This tale of the beautiful serving girl, Cinderella is not like the magical fantasy you may have read of before. The one where Cinderella breaks free from the grasp of her evil stepmother and her poor, lowly childhood, to wed the prince of her dreams in a castle filled with silk ribbons, rose petals and singing animals.
For this is the real tale of Cinderella, and it all began here, in a stately manor house, filled with wretched misery and despair.
It had once been a stunning home, filled with ladies in flamboyant dresses, parading down the grand, sweeping staircases and wandering the bountiful gardens and grand lawns which spread like a soft quilt for acres around the great house.
But as generations passed through its palatial halls, the wealth and grandeur of this house slowly diminished, like dying embers of a fire, which had once burned with scorching ferocity. One such Lord became its fated owner, out of inheritance not choice. He despised the ugly gargoyles whose malevolent eyes followed his every move, the black lake, whose depths were never seen, its inhabitants, who skulked at the bottom. Their shadows drifting and flickering in the weak sunlight that could penetrate those icy waters.
The Lord married and had five children before dying of a disease which took him, and his hatred for the manor, away within one peaceful sleep. He left his family a small fortune, and the manor house, with its gargoyles whose granite had started to crumble, and marble fountain, the colour of fresh pearls, whose exquisite rock began to crawl and dull with the invasion of mosses and lichen. The widows’ desolate mourning soon consumed her, and so she retired to the dark comforts of her bedroom, whilst servants worked all day long, tending to the rooms, the gardens and her children.
Among the servants who laboured quietly, cooking and cleaning at a monotonous pace that worked rigidly to the loud ticking of a Grandfather lock; was Cinderella. A young orphan, driven from the village she was born in, by her curious fascination in the wealthy members of society. The manor house intrigued her, and she soon fell in love with its archaic opulence. She would sing softly, as she tended to the wild orchids and lilies of magnificent crimson and ivory, which fringed the edges of the lake, which lay like a perfect crystal mirror before her. As her delicate fingers brushed the keys of the piano, and as she felt the rich, heavy velvet of the curtains, drawn by a thick gold rope; her gentle music would fill the halls like a spell binding charm, casting the great house into a deep slumber.
The children that occupied the manor, with pale porcelain faces which rarely saw sunlight, feared Cinderella. She was not like the other servants, who shuffled with their heads bowed, and spoke quietly in thick country accents. Cinderella seemed to dance, her golden locks tumbled over her shoulders, as she spun giddily from bedroom to parlour, humming the same tune to herself whilst she worked. Cinderella longed to befriend these creatures, who had closets filled with garments embroidered in gold, satins and silks of every colour, within ornate wardrobes, in bedrooms painted in softest powder blues and pinks. Of these five, doe-eyed children who would sit in the drawing room for many hours, reading and painting; only the two eldest daughters would acknowledge, or approach the spritely Cinderella. They liked to taunt her, for the worn cloths she wore, and her dull, dirty leather boots. They said she didn’t belong in their home-that she was different. When they heard her gentle song, they would whisper “Banshee, Banshee” until Cinderella drifted to another room, out of sight.
However one evening, as Cinderella served the girls their evening supper, she was addressed directly. The eldest daughter abruptly demanded Cinderella to mend her mother’s most expensive and tasteful ball gown-“but be careful with it you nasty Banshee” she added “It must be perfect, as it is my gown for the Prince’s Winter Ball, and I must look better than Henrietta”. At that, she looked over at her younger sister who scowled, pouting her lips in annoyance, and as Cinderella nodded her head, the girl promptly turned her back and Cinderella was dismissed.
Moments of delight were seldom felt in this house, but by the very next day, Cinderella had her own plan of becoming a princess, and she sung her happy tune aloud as she sewed and mended dresses, whilst gazing wistfully out onto the horizon where her Prince would be awaiting her arrival.
