Chapter Thirteen

Hurrying over to where people were dancing, I searched for Brien. He was dancing with a girl I did not know. She was very pretty and dressed in a gown that was lavender and lacy. The girl did not look exceptionally intelligent or lively, but rather a bit dull and humorless. She was attempting to smile, though, and I felt sorry for the prince. I resolved to rescue him from these girls for a while.

Being a bit bold, I made my way over to where he was as soon as the music stopped. I was just entering the ring of girls that surrounded him when someone stepped in my way. It was Amerisia, looking extremely possessive and conceited. "Where do you think you're going?" she demanded. I answered her plainly, making my noble accent a bit thicker than normal to disguise my voice.

"To the center of the circle to speak with the prince." She made a small noise of discontent at that and continued to stand in my way.

"And what business does someone like you have with the prince?" I didn't even answer her second question, but instead pushed past her and continued on my way, despite her protests and frustration. At last, I found my way over to the prince. He saw me as well, and bowed to me. I curtsied to him, and when he asked me to dance, I agreed. Now Amerisia must have been regretting her efforts to keep me from him, for it had kept her from dancing with him yet again. Good.

"You are rather forward tonight, Dyrelle Morrigan," he remarked as we danced. I wondered if he was dismayed at that or if it was merely an inconsequential observation.

"I suppose I have seemed so," was my reply. "I apologize."

"No need to apologize. Sometimes one must be forward." His gaze drifted towards the circle of girls that was expanding from around us to let us dance. Amerisia finally stood on her own, looking lovely and but upset. The orchestra was playing one of my favorite songs, one they had played last night as well. We danced silently for a few minutes, and I tried to gather up my courage to speak to him. This was the moment I had been waiting for. It was here at last. Momentarily, I shut my eyes and remembered everything Eidyia had said to me. I remembered my mother and my father, and their love and hope for me. And it gave me the courage to say the words I had been longing to say for so many long years.

"Your Highness," I began as the music began to soften, "There is something I have to tell you." My voice was serious, still disguised by my accent.

"Something important?" he asked me, his brow furrowing a little. "What is it? Does it have something to do with your talks with the nobles?" He certainly was perceptive if he noticed that.

"How did you know?" I asked him. Did he know everything?

"I saw you speaking with the Duke of Aviel and the Count and Countess of Dagyn earlier," Brien replied. "All through these balls I've seen you off talking to those who are much older than you, and all are nobility here in Alansia. Now, what is it that you must tell me, Dyrelle Morrigan?"

I steeled myself for the coming impact of my words, and finally found the heart to speak. "First, there is something that must be said, and then I must ask you a question, Your Highness, one that only you can answer."

"Tell me," he urged at last. I knew that I was talking in circles, but that was my nervousness. I finally decided to just be out with it.

"I am…" I never got the chance to finish. King Matthew had approached us and was leading his son away already.

"Come, Brien, it is time for your announcement." Brien looked a bit reluctant, but the look on his father's face was so stern that he did not wish to go against him. The king nodded kindly to me. "My apologies, Dyrelle." I nodded as well, and forced a smile, but the courage I had had before was fading, and I felt as if all this pressure was now bottled up inside me, and that I would soon explode.

Before hurrying away, the prince turned to me. "I'm sorry. I will speak with you as soon as I have made my announcement, I promise." With that, he was off, walking briskly up to the dais. As I watched him turn to walk away, I saw a sparkle in his eye. I began to wonder then… What if it was I who he named to be his bride?

I thought of him when we went riding the first time he came to the Llyr manor. I pictured him on the rooftop of our stable, watching the lights in the sky. He understood me so well, and we could talk to each other with such ease. What did he wish for in a bride? Did he want someone who shared his love of learning? Someone who would help him defy convention and be who he truly was? Suddenly, I had the feeling that I was no different than anyone else in this ballroom. I had to know who the prince's choice would be.

