A/N: This chapter is slightly edited. In it, the second ball occurs, and Cinderella meets a very special wand.
The occupants of the chateau were beside themselves when they heard that there was to be a second ball later that month in honor of Prince Edward. Griselda was haughtily saying how she would not miss obtaining the Prince's favor. The Step Mother was doing everything to encourage her older daughter: she made Grissy ride everyday as she dieted, which was making her eldest daughter thinner. The Step Mother had also taken pains to have Magdalena continue with her training in diction and deportment so that if Griselda failed to distract the Prince and secure his affection, her younger daughter might be able to.
Dalena had demonstrated that she could learn many dance steps, speech patterns, and walking techniques rapidly. For all of her training, however, her personality had gotten worse. She not only grew more distant towards her step sister Cinderella, but also more spiteful toward her family.
"I don't know why you bother with Grissy, Mother," Dalena said one day as she practiced her walking and gliding. "Anyone can see that she is like a horse that needs to be put out to pasture."
Griselda sputtered and spouted as Dalena ignored her, concentrating fully on her Mother's upcoming comments. The Step Mother said, "What she does…what you both do is for all of us. We were meant for better things! It is for that reason that the two of you must work together to secure the Prince as a husband!"
"Me support her?" Griselda snapped in Dalena's direction. "Not bloody likely!"
"GRISELDA!" her Mother rebuked. "You will watch your language! I will not have you swearing like a barmaid!"
"Her swearing is all the more reason that she will fail to make the Prince choose her!" Magdalena commented. Cinderella came into the room. The Step Mother regarded her disdainfully.
"With the way you two act, Cinderella has a better chance of securing the Prince's fortunes and good will," she said sarcastically.
Cinderella said, "I should not want to do that, Step Mother."
"What's this you are saying, Child?" the Step Mother asked her step daughter as she went to the closet to select dresses which needed airing out.
"I am saying that if I were fortunate enough to go to the ball, I should be more comfortable with being diverted by many gentlemen rather than simply singling out the Prince with seductions to become his bride," Cinderella said, laying three gowns on the chair.
She casually addressed all three of them, giving no sign of knowing what had gone on at the ball as she'd danced with the Prince two weeks before. "What did happen?" she asked, her tone light.
"There was a female intruder at the ball," Dalena told her, her eyes blazing with hatred of the mysterious woman who'd danced with the Prince.
"Oh?" Cinderella queried, raising a brow. "What was she like?"
"She wore an emerald gown, which was totally wrong for her and for such a royal occasion," Griselda commented, adding, "I mean, everyone wears the lighter colors to such a function!"
"Maybe she thought the color would get more notice," Cinderella suggested, smiling inwardly.
"It doesn't matter," Magdalena said as the Little Cinder Girl straightened her hair, "inasmuch as she also seemed to lose interest in the Prince after they returned from the garden. Oh, she danced with him, and he seemed quite taken with her, but she was distracted, wasn't she, Mother?"
The Step Mother replied thoughtfully, "Yes…she did seem to have other diversions on her mind."
Cinderella's thoughts flew to the other man who had danced with her: the mysterious Monsieur Trent. She had gone looking for him in the ball room after they had danced, but he had gone. Ever practical, the Girl of Cinder and Ash dutifully danced in Prince Edward's arms, but her thoughts kept straying to the other suitor, and, inexplicably, to a fey who still danced in her dreams.
"One would think the Prince would be all the distraction a woman would need," Cinderella said conversationally. "Did this lady have a name?"
"I heard the Prince call her 'Angel', but naught else," Griselda replied.
"'Tis of no consequence about her," the Step Mother said. "All that matters is that one of my two little doves secure the Prince for a husband!" She regarded Cinderella, instructing, "You, therefore, will help us to that end. You will design dresses of unique material and demure décolletage so that we do not give the game away too soon. The gowns should contain something that will make the Prince forget all of the other maids! You will also see to it that my daughters are coiffed, perfumed, and wearing the right facial adornments so that nothing will stand in the way of one of them being the Prince's bride! And, for your hard work, I can assure you that when one of my daughters is the Princess of Aramathea, you will always have an elevated serving position in their household!"
