by Anxious Owl
What if Cinderella thought she was the ugly step sister? A twist on a classic fairy tale.
| The morning the day before the ball, a messenger arrived at our door.
“Delivery for Miss Isabella Tremaine,” he announced when I opened the door. He held a box out to me.
“Thank you,” I said, taking it. I called Bella down and handed it to her.
“Who is it from?” she asked, beaming as she took it. I didn’t answer. We both knew it was from the prince.
“Open it,” I said. She lifted the lid off, and squealed in delight.
“It’s so beautiful!” she gasped. Inside was a tiara. A million tiny diamonds glittered like dew drops on spirals and curly q’s of gold. She took it out of the box and admired it from every angle.
“Here,” I said, taking it for her. I placed it on her head. She rushed to a mirror to see how it looked.
“It’s perfect,” I said. She beamed at her reflection. She was born to wear that crown.
“Oh, Izzy, I wish you would come to the ball. Can’t you just leave a little later tomorrow? It won’t be nearly as much fun if I know you’re at home all by yourself.”
“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,” I smiled.
“Still,” she pouted prettily.
“I can’t,” I shrugged. “I’m sorry. I know you’ll have a wonderful time though,” I said. That brought her smile right back, and she turned to admire her reflection again.
“It’s going to be magical!” she said.
Just then, there was another knock at the door. I opened it to find a small, bent woman in a pink cloak.
“Grandmother?” I asked.
“Of course. Were you expecting someone else?”
“These days I never know who to expect,” I grumbled to myself.
“Out of the way, Drizzella. I need to see Bella,” she pushed past me and into the house. “Bella!” Grandmother opened her arms out to her.
“Grandmama,” Bella hugged her. “Look what just arrived from the palace!” she gestured to the tiara on her head.
“Why that is lovely!” she gasped. “A crown befitting a true princess,” she cupped Bella’s cheek. “Now come along, you must show me how the gown turned out. If it is not perfect, there’s still time to have it fixed. You must look even more beautiful than at the last ball.” She began to lead Bella up the stairs, but stopped and snapped, “Drizzella! Aren’t you going to help Bella with her heavy boxes? You know, she’s rather petite and delicate. You’re so much stronger.” She handed me the box with Bella’s crown.
“Oh, no, Grandmama, I can carry it,” Bella said.
“Don’t you worry yourself about it. You have so many other things to worry about! This is a very important ball, you know.”
With that, she led Bella up the stairs.
I frowned down at box in my hand, then followed them. I peered into Bella’s room through the half open door. Grandmother was cooing over Bella as she pulled her dress out of the closet. Without drawing any attention, I set the box down on the dresser near the door, and left.
That night, I lay awake in bed. The way I had left Georgina’s house the other day haunted me. I hated that we were fighting but most of all, I hated that I couldn’t talk to her. Everything was about to change and I needed her. Even though we couldn’t talk, her words echoed in my head. When I could stand it no more, I took a candle and tiptoed into Bella’s room.
“Bella,” I shook her shoulder, “Bella.”
“What do you want?” she whined, eyes still closed.
“I need to ask you something,” I told her. She groaned but woke up.
“What can’t wait till morning?” she rubbed her eyes. Even in this light her golden hair caught the candlelight. It wasn’t fair.
“Do you love the prince?” I asked her.
“Of course I want to marry him,” she yawned.
“No, I mean, do you love him? If he weren’t the prince, would you still want to marry him?”
Bella scrunched up her nose.
“I don’t know. I guess I never really thought about it. I just knew that if he asked me to marry him, I’d have to say yes of course.”
“Could you think about it now?”
Bella thought. She smiled.
“He really is very nice. And tall, and handsome,” she said.
“And?” I said.
“And what?” she yawned again. I tried to make out her features in the dim light. She was already falling back asleep.
“Never mind. Get some sleep, you have a big day ahead of you,” I said. She smiled and drifted off again.
I regretted going into Bella’s room. Knowing that she didn’t truly love the prince didn’t change the fact that he was going to ask for her hand, or that she was going to say yes. It only made it harder to bear.
The next day, I had little to do. All of my things had already been delivered to the Fontainbleu’s. Even my books were there. All my chores were finished, and I had no need to get ready for the ball. Meanwhile, Grandmother was ordering Mother and Ana about, getting things ready for the big event. Unwilling to stay, I went to the library. I thought it might be the last time in a while that I would be able to visit.
