I appreciate the glass shoes, and I never thought to own something so beautiful, but they are not made for cobblestones. They are rigid and slick, and I’m afraid I’m going to break my ankle before I ever get to dance.
Is my godmother watching? Can she read my mind? Something has happened to the shoes, but there is so much dress, I can’t see my feet. Beautiful dress, no feet. The skirt is huge, but as I climb the stairs to the palace I can push it back just far enough to peek at them. One step they were glass, the next step they are the softest leather I have ever worn, even more than in the days when people loved me and dressed me like a doll. They are still clear like glass, but flexible like leather. How does she do that?
I hope that I am going the right way. I’ve come after the start, so there is no crowd to follow. This way looks right, like someone left behind a big, torch-lit arrow with the words “Ball this way.” I dash down the long tree-lined path up to the huge double doors. What is on the other side of those doors? Do the doors open into the ballroom? Will I walk directly into the kitchen, and they will assume I am there to work because no beautiful dress can hide the truth?
Knocking gets no response, so I push. The doors are massive, at least three feet over my head and thick as a man’s leg, but I have five years of wash buckets and bushels of food behind me. I push them open into an antechamber hung with heavy gold drapes and colorful paintings. There is furniture, also, benches covered with hunt scenes in needlepoint and little tables to hold delicate cups and plates from the buffet. Across the room is a large arched opening which I know from the music and crowd noise is the right place. I cross to the opening, step out, and…. I’m on the top landing of the great staircase.
The urge to run overwhelms me, but every part of my body is paralyzed except my eyes. I look out over the crowd, and Prince Christopher is so easy to pick out. I would have recognized that he is a prince even if I didn’t know it was so. He stands so straight and proud, and with such confidence. He has never wondered if he had the right to be any place.
He’s staring at me. Everyone is staring at me. They are thinking, “Who is she who would come so late to an invitation from the king?” It is unheard of. It is unthinkable. It must not be allowed. I had planned to sneak in, blend in, be invisible. Of course, if I had entered in my customary frock, the same tattered peasant dress I have worn every day for the last three years, covered in ashes and dust, they wouldn’t have spared me a thought. Floating in on a cloud of pink organza and lace is a little more noteworthy. I brush my hand across my face trying to wipe away years of dirt. I know the dress is worth admiring, but is it possible they are staring because my godmother forgot to clean my face when she decked me out like a princess? No turning back now. I pick my way carefully down the wide marble staircase. Thank goodness the steps are worn rough where hundreds of feet have entered hundreds of events for hundreds of years so that the smooth soles of my new shoes don’t slide out from under me.
Here comes the prince across the dance floor, and people are parting for him like the Red Sea. He is going to reach the bottom of the stairs at the same time I do. Why is he doing that? Is he coming to send me out?
I take a deep breath. He can’t possibly know I don’t belong. The ball was open to everyone, and my godmother promised no one would recognize me. Even my family will not know who I am. I am just one of the dozens of young ladies come to gaze longingly at the prince. The room is filled to overflowing with them.
So why is he coming to meet me? Did he come to meet them all?
He bows, and I respond with the appropriate curtsy, all the way to the ground, rising carefully and gracefully just as my mother taught me. My real mother. I am afraid to look him in the face, but I must. I raise my eyes slowly, and it is a very kind face with a sweet, curious smile. His eyes are actually sparkling, completely void of contempt or suspicion. He is glad to see me. He must have me confused with someone else.
“Hello,” he says. “I am Christopher.” As if I didn’t know.
“Your Royal Highness,” I say bowing my head and dipping into another curtsy.
“Christopher.” He reaches for my hand and pulls me up. I feel as though I have trespassed into the aura of royalty that surrounds him, but it is he who has brought me here. “May I have this dance?” he asks.
No, no, no, no, no! I cannot let him pull me close to his body. He will know that I am not one of them, and I am not supposed to be here. What if he feels the calluses on my hands? What if I step on his foot? What if I trip on this monstrous skirt? What if he does? But how do you tell a prince “No?”
He leads me into the middle of the big, empty floor. His face is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and I fist my free hand to overcome the impulse to push stray hair out of his eyes. How can a prince have an unruly strand of hair?
He swings me into position and places his hand on my back as though he would like to pull me much closer. The musicians strike up a waltz, and he takes command with sure, graceful steps. I completely surrender my body to him, and he whirls me around in perfect rhythm. As we pass around the room I notice the other people looking at us, but they are no longer of any consequence. It is only him and me and the music.
