✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 6 - 10 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️



One soul made for one alone (Chapter 6)

Eight years passed since the Flores sisters were captured and brought to Blackthorn Palace. Old leaves fell from the trees surrounding the palace, giving way to many new ones. The trees grew taller, and so did the Flores sisters who had blossomed into young women.     
It was early in the morning, where the sun's rays slowly conquered the Kingdom of Versailles and the Blackthorn Palace before penetrating the rays through the transparent windows and lighting up the entire place by bringing a new day.     

The hour was forty minutes away before the royal family members of the Blackthorn would be having breakfast in the dining room.     

The maids and the servants hurried with their work so that their lowly presence didn't spoil the mood of the royal family. Among them was Anastasia Flores, who was in one of the many guest rooms with another maid, where they were fixing the bedspread. The maid said to Anna in excitement,     

"I hear that the prince of the Storm family is going to visit the palace very soon. It is said that he is a very good looking man, of course not as handsome as the princes of the Blackthorn family. But he's worthy of his looks."     

Anastasia, who was fluffing one of the pillows, looked up at the fellow maid named Charlotte, and she signed with her hand to lower her voice.     

Since her first encounter with the Mother Queen of the royal family, only two people knew she could speak, while the others she had initially met had forgotten about her. After all, she was a person of no importance and a lowly servant until the last three years.     

"Don't worry, no one is going to hear me!" Charlotte responded and went to fluff the other pillow. And though she said it, the maid leaned to look toward the room's door and then turned back to say, "They say he's looking for his soul mate. You know what people say here about soul mates. Though I haven't heard of any servants having one."     

The people of Versailles and the few other neighbouring kingdoms believed that some people were fated even before they were born. A person made for another person and just for them alone. They would be drawn to each other when they met after they were both eighteen. And the force would be strong, and no one would be able to deny it.     

There was also a loose rumour that went around only in whispers behind the walls that Lady Lucretia was King William's soul mate, whom he found after he was married to Lady Sophia, which was why Lady Lucretia was given as high importance as his wife. But they were only speculations of the idle and gossiping mind, Anastasia thought.     

Anastasia walked towards the window and pushed it open, welcoming the light and gentle wind in. The little strands of her brown hair that weren't able to sit tight in her bun, loosened and moved backwards as she stared at the scenery in front of her.     

As she was no longer the lowest servant of the palace and was now a proper maid, she wore a thin cream petticoat with full sleeves, and on top of which was a sleeveless olive green cotton dress. The other maids in the palace wore similar plain attire of the same fabric and were all dull in colour. The vibrant colours, different fabrics and beautiful designs were worn by the royal family members, a few courtesans and some of the members who were not of servant status.     

She began to fix the curtains.     

"Do you think our soul mates are out there somewhere? Perhaps waiting for us? Or if they will come find us?" Charlotte asked Anastasia in a hopeful voice.     

Anastasia already knew she didn't have a soulmate here. It was because she and her sister didn't belong here, and they came from another place… A place neither she nor Marianne knew where it came. None of the servants had heard about the village named Hawkshead.     

Not wanting to discourage Charlotte's hope, Anastasia turned and shrugged her shoulders.     

"Maybe it is one of the merchants who came by the palace last week. He was looking at me with quite some interest," Charlotte replied with a wink. Anastasia smiled at the fantasy of her fellow maid.     

Anastasia used her hands to express her words, 'Maybe you will find yours soon.'     

"How lovely would that be!" Charlotte whispered as she began to daydream. Compared to Anastasia, Charlotte didn't miss home and liked it here. She said, "I hope you will have a merchant too, Anna! Though merchants travel a lot and it isn't that bad…"     

Charlotte's words fell into the background, while Anastasia stared at the young woman of her age. Charlotte had been brought to the Blackthorn Palace like her but from a place called Pluile.     

When Anastasia had stopped talking in the past, the other children around her age didn't bother to come and talk to her. Even the elders didn't care, except to give her more errands than what others received. After a year of her enslavement, Charlotte was brought in as another addition to the slave and was the only one to befriend her.     

Anastasia felt guilty for not being truthful with Charlotte that she could speak. But it was her and her sister's life on the line. At first, it was to hide from the Queen or that minister, but over time her silence turned into truth, and no one remembered that she had spoken before apart from her sister Marianne and Theresa, who had guided her when she had no one.     

Charlotte noticed Anastasia holding a look of sadness in her eyes, and she approached her before placing her hand on her shoulder. She said, "It is alright if you don't want to marry a merchant. Some of them are as smelly as the camels that walk on the sand."     

This brought a smile to Anastasia's lips. She replied with her hands, 'Thank you, Charlotte. For talking to me and cheering me up.'     

"That's what friends are for, aren't they? Even though I can sense that your walls are high sometimes. It's fine, one brick at a time," Charlotte replied cheerfully, and they turned to look at the kingdom that came after the palace borders.     

Anastasia's eyes weren't on the palace walls but on the town's border walls. One could also see the desert that stretched beyond the borders as the palace was built on a higher ground.     

"It is such a beautiful sight from here."     

Anastasia left the window and walked towards the cupboards. Opening it to check if all the blankets in there were folded, her eyes fell on a silk coat with fur around its lapel and ends of the sleeves.     

"Isn't that Lady Brynlee's coat?" Charlotte asked, standing next to Anastasia and saying, "Did she forget to take it, or did she leave it behind as an excuse to visit the Blackthorn Palace again?"     