“Jacques?” I said, as I approached the little old man at the back of the library.
“Ah, Miss Drizzella,” he smiled. “I have something for you.”
He pulled a book out from under his desk and handed it to me. I held A Brief History of Europe.
“Andrew said to hold it for you until you returned for it,” he told me. I ran my hands over the book. The cover was slate blue, with gold embossed lettering.
“How do I borrow it?” I asked.
“It is yours,” he told me.
“I’m sorry?” I didn’t understand.
“The prince insisted that you own the book. It is yours to keep.”
“Oh, I couldn’t. I couldn’t take this from the library, I can’t accept,” my protestations trailed off when I looked back down at the book. I wanted it.
Jacques smiled at me over his large spectacles. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, it’s a fantastic book.”
I nodded and smiled sheepishly.
“Do you mind if I stay for a bit?” I asked.
“Of course, you are always welcome here. It would be true anyways, but his highness also insisted I tell you that.” He winked at me. “If you ask me, he liked you very much”
I shook my head.
“You are mistaken.”
The old man seemed surprised, then disappointed.
“Well, I’m just a blind old man. But that’s how it seemed,” he shrugged.
I smiled sadly.
“Thank you anyways, for the book,” I said. He smiled and bowed. Then he turned back to his work. I went over to one of the desks with the lamps and hesitated. I looked nervously at all the men studying there, imagining them all to be impressive scholars, who would think me unfit to sit amongst them.
Then, one of the scholars let out a large snore and his head slipped off his hand. The spell was broken. Smiling, I sat, and I read until late in the afternoon.
Afterwards, I took a walk through the town, and returned home in time for supper with the family.
“Clean up, and then finish getting ready girls!” Grandmother said after a quick dinner.
“Help me with my hair Izzy! Please?” Bella asked, as we washed the dishes.
“I’d really rather not,” I said.
“Why not?” she stuck out her bottom lip.
“I was going to go read.”
“You can read any time! Please help me? And I want to show you the dress Grandmamma bought me. It’s absolutely lovely.” When I hesitated another moment, she looked up at me with big, blue, pleading eyes.
“All right then,” I relented.
It was a relief when all hair was finally done, noses were powdered, and every last button and petticoat were secured in place. Grandmother had spent the evening hovering over Bella, inspecting every detail of her attire, and criticizing all I did to help. When it was all done, we filed into the foyer to wait for the carriage.
“Mother, you look wonderful,” I told her, when I caught a glimpse of her. I had not seen my mother dressed for such a special occasion in a long time. Her hair was swept up, and she wore a purple dress embroidered with blue.
“Thank you dear,” she squeezed my hand.
“What about me?” Bella piped up. She twirled in her new dress. It was a brilliant gold, and she shined in it.
“Does the tiara suit me?” she touched the crown on her head.
“Of course it suits her,” Grandmother sniffed, as she waited by the door, pressed into her own evening gown. “She was born to wear it.”
“You always look beautiful Bella,” I told her, ignoring Grandmother, “Especially tonight.” I hugged her. “Good luck,” I whispered in her ear. She beamed.
I hugged Anastasia too. She could not wipe the smile off her face either. I had almost forgotten that her dreams were coming true tonight as well.
With that, they all climbed in the carriage, and were off.
I stood at the door watching them rush off into the night. Just like that, they were gone. A million images rushed at me of Andrew dancing with Bella, taking Bella’s hand, or getting down on one knee in front of Bella. Tears began to fill my eyes, when I was startled by a sound. I wiped them away as another carriage came barreling down the driveway.
When it came to a stop, Georgina got out, carefully clutching her belly as she descended.
“Hello,” she said. I stared at the ground between us, not sure what to say. “I thought you might need a friend tonight,” Georgina said gently. She was right, as always. Without another word, I rushed into her arms, and buried my face in her shoulder, the way I used to when I was small. She hugged me as if we had never argued and my tears came freely as I cried into her.
“Ssshh. It’s all right,” she told me.
I shook my head.
“I love him,” I coughed out quietly between sobs. I had never said it before, not out loud.
“I love him,” I cried.
“Sshh,” Georgina stroked my hair. I cried for what seemed an eternity. I cried for the time Andrew had bumped into me in front of the library. I cried for the time he had caught me when I fell off the ladder. I cried over the time we had stood on his balcony and I hadn’t wanted to ever leave. I cried because of the way that he had looked at me in the palace gardens, full of disappointment and confusion. I cried because he had still given me my book.
