✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 36 - 40 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️



Whirling through trouble (Chapter 36 )

Anastasia wanted to bury herself in the ground, but that would happen soon, thanks to Prince Aiden recognising her. Her heart was beating so loudly that it numbed every other sound in her ears, and she felt her palms sweat.      
As a maid, she had hoped that the third prince wouldn't bother sparing a glance at her when there were women who wore lavish gowns and adorned themselves with jewels around their necks or ears.      

"Where?!" The Mother Queen exclaimed, turning to look in the opposite direction with the others.      

Anastasia quickly shook her head at Prince Aiden with a look of horror flashing over her face. She wanted him to stay quiet so that she could keep her neck.      

"I do not see her," Princess Niyasa murmured before looking back at her brother with a question in her eyes. "Where is she?"      

Even the Mother Queen turned to look at her grandson, waiting for him to explain. Prince Aiden laughed, waving his hand, before he said,      

"I was trying to recollect the woman's name. It was Tasia, wasn't it?"      

Princess Niyasa rolled her eyes, remembering that this brother of hers was a jester.      

"Don't you dare bring up her name, Aiden." The Mother Queen glowered slightly, her lips set into a thin line. The old woman said, "I am very upset with what she did and have not forgiven her. To think she dared hurt my and Dante's feelings," and she clicked her tongue before her eyes narrowed.      

"I will keep that in mind, Grandmother." Aiden bowed before his eyes sneakily met Anastasia's, who slightly bowed at him from where she stood. The third prince was curious about what was going on and decided to question her later.      

Anastasia's shoulders remained stiff and alert, and she was thankful that Prince Aiden hadn't blown her cover. When her eyes moved to look at Prince Dante, he seemed unruffled and was drinking something from a glass that a passing servant had offered him. Then suddenly, his eyes moved to look at her, and she quickly looked down.     

After a few minutes had passed, Prince Maxwell stepped into the main hall with his soulmate, who had her hand around his arm. They continued to walk and stopped in front of King William, the Mother Queen, and Queen Sophia. The couple took blessings from the three high-status elders and stood to the side.      

King William said to everyone in the main hall, "Welcome again, everyone. We are here today to celebrate the fact that Maxwell, my son, has found his soulmate. I would like all of you to welcome Lady Evin Jeremiah."     

Anastasia's eyes fell on the woman named Evin, who smiled brightly with evident happiness next to Prince Maxwell. She wore an expensive gown, and a jewelled hairpin was fixed to the side of her chestnut hair. The couple looked happy, enjoying the moment.      

"Without any delay, we will have them engaged today, and soon a wedding date will be picked for the two to get married. Bring the rings," King William ordered, and soon two servants walked forward with square, red velvet pillows, each carrying a ring.      

Prince Maxwell and Lady Evin exchanged their rings to make it official, and sounds of approval passed around the room. Anastasia's gaze left the engaged couple, seeking where her sister stood, finding her staring without any expression.      

"There is also some more news that I would like to share." King William's voice echoed in the room, capturing everyone's attention before he continued, "Maxwell will be in charge of the base from now on. I look forward to him making his mark in this upcoming war."     

Anastasia, who stood behind Princess Emily, noticed the young lady turn to look in the direction where her eldest brother stood. It looked like she wanted to say something but was wise enough to keep it to herself.      

As the soiree continued, Anastasia followed wherever Princess Emily went. The princess was fairly popular, with men of high status coming to talk to her, hoping to catch her attention.      

"Excuse me, my mother is calling me," Princess Emily lied while offering a bow to the little crowd that had formed around her. As they walked away, the princess said to Anastasia, "The easiest way to leave is to tell them that you have been summoned. Preferably by my mother or grandmother."     

Anastasia nodded, taking note of it.      

Upon seeing her mother coming in her direction, Princess Emily quickly met her halfway and said, "Mother, there is something I would like to talk about with you."     

"Before that, Mr. Tetrarch told me that his son has been trying to have some of your time, but you have been busy. It would be lovely if you mingled," Queen Sophia said hurriedly, as if she had somewhere to be, while looking far behind her daughter.      

"I have been doing that, Mother," Princess Emily replied politely.      

"That's good, then. I would like to hear about them tomorrow and see if there's any suitable men," Queen Sophia said, before adding, "I will talk to you later, yes?" and she patted her daughter's back before walking past her.      

But Princess Emily was not done talking to her mother, and she continued to follow her mother, who stepped out of the main hall. Anastasia kept up with the princess's footsteps, and before they stopped, not far away from them stood King William, the Mother Queen, and Queen Sophia.      

They hid behind one of the thick pillars before eavesdropping on the conversation that they had to pay attention to, as it was hard to hear with the music that was spilling from the main hall.      

"I don't agree with your decision to give Maxwell the base." The Mother Queen's lips wore a frown as she looked at her son. "The base was Dante's responsibility, and he is more well-equipped with knowledge and skill. On the other hand, Maxwell has never stepped foot into a war zone."     

"He will in two weeks," King William responded, unaffected by the fact that he had upset his mother. "When responsibility falls on one's shoulders, a person learns automatically. My decision is firm, and I won't be changing it."     

Mother Queen Ginger pursed her lips and said, "You are stripping one son's responsibility and giving it to another. Have you thought about how Dante might feel?"      

"Dante agrees with me, Mother," King William said with a pointed look before adding, "He is a capable knight, and he will continue to assist Maxwell for now. At least until someone takes the throne," and these words affected Queen Sophia, who suddenly looked troubled but hid her emotions.      

Queen Sophia said, "Wouldn't it be better if it was discussed and everyone approved of it?"      

The Mother Queen smiled dryly and replied, "I had the same question when a second Queen was introduced." She asked her son, "Are there any other surprises I should be aware of beforehand, so that they don't catch me off guard?"      

"That would be all for now, Mother. Don't be upset; we are only helping all my children get a fair chance to learn what goes on in the kingdom and see if they hold leadership qualities," King William responded, and he kissed his mother's cheeks. He then walked back into the main hall, where the guests were.      

The Mother Queen sighed, "When he puts it that way, it doesn't seem so bad." Though she still didn't approve of Dante being removed from being the person in charge. She was protective of him because of how everyone had treated him since he was young, but that didn't mean she loved her other grandchildren any less. She said, "I need a good, strong drink. Where is Aziel?" Looking for him, she joined the rest of the party where the celebration was taking place.     

Princess Emily turned to Anastasia and said, "Why don't you go inside and wait for me? I will be there soon." She started walking towards her mother while Anastasia returned inside the main hall.      

Anastasia stood quietly, watching the guests without looking at them directly to avoid offending them.      

Her eyes found Prince Dante speaking to a couple of guests. Compared to those who were upset in the corridor, he looked perfectly content with the earlier news, as if it didn't bother him. The longer she stared at him, the more she noticed, like the way some young women glanced at him while their parents were not looking at them.      

While she waited for Princess Emily, Prince Aiden appeared next to her with a tray of fancy food he had brought. He stated in surprise,      

"I am so confused, yet amazed, with what is going on with you. I'd rather be enlightened than watch the concubines dance," and his eyes lit up.      

Anastasia raised her hands to her lips, and he quickly mouthed, 'Ah!' He said in a low voice, "You don't speak when you are a maid, but you spoke in the Bazaar. You also spoke as Tasia Flores. Is that like Juan?" He asked with a look of suspicion.      

She shook her head and made a half-sign with her hands, and this made the prince tilt his head while he thought hard about what her name could be. She moved her hand in front of her mouth before whispering,      

"Please don't tell anyone the truth."     

"I didn't mean to." Prince Aiden took an item from his tray and popped it into his mouth. Once he was done chewing and swallowing it, he said, "You are a strange woman to not speak when you have such a nice voice. Though there is something that has been bugging me for a few minutes. You said you wanted to ride the camels… don't tell me that you were planning to run away?" He stared at her.      

