The first year is spent breathless, clinging to her husband's hand, listening to everything her tutors and mother-in-law have to say. She is not a fool, but she has been a servant for the past ten years and now - one day, she will wear a crown and sit on a throne. She must be prepared, and bright, ready for all sorts of calamities that a little cinder girl could not even comprehend.
The people love her. The courtiers, not so much.
But her husband – he is patient, he is kind, he dances with her around their chamber and kisses her so fervently she can finally believe this is no soon-to-be-woken-from dream.
The second year, the queen suffers a fit during her morning walk and dies before the doctor can reach her.
A month later, the king succumbs to a wasting disease that everyone knows is a broken heart.
When her husband is crowned, the people's princess is crying. When she is crowned, she is crying still.
She is not ready. How could she be? Not two years ago, she was cleaning out the fireplace.
Her husband kisses her hand, smiling the gentle smile he wore when her foot fit the slipper and their hands recognized each other.
The people love her. The courtiers give her painted smiles. She speaks to the servants like they have thoughts, and she visits the marketplace weekly, taking only one guard, without her crown or royal gown.
She had been a noble's daughter, but she was a slave for longer, and if she is to ever look back with pride, then she must be the people's princess. The commoner's queen.
She explains it to her husband during the night, their fingers tangled and her head on his chest. She knows that life is more than balls and gowns and parties, expensive food and jewels and cloth. He listens and looks at her and tells her that she is the queen and to do what feels right.
She holds her head high and buys a flower from a girl in dirty rags. She smiles and orders a bolt of cloth from a stall staffed by a tired woman. She speaks to a tavern owner about the best way to get rid of smoke's stench and asks a young pickpocket if he has a roof over his head at night.
Her guard follows her with a scowl, but he stands back as she speaks to the people, keeping one eye on the roofs and one on the crowd.
This is only the first year of her reign, the second since the ball. None of these commoners know who she is, yet. They talk openly, not censoring the truth about how they feel, how they think their new king and queen are doing.
But she is the people's princess, the commoner's queen. Soon, they will all recognize her.
When she is old and grey, she will still sneak away to mingle. Few will not know her then, but they will all let her think she succeeds in fooling them.
Her husband will listen to her tales of the marketplace and the streets, the flower girl and the pickpocket, the rough meal she laughs her way through.
She will die still called the people's princess, the commoner's queen.