A “Write-a-Fairytale Contest” Winning Entry

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by Rachel Lim

It was noon when the King’s messenger arrived. Ellen looked up from scrubbing the stone paving of the courtyard to see the portly, grey-moustached servant rap sharply on her stepmother’s door.  “A royal decree from His Majesty the King, to the young ladies of this house!” he called out in a high-pitched, important voice. “Young ladies? That’s me!” thought Ellen. She jumped up and ran towards the door, foot catching on the metal handle of her bucket. She barely noticed when the bucket tipped over and sudsy water spilled out, covering the courtyard with foam.

Ellen slipped in behind the messenger as the door opened, silently shutting it behind her. Her stepmother and stepsisters didn’t give her a second glance, they were so absorbed in the royal message. Ellen listened intently as the messenger unrolled a long scroll and read out the words on it: “On the fifteenth day of this month, all young ladies from noble families shall come to the palace for a ball held by His Majesty the King, on the twenty-first birthday of his son, Prince Frederick. His Highness, the said Prince Frederick, shall choose his wife and future queen from the young ladies attending this ball.” 

“What fun!”  Ellen exclaimed under her breath as the messenger finished reading and beamed at Ellen’s stepmother. Sitting ramrod straight, hands folded primly at her lap, her stepmother said coldly, “Thank you very much, I’m sure. You may go.” 

The stout messenger nodded, grinning. “Thank you kindly, ma’am,” he said as he bobbed out the doorway, tripping over his long coat-tails in his eagerness to go.

When he had left, Ellen’s stepmother turned to her two daughters. “Lucinda and Leanna, one of you could become the princess and future queen. The ball is tonight. Be sure that you are ready and dress your best.” She gave them a dignified nod. “You are dismissed.”

Lucinda, a tall, willowy brunette, turned to leave. But Leanna pouted and said plaintively, “Mother, the prince will definitely choose Lucinda over me. I am so fat and dumpy.” She looked down sulkily at her plump figure.

The stepmother smiled slyly. “If Lucinda marries the prince, we will be his relatives. We will still get riches and honour, my dear.”  Leanna’s eyes lit up as she waddled contentedly away.

Before the stepmother left, Ellen piped up nervously, “Stepmother, mayn’t I go too? I am of noble birth; Father was a duke before he died.” She looked up pleadingly at her stepmother’s imposing figure. “Please, Stepmother?”

All her hopes were destroyed as her stepmother said curtly, “No, fool! Noble blood, ha! You should be grateful I still kept you after your father died. You, go to a ball? Don’t make me laugh!” A flicker of amusement crossed the stepmother’s face. “You good-for-nothing, you will be better off helping your sisters prepare.” She dismissed the crestfallen Ellen with a wave of her hand.

Dejected, Ellen walked back to her room. She decided to go give Lucinda a hand first – the cold, aloof maiden would be easier to please than her spoiled, demanding sister. The sweet-natured Ellen reasoned that if she couldn’t go to the ball herself, she could at least help others to. Picking up her skirts, she half-ran, half-stumbled to her stepsister’s room.

Ellen might have meant well, but her good intentions were soon buried under a swamp of clumsy mistakes. The moment she stepped into Lucinda’s lavender-hued bedroom, she tripped own her own skirt and knocked over a delicate hat stand.

Lucinda watched her hapless stepsister with mild amusement. “What a klutz you are,” she said sternly. “Well, what are you waiting for? Make yourself useful. Iron my ball gown.” She pointed to a satin gown the colour of garnets. Ellen picked it up excitedly and grabbed the iron. Pressing the hot metal iron to the dress, she said, “The gown is beautiful, stepsister.” The satin was so fine! Ellen stroked the gown lovingly, imagining herself walking gracefully into the palace ballroom, wine-red rubies on her wrists and in her hair. Everyone would turn, and the prince would –

Suddenly, Ellen was startled out of her daydream by the smell of burning cloth. “Oh no!” she cried, horrified. She snatched up the iron, but it was too late. On the lovely ball gown there was a large turnip-shaped patch, scorched so black the original purple barely showed. 

