✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 41 - 45 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️



Testing his patience (Chapter 41)

Dante had seen women's legs before, and he would even place this woman's legs to be like the rest of them.      
But it was the fact that she didn't realise that she was baring her legs for his gaze like a deer giving its neck to its prey that kept his attention. When her foot touched the surface of the water, she shivered.      

"Planning to take a dip first?"      

"Huh?" Caught off guard, Anastasia turned to look at him before getting flustered. Hurriedly, she untied the skirt of her dress and pushed it down to hide her legs. "I—I was going to pull out the plug at the bottom."     

Dante dropped the parchment on the table and stood up. He made his way over to where she was, not breaking eye contact. Coming to stand at one corner of the bathtub, he bent down, and his hand reached for a chain.      

"Pull this chain, which is connected to the plug at the bottom, and that should do the trick," Dante educated her, but he didn't pull the plug, so that she would do it.      

Anastasia nodded and said, "I will do that! Thank you!"      

Enthusiastically, Anastasia went to walk around the bathtub when the length of her dress hindered her movements, along with the bubbles at her feet. Stepping on the hem of her dress, she lost her balance before falling right into the bathtub.      

When Anastasia emerged from the cold water, she gasped and wiped her face with both hands. But as her eyes moved around, they fell on the prince, who didn't look happy. It was because when her body broke through the surface of the water, she had splashed water right onto him. He sat there kneeling next to the edge of the bath, staring at her.     

"The hem of my dress, it tripped… Prince Dante…" Anastasia's voice was meek. She tried to hide herself in the water by lowering her body down.      

At the same time, Dante's jaws clenched, and his hand pulled the chain of the plug to control his anger. He remarked, "If taking a bath was what you were planning on doing, I have a better place that you might quite enjoy with abundant water."      

Anastasia didn't meet his eyes and said, "No… I am good. Thank you, Prince Dante."      

Unamused, Dante asked, "Do you think I was offering you a favour?"      

She shook her head as she wrapped her hands around her arms while the water level lowered with every second that passed. She replied, "I am not always this clumsy… I am very meticulous. You can ask Mr. Gilbert."      

"Are you blaming me for your clumsiness?" Dante raised one of his arched eyebrows.      

"No! I would never… Please forgive me, that's not what I meant," Anastasia offered a bow to him from where she stood. She internally cursed herself. Somehow she seemed to be making a fool out of herself in front of him.     

Dante noted how the upper part of the maid's dress stuck to her body. Though it wasn't transparent like the last one, it reminded him of that night when water dripped down her body. He ordered, "Leave. Having you clean in your current state is useless."      

Not cleaning the bath? Was she free to go? Anastasia asked herself. As she exited the bath, water dripped from the ends of her dress, which stuck to her body. Bending down, she awkwardly wrung out her skirt under Dante's glaring eyes.      

Anastasia realised she would have to leave the room in her drenched state and turned to look at Dante, who stood straight. Noticing the look of a quiet plea, he asked sternly,      

"What? Want to take a bath here again?" Sarcasm laced in his words, and Anastasia shook her head.      

"No… that, I am drenched, and I was wondering if, if I could g—"     

"No," Dante's response was quick, like a knife. "The first time I let it pass, but the second time was thoughtlessness. Let us hope that this time's outcome will prevent you from repeating it for the third time, yes?" His eyes held no ounce of emotion. He said, "Have a maid sent here to fix the bath."     

"Yes, Prince Dante," Anastasia whispered, wringing out her skirt again before she approached the door.      

But when Anastasia opened the door, she came to stand face to face with the Mother Queen's minister, who held a bundle of parchments under his arm. Aziel's eyebrows furrowed as he stared at the maid, who was drenched.      

Anastasia offered a bow, and then bolted away from there at a speed that had people wondering who had zoomed out so quickly, with only the evidence of water drops on the floor. On the other hand, Aziel cleared his throat and said,      

"Prince Dante, I brought the parchments you asked for." They contained some confidential information, which was why the minister had decided to come here himself. But when the first prince appeared at the door, the minister's eyes widened on noticing the wet patches on his dark shirt and slightly wet hair.      

Did the prince try to drown the maid in the bathtub? He did threaten that the next woman sent to him would cause him to shed blood. Though from the Mother Queen's perspective, her conversation with her grandson had been light, she and Aziel both knew that Prince Dante wasn't joking about it.      

When Prince Dante took the parchments from him, Aziel offered a bow and turned his back to the prince when he heard, "Aziel."      

The minister became slightly nervous, wondering if this was about the concubine sent to his room. Aziel answered, "Yes, my Prince?"      

"Have the physician meet me this evening. Though mother has been sick, she insisted on joining the public gathering, but I don't think she's been doing well," Prince Dante said with a frown.      

"I will have the physician brought here soon," Aziel bowed and then watched the door close.      

The minister released the air he didn't know he had been holding, and he returned to where the Mother Queen was still eating cherries. The servants opened the door for him, and he entered.      

"What has got you wheezing, Aziel? Don't tell me you are dying so soon?" the Mother Queen made a face of disapproval.      

"My Queen, I think Prince Dante almost killed a maid today, but then both of them were drenched," Aziel turned a little confused.      

The Mother Queen raised her eyebrows before pursing her lips and saying, "Is this Emily's maid?"      

The minister hadn't paid attention to the princess's maid, and he answered, "I am not sure…"     

"It looks like after that woman Tasia disappeared, my grandson has begun to sleep with maids, and his actions leave me no choice. Something needs to be done," the Mother Queen placed her hands under her chin while her elbows rested on the armrest. She then ordered her minister, "Fetch Maya. This matter needs to be fixed before the sand scatters too far."     

"Yes, my Queen," Aziel replied.      

After a few minutes, the minister returned with Lady Maya. Lady Maya had been enjoying the music and dance with the others when her entertainment was interrupted. She offered a polite bow to the older woman and said,      

"Mother Queen, I heard that you wanted to see me."      

"I did," the Mother Queen smiled at her son's first concubine, and she said, "Sit down, Maya. It has been long since we had some tea together, hm?"     

Lady Maya returned the Mother Queen's smile with one of her own and sat next to the older woman. She said, "Thank you for inviting me to join you, Mother Queen."     

"How is everything going with the preparation of Maxwell's wedding? William told me that the dates have been selected. Have you chosen your dress?"     

"The tailor is making one which matches the earrings that you gifted me," Lady Maya replied, her words sweet and poised.      

"That sounds wonderful. You will look right in it, as the groom's mother," the Mother Queen nodded. She paused momentarily before saying, "Something has come to my attention. I heard Maxwell has promoted one of the courtesans to be his exclusively. I thought I'd hear the news from you."      

Lady Maya replied, "Unfortunately, like you, I didn't know Maxwell had sent the papers to have the courtesan exclusively to himself until this morning. He told me it was sent out two weeks ago, before he found his soulmate. Should I request a revoke?"      

