When his bedroom door opened, she flew straight into the room, screaming loudly. (Nightingales are famous for their beautiful song, but also for the ugly way they scream at their baby chicks. They can have the prettiest of bird songs, and the ugliest of voices at the same time.) The prince would never understand her, but if she could just make him nervous, he might be more ready when the attack began. She was shocked when she saw that the prince did not enter, but rather was opening the door for Danielle.
When Danielle saw the wild, little nightingale zipping around the room, she ducked and ran back out again, screaming.
The door shut, and Cinderella found herself alone in the room. She perched on top of the bed, and waited. She could hear the prince laughing, and explaining that this was his little pet nightingale. He told Danielle that he had named her “Chirpy,” and that she was the sweetest bird in the whole world.
When the door opened again, the prince came in first, and he searched the room until he found Cinderella. “Chirpy,” he said, “You just sit up there very quietly, OK?”
Cinderella sat very quietly.
Danielle entered the room, and looked where the prince was pointing. Satisfied that “Chirpy” was going to sit there quietly, she slowly entered.
Cinderella did not know what to do. She could not stop the battle, but she wanted to scream. Eventually, she decided that hearing what Danielle had to say would not hurt anything, so she settled in for a long night.
Danielle and the prince had been quarreling by the looks of them.
“Tonight, fair prince!” Danielle said. “Agree to marry me tonight. You have said it yourself. The kingdom is not settled without a princess on the throne beside you, and you know you have enjoyed these last few weeks. Why must we wait?”
“I do not understand,” the prince answered, “why you are doing this. Tomorrow night is as good as this one, and I have never dreamt of marrying a woman who would presume to propose to me. I cannot bear the thought, even, that you have followed me to my bedroom. These things are not done.” The prince turned and looked out the window, straight at an army he could not see, and could not know was there.
Danielle still glimmered with the faint glow of magic, but it was obvious to Cinderella why it had to happen tonight. The spell was fading. The illusion was wearing thin. That was why the army was ready to attack. Danielle was serving Lord Farris, and if she could not sit on the prince’s throne with him, Lord Farris would simply take that throne. Thinking back, Cinderella was amazed she had not seen Lord Farris out in the field while she was searching.
Danielle turned away from the prince, and pulled a little flask from a hidden pocket. She emptied the last of it onto her hand, and in a simple, smooth motion put it on her forehead. The shine of magic spread across her entire face and body, and then she turned back to him again.
“Then I am nothing to you,” Danielle said, and the tears began to well up in her eyes. “You have rejected me once for a chance meeting at a dance, and now you reject me again though I plead in your very presence.”
The magic made her tears glisten, her voice sing with a wavering lilt, and her hair radiate beauty. The prince turned from the window, and froze. A man so proper as to be offended when Danielle entered his bedroom could not turn away from a woman in tears. Her sudden beauty overwhelmed him. He flew across the room and gathered her into his arms.
“Danielle,” he said, “I cannot quite believe your kindness in offering me a second chance. Give me a moment to take it in.”
Cinderella’s heart broke. Danielle’s surprise was evident. She looked up, and joy was breaking through the clouds of her tears. A smile slowly began to brighten her teary eyes.
“Give me a few minutes alone,” the prince said, “and I will think what answer I can give you. I just cannot answer in haste. I know you understand.”
The look in Danielle’s eyes showed she did NOT understand!
Cinderella was as shocked and amazed as Danielle, but she could do nothing. Danielle could do something. She could do a lot. Her eyes opened again, she stood to her full height, she composed herself with regal grace, and she planted the most determined kiss on the prince’s lips that she could.
Cinderella shrieked with fury and screamed into the air, pumping her wings as quickly as her little nightingale heart could push them. In seconds she was in Danielle’s hair, and pecking at her evil little skull for all she was worth.
Danielle broke her kiss, and started flailing madly at her own head. Cinderella flew down and away from the giant arms tearing the air around her, then wheeled back up and into the blond windmill that was determined to kill her.
