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Cinderella Monogatari - The Sequel (season 3)

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An eleven-year-old girl was crying in her bedroom, the knees facing her head, whilst listening to her parents' fight. Her long dark and shiny hair with curly tips was covering her bent torso. As the parents' voices raised, someone brutally knocked on the door. She instantly stood up and approached the window. It was the royal police. She recognized their uniforms. The girl widened her eyes and went down the stairs.

Despite the servants' attempts to block the door, the police opened it with an axe.

'Bring us your master!', ordered the chief.

'But, sir..., please...', begged an old butler while the maid and the cook sobbed.

The chief sneered at him and ordered his assistants to bring the master. The girl was about to follow them, but the maid grabbed her and hugged her tight. After a noisy confrontation upstairs, the policemen brought the girl's father, who kept kicking while going down the stairs.

'You cannot silence us forever!', shouted the man.

The girl struggled with the maid and approached the father for brief moments. He smiled tenderly at her before the men chained his hands.

'What are you doing?', shouted the girl.

A man pushed her away and she quickly stood up.

'How can you treat a child like that?', protested the father.

'You cannot take my father!', she shouted while grabbing his arm.

'Mary, be strong. I'll be back. You'll see', encouraged the father.

'Please, don't take my Papa away!', begged Mary.

They pushed her away and Mary watched the father entering the carriage. The servants hugged her while Mary kicked and screamed. As the household led her inside, the chief of the royal police noticed an engraving in the hall. It was a portrait of king Charles. The man violently broke the frame and the glass and tore the picture in pieces.

'Nooo!', shouted Mary.

The man laughed, stepped the pieces and left. After watching the carriage moving away, Mary approached the remains of Charles' portrait. She bent down and tearfully began to put the pieces together. Her mother watched her petrified from the stair landing.

Cinderella was tenderly staring at Daniel while he slept. As he grew up, the young boy looked even more like Charles.

His real birthday had been ten days ago in late July, but Charles and Cinderella set his birthday ten days later in August since they left the Emerald kingdom. After reminiscing her eldest son's birth, she always thanked God for protecting him during the attack and their risky trip to the Green-Valley kingdom.

Daniel made a huge smile and Cinderella giggled, wondering what he could be dreaming. Then he turned to his right side and snuggled up. On that moment, Arthur yawned and rubbed his eyes. The toddler had caramel hair with golden reflections, a round face and dark blue shiny eyes. He was now two, almost three, and looked exactly like Cinderella when she was a small child.

'Mommy...', whispered Arthur.

'Good morning, my love!', Cinderella stood up, approached Arthur's bed and kissed his head.

The little boy closed his eyes and hugged Cinderella, who carried him in her arms. She returned to the chair near Daniel and put Arthur on her lap. Then he took a yellow marble from the pocket of his light teal pajama.

'Did you slept with it?', asked Cinderella.

'Someone might steal the treasure...', whispered Arthur in Cinderella's hear.

Cinderella giggled and watched the tiny marble in Arthur's hand.

'Do you think Daniel will like it?', asked the little boy.

'I'm sure he will', smiled Cinderella with her eyes closed.

Daniel smiled and turned to the other side of the bed.

'Wake up, Daniel...', whispered Arthur.

'No, let him sleep... It's his birthday...', whispered Cinderella.

On that moment, they heard steps in the corridor and a bang.

'Ouch!', exclaimed Mimi's voice.

'Watch out!', scolded Frances' voice.

The two girls silently opened the door of the boys' bedroom and grinned with her eyes closed. Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Pappy were right behind them. As they entered, Daniel started to open his eyes. Mimi was limping whilst Frances carried an extremely thin white package with a red lace. Mimi, an energetic little girl with rosy cheeks and big light blue eyes, was now five. She was wearing a pink pajama and tied her dark brown hair in two braids. Frances was nine. She let her blond hair with wavy tips out and wore a white pajama.

'Good morning, Mommy!', greeted the girls as they approached Arthur and Cinderella.

'Good morning, my dears', greeted Cinderella amid kisses, 'Mimi, what happened to your foot?'

'I hit my ankle around the corner...', explained Mimi.

'Like usual...', giggled Frances after kissing Arthur's cheek.

Mimi stuck out her tongue at Frances and Frances stuck out her tongue in return. Cinderella was shushing them when Daniel woke up and sat down in the bed.

'Couldn't you be quiet today?', complained Daniel while yawning.

'Happy birthday, Daniel!', exclaimed the four.

Cinderella hugged him tight and showered him with kisses while Daniel grinned with his eyes closed. Then the mother opened the curtains while Frances and Mimi kissed Daniel. The girls sat on Daniel's bed, Cinderella put Arthur on Daniel's lap and they started to open the presents.

Since Frances had told Arthur a story about the magic marbles of a pirate treasure, the little boy kept his three marbles with great care. Then he told Paulette and Samson that story and expressed the will to offer a golden marble to Daniel on his birthday. Paulette quickly provided a marble for Daniel and others for Arthur himself.

'You could start a collection!', suggested Frances while watching the yellow marble.

'Thanks, buddy', said Daniel while rubbing Arthur's hair.

'This is the most precious', explained Arthur very seriously.

'Why?', wondered Daniel.

'It helps to fight dragons!', exclaimed Arthur.

Cinderella, Daniel, Frances, Mimi and the animals laughed, whilst the little boy wrinkled his nose and crossed his arms.

'It is true!', insisted the boy while standing up in the bed.

Cinderella calmed him down and the toddler returned to her lap. Then Frances offered her present. It was a drawing of a bed with someone inside the blankets and a row of the letter 'z' inscribed.

'What's this?', Daniel glanced sideways at Frances.

'Your portrait in the morning', replied Frances with a huge smile, making Arthur, Mimi and Cinderella giggle.

'You...', Daniel squinted his eyes at Frances and threw a pillow at her.

The children laughed and screamed, as the pillow fight unfolded. Frances and Mimi took pillows from Arthur's bed and jumped to Daniel's bed. Patch wagged his tail, while Bingo and Chouchou also jumped in the bed. Cinderella always enjoyed watching them playing, but she was starting to feel worried about the bed.

'One day, you'll break the bed and hurt badly', she warned.

'No way!', Mimi jumped even higher, while Arthur, Daniel and Frances slowed down.

'Mimi, have you already offered your present?', reminded Cinderella.

'Oh, I forgot!'

Mimi jumped out of the bed and ran to her bedroom. Then she returned with a strange piece of cardboard and a rope and gave it to Daniel. It was a hook coming out of a cylinder painted in gray. Seeing Daniel puzzled, Mimi explained.

'It's a hook. Frances helped me drawing and cutting out', said the little girl.

Daniel was still puzzled.

'You attach it to your hand with this rope and you can play a pirate', explained Mimi while tying the rope to the cardboard, 'You're twelve, but you're dumb!'

Daniel frowned. He jumped out of the bed, put his blue robe on his shoulder. Then he took a large blue hat full of feathers and his wooden sword.

'How do you dare insult me like that? Me, the captain, the most fearsome of all pirates?', Daniel threatened Mimi with an evil voice.

Mimi screamed and ran away from Daniel, but he caught her when she was about to open the door. Arthur slid down from the bed to join Daniel and Mimi and Frances joined them, laughing.

'You know, my first present was a delicious breakfast in bed...', revealed Cinderella while looking up, her index finger on her chin, 'If you keep playing, I guess Patch, Bingo, Chouchou, Pappy and I will take care of it...'.

The children stopped immediately and stared at Cinderella with big, shiny eyes.

'With pudding, Mommy?', asked Arthur.

'And cherries?', asked Mimi.

'And chocolate?', asked Daniel and Frances.

'It's a special day!', smiled Cinderella with her eyes closed.

