10. The Ever After
The prince married his Cinder Girl in a grand ceremony at the royal cathedral. Cheering crowds lined the streets, for all the people of Tierra del Maré loved their Prince. And if they loved him a little less than they once had, they hardly noticed it.
They scrambled to pick up the coins he threw as he and his bride rode through the streets. They shouted his name. They shouted compliments to the lovely, sweet girl he had married. They told each other that their charming Prince was truly a good man to have married a commoner for love rather than a princess or noblewoman for wealth.
I doubt they’d have been so kind, if they’d known their Prince had married a witch.
My sisters were not so easily appeased as the general populace. Their missing toes had given them both a grudge against Rian, and the ability to resist his Charm. He had to grovel to gain their forgiveness. They’d been quite attached to their little toes.
In the end, they saw how much he loved me and forgave him. I believe it helped his cause when he convinced his father to create my sisters duchesses. Everyone knows duchesses are far more forgiving than whores.
Lady Minette and Lady Dulcie stayed at Maison d’Aube. They turned the grand old house into a salon for exiled d’Orans. Minette spent some of her new fortune on lessons in reading. And once she got the hang of it, she spent more of her fortune on books. Her collection now rivals the royal library.
Dulcie became a patron of the arts. She takes all manner of artists under her wing. As a result, some of the finest art in all the land—statues, paintings, ballads and poems—depicts the beauty and generosity of the Lady Dulcibella.
The statue of the Lady of Sorrows outside the cemetery bears her face, as does Mirelli’s famous fresco of the Lady of the Sea in the grand hall of the Merchants’ Guild. Next time you go toCommerce Square, observe the statue of the Goddess of Spring. If you manage to drag your gaze from her lovely attributes and examine her bare feet, you will note the right one lacks its smallest toe.
The salon at Maison d’Aube is now a renowned gathering place for intellectuals, artists and luminaries. They hold forth on all manner of philosophy and create clever stories to amuse each other. One such story was Minette’s satiric Cendrillon.
To be truthful, I do not know how it got beyond the doors of Maison d’Aube and began to circulate the land. Dulcie and I laughed and giggled at the tale Minette spun from threads of the neighbor’s gossip and speculation. It was a silly tale of a dull-witted but pretty cinder girl and her terrible stepsisters and a Prince who loved the cinder girl for her dainty feet. It was a jest, you see?
I’ve ordered the bards to stop telling the tale, but they think I am merely humble and tell it anyway. Next time the moon is full, I will craft a spell to strike any bard who sings the tale mute. You think me cruel, but I do not like to hear my sisters slandered so.
You seem surprised I still practice my craft. I do not understand why. I have told you time and again that I am a witch. Did you think I would give up witchery when I became a wife? Despite all I’ve told you, you do not know me.
Less than a year after the wedding, my first and favorite victim, Lord Campos, grew weary of his tribulations and hanged himself. I did not mourn him, but I do miss all the fun I had with the little hex doll I made in his image.
His lands, which abut theDarkForest, reverted to the crown. When the old king died and Rian became King, he awarded Lord Campos’ lands to Sylvie and Raoul. My sister and her husband now happily play lady and lord of the manor while they raise a veritable litter of sharp-toothed children.
I did not fare so well in childbirth as Sylvie. I lost two babes as stillbirths before delivering a sickly girl with a twisted foot. We named her Nieves and we love her completely. Shortly after her birth, some lords and councilors complained of her imperfections—her gender, her pale coloring, her twisted foot, her frail health—and urged me to risk my life and my heart again to give their King a son.
I cursed them all with impotence. Their complaints ceased, though now they look at me in fear.
Within five years of her birth, Nieves put all complaints to rest. Her foot remains twisted, but she outgrew her sickliness and grew into her pale skin and over-sized eyes. Her hair, like Rian’s, is black as a raven’s wing. Her skin—like mine, beneath my freckles—is pale as snow. She is beautiful, and the people love her for it.
The people do not know Nieves is also clever, adept at magic, and just the slightest bit wicked. She has her father’s gentle nature, and my taste for vengeance. She will make a great queen when we are gone, I am sure of it.
As king, Rian cares little for the business of ruling. He would much rather spend his time with our daughter and me, or with his horses and hounds. I take care of the tasks that go with running the kingdom. As I did at Maison d’Aube, I make the rules, keep the books, and keep the peace. I encourage commerce and punish our enemies.
Running a whorehouse was surprisingly good training for running a government. The land has prospered under my guidance. The merchants are wealthy, the peasants are fat, and the streets are filled with art and commerce.
I am a good queen but despite all I’ve done, some enemies whisper I am wicked. They whisper I’ve a magic mirror that allows me to spy on any who oppose me. Poor dears, they cover their mirrors when they talk treason, but they never spare a glance askance for their hearth fires or their candle flames.
I do not deny I’ve a collection of hex dolls, and a collection of pins to go with it. But it does not make me wicked. I see no wickedness in protecting my husband, my family, and my people. After all, minor sins may serve a greater good.
And there you have the whole of it, the truth behind the tale of the Cinder Girl and the Charming Prince. All ended happily, but you do not seem happy to have heard it. Why not? Oh, I understand. You wanted to see heroes rewarded and villains punished. You wanted the prince to be noble and his princess to be kind.
Poor dear. I warned you this story was no fairy tale.
More fairy tales by Bettie Sharpe…
Cat’s Tale: A Fairy Tale Retold
Try out a new spin on the classic fairy tale of Puss-in-Boots in the novella Cat’s Tale: A Fairy Tale Retold from Carina Press.