✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 31 - 35 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️



Ghost in the lonely corridor(Chapter 31)

When the door to the room opened, Anastasia held the blanket closer to her in fear that Mr. Gilbert had returned to question her. But upon hearing Theresa's voice, her tense body relaxed.      
"They have finally stopped the search! We can rest now!"     

Anastasia quickly moved her blanket, and when she was about to stand up, she felt her head turn heavy, and she went back to sit on the edge of the bed.      

"Oh dear, you really have turned sick, and this time it is a blessing," Theresa said after placing her hand on Anastasia's forehead, which was slightly burning. She informed the young woman in a hushed tone about what happened in the servants' common room and how Mr. Gilbert mentioned her being mute.      

Anastasia murmured, "It seems like being a mute has carried its own advantages in this palace." It was what set her apart from the wealthy woman named Tasia Flores.      

"Indeed it has. I would have never thought that it could come to be so useful," Theresa agreed before saying, "I overheard Mr. Gilbert tell one of the servants that the Vizier has ordered guards to carry out a search throughout the kingdom. You are ill, so no one will bother you. Not for two days at least, and people will eventually forget about your alter ego like anything else."     

"Mm, you are right. You will let me know if something happens, won't you?" Anastasia was anxious after seeing Charlotte beheaded in front of her. It had left her with a feeling of dread, just like the King wanted everyone to feel, so that no one would ever dare to commit any action remotely like what had just taken place. "Let me go to my room now."     

Theresa pushed on Anastasia's shoulders to have her sit back on the bed and said, "Let us sleep together tonight? I think I could use some company after hearing the news of Charlotte, and you could too."      

Even though Theresa wasn't there to witness Charlotte's death, she could feel an emptiness in the absence of the deceased maid. Anastasia nodded. The servants didn't linger for more than two minutes after their dinner and were quick to return to their room, as they believed they could be the next ones to be punished.      

Once the moon was up, the corridors turned deserted in the palace. In the servants' quarters, in Theresa's room, Anastasia slept on the bed as Theresa had pulled the mattress from the younger woman's room into her own so that they could sleep comfortably.      

Anastasia was in a deep sleep, as her head had grown heavy because of the cold, and she breathed through her lips while her eyes felt warm. She felt a breeze on her skin, that woke her from her sleep, and realised she wasn't in the servants' quarters anymore.      

"Not again…" Anastasia whispered, finding herself back in the abandoned corridor of the palace.      

When Anastasia began to walk to the exit, she heard the sound of a twig being crunched. She turned to look at the other end of the empty corridor, but there was nothing there. It was then that she realised the floor looked clean, and so did the pillar that looked new. She asked herself,      

"Did they paint and clean because of the celebration?"      

But as her eyes moved around the place, she noticed the rose. The black and wilted rose she had last seen in here, with no leaves on it. Only this time, the rose stood proud and full; the petals of the rose were as red as blood, surrounded by green thorns and leaves.      

A little confused, Anastasia climbed down from the platform to approach the inner garden. She said, "I am dreaming, aren't I?" When she went to touch the red rose, she was pricked by one of the thorns, which drew blood from her finger and fell on the ground.      

Soon the red rose started to change its colour as it lost its leaves, which fell on the ground and disappeared, while the rose itself wilted and turned black until it looked dead.     

Unaware of what was happening, she stepped backwards and heard a twig break under her foot. When she turned around to look at it, at the same time, her eyes fell on something translucent and white on the first floor near the railings. Her face turned pale, and her lips trembled,      

"G—ghost, ghost!"     

The ghost stared at her with an expressionless face, while Anastasia kept walking backwards until she heard someone whisper right behind her,      


Hearing her name being called eerily, Anastasia spun on her heel and saw the ghost standing right in front of her. The ghost placed her cold hands on both of her cheeks, and suddenly creepers started to crawl around her feet, moving up her body quickly and wrapping around her neck.      

'It is time to wake up, Anastasia.'     

The creepers moved around her head, hindering her gaze, and she struggled to escape. When her eyes finally opened, she saw Theresa sitting in front of her with a frown. The older woman pressed on the wet cloth that was on Anastasia's forehead and said,      

"Whatever it was, it was just a dream."      

Anastasia brought her hand up to look at her fingers, and when she noticed all of them were fine, she exhaled.      

"Go back to sleep, you need to rest," Theresa urged as she caressed the top of Anastasia's head.      

Anastasia pulled the blanket closer to her and closed her eyes again, hoping not to dream about the palace, instead wishing to see her parents.     

When morning arrived, Anastasia stepped out of the room to have her meal, as servants weren't given meals in their room, and one had to join the others if they wanted to eat. She sat next to Theresa, her body a little weak, when she heard the two maids beside her gossiping.      

"How dumb could Charlotte be to use someone else's drawing to her advantage? She dreamt too much about wealth, which caused her death," one maid said.      

Another maid asked, "Did they find out whose drawings they were?" She then asked Theresa, "Did you hear anything about it?"      

"No," Theresa answered, "They must be from someone in the inner palace. I doubt anyone here has such skill, if they did, they would have used it to promote themselves," she evaded the maids' inquiring words.      

"You are right. We barely have enough time to sleep, it would be a wonder if one of the servants drew," the maid laughed at the thought before continuing her meal.      

Anastasia was thankful to Theresa for pushing the budding possibilities of the maids in another direction. After her meal, she returned to her room to rest to feel better and think about what to do.      

Far away from where the servants were having their meal, in the dining room of the royal palace, there was the usual chatter at the table. Most of them had forgotten about the beheading incident, while the matter about Tasia Flores hadn't been shared with the guests.      

King William turned to Prince Dante and said, "Once you are done with your work at the camp, I want you to take Lady Amara for a stroll in the gardens. She said she hasn't found the opportunity to see it."     

"I thought we did yesterday," Prince Aiden remarked, only to receive glares from his parents, which had him shut up immediately.      

"As the Lumbards are staying here for a month, I think it would be best for both of you to get to know each other?" King William raised his eyebrow. "An alliance of marriage sounds good, what do you think, Lucretia?" He turned to his courtesan, who sat a little farther away from them.      

Lady Lucretia offered a bow and replied, "If that is what you believe to be right, Your Highness."      

"Excellent," King William smiled, before sipping from the glass.      