Cinderella did not reply to that right away. For the first time, she began to face what she had denied all along: that Trillion had been right about her family. She had hoped a child's foolish dream that at least a little of her family's loving nature would show itself after all she had done over the years. Maybe it was naive of her, but was a wish to see a little gratitude from them such an impossible thing to make happen?
After a long pause, she said, "Thank you, Step Mother." You're all heart, she thought a little unkindly. Outwardly, she lifted her head as high as she dared and left their bedroom to do her other chores.
When Cinderella finally came downstairs, she laid her head on her pillow and started to cry. She decided that maybe it was time to do more for herself, and if love gave her the chance to be with the Prince as his bride, she would initiate laws to assist other future Cinderellas so that their lives might be easier
"I think it's impossible for them to change if you ask me," a voice said from the corner of her quarters. Cinderella saw a tiny beetle grow and change into the familiar form of Trillion. With her arms, she wiped away her tears, forcing herself to smile.
"Anyone can change if they so wish it," Cinderella told him.
Trillion's eyes locked with hers. He felt her sadness even though she tried to hide it. But beneath it, her optimistic belief in the potential for goodness in all people still shone through. His ever growing adoration for her threatened to envelop him at that moment. He shook it off, assuming an unaffected air.
"Right, ball number two," he said clearing his throat, his American accent more pronounced.
"What shall I do now?" Cinderella said.
"You got him to notice you…that's half the battle right there," Trillion told her.
Cinderella exclaimed, "Ahh…so you were there!"
Trillion looked indecisive for a moment as he pondered the correct response. "It was in the gossip parchments the next day, to say nothing of the Mirror images that I am able to see!" he said.
At least what he'd said had been true enough. He couldn't lie to Cinderella, or any human really; it was part of the fairy code, after all. But he could stretch small truths, or just keep quiet about what was true so that none of his clients would catch on.
Cinderella looked disappointed as she softly asked her next question: "Will you be dancing at this ball?"
The magic man shook his head, saying, "Nah! Can't do that! Not in the rules, you see."
"I see," Cinderella said, not being able to keep the depression out of her voice.
She had hoped that the fey would be there, and that he would dance with her as they had done when he had taught her how to dance. She had also hoped that he would kiss her again. But she decided that she couldn't force a totally different creature to love her, or to even like her. If all he wanted was to make this a business affair, who was she to contradict him? For all she knew, the kiss could have simply been his way of showing her how to behave with the Prince and nothing else.
Trillion extracted a stick from his pocket, explaining, "This is my wand." He waved it aloft so that she could see it more clearly.
"Wand of Mine, this is Cinderella," he told his wand.
Cinderella observed that it was a white stick which resembled polished ivory, and it had four symbols on it. They looked like hieroglyphic symbols or the runic ones her Papa had shown her when she was a little girl. Each symbol represented one of the four principle elements of the Earth: air, water, fire, and ground. There were some other symbols, more like fine writing. The Little Cinder Girl didn't know what they were, but guessed that if she was meant to know, he would explain them.
'Tis such a treat, this maiden to meet, Trillion's wand said in his mind and Cinderella's. She noted that the wand had a high, female voice.
"She talks in rhyme," Trillion clarified, "and because I wish it, only you and I can hear her."
"Pleased to meet you," Cinderella greeted, curtseying to the wand.
Hello, Little Maid of Cinder and Ash. May you have fun at the Prince's bash, the wand commented mentally. Trillion gestured with his wand, and it disappeared.
"How do you do that?" Cinderella wanted to know.
"Very technical," Trillion told her, "but essentially, it boils down to rearranging the light particles so that my wand is visible to the human eye."
Cinderella frowned for a moment before asking, "Why didn't you use your wand the first time?"
"I hadn't met her yet that first time," Trillion told her simply.
She nodded, not able to come up with a suitable reply. She queried, "What does a wand actually help you do?"
"It enables us fey to focus our energies a little better," Trillion responded. "I mean, I could gesture with my arms and hands, but it gets to be tiring after awhile. It is kind of like a conductor gesturing an orchestra without his baton. It can be done, but it is so much easier with a wand, particularly for the more involved complex magicks."
