Not long after Don’s father died, his mother married a man with two sons. The newlyweds then went out of town on an extended business trip, leaving the home to the three boys. The two brothers were both older than Don, and nastier than a hyena with a bowel obstruction. They completely took over, and banished Don to live by the hearth in the kitchen. He got very sooty, and they called him “Cinderfella.”
Cinderfella was made to do all the work in the household, which he did without complaint while his stepbrothers used his mother’s Austrian crystal for archery practice. Between the two of them they had the intelligence of a gastropod, but they were quite handsome, and the ladies at the court thought they were very fine. Cinderfella was rather plain, and his hands were badly scarred, although he would never say why.
One day the king and queen announced they were throwing a ball to find a suitable bridegroom for their only child and heir, the princess Misericordia (whom everyone called “Missy,” for obvious reasons). All the bachelors in the kingdom were invited, in order that Missy and her parents could look them over and choose the most eligible.
Cinderfella’s brothers demanded that he prepare their doublets and hose and robes and all, that they might be the most splendid-looking eligibles at the ball. The poor boy ran around for days mending clothes, sewing on buttons, twisting garters, and so on. He worked cheerfully, his little pet cat (whose name was Char) always at his side.
On the night of the ball, Cinderfella bade his stepbrothers, who looked splendid, goodbye. “I wish I could go to the ball, and see all the fine people in their fine clothes, and the beautiful princess,” he said.
“Ha! As if they’d let you in,” said the brothers. “No, you and your cat had better stay here by the fire.”
Cinderfella stood and watched their carriage drive away, then turned and went into the house, closing the door behind him. Almost immediately, there was a very insistent knock. He opened the door, and saw an exceptionally hirsute man in a three-piece, pin-striped courtier’s suit of the sort that was popular in the middle decades of the previous century. He knew him immediately. “Uncle Don!” he cried.
“Godson!” the man said, pushing his way into the house. For it was Cindefella’s Hairy Godfather, Don Coeur de Leon, whom he hadn’t seen for years. The two of them went into the kitchen and talked over a cup of tea.
“Why do you look so sad, godson?”
“Tonight the king and queen are giving a ball to find a husband for the princess. I know I’m not eligible or anything, but I would like to go and see all the people in their fancy clothes, and hear the music, and eat horse ovaries.”
“Right. But I have no fancy clothes.”
“Stand up,” said the Hairy Godfather. He looked Cinderfella over. “Yes, this might work.” At the older man’s insistence, the two exchanged clothes. After a little scrubbing, Cinderfella was ready to go.
“I’ll drive you to the ball,” said the Hairy Godfather. “I have to stop and get hay. But you must meet me out front by midnight, so I can get home. I have a Rotary Club meeting in the morning.”
“I promise,” said Cinderfella.
Soon he was standing at the door of the palace. Per his instruction, the majordomo introduced him as “Don Coeur de Chat.”
Between his scarred hands and his decidedly outdated three-piece pinstriped courtier suit, he caused quite a stir, although nobody dared say anything to him. He managed to avoid being seen by his stepbrothers, who were busy trying to convince one of the ladies-in-waiting that snails spontaneously generated from rotting lettuce.
All of the young men, no matter how scarred or absurdly dressed, got a chance to dance with the princess. After Cinderfella did so, she took him over to a table to ask the same questions she had asked all the others. After the usual questions about parentage, hobbies, and favorite jousting team, she got to the really tough ones. Cinderfella acquitted himself well, until it came to the very last question.
“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?” the princess asked.
“How do you mean?” Cinderfella asked.
“Well, some of these fools claim they slew a dragon who had been devouring maidens, but there haven’t been any dragons, and precious few maidens, in these parts for years. Another claimed he jumped off a high mountain wearing eagle feathers glued to his arms, but I simply don’t believe it. None of them, in fact, have done anything brave at all. What have you done?”
Cinderfella thought about all the things he had done in his life. He mended his brothers’ clothes. He cooked his brothers’ food. He swept their kitchen. None of it was very brave.