However, we were kept in suspense a bit longer. It was the king who spoke first. "Welcome, Dyrelles and Dyrens to the third and final ball held in honor of my son, Crown Prince Brien Taurion Romen of Alansia. As you know, these were arranged so that my son might choose a bride who is worthy of the title of Princess of Alansia. Many worthy young ladies have come to Calaris, and of them, my son has chosen one to whom he will be wed in due time."

I was disappointed that I could only see their faces from where I stood. The crowd in front of me blocked most of them from view, but I could see well enough to understand. Prince Brien suddenly looked very serious. He was waiting for his father to finish so he could make his announcement. I watched him glance over at his mother, who nodded at him, probably trying to reassure him before he spoke. As she did this, his father gestured for him to speak. His face animated a bit, and he stepped forward. I stood completely still for a moment.

"I must admit to you all," Brien began, "that I am rather anxious to stand before you and make this announcement. As many of you know, I have not chosen a bride in years because I have never found one with whom I could be happy. But now, I think I have. However, I would prefer to make my formal announcement and proposal at the home of my bride. So it is my request that the party ride to the manor of Llyr, where I will make my announcement in the gardens there."

In that moment, I knew I was lost. I had not realized that I had been holding my breath, and now I felt light headed and ill. The room seemed to spin beneath my feet, and I couldn't believe what he had just said. He was marrying the heiress of Llyr. He was going to marry Amerisia. "No," I whispered under my breath. He couldn't marry her, he just couldn't! With her, he would be miserable? How could this have happened?

I knew that people were staring at me. Some whispered to each other, but I heard them. "I was sure that he would have chosen that girl in the gold."

"There's no denying that Amerisia's the most beautiful girl in the kingdom, you know."

"But who did he waste more time with? It was that brown haired prince-thief. And now we'll never have him again…"

I couldn't listen. My whole brain was fixated on one thing. He was marrying Amerisia. My step-sister would be Queen, and all my fears would come true. Brien would be miserable, unable to ever escape her clutches. And the light would fade from his eyes as he grew wearier and wearier of her demanding presence.

I wanted it all to be a dream so badly. I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping that when I opened them I would be in bed at the manor. This had to be a nightmare. Opening my eyes, I realized that this was no nightmare. This was real. And I was lost. I turned away from the room and fled up the staircase and away from the ballroom.

The hall was empty, the guards having gone in to hear the prince's announcement. I ran through the corridor as fast I could. The crystal shoes hindered my pace, so I discarded them in the hallway, not caring about anything but fleeing as fast as I could. As I ran, something else occurred to me. I had failed. Never would some unknown claim the land of the Princess' mother. I had failed everyone.

I was not usually a person of tears. Now, they threatened to burst forth. I withheld them, though. I still had to be strong. I could not cry now. To cry now was to admit weakness, and I needed all my strength to flee this horrible place. I kept running away as fast as I could. Then I heard a voice from behind me. "Dyrelle Morrigan! Wait!"

His voice held me to the ground. I wanted so badly to keep running, but I couldn't. A pain was growing in my chest as he approached. I didn't run to face him; I just stayed where I stood, not having the strength to speak. He walked around to face me, and I looked down at the ground, down at my bare feet on the cobblestones. "What was it you wanted to tell me?" he asked, his voice soft.

"I… I can't…" I finally managed, struggling not to cry. My voice sounded odd in my ears. It was hardly recognizable as my own, wavering and on the edge of weeping. "I cannot say it now… Not now…" The tears were threatening again, and it took all my energy to push them away. Brien looked concerned, his face a mask of pity. "I don't want your pity," I stammered, trying to walk away from him.

"Tell me what's wrong," the prince tried again, following me. I had only gone a few steps when I halted again.

"You won't be happy. You really don't understand." He still didn't let me go.

"Listen to me, Dyrelle Morrigan," be begged, coming in front of me again. "I am sorry. But I think I am in love." That hit me like a wave in a hurricane. My heart was thumping wildly in my chest. He was not just talked into marrying Amerisia. He wasn't doing it for the political alliance. He loved her. He really loved her: I could tell from the way he spoke about her now. And at the same time, I could feel my own heart ache as if it had been pierced with a dagger.

