Monday, December 2, 2013
Paco José Madden: Cinderella, Dragon Slayer
Name: Paco José Madden
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Cinderella, Dragon Slayer
I have been haunted by a dream.
Flames flicker all about me. My mother screams from above. A screeching sound of something terrible rips through the air and pierces in my ears. I place my hands over them, hands much smaller than my hands are now. How old was I then? Five? Six? In the dream, I run to the stairs but the burning steps collapse in ash and smoke. The fire is blazing so fast. My father stumbles from his workroom. I run towards him. A flaming beam falls on top of him and traps him underneath.
‘Papa, please. Let me help you,’ I her myself cry.
My little hands can’t lift the burning wood.
‘Go! Get out! Save yourself.’ He says through fits of coughing.
‘I’m not going to leave you and mama.’
‘You’ll die. You’ll—’
Then my father looks up at me strangely. What’s wrong I think? Before those words can escape my mouth, the roof crashes down, and I awake up.
Our house was destroyed by a dragon. When the townspeople came to the wreckage, they weren’t expecting survivors. Underneath the charred roof they found me. Still alive. Bruised and cut. But without a burn on my entire body. From that point forward, I was called Cinderella, the girl found in the cinders.
I’m sixteen now. For the past eleven years, I have been living with Auntie and her two daughters, Elvira and Esmira in a manor house on the outskirts of town. To say they took pity on me would be a lie. Auntie gives me nothing to wear but an old gray shift and no slippers for my feet, even in winter. I am also tasked with all the chores within and without the home. Before dawn, I the carry water, make the fire, cook, and wash. I clean in the afternoon. I prepare dinner and run errands before the sun goes down. Life isn’t so terrible if it is simply drudgery, but Auntie and her charges find every opportunity to cause me grief and make me look ridiculous.
“Handle the plate and silver with a dishtowel. We don’t want it to get grubby,” gripes Auntie.
“I dropped a bowl of lentils out my window. Pick up every bean,” orders Elvira.
“Cinder, gray suits you. It is the color of blandness,” sneers Esmira.
The trio do nothing all day but gossip and stuff themselves with teacakes. They imagine every idleness a virtue and hard work a sin. Without me, these lollygags would most likely starve and die. That fact doesn’t make them treat me any better.
I hate my life. I really do.
My only happiness is what I find on my windowsill each evening. When I go to bed, after all my labors are done, when my relations have teased and tortured me to no end, there on the ledge outside my window lies a cut red rose. I don’t know who brings it. I don’t know why. And I have never been able to catch the bestower. But without fail, since my thirteenth birthday rain or shine, freezing cold or blistering hot, a red flower greets me when darkness falls and the stars come out of hiding. I sometimes imagine it’s my dead mother or father descending from heaven to cheer me up. Silly, I know. Perhaps it is some admirer from afar. But who would admire me? It may just be some wandering soul who pities me. But I am grateful. That daily act of kindness tells me there is still good in the world. It gives me hope.
“Daydreaming again?” Auntie calls from the playing table.
I stand in the kitchen doorway, leaning against a broom.
Her brows furrow, cracking the white paint on her face.
“Lazy girl,” adds one of my cousins looking over a hand of cards. A beauty mark dots her chin.
“Sweep! Sweep!” says the other and fans with her suits of cards in such a motion. This one’s cheeks are so red with rouge you would think she was constantly blushing.
I get back to the work and the three idlers return to their game.
A rope snaps and a crossbeam tumbles on one of the masons building the home for orphaned children. He screams, as the wooden timber crushes his legs. The first to arrive on the scene is
Prince Perfect in his royal blue cape and jodhpurs.
I am walking home from the market with a basket full of goods when I see this happening right in front of me.
Prince Perfect is the heir to the throne and only child of the King and Queen. His real name isn’t Perfect, but everyone calls him that because he strives in every way to be faultless. In courtesy and manners, in manliness and courage, in compassion and humility, the Prince is an exemplar, hence the nickname. This was in not due to his parents’ care, but the nursemaid who raised him. She was a saintly soul, who loved and disciplined the child as required. The nursemaid taught him never to treat the servants as chattel, that kingship was a privilege not a right, and that one must always endeavor to do good with the gifts in one’s possession. It was said that the Prince as a child told a lie about a theft he committed and blamed it on his manservant. The nursemaid did not punish him, but her disappointment was so great that the Prince vowed never to lie again unless it was to save a person’s life. Prince Perfect meant every word and never lied or committed a misdeed since. He also joined the nursemaid on her daily calls about town to assist the poor and sick. The Prince was a willing helper. He enjoyed being kind and generous. When this gentle-hearted angel of a nursemaid passed away, Prince Perfect was terribly grieved, but he kept her spirit alive by continuing to do good and acting properly at all times.
Now kneeling down in front of the stonemason, the Prince shouts for help, as he tries to lift the beam from the hurt builder. I drop my wicker basket to the ground, fruits and vegetables spilling everywhere. I bend down to help lift the timber. Another set of hands grabs hold of the other side. Something rank stings my nostrils, but I am too preoccupied to investigate the scent. The injured man moans and cries out in pain.
“On the count of three we lift. And you”—the Prince shouts to one of the carpenters at the worksite who arrives—“pull the poor fellow out.”
The carpenter puts his hands under the man’s armpits. He nods at Prince Perfect.
“One. Two. Three.” The three of us lift the great block of timber just enough, so the carpenter can free the man lying below.
“Let go.” The Prince instructs. The log drops to the ground with a thud. Several other men arrive and load the injured man onto a cart. He mumbles agonized ‘thank you’ to the Prince, who takes the worker’s hand and says some encouraging words.
Then he turns to one of the mason’s. “Take him at once to the doctor in the castle. Make sure he receives the best care. His legs still might be saved.” Prince Perfect places a gold ducat into the man’s hand. The men carry away the injured party, as the Prince bends down to collect the fruit and vegetables that fell from my basket.
“Thank you both for helping lift the beam,” he says, as he puts a pair of tomatoes in the hamper. I look behind me. So that was where the foul smell was coming from. The swineherd’s son was the other person lifting the beam along with the Prince and me. The boy stands on the opposite side of the girder with his hair can clothes splatter with mud and slop.
“What are your names?” asks Prince Perfect still gathering my fallen produce. From a kneeling position, his blonde lashes catch the sun and sparkle like the gold that was in his palm a moment ago. I don’t know why I remain standing and do not bother to collect the fruits and vegetables myself. Somehow I feel fixed to the spot.
“My name is Cinderella,” I tell him.
The swineherd’s son, on the other hand, dashes off before saying a word.
“I hope I didn’t offend him by asking his name.” The Prince rises and hands me the basket.
“He’s the swineherd’s son. He smells and no one likes him.” I wrap my arms around the wicker vessel.
“If you had been working with pigs all day, you would reek too. I wonder if there is anything I can do to help?”
I blush, embarrassed, by what I said about the swineherd’s son. I forget that I’m talking to a prince and Prince Perfect at that. “You’ll think of something,” I reassure him.
“Again, you have my gratitude.” The Prince is known for profusely thanking those who help him do a good deed. “I hope I shall soon see you again, Cinderella.” He removes his feathered cap and bows. A footman brings his horse around. Prince Perfect mounts the silvery steed and gallops away.