If The Slipper Fits
Pairing/Characters: Arthur/Gwen, Merlin, Morgana, Leon, Vivian, Catrina
Fairytale Prompt: Cinderella
Disclaimer: "Far Far Away" is from Shrek, obviously. Merlin belongs to the BBC.
Summary: She doesn't own a pair of shoes that fits her properly. But that won't stop her from going to the ball.
When the king and queen find their son passed out drunk after yet another extravagant feast, they demand he holds a ball in order to find a potential bride. But Prince Arthur has other ideas.
Written for the tobreakthespell contest and based on Cinderella.
A/N: Many, many thanks to the wonderful _autumn_colours for betaing this and generally being awesome.
Once upon a time in the kingdom of Far Far Away, the king and queen arrived back home after their week away tending to duties. They were relieved to find the kingdom in order and the castle still standing, but what they didn't expect to find was the banqueting hall trashed and what appeared to be various young, noble people passed out on the floor.
The queen tutted while the king frowned and circulated the sprawled out bodies, trying to find the perpetrator for all of this. He found him unconscious amid the platter of cheese and a few empty tankards of ale.
The king nudged the figure on the floor with his foot, but he didn't move.
Growing angry, the king turned to his wife and said, "Didn't I explicitly tell him that there were to be no extravagant feasts in our absence?"
The queen came to stand beside him and placed a sympathetic hand on his arm. "You did, Uther."
"Then what in good heavens is all this?"
Queen Igraine let out a sigh. "This is your son, breaking the rules. You know what young men are like- foolish and without a care in the world."
"He has just come of age and is the future king! He should have at least some care in the world, and I will not stand for such frivolities!"
"Then you must be firm with him, dear."
King Uther nodded. "You're right, Igraine; I must be firm with him." The king thought about this for a moment, contemplating how to demonstrate such firmness. "He needs to act more like an adult," he decided.
The queen nodded.
"He needs to stop foolishly cavorting with women," he said, eyeing a few women in various states of undress surrounding the prince.
The queen nodded again.
"At his age, our son should have more responsibility and self-awareness."
The queen nodded once more.
"Igraine, I think that it is about time our son got married."
The queen let out a little gasp of surprise. "Are you sure?"
"Most certainly! We have left him to his own devices for much too long, and look at his behaviour now! Why, at his age, we were already married and king and queen of the kingdom; if we could handle that, why can't he handle the responsibility of a wife?"
Because he's my little boy! The queen wanted to say, but then she realised that was the problem. Her son was of age and yet she still treated him like he was a little child who needed to be pampered at every turn. She admitted to herself that it had made her son spoilt and irresponsible and realised her husband was right: her son did need a sense of responsibility, and marrying a fine woman seemed like a good way to instil this.
"I agree, dear. But who will we choose to marry him? I don't think that any of the ladies of Court are exactly befitting for our son," Igraine said, eyeing the ladies with disapproval.
"We shall have a ball," the king announced. "We will invite all the eligible maids from across the kingdom to come, and he may pick the one he gets on best with."
As the queen nodded at her husband's brilliant idea, the sound of groaning came from the prone figure by their feet.
Quite a few miles from the heart of Far Far Away, Gwen stood in the living room of her step-mother's house, busy dusting as her step-sisters practised their singing, although singing wasn't the word Gwen would use.
As Morgana screeched and Vivian howled, the Lady Catrina watched on; her daughters high-pitched squealing apparently music to her ears.
Trying not to look too discomfited by the noise, Gwen carried on cleaning. She still had a list of chores to do, where as her step-sisters had a day of pampering ahead of them. Even though they lived under the same roof, their lives couldn't be more different: the girls were at want for nothing, whereas Gwen was treated like a servant by her own family.
Letting out a sigh, she watched as Morgana with her perfect, dark hair and alabaster skin strived to hit the high notes, and Vivian with her golden hair and fragile looks tried her hardest to accompany her. On the outside her step-sisters were beautiful and a vision to all who saw them, but there was no beauty to be found within them. Lazy, bitchy, obnoxious and at times down-right spiteful, they could be as mean to each other as they could with Gwen.
Her thoughts was disrupted by a knock on the door, and the glare from her step-mother demanded that she go and answer it. Sighing again and putting down her duster, she proceeded towards the door. Opening it, she was surprised to find a royal aide standing there.
