Soldier Heart (A Cinderella Retelling)

A Nubikian Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in a far away land, a young boy named Cero watched by his mother’s sickbed as she passed to an unshakable illness. His father was much aggrieved, but young Cero needed a mother if he was to grow up strong. So within the year, Cero’s father had found a new wife, one who did not mind caring for a child of a previous marriage.

For a while, things were good. Isla proved to be a good mother, both to Cero, and to his new siblings, Milo and Maeve. Isla was well-known throughout the entire city district as a firm but kind politician. She provided for her family of five with ease, and it is said that Cero’s father loved her just as much as he’d loved his first wife.

But then the neighboring country waged war on the family’s nation. Cero’s father was drafted, and barely a few months into the war, died a hero. Isla was distraught, and fell into mourning. Without a father to care for the children, Isla’s hand was forced. To make ends meet, she asked for Cero to join the city guard until he was old enough to fight in the war. And Cero, wishing for nothing else but his step-mother’s love, complied.

On the cusp of Cero’s eighteenth birthday, the land won a decisive victory against their neighbor country. The draft was cancelled until further notice, and it was announced that a ball would be thrown to celebrate the victory. The most powerful families of the capital were invited, and despite Isla’s slip in authority, she was granted an invitation.

Cero could barely contain his excitement for, as a member of Isla’s family, he was allowed the day off. The princess was said to be strong-minded, and Cero was of marriageable age. He dreamed of marrying the princess, of leaving Isla’s walls. When Cero returned home with the news he could attend the ball, however, Isla quickly reprimanded him.

“There’s no reason for you to go, Cero. You are a mere guard, and not likely to amount to much. Milo has been helping me with the politics of our district. It’s best if we present only our best suitor, don’t you think?”

If Milo felt his mother was being unjust, he kept it to himself. Cero was alone in his anger, and with some difficulty, barely managed to keep his emotions in check. Milo, Maeve, and Isla prepared for the ball, and Cero was left with some tasks to care for the house while the rest of the family was gone.

On his own, Cero wished his father was still alive. He would not have been left home alone then, certainly. And if Isla did not want Cero to marry the princess, he feared she had some other dire proposal in mind.

Cero would not have it. A plan began to form in his mind, and once it took root, it refused to leave, no matter how much he wished to please Isla and do as she commanded. He left his list of chores and stood before his wardrobe. Cero had no invitation, not without Isla at his side, but his guard uniform would see him into the castle. And if it didn’t, then perhaps it simply wasn’t meant to be.

He carefully put on his uniform, mindful of creases, and then strode out of his door with a purpose. No one stopped him. The guards on duty in the streets barely gave him a passing glance. Perhaps they thought him volunteering his time, what with the Queen demanding extra security for tonight. Or perhaps they thought, somewhat rightly, that he was out to impress some common girl, and didn’t want to get in his way.

Either way, Cero made it to the castle with ease.

The palace guards stopped him, wearing red with the royal family’s golden crest stitched above their hearts. “What’s your business?” The one said.

Cero wondered if perhaps he ought to say he was with Isla, but his mother would be called upon to verify he was not some imposter or spy, and Isla would be furious at his disobedience. So, he lied instead. “I am here to deliver a message to the commander of the city guard,” he said, drawing on a conversation he’d overheard not more than a few days prior. “And I was told to give it directly to him.”

It was as if someone was looking out for Cero, as his guardian angel, for the guards neither had the commander brought out nor accompanied Cero himself into the palace. Instead, the young soldier followed the sound of music to find, not the commander, but the princess of the kingdom herself.

The ballroom was packed, and Cero was quite aware that if his step-mother happened to see him just now, he would have no explanation for being here. The fear, however, fell away quickly, for the princess was within view, and looked every bit the part. He realized someone was speaking with her, though clearly the princess was half bored to death! Someone moved out of Cero’s line of view, and he saw the princess’s conversation companion was none other than Milo.

The princess left Milo suddenly, and Cero’s half-brother could do nothing but bow. It was obvious that Isla’s plans to marry Milo off had quickly fallen apart. Cero debated following the princess, wishing nothing more than to speak with her, but in his hesitation, he lost her to the crowd. Now, the young soldier found himself feeling quite out of place. No one else wore their uniforms, not even decorated warriors. He felt like a fool for coming.

Just as Cero was about to give up hope, however, the princess appeared at his side. He bowed as she said, “You look a bit out of place here, guard. Do you have a job to do, besides gawking?” The princess’s tone, however, was far less sharp than the words themselves.

“I gawk at none but the princess, for she is quite a sight to see,” Cero replied bravely.

The princess laughed heartily. As the song ended, she held out her hand. “Would you like to join me in a dance, then, guard?”

Cero did not refuse. They entered the dance floor, and it was as if magic fell between them, for the princess loved Cero and Cero loved the princess. When the dance ended, Cero was surprised to find that people were staring at the two of them, the princess and the soldier. Then his heart stopped dead when he realized that Isla was a part of that crowd.

His stepmother stormed towards the pair of them, bowing low for the princess, but her eyes were on Cero, burning with contempt. She apologized profusely for interrupting, and on Cero’s behalf for bothering the princess.

“No need to apologize,” the princess said, cutting off Isla without a second thought. “In fact, I should like to thank you for bringing him here. I’m in search of a husband, and while this ball was meant to celebrate our soldier’s great victory against our enemies, it was also meant to give me an opportunity to find my future husband. I should like to think that Cero’s uniform is meant to be a good omen, on behalf of both.”

Isla was struck dumb, but when the princess wished for something, she was not denied. Cero could not believe it. His dream had come true. It gave him such pleasure when Isla bowed and gave the princess her blessing to marry Cero in the months to come. Milo, in the crowd, looked utterly defeated, and Cero found he did not care.

The marriage itself occurred many months later, once the neighboring country was well and truly vanquished. Cero wore his finest uniform, freshly made for the ceremony, and it was clear to all attendants that it would be a good and happy union.

The prince and princess lived happily ever after, and that is the end of this tale.††


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