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Cinderella continued

Even if they had been inclined to be friendly, I would hardly have fitted in. I had so little knowledge of those things which made up their daily lives that they might as well have been speaking another language as they chattered to one another. They might, indeed, have been so many exotic birds twittering and fluttering their bright plumage. What could I possibly have learned of the different qualities of silks and laces, other than how to best mend them when my stepsisters tore their party dresses? I knew nothing of fashion, and they, it seemed, knew nothing but.

I tried my best, truly I did, to look interested. I wanted them to like me, for Char’s sake if not my own; after all, these were the friends of his childhood, so their opinion must matter to him. At least, I assumed that would be the case, though I had very little experience of friendship to guide me. There was Buttons, of course, dear, loyal Buttons who had been there as long as I could remember, but I had never had the chance to play with other children. Father had thought my stepsisters would be sufficient company for me.

In that, he was wrong. They had cared very little for playing with ‘the kitchen brat’, as they called me, and such games as they did choose to play with me were – well, suffice it to say that I had preferred to avoid them, even if it meant cleaning the cellar instead. What playtimes I had were solitary, and I learned to amuse myself. When I had the chance, I would sneak into Father’s library and lose myself in the printed word, storing up stories in my head so I could tell them to myself again in the lonely nights.

Now, in the palace, I once again sought refuge in books. There was an impressive library, the books all leather bindings and gold tooling, with comfortable chairs in which I could almost hide away entirely. I was both amused and appalled to realise that none of the hundreds of books had been touched for a very long time; some had clearly never been opened, and all had a layer of dust which had been years in the making. I brushed the dust off as best I could with the hem of my gown, and settled down to a morning’s reading.

Just as I had managed to drift away into another realm, snuggled comfortably into the soft leather of the chair, and was beginning to forget for a while my unfriendly surroundings, the book was snatched from my hands.

“Lazy little slut!” hissed Queen B. “I might have known I would find you idling somewhere. Stop lolling around and find something useful to do: if we have to have you here you can at least earn your keep. And leave the books alone, they’ll only fill your head with nonsense. You don’t imagine Charming married you for your brains, do you?”

I was speechless. Angry, but speechless. I ran out of the library, down the staircase (nearly tumbling headlong in my haste) and into the palace gardens. I kept running, my face getting redder and streaked with dust and tears, until I reached the edge of the surrounding forest. Not a safe place, or so I had been warned, but I no longer cared. What did it matter if I were eaten by bears or murdered by outlaws? My fairy tale marriage was turning into more of the same nightmare that my childhood had been. So, let whatever might happen, happen.

I took a deep breath and entered the forest, slowing my pace to avoid tripping on the tree roots and fallen branches. The trees gradually grew thicker around me, cutting off much of the light. I didn’t mind. The soft green semi-darkness soothed my eyes. As I walked along, now no more than strolling, I kept thinking I saw movement on the edge of my vision, but whenever I stopped to look there was nothing to be seen. After a while, I gave up on trying to identify the elusive creature, since it apparently meant me no harm, at least.

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