In the Land of Ever After

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Chapter 13 - The Glass Shoe

Surely Cinderella’s stepmother wasn’t the only one who’d thought of breaking the shoe.


Adam rose late the following morning, as well he might after having been up most of the night helping Prince Charming and his father plan out a way to save the only girl Charming had ever wanted to marry. He rode back to the castle after he’d had a leisurely breakfast, this time bringing John and Elsa with him. King Rupert was surly – he’d wanted to set out at dawn, and probably would have tried to have the marriage that evening – but Adam managed to placate him and then with just a bit of preparation they formed two groups. Elsa, suitably disguised as a higher-class lady’s maid, went with Charming and his equerry to go from house to house, using the excuse that it would be improper for the prince or the equerry to handle a young lady’s foot in such an intimate manner. And Adam and John took a much more surreptitious and direct trip back to the manor house, to make sure nothing untoward happened before the prince’s party arrived – last, as the manor house was farthest out from the palace of all the ball’s invited guests, because of course it was.

The two of them were entirely disgusted by the time Charming and his entourage arrived there late that afternoon. There had been a great flurry in the manor house once word had arrived about the shoe, and the lady of the house had indeed told her two daughters that a scream from either of them on trying the shoe would result in their ‘joining Cinderella in the kitchen’, but that she would endeavor to make sure that the shoe never needed to be tried on in the first place. And then after ordering that same Cinderella – the girl Adam had found and helped the night before – to clean everything in sight in preparation for the prince’s arrival, she’d sent her up to the attic for something, soon after which there had been the sound of a door slamming and a great deal of yelling and crying…and the woman had come back down looking entirely too pleased with herself and pocketing a key.

Adam waited until the house’s occupants were suitably distracted by the arrival of the royal shoe-carrying party in the yard, and then he and John went around to the back of the house where the attic window could be seen. Cinderella was there, crying on the window ledge while tiny birds chirped around her in distress, and he waved to her and pantomimed the need for silence. With John’s help he climbed up the vine-covered trellis nearest the window and let himself into the tiny garret, bowing to the startled young woman. “Princess, let’s get you to your prince, shall we?”

She blushed. “I’m not…”

“You will be shortly, trust me.” He put his shoulder against the attic’s door and it gave way easily, and then he took Cinderella’s hand and led her down the stairs and right into the parlor where the shoe-trying farce was going on. “I believe there’s another candidate present who wasn’t presented to you, Charming,” he announced, much to his delight startling the lady of the house quite badly. “You didn’t see this one last night, did you?”

“No, I don’t believe so,” Charming responded, although his eyes had widened a bit with recognition. “Very well then, my lady. Were you at the ball last night?”

The stepsisters went off into gales of laughter, and the stepmother bit her lip until the blood nearly came. “I’d never have allowed it, Your Highness!” she insisted harshly. “This by-blow belonged to my late husband, and as you can see she’s merely a servant and prone to consorting with strange men…”

Adam stiffened, radiating royal offense – he was actually imitating Cogsworth, but nobody had to know that. “I could demand that you be imprisoned for that insult, woman! I am currently on a quest to rescue my lady wife from a most horrendous enchantment, and only stopped to see if my fellow ruler had heard any news which might be of use to me. I offered him my assistance when I realized his own need.” He gave her a wintry little smile. “The kingdoms do all try to help one another, you know.”

“They do,” Charming agreed. “I may consider your request, Adam, as this woman was just lying to my very face – two or three times over, unless I miss my guess. One really can’t have that in one’s kingdom, it sets a bad precedent.” He bowed to Cinderella, who was gazing at him with enraptured yet frightened eyes. “My lady, if you believe yourself to be the rightful owner of this shoe,” he indicated the glittering shoe on the velvet pillow Elsa was carrying, “please, be seated and allow us to verify it.”

Cinderella dropped a beautifully graceful curtsey. “Of course, Your Highness.” She settled herself into the chair, pulling her foot out of its worn cloth slipper and extending it. “It is my shoe, I lost it on the steps last night while…leaving the ball.”

“You were rather in a hurry, I believe,” the prince responded, and motioned Elsa forward. “We shall be discussing that later, my lady – at length, if the shoe is truly yours.”

Which was when the lady of the house tripped one of her daughters and knocked her into Elsa, causing the shoe to fall from the pillow and shatter into a million pieces on the stone-flagged floor. “Oh, how clumsy of you, Anastasia,” the lady said, barely able to contain her sneer of triumph. “Now the prince has no way of knowing who’s telling the truth.”

“Au contraire,” the prince countered. “You’re the sixth person who’s tried that today, you know.” He knelt before Cinderella and pulled the real glass shoe out of his jacket, sliding it onto her foot…and then holding out his hand. She produced the shoe’s mate from a pocket in her skirt, and he put that one on her as well and then lifted her to her feet. “I hope you like the idea of children,” he told her. “Because my father is nearly mad on the subject and is probably already decorating the royal nursery.” She blushed prettily, and he kissed her hand and then handed her off to Adam. “If you would please escort the lady back to the palace, Adam? I have some…unpleasant matters to deal with, and you’ve a better hand with Father than I ever will.”

Adam bowed. “It will be my pleasure, Charming. Come along, my dear, my man John is just bringing our horses. And you as well, I think,” he said, motioning to Elsa. “I do believe Prince Charming’s ‘unpleasant matters’ may well not be fit for a young woman’s ears.”

He had them out of the house and bundled onto the horses in very short order, mounting up behind Cinderella this time even as John rode in front of Elsa as usual. “This time I’m not trying to hide you,” he explained to the confused young woman. “Last night I was afraid we might meet someone on the road.”

