to have you take advantage of them?”
“The village in your own?”
“Oh, nearly all of them. Everyone always needs something…or so they think. And if they can’t, they can always be convinced.”
“Even the guy in the house at the bottom of the mountain? What did he need?”
The house at the bottom of the mountain?
“The house, you know, the one at the bottom of the mountain? Sweet old man, offers me tea when I see him.” He stopped his wheel as a shiver threatened to give away his confusion. There were no houses on this mountain. There were no homes at all beyond the village and certainly no houses at the bottom of his mountain. Who would have been brave and stupid enough to construct one so close to his domain? But the way Jefferson said it, without a hint of doubt…
“There is no house at the bottom of the mountain.”
“Of course, there is. Maybe you didn’t hear me. Sweet old man lives there. I’ve been inside when he offers me tea. Obsessed with sweeping, I assume he made a deal for a broom that never breaks. Or perhaps to keep his robe red.”
A red robe.
He felt himself resist a shudder again and knew suddenly that it wasn’t out of confusion as he’d initially thought. No, it was something far more sinister, something far deeper and more magical that gave him that feeling of…fear. He hadn’t felt fear before, not since taking up the mantle of the Dark One. And he wasn’t about to start now. It was Nimue, she was the Dark One that fear was born of. It was the images she had in her mind of a boy in a red robe following Merlin around like a helpless puppy; images of a man in a red robe that was eerily similar hunting her down, stealing away a box that contained what he knew to be a hat-the same hat he’d seen in memories from Zoso…protected by none other than an old man in a red robe.
The house at the bottom of the mountain…it would take a lot of magic to hide from him, to not even be sensed. The Apprentice, he could do it. But he wasn’t the only one. There were maybe half a dozen other sorcerers in this realm who could muster the magic to do it properly. Whether it was one of them or the Apprentice, he didn’t take kindly to knowing any of them were practically camped out on his front lawn, and he hadn’t a clue! But still…he had to know. If the Apprentice was there, if the hat was there…he could think of one way to be sure. It had to be magic that wasn’t his own, magic the Apprentice couldn’t plan on, and fortunately he knew exactly where to send Jefferson to get it.
“There’s one last thing I’d like from Oz; while you’re there, of course.”
Jefferson’s brows furrowed, he could only assume it was in confusion for how quickly the conversation had shifted. Frayed as his nerves felt at the moment he dared the boy to ask him about it. Finally, Jefferson shrugged. “Okay, sure. What do you need?”
“Several times, you’ve mentioned a bauble the Wizard possesses, or possessed as it were, which allowed him to see people, situations.”
“Oh yeah, that. It’s in the Wizard’s Chambers, at least it was the last time you sent me there. Easy grab so long as the guards are looking the other way and the witch isn’t in town.”
“Excellent,” he snarled. “While you’re there…grab it.”