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Derell, a cinderwenches tale.

The true tale of Cinderella

Once there was a rich Lord, who for his second wife, married a woman of ample bosom but meagre goodwill. By her first husband, she had two daughters, both of whom shared her mean spirit. Indeed, all three delighted in remarking on the tiniest of wrongdoing. The Lord himself, by his first wife, had a son, but who took after his dearly departed mother, sharing her good heart, gentle patience and ready smile.

Only a day after the wedding, Derell's stepmother flaunted her true nature, her once sickly sweet smile taking on a venomous gleam. As soon as her new husband ventured out on the first deer hunt of the season, Derell was disheartened to find that the stepmother hated the very sight of him. She was sorely unimpressed that her husbands only child thought nothing of openly declaring his preference for men and such, her loathing of him only increased as each day passed. Any hope that Derell had entertained for becoming friends with his stepsisters were dashed when it became clear that they were all too happy to comply with their mothers orders and force upon Derell the duties fit for only the lowest of house servants.

Each day, Derell was kept busy with cleaning all the bedchambers, mucking out the stables and keeping the kitchen in order while after a dinner of stale bread and weak ale, Derell was hard at work polishing shoes and mending clothing. Each night, Derell slept on the cold stone floor of the kitchen while his sisters slept on soft beds in comfortable rooms full of the newest fashions and the best of anything they could wish for.

As Derell took after his mother, he bore his stepmothers demands patiently, never daring to speak to his father in regards to the unenviable situation he now found himself in, as it was obvious his father was blinded by love for his wife and Derell feared being disowned. Because his Stepmother was a vastly influential woman, none of the town's good citizens chanced to berate her as to Derell's sudden change in fortune and as such, Derell soon found himself on the outer amongst what were once his friends. It was as if Derell had never socialised with the gentlemen of rank and title. Whenever Derell had completed his work, he would sit by the chimney, resulting in him being covered in the fine grey ash. His stepsisters nicknamed him Cinderell but all too soon, because Derell was doing the work of a woman, he was known as Cinderella. However, even covered in cinders, dressed as if he were a beggar woman and skin blackened with soot, Cinderella was easily the fairest of them all.

One day, it was announced that the King was holding a ball in honour of his son's birthday and only those in the best society circles were invited. The two stepsisters were overcome with delight upon receiving their invitations and would speak of nothing else but of what they were to wear to the ball. Each day there was a new package arriving from the seamstresses in town, containing ruffled petticoats, long streamers of ribbon and the fanciest gowns for their approval. Cinderella could do nothing but sigh, as he was the one who had to iron the gowns and tidy them in readiness to be collected once his stepsisters dismissed them.

Finally, they decided upon what gowns they would wear; leaving them to discuss what fripperies they would include so as to appear all the more appealing to the prince. Flora, the eldest, said "Nothing but the most splendid of silver fur will do for my stole, for it has to accentuate the blue of my satin gown and draw the gazes of everyone to my diamond and pearl choker."

"And I shall wear the daintiest of black onyx and emerald earrings so that they will flatter my neck, and it shall be likened to that of a swans." replied the youngest.

The best hairdresser in town was summoned to the house, as was the woman who carried only the very best face powders and rouges. Throughout the consultations, Cinderella was bade to sit and listen as, on the day of the ball, he would be the one helping the two sisters dress and get made up for the Stepmother had soon discovered that Cinderella had an aptitude for such work. Certainly, Cinderella was often called upon to offer an opinion as to what the sisters should wear. Unfortunately for Cinderella, such insight only caused his Stepmother to belittle him all the more and yet, Cinderella bore the daily taunts with a ready smile and forgiving heart.

Upon being asked if he had received an invitation Cinderella replied that he had indeed been fortunate enough to warrant an invitation, whereupon the sisters jeered cruelly at him, mocking him for entertaining such a ridiculous thought of setting aside his evening chores so that he could attend the ball.

"The King's scribe must have taken leave of his senses to ink you an invitation to the ball, does not everyone know that the good Master Derell is no more and he is naught but a Cinderwench?" tittered the eldest sister.

"Dearest sister, just imagine if our little Cinderwench went to the ball?" laughed Violet, the younger of the two.

"Certainly, everyone would recoil in horror at such a dirty unkempt creature being allowed into the palace let alone stepping through the palace gates." said Flora, sneering at Cinderella's crestfallen expression. "If you should desire to attend, what would one like you wear for you have naught but our hand-me-downs, mere rags upon your back?"

Cinderella was unable to answer for fear of betraying his overwhelming disappointment and instead, complied with his stepsister's wishes, disposing of the invitation the very next day. Two days before the party, Cinderella started his preparations for his stepsisters outing, ironing the dresses and various lengths of lace, polishing their assortment of jewels and venturing into town to pick up the shoes that had been specially made to match their dresses. The sisters were also very busy; continually soaking in warm baths scented with oil to soften their skin before applying all sorts of concoctions and creams to ensure that they would have the most beautiful complexions of all who attended.

