Did you really think it would end like that? Poor girl freeing herself, marrying charming, caring prince, living happy and loved for rest of her days?
Please don't be silly. How could you believe that? After all, it isn't realistic, is it? What has she done to deserve love and affection and freedom? Why should she have it when she has only suffered and slaved away for years, and we can hardly call that bravery, can we? No, we can't.
Let us give you proper ending. A real story. How it should have went, how it must go, how we want it to go.
She wouldn't have let it rest. Of course not. The girl was hers, her stepdaughter, her servant, her right. Hers to mold and break and use as she saw fit, and she didn't see throne for poor poor cinder wench.
She doesn't know how girl got it all together. Not the dress and carriage-she has long since been aware of how skilled those calloused hands were, no matter how broken and dirty their nails were. She knows that girl is smart enough to snatch few coins away through years, to keep scraps of fabrics and dye and make dress, to convince carriage to carry her. Oh she knows girl could have done that, that is no mystery.
But she doesn't know how she found courage to dare actually do so. She took her, poor little plain girl, beat out what could have been pride, made her small and weak and loving and grateful, bound her tightly even if she could never get rid of her smile or kindness and broke her until she was only ash and dirt.
Just where could she find strength to defy?
(She forgot, you see, that we all, small and great alike, rise from and stand on and return to dust. That in cinder hottest fire is born.
That when world burns and falls only ashes will remain.)
It is easy enough to pay somebody to slip a poison. Gold outweights loyalty, and dream of luxury warms heart better than truth of kidness.
Who was servant who mixed poison in food ash queen ate, beverages she drunk, sheets she slept on, air she breated, water she bathed in? It doesn't matter. It could have been any of you.
I can tell you it wasn't some grand monster, wasn't some poor desperate soul left with no choice. Same as rest of you, just a simple human thinking what is somebody's else life to my comfort, what is kindness and charity given over and over to few coins?
She gets rid of prince too. He wouldn't serve her, not with that sweet light in his eyes, not with his foolish ears that believed ash girl's confession, not with his iron clad orders that exposed her. He has to go.
If it wasn't below her, she would have asked her stepdaughter how she accomplished it.
What lies she spoke for him to obey her as she and her stepsisters and their fathers obeted their mother, wife, misstress.
What cruelties and acts of mercy she gave him, cut and measured, to make him fearful and dependent on her.
What threats she delivered so he won't run away, what weaknesses she exploited so he would stay compliant, which situations she twisted to trap him in her service.
There is so much work necessary to make people serve and obey you. She has had decades to exploit people like dolls. Yet she never accomplished what her maid, her stepdaughter, her greatest project managed to do with her husband.
He doesn't even seem to fear her. What a curiosity.
Her daughters, her blood and flesh are left by side. They are not useful anymore, withou prince to catch.
She was always soft on them. Not kind, not sincerely at least-she knew better than that- but indulging. Taking care of their whims and demands, making them spoilt and compliant.
When baby cries you don'r feed it because you care about it's satisfaction, you feed it because you want it to shut up. And if you overfeed it and it chokes and burst well good riddance.
They could have become problem, but their dirty stepsister was good reminder of what their dear mother was capable of.
With ash queen gone it is easy to rebuild her power and influence. She is rich and of respectful breeding and still quite handsome and really, how we know girl was speaking truth, that she wasn't demanding attention, and you know how all children are never satisfied with their parents....
She isn't only one. Without ash queen and her too keen eyes, eyes that saw right into heart and soul, many cruel and horrible men were free to walk and commit atrocities as they liked (none as cruel and wicked as her).
It is so easy to believe that evil is other, something monstrous and alien and faceless. Far easier than to believe that your neighbors, friends, family could be monsters of hatred and greed.
And turning blind eye on that is easiest of all.
It takes some time, but far away cousin choosen as heir is doll in her hands.
At coronation, all stare at new advisor, new grand duchess, new mistress of land.
The ash queen's corpse burns.
