Another Stroke of Midnight
The glass slippers could be heard sweeping across the marble floor of the royal ballroom as the newly wed Princess Cinderella danced with her Prince Charming on their wedding night. The palace halls were full of joy as the kingdom celebrated the prince discovering the maiden of his dreams after searching nights and days to find the girl who’s foot fit into the glass slipper.
All were in attendance for the royal wedding, except for Lady Tremaine and her two daughters, Anastasia and Drizella, whom were imprisoned due to their wicked ways and treatment of Cinderella over the years.
Cinderella swayed across the ballroom floor in her white wedding gown, her golden hair wrapped up on her head adorn with a golden crown, with one hand in the prince’s and the other fawning out her dress that cascaded with every move.
She looked deep into Prince Charming’s brown eyes. “This has been the happiest day of my life and I look forward to many more with you my sweet prince.”
Prince Charming responded with a kiss on her lips and a tight squeeze of her waist. Cinderella gave a giggle. Everything was perfect.
The music grew more aggressive and fast-paced as the night grew darker. The violins fluttered violently against the strings as did the cellos and harps. The nobles in attendance became louder and more obnoxious as the wine continued to flow and the ale continued to pour.
Cinderella continued dancing with Prince Charming while she glanced around the room for a familiar face. The large stone columns circled the ballroom floor with windows of stained glass surrounding the great hall. The large wooden front doors were left open to welcome all to the royal wedding reception. As Cinderella continued to circle the ballroom floor her eyes met with the royal throne high on a raised platform across the room from the great wooden doors. The king sat high and mighty on his throne conversing with his royal council. As she continued to be twirled by the prince across the marble floor, she also glanced the one relic that was forever to be cherished by the kingdom. Her original glass slipper left behind on her first night visiting the palace for the royal ball shined in the candlelight as it sat on a pillowed stone pedestal in an alcove tucked on the right side of the throne’s raised platform. With every sweeping move she made, the slipper seemed to shine like a diamond as it glittered back a smile. Over in the corner by the desserts, she finally spotted her fairy godmother, Marie, enjoying more than her fair share of the deliciously large white wedding cake. She was disguised in a pink overgrown gown with her gray hair wrapped in a large bun sitting on the top of her head. Much different from her glittery blue cloak and hood, her disguise as Great Aunt Marie to Cinderella allowed her to attend the festivities as a family member without giving away the true magic that she was. Cinderella gave her a smile and a wave and her fairy godmother gave a chuckle and nod with a mouthful of cake.
The prince gave Cinderella a quick twirl and after gaining her composure she glanced back at the dessert corner. Marie was nowhere to be seen. She scanned the area for a minute or two wondering where she had gone off to and couldn’t find the large overgrown pink gown anywhere across the crowded hall.
Prince Charming continued to admire Cinderella’s beauty and noticed her twist her head back and forth as she searched across the room for something lost. He looked up to the throne where his father sat feasting with friends and royal advisors. He was a rather large man of short stature with a white beard and yellow tunic. His white bushy eyebrows say heavily on his eyes which showed years of wisdom and stress from running a powerful kingdom. His crown sat crooked on his head.
King Leopold sat high and mighty next to Lucien, his trusting royal advisor to the throne. Lucien was tall and slender with black hair and a long, crooked nose. His black hair was tied in a ponytail only elongating his slender face. The prince never felt comfortable with Lucien feeding his father information and suggestions, but he trusted his father’s judgement in people and character. The king’s eyes met Charming’s and they gave each other a congratulatory smile on a successful wedding and both continued going about their business.
The orchestra finished playing another piece and the maestro turned towards the dancing guests. He rapidly tapped his stick against the podium to gain the attention of party. “Your majesties, ladies, and gentlemen,” he announced with a rather grandiose accent once the crowd died down. His mustache twisted on each side of his mouth grazing the edges of his nostrils as he lifted his hanging monocle to sit upon his left eye. “Midnight is upon us and this will be the final dance of the evening!” Cinderella couldn’t believe that it was already midnight. She smiled at the thought that time really does fly when you are having fun. She was having the best day of her life and was sad to see it coming so quickly to an end. The maestro continued, “Now please make your way to the ballroom floor as we begin the Prince’s Waltz!”
The crowd began to huddle their way onto the dance floor where Cinderella and Prince Charming were already joined with others from the previous dance. As couples gathered around them to prepare for the music, Cinderella smiled at each of them knowing these would be the people who she would spend the rest of her life with - friends of the palace. She couldn’t help but wonder if they were actually friends or just pleased to be so close to the crown. She didn’t let her negative thoughts bring her down in the moment. She was happy to have her prince and knew no matter what, she would always be his as well. She once again turned her gaze to his and stared deep into his eyes excited for the adventure that they would bring her after tonight.
