By Roy A. Mauritsen
This is an excerpt from Shards of the Glass Slipper: Queen Cinder by Roy A. Mauritsen, presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Roy A. Mauritsen, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Shards of the Glass Slipper: Queen Cinder is available in trade paperback, digital, and audio editions. Copyright 2012 Padwolf Publishing.
Art by Roy A. Mauritsen
“So what has the piper revealed?” asked the Maldame, coming from one of the side rooms of the castle hallway and matching stride with Queen Cendrillon as she walked past.
“Many things,” Cendrillon replied absently. She was focused on her thoughts and continued walking. The Maldame strolled alongside her stepdaughter.
“That was the last of the sacrificial geese you used. Until our plans play out, what left of our magic is to be used sparingly. I hope it was worth it.”
“The pledges are dismembering the rest of the animal and storing it for use in later spells; we are not completely devoid of the magic yet,” Cendrillon answered, still walking with purpose. “The spell on the piper is sufficient for now. But it is weaker than I would have preferred. He should be disposed of at the first sign of it wearing off.”
They were in a rarely visited part of the castle now, and Cendrillon pulled a key from a chain around her neck.
Immediately the Maldame recognized the area. “What are you doing?” she asked, slightly puzzled.
“The piper told me something,” said Cendrillon. She inserted the key and with a slight click unlocked the door. “I have come to see if it is true.”
Inside the door was a stairway. The air was stale and dank, the floor and walls of stone covered in thin dust. Ahead, a winding stone staircase rose upwards and out of view as dull grey light illuminated the hallway through small, dirty windows.
“And what did the piper say?” asked the Maldame again as she followed the young queen up the stairs.
“News I am not happy about. Phillip, my charming prince, is still alive, and has returned to Marchenton,” Cendrillon replied with sarcastic annoyance.
They continued following the tall staircase upwards. “And he’s working with General White, which indicates that he means to take back the throne.”
“The prince survived the Beanstalk War?” the Maldame asked. Even she was surprised at this latest revelation.
Cendrillon elaborated. “Dame Gothel is helping them.”
This bit of news infuriated the Maldame. “Dame Gothel! How dare she!”
The Maldame seethed at the thought of the former ally now in league with the rebels.
“Well,” added Cendrillon condescendingly. “That is why you should kill people rather than exile them. That was what — how many years ago?”
“Shortly after your birth, actually,” the Maldame replied.
They had reached the top of the stairs now. There was a larger landing here with a small sitting area and a large decorative glass window, crisscrossed with lead caming lines. The sitting pillow, once a deep purple, was now dust covered and faded from the sunlight. Nearby was a second old, age-worn, wooden door.
“This is why General White is as dangerous as she is,” said Cendrillon as she inserted her key into the lock. “She is a leader and can rally the people together. She is quite resourceful, if she has Dame Gothel and potentially others. She has the dwarves working with her as well.” Cendrillon paused at the door. “I wish to speak with General Dendroba personally. Summon him back to the castle.” Then she had another idea. “Do you remember Gretel and her brother?”
“The witch hunters?” Maldame said. “Yes, quite well.”
“We should hire them to track down General White and Dame Gothel. A little outside muscle could not hurt. I was going to humor Dendroba and send them up to the excavation site to deal with something there.”
“I’d rather see those two dead — or worse if possible — before we hire them again,” offered the Maldame.
“We could do that too. After all, they are bringing the werewolf in, so we’ll be back on schedule soon.”
The Maldame folded her arms against her chest. It was not an idea the Maldame liked. They were the kingdom’s most successful witch hunters back in the day, and the bane of everything the Maldame had worked for.
“Many witches and comrades were slain by those two — witches rounded up like caged animals and brought in for justice.” The Maldame spat the last word like poison.
“We’ve hired those two to bring in the werewolf. I understand they are already en route. They are useful enough. I will have Dendroba meet up with them. If they could find General White, it would be worth it,” added the queen.
The Maldame changed the distasteful subject. “Why are you up here?” she asked. “You never come up here.”
“The piper said something interesting; do you remember my glass slippers?” She turned the key and with a soft push, she the door opened with a creak. There was a flutter of wings as startled birds flew out of the room through the broken glass window. Rain splattered upon the sill, and when the wind shifted, the rain sprayed into the room, soaking the already ruined rugs. Here was Queen Cendrillon’s private wedding collection, the memorabilia of another lifetime.