Anastasia wasn't looking at him, as it was rude for a servant like herself to do so, and she felt her vision blur. It was just too much for one evening, and she was barely surviving. She shook her head and moved her two fingers as if walking.      

"Ah, I don't know what you mean now. Maybe I will learn it in two months," Aiden decided before saying, "But I am lazy and it's too much work. There's so much to talk about, and I cannot wait to have you alone."      

Suddenly someone hit the back of his head, and it was none other than Princess Emily, who glared at her younger brother, "What do you mean alone with her? I will tell Mother if you do or say anything strange to my maid." She then turned to Anastasia and said, "I am tired and would like to return to my room now."     

Anastasia offered Prince Aiden a bow and followed Princess Emily out of there. The princess's fast footsteps slowed down once they were away from the main hall. It appeared as if the princess was deep in thought, and she hadn't uttered a word.     

Reaching the princess's room, Anastasia helped the young lady out of her dress and detangled her hair which had earlier been fastened with pins, which took quite some time.      

Once Princess Emily was in bed, Anastasia pulled the blanket up over the princess and heard, "I will see you tomorrow, Anna. You can leave the candles lit."     

Anastasia nodded before offering a bow and leaving the room.      

As she was excused from having to attend to the princess for the day, she decided to wait for her sister below the Paradise Tower. Minutes turned into an hour, which turned into three before she heard footsteps approaching where she stood. To another person, it looked like she was cleaning a vase, when it was only an excuse so she wouldn't be questioned.      

When Anastasia glanced over, she noticed the courtesans walking up the stairs one by one, but she didn't catch sight of Marianne. She wondered if Marianne was possibly entertaining a guest back in the main hall, or was in one of the guest's rooms.     

Leaving the corridor, she started to make her way towards the servants' quarters when she met Mr. Gilbert, who ordered, "Go to the kitchen and fetch one of the trays of food served at the main hall. Have it brought to Lady Maya's place."     

Anastasia bowed and did as she was told. After bringing the tray of treats to the room, another maid took it from her. As she started to leave the corridors of the inner palace, one of the doors opened ahead of her and Prince Maxwell stepped out of the room.      

As the prince walked toward Anastasia, his eyes narrowed when they fell on her, making her nervous. Every moment she was worried about someone identifying her.      

He walked past her, and the sound of his footsteps receded, disappearing at the end of the corridor. At the same time, Marianne stepped out of the same room Prince Maxwell had left.      

When the two sisters' eyes met, Marianne became surprised to see her sister there. But before she could say anything , Anastasia asked her,      

"What did Prince Maxwell want from you?"      


A Happy Birthday to RedRising, who is also the muse for Queen Mother Ginger     _____________


Duel between the princes(Chapter 37 )

Marianne pulled Anastasia into the same room she and Prince Maxwell had stepped out of a moment before, closing the door. Her eyebrows had gathered together to form a slight frown, and when Anastasia continued to stare, the elder Flores sister said,      
"He came to speak to me… He came with a proposal, the same one but slightly different."     

"To be his concubine?" A mistress, Anastasia thought in her mind.      

Marianne quietly nodded before letting her back rest against the wall while staring at the ground.      

Anastasia was aware that no woman of the lower class could marry a prince or king. If the man wanted to keep a woman of the lower class, it would be as his concubine or mistress. The prince was offering the same position to her sister again.      

"What do you mean, slightly different?" Anastasia asked, wanting her sister to elaborate on it.      

Marianne struggled to find the right words, as if she was swallowing her hurt and pain, before she replied,      

"Because he's found his soulmate, he will never be able to love me the way he did before. What we had until now has been erased on his side. He probably feels guilty, and wants me to have a better life, to protect me by taking me as his concubine. But there won't be any love, and he will never touch me."     

On the bright side, Marianne would be promoted as the prince's concubine, and she wouldn't have to sleep with any more random men who entered the court or to please the king's guests. She would wear expensive clothes and jewels. She wouldn't fall to the lower rank once she grew old. But on the downside, she wouldn't be able to receive anyone's love, and her life would be shallow. She would be alone.      

"He's trying to take responsibility?" Anastasia asked, unsure of Prince Maxwell's intentions as she had believed that once the royal family member met their soulmate, they wouldn't look at anyone else. But then, he had told her beforehand that he wouldn't touch or love her. "Is that what you want, Mary?"      

Marianne smiled, her expression tinged with a touch of bitterness and a certain heaviness in her chest. When her eyes rose to look up at her younger sister, there were tears in her eyes, and she said,      

"It is probably not ideal, but I love him. He could have forced it upon me, but he gave me the option to decide. You don't think it is good?"      

Anastasia sighed and replied, "I am your sister, but only you know what you truly want. I just don't want you to regret the decision you make now in the future."     

But the more Anastasia thought about it, the more she realised it would be a better position for Mary than her current one. Instead of spending days and nights with other men, she would be left untouched.      

"I don't have a future, Anna. As hard as it is, this is my life. I guess I am just happy to see him, rather than not see him at all," Marianne clenched her hands, feeling a prick in her heart. "Love is a passing thing, isn't it? One day it is there, and then the next day, it turns out to be an illusion."     

Marianne had come to believe that there was no one who could love her the way she had felt Prince Maxwell's love for her. With it gone were the hopes and dreams she had envisioned, and she stood alone in the darkness.      

Anastasia watched her sister lower her eyes while she continued to look dazed. She said, "You are choosing to stay by someone who doesn't love you anymore, sister. I know it is painful, but I think you deserve better. Someone who will love you completely, and I think he is out there, waiting for you. I know it is selfish of me to ask you this… but take your time and give it some thought. When and if you are ready, we will leave."      

Marianne nodded, and Anastasia hugged her sister tightly. The elder Flores sister asked, "What are you doing on this side of the palace at this hour of the night?"      

"Mr. Gilbert asked me to attend to the guests here. I am no more a simple lowly maid but one who works for Princess Emily," Anastasia relayed the news.      

Marianne turned happy for her sister; pulling away, she said, "That's good news! Princess Emily is kind, and you won't have—you… how will you manage it?" She asked, worried that her sister would be caught.      

"So far, everything has gone well. I can only hope it will last until I get away from here," Anastasia offered a reassuring smile to Marianne, not wanting her sister to be more distressed, as she had her own troubles.      

As Anastasia left the room and the corridor to go back to the servants' quarters, the smile on her lips vanished. It was obvious that her sister's heart was in the palace, with the man who didn't love her. Seeing the anguish in her sister's eyes, she hoped to never fall for those emotions and to guard her heart.      

The following day after breakfast, Anastasia was on her feet, following Princess Emily, whose mood seemed better than the one she had left the princess in last night. They walked through the palace corridors, with the hem of the princess's dress sweeping the already-clean floor.      

Princess Emily thoughtfully remarked, "Mother and everyone else is busy with the guests. So this is the perfect opportunity to step away from the palace."      

Anastasia turned to look at the princess, her eyes holding a question. She wasn't sure if the princess was allowed to leave the palace.      

"We will have guards following us, so it is perfectly alright. I only want to go to the base camp where my siblings are. Hopefully, Aiden isn't dead yet," Princess Emily said, as if she was sure he had been beaten by now. She said, "I have already ordered Norrix to bring the tailor, who will be coming this noon to take your measurements."     

Anastasia wondered if there was a way to get out of this. Maybe she could say she was sick, but that would come to Mr. Gilbert's attention, as it had been only two days since she had last fallen sick.      

Once they exited the palace, the palanquin awaited at the foot of the stairs. Positioned at the front and back of the palanquin were two men each, while four guards held spears in their hands.      

