The Chores Can Wait

First Part - Or, My Name's Not Cinderella and I Don't Need a Prince!

Phillip was the second son of a third-rate sorcerer. At least, he had been, until his older brother had been killed by one of his father's rivals, a powerful enchantress who hadn't much cared for their father's interference with her work. Then Phillip had become the only son of a third-rate sorcerer. After his mother's death his father had remarried, to a middle aged noble from a minor household that was as far past its glory days as its daughter was, and he had become the stepson of an ill-tempered social climber and the stepbrother of three young women of varying degrees of unpleasantness. When his father had died shortly after the wedding during an ill-planned experiment that had gotten so far out of hand that it had blown away a good portion of his laboratory, Phillip had become the orphaned son of a formerly third-rate sorcerer and the unwanted burden of an ill-tempered social climber.

None of which made Phillip very happy. It was not the life that he wanted. Nor were these titles that haunted him ones that he wished to bear. However, as much as all of this bothered him, the thing that bothered him the most was his stepsisters' latest nickname for him.

"My name is not Cinderella!"

"Cinderella! Cinderella!" The girls chanted as the pranced about the kitchen, laughing at their stepbrother's impotent anger. They knew that, no matter how upset they made him, Phillip would never strike a woman half his size for words alone. Their mother may not have raised them right, but his had. "Look sisters, it's Cinderella!"

"Why did father ever buy that stupid human book?" Not for the first time did Phillip curse his long dead father for his taste in literature. He knew that the man had only collected them so that people would be impressed by the number of out-of-realm volumes that graced his shelves. He had never read a one of them. "And why did anyone ever bother to teach you how to read?!"

"Mother said that our future husbands might expect it of us." Alice was the only one of his stepsisters that he could stand, mostly because she was the only one who took no delight in tormenting him, and he almost laughed when she answered his question with complete seriousness. It was always about their future husbands where the lady of the house was concerned. "Although Mary Sue and Sara stopped studying when they were thirteen."

"My name is not Cinderella." Philip repeated one last time before heading out the door, the beginnings of a headache forming behind his eyes as he listened to the cackling of the two loudest girls echoing from the kitchen. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have wood to chop before I can begin preparing supper. I need to cut the vegetables too. Wouldn't want you lot to have to lift a finger to help yourselves, after all."

Phillip didn’t care that his tones were clipped and his voice harsh. Let their mother be angry with him, let her try to beat him for mistreating her daughters, he didn’t care. They'd been calling him Cinderella all week. Ever since they'd discovered the book of children's tales in the library. He didn't see why they had chosen that story for him, though. He just couldn't see it, the connection between himself and the heroin of the story. Just because he had been orphaned and left in the care of his stepmother, who happened to have three (well, really only two, most of the time) ill-mannered daughters? Or because he did all of the cooking and cleaning for the household and was treated like a serving girl instead of the man of the house? Or maybe, just maybe, because he had a habit of falling asleep next to the fireplace because he knew that he was less likely to run into his shrew of a stepmother if he stayed in the kitchen?

Phillip tried to take out his aggressions on the helpless wood that would feed the fire as he chopped at the logs that they kept behind the modestly sized castle that the four of them called home. He couldn't see why his stepmother didn't just breakdown and hire a sorcerer to enchant the heating system and the lights of the house. Or, heaven forbid, have electricity put in. It was possible now that the new great-king and queen had lifted the previous ruler's ban on technology. In fact, he’d heard that the king and queen of their region had equipped their castle with electrical wires only a week after the great-king had taken the throne!

"Why in the hells do I put up with this shit?!" Although he knew the answer even as he asked it. Phillip didn't have anywhere else to go. Rumor had it around the village that his entire family was cursed, so no one would be willing to help him if he ventured into the village to try and start a new life there. His father's failures continued to haunt him, even after his death. And, as much as Phillip hated his family and the life that he led with them, he was in no great hurry to die alone in a gutter somewhere from starvation or neglect. And so he stayed.

