A Cinderella sequel

But what of the sister, you ask? Well.

The infection brought on a high fever, and the damage was permanent. Her mother’s knife took her ability to walk without pain. The fever took her voice.

It hadn’t been her plan. She hadn’t wanted to do it. But her mother, with her sharp eyes and her sharp knife, had explained to her once again that behind her stepsister’s kindly smile was a ruthless heiress who wanted to take everything the family had and leave the rest of them destitute. “You have a duty to protect this family,” her mother explained. “Your father gave his life to protect us from invaders. I gave my heart and my future to protect us from poverty. Will you not do the same?”

And so she took the opium and let her mother do her work. Only in the grips of fever and guilt and regret did she confess to the Prince, and it was the last thing that the fever let her say.

Her stepsister did not have her thrown out. She intervened on her behalf, explaining to the furious Prince that she was a victim of their mother’s desperate schemes that they were sisters, that she would not be courted by somebody so ruthless as to throw a wounded, manipulated young lady out onto the streets or send her back to the overbearing mother who had wounded her in the first place. She was given a place, and the doctors sworn to silence on her confession to protect her from any scandal.

She almost wished that her stepsister had thrown her out. Better to be hated than pitied.

For she must surely be the object of pity. Why else would she be allowed to stay, an ugly, broken, useless thing if not out of a sense of begrudging duty on behalf of her benefactors?

It is not the feet or the voice that bother her the most, although those injuries are a large blow. She has known men and women her whole life with old injuries and missing parts and missing senses who have made their way in the world just fine, and in the court, where she can learn fine embroidery from the other ladies and where a quiet demeanour is attractive to the gentlemen, she knows that she can make a future if she wants it. What bothers her the most is that she allowed it to happen – she was weak enough to be talked into the plan, fickle enough to confess it, cruel enough to attempt to steal her stepsister’s future, cowardly enough to believe it necessary. As she works needles with the ladies and considers the courtship of the gentlemen, she imagines that they can see what a pathetic and broken soul she has, imagines their contempt under a thin veneer of politeness. Imagines her stepsister and the Prince looking down at her with pity and disgust. (The idea that they aren’t is simply nonsensical.) And always in her head, there is her mother’s voice, whispering that she’s doing well, that she is doing her duty. That to make a match with any of these men will protect her family. That she’s proud of her.

Three months after the fever breaks, with the weight of her body heavy on her wounded feet and the weight of her regrets heavy on her weary soul, the sister walks out of the castle, down the broad, basalt steps, the dark stone against her soles feeling like the fiery molten rock it had once been. She walks down to the beach, the sand under her soles feeling like the shards of broken glass it will one day become. She steps into the ocean, expecting more and greater pain, but the salt soothes her feet, and the water takes the weight of her body and the weight of her sins for her. It pulls at her legs, stronger and stronger. She grew up working fishing boats; she knows what a riptide is. She knows how to escape one.

She doesn’t.

The ocean itself pulls her further and further out, away from all of her responsibilities and labours and mistakes. She relaxes into the water, closes her eyes, and imagines becoming ocean foam.

Unexpectedly, she opens her eyes again.

Water is all around her. A young woman wrapped in a garment of shimmering scales holds her jaw still while another uses a fine bone knife to slice long, symmetrical slits down either side of the neck. She can’t move her legs; two more women have tied them up in a fabric that looks like her stepsister’s beautiful rainbow ballgown and are sewing it closed. They are not, she realises, wrapped in garments of the fabric; they have tails. Fish tails.

She should be afraid. She’s too busy being surprised by the fact that she’s alive.

She kicks out with her new tail and moves quickly, easily, without pain. She draws a breath, pulling water through the slits cut into her neck. Around her are half a dozen mermaids, silently watching, ready to help if need be. No; seven – but the seventh is different. Massive, the size of all the rest put together, and instead of a shimmering fish tail, her legs are replaced with eight octopus arms. She grins, revealing a mouth of pointed, predatory teeth.

“Welcome, child,” she says, and the sister knows immediately that she means it, both the ‘welcome’ and the ‘child’.

“What happens now?” the sister asks, not even questioning the fact that she can speak. She knows, instinctively, that the burdens of the land do not exist down here.

“That is up to you. When you are strong enough to swim the distance, your sisters will show you all the beauties and marvels of our kingdom. You will probably be very happy here, forever after.”


“Choices are not always permanent. It is rare, but not unheard of, for one of my children to leave us. Perhaps in a decade or a century or a millennium, far from this place in time and space where no ties to or memories of you remain, you will find yourself tied to the land again. Perhaps you will see something that will have you slice your tail back in two, something that makes it worth every step feeling like walking on broken glass, every breath of dry air through a silent throat. Perhaps, sometime in the distant future, you will walk into a new life, with new joys. Or, perhaps not.”

She thinks back to the world she walked away from and tries to recall even one thing to regret leaving behind. Her stepsister, she is sure, will look after her family in her absence. Perhaps she was a barrier all along. The fishing boats, the castle, the delicious meals and fine clothes… she shakes her head.

“I’ll never want to go back.”

The octopus woman smiles wider. “You may very well be right. But, right or wrong, for as long as you are here, my child… I am glad that you can be part of our world.”