✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 46 - 50 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️



Snakes in the bushes(Chapter 46)

Anastasia had just finished tying the other two ends of her handkerchief together when she heard Prince Dante's question. Even though most people weren't aware of her relationship with her sister, the first prince was the only royal who knew of it, and she turned to meet his gaze on her.      
"After serving Princess Emily, I went to her room to tidy it…" Anastasia answered him, because that was where she had gone.      

"And," Dante pressed the maid.      

Knowing the maid was in a delicate state right now made it easier to confirm a few things. They had both lost one of their family members, and he wasn't planning to rest until he found out who was behind the deaths.      

Anastasia felt like she could barely breathe because the stress in her was piling up to the point that it was going to crumble down soon. She explained to him, "I didn't kill King William. I swear on my sister's ashes; I never thought about it, and neither did she." As Marianne wasn't alive, she defended her sister by saying, "She was a gentle woman, and she would panic over the slightest things. She wasn't coura—"     

"I asked you where you were, Anastasia. Not if you killed the king or not," Dante's eyes pierced through hers, which only made her nervous.      

Bracing herself, Anastasia answered, "I—I was out of the palace. At the Bazaar."     

"I don't remember my sister mentioning anything about sending you to the Bazaar. Nor did Norrix send any maids to the Bazaar. What were you doing there?" Dante continued interrogating her, his gaze on her getting heavier, and she tried to breathe through her lips.     

Anastasia looked away as guilt filled her chest. She replied, "It was my own decision. Mary was supposed to come to the Bazaar too."     

Dante's eyes narrowed at Anastasia, and she stepped backwards in fear. Marianne was his brother Maxwell's concubine. He would have disciplined her, but she and her sister had punished themselves all on their own.     

He said, "Maybe if she stayed put, she wouldn't have been killed or questioned about her intentions. No one saw her for more than an hour before her death."      

His words were nothing less than a stab in her heart, but they held a pinch of truth. And then her eyebrows furrowed before she asked him,      

"You believe that she didn't kill the king?"      

Dante turned to look at the red coals that continued to burn brightly inside the furnace. "The one who killed my father is also the one who killed your sister."     

Anastasia's heart clenched, and she asked, "How do you know?"      

"Your sister had multiple stab wounds on her back, and the dagger length and cuts were the same on both victims," Dante explained. "There are two possibilities. One where the murderer killed your sister first because that person didn't like her, and my father, who witnessed this, was the next person to die. Because the murderer wanted to avoid being punished. That's just one possibility. One."     

"What is the second possibility?" Anastasia asked him.      

"That my father died first, and your sister stumbled upon the scene when it took place. She knew who killed my father. The murderer noticed her presence, and to silence her, she was stabbed in the back and then in the front. There was a wound on the side of her head," Dante's eyes were hollow and void of emotion as he separated his emotions from his responsibilities.      

Anastasia's eyes watered again. In either case, the murderer had mercilessly killed her sister. She said,      

"When I saw her earlier, her back seemed fine, and there were no wounds on her head…"     

"I had the maids bathe her and change her clothes yesterday. The wounds were stitched early in the morning," Dante responded. He had to check for any other wounds inflicted on her before she would be burned.      

Even though Dante's words were as sharp as a sword, his gestures towards her dead sister were humane, and Anastasia was thankful towards the prince's actions. She bowed, holding the handkerchief closely to her chest and said, "Thank you. Thank you for not dismissing her or throwing her into the sea."      

Servants, concubines, and courtesans didn't have tombs like the people of high status. They were either burned or bound and cast into the sea. Unless the Blackthorn King and Queen deemed the person of the palace worthy enough to deserve burial in the cemetery, this practice had been followed for centuries.      

Bowing again, Anastasia said, "Thank you for allowing me to see my sister."     

When she began to walk backwards to leave the dungeon and return to the servants' quarters, Dante remarked,      

"Before you leave, let me offer you a piece of advice not many are fortunate to receive," he paused, and Anastasia stopped moving her feet. "Don't try to escape the palace. Especially not with a prince's concubine, or a prince."     

He knew about Prince Aiden too… Anastasia said to herself. Of course he would know, as Prince Aiden must have also been interrogated about where he was last evening.      

"Yes, Prince Dante," Anastasia replied, and she left the dungeon.      

Dante stared in the direction the maid had gone, feeling the back of his hand tickle, making him rub it. His family was the first to be interrogated, and the investigation had then moved on to the guests. Though some of the guests wanted to leave after hearing the bad news, they weren't allowed. The servants would be questioned today to learn what they were doing during the hour of his father's death.      

Last evening, when Aiden stepped inside the room with the maid, Dante knew they had been together. His sister, Emily, had told him she had sent the maid away to rest. He had also inquired with Norrix and the others in charge, men and women, about the ones under their care.     

Dante was about to leave when he heard something snap inside the furnace. His gaze fell on a lump of coal that glowed dimly. But instead of exhausting itself, the redness increased, and it caught his attention.      

Pulling off one of his gloves, he opened the small gate of the furnace and picked up the hot coal with his bare hand. The surface of his palm sizzled, and he felt the coal slowly turning cold. Hearing footsteps echoing from the stairs, he wrapped his fingers around the coal, crushed it, and put his glove back on.      

The person who appeared there was his brother Maxwell, who had been in shock since last evening. Maxwell walked over to where Dante stood, and his eyes briefly moved to the furnace. He said with a condescending smile,      

"I see that you have already burned my concubine."      

"Did you want me to wait for you? Considering you didn't bother to see her until now," Dante replied as they stared at each other. He said, "I wouldn't blame me if I were you, as your attention is on Lady Evin and our father."      

"Who you barely mourned for," Maxwell stated. "But I can understand that, because our father showed you less affection. Did Zion find out anything about who possibly killed our father and my concubine?"      

Dante stared at Maxwell, weighing the words uttered by his brother, before he replied, "I thought you already inquired with him twice. It is good to see you trying to find the culprit. It makes you appear less suspicious. Especially with clean hands now."      

"Sometimes I don't know if your words for me are said out of disappointment or appreciation," Maxwell smiled, which didn't reach his eyes. "You are the one who often deals with these things, so I was hoping you would have gotten somewhere."      

Dante's lips twisted into a slight smile, and he said, "I will let you know if I find something. And I hope for the same from you."      

"Of course," Maxwell responded, and Dante gave him a nod before starting to walk away from there.      

When Dante reached the end of the passage, he turned and noticed Maxwell standing in front of the furnace, staring at it. Leaving his brother there, he made his way out of the dungeon and over to one side of the palace. The servant who stood outside one of the rooms opened the door for him, and he stepped inside his mother's room.      

Hearing his mother cough, Dante questioned the maid, "Did you not give her the medicine?"      

He made his way towards where his mother was resting, sitting on a couch with a blanket spread over her lower body.      

"I did, Prince Dante," the maid replied. "She hasn't been able to eat or drink."     

Dante frowned. Dismissing the maid from the room, he sat next to his mother, who stared at him.      

"You didn't sleep the entire night, did you?" Lady Lucretia placed her hand on her son's cheek, and the prince didn't shy away.      

"We should worry about you, and not me," Dante responded, and when his mother began to cough again, he poured a glass of water and offered it to her.      

His mother hadn't always been this sick and had fallen ill less than a year ago. What began as a fever and losing weight, which she never completely recovered from, had developed over time into coughing up blood. Her sickness hindered her already-reduced status, leaving her to spend most of her time in her room.     

This was why Lady Lucretia had been the last family member to know about King William's death. She asked,      

"How is everyone holding up?"      

"The way they usually handle other things. Much more openly this time, however," Dante answered her, and she nodded. The family members began to mistrust each other and cast blame on whomever they found suspicious. When he noticed his mother's smile, while her eyes held sadness, he asked, "What is it?"      

