A Heart Hidden in Cinders

By PseudoTwili

Fantasy / Romance

A Heart Hidden in Cinders

If we were to go to a certain beautiful kingdom called Hyrule we would see luscious green fields and hills; verdant, overgrown forests; craggy mountains, the most prominent of which being a fiery, lava spewing volcano; sparkling lakes; plains of swirling deserts sands; slopes buried in snow; humid swamps; and in the center of it all, a colossal palace with gleaming turrets stretching for the heavens.

Surrounding the castle is a thriving town filled with buildings and citizens. One half of the country's hylian population lives there, in homes that would be palaces if Hyrule Castle did not dwarf them, or in shacks not worthy to be called dwellings. If we should peek into the kitchen of one of the handsome homes, we could lay our eyes on a girl working there.

The girl was an exotic beauty. Her face was a bluish white but was covered with a gray film from working over the fire. Her hair was the same color of those leaping, mesmerizing tongues of flame. Her eyes pierced through everything, as a fire might; her sclerae were yellow, her irises, orange and her pupils, red. Her lips were a pale lavender. Her figure was slim from scanty meals and doing all the hard work from which her stepsisters refrained so they wouldn't soil their soft hands or strain their weak backs. Her clothes were a ragged, faded gray, and both frayed and burned at the cuff and hem.

She hurried from fire to table, table to fire, and back again, preparing breakfast. From outside the kitchen door flowed sunshine and birdsong. Despite her personal squalor and servitude, the girl didn't let that stop her from embracing the beautiful, sparkling new day. She hummed as she placed a bowl on each of the three trays resting on the table made of stone. She scooped honey-sweetened porridge into the bowls, flipped the fat sausages from the frying pan, and poured a delectable fruit nectar into three goblets.

"Cinder-face!" a voice screeched.

"Ashes!" came from an equally disagreeable throat.

"Coming! I'm coming!" Midna, which is our dear girl's name, called. To herself she muttered, "Cranky lazybones!"

Midna hated slaving for her stepmother and two stepsisters. She remembered merrier times, back when she was a wee girl. Her parents cherished her and showered her with love. However, sadness fell upon them when Midna's mother died trying to bring her next child into the world. Midna and her father mourned for the loss of their loved one and grew even closer together.

Many months passed and Midna's father remarried. His new wife was a widow with two daughters slightly older than Midna. The woman's name was Robdaria and her two daughters where Potra and Werny. All three pretended to like Midna, but gave her the cold shoulder behind her father's back. They hated the unyielding bond that existed between Midna and her father. Whenever they tried to make one appear distasteful to the other's eyes, Midna and her father overcame it.

Again tragedy struck; assassins slew Midna's father, leaving her at the mercies of her stepmother. The woman wasted no time in forcing Midna out of her lovely room with the claim that her own daughters needed a private sitting room and banished the bereft girl to the kitchen. From then on Midna had to perform all the chores around the house, both inside and out.

On many a night Midna, worn out from the demands and insults of her stepsisters and stepmother, collapsed onto her thin blankets close to the dying embers in the fireplace. When she needed comfort she drew, from a hidden nook by the far side of the fireplace, a book of ancient legends that had been a gift from her father. In the middle of her favorite story she had hidden a small painting of her beautiful mother. These two objects brought warmth to her aching heart during the loneliest of times in the ten years that she had spent as a drudge.

Now, as she carried the trays to each bedroom, she glanced about her. This house, her father's house, looked grand. The only reason that it did was because Midna scrubbed and shined, clipped and cleared away to keep it in excellent condition. Despite the fact that the three women upstairs lived like slothful queens, she took pride in keeping her home in shape.

First she went into Robdaria's room. Her stepmother was seated at the vanity, applying powders and colors to her face. She glanced up in the mirror at Midna and continued applying her cosmetics.

"Good morning, stepmother," Midna greeted her. The girl set the tray down on a table close by and turned to leave, but Robdaria put out her hand.

"Come here, girl."

Midna came closer, unsure of what her stepmother wanted. Robdaria gripped the girl's chin in her claw-like hand. "You poor child! It is a pity that you are not beautiful like my daughters."

Midna broke away and said nothing, but her face burned with anger and shame because she dared not make a retort. Her hair came alive with her indignation and almost moved of its own accord. She exited the room and wanted desperately to get away from the grating laughter that followed her. She delivered the two other trays to Potra and Werny and gratefully escaped back down to the kitchen. She took a hold on the broom and viciously swept the house until her temper dissipated.

Midna's life, however, was not all work. On some occasions she slipped away from the house and frolicked through the meadows outside the city, rolling in the grass and plucking wildflowers. Years ago she had encountered a bent old man who was caretaker of the large library in Castle Town. He lent her any of the books she wished and she devoured the wonderful words as she meandered through the countryside. She was extremely careful that her stepmother and stepsisters never found out about her book-borrowing, for they would surely put a stop to it.

Periodically, she entered the nearby woods and spent quiet hours traipsing beneath the trees. She lost herself in the world of melodious bird calls, winds that whispered of far-away things, and bushes rustling—a result of shy little creatures. There was no one there to tell her not to eat berries until the sight of another one made her feel sick or to forbid her from scampering up a great tree to gain a better view. She had one favorite spot, surrounded by trees, completely inaccessible and unseen until she climbed over mounds of boulders. Here she stole hours to read her treasured tomes.

After completing her chores, Midna left Castle Town and kept going into the forest. She had just read her favorite book for the fifth time and was imagining that she was the girl of the story. She floated along no particular trail, clothed in imaginary finery when she heard a sound. She ceased all movement, just as her magical dress became her old gray rag again. The noise that came to her ears was whining, like that of a hurt animal. She approached the sound and when she came around some thick bushes she abruptly stopped.

What lay before her was a huge white, gray, and black wolf with his left foreleg ensnared in a cruel metal trap. In the first second, she thought that his body was changing into black particles,but in the blink of an eye, he was just a wolf. He stared at her without moving a muscle in his body. His eyes and the loops stuck in his furry ears were blue.

She knew she should be afeared of him but she was not; all she felt was a profound pity for the great beast caught in the hunter's brutal device. Perhaps I could free him... She inched closer to him, hoping he would stay calm. He didn't budge or even growl, but continued to pierce her with his soulful eyes the color of bachelor's buttons.

"There, there," she said soothingly, reaching out her hands to release his paw. "I'm just going to set you free."

With all the might that she had acquired from her daily toil, she eased open the jagged teeth of the snare. The wolf removed his paw and she noticed the blood dripping from it.

"Oh!" she cried.

She scurried over to a trickle of a stream, untied the knot of her scarf, having been around her neck, and dipped the fabric into the water. She knelt next to the wolf, cleaned away all of the blood, rinsed out the scarf, and tenderly bandaged his paw. All the time that she did this, his eyes bored into her face and he kept his mouth firmly closed, gritting his teeth.

"There!" she affirmed. "Your paw will be healed in no time!"

The wolf stood and started to limp away from Midna, keeping his injured foot from touching the ground. Then he turned and once again fixed his eyes upon her. "Thank you, fair maiden," he said in a deep, growl-like voice. Then he was gone.

Midna did not move for ten minutes, staring at the place she'd last seen the wolf before he turned out of her sight. Over and over in her mind she replayed the astounding thing that had just happened. The wolf had spoken to her and not only that, but called her a fair maiden! Her stepsisters always called her hair hideous and her coloring repulsive. She never took much stock in what they said but she knew she didn't make a beautiful sight in her drab dress, unkempt hair, and grimy skin. However, the wolf had seen through the ugliness to the genuine beauty that lay inside her.

She strolled through the forest, plucked berries from their bushes, and made her way home. All that time she wondered, How could there be a wolf that talks? And why does he have those little blue earrings? She remained in the forest for such a time that she had forgotten about preparing the next meal for her stepmother and stepsisters. As she arrived home the three of them pounced upon her.

"Where have you been, you little good-for-nothing?" Robdaria demanded.

Midna held out her skirt filled with fresh berries. "I was out in the forest," she replied carelessly.

"Gallivanting about and wasting time, I've no doubt," Werny sneered.