The music winds down. I silently plead for it to go on forever, but of course it cannot. He picked me for the first dance, and that is a great honor. All of the other girls are burning with jealousy now, and I can savor the joy of that for the rest of my life. He backs away as he should to bow very graciously as he should. I curtsy deeply as I should, and the moment of sheer wonder is over.
What? He has taken my hand again, and as the musicians play another waltz, this one more rigorous, he glides me skillfully around the dance floor dodging all the other couples who have joined us. He lifts me as though I weigh no more than a child, and I can’t help laughing. I am flying! This is so much fun! When was the last time I had fun?
He is speaking to me, but I can’t hear him over the music so I lean my ear closer to his mouth. “What is your name?” he asks. His breath tickles my ear.
He is scrutinizing my face as I struggle. How do I answer? I do not want to be disrespectful, but my name will give me away whether anyone recognizes me or not. “A woman has secrets, Your Highness.”
“Her name is not usually one of them, my lady.”
“Perhaps not, but it is one of mine.” Do I appear flirtatious? I’m trying hide behind being flirtatious.
“What then shall I call you?” He is grinning. It is a game, and he is happy to play.
“I will allow you to pick a name for me, Your Highness. It will be my name only for you.”
We stop dancing, and he steps back to look at me like a mare he is planning to breed. The people around us look at us with curiosity, but this is between him and me. Only him and me. I turn back and forth so he can get a good look. He pulls me back into his arms, and we resume our dance. “I believe you look like an Alice,” he teases. “I shall call you Alice.”
“Alice?” I say, amused. “Do I really look like an Alice?”
“Yes, you do. So Alice,” he says, “Where have you come from?”
“Another mystery, my dear lord,” I reply.
“I see I shall have to invent that also. Alice, you are making me work very hard.” He looks thoughtful. “I believe you are from the mountains. It is very easy to hide up there in the mountains. So you are Lady Alice from the mountains.”
The music stops, and I curtsy. “You do me great honor, Your Highness.”
“Christopher,” he says. “Call me Christopher. You are most welcome. Now, another dance.”
Grand Duke dances over with Addy Baeder. She and I started out as playmates when we were in the nursery and took lessons together as we became young ladies, but she was one of the first to turn on me after father died. Their dancing is not as graceful as ours because they are burning holes through us with their eyes. “Ignore them,” whispers the prince. “Perhaps they will go away.”
The duke taps the prince on the shoulder so we have no choice but to stop. “Nephew, may I present Lady Adeline Baeder. Lady Adeline, His Royal Highness, Prince Christopher of Schonertraum.” Addy curtsies and almost falls over. She has always had the grace of a rampaging hippopotamus.
“And who is this noble woman?” He is smiling, but his eyes are cold.
“This is Lady Alice of Spiegelland,” he says with a wink at me.
The duke notices the glance between us. “Shall we switch partners? I will gladly take a turn with this lovely lady, and you can get to know the remarkable Lady Adeline.”
Bowing deeply, Christopher takes my hand and kisses it. “Excuse me, Lady Alice. Lady Adeline, shall we dance?” He whirls her off with energy fueled by carefully masked irritation. It is very satisfying to see that Addy is stumbling to keep up.
The duke takes my hand with a vice grip. He pulls me much closer to him than is necessary, squeezing me against the paunch that is straining the buttons of his waistcoat. I try to squirm away like an animal caught in a trap.
“Tell me your name again, my lady.” His breath smells of whiskey instead of wine, and I panic that his alcohol fed anger might force me into a revelation I dare not make, or worse, into a position from which there is no rescue.
“My name is Alice, Your Grace,” I respond trying again to put some space between us.
“And where did you say you are from Lady Alice?” He’s squinting as though he could see through my skin to the truth of me.
“I am from the province of Spiegelland, Your Grace. I am not often to the palace.”
“Spiegelland? I have never known such a place, and I know every inch of this kingdom.”
“We are well away from everything else in the mountains, a very small place with no notable resources.”
“You should at least appear on the tax rolls.”
“We pay our share of the taxes with Hinderland, my lord. I assure you the crown receives everything we owe.”
“And you have never been presented at court?”
“So grand a court has surely never missed the presence of one inconsequential subject.”
“Modestly spoken, my lady. How do you come to be here now? Do you expect to become a princess? If so, this air of mystery does not give purchase to your cause.”
“I have no designs on a title. I have come merely to appreciate the grandeur of the palace. I have heard many stories of great celebrations here, but I believe there have been none since we lost our queen.”
