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Twists of Fate: The Prince's Cinderella Story
Prince Christopher was nine when he first thought of the matter of fate.
It was next to his brother’s bed as Alexander lay convalescing. Christopher had begged his father for three days to be allowed to see his beloved older brother and the king had only just granted him permission.
“Brother, do you think I’ll ever get to go to battle?”
Alexander smiled wanly as he contemplated the question. “There is little doubt, Christopher. I will never be fit enough to be a soldier and the kingdom needs somebody at its defense. It is the reason father has made you the crown prince, though I am older.”
“I know that. But do you think I’ll go because I am the Prince or because I am a worthy warrior?”
The smile broadened, as it always did when Alexander was impressed with his younger brother, which was often. “If fate allows, you will be a worthy warrior, if only because you want so badly to become one.”
“Fate,” Christopher scoffed, rolling his eyes, “You do not really believe in such things?”
“Of course!” And Alexander did. He sat up in his bed, head spinning with nausea at the sudden movement, but he didn’t let the feeling stop him. He looked at Christopher, suddenly desperate for him to understand this concept that was so integral to the older prince’s being. “It was fate that spared you from the sickness that killed our mother and fate that saved me from death, even though I had contracted that plague. It was fate that made me a scholar since my legs have failed and fate that will make you a warrior, as the kingdom needs you to be.”
“But don’t I have a mind of my own?” Christopher protested. “Don’t I have a say in the outcome of my destiny?”
And here Alexander smiled, placed a shaking kiss on Christopher’s brow. “No, little brother, you don’t. But that’s what makes life so interesting.”
The second time Prince Christopher brushed against fate was when he was sixteen.
By then he was known throughout the kingdom as Prince Charming, for as he grew his looks became so striking that the guests to the palace, mostly female but occasionally male, would stare at him for long periods of time. And it was not only his appearance that made him charming – his voice deepened, took on a smooth, rich quality that caused maids to swoon. And his demeanor was so
charismatic, so pleasant and yet tough, reliable, that his peers automatically gravitated towards him.
But he still took counsel with his brother, five years his senior and now in charge of the entirety of the treasury. On a morning a week after his sixteenth birthday he barged into his brother’s rooms, brimming with nervous excitement.
“Prince Charming.” Alexander said, not looking up from the enormous sheaf of papers spread out before him. “To what do I owe this honor?”
“I’m leaving, brother.” He said, almost bouncing on the balls of his feet at the prospect. “Father has made me captain of a small regiment. We ride tomorrow to battle the wyvern destroying villages to the East.”
Now Alexander did put down the papers and he looked at his brother with a strange expression on his face. “Christopher…are you prepared to tackle such a creature?”
“Of course.” Christopher came closer, eyes shining already with the glamour of war.
“Then I will give you my warmest wishes for a speedy and safe journey. I know little of battle, but if this beast turns out to be as powerful as rumors say, do not be afraid to ride back for reinforcements. You are no longer just the captain of your own destiny, you are in charge of other men’s lives as well.”
“I know.” Christopher wanted to say more, so much more, but he had much to do before their early departure and could not delay at his brother’s side, as much as he would like to. “Stay well.”
“And you.” Alexander wasn’t quite prepared when Christopher moved around the desk and hugged him. They hadn’t embraced as thus since they were children and he found a film of tears obscuring his vision after the younger prince moved away. “May fate bring you home soon.”
“You know I don’t believe in fate, Alexander, men make their own luck in this world.” Christopher said fondly. They spent one more breath in the same room before Christopher sped out the door, leaving
Alexander feeling suddenly chilly in the heavy summer heat.
But he didn’t worry about his brother too much, because he was the most able swordsman and horse master in the land, because wyverns were dangerous but not very smart, because the thought of battle quickened his brother’s pulse in ways Alexander had observed in many of his on friends. But mostly, the older brother didn’t worry about Christopher because Alexander did believe in fate, and he was sure that fate had something spectacular in store for Prince Charming.
The third and final time Prince Charming came in contact with fate, in slapped him in the face and pounded him into submission.
He was twenty-two at the time, strong, powerful, and, if possible, even more handsome than he’d been at sixteen. He’d been Prince Charming for so long that only his brother and, occasionally, his father used his given name, and he often forgot himself that he had, as a boy, been known as Christopher.
A week into an important campaign against a giant who had, supposedly, climbed down a bean stalk, a missive came from the king to hurry home as fast as his horse could take him. Prince Charming rode so hard he nearly killed his steed, worried that the king or, worse, Alexander, was dying. When he arrived at a castle, though, it wasn’t to a death bed. It was to an unhappy king who wished all the affairs be in order before he grew too old to tend to them.
