The dress was sublime to look at and divine on her. Trimmed with lace and a multitude of petticoats hidden under the skirt. It was strangely light and flowing. The bodice had been cinched tight to her slender waist and the short sleeves puffed gently about her shoulders. The colour was a cornflower blue and the fabric silk. Standing before the mirror, she swooned at her own reflection.
Her hair had been braided up and about her neck a pearl necklace. She fingered it and turned to smile at her companion.
“Thank you, so much,” she said almost tearfully. “This is beyond my wildest dreams.”
“Go, my dear,” said the elderly lady. “Don’t be late back, remember?”
“I won’t be.”
The carriage bounced along the road and she peered out of the window at the streets and houses. There were many such carriages travelling to a single destination: the royal palace. It was as the coachman lowered the steps, that she caught a glimmer of her shoes. The glass glittered in the lights.
Unsure what to do, she followed a crowd up the stairs to the entrance hall. A massive structure of marble and porcelain floor tiles. Pausing, she soaked up the ambience and heard the distant music. Waiting in line to be announced, she panicked. What name to give?
She gave her real name – Ella and her place of birth as her surname. A distance province, which she had left as a small child. Nobody recognised her name or face, but many stopped to stare at her beauty.
Offers were made to take her hand for a dance and she took the opportunities given to help steady her nerves. Gradually she accepted her surroundings. The gilt mirrors, the enormous portraits of bygone royalty and the chandeliers. She giggled at the compliments and curtseyed at the end of each dance, then declined another.
It was not long before she was noticed.
She watched him, staring at her, calling a footman to his side. Pointing at her, the footman speaking and the other’s puzzled expression. He had never heard of her. His face became intrigued, curious and it made her tingle to know he was showing interest in her presence.
Without warning, he strode across the length of the ballroom and stood before her.
She shrank back from him. His stature, deportment and handsome features stunned her into a fit of stammers. She could barely answer his questions and it did not help that she was being deliberately evasive.
“Dance with me!” he commanded.
“Your Highness,” she acquiesced.
She was besotted with immediately and gave him her sweetest smile. His white teeth flashed back at her and it accentuated his fine features. Like all princes, he had been cast from some perfect mould and he had been kept in a refined state with the use of daily exercise and tailored clothes. She envied him, his upbringing and freedoms. Above all else, she had a yearning to know him more, to dig beneath the regal façade and find the man beneath.
She decided the feelings towards each other were mutual. He took her to one side, after their dance, and flattered her with words and compliments until she turned crimson. He gave a nod to a distance footman and took her elbow in his firm hand.
“Come, sweet girl.” The prince led her out of the room and down a corridor. The footman led the way, opening doors and closing them behind the couple.
“Where are we going, sir?” she asked.
“To explore you,” he said beguilingly.
“Oh, sir,” she stuttered and a strange rush of butterflies burst alive in her belly. “I’ve never been explored before. I’m untouched!”
“Don’t be afraid. I would like to know you better,” he said shutting the door behind them.
It was not a bedroom. She was relieved. The drawing room had many features to catch her eyes, but she could not stop looking at the expectant features of the prince.
“I have been charged, by my dear parents, to find a wife,” he said beginning to pace up and down. “Many ladies of the realm, who on first sight, might appear to be suitable. However, on closer inspection many seem to be doctored in some way. Faces plastered with thick blemish hiding creams. Wigs instead of natural hair and figures held in place by the most rigid of corsets. I want to know you are the genuine thing, my pretty girl.”
“What do you want me to do, Highness?” she said nervously.
“Take the pins out of your hair, let it fall naturally.”
She did as he asked and the locks bounced on to her shoulders. He traced his fingers through the strands, tucking slightly until she winced. He murmured his approval.
Next, his fingers ran around her eyes, wiping her skin with the tips. He examined the flesh closely and determined there was little coverage, she rarely used face paints to hide blemishes.
“Excellent,” he smiled. “Now, lift up your skirts, so I might see your ankles.”
She crouched slightly, not wishing to bend down too low and with shaking hands, she raised the skirt hem above her ankles.
“Most delicate, your ankles are quite slender,” he admired. “Higher, to your knees.”
The skirt rose up higher and she was required to gather up the petticoats in her trembling hands. Never before had a man seen her legs in such an exposed fashion.
“Higher still,” he said softly.
Her gartered thighs were exposed and her knees were practically knocking together.
“More,” he whispered.
She dropped her skirts in horror. “I cannot, sir!”
“I asked, Ella, and you should obey your prince,” he said raising his voice.
“Please, do not ask me. What is it you wish to see of me?”
“Your bottom, sweet girl. A fanny needs to be lush and pleasurable to a man’s eyes. Now lift up your skirts.”
She could not resist his tone and she edged up the skirt ends until her bloomers were visible.
“Oh, no, this will not do. I cannot see your outline through these panties. Turn around and take them down.”
“Please, please. I can’t!” exclaimed Ella horrified. She did not want him to see what lay beneath. The idea was humiliating and complicated by his unknown intentions.
