“Seems impractical.”

“I was looking for a mirror. I was told of a ‘magic glass’ in Werra and thought to give it a try. The rumor never added the last word: slippers.”

“I’m sorry, dearie.”

The beautiful woman shrugged. “What can one do? But I am being rude. Duchess Lacreux, please forgive our discourtesy and allow us to introduce ourselves.”

“I am a Sybilla, a First Appraised Isolator Rank Yellow, charged with childcare and development: a fairy godmother.”

“And I am Angelique, an Enchantress-in-training.”

It took every bit of Cinderella’s pre-war training to shut her mouth and curtsey. “Welcome, madams,” she said, her voice calm even though she wanted to scream.

A fairy godmother and an enchantress were standing on Aveyron soil.

Enchanters were the highest magic rank one could achieve, and a fairy godmother was right below it.

“How can I help you?” Cinderella asked.

The fairy godmother adjusted her spectacles and pulled a length of parchment and a full-sized quill out of a pouch the size of Cinderella’s palm. “I was told this afternoon you had an encounter with a black mage. Could you describe him for me—oh dear,” the woman said when Cinderella’s legs buckled, and she sat down hard on the ground.

“I-I’m sorry,” Cinderella said, trying to push herself to her feet. “Please forgive my—,” Cinderella cast around for the right word in her brain, but she grew distracted when she realized her cheeks were wet with tears.

Horrified with herself, Cinderella almost leaped out of her skin when the Lady Enchantress knelt before her. “Do not be alarmed; it is sometimes difficult for a person to be in the presence of magic as powerful as Sybilla’s, even if she is not using it.”

“Speak for yourself, dearie,” the fairy godmother chortled.

“I can tell your heart is pained. What troubles you, Duchess Lacreux?” Angelique asked.

It was the Enchantress’s sympathetic eyes that did Cinderella in.

Cinderella burst into tears. Not soft, quiet, beautiful tears, but loud, snotty ones that made her face red and splotchy. Somewhere between the sobs and hiccups, Sybilla the fairy godmother joined Cinderella and Angelique on the ground.

“There, there, dearie. A good cry is just what a girl needs, sometimes,” she said, patting Cinderella with a plump hand.

When Cinderella’s tears slowed to the occasional trickle, she reluctantly accepted a white lace handkerchief from the Lady Enchantress.

“Now, what has you so upset?” Sybilla asked.

Cinderella swallowed with some difficulty and stared at the handkerchief. “It is as you said. Today I was attacked by a black mage.”

Sybilla nodded. “A run in with one of those brutes is enough to make any lady cry.”

“But that’s not it. I-I didn’t know—or maybe I didn’t see—how Trieux’s hatred for Erlauf and Erlauf’s hatred for Trieux is ruining us. The black mage said we would destroy ourselves, and darkness would rule here. I talked to someone, and he said if we want to survive, our attitudes must change, and our people must change. But I don’t know how.”

“Are you not the only Trieux Duchess, the highest ranked of all remaining nobles?” Angelique asked.

“Yes, but what can I do?”

“My dear lady, forgive me for being blunt, but what can’t you do?” Sybilla kindly asked. “Every person in your beloved country is born with potential to change the world. But you, who desire to spark the change, have been dealt an incredible hand to play. You are a duchess. I have been in Erlauf for just a few days, and even I have heard how you string the Erlauf First Regiment along like a girl leading a lamb.”

“I suspect you are thinking of firepower, Duchess Lacreux,” Angelique said. “You believe you don’t have the power to fight back because you haven’t an army to your name or magic to shield those you love?”

Cinderella nodded. “There are things I can do—things that will affect Aveyron and perhaps Werra. But how can I extend my reach? All of Trieux festers with hate.”

“I believe, Duchess, you underestimate the power of kindness. A gentle word, a smile, an act of compassion, these are the things that can turn hate to love,” Angelique said.

“Or, if that is your worry, ally yourself with someone who can reach all corners of the country,” Sybilla said.

“Who?” Cinderella asked.

“Queen Freja, of course,” Sybilla said, adjusting her eyeglasses.

“And how will I win Queen Freja to my side?” Cinderella asked, fighting some of her own prejudices.

Sybilla patted Cinderella’s hand. “Dear, it might not be a matter of ‘winning’ her. Have any of you nobles from Trieux tried to talk with her?”

Cinderella was silent.

“Speak to her. She is a brilliant queen, not a tyrant,” Sybilla recommended.

“But how?”