“I can’t think of anything,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” she said, smiling. “You’re the first honest man I’ve talked to all night. That’s all the questions I have, unless you will permit me to ask one more.”
“How can I refuse?” asked Cinderfella.
“How did your hands come to be so scarred?” the princess asked.
Cinderfella’s smile turned to a grimace. “I—” he started.
“I can see that this is a painful memory for you,” said the princess. “Please, pretend I never mentioned it.”
But her kindness overcame Cinderfella’s pain, and he decided to tell her his secret.
“My brothers would make fun of me if I told them,” he said.
“I won’t make fun of you,” she promised.
“I was lying by the fire one day, and my cat, Char, was curled up with me on the hearth. Suddenly a coal popped and landed in her fur. She immediately caught on fire, and started to run away. I leapt and caught her, and was able to put the flames out with my hands before she was badly hurt.”
The princess’s eyes grew wide. “You did that for a cat?”
“She is my friend. And if I hadn’t, she would have died, very painfully.”
“You don’t think I’m foolish, do you?”
Just then the clock in the tower started tolling midnight.
“Yikes!” said Cinderfella. “I have to get back to my godfather!”
The princess watched Cinderfella run away, disappearing out the front door with an “I’m coming, Uncle!” But as he ran down the steps of the palace, he lost one of his wingtip boots. He turned around to go back for it, but thought better of it when he saw the palace guards rushing after him.
His uncle was waiting, and they flew home and quickly exchanged clothes.
“Sorry about losing your wingtip boot,” Cinderfella said.
“Worry not,” said the Hairy Godfather. “It was too large anyway, and I managed to pick up a better-fitting pair while you were dancing. Farewell! I am glad you had a good time!”
“Farewell, Uncle! It was wonderful! Thank you so much!”
When the brothers got home later that morning, they found Cinderfella lying on the hearth with his cat. “You should have seen the to-do!” they said. “Some guy in a perfectly dreadful pinstripe three-piece courtier suit wowed the princess, then flew out the door in a hurry.”
“I wish I could have seen it,” said Cinderfella wistfully.
“I’m starved,” said the other brother. “Make me a salad.”
“Can’t,” said Cinderfella. “The snails have eaten all the lettuce.”
The next day, the king and queen announced that they would search the entire kingdom until they found the young man who belonged to the wingtip boot, with whom their daughter had fallen hopelessly in love. A team of royal hangers-on was dispatched to take the boot throughout the kingdom until they found the foot it fit. No mention was made of scarred hands, for the princess had seen how self-conscious Cinderfella was about them.
The boot was tried on hundreds of feet, but it was always too big. Some lads tried to attach wads of batting to the ends of their socks to make the boot fit better, but the courtiers soon cottoned onto what they were doing, and stomped hard on the toe once it was put on. When none of the young men screamed in pain, the courtiers knew their toes didn’t extend all the way to the end of the boot.
Cinderfella’s house was the very last one. The courtiers tried the boot on both of the brothers, and asked in despair, “Do any other young men live here?”
Just then Cinderfella wandered into the room. “I found some lettuce,” he said, holding out a beautiful salad for his stepbrother.
“You must try on this boot,” the courtiers said.
“Don’t be absurd,” said the elder brother. “That’s just our servant Cinderfella. He wasn’t at the ball.”
“Orders are orders,” said the courtier. Cinderfella somehow managed to avoid screaming when they stomped on his toes, but the bootfitters could tell. They were going to drag him to the palace immediately, but he said, “Wait, let me get my other boot!” At which point they knew beyond a doubt that he was the princess’s chosen suitor.
They were married the very next day, amid great rejoicing (and some limping). The brothers, fearing Cindefella’s vengeance, ran away and were never seen again.
Princess Misericordia and Prince Don Coeur de Chat were very happy until the end of their days, which were very long. In time they became the rulers of the kingdom, and had many lovely children, all with kind hearts and big feet.
Char the cat never caught on fire again, but she developed a taste for snails, and spent most of her time hunting them. As a result, the royals had snail-free lettuce for many, many years.
Copyright © 2014 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.