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Cinderella Monogatari - The Sequel (Season 2)

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'May I repeat?', asked Marcel, 'It was so delicious...'

'Of course!', smiled Jeanne, 'Help yourself'.

Whilst watching Marcel devouring the soup, Jeanne looked at Alex, in the opposite seat. He smiled at her and looked down, absorptive. Alex had now grown a slight beard that made him look like the classical depictions of Jesus.

They were living in a modest cottage in the outskirts of the city. On that evening they put two padlocks on the door and closed almost all the curtains.

There were six at the table often speaking in a low voice: Ian, the fortune teller, Marcel, the actor, Nicholas, the violinist, Alex and Jeanne, who was giving soup to their baby girl on her lap.

'So, Nicholas, tell us about your permanent job at the orchestra', encouraged Ian.

'It's great...', humbly replied Nicholas, while looking down, affected by Marcel's hunger that reminded him of his past.

'You totally deserved it, after so much trouble', smiled Ian.

Nicholas smiled and took a sip of water. Then he turned to Marcel.

'You know, Marcel... Maybe you could apply to the Royal Theater', suggested Nicholas.

'I'm just a lousy actor', replied Marcel with the mouth full, 'I could never perform those highly sophisticated plays'.

'Don't be so harsh on yourself', criticized Ian.

'Everything is possible with hard work', encouraged Nicholas.

'I don't know... I think I'm not suited for that... I would rather be a clown than a fancy actor', discarded Marcel, 'If I worked there, I would be under the king's patronage and control. I don't want anything from "him"'.

'Unfortunately, actors and musicians don't have other chances to settle down here...', said Nicholas.

'You have a family. You need to settle down', smiled Marcel while eating a piece of bread, 'I'm fine like this. I don't want to be controlled. Besides, if I do enter the Royal Theater, they will certainly confuse me with Charles and try to kill me, as usual.'

Everybody laughed. When they composed themselves, Nicholas sighed, and Alex turned to him.

'From now on, you and Laura must be extremely careful to hide your friendship with Charles and Cinderella', advised Alex in a low voice.

'Rudolph pretends to worship them, but that's all fake', said Jeanne, 'He regularly sends guards to my parents' house, as a "security measure", because we belong to the royal family.'

'He wants to spy on you', said Ian.

Jeanne nodded yes.

'That's why Alex and I must be extra cautious', she looked down.

'There are regular inspections at the orchestra... Last week two colleagues were arrested', informed Nicholas, 'That's why there have never been so many vacancies...'

'Why were they arrested?', asked Jeanne.

'We are forbidden to ask', said Nicholas.

Jeanne looked worriedly at Alex and they all plunged into silence until Ian broke the ice.

'You have no idea of how many people come to my tent asking if Charles, Cinderella and the prince are alive... if they will return... They come from all over the kingdom'.

Marcel looked at Ian. Then Nicolas, Ian and Marcel looked at Alex, who was very serious.

'I obviously reply that no, that they're not alive...', continued Ian, 'The profound disappointment in their faces...'

Alex closed his eyes for a moment and kept eating.

'Will they, Alex...?', asked Marcel.

Alex frowned and cleaned his mouth with a napkin.

'When Charles was king, no one stood up for him. Now everybody wants the knight in the shining armor back', criticized Alex.

'But he was cherished by the people', countered Ian, 'I'm sure that if they knew he was in danger...'

'The laws to ban child labor, the court and slavery were starting to make him unpopular', explained Alex.

'Many poor families still depend on child labor...', lamented Jeanne.

'But he was obviously going to compensate them somehow...', said Marcel, 'I seriously doubt they're doing fine now. Everyone is starving thanks to these taxes.'

'Charles decreased poor families and small traders' taxes, but most of the aristocrats refused to cooperate to make that possible', told Alex, 'He had to manage all that by himself'.

'And now nobles still don't pay a single penny', protested Marcel.

After careful thought, Nicholas added.

'Maybe society wasn't ready to change so suddenly. Perhaps we shouldn't blame the people for that...'

'They regret it now. I tell you', assured Ian, 'And if Charles knew what is going on...'

'It's not fair to ask him that now', interrupted Alex, 'He might help us to fight Rudolph, but I seriously doubt he wants to return as a king...', then he added in a low voice, 'Besides, they're about to have a baby soon'.

'Another baby?', asked Marcel.

'Yes', confirmed Alex while looking tenderly at his daughter eating soup, 'And a child always complicates everything'.

Nicholas nodded yes.

'In the meantime, Rudolph hasn't done anything to fix that', joked Ian.

'Imagine if Rudolph had a magic mirror revealing that C & C were alive and having more children in the forest of the seven dwarfs', joked Marcel.

'Charles would easily get caught by a poisoned apple', joked Ian, making everyone laugh.

'Indeed', agreed Alex while composing himself, 'I miss them...', he sighed.

They agreed and looked down, except Ian. He watched the moon showing up amid the curtains and smiled.

It was a mild afternoon in late September. Cinderella was sitting in an armchair in the living room and knitting a white tiny jacket. She was dressed in light green and covered herself with a white blanket. Two years and a half had passed since Mimi's birth. Frances had just entered first grade. She was now 6, Daniel, 9, and Charles, 27. Cinderella was about to turn 26 and had a huge belly bump.

Patch, Bingo, Papy and Chouchou were quiet at her feet. From there, Cinderella and the animals could listen to Mimi, jumping, running and laughing with Charles, who was playing the role of an evil pirate. When Cinderella heard the little toddler falling and crying, she was about to stand up, but Charles quickly cheered Mimi up. Cinderella sighed of relief and peacefully resumed knitting. Then Mimi suddenly entered the living room and jumped to her armchair. The little girl had a round face with very rosy cheeks, light blue eyes and brown hair of a darker shade than Daniel's but lighter than Charles'.

'Watch out!', exclaimed Cinderella whilst raising the needle, 'Mimi, this is dangerous. You can get hurt'.

Mimi giggled and raised her arm to catch the needle.

'Gimmy, gimmy!', insisted Mimi.

Cinderella quickly reached a shelf, where she placed the jacket with the needle.

'Oh...', protested Mimi.

Cinderella sat down and sat Mimi next to her. Then Mimi caressed the belly bump, whilst singing very loudly and out of tune.


'Shhhh... gently, dear... You'll scare the baby like this...', warned Cinderella while trying not to laugh.

'This baby is boring', complained Mimi while leaving the armchair, 'I prefer my baby'.

Mimi ran away and Patch followed her.

'Darling, where are you? Will you please follow Mimi?', asked Cinderella.

'I'm trying. She ran away from me', replied Charles' voice, 'Aha! Gotcha!'

Mimi screamed and giggled nonstop.

'If you keep playing the evil pirate, she will obviously run away from you', sighed Cinderella.

Cinderella took the jacket and the needle and sat down, pensive. Daniel was a physical copy of Charles and naughty like the father. He had her eyes, though. Frances was a mix of Cinderella and her mother with Charles' eyes. Mimi was all Charles – dark hair, light blue eyes, naughty and restless. Together, they were very agitated.

'I carry them for nine months and they all look like the father...', complained Cinderella.

Then she caressed the belly bump and smiled.

'Please, could you be more like me, my love?', asked Cinderella.

At that moment, the baby kicked hard, and she beamed with joy.

'Oh! You will look like me!', she exclaimed, 'I just can't wait to hold you and kiss you, and your tiny feet...', she said while holding the baby's white shoes.

Mimi returned to the living room and Cinderella immediately hid the needle and the jacket. The toddler sat down in the other armchair and put her baby doll on her lap. Then Charles arrived and watched Mimi abruptly rocking the doll.

'ROCK-A-BYE-BABY...', Mimi shouted, making Charles and Cinderella giggle.

'I seriously doubt she will fall asleep like that, Mimi...', smiled Charles while sitting down in the armchair and putting her on his lap.

Mimi sneered at him and continued to shout, but Cinderella insisted that loud noises made the doll sad. The toddler thought about that for a moment. Then she started to move and slide around Charles in the armchair.

'This might be some kind of a ritual...', wondered Charles while looking sideways.

Cinderella laughed and resumed knitting.

'Darling, what about Emily?', asked Cinderella.

'I've thought about it. Emily sounds nice, but it means 'rival'…', replied Charles, 'What about Margaret, instead?'

'It's beautiful, but Snow White would like to name their next daughter Margaret...', told Cinderella.

'Too late. I like it, you like it. They should have made a baby first', joked Charles, making Cinderella burst into laughter.

'You selfish...'

'Why? They can't own a name', mocked Charles.

'I know, but that could make things a bit confusing when our kids play together'.

'It's already chaotic! The names wouldn't make any difference. We will have Margaret I, and they will have Margaret II. That's quite royal, if you think about it', smiled Charles.

Cinderella rolled her eyes and cut the thread.

'And what about David?', asked Cinderella.

'A king in the Bible', promptly replied Charles.

'Oh, the "no-kings'-names" rule' again...', complained Cinderella, 'Thanks to your 'rule', we're running out of the most beautiful names... And what about Michael?', tried Cinderella.

'Michael is nice...', wondered Charles.

'Oh, wait! What about Philip?', tried Cinderella, 'I like Philip'.

'Seriously!? You like Philip...?', muttered Charles while looking sideways.

'Yes, it's a beautiful name', smiled Cinderella, 'Don't you think?'

Charles frowned and Mimi imitated him.

'What about Isabelle?', tried Charles.

'It's a beautiful name too', smiled Cinderella with her eyes closed.

Charles sighed and Mimi imitated him. Then he made grimaces to make the toddler laugh.

'What's the point with Philip?', asked Cinderella, 'The kings in Spain?'

'Nothing, honey... I just find amusing that you suggested Bladenburg's first name…', smiled Charles with the hand behind his neck.

Cinderella laughed.

'I didn't even remember he was Philip', she said while composing herself, 'In that case, we're obviously choosing another name'.

'No, don't worry. I'm totally fine with it', assured Charles.

'Oh, of course you are...', teased Cinderella.

'It would be worse if the child looked like Philip...', muttered Charles.

Cinderella threw the baby jacket at Charles' face. Mimi pointed at Charles' face and laughed nonstop. Then Cinderella, the animals and Charles laughed as well.

