She heard her stepmother’s voice inside, asking where she’d gone, and she took off running. She needed to find the prince, she needed to tell him the truth, and she couldn’t let Amelia stop her. Not this time.
She opened the first door she found on the left and quickly shut it behind her, holding her breath and listening for a sign that someone had seen her. After a few minutes of silence, she looked around the room she was in. It appeared to be a nursery. There were two cribs, with blue and pink blankets all made up. There were toys and dolls and teddy bears on the shelves, and a pair of rocking chairs next to a window. Of course the palace would have a nursery, she thought, but two cribs?
Ella was puzzled, but she had no time to waste. She opened the door again and left the room, closing the door behind her quietly. She looked through all the rooms in the corridor, yet she didn’t seem to make much progress. There was a music room, a school room, a few unused bedrooms, and several rooms that looked as though they were being used for storage. But no room she expected the Prince to visit. A grand clock at the end of the corridor sang out six in the evening and she sighed. She was out of time, she couldn’t stay away any longer.
“There’s nothing left to tell, sir, honest.”
Philip stared at the young stable hand for a moment and then sighed. “So it’s just as they say, is it? The shoe didn’t fit any girl in the kingdom except this one.”
He stood, and reached out to ruffle the boy’s hair. “Thanks for the help, Andrew. I appreciate it.” Not that it’s done any good, he thought, they’ve still somehow got the wrong girl. He didn’t know where else to turn for answers. He was bound by his word, he’d said that he’d marry whomever the shoe fit. And somehow, the shoe fit the wrong girl. What was her name, anyway? Pri-something.
Ella got another chance to look for the Prince after supper, when her sisters and stepmother where once again enveloped in wedding plans. This time, she took a different corridor, to another wing of the palace. She searched for as long as she could, almost frantic as she opened and shut doors and turned corners into new halls. When she realized that the women would probably be looking for her, she turned around to head back, but didn’t recognize anything she saw. She’d forgotten to keep track of which turns she’d made, which doors she’d opened, and now she was lost.
“Fantastic, Ella,” she muttered, “Simply fantastic.”
Philip frowned as he looked at the girl in front of him. She looked so familiar, but he didn’t know her name. He knew all the names of all the people who worked in the palace, he’d made it a point to memorize them and to remember each new person as he or she was hired. But this girl, he couldn’t recall the name of.
Ella was dumbstruck for a moment, enraptured just as she had been at the dance by the size and build of the man before her, and by his voice. Then she heard a different voice, a shrill one she knew too well, and her mind finally started cooperating. She grabbed the prince’s hand and dragged him into a nearby room, shutting the door behind them and leaning against it. He started to speak but she gave him a fierce look and he quieted. She held her breath, praying not to be found, as the sound of her stepmother’s shoes clicked down the corridor. Her name was called again, and then there was a moment of silence. The clicking sound drew closer, until Ella knew she was about to be found out. She held the handle of the door tight, praying that Amelia didn’t prove to be stronger than her. The knob turned a fraction in her hand, and then a fraction the other way, and then there was silence. Her name was called again, and she held her breath. Then, the sound of her sisters squabbling drew a scoff out of her stepmother on the other side of the door, and the clicking sound of Amelia’s shoes grew more distant until Ella couldn’t hear them at all.
She sighed, and slumped against the door.
“What just happened?”
Ella straightened and looked at the Prince. He looked confused, but not angry, which she was grateful for.
“I need to talk to you,” she said, a little hesitantly.
“Well, obviously you’ve got me in a good position to listen.”
She cringed a little, wishing that she didn’t need to keep leaning against the door while she said what she had to say.
“The girl they brought here, Priscilla, she –“
“Priscilla! That was her name! The girl I’m to marry.”
“Yes, well, she’s not the one you’re looking for.”
Ella resisted the urge to bite her lip as the prince frowned
“What do you mean by that?”
“You wanted to find the girl you danced with, right? The one who dropped her shoe along the road just outside the castle?”
“Well yes” he answered, obviously still perplexed. “That’s why I sent out the Emissary, to find the girl whose foot fit the shoe, I knew it had to be custom-made.”
“I don’t know how it happened,” she said softly, “But the girl who the shoe fit on is not the right girl. She’s my sister. My step-sister. She’s not the one you danced with.”
“You’re her sister?” But I didn’t see you at that meeting they arranged yesterday.”
Ella shook her head. “I wasn’t there. Her mother married my father and she doesn’t like to have me around her daughters. But that doesn’t change the fact that Priscilla did not dance with you at that ball.”
To her horror, the prince rolled his eyes. “And I suppose you know who did?”
Philip took a moment to look at the girl more closely, noticing her chocolate-colored hair and her golden brown eyes. Her voice was right, and he recognized her. It would make sense, she could be the one he danced with. He reached his hand out to her. “Prove it.”
Fear shot through her eyes. “How?” she asked.
“Dance with me.”
She seemed to consider it for a moment before putting her hand in his. He led her to the middle of the room, and they started to dance. As her body moved with him, he knew she was right. This was the girl he had danced with, the one he had searched for. So how was she not the one his men brought back? How did the shoe not fit her?