"You care more about your father than you think you do. Trying to find out the truth about what happened to him," Lady Lucretia said, looking into her son's black eyes.      

"He wasn't the only one who died yesterday. Maxwell's concubine died too," Dante let her know, which had her purse her lips. He said, "If something like that happened to you and I wasn't there, I would want someone to find out the truth."      

Lady Lucretia gave an understanding nod. Because of who she was, her son held a soft spot towards the courtesans and concubines while equally despising their existence.      

"I still find it hard to comprehend that he's gone. He always knew what was going to come at him," she sighed. Even though she had been cast aside, she still loved King William the same as the first time they had met each other. "You have to be careful, Dante. So that no one blames you because the king didn't give you the throne. Have they already blamed you?" She asked him.      

Dante said to ease his mother's worries, "No, they haven't done it. I was out in the town and later with the guests."     

But questions had already been raised, and so fingers were pointed at him. After all, out of all his male siblings, Aiden was the king's legally wedded wife's son, Maxwell had found his soulmate, and his father had decided to crown him as the next king, while his youngest brother Victor was only thirteen and wouldn't be able to sit on the throne any time soon, leaving him alone.      

He was the first prince without a Crux and had no right to the throne in the eyes of the king and his subjects.      

After spending all his spare time with his mother, it was time to return to work, which was piling up with the death and the upcoming war. Stepping out of the room, he began to head towards the court when he felt the back of his hands prickle, but didn't pay attention to it.      

On the way, one of the servants ran up to him with a terrified look on his face.      

"P—Prince Dante, th—there," the servant had difficulty forming words.     

Dante's jaws clenched, wondering if another death had occurred, and he snapped, "Speak clearly."      

The servant looked as if he saw a ghost, and he pointed his hand toward the abandoned side of the palace. He stuttered, "That, we—we were cleaning and we think there are snakes in the bushes!"      

Dante stared at the servant before asking with a sigh, "Where did you see them?"      

"In the garden," the servant answered with dread.      

Making their way to the abandoned side of the palace, Dante stepped into the garden and the servants stood back, watching him from afar.     

While he looked around, he noticed something unusual about the Blackthorn rose. Though the rose was wilted, facing downwards, the stems near the ground caught his attention. They were no longer dead and dry, but had turned green.     

But why was it changing suddenly without a trigger? He turned and questioned the servants, "Did anyone touch this plant?"      

"We haven't, Prince Dante! We wouldn't dare!" The servants replied. They never stepped into the garden because it was forbidden.     

Soon the back of his hands felt like something was being sewn into them, and he removed his gloves. His eyes fell on the dark purple root-like veins that had turned black. The veins spread further, branching themselves outwards.      

At the same time, Dante saw the stems of the Blackthorn rose in the ground subtly curl. When he turned his hand, the burn he had received earlier from the coal had disappeared from his palm, as if it had never been there in the first place. This had never happened before. His stared at the plant, and he remarked,      

"Don't tell me that the Crux and the Blackthorn rose are connected."     

It was as if the Blackthorn rose was magically drawing his blood to resuscitate itself, and he could only guess that it was trying to awaken his Crux, which didn't exist until now.      

The only thing that happened in the last few hours was his father's and the concubine's deaths, but that couldn't be the reason. His dark eyebrows furrowed. There was no way the plant had been awakened without a trigger.      

If it wasn't the servants, nor was it him, then it could only be one thing.      

When the thought crossed his mind, Dante's eyes narrowed, "That's not possible."      


Existence of the soulmate (Chapter 47)

Music Recommendation: Golden glass- Johannes Lehniger     

As Dante stared at the wilted rose, thoughts raced through his mind, and his jaws clenched.      

Was it the ember of the deceased woman that had initiated his Crux? Dante's eyes narrowed further, and he murmured,      

"That can't be right."      

That was because many months before the courtesan had become Maxwell's concubine, she had been sent to his room by his family. He remembered the night clearly, as it was the same night the physician mentioned that his mother didn't have many days left to live.      

To gain his attention, the woman had placed her hand on his wrist, which resulted in him drawing his dagger. Ready to slit her throat for her actions when he was already in a foul mood.      

'Please don't kill me! I have someone who needs me!!' The courtesan had quickly begged for her life. 'I was only following orders!'     

When he retracted his dagger, the courtesan had bolted out of his room, never appearing anywhere near him again.      

Dante believed the woman had nothing to do with his Crux. Though it had turned glaringly obvious only a few minutes ago, his hands had bothered him since this morning. He had come across many people since he had woken up, not to mention the guests in the palace who had been living here for a few days since Queen Sophia's birthday celebration.      

But could it be possible… that it wasn't a random trigger but one which had begun because of his soulmate?      

"Prince Dante?" Aziel appeared at the entrance of the corridor. The minister wore a quizzical look on his face, not knowing what the prince was doing here. He informed him, "The court proceedings will be starting soon."      

Dante turned and gave a nod to the minister. Leaving the Blackthorn rose alone, he stepped back into the corridor and said to the servants, "There are no snakes in here. Finish cleaning the corridors and leave."      

The servants bowed, watching the first prince and the Mother Queen's minister leave.      

Once Dante reached the royal courtroom, he walked through the entrance and took his usual place, which was at the front of the room, and beside him stood Aziel. The ministers were gathered in the room, their murmurs continuing as they discussed what was going to happen to Versailles.      

Queen Sophia stood on the other side of the throne, and next to her stood Prince Aiden and Prince Maxwell. While on the floor above, Lady Maya, Lady Noor and the prince and princess stood waiting for the court meeting to start.      

"Everyone rise! Mother Queen Ginger has arrived," The Vizier announced. Those sitting on chairs quickly stood and turned to look towards the entrance.      

The Mother Queen walked through the entrance of the royal courtroom, her head held high with a solemn expression. The people in the room offered their deepest bows while she walked through the centre and reached the front of the throne. She turned around and raised her hand for everyone to stand up straight. She said,      

"Versailles has suffered a great loss with King William's death. He wasn't just a king but my son, and as a mother, I feel it weighing heavier on my heart," the Mother Queen paused for a moment before continuing, "Whoever murdered him will be charged with a public death and won't be able to hide the crime that was committed last night. My grandson Maxwell even lost his concubine yesterday."     

"It is a horror that a king was killed and no one was there to protect him, or even witness it," one of the ministers, who belonged to the Elders, said. "The palace isn't as secure as we thought it was."     

The Vizier responded to the minister, "When King William was murdered, his servant wasn't with him, as he and the guards had been dismissed from his side. It is only unfortunate that this happened.      

"Mother Queen, if I may speak," the elderly minister spoke to her with a bow, "The throne now sits empty. A kingdom cannot survive without a king, as it becomes susceptible for others to attack."      

Soon the ministers began to discuss who was suitable to sit on the throne. Another older minister remarked,      

"I believe this calls for the Elders meeting, where I and the other seven ministers will bring forth whom we believe seems fit to take the throne, as the king didn't appoint his heir. This means the candidate doesn't have to be someone from the Blackthorn family. A meeting should be held."     

Some of the Blackthorn family members couldn't believe that the throne was free for others to grab as no heir had been appointed.      

"There won't be any meeting held," Dante remarked, his voice loud enough to reach the edges of the royal courtroom, receiving everyone's attention in the room. He continued, "The Mother Queen still holds a higher position than all the Elder ministers in the court. The decision is still hers, and goes to the eight of them only if she is incapable of making one."     

"You seem too eager to overlook my existence, Messiah. Unfortunately for you, I have many more years to live." The Mother Queen looked at the minister.     

"Forgive me for my rudeness, Mother Queen. I wasn't sure if you had decided or if you would need our help," the minister named Messiah replied with a bow.      