On the day before the ball, Cinderella was up before the cockerel announced the new dawn, already preparing the breakfast trays for his Stepmother and stepsisters. Seeing that the pantry was empty of the large brown eggs that his Stepmother favoured, Cinderella stepped outside to gather a basketful, passing the stables on the way. As Cinderella crossed the courtyard, the master of the stables called out to him.

"Ho, Master Derell, a good morn to you."

"And a good morn to you as well Stable master." replied Cinderella, "To beg your pardon, I worry for your position if my Stepmother would hear of you addressing me as such. Master Derell is no longer of residence in this house, only Cinderella."

"It tears at my heart to be calling a good lad like yourself such a name," said the stable master, shaking his head at the unenviable situation the young Master Derell was in.

"I fear the name Cinderella is more than appropriate for we both know of my preference towards men, it is if I have the heart of a lass not a man." admitted Cinderella. On a rare occasion that his Stepmother or sisters became too cruel in their derision of him, Cinderella would seek solace in the arms of the stable master, an arrangement that sated both their desires. Cinderella was genuinely fond of the stable master as he was Cinderella's truest friend and closest companion. "Good stable master, what do you wish to enquire of me for I see you have something more on your mind?"

"A hex on those who would shame you for trusting the true nature of your heart Master Derell, for you know it matters not to me nor the other servants. There isn't one amongst us that wouldn't be proud to have you as Master of the Manor." said the stable master. "I was only to be wondering if you were to attend the ball this next eve for I happened upon your invitation and was puzzled as to why there was no mention of you accompanying the women?"

Cinderella was unable to stop tears of bitterness sliding down his cheeks, sobbing as he spoke of his heartfelt want to see the splendour of the ball. "For even if I should be able to dispense of my after supper work early and find clothing that hasn't been too well worn, how would I find a way to the ball?"

The stable master, not for the first time, felt nothing but the utmost pity for the maltreated young man. "Master Derell, wipe your tears for I will find a way for you to attend next eve's festivities and never fear, for you shall be dressed in the most suitable of attire. We will speak more of it later."

"My friend, if, by chance you happen to see me off to the ball, then it shall be as if I had been visited by a fairy godmother and granted my most desired wish." smiled Cinderella, sharing a brief embrace with the burly older man in the darkest corner of the stables before stepping out towards the hen house once again.

The day of the ball, Cinderella worked on readying his sisters for the ball; perfuming and styling their hair and lacing them into their petticoats and gowns. Once both Flora and Violet had donned their shoes and had Cinderella powder their faces and rouge their cheeks and lips, it was time for them to be escorted down to the courtyard so that they could be transported by carriage to the Palace.

Anyone but Cinderella would have caused their dresses to hang awry and their rouges be as spotted and deep a red as a clown but Cinderella had long ago discovered a pride for making sure his stepsisters were the most beautiful at any gathering they did attend. As his sisters made their way down the stairs, Cinderella feared he would cry afresh as he had not had the slightest of opportunities to speak with the stable master since the early the previous morning. With a slow hand, Cinderella started to pack away Flora's day dress and tidy her room only to be startled when he became aware that the cook was standing next to him.

"Good woman, you caused my heart to flutter so. How may I be of service to you?" enquired Cinderella, as he struggled not to let the heavy weight of disappointment descend upon his heart.

"Master Derell, I bid you make haste to the kitchen. The stable master impressed upon us servants that you desired to attend this eve's ball and we have made it possible. I swear Master Derell, it's not only the stable masters heart that is torn from seeing you so. Come Master Derell, you must come quickly so that you may bath and make yourself ready. " Said the elderly cook as she and Cinderella did indeed make haste towards the kitchen. "The stable master is putting forth the notion that one horse has pulled up lame, therefore the reason for your sisters still being in the courtyard and is harnessing another to the carriage as we speak."

As was customary in large households, all the staff was gathered in the kitchen to partake of their evening meal, each one bestowing upon Cinderella a kind smile and sincere platitudes of luck for the night. Cinderella was overwhelmed by the loyalty shown to him by the household's servants and found that his once heavy heart was now full of good spirit. He thanked one and all for their kindness, this time, tears of gratitude gathering in the corners of his eyes.

"Forgive us Master Derell, for we dared not risk taking even the most meagre amount of perfumed oil for your bath. Alas, only the essence of vanilla and cinnamon shall accompany you to the ball tonight." said the head maid, curtsying to her young Master and risking her position should the Stepmother ever learn of her loyalty to Master Derell.

"Here, a footman's attire to wear during the journey, for you are to take a place beside the coachman, posing as a footman. Upon your arrival, the coachman from the neighbouring estate will have more appropriate dress for you for the widowed Mistress Lilac is sympathetic to your plight and has agreed to lend a hand in this scheme. Once you have dressed as a gentleman, you must give your footman's attire to Mistress Lilac's footman for he will be posing in your place to accompany your sister's home whereupon he will journey back to his own estate.

