“How long will she be?” The coachman said, to no one in particular.

One of the footmen, however, replied, “We should have taken a tour of the kingdom instead of waiting here.”

“Yes”, agreed the other one.

The horses seemed restless as well. They were stomping their feet and swaying their tails. The entire ensemble seemed anxious and tired.

“Do you think she remembers?”

“How will I know?”

“Take a guess.”

The coachman cut in, “Let me go ask the guards.”

“Will they know her?”

“Can they remind her?”

The coachman glared at the duo, “Keep quiet and wait. Look after the horses while am gone.”

“Look after the horses while am gone,” mimicked one of the footmen as soon as the coachman turned.

The other rolled over laughing. The brown horse stomped. The black and white one neighed.

They had been standing there for a good part of three hours now. Faint strains of music wafted from within the palace. No other coaches were in sight.

The coachman was short and stout, his clumsy coat made him appear round. He tumbled slowly towards the palace gate. The guards saw him coming and stopped him as soon as he reached the threshold. “What do you want?” asked the older one.

“Sir, what is the time now?”

“You came here to ask the time?”

“I am a coachman of one of the guests and she wanted to leave early, so I wanted to know if it was time for her to come back.”

“Hmm…It should be about half-past eleven.”

The coachman hesitated, “Could you send in for her?”

“Go back to waiting. If the lady wants to leave early she will call you. Now off you go.” The old guard shooed the coachman away.

The anxious coachman lingered on for a while but when the younger guard took a step forward with his spear raised, he turned and left in a hurry.

Meanwhile, one of the footmen had climbed to the coachman’s box and was trying to make the horses move. But those two wouldn’t budge without their coachman.

“Hey what are you up to?” The coachman shouted as he re-entered the scene. “Get down from there, now.”

The footman dropped the reigns and climbed down.

“We have to be ready. She might be out any moment now.” The coachman announced.

“She should have come already. We have to get out of here”.

“Shh, keep quiet both of you!”

They spent eager moments waiting, ready to rush as soon as she appeared. Just then the clock started announcing mid-night. The motley troupe pulled-up the carriage right in front of the palace gate.

On the fifth bell, they saw her running down the steps of the palace. The coachman held open the door of the carriage, she slid in and they pushed off from there.

“I lost one of my slippers.” She sobbed.

“You will lose a…” the twelfth bell chimed.

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