October 30

Fictober, Prompt 30 – “Don’t ruin this.”

Original fiction, fantasy/fairy tale. Part three of three of my weird take on Cinderella. Part One (Day 28) and Part Two (Day 29).

Warnings: none.

Mother and Lorena were immediately obsessed with the notion that one of us might catch the Prince’s eye, especially when the ball was being held for the purpose of finding him a wife.

I feigned as much enthusiasm as I could.

Ellie and I did not speak about it.

She wanted to come, and the phrasing of the invitation would certainly allow for it. I might have been able to put in a word with Mother (there had been some whispers, during our usual social rounds, wondering what had happened to the household’s third daughter), but I did not.

I told myself it was because we had already agreed that I shouldn’t champion Ellie’s cause to Mother, just in case.

My motives were not so straightforward as that, but Ellie did not actually ask.

We did not kiss anymore, but still sat next to each other on the few nights I could manage to sneak down to the kitchen.

I told myself it was enough.

“Stepmother,” Ellie’s voice came hesitantly from behind us just as the carriage was pulling around. “Could- Could I come to the ball as well?”

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October 29

Fictober, Prompt 29 – “Why are we whispering?”

Original fiction, fantasy/fairy tale. Part two of three: link to Part One (Day 28).

Warnings: none, other than the usual implications of abuse in any take on Cinderella.

Our presentations at court did not go well.

Mother had insisted on the traditional peach-colored dresses for both of us, which looked all right on Lorena but terrible on me. I had not argued. Once there, Lorena could not stifle a case of nervous hiccups, and I stumbled in my curtsy to Their Majesties.

For once, I felt glad to be just one of many young women present. I did not say this – Mother would scold me for it.

“If only the Prince had been there!” Lorena wailed during the carriage ride home. “I’m sure I could have caught his eye.”

“There will be time for that later,” Mother said, but looked as though she agreed. “It is enough for now that you are both presented, and can properly accept invitations. It expands our social opportunities.”

I did not sigh, or wince. Fortunately, Lorena continued to chatter (as grating as her voice often was), so I could safely look at the window, watching the landscape pass.

It was a relief when we reached the manor, and more so as evening set in. I did not allow myself to think about why.

I had slept the past three nights, to make sure I wasn’t too tired at court, but tonight I took my books (and one extra) and crept downstairs to the kitchen once Mother and Lorena were asleep.

“How did it go?” Ellie asked once I had settled myself at the table and she had exclaimed over the new book I slid over to her.

I hesitated, then shook my head. “Badly. I stumbled. And I look terrible in peach.”

(I looked terrible in most things, really. More and more I looked in my mirror and was forced to acknowledge to myself that I was not pretty. Not hideous, certainly, but not pretty, no matter what Mother claimed.)

Ellie grimaced sympathetically. It made me feel a little better somehow. “It’s so many layers, isn’t it?”

I nodded. Then, feeling daring and guilty all at once, I said, “Lorena got hiccups.”

Ellie’s face did something strange, as if she thought she should grimace in sympathy again but actually wanted to laugh. It looked funny.

She was still prettier than I was. She was pretty.

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October 28

Fictober, Prompt 28 – “I don’t have to explain myself.”

Original fiction, fantasy/fairy tale. Part one of a probable three.

Warnings: none.

A voice from the door startled me: “What are you doing?”

I turned and regarded Ellie with as haughty a look as I could summon at half past midnight. “I don’t have to explain myself,” I told her, “especially not to you.”

It probably would have been more effective if my voice had been less stiff, if my shivering were less obvious. I had supposed that the extra layer and a warm shawl would be enough, but without a fire, the dining hall was cold at this time of night.

Ellie raised one eyebrow ever so slightly, then bobbed something that could be considered a curtsy and left, closing the door behind her.

I pulled my single candle closer, holding my hands near it for a moment to warm them. I knew that Mother insisted it was important for us to understand Mathematics, so that we could keep the accounts in our own households whenever we married, but numbers did not come easily to me.

With our days full of lessons and social outings, there was no extra time during reasonable hours for me to try and learn what came so much more easily to Lorena. I would not fall behind her in this, or in anything. I would not be a disappointment to mother.

Allowing myself to feel nothing except determination, I bent over my books again, determined to get this right.

When Ellie interrupted me again, two nights later, she at least had the decency to knock lightly first.

Of course, I had slipped into a half doze, worn out from our usual long days combined with shorter nights, so I startled anyway.

“What?” I snapped when she peered around the door, covering my frustration with anger.

She didn’t quite flinch back, but it seemed like a close thing. Then she straightened, and said, “It’s warmer in the kitchen.”

“What?” This time it came out bewildered. I blinked at her, my exhausted mind not following.

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Quick Review: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

I just finished Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire, and I enjoyed it a lot!

Personally, I am a big fan of new or different takes on traditional fairy tales, and so this take on Cinderella appealed to me. It is almost historical fiction as much as it is a fairy tale, set in Holland during the 1600s, during the early parts of the tulip craze. I felt that the story moved along at a good pace (although I was occasionally confused as to how much in-story time had actually passed), and I was definitely able to immerse myself in the world. There were some unexpected twists as well, especially at the end.

Does anyone have other recommendations for good fairy-tale retellings? I am a fan of Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, and I know that I read some others when I was younger, but don’t recall them too well now.