Once upon a time there was a girl who loved her father very much. The girl’s parents were deeply in love, and they were overjoyed to learn that they would be having a daughter. Unfortunately for the family, the mother died in childbirth, leaving behind a beautiful and healthy baby girl. She was named Eleanor, after her mother, and she was raised by her father alone. Eleanor’s father was a merchant and, as much as he loved his little girl, he had to travel often to earn a living. As she grew older, Eleanor learned to enjoy the time she could spend with her father, as she didn’t get much of it. She knew that he traveled because he loved her, and he wanted to give her everything she needed, but that didn’t stop her from feeling lonely.
One day when Eleanor was a little past her 12th birthday her father came home for one of his rare, extended visits. He explained to her that, even though he still loved his late wife very much, he thought it best to remarry for the sake of his daughter. His wife-to-be was a widow herself, and had two daughters of her own, only a little older than Eleanor. Eleanor wasn’t sure how to feel about all of this. She was excited to meet her new family, but she was so used to it just being her and the servants. What would new people be like, Eleanor wondered? She didn’t have an answer for that, but she decided that not matter what happened, she would make the best of it.
Eleanor’s new family tamed some of her rough-and-tumble habits, but generally they were quite friendly. The girls were willing to play with Eleanor – even if the oldest, Marguerite, did occasionally laugh at Eleanor’s mistakes. The younger daughter, Jacqueline, grew quite fond of Eleanor, and even nicknamed her Ella as friends will sometimes do. Ella’s stepmother did her best to love Ella, who tried so hard to be sweet that it really wasn’t that difficult. She may have been guilty of sometimes favoring her own daughters over Ella, but who could blame her?
Ella and her family lived happily together for three years. Then knew returned from abroad that Ella’s father had died from an unknown illness on his trip to Ambiose. Ella could hardly cope with her father’s death and became deathly ill. On the advice from a doctor, her stepmother quarantined her in the only isolated part of the estate: the attic. While Ella was slowly recovering her stepmother had to figure out how to keep their family alive.
By the time Ella was well enough to help her step-family, everything she knew had changed. All of the servants had been dismissed and the girls and their mother had to do all the work to keep the household going. The biggest change for Ella came, not from their new situation, but from her stepmother.
“Good morning, Ella. How are you feeling today?” Stepmother asked as Ella entered the kitchen, one day soon after her illness.
“I feel much better, thank you.”
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we won’t be able to move you back to your old bedroom. We need the space so much. Marguerite, Jacqueline and I have discussed it, and the girls are willing to make space for you in their room.”
Ella shuffled her feet and stared at the floor as she replied, “It’s very nice of them, but I think I’d rather stay in the attic. Everyone could have more room, and it’s not really that bad up there, stepmother.”
Ella’s stepmother put down the pan she had been washing and walked over to where her stepdaughter stoop. “Listen Ella. Many things have changed since you were last feeling well. The most important thing now is that we all have to do our share and work together to survive. I don’t want to here ‘stepmother’ any more. You’re one of my girls too.”
Ella surged forward and wrapped her stepmother – her mother – in a hug as tears began spilling down her face. Maybe a world without her father could still be a good one.
As the weeks turned into months, the small family developed a rhythm for their lives. Marguerite and Jacqueline didn’t have many skills, so they spent their time with their mother, learning what they could do to help the household function. The girls’ mother worked as a seamstress from their house, and made sure they had food on the table. It then fell to Ella to go back and forth to town to deliver her mother’s work and collect payment. She also did all of the shopping for the household while she was there. At home she tended to the animals and did all of the outdoor chores, sometimes assisted by her sisters. However they were more likely to accidentally hurt themselves than help Ella.
One day, on her way home from town, Ella was caught up in a hunt. Her horse was spooked and started running as fast as it could away from the strange sounds. Ella couldn’t get it back under control until a young man broke way from the group and pulled her horse to a stop.
“Are you alright miss?” the man asked as he checked her horse over for injuries.
“I am, thanks to you. It was very kind of you to help me.”
“Miss – what do they call you?” the man asked, finally looking up from her horse.
” Elea… Ella. They call me Ella.”
“Well miss Ella, you shouldn’t be this deep in the forest alone.” He said it with a laugh, not really meaning it.
“I come this way almost every day. Besides, I’m not alone, I’m with you mister – what do they call you?”
“You don’t know who I am?” The man seemed very surprised, but then backtracked quickly. “That is, they call me Kit. Or my father does when he’s in a good mood.”
Their conversation was cut short by the hunt, which continued on without Kit. As he rode away he called back to Ella, “I hope to see you again, miss.”