Anastasia raised her hand to show her two fingers before a small smile appeared. It was because Lady Brynlee though not very much welcomed, liked to visit the palace in the hopes of settling with one of the two princes of the royal family.     

"I think the same. It is such an exquisite coat that I don't dare dream about it," Charlotte replied, then looked at the door again.     

Anastasia's eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion as if knowing what Charlotte was planning. She heard the maid say, "No one is here. Let me see how it feels."     

Anastasia's eyes widened at Charlotte's reckless confidence, and she shook her head before signing with her hands and expressions, 'We will be caught! Put it back! NOW.'     

"Nobody comes on this side of the palace. I will be quick," Charlotte whispered, draping the coat around her shoulders. Her body almost melted as she closed her eyes and said to Anastasia, "You should try this. It's like butter."     

During the time where Anastasia was worrying and Charlotte was trying the coat, neither of them heard the footsteps approaching the room.     

"What are you doing standing there?" It was one of the senior maids, in her mid fifties and Anastasia felt a trickle of sweat slide down her back.     

Anastasia pushed Charlotte inside the tall cupboard as the door had hidden her from the senior maid's sight. She closed the cupboard without locking it. She signed with her hand to reply, 'Folding the fresh bed sheets and putting them in the cupboard.'     

The woman's eyes moved to look at the room, and Anastasia hoped the person wouldn't question about Charlotte or find her, a maid in a lady's coat.     

The woman then said,"Looks like you are done with your work here. Follow me, Mr. Gilbert assigned you another task with me."     

Anastasia bowed in response and followed, wondering where they were going.     

When they entered the kitchen, Anastasia wondered if she was needed here to help in cleaning the dishes, but instead they passed the kitchen and stepped outside the backdoor. She continued to follow her, until she caught sight of a cart and two camels tied in front of it.     

The senior maid informed, "The kitchen needs to be stocked with some things and the palace needs some items. We will be going to the Bazaar today."     

The Bazaar?     

Anastasia stared at the news, because it was where the tall walls of the town borders laid.     

[Music Recommendation: Carriage ride- Johannes Lehniger]     

Anastasia sat on the edge of the back side of the cart, her feet dangling in the air as the cart wheels moved, making its way out of the Blackthorn Palace. Along with it was another cart that moved in front, both attached to a camel to pull it forward.     

"Now remember," the senior maid, who sat in the same cart, instructed Anastasia. "When we reach the Bazaar do not dawdle around. I will be the one talking to the merchants in the shop, so all you will have to do is carry the bags to this cart. We have three hours to finish before we have to head back to the palace."     

Anastasia nodded while maintaining eye contact with the woman, who stared back at her and said, "It looks like you are an obedient one, aren't you?"     

The senior maid had no idea she was planning to escape from this place, Anastasia thought as she smiled at the woman.     

"Use this to cover your head now, girl. We are going to a public place," the senior maid offered a scarf to Anastasia.     

Anastasia watched the woman use her scarf to wrap around her head so that only her face was revealed. She copied the senior maid.     

When the carts moved out of the gates of the palace, Anastasia was welcomed by the sound of the bustling voice of the crowd and the smell different from the one in the palace. It took her eight years to come here; she hoped it wouldn't take eight more years to leave, she thought to herself, while her brown eyes drank in everything that passed in front of her eyes.     

It took them a few minutes before they finally arrived near the busy and loud Bazaar, where people walked up and down the streets. As Anastasia followed the senior maid, she heard music being played that made her turn her head in the direction it was coming from.     

"Would the ladies want to buy a pair of bangles or more for your slender hands?" One of the merchants shouted, catching Anastasia's attention. "Two pairs for only two buckles! The cheapest you will find in the Bazaar!"     

Anastasia's eyes fell on the colourful bangles, and she noticed a pair of women trying them on their wrists. Different merchants shouted their trade,     

"Delicious and freshly prepared today! Drink it with a glass of buttermilk to cool off the heat! Seven buckles only!"     

"Come here, sire! Try the finest dry fruits," Another merchant tried to lure customers, who were walking by his shop. He stretched his hand forward, holding a dried date and offering it to the customer, who stopped by and said, "Doesn't it taste good? I offer you dates, almonds, and raisins. High quality raisins!"     

As Anastasia's eyes fell on clay-like pots connected to a small pipe at the base, the merchant asked her, "Would you like to buy the hookah pot, miss? I will give you a good price if you buy it from me."     

Anastasia tore her eyes away from all of them, and looked to the high walls for the exit. When they finally stopped at the vegetable shop and the vendor finished weighing the items, the senior maid instructed Anastasia,     

"Take these bags to the cart. Hurry now," she said, noticing the young woman not starting to walk.     

Anastasia carried the bags, supporting them on the sides of her waist, and placed them in the carriage cart. Taking another route while walking back, she muttered, "Who do I ask? There must be someone here who knows the world outside."     

Coming to stand in front of a merchant who sold clothes, she offered a polite bow and asked,     

"Mister, do you know Hawkshead?"     

"Whose head?" The merchant asked, tilting his head. "If you want a coat made out of wool, I have it here. But no head."     

"No, not clothes. It is a place called Hawkshead," Anastasia repeated, and the merchant waved his hand as if not interested in her as she wasn't a customer who could bring him gains.     

Anastasia then moved to another stall, where the person sold metal necklaces. She bowed at the merchant and asked, "There are these pearls that are found in Hawkshead. White, round and shiny. Have you been there?"     

