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Cinderella Monogatari - The Sequel (Season 2)

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Prelude: A Family Tree

Charles' father, king Lewis, had an older sister named Beatrice and a younger brother named Conrad. Realizing that both his sons merited to rule, king Ferdinand, Charles' grandfather, split the empire in two kingdoms - the Emerald kingdom, the territory which was more modernized, and the Green-Valley kingdom, the regions which still had a strong medieval character and a wild nature prone to fantastic events. Although she was the firstborn, the law forbade Beatrice to rule, for being a woman. Instead of marrying a foreign king as planned, Beatrice ended up marrying an aristocrat in the Emerald kingdom - the duke of Tamp. She eventually died at 17, after giving birth to her first child - Rudolph. Ten years later, Lewis married princess Caroline of Docaccia and Charles was born, becoming the first in line of succession to the throne of the Emerald kingdom. The following year, Snow White was born, and king Conrad changed the law of Green-Valley kingdom, in order to enable her coronation. In late September, two months after the crown prince seventeenth birthday, Charles married Cinderella. Acknowledging his son's intelligence and bravery during an attack planed by duke Zaral, King Lewis abdicated and passed the throne of the Emerald kingdom to Charles during the wedding ceremony. In the following spring, princess Snow White married Prince Richard of Albertville, and they enjoyed peaceful days in Green-Valley kingdom, which was recovering from war.


It was a warm day with a slight breeze in August. The Emerald Castle chapel, adorned in red and emerald on marble stone, was especially crowed due to Charles and Cinderella's first son's baptism. Contrary to the royal wedding, which was more public, this ceremony was private and discrete.

The royals invited only their closest friends and relatives. The duchess, Catherine and Jeanne were anxiously waiting to capture Cinderella's attention and hold the baby. Cinderella's father, the Duke of Viel, was greeting Charles's parents and Hans, Charles’ former tutor, when Charles, Cinderella and their son arrived followed by Alex and Miss Paulette, who were chosen to be the prince's godparents. As the bishop entered, the chapel went silent and the ceremony began. Cinderella's animals attended everything in a corner near the baptistery.

While carrying her son, Cinderella could not help but noticing Charles' tension. He hardly heard the bishop's words, in alert to all possible attacks in the chapel. In order to lighten the mood, Cinderella glanced at him in bliss, and the young king reciprocated his queen with a tender smile.

Fortunately, the baptism had no setbacks. The couple could relax after the ceremony. They talked to their friends in common, Ian, the fortune teller, Marcel, the actor, Nicholas, the violinist, and his wife Laura, who had brought their baby girl. Charles was delighted to finally introduce Cinderella to his uncle Conrad, king of a neighbor kingdom.

‘It is such an honor to meet you, king Conrad’, greeted Cinderella whilst making a bow, ‘Charles told me about the happy days he spent with you during his childhood.’

‘My dear Cinderella, I am very pleased to finally meet you. I am so sorry I couldn't attend your wedding, but we went through hard times, really hard times…’, the king apologized, ‘But I must say your beauty surpasses Charles' passionate descriptions.’

‘Thank you for your kind words, sire’, blushed Cinderella.

‘Please, call me uncle’, smiled the king.

‘Thank you, my dear uncle’, smiled Cinderella.

‘I hope everything is settling down, uncle’, added Charles.

‘Yes, little by little. It is a great kingdom, and I am sure we will overcome the war damages. The villages are growing fast, and commerce is starting to flourish. Hopefully we will recover and achieve the same quality of life you have here. Your villages are amazing.’

‘Indeed. It is grandfather's legacy…’, then Charles added, ‘And how is Snow White? Is she all right now?’

‘Yes, she is. I forgot to mention. She and Richard could not come, because she is expecting.’

‘Congratulations!’, promptly exclaimed Charles and Cinderella.

‘I must write to her’, said Charles, ‘We could not attend their wedding either and I would like to know Richard.’

‘Your aunt Chrystel also sends you greetings. We would all be very happy to have you in our castle.’

‘Oh, Charles, let's visit them…’, asked Cinderella while leaning over Charles's shoulder.

‘We could go there next spring, or summer…’, he smiled.

‘Whenever you want, my children. And don't forget to bring this little fellow.’

‘Of course’, replied Cinderella, ‘And by that time, he will have a little cousin,’ she said talking to the baby.

‘I honestly hope he is not as troublesome as his father, Cinderella. Charles was a real devil, wasn't he, Lewis?’

‘He was the worst, brother, but I do not mind. I am looking forward to play with this little boy, and watch him running, breaking everything in the castle’, answered Charles' father.

‘He was the most adorable nightmare I have ever had’, added Charles' mother.

‘Well, I think we don't need to go back in his childhood to remind that. He still is a devil’, remarked Alex with Hans' agreement.

Et tu, Brute?’, Charles replied, making everyone laugh.

‘And what about Cinderella?’, inquired Charles' mother.

‘She was an angel; the most gentle, nice and adorable child I have ever known’, answered Cinderella's father, making her join him tenderly.

‘Let's hope our little prince is half angel, half devil’, summed up king Conrad.

The chamberlain arrived and invited everyone to the banquet.

As the guests slowly started leaving the chapel, king Conrad turned to his brother.

‘I almost forgot! Where is Rudolph? I have not seen him in ages…’

‘Abroad; he is in a Grand Tour for almost two years’, answered Lewis, ‘Nevertheless, he has written the warmest letters congratulating on the wedding and the birth of my grandson’.

King Conrad frowned, pensive. Then he hugged his brother and they walked down the church together with queen Caroline.

In the meantime, the duchess, Catherine and Jeanne approached Charles and Cinderella.

‘Charles, Cinderella, congratulations! Everything was perfect!’, exclaimed the duchess.

‘It was so beautiful, Cinderella!’, added Jeanne.

‘Yes, lovely and peaceful’, agreed Catherine.

‘Thank you very much’, smiled Cinderella.

‘May I hold him for a few moments?’, asked Jeanne.

Cinderella helped Jeanne holding the baby and stood by her side.

‘Cinderella, I was wondering what happened to your friend Charles…’, speculated Catherine.

‘Oh, yes, I didn't see him in your wedding as well...’, reinforced Jeanne.

‘What friend?’, teased Charles, making Cinderella mad at him.

‘Oh, they were the best friends right before you met Cinderella at the ball’, told Jeanne.

‘Well... Charles, the fibber, moved to a foreign kingdom...’, invented Cinderella.

‘That must have been hard for you’, imagined Catherine, ‘I even thought you were going to marry him…’, she whispered.

‘Catherine, that's enough! We are late for the banquet’, scolded the duchess, ‘If you think you can spoil your sister's marriage, you…’, she muttered while grabbing Catherine and Jeanne’s arms.

‘Sorry, mommy,’ they cried.

The prince started to cry, and Jeanne returned him to Cinderella. The three women moved on, joining Cinderella's father and Charles' family.

‘If that Charles appears, I will challenge him to a duel’, promised Charles while looking naughtily at Cinderella.

She giggled discretely, and the couple continued their way to the castle trying not to burst into laughter.

Nine months later Cinderella was rocking the baby to the sound of her mother's doll tune, when someone knocked at the door. Susanna, her private maid, announced Charles' councilors, who demanded an urgent private meeting. Cinderella consented, left the baby with Susanna, and moved to the next room with the councilors. They were all noble middle aged and elderly men.

‘What brings you here, gentlemen?’, said Cinderella after the maid who served tea left the room.

‘Your majesty, we need your help...’, started Albert.

‘The king is in danger!’, exclaimed Humbert. He was hardly breathing in his fat attire.

Cinderella's face turned into white.

‘Humbert, please! Do not panic!’, scolded Antonio.

‘Please, gentlemen, calm down, and explain yourselves’, demanded Cinderella.

‘King Charles has several ideas in his mind...’, started Jules.

‘…which can be interpreted as radical by influent people...’, continued Joseph.

‘For instance, he wants to abolish court, and slavery’, explained Humbert.

‘… to create taxes for nobles, in order to...’, said Jules.

‘… decrease taxes for lower classes’, interrupted Albert.

‘… to open more schools’, proceeded Antonio.

‘… to convert a building of the castle into an orphanage. An orphanage... here... in this castle...’, complained Jules.

‘… to build a hospital’, added Albert.

‘… to improve the university, the public library, the theatre and the opera’, added Antonio.

‘… to open a public museum’, added Joseph.

‘Honestly, I do not understand what is wrong with that. They are all positive measures’, disagreed Cinderella, ‘I actually suggested some of them...’

‘But, your highness’, explained Humbert with is eyes wide opened, ‘some ignoble creature spread rumors he was going to abolish court and create taxes for nobles. Since then, the king has received several death threats.’

‘We truly fear that if he materializes his ideas, king Charles will be in great danger’, pointed out Antonio.

‘We also fear for you, and the little prince… the entire royal family…’, added Joseph.

‘But I cannot stop him from implementing these measures, especially if I agree with them’, answered Cinderella.

‘You just need to persuade him that abolishing the court, and inventing taxes for aristocracy won't do’, simplified Humbert, ‘This can cost his life’.

‘Tell him to be reasonable’, blew out Antonio.

‘He cannot act this way at the beginning’, said Albert, ‘He must introduce changes more slowly’.

‘I will do my best to persuade him’, said Cinderella.

"Thank you. You are the only person who can do that, Ma’am,’ said Jules.

The councilors left the room and Cinderella returned to the nursery. Susanna and Louisa, the nanny, were supervising the baby's nap when the queen arrived, sat down and silently watched her son. How could she persuade Charles to cancel laws with which she agreed? If not, she could lose him, and put all the family in jeopardy. How could she protect them? That night, she wasn't still able to address the subject.

On the following afternoon, Cinderella and her parents-in-law were playing with the baby when Susana and Alex reminded that she had an appointment with Zoré, the painter. Cinderella dreamed of having an official portrait painted by Zoré, but Charles was against it. He eventually gave in under one condition.

‘King Charles made quite clear that the portrait must be unfinished’, imposed Alex to the old painter.

‘It is a shame to do that when you have such a beautiful model…’, grumbled Zoré.

‘King Charles was very clear’, emphasized Alex, ‘You are free to do whatever you want, as long as the painting remains incomplete.’

‘I understand his concerns, but the curse is broken. I no longer…’

Patch barked; Papi, Bingo and Chew-Chew stood behind the painter's chair.

‘It doesn't matter,’ insisted Alex, "the portrait must be incomplete, and I will supervise it’.

‘The most beautiful model…’, repeated Zoré while gazing at Cinderella.

‘That’s why Charles can't stand him…’, muttered Alex while looking sideways.

‘I am sure you will make a brilliant work, even if it is unfinished’, encouraged Cinderella.

‘Thank you, your highness. Please, could you show one of your glass shoes?’, asked the painter.

Cinderella smiled and pushed her dress a little to reveal her right foot wearing a glass shoe, while Alex sat down in an armchair behind Zoré.

‘It is very annoying to be watched like this,’ mumbled the painter, ‘Yet I understand the king. He will not easily forget the shock when he saw me painting your portrait. On that day I clearly saw how you loved each other.’

‘Thank you,’ Cinderella blushed.

When Charles finished his work session, he went straight to the nursery, where he found the baby crawling around his grandparents, Hans and Louisa.

‘Can you see, Charles?’, laughed king Lewis.

Charles smiled and kneeled. The baby immediately started laughing and run to his father. When the prince reached him, Charles lifted him in his arms.

‘Let's see mommy?’, asked Charles.

‘Ba ba’, babbled the prince, making everyone laugh.

‘We will check if everything is fine with Cinderella,’ said Charles.

‘Be careful with that painter,’ warned queen Caroline, ‘I don't trust him.’

‘Don't worry, mother.’

Charles walked through the galleries and went down the main stairs proudly carrying his baby, who attracted the attention of all servants.

‘I just can't wait to teach you fencing,’ said Charles while the baby smiled at him and agitated his arms.

When Charles and the baby arrived in the room destined for portraits, his former private living room, Charles knocked and entered.

‘Charles!’, exclaimed Cinderella.

‘Cinderella… are you all right?’, he stood by her side.

‘Oh, yes, darling. I'm fine. Don't worry.’

‘I can't believe you interrupted State affairs to supervise a portrait, your highness’, joked Zoré.

‘And I can't believe you take so much time to make an unfinished painting’, replied Charles.

‘Charles, please…’, asked Cinderella.

‘You know, your majesty, I can easily waive your payment, and paint the queen as I wish’, threatened the painter.

Patch barked again.

‘Calm down,’ Charles moved next to Alex to see the painting, ‘I like it. Somehow sketches are more interesting than completed works.’

‘Yes, I like it, too’, agreed Alex.

‘May I see it? And I want my baby, too,’ asked Cinderella.

‘Yes, we can end now…,’ sighed the painter.

Charles gave the baby to Cinderella, and she loved the painting. Zoré smiled whilst bowing his head. He kissed Cinderella's hand, made a bow before Charles, and left the room accompanied by Alex.

‘You should have let him end it. The curse is broken’, said Cinderella.

‘We never know…,’ replied Charles.

They sat together with the baby on the divan where Cinderella was posing. Charles put his left arm around Cinderella, and she leaned over his chest. They were about to kiss when the baby hit Charles' cheek.

‘Ah, you little devil!’, growled Charles while Cinderella and the baby laughed.

‘Charles…’, introduced Cinderella when the baby got quieter.


‘I… I want to protect you, too.’

Charles smiled.

‘You are always protecting me, so you must understand that I want to do the same for you,’ evolved Cinderella, ‘Why didn't you tell me you have received death threats?’

‘How do you know that? Alex is going to…’

‘It was not Alex… The councilors…’, interrupted Cinderella.

‘Why the hell did they talk to you in my back?’, frowned Charles.

‘Well, you're my husband. I think you should have told me in first place’, she attacked, then calmed down, ‘And it seems you don't listen to them…’

‘It’s not easy to work with people with whom you don't identify at all. They are too conservative, but I won't find better advisors… they are experienced and my father's friends… yet I won't let them rule for me,’ stated Charles.

‘They only fear if you move forward with the most extreme measures. Do you really need to abolish court and to tax aristocrats? They are influent people and can cause us trouble…’, advised Cinderella.

Charles stood up and approached a window. After a long pause, he explained.

When I met you, I was having a hard time to accept monarchy and my future duties as king. I only came to terms with it when I realized I had the power to fight social inequalities. It is unfair and impossible to improve the less fortunate people's lives without taxing nobles and abolishing the court. Aristocrats should understand that everyone must cooperate according to one's possibilities to balance society, and the court is just a net of shallow and corrupted people alienated from society. Eventually this must end.'

‘I agree, Charles… but… how about your life? And our son?’, asked Cinderella.

‘My life is in danger, since I found out about Zaral's plot,’ he smiled.

‘I spent half my wedding day convinced you were dead. During the baptism, I saw how tense you were, checking all possible threats... Charles, I don't know if we can go on this way… for his sake…’, unburdened Cinderella, ‘We cannot spend our lives in danger.’

‘No, but we cannot let fear affect our actions. I will never rule under fear,’ firmly stated Charles, then he watched silently the landscape, ‘You also know I am not attracted to power in itself…’

‘I know, but would you…’, started Cinderella.

‘Would I what…?’, asked Charles.

‘Never mind…’, she discarded.

‘Tell me’, he asked when the baby started to cry.

‘He’s hungry, Charles. We must leave,’ she stood up.

‘I'll join you in a minute,’ said Charles while watching the window.

Patch, Bingo, Chew-Chew and Papy didn't know if they should follow Cinderella or stay with Charles.

‘Eh…’, hesitated Patch.

‘Go with them’, smiled Charles, ‘I will join you right away.’

Some days later, Charles and Cinderella went to the Opera. In order to avoid a lengthy public exposure, which could be fatal for Charles, they decided to go as incognitos, and use a normal theatre box. Cinderella suggested to the theatre administrators that the public could come disguised that evening, and everyone was thrilled with the idea.

A few minutes before the session, Charles, Cinderella and Alex left their carriage without royal seal. They were all wearing eye masks; Charles and Alex disguised as musketeers, Cinderella as Colombina. Suddenly, Charles glimpsed a little boy in the street in the way of a carriage and run to rescue him. Cinderella, Alex, the boy's nanny and his mother immediately joined them.

‘Oh, how can I ever thank you?’, cried the boy's mother.

‘Please, don't worry now… It was quite a scare, but it turned all right’, calmed Cinderella.

‘He is always disobeying, running away from us… I don't know what to do…’, complained the nanny while shaking off the boy's clothes.

Charles kneeled before the boy.

‘Can you see the size of the carriage wheels and the horses' legs? They will cut you in pieces’, explained the young king, ‘Promise me you will always pay attention to the street.’

‘Yes, sir… Are you a musketeer…?’, wondered the boy.

‘Oh, yes, he is…’, giggled Cinderella.

‘Wow… May I see your face, sir?’

He smiled and took his mask off.

‘Charles, Cinderella, we must go…’, reminded Alex, ‘The opera is about to start. They won't wait for you this time.’

The mother and the nanny jumped with surprise while the couple and Alex ran to the theatre.

‘Ma'am, do you think they are?’

‘Yes, I do…’

Alex lost the track of Charles and Cinderella in the crowd of disguises. Fortunately, he had already shared their tickets with them. The curtains opened at the moment they were about to sit. Never since their marriage had they experienced such privacy in a public event.

They couldn't help but identifying themselves with the characters throughout the plot: Angelina and Ramiro met each other like Cinderella and Charles, Dandini resembled Alex, Alidoro resembled Ian, Don Magnifico was the masculine version of the duchess, Tisbe and Clorinda were Catherine and Jeanne. During the duet "un soave non so che", Charles and Cinderella exchanged amorous glances culminating in a passionate kiss Charles concealed with his musketeer hat.

Charles and Alex, in another corner of the theatre, couldn't stop laughing at a comic scene where prince Ramiro and Dandini run away from the stepsisters. At the finale, Cinderella was almost crying, and Charles hugged her.

‘Charles, let's congratulate the artists!’, suggested Cinderella, ‘Nicholas must be in the orchestra.’

‘I was thinking the exact same thing’, he smiled, while standing up and holding her hand.

Cinderella laughed, excited, and they both left the box. Alex eventually found them and the three sneaked together into the backstage. There, Charles, Cinderella and Alex took off the masks and greeted all the singers and musicians. The artists were delighted to meet Charles and Cinderella and exchanged several questions about life in the castle and ways of improving the theatre's building. Then Laura, Ian and Marcel, who were offered tickets by Nicholas, also joined them in the backstage.

‘This plot sounded pretty familiar to me…’, joked Ian.

‘Do you think so, Alidoro?’, joked Cinderella.

‘I found Dandini was the best’, grabbed Alex.

They all laughed. Charles spent some more time talking to the Opera director, while Cinderella chatted with the leading singer.

‘I imagine how wonderful your life must be in castle, your highness,’ wondered the singer.

‘Well, I have never been happier in my life, but you always have someone, or something blocking your happiness and your ideals,’ complained Cinderella, then she whispered, ‘And the king can be very stubborn sometimes…’

The singer laughed.

‘I see. There is no such thing as easy happy endings and a perfect prince charming. Hopefully love surpasses everything.’

‘Yes, love and kindness compensate everything’, smiled Cinderella.

In the end, Nicholas and Laura invited Charles, Cinderella, Alex, Ian and Marcel to have tea at their home. It was an unforgettable evening.

That month Charles received a letter informing he had inherited a huge fortune from a distant royal relative. Charles remade the kingdom's budget including that sum, and concluded it was enough to lighten lower classes burdens without harassing nobility for some years. Cinderella was very relieved, and the couple finally enjoyed quiet days. There were no hints of conspiracy, and the death threats ceased. Everything was going fine until one day, weeks before the prince first birthday.

Charles was working in his office when a valet interrupted him.

‘Your highness, the Marquis of Boscany wishes to see you urgently.’

‘It's impossible, David. I am really busy right now, and this wasn't scheduled’, answered Charles focused on the text he was writing.

‘He says it is a matter of life and death, sire,’ tried the valet.

‘Hmm… Send him in here, then,’ reconsidered Charles, ‘And call Alex, please.’

‘Yes, sire. The Marquis of Boscany’, announced David.

‘Your majesty!’, the marquis run to Charles, kneeled before him and kissed his hand.

‘Please, sir, stand up’, replied Charles, ‘I am not sacred.’

‘I cannot find words to express my gratitude’, said the marquis.

‘For what?’, Charles was quite puzzled.

‘Your majesty saved my son's life,’ answered the marquis.

‘But… when?’

‘Near the opera house’, specified the marquis.

‘Oh! Now I remember! I suppose you would do the exact same thing for me. Don't take it to serious.’

‘The problem, Sire, is that I would probably do the opposite until that day.’

‘What do mean?’, frowned Charles.

‘Sire, please, you must take care. You are in great danger’, warned the marquis.

‘I am aware of that. But, honestly, I don't understand why this keeps going on’, Charles started walking back and forth in the room.

‘At first, we were afraid of your ideas, Sire. We truly found them radical and many people were persuaded.’

‘By whom?’, inquired Charles.

‘I cannot tell, Sire’.

‘You must!’, commanded Charles.

‘As I was saying, at first, we were afraid of your laws, but many of us changed our minds recently. The ones that tried to support you were found dead.’

‘Who are they?’

‘I cannot tell, Sire. I beg you, arrest me. I want to be punished for the crimes I was about to commit.’

‘No. You came here to ask for protection. You might also be impelled by regret and gratefulness, but, in that case, you would have come right after the afternoon I saved your son, am I wrong?’

‘Your majesty...’

‘Tell me who is behind this!’, yelled Charles grabbing the marquis by the neck.

‘I cannot, Sire...! Are you going to torture me?’

‘I would never do that’, stated Charles while calming down, ‘My guards will escort you into your house and you will be surveilled. Everyone that enters your palace must be supervised.’

‘Oh, Sire! Thank you! Thank you!’

‘Wait in that room with my valet while I speak to my page.’

Three days later, the Marquis was found dead in his house. No one had entered or left the building. Alex and a group of guards tried hopelessly to investigate the crime.

‘There is something rotten in the State of Denmark...’, quoted Alex in Charles' office.

Charles approached the window to watch Cinderella and the little prince playing in the garden. The baby picked a daisy and crawled. Once he reached Cinderella, he offered the flower, and said "Mama" for the first time.

Chapter Text


Life went on after the strange death of the Marquis of Boscanny. The royal couple spent joyful days watching their son grow up. The little prince had rosy cheeks, dark eyes identical to Cinderella's and chestnut brown hair. The baby had already started to walk, but he was lazy to talk. Although he babbled a lot and pointed at things to communicate, 'Mama' was still his only comprehensible word.

Charles would not give up on his political priorities. He and Cinderella visited the University, as they planned, and gave a speech before students, professors, the President of the University and everyone else interested. The library was so full that several students had to watch the all session standing.

‘Good morning. I am delighted to be here in this beautiful library. In first place, I greet the students, professors, the university organization, the president and the entire staff. Now I would like to say just a few words, before the inauguration of the construction work.

‘As you know, some of the first universities emerged, by royal or clergy impulse, in the Middle Ages. Some kings understood quite early the importance of knowledge to improve their kingdoms. Unfortunately, endless wars, epidemics and narrow-minded rulers constantly undermined the development of these projects. Other universities, guilds in its first stages, arose as an independent association neither dictated by crown, nor church. The university soon realized that any form of power, which is mostly moved by interests – for good and evil –, could affect the free pursue of knowledge’, introduced Charles to the attentive audience.

‘To be honest, I am more attracted to this idea of the university as an autonomous place fighting for freedom and focused on knowledge in itself than a university subservient to power. Yet I cannot deny our heritage and the fact that my family founded this specific university. There lies in this case a connection to royalty I cannot erase, but I think it is fair to limit the king's role to material support, and let the university exercise its power. It might sound strange to you, but I am fully aware of the power of the university. What good is a king when compared this place that can open people's minds? Ultimately, and hopefully – if governed by good principles –, the university will become one of the greatest forms of power.’

Most of the students applauded. Charles smiled, surprised by the warm reaction.

‘The queen and I are here today to celebrate a new cycle in the history of this University, by rehabilitating and expanding its campus, in order to provide new conditions for medical research in close connection to the hospital, improve the buildings hosting arts, humanities and sciences courses, enabling the best interaction between disciplines’, he paused and looked at Cinderella, ‘Queen Cinderella is one of my greatest allies. She works with me...’

Cinderella blushed and the audience clapped.

‘I am not just saying this to convince her to speak now’, he smiled, ‘but I would like to remind that some queens ruled impressively. Maybe it is about time to admit and welcome more women at the university...’, he suggested.

Students and professors were divided. Cinderella stood up and joined Charles.

‘Thank you so much for your warm welcome’, Cinderella started shyly, ‘We both agree that it is crucial to encourage a wider range of people to have access to school and college. Therefore, we will increase the number of scholarships for the poorer students.’

The audience stood up and applauded endlessly. When there was silence again, the President of the University invited everyone to go outside, where Charles inaugurated the construction work. Then the royal couple left the university to visit a school and an orphanage. In their way, the carriage hardly moved, due to the mob greeting Charles and Cinderella.

‘You should start travelling as incognitos...’, joked Alex, ‘this is impossible...’

At school, the couple attended a ceremony especially destined to them. Teachers and students prepared poetry readings, sketches of a play, and enactments of famous paintings. Charles and Cinderella greeted each student involved in the ceremony and answered some questions in the courtyard.

In the orphanage, children were thrilled, competing for the king and queen's attention. After talking to the orphanage's administrators, the couple spent some time with the children.

‘Queen Cinderella! Queen Cinderella, have you brought your glass slippers?’, asked a little girl grabbing Cinderella's dress.

Cinderella smiled and kneeled before the girl. A group of girls joined the conversation.

‘What's your name, dear?’

‘Alice’, the girl proudly answered, ‘And I am almost eight’.

‘You have such a beautiful name! I am so sorry I didn't bring my glass slippers today, Alice. They are a bit uncomfortable, so I cannot wear them every day. But I promise to return one day to show them.’

Alice hugged Cinderella and each girl around asked for a hug. In the orphanage auditorium, all the children offered Charles and Cinderella a drawing about them. Some featured Charles and Cinderella, others Charles fighting Zaral, and some added the little prince.

The following day, Charles checked the works in the hospital, consulted doctors, architects and workers to solve problems. Despite being told not to greet the patients, he managed to persuade doctors, in order to visit a few patients with non-contagious diseases. Some of them cried, amazed by his presence.

‘I wish you all the happiness in the world, your majesty. May God bless you, the queen and your children’, an old woman whispered when Charles held her hand.

In the afternoon, he inspected the troops and the royal guards with Alex, Bernard, commandant of the troops, and Andrew, commandant of the royal guard. At the end of the inspection, Charles heard some guards protesting with a senior officer.

‘What's going on here?’, asked Andrew.

‘The inspection is almost finished, and I left my wife in labor. Please, can I leave earlier today?’, asked a young guard.

‘I wasn't allowed either when my daughter was born’, complained another guard.

Charles approached them.

‘Maybe it is about time I change that’, Charles turned to the guard asking for permission to leave, ‘What is your name?’

‘George, Sire’, he nervously answered.

‘Alex, call the doctor and accompany him to George's house, please’, asked Charles.

‘Oh, sire! Thank you so much!’, George kneeled before Charles.

‘Stand up and go, quickly. I wish you and your wife happiness’, encouraged Charles.

‘But, sire!’, exclaimed Bernard.

‘We must reconsider shifts… They should be flexible according to these situations in peaceful days,’ replied Charles, ‘These men are trained to obey and act like machines. It will be dangerous to repress their human side. Furthermore, this a right I would like to grant to all workers’, he stated and continued inspecting the guards.

Bernard watched Charles quite puzzled. Andrew smiled at him and joined the young king.

Charles finished work in the late afternoon, and he went to the nursery room. It was decorated in cream marble stone. At the center, there was an emerald carpet below a green marble table in front of a white and emerald divan. In the left, there was a corner covered with yellow velvet and white pillows, where the prince played with his fabric and wooden toys. White curtains with golden ornaments covered parts of the large windows facing the garden.

Cinderella was reading in the divan whilst the prince was playing with Patch, Bingo, Chou-Chou and Papy. When Charles entered the room, the baby ran to him.

‘What do we say to Papa?’, asked Cinderella.

‘Baba!’, the prince replied laughing.

‘No, say it properly’, she insisted.

The baby laughed and jumped to Patch's back.

‘Never mind. Baba works for me’, smiled Charles while sitting in the divan, ‘He will say it sooner or later.’

‘You look so tired...,’ said Cinderella while caressing his face.

He held Cinderella's hand and kissed her cheek. Then he put his arm around her, and she leaned her head in his chest. They watched the prince riding Patch like a horse for a while.

‘The new king of Lohemia invited us to visit him in a few weeks’, informed Charles.

‘Oh, but he is too little to travel... Lohemia is so far away...’, answered Cinderella.

‘I'll go and you stay with him,’ said Charles, ‘I am not the least interested, but I can’t skip this meeting.’

‘You should talk to my father’, suggested Cinderella.


‘He was our ambassador in Lohemia’, she explained.

‘Oh, yes, you're right!’, agreed Charles.

‘And he can give you some advices on diplomacy’.

‘That's a very diplomatic way to say I'm not diplomatic’, smiled Charles.

‘You fool!’

They laughed and Charles laid down in the divan.

‘How is this king?’, asked Cinderella.

‘He seems picky and boring... judging by his requests...’, yawned Charles.

‘What requests?’, persisted Cinderella.

‘I'll tell you later’, he avoided.

‘Oh, come on… Tell me…’, insisted Cinderella.

‘Don't be annoying...’, yawned Charles.

Cinderella frowned and stood up. Charles laughed, grabbed her hand and pulled her back, making her fall over him. They were about to kiss, when a valet announced the dinner was served.

The toddler made a tantrum when he realized he had to stop playing. Cinderella tried to calm him down with his favorite teddy bear, whilst Charles tried to make him laugh with silly faces, but only the animals cheered him up. Cinderella gave up and put the prince back in Patch's torso.

‘Please, come with us’, desperately asked Cinderella to the animals.

Charles, Cinderella and the little prince used to visit her family on Saturdays. Sometimes, Charles' parents or Miss Paulette joined them for lunch. On that Saturday Alex accepted Cinderella's father invitation to lunch.

The royal couple usually arrived in the morning, because Cinderella insisted in cooking lunch with Dorothea, the new servant, an adorable plump woman around fifty who had worked in several noble houses since her husband's death. She was quite cheerful, always spreading good humor in the house. Dorothea turned out to be a good influence on Catherine and Jeanne, who were gradually changing. She also managed the duchess' temper, which was less arrogant due to Cinderella's father presence. Pierre, the coachman, who was getting older and sicker, needed Dorothea more than everyone.

On Saturdays, Charles and Cinderella dressed casually. Charles was wearing practically the same clothes he used to as Charles, the fibber, but with a dark blue jacket and a white scarf over the bordeaux vest. Cinderella was wearing a red and white dress. Charles generally asked her to let her hair out. He loved watching her long light hair with golden reflections swirling with the wind. They sat in a chair in the shade of the tree most cherished by Cinderella's mother and read a book to calm their son. Patch, Bingo, Chou-Chou and Papy listened to the stories and fell asleep right next to the couple.

The duchess and, especially, Dorothea never understood why Charles and Cinderella insisted on showing the room in the attic to their child. The couple smiled and climbed the stairs. When the baby was too tired to walk, Charles would give him a ride in his shoulders. The toddler laughed and opened his eyes in absolute joy. Cinderella held him and showed the view from one window. On the top of the verdant hill, there stood the Emerald Castle. She pointed at the castle and said, ‘Look! It is our home! HOME!’ The toddler looked attentively at her, then pointed and babbled.

‘The soup is great, isn't it, Charles?’, teased Alex at lunch.

Charles choked and Cinderella started giggling.

‘Oh, don't you like it, Charles?’, worried the duchess.

‘What's so funny about that, Cinderella?’, inquired Cinderella's father.

Charles cleared his throat and explained.

‘The soup is so delicious... I would like to bring Dorothea to the castle with us’, replied Charles after thinking fast.

‘It seems to me that the crown prince also approves the soup. He is constantly asking for more! So cute…,’ smiled Jeanne with her eyes closed.

‘Oh, yes, and he is very demanding’, added Cinderella while giving a spoon of soup to the baby.

Charles was throwing furious glances at Alex, when Dorothea entered and served the rest of the meal.

‘Is everything alright?’

‘It is perfect, Dorothea’, answered Cinderella.

‘Dorothea, why don't you join us?’, invited Charles.

The duchess frowned.

‘And Pierre, too. Bring Pierre’, reminded Charles.

‘Oh, but... May I, sir?’, Dorothea turned to the duke.

‘Of course’, smiled Cinderella's father, ‘actually, we should do this more often’.

Dorothea collected the dishes and called Pierre on her way to the kitchen.

‘I am sorry. I should have consulted you first...’, apologized Charles to his father-in-law, ‘After all, I am your guest...’.

‘My guest?’, laughed the duke, ‘You are at home, Charles.’

‘Do you usually have supper with servants in the castle?’, asked the duchess.

‘No, because they are too many’, replied Charles, ‘But Cinderella and I are trying to memorize all their names.’

The duchess laughed until she realized she was laughing alone.

‘Do you think you will ever make it?’, asked Jeanne.

‘It is easier, if you make an effort to spend some time with them’, answered Cinderella.

Charles meditatively took a zip of wine and continued.

‘I’m about to pass a law forbidding servants to work below 16 and over 55,’ informed Charles.

‘Oh, but that will affect many people…’, replied Catherine.

‘Don't you think that child work and slavery should eventually end?’, inquired Charles.

‘We are not saying it is cruel, but that it can affect many employers... and many parents need their children to work...’, said Jeanne.

‘I know that, and those children working for their parents will be supervised from now on,’ explained Charles.

‘But, Charles, don't you think that can cause you trouble? We know you are the king, but I fear many people will react to that’, worried Catherine.

‘Maybe you should do it latter’, suggested the duchess while taking a zip of tea, ‘let things settle down’.

‘Well, I admit that timing is important, but it is a major ethical cause’, replied Charles.

Dorothea and Pierre joined them. They sensed a strange tension in the family, but Cinderella's father cheered them up, by making questions about Alex. After the supper, the group was split. The duchess called Cinderella. Charles and Cinderella's father went to the office. Catherine and Jeanne were sharing suspicions, whilst Alex, Dorothea, Pierre and the animals took after the prince.

‘Cinderella, did you ever told your husband that you used to do the chores around here?,’ asked the duchess, ‘By that time I was very nervous due to your father's departure. I should have consulted a doctor back then... but I never treated you like a servant...’

Cinderella was speechless.

‘Don't you think so?’, insisted the duchess.

‘No, mother, I have never told Charles about it,’ answered Cinderella.

‘I think he doesn't like me, no matter how charming I am... This makes me so sad... Do you think I am imagining things, or...?’, complained the duchess.

‘Please, don't worry about that and don't take him too serious. He has so many things in his mind… I am sure he didn't mean to offend you,’ tranquillized Cinderella.

‘But could you make him like me?’, asked the duchess.

‘Of course, mother, and I know he likes you,’ smiled Cinderella, ‘Don't worry.’

Meanwhile, Jeanne and Catherine were commenting Charles, Cinderella and Alex's behavior.

‘Jeanne, do you think Alex was referring to the soup Cinderella's friend cooked for duke Zaral?’, wondered Catherine.

‘How could that be?’, replied Jeanne.

‘Cinderella could have told them...’, speculated Catherine, ‘but that doesn't explain Charles' reaction.’

‘Yes, he choked and seemed affected by the soup. I don't see why’, agreed Jeanne.

‘Jeanne, now that we get to know him better, don't you find our brother-in-law familiar...?’, hinted Catherine.

‘I hope you are not suggesting he is...’, feared Jeanne.

‘Yes, I am afraid he is,’ agreed Catherine.

‘No!’, screamed Jeanne.

Catherine shushed Jeanne with her hand.

‘We made him cook lunch and clean the house… He watched how we treated Cinderella...’, recollected Jeanne, ‘And Cinderella was with him all the time... No wonder they danced at the ball...’

‘Yes’, agreed Catherine.

‘But, no. No prince could leave the castle that way, and act in such a manner. Come on, Catherine, he even spent two nights here, when those awful bandits threatened us. No prince could ever behave like that, and fall in love with Cinderella in those clothes... She practically seemed like a servant back then,’ concluded Jeanne.

‘Don’t be so naïf... Lots of princes and kings fall for servants. They don't marry them, though’, replied Catherine.

‘What a strange phenomenon...’, observed Jeanne, blasé.

Meanwhile, Charles and Cinderella's father were drinking and chatting about diplomacy in the office.

‘I think you will like Lohemia, Charles. And I hope the new king turns out to be better than those letters suggest’, wished the duke.

‘I hope so, too’, agreed Charles.

‘And his father was a good king’, added the duke.

From the window, they could watch Cinderella playing with the baby and the animals. The duke stood silent and drank a zip of cognac.

‘Frances loved that tree...’, recollected the duke.

Charles could see the sparkle in his father-in-law's eyes and was hardly searching for words to deal with it. The duke had never talked to him about Cinderella's mother.

‘Cinderella told me...’, smiled Charles, ‘they used to play around that tree...’.

‘Yes, it is one of the few things Cinderella remembers. Now, when I see my grandson there, she immediately comes to mind...’, explained the duke, ‘She would have love to know him.’

‘Yes... we all would love to know her’, smiled Charles.

The duke searched for a book in the shelves and continued. Charles felt a sort of déjà vu. Immediately came to his mind the moment when he was arguing with Zaral in the library. Zaral, like Cinderella's father, was a widow. They were both noble, had successful careers, and venerated their daughters as precious gifts left by their deceased mothers. Yet they were so different. Since the engagement to Cinderella, Charles felt totally at ease with the duke of Viel, and wished he had known Cinderella and her father sooner.

‘All Frances wanted was to paint, read and write. She was a wild spirit, a very independent woman often interpreted as eccentric. One day, her parents forced her to attend a ball in duke Zaral's palace. I was immediately attracted to her passionate conversations and invited her to dance… She brought so much joy to this home, but everything vanished so quickly...’

Charles stood silent.

‘Frances got ill when Cinderella was starting to talk and died when she was four,’ told the duke.

‘It was tragic. I am so sorry’, lamented Charles.

‘People are irreplaceable... And I should have understood that…’, paused the duke, ‘This house became unbearable to me. Work and my diplomatic career saved me, but I'm afraid I didn't protect Cinderella as I should.’

Charles watched Cinderella through the window. The wind was swirling her hair and her skirt.

‘Only you fixed Frances' loss’, confessed the duke.

Charles widened his eyes.

‘I...? But...’

‘Cinderella's inner sadness only disappeared when you got engaged. She has never been so happy in her entire life. Your joyfulness, optimism and courage have strengthened her, and healed the wounds in this house’, the duke glimpsed the prince pushing Cinderella's skirt and smiled, ‘Nothing makes me happier than watching the way she looks at you, the way you both laugh, or play with my grandson near that tree.’

Charles smiled and thanked him.

‘I only wish you can raise my grandchildren together and live a long, healthy life. Other ambitions turn out to be irrelevant.’

Charles swallowed a zip of cognac. He wasn't sure if the duke was trying to convince him to take care and be more moderate about his political ambitions. Nevertheless, the duke spoke indisputable truths, and shared with him the most painful story of his life.

‘I wish that too, agreed Charles with a smile.

The duchess knocked on the door. It was teatime. Charles stood up and the duke turned to him.

‘It is better to join them immediately... Helen has quite a temper,’ joked the duke, making Charles laugh.

The duke was opening the door, when Charles spoke, hesitantly:

‘I don't know if Cinderella has already told you, but... we would both like to name our first daughter Frances’.

The duke smiled with a sparkle in his eyes.

‘Thank you… I can hardly wait for that...’

Charles, Cinderella, their son and Alex returned to the Emerald castle after tea. Charles and the duke parted with a tight hug that surprised Cinderella. In the carriage, Cinderella was caressing the sleepy prince in her lap, while Charles mocked Alex for having spent too much time talking to Catherine and Jeanne.

‘My step-mother told me they have lots of suitors, since we got married,’ told Cinderella.

Charles and Alex laughed.

‘What's so funny about that?’, frowned Cinderella.

‘I love when you are naïf...’, teased Charles while poking her on the nose.

‘Do you really think I am that naïf?’, she laughed grabbing his hand, ‘Of course I know why they're interested since then.’

Charles smiled and lengthily pecked on her cheek.

On the following day, Cinderella, the baby, Charles' parents and her animals were watching Charles and Alex fencing. At the end of the session, the little prince left Cinderella's lap, stood up and clapped. Charles sheathed the sword and carried him. The couple, the baby and Alex went together to the office, where the little prince loved to play. Charles used to show him Cinderella's portrait by Zoré, which was on a right wall near the desk. Then he released the baby, who crawled very fast below Charles' desk and giggled while hiding from his parents. He was starting to disturb Charles’ work, when Susana entered announcing that Paulette had arrived.

‘Oh, I'm going right away, Susanna! Please, could you take care of the prince while I talk to her? Charles thinks he can rule and baby-sit at the same time, but...’

‘I say one more time: give me those papers!’, scolded Charles when the prince caught the king of Lohemia's letter.

Susanna smiled and took care of the baby, while Cinderella called her animals and ran to Paulette, who hugged her tightly.

‘Dear Paulette, I missed you so much! Did you enjoy the Green Valley kingdom?’, asked Cinderella.

‘It is wonderful. Beautiful landscapes. The city is reborn from the ashes, and people seem happy and confident. Honestly, I think king Conrad is doing a good job’, summed up Paulette.

‘Charles is very fond of uncle Conrad’, smiled Cinderella, ‘I also liked him.’

‘By the way, where is my godson?’, smiled Paulette with her eyes closed.

‘We will see him right away, but I have an urgent thing to tell you’, said Cinderella in a serious tone.

Cinderella examined every corner of the room and whispered:

‘I have a bad feeling about Charles's trip to Lohemia... Could you please follow his carriage to protect him and my parents-in-law?’, asked Cinderella.

‘Of course, my dear,’ accepted Paulette.

‘Actually, I would feel better if you accompany him more often. He has been threatened lately...’, confessed Cinderella, ‘Please, don't tell a word about this to Charles! He must not know you will follow him’.

‘You can rely on me... but why can't he know that?’

‘He doesn't know about your powers...’, explained Cinderella.

‘What?’, laughed Paulette, ‘Haven't you told him about the ball?’

‘He is very rational, Paulette... He would never believe me. And he is too proud to accept help’, said Cinderella.

‘Well, he has reasons to be proud, but he must be prudent’, advised Paulette.

‘Papy, I need you to follow Charles, too. If something happens to him, please, return here,’ she asked the little bird.

‘You can count on me, Cinderella’, promised Papy.

‘The king of Lohemia also required the presence of my father-in-law. Thus, Charles’ parents are going with him. We decided I should stay here with our son, but I am so worried... I can hardly sleep...’, blew out Cinderella.

‘Don't worry. Charles won't be alone’, tranquilized Paulette.

