Hours moved swiftly into days, and Cinderella was amazed to find how natural her relationship with Pricilla and Essie progressed. To her astonishment, if her opinion differed from one of the others, then a word battle ensued before they were laughing it off. Her meek behavior, though not completely absolved, was moving to a thing of the past.
It was not perfect, of course. She was the first to realize there was much of the past to be forgiven, but for the first time since Papa’s death she felt a connection, as if the three of them became truly sisters. Most importantly, she was not destined to the isolated existence prevalent just days before. At least until Essie and Pricilla realized that she was the mysterious princess. She grimaced. Then they would hate her for sure.
And Prince? Would he resent her, as well, for deceiving him? Would his family?
She swallowed tears. ’Twas not the time to blubber like a fool.
Arm linked in Essie’s, Cinderella dragged Essie down the path toward the Eros pond. It might seem silly, but Cinderella found comfort in the statue’s presence, and she couldn’t traipse about along. The sun beat down on her new fashionable bonnet and droplets of perspiration gathered at her nape. They meandered along the path, awaiting Pricilla. “What is taking her so long?” Cinderella said
“What on earth?” Essie sputtered at the same time, spinning. Pricilla’s footsteps pounded down the path. “You sound like a herd of horses, Cill.”
Pricilla’s breath came in short stilted gasps as she pulled up, grabbing Essie’s arm, bent at the waist.
“You’d best take care, Pricilla, before you cause Stepmama an apoplectic seizure. Or yourself. What is that contraption you’re holding? And where in heaven’s name did you find it?”
It was a silver baton and Cinderella had a bad feeling. A very bad feeling.
“’Tis a stick, see?” She rose slowly, and held it out, turning it at various angles. “It’s the strangest thing.”
Deep foreboding spread through Cinderella. “What do you mean?” she whispered.
“It sort of quivers when I tilt it just so.” Pricilla demonstrated by grasping the slightly widened end.
“Mayhap it just looks like it quivers due to its sparkled and shiny exterior.” Essie scoffed.
But Cinderella eyed it warily. Sure enough, a small, yet discernible tremor emanated from the skinny stick jiggling in Pricilla’s fingertips.
“Quivers!” Essie snatched it from Pricilla’s hand. “Oh, my,” Essie breathed.
An odd shiver of apprehension snaked over Cinderella’s skin. “Where did it come from?”
“It sort of just rolled in front of me.” Pricilla shrugged. She shot a mischievous grin in their direction, and plucked it back from Essie. “It feels almost…alive.”
“Rolled in front of you where? “ Essie demanded.
“In the castle, silly,” she said rolling her eyes. Essie’s gaze was a fierce scrutiny and Pricilla huffed. Cinderella thought it a brilliant tactic. “Fine. I found it in a wing that may not be so inhabited,” Pricilla hedged.
“Not inhabited?” Cinderella squeaked. She could feel the panic closing her throat.
“Cill, you know we’re not supposed to explore that area!”
“Oh, please, Essie, who will know?” Pricilla narrowed her eyes on Essie. “Unless you take it upon yourself to say something, that is.”
Oh, no. They verged on the edge of blows—again. “For the sake of heaven, both of you!” Cinderella snapped. “Do you hear yourselves? This constant bickering is…is embarrassing, not to mention annoying.” Two gaped expressions turned on Cinderella that had heat flooding her face. Eyes squeezed tight, she place both palms to her cheeks. “Oh…oh, I’m sorry.”
Silence filled the air, when finally Essie barked out a sharp laugh and threw her arms about her. “Oh, Cinde. We truly are sisters, now.”
Tears burned the back of her throat. Cinderella opened her eyes and caught Pricilla’s sheepish grin.
“Oui.” Pricilla was concurring? “When one takes comfort in raising one’s voice to another, as you have, Cinde, it does appear the relationship has truly evolved.” To Cinderella’s complete and utter astonishment, Pricilla reached out and hugged her too, poking her in the side with the shiny stick.
“Umph,” Cinderella grunted. “Um, Pricilla, your new stick is poking me.”
“Oh, je suis désolée, sorry,” she said, standing back. “Interesting little thing, is it not?” She swished it through the air creating a soft whistle.
Blooms sprouted in a rainbow of colors. From the tips of the tree limbs, throughout the fields as far as the eye could see. The air fairly choked with the convergence of overbearing sickly fragrances.
That sick feeling of dread Cinderella experienced over her skin spread to a chill down her spine as she circled slowly circle gaping. Essie collapsed in a heap on the stone bench facing Eros, hand covering her open mouth.
Cinderella glanced over at Pricilla.
Her mouth hung open too, but her gaze was stuck on the silver baton in her hand. “What the—”
“Cill!” Essie snapped, coming to her senses. Cinderella could not take it in. Periwinkles, thistles, daisies, goldenrods, orange jewelweed. They sprouted everywhere with no end in sight. Kept sprouting, in fact. “Make it stop, Cill.”
“I…I don’t know how.”
Cinderella had never heard Pricilla panic—and she was the sensible one.
“Wave the blasted thing,” Essie commanded.
“Oh, of course.” She did. The flowers faded away, leaving behind the scented atmosphere, which appeared somewhat bland in the aftermath. Pricilla stood immobile appearing as stunned as Cinderella felt.
“What…what happened?” Pricilla’s voice trembled.
Cinderella had yet to find her own voice. She swallowed hard and could not seem to keep her eyes from the stick in Pricilla’s fingers. The thing positively exuded a shimmering effervescent glow.
“I do believe you stick is magic,” Essie said, awed.
Pricilla dropped down on the bench beside her. “I do believe you are right.”
Essie’s curiosity spilled forth. “How does it work?”
There would be no stopping her sisters now, Cinderella realized, and a certain terror gripped her.
“How the devil should I know?” Pricilla said softly. She was clearly still in shock. Bewilderment touching her tone.
“Try something else,” Essie said. Her shock had blazed past, straight through to excitement.
“I have no idea what I did in the first place.”
“We surely need to take it back,” Cinderella squeaked out.
“Do be serious, Cinde. Surely, you are not averse to a little fun?” Essie said, eyes riveted on the object. The blasted thing had her mesmerized.
Someone had to do something, Cinderella thought, panic rising. Oh, this was a nightmare. What if the stick belonged to—
“What did you do that for?” Essie cried. “Ow! My shoe is getting too snug.”
“Oh, Ess, I’m sorry. Truly, I am. I just had a fleeting thought that if your feet were the same size as mine and pointed the stick…Oh, Essie—” Pricilla gasped.
Cinderella felt almost sorry for Pricilla. Her horrified expression made clear her intention was not to make Essie’s foot less dainty. But, heavens, the size of her foot changed! That stick could only belong to one person, and they needed to return it. Without delay.
“Pricilla!” Cinderella said sternly. “Come. Now.” She spun on her heel without waiting for either of them. Newly embraced or not, she strode up the path, praying they’d have sense enough to follow; they had to return that stick.
“I will not return it. Not just yet,” Pricilla called after Cinderella. “If this thing can adjust the size of one’s foot, just imagine the other possibilities.”
Cinderella froze in her tracks. She’d never be able to stand up to the both of them. She would just have to confiscate the thing in secret and return it herself. If Fairy Godmother got wind of this…well, it was bad enough she’d lost her shoe, but to have stolen her magic stick? ’Twas inconceivable.
She could only hope reigning terror did not befall them all in the interim. Streaks of silver and gold glitter fell gracefully from the sky.