I cried because he was going to marry my sister even though she didn’t love him. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore, and stood, shaking and gasping, in Georgina’s arms. She continued to stroke my hair and rub my back.
“I’m sorry,” I said, stepping away and wiping my tears. “I’m sorry for crying so much.” I pulled away from her. Finally I looked up and met her eyes. There was sympathy there, but their message was clear. I said it out loud.
“I have to go.” As I said it, I realized that I believed it too.
Georgina nodded. We both knew that, till then, I had only been denying it. I repeated it, more sure this time.
“I have to go.”
“That’s right,” Georgina nodded at me and squeezed my hand.
I wiped my tear-stained face and looked down at myself. I was a mess, covered in dust and cinders.
“But I have nothing to wear,” I sniffed. I couldn’t bring myself to fetch the horrible old yellow dress out of the closet.
Georgina smiled mischievously. Wordlessly, she turned back to her carriage, which still stood behind us. She reached in and pulled out a long, flat box.
“Here,” she handed it to me.
I opened it to find a dress of silver, with and sweeping skirt and beading all along the bodice and sleeves. I took it out and held it up, watching the silky fabric cascade down to my feet with a soft swish. Suddenly, there was nothing I wanted more than to wear that dress.
“Now, it’s a bit old, I wore it in my day. But I’m not too old yet, so I think it will be fine,” she said.
“Oh Georgina,” I whispered. “It’s so beautiful.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?” she asked. “Go get dressed!” She shooed me up the stairs. I rushed up to my room and changed, then managed to fix my hair and make up by myself. When I was dressed and ready, I walked back down the stairs.
“Oh, Drizzella, you look absolutely beautiful,” Georgina cooed as I descended.
I wasn’t so sure. The dress was beautiful, but I was still me- still plain at best. I picked at my dress.
“I’m not sure I can do this,” I said.
“Of course you can.”
I shook my head.
“No, I’m not so sure. I should have told him earlier. It’s too late now.”
Georgina took my hands.
“If you don’t go now, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
I looked in her eyes and knew that she was right. Gulping, I let Georgina usher me towards the carriage. My stomach was doing somersaults as she helped me in.
“To the castle as fast as you can,” she told the driver. “It’s not too late!” she shouted after me as the driver cracked his whip and we raced off into the night.
“I hope it isn’t,” I mumbled to myself as we sped towards the palace. My heart was beating in my throat. “What will I say?” Butterflies flew in my stomach. The resolve I had felt minutes ago was gone already.
The ride to the palace seemed to take forever, even though I know we made record time. The last guests were straggling in as I arrived. I breathed a sigh of relief. At least I wouldn’t have to enter the way Bella did, and embarrass myself before I even talked to him. I raised my skirts and hurried up the steps and into the ballroom.
“Miss Drizzella Tremaine!” the crier announced. I realized quickly that my desire to enter unnoticed would not be realized. Everyone looked up.
Mother, Ana, Bella, and Grandmother all snapped to attention when they heard the last name. They each looked up at me as I started descending the stairs. Guests all over the room stopped to look at me. Andrew was at the dais near the thrones, speaking with his mother. He did not appear happy, but he stopped and looked up at me when I came in. I could feel my face heating up. But then he turned back to his mother.
As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I could see Grandmother heading towards me. Luckily, a gentleman reached me first.
“May I have this dance?” he asked. Unwilling to face Grandmother, I accepted. As we moved about the dance floor, though, I was only looking for Andrew. The sooner I found him, the sooner I could say what I had to say and leave- preferably without confronting my grandmother or sisters.
No sooner had I finished dancing with the first gentleman, though, did a second come and whisk me away. I had a vague inkling that he was trying to speak to me but I could only respond with single words here and there. My mind was busy trying to calm my nerves and formulate some sort of speech to give Andrew when I found him.
Finally I caught a glimpse of his highness on the crowded floor. Then he disappeared again. After a moment, though, he reemerged in the fray, closer now. I kept my gaze on him, until he saw me. Our eyes met, and I tried to somehow communicate to him that I wanted to talk. I wasn’t sure he had understood.
Soon the song was ending, and my partner left me on the edge of the room. I looked for Andrew, but instead, I saw Grandmother coming toward me.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded. “What are you wearing?”
I was trying to think of an answer when Andrew appeared out of the crowd.