"That is not how it works, Maya. It isn't something easy to do, and is quite a hassle," the Mother Queen stated. "It is fine though, as long as it doesn't cause any harm to Maxwell and his soulmate. How are all the concubines doing?"     

Many years ago, when Lady Maya had given birth to Prince Maxwell, King William was so pleased to have a second son that he had turned her into the head of the concubines, leaving the concubines under her care. And on some level, she also had the strings attached to the control of the courtesans.      

"One of them returned scared this morning after Prince Dante's threat. I don't think the prince is interested when his heart lies somewhere else, Mother Queen," Lady Maya said calmly, with a pleasant smile on her face. She said, "We should perhaps wait for it to heal?"      

That Tasia, thought the Mother Queen, as her eyes narrowed at the memory of how she and the rest of the family had been fooled. If only she could find that young woman! She would… she should have married Dante and her that day! But then, at the same time, no one knew anything about that suspicious woman, and she was history.      

"Healing is definitely required," the old woman linked her fingers together and said, "Speaking on the same subject, there's a maid that needs to be added under your care."      

"A maid?" Lady Maya asked, slightly uncertain if the Mother Queen was joking, because she had the habit of doing so.      

"Yes, a maid. Emily's maid to be precise. I want you to consider adding her, as she seems to possess a certain talent," the old woman raised her eyebrows.      

Lady Maya had already heard about the rumours going around concerning Dante, and she knew exactly what the Mother Queen was trying to do. But she wasn't like the other women, and there was a reason why she had risen to the top to be King William's first exclusive concubine.     

"Princess Emily's maid?" Lady Maya looked slightly stunned. She said, "I don't think she is fit to be a concubine. She's a mute. If I am not wrong, the maid was appointed as Princess Emily's maid because she cannot speak, after what happened with the princess's previous maids."     

"That is true. I still want you to consider it, as it wouldn't be good if rumours spread too far," the Mother Queen said, as that part of the palace wasn't under her control.     

"Of course, Mother Queen," Lady Maya offered a bow with a smile. She wondered if it would cause any damage or if it would go in her favour if she were to add a lowly maid under her care. But she didn't have to decide right now, as she was busy with her son's wedding.      

On the other side of the palace, Anastasia had changed out of her wet clothes. After drying her hair, she tied it back into a tight bun and pinned the stray pieces in. Before she returned to Princess Emily's side, she made a little detour on the way.      

Climbing up the stairs of the Paradise Tower, she reached the floor and appeared at the front of the entrance as she peeked around, trying to find Marianne there.      

"Whom are you here for?" One of the courtesans, who was walking by, asked Anastasia. "Hm?"     

'Marianne,' Anastasia mouthed.      

"Marianne? She doesn't live here anymore," the woman replied as if uninterested in talking about it, and was about to leave when Anastasia caught the woman's sleeve and asked why. "She's exclusive to Prince Maxwell now. She lives on the inner side of the palace."      

No… Anastasia whispered in her mind.     

The prince's exclusive concubine attempting to escape was even worse than just a regular courtesan doing the same. Not to mention, with Marianne now living in the heart of the palace, it would be harder to escape.      


Terror of the dagger (Chapter 42)

Anastasia softly gulped.      
She walked to where Princess Emily was and offered a deep bow before pointing at the palace. Princess Emily asked, "What is it, Anna? Are we going inside?"      

Anastasia shook her head before pointing at herself and then at the palace. Prince Aiden helped by saying, "I think she needs to go inside for something?" She quickly nodded.      

"Alright. Bring back my coat when you return. I would like to sit here and relax a little bit longer." Princess Emily smiled and saw her maid disappear into the palace.      

Inside the palace, Anastasia reached the corridor where Dante hadn't moved since the last time she had seen him. Walking to where he was, she bowed.      

"You wanted to see me, Prince Dante?" Anastasia asked with her eyes fixed on his black shoes.      

"You must dislike your neck to be speaking openly where one can see you. Ready to die," Dante remarked, his eyes as steady as the sea. He questioned, "What were you and my brother talking about?"      

Anastasia answered, "Prince Aiden was curious about the rumour that has been going around about you and me. I was only explaining that nothing like that happened and it is just a misunderstanding."      

"That was quite a long explanation. Considering he was the one speaking," Dante's words had Anastasia curse him in her mind. Damn this man's eyes and astuteness!     

Forgive me, Prince Aiden; Anastasia's face scrunched as she stared at the ground. She answered, "He was telling me about the celebration in the town that he likes to attend. About the food and the drinks."     

"The night the rumour sparked," Dante's lips twisted. He usually turned a blind eye to his brother's little adventures out of the palace, but given that his brother was to assume the throne, it was time to exercise some control over his behaviour. He said, "Stay away from my brother."     

Anastasia raised her head and met his eyes.      

"I know it isn't you who approaches him, but the other way around. But it would be better if you draw lines that he won't cross, unless you have other motives," Dante said, narrowing his eyes with suspicion.      

"I will be careful next time," Anastasia obliged. As kind as Prince Aiden had been, she didn't want anything more from him than the camel to ride away from here.      

"You should be, especially if you want to see your sister, who has moved to the inner palace now," Dante stated, and this had her eyes widen. He knew. "You aren't as stealthy as you think you are. Your eyes give away most of the answers."      

His words reminded her of the night they had danced with each other. Almost as equals. When he turned around, Anastasia stopped him.      

"Prince Dante, wait! About my sister… Is there a way to free her from her current situation? I mean… from being an 'exclusive concubine'."      

Dante turned, his midnight eyes reflecting her concern, and he asked, "What do you expect her to do after being freed from her new position? Go back to sleeping with other men until she is pushed to the very bottom in the palace?"      

Anastasia clenched her hands, and her eyes hardened. She said, "Maybe she will be chosen by someone else who doesn't have a soulmate. Someone who will love her."      

She knew life wasn't fair, and she could complain all she wanted, but this was what had become of her and her sister. They had grown up here. But that didn't reduce their hope of having a better future. In the worst-case scenario, if they couldn't escape, she wanted her sister to be happy.      

"Do you know how many courtesans have married in the last four decades?" Dante asked her, his voice barely raising.      

"None?" Anastasia guessed.      

"Right. Not a single one because many of them spend all their time serving. And most prefer that life once they get accustomed to it instead of settling down as they enjoy the lavish life, surrounded by nobles who praise them, because they eventually come to depend on it," Dante explained to her. "Her current position is the most respectable a courtesan can aspire to be than the one you have in mind."     

"She would be living a far more respectable life if she wasn't stolen from her family. Instead of hoping or wishing to be s—"      

Anastasia heard the sharp sound of a dagger being unsheathed before her eyes fell on the sharp blade approaching her. She moved back to dodge it and closed her eyes to hear it screech against the wall beside her head.      

