Cinderella tried her best. She sank deeper in the coverlets pulled to her chin. It did little to dispel the chill in her grand chamber, though she was so tired. Sleep felt hours away.
’Twas a miracle she’d managed supper. The little bites of food she’d barely wielded on her fork somehow made it past her lips. But the fear of choking, or worse, was too great to struggle much more than one or two attempts at best. Even though she hadn’t really seen her, she knew Stepmama had kept a very close eye on her. Suddenly, Cinderella wanted nothing more than to be ensconced in her own little corner, in her own little chair, back in the cottage where her imagination let her be whatever she wanted. Invisible.
Enduring the painful supper had seemed infinitely preferable than what waited her beyond. Stepmama had plans, of that she was certain. Cinderella could not manage even one more swallow had Stepmama not been seated within her sights.
And when Pricilla leaned over, she thought she would die. “What did you do with the magic stick?” Pricilla demanded.
A nervous start jerked Cinderella. She caught Essie’s frown from across the massive table. It was obvious Essie did not comprehend their low tones.
“Well?” Pricilla whispered.
“I-it broke,” Cinderella whispered back, stammering.
“Broke!” Pricilla’s high pitched muffled squeal had Cinderella wincing and several heads shifting in their direction. The one bright spot were the flags of red spotting Pricilla’s cheeks.
Cinderella’s burned too. Pricilla shoveled a mouthful of food to hide her embarrassment, while Cinderella knew trying to eat would only draw more attention once she started to asphyxiate. She settled for a sip of water instead.
Pricilla lifted a glass to her lips to hide her mouth. “You knew I did not want to return that stick yet.”
Stubborn resolve set Cinderella’s jaw. “There was no choice. It wasn’t ours,” she snapped behind her own glass.
“How did you know who it belonged to?”
Cinderella had no answer for that, but found herself saved by Essie.
Cinderella’s head came up quickly. Essie cocked her head indicating the end of the table.
“Maman is watching,” Pricilla hissed. “We’ll speak later.”
The knots in Cinderella’s stomach clinched as new waves of qualms flummoxed her, bringing her back to the present. Perhaps she should just find the dungeons on her own, lock herself away in their depths. Or mayhap Pricilla and Essie would lend their assistance by stashing her there and throw away the key.
Non. She sighed and tugged the covers to her chin. She would be on her own this night, Stepmama had ensured that. In earlier days, hope might have lain with an appearance by Fairy Godmother but Cinderella’s fate had been sealed once she’d stepped on that silver baton.
Despair settled over her like the heavy blanket weighing her down. Essie would marry Prince. She blinked back weary tears. He would never know his mysterious princess stood feet away watching every sordid detail, she thought glumly. The thought made her so very tired.
Perhaps, she just needed to see things from a different perspective. Luck had been with her after supper. For now, here she laid, snuggled deep in her bed with nary a word from Stepmama, just a few side glances Cinderella had meekly endured. Of course, things had been tense and uncomfortable, but Cinderella was certain she’d been successful in hiding her anxiety.
’Twas a blessing, at least, Stepmama had not demanded a solitary audience with her. Cinderella would never have come out ahead in that clash. Squashed like a bug, she’d be.
She closed her eyes and focused on the silence in the chamber. The sheer hush would unnerve even the bravest of souls. She shuddered beneath the heavy covers. Everyone knew she was the least brave person in all the land. ’Twas her last thought as draining fatigue finally claimed her.