When Charon arrived at the palace, instead of going in directly, she first glanced around at the other guests. Most of them were ladies accompanied by a male partner. Some ladies arrived on their own. Seeing that she wasn’t the only one, Charon gave a relieved sigh, and entered along with the others. Next, when she was in the dance hall, she peered around for Mame Treina’s silhouette. Although Mame Treina never said so, Charon knew the consequences would be severe if she was discovered.
While glancing around, Charon caught a glimpse of a familiar yet foreign figure. That was Prince Charming, no doubt. The air around him seemed to glow in a faint golden color. As the music started and other started dancing, Charon made her way across the hall, towards the prince that was standing in the middle of a group of ladies. Halfway across the room, he raised his gaze from the sea of ladies and met hers. She stopped in her tracks, recognizing the eyes. Somehow, though, he seemed a bit different from the last time she saw him.
Prince Dradel—whose name was only known to Charon among all the ladies in the room—smiled at the group surrounding him. “Excuse me,” he said, making his way to her. At that moment, Charon wasn’t sure what she should do. Prince Charming—the reason for this ball—was walking towards her in the middle of a dance, in the middle of the room, with all eyes following his golden aura. Now, she understood why she found him quite queer the first time she’d seen him. At the time, he was wearing the clothes that appeared much lower in status than his posture and etiquette suggested. But here in the palace, with him wearing a princely attire, it finally made sense.
What didn’t make sense was why he had appeared on the street back then in the first place, but no matter.
“Dradel…?” She didn’t take another step, until he was almost standing right in front of her. It was only then that she realized the position she was in, that she was standing in front of Prince Charming in the middle of the dance hall of the royal palace, with all eyes on her, and him. Charon did a curtsey, with a bow of the head. “Your Highness,” she corrected.
In that situation, Dradel didn’t immediately publicly recognize her either. “May I have this next dance?” he asked, offering her his hand, a composed, polite smile on his face.
“Of course, Your Highness.” She took his hand.
It was Dradel’s first dance of the night, even though the party had started for some time. For a minute, Charon and he were the only ones moving in the room—apart from the musicians. There were curious whispers echoing all around the room, until other couples started dancing too. Slowly, the room began to grow lively again.
During the dance, neither Charon nor Dradel spoke. As the next song played, Dradel beckoned at Charon for her to follow him. They turned a few corners and he showed her to a guest room. “I’d like to meet you here,” he said, “After the event.”
After the ball, while guests were emptying out of the palace, Charon made her way to the room that Dradel had shown her earlier. She slipped in and waited while Dradel gave the guests a last greeting. Half an hour passed before the door opened. He walked in, and smiled at her. Compared to the smile she’d seen in the dance hall, this one was more genuine and…brighter. A bright smile being a part of Dradel’s features was a rare sight—rare enough that Charon caught herself staring.
“Good evening, Charon,” Dradel greeted her as he closed the door behind him and locked it.
“Good evening, Dradel,” she replied. “How…have you been?”
“Everything has been going well,” he said, “Almost. It’s all…thanks to you.” As he said this line, his gaze softened.
“Yes.” The prince took her hand and brought it to his lips. “May I have another dance?”
“Of course, Your Highness,” Charon replied. It was during the second dance that Dradel told her his story.
At the end of it, he concluded, “And I came back here. Spending time with you has healed me.”
“I’m glad,” Charon said.
“That is why I must ask you,” Dradel looked into her eyes, saying, “To stay by my side from here onwards.”
It was a subtle confession, but Charon understood it. In shock, she opened her mouth as if to response, but closed it again, unsure of what to say. Was it Prince Charming standing before her, or was it just a man named Dradel? After a moment, though, she realized that wasn’t the concern. She had to give an answer, and even though she wondered whether Dradel was asking her as the prince or as himself, she knew that regardless his intention, she would give the same answer.
She shook her head. “I’m sorry.”
Dradel kept his gaze on her for a moment longer, before letting out a soft sigh. “It’s okay,” he assured. “Will you stay around a bit longer, then, at least for tonight?”
To that, she nodded. As if previously agreed, Dradel extended his hand towards her, and she placed her hand in his. They waltzed around the room with no music, yet they were in perfect synchronization. “How are your days going?” he asked at one point. “Do tell me. We have all night.”
They talked and danced the night away, filling each other in on the days they had missed. Late at night, Dradel had fallen asleep, and Charon remained awake, glancing back and forth in between Dradel and the glistening glass slippers on her feet. She shifted her gaze to the window, and seeing that the sky had grown much darker than before, she knew it was time to go—the darkness before dawn. Quietly, she slipped out of the room, through the hall, and out the magnificent doors. Earlier in the evening, for a moment, she had been the center of attention, for the fact that she was standing with Dradel.
Mame Treina had left the house early that day, to prepare for the ball.
So…if it was the last time she and Dradel would ever meet, she wanted him to remember her in a beautiful dress, instead of a servant’s torn attire. Charon hurried down the steps.
“Charon?” came the voice of Dradel from behind. Charon turned her head. “Are you leaving?” Of course she was.
“I’ve…got to go.” Seeing Dradel, she went faster. In the process, one of her slippers came off by mistake, but she didn’t look back. She had to go, before sunrise.
The moment she arrived home, the spell wore off. Her dress had dissolved back into her original servant clothing, and her hair was undone. The only thing that remained unchanged was the lone glass slipper on her foot. Charon picked it up. That was the faerie’s soul.
Dradel picked the glass slipper up as he reached the spot on which it had been left. He had been chasing after Charon, but after seeing the left-behind slipper, he stopped in his tracks. He held the slipper in his hands, then followed the silhouette of Charon until she was gone. If she was that resolute to leave, he thought, he shouldn’t pursue any further—for now.