Lady Lucretia knew how much her son despised having a partner. After learning his Crux didn't exist, he had put his heart and soul into helping the kingdom expand with the King. She was proud of it, but at the same time, she wished her son would find a wife who would love him.      

She wasn't the King's wife, or his first or second choice. She was a concubine, the least favoured and had no right to go against the King's decisions. She turned to look at her son, who didn't express his interest or disinterest and merely obliged. But she already knew how things would turn out to be after the stroll.      

Prince Aiden leaned towards his sister, Princess Emily, and asked in a low voice, "Why is father matching her with Brother Dante, when he's already found a woman?"      

Princess Emily leaned closer to her younger brother and whispered, "Have you not heard about it yet? There was no invitation sent to Tasia Flores, and the woman disappeared in thin air."     

"What?" Aiden's eyebrows furrowed at his sister's words. He laughed before saying, "That can't be true. Tasia is a real person."     

"Shh, you are going to get us into trouble," Emily hushed her brother and said, "Mother forbade us from mentioning anything about that woman."     

And though the prince and princess tried to keep their volume low, Dante heard the conversation at the table. He clutched the fork in his hand. He wanted to find the woman who had failed to keep her part of the deal and had disappeared without waiting until the end of the celebration, as he was back to being matched with women.      

"Maya," The King called his first concubine, "Where are Niyasa and Maxwell?"     

"Niyasa said she didn't have enough sleep and would join us for lunch. Though I am not sure about Maxwell, Your Highness," Lady Maya politely smiled. The truth was that Princess Niyasa was embarrassed after her late maid had insulted the Mother Queen, which was why she had avoided joining the others for breakfast.      

Aiden was planning to go to the Bazaar, hoping to find Tasia, as he was sure he would find her there, but then he heard his mother call him, "Aiden." He turned to look at his mother, who said, "You will be joining your brother on the stroll. Lady Helma wouldn't mind a tour as well." Queen Sophia was ready to set her son on the path of securing the throne.      

Aiden was going to crack a joke before he nodded, "Of course, it would be a pleasure," he smiled brightly.      

One day passed in Versailles, and the search for the emerald dress-clad woman continued, and when they found nothing, the heat and intensity of the situation decreased. The hours had also reduced Anastasia's fever; the next day, she was back on her feet to work.     

Anastasia tried to catch her sister alone, but Marianne was busy with the guests, and not to mention, she couldn't place a foot anywhere near the inner palace as she was worried about being caught. In the evening, on finding the opportunity, she quickly pulled her sister behind a pillar and a wall, who softly gasped.      

"Anna!" Marianne hugged her sister tightly. "Thank God, you are safe. I was so worried about you. Forgive me for putting you in trouble."     

Anastasia hugged Marianne back with a smile, and their hug felt warmer than usual, "Nothing is going to happen to me when you are with me. I am glad you are…" her voice faded away when she pulled back and noticed the fingerprints on her sister's neck. But that wasn't all, as the rim of Marianne's eyes had turned slightly red. "Were you crying? Who did this to your neck?"      

"The Vizier, he was suspicious and… but everything is okay now. I heard that they are losing interest in finding Tasia Flores, so everything is fine," Marianne smiled at her sister.      

"Did the guests do something?" Anastasia asked, before taking her sister's hands in hers and squeezing them. "You know you can tell me anything, Mary. I will never judge you—"     

"You should…" Marianne whispered, with her eyes filling up with tears, and this made Anastasia frown.      

Anastasia watched her sister's lips tremble before she heard her say, "He found his soulmate, the one with the Crux…"     

"Oh, Mary," Anastasia's heart broke, watching the tears spill from her sister's eyes.      

Appeal of the neck(Chapter 32)

Anastasia and Marianne had stepped into one of the spare rooms, locking the door so no one would enter. Watching the tears fall from her elder sister's eyes moistened her own eyes, and she pulled her sister in for a hug, rubbing her back to console her.      
"If I could, I would take your sorrow away," Anastasia said with a frown. "I am sorry that it turned out this way."     

Nothing could be done about it, not even by Marianne, who had claimed that the second Blackthorn prince was in love with her. Being set up by parents was one thing, but fate bringing the woman meant to be Prince Maxwell's wife into his life was quite another.     

Marianne's chin rested on Anastasia's shoulder as more tears spilt from her eyes when she closed them, trying to calm herself. Sniffing, she pulled away from her younger sister and wiped her cheeks. She said softly,      

"Feels like luck has refused to stay on my side. I knew I could never become his wife, even before this happened, because of the difference in our status, but I was ready to settle for being his concubine. I was happy with that. I would have been happy… He loved me, Anna. No matter what anyone else says, I know he did, and I loved him back with all my heart. He cared for me more than a man would for a woman like me. But in one moment, everything changed," Marianne stared into space as she said those words. "And now it hurts so much that I cannot breathe…"     

Anastasia wiped her sister's cheeks and consoled her, saying, "God might have a different plan for you, Mary. There might be someone else out there for you. Someone who will not leave you behind because some soulmate came by."     

Marianne shook her head, and said, "That's not how it works, and I don't blame him. I want to, but I cannot. The soulmate connection comes from the Crux, and one cannot deny or look away from what is written in their destiny. It will draw the person back to where the other is. I want to be happy for Prince Maxwell, for meeting his destined person…"     

Anastasia looked around, and when her eyes fell on a jug of water, she poured some into a glass and brought it to Marianne, offering it to her. She said,      

"Destiny is what we make, sister. Maybe not Prince Maxwell, but one day you can have someone who will dote on you." Anastasia didn't want to pressure her sister to think about leaving the palace with her now that she was hurt and in pain. But she indirectly let Marianne know that her life could be better.      

Marianne's eyes were staring into space, and then she asked, "I will be fine, won't I?" There was doubt in her voice.      

Anastasia rubbed Marianne's arm and nodded, "Eventually, you will be, and you have me. My love for you will always be here, so do not doubt yourself, Mary. You have a good heart; you are kind, sweet, and deserve the world."     

Marianne softly laughed, saying, "I got you into trouble because of my idea."     

"But I wasn't the one to bear an interrogation," Anastasia's eyes fell on Marianne's neck, where the fingerprints were evident, and she knew they would darken with time. "And I agreed to come with you. We both should have been more careful."     