Unlike Daniel and Frances, Mimi didn't fall asleep at the sound of philosophical books and old treaties. Charles and Cinderella tried poetry, long epic narratives, but nothing seem to work with her. One day, she was eating in the kitchen while Cinderella was cooking and reading a recipe aloud. When Cinderella put the pie in the stove, she noticed that Mimi had fallen asleep on the table. From that day on, the parents read recipes or Cinderella cooked to make her nap.

'In a large bowl, beat the cream to very soft peaks. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, and vanilla extract into the cream and beat until soft peaks return. Do not over beat', read Charles in a low voice then he muttered while glancing sideways, 'This is so ridiculous…'

'This is so good…', giggled Cinderella, 'Go on!'

'Spread whipped cream in center of pie, leaving a one-inch border of visible blueberry filling. Top with reserved blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries in center of pie', finished Charles.

Mimi was sleeping soundly in her bed and Cinderella snuggled her up. Then the mother rested in their bedroom, while Charles left to pick up Daniel and Frances at school. Charles' fencing lessons usually started in early October. That year the count of Bartak decided that he could start some weeks later, given the baby's due date. Thus Charles was always at home those days.

When Charles, Daniel and Frances arrived, the children climbed the stairs and ran to the parents' bedroom. Cinderella was sitting down in an armchair and had just woke up.

'Mommy, mommy!', Frances ran to Cinderella and hugged her.

The little girl had now longer blond straight hair with wavy tips. She was wearing a light pink dress, a light blue coat, blue shoes, a blue lace by the waist and a blue ribbon in her hair. Daniel was just behind her, wearing dark blue culottes, a light blue shirt, brown shoes and a turquoise vest he took off and hid behind his back. While Frances caressed the belly bump and Cinderella discovered Daniel's stained vest, Charles arrived with Mimi and her baby doll.

The children sat on the floor. Daniel took his tiny red knight wooden toy from his pocket and started to play with it. Frances put Mimi on her lap and asked her how her baby was. Mimi laughed and violently threw the doll on the ground. Charles and Cinderella widened their eyes, Daniel laughed, and Frances put her head on her hands.

'She is definitely not going to hold the baby...', said Cinderella.

'From whom did she inherited such violence?', wondered Charles.

Cinderella glanced sideways, whilst Frances left and returned with her red headed doll Lulu. She made Lulu carry and comfort Mimi's doll and put them on her lap.

'See? That's how we deal with babies. We must be gentle', explained Frances, 'They are very fragile'.

Mimi thought for a while and sat next to Frances.

'Fanny…', Mimi looked up at Frances.

Frances sighed and Daniel giggled. Then he started to tease them with the red knight and the animals joined the play.

'What did you learn today?', asked Cinderella smiling.

'I learned the story of king Arthur and more words starting with A and B', answered Frances.

'I don't like the square root', complained Daniel, 'I want to go back to first grade'.

Charles and Cinderella laughed.

'King Arthur was cool... He had a magic sword', recalled Daniel while rubbing his chin, 'Let's play king Arthur outside!'

'Yay!', exclaimed Frances.

Daniel and Frances stood up. They were about to leave the parents' bedroom, when Mimi joined them.

'Wait for me!', asked the toddler.

'Be careful with Mimi', reminded Cinderella.

Daniel and Frances looked at each other and pondered for a while.

'She can be a dragon or some kind of monster...', suggested Daniel.

Frances agreed and held Mimi's hand.

'Patch, you will be Merlin. I will be the Lady of the Lake and the beautiful queen Guinevere', smiled Frances with her eyes closed.

'Yeah... beautiful... right...', giggled Daniel.

Frances frowned and ran after him.

'Frances, don't run with Mimi', warned Cinderella, when they left.

'Yes, Mommy', replied Frances' voice.

Charles and Cinderella giggled and watched the toys in the floor.

'Business as usual...', smiled Cinderella.

Then she stood up and felt a kick.

'Oh, such a hard kick', she smiled with her eyes closed, 'You just can't wait to go out'.

Charles smiled. He hugged Cinderella from behind and put his right hand on her belly bump.

'You refuse to admit, but this time you were disappointed', recalled Cinderella.

'I was worried... I could never be disappointed', denied Charles, 'You know our children can become targets, and Mimi is still so time consuming... We must be more careful from now on'.

'We have been careful. We could have five or six children by now', smiled Cinderella.

Charles widened his eyes. He imagined Daniel and Frances arguing, Mimi laughing and throwing dolls on the ground, a baby crawling and screaming, and a newborn crying in the crib. Cinderella was watching Charles petrified look and giggling.

'We definitely need to be more careful...', concluded Charles.

Cinderella nodded yes. They listened to the children playing in the garden. Then Cinderella moved to the balcony and Charles followed her. The forest was now painted in brown, red, yellow and green. There were some autumn leaves left in the garden. Most of them were collected by Frances, who used them in paintings.

'They would be much quieter if they were more like me...', imagined Cinderella with a witty smile, 'It would make things a bit easier'.

Charles laughed.

'You are not as quiet as you think...', teased Charles.

'I was the most peaceful baby and child. You can ask Paulette and my father', assured Cinderella.

'You're not so peaceful when you are with me...', countered Charles while gazing at her, 'And that obviously has impact on them'.

Cinderella squinted her eyes.

'That's because you make me...'

She was trying to find the right word, but his deep, teasing gaze was distracting her.

'What?', teased Charles.

Cinderella squeaked, making Charles burst into laughter. She laughed as well, and he put his right hand on her waist. They were leaning to kiss, when they heard a metallic sound. Cinderella glanced at the garden and frowned.

'Darling, isn't that your sword?'

'What?', exclaimed Charles while leaning in the balcony, 'Hey! Daniel, Frances, stop it right there!'

He immediately went down the stairs and ran to the garden, whilst Cinderella followed him slowly. Charles found Daniel pulling out the sword from an improvised heap of earth. The boy raised it in the air, whilst Frances and Mimi clapped. Then he thrusted it back in the earth and was about to pull it out again when Charles arrived. Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Papy looked worried at Charles.

'We tried to stop them... but...', apologized Patch.

'What the hell are you doing?', frowned Charles.

'It's Excalibur, Dad! I thought you knew the story...', replied Daniel.

'Of course I know the story!', growled Charles.

Charles pulled out the sword and examined how dirty and damaged it was.

'You have three wooden swords. Why did you have to use mine?'

Cinderella arrived and looked at the sword.

'Daddy's sword is too dangerous for you', reminded Cinderella.

'And expensive', added Charles.

'What is the rule, children?', reminded Cinderella.

'Never touch, nor use Daddy's sword...', answered Frances looking down.

'Sorry, Dad…', apologized Daniel.

'And Daddy should also hide his sword from you', muttered Cinderella while glancing sideways at Charles.

'Thanks for the support...', frowned Charles, 'You know I always put it in the cabinet in the hall and close it with a key. I might let it open somehow...', he muttered.

'But we are not fencing. This isn't dangerous', protested Daniel, 'It's more fun with a real sword.'

'This doesn't even look like king Arthur's sword. They were thicker back then', rectified Charles.

'One day the dwarfs told me, Daniel and Frances that Richard pulled a sword out of the stone to fight the daemon that captured Snow White's soul. Do you remember?', recalled Cinderella.

'Oh, yes! The magic sword!', exclaimed Daniel.

'Yes, Richard also told me that', recalled Charles.

'Can we see it?', asked Daniel and Frances.

'It is in the castle, I suppose', replied Charles.

'Could Richard bring the sword, Dad?', asked Daniel.

'That sword is too heavy and precious to carry around, but we can ask him…', said Charles.

'That would be awesome…', smiled Daniel.

'Do you know what would be awesome?', asked Charles.

'What?', asked Daniel.

'Offering your father a brand new sword...', suggested Charles.

'I would like to, but your birthday was almost two months ago...', smiled Daniel.

'You little...', growled Charles.

Daniel laughed and ran away. Charles lay down the sword in the ground and ran after him. Then Frances, Mimi and Patch ran after them as well. Cinderella laughed and the baby kicked hard. She sat on a bench with some leaves she caught and observed in her hand. The young mother admired its complex lines and watched Charles, the animals and the children playing, as the twilight gradually painted them darker.

The family usually had supper in the kitchen, which was decorated in brown, and ochre tones. Mimi sat on a taller chair with a table especially constructed for her by Woody, the dwarf, while Daniel and Frances sat side-by-side. Charles was standing up serving Cinderella's dinner when Frances turned to the parents.

'Mommy, Daddy, have you already chosen the name of the baby?'

'Well... Not yet... Perhaps Michael...', replied Cinderella.

'Or Margaret...', added Charles.

'What about Arthur?', asked Frances.

'Arthur is nice...', agreed Daniel.

Charles widened his eyes.

'I like it...', smiled Cinderella with her eyes closed.

'Arthur totally breaks the "rule"...', Charles whispered into Cinderella's ear.

'I know, but it's so beautiful...', whispered Cinderella.

'I like it too...', admitted Charles.

'You know it's not polite to tell secrets in front of other people', scolded Frances.

Charles and Cinderella giggled.

'You're totally right, Frances', smiled Charles with his right hand behind the neck.

'Arthur is a nice name, but we prefer Michael, anyway', concluded Cinderella.

'I prefer Arthur', said Daniel.

'Me too. And what about you, Mimi?', asked Frances.

Mimi looked puzzled. Her bib and the corners of her mouth were all stained with soup. In the meantime, Charles sat on his seat, opposite to Cinderella.

'Mimi, say Arthur', asked Daniel.

'Arthur...', replied the toddler.

'Three against two', grinned Daniel.

'Mimi's vote was manipulated', protested Charles with his arms crossed, 'That's not valid'.

'It doesn't matter. Deep down, I know you like Arthur', proudly said Frances.

'Daddy and I will think about it later...', appeased Cinderella.

'You have already chosen Mimi's name. Now you can choose when you have your own children', sentenced Charles.

Daniel and Frances looked at each other. Then they examined the parents, while they were eating soup.

'What do we have to do to have children?', asked Daniel very seriously.

Charles almost choked. Cinderella blushed and covered her mouth with her hand. Then he laughed and she giggled.

'Why are you laughing?', frowned Daniel.

Cinderella composed herself, but Charles kept laughing.

'Well… I've already told you. The storks…', smiled Cinderella with her eyes closed.

'I don't believe that anymore…', interrupted Daniel.

'Well, in first place, brothers and sisters must not have babies', said Charles very straightforwardly.

'Thank God!', exclaimed Daniel and Frances.

'Now tell us more', asked Frances.