Cinderella regarded the fey. She found him and his world more fascinating with every explanation he gave. It would be hard trying to notice the Prince, but she would give it her all, since she knew the fairy man was only trying to be kind by humoring her with explanations.
He fished a long wooden tube out of his pocket, instructing, "Blow into this; if I am at all near, I will hear it, and I will come." She tried, but didn't hear anything. She had noticed as she blew that he covered his elfin ears.
"Not so loud!" he shouted, removing his hands from his ears. "You just have to blow softly. This will only work for you, by the way."
"Thank you," Cinderella said. Trillion disappeared, promising to return with her gown and provisions like before on the night of the next ball.
Cinderella alighted from Marlin, the magic swan Trillion had provided again, in front of the Prince's castle for the second ball. By the stairs leading to the main ball room, she glanced at the chocolate brown gown she wore, with the smoky quartz earrings dangling in her lobes, in a reflection caused by a big puddle illuminated by moonlight. The shoes she wore were made of a material Trillion called "leather".
From a tree nearby, the young faerie watched the Little Cinder Girl go up the stairs, his longing to go to this affair building by leaps and bounds. He had changed into a squirrel so that she wouldn't spy him there anon, and he squashed his desire for her in the wish if not the hope that she would enjoy the junior ruler's company more without him around.
"You are doing the right thing, just remember," another squirrel advised.
"I know, Max…I know," Trillion said. He looked forlornly at her once more and turned into a firefly, his wings flapping wildly until he reached the ball room. Max materialized beside him, his shape in the form of a regular fly.
"What are you doing?" Max wanted to know.
"I am just sticking around in case of trouble," Trillion assured him, his voice having a buzzing sound a little.
"So long as you don't interfere and let them do this on their own," Max cautioned. Trillion frowned when he saw the Prince's eyes light on Cinderella. Prince Edward took her white gloved hand and danced with her to a medium paced composition. As they looked into each other's eyes, the disgusted fey turned green with jealousy. He decided suddenly that his client could take care of herself. Trillion left in an angry huff with Max following close behind.
Cinderella tried eagerly to dance with the royal heir, telling herself that any one of dozens of girls and women would love to trade places with her. She even laughed when Prince Edward leaned over and whispered something into her ear.
"Tell me, Angel," the Prince asked as he pulled away, "I have never seen you at any royal functions before. Are you a resident of my kingdom? If so, why have I never had the pleasure of seeing you?"
Cinderella thought a moment, then replied, "I had other matters commanding my attention so that I could not get away to come."
The Prince nodded, saying, "I understand. I, too, was occupied until my parents decided to have these gatherings. I would like to know more about you, though. You intrigue me, and I wish to find out about you even if I do not know your real name."
"What would you like to know?" the Little Cinder Girl asked as they circled each other in another dance.
"What sort of music do you like?" the Prince queried conversationally. "Do you fancy Sir Charles of Adamstown's drums, for instance, or do you prefer Sir Pandamere's harp playing?"
Cinderella could answer those questions with ease; she had listened to both when her Father had been alive, and, at least, each of the musicians the Prince had named had played their music for a score of years, if not more.
"Sir Pandamere's harps are more soothing to me than Sir Charles's drums," she said. The Prince seemed disappointed that she had not chosen the former. Harps were all right, but drums were so much more interesting to him.
They danced and talked some more, but as they pulled apart, the Prince began to realize that he and his Angel didn't seem to have much in common. For one, though she thought jousts were amusing, she didn't have an intimate connection with the exhilaration the Prince felt after he had engaged in one. She also didn't have the same taste in literature. Prince Edward found her love of all parchments about Shakespearean plays to be boring, and cooking scrolls to be pedestrian. Although she was a decent rider, her knowledge about horses was lacking in many areas. When they had exhausted every subject he questioned her on, he excused himself and went looking for a fresh new lady to dance with for awhile.
Prince Edward came across a flaxen blonde who was waiting in line to dance. His eyes danced with anticipation as he took her hand. Magdalena was overjoyed. Next to her, her Mother's eyes took on a faraway look as she pictured where to hang her oversized portrait in the Prince's castle.