The four jumped to Daniel's bed, sat down and grinned.

'First you have to wash your hands', reminded Cinderella.

'I want to pee-pee!', said Arthur, while sliding down the bed.

'Me too!', exclaimed Daniel, Frances and Mimi while leaving the bedroom.

Cinderella took her hand on her forehead and looked at the animals. Then they started to giggle.

'Congratulations on your thirtieth birthday, son!', exclaimed King Conrad with open arms once he met Charles in the castle secret passage.

'Thank you, uncle', smiled Charles.

After hugging his nephew, the king took two swords leaning on the wall and gave them to Charles.

'For you and Daniel', smiled Conrad.

'Oh, thank you... but you there was no need to...', thanked Charles.

'It is a special age for both of you', smiled Conrad.

Charles smiled. He unsheathed his sword and admired it for a while. Then he nimbly attacked and lunged in the air.

'The years go by and you still look like the same boy...', remarked Conrad with a tender smile, 'Cinderella hasn't changed as well, neither Snow White, nor Richard. People definitely look younger these days...'

Charles laughed. When he was sheathing the sword, he noticed the letter 'C' carved in the grip and widened his eyes.

'Eh... uncle, it has a 'C' carved on it', remarked Charles, then he looked at Daniel's sword, 'And Daniel's has a 'J'...'

'It is about time, don't you think?', replied Conrad.

Charles turned tense.

'You must think about your son's future... How will he be king of a country he doesn't even remember?', asked Conrad.

'He doesn't need to be king to have a better future', replied Charles.

Conrad stared at Charles for a while and started walking back and forth.

'Alex and your father-in-law are hiding many things from you. It is quite comprehensible... They want to protect you... However, you must know the truth and you must act. A war is imminent.'

'What?', Charles widened his eyes.

'I went through one, I know when a war is about to break'.

'But what makes you say so?', inquired Charles.

'I received letters from other kings, especially from the king of Lohemia, complaining about Rudolph. I wrote to him, and tried to set an appointment, but he ignores me, like he ignores everyone else. We fear he might start to invade all the foreign kingdoms who share borders with the Emerald kingdom', informed Conrad.

Charles processed and pondered for a while.

'I can help to fight Rudolph, but I don't intend to be a king anymore', stated Charles.

'You are living an illusion, son', sighed Conrad.

Charles frowned.

'We cannot move to the Emerald kingdom permanently. That would break the children's hearts... and I am very fond of my job...', excused Charles.

'The Bartak children are growing. By three/four years, you will stop teaching the youngest boy', countered Conrad.

'I've received so many proposals lately... I can easily find work around here', replied Charles.

'No', declined Conrad, 'I know you despise monarchy and your very identity, but you must put a stop on that for the sake of your kingdom and... perhaps for the sake of mine too... In fact, for the sake of Europe...', after a pause he looked deep in Charles' eyes, 'You must accept the role you were born to play'.

'But, father...'

Conrad smiled and Charles, embarrassed, corrected himself.

'Uncle, how can I play a role I don't believe in anymore?'

'You believe in peace, freedom and equality', smiled Conrad, 'Moreover, if you want to change the system, the Emerald kingdom needs a decent ruler to lead that process. I know you are the right person to do that and believe me when I say you are much more than just a symbol of a tradition.'

'I've already tried to be more than a symbol', reminded Charles.

'I reckon it will be different this time. You were very young, and your people is now starting to fully appreciate what you have done', countered Charles.

Charles re-examined his sword and Conrad added.

'You know you can count on us. Richard, Snow White and I will always protect you, Cinderella and the children.'

'Thank you, uncle', said Charles.

'Think carefully about this and we will discuss it thoroughly', advised Conrad.

Charles nodded yes. He was now focused on the 'C' carved in the grip.

'Are you Charles of Emerald or Andrew Duval?', wondered Conrad.

'None of them...', replied Charles.

'How is that so?', smiled Conrad.

'I am just "Charles, the fibber", as Cinderella dubbed me', smiled Charles.

The king frowned, puzzled.

'Don't make such a face, uncle. She also calls me "my king"', smiled Charles with his eyes closed.

Conrad stared at Charles for a while, then he looked down.

'You must be prepared to be apart from Cinderella and the children for some time...', warned the uncle.

Charles closed his eyes for a while. Then he watched his sword and glanced seriously at his uncle.

'Yes...', he acknowledged.

Cinderella was mixing the ingredients of the chocolate cake, while the pies fillings were stewing in the stove. Her yellow dress and apron were completely stained with flour. The kitchen table was full of roll breads with jam and cheese. In the center there were three molds already covered with pie crusts. Bingo, Chouchou and Pappy were picking pumpkin, potato, apple and onion peels left in the floor and in the worktop.

Daniel, Frances, Arthur and Mimi went noisily down the stairs. As they arrived, the children leaned before the kitchen table and smelled the breads with their eyes closed. They were already wearing their clothes, except Mimi, who was wearing her pajama and robe.

'You just had breakfast...', reminded Cinderella with a smile.

The children giggled and Arthur approached Cinderella. He put himself in tiptoes and smelled the chocolate cake. Cinderella giggled and Frances carried Arthur so he could see the content of the cake.

'Do you want to taste a tiny bit?', asked Cinderella.

The toddler nodded yes with a shy smile and the mother let him have a bite of the bowl. While Arthur was happily eating chocolate and Daniel and Frances were hoping to taste a bit of the cake too, Mimi was jumping towards the garden.

'Mimi, what are you doing? You cannot go outside like that', reminded Cinderella while grabbing Mimi, 'You'll dirty your pajama right away.'

'No, I won't! You'll see!', protested Mimi.

'Why don't you wear the swim tutu I made you?', suggested Cinderella, 'We're going to the lake today'.

'Oh, the swim tutu!', exclaimed Mimi.

As she abruptly changed direction, she bumped into the board full of roll breads and they fell before Cinderella and Daniel could catch them. After the accident, Mimi hid herself behind Frances. Arthur watched the tiny roll breads he enjoyed so much in the ground and started to cry.

'Always the same, Mimi...', complained Frances.

'How many times do I have to tell not to run in the kitchen?', scolded Cinderella.

Mimi slowly appeared behind Frances and looked down.

'Are you going to throw them away?', wondered Frances.

'Of course not'.

Cinderella approached the pets' little bowls in a corner of the kitchen, bent down and called Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Pappy, who happily devoured the roll breads. Then she washed her hands and returned to the table.

'Anyway, we still lack bread for our afternoon snack...', sighed Cinderella while cleaning her hands in her apron.

'I could buy bread in the city', volunteered Daniel.

Cinderella declined, but he insisted.

'You and Dad said I could stroll on my own when I turned twelve, so...', smiled Daniel.

Cinderella widened her eyes.

'May I go with Daniel, too?', asked Frances with puppy eyes.

Cinderella hesitated, but suddenly smiled and consented. She asked Patch to join them and provided Daniel and Frances with money and baskets. After waving the eldest children goodbye, Cinderella held Arthur and Mimi's hands and quickly ran to Samson and Paulette's house. Puzzled at first, the little brother and sister smiled wondering about the lake and all the sweets they would eat that day.

Daniel and Frances beamed running through a wide road on that hot, bright day. She was wearing a blue top, a white shirt with balloon sleeves and a pink skirt. When the long blond hair with wavy tips occasionally disturbed her sight, the girl composed her light blue ribbon. He was wearing a light blue shirt, indigo blue culottes and leather shoes.

While competing to assess the fastest, the siblings often cheated along the road. It was not a long track, for their house was very close to the borders of the forest and the main road that gave access to the city.