"While we wait here, slowly starving to death!" Potra screeched.

Midna ignored them and headed for the kitchen. Behind her, Potra and Werny were in a fit to be tied. "How dare she treat us like that!" Potra cried.

"Mother, do something!" Werny pleaded.

"In time, my dears. All in good time."

Midna busied herself in the kitchen; to use the berries that she had gathered, she made several pies. Even that failed to satisfy the persnickety stepsisters. Each complained that the other's slice was larger, or sweeter, or had more blueberries in it. They told Midna that it was the worst pie that they had ever eaten, yet they gobbled several slices.

As twilight bathed Hyrule in an otherworldly light, a man dressed in green entered the palace and strode through the halls. Queen Zelda approached from the other direction and, by the rosy colors that floated through the immense windows, recognized her brother.

She greeted him, "Ah, Link! I've been searching for you! Let us go where we can speak privately."

"As you wish," he replied.

They retired to a lovely courtyard to which Zelda retreated when her duties became too oppressive. She seated herself on her cushioned, white bench and Link settled next to her. That was when she noticed the bandage around his left hand.

"Link, what happened?"

"Oh, just a little—accident," he replied. "Have no fear; I am well. Now, what was it that you wished to discuss?"

"I've come from a council meeting. All the members desire me to wed. They have mentioned it before, but they seem to be quite serious now. I have faced and solved many problems before, but this—! This leaves me undone! I don't know what recourse I have. You know how I feel about marriage."

"Yes, I do. In that regard, we are in accordance with each other. We want to find the ones for whom we are meant to be with; two people who we can love and will love us in return. No arranged marriages for either of us!"

"Thank you, Link. Now what am I to do with the council?"

"Let's stall them. I'll go with you next time—dreadful decision, I know—and I'll help you find some reason to put off their plan, whatever it is."

He contorted his mouth into a goofy grin and she chuckled, which was his desired result. "For the prince of Hyrule, you are crazy!" she giggled, feeling that her burden was lightened.

"And as your brother, what am I?"

"Crazy and wonderful!"

The next day Robdaria piled Midna with tasks, as punishment for the girl's insolence. Midna cleaned and scrubbed and made everything shine. When she thought she was finished, Robdaria approached her and glowered. "Do you call that shining? Do it over, you useless scum! I want to see my face in it!"

Robdaria stalked away and Midna muttered, "You couldn't see your face in anything, unless it's two inches in front of your nose!"

She pursed her lips to keep from saying anything else uncharitable and set about scrubbing everything again. She cleansed the floors to such a sparkling degree that she was sure that her stepmother could not complain about it, when Potra and Werny tromped inside. They had been out riding with a couple of the young men of Castle Town, who must have been completely mindless to want to go out with the two repugnant sisters. The stepsisters tracked their soiled boots all over the shining floors, driving Midna to distraction.

"Mother!" Werny cried. "Look at the floors!"

"What have you been doing, Worthless? I bet you've been loafing this whole time! What if our young men wanted to come inside? They would have seen this mess and we could never show our faces in public again!" Potra bellowed.

That would be a blessing on those unfortunate young men! Midna thought.

Robdaria approached the scene at the sound of her daughters' voices. She cuffed Midna and commanded angrily, "Did I not tell you to scrub these floors? Get to it, you worthless whelp!"

The three of them pranced off, leaving Midna nearly in tears. She felt like throwing the brush that she held in her aching hands through the window, pouring her bucket of filthy water over their heads, and storming out of the place. Much as she wanted to get away from them she dared not. Her stepmother said she was not of age, but Midna didn't care and would depart in an instant, except for one thing. She suspected that Robdaria paid for the murder of her father and she only wanted to be able to prove it. In addition, the house in which they lived was her father's and she felt that they had no right to it.

For the next week Midna's stepmother and stepsisters kept her slaving at all the tasks they could conjure, no matter how ridiculous. At last they seemed to tire of that and simply let her complete her chores without making her do them over again. The two stepsisters were just as petulant and vicious as they could be, as they were this particular time after Midna worked hard to cleanse their soiled garments.

Midna brought the clothes that she had just freshly washed and ironed to her stepsisters' rooms. Potra and Werny were together in Potra's room and instantly began to pelt Midna with insults and unwarranted criticism.

"Look at that stain!" Potra shouted, pointing to the ruffle of one of her petticoats.

"You made that when you spilled the bottle of ink!" Midna retorted. "I can't help for your carelessness!"

"Carelessness!" Potra shrieked. "I like that, coming from you! You clumsy oaf! You spilled that ink on me! How dare you accuse me!"

"They say that the faults of the parents are visited on the children," Werny sniggered. "Your mother was just as useless as you are!"

"That's why she couldn't even birth her child without dying!" Potra sneered.

"Your father was no good either. What kind of man goes out and gets himself killed like he did?"

"You horrible—" Midna paused, her eyes flaming, and tried to think of a loathsome word to describe them, "—beasts!" she finished.

She dropped the rest of the clothes and dashed from the room, half blinded by the tears stinging her eyes. She fled out of the house and the city, until she reached the forest. Her breath coming in ragged gasps, she collapsed by a mossy tree and wept her heart out. She did not take notice of anything happening around her because of her gulping sobs.

A roar shook Midna from her misery and she jerked up her head to see a gigantic bear not a dozen yards from her, huffing and pawing at the ground. She screamed and tried to scramble away, praying that the bear would not charge her. She was so frightened she could hardly move.

Just then she heard another growl and a voice said, "Leave her, Bear. She means no harm to you."

She turned and spotted the same wolf whom she had rescued, standing firmly on all four legs. The bear ceased her threatening motions towards Midna, saluted the wolf with her paw, and ambled away. Midna sagged in relief and let out a great, shuddering sigh. The wolf padded over to her.

"Are you hurt?" he asked in the same growl-like voice that she remembered.

"N-no," she gulped. "You saved me."

He shrugged. "One good turn deserves another. You freed me from the snare, and I was more than glad to repay my debt to you."

"Is your paw healed?"

"It is as good as new. You see?" He lifted his left foreleg and she glimpsed that he spoke the truth.

"Oh, I am glad. I was wondering if I would see you again."

"And here I am. Are you surprised?"

"No, I was hoping I would. Can I ask you a question?"

"You may ask, but I cannot promise that I shall answer."

"How is it that you are able to talk? Can other animals speak like you do?"

"That is two questions. However, I shall answer both. I learned when I was a child, just as you did, and I have never met another animal, aside from parrots, who could speak any human tongue."

"Can you understand what animals say?"

"Yes. The she-bear was nervous because you are on the fringe of her territory."

"Oh! I must move away!"

Midna hastened away from that spot and the wolf trod silently by her side. "Now it is my turn to ask a question," he said. "Why were you weeping with such vehemence?"

Midna was silent for several seconds. "My stepsisters—they're horrible. They said nasty things about my mother and father." Renewing the unpleasant memory caused a few more salty drops to course down her cheeks.

"I should like to scare them out of their wits for doing that," the wolf declared. "I ought to chase them out of town for making you cry."

Midna laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. She imagined the wolf in pursuit of her stepsisters, who would run, hollering and screaming, through the streets of Castle Town. After a spectacle like that they surely could not hold their heads up in public again!

She giggled again and looked over to her companion. "It's funny, but you don't seem like a wolf. You are so like—well, a human."

"Stranger things have happened. What about you? You seem like too fiery a maiden to let two sourpusses get your goat."

"I know. I usually shrug off their snide remarks but during the last several days they have been especially trying. My stepmother and stepsisters made me do all sorts of tasks; each time I thought I was finished they told me I hadn't done it correctly, or else they dirtied it again."

"Why don't you just leave them?"

"I can't do that. Not until I get the evidence that will prove my stepmother proffered money to the assassins who murdered my father."

"Why do you wish for that?"

"At first, I must admit, I was revengeful, but then I realized that I was going astray. Revenge is not the answer. Now I simply wish to expose her because of what she did."

"I shall aid you in any way you desire," the wolf vowed.

"Will you be my friend?" she queried timidly.

"The pleasure is all mine."

