Dedicated to our wives, and The Church.
Act 1: The War
Scene 1: The Gnomes
The gnomes invaded the continent almost exactly one year after Prince Kit Charming married Cinderella, now known as Princess Ella.
“My son,” said the King. “While I gladly gave you a year to enjoy life with your beautiful bride, It is now time for you to take on the duties of royalty.”
Oh no, thought Ella. Will he send Kit away to the war?
“The Grand Duke and I will lead an expedition to the northern reaches to investigate attacks on our distant neighbor, Arendelle,” continued the King. “You will have charge of the capital, and be responsible for keeping an eye on the dukes.”
Ella breathed a sigh of relief. Though the dukes were notoriously difficult to deal with, at least Kit would be safe here with her. With us, she thought dreamily, patting her gently swollen belly. Besides, she thought, it should only take a couple months for the King to travel there, sign a treaty, and return.
Scene 2: The Dukes
Six months later, nursing her newborn daughter Cindy, Ella wondered if Kit might’ve been better off fighting gnomes. At least then I could look forward to his return, she grimaced ruefully.
It had started off so well. Kit and she had been honored and feasted as they travelled around the twelve duchies. All the dukes expressed deep loyalty to the king and a willingness to help any way they could. Ella started to believe that Kit’s charm would succeed where the King’s jolliness had failed. Won’t he be pleased when he returns next week? she thought.
But the king did not return.
His brief expedition had turned into a desperate struggle to break the siege of Arendelle. Requests for men and arms from the dukes had been meet with vocal agreement but silent delays. Kit spent all week traveling to visit one duchy after another to chivvy them into providing the promised levies. Ella waited eagerly for his returns, only to see him spend the weekend closeted with the board of advisors, juggling war planning while running the capital.
She walked the now sleeping Cindy over to the Great Ballroom where they had first danced, now turned into an armory for stockpiling supplies. She looked up at the platform where she had first seen the king. The thrones had been replaced by tables where Kit and his men pored over obscure books seeking answers to their problems. She gazed at him from a distance, with a mixture of admiration and regret. His body may be here safe with me, she thought sadly, but have I lost his heart?
Just then, Cindy woke up and started crying. Kit looked up, irritated, an angry curse dying on his lips only when he realized it was his wife and child. He looked at them with helpless longing, and started to excuse himself. Ella smiled bravely back at him while trying to quiet the baby. Please, she willed him with her eyes. I know you’re about your father’s business, but doesn’t our girl deserve her father too?
Kit had working his way towards the side cupolas to meet her, just as he had done that first night of the ball. He embraced her briefly, tenderly, then turned his warm brown eyes in wonder at the child they had so lovingly created together, now yelling lustily at the world.
“I fear she has my stepsister’s voices — both of them!” smiled Ella, eyes shining with gratitude for this stolen moment. “Then it is a good thing she has twice your beauty to make up for it,” grinned Kit. She watched gratefully as the sorrow on his brow and the tension in his shoulders began to melt away, as he cuddled his screaming daughter to his breast. He closed his eyes, sighing.
He opened them, preparing to hand Cindy back, only to pause as his gaze fell on her rapt face. Their eyes met, just as they had that night long ago. She felt she could see into his very soul, past all the cares of administration, rulership, and battles, to a heart where love for his wife and daughter was submerged under the weight of concern for his father. And in that moment she knew he saw her heart as well, where love, devotion, and admiration for the great work he was doing eroded away under an aching loneliness and need.
They stood so for a brief eternity, his guileless face cycling between adoration and sorrow. “Oh my Ella,” he breathed huskily, and she felt her heart beat faster. He looked at her with a twinkle in his eye, and gave her the sly smile that had first melted the gulf between their two worlds. His noble features settled into a firm determination, and he circled his family with his arms as he turned to face his board. Oh yes, prayed Ella. Come away with us, even if just for an hour.
Just as Kit opened his mouth to speak, a travel-stained messenger burst into the ballroom. “Your Majesty,” he cried, falling on the floor in exhaustion, not even noticing he was kneeling towards the leaderless board. “They have retaken Arendelle, but the king has been gravely wounded, and the army is in disarray. The Grand Duke requests your presence on the battlefield at once!”
Ella’s face fell, annoyance at the interruption giving way to horror at what might have befallen the king. The Prince’s face was stricken as he raced towards the fallen messenger, soon followed by his advisors. Ella watched numbly; one part of her screaming in frustration at their tender moment being snatched away, while another mocked her for being so selfish in the face of such a great national and family tragedy.
Scene 3: The Garden
Ella’s insides twisted as she stumbled blindly back to her chambers, eyes filling with unshed tears. A loyal nurse gathered up the thankfully-sleeping Cindy, leaving Ella to wander the castle in a daze. Her feet found their way to the castle gardens, where she and Kit had spent so many happy hours.
Only there, staring at a bench where they had often sat looking at the stars in the sky and each other’s eyes, did the full weight of the messenger’s request sink in. War! Her thoughtless wish had become a deadly reality. Right on the verge of recapturing her prince’s heart, Ella was losing his presence. If not his life, sneered the cold voice in her mind.
It was too much. The weight of king and kingdom, motherhood and womanhood, all came crashing down up on her. “It’s not fair,” she sobbed, falling to her knees. “We had gone through so much. We were so happy. And now it’s all gone, gone. Oh, why did I ever bother to dream?” Her golden tresses tumbled over her tear-stained face as her shoulders wracked and heaved.
“There, there,” said a familiar voice above her ears. “If you had never dreamed, then I could never have come.”
