Author: Jeanne (a.k.a. kindagay)
On the morning of the great ball, the castle was so alive with excitement and activity that one could have easily been forgiven for believing that the Rosenbergs were the ones who were hosting the ball, as opposed to just sending their daughter to one. Rather surprisingly, at least to King Ira and Queen Sheila, it was the princess who seemed the most enthused about that evening's event, as she flitted about the castle busying herself with so many tasks that the King did wonder if his daughter had been driven to madness.
"Willow, are you quite well?" King Ira enquired, with genuine concern, after watching his daughter spin around the throne room, muttering to herself for almost twenty minutes.
"Yes Father, why do you ask?"
"You seem, well, just a little, uhm, frenzied."
"Thank you for your concern, but I assure you that I am well."
The spinning and muttering continued and the King wondered if he should say more. After deciding that it would be best to just let Willow continue, this decision was almost immediately over-ruled as his wife made an exaggerated sound of vexation and began to fan herself rather rapidly.
"Willow please, do sit down, you are making your mother quite dizzy."
"I have no time Father, if we are to reach our destination in good time we must leave in just a little over two hours."
"Surely daughter, there can not be so much to organise for one ball. What exactly is it that you are doing princess? Would it not be more important for you to be getting dressed?"
"I have no intention of wearing that... that ridiculously lavish ensemble of cloth and ribbons for one moment longer than is absolutely necessary."
The King gave an audible sigh, shaking his head in defeat as his daughter hurried from the room to perform yet more preparatory tasks.
Thirty minutes before it was time for the coach to leave the castle, Willow's energy had finally ceased. Or rather, it had not ceased, it was being directed towards a much calmer, and more enjoyable task, as her lips were pressed firmly against Tara's.
"I shall save a dance for you, my dove. I shall save all of the dances for you." Willow promised earnestly, sealing her vow with a soft kiss.
"I shall not be there to dance with princess." Tara gave a small chuckle to hide the sadness in her voice.
"We will have our own private ball right here in my room when we return, and I shall dance every dance with you then."
"Do you intend to participate in any of the dances tonight, Willow? I am certain that many young suitors will be keen to dance with you."
"Me? Dance with a clumsy, smelly boy? Most certainly not!" The princess was rather disgusted by the thought and her absolute objection amused Tara greatly.
"My dear, sweet princess, you are quite adorable. It would do you no harm to dance with a boy, and if you do not, then how will you amuse yourself all night? A ball must be a terribly tedious event for those not willing to participate in the festivities."
"A ball is a terribly tedious event in any case Tara. I am only attending so that Cinderella can accompany me, and Prince Charming can fall in love with her. In fact, once Cinderella is inside the castle, my presence will no longer be required, perhaps I should tell Alexander to wait for me to steal away from the ball, he could bring me back to help you and Nurse complete Cinderella's chores."
"You must be seen to be present throughout the entire ball Princess, if word got back to your father that you went missing, he would be furious."
"Very well," Willow sighed, folding her arms in determined indignation. "But I shall not have any fun, and I shall miss you terribly."
Tara could not recall a time when anyone other than the King, Queen or Princess had been granted permission to ride in the royal carriage. In fact, this day was to be the first that anyone who was not of royal blood would ride in the gold engraved, ivory coach, and Tara was so humbled by the privilege, that she was almost scared to step up onto the ornately carved, iron step. Sensing her love's reluctance, Willow chivalrously reached out to take Tara's hand, giving it a gentle, reassuring squeeze.
The interior of the coach was the epitome of luxury and comfort; indeed, Tara felt that, rather than entering a carriage, she was in fact, stepping into a small guest room, reserved for only the most important of guests. The small floor space was covered with a plush red carpet; the wooden bench seats comfortably padded and covered with cream coloured silk; small, fully lined, burgundy curtains hung at the windows, tied open with fine golden velvet ropes; and the insides of the doors were decorated with rich, hand-sewn tapestries.
"Wow!" Tara gasped soundlessly, suddenly feeling as though she should have removed her shoes in order to keep the carpet clean.
Willow, on the contrary, was so accustomed to travelling in the coach, that she scuffed her shoes over the carpet and almost dived, unceremoniously onto the seat opposite Tara. The princesses' behaviour earned a frown from her companion, who realised how very much Willow took everything that she had for granted.
"Does something trouble you, my dove?" Willow enquired, moving to sit beside her sweetheart.
"I am not like you, princess, I cannot take such beauty and comfort for granted."
"I do not take it for granted, Tara." The princess insisted defensively.