As they moved in perfect rhythm to the music, Magdalena lightly teased, "Fancy seeing you again."
The Prince pulled apart from her and studied her. "Have we met?"
"You fell off of your horse Naomi," Magdalena reminded him.
"Of course!" the Prince exclaimed, remembering how she'd fed his horse tenderly, and he'd had to rush off to be educated in the social graces for the balls.
"We have never been formally introduced," Prince Edward said, remembering his manners. He bowed, saying as she straightened, "I am Edward, Prince of Aramathea."
Magdalena curtseyed, greeting back, "I am Magdalena of the House of Paldrine."
"Delighted," the Prince said, warming up to the lanky lady.
They danced to a very fast piece, and they talked about different drummers. Dalena told him about her interest in painting, and the Prince inquired, "What do you think of the revolutionary new artist Piltrassi? I love his shapes and colors!"
Magdalena smiled broadly, breathing, "I adore his unusual shapes, and his display of colors is nothing short of fantastic!"
The Prince queried, "You do not mind his non representational art?"
Dalena shook her head, saying earnestly, "Oh, no, sire! It is the swirls and plays of imagery which touch and delight my mind!" She and the Prince sat on one of the many benches in the ball room.
"I have never known a lady who regards that sort of art with any favor," the Prince remarked. "They seem to prefer Michelangelo or Rafael. Do you paint?"
"I do, in fact, when I am able," Dalena replied, warming even more to the fact that that was something she could share with Edward.
Edward smiled at her, the dimple in his chin more pronounced. Dalena looked at him with awe; never had she seen anyone so handsome before, except in her dreams. Here was the ideal of her imaginings right in front of her!
"You will paint a picture for me, perhaps?" Edward asked hopefully. "I will give sufficient coin for it."
"I would do it for nothing for one more dance," Dalena requested.
"Done!" Edward said. They swirled to the enchanting music; Edward's preoccupation with a certain blonde haired, green eyed Angel forgotten.
When midnight struck, the Prince realized that his Angel had vanished just like the first time, and he held a certain flaxen haired, bewitching maid with eyes of clear blue ice in his arms.
"You will be at the next ball?" the Prince questioned, hoping she would say 'yes'.
Dalena wanted to agree, but her lessons in subtlety came to the fore as she found herself saying, "Perhaps."
Edward let her go, his expressive brown eyes never leaving her as he told her, "I shall wait forever if I must. Good bye, Magda."
Dalena smiled in the carriage on the way home. She was so full of happiness that she could hardly contain herself. When she, Griselda, and her mother reached the chateau, she waltzed to the imaginary music, remembering all she and the Prince had discussed.
In her room downstairs, Cinderella slept, dreaming about Prince Edward. She saw herself having a picnic with him under a willow tree. As she handed a piece of pie to Edward, he took her tenderly in one of his arms, whispering words of friendship in her ear. Although she liked what her dream prince had told her, the Little Cinder Girl found that he did not move her the way she wanted. She went to a swing and, gaining momentum, swung back and forth. Edward joined her, pushing her swing even higher, but then her swing came down without her in it.
Angel! Dream-Edward called looking for her, have you returned to heaven? Edward then lost interest, going to a musical affair with drums that she heard in the distance. Cinderella ran after him. Before she got very far, a hand snaked out in front of her, pulling her back to another tree.
Where do you think you're going…Angel? A voice mocked behind her. He covered her eyes as he played a game with her, but Cinderella knew the sound of his siren's song.
Trillion! Dream-Cinderella exclaimed.
Within earshot, bella mia! Dream-Trillion said. He planted a wet, passionate kiss on her that left her breathless. On her bed, Cinderella felt her heart beat with excitement as the dream-fey took her in his arms. She arched her back as she felt his touch everywhere; so sensitive was she to him.
You are mine, and I love you always, Dream-Trillion told her.
Always, her dream image breathed.
She let him carry her above the clouds. The dream changed to a magic kingdom, where their union was applauded, and the Fey King joined them together in matrimony. As he bent to kiss her again, the dream dissolved, leaving the Little Cinder Girl with a smile on her full lips.