Die she might, but Cinderella was going to have blood for that stolen kiss.
She flew right over the prince’s shoulder, and took a nasty peck out of Danielle’s cheek. Danielle was too slow to stop her strike, but she was fast enough to swat her out of the air as she tried to get away again.
Cinderella tumbled through the air until she brutally bounced off the back of a chair behind her. In an instant she leaped back into the air, but it was no use. In a flash of agony, she knew her wing was broken, and she knew she was doomed.
Danielle had a book off the table and poised to strike before Cinderella could even turn to face her killer. As she smashed her hands down at the little nightingale behind her, though, there was no book in them. The prince had snatched it from her hands from behind. Danielle shot the prince one quick look of unlimited fury, and struck again at Cinderella with her bare hands. Cinderella was able to dodge that blow with one wing, and she never needed to dodge again. The prince had Danielle firmly in hand.
The guards burst into the room. They were a little late, but it was hardly their fault.
The prince handed Danielle over to the guards, and asked that they escort her down to the kitchen, where she might be able to get a little tea and calm herself.
The prince immediately ran back to his little Chirpy, and scooped her up in his hands. He took her over to the windowsill, and put a little bird feed in front of her. He tucked her little broken wing up where it would usually rest, and left her standing quietly. Cinderella let out one sad little chirp.
“Yes, Chirpy, I agree,” the prince said. “She doesn’t seem to be the one for me.”
He was silent for a few seconds, as he stared out into the woods.
“You know, Chirpy,” he finally continued. “I think you may have saved me from a very bad mistake tonight. Danielle was so gorgeous, and without Cinderella I have been so lonely, but really – now that I think about it – I actually love you more than I love Danielle. Much more. I don’t think Danielle once let me really tell her what I was thinking, what I was dreaming, and I need that more than anything. You may not understand what I am saying, but at least you let me talk!”
Cinderella just perched there. Her wing was in a fiery pain, but she would not have moved or said anything that might break the spell of her prince’s words. Just then, nothing on earth could have sounded more beautiful.
“Yes, little Chirpy,” he went on, “I do think I love you.” And with that, her prince kissed her, right on the beak.
His wonderful face came right to hers, big as a barn and lovely as all the stars, and kissed her as warmly and as tenderly as ever she had dreamed a kiss could be. His kiss was as tender as that first one after he found that the glass slipper really did belong on her foot.
Her heart seemed to explode within her, and she wrapped her good arm around him, and kissed him right back, for all she was worth.
She opened her eyes to see the prince’s eyes as wide as saucers, and suddenly noticed she was human again. The spell was broken, and she was with her prince again!
He stepped back, gawked, smiled, and jumped back into her arms to kiss her again, this time a man kissing his long-lost wife.
The jostling was a little too much for her broken arm, and Cinderella let out a little yelp.
They separated again, and the prince yelled for a doctor.
When he looked back at her, they were both weeping, and both speechless. They just stared at each other.
The moment was broken, though, by a shout from the wall. “Archers!” came the cry of the guards. Danielle had been instructed to leave one signal lamp in her window if the prince said yes, and two if he said no. As soon as she had convinced the guards to let her go to her room, instead of the kitchen, she had put one lamp in that window, and the attack began.
“Stay here!” the prince yelled, and ran for the door.
“No, wait!” Cinderella yelled back. “I know their battle plan!”
The prince froze in his tracks, and slowly turned to face her again, a sly grin beaming from his face. “You are an amazing woman,” he said, and sat and listened to every word she had to say.
Needless to say, it was a long night. Thanks to Cinderella, though, the prince knew the attacks on the main gate and the two walls next to it were just feints. He kept his main force in reserve, and when the main attack came against the back wall, he was ready. Lord Farris’s men planned to fight a surprised enemy that could not organize a defense. The prince’s men were surprised, but the prince was able to muster them and organize them very effectively with Cinderella’s information. Within a few hours, it was obvious to everyone that no castle would be stormed that night.