The Mother Queen spared him a second more, staring at the minister before turning her gaze to the others in the room. She said,      

"I have already chosen the one who will be sitting on the throne. Being the legal offspring of King William, Prince Aiden will be taking the throne."      

Queen Sophia, ready to object, looked stunned on hearing the Mother Queen's decision. Soon a look of relief spread across her face, knowing that her son would be taking the throne, while Lady Maya pursed her lips as she had hoped for her son to take the throne. Lady Noor's eyebrows rose as she had expected the Mother Queen to pick the first prince; she always showered her affections on him. Her eyes subtly moved to look at an unhappy Lady Maya.      

The room broke into whispers before the Vizier called, "Prince Aiden, if you will please come forward."      

Prince Aiden's cheerful demeanour had gone since learning about his father's death. Right now, he looked surprised, as he hadn't expected his grandmother to pick him. He slowly made his way to where his grandmother stood.      

One of the ministers at the back said in a low voice, "I thought she would pick Prince Dante. Looks like her affection doesn't overrule common sense when it comes to what is the right thing to do."     

"Or it could be something else," said another minister, before whispering, "Maybe she suspects he had something to do with King William's death. The priest had mentioned, when they realised he had no Crux, that he was a cursed child."      

The Mother Queen then announced, "There will be a change in the events that were supposed to happen. To secure the throne, the corona—"     

Hurried footsteps echoed outside the royal courtroom, which caught everyone's attention, and soon a minister appeared at the entrance. He made his way over to the Mother Queen and bowed,      

"Pardon me, Mother Queen, but this needs to be read urgently."     

Dante made his way to the front and took hold of the rolled parchment. Once he finished reading what was written there, he walked to his grandmother and whispered into her ear, while she stared into space with a serious expression.      

"So that is how it is," the Mother Queen murmured with a thoughtful expression on her face, and she nodded. She turned to the minister named Messiah and said, "It appears that King William had already chosen which son of his was going to sit on the throne before his death. He sent it to one of the Elders and had it sealed under the conditions that Prince Maxwell had his Crux and met his soulmate." Her gaze shifted to Prince Maxwell and she said,      

"Take Aiden's position, Maxwell," she brought her hand next to her.      

Prince Aiden returned to his mother's side, whose countenance had fallen, replaced by a look of horror. Suddenly Lady Maya's mood brightened at the news, and she turned to her daughter, who returned a quiet smile out of happiness.     

The Mother Queen let everyone know, "With King William's wish and the conditions met, Prince Maxwell will be taking the throne. The coronation will be held in two days; until then, I will be in charge of everything here. The court is now dismissed," saying this, she walked away from there with her minister Aziel following her closely.      

Once they were out of the courtroom and in a deserted corridor, the minister looked around them. Noticing no one behind or ahead of them, he said,      

"Mother Queen, there is something that has been bothering me."      

"Speak," the old woman said, as they continued to walk.      

"Why did you choose Prince Aiden and not Prince Dante?" The minister asked her, with curiosity in his eyes. It was glaringly obvious that Prince Dante was a better fit even though he didn't have a Crux, not to mention that the woman loved the first prince, and it was no secret to anyone. "Do you not trust him?"     

The Mother Queen glared at him and said, "It was Dante's idea to have Aiden on the throne, not mine." Her eyes were serious and her walk was steady. She continued,      

"Unfortunately, as capable as Dante is, the rule states clearly that the person who sits on the throne needs his Crux, and even he knows it. My late husband's father was reckless for giving that much power to those Elder ministers, who cannot wait to seize power back under their control, rather than leave it to the royal family. Looks like the old palace needs to be cleaned because people will be occupying it soon."      

Aziel wondered if he should perhaps start packing his things, in case he and the Mother Queen would be moved to the old palace too.     

By the time of night, everyone hovered around Prince Maxwell, building better relations with him as he was soon to be king. Lady Maya and Princess Niyasa received no less attention.      

At the time close to midnight, Anastasia followed Princess Emily, who had just finished visiting Queen Sophia in her room and was walking back to her bedroom. The princess's footsteps were slow, and she was about to hit a wall when Anastasia stopped her by pulling her back.      

Princess Emily awkwardly laughed, "I wasn't looking where I was walking." She paused and then said, "Since Father is gone, everything feels so different. I wanted to talk to my mother, but she seems stressed about other things," her voice cracked at the end. "It's so strange, isn't it?"      

Anastasia could understand Princess Emily's loss and pain because she was going through the same thing.      

There wasn't a moment when Anastasia had stopped thinking about her sister. After seeing her sister turn into ashes, the little hope of her return had been destroyed.      

"One moment they are there, and you don't even realise that it will be the last time you will talk to them. I didn't even get to say goodbye," Princess Emily whispered, her eyes teary.      

If only she knew, Anastasia thought to herself. If she knew that the moment in the dark alley with her sister was their last, she would have never looked away from her sister. A tear slipped from her eye, and Princess Emily suddenly felt guilty.      

"I didn't mean to make you cry, Anna," Princess Emily said, misunderstanding Anastasia's tears to be for her deceased father.      

Anastasia shook her head and wiped the tear off her cheek. The princess said, "Let us get through this together. Why don't we visit the library? There might be something in there to occupy our minds."      

Anastasia carried a candle stand which held five candles burning in a row. Heading towards the library, Anastasia walked in front of Princess Emily so that the princess could follow the light.      

"It might be a little scary because of the lack of light, but there are torches of fire that can be lit in there," Princess Emily said, driving away the uncomfortable silence of the dark. "Sometimes I come here to pick up a book or two when I am unable to fall asleep. Reading boring books puts me to sleep quickly."     

When they reached the double doors of the library's entrance, Anastasia went to grab the handle of one door when it moved backwards, and air escaped from her lungs.     

In front of her stood Prince Dante in a loose-fitting shirt and black trousers. His usual hairstyle was dishevelled but slightly pushed back. She felt her heart shudder for a second under his gaze, not forgetting the last words he had told her down in the dungeon.      

When Anastasia offered a bow, Dante's eyes shifted from her to look at his sister. He remarked, "I thought I heard some voices outside."     

"Brother Dante," Princess Emily greeted him with a bow. "I was thinking of picking out a book. What are you doing here? Oh, Minister Aziel is here, too," she said, noting the minister far from them at a table.      

"We were working on something. Come in," Dante stepped back and turned around to return to where the minister was going through some open books that were spread out on the table.      

Princess Emily stepped inside the library, and Anastasia followed her in, closing the door behind her.      

"Princess," Aziel offered a bow, and Princess Emily acknowledged him with a nod.      

Anastasia noticed the two men flipping through one book's pages before moving on to the next book. Princess Emily asked, "Is it something for the court meeting?"      

"It is, Princess Emily. We are trying to find the books that have mentioned the Crux and the soulmate, to revisit the details. Just to make s—"     

Dante kicked the minister's leg under the table, as the minister had said more than he was supposed to. He said, "Aziel has forgotten how and when the Crux forms. Also, how a person recognises the connection of a soulmate."     

The minister nodded, "That is right. I was sure it was in one of these books."      

"Maybe we can help then?" Princess Emily volunteered, as she wanted to keep her mind busy rather than think about her father's murder.      

Aziel wondered if it was alright and turned to look at Prince Dante. Seeing the prince nod, he smiled at the princess, who looked happy to be useful now. Fifteen minutes later, Aziel and Princess Emily were still at the table, while Dante had gone to look for other books with Anastasia, who carried the candle stand.      

Standing in front of one of the many racks on the floor above, Anastasia watched Dante pull out a book and turn the pages to read it.      

"Do you know how to read?" Dante questioned, without looking up from the book.      

In the quiet library, with only the sounds of flipping pages and the voices of Princess Emily and the minister, Anastasia whispered, "Yes."     

