I was determined to put out a story before the year was up, and well, right now it's 11:20PM. :)
So of course, I don't know Cinderella, it's a fairy tale that's appeared in a variety of cultures, et cetera.
He was in the middle of a dance when he saw her, standing silently at the edge of the ballroom, and was instantly enchanted with her. As he twirled, with an overly attentive woman in his arms, he kept her in sight, watching as she left the ballroom for the gardens.
The moment the dance ended, he quickly escorted the woman, still clinging to him like a leech, off the dance floor and bid her farewell, before making his way towards the door. Unnoticed, he slipped out, and found her sitting next to one of the grand fountains, adorned with nude goddesses and cherubic cupids.
He held out his hand and whisked her around the garden as a triumphant waltz drifted out of the ballroom. He was dizzy with the scent of her hair, the closeness of her slim body to his, the endless circles they made around the fountain, until he couldn't dance anymore. As the song came to an end, they too stopped dancing, and found themselves seated at the edge of a fountain peacefully, talking quietly about themselves, and little bits of their lives. In truth, he did most of the talking, and she simply listened, offering teeny tales about her childhood, but he was so intoxicated by her presence that he didn't care, he was happy to bask in her warmth.
Until the clock struck midnight. Suddenly, she was so flustered, and she was saying her goodbyes, and then she was running out of the gardens, cutting through the ballroom and towards the open courtyard. He had hurried after her desperately, but the crowd had closed in on him as every woman clamored for his attention. As politely as he could, he had pushed them out of his way and ran in her direction, only to see a carriage racing away from the palace, and a sparkle on the steps. Hopefully, he rushed towards it, discovering a tiny glass slipper.
His father, the members of the court, everyone had laughed at him for believing that it would bring him to his one true love. A shoe, they laughed, he would use a shoe to find his princess? But he ignored them, even as they sneered openly at him, and set out on his journey, accompanied by a few loyal friends and his trustworthy horse.
The first house hadn't been so bad. The girl's father had taken pity on him as she gushed at him, tried so hard to fit her foot into the shoe, even though it obviously didn't fit. He had been able to make a quick escape, taking the shoe with him as the girl had smiled politely and curtsied, wishing him well on his quest.
But after that, each house became progressively worse. The mothers were so pushy and desperate, the girls lacked every sense of decency, so eager were they to become a princess. They used every possible measure to keep him there, in the hopes that he would forget his goal and stay and pick one of them for his wife. Even the fathers tried, wanting so badly to be connected to royalty and riches, and of course, to avoid the screeches of their wives and daughters who begged for their aid. But of course, he would not be moved. If her foot did not fit the slipper, then she could not be the woman he loved.
After visiting most of the houses, his friends, loyal as they were, beseeched him to return to the palace and give up the search. This woman, so perfect, they claimed, could only have been a figment of his imagination! But it could not be, for he held the evidence in his weary hands - the tiny glass slipper. He was determined to continue, and leaving his friends at the nearest tavern to drink and be merry, he continued with only his tired horse for company, ignoring the coy looks from the maidens who desired his love and hand in marriage.
Finally, he had reached the house furthest away from the palace. As he approached, he could hear the shouts of the servants, scurrying to make the house fit for his presence, and the squabbles of the women inside, loud enough to be heard from the foyer, where he stood as the housekeeper greeted him kindly and offered him refreshment and rest, if he needed it. He was about to accept when he a shriek of "Cendrillon! Where are you, lazy girl?" assaulted his ears, and a beautiful girl rushed from the kitchens to attend to the ladies of the house. She was so lovely, and so familiar, he was sure he had seen her before...
Before he could say anything, three gaudily dressed women had entered the hallways, screaming all the while.
"Cendrillon! Cendrillon, you stupid girl! What could you-Oh. Your highness!" Here, the oldest woman curtsied, and her two daughters followed, standing slightly behind their mother. They stayed silent, until they noticed who he had been staring at.
"Cendrillon? What are you doing?" They asked, their eyes narrowed as they noticed the prince's hand gently touching her face. Quickly, he moved it away, but they had already seen it, and were quick to act. "Would you like some refreshment, your highness? Oh, do come into the sitting room, it's much more comfortable there. Cendrillon, see to it that his highness gets some refreshment, please."
Immediately, she turned and fled back in the direction from which she came, and he dazedly followed the woman and her two daughters down the hall, coming ot a startling realization. That tiny slip of a girl looked like the woman who had so enchanted him last night. But could it really be her? After all, she was but a servant. He continued on, deep in thought, until he realized that they were staring at him. He cleared his throat nervously and began.
"I was hoping, madam," he addressed the oldest woman, "that one of your daughters would fit this slipper. And be my wife."
He drew the slipper from his pocket and presented it to them. It sparkled as it hit the sunlight streaming in from the large windows, the only source of light in the entire room. He watched, disgusted, as the calculating gleam in their eyes grew bigger. He knelt down in front of the girl dressed in a bright, garish yellow, who only stared at her mother.
"Go on then, Dorothée, try it on," she urged, and the Prince carefully held out the shoe as she tried very hard to force her foot into it. But it was too big, and eventually he sighed sadly, before removing the shoe from her person, thanked her, and moved over to the other girl, who had much smaller feet.
"Well, Frédérique? Does it fit?" The mother hovered over them anxiously, but her hopes were in vain. Even with her small feet, the shoe was much too narrow for her.
"No, Maman, it doesn't," she murmured, looking down at the floor. The door opened, and a maid entered, loaded down with a heavy tray that carried tea, coffee, and biscuits of all kinds.
The prince, tired from his fruitless journey, frowned as she began to serve him, then the others in the room. "Are there any other maidens here?"
He received several different answers, all at once.
"There's Cendrillon, but she doesn't count, does she?" Frédérique whispered.
"For once in your life, Frédérique, keep quiet," Dorothée hissed, as the serving girl quietly left the room.
Their mother glared at them, but turned to the prince with a serene smile on her face. "No, your highness, these are my only daughters."
His frown deepened. He had heard Frédérique's quiet voice, and was angry that the lady had tried to lie to him. "Who is this... Cendrillon?"
"One of the servants, your highness. No one of consequence," She murmured, a pleading quality to her voice.
But he ignored it. He had a sort of feeling, that they were hiding something from him, and he wanted to find out what it was. "Take me to her."
"Of, of, of course, your highness," she curtsied again, before motioning to one of her daughters. "Frédérique. Go get Cendrillon."
Frédérique hurried out of the room, anxious to escape her mother's icy glare. She returned moments later, bringing along with her the young girl he had seen in the foyer, who was also the maid who had just served him refreshments. He stared at her, her eyes turned to the ground, until finally she lifted her eyes to his and he gasped. She was the one he had met last night, he was sure of it.
He moved closer to her, and with each step he could hear the sisters and their mother fidgeting nervously, and as he bent to kneel before her, he saw her hands tremble uncontrollably. Instinctively, he reached out to stop it, holding both of her hands in one of his, still looking into her eyes.
He could hardly speak, so enchanted was he. "Would you do me the honor of trying on this slipper?"
She nodded, tears in her eyes. He held out the shoe to her, and she easily slid her foot into it.
A perfect fit.