The person laughed, "Hawkshead? I don't know where that is, Miss, but if if pearls are what you want, I have them right here," he turned his back.     

But that wasn't what Anastasia was looking for, and by the time the person returned to her, she had disappeared in the crowd. She returned to the maid's side, who gave her two more bags.     

Anastasia asked three more merchants in the wide Bazaar, but none of them had heard about Hawkshead. Disappointment started to sink into her chest. She asked herself,     

"How far away are we from home?"     

As she walked by herself before returning to the senior maid, her eyes fell on the tall walls and the wide passage gate through which some of the merchants and free people passed. There were guards standing at the gates, looking at every passing person, while they inspected the ones they found suspicious.     

"We have to pass through this. We will need horses or camels to travel…" Anastasia started to plan, "Food for two days and a tent… because of sandstorms." She continued muttering as there was no one nearby from the royal palace to hear her.     

A strong wind blew in the place where she stood, pushing the scarf around her head, and revealing her dark brown hair and face more clearly. Anastasia was still murmuring, "Will I be able to get two camels? Maybe one should do…" when a drunk man passing by caught sight of her and heard her.     

The drunk man said, "I have THREE camels!"     

Startled at the sudden male voice next to her, she swiftly turned and noticed a man staring at her. The man reeked of alcohol, and something else.     

Anastasia quickly bowed and said, "I don't need camels." At least not now, as she didn't plan to leave her sister behind. When she began to walk, she hoped the man would forget her, but instead, he followed her.     

"W—where are you gooing?" The drunk man slurred behind her.     

"Back to hell," Anastasia whispered in slight frustration, but he seemed persistent. She was worried her truth would be revealed. Even the crowd of the Bazaar wasn't enough to lose the man, and she had to make sure that the maids of the royal palace weren't in sight.     

"All three camels will be yoursss if you agree to be my wife. Stop making me chase youuu," the drunkard turned irritated.     

The drunkard caught hold of her wrist so he didn't have to chase her, and he laughed. He said,     

"I told yooou to stop! Now, where were weee?"     

Anastasia felt her heart thudding in her chest, and she quickly requested, "Please let me go."     

"Once we are married—" the drunk man refused to let her go, and Anastasia's eyes fell on the shop they stood next to. It was one of the utensils, and she picked up the wooden ladle before striking the side of his head.     

"Argh!" The drunkard staggered, his eyes filling up with rage.     

Seeing that it didn't work the first time, Anastasia clutched the ladle tighter before hitting the man right in the face.     

The drunkard released her hand and fell to the ground with a thud. She dropped the ladle back into its place. Before she ran away, her eyes met a young man's eyes, who appeared to be a commoner and stood next to the stall. She walked as quickly as her feet could move until someone caught her for the second time, and her stomach dropped.     

"Where were you?" The senior maid let go of her hand and said, "It is time to go back. Come, don't get lost again. It will take you a couple more times before you memorize the route."     

As the two carriage carts were filled with bags that had been purchased from the Bazaar, the maids had to walk back to the Blackthorn Palace. Once they entered the royal palace area, the gates began to close before they shut. As colourful as the Bazaar was, she realised there were some things that she had to be wary about.     

The servants unloaded the bags from the cart, while Anastasia went inside the kitchen. Charlotte quickly ran to her with excitement and said,     

"I heard you went to the Bazaar! Was it bright and loud as everyone says? Tell me everything about it!"     

Anastasia smiled, before replying with her hands, 'I will tell you everything that I saw there,' and they walked away from the kitchen.     


One who cannot sit on the throne ( Chapter 7 )

Six experienced maids walked in one of the corridors of the palace, carrying the dishes from the kitchen to the Blackthorn family's dining room. When they reached the front door, Mr. Gilbert waved his hand for them to enter and begin serving the dishes.     
The Blackthorn Palace's dining room was enormous with a high ceiling which had carved paintings, and from the ceiling hung three chandeliers, carrying burning candles now. The dining table consisted of a rather long table, and as big as the King's family was, there were still a few empty chairs.     

At the head of the table sat King William Blackthorn, his hair short on his head. He had a trimmed beard and moustache which slightly tapered upwards on the ends. His eyes, though dull, looked cunning when he turned his gaze at Mr. Gilbert. He ordered,     

"Bring the box that I gave you earlier."     

"Right away, my king!" Mr. Gilbert bowed and slipped his hand inside the pocket of his cotton vest. He pulled out a decent square-sized box. Coming next to the King, he bowed, while stretching the box forward.     

King William turned to his wife Sophia, and said, "I bought this for you from one of the Western countries named Civia."     

Lady Sophia sat on the immediate left side of the King at the table, and looked pleased even before opening the box to see what was in there. She lightly protested,     

"You didn't have to trouble yourself to bring me a gift, my king," but her hands were quick to open the box. When her eyes fell on the sparkling emerald necklace, her eyes widened in delight. She exclaimed with joy,     

"These are beautiful! I have never seen anything like these before…"     

The Mother Queen, who sat on the immediate right side of the King, remarked, "If you don't want it, I will be more than happy to have it for myself, Sophia."     

Lady Sophia smiled at the Mother Queen and replied, "As the King gifted it to me, it would be rude to not accept it. Isn't that right?" Her eyes roamed around the table, to notice the two concubines of the King holding a look of envy. Of course, they should be envious, Lady Sophia thought in her mind, after all, it was she, who was the legally wedded wife of the King.     

