I have a short story for you all! I hope you enjoy it!
Copyright © 2019 Hailey Huntington
The story of the girl in the ball gown who ran away at midnight. The girl with the glass slippers. But why were they made out of glass? After all, glass would mean that they would break easily.
But what if that was the point?
I take a deep breath and roll my shoulders back as the carriage comes to a halt in front of the palace. One of the footmen comes around and opens the door and holds out his hand. I place my gloved hand in his and step out of the golden carriage.
The castle sparkles before me in the moonlight. Lanterns strung on strings soar through the air past the grand stairs, leading up to the palace doors. The light from the lanterns glimmers on the fountains. The stars only add to the view.
It is beautiful, but I harden my heart to the fact. The beauty of the palace is only more proof of the callousness of the king and queen. Yes, they are lavish with their money. But only on themselves. I can’t even start to think what the prince must be like. If he was raised with parents who thought only of themselves and never of their people, he must most certainly never look beyond his own nose.
Shaking my head softly, so as to not disturb my hair, I pick up my gown and start for the stairs. I don’t doubt that the guards at the palace doors think it highly improper for a young lady to arrive at a ball without a chaperone, but I have never been one for propriety. The way I was raised, propriety would get you killed. Everything was a fight. Even in my current condition, things are still a struggle.
I glance down at my gown. The dark, midnight blue fabric swishes around as I climb up the stairs. My gloves are a soft, smoky gray. I can feel the light weight of the pearls around my neck. I reach up and brush back an auburn curl that slipped loose. I always dreamed about dressing like a princess as a little girl. I never imagined my dreams would come true. Now I wish they hadn’t.
I swallow as I hear the faintest tip tap coming from my shoes. Glass slippers. They pinch my toes terribly. I thought they were absurd until she explained why I must wear them.
I don’t want to kill someone.
But I must.
After all, either the prince dies, or I die. I’ve always only looked after myself. And it’s not as if the prince is anyone spectacular. I don’t even know his name, much less care whether or not he lives or dies.
I just don’t want blood on my hands. But there is no other way.
I reach the top of the stairs and nod at each of the guards, who pull the doors open. I walk into the glittering hallway. Yet more proof of the foolishness of our rulers. If I had so much as half of what it must have taken to build this hallway, I wouldn’t be in this position. I would be free for the rest of my life.
The lady found me on the streets one day and took me to her mansion with her, telling me that she wanted to hire me. I thought she meant a maid. I was fine with that. I had done cleaning work before. Once we arrived at her chateau, I learned the truth.
The lady picked me out because I had a face that was both forgettable and pretty and because I lived on the streets. She knew I was a fighter. She believed I could be ruthless. And in my pride, I told her I could do whatever task she wanted done, no matter what it meant or what it would take.
I’ve heard it said that people with red hair are more hot-tempered, stubborn, and prideful. After that moment, I now believe it.
And so the lady told me my mission. I was to kill the prince. I was to call the lady my “godmother” if ever asked who provided me with what I had. After all, names could be incriminating. My godmother informed me that a ball was to be held at the palace shortly. She would provide me with everything I needed to be able to attend. The ball was open to the public, so I just needed attire and transportation. But I was confused about how I would kill the prince. After all, from what I had seen of ball gowns, it wouldn’t be easy to hide a dagger on one. And the palace guards would stop anyone with a weapon on them. But my godmother had thought it all out.
Earlier today when I arrived to get ready for the ball, she gave me glass slippers. Why glass? Because I could break them when the time came for the prince to die. A shard of glass would make a wonderful weapon.
Hearing music, I turn and walk through a large set of arches into the ballroom. Despite my hatred of the king and queen’s fine taste, I can’t help but gasp. The street urchin in me longs for the finery littering the room. But the girl in me admires everything. The shining chandeliers. The orchestra sending its sweet tunes through the air. The sea of color made up of the people dressed in their finest. Even the dais on the other end of the room that the king and queen are sitting on is a marvelous display of wood carving. For a moment, I half expect the swans to break free of the wood and glide through the room.
