Prelude: A Family Tree
Charles' father, king Lewis, had an older sister named Beatrice and a younger brother named Conrad. Realizing that both his sons merited to rule, king Ferdinand, Charles' grandfather, split the empire in two kingdoms - the Emerald kingdom, the territory which was more modernized, and the Green-Valley kingdom, the regions which still had a strong medieval character and a wild nature prone to fantastic events. Although she was the firstborn, the law forbade Beatrice to rule, for being a woman. Instead of marrying a foreign king as planned, Beatrice ended up marrying an aristocrat in the Emerald kingdom - the duke of Tamp. She eventually died at 17, after giving birth to her first child - Rudolph. Ten years later, Lewis married princess Caroline of Docaccia and Charles was born, becoming the first in line of succession to the throne of the Emerald kingdom. The following year, Snow White was born, and king Conrad changed the law of Green-Valley kingdom, in order to enable her coronation. In late September, two months after the crown prince seventeenth birthday, Charles married Cinderella. Acknowledging his son's intelligence and bravery during an attack planed by duke Zaral, King Lewis abdicated and passed the throne of the Emerald kingdom to Charles during the wedding ceremony. In the following spring, princess Snow White married Prince Richard of Albertville, and they enjoyed peaceful days in Green-Valley kingdom, which was recovering from war.
It was a warm day with a slight breeze in August. The Emerald Castle chapel, adorned in red and emerald on marble stone, was especially crowed due to Charles and Cinderella's first son's baptism. Contrary to the royal wedding, which was more public, this ceremony was private and discrete.
The royals invited only their closest friends and relatives. The duchess, Catherine and Jeanne were anxiously waiting to capture Cinderella's attention and hold the baby. Cinderella's father, the Duke of Viel, was greeting Charles's parents and Hans, Charles’ former tutor, when Charles, Cinderella and their son arrived followed by Alex and Miss Paulette, who were chosen to be the prince's godparents. As the bishop entered, the chapel went silent and the ceremony began. Cinderella's animals attended everything in a corner near the baptistery.
While carrying her son, Cinderella could not help but noticing Charles' tension. He hardly heard the bishop's words, in alert to all possible attacks in the chapel. In order to lighten the mood, Cinderella glanced at him in bliss, and the young king reciprocated his queen with a tender smile.
Fortunately, the baptism had no setbacks. The couple could relax after the ceremony. They talked to their friends in common, Ian, the fortune teller, Marcel, the actor, Nicholas, the violinist, and his wife Laura, who had brought their baby girl. Charles was delighted to finally introduce Cinderella to his uncle Conrad, king of a neighbor kingdom.
‘It is such an honor to meet you, king Conrad’, greeted Cinderella whilst making a bow, ‘Charles told me about the happy days he spent with you during his childhood.’
‘My dear Cinderella, I am very pleased to finally meet you. I am so sorry I couldn't attend your wedding, but we went through hard times, really hard times…’, the king apologized, ‘But I must say your beauty surpasses Charles' passionate descriptions.’
‘Thank you for your kind words, sire’, blushed Cinderella.
‘Please, call me uncle’, smiled the king.
‘Thank you, my dear uncle’, smiled Cinderella.
‘I hope everything is settling down, uncle’, added Charles.
‘Yes, little by little. It is a great kingdom, and I am sure we will overcome the war damages. The villages are growing fast, and commerce is starting to flourish. Hopefully we will recover and achieve the same quality of life you have here. Your villages are amazing.’
‘Indeed. It is grandfather's legacy…’, then Charles added, ‘And how is Snow White? Is she all right now?’
‘Yes, she is. I forgot to mention. She and Richard could not come, because she is expecting.’
‘Congratulations!’, promptly exclaimed Charles and Cinderella.
‘I must write to her’, said Charles, ‘We could not attend their wedding either and I would like to know Richard.’
‘Your aunt Chrystel also sends you greetings. We would all be very happy to have you in our castle.’
‘Oh, Charles, let's visit them…’, asked Cinderella while leaning over Charles's shoulder.
‘We could go there next spring, or summer…’, he smiled.
‘Whenever you want, my children. And don't forget to bring this little fellow.’
‘Of course’, replied Cinderella, ‘And by that time, he will have a little cousin,’ she said talking to the baby.
‘I honestly hope he is not as troublesome as his father, Cinderella. Charles was a real devil, wasn't he, Lewis?’
‘He was the worst, brother, but I do not mind. I am looking forward to play with this little boy, and watch him running, breaking everything in the castle’, answered Charles' father.
‘He was the most adorable nightmare I have ever had’, added Charles' mother.
