Ella pressed her nose against the cool window as the falling star spiraled down the dark night sky, and wished with all her might. “Just keep on falling, sweet little star, and with your fall, bring my Prince Charming. Let him be brave, noble, and blond—the rarest sight of all. I’ll let them see that I don’t care that I am not a maiden fair, for he will love me anyhow, or else, I swear, I’ll feed him to my cow!”
The star soon faded out of sight, and Ella traced a heart in the vapor her breath had left on the glass. Yawning, she snuggled down in the warm covers of her wooden bed.
A jabbing pain in her eye woke Ella. For a moment, she thought she was dreaming, but soon she realized that her left hand was pulling at her eyelid.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.” A man’s voice echoed inside her head.
She tried to jump out of bed, but her left foot didn’t follow, and her left hand was moving as if it had a mind of its own. “What’s happening? Who are you?” she screamed.
The voice came again. “Now, now. You made a wish last night, didn’t you? Here I am!”
“You mean to say … that … that you’re my Prince Charming?”
“Prince … yes … that’s who I am. Prince Henry.”
“Prince Henry of Whitehill?” Ella exclaimed, patting her hair frantically with the one hand still under her control. “Can you … can you see me?”
“Do you have a mirror?”
“No … I don’t keep a mirror in my room.”
“Now that’s a pity. I can see what you see,” the prince explained, “but I cannot see you.”
Ella sighed with relief—the last thing she needed was for the prince to see her with messy morning hair and puffy eyes.
“Can you read my thoughts?”
“No. I can only hear what you speak out loud.”
Her left hand pointed a finger at her left ear. “Through here,” the prince said happily.
“Please stop doing that,” she shrieked. “Why are you controlling my left side? Can I please have it back?”
“I suppose you can, but don’t ask me to leave your head, ’cause I wouldn’t know where to start.”
Ella rubbed her left leg as the sensation came back to her. “How did this happen?”
“Falling stars take desperate wishes very seriously indeed.”
Ella blushed and stood. Rushing to her wardrobe, she pulled out a brown dress and a matching cape. She threw them on over her nightgown and pulled the hood over her head, tucking in any loose hair strands. Finally, she slipped into her woolen boots and stood in the middle of the room, unsure of what to do next. Now that the initial shock had faded away, her heart trembled as a shocking truth sank in: Prince Henry is in my head, and I’m not even greeting him correctly!
“What should we do now, um … Your Royal Highness?” she said, curtsying.
“Easy! We find the star and reverse the wish. And you can call me Henry. Might I ask for your name?”
“Eleanor, but my mother calls me Ella,” she said, blushing. “Where does one find fallen stars?”
“The Icy Lake.”
“The Icy … Lake,” Ella muttered.
“It’s where the falling stars land,” the prince explained. “The perfect place for them to cool. You really don’t get out much!”
“You know, for a prince, you don’t sound very polite,” Ella said, her cheeks burning.
“I’m sorry. I did not mean to offend. Shall we go now?”
Ella started for the door but froze when she heard the kettle’s whistle in the kitchen. Her mother was awake.
“Are you cold, my sweetheart?”
“It is a chilly morning,” Ella said, pecking her mother on the cheek and swiftly moving to the door that led to the stables. The tantalizing smell of freshly baked bread danced around her nostrils, but her stomach was in a knot, and she was too shy to eat with the prince inside her head.
“Are you going out?” her mother called after her.
“Um, yes, Mother.”
“Just don’t be late, mind you, dear. Mr. Woodbear will be lunching with us today. Remember to wear your white dress with the red flowers. Men always like flowery dresses.”
Ella rolled her eyes as she closed the kitchen door behind her.
“Just who is Mr. Woodbear, now?” the prince mocked.
Ella’s cheeks were redder than ever. She scoffed and gave a nonchalant shrug. “My guess is another suitor. My mom keeps shoving a different one down my throat each week.”
“But you save yourself for the prince?”
“Listen,” she hissed. “Do you want to find your star or not?”
Margie was fast asleep against a low haystack. Ella stroked the smooth brown fur between her short, pointed ears and whispered, “Wake up, my sweet Margie.”
Margie opened a bleary eye and rubbed her snout on her mistress’s lap.
“We’re riding this?” the voice asked incredulously. “You have no horse?”
“Margie’s the fastest cow in the entire world,” Ella said sweetly, kneading Margie’s long back. “Aren’t you, Margie?”