Anastasia's body turned stiff and frozen; her eyes closed, and her breath laboured in fright. She had been so engrossed in the flow of her thoughts that she had forgotten who she was talking to. Her nails dug into the palms of her hands.      

Dante's eyes flared in anger, like the calmness of the sea had vanished, giving way to a brewing storm.      

"Another word of defiance, and you will find this dagger lodged in your throat," he spoke to her in a low voice that made goosebumps rise on her skin as he towered above her. "I am not particularly fond of courtesans or concubines, but some things are out of our control as they were enforced many years ago, and there are rules to be followed here. Which I believe you are aware of."     

"Coming back to your sister. She is safe and will be respected. It is only unfortunate that some people don't get the love they deserve." As those words left Dante's lips, Anastasia noticed a flicker of red in his eyes before they turned dark.      

Consumed with terror and worry, Anastasia failed to register what she saw. When she heard the blade screech, she closed her eyes because of the uncomfortable sound. She didn't utter a word, not wanting him to shift the dagger's tip from the wall to sink it into her throat.      

Finally, when she opened her eyes, she found Dante missing in front of her. She looked around in time to catch the prince disappearing at the end of the corridor. Not registering how scared she was, her knees gave way, and she slid against the wall to fall to the ground.      

"Stupid Anna!" Anastasia reprimanded herself for playing with fire.      

Just because the first prince knew her secret and hadn't told anyone didn't mean he would keep it. Nor could she speak her mind when she knew the reputation he held. She patted her racing heart to calm it down.      

Once she gathered herself, she stood up and made her way to the princess's room to find her coat.      

As the sun set, slowly stealing the light away from the sky, Anastasia stood far behind Princess Emily, who was sitting on one of the garden benches. Remembering the screeching sound of the blade still gave her shivers.      

"Are you ill, Anna?" Princess Emily asked when the young woman turned to see what her maid was up to.      

Anastasia shook her head and noticed the princess's smile.      

"Then what are you doing standing that far away?" Princess Emily waved her hand for Anastasia to come forward. "It feels as if your mind is elsewhere. Is it the rumour about you that is weighing on your mind?"      

Anastasia came to stand next to the princess. Maybe her sister did the right thing by lying and saying she was mute. If not, she would have been dead long ago.      

"Don't pay heed to what people are saying. Once the guests leave, everyone will forget about it, and it might be replaced by other news," Princess Emily tried to console her quiet maid before adding, "I can tell you don't want to be a courtesan or a concubine."      

Anastasia, who wasn't aware of what was being discussed by the royal women of the Blackthorn family, didn't know why the princess was telling her this. Did she know that Marianne was her sister too?     

"Usually, most people of lower status like to elevate themselves. I believe you will be doted on and adored, showered with riches that one can only dream about. You would have access to books. Not to mention you would be free of any hard labour and get to learn many things." Princess Emily listed the advantages of the possible outcome. As if remembering something, she turned to the maid and said, "Let me take a look at your hands."      

Anastasia brought her hands forward and opened her palms for the princess to see. Unlike Lady Amara, who had caused a fit over it, the princess leaned forward and went to touch her palm when she jerked away.      

"Does it hurt?" Princess Emily innocently asked Anastasia, not knowing what calloused hands were.      

Anastasia shook her head. She was ashamed of her calloused palms, and the look on her face said it all. She heard the princess say, "If it doesn't hurt, then it should be okay," and she felt the rough hands under her softer fingertips. "I think this can be fixed, Anna. Though it will take time."      

This caught Anastasia's attention, as, like anyone, she had hoped to have smooth hands. But such velvety hands belonged to the daughters and wives of high-status men. Not people like her. She tried to ask the princess,      

'You have magic?'     

A chuckle escaped Princess Emily's lips, and she replied, "No, I don't have magic, not yet, at least. Sadly, Blackthorn women, even though we are meant to have a Crux, our abilities come forward only when we meet our soulmates. Your hands must be used to a lot of work, which is why they have hardened, but I know just the trick. Follow me!"      

Stepping back inside the palace, Anastasia followed an excited Princess Emily, who walked like a passing breeze because of her quick footsteps. Once they reached the princess's room, she watched the young lady walk to one of the cupboards and pull out a jar.      

"Bring your hands forward," Princess Emily ordered, and once Anastasia did what she was told, the princess tilted the jar for the white liquid to fall on the maid's rough hands. "Now rub them together. The beginning will take time; I don't know how long, but if you repeat this every day, I am sure it will get better. I heard oils work too, but I am not sure of their smell." She scrunched her nose a little.      

Anastasia raised her hands and smelt the scent of flowers.      

"From now on, every morning when you come to my room to wake me, and before leaving, apply it to your palms without fail," Princess Emily instructed, receiving a nod and a bow from Anastasia.      

On one side, Prince Dante had scared her soul out of her body. And on the other side, Anastasia was touched by Princess Emily's kindness and Prince Aiden's help, which she leaned against.      

Anastasia looked up to Princess Emily and gestured, 'Thank you. I am glad to be able to serve you.'     

Princess Emily blinked, not knowing what Anastasia was trying to say. She said, "I am guessing you are feeling thankful; don't be until your hands are all smooth."     

Anastasia smiled until the princess turned to put the jar back. After tomorrow, she would be far away from here. She hoped the princess would find a good maid to serve her after she was gone.      

The next day when Anastasia followed behind Princess Emily inside the palace, she noticed her sister walking behind Lady Maya and Lady Noor on the opposite side of the corridor. She quickly moved her hands for her sister to see,      

'Be ready at seven today.'      

But when they were about to pass by each other, Marianne's hand slipped out of her dress pocket, and she handed a small piece of paper into her sister's hand. When no one was looking, Anastasia opened the paper and read—I will meet you at the Bazaar. Wait for me.     


One favour for another ( Chapter 43)

Music Recommendation: Torn- Ben Collier     

Anastasia returned to Princess Emily's side with her mind preoccupied after receiving the news about her sister's elevated status.     

Some women stared at her as nearly an hour had passed since she left the hall with Prince Dante, but they didn't bother to make conversation with a lowly maid, believing she was only a disposable plaything.      

"Looks like you don't have luck when it comes to retaining maids for long, Lily," Princess Niyasa remarked while she briefly glanced at the shabby maid. Even for her brother without a Crux, sleeping with a maid was a little too low, and she expected better.      

Princess Emily turned away from the dancing concubines and asked, "Why do you say that? Anna hasn't caused any trouble."      

"I don't mean in terms of her death, but because of Brother Dante's actions of seeking her out more than once or twice," Princess Niyasa stated, and this even caught Anastasia's attention.      

Lady Amara, who sat with them, glared at the maid, not knowing why Prince Dante had fallen even further from his position. Even she was embarrassed to think that he was doing this maid.      