"When did you both find time to do it?" He asked her, turning to the next page before closing the book. When he looked at the maid, she looked a little lost, and he said, "I'm guessing your sister was the one to teach you."     

Talking about her sister eased Anastasia's anxious mind, and she replied, "We sneaked around to meet each other. Sometimes in the night." That was also how she had ended up with her calloused hands. The lack of sleep was reflected in her work the next day, and she would be punished with more work.      

"Don't let people know that you can read," Dante stated, placing the book back in its place and muttering, "This is what happens when the books are not put back in their assigned place." They walked to the other rack, and he said, "It isn't because you are a maid that you will fall into trouble. So don't let anyone know. Not even Emily."     

Anastasia didn't understand his reason, but she nodded anyway.      

She asked him, "Prince Dante… did they find out where my sister was an hour before she was killed?"      

"Not yet. No one saw her; at least, that's what people claim," Dante responded. A sigh escaped from his lips, and he asked, "Did she ever mention her relationship with Maxwell?"      

Anastasia nodded, "She did. She was in love with him and he said he was in love with her too. Saying he promised to marry her. But when his soulmate appeared, she didn't exist to him anymore. She was heartbroken by it. Do you think her death might be related to him?"      

"I don't think it is entirely true," Dante murmured, and at the same time, he heard his sister call out,      

"Brother Dante, we found it!"      

Dante didn't wait for the light to show him the path, but instead walked away from there and down to the floor below. Anastasia made her way down the stairs and then near the table before stopping a few steps away from them. She saw the old minister point his finger at one of the book's pages and heard him say,      

"The sign of a soulmate is realised by touch, which allows one to witness a memory of the soulmate. Though it isn't often feasible to draw the soulmates near to each other, the males also have the ability to identify their soulmate by the woman's scent, which will stand out more than others."      

Princess Emily commented, "If it is an indicator of a soulmate, Brother Maxwell can tell you about it." She then asked, "What if the soulmates end up crossing paths, never to meet again?"      

"That would be sad, Princess," Aziel replied. "The heart will beat for the person with an ache. They are also called Broken Soulmates."     

A few minutes later, his sister and the maid left, and so did Aziel, who carried some of the books out of the library, leaving Dante there alone. He was going through one of the old books when a piece of writing caught his eye, which said—     

The missing Crux of the cursed cannot be restored alone but will be healed by the existence of the soulmate.     


Last person in the palace(Chapter 48)

In Princess Emily's bedroom, Anastasia helped the lady get into her bed and pulled the blanket over her. Most of the candlelights had been blown out, except for the two stands next to the bedside and one placed on the table.      
Anastasia was about to leave when Princess Emily asked, "Anna, will you stay the night with me? You can take the couch," a slight longing appeared in her eyes.      

The only place the servants were allowed to sleep in the presence of royal family members, on the inner side of the palace, was on the ground. For the princess to offer the maid her couch came from the goodness of her heart.      

Even if Princess Emily had asked Anastasia to sleep on the bed, Anastasia would never cross that line, knowing where they stood. The princess's maids had fallen into her kindness and had lost their lives more than once before.      

Anastasia nodded, and a look of relief passed over the princess's face. Princess Emily then took a spare pillow from her bed and handed it to her, saying,      

"Use this. You know where to find the bedsheets."      

'That is fine. Just the pillow is good,' Anastasia responded before heading towards the couch, which wasn't far from the bed. Princess Emily turned so that she could see the maid clearly, and she said,      

"You must wonder why a grown woman sleeps with the candles lit."     

Anastasia lay down on the couch, placing her head on the pillow. She heard the princess say,      

"Many years ago, when I was a little girl, a strange woman kidnapped me. I don't remember much of it, but it was dark and I heard screams of other children, which was painful. Thankfully, my father found me and brought me back to the palace. Ever since then, I have never wanted to step foot outside, unlike my courageous, yet foolish, younger brother."     

It seemed that no one's life was better than another's, Anastasia thought to herself. She gestured with her hand, which made Princess Emily smile. She said,      

"A lot of the time I wish I knew what you were saying, so that we could converse. How I wish you had a voice. I hope you get your voice one day," she murmured while her eyelids grew heavy. "Today I feel a little more worried than the other days…"     

Anastasia watched the princess drift off to sleep, her eyes closing. She whispered, "Forgive me, princess."      

She felt bad for lying to the kind princess, but she could do nothing about it, as this was the truth she had been carrying for many years. She adjusted her head on the pillow and stared at the intricate ceiling above her.      

Anastasia realised what loneliness felt like after her sister's death. Even though Theresa was someone she could speak to and Princess Emily was nice to her, their presence and feelings couldn't replace her sister's place in her heart. As the candles began to dim, so did her eyes, and before she knew it, she had fallen asleep.      

She dreamt of her sister, where they were standing behind the bush in the outer garden, similar to when they were first going to escape.      

'Mary, there's no one at the gates. We should go now,' Anastasia said to her sister.     

Marianne nodded, walking with her through the gates, but when they walked past the two pillars, Anastasia realised her sister wasn't standing next to her. 'Mary?' She turned around and noticed the gates had closed. Behind the gates stood her sister, who offered her a smile.      

'What are you doing there, Mary?' Anastasia asked with a frown. 'Come with me.'     

Marianne walked closer to the gates, staring at her younger sister. She said, 'I wish I could, but this is where I belong and will stay.'     

'How can I leave you behind?' Anastasia asked, 'You are my other half.'     

'I will always stay with you,' Marianne's smile died down before it disappeared as she frowned and looked down. The front of her dress began to stain itself with blood that spread further and further.     

Anastasia tried to push open the gates, which refused to budge, and she cried out, 'Who hurt you?!' When her sister began to fade in front of her eyes, turning into a mist, she called in desperation, 'Mary! Mary!'      

'Leave when you can, Anna. This place is not safe.'     

"Mary!" Anastasia cried Marianne's name; her eyes snapped open when she woke up with a gasp. Dawn had broken, and light had begun to pass through the transparent windows.      

Having shouted her sister's name loudly, Anastasia's voice woke Princess Emily from her sleep with a jolt. Anastasia panicked, hearing the rustle from the bed, and she quickly closed her eyes, behaving as if she was still sleeping.      

Princess Emily raised her upper body to take a quick look around her room and noticed her maid sleeping soundly on the couch. She wondered if someone had screamed in her dreams, and she pursed her lips before returning to sleep.      

Anastasia waited for a couple of minutes and then slowly opened her eyes, noticing the princess had gone back to sleep. She released a sigh of relief that she hadn't been caught.      

Later in the morning, when Anastasia was helping Princess Emily put on her shoes, the princess said,      

"I felt like I heard someone scream last night, and it got me worried." Anastasia's expression froze as she buckled the shoe before standing up. "I was scared for a moment, but after seeing you in the room, I fell back asleep quickly." She smiled before adding, "I seem to have slept better with you around. We should do this often."      

Anastasia was glad to hear that at least one of them had benefited from sleeping in the same room. She believed it was not feasible for her to continue if the princess found out she had been lying.      

Once they stepped into the corridor and started walking, they saw Princess Niyasa, who was still in her nightdress, looking angry.      

"Are you alright, Niyasa?" Princess Emily asked her sister.      

Princess Niyasa looked at the maid behind Princess Emily and remarked, "How is it that you have your maid and I don't have mine?!"      

Anastasia wondered what was happening and heard Princess Emily ask, "Anna is my maid; of course she will be with me. Where are your personal maids?"      

"They said something about the investigation taking place in the palace. They are checking the fingerprints, something to do with finding the murderer. They could have waited until I got ready." Princess Niyasa huffed, crossing her arms across her chest.      