“Now, let the final dance commence!” The maestro lifted his baton and a dark waltz filled the ballroom. The strings of the instruments entranced the dancers who fell to its spell and began waltzing and twirling across the marble floor.
Cinderella thought to herself how lucky she was to have all of her dreams come true. Although she now had wealth, power, and freedom, the only thing she truly cared about was Prince Charming in her arms. She rested her head against his shoulder, closed her eyes, and whispered, “I love you.”
The clock struck midnight. Memories flooded Cinderella from the last time she heard that toll knowing that it was the end. But this time, she knew it would only be the beginning. The second chime came but something was different. The crowd had gasped. The third chime rang and the music started to stray. The fourth chime of the clock. screams. The fifth chime. shouts. The sixth chime. Cinderella opened her eyes and lifted her head from Prince Charming’s chest. The seventh chime. She quickly looked around the room searching for the reason behind the gasping crowd. People were running in all directions. The eighth chime. Although the music continued to play, the maestro was staring shockinly in her direction and instruments started to stray off key.
The ninth chime of the clock. She looked into the prince’s eyes. He stared back at her, gagging. He tried to speak, but nothing came out. The tenth chime. Blood began to pour from his mouth. The eleventh chime. Prince Charming convulsed and collapsed in her arms on the ballroom floor. As he fell into her arms she found the cause of all the commotion. An arrow stuck in her prince’s back as his blue tunic started to swell red from his blood.
“Charming, oh God, what’s happening!” She screamed with tears streaming down her eyes as she fell to the floor and grasped his head in her lap. The royal guards came out of the corridors and surrounded the great hall each pointing their pikes to the onlooking crowd while they formed a circle around Cinderella and a lifeless Prince Charming on the floor. Amid the chaos Lucien was heard yelling, “Guards! Up on the balcony! Get him!” Cinderella followed Lucien’s crooked pointed finger to the wrap-around balcony surrounding the upper level where a figure dressed in a black cloak and masked face was spotted with a crossbow in his hands. The figure dashed across the balcony once Lucien had raised the alarm. The guards marched towards the staircase corridor to intercept the assassin.
Cinderella screamed for her fairy godmother, Marie, but she was still nowhere to be found. “Stay with me Charming, stay with me!” She sobbed. The crowd continued to frenzy across the room and guards, nobles, and servants could be seen running through the giant doorway into the hall to investigate the commotion. People were hollering, screaming, and crying as they watched their future king die in his wife’s bloodied arms.
The twelfth chime of the clock tower. Prince Charming took his last breath. There were no final words. No last I love you. Cinderella was left with the heartbroken stare of his brown eyes into hers as the happily ever after she had been dreaming of all of her life was shattered like a glass slipper.
The guests began to wail and mourn at the sight of the dead prince. The king ran to his lifeless son and collapsed on the floor, grabbing Charming’s head from Cinderella’s arms and holding it against his. He wailed. “Charming! No! Who could have done this to you! My son! My one and only son!” His tears streamed onto the prince’s face as he held his head close and slowly rocked him back and forth.
Lucien, rushed to the king’s side and examined the body of Prince Charming. As the king held his dead son, Lucien slipped his hand underneath the prince’s back and with a heavy grunt he plucked the arrow out of the prince’s back. Cinderella sat in horror at the sight of the bloodied arrow. As soon as Lucien stood up, guards could be heard marching from the staircase corridor across the hall. The crowd cleared a path as a dozen guards marched towards the center of the ballroom floor with the assassin in custody. Cinderella stared in horror at the killer of her dreams. The crowd stood silent.
Lucien approached the masked figure and grabbed him by the face. “Who sent you to murder the prince? Why?” Lucien’s grip tightened around the assassin’s face. There was no answer. The assassin’s eyes were the only visible part of the figure. They were dark brown eyes that Cinderella thought looked more confused and scared then those of a motivated killer. Lucien drew back has hand and slapped him directly across the face, making the crowd gasp imagining the pain of the hit. “WHO SENT YOU!” Lucien yelled into his face. There was again no answer. Lucien grabbed the figure’s mask and hood and tore it from his head to reveal a sleazy man with crooked teeth and short, ruthlessly cut black hair. The man’s eyes began to wander around the crowded hall before coming in contact with Lucien’s determined gaze. Cinderella didn’t recognize the assassin. Lucien grabbed a golden dagger that was sheathed beneath his cape on his right hip. He drew the dagger and held it up underneath the man’s neck. The crowd let out a gasp and the man began to squirm uncomfortably with the blade tucked underneath his chin as he was restrained by members of the royal guard. Lucien’s patience grew thin. “Tell me who sent you or I will slit your throat in front of the entire kingdom and you will die a coward on the cold hard floor.” Cinderella saw beads of sweat forming on the assassin’s forehead and slowly dripping down his face. Lucien’s face grew dark and furious. “Fine!” He yelled. “So be it!” He grabbed the man by his dark black hair and pulled his hair back and down exposing his throat to the crowd. Lucien tucked the knife even closer to the man’s throat causing a small hint of blood to trickle from the pointed dagger slowly puncturing his neck. “WAIT!” Yelled the assassin.
