Christopher sits facing a tall, slender individual trying to assume the unassuming demeanor of a servant in spite of the way they hold their head a little too high, even as they’ve pulled their long, straight blue-black hair away from their face with a bit of dark blue ribbon. This servant wearings a black tailcoat over a white waistcoat, an indigo cravat tied at their neck. Matching slippers adorn their stockinged feet, ascending into shapely calves and thighs concealed within black leggings. Large, lustrous dark eyes gaze at Christopher from a face with sharp, severe cheekbones, studying him with careful consideration.
Christopher: You’re Claude, correct? The Lady Ariella’s servant in At Her Servant?
Claude: Both of the Ladies Ariella, sir, mother and daughter. I am very grateful to the elder Lady Ariella for getting me out of a spot of trouble. They are distant kin, yet I am happier to serve them than the needs of my nearer relations.
Christopher: Why is that?
Claude: My parents were distressed that I was neither male or female, refusing to identify myself as either. They decided to force me to choose by marriage. Oh, they’d marry me well, to either a Count or a Countess. The Count was very handsome, yet all of his mistresses and a few of his favorites sported bruises, those who survived his attentions. The Countess was a forceful person of shrill determination to make a man of me who’d buried quite a few failures in her former husbands. Needless to say I wasn’t inclined to either. The elder Lady Ariella gave me another option, to join her household and run the estate. To my parents, I’d disgraced myself, accepting a position as a mere servant, but Lady Ariella didn’t expect me to be anything other than competent.
Christopher: Have you enjoyed a life of service, running her household?
Claude: It’s a challenge which requires all of my energy, sir, but I enjoy challenges. We’ve had to let go of quite a few servants and settle some of the most ridiculous debts incured by the late lord’s hobbies. We’ve had to sell off part of the land. I’m thinking of opening the estate to walking tours, warning visitors to wear a thick coat in the upper rooms.
Christopher: The chateaux is as drafty as Cinders claimed?
Claude: Indeed, sir. The cinders girl may secured for herself the warmest spot in the chateaux…the hearth. Not that it excuses her dirty state, but she is the cinders girl.
Christopher: She was once the lord of the chateaux’s only child, wasn’t she?
Claude: Yes, she was, sir. I’m relieved that she’s not the difficult creature her father was. I hate to speak ill of the late mistress, the elder Lady Ariella, but her hostility towards the cinders girl was quite excessive. At the same time, my late mistress may have had cause for concern. The cinders girl can make the younger Lady Ariella smile like no one else can, for which I am deeply grateful. At the same time I worry. My young mistress may like the cinders girl too much. I fear this fancy may interfere with other relationships which are crucial to her future.
Christopher: Such as?
Claude: Her upcoming marriage, sir.
Christopher: I didn’t realize the Lady Ariella was engaged.
Claude: She isn’t, sir, not yet. I have hopes of her being so in the future.
Christopher: To a prince? Your mistress doesn’t seem interested.
Claude: If only she’d give His Highness a chance! He’s not so bad. He simply lacks direction.
Christopher: Is that all?
Claude: And compassion. And taste. I don’t believe these faults of his own character but the result of the company he keeps. He could be guided in a different direction.
Christopher: What makes you think this?
Claude: His Highness is a very different person around certain people in the royal court. Some of his cruelty and thoughtlessness has been deliberately encouraged. It could be discouraged.
Christopher: And you think the Lady Ariella is the person to encourage him?
Claude: Well, she seems to bring the worst out of him. And he brings the worst out of her. It doesn’t have to be that way! My mistress is the cleverest person I know, far cleverer than me! If I can influence His Highness, surely she can.
Christopher: Do you have influence over His Highness?
Claude: I have been able to persuade him to give way to his better impulses. I was the one who convinced him to accompany the party the Ladies Ariella were riding together in. I’ve contrived to bring them together.
Christopher: Only they don’t seem to want to be together from what you’re saying.
Claude: No, sir, they don’t. It’s very odd. Prince Charming usually is amiable to all ladies and they swoon at the sight of him. Only he’s disagreeable to my mistress whenever he meets her. You’d almost think he was disappointed at meeting her.
Christopher: Perhaps he was.
Claude: I can’t believe anyone would find the Lady Ariella disappointing or the prince not charming. No, I fear this has less to do with my mistress disliking the prince and more to do with her liking someone else more.
Christopher: Would it really be so bad if your mistress liked someone else more? Even if it was the cinders girl?
Claude: The chateaux is far draftier than either of my ladies thought it would be. My mistress can do better. She could be far more than just the heiress to a shrinking estate. She could be a great queen.
Christopher: Claude, might have been a great Countess or Count. You didn’t want to be either of those things. What if Lady Ariella doesn’t want to be queen?
Claude: It’s not the same thing, sir.
Christopher: Isn’t it?
Claude: Perhaps there are similarities, sir. I just wish for my lady to be happy and to achieve all she’s capable of. I don’t want any opportunities to slip past her.
Christopher: Opportunities may come in surprising forms.
Claude: They do indeed, sir. If only my lady knew what an exciting challenge, what meaningful work running a kingdom could be. The prince has taken me into his confidence, introduced me to the royal staff, revealed to me some of the wheels turning within wheels of the machinations of the court. It’s fascinating, how it all connects. Plus there’s opportunity to do a lot of good.
Christopher: Perhaps you’ll have a chance to someday take up that challenge.
Claude: Me, sir? I’m just a servant.
Christopher: As I said, Claude, opportunities may come in surprising forms.