Day 24: The Ball

Cinder­ella rushed down the steps to the chariot that was wait­ing out­side. The fairy god­mother stood at the door and waved at her. “Remem­ber,” she called, “two hours!”

Cinder­ella nod­ded, paused by the chariot and threw the Tic-Tac into her mouth, just as the bell tower began chim­ing out 10pm.

Why did you do that?” shouted the fair god­mother to her, “You should have taken it at the door to the party, idiot! It takes half an hour to get there! That’s half an hour you’ve wasted!”

It’s only a five minute coach ride!” Cinder­alla cried back.

You’re being taken by tigers! Have you ever tried dir­ect­ing them or using them as a form of trans­port? It’s like herd­ing cats!”

Cinder­ella shook her head. At least she’d arrive in style, she thought. She jumped into the chariot, lif­ted the reins and whipped the tigers on. They began slowly mean­der­ing down the drive.

Half an hour later, Cinderella’s chariot arrived at the ball. The tigers saw a rat run out of a sewer and up the drive way, and charged after it, only relent­ing when it dis­ap­peared down a drain cover out­side the Prince’s palace’s doors. This gave her approach a suit­able amount of grav­itas, as the assembled guests saw the tigers charge up the drive­way and neatly stop in front of the entrance to the party, Cinder­ella at the reins behind them.

She smiled as she stepped down and handed the reins to a foot­man, who glanced war­ily at the tigers before lead­ing them away.

Inside, everything was beau­ti­ful and shin­ing. As soon as she’d stepped in she’d been get­ting odd looks. It wasn’t her dress or the man­ner in which she’d arrived, she real­ised, it was the fact that nobody could smell her breath at all, and so nobody knew who she was. This made them all curi­ous, and Cinder­ella star­ted to feel burdened as more and more eyes fell upon her.

Even her ugly sis­ters were look­ing at her, though without the cak­ing of grime and dirt over her face, they didn’t recog­nise her either. Sud­denly, she felt everything go still as a man in the centre of the room noticed the ripple amongst his guests and turned his eyes on her. The Prince was look­ing at her and she had no idea what to do. She smiled at him, then felt her stom­ach leap up as he began walk­ing towards her.

Good even­ing,” he said, as he approached, “how are you tonight?”

She could only nod in response, then gave a curtsy.

Would you like to dance?”

She nod­ded again and took hold of his offered hand. He led her into the centre of the room and the crowd par­ted as the orches­tra star­ted up. He took hold of her and she felt many of the eyes in the room narrow.

As they danced, she real­ised that his own breath was almost undetect­able, but even the richest, most power­ful and most desir­able man in the king­dom left a linger­ing smell every time he breathed. She wondered how long it must take him and his ser­vants to reach that level. She noticed him glan­cing at her mouth every so often, and smiled at him each time, though she knew he must be won­der­ing how on Earth she’d got her breath so fresh.

The night wore on and they danced again and again. His uncer­tainty about her breath gave her con­fid­ence, and she began talk­ing to him. At first they talked of the weather and what they liked to do dur­ing the sum­mer, then the con­ver­sa­tions turned to the local nobil­ity and well-known lords and ladies. They traded gos­sip, secrets and anec­dotes under their breath, paus­ing whenever some­body else came near and laugh­ing con­spir­a­tion­ally once they had walked out of ear shot.

They sat and shared a drink, people gasped that the Prince had aban­doned his duties as host to talk to this unre­cog­nis­able new­comer, but they dared not be too crit­ical of the situ­ation. Most of them were motiv­ated by jeal­ousy anyway.

Cinder­ella found that she was totally at ease in the Prince’s com­pany, and it seemed to be mutual. They moved to the dan­cing floor again and, as the minutes ticked by, they leant in closer and closer. People stared, but neither of them cared. The night went on and shortly the orches­tra began play­ing a slow dance, pos­sibly at a secret sig­nal given by the Prince, Cinder­ella thought.

Regard­less of what had caused it, it was very romantic. Cinder­ella moved her head up, the Prince leant down and they kissed, just as the bell tower began ringing for mid­night.
Cinder­ella pulled her head back, her eyes wide as she heard the tolls ring out. She gasped, began to swear under her breath and then covered her mouth. The Prince was already recoil­ing, cov­er­ing his nose. Tears welled up in her eyes as she saw him step away from her.

She spun around and ran for the door. Her clothes were stay­ing the same, at least. Some­body cried out behind her, but she couldn’t hear what they were saying.

She sobbed into her hands and found her chariot was wait­ing for her out­side, the tigers look­ing alert and ready to go. Almost as soon as she had hopped on and picked up the reins they were off, as if they knew how press­ing the situ­ation was.

On the steps of the Prince’s palace, whilst the party guests remained inside and began gos­sip­ing about this strange new girl, the Prince stood at the top of the steps and watched the chariot draw off into the dis­tance. “What was her name?” he asked one of the foot­men attend­ing the door.”

I don’t know, your high­ness. She presen­ted her invit­a­tion and that was that.”

There must be a way to find her,” said the Prince, strok­ing his chin, “some­thing unique about her,” he snapped his fin­gers, “Of course! Announce that we will tour the town tomor­row, smelling the breath of every woman. Nobody else could have breath that reeked as hers did.”

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