Chapter 15

 Firelight flickered in a sinister, opiate-inducing lethargy.  A strategically placed mirror reflected a sliver of gray skies through slightly parted drapes.  The flash of periodic lightning greatly assisted the young magician in captivating his audience.

Hilda, though fascinated with his efforts, remained unconvinced by his act.  She trained narrowed eyes on him cognizant of his subtle attentions straying toward Esmeralda.  It would not be born, she vowed, silently.  The man was no better than an actor, for the sake of Heaven.

“Do not worry so, Madame.  The world is yours for the taking.  Once Cinderella has perished, the world is ours.”  The voice was high pitched and mocking.

Hilda gasped, darted a sharp gaze about, before finally resting on the well dressed miniature standing at her feet.  A soft glow of light contoured its form.  She longed to shush it, but no one appeared disturbed by its presence.  And why should they, when they had the nice Monsieur Pinetti for diversion?  After a slight hesitation, she decided all was as it should be.  The miniature’s appearances were becoming increasingly frequent.  Even…comforting.

“Once Cinderella has been dealt with, milady, ’twill be just a matter of the queen.  You know we are quite capable of handling any obstacle that lands in our way.”  The little demon paced before Hilda, her lush purple skirts making nary a sound.  Hilda squinted at the tiny figure.  She looked remarkably similar to…to herself.  Hilda cast another covert glance about—but still, no one seemed the wiser.

Hilda nodded, affirming her acquiescence.   But when she looked back down the little bugger had vanished.  Hilda blinked and the light faded.

Oui, she had grand plans for Esmeralda, and she would kill the man herself before allowing such a match, no matter his charms.  She bit back a chuckle.  She had more than a few tricks of her own. Still, she thought, settling her gaze on Monsieur Pinetti, there was something about the man.

From her seat at the rear of the room, Hilda frowned.  Esmeralda’s blatant enthrallment of the show must be curtailed.  An illusionist of the most proficient sort, she decided.  And he had his eye on her daughter.  Over her dead body.

Slanting her gaze toward Prince, Hilda noted his unwilling interest.  In point of fact, the entire company could not seem to keep their attention from slender graceful fingers as Monsieur Pinetti lifted a cloth from his hand.  From nowhere a bouquet of brilliant summer flowers appeared, though they were well into fall.  The oohs and ahs were hushed, yet dazzled by this ostentatious show, save for one lone antagonist in, she noted…in the Nobile dei Conte Alessandro de Lecce.

Hilda struggled for indifference to the magician’s fluid movements.  Movements that mesmerized all of the assemblage.  But it was impossible.  She found herself equally spellbound when moments later a shadowed silhouetted profile of Edric, the small prince, appeared in the reflective glass.  Another obstacle, in her estimation.   The image wavered as if he rose from the flaming tips of fire.

Unified gasps sounded throughout the chamber.  But the illusionist had not finished beguiling his audience it seemed when a small voice called out.  “Help me.”

Shocked silence filled the room. Hilda would swear surprise marked the magician’s features as well as anyone’s.  Fleetingly, so.  He recovered quick enough to take his due.  Such the performer.

A soft scream sounded, the company gathered about.  But Hilda deserved to take her own due and pushed her way through the crowd to Cinderella who lay in a heap on the floor.  She touched the cool pale hand of her stepdaughter.  After all, it was her place.  She was the child’s mother, non?

Brava, Monsieur,” she whispered.