✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 26 - 30 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️



Trotting in the city (Chapter 26)

Anastasia's face turned hot from embarrassment, but she swallowed it as she helped Theresa bathe Lady Amara by pouring water from a water mug. After an hour had passed, Lady Amara was dressed and she left the room with her mother.     
When the door closed, Theresa returned to where Anastasia was cleaning the bathtub after draining the water. The older woman remarked in a hushed voice,     

"Don't take their words to heart, Anna. Some of these people don't know how to treat a person with kindness. They don't understand that your hands are a sign of your hard work, something they never had to do."     

In the life of the servants, to be treated like dirt was nothing new. Even though the servants often tried to evade any possible scoldings or punishments, sometimes it was hard to avoid them.     

Anastasia mustered a smile and replied, "That's alright. Her words that my hands are rough weren't untrue. Unlike us, she needs to take care of her beauty." She used a dry cloth to ensure the tub was dry.     

In the beginning, when Anastasia had first arrived at the palace, the trouble she had initially caused left her with difficult work that had eventually roughened the palms of her hands. It would be a lie if she said that her calloused hands didn't bother her. She knew she was no lady, and belonged to the servant class. The look in her eyes turned distant before she said,     

"I think we should worry about what Lady Amara might try."     

"You are right. I cannot believe that she's planning to put her hand into the lion's mouth," Theresa murmured before commenting, "I am still surprised that Mary and you didn't get caught. But today you need to be more careful," she warned.     

"I will." Anastasia hoped that she would be able to return to the servants' quarters earlier tonight. She then asked, "Auntie, do you know where to find a clean fountain in the palace?"     

"You will find them in the gardens. Why?" Theresa questioned curiously. Anastasia gave a sheepish smile.     

"I need to dip something in it," Anastasia's answer only confused the older woman.     

While Anastasia was finishing her chores, in the dining room of the royal palace, the guests joined to have breakfast with the members of the Blackthorn family. The room was filled with mild chatter. Everyone was either building connections or offering lip service to the other, while their lips were plastered with fake smiles.     

One of the guests commended, "Last night's celebration was incredible. Every year the celebrations only get better than the last one, Your Majesty."     

King William remarked in delight, "We have arranged a few activities for everyone to enjoy together."     

Queen Sophia smiled and informed the other women, "There are separate activities arranged for married women, while the others can join the outdoor activities."     

"We look forward to it, my Queen," Mrs. Lumbard held a pleased look, and turned to give her daughter a look.     

Lady Amara, who sat not far from Prince Dante, inquired, looking at him, "Will the princes and princesses be joining us for the outdoor activities?"     

Prince Aiden replied to the fair lady's question, "We will, milady. Though I doubt some of you would like some of the activities that have been decided."     

"There are only a few things I don't like, Prince Aiden. And I think with good company, everything becomes bearable," Lady Amara's words were sweeter than honey, which had everyone nod at her words.     

Prince Aiden noticed Lady Amara staring at his eldest brother and asked, "Brother Dante, will you be joining us?"     

"Later in the day," Dante's words were curt, and he continued to eat. During that time, his eyes fell briefly on the guests at the table who had joined them, and he noticed Tasia Flores was missing.     

When the clock struck four, Anastasia stepped into a spare guest room, while Theresa had gone to fetch Marianne's shoes that she had worn yesterday.     

Letting down her hair, she used the same pins and earrings that she had used last night. Taking hold of a pomegranate grain from a bowl, she burst it between her two fingers before applying the liquid on her cheeks, lips and above her eyelids. She applied the kohl to her eyes and then stared at her reflection in the mirror.     

Anastasia touched her dress and said, "Time to change the dress. A simple dress suitable for gathering and dinner with the royal family."     

Soon the maid dress began to change its fabric from cotton to silk, and the faded maroon changed to white, on which threaded work of gold and peach colours were prominent, making it appear less white.     

"Not this grand…" Anastasia whispered, unable to take her eyes off the dress, and she requested, "Simpler than this." But the dress had reached its limit and needed to be dipped in the fountain water before its appearance could be changed.     

Someone knocked on the door, and Anastasia heard Theresa speak, "Anna, it is me." The woman stepped inside the room, and when her eyes fell on the young woman, she brought up her hand to cover her mouth. Astonished, she stared at Anastasia in awe and said, "I can barely recognise you… Hold on."     

Theresa picked up the kohl and left a black dot behind Anastasia's ear.     

"What is that for?"     

"It is to ward off any evil eyes," Theresa answered, while she couldn't help but gape at the young woman.     

"I should go now," Anastasia informed Theresa, and the older woman nodded, watching her step out of the room.     

Theresa murmured a prayer, "Please protect this child, God."     

As Anastasia walked into the inner side of the palace, she made heads turn to look in her direction. Mindlessly, when she put her hand in her pocket, she found a cream-coloured veil, which she put on. Her footsteps were soft on the ground, and she made sure to keep her head held high. She had to act as a wealthy woman, and there was no room for error.     

Even when she walked past the maids, none recognised her, but gaped at her. She reached outside the main hall, where a pond was built, which held little white and gold fish.     

Anastasia was looking at it when one of the male servants greeted her with a bow,     

"Miss Flores? Prince Dante has demanded your presence at the front of the palace."     

Anastasia nodded. Leaving the place, she followed the servant.     

When they neared the front of the palace, the servant showed the way by raising his hand and bowing for Anastasia to continue walking. While the servant disappeared, Anastasia's eyes fell on Dante, who stood at the palace's wide entrance. He had changed his coat, wearing a black one with an upwards collar.     

Sensing her presence, Dante turned, and his eyes fell on Anastasia.     

Anastasia offered a slight bow, "Prince Dante."     

"Miss Flores," Dante acknowledged her, as he noticed how she had dressed this evening. Compared to last night, there was a softness to her appearance. Something very pure. He asked, "Shall we?"     

When they started to walk, Anastasia asked him, "Where are we going?"     

"The garden near the maze. I heard that my siblings and some of the guests have gathered there," Dante stated before he said, "I didn't see you this morning for breakfast."     

Anastasia softly gulped at the question. She had hoped no one would notice her absence, but that was only her wishful thinking. She replied, "Pardon me. I was hungry when I woke up, and ate in my room."     