"Cinderella," he hunched his shoulders and tried to ignore his sister's voice as best he could, "there's someone at the door. Go and answer it, would you?"

Knowing that he would be given no peace should he try to continue his chore, he instead gave a mocking bow and said with an utter lack of sincerity, "As my lady wishes."

Phillip whipped his sweaty forehead with his shirt, his sticky skin putting him in an even worse mood, and he fought to keep his growling under control as he answered the door. It wasn't the fault of whoever was at the door that he was unhappy, after all. "What can I do for you?"

"Good day, sir." The man who was waiting on the doorstep was finely appointed, all velvets and lace, and Phillip knew instantly that he was a messenger from the royal castle. The question was, what did he want at their house?

"I think you've got the wrong house, friend." Phillip was sorely tempted to shut the door on the man and go back to his work, but in the end curiosity won out, and he waited as patiently as he could to hear why the messenger had knocked on their door. "I can guarantee you that there's nothing in here that would concern your masters."

"Actually," the royal messenger said, pulling out a small parcel from his pouch with a flourish, "my masters have something that concerns you. Or, at least, the ladies of your household."

Phillip had to laugh. Ladies? In his house? Not likely. "I'm going to assume that you mean my stepmother and her daughters?"

"Yes," the messenger answered. "The census says that there are three eligible young maidens in this home. Is that correct, sir?"

"Eligible and young? I guess so." It was as accurate a description as any.

"Then these," and he handed the parcel that he had been holding over to Phillip, "are for the young ladies and their mother or chaperone. They are invitations to the four balls that the king and queen are holding later this month. They seek to find a suitable bride for the young prince, and so they are inviting all of the unmarried young women in the area to attend, in the hopes that the prince will take a liking to one of them. They will see him wed shortly after the fourth event."

By the end of the messenger's explanation Phillip was on the ground in hysterics. He just couldn't help himself. The idea of his stepsisters, even Alice, wed to a prince was the funniest thing that he had ever heard. It was enough to lighten his previously dark mood and keep him in good spirits for months!

"Trust me, you'd be doing your prince a favor if you just passed right by this house and went on to the next one. I hear that the Miller's have a very lovely daughter at home who’s just about the prince’s age." He fought to control himself while the messenger looked at him like he was a madman. "There is not a lady in this house that would make a suitable princess."

"All the same," the messenger insisted, "I am ordered to give invitations to each and every young woman in the kingdom who is yet unmarried. Besides, the prince is known to have rather unusual tastes, so who is to say what ladies would be suitable and which would not? So, suitable brides or no, your sisters are invited to the balls. Please see that they get these right away."

With that the messenger gave a bow and turned to head back down the path the way that he had come. Phillip just whipped away the tears that were still streaming down his face and attempted to stand up, already feeling sorry for the poor prince who would soon be meeting his marriage hungry stepsisters.


Two weeks passed in a flurry at Phillip's house. The door was constantly opened, tailors and seamstresses and stylists of every description passing over the threshold day and night. Lady Astare, mistress of the house and Phillip's stepmother, had started to prepare her daughters the moment that the invitations had been placed into her perfectly manicured hands. She was now determined to see one of her daughters wed to the prince by the end of the fourth ball. Even if she had to trick the poor fool into agreeing to it.

Phillip's oldest stepsister, Mary Sue, was a slovenly creature who had to be bullied into keeping herself tidy by her mother on a near daily basis. Cleaning her rooms was pure hell for Phillip, and he knew that the royal castle would be a pigsty within a week of the wedding if the prince chose her. With the hopes of masking her eldest daughter's habits her mother brought in new maids and tasked them with keeping Mary Sue neat and tidy until the ball. They brushed out her hair for her four times a day, did her nails after every meal, and worked tirelessly to keep her clothes in order in an effort to instill some good habits into the girl's behavior patterns. The maids were all confident that a little good-natured grooming applied by a firm hand would help the sloppy girl become a proper lady in time for the ball. By the end of the two weeks seven girls had quit in disgrace.

