On the way to the ball I got dressed up. I found a gorgeous cream ballgown with gold stitching. There was some golden jewellery and cream shoes to match. Then Ella returned the favour from earlier and helped do my hair and makeup. By the time I was ready I had never felt so glamourous before.
Blue skies gave way to violet by the time we reached the palace. Me and Ella were both in awe of the royal building. Four golden turrets shone way up in the sky and large marble pillars marked the entrance. The architecture created an extravagant façade for the palace, with swirling designs engraved in bricks and large, gleaming windows.
We followed the woman out of the carriage, thanking her again for the ride. "It was no problem. Enjoy the ball ladies." She replied before walking up the steps at the entrance, leaving us behind.
"This is it." Ella said. But then a worried expression crossed her face. "What if my stepfamily recognises me?"
"That's why I found these in that chest in the carriage." I held out two elegant masks, identical except for one being silver and the other gold. They were made of thin metal entwined in intricate swirls.
"They're gorgeous!" Ella exclaimed. "Thank you so much for everything you've done for me Gracie. You're the first friend I've made in a long time."
"And thank you for forcing me to come here with you. Now let's go inside and have fun." We slipped on the masks and walked up the entrance steps. A guard waiting in the open doorway led us down corridor after corridor, past room after room, until we reached the ballroom. The guard opened the door and ushered us in.
It was the grandest room I had ever seen. The floors were marble, while the walls were painted a pale gold. I could've sworn the railings on the wide staircase down to the main floor were real gold; not the gold-coloured paint we had in the library. The railings continued to my right and left, creating a balcony on this floor. Three extravagant crystal chandeliers hung in a triangle above the ballroom floor. And on that floor… People wore the most luxurious gowns and suits in such an array of colours that a rainbow appeared to be dancing across the room.
Another guard stood at the top of the stairs. "Your names, may I ask?" He said to us.
"I'm Elena and this is Gracie." Ella said.
The guard cleared his throat before announcing, "The Ladies Elena and Gracie."
Almost everyone in the room turned to look at us. Most of them only glanced for a few moments before looking away again, but some stares remained fixed on us as we descended the stairs. Three of those stares came from Ella's family, who's dresses I recognised. They were stood with a young man, who seemed to apologise as he left them and came to meet us at the bottom of the staircase.
"Good evening." He greeted us. "Which of you is Lady Elena?"
"I am." Ella replied. The man took her hand and kissed it lightly.
He turned to me. "And Lady Gracie, I presume." Then he kissed my hand.
"Of course, and what's your name?"
"Prince Charles, at your service."
"Oh my, I'm so sorry. I didn't know that, um." I glanced at Ella, who looked as gobsmacked as me.
The prince chuckled. "It's okay. Life gets boring surrounded by formalities and constant attention. It's refreshing to meet people who know nothing of that. I presume this is the first royal ball you've both attended?"
"Yes." Ella replied. "And it would be wonderful if you could introduce us to a few people, your highness."
"Of course." The prince accompanied us as we met numerous people.
"The view out the window is stunning." Ella commented at one point.
"I can take you out to the balcony if you wish." The prince replied.
"That sounds great, your highness."
"I'll catch up with you later if that's okay." I said. This was the perfect opportunity for Ella and the prince to talk alone.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Go with the prince. I'll see you later."
"It was a pleasure speaking to you, Lady Gracie." The prince said as they left me with a group of giggling noble girls, who swooned as they watched the prince leave.
I enjoyed myself for a while, but the clock ticked away. Before I knew it, it was 5 minutes until midnight. Since there had been no warning, I didn't know what would happen when the clock struck 12, and I wasn't sure I wanted to know.
Then I overheard Ella's stepmother. "We'll leave after this last dance. I'm extremely disappointed in the two of you; you let the prince leave for those masked wenches and…"
I didn't wait to hear the rest before racing out to the balcony. But I couldn't see Ella immediately. "Ella!" I called.
"Gracie?" I heard her call back.
"Where are you?"
"Come to the edge and look down." I did as she said. There was another balcony directly below, jutting out just a little further than the one I stood on. Ella and the prince were sat on a bench, surrounded by bright flowers and lush greenery decorated by thousands of tiny lights.
"I'm sorry but we need to leave now!"
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Your stepfamily is about to leave."