‘Well, I think we don't need to go back in his childhood to remind that. He still is a devil’, remarked Alex with Hans' agreement.
‘Et tu, Brute?’, Charles replied, making everyone laugh.
‘And what about Cinderella?’, inquired Charles' mother.
‘She was an angel; the most gentle, nice and adorable child I have ever known’, answered Cinderella's father, making her join him tenderly.
‘Let's hope our little prince is half angel, half devil’, summed up king Conrad.
The chamberlain arrived and invited everyone to the banquet.
As the guests slowly started leaving the chapel, king Conrad turned to his brother.
‘I almost forgot! Where is Rudolph? I have not seen him in ages…’
‘Abroad; he is in a Grand Tour for almost two years’, answered Lewis, ‘Nevertheless, he has written the warmest letters congratulating on the wedding and the birth of my grandson’.
King Conrad frowned, pensive. Then he hugged his brother and they walked down the church together with queen Caroline.
In the meantime, the duchess, Catherine and Jeanne approached Charles and Cinderella.
‘Charles, Cinderella, congratulations! Everything was perfect!’, exclaimed the duchess.
‘It was so beautiful, Cinderella!’, added Jeanne.
‘Yes, lovely and peaceful’, agreed Catherine.
‘Thank you very much’, smiled Cinderella.
‘May I hold him for a few moments?’, asked Jeanne.
Cinderella helped Jeanne holding the baby and stood by her side.
‘Cinderella, I was wondering what happened to your friend Charles…’, speculated Catherine.
‘Oh, yes, I didn't see him in your wedding as well...’, reinforced Jeanne.
‘What friend?’, teased Charles, making Cinderella mad at him.
‘Oh, they were the best friends right before you met Cinderella at the ball’, told Jeanne.
‘Well... Charles, the fibber, moved to a foreign kingdom...’, invented Cinderella.
‘That must have been hard for you’, imagined Catherine, ‘I even thought you were going to marry him…’, she whispered.
‘Catherine, that's enough! We are late for the banquet’, scolded the duchess, ‘If you think you can spoil your sister's marriage, you…’, she muttered while grabbing Catherine and Jeanne’s arms.
‘Sorry, mommy,’ they cried.
The prince started to cry, and Jeanne returned him to Cinderella. The three women moved on, joining Cinderella's father and Charles' family.
‘If that Charles appears, I will challenge him to a duel’, promised Charles while looking naughtily at Cinderella.
She giggled discretely, and the couple continued their way to the castle trying not to burst into laughter.
Nine months later Cinderella was rocking the baby to the sound of her mother's doll tune, when someone knocked at the door. Susanna, her private maid, announced Charles' councilors, who demanded an urgent private meeting. Cinderella consented, left the baby with Susanna, and moved to the next room with the councilors. They were all noble middle aged and elderly men.
‘What brings you here, gentlemen?’, said Cinderella after the maid who served tea left the room.
‘Your majesty, we need your help...’, started Albert.
‘The king is in danger!’, exclaimed Humbert. He was hardly breathing in his fat attire.
Cinderella's face turned into white.
‘Humbert, please! Do not panic!’, scolded Antonio.
‘Please, gentlemen, calm down, and explain yourselves’, demanded Cinderella.
‘King Charles has several ideas in his mind...’, started Jules.
‘…which can be interpreted as radical by influent people...’, continued Joseph.
‘For instance, he wants to abolish court, and slavery’, explained Humbert.
‘… to create taxes for nobles, in order to...’, said Jules.
‘… decrease taxes for lower classes’, interrupted Albert.
‘… to open more schools’, proceeded Antonio.
‘… to convert a building of the castle into an orphanage. An orphanage... here... in this castle...’, complained Jules.
‘… to build a hospital’, added Albert.
‘… to improve the university, the public library, the theatre and the opera’, added Antonio.
‘… to open a public museum’, added Joseph.
‘Honestly, I do not understand what is wrong with that. They are all positive measures’, disagreed Cinderella, ‘I actually suggested some of them...’
‘But, your highness’, explained Humbert with is eyes wide opened, ‘some ignoble creature spread rumors he was going to abolish court and create taxes for nobles. Since then, the king has received several death threats.’
‘We truly fear that if he materializes his ideas, king Charles will be in great danger’, pointed out Antonio.
‘We also fear for you, and the little prince… the entire royal family…’, added Joseph.
‘But I cannot stop him from implementing these measures, especially if I agree with them’, answered Cinderella.
‘You just need to persuade him that abolishing the court, and inventing taxes for aristocracy won't do’, simplified Humbert, ‘This can cost his life’.