The night of the ball came, and the two daughters were taken away from the manor in a fine carriage, drawn by impressive black horses with glossy coats. They had preened and pampered all day long, fighting over who would get the first dance with the Prince or whose dress was most flattering. Cinderella had taken a sewing kit and stolen fabric, and with her own hands, crafted a simple gown, of the finest white silk, which shimmered like fresh snow or clear-cut diamonds. She owned no rubies and sapphires like the two daughters, who glittered with gems that sparkled like hundreds of stars scattered on their powdered skin. Cinderella had only one possession, a gold locket given to her, from her father before his tragic death. Its cold, heavy chain pressed into her soft skin, and flashed in the evening twilight like a watchful eye.
She dressed in a stable, and emerged to the stable groom who stood, awaiting her arrival. He was nervous at the prospect of smuggling Cinderella into the Princes most prestigious ball, by horseback. But her astonishing beauty, gave Cinderella the ability to lure him into complacency. He gave her his hand and helped her onto the back of a horse, before they made their way silently to the Prince’s castle. On arrival, the dark storm clouds that had followed the chestnut mare and its riders, through woodland and fields, with the faint rumbling of thunder; began to pelt the ground with rain. As the gentle, kind hearted boy turned to head home, he called to Cinderella, the girl of his dreams, in her shimmering dress- “You must return before midnight, to avoid being caught!”-he then watched with jealousy and regret, as she ascended the steps of the castle, her shining light fading away, as she passed through the huge oaken doors, without acknowledging or uttering a single reply.
She entered into the hall where music played, and Lords and their fair ladies danced in rhythmic patterns across the floor. The air was warm and heavy with the scent of expensive perfume, gold and red liquids of endless amounts refilled crystal glasses, held by the richest, most beautiful humans Cinderella had ever seen.
When he saw her, she was stood in the centre of the room. Lips opened a little in awe, as her blue eyes filled with the golden candle light from the chandelier above. Her thin frame was visible under the light fabric that floated and trickled down her body like molten silver. He approached her like a lion approaches its prey, with upmost caution as not to disturb or scare her. “May I have this dance?” he purred into her ear, watching with satisfaction as she startled a little, her eyes had widened and a rosy tint crept up her cheek bones. She was exquisite in her looks. He was regal and proud.
Cinderella found herself moved across the floor, his strength took command from the very start. After twirling and guiding her in shapes around the room, the Prince soon grew bored. He took his new, delectable prize to a more private room, as he exclaimed, it had become too ‘stifling hot’ for his fancying in the main ballroom. Cinderella barely heard him. She was gazing at the sea of painted, powdered faces which stared in shock and admiration as she was swept through their parting crowds. She tilted her chin upwards, shook back her blond tresses and let her lips curl a little, the night felt like the fairy tale she had always dreamt of.
In the dark room he took her to, only pale candlelight let her eyes make out the dark liquid he offered her to drink. It was sweet like nectar, and with it, her eyesight sharpened a little. She could make out the chiselled jawline of the prince, he seemed cut from the same marble in the garden of the manor house. His eyes were as black as his long hair, which had a sheen much like the horses, and she noticed how the royal crest on his jacket, was the familiar shape of a lily flower.
He led her onwards, into a corridor where masked waiters held silver trays with an array of sugared, fragrant delights. There were oil paintings of Kings and Queens, which murmured unfathomably as she passed, their eyes flashed like the pendant at her throat. Tigers, panthers and leopards on leather leashes growled, and resided to the shadows as the humans passed. The lights dimmed a little more, as Cinderella was led up a winding staircase, to the Prince’s master chamber.
The playful, teasing lion now became the true, hungry predator he was. With such violent aggression, he began to tear the silken dress from the young girls’ warm and fragile body. There was no love or tenderness, yet Cinderella had become overpowered with a strange, dream-like sensation, which blurred her vision and made her lose all sense of what was happening to her. With a sigh, she fell to the bed, weakened and defeated by the beast of a man that stood over her. His eyes feasted on her, but his thirst was not yet quenched. As she lay among shredded silver, on a magnificent bed of golds and purples, she thought she could see her Mother and Father in the mirrors that lined the walls, she thought she smelt the delightful scent of warm honey on toast, or apple tarte tatin that her grandmother made when she was a small child. She faintly heard the princes breathing, in fast deep breaths like the muscular black stallions which drew the carriage. She was unsure whether in the dim candlelight, his marble complexion cracked, with a smile that showed no happiness, but only cruel satisfaction. She thought she heard a distant chime of a bell striking midnight.
