05 July, 2006
Cinderella and the Proud Curse: Chapter 1
Once upon a time there was a beautiful maiden who went to a ball until midnight and managed to marry a prince. There was a little confusion about a glass slipper, but in the end she got her man.
I understand that the poor guy who wrote that story said something at the end of it about “Happily ever after.” His sources were suspect. Cinderella was, you see, married in fairyland, and anything can happen in fairyland.
In this sad case, what happened was that a certain old, and very unpleasant witch read a worn out scroll. She found in it a very old and worn out prophecy that said that the first-born daughter of a servant queen would have in her veins the power of …”
Yes, that’s right, the worn out scroll could not be read, just at that critical point. The witch did not know what power she could gain if she got a drop of the blood of that child, but there was only one way to find out.
The old woman could wait, and she only told one man about the prophecy. Princess Cinderella was not yet a queen, but one day she would be. If Cinderella’s first child were not a girl, then the prophecy was false, but if she were… The old lady had a plan.
In due time Cinderella had her first child, a daughter, and they named her Anna. She was a beautiful little girl, with nearly invisible hair growing on her ears. This was important, because it meant that somehow a little bit of fairy blood had been magically given to her.
Only a Mommy would have known.
Only a Mommy should have known, but a certain ugly and very unpleasant witch knew too, and that was exactly the sort of thing that happens in fairyland.
When Anna had her first birthday, Cinderella and her prince announced a party for her. They were on the balcony overlooking a plaza where hundreds of the prince’s subjects were gathered. Cinderella could hardly contain her pride. She looked at the prince, and she looked at the people, beaming with the pure joy of it all. She remembered a certain stepmother, and all the things she had endured. She remembered the blessings of her fairy godmother. Most of all she remembered the beautiful gift her Anna had been, and how happy she was.
Cinderella gently lifted Anna from her basinet, and held her aloft for all the people to see. They could share in her joy now!
Anna was just old enough to lean up against things and stand, and to coo and gurgle when she was happy. As Cinderella cradled her in her arms, Anna looked out and saw a thousand people, hushed and watching her. Immediately, Anna became very still and very quiet.
“Blbbll, thubbl. Abub thubul,” Anna said, and raising her chubby little right fist, she added, “Abulbul!”
The thousand people who had all been holding their breath, let it out at once. Anna was beautiful, even more beautiful than Cinderella herself. After they all gasped, there was just silence through the plaza. Everyone knew now that the prince and princess were blessed, because they had been blessed with such a beautiful baby.
Just then, from the middle of the crowd came a voice saying, “She’s kind of plain, don’t you think?”
Cinderella heard her from all the way up in the balcony, and her face turned red with sudden rage.
“Actually, she’s very nearly ugly,” the unwelcome voice continued.
Cinderella and her prince stepped to the front of the balcony, and looked down to see to whom the foolish voice belonged. It was an old, (truly) ugly woman. It was easy to see her because all the people near her had backed as far away as the crowded space would allow. Soon it was obvious why everyone had backed away, as Cinderella shouted, “Seize her!”
With that, Cinderella stormed away with Anna while the prince tried to keep up. She sent Anna with her nurse to the nursery while she went straight to the hall of judgment, and waited for the old woman to be brought to her.
In minutes the faithful guards hauled the old woman in, which was exactly what should be happening right now according to her plan.
Cinderella had no idea that she was looking at her mortal enemy. The witch wanted nothing but the worst. She wanted to be alone with little Anna.
Not knowing that she should feel afraid, but beginning to feel very uncomfortable with how angry she had become, Cinderella started to feel guilty. She had just treated a poor old woman terribly, because of pride. She would never have tormented this poor old woman this way were she not so proud of Anna. Upon seeing the tired, old woman bound in front of her, Cinderella begged forgiveness of the old woman, and bid her be released.
The old woman did not leave, though. She may have been ugly, but she was very, very cunning. Instead, she bowed her head all the way to the ground, and told Cinderella that she wanted to give Anna a gift. She owned only one precious thing in the world, and would never be happy in life again unless she could give it to her now.
