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​     “Take the runt and we'll split the reward,” said the Troll
     “I'll take the child and you'll take what I give you,” said Madam Zerconia.
     The Troll snarled back—“HALF!”
     Madam Zerconia cackled some more and shook her head.
     Itchy could only lay there watching helplessly as the two wretches haggled over him like pawn brokers. Finally the Troll accepted a fat purse, tossed it in his rucksack and loped toward the door. Whereupon Madam Zerconia snapped her fingers after a few mutterings and— 'Poof'—the Troll was gone. On the floor by the rucksack chirped a bewildered cricket. After retrieving her pouch, Madam Zerconia picked up the cricket and fed it to one of the caged birds occupying the shelves alongside her shop's dry goods and other sundries.
     “Only way to reason with a Troll,” she said. Itchy was left all knotted up on the floor with Madam Zerconia circling over him like a buzzard.
     “Are you going to sell me to the Queen? . . . Why does she even want me??” Itchy asked, figuring a lady wouldn't bop him like the Troll. She didn't. Instead the old crone scratched herself in various places while deciding how to answer such interesting questions.
     “No, I'm not sellin' you to anyone,” she decided. “Your worth more 'n you think, sweet thing. Malady's been a puke ever since the King's assassination years ago. Then, after the loss of his only son Prince Richard, she became Queen—and a complete upchuck. Miscreant Trolls were the culprits, or so the Queen decreed. But you, little fella, are the real burr in her bustle and it's time you knew it.”
     Without another word, she untied Itchy and held him up to get a good close look. “Yes sir, you're him alright. Bewitched or not, my odd little bug, beneath that shock of hair is the face of a boy.” 
     Itchy was ready to faint under the stench of her breath when suddenly she pursed her moldy lips and said, “Now— How 'bout givin' me a big wet, thank you kiss.”
     Itchy paled. He would rather kiss a fresh cowpie than that wart infested old prune. He started to tremble, then barfed all over Madam Zerconia. 
     She didn't get angry. Instead, she uttered a silly-sounding word, snapped her fingers, and turned Itchy into a crow. “Don't fret, Dearie, Madam Zerconia is gonna take good care of you.” She then put him in a birdcage and placed it on a shelf beside a lovely little goldfinch.
     “A prisoner again,” sighed Itchy.
     “Cheer up,” chirped the goldfinch, “you fared better than the Troll.” It was the first pleasant voice Itchy had heard since getting lost. “My name is Lorelei."