I love the idea of 'The potent magic of the dead' as the Endicott article puts it and wanted to use that instead of the Fairy Godmother. I also wanted a proactice Cinders instead of the submissive victim waiting for rescue and a hero with a bit of substance to him.
I'm still totally in love with MM Kaye's Fairy tale The Ordinary Princess as I was as a child and any fellow fans may notice one or 2 ideas that I borrowed.
The Duchess was shocked.
It was unthinkable that Gisella should be the one to deprive Melicent of her chance to become Queen. She had some hard thinking to do.
She got Mrs Bruckner to contact the workhouse with the information that they had a maid who had fallen pregnant.
This was a common enough reason for a girl in service to be sent there. Once Gisella became a nameless inmate no one would be asking why she was there any longer.
A simple matter of Laudanum slipped into the girl's evening drink enabled her to be smuggled out of the house in secret. When she became insensible 2 young men from the village ( hired by Mrs Bruckner) threw her into a cart and delivered her to the cold forbidding workhouse.
3 days later a message arrived for the Duchess that King Edward was going to pay a visit.
She guessed what his business was about of course and made sure that Melicent looked especially beautiful. He would soon be made to forget her step daughter if she had her way.
Edward had spoken to the council. He thought it best not to tell them that their future Queen had been working as a maid. The older men could be such snobs.
Now he was about to go and formally ask for her hand. Buzzing with happiness and excitement he walked into the Palace Gardens and headed for Margaret and their Son's grave.
' Margaret darling. I wanted to tell you that I'm getting married again'. He never felt there was anything strange in talking to his dead wife. She had loved him in life and had known his love for her. What could be more natural than that she would take an interest in what he was doing now.
'Her name's Gisella'. He went on. ' I'm sure the 2 of you would have been the best of friends if you could have met..........'. His voice broke slightly with emotion. ' I can't believe how lucky I've been. 2 wonderful ladies to love and be loved by.'
As he and James drew up outside the Holstein residence he saw that the Duchess and Melicent were already standing waiting.
They both curtseyed so deeply that their foreheads almost touched the ground.
'Please step this way Your Majesty'. The Duchess's voice oozed unctuousness as she swept regally ahead of her prestigious guest. Melicent laying on what was meant to be charm an inch thick.
The King didn't want to stop with these somewhat overwhelming women for any longer than necessary so he got to the point immediately.
' Your Grace. I want to ask you for the hand of your Step Daughter'.
The Duchess heaved a huge sigh. ' If only that were possible my lord. My poor late husband's daughter followed her father to Heaven not long after he passed over'. She dabbed her eyes with a lace handkerchief for effect'.
Edward looked shell shocked. ' But what about the young lady I've been.........'.
The Duchess made a most unladylike snort. ' That forward little madam. A servant with ideas above her station just because she was given the same name as the Duke's child. I had her dismissed as soon as my Housekeeper told me of her disgraceful behaviour.
I must apologise that you seem to have had a wasted trip. May I offer you some refreshment?'
Feeling more stunned still Edward was in need of a brandy which was provided. Served to him with artful sweetness by Melicent. Her Mother conveniently remembering 'things she had to do' and went off leaving them alone.
As an opportunity for seduction Melicent found it most unsatisfying. Edward was entirely preoccupied.
What a fool I've been. He thought to himself. What had there been to stop a scheming Servant Girl from using the birth certificate of a dead girl to get herself a rich husband.......................
It only took one invisibly working maid to hear what was being said for the tale of what the Duchess was up to to spread like wild fire.
Henry heard it and was incensed. When he saw a stable boy leading out the King's horse he grabbed the reins. 'I'll take him. I need to speak to him'.
The King strode out of the Hall his face filled with a mixture of anger and bleak disappointment.
'You ?' He said looking at Henry. ' You've got a nerve showing your face.....'.
Henry took a steadying breath. ' Sir. I know that what the Duchess said makes sense...But Gisella was the one telling the truth. I swear to you'.
Edward softened a little. 'This man was clearly very fond of Gisella and just wanted the best for her.
'Henry'. He said more gently. 'I want to believe she was telling the truth. Lord knows I do. But right now I just don't know what to think'.
And he rode away with his heart in pieces.
That evening as James came to tell the King his bath was ready, he stood looking at his master and friend a hand on his shoulder in sympathy. 'Are you sure that Gisella was lying though? You were so certain of her before this.