It burns, the desecrated corpse, the rotten body, her final act of spite.
It isn't proper pyre, the body is torn apart and thrown in dirt and mud, bloody limbs and bones covered in black pitch as pigs feast on intestines. And when fire goes out, ash is thrown to winds.
(It travels, blood and bone and ash, sky and earth and sea. Fishes and birds and bugs and beasts feed on remnants as trees drink blood and bones sick under soil and stone and air and water carry dust that remains, and queen and land become one).
Stories are first to go, because people can't be free if they don't know they are imprisoned.
Old books and scrolls burn, and few new ones are written, and those that are write what advisor demands, and people learn to hold their tongues.
In darkness still, they speak of magic, and kindness, and princesses.
It is so easy to make them alll kneel and bend. Breed fear and hatred and reap your rewards.
Take away money, titles, lands of nobles that oppose you. Administer it to commoners, keep laws your stepdaughter and her husban established but twist them so they are useless and make peasant trash of their own will.
Raise taxes, lower wages, bit by bit so they don't notice, prolong working hours and take more crops, give privileges to houses that support you and then all of blue blood will be your.
Art and religion and science working side by side, that can't be. Speak lies put them at other's throats then appear to bring solutions.
Soon they all are yours
Take trees and beasts, take beasts and skies and sea. Science turned towards your goals, art gone, religion spouting your lies, and don't stop even if sky and land are as black as coal.
And when all is done and right, turn your eye towards other lands, other kingdoms and take their resources and wisdoms and burn their books and laws.
Bring war and victory as your sheep cheer.
Slaves need to come from somewhere after all.
There is a world, and there is kingdom that spans from east to west, from north to south. Its oceans are dirty, its skies full of smoke and its fields are bare.
Its people toil and fight and eat each other in streets.
Its commoners work and fail and die in pain.
Its nobles languish in decadence and luxury afforded by their blood and knowledges of letters, plotting plots for otherwise they shall burn.
Its scientists are bound, serving the emperors, forbidden to seek cures or clean energies-only weapons, and vehicles, and nothing more.
Its priests are liars, spouting false scriptures of gods invented and twisted to support rule of empire.
Its artists are dead.
Its slaves are many.
Its stepmother is dead, and forgotten, but her desire rules them all.
Its ash queen lingers and fights.
There is name among rich, of queen who was just and loved by her people. They laugh at it, and dream being her once they close their eyes.
She is a ghost, paler than moonlight and more fragile than dream, ghost bound by ash and bone and blood to sky and soil and sea.
She is ancient, bent under weight of many many centuries. She saw humanity grow and wither, saw languages be born and murdered, saw empires rise and fall, gods be forgotten and dissapointed and depart, and she is only one who remembers green grass and blue sky and clear water and free people and just laws and honest life.
Her name is long since gone, but in darkness, children still fall asleep with whisper of fairy tale on their lips.
The empire grew, conquering and devouring, and she went with it, salvaging what can be saved, healing what is not yet dead.
Ghosts are weak things, small souls that lost body and life and will, their fires smothered out, and they last for second before slipping beyond doors that can be opened only once for you, trailing path that can't be traced back.
Yet she lasts, for tens of thousands of years.
Man is mud and clay and stone and his fire is soon gone and he collapses and smoke drifts away. But she lasts.
She was always creature of cinders and ash and dust, and they never forget warmth of flame.
She is as weak as final deatbed breath, but she does what she can. She trails through world, as invisible as wind, as ever-present as sorrow.
She walks, and whispers. She whispers in ears of weak, whispers of hope and compassion and charity, and she stands by them as they are whipped and broken, and picks up pieces, sharp as broken glass, and puts them together.
She whispers in ears of rulers, whispers of crimes and wrongs and redemption, and guides their hands to peace and mercies, right laws, right kingdoms.
Sometimes they listen. More often they don't.
There is tale among poor, of broken maid that rose and became rich. Nobody believes it but tale keeps them warm at night.