After that day Ella looked for Kit every time she went to town. He wasn’t always there, but when she did see him they would take time to talk with each other. Ella told Kit stories of her childhood: things she could remember about her father or things that he had told her about her mother. She rarely talked about her families current situation, instead saying that her family treated her as well as they were able. Kit, in return, told her about his relationship with his father, and what it was like being an apprentice. He never told Ella exactly what it was he was learning to do, but she didn’t mind. She just enjoyed talking to him.
One day, nearly three years after her father’s death, Ella heard in the town square that the prince of their small country was holding a ball to choose a wife, and that all the eligible maidens of the land were invited. Ella happily carried the news home to her family. They would love the chance to go to a ball, and they had each kept one nice gown for formal occasions from their old lives. Ella didn’t have anything to wear, but she didn’t much mind. She didn’t think the prince would live up to Kit in her estimation.
As Ella was riding home through the forest, she saw Kit waiting for her near where they first met.
“Ella! Have you heard the news? There’s to be a great ball at the palace!” he called to Ella as she approached him.
“Yes, I’m going to tell my family now. They’re sure to be very excited.”
“Will you be coming?” he asked with a strange intensity.
“No… I don’t think so. My family probably will, but I don’t have anything that would be suitable to wear to the palace. Besides, I don’t think anything would come of it, and I don’t know that I care for meeting the prince.”
“You must come Ella! Promise me that you’ll think about it!” Kit asked so earnestly that Ella couldn’t bring herself to refuse. She nodded and headed home.
When Ella returned home and told her family about the ball, they were as excited as she expected. They all rushed about, airing out their old dresses and trying them on. Ella’s mother found some old gowns for Ella to try, but none of them fit; she offered to try and make Ella a gown, but Ella refused. They had enough work to do without adding to it, she said. She knew that Kit would be disappointed, but there was nothing she could do.
The day before the ball Ella woke to find a parcel at the front door with her name written on it. When she opened it, it was a beautifully made ball gown with another note that said “For the ball.” Ella had a suspicion who had left it for her, and rushed to show her mother. They spend the day adjusting it so that it fit perfectly, and, the next night, Ella found herself on her way to the ball with her family.
Walking into the ballroom of the palace, for Ella, was like walking into a dream. She and her sisters joined the queue to meet the prince while their mother greeted some of her old friends. As the line inched forward Ella kept searching for Kit in the crowd. He has to be here somewhere. Finally they reached the front of the line and Ella had to stop her searching. She curtsied deeply and looked into the Crown Prince’s face.
“Kit!” Ella exclaimed before she could stop herself. “But… what…” She looked at him in confusion. Kit just laughed a bit and introduced himself to her sisters before asking her to dance.
“You look lovely,” Kit said with a grin, gesturing to Ella’s dress. It complemented his own attire so well, it couldn’t have been an accident.
“You sent it! Why didn’t you tell me? Any of it?”
“I enjoyed knowing you without any pressure – just Kit and Ella. By the time I though I should tell you, I didn’t know how. Then my parent’s started mentioning that I needed to get married, and I realized that I already knew who I wanted it to be.”
Ella’s stomach felt like it was full of butterflies as she registered what Kit was telling her. She knew she loved him to – had known if for a while if she was honest with herself. She smiled and leaned into him as they danced the night away. So this is love, she thought.
Author’s Note: So this is much longer than most of the story telling post for Mythology and Folklore (twice as long, actually!). But, since this is the last story for the semester, I wanted to write to the end, even if it took me a while. I wrote about Cinderella last week as well, in a very different way, and that’s what I like about this fairy tale so much: it’s extremely versatile. I took inspiration from the 2015 live action Cinderella, the 1998 movie Ever After, the Disney animated Cinderella, and a book by Cameron Dokey called Before Midnight, as well as from the original source material. The main changes I made were to make the step family not evil (no one is evil without a reason, and I just couldn’t think of a good one) and to make sure that Ella and the prince met before the ball. Love at first sight is not something I could ever write about. The names for Cinderella and the prince and some of their dialogue was taken from the 2015 movie, the stepsister’s names, the first line, and the place where Ella’s father died were from the 1998 movie, the kind family and the stepmother telling Cinderella to call her ‘mother’ is from Before Midnight, and the last line is from the animated movie. The prince sending Ella the dress instead of a fairy godmother was my own touch. I thought that he would want to ensure that the girl he was in love with would make it to his ball.
Bibliography: “The Cinder-Maid.” Europa’s Fairy Book, collected by Joseph Jacobs. Web source.
Image: Cinderella by Ma_Co2013. Source: Flickr