As they approached the city, horses, carriages and wagons huddled at the west gate. The children carefully and nimbly moved through all the vehicles and entered the city. Right behind them, in the shadow of a tree near the wall was Paulette.

Since Charles and Cinderella moved to the Green-Valley kingdom, the city was much bigger, cheerful and dynamic. Still based on medieval features and Nordic vernacular architecture, the newer urban grid had wider squares and streets, a gothic church, a town hall, and a theatre. The market square now led to a street filled with all kinds of commerce. On festive occasions, the street was filled with colored ribbons in the summer, flowers in spring and holy in Christmas.

Daniel and Frances were near the medieval fountain in the market square, when he spotted something and suddenly hid himself behind the fountain, dragging his sister with him.

'Hey!', protested Frances.

'I don't want to see that girl...', muttered Daniel while peeking through the fountain.

'What have you done this time?', frowned Frances.

'Why do you always assume I do everything wrong?', protested Daniel.

Frances crossed her arms and glanced sideways.

'Well, I...'

'Why are you acting so suspicious...?', wondered a child's voice right behind them.

Johanna, Frances' best friend and Peter's sister, was bent down behind them with a naughty smile. She had big light green eyes, a round face full of freckles and red hair tied in piggy tails.

'Johanna!', exclaimed Frances.

Frances hugged Johanna and the two girls giggled. Then Johanna hugged and petted Patch.

'Go on, Daniel. I want to know everything', encouraged Johanna.

'Well, Emily and a group of colleagues were playing Robin Hood and I asked to join them, 'cause I love playing Robin Hood, you know. Emily was playing Lady Marian. After a battle, they decided to play Robin and Marian's wedding. And now she calls me "my husband"...', told Daniel with his hand behind his head.

Frances and Johanna burst into laughter and rolled with Patch in the ground.

'It's not funny', frowned the boy with his arms crossed, 'She stalks me all the time...'

Frances and Johanna kept laughing while Daniel looked sideways.

'Oh, poor me... I'm so handsome...', mocked Frances.

'Girls like me so much...', mocked Johanna.

Daniel stuck out his tongue at the girls. Then he noticed Emily once more. The girl, wearing a dark blue dirndl dress, stood out among the crowd to greet her two best friends, Eleanor and Eliza, dressed in pink and yellow. Slightly smaller than Daniel, the eleven-year-old girl was quite tall and slim for her age. She had light blue eyes and let her long light blond hair partly out and partly tied with a braid.

'Actually, she's very cute...', Daniel slightly blushed and smiled naughtily.

'Why don't you ask her to be your girlfriend, then?', suggested Frances.

Daniel stopped staring at Emily and nodded no.

'She has bad temper and that would never work with my friends, especially with Peter and Marianne. She hates Marianne', explained Daniel.

'Oh, yes, you could never double date...,' agreed Johanna.

'What's a double date?', asked Frances.

'A double date is when two couples spend time together,' explained Johanna, 'For example, my sisters and their husbands are always planning lunch, dinner and activities together.'

'Yes, but... Peter and Marianne are not a couple...', countered Frances.

Daniel and Johanna giggled.

'Oh, believe me, they will be', assured Daniel.

'Johanna, hurry up!', echoed Johanna's mother voice.

Johanna stood up without enthusiasm, while Daniel and Frances turned around. The children greeted Johanna's mother, who nicely congratulated Daniel, and waved them goodbye.

'See you later, children!', smiled the mother while holding Johanna's hand.

'Yes! At three by the lake', smiled Frances.

Then Daniel checked if the coast was clear and headed towards the bakery shop. Frances was right behind him when she stopped by the stationary store show case. There were all sorts of notebooks, feather pens and pencils. At the center, there were drawing and painting materials. Frances couldn't take her eyes off a small watercolor case. Daniel noticed Patch and Frances' absence and looked for them in the crowded street. As he expected, he found the sister captivated by the stationary.

'Hey! You can't just simply leave me like that. If I lose you, Mom and Dad will kill me', scolded Daniel, while grabbing her hand.

'Sorry, but... please... let me just watch it a bit more...', asked Frances with puppy eyes.

'It's getting late... Look, you stay here with Patch while I go to the bakery', suggested Daniel.

Frances hugged Daniel and he took her basket with him.

'Wait for me inside. Don't leave until I pick you up', asked Daniel.

'I promise', smiled Frances with her eyes closed.

Daniel petted Patch and he ran away. In a corner of the street, Emily and her friends noticed Frances petting and talking to the big dog outside before entering the store.

'Isn't she Daniel's sister?', asked Eleanor.

'Yes', confirmed Emily, while composing her hair.

'We might know something from her...', suggested Eliza.

'Do you really think he didn't invite you for his birthday?', asked Eleanor.

'I fear so... I think his birthday is this week...', said Emily.

'That's so rude. After all, he's your husband...', intrigued Eleanor.

'Let's go inside', advanced Emily.

At that moment, Frances was looking for money on her pocket. Fortunately, she could afford that tiny watercolor case, which was perfect to paint in the outdoor. The little girl smiled with her eyes closed and slightly jumped around the store with delight. After perusing the colorful shelves filled with oil paint and all sorts of pigments, she watched all kinds of charcoal, chalks and pens. She was now moving to the notebook section, when she recognized a girl with dark, strong hair and a fuchsia dress.

'Marianne!', exclaimed Frances.

The girl turned around and cheerfully greeted Frances, while Emily, Eleanor and Eliza suddenly hid themselves behind a big table where costumers could try pens on different papers.

'Are you doing some shopping before the party?', asked Marianne.

'Yes, Daniel went to the bakery', smiled Frances.

'And you took a glimpse of the new painting materials', winked Marianne.

Frances smiled with her eyes closed and the girls giggled.

'I wish I could draw like you. It's an amazing gift', complimented Marianne.

Frances thanked Marianne and noticed she was hesitating between a red and a Prussian blue notebook.

'I'll need another one soon, to write stories for Arthur and Mimi', remarked Frances.

Marianne picked the blue notebook and smiled.

'You know, I copy excerpts from novels, plays and poems I like the most. That makes it easier to know them by heart', explained Marianne.

'Oh, what a great idea!', exclaimed Frances.

Marianne smiled and they chatted for a few minutes until her grandmother showed up at the window. Then Marianne hurried up, payed the notebook, a new pencil and a rubber and bid farewell to Frances.

'See you later!', exclaimed Marianne.

'At three by the lake!', reminded Frances.

'I'll be there!', smiled Marianne while waving goodbye.

Frances waved in return and bought her watercolor case. Once they got information about the time and meeting point, Emily, Eleanor and Eliza gradually left the store in tiptoes. While Frances was admiring the shelves once more, Eliza almost collided with her, but she managed to escape discretely.

Daniel arrived fifteen minutes later, panting and complaining about the crowd at the market and the bakery. Then brother and sister joined Patch outside. Frances calmed Daniel down, by advising him to wait for a while. However, he persistently declined, since it was getting late.

'What are you doing here alone?'

The children turned around and grinned at the sight of their father, walking next to Flash, their fastest horse. Charles was holding an apple in his right hand and a grocery's bag in the left. He barely had the time to put the apple in the bag before the children hugged him tight. Then he smiled, hugged them back, and winked at Patch, who was barking and shaking his tail.

'Happy birthday, big boy!', congratulated the father while shaking the son's hair.

Daniel grinned while Frances smelled and checked out Charles' bag.

'I can't believe you bought bread, too...', remarked the girl.

Charles put his hand behind his head.

'I was nearby, and I was hungry... What's the problem?', asked Charles.

'We came to buy it on purpose. Mimi bumped into half of the roll breads and they fell', told Daniel.

'I'm not surprised...', sighed Charles.

'Now we are late and have too much bread', complained Frances.