The duke did not flinch. “It is true this is the first time the palace has been open for many years, and it is also true that an event given by our king is not to be missed. With no presence in the kingdom, however, how could we have known to send you an invitation?”
“I beg your pardon, sir. I did not know an invitation was required. I understood that it was open to all.”
He smirked in recognition of a fair retort. “And so it was.”
We are moving, but I would hardly call it dancing, particularly after the athletic performance of the prince. The duke dances like a man who is well-trained but cannot stand the art. His face is so close that all I can see are his small, shrewd eyes scanning mine for the truth. I believe he is hoping to catch me in some intrigue and have me arrested. Far worse will happen to me if I am caught, a kitchen wench cavorting with a prince. Can he feel my heart fluttering like a captured bird? I have to get away.
I twist in his arms to break his embrace. “Please excuse me, Your Grace,” I say on an expelled breath, dropping a quick curtsy. “I fear I must away to the ladies parlor.” And I am gone before he can speak a word of protest.
The swirling dancers give me much needed cover as I rush toward the grand staircase. The footman at the bottom directs me to the top of the stairs and right where I find the quarters reserved for ladies to rest and renew themselves. They are magnificently appointed. The walls are covered with paintings of ladies in various states of dressing and interaction with each other, from tête-à-tête gossiping to tea parties. The elegant benches are covered with red velvet that is worn but still soft, and maids hover nearby to bring whatever ladies require to refresh and revive.
As I make my way over to an available seat, I cannot fail to hear the conversation of a group of women seated in front of the largest, floor-to-ceiling mirror, blocking it from the use of any besides themselves. I recognize two of the voices as my stepsisters, Prunella and Drusella, but I trust that my godmother is as good as her word.
“She would hardly be welcome if the ball was not open to all,” Drusella, the older of my two stepsisters, is saying. “Her father lost all of his wealth when the monsoon destroyed his entire fleet of ships in China. That is why she is wearing the same gown she wore to her entré party last year. Can you see how she has grown so fat the seams have been let out?”
“I heard that they had to let go most of their servants,” said another young “lady” whom I recognize as Clara Franken. We were all children together training as proper young ladies until it became improper to know me.
“It is true,” assured Delia Dorn, taking great pleasure in her knowledge. “Mámá hired her lady’s maid for me, because having only one was not nearly enough to meet all of my needs.”
Prunella, my younger stepsister, spoke up with a toss of her head, “If she has no maid, it is no wonder she looks such a mess. She must have curled her hair herself for it to be such a bird’s nest. Mother would never let us out of the house looking so.”
I want to scream at her, to yank out the ribbons I so carefully braided into her hair and rip off the lace I spent hours sewing onto her dress. Looking away to regain my composure, I notice that across the room sits another girl, her head bowed, her blond ringlets obscuring her face. As I watch, she wipes away a tear with a crumpled handkerchief. She appears a little younger than the rest, and I do not recognize her. She is the one about whom they are talking, making sure they are loud enough for her to hear. My blood boils, and my heart breaks.
I assume the bench next to hers and pretend to casually primp in the mirror. “My goodness the vigor of the dance does cause me to glow,” I say to strike up a conversation. “Do you find the same?”
She sniffs, but does not lift her head.
I put my hand on her shoulder to leave no doubt that I am talking to her. “I am Alice,” I say as kindly as I can. “What is your name?”
Her training wins out, and she cannot be rude. “I am Ermengarde,” she responds, her voice wavering.
“So nice to meet you, Ermengarde. Are you enjoying the ball?” A stupid question, obviously she is not. It is, however, the commonly accepted start to ball-appropriate conversation.
She gives an acceptable answer, though I can read the truth behind her careful response. “It is magnificent,” she says. “I am overwhelmed by its grandeur. Surely our king has a great love for his people.”
“Ermengarde,” I say in a low voice, “I can hear those women, and they are being extraordinarily unkind. You look lovely, although crying has made your nose red. Let’s chat, shall we, until you feel better.”
She finally sits up to look me fully in the face. In fact, she is not lovely. Her features are heavy for a woman, and her ringlets, so carefully done, cannot hide the fact that her hair is thin and limp. But her face, however homely, is kind and intelligent, and her eyes are a very nice, warm shade of brown. I think we shall be friends. “You look beautiful,” she sniffs. “The prince can’t take his eyes off you.”
“Thank you,” I reply, knowing that if she had a fairy godmother she too would be beautiful. “The prince is noticing everyone tonight.”
“Perhaps, but he looks happy when he is with you.”