"No… You can't love her…" I stammered, hardly coherent any more. All I knew was the pain of it all. Brien kept trying to speak with me though, even though I was now slowly backing away from him.

"Listen to me, Morrigan. You will find your own love someday, and then you will understand. And I know you will find someone to love you. You're charming and pretty…"

"Pretty?" I demanded. "Is that all I am? Pretty? Is that all anyone ever sees?" I could no longer hold back the tears that burst from me violently, and I ran. I ran as fast as I could away from Brien, away from the castle, and away from the doom that had been pronounced. But I could never run fast enough. When I threw myself in the carriage, I did not care for anything but to get away. As I lay sobbing with my head on the seat, I realized that the pain in my heart was not for myself, but for Brien. It was for Brien that I wept. I wept for the illusion I had held in my heart, the illusion of a man who loved the stars and independence, the illusion of a brilliant, noble prince.

Pretty. If he wanted to marry a pretty woman, then surely Amerisia would fulfill that requirement. He had named me pretty, but I knew it wasn't so. How could I be? I was a failure, hardly the legacy of my mother, who was great and good. I was not pretty, only the lowest of servants, dressed in borrowed finery. And the lowest of servants I would remain until the end of my days. I knew at that moment that I could never be happy while Brien was married to Amerisia. And I began to despair, in the deepest reaches of my heart. The ache was so piercing now that I couldn't think about it any longer.

I wept and wept into my arms as the carriage crawled home. It went so slowly, drawing out my pain. I was trapped with no one but my own mind, which kept going over what had just happened. The carriage drew up to the Llyr manor just as I thought that couldn't stand this journey any longer. I crawled out, and behind me it vanished into thin air. I didn't even bother to turn back; I just kept running up to the door. It was locked, just as Eidyia had left it when I departed. After banging on the door, I stepped back. I saw her face peer through a window to see who was at the door, and when she saw me, she snapped back and hurried to open it.

"Chryseis!" Right away, she was worrying over me. "What's wrong?" She locked the door again behind me when I came in.

"I failed him," I managed to stammer as I ran up to the attic. "I failed you, Mother, Father, Valora, everyone." My feet pounded against the stairs as I climbed to the attic, intent on throwing off these golden garments that everyone though made me so beautiful. I had no desire to ever be beautiful again. When I got to the attic, Eidyia saw my madness in my grief. She helped me remove everything as carefully as possible, for I was tempted to tear it away.

I wouldn't answer her questions, and after a while, she ceased trying to ask. My tears were still flowing as I pulled on my robe. Taking one last look around, I pulled the hood down over my face. "I can't stay here any longer," I finally said aloud. "I can't stay here and watch him say it… I have to leave. I'm so sorry."

Eidyia only nodded sadly. She pulled me into a hug, a tear or two slipping down her cheek as well. "I'm so sorry, child. I'm so sorry." When she released me, I rushed out. I heard her whisper behind me as I fled. "Gods bless you, child."

"Thank you," I said aloud, hoping she heard me as I ran down the stairs. I made for the front door, but it was locked. When I glanced out the window, I saw a crowd of people beginning to assemble. They were heading towards the gardens, which meant I had a chance of getting to the stable if I could only find a way out. Drying my tears a little, I hurried to one of the doors we used in the kitchens to fetch wood from the outdoor woodpile. It was small and easy to miss. Indeed, Ariela hadn't locked it.

I ran from the back door, slamming it behind me. The stable wasn't too far away, and I managed to enter without being seen through the back door. I scanned the stable for my silver horse, only to realize that he had been left outside in my haste to get in. Instead, I saddled a brown mare and went to open the door to her stall when the back door to the stable opened as well. My heart jumped, and I tried desperately to hide in an empty stall. But I stumbled, and instead bumped into the wooden divider between the two stalls, knocking myself to the ground. Cursing my clumsiness, I tried to stand, ready to flee if need be.