"Good morning ma'am," the plump man said with a bow of his head.
Gwen was a little taken back. Was he talking to her? No one ever addressed her formally.
"I have a letter from the palace," the man continued.
"The palace?" Gwen questioned. Why on earth would they be receiving a letter from the palace? "What's it about?"
"Ah, you'll just have to read it and see. But the news will best please a young woman such as yourself," he said with a smile. "Good day," he bid, before walking off.
Her brow furrowed in confusion, Gwen walked back into the living room with the sealed letter in her hand.
"Well?" Lady Catrina demanded. "Who was at the door?"
"I think it was-," she began.
But her stepmother had eyes like an eagle and spotting the royal crest on the envelope, she walked over to Gwen and snatched it off of her before she could finish.
Ripping it open, Lady Catrina began to read the letter, and let out a gasp as she finished.
"Girls!" she cried.
Immediately, Morgana and Vivian stopped their wailing and looked at their mother.
"Girls, listen to this!" Lady Catrina sat down in an armchair. "You have been invited to a ball! At the palace!"
The girls let out squeals so loud that they threatened to deafen Gwen.
"A ball!" Vivian cried. "Oh how exciting! I can finally wear my new shoes!"
"Which are hideous," Morgana muttered.
Not hearing her, Vivian bounced over to her mother and took the letter from her hands.
"By order of the royal household, the King and Queen of Far Far Away invite all young, eligible maids of this household to attend the ball in honour of Prince Arthur, on the eve of Beltane. That's tomorrow!" Vivian let out another squeal and then faltered. "Wait, what's the prince's honour for?"
Morgana rolled her eyes. "He's obviously looking for a bride."
Vivian's eyes widened. "Oh mother, that could be me!"
Lady Catrina looked on at her daughter with pride.
"Or me," Morgana interjected.
Vivian gave Morgana a derisive look. "Oh, and you're that alluring, are you?"
"Oh please!" Morgana snorted. "I'm prettier than you."
"Well, I'm cuter. Plus, I have better hair."
Morgana made a noise of outrage. "Well I-,"
"Now, now girls," Lady Catrina began, stepping between her daughters. "You're both beautiful," she said, placing an arm around both of them. "To think, one of my own daughters could be married to a prince!"
The three of them let out dreamy sighs and Gwen watched on in derision. Her stepmother was certainly ambitious: one moment marrying her late father for his money and the next trying to ensnare royalty for her daughters. Gwen was just waiting for when Lady Catrina decided to take over the world.
"I shall call the dressmaker immediately!" Lady Catrina decided. "I shall have no expenses spared. My girls need to look absolutely stunning if you're going to impress the prince. Every girl has been invited-,"
"Even me?" Gwen wondered out loud.
The three women looked at her in ridicule.
"No, not you!" Lady Catrina bit back scathingly.
Gwen shrugged and went back to cleaning.
She didn't want to go to the ball anyway.
Prince Arthur let out a low moan. Apparently the one thing worst than waking up with a terrible hangover was discovering that the cause of his drinking had repercussions, and that repercussion meant being married off quicker than he could say, "bachelorhood."
"I hate balls," Arthur said to Sir Leon. "There's so much...dancing."
Sir Leon cleared his throat. "Well, generally speaking, sire, that is the whole point of a ball."
"Are my parents trying to torture me?" Arthur wondered, ignoring his friend. "I mean, I knew I would be getting engaged sometime soon, but did they really have to arrange a ball? Couldn't they have just... had the first suitable woman they saw marry me instead?"
Leon looked at the prince in confusion. "You mean you would rather have an arranged marriage than be able to choose from a room full of beautiful women?" He gave him a look of concern. "Sometimes I worry about you, sire."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "Every man likes a room full of women, just not ones with their virtues still intact. Or the ones who are only after you for your money. And your status."
"Really? Because I wouldn't mind."
"Really? That's interesting," Arthur mused, a plan beginning to brew in his head.
To escape from the incessant chatter about dresses and pending weddings, Gwen went to the well to fetch some water. There she found her friend, Merlin.
"Merlin!" she greeted with a smile on her face.
She watched as Merlin heaved his bucket out of the well and half of the contents spilt on the floor.
Not noticing, he turned to her with a beam and said, "Hi Gwen! How are you?"
Gwen rolled her eyes.
