Three months after the happy ever after
So Cinderella married Prince Charming and they all lived happily ever after. The End.
Three months after the wedding, Cinderella sat in the dining room of the palace. Alone. Again. Her husband, Prince Charming, or Albert as he now insisted on being called, had left at the crack of dawn to go hunting. This time it was for deer. The previous day it had been hare and the day before that... She couldn’t even remember the day before that. The three weeks previously, he had been touring the country for some charity or other playing polo. In fact she couldn’t even remember the last time he had had breakfast with her.
She tapped her fingers on the table trying to think. Oh, the honeymoon, that was it. They had spent two weeks on the beach, walking hand in hand on the sand, sleeping under the stars, doing things couples in love did on their honeymoon.
The thing was, as soon as they got back to the castle things changed. Albert threw himself back into his life there, the hunting and riding and fishing and affairs of state. It turned out he really ran the country and not his father King Wilberforce. Not that that was a problem, as Cinderella knew that he would end up doing it anyway, she just hadn’t envisaged it been so soon.
Oh, and the polo. She’d dare not forget the polo. She was beginning to think he loved his horses more than he did her. Maybe he married her simply to avoid the arranged marriage his parents wanted.
She finished her breakfast and wondered what she should do today. She was tired of sitting on a chair trying to read or sew or do what princesses did all day long. Which apparently was nothing. Actually, she corrected herself that was Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Maybe she should go down to the kitchen and make herself useful. She could make dinner perhaps. She picked up her plate and cup and headed through the double doors at the end of the room.
There was a shriek and a crash as something was dropped then hastily picked up. “Your Highness,” the voice said. “I was just coming to get those.”
“It’s alright I have them. I need to go to the kitchen anyway.”
“Oh... you can’t go to the kitchen. Cook’s in a right tizzy and the place is a mess and...”
“Then it sounds like she needs the help.” Cinderella handed her cup and plate to the servant and picking up her skirts ran to the kitchen. She laughed to herself over what Queen Gertrude would say if she saw her running. Well too bad. She was in a rebellious mood this morning. She pushed open the kitchen door and stood there watching. Tizzy was not the word. Chaos was more like it.
Smoke billowed from one of the ovens. Flour covered every available work surface and the floor. The sink was piled high with burnt or dirty pans and dishes and Cook was screaming at the top of her voice.
Cinderella coughed loudly and silence descended like a stone.
“Your Highness,” Cook spluttered. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to help,” Cinderella said. She grabbed one of the aprons and tied it on before Cook could say another word. “And it looks like you need it.” She moved over to the window and flung it open. “Get the door open too. Let some of this smoke out.” She turned noticing the kitchen staff just standing there. “Do it!” she said putting her hands on her hips.
“You heard Her Highness,” Cook said. She clapped her hands. “Move!”
The door was flung open along with the rest of the windows. Cinderella nodded in approval. “Right Cook. What can I do to help?”
“Oh I couldn’t ask you to do anything...”
“You didn’t ask. I am offering, nay insisting on helping. If I have to spend another hour sat in that solar on my own reading I will go spare. I know kitchen work. Let me help.... besides the more of us there are the sooner it’s done right.”
Cook nodded. “Especially with this ball tonight in your honour.”
Cinderella nodded. She had actually deliberately forgotten about it but wasn’t going to say as much. It had been dubbed the ‘let’s show off the new princess to the surrounding kingdoms’ ball by the King which had put her right off the idea from the outset. She looked at the table where the pastry was going horribly wrong. “May I?” she asked.
Cook nodded. “I can never get pastry right.” She watched in amazement as Cinderella turned the mess in front of her into 28 perfectly formed apple pastries. “How did you?” she asked.
Cinderella smiled. “Practise,” she said quietly. “Maybe we could trade tips sometime. I love your beef casseroles but can never get the meat tender enough.”
Cook smiled. “Sounds good to me.”