Cinderella hugged her and they went to the nursery, where they played with the baby until dinnertime.

The day of the departure arrived. Charles woke up at six. The light was still very dim, and he tried to be as silent as possible not to wake up Cinderella and the baby. He was buttoning up his black and bordeaux suit, when Cinderella felt the bed empty and woke up.

‘Keep sleeping, my love. I will have breakfast, talk to Andrew, and return here before we leave’, he said while holding his sword, which fell, because he was paying attention to Cinderella.

Cinderella stood up immediately, caught the sword and returned it to Charles. He attached the sheathed sword to his belt, and she hugged him. Then he put his right hand on Cinderella’s waist, pulling her strongly against him.

‘I wish I would go with you…’, sighed Cinderella.

‘I wish I didn't go at all’, replied Charles, making her laugh.

‘You are so tired, my love,’ she said whilst caressing his face, ‘promise me you will rest when you arrive.’

Charles nodded yes and passionately kissed her neck.

‘Oh, let's take off these clothes, and stroll in the village like we used to do!’, suggested Cinderella.

Charles smiled, and whispered something in Cinderella's ear that made her blush. They giggled and, when their lips were almost touching, he looked closely into her eyes.

‘Do you miss Charles, the fibber?’, he asked, while caressing her hair.

Cinderella looked deeply into his eyes.

‘I think I do...’, admitted Cinderella after careful thought.

‘I miss him too’, confessed Charles.

He caressed her face and they closed their eyes whilst sharing a long, impetuous kiss.

By eight o'clock, the carriages and the escort were ready. The emeritus king and queen were happy to travel and to meet Lohemia's royal family, which had good relations to Charles' mother's family.

Charles asked Alex to stay in the castle with Cinderella and the prince. Andrew, who was wearing the same clothes as Charles to confuse potential attackers, and ten guards were chosen to escort the young king and his parents. Andrew hopelessly tried to convince Charles to wear casual clothes, but Charles refused. Everyone knew how much he preferred to dress in plain clothes, but he felt awful about letting Andrew assume all the risks. Thus, they decided to dress both as king.

The royal family went down the stairs that gave access to the courtyard. Cinderella bid farewell to her parents-in-law; Charles hugged Hans, who advise him to be always wise, and he turned to Alex.

‘Please, take good care of them,’ asked Charles, displaying an unusual sadness in his light blue eyes.

‘I'll protect them with my life’, promised Alex when they hugged each other.

Patch jumped to Charles. The king kneeled and petted the dog.

‘I am sure no one will dare to attack the castle with you here. Play with him, and bite to death the first person who touches them’, asked Charles.

‘You can count on me’, answered Patch.

‘Are you talking to Patch?’, inquired Alex.

‘Are you mad, Alex?’, smiled Charles, while winking at the animals.

Cinderella was once again insisting with the prince to say "Papa" properly.

"Baba", said the child.

Charles and Cinderella smiled and, suddenly, the baby started an awful, deep cry.

‘He never cried like this before...’, remarked Cinderella.

‘He must be sleepy… he usually wakes up later’, calmed Susana.

Cinderella held her son strongly against her, and tried to comfort him. Charles hugged and wrapped them with his yellow, long cape. The parents kissed each cheek of the baby at the same time. Then Charles kissed Cinderella in the mouth, surprising those who were present.

‘I heard that a new grocery shop sells the most delicious apples. When I arrive, we will change clothes, and I will take you for a ride,’ whispered Charles.

Cinderella kissed Charles’ cheek and offered him the flowers of their first encounter.

‘The flowers from my dream… to give you luck…’

He smiled, kept the flowers, and kissed her hand.

‘I am sorry to disturb, your majesty, but we must go,’ informed one of the coachmen.

Charles, his parents and Andrew entered the main carriage. More two carriages were necessary for luggage and food. Three guards were next to the coachmen, while the other rode horses.

Once the three carriages left the Emerald castle, Paulette and Papy followed them. Paulette was always in the right path, and put a spell in her horse that muted all its sounds, so that she could pass unnoticed by the guards. Everything was going according to plan until a huge row of cattle crossed Paulette's path, preventing her to see which direction the carriage took in a fork in the road.

Around lunchtime, the carriage stopped near a cave in the forest, where they ate and chatted. At the end of the break, Andrew, Charles and the guards were heading for the carriages when, suddenly, someone hidden in the trees shot them all in the back. The scene petrified Charles' parents and other servants, still in the cave. Paulette, who had finally found the track, heard the queen's scream of horror, and galloped as fast as possible. Papy, who had successfully accompanied the entire itinerary, didn't know what to do…

- To be continued -



Chapter Text

Two men jumped from the trees. One approached the cave where Charles' parents and some servants were sheltered. The servants tried to protect the emeritus king and queen, who struggled to leave the cave to join their son lying outside. The other attacker walked through the injured men. He stopped nearby Charles and was about to unveil the young king's yellow cape, which curiously had no signs of blood. When the man touched the cape, Charles abruptly kicked him off, unsheathed his sword and showed his pistol.

‘Do you really think I wouldn't wear a bullet proof vest?’, he smiled while touching the throat of the attacker with the tip of the sword, ‘Who planned this?’

‘I wouldn't be so confident, your highness. Drop your weapons, or I will kill everyone in this cave,’ threatened the man near the cave.

Paulette arrived, and Charles took advantage from the distraction caused by the horse neigh to shoot the two attackers. The king and queen ran to Charles, when he was sheathing the sword and closing his eyes in a moment of regret. The queen hugged him tight and asked him to return to the Emerald castle. Charles nodded and left his parents to approach the guards lying on the floor.

‘It is over, my friends. You can stand up now.’

Nobody answered. They remained still, lying face down, and an icy cold ran down Charles' spine. He desperately started turning them belly upward. Some were already dead, and others deeply injured. Charles immediately called the servants and the doctor, who was always present in these royal trips. Then he approached Andrew, who was hardly breathing. Charles slightly raised Andrew with his arms and noticed he was shot in the belly.

‘Andrew, what happened to your vest…?’, asked Charles incredulously.

‘They were not ready in time… and I would not cancel this trip, because of that… You had one. That was all that mattered…’, whispered Andrew while panting.

‘You should have informed me,’ lamented Charles.

‘Your majesty, please, go away with the queen and the prince. This kingdom doesn't deserve you…’, asked Andrew.

‘But Andrew…’

‘Promise me you will go away", shuddered Andrew, ‘Please, leave me here… let me take your place to spare your life…’


‘Promise me, sire, please…’, insisted Andrew, ‘If you die, I will die in vain’.

Charles nodded, and Andrew smiled right before agonizing. The doctor concluded that there was nothing he could do. Andrew eventually died in Charles' arms. The king closed Andrew’s eyes laid him down and kneeled before him.

‘Farewell, my brave captain’, Charles turned his face to the side were there were no people watching.

The group cried the young guards' lives and Charles stood up after some minutes of silence.

‘We must take them back at once, notify their families and prepare the funerals. The trip is cancelled,’ he decided.

‘But, Charles…’, objected king Lewis.

‘The king of Lohemia will certainly understand, father.’

Servants, the doctor and Charles himself were collecting the bodies when, suddenly, a dart hit Charles' neck. The king fell instantly, but, despite the pain, Charles was able to remove the dart from his neck. He stood up and looked up, finding a third attacker hidden in the trees.

‘Damn you…’, cursed Charles right before shooting the man.

The young king staggered and fell unconscious. The queen cried, holding her son in her arms, while the doctor examined Charles and the dart, which was poisoned. Without the proper antidote, the young king would die in a few hours.

All of a sudden, they heard sounds of horses approaching and decided to leave.

‘There's no time to lose. We cannot save the king, if we stay here. His guards would understand,’ ordered the doctor, ‘Coachman, please, take us to the nearest village.’

Paulette followed them and cast a spell on the horses to increase speed. Ten minutes later, they found a humble house in the outskirts of a small village and asked for shelter. Shocked by the news, the owners of the house immediately welcomed the royal entourage and offered their bedroom to lay down the young king. Once the group was settled in that house, Paulette asked them to remain there until she brought Cinderella. She also asked Papy to stay, because she could travel much quickly than the little bird. Every second was precious.

Cinderella was obliviously staring at the window while the little prince was throwing down all his play cubes and laughing at Alex, when Paulette appeared in the room. Cinderella and Alex stood up immediately.

‘How did she appeared like that…?’, Alex turned to Cinderella.

‘My dear Cinderella… there was an attack, the guards were killed, and Charles was poisoned. You must come,’ warned Paulette.

Cinderella paled and fainted in shock, but Alex quickly revived her with a glass of water and sugar.

‘Mama, mama…’, the little prince grabbed Cinderella's dress.

She smiled and got the baby on her lap.

‘How is he? Where is he?’, worriedly asked Cinderella.

‘In a critical condition. I will take you there. He is not very far from here, still within our borders,’ replied Paulette.

‘We must leave at once’, decided Cinderella.

‘I will call the doctors and a few guards to escort us,’ said Alex.

‘I think you should be discrete. Don't give details to chaperones, dress casual and take a carriage without the royal seal,’ advised Paulette.

‘I just want to bring the doctors, my son, my father and the animals with us…’, replied Cinderella.

Alex agreed and managed everything. Hans understood what was going on and joined the group. Fifteen minutes later, they were on their way to Cinderella's house. Alex gave the news to the family and brought Cinderella's father to the carriage. The duke hugged Cinderella and she cried on his shoulder.

‘Charles is strong...’, comforted the duke.

‘Oh, Papa...’

‘I will stay with you no matter what’, assured the father.

Thanks to Paulette's spell, they quickly arrived at the house where Charles was. Alex dismissed the carriages with royal seal and made sure the guards were well hidden in the woods, to avoid suspicions.

After greeting and thanking the owners of the house, Cinderella ran to her parents-in-law, nearby Charles, and left the little prince on her mother-in-law's lap. Tearfully, she bent down, caressed and kissed Charles' face.

‘Oh, he is burning…’

‘Your majesty… we…’, started one of the doctors.

‘You must save him!’, cried Cinderella.

‘Please, doctor, there must be something you can do,’ insisted queen Caroline.

‘I will give him a general antidote I brought’, answered one of the doctors who arrived with Cinderella, ‘but I'm afraid it is not powerful enough...’

‘It is a very strong poison...’

Cinderella stood up and looked at Paulette.

‘Do you remember when we caught the medicinal herbs in the magic forest?’, she recalled.

‘Yes, of course I do,’ replied Paulette.

Then Cinderella turned to the doctors.

‘Have you heard about those woods? Do you think we could find there an herb to make a better antidote?’

‘Actually, there are some herbs more appropriate to fight this poison’, answered one doctor approaching a table.

He listed the ingredients necessary for the antidote and explained that if someone could gather those herbs by sunset, Charles had chances to survive. Cinderella decided to go find the herbs with her father and Paulette. Before leaving, she asked Alex and the animals to protect her son.

‘Mama will be back in no time. Be good to grandma and grandpa’, said Cinderella putting the baby on her mother-in-law's lap.

‘Gamma...’, replied the prince, making Charles's mother in tears.

‘Be careful, my dear’, asked king Lewis when Cinderella hugged him.

Cinderella nodded yes, hugged her mother-in-law and kissed Charles’ lips.

‘Please, wait for me, my love...’

As Cinderella left the room with Paulette and her father, the little prince ran after her crying. King Lewis caught him, comforted him and carried him back to the room. From the window, the grandparents and the child watched Cinderella and the duke waving goodbye. It was starting to rain, and Charles was getting worse.

Paulette casted one more spell on the horses and the wheels. Cinderella leaned on her father's chest and looked at the window while remembering the happiest moments she spent with Charles.

The day she moved to the castle was the first joyful chapter of her live. Charles made sure the servants helped Cinderella getting along and setting things up. She immediately connected with Hans and Alex and was charming to all the staff in charge of her. All the servants were delighted to meet her; throughout the castle echoed songs and cheerful moods. At dinner, the king and queen tenderly watched Charles and Cinderella gazing at each other and holding hands.

In the evening, they strolled near the fountain, like they did on the night of the ball. By midnight, Charles took Cinderella to her room. He was wearing his bordeaux costume while she dressed a light emerald gown. The shortest layers of hair were tied with an emerald locket, leaving her longest hair loose.

‘I promise tomorrow I will know all the way to my room.’

Charles laughed.

‘Do you really think you can walk around here without asking for directions?’, he teased.

She frowned.

‘Actually, I enjoy being your cicerone...’, he smiled.

Cinderella smiled and kissed his cheek. Guards were scattered all over the corridor, making displays of intimacy uncomfortable.

‘Good night, my princess’, Charles kissed her hand while looking into her eyes and winked.

‘Good night, my prince’, she smiled wondering the meaning of the wink.

Cinderella entered the room and leaned against the door with her eyes closed recalling her sweet day. Then, she giggled, and whirled all the way to the window. When she opened the curtains to enter the balcony, Charles was right behind the window.

‘Hello, princess!’

Cinderella drew back in surprise.

‘How did you...?’, asked Cinderella while opening the window.

‘Shhhh...’, he silenced while entering, ‘I had to find ways to amuse myself in the castle.’

‘Were you spying on me?’

Charles laughed and denied.

‘You're lying!’, she crossed her arms and turned her back on him.

Charles caught Cinderella, hugged her from behind and wrapped his yellow cape around her, making her giggle. Then he became serious and looked her in the eyes.

‘I want you to know that I would never marry the girl in the ball if she wasn't you. Deep in my heart, I knew she was you.’


‘I love you since the first day we collide in the village’, confessed Charles.

Cinderella leaned on Charles' chest.

‘I love since that day, too, Charles… from the moment you returned my key…’, Charles caressed her face, ‘But I felt so conflicted when I thought you were lying’.

‘Confess you love when I lie.’

‘You naughty!’

They laughed and, when they calmed down, he continued.

‘Although I was always kept cheerful, I spent a hard time disguising myself, escaping to meet you. I wondered how we could be together and how could I tell my parents. When I was pressured to marry Isabelle, I thought I was doomed to an arranged marriage, to lose you forever. Every time I was forced to be with her, I only thought of you...’

‘If I married Melville, I would also think of you…’, admitted Cinderella.

‘Luckily for us they ran together’, smiled Charles, making Cinderella laugh.

‘I hope they are fine…,’ whished Cinderella, then she thought for a while, ‘Do you think Zaral will attack again?’

‘Yes, certainly. That's one of the reasons why I want to spend these evenings with you...’

‘What are the other reasons?’, inquired Cinderella.

Charles cleared his throat.

‘There are many things I wish to do during the day, but… we are never alone…’, he whispered into her ear.

Cinderella blushed; her heart beat faster than ever. Charles held Cinderella’s hand and closed a red curtain in the middle of her chamber.

A few minutes later, they were so absorbed in their caresses that they barely heard the turmoil coming from the corridor. They were sat in a white divan, almost laid down.

‘Princess Cinderella’, knocked Hans, ‘I am sorry to disturb, but a guard thinks he saw someone in your balcony. Is everything alright?’

Charles and Cinderella giggled.

‘I am alright, Hans. Thank you’, she replied.

‘Nevertheless, we will check your room, for safety precautions. May we come in, princess?’, asked Hans.

‘I handle this’, smiled Charles, ‘let them enter.’

‘Yes, you may’, consented Cinderella.

Hans, Alex and five guards saw Cinderella and Charles with surprise.

‘Prince Charles, what are you doing in the princess' room at midnight?’

‘When I was strolling in the courtyard, I saw someone climbing the balcony. I immediately climbed the walls, and fought the man, who was almost entering the room – he must be down there…’, pointed Charles, ‘then I came in to check if Cinderella was alright.’

‘Oh, yes,’ confirmed Cinderella trying not to laugh.

‘Hm... very well, then...’, frowned the old tutor, ‘Hour highness, it is time to bid farewell to the princess.’

Charles kissed Cinderella in the cheek and left the room with Hans, Alex and the guards. When the prince was passing through the door, Alex discreetly remarked:

‘You have lipstick all over your face…’

Charles put his hand behind his neck and smiled with his eyes closed.

‘That's my reward’.

Despite Hans's attempts to prevent Charles and Cinderella from seeing each other in late evening, the prince always found a way to sneak into his fiancée's room before the wedding. Thanks to Alex, they also manage to escape from the castle. One day, Charles took Cinderella to a ride in his horse. The young lovers spent the day catching blue berries nearby a stream. They cooled off in the stream transparent waters, read poetry and shared endless kisses rolling in the grass.

On the morning of the wedding day, the castle was attacked by duke Zaral once more. Cinderella was taken as hostage, while Zaral and his men were convinced they had poisoned Charles. The prince foresaw the menace, and quickly coordinated the defense with Alex and the guards. By noon, Charles had saved Cinderella and fought Zaral, who fell from the clock tower of the castle. The couple was crowned king and queen of Emerald kingdom in their wedding ceremony, and left the castle for a small tour in the village after greeting the crowd in the castle. In the evening, there was held a magnificent ball in the castle. Around eleven, the royal couple finally went to their bedroom.

It was a cozy room decorated in red, light emerald and cream marbles. The windows and the balcony faced the courtyard garden. On the right, a door lead to Cinderella's chambers and the nursery; on the left, a door gave access to Charles' chambers and private library. A table was delicately set with flowers, fruits, sweets, two glasses and drinks. Charles opened a bottle of Champagne, poured the glasses and offered one to Cinderella. She was wearing a sheath white silk gown and had just let her hair down.

‘Alex and I simulated a toast, in order to confuse Zaral's men. Now I would like to do it for real with you.’

Cinderella smiled at him in bliss.

‘Cinderella, I wish to make you the happiest woman...’

‘You already do it… all the time,’ confessed Cinderella.

‘Cheers to us!’, started Charles.

‘… to our family!’, added Cinderella.

‘… to our friends!’, added Charles.

‘… and to the Emerald kingdom!’, added Cinderella.

‘… and to the Emerald kingdom!’, added Charles.

Charles and Cinderella drank, laid the empty glasses on the table and hugged each other. They stood embraced, breathing nervously, for a few moments. Charles lifted Cinderella in his arms, and they kissed nonstop, as he carried her to the bed.

The newlyweds spent their honeymoon in a castle in the coast destined for the vacations of the royal family. They used to stroll as incognitos in the nearby village. One day, Charles saved a little boy from drowning in the pier. Thus, the family of the boy invited the couple to an amusing village party signaling the end of the summer. During those two weeks, they sailed, swam in an affluent river and adventured themselves in a wild forest. In the evening, they had dinner and danced in rooms facing the limitless sea.

In October, Charles officially started his reign, and that winter, when the castle welcomed a foreign king with a ball, a royal doctor confirmed Cinderella was expecting their first child.

The little prince was born on the 30th July, three days after Charles's 18th birthday. During labor, Charles always stood by Cinderella's side, encouraging her. The moment when he placed their son in her lap and tenderly looked at her repeatedly emerged in Cinderella's mind.

‘I can't go on without him, father’, cried Cinderella.

‘There is hope, my dear. Don’t say such things’, comforted Paulette, ‘Look, we are arriving’.

Cinderella moved to the right seat, in order to watch the magic woods, which seemed less scary this time, despite its foggy, uneasy atmosphere. As Cinderella, Paulette and the duke walked a few steps in the woods, echoed the ghostly voices.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Please, spirits of the woods, let us pass. We come in peace’, introduced Paulette.

‘None shall pass.’

‘We know everything.’

‘You want to steal our precious herbs.’

‘Please, good spirits of the woods, let me catch your herbs to save my husband’, explained Cinderella.

‘We recognize you.’

‘You have already come here to save your step-mother.’

The duke looked at Cinderella in surprise.

‘The same person cannot take the herbs twice.’

Cinderella fell in despair and Paulette went to her.

‘In that case, I will catch the herbs’, decided the duke.

‘Oh, Papa…!’, cried Cinderella.

‘He must be a good son-in-law…’, mocked a voice.

‘He is a great man and means a lot to many people’, replied the duke.

‘He might be great man, but he killed three people and let his guards die today’.

Cinderella widened her eyes, surprised.

‘He killed in self-defense and thought the guards were protected’, replied Paulette.

‘How can you say that?’, added Cinderella, ‘Although I wasn't there, I imagine how much that made him suffer today… Charles is the noblest and bravest king that ever ruled’, defended Cinderella.

‘He drags you and your family into his problems,’ objected a voice.

‘I have also dragged him into my problems’, replied Cinderella.

‘If he wasn't such a dreamer, you and your child would have a more quiet, happier life’, provoked another voice.

‘I love Charles as he is, and I will always support him’, affirmed Cinderella.

Cinderella cried in absolute despair and the duke hugged her.

‘That's enough! My first wife died when our daughter was a little child. Now I want a different story for Cinderella and my grandson’, said the duke.

‘Oh, father…’

‘If you have let my daughter save my current wife, you must let us save Charles’, insisted the duke.

Suddenly, a light beam illuminated the woods and silenced the evil voices.

‘Thomas…’, echoed a female voice that Paulette easily recognized. The duke paled, astonished.


‘Oh, Mama!’, cried Cinderella.

Cinderella's mother emerged from the light beam and approached them.

‘Oh, my love…’, the duke hopelessly tried to hold Frances' ghost.

‘Oh, my darling… I came to spare Charles and Cinderella from tragedy. The herbs in the ground below me heal the strongest poisons. Take them to save Charles.’

‘Oh, Mama… How I wish you were with us…’, cried Cinderella.

‘I am, more than you think, my dear. I know you and Charles will have more children and will raise them together.’

‘Oh, Mama…’

‘From now on, you will face many difficulties, but your love will be powerful enough to overcome everything.’

Frances' ghost smiled and looked tenderly at Cinderella and the duke before vanishing. The grass she had stepped on was illuminated and had various species of medicinal herbs. Paulette helped picking up the ingredients for the antidote, according to the list, and they quickly run to the carriage.

Cinderella, Paulette and the duke arrived at a moment of absolute pessimism. Charles was agonizing. His mother, near by the bed, was praying in tears, while Alex and the animals tried to keep the little prince quiet. Charles' father and Hans were sat, head down, near the bed. When Cinderella entered, the little prince ran to her and everyone stood up in hope. Paulette not only gave the herbs to the doctors, but also assisted them preparing the antidote. Cinderella sat nearby Charles and held his hand.

One hour later there were still no signs of recovery. The little prince started to cry and crawled to Charles' chest. He touched Charles' face, abruptly pulled his hair and pronounced 'Papa' for the first time. Before Cinderella reprimanded the child for pulling his father's hair, Charles woke up, hugged and kissed his son. Then Charles tickled the toddler’s belly, making the prince burst into laughter and ran to Cinderella's lap.

‘This will teach you not to pull someone's hair’, smiled Charles with his typical good humor.

Then he addressed Cinderella.

‘I dreamt about you all the time.’

Cinderella burst into tears and hugged Charles. King Lewis and queen Caroline joined the hug. Hans cried on Alex's shoulder. Paulette celebrated with Patch, Bingo, Chou-Chou and Papy. The doctors congratulated each other. The duke carried his grandson on the lap.

‘Thank you, Frances…’, murmured Thomas in tears.

Chapter Text

One afternoon after Isabelle's runaway with Melville, duke Zaral was in his mansion when a valet announced the arrival of prince Rudolph, duke of Tamp. Zaral immediately hid all evidences of the conspiracy and prepared his chess board in a small table in the office, near the window.

'Send him in', approved Zaral.

While waiting for the unexpected guest, something must have come up in the duke's mind that completely changed his confident mood. Zaral was pensive by the chess game until a deep, glacial voice entered the room.

'Please, enter, your highness', welcomed Zaral, 'What a great surprise! You finally accepted my invitation.'

Rudolph of Tamp came into the light. The young prince was wearing an impeccable emerald suit with red and silver embroidery. He was thinner and taller than Zaral. His dark brilliant hair and perfect moustache contrasted with the extreme white skin and the light green eyes. Although he appeared most kind and enchanting, Rudolph made the atmosphere uneasy, by speaking very slowly.

'Would you like to play chess with me, your highness?'

'What a brilliant idea, Zaral!'

Zaral pulled up a chair, invited Rudolph to sit down and they started to play. Rudolph chose the white pieces, whereas Zaral picked the black ones.

'I came for your advice. Prince Charles is about to be 17. Since you spend most of your time with him, I think you're the best person to assist me finding a gift for my cousin.'

‘I feel flattered, your highness. Well, the prince appreciates fencing, horse riding and hunting very much…', suggested Zaral.

'How I would like to challenge him to a duel… in an amicable way, of course', smiled Rudolph, ‘My cousin and I have some interests in common. I also enjoy riding and hunting.'

'I see… Recently Charles developed a sudden passion for reading. He has been devouring all books on politics, philosophy, history, literature and art. He disappears from balls and other important ceremonies to go to the library. A few months ago, he had a completely different attitude. His tutor is very glad,' informed Zaral.

'His library must have all the books…', wondered Rudolph.

'Oh, yes. The king is very generous and allows me and other members of the court to borrow books,' confirmed Zaral.

‘It might be irrelevant to offer a book to such a complete library... Anyway, what do you think he would prefer? Machiavelli, Shakespeare?', inquired Rudolph.

'Certainly, Shakespeare. And he likes Plato a lot. Now I think he is reading rather subversive political theories…', speculated Zaral.

Zaral's bishop made a good move.

'I heard Charles was going to marry soon. Is it true?', asked Rudolph.

'Honestly, I don't know…', confessed Zaral.

Rudolph seemed concentrated on his move and Zaral continued.

'He often leaves the castle as incognito… I knew that a while ago and I suspected he had an affair.'

'He wouldn't be the first prince to do that…,' said Rudolph with a naughty smile.

'He managed to keep his secret for a long time, but this week one of my men found out he regularly meets a girl in town… a young servant...’, revealed Zaral, ‘Please, keep it to yourself. If someone spreads this, it will be a scandal’.

'You can trust me. But… if I were you, I wouldn't be so worried', said Rudolph while rubbing his chin.

'Why not?', wondered Zaral.

'He is our future king… I am sure Charles knows perfectly the proper thing to do and the proper person to wed', said Rudolph.

'Charles knows what is the proper thing, but he will do otherwise and test all the limits', countered Zaral.

'Checkmate', smiled Rudolph.

'That was amazing, your highness!', complimented Zaral.

The valet entered and announced the arrival of Gandhis, Charles's fencing teacher. Zaral froze and paled but tried to conceal his concern.

'Let him wait’, ordered Zaral, ‘Can't you see I am playing chess with his royal highness, the duke of Tamp?'

'I know, sir, but he says it is urgent', transmitted the valet.

'Oh, Zaral, please, I do not want to disturb your affairs’, smiled Rudolph, ‘You must be the busiest man in the kingdom.'

No matter how much excuses Zaral invented to stay, Rudolph convinced the duke to leave. Rudolph himself put his chair back in its original place. While doing so, his handkerchief fell below the desk. Zaral kneeled to catch it, but Rudolph caught it first.

'Thank you for this pleasant moment, Zaral', bowed Rudolph.

'The pleasure was all mine. You should visit me more often, your highness', bowed Zaral.

'It would be a pleasure to have you in my castle as well,' invited Rudolph.

Zaral accompanied Rudolph on the way out, and returned to the office to meet Gandhis. During the meeting, Zaral was still thinking about Rudolph's visit. Gandhis was constantly repeating important details, while Zaral hardly focused. Suddenly, his eyes sparkled, and he called the valet.

'Call Blade, please.'

When Blade arrived, Zaral was reconstructing the chess game in the office.

'The first phase of your plan has been accomplished as you instructed, duke Zaral.'

'Good. I hoped to avoid any violence, but the king might put up a fight.'

Zaral took down the white king with the black rook, and watched the chess piece falling and breaking in the floor.

'It's best to be prepared.'

In that evening, someone from outside fired several shots at Rudolph's bedroom. Inexplicably, he survived. The following day, someone tried to shoot Zaral in his carriage. It was on the eve of Zaral's first attempt to take the throne.

'I'm sorry for this turmoil, Mr. and Mrs. Bloch', excused Charles while the prince insisted in giving him soup in the bed.

'Oh, honey, stop it!', reprimanded Cinderella, while holding her son, 'You're messing everything up…'

'You can stay here as long as you wish', added Mr. Bloch.

'How can we ever thank you?', smiled Cinderella with shinny eyes.

'It's enough for us to see the king safe and sound', smiled Mrs. Bloch.

'Do you think he could stay one more day or two? The king needs to rest', prescribed one doctor.

‘Of course, doctor, and I can dress him! It seems to me that King Charles wears the same size as my son,' replied Mrs. Bloch.

Everybody laughed.

'We will let you rest for a while', said Mr. Bloch a few moments later.

'Eh… wait, Mr. and Mrs. Bloch, have you heard any news about the Emerald castle and city?', asked Charles.

'No. This morning I bought some groceries from our village and I heard nothing. I didn't mention your attack, as you asked.'

'Thank you', said Charles while leaning back.

‘We will leave you now. Make yourself comfortable', said Mr. Bloch

He turned to his wife, who was baby talking to the prince. Then the doctors and servants also followed them to the kitchen.

'There are no signs of attempts to take the throne… It's so strange...', wondered Alex.

'As I thought…', muttered Charles.

'As you thought?', inquired Cinderella.

'Do you know who is behind this?', asked king Lewis.

'I was thinking about that during the journey, father.'

'Do you think they are Zaral's followers?', asked Thomas.

'I don't think so', replied Charles.

Patch, Papy, Chou-Chou and Bingo sit down near the bed and looked attentively at Charles.

'It seems as they are anxious to know your theory, dear', remarked queen Caroline, making Charles, Cinderella and Paulette smile.

'If everyone in this room disappeared, who would succeed in the throne of the Emerald kingdom?', inquired Charles.

'Your uncle Conrad, possibly merging the kingdoms again', replied Lewis.

'Or…', added Charles.

'Your cousin Rudolph…?', tried Caroline.

'Exactly’, confirmed Charles.

'Rudolph? He is a nice boy…', rejected Lewis, 'and he has been abroad since your wedding...'

'I never liked him', confessed Caroline.

'Why don't you never share those things in due time? You said the very same thing after we found out Zaral was a traitor!', protested Lewis.

'I could not say nothing without proves! It was an intuition...', replied Caroline.

'Keep your intuitions to yourself, then!', disapproved the old king.

Charles and Cinderella smiled at each other.

'But… Charles… what are you planning to do?', asked Alex.

'In fact, I don't have any proves either, but Rudolph is the one who would benefit from our disappearance, and he has always puzzled me... Tomorrow we will return to the castle and we will start investigating Rudolph', decided Charles.

'Maybe we could start it today, if we send some of our men there', suggested Alex.

Charles was pondering about that, when Hans reminded that Charles needed to rest. Thomas invited king Lewis and queen Caroline to chat in the living room. Hans, Alex and Paulette followed them, leaving Charles and Cinderella alone with their son and the animals.

The little prince grabbed Cinderella's arm and pointed at the window. She smiled and stood up carrying the toddler. Then the prince opened both arms, leaned over and started a tantrum.

'I think he wants to go outside', guessed Charles.

'He is captivated by a butterfly', smiled Cinderella, 'Maybe if we open it, the butterfly will visit us, don't you think, honey?'

As she opened the window and the butterfly entered, Cinderella felt dizzy, almost fainted, and instantly put the toddler in the chair next to her. Charles stood up immediately and grabbed her. Then he carried her to the bed.

'Cinderella, what happened?', Charles revived her while laying her down in the bed, ‘I'll call the doctors right away'

'Oh, I felt like this yesterday, when I heard about the attack...', told Cinderella while slowly sitting down, 'And... I've been nauseous lately...'

Charles smiled with his eyes wide opened.

'Again...?', he looked into Cinderella's eyes and put his hand in her belly.

'It is too soon to know, but I feel so...', smiled Cinderella blushing.

He was leaning to kiss her when, suddenly, the sound of broken glasses echoed throughout the house. Charles and Cinderella immediately ran to their son, who was playing with Patch. Cinderella grabbed the toddler, while Charles unsheathed the sword.

'Stay behind me no matter what.'

'Oh, Charles...'

'Don't worry, Cinderella.'

They heard queen Caroline and Mrs. Bloch screaming, while the guards were fighting outside. Paulette helped preventing pistols from firing. Despite Alex’s efforts to fight the gang in the living room, two men entered the bedroom occupied by Charles, Cinderella and their son.

'Surrender and no one gets hurt.'

'You cowards!', shouted Charles.

Charles furiously defeated the men with deep stabs in their arms. Then he forced them to confess who was their master. As they persistently denied, Charles threatened to kill them.

Cinderella had never seen such rage in Charles's eyes. She was feeling dizzy and short breath and begged him to spare the bandits. Alex entered in that moment and captured the injured men. By that time the guards had already controlled all attackers, who were tied with ropes and put in the kitchen under surveillance.

Seeing Cinderella shaking, Charles asked the doctors to check up on her, and he sat down looking at the window with the little prince on his lap.

'They won't stop…,' said Alex.

Charles nodded yes, absorbed in his thoughts.

When Cinderella returned, Charles gave her his place and put their son on her lap. They chatted for a while and called everybody to join them.

'Although I can easily put my life in jeopardy, I can no longer allow my family and my friends to face this kind of danger...', started Charles, 'If I return to the Emerald Castle, I will have to become a tyrant, in order to accomplish my projects under these circumstances. Any sign of discord should be eliminated… I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I could never rule like that'.

'What do you mean?', asked king Lewis.

'I renounce the crown, father,' decided Charles.

They all looked stunned at him.

'You cannot do that! You are not the kind of man that gives up easily', protested Hans, 'What do you think, your majesty?'

'Charles, Cinderella and my grandson's lives lie above the kingdom', replied king Lewis looking down.

'I think Charles has done everything he could. This kingdom should be grateful to him,' replied Thomas smiling at Charles and Cinderella.

'Oh, thank you, father,' cried Cinderella.

'If ruling means this constant threat... Oh, I cannot watch my son dying...', cried queen Caroline.

'Mother...', Charles looked tenderly at the queen.

'And what about you, Alex, what do you think?', asked Hans.

'It is unfair...', replied Alex, looking down.

'Please, Charles, think wisely...', insisted Hans.

'You know I was never attached to power. Moreover, renouncing the throne doesn't mean I will stop serving my kingdom and standing for my ideals.'

Cinderella held Charles's hand and smiled at him.

'I am sorry to say this, but you will never be free, if you stay. They will always persecute you', warned Thomas.

'But...', hesitated Charles.

'Even disguised as a servant you are brave enough to resist and fight a king, in case he destroys what you cherish the most. You will always be a menace to them... inside or outside the Emerald castle...,' added Alex.

Charles looked at Cinderella and the little prince for a while, then he looked at the window.

'We will move to the Green-Valley kingdom, then. We need to raise him safely. But… if things go wrong around here, I will return,' decided Charles.

'Oh, Charles…', cried Cinderella while standing up and hugging him in tears.

Then they conceived their plan. Ideally, the entire family and the closest friends of the royal couple should move to Green-Valley kingdom. However, the journey was going to be tough. They would have to cross mountains, in order to escape the control in the borders. King Lewis, queen Caroline and Hans couldn't walk that difficult track, and Thomas couldn't travel leaving Helène, Catherine and Jeanne in the city. But these obstacles couldn't delay Charles, Cinderella and their son's urgent run away. Thus, the group was split in two. The young couple and their child would travel with Paulette and the animals, while king Lewis, queen Caroline, Hans and Alex would stay at Thomas' house pretending to be his relatives. Eventually, they could try to run away to Green-Valley kingdom, but Charles and Cinderella's journey was mandatory.

Soon after planning the escape, the group, except Thomas and Paulette, changed clothes to avoid suspicions. Charles and Cinderella were in the bedroom when he threw his bordeaux costume and his yellow cape to the fireplace.

'It is strange… I wanted to get rid of them so many times, and now…', confessed the young king, 'Do you think I am a coward?'

'You are the bravest man I've ever known,' replied Cinderella.

Charles caressed her face and Cinderella leaned on his chest, while looking at the cape being consumed by flames.

In the meantime, Alex asked the guards, the doctors and the servants to return to the Emerald castle and inform that the royal family had been attacked and disappeared without leaving any trace. He also told Mr. and Mrs. Bloch to do the same. When the royals were about to depart, Charles insisted in offering them a reward of fifty golden coins, but the old couple persistently refused.

'Thank you very much, your majesty, but we have our lives settled and I think you will need it from now on. Please, keep it,' declined Mr. Bloch.

Charles and Cinderella hugged Mr. and Mrs. Bloch and bid farewell to their family.

Cinderella cried on her father's chest and Thomas caressed her hair.

'Please, try to join us, Papa…'

'I'll do my best. Write me once you arrive,' asked Thomas.

'I promise…'

'I am sure Charles will take good care of you. Be happy.'

Cinderella looked at him and put her son on Thomas's lap. In the meantime, Charles hugged his parents and Hans, who was desperately crying.

'I hope to see you before dying', wished the old tutor.

'Don't say such nonsense, dear Hans. Of course you will,' comforted Charles, 'Thank you for everything you have taught me.'

'Charles, don't forget to meet Conrad as soon as you arrive,' insisted king Lewis.

Charles nodded, yet he seemed not very convinced. He kissed his mother's hand and caressed her face once more. Then the old king and queen said goodbye to their grandchild.

'Please, protect them and take care of yourself, Alex', asked Charles, 'Try to join us. It might be dangerous for all of you to stay. I am also worried with Marcel, Ian, Laura and Nicholas…'

'You can always rely on me,' reassured Alex, 'We will miss you, my friend.'

They hopelessly tried to hide their tears during the hug.

The sun was rising. The vegetation was filled with dew and the flowers were beginning to push their way to the earth, releasing pleasant scents in that early spring dawn. Charles and Cinderella would never forget the smell of wet earth in the moment of departure. They climbed a humble carriage and took Patch, Papy, Chou-Chou and Bingo with them. Paulette insisted in driving and, when the carriage disappeared from the horizon of their family, Hans and Alex, she cast a spell that made the vehicle invisible until night. They never left the carriage, where they slept for a week, until they reached the mountains. Then they took two horses to ride until the wild mountain tracks were impossible to cross by carriage.

Charles hunted and fished, and Paulette taught them to make fire. They had to slow down the rhythm, because Cinderella was very tired and nauseous. When they stopped, they played with the little boy, who was enjoying the adventure. He only complained when he was fond of a little detail that made him want to stay more time in a certain place. Realizing how he was improving his speech, the young parents and the godmother taught him a word every day. Mountain, tree, flower, rabbit, track, apple, cave. He loved every time they found a cave to sleep. Cinderella used to wrap him in a blanket they took with them and the little boy felt asleep clinging to his mother, while Paulette and Charles were surveilling the cave with Patch.

'Go sleep with them, Charles,' insisted Paulette.

'No, you have already stayed on watch so many times,' refused Charles.

'Don't worry about me. I rest during our breaks,' reassured Paulette.

'I cannot find the words to thank you, Paulette…,' smiled Charles.

'I promised Frances I would always protect Cinderella. I couldn't let you go alone,' smiled Paulette.

'Thank you…'

'Come on and join Cinderella, dear.'

Charles finally consented, entered the cave and sat next to Cinderella, who was tenderly looking at their son.

'I’m still deeply sorry I have caused all this mess…', apologized Charles.

'Oh, Charles, don't say such a thing. He's loving this trip. I know it is dangerous and that we must be very careful to keep him warm and to prevent colds, but we will overcome this, I am sure,' smiled Cinderella, 'And I am so happy to have you by my side safe and sound.'

Charles put his left arm around Cinderella and intertwined his right hand with her left hand.

'Remember how we dreamed to visit your family in the Green-Valley kingdom...', reminded Cinderella, 'After all, your diplomatic trip became a much more interesting thing.'

'But that meeting was important…', Charles looked down.

'I know…', agreed Cinderella.

'One day you had everything you desired, and now you are crossing an endless mountain chain with nothing…', remarked Charles.

'Have you forgotten the fountain in the main square? How you encouraged Nicholas to forget everything and run away with Laura?', reminded she.

'I will miss that fountain…’, confessed Charles, ‘But Laura and Nicholas didn't have a child and so many responsibilities…’, countered Charles.

'Do you regret having said that?', inquired Cinderella.

'No', smiled Charles.

Cinderella leaned on his chest.

'And I am happy to meet Charles, the fibber, once more…'

Charles laughed.

‘From now on, you will have to lie like me,' Charles squinted his eyes.

'Oh, no…', giggled Cinderella.

'We will have to hide our identities from everybody, even from our children…,' warned Charles.

'I am such a bad liar…', confessed Cinderella.

'I will help you…', smiled Charles.

Cinderella laughed. As she composed herself and opened her eyes, Charles put his hand on her chin, and they kissed passionately. The fire cast moving shadows on their bodies, the only signs of light in the dark cave.

Chapter Text

When they were informed that the king had been attacked and that the royal family was missing, Charles' councilors set up a rescue operation that took several weeks long, until a group of guards found their colleagues lying in the forest, as well as a dead body wearing the young king's clothes.

In the meantime, Thomas arrived home and hosted Charles' parents, Hans and Alex. The duke told the family, Dorothea and Pierre what had happened to Charles, Cinderella and their son. It would be recommended to join them in the Green-Valley kingdom, but firstly they should stage the royal family's death and host Lewis, Caroline, Alex and Hans as Thomas' cousins asking for his assistance. Thus, they had to change names. Lewis became Anthony, Thomas' cousin, Caroline became Elizabeth, Anthony's wife, Alex became Bernard, the couple's son, and Hans became James, Elizabeth's father.

Catherine and Helene seemed particularly nervous with the situation. They were scared with the idea of leaving the kingdom and hosting three people – two of them the former king and queen – for an indefinite period of time. Jeanne, on the contrary, accepted it and helped in the best way she could.

One day, the news of Charles' death and the disappearance of the rest of the royal family was spread throughout the kingdom and Charles' councilors organized the funeral.

King Conrad, Charles' uncle from the Green-Valley kingdom, was devastated. He kneeled in front of his nephew's coffin and cried until a valet announced the arrival of Cinderella's family. King Conrad hugged Thomas tight. The duke asked the valets and servants to leave the family alone for a few minutes and they consented. Soon after the doors closed, Thomas whispered into the foreign king's ear what had actually happened. King Conrad sighed in relief.

‘Please, your highness, no one must know about this’, asked Thomas.

‘You can trust me, my friend. And thank you for hosting my brother. I will welcome Charles and Cinderella as my children in my kingdom’, assured king Conrad.

The family kept acting throughout the funeral ceremonies. Helene, Catherine and Jeanne turned out to be great mourners.

Rudolph arrived in the evening the same day. He entered the room and greeted his uncle, showing great distress. The prince told he was travelling when he knew about Charles' death. Thomas, Helene, Catherine and Jeanne never had the opportunity to meet him personally since Charles and Cinderella's wedding. Catherine was somewhat captivated by his light green eyes, but Helene and Jeanne felt his presence uneasy. They spared a few words, but Cinderella's family remained mostly silent and tearful, while king Conrad examined Rudolph.

In Emerald city, many windows showed a black cloth. Initially, the kingdom was sadly conformed with the tragedy. But as the days went by riots started to erupt. Many wanted to know who had assassinated Charles, while others hoped Cinderella, the crown prince, king Lewis and queen Caroline were still alive.