Again his voice knocked on her inner door of inhibitions and she swung it open. Shifting on her feet, she faced the wall, took hold her waistband and slipped it down. Tears trickled down her cheeks, as she let her naked bottom be seen.
“What is this?” he boomed making her jump.
Over her shoulder, she could see the surprise in his face.
Seeing her tears, he softened his facial expression. “Tell me. Who did this to you?”
The stripes were crimson red and criss-cross her buttocks from one side to the other.
“My step-mother. The baroness,” said Ella meekly. “Well, not her, she orders it. My step-sisters usually cane me.”
“Why?” he continued to pepper her with questions.
“I believe, I was disrespectful,” said Ella. “Please may I drop my skirts.”
The prince nodded at her. “Disrespectful?”
“I asked to come here and she refused me. So I displayed my anger at her.”
“You should not be here?” he queried and behind him, on the mantelpiece, the clock chimed loudly.
“Oh no!” cried out Ella. “I must go. Now. Please forgive me.”
Springing to life, Ella ran for the door and bolted out as fast as her glass slippers could take her dainty feet. As she ran, a slipper fell away and it was left behind on the marble floor. She thought nothing of it, she was late.
Upon reaching home she charged into the hallway, bare footed and dishevelled, and Ella was confronted by a most unwanted sight. The one chair in the open space was occupied by the baroness. Dress in her own finery, she had left the ball early to come and wait there at the bottom of the stairs. Ella guessed she had been spotted and now her disobedience had been witnessed there was nothing she could do to prevent the inevitable. Across the lap of her step-mother was the dread cane.
Ella’s late arrival back, her deception, warranted another sound caning by the eldest step-sister. She was then placed in her ragged clothes and sent to the kitchen. The baroness locked the door while continuing to berate Ella as an ungrateful disobedient child.
“I’m not a child!” screeched Ella through the wooden door. “I’m a lady.”
“Do you want another beating?” shouted back her step-mother.
The weeping could be heard through the door and into the early hours. By then, the exhausted Ella had fallen asleep in front of the dying embers of the fire. Rising early, she began to prepare the breakfast. The door was unlocked, to allow the cook and her assistant to join Ella. They hugged the her and offered their words of comfort.
“Take heart, Ella,” said the cook. “You made it to the ball. Was it not worth it?”
Ella confessed it was, even though she carried many stripes on her bottom.
There were voices raised above her head, somewhere on the upper floors, men’s voices were shouting. It became apparent it was her name.
“Ella!” his voice was distinctive.
“I’m here, sir,” she called up.
The prince ran into the kitchen with the baroness and her daughters stampeding behind him, spouting out excuses.
“She is nothing but a disobedient servant,” said the baroness.
The prince stopped in the door of the kitchen and took in his newfound beauty. Even under the cinders, Ella maintained her natural good looks. Her hair hung about her, no longer in braids, her face was marked with ash and her dress patched with different pieces of fabric. Her feet were bare and she felt ashamed at her appearance.
Their eyes met, as they do with lovers and the stare said far more than words would ever do.
“I found you,” said the prince in relief. He collected her in his arms and held her tightly. Ella rested her head on his shoulder. It was his roving hand, which trailed down her back and came to her bottom, which caused her to yelp and jump.
“What is this!” roared the prince, lifting up her rags and seeing the fresh marks.
The baroness backed away. “I told her not to go!” she flustered.
“Who applied these stripes?” he asked again. “Ella?”
Ella pointed a finger at her eldest step-sister. “She, sir. And her sister too. They took turns.”
The prince summoned his valets and dismissed the other servants of the house. Shutting the kitchen door behind him, he began to remove his trouser belt. Ella blanched.
“Oh, not you, my sweet”, he reassured. “You will assist the two ladies in removing their clothes. The baroness can watch me discipline her daughters.”
It took the assistance of the valets to strip the two young ladies naked. They were allowed nothing to cover their nudity while their mother stood by aghast and humiliated. Each daughter received the thrashing while the other watched. The prince did not hold back from the sweep of his arm and when he commanded the second to bend over the kitchen table, she did so only because he threatened to have her held down by his valets. The servants in the upper quarters could hear the wails from afar and smiled with satisfaction. The dreadful family of women were finally receiving their comeuppance and their friend had been rescued.
Ella left the house and never went back. She did not see her step-mother or step-sisters again. They were banished from the city and court.
Marrying her prince, she asked what would happen if she disobeyed him.
“Why, sweet princess, do you think I would beat you?” he asked as slipped off her chemise.
A bristle went over her unblemished, healed skin. “I hope not, sir.”
“However,” he said with a small smile. “I think you might appreciate me better if I took you over my lap from time to time.”
“Really?” she said with a quiver.
“Just a special spanking, between you and my hand. Nothing else.”
Ella took his hand and kissed the back of it. “Thank you, my darling husband. I do need to be reminded from time to time. After all I did go to the ball without permission.”
There was a twinkle in her eye as she spoke. The prince did not mind. He liked a little spark in his wife.