Lucinda gasped. She dropped her mask of cold dignity as she scolded furiously, “You fool! You stupid, clumsy oaf, just look what you did! Get out of here. I never want to see you again!” She picked an ivory hairbrush from her dressing table and flung it forcefully at Ellen. “Go away!’

Ellen made a hasty retreat. Half-blinded by tears, she dashed out of the room, tripped on a corner of the rug and fell flat on her face. Before she could stand, Leanna sauntered along. “What are you doing, you lazy girl?” the plump stepsister asked. “Come, help me get ready.”

As Ellen dutifully followed Leanna to her room, Leanna muttered, “Lucinda may have the better figure, but I have a perfect complexion!” She kicked the door open and stepped into her canary yellow bedroom. “Don’t I have lovely skin, Ellen?” Leanna picked up a mirror and admired her fat doughy face, turning her head from side to side.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Ellen, docile. “Beautiful, ma’am. Unblemished. The prince will love it.” She picked up a box of makeup. “Would you like me to help you with your makeup, ma’am?”

Leanna nodded. “Do you really think he will?” she asked, with feigned modesty. She lifted her face so Ellen could dust blusher on her cheeks. “I’m gorgeous.” Ellen agreed obediently, but in her heart she was seeing herself in a silk ball gown, light green, with her hair swept up into a fashionable hairdo. The prince would have eyes only for her, and – Ellen was jolted back into reality as Leanna shrieked, “You dumb buffoon, you! You nearly poked my eye out with that brush!” Ellen backed away in fear as Leanna brandished her mirror like a weapon, bumping into the dressing table. Before either girl could react, the open container of blusher fell onto the floor and the air was filled with pink dust. Coughing, eyes watering, Ellen sped out of the room in despair. Why couldn’t she ever get anything right?

Because of – or rather, in spite of – Ellen’s best efforts, the stepsisters were ready to go by the early hour of seven o’clock. Lucinda was resplendent in her second-best lilac gown, while Leanna donned a spangled tangerine one. Both glittered from head to toe with gold and diamonds. Ellen watched them step into the carriage with envy. How she wished she could go with them! When her stepfamily had left, Ellen ran to her bedroom and collapsed in tears. 

As Ellen’s thin shoulders heaved with sobs, she heard a faint tinkling sound. Bells? The air was filled with the scent of cherry blossom. She looked up in surprise. 

Before her stood a twinkling, fairy-like creature, who shone with and unearthly blue light. It was only the height of Ellen’s hand and it moved with lithe, slender grace. Ellen drew in her breath and covered her mouth with her hand, too astonished to speak. When she could finally open her mouth, she asked, “Who are you?”

The tiny creature laughed heartily and surprisingly loudly. “Bless her soul, she don’t know who I am!” she exclaimed in a motherly tone, strange for such an ethereal being. “Why, missy, I am yer fairy godmother, that I am!”

Ellen gaped at the fairy, confused.  “I have a fairy godmother? I thought those were only in books.”

The fairy chuckled again, amused at Ellen’s ignorance. “Bless yer heart, childie. All of yer bloodline have fairy godmothers, dear. I was yer mother’s before she…” She stopped as she saw Ellen’s eyes well up as the girl thought of her mother, who had died of the fever a few years before her father had. “I’m sorry, sugar,” said the fairy in a softer tone. “I didn’t mean to make you upset.”

“But,” she continued in a brighter tone, “I know about yer problems, honeybun, and I know how to solve them! You’re going to the ball tonight, or my name’s not Elfinger Gottewiel. 

Ellen giggled at the outrageous name, then sobered just as quickly. “How can I go to the ball like this?” she asked miserably, gesturing to the coarse linen frock and apron. “It’s in the palace; I daren’t set foot in there, dressed as I am.”

Elfinger smiled reassuringly.  “Fairy magic will set it right soon enough, lassie! First, we’ll get you cleaned up. She pulled a powdery substance from a silver pouch at her waist. “I must say, dovey, you are a smart one. When you marry the prince, you’ll be rid of yer stinking stepfamily and you’ll be a princess in the bargain.” Elfinger sprinkled the powder onto Ellen’s head.

Ellen closed her eyes as the powder settled on her. Baffled, she asked, “The prince? Prince Frederick? He’d never agree to marry me, I’m too much of a buffoon. I’ll never make a good princess. They have to look dignified and royal and all that.” When she opened her eyes, the powder was gone and she was sparkling clean.