From then on, Midna and the wolf were convivial comrades. For Midna, she had a physical being to whom she could pour her troubles and seek comfort. For the wolf, he had a companion who did not mind talking to him, nor was afraid that he was a beast. They each thanked God for a dependable friend.

Midna traveled to the forest more often to visit the wolf. She grew quite fond of him and their conversations. He could always make her laugh and listened seriously to all her woes. Sometimes he let her ride on his back and since he was such a huge wolf her feet didn't quite touch the ground. He begged her to let him scare her stepmother and stepsisters into fleeing the area for good, but she answered with a definite 'no.'

Sometimes she read her books to him and she learned that he was an intelligent wolf; beside the fact that he could speak, he knew a great many things. The only thing that she didn't tell him was where she lived; she was afraid her step-family would hurt him because he was dear to her.

With the added comfort of her new friend, the insults and degradations from Robdaria, Potra, and Werny bounced from her as if she wore armor. She let the words flow past her and continued her chores, singing like a red-winged blackbird. This irked the three curmudgeons to no end.

In the council room of Hyrule Castle, the councilors faced Queen Zelda with an ultimatum. She had to wed in one month or they would withdraw their support and cease coming to council. The queen and prince had stalled them long enough; they wanted a second head on which the crown would rest and an heir to the throne. Zelda wisely decided that she would accept their proposal (the opposite choice was even worse) and upon the close of the meeting, she hurried to find her brother.

She located him in the armory, assisting a young recruit in gathering appropriate mail and weapons. Brother and sister again had recourse to her little courtyard. Zelda informed him of the latest development.

"They suggested that I have a series of balls so that I can pick out a mate!" she exclaimed. "It won't do at all! I can't pick a husband if all the men know that's what I'm doing! They will fall all over themselves trying to prove who is the best one of them."

"Perhaps you could still have these balls but announce a different reason for them," Link suggested.

"Do you mean to say... That you will be the one seeking a mate?"

"Yes, that's it exactly. Then you could strike up acquaintances with whichever men you please, without them fawning over you."

"Except they will still be aware that I am queen, but no matter. I detest the council for forcing me to do this."

Link put on a stiff, sour face as an imitation of one of the councilors. "You must marry. No arguments, or I will depart from here."

Zelda giggled. "I'd like them to leave, except that they help make up this kingdom. Shall we make preparations for the balls?"

"If only to keep those fussbudgets satisfied."

"If they heard you speaking like that, they would glower you to death!"

"Let them! I shall just scowl right back at them. It would be their just desserts, too!"

Link drew the corners of his mouth down as far as they could go and stared at her fiercely. Zelda's merry laughter rang through the air, something that was a very common occurrence when she was in the presence of her brother.

On the day that a messenger came to the house, Potra and Werny were attempting to play a duet on their organ, but were failing miserably. Werny claimed that Potra was taking up too much of the seat and that prevented her from playing well. Potra contended that Werny was hitting all the wrong notes and that was why half of their piece sounded sour. (Both parts came out horribly, actually.) Then Midna entered the room with a large envelope.

"What are you doing in here, Cinders?" the stepmother demanded. "Have I not told you that my girls are to be undisturbed? You may bring your mop and dust rag in this room after they are finished playing their music."

"That is not what I came for, stepmother. A messenger just delivered this." Midna extended the impressive envelope in her hand. It was beautiful, with gilt around the edges and a large red seal on the back.

"Don't stand there shaking it at me!" Robdaria growled. "Give it here!"

Midna relinquished the envelope but did not exit the room; instead she stood near the door so that she could learn the contents of the suddenly delivered message. Robdaria opened it and read, "All of the young ladies and gentlemen are invited to three grand balls to be held in Hyrule Castle. Parents or guardians are also requested to attend." The invitation went on to say that the prince was searching for a bride. The first ball would be in two week's time, and each ball would be two days apart from the others.

"A ball!" both stepsisters cried and Midna, standing silently by the door, whispered.

"Oh Mother, I have nothing to wear!" Werny cried.

"You have too many gowns!" Potra accused. "I have no fine jewelry, and all my slippers are either too small or have holes! We have mice in the house!"

"It is no wonder!" Werny sneered. "You always hide food in your room. The mice are attracted to it!"

"You do the same thing! If mice come to my room, they must also go into yours, so there! Midna doesn't clean my room thoroughly, either!"

"I can go to the ball, too!" Midna suddenly spoke up, abruptly ending the argument.

They turned and stared at her. "You?" snickered Potra.

"All the dashing young men would surely want to dance with a hideous sight like you!" Werny jeered.

"The invitation says everyone and that includes me," Midna declared.

"Mother, she can't go!" Werny cried.

"What would they think of us if our servant goes to the balls with us?" shrieked Potra.

"She may go..." Robdaria began.

"Mother!" the stepsisters drew back in alarm.

"...If she can find something to wear," the stepmother finished.

"Well, in that case, you can't have any of my gowns!" announced Werny.

"Nor mine," added Potra. "You would just ruin them."

To herself Midna said, "No, I couldn't have any of your clothes; they're all too big!"

The stepsisters kept Midna busy altering their best gowns, yet they were still unsatisfied so they selected fabrics from the best clothiers and set Midna to work sewing new dresses. Then the two vain girls went back to the shops, accompanied by their mother, and picked out expensive jewelery that only served to make them more frightful.

Midna was very preoccupied with all the preparations but she managed to slip out to the woods again. She met the wolf and she told him excitedly about the balls. "I am going too!" she exclaimed.

"Do you have a dress to wear?" he asked her.

"Not yet, but I have an idea. I don't care what they think; I am determined to attend!"

"I think you should, too," he agreed. "But do be careful of those three witches. I'll bet they stop at nothing to prevent you from going."

"Thank you, Wolf."

Back at the house, Midna opened a dust-covered chest that was tucked away in the attic. From the depths of the cedar-scented wood she pulled a worn, creamy dress that had belonged to her mother. It had a few holes chewed through it, the lace was coming un-sewn, and it needed a thorough washing, but it had great potential. She also found a pair of red slippers, which she vaguely remembered her mother wearing. Thinking about her mother and how sad she would be to see Midna's deplorable state made tears fall from her glowing eyes.

I must get a hold of myself, Midna told herself, gathered the worn finery in her arms, and slipped downstairs with her bundle. Far away from the prying eyes of her stepmother and stepsisters, Midna carefully cleaned the dress and remodeled it to her wishes. She polished the slippers until she could see crimson reflections of herself in them. She was quite satisfied with the results and hid them away until the first night arrived.

On the day of the first ball the stepsisters were sitting before their vanities several hours before their departure, preening themselves. Each one called to Midna and ordered her to fix their hair, to fetch a last-minute embellishment, and to pull at the stays of their corsets. Potra and Werny doused themselves in perfume, layered their faces with paint and rouge, loaded their necks with ostentatious jewels and filled their hair with garish ribbons and flaring feathers.

At last Midna escaped their demands and complaints by going to the kitchen. She bathed herself in the trough outside—she had filled it with clean, fresh water—and dried herself until she felt tingly all over. Then she slipped the cream-colored, delicate gown over her head. She delighted in the feel of the dress against her skin. She stepped into the red slippers and pinned up her hair.

Midna exited the kitchen just as Robdaria, Potra, and Werny were thumping down the stairs to their awaiting coach. They were enraged to see her cheeks glowing a faint pink, her graceful step hurried by excitement, and the soft dress that, despite being short of two decades old and lacking any extravagant embellishments, added to her natural beauty. Envy flowed through the stepsisters veins like poison; they flew at her, yanking and ripping her lovely attire.

"Stop!" Midna cried. "Stop, please! Stop it!"

She tried to back away and escape their clutches, but they advanced upon her and continued to tear out the dainty tucks and ruffles. They clawed at her until her raiment was reduced to rags. Before Midna could recover, the stepmother grabbed her by the hair, dragged her to the kitchen, and shoved her roughly to the floor. Robdaria produced shackles, manacled Midna's hands around the leg of the stone table, which could not be moved without four strong men, and fettered the girl's ankles.

"That will keep you here where you belong," the stepmother pronounced, rising and brushing off her hands.