"Ah," he said with understanding. "It's one of those days is it?"
"Every day is one of those days," she told him.
"So did you hear about the ball?"
Gwen snorted and went to stand beside him to fetch get some water. "Believe me, that's all I've heard about," she told him as she began lowering her bucket into the well.
"Are you going?" Merlin asked. "My sister is going."
"But she's thirteen," she stated.
"And apparently eligible," he said with distaste. "But I'm going to make sure she wears the longest dress, with long sleeves and a high collar with ruffles."
"The perfect repellent," Gwen mused.
"That and my mother is being her chaperone," Merlin said with a smirk.
"Well, I'm not going."
"Why not? It's a chance of a lifetime- going to a ball at the palace and dancing with a prince. How many people can say they've done that?"
Gwen wrinkled her nose. "I don't even know this prince. I don't want to go all the way to some palace because a prince I've never met might dance with me and might decide to marry me. And even if he does, who's to say I want to marry him?"
"Gwen, Gwen," Merlin chided. "Look at you! You've been treated like a slave in your house for the last few years and you sleep in a bare attic. You hardly go out, and besides me, the only things you converse with are the garden birds and mice. Don't you think you deserve more than that?"
"Well yeah...but I do like talking to the animals, Merlin."
"I'm sure you do, but your future isn't secure in that house. Catrina will chuck you out one day. Even if you don't want to go for the prince, at least go to enjoy yourself for once."
Gwen contemplated this and then shook her head. "My stepmother would never allow it. She has this long list of chores planned out for me and if she could, she'd chain me to the house so I can't escape."
"Great," Merlin muttered. "Is she going to the ball?"
"Most probably. She'd go to any means to make sure the prince notices her daughters."
"Then you can sneak out after!"
"I think she might notice me at the ball. Plus, I don't exactly have anything to wear."
Merlin waved at her. "Magical friend here! Can turn rags into wonders! Your stepmother won't even recognise you."
She looked sceptical.
"I can be your fairy godmother."
Gwen gave Merlin an odd look. "Don't you mean fairy godfather?"
"Yeah, that too."
"I don't know, Merlin. I'm not exactly the type of girl who likes to dance."
"Aren't you the least bit curious as to what it might be like?"
Gwen shrugged and thought about it. "I have always wanted to visit the palace," she mused. "And my father used to say that they had horses with wings there."
A funny look passed on Merlin's face and he placed his hands on her shoulders. "Okay, Gwen? If you don't see any horses with wings, try not to be too disappointed, okay?"
Gwen nodded, although she didn't understand why there wouldn't be any horses with wings. If there was such thing as magic, flying horses weren't too much of a stretch of the imagination, surely?
"Okay," Gwen said. "I'll go."
Merlin beamed. "Excellent! I'll come round as soon as your sisters leave. I'll make you the belle of the ball!"
Rolling her eyes at her friend's exuberance, Gwen began to head back home.
In the late hours of the night, when everyone was long asleep, Gwen finally finished her chores for the day and retired to bed.
The attic was cold when Gwen entered it, and shivering, she put on a tattered shrug. Before heading to her make-shift bed, she took off her shoes and studied them. They were an old, nude-coloured pair that was a size too small for her and had holes in that she had stitched up many times. They were the only pair she had and briefly, she wondered what it would be like to have a new pair of shoes.
Her life was so far removed from luxury that it was hard to believe than a ball might change all that.
Even still, should the prince ever decide to pick her by some strange occurrence, would she really marry him just because he could be her ticket out of here?
Most days she'd think no, but when she lay in the attic with only a thin blanket to cover her and hungry from not eating enough, she'd be quite tempted to say yes.
The next day, Prince Arthur watched the servants decorate the ball with a scowl on his face. Really, it was disgusting how invested everyone was in marrying him off. It was like they delighted in his unhappiness, and considering how he sometimes acted, maybe that wasn't surprising.
His father came to stand next to him. "Doesn't the ballroom look wonderful?" he asked.
"Fantastic," he replied drily. And then, "Father, you know I hate balls and...dancing."
"And you know I hate drunken feasts," Uther countered.
"It was just a gathering with friends," Arthur defended.
"And you usually pass out and get semi-naked with your friends, do you?"
The king gave his son a pointed look. "You're the Crown Prince. You need to act with honour and dignity, not debauchery and shamelessness."
