An End of Ever After Novel
End of Ever After
When the invitation to the prince's ball was put in her hands, Ella imagined a single night of wonder, a single night to escape her wretched life and be anyone else for a while. She never expected to turn the prince's head, she certainly never expected to run off with his heart.
Five years later, Ella looks back on her faerytale rise from soot stained cinderwench to the queen the people call CinderElla. Ignored and humiliated much of her life, she could hardly believe her sudden good fortune. Nor could she anticipate what was to follow, not the lies, not the betrayal, not the truth of her handsome Prince Charming.
Ella is desperate to figure out how, despite her best intentions, everything went so horribly wrong. And what, if anything, she can do to get back her ever after.
End of Ever Ater is the first in a five part companion series that rewrites the classic tales of happily ever after.
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|Teens / New Adult|
End of Ever After
Once upon a time, the palace wasn’t my prison.
Not that kind of prison; there are no bars upon the windows and I can stand in the sun whenever I choose. My power is almost unlimited, I am free to go where and when I want. This is a different type of prison, one of half-truths and warbled perceptions; a prison I unwittingly stepped into the day all my dreams came true.
For what can a sheltered girl of sixteen know about reality when her life plays out like a fairy tale? I had never wondered about Snow White once her prince kissed and whisked her away. I had imagined a similarly happy fate for the Sleeping Beauty, for the Beauty and her Beast. Would either have warned me had I asked for the truth? That “happily ever after” doesn’t last?
Because I wasn’t a princess, not at first. I wasn’t anything but a dusty servant girl, and for a while, it really seemed like my story would be different from the others. Maybe I was only playing my part, embracing the destiny I believed was mine because it had rolled out before me like a soft red carpet spilling from a royal carriage the day that sealed my fate.
And wasn’t my faery godmother part of all this, too? Hadn’t she displayed the best and brightest magic, dressed me like a princess so I could win a prince? She wouldn’t have done so if this wasn’t supposed to be good.
Yet I would never go back to the way my life was before. It’s taken me five years to soften the skin on my hands, to undo the callouses marring my palms and knuckles that marked me as a servant. Now, I have servants of my own to get me whatever, whenever, however I want. Any request of my stepmother or stepsisters could be irrational, unwarranted, unworthy of my time, but a queen’s requests are never foolish, never too simple to ignore or sweep under the rug until she goes to sleep.
Every princess learns that life goes on after happily ever after, and my life is better than it ever was. But often I wonder what would’ve happened if I’d kept dreaming in my own little corner instead of going to that wretched, wretched ball.
My father was often away on business, far back as I can remember. Each time he went, Mother took me to the study, pulled out his large spinning globe and a pile of maps, then showed me exactly what route he would take. I would think that being adept at direction so early in life would have made me a better navigator of my future.
“Father always stops through this inn when he travels this way.” Mother guided my hand, pointing with me to a little square sitting just off the main road.
“Because they have the best ale,” I chimed in.
Mother smiled and stroked my hair. “Because they have the best ale,” she repeated.
I walked the route with my little fingers. “Why can’t Father sleep at home if it’s so close?” I wondered out loud.
“The map shows how all this land looks from Heaven,” Mother explained. “Down here, everything is much farther apart.”
“Will Father leap across this river?” I asked, tracing a blue line from its origin in the mountains to its end in the sea.
“Father will take a ferry across and when he does, he’ll be thinking of you,” Mother said. She traced the route then came back round again toward our little slice of paradise. “And from here he’ll already be counting the steps back home to us.”
My knack for maps can be traced to those early days. Even after Mother was gone, I would sneak into Father’s study to trace his route on the maps. Perhaps I did it more to reconnect with my mother than my father. By that point, he hardly remembered the daughter from his first wife.
I suppose Father was successful, because we lived on a fairly large piece of land though we weren’t titled gentry. During spring and summer, the green lawns were hardly visible beneath the most wonderful shades of blue, pink, purple, yellow, and white flowers. They cozied up to tree trunks and popped out between blades of grass, their petals radiating in the sunlight in a way quite befitting a fairytale land.
Our home was tucked back beside a clear, bubbling stream and a small orchard that gave us all the fruit we needed. The path leading up to our property was lined on either side by a low stone wall which guided it through the bramble and drooping willows until our house emerged behind a sharp bend where the path yielded to a circular drive. I never thought much of that drive, but Madame was to later teach me that having a circular drive was very important for a person of means. We were never allowed to descend any of the twelve steps that climbed to our front door until the horses of a visitor’s carriage were already slightly turned to align his door with ours. I thought that rule the most unbearable whenever Father returned home.