The middle girl was named Sara, and she was a selfish glutton who plodded about the house with food in her hand, no matter the hour, rattling the very windows with her heavy tread. Lady Astare decided that an emergency crash-diet was in order for her second daughter. She ordered all of Sara's dresses for the ball in sizes to fit her new form, and insisted that the girl would be able to fit them in time, although she did allow for a certain leeway where her corsets were concerned. She tasked Sara's new maids with keeping the food out of her hands and making her exercise until she dropped. The maids had thought it an easy task, certain that her own bloated appearance would be enough incentive for the piggish child to change in time for the ball. By the end of the two weeks nine girls had quit in disgrace.

The only girl that Phillip felt even remotely sorry for as she was caught up in their mother's scheming was Alice, the youngest girl. She was not sloppy or lazy like her eldest sister, even helping Phillip on occasion with some of the easier chores for the household, nor was she heavy and greedy like her other sister, her slender form and tidy appearance evidence to that. However, even with her lack of obvious shortcomings, Lady Astare still insisted on putting her youngest child through the ringer as well. Although, truth be told, the lady of the house saw Alice as the least likely to be found suitable by the young prince. Something that Phillip agreed with her on. Alice was nice enough, but she was shy and withdrawn, more than a little mousy in appearance, and Phillip just could not picture her as a princess. This was fine, considering the fact that Alice had no interest in becoming a princess anyway. She only went along with her mother's wishes because she was more than a little afraid of the domineering woman. At least none of her maids were forced to quit.

Phillip watched all of this, the ridiculous preparations that he was sure were all for naught, with only mild interest. It didn't really concern him. The ladies of the house were invited to the balls, and that most certainly did not include him. He was grateful for the distraction however, as it left the women in the house with little time to bother him. It was almost like a vacation.

Although, as much as he insisted that he wasn't, Phillip was a little jealous of his stepsisters. Not that he thought for even a moment that any of Lady Astare's daughters would be chosen by the prince as a bride, they’d be lucky if they were offered even one dance, but he still envied them for the opportunity. There was always the off chance that one of them would be well suited to the prince. He didn't know, as he'd never met the man before. But at least the girls had the hope of romance in their futures. Of a new life with someone who loved them. Phillip strongly suspected that he'd be lonely to the end of his days. But such was his lot in life, Phillip though, being born the second son of a third-rate sorcerer in a superstitious little kingdom.


The evening of the first ball arrived at long last. Mary Sue was dressed and groomed by her mother and a horde of maids, Sara was corseted into a dress that was far too small for her sizable body, and Alice was reluctantly dragged along with them as their mother did a last inspection of her soon-to-be princesses. She was hoping that sheer numbers would give her family the edge. After all, most of the households attending the ball only had one daughter to present to the prince. She had three!

Then Lady Astare shoved her three daughters into a carriage and off they went.

Phillip was at a loss when the house was finally empty. It wasn’t as though he was often given the chance to have the castle to himself. But, now that he was alone, he didn’t seem to know what to do with himself. He didn't want to go to the ball. Really, he didn't. Or, at least, that's what he kept telling himself. He thought that there was no one there to hear his protests. But he was wrong.

"I thought that they'd never leave!"

A tiny voice sounded near his ear, and Phillip turned in a bewildered circle, looking for the cause of the noise. Then he saw it. Hovering in midair, glittering softly in the fading light filtering in through the windows, was a tiny little pixi! She had a shocking stock of fuchsia hair, pink wings that were just as bright, and she was blinking at him with mischievous yellow eyes. Phillip had to shake his head twice and pinch himself once before he was certain that he wasn't imagining the strange little creature that had just appeared in his foyer.

