After sharing my very short Cinderella story last week, I thought it would be fun to share a scene from the Cinderella portion of The People the Fairies Forget (more background here). This scene starts at The Nightingale, an inn run by the heroine of this section, Catherine. She’s a cousin to Jack, the hero of the Sleeping Beauty section. Tarragon, my fairy and narrator, has been hanging out at The Nightingale recently, but hasn’t revealed his magical abilities.
Earlier in the story, Prince Roderick threw a ball, and invited every eligible woman in the country to attend (it was a large ball). Catherine, though engaged to be married, attended the ball for the sake of the food and the dancing. Tarry came too, for the same reasons, and while they were there they saw that the prince’s favorite dance partner had mysteriously run out on him, leaving a glass shoe behind.
A few days later, they’re hanging out at The Nightingale, when…
…we were interrupted by a sudden explosion of apples.
Another of The Nightingale’s staff had come through the door, carrying a box of apples that had just been delivered. He tripped on the threshold, dropped the box and sent red apples tumbling around the room. No one looked surprised, including him. I had already learned that his name was Richard Samuel Jones, and that this sort of event was normal for him.
“Are you all right, Sam?” Catherine asked, bending down for an apple that had rolled near her feet.
“I’m fine,” Sam said, rising to a crouch to gather up apples. As he did, he remarked, “There’s all kinds of excitement going on out in the street. Royal heralds and everything. They’re going door to door.”
“They must be bringing that silly shoe around,” I said, picking up three apples and trying a few spins of juggling.
“Probably,” Sam agreed. “They’ll be here soon; they were only a couple buildings down.”
At that news, several people very nearly stepped on Sam as they went rushing out the doorway.
“Clearly supper’s going to be late after all,” Catherine observed, but she went outside too, if with less urgency.
I tucked two apples into my jacket and, holding the third, strolled after the crowd.
By the time the heralds, the soldiers, and the various attendants rode into the yard, everyone was outside. The herald read off the proclamation again, they showed off the glass shoe, and then the herald asked if any women belonging to this household had attended the ball.
“We did,” Marian said, stepping forward. “Catherine and me.”
Catherine came forward too, and within moments the herald’s chief attendant had a stool in place and was proffering the shoe.
Marian went first, perching on the stool and undoing her left boot. The attendant struggled to slide the glass slipper onto her foot, but her heel wouldn’t fit.
“Oh well,” Marian said with a sigh, but no evidence of surprise. “I guess I don’t get to marry the prince.”
The herald’s attendant dusted off the slipper while Marian re-laced her boot. When she was standing again, the herald looked down at Catherine from upon his horse. “Your turn now, miss.”
Catherine didn’t move, except to shake her head. “I’m not the one you’re looking for. You can just go on to the next house.”
The herald looked deeply troubled. “My orders are to try the shoe on every maiden who attended the ball. You did attend the ball?”
“Yes, but it’s not my shoe. So there really isn’t any point in my trying it on.”
“If you attended the ball, you need to try on the glass shoe,” the herald insisted. “My orders don’t say ‘some girls’; they say ‘every girl.’ ”
“But that’s pointless,” Catherine protested. “I’m telling you I’m not the one you want. Trying on the shoe would just be a waste of everyone’s time.”
“Like this conversation?” the herald’s attendant suggested. That got him a glare from the herald, but it also brought Catherine up short.
“All right, if that’s the only way to make you go away so we can all get back to work, I’ll try the slipper on.” She sat down on the stool, and within a few moments the attendant tried the glass shoe on her foot.
It went on easily, her toes sliding to the end of the shoe and the back slipping neatly over her heel. There was a moment of surprised silence.
I did say she had small feet.
“You’re the girl,” the attendant said, sounding awed.
“No, I’m not,” Catherine said. “I told you, it’s not my shoe. It’s just a coincidence that it fits.” She bent down to take the glass slipper off, but looked up again very quickly when trumpets were blown. “What’s that for?”
