Kate Stradling’s Cinderella-inspired novella, Soot and Slipper, released last Monday. So, in honor of that momentous occasion, we bring you this excerpt from Chapter 3.
A mischief-minded fairy has convinced Eugenie to attend the royal masquerade despite her reservations. But what sort of costume might such a fairy provide?
A mischievous one, of course: Eugenie’s going dressed as soot.
Soot and Slipper, Chapter 3: “Masquerade”
Never had soot felt so glamorous.
Eugenie rubbed her fingers against one another, relishing the soft black satin of her evening gloves. Her coal-dark dress fit close in the bodice and billowed out in a smoky skirt, glittering with chips of jet and polished onyx. The slippers, cut from obsidian, cushioned her feet as though made of kid instead, and the velvet half-mask framed her eyes and covered her nose as though molded there. Her blonde hair, gathered in ringlets that dangled from one side of her head, spoiled the effect of soot and smoke, but her fairy benefactress had refused to do anything about the color.
“I’m not ruining that shade of gold, not even for a few hours. You’re only playing cinder-soot, not taking it as your new identity.”
The carriage was a misty contraption formed from shadows and crawling vines. The horses, conjured from pond frogs, kept a quick, steady pace through the darkened countryside from her father’s estate to the palace on the outskirts of Jacondria’s capital city. The ride passed like a dream, as though wings carried her.
Perhaps they did. She arrived faster than any mortal horses could run. When the coach stopped in the courtyard and the door opened, she stepped to paved stones and looked up in wonder.
Light suffused the regal building. Music floated on the night breeze, and her heart soared with it. Had she been exhausted an hour ago? It seemed like another lifetime.
Perhaps she was dreaming after all.
She picked up her skirts and climbed marble stairs to the entrance, where guards and servants mingled. They parted to let her pass, inclining their heads in respect.
She fought her rising self-consciousness. A true lady should always arrive with a chaperone, and she had none. But the royal masquerades were open to any who wished to attend, peasant or noble, as long as they wore a costume and a mask.
Past the first line of servants, the great hall opened before her. Stairs descended to a white marble floor where vibrant guests danced and flirted. Eugenie spotted familiar dabs of gold and silver in the structured assembly. Florelle—Solella for tonight—danced with a man in full lion regalia, complete with a massive mane to complement his suede mask. Aurielle—Lunella—gamboled with a brown-feathered eagle whose half-mask extended into a hard yellow beak. With a pang of guilt, Eugenie diverted her path, tracing the balustrade upward to the overlooking balcony instead of joining the sparkling throng.
How she yearned to be in their midst. She’d already betrayed Marielle’s trust by coming, though. Watching the spectacle from above would have to suffice.
Women wore garb of every shade and hue, portraying exotic animals, birds, and flowers. The men, most of them, wore the simple domino costume, a black, hooded robe and hat with a white mask. Those who had donned more elaborate guises belonged to the upper elites, their persons dripping with jewels and opulent furs or feathers.
Careful to keep back from the edge of the railing, Eugenie strained for a glimpse of her stepmother. She spied the astral figure near the head of the room, lingering by a pair of doors. The royal thrones stood vacant upon a dais close by.
Had Queen Patrice and her consort Prince Renaud not yet arrived, or did they dance among their guests? Eugenie moved along the balcony, her eyes searching the crowds for any glimpse of their royal persons, or of their son, Prince Fernand.
They weren’t there yet. Her heart quickened with anticipation, that she had come in time to witness the royal entrance, and from such a perfect vantage point. Many of the guests pooled toward those double doors. The musicians finished their minuet, and the dancers bowed to one another and clapped their appreciation. Eugenie followed the circle of the balcony, her eyes glued upon the scene below, upon the building anticipation in the crowd.
A row of trumpets sounded a fanfare and the double doors swung open.
She collided with a body walking the opposite direction.
“Oh! I’m so sorry!” she said, mortified as she stepped back.
The victim of her heedlessness, a domino with a full face mask, had caught hold of the balcony to steady himself. “I beg your pardon,” he said in equal apology. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“Neither was I,” said Eugenie. She cast a wistful glance below. The queen and prince consort, dressed as a wolf and a lamb, had emerged to a swell of fawning guests, Marielle among them. With a disappointed sigh Eugenie refocused on the domino. “I was looking at the crowds and never thought there might be someone else up here. It’s my fault.”
His eyes, the only part of his face she could see, crinkled pleasantly behind his mask. “You can’t take all the blame. We both blend in with the shadows around us. Although I must say, I never expected to encounter the Queen of the Night up in the rafters.”
A laugh burst from her lips. “Queen of the Night? I’m no such thing!”
He took two backward steps, the better to appreciate her smoky, shimmering costume. “Am I mistaken? What else could you be?”
Her lips trembled and her voice shook with repressed mirth. “I’m soot.”
Like what you’ve read so far? Soot and Slipper is available now on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited, so grab your copy today!
Also, for a fun insight to the creative writing process, head on over to Kate’s blog, where she has documented her soundtrack for this novella.
Previous Excerpts: you can also read Soot and Slipper Chapter 1 here.