But then her eyes fell on the courtesan woman, whom the King favoured, who smiled back at her with a lack of envy, which dampened Lady Sophia's smile a little.     

"Sophia is right. I bought it with the intention of it being one of her gifts for her upcoming birthday, mother," King William replied before adding, "As the celebration is in less than two weeks, the invitations have already been sent out to the other kingdoms and important people we would like to maintain relationships with. Also, Dante, did you discuss with the Vizier?"     

Dante Blackthorn was the eldest son of King William, who was twenty-seven by age and born into the royal family through Lady Lucretia. Despite being the son of a courtesan, he sat next to the Mother Queen, and his mother sat right next to him.     

His smooth straight black hair was partitioned from the left side. The left side of his hair was combed back, while the other part of his hair fell on his forehead. A few strands of his hair were long enough to move past his arched eyebrows. His nose was sharp, which he had acquired from his mother, and he had a strong jaw.     

He turned his midnight eyes to look at his father. He replied with his slightly deep voice, "I did. The Vizier believes we will need more soldiers if we are planning to attack Brovia before they do. Brovia has gathered men with unknown abilities and it is heard that they conquered Totus."     

King William pursed his lips and stated, "Have the young men who were recently recruited into the base finish their training quickly. It would do well to send out a notice to young men throughout the kingdom to partake in it with benefits."     

Lady Sophia remarked, "When Versailles has Dante, I don't think we have to worry. After all, he has won the wars he has partook in, which is a few."     

Lady Lucretia's stomach dropped, and only her eyes turned to look at her son, who appeared calm and unaffected. Dante's eyes moved to look at Lady Sophia, and he offered a bow,     

"It is an honour to fight the wars for Versailles and our family. How would I be able to receive your praise, which is scarce than the rain in the desert," Dante offered a slight smile, while Lady Sophia returned it with a forced smile.     

The Mother Queen softly chuckled and took a sip from her glass.     

"It is my duty to look after the unfortunate. After all, you are the only prince who hasn't met the Crux, while the others found it by the age of ten," as sweet as Lady Sophia's voice was, her words held taunt for Dante and the others at the table turned quiet, looking at them.     

When a royal family prince reached the age of ten, his soul and body activated the Crux. It offered the prince inhuman abilities. While some received useless ones, a few were gifted outstanding ones. But that wasn't all, as it also allowed the person's soul to be attached to the one he was destined to. Though there were a few cases like King William, who even though had achieved his Crux, he hadn't found his soulmate.     

At the age of twenty-seven, Dante had not found his Crux, which had put him at a disadvantage of never being able to be the heir to the Blackthorn's throne. Many of them secretly looked at him with pity as they couldn't do it in front of him, as even without a Crux, his very presence and his words intimidated them.     

"I appreciate your concern, Lady Sophia. You seem to be the only one concerned about me not having Crux, while the others don't seem to talk about it. Perhaps they aren't as brave as you," Dante responded to his father's legally wedded wife. His taunt fell on the lady and the other princes who spoke about him behind his back.     

The Mother Queen stated, "I believe it isn't just the Crux but a man's sheer will and strength in which he believes that makes him into a fine king. What do you say, William?" She asked her son, who gave her a small nod. She continued, "Regardless of Dante's missing Crux, he has entered the battlefield and has fared well. I was thinking that perhaps, the other princes should take lessons from him. Considering how they seem shielded and haven't fought a single war to prove their worth."     

Lady Sophia softly laughed with her feminine appeal by bringing her hand to her mouth. She said, "I don't know about the others, but Aiden doesn't have to step into the War land, considering he will be the King one day."     

Lady Sophia had given birth to only two children, her eldest child, her daughter Emily and her son, Aiden.     

Prince Aiden was seventeen and only blinked at his mother's words before picking up the glass in front of him and drinking water. He was a laid-back prince, who didn't have a particular interest in taking responsibility for the Kingdom, and if it weren't for his mother, he would have spread his wings and be found in one of the brothels.     

On the other hand, King William said, "Sophia is right. When one of the princes turns into a king, they will have ministers and guards to protect them. But if some of them are interested, they can be accompanied so they know how to be prepared." Lady Sophia pursed her lips, but didn't remark. "When we attack Brovia, the princes who are of the age will accompany Dante and me."     

The Mother Queen remarked, "To have so many on the field, I think it would be hard to decide whom to protect, considering they have never tried to fight."     

"They will eventually learn it. Dante learned it, so the other four of them will take no time to learn the same along with their Crux," King William stated, and the dinner proceeded.     

Once everyone finished their dinner, the eldest grandson of the Queen accompanied her for a walk in the corridor, where on one side the torches of fire burned, while on the other side there was no wall, letting the moonlight fall on the ground.     

"The night is lovelier than the morning, isn't it? Especially with the temperature that seems to have risen recently," the Mother Queen remarked, watching the stars in the sky, while having her arm around Dante's hand.     

"Do you miss the place you came from?" Dante questioned his grandmother.     

Compared to Dante, the Mother Queen looked small and frail as he was tall, but her eyes told an entirely different story.     

"Sometimes. But the past has become a faded memory that I can barely remember with the life I have lived here for years," the Mother Queen replied as they walked in the lonely corridor. She said, "This is where my life is with my son and grandchildren. And it is where I am happy. I think people I knew do not exist anymore," she softly laughed.     

