Christopher sits facing a tall, lean woman wearing a dark blue gown with an angular grace, her long neck conveying an air of beauty even if her features aren’t exactly beautiful and her wavy dark hair has been pinned in a rather untidy bun.
Christopher: You’re the Lady Ariella, correct? Cinders’s mistress?
Ariella: I’m not exactly much of a mistress as you can see by how well I’ve trained my servant. (She touches her hair with a self-conscious grin.) I’m still not certain Cinders should be my servant which makes us both…uncertain.
Christopher: You mean considering what she was…before she was your servant?
Ariella: She has as much right to be mistress of this chateaux as I do. Just as she has as much right to my name.
Christopher: Excuse me?
Ariella: You’re excused but there’s no need. (She grins another tiny name.) Cinders’s true name is the same as mine. Ariella. My mother hated the fact that we had the same name. She’s the one who started calling her Cinders after Cinders started sitting in them. Cinders doesn’t seem to want the name any more than she does the chateaux.
Christopher: Would you give them to her?
Ariella: If she wanted them? It’s tempting. I might give her all my worldly possessions and join the Order of Silent Laughter, bring a little merriment back to the Sisterhood. At the same time, I would miss Cinders. I’ve tried to ask her if she misses her old room, if she’s curious about my duties as the mistress of the chateaux. She apologizes for how drafty and creaky her chamber is or asks if I’m getting another headache.
Christopher: Do you think she’s hiding how she really feels? Or does she truly seem content with you as her mistress?
Ariella: I think…I’m worried. Cinders seems to want so little for herself. I hope she doesn’t think she’s unworthy of having more.
Christopher: Why would she think this?
Ariella: Mother had a horrible temper and said awful things to Cinders when she lost it. She seemed to blame Cinders for everything that went wrong with the chateaux.
Ariella: My mother had a venemous regard for Cinders’s ancestor, her father’s ancestor. The one who stripped his niece, my mother’s ancestor…and mine…of the chateaux I own. Cinders’s father inherited it from him, unjustly in my mother and grandmother’s eyes. I don’t think my mother ever saw Cinders herself. She heard the words “This is my daughter, Ariella” from the man she was trying so hard to seduce, yet always saw as her enemy. I could almost feel the air turn cold around my mother. I saw the way she looked at Cinders. I could almost read her thoughts: “This girl is going to take everything from my daughter the way her ancestor took everything from me.” She saw Cinders through a scarlet haze of fear which nothing could penetrate, not reason, not pleas for mercy.
Christopher: Pleas had no effect on your mother?
Ariella: It was frightening. My mother was not normally a cruel woman. Ambitious, yes, but not cruel. She gave members of our household opportunities a chance many wouldn’t have. Cinders’s father certainly wouldn’t have. I’m not sure if she would have married him if she hadn’t wanted the chateaux as much as she did. Cinders…the other Ariella…if only my mother could have seen her, really seen her. She’s the loveliest, sweetest maiden I’ve ever met, far more agreeable than I am. The moment I laid eyes on her, I wanted to be her friend. It was the last thing my mother wanted.
Christopher: Maybe your mother thought she was too lovely. A possible threat to you, which needed to be ground down?
Ariella: It shames me to think of my mother’s behavior towards Cinders. She wasn’t cruel before she married Cinders’s father. She wasn’t always cruel afterwards. She took in Claude, gave them a household position, accepted them unreservedly for whom they are. She helped Claude cultivate a certain elegant style as well as contacts at court. Claude was devoted to my mother because of this. She could have been kind to Cinders, but she carried a grudge against Cinders’s family line, a grudge she hid when she seduced Cinders’s father. My mother gave full force to that grudge after he died. She stripped Cinders of everything. She couldn’t turn her out. Her ownership of the chateaux was conditional upon Cinders having a home, but she made that home as inhospitable as possible.
Christopher: What did you do?
Ariella: Tried to stand between them, distract my mother. Suggested hiding in the cinders. Oddly enough seeing her diry seemed to mollify my mother. Some of her anger abated. She didn’t really work Cinders, just tried to keep her out of the way. I was often distracted, having to fend off my mother’s plans for me.
Christopher: What plans were these?
Ariella: She conceived a romantic notion of marrying me to a prince, a particular prince. (groans) Never mind that her last romantic notion of being mistress of the chateaux ended in drafty rooms and debts. Never mind that I find the prince repulsive.
Christopher: It sounds like you didn’t share your romantic plans.
Ariella: (sighs) All that fuss over the chateaux and was she happy once she got it? No, she got a pile of debts and a series of drafty rooms she was never comfortable in. I’m not exactly comfortable in them either, but I’d take those rooms any day over the prince.
Christopher: Only if you married the prince, wouldn’t you one day be queen?
Ariella: This is something Claude never stops reminding me of. Maybe they should marry the prince. Claude would definitely be a good influence on him. Not to mention they’d keep the prince from doing something intolerably stupid which I fear is inevitable.
Christopher: Does Claude fancy the prince or vise versa?
Ariella: Claude enjoys the challenge of organization, of solving problems, all the things the prince tries to avoid. As for the prince, he fancies everyone except me.
Ariella: An excellent reason for keeping the prince away from the chateaux and Cinders. I don’t want her catching his eye.
Christopher: What if the prince decided he fancied Cinders? Fancied her enough to marry her?
Ariella: I…I don’t like to even think about that. Claude thinks it’s every woman’s dream to marry a prince. I hope it isn’t Cinders’s.
Christopher: Why not?
Ariella: I…I’m not sure. Maybe I’m being selfish. I would miss her if she left. I do want Cinders to be happy. This is why I’m arranging for her to have a little fun. Something special.
Christopher: What did you have in mind?
Ariella: (smiling a mysterious little smile) It’s a surprise.