"It was just a few instances!"
"The servants tell me otherwise, and whether or not it's true, you need to start acting like an adult."
"And you think my getting married will help?"
"It helped me."
"But you married a decent woman, Father. One who didn't care for your money or your status."
"I met her at a ball, just like this one," Uther pointed out. "So I wouldn't be too judgemental if I were you."
And with that the king walked off, causing the prince to scowl further.
With the local emporium now bereft of its cosmetics and the house in a state, Morgana, Vivian and Lady Catrina headed off to the ball, leaving behind a relieved Gwen.
Not too long later, a knock came on the door and Gwen went to find Merlin.
"Are you ready then?" he inquired.
"Exactly how ready must one be before they are bewitched?" she wondered.
"Ready enough. Now, did you gather those things I asked you?"
"The pumpkin and the goats are in the garden."
"Good." They began to head to the garden.
Merlin took one look at Gwen and then the pumpkin and the waiting goats and placed a finger on his chin in thought.
"I'll work on you first," he decided.
Giving an uncertain nod, Gwen stood in the middle of the garden, waiting for Merlin to work his magic, so to speak.
Her friend took out his wand from his pocket and focusing on her, began to utter a spell.
"WAIT!" she cried.
Merlin stopped and looked at her.
"This is really weird," she said.
"What? Me doing magic?" he inquired.
"No. You dressing me."
"Oh. How's that strange?"
"I don't know, it just is."
"I'm merely dressing you, not undressing you, Gwen. Plus, I'm only transforming what you have on."
She relented. "Well, if you say so."
Nodding, Merlin lifted his wand back up again.
"Abracadabra!" he cried and a flash of light hit Gwen, emitting a puff of smoke around her.
Once she'd finished coughing, she looked at Merlin.
"Well?" she asked.
"Yeah...I think we're going to have to try again."
Confused, Gwen looked down, only to find herself wearing the most garish bright pink dress that was far too big on her.
Clearing his throat, Merlin tried again. And again. And again. And when Gwen really couldn't see how she would ever go to the ball, her friend leant back with a smile on his face.
"Better?" she asked.
Walking over to the pond, she peered at her reflection and let out a gasp.
The dress she was wearing was a light blue one, with a fitted, gold embroidered bodice and a full, flowing skirt. The material clung to her like a second skin and it felt glorious on her. Merlin had also done something to her hair. Whereas before it was frizzy and curly, now it was smooth, long and wavy. For the first time in her life, she felt beautiful and worthy.
"I look like a-,"
"A Princess," Merlin finished for her.
With a flick of his wand, Merlin transformed the pumpkin into a wonderful carriage and the goats into horses, with a lot more ease than he had with her dress.
"Wow," she breathed.
"One last thing," Merlin said. "Show me your shoes."
Lifting up her dress, she revealed her battered shoes.
With another flick of his wand, Merlin transformed them into glass slippers.
"These are beautiful," she enthused. "Yet somehow, I don't think they are very practical."
"Oh Gwen!" Merlin moaned. "I think I just expended all of my powers on you."
Gwen waved her hand. "It's fine. I can try and walk in these shoes and not break my ankle, really."
Nodding, Merlin went to help her into the carriage.
"Make sure you at least try to dance with the prince, okay? And make sure my sister isn't anywhere near him. But above all, have a wonderful time, and oh! Make sure you're back by midnight."
"Because that's when my magic runs out. I'm still working on the longevity thing."
Smiling, Gwen emphatically thanked her friend and set off in her carriage to the ball.
"Bye!" Merlin called out. "I'll just stay here and clean up the mess." He wrinkled his nose when he realised he'd have to do it by hand.
The guests were starting to pour in, and Prince Arthur eyed each of them with disdain.
"They're hideous," the prince said to Sir Leon as he observed them the top of the stairs.
"Well, some are," the knight mused, eyeing up a few ladies with too much make up on. "But some," he began, looking at a few pretty and inviting ladies, "aren't too bad."
At that moment, the king and queen walked over.
"Arthur!" Queen Igraine exclaimed. "Oh, how handsome you look!" she cried, straightening the lapel of his red, formal dinner jacket.
"Mother!" he protested.
"Sorry," she apologised. "It's just I can't believe that my little boy-,"
"Mother," he cut in.
