My name is Yorga Jernfeld, and I'm a retired guard from the Women's Royal Prison here in Fæirie Land. I'd heard many stories in my time there, many interesting and heartfelt stories, stories that would break your heart if you let them, but who knows if any of them were real? I think they'd say anything to get some sympathy. But there was one I remember who made me wonder. Her name was Ella and she was a model prisoner whose reticence and despondency made her very popular with the guards. She was allowed special privileges and I was her guard on a couple of her outings. Something about her . . . I don't know. Somehow her words rang true. She was quiet at first, sullen, but as she got to know me, (I was considered one of the kinder guards by the prisoners) she told me a story about the good old days, as she called them, back when Prince Charming was still charming and she'd had it all. She said they'd attended all the balls and soirees of the upper echelons of society, and they were always in constant demand.
“Ah, society!” she'd sing, then swirl and laugh, imagining herself back in the glow of those halcyon days. Then she'd fall over and I'd help her up to continue hobbling along on our errand. She was talkative that day, our last together, perhaps because it was a beautiful spring day.
“Yes, Yorgy, I just about became Queen.” She looked at me through narrowed eyes. “You ever hear the story of Cinderella?” I nodded yes. It's a common enough Fæirie tale and I supposed everyone had. She was silent for a ways, then she began talking.
“It was the sisters, Yorgy, the sisters that took me down,” she said with a forlorn expression. “Thought I had 'em beat when I put on that slipper and it fit, Yorgy, it fit!” I think she was proudest of that. That it fit.
“But wasn't it your slipper Ella?” I asked. I was beginning to wonder if she might be Cinderella, though she hadn't actually said so. “Didn't you leave it when the Fæirie Godmother only gave you 'till midnight?”
“That was the problem, you know, what caused all the trouble.” She sighed with a wistful look. “Wasn't enough time.” She looked at me with tragic eyes. “Can you imagine? Midnight! What party ends at midnight?” Looking down she shook her head. “They called me Cinder back then, you know. 'Cause of all the ashes and soot from my work. Those sisters. Oh, they were nasty they were.”
“So the slipper fit . . . ?” I prompted.
“Yeah it fit alright! It was a miracle in technology, that slipper. And it fit Yorgy! It fit!”
“And the Prince?”
“He asked me to marry him! Right then and there!” She laughed and her eyes glittered. “I said yes, of course. We set the date for one year from that day, as was proper for a Prince and all. And what a year it was Yorgy! During the season we made every ball, soiree and gathering that the upper classes threw, many in our honor. And for the off-season we traveled the world!” She gazed skyward with dreamy eyes.
“Sounds pretty wonderful Ella,” I said, smiling with her.
“It was . . . ” She seemed pensive and distant. “The Queen never liked me though. We never got close, nor the King,” she murmured quietly.
“So did you marry? What I heard was that you lived happily ever after, you know? Nothing about you actually getting married though, and I thought . . .”
“Do I look happy?” she snapped. She was indeed a wretched sight, broken down and feeble, while still young! Well, fairly young. I couldn't answer and she continued. “They just wanted a happy ending for the peasants, that's all. For people like us, to keep us in our place, make us think we have a chance.” Her mood turned dark and her countenance angry. We walked in silence for a ways. Then I asked again about the wedding. I couldn't help it, I was curious. Why couldn't they marry?
She grimaced, “There we were, a week before the wedding and in march the sisters. Evil they were Yorgy, and grinning at their malicious antics. They claimed the law stated that no crown prince could marry without the receipt of a handsome dowry from the bride's family.” She stopped and scowled. “I heard later they'd bought a few members of parliament and had the law written for them.” She looked away, “Don't know where they'd get the money though. Anyway, Chester, the Prince you know. Chester Charming. Chi-chi he used to say.” She laughed. “He'd go, 'I'm chi-chi-Charming! Chi-chi-Chester Charming!' And he was too, Yorgy! Oh, he was so charming. We laughed all the time! Always joyful together. Always.” She remained silent for a while as we walked.
“So you never married?” I asked.
“No, never. Oh Chester, my darling Chester, he said he didn't care about any stinking law, he'd made his choice and that was that.” She smiled at me. I could see the beauty still there behind the haggard lines. “But the courts sided with the sisters. Said the Prince was not free to marry anyone he wanted, especially someone from the poor side, if you know what I mean. They said he had an obligation to the Kingdom to uphold his station which meant, pretty much, that he must marry someone of his social standing. Someone of his class. That's wealth and power Yorgy.”
With a resigned look she continued, “He was the only heir you know. The only son yet he offered to renounce his Prince status and marry me as a commoner.” Now she looked sad and bitter. “That's when those people started to appear, people I didn't know, and they began accusing me of crimes, Yorgy, horrible crimes. Neither Chester nor I had any defense against their carefully contrived accusations and eventually they even had Chester looking at me with suspicion. Finally they locked me up so I couldn't cause them any more trouble.” She was silent for a long moment. “Somehow the sisters presented the Kingdom with a sizable dowry and Chester was forced to concede. Today he's a miserable King in a miserable marriage to a dominating Queen who, along with her sister, are the true rulers here. Everyone knows it.” She scowled. “While I languish in prison.” She paused, then whispered, “All for greed Yorgy. All for gold and power.”