I’ve been wanting to do a multiplayer crossover with fairy tales basically my entire life. I developed one story a long time ago and ended up being so frustrated with it that I gave up, and then started another story that I scratched as well, developed another story, and then found an old outline for a version of a Princesses tale that I redeveloped into the new story, so essentially I’ve rewritten this a hundred times. Here is the attempt to nail down a few things: the princesses personality and identity, the deviations I was going to take from the original fairy tale, and the tone of the piece. I start with arguably the most recognizable fairy tale, so we have a firm standing.
Eliana hesitated at the stairs that descended into the ballroom. A sudden anxiety washed over her as the herald turned to greet her. At her side was her coachman, and she glanced at him, hoping his nature wasn’t obvious. An hour ago he’d been a rat in the garden, and now he was a lanky man, well dressed in a tailored suit, his small eyes hidden behind the bushiest mustache she’d ever seen. He’d guided her up the steps to be announced, but now the absurdity of her situation had hit her.
She was not meant to be here. Her step-mother had made that very clear when she’d torn the handmade dress and tossed it into the fire, and the consequences for even wanting to be had been laid out with a sharp slap against her cheek. She was not meant to be anything more than Cinderwench, the cruel name her step-sisters Ilene and Florence mocked her with so often she wasn’t sure they remembered her real name. She wasn’t meant to run away and have grand adventures, no matter how hard she dreamed it, not if she couldn’t take the last of her mother’s things and the trinkets her father had brought her, not if it meant abandoning the only memories she had left of them. She wasn’t meant to be gifted a fairy godmother, nor a grand coach, nor this gown, nor the slippers that laid delicately on her feet, that tinkled against the marble floor, that made her so terrified to put the slightest bit of pressure on, even if they’d already proven stronger than ever expected.
But her coachman brought her up to the top of the staircase, where the herald looked her over. He whispered something in the herald’s ear, and he seemed to accept it, turning to the ballroom and announcing, “Lady Ella de Glasse,” before ushering them along. She started down the steps before realizing her coachman was returning to the line of coaches outside. Well, no turning back now.
People were looking at her. Eliana’s instincts were to shy away, hope their attention didn’t call on her too long, but she realized those were not mocking expressions. Her ballgown was twice as wide as she was, the cerulean blue of it shimmering in the candlelight. The bodice was cut a little low, but it made room for her mother’s necklace, the gold shining brighter than it ever had, and the sleeves swooped at the side, exposing her shoulders. The skirt raised above her ankles as she walked, and the glass shoes tapped across the floor. Her godmother had, at least, made a fashionable choice.
An hour ago she’d been crying in the garden, her face pressed against the tree that marked her mother’s grave as if it could offer the same comfort. She’d gripped the fragments of her dress in her hands, the pale blush of pink the only remain she now had of it. It had been her mother’s as well, that with the necklace and a few odd items the only thing she’d rescued from her step-mother’s hand when she’d set upon removing all the old things from the house. Her face was covered in soot as she’d been forced to clean the hearth once her step-mother had finished her task. She had looked at Eliana in that dress in horror, as though she’d broken some sacred covenant, and torn it from her, tossing it into the fire.
Eliana had cried until nothing was left, and she looked back at the house as though it were her tomb. Was it worth it, to see everything she cared for taken from her? Was it worth it, just for the memory of her mother’s touch? Was it worth it, when they were all so cruel?
Then Eliana had done a dangerous thing. Eliana made a wish.
A light had bloomed in the branches of her mother’s tree. Eliana had backed away, watching the fairy lights wisp around, and then form together. A woman appeared within them, older, plump being the word that came to mind. She wore a gown of lilac purple and her grey hair had fallen in thick curls around her. Her feet did not quite touch the ground, and there was a twinkle in her grey eyes. She smiled at Eliana, holding out her arms.
“Hello, my child,” she’d said.