But then the spell is broken. There is no time for distraction. I need to find the prince. I need to charm him. And then I need to kill him.
If I don’t kill the prince, my godmother will find me and kill me instead. She had found me once. She said she could find me again.
I move further on in the ballroom. I glance up at the dais again. Only the king and queen are seated on the thrones. I frown. I have no idea what the prince looks like. I had hoped that he would be with his parents. Then I would have been able to learn his face. I hope that he is at least wearing a crown.
I glide over to the refreshment table and ladle myself a glass of punch. A group of ladies stands only several yards away. I linger near them, sipping at my punch and gathering their gossip.
“Has anyone seen the prince yet?”
“No. I heard that he would make an extravagant entrance once they were sure that everyone was here. It’s no secret that the king and queen want him married soon.”
“The kingdom needs an heir! I suppose that’s why they adopted him in the first place.”
“Adopted!” One of the ladies exclaims in a shrieked whisper. My own eyes widen, but I keep my face calm. I never heard that the prince was adopted. But then again, I have always been more concerned about surviving then the latest rumors and affairs of the monarchy.
“Yes, adopted! Once the king and queen realized that they would never have an heir of their own, they adopted a child.” The lady drops her voice. “What’s more, I heard that they didn’t even take in a noble orphan! I was told that they took in a street boy! Some sort of ‘charity act’.”
My heart skips a beat for a moment. A street kid? Is it possible that I know the prince?
I banish the thought as quickly as it comes. The notion is absurd. I never really cared about anyone else. No one cared about anyone else. We all fought to survive. Anyone who couldn’t handle the struggle for life was on their own.
I set down my empty punch glass. Besides, even if I know the prince, it wouldn’t make a difference. He is bound to have changed into some stuffy royal who has forgotten his humble origins. And I still have a job to do.
The ladies start to renew their gossip just as a trumpet rings through the air. All eyes, including my own, dart to a man standing on the dais.
“Attention! Now presenting his royal highness, Prince—”
“There he is!” one of the ladies squeals, drowning out the man’s voice so that I can’t hear the prince’s name.
Everyone erupts into clapping as a man walks up onto the dais. People shift in front of me, blocking my view. I’ll never get to the prince, much less see him at this rate. It’s time for action. I start to weave my way through the crowd towards the front of the ballroom. I have to get closer to the prince if I am going to get close enough to him to kill him.
I frown as I walk. How will I get the attention of the price? What kind of lady does he admire? For having her goal of a dead prince solely in my hands, my godmother did nothing more to prepare me for this besides dressing me in the latest fashions.
The orchestra strikes up a tune. People all around me grab a partner and start to waltz to the music. I flinch to avoid being snatched up and cling to the walls of the ballroom, my back to a tapestry. There is so much noise and chaos in the ballroom, just like on the streets. But the chaos of the ballroom and the chaos of the streets are two entirely different things.
I take a deep breath and try to steady my swimming head. My gaze follows the frothing sea of people. Where is the prince? If I can find him, I’ll figure out some way to make him like me. I have to.
Before I know it, the waltz is over and the orchestra starts a lively polka. The people move even faster. How can someone possibly dance that fast?
My eyes widen suddenly. If I’m going to charm the prince, I’ll have to dance with him. But I don’t know how to dance! The most dancing I’ve ever done was years ago, back when I still had childhood innocence and there was a street boy that I tolerated. And the mere twirling and skipping I did then is nothing in comparison to the lifts and footwork that are being done in front of me.
I close my eyes. What did I get myself into?
“Excuse me, ma’am, but are you all right? I could not help but notice that you are not on the dance floor.”
My eyes fly open and I turn to look at the person speaking. My breath catches in my throat. It can’t be. But it can. If I age the boy in my memories several years and place him in finery, he matches the man in front of me, even down to the brown curly hair and smattering of freckles.