Princess Emily climbed inside the palanquin before the transparent curtains on either side lowered to conceal her from view. Soon the four men hoisted the palanquin, and once they started to move, the four guards followed, each taking a corner, while Anastasia walked on the left side of the palanquin.     

They walked for several minutes under the sun, taking a different path which neither led towards the Bazaar nor the town called Jannat. To Anastasia, it was new, and her eyes took in the tall palm trees and the streets, where many commoners came to catch a glimpse of the royal member of the Blackthorn family taking a stroll.     

After many more minutes had passed, Anastasia's eyes finally fell on a steep slope ahead of them. When they got closer, her eyes fell on the wide, hollow ground below where a troop of soldiers practised their fighting skills and were preparing for the upcoming war. In one corner, she could see the young boys who had just been enlisted engaging in rigorous training.      

They went down the slope, and on reaching the lower ground, Princess Emily ordered, "Stop right here. Anna and I will walk from here."     

"But Princess—" one of the guards began, quickly stopping when Princess Emily raised her hand and extended it beyond the curtain. She pushed the thin curtains aside before getting down.      

"My brothers will be busy, and I do not want to disturb them. It is the safest place I could be, so you don't have to follow us," Princess Emily ordered the guards.     

"Yes, Princess," the guard answered while he, along with the others, bowed at her.      

"Come, Anna. Let us take a stroll," Princess Emily smiled at Anastasia, and they started to walk.      

Anastasia heard the commanding voice of the officer in charge of the young enlisted soldiers giving them orders, which they obeyed, followed by the sound of wooden sticks clashing against each other.      

"I have always held a strange fascination towards this place. Sometimes I wish I were a man. If I were, then I could have been more useful to my family and help Brother Dante," Princess Emily said, her eyes shining brightly as she watched the soldiers training. "It is rather ironic, considering I don't like the sight of blood," the princess nervously chuckled. "Do you find it odd?"      

Anastasia moved her hands as slowly as she could to speak to the princess, asking, "You don't like the sight of blood either?" And to this, Princess Emily nodded. "It would be strange if we did, no?"     

"Look! There are my brothers!" Princess Emily spoke excitedly, letting Anastasia know how much the princess loved her brothers. They reached where the three brothers stood and heard Prince Aiden argue with Prince Dante.      

"I am telling you, I love this sword and want to fight with it. It is so pretty, look at its handle!" He looked excited as he stared at its intricate craftsmanship.      

"Find a wooden stick, Aiden. I don't have time to play with you when we need to prepare you for the war," Dante stared hard at his brother, who didn't want to budge.      

Maxwell had chosen a sword himself, and said, "I don't see why Aiden cannot use a real sword if he wants to. Maybe it would be better for me to teach him. After all, in case you have forgotten, I have been in charge of this base since last night."     

"You might be in charge of this place, but that doesn't mean you have the skill for it," Dante stated coolly, his words loud and clear, which brought attention from the other people around them. On noticing his sister there, his gaze turned displeased. He asked, "What are you doing here?"      

"I thought to come pay a visit," Princess Emily smiled, before her eyes fell on her younger brother, and she asked, "Why have you poured water on yourself?"      

Prince Aiden stared at his sister and deadpanned, "It is my sweat, Lily." Hearing this, Princess Emily quickly took a step away from him while scrunching her eyebrows.      

Dante's eyes fleeted over to look at the maid behind his sister, who offered him a bow.      

"What do you say, Brother Dante?" Maxwell asked him, bringing his attention back.      

"What for?" Aiden tilted his head, "I think I would prefer to learn from Brother Dante."     

Maxwell chuckled and said, "How about a duel?"      

"I don't want to hurt you," Dante stated, his tone serious.      

"A little scratch doesn't bother me, and we will know how far I have come," Maxwell challenged his elder brother to a swordfight. Unlike the other soldiers, as a prince, he had learned the art of swordsmanship from the Vizier.      

"I wasn't talking about scratch marks, but if that is what you wish, let us duel," the serious glint in Dante's eyes reflected slight amusement. He turned to one of the nearby men and ordered, "Bring me a sword."      

Princess Emily frowned and asked Prince Aiden, "I don't think it's a good idea to use a sword. Won't they get hurt?"      

"That is to be seen, but they will be fine. How exciting!" Prince Aiden's eyes brightened as if ready to see his two older brothers fight.      

When Dante and Maxwell stepped into the temporary ring made with the help of ash powder, most of the men who had been training earlier moved towards the ring. Anastasia saw the interest in every man's eyes, who whispered amongst themselves.      

"Who do you think is going to win the duel?"      

"Hard to say. I heard Prince Maxwell has been trained by the Vizier, and we all know how the Vizier won wars for the King," whispered the other man. "Not to mention, with his Crux, he's at the next level. Maybe he will win."     

Anastasia's eyes were trained on the two Blackthorn princes, who drew their swords, holding them high. There was an unspoken competition to excel and show who was better than the other. The two men moved in a circle, waiting to find an opening, and suddenly the two swords clashed against each other.      

The sound of the sharp blades rang in and around the ring, filling the men who were watching with excitement, as they had never been able to witness a duel between the princes.      

Maxwell used all his might against Dante's sword, which he had attacked head-on. He flattered his brother, "Do you know how long I have been waiting to duel with you? Everyone believes you are the strongest swordsman here."     

"If you want to take the title, take it. It is all yours," Dante knocked Maxwell's sword away, and their swords clashed again before his brother jumped backwards.      

"I will, so don't hold back," Maxwell smiled, before going back in with continuous attacks. He was annoyed that Dante had not attacked him and was only defending himself. He swung his sword, using all his strength.      

Compared to Maxwell's furious moments, Dante's appeared more graceful, as if he was toying with his brother.      

But after a few moments, even though it seemed like Maxwell was doing well with all the attacks Dante had dodged, their positions switched. Maxwell felt the heaviness of Dante's sword coming down, and though he had moved to the side, his brother's movements were swift. His sword flew from his hand the next moment and fell to the ground.      

"Is that all that you have got?" Dante taunted Maxwell, whose jaws clenched before his lips twitched and turned into a smile.      

"Far from it," Maxwell replied, bringing his hands forward. Soon his hands turned into sharp, long daggers. "You don't mind if I don't use the sword, do you?" He attacked Dante, who used his sword and dodged the sharp dagger that came close to his face.      

Anastasia heard Prince Aiden remark, "Woah! That must be what a level up does to the existing Crux. Now I wish I had met my soulmate, just to know what I can do."     

Princess Emily whispered, "I have seen him transform metals, but this is really unique. Brother Dante is at a disadvantage."     

"A big one," Prince Aiden nodded in agreement.      

Anastasia watched Prince Maxwell's relentless attacks against Prince Dante. Prince Maxwell's daggered hands turned longer and sharper, and he moved around to slash his brother's back, and the fabric of Dante's shirt absorbed his blood.      

Unconsciously, Anastasia's hands clenched at her sides, feeling her heart skip a beat when one of the daggers came too close to Prince Dante's neck. The sounds of the blades were relentless and fast.      

Dante moved back when he saw Maxwell's daggered hand swipe through the air to strike him. One of the daggers grazed against his arm, which left a tear on his shirt and brought a line of blood with it. Some of the people around murmured, and Dante remarked,      

"With a little more practice, you will do well in the upcoming war."      

Maxwell glared lightly and said, "I don't know if I should take that as a compliment."      

"That depends," Dante replied when they pulled away, leaving a good amount of space between them, and at the same time, Maxwell narrowed his eyes.      

When Maxwell returned to attack Dante to end the duel, the latter kicked up the sword that belonged to Maxwell and caught it in his hand. The daggers clashed against the swords as they moved around the ring. When the younger Blackthorn prince moved both weapons, Dante bent back to dodge the attack and kicked his brother's leg, making him fall to the ground.      