'Well, I couldn't have guessed that...', apologized Charles while rubbing his chin.

He looked at the dark horse, who glanced suspiciously at him, and looked back at the children.

'If we had Flash and Carrot here, we could go together and arrive earlier...', said Charles.

Daniel and Frances nodded yes.

'Give me your bags. I'll carry those with Flash, so that you can run and walk freely', suggested Charles.

'Good idea!', agreed Daniel.

While giving his bag to Charles, the boy noticed two narrow and long boxes attached to the horse and tried to peek.

'There's nothing to see!', dispersed Charles.

Daniel put his hands behind his neck and giggled with his eyes closed. Then Frances reluctantly gave Charles her tiny bag. He peeked the watercolor box and smiled at her. Charles was about to mount the horse, when they heard a familiar female voice.

'Such a wonderful coincidence!', exclaimed Paulette with Carrot, their nicest horse, by her side.

'Aunt Paulette! Carrot!', exclaimed the children.

Paulette kissed both children and hugged Daniel tight, congratulating him on his birthday, whilst Frances petted Carrot. Puzzled at first, the horse closed his eyes and licked the children's hands.

'I had an urgent appointment, so I had to borrow Carrot. Now you can return with him', suggested Paulette, 'You must be late'.

'Thanks, Paulette! You always have a perfect timing', praised Charles.

'Don't be so modest, dear... You have an amazing timing too', praised Paulette.

Charles smiled with a slight hint of mockery. Then he assisted Frances to mount on Flash and mounted it as well, whilst Daniel mounted Carrot.

'See you at three by the lake!', reminded Frances.

'Samson and I can't join you at the lake, but we'll show up at dinner', replied the fairy godmother.

'Oh... I see...', said Daniel.

'See you later!', exclaimed Paulette.

'See you later!', exclaimed the children and the father, as they rode away followed by Patch.

When Charles opened the door, Mimi showed up barefoot and somersaulting. She was wearing her red swim tutu and had cherries on her ears. While Daniel and Frances ran to the kitchen with the bags of bread, she petted Patch and jumped to Charles.

'Daddy, daddy!', she greeted, as her cherries were falling from the ears.

'I know what you did this morning...', Charles glanced sideways.

'Oh, oh…', Mimi widened her eyes and jumped to the floor.

She nimbly ran away to the kitchen and Charles smiled. He put his vest in the cloakroom and the boxes of the new swords in the chest in the hall, and went to the kitchen. He was almost crossing the door, when Cinderella bumped into him. This time the crash only caused a minor disturbance Charles managed to control. He put his palms on Cinderella elbows and they gazed at each other.

'Always a pleasure', he joked.

Cinderella burst into laughter and hugged him. They laughed for a few instants until he pecked her on the lips, and they entered the kitchen. Once there, Cinderella noticed she contaminated Charles' clothes with flour and shook it off his clothes. Then Charles shook the flour off her dress. In a corner of the table, little Arthur watched them for a while and resumed licking the bowl of chocolate with his eyes closed. The toddler was wearing a light teal shirt, teal culottes, white socks and leather shoes.

'How was the chat with your uncle?', asked Cinderella.

'Nice... as usual...', Charles avoided her eyes.

Cinderella frowned. She sensed he was hiding something and was about to insist, when Charles approached Arthur.

'You naughty boy..., won't you share a bit of cake with Daddy?', teased Charles.

Arthur giggled. His teeth and the corners of his mouth were all full of chocolate.

'Oh, we definitely must wash that mouth before we go...', giggled Cinderella.

As she took the bowl away from Arthur, the toddler raised his arms asking for more. Then he resigned and looked down in his chair. Charles carried him and cheered up the boy with a story about dragons. In the meantime, Cinderella finished packing the cakes, pies and snacks for the party.

The kitchen was one of the brightest rooms of the house, especially in hot summer days like that. Decorated in shades of ochre and light woods, it contrasted with the cozy, perfumed garden, where Daniel, Frances and Mimi were playing with the animals.

Cinderella was watching the garden with delight when she reminded herself about Daniel's birthday presents. She whispered something in Charles' ear and left the kitchen.

Whilst Frances forced Mimi to dress and selected the toys to play along the day with Arthur upstairs, Charles and Cinderella offered Daniel's presents in the living room.

'A real sword! So awesome!', exclaimed the boy before hugging Charles, 'Thanks, Dad!'

Daniel hugged Charles, who smiled tenderly. The boy was about to try it, getting ready to attack, but Cinderella stopped the son, fearing he could break something in the living room. Then Daniel examined the sword more carefully and noticed the word 'J' carved in the grip.

'Why does it have a 'J' on it?', wondered Daniel.

Cinderella widened her eyes.

'The store ran out of 'D's', quickly excused Charles.

'I thought swords were custom-made', said the boy.

'Those cost the double or triple', made up Cinderella with her eyes closed.

'Yes, there's no need for that', smiled Daniel, 'This is an amazing sword'.

Then Cinderella took a golden bulky package and offered it to Daniel, who wrapped it and read the title.

'Remember when Daddy and I use to tell you the adventures of Odysseus?', recalled Cinderella.

'Oh, yeah! He was awesome!', smiled Daniel.

'Now we think it's time for you to read it on your own', suggested Charles, 'We read the Odyssey when we were about your age. It's a great way to get started with the Classics'.

Daniel widened his eyes while flickering the book.

'It will take some time...', warned the boy.

Charles and Cinderella giggled.

'You can read a chapter a day, or read it aloud to your brother and sisters', suggested Cinderella.

'It might be a bit complex for them...', countered Charles.

'Frances will certainly love it', countered Cinderella.

'Yes, Frances can grasp it', agreed Charles.

'There's no way I'm gonna read it to Frances...', muttered Daniel while squinting his eyes.

'What did you say, sweetie?', asked Cinderella.

'Nothing... nothing...', discarded Daniel with his eyes closed, 'Thanks, Mom.'

He hugged Cinderella, who held him tight and kissed his head. Then she offered the last gift – a Prussian blue vest she had made herself.

'It doesn't match very well with these culottes, I know, but it will make a beautiful contrast with your beige ones', remarked Cinderella while dressing the boy.

She took a hand mirror placed in a small table and showed it to Daniel.

'Oh, you look so cute!', Cinderella tilted her head.

'Awesome, Mom!', then he grinned with his eyes closed, 'It will be great to impress girls...'

Charles laughed and Cinderella squinted her eyes.

'What did you say?', she frowned whilst putting the mirror back in the table.

'Well... I mean... It will be great to...', hesitated Daniel.

Luckily for him, Frances, Arthur, Mimi and the animals arrived. Mimi, wearing a white dress with a red collar and red balloon sleeves, jumped nonstop, whilst Arthur happily carried a bucket with toys in his right hand and held Frances with his left hand.

'I just can't wait to swim!', exclaimed Mimi.

'This time I will catch the 'monshter' of the lake!', added Arthur.

Cinderella watched the clock in the living room and widened her eyes. It was almost noon. They immediately started carrying the boxes of food to the carriage, while Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Pappy took care of Arthur and Mimi. When Daniel was joining Charles and Frances to assist them, Cinderella took off the boy's vest and put it in the clothesline. As Daniel watched it quite puzzled, the mother explained, frowning.

'You should wear it in Autumn or Spring. It's too hot today'.

Once they arrived at the lake, Mimi took off her dress and her shoes and started rolling in the grass. Then she attempted to dive, but Cinderella caught her on time and put wooden floating rings around the little daughter's waist.