"Who are you?"

"Me?" She seemed pleased by his question, and she straightened herself up to her full height (which was still well under fourteen inches) and preened a bit before giving a little curtsey and introducing herself. "My name is Christabelle."

"Nice to meet you, Christabelle." He though of offering a hand to shake, or a finger at the very least, but instead decided on a bow. It only seemed appropriate after the curtsey.

Christabelle didn't say anything else; instead she started to flutter about Phillip's head, circling him a few times before nodding approvingly. Her behavior confused Phillip even more than her sudden and unexpected appearance.

"Not to be rude," Phillip knew that it was never a good idea to anger a magick user, and he had inherited none of his father's skills with which to defend himself, so he tried to keep his voice as mild as possible. "...but what exactly are you doing here?"

"I'm here to help you."

"That's very nice of you," Phillip hadn't been aware that he'd been in need of help, "but what are you going to help me with? Exactly."

"Well, you see," Christabelle lighted on Phillip's shoulder, and he didn't know what else to do, so he allowed it. He was honestly curious, after all. It wasn't every day that he was visited by strange pixis offering him assistance with a dilemma that he knew nothing about. "Just a few weeks ago I was flying past your kitchen windows when I happened to hear you sisters calling you Cinderella. I thought that was rather odd, you being what you are and all, so I suppose that's why you stuck in my mind. That, and the fact that you're quite a pretty young man, which is always enough to catch my attention. Then, later that day, I happened to hear about a ball that was being held in honor of the young prince of this region. I put two and two together and I just knew that I was supposed to help you."

Phillip didn't know what to say. Mostly because the story didn't make a lick of sense.

"I got into some trouble a while back," Christabelle obviously saw the lack of comprehension on Phillip's face, so she went on talking. Her wings fluttering more and more as she grew excited, until, finally, she was flying around Philip's head once again. It all made Phillip rather dizzy. "A nice old wizard saved me, but he made me promise to do some good deeds in exchange for his help. A little while ago I helped out a darling little fox that was in love with a talented young composer. It was just like that old fairy tale, the velveteen rabbit, except with some hot man on man sex at the end. For which I was grateful. It was quite a show. Then, when I heard you being called Cinderella, another fairy tale, it seemed like a sign. My good deeds are all going to be fairy tale themed from now on!"

Of all the things that he could have said after such a strange tale, Phillip chose to say, "The velveteen rabbit wasn't a fairy tale."

"Semantics," Christabelle answered dismissively, her hands on her hips, a glare leveled at Phillip. "I've done the velveteen rabbit. It ended well. And now I'm moving on to Cinderella. Deal with it."

"But I'm not Cinderella," Phillip reminded her. "Cinderella wanted to marry the prince. I don't. Plus, I'm pretty sure that the prince is looking for a bride. Future mother of his children, and all that. I'm a guy."

"I can see that."

"If you can see that," Phillip wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry. Or maybe get angry. It was bad enough that his stepsisters wanted to call him Cinderella... "then why are you still here? You'll need to go elsewhere in order to find your Cinderella. In fact, she might even be waiting for you at the ball this very moment. Or, like in the story, stuck at home waiting for her fairy godmother to come and help her out. Don't waste time talking to me. Go. Help that poor little serving girl who's destined to become a princess."

Phillip tired to shoo Christabelle off toward the door, or the window, but the little pixi wouldn't be moved. And it wasn't just physically that she was refusing to budge.

"I know a sign when I see it," she insisted. "You're going to marry the prince."

"But I don't want to marry the prince!" Phillip shouted.

"Yes, you do."

"I like girls," he tried to convince her. Phillip couldn't believe that he was arguing with a pixi no bigger than a doll. Or that he was losing to one, either. He was taken by a sudden urge to squash her like a bug!

"Of course you don't." If she was aware of Phillip's anger, and the danger that it possibly posed for her, then Christabelle hid it well. "You're far too pretty to be into girls. You need a nice prince to settle down with. It's the only thing that'll do."