The man bows to me. “I am Prince Adrian. Would you give me the pleasure of the next dance?”
Adrian is the prince.
Adrian. The one friend I might have ever had. The boy who would share his bread without fail if he knew that I didn’t have any. The boy who would dance with me in the rain. The boy who somehow always knew how to make me smile. The boy who disappeared from the streets one day, taking my one spark of happiness with him.
Adrian is the prince.
And I have to kill him.
I recover my manners just in time. “Thank you, Your Highness.” I curtsey, or at least try to. I hope my cheeks aren’t as red as I think they must be. How can Adrian be the prince? It just doesn’t make sense! At least he hasn’t recognized me.
The polka ends and Adrian takes my hand, leading out into the throng. My heart pounds furiously in my chest. Any plans I had started to form have disappeared. My thoughts scatter wildly.
Thankfully the next dance is a slower, simpler piece. I fumble my way through it, letting Adrian lead and watching what the other ladies do out of the corner of my eye. After a few measures, I start to have the rhythm of the dance and pull my thoughts back in order. Adrian being the prince doesn’t change anything. I can’t let him change anything. I am not ready to die. Besides, the Adrian I know is from five years ago. People can change a lot in five years. I know I have.
“What is your name miss?” Adrian asks, shattering my thoughts.
My cheeks flush. “Ella Dare,” I stumble.
Something glimmers in Adrian’s eyes, but he doesn’t say anything. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Dare.”
My stomach twists, but I merely nod and continue dancing. I have to get Adrian way from the crowd if I am going to kill him. But how? My thoughts are too flighty and my tongue too tied for small talk.
“Are you from around here, Miss Dare?”
I shake my head and summon my confidence. “No. I am from Harlix and am merely visiting my godmother. My health hasn’t been it’s finest lately, and my family’s physician recommended that I go to Bendon and spend some time by the sea.” I swallow. Was my speech refined enough? Or are my gutter origins plainly seen?
“I hope your health recovers marvelously,” Adrian says. I smile softly but inwardly groan. How long will this dance go on? My feet ache terribly. The glass slippers cramp my toes and their heels cause the soles of my feet to throb in pain. I will not be sorry when I have to break them.
The song ends and another one starts. I half expect Adrian to leave me to find a better dancing partner and conversationalist, but he doesn’t. I must be doing something right.
I manage this dance as well as I did the previous one. Adrian bites back a smile each time I slip up during the dance. My heart races each time I fumble, but I can’t quite figure out why. I think it must be from nervousness, but that doesn’t seem to be it.
Perhaps it’s merely annoyance at Adrian’s impish smile. It drove me mad when I first met him. Yet, despite his royalty status, it hasn’t changed at all.
I look up at Adrian. He’s so much taller now. But before tonight, I had last seen him when we were both fourteen. He’s turned in a man. He’s changed. So have I. But is the Adrian I once knew still there? Or was it taken out of him when he was trained to be a prince? Is there any way I can even know?
“You are quiet, Miss Dare,” Adrian remarks.
“So are you,” I quip before I can stop myself. I bite my lip. That is something that no lady would ever say to a prince. Surely if Adrian doesn’t recognize me, he will throw me out merely for my impudence.
“I suppose so.” A smile starts to form on Adrian’s face. “I have never been good at talking and dancing at the same time. I always mess one of them up. If I am talking, I can not concentrate on my dance steps. I have never been good at dancing.”
“Is that so?” I remark just as Adrian steps on my foot. My eyes widen in pain and fear. I can feel fractures forming in the glass. My heart drums in my ears.
Thankfully, Adrian stops talking, saving my feet and my weapons for the time being. He spins me around several times. I can feel a smile forming on my face. Adrian smiles back. The song stops again.
“If you would not mind, Miss Dare, I would like to give you a tour of the palace garden.”
My pulse increases. The garden means being away from the crowd, the type of place I need to do what has to be done. “That sounds wonderful. Thank you, Your Highness.”