Before Maxwell could get up, one sword swished right next to his head to stick into the ground, while the other was placed at his throat. Dante remarked,      

"Don't weigh years of experience against an ability. There's no point in wielding something if you don't know how to do it."      

Putting away the sword, Dante offered his brother a hand to stand up. But Maxwell, whose pride was hurt, didn't take it, and he pushed himself up to stand. Maxwell's hands returned back to normal. Dusting himself off, he left the ring, while some of the soldiers applauded the princes.      

"I will need ten years to get to where they are," Prince Aiden said with dread, after witnessing the skills displayed by his two older brothers.      

"Brother Dante won!" Princess Emily was in awe, "I can finally breathe; I was worried something would happen. To think he doesn't have the Crux's ability," she said with a stunned expression.      

"It was expected to happen, Princess," someone said from behind.     

Anastasia turned along with Prince Aiden and Princess Emily, and their eyes fell on an elderly soldier who worked under Prince Dante. He bowed at them and apologised, "Forgive me for speaking out of turn."      

The soldier then said, "When the prince was young, he had to make up for the lack of his Crux and trained very hard for a long time. I believe he was only humouring Prince Maxwell today, because the man I know on the battlefield would have ended the fight in less than a few seconds."     

Anastasia turned to look back in the direction where Prince Dante stood. He wore an expressionless look on his face and was back to giving orders to the soldiers, unfazed by the fresh wounds caused by Prince Maxwell, which were soon hidden beneath his coat.      


Flame under the blade(Chapter 38)

Princess Emily decided to leave after seeing her brothers and informed Prince Dante, "I will be returning to the palace now, Brother Dante."     
Dante nodded and said, "I will have my men accompany you."     

"It is fine. The palace guards accompanied us here, and I have Anna with me," Princess Emily turned to look at Anastasia, and suddenly, the latter felt Dante's gaze that burned more intensely than the sun above them.      

"You speak as if your maid has the ability to turn into someone else," Dante briefly paused his words before continuing, "One who has skill in combat."     

Anastasia felt sweat trickle from the nape of her neck and down the back of her dress. She felt like a mouse constantly being dangled above the fire at the mercy of this person.      

For a moment, Prince Aiden leaned closer, wondering if his brother had caught on to the maid's lie. But that was not possible. If his older brother had found out, the sword would have already been pressed against the maid's neck by now. He said,      

"You are right. Lily needs someone capable to escort her back to the palace. I will make sure to personally see my sister back safe and sound." Dropping his sword on the ground, he quickly made his way in the direction where the palanquin was waiting.      

Dante's eyes narrowed at his younger brother, and he muttered, "I will have someone drag him back here later." He then turned back to look at his sister and said, "Don't wander around at your brother's or anyone else's words." His eyes fell on Anastasia as he ended his sentence. "You don't want to get into unnecessary trouble."     

Princess Emily bowed and said, "Yes, Brother Dante. I will see you later." She looked at the tent behind which her brother Maxwell had disappeared, but not seeing him, she smiled at Dante and walked back to the waiting palanquin.      

With the palanquin having only enough space for one person to sit in it, Princess Emily made her way inside and sat down, while Anastasia and Prince Aiden walked at the back.      

"So your name is Anna," Aiden stated, who had finally found the opportunity to talk to this mysterious maid.      

"Actually, it is Anastasia, Your Highness," Anastasia replied, and it took Aiden a few seconds before he finally linked the two names she had given him.      

Aiden bobbed his head, impressed, and said, "That is smart of you. Breaking your name up in a way that there is still truth to it when introducing yourself. If only my name was long enough," he laughed. Anastasia quickly brought her hand to her lips, and the prince lowered his voice and said, "Sorry. I'm excited that we can speak again."     

Princess Emily was in the dark, not knowing that Anastasia could speak.      

After a few seconds, Anastasia thanked him properly, saying, "Thank you for keeping my secret, Prince Aiden."      

"We became friends the moment you helped me pick out the hairpin for my mother. It would break the laws of friendship if I were to expose you after that, right?" Prince Aiden offered her a carefree smile, putting his hands in his trouser pockets. "Though I have been curious to know what has prevented you from speaking."     

Anastasia recounted the time the Mother Queen had caught her and her sister when they had first arrived at the palace. Prince Aiden nodded before he said, "Your sister was right in what she did. As sweet and strange as Grandmother is, she won't tolerate anyone who looks down on our family. She would have ordered the executioner to rip your tongue out of your mouth. Though I must say, you are brave. In a way, our situation is the same."     

"It is?" Anastasia asked in a lowered voice, even though they walked a few steps behind the guards.      

Prince Aiden nodded and said, "We both have two personas and are hunted. In my case, to return to the palace and you to be put on death row." He said it casually as if there was nothing to worry about, while in truth, it only raised warning bells in Anastasia's mind. "Don't worry, though. With Maxwell's upcoming wedding, you will be forgotten. But it seems like you left a lasting impression on Brother Dante."     

Anastasia's shoulders drooped. She wished she hadn't, because he seemed peeved at her.      

"You are quiet. Is it because the difference in our status hinders our friendship?" Prince Aiden asked her curiously. "You don't have to call me Prince Aiden. Just Aiden would do."     

That was equivalent to offering someone a sword to behead her. Anastasia didn't want to take liberties with the prince when her life was hanging loosely by a thread that could snap any moment once a third person within the Blackthorn family discovered the truth. Or Mr. Gilbert or the Vizier!     

Princess Emily suddenly stuck her head out of the curtains and turned back to look at them. She said, "Don't chase my maid away by talking her ear off, Aiden."     

Prince Aiden huffed, "I was doing nothing." And once his sister put her head back inside, he whispered like a thief, "Tonight I am going out to look at the celebration being held in one of the shops." He placed his finger on his lips with an excited smile before looking ahead as they returned to the palace.      

Once they reached the palace and entered the corridors, they met Mr. Gilbert, who offered a deep bow and informed Princess Emily,      

"Princess, the tailor has arrived and is waiting in the fitting room as per your orders."     

Anastasia turned back to look at Prince Aiden, only to see that he was gone.      

"Excellent," Princess Emily said, looking pleased.      

Anastasia gingerly followed Princess Emily to the fitting room. Upon entering the room, the tailor stood next to a tall mirror. He was a man in his late thirties; his moustache was thin and curled. His shoulder-length, straight hair was tied at the back.      

"Princess Emily! How wonderful to see you!" The tailor greeted the princess with a bow.      

"Mr. Rooke, you are as enthusiastic as the last time I saw you," Princess Emily smiled, and she turned to look at Anastasia. "This is Anna. I want you to sew seven dresses for her. Make sure they are of good taste."     

The tailor turned to Anastasia and ordered, "Stand here and raise your arms. I will take the measurements." He extended his measuring tape and asked, "Milady, what colours of fabric would you like them made in?"      

Princess Emily's lips pursed, and she replied, "I was thinking pastel colours. Grey, blue, orange, yellow? Oh, not to forget green!" While the princess was excited, she failed to notice her maid's drooping shoulders and pale face.      

In the night, after the guests and the royal family members retired to their rooms, Anastasia stepped out of Princess Emily's room after wishing the princess goodnight. She needed the tailor to sew dull-looking clothes for her, and she knew only one person could overrule Princess Emily's choices.      

Anastasia's footsteps were soft against the ground as she walked in the corridors until she came to stand in front of one of the rooms. Hesitatingly, she raised her hand and knocked on the door.      

"Who is it?" She heard Dante's rough and slightly irritated voice from the other side of the door.      

