He had always known he was different.
The celebratory ball had been planned years prior, at a time when he had been a child playing “castle” with little Ella who was brought to the courtyard by her nanny. Current day Prince Charming wanted to scream at his parents for being so blind. Didn’t they realize he did not want to marry, or at least, he didn’t want to marry a princess? Did they need a more obvious hint than his always insisting he was the queen of the castle when he had played with Ella?
Ironically, the ball was considered a “coming out.” It was meant for the debutantes to be offered as if they were impersonal wares instead of daughters that were cherished.
At the ball, the maidens were paraded in front of him, each one growing more unappealing than the one before. Finally, Prince Charming signaled that it was time to dance, and his parents reluctantly conceded. They had hoped he would select a bride prior to drinks and dancing.
Prince Charming managed to avoid contact with the slavering single ladies as he swayed alone in a corner. Then he saw her.
He hadn’t seen Ella since her mother had died and her father remarried. He strolled across the dance floor and asked her to dance. She was perfect: no one remembered her, no one was chaperoning her, no one would interfere. Furthermore, her sense of style was flawless. As they twirled, he ran a hand over her back.
She winked. “Magic.”
“It is some sort of magic that made you appear.” He smiled. “We used to have such fun together; we were quite the pair.”
Ella could not match his smile. “I believe that is the last time I ever had fun, and the last time I was ever called by my real name.” After some gentle nudging, she recounted the abuse she had suffered since she had last seen him. She confided that she had to sleep on a bed of ashes and that her meals were the spilled food she secretly scavenged from the burning coals of the fire. “If I were to remove these gloves, you would see nothing but scars.”
Prince Charming’s heart broke for his old friend. “No one helps you? What about that kind nanny?”
“She was fired when my father remarried. There is no one comforting me except the feral animals I have befriended. My stepmother and stepsisters take turns beating me; it is how they find enjoyment.”
Prince Charming considered this sad information throughout the next song and then he told her, “I could help you escape, but you would have to live a different life than you may have expected.”
Without hesitation, she said, “Any life would be preferable to the one I live.”
“Then I have an idea. I noticed your beautiful shoes that are unlike any others I have ever seen…”
She leaned closer, “I told you; my outfit is magic.”
“I fully believe it and we will need more magic to get away with my plan. What I was thinking was…”
The two hashed out the details while deflecting the envious looks of those who wanted a turn to dance with the prince. At midnight, as planned, the girl accidentally left one of her glass slippers behind. The prince dramatically swept up the shoe, held it aloft, and proclaimed he would marry any girl who could fit the slipper. He said he would go from house to house the following day, until he found the maiden with the right shoe size.
Also as planned, he only visited one house.
When the door opened, Prince Charming realized that two of the ugliest eligible bachelorettes from the night before were Ella’s stepsisters. The women were beside themselves when he entered their home. They knocked each other with their elbows, pushing so that they could be the one closest to their visitor.
“You are here about the shoe?” a stepsister asked.
“Indeed, I am,” the prince said loudly. He knew that Ella was waiting for her cue. “May I ask how many maidens live in this home?”
“Just the two of us,” the other stepsister answered.
This lie made it easy for the prince to follow through with the plan. “Then please be seated on the sofa.”
The women perched on the edge of the cushions, kicking off their large satin shoes.
The prince handed a shoe to one sister followed by the other, confident the dainty slipper would never fit their large, calloused feet.
The stepsisters grunted and struggled, but the glass construction would not give. They fought over the shoe, believing they could make it fit. Each woman panted and cried, “I can make this work, give me a minute…”
The prince scoffed, “I don’t think either of you really wants to be a princess. If you did, you would make the shoe fit.”
Both stepsisters sobbed and wailed, “I do! I do want to be a princess!”
“Those sound like magic words,” the prince announced, and Ella appeared.
“What is she doing here?” the women scoffed.
“Just this.” Ella put her fingers to her mouth and whistled loudly. A mischief of rats ran into the room and the stepsisters pulled their feet up onto the cushions; their squeals and squirms rivaling that of the rodents.
“More magic,” the prince exclaimed. Ella looked alarmed but he had made a solemn promise to keep her secret.
What happened next was far outside of the realm of courtly decorum. The rats were not shy about attacking the women’s feet, devouring toes and heels quickly.
When the stepsisters fainted from blood loss, the prince called loudly, “Is there no other woman in the house to try the shoe? Even a widow who might like to live in the palace—”
Ella’s stepmother ran down the stairs and looked from Ella to the prince expectantly.
“We have a special shoe for you to try,” the prince explained. Ella pulled the iron shovel from the fire.
“That’s for scooping ashes,” the stepmother noted.
As their plans had not included touching the abusers directly, Ella whistled, and two large hawks landed on her stepmother’s shoulders, forcing the woman to sit on the sofa.
“That shovel has many purposes,” the prince assured her as the rabbits Ella had called forth pushed the shovel onto the soles of the woman’s feet, scorching the skin with a sizzle that could be heard above her screams.
Prince Charming and Ella vacated the house, understanding that they could have left without bringing harm to anyone, but feeling fully satisfied with their revenge.
A month later, they had an extravagant royal wedding. When it was time for the groom to kiss his bride, their lips met but there were no fireworks, no tingling spark. In fact, there was no feeling of romance at all.
Ella smiled knowingly at the prince and whispered, “I will keep your secret, too.”
In their happily ever after, Ella no longer suffered abuse and Prince Charming was free to be the queen of the castle.
∼ Elaine Pascale
© Copyright Elaine Pascale. All Rights Reserved.