"Yes," Marianne answered, her voice turning distant. She looked at her sister and apologised, "Forgive me, Anna…"     

"You have no one to apologise to, Mary." Anastasia felt forlorn. She wished she could do more for her sister, to help her heal her broken heart, but from what she had heard, the heart took its own time to mend. "It was an experience. Everything is an experience."      

Marianne agreed before taking a deep breath, as if to settle her heart and mind. She then warned, "You shouldn't get this close to the inner side of the palace. Did someone see your face?" Anastasia nodded, and this had the older sister worried. "You need to be careful, Anna. Thankfully, the king has been busy with the guests and the upcoming war with Brovia, which is why he hasn't questioned any of us personally."     

Anastasia had heard about the upcoming war. She was about to mention what she saw in her dream, but felt some secrets were better kept to herself when there were chances of King William coming into contact with her sister and learning of them.      

After Marianne blew her nose, Anastasia said, "I will come to see you tomorrow. You will take care of yourself, won't you?" Her sister was a delicate flower who had grown up in a closed and carefully-controlled environment, though their upbringing in this palace had been rough in their own respective ways.      

Marianne smiled and said, "I will. You should return to your work now before someone notices you missing."     

Anastasia returned the smile before leaving the room, and she made her way back to where she had been working earlier. But while she was still on the way, Mr. Gilbert stopped her and questioned her,      

"What are you doing here?" His eyes narrowed. "Why aren't you in Lady Amara Lumbard's room? I ordered you and the other three to be of assistance there on the second floor."     

Anastasia's throat went dry, but she didn't have to speak. She brought her hand to her nose and then moved it to touch her forehead with a frozen expression.      

"You were sick yesterday, but you are fine now. There's no reason for you not to step into the inner palace today. Lady Amara demanded that she needed four maids, and I had assigned you there," Mr. Gilbert said before ordering her, "Follow me." He started to walk as if he was going to make sure she reached the second floor, when all Anastasia wanted was not to step back into the heart of the palace.      

Mr. Gilbert murmured, "If only the other maids used their brains as much as you did by taking care of not stepping into these corridors."     

Anastasia had no kohl painted on her eyes, her lips weren't tinted, and her body wasn't covered in the expensive silk fabric that belonged to the wealthy. Yet, she was scared of being identified and caught. She wanted people to forget about her alter ego and their memory of her to fade from their minds, so she would not have to walk as she did now, as if she were walking on burning coal pieces.      

On their way, Mr Gilbert and Anastasia stopped at the storage room where the bedsheets, new pillows and other bedding items were placed. Someone came up at to the door when she was taking out bedsheets that needed to be spread on Lady Amara's bed.      


Upon hearing the voice, Anastasia's back froze, facing the door as she turned to the shelves where the fresh bedsheets were stacked.      

"Yes, Prince Dante," Mr. Gilbert was quick to attend to the prince with a bow.      

"Send servants to the second floor's east wing. There are feathers flying everywhere."     

"Feathers?" Mr. Gilbert asked with a frown.      

"For some reason, the Epsworths thought it would be a good idea to play with pillows and tear them apart. Have two pillows sent to their room, and have their room reassigned near Queen Sophia's. She would appreciate it," considering she was the one who invited them, Dante thought.      

Mr. Gilbert nodded and turned to Anastasia, "You heard the prince. Bring along the two pillows to the floor above."     

While Anastasia's hand moved stiffly to reach for the pillows, Mr. Gilbert asked, "Pardon me, Prince Dante, I thought the Epsworths were leaving this afternoon."     

"They and the other guests were going to, but since Maxwell has found his soulmate, Father has decided to have them engaged and extend the guests' stay." As Dante said this, his eyes nonchalantly moved to look at the maid who was grabbing the pillows.      

Dante's eyes fell on the maid's slender neck, which reminded him of the woman who hadn't kept her end of the deal. Though guards had been sent out to look for the fraudulent woman, her matter was forgotten as she hadn't caused any serious damage. The focus had shifted to his brother Maxwell, who had found his soulmate, and the royal family and the others were celebrating.      

Mr. Gilbert nodded to oblige the prince and said, "I will quickly go and have someone clean the corridor right this instant, Prince Dante." Before he left, he instructed the maid, "Anna, take the pillows and the bedsheets to the floor above."     

Anastasia bowed in response, hoping that the prince would leave too, but she heard only one pair of footsteps leave.     

'Please don't recognise me, please don't!' Anastasia prayed, while she adjusted the pillows one after another in her arms, such that her face was hidden behind them.     

Anastasia told herself that once the matter of Tasia Flores was forgotten, the next window for her to leave this palace could be the day when Prince Maxwell would officially be engaged to the woman whom fate had chosen for him. All she had to do was convince her sister to come along with her so that they could run far away from here.     

Turning around with the fluffy pillows as a shield, Anastasia walked straight until she was stopped by Dante, who said,      

"Take two more steps, and you will hit the wall."     

Anastasia bit her lips for looking like a fool and walking straight at the wall. But she was nervous to show her face and just wanted to bolt as quickly as possible. Her hands shook, and as she bowed, one pillow slipped from her hold and fell on the ground, and her eyes widened in horror.      

Her cover! Panic-stricken, Anastasia's hand reached to pick up the fallen pillow, but it was seized when her fingers were inches away from it, as Dante snatched it. With her head still bowed, she felt him hand the pillow to her.      

But when Anastasia tried to take the pillow to place it back on her pile, she couldn't, as Dante didn't let go of the other end of the pillow.      

"You," Anastasia felt her heart stop on hearing Dante speak, "Why do you seem familiar?" His eyes narrowed.      

Anastasia wanted to reply, but she couldn't use her voice or hands as she held the pillow. But as the situation required her to erase his doubts, she moved her other hand to express,      

'Last week, I entered your room without knowing. And fell on the ground.'     

She then wondered if Prince Dante even understood what she said, because he didn't say anything while she stared at the ground. She bowed again and felt him let go of the pillow.      

Dante lost interest in conversing with the maid, but at the same time, he watched the maid carry the pillows as if she was planning to hit her head on the next wall, as the pillows hindered her sight.      

He moved away from the door, and the maid stepped out. Before he went on his way, he turned back and watched the maid, who, after a few seconds, disappeared from his sight.      

Prince Aiden, who was walking by, noticed his eldest brother looking at something, and he craned his neck before asking, "What are you looking at, Brother Dante?"      