"I am not giving her away, though," Princess Emily said firmly. "She is my maid, and that decision depends on what I want to do."     

"Sure," Princess Niyasa softly chuckled, because as much as she and her sister thought they had power, they didn't. While the celebration continued, Madame Minerva arrived at the entrance along with Marianne, which had some of them stop talking and turn in their direction.      

Madame Minerva announced, "Let me introduce you to Prince Maxwell's exclusive concubine, Marianne."     

Murmurs filled the room while Anastasia stared at her sister, who tried to hide her discomfort. Marianne offered a bow before making her way to where Queen Sophia and the other important women sat.      

Lady Amara leaned towards Princess Niyasa and inquired, "I thought Prince Maxwell found his soulmate. Why does he have another woman?"      

Princess Niyasa pursed her lips before saying, "He has. This was something that happened before he found his soulmate."     

"It's a pity," Princess Emily remarked with a frown.      

"Hm? Isn't she lucky to be exclusively his?" Lady Amara asked.      

"If he didn't find his soulmate, she would be," Princess Emily replied.      

Anastasia stared at her sister, who sat quietly while no one attempted to talk to her. They ignored Marianne's presence as if she didn't exist, and it only made Anastasia feel that much worse. Even though they were in the same room, she felt guilty for not being able to provide her sister with company when everyone else ignored her.      

When the women's celebration concluded in the hall, everyone stood up and began making their way out of there. As Marianne walked past Anastasia, she spoke to her younger sister with her eyes, asking her to meet her outside. Usually her sister never asked to meet her when they were surrounded by people, which made her wonder what her sister wanted to tell her.      

After making an excuse with Princess Emily, Anastasia walked through the corridors before hearing her sister's voice,      

"Anna! Here!"      

Anastasia noticed her sister's head peeking out of a room and walked over there before stepping inside. She asked,      

"Are you doing okay?"      

Marianne didn't answer as she threw her arms around her sister before hugging her tightly out of desperation.      

"I don't think I am… I don't know what to do, Anna. It feels like things are turning dark. Prince Maxwell forgot to cancel the registration when he found his soulmate, and now it is too late. H—he—" Marianne broke down in tears before she continued, "He doesn't acknowledge my presence anymore, like I don't exist even if we are in the same room, and with time, it is only going to turn worse. I have been alone in my room up until the last hour, with no one to talk to. I knew the soulmate bond was strong, but I felt abandoned and cast aside. I did not want to be his exclusive concubine after he found his soulmate, and I was ready to leave…"      

When they pulled away from each other, Anastasia noticed tears spilling from Marianne's eyes, and it broke her heart to see her sister in this state. A courtesan was taught not to fall in love, but Marianne's tender heart failed to understand it. Marianne wiped the tears off her cheeks.      

Anastasia said to her sister, "We can still leave. The situation is still the same, except that the risk has now escalated. I will try to find a feasible night for us to leave," she promised. Holding her sister's hands, she squeezed them. "Don't worry, Mary. We got this."     

Her elder sister nodded, her eyes moist, looking heartbroken and in pain. She whispered, "Okay."      

"Once everything is planned, we shall leave this place behind. Just be ready, okay?" Anastasia said as she doubted she could sneak around to meet her sister as she used to until now. "We just need to find a day to escape."     

"There is a day. Actually, two," Marianne took a deep breath and said, "Two days from now, some of the guests are coming in to attend Prince Maxwell's wedding."     

"But we are going out," Anastasia pointed out.      

"Yes, but at the same time, some of the supplies will be transported from the kingdom to make early preparations for the war. I heard it from Queen Sophia earlier," Marianne let Anastasia know. "There will be a lot of traffic, and we can take advantage of it. It will be in the evening, and it is the perfect time. The next time we will have this opportunity will be at Prince Maxwell's wedding… which is in less than a week."     

Anastasia could tell that her sister wanted to run as far as she could from here and not look at the prince again, even though she would miss him. She said,      

"Let me see if we can still get the camels."     

Thinking about the camels brought back memories of her riding the horse, and she only hoped neither she nor her sister would fall from them.      

"I should go now, and you should return too before someone notices your absence. Be strong, Mary," Anastasia urged, seeing Marianne leave.      

The next day, while Anastasia followed Princess Emily around the palace, she wondered how to proceed with their escape. During the evening, when Princess Emily was taking a walk in the garden, basking in the soft rays of the setting sun, Prince Aiden appeared to greet his sister.      

"Good evening, Lily," Prince Aiden wished his sister and then smiled at Anna, "Anna."     

"Good evening, Aiden. Lady Helma," Princess Emily smiled at the woman beside her brother. "I hope my brother has been of good company?"      

Lady Helma offered a bow and politely responded, "He has, Princess. I have been having the time of my life."     

"That is good to see that my brother is taken by you; otherwise he would be at the base right now," Princess Emily replied, and when her eyes met her little brother's eyes, he stared at her. It was because he only had the lady accompany him as his mother had pushed the lady into his care.     

To play the part, Prince Aiden said, "I am very much taken by her." At his words, Lady Helma blushed. He said, "I thought you two should spend some time together too, as it would be rude of me to steal her away all for myself," he laughed, switching positions by getting his sister to stand next to the lady. "Go on," he said, giving a gentle push to his sister's back.      

When the two women of status began to walk, Anastasia was about to follow the princess when Aiden stopped her and said, "I have been meaning to talk to you."      

Anastasia's eyes moved to look around them before she whispered with her lips barely moving,      

"I don't think this is a good place to be talking, Prince Aiden."      

"There's no one here," Prince said, watching his sister and the lady taking a walk. "Did you and Brother Dante sleep together?" He asked her.      

Anastasia shook her head.      

"I knew he would never touch you, even if he was on the brink of his death!" Prince Aiden said it as if his thoughts were confirmed. He then quickly said, "Not that you aren't beautiful. It's just that he would never sleep with any woman who lives in the palace, as it would only spur my family to send him a woman so he could father a child. By the way, what were you doing in his room so late in the night?" He looked at her curiously.      

Anastasia turned her head where there were only plants and said, "It was about clothes."     

"Ah, about clothes." Prince Aiden nodded as if he understood what she said. "Because of that little misunderstanding, it has blown out of proportion now. Even my mother was asking me if it was true, but I told her it was not possible," he laughed.      

And though Prince Aiden believed it was safe to talk here, someone's eyes fell on them from inside the palace. Dante was walking on one of the first-floor corridors when he saw his brother and the maid next to each other in the garden. His footsteps stopped, and he stared through the window.      

Prince Aiden said, "I forgot to tell you about the other night when I went to the town. It was so colourful and swirly. I thought I was in heaven. You should come with me one day. The food and drinks are different."      

"I think I will pass on that offer, Prince Aiden," Anastasia replied. "There is something I would like to ask of you."      