The family enjoyed swimming and playing in the water so much that Cinderella and Paulette designed swim costumes and invented floating equipment. Charles had Bordeaux long shorts, whereas Daniel had indigo blue long shorts and Arthur had teal shorts. Mimi loved her red swim tutu so much she wanted to wear it all the time. Frances had a baby blue tutu. Yet she always avoided swimming and that day was no exception. She excused herself, by setting the table, arranging the toys and taking care of Arthur and Mimi. When Charles, Daniel, Arthur, Mimi and Patch were in the water, it was clear that the girl, still wearing her pink and blue dress, was not interested in water play at all. She sat down below the tree shadow, took a deep breath and watched the sun silvery reflection upon the lake.

'Don't be such a party pooper...', teased Daniel, 'There's nothing to be afraid of...'

Frances gazed sarcastically at the brother.

'I have better things to do…'

She took the tiny watercolor case, a small paintbrush and a drawing book from her brown bag. Then she filled a bottle in the lake. She dipped the paintbrush, watched the family playing and started to paint.

'Please...', Daniel rolled his eyes, 'how can you paint us, if we are moving?'

'It's a challenge'.

Daniel shrugged and plunged.

Charles, Mimi, Arthur and Patch were playing with a ball. Arthur was still a bit clumsy in his floating ring, so Charles had to constantly assist him to prevent the toddler from drowning. The little boy was now holding the ball in his hands and staring at Cinderella, who was contemplating the blue castle with dreamy eyes. Seated in the borders of the lake shore, she was swinging her legs in the water; her skirt was folded slightly above her knees.

'Mommy, why don't you swim with us? You don't know how to swim?', wondered Arthur.

Charles and Cinderella smiled tenderly at him.

'In fact, Mommy swims very well', assured Charles.

'So why don't you play with us, Mommy?', asked Mimi.

'I would love to, but it's not appropriate for a Mommy to wear a swim tutu like you', explained Cinderella, 'If someone passes by and sees me...'

Charles rolled his eyes.

'Oh, come on... Forget that nonsense! No one will see you', he assured.

Cinderella looked around in every direction.

'How are you so sure about that?'

'It's lunch time. Anyway, you shouldn't care less. It's not a big deal', encouraged Charles.

Cinderella pondered for a while. Then Charles threw the ball at her and they started to play.

'In Ancient Greece and Rome, people were much more open-minded on those matters', reminded Charles.

'We don't live in Ancient Greek...', Cinderella threw the ball at him, 'And it was not so bright as you paint it'.

'I know', replied Charles after catching the ball, 'The point is: You're already showing your legs... It won't do any harm if you show a bit more', teased Charles.

Cinderella squeaked and Charles laughed.

'You...', she muttered while throwing water at Charles, who shook the water off his head amid laughter.

The parents accidentally wet Arthur and Mimi, who laughed and screamed with their eyes closed. After Cinderella's attack, Charles smiled naughtily and threw water at her, who screamed as her skirt got completely wet.

'Oh, you're going to regret this...', Cinderella squinted her eyes.

'Catch me, if you can...', provoked Charles partly floating.

She stood up, took a deep breath, took off her yellow dress, leaving only her corset and undergarments. Then Cinderella fell over him, making a splash. As she entered the water, Charles grabbed her by the waist, and they spined together underwater for brief seconds. When they resurfaced, the couple laughed, and Cinderella's long wet hair gradually fell on Charles' chest. Then Mimi jumped to Charles' shoulders and Arthur cuddled below Cinderella's right arm.

Daniel, who had been diving and swimming around, stared at his parents, thinking he would like to be as happy as them with a girlfriend. For a brief moment, he felt blue, doubting he could meet the right person. Then he changed his mind. Afterall, he was too young to care about that. He was having so much fun with his friends and loved his parents. His siblings were not bad, despite his usual clashes with Frances and Mimi's hyperactivity. Everything was just fine as it was, he convinced himself before taking a deep breath. Some minutes later, the boy was floating and watching the cloudless sky, when Charles and Cinderella asked him to take care of Arthur and Mimi, whilst they explored the lake together.

'Yeah, sure', smiled Daniel.

Once he joined his little siblings and started to play with the ball, the parents dove and swim up to the center of the lake. In the meantime, Frances finished her paintings. She put her drawing book below her arm and Pappy, Bingo and Chouchou on her shoulders. Then she seated in the borders of the lakeshore, near her siblings, and opened her drawing book.

'Fanny, why don't you play with us?', asked Arthur.

'Because she is afraid of water', explained Mimi while spinning.

Frances frowned at Mimi and showed her tiny watercolor case.

'Actually, I was looking forward to trying this'.

Arthur and Mimi watched the case with their mouths open.

'Can we paint with it?', asked Mimi.

'Only under my supervision. You broke three ink bottles last time', Frances squinted her eyes.

'Glop!', Mimi widened her eyes and hid herself underwater, leaving a round trail of bubbles.

Daniel pulled her back to surface and she laughed, while he glanced sideways. In the meantime, Arthur didn't take his eyes off Frances' drawing book.

'Do you want to watch the drawings?', guessed Frances.

Arthur smiled and nodded yes. Frances smiled and calmly flickered the pages, so that the little brother could recognize everything.

'That's king Conrad castle', pointed Arthur.

'Very well', smiled Frances.

Mimi watched them curiously and gradually joined Arthur and Frances. She threw the ball at Daniel and he followed her. As the little girl leaned and asked to watch the castle as well, Frances returned to the previous page and Mimi smiled.

'So beautiful...', she praised, 'Show us more!'

Frances smiled and flickered the page.

'This is Daddy, and Dan, and Mimi, Patch and me', pointed Arthur.

'You nailed it!', praised Frances.

'More, more!', asked Arthur.

Frances flickered and Mimi jumped in the water.

'Mommy falling on Daddy!', answered Mimi laughing, while Arthur giggled.

Frances flickered again.

'That's Danny floating!', exclaimed Mimi, while Daniel frowned.

'Exactly', Frances flickered one last time.

'That's Mommy, Daddy, Mimi and me!', recognized Arthur.

The toddler leaned so much on his floating ring that was about to drown, if it weren't for Daniel's quick reflexes.

'Well. That's it!', smiled Frances with her eyes closed.

'At last! It felt like an eternity...', mocked Daniel.

'You should thank me for registering your birthday', Frances raised her nose and crossed her arms.

Daniel glanced sideways and resumed playing with Arthur, Mimi and Patch, while Frances retouched some parts of the scenery, especially in the drawing of the castle. As she watched the lake, she saw no signs of the parents.

'Dan, I don't see Mom and Dad...', alerted Frances.

'Don't worry', tranquilized Daniel.

'Shouldn't you check on them?', insisted Frances.

'They're just making out underwater', grinned Daniel with his eyes closed.

Frances looked puzzled.

'What's 'making out'?'

'You're too young to know that', teased Daniel.

Frances squeaked, leaned over and threw water at Daniel's face.

'Hey! All right, all right!', shouted Daniel while shaking the water off his face, 'They're kissing!'

Frances looked at the lake and crossed her arms.

'How can you be so sure about that?', distrusted she, 'We don't see anything from here'.

'Let's make a bet!', suggested Daniel.

'Challenge accepted!', Frances raised her arm.

'I accept it, too!', joined Mimi, while Arthur looked puzzled and Patch looked rather uncomfortable.

'What's your guess, Mimi?', asked Frances.

'They are kissing!', smiled the girl while tapping her arms in the water.

Daniel laughed and Frances wrinkled her nose. Then they heard sounds coming from the middle of the lake. Daniel turned around and watched the parents coming to surface. Cinderella's put her arms around Charles' neck and their faces were very close. Despite the distance, he could clearly glimpse the romantic mood.

'Oh, come on! They were definitely making out!', smiled Daniel after turning back to Frances, Arthur and Mimi, 'I'm afraid you lost, Fanny...'

'Yay!', clapped Mimi.