Here, too, was where Cinderella died and Cendrillon was born on a fateful night over five years ago. Cendrillon had not been back since. There seemed a chill in the air, and the queen could not tell if it was from the broken window or her own memories. The room was now a home to birds and creeper vines that had found their way through the window and laid claim to everything inside. Cinderella’s vanity table and furniture were spotted with mold, weathered and worn from exposure to the elements, dirty from the rain and covered in the droppings of birds. Fine royal gowns of pink and powder blue lay upon the ground, ripped, torn, and ruined by birds and animals seeking to make nests of the royal material. Creeping ivy covered the walls and had already claimed a chair and a desk near the window. The greedy ivy worked its way up a pillar that stood in the center of the room, the pillar that one time held the fabled glass slippers but now held only faded memories and the droppings of birds.
In here were things familiar to Cendrillon, as though from a distant time, and she found each memory more revolting than the next. There was the mirror where she would innocently brush her hair while she sang songs and where her makeup was prepared for yet another royal princess ball. The mirror was now cracked and so dirty that Cendrillon could barely see her own reflection. Silver brushes, now darkened and tarnished, lay where she had left them over half a decade ago. Cendrillon and the Maldame crossed the room to the pillar where her glass slippers had been on display. There was no sign of them on the floor either. Cendrillon slowly inspected the pillar base and ivy covered floor around it.
“Such a naïve young child I was back then,” Cendrillon mused absently. Then she continued to explained. “The piper claimed my glass slippers had been stolen. I left them broken on the floor. Indeed, it is true, they have been taken. I wanted to see for myself.”
“So what if they have your glass slippers! They are merely a trinket; a souvenir from another time.”
“Perhaps,” replied Cendrillon, “they are planning to use them to kill me somehow. The piper told me something else.”
The Maldame listened as she casually explored the room, stopping to poke with her shoe in curious disgust at a long discarded pile of pink silk chiffon on the floor.
“Well, did you not murder your God-mother fairy with your own glass slipper? Those glass shoes of yours can be pretty sharp.”
“Don’t mock,” replied Cendrillon, “The piper told me that Dame Gothel could extract the fairy magic from the glass slipper remains. Looking back on the night of the ball, it would make sense.”
The Maldame looked up from the empty pillar where the slippers had been. “Impossible,” she stated. But Cendrillon was lost in her memories, remembering a happier time, now distant and painful.
“The God-mother fairy had transformed various lizards and mice, a pumpkin into a carriage, and even my dress for me during the nights of the ball. And each night at the stroke of midnight they would change back.
“Typical fairy magic,” the Maldame scoffed.
“But not the glass slippers,” Cendrillon recalled. “Those never changed. They were permanent, a gift of the Fae, my fairy Godmother had said. That was how the prince found me.”
“Yes, I remember that day. Jovette tried to cut her own toes off to fit into that damned shoe.”
“Then it is quite possible that the fairy magic remained within them.”
From behind them, there was the sound of a polite clearing of the throat. Rolling her eyes with smoldering annoyance, the Maldame turned to see an elderly man, thin and in poor health standing in the doorway.
“What is it Henry?” the Maldame sneered, annoyed at the interruption and the inevitable delay it would bring.
Despite old age and dwindling health, Henry, the majordomo of the castle kept to his duties; even his general dislike of the queen and her stepmother did not deter him from his obligation to serve the throne, no matter who sat in it.
“My queen,” Henry said, “There is an emissary who requests a meeting with you on urgent business.” His tone was stoic as usual. “He awaits an audience with you in the great room.” With that, he raised his head, awaiting her response.
Queen Cendrillon glared. Emissary? Here? Who would dare?
The Maldame, standing nearby, gave the queen a look of surprise. She had severed all diplomatic ties to ensure complete control over Cendrillon’s rule. Over the past decade, there had been discouragements regarding diplomatic relations which served to increase the isolationism that was eventually, and quite literally, manifested by the creation of the Bloodthorn Wall.
Henry added, “He claims to represent the sovereign realm of a place he calls… Wonderland.”
Queen Cendrillon felt the hairs on her neck stand on end; her stomach tightened. This was bad news, and completely unexpected.
There was a pause until the Maldame stepped into the conversation.
“Here?” she queried. “Make sure that he does not leave. Cendrillon and I will be there momentarily,” she told the majordomo.
“Very good, madam,” said the servant in a formal, yet uncaring reply. “That will be all,” the Maldame said absently and fluttered her hand to dismiss him. He lowered his head, turned, and retreated down the stairs. As soon as the old man was away, Cendrillon expressed her apprehension. “Emissary? We should kill him,” she said.
