The dance ended slowly. Ella followed the prince's footsteps as they slowed and then stilled completely. His face read uncertainty, confusion, and frustration, and her hopes were raised. She waited for a long minute, searching his eyes.
"You're the one I danced with," he whispered. She nodded in response, having no words. She was so overjoyed that everything would be all right. He knew, and now he would set things straight.
Ella waited, breathless as he stared at her for what seemed like forever. Why wasn't he excited about the news? Why wasn't he rushing off with her in tow to speak to his emissary, to his father? Why wasn't he...doing anything?
"Is something wrong?"
He nodded. "You're the right one, but the shoe didn't fit you."
"So? I'm the one you danced with. You wanted to marry me. What's the problem?"
"I wanted to marry you, but I didn't imagine this problem."
"What problem?" Her voice echoed in the room, and she recognized the frantic pitch of it. She was getting frustrated, losing control of her emotions. Her father had always cautioned her against allowing herself to be too volatile. In response, the prince only sighed and shook his head.
"My promise was an official edict, taken down by the court scribe, set in the record books. I cannot possibly go against it."
"You don't have to. I don't understand what you're trying to say."
He shook his head again. "I cannot marry you, because of the wording of my promise. My ability to rule the people when my father passes relies on my ability to keep my word. My promise was not to marry the girl I danced with. It was to marry the girl whose foot fit the custom-made shoe."
Her heart dropped straight to her toes. "I don't suppose you can re-word your promise?"
Another head shake. "I cannot."
"Is there no way to fix this?"
"There is not."
Ella studied his expression closely. He was hiding something from her. It was there, deep in his eyes, behind what he was saying to her, and in the set of his shoulders. "What aren't you telling me?"
Suddenly he turned angry, his expression clouding as a veil dropped over his eyes. "Madam, if you are finished holding me hostage, there is important business I must attend to. I find that my future wife and I are in desperate need of some time to get to know each other."
With that, he left. He just walked to the door, opened it, and left, closing it behind him. Ella was left in the semi-dark of the unused room, completely stunned. What next? Was she going to stand by for the rest of her life, watching her sister have the life that she should have had? Did she even want the life she should have had if it meant being attached to a man who would not follow his heart's deepest desires, would not use the power she knew he had to alter the conditions of his promise so that he could have what he wanted without jeopardizing the people's opinion of him?
She felt like a fool. One night of dancing and she thought she knew the man. She thought she was in love with him. She thought...
She was wrong. That was the simple fact. With that realization, a sob forced its way through her chest. The strangled sound echoed in the room, making her feel more alone than ever before. What would she do now? How was she going to recover from this one? Did she even want to recover?
With a heavy heart she left the room and made her way back to her own quarters. She would miss supper, probably be beaten for not being there to dance attendance on her about-to-be-royal half sister. At this point, she didn't care. She felt as though her spirit were broken, her very soul shattered. She had been in love, and he...
He just walked away.
Ella barely made it to the bed before exhaustion claimed her. She lay on the bed, limbs skewed at odd angles, staring at the piece of sky she could see through the window. Her hopelessness nearly overwhelmed her. After a long while, her mind stopped racing in circles of questions, and she fell asleep.
What did it mean?
The shoe, the custom made glass shoe that could only have fit one foot in the entire world, fit on the wrong girl's foot. Now he was locked into a promise he'd carelessly worded.One that could not be taken back, not just because it was a promise written down in the records of the palace, but because the promise was made to the one man no one could legally break promises with. He couldn't go back on his word, or alter it at all, because it was a promise made to his father. And a promise to the King was simply unbreakable. To go back on his word to his father would be to set a prescient that many would follow afterward, one of lying to the King and making promises with no intention of keeping them. The kingdom, one governed largely by the people's own sense of honor, integrity, and self-respect, would fall apart.
So how did he get out of this? How did he marry the right girl? Or, how did he marry the wrong one and not hate himself?
He glanced up when he heard a knock on the door of his study. He considered ignoring it, any of the staff would have entered following the knock unless bidden otherwise, and his father would have just walked in. That meant it was his guests - either one of the three he didn't want to see, or the one he did want to see but shouldn't.