As they made their way towards the garden, Anastasia subtly turned to look at Dante's sharp and strong features in the light of the sun. She heard him ask,     

"How was your day out in the town? You must have been out, considering you weren't in the palace."     

"It was alright…" Anastasia didn't know if Dante was trying to test her, and she tried to tread carefully without giving out too much information.     

When Dante's eyes moved to look at Anastasia, hers turned to meet his. She turned a little anxious under his burning gaze and she looked away quickly. He remarked, "Looks like Versailles hasn't caught your interest."     

"I wouldn't say that," Anastasia quickly replied, not wanting to offend the prince. She said, "It has its own beauty, like the balcony garden I stepped into last evening, with the view of the sea. It is just that I miss home. The endless forests and rains," Anastasia answered, with longing in her voice, and it didn't go unnoticed by the prince.     

Dante commented, "Then it's good that you will be here only until tomorrow. You will be back home soon."     

Anastasia hoped so too, as it was what she wanted. He said, "I don't think you told me where you are from."     

Having practised some answers, she replied, "In the capital of Mespia." It was a kingdom name that her sister had once mentioned, one that a gentleman which she had spent time with came from.     

When Anastasia and Dante reached where everyone was, Prince Maxwell whistled and commented, "Looks like the day just got colourful. The lady in the green dress is here."     

Upon Maxwell's words, some of them followed his line of sight and noticed the first Blackthorn prince and the woman whom they had seen at last night's celebration. A smile spread on Prince Aiden's lips, and he was the first to enthusiastically greet, "Tasia, welcome. We were looking forward to—"     

His words were cut short by his sister Princess Emily, who elbowed his side and whispered, "Don't address her in such an informal way."     

Aiden was going to explain that they were friends, before he closed his mouth.     

Princess Niyasa was busy staring at the young woman's expensive dress, as was Lady Amara. Princess Emily turned to Dante and said,     

"Brother Dante, we are going to take a ride on the mustangs as the temperature is cooler now. Would you like to join us?"     

"Sure," Dante answered. While they waited for the mustangs to be brought to where they stood, Prince Aiden made his way over to stand next to Anastasia. He asked her as lowly as he could,     

"Do you want to ride a camel, Tasia?"     

Anastasia politely smiled at Aiden and replied, "Maybe not today, but some other day." The day she would need to run away from here, she thought in her mind.     

"Tell me when, and I will arrange it for you," Aiden smiled, meeting her eyes. "I was hoping to catch you this morning."     

"Pardon me. I was busy with something else," Anastasia replied. When he left her side to talk to his sister, she turned to Dante and said in a low voice,     

"Prince Dante, I have never ridden anything before."     

Dante's lips twitched at her words, wondering if this woman knew how she had phrased her words. He stated, "I will be accompanying you. It would be pointless if you rode on another horse."     

While they waited, Lady Amara had inched closer to where Dante stood, until she came to stand on his right side. She pulled out her handkerchief and lightly dabbed her forehead before slyly dropping it on the ground in front of Dante.     

At the same time, the horses arrived, and Dante, instead of picking it up as Lady Amara had planned, stepped right on the handkerchief before approaching one of the black horses.     

"....!" a speechless Lady Amara stared at her trampled handkerchief.     

Dante turned to Anastasia and said, "Place your left foot on the stirrup, and I will lift you."     

Anastasia did as she was told, which was when she felt Dante's hands settle on the sides of her waist. She heard him say, "Ready?"     

"Yes," she replied, and soon Dante lifted her so that she could mount the horse. Not a moment later, Dante mounted the horse, so that he sat behind her.     

When the horse started trotting, though she held the horn of the saddle, Anastasia found herself wobbling. She muttered in distress, "I think I am going to fall." Forget about escaping; she doubted she would last on a camel for more than a minute!     

Anastasia, who felt like she would fall any moment, felt Dante's chest press on her back. Her body suddenly felt small compared to his. He instructed her,     

"Press your thighs closer."     

"What?" Anastasia asked, who was concentrating on balancing her body.     

Anastasia's eyes widened when she felt Dante's strong hands on her legs before he pushed them firmly. He said, "Like this. The tighter, the better."     

She blushed and quickly replied, "I—I think I know now. Thank you." When Prince Dante retracted his hands from her, she released the breath she had been holding.     

Lady Amara wanted to turn to see Dante, but she was sitting in front of Prince Maxwell on another horse, as she had never ridden a horse before either. The others had already moved forward. Their horses trotted on a path that Anastasia had never visited before. After all, her trip had always been to the Bazaar and then back to the palace.     

"I didn't know there was a river inside the city," Anastasia remarked when they rode through the streets, as her eyes fell on an arched bridge under which water was present.     

"Which part of the city did you visit?" Dante asked her.     

"The Bazaar…"     

A small chuckle escaped from Dante's lips, and he replied, "This part of the city is called Jannat. I am surprised that you chose to visit the Bazaar. Most of the women from the palace or similar place don't step foot there."     

"I was curious. I heard so much about it," Anastasia replied, looking at the peaceful, and quieter posh surroundings. She could tell that this place was occupied by the well-known ministers and other wealthy families.     

Dante said, "There are many places in Versailles that you might find far more interesting than the Bazaar."     

When the wind blew, Anastasia moved her hair over one side of her shoulder and held it so it wouldn't come to fall on Dante's face. But her action only led to Dante's eyes falling on her slender, soft neck. He said,     

"It seems like you are well acquainted with Lady Amara."     

"I am?" Anastasia asked in question.     

"You smell a little like the perfume she has doused herself in. Enough to give one a headache," Dante's words sounded nonchalant. Anastasia couldn't help but commend his nose. She probably smelled like that because of the water in the bathtub that Lady Amara had splashed on her earlier this day, she thought.     

The other guests who had accompanied them, couldn't help but look at them in envy. While the men wished they had asked Anastasia first before Prince Dante's eyes had fallen on her, the women wished they were sitting with the eldest Blackthorn prince.     

