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Shod In Memories

Why the fairy wanted my patchwork slippers, or how she could even tell I'd been sewing them by the light of the ashes at night, I might never know. When she offered to trade me a magnificent gown in a nutshell, a fairy gown that would only last four hours, I told her no. My stepmother had sold me as an indentured servant to the royal cobbler for ten years. These shoes, made from scraps of brocade and thrown away scraps of thread and ribbon were the only thing I owned. They were likely to be the only thing I owned for a long time.
"I'm offering you more than a gown," she said. "It's a chance to be your own self again for a night."
I gave her the slippers, took the nutshell, and began work on another pair of shoes.
The prince should have known something was wrong when he could only find my shoe. I shouldn't have been able to outrun him in that dress--ivory skirts cascading from a tight waist, crashing into a pool of frothy chiffon. I couldn't have hidden in such a voluminous thing, either.
But a barefoot girl in a cinder-stained smock could run. Could hide in the shrubbery.
I'd always been invisible to him before. Just the cobbler's helper. It was no surprise that he failed to see me now.
It had taken me a year to make the pair for the fairy, and another year to make the second pair for me.
So it was a sore thing to see His Highness walk into our workshop carrying my lost slipper, asking for a female cobbler to accompany him on his quest and fit the slipper on the ladies of the kingdom. It was improper for a man to do it, to be so close to bared ankles.
It was a harder thing when he didn't recognize me as his dance partner from the night before.
He clutched the slipper hopefully when he saw that Lady Godfrey's shoes held some of the red silk. He paced anxiously when Lady Ashwood's footwear matched a bit of lace near the toe. At that last farmhouse, he stared desperately at the bit of kidskin near the arch that matched Lady Edgell's boots.
But it did not fit her, either.
On the carriage ride back, he was quiet for some time. "I'm a fool. One night dancing, and I spend three months all over the country. Tell me I'm a fool, Ella."
"People have done more foolish things." Like when I begged my Papa to go to town for a new hair ribbon, right after a hard thunderstorm. Because I wanted to look special when I was presented in court. Because when Mother was alive, she always said such lovely things about the Queen and her boy, and I wanted to impress them.
But sometimes horses fall in the mud. And sometimes they fall on their rider. And sometimes riders die of such wounds.
"Ha! I think that was almost an insult. At least, I will pretend you meant it as such, and that you think me a melodramatic bore. After all, I've only wasted some time, to no great ill. Even then, it was not a miserable three months." He smiled at me. "You've put up with me very admirably."
"You're tolerable to put up with."
His eyes twinkled. "Another insult? Maybe? That's what's fun about you, Ella. I can never tell what you're thinking."
"But you could tell in a glance that your mystery dancer was in love with you."
"In love with me?" He laughed as the carriage rattled over some stones. "Maybe. But she was just as mysterious as you."
Now I was frowning. "Weren't you looking to marry her?"
That was the rumor I'd heard in every town and village. Only now did I pause, trying to think if the prince had ever said it himself.
"Perhaps it would have come to that? Really, I wanted to ask her a question." He held up my slipper. "I wanted to ask her why she'd commissioned this shoe."
"The shoe?"
"It's not fashionable. It's not even fashionably unfashionable. It's like a child's drawing,
but somehow grownup. Whimsical. Bright. Green and gold and silver thread, all over red and purple and blue fabric. It's like she shod her feet in unrestrained joy. I've never seen anything like it."
Unrestrained joy. Perhaps that's why the fairy wanted that first pair.
"I just wanted to ask her why. And," he laughed at himself, "perhaps if I could hire her cobbler. Go on, Ella. Laugh at me. You're so good to have restrained yourself so far."
But I didn't laugh. I pulled out the other slipper from my bag. "The cobbler and the dancer are one and the same, Your Highness. And she made them because creating something beautiful for herself reminded her of better times."
I wore those slippers home. His Highness bought off my indentured servitude. I made him his own pair of patchwork shoes, and we danced in the ballroom again, just the two of us. For the first time in many years, I wasn't just reliving happier memories, but making new ones.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, October 25th, 2018
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