"What is it?" He asked her.      

"Would it be alright if I were to ask for a camel? To ride," Anastasia added the last words with a hopeful expression.      

"You have some real fascination with camels, don't you?" Prince Aiden asked her.      

"For a long time now," Anastasia answered truthfully with a smile, and the prince nodded.      

"Such simple wishes," he grinned and said. "We can do it right now."      

"No, not now!" Anastasia responded, adding, "I think I have brought too much attention to myself because of the rumours floating around the palace. How about tomorrow?."     

Prince Aiden gave it a thought and then said, "Tomorrow, the street is going to be busy. I will have the camel placed in the same spot as I did last time. Whenever you go to the Bazaar, you can ride it."     

Anastasia was happy and offered her deep gratitude. "Thank you so much, Prince Aiden."      

Dante watched them with an expressionless face. His eyes subtly narrowed when his brother caught hold of the maid's wrist when she was about to walk away from there.      

"You haven't heard everything yet," Prince Aiden said, letting go of her hand, and Anastasia's eyebrows furrowed. "I offer you the camel on your word that you will come out with me one night. Not now, but when the opportunity presents itself?"     

Anastasia had nothing to lose because once she could finally sit on the camel with her sister, there would be no turning back, and she nodded.      

"Okay. Thank you again," Anastasia thanked him.      

Prince Aiden beamed with happiness, and he made his way to where his sister and the lady stood, talking about the place Lady Helma came from.      

In the meantime, Anastasia let out a sigh of relief. She knew it was wrong to take advantage of someone's kindness, but she hoped that Prince Aiden would forgive her one day.     

She looked around as she secretly smiled to herself; her smile fell when her eyes met Prince Dante's, who was now looking at her from the palace. As calm and composed as his demeanour appeared, there was obvious displeasure as he stared at her.      

Anastasia was ready to slip from Dante's sight when she saw him raise his hand and use his two fingers in a come-hither motion at her, ordering her to come to see him.      


Waiting in the dark alley( Chapter 44)

Music Recommendation: Violin Concerto No. 2 RV 315 L'estate: I     

When Anastasia was on her afternoon break from serving Princess Emily, she went to the servants' quarters to have lunch and sat next to Theresa. Some of the servants stared at the young woman.      

"I guess everyone has heard the rumour about you," Theresa murmured as she took a bite from her food. Once she swallowed the food, she whispered, "I don't mean to scare you, but you should be careful to watch your back."      

'I won't be here for them to stab me,' Anastasia moved her hands.      

"Huh? Are you really going to be a concubine?" Theresa asked in a hushed voice.      

Anastasia shook her head, 'Mary agreed. It is today.'     

With Anastasia busy serving Princess Emily, she hadn't found the time from yesterday until now to let Theresa know about her leaving the palace.     

"Will it be possible?" Theresa asked, "Wouldn't it be hard for her? To leave in front of everyone?"      

Anastasia nodded and replied, 'It is why she told me to wait at the Bazaar. Whoever reaches there first will wait for the other, and we will leave together.'     

"I feel like I grow a year older every time you say this," Theresa said with a frown. She said, "You have to take that coin from me if you need it. I will pray Mary meets you there."      

The last time, Marianne had a change of heart, which stopped them from escaping these walls. But her sister was sure this time, and Anastasia hoped everything would go well.      

'We can only hope for everything to go smo—' Anastasia was moving her hand when one of the senior maids scolded her,      

"Stop moving your hands like a lunatic and finish eating! Do you think it is wise to leave the princess without you when she needs assistance? And you," she turned to Theresa, "still have the four corridor windows to clean. Hurry now!"      

Once Anastasia and Theresa finished having their meal, the older woman handed over the gold coin that now belonged to the young lady when they were alone in the room. Theresa asked, "How is Mary holding up?"     

"Not that good. We saw each other in the corridors, and it feels like she's holding back her tears," Anastasia sighed.      

"Oh dear… This was bound to happen with the prince finding his soulmate." Theresa's eyebrows furrowed in concern. She said, "And this is only the beginning. The couple's bond is still weak as it is the beginning. But as time passes, the two people who share a soulmate connection will have their bond grow stronger."     

"This means Marianne's presence will be erased from Prince Maxwell's mind, and he will forget he ever had anything to do with her. Mary must know that, which is why she's been like this," Anastasia said softly. It would be suitable for a courtesan without feelings but not for her sister, who was irrevocably in love with Prince Maxwell.      

"Yes," Theresa agreed with sadness. She said, "In a way, it is good that no one will defile her anymore, at least until you escape." That is what Prince Dante meant, only that he didn't know about the escaping part.     

As the hours continued to move forward, Anastasia kept a close eye on the clock and the sky. She served Princess Emily until evening, and her heartbeat quickened when the clock struck six.      

Princess Emily was in the company of her sister and other young ladies, talking and laughing, when Anastasia offered a bow to her and said she would go clean the princess's bedroom.      

"You work so hard, Anna. Instead of resting, you want to make use of your time." Princess Emily praised her maid and said, "Why don't you take the rest of the day off after you are done fixing the bedroom? I don't need any particular help tonight."      

"She's your maid, Lily. She is supposed to be by your side until you go to sleep," Princess Niyasa reminded her sister, who was too easy on her maids, which was why the last maids took advantage of Emily's kindness. "Why are you sending her away?"      

"She has been working hard since I woke up, and I don't want her to be tired tomorrow. I want her with me in good health," Princess Emily smiled at her sister, and the princess's words only brought the guilt back into Anastasia's mind. The princess wasn't wrong that her maid had been working non-stop, but it was precisely because Anastasia knew the princess would let her off work early for the day. "Go on, Anna. I don't need any help for now, and there are others if I need anything."      

Anastasia offered a deep bow to everyone before she walked backwards and stepped out of the room. She was walking too quickly, turning to look behind her to see if anyone was there, when she collided with Prince Aiden.      

"Slow down there, horse!" Prince Aiden joked and asked, "Did my sister put you on an urgent errand that you are running?"      

"Forgive me for not looking ahead, Prince Aiden," Anastasia apologised for crashing into him. "I have to clean the princess's room. Please excuse me," she said, walking away, heading toward Princess Emily's room.      

She met Theresa in front of the room, who said, "I have cleaned the room. From the bed to the bathtub and even the cupboards. Everything is done."      

Anastasia hugged Theresa, "Thank you so much for helping me."      

"You don't have to mention it. Go now!" Theresa saw Anastasia leave from there and took a deep breath before releasing it. "Please God, don't let her get caught…" she murmured.      

The sky had turned dark earlier than usual, giving Anastasia an advantage to conceal herself. When one of the carriage carts was moving out of the palace, she quickly positioned herself at its side, as if accompanying it, and crossed the palace gates.      

But when she was about to head forward, her eyes fell on Prince Dante and Prince Maxwell on their mustangs, with other soldiers and guards behind them.      

