[Author’s note: This story is an alternate take on Cinderella. What if the ball was a local festival, the prince a common farmer, and Cinderella a revolutionary who displaced a corrupt king to become a queen? Would true love still prevail?]
My name is Harold Tray, and I am a full-time college student with an impressive résumé of graduating from high school and rescuing five princesses in a fairytale world. I’m not lying—I graduated. But seriously, my quest to save the princesses happened last summer. A ghost transported me to a fantasy world known simply as Kingdom, and I met fairytale characters my parents had introduced me to when I was young. Snow White, Cinderella, and Red Riding Hood were all alive and living “normal” lives when I met them—normal for them anyway.
The world of Kingdom is not without its share of sadness, unfortunately. Yes, magical beasts roamed the country, and yes, people went on daring adventures, but Kingdom was also a world of poverty, brutality, and corruption. Nevertheless, I considered staying in Kingdom but was forced to leave prematurely. I never had the opportunity to learn the fate of some of the friends I had met there.
I returned home and went to college, and there I met the most amazing girl, Sondra Saturn. Deep in the infatuation zone, I went home at Christmas filled with stories about my new girlfriend. We sat up late, and I described the past month with Sondra in front of our roaring fire. When the conversation lulled, my parents exchanged a glance.
My father shifted in his chair. “You aren’t going to run away with this girl, are you?”
“No, Dad. She wouldn’t want me to.”
My mom set her tea down. “Have you forgotten last summer?”
“I won’t run away again. I told you before.”
My mother crossed her legs—a telling sign that she didn’t believe me. I said, “Sondra’s different. She’s a genius level of smart, and she wants to major in chemistry and physics. She would never leave school. And if I dropped out, she wouldn’t like it.”
“Harold, you went missing from July to August. All you would say is you were heartbroken.”
“I told you I didn’t run away with a girl. I met someone while I was away, but we parted.”
My father scratched the back of his neck. “And why wouldn’t this mysterious girl not seek you out and convince you to run away again?”
My mother lifted her teacup and regarded me over the rim. “Because she’s dead, Jack.”
I had never told them my friend had died when I was in Kingdom, but my mom had intuited it from my depression upon my return home. I swallowed. “Yes, she is. I’m with Sondra now, and I’m one hundred percent committed to school.”
My mother shifted uneasily in her chair. With the way they were acting, I could tell they were keeping something from me. “What?” I asked.
My mother stood. “Something came for you in the mail. It didn’t have a return address. Your father and I were immediately suspicious. I’m sorry, Harold, but we opened it.”
“Mom!” I exclaimed. “What if it was a private gift from Sondra?”
My father cleared his throat. “Do you mean after you ran away for a month without telling us details, you’re surprised we opened a suspicious package addressed to you?”
His reply swept away my indignation. Who would send me a package? “What was inside?”
My mother retrieved a manila envelope from a decorative basket. “That’s the strange part. It’s a story. You’re mentioned in it.” She handed it to me.
Examining the manila envelope, I asked, “What kind of a story?”
“It’s a fairy tale,” said my mother. “Pleasant story. Nothing objectionable in it. Do you know who sent it to you?”
I accepted the document and flipped the handwritten pages. “I have no idea.”
I read the first few paragraphs, eyes widening. “Do you mind if I go up to my room and read this?” I asked.
My father eyed me nervously, “Do you know who sent it?”
“Sondra,” I lied. “She writes fanfiction. Excuse me.”
My parents acknowledged my sudden departure, and I walked to my room. Thoughts circled around my mind like a cyclone. How could someone from Kingdom send me a document? I knew of no way to travel from Earth to that other world, but if they could travel across worlds, why send me a story? Why not visit me instead?
Penta, one of the princesses, had been banished to Earth and had made it back. I had given her my address when we talked about where I lived. Did she find a way to send me this story? After all, Penta had remained evasive when I asked her about traveling between worlds. I hoped this manuscript would explain who sent the fairy tale, but it didn’t.
The story only described events in Kingdom. The tale centered on one of the princesses, Cinderella, and it filled in details of what had happened to her after I left.
I sat on my bed and read it, translating the words to images in my imagination. For the moment, it brought me back to that magical world and my friends—a wonderful Christmas gift. I read the title again and grinned. “For the Girl Who Has Everything.”
And because she always looked dusty and dirty, as if she had slept in the cinders, they named her Cinderella.