“Announcing that we have found the girl we were searching for,” the herald explained, dismounting from his horse and taking her arm. He took it graciously, true, but took it firmly as well.
Catherine stared at him blankly as chaos erupted in the yard. Everyone from The Nightingale seemed to be talking at once. At the sound of the trumpets, more people had arrived from the streets, and, within what felt like seconds and wasn’t really much longer, a considerable crowd had formed.
I took a bite out of my apple and watched.
“But I told you, I’m not the right one,” Catherine protested. “You want the girl the prince danced with. The one who owns the shoe. That isn’t me.”
I studied the herald carefully, saw that he was a stickler for details and stubborn to boot, and knew she wasn’t going to get far arguing with him. “My orders don’t say anything about finding the owner of the shoe,” he maintained.
“But that’s what they imply!”
“All they say is to find the girl the shoe fits. It fits you.”
Sure enough, further objections made no impact, whether they were made by Catherine or by anyone else. Very swiftly the herald and his men got Catherine onto the back of a horse and rode away for the castle.
It took longer to shoo the crowd out of the yard than it had taken for them to come in. It was a much more somber group that finally trooped back into the kitchens. Preparing supper had been entirely forgotten.
“I don’t like this,” Catherine’s father said.
“Maybe you’d better sit down, Uncle,” Jack said.
Mr. Williams waved off aid—but sat down. “I really don’t like this.”
“Don’t worry,” I advised, taking another bite out of my apple. “She’ll be fine. Annoyed, but fine.”
“Couldn’t you do something about this?” Jack asked me. “You know…something?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. Theoretically. But I don’t really see what you’d want me to do.”
“Get Catherine back somehow,” Jack said, as though it were patently obvious.
“She’ll be back when they realize she’s not the right one,” I said.
Mr. Williams was looking at me sharply. “Why does Jack think you’d be able to do something? What are you able to do?”
I glanced around, and realized everyone was having that thought. I sighed. “I suppose there’s not much point in trying to hide it anymore.” I waved one hand through the air, leaving a trail of blue smoke behind it. “I’m sort of what you might call magical.”
“He’s a fairy,” Jack contributed.
I’m sure I looked chagrined. “Thanks, Jack.” And here it came.
Marian first. “But you’re not—”
“—female, I know. We aren’t all.”
Mr. Williams next. “I thought fairies always had—”
“—wings, I know. They’re just an affectation; if we want to, we can fly without them.”
Sam last. “But don’t fairies always…” He waved a hand through the air, narrowly missing hitting a vase on the table next to him.
“Sparkle. I know.” I grimaced. “I hate sparkles. Are we done grilling me on whether or not I’m a suitable fairy?”
“Sorry, Tarry,” Jack said. “But can’t you do something?”
I shook my head. “It’s completely irrelevant whether I can or can’t do something, because there’s nothing to do. Cheer up, all of you. Catherine’s not the one they want, we know that and she knows that, they’re going to figure it out quickly, and then she’ll be back. It’s not as though she’s been kidnapped. It’s just a misunderstanding.” I could even see an amusing side to it. “You know, if they were trying to get the wrong one, they couldn’t do better than this. If it was practically any other girl, the prince’s biggest problem would be breaking the news that he’s not marrying her. Catherine, on the other hand, will probably throw something at him.”
“He may be right about that,” Jack allowed, but didn’t sound entirely convinced.
“Of course I am. But listen, I’ve got business right now.” I did have business. There was an official convening of the Fairy Court happening within the hour and a person—at least, a fairy—simply doesn’t miss a convening of the Fairy Court. The King and Queen look on that sternly. “I’ve got to fly, but I’ll come back tomorrow, all right? Catherine’ll be back by tonight, and we’ll all have a good laugh about it in the morning.”
With a few more exchanges along the lines of farewells, I popped out. My only regret was that the Fairy Court’s gathering prevented me from popping off to the palace to watch Catherine rail at the prince.
You see, I was certain that I was right about how the situation would play out. And I’m not wrong often. It was really too bad that this time I was—wrong, I mean.