Adrian nods and takes my elbow, leading us through the crowd. I spy the group of ladies I found gossiping earlier. They flap their fans and whisper to each other hurriedly. No doubt talking about how the prince has only danced with the one girl so far. I wonder what they will say when they realize that Adrian is giving me a tour of the garden.
Adrian leads me through another set of arches and down another elaborate hallway to a set of doors. He nods to the guards and they open the doors. We step out into the moonlight. The night air is crisp. I take a deep breath as we walk along the cobblestones. The garden is lit by lanterns and torches. As we walk along the path, I wish I could see the garden in the sunshine. I don’t doubt it would be beautiful then.
“This way,” Adrian says, leading me down another path. I stifle a gasp as a shard of glass digs into my foot from my cracked slipper.
Adrian doesn’t say anything else. This the perfect moment to plan how exactly I should kill him, but my mind won’t focus. It wants to enjoy the stillness of the night and the beauty of the garden. But the fighter in me knows better than to let down my guard for even a moment.
Adrian guides me over to a stone bench. “Please,” he gestures. I sit down, grateful for the relief from the glass slippers. Adrian sits down next to me.
Now is the perfect time. There is no one around. And no one will go wandering around the palace garden without royalty giving them a tour. No one will find Adrian’s body until I am long gone.
What is the best way to break the slippers? Should I stomp my foot down? But then I will get glass in my feet, inhibiting my ability to run. Reaching under the layers of my dress to get one of the slippers will alert Adrian to something. But it seems to be my best option.
I peek at Adrian from the corner of my eye. He stares out across the garden. I start to bend over slowly, my hand creeping under the multitude of petticoats. My fingers brush against glass. I lift my foot out of the slipper. My hand closes around the heel. I start to pull the slipper out from under my skirts, ready to smash it against the stones.
“Why have you been lying to me, Clara?”
I freeze. Adrian’s words ring through the air. He turns to look at me.
“Don’t stare at me like that. Did you really believe that I would ever be able to forget you?”
I swallow, but a lump has lodged in my throat. Words don’t come.
Adrian smiles softly. “How are you, Clara? I am so sorry for… well, disappearing the way I did. You could say I was snatched off the streets.”
“How did it happen?” I choke out, slowly straightening back up. I hope Adrian doesn’t notice the way I grab the folds of my skirt to hide my slipper.
“The king and queen saw me during a tour of the city. I caught their eye and their pity. Actually, they saw you too.” My eyes widen. Ardian grins. “I was giving you a bunch of flowers I picked.”
My mind flashes back to that day. How many times did I relive this memory, trying to figure out why Adrian left me? But now the pieces start to click together.
“They didn’t forget me and sent a page to find me. He took me to the castle and the king and queen explained everything to me.” Adrian runs a hand through his curls. “I know I am doing a rubbish job of telling the story. I have never been good at telling stories, you know. You were always the one good at that.”
“Why didn’t you tell me why you left?” I say, forcing myself to look Adrian in the eye.
“I tried,” he says. “But I wasn’t the only one who seemed to have disappeared.”
I swallow and a shiver runs down my spine as my mind darts to more memories. Less favorable memories. The memories that changed me. That made me the person I am now. A person without feelings. A person who fights harder than anyone else. A person ruthless enough to kill a prince.
Adrian reaches out and grabs my hand, starling me. “Tell me everything that has happened, Clara. You must have found fortune somehow. Your dress is lovely.”
Adrian’s words pull me out of the darkness of my memories. But not before the memories have hardened me. Not before they have reminded me of who I am.
In a flash, I pull out the slipper and dash it against the stone bench. Glass shatters everywhere. My hand still holds the heel. It didn’t break, but now it has a perfectly pointy tip. It will make a great knife.
I twist, pulling my arm close to my chest, ready to thrust it at Adrian. I look at him, preparing myself to stab him. To kill him.
Then we lock gazes. Time freezes as I stare at him.