I close my eyes against the sudden rush of feeling, and I think she is startled to see that her words could move someone so.
“It is true, you know,” she says with a sniff.
“Thank you,” I whisper. “I hope so.”
The conversation at the other side of the room has fallen silent as the vicious vipers realize that Ermengarde is talking with the mysterious belle of the ball. They rush over, and I quickly move my seat closer to my new friend so that they cannot come between us. That does not stop them from trying. “How wonderful to see you!” Drusilla gushes. “I am certain we have met before, perhaps at the last entré? Were you presented?”
God, how I hate her. “I was presented elsewhere,” I lie. “I doubt you would have been there.”
They are silent a moment while this tidbit soaks in, then Prunella resumes their indelicate interrogation. “I gather you have come from some distance,” she states, expecting that I will accept it as a question.
Absolutely not. She is going to have to work for it. “Not really,” I answer vaguely.
“I did not see your escort when you came in,” posed Lacey Monteverde. I have known Lacey all my life, and she is as shallow and conniving as my stepsisters. I always hated her.
“I am unescorted,” I reply, enjoying the scandal such a situation causes.
“That was wise,” oozes Drusilla unpleasantly. “It makes you much freer with the prince.”
“I’m sorry?” I reply, knowing what she means but forcing her to say it.
“I just mean that you can dominate his attention without responsibility to any other.”
“Ah,” I reply. “I suppose so. I never thought of it that way.” I’ve had enough, so I stand to leave. “Ermengarde, shall we return to the ball? I feel that I have rested enough, don’t you?” I sweep out, pushing a very startled Ermengarde ahead of me.
As we descend the stairs, I scan the crowd for the Grand Duke. He must be avoided at all costs. I do not see him, but I do catch the eye of the prince who makes his way to meet me again at the bottom of the stairs. He bows to us both, and with apologies to Ermengarde pulls me away. He leaning close, his breath tickles my ear as he speaks. “Save me,” he whispers. “I can bear no more talk of breeding and situation. I don’t know if I am buying cattle or hiring a secretary.”
I chuckle at his description, and I can see the desperation in his eyes. “I am happy to serve my prince in whatever way he desires,” I say not meaning for it to come out quite so suggestively.
He smiles and lifts me off my feet to sweep me onto the dance floor. The prince’s body is far stronger and more powerful than the duke’s, and I melt willingly into his embrace.
“So tell me Alice,” he says as we dance, “how are you enjoying the ball?”
“I will say with all honesty, Your Highness…” I begin.
“Christopher,” he interrupts.
“Christopher,” I respond with a smile. “I will say with all honesty, Christopher, that I enjoy the ball as long as I am with you.”
His teasing look softens to sincerity. “My lady Alice,” he responds, “I can say the same.”
We do not speak again, but I cannot take my eyes off of his face as we move around the dance floor around and between the other couples. This time I do not worry about being clumsy. He and I move in perfect synchronicity.
The dance stops, and he bows. As the music begins again, I see Ermengarde standing off to the side, trying to disappear into the crowd. “Christopher,” I lean in to whisper, “do you see that girl standing by herself?”
“Yes,” he says suspiciously. “What about her?”
“That group of women standing close by, but not including her?”
“Yes. What about it?”
“Those women are saying that she does not belong here. They say well within her hearing that she is too ugly and poor for you to ever take notice of her.”
He stops and draws himself up, a shadow passing over his good humor. “Oh she is, is she? She is not you, none of them is you, but she absolutely has the same right to be here as they do.” He leads me to the side and bows. “Please excuse me, my lady.”
He heads straight for Ermengarde and speaks to her as the little clique is stunned into silence. She nods, and he leads her onto the dance floor. As I watch them, I am so pleased and enchanted by his kindness that I do not notice the young man who has sidled up to me. “My lady,” he says confidently, as though no one has ever spurned him, “May I have this dance?”
He is handsome enough, in a slick, self-satisfied way, and I instantly dislike him. Propriety rules, however, and so I must accept. “I thank you, kind sir,” I respond as I should.
His hand is cool and moist like the frogs in the pond, and I want more than anything to wrench mine away from his and go wash. Instead I turn to face him and adopt a formal dancing position with rigid arms to hold myself well away from him. He is pressing on my back, trying to press me closer to his body, but I do not want to be closer to him. He smells like a woman, as though he bathed in gardenia scented water, and his hair is slicked back with some kind of oil. Can this dance be over yet?
“I am so glad to meet you…”
“I am so pleased to meet you, Lady Alice. I am Frederick, Duke of Kalterfisch.”