Once upon a time in Kingdom, a stranger named Hero—also known as Harold Tray—united five sisters who were destined for the throne. Years before Hero arrived in Kingdom, the princesses lived regular lives unaware of their right to become queens. In those days, the illegitimate King Shade harshly ruled Kingdom. He knew a prophecy transferred the crown to five common women who were separated at birth, but he didn’t know the identity of the five challengers to the throne.
In her early teenage years, Cinderella met Roger by Soro’s Well a short distance from their homes. While each tried their best to suppress their feelings for one another, their friendly talks blossomed into a budding romance. Roger joined the army and left the maiden but talked of her often. Meanwhile, Cinderella lived with a cruel family. She suffered under them while Roger was away. Worried her sweetheart might be killed, she had prayed for his safe return.
From a crushing defeat in a battle, Roger came home a broken man. Cinderella, still passionately in love with him, disguised herself at a local festival and helped him out of his state of despair. They parted abruptly; the lovestruck soldier searched for her everywhere in Kingdom. When Hero and the other princesses met him, Roger was discouraged. But with their help, the lovers reunited. The were interrupted when an advisor to the king and enemy to the princesses arrived and cast a spell to send Roger away before he and Cinderella had more than a few minutes together.
After the sibling quintet confronted their enemy, they made preparations for a battle to overthrow King Shade. Each princess, Snow White, Cinderella, Valencia, Helga, and Penta prepared for the upcoming conflict. Fortunately for them, Penta, the eldest, had the ability to teleport. She could whisk them anywhere they wanted to go in order to recruit allies.
On the day the queens initiated their plan to overthrow King Shade, Penta teleported Cinderella to Roger’s home at her request. After ensuring Cinderella was safe, Penta, her elder sister, disappeared while Cinderella straightened her dirty clothes. She knocked firmly. “Roger. It is I, your Cinderella.”
A loud shuffling on the other side signaled Roger’s approach, and the door flew open. A bearded man with dark eyes and sweeping black hair regarded her with astonishment. “Is it truly you?”
Before she answered him, he swept her up in his arms and twirled her into his house. She noticed then he hadn’t attached his false leg in his hurry to reach the door. One-legged, Roger still lifted her, his rippling muscles barely straining as he set her down. “My dearest.”
They had kissed earlier—their first—but it had been more a gesture of friendship than ardour. With no one around and no danger, he pressed his lips to hers, and she melted in his embrace. Every nerve tingled with delight, and she found she only wanted to be in his arms. Alone with her beloved is what she dreamed of ever since meeting him—not the life of a subservient wife, but the blessing of a romance with her best friend.
When they parted, Roger asked her where she had been. After she related her story, she described the upcoming battle and then embraced and kissed him multiple times. When she pulled away, she said, “I have much to do and little time. My sisters and I have a plan, and I have my share to accomplish.”
“You are not going into battle, are you?” asked Roger. “Your sisters, Helga in particular, will be the ones fighting?”
“I will be there. I have my abilities and…I am a princess. Hero’s world thinks I am this famous celebrity. Celebrity is a new word to our world meaning a person everyone knows. In Kingdom, Maydayla, when she lived, would have been a celebrity. I do not think of myself as a well-known princess, but I must do my part.”
Roger gripped her arms. “War is no place for you.”
“I must overthrow Shade and ascend to the throne. I will be queen.” Her eyes lowered to the floor. “I must. Someone has already died for our cause.”
Roger swallowed. “And then?”
Cinderella leaned back and looked around the room. “Once, becoming your spouse, a farmer’s wife, was my only heart’s desire. But…that time has passed. I have a different destiny.”
“I have reflected on the fact you are now a princess, Cinderella. I would hope, my future queen, you would allow an old friend to visit from time to time.”
She blinked. “Who do you mean?”
Roger grinned. “Why me, of course!”
Cinderella pulled back from him. “But do you not realize? Your destiny has changed as well. I do not kiss a man who I do not intend to…to…you are in this with me. Hero’s tale includes you as well.”
“I am not royalty, Cinderella. As a queen, you must have a life with a man who is good for Kingdom, who brings with him a squadron of loyal soldiers, or conducts a booming commerce, or bonds with species who are not under your control. I am but a poor farmer.” He laughed. “One without land.”
Cinderella stomped her foot. “You speak bogus, Roger!”
“I do not understand the word.”
“’Tis another word Hero taught me from his world. It means false or wrong. I have only recently met my sisters, but I know they will not force a marriage on me I do not want.”