After strolling through the quiet and blissful streets, they returned to the palace. After sunset, everyone gathered in the wide room, sitting on the couches and chairs. When the Mother Queen's eyes fell on Anastasia, she immediately called her to come and sit beside her. The Mother Queen said,     

"It is a shame that we couldn't spend time together today, but there was nothing we could do, as you and Dante wanted to spend some time getting to know each other. I hope you two spent it well," the old woman raised her eyebrows.     

So that was how Dante had been able to get the Mother Queen not to spend time with her. Anastasia replied with a smile, "We visited Jannat."     

"That's good to hear," the Mother Queen looked pleased. She then said, "When the previous King and I met, we couldn't kee—"     

"Mother Queen," Queen Sophia's eyes widened, and she whispered, "Can you not bring up such things?"     

"There is nothing to be embarrassed about, Sophia. You have two children, how did you bring them into this world?" The Mother Queen questioned in a nonchalant tone. "The children will need to know. It would be shameful if they didn't."     

Princess Emily turned her head in the other direction, as if not wanting to be part of this conversation. On the other hand, Princess Niyasa leaned towards her mother, with a slight glare and in a hushed voice said,     

"Isn't Grandmother getting too far ahead of herself with this woman? She's never had any of us sit there next to her before."     

Lady Maya raised her hand near her nose and rubbed it before she said, "She wants Dante married, considering how pitiful his situation is, and how he might die in the upcoming war."     

Princess Niyasa wanted her brother Maxwell to sit on the throne next, and knowing how her eldest brother lacked in finding his Crux, while Aiden wasn't interested in the throne, she believed her brother Maxwell was far more suited to be the next King. Turning away from her grandmother and the woman named Tasia, her eyes met one of her personal maids. She signalled the maid to come.     

[Music Recommendation: A New Name… A new life- John Williams]     

Anastasia was talking to the Mother Queen when she noticed Charlotte walk to Princess Niyasa. They exchanged a few words before Charlotte handed a rolled parchment to the youngest princess.     

"Queen Sophia," Princess Niyasa caught everyone's attention. She came to stand in front of the queen and bowed, "The gift that you asked for is here." She unrolled the parchment and stretched her hands forward.     

Queen Sophia and the others, whose eyes fell on the sketch, were taken aback on seeing how beautifully it had been drawn.     

"How beautiful," the Mother Queen remarked on seeing the sketch. She said, "Your maid is an exceptional artist."     

Anastasia watched everyone murmur words of praise and take turns looking at the sketch made of Queen Sophia. The Mother Queen, impressed, demanded, "Bring the maid what she needs so that she can sketch my portrait now."     

The previous lustre from Charlotte's face disappeared. She bowed her head and said, "It will take some time to finish it, Mother Queen. Can I give it to you tomorrow?"     

"I don't want to see the complete sketch. Just the outline to know how it would look so that I approve for you to continue," the Mother Queen said, before turning to her minister, who quickly arranged an easel with a larger size parchment and pieces of charcoal.     

Anastasia pursed her lips. Charlotte had always been easily swayed by the thought of wealth, but she wasn't smart enough to know that her lie wouldn't stay hidden forever. She could feel her own heart beating anxiously as she watched Charlotte struggle.     

Now cornered, Charlotte's hand trembled, which held a piece of the sharp charcoal. With most of the eyes in the room on her, she tried to draw for the very first time by attempting to create an outline of the Mother Queen, who didn't move from the position she had taken.     

Anastasia watched Charlotte drop her hand from the easel when Lady Maya asked,     

"Is it done?" The maid shook her head in response. "What are you waiting for?"     

Charlotte continued to draw what she thought was right, but the more she tried, the worse it became. The Mother Queen stood up and walked to the easel the maid was drawing on. A deep frown came to settle on her face when her eyes fell on the sketch.     

Seeing the Mother Queen not remark, King William, Queen Sophia and the two concubines reached where the easel stood. King William's eyes widened on seeing what was drawn.     

"What is this?!" King William demanded, furious. Silence fell in the room, everyone's attention now on them.     

It was a more-than-absurd outline, that barely held any refinement or skill to it, and instead looked as if the maid was trying to mock the Mother Queen.     

"Are you trying to insult the Mother Queen?" Queen Sophia demanded from the maid, who looked frightened.     

Charlotte quickly fell to her knees and pressed her forehead to the ground. She begged for forgiveness, "Forgive me, Your Majesty! I was nervous and couldn't sketch in front of so many people!"     

"And you thought you could draw this to mock the Mother Queen?" The King glared at the maid. "How dare you try such a thing? Call the guards!"     

Charlotte looked utterly terrified to move. Tears streamed down her eyes, and she pleaded, "I—I didn't do it out of purpose! Please! Pardon m—me!"     

The guards caught hold of Charlotte, and one pushed her down on the ground. King William ordered without hesitation, "Kill her."     

Anastasia felt a chill run down her spine. She felt her stomach twist uncomfortably. Her hands turned cold when she watched one of the guards raise his sword above his head.     

Charlotte's eyes widened and she cried, "No, please don't, Your Highness! N—no! Please listen to me, I can e—gh—"     

Before the guard descended the sword, Anastasia quickly looked away and heard the harsh sound of the sword severing the head, ending the maid's pleas.     


Harshness of the royal family( Chapter 27)

Music Recommendation: Remove the complexities- Peter Sandberg     

The silence that had been hanging heavily in the room broke into murmurs. The Vizier ordered the guards,     

"Take her to the underground dungeon and clean this up."     

"Yes, Your Excellency!" The guards responded.     

King William then turned to look at his guests with a smile and said, "Let us move to another room to continue the celebration."     

Anastasia couldn't move from where she stood, as it wasn't far from where Charlotte had been beheaded. Shock had overcome her body, and her mind was frozen. She knew the Blackthorns were cruel and heartless, but they had taken someone's life at the thought of them insulting their family.     

The murmurs of the guests turned into chatter as they started to make their way out of the room. While some were speechless over what just happened, most didn't care and went back to conversing.     

"That's what happens when you meddle with the royal family. It serves the lowly maid right to think that she could get away with such atrocious behaviour," one of the nearby guests remarked.     

"Did she draw it purposely?" Someone else asked. "Perhaps she didn't know how to draw in the first place?"     