“May I speak with you?” I asked him, ignoring Grandmother.
“Of course, Drizzella, is everything OK?” He spoke politely, but not warmly.
I nodded, and we moved off a little ways.
“What is it?” he asked me. I couldn’t read his face. Was he waiting for bad news? Did he think I was crazy for wanting to talk to him?
“I love my sister,” I began.
“Of course,” he said. Over his shoulder I saw Grandmother coming towards us, to rescue the prince from my inappropriate company no doubt. I motioned the Prince out into the garden.
“Drizzella, what’s wrong?”
“I love Bella, Bella is wonderful.”
“Yes,” he waited for me to go on. I picked at the beading on my dress, trying to find the words.
“But-“ I started again, still looking down at my dress.
“But you asked me if, if you marrying her was what I wanted. And I said it was, but-“ I was cut off. Grandmother appeared out of the crowd, having weaved her way to us. She had found us.
“Your highness,” She said, tapping the prince’s shoulder and bowing.
“Madam,” the prince said over his shoulder, “I will be with you in a moment.”
“What were you saying, Drizzella?”
“I was saying I lied. I don’t want you to marry-“
Grandmother tapped the prince’s shoulder again. Andrew turned.
“Madam,” he said impatiently.
“Your highness, please don’t let this girl bother you. She is hardly anyone. I can escort her away if you like?”
Finally Andrew turned around to face her.
“Madam, I am quite capable of choosing my own company and it is important to me to hear what this woman has to say. Now if you will please leave us alone, I am busy.”
I glowed with warmth watching the look on Grandmother’s face. I wasn’t sure exactly what to call it, but it was some cross between embarrassment and indignation. She looked as if she had more to say, but then stopped. Gulping down her pride, she curtsied and sidled away.
Once she was gone, I had more courage to speak.
“I don’t want you to marry Bella,” I said.
Andrew regarded me without speaking. My confidence slipped away. I gulped.
“I know this might not change anything, but I was somehow convinced that I had to tell you before it was too late.”
“Tell me not to marry Bella?”
“No,” I looked down and began to pick at my dress. “I had to tell you that I,” my voice just fluttered out of my mouth. The sounds of the ball carried on behind us, full of talk and music. A cool wind from the garden swept by and brushed the back of my neck. I could feel him watching, waiting as my silence dragged on.
Frustrated at my own cowardice, I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and looked up at him.
“I had to tell you that I’m in love with you,” I stated. He seemed to see me for the first time. I held my breath as he opened his mouth to speak.
It was at that moment that bells rang out.
“Will Prince Andrew and Miss Isabella please come to the dais?” the crier yelled out.
Andrew looked from me, to the dais and back. Bella hopped up onto the little stage, beaming. The crowd cooed over her beauty, and her dress, and tiara. How I wished I were standing in her place, with the whole room, and Andrew looking up at me like that.
The queen had picked Andrew out of the crowd and was glaring down at us. The room was beginning to turn around and look at Andrew expectantly.
“Why isn’t he coming?” they began to whisper.
“Why did you have to tell me this right now?” he was exasperated. I felt my heart sink.
“Just go,” I told him.
“Wait here,” he told me.
I nodded. But as he walked away, I took a step back, and then another, and then another. Telling him the truth had been like jumping into cold water. In the first instant, I felt nothing. But now the cold gripped me ferociously and sank into my bones.
“The Prince has an important announcement!” the king’s voice rang out. Andrew took his place next to Bella on the dais. I kept retreating, my panic mounting. I couldn’t listen to this. I couldn’t stay.
“I know you all have been waiting a long time for my marriage. Some more eagerly than others,” Andrew glanced at his mother. Quietly, I kept shuffling backwards. By the time Andrew was saying, “I want to tell you all, that I have found someone,” I had turned to run.
I ran through the garden until I found my way back to the front of the palace, and then I ran to Georgina’s carriage. We raced home faster than we had come.
I rushed into the house, wiping tears out of my eyes, and changed. I sent the carriage back to Georgina’s, along with the dress and note that said “thank you”. I didn’t know what to think or feel. Andrew knew how I felt. Andrew was going to marry Bella. Andrew didn’t love me. Too many emotions were moving all through me. The only clear thought I had was that I needed to get away from everyone and everything as fast as I could.
So I saddled my horse, and galloped out into the night.