Anastasia looked down both ends of the corridor before quickly replying, "It is Anastasia… the maid, Prince Dante." Upon not receiving any response, her lips parted once again, and she said, "There's somethi—"     

Suddenly, the doorknob clicked and the door opened, revealing a shirtless Dante in front of her.      

Anastasia stopped mid-sentence as her eyes fell on his broad shoulders and taut body, which tapered into his loose, black trousers. His body showed the results of the rigorous training it had gone through over the years. But her eyes also caught the scars on his body, some faded and some still prominent, which made her frown.      

"What did you want?" Dante's sharp tone made Anastasia snap out of her thoughts. She looked up to meet his narrowed, cold eyes before quickly lowering her eyes to the ground.      

It took a second before Anastasia said, "I—I have a request to make." Dante only stared at her, and she took it as a sign and continued, "Princess Emily had the tailor come take my measurements today for my new maid dresses."     

"So I heard. What about it?" Dante slightly tilted his head, raising his eyebrow.      

Without looking at him, Anastasia began, "The thing is, the fabric colours Princess Emily chose are ones that stand out and I don't want that. I was hopin—" she stopped when she heard another door in the corridor open.      

She had turned in the direction of the sound when Dante sighed. She heard him say, "Get in."      

Anastasia's head snapped back to look at Dante, who had stepped away from the door to let her in.      

She contemplated what to do, and before he could close the door in her face, she quickly stepped inside the room.      

Lady Amara had stepped out of her room when her eyes fell on a maid's back who disappeared behind Prince Dante's bedroom door. Her eyes narrowed, as it was rather late for a maid to visit now. She murmured, "Let me stand here and wait. To see if the maid is attending the prince for something else," and she clutched her handkerchief.      

Inside Prince Dante's room, Anastasia stood near the door while Dante walked past her after closing the door. The room was lit with many candles burning on candle stands, while the ceiling held a round chandelier with more burning candles.      

[Music Recommendation: Daddy Issues- The Neighbourhood]     

The room was bigger than Princess Emily's room. Anastasia's curious eyes moved to notice the walls near the bed weren't built straight but were curved. The room had long windows draped in white curtains.      

"I hope you didn't come here to talk about the colours of your dresses. But about something significant."      

Anastasia looked over at where Dante had taken his seat at the table. He held a dagger in his hand, its blade above the burning flame of a candle.      

"No… it wasn't about the particular colours," Anastasia replied. "Princess Emily has been very enthusiastic about having my new clothes made, but she chose colours that I worry will bring attention to me."     

She watched Dante bring the hot blade to his arm, placing it on the wound he had received this morning. She clenched her hands, feeling the pain even though it wasn't her skin that had burned. Did it not hurt?! When she looked up at Dante's face, his composure hadn't changed, and he brought the blade forward.      

"Let me guess. One of the colours she chose is green. A colour to envy," Dante glanced at Anastasia, who was staring at the dagger in his hand. "Looks like your time is limited," he remarked.     

Anastasia bowed and requested, "I was hoping you could let the princess know that a maid doesn't need good clothes. Not bright or colourful, just dull ones. Please, Prince Dante."     

"For someone who committed a series of mistakes, you sure have quite the nerve to ask for a favour," Dante's words were cold. He placed the blade above the flame again before questioning, "One of my younger brothers seems close with you… and in such a short duration. Something I should know about?"      

"One of your brothers?" Anastasia repeated his words, as it was hard to frame her thoughts when the person in front of her was heating a blade.      

"Mhm," Dante hummed.      

When Dante stood up from his seat, continuing to heat the blade, Anastasia was ready to bolt from the room. But if she needed his help, it was clear that she had to answer him. She explained,      

"It was only by chance that I met Prince Aiden in the Bazaar. He wore commoner's clothes and I didn't recognize him at that time. When we met at Queen Sophia's celebration, he identified me. It's how he knows. There's nothing more to it, I swear!" She omitted the part where Prince Aiden mentioned leaving the palace tonight. After all, it had nothing to do with her.      

When Dante left the table and moved towards the mirror, he raised his hand and moved it back. Knowing where he was going to place the blade, Anastasia offered,      

"I can help with that… if you want…" Her voice was gentle and soft, not holding a hint of greed or manipulation in it.      

"To be burned?" Dante's voice held no humour, but that didn't mean his eyes didn't hold mirth. Anastasia's eyes widened at his words. He then stated, "As you are here," and he stretched the dagger towards her.      

Anastasia padded across the room to come and stand in front of Dante. She was careful when she took the dagger from his gloved hand and heard him order, "Heat it again."     

She did as she was told, and while the dagger was getting hotter, she asked him, "May I ask something, Prince Dante? Not another favour," she added before he would misunderstand.      

"That is enough heat," Dante instructed her, and he turned his back to her, so more light fell on him. She was greeted by the sight of more scars on his body and the fresh wound he had received today. She guessed they were from the training and wars he had been in. "Be firm and quick."      

Anastasia took a deep breath before placing the hot blade on his skin and pulling it away.      

"What did you want to ask?" She heard Dante ask her, and he turned to meet her gaze.      

"Your gloves…you always wear them. Even when you are alone in your room," Anastasia said curiously. She had noticed other royal family members wear gloves but had never seen Prince Dante without them. Not once.      

Dante turned around completely to face Anastasia, towering over her, and when he stepped forward, she gulped. He said in a low voice,      

"There are some things I am quite attached to…" Dante leaned forward with his eyes still on hers, and Anastasia touched the edge of the table behind her when his hand grabbed his shirt from it, "and don't seem to let them go that easily."     


Another tale of misunderstanding (Chapter 39 )

Anastasia's brown eyes widened, and blood rushed up her neck as the words left Dante's lips. W—what did he mean by that… It felt as if there was another hidden meaning behind it! She was glad when he stepped backwards and slipped into his off-white shirt.      
"You seem to be well acquainted with my brother Aiden, but you didn't go see him," Dante stated, his eyes weighing heavily on her entire body.      

"T—that, I thought the tailor would listen to you," Anastasia answered as she softly gulped. Prince Aiden had told her he was going out tonight, which was why she hadn't sought him out. And the reason she gave now wasn't false.      

Dante's eyes subtly narrowed. "And it isn't because you know if you go to his room, you won't find him?" Anastasia felt her heart beating rapidly. Either he knew his brother too well or he was very good at catching lies, she thought.      

She watched Dante turn around and walk towards the bed while she heard him say, "Close the door as you leave."      

Not needing to be told twice, Anastasia quickly bolted towards the door. Turning the doorknob, she stepped outside Dante's room. Only a second later did she realise that the man hadn't answered her and had chased her away.     

Sensing someone staring at her, she turned her head and her eyes fell on Lady Amara, who had a baffled look on her face. She offered a bow before leaving the area and headed back to the servants' quarters.      

Back in Dante's room, upon hearing the door close, he started to pull the gloves from the tips of his fingers, one after another. Once the gloves came off, they revealed black nerves resembling roots on the backs of his hands.      

The following afternoon, Anastasia followed Princess Emily from the inner palace towards the drawing room.      

Anastasia carried a tray that had biscuits and a pot of hot tea on it. She was currently wearing the princess's former maid's dress, which was long, and she had to kick it as she walked to avoid tripping.      

Princess Emily said in a low voice,      

"My mother has arranged a gathering for young men and women to get to know each other with everyone around right now. If you ask me, though, it is only an attempt of her trying to find Aiden's soulmate. Especially after Maxwell has found his soulmate," her voice sounded tense, with a hint of worry.      

Anastasia gave her a look as if asking if she was alright.      

Princess Emily said, "If you are asking if I am alright, then no. Not since mother told me something last night," she shook her head. She pursed her lips as they walked before whispering, "My mother believes that if Maxwell takes the throne, Lady Maya will have us driven out to go stay in the old palace."     