On the word “marriage” Roger’s eyes grew large. Cinderella noticed it and continued. “A connubial relationship is on both of our minds. I wish you had introduced the subject in a more romantic way.”
“How could I possibly ask your hand in marriage? You will be a queen.”
“I dreamed for years of the moment you would ask me to be your wife. We would pass life as simple farmers, but our destinies have changed now. I will be queen. Even so, a future without you is unthinkable.”
Cinderella moved her hand down his arm. “I shall entertain no other offer until I hear yours, but first, the throne.”
“And then we find out whether our relationship will continue. Assuming it will, you must follow Kingdom’s traditions of courting.”
Roger reflected on her statement. “To ask permission for your hand? But your parents are dead. And I will not ask your stepmother.”
“You shall ask my sisters after we ascend to the throne,” she said. “We will determine then whether we can be married. They may have reasons we should remain apart, and I must abide by their decision and not split Kingdom after we have gained it.”
“Though your heart desires our union?” Roger asked.
“You know my heart longs for you. Hero told me my story is as much a romance as an adventure. I want our courtship to be deeply rooted in love.”
Roger squared his shoulders. “Naturally.”
“If our wishes do come true, remember that you gain not only a wife, but also a kingdom,” Cinderella said. “If we marry, you shall become a prince. I am sorry, but life is not simple anymore.”
“Who would have thought the golden slippers you left behind as the mysterious maiden would have led to all of this? You are indeed a changed woman.”
Cinderella lifted her chin. “I now have insight into what I could become—the good and the bad. My dear, I will rule Kingdom, but I will never be truly happy without you.”
But her step-mother and sisters did not know her, and thought she must be a foreign Princess, she looked so beautiful in her foreign dress.
When Penta collected Cinderella to prepare for the upcoming battle, she instructed Roger to meet them at the Inn of Five in the center of Kingdom. Roger knew of the inn but had never visited it.
Roger set off on a journey to the gathering point, and upon arriving, Cinderella greeted him. She presented Roger to her sisters again, and he judged Cinderella to be the most winsome of the princesses. She introduced him to the queens’ many friends and the army they had established in a short time. Cinderella took his hand and presented him to her “buddy” Pennilane, the selkie. The brown-complected woman could pass for human except for one distinguishing feature—her long, white whiskers.
When Cinderella introduced Roger, the selkie’s eyes blazed. “I have met this one before.”
Roger recalled the battle between Pennilane and Helga and how Helga, the warrior princess, had bested the selkie. Resisting the urge to respond in kind, he simply bowed. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Cinderella took both of their hands. “You two are my dearest friends. What is in the past year between you two must remain there. If you want me to be queen, you must first put aside your grievances with one another and work together.”
Pennilane replied, “But Cinderella, he is the one who broke your heart. Furthermore, he is a man. They are all seal slayers.”
“I am a farmer.”
“And yet, you do nothing to prevent the slaughter of my people.”
“Enough!” interrupted Cinderella. “You two shall work together. Promise me!”
They agreed, and while Pennilane was never exactly pleasant, she tolerated Roger. Cinderella left to speak with her sisters and asked her paramour and the selkie to sit together.
In a corner of the inn, while they discussed their past interactions with Cinderella, their mutual friend came to their table. Cinderella patted both of their hands. “We are about to start our speech. My sisters said I have to act serious while we reveal our plan. We will succeed, and this time tomorrow I will return here for the two of you. I shall be queen then.”
Roger and Pennilane both started. Roger asked, “What do you mean you will return here?”
“Surely, you know the two of you will not engage in this battle. I cannot risk my sweetmate and my best friend’s lives.”
Both Roger and Pennilane protested at the same time. Cinderella shook her head as they argued with her. “The queens have agreed to this.”
Pennilane said, “You know I am a good fighter, Cinderella. You need my dagger.”
“And I was a soldier,” added Roger. “I have seen battle. You are the most inexperienced one of the three of us.”
Cinderella straightened her posture. Although still smaller than her friends, she held herself like royalty. “I have a powerful gift—my ability to change the enemy’s loyalty. It shall turn the tide of the battle. You both know of it.” Roger frowned.
“You will let us make up our own minds about this.”
Cinderella stepped back. “We are starting. We will continue this discussion later.”
