Elijah finished cleaning the fireplace and went to wash up. He didn’t even get to the washbasin before he heard one of his stepbrothers yell for him.
“Eli, get back in here! You’re not done. This fireplace is a mess.” Robert yelled.
Elijah went back into the front room. “Robert, I’ve told you guys a million times, my name is Elijah, not Eli. And I cleaned that fireplace already. You jerks must have spread more ashes all over it.” Elijah yelped in pain and surprise as his other stepbrother hit him in the back of the head.
“You will not talk back to us, little brother. And your name is what we say it is. Look at you all covered in ash and soot. Your name isn’t Elijah or even Eli. Your name is CinderEli.” Edward said.
Elijah rubbed the back of his head and scowled at his stepbrothers. He didn’t bother saying anything else. He knew it was pointless. Their mother had his father wrapped around her little finger. Elijah felt like he was just a servant and not even part of the family. He knelt and started cleaning the fireplace all over again. He nearly finished cleaning it for the second time when his stepmother rushed into the house.
“Boys! Edward! Robert! Come here at once!” She yelled. Elijah stopped what he was doing and turned around to see what was so important. His two stepbrothers returned to the room and said, almost in unison, “What is it, mother?”
“You’ve both been invited to a Royal Ball at the castle. A notice went up in the village requiring all boys of royal blood and at least sixteen years of age to attend the Princess’s eighteenth birthday ball. It is tomorrow night. We’ll have to spend all day tomorrow getting you both ready. People say she’s looking for a suitor. She just has to pick one of you!” Their mother said.
Elijah spoke up. “I’m sixteen. Will I be going to the ball, too?”
All three laughed at him. His step-mother said, “Of course not, boy. Look at you. You’d be an embarrassment. Now be quiet and go back to your cleaning.”
Elijah was furious. He considered going to his father, but he knew that would do no good. He turned back to his work and tried to put the ball out of his mind.
The next day, the house was a constant hive of activity. Rebecca was ordering her two sons around, getting them ready for the ball that evening. Rebecca sent Elijah out on numerous errands to pick up things his two stepbrothers needed. Each time she forced him to help, he got madder and madder.
The evening arrived, and Elijah watched as his father, stepmother, and two stepbrothers got in the carriage and left for the ball. He finally allowed the tears of anger and of sadness fall from his eyes. Elijah left the house and headed straight for the clearing in the woods behind the house. At the far edge of the clearing, he found his mother’s grave. He dropped to his knees in front of her headstone and cried. “Mother, everything is horrible without you. Father has remarried, and she’s a mean and wicked lady. She has two sons of her own, and I’m cast aside and treated as a servant. Papa won’t even help me. He does whatever she tells him to do.”
Through his tears, Elijah noticed a little blue light flickering back and forth over the headstone. It was a weird little light. It distracted him for a moment, but he continued with what he needed to tell his mother. “They are all at the Princess’ Birthday Ball, Mama. They made me stay home. I have more right to go than Robert or Edward! My whole life now is just cleaning up after them and putting up with them bullying me. I wish… well, I wish a lot of things, but right now I wish I could go to the ball.”
His tears were flowing heavier now. When he first saw it, he thought it was his imagination, but the little blue light was growing larger. Before Elijah’s astonished eyes, the blue light grew into a brightly dressed man with glowing blue wings. Elijah blinked, wiped the tears from his eyes, and looked again. The winged man was still there. “Uh… hi… who… what are you?” Elijah asked.
The man huffed. “I’m a who, not a what, Elijah. I’m your fairy godfather, and I’m here to grant your wish.”
A broad smile crossed Elijah’s face, but a suspicious frown quickly replaced it. “If you’re my fairy godfather, why wait until now? I’ve made a million wishes since my mom died. My stepbrothers have bullied and tormented me for months. Why haven’t you helped me before now?”
The fairy sighed and looked at Elijah. “I’m not allowed to guide every event in your life, but I’ve watched for a key moment to intervene. This is that key moment.” He waved his wand over Elijah.
Elijah looked down at himself and smiled at the fancy, crisply pressed black and white tuxedo. Then his suspicious frown returned when he noticed the “Hello. My name is Elijah” sticker just under his left lapel. “Hey! What’s with the nametag?”
“You will be working with the caterers, serving drinks to the guests at the ball. I’ve arranged it, so they won’t notice that you aren’t really their employee.” The fairy said.
Elijah’s eyes welled up with fresh tears. “Great. Some fairy godfather you are. You grant my wish to go to the ball, but instead of sending me to dance with the princess, you send me as a servant.”
