I whirled her around the dance floor, each step executed more perfectly than that thief we hung last year. She looked beautiful in her fine dress, of which I couldn’t ascertain the color. Glass slippers shone, peeking out from beneath her dress like two eyes of a troll, which probably isn’t the best example, since trolls usually have three. And they don’t peek from under dresses. The dance ended, and I bowed to her. I asked if she would like to step out onto the terrace, and she nodded. She hasn’t spoken yet ─ I hope she isn’t mute. She took my hand and I led her out onto the wide terrace, away from the other guests’ hearing.
“May I have this dance?” I asked as romantically as possible.
“Yes, but what about music?” she asked. Her voice was as sweet as an ogre’s spit (which is actually quite tasty, though sticky).
“Let the birdsong be our music, O… What’s your name?”
“Cinderella,” said she.
“Ah, Cinderella,” I said, savoring the uncommon name on my lips. Nonetheless, I said, “What a sweet name. Shall we dance to the birdsong?”
She nodded and we began. Her slippers made a lovely little ‘clink’ on the stones.
Obviously we were hearing two different birdsongs, because I heard a crack. I quickly moved off her toes and inspected the damage. Those beautiful slippers were broken!
I apologized at once, but beautiful Cinderella shushed me and opened the doors so we could hear the music. After a muttered “Why didn’t I think of that” from me, we danced the night away.
Suddenly, just as my feet were about to fall off like a bunch of ripe plums, the clock struck midnight.
“I must go,” said the beautiful maiden. She turned and fled. I chased after her, but either I had lost my touch and a girl in broken glass slippers could outrun me, or she had told that Conga line to cut me off. Either way, she was out of the castle, in her pumpkin carriage, driving away and crying, either from the fact that she had to sit in a pumpkin for the rest of the night or her great loss.
I started down the stairs after her, but he was gone. Suddenly, I saw a glimmer. A cracked troll-eye slipper! I vowed that I would marry any who fit the slipper, anyone at all.
The next day, I went out searching for Cinderella. I interviewed every girl in the kingdom, even an old lady who claimed she was sixteen. No one fit. Then a cleaning maid volunteered. No one thought she would fit, but I was willing to try. She lifted her dress and stuck a swollen red foot out. Needless to say, it didn’t fit. I looked up at her tear-stained face, tears making tracks through the grime like the stable clean-up crew, though much faster. I shook my head and walked out.
She chased after me, crying, “I was the one at the ball, Prince!”
“You didn’t fit the slipper,” I said sadly. “You aren’t the one.” I climbed into my carriage and vacated the premises, driving toward the castle.
The King and Queen, my parents, were waiting for me. I walked between them, shaking my head. They took the hint. At least my mother did, but with a look from her, my father did too, though he insisted on checking the carriage for some hidden bride.
In my room, I sat on my bed. I was angry and miserable and confused. Now, I’m not one to cry, but for the sixty-second time in my twenty-one year life, I wept. And I cried like I had never cried before ─ at least three tears fell from my eyes that day.
Then I heard something. It was some sort of fizzle, then a pop, then a curse, and finally a sucking sound followed by another pop. I turned around slowly.
On my small bedside table was a small mirror, just one of my mom’s compact mirrors that she uses for makeup. But beside it was a small goblin with only one foot. He was short, about eleven inches tall, with brown skin. He had hair ─ hair, not fur, mind you ─ and his body was humanoid, with an upturned nose and jutting brow. The footless leg was resting on the mirror and the small creature was tugging on it, twisting it this way and that. With another small squelching noise, the foot popped out of the mirror and the goblin was whole. The goblin had been muttering to himself all the while: “Oh, why did I tell it that? ‘Take me to the nearest mirror,’ I thought, ‘no matter how small!’ It’s what comes of not taking time to think before you think! And now my ─” tug “─ foot won’t come out of this ─” twist and heave “─ mirror to join the rest of me in this ─” tug “─ room!”
With his foot reattached, the goblin’s reflection appeared in the mirror and he sighted me. His purple eyes grew wide and he turned. “You didn’t… see that, did you?” he asked carefully.
