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Adam Dean lives in Leeds in the United Kingdom with his wife and three daughters. This is his first published story.

He had hunted her, she saw that now. Like a hind sighted briefly before startling, she was a prize to be claimed, a promise held out and then snatched away. And he was not the sort of man to return from the hunt empty-handed. So he had scoured the kingdom and found her, whisked her away to a fairytale wedding.
At the time, she had been caught up in the romance of it all, glad at last to be free from a life of drudgery. She had even been happy, for a while. Until his eye began to wander once more, and she saw the truth of the life that she must now live: her room in the high castle turret no less a prison than the cellar from which she had so recently escaped.
She sat by the window of her chamber now, as the sounds of music and laughter floated up from the ballroom below. As custom dictated, she had put in an appearance earlier, had even danced with him and given a demure curtsey at the polite round of applause that followed. But the ball no longer brought her any pleasure, so she had made her excuses and left. Feigned a headache, although few people present seemed upset to see her go.
She had already resigned herself to another night alone. Another night that her dear prince would spend in the arms of some younger, more attractive version of herself. A servant girl perhaps, or a barmaid procured from one of the local taverns. Someone suitably common to satisfy his penchant for the lower classes.
A cool breeze blew in through the open window, making the candles flicker. With a shiver, she pulled the window shut, then made her way to the dressing table on the far side of the room. After removing her necklace, she pulled at the ribbon holding her dress tight. The material fell from her with a sigh, sliding with ease over her thin frame. For too many years she had starved herself, conscious always of the wagging tongues at court, the critical glances of those who envied and despised her in equal measure. So she had whiled away the endless banquets by picking at her food while hunger gnawed in her belly. And all the time he had gorged himself and drunk to excess, becoming fat and greasy, bedeviled by pimples and gout. His once charming features hidden beneath heavy jowls and thick, blubbery lips.
With an effort, she cast a glance to the mirror on the wall. Back stared a pitiful figure, old before her time. Worn down first by the hard labor of her youth, then later by the expectations placed upon her.
She crossed her arms across sagging breasts and regarded the tiger lines running along her stomach. Two children she had borne: a daughter first, her brief moment in the sun eclipsed forever by the arrival of a younger brother and the law of primogeniture. And she had loved them, briefly, before they were taken from her, passed from nanny to governess to boarding school. On the rare occasions she saw them now, they regarded her with curiosity but little more. They were their father's children, in both looks and attitude. Where once she had felt love, only a dark hollowness remained.
He had kept the slipper--of course he had. Another trophy to add to the collection. This one on proud display above the bed they had once shared, but that was now hers alone. A reminder of how he had found her, hunted her, claimed her.
She picked it up. Even in candlelight, the glass shimmered and flickered with frozen intensity. No doubt it would still fit perfectly, but the thought of sliding her foot inside filled her with revulsion. Instead, she turned it over slowly in her hands, stroked one finger against the icicle dagger of its stiletto heel. Not for the first time, she imagined herself bringing the point down upon his head as he slept, ridding herself of her tormentor once and for all. But the time for that was long past. Now his head lay upon other pillows while his flatulence polluted the air of some other poor wench.
She placed the slipper on the bed and headed over to the closet. At the back, hidden behind rack upon rack of gowns in the finest material the kingdom had to offer, was a small package: a bundle no bigger than a cushion, wrapped in brown paper. She opened one corner and breathed in deeply. Even after all these years, it still bore the scent of her youth: soap, sweat, and the smoky warmth of cinders. Honest smells, decent smells.
Quickly, almost greedily, she ripped the package open and stepped into the clothes. They no longer fit perfectly, her frame now lacking the muscularity of her younger self, but were comfortable in a way that brought tears to her eyes. This was who she truly was, she understood that now. The rest--the finery, the jewels, the golden carriages--had been nothing but pretense. And she a fool to believe that she would ever have found true acceptance in this place.
With a wail of pain and frustration, she grasped the slipper once more and threw it hard against the wall. It clattered nosily against the cold stone, but did not shatter. Whatever magic bound the glass, it was not within her power to break.
Down dark corridors she crept, finding her way almost by touch alone. At every sound, she paused and pressed her back hard against the rough-hewn stone. But no one passed. The ball was still underway; the servants who usually frequented the passages would be busy elsewhere.
He would come for her, of course he would. At first light, the pack would ride out on the hunt once more. But she had to try. Had to make at least one attempt to live life on her own terms. And, if she could put enough distance between them, maybe--just maybe--he wouldn't find her this time.
She reached a heavy wooden door and pushed hard. It stuck fast for a moment, then opened with a low groan. Cool air and the sounds of distant revelry drifted through the gap.
Somewhere deep within the palace, a clock began to strike twelve.
She ran, barefoot, into the night.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, October 6th, 2017

Author Comments

As a father to three girls, I'm frequently dismayed at the lack of "girl power" on display in a lot of the stories they grow up surrounded by. All too often, the female character is a passive figure whose only desire is for a handsome prince to whisk her away and live happily ever after. After attending a performance of "La Cenerentola" (Cinderella) with one of my daughters, I got to thinking about what life might really be like for poor Cinders a few years down the line. This story was the result.

- Adam Dean
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