Ella watched the stars appear from the window in her new room in the palace. It was a ground-floor room, but she could still see the sky and after the day she'd had, seeing the sky was what she needed most.
That, and a plan.
She was in the castle, and that was good. But she’d made it this far half afraid that she wouldn’t make it at all, and she’d forgotten entirely to plan her next step. She needed to stop that wedding, to show the prince that it wasn’t Priscilla after all, that the shoe fitting meant nothing.
Well, almost nothing.
That shoe was specially created for her by the family fairy. A shoe custom- fit to her foot should have never even come close to fitting Priscilla’s ogre toes. And yet, somehow, it did. Perfectly. Which meant that something was wrong.
Just then, a shooting star caught her attention. She rolled her eyes. “Now you decide to show up,” she muttered to herself.
“Well I would have made it sooner if I could have. There’s lots of Hillshires besides you, you know. Aunts and Uncles and cousins.”
Ella turned to face the fairy and found herself once more amazed by the creature. She wasn’t more than four feet tall, slender like a reed, with wings that looked like spun sugar. Her skin was an odd bluish color and her hair was black like pitch, as were her eyes. Her ears were pointed and looked sharp like daggers, and her teeth were jagged points. She wore a short dress and small shoes that looked like they had been made of spider silk. Yet, despite her somewhat frightening appearance her voice was sweet like the sound of a gently flowing stream in the forest, and Ella knew her to be kind.
“I did come as soon as I heard.” The fairy said gently. “I couldn’t wait to congratulate you. Imagine, a Hillshire married to the Prince!”
“It’s not me, godmother.”
The fairy furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. “What do you mean it’s not you? You’re the only Hillshire left in the kingdom.”
“Think like a human for a moment. Amelia’s daughters took Father’s last name when they came here.”
The fairy shook her head and waved her hand dismissively. “That doesn’t count. Bloodlines are what count and the nearest Hillshire besides you is two kingdoms away. Besides, I heard that the King sent out that shoe you lost and that’s how he found the girl.”
“He did. Something’s gone wrong.”
The fairy stilled, and the air around her seemed to go dead. “What do you mean, ‘gone wrong’?”
“Godmother, the shoe fit Priscilla. She’s the one they’re announcing as the Prince’s betrothed.”
Blue skin paled to almost white. “That’s…that’s not possible.”
“It is. So tell me how. Does Amelia have a family fairy as well?”
“Oh, that’s not possible.” The fairy laughed, a sound like tiny bells ringing softly. “Only the good families get fairies. Family Hillshire had one largely because of your mother.”
“It wasn’t possible that the shoe should fit Priscilla either, godmother.” Ella sighed and turned back to the window. “Yet, here we are, because it did. I need you to find out what you can. I know this shouldn’t have happened, but it did and now we need to keep it from going much further.”
There was a long quiet, the only sound in the room was that of the fairy’s wings softly mixing the air.
“Do you love him?”
The question was sudden, unexpected, and Ella wasn’t sure how to answer. Did she? He made her knees weak and her heart race. She couldn’t stop thinking about him, about being near him again, about dancing with him. She’d lost track of time completely at the ball, which was why she’d had to leave in such a hurry. But did that mean she loved him?
“Do you?” the fairy prodded. Ella sighed.
“I don’t know, godmother. But if he marries Priscilla, I’ll never have a chance to find out.”
The fairy seemed to consider that for a moment, and then she nodded and lifted herself off the ground. “Be careful, pet.” She said softly. “Be wise and brave, but do be careful. Love will win, in the end.”
Priscilla was nervous.
It was a new sensation for her, being nervous. She’d never really had anything to be nervous about before, which was funny considering that she was almost twenty-six years old. Everything she’d wanted in life had been handed to her, from the moment her mother poisoned her father’s dinner and his estate became theirs.
But now, she was nervous. And with good reason. She knew the shoe shouldn’t have fit. She didn’t know whose shoe it was, but she knew it was not hers, and she hadn’t danced with the prince at the party. She’d been too busy trying not to look like she was staring at the butcher’s son, who came to the palace as an escort for his family’s ward – some orphaned rich child whose father somehow knew and trusted the butcher.
She’d been pining after the butcher’s son for some time, rather inexplicably since he had nothing at all to offer her. He was a poor man and if he were to court her his gifts would probably be those of a poor man: Wild flowers, pebbles picked from the river bank, and that sort of thing. Regardless, she was attracted to him, and that night it had taken all of her power not to get caught staring at the cut of his jaw or just how nice he looked in what were doubtlessly his best clothes – rags that they were.
With a shake of her head, Priscilla forced her mind back to the moment at hand. She was not the one the Prince was really looking for but she had to somehow convince him that she was. The shoe fitting helped, certainly. But she wasn’t a spring chicken anymore. She was nearly twenty six years old, almost a spinster. Though, admittedly not nearly as close to a fate of destitute loneliness as her elder half-sister. Nevertheless, she couldn’t risk botching this one. Marrying the Prince would set her in a life of even greater luxury than she had with her mother, Lady Amelia, the woman who married men for their fortunes and then took their lives.
As the wife of a Prince, she would one day rule the kingdom, and she could have absolutely anything she wanted.
But more importantly, if she married the Prince she’d be married. And if she didn’t marry the Prince, if he found her unsuitable, there probably wouldn’t be any other chances for her and she’d have to hope for the kindness of someone like the butcher’s son.
Which, in all honesty, wasn’t likely to happen. Priscilla knew she was mean-spirited. Poor men liked girls who could make them smile and the only people she’d ever made smile were her mother and half-sister. She desperately needed this break. She needed this chance. It just had to work out!
“Would you stop pacing, you’re making me dizzy.”
Priscilla gave a passing glace to Anastasia and ignored her. She really hated that girl, and yet they were the best friends either of them had ever known.
“I said, stop pacing!” Anastasia’s foot shot out from under her dress and caught Priscilla’s ankle, sending her sprawling. She was just barely saved from landing on the floor in a heap by a man who had just walked into the room. She lifted her face from his chest, praying she hadn’t left rouge or lip stain on his shirt, and looked up to thank him. When she saw his face, the words froze in her throat.