“I am honored, my lord duke.”
“We have not met before, my lady, though I believed that all the noble families of our small country were acquainted.” Everybody is trying to be the one to get my story. If I was going to tell anyone it wouldn’t be this bleating goat.
“My home in the mountains is too far away to offer the opportunity for an introduction to powerful families such as yours, my lord.” Is it too soon to beg to be excused?
“Well then, I am most pleased to meet you now. Where are you staying?”
“I am not staying near the palace. I fear I must away to home tonight.”
“Nonsense. A lady such as yourself must rest after so strenuous an evening. I insist that you be our guest. We will treat you like a queen. Tomorrow, when you are revived, I will offer my services as an amiable guide of our beautiful countryside.”
Amiable guide? Amiable to doing what is necessary to compromise my honor. “I fear I am here only for the ball, though your offer is greatly appreciated. Perhaps another time?” Another time after pigs fly?
“I insist. Allow me a stroll in the garden to persuade you.”
I can imagine what he wants to show me in the garden. I may not have experience with men, but the other serving girls in the village have talked, and it is clear that most men have only one thing on their minds. Becky the farmer’s daughter fell prey to one of these noble young stallions, and now at my same age she has three children and no husband to show for it.
Still, he has to get past the dress. It surrounds me like a fortress.
“Since you offer so graciously, I don’t see how I can refuse.” Though I certainly wish I could.
The young duke reaches for my hand, but I very quickly lift it to smooth my hair and begin walking toward the garden. I’m not sure what he intends to show me, but then he has no idea that, unlike him, I know the names and growing habits of every plant we see. As we stroll, he makes a quick side-step and grabs my wrist before I can pull it away. He tries to lead me behind a hedge as though I will go willingly, and when I don’t, he drags me. Once we are out of sight, he pushes me against the wall.
He clamps his mouth over mine. I have never been kissed, but I do not believe that this is the same experience the poets celebrate. The wine has gone sour in his mouth, and the taste of it repulses me to the point of nausea. His chosen fragrance is far too sweet for a man, and it is so strong it makes me see spots. I push against him, but he has me pinned, and there is nothing I can do to stop him from pawing at the neckline of my gown. I try to stomp on his foot, try to knee him between the legs, to slide down and out from under his iron embrace, but he will not let go.
“Frederick!” growls a voice, and a hand appears over his shoulder. The hand pulls him away and throws him on the ground. “Are you alright?” he asks, tenderly stroking my cheek. I nod, and he turns to the man still splayed on the ground. “I believe you are done for the evening, cousin. Kindly leave my sight until you have learned the proper way to treat a lady.” His words are measured and controlled, but his voice tells of barely contained ferocity. Frederick makes a hasty retreat.
“My dear Alice,” Christopher says softly. “Let us stay a while in the gardens. I am tired of fun and revelry, and I need a respite from all the joviality and flattery.”
“You are not what I expected of a prince,” I begin.
“What did you expect?”
“I thought you would be many things that you are. Handsome, elegant, well-spoken, gracious.”
“Thank you most kindly for the compliments, my lady, but how do you find me different?”
A deep breath for courage. “For one thing, Your Highness, your hands are rough. You have known hard work, I think.”
“I can return the observation to you. Most young ladies of leisure have spent their hours learning womanly skills. They master fine needlework, drawing, music, and of course, the management of a household. Such women have smooth skin and soft bodies.” He takes my hand, and I close my eyes to focus on his touch. “To be sure your face is lovely and soft, but your hands bear the calluses and strength of hard work.” He raises my hand and kisses the palm. “I am intrigued by the mystery of a woman of noble birth who has deterred so profoundly from the occupations of her station.”
It is hard to keep my wits when he is so close, but I am so afraid of his reaction to the truth that I return the question to him. “Why did you?”
“My father feels that in order for a king to understand the needs of his people, he should see the world through their eyes. What are the concerns of a blacksmith, or a farmer, or a baker? What are the difficulties awaiting a merchant when he opens his store or stall every day? When a woman is surrounded day in and day out by a mob of active children, how does she manage to feed and clothe them? My father has sent me to live and work with people such as these since I have been old enough and strong enough to be helpful to them.”
“That and learning the skills of a king?”
“My father would say that is learning the skills of a king. And what of you? Did your parents feel the same?”
“My mother taught me the things that you spoke of before, preparing me to be an appropriately elegant young lady…”
“But you resisted appropriateness, didn’t you?” he interrupted me with a grin and a twinkle in his eye. “I sense that your interests reach far beyond the drawing room of your stately manor.”