After the queens’ speech, Cinderella returned to them and told them she would discuss their request to join the battle tomorrow. After she left, Pennilane scrutinized her friend chatting with her sisters. “She is not coming back. She plans to leave us here.”
“She is a terrible liar,” agreed Roger. “I do not plan to stay the night here.”
Pennilane fingered one of her white whiskers. “Penta will teleport the rest, but in her solidarity with Cinderella, she will leave us behind. If we started our journey tonight toward Rafter’s Glen, the site of the battle, we would not make it in one day.”
Roger patted his false leg. “You do not know, young selkie, that I move faster than a human. I have a magical leg. At my top speed, I can make it to Rafter’s Glen in the middle of the night.”
“But how will I get there with you?”
“If you are not too proud,” he answered, “I will carry you.”
“Normally, I would let no man carry me anywhere, but for Cinderella’s sake, I will allow it.”
“Then why do we tarry?”
They left the inn, and under the cover of darkness, Roger picked up the selkie. She frowned but held onto his shoulders. Roger sped off into the night as quickly as a horse.
Then the bird cast down a dress, the like of which had never been seen for splendor and brilliancy, and slippers that were of gold.
Cinderella stood among a group of wyverns and people looking at the ridge of Rafter’s Glen. She and her sisters finished discussing their strategy and everyone dispersed except Snow White. She asked, “You did not check on Roger and Pennilane before you left?”
Cinderella shook her head. “I could not face them this morning. They would not understand why I left them behind.” Snow White smirked.
“I hate to tell you, but they are behind you.”
Cinderella turned around in shock while her lover and her friend approached her. “How did you make it here so quickly?” Her eyes widened with revelation. “Roger! Your leg!”
The soldier rubbed the magical leg. “We knew you would leave us behind.”
Cinderella pointed at them. “Do not make me command you to leave.”
Roger leaned into her finger. “I will not leave you alone to take on the king’s army.”
“Nor I,” said Pennilane.
Their argument attracted Helga’s attention, who wandered over. “Then you shall join us.”
Cinderella turned to face her. “Helga!”
Helga sheathed a knife into a slot on her belt. “We do not have time to discuss what to do with them. Penta will be here in a minute and then we ascend that ridge yonder and begin our campaign. Pennilane, will you carry a shield and cover Cinderella from above fire?”
Pennilane threw back her shoulders. “I will shield her with my body if necessary.”
“And you, Roger, will you join the fray after we are engaged and ensure she is not attacked from behind?”
“I will protect her with my life,” affirmed Roger.
“But Helga—” protested Cinderella.
“I have never thought you were safe enough in our campaign against Shade. Snow has her dwarfs and Valencia, her wishes. Penta’s defense will be her constant motion, and I am my own protection. You are still the most vulnerable.”
Cinderella was about to respond, but Helga cut her off. “Remember, I am the battle leader, Cinderella. You agreed to listen to me.” Cinderella’s eyes narrowed. Helga continued, “And we also agreed you were to remain the farthest back. You need to be careful my brash, young sibling. We shall all be fine if we stick to the plan.”
Penta appeared, acknowledged Roger and Pennilane, and nodded toward the ridge. The sisters advanced.
The Prince danced with her alone, and if any one else asked her he answered, “She is my partner.”
The queens were exhausted after defeating King Shade and establishing their right to rule. Cinderella was in charge of the castle staff, and the queens selected her to prepare the coronation and festival the next day. She spied Roger a few times but was often called away to perform a chore. At the end of the day, she found him and let him know she had selected a room in the castle for him. Their newly-appointed court magician had cast a spell on the castle to keep everyone out except the people they trusted.
She led him to a room one floor below the queens chambers. “Tomorrow, I have asked Pennilane to coronate me.”
“If we are to be married, it will not be proper for you to crown me and for me to turn around and do the same to you.”
Roger rubbed his beard. “Wise. As I said before, build relationships among allies.”
“We are talking about a coronation. Not a wedding.”
As they strolled down a corridor, Roger put his hands behind his back. “And when would you like to be married then?”
They arrived at the door to Roger’s room. “You have not asked, and I have not decided.”
“Decided? Did you not talk of courting before?” asked Roger with some alarm.
“And did you not see how many died on the battlefield for our cause? Were you yourself not attacked multiple times?”
Roger stroked his chin. “All warfare ends in someone’s death, my dear.”
Cinderella rubbed her bloodshot eyes. “After today, I realize the responsibility of this role. Assassins will do their best to kill me, and liars, to discredit me. I am the only one with a true love. They may attack me through you.”