"Hide! Hide!" Anastasia turned around where she stood before she hid her face and walked to the far corner of the wall, waiting for them to disappear inside the gates.      

And while Anastasia stood there, waiting to make sure the view was clear before she could run, she heard someone wince, "Ow!"      

Startled, she turned and found Prince Aiden climbing down the wall, and she asked, "Prince Aiden?"      

"Oh, Anna, hi—oof!" Prince Aiden exclaimed once he jumped on the ground.      

"What are you doing here?" Anastasia asked him. Don't tell me he plans to help me ride the camel, she thought to herself.      

But then her eyes fell on a little bag that hung behind Prince Aiden's back. The prince offered a bright smile and said, "I am running away. With you. Though I must say you barely brought anything with you," he frowned.      

"Huh?" Anastasia wondered if she didn't hear it right.      

"Isn't that why you needed the camels? Don't tell me you thought I wouldn't catch on to you, though I am glad to have company for something I have been wanting to do." Prince Aiden looked ecstatic, while Anastasia felt she was losing her mind.      

"W—why do you want to run away?" He was a prince! If he ran away, with her and Marianne gone, it would unleash the wrath of the Blackthorn family on them. Why did he even have to climb down the wall? She stared at the wall before looking at the young prince.      

Prince Aiden pursed his lips and said, "I have my own reasons, and it will be fun. It isn't like I have anything to do here for some time. My two brothers are going to war, and the younger one will still be a spare no matter how young he is. Everything is under control."      

Anastasia's panic increased because this was not good! She tried to persuade him, "Prince Aiden, please return inside the palace. Everyone will be looking for you."     

"That they already are," came the prince's nonchalant reply before he craned his neck to look towards the gates. "It is time to go on a journey of life discovery."      

With the possibility of death! Anastasia said, "Prince Aiden—"     

"If I go in, I will tell my sister to look for you," Prince Aiden said seriously, where the earlier smile had been erased from his lips.      

"Okay, let us go then." Anastasia tightly smiled, and Prince Aiden returned her smile.      

[Music Recommendation: Torn- Ben Collier]     

As Anastasia and Prince Aiden walked away from the palace walls with their faces hidden, she asked him,      

"Why didn't you walk through the gates?"      

"Some of the inner palace guards caught me morphing into Juan, and some were sent to the gates. The guards have been busy looking for me, not realising that a princess's maid left through it," Prince Aiden huffed as if he couldn't believe his luck.      

On the other hand, Anastasia couldn't believe she would escape from the kingdom with one more person than initially planned.      

"I cannot believe you were going to leave your friend behind. What a rude woman!" Prince Aiden exclaimed in disappointment as they walked. "You just turned lucky because I kept wondering how you would leave my sister's side, and then I went ah-ha!"      

"I didn't know you were interested in leaving…" Anastasia muttered. Though Prince Aiden changed his face to Juan, she couldn't help but be extra careful by looking over her shoulders now and then.     

Upon reaching the quiet and deserted alley near the Bazaar, Anastasia's eyes fell on the two camels tied to a pole. Anastasia turned to look in the direction they had come, while Prince Aiden was ready to mount his camel, and he asked,      

"If you are looking for guards, they won't follow us. Do you need help mounting the camel?"      

"Not yet. I need to wait for my sister," Anastasia replied, as her eyes looked around.      

"Sister?" Prince Aiden asked, "I didn't know you had one. What time did you tell her to come here?"      

"Seven. She told me she would meet me here." Anastasia moved to the side, where she was hidden but could still spot her sister when she would be here.      

Prince Aiden pulled out his pocket watch and said, "There's still a good ten minutes before it. Though let me tell you, Anna, the sooner we leave, the better. Because as time passes, the number of people leaving through the tower gates will become fewer, making it harder for us to leave."     

Ten minutes passed, then another ten, before even more time passed, so that the time was now seven-thirty.      


"She will be here any moment, Prince Aiden," Anastasia said with surety. She believed in her heart that her sister would come, and she wouldn't leave Marianne behind.     

Prince Aiden turned to look at the camel, gently patting its head, and said, "The camels have been fed. I even got food and water arranged for the ride…"      

At the same time, Anastasia, who had kept a lookout for Marianne, finally saw her sister. But as she was hidden in the shadows, her sister failed to notice her and walked back.      

Wanting to bring her sister here, Anastasia stepped into the light, while a shawl hid the lower part of her face. Her feet moved to catch up to her sister, but her sister was faster. She wondered if her sister thought she had failed to appear, which was why she was returning to the palace. But instead, her sister took a turn and stepped into another alley.      

Anastasia ran towards the alley and called her sister, who had reached the other end of the almost dark alley, "Mary! Wait!"      

Marianne, who was looking left and right, turned to look back, and a wide smile appeared on her lips. She said, "I thought I lost you."     

"I thought I would now," Anastasia laughed, and she walked to where her sister stood. "You made it! I was worried that you would be held back and we would have to plan again."     

"I was held back until now, but no more, Anna," Marianne replied.     

Anastasia hugged her sister in relief and joy that they were finally doing this. Marianne hugged her back. She whispered, "I am so happy."     

"Me too, Anna. I cannot wait to see you fulfil the promise," Marianne said, hugging her tighter.      

"You will do it with me, Mary. We can now go. Come, before it's late." Anastasia released her sister before having her follow her. She said, "Though there is a slight change in the plan. Prince Aiden is coming with us too, but it shouldn't be bad. He will be like a shield, and having a man with us will do us good. Even though he is…"      

Not hearing her sister's footsteps, she turned in worry and saw Marianne looking at her. Marianne said, "I heard they will be closing the gates soon. Should move faster and leave quickly."      

Anastasia nodded, and when they reached the end of the alley she heard her sister say something, and at the same time, Prince Aiden came to stand in front of her and demanded, "Don't tell me you were planning to leave me."     

"I went to get my sister. She didn't see me and lost her sense of direction," Anastasia explained to him.      

Prince Aiden gave her a suspicious look and then looked around before raising his eyebrows and asking, "Where is she?" Anastasia pursed her lips, and when she turned, she noticed Marianne missing behind her.      

"She was right here with me…"      

Anastasia looked left and right before staring at the long alley. Turning frantic, she called, "Mary! Mary!"      

"Shh, you are going to get us caught, Anna!" Prince Aiden tried shushing her, saying, "Are you sure you saw her? Because I would have caught someone walking back in such a long alley."     

Anastasia ran through the alley, her heart pounding as she tried to catch up to her sister, but she had disappeared. She ran through the other alleys that connected to the one she and Mary had walked in. After a minute, she asked, "Where did you go, Mary?" With a deep frown marring her forehead.      

Prince Aiden, who had followed Anastasia, asked, "Do you think maybe she went back to the palace?"      

