A/N: I love Ella Enchanted madly. It defined my childhood. But I really wanted more. And I felt the deal with the letters was rather unfinished…
Obligatory Disclaimer: Ella Enchanted and its characters are the property of Gail Carson Levine, not me.
She found them while rummaging through her old things. Disgusted, Dame Olga had sent all of her old ragged dresses and soiled things to the palace after her marriage. And now, three months later she was finally getting around to dealing with them.
Mandy had offered to deal with this scant trunk of things, most far from being worth saving. She had rescued the magic book from this crumbling trunk the moment it had arrived, and her dresses from the balls were on top and easily removed (Ella had half-expected these to disappear in a fit of malicious spite, but some saving grace had delivered them safely from Dame Olga's manor.) But these torn shifts and stained aprons represented a time when she had only to rely on her own inner strength- had built that strength so much that she had become worthy of her dearest Char. They were priceless in all senses of the words. And pushing aside some careworn shoes, she found them. Bundled together she saw how plentiful they were. There must have been nearly two hundred. Her letters. Those unsent letters were the place where she detailed her agonies and triumphs during those long six months. Where she had explored the true depths of her feelings for Char. Where she had made silent amends for her cruelty to her beloved.
She knew immediately what was to be done with them.
She slipped into their bedchamber quietly, already in her lacy nightgown and took a moment to observe her husband from the doorway. He was so lovely, so handsome, so kind- and he was hers. It was a reality that exceeded all her wildest fantasies. She watched as he unbuttoned his doublet, admiring the silhouette he made in the firelight, and the glowing halo around his curling hair. He was her savior and her love.
Sensing her presence, he turned and his smile transformed him from an object of beauty to the handsome, joyous man that would someday be king. His smile was for her. "Ella. Where have you been? I haven't seen you since dinner."
She put her bundle on the bed and went to him to finish unfastening his buttons, helping him out of his vest. "I was going through my things from Dame Olga's." He made an almost comic grimace at the name of her odious stepmother and waited for Ella to finish his buttons.
When he went into his dressing room to finish changing, she sat down on the bed, bringing the bundle to her lap, hands clasped lightly over it, finger stroking the ribbon holding the letters together. Char returned, ready for sleep, and sat beside her on the bed. "What do you have there, my dear?"
Her eyes were trained on the bundle. "I was going through my things from Dame Olga's," she repeated, "And I found these. They're for you- but they require a bit of an explanation." She paused here, trying to think of the best way to explain. He waited patiently, his firm hand on her back giving her comfort.
"Char, with the notable exception of breaking the curse, writing that letter was the hardest thing I have ever done." He did not need to ask what letter she meant and his eyes darkened remembering the pain of that time. "But I knew I had to do it- knew I couldn't do anything but what I did, I couldn't tell you just how happy I was when I received your letter." And here she had to look at him, see him, love him. "And I was so happy Char. It was the happiest I had ever been, I was just infused with it, it made me silly with how happy I was. And then to realize what I had to do- it was . . . it . . . it was heartbreaking. For me and because I knew it would hurt you." There was a tear or two here, and she needed another pause before she continued.
Brushing away her tears, when she continued, her tone was a bit brusque. "But you know all of that. But what you don't know is that after that letter, I kept writing you. I couldn't stop myself- even if you didn't know, you were the one person I could tell about everything."
"And everything wasn't just my days and nights- they were my thoughts, my schemes, my plans, my dreams. And they were all addressed to you. These are the letters unsent." With this she handed the bundle to him.
He looked down at the letters in his hands trying to process all of this, to absorb all she'd said. "Ella, I don't know what to say- but these must be very personal and-"
She cut him off with a kiss. Only when they finally broke apart did she say, "There is not part of me that doesn't belong wholly to you. Besides, really, they're yours. They're addressed to you. Let's just call say their delivery was delayed by intervening events." His smile returned at her small joke, more subdued than before in light of the serious mood. He took her hand in his and kissed her forehead, murmuring a whispered thank you. Then his lips came to hers, and for the moment the bundle fell to the ground beside their bed, forgotten for the moment.
The next morning Ella went with his mother to visit, of all places, Bast. The people of the city had not yet seen their prince's young bride. He sent her off with a kiss and a mocking injunction not to run off in search of giants and not to seek out an opportunity to brush up on her Ogrese. He was not accompanying them and with the events of last night he was glad. They would return in three days time and he was determined to read all of the letters before her return.
That first morning after his mother and wife had left he took his horse into the forest near the palace, seeking a quiet glade to begin his perusal of the letters. From the first paragraph of the fist one he was engrossed. He read them fervently, lost in the world his Ella had lived in those long six months. Only when the sunlight became too poor to make out her scrawling, varied script did he stop.
Every day she invents new hiding places for her wealth. There are coins in the hem of her gown, coins sewn into her sash, and coins buried in the stuffing of her waist roll. With all that metal concealed about her person, she had best not set foot on a boat . . .
