“What a waste of time,” Bruce says to nobody in particular. “I knew it wouldn’t fit any of those twelve silly sisters. I feel bad for their poor father with all of them talking at once and dancing everywhere. Such a nightmare.”
Prince Charming nods but says nothing. He holds his head high, mounts his pure white stallion, and kicks him forward with boots of shiny black leather. Bruce watches him for a moment, taking in his blonde curls, his golden crown of ivy, his white riding pants, and his blue velvet jacket. He looks like a boy playing a game, not a grown man who will be crowned King.
Bruce has been the valet and personal assistant to Prince Charming since he was seven. When he’d met the small, pale boy, his nanny had quit and his father wanted him to have a male attendant. Bruce thought it would be an easy job. He was happy to move out of his rundown shack, wear nice clothes, eat three meals a day, and live in the gleaming white palace.
He had no idea how difficult the job would be. At first, the young boy would run from him and hide all over the palace. He’d jump out and scare the maids, break things and run, or leave the palace grounds and roam the nearby villages. Each time the prince got into trouble, it was Bruce who faced the consequences. He soon learned his real job was covering up the prince’s actions and hiding them from the King. Not an easy job at all.
When he was 8, Prince Charming became obsessed with a white lamb in the stables. He named it Weatherby and spent all his time carrying it around. The King had a strict no-animal policy in the palace, but the prince insisted on sneaking it inside and feeding it the food he swiped from the cook. Each night, Bruce would remove the lamb from the prince’s arms and return it to the stables, and each morning he’d find it curled up sleeping on the prince’s pillow. Bruce would smuggle it back outside in his jacket before it could be discovered, leaving him smelling like an animal for the rest of the day.
When he was 10, Prince Charming decided he wanted to become a knight. Bruce would find him pulling a heavy sword down a hallway or practicing archery by shooting the King’s prized pumpkins. Once he snuck out at night and tried to join the watchmen, wearing one of their uniforms he’d swiped from the laundress. Bruce had to follow him everywhere, making sure he didn’t hurt himself or others.
As the prince grew, he showed less and less interest in playing games or sneaking around. Instead, he grew sullen and serious. He’d walk around the gardens with his head hung low, refusing to do his lessons or practice his swordsmanship. Bruce became more of a friend and mentor, encouraging the young prince to prepare himself for the day he would become King. They’d spend hours together reading, talking and Bruce grew quite fond of the prince.
On the prince’s 16th birthday, a caravan arrived from the Eastern Kingdom bringing with it an auburn-haired girl wearing a flowing dress of bright pink. Her name was Princess Papillon and she was presented to the prince as his betrothed, an arrangement made when he was a baby to brokerage peace. He knew nothing about the deal, and neither did Bruce. It felt like a cruel birthday joke, and the prince was furious. He refused to have anything to do with her, even if she was incredibly beautiful.
“She’s a pink pampered poodle of a person,” he’d screamed loud enough for the entire palace to hear.
Bruce knew the prince’s anger was about being told who he had to marry, rather than towards the girl herself. However, the statement caused a great rift between the two kingdoms. It almost ended in war. Lucky for all involved, the King was a powerful negotiator and, after many days of heated discussion, he was able to negotiate a peace treaty involving trade benefits in the Eastern Kingdom’s favor.
The moment the delegation left, the King rounded on Prince Charming. They had a terrible fight, and the prince said he would rather give up his title than marry any woman his father chose for him. As the prince is the sole heir to the throne, a compromise had to be found.
The “Who Wants to be the Queen?” ball held last night was the compromise. The King invited every girl in the kingdom, including princesses from far and wide, and the prince agreed to pick one to be his future queen. It was an elaborate evening with the finest of everything; food, clothing, decorations, and musicians. Bruce got quite drunk and figured the evening would end with the prince happy and content, but things got strange.
The mysterious girl the prince spent the evening dancing with, a stunning girl with golden hair and sparkling bright eyes, suddenly dashed out of the palace at midnight leaving behind her glass slipper on the grand staircase. Prince Charming, devastated and heartsick, organized a quest at once. Bruce, as his right-hand man, had spent the last six hours knocking on doors and shoving the slipper on the sweaty foot of more girls than he can count. It’s been exhausting, demeaning, and rather depressing to see the Prince acting so lovesick.