Potra and Werny scrambled after their mother and very gratified to see what she had done to Midna. They spotted Midna's slippers, one of which she had lost and lay on the floor. Potra grabbed the remaining shoe from Midna's foot, Werny plucked the one from the floor and they threw the shoes into the blazing flames in the fireplace. They stood over Midna, gloating, satisfied that she would never attend the ball now.

"Come, my daughters," Robdaria commanded and the three of them swept out of the room with their heads held ridiculously high.

Midna rose to a sitting position with her hands on either side of the table leg. Her last hope had vanished and she began to weep disconsolately. When her tears subsided, she started to pray that she would get out of the situation, but she cut herself off when fresh sobs rose in her throat.

"I only wanted to go to the ball!" she cried. "But they've even deprived me of that!"

"You poor child!" a voice said.

Midna jerked up with a start and set her gaze on a winged creature who was almost as tall as Midna's arm was long. The fairy had shimmering wings of ever-changing colors and wore an exquisite dress that looked like it was made from golden tulip petals. Her feet were bare and she had long green hair that shone with little sparkles of fairy dust. Upon her head she wore a circlet of silvery green leaves that made the most costly jewels dim and cheap in comparison.

Midna gaped at the miniscule, winged girl; she had seen many of the races of Hyrule, but never a fairy. "Who are you?" she asked dazedly, half thinking that she was hallucinating.

"Can't you tell?" the fairy laughed in a voice that sounded like the tinkling of bells, rustling of silvery leaves, and flowing mountain streams. "I am a fairy. A Great Fairy-in-training, to be exact."

The fairy flew closer to Midna and shook her head when she saw the chains that bound Midna. "That horrible woman!" the fairy cried. "She is afraid that you will be more appealing than her own daughters and to shackle you like a criminal—shameful!"

"How do you—"

"Know what happened? I can see a lot of things," the fairy replied, turning her attention to the iron chains that bound Midna. She waved her diminutive hand and the table split in half.

"Oh dear!" the Great Fairy-in-training sighed. "I used the wrong spell!"

She lowered her hand and the table fixed itself. She pointed her left middle finger at Midna's shackles and this time she had her intended result; the cuffs around Midna's wrists and ankles unlocked themselves and dropped to the ground.

"There!" the Great Fairy-in-training said with pride. "Now to get you ready for the ball!"

"The ball? But I can't go! Look at my dress!" Midna sadly gazed down at her ruined creation.

"That is why I am here," the Great Fairy-in-training declared. "First, your transportation to the castle. Follow me."

The Great Fairy-in-training, with Midna trailing behind, floated out to the garden where there grew quite a number of unripe pumpkins. "That should do," the fairy murmured and curved her right pinky finger at one of the green fruits. The pumpkin burst in four hundred and fifty-two fragments.

"Oh dear, I mishandled that again!" the Great Fairy-in-training moaned. She made a fist and the pieces scooped themselves up and landed in the rubbish heap.

The Great Fairy-in-training turned to another pumpkin, extended her right thumb and then drew it back. The pumpkin swelled, grew wheels, and opened up on opposing sides. When the pumpkin was completely transformed it stood as a pale green, delicate coach with emerald tendrils forming the wheels, the coachman's perch, and the footboard. The windowed doors on each side had beautifully carved handles that were the golden color of pumpkin blossoms and they opened to reveal pale blue, cushioned seats and walls that made up the interior of the coach.

"That's more like it!" the Great Fairy-in-training said satisfactorily.

She located six mice, two lizards, and a toad and transformed them into horses, footmen, and a coachman. She made a couple of goofs, first by changing the mice into dogs, and the lizards into a pair of shoes with curved toes. The dogs became horses and out of the shoes grew the footmen. They arranged themselves in their proper places around the carriage and waited.

"Now for your dress." The Great Fairy-in-training turned to the girl and raised her left index finger in the air. An opened umbrella appeared over Midna's head.

"Not that!" the Great Fairy-in-training exclaimed in vexation. She made a throwing motion and the umbrella whisked itself away. She moved both her hands as if she were beckoning Midna.

Midna felt a lovely sensation, as that of a warm summer breeze, washing over her. She felt it driving away all the insults, degradations, and blows that she had received at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters. The sensation faded and she looked down at herself, gasping in surprise.

She was clothed in a gown like the one she had altered, except it was more splendid than she ever could have imagined making it. The wide skirt rippled with her every movement and was edged with spiderweb-like lace. Around her waist was an exquisite sash of blue silk and her bodice reached up towards her neck, ending at her collarbone with more of the delicate lace. The sleeves went nearly as far as her elbows and had blue ribbons woven in the ends. A pair of lacy, wrist length gloves covered her hands.

The Great Fairy-in-training gave Midna a long stare. "There's something missing," she muttered. "Ah! I know just what it is!"

She plucked the circlet of silvery green leaves from her own head and twirled it around her right ring finger, making it larger so that it would fit Midna. The Great Fairy-in-training flew to the girl and placed it on Midna's fiery locks, which were coiled and pinned atop her head.

"There, my dear, you are dazzling! Off you go to the ball!"

"Oh, thank you, dear Great Fairy!" Midna breathed, awed by the the fairy's magical, though sometimes blundering, abilities.

"Remember, I am still in training."

Midna laughed and lifted her skirts to step into the coach when she glimpsed the glass slippers on her feet. "Oh!"

"Those slippers are formed from your tears that fell at your feet. I think that they came out very well, don't you? They are special as they fit your feet only."

"They are exquisite!"

She stepped into the coach; the Great Fairy-in-training flew to the window and issued a warning, "I must caution you that my magic doesn't last long because I am not a full-fledged Great Fairy. Let's see, now... You must leave by midnight, because everything will be changed back to its original state by then."

"Thank you! I won't forget!" Midna called as the coach pulled away.

As the coach sped in the direction of the castle, Midna had to pinch herself for the conviction that she was not dreaming and that the wonderful turn of events was as real as the dreadful scene that had preceded it. She was actually going to the ball in a pumpkin coach, with mice pulling it, a toad directing it, and two lizards riding behind it!

When the ball began, Link escorted Zelda as they descended to the ballroom. They received their guests and the dancing began. Link was reluctant to pick a maiden with whom he would waltz. Many of the girls fell all over him and made him feel sick with their perfume-saturated clothes. They praised him for his heroism when he had saved the kingdom from the hands of the evil Ganondorf, complimented him on his swordplay and archery skills, and cooed over the handsome appearance he made in his green doublet.

None of the girls pleased him, but two in particular rubbed him the wrong way. These two young ladies were practically covered in cosmetics, had enough jewels and ribbons and frills to sink a ship, and to inhale in proximity to them made his stomach churn. He rapidly passed by those odoriferous young women. He decided that he would not dance because the girl who he wanted to meet was absent.

He glanced over to his sister, who had a half-circle of young men around her. Each man aspired to have the privilege of dancing with her but did not fawn over her endlessly as was Link's problem with the young ladies. His only consolation was that Zelda was meeting suitors under a situation more to her liking. She selected a partner—a tall, red-headed young fellow—and they twirled across the marble floor.

Just then, everyone's eyes turned towards the staircase. At the top stood a latecomer and even from that distance, every soul in the room could tell that she was the loveliest creature on which they had ever set their eyes. When Zelda beheld this stranger, she felt deep inside her being that the girl was the one person who could make happy her brother. Besides being exquisitely beautiful, the newcomer emanated a inner sense of love, which was something not found in all the shallow females who had been hovering around the prince.

As soon as Link spotted her he ran up the stairs to reach her; she was the young lady for whom he had been searching. He gently took her hand—she smelled of the wind and grape blossoms—and murmured, "At last, you have arrived!" He led her down the steps and began to whirl over the floor with her hands held firmly in his.

Midna's heart trembled erratically as she exited the magical coach. I'm actually going to the ball, she thought. She was apprehensive and even entertained the thought of returning home, but that would be a sign of defeat. She wasn't going to let her stepmother win, so she took a deep, quivering breath and placed her foot on the bottom step leading up to the palace. As she headed through the the open door, the guards saluted her and kept their faithful vigil.