Before Madame came, we were happy, as happy as any family can be, and it’s odd to think now that the time when our family was only Father, Mother, and me was my true happily ever after. Those days, a square of grass could hold an entire kingdom, a full plot held an entire world. Those days, sunshine was proof of Heaven smiling down on me, the clear sky a window thrown open above to light up a world waiting to be discovered. Those days are frozen in the colors of memory that never fade.
Thinking back on the house that was once my home, what stands out most to me is not the oil-painting tranquility I left behind, but rather the constant trilling of birds. Snow white pigeons and turtledoves, blue robins and startling red cardinals all made their homes in our gardens at one point or another. At times, it felt as if every bird stopped for a visit during their migrations, as if we were their inn of choice for their travels. And those birds were always singing, always the chariots of faeries in my childhood games.
My mother was beautiful, dainty, and gentle. From the moment I could walk, it was quite clear that I was formed in her image, a fact I used to wear with pride until it would come to haunt me. I was born small and stayed so. I have a small waist, small hands, tiny feet, and when made up, the heart-shaped face my mother bequeathed me very much resembles that of a fragile porcelain doll. Before I came to the palace, my looks were the cause of much ridicule by my stepfamily whom I’m sure would have been glad to crack me underfoot.
From what I can remember, I don’t think my mother was as small as I am. She may have seemed bigger to me because I was so little, but I don’t think so. However, there was something about her that was larger than life, and I think it was largely part of the reason why she was well respected. She was kind and generous, pious and sweet, and never lost her temper. She tried hard to pass those traits on to me, and I think she must have because kindness, generosity, and sweetness, while much lauded by bards and minstrels, have also been the bane of my existence. They are the root of my naiveté, my blind trust, my acceptance of whatever I’m given, and my perverse instinct to always rationalize a person’s behavior for the good. I’ve been working on changing some of those things. I certainly didn’t get Mother’s unshakeable temperament.
My mother and I were best friends for as long as she was alive, our delight in each other’s company a wonderful buoy to help us through Father’s long absences.
“What shall we feast on today, Ella?” was the question I would wake up to the first morning after Father left.
“Corn cakes!” I’d jump on my bed so I couldn’t be tripped by the ends of my white nightgown. “White powdered confections! And chocolate roses! Lemon tarts and strawberry cream cake!”
Mother would giggle and grab my hands to jump beside me on the floor.
“And roast goose!”
“We shall have all those things and more, dear princess!” Mother cried. “And no amount of sweets shall be too much!”
Mother didn’t know then, as I know now, what my life would be like as a princess. She never would have called me that if she had.
Mother would dress me herself, in little dresses of navy blue dotted with pearl-colored flowers, leaf-colored greens decorated with bows of orange ribbons, lavender layers embroidered with pastel yellow beadings. And always a bonnet pulled tight over my head to keep my skin milky white beneath my rosy cheeks.
We’d spend all day outside, or inside, whichever suited our fancy. Together, we traveled the world and were it not for those early years, I would have grown up with an imagination as painfully dull as my stepsisters’. Like most good things from my past, I cursed my imagination when I understood how it distorted the truth of palace life, but I am learning.
Once a week, Mother bundled me up, ordered up the cart, and took me on her rounds to visit the peasants who rented the King’s land surrounding ours. Mother remembered everyone’s name and the little details of their lives that were so important to them. We would visit homes too small for the families they were supposed to shelter and women whose husbands couldn’t care for them after childbirth because they couldn’t miss a day in the fields. At all these places, Mother’s arrival was like a ray of sunshine on a cold and cloudy day, a momentary whisper of heavenly trumpets sending away the drudgery of the world.
Mother always made me hold the basket of fruit I’d helped her pick from our orchard. She insisted that I give out the fruit and made sure I did so with a warm smile.
“Ella, remember, there is always, always someone more unfortunate than yourself,” she would tell me in the time it took to ride from one house to another.
“What if I keep giving and then there’s nothing left?” I wanted to know.
“Kindness does not run out.” Mother smiled and lovingly tapped my nose with her finger. “There are too many people in need of an open ear and an accepting heart.”