"Do you see what surrounds you Willow? Do you appreciate the beauty that your parents insist upon?"
"I see it Tara, I have seen it daily for my entire life. It is not that I do not appreciate it, I feel blessed that I should be surrounded by such finery and luxury. My issue with it all, is that I do not understand why it should be reserved for those with royal blood. This carriage, the carpet, curtains, tapestries and silks, they are for my parents and myself; we are the only people who get to enjoy it. It does not seem at all fair to me. I am sure that I would appreciate it so much more, if only I could share it."
"Oh, well, that makes sense." Tara stammered, slightly embarrassed that she could have assumed the worst about Willow. "However, if you wish to share your luxuries, you should treat them with more respect, so that they are not spoiled for those with whom you share them."
"Very well my sweet, I shall make efforts to treat my luxuries with more care."
"Does Alexander know where we are going?" Tara enquired, quite puzzled by the sight of a rather familiar looking felled tree. "We should be through the forest by now, surely."
"I advised Alexander to take as much of our journey as possible through the forest, so that we are less likely to be discovered journeying so far away from Amberdale."
"Very well planned my sweet." Tara smiled at her loves' good thinking. "But I feel that we are travelling in circles."
"Worry not my sweet, your mother is sat beside Alexander; she shall ensure that we reach our destination."
"Princess, we have passed that same tree at least three times now, how are we to reach any destination if we travel around in a great circle?"
"Does the view trouble you, my dove?"
"It does not trouble me; it just appears that the view is unchanging."
"Well then, allow me to shield you from the monotony." Willow tugged gently as the curtains velvet ties, allowing the dark cloth to fall over the windows. "Now, we cannot see the unchanging view, and nobody who might happen to pass by can see us." The princess pointed out, a mischievous spark in the corner of her eye, as she rejoined Tara on the bench seat, leaning forward to capture the blonde's lips.
The remainder of the journey seemed to occur and end all too soon, - at least for Tara, who was rather enjoying being pinned to the silken seat and kissed so tenderly by her redheaded princess - as the coach came to a halt and a persistent, rapid, tapping on the door brought the two youngsters rather abruptly back to reality.
"Come now my children, we must hurry." Elizabeth insisted urgently. "Since we seemed to get lost in the forest..." An accusatory glare was directed towards Alexander "...we are now running far behind schedule."
Willow flashed their coachman a grateful smile as he winked, conspiratorially, at the princess. For Alexander and Willow both knew that they had, at no point during the journey, been lost. The princess - after taking Alexander into her confidence, regarding her relationship with Tara - had requested that the young man circle the quietest part of the forest a few times, so that she might be granted more time alone with her love.
"We left the castle in good time nurse, I am sure that there is no need for us to hurry."
"The ball begins in less than one hour, and the journey to Amberdale will take longer than that." Elizabeth tapped urgently at the face of her brass pocket watch to emphasise her point.
"Elizab... uhm, Lady Maclay? Tara? What uhm, why are you here?"
The appearance of the young woman stood in the doorway, if taken at face value, would have caused Willow to seriously doubt her suitability as a match for any prince. However, the princess was not one to judge anything or anyone by their appearance alone, and she could see that, beneath the soot, grime and rags, Cinderella was quite beautiful - not as beautiful as Tara, but, beautiful none-the-less.
"There is a royal ball, is there not?" Elizabeth asked, matter of factly.
"Well, yes, but..."
"And an invitation was sent, addressed to all of the female residents of this household, was it not?"
"Yes, but Lady...."
"And you are one of the female residents of this household, are you not?"
"I am, but..."
"Then might I suggest that we stop wasting time with buts, and get you ready to go to the ball?"
Willow instantly recognised that Elizabeth was officially in full nurse mode, and her look of absolute resolve meant that she would not stand for any nonsense.
Thirty minutes later, Cinderella was washed, her hair was tied back, and her dull, grey rags, had been exchanged for a soft, blue silk ball gown, with white puff sleeves and matching lace gloves; her stocking-less feet were now encased in the finest crystal-glass slippers; and a string of the finest pearls hung delicately around her neck.
"Now, do not worry about your chores, Tara and I shall see to it that the house is spic and span upon your return. Just go and have fun."
"Yes my lady, I... thank you."
"Go, quickly, or the ball shall be over before you even arrive." Elizabeth shooed Cinderella and Willow - who stole one last, chaste kiss from Tara - into the coach and away to the ball. "Just remember to be back before the stroke of midnight, or we shall never be gone before your stepmother and sisters return."