Hello! So a few days ago, I received a reader's comment about wanting to see POTO characters connected to the story of the Drew Barrymore fairy tale film, "Ever After". Now "Ever After" is one of my favorite movies, with another handsome Scot. Mmmm...now that's what I'm talking about, a sword fight between Gerard Butler and Dougray Scott, shirtless...and then Sean Bean enters...followed by Hugh Jackman...sorry, what were we talking about again:oP ANYWAY! I sat and I thought about it, putting Erik and Christine in the "Ever After" setting...and slowly, a story was born and would not stop pounding against my head until I sat down and began writing, so that's what I've done.

Now while this will follow the "Ever After" format, it will also be quite different. How different? Well, you'll just have to read and see! Other important notes: in "Ever After" the story is set in 16th century France. I chose to set mine at about the same time period, but in a fictional country called "Eastergard", which geographically would be located between France and Italy. My reasons for doing this were simply because I felt it would be easier, writing about a made-up place, than an actual country that has centuries of history.

The story is rated T, although the rating will eventually change to an M, due to sexual content in a future chapter. If you are not of the mature age to read such content, please do not proceed.

And as always, I do NOT own Erik, Christine, or any other POTO characters, and I do NOT own "Ever After" or anything related to the film. I just finished paying off my student loans, which means I have nothing left to give.

So without further ado, here is my latest fic! I hope you enjoy and please let me know what you think!

Story summary: "Ever After" meets POTO. Erik has been sold into slavery by his evil stepmother; the thing he longs for most is revenge. However, by chance he meets a girl who stirs a new longing within him. There's just one problem: she's a princess. EC all the way!

The Mask and the Slipper

Once Upon a Time...

Somewhere in the mountains between France and Italy, 1812

Wilhelm Grimm sighed with a feeling of contentment, as he breathed in the beautiful spring air that surrounded their small carriage. "Have you ever seen more beautiful landscape, Jacob?" the younger German man asked his brother, who sat across from him inside the carriage.

Jacob Grimm grumbled as their carriage jerked over yet another rock on the mountain path they were climbing. "Ya," he muttered. "Lovely."

Wilhelm didn't pick up on his brother's sarcasm. "Imagine…despite all the travels we have conducted over the last few years, we failed to come to here! Eastergard…"

Jacob looked out the window of the carriage and eyed the mountain view. It was quite beautiful, just as Wilhelm said; lush forests, fields of wildflowers, and clear blue skies that the very mountains seemed to touch. "Indeed," he murmured, taking in the landscape. "But it is such a tiny country; from what I understand, only the southern most tip touches the sea."

"Ya," Wilhelm agreed, his eyes still locked with the beauty outside. "And the population is quite small as well; but imagine, being the monarch of such beauty!"

Jacob appreciated his younger brother's enthusiasm for nature, but that was not the reason for their travels. "Remind me again what the letter said."

Wilhelm finally looked away from the carriage window, and dug into the inside pocket of his coat, to retrieve the letter they had only received a week ago. "It is a royal request from Her Majesty, Queen Christine II, asking us to visit her at the most convenient time, to discuss our collection of folk tales."

Jacob nodded his head. "I hope she does not have complaints," he grumbled. "They are simply fairy stories, spread about by simple country folk; yet it seems that all these foreign dignitaries and royal figures take great insult if we change a minor detail to how they heard the story, when growing up."

"Nothing in Her Majesty's letter indicates that she has complaints," Wilhelm attempted to reason.

"Nothing in her letter suggests otherwise," Jacob muttered, holding back his curse as the carriage went over another boulder.

Within a few short hours, the carriage finally reached its destination, one that took the two brothers by surprise. They had expected the carriage to deliver them to a palace, or at least a small castle! Not a simple château…

"Are you two gentlemen the Grimm brothers?" asked a stately looking butler, dressed in a fine, black linen suit, with a royal blue sash, elegantly tied from his right shoulder, to his waist.

"Ya," both Jacob and Wilhelm answered, bowing low before the butler. "We have come at the request of Her Royal Majesty, Queen Christine II," Jacob informed, bowing once more.