Ian, Marcel, Laura and Nicholas ran to Cinderella's house in shock. Thomas welcomed them and told the truth and demanded absolute confidentiality. Otherwise, they could all be in great trouble.

A week after the funeral, king Conrad was asked to attend a meeting with Rudolph, Charles' former councilors and other influential nobles.

'If you think that most of the people wish the kingdoms to merge once more, I will take this responsibility and serve the Emerald kingdom with all my heart,' said king Conrad when he was asked to share his opinion.

The group of nobles stood pensive.

'With all due respect, king Conrad, I believe that the Green-Valley kingdom needs to channel your energies to recover from war. I am afraid that this situation will limit and impoverish our resources', hesitantly resisted a duke.

'I understand and respect your concerns, duke. But it was never my intention to take advantage from the Emerald kingdom to enrich the Green-Valley kingdom. I think in terms of balance, cooperation between peoples and justice. Well, actually, king Charles was already cooperating with Green-Valley kingdom. But I want to make clear that I do not wish to impose anything. As I said, I will only accept to become king of the Emerald kingdom, if you feel this serves the majority of its people,' clarified the foreign king.

'Yes, I truly understand your point, your highness. Thank you', quickly replied the duke.

'Currently, there are many differences between the two kingdoms to make this merging achievable in a way that preserves our best interests and our development. I believe, your majesty, that our people would prefer to keep its borders', added a count.

It was, thus, consensual in that group that Rudolph would suit the Emerald kingdom best. King Conrad respected the decision and congratulated his nephew.

'Good luck, Rudolph. Write me, whenever you need my support or advice,' said king Conrad.

'Thank you, uncle Conrad.'

Then Conrad looked deep into his eyes.

'And, please, continue what Charles was doing'.

Rudolph smiled unconvincingly, and they bowed each other. Then they followed the councilors to the throne room, where several nobles, the court, clergymen and representatives of important institutions were awaiting.

'It is with great honor that I announce that Rudolph, the duke of Tramp…', started Humbert.

'Tamp', whispered Joseph.

Humbert apologized, cleared his throat and continued.

'It is with great honor that I announce that Rudolph, the duke of Tamp, the eldest grandson of former king Ferdinand, of Emerald, nephew of king Lewis, of Emerald, and of king Conrad, of the Green-Valley, and cousin of our late king Charles, of Emerald, will be the new king of the Emerald kingdom.'



'Oh, Charles, please, stop... I am so nauseous…', asked Cinderella.

Charles immediately helped her getting off the horse and took care of their son, while Paulette assisted Cinderella. They had already crossed the most difficult tracks in the mountain and were almost entering the sublime valley landscape of the neighbor kingdom.

'Mama…', cried the toddler.

'Don't worry. Mama is alright', comforted Charles.

Patch licked the little boy, who smiled and wanted to lick the dog in return.

'Hey!', stopped Charles while catching the boy.

'Pech!', cried the boy.

'You cannot lick Patch…', warned Charles, trying not to laugh.

The child laughed, but Charles tried to keep serious. Then the little boy started to tickle Charles, predicting that the father would eventually laugh.

‘Do you think those tiny tickles can affect me?', provoked Charles.

And the child continued.

'They still don't affect me.'

When the toddler was getting frustrated, Charles tickled his son's belly and the little boy burst into laughter.

'Hahahahahahahaha! No, Pappa! No!', screamed the boy while kicking.

Then Charles put him down. They were running after each other, when Cinderella and Paulette joined them.

'Mamma! Pole!', exclaimed the child.

Cinderella hugged him and held his hand.

'How do you feel?', asked Charles while putting his hand around her waist.

'A bit better, thank you… but I'm so tired', she replied while sitting down, 'We will never get there, because of me…'

'Of course we will,' comforted Paulette, 'Don't be pessimistic, dear.'

'Trust me, we are almost there, Cinderella…', assured Papy, who had a clearer notion of the distance in the sky.

'We are out of danger now. There's no need to rush,' tranquilized Charles.

Then he sat down and faced Cinderella's belly.

'Frances, this is Daddy speaking. Stop being mean to mammy.'

Everybody laughed, but the little prince couldn't understand why.

'Charles is totally convinced that it is a girl…', smiled Cinderella.

'Of course I am', smiled he, 'I was right about him, and now I am sure about her.'

'I also believe it will be a girl this time', agreed Paulette.

Cinderella smiled and put her son's hand on her belly.

'Would you like to have a little sister to play with you, sweetie?'

The boy looked confused at Cinderella and the couple smiled.

'Siiister', insisted Cinderella.

'Xixte', babbled the boy.

They clapped and he repeated the word. He jumped and clapped until he was out of breath and fell on Cinderella's lap, making everybody laugh. Then Charles's attention turned to the river nearby and he stood up.

'Well, you need to eat, Cinderella', recalled he, 'I'll fish something.'

'Thank you, darling.'

'Do you need help, Charles?', asked Paulette.

'No, thanks, Paulette. Stay with Cinderella', asked Charles.

When Charles moved away, the toddler followed him. Charles tickled his son, in order to make him return to Cinderella, but the little boy kept laughing naughtily and didn't leave his side. Then Charles put him on his shoulders and returned him to Cinderella, but the little boy made a tantrum. Understanding that he wanted to watch Charles fishing, Paulette suggested that the animals should stay with Cinderella, while the little prince and herself watched Charles fishing.

While waiting for them, Cinderella took a cloth from a basket and spread it in the grass.

'You fear Charles understands Paulette's powers, don't you, Cinderella?', guessed Chou-Chou.

'Today he was completely puzzled when he woke up and found out we were sleeping in a mattress with several blankets...', replied Cinderella.

'The spell lasted more than she expected…', said Bingo.

'Charles is clever. He must suspect something since your wedding day,' added Patch.

'Yes, since the moment he understands us', said Papy.

'Well, actually, I think he suspected I could understand you before that… since the day you fell in the well, Patch', said Cinderella.

'I don't remember that day…', wondered Bingo.

'I think you didn't come, Bingo,' smiled Cinderella.

'Yes, I was alone with Charles and Cinderella', confirmed Patch.

'Patch told us you took many risks that day', said Chou-Chou.

'Charles and Cinderella were in a strange mood all day long, especially after being trapped in the well', told Patch.

'Cinderella, why are you blushing?', asked Chou-Chou.

Cinderella giggled nervously.

'Oh, never mind…', she smiled while making up the cloth and taking fruits from the basket.

'I think you should tell Charles what really happened in the ball', suggested Patch.

'Yes, you are married. He should know,' agreed Bingo.

'You should have no secrets', added Papy.

'I don't think this is the appropriate moment for that. He is always cheerful, but deep in his heart he is still suffering for having renounced the crown. I will only tell him, if he asks me,' replied Cinderella.

'Well, do as you wish. I think he seems puzzled with some things happening during this trip, but if you think so…', opined Bingo.

'Bingo, don't insist,' scolded Chou-Chou.

'There we go... I was missing your attacks, Chou-Chou', replied Bingo.

Cinderella laughed.

'When are you two going to have babies?', teased Cinderella.

'What!?', shouted both mice with their eyes wide open.

'Oh, Cinderella, I took your side, and now this is what I get from you?', complained Chou-Chou.

Cinderella, Patch and Papy laughed.

'I am sorry, dear, I was just kidding', smiled Cinderella.

Cinderella took an apple and they started to hear the little prince, Charles and Paulette approaching.

'Mamma!', shouted the toddler, while jumping to Cinderella's lap.

'Oh, you arrived so quickly!', exclaimed Cinderella in surprise.

'You might not believe, Cinderella, but I caught ten fish in fifteen minutes…', smiled Charles

He was still processing the strange phenomenon, when he showed the bucket to Cinderella.

'Your husband is an amazing fisher!', praised Paulette.

'Oh, that’s incredible…!', exclaimed Cinderella while discretely looking sideways at Paulette.

'Thank you, Paulette. Maybe I should dedicate myself to fishing', laughed Charles.

Cinderella and Paulette laughed. Then Cinderella gave Charles an apple.

'Thank you, honey', smiled Charles.

'Appa! Appa!', babbled their son while trying to grasp Charles' apple.

'Eat these strawberries Mommy has prepared for you,' suggested Cinderella.

'No! Appa!', insisted he.

Then Charles and Cinderella ate a few strawberries. Realizing that the parents were enjoying it, the toddler took a tiny strawberry, looked attentively at it and ate it.

'Is it sweet?', asked Cinderella.

He smiled naughtily and took more.

'These apples and strawberries are delicious! It is amazing how you find such ripe fruits in Spring, Paulette', wondered Charles.

'So far, we've found out that you are good at fishing, and I am good at catching fruit. I am sure that we will discover Cinderella's hidden skills soon,' answered Paulette, making everyone laugh.

'Well, I will cook the fish', suggested Charles. Then he invited the animals to join him.

'Every time I offer to cook, I see the fear in your faces…', joked he, making the animals, Cinderella and Paulette burst into laughter.

'Are you sure you don't need help?', asked Paulette.

'Thank you, Paulette. I think I can handle this.'

As Charles moved away to prepare the fire, Cinderella approached Paulette.

'Oh, Paulette, I know you have the best intentions, but I don't want Charles to discover...'

'You should tell your husband', interrupted Paulette.

'Not now...'

‘You’ve being saying that for three years’, smiled Paulette, 'He will totally understand and that would make your life easier. You realize that it will be though from now on.'

'I'm not refusing your precious help, my dear Paulette. I'm just asking to be more discrete’, clarified Cinderella, ‘Why ten fish?'

'Because he will burn three (or more) out of ten', answered Paulette, making Cinderella laugh incessantly.

'Oh, we are being mean... He is extraordinary', admitted Paulette.

'Yes, he is...', agreed Cinderella.

'You are both extraordinary', added the fairy.

'I feel guilty somehow...', confessed Cinderella.

'Guilty?', Paulette was surprised.

'On one hand, I know Charles always wanted to experience the world beyond his castle. This adventure turns out to be a kind of project for him, an opportunity to reveal himself as a man freed from his status', started Cinderella.

'Yes, I do think so', agreed Paulette.

Cinderella caressed her son's hair and continued.

'On the other hand, he was also deeply committed to his ideals and responsibilities as a king, and I know he would never give up if he was alone...'

'What do you mean?'

'He renounced, because we have a child and a second on the way...', said Cinderella.

'Do you feel guilty for expecting a child? No, Cinderella, never say that. You both wanted to have children', comforted Paulette, 'You should understand this decision as a great prove of love'.

Cinderella started to cry. Paulette comforted and the and the little prince stood up, picked a daisy and offered it to his mother.

'Mama! Mama! Fo you’

Cinderella kissed the toddler's rosy cheek and pulled him to her chest. Nevertheless, she kept crying.

'I have a bad feeling about the fate of the Emerald kingdom. I fear for our family and friends... for the people, for the children... And I want to raise my children away from this feeling of terror... I hope I am just being silly, and the new king will keep the kingdom as it was. I doubt he will continue Charles's legacy, but I hope he keeps peace...', wished Cinderella.

Paulette agreed.

'Once you told me you knew Charles and I were destined to each other...'

'Yes, and before you were born, I knew I had to offer your mother the glass slippers.'

'My mother's ghost said Charles and I will be facing many obstacles for now on...', recalled Cinderella.


'Oh, Paulette, if you know that, why can't you reveal the fate of the Emerald kingdom? Will Charles return? Is this just a dream escape before the worst nightmare ever?'

'Oh, dear, I can't predict the future in such precision, but even if I had that ability, I couldn't tell you. That wouldn't let you live. I am sure that you and Charles need to go through this, in order to rethink your actions, your ambitions and to find yourselves. You are still very young.'

'I think Charles was looking for this all his live...', said Cinderella.

'That's why you shouldn't feel guilty', smiled Paulette.

Cinderella leaned on Paulette's shoulder and the little prince fell asleep. When Charles arrived, they were all sleeping leaning against a tree. He smiled and gently woke them up, reminding they needed to lunch. Paulette and the little prince woke up quickly and joined the animals nearby the fire pit, but Cinderella kept sleeping.

'Please, darling, two more minutes…', she smiled while turning around.

'Our 22 months old son is happily eating the fish I've prepared, and you are making this scene', joked Charles.

'I don't believe he is happily eating your fish…', smiled she.

'Come on, you and Frances have to eat', insisted Charles.

'I wish to eat pomegranates…’, muttered Cinderella.

'That is Frances talking…', smiled Charles.

'You promised me pomegranates...'

'When we arrive, you'll eat plenty of pomegranates', guaranteed Charles.

Charles gave up talking and carried Cinderella in his arms until the fire pit. Then he helped her sit down leaning against a tree. The little prince joined her and gave her a tiny strawberry he had found in the basket.

'Do you want to give lunch to Mommy?', asked Paulette, offering bits of fish.

He run to Paulette, thanked her and returned to his mother. Then Charles, who was sitting next to Cinderella, put him on his lap and assisted him nurturing Cinderella.

Everybody laughed. The days were getting bigger and hotter. By the end of the week, they entered the enormous valley landscape where stood the main village of the Green-valley kingdom.

Since the entrance in the village was controlled by guards, Charles preferred to look for a house in the forest or in small settlements in the periphery, for he knew that many families had left their homes during the war.

Cinderella and Paulette were marveled by the forest. The Emerald kingdom's forests were incredibly beautiful, with small rivers and river falls, especially in the mountainous forest that circles the Emerald castle. Yet the main attraction of their kingdom was the city, which had already achieved a high level of sophistication. In the Green-valley kingdom, the forest was still the home and the source of life for many people. It kept a mysterious and magical atmosphere Charles and Cinderella could not understand. In fact, Paulette knew the Green-Valley had much more fairies, gnomes, dwarfs and magic spirits than the other kingdoms.

The landscape was particularly breath-taking in a spot on the banks of a huge glacial lake, where they could see the medieval blue castle emerging from a background of high mountains filled with snow. After stopping there, the small group continued to walk through the forest. Soon after they crossed a puzzling multi-colored fog, they found an abandoned wooden house. It was not far away from a settlement and other cottages circling the main village, but this one was more sheltered and in the middle of a clearing, which made it sunnier. Therefore, it seemed a good spot.

The house had seven rooms upstairs, a kitchen, a nice hall, a living room and a dining in the ground floor. It also had a barn and a backyard. Although it was spacious, it was in very bad conditions. There were holes in the floor, in the walls and in the stairs; the remaining furniture was damaged, and several windows broken. In first place, they cleaned the ground floor and occupied the living room. Charles hired a bricklayer, Lucas, and a carpenter, Sebastian, he met in the closest settlement.

Paulette went to the main village to buy food and fabrics. Apparently, the control procedures at the entrance of the village were not so strict as Charles imagined, but Paulette seemed more harmless than him, who always carried his sword.

The fairy godmother kept her name, but Charles, Cinderella and their son had to change names. Charles chose Andrew, in memory of the captain of the guards who gave his life for him, and Cinderella chose Susanna, the name of her former chaperone. As surname Charles picked 'Duval', which was common in the Green-Valley kingdom, because it meant 'from the valley'. They just needed to figure out a way to document their identities. Once they solved that problem, the entrance in the village wouldn't affect them anymore.

Cinderella and Paulette sewed clothes, cloths, curtains, sheets and bedspreads, while Charles, Lucas and Sebastian repaired the house. Initially, Charles was only able to clean the house and chop wood, but gradually became more involved in carpentry. Sebastian gladly taught him to fix and do useful simple things, like a chair or a table and Charles learned fast. Eventually he was able to do the baby crib almost by himself, to Cinderella's great delight. Then Charles and Sebastian fixed the stairs and the holes in the first floor, while Lucas checked and reinforced the walls. During work, Charles attentively listened to their life stories.

'Life went on, you know…', told Sebastian, 'even during the war chairs need to be repaired.'

'In this area, we didn't feel so much the impact of the war. It was worse in the other side, in the borders with Traumland,' explained Lucas.

'And what made you move in here?,' asked Sebastian.

'My wife and I come from a very small town… the family is growing, and I couldn't find a job there,' answered Charles.

'What do you do?'

'I am a tutor and a fencing instructor', invented Charles.

'You made the right decision,' stated Lucas, making Charles smile.

'Now there are more nobles and merchants moving in here. The city is growing,' told Sebastian.

'Yes, there are many expectations. And taxes decreased lately,' added Lucas.

'Were they too high?', inquired Charles.

'Yes, they were awful during the war, which is understandable', answered Sebastian.

'Why was it understandable?', asked Charles.

'Because of the war effort', promptly answered Sebastian.

'I didn't think that was reasonable at all. I think that queen Chrystel was involved in that. She and the councilor must have mismanaged taxes while the king was fighting in the war,' speculated Lucas.

'There were rumors that she was an evil sorcerer…', told Sebastian.

Charles burst into laughter. At that moment, Cinderella and their son joined them.

'I'm sorry to interrupt, gentlemen. May I offer you soup?'.

'Soup! Soup!', repeated the toddler, while pushing Charles' hand and making everybody laugh.

'Hum… thank you very much, Mrs. Duval. I would like to taste the soup, but first I want to plug this hole…', thanked Lucas.

'And I am just finishing this wardrobe. My thanks, Ma'am,' thanked Sebastian.

'As you wish. I heard you were talking about queen Chrystel…', inquired Cinderella.

'Oh, yes… During the war, there were rumors she was an evil witch and that she had attempted to kill princess Snow White,' continued Lucas.

'Oh my God!', exclaimed Cinderella in awe.

'But now she seems perfectly normal. She seems to be a loving person', told Sebastian.

'Sometimes there are moments when everything goes wrong…', said Lucas.

'Yes, it looked like all hell broke loose in this land…', agreed Sebastian.

'That is so sad... And the people who lived in this house…', started Cinderella.

'Oh, I did my inquiries, as you asked, Ma'am. They were an old couple from the Emerald kingdom,' informed Lucas.

'Oh, really?', asked Charles and Cinderella in surprise.

At this point, Cinderella had to firmly hold the toddler, who has starting to mess all the tools.

'Yes, they were already here when the kingdoms were split in two and ran away when the war broke,' added Sebastian.

'Do you think they will return?', asked Cinderella.

'I don't think so. They were old and didn't had children', guessed Lucas, 'Besides I heard that life is much better in the Emerald kingdom. Why would they return?'

'Do you hear that around here?', inquired Charles.

'Yes, you would certainly find a job there! And we speak the same language', added Lucas.

'But, Lucas, haven't you heard the news? Their king was murdered, and the rest of the royal family is missing,' corrected Sebastian.

'I know, but they already have a new king. As far as I know, king Conrad could have merged the kingdoms again, but they chose another king instead,' updated Lucas.

'Would you have preferred the union of the kingdoms?', asked Charles.

'I wouldn't mind, under the rule of king Conrad or of their previous king. I heard good rumors about him,' answered Sebastian.

'Yes, I heard that as well… but I don't know. I think that they find themselves very superior in the Emerald kingdom, just because they are more sophisticated. The time and the minds walk slowly in this land, you know…', replied Lucas.

'But we are moving fast now, since the war is over', countered Sebastian.

'Maybe your right. Maybe we will progress, and they will regress…', laughed Lucas.

'I think king Conrad had several misfortunes throughout his life. His first wife died… then the war broke… He is definitely a good warrior and we will see, from now on, if he is a good king. I think he is', said Sebastian.

'Well, but for those, like us, who work with bricks and wood, life is always pretty much the same…', laughed Lucas, 'Isn't it, Mr. Duval? Well, you teach. It is a bit different.'

'I would like to think life can become something different,' smiled Charles.

Lucas and Sebastian laughed.

'We survive. It is above all a matter of survival,' concluded Lucas.

Paulette appeared, insisting that lunch was ready, and Cinderella approached the men.

'Please, join Miss Paulette in the kitchen. My husband and I will join you in a few minutes.'

When they finally accepted the invitation to lunch, Cinderella asked Paulette to take the toddler to the kitchen, while she took Charles's hand and led him to their bedroom.

'Your stepmother might have many flaws, but at least she didn't try to kill you...', joked Charles, making Cinderella laugh.

'But your aunt is changed, isn’t she?', asked Cinderella.

'Let's hope so', smiled Charles.

Cinderella covered his eyes in the corridor and uncovered them once they entered the bedroom. The double bed, their son's bed and the baby crib were already covered with sheets, pillows and bedspreads. Their bed had a beige bedspread with a bordeaux and a light green pillow placed upon it. Their son's bed had a light teal pillow on an emerald bedspread, and the crib had a light pink pillow on a white bedspread, where stood yellow baby clothes. Charles smiled while looking into her eyes, and kissed her hand.

'The curtains are almost finished. I will need your help to hang them.'

He agreed and they sat in the bed.

'Char… Oh, Andrew… lying is so difficult', she sighed, while hugging him.

‘You will get used to it,' smiled Charles.

'I was thinking that if we rebaptize our son, maybe we could solve our identity problems…', wondered Cinderella.

'Yes, I've been thinking the same...'

'Could you go to the church tomorrow, please?', asked Cinderella.

'Yes, Ma'am.'

'And Charles… Oh, damn it! Andrew…'

‘I’ll tickle you every time you call me Charles,' warned he.

'You awful, mean creature!',

Cinderella jumped on him and softly hit him in his arms, while Charles couldn't stop laughing. Then they calmed down and stared at each other.

'Why won't you visit your uncle…?', inquired Cinderella.

'I have to think carefully about that… It won't be easy, due to safety precautions. I know how these things work. The guards won't let an unknown Andrew Duval talk to the king.'

'Once I hid myself in a wagon with vegetables and I found you talking to Alex in the courtyard of the Emerald castle,' giggled Cinderella.

'That's because you were crazy…’, laughed Charles.

Cinderella squinted her eyes.

‘Not crazy, just lucky. You were very lucky’, retracted Charles with his hand behind his neck, ‘But now we cannot take the risk of appearing in the castle and being arrested.'

Then he paused and continued.

‘The safety procedures to reach my uncle are not our biggest problem. If we are careless, someone can discover our true identities and share this information. Rudolph, or whoever planned my assassination, knows we are alive. They are only staging this to deceive the kingdom. It is more than likely that there is a network of those men in several kingdoms prepared to catch us.'

'Even here?', worried Cinderella.

'Especially here, Cinderella', answered Charles.

‘You called me Cinderella now’, teased Cinderella while tickling him without great results.

Charles laughed and continued.

'They can be looking for us here, because they know I am strongly connected to my uncle. If I meet him, he will invite us to live with them in the castle or will want us to get along with them. That will certainly arouse suspicions.'

'I see…,' Cinderella looked down.

'Moreover, I know he will encourage me to fight Rudolph and will probably offer his army to support me. This could lead to a war between brotherly kingdoms. I fear my decision has already affected many people. Now I cannot let Europe collapse like a house of cards.'

'I think you are right, but it is sad…'

'This doesn't mean we won't meet him at all during our stay here. I just think that we should wait a few years until things settle down here and in the Emerald kingdom.'

Cinderella stood up and approached the window.

'Maybe tomorrow you should tell the priest that we come from a small town, where you couldn't find a job, and our house got burned… Something like that. We have to explain why we didn't bring any papers.'

Charles agreed and Paulette's voice echoed throughout the house:

'Char… Andrew, Susanna, please, we are waiting for you!'

'We also have to tickle Paulette', teased Charles, making Cinderella giggle.

Then he stood up and held hand her hand. They left the bedroom and went downstairs.

The following day, Charles went to the church, as promised. There were at least two churches in the main village, but he chose the older one, with an early medieval Romanesque architecture. Charles felt uneasy while recapping his lie inside the church. Although it was a harmless lie, he hardly dealt with it in the sacred spot, facing the cross. The priest was a small, bald man with tender eyes, conveying calm and inspiring trust. When he arrived, Charles informed he wanted to rebaptize his son and told all the succession of misfortunes that had occurred to him and his wife.

'I'm sorry, my son, but it is a sin to lie, especially in the house of God,' gently replied the old priest.

'But, Father...'

'You will pray, ask for the help of the Lord, and we will meet again in half an hour.'

Charles didn't have a choice but to obey the priest. He eventually sat down near a poor mother with five children and prayed. However, prayers didn't give him any new ideas. He returned to the priest without knowing what to say, but asked to talk in the most private area. The priest consented and invited him to enter a small chamber.

'Will you tell me the truth now, my son?'

Charles thought one last time and confessed:

'I feel I am an exiled politician.'

'Welcome, your highness', greeted the priest with a big smile, 'I was expecting you.'



When Charles arrived, the little prince was drawing with Paulette in the kitchen table whilst the soup was boiling. The toddler quickly got off the chair and ran to his father, who lifted him in his arms. While holding his son, Charles hung the sword and his new dark cobalt blue cape in the cloakroom. He was wearing a white shirt, Prussian blue culottes and brown knee boots.

'You have your face full of paint!', noticed Charles.

The toddler smiled naughtily and replied.


'Aunt Paulette is teaching you to draw?'

He nodded yes.


'Hi, Andrew!', greeted Paulette.

'Hi, Paulette!', replied Charles, 'I see you have been drawing.'

'Yes, he did beautiful blue and yellow circles.'

Charles smiled and put his son in the chair again. Then he noticed Cinderella was sweeping and singing with her eyes closed in the backyard. It was terraced in two sections. In the earthen ground floor, there was a well. In the first level, there was an area destined for vegetables, and, in the second level, there were flowers, orange trees, and several oaks. The pine trees of the forest circled the entire house.

Cinderella was near the well. She was so absorbed in a tune that she didn’t notice Charles. A light breeze waved her dress and her light-brown hair with golden reflections. Charles didn't take his light blue eyes off her.

When she opened her eyes, she smiled at Charles.

‘Oh, darling, you’re here! What did the priest say?’, she asked.

Charles smiled, kneeled down, took her hand and offered three Wallington White flowers.

'Oh, the flowers from the day we met…', beamed Cinderella.

'Susanna, will you marry me?'

'What!?', laughed Cinderella.

'I'm serious,' insisted Charles.

She smiled puzzled.

'Oh, my dear Charles…', she said when she grasped the idea.

'Answer me, Cinderella…, please', whispered Charles.

'Oh, yes, Andrew, I will! Every time you ask', replied Cinderella with sparkles in her dark eyes.

Charles stood up, smiled in bliss and lifted her in his arms. They laughed and were about to kiss, when their son and the animals showed up playing hide and seek. The couple sighed, smiled at each other and happily joined the game.

The wedding occurred two days later in the small church where Charles met the empathetic priest, who never believed in the news from the Emerald kingdom. He always felt in his heart that the royal family would move to his kingdom. From the moment he saw Charles, he felt the truth. He confessed how much he had valued Charles’ social concerns, tranquilized him and promised he would help him and his family in every possible way.

Father Albert, the prior of the parish, was, thus, deeply honored to remarry Charles and Cinderella under different names, and to rebaptize their little son. It was a risky task, for he had to fake dates and to place files in older archives, in order to avoid suspicions. The animals and Paulette, who as the godmother of both ceremonies, were the only witnesses.

Cinderella was wearing a very simple beige gown with a round neckline and a veil crowned with wallington white flowers. She partially attached her hair, forming a small chiffon, and let the longest parts lose. Charles was wearing a Prussian blue long coat with culottes of the same shade, a beige vest, a teal cravat, brown shoes and carried his sword. Their son, dressed in white, was very curious throughout the wedding, but Paulette managed to keep him quiet.

'Do you, Andrew Duval, take this woman, Susanna Bloch, to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and in heath, in good times and woe, for richer or poorer, keeping yourself solely unto her for as long as you both shall live?'

'I do', replied Charles.

'Do you, Susana Bloch, take this man Andrew Duval to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and health, to love, honor and obey, in good times and woe, for richer or poorer, keeping yourself solely unto him for as long as you both shall live?

'I do', replied Cinderella.

The couple exchanged rings and the priest continued.

'I now pronounce you man and wife and what God hath joined together, let no man nor woman put asunder', then father Albert paused and concluded, 'You may now kiss the bride.'

Charles lifted the veil and kissed Cinderella, while their son, Paulette and the animals enthusiastically celebrated.

After a very short break, Charles took the toddler on his lap and approached the baptismal font with Cinderella and Paulette. After professing the parents and the godmother's faith, the priest said the last lines of the ceremony. By that time, the little prince was in despair and hopelessly trying to return to the floor.

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



Six months later, Daniel entered his parents' bedroom to meet his baby sister.

'Mommy, Mommy!', he exclaimed, while approaching Cinderella.

'Oh, my love!', replied Cinderella, while reaching and caressing Daniel with one hand, and holding the newborn baby with the other arm.

Daniel widened his dark eyes in astonishment, watching the tiny creature on his mother's lap.

'Is she sick?,' asked Daniel quite puzzled.

Charles and Cinderella smiled.

'No, sweetie. Frances is just very small and fragile, like you, when you were born', explained Cinderella.

'Now mommy and Frances need to rest a lot to get stronger and to play with us again,' added Charles.

Daniel looked seriously at Charles and Cinderella. Then he stared at Frances and smiled.



Chapter Text

Cinderella was caressing Frances' golden hair during the little girl's nap. A year and a half had already passed since Frances' birth. Cinderella was wearing a yellow straight-necked dress with short white balloon sleeves and a dark blue lace around the waist. Frances had a beige dress with short ballon sleeves and a light pink collar. Daniel, Charles and the animals were playing, while waiting for the fish bite. Now Daniel was almost four, and he loved to play pirates, Robin Hood and knights. Charles always played the role of the villain, and Patch was always Daniel's horse. Bingo and Chouchou had magic powers and Papy, who was not there at the moment, was the most powerful magic bird, due to its ability to cast heavy rocks from the sky.

'Surrender, dark lord. You shall not pass!', threatened Daniel with a wooden sword pointing at Charles.

'You know I will never surrender, blue knight', replied Charles in a deep pompous voice, 'Step aside.'

'I won't let you. You invaded my land and captured my family. Now you will pay.'

Frances started to move. She rubbed her light blue eyes, and giggled. Then she smiled at Cinderella, who lifted her in her arms. The little girl was quickly captivated by the play. She asked to return to the floor, by agitating her arms and pointing at Daniel. Then she started to walk clumsily towards her brother.

'There's no way out, dark lord. Do you see the giant red monster approaching? It will destroy you on my command!', invented Daniel, making everybody laugh.

'Daniel, be careful with your sister', advised Cinderella.

'Red monster, listen to me, attack him!', instructed Daniel, as Frances came closer.

Frances laughed, hugged Daniel and tried to grab his sword.

'Hey, Frances, what are you doing?', shouted Daniel while moving the sword away from her.

'Gimmy!', insisted Frances.

'It seems you're having some trouble with your red monster, blue knight', mocked Charles.

'Daniel, give her the sword. She will be fed up in a few minutes', advised Cinderella.

'No! She is messing everything!', protested Daniel.

'What have I been teaching you about sharing?', reminded Cinderella.

'I cannot give her the sword now, because I'm fighting the dark lord. You don't want me to get hurt, don't you, mommy?', the little boy cleverly replied.

'Daniel!', scolded Cinderella.

Frances started to cry, when she realized she couldn't grab the sword, and Charles took her on his lap.

'Daddy will make a sword for you, sweetie…', comforted he.

Daniel sat down in the grass, with his arms crossed, and also started to cry.

'She destroyed everything!'

'Oh, come on, my love...', comforted Cinderella, 'You can continue to'.

Charles approached Daniel and lay down in the grass. He put Frances on his chest, then he grabbed Daniel, put him on his chest as well, and tickled the children, making them burst into laughter.

'It isn't fair. I also want to play!', complained Cinderella while sitting down by Charles's side.

'Let's make room for Mommy!', exclaimed Charles, while putting Daniel under his right arm and Frances under his left.

'Mommy!', exclaimed Frances.

Cinderella fell on Charles and started to tickle him.

'Cind... Susanna!', exclaimed he while trying to control the tickles, 'Hey, that's not supposed to...'

'I thought this was a battle of tickles', replied Cinderella.

'That's not fair', protested he.

The children laughed and joined Cinderella's attack on Charles. Then, when the family was rolling in the grass laughing and fighting with tickles, Patch alerted that a fish had bitten.

'I'm coming', promptly stood up Cinderella.

When she grabbed the fishing pole, she started to slide in the grass towards the river.

'Oh, it must be huge! It's so strong!'

Charles sat down the children, stood up, and ran to Cinderella, but she had just slid into the water. She looked upset at the fishing pole, and everybody burst into laughter. Fortunately, they caught other fish.

When they arrived home, Papy welcomed the family. Now the little bird was regularly traveling between the Green-Valley and the Emerald kingdom, distributing letters from Charles and Cinderella's family. Paulette also travelled between the two kingdoms, due to her painting lessons. On those occasions, she would talk to Thomas and collect letters.

Charles took the fish buckets to the kitchen, while Cinderella sat down little Frances and opened the letters.

'There are some quick messages from your parents and a letter from my father:

"My dear Susanna,

How are you? And what about Andrew? And what about naughty Daniel and cute little Frances? Very well, I hope. We all miss you terribly.

We are fine, but a bit tired these days, due to Catherine's wedding next Friday. How wonderful it would be to have you and the children here...

One can see the happiness in Catherine's eyes. I'm glad she found an interesting match in every way. I truly like him and he confessed me his admiration for KC [king Charles]. I believe in Matthew sincerity and good nature, but one must be cautious.

Your stepmother manages everything. Now she is awfully upset, because Jeanne cancelled her engagement with the son of the duke of Belfort last week. This decision puts us in a very delicate situation, but I feel sad for Jeanne. Probably she felt discouraged while watching Catherine's wedding preparations. Helen and Catherine have been very harsh on her, since the engagement broke. Yet Jeanne seems calm. Now she relies more on me, Dorothea and (Bernard), who has been a good friend to her."

'Hmm...', smiled Charles naughtily.

'Hmm... what?', inquired Cinderella.

Charles laughed.

'What is it?', insisted she, 'Is there something I should know?'

'Nothing, really. Go on...', dismissed he.

'Mama...', started Daniel suspiciously.

'Yes, dear'.

'Is Papa going to cook?', whispered the little boy.

'Hey! If you criticize my cooking, I won't play Dark Lord', threatened Charles.

'No, Daddy, please! I love when you cook!', Daniel threw himself at Charles's feet.

Cinderella and the animals laughed, while Frances giggled and raised her arms in Charles' direction, asking for his lap. Charles smiled; he held Frances in his arms and she rejoiced.

'At least, Frances still likes me', teased Charles.

Daniel grimaced and Charles held him as well.

Then Cinderella continued.

"Paulette was here last Tuesday and took a small amount of money I set aside for you. Please, take it. Unfortunately, it is not much this time, but I am sure it will be useful. She will certainly arrive soon.

Please, write whenever you wish, my dear.

I bid you farewell with all my affection, eagerly waiting for our meeting.

Your devoted father


Daniel was getting impatient and asked to return to the floor. Charles put Daniel down and sat down with Frances on his lap. Cinderella sighed, folded the letter and stood up to prepare lunch.

'Your father is making a huge sacrifice', remarked Charles.

'Don't take that so hard', smiled Cinderella.

'Of course I do. He must be paying for Catherine's wedding, and he has sustained my parents, Hans and Alex in the last two years. If we don't repay him soon, he will ruin himself. I must find a job.'

Both Cinderella and her father never fully approved Charles' attempts to find a job as a fencing instructor or tutor, as he wished and was most qualified. They feared Charles' integration among aristocracy could lead to suspicions about his true identity. However, money was starting to fall short. Cinderella shared several times her intentions of working as a cooker, a maid, or a housekeeper, but Charles disapproved, stating he would never let her suffer again in the hands of a cruel master or mistress. Although she tried to persuade him that not all mistresses were like her stepmother, he stubbornly declined. In the last years, they were also too busy sharing domestic chores and raising their small children.

Moreover, Charles improved the barn and the couple bought a cow, a goat, a rooster and a hen. Cinderella firmly insisted that they could never ever kill these animals that provided them with eggs and milk. In addition, they collected seeds to grow a large portion of vegetable and medicinal herbs in their garden. Charles and Cinderella fish several times a week and he hunt boars. Thus, they had almost everything to survive and the search for a job was constantly postponed.

One day, Charles and Cinderella took the children and the animals to the village. When they arrived, they were delighted to find a puppet show in the main square. Daniel and Frances rejoiced and clapped hands, watching the curious motions and the funny strident voices of the little figures. Frances was especially amazed by the show, and Daniel was constantly jumping, encouraging the main character to beat the evil barber.

At the end of the show, a man called the puppeteer to meet the audience and announced several fencing competitions that would take place in that square in the following month. The winner of the adult competition would receive a medal and 7000 golden coins.

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

'The fencing competition will start this year with the support of several aristocrats. The candidates can apply at that stall over there today, or at the Fencing Club, by the 5th of June.'

Cinderella stood up, took Frances on one arm and grabbed Charles' hand.

'Oh, darling, let's go!'

Patch barked enthusiastically, while Bingo and Chouchou were jumping.

Charles smiled and grabbed Daniel's hand.

'But I want to stay and see the toys,' replied Daniel.

'The puppets, sweetie', corrected Cinderella.

'I want to see the puppets...', insisted Daniel.

'Don't you see the show is over? The puppeteer is leaving', explained Charles slightly impatient, 'Come on. We have to go.'

'Where are we going?', asked Daniel.

'We are going to sign up for a fencing competition,' answered Cinderella.

'Oh...', wondered the little boy, while standing up.

The stall was near the square, but a queue was already formed. Although the queue was not too long, they waited a lot. Every time an aristocrat arrived, he went ahead of the others. While waiting, Daniel exhausted Charles and Cinderella with questions about the competition. Like some other applicants in line, they sat down in the ground and put the children on their lap. Daniel was explaining Frances how the competition worked, when a little noble boy looked attentively at them.

'Look, it seems that little boy wants to play with you', said Cinderella.

Daniel looked at the boy, who immediately hid himself behind his nanny's dress. In the meantime, Frances started to cry while watching a group of children happily eating cake.

'I can't believe they have priority, regardless of families with small children,' complained Charles.

'It is unfair...', agreed Cinderella, while comforting Frances.

'Maybe it is better if you wait with the children in the garden', suggested Charles.

'I want to be by your side,' smiled Cinderella.

Charles tenderly kissed Cinderella on the cheek and stood up.

'I will buy bread and fruit for you, then. I will be back in a minute'.

'Oh, but, honey...'

'Don't forget to bring candies!', exclaimed Daniel, making Charles smile.

Charles ran towards the market and Cinderella tried to cheer up Frances with a lullaby. Daniel joined the singing and the little boy, who was looking at Daniel before, approached. He was gazing uninterruptedly at Cinderella.

'You...', said Daniel.

The boy sticked out his tongue at Daniel and ran away.

'Hey!', protested Daniel while standing up.

Cinderella held Daniel and prevented him to follow the boy. Then a young aristocrat approached them and greeted Cinderella. He had dark blond long hair with a slight beard, and mustache. He was wearing a Basil green cape over a Pistachio green, golden and beige impeccable costume.

'I am Philip, the III, duke of Bladenburg, Madam, and I apologize for my son', bowed the duke.

'Oh, it is an honor, duke. You don't need to apologize. I am Susanna Duval.'

'My wife passed away while giving birth to my son. That is why he enjoys watching mothers with their children so much,' explained the duke.

'Oh, I totally understand... My mother passed away when I was a small child,' told Cinderella.

The duke looked deeply into Cinderella's eyes, making her blush and feel uneasy. Patch barked and Cinderella scolded him.

'It is sad, indeed... I suppose you are here due to the competition,' smiled he.

'Yes, I am signing up', replied Daniel.

'Really?', laughed the duke, while Cinderella shrugged.

'I will win the children competition. My father is also signing up, but I'm not sure he will win the grown-up competition. He always loses and gets hurt when we fight.'

Cinderella giggled.

'I see', smiled the duke.

'Isn't it, Mommy?', insisted Daniel.

'Yes, my love', smiled Cinderella.

'He likes to play the villain. And we cannot let the villains win', continued Daniel.

'Of course not...', sighed the duke, starting to feel annoyed.

'I seriously doubt that real villains play with and take care of a naughty little boy like I do', countered Charles' voice.

Cinderella and Daniel looked behind them. Daniel jumped to Charles' lap, almost wrinkling the grocery bag, and Cinderella smiled tenderly at them.

'Daddy!', exclaimed Daniel while hugging Charles with his eyes closed.

'Watch out, or you will make the bread fall', warned Charles whilst looking at the duke.

'My apologies, sir. I am Philip, the III, duke of Bladenburg', the duke introduced himself.

'My pleasure. I am Andrew Duval,' bowed Charles.

'An ancient name from this kingdom', added Philip.

Charles smiled.

'I was apologizing for my son's behavior. He was impertinently looking at your wife and was rude to your son,' explained Philip.

'Thank you for your attention, duke, but we would never take it as offensive. It is perfectly understandable at their age.'

'I heard you were signing up for the competition.'


'I am a member and a co-founder of the fencing club. I can put you in the office faster, if you wish', offered Philip.

'Thank you. I would prefer to wait in the line. There are other families with children ahead of us', declined Charles.

'I see... For which section are you signing up?', asked Philip.

'For the adult competition, I suppose', answered Charles.

'Yes, but there are different sections within the adult competition.'

'Really?', asked Charles.

'They didn't say that in the square', added Cinderella.

'The announcer didn't explained details.'

'And what are those sections?', asked Charles.

'In first place, you will have to sign up for the fencing club with a jewel, and then you choose the section, according to your possibilities.'

'I see... Each section depends less on merit than on the amount we pay', concluded Charles, 'In that case, most of the people waiting here will be excluded'.

'These are the rules of the Fencing Club...', stated the young duke.

'I understand. It would be dreadful if a commoner won the competition', smiled Charles while looking tensely at Philip.

As the conversation unfolded into a darker tone, Cinderella stood up and looked at Charles. Then Frances started to cry.

'I see you have to take care of your little princess,' smiled Philip, 'Well, if you excuse me, I will leave. It was a pleasure.'

'Pleased to meet you, duke', replied Cinderella, while making a bow.

'The pleasure was mine', added Charles.

'The pleachure wash my', pompously bowed Daniel.

The duke bowed and walked away. Charles and Cinderella bit their lips, to avoid laughter, sat down and fed the children. Cinderella covered Frances with a napkin to protect her dress and gave her sweet and soft plums. Daniel devoured a tasty bread with seeds. Cinderella and the animals ate grapes, whereas Charles picked an apple. When the duke was completely out of their sight, the couple started to giggle.

'So cute...', giggled Cinderella.

'The pleachure wash my', mocked Charles, making an even more exaggerated bow.

'No, Daddy, it's not like that!', corrected Daniel.

Charles, Cinderella and the animals burst into laughter. The children were puzzled at first, but eventually started to laugh. A few instants later, their place in the line advanced and they had to stand up.

'Have you noticed? Our little princess...', whispered Cinderella.

'People say that so many times. Don't worry', reassured Charles.

'But you shouldn't react that way. He might suspect something...', feared Cinderella.

'Why? We should talk freely about these issues', replied Charles.

'He might associate that with... you...'