"I thought the investigation had finished yesterday. It looks like it won't stop until we find the person who killed Father." Princess Emily's lips set themselves in a thin line. She said, "I would have lent you Anna, but you said you didn't want a maid with hands as rough as hers. I will see you in the dining room, sister," and she walked away with Anastasia.      

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Anastasia noticed the guests standing outside the wide room. Princess Emily, on seeing Minister Aziel, went over to him and asked in a low voice,      

"Aziel, are the guests being questioned again?"      

"Everyone in the palace is being questioned, Princess, including the royal family members," Aziel replied to her. "One of the Elder ministers wanted to reconfirm and have the fingerprints checked to see if they could find a lead in the investigation. If you ask me, I think someone told them to redo it."     

"I wonder if they will be able to match them," Princess Emily responded.      

"It will take weeks. Mother Queen already told them it was useless because Prince Maxwell was holding the dagger," Aziel whispered to the princess, which even Anastasia heard.      

Soon the guests, one by one, walked up to the desk, behind which stood Prince Dante and a minister. On the desk was a big book. The Mother Queen stepped forward and spoke to everyone in the room,      

"Thank you everyone for your cooperation. The Vizier has arranged entertainment in the Mirror Palace, which we believe will keep you occupied for the rest of the day. The Vizier will lead you there, but before that, I would like everyone to step forward one by one to leave their fingerprints. Just to record your presence in the palace."     

The guests were about to question why this was needed, but at the same time, Prince Dante, who stood behind the desk, pulled his gloves off his hands in front of everyone.      

Anastasia's eyes fell on the back of Dante's hands, and she noticed the black veins that looked like roots. They were intricate and reflected the intensity the first prince hid behind his calm demeanour. She had never seen anything like that before and heard the people in the room whisper.      

"I—Is that the rumoured curse? I thought it was a lie."     

"It must be the lack of Crux, like a black sheep." Some of the guests looked repulsed by the sight of it. Some of the royal members of the Blackthorn family were stunned, as they had never seen his hands before.      

"How strange it looks to think that the Blackthorn family has a cursed prince. Should we even go near him? Lest we be around the curse?" asked one of the female guests.      

Anastasia's eyes moved from the prince's hands to his expressionless face. Prince Dante addressed the woman, who had just spoke,      

"Lady Betsy, why don't we start with you?"      

The woman turned bright red, not expecting to be the one to catch the curse first. She pointed her finger at herself and asked, "Me?"      

"There's only one Lady Betsy, unless you are an imposter." Prince Dante tapped his finger on the open book.      

Anastasia noticed the woman wearing a look of dread as she looked around, as if the other guests had decided to sacrifice her first. Walking up to the front of the desk, the woman dipped her fingers in the ink and then placed them on the book. Prince Dante pressed on the woman's fingers, who flinched. Realising she was alright, she quickly exited the room.      

Soon the others came forward, and the prince pressed their fingers down on the page before turning to the next page. Some were curious to look at his hands, while a few young women were happy to have him touch them. One of them was Lady Amara, who was sure that her connection was with Prince Dante, but when there was no reaction, she heard the minister say,      


All the guests finished their turns and left the room, following the Vizier. Dante watched them exit the room. Then the members of the Blackthorn family took turns, the first one being the Mother Queen, who, when she had placed her fingers on the book, remarked,      

"Aren't you going to press down on my fingers, Dante?" She looked up at him with a curious gaze.      

Prince Dante offered her a slight smile and replied, "I don't think anyone in our family is so weak as to need me to guide them."     

"Hmph," the Mother Queen softly harrumphed and stepped away from the front of the desk. The other family members took turns, and Princess Niyasa asked,      

"Brother Dante, have you placed your fingerprints in the book?"      

"Prince Dante was the first one to do it, Princess," the minister responded, and Princess Niyasa stared at the old man as if to ask if she had spoken to him.      

"It is mandatory that every person leaves their fingerprints, which shall be used for future purposes. Even Lucretia's prints have been recorded early this morning," the Mother Queen stated, "Was there anything else that you wanted to say, Niyasa?"      

Princess Niyasa offered a tight smile to the old woman and replied, "No, that was all the curiosity I had, which has been sated."     

"Will the fingerprints of those outside the palace be collected too?" Prince Aiden questioned, and the minister nodded.      

"Yes, the trades have been stopped and the gates have been closed for people to refrain from passing through until they are collected. But it should be done by tomorrow at the latest, so that the day of coronation is clear," the minister informed them. "Thank you, Mother Queen."     

[Music Recommendation: We are not Beggars- Kim Min Ji]     

"I should be the one to thank you. We would like to catch the person who caused my family a great loss," the Mother Queen couldn't wait to punish the murderer, who had killed two people in the palace. "It is good that the work in the palace has been done, and it will also ease our minds. I believe it is so?" She asked the minister, who nodded.      

"Yes, Your Highness," the minister from the Elders group nodded. He said, "The royal family, the guests, and the servants. It is safe to say we can now move outside the palace. I will take my leave for now," he bowed his head and turned to go when Princess Niyasa stopped the man,      


"What is it, Niyasa?" Lady Maya questioned her daughter, because stopping the Elder minister in such a tone was rude.      

Princess Niyasa bowed with a smile and said, "I believe you have missed one person's fingerprints here." She turned to look behind her sister and said, "Emily's maid."     

Anastasia had slept in Princess Emily's room and hadn't returned to the servants' quarters since yesterday. The servants' fingerprints were collected early in the morning in the servants' quarters, and they had failed to take hers.      

She had been so focused on what was being done in the room that she hadn't realised it until Princess Niyasa pointed it out. Soon, the members of the Blackthorn family's eyes fell on her.      

"That was a good eye, Princess." The minister praised Princess Niyasa, while Dante stared at the reckless maid, who belonged to his first sister. The last one from this palace, he thought in his mind.      

"Step forward."      

Anastasia heard Dante speak to her, and she quietly made her way to where he stood. The minister opened the book in which he had collected the prints before ordering the maid,      

"Dip your fingers in the ink and place them in this box. Your name?"     

"It is Anna," Princess Emily was the one to answer.     

Anastasia could feel Dante's stare grow more intense with every breath she took. It felt as if he was waiting to catch her crime, and it only made her more nervous. Dipping the surface of her fingertips in the ink, she brought them to the open book.      

When Anastasia placed her fingers on the book, Dante brought his hand forward and pressed on her fingers with his.      

Time stood still, where Dante stared at the maid in wonderment, but when he felt nothing, he pulled away his hands from hers as if releasing her as his captive. Her eyes rose up from looking at the book, meeting his eyes for a brief moment.      

"That should complete everything you came for, Minister," Dante turned to look at the minister.      

Anastasia quickly pulled her hand away, as if a burning iron had touched her.      

"Yes, that should be all," the minister said, offering his bows before leaving the room with the other royal family members, while Dante remained where he stood.      

Dante stared at Anastasia's back as she left the room. He murmured, "How bothersome," before stepping out of the room.      

The cursed prince had neither felt the touch or noticed the scent of the woman in the palace who could be his soulmate. And it was only because, unlike others, his Crux was broken. He wouldn't be able to feel the soulmate connection until his Crux fully appeared.      


Decisions of the new king (Chapter 49)

Music Recommendation: Mothers Voice- Johannes Lehniger     

When the day of the coronation arrived, most of the important people gathered in the royal courtroom. The palace was decorated to welcome and celebrate the arrival of the new king. Every pillar in the room was adorned with red and golden curtains.      

Anastasia stood behind Princess Emily on the balcony of the floor above, waiting with the other women, except for the Mother Queen, who stood below them next to the throne with Prince Dante and Prince Aiden.      

"Everyone rise!" The Vizier announced.      

The people in attendance stopped murmuring, and the room became quiet as everyone turned to face the door. Soon Prince Maxwell stepped through the open doors of the courtroom. He was now dressed in a velvet attire resembling what King William had worn, along with a white cape attached at his shoulders that swept the ground he walked on.      

