Imagine this Cinderella rewrite.
Cinderella’s father is an unusually successful fisherman due to his secret friendships with the shy and mysterious mermaids, successful enough to attract a moderately wealthy and ambitious bride with two daughters. Once he dies, her stepmother, determined to make sure her daughters inherit the fishing business as dowries by marrying before Cinderella, forbids her from going out on the fishing boats or into town and makes sure she spends as much of her time as possible doing drudgework, hauling offal and cleaning fish. When the Prince’s ball comes around, an important occasion for young women to make good connections, the stepmother forbids her from going, telling her that she needs to get the latest salmon catch gutted and ready for sale instead.
Cinderella’s mermaid godmother calls upon her people to clean the fish and gifts her a dress and shoes of shimmering fish scales that wreathe her in rainbows under the moonlight. She makes an impression on the Prince at the ball so strong that he immediately falls in love with her, and when she’s forced to flee before her stepmother notices her (no masquerade mask or dancing rainbows will disguise her from her own family at close range), the Prince is left with only a delicate fish leather slipper left on the front steps to try to find her again.
He goes around the houses, seeking the owner of the slipper, but Cinderella is once again working in the fish sheds. He stepmother, desperate and determined and having found Cinderella’s other shoe that very morning, realises what has happened and takes a knife to the feet of her prettiest daughter, telling the prince that she suffered an injury that very morning but those are definitely her shoes, see, here’s the other one, and they still fit.
The daughter is pretty and witty and charming, and while the Prince doesn’t feel the same spark and instant sense of connection that he did at the party, he reasons that she’s overwhelmed and in pain and once she’s healed, all will be well. There are no birds to whisper of blood in the shoe – the Prince has seen the bandaged feet already – and the daughter slips on the shoes (the only shoes she has that will fit her, now,) and accompanies him to the palace.
But the stepmother is no doctor, and by the time the Prince gets her to the palace doctors, it’s too late – his beloved has contracted an infection in her feet from the shoe leather, made unclean in its travels. She will survive – it is an infection of a common filth of fish and birds, one that the doctors have potions for for the occasions where dangerously cooked food causes outbreaks – but in her raving, she confesses the whole scheme to the Prince who, furious, returns to the village to find the girl he truly fell in love with, the girl hidden from him.
“Oh, yeah, the fish cleaner,” the villagers shrug. “We don’t see her around very much, she’s probably in the sheds. Her family calls her Salmonella.”