‘Tell him to be reasonable’, blew out Antonio.
‘He cannot act this way at the beginning’, said Albert, ‘He must introduce changes more slowly’.
‘I will do my best to persuade him’, said Cinderella.
"Thank you. You are the only person who can do that, Ma’am,’ said Jules.
The councilors left the room and Cinderella returned to the nursery. Susanna and Louisa, the nanny, were supervising the baby's nap when the queen arrived, sat down and silently watched her son. How could she persuade Charles to cancel laws with which she agreed? If not, she could lose him, and put all the family in jeopardy. How could she protect them? That night, she wasn't still able to address the subject.
On the following afternoon, Cinderella and her parents-in-law were playing with the baby when Susana and Alex reminded that she had an appointment with Zoré, the painter. Cinderella dreamed of having an official portrait painted by Zoré, but Charles was against it. He eventually gave in under one condition.
‘King Charles made quite clear that the portrait must be unfinished’, imposed Alex to the old painter.
‘It is a shame to do that when you have such a beautiful model…’, grumbled Zoré.
‘King Charles was very clear’, emphasized Alex, ‘You are free to do whatever you want, as long as the painting remains incomplete.’
‘I understand his concerns, but the curse is broken. I no longer…’
Patch barked; Papi, Bingo and Chew-Chew stood behind the painter's chair.
‘It doesn't matter,’ insisted Alex, "the portrait must be incomplete, and I will supervise it’.
‘The most beautiful model…’, repeated Zoré while gazing at Cinderella.
‘That’s why Charles can't stand him…’, muttered Alex while looking sideways.
‘I am sure you will make a brilliant work, even if it is unfinished’, encouraged Cinderella.
‘Thank you, your highness. Please, could you show one of your glass shoes?’, asked the painter.
Cinderella smiled and pushed her dress a little to reveal her right foot wearing a glass shoe, while Alex sat down in an armchair behind Zoré.
‘It is very annoying to be watched like this,’ mumbled the painter, ‘Yet I understand the king. He will not easily forget the shock when he saw me painting your portrait. On that day I clearly saw how you loved each other.’
‘Thank you,’ Cinderella blushed.
When Charles finished his work session, he went straight to the nursery, where he found the baby crawling around his grandparents, Hans and Louisa.
‘Can you see, Charles?’, laughed king Lewis.
Charles smiled and kneeled. The baby immediately started laughing and run to his father. When the prince reached him, Charles lifted him in his arms.
‘Let's see mommy?’, asked Charles.
‘Ba ba’, babbled the prince, making everyone laugh.
‘We will check if everything is fine with Cinderella,’ said Charles.
‘Be careful with that painter,’ warned queen Caroline, ‘I don't trust him.’
‘Don't worry, mother.’
Charles walked through the galleries and went down the main stairs proudly carrying his baby, who attracted the attention of all servants.
‘I just can't wait to teach you fencing,’ said Charles while the baby smiled at him and agitated his arms.
When Charles and the baby arrived in the room destined for portraits, his former private living room, Charles knocked and entered.
‘Charles!’, exclaimed Cinderella.
‘Cinderella… are you all right?’, he stood by her side.
‘Oh, yes, darling. I'm fine. Don't worry.’
‘I can't believe you interrupted State affairs to supervise a portrait, your highness’, joked Zoré.
‘And I can't believe you take so much time to make an unfinished painting’, replied Charles.
‘Charles, please…’, asked Cinderella.
‘You know, your majesty, I can easily waive your payment, and paint the queen as I wish’, threatened the painter.
Patch barked again.
‘Calm down,’ Charles moved next to Alex to see the painting, ‘I like it. Somehow sketches are more interesting than completed works.’
‘Yes, I like it, too’, agreed Alex.
‘May I see it? And I want my baby, too,’ asked Cinderella.
‘Yes, we can end now…,’ sighed the painter.
Charles gave the baby to Cinderella, and she loved the painting. Zoré smiled whilst bowing his head. He kissed Cinderella's hand, made a bow before Charles, and left the room accompanied by Alex.
‘You should have let him end it. The curse is broken’, said Cinderella.
‘We never know…,’ replied Charles.
They sat together with the baby on the divan where Cinderella was posing. Charles put his left arm around Cinderella, and she leaned over his chest. They were about to kiss when the baby hit Charles' cheek.
‘Ah, you little devil!’, growled Charles while Cinderella and the baby laughed.
‘Charles…’, introduced Cinderella when the baby got quieter.
‘I… I want to protect you, too.’
‘You are always protecting me, so you must understand that I want to do the same for you,’ evolved Cinderella, ‘Why didn't you tell me you have received death threats?’