It takes several soldiers to hoist Bruce back on his horse, a brown filly with a gut as round as his own. Both Bruce and the horse grunt, the horse from carrying his weight, and Bruce weary from lack of sleep and a night of excess food and drink, even for Bruce. A soldier hands him the golden basket containing the slipper, and he considers, for about the hundredth time, dropping it on the forest floor and watching it shatter. Instead, he kicks his horse forward until he’s beside Prince Charming.
“Sire,” Bruce tries. “I know I’ve said this already, but I wish you’d reconsider. This girl should be coming to you, not the other way around. You should not have to track her down. You are going to be King. It’s unbecoming.”
Prince Charming’s hand rests on the hilt of his sword, but he says nothing. Bruce pulls on the reins, and his horse slows. They ride in silence, surrounded by a dozen soldiers and pages, toward the next house on the search. Bruce knows when the prince has his mindset and there’s nothing he can say or do to change it.
Everyone at the ball agreed, the girl had the glow of magic about her. Bruce worries she may have been an enchantress who has bewitched the young prince. Her quick disappearance, the one glass slipper, and his complete and utter obsession with her all points to sorcery. He’d tried to get an audience with the King to share this opinion, but he would not grant one. As usual, the King wants results and doesn’t care how they happen. While the King’s focused on securing his legacy by having the prince married, Bruce wants the prince to be happy.
A family of rabbits dart from the underbrush, scaring the horses who whinny and jerk to a stop. Bruce loses his grip on the basket, and it tumbles from his hands. A freckled-faced young page dives off his horse and catches the basket before it hits the ground. He stands, several fresh cuts on his cheek and arm, and bows before Bruce.
“I saved it,” he says.
“So you did,” says Bruce.
Prince Charming gives the young boy a nod, and he beams. He will be telling this story to his family for years to come, the day he saved the glass slipper for the prince. He limps over to his small horse and remounts. The other pages give him encouraging smiles, but Bruce scowls. This was so close to being over.
They’ve been riding in the direct sunlight for an hour and Bruce feels weak and light-headed. He clutches the basket with one hand and wipes sweat from his eyes with the other. He sighs with relief when they turn off the main road and enter a dense grove of tall redwood trees.
The path here’s a bit overgrown, and he considers catching up to Prince Charming to suggest they return to the road when a small two-story cottage comes into view. It’s made of wood and thatch, with a pattern like a stacked deck of cards, and boards of varying dark and white wood. There’s a kind of wildness about the place, and it makes the hairs on Bruce’s arms stand on end.
Prince Charming dismounts and waits with his hands on his hips for Bruce. It’s a bit of a process to get the chubby man off his horse, and it involves several guards and a fair amount of moaning. Stiffly, he carries the basket and meets the prince at the door.
“This could be the place,” the prince says. “I can feel it. We are getting nearer to her.”
“Sure,” Bruce says.
Prince Charming grabs him by his shoulders and spins him so they are facing each other. There’s a look of manic love in those baby blue eyes, a sort of desperate hopefulness Bruce can’t ignore. For a moment he forgets his pains and wishes happiness for the young prince.
“We will find her,” he says.
“Your friendship means the world to me. I can’t imagine doing this without you.”
“There’s no place I’d rather be.”
He’s surprised he means it and hopes the owner of the slipper loves Prince Charming and isn’t an evil enchantress. He gestures for the royal horns to be blown and knocks on the door. It’s a few minutes before a high voice can be heard through the heavy wood.
“Open the door,” Bruce yells. “Prince Charming has arrived and demands an audience with you at once.”
“Seems a bit harsh,” the prince whispers.
Bruce agrees, but it’s the first time he’s had to answer such a question. Each house before had thrown open its doors when they heard the horse hooves on the road. All had laid out elaborate settings of food and wine. Bruce had eaten and drank more than he could handle, but he was taken aback by this house’s lack of pomp.
The door opens with a creak, and they are face to face with a young girl dressed in a strange costume. She’s wearing large round glasses, far too big for her face, making her eyes appear as two giant saucers of blueberry jam. An oversized pink-flowered bonnet covers her hair, ears, and forehead. Wrapped around her body, held closed by a rather dirty hand, is a tattered quilt of brown and green squares with a noticeable amount of brown fur clinging to it.
She blinks and yawns. It’s clear they have woken her up, even though it’s getting close to lunchtime. She shifts and it looks like she might close the door in their faces.
