Chapter 2 – Preparing for the First Ball
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I knew at once, of course, that she was different. Perhaps, of course, it is truer to say that I am the one whose life is immeasurably different from that of most people, and even from a single glance it was clear that her life was not made of the strangeness that I consider normal.
It had been a long day, a culmination to a long six months. I can scarcely believe how much effort, money and preparation went into this ball, and I am beyond embarrassed that it was all pinned to my need to find a wife. That was always very much going to be a much lesser aim of the ball. However, I honestly don’t know why I am surprised that people got wind of that tiny objective and were soon inflating that into the main purpose of the ball. As if I could reasonably hope to meet every single woman of the city at the ball, much less every woman of the whole Kingdom; as if I could reasonably evaluate anyone in such a huge crowd! No, the principal reason for the ball was to celebrate the new trade treaty with our former rivals, lying across the Great River. Happily, my 25th birthday was fast approaching, and so the ball also became my de facto birthday celebration. It just so happened that at the initial planning meeting my Father, the King, quipped, in a throwaway remark: “And who knows, Prince Wilfred, perhaps you might find a lovely lady to catch your eye!” At this he smiled over to my Mother the Queen, who smiled at me that gentle smile which indicated that she was growing a little hopeless regarding my marital prospects.
There were a couple of courtiers listening and taking minutes – and boom! Soon the story had predictably spread like wildfire, that my parents were specifically throwing a birthday ball to find me a wife. Well, my parents laughingly decided to make the most of this new development, and so Every. Single. Lady. in the Kingdom was invited to the ball. They did not all come, of course, even to a Royal ball. But still! I could not bear to be the object of so much calculating female interest, or the laughingstock of the night, so at least my parents allowed me to go in disguise. I think it was quite a stroke of genius on my own part to go as a footman, taking everyone’s capes, to give me quite a good vantage point to see anyone who would attend the ball. I have to admit that since I was going to be disguised, and not under the pressure of everyone’s scrutiny I actually started really looking forward to the ball. I even allowed myself to hope that I might be able to meet someone beautifully intriguing, who would not look down on speaking to a humble footman for an evening… However, I knew I could not realistically expect this friendship to last for longer than the conversation through the length of the ball.
And then the orders started being made for the ball. I was born as the Crown Prince. I have lived in the Palace my entire life. I am used to astronomical sums being spent on seemingly frivolous activities. And yet I have never, ever seen anything like the amount of money that was spent on this ball. Everything seemed to be ordered by the ballroom-full. And these are Royal ballrooms, of course.
A whole (Royal) ballroom-full of roast chickens. Another ballroom-full of roast ducks and geese. Yet another ballroom-full of beef steaks. A ballroom-full just of French champagne, not to mention other drinks. Whole ballrooms-full of fresh roses, candles, pies, cakes, sweets, ice, bronze platters, cooks, serving staff, porters. Not mere ballrooms, but seemingly whole orchards full of fruit. Whole rivers, even seas of fish and seafood. My Mother’s dress was so elaborate that I honestly think that in itself it required a whole ballroom-full of silk.
It was so much that eventually they decided to split the festivities into not just one, but actually three balls altogether. And I was so, so, embarrassed that the whole Kingdom would think that all of this was primarily for me, and for my ego, in finding a wife.
Thankfully though, the excess food, of which there were further whole ballrooms-full, will be sent to homeless shelters supported by the Palace and will otherwise be given out free to poor families throughout the Kingdom.
What would surprise anyone who had attended the ball is that my family can actually be quite frugal. So even as the Royal family, I just know that we are going to be eating up some left-over dishes for a few days and even weeks to come. No, we are not frugal for the reasons other people might be, because they have no choice. No, we choose to be frugal where we can because this helps to keep us sane, and tethered to reality.
Finally, the fateful day dawned.
My Mother offered me one last opportunity to dress up as myself, Prince Wilfred, which I declined with a shudder, clinging instead to my freshly acquired footman’s uniform. No, I was more than happy to let my cousin play the part. He is my best friend, looks very similar to me (some people have teasingly told me that he is “even more handsome” than I am – perhaps they are right!) and he carries himself with such haughty bearing that most people have no problem believing that he is the Prince.
So I donned my footman’s uniform, and stood in position.
What an absolutely fascinating evening ensued! There were approximately 20 of us “footmen” doing the same job, although the others were genuinely footmen; I believe that I was the only disguised Prince among them! I think I may have witnessed all of humanity over the course of that evening. I quickly realised that people outside the Palace do not seem to be that different from people in the Palace. I saw tall people, short people, thin people, plump people, young people, old people. I saw people who were naturally beautiful, and people who were highly enhanced with cosmetics, and some people who did not appear to have made an effort at all. I saw people wearing a wide variety of clothes, some richly and expensively cut, others far more modest, even some simple farm clothes. Every time I overheard someone giggle about “catching the Prince” I burned internally with shame.
What I found surprising is that people’s characters somehow managed to reveal themselves, even in the few seconds of interacting with my “footman”.
I was obviously highly aware of the way these people treated me, as a footman. Some of them, of course treated me with a cold hauteur and disdain, barely seeing me, almost throwing their capes at me. However, I was pleasantly surprised that most people treated me kindly, smiling at me, saying “Please” and “Thank you”. Perhaps they guessed, rightly, that I was part of the evaluation committee for choosing Prince Wilfred’s wife. However, I’m sure that they could scarcely have guessed just how much of a say I might have had in that!
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This is Book 2/4 of the Cinderella Series. All titles in the series are as follows (open in new windows)
1. Cinderella Princess
2. The Prince Speaks (This book)
3. The Queen’s Account available on Smashwords here
4. StepMother available on Smashwords here
The complete series is available from Smashwords at a price of £6 here
or direct from this website at a price of £5 GBP including sales taxes.