Suddenly, a hand was offered to me. I looked up, into the blue eyes I had seen such light in before. Brien took my hand when I did not take his and pulled me to my feet. "Mer-Dyrelle," he greeted simply.

"What are you doing here?" I demanded, my voice thankfully back to normal, although I knew if this continued, then I would begin to weep again. "You should be out there, proposing to your bride."

"Yes, I should. But you have to be there." I tried to pull away, but his grip was firm. "Please come with me," he asked me. My heart was torn. I didn't want to deny him, but I couldn't watch him ask Amerisia to be his wife. Then I saw the look in his eyes. They were pleading with me to come with him, pleading that he could not go through with what he was about to do if I would not come. Although my heart was breaking, I gave in, and he pulled me out of the stable and over to the gardens.

I thought he would leave me in the crowd somewhere, but he did not. The people assembled in our gardens stared as we passed, gasping at the sight. My heart was beating faster and faster with every minute. Still, Brien did not release me. By his side, I was led to the head of the crowd, and I found myself standing in front of everyone, his hand still firmly closed around mine. And then something in me began to feel wrong, as if I had somehow made some great mistake. I was puzzled, just as puzzled as the crowd was as they stared at me.

I glanced at Amerisia and Ariela, who were looking very smug. But as soon as they looked at me and Brien, confusion spread across their faces. Then, Brien finally let g of my hand. He stepped away briefly and turned away from me to get something, probably the box of wedding rings. My eyes turned to the ground, unable to watch, even though I knew I must listen. He spoke to all the people gathered in the garden, his voice ringing out through the night. "I gave my word that I would propose to my bride in the gardens of Llyr. And I have indeed made my decision. I hope to marry the most brilliant, independent, witty, beautiful woman I have ever known."

My eyes were forced upwards and I stared at him. He turned to me, holding in his hand a flower. I recognized it as the tioron flower, and I could smell the sweet scent. "I don't even know her name," Brien admitted. "All I know is her heart."

"How can you say that I am beautiful when you've never even seen my face?" I sobbed in the old language that we used so often, taking the flower.

"Because I love you," he answered simply, the words in the Ancient Tongue sounding so sweet as they drifted from him. "I could have married any pretty girl, but I don't love any of them. It's you that I love, and I know that when I do see you, you will be… so beautiful. Do you love me?" The words were so beautiful, their sounds twisting and turning inside me.

"I do love you," I finally whispered. And as I said it, I knew that it was true. I had loved him since I knew him, and we finally understood each other completely.

"Then will you?" He held forth a ring, small and silver, but intricately engraved with tiny vines and flowers.

"I will." I was so happy. The pain of despair had fled, banished by this happiness that was beyond any joy I had ever known. Brien slipped the ring onto my finger as the crowd erupted in talk. Even the king looked concerned, but Brien and I didn't care. Suddenly, Brien was taking my hood in his hands. I was jarred out of my euphoria as I knew that he would recognize me, as would everyone else in the audience. But it was too late. Brien drew back my hood.

"Chryseis!" Everyone turned to the one who had shouted my name with such shock and disgust. All eyes were on Ariela as she stood ashen faced before Brien and I. She was frozen now, realizing her mistake. If there was gossip when I was brought out, it was nothing to the gossip that flew around now.

"Morrigan? Chryseis?" Brien looked confused for a moment. The King had come over, his face completely bewildered.

"What is going on here?" he demanded of me. Then he hushed the crowd since I tried to answer, but he could not really hear over the din. I was left standing before everyone, and I knew that I had to find some explanation. Over the crowd, I caught a glimpse of Eidyia, who was smiling, tears of happiness running down her cheeks. I smiled slightly, and told my tale, the tale that had been kept hidden for twelve long years.