"Was the neck always that slender and delicate?"      

Prince Aiden's eyes snapped to look at Dante and asked, "Huh? Are you planning to snap someone's neck?"      

"I should," Dante remarked, and the younger Blackthorn blinked before a wide smile spread on his lips.      

Aiden said, "Brother Dante, you look frustrated. You know what they say, when you are sexually frustrat—"     

"Report to the camp in an hour. Let us see if your swordsmanship is as good as your mouth is," Dante glared at Aiden, whose eyes widened before he frowned.      

Aiden watched his brother walk away, and he puffed out one of his cheeks, murmuring to himself,      

"So cold, when I was only trying to help. But I guess on taking a closer look, he just seems to be in his usual state of annoyance."      

Not far from the corridor where Prince Dante and Prince Aiden had met each other, Anastasia had finished replacing the pillows and arrived at Lady Amara's room. She knocked on the door, hearing someone from inside say,      

"Come in."     

Anastasia stepped inside the room with the bedsheets and saw Theresa cleaning the table, but she noticed her shoulders were tense. The other two maids stood beside the young lady, helping her dress. But the lady wasn't alone, and was in the company of Princess Niyasa, who sat with her legs crossed.      

Anastasia bowed and walked to the bed to replace the bedsheets.      

"… believe that the lowly thing could do something like that," Lady Amara discussed with Princess Niyasa and said, "You have my sympathies, as it wasn't your fault. Did you find the person she stole them from?"      

"Not yet. I have asked my maids to look into every servant, concubine and courtesan. Even the cellar, to see if they find anything in there, but it has been useless. If only I could catch the person and bring them in front of my grandmother and father," Princess Niyasa remarked, not knowing the person she was looking for was in the same room. Switching the subject, she asked, "Are you looking forward to the stroll?"      

"I am. I am also glad that the other woman disappeared. Tasia," Lady Amara couldn't contain her smile. Standing in front of the mirror, she noticed a maid about to touch her dress, and a frown appeared on her face. She quickly snapped, "Don't touch it."     

Anastasia had only meant to pick up the worn dress to place it on the chair, when the lady barked at her.      

"She's only moving the dress. What's wrong?" Princess Niyasa raised her eyebrows.      

Lady Amara replied, scrunching her nose, "She has coarse hands and I worry she will spoil the dress, as there's pearls sewn on it. The maids don't know how expensive it is, or what is used while making a dress as such. She's more fit to clean the floor than assist me. Not to mention, the other one said she's mute." She looked at the maid beside her and ordered, "You go and do it."     

Anastasia moved away from the dress, but something else bothered her, and it wasn't Lady Amara's words this time. It was Princess Niyasa, who now stared at her intently.      


Gap between the books(Chapter 33)

The kitchen area was busy when evening came, as an extravagant meal was being prepared for the royal family and the guests of the Blackthorn Palace. Anastasia and Theresa were in the kitchen when Mr. Gilbert arrived and ordered,      
"Anna. Follow me."     

Theresa looked slightly worried at the thought of the young woman being in trouble, and shared a look with Anastasia before she stepped out of the kitchen with the man. When they stepped into the inner side of the palace, she wondered why and who had summoned her.      

Approaching the large double doors, Mr. Gilbert knocked on the door before the doors were opened. When Anastasia stepped inside the room following the man, she noticed the walls were painted red and cream, the furniture, like the couch, had red cushions, and there was a carpet spread at the centre of the room.      

"Queen Sophia, I have brought the girl," Mr. Gilbert bowed to Queen Sophia, who sat in the centre of the long couch while the two princesses sat on the other side. She felt the members of the royal family stare at her.      

Alarm bells rang in Anastasia's mind about whether she was brought here to be interrogated. After all, Princess Niyasa had stared at her the entire time. The room was quiet, except for a maid who was softly playing a harp at the corner of the room.      

"Raise your head, girl," Queen Sophia ordered Anastasia, and the latter gingerly looked up to meet the woman's eyes. She said, "I hear that you are very obedient and cannot speak, which is what I am looking for. My daughter is short a personal maid, which is why you will fill the empty spot."     

Anastasia's face had a subtle frown, as she had never guessed that she would be assigned as a personal maid because of her false disability.      

Mr. Gilbert quickly asked in a hushed voice, "What are you doing standing there quietly?"     

Anastasia quickly offered a deep bow as if to show her gratitude. Though she had already received clearance to allow her to step outside the palace, this was not a bad turn of events, she thought to herself.      

Queen Sophia took a sip from her tea while Princess Niyasa said,      

"Consider this to be a blessing, that you will be working for a princess."     

"I am sure she does," Queen Sophia smiled before stating to Anastasia, "You will be with the princess from the time she wakes up until she goes to bed. Take care of her belongings and her personal needs, and if you find anything odd, you will come to report it to me. Do you understand that?"      

"Mother…" Princess Emily said to her mother with a frown.      

Mr. Gilbert said, "My Queen, Anna has never gotten into any trouble and she focuses on her work better than most. You won't find any complaints," he assured.      

If only he knew the trouble she had brought to her and her sister this week, Anastasia thought to herself.     

Queen Sophia asked Anastasia, "Do you know why you are being appointed to this position, even though there are many maids better than you? Much more experienced than you?"     

Anastasia could feel the atmosphere of the room turn heavy. While Princess Niyasa hid the smile from her lips, Princess Emily held a troubled expression.      

"The last two maids that served my daughter used too much of their brains and tried to sway my innocent daughter into believing that she should not marry the man I chose for her. Not only that, they urged her to leave the palace. The alliance didn't go through, but with that, so did the two maids' heads off their shoulders," Queen Sophia's voice was pleasant to listen to, but her words weren't. The older woman in the room held a polite expression and smiled, saying, "With a maid like you who cannot speak, there's nothing to worry about."     

The royal family didn't think twice before beheading someone, and it left a sense of dread in Anastasia's mind. She bowed once again to let the Queen know she understood the woman's words.      

Princess Niyasa stood up from her seat and bowed at Queen Sophia and said, "Please excuse me, Queen Sophia. I should go see if my mother needs me."      

Queen Sophia nodded and said, "Your earlier mistake is pardoned, Niyasa."     