Cinderella widened her eyes in panic, fearing he was going to reveal everything.

'Only adults and older teens can do it', continued Charles.

'Yes, and…?', asked Daniel.

Cinderella covered her eyes with her hands.

'And that's it!', smiled Charles, making Cinderella sigh of relief.

'You didn't tell us anything…', complained Daniel.

'That's not fair…', protested Frances.

'That's all you need to know for now', smiled Charles before eating a spoon of soup.

'Oh, come on...', insisted Daniel.

'Well... if you insist...', started Charles.

Cinderella widened her eyes again. She stared at Charles and shook her head.

'When parents are happy and in love, Daddies give Mommies a baby seed. Then Mommies keep the seed in the tummy, where it grows for nine months,' invented Charles with a smile and his eyes closed, as Cinderella gradually calmed down.

The children gave Charles and Cinderella a suspicious look.

'Still, I want more details', Daniel wrinkled his nose.

'That's all for now', smiled Charles.

Daniel frowned with his arms crossed, 'We'll ask that at school'.

'Yay!', exclaimed Frances.

'Oh no…', sighed Cinderella, making Charles laugh.

The school canteen was a big round room with large windows facing the garden. The tables were round, set with white cloth and yellow daisies at the center. Thanks to Snow White, the canteen offered complete meals to the poorer students, while the others, like Daniel and Frances, brought their meals from home. Although there were some other girls and boys from the first grade after 1 pm., Frances and Johanna were usually the last ones to finish supper. On that day, Daniel and his best friend Peter dropped by their table.

'Always the same…', teased Peter.

Frances and Johanna frowned.

'Do you want the flying spoon?', teased Daniel, while grabbing Frances spoon.

Frances stuck out her tongue, grabbed the fork, and put all the remaining food in her mouth.

'Don't you have better things to do?', asked Johanna while finishing her meal.

'We just came to check if our little sisters were alright', smiled Peter, 'You should be grateful'.

'Daniel, have you already asked the question?', asked Frances when she finished.

'What question?', wondered Daniel.

'You're so incompetent…', sighed Frances.

'Oh, about the babies…? I'll ask that after lunch', smiled Daniel, 'Now, if you excuse us, we have some important matters to attend to'.

Daniel and Peter bowed pretentiously and left.

'They're up to something…', suspected Johanna.

Frances squinted her eyes and nodded yes.

After playing a game with their 1st grade friends, Frances and Johanna looked for Daniel and Peter in the large school garden. In a distant corner in the border between the forest and the school premises, the girls found their brothers playing in a tree house with Marianne, Leonard and Lucy. They were marveled and started to climb the tree, but Daniel and Peter prevented them from doing it, claiming they were too young for that, they could fall and hurt badly. Marianne and Lucy felt sorry for the girls. They tried to persuade the brothers and volunteered to help them climbing, but Daniel and Peter declined.

Johanna insulted and cursed Peter, whilst Frances left to fetch a rope to help them climb. When she arrived with the rope, the school bell rang. As Daniel descended from the tree, he blamed Frances and Johanna for spoiling their fun and threatened them with a tickle attack. The sisters stuck out their tongues and ran away screaming, while the brothers ran after them.

In the afternoon, Daniel's teacher explained a new method for solving math problems. She was a strong, confident woman dressed in dark brown who seemed stern to command respect. Deep down, she was kind and generous.

'Do you have any doubts?', asked the teacher.

Frederic, Bladenburg's son, moaned and watched the window. Marianne smiled, whereas Lucy, in the seat next to her, seemed a bit worried. Leonard was rereading his notes, whilst the colleague next to him, Jimmy, a tiny and thin boy, was almost asleep. Peter was scratching his hair and doing a trick with his pencil. Daniel read the notes once and seemed pretty confident. He raised his hand, anyway.

'I have a doubt', said Daniel.

'Yes, Daniel', smiled the teacher.

'How do parents make babies?', asked the boy, making all his colleagues laugh.

The teacher frowned and squirmed. After all, Daniel was just playing the class clown again.

In the floor below, Frances' teacher, a shy nun dressed in light gray, was asking to say and spell nouns starting with the letter B.

'Baby!', exclaimed Frances, 'B-A-B-Y'.

'Very well, Frances,' smiled the teacher.

'By the way, how do parents make babies?', asked the girl.

The teacher blushed. After careful thought and children's remarks about her red face, she replied.

'Well dear… Eh… It's the storks… When Mama and Papa want to have a baby, they ask the storks and they deliver it nine months later', explained the teacher.

'Can adults speak to storks?', asked Johanna while frowning.

'My brother and I don't believe that story. You're lying!', replied Frances with her arms crossed.

When Charles arrived at school, he was having a hard time looking for Daniel and Frances. Then he found Marianne looking down and Johanna sobbing.

'What's the matter with you two?', comforted Charles while kneeling.

Johanna hugged Charles and Marianne explained Daniel and Frances were grounded.

'I see… Where is your mother, Johanna?', asked Charles.

'She is with Peter. He's grounded too, because he didn't do the homework for the fifth time…', sighed Marianne.

Charles smiled and stood up.

'I'll be right back'.

Charles talked to Frances' teacher and went to the small room where she was waiting. The little girl was sat down in a chair with her head facing her knees. When she saw Charles, she ran to him and burst into tears. He raised her in his arms and let her cry until she calmed down.

'I didn't mean to…', she sobbed.

'I know you didn't… but when you say someone is lying it can be very offensive. One must never say that to a teacher', explained Charles.

Frances nodded yes and leaned her head on Charles' shoulder.

'And your mother complains you look all like me…', Charles muttered, trying not to laugh.

Then Charles talked to Daniel's teacher and lectured the son on being the class clown. Daniel quickly promised to participate more seriously in class and moved on. He seemed more worried with Peter in the next room. His mother, Judith, was scolding loudly, and the boy started to cry.

On their way back home in the carriage, Daniel watched the window with his arms crossed.

'Seriously I don't understand what is so upsetting about the babies' question. I'm always the class clown', suspected Daniel.

'You made a question from a completely different topic. That can be very annoying when a teacher is explaining something', said Charles.

'I thought we could learn everything in school…', said Frances.

'You should learn many things, indeed', agreed Charles.

'So why won't they teach us that?', asked Daniel.

A fox with her cubs crossed the road and Charles' stopped the carriage. He checked if the kids were alright and continued.

'You didn't learn the square foot in first grade, did you, Daniel?', recalled Charles.

'If I did, I would have immediately run away', replied Daniel.

Charles tried not to laugh.

'Well, we cannot learn everything at the same time. It depends on our age. That's why there are different grades', explained Charles.

Daniel and Frances listened attentively while watching the forest through the window.

'I promise that when the right moment comes, I'll tell you that', promised the father.

'Is it funnier than fencing?', asked Daniel.

Charles widened his eyes. Then he smiled.

'Have you seen the color of the trees? They're getting prettier each day…', remarked Charles.

'Yes, Daddy! This makes me want to paint them…', agreed Frances while standing up and putting her hands on the window.

'Don't change the subject!', frowned Daniel, making Charles giggle.

That evening Cinderella was so tired she fell asleep an hour after dinner. Charles snuggled up the children and read in his office. Around eleven o'clock Cinderella woke up and noticed the intense moonlight. She covered herself with a wool blanket and watched the full moon in the balcony. It was a mild autumn night. There was not a single cloud concealing the huge yellow moon that reminded her of the last New Year's Eve.

Daniel was still 8, and Frances had just turned 6. In the morning, the family played in the snow. In the afternoon, Daniel and Frances helped Charles and Cinderella arranging and cleaning the house for the New Year's Eve. That year they had invited the dwarfs, Jack and Samson to dinner and sleep over. Samson and Paulette arrived earlier. Cinderella and Paulette took charge of the meal, whilst Charles took care of Mimi, and Samson helped Daniel and Frances opening and setting the table in the dining room. When everything was ready, Daniel was playing with Charles and Samson, Paulette was playing with Mimi and the animals, and Frances couldn't take her eyes out of the window, captivated by the full yellow moon. Cinderella dressed a scarf, a warm coat, dressed Frances and they watched it together in the garden.

'It looks like the sun in the dark...', remarked Frances.

Cinderella hugged Frances from behind and kissed her head, making Frances giggle.

'And it's not cold, Mommy!', exclaimed the girl.

'That's because we are still warm. In a few minutes we'll start to feel cold', said Cinderella.

At that moment, they heard knocking on the door and went back inside.

'Welcome, my friends!', greeted Charles and Cinderella.

'Happy New Year!', exclaimed Daniel and Frances while Mimi clapped and waved at the dwarfs.

Cinderella was wearing a turtleneck dress with a red top, white long sleeves and a white skirt. Her shortest hair was tied with a red locket and she let the longest part out. Charles was wearing a Bordeaux wool sweater, Prussian blue culottes and leather shoes. Daniel was wearing a Prussian blue sweater, cream culottes and leather shoes. Frances wore a white and baby blue dress with long sleeves, a white collar and lace by the waist, white socks and blue shoes. She let her blond hair out with a baby blue ribbon with a lace. Mimi wore a white dress with baby blue embroidery and had a tiny white lace in her short, brown hair.

'Happy New Year!', exclaimed the dwarfs, except Jolly, who was looking down.

'Thank you very much for having us', smiled Boss with his eyes closed.

'Thank you very much for your presence', smiled Cinderella.

'Please, do come in', encouraged Charles.

As the dwarfs entered and placed their coats, scarfs and hats in the wardrobe in the wall, Daniel and Frances surrounded Jolly.

'Jolly, we're going to have so much fun with the new game parents offered us this Christmas!', exclaimed Daniel while grabbing Jolly's right arm.

'Yes...', replied Jolly without any enthusiasm.

'And Paulette made me a doll's house', told Frances while grabbing Jolly's left arm, 'Come! Let's see it. It's in my room'.

'Yes…', sighed the dwarf.

'What's the matter with you, Jolly? Are you sad?', wondered Frances, while trying to look him in the eyes.

Boss frowned and turned to Jolly.

'Jolly, you're being rude'.

Jolly turned his back on him and ran away to the living room. Charles and Cinderella looked at each other. Boss was red with rage. Chamomile, Woody and Vet were very embarrassed. Gourmet and Goldie shrugged and went to the living room to greet Samson and Paulette.

'He obviously ran away from your doll's house...', joked Daniel with his arms crossed.

