Good afternoon lovely readers! This week I am trying something a little different. It’s still one of the prompts that I tried at Nano, but it has a somewhat darker tone (though not as dark as the prompt where I wrote from the point of view of the cereal killer!). It’s also written in the present tense, and I generally write in the past. Experiments all around! It is a bit of a fairy tale retelling, but with an unexpected twist. I don’t think I’ll continue it. It would make a good book, but not one I feel really able to write.
Still, it was a fun exercise. I hereby present you with:
The Cinderella Network
The palace garden is a diamond spectacle with the early winter frost. I turn the bracelet on my wrist, forcing myself not to shiver. I’m alone with the prince, and that is all that matters.
The faint strains of a sappy waltz drift in the air, the same waltz that played at the last five bride-finding balls. Were there any other waltzes in the world? If we ladies have to change our dresses at least five times a day, surely the princes can find musicians that know more than one tune?
This prince is a warm line of heat down my back. He is taller than me, at least, though in every other way he resembles much of his brethren. Entitled brats, the lot of them. Heavy fabric settles over my shoulders. The prince’s ornate coat, gallantly serving to ward off the chill.
I lean out to brush my fingertips against a nearby branch, laced with frost. The motion covers my rolling eyes well. The same moves. All of them. Now he will say that I am too beautiful for this garden, or something equally foolish.
“So, how many have you killed, Cinderella?”
It takes everything I have not to jump at my name, a name I haven’t heard in years. I stare hard at the frosted garden, making sure nothing will show on my face when I turn and say, “Your highness?”
“You’re very good.” He’s moved out of easy touching range. “I was almost fooled, but no one is that innocent?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about, your highness. You invited me to your ball.”
“Drop the act.” He slips further away. “You killed my cousin, last, you know. And it’s always the same. A mysterious girl comes late to the ball. She’s beautiful, captivating. The prince is smitten, dances with her all night. But she flees as the clock strikes midnight, leaving the prince gasping in the garden.”
“You are telling a fairy story, your highness.” Not mine. I’m a member of the network, not the first Cinderella
“I’m telling the truth.”
I let the act drop. “If you like. Do you know what all of those princes were guilty of? What they did to defenseless maids and serving girls in taverns?”
I could see by the look in his eye that he knew. He knew, and he didn’t care. I fiddled with my bracelet.
“Is that how you do it?” He nods at the bracelet without moving a step closer.
I smile over at him. “Yes, would you like to see?”
He backs away as if from a snake. “I’ve taken precautions, you know. There are guards surrounding the entire garden. You won’t be able to escape.”
No. No traps. I will never be caged again.
The prince glows with triumph. “One shout from me and they will come running.”
I resist the urge to snort. They can’t be placed too close, or they would have come as soon as we started talking. There’s a chance.
The prince is still gloating, sure in his success. “We couldn’t be sure you would show, of course. We spread news of the ball far and wide, but you have not come to all the bride-finding balls. I’m glad it will be my ball where you are caught.”
I glare at him, fists clenching. “All of you are exactly the same. You find one woman, think her pretty, and discard her once you’ve finished with her.”
“What? Did that first prince leave you weeping?”
“I never weep.” I tap my foot on the smooth stones of the balcony. Two taps, and the poisoned knife emerges just beyond my toes. Glass slippers are pretty, but these are much more practical. “And no, he offered marriage. The wealth of the kingdom and a chance to rule at his side as queen.”
The prince steps closer, as if he can’t help it. “Then why kill him? He’d done you no wrong.”
I lean forward just a bit, to give the prince a good view. He takes another step forward. A fire starts raging in my blood, ready for the fight.
“I also watched as he searched the kingdom for me. I heard what was said about the girls who didn’t fit. The ones that tried and were discarded.” I keep my voice low as I recount the first story, the rhythm soothing.
“What about them?” Another step.
“Do you have any idea what happened to those girls after? He wasn’t just trying on shoes, with the amount of hasty marriages he left in his wake. Half the children born that year bear the prince’s blood.” I’d been one of the discards, and the blind rage takes over, quickening my blood.
His gaze travels between my mouth and my breasts, and he licks his lips. “That’s only right. You teased him, left him wanting. It’s your fault he had to slake his interest elsewhere.”
“I’m not responsible for the tantrum of a child.” The words are vicious, but quiet.
He shifts backwards. Damn.
I slip off the bracelet and offer it to him. “Please. You must understand that my stepmother would never have allowed me to go to the prince. I wanted to, you know?”
He holds out a handkerchief to drop the bracelet into. “Of course you did.”
I grasp his arm. “And you’re so much more clever than he was, to figure me out.”
I press up against him, thrusting my leg between his. With a groan, he pulls me in for a kiss. The scrape of the knife through the stocking at his ankle is almost an afterthought.
I let him have the kiss. The poison will take him soon.
As I leave the ball, I exchange glances with the girls lined up for the slaughter. One winks at me. A new recruit for the Cinderella Network.
Sometimes, I don’t need to leave a slipper on the stair.