Do not fear him being revealed as a decoy, for your sisters pay scant attention to us servants just as you should not be wary of being discovered, for they have rarely seen you without your Cinderwench garb and it is likely they have forgotten your true features. But Master Derell, beware, you can only linger at the ball until a quarter to midnight, for then, you must re-dress as if a footman from the neighbouring estate and leave with the coach right on the knock of midnight. There is no other way home Master Derell, it is of great importance for you to leave at midnight so that you may be in the house for when your stepsisters arrive home."

Cinderella had bathed and dressed as a footman while this was being said, appearing from behind the screen that shielded him to the soft applause of the house servants. With a gentle kiss upon each of their cheeks, Cinderella left the kitchen and took his place on the coach, seating himself next to the coachman just as the stable master declared the horses fit to pull the coach.

Upon his arrival at the ball, Cinderella did his duty as a footman and escorted his stepsisters inside, bowing to them and wishing them a pleasant evening before making haste to find the coach that belonged to Mistress Lilac. In the moonlit safety of the coach, Cinderella donned the attire of a trueborn gentleman, marvelling at the richly embroided silk and the finest of lace trimmings. Tying his hair back into a neat tail, Cinderella disembarked from the coach, heart in his mouth as he acknowledged that he was fearful of being discovered and humiliated by his stepsisters in front of the Prince himself.

"Master Derell, do not forget that for the eve at least, you are a young Lord who has had the greatest of fortune to be invited to the ball. Here, put this mask on your face. Do not be alarmed, it is quite common these days for a great number of those attending balls to be masked." said Mistress Lilac's coachman as he handed Cinderella a beautifully painted mask that would cover the top half of his face, leaving two holes for him to see through.

He slipped the mask over his face as he took a deep breath, bidding himself to remember that he was not a common cinderwench but a wellborn Lord for the evening. "Although, if any should enquire of me, I cannot, in good faith, reveal my name to be Derell nor would Cinderella be appropriate. Ahhh, I have the solution! I shall go by the name of Ash for is that not another name for cinders."

And so, even though Cinderella had an invite in his hand that had his true name embossed on it in gold lettering, upon handing it to the official at the great hall's entrance, he impressed upon the man that Lord Derell was infact attending under the name of Lord Ash. The official, having no remembrance of a long ago forgotten Lord Derell, agreed in good humour to announce him as such, thinking that such a request was to be a private amusement amongst a gaggle of the younger titled gentlemen.

Thrice, the official knocked the bottom of his staff against the marble floor before announcing in a loud voice that carried itself fair across the chattering crowds and to the Prince's ear itself. "My Prince, may I introduce the Lord Ash."

The Prince, a good five summers older than Cinderella, couldn't help but watch Cinderella as he descended the stairs and mingled with the other guests upon the dance floor. He was puzzled for he had never had the opportunity to hear of a Lord Ash and this only served to intrigue the Prince all the more when he noticed that Lord Ash had hair of a golden hue rarely seen before. The Prince remarked upon this to his mother, the Queen, who in turn bade her son to turn away from this new comer and instead, see if he could not find well-titled lass that might suit his needs for a wife.

"My darling son, it is with great misfortune that I am aware of where your preference for bed partners lay, as does the entire court and surrounding towns but you must steel yourself for future disappointment as you well know that you have a duty to both the throne and country to ensure your eight times removed grandfathers line continues."

"How I have oft wished for an older brother so that he may take this burden upon himself so that I may be open as to my preferences but alas it is not to be." sighed the Prince, patting at his mothers hand as he held it between his own.

"Even if it were so, you would do well to remember that eventually you would be forced to make this same choice for as I stated before, the line to the throne must not be allowed to dwindle to a halt due to the choice of inappropriate bed partners. Come my son, do not look so glum for in time, once you have a few healthy heirs, it will not matter whom you take to your bed." replied the Queen, her heart aching as she witnessed her sons unhappiness.

"A word of advice though, it would do well to choose a wife who values your friendship outside the vows of marriage rather than one who would part her knees merely for the prestige of a royal title. And you would do well to think of these words when pursuing a bed companion of your preference. Above all, the most important thing to ensure is that there is no hint of hostility between your companion and your wife for if there is, then even though you may wish your companion nothing but happiness, your wife could very well cause misery to you both. Likewise with your companion."

"Such a thing will be hard to achieve my Queen but nevertheless, I shall endeavour to follow your words of wisdom," stated the Prince, his gaze once again having found the desired Lord Ash. "Have any of the past rulers faced such a dilemma as mine for I do not wish to cause unhappiness to one who would become my wife and mother of my children nor to any man whom I choose as a companion?"

