Glass Shoes by L.A.Coats
Once upon a time there lived a queen who, before her marriage, lived a very hard life. Ellaria had grown up at the mercy of her wicked step-mother and two awful step-sisters who treated her appallingly. Her own mother had died when Ellaria was little and her father, after remarrying, did not care for her. In the months following her wedding to the prince she had found great happiness. This was short lived however, as when the old king died she and her husband became the king and the queen of the realm. The coronation seemed to change everything.
       The queen rarely spoke to the king about her past life or her feelings. Mostly this was because he was away on royal business so often. On his return, usually he was too tired or preoccupied to give the queen the attention she needed. Also, the king could at times be very unempathetic. He regularly expressed frustration and indifference to his bride and admonished her for being needy. This in turn made the queen feel frustrated with him too for not having the time to listen to her and comfort her. Slowly she began to hide her sorrow and the burden of it felt like an ever-present shadow that fell over their marriage.
       Despite this, the king loved his queen deeply and she loved him the same. He saw to it that she did not want for anything but had every luxury and comfort she could ever wish for. This provided some consolation to the queen who delighted in beautiful things, though still the sadness pursued her. As she was now the queen, people treated her differently. She had few friends before she had come to the castle and no close companions now asides from her ladies in waiting. They, however, were not permitted to speak to her about personal matters, so in time she grew increasingly lonely and this added to her sadness.
       “You should always be happy Ellaria,” the queen would say to herself as she climbed into her plush and cosy royal bed. “At least you sleep in the ashes no longer!”
       At night though, especially when the king was away, her head would fill with terrible memories of her past life. Often she would weep for her lost mother who had been the only person in the world who had loved her before she met the prince.
One autumn morning the queen spoke to the king at breakfast, “darling. I think it is about time we try again for a baby,” she said.
       “Yes, my love. It has been a while since we last tried. Perhaps now is the right time.”
       For a while Ellaria had been wondering if the king did not like the practice of making babies as he rarely wanted to try. She was elated though that he had agreed on this occasion and later that night she waited eagerly in bed for him to come to her
Days then passed and she waited still, for the time that may reveal to her if they had been successful or not. On the day that the blood came she wept bitterly. The king was rather too busy to deal with her emotions that day though and seemed quite unconcerned when she told him. Instead, he told her brusquely that they would try again soon and commanded her to not be upset. Ellaria couldn’t help being upset though. She was distraught and heartsick. Clearly, she would find no solace or sympathy from the king that day, so she decided to go for a walk instead. 
Ellaria decided she would visit the place where her long dead mother rested. As she approached the hazel tree that marked the grave she stopped and put her hands over her face. The tree was dead. Its trunk had turned almost black and there was not a single leaf or bud upon its branches. Ellaria was besides herself; she had planted that tree after her mother had died and nurtured it with her own tears. The tears had made the tree magical. It had in fact, helped Ellaria by providing the lovely dresses and golden slippers that she had worn to win the attention of the prince. In despair she flung herself down upon the grave and wept at the foot of the tree hoping that her tears might bring it to life again. The tree remained as it was though, blackened and dead, and so she lay on the ground weeping until the sun began to lower.
As the sky began to light up with hues of orange and gold several colourful parakeets landed above her in the branches of the hazel tree.“What do you weep for woman?” cried one parakeet and his friends laughed raucously.
       “I am sad because this tree is dead. Also, my life is very lonely and I have experienced terrible things and my husband is cold to me and we are still childless," cried Ellaria.
      “Ohh! That’s a lot of problems to bear! You should visit the Well of Merriment and drink the magical elixir! It makes one forget how to feel problems or experience unhappiness!”
      “Really? Oh, please kind birds. Do show me where this fountain is! I must try this magical elixir! It could be the answer to all my woes!”
       “Follow us!” Said the parakeets and they formed a winding arrow in the sky. Ellaria followed them to a large hedge maze, hidden on the edge of the royal forest.
The parakeets arrow led her through the maze. Along the way they encountered many people sitting or swaying or dancing to some unheard music. Ellaria was sure these people must have sampled the elixir as they all seemed so very merry! At the centre of the maze there stood a well under an apple tree which was surrounded by a beautiful garden. The tree was clearly a magic tree that was left wild and untamed and apparently yielded fruit all year round. The boughs of the tree leaned over the well and Ellaria could see that rotting and fermenting fruit was strewn around beneath it. This gave the air a pungent aroma. Ellaria approached the well and looked in. “How do you get to the elixir?” she asked the parakeets but they did not respond. Instead, they created a cacophony of noise, screeching, cackling and cawing and then they whooshed away into the sky.
Just then a snake peeped his head from below the rim of the well and whispered to Ellaria, “greetingsss my dear,” it hissed.
      “Oh hello,” said the Queen. “My name is Ellaria and I am the Queen and I demand you give me some of your elixir to help rid me of my sadness.”
       “Yesss my Queen.” Said the snake. “I sssee. Well, you can have the elixsssir but you mussst alssso heed my warningsss.”
       “Fine,” Said Ellaria, somewhat impatiently. “Tell me.”
       “Thisss elixsssir should be tried but not tesssted. It isss beautiful like a glasss shoe might be, but jussst asss dangerousss. For walking on glasss shoesss would surely bring peril. Glassss ssshhattersss. And ssso you can try them on for sssize and to sssee their beauty but never wear them too long or too often. Do you hear my warning sssweet Queen?”
