Once upon a time in a small kingdom, there was a proclamation stating that every maiden in the land was invited to a ball at the royal palace, where the Crown Prince would be choosing his bride. This was all very well if you were a maiden, but for Markus, as both a commoner and a boy, it was simply another ball that he could not attend. The women around him were eager to see the Crown Prince, or to dance with noblemen at the palace, but all Markus wanted was to eat the fancy food and watch the dancing. He had always loved watching his parents dance, and he rather liked helping his sister practice. But although his sister would be able to dance at the palace, as she was her dream, he would not even get to watch.
Markus understood this perfectly, which is why he wished his sister good luck with making her ball dress and left to do his work as usual. He had a job as a gardener for a nearby duke, and although he was still young and still had much to learn, it earned enough to let him and his sister live in relative comfort. He enjoyed his tasks, which were generally weeding and sweeping the paths, and the other gardeners were very friendly. The Duke was kind, although his daughter was cold and haughty. She would certainly be going to the ball. Thinking about this, Markus rather pitied the Crown Prince.
Markus’ sister, whose name was Isabelle, was buying material for her dress, along with many other girls who also could not afford a dressmaker’s price. She had chosen a light blue to suit her dirty-blonde hair, but as she left the shop and began walking home she found herself wondering if the colour wouldn’t suit her brother better. With his light brown hair and slightly darker brown eyes, most colours looked good on him. The blue would do for her too, of course, but her skin was very fair, his less so since he spent so much time outdoors, and she felt that might just make him more suited to it.
However, the dress was for her, not for Markus. Only she would be going to the ball, and even if Markus had been going, he would have worn some kind of suit, not a dress. Isabelle knew that Markus was disappointed that he couldn’t go, but she also knew that he would be unhappy if she decided not to go because of him. He was a good brother, and with him working hard for the Duke and her taking care of anything needing doing at home and doing odd jobs for the neighbours, they were both busy and both fairly happy. But he deserved this chance, and yet only the ‘maidens’ were allowed to go.
“Who are we to dance with, then?” she muttered to herself. “Seems like we ladies will rather outnumber the gentlemen. Makes no sense this way!”
As she was hurrying along with a basket full of material and thread, eager to start work on the dress, she came across a young girl sitting at the side of the road. The girl must have been passing through, because Isabelle had never seen her around town before, but she had nothing with her, and she was sitting patiently as if waiting for something. Isabelle walked past her, then curiosity and a sense of guilt at leaving her there alone drew her back.
“Hello,” she said as she walked up to the girl. “Are you waiting for someone?”
“Yes,” the girl replied cheerfully. “But not for anyone in particular.”
Isabelle was a little bewildered by her answer, but she did not dwell on it. “Alright then. My name’s Isabelle. I’m on my way home so I can start making a dress, but it’s so sunny and warm out here that I don’t want to go back just yet.”
“I’m Madeline. Is your dress for the ball? What kind of dress? Are you going to the ball?” she asked eagerly.
“Nice to meet you, Madeline. Yes, I’m going to the ball, and I’m making a dress for it. I’ve only made simple dresses before so it won’t be anything fancy. I have the material in here,” she said and took the lid off the basket.
“That’s pretty!” the girl exclaimed. “You’ll look very nice when it’s finished.”
Isabelle didn’t reply to this, and when queried, she told Madeline that she thought the colour would suit her brother better, and suddenly found herself telling her all about how much Markus wanted to go to a ball, and how much she wished he could go instead of her.
“Then why don’t you make a dress for your brother instead?” she asked sincerely.
Isabelle laughed. “Don’t be silly. My brother wouldn’t want a dress, and it would take more than that to get him into the ball. He doesn’t look much like a girl. Still, maybe if I tell him about your ridiculous idea it will cheer him up. So, are you going to the ball, or are you too young to want to go?”
“I’m easily old enough to go, but I don’t have a dress, and I don’t have enough money for material. I wish I could have a dress like yours, in that beautiful blue colour.”
Madeline looked so wistful that Isabelle felt sorry for her. She was probably little more than ten years old, but this might still be her only chance to attend a ball.
“Would you like to come to my house for a while? We’ve talked so long that it’s getting a little chilly, and I should be getting home to make dinner.”
The girl cheered up at this suggestion, and happily followed Isabelle to their small three-room cottage. Isabelle put the dress materials in her room and began cooking, helped by Madeline. By the time Markus returned, the food was ready and Madeline seemed perfectly at home in their kitchen, which also served as a dining room.
Markus was surprised to find a strange girl waiting at the table when he got home, but since Isabelle introduced her as a guest, and since she had helped with the meal, he simply welcomed her, thanked her for the food and kept his questions to himself.