There are revolutions, so many of them. She is kind, and nice, but she knows well that sometimes you need to take up arms, to fight with blood and teeth to change the world.
She speaks of justice, and rebellion, and bravery, and after generations people plan and rise. Sometimes they lose. Sometimes they win
Changes come, but people don't know better, and don't want to learn. Three generations of justice at best.
Than it all comes back.
People don't know, but they shouldn't leave that long. Not with world like this. Not with pain their kinsmen bring.
She comes, and she takes it. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how mucj they can last. She takes whippings, and poisons, and radiations, and lets her weak lukewarm sparks be smothered by pain and sorrow and loss.
If she could she would take it all.
They shouldn't heal or last that long, even if world was all right.
She comes, and she gives it. Gives her light and warmth, her fire to heal wounds and prolong that life. Pieces of her soul, all she has left, and her spirit shrivels while theirs shines. And she gives her memory, and wheh her identity is nothing but shadow, she gives her rare joy, smile that would come if she still had face when she sees gentle child and loving men, when she sees those that resist, subtly or bluntly.
Less than human, less than ghost, leas than person. More than smoke, more than dream, more than shadow of memory. What has she become?
Earth is sick, and dying, for her mortal children are killing her and gods have left after being cast out and are trying from far away, but to do more would be to violate will and freedom of mankind.
She travels deep, deep below, beneath sky and soil and sea, to heart of Earth, there where stone gives way to fire and melts. She feeds that fire and that light and gives Earth more of life it needs.
And when tsunamis and tornadoes and earthquakes comes, she warns men and tries to hold them off with fragments of her being.
There is tale among slaves, of girl owned who disobeyed and run away and was free. They don't believe it but they wonder of being her.
When men die, she is there. She takes their souls-cold but for fragments of light they carry, takes them in her shattered arms and guides them on their path.
She is kind, and gentle and nice but she is honest and blunt and convinced. She leads them and listens to them and tells them of their sins and wrongdoings and watches them leave this miserable world forever.
There is tale among men, of goddess who is kind, guardian who waits and cares, broken spirit with dark being and shining heart.
"Why? Was it worth it? Are you happy?" She asks her stepmother, after her cold, cold soul rises from her deathbed.
Because I could and because I deserve it all.
And I'm not as happy as I could have been, but happier than you, and what are you going to do about that?"
Two women stare at each other, one grinning, other weeping. One was born first and lived longer, but second is older and wiser than this child before her ever will be.
"I forgive you." Grin falls and stepmother stares. If she had body foam would come to her mouth.
"What? Are you insane, what are you doing? How could you, how dare you, why don't you curse me?"
"I can't even hate you, for only thing I feel is pity for poor lost child who shall receive no mercy from any.
How to hate you when you are unable to muster ounce of effort or willpower to be anything else but monster, when you will never be satisfied and happy no matter how much you have, when you could have done some good in your life but choose otherwise because you were too scared to try?"
Stepmother burns, rage choking her like thick smoke, forgivness searing through her like white hot poker, tearing her apart as she melts like icicles on surface of Sun. Ash queen doesn't hear her insult and curses and ramblings, turning her back to broken creature behind her.
"Goodbye stepmother. I hope you will have at least one kind memory to light your way to damnation, for I doubt you will receive any more.
I will remove my loathsome being from your gracious presence, and wish you luck on your journey, for I trust you capable enough to find way to eternal punishment on your own."
And she leaves, while screaming stepmother drags and crawls over path of broken glass.
She took her name in order to debase her, cast her down, break her. For names have power even fools recognize. She named her Cinderella, for name shapes soul.
She forgot how easy words twist and language chanhes, how even most grievous insults can be reclaimed and crafted in power.
She wanted her name to be forgotten and lost, for girl only to be known as Cinderella. And so it is, while she remains forgotten, gone and banished, the stepmother, remembered only for role she played in her hated stepdaughter's life, the evil one who lost.