Prince Maxwell bowed at the Mother Queen and the eight Elder ministers.      

"Now that Prince Maxwell is here, we shall begin his coronation," the most senior of the eight Elder ministers spoke, who had a beard and narrowed eyes. "Bring me the sword," he ordered, and a servant came forward, handing the sword to him.     

As the coronation began, Lady Evin, Prince Maxwell's soulmate, asked, "Lady Maya, will you be the new queen once Maxwell is crowned king?"      

Lady Maya smiled as she watched the floor below and said, "Now that Maxwell will be the King of Versailles, it automatically changes my position and status. Isn't that right, Queen Sophia?" She asked, as if to confirm.      

Queen Sophia offered her a tight smile, "Yes, that's how it is. After all, it would be odd to have a concubine as the king's mother."      

Princess Niyasa was going to retort when her mother caught hold of her arm. Lady Maya smiled and whispered, "Not now, Daughter. Don't miss your brother's coronation," she smiled, looking below.      

The eldest minister continued to speak loudly for everyone to hear, ending his words, "… and with this, you are now the King of Versailles. King Maxwe—"     

Suddenly, someone from the crowd in the royal courtroom threw something, which smacked Maxwell's face. It was a piece of bloody meat, which smeared down the newly appointed king's clothes.      

"You don't deserve to be the king! You are a murderer!!" A woman shouted, bringing attention to herself. She was a courtesan who had known Marianne and was upset after receiving the news of the deceased's death. She threw another piece of bloody meat, hitting Maxwell's head this time.      

A collective gasp was heard from the people gathered in the room, who did not expect any interruption to occur.      

Anastasia felt a little bad for the prince to be treated like this in public. Not to mention, every time she saw him, it brought memories of her late sister.      

"Someone capture this woman!" One of the ministers ordered the nearby guards. "The audacity of her to come here and humiliate our king!"     

The guards quickly caught her while she struggled, shouting at everyone, "The Blackthorns are cursed! You are all cursed and your blood is damned!"     

Maxwell's face had turned red. First, from the embarrassment of being hit by the meat, which slowly turned to anger. The Vizier asked him, "What shall we do with her, Your Highness?"      

"Kill her," Maxwell responded with his chin raised. He added, "Anyone who speaks ill about the Blackthorns shall receive the same punishment. Hang her head at the Paradise Tower, so no one dares to do such a thing again!"     

Anastasia, who was watching from the balcony, felt her heart slip when one of the guards swiftly drew his sword. Not a moment later, the courtesan's head was severed from her body, which rolled near Maxwell's feet. She no longer felt bad for the man.     

Not liking how her soulmate was treated, Lady Evin remarked with a huff, "How dare the woman disgrace the king! She should have been tortured."      

"It is good that her head was severed," Lady Maya stated with a grim expression as she watched a maid come forward to help her son wipe his face. She said, "Since King William's death, it has left the palace shaky and the ministers have been questioning our authority. This action shows that the king isn't scared to do what is needed."     

"That's one concubine and one courtesan less than before in the palace," Lady Noor murmured.      

Anastasia turned to look at Princess Emily, who wore a serious expression on her face and didn't look away from the dead. She realised the way the royal family thought was very different from what she believed in. Their laws were strict, and they had no room for correcting errors. They were cold and cruel, but that was how they were raised, surrounded by like-minded people.      

Was that why King William was dead? Because of his nature? But then Marianne was nothing like these people, Anastasia thought to herself.      

Once the courtesan's dead body was dragged out of the room along with her head, and Prince Maxwell's face was clean, the minister once again announced,      

"I present to you King Maxwell Blackthorn of Versailles, son of William Blackthorn."     

Everyone bowed at the new king, who smiled at them. The Mother Queen, who stood next to Dante, whispered,      

"His pride appears more fragile than my teacup."     

"I thought you loved your teacups," Dante replied, before they all raised their heads.      

The Mother Queen's lips twitched at her grandson's words, and said, "I do, but I like them to be strong no matter how fragile they look."      

Maxwell raised his hands and said, "I would like a word with my family and the Elders alone now. Zion and Aziel can stay."      

As the others started to leave and the rest of the Blackthorn family members made their way to the floor below, the Mother Queen turned her head and said in a low voice, "It isn't the reaction, but the situation. If it were you, it would be different."     

"You think I wouldn't kill her for her disrespect towards the family?" Dante raised his eyebrow at his grandmother.      

"I do not doubt that. In fact, I believe you would be the one to kill her yourself rather than wait for someone else to do it. But if it were you," the Mother Queen raised her eyebrows and said, "The situation would have never arisen."     

When everyone arrived on the ground floor, Maxwell raised his hands from the throne he sat on and said, "Please take a seat."      

Anastasia followed wherever Princess Emily went, and when the princess took a seat, she stood behind her, but in the shadows, while watching Maxwell and the others. With everyone settled, Maxwell addressed,      

"When my father talked about me becoming the king, I didn't expect it to happen this soon. Not this way at least," he looked at everyone, meeting their gazes. He then continued, "The reason why I asked everyone to gather here is because I will be making a few changes. For one, when it comes to the decisions made in the palace, I, the king, will take the reins and will not have to wait for the approval of the Elders."     

"Okay," the eldest minister agreed, then added, "Though let me remind the new king that there are some crucial matters which will still need the involvement of us Elders."     

"I am aware of it," Maxwell responded, and he said, "If that is approved, I will be elevating my mother's position to a queen. She will no longer be a concubine."     

"Agreed," said the minister, and Lady Maya couldn't be any happier.      

Maxwell then looked at his family and stated, "One last thing., I believe too many queens under one roof will cause trouble. With that thought and everyone's best interests in mind, I would like to have Mother Queen Ginger, Queen Sophia, Lady Noor and Lady Lucretia moved to the three old palaces by tomorrow morning."     

Everyone's faces fell, as they hadn't thought he would order everyone's swift removal from the palace.      

Dante's face hardened at this news, and he said, "My mother isn't a queen, Your Highness. I request you to reconsider your decision." She was sick, and she needed constant care where he could check on her.      

But Maxwell was firm and said, "I won't, Brother Dante. But my siblings are free to stay in the palace, if they so wish."     


Tattle-tale sister! (Chapter 50)

The members of the royal family looked at each other's faces before they stared at King Maxwell. The ministers hadn't expected the young king to make such drastic changes when it had only been a few minutes since he had taken the throne.     
The oldest minister asked, "Are you sure that this is what you want, Your Highness? You can take your time to reconsider."      

"It is something I have already decided," Maxwell said firmly.      

Prince Aiden, who hadn't expected his brother to do this, asked, "Brother Maxwell, we—"     

"King Maxwell. That is how you and the rest shall address me," Maxwell reprimanded his younger brother.      

Prince Aiden had grown up with the love and joy of his siblings, and he had never imagined that Maxwell would change so quickly. He said,      

"My King… I don't understand why we are being driven from here when this has always been our home. Was it something that any of us said in the past that you now hold against us?"      

Anastasia, standing two steps behind Princess Emily, noticed the royal family members' fallen faces, which held looks of worry. Her eyes fell on Prince Dante, and the look in his eyes had hardened.      

"My reason is very simple, Aiden." Maxwell's words were loud and clear. He looked down at his coat, stained by the bloody meat. He said, "We haven't found out who the murderer is, and until the person is caught, it only means that the palace is unsafe. In a way, it is for your own safety. This way, no harm will befall any of you."     

"Your Highness, my mother is sick and needs necessary medical attention," Dante stated, staring at his first brother, who was riding the high of the new power in his hands.      

