“I’m sorry, but that’s against the rules.”
"I'm sorry, but that's against the rules," she said. A tear that was hanging on to her eyelashes, fell, skipping lightly against her cheek before falling with a plop on the floor.
"That's stupid," he said, and he smashed his fist into the meaty part of his thigh. The pain was too brief. He wanted to break things, rip the walls to pieces, cut his skin on broken glass. Push those feelings into something he could deal with. Something that had a chance of healing.
"You knew that when you agreed to the rules," she said.
"But I didn't know you then. You were just a picture," he said, his voice cracking. "I can't let you -"
"We have to finish the story," she said. "I'm sorry you came in at the wrong part."
James thought over the - was it only a few days? It must have been. Everything seemed like it was suspended in a thick fog. The curio shop, the woman behind the counter wearing a navy blue dress with the high collar - all the way up her neck - with brass buttons. It had looked so elegant and old fashioned.
The advertisement had said he could meet the girl of his dreams during an amazing adventure. James was even allowed to pick the story - whichever story he wanted. Fairy tales. There were hundreds to choose from, and that story would have his true love. He had signed heaps of paperwork, so much that his fingers had become stained black, and his hand had cramped.
Then incantations, ceremonial baths, and the oath. He had to follow the rules, and the story had to come to an end. Happily Ever After had to happen or the story wouldn't exist.
He didn't really care for folktales growing up - they didn't make sense to him. So he had just flipped through the book and picked one at random. The Goose Girl.
He was the prince and he met the princess, fell in love. Except the woman wasn't the princess - she was a servant who had tricked her lady into switching clothes. The actual princess was a stranger James had never met.
"We can run away together," he said, reaching through the bars to touch her hair, but she pulled away.
"Please, stop," she said. "You're making it so much worse."
With a strangled cry, he turned from her and left her behind in the cell. In the courtyard, the joiner was hammering away at the large barrel - big enough to fit a person inside. Large iron spikes had been hammered over its entirety, protruding into the keg by some length - a couple inches anyway. Hundreds of them.
His true bride - James coughed out a bitter laugh - had asked her once-servant the proper punishment for stealing her royal silks and taking her royal place.
"That wicked person needs to be rolled off a cliff in a barrel studded with nails," said his love, staring into James' eyes.
He stood looking at the barrel, running his hands off the bumpy heads of the iron nails. They were cold.
He began to push the thing across the yard and up the hill. No one thought to stop him. After all, in this story he was the prince. No one tells the prince what to do. Up the hill he went, some curious stares followed him. And his new, soon-to-be wife saw, and called to him from the balcony. But that was too far, and he pretended not to hear.
"I should have read the story, baby. I'm sorry," he said. Making sure it would roll towards the cliffs, he climbed into the barrel and changed the ending.