"If you ever decide to visit, let me know. I would be more than happy to accompany you there," Dante responded to her.     

Dante had heard about the place that his grandmother came from before she was married to his grandfather. A place where ice fell from the sky for days, covering the lands, trees, and houses.     

The Mother Queen smiled before a small frown settled, and she said, "If the other princes join you in the war, you pick the one you like the most and leave the idiots to fend for themselves," she gave him a look that made him slightly smile. She said, "All of them are so lazy it would be a good lesson for them to learn rather than just eat, sleep and talk."     

"I think they are quite young to understand it. Some aren't prepared," Dante replied with a crooked smile, taking a turn at the end of the corridor. Sometimes he accompanied her during her little strolls before she went to bed, and sometimes she invited him to join her because he was the only prince she could tolerate.     

The Mother Queen waved her hand, "Rubbish. You began your training when you were fifteen, it is only right that the others follow you if they really want to sit on the throne rather than expect it to be handed to them," she said with a grim expression. She asked, "I heard that the concubines were presented with gifts by my son. Did your mother receive one?"     

"I didn't inquire, grandmother," Dante replied politely but then felt the elderly woman's gaze.     

She stopped walking and turned to him, "Even though you might not have a Crux, Dante, you are in every word a Blackthorn's prince to me. And one who is dear to my heart and not an idiot like the rest."     

The corner of Dante's lips pulled, he bowed and picked up her hand. He kissed the back of her hand and said, "I know. You do not have to ponder over such trivial matters that don't bother me."     

The Mother Queen stared at the boy who had grown into a man that many feared even though he didn't have a Crux and he made her proud. Though a lot of remarks were passed behind his back, he stood tall and unfazed.     

Dante leaned towards her and kissed her cheek, "You should get some sleep now, grandmother. I will see you tomorrow."     

"That you will without a doubt. It isn't my time to die yet," the Mother Queen replied with a huff and returned the kiss before stepping into her room. She wished, "Goodnight, dear."     

"Goodnight, grandmother."     

Dante watched his stubborn grandmother disappear behind the doors of her room before he started to make his way towards his room. Once he reached it, the doors closed behind him.     

He made his way towards the desk to read some of the parchments he had to go through tomorrow at the royal court. Dropping it, he moved behind the wooden divider, where the bathtub was.     

Moonlight passed through the round window, falling on where Dante stood.     

He pulled his pastel orange robe tied around his waist, which loosened and fell off his shoulders before sliding and falling on the floor, revealing deep scars on his body.    


Charcoal Dust (Chapter 8)

After the royal family finished their dinner and left the room, the maids began to clear the dishes and used silverware on the table. A fresh tablecloth was spread, as were the napkins, along with unused silverware placed in front of every chair tucked inside the table.     
Mr. Gilbert ordered Anastasia and another maid, "Blow out the candles in the room and make sure not a single drop of wax falls on the table or on the floor. Remove the ashes from the fireplace."     

Saying those words, Mr. Gilbert stepped out of the dining room with the three maids, who carried the previously spread tablecloth and used napkins. The double doors of the dining room closed behind them.     

Anastasia turned to the maid and used her hands to speak,     

'You can blow out the flames of the first two chandeliers. I will take the one at the back, and then clean the fireplace.'     

The maid was happy to follow it, and she smiled before whispering,     

"You know, Anastasia, when I become a queen, I will appoint you as my personal maid with all the good benefits." She then turned to look at the closed double doors before turning back and saying, "But that will happen only if Prince Aiden would realise that I am his soulmate. I feel this very strong connection with him, you know?"     

Anastasia nodded and reached the back of the dining room, holding a long pipe and standing near the chandelier. Of course, she knew about this strong connection because every other maid secretly felt it towards one of the Blackthorn princes.     

"I keep wondering if I should reveal myself to him, but alas I haven't found an opportunity," the maid sighed. She came to stand behind the chair that Prince Aiden usually sat in, lovingly caressing the top of the chair.     

Anastasia wondered if the young maid was aware that it was only a piece of wood and not Prince Aiden himself. Raising the pipe in her hand, she aimed at the flames before blowing forceful air into it and blowing out the candles one by one that was on the chandelier.     

Among King William's sons, Prince Maxwell Blackthorn was one of the princes who was liked because of his friendly appearance and because he was in his early twenties. He was Lady Maya's son, who was the King's concubine, and if it weren't for Prince Aiden being the preferred heir to the throne, many women would have favoured Prince Maxwell over him.     

"I will be going back to the servant's quarters," the maid announced when she was done with her job. Anastasia nodded. She was now sitting in front of the fireplace.     

Anastasia picked up the small pieces of coal from the fireplace, which were useless. When she found a piece of coal that was the length of her index finger, she turned to look at the empty room and then the closed doors before slipping it into her dress pocket. She used a brush to push the ash into a wooden container until the fireplace was clean and then left the dining room.     

After disposing of the waste, Anastasia returned to the kitchen and washed her hands. She then joined the other servants for dinner, who sat on the floor. She took a seat next to the maid named Charlotte and ate her food with her fingers.     

"Dinner is more delicious than usual," Charlotte whispered to Anastasia as she ate. "It must be because I walked more than usual, which is my fault," she laughed.     

Anastasia turned to give her a questioning look, and Charlotte replied, "The senior maid told me to fetch the baskets from the storage room and I forgot. I then had to run back." She then said, "Mm, it is tasty. It is so strange that I don't remember what I used to eat before coming here. Do you remember it, Anna?"     