Igraine smiled and placed a hand on Arthur's cheek. "I hope you have a wonderful time tonight. Remember to be nothing but courteous to the ladies you dance with, and I just hope that one of them catches your eye."
Arthur rolled his eyes, but assured her by saying, "I'll try."
Next to her, Uther beamed and clapped his son on the back. "We'll be in our chambers, out of your way." Spying on the guests from our window, he mentally added. They'd made the excruciating decision not to attend as to give their son some space to choose whom he wished, without the two of them watching his every move. That, and the queen could get a little over zealous at such occasions.
"Thank you, Father."
The king and queen both walked off, with the queen peering over her shoulder and waving at her son.
Arthur smiled and waved back, but as soon as they were out of sight, his smile dropped. Shrugging out of his jacket, he handed it to the knight and headed in the opposite direction of the ballroom.
The sight that greeted Gwen as she stepped off the carriage astounded her.
The palace was everything she imagined it would be: pointy towers, great brickwork and it was tall, very tall.
Taking a moment to appreciate it, Gwen then headed up the lit pathway. She was most surprised when two doormen opened the door for her and after getting over that, she finally made her way into the castle.
Gwen gasped at the castle's lavishness. The decor made her stepmother's ostentatious nature look paltry in comparison, and it was obvious that the king and queen never spared any expenses. She felt like she'd walked into a mythical castle, with everything sparkly and iridescent.
Stepping forward a few feet, Gwen found herself at the foot of a giant staircase and immediately she frowned. How was she expected to climb these stairs in her shoes?
Looking around, there was no one who might offer her assistance, and sighing, Gwen began to climb the stairs herself.
After what seemed like an hour, she finally reached the top, and out of breath, she paused for a few moments before heading to the entrance of the ballroom.
Again, the doormen held the door open for her, and each bestowed her with a smile, which she gave them back.
Rather nervously, she entered the huge ballroom and looked around. It was full of people-mainly women-and there was an orchestra playing. The women were all chatting or patting their hair or laughing much too loudly and it reminded Gwen a little of peacocks they used to have in the garden.
As soon as she stepped in, everyone stopped to look at her. Gwen blushed, not used to the attention and immediately she cursed herself for being late.
Around her she could hear whispers of "Who is that?" And several begrudging, "She looks beautiful..." Although she could have sworn she also heard the voice of Morgana say, "Dear god, that dress looks like a curtain piece."
Not quite sure what to do with herself, Gwen made her way to the other end of the ballroom, by which time the crowd seemed to have forgotten about her. She wasn't quite sure what the etiquette for these kind of things was. Was she to stand and look pretty? Or was she to try and make conversation with someone, in hope that the prince might overhear her 'intelligent' words? Maybe she was supposed to stand there and swish her dress around so that it would catch the light in a certain way...
Instead, Gwen eyed the banquet table and since she had barely eaten all day, she gladly started picking food off it, not caring that everyone else was standing well clear of it. She was hungry and besides, this might be the only chance she got to sample palace food.
Her position from the banqueting table gave her a good view of all that was happening. It seemed like the girls were all lining the perimeter of the hall and that the prince would pick and choose one to dance with at random. Gwen couldn't really see the prince from where she stood, but she could see how desperate people were, trying to vie for his attention.
Once or twice her stepmother or stepsisters would pass her, but none of them seemed to recognise her, much to her relief. She watched as Vivian stepped up to dance with the prince, only to return a few minutes later in tears.
Intrigued, Gwen moved around so she could get a better view of the prince.
He wore a red, formal dinner jacket that looked quite dashing on him and as she tried to study his face, she noted that he was quite handsome. He had a round face and soulful-looking eyes. His shaggy, auburn hair complemented his beard and he was also incredibly tall.
He seemed to pick a lady to dance with and if it was clear within the first thirty seconds that he didn't like her, he let her go and moved on to the next one. Vivian, it seemed, was one of these women.
The prince didn't seem too perturbed about having to dance with every lady, and even tried to make small talk. But there was something almost unrefined about his movements that she didn't quite expect from a prince.
It was almost an hour later when Gwen was picked by the prince to dance with, by which time she wasn't sure she really cared to.