Princess Niyasa said, "I am grateful for it, my Queen," and she exited the room with a cunning smile, knowing how miserable her sister's life was going to be with no one to talk to and with a maid who had more drawbacks than the others.     

Queen Sophia placed her teacup at the side and stood up. She said to her daughter, "I hope you won't repeat your mistakes again, Emily. You wouldn't want more blood on your hands. I will go see how things are proceeding with the preparation for Maxwell's engagement party. If only Aiden had found his soulmate, but that's fine." She turned to look at Mr. Gilbert and ordered, "Tell Minerva that I want to talk to her."     

"Yes, my Queen," Mr. Gilbert obliged, before the two of them stepped out of the room, leaving Anastasia alone with Princess Emily.      

When Princess Emily stood up from her seat, Anastasia quickly bowed with her eyes cast to the ground. She heard Princess Emily say,      

"Anna, was it?"      

Anastasia raised her eyes before nodding, then heard the princess say, "You don't have to be wary around me… because of what my mother said. What happened to the previous maids, I won't let it happen to you."      

And though the princess smiled to help her feel at ease, Anastasia noticed sadness in the young lady's eyes. She could tell that the princess didn't hold any power to stop it if the situation arose. At the same time, she was happy to be working for Princess Emily and not the devil's minion, Princess Niyasa.      

Princess Emily then softly laughed, "Though we must agree that it will be a one-sided conversation…" her words trailing without wanting to offend the disabled maid.      

Anastasia raised her hands to sign and speak, 'Forgive me for my dull company.'     

"You speak through hand signs… Unfortunately, I don't understand all of them," Princess Emily turned a little embarrassed before she remembered and said excitedly, "But there's a book on sign language. Come with me," and they walked towards the library room.      

Once they reached the wide and circular library with tall racks at the centre of the room, Princess Emily made her way to one of the racks, and Anastasia stood behind her. After some time, the Vizier stepped inside the library and offered a bow upon seeing the princess.      

"Princess Emily," the Vizier greeted her while ignoring the maid and not looking at her, as if she was unimportant.      

"Are you here to collect a book, Zion?" Princess Emily politely asked him.      

"I was walking by when I saw the doors open. I wanted to make sure that no one without authorisation entered here after what happened last time," the Vizier replied.      

Princess Emily's eyebrows rose subtly, and she asked, "Did something happen here?"      

"There's nothing much that you need to worry about, Princess," the Vizier assured her before saying, "The maid who was punished recently entered the library during the night of the celebration. I found her clothes here, which had her name stitched on them. The servants need to be disciplined to quell their audacity."     

Anastasia clenched her hands.     

The Vizier then said, "I shall leave you to your reading, Princess," and he excused himself from the library.      

After twenty minutes, the sounds of approaching voices reached the library, and Princess Emily, who was reading the sign language book, quickly closed it. Turning to the maid, she said, "Take this and put it back on the shelf. Pick any other random book. Go!"     

Anastasia wondered what that was about but followed the princess's command.      

Soon the doors were pushed open, and four people who had finished their stroll in the garden and beyond stepped inside.      

"It was a good walk, wasn't it, ladies?" Prince Aiden asked, scratching his neck, while Lady Helma and Lady Amara tried hard not to scratch their arms.     

Lady Helma gave an excuse, saying, "I am a little tired and shall return to my room, Prince Aiden. Prince Dante. Lady Amara."     

On the other hand, Lady Amara had not given up on Dante, even though the hem of her dress was smeared with mud.      

A while ago, when two princes had taken her and Lady Helma outside, the conniving young woman had pretended as if she was about to fall, hoping for the gentleman-like prince to catch her. But at that same moment, Dante had turned his back to say something about a tree, leading to the woman's fall, before she gracefully tried to fix herself.      

"I am good," Lady Amara took a deep breath and said, even though no one had asked her.      

Dante's eyes moved to look at her, who was trying hard not to scratch an itch. His lips twitched as he intentionally led them further past the garden, where insects had bitten them. Though he was used to it, the others were not.      

Unable to stand still anymore, Lady Amara exclaimed, "This is a huge library! Let me take a look around." She moved her feet to make her way behind a rack, where she used her nails to scratch her itchy skin.      

Noticing his sister ahead, Dante walked towards her while she smiled, and they greeted each other. Princess Emily asked him,      

"How was the promenade, brother?"      

"Better than I thought it would go." There was amusement in Dante's eyes, and Princess Emily gave him a curious look. His black eyes looked around, and he asked, "Sitting alone in the library without company?" Though Emily was his half-sister, they shared a close bond along with Aiden, and he knew she often hid in the library when something troubled her.      

"Oh, I do have company! Mother assigned a new maid for me, starting today," Emily replied, which Dante acknowledged with a nod before turning to look in the direction his sister was looking. "She's gone to fetch me a book."     

"Does she know which one you want?" Dante asked her, considering the maids didn't know how to read or write. "Which one are you looking for?"      

On seeing her elder brother raise one of his eyebrows, Princess Emily replied, "That, uh, is the one with the ship drawing." As much as the princess loved all her siblings, she didn't want to mention that she was learning sign language.      

Emily respected her older brother Dante the most, but she was aware that her brother was strict when it came to his family, and wouldn't be pleased about her interest after her now-deceased maids had tried to sway her mind to go against her family's rules the last time.      

Dante walked towards the rack where the book his sister mentioned was. When he reached the beginning of the rack, his black shoes moved on the floor while his eyes skimmed across the books. And as he did so, his eyes fell on a head that moved on the other side of the rack through a small gap, but he couldn't see the face.      

At the same time, Anastasia returned with another book as per the princess's request, but upon seeing Prince Aiden standing with her, she started walking backwards, making sure her footsteps were as quiet as possible. But no matter how carefully she placed her footsteps, they sounded sharp and precise to her ears until she stopped.      

She wondered if she should escape the library and explain it to the princess later.      

While Anastasia's mind raced, the book beside her was pulled off the shelf, leaving an empty gap. Sensing the opening, she turned her head and met the gaze of intense midnight eyes that stared at her.      


One step near the quicksand (Chapter 34)

Anastasia's brown eyes widened as she stared back at Prince Dante. She had only seen Prince Aiden and hadn't heard Dante's voice to be aware of the unknown trouble that had walked alongside her on the other side of the rack.      
Holding a random book close to her chest, Anastasia offered a bow to him.      