Feeling the gaze of a senior maid, Anastasia shook her head at Charlotte's question. The older staff preferred the servants not to discuss where they came from.     

Though Anastasia's memories of her past had partly faded over the years, there were some things that she and her sister held dear. Like her mother feeding them in the backyard of their house, while she and her sister ran around before returning to take another bite of food.     

After dinner, Anastasia caught up to Theresa, who was going to her room. Making sure no one was around, she spoke,     

"Auntie, I will be going to meet Mary."     

"Now?" Theresa asked, looking left and right, as every time the sisters met without letting others know they were related, it made her chest uneasy with the thought that someone would catch them. "I don't think it's a good idea, Anna. They have increased the number of guards in the courtesans tower."     

Anastasia frowned at this information and asked, "Why? Have the courtesans turned into precious jewels?" She cheekily smiled at the end of her words. "Though I would agree considering how beautiful Marianne is."     

Theresa once again turned back to make sure they were alone in the corridor before she replied,     

"I heard one of the courtesans tried to run away with a servant of the royal family. The servant was executed last night, and the courtesan is locked in the underground dungeon. I believe the Vizier is still deciding on how to deal with her; after all, he is the one who is in charge of handling the courtesans and the servants."     

The smile on Anastasia's lips fell, and she asked, "Isn't that extreme?"     

"That's what happens when you go against the rules of the palace, Anna," Theresa warned Anastasia, knowing the young woman had set her sights on something impossible. Even if the sisters successfully escaped the palace, she feared they would be caught and punished in unimaginable ways. "You said it yourself; people in the market didn't hear about your village."     

"The place I come from, people are treated like people and not as slaves," Anastasia replied, before adding, "And it was just my first attempt in the market. There must be someone in there. I will do better next time."     

"By causing another mishap in the market?" Theresa asked, raising her eyebrows at the young woman, who had contributed to most of her hair turning grey fast. "You are lucky the man didn't follow you or do something bad. This isn't Hawkshead, but the Kingdom of Versailles. Haven't you heard 'When in Rome do as Romans do'?"     

"Romans who?" Anastasia asked, and Theresa exhaled.     

"Rome is some country. At least that is what I have heard," Theresa paused and then placed her hand on Anastasia's arm, saying, "I think it would be best for you not to meet her tonight, Anna. It isn't safe for her."     

Theresa was aware that even if Anastasia wasn't careful about herself, she didn't want to cause any trouble for her sister. Anastasia agreed, "Okay, our meeting can wait." She hugged the older woman and said, "It is so good to be able to speak. I thought my voice was turning raspy and hoarse from not speaking for so long."     

Anastasia wished she hadn't said anything when the Queen was around that day. If not, she would have been able to speak like the others.     

Theresa patted the young woman's back and said, "It is indeed good to hear you."     

Anastasia pulled back and kissed the older woman's cheek. She then smiled and wished, "Goodnight. I will see you tomorrow."     

"Goodnight, Anna," Theresa wished her, and the two women stepped into their separate rooms.     

Getting inside her room, Anastasia locked the door with the help of the little latch. After loosely braiding her hair, her hand slipped into her dress pocket and took out the small piece of charcoal she had taken from the fireplace. She always tried not to be greedy by carrying more than one.     

Picking up the little lamp burning in her room, Anastasia placed it on the floor and sat down with a parchment. The parchment belonged to the royal court, where many parchments were discarded every week after being considered to be useless. It was placed at the back of the kitchen, which was where she borrowed it from. She took the ones where one side of the parchment was left blank so she could use it.     

What had begun as a way to distract herself had turned into a hobby, where Anastasia used the charcoal on the parchments to sketch.     

The sketches were of Hawkshead Village and what she remembered.     

Anastasia's upper body had bent forward while she started to draw on the parchment, her brown eyes full of concentration. She drew a bridge she remembered she and her sister running up and down on. Two hours passed, and the palace's corridors had turned quiet as most people had gone to sleep.     

"Ah!" Anastasia's face scrunched when the coal broke into not two, but three little pieces. She murmured, "To think it was almost done." Her fingertips were covered with the black powder that belonged to the coal.     

Usually, whenever something like this happened, she stopped drawing for the day. But tonight, she felt a need to finish what she had started. Biting her lower lip in thought, she stood up. Picking up a shawl to cover her shoulders, she stepped out of the room.     

Anastasia walked in the deserted corridor, her feet quick as she only wanted to pick another piece of coal before returning to her room. The torches on the walls that had earlier been burning had dimmed, turning the corridors slightly dark.     

Knowing where to find what she was looking for, Anastasia stepped inside one of the rooms and picked up a lump of cold coal. She was tiptoeing her way back to the servants' quarters, but on her way, she caught something moving. When she turned, her eyes fell on the infamous prince of the Blackthorn family.     

Dante Blackthorn.     

'What is he doing out of his room at this hour?' Anastasia asked, standing behind the thick pillar with intricate carvings and designs, peeking out from behind it.     

Anastasia was aware that she had the curiosity of a cat, which could get herself killed. Which was why she decided to turn around and head back to her room. But the night wind blew right at her, similar to how it had in the Bazaar.     

With one hand holding the coal she went to fix her shawl with the other, and the shawl slipped and escaped from her, flying backwards.     

