Cinderella cursed as she tripped and sent the firewood she had just gathered flying out of her hands. With a groan she started picking them back up, feeling the obviously twisted ankle spike with pain each time. She sat down on the same log that had thrown off her balance and brought her leg up to inspect it. The clock in town rang out the hour, letting her know that it was 8am.
"Oh that clock," She grumbled, "I hear you! 'Go on, get up' you say! 'Time to start another day!'".
Seeing that there was no serious damage she lowered her leg to the forest floor again and stood. Shaking her head and laughing at her tiny feet she hummed, lifting the wood once more. She had ridiculously small feet. Perhaps most would assume this made her graceful or dainty, but no. There was just not enough surface area for her to get a good foothold when she walked. This did not mean that she was not graceful in other ways. As long as she stayed clear of objects blocking her path she moved quite well.
She was just about to pick up the last log when someone hollered from a window, "Cinderella!"
Jumping, the logs flew to the ground yet again, though, thankfully, not as far as they had before.
Mumbling to herself she said, "Oh now what do they want?"
In spite of her situation Cinderella was smiling. She could hear the list of chores being screeched at her by three different voices.
"Morning, noon and night. 'Cinderella, Cinderella'. I can run around in circles till I'm dizzy," She sighed, "Still they holler."
"Cinderella?" A man's voice asked.
For the third time that morning she dropped her pile of wood again. "Oh for heaven sakes! What is it?" She barked at him, turning around. When she turned and took in the intruder's appearance she blushed furiously. He was tall and very handsome. His short black hair was neatly trimmed and swept away from his face.
The man took in the young ladies appearance. She wore old, tattered clothing but carried herself with an air of nobility. Though she had smudges on her skin he could see that she was breathtakingly beautiful. Despite her annoyed tone he was intrigued.
Looking amused he repeated, "Your name is Cinderella?"
She wrung her hands, embarrassed. "Well… actually it's Ella. My stepsisters call me that because I tend to get soot on my face when I sit too close to the fire."
"I see," He smiled, "Cinder-Ella."
"I'm sorry are you a lord or something?" She asked with her head bowed respectfully. He was well dressed with a long coat and a sturdy sword by his side. Even his boots looked expensive.
He raised an eyebrow, "You've never seen me before?"
"I wouldn't have asked if I had," She replied, cheekily.
He chuckled, "Sorry. A prince is not used to young women not recognizing him."
Snapping her head up Cinderella's mouth dropped. Had she truly been short with the Prince twice? "Forgive my impudence," She begged, dropping into a low curtsy, "I didn't know it was you, your highness."
He clucked his tongue, "None of that."
"I'm sorry?" She looked up, confused.
"Had I known you would stop snapping at me I would have lied. Don't make me order you to forget what I said." He replied, bending to help gather the items she had dropped.
"Oh please! I can get that!" She quickly tried to take them from him.
"Nonsense, I've seen how effective your gathering has been." He teased.
Narrowing her eyes at him she crossed her arms over her chest. "Have you been spying on me?"
He held up one hand in surrender while the other held the logs, "A man cannot help what he sees. Although I must tell you, you have a very nice ankle, even when it is injured."
It was the second time that day he had genuinely shocked her and he couldn't help but notice the smile that she tried hard to fight. Even with her annoyance she liked him, and was a bit flattered.
"Do you always go around stalking defenseless young ladies in the woods?" She laughed.
"Does nothing ever upset you? Despite everything that has happened today you have yet to frown." He looked into her eyes, sincerely interested in this answer.
It was the first time she thought about it. A contemplative look came over her face as she lowered her gaze to the ground. "I suppose I smile because it's better than crying. After my father died my stepmother turned me into a maid. Since then very little happy things have come my way and so I try to find the good in everything."
The Prince softened. That was not the answer he had expected. Guilt flooded him when he realized he had taken off into the woods that night after arguing with his father about marriage. He had felt like things couldn't get worse for him, while this young woman, who had seemingly nothing, worked hard to enjoy every day.
Cinderella looked up at his surprisingly gentle expression. She shifted, obviously uncomfortable. "Are you alright, your highness?"
"Call me charming." He breathed so she almost didn't hear him.
"Charming?" She looked at him in disbelief. Had she heard him right?
"Charles" He corrected.
With a sly grin she took the pile of wood from him and said teasing, "I think I like Prince Charming better." She began walking toward the manor, knowing she would be in trouble if she didn't get back to work. He watched her go with a moony smile.
"Can I see you again?" He called.
She stopped, looking back at him in surprise for the third time that day. "You are not like other Princes are you?"
"Is that a good thing?" He asked, laughing.
She giggled adorably, "I guess so."
"I'll come back tomorrow?" She nodded and didn't glance back until she heard him say, "It was nice meeting you… Ella."
It was the first time in years someone had called her that.