"Lady Lucretia will be looked after by a physician. I am not so cruel as to draw away help when it's needed," Maxwell responded. He then turned to look at the ministers and said, "I am hoping that my orders will be attended to and put into effect immediately."     

"Brother Maxwell," Princess Emily addressed him before she corrected herself, "I mean, Your Highness. By sending us away, what you are doing is cutting us off as your family. If you do that, none of us will share the same feelings. Brother Dante and all of us won't stay in the palace."      

Maxwell's eyes narrowed at her, and he said, "Who do you think you are speaking to in such a tone? As I said earlier, my siblings are free to choose to stay or leave with the others. But Dante is not going anywhere. He is, after all, the Knight of Versailles, who will be needed for the war that the troops have already left for."     

Prince Aiden asked, "And what if we refuse?"      

"I understand your lack of interest in the royal court, but to be unaware of the consequences of standing against the king is foolishness. This is probably why Father thought it was better to have me on the throne," Maxwell clicked his tongue while looking down at Aiden. He said, "Failure to obey the king will result in being cut off from the family and being deprived of any privileges or services afforded until now. The meeting is now dismissed, and I hope all of you enjoy the banquet."     

Saying this, Maxwell stood up and left the royal courtroom. The Vizier, being the king's minister, quickly followed him, and soon Lady Maya and Princess Niyasa left the room too. The eight ministers were next to follow, leaving the rest of the royal family behind.      

"What are we going to do, Queen Sophia?" Lady Noor asked the woman, hoping for some solution. "Maybe the parchment seal was wrong."     

"William wrote and sealed it himself. There is nothing anyone can do but curse the person who killed William and curse the king's hasty decision," the Mother Queen stated from the far end of the courtroom, before she began to walk away, Aziel following her. She said, "Have your things packed and be ready to leave by tomorrow."     

Soon everyone left the courtroom one by one until only Queen Sophia remained, who continued to sit on a chair with a shocked expression. Princess Emily made her way towards her mother and pulled a chair next to her before sitting down.      

Princess Emily placed her hand on her mother's hand. She said, "Are you alright, Mother? It is just a bad time, Mother. Things will get better. You will see that we will do fine in the old palace." This palace held her childhood and many other memories. She was sad to leave it.      

"You and Aiden… you will both stay here, Emily," Queen Sophia said, before she saw the confused expression on Emily's face.      

"You don't mean to live alone in the old palace, Mother?" Princess Emily said.      

"I will be fine. You don't have to worry about me. Your brother needs you here, someone he can trust," Queen Sophia said to her daughter. She said, "This is what I was worried about if Maxwell were to take the throne. Maya is the one pulling in the reins, and she has been waiting to cast us out from here since the moment she was chosen by your father."     

"But, Mother—" Princess Emily began to speak, only to be interrupted by her mother.     

"You won't be coming with me, Emily. Things are already hard enough," Queen Sophia tried to gather her emotions together before she sighed and got up. "I need some time for myself."      

Princess Emily watched her mother step out of the room, and she sighed.      

The next morning, carriages were lined up in front of the palace before they were loaded with the luggage of the Blackthorn family members who were going to stay in the old palaces. Most of the guests hadn't left and had come out to stare at the scene to make sure the news they had heard was true.      

Queen Sophia and Lady Noor's faces had turned red from embarrassment. Being driven out of the palace was something they had hoped wouldn't happen.      

Lady Noor didn't trust Lady Maya nor the new king to leave her son in the palace without her, so she took him along with her, climbing inside the palanquin.      

"I will find a way to bring you back here, Mother," Prince Aiden promised his mother, who offered him a small smile. "If I find the opportunity, I won't lose the throne this time." After his father's death, the young prince's joyous attitude was taken away and replaced with the resolve to regain power to protect his family.      

"We will come to visit you," Princess Emily said. Her mother only nodded before she stepped inside the palanquin.      

Anastasia watched the two palanquins leave before her eyes fell on Lady Lucretia and the Mother Queen, who stood before Dante.      

The first prince hugged his mother and said in a low voice, "I will have someone sent to you to check on you every day. Take care of yourself for me. Take your medicines on time."      

Lady Lucretia hugged her son back with a smile that faltered, sadness in her eyes. "Do not worry about me. Just make sure that you are alright, and make me proud as you have all these years. Win the war," she rubbed his back and pulled away. "I will be waiting for the news."     

"I will return to you with good news. So wait for me," Dante said to his mother, his eyes softening as he looked at her.      

"I will." Lady Lucretia stifled something before she leaned forward and kissed her son's cheek. "See you soon."      

Lady Lucretia coughed behind her handkerchief, and though Anastasia stood afar off, she noticed the lady's lips turning bright red, which she wiped away. The lady had turned weaker than the last time she had seen her, as if she was barely clinging to life.      

Anastasia watched Dante helping his mother sit inside the palanquin. He picked up the ends of his mother's dress that hung outside the palanquin and put them inside, and with the care he displayed, it was hard to imagine him as a brute.      

The Mother Queen assured him, "Don't worry about your mother. Aziel and I will look after her. After all, we have nothing else to do now." She hugged him and whispered, "I trust you with this place and the two grandchildren of mine. Stay strong, Dante, as you always have; I put my faith in you."     

"I won't let you down," Dante replied before they stepped away from each other.      

The Mother Queen's eyes then moved up and caught sight of Lady Maya and King Maxwell standing on one of the balconies, along with Princess Niyasa and Lady Evin.     

"Come here, let me hug you both," the Mother Queen said to Aiden and Emily, raising her hands and waiting for them to step forward. She said loudly for everyone to hear, "It would be a pity if I find that you both have followed your father's footsteps."     

"Take care, Grandmother," Prince Aiden wished her, and then Princess Emily added, "We will come to see you soon, Grandmother."     

"I will be fine. It is you three who need to watch your backs," the Mother Queen cautioned her grandchildren.      

Princess Emily asked her grandmother, "Is there no way for you to stop Brother Maxwell, Grandmother?"      

"Unfortunately, no, as I hold less power. If you thought what happened yesterday and today was harsh, you haven't seen the worst because this is only the beginning," the Mother Queen warned her grandchildren. Even though she would like to have them accompany her to the old palace, that would only make them weak, and it was time the other two stepped out of their comfort zones. She said in a low voice, "Don't forget that the king's word is always final, and not to cross him."     

The Mother Queen then looked up at Lady Maya, offering her a pleasant smile as if she was enjoying something. This made Lady Maya narrow her eyes at the older woman.      

"What is Mother Queen smiling about?" Lady Evin frowned and asked her soon-to-be sister-in-law.      

"Who knows," Princess Niyasa muttered. She then said, "Maybe she was looking forward to some vacation time. Good; she will have a long one." They watched the old woman get inside the palanquin before it started to head out of there.      

With the women out of the palace, Lady Maya turned to her son and said, "Why don't you and Lady Evin go enjoy yourselves? I am sure the guests are waiting."     

Maxwell raised his hand and Lady Evin took it with a smile, and they walked away.      

Princess Niyasa had a lopsided smile on her face and said, "I am sure she regrets calling you a concubine now."      

"Sophia?" Lady Maya smiled before they turned around and started to walk inside. She said, "She was relying on her title of being the legally-wedded wife, but now that doesn't matter, and we are the ones who are above her and the others. I haven't forgotten how she humiliated me on the day we met. She thought I was like Lucretia, who would meekly sit there," she softly harrumphed.      

Even though nothing had changed for the servants who worked in the palace, after a few hours, Anastasia, who followed Princess Emily, noticed the atmosphere had turned darker and heavier. As if the deaths in the palace weren't enough, the little joy that existed there had been stolen away.      

Two days passed, and right now, Anastasia was in Princess Emily's room.      