Lord Farris’s men retreated.
Cinderella spent her evening well, too. All of the castle guards were at the walls with her prince, but she had the doctor work on her arm down in the kitchen instead of in the prince’s room. He put a very fine cast on it, and it only hurt a little as he worked. While she was there, Cinderella rounded up the kitchen staff, armed them, and sent them out to find Danielle and the old woman.
The women had armed themselves with knives, torches, and rolling pins, and they all went together to Danielle’s bedroom. When they got there, they were very quiet because they could hear an argument happening inside. In just a minute, they could tell there were two women in there, not just Danielle, and a man’s voice too. The women all looked at one another, not quite sure what to do.
Finally, the senior cook walked up to the door and knocked.
The room went silent.
Danielle called out, “Who’s there?”
The senior cook answered back, “There’s a few of us women, ma’am, who were asked to bring you some dinner. Would you like to open up for us?”
Her lie was not very convincing. There was a moment of silence, and suddenly the door burst open and out leaped Lord Farris, sword at the ready.
Fifteen women, all with weapons of some sort, stood their ground. They were ready to fight. Lord Farris had a sword that would have cut them down like ripe wheat, and he looked them all in the eye, one by one. He saw there that they were all ready to die there, if they had to, and he hesitated.
Had they been men! Ah, had they only been men. There would have been a fight worthy of telling for the rest of their days. As it was, if he lifted his sword, he would forever more be known only as the man who chopped down fifteen women to save his own skin.
Lord Farris lowered his sword and allowed the women to take him, Danielle, and the old witch prisoner.
The women returned their prisoners to Cinderella, and she commanded them all placed in separate cells in the dungeon. No sense allowing them the pleasure of each other’s company, and why let them cook up a good story together.
With that accomplished, Cinderella was finally able to go and see her Anna. It had been more than a month since Anna had tried to look in that awful mirror, and that long since Cinderella had seen her. She found her awake. (It seemed like Anna was always awake. Did this baby never sleep?) She called her name, and ran across the room to her. Anna tried to stand up against the crib when she called, and fell over right away. She blubbered and made some “Blblbbbbll zzzlllbbb” noises and grinned from ear to ear.
Anna had missed her mommy, too!
For the next week, no one tried to take Anna from Cinderella – not even for diaper changes.
Morning eventually came, and when it did, the castle was still safe. Nobody slept that night, but it was the best breakfast any of them had ever had!
In three days, the prisoners were brought before the prince and Cinderella. The justice of war is simple. The penalty for treason, spying, or unjust war is death. The old woman was guilty of treason, plain and simple. Danielle was guilty of spying. The Lord Farris was guilty of starting an unjust war. All three were judged worthy of death.
The Lord Farris, however, had shown honor in not killing the women who arrested him, so the prince felt compelled to extend some mercy to him. Danielle was the daughter of a Lord. And the old woman was no guiltier than the Lord Farris, so she should receive no crueler punishment than either of the other two. The prince was capable of handing out true justice, even when it is extreme, but he decided not to do so.
The prince arranged a merciful justice for them. The Lord Farris owned a rich tract of land that separated the prince’s realm from the king’s. Lord Farris surrendered that land to the prince, and vowed that none of the three of them would ever set foot in their land again. The Lord Farris also agreed to pay the price of reconstruction on each of the houses burned down, plus enough to buy fireproof roofs for all the buildings around the edge of the castle.
The prince and Cinderella walked their enemies to the gate, and gave them letters of safe passage through the kingdom. When their enemies had gone, and the gates were shut, they turned back and looked at all their people, and a shout went up from everyone. “Hip, Hip, Hoorah!” they shouted, and everyone smiled because the kingdom was safe again, and beautiful little Anna’s mother was home.
And they lived happily ever after.
Except that Anna had spent a lot of time with her fairy godmother over the last month, and she had learned many interesting things…