       “Yes. Yes,” said Ellaria feeling a bit baffled but excited too. “I hear your warning, although I think it is frankly ridiculous. Who on earth would want to own glass shoes? I think I shall be perfectly fine to try it.”
       “Then I shall fetch the bucket,” Said the snake slithering down into the well. He popped up a moment later with a rope which he attached to a ring in the bar above the well. He told Ellaria to turn the crank and so she did. Up came the bucket filled with the elixir which was murky gold in colour and smelled deliciously of apples.
Ellaria drank deeply until the bucket was empty. The effect of the elixir was exactly as the parakeets had promised and she began to sing and dance all around the garden. She forgot that she was a queen. She greeted the common people around her and laughed and joked and quite forgot her sadness. As the night wore on she wanted to drink more but the snake said she could not have more and that she should go home and get some rest. So Ellaria began to make her way back to the castle. She found it very hard to navigate through the maze and encountered even more people on the way out. These people, she assumed, must have not yet tried the magic drink as they were rude and unkind and not singing but shouting.
Ellaria slept for many hours once she got home and woke up the next morning feeling very unwell. All her problems had piled back into her mind and she felt sick and tired, despite her long rest. When the afternoon drew in, she felt a little better and decided to visit the well again that very evening. And so she did…and the night after…and the following night after that. In fact, she returned again and again to the well, evening after evening, until many years had passed. Eventually, Ellaria became aware that her husband was spending a lot more time away than before. They barely spoke or spent time together any more. She didn’t mind too much though; she had her life visiting the well and he had his doing his royal duties. They also never shared a bed anymore. Ellaria would return home from the well very late at night and would go to her own rooms so as not to wake the king. This meant no babies ever arrived in their marriage but Ellaria didn’t mind this either. She had once dreamed of being a mother but now the draw of the magic well and its beguiling elixir were all she cared for. Sometimes she was ill for days at a time but she still returned to the well. The elixir seemed to make everything so much better, even if it was for a short time.
One day, Ellaria began to realise the elixir no longer made her feel the giddy happiness she once knew. Instead after a time, she would be plunged into sorrow. She still kept visiting the well but found she had to drink more and more of the elixir to feel it’s full effects. She would wander around in the maze long after others had left, crying, shouting and arguing and being very un-queenly. ​​​​​​​
One night, after a particularly long and indulgent evening, Ellaria was so tired she sat down in the maze and fell asleep. In the light of dawn she woke up to see a pigeon sitting on a thin branch above her. It was cooing gently and was so beautiful Ellaria spoke to it softly.
       “Beautiful pigeon. Why do you watch over me?”
       “You are lost,” the pigeon said. “I want to help you go home.”
       “I am not lost. I know this maze well. I come here nearly every day,” Ellaria snapped.
       “All who visit this place are lost my dear,” said the pigeon and she flapped her wings as if to leave.
       “No! Don’t leave sweet pigeon. Please follow me home if you wish to. Your company would be wonderful. I don’t have any real friends. Only those who I see at the well every night and they are all lost in here too I suppose.”
So Ellaria and the pigeon left the maze together. Instead of heading to the castle though the pigeon turned to the east. There the sun was rising over the place Ellaria’s dead mother lay interred. Ellaria followed the pigeon until she reached the grave and saw with joy in her heart that the hazel tree on her mother’s grave was now alive and blooming.
       “What miracle has happened here?” Asked Ellaria to the pigeon. “This tree was dead!”
       “The tree was dead but your love for your mother lives on,” replied the pigeon. “The day you came here and cried again on the grave, the tree began to recover. You can recover too if you wish it. The belief that the elixir in the well makes you happy is a lie. In truth the more you take from the well, the more it takes from you. All your hope and health and interest in your future has been poured into the well each time you have extracted the liquid within.” The pigeon flew to the tree and alighted in its branches. “Here is your chance to regain what you have lost my dear. You have forsaken the love you had for your mother and the love you might pass to your husband and your children. You have forgotten to wish for good things and instead you have drowned your sorrows in the well.” At this Ellaria began to weep but the pigeon continued, “Shake the tree again Ellaria, like you did once before. Your mother’s love will shower down joy on you again and you will find the strength to never drink the elixir again.”
       Ellaria shook the tree and a cool shower of morning dew fell upon her. As it rained down on her upturned face, she was overcome with tiredness and she dropped, immediately fast asleep upon the grave.
Days went by and a search party was sent out to look for the queen, as she had not returned home and the king was concerned. When the queen was found she did not awake but was carried back home still asleep and brought up to her bed. The king sat besides her worried and saw how lovely she was and how much he loved her. He realised maybe it had been partly his fault that she had got lost in the first place. He felt sorry that he had not given her the attention she needed and vowed to himself he would try to be better. He leaned in and kissed her sleeping mouth. At once Ellaria awoke and she knew in her heart she wanted to make a better life with the king and that she must never return to the well. For one more taste of the elixir would be too many but a thousand could never be enough.
Although many times later in her life she would think about the well, she would also think about the warning the snake had once given her. She had indeed ended up wearing those imaginary glass shoes, too long and too often. They had shattered beneath her and she had fallen hard. The royal couple lived in love and good health after the curse of the elixir had been lifted though and went on to build a better future together. They had beautiful children and shared equally the burdens of parenthood and royal duties. Ellaria would often sit and watch their children play. She knew that as they grew that she must warn them too of the dangers and temptations of the elixir and of the foolishness of wearing glass shoes.
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