“Oh well, I suppose it must do. I’ll show you the way.”
Ella rode tireless Margie down the valley, crossed the stone bridge over the Wailing Stream, and followed the trodden path through the Whitehill Forest. The snow crunched beneath Margie’s hooves, and birds flew around Ella’s head, chirping their welcoming morning song. Ella, however, had ears only for the prince inside her head, telling her everything she’d always wished to know about life in the palace.
“Pray tell, do women bathe in golden tubs filled with honey and milk?”
“Yes, and their skin is scrubbed with sugar and sweet oils, and then scents are rubbed on their soft bodies.”
“Oh, the sweet smell! How many dresses does a princess have? I bet they’re all so beautiful.”
“As many as the closet can hold, and they’re made of silk that flows like water on your skin.”
“And is the wine ever so sweet—”
“Turn right, here.”
“—and the meat soft and melting in your mouth?”
“Yes, and the table stretches as far as the eye can see, filled with food and drink to fill even the biggest bellies.”
At that, Ella’s stomach grumbled. She had to be mindful of her figure, though, if she wanted to be a princess—everybody knew that princesses should never overindulge.
At last they emerged from the woods, and Margie stopped. The Icy Lake spread out before them, vast and frozen, covered with thick snow that glistened in the midday sun. Ella’s cape was billowing behind her, and she tightened the hood strings underneath her chin. Margie shuffled her feet and snorted impatiently, and Ella climbed off her back.
“Where shall we look?” Ella asked, her breath a dancing cloud underneath her nose.
“There must be a hole where the star landed. Let’s look for that.”
“That could be anywhere!”
Ella was desperate and hungry, and she suddenly wished she had taken one of her mother’s freshly baked buns for the road. As she gazed at the endless white surface that stretched on as far as the eye could see, her heart beat faster—why did she have to make that wish upon the falling star? Why couldn’t she just be happy with one of the men her mother brought to the house for her? If only she could go back …
“Did you see that?” The prince’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
“There!” Her left hand shot up and pointed to a spot on the ground.
“I thought we’d agreed you’d stop doing that,” she said, flinching.
“It’s a trail of footprints!” the prince said, ignoring her. “Let’s follow it.”
Ella moved hesitantly. Unmistakable imprints of boots had been left in the snow. The silhouette of a man appeared on the horizon. He was tall, with a curly brown beard, and a heavy deer hide was hanging around his square shoulders. Next to where he was standing was a gaping hole in the lake’s surface, and Ella shivered as she saw the murky water.
“Rohan,” the prince said grimly.
Before Ella could reply, the man called out to her.
“Greetings, miss. Whatever is a young lady like yourself doing in this place?”
Ella froze in place as he moved toward her.
“Are you lost?” the man offered.
Ella’s eye fell on the shiny gray stone that jingled against the buckle of his belt. The man followed her gaze and took a step back.
“Is that last night’s fallen star?” she said breathlessly.
The man narrowed his eyes. “What’s it to you?”
“I came here to find it.”
“It belongs to me now,” said the man. “Head back. This is no place for young ladies. The ice could give in at any moment, and your animal looks heavy. I’d hate to see you drown.”
Ella gave a concerned look to Margie and wondered if the man was right.
“Challenge him to a game of wits,” the prince ordered.
Ella hesitated—how could she challenge someone to a game she was terrible at?
“Ella, it’s the only way to get the star. Do it, now!”
“I challenge you to a game of wits,” she cried, trying to summon up courage in her heart.
The man laughed out loud. “Do you, now, milady?” he snorted. “Oh, you’re serious! Well, then, that is my favorite game. I’ll be going first now, eh? OK, let us see … I have a queen, soldiers, and bishops; tall towers rise around my space; horses defend me and move against you; you’ll never win and take my place. What am I?”
“A castle—” Ella started, but the voice of the prince exploded in her head.
“No, no, no! It’s a king in a chess game!”
“A king in a chess game,” Ella said triumphantly.
“Hmm, you’re good,” said the man, scratching his beard. “Let us hear yours, then.”
Ella flushed. She didn’t know any riddles. Surely the prince must think her an imbecile.
“I am all round and glisten brightly; a silver sphere that cannot hide; go very far and you’ll still see me, for I am always up in the sky,” the prince urged.
Ella’s heart sank as she repeated the riddle to the man, thinking it was an easy one and he would surely guess the answer. Perhaps the prince wasn’t as smart as she had thought him.
