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art by Justine McGreevy

The Girl She Truly Was

Lauren K. Moody reads avidly, writes obsessively, and hopes to share all the people in her head with the rest of the world someday. For now, you can find her previously published story in the anthology Sword and Sorceress XXV, and follow her exploits online at anthimeria.dreamwidth.org.

Long ago, an indifferent father and a sweet mother bore a child. Her father called her "son" when he called her anything at all, but her mother recognized the girl she truly was. Whatever name they gave her at birth fell away from disuse.
Her mother died when she was still young. In her tenth year her father remarried a cold woman who had two daughters of her own. When her husband's child refused to dress in breeches, cut short his hair, or answer to the proper masculine pronoun, she declared he could be a gentleman among them, or a scullery-maid and serve them.
"I shall be a scullery-maid," she said, and was thenceforth allowed just one set of clothing, which quickly became sooty. Her stepsisters named her Cinderella. Birds became the only creatures that showed her kindness: they sang to her and called warnings when her stepmother neared.
What her father thought of her plight he did not say.
Seven years passed. Then one day in spring a palace herald declared the prince would hold a grand ball to which every eligible maiden in the kingdom was invited, and from among them he would choose his bride.
The stepsisters fell into a tizzy of shopping and plotting. Their mother ensured they got only the best, so one of them would catch the prince's eye.
"Stepmother," Cinderella said as she carried heavy boxes for her stepsisters, "I wish to attend the ball."
"If you get a coat and smart breeches, you may come," her stepmother replied.
"There is a dress of my mother's in the garret-room I might wear," Cinderella said.
"You may come as a gentleman or not at all," her stepmother answered. That night she threw the dress from the garret-room into the fire, deaf to Cinderella's weeping.
When the ball arrived, Cinderella again begged her stepmother to let her join them.
"Will you wear breeches and conduct yourself as a gentleman ought?" her stepmother asked.
"I will wear one of your daughter's old dresses, and their grand gowns will look better next to me," Cinderella said.
"You may come as a gentleman or not at all," her stepmother answered. She and her daughters went to their carriage. Cinderella's father went with them.
Cinderella threw herself down at the tree where her mother was buried, wishing her family would see her soul and not her body.
Birds peeping above drew her attention. The tree shivered. When Cinderella looked up, she saw the most beautiful gown in the world. A flicker of hope filled her chest. At the end of one branch hung a sparkling pair of shoes. When Cinderella put on the shoes a great feeling of magic overtook her. In an instant she transformed. Not only clean and made-up and coiffed, but for the first time since her mother died, she felt at home in her body, for it matched her soul.
A grand orange carriage awaited, with four footmen and a smartly-dressed coachman. Cinderella went with all speed to the ball.
The whole room stopped when she entered. She was the loveliest maiden there. Every eye turned to her, not least of all the prince's. He caught her in a dance, and at supper he insisted she sit with him. They spoke of many things until Cinderella fell deeply in love.
At last the night waned. Cinderella spotted her stepsisters leaving. Knowing they would ask questions if she were missing, she made excuses to the prince and ran away. She was so scared of not returning in time that she did not stop even when she lost one of her shoes.
The magic faded without the second shoe. By the time she reached the house, she was back to her old clothes and body. Cinderella waited for the other shoe to vanish like the rest. When it did not, she put it in her pocket and went inside as the family returned.
Distraught at Cinderella's flight, the prince asked every person at the ball if they knew his dance partner's name, but not one person knew her.
Left only with her shoe, the prince ordered his guardsmen to go into the kingdom and try the shoe on every maiden until they found his love.
The guardsmen knocked on every door and tried the shoe on every maiden's foot, but no matter the size of the foot, the shoe was too big or too small. Finally they arrived at Cinderella's house. She let in the guardsmen and the prince, who had come down from the palace. The stepsisters and their mother professed their certainty that the shoe would fit one of them.
When the shoe did not fit, the guardsmen asked after any other maidens in the house.
"There are no other maidens in the house," the stepmother insisted. Birds shrieked outside the window.
"Is there not a scullery-maid?" a guardsman asked.
The stepsisters laughed. "That is just our stepbrother! There are no other maidens in the house."
Cinderella stepped forward. "Please, sir, I am a maiden. I will try the shoe."
The guardsman, not knowing what else to do, obliged.
When her foot fit easy and true into the shoe, the prince cried, "I have found my love and my bride!"
"You cannot marry him," protested the stepmother. "He is a boy!"
As the stepmother spoke, Cinderella pulled the second shoe from her pocket and slipped it on. She again transformed so her body matched her soul.
"I have always been a maiden," Cinderella said. "I love the prince, and am glad to marry him."
So Cinderella joined the royal household, leaving behind her bewildered family.
When her family appeared outside the palace on her wedding day, a flock of birds descended and pecked out their eyes, so that perhaps in the future they would not believe only what they saw.
And if the new Queen wore the same pair of shoes throughout her long and happy reign, well, royalty was often eccentric.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Author Comments

Making this Cinderella's story her own was hard work in all the best ways, and emphasized one of my favorite things about fairy tales: their infinite flexibility.

- Lauren K. Moody
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