"Of course, your grandfather being one such as yourself but he had the greatest of fortune to find a companion first and together, they chose his wife. In time, the companion and wife became as loving as brother and sister but each devoted in their way to the King, all three being virtually inseparable. But do not fear, the Queen was well provided for and once past her childbearing years, she too took a companion to her bedchamber. One that was chosen with the help of the King and his companion." offered the Queen, nodding sagely as she watched her first-born son take in her words. Squeezing her son's hand hard, the Queen watched the Prince gaze longingly towards his preferred quarry of the night and so, in a moment of compassion, she bade her him put aside his worry for this eve only and instead, pursue the golden haired man her son had taken a fancy to.

Cinderella bowed low towards the dais upon which were seated the Prince and his mother, the Queen. So nervous was he that Cinderella barely even glanced their way, scuttling away as if he were a skitterish kitten and immersing himself in the mass of people upon the dance floor. Never had he been so thankful that his visage was hidden for Cinderella was certain that his complexion would be as flushed as a young lass receiving a first flower from her intended beau. Heart beating in a rapid tempo, Cinderella took care to walk slowly through the crowd, his mind giddy with pleasure as he drank in the refined atmosphere of his surroundings.

Cinderella ran a keen eye over the sea of faces, looking for any that were familiar, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth when he spied a few of his old friends. With a jaunty step, he moved towards them even as he speculated as to how he was to introduce himself to them, as Lord Ash for Cinderella had no valid reason to approach them. Drawing himself upright, he inclined his head, nodding politely at the three gentlemen as they turned to appraise the newcomer. Even as he completed the distance between them, Cinderella was aghast to find them scrutinising his attire, all three looking at him with distaste as they conversed quietly between themselves.

Nonetheless, Cinderella forced himself to broaden his smile and greeted them politely in the hopes of indulging in a civilised conversation, something that Cinderella had missed over the past few years since being relegated to the kitchen. It was only a matter of one or two minutes before Cinderella found himself shouldered aside, the Earls Lancbury and Whitmore remarking upon his outdated frockcoat and it's apparently hideously nauseating hue of green while the Lord of Shorehaven taunted Cinderella in regards to his lack of powdered wig and his scruffy tail.

"My good fellows, this... *gentleman*... and it's a term that I use ever so loosely, that stands before us, attempting to engage us in idle chit-chat does not have the capacity to realise that he is unfashionable in the most extreme of ways. I mean, for heavens sake, look at him?" laughed the Lord of Shorehaven, his loud words ensuring that a crowd gathered around them. Richly dressed women and their escorts inched closer, laughing and gesturing towards Cinderella for the benefit of those coming to see what all the commotion was about. "What did you do boy, get your master drunk until he passed out and then steal his invitation in the hopes of passing yourself off as something you are so obviously not? Hmmmm? Better run boy and be back in your place before your master awakes for if you are, you may just spare yourself a beating."

Cinderella glanced at those around him, taking in the fact that he seemed to be the only gentleman there without a snow white curled wig or hair pulled back into a tail and adorned with large ornately decorated bows. In an unconscious motion, Cinderella touched at his own tail, fingering the thin plain black ribbon that styled his own hair.

Indeed, as he continued to look at the various gentlemen surrounding him, Cinderella could only come to the conclusion that his hair was more of a servants than a rich Lord's and as for his clothing, Cinderella could barely tell the difference between his own and what the three gentlemen's attire. Looking down upon himself, Cinderella was filled with dismay to see that from his very stance, he carried himself as one born into the domestic service for even his very gait was no longer that of a dainty Lord with all day to spare but that of a servant who was constantly pressed for time.

With his heart all too heavy once again, Cinderella was forced to realise that he was no longer familiar with the life of a rich titled gentleman and that he had been a cinderwench for far too long. After a glance at his calloused, work worn hands, Cinderella quickly clasped them behind him, shame shrouding him. To say that Cinderella was out of place would have been a gross understatement. Still, even as he could feel tears gathering in the corners of his eyes once more that eve, Cinderella stood his ground, his head held high and his voice strong. "I, *good* Sir, am no servant. I am Lord Ash and I was invited to this ball via the same invitation that I'm sure you all received. It does not matter to me if I am unfashionable and as for a wig, why would I don such a thing when all can see that I am fortunate enough to be able to dispense with such ridiculous fripperies?"

"Such brave words to be offered by a servant who has had the obvious misfortune of not being able to procure an appropriate headdress for the eve. Indeed, if you are as you state and are found to be Lord Ash, then please, it would give me nothing but pleasure to have you accept my most humble of apologies." stated Lord Shorehaven, a cold sneer upon his face as he made an elaborate bow towards Cinderella. "But for one to believe you are Lord Ash, then I would have a person of good reputation and character look upon your unmasked face and declare you as such. Come now, *Lord Ash*, do us the courtesy of revealing your face so that we may clear any doubt and we can continue with enjoying this festive eve."