Amid the jealous looks and the whisperings, he led her out onto the dance floor. Gwen had no idea how to dance, but she followed his movements. They glided together, but it wasn't a smooth dance. He seemed a little uncertain in his movements and she trod on his feet far too many times to count. It quickly became apparent that they weren't a good match and he finally let her go.
Both relieved and disappointed, she walked off. The room suddenly felt too small and she escaped to try and find some fresh air.
With one last look over her shoulder, she saw Morgana dancing with the prince, suggestively pressing herself into him.
Gwen didn't belong here.
She found an open balcony that looked out over the palace grounds and went to stand against the wall.
The palace and the prince was everything she expected they would be, and she was a little disheartened to find that neither had surpassed her expectations. A part of her had hoped to be swept up by something here, but she hadn't, and yet again she found another place she didn't quite belong in.
Closing her eyes, she breathed in the air. Other than the music sweeping from the ballroom, the palace was quiet. There was no sound of anything else- no people, no animals and certainly no sign of any flying horses.
When Gwen opened her eyes, she found a strange man to the left of her, looking at her strangely.
She let out a scream.
"What are you doing here?" the blond man demanded.
She gave him an incredulous look. "Do you usually sneak up to people and talk to them like that?" she demanded. "That's rather rude."
The man lifted an eyebrow. "Well, you're trespassing on palace property."
"As a matter of fact I was invited to the ball," she informed him. "And I was just getting some fresh air. But I guess I should go."
She made to leave but the man stopped her.
"Wait," he said. "Stay. You're right: I was being rather rude."
Giving him a curious look, Gwen debated with herself for a few moments before going to settle back where she stood.
"Is the ball not to your liking?" he wondered.
She thought about this. "It was...different," she decided. "But it was too crowded in there and I didn't really like it."
Something about what she said made him look at her curiously. "Did you dance with the prince?"
"I did, but it wasn't anything awe-inspiring."
She shook her head. "I don't know what I expected, but I was hoping this would be different, you know? Magical perhaps. But the prince wasn't an exceptional dancer and neither was I, and also we didn't really seem compatible."
He raised both his eyebrows. "You know, most women in that room don't care about any of that. They're just desperate to marry a prince."
"Oh, I didn't really come here for the prince," she told him. "I just wanted to know what a palace was like and if it was true that there were flying horses." And then muttering she said, "There were no flying horses."
The man gave her an odd look but she didn't notice it. Instead, Gwen studied him properly. He was tall, but not as tall as the prince, and had blond hair and rather cynical blue eyes. He was dressed in a crisp, white shirt and black trousers and looked quite smart. "Do you work here?" she inquired.
The man looked mildly offended by this, but quickly composed himself. "Yes," he answered. "I work here."
"What do you do?" she asked.
A brief look of panic crossed his face before he said, "I'm a servant. For the prince. I do servant stuff."
"Really? I know what that's like!" she exclaimed, before realising what she was saying. Clearing her throat she said, "Because of what my family's maid tells me. We're close friends."
Merlin had instilled in her the importance of her pretending to be a lady and not a passable servant, and she tried to adhere to this.
"What's it like being a servant to the prince?" Gwen asked. She wondered if it was better than being a servant to three over-demanding women.
The man shrugged. "It's a good life," he finally said. "He's quite lenient- lets me eat his leftovers and every now and then he lets me leave a minute earlier than usual."
Gwen nodded, although she didn't think this was very accommodating. She looked at the man and smiled up at him. Despite his initial frosty welcome, she found his company quite enjoyable.
Prince Arthur looked at the lady beside him in intrigue. She was definitely beautiful with hair the colour of charcoal and the warmest brown eyes he'd ever seen. Her pale blue dress complemented her skin tone and clung to her in all the right places, but beyond that, he found her sweet nature quite compelling. And seeing as he abhorred sweetness, this surprised him.
"So what's your reason?" the girl asked.
He looked at her in confusion. "My reason for what?"
She smiled. "There's a room full of beautiful women inside, and you're out here on the balcony having told me off instead."
"I'm not really into balls and dancing," he informed her. "I find it far too stifling."
"This was my first ball, and I guess it's my last. I didn't find it far too exciting. But the food was good."
The prince nodded. "The food is always good."
The lady nodded as well.
"So," Arthur began nonchalantly. "The prince wasn't to your liking?"
"Oh, he was perfectly nice," the girl defended. "Much nicer than rumours allowed."
