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from Born to Die by Kat Frost

Chapter 1
Fifty Shekls of Silver

I didn’t want to be here.

I was more than a dowry, more than a source for silver. I was mad at my aunt and uncle, Lord and Lady Opis, for trying to marry me off as soon as possible just so they could get my dowry. But as if that wasn’t bad enough, when it didn't work out (I wanted to spend most of my time reading, not learning to dance, so not very marriageable in the high class), and they were fed up with me, they decided to sell me. SELL ME!

Well, it was the king’s idea. He sent out a notice to all the fiefdoms in Azure announcing that he was looking for promising recruits to participate in a highly secret project that sounded like it had something to do with... fighting, maybe? Whatever it was, when Lord Opis read it to me, I couldn’t make out how it related until he explained they were volunteering me. Participants or their guardians would be handsomely remunerated, and really, he said, this worked out best for everyone. I wasn’t sure what “remunerated” meant – I was only twelve – but I suspected it had something to do with silver. Later, my dictionary confirmed it. They were selling me. That was that.

So here we were, waiting in an antechamber to see the king. I had a book, One Ring, under my arm, but I was too restless to read it. Once I tried to talk to a guard and ask for help, explaining that I was being sold into slavery and that was illegal and could he please help me? But he’d ignored me and Lady Opis had yanked me back to my seat and whisper-threatened me to stay in my place.

“Next!”

The servant held open the throne room door, and Lord and Lady Opis both planted a firm hand on my shoulder and propelled me ahead of them. As if I could run away. Not that it wasn’t an attractive idea.

“Your Majesty!” My aunt and uncle bowed low, and I’d never seen them so nervous. I swallowed and bowed, then looked up at the king for the first time. I don’t know what I was expecting. Probably eight feet tall, built like a gorilla, strong fierce face with stark eyebrows and an impressive crown on his head, dressed in armor with an enormous sword across his lap, someone to put fear in the faces of people like my uncle and aunt. I was, in a word, disappointed. There was nothing at all remarkable about the man. He was maybe fifty years old, and his dark brown hair was winged with gray, was of average build, wore fine elaborate silks, and had no visible sword. Worst of all, he wore no crown, which was the biggest disappointment of all.

I straightened, running my fingers absently over the leather cover of my book, my nervousness greatly diminished but still not sure what to do. The king’s eyes skimmed right over me and fixed on Lord and Lady Opis as if I didn’t exist. I felt personally insulted.

“What is this?” he asked, and you could tell by the way he spoke he was accustomed to full authority. I wasn't sure if he was referring to me, or the situation; the loathing in his voice seemed equally likely in either option.

“Sire,” my uncle spoke rapidly, “we are here about the notice you sent out last week. This is our niece, Sajia Tiet’fa, and we believe she would make an excellent candidate. She is young, bright, and a fast learner. She’s strong and resilient and would make an equally good seamstress or warrior. We offer her to you to use as you see fit.”

“For the record, this is against my will and without my consent,” I chirped. My voice was squeaky but I felt I needed to make this quite clear.

The king looked at me for the first time, distastefully, as if I were a disgusting new specimen of bog toad that he really would prefer anywhere but in his throne room.

“She has no respect, I ...







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