I may share more of it, if enough of you are intrigued. And I would definitely love some feed back. So, here goes!
Cindy paused at the top of the stairway, wiped her tears, and stepped into the elegant, sweeping entryway. The beauty of the crystal chandeliers would have been breathtaking if she didn’t know what happened in their shadows. There was a pack of towheaded children that always ran around the palace courtyard. They were referred to as the “Shadow Children.” There wasn’t a single bastard child that was officially recognized but everyone knew the truth. They disappeared back into the darkness, giggles and whoops rippled the air in their wake.
Beneath her dainty feet plush, dark red carpeting ran down the center of the stairs, it was rumored that all the carpets were red to hide...stains. The stairs spilled directly into the grand ballroom, it’s marble floor speckled with gold. Along the edges of the dance floor were dozens of tables covered in golden cloth and laden with both local delicacies and those brought as gifts by travelers. The smells wafted up to her and her stomach growled. I’ll just grab a bite and get out of sight.
The music trumpeted gaily from the band that sat opposite the ballroom from the royal dais. And yet, the women in their grand flowing dresses remained stoic, speaking to each other in hushed tones. The men...she looked around again. The only men she spotted that were not of the royal family, were the servers bustling about.
Cindy sighed. Mother had only forced her to come to this ball in the hopes of pawning her off on the horrid Prince Stefan. Prince Charming they called him with a snicker. With Cindy married off Mother would be free of her deathbed promise to Father. She would be married and Mother and her girls could return to their family’s kingdom, far beyond the reach of this ghastly patriarchy. Her stepsisters would be here tonight as well, but they had been coached on how to avoid the prince. Dru had gone so far as to cutting her right cheek repeatedly, allowing the tissue to scar until it was grotesque. Annie, sweet as she was, had no need to disfigure herself.
Cindy made her way down with caution, balancing on the ridiculous glass slippers Mother’s sister, Azura, had given her. Her doting godmother. More like, her devilmother. Azura had used forbidden black magic to produce a carriage as well. The carriage glimmered like diamonds but Cindy could see remnants of the magic writhing at the edges.
Azura had staged whispered to Mother, “The magic will escape by midnight, surely he will have her in his bed then.”
Mother nodded in agreement and Cindy wondered where “escaped” black magic went.
Resolving to hide in the shadows until this fiasco was over, Cindy descended the rest of the steps. The candlelight reflected from a nearby mirror blinded her momentarily. She had barely regained her bearings when he grabbed her hand and swept her onto the dance floor.
He was handsome, no sense in denying that. He stood taller than most young men their age and his fair hair shone from crown to shoulders. His eyes, blue-green like the ocean raked over her body. He smiled, teeth straight and gleaming, but it didn’t reach those eyes. Those beautiful, dead eyes.
“And here I was thinking tonight was going to be a bust, nothing but straight backed and strong willed girls everywhere I look. But, you,” He pulled her close to him and his hot breath made her blood run cold, “You look like one I could break.”
Cindy struggled against his embrace and he spun her around the floor, nonplussed. In the blur of people she saw her two stepsisters, huddled deep in the shadows, strategically hidden behind a ridiculously phallic fountain. Dru held a small fan in front of her face but quickly lowered it when the Prince’s eyes followed Cindy’s. There was no mistaking the pity in their eyes, but she knew they wouldn’t help her. Not one woman in this room was going to chance drawing his attention. A group of giggling girls spilled in through the back entrance and fell silence as they caught sight of the prince. Without hesitation they all ducked into the shadows. It was then she realized her mistake, coming down that staircase and making herself the center of attention.
His hand dipped low, grabbing her buttocks and he pulled her tighter against him. The shock sent her heart galloping and heat rose in her cheeks. She tried to wriggle away, cried out and still no one made a move to help her. He laughed, it was a mirthless sound and the thought of hearing it for the rest of her life frightened her.
“Your Grace?” Her voice shook but she batted her eyes up at him, going for a coy and subservient look. “I need...um...the lavatory?”
He regarded her for so long she was afraid he would deny her but he grabbed her arm roughly and escorted her across the dance floor and through the crowd. They women parted quickly, creating enough distance so as to not even brush his elbows. He stopped in front of an open doorway and waved her in.
“I’ll wait for you right here.” His words sounded like a threat rather than politeness.
The royal bathroom was just as extravagant as the ballroom. Her glass slippers tapped along the dark blue marble. The rest of the room boasted a dark mahogany wood, polished until you could see your reflection in it. Chamber pots sat beneath gilded chairs void of seat cushions. A very peculiar set up to one accustomed to the woods and out houses. Each chamber pot seat was divided with delicately woven screens set in bamboo frames. No windows, no other doors. She went to the very last one and sat down to catch her breath, careful to watch her skirt.
A flurry of footsteps entered the room with a chorus of, “Excuse me.” And Cindy listened as the girls tittered and gossiped.
“I’m sure we can leave now, he appears to have chosen his bride.”
“You mean, his victim.”
“Hush your mouth before someone hears you!”
“My momma said last night’s ball was supposed to be the end of this nonsense but, apparently, his new fiance became hysterical and threw herself off a balcony.”
“I didn’t hear anything about that.”
“It’s true. My Pappa was in the throne room this morning while they were discussing it.”
“You know that girl is is Cindy, right?” Cindy recognized Agatha’s voice and there was a series of gasps.
“Are you certain? Oh dear, and she’s such a sweet girl. Her stepmother is horrid though, this might be a step up for her.”
There were giggles all around, though less enthusiastic, and the voices faded back out to the ballroom.
Ok, Cindy. You can do this. Just look for an opportunity and get out of this palace!
With a deep breath she pulled herself back up then winced. Her foot was killing her. She lifted the hem of her skirt and saw a smudge of blood inside her left slipper. “Of course.”
He was waiting for her outside the door and grabbed her by the forearm as soon as she walked through. “Come, let’s introduce you to the king and queen before we get back to the dance floor.” That empty smile again.
At the front of the ballroom was the dais draped in more red carpeting. It was adorned with four imposing thrones. The King slouched in the tallest one, his face ruddy with drink and the throne to his right sat empty, presumably it was Prince Stefan’s. To his left perched the Queen. She didn’t have a hair out of place but there were dark circles under her piercing blue eyes. Look Cindy, it’s your future. If you survive. To the queen’s left sat a younger and much kinder looking version of Stefan. His younger brother she learned upon introductions.
“Are you sure about this one?” The King didn’t so much speak as he did growl. His eyes raked her body but never rose to her face.
“Oh, yes, sir.” The gleam that took over his eyes was worse than the deadness.
“Like you were sure of the last one?” His brother piqued from his seat.
“Hush, Robert,” The Queen hissed at him and looked around to see if anyone else caught the exchange. “There are many ears about.”
The King waved them off dispassionately and the prince dragged her back to the dance floor like a reluctant prize mule. With practiced ease he spun her back into his embrace and she groaned loudly.
“You will be my bride.” Prince Charming growled the words in her ear without a hint of kindness.
She balked but kept her face expressionless. He didn’t even know her! Who marries someone after a night of dancing? A psychotic future king.
He whirled and twirled her around the dance floor for what seemed like an eternity. Her feet ached inside their glass casings and her lower backed throbbed where his palm pressed it, harder than necessary. His other hand never rested, groping and dipping all the while he laid out his plans for her, in horrid detail. He spoke of deflowering her and inflicting pain all in the same breath that gleam still in his eyes. His cold smile never faltered and when he lowered his lips to hers she dropped the small purse she had been unconsciously clutching all night. He bent down to retrieve it and she bolted.
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