'He was not the least interested in the game', frowned Frances.

'What do you think, Mimi?', asked Daniel while holding Mimi's hand.

'Fanny!', Mimi pointed at Frances and giggled.

'It's not Fanny! It's Fran!', growled Frances, while Daniel and Mimi giggled nonstop.

In the meantime, Gourmet volunteered to assist in the kitchen and Boss apologized for Jolly's behavior. Cinderella found Jolly with the head facing the knees hidden behind the dining room table. She held Jolly's hand and persuade him to chat upstairs whilst Charles invited Boss to chat in the office.

'You know, Cind... Susanna...', began Jolly after sitting down in the armchair in Charles and Cinderella's bedroom, 'I always feel sad this time of the year... I would like to spend it with you and Snow White...'

'I see...', Cinderella looked tenderly at him.

'Richard and Snow White invite us every year, but Boss always declines. He says we should never go to the castle, that we could be treated like freaks... It makes me so sad...', told the dwarf, 'I even suggested that Richard and Snow White could spend New Year's Eve with us.'

Cinderella bent down.

'They must spend Christmas with King Conrad and the New Year's Eve in Richard's castle...', smiled Cinderella while caressing Jolly's head, 'They don't have a chance. And Charles and I can't be with them on these occasions. It could arise suspicion...'

Jolly looked down.

'I know exactly how you feel... It's sad, but think that you can be with Richard, Snow White and the children throughout the year', comforted Cinderella.

'Well, yes... but...'

'Since Charles and I moved in here, we haven't seen our parents, family and friends from the Emerald kingdom. The chances to see them again are very scarce...'

'That's sad...', admitted Jolly.

'Yes, but then I remember I'm with Charles, he is safe and sound, and the children are healthy. I thank God every day for that, since he survived', smiled Cinderella.

'For how long haven't you seen your family and friends from your kingdom?', asked Jolly.

'For almost seven years...', replied Cinderella after counting.

'If you return to your kingdom, will we be apart from you that long...?', asked Jolly.

Cinderella and Jolly looked at each other with their eyes wide open.

'May I offer you some wine?', asked Charles.

'No, thank you', smiled Boss.

'I insist', encouraged Charles.

The dwarf eventually accepted. Charles poured wine and offered one glass to Boss. Then he poured for himself.

'Thank you very much', smiled Boss.

Charles smiled and drank a sip of wine.

'I understand the castle can be intimidating, but I know Richard and Snow White would never let anyone treat you like freaks. Besides, you deserve a medal for everything you did for her. King Conrad is looking forward to meet you', said Charles.

'Anyway, Jolly is old enough to stop behaving like a child. He already went to important maturity tests, but keeps making these tantrums', complained Boss.

'May I make a suggestion?', asked Charles.

'Of course', consented Boss.

'What if you let Jolly spend some days or the next New Year's Eve with Snow White? I totally understand that you don't want to go the castle, but maybe you should let Jolly go, if he wants to. We have to let them go sometimes', suggested Charles.

Boss thought for a while.

'They behave like children, because we treated them like children. We must gradually let them be responsible and free', expounded Charles.

'That's not so easy to do... Have you already thought that in ten years Daniel and Frances will probably be engaged or married?', reminded Boss.

Charles widened his eyes and took a huge sip of wine.

When they finished the conversation, Charles led Boss to his and Cinderella's bedroom, hoping that Boss and Jolly could make peace with each other. While he was knocking on the door, the young man and the old dwarf heard sobbing. Then Charles opened the door. Jolly was sitting on Cinderella's lap and they were both crying inconsolably.

'They're just spending quality time', smiled Charles while turning to Boss.

Charles, Cinderella, Boss and Jolly were chatting in the hall upstairs when the children opened the door to Jack. Daniel and Frances made a noise and shouted 'Happy New Year', while Mimi clapped.

'Happy New Year, kids!', exclaimed Jack, 'You must save some energy for midnight!'

The children grinned and Jack smiled. Whilst Daniel and Frances assisted him putting his clothes in the cloakroom, Jack bent down and whispered.

'Did your father also prepared dinner?'

'No!', whispered Daniel.

'We wouldn't let him, even if he wanted to', whispered Frances.

Jack sighed of relief.

'Honestly, I wanted to spend the evening with you, but I didn't want to start the new year sick', joked Jack, making Daniel and Frances giggle.

'I heard that, Jack...', frowned Charles as he, Cinderella, Jolly and Boss went down the stairs.

Jack, Daniel and Frances widened their eyes, whilst Mimi ran to Cinderella.

Gourmet and Chamomile assisted Cinderella and Paulette in the kitchen, whilst everyone else was in the living room. Jolly and Vet played with Frances and the animals. Jack played with Daniel. Charles, whilst carrying Mimi, chatted with Samson, Goldie, Woody and Boss.

Daniel and Frances competed for space around the Christmas tree. Upset with Daniel's monopoly of the tree, Frances asked to play upstairs in the doll's house, but Cinderella denied, saying the dinner was almost ready. In the meantime, Daniel imagined the red knight's adventure in the Christmas tree and wanted to reach the top star, but it was too high for him.

'Do you want a piggyback ride?', volunteered Charles.

Daniel instantly sneered at the father.

'That's for babies! I bet I can reach it with a ladder'.

Daniel left in search of the ladder and Charles sighed. Then he noticed Frances was showing the Christmas tree decorations to Lulu.

'I'm sorry Lulu. The star is too high for me', apologized Frances.

'What's the matter?', asked Charles.

'Lulu wants to touch the star, but we're too small...', explained Frances.

Charles smiled. He asked Jack to take care of Mimi for a moment. Then he lifted Frances in his arms, and she lifted Lulu. After the doll touched the star on the top, Frances hugged Charles' neck and kissed his cheek nonstop.

'I love you, Daddy', smiled Frances with her eyes closed.

Charles kissed Frances' cheek and held her tight.

'Please, stay like this forever...', whispered Charles.

'What did you say?', asked Frances.

'Nothing, sweetie', smiled Charles.

The supper was ready in a few minutes and Charles put more wood in the fireplaces. He was about to close the curtains of the dining room, when Boss tranquilized him. They were protected by the forest colored fog.

The food smelled delicious. Illuminated with two candlesticks, the long table was decorated with red flowers at the center piece on a white cloth with floral embroidery done by Cinderella herself. There were two soup tureens in the corners. As appetizers, Cinderella prepared a pumpkin pie, cheese, butter and vegetable pâtés to spread in roll breads dispersed in tiny baskets. For the main course, there was a meat pie, and an alternative fish pie, salad and boiled vegetables. For dessert, they had nut cake, vanilla pudding and an apple pie. Charles served the drinks, while Paulette served the soup.

There were fifteen at the table. Charles and Cinderella sat opposite to each other at the headboards. At the beginning, Cinderella nurtured Mimi on her lap. Then Charles took care of Mimi to let Cinderella eat in peace. On one side, there were Jolly, next to Cinderella, Frances, Daniel, Jack, Paulette and Samson, next to Charles. On the other, there were Boss, next to Charles, Woody, Goldie, Chamomile, Vet and Gourmet, next to Cinderella. Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Papy ate in the floor next to Cinderella.

'Fanny!', exclaimed Mimi while raising her arms.

Frances sighed and looked sideways at Daniel, who was giggling with his eyes closed.

'Fanny, pass me the bread, please', asked Daniel.

Frances squeaked, took a deep breath and passed the bread.

'Very well, Fanny. Good girl', teased Daniel.

Frances growled, red with rage.

'Daniel...', scolded Charles.

'Daniel, stop bullying your sister!', scolded Cinderella.

'What's the problem with Fanny?', wondered Jack.

'Daniel taught Mimi to call her Fanny...', explained Charles, 'but she hates it'.

'Fanny!', Mimi raised her arms in Frances' direction.

'I think she wants your lap', smiled Cinderella while turning to Frances.

Frances nodded yes and Cinderella put the toddler on her sister's lap.

'Fanny! Fanny! Fanny!', exclaimed Mimi.

Frances sighed.

'Say FRAN or FANFAN', slowly pronounced Frances.

'FANNY!', replied Mimi with a huge smile.

Frances squeaked and Mimi giggled so naughtily that made everyone laugh.

When they finished dinner, the children convinced the adults to play the new board game, which was tidy in the pantry under the stairs. Whilst Daniel and Frances talked nonstop to the guests about their last Christmas, Charles went to the hall to fetch the game. In the meantime, Mimi was captivated by the Christmas tree decorations, especially by the red balls.

'I know exactly what you're thinking...', muttered Cinderella.

Mimi turned to Cinderella and giggled.

'Don't you even think about it...', warned Cinderella.

Mimi approached the tree and grabbed one ball, but Cinderella prevented her to take it to the mouth. Mimi screamed and kicked. She jumped from Cinderella's lap to catch another ball, but the mother was able to catch her again. Mimi started to cry and ran away from Cinderella. Seeing that everyone in the living room failed to catch Mimi, Cinderella ran after her.

In the kitchen there were no signs of Mimi, so she could only be in the hall. The toddler passed through Charles and stopped at the beginning of the stairs. Even if she wanted to climb, it was impossible, due to a wooden protection barrier for babies. She was now looking for a place to hid from Cinderella.

'Why do they always put it behind everything else?', complained Charles while looking for the game in the pantry.

Right after finding and pulling the board game, Charles made a step backwards and Cinderella bumped into him. The board game partly opened, and the couple fell. Mimi pointed at the parents and laughed. Then Jack, Daniel and Frances joined them. Charles and Cinderella sat down. He put his hand behind his head and Cinderella caught the dices in the floor.

'Do you always bump into each other, even at home?', remarked Jack laughing.

Charles and Cinderella looked at each other and laughed.

The board game was very amusing. It combined trivia, mimicry, drawing and commercial exchanges. Daniel and Frances played with Jack, Paulette played with Samson, Boss played with Goldie and Gourmet, Chamomile played with Woody and Vet. Jolly was very excited to play in Charles, Cinderella and Mimi's team. The dwarf was jumping, making Boss frown, when Charles confessed, with his right hand behind his head.

'I'm sorry to curb your enthusiasm, Jolly, but... Susanna and I always loose board games when we play together...'

Jolly widened his eyes. Then he smiled and encouraged the couple.

'You will win this time!', exclaimed Jolly.

'Yes, we will win!', exclaimed Cinderella while rolling up her sleeves.