“What’s going on?” she says.
There’s no mistaking the grumpiness in her voice, and the prince takes a step back. She scowls and for a second, Bruce worries she may attack them. Perhaps she’s a wild child living alone in the woods. He takes a protective step in front of the prince.
“Are you the only one home?” Bruce asks.
He tries to peer behind the girl, but she’s blocking the doorway. She lowers the glasses from her nose and gives them a good look, up and down. Her gaze stops on the prince’s crown, and her face transforms. She gives them a huge smile of brilliantly white teeth, and her voice becomes sugary sweet.
“Wait a second. Did you say he was a prince? Like The Prince Charming?”
“Yes,” Bruce says.
The girl giggles, her cheeks turning instantly pink. She bows, bending her body so her nose touches the floor. The pink bonnet falls from her head revealing an abundance of shiny blonde ringlets. She stands and removes the oversized glasses, but her blue eyes remain large and bright. She throws the quilt to the floor and bounces on her heels.
“A prince has come to see me,” she says. “It’s my lucky day!”
She does a sort of elaborate curtsey, with one knee almost touching the floor and one leg pulled far behind her. Her dress, soft blue checkered with a fluffy white petticoat underneath, has splotches of porridge all down the front. She doesn’t seem to notice though, beaming at the prince.
“Oh, you’ve caught me at a bad time,” she says, grabbing his hand and pulling him forward. “I’m usually much more bubbly. Please, come in and join me by the fireplace.”
The prince doesn’t move, so she yanks his arm. The guards press forward, but he waves them away.
“Come on,” she says.
He allows her to pull him into the dark cottage. Letting go of his hand, she chucks large pieces of wood in the direction of the fireplace but misses terribly. She knocks over a table, and a beautiful yellow-flowered lamp smashes onto the floor.
“Oops!“ she says.
The cottage has the look of a bar after a huge fight. The kitchen table has one empty wooden bowl set in the center, but two others sit on the floor, the sticky contents of uneaten porridge pooling around them. By the fireplace, one large and one medium-sized chair is knocked over and covered with dirty shoe marks. A small wooden chair has been smashed to pieces. The girl picks up a splintered leg, breaking it free with a loud snapping sound, and adds it to the wood she’s stacked in and around the fireplace.
“We don’t need a fire,” Bruce says.
“Oh,” the girl says.
“What’s your name?” the prince says.
“Oh, silly me. I didn’t tell you! Why I’m Goldilocks! You know, the girl with beautiful hair. Everyone knows me.”
“I don’t know you,” Bruce says.
“Don’t be silly,” the prince says and gives Bruce a reproaching look. “Goldilocks. Of course, we know you. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
He holds out his hand and she shakes it up and down so vigorously that the crown on his head slips to the side. He removes his hand, wiping the sticky remnants of dried porridge on the back of Bruce’s shirt, and straightens his crown.
“We are sorry to intrude,” Bruce says. “Thanks for letting us in, but we better get moving.”
Bruce thought, for sure, the prince would agree to skip the foot of this very odd child, but the prince scowls at Bruce, and returns his attention to Goldilocks. He gives her a little bow, which causes her to giggle madly and blush.
“We are traveling throughout the kingdom today in search of a girl who was at the ball last night,” the prince says. “She left her glass slipper and we are trying to return it.”
Goldilocks smiles and, for the first time, she notices the basket in Bruce’s hands. She reaches forward to stroke it, but he steps back before she can. Her hands twitch, and for a moment, he can see a bit of anger in her blue eyes. She composes herself and walks into the kitchen.
“There’s a chair in here,” she calls.
Bruce sees her grab an object off the counter and slip it behind her back. He sighs. He didn’t know how many young ladies in this land could be sneaky and dishonest. Many, including this young girl, didn’t even attend the ball. Yet, he knows how important this quest and the ritual have become to the prince.
“I’m waiting,” Goldilocks calls in a sing-song voice.
Bruce and the prince follow Goldilocks to the kitchen. She’s sitting on a large wooden chair, her small bare feet dangling in front of her. Bruce hands the basket to the prince and lowers himself into a kneeling position. His joints creak and he feels a sharp stabbing pain in his lower back. He’s too old and too fat for this nonsense. He clears his throat, and begins the ceremony, exactly as he’s done each time.