“Elijah, you know as well as I do that a princess is not what you seek.” The fairy smiled and patted Elijah’s shoulder.
Elijah looked up at the fairy, eyes wide. Then he looked down and blushed. “That may be true, but then why should I go to the ball at all?”
“Trust in me that I know what is best for you. It is my job, after all. More than princesses are at the ball.” The fairy grinned.
Elijah looked up at him, the suspicion fading from his eyes. “Ok. I’m used to people looking at me as a servant anyway. I may as well be a servant at the Royal Ball, too.”
The fairy smiled. “Trust in me, Elijah. And leave the ball before the last stroke of midnight, that’s when the enchantment will wear off.” The fairy waved his magic wand again, and Elijah disappeared.
Elijah blinked his eyes in surprise. One second, he was standing in front of his mother’s grave, and the next he was in the most massive kitchen that he had ever seen. The kitchen was bigger than his house! Before he had much of a chance to look around, an older man stormed up to him. The man glanced down at his nametag and then said, “You. Elijah, grab that tray of drinks and get out front. The guests are thirsty. You’re not here to gawk around at the kitchen like some dumb country farm boy. Move it!” Elijah picked up the drink tray and walked through the door and into the main ballroom.
After an hour of walking the floor handing out drinks, Elijah found himself at a stationary bar along the back wall. In between serving drinks, he watched longingly as everyone danced. He knew that the fairy was right, that he didn’t want to marry a princess, but he still longed to dance at the Royal Ball.
He ducked down behind the bar every time he saw his stepbrothers. Not that they would notice him anyway. With his perfectly pressed black and white tuxedo and his blonde hair clean and combed back off his face, they’d never even recognize him. From off to his left, he heard someone clear their throat, and a boy’s voice said, “Excuse me, Elijah, can I get a glass of ice water, please?”
Elijah turned and nearly dropped the glass he was holding. His breath caught in his chest, and his heart skipped a beat or two. The boy sitting at the bar smiling up at him was the most gorgeous boy that Elijah had ever seen. He had light brown hair, cut short in the back, but the bangs were long. He combed his hair to the right, and the bangs partially covered his right eye, and that was a shame because he had stunning bright blue eyes. They were a bright blue to make a cloudless summer sky jealous. Elijah set the glass he was holding down on the bar and tried to steady his nerves. “Sure thing, sir. One ice water coming up.” Elijah gave the boy a nervous smile and prepared the drink.
“Here you go, sir. Enjoy your water and enjoy the Ball.” Elijah said.
The boy shot Elijah a killer smile. The ruby red lips and perfect dimples nearly left Elijah in a melted puddle on the floor. The boy leaned forward. “I’m only just now enjoying the Ball. It was boring me until I spotted you over here. You’re not one of the usual servants. I’d have noticed. My name is Will, by the way.” Will stuck his hand out to Elijah.
Elijah shook Will’s hand and blushed. “Pleased to meet you, Will. As you noticed from my nametag, I’m Elijah. And you’re right. This is my first time here at the Royal Castle.”
“Welcome to the castle. What do you think of it?” Will asked.
“I’ve only seen the kitchen and the ballroom, but it’s stunning,” Elijah replied.
“I’ll have to give you a private tour sometime,” Will said and winked at Elijah.
Elijah blushed a deep, bright red. “Are you the Royal Tour Guide, Will? If so, sign me up for that tour.” Elijah grinned.
Will reached over and took one of Elijah’s hands in his. “What’s with these gloves anyway? I want to feel your hand in mine, not these stupid gloves.”
Elijah shrugged. “The Royal Family doesn’t want us, lowly servants, to touch the things that they serve to them and their guests. I was told to wear gloves all night.”
Will rolled his eyes. “That’s ridiculous. Wait…” Will squinted, looking at Elijah with a look of intense concentration. “You don’t know who I am, do you?”
Elijah scowled. “No. Should I?”
Will gently took Elijah’s face in his hands and leaned in and kissed him. Elijah’s eyes nearly popped out of his head in shock, but he soon recovered and kissed the younger boy back. After several minutes, Will pulled back from the short make-out session, smiling broadly. “Sorry to be so forward, but I wanted to see if you wanted that before you found out who I am. I could probably have any boy in the kingdom, but I want one who wants me, not my title or family.” Will said, looking a little sad.
“Any boy in the kingdom?” Elijah scoffed. “Just who are you? The crown prince?”
Will sighed. “I am who I said I am. I’m Will. Most people insist on calling me William, though.”
Elijah looked confused, and then his jaw dropped. “No way. You ARE the crown prince?! Oh my god. No way! But… you’re here. Talking to me. You freaking kissed me! Why aren’t you up there with your parents and sister?”