She came over the crest of the stairs and came in view of the ballroom. The room was gigantic and bathed in the brilliant lights that shone from the elegant, immense chandeliers. The walls were of white-gray stone and the floor of almost mirror-like white and green marble. Huge windows lined the wall and the growing darkness showed through the sparkling glass. Flowers hung in garlands around the room and also rested in various vases. Hundreds of people, clothed in all the colors of the rainbow, were before her.

As every eye swiveled on her, Midna's heart did a nose-dive. Her legs felt just like she'd run up a steep mountain side, all a-tremble and weak. All those people staring at me! I can't go down there! Before she could make up her mind what to do, a young man—the prince, by the circlet in his tamed, dirty blonde hair—leaped up the steps two at a time and took her hand.

"At last, you have arrived!" he breathed, though she didn't know why he seemed to be expecting her.

She was sure that she'd never seen him close up before, but his voice was oddly familiar. His exuberant—though somewhat strange—greeting made her feel welcome and she quite willingly accompanied the prince to the dance floor, where they joined the other couples in a waltz.

The remainder of Midna's night passed quickly and very delightfully. The prince, who asked her to call him Link, would have been pleased to waltz through the entire ball with her as his partner; all the dances in which he participated were with her alone. She did not tire and her feet felt deliciously cool in the glass slippers.

They paused long enough to wander into the adjoining room, where Link left Midna to fetch for her some she waited for his return she strolled amongst the other young ladies and halted when she overheard a group of four girls exchanging words in hushed tones.

"The prince is infatuated with that hussy," one girl declared angrily. "He's paid no attention to me, and after I spent all day in front of my mirror for him!"

"No one knows where she came from," a second girl mused.

Bitterly, a third girl added, "I wish she'd go back there and let the rest of us get our turn with the prince!"

The fourth girl, who could have been just as lovely as Midna if only she just bothered to smile, said, "Did you see her clothes? I should like to have her dressmaker for my own. That tiara on her head alone must have cost a fortune!"

Midna walked away from their conversation and wandered around the room. She did not realize that nearly all the young ladies present were extremely jealous of her, save for a maiden dressed in a gown of milky white. She smiled sweetly at Midna as the latter caught sight and the words of her stepsisters, who were both infuriated.

"Why should she get all the prince's attention?" Potra growled.

"She's not so beautiful," Werny said. "We have many more jewels and ribbons than she does."

Midna selected two candied oranges from a table and approached her stepsisters. Startled, they looked at her, but much to her relief, recognition did not come to them. "For you," she said kindly. Her stepsisters took the proffered fruit with slack jaws; the exotic princess was speaking to them! They were amazed and later they would tell each other how hateful she was.

Link strode up behind Midna, carrying a plate of the best food that the tables had to offer. "Ah! There you are! You were supposed to wait for me," he chided playfully.

"Oh, but I waiting for you the whole time. I waited while I stood over there and while I was over here."

Link, not even deigning to give the stepsisters a backward glance, placed his arm around Midna and they walked off together. He located a comfy spot for her to eat her fill and then he went back to the table to claim some food of his own. Though she had previously thought that she was too excited to consume any refreshment, she polished off the generous plateful (she wondered why Link had given her so much) of delectable food, the like of which hadn't passed her lips since before her father died.

Link returned and repeated a question that he had asked earlier, "Will you tell me where you live?"

Midna shook her head and blushed; she could never tell him where she lived for if he went there he should find the utter squalor in which she had to live. Link pulled his mouth down in a mock frown but he did not press her any further.

After that, Link inquired if she wished to take a walk in the garden but she declined and they once again moved to the dance floor. She loved swirling over the polished marble, held in Link's muscled arms, and oblivious to all but the young man before her. She didn't realize the time until the clock struck the quarter-hour. She suddenly remembered the Great Fairy-in-training's warning.

The waltz ended and in the moment that Link loosened his hold on Midna, she slipped nimbly away. One moment she was there and the next she had vanished; it was a trick of moving quickly and silently that the wolf had taught to her. Link searched and made way through the dancers but with the great number of people he could not pick her out; she had hastened to the front courtyard.

As the coachman guided the carriage home-ward, Midna sat facing the castle, which was glowing with the numerous lights from the ball. She thought of how the prince danced with no one but her and of all his tender attentions towards her. She held the memory of that glorious time close to her heart. She giggled, thinking of her stepsisters' stunned faces when she presented each of them a candied orange.

The coach reached the house as the chimes of midnight rang out. At the last stroke, the coach shrank until it was a mere pumpkin again and the same process affected the horses, coachman, and footmen, leaving them as their original selves. Midna was once again clothed in her pitiful, ripped dress.

Midna hardly noticed the change as she entered the kitchen and seated herself before the dying fire, dreamily remembering her marvelous time at the ball. It was then that she noticed she still wore the glass slippers. She stretched her legs out before her and stared at the magical shoes. At last she slipped them off her feet and hid them with her father's precious book.

She sat on the hearth, visualizing dancers in the faintly glowing coals. The sound of another carriage approaching the house brought her out of her reverie and she realized that her stepmother and stepsisters were home from the ball. Suddenly remembering where and how she had been when they departed, Midna scurried over to the table, snapped the shackles on her wrists and ankles, and rubbed her eyes vigorously to assume the appearance that she had been weeping.

Midna could hear Potra and Werny tramping indoors noisily and squabbling, as usual. "Who left that pumpkin in the middle of the road?" Potra bellowed. "I nearly broke my leg over it!"

"It's no wonder!" Werny bit back. "If you bothered to look down once in a while, instead of walking with your nose in the air, you would have seen it!"

"You had your nose higher!" Potra argued. "The pumpkin just happened to be in my path, that is all!"

They were in the hall by then and Robdaria interrupted them, "Go upstairs, my dears. Our little Scuddy will attend to you."

The stepsisters clumped up the stairs and Robdaria entered the kitchen. "I trust you have learnt where your place is?" the stepmother queried imperiously.

Midna made no response but to glare at the woman standing over her.

"I have no time for your pouting!" Robdaria exclaimed. She bent and, producing a key, unlocked Midna's bonds. "Go upstairs and help my daughters dress for bed."

Midna rubbed her wrists as if she had been wearing the manacles all night. She replied, "Yes, stepmother."

Upstairs, as Midna bustled between Werny and Potra's rooms, her stepsisters gossiped about their night at the ball. "There was a girl there who stole all of the prince's time!" Werny complained.

"I don't see why he liked her so much," Potra said, preening in front of her mirror. "I was much more lovely than she!"

"I was the beauty of the ball," contradicted Werny. "You could tell by the way that all the young men stared at me."

"I'm sure they stared at both of you," Midna muttered under her breath. "Not because you were shockingly beautiful, though!"

"What did you say?" both stepsisters demanded.

"What did she look like?" Midna asked.

"She was as ugly as sin!" Potra snickered.

"Sort of like you!" Werny chortled nastily.

Midna laughed inwardly at her stepsisters but kept all other remarks to herself. She listened as they described the delectable food, "Twenty different kinds of pie!"; the other young ladies' gowns and accessories, "They didn't compare to my jewels!"; and the handsome young men also present, "We had to dance with peasants because that girl was selfish!"

At last the stepsisters where in their beds and Midna left their rooms transporting a pile of sewing with which they had tasked her. In the hall Robdaria intercepted her. "You have some mending, I see. I'm glad that you are keeping busy. I trust you will entertain no more thoughts about joining your betters at the ball?"

Again, Midna stubbornly refused to answer.

"Get down to the kitchen where you belong!" Robdaria bellowed and Midna gladly complied.

After the ball was over and the servants were cleansing everything from the dishes to the glass of the paintings hanging on the walls, an exhausted Zelda headed towards her bedchamber. She stopped short when she saw Link standing at a balcony, gazing at the stars. She approached him and lightly placed her hand on his arm. He turned and she saw his face was filled with joy.

"You found a girl after all," she said simply.

"Yes, I did. She's the most wonderful girl I've ever known; brave, kindhearted, jolly, stubborn and very fiery, like her hair."

"When I first saw her I could tell that she was no ordinary girl. Do you know who she is?"

"Yes—and no. I know her name and some things about her, but she won't tell me where she lives. Tell me, Zel, how did you fare?"