Ella found her head cradled in a plump lap smelling of lavender and chamomile. For a moment, she felt she was back in her stepmother’s garden, wearing her stolen rags. Wait, she thought, has all this really been just a dream?
“Faith, child,” said that voice again, teasing at the edges of her memory. “Dreams are the truest part of reality. That’s the first thing they teach you in godmother school. Why, where else do you think the magic came from?”
“Fairy godmother!” cried Ella, as memory came roaring back. The coach. The dress. The shoes! “You’re here!” She jumped up, giggling with delight, and swept the grey-haired matron into a whirling hug, tears momentarily forgotten. “Oh, it is so good to see you again!”
“Now, now,” said the embarrassed fairy. “I’m not as young as I used to be. I send maidens to dances, I don’t join in them.”
“Oh, but you must!” Ella grabbed her godmother’s hands and began spinning round the garden. “You’re here! You’re here!” Ella repeated, laughing like a child.
“My, my,” panted her godmother, sinking to bench when Ella finally stopped to catch her breath. Ella snuggled up beside her as the wise fairy patter her on the shoulder. “Lord, child, I’m going to need to my own godmother to fix up these clothes after you’re done with me.”
“Its just so wonderful to see you!” said Ella. “I’ve been so sad, and lonely, and worried. But now you’re here, and you’re going to fix everything…” Her voice trailed off, as she felt her godmother tense. “Aren’t you?” she asked, raising herself to look her deliverer in the face.
“Well, um, yes”, burbled the flustered fairy, “of course. But then again…” She looked around, patting her pockets. “Now, where did I put that thing?” she muttered.
“You are going to help me, aren’t you godmother?” Ella asked, her eyes searching that that beloved face, a note of doubt creeping into her voice.
“Why, absolutely dear!” the godmother said reassuringly. “That is why I came, after all.”
“Then you will fix everything!” cried Ella happily! “Are you going to wave your magic wand, heal the king, and turn the gnomes into pumpkins?”
“What? Kings? Gnomes?” said the godmother distractedly, still looking through her voluminous clothing. “Don’t be silly, child. Fairy’s don’t fix things. That’s what God made humans for. You didn’t expect me to turn your stepmother into a radish, did you?”
“But…” Ella’s face clouded, as her initial excitement gave way to confusion, and the gnawing edge of doubt. “Then why did you come?”
“Why, the same reason I always come,” burbled her godmother, victoriously holding up her missing wand. “To give you the tools you need to do what you’re meant to do.”
Ella let out her breath with a rueful sigh. Of course, it really was too good to be true. She wasn’t a child anymore. Fairy godmothers were powerful enough for teenage dreams of dresses and love. But now she was a woman, and a mother too. Magic wands weren’t of much use in dealing with kingdoms and wars.
“Thank you, godmother. I appreciate it.” she said sadly, “It really is wonderful to see you. But I’m afraid turning a pumpkin into a coach won’t help me now.”
“What? Pumpkins?” said the godmother, peering absently around the garden. “Ridiculous. Of course not. What we need now is a rutabaga!”
“A rutabaga?” exclaimed Ella. “Godmother, don’t you even know what’s happening? The kingdom is at war! The king is trapped in a faraway land. My husband is consumed with worry, and about to be sent away, perhaps to his death, leaving me a widow and my daughter an orphan!” She voice rose, as her hysteria nibbled at her consciousness. “And all you care about is rutabagas!”
Suddenly, Ella felt a gentle tap on her forehead. Her growing panic vanished as quickly as it had come. Her mind was clear, her eyes were dry. Even her worry-worn hands had stopped shaking. She looked down at the smiling old lady in front her, wielding a wand that glowed a heavenly blue light.
“My child, my darling, precious child. Don’t be afraid. Of course I know. I know everything. That’s my job. I know about all your sleepless nights, and the hidden aches you hide from your husband, and even yourself. I know all about wars and rumors of wars. And deep, hidden dangers you’ve never even dreamed of.”
The woman paused, and Ella looked deep into her foolish, absent-minded face. There, beneath the twinkle of her eyes, was a vast Something that took Ella’s breath away.
“Now know this. The One who sent me cares about everything in all creation. Yes, even the rutabagas. But I am here, now, because what I care most about is you. I know you better than you know yourself. I know exactly what you need. And that is exactly what I have come to give you.”
She led Ella to the bench, sat down beside her, and gently took her hand. “The questions is, do you know what it is you want most?”
Ella closed her eyes. What do I want? she asked herself. What should I want? For the war to end? The King to heal? To have Kit all to myself?
She looked around at the garden. No. If she was fully honest with herself, she knew that peace wasn’t the answer.
She had already sensed Kit’s restlessness a few months into their marriage. Though still absolutely devoted to her, and very much in love, she had seen the way he looked as knights and messengers were sent off on dangerous missions.The first few weeks after his father had left, he was full of energy and excitement. Having him spend the day doing work he loved, and was good at, made him appreciate her even more when he came home at night. And, honestly, it gave her the time and freedom to make her own friends, explore the castle, and plans ways to improve the lot of servants, commoners and noble’s alike.
War was actually good for him, she realized, stunned. Good for us – until it pulled us apart.
She squared her shoulders and turned to face her godmother. “I know what I want most”, she said quietly, proudly. “I want my husband to be the best man he can be. But with us, so that I can be the best woman I can be, and so that my daughter will know what love really looks like.”
Her godmother smiled. “Exactly. And that is why we need a rutabaga.”
Continued in Act II.