Lucien loosened the dagger off of his neck. The assassin gasped for air as the pressure released from his throat; the sweat continued down his face. "I was paid a hefty sum of gold to make sure that the prince would never outlive his wedding night."
Cinderella looked shocked and confused. Her crying eyes looked into Lucien’s cold and accusing ones. “What! How is that possible? Poison? But we’ve been dancing!” Cinderella’s head started to spin. Her hair became disarrayed as she tore the crown from her head and threw it to the floor. She glanced around in shock taking in everything that had happened and attempted to put pieces together. “The wine! He drank my goblet!” She jumped to her feet and scanned the room for the servant who took their cups. He was nowhere to be seen. While she was searching the crowd she kept Marie in the back of her mind. Where is she? Her head continued to spin. Her prince was poisoned and Marie was missing. She didn’t know what to do. “What is happening!” She yelled. Lucien’s eyes glanced at the disoriented princess.
“You poisoned him, didn’t you?” Lucien said in a threatening tone as he pointed his slender finger at her. “You were the one who gave him the chalice. You knew if he was dead that you would rule the kingdom as queen!”
Cinderella’s confusion and disorientation slowly began turning into hate. “That is a lie! How dare you accuse me of such a thing!” Cinderella screamed at Lucien. Her gaze grew darker as she stood her ground to defend herself the only way she knew how. “How could you say such a thing, my lord! I loved Charming more than anything! He was my everything! You know that!”
The king looked up from his son’s body and stared into Cinderella’s crying eyes. He gave her an angry, sinister look - the same look her stepmother and stepsisters used to give her. It was an unforgiving look.
He muttered under his breath as tears streamed down his face. “You killed my son. How could you?”
Cinderella stared mortified at the king’s face. Of all people she thought he would believe in her the most. Her confusion now turned into frustration as she continued to defend her innocence. “I didn’t do this, your majesty. I loved him! This is some type of sabotage! I’m being set up! You must believe me!” She begged.
Lucien interjected. “You gave him the goblet of poisoned wine! You are the only person with motive! Of course a servant girl like you would attempt to rise from the ashes of nothing for power and wealth!” Lucien looked disgusted.
Cinderella slapped Lucien across the face. “HOW DARE YOU!” She glanced hard into his eyes. They were dark and cold. She suspected he was somehow involved in the murder of her beloved prince. She knew that there was no chance now that anyone would believe her. If she gave in she would surely be beheaded for treason. She needed to make an escape. She needed to buy more time to find her prince’s killer and bring them to justice. A darkness grew inside Cinderella. A rage. An anger. Revenge. She slowly backed away towards the doorway of the great hall step by step as the king’s guards slowly turned to face her.
Now that she was in full view, the crowd gasped and gazed in shock at the beautiful princess. Her dress covered in blood. Her golden hair was fallen and tangled. She glanced around the room one final time searching for Marie who was nowhere to be found. She was once again alone in the world. She had to run. It was her only chance. She was innocent and was going to find a way to prove it and seek revenge on whoever killed her prince. This meant war.
The guards continued to enclose on her. her eyes fluttered across the room looking for a way out but the only exit was through the main doors. Luckily, they were unguarded to allow the people to leave the crowded room. She turned and fled towards the ballroom doors. “Seal the doors!” Yelled Lucien. But it was too late. Cinderella had already slipped through and continued running through the royal palace. She tightened her grip on her ripped and bloodied dress as she held it up to avoid tripping as she ran. With all of the commotion in the great hall, the rest of the castle seemed empty. As she fled down corridors and through the multiple courtyards she eventually ran into nobles quickly leaving the castle after the incident. She knocked them out of her way as she continued the flight for her life. She eventually made it outside of the grand palace doors and could see the palace gate in the distance. She stopped to catch her breath before descending the grand staircase from the palace doors to the kings road, where the carriages were lined up waiting to escort nobles back to their respected houses. As Cinderella breathed heavily atop the flight of stairs, the guards could be heard in the distance, quickly gaining speed. She proceeded down the flight of stairs leading towards the entrance grounds.
