Here is the grand finale. 🙂
Someone’s Plan Goes Wrong
Twelve hours later, Queen Ava returned to her room near the top of the tallest tower.
She took out her wand and flourished it toward Stella. “Libera enantiomer!” she cried. The blanket began to move as Stella squirmed and pushed it off. She stood up, feelingly rather dazed, but looking exactly like Cinderella. Queen Ava sent her to her room to refresh herself with a meal before her journey. She released Philip, who was in an adjacent room. Within half an hour, Philip, covered in a cloak, rode out of the castle gates with a glass slipper and a green, cork-stoppered vial of anti-potion wrapped up in his saddlebag. Half an hour after that, Stella, the other slipper, and an escort left for Cinderella’s cottage.
Several hours later, Stella left her escort a little ways from Cinderella’s cottage and walked on there by herself. She was clothed in the shabby dress Cinderella had been working in when they saw her in the vidēre. As Stella neared the cottage, she heard a horseman approaching. She turned. It was the prince!
Stella curtsied to him as he reined in his horse next to her. He inquired if there were any families with young daughters nearby. She replied that there was only the cottage where she lived with her step-mother and step-sisters.
“I have already been there,” replied the prince with a sigh. “What is your name, lass? You look familiar. You weren’t at the cottage when your step-sisters tried on the slipper were you?”
When Stella responded that she had not been there, the prince, in a more dutiful than hopeful manner, dismounted and produced the slipper. Stella set down on a tree stump and removed her worn shoes (actually a cleverly made new pair of shoes produced by the talented shoemaker). The prince knelt in front of her and put the slipper on her foot. It fit perfectly! The prince was astonished.
“My love,” began the prince, jumping up with his arms open to her; then, he suddenly stepped back and dropped his arms. “Wait, how could you be the one I danced with at the ball? She was very richly attired.”
Stella, rather dismayed, replied that her dress had been put under a spell, otherwise she would not have had anything to wear to the ball. She produced the mate to the slipper.
“It cannot be,” cried the prince, “I thought you were the daughter of a nobleman. You must have put me under a spell as well. I shall be the laughing stock of the palace. ‘The prince fell in love with a servant girl in a borrowed dress!’”
He took the slipper off Stella’s foot and threw it against a tree. The slipper shattered. The prince glanced the pieces of broken glass reflecting the afternoon sun as if they were symbols of a broken dream and rode off into the forest.
Not too far in to the forest, but out of Stella’s sight, the prince stopped, removed a small, green vial from his saddlebag, and drank its contents. The liquid in the vial had a curious effect on him; he shuddered at the taste of it and then his hair began to darken and his limbs lengthened slightly. He urged his horse forward again and rode on until he came to a small group of guards and a carriage. The emblem on the carriage was that of a black castle surrounded by green trees and tall mountains. The man told the guards to return home and tell their Queen that all was well and (he said it with a wink) that Cinderella was going to marry the prince and that they were leaving immediately on their honeymoon. “Do not expect to hear anything else for a few weeks. Also, give this letter to the King when he returns from his hunting trip in two days.”
In Which Stella Learns a Lesson or Two
Stella sat on the tree stump in a horrified silence, unable to understand what had just happened. The prince had rejected her, Cinderella that is. She had felt sure that the prince would marry Cinderella no matter what her status. He might regret it later, but he would not think twice about it now. After the initial shock wore off, Stella began to feel angry with the prince. She walked back to where she had left her escort, but they were not there. She searched the surrounding area frantically, but they were not there either. Stella, frustrated, exhausted, and a little scared, was about to start crying, when an unpleasant looking woman roughly grabbed her arm.
“There you are, Cinderella. I see the prince did not want you after all! I saw him ride by alone and guessed that he had brought you back. It’s time to quit moping and start mopping, as I always say.”
The woman, Cinderella’s step-mother, dragged Stella to the cottage where Cinderella had lived. The cottage was really a large-sized house that looked as if it could have afforded several servants. Unfortunately, a large portion of the family’s income had died with Cinderella’s father, and Cinderella had become the sole servant.
I can’t get home by myself, Stella said to herself. The prince won’t have anything to do with me, and no one will believe me if I say I’m not Cinderella. I’m trapped. I’ll have to continue to be Cinderella until my mother or Philip discovers what has happened. Where is Philip? He was supposed to arrange everything!
After a sharp “Why are you standing around? Get to work!” from the step-mother, Stella started on her list of chores. Fortunately, since her mother thought that the mistress of the house should know the basics of every task so as to be better able to command her servants, Stella knew how to do a servant’s job. She had had a thorough education, and now she was getting hands-on experience.
Gather firewood, carry water from the well to the house, cook dinner, scrub the kitchen floor, and milk the cow were only a few of the commands the step-mother gave Stella that afternoon. And whenever she was slow doing something because she didn’t know her way around, the step-mother would scold her for pining after the prince and his fine castle.
