I see you admiring the clock. A beauty, isn’t it? Come here my child and let me tell you a story about that clock.
The ancient tower, hewn from cold, hard stone, was built for war, not celebration, yet a celebration it was, for the prince was coming of age. An open invitation was given to all, with a hidden message that the King wanted to cement the bond with his subjects by choosing a wife for his son from the people of the land, not from distant shores. The common folk, used to their one room huts and simple hovels, had a hard time navigating the structure built on a vertical scale with its tight spiral staircases leading from floor to floor, so in the end only the young, the fit and the adventurous made it to the prince’s ball.
Ah, but you know this story, don’t you? About how poor mistreated Cindy discovered the means to attend, despite her stepmother leaving her with an impossible task to perform? About the magic and the promise? You’ve no doubt heard about the fine silk in a world that knew only rough wool, leather and linen, right? And you’ve surely heard about the feet that had to traipse through the mud and dung to reach the castle being clad in the purest, clearest glass imaginable.
That last bit is the rub, isn’t it? Imagine climbing to the great hall, up those steep, narrow, spinning steps, wearing glass slippers! At first she stopped, not knowing what to do. In a flash her story, the story of her mother’s death at her birth and the murder of her father by her greedy step-mother, ran through her head and the lower hall, as she let out a small sob. In a flash her story of living in harsh servitude as her step-mother and step-sisters squandered the fortune her father had amassed echoed around the chamber, though no words were spoken. Her hopes were dashed, as always, despite the magic. But then she heard the music and knew what she must do. Cindy, of course, took off those glass slippers and quietly carried them as she tip-toed up those cold stone stairs. All of the hard work she was forced to perform had left her athletic and agile, though many more years of it would break her, as it did so many of the common laborers. She reached the impromptu ball-room on the top level without even breathing hard and slipped back into the slippers and into the room and began to dance. You can imagine the lovely Cindy, silk and glass glowing radiantly in the torchlight, spinning and dancing through the night, all eyes on her, in particular the eyes of the young prince.
“Who is this young lady,” the people whispered, “a fairy from the forest? She is so graceful and lithe, twisting and twirling, dancing like a dream on a gentle breeze. She must be magical, the way she moves and glows, so light on her feet that she can wear those glass slippers without a misstep.”
How Cindy loved the attention, having been stuffed inside to do her stepmother’s bidding. If only it could last forever! She lost herself in the dream and floated away in her mind, wanting to stay until the end of time.
But the clock had different ideas.
Cindy woke from her revelry as the bells rang forth. One! Two! Three!
She ran to the stairs and flung herself down that dangerous spiral, Four!, glass slippers sparking like flint against the hard rock. Five! She could hear the commotion behind her, Six!, the revelers, led by the prince, running after her. Seven! Eight! She had no choice, she kicked off the glass slippers and sprinted down even faster, Nine!, round after round of wedge steps flying beneath her bare toes. Ten! Eleven! Finally she reached the ground level and flew out of the gate as the twelfth and final bell rang and the portcullis fell behind her. Twelve!
You know the rest of the story, don’t you? The bemused prince finding a glass slipper on the stairs and going around for the fitting to find his lost love? Cindy being locked up by her stepmother, but escaping in time for the prince to see her and come back to try the slipper? The marriage? The children? In particular the eldest daughter, who is now our queen and ruler?
But you may not know that Cindy was not meant for the prince.
Unbeknownst to her, the promise she had made was really to give up her soul if she stayed in the castle past midnight. The evil witch queen knew she could never hear the old clock when she was up in the tower and the clock safely on the ground floor. She knew Cindy’s mind would be carried far away in the excitement and that she would lose track of time. Cindy’s soul would be lost and the witch queen would take her young body as her own. She would marry the prince and live in luxury, slowly stealing the entire kingdom for herself and enslaving the people. She would be mighty in the athletic young body with the young prince under her control. It was a foolproof plan that no person could dash.
But the clock had different ideas.
The clock had first felt pity for the young lady, as her story filled the lower hall. And then he had known admiration as she climbed the stairs and joined the party. But then he fell in love with Cindy and knew her gentle soul must stay in the castle, to liven up the place, like a breath of spring air.
As midnight swiftly approached, the witch queen, waiting just outside the castle gates, chuckled, her trap ready to be sprung.
But I heard the witch, felt the magic and knew the promise, for when the castle is in danger I know. I told the castle to send another guardian to kill the girl since midnight was fast approaching and we would all soon be doomed under the witch queen’s curse. There was no other way. We must hurry!
But the clock had different ideas.
As I sounded out my warning, the clock overheard. He knew he had to save Cindy. He rang the hour loudly so all of the castle and all of the kingdom could hear. He shouted out to her, “Save yourself, my lady, save yourself!” She heard and rushed down the stair. She, and we, would escape just in time. The clock was sad because she would have to leave the castle, perhaps forever, but was very happy that she would live and keep her soul.
But then the magic happened, the magic of real life. For the stairs are steep and dangerous and Cindy had to remove those glass slippers to make it down in time. The prince had to find them, still on the steps and hold them, fixing their shape, before the clock finished tolling the fateful hour. He had been stricken, like the clock, and loved the mysterious girl and knew he would find her.
And so it was. You know the story.
But few beyond us guardians, the supposedly empty suites of armor around the castle, know the true secret. Only us, and of course our friend the old clock. Isn’t he handsome there, in his place of honor?
And now you too, my princess, know the real story behind your beloved grandmother and how she came to live in this castle, forever changing the place of dark cold stone built for war into a place of celebration filled with light and joy.
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This was written for Sue Vincent‘s weekly #writephoto challenge. This is the first time I’m doing this challenge. I saw the photo at the top of the page and the story formed in my mind, so I had to write it. Sorry it is so long, but I hope you enjoyed!