So far, none of the other members of the royal family had realised that she was the same person who had disappeared two days ago. There was no way Dante would recognise her; after all, the version of herself she was right now was that of a bland and lowly maid.      

Dante didn't respond to her action, and instead, he turned his gaze away as if ignoring her presence, and returned to where his siblings stood in the library.      

Anastasia released the air she didn't know she had been holding, exhaling it before her face scrunched, and she questioned herself, 'He didn't recognise me. It should be okay, right?! He didn't know it was me…'     

She dragged her feet near the end of the rack and peeked out from behind it, noticing Prince Dante, Princess Emily, Prince Aiden, and Lady Amara standing not too far from where she was. Even though Dante didn't recognise her, that didn't mean Aiden didn't know how she looked in her maid attire. She closed her eyes, wondering what to do, when she heard footsteps receding, and she leaned forward again. Her eyes fell on Prince Aiden and Lady Amara, who exited the library.      

"Anna, come here. What are you doing standing there?" Princess Emily called her, her voice gentle and sweet.      

When Dante turned to look at her, Anastasia quickly stepped away from the rack she had been hiding behind. Princess Emily introduced her, "Brother Dante, this is my new maid. Anna."     

"Looks like she picked a book for you to read," Dante remarked, his eyes falling on the book Anastasia held, and the maid's shoulders stiffened with every second that passed.      

"I asked her to pick a book. To surprise me," Princess Emily laughed to lighten the atmosphere as her brother scrutinised her new maid. She then asked, "I heard our troops are going to attack Brovia soon. When will you be leaving?"      

Dante finally released Anastasia from the hold of his gaze by looking back at his sister. He replied, "Within two weeks. Aiden and Maxwell will be joining me." On noticing Emily frown, he added, "They will be safe. I will make sure to bring them back alive."     

The princess smiled gently and nodded, saying, "I know you will. I think I am more at ease knowing they will be with you. I will be sure to pray more this time for all of your well-being."     

"You should pray for yourself or your maid," Dante remarked, which had Anastasia's ears perk up in attention.      

"My maid?" Princess Emily asked with a question in her eyes.      

"After what happened to the previous maids, you can only hope that she doesn't do something to cross any royal family members." Dante's words were curt enough to make Anastasia's stomach drop.     

What Prince Dante said had already happened… Anastasia thought to herself, and internally gulped.      

"There's nothing to worry about this time, Brother Dante," Princess Emily stated before she continued, "Norrix had high praise for her, and she seems nice. The only sad thing is that she cannot speak… which is why my mother assigned her to me."     

"Sounds about right," Dante replied.      

Anastasia was busy staring at the ground as if she could see her future in it when Dante pulled the book from her hand without warning and read its title, "Little King Jones in the Basket."     

Princess Emily said, "I should go and get ready for the soiree this evening. I will see you later." She offered a respectful bow, as did Anastasia, before they left the library. On their way, the princess said, "I see that you are scared of Brother Dante. You must have heard the rumours, like others. Though there are some things about him, he has a good heart. You will s—Oh, my coat. I must have left it at the library. Go and get it and bring it to my room, Anna. I will go ahead."     

Anastasia nodded, bowing at the princess before returning to the library.      

Entering the quiet library, Anastasia looked for the princess's coat where she had stood earlier, but it didn't seem like it was there. Maybe she had left it in the other room.      

"Looking for this?"      

Anastasia turned to look at the other end of the rack, and her eyes fell on Dante, with the princess's coat hung at the end of his finger. His eyes were fixed on her, and he brought his hand from the side to the front, as if telling her to take it.      

It took a lot of courage for Anastasia to make her way to where Dante stood. When she finally reached it, she quickly moved to grab the coat, but the coat escaped from her fingers as it dropped to the ground. Instead, she felt him grab her wrist before pushing her against the rack beside them with the dagger's blade pointing at her neck.      

Anastasia gasped, feeling her back collide with the books behind her and her hand being pressed against one of the shelf beams by Dante. She didn't make an attempt to move.      

"Anna, was it?" Dante's eyes flared with intensity, ready to combust her into flames. "Hm, or it's more right to say Anastasia."     

Anastasia's face paled and she looked frightened. He had found out the truth! He knew! She repeated in her mind, ready to say her prayers before he slit her throat.      

When Dante's eyes fell on hers, he knew in an instant that she was the girl named Tasia Flores, and he was unsure if he should be irritated by the fact that he had studied every curve of her face before she had disappeared from the palace. But here she was.      

"Still going to continue acting mute?" Anastasia felt the tip of his dagger poke her neck, and her lips parted.      

"Please forgive me, Prince Dante! Please spare me!" Anastasia pleaded with her eyes closed, scared for her life now.      

"Why?" Dante taunted, his tone laced with a hint of mockery as he questioned her. He asked, "For fooling the royal family? Or for stealing clothes and dressing up as a lady? Or for lying about being mute?"     

Anastasia opened her eyes, meeting his eyes, which were narrowed at her.      

When Anastasia's lips trembled, Dante's eyes briefly fell on the pale pink lips, and he asked, "Or for failing to keep your end of our deal?"     

She replied, "I—I didn't mean not to hold my end of the deal. I swear!"     

Dante had listed a ton of things, and he noted how she addressed only one of them. He pressed the tip of the dagger blade against her skin, which made her jump at its coldness, and his hold on her hand turned firm, which kept her in place.      

"So you aren't sorry about the other things," Dante's lips twitched, and Anastasia tried to shake her head.      

"I am sorry, but I didn't do it on purpose! Please listen to me before you kill me!" Anastasia pleaded, her brown eyes staring into his black eyes, which looked right back at her. When Dante didn't speak, as if he was waiting, she quickly explained, "When my sister and I were brought here… we got into a little situation that led me to never speak in front of anyone ever again. We were little girls, and I never meant any harm. I did not steal anyone's dress, but borrowed it. I might be a woman of a servant class, but I am not a thief," she said, shaking her head.      

Dante weighed the maid's words before asking, "Do you know what I dislike the most?"      

"Families trying to get you matched for marriage," Anastasia answered his question as if it was the right answer, while Dante glowered at her. She shrank back and asked, "No…?"     

For a maid, this one sure liked to speak smartly, Dante thought, and his jaw ticked.      