Cinderella felt as if the Lord himself had deemed him be struck by lightening, his mind ahaze with fear. His heart clenched and his chest ached from not drawing breath. Cinderella found he had no choice but to take the coward's way out; flee. As Cinderella turned, he let out a cry of dismay and pain as the ribbon was ripped from his golden hair. With a stumble, Cinderella tore himself free from the hands that seeked to grasp onto him and to the sound of people calling for the guards, Cinderella ran out into the night.

Unchecked tears flowed down Cinderella's cheeks as he made his flight for safety. Through small gatherings of people, past pavilions of exotic animals and down flights of stone steps he ran, all the while berating himself for being fool enough to believe he could fit seamlessly into a life he had been wrenched from without warning. Finally, his breath grew laboured and Cinderella looked about for a place in which to conceal himself until he could recover his wits. As he looked around with only the bright moonlight to show his way, Cinderella saw that he was long past the Palace and well within the much-lauded waterlily gardens favoured by the Queen.

To one side, Cinderella saw a great high fence of creeping ivy and immediately knew that it was only one side of the royal family's private gardens. With the reckless air of a being gone beyond caring about consequences, he stepped closer to the wall of green foliage and saw that every so often, there was a gate. Drawing close enough to touch one, Cinderella was shocked to find that, at the brush of his hand against the cold iron, the gate swung open with nary a sound. Cinderella stepped through the gate, making sure to pull it shut behind him before making his way towards a stone bench at one end of the walled enclosure. Face buried in his hands, Cinderella trembled as if caught by a chill while he did naught but sob.

"Here my pretty, why do you cry so?" asked a kindly voice.

Cinderella was startled but dared not raise his head as to see who it was that had discovered him. "I cry for I fear I have been nothing more than a fool, my hopes and joy for this eve irrevocably dashed."

The gentleman sat beside Cinderella, barely half a hand span between them and at his gentle urging's Cinderella told him of what had transpired between himself and Lord Shorehaven. With quiet words, Cinderella told of how wounded he felt at such callousness from one whom, albeit long ago, had once been included in Cinderella's own social circle.

"By reasons not of my own making, I have long been kept from court nor have I been permitted to indulge myself as one befitting my title. As such, I had forgotten my former misgivings as in regards to Lord Shorehaven's inherent cruelty and instead, only seeked to re-acquaint myself with him. Alas, 'tis true that I am more a servant than a Lord for am I not plain and ungainly of gait compared to the other gentlemen present? My hair is unperfumed for I lack the means of having even the poorest of diluted oils at my disposal and is it not as wild as any unkempt stablelads? Here, good Sir, take my hands so that you may judge for yourself, are these not those of a common scullerymaids?"

Clasping Lord Ash's hands between his own, the Prince did have to concede that they were indeed rough and worn but to the amazement of the gentleman beside him, the Prince lifted the young Lord's hands to his mouth, brushing his lips against the calloused palms. "These are more the hands of a man who has the fortune to know an honest day's work."

The Prince deftly moved closer to Lord Ash until their thigh's brushed against each other, his own heart pounding as he hoped that this vision of natural beauty would share his predisposition towards fellow men and encourage his advances. Too often he had been beguiled by some minor noble or titled youth only to discover they were betraying their own natural desire for women in order to gain his favour and ensure his goodwill and too often had the Prince been left to weep, cursing the leanings of his heart that made him such a vulnerable target for those who only wished to reap the profits of his attraction.

Still with Lord Ash's hands encompassed by his own, the Prince steeled himself to take one last chance and leaned in close to his intended quarry, breathing in deep a scent of vanilla and cinnamon. "A sweet perfume you do indeed have for you bring forth memories of icy winter day's and the comfort of spiced wine and sugared pastries. I much prefer these simple scents to that of the heavy cloying perfume of Lord Shorehaven and his ilk for too often has their rancid aroma threatened to choke me."

Cinderella silently agreed with the gentleman's words, recognising the truth behind them as he breathed the soft diluted scent of Frankincense favoured by his admirer, a most inoffensive scent compared to that worn by those frequently at court. As he did, Cinderella chanced to lean heavily against the taller, older man. With a flick of his gaze, Cinderella found himself approving of the gentlemen's dark curls and good-natured features. When the gentleman continued his platitudes, Cinderella felt a delicate heat bloom across his face as he witnessed the dark eyes gleam with an honest passion.

"Your hair is as soft as the finest of silken threads and you do well not to hide such under a common wig for the moonlight only serves to enhance the gold hue. Indeed, I would be right in likening it to that of freshly polished copper." With a sure hand, the Prince swept Lord Ash's hair from his face and using the thin ribbon he had torn from Lord Shorehaven's own hand, the Prince tied Lord Ash's hair into a tail once more.

A strong hand under his chin turned Cinderella's face towards his would be suitor.

"Ah, I see you still have your mask in place. Would you not do me the courtesy of removing it so that I could look upon your face?"