“The moon!” the man roared. “My turn! I make men mad and very vicious; like blood, I run inside their veins; I make the sane be most malicious; from me, there is no true escape.”
“Hmm, that is a good one … Perhaps the answer is madness …”
“No,” Ella whispered, her mind wandering.
“What’s that?” The man cupped the back of his ear.
“Come on, Ella, we have to give an answer, or else we’ll lose …”
Ella sighed. “The answer’s wine,” she said firmly.
The man eyed her suspiciously. “Well, well,” he said, “would you look at that! What a wise damsel you are. Go on, let me hear yours.”
The prince gave Ella the riddle, and she repeated it to the man.
“I’m right before you, but you don’t see me; sweet food I give you to fill your plate; to stay beside you and love you dearly, the gods have given me as my fate.”
The man cupped his belly and laughed. “You really didn’t try hard, lass. The answer’s a mother!”
Ella held her breath and waited.
“I’m sorry, but that’s not the answer,” she said, extending her right palm toward him. “Now, hand it over.”
“Whatever do you mean, it’s wrong?” the man bellowed.
“I’m telling you that’s not the answer,” Ella insisted, stomping her feet on the ice. “Now you have to honor our agreement.”
“Give me the answer!” he roared.
“Give me the star, and I will shout it back at you once I’ve reached the forest.”
The man’s face darkened, but he nodded. He untied the string that held the fallen star around his belt, and handed it to Ella reluctantly. “So be it,” he said. “You played a fair game. I’ll just have to wait until the next one falls from the sky.”
Ella couldn’t help but wonder what this man wanted with a fallen star, but once she had it in her hand, she resolved to run as fast as she could, lest the man changed his mind. She patted Margie’s back, and they both turned to leave.
She was but a few feet away when she heard his heavy footsteps behind her.
Ella froze, and the man got closer.
Margie put herself between Ella and the man, and she shoved him to the ground with all her might. A nasty cracking sound filled the air as the thin ice caved in under the man’s heavy body. Ella turned just in time to see him disappear under the water’s surface. She waited with bated breath—her worried reflection staring back at her. Then suddenly the man’s head reappeared, and he stretched his hand toward her. Ella grabbed it and pulled him out. He was drenched to the bone. Thin wisps of breath were emerging from his partly open mouth, but he didn’t move.
“Let’s go, Ella,” the prince urged.
“We surely cannot leave him here. He’ll freeze to death.”
“You don’t know who you’re up against,” the prince insisted. “We must leave now.”
Ella removed her cape and wrapped it around the man’s body before taking Margie with her and walking toward the snowy woods.
Ella looked closely at the fallen star. It looked so insignificant—if it had landed in the woods, it would have fit perfectly among the other pebbles on the ground. Yet this tiny thing carried more magic than she could ever imagine.
“We did it!” She whooped with joy.
“Yes, sweet Ella! Nice moves back there.”
Ella blushed, and her heart danced in her chest. “Well, I wouldn’t have made it without your precious help, Your Royal Highness.”
“I told you … you can call me Henry.”
“Did … did I say something to hurt you?” she muttered.
“No, no. It’s just that the wish has taken its toll on me. It’s hard being in two places at once. It weakens the mind.”
“I’m sorry … So, how do we reverse the spell?” she wondered.
“You must find me first.”
“Find you? Where are you?”
“But … that’s very far!” Ella exclaimed. The sun was at its peak, and her mother would be waiting for her. The thought of Mr. Woodbear made her cringe. No, she couldn’t go home. She would not marry Mr. Woodbear, or any of the other suitors. Especially not now that she was so close to meeting her prince. “I don’t understand. Why can’t you meet me in the town square?”
“I wish I could. But I cannot leave my room.”
“Whatever do you mean? You’re the prince; you’re free to go wherever you please.”
“There’s something I must tell you. One last favor I must ask of you.”
Ella’s heart tightened in her chest.
“I am not who I said I was. I only pretended to be the prince so you would help me retrieve the fallen star.”
“Who are you, then?” Ella whispered.
“My name’s Gilbert. I am the prince’s best friend. Or I was … before he locked me up in this tower.”
“What did you do to him? Did you commit a crime?”
“Yeah, the greatest of them all,” Gilbert said. “The one of insult. I defeated him in a chess game.”