"What I dislike the most is dishonesty. Lies, and people who cannot keep their word," Dante's words were loud and clear, making Anastasia feel it was time to count the seconds before her death. But then she heard him say, "I must say though, that you evaded the questions quite well, and your answers didn't fall into lies." He retracted the dagger from her neck and stepped back, putting the dagger away.      

Feeling Dante release her hand, Anastasia looked perplexed and asked, "Are you not going to kill me then?"      

Maybe Princess Emily was speaking the truth, that this man wasn't as bad as what people made him seem like.      

Dante's eyes moved back to the maid, who looked anxious. He responded,      

"Not today. But that doesn't mean I won't have my eyes on you from now on. One more mistake, and you will be hanging in the middle of the town, and let me tell you, that is very uncomfortable and suffocating."     

He was letting her off the hook only because of his sister, Emily. The poor girl had lost more than five maids in the last two years, which had left her feeling guilty, as if she had caused their deaths.     

Dante remarked, "Besides, I don't think I need to look for a punishment for you, because you have done that to yourself, by stepping into the quicksand." His eyes held a sadistic mirth that left an unsettling feeling in Anastasia's stomach. "Let us wait for the day when someone learns who the lady in the green dress is, shall we?"     


Evening Soiree with the Blackthorns(chapter 35)

Hearing Prince Dante's words, which weren't free from the trouble she had gotten herself into, Anastasia didn't know if she was supposed to be happy that he was sparing her life at this moment or worry about the dread that was going to keep hanging above her head, waiting for someone to find out.      
"I told you, didn't I?" Dante had already begun walking away from where she continued to stand with her back pressed against the books. He said, "There are more cruel punishments than death."     

Unable to hold back her question, Anastasia asked him, "What happens after someone finds out?"     

Dante paused his footsteps. "Isn't it obvious?" he asked, turning his head to the side. Before leaving, he asked, "How did a maid learn to dance on the dance floor like a lady?" He turned his head further to meet her eyes.      

"I had my sources…" Anastasia hesitated as she answered, not wanting to put—     

"Your sister," Dante remarked, and Anastasia clenched her hands. "Considering you are a maid, your sister cannot be a lady. But she can't be a maid either. Especially when you said you came to see your sister at the celebration. She must be a courtesan."     

Anastasia quickly bowed deeply before pleading, "Please don't punish her! She had nothing to do with me attending the celebration!" This man was smart to link the possibilities so quickly, making it hard for her to hide anything in front of him. "I beg you!"      

After receiving no response from the prince, Anastasia looked up to find Dante missing from the spot. Her eyes moved around the space ahead of her, but he was nowhere in sight, and soon she heard the library doors open and close.      

Suddenly Anastasia felt her knees weaken, which had been shaking, and she fell to the ground while taking deep breaths.      

Once she gathered her thoughts, Anastasia picked up Princess Emily's coat and quickly made her way to the princess's room. Upon reaching the room, she knocked on the door before turning the doorknob and entering the room.      

"It's good that you are here, Anna!" Princess Emily turned to look at her while she stood in front of the mirror holding two gowns. "Which one do you think looks better? I love them both, but I am unable to decide."      

Anastasia pointed to the left gown, and Princess Emily smiled and said, "That is an excellent pick." She tossed the other dress away, which she wasn't going to wear.      

Once the princess was dressed and ready for the evening soiree, her eyes shifted from her reflection to look at the maid, and she said,      

"Norrix will soon arrange clothes for you to wear as you are now my maid. If you were assigned to me sooner, we could have you in better clothes today."     

Anastasia shook her head.      

"No?" Princess Emily tilted her head.      

Anastasia moved her hands over her dress and crossed her arms before placing them on her chest to let the princess know she was happy to wear these clothes. Wearing better clothes only meant that she would be identified sooner, and she didn't know how long she would last with them.      

Princess Emily softly laughed, saying, "You don't have to feel shy about it. I will make sure to remind Norrix about it so that we can have you out of the current attire as soon as possible."     

Anastasia could only smile and bow. Princess Emily was too kind, and her kindness was going to drag her right into the quicksand, Anastasia thought to herself in fear.      

The princess fixed her earrings with a slightly worried look before she announced, "Let us head to the soiree," making her way towards the door while Anastasia followed right behind her.      

But right when they stepped out of the room and started to walk, there came the trouble that Anastasia had been counting on with every beat of her heart.      

"Sister!" Prince Aiden called from behind, and Princess Emily turned before she smiled.      

"You are quicker than usual, Aiden. Is it because of Lady Helma?" Princess Emily walked up to him and greeted him by giving him airy kisses on both sides of his face, and he did the same.      

"Lady Helma would be given to me on a platter, but you know that's not what I am interested in. Not to mention Lady Helma is not my type," said Aiden, a wide grin spreading on his lips. "I hear the concubines are dancing tonight."     

"Of course, how could I forget?" Princess Emily remarked, and she said, "But beware, my dear brother. If you keep spending so much time with the concubines and the courtesans, you will become a father in no time. Not that I cannot wait to be an aunt."     

"I have got that covered, Lily," Aiden winked at his sister, "to keep the seeds away from sowing in the fields."      

Princess Emily scrunched her face and said, "Do you have to be so crude?"      

"Do you have to be a prude? Crude would be me telling you that I remove my…" Aiden coughed, letting his words hang when his sister glared at him. "If you married the Prince of Edrax, you would know that it's all natural and there's nothing to be ashamed about. But then, your maids swayed you into not marrying him."     

"They didn't sway me; it was my own decision." Princess Emily's voice hardened, and she said, "Perhaps I should let mother know how you sneak out of your room in the middle of the night. Do you know that only rats and cockroaches come out in the middle of the night?"      

"You are just jealous that I can and you can't," Aiden scoffed, who had yet to notice Anastasia standing not far from them.      

Anastasia noticed how Princess Emily and Prince Aiden had involved themselves in the little banter. Prince Aiden seemed like someone who had a hard time containing his words… just like one of his family members. Dante was already aware of it and was waiting for someone to report her. She didn't want Prince Aiden to shout her name upon seeing her.      

"It isn't that I can't, but that I don't want to." Princess Emily raised her nose and then said, "I don't understand your thrill in going beyond the palace walls, and do not try to persuade me because I am not interested in it." She gave Aiden a pointed look when she saw her younger brother open his mouth.      

