They stand in the courtyard in their finery, the Prince of the land dressed in a majestic black tunic and the daughter of the kingdom's richest Lord draped in the glorious white silks of her gown. The people cheer as they walk past, throwing ribbons and flowers at the newlywed couple. The Prince basks in the attention, smiling and waving at the crowd as he leads his bride toward the castle gates.
It should be me.
It should be me at his side, wearing his ring, spending his wedding night. How many times had he told me that? How many times had he whispered words of love in my ear, telling me that I was the only woman for him, promising that we would be together forever?
And how many times had I believed him.
I should have known, I should have realised that a Prince like him would never marry a common girl like me. But I didn't. Instead, I lived thoughtlessly by his side as his mistress, his paramour, oblivious to the whispers around me. Whispers that the Prince had no business with frolicking with a poor serving girl when he should be looking for a suitable wife.
After the first week at his castle I asked him what would become of us, and he said that he would marry me. It placated me enough then. A month went past, then two, three, four, and soon a whole year had gone without any mention of marriage.
I wasn't stupid, I knew that it was unnatural for a man and a woman to live together for that long without being wed. I knew that it was unnatural for a member of the royal family to wed to a woman of my calibre. I just thought...
Well that's the thing. I didn't think. I always assumed that he would defy tradition, that his love for me was more important than his reputation. He did love me, of that I have no doubt. Just not enough, I guess.
They're at the gate now, the Prince smiles at the footman who opens it for him. It hurts. It's the same thing he did the first time he took me into the castle. The two walk inside, out of my sight, but I know what is happening. The image plays in my mind, the men jeering and the women giggling as they lead the nervous couple to their bedchamber, laughing, smiling, happy...
A tear runs down the side of my face.
It was supposed to be me, he said it would be me. Well, at least until that day.
"You know I have to do this, you know I have no choice."
"You always have a choice, choose me. You love me, not her!"
"I have a responsibility to my kingdom, it doesn't matter who I love."
"Yes it does, it matters to you, and to me. And we-"
"There's no point in arguing. We always knew this was coming."
"You knew? What do you mean you knew? You've been lying to me, leading me on for the past year? Pretending you were going to marry me, tricking me into thinking this was forever?"
"I'm sorry, I just, I really do love you. I'm sorry."
The wedding was arranged the next day.
The people in the courtyard are beginning to disperse now, each going back to there own comfortable house where a spouse and children await them with a hot meal. They're leaving, walking away, heading back home, emptying the space.
Until all that is left in the courtyard are the few fallen decorations that littler the ground, wrinkled and crumpled from being repeatedly trampled underfoot. Simple debris of a recent joyous occasion.
But even as I watch the light afternoon breeze picks them up and blows them away, leaving only me, sitting by myself at the small window in the highest turret with nothing but desperate memories and a broken heart.
"And lo and behold, the dainty glass slipper fitted on her foot perfectly."
I look away from the window, my tear filled gaze turning into the dark, empty room that he used to share.
"So the Prince found his Cinderella, and the two lived Happily Ever After."
Ever After didn't last very long.