The prince frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Well, some people said that the prince was quite obnoxious and can be downright rude at times, but I didn't get that impression."
"Oh." Did people really say that about him? He tried not to feel too offended.
He lowered his gaze to the floor and then smiled when he saw what the lady was wearing on her feet.
"Nice shoes," he mused.
The girl beamed and lifted a foot up. "Why, thank you! They were custom made."
The prince studied the girl before being compelled to say, "Do you want to dance?"
Gwen looked at him and grinned. "I thought you said you didn't like dancing."
"I'm willing to make an exception if you are."
Gwen thought about this and nodded. She liked this man and he seemed a lot more inviting than the prince in his ballroom.
She took his hand, not noticing the smoothness of his palms; he took hers, not noticing her calluses.
Rather gracefully he held her in his arms, and although she had no idea how to dance, his lead allowed her to follow rather competently.
"You're a very good dancer," she stated, looking into his eyes.
"I've had many years of training," he replied, holding her gaze.
She frowned at this.
A look of worry quickly passed on the man's face and he said, "Because you know, I learnt with the prince, so he didn't get lonely."
"Oh," she said. "That's very kind of you."
They continued dancing, although Gwen couldn't say how long for. They stared into each other's eyes, trying to learn everything they could about each other through sight and movement alone. Music played in the background but they danced to their own tune- and it felt like magic, which she didn't want to end.
Just as she thought this, a clock from within the palace began to chime.
Gwen gasped when she realised what the time was: midnight.
She broke away from the man. "I've got to go," she told him.
She shook her head and moved back inside. "I've got to go home," she began, speaking incoherently as her mind rushed ahead of her. "I've run out of time."
"Run out of time for what?" the man asked, following her inside.
She shook her again, not able to explain. Any moment now she would turn back to normal and he'd realise she wasn't who she said she was. Plus, soon her stepmother and stepsisters would return home, and she needed to be back before they were.
The clock continued chiming and her heart wouldn't stop racing. Gwen rushed along the corridor as the man followed.
"Wait!" he cried. "Don't go! I don't even know your name!"
"I can't tell you!" she called over her shoulder.
She reached the stairs and began running down them, but before the man could reach her, a sea of people got in the way of them.
She didn't see this as she ran down the stairs, but she did drop a shoe and having no time to go back for it, she continued running.
"All I have of this girl is a glass slipper," Prince Arthur said, holding it up for Sir Leon to inspect.
Sir Leon at him and frowned. "I can't believe you!" he cried. "I danced with and vetoed each of those girls for you, and now you're telling me that you found one you liked on your own accord!"
"You said you had no problems dancing with all those women!"
"The first fifty or so, yes. But after that it got a bit tiring."
"You should have guessed that would happen, Leon. Anyway, can we focus on the problem at hand here?"
Leon rolled his eyes. "Okay, so do you even know her name?"
"Right. You spent all that time in her company and it didn't occur to you to ask for her name?"
"That wasn't my main priority, no."
The knight sighed. "You don't exactly make things easy for yourself."
Arthur gave him a pointed look. "I need to find her. She was different and I liked her."
"Liked her enough to marry her? Because I met this girl you might like. A raven-haired beauty who seemed very voracious if you get my meaning."
The prince pulled a face. "I don't care about her."
"How am I supposed to find her again?"
"You could hold another ball," Leon suggested. "And you know, actually attend it."
Arthur shook his head. "I don't think she'll come. I got the impression that she couldn't come back. I don't even know if I'd recognise her if she passed me by."
"Do you mean to say you've already forgotten what she looks like?"
"No! But you know what women are like. They get all dressed up and make themselves look different to how they actually are." Arthur turned over the glass slipper in his hands. "I know! I could visit every house in the kingdom and get every girl to try on this slipper. Whoever it fits has to be the girl I danced with."
There was a long pause. "Or," Leon finally said, "you can visit every house, see if you recognise the girl and if you think you do, ask her if she has the other slipper."
"Yeah, I guess I could do that too."
Gwen sat on her bed and examined the glass slipper in her hand. She had no idea why everything had transformed back to normal other than her slippers and Merlin had no explanation either.
She let out a sigh and thought about the man she had danced with. He may have only been a servant like her, but he was a dashing one. Gwen felt incredibly disappointed that she'd never see him again.