Elfinger shook her head. “Nay, girlie, if he don’t fall for such a sweet-souled an’ pretty lass, he must be crazy, that’s what I say.” She tut-tutted at Ellen’s tearstained face and red eyes. “Well, nothing a dose of fresh dew can’t fix!” As the clear liquid fell on her face, Ellen felt a slight tingle and a lovely cool feeling. Looking in her mirror, she was astounded to see that her complexion was restored to its normal condition.

Muttering to herself, Elfinger circled Ellen, nodding approvingly. “Sweetheart, you’ve got a fine figure, finding a gown to suit you shouldn’t be hard. Hmm, I think sky blue would be best. Fits blondes well, eh? Complexion’s fine too….” Elfinger chanted a few undecipherable notes and Ellen’s ragged dress was replaced by a gorgeous blue gown.

Ellen gasped in delight. “Oh, Elfinger, how lovely!” She stroked the shining silk gown in admiration. “It’s beautiful!”

“No, needs something more, sugarplum,” objected Elfinger, tilting her head critically to one side. She laughed, spinning three times and singing a mysterious tune. “I have it!”

Instantly, a sapphire necklace appeared on Ellen’s neck, and a tiara on her golden hair. Ellen beamed, amazed. Elfinger said, “Now for shoes. I have something better for that…” She pulled out a pair of gleaming glass slippers.” They were yer momma’s, sweet pea. These won’t disappear at midnight.”

Ellen slipped on the shoes, marvelling at their fine workmanship. They fit perfectly. Only then did she realise what Elfinger had said. “Disappear at midnight? Whatever do you mean?”

Elfinger waved her hands in the air, avoiding the question. “Oh, we’ll talk about that later, loveaducky. First, you’ll need a coach…” Resigned, Ellen sat down on a low bench. Elfinger continued, “A pumpkin will be fine. And mice will make good horses…”

Puzzled, Ellen fetched the required items, picking up the mice from their hole in the kitchen. “Why do you need those for, Elfinger? Can’t you just make me a coach like did the jewellery?”

“No, duckydear, a coach is too big for that. And I can’t make living creatures out of thin air, pet.” Elfinger turned a somersault and the round orange pumpkin became a comfortable coach. Whistling a few high notes, she transformed the mice into muscular white horses.

Ellen clapped her hands and clambered eagerly onto the carriage, tumbling onto the plush velvet seat. “I’m all ready to go! But first, what was that about disappearing at midnight?” she demanded.

Elfinger flushed and said, embarrassed, “Oh honey, magic can’t do everything. Midnight, it’s the witching hour, that it is.” She lowered her voice dramatically. Ellen looked confused. “Ah, dearie, at midnight no good magic can exist, only bad magic. It lasts only a minute, but the prince would be mighty surprised if yer finery turned to rags and then back again, wouldn’t he?” 

Ellen was mildly disappointed, but she reasoned that it was only eight, she would still have a good four hours. “All right, Elfinger. Thank you so much!”

“Ah, you’re welcome, dear heart,” said Elfinger, flying up to rest on Ellen’s shoulder and kissing her on the cheek. “Now go, darling.” Ellen nodded and waved. As the orange coach rumbled off into the night, the fairy vanished, leaving only a faint scent of cherry blossom behind. 

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Prince Frederick stood stiffly at his father the King’s side, greeting yet another noble young lady for what seemed like the thousandth time that night. The lady was a tall, stately baroness with auburn curls and a picture-perfect face. She curtsied gracefully and the King nodded cordially. When she left, the King said approvingly, “Son, this is a nice young lady for you, eh?”

Prince Frederick groaned. Sick and tired of the ball, he said, “Father, please may not I have a break?” He eyed the ever-growing line of ladies waiting to meet him nervously. 

“No, Son, you have so many more guests to greet! Be a good host.”

Easy for you to say, thought Prince Frederick in an unusually rebellious mood. You aren’t the one who has to choose a bride! He expressed no desire to marry any of the young ladies here. They all looked so perfect, almost unreal and all possessed amazing beauty. But not a single one had shown herself to be kind or good, and not one had made him laugh once. When they danced with him, he felt ashamed at his mediocre dancing. It could not compare to their skill.

