Chapter 1: An Unexpected Bargain

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A soft sigh escaped me. I stared at the bars in front of me, wondering if I'd ever get out of this damned prison. In ousting Luria, I'd made myself a liar and an outcast. The irony of it was that I wasn't a liar. Luria had meant to kill the queen. I'd intervened in the hopes of saving the queen's life, but in the end, I'd failed.

Tears seeped out of the corners of my eyes. I reached up to swipe them aside. To my dismay, more followed. They coursed down my cheeks like a never-ending river.

Frustrated, I tilted my head back and howled at the ceiling. It irked me that Luria had undermined my efforts. She had her eye on the throne, after all. In making me out to be the bad guy, she'd given herself an alibi and a chance in fulfilling her every goal.

"Yoo'll ne'er get yer justice if ye keep howlin' like a damned wolf," an unexpected voice said.

I lowered my head and glanced about at my surroundings. "Who's there?"

My unseen companion chuckled. "Yer best friend, I suppose."

I snorted and rolled my eyes. "Forgive me, but I have none."

Another chuckle burst from the person's lips. "Ahh, but ye do."

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. "Show yourself!"

"Tsk, tsk," the person said. "It doesn't work like 'at, Deary."

I shifted position and stared at the shadows on the wall to my left. "How does it work then?"

"It depends. What'll ye give me?"

A wave of apprehension descended upon me. "I've nothing to give you unfortunately."

My companion laughed. The sound echoed all around me.

"Not now, no. Someday, perhaps. Tell me, Deary. What would ye do if ye were to get out of here?"

I considered the thought. If such a thing were to be possible, I'd make my way to Luria's door and demand justice. She'd probably laugh her head off and have me killed on the spot, though.

But at least I can say I tried!

I shook my head to clear it. I've been imprisoned for the past six months. The days have bled one into the other. So much so, I've often lost track of time. Pain and misery have been my only comfort. Never once, however, have I given up on the hope of being able to leave this wretched place.

And I will! Somehow.

"Yes, Deary," the voice said. "Ye will. I can guarantee it."

The shadows shifted. I caught a glimpse of what looked like a dwarf pressed against the wall. In the blink of an eye, the shadows coalesced, taking the dwarf with it.

"Why are you here?" I asked.

"To serve ye," he replied.

"Serve me?"

"Aye. Yoo've been dealt a harsh hand. I'd like to help ye in gettin' out o' here."

My eyes narrowed with suspicion. "What's in it for you?"

My guest chuckled once more. "It depends."

A thought I couldn't make sense of niggled at the back of my mind. I frowned and tilted my head, keeping my eyes on the shifting shadows. A known fairy tale slowly seeped into the confines of my mind. I recalled the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, a little man who'd preyed upon the miller's daughter. She'd traded him many things in the hopes of achieving an end to all of her means. Mother had read the story to me whenever possible in the hopes of making me understand that no one could ever be trusted.

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