"But she drew Queen Sophia just like she wanted it. It was definitely on purpose!" Another remark came.     

Princess Niyasa's face had turned bright red in humiliation. It was because Charlotte was her maid, and she had let the lowly servant insult her grandmother. Queen Sophia demanded in a low voice,     

"How could you let something like this happen, Niyasa?"     

"Allow me to reprimand her, Queen Sophia," Lady Maya bowed, and Queen Sophia glared again before stepping out of the room. The first concubine of King William then turned to her daughter, who opened her mouth to speak, "Not a word here. Follow me quietly."     

When it was time to leave the room with the other guests, Anastasia was walking past where the horror in the room took place, but her eyes couldn't stay ahead and they moved to look at Charlotte.     

Anastasia's eyes fell on the blood on the floor, which had spread around the headless body. Her stomach twisted, and unable to keep still, she hurried out of the room. Her feet moved quickly before she stepped into the garden she had visited earlier. She walked as far as her feet could take her away from the barbarous people.     

She reached a small circular wall made of dark grey stones that had intricate designs on it, and at the centre was a statue of a woman who looked like she was covered in a veil, but it was the stone work.     

Anastasia pulled the veil away from her face. Placing her hand on the little wall, her stomach hurled what she ate this noon.     

"H—how could they kill h—her…" Anastasia questioned herself. "They killed her…"     

Anastasia's lips trembled. Her vision turned blurry as tears spilled from her eyes. She couldn't believe that Charlotte was dead. Killed without a second thought or any mercy. She closed her eyes to control her emotions, but her tears didn't stop.     

She still remembered the day Charlotte had first been brought to the palace and approached her.     

'Why are you sitting alone?' Asked a young Charlotte after seeing Anastasia in the corner of the kitchen. 'Let me sit here to keep you company.'     

'Anna, look! They are distributing sweets; let us go have some!'     

Anastasia knew that Charlotte's lie wouldn't get too far and would end in her being punished. But she was beheaded.     

"Why did you steal them… lies, oh my god…" Anastasia felt a chill wrap around her body as she realised the sharp edge of a capricious sword she was standing on.     

If and when the royal family found out about her lying to them, they would behead her too! Thinking of Charlotte's fate and what might happen to her, she was terrified, and her body was shaking all over. She had to escape… she couldn't stay in this cruel place. Though she was out in the garden now, she felt suffocated, as if invisible walls were restraining her.     

Anastasia felt breathless. Her body swayed, ready to stagger backwards, when she heard someone say,     

"Easy there."     

Dante stood behind her, holding her arms to support her.     

Anastasia caught her footing. She turned to look at him, her eyelashes holding specks of the tears spilling from her eyes.     

For the very first time, Dante's eyes fell on the young woman's face, which was not hidden behind the veil. Her brown eyes were moist, and she looked scared. Her cheeks and nose had turned pink. Her parted lips tried to breathe, but she was finding it hard, considering how her chest heaved. His dark eyebrows furrowed, and he instructed her,     

"Take slow breaths. Focus on my voice."     

It took a good minute before Anastasia's anxious heart stopped beating wildly. She whispered, "I am good now… thank you." Stepping away from him, she leaned her lower back on the small circular wall. She stuck her hand into her pockets to find a handkerchief, but there wasn't one.     

"Here," Dante said, offering his handkerchief to her.     

Hesitatingly, Anastasia took it from him and used it to wipe her face. She said, "Thank you. I will be fine by myself, Prince Dante."     

"You look far from fine. My grandmother wouldn't be happy to know that I left you on your own. Not to mention, I could use some space myself," Dante replied, watching the young woman closely, who looked heartbroken. The side of the garden they sat in was quiet. He noticed her clutching the handkerchief on her lap and asked her, "Is this your first time seeing someone executed?"     

Anastasia didn't look at him but nodded in response. She asked him, "Forgive me, for I don't intend to offend, but isn't death too cruel as a punishment?"     

"Trust my words when I say that there are far more cruel things than death, milady," Dante stated, his voice calm and collected as if death didn't affect him. He said, "The maid committed the mistake of mocking not just anyone but the highest queen of this kingdom."     

Anastasia had forgotten Dante was a Blackthorn, and he had a reputation for being heartless when handing down punishments.     

How could she forget? Just because she had worn an expensive dress, and was talking to the princes and princesses, didn't erase the truth that she was a servant lying to them. She remembered her sister mentioning Dante killing the guard who had tried to escape with the older courtesan.     

A sliver of fear crept into Anastasia's heart. She told herself not to show fear, because that would only reveal the truth in front of this man. She asked him softly, "When were you able to adjust to the sight of death?"     

Dante's head tilted as he watched her. She was definitely a beautiful young woman, but attachment to beauty meant very little to the eldest son of the Blackthorn king. Stepping closer to the circular wall, he leaned against it, while slipping his hands into his long coat. He responded,     

"Probably when I was eight or nine." At this, Anastasia's eyebrows rose subtly. But then, he lived in a palace where people were cold and cruel. She heard him say, "And it is hard not to experience death during wars. You bathe in blood that belongs to your enemies or your soldiers, and it changes you."     

"I am sorry," Anastasia whispered, for Dante, at this moment, felt more human than what others said of him.     

"You don't have to be," Dante's response was curt, and she turned to look at him, where he had crossed his legs. He said, "It is a prestigious position, to fight for your kingdom, and bring back the enemies' heads."     

… and there disappeared the human part of him, Anastasia thought in her mind.     

"You do not agree," Dante remarked, and it was more of a statement than a question.     

Anastasia pursed her lips and replied, "I think every life needs to be cherished, no matter its insignificance. And everything can be fixed… changed."     

When her eyes fell on Dante's face, she noticed one corner of his lips pull up, and she would have mistaken it for a smile if it weren't for the unchanging look in his eyes. He said,     

"If I am not wrong, the maid wasn't the one who sketched the things that were displayed yesterday. She lied, and my father probably knows it. Letting one person off the hook gives an opportunity for others to commit similar offences, which is why it's better to deal with such things swiftly."     

Anastasia frowned and carefully asked, "How can you tell?"     