Prince Frederick thought of his own mother, Queen Ariella, who had died so long ago. She, he mused, had been the perfect wife and queen — gracious, loving, compassionate and humorous. A terrible dancer, with only average looks, but she was the sweetest, kindest queen the kingdom had ever seen. How he wished she was still alive! The prince felt hot tears enter his eyes, but he held them back bravely. 

Just then, Prince Frederick’s eyes were drawn to a small commotion at the door. “What’s happening?” he asked a footman nearby.

“Ah! ”said the footman, bowing respectfully. “One of the young ladies, Your Highness, Sir, knocked into another one, Sir. It’s all right, neither was hurt.” He laughed. “A clumsy girl, that one.”

The prince laughed along good-naturedly. As the crowd drew away from the door gradually, he spotted the two ladies. One was already moving away, an elegant lady with a porcelain-like face. But the other one, the one who had caused the accident, caught his attention. She was pretty- not a ravishing beauty, but definitely pretty. And her sky blue gown and jewellery were dazzling. But he found himself staring at her for another reason. While the other ladies took dainty, mincing steps, she moved uncertainly, almost as if she expected to fall any moment. When she stumbled, the prince gasped anxiously. Seeing her straighten again with an apologetic grin, he chuckled appreciatively. 

Hearing him laugh, the golden-haired girl turned and smiled. Her smile was the sweetest smile he’d ever seen. 

 

When the girl finally reached him at the receiving line, he said eagerly, “Lady, may I ask you for a dance?” He grinned, extending his arm. “As you know, of course, I’m Prince Frederick. What is your name, Lady?” 

Ellen blushed. Why was he asking her, of all people, for a dance?  “Oh, Prince Frederick, Sir, I’m Ellen.”

The prince took her hand.  “Charmed to meet you, Ellen. If I call you Ellen, will you call me Fred?” He thought wistfully of the nickname his mother used to call him.

Ellen gasped and almost choked. Fred? The prince? She stammered, “Si…Sir? Call..you Fred?” She gazed, astonished, at his regal figure. “Fred?”

The prince grinned at her astonishment. “Yes, if you don’t mind. I insist!”

“Well, all right,” said Ellen uneasily. “All right…Fred.”

Canon in D    by Aaron Fong, THG Alumnus   on violin and piano

 

The musicians started up while they got into position, Prince Frederick – or Fred – smiled down at his petite partner with his roguish hazel eyes. “So, Ellen, if you become the princess, what would you do?’ Perhaps it was a bit forward, but he desperately wanted to know. 

Ellen felt her face grow hot. “Uh..” she hesitated. “I would … make sure none of my subjects was too poor or worked too hard. “ Thinking of her parents, killed by the fever, she added, “I’ll make sure they didn’t fall sick… by having cleaner towns.”

Prince Fred nodded, understanding. “My mother…yes. She died of fever.” His voice cracked, but he was also delighted to find she was such a compassionate girl. She would make a fine princess! He blushed hotly. He shouldn’t be thinking of marriage so soon!

“Fever? The Queen? I had no idea….” Ellen’s voice trailed off. “My parents, too…” They had something in common!

“Really? I’m sorry!” exclaimed the prince. They started dancing, twirling around in a slow waltz. He stopped talking and concentrated on the dance, hoping to impress Ellen by dancing his best. Ellen bit her lip, straining to keep her clumsy feet from treading on the Prince’s toes. 

However, she failed. She stepped on Prince Fred’s feet so many times that he couldn’t help wincing. “Ouch!” he cried, then stopped dancing.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Ellen gasped, horrified. “Oh! Fred!” She stopped too, catching his arm worriedly. “I’m so sorry, I’m a terrible dancer!”

To her shock and astonishment, Prince Frederick doubled over. In pain? Ellen clasped her hands in terror. Then he stood, laughing so hard his shoulders shook and his breath came out in little gasps. “No,” he chortled. “It’s all right… my mother… an awful dancer too….” He bent over, unable to stop laughing. 