Cinderella wiped her hands on her apron. “Now... do you want me to do the meringues?”
“If you don’t mind Highness. Then I can get on with the roast.”
Twenty minutes later Cinderella finished the meringues. “Now Cook what can I do? The sink or the oven?”
"Either ... Ma’am,” Cook finished awkwardly. She dreaded to think what Queen Gertrude would say. Even Prince Albert was likely to be annoyed about this. But Cook wasn’t about to argue with royalty. She valued her job too much.
Cinderella moved over to the oven dropping to her knees and pulling out the shelves.
By the time the oven was clean and spotless two hours had passed. Cinderella was covered in soot and ash and dirt. Her blonde hair was dark and her face had black streaks on it. She had hummed as she worked, happy to be doing something other than reading or being alone.
The rest of the day flew past. She was rearranging the shelves in the larder, when a bellowing voice behind her made her jump.
“CINDERELLA! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?”
She took a deep breath and turned round wiping her hands on her apron. “Albert,” she said blushing under the dirt covering her face. “I was cleaning the oven.”
He moved over to her. “Have you any idea what the time is?! Outside. Now.” His tone was curt leaving no doubt that she should obey.
She took a deep breath and removing her apron followed her husband into the garden. The air was cool after the heat of the kitchen. She turned to him. “Have you quite finished ordering me around like a scullery maid?”
He put his hands on his hips and glared at her. “Is that not who I am speaking to?” he said sharply. “Look at you... you’re, you’re filthy!”
She looked down at herself. “It’ll wash out. What’s the problem?”
“Problem?” He yelled. Then he took a deep breath and lowered his voice. “The problem, my dear Elle, is you seem to have forgotten who you now are. You no longer work in the kitchen.”
Cinderella’s eyes narrowed. “No I don’t do I?”
“So do I have to remind you of what the wife of the heir apparent does?”
“Feel free!” she snapped. “No actually let me tell You what the wife of the heir apparent does all day long. She gets up – Alone. She has breakfast – Alone. Then she retires to the solar where she sits Alone all day long with her book. Sometimes she does cross stitching. Other times, if it is not raining, she takes a walk around the palace gardens. Alone. Then finally its dinner time. In a huge hall where no one speaks except to say pass the salt please. Then she sits alone again in her room until it’s time to go to bed.”
He looked at her. “And your point is?”
She shook her head. “Do I have to spell it out for you? I. Married. You! Not your palace or the solar or the book I seem to spend more time with. I have not eaten with you in days. The last time we had breakfast together was on our honeymoon. These days you spend more time with your horses and polo ponies than you do me.”
He huffed. “You don’t ride.”
“You never asked! How do you know what I do or do not like doing?”
“Fine!” He turned round and faced across the palace garden. “What do you like doing then?”
“I cook,” she said decisively.
“Cook!?” Albert spluttered. “That’s what servants do.”
She glared at him. “I cook and I sing and I ride,” she said. “And if I want to do so then I will.”
“And you clean,” he said looking at her.
“And clean!” she finished. “Come here.” She grabbed his hand and dragged him into the kitchen. She broke off a corner of one of the meringues she had made. “Here.” She shoved it in his mouth. “I made this.”
Not expecting it he nevertheless ate it. “Wow. You made this?” he repeated reaching for the rest of it.
Cook nodded. “She did Sir. And the pastries and she helped with other bits too. She’s gifted with her cooking if you don’t mind me saying so.”
Albert looked at Cinderella. “Doesn’t mean you can keep doing it though.”
She shook her head and stormed out of the kitchen. She picked up her skirts and ran through the main door into the corridor which led to the ballroom.
“Wait!” he called knowing full well the guests were already arriving which was why he had come to find her in the first place. Although the kitchen was the last place he had looked. Indeed it had been the last place he had thought to look, having expected her to have more sense than be there. He set off after her, calling her name over and over.