Cinderella awoke in a cold, dark chamber. The hazy candlelight had been diminished, dark clouds pushed drafts of icy, bitter wind against the thin window pane. The gold bed posts were now dull, and the mirrors that surrounded her heightened position on the enormous bed were cracked and covered in a thick layer of dust. It seemed the room had been abandoned, not only in the early hours of the morning, by the prince, but for many years before. The furniture had been covered in dirty linen sheets, and the bed itself was uncomfortable, unclean and surely unfit for a princess.
The prince would keep Cinderella here for a long time, so long, Cinderella had soon lost sense of the years or minutes that passed her. She was the Princes’ prized possession. When she tried to escape, he would bring from one breast pocket-the gold locket he had stolen from her neck, on their very first night together. With this, he knew Cinderella would be obedient to him, for she was powerless. He would be her master now.
He gave her the most expensive gifts, in huge boxes wrapped with cream bows from exotic countries of endless sunshine. Embellished silk and rare jewels strung on delicate chains of silver were encased within crisp tissue paper that smelt of aromatic spices and citrus fruits from lands far away. She dined with the Prince every evening. He liked her best when she wore the glass slippers he gave her, with her hair pinned up from her shoulders, and thin white muslin, which in the light of the tall pale candles, revealed her flesh beneath it. Rarely did he speak, he preferred to simply observe her over the dark pine table. When he was finished, he may hear her sing or play the harp for him, or he would simply return her, to the cold chamber at the top of the castle tower where he kept her hidden.
Cinderella hated the glass shoes, they hurt her to walk. They glittered in the candlelight, reminding her of the fragments of the beautiful dress which had ended that fateful night, yet only begun a new chapter of her worst nightmares. But she learnt to hate the castle, and her prison, the most. Long gone, were the rare leopards and panthers, the talking paintings, the luxurious furnishings of gold leaf and vermilion lacquer, the masked waiters and the blood-red wines.
The prince had created a dungeon, where only vermin, and an aged sheep dog passed the damp corridors. There were no paintings of wealthy ancestors, past Kings nor Queens, but only recurrent images, in the darkest colours, depicting scenes of Hellish landscapes, where tortured souls were seen incarcerated in black and red flames. It was all, as if that very first night, had been part of some twisted and sickening dream. There was no magic here at all, no happiness could be found for the poor, helpless Cinderella.
Eventually spring time came, and the black, leaden skies drifted away, to let the first pale rays of sunlight dapple the desolate gardens of the castle. New life began to grow-not flowers, or green meadows, nor whispering willows; but only a fragrant blossom tree, which had begun to bloom, just below Cinderella’s window. She would sit and comb her golden hair, which had grown long and thick, and watch as gradually, tiny new buds would emerge. She would bask in the new warmth of sunlight, and sing softly to the few birds that came to perch on the boughs of the blossom tree. The air was light refreshing, it renewed Cinderella with hope.
One day, as Cinderella sat gazing out of the window, she heard a faint pounding noise suddenly break the ghostly silence of the castle grounds. It was a horse, of purest white, its beauty caught Cinderella’s breath, and she gasped in delight as she saw, astride the great white horse, was the kind stable hand, who had helped Cinderella make her way to the ball.
“My fair, and beautiful Cinderella, I have come to set you free! Climb a little down the ivy from your window, and then I will catch you, and break your fall!”
Cinderella felt a pang of regret, for how could she leave, when the evil Prince still had the locket her dear Father had given her, to always keep safe and never leave?
With one swift movement, like a proud pirate, who had conquered the sea and returned with richest treasures, the young man held out a hand which grasped the golden locket, which flashed a brilliant light as it caught the suns morning rays.
Cinderella and her heroic saviour were married later that year. They moved to the countryside, where Cinderella could find work as a seamstress, and her husband bred horses in the rolling fields behind their small cottage. They had three, handsome sons, brought into, and raised in a happy yet simple home. Cinderella told them stories every night, of the wicked Princes and Princesses that haunted big, scary castles, and was sure to warn her sons never to believe in such fantasies of magic, or happy ever afters, as she so foolishly had, once upon a time.