I had searched for two days for the blessed thing, pushing back bushes along the road, raking through the debris in the ditch where water ran alongside in the spring. I’d walked the three miles we’d traveled after the coach began to shrivel up, scanning the rutted road from side to side. Nothing. Where did it finally stop? Here? NO! There! Over by the large pile of rocks!
I crossed the road and sure enough there were hardened pumpkin inards all over the rocks. I walked around them several times, searching through the brush that stretched into the forest. I peered between them. Nothing. It just wasn’t there. It had been two days since the ball. Surely no one would have noticed it. How could they? You’d look right through it.
Just then a large palace coach rolled by, its horses’ hooves pounding on the packed earth, their manes flying wildly about their strong necks. It slowed as it passed me and I quickly hid behind the boulders. It wouldn’t do to have someone from the court see me looking like a scullery maid.
I watched as the coach turned into a side road. A path really. It labored its way down the narrow lane and I followed at a safe distance. In front of a rickety wooden hut it came to rest. The boards were brownish-black and covered with moss in many places. How on earth had they found it, buried as it was so well in the forest? The windows were dirty. I’d have thought it abandoned except for the smoke wafting from the chimney. Someone was living there.
The palace steward climbed down from the carriage and knocked on the door. It opened slowly and a girl much younger than I peeked out the door. I couldn’t hear the words that passed between them, but she disappeared for a moment then returned with something in her hand and gave it to the steward. My mind went numb as I watched him pull a wrapped bundle from his coat pocket. He ushered her to a wooden bench beside the kitchen garden and knelt down in front of her. In horror I watched as he placed the glass slippers, MY glass slippers, on her feet.
“We have found her!” he cried, and the coachmen and drivers set up a rousing cheer. “Come with us, my dear,” he said taking her hand, joy radiating from his face.
I nearly shouted as he pulled her toward the coach! I wanted to scream, “Those are MY slippers!!! Give them back to me! It’s I the prince seeks!” But I quieted as I heard her say:
“I can’t go with you. My grandmother is ill. She lies inside by the hearth. I can’t leave. I must take care of her.”
She looked truly pitiful standing there in her ragged shift, grimy hair hanging to her waist, her lip trembling.
“We’ll take care of your grandmother my dear,” said the steward, the picture of compassion. Taking her elbow and moving her along, he nodded slightly to a footman standing near, and looked toward the house. The young girl’s back was to the door so she didn’t see him slip inside, pulling a dagger from his coat pocket as he entered.
My hand had flown to cover my mouth to stifle my scream as I realized what he was about to do. I moved further behind the tree where I stood hidden. A moment later he came out, stooped and wiped his blade in the grass. The young woman never noticed.
“Shall we go, your highness? The prince is anxious for your wedding.” And the steward, all solicitude, helped her into the coach.
“My grandmother?” she asked looking uncertain.
“Leave all to us,” he said. “She will be well looked after.” And a smile lit her face as she stepped into the gilded carriage and her new life, never once glancing back..
The coachman cracked a whip over the horses’ backs. They turned around in a clearing and made for the road. When I was sure they were safely out of sight, I crept through the woods to the hut and went in. I gasped! There on a bed next to the fire was the old woman who had come to the manor house two nights ago evoking the spell that had turned me into a princess. Her throat had been cut. Blood soaked her night dress, her unseeing eyes asking why. There was nothing I could do.
I pulled the blanket that half covered her over her head and doused the small fire with a bucket of water that sat near by. I wouldn’t do to have the old woman’s body desecrated by fire. Better it returned to the forest from which she’d come. I left, pulling the door shut behind me, and walked back to the road where I stood gazing through the now drifting, wet chimney smoke up the hill in the direction of the palace. I shook my head in disgusted disbelief.
I guess it’s all for the best, I thought. Doesn’t look like he’d have been my type anyway…
The Daily Prompt: Glass