Phillip had never thought that he would be described as pretty. He wasn't ugly, far from it in his humble opinion, but pretty? And how, exactly, did that equal him marrying a prince? "Do you try to set up every pretty boy that you meet with other guys?"

"Yes," she answered immediately, a smile on her little face. "I don't like to see them wasted on other women."

"Please, just leave me alone." He wasn't entirely certain, but Phillip was pretty sure that Christabelle was as mad as a hatter. "I've got other things to worry about without a nutty little pixi trying to set me up with a prince because I'm pretty."

"Then I suppose that we could help each other."

Phillip didn't want to ask. Really, he didn't. But then his mouth moved and he couldn't seem to help himself. "How, exactly, could we help each other?"

"Well, I have to do some more good deeds. And you," she pointed her little finger right at the center of Phillip's chest, jabbing at him for emphasis, "want out of this place. I can tell."

Phillip didn't argue. For once, the pixi seemed to have gotten it right.

"If you let me send you to the ball, even if it doesn't work out, then I'll get you the hell out of here. I know people. I could set you up real nice just about anywhere that you'd want."

He didn't really believe her. Honestly, he didn't. And he really didn't want to go to the ball. Really. But, the hells with it, he didn't have anything else to do tonight. Plus, he was tired of arguing with her. He was pretty sure that it had been a losing battle from the beginning. "It would never work. Only eligible women are invited. I'm most definitely not on the guest list."

"You will be by the time I'm done with you!"


Phillip didn't like magick much. He never had. Growing up with a failure of a sorcerer who couldn't hit the blind side of a barn with a carefully aimed spell, whose every potion seemed to explode, and whose successes were still monumental failures for any other self-respecting magician, tended to do that to a person. And he had been on the wrong side of those experiments way too many times. Not to mention what had happened to his poor unfortunate older brother.

Christabelle didn't seem to mind his discomfort in the least.

"Hold still!"

Phillip didn't want to hold still. He wanted to crush the pixi that insisted on waving her wand at him. And he wanted to do it bad. "Why in the hells am I wearing a dress?!"

"Well, I would have thought that would be obvious."

"Humor me!" If he wasn't so angry, and uncomfortable, Phillip would have congratulated himself on keeping his temper so well thus far. Although he wasn't sure how much more he could take. And he hadn't even left the house yet.

"The prince is holding a ball to find a princess," Christabelle spoke to him as if he were a simple-minded child. "If you walk in there as a guy then the guards probably wouldn't even let you through the door. We need to disguise you so that you have a chance at meeting your true love. How else will you get your happily ever after?"

"He's not my true love," Phillip grumbled, knowing that his words would just go in one ear and out the other. "And he's going to know that I'm not a woman anyway. They all will."

"No they won't.” She was smiling, and it was driving Phillip nuts. The urge to swat her was getting stronger by the minute. "Trust me."

"Trust me, she says!" He threw his arms up in the air and walked towards the mirror, putting as much distance as he could between himself and his fairy godmother as possible. He was now utterly and completely convinced that she was mad, and he didn't want it rubbing off on him. Although, since he was currently wearing a dress and was getting ready to masquerade as a woman in order to impress a prince at a royal ball filled with his fellow townspeople, Phillip had to wonder if it hadn't already happened. "And, just for the record, there's no such thing as happily ever after. That only happens in fairy tales."

"But this is a fairy tale," Christabelle giggled as Phillip approached the mirror. She couldn't wait to see his reaction to her handy-work. "Remember, you're Cinderella."

"My name's not Cinderella."