Charles smiled skeptical. The couple and Jolly always ended up in the worst places, got the most difficult questions, the most difficult mimics and the most difficult drawings. Mimi was constantly watching the dices and other tiny objects. She eventually drooled over their best drawing.

'NOOOOOO!', cried Charles, Jolly and Cinderella watching the blurred drawing.

Everyone else burst into laughter, especially Daniel and Frances, who rolled laughing in the floor.

'Next time Mimi will be in your team', sentenced Charles with his arms crossed.

Daniel and Frances threw themselves at the father's feet.

'NOOOO!', they cried, amid laughter.

'Please, Daddy, mercy', begged Frances.

Everybody laughed. When they composed themselves, the group resumed the game.

Charles knew all the answers of the other teams. However, he and Cinderella failed all their trivia. He eventually lost interest in the game and played with Mimi in the divan. Paulette and Samson won every drawing. Jack, Daniel and Frances were the best at mimicry. Boss, Goldie and Gourmet got all the trivia right. In the end, Jack, Daniel and Frances were almost wining, but they were beaten by Chamomile, Woody and Pet, who were the luckiest with the dices.

When the game was over, Daniel, Frances and Jolly played with Daniel's toys (the red Knight, the lady in green, the horse and the villain). Charles and Cinderella climb the stairs and lay down Mimi in the crib. Although the toddler was very excited at first, she eventually fell asleep thanks to a lullaby sang by Cinderella and the gentle swinging of the crib. Downstairs, Daniel and Frances were singing quiet Christmas carols that also helped the task. The parents kissed Mimi's forehead and left Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Papy supervising the children's bedroom.

Everyone else was scattered along the living room while Daniel and Frances sang Christmas carols. Cinderella sat on Charles' lap in an armchair next to the door that gave access to the hall, whereas Paulette was seating on the other armchair, closer to one window. Samson was sat in a chair right next to her. Boss, Gourmet, Goldie, Woody, Chamomile and Vet were on the divan. Jack was standing up, slightly leaning against a wall, near the fireplace.

'Christmas is over now. Do you know any songs about New Year's Eve?', asked Jack.

'Actually, one of Peter's older sisters taught us a song...', recalled Daniel.

'Oh, yes!', Frances held her hands together, 'It's from their father's homeland. We don't understand half of it.'

Everyone laughed.

'He is from Scotland, isn't he?', asked Charles.

'I don't know... but Peter and Johanna said they always sang that song in New Year's Eve', told Daniel.

'Why don't you sing it to us?', encouraged Paulette.

Daniel and Frances looked at each other, trying to recall the lyrics. They shyly hesitated at first, but gradually sang more firmly.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And days of auld lang syne?

As the lyrics progressed, Charles and Cinderella looked blue. Cinderella leaned on his chest and he pulled her back against him with his right arm. Jack grasped the sudden sadness in their faces and looked puzzled. Then Charles and Cinderella looked at each other and smiled. Paulette watched Charles and Cinderella and looked down until Samson gazed at her and they both smiled. Jolly and Boss also looked down. Vet, Chamomile, Goldie, Gourmet and Woody were somehow conflicted. Despite being delighted with the song, they grasped its impact upon the foreign couple and avoid displays of enthusiasm.

For auld lang syne, my dear

For auld lang syne

We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet

For days of auld lang syne

'The rest is very hard to say', finished Frances.

Everyone else laughed and clapped as silently as possible not to disturb Mimi's sleep. The adults went on chatting whilst Daniel, Frances and Jolly resumed playing with the toys. Then Cinderella checked the cuckoo clock in the hall. It was a quarter to midnight.

Charles opened a bottle of Champagne the count of Bartak had offered him and poured it in twelve glasses, while Cinderella poured apple juice for Daniel and Frances. Then Charles raised his glass.

'I'm not very inspired now... This is just to say I won't deliver a speech'.

Cinderella, Paulette, and the dwarfs protested, while Daniel and Frances seemed relieved.

'Well, let's ask the basic, then: here's to health, love and peace to us all!'

'And to those we cherish and cannot be here', added Cinderella.

'To Richard, Snow White, Charlie, Robert, Theresa and all the royal family!', added Boss, approved by everyone else.

'They don't know what they're missing', replied Jolly almost spilling his glass, making everyone laugh.

Noticing Jolly's rosy cheeks and bouncing walk, Goldie turned to Chamomile and Woody.

'I think we'll have to carry him to bed...', muttered Goldie.

Woody nodded yes, Chamomile shrugged, and Boss sighed, muttering complains to himself.

'And a special toast to Samson and Paulette...', added Cinderella while raising her glass, 'I'm so happy for you!'

'Yes! Congratulations to you two', smiled Charles, 'We wish you all the happiness.'

Samson and Paulette looked at each other and smiled. Jack patted on Samson's back.

'Congratulations! You totally deserve it', smiled Jack.

Everyone applauded the couple. Then Samson put his right arm around Paulette, and she leaned on his chest.

'Your love brings our two kingdoms closer', remarked Cinderella almost in tears.

Charles widened his eyes and Cinderella realized her mistake.

'Our two kingdoms...?', asked Daniel.

Cinderella laughed nervously while Charles tried to think of some excuse.

'Well, that's because Samson comes from a neighbor kingdom, isn't that right, Samson?', invented Charles.

Jack turned to Samson.

'Do you?'

'Yes, I was born in a foreign kingdom', answered Samson while looking at Charles and Cinderella.

'I had no idea...', said Jack.

Jack was about to make more questions about Samson's native kingdom, when Cinderella noticed Daniel's glass.

'Daniel, why does your juice have so many bubbles?', frowned Cinderella.

Daniel widened his eyes. Jack was right next to him. He looked at Daniel's glass and looked at his own glass. It had apple juice instead of champagne. Then Jack turned to Daniel and squinted his eyes.

'Hm... I think you own me an explanation, Mr...', teased Jack.

'I didn't do it on purpose', grinned Daniel with his eyes closed.

Everyone laughed, while Charles, Cinderella and Frances frowned.

'Well, cheers to a Happy New Year, everybody!', exclaimed Charles while raising his glass.

'Happy New Year!', exclaimed everyone else.

They raised their glasses amid laughter, drank and shared hugs and kisses. Daniel, Frances and Jolly put silly colored hats Paulette had offered them, and were about to make noises when Charles and Cinderella reminded Mimi was sleeping.

'What are your resolutions?', asked Cinderella, while holding Daniel and Frances on each arm.

'I will visit the castle every month!', exclaimed Jolly.

'I will try to relax more', answered Boss while looking sideways at Jolly.

'I will invent a powerful balm', exclaimed Chamomile.

'I will cook the most extraordinary wedding cake', said Gourmet, making Samson and Paulette smile.

'I will catch even more stones in the mine!', said Goldie.

'I will save more animals in danger', said Vet.

'I will build a playground for the children', said Woody.

Daniel and Frances looked at each other with their mouths open. They bent down and hugged the shy dwarf. Then Boss turned to the children.

'And what are your resolutions?', asked the eldest dwarf.

'I will draw even more!', exclaimed Frances.

'I will build a tree house with my friends!', exclaimed Daniel.

Samson and Paulette smiled.

'And what about the resolutions of our newest couple?', asked Jolly almost falling.

Samson blushed and Charles saved him.

'Let Samson and Paulette keep their resolutions private', smiled Charles with his eyes closed, 'What about you, Jack?'

'I will accept your challenge and learn fencing', said Jack.

Charles smiled and everyone clapped.

'Brace yourself. We'll start this Spring!', promised Charles.

'And what about your resolutions?', Jack smiled at Charles and Cinderella.

'I'll try to be the best godmother. It will be difficult to compete with Paulette, but I'll do my best', smiled Cinderella.

Paulette tilted her head and hugged Cinderella.

'I will learn to cook properly', said Charles.

'He says that every single year...', mocked Cinderella, making everyone laugh.

'Second thoughts, if I learn to cook you might run away from us on New Year's Eve...', reconsidered Charles, making everyone laugh, 'My resolution is to make a better New Year's toast.'

They laughed once more, and Mimi started to cry. Cinderella reminded Daniel and Frances they should sleep as well and the children bid farewell to the guests.

After rocking Mimi to sleep and snuggling up the children and Jolly, Charles and Cinderella chatted with the guests, ate some appetizers and drank up to 2 am. The couple bid farewell to Jack, Samson and Paulette, who slept at Paulette's house right next to Charles and Cinderella's. Then they showed the dwarfs the guest rooms upstairs.

'…And to our family and friends in the Emerald kingdom!'

Charles and Cinderella raised their glasses by the window in their bedroom and drank while gazing at each other. Then Cinderella put her glass in a small table, smiled at Charles and hiccuped. She put her hand in front of her mouth and blushed, making Charles laugh.

'It looks like someone drank too much tonight...', teased Charles.

Cinderella hiccuped and squeaked.

'Oh really? You... You couldn't... even make a decent... toast!', pointed out Cinderella amid hiccups.

Charles laughed and tried to hug her, but she ran away from him and they giggled. He was right behind her when she stumbled in her dress. He bumped into her and they both fell into the bed. Cinderella turned belly up and faced Charles on top of her. They laughed for a while until they calmed down and looked deep into each other's eyes. The high full moon was shining in the window.

'What are you doing outside?', asked Charles while entering the balcony.

'Don't worry. It isn't cold. Have you seen this moon?', smiled Cinderella.

Charles smiled. He gazed at Cinderella's profile as he walked towards her. When he was next to her, she turned to him with tender, shiny eyes.

'Isn't it subli...'

Charles put his hands on Cinderella's face and interrupted her with a long kiss. Cinderella closed her eyes and kissed him back. As he moved gently through her lips and mouth, she moaned and he held her by the waist. She slid her right hand along his chest. Then she put her hands on his neck and caressed his hair. When they finished, they gazed at each other. Their lips were still very close, shining in the night.

'Happy birthday, Cinderella...', whispered Charles.

'Oh, Charles...'

She caressed Charles' face and leaned on his chest. Charles held her hand, brought her back inside and revealed some presents.

He gave her a letter from her father. She hugged Charles tight and read it immediately. Thomas congratulated her, asked about the big bump, the three little kittens, and greeted Charles. Then Charles offered a blue velvet box containing a present from king Conrad. It was a silver hairpin with vegetal decorations and a sapphire embedded at the center.

'Oh... It is so beautiful... Your uncle is very sweet...', smiled Cinderella.

