Escorted by the timid Manette, Cinderella awaited with barely suppressed panic alongside Pricilla and Essie. Just beyond closed doors of the ballroom, she tried to ignore the footmen’s curious gazes. Dual shiny brass handles separated insanity from unreality. Pricilla’s brutal honesty spelled practicality, she reminded herself. ’Twas their only hope.
“Breathe,” Pricilla hissed. “Whatever you do, hold your head high. ’Twill be our saving grace if we are to carry off this bout of lunacy.” She pierced Essie and Cinderella with a stern scowl.
Cinderella nodded and tried to absorb Pricilla’s fierce confidence. She lifted her head. Do or die, the time had come. Her wildest dream or starkest nightmare was about to unfold. She could only admire the tenacity Pricilla snapped to after her own dreadful confession.
“I said breathe, blast it. Both of you,” Pricilla commanded. “We’ll get through this. What are they going to do, put us in the dungeon?” A second later she frowned.
A hysterical laugh bubbled through Cinderella, knowing it was a probability in some monarchies. The perfect ending to a horrific fairy tale.
“You don’t think—” Essie started.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Ess. The prince is more in love with Cinderella than his mysterious princess. He’ll be groveling on bended knee before you and me.”
“What?” Cinderella said. “What do you mean Prince is—”
Strings, horns, wind instruments, and percussion pounded sounds of Mozart through the walls indicating a ball in full swing, cutting her off.
“Follow my lead,” Pricilla instructed. “Just remember what we planned.” Pricilla’s calm demeanor was amazing.
Esmeralda nodded. A lump constricted Cinderella’s throat. She had nothing. She felt like one of the statues in the gardens—Thanatos, Greek god of death, she decided as an odd detachment took hold of her. Her silence was taken as concurrence. Pricilla inclined her head—not unlike Queen Thomasine—to the waiting footmen.
The doors to the ballroom swung wide and the music tapered off to a slow death. There was naught for it now. Cinderella sent up a silent pray. Her shaking knees would likely send her barreling to the bottom of the grandiose staircase in a heap.
Pricilla stepped forward and paused. Red flags dropped signaling for attention. The two footmen framing the doors lowered their trumpets. The blast shushed the crowd and the herald bellowed. “Lady Pricilla.”
A grim determination squared Pricilla’s shoulders and she stepped through the doors to the top rung. Pricilla was the bravest soul Cinderella would ever know. Ever. Pricilla gasped and glanced over her shoulder. Surprise and fear filled her eyes.
Cinderella closed her eyes waiting for the barrage of accusations. Had they somehow been found out? Non. non, that did not make sense. She and Essie were the ones who’d traded gowns…and no one had seen them yet. Cinderella opened her eyes. Pricilla was moving down the stairs.
Muted oohs and ahs reached her with the staid footman’s return. Essie shot her one last look of encouragement then handed the footman their note per Pricilla instructions. Brows beetled, he read. He looked from her to Essie. Cinderella’s battle to stave off her apprehension was quickly losing ground. They could not pull off this feat.
The scene took on a peculiar milieu, a strange ambience. She caught a small shrug before he delivered their message to the herald with nary a word or glance back. Cinderella tightened her hold on Essie’s hand and met her furiously blinking eyes. The slight updraft, unmistakable.
“Lady Esmeralda.” The herald’s bellow thundered throughout the hall, bounding off the wooden surfaces, seeming even louder.
The breath rushing from Essie matched her own. They’d made it through one more obstacle. Essie squeezed her hand then disappeared into oblivion leaving Cinderella standing alone with her fears.