The butler gave a slight bow in return. "Follow me, please," he commanded, in a deep, authoritative voice. The two brothers did not hesitate; they followed the butler into the château, marveling at its elegant marble floors, shimmering stained-glass windows, striking tapestries, and beautiful paintings that adorned its mahogany walls.

Many of the paintings were portraits, no doubt of Eastergard's royal family. Wilhelm actually paused in his walking to stare at one particular portrait, which wasn't a painting at all, but a framed picture of a rough, charcoal sketch of a beautiful young woman, with long, flowing hair, and soft, kind eyes, which seemed to radiate a deep warmth. Jacob noticed his brother's dumbfoundedness, and tugged at the younger man's arm, in a desperate attempt to keep up with the butler's long strides.

Finally, they reached the end of the long hall, which opened into an elegant sunroom, bathed in light. A few servants were scattered about the room, each going about their various tasks; in one corner sat a harpist, softly playing a classical tune, while in another corner, several caged doves cooed to the music. All of the servants continued with their tasks; however they each looked up to see the butler, and the two visitors that followed him.

"The Brothers Grimm," the butler announced, in a soft, but clear voice.

Like Moses parting the Red Sea, the servants seemed to part from where they had been standing, revealing another figure who sat upon a green settee, a cup of tea in her hand.

She was an elegant woman, who did not try to hide her age with expensive creams or fake lashes. Her hair was silver, and done up in a tight bun, with a lace cap crowning her head. She wore a simple, yet stylish lavender gown, with a white lace shawl draped over her shoulders. She lifted her eyes and smiled at the two brothers, before motioning for one of the nearby maids to pour a cup of tea for her guests.

Her eyes were perhaps her most striking feature; warm and blue, like the clear mountain sky that covered her tiny kingdom.

Jacob and Wilhelm quickly bowed; little doubt in their minds as to whom they were standing before. "Your Majesty," they both murmured, before lifting their heads.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," the kind, old queen greeted, motioning for another servant to quickly bring two chairs for her guests. Once the brothers were seated, and had been handed their tea, she continued speaking. "I am so happy that you have come; no doubt you are probably wondering what an old woman, like me, wants with men of your notoriety."

Both brothers could not help but chuckle at her words. "Your Majesty is most kind; however we do not deserve such praise." Jacob murmured.

The Queen clucked her tongue. "Nonsense; what the two of you have done will make history one day, if not already. Future generations from all over the world, will read your stories, and cherish them just as I do."

The brothers could not help but blush. "Truly, what my brother Jacob says is true," Wilhelm murmured, rather bashfully. "Your Majesty is too kind." Wilhelm then reached down into a small bag that they had brought in with them, and pulled out a square package. "No doubt Your Majesty already has a copy, but—"

"I am very honored!" the Queen gasped in awe, as she watched Wilhelm untie the strings, and reveal the contents within the package. It was the first printed edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales, Vol. I. "A treasure such as this is worth more than all the gold in the world," she whispered with reverence, as she tenderly stroked the leather-bound cover. "Thank you, gentlemen; thank you very, very much."

Wilhelm and Jacob smiled at one another, as the old queen gently opened the book and began reading the first tale. "Fools scoff at such beautiful works, believing they can learn nothing from 'simple children's stories'," she sneered. "But these tales teach valuable lessons, such as true beauty comes from within…and treat all people, no matter what their rank or station may be in life, with value and respect."

"We agree," Jacob smiled. Perhaps he had been wrong with thinking that the queen had complaints? "Do you have a favorite?"

The Queen lifted her head from the book; her smile so bright one would believe it was illuminating the sunroom. "Oh, I have many, many favorites; it's impossible to choose one!" she grinned, but a pensive look fell across her eyes. "However…one story touches my heart perhaps more than others…" she whispered.

The two brothers were leaning in, curious to hear her answer.

"The story of the servant girl, who sleeps amongst the cinders and ashes? Who slaves the day away for her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, but whose goodness is rewarded, when she marries the prince? If I must choose a favorite, then that is the story."

Wilhelm grinned brightly at the queen's words. "Ya, that is a favorite of mine as well."

However, the Queen's smile disappeared, something that Jacob did not miss. "It is a very beautiful story, to be sure. And I am familiar with its many versions, as I am sure by now you are well versed in, through your travels."