When Princess Emily turned to look ahead where her maid was standing, the spot was empty, and she frowned. She murmured, "Huh? Where did she go?"      

"Who?" Aiden asked, looking around at the empty corridor with just them and two servants.      

"My maid. The one Mother assigned me today," Princess Emily looked confused, but soon Prince Aiden put his hand around her shoulder and said,      

"She will find you later. Come, Lily, we will be late, and I don't want to miss the dance!" Prince Aiden dragged his sister out of there.      

Anastasia had hidden behind a pillar that was currently covered in a long purple curtain, and she stepped out from behind it only when the siblings had disappeared from the corridor. She sighed and questioned herself,      

"How much longer will I be able to survive this?" She wasn't living by days but by minutes right now, not knowing which step would expose her. "Staying here is not an option," she muttered, because Queen Sophia could question Princess Emily about her whereabouts, leading to more trouble.      

After five minutes had passed, Anastasia stood in one of the five corridors that led to the main hall. The corridors' floors were made of thick glass, behind which one could see water and plants. Her legs shook, terrified of what could happen to her. Would she come out of there alive this evening? Or would her head roll like how Charlotte's head had rolled on the ground?      

Not far from where she stood, her eyes fell on the people making their way to the centre hall from the other corridors. And out of them, her eyes caught sight of Dante Blackthorn making his way through the corridor. The same corridor she stood in.     

His hair was combed back, which gave a clear view of his strong facial features. His face was void of emotions, and his eyes didn't give way to anything, which turned people slightly wary even though he didn't have a Crux.      

Something else came to Anastasia's attention, and she stared at him. He wore a golden-beige coat, but the lapels and the inner shirt were dark green. It was as if he had worn the inverse of what she had worn for the celebration, and she wondered if it was on purpose or not.      

Dante never once looked at Anastasia as he got closer to her with his long strides, and she held her breath. When he walked past her, she felt the breeze touch her that was caused by him.     

A couple walking by remarked with a chuckle, "Prince Dante is so good-looking that even the maid cannot stop staring at him."     

"She's a maid; of course she will stare," the man responded to his wife's words, walking past Anastasia before entering the main hall.      

Anastasia took comfort in the fact that the guests didn't recognize her and hoped it would be the same for everyone. Turning around,she faced the main hall, and she made her way over and finally entered inside, this time as a princess's maid.      

Upon entering the main hall, the first thing Anastasia did was peek around and find out where the third prince was. When her eyes fell on him near the concubines, talking to two of them, she was ready to look for Princess Emily but came face to face with Princess Niyasa.      

"What are you doing standing behind the pillar?" Princess Niyasa questioned her with suspicion before turning to look in the direction where Anastasia had been looking. The princess burst into laughter and said, "I forgot that you can't speak. Why aren't you with Emily?"     

Anastasia raised the coat in her hand, but Princess Niyasa was already bored; turning on her heel, she walked to where a few members of her family stood. Having to walk there herself, Anastasia lowered her head while making sure not to collide with anyone.     

Upon seeing her, Princess Emily questioned, "Where did you go earlier?" Her eyes fell on the coat, and she smiled, "You didn't have to worry about me being cold. The gown I have worn will keep me warm."     

"Explaining to your maid about fabric is pointless, Lily. Not like it is going to be of any use to her. Act any closer with your maid and father will have another head roll," Princess Niyasa warned her older sister to maintain distance from the servants, subtly reminding her of the consequences.      

"I don't think there's anything wrong with explaining it to her so she can remember it for next time and doesn't carry my coat," Princess Emily smiled at her sister before turning away and looking at the guests. She asked, "Where is brother Maxwell?"      

"He should be here anytime soon. He will be excused even if he's late, considering his future," Princess Niyasa smiled to herself. With her brother meeting his soulmate first, he grew stronger, and with no one else married, doors had opened for him to sit on the throne.      

While the two young princesses talked with each other, their maids stood behind them with their heads bowed and keen ears, so that they wouldn't miss any orders made by the princesses.      

"Grandmother and mother are here," Princess Emily stated, and they walked towards them. Offering their bows and greetings, they stood beside them, making small talk.      

Anastasia hid behind Princess Emily, praying religiously to God to save her. All she wanted was to pass this night without any trouble. She heard the Mother Queen remark,      

"Just like I thought, this year is wonderful, Sophia. A wedding and great grandchildren to look forward to."      

Queen Sophia smiled tightly and replied, "You will indeed have more, my Queen. As Aiden has come of age, I can guarantee one from him."      

"Seems like a good competition, hm?" The Mother Queen turned to give her daughter-in-law a knowing look. It wasn't just the competition for great-grandchildren, but the threat to Queen Sophia's son's right to the throne. "I cannot wait to see who it will be. I should perhaps offer a prize, it should motivate everyone well enough," she added, giving a thoughtful nod.      

As Anastasia's eyes moved across the hall, her eyes fell on Marianne, who was accompanying a wealthy man with her hand around his arm. And though her sister was smiling outwardly, only she knew how much it could be hurting her… to watch the man she loved with another woman. The longer Anastasia stared at her sister, the worse she felt.     

"Good evening, Mother Queen!" Aiden greeted his grandmother, and next to him was Dante.      

"A good evening it is," the Mother Queen remarked, and when Dante kissed the back of her hand, her eyes fell on his clothes. A slight furrow appeared between her eyebrows, and she asked, "Why does it feel like I have seen this somewhere before?"      

Dante politely replied, "It is the same colour as the woman I danced with a few evenings ago."     

Anastasia's eyes widened, and she couldn't help but raise her head to stare at Prince Dante. It was on purpose!     

The Mother Queen frowned and sighed. She then placed her hand on her eldest grandson's arm and consoled him, saying, "It must be hard with how things turned out. I know these matters take time, and I will speak to your father," she said firmly. "I will make sure to find her!" Her eyes flared, while Anastasia cowered.     

How was she supposed to survive when Dante reminded everyone about her alter-ego? The man was using her to avoid any alliance, even after her disappearance! When his eyes fleetingly moved in her direction, Anastasia couldn't help but swallow.      

And while Anastasia had crouched by going back, at the same time, Princess Emily had moved to the side, giving Prince Aiden a full view of Anastasia.      

Prince Aiden's eyes widened on seeing the woman, and he exclaimed, "Tasia!"