Cinderella put herself in front of the mirror and tied her shortest hair with the hairpin. Charles followed her and they both watched their reflected images in the mirror.

'I'm mad at him. Now my present sucks', complained Charles.

'You're present was breathtaking', smiled Cinderella while turning to Charles and putting her right hand on his chest.

'That present never lets me down', naughtily smiled Charles.

'You're so full of yourself', frowned Cinderella while turning her back on him.

Charles laughed. When he composed himself, he held Cinderella's right hand and put a seed on it.

'This is the disappointing present'.

Cinderella looked puzzled at the seed.

'See? That's totally disappointing...', smiled Charles with his hand behind his head.

'Not at all. I just don't know what it is', replied Cinderella while examining the seed, 'Is it a baby seed?', she smiled.

'Do you remember when we went to Jack's forest?', recalled Charles.

Cinderella recollected that afternoon stroll in the Silent Forest with Charles, Jack and Flora, a tiny sweet fairy with pink hair. Flora told them Jack was the Prince of that forest. Cinderella felt a kind of a déjà vu, since it reminded her of the forest where lied the medicinal herbs she caught to save her stepmother and Charles, and saw her mother's ghost. The Silent Forest was lighter and less scarier, though. Flora explained it was recovering since Jack returned to it a few years ago. He also told them he had no idea he was the prince of Forest until Queen Chrystal sent him there with Snow White.

When they were almost leaving, Cinderella noticed an exquisite red flower she had never seen. She bent down and was about to touch it, when Jack prevented her from doing it.

'Don't touch it, or the spirits will strike you', warned Jack.

'Oh, I'm sorry. It is so beautiful...', apologized Cinderella.

'I was told that when a couple in love plants its seed, this flower will never die', smiled Jack.

Flora smiled at Jack, but he didn't notice her.

'How amazing!', exclaimed Cinderella with her eyes closed and holding her hands together.

Charles was smiling and staring at Cinderella.

'Oh, we'll plant it together in our garden...', smiled Cinderella while holding Charles' hands, 'Thank you, my love'.

They were leaning to kiss, when the baby kicked hard. Charles hugged Cinderella from behind and they put their hands in her belly bump.

'I think this time we'll have a boy', guessed Charles.

'You also said that when I was expecting Mimi... I really don't care', smiled Cinderella with her eyes closed, '... as long as he or she is healthy and looks like me'.

They both laughed. The couple watched the moon for a few moments more and went to bed. While seating down, Cinderella noticed a bowl of pomegranate in the bedside table and smiled.

'Daniel and I caught them ourselves', smiled Charles, 'I thought you might enjoy it'.

'That's so sweet of you...', smiled Cinderella with a hint of guilt.

She ate some grains, but Charles grasped her forced smile.

'You don't want to eat them, do you?', Charles glanced sideways.

Cinderella hesitated.

'Well... I... Oh, I wish we had strawberries...', she confessed, while Charles made a poker face.

Charles, Cinderella and Daniel never publicly celebrated their real birthday. The couple set invented dates a few days or weeks later.

That year Paulette decided to organize a surprise party for Cinderella three days later on a Saturday. She was happily preparing the meal, decorating the living room and the dining room, while Charles assisted, upset.

'I don't think this is a good idea...', he insisted.

'You should have known by now how much your wife loves birthday parties', smiled Paulette while arranging a bouquet of pink roses.

'But the baby can come out any moment!', reminded Charles.

'If that happens, I'm sure everyone will help us', smiled Paulette, while putting the flower bouquet at the center of the dinner table, 'And don't worry. I'll clean and arrange everything after the party'.

Charles smiled, naughty, as he followed Paulette.

'You know, Paulette. You should reveal your methods one day... You manage everything so quickly and easily...', praised Charles.

Paulette widened her eyes. Then she smiled with great serenity and turned to him.

'You're always such a darling', she patted on Charles' cheek and went to the kitchen, leaving him with a poker face.

Daniel, Frances and Mimi were playing with Samson outside. Since Samson taught Daniel and Frances archery, they were obsessed with Robin Hood. The young father approached the living room door that gave access to the garden. He was tempted to join them, when he heard Cinderella's steps and immediately ran to the stairs, blocking the passage. Cinderella was wearing a white nightgown and tidying her Pistachio green robe.

'Honey, you said you would stay in bed all morning...', reminded Charles.

'I'm tired of being in bed', smiled Cinderella.

'I know it's boring, but you barely sleep. You should rest as much as possible. Be reasonable...', asked Charles while gently trying to make Cinderella turn around.

Cinderella smelled the lunch and smiled with her eyes closed.

'Oh, let me just take a bite', asked Cinderella.

'I'll bring you lunch and eat with you, just like I did with breakfast', promised Charles while hugging her from behind.

'That's sweet... but let me go now', insisted Cinderella while walking forward.

'I will bring you strawberries right away, we'll have lunch and we will spend the afternoon in the garden', suggested Charles.

'You're hiding something...', Cinderella raised her eyebrow.

'No, I'm not', promptly replied Charles while avoiding her inquisitive look.

'Oh, yes, you are...', naughtily smiled Cinderella while putting her arms around his neck.

'Even if I am, you should rest these days. Come on, don't be so stubborn...', complained Charles.

'Daddy is mad at us...', Cinderella baby talked to the belly bump.

Charles frowned.

'Oh, Daddy... don't be mad at us...', teased Cinderella with a baby voice.

Charles closed his eyes and tried not to laugh.

'Please, Daddy...', insisted Cinderella.

'That's enough!', growled Charles.

He carried Cinderella in his arms and climbed the stairs, as she giggled and he laughed nonstop. In the kitchen, Paulette heard them and smiled. She tenderly watched Samson playing with the children from the window above the kitchen counter and checked the stove. Then she created more decorations with her magic wand and continued to prepare the salad.

Charles lunched with Cinderella in the bedroom, while Daniel, Frances and Mimi lunched with Samson and Paulette. The children eventually joined the parents for a few moments. Daniel and Frances were very excited and sharing secrets. Every time they heard a noise, they ran to the windows of the main façade. Cinderella was starting to suspect their behavior, so Charles sent the children the garden and continued to distract Cinderella in the bedroom.

Around two o'clock, the dwarfs arrived. Gourmet and Chamomile assisted in the kitchen and Jolly played with the children, as usual. Goldie, Woody, and Vet helped Paulette finishing some details in the decoration, while Boss sat on a bench in the garden. Jack arrived half an hour later and offered his help, but Samson and Paulette had everything under control. When Richard, Snow White and their children arrived at three, Jack welcomed them.

'I can't believe I arrived earlier than you two', teased Jack, making the couple smile.

Daniel, Frances and Mimi immediately ran to Robert, who was now 3 and had light brown hair, Charlie, who was now 5, and Theresa, who was now 7. Everyone was happily chatting in the hall when Charles and Cinderella went down the stairs. She was wearing the white and olive green dress with a with high waist and Charles was wearing his Bordeaux vest and Prussian Blue culottes.

'Surprise!', shouted the children, while showering Cinderella with flowers.

Cinderella smiled while holding her hands together and slightly tilted her head.

'Oh, you're all so kind... I thought I was going to spend this day in bed... Thank you very much!', she thanked with shiny eyes.

Mimi grabbed the mother's skirt and looked up at Cinderella.

'Mommy! Mommy! Happy birthday, Mommy!', exclaimed the toddler.

'Thank you, my sweet pumpkin', smiled Cinderella with her eyes closed.

Charles held Mimi in his arms so that Cinderella could kiss the toddler. Daniel and Frances hugged Cinderella from each side, offered the presents they made at school and she kissed them both. Then Charles and Cinderella approached Richard and Snow White, who offered Cinderella a baby costume and an Emerald locket. Jack offered a beautiful plant from the Silent Forest. Boss gave Cinderella a protection amulet, Goldie offered her a beautiful stone from their mine, Woody gave her a small wooden box with her initials carved, Chamomile gave her a balm for her belly, Vet offered her a bag with her animals embroidered on it, Gourmet offered a small chocolate cake with strawberries, and Jolly gave her a red necklace.

Cinderella and Snow White held hands while greeting each other and they chatted for a while on their way to the garden. The house was filled with pink, yellow and white flowers. In the kitchen, the living room and the dining room, the tables were set with appetizers, deserts, snacks and drinks. The kitchen table, especially destined to the children, was filled with six wooden toys Paulette made for each child.

As the temperature decreased, Samson and Paulette dragged the children from the garden, and everybody gathered inside.

Charles was talking to Richard in the living room when Cinderella and Snow White joined them.

'Please, tell me you brought the magic sword', said Charles while taking a sip of wine.

'Actually, I forgot it... I'm sorry', said Richard.

Charles widened his eyes.

'I'm kidding', smiled Richard with his eyes closed.

Charles smiled, relieved.

'Oh, yes, Daniel and Frances are obsessed with the story of king Arthur', explained Cinderella.

'Oh, now I understand your request to bring the sword', giggled Snow White.

'Actually, they are pretty obsessed with Robin Hood now, since Samson is teaching them archery', said Charles.

'They will end up asking to name the baby Robin...', wondered Cinderella.

'Robbin or Robert is not bad... Not so linked to a king as Arthur...', wondered Charles while rubbing his chin.

'Well, we already have a Robin...', smiled Snow White.

'We named him after my father', added Richard smiling at Snow White.

'You could have Robert one and we could have Robert two, I mean, Robert, the second', teased Charles.

Richard and Snow White hesitated.

'What's the problem with Arthur?', asked Snow White.

'I love it, but Charles says it's too royal...', sighed Cinderella.

'We have a ground rule: no-kings'-names', explained Charles.

Richard and Snow White giggled.

'By the way, if we have a girl, she will be Margaret. What do you think?', teased Charles.

Richard and Snow White widened their eyes. Cinderella was giggling, when she suddenly stopped. She blushed and put her right hand on her belly bump. Then she grabbed Charles' arm and looked at him slightly embarrassed. Charles smiled at her and put his right arm on her back. Then he whispered into her ear and she nodded yes.

'May I have your attention, please?', asked Charles.

As the host projected his voice, the children and the guests concentrated in the living room.

'I'm afraid we have to change our plans. The youngest member of the family also wants to join us', smiled Charles.

Everyone seemed very excited, except the children. Daniel and Frances looked especially puzzled at Mimi.

'But Mimi is here...', said Frances.