' I don't want to believe she lied'. Edward said helplessly, ' but what the Duchess said.......well it makes sense'.
James shook his head in exasperation. 'So that's how you judge what's the truth now is it ? ' Does it make sense ?'
I think you've been fearing this all along and now someone with a title says it out loud you believe it.
My Mother often said that there are times to think with your head and times to think with your heart. Why not sleep on it and see what your heart has to say'.
King Edward lay alone in his huge bed and closing his eyes breathed deeply until he felt his mind becoming still and empty.
Then it began to fill again with an image of Gisella. He thought of all the times he had spent with her talking and laughing.
He recalled the story she had told him and that he had just known it was herself she was talking about.
The Duchess had shown herself to be one who would tolerate no competition against either her daughter or herself.
He imagined her being faced with the task of bringing up her late husband's daughter
along side her own, a potential rival one day for the best possible husband.
Gisella's mother's lowly beginnings must have appeared as a golden opportunity to put her daughter out of the picture, both as a newly orphaned child and now as the young woman who had just accepted a marriage proposal from the King. The future husband the Duchess had earmarked for Melicent.
At breakfast next morning his servant's noticed a marked improvement in their master's mood. 'I take it you mind is made up about Gisella My Lord ?' James asked.
An hour later a smiling James was riding towards the Holstein residence with a message to deliver personally to Henry.
' The King sends apologies for his rudeness to you. Gisella was telling the truth. Now we need to find her'.
Edward and Henry's searching went on fruitlessly for 2 months, looking and asking everywhere they could think of.
Finally Edward came in person to see Henry. 'I don't want to have to admit defeat, but the council are getting unbearable asking when I will be announcing my betrothal.
I need to make a choice though it is Gisella that I really want.'
Henry sighed and nodded. 'I understand Your Majesty. I won't give up looking myself, but you have a Kingdom to consider'.
Within days of her arrival at the Workhouse Gisella had known she must escape somehow.
It was nothing better than a prison for the 'crime' of simply being too poor to support one self.
It was cold , dark and damp. The food was of the lowest quality and quantity. Families were split up. Children taken from parents, wives from husbands even those married for a long time. Those who ran the place lived in luxury paid for by money that should have been spent on the poor.
Gisella prayed for help in her escape. Vowing that if she did and the King still wanted her she would make it her mission to improve the workhouses. If the King no longer wanted her then she would simply request that he make the improvements, in memory of the love they once shared'.
She had noticed that the uniforms worn by the inmates were patched and reused until they fell apart. The rags were then put to all sorts of uses. So Gisella found another use for them. Every day she picked up one or two when she could and added them to the long rope she was knotting and hid beneath her bed.
News reached the workhouse that the King was holding a ball the following Saturday evening to make his final choice of who he was to marry.
Gisella's hopes fell. He didn't want her any longer. Time to weep though when she was free.
She waited for darkness to descend on the workhouse then she fastened her rope out side the window and slowly began to climb down the walls.
She had looked over the grounds as often as she could to find a way out. She found a tree that if she climbed she would be able to get over the wall.
It was harder work than she had imagined but the smell of freedom in her nostrils helped her along and she was over the wall at last and running as fast as she could for home.
Reaching the Hall she managed to find Henry's room and climbed in through the window collapsing with relief and exhaustion at the bottom of the bed.
When Henry woke with the dawn chorus ready for work he was delighted to see Gisella slumbering on the floor but dismayed by how thin and dirty she was.
Time for her story later. He gently lifted her onto his bed and went off for his breakfast.
Wisely keeping quiet about Gisella's return. The Housekeeper and the Mistress would not be welcoming at all if they knew.
At mid day he took some food up and found Gisella sitting up wide awake.
He flung his arms around her.
'Sweetheart, I'm so glad to see you. But what happened to you ?'
Gisella explained about being sent to the workhouse. 'Mrs B must have heard us talk somewhere about the King. I hear he's to get married. Has he forgotten me so quickly ?'
'Forgotten you ? He spent 2 months looking for you'. Henry chuckled. 'Madam tried to ruin things by telling him a pack of lies and he believed her for a while. Until he gave it some thought. He wants you. But he needs a wife. That's what the ball is for, to invite all the ladies who've been 'courting' him so he can finally choose someone
Though he'll want to get out of it when I tell him you're back....................'
Gisella smiled. 'No need Henry. I'll go to the ball and tell him myself'.