From the attic, she could hear her stepsisters' incessant arguing. Ever since Vivian had been snubbed by the prince and Morgana highly appreciated, the two had been at each other's throats. Lady Catrina acted like she was neutral on the subject, but it didn't go unnoticed by Gwen the looks of favouritism she kept giving Morgana.
She heard the sound of something smashing on the floor and then, "GUINEVERE! GET HERE RIGHT NOW AND CLEAN UP YOUR SISTER'S MESS."
Rolling her eyes, Gwen headed back downstairs. She may have changed a little, but things in the house hadn't.
The days went on and Gwen often wondered if her palace experience had been a dream.
But after a couple of weeks, rumours began to circulate that the prince had met the woman he wanted to marry, but not having secured her name, he was visiting every house to find her.
This caused Morgana to squeal a great deal and Vivian to curse her at every opportunity.
"Oh, it could be me he's looking for!" Morgana exclaimed.
"You're such a hussy!" Vivian cried. "Throwing yourself at the prince like that."
"Yeah, well, it worked, didn't it?" Morgana countered.
From that point on, Gwen was made to get the house ready for the prince's pending visit. Her stepmother was so sure that Morgana would be chosen and wanted the house to look perfect for the prince's inspection.
It was another two weeks until the knock at the door came.
Gwen was on the way to answer it when Morgana pushed her out of the way and did so herself.
The plump man who gave Gwen the letter was at the door, and Gwen went away from the door, not caring for what he had to say.
However, she could still hear him from the kitchen. The man cleared his throat. "Announcing the Prince of Far Far Away."
She heard Morgana's cry of excitement, a low voice speaking and then an indignant, "You're not the prince!"
Confused, Gwen made her way from the kitchen and was even more confused to find the man she had met on the balcony dressed in formal wear and at the door instead of the prince.
"I can assure you that I am the prince," he said with arrogant undertones. "It's a long story which I don't care to tell to you. I'm looking for the owner of this glass slipper," he said, holding up her glass slipper.
Gwen let out a quiet gasp, more confused than ever. How could that servant actually be a prince?
Lady Catrina looked furiously at the prince. "Do you mean to say that after all they went through, my daughters weren't even dancing with the prince?"
"I believe so, yes."
"This is an outrage!" she cried. "I demand you hold the ball again, with the real prince there!"
"I do not wish to do so," he informed her.
Lady Catrina gasped in shock.
"Now, is the owner of this slipper here?" he queried, peering round.
Vivian's eyes widened. "It's mine!" she cried.
The prince gave her a dismissive look. "Don't lie, girl. Your feet are far too big for this shoe."
Morgana snorted and Vivian let out a cry of indignation. Mortified, she ran off crying to her room.
"There's no one else here who went to the ball," Lady Catrina informed him. "Not that I would want any of my daughters to marry a man as rude as yourself."
The prince didn't seem perturbed by this.
"Very well," he said, beginning to leave.
Gwen watched in panic as he was about to walk away from her life forever.
"Wait!" she cried, rushing up to him.
The prince turned around at the familiar-sounding voice, only to find a dark-haired woman rushing up to him. She was dressed in a tatty brown dress and her face was smudged in dirt, but he recognised those eyes anywhere.
As soon as the girl had reached him, she spoke.
"You said that you were a servant."
Her voice was accusatory but gentle.
He grinned, so glad that he had found her after all this time. "And you said that you weren't." His voice conveyed surprise, but Gwen could tell by his smile that he didn't seem bothered by this.
It was her turn to smile. "I guess both of us deceived one another."
From behind them, Morgana said, "I don't believe this! The prince is talking to Guinevere." Morgana pushed Gwen to the side and spoke to him. "She didn't even go to the ball!" she exclaimed.
"Actually, I did. I snuck out," she said, moving back in front of the prince.
This caused both Morgana and Lady Catrina to gasp.
"How dare you! I told you to clean the house!" her stepmother said.
"And it was cleaned," she replied.
She turned her gaze back to the prince. "This is my stepfamily," she said, by way of explanation.
He nodded, although he didn't really understand.
Instead, he showed her the glass slipper. "I think this belongs to you."
Smiling, she went to take it, but the prince knelt down.
She looked at him in confusion, but he motioned for her to lift her foot. Obliging, she did so and he placed the slipper on her foot.
And just like they both knew it would, it fit perfectly.