CINDERS • by D. J. Moore

The Prince followed her into the library, just as she’d planned.

She pretended not to notice. Instead, she focused her attention on the bookcase before her. She’d always loved the smell of books. She withdrew a volume titled The Rights of Man. Judging by the immaculate spine, no one had so much as cracked it open.

The Prince watched her for a moment, then he slammed the door behind him. “Quick,” he said, leaning against the door as if to keep out a hoard, “You have to save me!”

“I?” she asked, turning to face him. “How can someone as lowly as I save you, your grace?”

He discontinued his mock barricade of the door and his lips twitched into a smirk. “Why, you must save me from all the vapid debutantes trying to ingratiate themselves to me.”

She returned the book to the shelf. “Perhaps they wouldn’t be so vapid if women were allowed to receive a proper education in this kingdom.”

The Prince stepped forward, trampling a bear-skin rug underfoot. “What need have women of an education when their husbands see to all their needs?” He looked wistful. “If only I’d been born a woman, I wouldn’t have so many duties and responsibilities to attend to.” He sighed. “Oh, how I envy your carefree lives.”

“The life of a woman is hardly carefree, your grace.” She walked closer to the fire. Her glass slippers clattered over the polished wooden floor. “What of the widows who can’t feed their starving children? What of the wives of abusive men? What of the ladies too disfigured to attract a husband in the first place?”

The Prince looked her over. “You need not worry about that fate, my lady. You’re absolutely ravishing. You can have any man you wish.”

She gazed into the fire and watched the dancing embers. “But what if I marry the wrong man? Someone who has an opinion unpopular with the crown, who worships the wrong religion, or who was unlucky enough to be born into poverty?”

In three long strides, the Prince was suddenly close enough to her that she could smell the Bordeaux on his breath. “You don’t strike me as someone stupid enough to marry the wrong man. You’re a smart girl. I find that intoxicating.”

She took a step back and fanned the air in front of her. “Based on your breath, I’m not the only thing you find intoxicating.”

“It’s true.” He spread his arms in surrender. “Wine and women are my principal vices. I’ve satiated myself upon the former.” His eyes darted down to her décolletage. “Now I’m ready for the latter. We have a few minutes before anyone will disturb us.” He cocked his eyebrow suggestively.

“How charming,” she said. “But if you don’t mind, I’d rather not be ravished before returning to the ball.” She brushed past him.

He spun her around and grasped her shoulders. “You don’t have to continue playing coy, my lady. You’ve got what every lady in this kingdom wants: my attention.” He moved in for a kiss.

“No.” She turned her head. The kiss landed on her ear.

The Prince’s eyes widened and his grip tightened. “Who are you to refuse me?”

“Who am I?” She placed a hand on her chest, the picture of innocence. Then her eyes narrowed. “I’m the one who’s going to burn this whole place to cinders.” In one deft movement, she kicked the glass slipper off her left foot, caught it in her hand, and smashed it on the table.

Before the Prince had time to react, she cut his throat with the jagged edge. Hot blood sprayed onto her gown. He clasped his neck in surprise, trying to hold the blood in.

“You can only oppress your subjects for so long before they fight back!” She jabbed the broken slipper into his chest. His face contorted with pain. Then, as more blood escaped his throat, he started to look sleepy and slumped to the floor. Blood flowed out of him like wine from a broken bottle.

“Good night, sweet prince,” she said as she stepped over his body.

She hobbled across the room with one bare foot. Then she flung the door open and addressed the guards standing outside. “Oh, it’s terrible! The Prince has cut himself upon a wine glass. Won’t someone attend to our Prince?”

The guards rushed into the library as she dashed away.

“The Prince didn’t cut himself,” the Captain of the Guards exclaimed. “He’s been murdered! Where’s that lady?”

“There!” The other guard replied, pointing out the window. “She’s getting into a strange-looking carriage.”

“Well, don’t just stand there, man. Catch her!” The guard ran off while the Captain addressed the guests in the ballroom. “Does anybody know who that woman was?”

A general murmur rose from the crowd, but it was soon obvious no one had seen her before.

Another guard approached the Captain. “Sir! She left this behind.”

It was a glass slipper. He examined it closely.

“Ha!” he said. “Our assassin wasn’t as clever as she thought. We’ve got her toe print, pressed against the glass. We can scour the kingdom until we find a match. We’ll soon see how she likes the King’s justice!”

It was then that the clock struck midnight and the glass slipper disintegrated into a twinkle of powder and sparks which soon set everything aflame.

D. J. Moore lives in Salt Lake City with his wife and daughter. He edited the literary magazine Megaera and holds a degree in English from the University of Utah. His fiction has previously appeared in Every Day Fiction and the steampunk anthology Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel among other places. When not working at the day job, sleeping, spending time with his family, or writing, D. J. Moore can be found trying desperately to catch up on all the TV shows, video games, and comics everyone was raving about five years ago.

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