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Seek Ye First
The king had been perplexed over the whole thing: a mysterious princess arriving each night without a chaperone or escort, rudely rushing off the last night of the festival, leaving behind a single slipper made of glass. ("Who dances in glass shoes?" the murmur ran through the crowd when she had first appeared.)
Then there followed the discussion on finding the young lady, the Fairy Princess as she came to be called after her strange disappearance.
"What is her name?"
"I don't know."
"Who are her parents?"
"I don't know."
"Where is she from?"
"I don't know."
"So you know nothing at all about her?"
"I know what she is not."
Well, that made a lot of sense.
In the end despite repeated objections and arguments Prince Erik found himself overruled, and his father issued a proclamation requesting all princesses of the land to come try on the glass slipper. While secretly mortified, the young man kept his peace throughout the trial which ended up a failure.
Then all the duchesses were ordered to appear. After that the marchionesses came. The viscountesses next were summoned. Then the baronesses. And after that all the remaining nobility and ladies of the court were invited to try on the slipper…unsuccessfully.
But when the king admitted he feared his son's lady was truly lost, the prince did not despair. Instead he determined to search throughout the kingdom for the maiden himself. He would go amongst his subjects, try the slipper on the peasant women, the servants, the poor.
The reaction of high society to such a declaration was of astonishment, confusion, resentment. What? Did their future king think he would find his bride amongst the commoners? It was too ridiculous.
Yet Prince Erik remained indifferent to the stares, whispers, and laughter which followed him. Week after week he traveled through the countryside and towns, trekking through the dirty alleys and hot fields. The slipper was tried on the young and old, the rude and polite, the loud and quiet; from the barmaid to the goose girl to the beggar woman. Visiting the manors he requested to see each of the women employed.
So when the madam at the latest mansion grudgingly confessed there remained one more servant, but surely she need not appear on account of being too dirty, Erik found his way down to the kitchen. Crouching by the fire, the raggedly-dressed maid looked up, sadness slipping behind surprise as her green eyes widened when she saw his tall figure and the dazzling shoe.
A moment passed with him studying her face, brown eyes meeting her own. He held out a hand to her, and her palm was coarse against his, cinders smudging his skin as he led her to a stool. Wordlessly the maid sank onto it. Kneeling before her, he whispered, "There is nothing to fear," in response to her half-nervous, half-frightened look. At her nod, gently he carefully guided the glass slipper onto her barefoot. It fitted perfectly.
Erik stared, a smile curving his lips before he looked up at the maiden, a weight lifting from his shoulders as the uncertainty in her expression faded in light of his tender look and the hand he pressed to her palm.
"I knew I would find you," he whispered.
"You…how did…?" she stammered, blushing.
His smile widened. "It was when you bemoaned the servants having to clean up after the festival, marveling it would take you days."
And she laughed happily.