Cinderella had allowed himself to take comfort in the strong arms clasping him to the stranger's side, his tears vanishing at the gentle nature of the man beside him. However, Cinderella stirred himself to speak, so frightened was he of this most generous of gentlemen learning of his true identity and mocking him. "Your pardon my kind saviour, but I fear revealing my true self to you."

"I could, as the Crown Prince, command you to do as I bid and reveal yourself to me."

"My Prince, forgive my discourteous desire but I wish to remain anonymous." Cinderella was aggrieved at having the Prince beside him and not being able to impart on him the truth in regards to his situation. His heart all a flutter at being wooed by the Crown Prince himself, Cinderella pleaded with the Prince, "Please, ask of me anything but that."

"Anything you say?" replied the Prince, at war with his curiosity and his own desire to simply remove Lord Ash's mask himself. However, he could not bring himself to be so disrespectful to one he wished to woo both as a companion and bed partner. "Then only a simple kiss would appease me."

Without waiting for Lord Ash's acquiescence, the Prince captured Lord Ash's mouth with his own, drawing Lord Ash flush against his chest. For the Prince, it was if time itself had ceased to exist so enthralled was he by the softness of Lord Ash's lips against his own. Close to swooning, he broke off the embrace when after only a mere breathe, the Prince filled with joy to find himself beckoned forward once more. "I fear, I must confess that the very sight of you, flushed with want and desire is almost enough for me to lose my heart to you. Am I fortunate enough for you to share my own hearts leanings?"

"I have long known my true leaning and of my heart, you have filled it from the moment you took leave of the ball and sat beside me, restoring my faith in the simple kindness of strangers." murmured Cinderella, tipping his head back as he readily accepted another kiss.

There was nothing of the former for that had been simple and chaste but now a newfound passion overcame them and their embrace deepened. The Prince soon relieved Cinderella of his top frockcoat, followed by his britches and thus began a tryst between them that was broken only by the Palace's clock tower as it rang in half eleven.

Cinderella leapt up from the stone bench, jostling the Prince aside in his hurry to replace his discarded clothing and make his way to where Mistress Lilac's coach would be waiting for him. "I fear I must take my leave for I made an oath to be gone by the time the clock strikes midnight. I beg of you not to indulge your curiosity and follow me."

The Prince, although consumed by disappointment, agreed to the request of the man he was perilously close to falling in love with. Nonetheless, with a determined air, the Prince pleaded with Lord Ash to stay and return to the ball with him but much to the Prince's dismay, Lord Ash couldn't be swayed. The Prince even went so far as to try and tear the garments straight from Lord Ash's hands so as to prevent him from re-dressing but as before, Lord Ash could not be persuaded to stay and was deft in evading the Prince's grasping hands.

Finally, the Prince begged for one last embrace so as to remember him. Pleased when Lord Ash nodded his consent, the Prince got his wish. Once they had broken apart and Lord Ash had taken off as swift as the most nimble of deer, the Prince couldn't help but follow his heart's desire. Just as it seemed the Prince was gaining on his quarry, Lord Ash stumbled to the ground, a cry of pain ringing through the night air even as Lord Ash regained his footing and continued towards the Palace gates.

The clock struck midnight; twelve great booms ringing out across the Palace gardens. A cry was wrenched from Cinderella, only this time one of complete horror. Steeling himself against the pain radiating from his lower left leg, Cinderella ran as fast as he was currently able.

His breath coming in quick, short gasps and the most terrible of twinges affecting his right side, the Prince was forced to slow his chase and watch as the Lord Ash ran, albeit with a distinct limp affecting his left leg, far beyond him. The Prince was about to call out to the Palace guard, demanding that they catch him and bring the mysterious Lord directly to the royal chambers themselves when he chanced upon something lying on the ground.

Bending down, the Prince was overjoyed to discover Lord Ash's half mask and while caressing it with a great fondness, the Prince was overcome with a determination to seek out his Lord Ash and bring him to live at the Palace as his most treasured of companions. As he picked up the mask, the Prince saw the reason why Lord Ash was limping; under the bright moonlight, there showed a spattering of fresh blood against a sharp corner of a bricked flowerbed. Indeed, the Prince gently plucked a fine rent of woven woollen stocking from the flowerbed and with a gentle touch, brushed the dirt from the white material. He would find this man and make him his.

Cinderella reached the Palace entrance, discovering to his utmost dismay that Mistress Lilac's coach was only one of at least ten making their way through the gates. Almost sobbing as panic threatened to overwhelm him as he realised the coach was leaving without him, Cinderella nonetheless was able to slip through the gates in time to see Mistress Lilac's coach take off at a canter down the road. By using his wits and knowledge of the poorer areas of the town and their rabbit warren of shortcuts, Cinderella was safely home but well out of breath after hours of alternately walking and running. It was by some good fortune that he managed to arrive and change back into his Cinderwench garb before his stepsisters arrived home. Once he had given the Stable master the fine clothing belonging to Mistress Lilac and asked him to pass on his deepest regret at not being able to make the coach, Cinderella was once again resigned to his lot as a nothing but a mere Cinderwench.