"Ya, indeed," Jacob murmured. "From pumpkins, to birds, to mice, to magic godmothers; we have heard many versions."

"And many variations to the girl's slipper," Wilhelm added, recalling several tales.

"Yes," the Queen murmured, her gaze becoming distant. "It's always a shame, I think…when the truth becomes fiction."

Jacob's brow furrowed at the old woman's words. "Truth, Your Majesty?"

The Queen continued, as if she hadn't heard the older brother. "I suppose people felt that the story would fit more, if the servant became a girl, and the princess became a prince…"

Wilhelm exchanged a confused look with his brother. "Princess became a prince?"

"And what about the mask?" the Queen sighed, sadly. "The mask was always my favorite part, and yet it has been forgotten altogether."

By now the two brothers could not keep silent any longer. "Your Majesty, forgive me," Jacob interrupted. "But…what do you mean about a mask? What do you mean about princesses becoming princes, and everything else?"

The Queen smiled as she gazed at the two confused German brothers. "Every story begins with a seed of truth," she softly began. "Over time, that seed grows into something more and more…until finally, when it is plucked, the story does not even resemble the seed at which it started."

Jacob wasn't sure how much more he could take. "Please, Your Majesty…are you saying…that…that the story of Cinderella…is true?"

The old queen simply smiled.

Wilhelm leaned in, his eyes as round as saucers. "Truly? It happened? You know the story!?"

The Queen smiled and leaned back on the settee, before handing her finished teacup to one of the servants. "I know the story very, very well," she murmured. "But I must confess…it is quite different from the version that you have collected."

Wilhelm's brow furrowed. "How different, exactly?"

"Just as I said," the Queen explained. "The servant was not a girl, but a man, a man by the name of Erik Delahoussaye. And this…" she indicated, stretching her arms out to the room around them. "Was once, his family home."

Jacob and Wilhelm looked at the room around them, as the old woman's words slowly sunk in. "You mean…'Cinderella', was in fact…a servant man?"

The Queen only chuckled. "Haven't you been listening to a word that I've said?"

Jacob leaned in closer, his brow creased with confusion, and his eyes lit with a desire to learn the truth. "So…when you said that the prince was in fact, a princess…you truly meant that—"

"That the Prince Charming to whom Cinderella marries…was in fact, a princess, yes," the Queen confirmed. "The story is true; a servant did marry royalty…the genders were simply reversed."

The brothers exchanged bewildered glances. "How do you know all this?" Wilhelm asked with wonder.

The Queen smiled, and then nodded her head at the butler, who bowed, before exiting the room. "I know the story, because the people to whom I speak of, were in fact, my great-great grandparents," she simply explained.

The two brothers were in absolute shock. "Ancestors!? You are related to…forgive me for calling him this, but…you are related to Cinderella!?" Jacob gasped.

The Queen only grinned. "Yes; as I explained, this is my great-great grandfather's home. His family were of noble blood, and since his marriage to my great-great grandmother, this château has been…a place of refuge, really, for the royal family of Eastergard. In fact, I prefer it to that cold, stingy castle."

Just then, the butler returned, holding two large objects in his hands. "Ah!" the Queen smiled. "Thank you, Tompkins," the Queen then took the large, flat objects from her butler, and placed them beside her on the settee.

"Who was the princess?" Wilhelm asked, leaning in again, eager to learn more. "What was her name?"

A tender smile spread across the Queen's face. "Her name was Christine," she whispered. "To whom my grandmother, Queen Christine I was named after…as well as myself."

Wilhelm's brow furrowed. "She was not a queen?"

The old queen shook her head. "Christine had an older brother, and at the time, princesses did not inherit the throne if there were other male descendents. My grandmother, Queen Christine I, would become the first female monarch to rule Eastergard. It was often said that her reign was Eastergard's golden age…and much is credited towards her grandparents, for teaching her valuable lessons, much like those taught in your stories."

Jacob found all this fascinating, but his eyes were drawn to the large, flat objects, that the butler had brought in. "Forgive me, Your Majesty…but…may I enquire…?" he indicated, looking directly at the objects beside the Queen.

"Oh yes, of course," the Queen smiled, before lifting one of the objects and revealing to the brothers that it was a portrait, in fact, it was the framed sketch that Wilhelm had been staring at while they were being escorted to the sunroom.