“I was. Then I saw you. Now I’m here.” Will smirked.
“I… I don’t know what to say.” Elijah blushed and looked down.
“Say you’ll take off those stupid gloves and dance with me,” Will said with a grin.
“I’m not allowed to take my gloves off by order of the Royal family.” Elijah laughed.
Will stood up straight and puffed out his chest. He spoke in as deep a voice as he could muster. “I hereby order, by Royal Decree, that you, Elijah the Beautiful, must remove your gloves so that I can feel your hand in mine.” Will burst out into a fit of giggles. “Just give me the damn gloves, cutie.”
Elijah blushed a deep red, but he smiled and took off the gloves. “Here you go, your Royal Highness.”
Will rolled his eyes and stuffed the gloves into his pocket. He took Elijah’s hand and led him out onto the dancefloor.
Elijah didn’t know how to dance, so he let Will guide his movements, and he soon caught on. An hour later they were still out there and were attracting more stares than any couple, except for the Princess and her chosen companion. The music slowed, and Will pulled Elijah close. Though he was a year younger, Will has about three inches taller than Elijah.
“You have the brightest and most beautiful green eyes that I have ever seen. Brighter even than the emerald in my father’s treasury.” Will said, looking down at Elijah.
Elijah just couldn’t seem to stop blushing around this boy. “Hey now, don’t even talk about pretty eyes with those beautiful baby blues of yours.” Elijah reached up and pushed the hair out of Will’s eyes. “And your hair is perfect, too.” He smiled.
“Listen, blondie, don’t get me started on perfect hair,” Will smirked.
Elijah couldn’t help but smile. “You’re gonna have like a million princesses come calling when it’s time for your own Royal Ball. You’re as sweet as you are gorgeous. She’ll be a lucky girl, whoever you pick.”
Will pulled Elijah even closer and bent down close to his ear. “What makes you think I’ll pick a girl?”
Elijah looked up at him, confused. “Won’t your father make you? Royal heirs and all that?”
Will leaned in and kissed the side of Elijah’s neck. You’re so cute but so thick-headed. We’ve been dancing right in front of my parents for over an hour. They know I’ll never marry a girl. We’ve already talked about it. As the first-born son, I will be King. But, I’ve already said that I will designate my sister’s children as the heirs to the throne. That’s why they're so formal and so careful with who she chooses to marry.”
Elijah’s eyes widened. “Over an hour? What time is it?”
“Time doesn’t matter when I’m with you. You fit perfectly within my arms, Elijah. I think I want to keep you around.” Will leaned in, about to kiss Elijah. Then the clock struck the first stroke of midnight.
Elijah pulled back from Will’s embrace. “Will, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I really, really like you, but I need to go. Right now.”
Will’s face showed surprise and disappointment. “Elijah, if it’s the job, don’t worry. You’re with me. You’ll never be a servant in this castle again. Stay with me.”
Tears stung Elijah’s eyes. “It’s not that. I can’t explain right now. I just need to go. I’m so sorry.” With that, Elijah turned and ran out of the castle as fast as he could.
Elijah’s sudden departure stunned Will. He wasn’t sure exactly what just happened, but he was confident that Elijah didn’t really want to leave. He felt something was wrong, and he was determined to find out what. He took off at top speed after the other boy without even calling for his Royal Bodyguards.
Will couldn’t catch up to Elijah, but he managed to keep him in sight as they passed out of the Royal Compound and out into the town. Will lost count of the number of streets they passed and side streets they turned down. He nearly lost sight of Elijah, but he turned the last corner just in time to see him dart off the road and into a backyard. Will couldn’t find Elijah anywhere. He searched the nearby woods and other yards but couldn’t find him. Finally, Will gave up and headed home. He vowed inwardly to order the Palace Guards to perform a more thorough search of the town. He would see Elijah again if it was the last thing he did.
Elijah was even more depressed than usual. He had the absolute best night of his life last night, and now here he was, cleaning the fireplace again. He had to put Will out of his mind. He, of course, would never see the Crown Prince ever again. It was an awesome night, but that’s all it was just one night. Just then, his stepbrothers interrupted his daydreams of Will.
“There’s a palace carriage stopping out front. Get out of here, little CinderEli. We can’t have your filth embarrassing us. Go clean the kitchen.” Robert said.
“Yeah,” Edward added. “No one wants to see dirty old CinderEli.” Both boys laughed as Elijah left the room in silence.
A loud knock on the door echoed through the house. Robert and Edward raced to the door and pulled it open. The palace guardsman looked them both up and down and then asked, “Is the Lord or Mistress of the Manor at home?”