Charles and Cinderella smiled at their children and Daniel and Frances grasped what was going on. They immediately hugged Cinderella, while Mimi looked puzzled at them and grabbed Cinderella's dress. Cinderella was hugging them when she suddenly shuddered, and Charles fetched a chair for her.

'Jack and Samson, please, call the doctor and the midwife. Paulette will explain you the address', asked Charles while sating down Cinderella.

'Go quickly. This one might be even faster', hurried Paulette after explaining the address and writing it down in a piece of paper.

Jack nodded yes. When Paulette gave the note, the fairy godmother and the huntsman smiled at each other for brief seconds. Then Jack and Samson ran to the horses and Paulette climbed the stairs to prepare the room for labor.

'Richard, Snow White, my fellow dwarfs, please, stroll with the children and be back by dinner...', asked Charles.

'I was going to suggest the exact same thing', smiled Snow White.

The princess bent down and held Cinderella's hand for instants. She said a few words of encouragement and Jolly joined them. Cinderella thanked and smiled tenderly amid a contraction. Then Snow White put her arms around Daniel and Frances.

'We'll be right back', smiled Snow White.

Daniel and Frances nodded yes and kissed the mother's cheeks. Mimi was still grabbing Cinderella's skirt, when the mother had another contraption. Charles rubbed Cinderella's back and Snow White held Mimi's hand.

'Mimi, the dwarfs and I will tell you many stories and show you amazing places. I'm sure you like it', smiled Snow White.

Mimi watched the parents and nodded no. When Charles was about to carry Cinderella in his arms, Mimi grabbed Cinderella's skirt and looked at them.

'Mommy! Mommy! Are you sick?', cried Mimi.

'I will be fine when you return', smiled Cinderella, 'Don't worry. Go with Snow White, Daniel and Frances'.

'I want Mommy...', sobbed Mimi.

Cinderella was almost crying for watching Mimi like that. When she had another contraction, Charles carried her, and Mimi grabbed Charles' legs.

'Daddy!', cried Mimi.

'Mimi...', Charles smiled tenderly.

Frances and Jolly were almost crying, when Daniel bent down and held Mimi's hand.

'Daddy must stay with Mommy now. Come on. Let's play! I heard we are going to play with King Arthur's sword', winked Daniel.

Mimi seemed slightly interested in it for brief moments, but eventually burst into tears and Daniel carried her in his arms.

Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Papy watched the children leaving with Snow White, Richard and the dwarfs. They looked at each other and smiled. They always stayed at home in the corridor during labor, in case Charles and Cinderella needed assistance.

Richard and Snow White decided to take the carriage, due to Mimi and Robert, who would certainly complain about walking too much. They made some efforts to fit the children and the dwarfs in the vehicle. In one row, there was Frances by the window, Daniel carrying Mimi on his lap, Goldie, Chamomile and Gourmet. On the opposite row, there were Charlie by the window, Theresa carrying Robert, Boss, Pet and Woody. Since they there was no room left in the back, Snow White carried Jolly on her lap next to Richard, in the driver seat.

Boss hated traveling by carriage. In fact, the dwarf only enjoyed walking, but he agreed it was the best solution for the small children. In the meantime, Theresa and Charlie helped Daniel and Frances comforting Mimi, who was still sobbing.

When they stopped, Richard took the magic sword from the back of the carriage and left there his current sword. Snow White smiled at him and he smiled in return, as the children and the dwarfs were leaving the vehicle. Richard held Charlie and Robert's hands, while Snow White held Frances and Theresa's hands. Mimi kept looking down and held Daniel's hand strongly.

As they entered a cave, Mimi turned to Daniel.

'Why is Mommy sick?'

'Your Mommy is having your new brother or sister and that hurts a lot, isn't it, Mommy?', explained Theresa while kneeling before Mimi.

Snow White nodded yes. She bent down and caressed Mimi's cheek. Frances sat down and put Mimi on her lap. Then Daniel kneeled and smiled.

'You know, Mimi, I was your age when Fanny was born, and I was very scared, too. We had just moved in here. We didn't know anyone, and we were poor.'

'Danny...', Mimi reached for Daniel and he put her on his lap.

As Daniel shared his memories, Richard and Snow White looked at each other. The princess was almost in tears. The prince, the dwarfs and the children listened attentively. Jolly was especially surprised.

'We only had aunt Paulette, Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Papy to help us. When aunt Paulette left to call the doctor, Daddy asked Patch to play with me, but I couldn't play at all. Mommy was screaming so loud I only wanted to cry. When I tried to enter the room, they didn't let me. Then Patch comforted me. He licked me and cuddled with me all night.

'I didn't know you suffered so much...', Frances hugged Daniel and he hugged her tight with his eyes closed, then she turned to the dwarfs, 'When Mimi was born, I didn't fear at all. We were having so much fun at your house.'

The dwarfs smiled at her and Snow White caressed Daniel and Frances' heads.

'Then you were born and were very strange', Daniel turned to Frances, 'I was mad at you from the start, because you made Mommy suffer so much. But I was happy, because Mommy and Daddy said I had someone to play with. It took some time to play with you, though, and I couldn't predict how annoying you would become', teased Daniel.

'You started very well, but now you're spoiling everything...', Frances glanced sideways.

Daniel grinned with his eyes closed and everyone laughed. Frances composed herself and looked tenderly at Daniel. On the lap between Daniel and Frances, Mimi was starting to cheer up.

'You behaved like a real big brother today, Daniel. Your parents would be very proud', praised Snow White with a tender smile.

Daniel smiled and Frances kissed his cheek.

'It was about time...', smiled Frances while hugging Daniel's neck.

'What do you mean?', frowned Daniel.

'It was about time for you to take your role of eldest brother', said Frances.

Daniel glanced sideways.

'Everybody knows I'm the most responsible', bragged Frances with her eyes closed.

Daniel growled. While watching her brother and sister fighting, Mimi started to giggle, and everyone laugh. When they composed themselves, Richard turned to Daniel, Frances and Mimi.

'Your parents told us you were very fond of king Arthur's story... Is that so?'

Daniel and Frances widened their eyes and stood up immediately.

'Have you brought your sword?', exclaimed Daniel.

Richard smiled tenderly and nodded yes, making all the children jump.

'And this is the exact spot where Richard pulled it out from the stone', added Snow White.

Richard looked for the sign of the sword and found a hole. Then he placed the sword there and it matched. The children watched it with their mouths open and slowly approached the prince.

'There was a lady inside the sword, wasn't there, Papa?', asked Charlie, while Robert examined the sword.

'Yes, her name was Mylarka', answered Richard.

'Is she still there?', asked Robert.

'No, she is free now', replied Snow White.

Seeing Daniel, Frances and Mimi's puzzled faces, Boss told them the story of Mylarka, the Genie of the sword who was in love with Speck, the Genie of the queen's magic mirror. A long time ago they were separated and imprisoned in those objects. Mylarka and Speck told the prophecy of the blue hawk, which symbolized Richard's family coat of arms, and helped Richard and Snow White to defeat the evil forces. When Richard pulled out the sword, he was able to enter the other world by touching the magic mirror with the sword. Then he defeated the evil daemon that captured Snow White and Queen Chrystal's souls. As a result, Mylarka and Speck were freed and reunited. Acknowledging the risks their parents lived in the past, Theresa and Charlie hugged Richard and Snow White tight.

'It also had lights and a voice? So awesome…', remarked Daniel, 'Richard, may I hold the sword?'

'Of course, but it's heavy', warned Richard.

Daniel grinned and tried to pull the sword with both hands, but he only lifted it four inches.

'It's too heavy for me...', concluded Daniel looking down.

Richard smiled and helped Daniel pulling out the sword. In the end, Daniel grinned and asked to do it again.

'May I do it too?', asked Frances.

'Of course, Frances', smiled Richard.

'Let me do it, Papa!', asked Charlie and Robert.

'I want to do it, too!', asked Theresa and Jolly.

'Be patient. There's room for everyone', assured Richard.

The children and Jolly jumped with excitement. Eventually, all the dwarfs and even Snow White asked to pull out the sword. The prince repeated the action with a genuine smile and the kindest patience, while Snow White watched him tenderly.

When they finished the 'sword ritual', Gourmet suggested they could go outside and have some snacks they brought from Cinderella's birthday party. They found a nice spot in the sun and sat down forming a circle.

The dwarfs were chatting and eating croquettes, while Jolly and the children were happily eating chocolate cake and giggling. Mimi was able to steal a second piece of cake from Robert's napkin, but ate it so quickly and clumsily that her face was full of chocolate. Jolly, Daniel, Frances, Theresa and Charlie burst into laughter, while Robert crossed his arms and frowned. Richard and Snow White gigged. Then they gazed at each other, and Richard caressed Snow White's face. Frances watched the couple and whispered in Daniel's ear.

'That's a good idea!', agreed Daniel before taking a bite of cake, 'Ask them about it'.

'You're the big brother. You should ask it', smiled Frances with puppy eyes.

Daniel glanced sideways and sighed.

'Richard, Snow White, we have a doubt that no one wants to answer... Maybe you could help us...', introduced Daniel.

'We would be delighted', smiled Snow White.

'How do parents make babies?', asked Frances.

Richard and Snow White widened their eyes and blushed.

When the doctor and the midwife entered, they said the baby would come out soon. Cinderella was having many contractions. She was holding Charles' hand tight, while he gently rubbed her back. Paulette cleaned the sweat out of Cinderella's face and helped to breath. On these occasions, Charles always recollected Daniel's birth.

He was working at his desk in the Emerald kingdom, when a valet announced one of his councilors.

'Your highness', bowed the councilor.

'Good afternoon, Humbert', Charles stood up, 'Could we please talk in an hour? I'm working on this law and...'

'I understand, sire. However, we must talk urgently about the royal birth', reminded the councilor.

Charles reconsidered and invited him to sit down. Then Humbert placed an old document on the desk.

'We must revise all the steps of the protocol. In first place, you must make sure the most important members of the court, councilors included, will attend the labor', started the councilor.

Charles frowned.

'Should I call the catering department to serve some snacks while my wife is screaming?', teased Charles.

'It would be nice, indeed', agreed the councilor.

'That is out of question!', replied Charles.

'The first labor can take many hours, or even a day, but we will manage without snacks', consented the councilor.

'Perhaps I was not clear enough. No one, except me, the doctors and the midwives will attend the labor of my child', stated Charles.