'At least, they're fine. I was starting to feel worried...', sighed Frances.

She lay down in the grass and flickered a page of her drawing book. Then the girl watched the drawing featuring Charles, Cinderella, Arthur, Mimi and Patch playing in the water. The watercolor technique had an aquatic quality that fitted perfectly that scene. It enabled movement and blurred outlines that pleased her. Nevertheless, Frances thought she could enhance the contrast of the vivid colors, like Mimi's tutu.

The big sister was carefully retouching the painting, when Charles and Cinderella arrived at the lakeshore. As they came closer, Arthur raised his arms and Cinderella carried the toddler. While the mother was tenderly caressing the little boy, Frances stood up and put the drawing book in the grass.

'Why did you stay underwater so much time? I was getting worried...', scolded Frances.

'Sorry, Mom...', whispered Charles, making Cinderella frown.

'I'm sorry, sweetie. We didn't mean to frighten you... We won't do it again', promised Cinderella.

'Well... we have some practice in underwater swimming', smiled Charles while putting his hand behind his head.

'We know. You make up underwater', proudly stated Mimi.

Daniel and Frances looked at one another and giggled.

'What is 'make up'?', asked Cinderella.

'Kissing', grinned Mimi.

'Muah muah muah', added Arthur.

Cinderella blushed and Charles laughed. Then the children, the mother and the animals surrendered to laughter.

After taming Mimi's resistance to leave the water, Charles, Cinderella, Daniel, Arthur and Mimi quickly dried themselves. Frances sighed, as she put her painting materials in her bag, and helped her younger siblings getting dressed.

Upset at first, Mimi reconciled with the family during the delicious lunch she repeated three times. When they finished, Mimi rolled in the grass with Patch, Pappy, Bingo and Chouchou. Daniel and Frances were playing a words game. Charles was contemplating the castle and Cinderella was chilling out, taking a deep breath. Arthur, next to her, was almost falling asleep.

'Sleep tight, sweetie', encouraged Cinderella, whilst snuggling up the boy.

'I don't want to sleep... I want to play...', Arthur slowly nodded his head.

Charles and Cinderella smiled. Arthur eventually leaned on Cinderella's chest and fell asleep. When the toddler was sleeping soundly, Mimi approached Cinderella and showed her four leaf clovers she Bingo and Chouchou had just discovered.

'Oh, that's amazing! I've never find a four leaf clover myself!', praised Cinderella while putting her right arm around Mimi.

'We also found out these flowers you like!', showed Mimi.

They were the same flowers from the day Cinderella met Charles. After contemplating the flowers with a smile, Cinderella kissed and hugged Mimi tight. Daniel and Frances joined them to watch the clovers and celebrated with the animals.

Leaned against the tree, Charles tenderly watched Cinderella, the children and the animals. Amid the sun reflections upon the lake, Cinderella and the children seemed to have a silver halo around them. He couldn't take her eyes off her smile. As the years went by, she seemed even more beautiful and was so happy. Her troubled childhood seemed such a distant reality.

Unfortunately, that bright picture was clouded by his uncle's alert. In spite of trying to keep his worries at bay, Charles couldn't help but speculating about their uncertain future. Was everything about to change? Should they tell the truth to Daniel and Frances now? How could he protect them and keep their lives as normal and peaceful as possible? What was he going to face in the Emerald kingdom? The idea of leaving Cinderella and the children was devastating him, but he had to do something. He was absorbed in those thoughts, when Mimi suddenly ran to him.

'Daddy! Daddy! This one is for you!', the girl showed him a clover and pecked Charles' cheek.

'Oh, thank you, sweetheart', Charles kissed her in return and held the clover.

Mimi sat by his right side and Charles put his arm around her. Then Frances sat on his left side.

'You seem sad, Daddy...', remarked Frances, while leaning her head on Charles' chest.

Charles widened his eyes and Cinderella turned to him. She also felt something was upsetting him since the chat with king Conrad.

'It's just that... you grow so fast...', smiled Charles.

'It's true. In a moment, you and Daniel were babies and suddenly you're all grown up', added Cinderella.

'Oh, don't be sad. I'll stop growing up at ten, I promise!', comforted Frances, making Charles and Cinderella laugh.

'I don't want to grow up, too!', agreed Mimi while standing up, 'Children are way much funnier than most adults'.

Arthur opened his eyes and looked puzzled at them for a while, then he leaned his head on Cinderella's lap again. In the meantime, Daniel was rubbing his chin.

'Well... I'm not sure... I want to keep playing pirates and Robin Hood and live in a house in a tree...', wondered Daniel, 'Yet...'

'Yet what...?', asked Frances.

Daniel grinned with his eyes closed and put his right hand behind his head.

'Well, I would like to be an adult to become a great swordsman like Dad', then he muttered, 'And impress girls...'

Cinderella frowned and Charles laughed. Then he noticed Cinderella squinting her eyes at him and stopped.

'He just turned twelve and only thinks about girls...', Cinderella thought to herself, trying to keep calm.

'Well... I don't teach you fencing to impress girls...', reminded Charles.

'I know, but when you fight, girls look differently at you', said Daniel.

Cinderella squeaked. Charles instantly widened his eyes and frowned at Daniel.

'You're never attending my fencing lessons again', muttered Charles.

Daniel widened his eyes and Charles turned to Cinderella.

'Seriously, I don't know what the kid is talking about... Sometimes, the countess invites her friends and her daughters to watch my fencing lessons... I can't forbid them to attend', explained Charles, 'And I'm totally focused on the fight... I have no idea of what's going on in the audience.'

'I don't care for it', interrupted Cinderella, 'Daniel, you're too young to be that obsessed about girls'.

'Oh, I was just kidding...', Daniel shrugged.

Frances, Mimi and the animals were giggling, when Daniel spotted their friends Lucy and Marianne. Both girls were eleven. Lucy, dressed in orange, was slightly chubbier and smaller than Marianne, dressed in Fuschia.

Mimi ran to the girls and welcomed them with great enthusiasm. Daniel and Frances joined them immediately. Arthur woke up at the sound of cheers and laughter. He scratched his eyes and slowly joined his siblings.

While Cinderella attentively watched the toddler, Charles sat next to her and smiled.

'I swear, I couldn't care less about the countess and her friends', insisted Charles.

'Oh, please...', sighed Cinderella.

Then Leonard, nicknamed Lenny, arrived, soon followed by Jimmy. Lenny was the chubbiest, whilst Jimmy was the thinnest and smallest of the group. Both Lenny and Lucy came from rich traders' families, which allowed them to live comfortably. They were very kind, perhaps the most peaceful of the group. Jimmy was the son of the most successful shoemaker in town, who often provided poor children with nice shoes. Clumsy and distracted by nature, the boy had some trouble focusing on school and playing sports. Marianne was raised by her grandparents. Thanks to the free school founded by Snow White, her humble background didn't block her dreams. She was the brightest student of her grade and her grandparents were extremely proud of her.

Then Peter and Johanna arrived, late and arguing as usual. He was slightly smaller than Daniel, dark blond and thin, wearing a white shirt, blue trousers with suspenders and leather boots. Aristocratic, but broke, Peter and Johanna's Scottish father found work as a private English tutor in the Green-Valley kingdom thirty years ago. There he met his wife and they had five children (three elder daughters, Peter and Johanna). Since the first grade, Daniel and Peter became best friends. When they introduced their younger sisters, the four became inseparable.

The children guests greeted Charles and Cinderella with hugs and kisses. At first, Daniel was reluctant to do a picnic mixing family and friends. He wanted to celebrate his twelfth birthday in a more independent way. However, their best friends felt very welcomed around Daniel's family. There was something special about his parents. They were younger and more open minded than most parents.