The godmother sleeps.
There are things in this world, too vast and powerful to be beings, too cunning and willful to be forces. Things older than time and with existences longer than eternity, things nameless and soulless, holding wisdoms not even fate knows.
They are old, and vast, and bored, too great and powerful to notice mankind, too ancient and experienced to be surprised by anything mortals can conjure.
They sleep dreamless, and dream without sleeping, beyond void and nothingness, out of world and existence, laying outside of space in folds without time where there is none mortals can comprehend.
They sleep and dream, eldest and greatest of their kind, too tired and bored to wrap themselves in mortal like seeming, to travel worlds and experience life, to plot and play Court games.
Vast, and ancient, and wise in ways which break mind. They were and they shall be, and were they to walk once again realities would shatter, and their dreams can shape worlds and their will dictate and deny nature's laws. Too great and deep to be harmed by any, cold iron or salt or seeds or flowers or bells or prayers or thousand banes lesser of their kind can suffer.
They are not almighty.
They can't lie, and so they always must keep their words.
They must pay their debts, and so every kindness and cruelty is returned whether they received or brought it.
Their power always comes at price, and so they must bargain.
Godmother feels it, something rare and extraordinary and new.
She feels it, and she searches, with fragment of her being, through time and space she predates and equals. To small universe and minor dimension, tiny galaxy with wee little solar system and miniature planet with little ash girl.
Little, with soul so burning and kind that girl could feed starving planet if she wanted to and she would. Girl kind and compassionate as none were before and as godmother peers in fate sees none will be worth to hold her candle after.
She comes, and she is
She is tall and short, enormous and tiny, male and female, old and young, dark and shining, cold and burning.
She is life and death, everything and nothing, reality and fantasy, love and hate, creation and destruction, right and wrong.
She is eternal and long since departed, sense and paradox.
Girl looks in worship and horror. But she doesn't even scream, but kindly asks.
"Hello? How are you?"
And godmother feels debt be born.
Girl is kind, and godmother finds herself bound and enchanted. She cares for girl, teaches and tends her like mother, repaying kind words with gentleness and care of her own that is so hard to muster-so fragile, those mortals.
She cares for girl, who calls her glorious one then lady then madam then miss then godmother (always, always asking for permission once new alias is used, not once asking for name, smart girl she is). Cares in way resembling that of humans, finding something akin to compassion growing in core of her being.
How could she not? Girl is strong in both body and will and brave, smart and wise, determined and dilligent, compassionate and charitable and kind, so kind.
Godmother takes care to give her gifts, short lived things of glamours and changes that turn mundane after few hours, bring joy and wonder to beautiful face that should never cry (she doesn't know why girl and her neighbors call her ugly. Girl is as beautiful as dawn and dream and deers. But godmother is told that ublike her, humans don't find whole of their world beautiful).
Never favors that change life. No matter how much she wants to take that horrid stepmother-brat and drag her to depths of godmother's own most twisted dreams and torment her for rest of eternity.
Never lessons that change person, no matter how much she wants to teach girl of revenge and cold blood and hearts, of self-confidence and respect and worth, of blades and poisons and magic.
She gives gifts, trinkets and toys, because they are small and easily repaid-glass of water for bracelet that will disappear in hour, berry for flower crown that will turn in dust once girl leaves, braid for blue of dress that will turn in brown and ash and rot once stars come out. Not great debts and changes that will take away firstborn, or dreams, or hope.
She gives gifts, because they make girl smile wider and her eyes shine stronger and make her sing of joy, because there isn't much girl doesn't know about life and because what is left she will learn and accomplish in her own time and because girl already has stronger character than most mortal children including ones who call themselves elders just because they lived over one measly century.
She gives her gifts, things girl can't make or buy or receive, because when one is starved and overworked and owning nothing but torn rags on dirty body, sharper knife and warmer bed and salt tranaformed in bath oil are much more helpful than lecture.