“That’s your answer to everything,” replied the Maldame. “We need to find out what he knows.”
“They obviously know something is amiss or else they would not have sent someone.” A tinge of panic now crept into the edges of the queen’s voice. Would her plans to tap into Wonderland’s magic be derailed before she even had a chance to start? She was so close to completing her plan. Now this, she thought. Cendrillon’s sudden worry must have shown on her furrowed brow.
The Maldame scowled at the young queen. She did not approve of this sudden panic. It was a sign of weakness.
“You are as inexperienced in these matters today as you were when you first sat on the throne. Such a lack of maturity can cause great disaster at these crucial times. Here is a chance to redeem the mistakes you made during the Beanstalk War.” The Maldame scolded. “I already have a plan to handle this.” She headed toward the door, then on a thought, she turned and faced the queen. “For the record, I said reopening the portal to Wonderland was a bad idea. Pray I am wrong, child.”
Any measure of panic now left the queen quickly; she had steeled herself. Her blue eyes glared fiercely. “I am queen,” said Cendrillon. “Do not dare speak to me like that.”
The Maldame was not fazed. “You are queen to all… except me. Do not forget your place. Right now you are a child, scared that you are about to be caught with your hand in the cookie jar. I am the Maldame of the coven, and I made you.” The Maldame’s voice rose in frustrated anger. “It was fun to play princess,” the Maldame gestured about the room, speaking in a voice seething with contempt. “But while we reminisce about the past, our future is quite literally knocking on our door.”
“I will handle this matter!” Cendrillon burst out angrily, frustrated at her stepmother’s attitude and hurt by her words. “You would do best to ready for travel to the site as planned, Stepmother.” Cendrillon hissed the last word in disrespect to the Maldame’s station.
But the Maldame quickly countered. “What I will do is meet the emissary in your stead. You will follow along and observe from the side. Enough of all of this,” she pointed about the room. “This room should be burned. It is full of nothing but filth!” With that, she walked down the stairs to meet the emissary, leaving Cendrillon — once known as Cinderella, alone in her ruined chamber.
Rabbit checked his pocket watch again as he waited for the queen’s arrival. It had been an hour at least since the castle’s majordomo had left him there. “Much too long a time to be gone,” the White Rabbit thought. He found the castle to be very still. There was seemingly only a handful of staff and plenty of palace guards, the rabbit noted. “I hope that won’t become an issue,” he muttered. Rabbit saw that the guards all resembled the rate-like bodies he saw at the temple. Perhaps a plague had affected them, he thought.
The guards had searched him roughly when he appeared at the front gate. They removed his sword and scabbard, and then escorted him to the castle entrance. He had spoken briefly to their majordomo, and a maid had graciously offered to take his wet cloak, and kindly started a fire in one of the great hall’s many fireplaces while he waited. The maid even brought the rabbit some warm tea.
“Most accommodating,” the White Rabbit acknowledged to the servant. She paused, staring at the Wonderland emissary. After a brief moment, and a sip of tea, the rabbit obliged her curious stare. The castle staff was abuzz with the news of a royal visitor; everyone was excited and a little curious.
“Yes, I am a real rabbit,” he said dismissively. “No, it is not a costume.”
Embarrassed, the maid bowed slightly and then quickly hurried away. The room was long with a large multi-vaulted ceiling and arched sets that ran along either wall. The room opened into a large, theater-sized great room setting with three levels of balconies and all manner of heraldic banners of every kind and color draped along the walls. Once used for great galas, the large empty room echoed with a sense of faded grandeur. Cold, unlit chandeliers hung silently near the ceiling. Below them, in the center of the great room, was a large ornately carved throne made of wood, velvet and leather. It sat on a raised dais with deep red carpet runners draping the steps on every side of the throne.
Then at last, the majordomo returned and announced the queen.
“Queen Cendrillon, ruler of Marchenton.” The majordomo proclaimed. Accompanied by other palace guards, the Maldame entered with the crown upon her head. The White Rabbit studied her. She was an older woman and seemed quite wise and distinguished. He felt a little relieved that things might now progress more quickly.
As he approached the queen’s throne, Rabbit observed his protocols and knelt on his furred knee. He bowed his head and, as is customary, waited for the queen to speak.
“Representing the sovereignty of Wonderland, Ambassador, uh… Rabbit,” the majordomo announced.