He might not be Cinderella, and he didn't want to admit it, but as he finally took a good look at himself in the full length mirror Phillip almost believed that Christabelle's plan could work. Almost. He didn't make a very pretty woman, and anyone looking too closely or who was too familiar with him was sure to spot the deception, but to a stranger Phillip thought that he might look like a rather rough woman. He was only five foot nine at his straightest, so Christabelle had put leather sandals on his feet instead of high heels (for which his dignity was very grateful) and there were straps wrapping themselves around his ankles and calves. His body had always been nearly hairless, so the telltale stubble that would give most men's arms and legs away wasn't a problem. His form was slender and his muscles lean, so only the broadness of his shoulders looked odd in the mass of flowing robes that the pixi had dressed him in. There was even a heavily embroidered scarf to go across his throat to hide the fullness of his adam's apple. And, Phillip was forced to note, the dark chartreuse and purples that his tailor had chosen did bring out the green of his eyes surprisingly well. The eyeliner didn't hurt either. She'd managed to highlight the fine bone structure that Phillip had inherited from his mother's good breeding as well with only a little hint of make-up. Christabelle had even done something with his short, wavy brown locks that made him look quite pretty. Or very nearly pretty. Besides, after having met the William's milkmaid at market only a few days ago, Phillip decided that he definitely wasn't the manliest looking woman that he'd ever seen. That had to count for something.

"It'll do..." he was reluctant to admit it, but Christabelle might have been right. He probably would pass. "I guess."

"Good." As if there had ever been any doubt in the pixi’s fiendish mind. "Now you just need a few accessories and you'll be ready to go."

"Accessories?" He was almost afraid to ask.

"First, a circlet, to let him know just how fetching you'll look in a crown." Like that a tingle of magick prickled at Phillip's forehead and he had a golden circlet on the top of his head. "Then some bracelets to hide those rough wrists of yours." Another tingle of magick and there were cuffs of gold around both wrists. "And, lastly, a pendant. I'll enchant it so that you can contact me if you need to, so don't lose it."

Christabelle obviously thought that he was done, her project complete, because she just fluttered out of the door once she'd given Phillip the pendant. He'd been around the pixi long enough not to bother to ask where she was going, or what she was doing, so he just followed her outside after one last glance in the mirror. He didn't think that he'd be fooled if he met himself, but he also wondered if he'd care. So he shrugged and went along to the front yard.

"A little transportation is in order." Yellow eyes searched the darkened ground, until, at last, they lighted on a pumpkin. "Perfect."

A wave of the wand, a few words of incantation, and there was a coach where the pumpkin had once grown. "But it's orange. And it looks like a giant pumpkin."

"It's artistic!"

"What sort of pixi are you?"

"One who'll turn you into a toad if you don't shut up?"

Phillip, wisely, shut up.

"Now for some servants." A hapless mouse who was out for an evening snack, an owl who was hunting said mouse, and two garden lizards had the misfortune of meeting the business end of Christabelle's wand. Although, truth be told, they really did look quite handsome in their gilded suits. Even if the owl-man did still seem to have his sights set on the mouse. "Now you're all set. It's perfect."

"Perfect." Phillip wasn't sure who was crazier. Christabelle for saying it was perfect, for believing that her plan would work, or Phillip himself for going along with it thus far. But... "In for a penny, in for a pound."

"Did you say something, my darling little princess?"

"No." What would be the point? "Let's get going. It's time to get this thing over with."

"Oh, one last thing." Phillip held his breath and crossed his fingers. Every time that Christabelle opened her mouth it seemed to get worse. He couldn't even imagine what she'd say this time. "Be back before midnight."

"Be back before midnight," he repeated, "or what?"

"Just be back before midnight."


Phillip thought about bailing out during the trip between his home and the royal castle, of just running off and staying hidden until it was too late to get to the ball, but in the end he decided against it. Christabelle would probably just track him down and make him go anyway. Better to appear without carriage tracks on his clothing, he thought.