When whomever it was knocked a second time, he gave up with a low growl in the back of his throat. He really didn't want to be interrupted right now, he needed to think, but it didn't look like he had a choice. "Come in."
A pale redhead came in and he struggled to hold back his sigh. "What is it, Priscilla?"
Philip found himself smiling at her shyness. "Come over here and sit down, Dear."
She seemed grateful of the offer. She quickly approached and sat in a chair on the other side of the desk.
"What can I do for you?" he prompted.
"I just..thought we should get to know each other."
He smiled, and nodded. "What would you like to know first?"
Ella woke slowly. She didn't want to wake up. She wanted to stay asleep. She wanted to disappear into the darkness.
"Ella, wake up."
She opened her eyes and peered at the family fairy. "What is it, godmother?"
"Why are you crying?"
"I'm not crying. I'm sleeping."
"You were crying. Why?"
Ella sat up with a sigh. She didn't want to talk about this, but godmother wasn't going to allow her to avoid it. "I met him, Philip. I met him yesterday."
The fairy beamed. "Oooh!" she squealed "Tell me, how did it go?"
"Horribly? How could it have gone horribly? He recognized you, right?"
"Yes, and he danced with me again, and he knows the truth."
"So what's so horrible about that?"
"He's...not going to do anything about it."
There was a long moment of silence as the fairy tried to understand what Ella was saying. Recognition hit, and then fury. "He's just going to marry Priscilla?"
Ella nodded, and the fairy stamped her foot. "That nancy!"
"He says there's nothing he can do about it. He made a promise, and he can't break it, for the sake of his ability to rule the people."
The fairy nodded, a little more calm. "Yes, a promise to the King. It cannot be broken, to do so would be to jeopardize the very principles the kingdom was built on. He has to keep that promise to the very word."
"What can I do, godmother? I'm not sure I even want to fight for him anymore, since he doesn't seem to want to do anything on his end."
"The only one who can get a promise to the King revoked is the King. You could try taking it up with him."
Ella scoffed. "As if I could get an audience with the King."
The fairy shrugged. "You never know. In the meantime, look out. Amelia may have a fairy after all, a rogue. I don't know for sure, but there are rumors starting. I'll let you know what I learn."
"A rogue? What does that mean?"
The fairy pressed her lips together for a minute, as if she wasn't sure she should say any more.
"Godmother, tell me."
The fairy sighed. "When males of my kind lose their mate, particularly to a tragedy, they have a tendency to go rogue. Basically, fairies aren't very good at keeping themselves balanced out. We all need someone to help balance us. Even I have someone who keeps me in check. Once a fairy finds a mate, they become the balancing force of each other. The only balancing force. The females can often go on and find a close friend to be a new balancer. But the males...they don't normally do so well. Fortunately tragic accidents are infrequent among our people. Sometimes it does still happen. And when it does, the male usually goes rogue."
"Are the rogues dangerous?"
"Yes, very. Think evil incarnate with fairy powers."
"Why would Amelia have one?"
"I don't know."
Ella sighed again. "It's so frustrating not to know so much."
There was a quick knock at Ella's door followed by a male voice. "Miss Ella, may I come in?"
She exchanged a confused glance with the fairy, and then shrugged. "Yes."
The emissary opened the door and bowed slightly at the waist. "Miss Ella, I know it is early in the morning, but the King takes his breakfast before dawn and wishes you to join him."
Ella stared, stunned. The king...wanted her to have breakfast with him? Wait..."Breakfast before dawn?"
"Between you and me, miss, it's more of a late-night snack for His Highness."
She smiled at that, and nodded. "I'll be right there, thank you."
The man nodded in response and left. He seemed to have not even noticed the fairy, who smiled at Ella and flashed a thumbs-up before disappearing.
Breakfast with the king?
*The only one who can get a promise to the King revoked is the King. You could try taking it up with him.*
Ella smiled at this new hope. Maybe, just maybe, things were going to be okay after all.