"That it wasn't her?" Dante's midnight eyes didn't break away from Anastasia's doe-like eyes. His words were vague, "Let's just say that it is experience. When you are working with intruders and liars… you can spot the truth, like how your sister isn't allergic to the weather and the sand. Or that you didn't have breakfast in your room this morning."     

Her heart hitched at his words, and she gripped the edge of the wall to calm her heart, feeling its cool surface.     

Anastasia started, "I—"     

"I hold no interest in knowing your reasons. You are a guest in the palace, whose visit is short. And what we are doing is only a charade to stop others from bothering us," Dante's words were curt. "So be at ease," he said, before looking away from her.     

They stood like that for several minutes under the stars, surrounded by silence.     

Anastasia grew worried at the thought of her lie coming to light, and she stayed quiet. Having not slept the entire night and having cried a while ago, she felt her eyes growing heavy and adjusted her posture so that she wouldn't doze off.     

On the other hand, Dante noted how he didn't mind this young lady's company. It was probably because she wasn't throwing herself at him. It was refreshing for once and made her seem tolerable. He knew about her not having breakfast because before leaving the palace, he had questioned Mr. Gilbert if any guests had their meal served in their room, and the answer had been no.     

Anastasia and Dante turned to look at each other at the same time. He pushed himself to stand straight and said,     

"We should return inside."     

While shifting and changing her posture, Anastasia moved her bottom further back, such that when she went to stand up, instead of moving forward, she felt her body move backwards. Dante, who noticed this, moved to catch her, and she caught hold of the front of his coat with her hands to prevent her fall.     

But that ended up pulling him into the fountain of water behind them that she didn't know she had been leaning against. Water splashed out.     

Anastasia gasped, her eyes wide and awake. Because of the water in the fountain, her body and clothes were soaking wet.     

Before her hovered an equally drenched Dante, water dripping down his hair and face. There was a look of annoyance and irritation in his eyes as he glared at her now.     

"It seems like regular baths don't appeal to you, Lady Flores," Dante remarked, his eyes on hers. "Or do you prefer company," his words taunted with slight irritation.     

Gulping the nervousness, Anastasia apologised, "I—I didn't mean to pull you, Your Highness."     

Dante pulled himself away from her and climbed out of the fountain, running his hand through his wet hair to push them all back.     

Anastasia struggled to get out before she succeeded, and fixed her dress that had lifted.     

On the other hand, Dante stared at Anastasia, where water continued to pool around her feet, similar to him. She looked embarrassed while she held her hands in front of her and shivered. Her clothes now stuck to her body like a second skin, revealing the dip and rise of her womanly curves. But her wet dress revealed more than just the outline. For some reason, the sight of her provoked his usually controlled thoughts, and he clenched his jaws.     

Anastasia suddenly felt something thrown at her. She looked at her hands and noticed the brown coat. She heard Dante order,     

"Wear it. You will need it on your way back inside."     

When Anastasia looked up at Dante, she caught sight of his white shirt that had turned transparent to reveal the skin and muscles underneath his wet shirt. Water drops dripped down his neck and disappeared behind the fabric. He turned his back to her and her eyes fell on his broad shoulders. He said, "I will be going in first."     


Where is the mute girl? (Chapter 28)

Music Recommendation: Ballade in B-flat Minor: Descent- Nicholas Britell     

A gentle breeze blew where Anastasia stood, watching Dante's silhouette continue to walk away. She shivered in the cold, turning briefly to look behind her, and when she looked back in the direction of Dante, he had disappeared from her sight.     

When she looked down at the brown coat that belonged to the first Blackthorn prince, she said softly,     

"Thank God that he didn't draw a sword to point at my neck." She was thankful she was still alive and had been spared harsh words.     

Anastasia's eyes moved from the coat and fell on her bosom. Her eyes widened upon noticing the fabric of her dress had turned slightly transparent to reveal the valley of her breasts. She quickly hid them under the coat and, mortified, closed her eyes to curse,     

"How shameful! I was standing in such a state!" Her cheeks turned hot. She then said, "No wonder he gave me his coat," because earlier she had believed it was only to hide her drenched self, not knowing she had revealed her goods.     

Anastasia's eyes then fell on the fountain. Walking closer to it, she noticed the water in it and wondered if she needed to wash the dress once again, as she had already immersed it once. With no one around, she decided to test it and commanded the magical dress,     

"Turn the dress into a light orange-pink silk dress, full-sleeved and dry."     

Two seconds later, the dress transformed into another one, bringing a smile to Anastasia's lips. But the smile didn't last, as the memory of blood on the ground invaded her mind. She inhaled and shakily exhaled the air through her lips.     

Anastasia made her way back towards the palace, and once she entered, she noticed the corridors had turned quiet, as the guests must have moved to the dining room. On seeing a servant, she called the person and said,     

"This coat belongs to Prince Dante. Have it washed and sent back to his room."     

"Yes, milady," the servant obliged, taking the coat into his hands.     

Farther down the palace, Mr. Gilbert entered the common room for the servants, where they sat down and ate their meals. He patiently waited for every servant to be brought to the room before asking,     

"Is everyone here?"     

One of the senior maids answered with a bow, "The kitchen staff and the servers are busy, but I had everyone else come here right away after your order. Did something happen, Mr. Gilbert?" She asked him with concern.     

Mr. Gilbert's lips were set in a thin line, and he said loudly, "I want to know who has been drawing in here. Whoever it is, step forward."     

The servants looked confused and glanced around at each other to see who would step forward. At the mention of the drawing, Theresa turned slightly wary and wondered if Charlotte's lie had been caught, which was why Mr. Gilbert was questioning them.     

"Queen Sophia wants to know who was helping the maid named Charlotte until today. The servant who did shall receive an instant promotion from the current level," Mr. Gilbert's eyes continued to stare at every one of them, waiting for the person to come out, but no one did. "You will also receive five gold coins for the talent that you hold. Quick."     

But even after a minute passed, no one came forward, and Mr. Gilbert's expression turned grim because of the unsuccessful find of the hidden artist. The royal family had sent him to fetch the person, but he doubted there was any talent there. When his eyes fell on Theresa, he noticed a missing person in the room. He demanded,     

"Where is the mute girl?"     