The councilor paled, trembled and cleaned his forehead with a handkerchief.

'Sire, you cannot be serious... It will be offensive to the court... This is how they do it in the most sophisticated courts. Take Versailles for example...', said the councilor with shortness of breath.

'With all due respect, Versailles is not a model for me', calmly replied Charles.

The councilor put his head on his hands in despair and Charles smiled.

In the evening, the royal family was having dinner in a table by the window. There was still day light in a hot July day and they could clearly watch the city.

King Lewis and queen Caroline tenderly watched the young couple gazing at each other while Charles put his hand on Cinderella's belly bump and felt the baby kicking hard. Then the emeritus king closed his eyes and took a bite of pudding. When he finished, he turned to Charles and Cinderella.

'I cannot wait to see that little bump outside and this castle filled with children', beamed the king.

Cinderella smiled with her eyes closed, whereas Charles rubbed his chin. He seemed a bit concerned with the idea of having too many children. Then the queen noticed how tired Cinderella looked and encouraged her to leave earlier and have some rest. Cinderella thanked the queen and made a slight bow before the parents-in-law.

'Do you want me to take you?', offered Charles.

'I am not invalid, darling', smiled Cinderella.

Charles smiled and tenderly kissed her hand.

'I'll join you in a few minutes', he promised.

She smiled and left. A few minutes later, when the servants started to remove the dessert dishes, king Lewis looked at Charles and hesitated to speak. Then he cleaned the corners of his mouth and gently approached the son.

'How are the preparations for the big day going?', he asked.

Charles avoided his father's look.

'They're doing just fine. I made some readjustments', replied the son.

'Yes, I see...', said the father.

'I see Humbert talked to you', frowned Charles.

'Some people might be upset... It is our tradition...', said the king.

'Tradition is often an excuse to keep doing unacceptable things', replied Charles, 'I will not tolerate a bunch of people watching my wife in pain. Besides, the doctors say that can actually put Cinderella and the baby's lives in danger.'

'If they say so, I support you', consented king Lewis and the queen nodded yes.

'I suppose the milk nannies are ready by now', reminded queen Caroline.

'No', replied Charles.

'How can that be possible?', queen Caroline widened her eyes.

'Cinderella wants to breastfeed, and I totally support her', replied Charles.

'Oh dear, I understand you want to support Cinderella, but that is not reasonable', countered the queen, 'It can be very painful, and tiresome. It is incompatible with her duties as queen'.

'I know it's tiresome. I'll make sure Cinderella cancels all her engagements in a year', said Charles.

'Charles, dear... Be wise...', advised the queen.

Charles sighed and put his napkin on the table.

'I will. Now if you excuse me', Charles bowed before his parents and left.

The king and the queen looked worried at each other and sighed.

As the due date approached, Charles decided that Cinderella should spend the days in his office, resting on an armchair while he worked, so that any councilor or governess could interfere in the birth. She usually read and fell asleep. When he noticed her sleeping, Charles stood up, caressed her face and snuggled her up in a more comfortable position.

Cinderella started labor three days after Charles' 18th birthday and it lasted for about 14 hours. It was a very hot day in the end of July. Cinderella's family, Paulette and the animals waited with Charles' parents in their private chambers. Hans and Alex watched the door of the nursery, making sure no one entered the room. Occasionally, groups of aristocrats passed by the corridor and made remarks.

'So much fuss about a half royal baby...', a court lady looked down on her nose.

'He should have married a real princess...', added another while fanning.

Hans looked disapprovingly at them and Alex frowned. The page was about to say something, but he controlled himself.

'If Charles had listened to that...', muttered Alex.

Hans nodded yes and they heard Cinderella's scream. They both looked down and Alex sighed, nervous.

'Is this normal to take so long? Do you think is everything alright?', he asked.

'The first child may take a day to be born. That is why it is so threatening. But everything will turn out fine with our queen and the child. I am sure', encouraged Hans with a tender smile.

Alex smiled, but returned to a tense expression, as Cinderella started to scream nonstop.

In the nursery, Cinderella was screaming and panting in excruciating pain. She held Charles' hand tight, while one midwife was refreshing her with wet towels and fanning in her direction. In spite of the doctors' guarantees that everything was fine, Charles and Cinderella were almost in despair.

'I hope I will give you a prince...', whispered Cinderella.

'Don't worry about that. If we have a girl, Frances will be queen. Mark my words', assured Charles.

Cinderella smiled and closed her eyes.

'Darling, this year... I was happier this year than in my entire life...', she confessed.

Charles smiled and kissed her hand.

'Please, promise me you will choose a good stepmother…', she asked in tears.

Charles froze inside. He struggled with tears in his eyes hardly finding the strength to encourage Cinderella.

'You cannot leave me like this, my love... It's still a long way to go until midnight...', smiled Charles.

She smiled amid tears.

'And, no. There won't be any stepmother. Our children will only have one mother, their mother, the love of my life, and we will raise them together in our own way', said Charles amid sniffs.

Cinderella smiled tenderly at Charles. He still had the time to kiss her hand, her cheek and her forehead before the doctors warned the baby was finally coming out.

'Oh, Charles!', screamed Cinderella.

'Cinderella...', encouraged Charles while holding her right hand with both his hands.

Cinderella pushed with all the strength she could find until a baby's cry echoed throughout the rooms and the corridor. Cinderella leaned back, panting, when one of the doctors smiled at the couple.

'Congratulations, Ma'am, Sire! It is a crown prince!', announced a doctor.

When they saw the baby, Charles and Cinderella cried. After cutting the umbilical cord and washing the baby, one midwife put the prince on Cinderella's lap. Charles couldn't believe his eyes and helped her holding the baby. Cinderella sobbed nonstop and kissed the baby's head.

'It's a miracle!', she exclaimed while caressing the baby's face and holding his tiny fingers.

'Thanks to you, my love', smiled Charles, while whipping away her tears.

'You also helped', smiled Cinderella.

'I did the easiest part', smiled Charles.

They gazed at each other and kissed.

After Cinderella spent some time with the baby, a midwife gently put him on Charles' lap. While the doctors were checking if Cinderella was alright, Charles kissed the baby's head and stood up. He approached the large windows to show the beautiful view to his son. The baby, slowly moving his mouth and his fingers, looked at Charles with shiny dark eyes and grabbed his index finger.

'I will protect you with my life', swore Charles.

When the doctors confirmed Cinderella and the baby were fine, Charles kissed Cinderella's head and left her sleeping in the nursery. Then he personally share the news with the family.

Hans and Alex were already informed. Alex patted Charles on the back and Hans started to cry.

'I can't believe you are already a father...', sobbed Hand pulling out a handkerchief.

'Oh, Hans...', smiled Charles while sniffing and hugging the old tutor tight.

When Charles arrived at his parents' chambers, Patch jumped to him and he tenderly petted the dog. Charles addressed Cinderella's father first to assure she was fine. Thomas smiled, while the duchess, Catherine and Jeanne held their hands together. King Lewis and Queen Caroline hugged Charles tight. Then Charles greeted Paulette, who was smiling in a corner with Papy, Bingo and Chouchou. She held his hand with her eyes closed and told him she knew everything would turn out fine. Charles hugged her and turned to Cinderella's family.

'Since it's getting late and Cinderella is exhausted, I invite you to sleep over tonight. You could visit her and meet the baby tomorrow morning'.

'Thank you, Charles', smiled Thomas.

'That's very thoughtful of you', smiled the duchess.

'Hans and Alex will show you your rooms', smiled Charles.

'Follow me, please', Hans leaded the way.

Alex let everyone pass before him. When he joined the line, he accidentally stepped on Jeanne's pink dress and felt very embarrassed. She turned around and smiled at him with her eyes closed.

Cinderella was panting and moaning. She was almost giving birth, when Charles confessed.

'If we have another child, I'll deliver the next myself'.

Cinderella laughed amid the pain and Charles kissed her forehead.

'Push now, Madam', asked the doctor.

Cinderella pushed and they heard a baby's cry. The midwife cut the umbilical cord and washed the baby. Then she put it on Cinderella's lap. Charles and Cinderella smiled in bliss. She was baby talking and filling the baby with kisses, when Charles remarked.

'Look! Caramel hair and dark shiny eyes, just like you...'

Cinderella smiled tenderly while gazing at Charles.

'I could deliver another copy of you and still adore him, like I adore the father'.

Charles leaned and they shared a lengthy, tender kiss.

When the children, the dwarfs, Richard and Snow White arrived, Jack, Samson and Paulette led them upstairs. Charles left the bedroom and joined them in the corridor. After he closed the door, he smiled and the children looked impatient at him.

'It's a boy', he announced, 'And Mommy is fine'.

The children and Jolly jumped, while Richard, Snow White and the other dwarfs smiled. Charles took Mimi on his lap. She hugged him tight and he kissed her cheek.

'We're deeply grateful for your precious help. Sorry about this turmoil…', thanked and apologized Charles while caressing Mimi's head.

Richard, Snow White, Jack and the dwarfs smiled.

'Daddy, can Daniel and I see Mommy and our brother now?', asked Frances.

'Yes, but you must be gentle', warned Charles.

Charles opened the door and Daniel and Frances ran to Cinderella.

'My angels!', exclaimed the mother with open arms.

She caressed their heads and the children kissed her cheeks. Then Charles approached them and sat down by Cinderella's side with Mimi on his lap.

'Mommy', cried the toddler.

'Oh, my sweet pumpkin. Everything turned out just fine', comforted Cinderella.

'Daniel behaved like a big brother today', praised Frances.

Charles and Cinderella looked surprised at each other.

'I bet you had fun today', smiled Cinderella.

'Oh yeah!', exclaimed Daniel while Frances nodded.

Then Daniel and Frances approached the crib.

'Oh... so cute...', said Frances while tilting her head.

'Hi Arthur!', greeted Daniel.

'Hi Arthur, I'm your big sister', greeted Frances with her eyes closed.

Cinderella smiled at Charles and he sighed.

Two weeks later, Albert, the priest, closed the church for an hour so that Charles, Cinderella, their baby, Richard and Snow White could discretely enter. Samson and Paulette witnessed in the first row and the animals were right next to them. Then the two royal couples approached the baptismal font. They were all wearing light capes with caps. Whilst Cinderella held the baby, Snow White held a candle.

'Arthur, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.'

As the priest poured holy water over the baby's head, Charles, Cinderella, Richard and Snow White shared accomplice smiles.