"Where are you going?!" Anastasia whispered, turning and following the shawl that slid across the floor. "Come back…!" If only the shawl could listen to her, she thought, scolding herself at her absurd words.     

But when Anastasia crossed two more pillars in the corridor and was about to pick the shawl, a soft gasp escaped from her lips. It was because she noticed something move in the shadows, turning her hands and feet cold.     

Frightened, she tried to move her feet backwards, only to slip on the smooth marble floor.     

The person emerged from the shadow of the pillar and the trees of the garden on this side of the inner palace. When Anastasia looked up to see who was lurking in the shadows, her eyes widened on seeing Dante. Her throat felt dry, not expecting him here, as she had only seen him disappear a moment ago.     


Night encounter in the corridor (Chapter 9)

Music Recommendation: The Myth- Balmorhea     

The wind gently whispered, moving in the deserted corridors of the palace, which led the torches' flames to waver and a few to be put out.     

Anastasia could hear her heart beating in her ears. She had never expected to fall under this man's eyes, and it was because if there was any person in this palace that the maids avoided, it was Prince Dante.     

Prince Dante was the most handsome out of all the princes, probably because he had inherited some of his features from his mother, Lady Lucretia, who originally wasn't from Versailles. But as good-looking as he was with his black hair that right now moved in front of his face with the wind and his sharp eyes staring at her, she and the other maids feared him. Apart from knowing he had mercilessly killed men and women during wars, it was also known that sometime in the past, he had killed a maid for her negligence.     

There was also a rumour attached to him that he was a cursed prince, which was the reason why he wasn't in line for the throne.     

Anastasia realised she had been staring at him with most of her hair spread on her face during the fall, and she quickly bowed from where she was sitting on the floor, placing both her hands on the cold marble floor. She hoped she hadn't disrespected him!     

"What are you doing roaming the corridors at this hour?" Dante demanded, his voice calm yet intimidating, which weighed on Anastasia.     

Anastasia hid the piece of charcoal under her two hands, her heart continuing to beat loudly. At his question, she raised her head and then looked at the shawl that was on the floor.     

But something told Anastasia that the prince didn't believe her reason, not to mention she hadn't used actual words. 'It would be easier if I could just talk,' Anastasia thought.     

Dante, on the other hand, stared at the maid with slightly narrowed eyes.     

He was on his way to the other side of the palace when he decided to go back to his room to fetch his cloak. He hadn't expected to meet anyone at this hour of the night. Before he knew it, he had startled the maid, who fell to the ground quite harshly.     

Although a prince by blood, Dante had been treated differently after he turned ten, and it had helped him grow faster in contrast to his other siblings. He stretched his hand towards her, as it was his fault.     

Noticing a shadow move towards her on the floor, Anastasia raised her head, and her eyes widened upon seeing the prince's hand in front of her face.     

For a moment, Anastasia came to believe that Prince Dante was asking her to reveal what was under her hands, and she began to panic. All she had to do was turn her hand around to reveal her palms and fingers inside, which were black with coal powder. Fear started to trickle down her spine at the thought of getting caught for stealing it and being punished.     

Dante noticed the maid trembling, and he doubted it was the night air because, when his eyes fell on her hands, they were pressed tightly on the floor as if in fear. He wasn't ignorant of what people said behind his back about being cursed and unworthy. There had been several occasions in the past where he had experienced people avoiding touching him when he was young.     

As much as he ignored it, there were a few times when it got under his skin, like now, when this maid refused to take his hand to stand up.     

The kindness in Dante's eyes disappeared, replaced with a glare. He retrieved his hand and returned it to his side and harshly ordered the maid,     


Anastasia didn't know a simple word could hold so much anger. She quickly hid the charcoal under the folds of her dress and grabbed her shawl that was on the floor. Bowing at him, she walked backwards until she reached the end of the corridor, and once Prince Dante was out of her sight, she turned and swiftly walked back to her room.     

Once she entered her small room, she closed the door and locked it in fear that soon someone would come to execute her for her disobedience.     

"He said 'leave'. That wouldn't warrant an execution, would it?" Anastasia questioned herself.     

As brave as she was when it came to planning her and her sister's escape, right now she wasn't brave, and the more she thought, the worse her nerves turned unsettled. She hid the charcoal in one of her dresses, wrapping it around to ensure no one would find it, and picked up her mattress before carefully placing the recent sketch underneath it.     

Sleep wasn't generous to Anastasia that night, as her little endeavour for a piece of charcoal in the corridor left her anxious.     

The following day, Anastasia, who was working with Theresa on cleaning the rails of one of the stairs in one corner of the palace, yawned. The older woman looked around before she whispered,     

"Don't tell me you tried to meet your sister last night?" There was no telling with this young one, who liked to push her luck in such things.     

"I did not," Anastasia replied softly, with no energy. She said, "I wouldn't do that when you warned me that someone had been executed."     

"Oh, thank God. Then what kept you awake? Did you have nightmares? " Theresa asked the young woman. When Anastasia was small, she often had trouble sleeping, while reliving the moment of being torn apart from her parents.     

"Is Anna having nightmares?" Charlotte, who was at the bottom of the spiral staircase, climbed up and approached them. She then turned to look at Anastasia and asked, "Do you have dreams about getting scolded by Mr. Gilbert for not finishing work on time? I have dreamt about my hands being chopped, like the sword moves up in the air, and I wake up!"     