“But I don’t understand. You’re a prisoner, then …”
“The man on the lake … that was Rohan, King Edward’s mason. He was the one who turned Prince Henry against me, convinced him I have my eyes on his rightful throne.”
“Not me. It is Rohan himself who wishes to control the kingdom. He collects the magic stars that fall into the Icy Lake and is building a stone throne for the king. An enchanted throne that controls the will of the one seated upon it. I happened upon his workings the day before the prince ordered my arrest.”
The ground seemed to move beneath her feet, and Ella had to steady herself against the nearest tree. That couldn’t be true. There had been no Prince Charming all along. How could he have lied to her? She should have known. Whyever would a prince look at her? Princes marry only princesses. It is a long-standing tradition. Oh, what were you thinking, stupid Ella? She had risked her and Margie’s life for nothing.
“Ella, say something, I beg of you.”
“You lied to me.”
“I did, and I am truly sorry.”
“I have to go,” she said.
“No, Ella. Please wait. Listen to me—”
“I am done listening to you! Why should I believe a word you say?” she bellowed. “I wish you had never been inside my head!” And with that, she took the fallen star and shoved it deep into the hollow of a tree.
The journey back home was quiet. Birds were no longer singing; the icy wind blew silently, and even the Wailing Stream ran without so much as a whisper as Ella and Margie crossed the bridge. The star had granted her wish—she could no longer hear Gilbert’s voice inside her head.
As she approached her house, chattering voices came through the kitchen’s open window. Mr. Woodbear was already there. Ella looked at her dirty boots and her ragged dress and decided to use the back door, beckoning Margie to the stables.
“I apologize for making you wait, Mr. Woodbear.”
“Oh, my dear!” her mother said with a hand to her chest. “You had us worried for a moment.” A wide smile spread on her face as she appreciated Ella’s flowery dress. “It does not matter now; you’re here.”
“Greetings, dear Ella,” Mr. Woodbear said, tipping his red hat. “Allow me to say you look lovely in that dress.”
The man was fifteen years her senior, and his brown hair and beard were stricken with waves of white. But his clothes were clean, and his smile earnest, so Ella smiled back, made a small appreciative bow, and sat next to him.
“Mr. Woodbear was just telling me the most exciting news. He has something to ask you,” her mother chirped, carefully placing a hot meat pie on the table.
Ella’s eyes flickered toward Mr. Woodbear. Was the announcement to come so soon? She would have liked to get to know him a little more—perhaps it was just as well they laid their cards on the table as soon as possible. She held her breath and waited.
“The prince is to receive the gift of the crown from his father.”
Ella swallowed hard. “Prince … Henry?”
“But who else, my dear?” her mother said, giving her a sideways glance.
“How … come?” wondered Ella.
Her mother tut-tutted, and Mr. Woodbear rushed to her rescue. “The king, blessed be his name, has decided to retire and leave the matters of the Crown to Prince Henry. He reckons it is time young blood sits on the throne.”
“And what a throne!” her mother exclaimed. “Do tell her, Mr. Woodbear.”
“The prince will have a throne of his own, made of fallen stars, forged by none other than the trusted mason of King Edward.”
“And Mr. Woodbear has been invited to witness the coronation. Isn’t that wonderful, Ella?”
Ella’s thoughts were whirling inside her head. The prince. The throne. Fallen stars. If Gilbert was right … No, no!
“No!” she yelled before she could stop herself.
“Why, you shouldn’t be that way, my dear,” her mother said. “Mr. Woodbear was planning to ask you to escort him to the coronation.”
“When is the coronation happening?” Ella asked.
“With the first light of tomorrow,” said Mr. Woodbear. “Shall I take that as a yes?”
Ella jumped to her feet. “Pardon me, but I have to go!” she yelled, lifting the edges of her long dress and scurrying for the stables, ignoring the shocked faces of Mr. Woodbear and her mother.
“Faster, Margie, faster!” Ella shouted.
They rushed past the frozen valley, over the stone bridge, and followed the path into the forest.
Ella jumped off Margie’s back and looked around. “Will I know which one? Will I remember?”
All the trees looked the same: tall, bare, and lonely. Which one was it? Where had she hidden it? She kept turning round and round, rushing from one tree to another, blindly searching in their hollows, only to come up empty-handed.
Margie gave her a small nudge, pulled her dress, and started across the forest. Ella followed, tears in her eyes. Margie stopped in front of a tall tree and looked at Ella expectantly. Ella’s heart lifted—this was it! This was the tree!