'Nonsense! I can more easily renounce a crown than give up on my ideals. Besides, I cannot be the only one complaining about social inequalities in these events.'

'Oh, darling, I have a strange feeling about him...', confessed she.

'I didn't like him either...', agreed Charles, 'and he seems rather powerful around here.'

'Do you have money with you to sign up?', reminded Cinderella.

'Not much...'

'The announcer should have informed us about that...', complained she.

Frances was laughing at Daniel's funny faces and asked for more plums.

'Is it yummy, sweetie?', asked Cinderella.

Frances nodded and smiled naughtily. Charles looked tenderly at her, and Cinderella straightened the napkin, not to dirty the dress.

'Honey, I had an idea! I will join you in a minute', said Cinderella, while putting Frances on Charles' lap.

'But... where are you going?'

'It's a surprise', replied she.

Cinderella took the animals with her, and ran towards the market, leaving Daniel upset from being separated from Patch.

'They will return in no time, Blue Knight', comforted Charles.

'Daddy, let's play Dark Lord! Let's play Dark Lord! Let's play Dark Lord!', exclaimed Daniel jumping.

'Oh, no...', sighed Charles.

Despite the multicolored stalls, the smells and the noisy sellers, that market was not so big and charming as the one in Emerald city. On these occasions, Cinderella and the animals missed their daily strolls in their home town, but they were also starting to appreciate the singularities of this growing city and its inhabitants. This time, they mistrusted the duke they met that day.

'He was the one who gazed impertinently at Susanna, not his son!', protested Bingo.

'Bingo!', scolded Cinderella.

'It is true', agreed Patch, 'You even blushed.'

'It was strange. That's all,' discarded Cinderella.

'He was obviously trying to seduce you,' added Chouchou.

'And he lost interest when Charles appeared', said Papy.

'It would be so great if Charles won the competition in a duel against him', imagined Bingo, making everyone laugh.

'Of course our Charles will win!', exclaimed Chouchou.

'It is not so easy... It seems they are doing everything to reward only aristocrats...', countered Cinderella.

'Bah', protested Chouchou.

'Oh, I'm sure Charles will win', encouraged Patch.

Cinderella petted him, and they entered the fabric store, which was fully decorated with rustic cabinets and shelves displaying fabrics of many colors and shades. The animals were always delighted to visit this store with Cinderella. Mrs. Weber was a middle-aged seamstress, who opened this fabric store and a sewing house a year after the war was over. Luckily for her, the business was running smoothly. She was very small, well built and had a long angular face. Mrs. Weber recurred frequently to a magnifying glass, and most of the times dressed herself in indigo blue with a big white apron.

'Good afternoon, Mrs. Weber', greeted Cinderella.

'Good afternoon, Mrs. Duval', greeted Mrs. Weber, in a hoarse, yet sweet, voice, 'I missed you, my dear. How are your little babies?'

'They are fine, thank you.'

'And your handsome husband?', inquired Mrs. Weber.

Cinderella giggled.

'Don't you find him handsome?'

'Oh, yes...', blushed Cinderella.

'I only saw him once, from the window. You should bring him more often,' suggested Mrs. Weber, 'And you are absolutely gorgeous too, my dear. You make a beautiful couple.'

'You are so kind', thanked Cinderella, 'You are making me feel embarrassed.'

'I speak the truth, my dear. So, have you got something for me?'

Cinderella took several embroideries from her brown bag.

'I hope you appreciate these.'

Mrs. Weber took her magnifying glass and examined them.

'Oh, but they are extraordinary, dear! Such an attention to detail... You are truly talented!', praised Mrs. Weber.

'Thank you very much.'

'Since the previous ones sold out very well, I will raise you this time.'

'Oh, thank you.'

Mrs. Weber opened a drawer of the desk and returned to Cinderella.

'I don't do this to anyone. Usually we only pay after selling the embroideries...'

'I know...', replied Cinderella head down.

'But I know how hard it is to sustain a family when we are very young...,' said Mrs. Weber while giving Cinderella a little bag with coins.

'Thank you so much, Mrs. Weber.'

'You're welcome, dear. Come visit me more often with your family.'

Cinderella thanked her and bid farewell. She was behind the door jamb when she decided to ask Mrs. Weber if she knew about job offers in the sewing houses. In fact, Mrs. Weber could employ Cinderella in her own house, but she would have to work from Monday to Saturday, from 7am to 4pm, to be paid 20 silver coins per week. Cinderella heard all the information and thanked Mrs. Weber once more.

Cinderella and the animals ran as fast as they could. Fortunately, they joined Charles just on time. He and the children were already in the Fencing Club and were the next to sign up. Cinderella was panting heavily.

'I was starting to worry about you. Where did you go?', asked Charles.

Cinderella gave him the little bag with coins and smiled.

'What is it?'

'Don't worry. It wasn't stolen', reassured she with a naughty smile.

'The grapes, again?', frowned Charles.

Cinderella giggled.

'In theory, they were mine, you know. I only ate them faster', smiled Charles.

'All right, all right... I hope this is enough.'

Charles opened the bag and gazed tenderly at Cinderella.

'Thank you.'

'You don't need to thank me. We are doing this for the family, aren't we?'

Charles smiled and put his left arm around her shoulder.

'Next, please', echoed a nice voice.

Daniel was very disappointed to know that he had to wait to be 12 years old to sign up for the competition. Since he wasn't able to participate, his father would certainly win, for he was the best swordsman in the kingdom next to Daniel. Charles took a deep breath, when he realized that the amount he had paid to signed up didn't enable him to get the highest reward, even if he won the highest score.

Since then, Charles practiced for the competition every morning. He lamented not having a fencing partner to improve his training, and Daniel didn't understand why his father didn't let him play swords with him. Cinderella was also upset.

'If you had taught me properly, I could be your fencing partner', complained she, making Charles laugh.

'Why are you laughing? I bet I could be as good as you are', countered Cinderella.

'You should have learned from a younger age', explained he.

Cinderella grabbed a stick and pointed it at Charles.

'Are you saying I'm old?', Cinderella squinted her eyes.

'No, of course not, my love! But...'

'Imagine a beautiful duchess employed you as her fencing instructor. You would be forced to teach her, right?', wondered she with a witty smile.

'Well, yes...', smiled he.

Cinderella ran furiously with the stick in his direction, but Charles agilely escaped.

'If your wife asks you to teach her fencing, you are also obliged to do it!'

'Can't you see I'm afraid you get hurt?,' laughed he.

'Don't fool me! You think I will never be capable to fight like you!'

'All right, then. But you must teach me how to cook properly!'

'What? Every time I try to help you in the kitchen you decline.'

'I like to make experiments!'

'That's the problem!'

'Come on, honey. We're wasting time. I just came out with an idea to practice fencing with you', smiled Charles naughtily.

'What is it?', she frowned.

'Come here', winked he.

Cinderella approached Charles and he whispered the idea into her ear. She blushed, laughed and tried to hit him with the stick, while he laughed and agilely swerved.

'I don't understand a thing! What is the idea?', inquired Daniel, who was sat down in the grass, bored to play Blue Knight with Frances, who was more focused on collecting little flowers and stones she offered to Bingo and Chouchou.

'It doesn't matter, Daniel', answered Cinderella, 'Let's play Blue Knight!'

'Yey!', the little boy jumped with joy, 'Daddy, today Dark Lord will capture Blue Knight's horse and put him in his dungeon!'

'I will play Dark Lord', replied Cinderella.

'No, Daddy is Dark Lord...', denied Daniel.

'Are you saying I cannot play Dark Lord?', frowned Cinderella.

Daniel hesitated and carefully replied.

'I'm afraid that is not possible...'

Charles burst into laughter and Cinderella left completely mad.

'Daniel, I am laughing, but we're being mean. I'm sure Mommy can play Dark Lord like me', explained Charles.

Daniel persistently denied.

'Why can't I play with you?'

'Only when you are old enough to use this sword', replied Charles.

Daniel sighed, sat down, crossed his arms and Charles continued his training. A few minutes later, Cinderella reappeared wearing a white large shirt, light brown culottes, boots and a pony tail. Charles and Daniel were flabbergasted.

'Mommy!', exclaimed Daniel.

Cinderella petted Patch, held Frances and pointed her wooden sword at Daniel.

'I captured your horse and the red monster. Surrender, Blue Knight, or I'll destroy both of them. You don't have any choice', started Cinderella.

'No, I will never surrender! Don't worry my friends!', Daniel stood up.

Charles laughed and watched them tenderly.

'Shouldn't you be training?', scolded Cinderella.

'Yes, Ma'am!', smiled Charles with his eyes closed.

Cinderella, the children, and the animals played all morning, until Daniel got tired of winning his battles against the evil Dark Lord.

On the first day of the competition, Charles and Cinderella asked Paulette to take care of the children. The couple was riding peacefully towards the city, when, suddenly, they heard a woman crying for help. Charles and Cinderella looked at each other. Without saying a word, felt they should deviate from their path and see what was going on.

The sounds came out of a road nearby the lake that gave access to an area with several noble houses and castles. There stood, in a humble carriage, two women desperately trying to protect a toddler, while an older boy around eleven years old was being beaten by three attackers. Two men were taking all her money and possessions, whilst the other three were holding the servant, the young woman and her little son.

'Stop it right there!', exclaimed Charles while stopping the horse.

'Who do you think you are?', shouted one man.

'Do you want to try your luck?', provoked another.

'No, you are pushing your luck,' replied Charles.

'Oh, really?', mocked the third man.

'Show us...', provoked the fourth.

'Oh, darling...', worried Cinderella.

'Don't worry, my love,' reassured Charles while unsheathing his sword, 'Stay here'.

Charles jumped from the horse and ran towards them. He hurt two men with a fast diagonal thrust. The other three left the women and the little boy to join the fight.

In the meantime, a noble carriage crossed the road. Cinderella noticed the coachman almost lost control of his horses, and the passenger opened the curtain to watch Charles fighting the bandits. Despite all, the carriage kept their way, apparently in a rush.

A few minutes later, Charles injured their right hands, enabling them to fight.

'Damn you', cursed one.

'You should be ashamed to steal women and children...', replied Charles, 'now disappear, or I will stab you from head to toe.'

They muttered in anger, entered their wagon and left. Then Charles addressed the women and the boys. Cinderella jumped from the horse and joined them.

'Oh, sir. How can we thank you?', cried the old servant.

The young woman was hugging her two sons in shock. Cinderella comforted them and fetched water from the lake to heal the boy's wounds.

'My husband fought and died in the war', started the young woman.

'I'm deeply sorry', lamented Charles.

'I was forced to leave my house, and now these men were trying to take all I have.'

'Fortunately, you arrived on time', thanked the old servant.

'Where were you going?', asked Charles.

'To a small cottage in the north side of the lake', replied the servant.

'Is it too far away?', asked Cinderella.

'Twenty minutes', replied the young mother.

Charles pensively watched the lake. Then he turned back to them, and smiled with his tender light blue eyes.

'I will escort you', decided he.

'And what about the competition?', reminded Cinderella.

'There are so many applicants... We cannot start at the same time. Please, go there, explain my delay and kindly ask them to schedule my test as late as possible in the morning', asked Charles.

Cinderella agreed and she rode their horse straight on towards the village, whereas Charles rode the wagon to the north side of the lake.

When Cinderella arrived in the village, the competition was about to start. She ran to the office of the Fencing Club, but the applicants in the line didn't let her go through. They gazed at her and whistled, supposing she was trying to join the competition.

'There was a mishap and my husband is late. Please, let me explain that to the organizers', begged Cinderella.

'Oh, she is married! What a pity...', joked a man with a dark long beard, making everyone laugh.

'You should watch your manners', interrupted a familiar voice.

Cinderella turned back and recognized the noble man she had met during the registration. The other men bowed before the duke and apologized to Cinderella, who thanked Philip of Bladenburg, and explained she had to notify the organization about her husband's delay. Philip listened to her in a serious, yet tender expression.

'The jury is very strict, but I will do my best', assured he, 'Please, wait for me'.

'Oh, thank you!', exclaimed Cinderella.

Cinderella sat down in a bench, where she could watch the rectangular area of the competition circumscribed with a red lace in the main square. One third of the area was empty, like a stage destined for the fencing tests, while the other two thirds were filled with chairs, for the members of the jury, the competitors and the audience. The inhabitants of the surrounding buildings were happily watching the audience and the competitors occupying the chairs. The children were playing with wooden swords. Merchants of swords, capes, flowers and sweets placed their stalls in the corners of the square, trying to draw attention to their business with loud chants.

This colorful and animated scene reminded Cinderella of the Flower Festival and the Beauty Contest in the Emerald kingdom. She smiled with nostalgia, feeling at home in that village for the first time.

Suddenly, a noble carriage with escort made through an enthusiastic crowd and stopped nearby the Fencing Club. A group of children close to Cinderella stood up and quickly ran to the carriage. When it stopped, a tall blond man in a blue and white costume got off. In his white cape was embroidered a blue hawk.

Cinderella stood up to watch him better. He was handsome, very calm and greeted everyone with kindness. The crowd clapped and shouted, 'Long live Prince Richard!' Then people surrounded him to ask about Princess Snow White and their little children. Unfortunately for the audience, the kind prince was quickly dragged to the Fencing Club by his escort and a group of aristocrats.

'Oh, I'm sure he would help us, if I talked to him...', wondered Cinderella.

However, she recognized that it was a dangerous idea. Cinderella could be punished for addressing prince Richard and, worst of all, she risked revealing her true identity to his entourage. She conformed herself and sat down, waiting for the duke, who arrived a few minutes later.

'I'm afraid it is not possible to delay. All participants must arrive at 9 o'clock. Otherwise, they lose their vacancy', reported Philip, 'I am sorry, Mrs. Duval'.

'This means my husband is now off the competition?'

'Yes, I am sorry.'

Charles arrived at the Fencing Club in a horse borrowed by the women he had just helped. He was impatient and complaining about the crowd that made the circulation in the village almost impossible. At that moment, there was no line in the Fencing Club. Everybody was already attending the competition in the square. He searched for Cinderella everywhere, and addressed the only man who was still in the Club.

'I'm sorry, sir, but we cannot allow delays.'

'I was helping a war widow who had just been attacked. Besides, we compete in pairs. Only two will actually start at 9 o'clock', protested Charles.

'We must obey rules', coldly stated the man, while adjusting his glasses.

'Setbacks can happen'.

'It is obvious one cannot arrive late'.

'At least can I have my money back?', tried Charles.

'No', replied the man.

'You're a bunch of thieves!', yelled Charles while pounding on the table.

Cinderella was passing by, when she heard Charles' voice, and joined him immediately.

'Oh, please, calm down, darling', asked Cinderella while holding Charles' arm and looking in his eyes.

'I will forgive you this time, but we won't tolerate this kind of behavior. Please, go out', warned the receptionist.

The couple left and sat down in a bench nearby. Cinderella told Charles what had happened to her, and how she had no choice but to rely on the duke.

'He wouldn't make the slightest effort to help me.'

'How can you be so sure? He was very nice, actually', replied Cinderella.

'Do you know what he said in the club? He could have been nice, and ruin everything in your back. You should have talked personally to the organizers', protested Charles.

Cinderella stood up and fetched the horse. Charles climbed the horse the young widow had borrowed him and joined Cinderella, to explain he had to return the horse.

They rode side by side without saying a word. Cinderella regretted not having talked to the organizers and abruptly leaving Charles to fetch the horse, but she couldn't tolerate his angry tone. Sometimes Cinderella looked at Charles trying to start a conversation, but he seemed so hopeless she remained silent.

After returning the horse and bidding farewell to the widow, her children and the servant, Charles climbed his and Cinderella's horse. During the way home, he gazed at her profile, making her look him in return, and he gently kissed her cheek.

Paulette was surprised by their early arrival and the couple languid mood. Charles barely spoke at lunch, and Cinderella was clearly forcing her smile. Then Paulette tidied up the kitchen, while Cinderella played with the children and the animals.

Frances was amazed by a beautiful poppy that unexpectedly blossomed in the garden. Cinderella told that they shouldn't pick rare flowers no matter what, because they would kill those flowers. Everything in nature was alive.

Daniel turned to Patch, Bingo and Chouchou, and started playing hide and seek, but Frances was still captivated by the flower. She lay down in the grass, next to Cinderella, and tilted her little head, smiling. Then Cinderella decided to pick the poppy and gave it to Frances, who laughed in bliss. The little girl stood up and jumped with the flower on her hand. Then she crossed the garden, the kitchen, and searched for her daddy in every room. Cinderella followed all Frances' steps, helped climbing the stairs and pushing the doors until they found Charles sat down near his desk in the office.

It was a large room, one of the biggest in the house, but still very incomplete. Charles made a desk, several cabinets and shelves that occupied the larger walls, but only a column of shelves was filled with books, for they couldn't afford more. Many of them were offered by Paulette and Cinderella's father, who had more access to books in the Emerald kingdom. Charles missed his library in the castle very much those days. Now he knew the value of that library he wasted so much during his adolescence.


'What is it, Frances?', smiled Charles.

The little girl giggled and ran to his father. Charles lifted Frances in his arms, kissed her and she offered him the poppy.

'For me? You are very kind, princess,' thanked Charles.

Cinderella, who was listening behind the door, joined them and caressed Frances' head.

'It is a poppy', taught Cinderella.

'Poppy', repeated Charles.

'Bobby!', exclaimed Frances.

The couple smiled and Cinderella sat down in a chair, while Charles, still carrying Frances, approached the window, in order to supervise Daniel playing in the garden.

'It seems I am punished for every decision I take...', unburdened he.

Cinderella stood up and hugged Charles from behind.

'Don't be so harsh on yourself. I'm sure we will overcome this. For now, we have everything we need and I can sell my embroidery. Actually, I've just finished more and I am going to sell it tomorrow morning.'

'We have enough to live like this, but in three years Daniel will start school.'

'In three years, so many things can change', encouraged Cinderella, 'Besides, we can teach them ourselves. We also had private tutors.'

'I wish they could go to school,' answered Charles, when Frances pointed to the open book on the desk.

Cinderella smiled, he smiled in return and she kissed him in the cheek.

'I'm grateful for every moment with you and the children', said Cinderella.

Charles put his arm around her shoulder. Then Cinderella leaned on his chest and caressed little Frances, still delighted with the delicate red flower.

On the following morning, Cinderella woke up to the first rooster's crowing and left home very early accompanied by Patch, Chouchou, Bingo and Pappy. Before leaving, she wrote a note reminding Charles she had to go to the village and would be back as soon as possible.

Around nine o'clock, Daniel entered his parents' bedroom and jumped to bed.

'Good morning!', shouted the little boy.

Charles woke up and scolded Daniel.

'How many times do I have to tell you to knock on the door?'

'I'm hungry... Where is Mommy?', asked Daniel.

Charles looked on his left, then turned on his right and noticed a little piece of paper on his bedside table. He opened it and read it.

'Mommy went to the village and will be back as soon as possible.'

'Oh, no...', muttered Daniel.

'What did you say?', asked Charles.

'Nothing, Daddy', smiled Daniel with his eyes closed.

Charles frowned and stood up. He put his Bordeaux robe, took Daniel to the children's bedroom and dressed him and little Frances. Daniel took off his light teal pajamas and wore a light blue shirt, white socks, teal culottes and brown shoes with buckles. Little Frances wore a beige dress with light pink collar. When they were finally dressed, Charles brushed Frances golden hair. Before Charles brushed Daniel's hair, the little boy ran to the kitchen in search for food. Unfortunately, there was only a little piece of bread.

'Mommy will bring bread. In the meantime, I will prepare oatmeal for you', comforted Charles as he arrived in the kitchen.

Daniel got even more upset.

'Daddy, where is Patch?'

'Mommy took Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Pappy with her.'

Charles sat down Frances at the table, gave mugs of milk to her and Daniel. Then he rolled up his sleeves and approached the kitchen counter. Daniel followed him immediately.

'I feel you are checking on me...', suspected Charles.

'I love you, Daddy!', replied Daniel.

Charles smiled, trying not to burst into laughter, and kneeled before Daniel, who tried to watch the kitchen counter in tiptoes.

'You are very sweet today...'

'I am always sweet', smiled Daniel.

Charles controlled his laughter, fetched a high chair for Daniel and started preparing the oatmeal. Firstly, he picked a pan, where he poured the milk and the oat flakes. Frances was giggling and clapping in her seat and Charles tenderly smiled at her. Then he added two spoons of white sugar he took from a transparent bottle nearby. Then he stirred everything with a big wooden spoon and came up with an idea.

'Let's make something different! I will add some fruit this time.'

Daniel looked worried at Charles.

'What's the problem? You love fruit.'

'Yes, Daddy, but...'

'I'm sure this will turn out yummy and juicy', insisted Charles.

Daniel crossed his arms and watched Charles washing all the fruit he found in a bowl: strawberries, red berries, blueberries, a peach, a plum, an apple and an orange. He peeled and cut the last four into pieces and put everything in the pan.

'Daddy, can you cut fruit with the sword?'

Charles laughed.

'We'll try that next time,' promised the father.


Finally, Charles put the pan on the fire, and stirred everything.

Daniel pessimistically watched the oatmeal becoming pink and very liquid. Suddenly, it started to expel bubbles of juice and Charles took it from the fire. Then he served the oatmeal in bowls.

'Breakfast is ready', smiled Charles.

Daniel hesitantly sat down at the table and Charles tasted the meal. He proudly took a spoon to his mouth, but chocked immediately. The fruit was overcooked and the oatmeal was salty. When he should have been paying attention to the bottles of salt and sugar, Frances distracted him, and he ruined everything.

Cinderella arrived in that very moment and Daniel ran to her.

'Mommy, Mommy, I think Daddy put poison in the oatmeal by mistake! Come, quickly!'

Cinderella laughed and the animals giggled, predicting another failed culinary experience.

'Is everything alright, darling?', asked Cinderella from the hall.

'Yes... yes... Have you brought bread?', asked Charles while collecting the bowls with oatmeal and putting them on the kitchen counter.

'Yes', smiled she, while entering the kitchen and approaching little Frances.

'Great!', he sighed with relief.

On Sunday, the family went to church. On these occasions, Charles wore a Bordeaux vest, a Prussian blue jacket, Prussian blue culottes, a white shirt with a white scarf and leather shoes, whereas Cinderella wore a beige dress with a bow-neck, a green lace and green sleeves. Frances was dressed in white and yellow with a white ribbon, and Daniel was dressed in light blue.

Cinderella was leaving home and holding the children's hands towards their wagon, when she incidentally left her right shoe on the way. Charles had just locked the door. He smiled, grabbed her shoe and noticed how worn it was. Then he joined Cinderella, kneeled, put the shoe before her and she put it on while looking into Charles' eyes. The parents laughed and the children were puzzled with the scene.

They used to go to the ancient small church where Daniel and Frances were baptized and Charles and Cinderella remarried as Andrew and Susanna. However, that church was in repairs those months and the alternative was a gothic cathedral near the main square.

The priest that friendly welcomed and cared for Charles and Cinderella celebrated the mass. He was attracting a lot of peasants, commoners and merchants to this highly sophisticated church usually attended by aristocrats. At first, Daniel and Frances watched attentively the colorful stained glass, the statues and the high pillars, but they quickly fell asleep as the choir started to sing. The young parents tenderly watched them sleeping and carried them at the end of ceremony.

When Charles and Cinderella, each carrying a child on their lap, left the cathedral, a nice and fat nobleman followed by his family and a group of men kindly approached Charles. At that moment, Philip, the duke of Bladenburg, was leaving the church.

'I'm sorry, sir. I believe I watched you fighting a group of cowards who attacked defenseless women and children in the outskirts of our village.'

'Yes, sir', confirmed Charles.

'I confess I have never seen such bravery and talented swordsmanship, my friends. He fought five or six men alone! He was much more skilled than the winners of the boring fencing competition', loudly praised the man, making Charles and Cinderella speechless.

Charles thanked him and the man introduced himself as the count of Bartak, from a foreign kingdom. He had six children and was now desperately searching for a fencing instructor for his eldest son. He disliked all the best swordsmen in the kingdom, for they were too snobbish and arrogant. When he watched that fight near the lake, he felt Andrew was the right person to teach their children.

Within a few days, Charles, as Andrew Duval, started giving fencing lessons at the house of the count of Bartak. One afternoon, Charles arrived home with several books, a doll for Frances, a knight helmet for Daniel and a pair of shoes for Cinderella. In a few months, they finally managed to repay Cinderella's father.


Chapter Text

Cinderella was strolling in the forest with Daniel, Frances, and the animals. It was a hot afternoon in late June, a perfect day to pick apples, strawberries and other fruits. Cinderella was told that she could find the best apples in a clearing in an eastern area of the forest.

A year had passed since Charles got a job as a fencing instructor. Now Frances was two and Daniel was almost five. Charles and Cinderella were happy as ever raising their children and living quietly in the outskirts of the city, which was getting bigger.

When their little baskets were filled with fruits, Cinderella decided to return home. Frances was sad, because she wanted to catch a perfect red apple in a very high branch. Despite Cinderella's explanations, the little girl insisted. Cinderella sat down the children, took a deep breath and started to climb the tree.

'Oh, Mommy, no, no! Don't go, Mommy, don't go', cried Frances.

Cinderella came down, comforted Frances, and Daniel examined the tree.

'Maybe this is a job for the Blue Night…', wondered Daniel smiling.

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

In the meantime, the animals were conceiving a plan. After a brief reunion, Bingo and Chouchou climbed the tree, Papy flew to the branch, and Patch stretched out under the tree. Pappy pecked, Bingo and Chouchou nibbled the apple stem and eventually the red fruit fell on Patch's back.

Cinderella, Daniel and Frances clapped. Bingo and Chouchou came down, joined Patch and Papy, then they bowed before the children. Cinderella gave Frances the apple and they finally headed towards home.

In a denser area of the forest, they heard whistles. As they continued, the sound intensified, and they saw a group of shadows in the trees. Daniel and Frances grabbed Cinderella's skirt and looked at her, while Cinderella tried to conceal her fear. Then Patch stood in front of Cinderella and the children. He was growling and prepared to attack. Papy supervised everything from above, Bingo watched on the right, whereas Chouchou was on the left.

The group finally appeared into the light. They were seven dwarfs with buckets, peckers and dark red hats.

'Good afternoon, ma'am', kindly saluted the eldest, with a long white beard.

'Good afternoon, sir', replied Cinderella, while Daniel and Frances were lurking behind her.

'Please, don't be afraid. We are a just a family of dwarfs who work in a mine and live in our beloved forest. I am Boss, and these are Gourmet, Woody, Goldie, Chamomile, Vet, and Jolly,' introduced Boss.

Cinderella asked Patch to stop growling and made a bow. Then Vet, an adorable dwarf dressed in pink, approached Patch and petted him.

'Pleased to meet you. I am Susana Duval. These are my children, Daniel and Frances, and my animals, Patch, Papy, Chouchou and Bingo.'

Cinderella encouraged the children to greet the dwarfs. Jolly, the youngest, looked attentively at Daniel, who returned his gaze with a naughty smile. Then Chamomile, a thin dwarf dressed in azure blue, noticed the red apple Frances was carrying.

'Do you like apples, my dear?', kindly asked Chamomile.

'Yes', nodded Frances, 'and… my… my Daddy likch appesch too'.

They smiled and Cinderella caressed Frances.

'Our Daddy is the greatest swordsman in the kingdom!', exclaimed Daniel.

'You're wrong. Prince Richard is our best swordsman', replied Jolly.

'No, my Daddy is the best,' frowned Daniel.

'Daniel…', gently reprimanded Cinderella.

Then Gourmet, a nice and fat dwarf dressed in light blue, approached Daniel.

'Are you also fond of apples?', inquired Gourmet.

'I prefer strawberries and cherries,' answered Daniel, 'And plums.'

'I like strawberries as well', added Jolly.

'They are all very delicious', concluded Boss, 'But apples always remind us of a special story.'

'What story?', asked Frances, while carefully holding her apple.

'The story of Princess Snow White…', answered Boss.

'She lives in the blue castle, doesn't she, Mommy?', asked Daniel and Cinderella confirmed.

'Pinchess Show White likes appesch?', asked Frances.

'Yes, but one day she took a bite of a special apple,' added Goldie, the strongest dwarf, with dark blue hair, and an orange costume.

The children were so curious that Boss invited everyone to sit down. Then he told the story of Snow White, how she was envied by the terrible Queen Chrystal, how she lived in the forest with them, until Prince Richard defeated the evil spirit that had taken the queen's Chrystal body and saved Snow White's live with a kiss. It was a very exciting and tough year. Snow White's life was threatened three times, they faced many dangers, lived many adventures and made new friends. Jolly and Goldie occasionally added more details, such as the stories of Prince Goby, the spirit in the Queen's magic mirror, and the story of Jack, the boy who fell in love with Snow White.

'And how do you live now, after this turmoil?', wondered Cinderella.

'It's kind' a boring…', answered Jolly.

'Don't put it that way. Princess Snow White, Prince Richard and their children try to visit us every week', told Vet.

'That must be lovely', smiled Cinderella.

'Prince Charlie is already 15 months… Time goes by…', sighed Woody.

Cinderella looked in the sky and stood up.

'Oh, indeed! I am so sorry. You are so gentle, and it was a great pleasure meeting you, but it is getting late…', apologized Cinderella while holding Daniel and Frances' hands.

The children refused to stand up, and Frances started a loud tantrum. Gourmet tried to persuade them that they were going home to have a yummy dinner.

'So, we must hurry… We cannot let Daddy prepare dinner', said Daniel while Frances nodded.

'Daddy cooks bad', added Frances.

Cinderella, the animals and the dwarfs burst into laughter. When they stopped, Boss invited the young mother to visit them. He explained that their cottage stood in a clearing near a stream after crossing a rainbow fog, which was a magic spell destined to protect the forest from evil forces. Cinderella kindly accepted the invitation and told the children to bid farewell to the seven dwarfs. They almost forgot the basket filled with apples, but Jolly alerted them in time. On their way back, Frances kept waving at the dwarfs, while Daniel responded to Jolly's provocative grimaces by sticking out his tongue.

'I think we will meet them more often...', predicted Boss, while watching them go.

'Of course. You've just invited them to visit us', replied Jolly.

'No… I have a strange, good feeling about this…', explained Boss.

'How mysterious you are…', mocked Camomile.

'It would be lovely if they could play with Snow White's children, don't you think?', wondered Vet.

'Oh, please! Daniel seems so…', Jolly wrinkled his nose.

'So what?', asked Woody.

'so… irritating!', answered Jolly.

The dwarfs laughed.

'He reminds me of a little fella I know…', poked Goldie.

'You're very funny...', Jolly sat down with his arms crossed.

And the group continued laughing.

Back home, Cinderella was preparing the children's bath, which usually caused Daniel and Frances' tantrums, when they were surprised by Paulette. She easily convinced the children to take a bath and took them with her, leaving Cinderella and the animals in the kitchen.

'I wonder what she does to make bath time more appealing…', speculated Cinderella whilst tasting the soup.

'Eh…', hesitated Bingo.

'Do you think she is using magic?', asked Cinderella.

An hour later they heard a horse neigh. The children went silently down the stairs and hide themselves behind a trunk in the hall. They were already wearing their pyjamas and robe. When Charles opened the door, the animals greeted him, and he petted Patch. He put the keys in a table and his blue cape in the cloakroom. Then he heard Frances' giggles, and snickered. Charles was walking towards the kitchen to meet Cinderella, when he abruptly caught the children, who burst into laughter, and lifted them in his arms.

Cinderella stood in the corridor near the kitchen door watching Charles and the children. As she approached them and Charles leaned to kiss her, Daniel put is head in the middle. Paulette went down the stairs that moment.

'Hello, Cha… Andrew!', greeted the fairy.

'Hello, Paulette!'

'Daddy, daddy, we caught appesch for you!', exclaimed Frances.

'Oh, really, sweetie?', smiled Charles.

'But you must be careful', warned Frances.

'Why?', asked Charles.

'Because… the evil queen poisons the red apples', Frances whispered into Charles' ear.

'Who told you that?', laughed Charles.

'The dwarfs!', answered Daniel, 'Daddy, put me down.'

'Wow! Have you seen dwarfs? How many were they?', asked Charles, while putting Daniel down.

Daniel made an effort to remember the dwarfs and started counting with his fingers, but he was somehow confused. Then Cinderella helped him, and the little boy concluded they were seven.

'It donna' matter. The story of Pinchess Show White matters', replied Frances while moving Charles' head towards her.

'What is the story of Princess Snow White?', inquired Charles.

'The evil queen didn't like Snow White, because she was more beautiful. The queen tried to kill Snow White with a poisoned apple, and a comb and a ribbon. But the prince saved Snow White,' explained Daniel.

'With a kiss', Frances giggled blushing, making Charles and Cinderella smile.

'The queen also had a magic mirror and cast an evil spell in the forest and transformed everyone in statues,' added Daniel.

'The queen was the mean shtetmother', appended Frances.

'Children, why don't you tell the complete story at dinner?', suggested Paulette.

'I've done butter rice', seduced Cinderella.

'Yay!', shouted the children.

Charles put Frances down, and they ran to the kitchen.

'The stories they tell children…', laughed Charles.

'What if it is true?', countered Cinderella.

'Then your stepmother is quite nice', laughed Charles, then he continued, 'Please, magic mirrors? People and animals transformed into statues?'

'Yet, a poisoned apple is not magic', Cinderella took her apron and fold it, 'It seems your cousin went through a lot…'.

'She might have, but now they are inventing all sorts of fantasies,' decried Charles.

'I wish we could meet them…'

'I wish that too, but we must avoid that at all cost, for our sake and their sake', replied Charles.

'You're so suborn… I seriously doubt someone would discover our identity if we met them. They get along with people outside the royal family.'

Charles took an apple he found in the chest, threw it in the air and started teasing Cinderella.

'Beware… Beware…'

'My third child…', sighed Cinderella

She turned her back on him and joined Paulette and the children in the kitchen.

At dinner, Paulette had an interesting idea. Instead of reading a bedtime story, she, the parents and the animals would enact the story of Snow White that evening. At first, the animals were a bit puzzled.

'Paulette… you can't transform us in front of Charles…', reminded Patch.

'No, my dear. I've just painted these seven dwarfs in a cardboard. I'll attached them to you and you just have to walk in profile. Never face the children', explained Paulette while showing the cardboards.

'All right…', agreed the dog.

Papy, Bingo and Chouchou would play Snow White's animals. Paulette played the wicked queen, Cinderella played Snow White and Charles, the prince.

The children, the parents and the animals were delighted with Paulette's magic mirror projected thanks to her magic lantern apparatus with moving effects.

'Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?'

'You my queen… but… eh…', Patch's voice replied.

'But what?', asked Paulette.

'I'm afraid not…', babbled Patch.

Cinderella and the children laughed.

Then Snow White (Cinderella) appeared running away from the castle. She was scared in the forest and found the dwarfs cottage. The animals voiced the dwarfs, who were stick together in a row of cardboard, which provided the most comic situations. It occasionally fell, requiring some magic interventions Paulette masterfully concealed from Charles. Snow White was caressing the dwarfs before they left home to the mine, when Charles asked in the corridor, which served as backstage:

'Is it my turn now?'

'You'll have to wait a bit more', replied Paulette while preparing her witch costume.

'More? This prince doesn't do a thing!', protested Charles.

Paulette giggled and put some apples in her basket.

'Can at least I have one?'

'No! You cannot eat the props!', replied Paulette before entering the room.

Charles sighed and Patch joined him in the corridor. Then Charles left and returned with a chair and a book. He sat down with his leg crossed and started reading. Patch laughed and Charles smiled at him. When the kiss scene finally arrived, Charles made a flashy entrance with a red cape that made the children laugh nonstop. Then he leaned towards Cinderella, who was trying hard to restrain her laughter with her eyes closed,

'I've never seen such a beautiful laughing corpse', mocked he.

Daniel laughed and Cinderella frowned.

'Listen children, never kiss a corpse, no matter how beautiful he or she was', warned Charles.

'Don't be such a party pooper', muttered Cinderella.

'Let's see who the party pooper is', teased Charles.

Then he kissed her in the lips and lingered, making the animals impatient.

'Come on… I'm tired of having this card on my paws...', complained Patch.

'It was my only line', replied Charles when he finished, making Cinderella giggle.

Then Snow White woke up, the prince lifted her in his arms and the dwarfs celebrated.

'And they lived happily ever after', finished Paulette.

The children clapped and jumped in their beds, asking for a repetition.

'Oh, no...', sighed Charles, Cinderella and the animals, exhausted.

'Tomorrow is a perfect day for more stories. Now you have to sleep', calmed Paulette.

'No, we want more! Snow White again…!', asked Daniel, while Frances repeated 'Show White! Show White!'

Charles left and returned with a book. He sat down between the two beds and started reading.

'And so, Glaucon, we have arrived at the conclusion that in the perfect State wives and children are to be in common; and that all education and the pursuits of war and peace are also to be common, and the best philosophers and the bravest warriors are to be their kings?

That, replied Glaucon, has been acknowledged.

Yes, I said; and we have further acknowledged that the governors, when appointed themselves, will take their soldiers and place them in houses such as we were describing, which are common to all, and contain nothing private, or individual; and about their property, you remember what we agreed?

Yes, I remember that no one was to have any of the ordinary possessions of mankind; they were to be warrior athletes and guardians, receiving from the other citizens, in lieu of annual payment, only their maintenance, and they were to take care of themselves and of the whole State.

'Daddy, this is not Show White…', frowned Frances.

'The story of Snow White comes after this', replied Charles, making Cinderella, Paulette and the animals giggle.

'This doesn't even look like a story!', protested Daniel while standing up.

'Of course it is. You just have to listen to it 'till the end', replied Charles.

'There is no difficulty in returning; you implied, then as now, that you had finished the description of the State: you said that such a State was good, and that the man was good who answered to it, although, as now appears, you had more excellent things to relate both of State and man. And you said further, that if this was the true form, then the others were false; and of the false forms, you said, as I remember, that there were four principal ones, and that their defects, and the defects of the individuals corresponding to them, were worth examining. When we had seen all the individuals, and finally agreed as to who was the best and who was the worst of them, we were to consider whether the best was not also the happiest, and the worst the most miserable. I asked you what were the four forms of government of which you spoke, and then Polemarchus and Adeimantus put in their word; and you began again and have found your way to the point at which we have now arrived.

Your recollection, I said, is most exact.

Then, like a wrestler, he replied, you must put yourself again in the same position; and let me ask the same questions, and do you give me the same answer which you were about to give me then.

Yes, if I can, I will, I said.

I shall particularly wish to hear what were the four constitutions of which you were speaking.'

Cinderella snuggled Frances, who was starting to fall asleep, and tried to snuggle Daniel, who sat down yawning, with his arms crossed, as Charles continued reading.

That question, I said, is easily answered: the four governments of which I spoke, so far as they have distinct names, are, first, those of Crete and Sparta, which are generally applauded; what is termed oligarchy comes next; this is not equally approved, and is a form of government which teems with evils: thirdly, democracy, which naturally follows oligarchy, although very different: and lastly comes tyranny, great and famous, which differs from them all, and is the fourth and worst disorder of a State. I do not know, do you? of any other constitution which can be said to have a distinct character. There are lordships and principalities which are bought and sold, and some other intermediate forms of government. But these are nondescripts and may be found equally among Hellenes and among barbarians.

Yes, he replied, we certainly hear of many curious forms of government which exist among them.

Do you know, I said, that governments vary as the dispositions of men vary, and that there must be as many of the one as there are of the other?

For we cannot suppose that States are made of 'oak and rock,' and not out of the human natures which are in them, and which in a figure turn the scale and draw other things after them?

Yes, he said, the States are as the men are; they grow out of human characters.

Then if the constitutions of States are five, the dispositions of individual minds will also be five?


Him who answers to aristocracy, and whom we rightly call just and good, we have already described.

We have.

Then let us now proceed to describe the inferior sort of natures, being the contentious and ambitious, who answer to the Spartan polity; also the oligarchical, democratical, and tyrannical. Let us place the most just by the side of the most unjust, and when we see them we shall be able to compare the relative happiness or unhappiness of him who leads a life of pure justice or pure injustice. The enquiry will then be completed. And we shall know whether we ought to pursue injustice, as Thrasymachus advises, or in accordance with the conclusions of the argument to prefer justice.

Certainly, he replied, we must do as you say.

Shall we follow our old plan, which we adopted with a view to clearness, of taking the State first and then proceeding to the individual, and begin with the government of honor? — I know of no name for such a government other than timocracy, or perhaps timarchy. We will compare with this the like character in the individual; and, after that, consider oligarchy and the oligarchical man; and then again we will turn our attention to democracy and the democratical man; and lastly, we will go and view the city of tyranny, and once more take a look into the tyrant's soul, and try to arrive at a satisfactory decision.

That way of viewing and judging of the matter will be very suitable.

First, then, I said, let us enquire how timocracy (the government of honor) arises out of aristocracy (the government of the best). Clearly, all political changes originate in divisions of the actual governing power; a government which is united, however small, cannot be moved.

Very true, he said.

In what way, then, will our city be moved, and in what manner will the two classes of auxiliaries and rulers disagree among themselves or with one another? Shall we, after the manner of Homer, pray the Muses to tell us 'how discord first arose'? Shall we imagine them in solemn mockery, to play and jest with us as if we were children, and to address us in a lofty tragic vein, making believe to be in earnest?'

'Daddy, this is so boring…', complained Daniel yawning.

Charles smiled and continued.

'For when your guardians are ignorant of the law of births, and unite bride and bridegroom out of season, the children will not be goodly or fortunate. And though only the best of them will be appointed by their predecessors, still they will be unworthy to hold their fathers' places, and when they come into power as guardians, they will soon be found to fail in taking care of us, the Muses, first by under-valuing music; which neglect will soon extend to gymnastic; and hence the young men of your State will be less cultivated. In the succeeding generation rulers will be appointed who have lost the guardian power of testing the metal of your different races, which, like Hesiod's, are of gold and silver and brass and iron. And so, iron will be mingled with silver, and brass with gold, and hence there will arise dissimilarity and inequality and irregularity, which always and in all places are causes of hatred and war. This the Muses affirm to be the stock from which discord has sprung, wherever arising; and this is their answer to us.

Yes, and we may assume that they answer truly.

Why, yes, I said, of course they answer truly; how can the Muses speak falsely?

And what do the Muses say next?

When discord arose, then the two races were drawn different ways: the iron and brass fell to acquiring money and land and houses and gold and silver; but the gold and silver races, not wanting money but having the true riches in their own nature, inclined towards virtue and the ancient order of things. There was a battle between them, and at last they agreed to distribute their land and houses among individual owners; and they enslaved their friends and maintainers, whom they had formerly protected in the condition of freemen, and made of them subjects and servants; and they themselves were engaged in war and in keeping a watch against them.'

Realizing that the children were sleeping soundly, Charles closed the book. Paulette and the animals left, while Charles and Cinderella snuggled the children and kissed their little foreheads.

'You see… Philosophy works better. Fairy tales are too exciting', whispered Charles in the corridor, making everyone laugh.

Then they bid farewell to Paulette, who assured that there was no need to escort her. She actually lived in a small house a few meters away. Nevertheless, Patch joined Paulette in her way home, and Charles waited for the dog's return to open the door.