She stood against the wall, watching the princess stare into space before she turned and said,      

"Brother Dante will be going to war soon, and Aiden decided to stay behind in the palace, along with Maxwell. Maxwell was mean… but he was never cruel, not like this. I never imagined him to be like this, nor did the others. It's like something snapped inside everyone after our father's death."     

Princess Emily continued, "I worry that I am going to lose a brother of mine, and I don't want to see any more deaths. Maxwell must have been furious after he was publicly humiliated… I feel uneasy and anxious. I don't think talking with any of my family members will help at the moment."     

'You can talk to me. I am always here to listen to you,' at least until I find out who killed my sister, Anastasia thought. She didn't know if the murderer would ever be found, but she hoped she would meet the person.      

Right now… her suspicions fell on Maxwell. After all, he was the first to be found at the scene.      

"Thank you, Anna," Princess Emily thanked her before saying, "I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you are here with me. That I can talk to you. If only I could somehow release my anxiousness to relieve it. I have cried to the point that I have a headache. It feels like my head is being squeezed. What do you do to distract yourself when you are feeling confused or in pain?"      

Anastasia stared at the princess, and she pretended to clean the floor and walls.      

"I didn't know cleaning could do that. Is that why the servants always look so calm and pleasant?" Princess Emily wondered out loud before she got down from her bed. She decided, "Then let me try cleaning my room."      

Anastasia's eyes widened, and she quickly shook her hands in protest. Though her mother was cast off to the old palace, the lady was still a princess, and it would cause her trouble if someone saw the princess partaking in a servant's work.      

Princess Emily, looking for a distraction, waved her hand and said, "I will do just fine and learn quickly. You will see." She picked up the blanket from her bed and shook it with such force that it hit a vase on the bedside table, which fell to the ground with a crash.      

Anastasia made her way over to where Princess Emily stood and told her she would take care of it, hearing the princess apologise for making trouble for her.      

Seeing the princess looking down, Anastasia asked, 'How about sewing?'      

"I did it only because it makes my mother happy. I am not exactly proud of it either. I would like to draw or paint. But I don't know how to do it. Mother told me it was better that I learn to sew and knit than waste my time on something so pointless."     


No, don't even think about it, Anastasia told herself. But the princess was sad, and she had always been kind towards her. Clenching her hands, she released them and brought her finger up to her lips.      

Princess Emily stared at Anastasia and asked, "You want me to stay quiet?" Upon seeing her maid nod, she asked, "What is it? Did you see who killed my father?"      

Anastasia shook her head. She brought a parchment to the table and picked up a piece of charcoal before bringing it near the princess.      

"I don't know how to draw, which also means I don't know how to use this, Anna," Princess Emily frowned when her maid started to do something on the parchment. Trying to understand, she stared at it in great concentration.      

"What are you doi—oh, it's a tree! So you draw," Princess Emily exclaimed with a smile, and it took her a moment to realise what was going on.      

"Well, well, well, look what we have here."     

Anastasia and Princess Emily turned toward the door where Princess Niyasa had entered the room. She walked towards them and came to stand next to the table, staring at the parchment and the piece of coal in Anastasia's hand.      

"Niyasa, what are you doing here?" Princess Emily asked, but Princess Niyasa raised her hand as she stared at the lowly maid.      

"Aren't you a smart one? When I came to check your room, there was nothing to be found, but you were lying." Anastasia shook her head and moved her hands. "I don't know what you are saying, but I will make sure you are punished." Turning around, Princess Niyasa started to walk through the corridor to where her mother was.      

"Niyasa, wait!"     

Princess Emily became worried and quickly followed her younger sister, who was a brat through and through, and behind her followed Anastasia. When they reached where Lady Maya was, Princess Niyasa said,      

"Mother, I have something important to share."      

Lady Maya noticed Princess Emily enter the room, who bowed her head and addressed her, "Evening greetings to you, Queen Maya."     

"Good evening," Lady Maya, who wasn't a queen yet, liked the sound of how Princess Emily addressed her. She asked, "What brings you both in here?" She asked while in the company of Lady Evin's mother and two other women.      

"Isn't it the rule that anyone who lies to the royal family or the authorities will be subjected to execution? Emily's maid is the one who was drawing," Princess Niyasa couldn't believe a maid with such horrendous hands could hold such a talent.      

"My maid hasn't committed a mistake, because she never knew her drawings were used," Princess Emily spoke before adding, "She's innocent."      

"I asked her that day, and she denied it," Princess Niyasa replied, wanting to get rid of this maid. She hadn't forgotten that it was only two days ago when her sister had taunted her about not giving her the maid to assist her.      

Anastasia felt Princess Niyasa glaring at her for hiding the truth until now, and she tried to keep her eyes down. But she could also tell the young princess regretted sending her to work for her older sister.      

"The poor thing cannot speak, and you are casting false accusations against her," Princess Emily spoke for her maid, defending her and saying, "You cannot fault someone for another's mistakes. She didn't do anything, and kept to herself. Isn't that right, Queen Maya?" She turned to the older woman.      

Lady Maya's eyes moved to the back of the room, where Anastasia stood. Unable to see the maid's face, who bowed deeply, she said,      

"So she's the one from whom your maid stole, Niyasa. It brings me pain when I remember that night," the woman's eyes shifted to look at her daughter briefly before turning to look at Princess Emily. She said, "If her talent is as good as the ones that were showcased, it would be a pity to execute her. You can take your maid and leave, Emily."     

Lady Maya was focussed on her son, who had become king. After the recent events in the palace, all the other matters had turned irrelevant, especially the useless drawings she cared very little about.      

"But, Mother—"     

"I would like to speak to my daughter privately. If all of you could leave us alone," Lady Maya smiled at her company, and they nodded.      

A sigh of relief escaped from Anastasia's lips, as well as Emily's, who offered a deep bow. She said, "Thank you, Queen Maya," and they left the room with the others.      

"Why did you let her off?" Princess Niyasa demanded from her mother.      

"Do you hear yourself, Niyasa? You sound like a jealous little girl over silly drawings, and that's not how you carry yourself when your brother is the King of Versailles," Lady Maya reprimanded her daughter before adding, "There are more important things to discuss, than finding out who can draw," she rolled her eyes and patted the empty seat next to her. "Sit."     

Away from the room, Princess Emily walked with a smile on her lips. It was because her brat of a sister had been unsuccessful in taking her maid away. As they strolled through the corridors, the princess softly murmured,      

"Brother Dante is here."     

Anastasia looked ahead, and her eyes fell on the first prince, who stood before a wide, open window, looking at the kingdom. The wind that entered through the window had ruffled his hair. His hands were covered by gloves again.     

Her footsteps slowed while Princess Emily walked up to where he was, and she offered him a bow, "Brother Dante."     

When Dante's gaze left the view to look at his sister, Anastasia felt her heart race, as it felt like his eyes slightly moved to look at her.      

"You seem to be in a better mood now," Dante noted, and his sister nodded.      

"Anna is the mystery artist. Isn't that amazing?" Princess Emily turned to look at Anna with a smile.      

"Taking coal without permission falls under stealing, unless she thinks that's not thievery," Dante said, staring at the young woman.      

Princess Emily's smile faltered, turning awkward as she hadn't expected her elder brother to look at it that way. She said, "She drew such different things that I have only seen in books. Where did you see them?" She asked her maid.      

When Anastasia moved her hands, Princess Emily was lost.      

"It is from where she came from, when she was young," Dante said indifferently.      

Princess Emily's mouth turned into an O shape, and she curiously asked him, "Where is that?"      

Before Anastasia could think of a reply, she heard Dante remark, "Hawkshead," which took her by surprise. He knew.      

"I don't think I have heard of it before. Where is that?" Princess Emily asked.     

Anastasia felt Dante's midnight eyes watching her. One side of his lips subtly curled up when he saw her waiting for him to reveal the answer she was looking for and he remarked,