Cinders, Idle Cinders

The Prince felt decidedly uncomfortable. He could identify this type of woman – ostensibly nice, saccharine-sweet to your face, back-stabbing, feline – from a mile away, and usually did his best to escape. This time, however, he had no choice but to sit down to tea with them and pretend he wasn’t wishing himself anywhere else. Because today he was looking for his true love, and this search involved much small-talk over the best tea service, and the endurance of fulsome compliments, before getting down to business.
“So is this your whole family?” he ventured to ask after a suitable amount of trivial conversation.
The Countess looked surprised. “Why yes, your Highness. My two darling girls are all I have in this world now my cherished husband is no longer with us.” The cherished Earl had passed away several years ago, and popular opinion suggested that he had done so to escape the incessant nagging of his wife, but neither of those facts stopped her from bemoaning her widowed state at every opportunity.
“No other women in the family at all?” the Prince persisted. He had to be sure.
“No,” said the Countess firmly.
“Cinders doesn’t count,” said Lavinia, the featherwitted blonde daughter. She was prettier than her sister Alice, and lacked her serpentine tongue, but also lacked anything that could even remotely be considered brains.
“Cinders?” the Prince’s ears pricked up.
“Quiet, you fool!” uttered the Countess in a loud stage whisper. “More tea, your Highness?”
“Thank you, no. Who is Cinders?”
“No-one, your Highness, no-one at all… Just a worthless servant girl. I keep her here purely out of the goodness of my heart.”
“And because she was the Earl’s daughter,” said the hapless Lavinia. “WILL you be quiet, child?” hissed her adoring mother.
“I was not aware that the Earl had another daughter. I should like to see her, if you please.”
“My Lavinia has always let her tongue run on far too much,” began the flustered Countess. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about most of the time…”
“Bring me the Earl’s daughter!” the Prince ordered, in a voice that could not be disobeyed.
“Horton,” quavered the Countess to the butler who hovered politely at her elbow, “have the servant Cinders brought in.”
The butler bowed and left to do her bidding.
“She is a very heedless, stupid girl,” said the Countess. “I do not think you will be pleased with her, your Highness. She daydreams constantly and cannot be relied upon to perform the simplest task with suitable speed and efficiency. In short, she is bone idle.”
As the servant girl was escorted into the room by the butler, the Prince had some difficulty seeing the truth of this statement. Bone, yes. Idle, not so much. Stupid, definitely not. She was undoubtedly the lady of his dreams. Dressed like a servant, too thin, and actually slightly dirty around the edges, but his true love nonetheless. He rose from his chair and approached her, walking as if in a dream.
“Your Highness,” she said, doing a low obeisance to him.
He caught her hand. She looked up straight into his eyes, and he was lost a second time.

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