An hour later, Cinderella was leaning against Charles' chest while he read aloud in bed.

'So, when the gifts of Bacchus bless the board

And a girl's sharing your couch, pray to the Lord

Of Night and Licence not to allow

His wine to fuddle your head, for now

Is the time for ambiguities and hidden sense,

Which she'll feel are solely for her. Trace compliments

In spilt wine on the table so she'll surmise

That she's your sweetheart, gaze into her eyes

With obvious ardor – a long, silent look

Can say as much as a speech or a book.

If she puts her wine down, be the first to snatch it up

And drink from the side of the cup

Her lips have touched; if she's fingered some food, demand

That bit, and in reaching for it brush her hand.

If she's come escorted, your best plan

Is (…) to cultivate the man:

When you dice for the drinking order, let him instead

Of you have the honor; give him the garland from your head;

Whether he's placed below or with you, let him be

The first to be served; defer to him, agree.

A safe and well-worn ploy is to pretend

To be the husband's friend –…'

Charles and Cinderella laughed.

'Oh, he's Machiavellian…', interrupted Cinderella, 'And most of his tactics…'

'I bet you'll like this one', interrupted Charles smiling.

'In early autumn, of all seasons the most sweet,

When the grapes grow purple and juice-replete,

When one day we're gripped by cold and the next limp with heat,

And the weather's changeable mood,

Brings on lassitude,

May your girl keep well. But if she does fall ill

And takes to bed with a fever or a chill

Caught from the morbid air,

Now is the time to show your loving care.

Be a shrewd cultivator –

Sow now, and you'll reap a bumper harvest later.

If the invalid's peevish, don't let it upset you;

Do for her with your own hands whatever she'll let you.

Weep in front of her, kiss her again and again,

Let the rain

Of your tearful grief

Bring her parched lips and mouth relief.

Make vows for her recovery – aloud so she can hear,

Tell her your dreams when she feels like listening – ones of good cheer,

Hire an old witch with tottery legs

And trembling hands to bring round sulphur and eggs

To purify the room and the bed.

All this will prove your willing love (it's a route that's led

To many legacies!). Zeal, though, should keep its bounds:

Don't fuss, or your ministrations may become the grounds

Of her displeasure. Never ban food, and never concoct her

Bitter medicines. Leave rivals to play doctor.'

Cinderella laughed.

'So, you were inspired by him…', teased she.

'No, I actually read this later,' smiled he.

'You're lying!', laughed Cinderella.

'No, I swear,' Charles closed the book and gazed at her.

'Are you living happily ever after?', asked Cinderella.

'Ever after in a castle sounds so boring… I think this is more exciting', he replied.

Cinderella laughed.

'I prefer it this way', highlighted Charles.

Cinderella lay down and gazed enticingly at him.

'Will you breathe life into me?', teased she.

Charles smiled. He put the book on the bedside table and blew out the candles. Then they kissed and giggled in the dark.

Early in the morning Daniel jumped into the parents' bed, as he insisted on doing every day, while Frances was calling for Mommy in the children's room. The two-year girl couldn't leave the bed on her own, due to the wooden protections to prevent falls.

'Daniel, how many times do we have to say to knock on the door first?,' scolded Charles.

'You wouldn't hear any way', complained Daniel.

'It doesn't matter, Daniel', insisted Cinderella, while putting on her slippers and wearing a light green robe, 'An educated child always knocks on the door'.

Daniel wrinkled his nose and crossed his arms for a while. He eventually crawled towards Charles, who was trying to sleep a bit more. Then he pulled the father's sleeve.

'Daddy… Daddy… let's play fencing…, please', asked the boy.

Cinderella entered the room while carrying Frances. The mother gently put the little girl on the bed next to Daniel and opened the curtains, the windows and the balcony.

'It's a perfect day for a picnic!', she exclaimed, 'The lake must be beautiful today!'

Daniel and Frances jumped with joy, while Charles mumbled, burying the head on the pillow.

Cinderella laughed and calmed down children with hugs and kisses. She washed her face and hands, then she went behind the folding screen to undress the robe and the nightdress. She put on her summer costume, a yellow dress with short white balloon sleeves and a dark teal waistband.

'Dress them, when you wake up. I've just had an idea!', she said before leaving the bedroom with great enthusiasm.

An hour after a quick breakfast, the family and the animals left home in a small carriage. When they arrived, the sun was casting silver reflections upon the lake. From the spot they chose, they could clearly see the imposing blue castle ahead of the mountainous landscape.

After taking care of the horses and tying the reins of the carriage to a tree, Charles and Cinderella split the baskets. The parents took the heaviest baskets, while Daniel and Frances brought light tiny ones. Patch also took a basket containing the tablecloth and the napkins. When he put the basket down, Charles and Cinderella tried hard to spread the towel in the grass with the naughty children getting under it.

Cinderella spent the morning preparing the picnic: a trout pie and a chicken pie, a box with steamed vegetables, lettuce and carrots, a lemon cake and apples for lunch, milk, bread rolls with butter and jelly to snack along the day. They were all delighted watching the food arranged on the red and white towel, when Cinderella reminded to wash the hands.

After washing the hands on the lake, they sat in the shade of a large tree. Charles smiled contemplating the castle and reached for an apple. He was about to eat it, when Frances jumped on him and grabbed the apple.

'Daddy, Daddy, don't!', cried the little girl.

'What is it, dear?', wondered Cinderella, while caressing Frances' head.

Charles looked puzzled at the apple, then he recalled the story of Snow White and laughed.

'Don't worry, sweetheart… These apples do not have poison', reassured Charles.

Frances nodded in negation and started to cry.

Cinderella put Frances on her lap and assured her that Charles would not be poisoned. She reminded that the apples had been chosen by them the day before. Thus, the evil queen could not have cast a spell on them. Frances looked serious at the parents and at the apples.

'Daniel, eat an apple to show that there is no problem', encouraged Cinderella.

'Eh… I would prefer not to…', avoided Daniel, more interested in playing with the animals and a tiny wooden horse he brought from home.

Charles laughed.

'The discontents of fairy tales: children jumping in their beds at night and afraid of healthy fruit at lunch…', mocked Charles

Cinderella and the animals laughed.

'Frances, I'll prove there is nothing wrong', he took several bites of the red apple, swallowed them and smiled at Frances.

Then the little girl jumped from Cinderella to Charles' lap.

'Daddy, Daddy…', Frances hugged him with her eyes closed and Charles kissed her little golden head.

Cinderella leaned her head on Charles' shoulder and caressed Frances' head as well.

'I'm hungry…', complained Daniel.

Charles, Cinderella and the animals laughed.

'Come here, sweetie', encouraged the mother with open arms.

Cinderella took Daniel to the lake to rewash the little boy's hands after having played in the grass.

Charles often praised the delicious cooking, while Daniel and Frances were unusually quiet. The children enjoyed the pies and the cake so much that they ate nonstop without talking. When they finished, they were all quite sleepy. Charles and Cinderella tidied up the towel and put some food in covered recipients back in the baskets. In the meantime, the children fell asleep playing with the wooden horse. Charles and Cinderella gently carried them and laid them down in his and Cinderella's laps. Patch, Bingo, Chouchou, Papy and the horses also fell asleep. Realizing that everyone fell asleep, the couple discussed who should stay on watch.

'You spent extra time in bed this morning, so you should do it…', suggested Cinderella leaning on Charles with her eyes closed.

'That's not fair…', yawned he, trying hard to keep his eyes open.

'Na… na… na…', replied Cinderella snuggling up.

Charles yawned and Daniel woke up.



'Can we play fencing now…?', tried Daniel.

'In a while. I'm too sleepy now', replied Charles.

'Why are you and Mommy always so sleepy? Don't you sleep at night?', asked Daniel.

Charles smiled and pulled the son towards him.

'This is boring…', complained Daniel, 'come on…'.

Charles took a deep breath and opened his eyes.

'Yay!', exclaimed Daniel.

'Don't wake them up', shushed Charles, 'Be silent.'

'Yes', whispered Daniel.

'Where are the wooden swords?', asked Charles.

'They are not here', answered Daniel looking for the swords around the towel.

'They must be in the carriage…', guessed the father, 'Could you bring them, please?'.

'Yes, Daddy!', nodded Daniel.

When Daniel stood up, he noticed a boat with three small people in the lake. Patch woke up on that moment and was also captivated by the boat.

Charles was waking up and falling asleep intermittently. Worried about the family's surveillance, he made a definitive effort to wake up and noticed Daniel staring at the lake. Then there echoed a cry for help and Charles saw the boat. He carefully turned Cinderella away from his chest, leaned her against the trunk of the tree, and stood up. Feeling Charles' absence, Cinderella woke up confused.

'Daniel, what is going on?', asked Charles, while joining the boy and the animals.

'There is a boat, Daddy…', answered Daniel.

'The boat must have a hole…', guessed Charles, while taking off his boots.

'I can swim too,' offered Patch.

'And I will fly to hear what's happening', volunteered Papy.

Charles thanked the dog and the bird. Cinderella joined with Frances on her lap.

'Cind… Susanna, I will swim up to that boat. It seems to be sinking', pointed Charles.

'Oh, God… Honey, be careful…', worried Cinderella, while Charles was taking off his shirt.

'Don't worry', reassured Charles, 'I think that in the back of the carriage there are some ropes. Please, tie them to this tree, so that we can bring the boat safe. Something that floats will also help'.

'I want to go too!', protested Daniel while following Charles.

'You must help Mommy with the ropes', replied Charles while entering the water, 'Try to find a trunk, wood that floats'.

Cinderella, the children and the mice ran to the carriage in search for the ropes, which were in fact at the bottom of the back. She also looked for any sign of a cut trunk in vain. Then Cinderella tied one rope to the tree and tied the following ropes to each other, creating a huge rope that Patch grabbed and took to the lake.

Charles swam back with a child, while other small people continued to row the boat as long as it was possible. When he arrived, Cinderella welcomed him and the little girl she wrapped in Charles' cape and took in her arms. She had blue eyes, black hair and was very scared.

'There are more three men. They are almost drowning and two don't know how to swim', explained Charles panting, 'Is there anything that floats?'

'Oh, I didn't see a thing, darling.'

Charles ran to the carriage and plucked the two wooden doors. He swam again carrying the doors and saved them at the exact moment the boat was drowning.

In the meantime, Cinderella was recomforting the little girl. Despite the shock, she was recovering well and was happy to find Daniel and Frances.

'What is your name, my dear?', asked Cinderella.

'Theresa', answered the girl.

Cinderella reacted with surprise, but continued talking as if anything went on.

'And how old are you, Theresa?', asked Cinderella.

Theresa showed three fingers. Daniel told her he was four, almost five, and Frances told her she was two.

'Mommy, can Theresa play with us?', asked Frances.

'First, she has to dry properly. She is all wet,' explained Cinderella, 'Otherwise, she can get sick.'

When Charles arrived, Cinderella and the kids realized that he had saved three of the seven dwarfs. At first, Jolly was disappointed to find Daniel, but the young dwarf smiled gratefully when Daniel offered him a towel.

'I'm so happy to find you!', exclaimed Chamomile.

'Thank you so much for saving us!', kneeled Vet.

'Do you know each other?', asked Charles while drying himself with a towel.

'Honey, they are the dwarfs we met yesterday', explained Cinderella.

'Oh… I see…', replied Charles, pensive, 'Anyway, why did you get into a boat without knowing how to swim? You shouldn't do that again.'

'We were spending an amazing day in family. The others went on other boats and we agreed to meet in this spot. We usually do this, but we never had an accident. Boss often puts a spell on the boats, so that we can have a safe trip', told Vet.

'They must be arriving soon…', estimated Chamomile.

'Princess Snow White will be eternally grateful to you', said Jolly.

'Why?', asked Charles.

'Because you just saved her daughter, princess Theresa,' explained Chamomile.

Charles looked shocked at Cinderella, who was still sat down in the grass with the little princess on her lap. Then he bent down and caressed Theresa's dark shiny hair. Cinderella encouraged him to hold the child in his arms and he stood up, comforting Theresa. Realizing that Frances was getting jealous, he grabbed her with his other arm and the two little girls giggled, while he was holding them.

They started to hear the sound of other two boats coming from different directions. On one boat, there were Snow White, prince Richard, their youngest son, prince Charlie, and Boss. On the other, there were Goldie, Gourmet and Woody. Jolly immediately ran to Snow White. The dwarf was telling the adventure and the rescue operation in a rather confuse way, when Snow White noticed Charles. She put her son on Richard's lap, got off the boat and ran to Theresa and Charles, who had just put the girls down. Theresa ran to Snow White, who lifted her in her arms. Then Snow White hugged Charles, making everyone puzzled, except Cinderella and the animals, who were smiling.

'Oh, Charles…! Is this a dream?', asked the princess.

'Who is Charles?', asked Frances.

'My Daddy is not Charles', said Daniel, 'He's Andrew.'

'I am sorry to disappoint you, Ma'am. My name is Andrew,' bowed Charles.

'I think I know how to recognize the cousin that was like a brother to me once', countered Snow White.

'He is more recognized here, than in his own kingdom', muttered Bingo, making Chouchou giggle.

'Please, your highness, don't make this more complicated. I am just a simple fencing instructor', insisted Charles.

Prince Richard, Boss and the other dwarfs joined the group.

'Regardless of his identity, I believe this young man and his family should be welcomed in the castle and rewarded by king Conrad', suggested Boss.

'You must be acclaimed for saving our daughter's life', added prince Richard, still carrying Charlie.

'I am flattered, but I would save anybody's life, your highness', replied Charles.

Despite Charles' refusals, they insisted so much in a public recognition of the family, he asked to discuss those things indoors. The group went then to the dwarfs' cottage. Once there, Boss, Richard, Snow White, Charles and Cinderella chatted in the bedroom upstairs, while the other dwarfs and the animals took care of the four children in the living room. In the bedroom, Charles eventually assumed his true identity and alerted to the danger of exposing the entire family in the castle.

'Oh, Charles...', hugged Snow White, 'Why didn't you visit us, once you arrived? It must have been so hard for you...'

'Why didn't you write me, when aunt Chrystal attempted to kill you?', replied Charles.

'If you and your father knew about that, you could start another war', explained Snow White, 'And everything was so complicated... I was not in the castle.'

Charles looked into Snow White's eyes and hugged her.

'I'm sorry I wasn't there for you...', said Charles.

'You also had your problems. I heard about Zaral... How could he betray uncle Lewis and tried to kill you on your wedding?', said Snow White.

After a long embrace, Snow White left Charles and approached Cinderella, who stood smiling by Charles' side.

'Cinderella, I am so happy to meet you at last', said Snow White while holding Cinderella's hands, 'I heard you also had a difficult life before marrying Charles. And now my awful cousin took your kingdom...'

Cinderella bowed before Snow White.

'It is a pleasure to meet you, your highness.'

'Please, call me Snow White. We are cousins.'

'Thank you so much for your kindness, Snow White', smiled Cinderella.

'I would like to cherish you as a friend and the sister I never had. During my sad childhood, Charles used to spend all the summer here. He was like an older brother and was one of the few people that cheered me up, before I met Richard and the dwarfs.'

'Charles could cheer up the saddest soul', admitted Cinderella with a huge smile.

'He did so many pranks back then', told Snow White giggling, 'By the way, how's your page? Alex, wasn't he? Where is he now?'

'Alex is doing fine. He's living with my parents at Cinderella's father house and is engaged to one of my step-sisters-in-law', replied Charles.

'That's great news! I remember he was very calm, the opposite of you. Oh, Cinderella, you would love to listen to this: one day Charles, with Alex assistance, tried to...'

Charles put his hand on the back of his neck.

'Enough talk about my mischievous past, Snow White...', interrupted Charles, making them laugh.

Then he explained in a serious tone.

'I didn't write to you or visit you when we arrived here, because we must avoid war at all cost. Two kingdoms that used to be united are involved in this story. If our cousin Rudolph, who has imperialist ideas, knows that Cinderella, the children and I are alive, he will do everything to eliminate us. He will use his network of men here to spy on us, at best, or attempt an invasion, at worst.'

'That's why I believe you should be safer in a castle. I could offer my castle, in Albertville principality', volunteered Richard.

'Thank you, Richard. Although it would keep us safe, it would be a sort of prison', replied Charles, 'We think that the best way to disguise ourselves is by living a modest life. In fact, I've always cherished the idea of raising our children outside any castle.'

Cinderella joined Charles and they held hands.

'I understand that', added Snow White, 'It was liberating to live outside the castle. That's why Richard, the children and I visit the dwarfs every week.'

'Anyway, I imagine that it was difficult to adapt to this kind of life, Charles', wondered Richard.

'Actually, he is dealing with the domestic chores and the fencing lessons pretty well', answered Cinderella, 'He does practically everything, except... cooking.'

'I'm a disaster in the kitchen', admitted Charles with his right hand behind his head, making everyone laugh.

'Are you considering returning to the Emerald kingdom?', asked Richard.

'So far, no', answered Charles, 'but I will, if the situation becomes critical.'

Cinderella looked pensive at the window and held Charles' hand tighter.

'In the meantime, we will do everything we can to make you feel welcomed and safe in the Green-Valley', said Boss.

'Thank you very much', replied Charles and Cinderella.

'Charles, dear, you must talk to father. He is so worried about you. He fears that someone intercepts letters to your father-in-law, so he doesn't have news from you for four years. He was expecting a sign from you...', told Snow White.

'I know, but how could I simply arrive to the castle and demand to talk to him without arising suspicions?', replied Charles.

Richard and Snow White agreed. Together they conceived a plan to speak to king Conrad. Charles would join them in their way to the castle, while Cinderella and the children stayed in the dwarfs' cottage until his return. Richard would later bring Charles back to the cottage in the evening.

As Boss and the young couples went down the stairs, they realized that the older children were happily playing hide and seek with Jolly. Goldie and Woody were attentively watching Daniel, Frances and Theresa's moves, Camomile was looking after little Charlie, who was crawling, Vet was making acquaintance with Cinderella's animals, and Gourmet was preparing dinner.

Snow White took Charlie on her lap and called for Theresa, who was giggling hidden behind a cabinet. Daniel found Theresa and jumped, claiming he had won the game. Then Frances pushed him and fall over her brother, making everyone laugh.

'Theresa, sweetheart, we must go now', told Snow White while she bent down, trying to hold the little girl's hand.

'I want to play with Daniel and Frances...', she cried.

Frances hugged Theresa and asked to play a little more. Daniel approached them, attentively waiting for the parents' approval. Snow White and Cinderella looked at one another, then they looked at Charles. He sighed and smiled. Then he kneeled before Theresa.

'I perfectly understand how you feel, Theresa. I promise you will play with Daniel and Frances again', assured Charles.

Theresa calmed down a bit, but she was still sad to leave Daniel and Frances. Richard held her in his arms, while Snow White carried Charlie and Cinderella explained Daniel and Frances that Daddy had to accompany Snow White, Richard, Theresa and Charlie for a while.

'I'm preparing a delicious dinner for you', exclaimed Gourmet while stirring the soup in the caldron.

'You are our guests tonight!', exclaimed Camomile.

Cinderella thanked the dwarfs and the children were quite happy with the idea.

'Pinchess Show White...', said Frances shyly.

'Yes, dear Frances', replied Snow White.

'Wait a minute...'

Frances whispered into Cinderella's ear and they left the house. In a few minutes, mother and daughter returned with a small basket. Frances took a beautiful red apple and offered it to Snow White.

'These are very good. I caught them yesterday and Daddy says they have no poison', said the little girl looking at the apple she was holding, 'Mommy and Daddy say apples are very ealfy and that we should eat them every day. Daddy eats apples all the time. Please, don't be afraid of apples.'

Everyone burst into laughter and Snow White bent down to hug Frances.

Then Charles kissed Cinderella, Daniel and Frances before entering the carriage. Cinderella held Daniel's hand and took Frances on her lap, encouraging the children to wave goodbye to the carriage, as it was moving away.

Luckily, they had no escort that day. Richard was riding the carriage and they could speak at ease. By the end of the voyage, Theresa and Charlie were sleeping soundly. Richard and Snow White carried the children and discreetly took Charles to their private chambers, where he and Richard waited for Snow White, who explained the situation to the king. When Snow White arrived, she asked Richard to take Charles to the secret passage.

Charles was very enthusiastic about these passages he never explored during his childhood. Richard laughed at Charles' stories and showed him the subterraneous hidings of the castle. Although not very talkative, Richard was very amicable. The young prince was quite puzzled by this Snow White's famous cousin that he was looking forward to meet. Charles was raised to be a king and had everything his heart desired. In fact, he was much richer and lived in a more sophisticated castle than king Conrad and Richard himself. How could he leave everything behind and pretend to be a commoner in such an easy way? He really seemed to be enjoying a modest way of living...

When they finally met king Conrad in a cell in the secret passage, the king opened his arms and hugged his nephew tight.

'My dear boy!', exclaimed Conrad with his eyes closed.

'I am so happy to see you, uncle... I am sorry I didn't visit you sooner, but I could arise suspicions', apologized Charles.

'Do not worry about that. Your cousin already explained me everything. Destiny joined us together when you saved Theresa!', said the king.

Charles smiled. Then the king exposed all his ideas while walking back and forth.

'I will give you everything you need to take your crown back. You can take part of our soldiers. In the meantime, I think you, Cinderella and the children would be safer if you lived with us. I also insist on supporting all your expenses here.'

'Thank you very much, my dear uncle, but I cannot accept any offer', replied Charles.

'But why? How?', asked the king incredulous.

'I've found a job', answered Charles.

The king laughed.

'It is true', smiled Charles.

'But you will need help to fight Rudolph', insisted the king.

'I will not fight Rudolph just because he took my place and I will definitely not start a war between our kingdoms. If I used your army and your weapons, I would plunge you into war again. No, that is out of question. I will only return to the Emerald kingdom in case Rudolph violates basic principles of peace, justice and freedom', firmly stated Charles.

'Brace yourself. Rudolph will become a tyrant', predicted Conrad.

'I am aware of that...', replied Charles.

'Hence, you must be prepared', advised Conrad, 'Don't you agreed, Richard?'

Richard nodded yes.

'Honestly, I do not understand you this time, Charles. Your father told me how quickly and bravely you reacted to Zaral's attack. Why are you hesitating now?', wondered Conrad.

'Back then I was naïve enough to think I could change my kingdom. I understood later that by fighting social inequalities and all forms of slavery one ends up watching his soldiers killed, poisoned, and his family in jeopardy.'

'You tried to change many things in two years. It takes time… The society was not prepared', replied Conrad.

'I doubt societies will ever be prepared. There is so much to be done', replied Charles, 'And most kings don't really care. They fail to see the big picture, being only concerned with their welfare.'

'You do have a point', agreed Conrad.

'I identify myself less and less with monarchy, uncle', confessed Charles, then he quoted, "what would happen if pilots were to be chosen according to their property, and a poor man were refused permission to steer, even though he was a better pilot?" This is as valid for oligarchy as it is for monarchy.'

Conrad and Richard watched Charles for a while.

'Do not be so harsh on yourself and on your status. Questioning is important, but do not let it crush your actions, son', advised Conrad.

'I meant everything I said, uncle', countered Charles, 'This is not just a period of doubts.'

Conrad smiled and encouraged him.

'I know you have much to give to the Emerald kingdom.'

Two weeks later, Charles, Cinderella, Richard, Snow White, the children, the dwarfs and the animals had a picnic by the lake. Snow White revealed to Cinderella that she had meet Richard in that very spot. Later, and by chance, other important moments of their lives also occurred there.

Daniel and Frances were attentively listening to a story Theresa was telling them. When she finished, Frances ran to Charles and Cinderella.

'Mommy, daddy! Theresa told a story about a beautiful girl that worked as a servant for the evil stepmother and stepsixters. She went to the ball, danced with the prince, the prince kept her shoe, the shoe fit, and she married the prince!'

Charles and Cinderella looked at one another with the eyes wide open.

'That prince is boring. He only dances and keeps the shoe', criticized Daniel.

'That's not fair!', protested Charles, 'I…', he cleared his throat, 'the prince did much more than that'.

Everyone else laughed, except the children, who were quite puzzled.

'You, men, already have credits for most of the things. Let women be the heroines of fairy tales', countered Snow White.

'Well said', agreed Cinderella.

And everyone laughed.

Chapter Text

My dear friend,

I imagine how you and the family must be busy these days, so I won't take you long. We are very happy for you and looking forward to meet again. You are always on our hearts.

I am so sorry I won't be there for you this Saturday, assisting like you did on my wedding day. Now that you will become by brother... After all, you have been my brother for a long time.

As I told you, S. always thought that Jeanne had a good heart, kinder than Catherine. So you realized.

I wish you all the joy and happiness, hoping that you and Jeanne will be as happy as I am with S. I have never been so happy in my life, despite all the obstacles we went through.

The kittens are growing very fast, especially D. They are the greatest blessing (and little nightmares sometimes).

S. and I send love and embrace everyone. Tell my parents and the Professor I miss them very much.

Cheers to you and Jeanne,

PS - You must be counting the days to leave your mother-in-law's house. Our father-in-law is a saint, but I feel sorry for everyone living under her roof.

Charles folded two small sheets of paper into tiny pieces. He was sat down by the desk in the office. Cinderella was standing by his side with Papy on her hand. Then Charles stood up and attached the letter to Papy's legs. Cinderella petted the small purple bird, who once in two months flee to her father's house in the Emerald kingdom.

'Please, take care, my dear', asked Cinderella.

'Don't worry', replied Papy.

Charles and Cinderella released Papy in the balcony. The couple watched the bird until it disappeared in the sky and looked down to their small garden, where the children were playing with Paulette, Patch, Bingo and Chouchou. Frances eventually saw Charles and Cinderella, and started waving at the parents.

'Will the children ever meet our parents and friends?', wondered Cinderella, after waving at Frances.

'I'm sure they will', smiled Charles while putting his arm around her shoulder.

It was a Tuesday afternoon in late August. Daniel had just turned 6 in late July, whereas Frances turned 3 in late December. Charles turned 24 in late July, three days before Daniel's birthday, and Cinderella was about to turn 23 in early October. A year had passed since Charles, Cinderella, Daniel, Frances and the animals met Princess Snow White, her husband Prince Richard, her children (Charlie and Theresa) and the dwarfs. The children and the couples got along so well that they met regularly, despite Charles' fears that the connections with the royals could arise suspicious concerning his identity. Fortunately, Richard and Snow White usually met friends outside the castle and had plenty of reason to befriend Charles and Cinderella, given that Charles had saved their daughter Theresa and three dwarfs from drowning in the lake. The dwarfs also made the foreign couple and their children feel completely welcomed. They even reinforced the magic protection of the forest, to prevent evil people from approaching Charles and Cinderella's house.

'Who could have thought that Alex and Jeanne would marry? Love shines even in the darkest moments…', commented Cinderella while putting her elbows on the handrail.

'You could hint that from Alex letters', replied Charles.

'It wasn't that obvious', countered Cinderella.

'That's because you never notice those things…', teased Charles.

'You…', Cinderella squinted her eyes.

They were laughing when, suddenly, someone knocked on the door. Charles and Cinderella went down the stairs, but the children and Paulette arrived first.

'Who is it?', asked Paulette.

'It's me, Jolly!', answered the young dwarf's voice.

Paulette opened. Frances hugged Jolly tight, while Daniel pointed his wooden sword at the dwarf.

'En garde', exclaimed the boy.

'Hi, Daniel…', greeted the dwarf.

'That might not be the best way to greet people, son', mocked Charles.

The father put the sword down and tamed a small tantrum with Daniel, whilst Frances kept hugging Jolly and Cinderella bent down before the dwarf.

'Please, Jolly, enter and have some snacks', invited Cinderella.

Jolly blushed and kindly declined.

'Thank you very much, but I'm in a hurry. Boss' birthday is next Saturday and we would like to invite you to the dinner and sleepover. Richard, Snow White and the children are coming. We will have tents around the house. Please, come, it will be so amusing!'

Daniel and Frances jumped with joy, while Cinderella held her hands together and Charles pondered.

'Thank you very much for the invitation', replied Cinderella with her eyes closed, 'It sounds marvelous!'

Jolly made a huge smile. Then he looked at Paulette and added:

'Paulette, you are obviously invited, as well!'

'Thank you, Jolly. I am honored', smiled Paulette.

'I don't know if we stay for the sleepover... We don't want to bother you...', said Charles.

'Don't worry about that. And it will be safe. Samson and Jack will stay on watch during the night', explained Jolly.

'Who is Jack?', asked Charles.

'He's another friend of Snow White's. He assists Molly a lot.'

'Molly... you mean Snow White's maid?', guessed Charles.

'Exactly! She is coming too', smiled the dwarf putting his hands behind his head.

'I haven't seen her in ages...', replied Charles, pensive.

'Snow White's maid…?', wondered Cinderella with a hint of jealousy.

Charles gazed provocatively at her and explained after a few seconds.

'Molly could be my grandmother'.

'I was just curious', replied Cinderella.

'I know, honey… I know…', teased Charles, making Cinderella furious.

'So, can we count on you?', asked Jolly.

Charles and Cinderella agreed. Frances started jumping, encouraging Daniel and Jolly to jump with her.

'Great news! I have to leave now. See you soon!'

'Jolly, do you need help preparing dinner?', asked Cinderella.

'Don't worry. We will manage everything', assured the dwarf before leaving.

They waved him goodbye for a while and came back inside when he vanished in the woods.

'I'll make a pumpkin pie, anyway', said Cinderella.

Daniel and Frances grabbed her dress with huge smiles and shining eyes.

'I know exactly what you're thinking… but you'll have to share the pie with all the other guests', warned Cinderella.

The children composed themselves and looked down pensively while moving their feet in small circles.

'I can make an extra pie just for you', volunteered Charles smiling.

The children looked at one another with their eyes wide open.

'No, no, no!', replied Frances.

'There's no need to…', declined Daniel.

Charles, Cinderella, Paulette and the animals burst into laughter.

The day of Boss' birthday party finally arrived. Charles was wearing a dark Prussian blue cape, a white shirt, Prussian blue culottes, leather knee boots and a Bordeaux vest. He was waiting for Cinderella and the children in the hall with Patch, Bingo and Chouchou, when Daniel went down the stairs already wearing his teal jacket. The boy was carrying a box filled with toys.

'Daniel, we're just going to spend one night out. We're not moving', warned Charles.

'I know! I just want to play while we wait for them', explained Daniel, making Charles laugh.

Daniel sat down next to Patch and the mice and started playing with his favorite toys: a knight wearing a bordeaux costume with a yellow and blue cape (a little wooden figure sculpted by Paulette that was based on Charles' royal costume) and a white horse. Daniel also had a lady with long, caramel hair and a light green dress. She was in love with the knight and was clearly inspired by Cinderella. There were also more knights, ladies, peasants, a dragon, a dog, an evil king and a good king, a queen, fairies, and elves. Paulette happily devoted herself to these tiny figures and was preparing more for little Frances. The fairy Godmother was also planning figurines based on Charles and Cinderella's family and friends in the Emerald kingdom, so that the children could get to know them somehow.

Daniel was focused on the knight's horse fantastic flight over the evil king, when Frances appeared upstairs, wearing her white and pink dress and a red jacket. She was carrying a rabbit in cloth, which used to sleep with her, a furry teddy bear and a red-haired doll dressed in blue.

Charles smiled, climbed the stairs and carried her on his arms.

'Sweetheart, we cannot take Lulu, Benny and Teddy. You have to pick one. We'll be back tomorrow', tenderly explained Charles.

Frances looked down, pensive, then faced Charles. She had inherited his light blue eyes.

'They will be sad without me, Daddy…'

'I'm sure they will understand and will be fine', comforted the father.

'Can you tell them?', she whispered into Charles' ear, 'If I take Benny, Lulu and Teddy will be mad at me…'

Charles smiled, then he faced the doll and the bear.

'Lulu and Teddy, Frances loves you very much, but she can only take Benny with her tonight. Don't be sad. Tomorrow you will play together again.'

After some moments of silence, Frances asked.

'What did they say?'

Charles was about to give a simple answer, but he came up with a more creative idea.

'They say that they are happy, because they are also throwing their own party tonight', invented Charles.

'They are having a party…?', asked Frances quite puzzled.

Daniel looked at the red knight he was holding and payed more attention to the conversation.

'It's a party for toys only… They do it sometimes, but only when they are alone', explained Charles.

'That's not fair! I want to go to their party!', cried Frances.

'I want to go too, Daddy', joined Daniel.

'Oh, no…', sighed Charles.

The animals laughed and Paulette knocked on the door. Charles' opened it, whilst holding Frances with the other arm. Paulette was wearing a turquoise dress with long sleeves, boat neck and low waist.

'Hello, my darlings!', greeted Paulette while Daniel hugged her, 'I will leave some desserts here and return with more things.'

Daniel peek into Paulette's basket and made a huge smile. She gave Daniel a little cupcake and he jumped with joy.

'Thank you, aunt Paulette! You're awesome!'

Then Paulette realized that Frances was crying and gave her another cupcake.

'What is it, dear?', asked Paulette.

'Well… sometimes imagination leads to more tantrums…', answered Charles.

Frances opened her arms, expressing the will to move to Paulette's lap, so Charles passed her and the toys to Paulette.

'What is it, Fanfan?', asked Paulette, while caressing Frances' head.

'The toys are having a party without us tonight …', explained the little girl.

'And do you want to go to their party?', inquired Paulette.

'I want to go, too!', added Daniel, 'It's not fair! We are their best friends; we take care of them.'

'Do you know that they get sick if they don't do that party?', told Paulette.

'Why?', asked Daniel and Frances.

'When you play with them, they are always quiet, aren't they?'

'Yes'…, confirmed the children.

'They only move on their own when they are alone, without children. And they need to stretch their legs and move, like we do, to keep healthy. If they are always surrounded by children, they cannot move, the parties are cancelled and they get sick', explained Paulette.

The children listened with attention.

'Daddy, did you know that?', asked Daniel.

'Of course. Everybody needs to move on their own. So do toys', replied Charles, then he climbed a few steps and said, 'Paulette has already arrived!'

'I'm almost ready!', replied Cinderella's voice.

'I have to bring some more things. Do you want to carry little baskets with me, children?'

Frances nodded yes, but Daniel looked at his little knight and horse.

'You want to play with them just a little more, don't you, Daniel?', understood Paulette.

Daniel nodded yes. Paulette smiled and took Frances with her. Before leaving, the little girl placed Lulu, Benny and Teddy in the ark.

'Did you hear? You have to move to be heafy,' she told the toys, making Charles and Paulette smile.

Then the little girl ran to Paulette. They held hands and left, whilst Daniel returned to his little wooden toys. Cinderella finally went down the stairs. She was wearing an olive green and white dress with a high waste. Her shortest hair was tied in a braid and the and the longest parts were out. She was carrying a brown cape on her arm and holding a necklace on her hand. Charles and the animals stared marveled at her.

'Sorry I'm late', she apologized while approaching Charles

'You're so beautiful…', he replied.

'I made the dress myself. Do you like it?', she asked, twirling.

'You're becoming a professional', praised Charles.

Cinderella smiled and asked him to help her put on her necklace. While she was putting her hair aside, Charles kissed her neck, making her giggle. Then he struggled with the necklace for a while.

'Do you remember when you tried to dress me on the day after our wedding?', she recollected amid giggles, 'You even gave my maids the day-off! You thought you could help me put on the corset and that highly complicated dress!'

They both laughed and he replied, whispering:

'You can admit I'm not bad when it comes to undre…'

'Shhh… Daniel is here…', interrupted Cinderella blushing, 'Where is Frances?'

'She is with Paulette'.

Meanwhile, Daniel started playing louder, indirectly making fun of the parents' romantic mood.

'Oh, Red Knight… please, take you with me! Take me to your castle!', said Daniel with a squeaky voice while leaning the green lady on the Red Knight.

'My castle is under maintenance, but we will find a place to stay!', replied the Red Knight with a pompous deeper voice.

'Oh, you're so strong… I love you so much…', said the lady.

'I love you, too. You are so beautiful', replied the Knight, 'Come, let's ride together!'

'Can you help me put on my necklace first, please?', asked the lady.

'Of course, my love!', exclaimed the Knight, then Daniel joined the toys and simulated several kisses, 'muah, muah, muah, muah!'

The animals laughed. Charles and Cinderella were a little embarrassed at first, but they surrender to laughter.

Frances and Paulette arrived with more food and Cinderella reminded to pick her pumpkin pie. In the meantime, Paulette kept bringing more boxes that were puzzling Charles. Cinderella and Paulette were in the back of the carriage arranging the boxes, when Charles joined them.

'I must say I'm pretty impressed with the amount of cooking you made', he commented, 'How do you do it, Paulette?'

'I'll teach you someday, my dear. I still think that if you take your time, you will turn out a great cook', replied Paulette.

Paulette was very relaxed when Charles was close to the truth. She actually seemed to do it on purpose, and to enjoy it, since she believed that Charles should know about her powers. Cinderella, on the contrary, was very uncomfortable with it. She looked at the animals with her eyes wide open and tried to cut those kinds of conversations.

'Let's go, let's go, let's go! We're so late', she interrupted.

When they arrived at the dwarfs' cottage, the surrounding trees were all adorned with colorful laces. The small clearing was filled with four tents in red, blue, pink and yellow. They could see the lights inside the house, and hear voices and laughter. Charles stopped the carriage and parked it in the backyard. Then he took care of the horses, whilst Paulette and Cinderella were unpacking the food. Theresa realized that they had arrived and waved at them on the window.

Daniel and Frances were too impatient to wait for the parents. They ran into the house and knocked on the door. Jolly and Theresa opened it and all the children jumped into each another. Two-year-old Charlie, who was improving his speech week after week, joined them in a clumsy walk. Whereas Theresa had black hair and green eyes, just like Snow White, Charlie was blond, like Richard, and had a cute bang.

When Charles and Cinderella were approaching the door, Boss welcomed them.

'Happy birthday, Boss!', congratulated the couple.

'Thank you very much', bowed the dwarf.

'Thank you for having us', replied Charles.

'We bring a pumpkin pie and Paulette made lots of small pastries. They are all recipes from our kingdom', offered Cinderella.

'We also bring this book. I hope you enjoy it', offered Charles.

'Oh, you're very kind...', thanked Boss while grabbing the book, 'You didn't need to. I am sure I will like it, and everything will be delicious. Please, enter, my friends. Feel at home.'

They entered and saw a narrow and long wooden table attached to a carpet in the floor. It was arranged with abundant food and adorned with pink and red pelargoniums, white camellias and yellow daisies. Goldie, Woody, Richard, Snow White, an old lady and a middle-aged strong man were sat down in cushions displayed around the floor, while Chamomile and Vet were serving, assisting Gourmet in the kitchen and carrying Paulette's boxes with food. Jolly was playing a game with the four children in a corner near the fireplace. The dwarfs, the strong man, the old lady, Richard and Snow White, who was visibly pregnant, were about to stand up to greet Charles and Cinderella. Snow White was wearing a white and red dress with high waist and a boat neck and adorned with her emerald locket offered by Richard. Richard was wearing his regular white and blue knight costume and a white cape with a blue hawk.

'Hello everybody! Please, stay on your seats', greeted Charles.

'Welcome, good friends!', invited Goldie.

'Please, let me take your pie', Vet kindly asked to Charles, who was still carrying it in a box.

'Take a seat and help yourselves', encouraged Woody.

'Finally! We're talking about you', exclaimed Snow White.

'Bad things, I suppose', joked Charles.

'Everything is so beautiful', complimented Cinderella.

'Have some appetizers. They're very smooth', encouraged Chamomile.

'I hope you haven't been waiting for us all this time', worried Cinderella.

'Don't worry. We're still waiting for Jack to start the supper', calmed down Snow White,

The princess eventually stood up and assisted the old lady. They walked leaning on each other and approached Charles.

'Here is a person that was anxious to see you', introduced Snow White.

Molly caressed Charles' face and hugged him.

'Dear Molly...', Charles held her wrinkled hand in his hands.

'You became such a handsome man...', praised Molly.

Charles smiled, asked Daniel and Frances to join them, and looked at Cinderella.

'I'm happy to introduce you to my wife'.

He kept holding Molly with the right hand and put the left hand on Cinderella's back.

Molly approached Cinderella and held her hands.

'I've heard about you a lot, my dear. You have such kindness in your eyes... There is only one person I know with equal beauty and kindness', told Molly, making Snow White smile, 'I'm glad you stole this prince's heart.'

'You're very kind', smiled Cinderella.

'Let's hope aunt Chrystal doesn't hear this. Otherwise, she will start offering apples to my wife', mocked Charles.

Everyone laughed.

'She's "nice" now', joked Richard, making Snow White frown.

'From my experience, stepmothers suddenly become "nice" ', joked Charles, making Cinderella frown and her animals giggle.

'You two are mean. Richard, you know my true stepmother was tormented by an evil demon', countered Snow White.

'And people can change for better', added Cinderella, while Charles and Richard rolled their eyes.

Charles and Cinderella called once again Daniel and Frances, who kept playing.

'Just a moment', replied Frances.

'We're in the middle of something important here...', replied Daniel.

'Children, you are being very rude', scolded Cinderella.

'Daniel and Frances, this is the third and (last) time I will call you', Charles slightly raised and deepened his voice.

The children stood up embarrassed, leaving Jolly, Theresa and Charlie. Nevertheless, they tried to put on a smile to introduce themselves. Molly slightly bent down and tenderly looked at them.

'Hello, my dears. I'm Molly. I knew your daddy since he was six years old', introduced Molly.

The children were surprised.

'So, you met him when he was my age', concluded Daniel.

'Exactly', confirmed Molly.

'How was Daddy?', asked Frances.

'He looked a lot like your brother Daniel, but he was much more... hum... Let's say agitated', answered Molly.

'You shouldn't have said that...', complained Charles.

'That's true', confirmed Snow White, 'Daniel is your physical copy and he is clever and naughty like you were, but he is more quiet than you were in his age', then she whispered in Cinderella's ear, 'By now, Charles would have already destroyed the table.'

Cinderella laughed and looked at Snow White's belly bump.

'How are you feeling lately?', she asked.

'So far, this one is much easier than the first two', answered Snow White smiling and putting her right hand on her belly.

'I feel that too', replied Cinderella.

'What do you mean?', wondered Snow White.

Cinderella widened her eyes and laughed.

'I meant "I felt" that too when I was expecting Frances', corrected Cinderella.

'Didn't you tell me you were nauseous all the time?', recalled Snow White.

'That was because of the voyage', Cinderella smiled with her eyes closed.

Charles assisted Molly sitting down on a chair more suited for her, and let Daniel and Frances resume the game with Jolly, Charlie and Theresa. Then Charles approached Samson, the huntsman. Samson was a widow who had also lost his daughter. Given those circumstances, he had a blue personality. Charles appreciated the huntsman's honesty, and Richard told him how much Samson had helped Snow White and the dwarfs. Cinderella joined them when Charles was recollecting his best hunting memories. She was disgusted with the conversation and Charles explained Samson why he had stopped hunting. Cinderella frowned and Charles eventually consented that killing animals for sport was sheer cruelty. Samson himself recognized he only hunted to survive and as self-defense.