Zelda blushed and confessed, "I took a fancy to one man. His name is Shad and he is a scholar. He didn't even seem to realize who I was at first!" She paused to chuckle over the memory. "He is almost always lost in his books and he told me the only reason he was there tonight was that his two friends forced him to go practically at sword-point! He relayed to me many of the intriguing things that he has uncovered and I must admit that I kept him talking, not only to listen to what he had to say, but also to listen to his voice. It sounds so melodious!"

Link grinned. "You too have found a possible match. Things are looking up for both of us!"

"Stop it, Link!" She playfully shoved him and added, "I was thinking of asking him to come here to go over some of Father's old manuscripts."

"Won't he know you're trying to hook him?"

"Link, you are impossible!"

For the next two days, Potra and Werny kept Midna occupied in making new gowns and adding all the frills that they thought would make them more beautiful. She desperately wanted to get away long enough to visit the wolf, but if she had a spare moment in which Potra and Werny weren't demanding something, her stepmother loaded her with more drudgery, in order to prevent Midna from constructing another dress for herself.

At last, on the night of the second ball, Midna aided her stepsisters in their preparations until they declared themselves beautiful and ready to leave. In fact, they were more appalling than they had been the previous time, if that was possible. Potra and Werny trod heavily down the stairs and Midna escaped to the kitchen, wishing that they were already gone and praying that the Great Fairy-in-training would come back.

Midna entered the kitchen and stood by the outside door. Suddenly, claw-like hands grabbed her, clutching at her hair and dragging her back towards the table. She heard the jangling of links of iron and knew that Robdaria was trying to make sure that she didn't attend the ball on this night either.

"Ow! Stop!" Midna cried. "What are you doing?"

Robdaria clamped the shackles around Midna's wrists and ankles, again trapping the girl around the leg of the stone table. "Just to make sure that you don't get any ideas about running after us," Robdaria hissed.

The stepmother was sure that now, even if Midna had somehow managed to procure another gown, she could not come to the ball. Robdaria stalked out of the kitchen and joined her daughters in their carriage, which was sagging to such an extent that the middle was mere inches from the ground.

As the moaning wheels of the carriage rumbled away, the Great Fairy-in-training flitted in through the outside door. "I thought they'd never leave!" she exclaimed.

"Oh, I was hoping you'd come back!"

"Of course! Why shouldn't I teach those old dunderheads a little lesson?" the Great Fairy-in-training assured her good-naturedly.

This time, when freeing Midna of the chains, the Great Fairy-in-training flattened all of her fingers and turned the bonds into garlands of flowers. Midna giggled, "Those are very pretty but my stepmother and stepsisters will be suspicious if they see the shackles like that!"

"Hmmm! That would pose a problem!" the Great Fairy-in-training agreed, waving her left thumb at them and turning them back into ugly shackles. "You are very wise."

Midna noticed that the Great Fairy-in-training had grown a few inches. "You're taller," she mused.

"Oh, yes; you see, the great Queen of all Fairies picks a few of us to become Great Fairies. We grow as we learn more of our magical abilities. By helping you I have also helped myself and I have grown with the experience. I will be a full-fledged Great Fairy when I am as tall as a Hylian woman."

Midna went over to her secret corner and pulled out the precious glass slippers. "Look," she said. "These didn't turn back when everything else did!"

The Great Fairy-in-training gazed at the sparkling slippers. "When I conjured up those slippers, somehow I did something to make them last. That's how my magic is supposed to be, but since I'm still in training I haven't perfected it. That, and I make some mistakes."

Midna put the slippers on her feet and the Great Fairy-in-training commenced to make all the arrangements that she had three nights formerly, but with several more blunders. When she was finished, Midna stood in a dress of soft yellow, with less fabric to the skirt and more in the longer sleeves. Red embroidered flowers decorated her hem and high neckline. A few ribbons of the same color streamed down from her waist and her hands were bare. Midna's tiara was made of sculpted red grapes and scarlet blossoms.

"Remember," the Great Fairy-in-training cautioned again. "You must be back by midnight."

"I shall," Midna replied. "Thank you so very much, wonderful Great Fairy!"

"I'm not a Great Fairy yet! Only a Great Fairy-in-training!"

Midna waved from the coach window. Before she knew it she was once again at the castle and she exited through the door which one of her footmen held for her. She scurried up the steps a bit quicker than was ladylike, in anticipation of meeting Link again. Sure enough, he was waiting for her at the top step, this time clothed in a blue doublet that looked like it was made of shimmering scales. At her approach, his mouth curved into a wide grin and he clasped her proffered hand.

On this night Zelda, with Shad's expert help, had planned a scavenger hunt. Each participant had to pair up with another of the guests to figure out the clues and locate the items. Excitement was building as Zelda prepared to announce the first clue to all the couples. Potra and Werny were together and were bragging that they were going to win the game.

"Do you want to join?" Link asked Midna.

"Yes, please!" she responded excitedly.

"I may be of no help to you."

"Don't be silly! Come on!"

They joined the crowd of waiting players until Zelda pronounced the beginning clue. The couples pondered it and Midna whispered something in Link's ear. "I know where that is!" he exclaimed too loudly. Heads turned in their direction and all the brains worked out that the prince and his partner were onto something.

"Let's decoy them," Link whispered.

He led Midna out to one of the gardens. He pulled her around many twists and turns and eventually lost the crowd that was sneaking behind them in hopes of getting ahead in the game. Midna leaned against a wall, her breath coming in laughing gasps.

"Did we lose them?" she inquired, attempting to stifle her giggles.

"I think so. Come on, let's go find it now!"

Link and Midna traipsed through the castle, avoided their pursuers and located the required items. Midna was adept at figuring out the clues and Link was helpful in finding the hiding places. Midna was having more enjoyment than she had in years, aside from her romps in the woods with the wolf. She continually giggled, just for the fun of it, and Link chuckled with her. They talked about whatever came to their minds as they slipped from place to place.

"Where do you live?" Link asked again.

Midna shook her head.

At last they found everything that completed the list. They sought out Zelda and presented their finds, at which point she pronounced that they had won the scavenger hunt. As couples started to trickle back, they learned that the prince and his partner had bested them. Potra and Werny came in dead last, scowling and looking fearsome.

Much too soon, the clock chimed the quarter hour and Midna disappeared. As it happened the other night, Midna reached the house and a few seconds after the wheels ceased turning everything changed back to its original state, except for her glass slippers, which she hid away again. She moved the pumpkin out of the roadway, chuckling as she remembered Potra's exclamation at tripping over it before.

Upon hearing the approach of her stepmother and stepsisters she re-fastened the shackles. Robdaria entered the kitchen to free Midna, who was striving to keep her laughter subsided. She knew she would have to listen to Potra and Werny's foolish babblings but she didn't care.

"My, that was a successful night, was it not?" Zelda questioned of her brother.

"Hm? Oh, yes, quite," Link replied absently.

"What's wrong? Trouble with love?"

"Of a sort. This is the second time that she's run away at almost midnight. She didn't tell me where she lives."

"There is one way that you could find out."

"Yes, I know, but it is dangerous. Do you know what happened the last time I did that in Castle Town?"

"Ooh, yes," Zelda winced. "The guards nearly skewered you. Took a whole patch of skin off your side, as I recall. You were healing for months."

"I'll only do that as a last resort." Link gave a great sigh and turned his attention to his sister with the beginnings of another grin. "How was your night?"

"I enjoyed myself immensely. Shad was wonderful and I couldn't have hoped for better when he aided me with the scavenger hunt."

"I couldn't have hoped for anything better than when Midna and I won it. She was like an excited child."

"So that's her name? Midna?"

"Didn't I tell you?"

"No. You failed to mention that when you've spoken of her."

"Names aren't important. I couldn't have asked for a lovelier, kinder woman in all of Hyrule." Link suddenly gave Zelda a glance and added quickly, "Except for you, of course!"

Midna desperately wanted to go to the woods long enough to seek out the wolf and relate to him all that had happened to her. She had never stayed away from the woods for such a period of time and she imagined that he must be wondering what had happened to her, or even worrying. However, as soon as she attempted to depart, Robdaria pounced upon her.