She learns to be torn and confused and guilty about her own nature, for all her power and age and wisdom she is still bound by her own nature, and her goddaughter deserves so much but has so little left to give or bargain away and favor or knowledge requred for her to win freedom would shatter and tear her apart, hollow out her bones and spit them afterwards.
Sometimes, she thinks of binding her goddaughter with oath or food or shelter, of making her swear service or infuse her with her magic or take her home into beyond.... But no, she can't do that, can't trap or twist or madden girl like that, because she would break her or perverse her or cage her like stepmother did.
But she trusts that with few helpful nudges and trinkets she will free herself.
Once, godmother dreamed things that never were and never will be.
Once godmother dreamed things that will yet come to pass.
Once she dreamed world as it is and saw all.
Once she dreamed things long since gone.
Once godmother dreamed of happiness her goddaughter deserves.
Once she dreamed of her goddaughte's misery and now she does again.
She would tear down fabric of so young cosmos, sear her might through weaving space and time so inert and slow and childish, tear apart surface of planet that birthed her goddaughter and remake its people and destroy stepmother's dream and work and legacy no matter the cost.
But her beloved goddaughter-murdered betrayed broken tormented violated- stops her.
Because debt godmother would owe would be too big, and they care about each other.
Because she cares about humans, even if most are wicked and greedy and rotten unlike her, and she understand and doesn't hate them and godmother doesn't get it why can't they try to be as kind as her goddaughter, but her ash girl is her child and love and weakness and she listens.
Because she loves them both, humanity and godmother and wants to see neither hurt.
Godmother abates, anger and hatred making her feel so young and new even if she predates them both and returns to uneasy dreams. Her goddaughter is still young and she is yet to come around.
She dreams of revenge, and victory, and justice.
There are tales of Others, the Fair Ones, the Great Host who are impossible and beautiful and fearsome, to be revered and respected and avoided.
There are tales of bargains, that can give you anything if you are ready to give up everything.
There are tales of old, old woman whom Other loves.
Her goddaughter is old, and tired, and shadow and cold and ash left without light and warmth and hope, and godmother didn't know it would hurt so much when her preciois ash girl is somehow finally pushed over edge.
"Please. Give it to me. Power. To end it all. To make things right."
And it is foolish and desperate and will cost so much but her ash girl, her treasure, her goddaughter is her child, her love and her weakness and she can't refuse her.
Cinderella's soul shines and burns like Sun.
People say that in forgotten faraway place (once palace and dance hall stood there), ghost dances on broken glass on midnight in ashes.
Light of Sun and stars and moon finally, finally sears through black smoke that replaced clouds.
Like rain of ancient legends, fire rains down from heavens.
Earth's crust breaks apart as magma pours from planet's heart, like thick juice bursting from rotten fruit.
Air shimmers as heat travels through world, unstoppable, undeniable.
Heat of men, their own and borrowed, of body and soul, shines and combusts.
Buildings and cities melt as dirt and poison are cleansed by flame, and golden statue of long dead advisor seems to scream as metal tears trail down its molten eyes.
Ashes, ashes rain down and down, promising burial and rebirth and salvations, and humans laugh and their eyes shine as over and over they say thank you, thank you, thank you.
Souls of men arise, comforted and answered and led by woman who is torch and shadow, star and night, cinder and darkness.
Cinderella smiles and laughs, dressed in ash, dancing in dust of what was once palace on broken glass, giggling as she imagines what ball and prince looked like (those happiest memories were first to go).
Fire and warmth that scorch and cleanse and banish turn inwards, healing and empowering and renewing, and she is cold once again.
World is clean and beautiful and healthy and life will soon start but for now it is silent.
Midnight comes and accompanied by godmother's weeping and stepmother's scream smiling shadow walks in heart of Hell and feels warmth everywhere.
It is said that there was kind woman of ash and cinder and dust, who burned down world and let it be reborn and redemeeded, then walked in Hell like queen and laughed and danced as demons burned.
We call her Cinderella.