Theresa had hoped that no one would notice, but now that she was being asked, she bowed with a response, "Anna has not been feeling well since noon. I asked her to rest a little." She then added, "I received permission from the senior maid beforehand."     

Mr. Gilbert didn't take the maid's word for it, and he turned to look at the senior maids, where one of them nodded. He then asked the senior maid, "Did you see the girl, or did you only receive information through the other maid? I thought it was clear that you needed to hear it from the respective person. I will have it looked at," he said with a slight glare at the senior maid.     

Though the servants of the royal palace didn't lie, knowing the consequences one would face, he still believed it was better to check than blindly believe someone's word. He then announced,     

"One of the maids named Charlotte lied and insulted the royal family. Which is why she won't be in the servants' quarters anymore. Her head will hang in the underground dungeon as a warning for anyone who is trying to lie their way to the top. They will be punished severely. Everyone can return to their work." Mr. Gilbert dismissed the servants, who bowed and quietly hurried away from there to talk about the dead maid. "You there. Tell me which one is the girl's room. If she's sick with something, it would be better to keep her away from the rest," he said to Theresa.     

Theresa's face paled as she offered a bow to Mr. Gilbert. Soon they began to make their way towards the servants' quarters, while the woman wondered what to tell him when they arrived at the room.     

Upon reaching the front of the room, Theresa turned to look at Mr. Gilbert, staring in his direction. He ordered, "Open the door."     

Theresa opened the door as she was commanded. Mr. Gilbert stepped inside the empty room and saw the bed empty. His eyes narrowed, and he turned to ask the woman, "Where is she?"     

"S—she must be in my room," Theresa replied nervously, under the in-charge's glaring gaze. She stalled by saying, "I forgot about it. We were in my room when I found out and I asked her to rest there."     

Mr. Gilbert was bent on seeing the sick maid, and he said, "Lead me to your room then."     

Theresa wondered why Mr. Gilbert wasn't busy with the guests in the inner heart of the palace, instead of wasting his time here. Forcing her feet to move, the woman made her way to her room and pushed the door…     

When the door opened, Mr. Gilbert's eyes fell on the mute girl on the bed, covered in a blanket. Anastasia opened her eyes, as if their footsteps had woken her up, while Theresa released an internal sigh of relief.     

Seconds ago, when Theresa was about to open the door and turned to look at Mr. Gilbert, her eyes had fallen a little to the side and behind him, Anastasia had arrived in her maid clothes, and she had slipped into the room. Anastasia's nose tickled, and she tried to control the sneeze, which jerked her body.     

"Mr. Gilbert," a senior maid arrived at the front of the room and informed him, "The Mother Queen has summoned you immediately to the dining room."     

Mr. Gilbert nodded before his eyes noticed Anastasia's red nose. He said,     

"Looks like she has a cold. Give her hot water to drink and see to it that she doesn't step out of this room. I don't need the others falling sick too," he left the room and the corridor with those words.     

Theresa asked her in a low voice, "Did you really fall sick?"     

Anastasia shook her head and pulled off the blanket she had covered herself with, along with the head wrap, revealing her wet hair. She replied, "I fell in the fountain."     

"What were you trying to do at the fountain? Dip yourself?" Theresa asked, remembering Anastasia's question she had asked earlier this day. She continued, "Oh, that doesn't matter! I am just relieved to see you got here before Mr. Gilbert caught our lie! Is it true… about Charlotte?"     

Remembering Charlotte's head lying away from the rest of her body and blood smeared around, she quietly nodded before whispering, "It is true… I saw it."     

A shocked Theresa brought her hand to cover her mouth in disbelief.     

After dinner, the royal family and the guests moved to another room. Mr. Gilbert stepped inside and went to where the Mother Queen was seated. Offering a bow, he asked,     

"Your Highness, did you ask for me?"     

The Mother Queen turned and said, "Fetch a physician. I heard that Tasia has retired to her room as she hasn't been feeling well, which is why she couldn't join us for dinner. Which is a shame." She then murmured, "I don't know where her parents are. I would like to have a little chat with them."     

The Mother Queen had been looking forward to spending time with her future granddaughter-in-law, but the timing hadn't seemed to work out. She ordered Mr. Gilbert, "Have the physician come here, and find Tasia's room. I will go take a look at her."     


Missing from the guest list(Chapter 29)

Music Recommendation: With My own Eyes- Dario Marianelli     

Mr. Gilbert bowed and stepped out of the room. He walked to the front guards and ordered one of them,     

"Bring Mr. Hakim to the palace. Tell him that one of the guests is sick and needs attention. Quick."     

Seeing the guard leave, Mr. Gilbert walked towards his room to find the guest lists handed to him by the Vizier. Pulling open the drawer, he grabbed the sheets before looking for the name the Mother Queen mentioned.     

"There's no mention of the name Tasia in here," Mr. Gilbert frowned after going through the three parchments. Wondering if he had perhaps missed it, he went through them once again, but on not finding the name, a frown came to settle on his face. He asked himself, "Did the Mother Queen give another name?"     

Stuffing the parchments inside his vest, he left his room and made his way back to where the Mother Queen was with the rest of the royal family and the guests. When he reached the place, the Mother Queen had already stepped out of the room, and she exclaimed,     

"Good that you are here, Norrix!" The Mother Queen was in an elated mood after downing one glass of wine. She ordered, "Take me to Tasia's room," she brought her hand forward.     

Mr. Gilbert respectfully bowed before he replied, "Your Majesty, I think there has been an error with the given name."     

The Mother Queen tilted her head and asked, "What name?"     

"Lady Tasia's. I didn't find any name as such on the guest list," Mr. Gilbert informed her. "I have checked it thoroughly."     

"No name, that can't be true," the Mother Queen's mood lowered, and she said, "Maybe that is her nickname for her real name. She said her name was Tasia Flores. Look for it once again. You will find it right there."     

Mr. Gilbert nodded, "Yes, my Queen," he pulled out the guest list before taking it near the burning torch of fire next to the wall. His eyes scanned it cautiously before he looked up to meet the Mother Queen's eyes. He informed her, "There's no Tasia nor anyone named Flores on here."     

