“Ella! Come lace my corset.”
“Coming,” Ella said, but not quickly enough.
“Ella!” Rose screamed again.
Ella was beginning to forget that she had another name once, back in the true world, and that she used to assume mortal form just for fun. All the faerie folk tried it at one time or another, but her timid friends took pampered lives, entering the human world with enough gold to power any enchantment they could wish. None dared what Ella did, to live as a servant instead of the served.
That was before. Before Ella went to work for the Lambert sisters. Now she was trapped.
“Hurry, you lazy wench!” This time from Beatrice, Rose’s younger sister. Who was she to call Ella lazy? Ella had been working since dawn. Beatrice and Rose were the ones who’d slept until noon, after dancing all night at the royal ball. From behind her glamour-cast, she’d watched Beatrice throwing herself at all the available lords, while Rose threw herself at the buffet.
Ella trudged to the stairs. She put one hand on the banister and hauled her feeble body up one step, then another, until she’d climbed all fourteen agonizing steps and stood in the threshold of Rose’s room.
Rose sat at her dressing table, and Ella welcomed the chance to stand near. She eyed the drawer hungrily, knowing what was inside.
Rose held her arms aloft. “Lace me!”
Ella pulled the stays snugly, using all her strength to encase Rose’s bulk. Once done, she reached for the drawer. If she could just touch a brooch, a necklace, something. “Shall I help you pick out some jewelry today?”
“No,” Rose snapped. “Today I stay at home.”
“Ella!” Beatrice called from across the hall.
“Coming,” Ella sighed, knowing that she’d find Beatrice still in bed, or at most, gazing idly out the window, hair uncombed, face unwashed. Worse, Beatrice favored jewelry of silver or pearls. Worthless. Ella turned to go, sweeping her hand lightly over the tabletop as she did. Rose would never miss an earring so small. Holding it in her fist, she trudged across the hall.
She wondered which one of the Lambert sisters—if either—would arrange her funeral and burial. For she was sure now that she was dying. She’d used up the very last of her hoarded gold to make a love spell, albeit one with limited duration. It had barely lasted until midnight. However, her thin body and pale skin were quite the fashion, and she’d gained the prince’s attention, applying all her available magic in one last burst.
Since then, she’d barely been able to move. Every step felt like pushing through mud. Every breath felt like her lungs were stuffed with wet rags. Only clutching this tiny piece of stolen gold kept her from collapsing on Beatrice’s floor.
“Breakfast?” Ella asked. “Or lunch?”
“Never mind that,” Beatrice said, turning from the window. “A carriage is coming. Go answer the door.”
Down the stairs. Again. At least it was easier than up. Ella concentrated on planting each foot below the other. How had she come to this? A faerie, dying in the mortal realm. She’d visited a hundred times before, in situations far worse, and always delighted in the game of finding or earning or winning enough gold to get back.
She opened the front door and found the prince, surrounded by half the court. She focused on the short, ugly, pockmarked prince, improbably holding her shoe. How charming.
“Does this…could you possibly be…are you the one…” He stopped himself, and without another word, bent and fit the shoe onto her foot.
He stood. “My love,” he said, as an exhale of relief and approval went around the court. “Will you marry me?”
The prince. Gifts of jewelry. A storehouse of treasure. She threw herself into his arms.
“Take me home.”