In that moment, Paulette entered and Samson stared at her for some instants.

'The final box', she sighed.

Vet took her box to the kitchen and Charles joined Paulette.

'I'm sorry, Paulette, I should have helped you with all those boxes', apologized Charles, leading her to the seats where he and Cinderella were talking to Samson.

'Don't worry, dear. Chamomile and Vet took care of everything', smiled Paulette.

'Paulette, I don't think you know Samson', introduced Charles, 'Samson, I would like you to meet my wife's godmother, Miss Paulette.'

Samson stood up and nervously tried to talk. He eventually bowed and kissed Paulette's hand.

'Nice to meet you, Samson. You are very kind', smiled Paulette.

Samson smiled and they sat down, whilst Charles sat down next to Cinderella. Vet asked the two couples to be on one the corner of the table, so that they could be closer to the children. In one row, there was Cinderella, Charles, Paulette, Molly, Woody, Goldie, and Chamomile. On the other row, there was Snow White, facing Cinderella, Richard, in front of Charles, Samson, facing Paulette, four empty seats destined to Jolly, Gourmet, Vet and Jack. Boss, who was walking outside, entered and sat down at the head of the table. There were 19 guests, including the children, who were facing Boss in a table attached to the bigger table creating a T shape.

'I think we should start serving dinner', suggested Gourmet.

Boss consented, but Snow White reminded that Jack was still missing.

'It's always the same thing with Jack', complained Goldie, 'We should stop inviting him!'

'I hope he is alright', wondered Snow White.

'Don't worry. I saw him in the afternoon, and he was fine', assured Molly.

'Well, we cannot wait eternally for him. And we have four small children here', insisted Gourmet.

'I agree. Please, my friends, let us start. Jolly, bring the children', ordained Boss.

First, Vet and Chamomile offered a towel and a bucket filled with water and soap to each guest so that they could wash their hands. Then, they served the soup and the drinks.

'What do you prefer, water, wine, beer?', asked Chamomile to Cinderella and Charles.

'Water, please', answered Cinderella, 'Do you have, by any chance, pomegranates or pomegranate juice?'

'My dear, this is not the season for pomegranates… In a month, you can catch them', replied Chamomile smiling while he poured water in Cinderella's glass.

Cinderella thanked him and laughed.

'Of course! You see, in our kingdom, they had a different season', she explained laughing.

Chamomile smiled accomplice.

'If you want, I can bring you apple juice', suggested Chamomile.

'It would be marvelous', smiled Cinderella, 'Sorry for giving you so much work'.

'It is my pleasure', replied the dwarf.

Then he moved to Charles, who was listening to the conversation and having a hard time attempting to restrain his laughter.

'Well, I'm more into wine, but beer is your specialty here...', replied Charles, 'So, beer.'

Chamomile smiled, poured beer into Charles' glass and moved to Paulette. Then Charles looked provocatively at Cinderella, who frowned. Charles smiled and tenderly kissed her hand.

When Vet and Chamomile finished serving, Boss wished good appetite and they started the supper.

'So, Daniel, I heard you are going to school next month', said Snow White.

'Yes...', replied Daniel without showing great enthusiasm.

'The school is a perfect place to meet new friends', added Molly.

'I'm sure you'll like it', assured Snow White, 'I wished my children could go, but it would be difficult, for security reasons...'

'The new school seems a beautiful project', praised Cinderella.

'Indeed', agreed Charles, 'Congratulations, Snow White.'

'You know, during the war I realized how the children's education was being neglected. It is so important that all children have access to the proper education', said Snow White.

'Yes, and to put an end on child labor as well', added Charles.

'That's more difficult to fight here, but you are absolutely right', agreed Snow White.

'Anyway, the idea of a school for boys and girls from all social classes is beautiful', insisted Cinderella.

'I wonder how aristocrats are reacting to that...', wondered Charles.

'Not as bad as I imagined. In fact, I needed their support. The duke of Bladenburg promptly offered a huge sum for the construction of the building and recently enrolled his son', told Snow White.

Richard was listening with attention and took a sip of beer.

'I think he does those things with a certain purpose', distrusted the prince.

'Someone who agrees with me, at last!', exclaimed Charles.

'Even if he is doing it to show-off, he helped to build something so important that he deserves the credit for that,' countered Snow White.

'But later he might use that for his own advantage', imagined Charles, 'For instance, he might feel free to use his power to control the school'.

'Exactly', agreed Richard.

'I won't let that happen', firmly stated Snow White.

'That's not so easy', replied Charles.

'I think you're overreacting, honey. Let's see what the future holds', said Cinderella.

'My instincts are usually right', replied Charles.

'You see duke Zaral everywhere. He is a bit annoying and tries too hard to be pleasing, but he seems to be a better person than Zaral', countered Cinderella.

'How can you say that? You barely even met Zaral!', contested Charles.

Cinderella frowned.

'I just can't stand Blandenburg', insisted Charles while taking another sip of beer.

'Last week he offered flowers to mommy in the city', told Daniel, who seemed detached from the conversation until that moment.

'There was no need to remind us of that, Daniel…', smiled Charles with his right hand behind his head.

Everyone laughed.

'Now we understand why Cha, I mean, Andrew dislikes the duke', joked Goldie.

'What? Oh, come on...', dismissed Charles gazing at Cinderella, 'I'm not jealous.'

'I know, honey, I know...', replied Cinderella, making everyone laugh.

Frances approached Cinderella and sat on her lap.

'Mommy..., what is jealous?', asked the little girl.

'It happens when you are afraid that someone else will steal the attention of a person you love very much', tried to explain Cinderella.

'For example, when you told me that Lulu and Teddy could be mad at you if you took Benny, that's because they were jealous of Benny stealing your attention from them', continued Charles.

'Oh...', replied Frances, pensively.

'Now you have to finish your soup', smiled Cinderella.

Frances whispered into her ear.

'Sweetie, what did you promised today?', recalled Cinderella.

Frances lay down on Cinderella's lap and made a very naughty smile.

'I don't remember...', she answered.

'You said you were going to eat on your own', said the mother.

'Did I...?', evaded Frances.

'Yes, you did', confirmed Cinderella, 'Look at Charlie already eating on his own'.

'I want lap and the flying spoon', asked Frances.

Cinderella resisted for a while, but eventually consented and gave Frances the soup. When she started feeding Frances, Theresa took a spoon, called Charlie and they sat down next to Snow White.

'Mommy, it's time to feed the baby!', reminded Theresa.

Snow White sighed and Richard laughed.

'Theresa, please, do it with a clean spoon. You will dirty my dress all over again', asked Snow White.

'Daniel, pass me over a clean spoon', asked Theresa.

'There are no clean spoons around here', replied Daniel.

Jolly took a spoon from Jack's seat and gave it to Theresa, who hugged him in return, and ask the dwarf to sit next to her. Then Theresa and Charlie filled the spoon in the air above the soup bowl and leaned it on Snow White's belly bump. They repeated the operation innumerable times. Occasionally, Theresa asked Jolly and Richard to feed the baby. Charles, Cinderella and Paulette were delighted with that scene, whilst Frances was quite puzzled. Molly, Samson and the dwarfs were already used to it.

'Theresa does it since I was expecting Charlie. No matter how much I tell that the baby gets enough food within me, they keep on doing this', smiled Snow White.

Frances stood up and joined them to watch closely.

'Would you like to have a baby brother or sister, Frances?', asked Molly.

'No!', she promptly replied, making everyone laugh, except Charles, who choked, and Cinderella, who widened her eyes.

'And what about you, Daniel?', asked Paulette.

'I wouldn't mind having a brother', answered Daniel.

'No, I don't want another Daniel!', cried Frances.

Cinderella opened her arms and Frances ran to her lap.

'Wouldn't you like to have a sister like Theresa? You love to play with her... And you also like to play with Charlie, even if he is a boy', comforted Cinderella.

Frances looked into the parents' eyes.

'I will think about it...', replied the little girl, making everyone laugh.

Suddenly, someone knocked on the door and Jolly opened it.

'Finally! What took you so long?', scolded Jolly.

'Oh, Jack, we were worried about you...', said Snow White.

Jack entered. He was a good-looking young man with long brown hair tied wearing cream and dark green clothes. He had penetrating eyes and a naughty smile.

'You asked me to stay on watch during the night, so I tried to rest as much as possible during the day', replied Jack.

'We invited you to Boss' birthday dinner and to help us with the watch. Samson is here from the start and he will also help with the watch. Can't you understand that we need to protect four small children?', replied Jolly.

Jack looked at Richard and Snow White, noticing her belly bump, and turned to Jolly.

'I just don't see why the parents don't stay on watch tonight', Jack bitterly replied.

Richard took a long breath and Snow White had tears in her eyes. Charles and Cinderella looked at one another quite puzzled and the children were also intrigued by the awkward silence. Charles frowned and was about to interfere, but Cinderella pressed his hand, discouraging him to do that. Then he came up with a diplomatic approach.

'There might be a misunderstanding here. I actually think the parents should stay on watch tonight. Who else can handle sleep deprivation better?'

Boss laughed and everyone joined him. Amid the laughter, Richard and Snow White thanked Charles. While sitting down, Jack curiously watched the unknown couple. He was about to ask who they were, but he gave up on that.

Despite Jack's provocative remarks for having already starting the supper without him and using his spoon, the dinner became more cheerful. Daniel, Jolly and Theresa were planning pranks for the next morning, whilst Charlie and Frances shared a drawing they had made together. Paulette, who was constantly chatting with Molly, admired the drawing and put both children on her lap. Samson discretely watched her. Charles and Cinderella were talking to Richard and Snow White most of the time. They also talked and laughed at each other, exchanging tender gazes. Occasionally, the couple also got into conversations with Molly, Paulette, Samson and Goldie. Vet sometimes checked on Snow White and Cinderella's animals. Chamomile discussed the quality of trees with Woody and Gourmet. Jack was quite blunt whenever a dwarf, especially Jolly, addressed him and practically ignored Richard and Snow White. He only smiled or talked in friendly terms with Molly and Samson. At the head of the table, Boss contemplated everyone with a serene smile. Gourmet's food was delicious, as expected. The chef of the dwarfs also readily praised Cinderella's pumpkin pie and Paulette's pastries.

'I can write down the recipe for you. It's very simple', smiled Cinderella.

'Thank you very much', smiled Gourmet.

'Now it is my turn to invite you in our house', suggested Cinderella.

'Indeed. You should visit us', agreed Charles.

'We don't want to bother you. We know how difficult it is with the children', declined Gourmet.

'Don't worry. I have good assistants', replied Cinderella looking at Charles and Paulette.

'In that case, I would assist you as well', volunteered the dwarf.

'That would be wonderful!', exclaimed Cinderella.

'And maybe I could teach your husband to cook like a chef', suggested the dwarf.

Charles and Cinderella laughed. When Cinderella composed herself, she looked at Jack, alone in his thoughts, and felt sorry for him. Then she cut a slice of her pie, stood up and offered it to Jack.

'I think you didn't taste this one yet', smiled Cinderella.

Jack was taken by surprise. He looked at Cinderella and smiled.

'Thank you. And you are?', he asked.

'I'm Susanna', she answered.

'Nice to meet you', replied Jack, 'Wow, this is delicious! You're beating Gourmet.'

'Thank you, Jack', smiled Cinderella, 'Nice to meet you, too'.

Cinderella returned to her seat and smiled at Charles, who reciprocated her. Chamomile and Gourmet started to serve the desserts. They filled the table with cherries, strawberries, blueberries and Paulette's small pastries, which were beautifully decorated with whipped cream and strawberries. At the center, they placed a big round nut cake with several layers and whipped cream. The children were absolutely delighted. As they started eating the desserts, Charles took a sip of beer and addressed Boss.

'Boss, forgive my indiscretion, but I'm curious: How old are you today?'

'That's a mystery!', replied Goldie.

'Well, I am old enough to have lived this forest in a very different way, when there were practically any signs of human presence', replied Boss after thoughtful meditation, 'Let us say that the first two quarters of my life were in this pure, impenetrable forest. In the last quarter, humans appeared. Since the last five years, which are just a small percentage of this quarter, humans have abruptly taken the resources of the forest, killing hundreds of trees, to enlarge the city.'

'Do you condemn the city?', asked Charles, 'Isn't the rise of your city a sign of peace?'

'No, I do not condemn the city, nor this moment of prosperity after the war. But humans have to think wisely about how they should use the forest and how they relate to it', replied Boss.

Charles pondered.

'Without the forest, I mean, without nature, all life is impossible', reinforced Boss.

'Indeed', consented Charles.

'I couldn't live without this forest. It might be scary and overwhelming at first, but once you start to live in here, every corner triggers your imagination. There is nothing like the colors of each season, the leaves caressed by the wind, the birds and squirrels excavating in trees, the animals jumping, the streams, the quiet water of the lake with its silver reflections. All of this makes me feel at home', expatiated Snow White.

Richard and the dwarfs agreed, whilst Jack attentively listened to her in a pensive, sad expression.

'You said it so beautifully', praised Cinderella, 'You have such a strong bond with nature here and it definitely penetrates our lives, as if it was a person. It is impossible to be indifferent to the forest, the lake, the mountains behind the castle… I feel I am starting to finally grasp that and becoming attached to that. However, I am still very fond of the city, maybe because I enjoyed growing up next to a city…'

'I like the city too', agreed Charles.

'I find that quite understandable, given your hometown', smiled Snow White.

'What city is that?', asked Jolly.

Jack and the other dwarfs were also curious.

'It doesn't matter', avoided Snow White.

'I tried as much as possible to run to the city, to watch all kinds of people and routines. For me, the city is a place for encounters and discussions. It is like a stage where you can feel the pulse and the struggles of human life', discoursed Charles, 'Of course that other vital struggles also happen in the battlefield, in the forest, in the countryside, by (or at) the sea…'

'in the sky…', interrupted Jolly, deeply interested in the conversation.

'Why not? Maybe someday…', smiled Charles, 'Hopefully not transformed into a battlefield… but, as I was saying, the diversity in the city really attracts me and stimulates me'.

'The very word 'city' is also linked to politics', added Richard after careful thought.

'Exactly. That's my point', replied Charles, while taking another sip of beer.

'Maybe we should bring politics to the forest', provoked Boss smiling, making everyone laugh.

'Both the city and the forest are important, but they must coexist in harmony. Otherwise, everyone will suffer. I am sure you will think about it and act accordingly', encouraged Boss.

Richard, Snow White, Charles and Cinderella smiled at Boss. The adults and the dwarfs were so involved in the discussion they didn't realize that the children had eaten practically all the pastries and were now focused on the big cake.

'Keep talking. We are enjoying very much', smiled Daniel while Charlie, Frances and Theresa giggled hiding their mouths full of cake.

'Oh, yes, we can see that…', frowned Cinderella, making everyone laugh.

When they finished the supper, Paulette and both couples offered their help to clean and arrange the table, but the dwarfs gently declined and asked them to relax. Whilst Goldie, Woody, Vet, Chamomile and Gourmet were emptying the table and moving it away, Snow White and Cinderella decided to put the cushions next to the wall, to sat down in a more comfortable way. Charles and Richard followed them with their own cushions. Then they sat down. Charles reclined and gently pulled Cinderella towards him, whilst Richard cuddled with Snow White. Jack rolled his eyes and left to stretch his legs outside. Samson and Paulette assisted Molly sitting on a chair. Then Paulette sat down near Charles and Cinderella, while Samson settled next to Richard and Snow White. Boss was telling stories about fairies and goblins to Jolly and the children, who listened with attention. Theresa put Charlie on her lap and her arm on Frances' shoulder, Daniel was lying on his stomach with his elbows on the floor, and Jolly was sitting cross-legged. When the dwarfs freed themselves from all the chores associated with the table, they sat around Boss, Jolly and children.

'Do you like dancing?', asked Cinderella, while contemplating a large emptied area in the living room.

'We don't practice much, but we like it', replied Goldie.

'I know some music…', told Vet.

'I could play the guitar…', volunteered Woody.

'Richard and I love to dance', replied Snow White, 'But I don't know if I should do it now…'

'Babies love dancing!', asserted Charles, making everyone laugh.

'Did Frances and I dance when we were on your belly, Mommy?', asked Daniel.

'Yes, especially you, Daniel', confirmed Cinderella with a huge smile, 'You danced a lot'.

'That explains many things…', muttered Jolly.

'You…', Daniel jumped into Jolly, and Cinderella scolded Daniel.

Charles stood up, held Cinderella's right hand, helping her to stand up, and leaded her to the empty zone of the room. He put his left hand on her waist, gently pulling her against him, and held her left hand. Then they looked into each other's eyes and started to dance the waltz very slowly. In the end, Cinderella even twirled, but very smoothly.

'You see, there won't be any problems with gentle movements like this', guaranteed Cinderella.

'You two dance so well…', praised Vet.

'That's true! You are amazing dancers', praised Snow White.

'Thank you', blushed Cinderella.

'We should have expected that, considering your story', said Chamomile.

'What story?', asked Daniel.

'There's no story whatsoever', laughed Cinderella.

'Come on, everybody! Let's dance!', encouraged Charles.

Pet and Woody took a flute and a guitar from a cupboard, whilst Richard and Snow White held hands and stood up. The dwarfs decided to play a calm music first, due to Snow White's baby, and both couples started to dance. Samson stood up and nervously approached Paulette.

'Miss Paulette, would you take this dance?'

'With great pleasure', consented Paulette, while giving her hand.

Charles and Cinderella kept dancing very slowly, like in their previous demonstration and frequently whispered into each other's ear. Snow White closed her eyes and leaned her head on Richard's chest. After opening her eyes and gazing at Richard, she noticed Charles and Cinderella's slow movements.

'Why are you still dancing so slowly? You don't need to', asked Snow White.

'We are showing solidarity', promptly replied Charles.

'The melody is slow. And if you dance slow, we dance slow', smiled Cinderella.

Richard and Snow White frowned and smiled at each other.

The children quickly changed partners during a single dance. First, Jolly danced with Theresa, Daniel danced with Frances, and Molly took Charlie on her lap. In a few minutes, Jolly was dancing with Frances and Daniel was dancing with Theresa. Then, while Daniel kept dancing with Theresa, Frances danced with Charlie, who started to cry, because he also wanted to dance.

When the first music finished, Snow White went back to her cushion and Cinderella followed her. Charles and Richard were following them, when Frances pulled Charles' hand.

'Daddy…', she said.

'What is it, sweetheart?', asked Charles.

'I want to dance with you…', asked Frances.

'Of course, princess', smiled Charles.

He lifted her in his arms, and the little daughter giggled, delighted to be called princess, something that Charles always avoided. Then she hugged him tight, and Charles kissed her slightly wavy golden hair. Cinderella joined them and caressed little Frances' head. As Theresa also asked Richard to dance with her, both fathers danced with their little daughters, leaving Daniel, Charlie and Jolly bored. Snow White shouldn't dance much more, and Cinderella felt very tired. In the meantime, Samson kept dancing with Paulette.

Then Goldie, Chamomile, Gourmet and Jolly started to sing the melody of a folk dance performed in a circle. It included tapping, jumping and yodeling. Snow White, who was holding Charlie, and Cinderella watched it from their seats and clapped their hands. Daniel was near the group watching with attention. Paulette, who had entered the circle together with Samson, invited Daniel to join. The boy smiled, but hesitated for a while. Then he jumped and danced in the middle.

'That's my boy!', exclaimed Charles, making Cinderella laugh.

Jack listened to the music and entered.

'What the hell!', exclaimed he.

'Don't you want to join us?', asked Paulette.

Jack looked at the circle. Then he noticed Richard dancing with Theresa at the precise moment she kissed the father in the cheek and hugged him.

'No, I'm very tired today. I'm sorry, but I think I won't be able to stay on watch. I agree that you, fathers have better training for this', he apologized and left again.

The dwarfs stopped dancing. Goldie, Jolly and Chamomile were furious. Snow White looked down. She was caressing little Charlie, sleeping on her lap. Cinderella looked at her, trying to figure out what was happening in order to support her, but Snow White didn't share a word. In the meantime, Frances was sucking on her right thumb and gradually falling asleep on Charles' chest.

'It's bedtime, children...', reminded Cinderella.

At first, Daniel and Theresa offered resistance to the idea, but Paulette and Molly persuaded them. Jack was sleeping in a yellow tent, which he shared with Samson. The blue tent was reserved for Richard and Snow White, whilst the red tent was destined to Charles and Cinderella. Molly and Paulette would sleep with the children in the pink tent. While Cinderella put Benny, the doll rabbit, next to little Frances' cheek, Patch, Bingo, ChouChou and Snow White's animals, Milk, Pocket and Cucu, placed themselves in front of the children's tent. After kissing and snuggling the children, Snow White invited Charles and Cinderella for a quick chat in her tent. They talked in low voice, so not to disturb the children, Paulette, Molly and Jack.

'We apologize for Jack', excused Snow White.

'All that talk about parents was not targeted at you', assured Richard.

'What is going on with him?', asked Cinderella.

'He's still in love with Snow White', told Richard.

'Yes, I grasped that, but why did you invited him in first place?', asked Charles, 'I don't mind at all to stay on watch.'

'The dwarfs took charge of all that. They didn't want to bother you', replied Richard.

'But why?', asked Cinderella.

'Because they put you on a pedestal', smiled Snow White.

'Obviously they would never ask a foreign king to stay on watch', replied Richard.

'Nonsense', sighed Charles, 'But why have you invited Jack?'

'We are very grateful to him. He saved my life, and he also saved Richard once', explained Snow White.

'Before he knew I was his rival…', added Richard.

Charles rubbed his chin.

'Now I understand. You must be grateful', said Cinderella.

'Yes. Despite the bad temper, he has a really good heart', said Snow White.

'I understand, but you are not putting yourselves in his shoes, and the dwarfs treat him like a persona non grata', said Charles, 'If Cinderella married someone else, I would die inside every time I saw her with her husband and children'.

Richard and Snow White consented.

'It is all my fault', cried Snow White, 'I should have told him my true identity and that I was already in love with Richard.'

Richard put his arm around her shoulder and leaned his head on hers.

'Oh, dear… don't blame yourself', comforted Cinderella.

'Jack could fall in love anyway. People can fall in love, even when their beloved one loves someone else', reminded Charles.

Snow White smiled at them.

'I just think you are unnecessarily making yourself and making him miserable, if you keep him around for so long', said Charles.

'Yes, you're right', agreed Snow White.

'And the children also sense those things', added Cinderella.

Charles agreed. On that moment, Snow White put her right hand on her belly bump and made a huge smile.

'Oh, Richard, the baby just kicked so hard!'

Richard smiled and put his hand on her belly. The couple looked into each other's eyes and kissed. Then Charles and Cinderella smiled at each other.

'Well… we'll leave you alone for a while. I will join Samson in a few minutes', said Charles, while standing up and holding Cinderella's hand.

'I will join you too, Charles', replied Richard.

'Andrew', corrected Snow White, making Charles and Cinderella giggle.

'Andrew, sorry', apologized Richard.

'Just one more thing', added Snow White with a naughty smile, 'Is there something you want to share with us?'

Cinderella widened her eyes.

'Is there something, Cha-Andrew?', asked Cinderella laughing.

'I have no idea', replied Charles with his right hand behind his head, 'Good night! Sleep tight!'

Charles and Cinderella waved goodbye and left, leaving Richard and Snow White in giggles.

'What an amazing party! I'm not sleepy at all', exclaimed Cinderella, while laying down on their tent.

'But you must sleep. Go on', smiled Charles.

'These sheets smell so good… I love the smell of clean laundry', said Cinderella, 'Oh, and the smell of grass…'

Charles laughed and cuddled with her.

'I wonder how did Isabelle react to our wedding…,' said Cinderella.

'You cannot compare Jack to Isabelle. He meant much more to Snow White than Isabelle ever meant to me', countered Charles.

'But Isabelle suffered a lot for you. I saw that. I even encouraged her to love you. Barely did I know…', recollected Cinderella.

'I love when you try to be so nice that you totally screw up', teased Charles.

'You are mean!', frowned Cinderella while turning away her face from him.

Charles laughed. When he composed himself, he meditated for a while.

'Isabelle does have some good reasons to hate us, especially due to Zaral's death. Yet I'm technically dead, and you had any fault whatsoever', he replied, 'Besides, she ran away from Zaral to travel with Melville. Probably they started a family somewhere and she is happy'.

Cinderella agreed.

'And what about Samson and Paulette?', he naughtily asked.

'Oh, isn't that amazing?', Cinderella abruptly turned to the other side and faced Charles.

'Be careful!', he alerted amid laughter.

'Don't worry', she smiled.

Charles tenderly gazed at her while caressing her hair.

'Well, honey… I have to go…'

Cinderella hugged him and he kissed her belly for a long time. Then they looked deep in the eyes and kissed.

'Please, if you need something, call me right away', he said, while snuggling her up.

'Yes, honey', smiled Cinderella.

Chamomile left coffee, hot chocolate, apples and other snacks prepared for Goldie, Samson, Charles and Richard, who stayed on watch. Goldie and Samson covered the backyard, while Charles and Richard covered the clearing in front of the cottage where they set up the tents. When Charles joined him, Richard was sat behind a tree contemplating the stars. On his left, there were food and an oil lamp.

'You know, whenever I think I almost lost Snow White, I hardly believe my luck'.

Charles sat down, took an apple and smiled at him.

'We had already met; I had even introduced her to my father in my castle when I left to study and we parted. When I came back to the Green-Valley as a soldier, she had disappeared. No one knew her whereabouts. I couldn't get letters from her or write to her. I was completely devastated', shared Richard.

'I imagine…', replied Charles.

'Then I got aware of the queen's cruelty. I couldn't believe that magic mirror…', recollected Richard.

'There are such strange things here… Honestly, if I didn't know you, I couldn't believe all those stories you went through', said Charles.

After a pause, Richard continued.

'Well, but none of that is worse than death, to arrive too late to prevent her death…'

A shiver went through Charles' spine.

'I can't even dare to think about it', said Charles.

'It was sheer terror. I still have nightmares', Richard looked ahead and remained silent for a while.

'Let's talk about happier things: did you immediately introduce Snow White to your father?', asked Charles.

'Well, practically yes…', smiled Richard.

'I admire you for that', praised Charles.

'I instantly knew she was the one', confessed Richard.

'I kind of felt that as well, but it was more complicated. You see, I didn't assume my true identity from the start', explained Charles.

'Now I realize you are always hiding it', smiled Richard.

Charles laughed.

'But why not?', wondered Richard.

'Because social classes and hierarchies make things more complicated,' answered Charles.

'There we go again', smiled Richard.

'You can't deny it', replied Charles.

'Indeed', consented Richard.

'I hated my status back then. I wanted to liberate myself from all that, to live the city as an ordinary man. And I ended up falling in love as an ordinary man.'

Richard smiled at Charles.

'Now I resent the way I dealt with Cinderella back then. Anyway, I only introduced Cinderella to my parents after she tried the glass slipper, right before our wedding. I was about to introduce her several weeks before, though… when Zaral tried to take the throne', revealed Charles.

'Did you tell her that?', asked Richard.

'Yes, later, when we got engaged'.

The day of Zaral's first attack came to Charles' mind. After having defeated Zaral and his assistant Blade, who rolled down the main staircase, Charles looked above and found Cinderella watching him from the green galleries. His tired and stern expression suddenly lightened up. He smiled and invited Cinderella to join him. She bid him farewell and ran away. Charles called her several times. As she vanished into the gallery, he climbed the stairs, crossed the gallery and pulled out the green curtains in search for her. He eventually found her lost in that corridor of curtains, then he ran to her and put his hands on her shoulders.

'Cinderella, why are you leaving now? Please, stay. I need to talk to you…'

'I'm sorry, your highness, but I must leave, or my stepmother will punish me', replied Cinderella.

'I'm not your highness. I'm Charles. Please, just let me…', insisted he.

'Please, leave me', she squirmed as he pulled her against him.

'Cinderella, please, I know you don't want to leave', asked Charles.

'I am very grateful for everything we did for me. I truly am, but that's all. I am sorry if I suggested feelings I don't have', apologized Cinderella, 'Please, don't follow me, don't visit me. Just leave me alone.'

Charles widened his eyes and faced her.

'You are not telling the truth. Look into my eyes', asked Charles.

Cinderella avoided him for a while. Then she gained strength to look in his eyes.

'With all due respect, I find rather unfair to hear that I am not telling the truth', replied Cinderella.

Charles was quite stroked by that answer. They stood there for a while without saying a word. In the meantime, Alex, soldiers, his father and his professor were calling Charles. Cinderella couldn't stand all those calls. She released herself from him and ran away. Charles was about to follow her once more, when he noticed a dark soldier from Zaral's army standing 50 meters away from him. He had certainly understood what was going on between him and Cinderella. He could easily transmit it to Zaral and take advantage of that. Charles drew his sword and quickly defeated him. The prince was about to capture him, when Alex appeared, and the soldier escaped.

'Damn he', cursed Charles.

'Charles, your parents are anxious to see you', scolded Alex.

Charles consented. He closed his eyes thinking of Cinderella and left the gallery with a dim expression that puzzled the page.

At dinner, everyone cheerfully applauded Charles. His parents, councilors, soldiers, aristocrats and employees working in castle didn't stop praising him. Strangely, the prince, usually so cheerful, stood there like a cold stone.

'Thank you very much for your support. I hope you forgive me, but I'm very tired today, as you might well understand', apologized Charles for leaving the throne room very early.

Alex decided to check on him later. When he entered Charles' chambers, he saw five empty bottles of wine and the prince yellow cape in the floor. Charles was sat down in front of the window. His Bordeaux red and golden costume was partially unbuttoned in the chest.

'What's going on here?', asked Alex.

'Alex, please, I want to be alone', asked Charles.

'What happened, Charles? You should be happy today. We defeated Zaral!', exclaimed Alex.

'I'm not so sure about that', countered Charles.

Alex looked at the window and finally grasped what was going on.

'Is there something wrong with Cinderella…?', tried Alex.

'Do not mention her name again,' bitterly replied Charles.

'You should have told her the truth from the very start', regretted Alex.

'I was going to introduce her to my parents…', told Charles.

'This wasn't definitely a good day for that', replied Alex.

'How could she run away like that, and be so cold? After all we went through… She looked like a completely different person', complained Charles.

'I bet she was shocked. Well, she actually found out you were a completely different person', countered Alex.

Charles meditated for a while.

'Even so, I don't understand. I think we went through so much things together that we were beyond such a thing as my status. Apparently, I was wrong,' said Charles.

Then he evoked everything he had done for Cinderella since he returned her key.

'She could just feel grateful', replied Alex.

'I thought we had a special bond. Yesterday, in that abandoned house, in the well, it seemed we were finally… when we looked at each other, when I kissed her underwater… She was so beautiful… I wanted to kiss her so badly all that afternoon…', confessed Charles.

'You thought you were going to die yesterday. That might have confused things', suggested Alex.

Charles poured more wine into the glass. Alex tried to stop him, but Charles drank anyway.

'Look, I don't know Cinderella. I can't tell you whether she loves you or not. I just know you, that you fell in love with her right way and you did everything to express that. You stopped everything to be with her, or to help her. I'm afraid that she is only grateful, or has problems admitting her feelings for you, especially after knowing your true identity. If she keeps running away and avoiding you, you'll just have to accept that and move on. You know you have to get married soon... You should be open yourself to other possibilities...,' advised Alex.

Charles stood up and looked at the window.

'Alex, please, leave me alone…', he insisted.

'Whatever you do, I will always support you', replied Alex, while leaving.

After the ball, when Hans and Alex were preparing the glass slipper operation, Alex dropped by Charles' chambers to take the shoe.

'I find it a rather silly idea. It can fit several people, but if you insist…', criticized Charles while giving the shoe.

'I'll make sure she tries it', smiled Alex.

Charles turned his back on Alex.

'Honestly, I pity the woman who danced with you, if she is not Cinderella. You were only attracted to her, because of someone else.'

Hans called Alex, and the page left in search for the shoe's owner.

Charles agreed, but remained silent and blasé, looking at the window. It was obvious that he was still in love with Cinderella and could not forget her so easily. He was doomed to all the high responsibility and pressure of his status and to an unhappy marriage haunted by Cinderella. Once more, Charles cursed his royal identity; he violently took off his yellow cape and threw it on the ground.

Richard could see that Charles was dealing with harsh memories, but never forced him to reveal what was on his mind.

'Gourmet's bread is amazing, isn't it?', offered Richard.

'Oh, indeed!', smiled Charles with a happier face.

On that moment, they heard a noise. Charles and Richard instantly grabbed their swords. Then Richard took the lamp and realized that it was only Jack, who was approaching them.

'Hi there...', saluted Jack, 'How are things going?'

'Everything's under control', replied Richard.

'I couldn't sleep and decided to check up on you', said Jack.

'Were we talking too loud?', asked Charles.

'No, I didn't hear you there', assured Jack.

He looked down for a while and continued.

'I could stay on watch too', offered Jack.

'Thank you, but there's no need to', declined Richard.

'I mean it. I can join you', insisted Jack.

'I'll go check if Samson and Goldie are tired, or watch from another spot. It doesn't make sense to be all in the same spot', replied Richard while standing up, 'You can stay with Charles.'

Charles choked.

'Sorry, with Andrew', corrected Richard, 'I call everyone Charles, because of my son', explained the prince with his eyes closed.

Jack frowned and Richard left. Then Charles offered Jack some bread.

'I won't offer you an apple, because you're all afraid of it', joked Charles

Jack laughed and sat down.

'What you said about the city was very interesting', praised Jack.

'Thanks', smiled Charles.

'I'm more attached to the forest. Actually, I have the duty to protect the silent forest, but I would like to see those things you mentioned in a city. I've never seen a big city', said Jack.

'I do miss my hometown...', confessed Charles.

'Where is it?', asked Jack.

'Ah, it's very far away from here, in the southern borders', answered Charles, hopping that Jack wouldn't become to inquisitive.

'You must have a bad impression of me...', said Jack looking down.

Charles smiled at Jack.

'I've always preferred straightforward, honest people to those who dissimulate their feelings and intentions'.

Jack smiled and took a bite of his bread.

'It's not easy, you know... On one hand, I want to forget Snow White. On the other hand, I can't stop seeing her.'

Charles took a bite of his apple.

'You'll have to accept that... I know it is painful', comforted Charles.

'No, I'm sorry, but you don't', interrupted Jack, 'You are clearly happy with your beautiful, sweet wife and kids. You don't know what it is like to be rejected'.

In that moment, Cinderella woke up. She was having a hard time trying to fall asleep and was getting hungry, with huge food cravings. She also wanted to go to the toilet. When she stood up, she started to listen to Jack and Charles.

'You're right. I rejected someone and I'm not proud of the way I treated the woman I didn't reciprocated', said Charles, 'By then, I was already in love with my wife. But it was not easy to be happily married, I assure you. I almost lost her.'

Cinderella smiled and sat down in the tent.

'Was her life in danger as well?', asked Jack.

'In several occasions, yes, but I could have lost her for other reasons that don't matter now', replied Charles, 'The point is that it is very difficult to succeed in love. Richard and Snow White suffered beyond all reasonable limits to be together.'

'That's true', agreed Jack, 'I know all that. I know no one can control their feelings, but I still can't change the way I feel around them.'

'Love is irrational. Hence its beauty and its cruelty', smiled Charles.

'And Richard irritates me so much', confessed Jack.

'But why?'

'He's perfect', answered Jack.

Charles laughed.

'He has always been a perfect gentleman with me, despite my behavior. He is also so wise, so polite and noble', listed Jack.

'He is a perfect prince, indeed', admitted Charles, 'Now that I think of it, Richard reminds me of my best friend...'

'Really? That's why you get along.'

'You see, I like to be (and need to be) surrounded by people like Richard, because I have a rather rebellious and impulsive nature', smiled Charles.

'You're more like me, then', concluded Jack.

'Well, I enjoy people like you as well, but we might need to be surrounded by people like Alex and Richard. Otherwise, we can really screw up', smiled Charles, making Jack laugh.

'And what about your wife?', asked Jack.

'She is much wiser and kinder than me. Yet, she is definitely kinder to others than to me', answered Charles with his hand behind his head, 'No one believes, but she can also be as naughty, impulsive and stubborn as I am'.

'How is that?', laughed Jack.

'Let's say we enjoy the passion in a good argument', smiled Charles.

Cinderella left the red tent and Charles stood up immediately. She joined them, and Charles put his arm behind her back.

'Are you alright?', asked Charles.

'Oh, yes, yes! Don't worry. I'm just hungry and I would like to go to the toilet', she explained.

'We have apples, bread, and coffee here...', offered Jack.

'Thank you. I'll check if there is something more in the kitchen', smiled Cinderella.

Jack was quite puzzled. What more could she want...?

'Do you know the way to the toilet, honey?', asked Charles.

'Goldie will tell you', answered Jack.

'Thank you, Jack', smiled Cinderella.

'Jack, I'll go with Cinderella and be right be back', said Charles.

'Cinderella?', asked Jack.

Charles and Cinderella laughed.

'I meant Susanna. This happens to me when I don't sleep', invented Charles, 'Get used to it. I might call you James or Joseph'.

Jack smiled and the couple left. They made him feel quite comfortable with their good humoured nature. He had felt quite touched by Susanna's kind gesture at dinner, when everyone was mad at him, and that guy Andrew seemed a very nice fellow. Although he couldn't forget his feelings for Snow White, he was now trying to make peace with everything in his mind. After all, almost seven years had passed. Snow White, Richard and their friends were very nice people. He had to move on.

When Charles and Cinderella returned, they were arguing about something. Cinderella refused to return to the tent, because she was not sleepy at all, while Charles found that she should make an effort to sleep.

'Hey, Andrew, I can stay on watch alone. Go sleep with your wife', volunteered Jack.

'I'm not sleepy either', replied Charles, 'And I will feel better if I stay on watch, for the children'.

'You see... I don't want to sleep too', replied Cinderella.

Charles frowned and she sat down next to a tree happily watching the sky.

'It's magnificent... Maybe I will fall asleep like this', wondered Cinderella, 'That's the beauty of camping'.

Charles sat down behind her, cuddled with her and covered themselves with his dark cape. Cinderella smiled, closed her eyes and leaned her head on his head.

'How did you two met?', asked Jack.

Cinderella widened her eyes, but Charles promptly answered with a serene look in his eyes.

'She bumped into me and we fell'.

'In the city...', added Cinderella.

'Yes, in the city', smiled Charles, 'But I was quite upset. I was about to eat a delicious apple'.

'Dude, you're addited to apples', concluded Jack while realizing that Charles had eaten almost all the apples.

Cinderella burst into laughter and Charles put his hand behind his head.

'Well, to sum up: he followed me to return my key, which had fallen from my pocket'.

'Then I bumped into her the next time, and I told her that it was a sign from destiny, but she played hard to get.'

Cinderella frowned and he laughed.

'You're funny', smiled Jack, 'And how did you met Richard and Snow White?'

'He saved Theresa and the dwarfs one year ago', answered Cinderella.

'Oh, that was you! I heard about it...', recalled Jack.

They continued to talk for a while, amid some periods of silence. Patch occasionally dropped by and the couple introduced their dog to Jack. Richard, Goldie and Samson also checked on them.

Cinderella eventually fell asleep on Charles' chest. Charles even considered taking her to the tent, but she would probably wake up during that operation and be mad at him.

'She looks like a child', commented Jack.

'She's so funny when she's pregnant...', smiled Charles.

Then he realized what he had just said and widened his eyes.

'Really? Congratulations!', exclaimed Jack.

'Thank you... We were planning to announce it within a month or two...', revealed Charles.

'I won't tell anyone. You can trust me', assured Jack.

'Thank you, Jack', smiled Charles.

'Now I understand all that talk about sleep deprivation...', recollected Jack.

'Please... please... don't remind me of that...', asked Charles, making Jack laugh.

In the morning, the children were very excited. Jolly, Pet, Molly and Paulette took care of them. Whereas Molly and the children had slept tight, Paulette had some difficulty in falling asleep. Given that Charles, Cinderella and Richard had stayed on watch, Boss suggested that the children could spend the day in their cottage, while the parents had some rest. Samson bid farewell to everyone and chatted to Paulette for a few minutes before leaving.

The children reacted with great enthusiasm, especially Daniel and Theresa, who were anxiously waiting to test their pranks. When Jack was passing by Theresa, he fell in a trap. Theresa feared his reaction. That prank was not aimed at Jack in first place and she always felt quite uncomfortable around him. Snow White approached them and scolded Theresa, but Jack kneeled before the girl and smiled.

'Don't worry. I used to do the same when I was your age', told Jack.

Snow White and Theresa looked at each other quite puzzled.

An hour later, Richard and Snow White were mounting Richard's white horse Alexander nearby Charles and Cinderella's carriage. Both couples would rest for a while at home and return to pick up the children in the afternoon.

Jack bid farewell to Charles and Cinderella, who were already sat down in the driver's seat. Then he turned to Richard and Snow White.

'Richard, take it!', Jack threw up an apple to the prince.

Richard caught it and looked at the apple on his hand without understanding what was going on.

'It's the last apple. Andrew ate all of them', smiled Jack.

'Hey!', protested Charles, making everyone laugh.

Richard and Snow White looked at each other, smiled and laughed as well.

On their way home, Cinderella was sleeping intermittently, due to the carriage shakes. When she woke up, she looked at Charles driving and held his left arm with both her arms.

'I love when you tell the truth', she smiled closing her eyes.

'Oh, no! When did I tell the truth?', asked Charles, with a midst of mockery and confusion.

Cinderella laughed.

'When you told Jack how we met...'

'That's because only you and I know the true story', he smiled.

Cinderella smiled at him, leaned on his chest and closed her eyes.

Chapter Text

Four servants were washing the floor and dusting the Emerald castle dining room late in the morning. Among them, a small young girl with light brown curls couldn't keep her eyes out of the view of the forest and the city. She was starting to wash the windows, when a housekeeper announced king Rudolph and the count of Larocca, the Mayer of the Emerald city. Noticing that the table was not ready, the king frowned.

'Why is the table not set yet?', inquired Rudolph, attempting to control his anger.

The servants bowed in distress.

'We apologize, your majesty. We had to clean the throne room after yesterday's ball…', explained a young man who was in charge of the cleaning, 'Most of the household is still there'.

'Do not worry, your majesty. We will serve lunch right away', assured the housekeeper.

Rudolph turned his back on them and invited the count to sit down in an armchair in a corner next to the large windows, whose view totally absorbed the guest. He was a nice fat man with a round face and looking about fifty. At that moment, he was sweating and panting in his pompous attire.

'This room has the best view of the city', said Rudolph.

'Indeed, your majesty. It is splendid! I am so honored to be here', thanked the Mayer.

Rudolph sat down in an armchair facing the table. He noticed that the young girl who was washing the windows when they entered was about to leave.

'You may continue', ordered Rudolph.

The girl blushed and made a slight bow. She took the cleaning accessories from a box and continued her task, while the king intermittently stared at her.

'I am very sorry about the queen, your majesty…', regretted Larocca.

