Hi guys~

I'm going to have a lot of time now that it's summer…and that equals more updates!

Correct me for any mistakes..I kinda rushed this one.

Thanks for reading!

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"Cinders, fetch the lamb leg from the butcher's."

I thought I would die the first day.

"Cinders, return with the dress I ordered from Miss Dralstein's."

A pinched, cynical woman. I hated the condescending look she shot me.

"Cinders, I want some food. Fetch me some candy for Worthman's."

Olive sent me away with no money. Was forced to use savings.

"Cinders, don't forget to pick up the potatoes and three bags of flour."

My arms ached a week after carrying the flour. The grocer's was halfway across Frell.

"Cinders, run to the Van Repimiers and tell them we will be attending the brunch on Saturday."

I pounded on the door for a half hour before a maid came.

Each day was a hell. I had to obey fresh orders constantly. After one week of constant running, my feet looked like I had run through broken glass. My flimsy shoes were torn to shreds, there were more blisters than hair on my head, and the swelling would not go away. After one month, my feet were protected by thick hide-like covering, and I never wore shoes. The sun baked my skin and bleached my hair. I had lost weight, and all my skimpy dresses too fit loosely. With my dirty blonde hair, baked skin and feet that could have walked over an ogre's frying pan, I was unrecognizable. I could have doubled for a scarecrow. The only thing that remained unchanged was my eyes: the shade of hopeful green shoots fighting their way to the sun. It was all wrong.

I rarely saw Mandy. She threw a fit after she heard the news, but in the end, she didn't leave, just like Mum Olga predicted. Mandy still tried to see me, but I was always off running errands. Her warm smile, her sharp humor, even her slippery Tonic, I missed it all. The only good point about being out of the mansion was not seeing Hattie and Olive. Granted, Hattie reveled in my lowly status, and took every opportunity to order me to fetch little trinkets, but being alone was better than smelling her feet.

--

The servants loaded the rest of the luggage onto the fourth carriage. Prince Charmont would be followed by a procession of ten carriages, two of the bearing gifts for the royal family of Joring. He would be accompanied by eight of the most component knights, and there would be a festival when he arrived in Bast. He would stay at Bast for a year, learning the culture and government. The trip helped promote strong relations and was a period of enrichment for the young royal. Secretly, Char knew he was running away. Through the incapacitating numbness, unrest was beginning to reach his ears. The numbness was not that easy to shake off though. No matter how hard he struggled, his thoughts ran in circles, chasing each other into a blur. At dinner. At sword practice. At lessons. At the stables. In his dreams, no errant thought slipped through the mindless loop of words that had settled into a comfortable rhythm. Ella. Glass slippers. Lela. Ella. Glass slippers. Lela…. So when his mother declared his trip to Bast, he did not fight it. Queen Daria had a flash of steel in her eyes that made it clear to Char she saw his behavior and disapproved. How much she knew about the whole problem, Char didn't know. But the study in Bast might have been just the solution. He would seek out Lela and forget about Ella, Char thought determinedly. If only thoughts were so easily caged. It would—

"Char! Are you ready?" The Queen glided toward her son, regal in a dusky purple gown with an embroidered square neckline.

Snapping out of his reverie, Char replied, "Yes, Mother."

"Now, don't forget the gifts, (As if Char could just forget the two carriages trailing behind) and let Sir Stephen deal with any ogres along the way. I want you to look your best when you meet the royal family." Queen Daria ticked off the items with her fingers, suddenly looking more like an anxious mom than composed queen. Her voice hitched just a bit as she hugged Char. "I'm going to miss you. Come back safe. You are strong, my son."

Char froze. He heard the warning and encouragement between his mom's lines.

"Don't worry, Mother."

He gently extricated himself from her arms and climbed onto the carriage, preparing himself for the long ride ahead. He breathed a sigh of relief when the horses began to trot. But the procession hadn't begun moving for ten minutes until a flash of iridescence caught his eye.