I reached the Fontainbleu estate as dawn was spreading out over the plain. A surprised Colligne let me into the house and took me to my room. I washed, and immediately fell asleep on my new bed.
Late that afternoon, I woke to find two children jumping on me.
“Izzy!” shouted Collette. “You’re here! You’re here! Play princess-and-ogre with me!”
“Die, Ogre!” Mathieu decided to cut to the chase and begin stabbing me where I slept.
“Okay, Okay” I said. “Go wait in the hall and I’ll get dressed.”
When I came out, the children dragged me to the nursery. Lady Fontainbleu was there, working on her embroidery.
“Drizzella! I heard you arrived early this morning, and that you rode all night- by yourself, no less! Is everything alright?”
“Yes, I just couldn’t wait to get here,” I said, still wiping the sleep out of my eyes.
“Izzy! Play with us!” the children demanded. I squatted down and looked at them.
“I can’t,” I told them gravely.
“Why not?” they cried.
“Because only children who finish their lessons get to play princess-and-ogres.” As I said this, I went to my brand new desk and pulled out two readers, and handed them to the children. They looked down at them, disappointed.
“Do we have to?” they whined.
“Do you want to play?” I asked.
“Then yes, you must learn!” I smiled at them. “Now open to page one.”
Begrudgingly, they listened.
That night, I lay awake thinking. I found a sense of peace at the Fontainbleu’s. There was something satisfying about teaching, and watching the children learn. More importantly, though, I wouldn’t have to face my mother, or Bella. Or, god forbid, face Grandmother. It was a completely separate world. It was as if I had never gone to the ball, and had never made a fool of myself. Knowing I wouldn’t have to tell anyone how I had embarrassed myself lifted a great weight off my shoulders. I wouldn’t have to see Andrew, and pretend that nothing had happened- or worse, listen to him apologize for my confused feelings. No, all I had to worry about was making sure that Collette and Mathieu did not forget to use the subjunctive.
And yet, there was a knot in my stomach that kept twisting tighter. It hurt, I finally admitted. It hurt that I had told Andrew I loved him, only to watch him leave to offer Bella a life of happiness instead. More than that, it hurt to be away from him.
I wrestled with my feelings until exhaustion overcame me and I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, I was working with Collette and Mathieu on the basics of drawing, when the door burst open.
“How could you?” Bella screamed. “How could you do that to me?” She began stomping towards me. Instinctively, I retreated behind my desk.
“How dare you!”
“What did I do Bella?”
“The prince was minutes away from proposing to me. Minutes!”
I stared at her open-mouthed.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know what happened. You were there. I was humiliated! And then, we get home, and you were gone. And all Mama could think about was where you were, and if you were safe, but you were here the whole time! Hiding, while my world was falling apart! How could you do this to me Izzy?”
I could only stare.
“Izzy, what’s going on?” Collette piped up.
“Everything’s fine dear. But, why don’t you and Mathieu go play in the garden?”
Happy to be released from their lessons, the children sprinted from the room.
“Bella, I,” I tried to begin.
“You what? What could you possibly have to say?”
“I... really don’t know what happened. I left before the prince said anything,” I confessed.
“So you only came to the ball to ruin my life? You didn’t bother to stay and watch the aftermath? What did you even say to him?” she shrieked, stamping her foot.
“I believe that’s between me and Drizzella.”
Our heads snapped up to look at who had spoken.
Standing in the doorway, covered in mud and out of breath, was Andrew. The only sound for a long minute was his ragged breath. We stared at him.
“Your highness, forgive my behavior. I’m sure you understand-“
“Bella,” Andrew cut her off. “Could you please give your sister and me a minute alone?”
Bella blushed, and meekly left the room. My heart rate began to climb as Andrew walked toward me. My heart was beating like a hummingbird’s wings when he stopped in front of me.
“You were a lot harder to find this time,” he said.
And then he took my face in his hands, and kissed me. I tingled all the way down to my toes. After a moment, he pulled away, and our foreheads rested together. He locked his arms around me. I was smiling like a fool, but I didn’t care.
“Drizzella, why did you ever tell me to marry your sister?” he asked.
“Well, I thought you loved her,” I said, blushing. He shook his head and stroked my cheek.
“How could you not know? ”
“That I’ve loved you all along,” he said, and kissed me again. I was smiling when he pulled away. He continued on,
“I’ve loved you from the moment you shoved that silly shoe into my hands at the ball,” he chuckled. I blushed.