“Thank you, sweet Margie!” she said, pushing her hand through the hole and searching frantically. The hollow was empty.
“Margie, it’s gone …” she muttered, sinking to the ground against the tree’s bark. Hot tears found their way down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Gilbert … I wish you could come back to me …”
“You know, you make funny noises when you cry.”
“Gilbert!” she shouted, jumping to her feet. “But how?”
“I guess we’re still bound by the wish. I’ve missed you. Please don’t wish me out again.”
“No, never again,” she promised, wiping her face. “The star is gone, Gilbert. I left it here, but I cannot find it anymore.”
“Rohan must have gotten to it.”
“Well, then, we must hurry, for Mr. Woodbear said the coronation is tomorrow!”
“Mr. Woodbear? What coronation?” Gilbert asked.
Ella felt blood rise to her cheeks. “Mr. Woodbear came by the house. He said that Prince Henry will be anointed king tomorrow morning, and I took Margie and came to find you.”
“That’s all he said?” Gilbert urged.
“Well … he wished me to escort him to the palace …”
“Gilbert, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. As you said, I’m a prisoner. You deserve someone better.”
Margie snorted and pushed Ella. “Gilbert, I was wrong. How can I find you?”
“So you forgive me, then?”
“Raise your head to the sky. Do you see that castle on the snowy hill? That is where I am. I will lead you here, but I must warn you, the road is dangerous.”
“Margie and I will find you,” Ella stated, “and then we’ll stop Rohan and clear your name.”
Margie whimpered. The climb to the castle was getting steeper by the hour, and Ella knew that Margie was afraid of heights.
“Hush now, dear Margie, and push on,” she said, stroking her soft head. “Don’t look down. We’re almost there.”
Ella looked up. The hill was endless, and without her cape, she was naked against the icy, howling winds. Her long brown hair whipped her numb face, and her teeth rattled. She did not speak, only followed the directions of Gilbert’s voice inside her head. The sun had begun its glorious descent, drenching the hills in a crimson light. Soon it would be dark, and Ella was too tired to move forward. She collapsed against a big rock and stared ahead.
“Don’t give up on me, sweet Ella. Just a little more.”
“I can’t,” she whispered.
Margie sat and pressed her warm body against her mistress. Ella hugged her and felt happy that she had her best friend with her at a moment like this.
“Ella, I’m afraid that if you stop now, you won’t last the night,” Gilbert said worriedly.
Ella opened her mouth, but it was filled with the cold night air, and she closed it again. Her whole body was aching, and she could no longer feel her legs.
“Tell me a story,” she whispered, “to keep me warm.”
“What would you like to hear?”
“You … who are you?”
“I was born a peasant boy. My father was a dear friend to the king. He sent me to the castle to be a companion to the young prince. Henry and I, we grew up together—best friends in everything. Only, I made the mistake of proving myself smarter than him.”
Ella felt her consciousness drifting.
“Stay with me, sweet Ella,” Gilbert pleaded. “Tell me about you. Why did you wish for a prince?”
“I was just tired and lonely. It’s hard to take care of the farm, and my mom is getting older.”
“Where is your father?”
“Taken away when I was young … by his true love—wine.”
Light snow fell from the gray sky and landed on top of Ella’s hair. A tear fell from her eye and froze on her cheek. Gilbert stroked Ella’s hair using her left hand. When she did not respond, he kept talking. “I thought I’d spend the rest of my life locked in this tower, until I spotted last night’s falling star. I wished to be freed, and I found you, my sweet Ella.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Don’t give up on me, my sweet Ella,” Gilbert pleaded. “Once I’m free, I promise you, I’ll call upon your mother and ask for your hand in marriage. You will never be alone again.”
Ella took one last breath before the world went black and her head slid down against Margie’s belly.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.”
Ella felt the warmth of the morning sun against her face. She opened her eyes and found herself sitting in front of a wooden door. The snow on the grass beneath her had melted away, and Margie, idly wiggling her short tail, was standing next to her.
“It was brave Margie! She carried you to me. Look up.”
Ella stood and shaded her eyes against the glaring sun. A tall, slim tower stood above her, and near its peak was the vague silhouette of a man waving at her behind an open window. She jumped out of his sight and pressed her back against the tower door.
“I … I don’t know if I’m ready … You can’t possibly see me like this …”
“It is fine, my sweet Ella. I already know how you look, and you are beautiful,” Gilbert reassured her.