“Rise, Rabbit, and explain this unannounced visit,” the Maldame requested coolly.
“Thank you, Queen of Marchenton. I am humbled.”
“So, you’ve come from Wonderland? How did you get here?”
White Rabbit stammered for a second. There were protocols to address, and the directness of the queen had caught him off guard.
“It is within the accords of the Fae-Wonderland treaty — ”
“How did you get here?” the queen asked louder this time.
Perhaps this was not to be as easy as expected, thought the rabbit.
“The Gate to Wonderland,” answered the White Rabbit. “As required by the Fae-Wonderland treaty that you are to be notified of several transgressions — ”
“And how did you get within the castle borders? That is not a row of hedges we keep outside,” remarked the queen, referring to the Bloodthorns.
“Queen of Marchenton, if I may!” started the Rabbit with an insistent tone. The elderly woman leaned back in her throne for a moment, glaring at the rabbit in silence. She motioned her hand for him to continue.
The real queen, Cendrillon, watched her stepmother’s performance from the shadows, knowing full well she relished the role.
The tall rabbit cleared his throat, tugged his vest coat to straighten it, and then began to explain.
“Some time ago, we had a trespasser from your world. Aside from the trespassing itself, he also committed several major crimes for which he must be extradited to face charges. I have brought paperwork listing what Jack has done.”
He looked up at the queen who sat in silence. The rabbit handed the sealed scrolls to the majordomo, who in turn passed them to the queen. The queen quickly glanced over the scrolls and dropped them to the floor.
“We care nothing for your laws — ” the Maldame started, but then was abruptly interrupted.
“Jack?” asked Cendrillon, stepping out from behind the pillar. Hamelin stood with her.
“Yes,” answered Rabbit with some confusion as this new stranger addressed him. “He was a commoner from this kingdom. The Queen of Wonderland herself has a personal interest in his return.”
The Maldame was not listening; instead, she was slyly observing Cendrillon, gauging her reaction to this news.
“How did Jack arrive in Wonderland? And what sort of personal interest?” asked Cendrillon. The news of her love’s survival distracted her from the matters at hand.
It was just a quick exchange but that, coupled with her disobedience, was enough to infuriate the Maldame. Before the conversation continued further, the Maldame reacted.
“Guards! Seize this intruder! He is now an enemy of the throne!” she ordered, pointing to the rabbit. She would imprison the rabbit and get her answers that were more exacting later. After all, the rabbit never explained how he got into the castle.
Instantly, the rabbit stiffened. “This is most uncalled for!”
Four guards stepped out from behind the queen’s dais, while two others approached from behind him, leveling long-poled halberds toward the rabbit. He braced into a defensive position.
Perhaps the guards were unsure of the unusual sight of the rabbit, or they did not expect such a creature to offer resistance. One of them hesitated; looking unsure, the guard’s shoulders drooped slightly, and Rabbit went on the offense.
With amazing speed, Rabbit burst toward the nervous guard, quickly disarming and disabling him with a flurry of punches and devastating kicks. Rabbit’s sharp claws sliced the guard’s face to ribbons. The Wonderland emissary then called out — “This act of aggression will not be viewed favorably!” The White Rabbit whirled around, easily darting away from the slower attacks of the surprised guards. He expertly fired a quick sidekick and sent another guard to the ground, breaking the guard’s leg awkwardly, much like a snapped twig.
“In fact, in accordance with the Fae-Wonderland treaty, I hereby notify you that Wonderland sovereignty is in full right to declare a state of war upon you.”
The rabbit continued to explain, slightly out of breath as he dropped low to the ground, picking up a halberd from one of the fallen guard’s and using it to sweep two other guards off their feet. He then stomped his foot on top of their chests with such force that he broke ribs and punctured lungs.
Then in a great bound, Rabbit leaped into the air and landed on the dais in front of the Maldame, who was still sitting on the throne. It had all happened so fast that it took the Maldame completely by surprise. The other guards froze as the rabbit held the weapon at the Maldame’s bosom.
“ — and I am now in a position to accept your complete surrender.”
More guards filed in surrounding them. With the rabbit standing on the throne, holding the Maldame at spear point, the Maldame held up her hand to keep them away. They complied, not wanting to risk the life of the queen’s mother.
The Maldame glared menacingly at the rabbit. Her jaw clenched, but she remained steadfast. If she could kill the transgressor with a look, she would have. There was no fear in her eyes, just pure anger.
