The Real Cinderella
I first saw him when I was a child. I’m not sure how old I was-perhaps seven or eight-but I remember that it was the middle of summer. Our camps were awash in beetles and dusty, bare grounds, our city walls a never ending mass of wheat to the west and mud to the east. We were the lowest of the low in Zyonne, responsible for supplying most of the bricks for every city within it. The wheat was a mere necessity, a helpful bonus as it were, to our real task.
And that was how I saw him. It was mid-summer, the wheat whispering green and soft against our backs as the world rippled in front of us. He had come to inspect the production. His parade of courtiers passed by, laughing and jeering and spilling coppers on the earth. Even as a child, they disgusted me, amusing themselves with our struggles in life. Even then, I hated their cold stares, their bright colors, and their false caring. I hated them, but him… Him I loved.
The courtiers passed in a flurry of coppers and dust, and I barely cared to bring my nose out of the dirt. I was a child, and a builder child at that. I was a nobody, and rising from my bow would have been too much effort anyway. A shadow passed over me and stayed. After a few moments, I pushed myself up. He was beautiful in a way I never thought a man could be. The sun was just behind his head, but I could see him clearly. It seemed like the entire world faded away. And then, he dropped a little bundle in front of my face. I think someone tried to get it, but he stopped them. All I remember is picking it up, unlacing the ribbon, and watching as the cloth fell away to reveal the most delicious-looking piece of cheese I had ever seen. “Eat it wisely, Princess.” And he left.
I decided then that one day I really would be a princess.
I was born a slave, free only in name. My people served the minority, a never-ending cycle of chains and whipping and death. We were different from the Royals, fatally so. Thousands of years before, according to legend, we had all been the same. We lived in peace, immortal beings whose only purpose in life was to enjoy it. Father told stories of the smell of the Pre-Betrayal air, a mix of cinnamon and oranges, with a sky tinted maroon and a people seven feet tall. We children sat around him, enthralled. Even the Royals were tainted now, still immortal but shorter and stuck in our ugly world. His story always ended abruptly just before the Betrayal.
And so we were slaves, known to the courtiers as the flawed. Amongst ourselves we had our levels of class: lowest were my class, the builders; then, the fixers; then, the cleaners; and lastly, the servants. In my child’s eyes, the servants were practically royalty in all but lifespan. They were glamorous, living in luxury while I lived in a pig sty. I quickly learned that even they, no matter how high they reached, remained slaves to this unspoken curse.
The world was cruel to us but we went about our lives. We were born, lived, and died with our feet in the mud. Our fingers were stained with the red dirt, nails a never-changing rusty hue. Our skin was bronzed from days in the sun, and our backs were laced with our scars. We were not a silent people. No, our slavery had not brought us to repentance. Looking back, I wish we had been broken of spirit. Perhaps then, more of us would have been saved. But, we were proud. Even the builders had their arrogance. Why, without them, the entire country would be made of nothing but twigs! I cannot believe how stupid we were. Again and again, we tried to overthrow the Royals. Again and again, we were forced into submission. Before I saw Him, I had already survived four revolts. Most of my family did not.
And thus I begin my story. For without an understanding of just how despicable I was, no one will understand what I have become.
Without being a slave, I would never have become a princess.