Seated around the picnic cloth, the children were delighted with all the snacks and desserts Cinderella had prepared, especially Lenny and Jimmy, who glanced discreetly at the chocolate birthday cake decorated with strawberries and raspberries.

Lucy was playing with Arthur next to Frances, Johanna and Mimi, who was spoiling every moment of Frances and Johanna's play. By the lakeshore, Daniel, Peter and Marianne were planning a big pirate attack.

'I think we will only be able to do it in September. Almost everybody is in vacation now...', warned Marianne.

'We can invite people outside school. Johnny, Joe and Mark from the market are pretty cool', suggested Peter.

'Yeah. We can plan our trap to catch Frederic and his gang in September. If we start working on that now, we'll gather more people in September', suggested Daniel.

'I think a pirate attack would be funnier with many people', countered Marianne.

'Can't you see we're doing both?', protested Peter.

'Johnny, Joe and Mark work. I seriously doubt they will have time to play with us as many times as you want', reminded Marianne.

Peter rolled his eyes.

'I don't care. We should invite them anyway', countered Daniel, 'Hey, Jimmy, Lenny, stop staring at the cake and come here', encouraged Daniel, 'We have to discuss some business'.

The two boys with their mouths full widened their eyes. They stopped eating a piece of pumpkin pie, cleaned their mouths and joined the gang. Marianne was giving some more insights on the attack, when Arthur approached her and offered her a yellow daisy. Lucy, who had accompanied the toddler all the way, sat next Arthur and Marianne.

'Oh, Arthur, you're so cute! Thank you!', exclaimed Marianne while holding the flower.

Arthur grinned with his eyes closed, as Marianne kissed his rosy cheek and put him on her lap. Lucy and Marianne were tenderly caressing Arthur's caramel hair while the toddler asked them about the green monster of the lake. In the meantime, Lenny and Peter glanced sideways at Arthur and the girls.

'Babies are so lucky...', remarked Peter while crossing his arms.

'Indeed...' sighed Lenny.

When Cinderella left the picnic to catch strawberries in the bushes ahead, Charles waited for a moment alone with Daniel. It finally occurred when Frances and Johanna called everyone to watch a baby Hedgehog.

'Hey, boy!', called Charles.

Daniel was turning around to follow his friends and turned back to Charles, who was signaling the boy to approach him.

'If it wasn't you're birthday, I could kill you...', muttered Charles.

Daniel giggled, while Charles kept frowning.

'Sorry, Dad. I just don't see what's wrong with saying that many women want to attend your lessons'.

'In first place, you didn't put it so innocently when you said that to your mother. In second place, you should be clever enough not to arise suspicion like that in front of your mother', scolded Charles, 'Do I like being stalked by many of those women? No, I'm very tired of it, but the countess is my boss. I can't do nothing about it', excused Charles.

'If you had flirted with them, I would understand your point, but you love Mom, and you don't care for them. I don't see why you're hiding that from her. You should tell everything to each other', replied Daniel.

Charles took a deep breath.

'You turned twelve and now you think you can give marital advice just like that?', growled Charles.

'Daniel, sweetie, I just found these adorable girls who happen to be your colleagues. They were happily strolling nearby by chance. Isn't it wonderful?', told Cinderella's voice, coming out from the bushes.

Charles and Daniel turned around and the boy widened his eyes at the sight of Emily, Eleanor and Eliza.

'Hi, Daniel... What a coincidence! Happy birthday!', cheered Emily, whilst tilting her head.

'Happy birthday!', congratulated Eleanor and Eliza.

'Oh, boy...', muttered Daniel with his hand behind his head.

'It's called karma...', joked Charles, while Daniel was still petrified.

Charles giggled with his eyes closed and took a sip of juice.

Among the group gathered around the Hedgehog, Marianne heard the voice of Emily and turned around.

'Oh, I can't believe it...', Marianne put her hands in her face.

Peter turned around and widened his eyes.

'Oh, man, they will spoil everything!', frowned Peter.

'Let's pretend we don't see them', suggested Lucy, whilst turning the friends around.

'Children, don't you want to greet your colleagues?', encouraged Cinderella.

Peter, Marianne, Lenny, Lucy and Jimmy widened their eyes. They slowly turned around and joined Daniel and the girls near the picnic cloth. In the meantime, Frances and Johanna recognized the girls and giggled. Mimi got bored of the Hedgehog and started jumping towards the picnic. Then Frances and Johanna held Arthur's hands and joined the picnic.

Daniel exchanged scarry glances at Peter and Marianne, who smiled empathically.

'I should be mad at you. You should have invited me', frowned Emily.

'Well... I... I thought you were out, in vacation, like most people these days...', excused Daniel.

'Don't worry, darling', Emily leaned her head on Daniel's chest and caressed the boy's poker face, 'I forgive you.'

Cinderella widened her eyes and Charles put his right arm around her. Marianne rolled her eyes and Peter giggled. Frances and Johanna had to turn their back on them, for they couldn't control their giggles anymore. Mimi was a bit puzzled with that strange atmosphere. She was trying to discreetly take her fifth roll bread with jam, when she stumbled into some rocks and noticed scribbles in the earth. She lay down on the ground and watched it closely.

'What is this?', asked Mimi.

Daniel and his friends widened their eyes.

'It doesn't concern you...', avoided Daniel.

Frances and Johanna joined Mimi and tried to decipher it.

'It looks like a plan of a pirate attack', hinted Johanna.

Then Frances found out evidence of a map with multiple crosses.

'Look, this is the map of the pirate treasure!', she exclaimed.

Mimi opened her mouth and jumped to Daniel's lap, asking where the treasure was.

'Playing pirates is so childish...', mocked Emily while rolling her eyes, making Daniel frown.

'But playing Robin Hood is not childish at all', muttered Marianne.

'What did you just say?', asked Emily.

'You say that pirates are childish, but you still play Robin Hood', teased Marianne.

'You're just jealous...', teased Emily.

'Sorry?', frowned Marianne.

'You are Marianne, but you're not beautiful enough to play Lady Marian', teased Emily, making everyone frown, especially and Peter, red with rage.

'Emily, enough', warned Daniel.

'I have better things to do than playing Lady Marian. And by the way, the school is not a beauty contest', replied Marianne, 'Sometimes, I think you might have entered the wrong place.'

Emily took a deep breath, stood up and was about to attack Marianne when Daniel and Cinderella blocked her.

'If you start fighting, we'll finish the party right away', warned Cinderella.

Marianne was red with rage and Peter was trying to calm her down. Johanna joined them and comforted Marianne. Frances was trying to control herself, but gave up and approached Emily.

'You come here without being invited, then you make remarks, boss everyone around and bully Marianne. Shame on you!', exploded Frances.

'Yeah, shame on you!', added Johanna and Jimmy.

Mimi watched them attentively and noticed Eleanor and Eliza, who had always been eating.

'And you two are eating everything!', pointed out Mimi.

'Children...', started Cinderella, whilst Charles stood up, seeking for something.

Frances triggered a new wave of accusations. The children were now taking Marianne's side and insulting Emily. Watching everyone fighting, Arthur looked afraid at Cinderella and hid behind her.

'As my husband, I think you should support me', asked Emily in despair.

Daniel took a deep breath and exploded.

'For once and for all, I'm not your husband! We were just playing Robin Hood and Lady Marian!'

'But I thought...', said Emily with tears in her eyes.

'You were wrong... I never hinted that', Daniel crossed his arms.

'You'll regret that one day. All the boys from our grade, the grade above and the grade below would die to be my boyfriends, you know.'

Daniel rolled his eyes.

'I wouldn't...', muttered Peter, making Lenny giggle.

As the children's attacks on Emily's blatant narcissism increased, the girl started to cry and Cinderella, who was comforting Arthur, raised her voice.