"Have you scrubbed the staircase?" she asked.

"Yes, stepmother."

"You missed the corners and the banister. Do it over, Sooty-face!"

In such a manner did Midna's next two days crawl past. If she wasn't scouring every surface and item, she was preparing her stepsisters' wardrobes. She continually had the next ball on her mind; it would be the last time that she could see Link. She liked the prince very much, but between them there seemed to be something that she couldn't fathom, like another person for whom she cared.

She impatiently aided her stepsisters to dress and wished that they didn't waste so much time plucking their eyebrows in front of their mirrors. At last they were fully clothed and their appearances were just as garish as they had been the two earlier times. She had forgotten about her stepmother, who once again chained her to the stone table and stomped out with her daughters to their waiting carriage.

Midna didn't care; she was glad, for with the departure of her stepmother and stepsisters, in came the Great Fairy-in-training. She had grown several more inches was almost one and a half times the length of Midna's arm. This time she freed Midna from the shackles on the first try but also accidentally turned the cuffs into gold.

"Oh, dear," she sighed. "That won't do! Your stepmother and stepsisters would greedily claim these gold chains for their own selfish purposes." She pointed her left middle finger heavenward and the chains were themselves again. "That woman never knows when to stop."

"Let's do forget about her!" Midna exclaimed, bringing forth the glass slippers again.

"Ah, you're anxious to meet your prince again, are you not?"

Midna blushed.

"I'll take that as an affirmative. Now to get you ready for the ball!"

The Great Fairy-in-training transformed the pumpkin, mice, toad, and lizards into the coach, horses, coachman, and footmen and then turned to Midna. "What should it be this time?" she mused, gazed skyward and made up her mind.

A few seconds later Midna was clothed in a midnight blue dress with a full skirt and train. Tiny, shining white jewels glittered from her hem like stars. Her deep blue sleeves ended above her elbow and she wore gloves of that color, but in a slightly paler shade, that met and surpassed the sleeves. Around her neck was a strand of twinkling gems like those on her skirt, and upon her flaming head she wore a circlet of shining stars.

"Darling Great Fairy, I haven't any idea how to thank you!" Midna cried.

"You don't need to thank me. Besides helping you, I am gaining experience that I need to become a Great Fairy. You should thank your wolf; he was the one who asked me to come to you, in return for a favor he once did me. As I've told you before, I'm not a Great Fairy yet but only a Great Fairy-in-training!"

At the words about the wolf, Midna froze. "The wolf did that—for me?"

"Yes, he did. Now hop into your coach! Your prince is waiting for you! Remember to return by midnight!"

The Great Fairy-in-training shooed her into the coach and Midna sank dazedly onto the seat. She remained in that position until she arrived at the castle, when the jolt of the halting coach jerked her from her reverie. She exited the coach and glanced up the steps. Link, wearing red and gold, stood at the peak of them, in anticipation of her arrival. He rushed to meet her, grasped her arm, and escorted her to the ballroom, where they began to dance once again.

As Midna clung to her partner, her thoughts full of the wolf and of Link. She never wanted the night to end. Now that she had tasted joy and freedom again she was afraid that she would crumble once she returned to the endless demands of her stepmother and stepsisters. She ate her food absently and the chimes of the clock passed by her ears as though she were deaf.

Link had a feeling that he knew what was amiss and he drew her out to the gardens, where they found a secluded bench on which to sit. Her gently took her hand in both of his and fixed her flame-filed eyes with his own. "Midna, I—"

She started. "How do you know my name? I never told you!"

"Oh, but you have! That's not important, though. What is important is that I love you, Midna. I can only hope that you feel the same way about me."

"Oh!" she cried, taking her hand from between his and covering her face with both of hers.

"What is it?"

She looked up at him. "I am so confused! I do like you very much and I have enjoyed our time together, but there is something else in my heart besides my feelings for you. There is someone who I care deeply about; he is a beast. Whenever I think of him I don't imagine him like that, but rather as a person. I don't know what to do!"

"A beast, eh?" In the blink of an eye no man stood before her, but instead her friend, the wolf. "Do you mean like this?

"It's you!" Midna cried.

Suddenly, everything fell into place; Link was the wolf. He had sent the Great Fairy-in-training to her and had been waiting anxiously for her first appearance at the ball. He had known her name because she had told him when he was a wolf. She had never thought about the connection; Link and the wolf both wore tiny blue earrings. How could she have not noticed that his deep, cerulean eyes that were gazing into her own, were the same as her beloved wolf's?

Just as Midna had that all sorted out, the clock began to strike midnight. "Oh no!" she moaned; she had forgotten the time.

She dashed past Link and he half shouted, half growled, "Wait! Don't go!"

He had to transform back to his human form, to avoid pandemonium breaking loose, and in that time she had escaped. As she fled down the steps she caught her heel and lost one of her slippers. At the last stroke of midnight the Great Fairy-in-training's magic wore off, leaving Midna in her rags, the pumpkin lying in the roadway, and the little creatures dazedly scurrying away to find hiding places. Midna continued to race to her home. She pulled the remaining glass slipper from her foot and tucked it into her pocket.

When a half wild Link dashed into the room and declared that the ball was over, Zelda was astonished. What has happened? she wondered. She finally cornered him and demanded, "Link! What in all of Hyrule is going on?"

"She ran away again! I have to find her! If I can't locate her with this—" he held out a glass slipper "—then I shall sense her out as a wolf!"

"What are you going to do?"

"I shall go from house to house and have all the young ladies try on the slipper. All I know is that Midna has slaved for her stepmother and two stepsisters ever since her father was murdered. By doing this I will get to see all the girls who were at the ball and figure out where she is. I must get her back!"

"That will take a long time to go to each house."

"Do you have any wiser ideas? I haven't a notion of her whereabouts!"

"Go ahead with your plan, Link. Meanwhile, Shad and I will search through the records to search for clues."

"Thank you, Zelda!" Link kissed her cheek and bolted.

"God be with you, Link!"

After getting turned around in the dark alleys, Midna finally reached her home as the blush of dawn was in the horizon. Tears slid down her face and her mind was whirling with tumultuous thoughts. She had run from the castle because she was ashamed to be seen in her ragged clothes. But he's seen me like this before! she told herself. So why did I run away from the one man whom I love? Perhaps I can find him in the woods again and apologize. Link did not love her for her outward appearance but only for the true heart which beat inside her.

She entered the house through the kitchen door and stopped abruptly. Before her stood Robdaria, Potra and Werny, all glowering menacingly at her. They had found the empty shackles on the floor and were wondering angrily how she had managed to get free. They had realized that Midna was the mystery girl who had been at the balls and were ready to lower their wrath upon her.

"You!" Robdaria cried. "You wicked girl! You've carried your insolence too far! I'll put you where you'll never see your precious prince again!"

Robdaria grabbed Midna's hair and the stepsisters gripped her arms. Midna struggled fiercely and was slipping out of their grasp as she was the one who had muscles from her hard labor. Robdaria seized a heavy kettle and slammed it into Midna's head.

The three abominable females stared down at Midna's insensible form. "Help me carry her to the root cellar," Robdaria commanded.

The stepsisters, grumbling that their burden was too heavy, lugged Midna to the cellar, threw her into the dark depths and slammed the oaken door. Robdaria fitted the iron bar into its slots, thus barring the door. "That will keep her!" she exclaimed. Robdaria entered the house, threw her dark cloak over her shoulders and headed for the door.

"Where are you going, Mother?" Werny queried.

"I am going to go make arrangements to take care of little Midna for good." With that, she swept her cloak about herself and departed.

Potra and Werny glanced at each other and chortled nastily.

In a tavern in a filthy part of town, rough and unscrupulous men drank tankards of liquor. A cloaked personage entered the crowded room and headed for a table at which three such denizens sat. They were no doubt plotting a nefarious scheme in hushed tones when the hooded stranger reached them.

"You lookin' for trouble?" growled the largest of the men, who also seemed to be the leader.

The newcomer let her hood fall, revealing her face. "I have another job for you," Robdaria hissed.

"Let's see the color of your money."