“Get off my throne!” she growled defiantly to the rabbit.
“You are hereby notified of Wonderland’s intent to extricate Jack for crimes against the realm. Until such time as Jack is located, Wonderland will maintain an occupying army in your kingdom,” continued the rabbit quickly.
“Get off my throne!” the Maldame growled again, the razor sharp spear hovering over her chest.
“Detaining an official emissary only escalates the matter further.”
Then the rabbit stopped. As if in great pain, he suddenly fell backward, wincing. He dropped the spear and grabbed at his ears before falling to his knees and tumbling down the dais steps.
Cendrillon stepped through the circle of guards; Hamelin stood next to her quietly playing on his magical pipes a song that only a rabbit could hear. For the rabbit, it provoked paralyzing, excruciating pain.
The White Rabbit could not bear the pain. As soon as he landed, several guards rushed in, securing him as a prisoner.
The Maldame quickly stood, and then stepped briskly away from the throne toward Cendrillon.
“Yes, Maldame that was an inspired plan. Thank you for sitting in for me, I would have hated having a spear forced on me,” Cendrillon remarked sarcastically. She turned to Hamelin, “Would you escort the prisoner to the dungeon? Perhaps he’d like to hear more of your song.”
“I would be happy to play for him, if that is what you wish,” replied Hamelin, still enthralled by the queen’s spell. He followed the guards as they dragged the rabbit to the dungeon.
“The piper has his uses,” Cendrillon mused.
“You are in way over your head now,” the Maldame snapped. “You couldn’t handle the Beanstalk War, and now Wonderland is about to march on us!”
“That does complicate things,” replied Cendrillon. “Holding that rabbit is going to be dangerous.”
“Complicate things!” Cendrillon’s stepmother fumed. “Complicate things? Yes, it does. This was supposed to be a simple matter of opening the portal, siphoning some magic, and being done with it! You now have a war on your hands. You should thank me for capturing that rabbit, hopefully we can use it as a bargaining chip, or at least get some intelligence out of it.”
“I was not the one to call for his imprisonment, but what is done is done. I will send word to General Dendroba to return immediately to the castle,” Cendrillon offered.
The young queen was caught up in her own thoughts and the news that Jack was alive. Many memories and feelings that she had suppressed for years seemed more in the forefront of Cendrillon’s mind. Her feelings were certainly of a different nature than when she heard the news of her husband, the prince, who was alive as well. Jack had offered her comfort, company, and pleasure in contrast to the prince, who focused solely on raising an army and the threat of attack that Jack had initially brought to his attention. Those were dark times, and Jack had been a light, whereas the prince had only added to the darkness. That was many years ago. Back then, Princess Cinderella found that she could relate more to the commoner Jack than the royal formalities Prince Phillip offered. Now Queen Cendrillon had spent years honing her feelings of hatred for her prince. However, the news of Jack’s return was truly unexpected and the queen found herself unable to quell those old feelings for her lover, though she knew she must.
Things were different now.
“We should see to finding this girl and my glass slippers. We will need all the magic we can get our hands on. Have Jovette and Gael go back out and search for her.”
Cendrillon had never sought to utilize the Maldame’s pets until now. She had always disdained the very thought of their existence, but the two large spiders had proved to be effective in the capturing of Hamelin, and Cendrillon had to acknowledge their usefulness. Now, desperately and reluctantly the queen called upon their service.
“Finally,” whispered the Maldame aloud, “she concedes to my way of handling things.”
Shards of the Glass Slipper: Queen Cinder
was published March 15, 2012 by
Padwolf Publishing Inc.
All rights reserved. Available in trade paperback, digital editions, and audio format.
Roy has received several awards in recognition of his artwork, but for this artist-turned-writer, the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” wasn’t enough this time. There was a story to be told, and it demanded to be written. This fairy tale epic fantasy adventure is also the inspiration for Shards, a concept album that Roy collaborated on and the fourth studio release by the band Gene Pool Zombie.
Roy has also somehow managed to have a successful career as a digital artist and graphic designer, including an illustration credit for the internationally renown Chess Life Magazine and also designing book covers and TV commercials. When up to his eyeballs in deadlines he enjoys photography, volleyball, SCUBA diving, and traveling. But most of the time, he works on 3D artwork, writing short stories for upcoming anthologies, and working on the next Shards of the Glass Slipper. Roy lives on Long Island, New York, with his wife, Caren, and their dog, a Newfoundland mix named Coda.