Rudolph slightly bowed his head without saying a word. He got married to a foreign princess, Anna of Svatland, who had recently fallen from an abyss in the forest during a hunting session. The royal couple was married for almost four years and had no children.

'This is definitely one of the finest cities of the civilized world…', claimed Rudolph.

'Indeed, your majesty. I am very proud to be part of it', agreed the Mayer.

'Likewise, our kingdom and our people are one of the best in the world', added Rudolph.

'I couldn't agree more, your majesty', approved the Mayer.

'It has all the qualities required to become a bigger, leading kingdom', asserted Rudolph.

'It was bigger once', reminded the Mayer with a nervous laughter, 'We had the Green-Valley, but… they are still… somehow… how shall I put this…? Living at a different pace, perhaps?'

'Maybe our kingdoms should have never been split in first place…', wondered Rudolph, 'And maybe we should consider other geographies and ways of merging...'

The Mayer expected to hear more from the king, but Rudolph remained evasive and silent most of the time. He only addressed the subject of the meeting after the servants set the table, served the lunch and left them alone.

'Well, my good friend, I believe it is about time to fix the prison', started Rudolph, while cleaning the corners of his mouth.

'Oh, thank you, your majesty. I did not want to disturb you with that matter, but the situation is getting complicated', admitted the Mayer.

'We will keep minor offenses in the city and build a labor camp prison in the eastern forest. I am already in conversations with the architect', informed Rudolph.

'It looks like an excellent idea', praised the Mayer, 'Are there any more plans for buildings and reconstructions?'

'In the western hills, we are currently building a new military workshop with a scientific laboratory', answered Rudolph.

'That seems very interesting', praised the Mayer.

'We need scientists to improve our artillery', highlighted Rudolph.

'By the way, your majesty, I have received many requests to finish the remodeling and the embargoed new premises of the University…', hesitantly informed the Mayer.

'They will have to wait', drily replied the king.

'And what about the hospital…?', tried the Mayer, 'People keep asking me about it…'

'Do you know of any hospital in the world that provides free medical care for all workers?', inquired Rudolph.

'Well, no, in fact…', answered the Mayer with a high, nervous laughter.

'Thanks to king Charles' romantic ideas we have now a tight budget', blamed Rudolph, 'I will have to increase taxes.'

'Even more?', the Mayer widened his eyes.

Rudolph frowned and the count composed himself.

'Of course! Of course, your majesty!', smiled the count with his eyes closed.

'As a way of compensation, I will channel more funds to the city council to organize more festivities. People want to live in a beautiful city with plenty of excitement. They want entertainment more than anything else', expounded the king, 'I heard the last Flower Festival and the Beauty Contest were very successful.'

'Oh, thank you, your majesty. They were splendid!', exclaimed the Mayer, 'We never had so many flowers. We are now preparing the Fruit Festival'.

Rudolph stood up and approached the window.

'I have also been thinking that we should take more advantage of our history, our heritage...', continued the king.

The Mayer totally agreed.

'I believe that only a royal princess should become a queen. Nevertheless, I recognize that Cinderella was very popular.'

'Oh, indeed. And she was so beautiful and kind...', recollected the Mayer with a smile, 'Well... she was not a princess, but she was the daughter of a duke...'

'You certainly know that Thomas of Viel became a duke when he was young, due to his services as an ambassador. They do not have noble blood', rectified Rudolph with impatience, then he calmed down and continued.

'Anyway, she remains quite popular... I think the castle should give way her glass slippers and the wedding dress, so that they could be exhibited in the town hall'.

'Oh, but that would be wonderful!', the Mayer stood up and clapped his hands, 'That is the perfect way of starting our own museum: with our fairy tale! I am sure everyone will be delighted! How can I thank you, your majesty?'

Rudolph crossed his arms and smiled watching the city. A few minutes later, the servants asked if they could remove the table and he consented. When the Mayer was about to leave, a counselor entered with a catalogue of small female portraits.

'Your majesty, we have to discuss the new engagement...'

Rudolph sighed and impatiently replied.

'It is quite simple: get me a princess that can give birth to something!'

The baby cried. It was the third time that night and the parents were exhausted. Cinderella was about to stand up with her eyes semi closed, when Charles stood up.

'It's my turn now'.

Cinderella smiled. She sat down in the bed and watched him comforting the baby.

'Will you take this waltz, lady Mimi?', comforted Charles.

After swinging and dancing for a while, Mimi calmed down. She sucked her thumb and looked into the father's eyes whilst he talked to her. As she fell asleep, he put her on the crib. When he was finally laying down in the bed, she cried again.

'Why?', cried Charles.

'She must be hungry', guessed Cinderella while standing up.

'She's always hungry', complained Charles, 'Daniel and Frances were so easy in this part...'

'Each child is different', replied Cinderella while smiling to Mimi and taking her out of the crib.

The mother returned to the bed, put Mimi on her lap and started breastfeeding. As her pain increased, Cinderella leaned her head on Charles' chest. He covered Cinderella's back and the baby with a blanket. Then he rubbed Cinderella's back.

'Try to rest', said Cinderella, 'You'll have to wake up Daniel in an hour and to work. I can handle this'.

'No, I'll be by your side', replied Charles.

Cinderella smiled at him and kissed his cheek. Then he kissed her in return.

'Daniel and Frances also cried. Don't you remember? Not every single night, though...', recollected Cinderella.

'Not two to three times every single night', corrected Charles.

'They made me so nauseous and kicked so hard but were easier outside. Mimi was an angel inside and now she's so difficult outside...', remarked Cinderella.

'Maybe she felt disappointed and now she is mad at us', supposed Charles, then he made a squeaky voice, 'Eh... This is not what I had imagined... I want to get back inside!'

Cinderella laughed.

'Who could dislike the outside world?', questioned Cinderella, 'It's much more interesting than a dark womb'.

'I'm not so sure about that', replied Charles while caressing Mimi's head, 'It depends'.

'I agree that the baby loses protection and that it is released into the hardships of life, but isn't it worth the effort? To see all the colors and the nature beyond the dark womb?', wondered Cinderella.

'It should be, but the great majority of people suffer too much to appreciate all those colors', replied Charles.

'In fact, birth still determines our fate too much...', admitted Cinderella.

'Yes', agreed Charles.

Mimi eventually fell asleep after breastfeeding. Charles and Cinderella were so tired that they didn't hear the rooster that morning. Daniel put the pillow above his head to muffle the sound, while Frances woke up and heard Paulette entering the house with her key. Frances stood up, left the bedroom, greeted the animals and jumped into Paulette's arms. The little girl was now four and five months.

Since the birth of the baby two months ago, in late March, Paulette visited them every day to assist Charles and Cinderella. That year was particularly demanding due to Daniel's first grade.

When Paulette knocked on Charles and Cinderella's room, Charles woke up with a start. He immediately ran to the children's bedroom to wake up Daniel. Then he quickly took a bath, shaved and dressed himself, but there was still no sign of Daniel.

'Daniel, are you kidding me? We have to leave in fifteen minutes!', scolded Charles as he entered the children's bedroom.

Daniel moaned and rolled to the other side of the bed.

Charles uncovered the bed, took Daniel and carried him to the table near the window to wash his face.

'Join us in five minutes in the kitchen', ordered Charles, 'Is your schoolbag ready?'

'Eh... yes...', Daniel widened his eyes.

'Hurry up, then', asked Charles while closing the door.

Daniel washed his face and got dressed at great speed. In that stressful operation, his light blue pajamas fell from the bed. Then the boy opened his schoolbag. He didn't have switched the books and notebooks required for that day yet. Additionally, he couldn't find his pencil case. He eventually discovered a pencil in the floor and a rubber in the desk and put them in the bag.

'Daniel!', shouted Charles' voice from the hall downstairs.

'I'm coming!', replied Daniel while going down the stairs.

Daniel drank his mug of milk so fast that he choked. Paulette advised him to eat calmly. She quickly prepared a tiny chest for his lunch and snacks and was helping to serve Frances' breakfast.

'Will you bring me pinecones, please?', asked Frances before taking a spoon of milk with cereals.

Daniel protested something imperceptible while eating.

'Pinecones only fall in Autumn, Frances…', sighed Charles, 'Don't distract your brother now'.

'Yes, Daddy', smiled Frances.

'Dad...', started Daniel with his mouth full of bread.

'Don't speak with the mouth full', interrupted Charles.

'But...', insisted Daniel.

'Daniel, don't' speak. You will never finish in time', warned Charles.

'Oh', protested Daniel while taking another spoonful of cereal to his mouth.

'You do this every single morning. When I wake you up, you must obey', scolded Charles while standing up.

'I'm so tired...', complained Daniel.

'We're all tired!', exploded Charles, 'I barely sleep for two months'.

Frances cringed in her seat. She was almost hiding behind her bowl of cereals and looked sideways at Daniel. Realizing how scared the little girl was, Charles calmed down. He gently sat her upright and caressed her head. Paulette smiled and left to fetch Daniel's vest.

Daniel cleaned his mouth with a napkin and stood up. He was wearing a light blue shirt with a cyan blue vest, dark teal culottes, white socks and brown shoes. Charles took a small blue jacket from the cloakroom and gave him to Daniel. Then he put on his dark blue cape and grabbed his sword, while Daniel put the schoolbag on his back and grabbed his lunch basket.

They bid farewell to Frances, who always wanted to go with the father and the brother, and Paulette, who was going to check on Cinderella and Mimi. Frances, Patch, Bingo, ChouChou and Pappy followed Charles and Daniel to the courtyard and watched them mount the horse. Carrot was a beautiful and gentle light brown horse with a white spot in the shape of a carrot above his muzzle. The children loved him very much, because he was more patient than the other two horses, Flash, who was the faster, and Ginger, who was a bit temperamental.

Charles invented a security system to prevent falls – a belt tied to the saddle, his waist and Daniel's waist. When they got on the horse, the morning stress and arguments usually ceased. While Charles rode, Daniel occasionally grabbed the reins and grinned. The little boy laughed with excitement every time Carrot galloped and imagined all kinds of adventures. Charles joined him in those games and explored suspicious clues with Daniel, on their way back home.

The school was in the border between the city and the forest, near the eastern city wall. It was composed by three blocks of red brick buildings with flowerbeds and ivy, which was in an initial stage of growth. Around the buildings, there were wide areas of grass with oak and pine trees and a garden with yellow daisies, white, pink and red geraniums.

When they got off the horse, the school bell started to ring. Before Daniel ran to the school, Charles frowned.

'Hey! I think I deserve a proper goodbye', protested Charles.

Daniel smiled naughtily, putting his hand behind his neck, and hugged Charles, who kneeled.

'Promise me you will wake up earlier', asked Charles.

Daniel grinned with his eyes closed.

'You little monster…', frowned Charles, 'Go on, promise me'.

'Yes, Daddy!', replied Daniel in a hurry and ran to the main building.

Charles frowned and watched him go and mingle in the crow of children, where he found his best friend Peter, who always arrived late. Then the father sighed, turned his back and returned to the horse.

There was usually an hour and a half gap between dropping Daniel at school and the first fencing lessons at Count of Bartak's house, who lived in the western outskirts of the village nearby the lake. Once or twice a week, Charles managed to go to church and stroll in the city during that gap, but most of the time he relaxed by the lake in the spot where he had picnics with Cinderella and the children and met the dwarfs. He usually used that time to read in peace, but he couldn't help falling asleep since Mimi's birth. That was the case that morning. Charles was sleeping soundly when he suddenly woke up. As he climbed the horse, he noticed a cluster of dark clouds and galloped to his boss' house.

The count of Bartak came from a neighboring kingdom. After the war, he decided to settle in the Green Valley kingdom and use his previous mansion in the border of his native kingdom as a country house. His new house in the Green Valley was built from start and became one of the most luxurious and sophisticated among the aristocracy, almost as good as king Conrad's medieval castle, which constantly needed reparations and improvement. The façade was light yellow with unusual large windows and balconies, which were rather untypical architectural traits in the Green-Valley by that time. The mansion had twenty rooms (eight for the family and twelve for guests) and more ten rooms for the servants, a huge living room perfect to host fancy events like balls, an equally huge dining room with a delightful view on the gardens, and a cozy kitchen with three stoves, always filled with fresh smelly food and decorated with all kinds of copper utensils. In an annex, there was a gymnasium for the boys to practice fencing and the girls to learn dancing. The count also built music chambers and a small auditorium, where the children had music lessons and performed concerts for the family and guests. The property outside was big enough to hunt and plant innumerable types of flowers, trees and vegetables.

Although the count was very generous, he had a rather conservative mind. In contrast, the countess had a rebel spirit at heart and pushed him to take more unconventional approaches. Lionel of Bartak was a strong man with a disproportionate big belly. Despite his increasing baldness, he still had some red curly hair. By then, the count was around fifty-five and the countess forty-three years old. Anna, the countess, had dark brown hair, light green eyes, a bright skin with few wrinkles and a slim figure. She enjoyed horse riding, hunting and blamed her husband for not letting her learn fencing. Whenever they hosted guests or an event, she handled everything with charm and good humor.

They had six children, three girls and three boys that survived, and five that died at a very young age, which unfortunately was quite common in the past. The girls were Cecily, who was seventeen, Lilith, who was sixteen, and Claude, who was fourteen. Whereas Cecily and Claude were similar to their mother, Lilith was slightly stronger and red haired like the father. The boys were Anthony, who was twelve and nicknamed Tony, Benjamin, who was nine and nicknamed Ben, and Thomas, who was seven and nicknamed Tom. Tony was stronger, like his father, but shier. At first, he was afraid of fencing and had several teachers before Charles started to teach him when the boy was nine. Eventually, Charles helped him to relax a bit and gain more self-confidence, but he was still quite insecure. Ben and Tom were naughtier and more rebellious, like their mother. They loved to tease and prank their two eldest sisters, who were often primer than the countess.

Charles arrived in a hurry and left Carrot in the barn with Samuel, the servant in charge of the animals. Samuel usually welcomed him with tender eyes and an honest smile concealed by his bushy gray mustache. Since he came with the count from their native kingdom, he was still afraid to speak the language of the Green-Valley kingdom, which was the same of the Emerald kingdom, but with some variations.

Then Charles ran to the front door. Michael, the butler, opened it immediately. Michael was a thin and tall blond man with sideburns. Behind the stern appearance, he was kind and very honest.

'Good morning, Mr. Duval', greeted the butler.

'Good morning, Michael', greeted Charles, 'May I compliment the count and the countess?'

'Not now, I am afraid... They have an appointment with a friend', replied Michael.

'All right. I'll meet them at lunchtime, then', answered Charles while taking off his cape and giving it to Michael, who put it on the cloakroom.

'Master Anthony is ready', added Michael.

Charles smiled and moved towards the corridor, where he found Myriam, one of the three maids in charge of cleaning. She was robust and had her blond curly hair tied with a chiffon. Like all the maids there, she wore a navy-blue dirndl dress, a white blouse with long sleeves and a yellow apron.

'Good morning, Myriam', greeted Charles, while walking carefully to avoid stepping into the wet floor.

'Good morning, Andrew. Don't worry about that', she smiled, 'You must go to the kitchen first. Gertrude has something for you.'

'She is very sweet, but I'm in a hurry. I was planning to meet her after the first lesson...', confessed Charles.

'She will be upset...', warned Myriam.

'All right', consented Charles.

Charles walked quickly to the kitchen and greeted Gertrude, the old cook. Since he started the fencing instructions, she instantly connected with him, insisting that the charming young man reminded her of her son who had died in the battlefield. He usually greeted her every morning before his first lesson and showered her with small gifts. When Charles entered the kitchen that morning, Gertrude was checking on a list and organizing the bottles of spices. She was small and chubby with light gray hair tied and wore a brown dress with a white apron. Once the cook noticed him, she grabbed an apple and put it on Charles' right hand.

'I know you barely sleep. You must be well fed', smiled Gertrude.

'Oh... Thank you', laughed Charles.

'Now go on', smiled Gertrude.

'I'll drop by later', said Charles.

'Came after lunch. I am very busy today. We'll have an important guest. A duke, I believe', informed Gertrude.

'If you need assistance, let me know', Charles smiled, 'I've already prepared lunch for an important duke'.

'Oh really...?', frowned Gertrude, 'How did you handle it?'

'He ate what he deserved', smiled Charles.

'So, you poisoned the man', inferred Gertrude, making Charles laugh.

'No, I didn't, but I guess poison tastes better than that soup'.

Gertrude laughed.

'I really must go now, dear Gertrude. See you later', said Charles.

'See you later, darling', smiled the old cook.

While Charles was leaving, Gertrude's assistants, Alice and Edith, came in. They were both slim and small, but slightly taller than Gertrude, and were carrying baskets of fresh potatoes, onions, carrots and strawberries. Alice had her long brown hair tied in a braid. Her blue eyes stood out from her oval shaped face filled with freckles. Edith had a round face and light brown eyes. Her dark brown hair was tied with a white chiffon.

'Good morning, Alice. Good morning, Edith', compliment Charles.

'Good morning, Andrew', they replied, blushing.

'Do you need any help?', he asked.

'Oh... no, thank you', smiled Edith with her eyes closed.

Charles smiled and left.

While putting the vegetables on the kitchen table, the two girls, who had partly listened to the conversation between Gertrude and the fencing instructor, were giggling.

'I didn't mind if Andrew became our assistant...', muttered Alice.

'Me neither', agreed Edith.

They both smiled and Gertrude frowned.

'Decency, girls... decency…', scolded Gertrude.

They blushed, looked at each other and smiled before starting to peel the potatoes.

When Charles arrived at the gymnasium it was starting to rain. His eldest pupil, Tony, took shelter at the entrance and Charles ran to him.

'Good morning, Andrew!', greeted Tony.

'Good morning, Tony!', greeted Charles, 'Sorry I'm late.'

'Don't worry. I've just arrived as well, and the gymnasium isn't ready, anyway'.

Watching Tony shivering, Charles decided to wait inside and opened the door.

'Good morning', echoed Charles' vigorous voice through the large pavilion.

'Good morning, Andrew!', greeted Albert, an eight-year-old boy servant, while carrying a table with the assistance of a black servant that Charles hadn't met yet.

'Good morning...', replied the other servant with a shy voice.

Albert, the son of Myriam and her late husband, was thin and had slightly curled blond hair. Amo was a tall and strong young man. He should be about Charles' age and had a charming smile.

'Sorry the gym isn't ready in time', apologized Albert.

'You'll finish faster, if we help you. But first I would like you to introduce your new colleague', asked Charles.

'Andrew, this is Amo, the new servant. He does a bit of everything. Amo, this is Andrew, the fencing teacher I told you about', introduced Albert.

'It's a pleasure to meet you, Amo', Charles bowed.

Amo widened his eyes and bowed in return with great reverence.

'It is a pleasure to meet you, sir', said Amo.

Tony was quite puzzled with the scene. Then Charles started to carry tables and chairs and Tony followed his example. When they finished, Charles approached a tall cabinet and took a key from its highest drawer. Then he opened the sword cabinet. There were four wooden swords for the younger boys' lessons, and fifteen swords for adults (five foils, five epées and five sabres). Nine of them had a soft small ball on the tip, in order to prevent injuries during lessons and the competition. Charles left its private sword on the cabinet, took a sword for Tony and another for him.

As Tony grabbed his sword, he sighed nervously, reminding himself that the competition was less than a week away.

'We'll start, then', said Charles while raising his sword, 'Thank you, Albert and Amo'.

Albert approached Charles and tried to say something, but he hesitated.

'What is it?', wondered Charles.

'Well... since we finished this sooner... could we...'

'Go on...', insisted Charles.

'May we attend...? I would love to watch a more advanced level', asked Albert with his eyes closed.

'It's up to Anthony', replied Charles looking at his pupil, 'What do you say?'

'Eh...', hesitated Tony.

'In fact, it would be good to have public these days and they could help us as referees, but I want you to feel at ease', said Charles.

'All right. You can stay', smiled Tony.

Albert grinned and looked at Amo, who was quite surprised.

'Albert, since you're staying, could you be the referee?', asked Charles, 'You know the rules...'.

'Yes, sure!', smiled Albert, while sitting in a chair.

'Don't forget about the type of sword', reminded Charles, 'This one is...'

'The epée!', promptly replied Albert.


'The whole body with the tip of the sword counts', explained Albert.

'Very well', smiled Charles, 'So, Tony... Get ready'.

On that precise moment, the count's youngest children, Ben and Tom entered the gym and ran to Charles. Ben had dark brown straight hair, whereas Tom had a slightly curly hair and a lighter tone of brown. Ben was wearing a white shirt with lilac culottes, brown shoes and carrying a big book. Tom wore a yellow shirt, and blue culottes.

'What is it, boys?', asked Charles while they panted.

Tom threw himself at Charles' feet and looked at him with puppy eyes.

'Andrew, please, let us stay here!', they begged.

Charles put his sword on the floor and crossed his arms.

'Are you skipping your lessons again?'

'The music teacher beats me with the violin bow!', complained Tom.

'He beats you?', asked Charles.

'Yes! Look', Tom stood up and showed Charles a mark on his left hand.

'Do your parents know about this?', asked Charles while looking at the mark.

'Father tells the tutors to beat us whenever it is necessary', explained Tony.

Charles looked pensive at Tom for a while and approached Ben.

'And what about you, Ben... Which lesson are you skipping?', inquired Charles.

'I'm not skipping anything', smiled Ben with his eyes closed, 'I even brought this book to study here'.

'Hm... May I take a look?', asked Charles.

'Eh... sure... well...', hesitated the boy.

'For which discipline do you study the history of the samurai?', frowned Charles while flipping through the book.

'History', replied Ben after careful thought.

'How interesting!', exclaimed Charles while frowning, 'History lessons are more open to Asian culture these days...'.

'All right, all right... I give up! The Latin tutor pinches me when I fail the declensions', admitted Ben while kneeling, 'Please, Andrew, let me stay here, too'.

'I don't mind, Andrew...', accepted Tony.

'All right, then. But you cannot continue to skip lessons like that', reprimanded Charles while returning Ben's book.

'Yay!', jumped the boys.

Then they joined Albert and started to chat.

'Shhh... If you stay, you must pay attention', shushed the teacher, 'You'll assist Albert as referees'.

'Yes, captain Andrew!', exclaimed Tom.

Charles smiled. He and Tony were getting ready to start, when Ben interrupted.

'Andrew..., just a small question…'

'Yes, Ben...', sighed Charles.

'When will you teach us to cut our enemies in half?', wondered Ben while looking at the book.

Charles almost burst into laughter, but composed himself and frowned, while the boys eagerly waited for his answer.

'One more silly question, and you go straight back to the Latin lesson', warned Charles.

'No! Mercy! I'll be good, Andrew! Please...', begged the boy kneeling on the floor.

'So, be quiet', snarled Charles while getting in position.

Tony and Charles were ready to start, when someone else knocked on the door once more. Ben and Tom quickly hid themselves behind two large clay pots with plants, leaving the Samurai book in the floor.

'Albert, could you open, please?', asked Charles, 'Say we're practicing for the competition and we don't want to be disturbed.'

Albert ran to the door and opened it. There were four girls (the counts daughters and a gorgeous noble girl). Before Albert could say something, the eldest sister, Cecily, entered the gym. She was wearing a cider orange dress, a pearl neckless and earrings. Like Tom, she had light brown hair. Cecily, seventeen and already engaged, was followed by Lilith, sixteen, a strong read haired wearing a basil green dress, and Claude, fourteen, who had dark hair and was wearing a lilac dress. Cecily had her hair tied in a golden chiffon, while Lilith and Claude had ponytails. Next to Lilith there was her friend Charlotte, the daughter of a marquis. She was fifteen, blond and wearing a light blue dress.

'Good morning, Andrew!', greeted the three sisters.

'Good morning, ladies', greeted Charles.

'We would love to support our dear brother these days. May we attend?', asked Cecily.

'May my friend Charlotte attend as well?', asked Lilith.

'Good morning, sir', bowed Charlotte while gazing seductively at Charles.

'Good morning, miss', bowed Charles, 'Cecily and Lilith, it's up to your brother to decide...'

'Well... they're not here for me...', muttered Tony.

'What did you say?', smiled Charles.

'Never mind!', smiled Tony with his eyes closed, then he sighed and accepted the extra audience.

In the meantime, Claude noticed the book about the Samurai on the floor. She smiled and took it with her. When the girls were about to sit down, Cecily realized that Amo was also attending.

'Shouldn't you be working?', frowned Cecily.

Amo looked down and stood up, whereas Albert widened his eyes and looked at Charles. While Lilith supported Cecily, Claude looked disapprovingly at her sisters. In the meantime, Charlotte was composing her dress and straightening her long hair partly tied in a braid. Charles frowned at Cecily and Lilith, but calmed down and tried to be diplomatic.

'Albert and Amo finished their work sooner and are assisting us as referees', explained Charles.

'Oh, well... If you say so, Andrew...', smiled Cecily, while sating down.

'By the way, shouldn't you meet with your fiancé this morning?', whispered Claude in Cecily's ear.

Cecily frowned and shushed her sister.

When Tony was ready, Charles looked at Albert.

'En garde!', shouted the little boy!

On the first three attempts, Tony and Charles attacked at the same time, without scoring any points. Then Charles attacked first, forcing Tony to practice his retreat and to defend himself.

'It's so hot in here... Don't you think?', smiled Charlotte while taking a fan from her dress.

Cecily and Lilith agreed. The three girls sighed and frenetically waved their fans. Claude bit her lips to restrain laughter and rolled her eyes. She was actually interested in fencing, watching every movement with deep attention.

'Touché!', reported Albert.

'Last week you did it so well... Come on, don't think about the competition. Just enjoy it,' encouraged Charles.

Tony looked down for a while, then he raised his chin, prepared to fight.

'Now you will attack me first. I won't wait for you. It's vital to affirm yourself before your opponent, warned Charles.

Tony nodded yes and they started after Albert shouted 'En garde!'

On the first four attempts, Tony wasn't able to attack before Charles, but he eventually managed to do it three times. Then he was even able to touch the instructor, but Charles kept on wining most of the time.

They were training for an hour, with some progress, when the countess knocked and entered the gym.

'Good morning, everyone', she greeted with a charming voice as she moved across the pavilion.

Everyone stood up, and Charles bowed before her.

'Good morning, Madam', greeted he.

'Good morning, Andrew', she smiled, 'How are the lessons going?'

'Normally, considering the nervousness due to the competition', replied Charles.

'Of course', agreed the countess while caressing her son's head, 'It's perfectly normal to be nervous, but try to relax, my dear.'

'Yes, mother, I know...', smiled Tony.

She smiled and turned to the girls.

'Well, my dears, today we have an important guest at lunch', announced the countess.

'Who is he, or she?', asked Lilith.

'The count of Bladenburg', confirmed the mother.

Charles widened his eyes, while Cecily, Lilith and Charlotte seemed quite excited.

'Andrew, my dear, I'll kindly ask you to let Tony go now, so that he can change his clothes before lunch', asked the countess.

'Oh, of course…', consented Charles, 'We'll have extra training today and throughout the week, anyway'.

'Very well. Please, take note of those extra hours', reminded the countess.

'There's no need to...', declined Charles.

'Of course there is', insisted the countess, 'We'll talk about that later. Now I have to find my two little devils. See you at lunch.'

'I assume the tutors and instructors will lunch with the staff today, since you are having the duke', supposed Charles.

'Why? You always join us, even when we have guests. It is the tradition in this house. See you in 40 minutes', smiled the countess.

'Yes, Madam...', smiled Charles.

When the countess, Tony and the girls were leaving, Charlotte approached Charles.

'My brother is now old enough to start fencing lessons, and I was wondering if you were available', asked the girl with an enticing gaze, while Lilith was right behind her frowning with her face all red.

'I would be extremely honored. However, I am very busy right now, and I work exclusively for the count of Bartak', replied Charles.

'Oh, what a pity...', regretted the young girl.

'Indeed...', Charles thought to himself, conflicted, then he smiled and put his right hand behind his head, 'I'm sorry. There is nothing I can do about it'.

'I understand', she smiled while making a bow and he bowed in return.

As the group moved away, Charles closed the door. He put his instruction sword back in the cabinet and closed it with the key. When he was approaching Albert and Amo, they heard a strong sneeze and laughed.

'The room is clear', assured Charles.

Tom and Ben left their hiding place. Ben stretched his legs and Tom sneezed once again.

'I just had an idea! What if Amo and I hide master Ben and master Tom in the garden cart and leave them in the mansion?', suggested Albert.

'Great!', exclaimed Ben.

'It seems a good idea', agreed Charles, 'You must be quickly, so that no one sees you'.

'Yes!', exclaimed the three boys.

Charles smiled tenderly, while Albert and Amo left to bring the cart to carry the two brothers.

'Where is my book?', wondered Ben looking around in the floor and the chairs.

'Claude took it with her', informed Charles.

'Oh no...', Ben slid to the ground.

Albert and Amo managed to help the young brothers in the tricky mission. In the meantime, Charles remained in the gym reading the book he had brought. A few minutes later, Mark, the old gardener, kindly asked him if he had seen the cart.

'Why? Why am I always forced to lie?', Charles asked to himself.

He was about to answer, when Albert and Amo appeared with the cart.

'Hello, Mark! I found it when I was walking by near the kitchen', told Albert.

'Near the kitchen? How strange... Well, time takes its toll...', sighed Mark while taking the cart, 'Thank you, Albert. I'll need your assistance after lunch, Amo.'

'Yes, sir', nodded Amo.

After the gardener left, Albert and Amo checked if everything from the charity event that occurred in the gym was alright. Charles insisted in helping them while he was waiting for lunch. Once he started to multiply the tables and the chairs, they dispatched the work much faster.

'How do you do it?', inquired Albert.

'It's a special way of counting', replied Charles.

'Still, I don't want to learn math and to read', Albert crossed his arms, 'I see how master Tom and master Ben suffer with that. I'm glad I just have fencing lessons with you'.

'Sooner or later you'll understand the importance of study', smiled Charles, 'I also didn't care too much, when I was a little boy'.

'I'm not a little boy...', growled Albert, making Charles and Amo laugh.

'Let's sit down for a while', suggested Charles while he sat on the floor, 'Amo, I would like to know your story. How did you arrive in the Green-Valley?'

'Yes, you didn't tell me either!', exclaimed Albert.

'Well, I...', hesitated Amo, 'I was born in Africa'.

'In which zone of Africa?', asked Charles.

'West. When I was a child, I saw many people going away in the boats to the New World... men, women, children... almost entire villages... They never came back. When I was master Tony age, they caught me, but I ran away'.

'Why? I would love to go to the New World! Imagine the adventures...', wondered the boy with shining eyes.

'It isn't that funny for Amo and his countrymen', countered Charles.

Amo looked down and Albert was quite surprised.

'Why?', asked Albert.

'Well, even for you, and for the most of us, the voyage is very tough. When you spend too much time in the sea, the food gets damaged and you are more likely to get all sorts of diseases. Many sailors die before they reach the destination', explained Charles, 'For Amo and his African countrymen is much worse. They are sold as slaves, shackled and packed in the ships in inhuman conditions. Those who survive, are then exploited overseas by ruthless masters.'

Amo widened his eyes as Charles talked.

'Oh... that's awful...', Albert processed for a while, 'How do you know those things, Andrew?'

'I know that, because I think slavery is cruel and should be abolished, replied Charles.

Amo smiled.

'I didn't know slavery existed', Albert rubbed his chin.

'Make an effort. It exists a long time ago and has assumed many shapes. For instance, when the priest tells the story of Moses, that's a story about slavery'.

'Oh, yes, now that you say so...', acknowledged Albert, 'That's the story of the Jews and the Pharaoh!'

'Exactly. But we're interrupting Amo. I'm sorry, Amo. Please, go on', smiled Charles.

'Yes, tell us more', encouraged Albert.

'Well... I ran away my home village. But every time I was settling down, there came the slave traders and the ships. I escaped, and escaped, and escaped for years. I crossed the desert and I met people that showed me a map for the first time. Then I decided to swim to Europe'.

'Wow!', exclaimed Albert.

'There is a straight in Southern Europe where the distance between the two continents is very small', Charles explained to Albert and turned to Amo, 'Anyway, it was very brave of you to do that'.

Amo smiled.

'What happened when you arrived in Europe?', inquired Charles.

'I realized we were slaves here too', answered Amo.

'Indeed', said Charles.

'I lived in a community of slaves in Southern Europe. Priests taught us to speak and read in their language and told us the story of Christ. When we finished the lessons, they put us on a boat to the New World. I almost sailed this time, but I managed to escape. I missed being with my people, but every time I met African friends, we were caught and sold to a master. We worked the land and the master whipped us. I could not...'

'Bear...? stand...?', helped Charles.

'I could not bear the whip. So, I decided to escape and live in the forest. I hunt and eat what I needed to survive. I walked with no direction. It became cold. I covered myself with the fur of a bear and I saw snow for the first time. One day, an old man noticed me. He was very kind, gave me food and shelter. He knew the language I learned in the south and taught me your language. In return, I helped him to carry food and chop wood. Then he got sick. I took care of him, but he died. After that some people arrived and found me there. They asked me some questions and they sold me to the count', finished Amo.

'What a story!', exclaimed Albert.

Charles looked down absorptive for a while.

'Tell me, is Amo your real name?', inquired Charles.

'In Africa, my name was Malik', answered Amo.

'Would you prefer to be called Malik or Amo?', asked Charles.

'First, I preferred Malik. Now I like Amo, too', smiled Amo with his eyes closed.

'I understand... but would you mind if I call you Malik?', asked Charles.

'I would be glad', smiled Amo, 'Do you have another name, too?', asked Amo.

Charles smiled. He was about to answer, when Myriam entered the gym. Albert ran to the door and hugged her.

'Mother, Amo just told us his amazing story!'

Myriam looked at Amo and smiled.

'Oh, really? You'll have to tell me later', said Myriam, 'Andrew, the lunch is about to be served', reminded she.

'Oh! I almost forgot!', exclaimed Charles while standing up in a hurry, 'Thank you, Myriam! See you later, Albert and Malik!'

The dining room had large windows facing a relaxing view over the garden. That area was filled with Camelias, which successfully bloomed there despite the cold weather thanks to Mark's patient work. Approximately 100 feet away, there stood a small greenhouse.

They were fourteen at the table. The count and the countess sat at the headboards. One side, with the windows on their back, was occupied with the six children and Charlotte. On the other side, facing the windows, sat Charles, the music teacher, the duke of Bladenburg, the Humanities tutor and the Math and Science tutor. The duke was very pleased to be among the tutors, praised Snow White's school project and was particularly nice to Charles.

'It's wonderful that you already know each other', smiled the countess.

'Indeed', agreed the count after tasting a spoon of soup.

Charles forced a smile, whilst the duke kept on talking. In the meantime, Alice and Edith were pouring water and wine in the glasses. When Charles thanked them, Edith trembled and almost spilled water in the towel.

'I find you very quiet today, Andrew', remarked the count noticing Charles' absorptive state throughout the lunch, 'Is everything alright?'

'Oh, I'm perfectly fine, thank you, sir', replied Charles with a smile, 'And Gertrude's cooking is delicious, as always'.

'He must be tired lately, darling', supposed the countess smiling, 'Andrew had a baby two months ago'.

'Maybe you should consider hiring a milk nanny. It might help', suggested the count.

Charles widened his eyes. That was the last thing he wanted Bladenburg to know. The duke stopped eating. Suddenly his expression became blue. Then he cleaned a corner of his mouth and turned to Charles.

'Congratulations, Mr. Duval!'

'Thank you', replied Charles.

'I hope your wife and the child are well', wished the duke.

'They're doing fine, thank you', assured Charles.

'So that is why your wife hasn't strolled in the village lately...', said the duke.

'Stalker...', Charles growled to himself.

'She is a very charming and delicate lady', said the duke with a dreamy look.

'Indeed', said Charles with a forced smile, 'Could he be more discreet...?', he thought to himself.

'We would love to have her here', smiled the countess.

Charles smiled. Cecily wrinkled her nose, Charlotte frowned, and Lilith violently cut her piece of steak.

'My son Frederic often talks about Daniel, as well. They seem to get along in the school', added the duke.

'Yes, they do', agreed Charles before drinking a sip of wine.

'By the way, how were the lessons today?', asked the count.

Ben and Tom widened their eyes and focused on their dishes.

'Everything is alright. I'm nervous about the competition, but I'll try my best', smiled Tony, 'Today the girls attended my training in the morning'.

'Oh, really? Did you enjoy it, my dears?', asked the count.

'Oh, we sure did, Papa', replied Cecily with her eyes closed, whilst Lilith and Charlotte giggled.

'How I would love to learn fencing...', sighed Claude, 'I envy Tony so much'.

'You'll learn fencing, when I learn to do embroidery, my dear', laughed the count.

Bladenburg, the music teacher, the humanities tutor and the math tutor joined the count, whilst the countess frowned and contemplated the garden for a while. Claude looked down. When she was tasting a piece of potato cream, Charles smiled at her and she smiled in return.

'I suppose you're participating in the competition this time, Duval', said the duke, while composing himself after laughing.

'Not this time', replied Charles.

'But you should one day', insisted the duke, 'Everyone else in this kingdom is curious to watch you fencing'.

'Oh, really?', asked Charles.

'One day I would like to amicably challenge you for a duel', proposed Bladenburg.

'I would be honored, duke. In fact, I would gladly accept that challenge this afternoon, should you be available', proposed Charles with a witty smile.

Bladenburg was taken by surprise.

'I would gladly accept it. Unfortunately, I have an appointment this afternoon', replied the duke, 'We'll have to postpone it'.

'Please, let us know the time and place. We would love to watch it', smiled the countess.

Cecily, Lilith and Charlotte smiled with dreamy eyes.

'And how about the other lessons?', continued the count.

Ben and Tom, who were more relaxed, focused on their dishes again.

'Master Tony is making a huge progress in Math and Physics', smiled the Math tutor.

'I'm glad to know that', smiled the count.

The music teacher and the Humanities teacher looked at Ben and Tom.

'We are still studying some classic nouns and verbs. Master Ben has to know the declensions by heart before we start translations', answered the Language teacher after careful thought.

Ben sighed of relief and Charles smiled.

'Master Tom has to study the basic musical theory to read the score better. Furthermore, we have to practice more scales and the correct position of the fingers in the violin', informed the Music teacher.

Tom sighed of relief and almost spilled a glass of water. Charles was right in front of him and caught the glass in time. Tom smiled at him while drinking and Charles winked. As Alice and Edith started to serve the desserts, the count completely lost his initial interest in the children's lessons.

'Allow me to change the subject: I heard you were hosting a ball next month. Is that true, duke?', asked Lilith.

'Indeed', confirmed the duke, 'And you're all invited'.

When they started to talk about the ball, Jonathan, the music teacher, who was right next to Charles, turned to him. He was a pale and thin stern man with light brown hair tied in a lace.

'I was wondering if you could teach me fencing. Everyone seems so excited about it these days...', said Jonathan while looking at Tom and Ben with a hint of scorn.

'Of course', replied Charles, 'I'm very busy this week, due to the competition. Then Tony will pause in the summer and I'll continue Tom and Ben's lessons up to mid-July.'

'I was thinking in September... perhaps...', suggested Jonathan, 'I know how tired you must be with a baby. I also have children at home, and children at work... They can drive us mad'.

'In September would be perfect', replied Charles, after tasting a piece of cake.

'What sword should I buy first? Could you give me some advice?', asked Jonathan.

'There's no need to buy a sword. We'll start with the violin bow', replied Charles.

Jonathan widened his eyes.

'I beg your pardon?', laughed the teacher.

'After all, the bow is not that different from a sword. It could be a nice weapon, don't you think?', naughtily smiled Charles before drinking a sip of water.

Jonathan looked sideways and ate a piece of cake.

The conversation about the ball had by now dissolved into parallel conversations. The count was totally focused on his mixture of fruit, cake and chocolate, when the Language and Humanities tutor approached the count and the countess.

'I noticed there is a new "servant" in the house'.

Charles looked disapprovingly at the colleague on the other side of the table.

'Indeed. Amo arrived last Friday', confirmed the countess.

'It is quite a specimen', remarked the Math tutor.

'Oh, God...', Charles thought to himself.

'I was watching it and wondering whether they have a soul or not', told the Humanities teacher, 'You see...'

'That's enough!', Charles thought to himself, 'Think of a clever way to shut up that guy...', then he came up with an idea.

'I once read that some African tribes and natives of the New World believe that everything has a soul: humans, animals, vegetables, even stones and objects. We Europeans are a bit too selective when it comes to souls, don't you think?', provoked Charles, leaving everyone surprised.

'What an interesting perspective!', remarked the countess.

'Nevertheless, that is the reason why they are uncivilized', stated the Humanities teacher

'I agree', supported Bladenburg.

'You see...', started the Humanities teacher in a pompous tone.

Charles choked while drinking tea and coughed nonstop. Alice and Edith immediately assisted him, but he continued to cough to a point the count, the countess and the children were getting worried.

'Excuse me, sir... May I go outside?', asked Charles amid the cough.

'Of course, my friend!', allowed the count, 'Take care...'

Charles stood up and the children followed him with their heads as he left the room. The girls looked worried at each other.

'Father, can we go with Andrew?', asked Ben.

The count made a disapproving look and discreetly nodded no. Then the boys turned to the mother, who also declined with a subtle gesture. Watching them upset, she looked tenderly at Tom and Ben, and told them Andrew was going to be fine.

Charles went straight to the garden. Some servants, Michael, the butler, Myriam, Albert, Amo, Mark and Samuel were peacefully having lunch. Alice, Edith and Gertrude only had supper after everyone else. Charles took a deep, scented breath and smiled. He was glad he escaped with that simulation. Gertrude approached him with a glass of water and two tiny bags, one white and the other dark red.

'I heard you coughing... Take this, son', she offered.

'Thank you, dear Gertrude. I'm better now', declined Charles.

Then she put the bags in his left hand.

'Tiny chocolate sweets for Daniel, Frances, Mama and Papa. I did it myself', smiled the cook.

'That's so kind of you...', thanked Charles with the right hand behind his head, 'I think my wife will be mad at me, though... Daniel and Frances were getting addicted to sweets and she put a stop on it'.

'More for you and your wife, then!', giggled Gertrude, making Charles laugh.

The lunch finished at half past one. Charles and Tony waited an hour and trained until half past three. Then Charles took his own sword, bid farewell to everyone and galloped to pick up Daniel at school. Daniel, Peter and their closest friends, Marianne, Leonard and Lucy were all covered with mud and paint. Daniel ran to Charles and hugged him. Right next to Charles, there was Peter's mother, Judith, his older sister Ingrid, who was eleven, and his little sister Johanna, who was four.

'Hello, children! I see you had fun today!', greeted Charles.

'Hello, Daniel's father...', shyly greeted Lucy, who had an orange dress and brown straight hair adorned with a green ribbon.

'Andrew... Daniel's father name is Andrew', corrected Marianne, who had dark bulky hair with slight waves and was wearing a fuchsia dress.

'Hello, Andrew...', greeted the girls.

'Hello, Lucy and Marianne', greeted Charles.

'Today we painted...', said Leonard, who was slightly chubby and wearing a light-yellow shirt, dark green culottes and brown boots.