‘How do you know that? Alex is going to…’
‘It was not Alex… The councilors…’, interrupted Cinderella.
‘Why the hell did they talk to you in my back?’, frowned Charles.
‘Well, you're my husband. I think you should have told me in first place’, she attacked, then calmed down, ‘And it seems you don't listen to them…’
‘It’s not easy to work with people with whom you don't identify at all. They are too conservative, but I won't find better advisors… they are experienced and my father's friends… yet I won't let them rule for me,’ stated Charles.
‘They only fear if you move forward with the most extreme measures. Do you really need to abolish court and to tax aristocrats? They are influent people and can cause us trouble…’, advised Cinderella.
Charles stood up and approached a window. After a long pause, he explained.
When I met you, I was having a hard time to accept monarchy and my future duties as king. I only came to terms with it when I realized I had the power to fight social inequalities. It is unfair and impossible to improve the less fortunate people's lives without taxing nobles and abolishing the court. Aristocrats should understand that everyone must cooperate according to one's possibilities to balance society, and the court is just a net of shallow and corrupted people alienated from society. Eventually this must end.'
‘I agree, Charles… but… how about your life? And our son?’, asked Cinderella.
‘My life is in danger, since I found out about Zaral's plot,’ he smiled.
‘I spent half my wedding day convinced you were dead. During the baptism, I saw how tense you were, checking all possible threats... Charles, I don't know if we can go on this way… for his sake…’, unburdened Cinderella, ‘We cannot spend our lives in danger.’
‘No, but we cannot let fear affect our actions. I will never rule under fear,’ firmly stated Charles, then he watched silently the landscape, ‘You also know I am not attracted to power in itself…’
‘I know, but would you…’, started Cinderella.
‘Would I what…?’, asked Charles.
‘Never mind…’, she discarded.
‘Tell me’, he asked when the baby started to cry.
‘He’s hungry, Charles. We must leave,’ she stood up.
‘I'll join you in a minute,’ said Charles while watching the window.
Patch, Bingo, Chew-Chew and Papy didn't know if they should follow Cinderella or stay with Charles.
‘Eh…’, hesitated Patch.
‘Go with them’, smiled Charles, ‘I will join you right away.’
Some days later, Charles and Cinderella went to the Opera. In order to avoid a lengthy public exposure, which could be fatal for Charles, they decided to go as incognitos, and use a normal theatre box. Cinderella suggested to the theatre administrators that the public could come disguised that evening, and everyone was thrilled with the idea.
A few minutes before the session, Charles, Cinderella and Alex left their carriage without royal seal. They were all wearing eye masks; Charles and Alex disguised as musketeers, Cinderella as Colombina. Suddenly, Charles glimpsed a little boy in the street in the way of a carriage and run to rescue him. Cinderella, Alex, the boy's nanny and his mother immediately joined them.
‘Oh, how can I ever thank you?’, cried the boy's mother.
‘Please, don't worry now… It was quite a scare, but it turned all right’, calmed Cinderella.
‘He is always disobeying, running away from us… I don't know what to do…’, complained the nanny while shaking off the boy's clothes.
Charles kneeled before the boy.
‘Can you see the size of the carriage wheels and the horses' legs? They will cut you in pieces’, explained the young king, ‘Promise me you will always pay attention to the street.’
‘Yes, sir… Are you a musketeer…?’, wondered the boy.
‘Oh, yes, he is…’, giggled Cinderella.
‘Wow… May I see your face, sir?’
He smiled and took his mask off.
‘Charles, Cinderella, we must go…’, reminded Alex, ‘The opera is about to start. They won't wait for you this time.’
The mother and the nanny jumped with surprise while the couple and Alex ran to the theatre.
‘Ma'am, do you think they are?’
‘Yes, I do…’
Alex lost the track of Charles and Cinderella in the crowd of disguises. Fortunately, he had already shared their tickets with them. The curtains opened at the moment they were about to sit. Never since their marriage had they experienced such privacy in a public event.
They couldn't help but identifying themselves with the characters throughout the plot: Angelina and Ramiro met each other like Cinderella and Charles, Dandini resembled Alex, Alidoro resembled Ian, Don Magnifico was the masculine version of the duchess, Tisbe and Clorinda were Catherine and Jeanne. During the duet "un soave non so che", Charles and Cinderella exchanged amorous glances culminating in a passionate kiss Charles concealed with his musketeer hat.
Charles and Alex, in another corner of the theatre, couldn't stop laughing at a comic scene where prince Ramiro and Dandini run away from the stepsisters. At the finale, Cinderella was almost crying, and Charles hugged her.