The days passed for Cinderella as if they were exactly the same as the one before. Nothing could shift the melancholy that Cinderella now found himself immersed in, not even the sly beckon of the Stable master from the darkest corner of the stables could bring a smile to his face and nor could the heartiest of meals provided by the worried cook, in place of his usual weak ale and stale bread, convince Cinderella to eat. Quite simply, Cinderella was in love but seeing as he had never experienced such feelings before, he mistakenly thought he was close to being ill with a fever for his melancholy was tainted with delirious fancies of the Prince.

One day, only a few weeks after the ball, the house was up in arms as in regards to the news Flora had heard while visiting a friend in town. The elder of the stepsisters was cruel in her taunting of the Prince's decision to scour every street of the cities and hillside of the country in search of the man who had stolen his heart. "The Prince would do well to put aside his most unnatural of desires. He just has the need for a wife and as soon as his first babe is announced, such disgusting notions will be no more."

Cinderella found such words tore at his already wounded heart and could bring himself to say nothing in defence of his Prince for even though his sister's words were unkind; they had a ring of truth to them. For no matter where the Prince's heart lay, a wife who could produce healthy heirs would be of more importance than a mere bed companion. And with that thought, Cinderella was determined to put such notions as the Prince whisking him away on a white horse to live at the Palace out of his mind for in reality, was not every man the same to look at from behind when there was only the flickering flame of a lone candle to see by? Cinderella pleaded with himself to believe that the Prince would soon give up his search and settle upon another and it seemed to those around him that his melancholy deepened.

During the time Cinderella slipped into his sombre mood, the Prince was well occupied with visiting every noble and titled house he could, all in the hopes of discovering the one who held a claim upon his heart. Firstly, the Prince had all the men between 17 and 25 summers line up outside their homes upon which the Prince would immediately discount any of those that did not have the Lord Ash’s copper hair. Next he would send away those who did not have an injury to their left leg. Any that were left, the Prince bade them to don Lord Ash’s half mask so that he could see if there was even the slightest of resemblance to his love.

Twice, the Prince was certain he had found his mysterious Lord Ash and he came dangerously close to declaring the search ended and taking his prize home but after a most sensible of speeches from his mother’s trusted confidante, the Prince asked each of the men one simple question.

“And on the night of the ball, pray, do tell me, what was restored to you?” enquired the Prince of the tailors apprentice and then a mere four days later, the son of a Duke. Upon them both answering incorrectly, the Prince wept for his hope of finding his hearts desire was once again dashed.

Soon, it seemed that every household had heard of his search and, much to the Princes horror, almost every lad between 17 and 25 summers was suddenly blessed with copper hair that clashed with dark eyebrows and a freshly made gash upon their left legs. Quite often, the Prince was a witness to men who had often mocked his natural leanings bullying their sons into lining up for the Prince in the hopes that they would meet the requirements.

Certainly, some were more than handsome enough for the Prince’s tastes and the Prince couldn’t help but be sorely tempted to discard his search all together so as to take up with another but as he engaged them in idle conversation, the Prince found they lacked the humility displayed by Lord Ash, an attractive quality that had only helped to capture his heart. All this disheartened the Prince for he was convinced that he would never find the Lord Ash, indeed, none that he had questioned had heard of such a person nor could the Councillor who had introduced him recall the correct name on the invitation. And so, the Prince continued his search.

One day, almost three weeks after the ball, Cinderella felt his heart leap in anticipation when after a blaring of trumpets, it was announced the Prince himself was in the courtyard. The joy at being able to see his Prince once again soon plummeted into despair when Cinderella took stock of himself, believing the Prince would have no interest in a lowly scrub such as he while the snide cruelties of his stepsisters only served to plunge him deep into the most terrible of humour. Sweeping into the kitchen, a vain haughty air to her features, the Stepmother ordered Cinderella to be locked in the pantry and with a stinging slap across his face, bade Cinderella to utter not a sound for if he did, the consequences would be most severe.

His heart broken almost beyond repair, Cinderella did as commanded and was soon huddled behind great sacks of flour. Try as he may, Cinderella found he could not help but listen to the Prince as he ordered Linar, a ginger haired footman oft mistaken for Cinderella himself, don the half mask. Cinderella held his breath when a loud bellow was heard through the courtyard and his heart sinking further, Cinderella recognised the Stable masters rough tone. To and fro, to and fro, a great quarrel between the Stable master and his Stepmother resounded through the courtyard. All the while, Cinderella was want to realise the horrid burning of his chest was caused not by fear but by his requirement to draw breath.

As the kitchen was opened with an almost deafening bang, Cinderella was startled into taking breath once more. His heart in his mouth, Cinderella found himself weeping as the Prince addressed the empty kitchen.