“’Tis the way of life,” said Roger. “Has your affection for me diminished?”
Cinderella’s eyes flashed. “Perish that thought. I am more in love with you than ever. If anything, ’tis why I do not want to marry you. We shall not be the same after we announce the trothplight.”
“All couples change after they are married.”
“Perhaps you could become a secret lover,” she said demurely. “’Tis a romantic idea.”
Roger leaned back. “I am shocked you suggested it.”
Cinderella lowered her head from the admonition. “Oh, I know. A silly thought. I want you to think about this for a long time, my dearest heart. Do not ask me thinking of yourself as a soldier and me as a servant. That time has passed us both by. Our relationship is no longer about true love. Our lives are filled with politics and family and devils now. It is not the same.”
Roger opened his mouth to answer but Cinderella put her index and middle finger over his lips. “I am very tired Roger, and I am afraid I may be misunderstood. Let us talk at the end of the coronation festival.”
Roger inclined submissively, and after they kissed, he entered his room.
But he had laid a plan, and had caused all the steps to be spread with pitch, so that as she rushed down them the left shoe of the maiden remained sticking in it. The Prince picked it up and saw that it was of gold, and very small and slender.
At the end of the three-day festival, Cinderella stood at the top of the castle watching fireworks sparkle in the night sky. Shoulders sagging, she still found delight in the display. The fireworks were the final part of the celebration. After a suggestion from Penta, the magicians had developed a spell to show “lights that explode in the sky,” and now Cinderella’s first duty as queen was complete. Tomorrow would start the difficult yet portentous work of ruling Kingdom.
A footstep fell behind her and she nervously turned around. Roger walked forward, smiling. She knew they had been the center of attention at the final dance of the festival. He had worn a royal yellow and blue uniform, and her blue and golden dress had matched his clothes rather well. She had heard the whispers of how they stared into each other’s eyes. The gossip about them spread like the fireworks above her now.
Roger rocked back and forth next to her. “It is a lovely evening.”
She was exhausted, but she had held this conversation off for too long. He had earned this talk. She took a deep breath and let the night air revitalize her.
Roger put his hands behind his back. “Some would call it a romantic night.”
The fireworks exploded, and above them, blue, red, and green lights sparkled. He turned to Cinderella. “They are pretty colors, my queen.”
“Very much so,” she answered.
“But not as pretty as you are.”
She blushed. “You are exceedingly kind.”
“You are the fairest in the land,” he said. “I will never concede that point. As such, I have a question.”
The queen’s lip protruded. “As I told you, you need to ask my sisters.”
“I have,” said Roger. “Before the festival this morning while you were making sure this day would come off perfectly, which it did. A celebration to go down in Kingdom history.”
Cinderella started to tremble. One of her defenses had fallen. Her sisters had agreed to the union. The request to court her had never truly been in question.
Roger got down on one knee and took her hand gently. Jeweled rings encircled Cinderella’s shaking fingers. Roger cleared his throat. “You told me before that we are not the same. Our lives are now full of politics, and family, and devils. Yet our lives have always been full of those things. What matters most is, in our hearts, we are the same. You may be a queen, but you are also that servant girl with a heart so large she had to share it. I may become a prince, but I am also that soldier who you sought out to share your love with. We have come a long way from the well in our little town, and so has our love. It has expanded, Cinderella.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks as fireworks shimmered behind the couple.
Roger paused then continued. “I do not have any money. I spent it all trying to find you. Even if I had bags of gold, what ring could I possibly buy that surpasses any ring in the royal treasury? I can give you nothing worth more than anything you already own. You are a girl who has everything now.”
She regarded him thoughtfully and was about to speak, but he held up his hand.
“Therefore, I give you the one object that cost me everything. A ring is but a token of our love. I have another token.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the golden slippers and showed them to her. “These slippers allowed your feet to attend the little festival in our town. They carried you while we danced that last night. You left them behind in the tar, and they led me to you.”
Holding the slippers and peering into her clear eyes, he asked, “Will you marry me?”
The lights burst behind her. It was a brilliant blue and white that matched her dress. She said, “Yes.”
He took one of the slippers and carefully positioned it on her foot as he would gently place a ring on her finger. He put the other pantofle on her remaining foot and stood. He took her in his arms, and as they kissed, the magicians below—prompted by the other four queens—created the grand finale.