‘Charles, let's congratulate the artists!’, suggested Cinderella, ‘Nicholas must be in the orchestra.’
‘I was thinking the exact same thing’, he smiled, while standing up and holding her hand.
Cinderella laughed, excited, and they both left the box. Alex eventually found them and the three sneaked together into the backstage. There, Charles, Cinderella and Alex took off the masks and greeted all the singers and musicians. The artists were delighted to meet Charles and Cinderella and exchanged several questions about life in the castle and ways of improving the theatre's building. Then Laura, Ian and Marcel, who were offered tickets by Nicholas, also joined them in the backstage.
‘This plot sounded pretty familiar to me…’, joked Ian.
‘Do you think so, Alidoro?’, joked Cinderella.
‘I found Dandini was the best’, grabbed Alex.
They all laughed. Charles spent some more time talking to the Opera director, while Cinderella chatted with the leading singer.
‘I imagine how wonderful your life must be in castle, your highness,’ wondered the singer.
‘Well, I have never been happier in my life, but you always have someone, or something blocking your happiness and your ideals,’ complained Cinderella, then she whispered, ‘And the king can be very stubborn sometimes…’
The singer laughed.
‘I see. There is no such thing as easy happy endings and a perfect prince charming. Hopefully love surpasses everything.’
‘Yes, love and kindness compensate everything’, smiled Cinderella.
In the end, Nicholas and Laura invited Charles, Cinderella, Alex, Ian and Marcel to have tea at their home. It was an unforgettable evening.
That month Charles received a letter informing he had inherited a huge fortune from a distant royal relative. Charles remade the kingdom's budget including that sum, and concluded it was enough to lighten lower classes burdens without harassing nobility for some years. Cinderella was very relieved, and the couple finally enjoyed quiet days. There were no hints of conspiracy, and the death threats ceased. Everything was going fine until one day, weeks before the prince first birthday.
Charles was working in his office when a valet interrupted him.
‘Your highness, the Marquis of Boscany wishes to see you urgently.’
‘It's impossible, David. I am really busy right now, and this wasn't scheduled’, answered Charles focused on the text he was writing.
‘He says it is a matter of life and death, sire,’ tried the valet.
‘Hmm… Send him in here, then,’ reconsidered Charles, ‘And call Alex, please.’
‘Yes, sire. The Marquis of Boscany’, announced David.
‘Your majesty!’, the marquis run to Charles, kneeled before him and kissed his hand.
‘Please, sir, stand up’, replied Charles, ‘I am not sacred.’
‘I cannot find words to express my gratitude’, said the marquis.
‘For what?’, Charles was quite puzzled.
‘Your majesty saved my son's life,’ answered the marquis.
‘Near the opera house’, specified the marquis.
‘Oh! Now I remember! I suppose you would do the exact same thing for me. Don't take it to serious.’
‘The problem, Sire, is that I would probably do the opposite until that day.’
‘What do mean?’, frowned Charles.
‘Sire, please, you must take care. You are in great danger’, warned the marquis.
‘I am aware of that. But, honestly, I don't understand why this keeps going on’, Charles started walking back and forth in the room.
‘At first, we were afraid of your ideas, Sire. We truly found them radical and many people were persuaded.’
‘By whom?’, inquired Charles.
‘I cannot tell, Sire’.
‘You must!’, commanded Charles.
‘As I was saying, at first, we were afraid of your laws, but many of us changed our minds recently. The ones that tried to support you were found dead.’
‘Who are they?’
‘I cannot tell, Sire. I beg you, arrest me. I want to be punished for the crimes I was about to commit.’
‘No. You came here to ask for protection. You might also be impelled by regret and gratefulness, but, in that case, you would have come right after the afternoon I saved your son, am I wrong?’
‘Tell me who is behind this!’, yelled Charles grabbing the marquis by the neck.
‘I cannot, Sire...! Are you going to torture me?’
‘I would never do that’, stated Charles while calming down, ‘My guards will escort you into your house and you will be surveilled. Everyone that enters your palace must be supervised.’
‘Oh, Sire! Thank you! Thank you!’
‘Wait in that room with my valet while I speak to my page.’
Three days later, the Marquis was found dead in his house. No one had entered or left the building. Alex and a group of guards tried hopelessly to investigate the crime.
‘There is something rotten in the State of Denmark...’, quoted Alex in Charles' office.
Charles approached the window to watch Cinderella and the little prince playing in the garden. The baby picked a daisy and crawled. Once he reached Cinderella, he offered the flower, and said "Mama" for the first time.