“See what?” I asked. He breathed a sigh of relief. “That foot popping out of the mirror?”
“Well, duh,” said the little goblin. “What else would I mean, me popping out of that mirror?” He clapped his small six-digit hands over his mouth. He laughed nervously. “Ha, I mean, me popping up beside the mirror.” He struck what I think he thought I would think was a casual pose, looking off to the left with one hand resting on his hip. It didn’t help the body language any that he had his hand on the opposite hip, or that he kept glancing nervously at me. Eventually he just coughed and said, “Are you Isaac Phael?”
“That’s Prince Isaac Phael,” I said. I still wasn’t sure who he was and I said so.
He shushed me, saying, “Please hold your questions ‘til the end of the class.” He pulled out a notebook from behind him somewhere and started checking things off with a pencil. “21 years old?”
“Looking for a princess?”
“Oh, I forgot,” he said, slapping his head. Unfortunately, it was with the pencil hand. The pencil went deep into his forehead before he pulled it out with a squelch, leaving a small hole. “Only the girls have those. What’s your problem then? Any respectable Prince could find any number of princesses.”
“I just lost one,” I replied.
“And you cried ‘cause of it? Boy, what have I gotten myself into?” By now his head had filled back in.
“My life,” I said miserably.
“It was rhetorical. Sort of like, ‘Do flits eat beans to fly faster?’ You don’t need to answer it, see? Oh, I forgot ─ you don’t have flits here. Well, what’s happened?” He readied his pad to write.
I recounted the whole story about Cinderella and how no one fit the shoe. He took notes occasionally.
“Well,” the little goblin said, sticking his pencil halfway into his ear. “Interesting. As a Prince, you’re pretty pathetic. So no one slit the flipper. I mean, fit the slipper.”
“What do you have there?” I asked, leaning forward to see what he had written.
“It’s called a notepad. It has sheets of paper that you can write on or tear off. I’m surprised you haven’t seen one.”
“No, not that. What have you written?”
“Oh. Read for yourself.” He handed me the notepad.
This is what it said:
Male Guardian Feiron
Assignment 127: Isaac Phael
Needs (please check one, or specify other):
- Army position
- Wife Yes
- Other __A Spine__
Notes: Clumsy on feet, heedlessly takes vows, Needs a lot of help, saw more than supposed to
“Thanks for the confidence,” I said sarcastically.
“Oh, you’re very welcome. Anytime,” Feiron said, waving a hand.
“So what now, Feiron?” I handed back the notebook. “Maybe a bit of explanation?”
Feiron grimaced and said, “You shouldn’t have been looking when I came out. Can’t we just pretend you didn’t see?” I shook my head. He sighed. “I knew it. Curiosity’s got you by the horns.”
I looked up and felt my head to see if I had suddenly grown horns.
Feiron sighed again and continued. “I’m a fairy.”
I would have spit out my dentures if I had had any. “What?!” I spluttered. “Fairies are beautiful, and you’re… well, you aren’t exactly that handsome. And anyway, all fairies are girls.”
“Ha! You would think so, wouldn’t you? But I am not.”
“Obviously. Any female would have more clothing than you have.”
“Well… yeah,” Feiron admitted, looking down at his skimpy loincloth. “But would you let me finish?”
“Sure, go ahead. Oh, was that rhetorical too?”
Feiron just slapped his head again. This time it barely left a dent. “No interruptions,” he said. “I am a fairy, and the reason why I’m not beautiful I will explain. Eventually. Maybe. Anyway, I’m here to help you with whatever you want, except physical changes, like height or hair or physique. I can also teach you, with my vast supplies of knowledge and wisdom. Now, how can I help?”
An hour later, I knew barely anything more than I had. Feiron refused to tell me anything about where he had come from and how. He didn’t explain why he wasn’t good-looking. He said it was too complicated at the moment.
When he had heard my whole life story, the record of all the failings of my miserable existence, he proclaimed my predicament too difficult for his own “limited supply of knowledge and wisdom.” I was beginning to seriously doubt this little creature. Eventually he announced my case to be hopeless and told me to turn around. I heard another pop and he was gone.