Cinderella ignored him. She didn’t want another lecture. Not from someone who had barely spoken to her in days. She ran fast not paying attention to where she was going. She suddenly burst through a door into a room full of people in wigs and ball gowns. “Oh,” she gasped sliding to a halt but not before she crashed into someone sending them both crashing to the floor.
The person turned over and scowled at her. “And who are you?” he asked.
King Wilberforce hurried over to them. “Herbert, I am terribly sorry,” he said, offering the man a hand to get up. Then he looked down at the scruffy woman by his feet. “And you young lady can go and pack your bags.”
Cinderella snorted. “Certainly. I’ll go do it now, Father.” She pulled herself upright.
King Wilberforce looked at her. “Elle?” he asked looking at her closely. “What are you doing girl? You are filthy!”
“What was I doing? Working actually. I cleaned the oven, did the dishes, rearranged the cupboards in the pantry...”
Albert ran in behind them, pulling himself up short. “Father,” he said. He looked at his wife and then at his father. “There was a problem with something in the kitchen and Elle was sorting it out. She’s a hands-on person and decided to show them what to do.”
Wilberforce looked shocked. “A princess working in the kitchen?” he spluttered.
Albert nodded. “She helped cook tonight’s banquet,” he said proudly. “My wife is an excellent cook. Now if you will excuse us, we need to go and change.” He wrapped an arm round his wife’s waist and led her from the room.
Cinderella looked at him. “Did you mean that?” she said quietly.
He looked at her. “It’s the truth. You are an excellent cook. Now the question is are you just as good a rider?”
“You’ll never know,” she said. “I’ve been told to pack my bags and leave.”
Albert laughed. “Oh well. Been nice knowing you.”
A cough came from behind them. They turned to find Queen Gertrude standing there. “Don’t pack,” she smiled. “He’ll get over it. He told me to do the same thing once, when he found me actually daring to clean the bath myself.” She looked at them. “We have wronged you by not allowing you more freedom to do what you want.” Then she looked at her son. “And you have been neglecting your wife. She should not be spending so much time alone! When was the last time you actually spent any time together?”
Albert looked at his wife and then down. “I don’t know.”
Cinderella rolled her eyes. “Four weeks, twelve hours, thirty six minutes and counting,” she muttered.
Gertrude looked at them. “You do realise that if you want a happy ever after you have to work at it,” she said wryly. “It doesn’t just happen the way it does in books. Now go, spend some time together, finishing the fight and making up. Then we will see you, properly attired in an hour or so for dinner.”
The young couple nodded and Albert slid a hand into that of his wife. “You’re a mess!” he told her as he led her to the stairs.
“At least I don’t look like a dressed up puppet,” she shot back.
They started up the long winding staircase made of marble.
“You’re the one who got caught sliding down these banisters last week.”
“And you’d know how? You’re never here!” She paused then looked at him. “But at least I don’t wear tights and think they are breeches.”
“Mine don’t have ladders in,” he retorted.
“Huh!” she hissed. “Well at least mine fit!”
He glanced down. “Yeah well. Not my fault if they shrunk in the wash. Least they are clean.”
She scowled. “I’d like to see you clean an oven and not get dirty.”
He pushed her into the bedroom and shut the door behind them, shoving a chair under the handle. “Have you finished?”
She shook her head. “No. You leave the lid off the toothpaste, the loo seat up, your shoes in the middle of the floor...” She broke off as he clamped his lips firmly onto hers. When he finally broke the kiss she looked at him. “And your kissing needs practicing.”
He smiled at her. “Does it? You need a bath.”
“So go run me a bath then,” she whispered. “And maybe you could join me. After all you do stink of horses.”
Albert smiled. “Maybe tomorrow we both will,” he said. “Assuming you can fit me into your busy Alone Schedule.”
“I think I can do that,” Cinderella said.
“Good,” he said kissing her again and sweeping her into his arms. “Because we have a happy ever after to work on.” He carried her into the bathroom, shutting the door firmly behind them.