A rich man passed away, following a short illness. He left behind his only son.
Eric Cinder was just a young boy at the time, and thrived in the care of his loving mother, Sue. For the next few years, Eric and Sue lived together, just the two of them. They lived comfortably on the money they had been left, and Sue raised Eric to be a kind and gentle young man.
One summer, Sue found love again with a man named Bob. They married soon after, and Bob’s sons, Pete and Will, joined the family. The sons were truly captivating young men; fine in physique and handsome of face. However, along with their father, their hearts were full of darkness, and their minds were full of malice.
Sadly, Sue became unwell soon after the wedding, and after a short illness, she suffered the same fate as Eric’s father. This was doubly disastrous for Eric- for, not only had he lost both of his parents, he was also to be left in the care of Bob. And Bob did not care for Eric one little bit. Bob was in sole charge of the household finances- and he would not spare even a penny for Eric. Pete and Will, however, were lavished with expensive gifts, and the finest clothing, tailored to fit and made to measure. Eric, on the other hand, wore raggedy clothes, and was given very little.
It was down to Eric to clean and tidy the house, wash the clothing, run the errands, and make food for his step family.
However, being an innovative young man, Eric decided that he would try to make a living out of cleaning for other people. After all, his mother had taught him the skills that he would need, and he was getting plenty of practise doing the jobs in his own household, so why not make some money out of it? It might eventually give him a way to escape the clutches of his step father.
When Bob announced that he would be going on a business trip overseas, Eric knew that it would be the perfect time to try and launch his business. Whilst his step-brothers took the opportunity to go out and attend as many parties as was humanly possible, Eric went around the neighbourhood knocking on doors, and asking for work. He had drawn and cut out some business cards, using some scraps of paper from Bob’s office.
“Cinder, Eric. Cleaning Services”
Soon, he had built up a couple of local clients. Although he had to sneak around to get the jobs done, in amongst keeping his own household immaculately clean, and of course not arousing the suspicion of his step-bothers (which wasn’t too difficult, as they had barely been home at all lately).
When Bob returned from his overseas trip, he was brimming with gifts for Pete and Will. Expensive suits, handmade shoes, designer shirts, gold watches. And there was even better news.
“There is going to be a Ball at the Royal Palace. All of the single young men are cordially invited, because her Royal Highness, Princess Charmaine would like to find a husband.”
“Oh except for you, Eric. They don’t want your kind of riff raff at the Palace”
Eric looked down at his feet.
Pete and Will snorted loudly and greedily snatched the gifts, holding the clothes up in front of the mirror and admiring their reflections. Their Instagram feeds were awash with selfies, the two of them striking various poses in their new attire. The hashtags were plentiful #royalball #meettheprinces #onourway
Eric stood by and watched, with a heavy heart. How he wished his parents were here. They would have sent him to the ball.
Meanwhile, at the Palace, Princess Charmaine stared at her reflection in the mirror, as the handmaid carefully brushed her long, flowing locks. Charmaine sighed, and cast her eyes down to the floor.
“Something troubles her highness?” enquired the handmaid
Actually, Princess Charmaine was troubled. She was utterly fed up with being a princess. She stared out of the window, gazing at the glorious green trees, which she was never allowed to climb, for fear of ruining her pretty dresses, or grazing her delicate knees. She glanced over at the river, where she was never permitted to swim, for fear of spoiling her hairdo. She sadly eyed the winding paths and complex mazes- all of which had been out of bounds, to minimise any risk of dirtying her clothes.
“No, I am OK, Alice. Just nervous about the ball”
Eric dutifully styled his step brothers’ hair, pressed their clothes and polished their shoes, in readiness for their attendance at the Royal Ball. He prepared a light supper, of mushroom soup and handmade bread.
“Never mind, Eric” jeered Pete. “I am sure that you will find some cleaning to do”
“My bedroom could do with a tidy” Will chipped in
“Your bedroom could do with decontaminating” retorted Pete. To which they both burst out laughing. Eric wished that his step brothers would take half as much pride in their surroundings as they did in their appearance. Perhaps then his workload would decrease.