So things weren't peaceful among the King's women, and everyone wanted their son to take the throne to secure their future, Anastasia thought. When they reached a large dark wooden door, the male servants, who stood on either side, opened it to let the young women pass through.      

"Princess Emily!" A tall man with brown hair walked towards her and was about to kiss her hand when Anastasia heard a familiar voice.      

"Keep your lips off my sister."      

The man Prince Dante had called to offered an apologetic look and dropped Princess Emily's hand. He apologised with a light chuckle, "I always forget that it isn't allowed here, Prince Dante. Forgive me for my forgetfulness."     

Anastasia peeked out from behind Princess Emily and caught sight of Prince Dante, who was rising from his seat on a plush couch. He glared at the man.      

"Are you both leaving, Brother Dante?" Princess Emily asked, noticing him and Maxwell make their way closer to the door.      

"There's something important that needs our attention. Maxwell is in charge of the troops now, and we need to talk about the weapons that are being made in the other city. We will be back by tomorrow," Dante responded to her.      

"I suppose it cannot be helped," Princess Emily sighed.     

As Dante got closer to Princess Emily and was about to walk past her, his and Anastasia's eyes met. When she tried to move to the side, she stepped on the fabric of her dress and felt her hands fumble with the tray, along with her heart.      

Before the tray could fall, Dante balanced it by catching it with his hand beneath it, which was also where one of Anastasia's hands now rested. He felt her hand tremble.      

"Where is your mind at?" As simple as the question was, Anastasia could feel him questioning her senses.      

"Careful with it, Anna," Princess Emily said with her eyebrows furrowed, "The hot tea would have burned you if it weren't for Brother Dante's quickness."      

Anastasia bowed in apology, making sure to hold the tray properly.      

Dante retrieved his hand and looked at the hem of her dress. He said,     

"I forgot to tell you, but I have told the tailor to cancel the dresses you asked him to prepare. Queen Sophia said there was no need for it. And you asked him to make seven of them? She's a maid, not a concubine. I have already spoken to Norrix; she can reuse the ones that are already there."      

"Oh, okay," Princess Emily hid her disappointment at getting her maid new clothes, and she nodded without refuting his words.      

Anastasia, who was staring at the biscuits, snapped her eyes up to look at Dante, who was looking at his sister. She felt a weight lift from her shoulders, and she thanked him internally. Dante and Maxwell exited the room.      

Lady Amara noticed the brief exchange between the prince and the maid, and she bit her lip.      

Emily made her way to a spare seat and sat on it, while Anastasia moved to stand behind the princess. "Brother Dante is always working; if only he could get to rest a little more. Now even Maxwell will be busy."      

"I am sure Prince Dante got plenty of rest and relief yesterday," Lady Amara remarked in a taunting voice that didn't go unnoticed.      

"What do you mean, Lady Amara?" Princess Emily inquired.      

"I don't like to talk about such things, but there seems to be a misconception about Prince Dante," Lady Amara pursed her lips before saying, "and he has been active in relieving his stress through others." Her eyes then moved to stare at the maid.      

Everyone's curious eyes moved to look at Anastasia, who looked back and forth before her face turned red, when it dawned on her. What was this woman saying?!     

"Oh my!" Princess Niyasa laughed at this information. She said, "It looks like Brother Dante is the same as our other brothers. Only he prefers maids, not courtesans or concubines."     

Prince Aiden, who had been surrounded by young women, frowned and defended Anastasia by saying,      

"That can't be true. You have probably got it wrong, Lady Amara."      

Lady Amara closed her eyes, sighing. She opened her eyes and replied, "You don't have to defend Prince Dante. I know it's shocking, because I was shocked too. But it is the truth. I have seen the looks she gives him when he's in the room. Ask her if she wasn't in his room for several minutes last night."      

Princess Emily looked taken aback, while Prince Aiden had a stunned expression as he stared at Anastasia along with the other guests in the room. Prince Aiden asked,      

"Anna, is Lady Amara telling the truth? Were you in Brother Dante's room late last night?"      

"She's a mute, how do you expect her to reply?" Princess Niyasa rolled her eyes. "But then, she can nod if she was." Turning to the maid, she raised her eyebrows.      

"Don't even think about lying," Lady Amara glared at the lowly maid. "Lying will cause you trouble, and you don't want that. Especially if you know what happened to that maid a few days ago."      

The woman was talking about Charlotte's death, which Anastasia hadn't heard but had seen happen before her. If only Prince Dante was here to deny that nothing strange had happened between them.      

Anastasia nodded to the question of her visiting Prince Dante's room, and murmurs spread through the room before conversation carried on, as it wasn't uncommon to use a maid. But that wasn't good news for a maid, as she was now a used object.     

"I believe she enticed the prince to get a better position. " Lady Amara's voice drawled, and she said, "If I am not wrong, this one was the deceased maid's friend. You should be careful when you speak to her, Princess Emily. You never know what harm she might cause."      

Anastasia hoped to be asked more questions, just so that she could clear the air about the misunderstandings about her. But everyone continued talking as if moving on, while Prince Aiden looked at her from afar and even if he wanted to, couldn't speak to her.      

After spending more than an hour inside, Anastasia followed Princess Emily out of the room. On the way, she tried to speak to Princess Emily in hopes of clearing up the misunderstanding, but as she moved her hands, the princess stopped and said,      

"I am not upset with you for sleeping with my brother," Princess Emily reassured her, while Anastasia shook her head to tell her that was not it. "Though it did come as a surprise… I guess some of us will be relieved. Especially my grandmother, on knowing that Brother Dante is not completely uninterested," she cleared her throat at the end.      

When Princess Emily began to walk again, Anastasia felt the confusion about her with the Blackthorn family deepening every day. She quickly followed the princess.      

Back in the room where the young guests were talking to each other, Lady Amara's mood had turned sour since last night, and it worsened now.      

Lady Amara puffed her cheeks and looked around the room, where her eyes fell on Prince Aiden. Maybe her mother was right. It was better to choose the one who could become a king one day, because Prince Dante was vexing her as he wasn't paying her attention, no matter how hard she tried. It made her feel hopeless!     

On the other hand, Princess Niyasa, who sat beside her, couldn't help wondering about what the woman had said an hour ago. Curious, she asked,      

"How did you find out that my dead maid was closely acquainted with my sister's maid?"      

Lady Amara swirled the liquid of the glass she held and shrugged her shoulders, "I asked the young maids who helped me get ready. Apparently, that dead maid and another woman were the only ones who talked to the mute one. You should ask her if she knows who drew those things."     

"Maybe it was her," Princess Niyasa's jaws clenched in thought. She wondered how it had been missed.      

"Where are you going?" Lady Amara asked the princess, who had gotten up from her seat.      

"The tailor is coming to show me the fabrics today. I need to make sure I am well dressed as the future king's sister," Princess Niyasa smiled before making her way out of the room, and then her smile fell.      

Princess Niyasa ordered two guards to follow her before she made her way towards the servants' quarters. Upon reaching there, her eyes fell on an older adult, who was none other than Theresa.      

"Which one is Anna's room? The maid who belongs to my sister?" Princess Niyasa demanded, raising her eyebrows.      

Theresa offered a deep bow and answered without raising her head, "T—the one on the left, Princess."      

Princess Niyasa turned to the guards and ordered, "Search for any signs of parchment or charcoal in the room. Don't leave any corner untouched."     

At the same time, Anastasia had just returned to the servants' quarters after Princess Emily said she was going to rest in her room a bit. Noticing Princess Niyasa standing in front of her room with her arms crossed, she worried about what the princess wanted, and when the princess turned, she quickly bowed.      

