Just as the night was at its darkest and Prince Charming was about to give up, he arrived at the final house in the final town. With a heavy heart, he slid from his horse and gestured to his footman to knock on the door. As soon as the man did so, the prince could hear excited shrieks from within. He rested his forehead on his hand and shut his eyes as he prepared himself for the next set of imposters.
When the door opened, a stern and upright woman stared at him with a hard expression. Behind her, two below-average looking girls watched him with hungry expressions. He tried not to cringe.
“Lady Tremaine, the prince would like to request any young girls in this residence to try on this glass slipper to see if it fits,” the steward said. The woman looked down on the man and raised an eyebrow.
“Make it quick,” she said. She stepped out of the house and allowed the two girls, presumably her daughters, to exit as well. The ungainly pair giggled and fluttered their eyelashes. The prince almost hoped the shoe would fit one of them. At least his search would be over.
“Anastasia, you first,” the lady commanded. The shorter of the two girls stepped forward. She extended her foot, her face taking on an expression of utmost concentration. One of the prince’s men attempted to put the slipper on the girl. It didn’t fit.
The girl looked close to tears. Her lips quivered and her eyes were more bulbous than ever. The prince sighed. “My apologies, fair lady,” he said. “It appears the shoe does not fit.” Anastasia shivered and went back to her mother.
The other daughter, Drizella, stepped forward next. Her face seemed indifferent at first glance, but the prince could see the thin sheen of perspiration from the reflection of the lanterns’ light. She closed her eyes and stuck her foot out. The prince forced himself to watch. He was already prepared to leave, but it was common courtesy not to turn his back.
“Your highness,” his man said. The prince sighed once more.
“Well then, let’s be on our way,” he said. The man shook his head.
“It fits!” he said. The prince stared. He stepped forward and bent down. By god, it was a perfect fit. He tilted his head upwards so fast he felt his neck snap. Was this the girl? He wondered as he looked into this woman’s face. Was she the one that he’d met all these nights? She’d seemed so different.
“Mother!” The girl was beside herself with joy. Prince Charming looked on with an uneasy heart. As he’d given his word, this girl was to be his wife. His queen. He raised his eyes to the heavens. Had the grandeur and mystery of the ball caused him to lose his senses? He was sure he’d never fall for such a strange creature.
As his eyes looked upwards, he caught a movement in one of the windows of the house. The shadow was gone before he could get a good look. Had it been a woman? He forced himself to look at his betrothed. It didn’t matter. This was who he’d be spending his life with.
“Shall we get going, my dear?” he said. He decided to make the best of it. After all, his expectations might have been raised too high. What he’d loved about his mystery girl at the ball was not her looks but her humble and caring demeanor. Although he hadn’t seen this yet, he was sure the startling developments had simply startled the poor girl to act out of character.
“I’m ready,” Drizella said. She took the prince’s offered hand and swung herself onto the horse. “Let’s get going. I can’t wait to see the palace.”
“Your family has to get ready,” he said. She held up her hand. The prince was startled into silence.
“They can come in their own time. I’m sure you’ll provide everything I need at the palace.” She narrowed her eyes.
“Of course,” the prince said. Had the past few nights been a lie?
He got on his own horse, his heart heavier than when he’d arrived. Drizella climbed on behind and held him, her arms like a vice. The prince turned to bid farewell to his in-laws.
Then, he saw her. The innocent eyes. The delicate face. His princess. Or, so he’d thought. The unfaltering grip around his waist reminded him of who his princess really was. The slipper had fit Drizella, after all. The other girl appeared to be a servant of some kind. It was unlikely she’d ever been to his ball at all.
The prince turned away from the Tremaine family. He’d have time to get to know them—and his wife-to-be—for the rest of his life.