"That's the picture that caught my attention!" Wilhelm gasped, his eyes widening as he gazed back at the kind charcoal face, of the lady in the sketch.

"It's no surprise that she caught your eye," the Queen stated proudly. "She is the very princess to whom I have been speaking about; Princess Christine, only daughter of King Leonard V, and my great-great grandmother."

"She is rather striking, is she not Jacob?" Wilhelm asked, grinning at his brother.

Jacob gazed at the portrait, admiring the charcoal strokes of the artist. "I must say…I am rather surprised at seeing it, mainly because of the medium at which the artist used. If I am not mistaken, it was the only portrait in the gallery that was not a painting…?"

"You are not mistaken," the Queen murmured. "For this sketch was drawn by none other, than Erik Delahoussaye, my great-great grandfather."

"He drew this!?" Wilhelm gasped. "Was he a great artist? For truly, it is stunning!"

"Christine seemed to bring out many passions within Erik," the Queen chuckled, before putting the framed sketch down.

Jacob noticed that there was another portrait lying beside the queen. "Is that of Erik Delahoussaye?" he asked, curious to see the man that, according to the queen, was in truth, the real Cinderella.

The Queen looked down at the covered portrait lying beside her, a soft smile spreading across her face. "Do you recall what I said about the mask?" she asked, before nodding her head at one of the servants.

"Ya," both brothers murmured, their eyes locked on the mysterious portrait.

"Well…what if I told you, that instead of a slipper, there was a different object?"

The two brothers exchanged confused glances, before focusing in on the portrait that the Queen lifted, and revealed to them.

A gasp escaped their throats, as they stared at the image of a couple, elegantly dressed, gazing directly back at them. The woman was the same as the lady in the sketch, only now they could see that her hair was brown and her eyes were a deep shade of blue. She wore a kind smile, and looked quite petite…or at least looked that way compared to the giant that stood beside her.

The man was a large, powerful looking brute, very tall and very broad, the tunic which he wore indicating a strong, muscular chest. He was very dark looking as well, with shaggy black hair, rough, tanned skin, and very dark eyes, which seemed to glint with a hint of gold and amber. Where the princess was smiling, he seemed to be staring at them with a deep, grim look, and it wouldn't surprise either of them if he opened his mouth and growled.

But the most striking feature…was in fact, the full, white mask, which covered his entire face, save for his mouth and chin.

"The…the mask…" Wilhelm murmured. "Is…is that the mask you were talking about?"

"One of them, yes," the Queen sighed. "The original mask was black, but sadly, it was broken, many years ago. Ah!" the servant, to whom the Queen had nodded to not so long ago, appeared holding a small, velvet box with a gold lid. "Here we are," the Queen whispered, opening the box with great care. "See? All that remains of his original mask are fragments," she sighed, removing several black pieces that once looked as if they made up a mask. "But this…" the Queen whispered with reverence, as she carefully withdrew a white mask, the very mask that the brothers had seen in the portrait, "this was worn by Erik," she explained, showing the mask to their wide eyes. "And sadly, this is what your story is missing."

Jacob and Wilhelm stared at the mask with wide, disbelieving eyes. Was it possible? Did this once, simple fairy story…actually exist? And if so…was it like the old woman said?

"So…t-t-there was no glass slipper?" Wilhelm asked, looking up from the mask into the old woman's eyes.

The Queen chuckled, before carefully placing the mask back inside the box. "Well, there is a slipper, that I can not deny, but it is not as you know it, or rather, not as you know it from the story that you think you know."

Both brothers were stunned by everything that had been revealed to them. They had come to Eastergard mainly out of curiosity to the letter they had received. They had no idea that they were about to learn the truth behind one of their many fairy tales.

"I think it would be best if I simply told you the story, how it truly did happen," the Queen grinned, settling back onto her settee. "Now, I must say, I do love that opening line you use…" she said with a smile, her eyes twinkling, as she noticed the way the two brothers were leaning in. "Once upon a time…there was an Earl, whose wife had died giving birth to his only child. So he felt it was important to remarry, to provide his son with a mother. And that, my good gentlemen, is where our story begins…with the arrival of a wicked stepmother…"