Quartz sits facing a slender, wiry individual dressed in a black tailcoat, a blue tunic, and a white waistcoat, a dark blue cravat knotted neatly around their neck. Black leggings and white stockings enhance the shape of the legs rather than conceal them. On their feet are a pair of slippers sporting sapphire buckles.
Quartz: Nice slippers.
Claude: Thank you, sire. They were a gift from my late mistress, the Lady Ariella senior.
Quartz: The mother of your current mistress, right?
Claude: There have been a lot of Lady Ariellas in their family, sir, going back to the first Lady Ariella. I believe she built the chateaux my mistress lives in and planted the grounds. This was before her uncle convinced the king the chateaux was his by rights, turning the lady and her daughters out. Her daughters swore they’d never forget their mother’s wrong, so the eldest named her daughter Ariella and her daughter after. There has always been an Ariella ever since.
Quartz: Ariella is Cinders’s name as well, isn’t it?
Claude: (stiffens in his seat) It’s the name her mother gave her, an attempt at making peace between my former mistress and her husband. Such a peace was doomed to fail.
Quartz: Wait, Cinders’s mother tried to make peace between Cinders’s father and your former mistress? This was before Cinders’s father married your former mistress, becoming Cinders’s stepmother?
Claude: One of the things my late mistress never forgave Cinders’s father for was marrying Cinders’s father.
Quartz: Because she wanted Cinders’s father for herself?
Claude: Quite the contrary, sir. In my late mistress’s opinion, he seduced and destroyed a good, lovely woman, a precious friend. She never forgave Cinders’s father for that. It was one more evil she blamed him for.
Quartz: And yet she married him.
Claude: It was a twisted attempt to regain what was rightfully hers on my lady’s part, seducing the man whom seduced her friend. It was an equally twisted attempt on the part of a man determined to avoid all responsibility and to find a clever wife whom could take it on for him. The man’s daughter is his last legacy of irresponsibility, saddled to the Ladies Ariella in all her grimy glory.
Quartz: Sounds like you don’t care much for Cinders.
Claude: I don’t dislike her, sir. Indeed, I can’t complain about her disposition, only her condition.
Quartz: Her condition being a dirty one, eh?
Claude: It’s her choice to sit in the cinders. It’s a better choice than she might have made, but it doesn’t stop her from leaving smears and smudges everywhere.
Quartz: Your mistress doesn’t seem to mind.
Claude: My mistress doesn’t have to clean up the smears and smudges, sir.
Quartz: (nose turning red, perhaps thinking of all the smears and smudges he and his brother have left for his surrogate daughter to clean up) Aye, I can see how that would get tiresome.
Claude: In my opinion, my mistress is overfond of the cinders girl. She lavishes time upon her which could be spent in more congenial company.
Quartz: And what congenial company would you have her keep, eh? Yours?
Claude: Certainly not, sir. I am not the cinders girl, leering over my lady’s ankles every chance I get. I know my place.
Quartz: And where would that be, eh?
Claude: Serving my lady and my prince. Securing their futures. Seeing the prince becomes as charming and congenial as he can be. Seeing that my mistress comes to see and appreciate these qualities.
Quartz: You want your lady to marry this prince, eh?
Claude: (slumps a bit in their seat, looking deflated) It’s an endeavour in progress, sir.
Quartz: And how does your lady and your prince feel about your endeavour?
Claude: Less enthusiastic than I’d hoped, sir. My mistress is entirely too fond of the cinders girl and my prince is entirely too fond of everyone else, including me.
Quartz: Hah! Maybe you ought to marry this prince.
Claude: Certainly not, sir. I’ve chosen to serve the Ladies Ariella. Almost everyone thinks I’m a man. My prince insists that I’m a woman. The truth is I’m neither, yet it’s wearisome explaining this to everyone. I’m not sure if our people could accept an individual such as myself as their queen.
Quartz: Do you care about your people’s acceptance?
Claude: Very much, sir, although I’ve learned not to count upon it. At present I’m helping the prince plan some wide-spread reforms to provide a free education for all in spite of wealth and birth, giving everyone in the kingdom from the lowliest beggar certain rights as citizens. If only my mistress could see the prince when he speaks of these things. She’d realized he’s not that bad.
Quartz: These reforms were your prince’s ideas?
Claude: No, they were mine, sir, but he’s been very agreeable to them. He’s wanted to meet me in private to talk more about them.
Quartz: I’ll bet. Maybe the prince’s own choice of a companion will be for the better of the kingdom, eh?
Claude: (flushes) I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, sir. I try to be a positive influence on our prince.
Quartz: (smirking behind his beard) I’m sure you are.
Claude: If only my mistress could see how much the prince has changed since her last encounter with him. He feels terrible about the horses.
Quartz: Right. I don’t want to know.