“My pretty, I have on good advice that you have been hidden away by your wicked Stepmother,” stated the Prince as he stood outside the pantry. “I only wish to ask of you one question. Answer it incorrectly and you shall never see me again and you will be left to your Stepmother’s care but hear this, if you should happen to speak the correct words, then you shall forever be at my side.”

His courage, although restored simply from hearing his true love speak, was not enough to encourage Cinderella to leave the pantry. “And my Prince, why do you not wish me to don the mask nor show you if there is a gash upon my left leg?”

“My Lord Ash, the loyal Stable master has managed to convince me that you have hair of the copper hue I seek and indeed, the entire kitchen staff ensure me that you favoured your left leg for some days after the ball. And as in regards to the half mask, the good Mistress Lilac informed me of whom her deceased son’s mask had been lent to and it was she that told me of your troubles in regards to your Stepmother and stepsisters. And it was with great haste that I journeyed here.” answered the Prince, his heart close to bursting as he dared hope that his search was finally ended. “I ask of you, on the night of the ball, what was restored to you?”

And in words so quiet the Prince strained an ear to hear them, Cinderella answered correctly. “On that night, my faith in the simple kindness of strangers was restored to me by a Prince who sat beside me in the privacy of the Royal gardens.”

In a matter of mere seconds, Cinderella found himself dragged from the pantry and into the courtyard by the Prince himself. There, under the watchful gaze of the entire household and royal guard, the Prince captured Cinderella’s mouth with his own in a kiss that seemed to last until eternity. To the thunderous applause of Cinderella’s faithful servants, and a great many of the royal guard, they broke apart, gracing everyone with the most joyous of expressions. The only detractor of the newly formed relationship was the Stepmother, her vicious taunts reminding the Prince that Cinderella was only good for scrubbing the floor and if the Prince should lie with dogs, then he should do well not to complain about the fleas.

Taking Cinderella’s chin, the Prince tipped his face so that Cinderella was looking up at him as he declared that it mattered not what Cinderella was wearing nor the amount of cinder ash and dirt that blanketed his body but that it was the gentle nature of Cinderella’s heart and the kindness of his very soul that had captivated him.

A great flurry of activity was spurred when the Prince announced that the search was over and he had the greatest of fortune to introduce his companion. Cinderella found himself overwhelmed with emotion when his Stepmother and stepsisters were taken into custody by the royal guards, the Prince passing immediate sentence that all three women’s tongues to be ripped from their mouths for their continual cruelty towards Cinderella. The Prince going so far as to order the Stepmother’s execution while the stepsisters would forever be confined to prison for all their mortal days.

Although he had suffered greatly at the hands of his Stepmother and stepsisters, Cinderella was too kind of heart and couldn’t bear for them to be left to such an unkind fate and so, Cinderella threw himself down at the Prince’s feet, pleading for him to show them mercy. For the first time since knowing his stepsisters, Cinderella found them embracing him and begging his pardon for all the ill treatment they had forced him to undergo. At seeing them weep, Cinderella wiped their tears and he returned their embrace, stating that he had only ever desired for them to love him as a true brother.

The Prince was amazed but could not bring himself to cause his Lord Ash any more heartache and instead, relented on his decision to see the Stepmother dead and so ordered that while her tongue should still be ripped out so as not to poison another with her wicked words, she would be confined to a cell usually reserved for royalty until her death. All in all, a most comfortable sentence for the Stepmother while the Prince went on to declare that the two stepsisters could keep their tongues but should take positions as the lowest of scullery maids for a term no longer than a year so that they may learn humility. The Prince went on to promise his Lord Ash that his proper title would be restored upon him once his uncaring father returned from his latest hunt and stripped of his Lord’s title.

“My Prince, my love... my true name is Derell, not Lord Ash as you know my by nor is it Cinderella as I am named by my stepsisters,” said Derell, weeping once more as he was free to use his real name in over 3 years. Derell was well pleased with outcome of the afternoon, especially when the Prince rewarded each of the loyal servants with an acre to call their own and an extra three years wages for them all. As he was given the Stable master’s Sunday best to change into, he thought of numerous ways in which to thank the Prince for his kindness once they were both back at the Palace.

A fortnight later, a great celebration was held in Derell’s honour, the Prince formally acknowledging Derell as his lifelong companion. The Prince and Derell were tremendously happy together and when the Queen told them it was time for the Prince to marry, Derell was the Prince’s closest confidante and together, they chose a low titled Lady with whom they became the greatest of friends before the Prince asked for her hand in marriage.

Almost ten months after his marriage to the Lady Gwen, the first of many healthy heirs were born to the throne. After a year’s work in the kitchens, Derell’s stepsisters were matched with two Dukes, both from opposite ends of the country and neither one of them was heard to say a wrong thing about Derell ever again.

It was as the Queen had hoped for her son. Both Derell and Princess Gwen settled into a tightly bound friendship while remaining loyal to their Prince and once the Prince became King, Derell stayed at his side and lived happily ever after.

the end.

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