'And played the lions', roared Daniel.

'And the pirate island, too!', added Peter, who was very thin, and wearing a white shirt, orange culottes and brown shoes.

'We also wrote sentences about our family and read it aloud', said Marianne.

On that moment, a small blond boy appeared. He was Frederic, the duke of Bladenburg's son. He sadly watched parents arriving in their carriages and horses and sighed. Then he noticed Peter with his mother, Daniel with his father, Marianne running to her grandfather, Lucy meeting with her nanny, her mother, brothers and sisters, Leonard with his grandmother...

'See you tomorrow', said Frederic in a shy voice.

Leonard noticed Frederic, waved him goodbye and told the others.

'Goodbye, Frederic', they said together.

He smiled, but quickly got upset once a maid approached him.

'Oh, master Frederic... If the governess sees your clothes like this...', complained the maid.

'Why didn't Papa pick me instead?', asked Frederic.

'Your father is in an appointment right now', explained the maid.

'He is always busy... He never cares for me!', exploded Frederic, becoming the spotlight of the crowd.

'Please, master Frederic, be reasonable... Let's go in the carriage', calmed down the maid.

'I want to go with my Papa!', cried the boy.

The maid eventually managed to carry the boy on her lap, despite the screaming and the kicking. Charles looked down. Daniel looked at him and Charles smiled. Then Judith broke the ice.

'How are your wife and the baby girl?', asked Judith.

'They're doing fine, thank you, but Mimi is very difficult at night', replied Charles.

'Like my little Johanna. The first four were peaceful babies, but she was a true nightmare', told Judith.

'Hey!', protested Johanna while wrinkling her nose.

Charles laughed and Johanna hugged him. Unlike her brother and sister there, who were dark blond, she was red haired and had her face full of freckles. She used loose pig tails and wore a light green dress.

'When is Frances playing with me again?', she tenderly asked.

'Oh, yes! We would love to have Daniel and Frances in our modest house', reinforced Judith, whilst Daniel and Peter made huge smiles and begged at Charles' feet.

'Please, please'..., asked the three children.

'Well, the next weekend will be quite busy. Could we set up on the first weekend of July?', suggested Charles.

'That would be perfect', confirmed the mother.

'We will be on vacation!', exclaimed Peter.

'Awesome!', smiled Daniel with his eyes closed and the arms crossed behind his head.

Charles and Judith laughed, and the children laughed as well before they bid farewell. Then Charles and Daniel climbed on the horse, Charles took the reins and they left the crowded school.

They were near the lake, when Charles glanced a noble man riding in a shortcut. It was Bladenburg.

'Well... well... well...', said Charles.

'Who is he, Daddy?', asked Daniel.

'Frederic's father, I believe...', answered Charles.

'Why didn't he picked up Frederic?', asked Daniel.

'Because he was busy', answered Charles.

'You are busy, too, but you always pick me', countered Daniel.

Charles smiled.

'Let's follow him, Daddy! Maybe he is looking for the pirates' treasure...', wondered Daniel.

Charles looked tenderly at him.

'Sometimes it is dangerous to follow people, and it is not very polite, too', he explained.

Nevertheless, Daniel insisted on following the duke.

'Oh, come on... Carrot, let's go!', Daniel tried to take full control of the reigns, but Charles stopped him.

'Oh... Dad... We'll never discover the treasure this way...', complained Daniel.

'I have better plans...', Charles took the tiny bags from his pocket.

'What is it?', asked Daniel.

'Try to guess...'

'A tiny part of a small treasure', tried Daniel.

Charles laughed, 'What a tiny treasure!'

Daniel rubbed his chin, while examining the bags. Then he had a clue.

'Sweets! Are they sweets?', asked the little boy.

'Yes. Let's eat them by the lake!', suggested Charles.

'Yay!', exclaimed Daniel.

'We'll eat just two sweets. Not a word about this to mommy', warned Charles while putting the bags on his pocket.

'Yes, Daddy!', promised Daniel.

Charles rode to the lake. When they arrived at the spot where Richard met Snow White, they went down the horse and washed their hands in the lake. Then Carrot watched his reflection and drank.

Father and son sat down behind the shade of the large tree. Charles took a deep breath, watched the city, the blue castle, the forest and smiled. Daniel was impatiently looking at him.

'Can we swim too, Daddy?', asked Daniel.

'No, I'm very tired today'.

Charles opened the white bag, took one sweet in the shape of a star and gave it to Daniel, who ate it with his eyes closed. Then Charles opened the red bag and took a sweet in the shape of a heart.

'They're so good, Daddy!', exclaimed Daniel.

'Indeed', smiled Charles.

'More, please', asked Daniel.

Charles took another sweet from the white bag.

'This is the last one today', warned Charles.

'Alright, but can I take the white bag with me?', asked Daniel right after munching.

'No. I'll give sweets to Frances as well', replied Charles.

'Don't worry. I will give them to her', offered Daniel.

Charles laughed.

'I'm serious!', frowned Daniel.

'Yeah, right...', laughed Charles, while putting the bags back in his pocket.

Daniel crossed his arms and leaned on the back of the tree.

'You know... Once I was very busy, much more than Frederic's father…'


'I had many pupils…', invented Charles, 'Would you be upset if I didn't pick you up at school?', wondered Charles.

'No', promptly replied Daniel.

'Why?', smiled Charles.

'Because you play well', explained Daniel.

Charles laughed.

'It's true. Not everyone knows how to play', said Daniel in a serious tone.

'Indeed, indeed', agreed Charles, smiling.

'And you're funny, and good... Sometimes you're mean, too', added the boy.

'Parents must scold sometimes', explained Charles, 'When am I mean?'

'Every morning...', replied Daniel.

'That's because you sleep until the last minute', frowned Charles.

'Sleeping is so good...', smiled Daniel with his eyes closed.

'Indeed', sighed Charles.

Charles put his left arm around Daniel, who was getting sleepy, laid back and closed his eyes. Daniel opened his eyes after a while and managed to take the white bag from the father's pocket. Then he snuggled up and looked at Charles.

'I love you, Daddy...', he whispered and closed his eyes.

Suddenly, Daniel woke up. He took one sweet in the shape of a heart and smiled naughtily.

'Oh, honey... What took you so long?', asked Cinderella after kissing Daniel and Charles, 'I was so worried... Oh, Daniel, look at these stains...'

'We fell asleep by the lake', answered Daniel.

'You should be careful. What if a bear or someone attacks you...?', imagined Cinderella.

'Relax... It won't happen again', assured Charles, 'How's Mimi?

'She's fine. Now she's in the living room with Patch and Paulette. Frances is mad at me', told Cinderella while holding Daniel's hand and walking outside to the tank to wash his hands and to do something about the stains.

'Why? Where is she?', laughed Charles, while putting his cape in the cloakroom and the sword in a cabinet.

'She's upstairs, drawing. She says I can read what Daniel writes, but I can't read what she writes', smiled Cinderella.

Charles smiled. He washed his hands with Daniel and Cinderella in the tank and greeted Mimi, Paulette, and the animals in the living room. Then he climbed the stairs and entered the children's room. Frances, dressed in white and pink, was totally focused on her drawing and had her tongue partially outside.

'May I?', asked Charles.

'Daddy!', exclaimed Frances, while standing up.

She ran to the father, hugged him, held his hand and lead him to the desk. She had just finished a portrait of Mommy. Cinderella was dressed in yellow and carrying Mimi. The mother was giant compared to minuscule baby and had huge eyelashes. Her hands and feet were circles. In the background there was a wooden house, a sun with eyes, clouds and several hearts around Cinderella. Her dress was filled with flowers.

'Mommy will love this drawing', smiled Charles.

'Today I was mean to Mommy...', regretted the little girl.

'Why?', asked Charles.

'I wrote a story, but she read it wrong. She can read Daniel. Why can't she read my story?',

'Because you write in a very difficult language', answered Charles.

Frances was quite puzzled.

'People write in different languages across the world. There are many ways of writing, reading and speaking. So, you have to teach me and Mommy the language of your story first.'

'Grownups don't know to read everything?', asked Frances.

'No', smiled Charles.

'Oh...', processed Frances.

'Let's show Mommy the drawing', suggested Charles.

Frances nodded yes, took the drawing and they went down to the living room. The little girl held Cinderella's hand and showed the drawing. Cinderella watched it tenderly, pulled Frances against her and kissed her cheek.

'I'm sorry, Mommy. I'll teach you to read my story', said Frances, while hugging Cinderella.

'That's a wonderful idea', smiled Cinderella.

'We'll start tomorrow morning!', exclaimed Frances, making Cinderella sigh.

Then Frances run to Charles and Daniel, who were watching Mimi kicking and holding her small fabric doll. She was lying in a fabric crib near the big olive-green divan facing two small caramel armchairs. Behind the green divan there were one door and a window facing their garden. On the right, there were two windows facing the forest. On their left, there was the kitchen. On their back, there was the dining room, which was rarely used, because they usually had supper in the kitchen. The most part of the living room wooden floor was covered with a beige carpet. Cinderella was constantly upset about that carpet, which was easily stained by the children.

'We must change to a darker tone...', she was thinking, when she stumbled into Daniel's schoolbag.

'Daniel, you left the bedroom so untidy this morning... Clothes, books, pencils, the rubber all over the floor...', scolded Cinderella, while opening the schoolbag.

Daniel widened his eyes and ran to Cinderella.

'I'll be good tomorrow', promised Daniel while grabbing the schoolbag.

'Why are you so worried about the schoolbag?', wondered Cinderella.

'Hahahahaha! Worried? I'm not worried!', grinned the boy with the eyes closed.

'He's definitely hiding something...', Cinderella thought to herself.

On that moment, Charles put his hands on his pocket. The white sweets bag was missing. Cinderella put her hand on a small compartment and found the tiny white bag. Daniel tried to stop her, but Cinderella kept the bag.

'Let's see what's inside...'

She opened the bag and saw the chocolate sweets.

'Honey, please, don't be mad at him. Gertrude made these sweets for Daniel and Frances', explained Charles.

As she kept frowning, he took the red bag, 'She also made this bag just for you and me'.

'It was very kind of her, but... What have we agreed on?', reminded Cinderella.

'One month without sweets...', replied Charles with his hand behind his neck.

'You should have kept their bag', scolded Cinderella.

'I assure you, I did, but...'

In the meantime, Frances joined them. The children were now watching the bag with puppy eyes.

'Oh, I give up... But you'll spend two months without sweets after this'.

'The vacations without sweets...', Daniel put his hands on his head.

'Yes, only fruit', said Cinderella.

'Apples, like Daddy', giggled Frances.

'So, do we have a deal?', asked Cinderella, 'You must keep the promise this time'.

'Yes… Two months without sweets…', agreed the children.

Cinderella put half the sweets in a box and gave the white bag to Frances.

'I imagine that you already ate some, Daniel. Now it's Frances' turn'.

Frances giggled and took a heart shaped chocolate, while Daniel crossed his arms. Then she ran to the garden and he followed her. Cinderella sighed and Charles sat on the divan.

'Sit down and relax', he encouraged while stretching in the divan.

She frowned, he gently pulled her to his side, and she giggled. As she sat by his side, Charles put his left arm around her.

'Remember when you were so excited to eat sweets in that abandoned tower?', he recalled with a tender smile.

Cinderella smiled, but quickly changed her mood.

'Everything turned upside down, as usual. The sweets got lost in the well', she complained.

'Well... I don't regret it... I tasted something sweeter that day...', said Charles staring at Cinderella and making her blush.

They closed their eyes and were leaning to kiss, when Mimi started to cry. This time, it was easier to comfort her with the toys and the blanket. When they sat down again, Charles put Cinderella on his lap and took the red bag from his pocket.

'Oh, honey... I shouldn't eat them...', Cinderella pushed the bag away from her.

'Nonsense', Charles took a heart shaped chocolate, 'Let me give you'.

'No', declined Cinderella.

'Come on...', insisted Charles.

'You stubborn...', she giggled.

'You're my baby today...', he insisted.

'All right, then. Only two... or three', consented Cinderella.

'Five. This one is for you...'

Charles put the chocolate on her mouth, and she tasted it.

'Oh! They're so good...', she smiled with her eyes closed.

'I told you so', smiled Charles.

'Let me give you now', Cinderella took a chocolate a put it on Charles' mouth.

'Yummy', smiled Charles.

'They're all heart shaped', pointed out Cinderella while examining the bag, 'That's so sweet of Gertrude...'

'Daniel and Frances have hearts, stars, moons, circles and triangles. Now this one is for Mimi...', Charles put another chocolate on Cinderella's mouth.

Cinderella closed her eyes in bliss. On that moment, they began to listen to the children's voices.

'You have already eaten enough. Give me back', shouted Daniel's voice.

'No! Mommy gave it to me', replied Frances' voice.

'Always fighting...', nodded Cinderella with a chocolate on her hand.

'From whom have they inherited this?', wondered Charles.

'I have no idea...', replied Cinderella while putting a chocolate on Charles' mouth.

'You were supposed to eat just three or four, not the full bag!', explained Daniel's voice.

'No! The bag is mine', insisted Frances' voice.

Then Charles and Cinderella heard the sound of something falling.

'Why did you do that?', cried Frances.

'Oh, no...', cried Daniel.

'I really saw that coming...', Cinderella raised her hand to her forehead and Charles laughed.

'Maybe we could give them to Patch...', wondered Frances.

Cinderella widened her eyes, turned her head to the garden and raised her voice.

'Don't you even think about it! Chocolate is bad for the animals.'

'Just a tiny piece...', asked Daniel's voice.

'No!', firmly stated Cinderella, 'It can kill them'.

'Wow...', said Frances' voice.

'All right...', said Daniel's voice, then he remarked, 'The ants seem to enjoy it, though...'

Charles and Cinderella giggled.

'Children, it's bath time!', exclaimed Paulette's voice.

'Yay!', they exclaimed.

'Why do they enjoy bath time with Paulette? What is wrong with us?', wondered Charles.

'I have no idea...', Cinderella smiled with her eyes closed and put a chocolate in Charles' mouth, 'We still have a lot to learn with her...'

'But she never explains her tricks...', said Charles after swallowing the chocolate.

Cinderella giggled and checked if Mimi was alright. Then she returned to Charles's lap. He gave her another chocolate and she picked one for him. When she was placing it on Charles' mouth she leaned and looked deep in his eyes.

'You know what? Since we're talking of bath time... I would love to have a relaxing bath before dinner. Just you and I...', suggested Cinderella.

Charles swallowed the chocolate and widened his eyes.

'My tough day is getting better and better', smiled he.

'Why was it tough?', asked Cinderella.

'It was quite interesting, also. There's a new servant who told me his incredible life story.'

'What's his name?', smiled Cinderella.

'He was named 'Amo' by slave traders in Europe, but his original African name is Malik', explained Charles.

'Oh, he's a slave! the poor man...', lamented Cinderella.

'I don't think he is a slave...', countered Charles, 'He was always able to free himself'.

'Will they treat him with dignity?', wondered Cinderella.

'The count and the countess are decent people, like the majority of the servants, but slavery is still very consensual...', feared Charles.

'I bet you argued with someone about it...', guessed Cinderella.

'No. Well, yes... with the Language tutor. He was wondering if Malik had a soul', told Charles.

'Oh, God...', sighed Cinderella.

'I can't stand my colleagues! The music teacher beats Tom with the violin bow. The boy showed a deep mark in his hand. Now Tom and Ben skip their lessons and are always around me.'

'You cannot blame them', interrupted Cinderella smiling.

'But I must focus on Tony this week. He's so nervous, due to the competition...', said Charles.

'So, that's why you had a tough day... Don't worry, darling, everything will turn out just fine', encouraged Cinderella.

'Well... your friend Bladenburg also showed up today...', added Charles, 'The count invited him to lunch'.

'Oh, really...? Now I understand why you had such a tough day...', giggled Cinderella.

'He said he missed you terribly...', teased Charles, 'The man has desperately been looking for you all over the city.

'Nonsense', smiled Cinderella with her eyes closed.

'He said', Charles leaned towards her and spoke in a pretentious voice, 'Your wife is so charming, and delicate… I just want to kiss her over…', Charles kissed her hand, 'and over…', he kissed her forearm, 'and over…', he kissed her upper arm, 'and over again…', he kissed her neck, whilst Cinderella giggled unstop.

When the children finished their bath, they went down the stairs and ran to the living room, where they found the parents sleeping in the divan. Patch, Papy, Bingo and Chouchou were quietly watching on Mimi.

'Oh… poor Mommy and Daddy… they're so tired…', whispered Frances.

She took a blanket from an armchair and covered them.

Daniel approached Mimi's crib in tip toes and looked at her. She had her eyes opened and was holding a small white blanket.

'Mommy and Daddy are tired, because you're always crying…', whispered Daniel.

Paulette arrived at that moment and smiled. Then she approached the children.

'Mimi is too young to understand that, dear', whispered Paulette, 'She can't speak, so the only way for her to communicate is crying'.

The children listened with attention.

'Instead of blaming Mimi, you should try to help Mommy and Daddy as much as possible', advised Paulette.

Daniel and Frances nodded yes and kept watching the little sister.

On Tuesday morning, Tony had a thirteen-year-old friend as a fencing partner, so that Charles could referee the training. Usually Tony improved when he fought his friend, who had actually participated in the fencing competition the year before. Nevertheless, Tony was still very tense. After lunch, Charles taught Ben, Tom and Albert, who shifted as fencing partners and referees. At the end of the lesson, Ben read aloud a book about a castaway in a faraway island. Albert listened attentively and imagined all sorts of adventures in wild islands. Later, when Albert was carrying flowers in the garden cart, he noticed Charles was touching the ground with a wooden sword.

'Are these words, Andrew?', asked the boy as he approached.

'It's the alphabet', replied Charles.

'Oh…', Albert watched it closer.

'Someone who enjoys adventures so much as you do, must love reading, too', smiled Charles.

'But…', Albert looked puzzled at Charles.

'Would you like me to teach you to read and write?', asked Charles.

Albert jumped to Charles and hugged him tight. Charles smiled and hugged him in return.

On Wednesday, Tony also had his friend as a fencing partner and made consistent progress. Charles made clear that no one was asking him to win the competition. That was just a small part of the learning process. He should just enjoy the game. The more he enjoyed it, the more he would improve. Right after lunch, Charles had the time to teach Albert quick notions about the alphabet, letters and words. Amo attentively listened to the lesson. His occasional questions and remarks proved he was very intelligent.

Charles decided that Tony should rest on Friday, so they had extra training on Thursday. Since he was spending all day at work, Charles picked up Daniel and took him to the count Bartak's house. When Charles was on his way to school after lunch, he found his priest. The old man was sweating and panting, while carrying a heavy bag. Charles stopped Carrot and greeted the priest, who cheerfully saluted him.

'Let me help you, Father', volunteered Charles while getting off the horse.

'Oh, there's no need, my friend', declined the priest, 'You must be in a hurry'.

Charles insisted and the priest consented. He took the bag, which was filled with clothes for the poor, helped the priest to climb Carrot and continued by foot. When they were crossing the village, Charles was trying to address the priest, but he often vacillated.

'Is there something upsetting you, my son?', smiled the priest.

'Well… Father… I…', hesitated Charles.

'Go on…', encouraged the priest with his eyes closed.

'Do you ever feel revolted with the Church?', asked Charles.

'It is a complicated question', smiled the priest, 'Could you, please, elaborate on that?'

'I mean, the way Christianity consents and is complicit in atrocities in Africa, the New World…', specified Charles.

'I see… Whenever I feel revolt, I think to myself that those actions are done by imperfect and incoherent men. They never jeopardize my faith in Christ'.

'Indeed', agreed Charles, 'Yet it is incredible how such a good and progressive message can be perverted to this point'.

'That's why I always prefer a small chapel to a big cathedral', said the priest, making Charles smile, then he added after a while, 'I believe sooner or later the Church will condemn slavery'.

When they arrived at the church, the priest gratefully bowed several times and they bid farewell.

'I almost forgot, how are your wife and the little baby?', asked the priest.

'They are fine, thank you', smiled Charles, 'See you on Sunday, Father'.

'See you on Sunday', smiled the priest, 'God bless you and your family, my son'.

Then Charles picked up Daniel, brought him to work, and introduced him to the count and the countess.

'It is an honor to meet you, sir. It is an honor to meet you, Madam', bowed the boy.

'Welcome in our house, little Daniel', bowed the count.

'Welcome, dear Daniel', bowed the countess, 'You look so much like your father!'

'I think my father looks like me', countered Daniel, making everyone laugh.

Daniel thanked Gertrude the white sweet bag, and the cook spoiled him with caresses and delicious snacks. In addition, he told how Mommy was upset. She forbade him and Frances to eat sweets for the next two months. Despite that, he knew Mommy and Daddy were eating sweets behind their back. Myriam, Alice and Edith listened whilst they worked and couldn't stop giggling.

After a brief chat about the competition, Charles left the library and took Daniel to the garden, to introduce him to Tom, Ben, Albert and Malik.

'I'll start training now, and I don't want to be interrupted. Albert, Malik, would you, please, take care of Daniel?', asked Charles.

'Of course!', they promptly accepted, whilst Daniel was getting acquainted with Tom and Ben.

'I'll take care of Daniel, too!', offered Ben.

'Me too!', joined Tom.

'You are practically the same age, you silly...', mocked Ben, making everyone laugh.

When Charles was about to enter the gym, Daniel ran to him and pulled his hand.



Daniel asked Charles to bent down and whispered in his ear.

'Does Malik taste like chocolate?'


Daniel grinned with his eyes closed.

'Do you taste like chocolate?', muttered Charles.

'No...', replied Daniel.

'So does Malik', smiled Charles.

'I don't believe it...', smiled Daniel, 'Let me check!'

'DON'T YOU DARE...', warned Charles, 'If you bite or lick Malik, you'll spend one year without sweets'.

Daniel widened his eyes.

'Was that clear?', underscored Charles with serious eyes.

'Yes, Dad...', replied Daniel while walking slowly towards Albert, Ben and Tom.

After Charles entered the gymnasium, Cecily and Lilith tenderly watched Daniel, Albert and their brothers playing with the wooden swords under Amo's careful supervision.

'So cute...', smiled Cecily.

'It's like a mini Andrew...', sighed Lilith.

Then the wind blew strongly, and they grabbed their skirts, who almost lifted in the air. Whilst the sisters decided to go back inside, Ben came up with an idea. The boy put his sword on the ground, ran to the mansion and returned with a kite he threw in the air. The children ran after it laughing and screaming as the kite flew towards the trees. Tom tried to take control of the kite, but Ben declined. When the boys started pulling the kite, they lost it and it flew away. Luckily, the kite got stuck in the lowest branches of a tree. Daniel asked Amo to carry him piggyback and Daniel grabbed it. Albert, Ben and Tom were jumping, when Daniel hugged Amo's neck and kissed his cheek. Amo laughed, quite puzzled.

'Oh... so it is true... you don't taste like chocolate...', concluded the boy.

Amo laughed and put Daniel down.

'I'm grateful for that', smiled Amo.

'Why?', asked Daniel.

'The people who taste like chocolate are eat by little boys like you', invented Amo, 'Would you like to be eat by other people?'

'No... so... are we like the bogeyman?', wondered Daniel.

'Who is the bogeyman?', asked Amo.

'The bogeyman is...'

Charles and Tony left the gym for a pause. They found the children near a tree, playing with Amo. Then Claude and the countess also came by. Claude joined Tony and put her arm around her brother's shoulder, while Charles was tenderly watching the children.

'Amo seems to have a way with children', remarked the countess.

'He certainly has', agreed Charles.

'Just like you', smiled the countess.

'I practice at home', replied Charles.

The countess laughed.

'I noticed you are teaching Albert how to read', said Anna.

'I'm sorry. I should have asked your permission first', apologized Charles, 'I hope you and the count are not offended'.

'Please, Andrew, do not apologize. You have my total support', tranquilized Anna.

'Albert is very intelligent and curious. This week he was listening to Ben reading aloud with such enthusiasm...', told Charles.

'Indeed', agreed Anna, 'We should take care of his instruction'.

'Amo is also very intelligent and has an incredible story', added Charles.

'Yes', agreed Anna while looking down.

'He was sold to the count, wasn't he?', asked Charles.

'He was sold, in fact. But I would never allow chains and whips around here', firmly stated the countess, 'I told the servants Amo was just like them'.

Charles smiled and continued watching the children.

On Friday, Charles dropped Daniel at school and stayed at home with Cinderella, Frances and Mimi. Paulette was absent. Thanks to her magic tricks, she was able to travel to the Emerald kingdom and be back on the same day. She usually visited Cinderella's father once in a month, but Cinderella never told Charles about those quick visits.

In the morning, Charles chopped wood, carried water from the well and plucked vegetables from the garden, while Cinderella prepared lunch. Together with Frances, Charles fed the animals. Then he cleaned the living room and the bedrooms, forcing Frances to tidy her toys and take her color pencils and sheets of paper to the library, where the little girl continued drawing. Together with Cinderella, Charles hanged the clothes, which dried very fast in that hot day, changed Mimi's diaper and bathed the baby. Cinderella breastfed Mimi every three hours.

After lunch, Charles and Cinderella washed the dishes. Then they chatted in the living room with the children and the animals. Frances taught them the meaning of her scribblings and showed her drawings depicting the family and the animals. Then she played with her dolls in the children's bedroom and fell asleep. After snuggling up Frances, the couple went to their bedroom, put Mimi on the crib. During naptime, the parents could finally be intimate and have some sleep. When Charles woke up, he invited Frances to pick up Daniel with him. The little girl jumped with excitement but was slightly disappointed to go by carriage. She definitely preferred to horse ride with her father. Whilst waiting for Daniel and Peter, Frances played with Johanna. The four children were looking forward to playing together at Peter and Johanna's home.

When they arrived home, Charles bathed the children whilst Cinderella prepared the dinner. Mimi was in the living room crib under Patch, Papy, Bingo and Chouchou's supervision.

On Saturday morning, Charles woke up early. He took a bath, shaved and dressed a white shirt, a dark red vest, dark teal culottes and a dark teal blue jacket. He was tying a white scarf around the neck in front of the mirror, when he felt the hot atmosphere.

'I'm definitely going to melt in here...', imagined he, 'Poor participants...'

Cinderella and the children were already in the kitchen when he arrived. Cinderella was breastfeeding Mimi, while Daniel and Frances were eating milk with cereals and strawberries.

'Good morning, everyone', greeted Charles while taking an apple from a basket.

Then he kissed Daniel, Frances, Mimi and stared at Cinderella.

'So handsome...', praised Cinderella while staring at him.

Charles smiled and lengthily kissed her cheek.

'Why can't we go to the competition, Daddy?', asked Frances.

'It's too boring for children. You'll go when you're older', replied Charles, while sitting down.

'Oh…', muttered Daniel.

'Watching fencing all day can be boring even when you like it', insisted Charles, while pouring milk in his bowl.

'When is Tony's session?', asked Cinderella, while Charles spilled the cereal in the bowl with milk.

'At four, if there isn't a delay', answered Charles, before eating a spoon of cereal.

'I would love to go…', sighed Cinderella.

'It will be boring. And it's an awful day for the competition. Imagine fighting and watching in the crowd with this heat…', said Charles, 'Besides, without Paulette here, you cannot leave'.

'She's arriving in no time', assured Cinderella.

'We are abusing her kindness lately…', said Charles.

Cinderella nodded yes. Charles finished his breakfast quickly and stood up. He caressed the children's heads. Then he approached Cinderella.

'Good luck, darling', smiled Cinderella, while gazing at him and leaning to kiss.

The fencing competition took place in an outdoor amphitheater in the city. In the arena, there was most part of the audience. Like Charles expected, the hot weather was causing a lot of damage. The participants were desperately sweating – some of them even fainted – and the heat was almost unbearable. The middle part of the arena was occupied with peasants and merchants, whereas the upper part was occupied with aristocrats. At the center of the upper part, in a sort of improvised balcony in linen with the Green-Valley kingdom coat of arms, stood king Conrad, king Christel, Richard, Snow White and some servants.

The count of Bartak and his family occupied two rows in the lower part of the arena, reserved for participants and their family members only. The count and the countess also allowed Albert to attend and dressed him with fancy clothes. On one row, there was the countess, the count, Charles, Lilith, Cecily and Claude. Tony, Ben, Tom and Albert wanted to be next to Charles, but the girls won that fight, thus the boys sat on the row below closer to Charles. By the end of the morning, he couldn't stand the heat any longer and decided to take off his teal jacket, causing great excitement among Lilith and Cecily.

In the meantime, Paulette joined Cinderella and the children for lunch. No matter what, she always kept a joyful look on her face. She gave Cinderella a letter from her father. As she read it, Cinderella stood up and left the kitchen red with rage. Paulette lead Daniel and Frances to their bedroom and carried Mimi on her lap. Then she met Cinderella in the living room.

'It's disgusting, Paulette!', revolted Cinderella, 'They tried to kill us, and now they enshrine the glass slippers and the wedding dress…'

'You're absolutely right…', agreed Paulette.

Mimi started to cry, and Cinderella tried to control herself. She sat down in an armchair and breastfed the baby, whilst looking at the garden.

'I think you should go out for a while. Why don't you go to the fencing competition?', suggested Paulette.

Cinderella looked at her with shiny eyes.

'It came to my mind… to attend in between breastfeeding…', confessed Cinderella.

'Don't worry. I'll take care of everything', assured Paulette.

'You're an angel, Paulette!', praised Cinderella, 'How can we ever thank you?'

'Nonsense', smiled Paulette.

'Would you like to sail in the lake with us and Samson?', wondered Cinderella.

'Why do you ask me that?', frowned Paulette.

'He seems a nice fellow, don't you think…?', smiled Cinderella with her eyes closed.

'Well, yes…', replied Paulette, 'Go on, hurry up, dear'.

Cinderella giggled and kissed Mimi's head. After breastfeeding, Cinderella put Mimi on the crib and put on her green and white dress with a high waist she had used during Boss' birthday party at the dwarfs' cottage.

'You'll melt in that dress…', pointed out Paulette.

'You're right', admitted Cinderella, 'It's rather thick, but I like it so much… I did it myself…'

'I know', said Paulette while taking her magic wand from her pocket, 'But let's try something cooler…'

She replaced that dress for a gauze white dress with an emerald middle band, a queen Anne neck and transparent ¾ sleeves.

'Oh, it's beautiful!', exclaimed Cinderella while twirling in front of the mirror, 'Thank you so much, Paulette!'

Paulette smiled. Cinderella put on makeup and combed her hair. She tied her shortest hair with an emerald locket, put on a pearl necklace and earrings. Then she put on a pair of white ballerinas.

'You look gorgeous!', praised Paulette, 'Now, the carriage…'

'No, there's no need to', declined Cinderella, 'I miss horse riding so much…', then she reminded, 'By what time should I leave…'?

'The spell is over by six', smiled Paulette.

'I must be here earlier, to breastfeed, so it's perfect', smiled Cinderella after kissing Mimi.

Cinderella bid farewell to Daniel, Frances and the animals, who were speechless.

'Mommy, Mommy! You look like princess Cinderella!', exclaimed Frances.

Cinderella laughed and the animals widened their eyes.

'Should we go with you?', asked Bingo.

'Thank you, but I think you should stay with the children?', smiled Cinderella.

Then she climbed on Carrot and rode to the amphitheater. She arrived at a quarter past three, left the horse near the entrance, but two men barred her from entering.

'I thought it was free entrance', said Cinderella.

'It is, but ladies are not allowed', replied one man.

Cinderella couldn't believe that. From there, she took a glance at the audience and concluded that there were several women. In fact, she spotted Charles next to three women and frowned.

'In that case, could you please explain me why there are three women next to my husband?', refuted Cinderella.

'I apologize, Madam. My colleague was not clear. In fact, women can enter, if accompanied by their husbands or fathers', corrected the other man.

'But that's absurd!', protested Cinderella, 'Anyway, my husband is over there, with dark hair, white shirt and a red vest', pointed Cinderella.

By saying that, she gave ideas to other women who were barred from entering. They started to point to men in the audience and claim them as their husbands.

'I am sorry, ladies, but we cannot confirm it this way…', excused the receptionists afraid of the revolted women.

In the royal balcony, Snow White was starting to get bored and fed up with the heat. She regretted not being able to have Charles and Cinderella in their balcony, which would make everything funnier, but that would obviously raise many suspicions. Then some voices coming from the entrance captured the princess' attention.

'Richard, isn't she…?', asked Snow White.

'Cind… Susanna…, Yes, I think so', agreed Richard.

Snow White turned to queen Christel.

'Mother, could you please pass me the theater glasses?'

'Of course, dear', said the stepmother while passing the glasses to Richard and Snow White.

'Thank you', smiled Snow White just before putting on the glasses, 'Oh, yes, you were right… Why is she there? It seems they don't let her enter…'

'She cannot enter without Andrew, I suppose…', guessed Richard.

'Why so?', asked Snow White while staring at Richard.

'Because a woman is only allowed to watch the competition, if accompanied by her husband or father', explained Richard, 'I thought you knew that'.

'What? Oh, we definitely have to change that…', and she put on the glasses again, 'I'll go there…', said Snow White while standing up.

'Look, there's a man approaching…', reported Richard.

'Oh, yes… Richard, it's the duke of Bladenburg!', recognized Snow White.

'Children, could you be more discrete?', asked king Conrad.

'Yes, father, excuse us', apologized Snow White with her eyes closed.

'Are you sure it's Bladenburg…?', whispered Richard.

'Yes… and he's now talking to Susana, reported Snow White.

In the meantime, Charles was dying to undress the white scarf and the vest, but he was losing his patience with Cecily and Lilith.

'Screw that! I'm melting…', he thought to himself and took off the scarf and the vest.

'Do you want us to hold your clothes when you go to the front row to support Tony?', offered Lilith.

'No, thank you, Lilith', smiled Charles.

Then Charles glanced a group of people at the entrance. He spotted Cinderella in a beautiful white dress, among several women and two men. A noble man dressed in light green was talking to her. Then he recognized him. It was Bladenburg.

'What the hell is he doing there?', Charles growled to himself.

Then he turned to the count.

'Excuse me, sir, but my wife managed to come. I will pick her up at the reception and be right back'.

'Sure', smiled the count.

'I am glad she could come', smiled the countess.

In the meantime, Richard and Snow White kept watching the scene at the reception.

'All the women are now entering… Oh, Richard! Cha… Andrew has just arrived. He's by Susana's side and now he's talking to Bladenburg', reported Snow White.

'Oops…', said Richard.

They looked at each other and started to giggle.

When they fixed the situation, Charles and Cinderella walked through the audience until they reached their row. The boys, Claude, the count and the countess gave her a warm welcome, whereas Cecily and Lilith looked down their noses. The little boys were particular struck by Cinderella.

'You must be Tom', she guessed, making Tom blush, bashful.

'You must be Albert', she guessed, making Albert laugh.

'You nailed it!', exclaimed the boy.

'You must be Ben', she guessed, making Ben very full of himself.

'And you must be Tony', she finished, 'I wish you all the luck today'.

'Thank you', smiled Tony while blushing, then he turned to Charles, 'Andrew, could I have a word with you?'

'Of course', Charles stood up and they went down the arena.

Then, they sat down in a lateral part of the amphitheater, where some merchants were serving water and food.

'At this rate, I seriously doubt you'll start by half past four…', remarked Charles while looking at a large clock tower in the city.

'Indeed…', said Tony looking down.

'Don't forget to do the magic gesture', reminded Charles.

'Yes…', replied Tony.

The boy touched the tip of nose with the index finger and licked it, without showing great enthusiasm.

'Come on… cheer up, boy!', encouraged Charles.

'Andrew, I don't know… this is full of people… my parents… the king, the royal family…', blurted the boy, 'I just want to run away'.

'That's perfectly normal. Keep calm and take a deep breath…', encouraged Charles.

'You're such a great teacher and I'm but a looser…', cried the boy.

'Oh, come on…', Charles hugged him for a while, then he continued.

'Look, it's normal to feel like that. It's your first big test in your life and it has audience, but I don't want you to do a sacrifice for me. You should do this for yourself, because you enjoy fencing, don't you?', asked Charles.

'I do, but I don't need to show it like this', replied the boy, 'I know my father would be very disappointed if I gave up'.

'I doubt it... but it would be a pity to give up just before the final', admitted Charles, 'You passed all the previous proves'.

'The king wasn't watching…', said Tony.

Charles smiled. He bought a bag of sweets for Tony. Then they drank water and sat down in the ground. Cinderella showed up at that moment.

'I'm sorry to interrupt. May I join you?', she asked.

'Honey, I don't know if this is a good time…', doubted Charles.

'Yes, of course', accepted Tony, smiling, 'Would you like some sweets?'

'Oh, thank you very much… I've already eaten enough sweets this week', declined Cinderella with her eyes closed, while Charles giggled.

She sat down next to Charles and watched the ongoing competition.

'Are you feeling better?', asked Charles.

'A bit, but still… whenever I look at the royal balcony…', said Tony.

'I forbid you to look up', said Charles.

'You know, Tony, before Ch-Andrew and I got married, I met a circus acrobat who was very nervous to perform in front of the royal family. Then I asked Andrew to play the part of the prince and he did it so well that Mary lost all her fears. He taught her a magic gesture that kings and princes do before something important, and everything turned out right.

'Oh, hence the magic gesture!', grasped Tony, 'That's why you got married?', asked Tony, smiling.

Charles and Cinderella laughed.

'No, but it helped…', smiled Cinderella.

'Tony, an important lesson behind this story is: If the girl you like asks you to wear the most ridiculous clothes you've ever seen, never offer resistance and don't be afraid to look like a scarecrow', joked Charles, making Cinderella frown and Tony laugh.

'No, the important lesson behind is: Imagine that Andrew is king Conrad, who has been watching, teaching and caring for you all these years,' countered Cinderella, 'Maybe you would feel better with this thought'.

'Thank you', smiled Tony, 'This really helped'.

Charles and Cinderella looked at each other, smiling. He put his arm around her, and she leaned on his chest.

Tony overcame the heat and the anxiety and beat his opponent, becoming the winner of the first level of the competition. When he won, Charles and Cinderella jumped and hugged each other in the front row. In the royal balcony, Richard and Snow White instinctively did the same. At that moment, King Conrad cleared his throat.

'I'm sorry to curb your enthusiasm, but you should be neutral… and you can arise suspicions behaving like this…', whispered the monarch, 'When you deliver the medals, you must be extra cautions to avoid evident contact with Charles or Cinderella. All eyes will be on you.'

'Yes, father, you're right', admitted Snow White.

The king smiled and straightened up in his seat.

'Darling, don't you find Richard and Snow White more relaxed lately?', asked the queen, 'I wonder why…'

'I have no idea…', replied the king, before drinking water, 'Oh… I'm melting in this costume…'

Not far away from the royal balcony, on the right, stood Bladenburg. At that moment he was watching Charles and Cinderella tender gazes. When Cinderella caressed Charles' face and kissed his cheek, he took a sip of water and looked the other way.

Two weeks later, just before Charles' vacations, Philip of Bladenburg payed another visit to the count of Bartak. The duke was perusing the political section of the library when Charles entered.

'I am very pleased to see you!', greeted the duke.

Charles was so absorptive in his thoughts that he got scared with the sudden approach but composed himself.

'Good afternoon, sir', bowed Charles.

'You know, everyone at the Fencing Club is talking about your splendid work with Anthony of Bartak', reported the duke while examining a thick golden book spine.

'They're very kind', said Charles.

'They would like you to be a competitor or a member of the jury. You might be wasting a precious talent that everyone is eagerly waiting to watch', praised Philip.

'I'm very flattered, but I don't like to be on the spotlight', declined Charles.

The duke closed the book he was flickering through and moved to another shelve.

'Now I do recall you were once quite critical of the competition', evoked Philip.

'I don't remember that exactly…', avoided Charles.

'You decried it as too aristocratic', said Philip.

'Oh… Well, it is…', said Charles, 'It is conceived to block a great part of people, peasants, women, servants…'

'It is the tradition of the Club', justified Philip.

'Traditions were invented one day', countered Charles.

'I think it is a matter of honesty…', started Philip.

'Honesty? In what sense…?', asked Charles.

'Whenever a peasant or a servant try to conquer a special status, they are trying to pretend to be more than they are', explained Philip.

'It is not a matter of pretending, but of equal access to opportunities', corrected Charles.

Philip turned to Charles and looked him in the eyes.

'Let us agree to disagree', smiled Philip, 'In my opinion, a man, who pretends to be more than he is, is so reprehensible like a man, who pretends to be less than he is. Don't you think?'

Charles froze for a second. Then he tried to stay as serene as possible.

'It sounds interesting, when you put it that way', he smiled.

'A man who pretends to be more than he is is so reprehensible like a man who pretends to be less than he is. Don't you think?'

That sentence echoed nonstop in Charles' mind. He once dreamed he was in a library talking to Bladenburg, who was backwards, examining the shelves. When he turned around to say that sentence, he had Zaral's face and voice. Then he turned backwards again. When he turned a second time, he had Rudolph's face. Charles woke up with a start. Cinderella and Mimi were sleeping soundly. Now that Mimi was beginning to calm down a bit, he had insomnia and nightmares.

One Saturday afternoon, Charles was meditating in his office, whilst Cinderella, Daniel, Frances and their pets were playing with Mimi in the living room.

'Does he know it? Was my reaction revealing? Is it safe to stay here? What kind of freedom do I have, if I constantly have to hide my convictions? I wish I had Malik's courage to always look for a better place... Is there a better place? But Malik didn't have a family... No... we can't leave now. It was so hard to leave our family and friends, the crown, the kingdom behind and to settle here... It was so difficult to achieve all we have, this house, a job I like... The children have friends now, they love being here. Richard, Snow White, their children, Jack, Samson, the dwarfs treat us are like family... Maybe I'm overreacting. I cannot take a rash decision with significant prove. I'll ask for Richard's advice'.

Then he approached the window and looked at the garden.

'I've already missed the chance to change the world... I must conform myself. We must be as discrete as possible, and I must hide my causes and avoid any political discussion, as much as I hate to.'

He heard Cinderella and the children laughing and screaming with excitement and smiled. He grabbed the grip of his sword and thought to himself.

'Let's see what the future holds. I'll protect them no matter what...'

Daniel and Frances knocked on the door and Charles opened it. Cinderella, Mimi and the animals were right behind them.

'Daddy! Daddy!', exclaimed the children.

'What's all this fuss around?', wondered Charles.

'Mimi smiled and laughed for the first time!', exclaimed Daniel, while Frances jumped.

'Oh... I can't believe I missed that!', regretted Charles.

'You just have to stick out your tongue', explained Frances, whilst Cinderella giggled.

Charles and Cinderella looked deeply at each other, and she gently put Mimi in his arms. He smiled, baby talked and stuck out his tongue, making Mimi laugh. Charles beamed in bliss and kissed her head, as Mimi held the father's little finger.

Note: Amo's name was inspired by Anton Wilhelm Amo (c. 1703 - c. 1759), who was the first Afro-German philosopher and the first African to attend an European University. The real Amo was born in Ghana and offered as a gift to two german dukes when he was a child.

Chapter Text


'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.