"You look worried," Princess Niyasa remarked, wondering why her eldest brother picked a maid to sleep with. "There's nothing to worry about if you have been frank. I just wanted to make sure there was nothing you had stolen. Who knows, because of your lack of speech, you might have been compensated with something else."      

The dress… Anastasia wondered if she was talking about the magical dress and clenched her hands.     

When the guards turned Anastasia's room upside down, finding no parchment or a piece of charcoal in there, they stepped out of the room and shook their heads in front of the princess.      

Dissatisfied, Princess Niyasa turned to Anastasia and said, "Seems like I was mistaken." But before she left, she said, "To be able to break Brother Dante's resolve, you must be smarter than the rest. If you have lied, watch your back." She smiled before leaving the corridor with the guards.      

Once they were alone in the room, Theresa asked in a low voice, "What did you do to gain her attention, Anna?! This is not good, because she suspects it was you. That is why she was here."     

"One of the guests mentioned Charlotte and me being friends…" Anastasia whispered as she fixed her messy room. She said, "Do you know if the courtesans returned to their tower?"      

Theresa nodded. "They did. Though I am not sure if Marianne has returned."     

"Let me go and see her. I need to talk to her," Anastasia said with a frown. The longer she stayed here, the closer the sword got to her neck.      

After fixing her room, Anastasia, who was in the clothes that belonged to the deceased maid of Princess Emily, walked up the stairs of the Paradise Tower. She noticed how the walls were carved in white marble, intricate and beautiful. As she got closer, a sweet fragrance drifted outside, and golden curtains hung at the entrance.      

Anastasia could hear the sound of women laughing and teasing about something while they spoke about some man. When she entered, she noticed women dressed in expensive dresses, with jewels around their necks, ears or hands.      

"Looks like someone's maid is here. Who are you here for?" One of the older courtesans asked the maid.      

Marianne, sitting in front of a mirror, turned to find her sister there. Her eyes widened, and she quickly made her way there.      

"Just the usual calling for Marianne," said another courtesan, "It shouldn't be a surprise that she's been asked for again," before returning to their earlier conversation.      

Marianne pulled Anastasia out of the room and moved to the side. In a hushed voice, she asked, "What are you doing coming up here, Anna?"     

"I need to talk to you," Anastasia looked around to ensure no one was nearby. She then turned to her sister and said, "I know I told you to take your time, but I—"     

"Let us leave together," Marianne interrupted, and Anastasia stared at her. "What? Isn't that what you want?" She asked, tilting her head.      

It is what Anastasia wanted, but she didn't want to be selfish. She said, "I want you to make the decision because you want to. Not because you have to. I don't want you to regret it in the future."     

Marianne noticed the conflict in her younger sister's eyes. She said, nodding her head, "Maybe I will. But did you forget?"     


"The place where the ann in my name ends is where yours begins, Anna. I think I would be sadder not knowing if you are alright," Marianne said, smiling.      

Upon hearing Madame Minerva's voice coming up from below, Marianne said, "We will talk about it later. You should leave now before Madame Minerva sees you here and questions you."      

"Okay, stay well until then," Anastasia wished her sister, and kissed her cheek.      

"You too! Please be careful, Anna," Marianne wished back in a whisper, watching her sister walk down the stairs.      

Anastasia bowed at Madam Minerva, who looked at her from the corner of her eyes as if suspicious, before walking up the stairs. On reaching the top of the stairs, Madam Minerva saw Marianne at the entrance and said,      

"It is good that you are here. Pack all your things. You will be moving to the inner palace."     

Marianne frowned and asked, "Pack?"      

"Yes," Madame Minerva's lips twisted, and she said, "Apparently Prince Maxwell sent the document to have you exclusively as his courtesan a few days before the celebration. The document came through today. Lucky you, huh?"      


Rumours about the first prince(Chapter 40 )

Music Recommendation: Heavens, what an afternoon- John Lunn     

Dante had only just returned to the palace the following day. As he made his way through the corridors, every step of his black shoes was precise and was heard by the servants, who quickly scrambled away from the floor before he appeared in the corridor they were in.      

Before Dante could reach his room, he met his siblings, Aiden and Emily, who were talking in hushed voices.      

"Brother Dante, you are back," Emily greeted him with a respectful bow while he noticed a grin plastered on his younger brother's face. "Is everything prepared for the war?"     

"Almost. What are you two doing standing in the middle of the corridor?" Dante questioned them.     

"I was wondering if I get a pass from having to join you and Brother Maxwell in the war," Aiden was looking for a way out, and when Dante spoke, his eyes brightened,      

"Father said that me and Maxwell should be good enough. If we die, he will still have you as the heir to sit on the throne, as Victor is still too young. It would be easier to fight the enemies than keep an eye on you."      

"I will pray well for your strength and success, Brother Dante." Aiden offered a bow, glad that he was going to stay in the palace. His eyes fleetingly moved to look at Dante's room before he returned to look at his big brother. He said, "You must be tired; we will let you rest."     

Dante's eyes narrowed slightly at Aiden's enthusiastic behaviour. Without another word, he went to the front of his room and disappeared inside it.      

Aiden and Emily, who hadn't left the corridor, stared at Dante's closed door. Aiden said to his sister, "I am telling you, this is going to backfire, Lily."     

"It is Grandmother's doing, not ours. Why did you even drag me here when I was making my jewellery?" Emily asked her brother before adding, "If it is going to backfire, we shouldn't be here in the first place."     

Inside Dante's room, his footsteps continued further inside. Removing his brown coat, he dropped it on the table and uncuffed his sleeves before rolling them to his elbows. When he walked towards the bath, a pool of water inside his room, his footsteps stopped midway, and his eyes narrowed.      

There was a naked woman in the bath who was covered in bubbles, and she coquettishly smiled before bowing her head.      

"My Prince, would you like to take a ba—"      

"Get out. Now." Dante's voice was harsh, and he glared at the woman. He had thought that his family wouldn't send him any more women, but they were back at it.      

The woman was a concubine, whose smile fell quickly from her face when she noticed the anger exuding from the first prince.      

"Stay in there a second longer, and I will turn the water red with your blood," Dante threatened the concubine, who quickly moved her arms and legs to scramble out of there. He demanded in a low voice, "Who the fuck told you to come here?"      

The concubine thought she had been lucky when she was told to head to Prince Dante's room, as rumours were quick to spread that he was finally sleeping with women. Instead of trembling with pleasure, she trembled with terror while she stared at the ground.      

"I—I, that M—Mother Queen was the one who o—ordered it," the concubine answered as she picked up her clothes and began to put them on without wiping the bubbles off her body.      

Dante turned and opened the door. When the door loudly hit the wall, Aiden and Emily quickly disappeared from there to avoid the wrath of their older brother. He made his way through the corridors, every footstep heavier than the last, before he finally reached where his grandmother was. The doors were opened by the two servants at the front of the room, and he questioned,      

"What do you think you are doing?"      

The Mother Queen had opened her mouth to throw a cherry into her mouth, and she stared at her grandson and asked, "Is the fruit poisoned? Aziel!" She turned to look at her minister, who quickly shook his head.      

"I am not talking about the fruit," Dante tried to control his glare and questioned, "I want to know what a concubine was doing in my room?"      

"Oh, her!" The Mother Queen lightly laughed, saying, "Well, she is for your pleasure."      

"How rude of me," Dante's demeanour changed, and he offered his grandmother a smile and said, "To not realise that you offered her for my pleasure to kill."      

When he turned around, the Mother Queen frowned and dropped the fruit from her hand. She said, "Don't you dare hurt this one, Dante. The concubines are the treasures of the King and the Blackthorns."     

"Then stop fucking sending them if you don't want me to cause any damage. The farther away from me, the better," Dante replied.      

