Once upon a time there was a young woman so prized for her beauty and grace that the prince of the land saw her and fell immediately in love. She had neither father nor mother, and no one to consent to the marriage but herself, so she agreed and was taken to the palace.
The prince and his new wife were married in all haste, such was his love, and for a wedding gift he presented her with a dress spun of golden thread and slippers of pure glass. Her footfall was soft and light as a doe’s, and alone of all the maidens in the land she could dance in the crystal slippers without bruising her feet. She wore the slippers wherever she went, and soon the common people buzzed with tales of the delicate princess with glass at her feet. The word spread, and ambassadors came from far and wide to glimpse but for a moment the woman in the glass slippers. The prince was overjoyed, and commanded that a ball be had so that everyone could witness the princess’ loveliness and the famous shining slippers. Invitations were sent to every man and maid in the kingdom.
But not everyone felt joy at the prince’s new bride. She was of common birth and, many thought, too beautiful to be anything but fey. Had she not a strange gleam in her eyes, and was her laughter not like the song of morningbirds? Was it not strange that she alone could walk in the slippers of glass?
Worried that their prince had been bewitched, and jealous that one of their own daughters had not been chosen as the next queen, the barons and dukes of the land planned to have her killed on the night of the ball.
The princess danced many dances at the ball, with the prince and with the king, and with nobles and commoners alike. The night air was cool, and the stars shone like lanterns in the sky, and when she laughed the nightingales seemed to answer. Wherever she walked people whispered and praised her smooth skin and striking green eyes, and when she danced the dress of golden silk wove around her slender legs.
It was by chance only that overheard the conversation of two barons as she retired from the dance floor for a refreshment.
Will it be done? And when, and where?
Tonight, tonight, on the floor of the ballroom. At the stroke of midnight, it will be done.
But who, and how?
I will await, and when the time is right, I shall take the iron dagger from my cloak and plunge it in her heart.
And the fey will be dead?
Indeed, indeed. And our prince free to marry once more.
She gasped then, foreseeing that they spoke of her death, and her hand came to clutch at her breast and the rubies that rested there.
I must flee, she thought, before the final stroke of the clock. I must tell my husband…
But will the prince not have us killed for such impunity? asked a baron.
The prince will know not. He is away, to affairs of state, and the whole of the court shall corroborate our tale. Of the fey, the wicked fey, who bewitched the throne to drive our kingdom to ruin.
So she ran.
Through the ballroom and the courtyard she fled, the crowd parting before her. Through the gardens she raced, heart pounding and crying. Her jewels she threw to the pond and her crown to the trees, and her slippers, her beautiful glass slippers, she left by a stone in the cobbled path. Her dress and skin she tore on the rose’s thorns in her haste. So changed was she when she reached the palace gate that the guards knew her not, and did not try to stop her.
Behind her she heard the final strokes of midnight reverberating through the city, and the cries of anguish of the barons and dukes when they could not find the wicked fey princess they had intended to kill. Shadows seemed to spring from the darkness before her, and sinister laughter seemed to ring behind as the stones left marks on her bare feet.
She ran until she had passed the city gates, and finally collapsed in the forest and wept.
My child, why those tears? said a kindly voice. The princess looked up to see a beautiful enchantress before her, clad in the purest of red samite.
Are you of the fey? asked she.
Indeed, my child, I am. Do you not recognize your own godmother? The enchantress laughed, and her voice seemed the song of larks. But come, you are weary and wretched. Let me care for you.
The enchantress waved her wand, and a carriage of gold and silver drawn by six white horses appeared and took the princess and her godmother to a small house in the deepest, darkest part of the woods. There the fairy kept a small garden, and wore the guise of an old sweet woman when she could. She waved her wand again, and the carriage became a pumpkin, and her horses turned to the white mice who lived in the cellar.
Stay here, my child, and rest a while. There is bread on the table and fresh clothing in the bedroom. Sleep, dear child, until the morning comes.
The princess was startled to see the beautiful enchantress transformed into an old bent woman, but she dared not ask questions and stepped into the house to find a hot meal and a comfortable but simple dress waiting for her. She slept fitfully, her heart filled with grief for the life she had lost, and her head filled with laughing specters.
For days she lived with the old fey, and tended the garden and the house. Every morning she tried to speak to the old woman, but every morning the fey told her, Today is not a day for words, my child; let us tend to the garden and spin the wool. The princess felt her heart and body settle in the familiar work.
The enchantress had two daughters, and they spun wool and gathered wood with the princess, and on cold nights they laughed and dined with her. They too took human form as their mother did, sometimes fair and lovely and other times ugly and plain; it seemed to amuse them. They taught the princess many things in the art of magic and enchantment.
One day the fey said instead to the princess, Your heart is now rested. Come, and meet your father.
A tall and graceful man stood by the cottage. The mans eyes shone like moonstones, and in his voice one could hear the screech of the crows call.
I left you to the care of your mother, little one, he said by way of introduction. I did not know she had passed from this world, nor that you were so unhappy. If you wish, you may call my home your own, and come live with me in the land of Faerie. There you shall have dresses of crystal and slippers of ice, and drink liquid gold in flasks of silver. You shall want for nothing for the rest of your days, which will be many.
I want for nothing here and now, father, said the princess. I have worn dresses of gold and slippers of glass and they have not sated me. I have danced all night with the nightingales and it has not sated me. I have found a home with those who love me and would do me no harm, and this has sated me so.
And it would continue to sate her for years to come.