She threw a pouch on the table. All three men grabbed for it, but the leader punched his companions and claimed the purse. He opened it and withdrew a handful of silver rupees, with more left in the bag, making twenty in all. He grinned up at the woman. "Who do you want us to kill?"

Link had been searching for many hours and had not found Midna's home. Zelda and Shad had been scouring the records for men murdered several years before and who could have possibly had a daughter. Zelda gave Link a list of names. This narrowed his search, yet he still he did not find her.

Night came and Link was on the verge of breaking down in frustration and apprehension. He had to cease his search until morning came again. He paced one of the courtyards and had just made up his mind about his next course of action when Zelda approached him.

"I'm sorry, Link," she murmured. "Tomorrow you'll find her, I'm sure."

"I'm not going to wait till tomorrow! I'm going now!" He transformed into a wolf again. "I can't tell what kind of cruelties those biddies are inflicting on her. I'm going to find her!"

He darted into the ebony night. "Be careful Link!" Zelda called after him.

He located Midna's scent heading away from the castle and followed it to a house that he had not visited that day. Her grape-flower scent was everywhere, as well as the heavy, oppressive perfumes of the two girls to whom he had taken a strong dislike; he now reasoned that those two girls were Midna's stepsisters.

Midna's scent was strongest near the root cellar, but he couldn't tell where it went after that. Was someone carrying her? Something rank caught his nose; it smelled of liquor, blood, and evil. On his instincts he bolted after this scent, following it out of Castle Town and into the fields beyond. At last he caught up with his target, which he realized to be three men, one of whom was leading a horse with something draped over the saddle. Midna! Link realized. He padded stealthily towards the men and twitched his ears to hear what they were saying.

"A simple task!" the man leading the horse proclaimed. "A whole pouch full of silver rupees to knock off this wench? Easy money!"

"That doesn't count the time that we spent waitin' until darkness fell again and comin' out here to do the job," the largest man growled. "That woman insisted that we take this girl away before we rub her out."

"We killed the father, now we kill the girl!" the third man exclaimed gleefully.

The leader smacked his associate's head viciously. "Quiet, you fool! Do you want the whole land to hear it?"

That was enough for Link. Without any warning he lunged at the three assassins, clawing their faces and ripping off their weapons. He was a lone wolf but the men had no chance against him in his enraged state. After groping uselessly for their lost weapons and holding their arms to protect their necks and faces, they gave up.

"What are you?" The leader quaked in fear, for this was no ordinary wolf.

"Let's just say I'm an avenging spirit for this girl's father, whom you slew!"

The men fell cowering to the ground; their evil deeds had caught up with them and they were beaten. Link knew that they were in no shape to notice what he did. He resumed his human form and gently took Midna down from her potato-sack position over the horse. He was alarmed at how white she was (despite her coloring) and that she was so still. He removed the cloth from her mouth and cut the ropes that bound her wrists and ankles.

"Midna, wake up!" he begged, squeezing her limp hand.

She did not stir and he bent his head. A tear escaped the corner of his eye. Was he too late? Had they already slain her? He leaned forward and kissed her. He felt how warm her lips were and the soft breaths that issued from her mouth. She was still alive!

She opened her eyes and smiled feebly at him. She reached up her hand to touch his hair. "You found me again. Link, I'm sorry—"

"Hush," he murmured. "What is done is done. All I care about is that you are safe." He pulled a small bottle from his pouch and popped out the cork. "Here, drink this."

She obeyed and downed the contents of the little glass container. "What was that?"

"Red potion. It will help you feel better."

"I do feel like I could stand up now."

Link would hear none of that and he hoisted her up to the saddle of the horse. Seeing that her feet were bare, he withdrew the glass slipper that he had been carrying and guided it onto her foot. She felt her pocket and discovered that the other slipper was still there. She extracted it and he put it on her other foot.

"Will you marry me, Midna?"

"Yes, I will!"

At that moment Midna felt lovelier than she had in any beautiful gown. Link didn't have a care for what she wore; all he saw was what was in her heart and he loved her for it. Whatever troubles came her way from then on, she had someone with whom she could share everything.

A couple of days later, invitations arrived at all the homes of the people who had attended the ball. This new invitation requested their presence in the great cathedral and was the cause of a great deal of gossip and whispered theories. Potra and Werny were extremely excited, but had trouble dressing themselves without Midna's help. They finally had themselves attired and accompanied their mother to the cathedral.

The building was overflowing with people. Whispers passed between the women present until the ceremony began. They gasped to see the prince emerge from a side room and stand near the altar. He was clothed in white, from doublet to cape, except for his brown boots. He was getting married, but to whom?

Heads swiveled to the doors of the cathedral, through which passed a maiden attired in a silky, white gown and frothy veil. The elderly librarian escorted her as she glided gracefully up the aisle and two little girls held her train. The Great Fairy-in-training floated in front of the small procession and looked as though she could barely keep from dancing. Upon reaching the prince, the bride joined hands with him and they knelt.

When the wedding was over, the prince pushed back the young lady's veil and kissed her. Taking Link's arm, she turned to face the people in the cathedral. Robdaria gasped and made a bolt for the door but the guards blocked her.

"Let me pass!" she hissed.

"The prince's orders are that if anyone tries to escape, we are to bar the way. You shall not pass," one of the guards replied stolidly.

Robdaria flashed a dagger, screaming, "Let me through, you dunderheads!"

The guards disarmed her and took her to the throne room, where Zelda was seated upon the throne and Link and Midna stood beside her. Robdaria curtsied very low, fell to her knees, and stared at the floor. "Have mercy on me, Your Majesty!"

"Mercy?" Zelda asked quietly. "Did you have mercy on Midna?"

Robdaria kept her gaze on the floor and responded timidly, "I was looking out for my daughters' interests..."

"Enough! You are charged with murdering your husband and attempting to murder his daughter."

"You surely can't prove that?"

"Can't I?" Zelda motioned to two guards standing by and they brought in the leader of the three men who Robdaria had hired. "Is the person who hired you to kill Princess Midna present?" Zelda questioned of him.

The man nodded and pointed to Robdaria. "'Twas her," he said.

"And Princess Midna's father?"

"She hired us for that too."

Zelda motioned the guards to take the prisoner away and turned back to Robdaria. "As you just saw, I do have proof. I have three witnesses and I'm sure I could find more. Guards, take her to the dungeon."

"No! Please, don't take me there!" Robdaria sobbed, but her words fell on deaf ears.

Another pair of guards approached, each holding the arm of Midna's stepsisters. Potra squeaked, "We didn't do anything!"

"You may not have committed an actual crime, but you did not try to prevent your mother from doing so and that is a crime in and of itself. You had no thought but for yourselves. Now it is our turn to be lords over you and you shall have to work to earn your keep."

Potra and Werny turned to Midna. "Help us, Midna! Please help us!"

"You deserve all that you have and more," said Midna softly. "But if you can learn kindness, all shall be forgiven. Until then, you shall work for others as I did for you."

The stepsisters stared at beautiful Midna. They were already beginning to learn that they had been nasty people. They could never hope to match her heart of goodness.

Zelda married Shad, thus satisfying the councilors. Midna was in possession of her father's house, but it stood empty because she lived in the castle with Link. The Great Fairy-in-training continued to grow; she often visited her friends and tried to awe them with her new abilities. Half the time she failed because she used the wrong spell and always she made Midna laugh.

Potra and Werny worked as scullery maids in the great kitchens of the palace with no pay and endured the bossy cooks who ordered them about. Robdaria and the assassins had to work at a farm and in mines, respectively. All that they earned went to Midna, as compensation for the great wrongs they had done to her.

One day, the two royal couples were seated in Zelda's courtyard. Link asked Midna, "What are you going to do with your house?"

"I'm going to turn it into a home for orphans," she responded dreamily. "I want them to have someplace that they can call home. I shall put in a library, where they can read all the books their little hearts desire. I don't want them to have to grow up like I did, without love. I will use my monies for this project."

"That is the sweetest idea!" Zelda exclaimed. "I will help you all that I am able!"

"I'm sure I can bring you valuable assistance with the library," Shad added.

"What do you think, Link?" Midna asked.

Link kissed her. "That's what I think," he grinned.


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