"I won't sit here quietly watching you sleep with the maids when you have concubines and courtesans at your disposal," the Mother Queen stated, and this made Dante turn back to meet her eyes. "I am very serious about it."     

"What are you talking about?" Dante wondered if his grandmother had started to drink early today.      

"The concubines are precious gems, and the courtesans are the gold," the Mother Queen replied in a matter-of-fact tone.      

"Not that. Sleeping with maids?" Dante asked, and the old woman clicked her teeth.      

"I was so glad when I heard that you have finally taken an interest in women within the palace rather than going out to do business elsewhere. It was music to my ears, but then what did I hear? You slept with Emily's maid. Stealing your sister's maid is not nice." His grandmother's face held a look of disapproval.      

"Where did you hear it from?" Dante's dark eyebrows furrowed, but his grandmother waved her hand.      

"Everyone knows about it. You don't have to hide so—"     

"Nothing as such happened. So stop sending women to my room. I won't be responsible for their broken limbs, and it will be on you." Dante didn't stay to converse more and left the room.      

"Dante!" The Mother Queen called after him and huffed, "What a rude child! To think he complies with everything except for this one thing. And what was with that language earlier?!" She asked with a baffled expression.      

Aziel wanted to say that the language might have been picked by the Mother Queen herself, but he decided to stay quiet.      

"What kind of woman did you send to his room, Aziel? To think he finds all of them unattractive when they are beautiful creatures!" The Mother Queen asked in a frustrated voice.      

"Maybe it is the lack of a Crux that is causing the abstinence, Your Highness?" The minister asked her politely.      

"That is not it," the Mother Queen said grimly.      

After seeing how his mother's position was downgraded after the absence of his Crux, as Dante grew up to be an adult, he refused to touch any woman in the palace. She didn't know what he did beyond the palace walls, but he despised the courtesans and the concubines. Mother Queen Ginger could tell that her eldest grandson didn't want to follow his father's path of having multiple women by his side.      

But in some way, the Crux was to blame, and she nodded.      

Dante, who had left his grandmother behind in the room, on seeing a nearby servant walking past, demanded,      

"Where is Emily?"      

"The princesses are in the concubines' hall," the servant bowed as he answered.      

Dante walked straight to the concubines' hall, and when he drew nearer, he could hear the music spilling out from the wide room. When he appeared at the entrance, he noticed some of the concubines dancing to the music being played.      

"Prince Dante is here!"      

"Prince Dante!" The women in there whispered in surprise, and suddenly murmurs filled the air as they turned to look at him.      

The princesses were with the other female guests, who were also joined by King William's wife and the three concubines who belonged to him.      

"What a surprise to see you here, Dante," Queen Sophia remarked. "I heard the Mother Queen sent you one of the precious concubines here."     

"She's always kind to do such things," Dante replied politely before his eyes switched to where the maid stood.      

Anastasia, who had never been to this place before, had been enjoying the music and dance, watching the different colours move, when Prince Dante appeared, and he now looked right at her.      

She could tell the guests around were trying to find out who the prince was looking at, but he made it more apparent by telling her, "Get up and follow me."     

Princess Emily turned to look at Anastasia and whispered, "Go on."     

Gingerly, Anastasia stood up, and feeling everyone's piercing gaze, she dragged her feet out of there. The music continued playing again, and so did the dance, but the discussion had only begun, and Lady Noor, who was the second concubine of King William, turned to Lady Lucretia,      

"It seems like it is true that Prince Dante finally slept with a woman. That must be good news."      

Lady Lucretia smiled and said, "I guess it is," but then her smile faltered as she hadn't heard anything about it.      

"To think it was a maid, of all people," Queen Sophia clicked her teeth, while Lady Maya laughed and said,      

"Prince Dante seems to make peculiar choices. Perhaps she will be moved from being a simple maid to serving here or even made a courtesan. Time for her to count her good blessings if it does happen."      

Princess Niyasa turned to her mother and said, "I don't think she's fit to serve as either of those things. A maid, and she looks so lowly. If I am not mistaken, Lady Amara mentioned her rough hands."      

"Did she now?" Lady Maya asked while she watched the concubines dance.     

Lady Amara nodded, not wanting to see Princess Emily's maid be promoted. She replied, "They are as rough as rocks. I don't think it would be suitable for a person like her to join this particular section of the quarters."     

Outside the room, Anastasia followed Prince Dante away from the hall for a good two minutes until they finally reached a lonely corridor with no one around. She fiddled with her fingers as she noticed the anger on his face. When he stopped walking, so did she, and she stared at his back.      

When Dante turned around with his jaws clenched, it was at the same time that Anastasia spoke softly,     

"Was there something you needed from me, Prince Dante?" Anastasia didn't know what she had done to irk him, and it left her in distress.      

Dante unclenched his jaws upon noticing her expression, but it didn't eliminate the bad mood she was indirectly responsible for.      

"Thanks to you, there are rumours flying around that we slept together." Dante scowled at her, and she stared at the buttons of his shirt. "Was that what you were intending for when you visited me?" His eyes narrowed, because there had been a few maids who liked to make it seem as if they had done the deed with the ministers or the princes to be promoted. To have a better life in the palace.      

Anastasia shook her head and said, "I didn't know it would happen…I tried to explain, but everyone continued to misunderstand. Please believe me. It was Lady Amara who—"     

"That pest," Dante cursed as his eyes narrowed. He couldn't wait for Maxwell's wedding to be over. He then said, "Perhaps I should agree with the rumours."     

Anastasia's eyes, which had moved to his forearms, quickly snapped up to meet his eyes. "Huh?" she said.     

"The rumours won't be dying down anytime soon, so better to make use of them while keeping the nuisance at bay. In the eyes of others, you will be a maid who serves me. A quick promotion for your carelessness," Dante's voice drawled as he glared lightly at her.      

"I am happy to be a maid! Please don't promote me!" Anastasia shook her head because that was the last thing she wanted in here! She was a maid and low in status compared to the concubines or courtesans. Was he not worried about tarnishing his reputation?      

Dante stared at the maid, his head tilting. He usually didn't bother talking to the maids, but this one had meddled too much. He ordered, "Follow me. You have a bath to clean."     

"Now?" Anastasia asked him in surprise. "But I need to be next to Princess Emily."      

"I am sure you will come up with a believable answer when she asks," Dante remarked before turning and walking away.      

He was punishing her, wasn't he? Anastasia asked herself, before following him.      

As they walked, Anastasia noticed Marianne enter the corridor from the opposite side, walking with Madame Minerva next to her. The two sisters didn't look at each other to avoid any suspicion brought upon them, as Theresa was the only one who knew that they were related.      

But when Marianne and Madame Minerva walked past them, Anastasia's footsteps slowed, and she quickly glanced at her sister's back. And hearing Anastasia's footsteps fall behind, Dante turned his head in time to catch sight of the maid staring at the courtesan who had just walked by.      

When they finally arrived at the room, Anastasia looked around before her eyes fell on the big bath built inside the room, which had bubbles and froth spilling out of it. She had failed to notice it the last time she was here.      

"Get to work. The faster you finish, the sooner you will return to Emily," Dante said without looking at her, getting back to his work by walking over to his desk.      

Hearing those words, Anastasia decided to do as he said and walked closer to the enormous bath. Knowing that the water plugs of bathtubs were placed at the bottom, she guessed it was the same here.      

Taking note of the stairs on the other side, Anastasia made her way there and realised her dress would get wet. Unaware of the bath's depth, she first peeked over at Dante and saw him engrossed in reading a parchment at the desk.      

"Let me finish this quickly," Anastasia murmured before she bent and pulled the hem of her dress to hoist it up to her upper thighs.      

At the same moment, Dante turned to see if the maid had started to clean, only for his eyes to fall on her bare, smooth legs from her feet up to her thighs.