"Huh," the Mother Queen softly harrumphed, wondering what was going on and murmured, "How tricky. I would have called the young girl to be a ghost, but everyone has seen her. It seems like something is not right, is it not, Norrix? Any thoughts on it?"     

But Mr. Gilbert was at a loss for words as he didn't know what was going on. At the same time, King William and Queen Sophia stepped out of the room and caught the Mother Queen and the servant standing close to the fire torch. King William asked,     

"Are you doing alright, Mother?" Because the Mother Queen held a serious expression.     

"Not particularly. A young woman is missing from the guest list. Tasia Flores," the Queen Mother responded.     

"Tasia Flores?" Queen Sophia asked with a question in her eyes.     

"The young lady that Dante danced with last evening at the celebration," the Mother Queen reminded, while internally questioning if it was her or the others growing old. She said, "She wore a dark green dress. You know, the one you invited."     

Queen Sophia's eyebrows furrowed, and she replied, "I don't recall inviting anyone by that name. I thought you were the one who invited her, Mother Queen."     

"I wish I did, but that's not the matter," the Mother Queen waved and said, "The more important question is, why has the young lady's name been erased from the list? She has been staying in the palace since yesterday and has spent time with the guests. So what is going on?"     

Queen Sophia murmured, "If she wasn't invited by any of us, does that mean she was an intruder? What if she was a spy posing to be from a wealthy family?" Her eyes widened.     

Even the Mother Queen found it odd that the lady had been living in the palace without an invitation, which raised questions about her intentions and background.     

Suddenly, the atmosphere turned serious, and silence filled the corridor except for the voices of the guests that spilt from the room ahead of them.     

King William turned to look at Mr. Gilbert, who felt like he was going to be punished for not knowing what was happening in the palace. The servant stared at the ground when he heard the King demand,     

"Tell Zion to inquire with the guards at the tower walls and the gate guards of the palace if they saw a woman leave and have the guest rooms checked. Find this woman as soon as possible and bring her before me."     

"Yes, Your Highness!" Mr. Gilbert bowed and scurried away from there.     

After informing the Vizier about the situation, Mr. Gilbert quickly returned to the common room at the servants' quarters. He demanded everyone's attention as they were preparing to sit down for dinner. He questioned loudly,     

"Who has been in charge of Lady Tasia Flores?" His eyes looked left and right, skimming through the servants. "Who is it?" But like before, nobody stepped forward.     

He then said, "The servants who work in the inner heart of the palace, follow me. We need to find Lady Tasia Flores as the room she has occupied is unknown. Follow me now!"     

Soon the search began without disrupting other guests' stay in the palace. And while the guest rooms and the other rooms were being investigated, Theresa quickly returned to Anastasia, who was still in the room and informed her,     

"Anna, we are in trouble! The royal family has found out and is looking for you!"     

"How do you know…?" Anastasia's face paled.     

Theresa closed the door behind her and said, "Mr. Gilbert is looking for Tasia Flores right now. He didn't say much, but I am guessing the Blackthorns know. What are we going to do?!" Her hands shook out of fear.     

Anastasia had hoped to flee from here quickly, but she hadn't expected to create a storm before that.     

In the inner heart of the palace, after the search was complete, Mr. Gilbert returned to stand before the King along with the Vizier. The Vizier informed, "My King, the merchant traders left the kingdom an hour or two ago, and the lady isn't in the palace. All the rooms have been checked. She must have left in one of the merchant carriages. I have already sent our men to catch up with the merchants and search for the woman."     

King William's lips held a frown, and he stated, "If the woman is not out there, it means she's still somewhere in Versailles. And where is Dante? Tell him to see me immediately."     

"Yes, Your Highness," Mr. Gilbert obliged with a bow.     

The Vizier said, "Maybe another search should be conducted, Your Highness; who knows if someone in the palace was trying to pretend to be one of the wealthy?"     

"People have been too brave to attempt to fool the royal family, and if it is true," King William said without any remorse, "The woman will be punished in front of everyone in the middle of the town."     

The Mother Queen, who was in the same room, didn't like the decision, but at the same time, she didn't like the thought of someone taking her for a fool.     

The Vizier turned to look at Mr. Gilbert and said, "I will come with you. Every person in the palace shall be interrogated."     


Blessing of being sick (Chapter 30)

Soon the trusted Vizier of King William, along with Mr. Gilbert, started to interrogate every concubine, courtesan and servant, who could have come in contact with this intruder named Tasia Flores.      
After questioning the concubines, Zion, the Vizier, moved to question the courtesans one by one. He probed one of the courtesans, "Do you know who Tasia Flores is? Have you heard anything about her before?"      

The courtesan shook her head, saying, "I saw the woman last night for the first time and haven't seen her after that, Sire."      

Marianne, who stood to the side, could feel the blood drain from her face little by little as the Vizier moved to question them, until it was finally her turn. The Vizier questioned,      

"Where were you last night?"      

"I was at the celebration with the other courtesans, Sire," Marianne's voice was calm as she said those words. The courtesans were trained to speak calmly even during stressful conditions, and she maintained her composure.      

One of the courtesans suddenly asked Marianne, "Marianne, isn't your last name Flow or Flores?" Though the woman had joined the Paradise Tower before Marianne, she had failed to get recognition like the latter and was more than keen to take Marianne's spot.      

The Vizier's eyes narrowed on noticing the lush brown hair similar to that of the woman named Tasia Flores, who had danced with Prince Dante last night at the celebration. He took a step forward and demanded,      

"Is your last name Flores?" The Vizier didn't allow her to speak, and he grabbed hold of her neck before threatening her, "How dare you try to deceive the Blackthorn family members?! Lying your way to get close to the royal family while you are nothing but a whore who has been sullied more than a hundred times. You thought you could get away with it?!"      

Marianne could feel the air entering her lungs turning scarce. The Vizier glared down at her, wanting her to confess, and though she had a hand in turning her sister into Tasia Flores, she wasn't Tasia Flores.      

"Zion, let go of the woman!"      

The Vizier turned around, while still holding Marianne's neck in his grasp. His eyes fell on the second Blackthorn prince. Prince Maxwell stepped inside the wide room and stated,      

"Marianne was with me the entire evening and night. So release her right now."     