"I have deceived you all, and I am very sorry that it was necessary. My true name is Chryseis Annorise of Llyr, daughter of Baron Michael and Baroness Pasiphae. But when my father died, I was made a servant so my step-mother could claim Llyr for her own. I couldn't run, because I never lost hope that someday I might have this chance to stand up and reclaim this land of mine, this land I love. I love Llyr, and no matter what abuse Ariela or her daughters might have done to me, I couldn't leave. I had to find a way to get it back again. So I came as Morrigan of Teatra, hoping that someone would help me. I'm sorry that I didn't tell you the truth." I turned to Brien desperately and spoke quickly in the Ancient Tongue. "Forgive my deception. I was no better than any of the others at those balls, putting on a mask and hiding myself from you. If you no longer…"

"I do." Loudly, in the common language, he made another announcement. "In light of this, it is only just that you be returned your title, Baroness Chryseis of Llyr." Baroness. I had Llyr once more. A warmth spread through me, and I felt as if I could fly. Not long ago, I had known the depths of despair, and now I felt as if I could soar through the clouds.

"She's not the real daughter of Baroness Pasiphae!" Amerisia suddenly shouted. "I am!" Her voice was desperate, but her response made her even more despondent. People began to laugh at her.

"You don't look a bit like a Llyr," one insisted. "You look more like a minstrel I had singing in my court once!" Ariela turned a particularly bright shade of pink, and there was another chorus of laughs. The king looked down at me, examining me closely.

"If you are the real baroness, give me proof." I looked over at Brien and knew exactly what to say.

"When I was young, we held a ball and you attended with your wife and son. He looked bored, so we went into the library and played games until my nurse made him go back."

"I remember that. You also told me a joke, as I recall," Brien laughed. The king seemed satisfied with my proof.

"I have decided to give this marriage my blessing," King Matthew said at length. "Even though you have defied me in this matter, Brien, I suppose it was a blessing in the end." Queen Marai, who had until now been silent stepped forward and put a hand on her husband's shoulder. She looked over at me and smiled her warm smile.

"I knew that I liked you, dear. You shine like the star you were named for." I blushed at the compliment and Brien rolled him eyes.

"She'll just be gloating because she wanted me to marry Morrigan, er… you." We spoke in the Ancient Tongue, and I wondered if his parents understood out conversation. But by now, I did not care.

"I'm glad you married me, and not Morrigan," I admitted, taking his hand. "Because now I know that…"

"I love you." The crowd began to depart when the King waved them away.

"I just can't believe all this is happening," I told him as we walked together to the royal carriage.

"Why don't you come with me to the palace," he offered, when we paused beside it. "Just until this mess with Ariela is sorted out. And then we can return here, to Llyr."

"We…" I could hardly believe it. The pieces of my life seemed to fall into place. In my mind, I saw us riding our horses over the hills, saw us reading books in the library, and walking amongst the fragrant gardens. And I saw a future filled with such love.

"We'll live here in Llyr," he promised. "In a land we love, with the one we love." As I climbed into my carriage, I breathed deep, then let out a long breath. Taking one last look at my manor, I wondered at how all this had come to pass. I was free of Ariela at last, free to reclaim my birthright. But the greatest freedom of all was knowing that I would marry Brien, and knowing that someone finally understood.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In three years, Brien and I were married. The time between our engagement and wedding was wonderful. We decided after the proposal that we didn't know each other well enough to get married quite yet, so Brien convinced his parents to let us wait for a while. We found all out all of each other's strengths and flaws. As we got to know each other, we argued more and agreed less. There were fights, but there were also wonderful moments. Riding horses across the hills or reading in the library together, we came to know each other so well that I think he knew more about me than I did myself. And I grew to love all his shortcomings and flaws, even though I never missed the chance to tease him about them. We were truly happy together, the happiest I've ever been.

During those three years, many things changed. Perhaps the most monumental was Ariela's banishment from Llyr. Once the truth was out, she appeared before the king, who passed judgment. Since she had usurped the barony of Llyr, she was banished from the city, and all her fortune that she inherited from my father was taken from her. Bitter and defeated, she left and went to a small city outside Calaris. I later heard that she found a job designing gowns, which I shuddered at.