“Our stepfather is out of town on business. I’ll go get our mother at once, sir.” Edward responded and turned and ran into the house. He returned not a minute later with his mother.
Edward stated to the guardsman. “Sir Guardsman, may I present Duchess Wainwright, Lady Rebecca.”
The guardsman entered the house, followed by a smaller figure who was wrapped in a hooded cloak. The hood completely shadowed the second person’s face. The guardsman bowed to Lady Rebecca. “A pleasure to meet you, my lady.”
“How may we be of service to the Royal Guard?” Rebecca asked.
The guard took a small item from his pocket. “I have been sent out in search of a boy who left this glove behind at the Royal Ball last night. We are ordered to find the boy whose hand fits this glove.”
Robert and Edward elbowed each other to get up close to the guard. They looked expectantly back and forth between the guard and their mother. Rebecca nodded to them.
First, Robert and then Edward tried on the glove. Neither boy could even fit all their fingers into the glove. They growled in frustration and handed the glove back to the guard.
Rebecca looked sympathetically at the guard. “Sorry to waste your time. Good luck with your search.”
“Thank you, Lady Rebecca.” The guard started to turn away, but his cloaked companion grabbed his arm and said in a whisper, “This is the manor I followed him to. Make sure there is no one else here. I have to find him!”
The guard turned back to Rebecca. “I’m sorry to bother you, my lady. Are there any other young boys in residence here? A servant? A distant relative? I have to check everyone.”
Rebecca frowned. “Well, my stepson Cin… Eli lives with us, but he did not go to the Ball. You can’t possibly be looking for him.” She scoffed.
The guard said. “Call him here at once. If the glove doesn’t fit, we’ll be on our way.”
Rebecca turned and stormed off into the kitchen and returned moments later with a dirty, disheveled Elijah, covered from head to toe with cinders and soot. Elijah brushed himself off and started to walk towards the guard.
The cloaked figure stared intently at Elijah as he walked forward. Robert reached out and roughly grabbed Elijah’s arm. He said to the guard, “Are you sure you want this little soot-covered CinderEli to dirty the glove. There’s no chance that they belong to him.”
The cloaked figure leaped forward, the butt of his staff striking Robert squarely in the abdomen. Robert doubled over in pain. The cloaked figure grabbed him by the hair and bent in close to Robert’s ear. “If you touch him again, you will lose the hand you touched him with.”
Edward jumped to his brother’s side. “The King will hear about this! Just who do you think you are?”
The cloaked figure reached up and lowered his hood. “Go ahead and tell my father what happened here today. While you’re at it tell my mother that your mother ignored her order that ALL boys sixteen or over of royal blood attend the Ball.” He pointed at Elijah. “He is sixteen and the Duke’s blood heir. Yet she did not allow him to attend. Though I will say that it worked out for me that he got there on his own without the need to dance with my sister.” Will smirked at Elijah as he took the glove from the guard and took the other one out of his own pocket. “Make it official. Put those stupid gloves back on. I know it’s you, though. The ash can’t hide those pretty green eyes.”
Rebecca inhaled sharply and bowed deeply to the Crown Prince. “Your Majesty, Prince William, I and my sons beg your forgiveness.” She glared at her sons, and they bowed to the prince as well.
Hands shaking, Elijah put on the gloves. They fit perfectly. His stepmother and two stepbrothers were in shock.
Will smiled at Elijah. He reached up and brushed some of the soot and ash out of his hair. “Elijah, I knew from the moment I saw you that I wanted you in my life. I don’t want you staying here with these cold-hearted bullies. Come live at the castle.”
Elijah took both of Will’s hands in his. “But what would my role be there? Servant? Friend? Why would your father allow it?”
Now, Will was the one who looked nervous, with unsteady hands. He got down on one knee in front of Elijah. “I know we just met last night. I know I’m just fifteen and you’re sixteen. I know you have absolutely no reason to say yes, but I am hereby officially asking you to be my betrothed. We can be married after my eighteenth birthday. What do you say?”
“Oh, Will!” Elijah gushed. He pulled William to his feet and kissed him. “Oh, yes, Will, yes! A thousand times, yes!”
The boys kissed again. Will looked over at Rebecca. “Give anything belonging to Elijah to the guard. We’ll be leaving immediately. His father is welcome to come to the castle upon his return home. You and your sons would be best served to stay at home.” He slipped an arm around Elijah’s waist and guided him out to the Royal Carriage.
The guardsman exited the manor with all of Elijah’s possessions, and then the carriage rode off into the distance towards the castle and more importantly towards a bright new future for Elijah and William.