“You aren’t going to die, father, you’re healthy as a horse.” Prince Charming said, annoyed that he’d been brought away from battle. His men trusted him with their lives, and he was loathe to leave them for frivolities.
But his father would hear nothing of it. “I might die, and, worse, you might die, and what would happen to this kingdom then? You cannot always be campaigning in one region or another. From now on you are going to stay close to home. Marry. Settle down.”
“I cannot marry knowing that our borders are being attacked by beasts!”
“Our borders are always being attacked by beasts of some sort. I have consulted with your brother and he agrees that you are far too reckless to go gallivanting about without producing an heir. It was he who arranged the ball.”
“Of course it was, Alexander was always much too concerned about my wellbeing.”
The king threw up his hands. “You will marry, my dear Prince Charming. The sooner you do, and the sooner a suitable son is born, the sooner you can get back to the battles that thrill you so. Do we have an agreement?”
“We do.” Prince Charming said reluctantly. He meant to have some words with his brother.
He hid in the back room, which smelled of parchment and ink, for as long as he could. “What if I do not want to marry?”
“You have a thousand girls who want nothing more to be your bride. Surely you can bed one of them.” Alexander straightened his brother’s collar, though the effort of the small movement taxed what little strength he had.
“I do not worry about bedding them, it is the prospect of marriage that concerns me.”
Alexander smiled, his lips thin, face ashen. “Around father, I suggest implying that the two are one and the same.” Alexander had few delusions about his brother’s innocence – he was, after all, Prince Charming – but the night of the ball where he was due to pick his bride was not the best time for the king to catch wind of Christopher’s escapades.
The young prince and heir apparent sighed, smoothing his dress coat with the calloused fingers of a warrior. “How do I look?”
“Charming, of course. Go. Dance, laugh, talk. Play the part, and perhaps fate will intervene and give you a maid who is charming enough, even for you.”
This, at least, made Alexander’s brother smile. He turned, leaving the room, tossing behind him the oft-repeated assertion. “Alexander, you constantly forget that I do not believe in fate.”
And, for the first time in twenty-two years, Alexander let himself be heard and shouted after his brother, “And you forget, Prince Charming, that fate does not care who believes in it!”
Prince Charming skittered down the long corridors, taking turn after turn instinctively until he arrived to a great door. He took a deep, shuddering, calming breath before nodding to the page next to him to walk in and announce him to a room full of strange women.
It was a lovely ball. Alexander had spared no expense and garnished the room with fountains, flowers, food. Prince Charming could barely see any of it, though. He was besieged immediately by women of all ages, nearly bowling him over in their efforts to introduce themselves. It reminded Prince Charming more of the battles he had fought than other balls he’d attended, but he managed to stay polite throughout the constant stream of names, faces, and dresses.
It was nearly two hours into the occasion before he managed to find a quiet spot near the staircase. He grabbed a piece of pastry from a nearby table and took the slightest sip of wine as he watched the staircase idly for more maids.
The woman who came in to the ball two hours late could hardly be counted as a woman, for she could be no older than seventeen. Gold hair was wrapped elegantly behind her head and her dress sparkled with hidden light. But it was her face and her beautiful, deep blue eyes that made the breath go out of Prince Charming.
Was this what Alexander had been talking about? For all these years he’d alluded to fate, a terrible trap that left humans with no will of their own. Prince Charming had certainly never set eyes on this maid before, had never held conversation with her. Yet he desired her. Needed her, in every way of the word.
As soon as she descended the stairs he seemed to gravitate to her side; like magnates slide towards each other across a table; like a compass, reliably pointing north. “Hello.”
She looked startled, for she obviously knew him, knew he was the crown prince. Her lashes lowered in a way that made Prince Charming’s whole body flush with pleasure, and her voice was shy. “Hello.”
Did it only take one word to seal a fate, a destiny? Did it only take one look to know that he needed to have this woman by his side until the end of time? Fate was too small a word for it – it was as if this woman filled a hole in his heart he didn’t even know existed.
“I’m Prince Christopher.” He said, bowing as was customary, but he hated to take his eyes off her face for even that one instant. He could hear his heart beat in his ears as he waited with bated breath for her name.
She didn’t answer, not with a name, not that night. It would take three balls and a glass slipper to find Cinderella in a small house on the edge of the kingdom. But Prince Charming found himself dancing exclusively with the beautiful woman in a sparkling dress, thinking how lucky he was that fate, that fickle entity he’d never really believed in, had intervened.