Without raising her head from the floor, she held out a pouch. Above her sad mop of gray hair she held a teardrop shaped package, carefully wrapped in coarse peasant’s wool.
Cinderella looked down on this pitiful woman who could easily have been her own grandmother, and her heart broke. She ran down from her throne and lifted the poor old woman from her position of shame. Hugging her, she wept and said, “Sweet woman, I am so sorry for scaring you so. Please, forgive me and go your way in peace.”
With that Cinderella rose up and bid the guards to free her.
Of course, the old woman was not sweet, but Cinderella could hardly know that! She was as heartless as an ogre, and twice as greedy. Anyone who knew her would have been shocked to hear her next words.
“Please dear princess,” she said, “do not break my heart and reject my humble gift.”
Cinderella looked at her, with tears of shame filling her eyes. “Of course, dear woman,” she said. She took the simple, terrible gift from her mortal enemy. “Since you have offered it to Anna, how can I say no?”
Turning from her, Cinderella left the room. The old lady’s eyes twinkled, and she let the relief she was feeling show through to guards who showed her safely back into the street. Not much is scarier than letting yourself be arrested by an angry mommy who could say, “Off with her head!” and actually be obeyed. She had pulled it off, though.
She had only to wait now.
The prince followed Cinderella, and took her hand. “Chirpy,” he said. He called her Chirpy because Cinderella so very much liked to whistle whenever she was happily at work. “Chirpy, you are too kind. You are beautiful in your jealousy and your mercy alike.”
Cinderella looked up at him and said, “I just don’t know what came over me. I don’t know what I did wrong, but in my heart I feel that nothing good will come of this day.”
The prince stepped up to her, and held both of her hands in his firm grip. Confidence shone from his face as he insisted to her that, “Every true deed, done from a true heart, will give birth to truth in the end.”
Cinderella looked at him through suddenly teary eyes, and tried to choke back her fears. His eyes met hers and worked to settle her heart, but she was not sure whether they were as strong as the creeping dread in her bones. Anna was in danger. She did not know how or why, but she could sense it in her bones. Something about her moment of pride was a dangerous, dangerous thing.
The prince was already late to discuss a recent border argument with Duke Archibald to the north, so he left his princess with a quick kiss. Poor Cinderella was left standing alone in the cold, gray hallway of the castle. With a heavy heart, she went to see her blessed little Anna.
A wonderful old maid was there, watching Anna. She got up to leave Cinderella in peace with her little girl, and with Fluffy, the family cat. (Back in those days, they did not believe that cats would steal a little girl’s breath in her sleep, like some do today.)
Anna was as beautiful as ever, and as patient. From the moment Cinderella picked her up, she squirmed to get down and touch the “Guggfe”. Her momma’s heart chuckled, and she set Anna down next to Fluffy, if only to watch the cat run away from Anna’s curious little fingers.
Anna’s easy fascination with everything close enough to grab her attention was like a balm to Cinderella’s heart. The prince was right. They were well cared for, and everything would be fine.
In the quietness of the moment, the old lady’s gift came back to mind. She pulled it from her pocket, gave it to Anna. “Here you go, my brilliant little angel,” she said. “It’s from a dear old grandma down in the village.”
Anna began to worry the string off the old wool, and to get the package opened little by little. Eventually, it was clear that the old lady had gifted a little mirror to Anna. Instead of looking at it, though, Anna did as children have done since time began and began chewing on its handle.
“Let me hold that for you dear,” Cinderella said. The little mirror had not been washed, and it probably was not designed to be a chew toy anyway.
The handle was carved from a dark and beautiful piece of wood. It was engraved with the most frightening little pictures, though. On both sides of the handle was a very large cat, while in the middle were the most frightened and helpless looking mice she had ever seen.
She looked into the glass itself, and suddenly it clattered to the floor.
Cinderella clattered to the floor too, though without quite the same noise. She looked up, and suddenly Anna was twice as large as a horse and the was room bigger than any cathedral. The chair on which she was sitting was could have held the entire palace guard, and left them room for their best marching maneuvers.
Fear overcame poor Cinderella, and she fainted right away.