He wants me to be different from the others. “You are very insightful, Your Highness…”
“Christopher…” he interrupts, again.
“You are very insightful, Christopher. My mother often found her efforts thwarted by my father who gave me all the opportunities that he would have given a son. I learned about math, natural philosophy, and the great stories of history.”
“An education not so different from my own,” he says. “And you have had to labor since? That does not seem to go with your grace and breeding.”
“I thank you for the compliment, and I ask you please to inquire no more into my condition. The memories are painful, and it is pointless to dwell in them.” I hate to spoil the moment, but I feel I must. “If I had come to the ball in rags, would you still have favored me?’
“You would not have come to the ball in rags. Your upbringing would never have permitted such a thing.”
He was right. Had I not surrendered to my despair when my stepmother ripped my self-fashioned gown right off my back? Had I not dissolved into a puddle of tears? I would certainly not have come had my magical godmother not come to my rescue. Still, there was no denying the facts. “And if you found me in rags outside of the ball? What then would you say?”
He rubbed his thumb across my cheek to wipe away tears I had not yet shed. “If I found you in rags, I would ask for your story, my Alice, because most certainly you did not start life that way.” He leans in and kisses me.
I close my eyes and focus all of my senses on the pinpoint of our joining. This is the first kiss of the poets’ songs. He tastes of fresh strawberries and apple wine. He smells of the clean fragrance of soap mingled with the earthy maleness of vigorous exercise. I surrender completely to the soft press of his mouth and the warm strength of his embrace.
Breathless we part. He pulls my hand up between us to measure mine against his. “Small but mighty,” he says and brings it to his lips. I have to smile at that, and a chuckle rumbles through his chest against my cheek. “I believe you could do some serious damage with these hands, Alice.”
“Ella,” I whisper. “My name is Ella.”
“My lady Ella,” he whispers back. “All the better.” He kisses me again.
In the distance, the great clock in the town tower tolls the half-hour. It is 11:30, and my time is nearly up.
But how? How can I leave him? I must tear my heart out of my body and leave it behind. It will never belong to me again. How can I tell him I must go?
There is nothing else to do. “Christopher, I must go.”
“Never, my lady. I will have you by my side for the rest of my days.”
My heart breaks.
“No, my lord, it cannot be.” The tears roll down my cheeks, and my breath catches in my chest. “I cannot stay.”
He pulls away to examine my face, but does not loosen his embrace. “I forbid it.”
I smile at him though I can see only the shadowy outline and muted colors of him through my tears. “It is not yours to forbid.” I twist as I did with the duke to break free of his arms. “You must let me go.”
There is a ring of panic in his voice. “Why did you come for me if you knew that you could not stay?”
“I did not come for you,” I choke out, backing away. “I did not expect to be with you at all. I did not dream that I would never be the same without you.”
I know that he will never let me go, so I turn and run into the maze of the vast palace gardens where I can hide so he will never find me. The problem is, of course, that I also cannot find my way out, and time is ticking away. I run down one path and into a hedge as forbidding as a stone wall. Back down that path to where it meets another, but that one takes me to another barrier. Back to the intersection and down the remaining path which is finally the right one. Am I panting from the exertion or from fear? No matter, because either way my corset is too tight for me to fill my lungs. I am afraid I will pass out, and they will find me lying on the ground in the tattered rags of my original dress, dirt caking my hair and ashes on my face. As the clock begins its tolling of midnight, I break out of the maze and see my carriage parked with the others, my lizard footman beckoning for me to run.
Behind me, near the other entrance to the maze, the prince bursts out of the hedge. He sees me and yells for me to stop, but I cannot no matter how much I want to. Whatever I might have been for the night, by the light of day I am a housemaid, and one such as I is no worthy match for a prince.
What is happening to my feet? The shoes have become hard and unyielding. Lifting my skirt to run down the stairs I can see that they have one again become glass. Glass shoes? What could be the purpose of that? Why now when I need to run?
I look back at the prince, gaining on me as he runs because his shoes are not made of glass, they are soft leather as proper shoes should be. Proper shoes. Proper shoes.
Nobody else has glass shoes. I hop to remove my shoes so I can run faster in my bare feet. Then I realize, if I drop one of my shoes like a breadcrumb, maybe, somehow it will lead him to me. I leave him one and keep the other, dashing into my coach to get away before everything falls apart.
Please, I beg him silently, looking back to see him standing forlornly with one glass shoe. Please come and find me. I will be waiting.