'But how ?' Henry was confused. 'Where will you get a dress ? An invitation ?'
'Wait and see'. He was told mischievously.
Henry was taking the Duchess and an annoyingly smug Melicent to the ball. He grinned to himself as he thought of how Gisella had asked him to meet her in the garden when he got back. What had the clever girl got up her sleeve ?
She led him down an over grown path until the reached...............'You Mother and Grandmother's graves ?'
Gisella nodded then stepped up to stand beneath the 2 apple trees and called softly.
'Mama, Grand mama. It's Gisella.........'
Henry nearly fell over when the faces of the 2 late Duchesses appeared on the trunks.
Gisella bobbed a curtsey to them. 'Mama, Grandmama. You told me once that if I really needed something you could get it for me by magic. Could I please ask for something now ?'
' Is this to do with your young man ?' Her mother asked gently. Gisella smiled and told her 2 ancestors about recent events and how she wanted to get to the ball to see if King Edward did still want her.
'Henry will take me there.' She told them. 'He's been very good to me'.
The ladies spoke their approval to Henry and then dropped 2 apples one from each tree at Gisella's feet.
'Cut each apple in half round the middle and make your wish on the star in the centre.'
So Gisella wished for a dress and was soon dressed in dark gold silk with silk roses in her fashionably piled up hair.
Her second wish was for an invitation and one appeared in her hand ' Lady Gisella von Holstein'.
King Edward was feeling more despondent as the evening wore on. Some of the most beautiful eligible ladies in Ruritania were here tonight, each as keen as mustard for him to make her a Queen.
He didn't want any of them. Not one of the corseted bosoms heaved for him as a a man to love and be loved by. Just as a prize to be won.
Melicent was flirting with him again. Her mindless chatter and tinkling girlish laugh slipping into one ear and out of the other.
James came up with an invitation in his hand. 'Sorry to disturb you My Lord but another guest has arrived'.
He had known who the Lady was as soon as he saw her and was filled with delight that his master was to see the one he loved again.
He smiled and handed the Invitation to the King.
Edward's face lit up with incredulous hope as he read. 'Lady Gisella von Holstein'.
'Escort her in James' he said with a truly breathtaking smile. He bowed to Melicent who had at last ceased her monologue. 'Do excuse me'.
His throat went dry and his stomach was in a knot as he turned and saw Gisella drifting towards him dressed in gold silk. Not one of the other ladies here tonight could match her to his mind for charm, wit and intelligence. He had seen the depth of her beauty even in a servant's drab clothes. Tonight he thought she shone like the sun.
James knew that formal introductions were expected though here quite unnecessary. It was clear as day that these were 2 people fathoms deep in love.
'My Lady, let me introduce His Majesty the King'. Gisella made a perfect court curtsey. Her voice demurely quiet 'Your Majesty'.
' My Lord. May I present Lady Gisella von Holstein'.
' My Lady'. Gisella had been terrified, suddenly uncertain of her welcome. All this was swept away by the warmth of Edward's eyes and the quick cheeky wink he gave her'.
'James'. He said quietly ' Our poor guests look like they have no idea of what to do with themselves. Shall we have some more dancing. This is meant to be a ball.' He squeezed Gisella's hand. ' My Lady would you take a walk on the terrace with me'.
Many ill wishing stares followed Gisella from the assembled beauties as they drifted outside arm in arm.
Once out of sight of the ballroom windows Edward pulled Gisella against him kissing her as though his life depended on it.
'Gisella'. He managed to say eventually. ' I thought I'd lost you. What happened ?'
Once again Gisella told the story of how she'd been sent to the workhouse and how she's escaped.
All the time feeling Edward's strong arms round her holding her close. ' When I heard about the ball. I thought you'd put me out of your mind'. She murmured against his chest in no hurry to move.
' Your Step mother told me you'd lied about your identity'. Edward spoke into Gisella's soft sweet hair. 'I believed her for a while. I hope you can forgive me that.
Then I realised that you were telling the truth but Henry said that you were missing and he had no idea where.
All our searching came to nothing and I knew I had to get on and choose a bride for my Kingdom's sake. I would have done it out of duty, but so unwillingly.
I love you Gisella and it's you that I've longed for to be my my wife....Please tell me you still want me too'.
He felt happy tears wet his hands as she lifted her head to smile at him. ' Yes I do, very much I do. I'm just so amazed that you want me'.