"Maybe she arrived where the camels are waiting," Anastasia whispered before making her way there to find no one there.      

When they heard loud creaking sounds that belonged to the tower gates, Prince Aiden fluffed his hair in slight disappointment and said, "I guess today is not the day to escape. We can try tomorrow, aye?"      

Anastasia wondered if Marianne had turned around and returned to the palace. But that didn't make sense. She would get the answers once she returned to the palace, and with that thought, she walked back with Prince Aiden.      

Upon reaching the gates, one of the guards noticed the prince and quickly said, "Prince Aiden, you have been summoned by Queen Sophia immediately!"      

"Did she come to know that I left the palace?" Prince Aiden asked himself with a sigh. They entered the palace and walked through the corridors while being led by the guard. They noticed more guards around, and when they entered the room, Anastasia noted the heavy atmosphere hanging in the air.      

When Anastasia looked around, a gasp escaped her lips when her eyes fell on King William lying in a pool of blood. But he wasn't alone, as not far from him lay Marianne's lifeless body.   ________ 


Fragments of you (Chapter 45)

Anastasia felt as if her soul had left her body, and her body swayed towards the wall for support. Her lips moved while her eyes watered in shock, not knowing what was happening.      
She looked away from the scene. No, this is not true, she said to herself. She had seen Marianne back in the alley at the Bazaar, and she had hugged her. There was no way this was true. But when her eyes moved to look at Marianne's lifeless body, tears spilt from her eyes.      

There lay Marianne on the cold floor, with blood pooling around her body. Her lifeless, green eyes stared at the ceiling, and her lips were parted.      

"W—what happened?!" Prince Aiden was equally shocked at seeing his father dead.      

He quickly moved to where his father lay and tried to wake him by jerking the body, "Father! Father! Please wake up! I am here. I promise to not leave the palace!" He shouted, but the prince's pleas fell on deaf ears.      

The other members of the Blackthorn family surrounded King William, who were in shock, and some cried. The rims of Queen Sophia's eyes turned red while she held back her tears. "We should have King William placed on a table… Maybe the physician can help him." But everyone knew he was dead and long gone.     

The Mother Queen turned to the guards and said, "Bring the glass case and place him inside it until tomorrow. Zion," she called the Vizier before ordering, "Gather all the guests. I want everyone to be questioned about their whereabouts for the last two hours. Make sure no one can leave the palace, and if they do, bring them to me."     

Lady Maya brought her hand up to cover her mouth as tears slipped from her eyes. She asked, "Who could have dared do something like this? To kill the king."      

Princess Emily, who hadn't stopped crying since she heard the news about her father's death, hugged Aiden for comfort as she sobbed. When her eyes moved, they fell on Prince Maxwell, who stared into space. Her eyebrows furrowed, and she said,      

"Brother Maxwell… your hands…"     

  Queen Sophia turned to look at Prince Maxwell's bloody hands, and she demanded,      

"Are you going to tell us what happened here, Maxwell? Did you have anything to do with this? After all, this woman was your concubine!"      

Lady Maya frowned and defended her son, "Maxwell would never attempt to lift a finger to kill his father, Queen Sophia. The king was his father, and he loved him dearly. Just because he was the one to find them doesn't mean he murdered his father. He had just returned to the palace with Prince Dante, isn't that right?" Lady Maya turned to look at Dante, not wanting her son to take the blame just because he was the first one to find them dead. "I should instead question where Aiden was, considering he is the last one to arrive here."     

"How dare you blame him, when—"     

"That's enough!" Dante's words were rough, which stopped the two women from fighting in front of the dead king. "This is not the time to fight and cast blame."      

"How do we know who killed our king?" Lady Noor asked, whose nose had turned pink from crying. "What if it was this concubine? Why would she even be here with him?"     

No one had any answers to the questions about what happened there. The little trust that had still existed between the people in the room disappeared, leaving chaos and uncertainty in their minds. Dante's eyes moved around, looking at his family, not knowing if the murderer was in here or outside this room.     

The Mother Queen took a shaky breath before she ordered, "Prepare for the funeral tomorrow."      

Once the king's dead body was placed in a glass case, he was taken to the underground dungeon, where he would rest until being buried tomorrow. The Blackthorn family members left the room while ignoring Anastasia's presence, as they were wrapped up in their own woes.      

[Music Recommendation: Elegy For Dunkirk- Dario Marianelli]     

When Anastasia got the courage to move towards where Marianne's body lay, two guards arrived to pick her up and began walking away. Anastasia quickly stopped them by coming in front of them and anxiously asked,      

'Where are you taking her?!'      

"She will be kept in the dungeon too," one of the guards replied before they began walking again.      

Anastasia followed them, and once they reached the entrance of the dungeon, the other guard stopped her by raising his hand in front of her. The guard demanded,      

"Where do you think you are going? Don't you know that maids don't have permission to step in here?"     

Anastasia folded her hands together before pointing in the direction where the guards carried her sister.      

"Whatever it is, get back to your work. This is no place for you to be," the guard said, shooing her away.      

Not wanting to part with her sister, Anastasia tried to plead with the guard once again. Letting him know it was just this once before she tried to pass through. But this only made the guard angry, who pushed her harshly, making her fall to the ground.      

"Try it once more, and I will lock you up in the undercroft!" The guard warned her with a glare. "Back to work!" He said, and chased her away from there.      

When Anastasia reached the servants' quarters and arrived at her room, Theresa caught sight of her. Noticing something wrong from afar, she quickly made her way to the young woman's room.      

"Anna?" Theresa was going to ask what she was doing here when she noticed tears spilling from Anastasia's eyes. Alarmed, the older woman shut the door and asked, "What's the matter, Anna? W—why are you crying?"      

Unable to hold the pain inside her any longer, Anastasia broke down. Tears continuously spilt from her eyes, streaking down her cheeks, and her body shook.      

Theresa didn't know what was wrong, as the servants hadn't been informed about the recent deaths that had taken place. She put her arms around the young woman and stroked her back in worry.      

"Everything will be alright, Anna," Theresa tried to console her, not knowing nothing would ever be the same for the young woman again.      

Marianne had been her rock. Even though the rock had sunk to the bottom of the sea, it had kept her afloat when they were brought here. With her rock now gone, Anastasia began to crumble.      

"Mary is gone… Someone took Mary away," Anastasia spoke between gasps.      

Theresa's hand, which had been stroking Anastasia's back, froze. That couldn't be… no…      

"Anna, do you know what you are saying?" Theresa asked, unsure, and felt the young woman nod, and she cried harder. "I…" She didn't know what to say to make Anastasia feel better because the news came like a blow to her. She hugged her tighter to let her know that she was there.      

Minutes passed before Anastasia's sobs finally quietened, and the room fell silent. She stared at the wall in front of her, her mind not functioning anymore.      