As for my step-sisters, they did not suffer as much as Ariela. Cyala married her duke, and commanded a whole household of servants, although she was ever under the watchful eye of my friend, the Duchess of Aviel, who made sure that she did not grow to conceited for her own good, and taught her new peer a few lessons in humility whenever she came to call. As for Amerisia, she was almost ruined by her failed exploits at the balls. The arrogant Count of Grier didn't seem to mind too much, and married her anyway. I had met him at the first ball and thoroughly disliked him. Brien refused to let me get angry, just grinning and mentioning that they deserved each other.

I had my land back, though. I had my beloved Llyr again. I dismissed the rule that kept the servants hidden behind their hoods, and freed all those who wished to leave. Some took my offer, and left to seek their fortunes elsewhere, but those were mostly Ariela's hand chosen bimbos. Many stayed, loyal to the land of Llyr. I also brought in those who could help rebuild Llyr to all its former glory.

I brough Valora to Llyr, freeing her from Castle Edris. She tended the flowers in the garden, and was quite happy here. We would talk for hours sometimes, sitting out amongst the trees and flowers. I had her plant the tioron flowers again, and once more, their sweet scent graced the gardens. My red haired friend lived not far from the manor itself, in a stone house where I came to visit occasionally. She was a bit nervous to meet the prince at first, but soon warmed up to the idea. Sometimes, I would drag him along, and the three of us would speak of plants and all the things that grew and flourished here in Llyr.

As for Eidyia, she came up with a marvelous idea that I helped her bring to reality. Not far from the manor, in the little village, she set up a school. It taught all kinds of things: language, history, natural sciences, mathematics. All children were welcomed there. It grew and grew until Eidyia finally had to make boarding houses for all the children that were sent from far across Alansia. She loved teaching, as she always had. Having classrooms full of children to share her knowledge with was her dream come true. When I had time, I would go down to the school to watch the classes. Once or twice, I even got teach a few lessons. While there were frustrations for Eidyia, there were also many joys that she experienced in her years as teacher and headmistress at the Llyr Academy.

At last, after three years, I married Brien in the city of Calaris. Our wedding was the biggest event since the balls three years ago. I was so nervous when I walked down the aisle, wearing my mother's wedding dress and the crystal jewelry I had worn three years ago. But when I saw Brien waiting for me at the other end of the temple, I couldn't help but smile. Eidyia was crying in the audience, and smiling at me through her tears. At last, we exchanged vows, and Brien was my husband. When he lifted his veil and we shared our first kiss as husband and wife, I knew that only happiness could come of this.

Indeed, the greatest joy of all visited Brien and I a year after our marriage. I gave birth to a daughter, Cimiliene, the Silver Star. Three years later, Cimiliene had a little brother, Tioron. While Tioron would be king someday, my daughter was named the future Baroness of Llyr. It was such a joy, knowing that I could pass this land on to my daughter, and that the line would not die. And the joy of being a mother was greater than anything else. Now as I stand in the gardens of Llyr, sitting beside my husband, holding my baby, watching my daughter play in the flowers, I was truly happy that I had found the strength to escape my life of servitude. When I had first come up with the plan, I had no way of knowing what would come of it. I had only hoped to gain my land again. Now, sitting here, something tells me that I have more than I ever dreamed of.

Author's note:

I wrote this because I thought that it was silly that the prince and Cinderella fell in love after sharing one dance and then putting on a slipper. I wondered what it would be like if the prince fell in love with the servant Cinderella instead of the Cinderella that went to the ball. And I wanted to give her some competition, so I had beautiful, accomplished step sisters. Hope you enjoyed this variation. I used two Greek names in this story: Chryseis, means golden, and Eidyia means knowledge. As always, thanks to all my reviewers whose advice has prompted this re-writing, and special thanks to my editors. Heather, Kate, and Konie- thanks for all your editing and support!