Eliana knew of fairies. The Church of the Iron Nail was situated within the castle walls, and they preached on the dangers of fairies every time she went to market. Fairies had destroyed the kingdom of Erdelve, leaving it only thorns and great beasts that swallowed men whole, and they’d killed the entire royal family of some ancient kingdom, trapping their princess in a tower. They stole children and sent plagues, and the cruelty of their queen was unmatched.
Eliana also knew her mother had been fond of fairies, refusing to leave the iron over their door as others did, and she’d shook her head at those who sold ways of catching fairies or warding them away. She’d told Eliana that all things had a bad and a good, and some fairies were helpful.
“What do you want?” had been the first words out of Eliana’s mouth, and she wished they hadn’t. Fairies responded to kindness, her mother had said.
“I heard your wish, sweet child.” The fairy moved closer. She seemed to emit a light all her own that shed off her like stardust. “And I am bound to help you.”
She gestured to the tree, whose flowers had started blooming in her presence. “Your mother was very kind to me once. I offered to repay her, and she only asked that I look after you. I could not move mountains, but I hear that there is a ball.”
Her voice was strange, gentle, but like reeds being blowing by the wind. Eliana felt dizzy looking at her.
“Consider me your fairy godmother,” she’d said, smiling.
Eliana hadn’t known what to do. She’d only held out the fragments of her dress and said, “They destroyed it all.”
The fairy godmother tsked. “Such a cruel thing to do to such a pretty girl. But easily fixed.”
She reached out a hand, and Eliana backed away.
“You’re magic,” she’d said as the realization hit her. “You can do anything. I want to go away from here. I want to be free.”
The fairy godmother had given her a critical look. “But you don’t want to leave things behind. You still clutch so tightly to the threads that hold you here. As I said, I cannot perform miracles. If you cannot let it go, then I cannot force you.”
“But,” she interrupted, “there are other ways to find happiness. What did you want from the ball? One night of fun? A moment of reprieve? No, you wanted more. Proof a better life exists. Here, I can help you.”
“What will you do?” Eliana asked.
“You’ll need some things.”
She waved a hand, and the branches of the trees began to shake. Eliana gasped as a dress floated to the ground, made of the lightest blue and the most delicate material. Shoes did as well, and when she reached for them, she saw the delicate glasswork. She’d looked at the fairy godmother, who’d gestured to her to put them on.
“They fit,” she said in amazement and then stood carefully. For a horrifying moment she expected them to shatter beneath her feet, but they were strong.
The fairy godmother had nodded. “I can promise you this: Tonight you will find exactly what you are looking for.”
Eliana wished she knew what she was looking for, as she walked through the crowd of well dressed people. Were they nobles? Or were they like her step-sisters, rich enough to be considered, desperate social climbers hoping for the best? She gave a worried look around, hoping her step-sisters weren’t here, though she’d be amazed if they recognized her. Eliana caught her reflection in a mirrored wall, and she wasn’t sure if she recognized herself. The orchestra played a gentle tune that pairs waltzed to, and her eyes swam with the colors of dresses and suits as they swirled around her. Servants carried champagne and appetizers, and if she ate a single one she’d throw up right here.
The orchestra finished their song, and then another chord was struck in a grander style. People were moving towards the back of the room. Eliana couldn’t see over their heads, and the herald’s voice was drowned out by the music. A few girls near her made an excited noise as they hurried to the front. Eliana remained where she was.
Perhaps her fairy godmother had been right. Perhaps she held too tightly to things. She’d still have her memories if she ran away. She could still keep the things that were dearest to her: her father’s smile, her mother’s gentle hand, the excitement of her father returning after a long trip, the walks she’d taken with her mother through the city.
The crowd had moved again, the dancers had taken their place. This time the music was quicker, and she supposed the party had begun. Someone touched her shoulder, and she turned around to see a young man. He looked like a storybook page. His chin was strong, his shoulders broad, his hair perfectly coiffed. His blue eyes looked at her as though he’d found the most interesting thing at a rather dull party. He held out a hand.
“Would you like to dance?” he asked.
Everyone was staring at her. She glanced around and hesitantly took his hand.