Edward wiped away her tears with a handerchief and then took away the last of her fear with an achingly tender kiss.
As the music for another waltz began to play in the ballroom the King parted his lips at last from those of his future Bride. ' Time we rejoined our guests I think and I'd like a dance... if you'll do me the honour My Lady'.............
The ballroom had been buzzing for the past hour with speculation about the mysterious Lady Gisella.
Von Holstein ? Did this mean she was a relative of the Duchess's late husband? Strange that she had never been seen at the Hall then. Those standing closest to the Duchess noted that the Lady gave her a smile of greeting and the Duchess had blanched as though about to faint. Melicent standing with a Young Gentleman had been heard to to give a strangled moan of horror at the sight of her.
She seemed to be remarkably comfortable in the King's company too as though this was far from being their first meeting.
Now they were dancing together. Bodies pressed close and oblivious to everyone else. This signalled to the assembled Hopeful Young ladies that their chances of becoming Queen were now most certainly over.
As the dance ended Edward took Gisella's hand, reluctant to let her go now in case she was taken from him again.
He found James who had just danced for the third time with a very pretty lady who looked very pleased with how her evening was going.
( He whispered into his Gentleman in Waiting's ear that he would like to see the Duchess of Holstein and Lady Melicent and would James get everyone's attention).
The Duchess and Melicent looked far from happy as James brought them to the King. Particularly now that Gisella was with him as though she were Queen already.
The King was whispering in James's ear again and the Gentleman in Waiting went off on whatever mission he was sent on.
' Well Your Grace', the King spoke to the Duchess. The room was so quiet you could hear every word. 'It would seem your family has been blessed with a miracle...Your late husband's daughter back from the dead. Though I believe you have also lost a servant.' He noted that the woman had at least the grace to blush at having her lie exposed so publicly.
'I need to ask Gisella's Guardian for a blessing for us to marry but I'm at a loss as to who that actually is. You were meant to be her guardian after her father's death. Instead I believe you sent her bellow stairs as soon as your husband was in his grave'.
James came in with a beaming Henry. He found his hand grasped in a most friendly way by King Edward ' This has been Gisella's real Guardian.' He announced gently.
' The Duke would be proud of how you've taken care of her all these years. Now will you give your blessing for me to take care of her and she to take care of me ?'
'I'd never hear the end of it from Gisella if I said no Sir'. Henry and Edward shook hands delightedly and Henry found himself hugged affectionately by his future Queen.
Gisella felt the need of one more blessing and so she took Edward to the graves of her Mother and Grandmother.
Having felt the presence of his dear Margaret at her grave he was not as shocked as he might have been when the 2 faces appeared on the tree trunks and was introduced to his Mother and Grandmother in law to be.
The late Dowager Duchess had had an eye for a good looking man in life and death had not changed that. ' My word Gisella. You have bagged yourself a handsome chap haven't you just? One that loves you too I see.
' Do you approve enough to let me marry her Mesdames ?' Edward asked with a charmingly roguish smile. The 2 ladies chuckled. ' Oh I think we might'. Said Gisella's mother.
After the Wedding. Gisella asked for Henry to come to the Palace which he did with pleasure, although he said he had to work. ' I'd go mad with nothing to do'. He told her.
He brought 2 apples one from each of Gisella's trees along with earth from the graves and they were planted in the palace garden growing quickly into fine strong trees.
Gisella's ancestors appeared on the trunks from time to time just to check how their girl was fairing and they also brought word of Margaret's approval.
' Tell Gisella I can see she loves Edward just as I did. Tell her that I don't begrudge her the part of his heart that forever belongs to her. For there's another part that will always be mine.
That's the sort of love she and I have been fortunate enough to win from this wonderful man.'
Gisella became another well loved Queen by her people. She gave them an heir, another Prince and 2 Princesses. She kept her word and made it her personal mission to improve the lot of the poor.
Edward was delighted that she had from the start been so willing to join him in his work. ' I knew that my Gisella would not be content to sit and embroider'. He told her at the end of one very busy day when they were alone at last in their private apartments.
' You work so hard darling'. She answered as they sat wrapped in each other's arms. 'I can't not do the same'.
' You mustn't work too hard as Queen though My Love'. Edward's eyes had taken on the luminous blue glow that told Gisella he wanted to make love to her and her body trembled in happy anticipation.
' I don't want you too worn out to be able to enjoy being my wife'.