“Well it worked didn’t it?” I defended myself, “You asked the cobbler, and he told you whom he had made the shoes for and where we lived and you came and found us.”
“I’m sure I could have, but I just asked Thomas where you lived,” he said. My blush deepened.
“Well I suppose that was the simpler thing to do,” I murmured. He laughed at me.
“It doesn’t matter, because I found you,” he lifted my chin up and met my eyes. “Then, and now.”
“But I don’t understand. Why me? I’m not elegant, or refined, or beautiful-“
“Don’t say that,” he commanded.
“That you’re not beautiful”
“I find it offensive, since I happen to think that you are very beautiful, and I like to think I have good taste,” he told me. I blushed, even more than I thought possible. I couldn’t help but smile.
“Drizzella, I want to marry you,” he said gravely.
“I want to marry you, too,” I laughed as tears began to pool in the corners of my eyes. Then he kissed me again.
Andrew and I were married the next spring. In the weeks leading up to the wedding, I was busier than I had ever thought possible. An impossible number of questions came to me every minute of every day. Were these the correct flowers? The correct color? Were the place-cards egg-shell or off white? Did I find this tableware more pleasing than the other?
What kept me most busy, however, were my letters. Since our engagement had been announced, s steady stream of congratulations had arrived from friends and dignitaries. Eloise, wrote me,
I cannot believe that you are to be wed already! It seems just yesterday I received the news. I knew that you were lying to me when you said the prince was not courting you! You are quite devious. I have forgiven you already though, and am now preparing to visit and attend the happy day! Little Benjamin is excited to see you again. Thank you again for coming to the christening. Mother was thrilled beyond belief that the crown prince was in attendance. She was so shocked that you managed to ensnare the prince! She nearly fainted. She will be at the wedding as well. I do long to visit court again! And to see you, of course. I count the days.
I smiled and wrote her a quick reply. I told her that I was excited to see her again soon as well and that her rooms were ready to receive her when she arrived. I also received a note from the Fontainblues,
Thank you for your wedding invitation. We of course will be honored to attend. You must thank the prince, again, on our behalf for his help in procuring a new governess for Collette and Mathieu. She has begun work recently and proves to be quite worthy of the post. We miss you dearly, of course. However, I cannot say that I am shocked to have lost you. You indeed were quite over-qualified. The prince is a very lucky man. We wish you the best.
Lord Thierry Fontainbleu
I sent him a similar note to Eloise’s. Mother was a great help during that time. Her organization and eye for detail were invaluable. She stood like a great general watching over the servants, ensuring that each piece of the royal wedding was put together seamlessly.
On the day of my wedding, she hugged me with tears in her eyes.
“I never thought I would see a day like today,” she told me. I smiled at her.
“I am glad you are so happy.”
“I am happy because you are happy Drizzella,” she told me. She touched my cheek, then went to take her place in the church. Ana and Bella had left to find their bouquets, and I was left alone with Georgina.
“I told you so,” she said, as she fastened a necklace for me. “I told you, I told you, I told you.”
“Georgina, you’ve told me that you told me so many, many times already. And many, many times, I have conceded that you were, in fact, right, and thanked you profusely again and again for insisting I go to the ball.”
She looked at my reflection in the mirror. I was bathed in white, in the most gorgeous dress I had ever seen. My hair was done perfectly, and my eyes looked big and bright. Perhaps Andrew was right after all- perhaps I was a little beautiful. It didn’t matter, though. He thought I was beautiful, and that was all that really mattered.
“Just think how much sooner we would have come to this day if you hadn’t been so busy being jealous of your sister,” Georgina sighed. I shot her a look.
“All right, all right, I’ll leave you be. I just expect more from the godmother of my child.”
I turned to face her.
“Oh Georgina, really?” I asked. She nodded.
“Yes, it has to be you,” she said. I stood up and hugged her.
“You look beautiful,” she told me, straightening my tiara. “Now, they’ll be waiting, it’s best not to keep them waiting!”
We went out, and I followed my sister and Georgina down the aisle, to the front of the cathedral. Light shone through the stain glass windows, throwing rainbows across the assembly and banners of gold hung from every pillar. Mother smiled at me as I walked past her down the aisle. I stopped to squeeze her hand. Next to her, Grandmother pursed her lips, but nodded to me. Ana and Fred beamed up from behind her, and Eloise waved as she bounced her son on her knee. The king and queen looked on in approval from their place in the front pew. Finally, I looked to the front and saw Andrew waiting and smiling at me as if he might burst from happiness. When I reached him he took my hands in his. He promised to love me forever, and I promised him the same.