Bob had hired a limousine to transport the brothers to the ball. As it pulled up outside, Pete and Will made sure to take a few commemorative selfies, before they drove off into the distance, ready to meet the Princess.
The house fell into silence. Eric sat at the bottom of the staircase, with his head in his hands. Tears rolled down his hands and dropped one by one onto the polished floor. Eric looked down, and to his amazement, the tears rolled along the floor, like little droplets of glass. Each time a tear hit the floor, it made a little chime. The tears rolled and rolled and collected together in a small pile. Eric rubbed his eyes. He wondered for a moment what kind of mushrooms he may have used to make the soup.
The small pile of tears disappeared into a puff of gold smoke. Eric could not believe what he was seeing. For within the smoke, there stood a man. He was wearing a smart, dark suit, and as the smoke rose up to the ceiling, Eric became aware that this was the hairiest man he had ever seen. His beard and moustache practically filled his face, and his giant eyebrows sat upon his brow like a couple of trained caterpillars. His hair was pulled into a loose bun, and set perilously atop his head, giving him the appearance of a genie.
“Fear not!” Said the man “For I am your Furry Godfather. Eric Cinder- you shall go to the ball!”
“What the…?” responded Eric, utterly aghast
“Never mind the questions” responded the mysterious male “We don’t have much time. Now go to the kitchen and fetch me a vegetable”
“A wha..?” replied Eric. Yet upon seeing the sense of urgency etched upon the Furry Godfather’s face, Eric stood up and ran toward the kitchen, returning with a parsnip.
“Sorry, that is all that is left in the cupboard. I haven’t done the shopping yet this week”
“Ok, ok we will work with what we have” sighed the intruder. “Step outside”
So the two men stepped outside to the front of the house.
“Lay the parsnip down onto the driveway”
Eric was completely bemused, yet he dutifully followed the instructions. He was accustomed to being told what to do. He placed the parsnip onto the gravelly driveway and took a step back.
The Furry Godfather took out a magician’s wand, and waved it back and forth, whilst muttering some indistinguishable words under his breath.
With a very loud bang, and a cloud of gold smoke, the parsnip was gone. And in its place was a light blue Lamborghini, revving loudly.
“There is your carriage. What are you waiting for?”
Eric looked down at his ragged clothes. “Erm…”
“Oh yes! Sorry! Of course. You need to look the part too”
And with that, the Furry Godfather waved his magic wand again. Eric was no longer dressed in his old, worn clothes. He now stood in a smart blue suit, with shoes to match. Eric felt a little uncomfortable in his new apparel, yet he was just happy to be able to attend the ball, so he did not complain. He noticed on his sleeves the most exquisite pair of cufflinks, each made from a silver sixpence, which was dated back to the Coronation of the King.
“Oh, one last thing…” warned the Furry Godfather
“Make sure that you are home by Midnight. All of this will fade to dust when the clock strikes 12”
The grand ballroom began to fill up with guests. Music was playing, champagne was flowing, and the most delightful canapés were being passed around by immaculately dressed waiting staff.
All eyes looked to the grand glass staircase, as Princess Charmaine made her entrance, escorted by her father, the King. Charmaine faked a smile, and walked as graciously as she was able to (despite the fact that her high heeled shoes were pinching her toes and the bodice on her dress was one notch too tight).
Pete and Will both rubbed their hands with glee. They had their eyes on the prize, and very soon, one of them would be in the arms of the Princess and guaranteed a lifetime of luxury. #notlongnow
The Princess floated along the ballroom, appearing to head in the direction of the brothers. They could hardly contain their excitement.
All of a sudden, the grand doors at the end of the ballroom were thrown open. An engine revved loudly, and a Lamborghini pulled up before the red carpet.