He returned to the palace, only stopping to get some food from the kitchen. His father, seeking him out to discuss a new elfish trading deal, saw him passing in the hallway, and noting the distant look in his son's handsome face, decided the matter could wait. In their room again (How empty it felt without Ella!) he returned to the letters.
I found a sweet tabby with a fresh liter of kittens today in the root cellar. I think if Mum Olga realized the many small pleasures of my days, she would switch from forcing me into the many odious household tasks I perform to simply locking me up in some deep, dark dungeon. The only thing that might save me from such a fate would be the pecuniary concerns of a set of hands not put to work . . .
The next day was similarly consumed with the letters, and the day after that. He learned everything of her life during those months of estrangement, delighted in her wit, and was surrounded by the love he felt for her and her for him.
I baked a most perfect chocolate cake today. It was light but moist, flavorful but not overwhelming. Mandy says more of my fairy blood shows in my cooking. If there is any consolation in my inability to marry you, it is that my skills in the kitchen would quite go to waste if we were to wed. But it a cold consolation that offers no real comfort. But for your knowledge, the secret is . . .
She was surprised that he was not waiting for her at the steps of the palace. As the King and Queen greeted each other, she passed into the palace, going directly to their room, the only place she could think to find him. She was rushing, overcome with inexplicable panic and worry- why hadn't he been on the steps? They had not been apart this long since he had found her at Dame Olga's- hadn't he missed her as she had missed him? Hadn't she felt the nagging, worrying sense of temporary loss? Of distance? Of- she flung the door of their sleeping chamber open, her disappointment welling up in her-
Only to find it dissipated the moment she saw their room. He was on their bed, looking a little tired and perhaps even a bit thinner than when she left. The book had not shown him to her during her trip and his altered state disturbed her. But that was only of small concern compared to his surroundings. He was surrounded by her letters, all opened, laying everywhere around him, fluttering gently in the breeze coming from the window.
He was reading the last one.
My first act will be to confess that I love you. I'll beg pardon a thousand times for causing you unhappiness and make reparations by making you laugh a thousand times.
He looked up to see her standing in the doorway and his eyes were filled with a thousand emotions- pain, sadness, compassion, pity, sympathy, happiness, and most of all, love. Shining unbounded, undying love. For her. It was all for her. The love she felt in return was filling her up, brimming her edges, threatening to spill over. It came out as she said his name. "Char."
"Ella." He set the letter- the real last letter, because they would never have need for letters now, they would never be separated long enough to need letters, couldn't possibly stand it- to the side, and opened his arms, inviting her to come to him. She joined him, curling her body into his, her head resting on his chest, tucked under his chin. His arms clasped her to him, holding tightly, as if he was afraid of losing her again (never). They stayed like this for several long moments, reacquainting themselves with each other, just being in the silence.
Eventually he knew the time had come to address the letters. "There is no pain that you caused me that you haven't paid back a thousand times over with the joy you have brought into my life these past three months. And realizing fully- more fully than I ever have before- just what you did for me, how you were living with that horrible woman, has made me love you a thousand times more than before. But there is no love you haven't returned to me a thousand times over by pledging your troth, your love and your life to me at our wedding." He paused for another long moment here, kissing her hair and she silently snuggled more deeply into his chest, sensing he had more to say and willing to wait for him to finish. He really only had one more thing to say and he said it so silently, so softly that it reached only her ears, not escaping the cocoon they had formed on the bed sheets. "I love you."
There were more long moments then. She was forming her answer, seeming to mull what things needed to be said now and what things could wait. Finally she tilted her head up, settling it on his chest on top of clasped hands, contemplating him. It was oddly childlike and he was put in the mind of the first time he had seen her, beautiful in spite of her grief, a flower about to blossom but at that moment shrouded in black silk, unstylishly tearful at the death of her mother. From the first she had fascinated him, so unguarded and so feeling. Now she still fascinated him, but he hadn't known even the half of her power at seventeen. He had a feeling he didn't even know the half of it now.
Seemingly done with her inspection she began. "I love you, too. And if I hadn't your reassurances that my debt had been repaid, I'd still have something to do so." She stopped again, pondering her phrasing. "We're going to have a baby."
She was waiting for his reaction. He sat dumb for a second, but then that grin came on at full voltage, taking over his whole face in radiant joy. The second she saw the grin begin on his face an answering grin started on her own. They were lying in their bed, surrounded by letters that, as the breeze picked up, were beginning to swirl and flap more violently, beaming at each other like idiots. Then she was laughing and he was holding her closer and then they were standing somehow and he was twirling her around. He was holding her as he had to catch her after she slid down the stair rail, as he had to cross the threshold the day of their wedding, as he would someday carry their children, cradled in his arms, and now he moved towards the open window and trumpeted his joy: "We're going to have a baby!"
His parents, in the courtyard beloved, smiled up at their jubilant son in the window, but he did not notice, seeing only the face of his beautiful Ella, flush with the gales of laughter that had completely paralyzed her by now. He could only think of one recourse for this, so he kissed her, and they were even happier than their wedding day, because there was nothing between them and only a long happy future ahead of them, full of happiness and children and laughter and above all, love.