Ella jumped up. "I'm truly sorry, your highness, but I have to go."
"Ella?" The prince looked worried.
"I really am sorry. Gracie, meet me just outside the ballroom entrance. Goodbye, your highness." Then she took off running. I echoed her goodbye and rushed out of the ballroom. We almost bumped into each other as we reached the corridor at the same time.
"Can you take us out to the front entrance?" Ella asked one of the guards.
"As you wish, ladies."
"Thank you." I called back as we raced down the stairs.
The clock struck 12. Ella stopped running. "I can't move!" She cried.
"What do you mean?"
"One of my shoes; it's stuck."
Of course, it was.
"Just leave it. Step out of your shoes and carry the one that's not stuck."
"Ella!" Prince Charles called from the top of the stairs. Ella raced to follow my suggestion and we started running again.
"I wish we knew how to get home." Ella said. We heard horses at the edge of the nearby forest. As soon as we reached them, we clambered on and urged them forward. They galloped off, seemingly in the right direction as if they knew where we needed to be.
Soon we were back at Ella's home and, fortunately, there was no sign of her stepfamily. "Thank you, again, for warning me." Ella said. "If my stepmother and sisters got back before me… I don't want to imagine how much trouble I'd be in."
I tried to reply but couldn't open my mouth. The world went weird. A lot like when I was first transported into Cinderella's book. Except this time the world seemed to spin around me as well. A kaleidoscope of vibrant colours and vague shapes flashed before my eyes, from left to right.
I ended up alone in Ella's room. Out the window, I spotted blue skies and a carriage coming towards the house. I'm back in my original clothes.
Screaming began from somewhere else in the house.
"Stop struggling Cinderella!" An annoyed female voice instructed. "When the prince gets here, you are not to be around him. You would disgrace our family. I'll let you out the cupboard once he has left."
I realised exactly what was happening; the timeline jumped.
The sound of screaming faded.
I remained silent in Ella's room, trying to figure out a plan. The cupboard will be locked, so I would need a key to rescue Ella. I could go searching for a key, but I don't want to be caught before I find it. I could go straight to the prince, but would he believe me? Me and Ella wore masks to the ball, so would he recognise us? I thought through all the possibilities.
Through the window, I watched the prince step out of the carriage and walk up to the door. It was now or never.
I easily found the cupboard Ella was locked in. Either the key was near here, or a member of her stepfamily had it with them. Carefully, I scanned every surface and checked every possible hiding place. No key turned up.
"Is this everyone in your household, then?" I heard a male voice ask. I had to act fast.
Pushing away all my worries, I rush down to where Ella's stepfamily were, with the prince and 2 palace guards.
"There's another girl!" I announced.
"Who are you?" Ella's stepmother asked angrily. "Get out of my house!"
I turn to Prince Charles. "Lady Elena has been locked in a cupboard by her." I pointed to Ella's stepmother.
"I don't even know you. Who are you to make such ridiculous accusations?"
"Lady Gracie?" The prince addressed me.
"Yes, your highness." I curtseyed ungracefully.
"Release your prisoner and bring her to me." The prince commanded Ella's stepmother.
"There's no one else." She insisted.
"But, your highness…" Ella's stepsisters protested at the same time as their mother.
"Go." The prince shut them all up. Ella's stepmother reluctantly stood and left the room.
A few minutes later, she returned dragging a dirty, disgruntled Ella. "Is this your princess?" She sneered. Her daughters snickered.
The prince ignored the performance. "Would you mind trying this on?" He asked Ella, showing her the missing glass slipper.
"My shoe!" She was glad to see it again, and Prince Charles too. "You brought it back to me." She sat down on a chair, earning glares from her stepfamily.
The prince sunk to one knee by Ella's feet. He lifted the shoe up to her. It slid perfectly onto her foot.
"It really is you! Will you marry me, Lady Elena?" He produced a ring from a pocket.
Ella brought her hands up to her mouth. Tears sprung from her sparkling eyes. "Yes. And my real name is Ella."
Ella and Prince Charles shared a loving kiss.
A beaming smile broke out onto my face. Ella's stepfamily only glared more poisonously.
"Thank you, Gracie." Ella turned to me. "None of this would've happened without you."
She stands. As she comes over to me, arms stretched wide, the world blurs and bends once more.