Out stepped the most dapper young man. Dressed head to toe in a blue suit, and with the air of someone very important. Eric was barely recognisable in his new attire. His step-brothers, for all that they possessed in beauty, certainly lacked in wit, and could not figure out the true identity of this mystery guest.
Princess Charmaine locked eyes with the mysterious young man, and felt utterly drawn to his charms. He seemed so different to the other young men. She wasn’t particularly fussed about his fancy blue suit and car. His smile, however, was so genuine and kind.
The two of them danced together for the whole evening- no other man could get close to the princess. As they held each other close, and spun around, Eric caught sight of the grandfather clock at the top of the stairs.
He whispered to Princess Charmaine, tenderly making his excuses, and immediately ran toward the door and made his way out into the cold, dark evening. He looked around desperately for his transport, yet he could not see his car anywhere. As he ran along the driveway, he stumbled over a lump on the ground. He looked down and saw the parsnip. So it was true. His clothing had turned back to rags, and his wonderful evening had come to an end.
He ran all the way back home, and did not stop to look back.
Princess Charmaine was distraught. After her mystery suitor had left in a hurry, she had ordered a full and thorough search of the building and its surroundings. All that was found was a silver sixpence cufflink, dated the same year that the King had been crowned.
The footlady swore that she had not seen the Lamborghini leave the premises, and with nothing else to go on, the princess sent her out into the land to knock on doors and find the young man.
Pete and Will were sitting in the kitchen with Bob. They were both staring at their phones, updating their social media, with a bunch of lies about how the Princess had not been able to take her eyes off the pair of them all evening. #royalball
Still very much deluded, and convinced that the Princess would come for them, you can imagine the delight that they both felt when there was a knock at the door, and it was someone claiming to be from the palace.
“I have a cufflink here” announced the footlady. “Her Royal Highness believes that this was dropped by her truly beloved, as he left the ball”. “Whoever it may be who can produce the exact match to this cufflink, will be betrothed to the princess forever more.”
Pete and Will ran off to their bedrooms, almost falling over themselves in the process. They rushed to return with every single cufflink that they owned. Bob insisted that the footlady wait whilst each and every cufflink was examined. Yet unsurprisingly, none of them matched the single cufflink.
In desperation, Bob recalled that he had picked up a pair of sixpence cufflinks abroad one year. He ran to his bedroom and retrieved one from his wardrobe.
“Here! Here it is! We have it! Now which of my sons will you take- maybe take both of them, for we cannot tell which son had dropped the cufflink!”
The footlady examined the cufflink carefully.
“No sir, I am sorry but the date does not match. It is a very specific date and it cannot be forged”
“FORGED!” raged Bob
Suddenly, there came the unmistakable noise of a vacuum.
The footlady peered through the door and caught a glimpse of another young man, busily hoovering the floor.
“Who is this?” she enquired, not wishing to leave any stone unturned.
“Cinder” replied Bob “First name Eric. He is just the cleaner”
“I would like to talk to him please”
And with that, Eric was summoned to turn off the vacuum and come to the door.
The footlady held up the cufflink.
“Do you have the other one to make this pair?”
Eric looked slightly awkward, and shuffled from side to side on his feet.
“Come on, please don’t be shy. This is very important” pleaded the footlady
And with that, Eric reached into his tatty pocket, and pulled out a small silver cufflink, handing it cautiously to her.
The footlady studied the cufflink with a furrowed brow. There was a long pause. And a sharp intake of breath
“It’s a match! Get your coat- we are going to the palace”
And with that, Eric Cinder was whisked away from his oppressive little life, and taken forth to a bright future.
And a bright future it was too! The couple were truly well-matched. Neither cared much for the finer things in life.
The Princess was overjoyed to have finally met her true love. Someone with whom she could truly be herself.
They both had a burning sense of adventure, and the need to live independently of their past. They eloped, and together, Charmaine and Eric Cinder set up a modest, yet thriving cleaning business, and relished in taking off-the-beaten-track adventurous holidays together.
And of course (or so legend has it) they lived Happily Ever After.