Relieved, Ellen giggled too. Soon, both were laughing crazily, laughing too hard to speak. 

Finally, Prince Frederick straightened up. “Oh…” he said, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “I’m sorry. You must think me most improper. Forgive me…”

Ellen beamed back, hair disheveled and face flushed. “No…no, your Highness… I mean Fred.” She gazed up at him adoringly. He was so handsome and nice!

Prince Frederick grinned back at her. She was so sweet and pretty! He bent on one knee and said, “Ellen, I love….”

Before he could continue, the clock struck twelve. 

“Midnight!” Ellen gasped. I must have lost track of time! I must go!” She turned and ran, skirt trailing behind her and hair streaming untidily. 

“What?” Prince Frederick asked. But it was too late. In a flash, Ellen was out of the door. He chased after her. “Wait!”

When Prince Frederick reached the door, she was gone. All that was left was a shining glass slipper. Ellen’s slipper. He picked it up and walked back. Why had she run away?

Ellen ran on the dress turned to rags and her carriage was a fat pumpkin so she stumbled half-barefoot back home, having dropped her other slipper at the palace. Rushing through the door, she reached her room and collapsed on the bed, panting heavily. Midnight! That was a close one. But how she wished she could have stayed!

The very next day, the stout King’s messenger arrived at the house again. He knocked loudly on the door just as Ellen ’s stepsisters were discussing the previous night’s ball. “And there was this girl — her dress was dazzling, but her looks were nothing to shout about,” said Leanna unpleasantly. 

Lucinda nodded. “I can’t see why the Prince was so taken with her.. oh, there goes the doorbell!”

Ellen jumped up from the laundry she was folding. “I’ll get it!” She opened the door. The King’s Messenger grinned up at her from under his moustache. Ushering him in, she wondered what he could be here for. Could it be… she stifled the unlikely hope. 

The King’s Messenger unrolled another scroll and read it out as the three girls listened attentively. “The King’s Son, Prince Frederick, has issued this decree. The lady who can wear this slipper shall be his wife.” He gestured to the shining glass slipper, resting on a red velvet pillow. 

The girls gasped. Leanna sprang up from the couch, pushing the others down “Me!” she cried. “I can wear it!” She snatched the dainty shoe and shoved her feet into it. But her pudgy toes couldn’t even get halfway in. As Ellen watched, her heart pounded in her chest. “Oh, he cares after all!” she thought. 

When Leanna gave up, Lucinda grabbed the slipper. Try as she might, the shoe did not fit either. Finally, Ellen said timidly, “May I try?”

Both stepsisters shouted “No!” at the same time, causing Ellen to shrink away in fear. But the messenger said sternly, “All young ladies may try on the slipper. It is by order of the King. Helplessly, the stepsisters watched as Ellen slipped on the shoe with ease. Then she fumblingly pulled the other one of the pocket.

The messenger gaped. Then he shouted, “The Prince’s wife has been found!”

Suddenly, Prince Frederick himself burst into the room. “Ellen, my love!” he cried. Then he knelt down in front of her. “Maiden, I love you madly. Will you marry me?”

Ellen beamed. “Oh yes, I’d simply love to marry you.” The very moment she said the words, the air filled with the scent of cherry blossoms and joyous bells rang. Elfinger’s voice whispered next to Ellen’s ears, “Oh dearie, I’m so glad!” Instantly, Ellen’s ragged dress changed into a beautiful blue gown, even lovelier than the first. The prince laughed as Ellen tripped on her long train and wrapped her in his arms. 

A month later…

Prince Frederick and Ellen stood on the palace balcony, exchanging wedding vows. They both gazed into each other’s eyes lovingly, Prince Frederick’s hazel eyes dancing and Ellen’s clear blue ones shining with joy. 

Prince Frederick picked up a delicate silver wedding ring and took Ellen’s slender hand, ready to slip it on. But Ellen, quaking with nervousness as all the Kingdom’s eyes were fixed on her, trembled and knocked it out of his hand. “Oh no!” 

The Prince chuckled. That was his dear, clumsy darling for you! He picked the ring up from the floor, slipping it onto Ellen’s hand with a laugh. The whole Kingdom erupted in cheers. 

And they lived happily ever after…….most of the time. 

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