"I wish this was a nightmare…" Anastasia whispered in an emotionless voice, "A nightmare that I desperately want to wake up from. Where we have just woken up." She took a deep breath before saying, "And Mary and I are yet to meet in the corridors."     

Theresa wished it too, but it had really happened. She let the young woman grieve without asking her anything.      

"I don't understand," Anastasia's eyebrows slightly furrowed, "I saw her, Theresa. We met in the dark alley in the Bazaar. But then she disappeared. And then… I saw her cold on the ground." Her moist eyes turned to look at the older woman, and she asked, "How is that possible?"      

Theresa stared at Anastasia as if something didn't seem right. She asked, "Do you think it was her ghost?"      

"It can't be. We hugged and spoke. She looked happy, and I was too," Anastasia replied while remembering her sister in the alley.     

'I thought I lost you. I was held back until now, but no more, Anna.'     

Anastasia's breath shuddered as she realised what Marianne's words meant. She had been so excited to see her sister that she had failed to understand her words. The frown in her eyebrows deepened when she recollected that her sister had said something else to her.      

"She said something before she disappeared. What did she say?" Anastasia tried to rack her mind, but she couldn't remember and clenched her hands. Her heart felt heavy. She asked, "What am I going to do without her? We had promised that we would leave together, but I had never imagined it to be like this. I didn't want her to be free like this."      

Anastasia used one sleeve of her dress to wipe the tears from her eyes, but her tears didn't stop. She said,      

"They think she's the one who killed the king, but that's not possible. Mary could not even hurt a fly; she would never attempt something like that."     

Theresa's face turned pale at this news, as she didn't know that King William was dead too. What was going on in the palace?      

"I know it isn't what you want to hear, but Anna, if people believe that Mary had anything to do with the king's death, don't try to get involved. Matters of the palace are not something you can walk away from once you step into them," Theresa didn't want Anastasia to put herself in danger.      

Anastasia's sad eyes met the older woman's eyes. She said, "I am already involved. I don't think I could walk away from it even if I wanted to. I need to know what happened to Mary. Why was she killed when she never brought anyone harm or unhappiness?" her eyes filled with tears again. "This palace stole my sister from me," she pursed her lips, despising the people and the life they had been brought into.      

Theresa murmured, confused, "This is all so strange. Something I would have never expected to happen in years. They will bury King William tomorrow then." And when the people across the land heard the news, it could also disrupt the palace.      

"Auntie, they took Marianne to the dungeon. I need to be with her," Anastasia let the older woman know.      

"I don't think we are allowed in there, Anna. I cannot even ask Mr. Gilbert for permission. If they are looking for the killer, it will take little to no time for them to pin it on you. You weren't in the palace either, and it would cause trouble." Theresa shook her head, rejecting the very thought of it.      

Anastasia wanted to be with Marianne. To see her sister one more time. To brush her hair as she once did. She was all she had in this cold palace, and now the emptiness seeped into her body.      

When morning arrived, the news about King William's death spread quickly, shocking everyone. However, nothing was mentioned about the concubine, who had also died the same night and hour.      

In the already-built mausoleum, where the previous kings' tombs rested, one was created for King William, whose funeral was attended by the Blackthorn family, who were all dressed in black to mourn the loss of their family member.      

Anastasia, being Princess Emily's maid, had come along with her, though she, like the other servants, wasn't allowed to step foot inside the mausoleum and waited while the priest said his offering of peace.      

Once they returned to the palace, she followed the princess ahead of her, only to hear, "I would like to be alone now, Anna. You can leave."     

Anastasia offered a bow and watched the princess enter her room and close the door. She stood there for a few minutes before walking away from there. Her footsteps took her close to the dungeon's entrance, and she noticed the guards standing there. How was she going to see her sister?     

When Anastasia heard footsteps, she turned and saw that it was Prince Dante approaching. She was going to speak, but he didn't stop and walked past her.      

Not knowing what else to do, she quickly ran forward when he got near the dungeon's entrance and fell on her knees.      

"You again! I told you not to show up here," the guard scolded with a glare. The guard then informed him, "Prince Dante, the dead body has been kept the way it was brought."     

Dante had been in deep thought, as it wasn't just Anastasia who had lost a family member. He turned at the guard's words and noticed the maid on her knees. When their eyes met, helpless, she pressed her forehead against the ground.      

"Go see if the fire is prepared. Both of you," Dante ordered the guards, who obliged to his words, leaving him and the maid alone.      

Anastasia pleaded, her voice cracking at the end, "I beg you. Please let me see my sister!"      

Dante stared at the woman on the ground.      

When Dante received the news about his father's death, he had rushed to the scene. Unlike the other members of his family, he didn't cry. He wasn't happy about the king's death, but he wasn't upset to the point that he felt the need to cry. It wasn't because his father had stopped showering him with fatherly affections, but just that the void in his heart felt cold.     

If one looked deep into his heart, they would know that, even though he abided by the laws and rules set by the family, he didn't hold the king in high regard. How could he, when his mother was cast aside like a broken object?      

But at the same time, it didn't mean that he didn't care about what had happened. Knowing his family was under threat, he wanted to find the murderer.      

"Two minutes," Dante said to the maid, who lifted her head before she stood up. "Follow me."     

Anastasia followed Dante through the entrance, which was a long corridor before the stairs appeared downward. When they took two turns to the right, her eyes finally fell on Marianne. Unable to keep away, her footsteps quickened, and she reached where her sister was, on a cold slab that stood waist-high.      

"Mary!" Anastasia called her sister, even though she couldn't hear her. Tears were quick to appear in her eyes, but she was happy to see her sister.      

Bringing her hand forward, Anastasia caressed Marianne's cold cheek, while Dante stood at the back, with no one else there.      

Marianne's eyes had been closed, and she looked like she was sleeping. Anastasia gently brushed her sister's hair and hoped she was at peace.      

"I wish I could have protected you. I wish you were still here," Anastasia whispered to her sister. Leaning forward, she pressed her lips on her sister's forehead and said, "I will miss you."     

The guard that had been present earlier reappeared behind Dante with another guard, and informed, "Prince Dante, the fire has been prepared for burning the deceased."     

Hearing the guard's words and footsteps approaching where she stood, Anastasia pulled away from Marianne. She stepped away, while the guards carried her sister to a burning furnace before pushing her body into it, where fire engulfed her.      

Anastasia turned to look at Prince Dante, who was still there, and asked,      

"Prince Dante, would it be okay if I take… Mary's ashes with me?"     

Dante stared at Anastasia, noticing the pain in her brown eyes. He remarked, "Suit yourself."     

Once the fire had exhausted itself, the furnace was opened, which was when Anastasia pulled out a worn-out handkerchief and put some of the ashes into it. When she was carefully tying it together, Dante questioned her,      

"Emily told me she let you off work early yesterday. Where were you last evening?"