In the previous episode, Celia wandered through the city all night, ending up at a castle in the nearby hills. After arriving at the entrance, readers voted that she encounter a disillusioned prince in the castle.
At first there was no response. Celia held her dirty fur coat tightly around her and breathed in the cold air, shivering. She was about to knock again when the door began to creak, opening slowly on its own to reveal a giant empty hall. The entrance glittered with gold, crystal, and diamonds, and the giant arched ceiling extended higher than Celia could even see. There were paintings on the walls of angels, and Celia was so entranced by them that it took her a moment to realize she was not alone. A very tall, thin, old woman was walking slowly down the cavernous entryway towards her.
“Come in,” said the old woman. “They’ve been expecting you.”
The woman looked more ancient than anyone Celia had ever seen, even the old woman on the caravan. Nonetheless her voice was strong, commanding. She had a long slender neck adorned with gold necklaces and one giant opal set in rubies. Her pure white hair was fluffy, her mouth was a thin, barely curved line and her eyes were very clear. She gestured for Celia to follow her.
“Excuse me,” Celia said timidly, “but who’s been expecting me?”
The old woman turned around slowly, incredulously.
“Why, the Queen of course. She’s very eager for you to meet the Prince.”
The old woman hesitated as if she was about to say more, but merely continued down the hall. They walked up a flight of stairs, down more corridors and hallways, past crystal chandeliers, gold trimmed handrails, and giant mirrors hanging on the walls. Celia caught a glimpse of her reflection as she passed by one, and flinched at her dirty dress and coat and long tangled hair.
“Don’t worry,” said the old woman. “You will have time to make yourself presentable. There are three handmaidens waiting in your chambers, as well as gowns, shoes, perfume…” She reached a set of elaborated decorated double doors and pushed the handle. “This is your room. I’ll be back to collect you in a few hours.”
When the old woman returned, Celia was transformed. Her long hair had been swept up into an elaborate hairstyle, she had been bathed and perfumed and her simple white dress had been traded for a gown of pale yellow silk. She had pearl earrings and a pearl necklace and the handmaidens had found a pair of white pearl slippers that fit her feet perfectly. They’d laughed with delight at this, for they had searched for some time for a girl whose feet fit the pearl slippers. The Queen would be ecstatic, they giggled joyously. And just wait until she met the Prince! He was the most handsome man in all the land. And she, Celia, was the luckiest girl! Still giggling, they fluffed her dress and sprayed her hair and wished her all the best.
Celia followed the old woman down the stairs and up another flight, around a corner and down a corridor until finally they stopped at the largest, most ornate double doors yet. Vote below on what will happen next or if reading in email click Take our Poll.