An alternative fairytale in bite-sized portions
Suitable for family reading
After the Ball
The town clock was still striking when the Prince arrived at the top of the palace steps. A scruffy tan and white mongrel loped down the driveway towards the gates, but there was no sign of Lady Eleanor. Palace staff spilled out of the doorway.
A gleam caught his eye halfway down the steps – surely not a wineglass? Not at a palace ball. A waiter went to retrieve it.
The last stroke of midnight sounded.
The waiter brought him a shoe. It glittered like glass. It was her shoe. He called her name again, but only a peacock answered from the gardens.
Among the trees that lined the drive, he thought a shadow moved, but when he ran down to see for himself, there was nobody. A camera flashed.
The steps were filling with people.
He sent palace guards to search the grounds. The queen said that wouldn’t be necessary, but he surprised everyone by insisting.
Buttons limped beside her as she danced home barefoot through the tree-lined streets, swinging a shoe. The gown no longer shimmered. Only the light in her eyes shone, and the moonlight reflecting off the shoe in her hand. She might have been any girl in a long dress on a warm night, humming a dance tune on her way home.
When he glanced back, he fancied he saw a square-shaped shadow moving silently from tree to tree, but when he stopped to look properly he got left behind and had to run to catch up to her.
‘Come inside now, Alfred. Your guests won’t leave while you’re out here.’
Impatience tinged his mother’s words, contrasting with the wide smile she aimed at the partygoers lingering in the courtyard. Beside the press van, a reporter spoke into a microphone as guests drifted behind him, pretending not to notice the camera.
‘That’s a bonnie wee shoe you’re holding, laddie.’
‘Nanny Ffinch! When d-did you arrive?’
‘Oh, a while ago. You were busy.’ She fastened the neck of her cloak over a ballgown as blue as a summer lake.
‘She’s gone, Nanny, and I d-don’t know who she is.’
‘There can’t be many young ladies with a foot that small.’
‘I’m going to knock on every door in Regalia until I find her.’
He hadn’t stuttered when he said that. For a moment the realisation distracted him. Nanny was smiling, so he knew he was doing something right, until his mother spoke.
‘Don’t be silly, Alfred; she isn’t from Regalia. Your father would have recognised her.’
She was right. His mother was always right, darn it.
‘Maybe the lassie’s visiting relatives.’
His spirits lifted. ‘Even if she leaves Regalia tomorrow, her hosts will tell me where I can find her. I’ll ask at every house.’
‘You can’t personally visit every house, Alfred. It isn’t… royal.’ His mother forgot to smile at the watching guests. ‘And every unmarried girl in Regalia will claim to be this Lady Eleanor. How would you know it was her?’
He gazed out across the twittering crowd. ‘Nanny Ffinch used to say we would know when we found our one and only true love.’
His mother glared at Nanny Ffinch.
‘Ay. Well… I expect we were talking about fairy tales, your Highness.’
‘And there I was, thinking someone else…’ For a moment, he looked uncertain.
‘Such a dinky wee shoe.’
He raised the glittering shoe Nanny Ffinch was admiring. As it caught the glow of a lamp above the palace door, reflected light flashed across the courtyard – silver and royal purple – causing spectators to gasp. He knew what he must do. As he followed his mother into the palace he said, ‘They’ll all have to try on the shoe. Nanny’s right. There can’t be many who could wear it.’
He turned to Nanny Ffinch for support, but she had gone.
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90 pages, no illustrations