She concentrated as she ran down step by step, hearing each clink of her glass slipper as it bared down on each marble step. When she began losing hope and gaining fear, the cool breeze of the open air gave her a second wind. She would fight. She had dealt with the death of her mother. She had dealt with the death of her father. She had dealt with being enslaved by a wicked woman and her two wicked daughters. She could do this. Have courage. Towards the center of the staircase, Cinderella began thinking of all of her past misfortunes and immediately lost her concentration. The clink of her right glass slipper could be heard, but as her soft bare foot hit the marble staircase she soon realized that her left glass slipper was gone. Although the original was sitting on the pedestal in the great hall alongside the royal throne, the kingdom’s glassmaker had made her a second one as a wedding gift so that she could wear them on her wedding day and leave the one the prince had found on the staircase as a reminder of the greatness to come. She looked back and up a few steps and realized that there, shining in the moonlight, was her left glass slipper that she no longer heard clinking on her foot. She turned to go back and retrieve it and was reminded of a perfect night not so long ago where the same accident of leaving a shoe behind would be her saving grace. She parted ways with the glass slipper, hoping it would save her somehow once more. She reached down and pulled her right glass slipper off of her foot and grasped it close as she continued pacing quickly down the grand staircase.
With the palace guards behind her, Cinderella dashed down the kings road among the parked carriages and anxious horses. The carriage men glanced at the future queen bare foot, glass slipper in hand running down the road across the palace grounds. She looked up at the main gate and the royal family’s crest hanging upon it as she passed through and fled into the nearby forest never looking back. Her dress continued to be torn to shreds and her flawless skin was now left scratched, muddied, and bloody as she ran past limbs and thorns and brush.
As she continued through the woods she could now hear horses neighing in the near distance. Torchlight now shined through the trees and brushes as the approaching palace guards and knights searched for the fleeing princess. As she passed her way through the thick brush, she finally came across a deep and ridged cliff overlooking a cold and icy river. The moonlight shimmered across the river water revealing more of the forest on the other side of the bank. I need to get down this cliff and across the river. It’s my only hope. As she glanced around for the nearest bridge or path to get to the water’s edge Lucien and the palace guards had finally caught up to her. She was cornered. The knights on horseback formed a wall between her and the forest with her back against the edge of the cliff. Their swords were drawn and enclosing on her like shark’s teeth. Not a moment went by when the knights were joined by the palace guards with torches in hand and Lucien himself. She was trapped.
Lucien stepped inside the entrapment. “You can’t hide from what you’ve done, Cinderella.” His grin was from ear to ear. She knew he was guilty. Her rage was enflamed. He placed his hands on his hips, pretending to look like a hero. “Come with me peacefully back to the castle and you will receive a fair trial for the murder of the prince.” Cinderella’s anger took control. “You monster! I know it was you! Guards! Seize this man! He is the true murder behind this conspiracy!” The guards remained in place. Lucien gave a maniacal laugh. “You see, girl? Nobody believes you. You gave the Prince the poison. We all saw it. You are to come back to the palace with me now - dead or alive. King’s orders.” His face grew dark and twisted.
Cinderella knew that she would not receive a fair trial. She knew that she would be killed before even making it back to the palace gate. She glanced for an escape route and found herself looking back and glancing over the deep dark cliff. Jumping into the cold and icy river was her only hope at survival. It was a small hope, but hope to say the least. So much still swam in her head. Why did Lucien kill Charming? Where was Marie? The endless thoughts needed answers and diving off of the cliff was the only option to give her a chance to find those answers and seek her revenge. Her hatred became her fuel.
She swayed her gaze back to Lucien and the royal guards, whose swords pointed in her direction as they slowly pressed on. Her cut and bloodied face hardened in the torchlight and her disheveled golden hair danced in the breeze as her gaze met Lucien’s. She hardened her eyes and spoke with a vengeance. “You may think this is your happily ever after, Lucien. But you’re wrong. I will destroy your happy ending as you’ve destroyed mine.”
Lucien pressed back. “Where is your fairy godmother’s magic wand? Where has she hidden it?”
Cinderella’s hardened look turned to panicked shock. She was completely taken by surprise. Nobody knew about her fairy godmother. She kept magic a secret from everyone in order to protect it. Cinderella now knew that Marie’s disappearance was no mistake. The fear and anger could be heard in her voice. “What have you done with her! Where is she!”
Lucien saw the lost look in Cinderella’s eyes and knew that she had no idea of the whereabouts of her fairy godmother’s magic wand. He took the opportunity to capture her. “Seize her!” He yelled and pointed his crooked slender finger towards the fallen princess. The guards marched forward.
In a daze of confusion, frustration, hate, anger, and rage, Cinderella took one last glance across the treetops of the forest towards the giant clocktower of the palace that could be seen in the far distance. Under Lucien’s control, the knights and guards of the palace projected towards Cinderella as she turned and dove off of the cliff and into the cold waters of the river below.