After we were wed, Andrew and I toured the southern regions of the kingdom.
“The trouble is beyond reason now,” he explained. “It’s driven purely by emotion. Talking about taxation conflicts and land rights issues isn’t going to be enough anymore. They see royalty and nobility and think we are spoiled and lazy- they hate us.” He said matter-of-factly.
“Then why are we rushing into their arms?” I asked. The thought of visiting an army of rebel soldiers did not put me at ease. Andrew grinned.
“To show them you, of course,” he said, kissing my forehead. “One of their own, now sitting on the throne, ready to do a job and accepting burdens that come with that job, just like they do every day.”
“Will that really work?” I asked nervously.
“It won’t solve everything, but it will help,” seeing my worry he paused. “Are you up to the challenge?”
After taking a deep breath, I nodded.
As we traveled south, Andrew and I had more time to spend together than we had in the hectic months before the wedding. We visited towns and military camps, smiling at disgruntled citizens and speaking to leaders. But we spent most of our time on the road, together. It was a small miracle simply to enjoy each other’s company each day.
One evening, as I rest my head against his shoulder in our carriage, I asked him,
“If you were never in love with Bella, why did you leave me on the dance floor the night of the first ball?”
“The ball where we first danced together. When Bella entered the room, everyone was in awe of her, she was so pretty. You left me in the middle of the dance floor to go to her.”
“I had completely forgotten about that.”
“I thought I was doing you a favor.”
“Your younger sister had just arrived in a way that was drawing a lot of unkind attention. I was going to usher her out of the spotlight and try to excuse her lateness by escorting her in.”
I took a moment to digest the information.
“Then why didn’t you say anything before you left?”
“I did. I said, ‘Excuse me, I will escort your sister in.’”
“Well how was I to know why you would want to escort her in? You seemed drawn to her, like every other man in the room.”
Andrew frowned, as if trying to recall his actions that night.
“I remember being confused. I wasn’t sure if I should stay with you or try to help your sister. Maybe I was thinking?”
I squished my mouth to the side, thinking.
“I guess that’s possible.” Had I been so convinced of my inferiority to Bella that I’d exaggerated his reaction to her?
“But then you walked with her in the garden for a while,” I continued on.
Andrew thought back again.
“I left her there, away from the crowd. I only remember telling her to let me know if there was anything I could do for her, and then saying that I had to leave. I was going back to find you. We couldn’t have been in the garden for more than two minutes.”
“It seemed like much longer.”
“I’m certain it was no more than a minute or two.”
I regarded him silently, unconvinced. Andrew sighed, equal parts amused and exasperated.
“I may not remember everything about that night, but I definitely remember being in a hurry to get back to you.”
I tried to fight back a smile as he said it. Andrew continued,
“I also remember being in quite a hurry to see you the next day and then again and again as often as I could from that day to this, though apparently you were ignorant of that as well.”
I smiled sheepishly. I took his hand and squeezed it in mine.
“I just couldn’t imagine that someone as wonderful as you would be coming to see me.”
“And I couldn’t have imagined going to see anyone else.”
I squeezed his hand again and nuzzled closer into his shoulder, smiling.
“I love you,” I said. I could hear the twin smile in Andrew’s voice as he said,
“I love you too.”
Anastasia and Fred were married as soon as Andrew and I returned from the South. Andrew instated Fred as master of the royal stables, making his wildest dreams come true. Ana gave birth to a little girl a year later.
Bella’s anger with me quickly dissipated once she moved into the palace and began the business of becoming accustomed to the royal way of life. She was constantly juggling suitors who were eager to speak with such a well-connected beauty.
Mother sold the house and moved into the palace with us as well. I had never seen her truly relaxed, but she seemed finally at ease. With grandchildren to look after and a full staff to order about, she never lacked activity.
The Southern rebellion quieted to a dull rumble after our visit and the subsequent negotiations. War continued to threaten us for a long time, but after years of smothering any potential sparks to the revolutionary fire, the unrest faded away.
Andrew and I had two beautiful children, a son and heir to the throne, and a beautiful little princess. Clara adored them, along with Georgina and Ana’s little girls, and taught them all to play chess like champions.
And we all lived happily ever after.