“Your reflection on the lake water …”
Ella smiled. “Is that so?” She pushed the door open and rushed up the spiraling stairs with Margie on her heels.
Before long, they were standing outside the room that kept Gilbert a prisoner.
“Gilbert, the door’s locked,” she said, rattling the knob.
“Perhaps sweet Margie can help.” His voice came from behind the door.
Margie nodded her head and knocked the hinge with her back hooves. The door gave in.
Gilbert stood there smiling. His blond hair shone around his clear face, and his green eyes glittered with excitement. Dressed in turquoise leggings and a tunic, he looked like a real prince to Ella—everything she had wished for. He opened his arms; she hugged him, and he placed a warm kiss on her forehead.
“We must hurry,” he said, “for I heard the song of the royal trumpets.”
“Look at me,” she said, gazing down at her battered dress. “My dress is destroyed, and I look a mess. I cannot possibly present myself in front of the king in this state.”
“You have a beautiful soul, and that’s all that matters now, Ella. If we don’t go now, Prince Henry will sit on the throne and it will be too late.”
Ella nodded, and they made their hasty descent.
The throne room was filled with people eager to welcome their new king. Even the guards had left their position by the doors to witness Prince Henry’s coronation, so Gilbert and Ella slipped Margie through without being noticed. Ella followed everyone’s gaze until her eyes fell on the enchanted throne. It was sitting in the middle of the room on a dais, with a burgundy baldachin embroidered with golden stars hanging over it. The king and queen were sitting on their thrones at the head of the room, and Prince Henry was standing at the base of the dais, facing the crowd and swearing the oath to uphold the laws of the kingdom. Ella’s eyes swept the room once more until she spotted the familiar face of Rohan. He was drier than when she had last seen him, and a smirk was etched upon his face.
“He’s over there,” Ella whispered in Gilbert’s ear.
They elbowed their way quietly through the mesmerized crowd to get closer. As Prince Henry finished his oath, oil was rubbed on his forehead, and the crowd cheered. He waved and started to climb the short steps that led to the throne.
“Gilbert, we must do something,” Ella pleaded.
Gilbert nodded and whispered something in Margie’s ear. Margie made her way to the front among the shocked gasps of the guests. It was the perfect distraction. Prince Henry stopped just before the throne.
“What’s the meaning of this?” King Edward bellowed as the guards moved to take Margie out of the way.
“Henry!” Gilbert called to the prince. “Don’t sit on the throne!”
“Not you again!” Rohan roared, rushing to Prince Henry’s side. “I told you he would do everything to get what’s yours,” he said to the prince. “You must order his arrest now!”
Prince Henry looked confused and unable to decide. He placed his hand on the throne to steady himself. Ella’s heart was dancing in her chest.
“Henry, I implore you, don’t listen to him!”
“You must sit now, Your Royal Highness, to receive your crown,” Rohan ordered, gently pushing the prince.
Margie wriggled herself free and ran toward Rohan. Once again she shoved him hard, and Rohan landed on the throne.
“I wish you couldn’t move!” Ella yelled, and the star granted her wish once more; Rohan was pinned to the throne, unable to move, with a dazed look upon his face.
The throne shone brightly as all the fallen stars glowed at the same time. Shocked gasps swept the room.
The guards moved quickly and removed the prince from the dais, keeping him at a safe distance from the enchanted throne.
Prince Henry looked at Gilbert, finally understanding. “You saved me. Thank you, my friend.”
Gilbert smiled and looked at Margie and Ella. “I had the best help I could have hoped for.”
“I wish we had stayed for the feast,” Ella said as they made their way back to her home, hand in hand, with Margie strolling along.
“There’ll be plenty of time for feasts, but now I cannot wait to meet your mother and ask for your hand. I’d hate to see Mr. Woodbear beat me to it.”
Ella chuckled as she felt her heart getting warmer. She glimpsed her mother moving in the kitchen, and suddenly she could not wait to tell her the wonderful news. After skipping along the rest of the road to the house, she knocked excitedly on the kitchen door.
Ella gave the wooden handle on the door half a turn, but then she stopped, turning to look at Gilbert. “You never told me the answer …”
“The answer to what?” Gilbert asked, bewildered.
“The answer to your final riddle.”
Gilbert laughed and said, “She’s standing right before you.”
Ella looked at sweet Margie and knew that she would, truly, never feel alone again.