Battle may never end, for there chaos thrives;
And only in chaos can we live our lives.

After Snow takes the Assassin's curse, she leaves to rebuild the Four Kingdoms. But she finds the Beast impossible to control and will do anything to get rid of it and spare her kingdom carnage. Enter Rumplestiltskin, one of seven equally enigmatic and long-named dwarves. Their requirement for breaking the curse? Snow must live with them for a year. She leaves a serving girl in her place, who must lie to--and fall for--an unwitting Huntsman.

But curses can never be broken. Evil can never be killed. And Snow can never stop fighting.


26. Chapter 15

Ella watched her reflection. How strange it was to look at that face, surrounded by the golden frame of such a luxurious item. It was the face of a woman that Ella, like the rest of the kingdoms, had once loved. Ella had worshiped Snow's strength and her abilities in battle. 

Snow had been a figure of admiration for so many women. But the White Kingdom--just like all the others--knew nothing of what their Queen was truly capable of. 

Ella put her fingertips to the cool glass, studying the furrowed brow, the pursed blood-red lips. The face that, when worn by her, was so full of life. But when on it's original owner spoke only of death and killing. 

It was little wonder that she was such a capable warrior. Just look at how cold-heartedly she had told Ella to leave the Huntsman. And the same woman had just cost Ella her first-born child. 

This kingdom was weary of war. They didn't need a soldier on the throne. They needed a queen who understood abuse and neglect. A queen who was capable of love. A queen who knew hard work, who knew sacrifice, who knew what it was like to fight not for glory, but for survival. And Ella would pay the price and fight the fight in order to get that Queen on the throne. 

She only had to do away with the only two people who knew who she truly was. 

Ella had two choices. She could pretend to be Snow, returned, and keep up her act permanently. Or she could do away with them, which would cause some raised eyebrows with the White Castle staff. Ella wished that she had offered something a bit more valuable than her shoe to the dwarf for her curse; it would be a struggle to keep Jehanne, Casin and Oudin from catching on to her deception if she continued to leave before midnight. 

It posed other problems as well. When she married the Huntsman, how could she get away with the ruse? Once they shared a bed and stayed up late at night? The Huntsman was a smart man regardless; he would catch on in time. She needed a better curse. A permanent one. 

"Talminage!" She called. "Talminage!" 

The purple dwarf appeared in front of her. "You again," he said, voice flat. 

She lifted her chin. "I need a new curse." 

"You're awfully liberal with magic," said Talminage. He tapped his short fingers against his belt, raising one eyebrow as he looked at her. 

Ella sneered. "Says the magical dwarf. I need to look like this permanently." 

Talminage inspected her for a moment. "Hm... vanishes at midnight. Tricky. Should have given a better gift than one shoe. That's important. Or perhaps Rumplestiltskin knew you would eventually attempt treason and thought to prevent it beforehand." 

She looked at him evenly, holding back her anger. "If so, then he is a fool. Snow should be replaced. She could never understand the matters that truly affect this kingdom, her people." 

Talminage frowned. 

"You're in love?" he asked. Ella was taken aback. "No," he added, seeing her face. "it has nothing to do with what you just asked me to do. I'm simply curious. Because if you're in love, you must kiss him a lot. And if you kiss him a lot, and if you are truly in love, it ought to shift between you. I don't suppose he's ever gone about looking like Queen Snow, has he?' 

Ella was furious. "Are you insinuating that the Huntsman doesn't love me?" 

Talminage shrugged. "That's one possibility. You're right." 

She gathered her skirts into her hand, body shaking with rage. "Then it must be another possibility, because that is utterly ridiculous. We have true love. It must be another reason that the curse doesn't shift." 

"You may want to ask why he's so desperately in love with the Queen he'd never really been near anyhow. In fact, last I'd heard, he was working for Malif Against the Queen." Ella noted that Talminage's voice changed slightly on the name Malif. 

"He was a double-agent! Everyone knows that. And besides, none of that is why I called you here-" But Talminage interrupted her. 

"The other possibility," said Talminage. "What is it?" 

"This conversation is over," Ella said in a commanding voice. She didn't have to put up with his games and riddles and trickery. 

"No," replied Talminage. "It's not. Unless you want me to disappear altogether." A grin simmered under his beard.

Ella bit back a scream of frustration. "If we truly love one another, then the curse didn't shift because... of something magic. Something magic had to prevent it." 

"Closer," said Talminage. "You. You were the magic that prevented it." 

Ella looked at him, suspicious. "I prevented the curse from shifting?" 

"You're a Talminage. Necromancy. My brand of magic. Rumplestiltskin may have the power to creature curses, but we--we, Ella--have the power to control them. To shift them. That is far more powerful than simply bringing them into being." 

"Can I change this one?" Ella demanded. The answer could lie in her own abilities! She was magical. Only more proof that she was worthy of the throne that Snow so easily abandoned after being laid low by magic's abilities. And now, Ella would no longer have to rely on the infuriating purple dwarf. 

Talminage gave a dark chuckle. "Clergy save this land if you do become its Queen. You're too shortsighted. You can barely see past a single pigpen in an entire kingdom of abilities, serving girl. You won't ever live up to your true potential." 

He vanished. 

Ella let out her scream. 

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