'Children, enough', scolded the mother, 'Emily shouldn't have behaved that way, but you're being mean now', then she kneeled before Emily, 'Emily, it is very displeasing to brag oneself and let others down. Girls should unite, instead of competing for boys. Boys definitely don't deserve those fights that only fuel their male egos. We should focus on more important matters, like studying and helping everyone around us. Beauty is absolutely meaningless without kindness.'

As Cinderella lectured, the children became captivated by her. At first looking down, Emily eventually looked into Cinderella's eyes.

'I'm sorry. I'll be better', apologized the girl.

'Very well. Now you should apologize to your colleague', encouraged Cinderella.

Emily sighed and approached Marianne, who coldly accepted her apologies. A few minutes later when the children were dispersing into groups and composing themselves, Charles appeared with a yellow ball and broke the ice.

'Let's play a game, kids?', suggested the father.

'What game?', asked Mimi.

'Imagine this ball is a precious thing, the most precious thing', suggested Charles.

'Something like gold?', asked Lenny.

'No, something even more important. Something like peace. Your parents and grandparents know the value of peace, right?'

'Yes...', agreed Lucy.

'So, imagine that this ball is peace. Whenever it falls in the ground, a war breaks', explained Charles.

'It must never touch the ground...', repeated Jimmy to himself.

'How many teams will we have?', wondered Peter.

'There won't be any teams', smiled Charles.

'What? No teams!?', Daniel and Peter widened their eyes.

'There are moments when we have to put teams and disagreements aside and unite for a greater purpose', explained Charles.

The children reconsidered and agreed. Eleanor and Eliza were now comforting Emily, who was still in a blue mood. Just before starting, Charles listened to Daniel and Peter's plot to block Frances, Johanna and Jimmy from playing.

'They're so clumsy...'

'We're never gonna make it with them...'

'And everybody, absolutely everybody, must play', highlighted Charles while passing by the boys.

'Oh, we're definitely going to lose...', muttered Peter.

'...very soon...', added Daniel.

In fact, the first two attempts ended quickly. Yet Charles never gave up encouraging the kids. Daniel and Peter skeptically watched the third round starting with Frances and Johanna, who grinned and jumped after catching the ball for the first time. Then the ball circled around without touching the ground. Even Patch and Arthur, thanks to Cinderella's help, played well. As the round proved successful, Mimi jumped and clapped whenever someone caught the ball.

Half an hour later, Charles and Cinderella realized the program was getting late and they should move on to the birthday cake.

'Just one more round, please!', insisted Mimi.

'No, one more throw', consented Cinderella.

'I believe that it is Emily's turn now', said Charles.

Marianne was holding the ball now. She looked stern at Emily for a while. Then she threw the ball, Emily ran backwards and caught it on time.

Emily, Eleanor and Eliza never felt completely integrated among the group. Nevertheless, the atmosphere became much lighter after the game. They peacefully ate the cake amid songs and amazing stories up to six o'clock when Daniel's colleagues left, causing great sadness to Mimi and Arthur, who cheered up when Lucy and Marianne offered him a poppy flower.

The family packed everything and drove home, where they arrived around half past six. As Charles, Cinderella, Daniel and Frances started to put the boxes of food in the kitchen, Arthur and Mimi ran to the garden with Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Pappy.

'Wow!', Mimi's voice exclaimed, as she entered the garden.

The rest of the family curiously went to the garden and were surprised by Paulette, Samson and Jack ahead, the seven dwarfs on the left side, Richard, Snow White, and their children on the right side. Theresa was now 10, Charlie, 8, Robert, 6, and Margaret, 20 months. In the clay area of the garden there was a long table set for 22. The white cloth was filled with flowers, sweets, beautiful china and cutlery. Above, colorful festive ribbons came out from the tree branches.

'Happy birthday, Daniel!', exclaimed everybody.

Daniel opened his mouth in wonder, as the guests and the children gathered around him.

'So awesome! Thank you', grinned the boy, turning to Charles and Cinderella, 'Mom, Dad, thank you!'

'We are just as surprised as you', smiled Cinderella.

'Eh... Honey, I don't know if this...', hesitated Charles.

'Don't worry. No one will find us', assured Paulette, as she approached the couple.

'We are safe under the magic spell of the forest. Don't forget that', reminded Boss.

Charles and Cinderella smiled and greeted everyone. The children played hide and seek while the adults chatted around the table. When they finished supper, the couple expected their children to be tired after their intense day. It was not the case, though.

'Mommy, Daddy, let's dance!', asked Mimi, whilst pulling Cinderella's arm.

'Aren't you tired, sweetie?', giggled Cinderella.

Mimi nodded no and started a silly dance mixing jumps and spins that made everyone laugh.

'Well, I think it's a great idea', encouraged Paulette.

Everyone stood up and danced in the grass. The seven dwarfs and Snow White's pets walked in a circle around Richard and Snow White's waltz. Charles and Cinderella gazed at each other and held hands. After dancing around a tree, Cinderella turned and Charles kissed her on the cheek, as Patch, Bingo, Chouchou and Pappy celebrated around the couple. Daniel danced with Theresa, Frances danced with Charlie, Mimi danced with Robert, and Arthur slowly danced with Margaret thanks to Paulette's assistance. When Jack watched over the toddlers, Samson and Paulette had some time for themselves. Then Mimi stopped waltzing with Robert and taught her silly dance to Jack, Arthur and Margaret. Jack and the older children laughed at the younger kids' crazy choreography. They stopped waltzing and adopted Mimi's silly dance until falling exhausted amid laughter.

Charles and Cinderella had planned to reveal Daniel's true identity and his royal name, once the boy turned twelve. Therefore, upon their request in the morning after the party, he joined the parents in the library and yawned nonstop.

'Yesterday was such a great day, but could I just sleep a lit bit more? Everyone else is sleeping, and I need to gain some energy. You see, I planned to meet Peter, Lenny and Marianne to discuss what will our pirate treasure be. We found the most amazing spot to hide it, but we don't know what to hide. We can't use real coins. Maybe we could paint paper coins. Perhaps Frances could help us with that... The important thing is that Frederic and his gang will never ever find it', blathered Daniel.

Then he looked puzzled at the parents.

'I'm sorry, what did you want to tell me?'

'I think you should hide toys... some nice toys and other things that could be a treasure for a child', suggested Charles.

'Hm... but I won't give away my old toys. Arthur, Frances and Mimi play with them now... and I would never let Red Knight go'.

'No, but you could make toys', suggested Cinderella, 'or fix old toys. And you could add marbles…'

'Oh, yeah… Arthur is right… marbles do seem like a treasure…', wondered Daniel while rubbing his chin, 'Anyway, what did you want to tell me?'

'We had so much fun yesterday', smiled Charles with his eyes closed.

'Yeah! It was awesome! Thanks a lot!', grinned Daniel with his hands behind his neck, 'Was it just that?'

'Well... in fact...', hesitated Cinderella.

'Yes', smiled Charles.

'Why did you wake me up so early to say that?', yawned the boy.

'Well, you're twelve now... Your mother and I think you should wake up earlier and do more chores during vacations', made up Charles.

Daniel widened his eyes.

'But we admit yesterday was very intense, so you can rest some more this morning. Go ahead', encouraged Cinderella.

'Thanks', Daniel walked slowly with his eyes half open.

Cinderella followed the boy to the door and kissed his head. Once she made sure Daniel was in the boys' bedroom, she closed the door and approached Charles, near the window.

'I think it is better this way...', smiled Charles.

'I couldn't agree more', smiled Cinderella.

She leaned on his chest and he gently pulled her against him. There they stood contemplating the dense, green world outside contrasting with the wooden room.