Poor Stella. By the time she went to bed, in a cold, little room with a hard mattress, she was bruised and sore and her ears were still stinging from the constant scolding of her step-mother and step-sisters.
Despite this or perhaps because of it, Stella lay awake wondering where her escort was, how she was going to get home, and how she had ended up in this situation. After a few hours, she fell asleep and began to dream of Cinderella. Cinderella was wandering around the forest. She could not go home because someone had taken her place there, nor could she go the palace because the gates were locked against her. She kept her hand on her heart as if it ached. She continued to wander around the forest calling for her prince until darkness overtook her.
Stella awoke the next morning troubled by the dream and the thought that Cinderella’s lonely fate had been caused by her. Throughout the next few days, as she did her chores, Stella thought about Cinderella, what Cinderella had endured from her family and how, despite that, she was loving and kind. The enchanted dress was evidence of that, only a person truly beautiful on the inside could have given the dress such brilliance. She thought about her own behavior, how selfish and self-important she had been. She had been angry with the prince at first for shunning her in the forest, but now she realized that he had behaved towards her exactly as she had behaved towards Cinderella. Cinderella was not wealthy or high-born, so Stella had thought that she was not worthy to marry the prince. Stella was ashamed of herself and earnestly prayed that Cinderella was well and happy, wherever she was.
Stella tried to run away once, but the step-mother caught her and soundly spanked her. Stella decided that it would be wiser to wait until someone came looking for her. Surely it wouldn’t be long.
About a week after she arrived at the cottage, Stella was struggling to carry a heavy bucket of water to the cottage without rubbing the blisters on her hands, when she heard a voice commenting that the pail looked heavy and that she looked tired. She had not seen anyone other than the step-mother and step-sisters for the seven days she had been in their house and was almost as surprised by the presence of a well-dressed traveler as by his offer and following act of service. He gently took the bucket from her hands and carried it the house. In response to her stammered thank you, the traveler smiled and replied that he had noticed she might need some help and had been happy to ease her discomfort. He smiled again and touched his hat as a parting gesture and left. Something about this simple act, that of noticing a person’s need and responding with kindness, gave her a strange, but pleasant feeling. Her family had done kind things for her, and she had done kind things for them; but she had never noticed the needs of or cared about doing anything for a stranger.
She went to sleep that night thinking of the traveler, of his thoughtful act that had eased the pain of her blistered hands and of the kind manner in which he had treated her, a manner that seem to say that he didn’t think of her as a lowly servant but as a person who mattered. She resolved to take more notice of people’s needs, no matter who they were.
Something about the way the stranger had smiled as he looked at her, reminded her of the way Philip used to smile at her when they played together growing up. She remembered Philip’s anxious, disapproving look as she and her mother discussed their plan to trick the prince, and she began to cry with sorrow for her actions and a longing for her home.
Three weeks passed since Stella entered the cottage. She hoped her mother would soon discover what had happened and rescue her. The doppelganger spell, a long-lasting but not permanent spell, was wearing off. Her black hair was showing through at the roots, and she had to wear a handkerchief around her head to hide it.
As Stella gathered firewood one morning, she heard a rattling sound in the bushes next to her. All of the women in Stella’s family were terrified out of their senses by snakes. So, when Stella heard what sounded like the warning of a poisonous snake next to her, she dropped her bundle of wood, and ran towards the house faster than she thought she could have ever run.
Fright has a peculiar effect on spells, particularly old doppelganger spells. As Stella rushed through the forest towards the cottage, the image of Cinderella (being lighter than Stella) separated from her and flew before her into the forest as the ghostly figure of a terrified, young woman. It has been said by some that the step-mother and step-sisters later claimed to be haunted by the wraithlike image of Cinderella running, screaming through the forest.
Stella ran down the road, straight into the well-dressed traveler. “Stella, what’s the matter,” cried the man. He quickly removed his hat and a false beard, revealing the face that, aside from her parents and siblings, she had most wanted to see.
“Philip!” Stella exclaimed as she threw her arms around him. “Oh, Philip, I have been such a fool! What have I done to Cinderella? Is she all right? Please take me home!”
Then, overcome by three weeks of exhausting work and worry and the recent fright, she lost consciousness. Philip caught her before she fell and put her on his horse. He got up behind her and cradled her in his arms. He looked down at her. She had ashes on her face and blisters on her hands, but she had never looked lovelier to him or, in a way, more like Cinderella, who was, by this time, happily married to her prince.
Philip nudged his horse, and the three of them started on their way back to the shining black castle in the deep green valley among the tall, dark mountains.
In a chamber near the top of the tallest tower in the black castle, the image of Stella and Philip riding through the forest began to waver and disappear. The image was replaced by the natural reflection of Queen Ava and a pleasant, intelligent looking gentleman, holding a letter signed Lord Philip.
“I think you are right, Edmund, dear,” Queen Ava said. “Not all princes are born in palaces and not all loveliness comes with lace.”