“I was afraid we might too,” she admitted, relaxing but only slightly. “It’s my own fault she caught me. I was humming a song from the ball while I cleaned the floors, I didn’t realize it had just been composed in the prince’s honor.”

“You’ll pardon my saying it, but if that’s what it took for her to catch on then she must be a very stupid woman,” John observed. “You’ve been to how many of these wife-hunting balls this season?”

Cinderella blushed and shook her head. “I think my fairy godmother may have had something to do with that – my stepmother not recognizing me, that is. She’s the one who gave me the shoes, and the dresses…and the magic coach I rode in, with horses and footmen and all.”

Adam shrugged. “Magic didn’t make him fall in love with you, my dear. He gushes endlessly about your grace and poise and sweet nature, and a pretty dress didn’t give you those.”

“My guess is the magic was to create a mystery the prince would want to solve,” John suggested. “You’ll have to ask your godmother when next you see her.” There was a shimmer, and the horses pulled up short, snorting. “Well, that was fast.”

The woman who had appeared rolled her eyes. She was older, plump and white-haired, and looked exasperated but not unkind. “Keep it up, be a hearth cricket until I remember you again,” she warned John, shaking her wand at him, and then turned her attention to Adam. “You interfered in my plans, but I’ll not hold it against you – things may have worked out better this way, in fact. And as for you, Cinderella…well, the one mouse ran back to me last night having squeaking fits, apparently being changed back didn’t suit him, so you’ve got your own horse now.” She pulled a plump gray field mouse out of her pocket, deposited him in the road and then waved her wand over him; he all at once turned into a lovely white gelding with ribbons woven into his silken mane. “Get down from there, child,” she told Cinderella. “You’re not meeting the king in that horrid rag. If you weren’t wearing it I’d have set it afire by now.”

Adam at once dismounted and lifted Cinderella to the ground, and then the fairy waved her wand again and the patched dress became a pretty gown of pale blue silk embroidered with silver and diamonds; it went very well with the glass shoes. Adam helped her to mount the white horse, then bowed to the fairy. “Madame, if I may say so, you do beautiful work. Any further instructions?”

“Ride straight in to the palace without stopping,” she told him. “You three should stay for the wedding party, but the day after you must return to your own quest.” She squinted at him, cocking her head. “Well well, so that’s what Marguerite was up to all those years ago – pointless silly games, as usual. Good job surviving that, boy – and what came after as well.” And then she waved her wand, splashing out a spray of shimmering magic, and vanished.

Adam re-mounted his horse and they set off again. Elsa’s eyes were wide. “What was that?”

“Who,” John corrected her. “That was a good fairy, Princess – probably she was invited to Cinderella’s christening, I believe that’s how one becomes a fairy godmother.”

“Christening?”

“A party they have to celebrate a new baby in the family. It’s also when they announce the baby’s name.”

“Did I have one?”

John shrugged. “No idea, I’d have only been about two at the time myself. You probably did, though.”

“Did you have one?”

He laughed. “No. Those are for important people, Princess.”

Adam saw the storm coming in her sudden frown and headed it off. “He means people who are important the way kings and queens and lords are important, Elsa – not that he himself isn’t important as a person.”

“My father taught me that all people are important,” Cinderella ventured. “From the lowest servant to the highest king, he said all people deserve love and respect.”

“So I was taught as well. Your father sounds like he was a very wise man,” Adam observed. Which begged the question of why he’d taken someone so blatantly wicked to be his second wife, but the prince wasn’t going to bring that up in present company. “I think you’ll like Charming’s father, King Rupert. He can be a bit quick sometimes, but he’s a good man. He’d have had us riding out to rescue you at the crack of dawn if he could have.”

Cinderella arched an eyebrow at him. The dress may not have given her everything, but it did seem to be lending her confidence. “Even scullery maids have heard about how desperate he’s been to get the prince married off.”

Adam smiled and shook his head. “He has been, but on this occasion it was more because he’s apparently somewhat familiar with your stepmother and doesn’t think any too highly of her. And Charming would have stormed the house for you last night if I hadn’t stopped him, just on general principles. He truly is in love with you, you know.”

She blushed. “I…didn’t think about falling in love when I went to the ball the first time, I just wanted to go. And then I met him…and he was so wonderful and kind, and I begged to come back a second time so I could see him. And then again for the third ball, as I knew he was hoping I would come…but I lost track of time, dancing with him, and the clock began to strike midnight while I was still in the castle. It’s a miracle I didn’t change back right there in the ballroom.”

John’s raised eyebrow said he thought it something with rather more planning behind it than a miracle, but he kept that idea to himself; he really didn’t want to be a cricket for the foreseeable future. “We’re just relieved everything came out so well in the end, my lady. Prince Adam and I have been watching the house since this morning, standing ready to intervene if things came to a head before Prince Charming could get there.”

She looked at him with fresh interest. “You don’t talk like a groom, or a valet.”

“That’s because he’s my Royal Bookkeeper,” Adam told her. “And he was in Princess Elsa’s service before that. They were already on a quest to find the princess’s parents, so when the curse struck my wife I decided we might just as well all travel together.”

“What sort of curse was it?”

Adam bit his lip and looked away; John answered for him. “A terrible curse that took all happiness and contentment from her, my lady. The effects grew slowly at first, but then worsened suddenly and we set out to find a cure that very day – or to find the one who caused it and force them to bring an end to it.”

“Oh how terrible – my apologies for prying, Prince Adam.”

He found a smile for her. “No apologies necessary. I just find my wife’s…condition very painful to think of.”

She still looked sorry. “You must love her very much.”

“Oh yes,” he agreed. “That I do.”

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