This time… There was no excitement (similar to the first meeting) or sense of wonderment (like at the ball). The longing which had clung to him since the hunt now suddenly dimmed, the whirling questions quietening. Instead there was nervousness, almost fear.
Charming slowly faced the young maiden as she entered the room, taking in the fair eyes, blond hair, the dirt, and old clothes. It was her. She remained close by the doors; to the prince it felt like an ocean separated them, a distance he wished to shorten. Her eyes flickered to the glass slipper cradled in his hands before meeting his searching gaze. Chin held high, eyes grave, her look was questioning.
What does she see? the question brushed his mind. And me?
His grip on the slipper tightened, the additional thought making him swallow hard. "Who are you?" he asked in a low voice, feeling as though he was balancing on the edge of a precipice.
The girl took a deep breath. "I'm Cinderella," she answered.
He listened intensely, not interrupting as she explained who she was: without title, no fortune, no connections, simply Ella, Cinderella. (The knot in his stomach started to uncoil.)
"I do not know that the slipper will fit me," she said. "But if it does…will you take me as I am, an honest country girl who loves you?"
Warmth flowing over him, tension slipping away, the prince's expression softened. "Of course I will," he replied, tone gentle, carrying the weight of a promise.
Her eyes began to shine.
Gathering his own courage, Charming requested, "As long as you take me as I am…an apprentice still learning his trade, Cinderella?" Her name rolled off his tongue smoothly and sweetly.
There! There she was – her face lighting up, her dear (much missed) smile bursting forth.
Grinning in return, he at last moved towards her, reading his future in that smile.
Nobody…somebody…my queen…my Cinderella.