The distracted (mostly by plans of squashing a certain pink pixi with a fairy tale fetish) Phillip had to remind himself of just who he was supposed to be when the carriage finally came to a halt. He would normally help himself out, maybe offering a hand to his sisters if they weren't being too obnoxious that day, so when the footman opened the door first it left him a little confused. He started to say something, started to ask him why he thought that he couldn't do it himself, but as he looked down at his flowing robes of brilliant purples and greens Phillip was reminded of why he wasn't supposed to help himself. But he drew the line at taking the man-lizard's hand when offered.

When he moved to enter the doors to the royal palace, presenting an invitation courtesy of Christabelle, the doorman looked at him strangely but otherwise said nothing. He even bowed as Phillip entered. After that Phillip breathed a bit easier.

Christabelle might have had a plan, but Phillip had one of his own, and they weren't exactly on the same page. But Phillip thought that the pixi had only herself to blame for that. In his opinion, not only was her plan utterly and completely ridiculous, but she had worded their agreement far too vaguely. Something that surprised him, considering the fact that pixi’s were known for their use (or misuse, as one saw it) of words when it came to trapping hapless victims into magickal contracts. But Phillip planned to use her mistake to his advantage. If Christabelle wanted Phillip to go to the ball while masquerading as an eligible young maiden looking for a husband then he would go to the ball masquerading as a maiden. He had never said that he'd be talking with the prince though.

Phillip was a little awed by the majesty of the ball, and the castle itself, for even though he had grown up in a castle it had been a small ancestral home and nothing more. But this was no modest sorcerer’s home. Everywhere that he looked there was gold and gilt, silver and sparkle, and not just on the castle walls. Every woman in the area was in attendance, each trying to outdo the other in the hopes of catching the prince's eye. He thought, all and all, that they looked laughably ludicrous. He even saw his stepsisters once, but they only glanced at him, obviously unimpressed, before pushing him out of the way in their single-minded search for the prince. Who, it would seem, had been rather scarce all evening.

Phillip eventually found himself a nice little alcove in which to hide out in. It was well away from the teeming mass of bodies that danced about the floor, but he still had a good view of the spectacle that was going on about him. It was actually rather entertaining, he thought. Phillip waved a server over, helped himself to some of the best wine that he had ever tasted, and sat back to watch the night's entertainment.

Then he heard a voice. It seemed that his hiding spot was not quite as secluded at he'd hoped for.

"Ridiculous, aren't they?" Phillip was glad to see that he had been joined by another man, and not a woman looking to scope out the competition. He had already dealt with all of the estrogen that he could handle for one night. "They're like hungry jackals shoved into frock coats all fighting over the same prey. It's enough to frighten any sane man right into celibacy!"

Phillip couldn't help but laugh. And, if his laughter was a bit too deep and a little too rumbling for the average woman, his companion didn't seem to mind. In fact, he joined in with him and the two men had a hearty laugh at the expense of the obsessed husband-seeking would-be princesses.

"I don't think that I've ever met you before," Phillip wasn't sure about the way that the man was looking at him now that they had stopped laughing, but he decided not to pay it any mind. He was, after all, a very pretty young woman. At least for the night. "Are you perhaps from one of the neighboring territories?"

"Something like that."

"Might I ask your name?"

Phillip almost gave the game away right there, but he caught himself in time, instead deciding to have a little laugh at his own expense. After all, why waste Christabelle's oh-so brilliant idea? "Cinderella."

"Like the fairy tale?"

"Just like the fairy tale."

After that, Phillip and his new found companion spent the rest of the night making good natured comments about the women at the ball, all while the want-to-be brides grew more and more agitated by the prince's continued absence. All and all, considering what he would normally have been doing, Phillip could have conceived of worse ways to spend the night.