Adrian, the prince who must die.
Adrian, the boy who never forgot me.
Adrian, the boy who cared about me.
Adrian, the boy who used to joke that he would someday marry me.
Adrian, the boy I once loved.
My arm darts forward. The glass heel plunges into the bushes behind Adrian. I fly off of the bench and pull off the other slipper. I dart down the stones, glass fragments from the broken slipper digging into my bare feet.
“Clara! Clara!” Adrian yells after me, his shouts echoing through the night. I don’t stop.
I reach the garden gate. Grabbing the metal, I pull myself upward. The gate snags my dress. I wince at the loud ripping sound but don’t stop my climb. I drop to the other side and fly across the grass.
“Clara!” Adrian shouts again, but he is drowned out by the clanging of the clock tower bells. They ring out twelve times. It is midnight.
I run past the rows of carriages and waiting footmen. They must be astonished to see a lady fleeing from the palace so quickly in a torn dress, but I don’t stop to see their expressions. I almost run towards my carriage, but stop myself. The driver will take me back to my godmother. When she learns that Adrian lives…
I have to hide.
I gasp for breath as I continue to run, but I don’t stop. I can’t stop. Adrian will no doubt summon guards to chase me down for my attempted assassination. They will be on horseback. I have to get back into the heart of town and hide before they can find me.
I hadn’t realized how far away the palace was from the streets I typically roam when I rode there only hours earlier.
My legs threaten to give way when I stumble into the abandoned grain mill, one of my few hiding places around the city. I take a few steps inside and shut the door, locking it behind me. Then I crumble to my knees. I crawl over to the far side of the room and tug on a floorboard, pulling it loose. Reaching down, I pull out a thin, tattered dress. I slip out of the ball gown and into the dress. I then pull out a small piece of flint and a rock. I strike the two together. As beautiful as the gown is, I have to burn it. When my godmother comes looking for me to kill me, I cannot let her find any trace of me.
I make a spark and set it to the dress. Summoning my remaining energy, I drag it over to the small fireplace. I can’t leave it on the floor or it will burn down the entire mill.
My stomach rumbles. I was a fool for not eating something more than punch. But my stomach is in so many knots right now, I wouldn’t be able to eat even if I had the food.
I lay down in front of the fireplace, welcoming the little bit of warmth from the burning dress. I am exhausted. I have to run away in the morning. Both my “godmother” and the crown will be hunting for my head.
My eyes close. But darkness and sleep do not take me yet. My mind is filled with flashes of color, the music of strings, a playful smile, and shards of broken glass. But sleep eventually takes me.
I wake up to my own screams. My eyes fly open as I dart upward, my heart practically leaping out of my chest. I haven’t dreamt about the dark days in such a long time. But talking with Adrian brought them to the front of my mind. I shiver. My godmother haunted my dreams as well.
I have to get going. I glance into the fireplace. All that remains of the beautiful dress is ashes. I lost my gloves and pearls while running. And the glass slippers were left at the palace. My godmother won’t be able to use them to find me. But her eyes and ears on the streets will.
I scramble to my feet and hurry over to the door. Before I unlock it and step outside, I look over the room. Nothing indicates that I was here. I unbolt the door and dart out into the streets. The sun is just starting to rise and no one is out yet. At least, no one that I can see. That doesn’t mean that my godmother’s spies and the palace guards aren’t roaming somewhere else.
I break into a run. If I run hard enough today, I might be able to make it to a smaller village before dark. And if I manage to do that for several days, then I could make it to Harlix. Surely I’d be able to disappear there. Would my godmother still hunt me down in Harlix? It’s not like I can turn her in. I don’t even know her name. But Adrian might still hunt me down. I tried to kill him.
Adrian’s face flashes in my mind and I shake it away, running faster. I weave my way through the streets, running towards the city gates. If I get there when they first open the gates, they hopefully won’t stop me for inspection. Unless they are under orders to check everyone. Adrian knows me too well. He knows all of my tricks and secrets. He will have told the guards to inspect everyone. They will find me.