Her feet seemed to move on her own, and she wondered if this was part of the fairy magic as well. She’d only danced as girls do in their bedrooms, but her feet took up the steps in rhythm. He had her hand in his, his other on her waist, and they moved across the ballroom as the band continued to play.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“El–” she started to say, and then quickly, “Ella de Glasse.”
His eyebrows wrinkled in curiosity. “I don’t know the name. You’re certainly not from our stock of nobles.”
“Why do you say that?”
“There’s something far too kind about you.”
A blush was forming on her face. A man had never held her hand before and certainly not her waist. “I come from far away.”
“A princess, then.”
Her face had to be bright red at this point. “Why would you say that?”
“You’ve yet to address me as ‘your highness.'”
In their turn, she caught the faces of every single person around her. Wide eyed jealousy followed her. She looked back at her dance partner, realization dawning.
“You’re the prince!”
He laughed. “You didn’t know?”
“I–I–I’m so sorry, your highness–”
“Please don’t start now.”
She dipped her head down, knowing the blush would be spreading to her ears and neck soon. She’d seen the prince before, from a distance at parades. He’d been a sort of handsome blob, and her step-sisters had crooned over him. Of course the prince was to be here tonight, this was his ball for his birthday, and she’d made a fool of herself already, and–and–
And he’d chosen her to dance.
She risked a glance up at him. “I should have recognized you.”
“No, I like this far more. Are you a princess?”
Part of her suggested that lying to a prince would likely end with her head on a pike, but a bolder part of her only smiled.
“You certainly don’t recognize me.”
She’d never been coy before. This was a new experience.
But the prince laughed again, and the dance ended. He still held onto her hand.
Everyone was watching her. Her whole body felt hot, and the eyes of everyone followed her. She wanted to let go, and she wanted to hold on, and he smiled at her, and a dizziness fell over her. In the crowd she saw the face of her step-mother, stern lips turned down, small eyes narrowed.
This was magic, she realized. This wasn’t real. The prince had not asked her to dance because she was the prettiest girl in the room. He had done so because a fairy had blessed her. Because she was wearing a magic dress and shoes. And tomorrow this night would be over, and she’d be back in her house, hiding in the attic, no better off than she ever was.
She was swaying. The air was short. The prince looked at her with concern. The band started up again, and this time he placed a guiding hand on her back and led her out of the ballroom. She clutched onto the railing of the stairs that led into the garden. Lights flickered in the shrubbery, and a few of the other couples were sharing a moment out there as well. Eliana sucked in a breath, trying to smile.
“It can get very exciting,” he said, hand still on her arm.
“I’m not used to so many people looking at me.” She wasn’t used to him looking at her either. His blue eyes were gazing into her as though he couldn’t look away. She moved away from him, stepping onto the stone path of the garden. “I’m sorry. You should go back in. It’s your party.”
He still held her hand and followed her down the path. “It’s my parents’ party. I’m just happy to have found something of interest.”
His other hand moved to her back. He stood very close to her. He’s going to kiss me, she thought. I’m going to be kissed by a prince.
This is fairy magic. He wouldn’t kiss me otherwise. And the punishment for tricking a prince into kissing you was probably very high. Her step-mother’s face flashed into her mind. If she were caught, if she told, if he knew who she really was, how quickly would this all turn?
She jerked away, right as the clock struck twelve. The prince looked at her in surprise.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I can’t–I have to go.”
He reached out a hand to her, and she turned away. The garden gate led out to row of coaches, and she hurried down the stairs. The guards called out to her, unsure if they should follow, but she kept running. The prince said something, and she imagined them grabbing her, taking her back, learning that she’d used magic to get here. In her panic, her foot slid on the stair, a glass shoe dropping from her foot, but she was too scared to turn back.
Her coachman was waiting for her, in front of the bulbous coach that was an odd shade of orange. She climbed inside, breathing hard. She kicked off the second shoe, bringing her knees up. She couldn’t stay. She couldn’t stay at all, not anymore, not after this.
The coach drove towards tomorrow.