The Vizier released Marianne's neck, and she coughed hard while touching her neck. Zion stated, "Her name is similar to the woman we are looking for. Who is a sham."      

Prince Maxwell frowned at the news before a soft chuckle escaped from his lips. He then said, "The woman you are talking about is definitely not this one. Firstly, Marianne is not a Flores but a Floyd. Secondly." He turned to look at Madame Minerva and asked, "What was Marianne doing this noon and in the evening?"      

Madame Minerva responded, "Marianne was serving tea to the guests on Mr. Kostas's and Mr. Ryker's word." She added to the Vizier, "You had ordered to send the top two courtesans today."     

Prince Maxwell clapped his hands and said, "That is right. Because Lady Tasia Flores had come to ride around the city with us at that time."      

The Vizier stared at Marianne before giving a nod at the prince's words and responded, "The fraudulent woman had a similar hair colour, and I jumped to conclusions. It was my mistake, Prince Maxwell. We will go to inquire with the other people in the palace," offering a bow, the Vizier and Mr. Gilbert left the Paradise Tower.      

Marianne stared at the doors of the room, worried and scared for her younger sister. Last night was meant to be fun, not turn into a witch hunt.      

As all the guests had retired to their rooms, it made it easier to get a hold of the servants in one place before questioning them at the servants' quarters.     

When it came to Theresa's turn, the tall Vizier towered in front of the servant as his hollow eyes tried to spot anything out of the ordinary. He questioned,      

"Did you serve a woman named Tasia Flores?"     

Theresa bowed and replied, "No, Sire. Me and Anna were assigned to Lady Amara Lumbard."     

"I am questioning you. You don't have to speak for the other servants," the Vizier's words were curt enough to have Theresa nod while she stared at the ground. He noted, "It looks like you are a lower maid and not one who works in the inner part of the palace." The man then gave a side-eye to Mr. Gilbert before asking, "Are these the only servants we have?"      

More than the old maids, the Vizier was interested in the young maids who could have pretended to be a lady while the palace was busy celebrating. He believed it was better to first check the palace before searching the kingdom.      

Mr. Gilbert, who first shook his head, remembered one maid, and he informed, "There's one more."     

Theresa's hands pressed against her sides at the nearing end of the inevitable. The Vizier gave him a stare before he raised his eyebrows and questioned, "Then why isn't she here with the rest of the servants?"      

"The maid has been ill since this afternoon, which is why she is resting," Mr. Gilbert answered.      

"How convenient," the Vizier remarked with his eyes narrowing before he continued, "That the princes and princesses took a ride to the city today during the same hours the maid fell sick. Bring her to me."      

Mr. Gilbert pursed his lips before he stated, "But, Sire… I don't think she is of any use. She's a mute." This caught the Vizier's attention, who frowned.      

"A mute?" The Vizier repeated. Mr. Gilbert nodded and said,      

"She's a disabled woman who cannot speak."     

The Vizier, as well as Mr. Gilbert, were aware of and had witnessed the lady in the emerald dress dance and talk not only with the prince but with the Mother Queen too. Before more could be discussed, one of the servants suddenly appeared and informed,      

"Minister Zion, you have been summoned to the courtroom by His Majesty."     

Back in the long royal courtroom, the centre of the room held a small fountain-like stone, but instead of water, fire burned in it. King William sat on the throne, while the Mother Queen and Queen Sophia sat on either side of the King, only three steps below him.      

The Mother Queen seemed genuinely upset at being lied to, as she had placed her hopes and wishes on this woman, who was now exposed to be a sham. The Vizier entered the royal courtroom and bowed, "My King."     

"Have you found the woman or the one whose sketches were stolen by the dead maid?" King William questioned him.      

"Every person in the palace was interrogated, but we haven't found any leads. The woman who was posing as Tasia Flores has fled the palace," the Vizier replied.      

"She can't have fled that far," King William remarked.      

At the same time, Prince Dante stepped into the courtroom, his footsteps softly echoing as he made his way to where the King sat on the throne. He offered a slight bow when he heard his father demand,      

"Where have you been, Dante? I was waiting for you to join us."     

Dante replied, "Forgive me, I was with my mother."      

King William questioned, "This woman that you danced with last evening; she seems to be fake and had not been included on the guest list. Zion and Norrix had every one of them questioned. Did she mention anything to you? We suspect that she might be a spy from Brovia."      

"Nothing of relevance that caught my attention, my King. She appeared to be like any other woman of her age, who was much interested in her dress, the food and drinks," Dante replied before he asked his father, "Would you like me to have a second search party sent through the kingdom to find her? It could be beneficial."     

"I agree with Prince Dante, Your Highness. A second search would be more thorough," the Vizier agreed.      

"Do what needs to be done," King William ordered them.      

When King William ended the small discussion and left the courtroom along with his wife, and once the Vizier took his leave, the Mother Queen came to place her hand on Dante's hand, but her hand touched Dante's wet coat that he picked up from the servant who was carrying it before. Her eyebrows furrowed,      

"Did you jump into a pool of water while fully dressed? Not that I wouldn't have if I had the chance, the weather is hot and now this issue with the woman." She then sighed before saying, "I am sorry it turned out this way, Dante. I thought she was the one for you, and I liked her. What a true pity."     

The Mother Queen stared at Dante and asked, "You are okay, aren't you?"      

"I have you next to me. Everything is good," Dante responded.     

"Of course, you have me for a good hundred more years," the Mother Queen responded before a yawn escaped from her lips, and she said, "I should retire to bed. I will see you tomorrow. Goodnight, Dante."     

"Goodnight, Grandmother," Dante leaned forward and kissed his grandmother's cheek, who did the same before leaving the courtroom.      

Dante had already heard about Tasia Flores being searched for in the palace, and his eyes briefly fell on his wet coat. A while ago, he had caught a servant carrying it, and he had stopped the servant to take it back. He had asked the servant,      

'Where is the lady who gave you this coat?'     

'She went inside, Prince Dante,' the servant had answered.     

Dante himself was curious about this young woman who said she didn't want to be here. She had attended the celebration as if, given the opportunity, she would have chosen not to be there. He looked in the direction of the open double doors and wondered where she was hiding.