My heart pounds harder. Pain shoots through my bare feet as they race against the cobblestone roads, still sore from the torturous glass slippers of last night. I never want to have to think about those shoes again. I want to forget last night. I want to forget Adrian. And I want to forget what I was going to do.
I slow down and catch my breath as I near the city gates. They are just opening. I glance up to see several men straining at the gears as they crank the giant iron gates open. I swallow and start to walk forward. Then I notice the man at the front of the gate. He stops the person who starts to walk through. My shoulders drop. They are doing inspections. I whirl around and look for another way out.
There. A hay wagon. I dart over and pull myself up into the back of the wagon, burying myself in hay as the wagon rolls forward. I can hear the muffled voices of the inspector and the farmer through the hay. I take a breath to try and calm my racing heart. My eyes widen as I breathe in the dust from the hay. My nose tickles. I can’t sneeze! They will surely hear it and inspect the back of the wagon and find me! I’ll be hung for crimes against the crown. I bite my lip as my eyes water from holding back the sneeze.
Then the wagon moves. Squinting, I peer through the hay and watch as the city gates pass by. Once the wagon is several yards away, I slip out of the back of the wagon, sneezing as I drop to the ground. I race to the side of the road and duck behind the trees just as the inspector turns and runs toward the wagon.
“Wait, sir! I forgot to look in the back of your wagon!”
I swallow as my stomach twists. I barely got out in time. Holding my breath, I inch my way further into the trees and start running again. I try to avoid the twigs and pine needles as I run. The sun has risen now, and beams of sunlight drift through the leaves.
After a while, I slow my pace. My legs ache and my feet are bleeding from rocks, roots, and various things littering the forest floor. I clench my jaw. If I want to keep moving fast, I’m going to have to go out onto the main road. Which is better: getting as far away from the palace, Adrian, and my “godmother” as I can, or keeping out of sight?
Both are important, but I can’t go on anymore in the forest. My feet cannot bear it. I push branches out of my way and make my way towards the road. I wince as my tangled hair catches on a branch. I work it loose and then pause as I reach the road. I glance each way. No one is coming as far as I can see. I step out onto the road and start running again. The dirt is much gentler on my battered feet. Besides, the forest thins out only a few yards ahead. It wouldn’t have provided me cover for much longer.
I run for several minutes before I hear something. The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I freeze, trying to make out the sound. My eyes widen. A carriage.
I run wildly, watching over my shoulder the entire time. And then the carriage comes into view. The golden paint is blinding in the morning sun. My breath stops in my throat. My godmother. She realized I slipped out of the city and has tracked me down. And now she will kill me.
My desire to live gives me a new burst of energy and I run faster, wishing desperately for a place to hide. But the forest is almost entirely gone. And my godmother no doubt has her men with her, ready to chase me down. And they will overtake me. I am too tired to be able to run much longer.
My pulse races even faster as another sound starts to fill the air. Hoofbeats. I look forward on the road to see a group of men on horseback galloping in my direction. I recognize the royal colors. They must have been sent out by Adrian. I am caught between both of my fears. There is no way to escape.
My legs collapse and I crumble to the ground. The carriage stops only a few yards away from me. One of the golden doors opens. I lift my head just enough to see the hem of a beautiful gown. My godmother exits the carriage. Mustering my last ounce of strength, I pull myself to my knees and stare at her.
She shakes her head. “You were so fiery when we first met. And boastful too. Now we see what has become of that. I am sorry dear, but it has to be done. You knew the rules. His life or yours.”
She reaches into her reticule and pulls something out. The barrel of a pistol glimmers in the sun. I close my eyes. This is it.
I deserve my end. At least Adrian still lives.
The hoofbeats draw nearer.
“Stop!” The voice is powerful. Commanding. And it turns my blood to ice.