"Stop!" Char hauled himself out of the carriage, striding toward the glimmer. It was a glass slipper, so caked with mud it was a wonder he noticed it at all. Of course, his stunned mind was rejecting the object in his hand. Why was Lela's glass slipper here? Or was it Ella's? He pocketed the slipper, smiling reassuringly at the driver, who was peering around the partition to see what the hold up was. I will get to the bottom of this, Char vowed, even if I have to check every girl's foot in Bast. The carriage wheels began to turn, transporting the young prince to Bast with a click, click, click.

--

"Ahhh!"

A mountain of soot crashed onto my face. Not a surprise, since I was sticking a poker (the kind usually used for stoking a fire) up the chimney. The maids watched anxiously, edging away from the inky cloud that would stain their starched aprons. A visceral hissing began issuing from the marble fireplace. The maids stepped farther back again.

The fact I was currently doing such an inane thing was not of my voluntary will, of course. Hattie had ordered me to deliver a kitten to the House of the Bhoutans for the daughter's birthday. When I reached the Bhoutans' miniature castle, the kitten, seemingly not pleased with the lurid magenta bow tied to its collar, had struggled out of the basket and ran directly in the Bhoutans' fireplace. I didn't even know that kittens could climb up chimneys. Forty-five minutes later, I emerged, clutching a now-black kitten and bearing numerous scratches. "Tell the young mistress the dearest birthday wishes from Hattie." I curtseyed robotically, handing the kitten to one of the maids, who squealed and juggled the blackened kitten.

I ran out, impatient to go back to the kitchen. Maybe there would be time to see Mandy before Olive finds me. But I ran into a solid wall of people. Throngs were lining the roads; people were leaning out of windows. Was there a celebration going on? I could use a parade. I made it to the front, bitterly aware that a couple months before, I would have had to push to get there: now I simply slid through the crowd. The orders and edicts and commands had whittled me down to a skeleton. Shaking myself out of the resentful thoughts, I glanced eagerly down the road, determined to enjoy the celebration.

It seemed to be a line of carriages. As the first one passed, I strained to see who was inside. Maybe it was a visiting dignitary. That couldn't be though, I thought, scanning the carriages with a sudden premonition. They were heading out of Frell.

It was Char. His face was composed, devoid of any life. I gasped, drawing the eyes of the people around me.

And Char.

For one glorious, serendipitous moment, our eyes locked. How ironic that we ended up meeting like I predicted, me in servant's garb and a sooty face. I didn't bother to try and hide. Char would never recognize me. Sure enough, he broke eye contact with me and gave a wan smile to others. Soon, the carriages rumbled out of view. Good, I thought fuzzily, Char, my love, my heart, didn't recognize me….

The world faded to black.

But only temporarily. A face swam hazily into view. A nice face. Nice eyes. Nice nose. A mouth that had thin laugh lines, but clear, youthful skin. It was opening and closing. Was he speaking? I tried to focus.

"-okay? Hey, can you hear me?"

An incoherent confirmation came out of my lips. I nodded weakly instead.

"You gave me quite a scare. Did you have enough to eat? You're awfully thin." Even his eyebrows, which were knitted in concern, were nice. I scrambled to my feet, swaying unsteadily. He automatically adjusted so he was bearing my frame. The most important question bubbled to my lips:

"Where was Cha-Prince Charmont heading?"

"You didn't hear? Prince Charmont is going to Bast for a year to further his studies. That's why there were so many carriages. Did you see those horses? They were really-hey! Are you okay? What's wrong?"

I promptly fainted again.

--

Char locked gazes with a skinny waif. Her hair was all wrong (dirty blonde) and her skin was tan, the color of servants who did harsh drudgery work. Plus, she wasn't even wearing shoes. But her eyes were the shade of unripe bananas. He clenched smooth glass. The sooner he got the Bast, the better. Before his mind fell to pieces.

tbc

--

FINISHED!!

I promised myself I wouldn't stop until Char and Ella met, but I still didn't get everything in I planned. New character, anyone? I wonder what will happen (or you guys will, I already do heheh)

R&R please! You know you want to…