“Goldilocks, please present your foot,” he says.
The girl wiggles her toes and giggles. He grabs the foot in his hand, it’s warm, covered in dirt, and smells faintly of bread.
“The glass slipper,” Bruce says.
The prince takes it out with two hands and closes his eyes.
“Oh, sweet giver of the beautiful slipper, I will find thee,” he thinks. “I won’t rest until you are in my arms again.”
He can feel her energy attached to the glass slipper, and while he knows it’s not the girl before him now, he feels a certain reverence for the process. It’s practice for when he finds her. He wants the moment to be perfect.
“Last night the most…”
Goldilocks doesn’t wait for the prince’s speech, but instead yanks the slipper from his hand and spins around in the large chair with it held to her chest. The prince screams and lunges for her, knocking Bruce from his kneeled position to his butt. Goldilocks hops onto the table, turns her back to them, and slips it onto her left foot.
“It fits!” she yells. “Look at me! I’m the Princess! I’m the Princess!”
She dances across the table, the glass slipper tapping, her barefoot slapping. Tap. Slap. Tap. Slap. The prince feels light-headed and staggers back until he’s leaning against the kitchen sink. Bruce tries to get up but falls onto his back like a turtle. The soldiers look confused, and sort of shuffle around the room.
The front door swings open with a growl, and a family of three bears stomp in; a father bear, a mother bear, and a wee baby bear. They are dressed in fine clothing and holding baskets of fresh-picked blueberries. They scan the room with wide eyes, taking in the terrible mess, the dancing girl, the prince, Bruce, and the soldiers.
They all three growl, a low rumbling sound, and the soldiers move toward the prince.
“My bonnet,” Mother bear says.
“My glasses,” Father bear says.
“My blankie,” Baby bear says.
Goldilocks continues her slap-and-tap dance on the table, oblivious to the scene unfolding around her. The soldiers help Bruce to his feet and form a huddle around him and the prince. They watch as the bears walk around the room, pointing out broken items to each other, and getting more and more upset.
“My chair’s covered in shoe prints,” father bear says.
“My chair’s torn and filthy,” mother bear says.
“My chair’s broken,” baby bear wails.
Father bear growls. Mother bear growls. Baby bear wails. They stalk toward the prince and Bruce, and the soldiers form an even tighter circle around them. The bears look from the group of men to the dancing girl, and back.
“Who did this?” Father bear growls.
The hair on the back of his neck stands on end as he notices the spilled bowls of porridge on the ground. The prince peeks through the wall of soldiers and points at Goldilocks.
“She stole my glass slipper too,” he says.
Father bear growls. Mother bear growls. Baby bear growls.
The prince, Bruce, and the soldiers turn away.
Slap. Tap. Slap. Tap.
“I’m the princess!”
There’s a loud roaring, followed by ripping and tearing. The men cover their ears and inch as one group across the room and out the front door. A few moments later the door opens behind them and the three bears emerge.
Father bear’s mouth drips red.
Mother bear’s mouth drips red.
Baby bear’s mouth drips red.
“Here,” baby bear says in a wee voice.
He holds the now ruby red glass slipper in his small paws. It’s unbroken, and they can see a large piece of bread shoved in the toe. The prince takes the slipper with shaking hands.
“Thank you,” the prince says.
The bears say nothing, returning to the house and slamming the heavy door behind them. A page removes the bread and uses water and a cloth to clean the glass slipper, polishing it and polishing it until it’s returned to its former beauty. It’s placed back into the golden basket, everyone mounts their horses, and they continue on their quest.
Not one of them, not even the freckled-faced page, pauses to mourn the death of Goldilocks.
Author’s note: My favorite part of motherhood has been reading to my children. I’ve read all the classic fairy tales, as well as hundreds of picture books and chapter books. This prompt had me spinning in lots of directions for several days until I happened to be eating oatmeal for breakfast and the image of Prince Charming and a bloody shoe came to me. I had so much fun writing this short story, and I sure hope you enjoyed reading it.
Short Story Challenge | Week 3
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a mash-up of two classic fairy tales into one story. We had to include the words fireplace, sword, grove, stroke, underbrush, mourn, seven, friendship, cardboard, and giver.
Write With Us
Prompt: A missionary in a remote village
Include: orchestra, finch, aim, development, ex, bold, old-fashioned, gut, brassy, sharp