I slowly open my eyes to see my godmother slipping the pistol back in her reticule. Someone jumps to the ground behind me and runs towards me. I start to shake. I bite my lip and taste blood. Two men on horseback run past me towards my “godmother”, who is trying to sneak into her carriage. I know who is coming next. I squeeze my eyes shut.
Dirt scuffles in front of me. A finger brushes against my cheek.
“Clara. There are cinders all over your face.”
I crack my eyes open and stare at Adrian through watery eyes. “What more would you expect of me? I’m nothing but gutter trash.”
Adrian smiles softly at me and then lifts me up in his arms. I try to protest, but I am too tired and shaking too much. Adrian looks over at his guards. “Take her to the palace. The lady will be inspected there.”
At first I think they are talking about me. Then I hear the carriage start to move. Adrian was talking about my “godmother”. I am surprised. Wouldn’t he be happy if she killed his assassin? After all, he doesn’t know that she is the one who told me to do it.
Adrian carries me over to the grass and whistles for his horse. The horse trots over as Adrian sets me down, leaning me against a lone tree. He then turns to his horse and rummages in his saddle bag. I swallow. What is he looking for?
Pulling something out, Adrian kneels down in front of me. “Clara, you were always the storyteller. Tell me this story.” He pulls the glass slipper out from behind his back and sets it in my lap.
I swallow at the sight of it and then gingerly run a finger over the smooth glass. I take a deep breath. My words shake at first. “Once upon a time, there was a girl who was given a job by a lady. The girl was told to kill a prince. And she would do it by breaking a pair of glass slippers and using the glass as her weapon. When the girl went to do the job, she realized she knew the prince. The girl tried to kill him, but she couldn’t. And so she fled, for the lady had told the girl that someone would die, and it would either be the girl or the prince.”
“Luckily for both the girl and the prince, neither had to die,” Adrian finishes, smiling.
“Adrian… I tried to kill you!” I exclaim.
He shakes his head. “No, you didn’t. You showed that you couldn’t kill me. If you had tried to kill me and had failed, you would not have tossed the glass into the flowers. You would have gone for my heart. But you didn’t.
“And have no fear, Clara. This lady will be tried for trying to kill both you and me,” Adrian says firmly as he picks me back up again.
“Put me down!” I say, hitting his arms.
Adrian only smiles his infuriating, endearing grin. “I’ve missed you, Clara. You have no idea how boring the ladies at court are.” He lifts me up onto his horse and then mounts behind me. Adrian motions to his men and then starts riding back towards the city.
“Where are we going?” I ask, a shiver a fear running through me again.
“Clara. Do not be afraid. No harm will ever come to you,” Adrian says, turning my head so I look at him. I see the seriousness in his eyes. He really does mean it.
“And to answer your question, we are heading home.”
I shake my head. “The palace is not my home.”
“It will be for the time being. I am taking you off the streets, Clara. You deserve much better. You are not gutter trash in the slightest,” Adrian says with a slight fierceness. He starts to grin again. “Besides, it could be your home forever.”
“How?” I cross my arms.
“If you marry me.”
I swallow. There isn’t any joking in Adrian’s voice. “Adrian, we haven’t seen each other in five years! And I tried to assassinate you last night!”
“I thought I cleared that mess up already,” Adrian sighs. “You didn’t try to assassinate me. And I know you, Clara. Deep down, you really haven’t changed.
“Besides, we couldn’t get married right away. Most palace weddings take place in the garden, and as far as I know, there is still a shattered glass slipper out there. Can’t let that ruin a royal wedding.”
I say nothing, my mind trying to process all of my thoughts and feelings. I don’t know what to think. Adrian says nothing more, evidently sensing my need for silence.
As we pass through the city gates, I glance back at Adrian. “I think I figured out the ending to the story.”
“Neither the prince nor the girl died.” I pause for a moment, almost scared to say the next words for fear that saying them will make them never be true. Then a smile crosses my face.
“And they both lived happily ever after, together.”