As the night wore on Phillip found his eyes wandering over his new companion's handsome form again and again. This didn't surprise Phillip over much. He may have told Christabelle otherwise, but he'd suspected that a wife wasn't in his future when, at the tender age of twelve, he had turned down a kiss from a pretty noble named Beth in favor of a naked swim with her father's stable boy down at the lake. And, even if he hadn't already suspected where his preferences lie, he wouldn't have faulted himself for looking at this man. He was undeniably handsome. He had dark blonde hair that fell in soft curls across is face, his hands constantly moving to brush it away, until even Phillip found himself wanting to touch those curls. His brown eyes were warm and welcoming, filled with mirth, sparking with mischief, but behind it all was a strong intelligence that intrigued Phillip as the night moved on towards morning. And then there were his dimples. They showed every time that he smiled too broadly. It was enough to drive a man to distraction. And it did.

"You know," Phillip had been staring a bit too hard, and thus he had missed what his companion had said, so he tried to cover his lapse in concentration with a question, "I just realized that I never got your name."


"Where?" Phillip was actually curious to see the man in the flesh after so much fuss being made about him, so when the title was mentioned he couldn't help but turn to look.

"No, it's my name."

"Prince? What a..."

"Yeah, I know." It obviously wasn't the first time that his name had left someone speechless. "Bet my father would feel really stupid about that if I ever find some ambition and decide to knock-off my older brothers to ascend to the throne."

"Ascend the throne?" Phillip wasn't stupid. He knew what that meant. But still, to think that all night he had been keeping company with the one man that every woman in the place wanted to meet, all while trying to avoid said man? "You mean... you're the prince?"

The prince... or, rather, Prince, just shrugged his shoulders and smiled sheepishly. "Not going to feed me to the vultures now, are you?"

"No." In truth, he didn't want to give up Prince to the women of the ball, but he couldn't quite figure out how he'd ended up falling into Christabelle's trap just by hiding in a corner. "But, shouldn't you be out there right now? This is a ball to find your bride."

"Don't want a bride." The pout in his voice was adorable, in Phillip's opinion. Then, pointing out towards the crowd, Prince shuddered and moved further back into the shadows. "Besides, have you seen some of these women? They're crazy."

Phillip was surprised when Prince latched onto his arm, looking back at him imploringly, batting long lashes in a way that would have put most of the women at the ball to shame. "Please, don't make me go out there." The mock-terror in the prince's voice put Phillip into a fit of giggles, and he had to try very hard to keep them both upright when the giggling turned to something heartier. "They'll eat me alive. You have to protect me."

Phillip didn't know what to say, and he couldn't quite get his laughter under control, but then Prince started to squeeze his arm a bit more firmly and Phillip sobered instantly. Surprisingly, he found himself rather disappointed, thinking that he was going to have to tell Christabelle that her plan had failed after only one ball out of four. "My, but you're much more solid than most of those lasses out there."

"Yes, well, you see..."

"No need to be shy." Phillip wasn't sure what Prince meant, so he just kept quiet. "It's nice to know that not all of the ladies of this land are spoiled little brats who've never known a days work in their lives. After all, not all of us like delicate little girls made of skin and bone. I like a little meat to my lovers."

"I..." What was he supposed to say? "Thank you. I think."

"You're welcome." A cheeky smile and a brief wink let him know that Prince was only partially joking.

"You know, I-” Whatever else he had been about to say was drowned out by the sudden chiming of the great clock in the royal tower. Phillip wasn't sure why, but the sound filled him with dread. Then he remembered his little pixi godmother's words, just be back before midnight, and he went pale under his make-up. "I have to go."

He grabbed his robes in his hand, not wanting to trip on the way out, and started to run for the door. Phillip was grateful that Christabelle hadn't given him heals, and he was out the door and rushing past the doormen before he heard the shouting coming from behind him. He turned just in time to see Prince trying to follow him, but he'd been caught by the hordes of previously spurned would-be princesses, and Phillip had a moment to whisper an apology before running towards his carriage. He didn't wonder why it was waiting for him. He was just glad that it was.


             ~~~~~~~~ Back to Cinderella ~~~~~~~~ Part 2



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