Theresa and Anastasia shared a quick look with each other because they were worried that Charlotte had heard Anastasia when she spoke a few seconds ago.     

"So what did you dream about?" Charlotte turned to Anastasia.     

Anastasia moved her hands to reply to Charlotte, 'That my position changed back to the lowest servant, and I was later thrown inside the dungeon.'     

Charlotte nodded, "That is definitely something all of us worry about. But Anna, you have been doing so well. You must be one of the few maids whom Mr. Gilbert hasn't scolded. Not that I have known. One day I would like to be the personal maid of the Mother Queen." She was the next one to peek down at the bottom part of the stairs, and she said, "But I have heard only the experienced senior maids are chosen for it."     

Anastasia dipped the cloth in the bucket of water and squeezed it before continuing to clean the railing rods. Theresa said to the two young women, "I heard the senior maids discuss this morning that there will be a celebration held for Lady Sophia's birthday. It is going to be grander than last time."     

"I thought last time was already grand," Charlotte replied to Theresa.     

Anastasia turned to look at Charlotte with a cheeky smile and asked, moving her hands, 'I didn't know you attended the celebration.'     

"God, no!" Charlotte replied, waving the cloth in her hand, and whispering, "Like you, I just heard it was lavish. We servants can only hear and see the outer walls, where the celebration takes place. I wonder how exciting it would be to take a peek!"     

"Don't even think about it," Theresa said with a pointed look, not wanting the young woman to cause any mischief. She said, "The reason this time it is going to be grander is because princes and princesses from other kingdoms are coming to attend it. The royal family is trying to see if suitable matches can be found for the Blackthorn princes and princesses."     

"Oh, a wedding in the near future! How nice," Charlotte turned excited because the celebration didn't mean it was only for the royal family.     

During such festive occasions, even though servants weren't allowed to enter the place where the royal family was celebrating, they were given gifts like clothes or shoes for their status and were treated to better food than usual days, which everyone looked forward to.     

While they continued to clean the windows of the corridor, Anastasia's ears picked up footsteps coming in their direction, as did the other two maids. Her brown eyes moved to look at who it was, and her eyes widened.     

It was Prince Maxwell, the second son of King William, who appeared in the corridor. But he wasn't alone. Next to him walked a beautiful woman in a lilac dress, her dark brown hair combed back and pinned at the side and curled at the ends.     

The woman was none other than Anastasia's sister, Marianne.     



Meeting behind closed doors (Chapter 10)

Anastasia and Marianne's eyes met, and like the younger sister of the Flores family, the older sister's eyes widened briefly before returning to normal. The maids quickly bowed with their faces facing the floor until Prince Maxwell and Marianne were out of sight.     
After two minutes, when the corridor was clear, Charlotte remarked, "Prince Maxwell is so good-looking, isn't he? He looks like an actual prince."     

"That is because he is," Theresa pointed out the obvious.     

"No, no!" Charlotte whispered, coming to stand next to Theresa, while Anastasia stared at the end of the corridor, where the prince and her sister had disappeared. The young maid continued, "He has such a refined air around him. His blond hair is so perfectly combed back with not a single strand out of place, and he's always friendly with everyone. I wish he could be the future king."     

Theresa replied, "No matter how fair and handsome a prince is, talk has it that Lady Sophia has already discussed and received the promise that her son will be the one to sit on the throne after him. She is the wife of the King."     

Charlotte then said, "I think any one of the princes would do, rather than the one n—"     

Anastasia placed her hand on Charlotte's mouth so that she wouldn't continue the sentence. She placed her finger on her lips before pulling her hand away from Charlotte's mouth.     

"Charlotte, I think it is a good time for you to speak with your hands and not through your mouth before you get all of us in trouble," Theresa scolded with a frown. "Bad mouthing will only make your nightmares come true faster."     

Charlotte pursed her lips before she said,     

"But there's no one in the corridor except for us three. We are completely safe. See," she waved her hand, while turning her upper body left and right. She then sighed, "That courtesan is lucky. I forgot her name… Anyways. It must be nice to be born with pale skin and pretty eyes. Fortunate enough to spend her time with Prince Maxwell. But she, like the other courtesans, is a whore, spending her time with more than one person," and she gave a knowing look to Theresa and Anastasia.     

Even though Charlotte's words were true, Anastasia didn't like to hear those demeaning words. While concubines were considered to be the sole possession of the king, the same didn't hold for the courtesans.     

Anastasia replied, 'I think it would be best to not speak ill about them. It isn't like they chose to be whores.'     

Charlotte nodded. "You are right. But again, when I see them it doesn't look like they are unhappy about it. They wear expensive dresses, and jewellery, and they eat better than us. Even the one who just walked by now."     

'Just because a person has everything doesn't mean that person is content in that life. Sometimes one looks for freedom,' Anastasia replied, moving her hands.     

"Freedom? For what?" Charlotte asked, blinking at her.     

Anastasia didn't know if she was to feel sympathy towards Charlotte for forgetting that she was once a free person, before being captured by pirates under the order of the Vizier and turned into a slave. It bothered her that every servant of the palace seemed content with their lives, and it was probably because of the people around them, who made them believe it was normal.     

Once again, they heard footsteps approaching towards them from the other end of the corridor, and soon Prince Maxwell appeared, this time walking alone. The three maids quickly bowed, waiting for him to leave, but instead he stopped in front of them and ordered,     


Theresa scolded Charlotte in her mind, squinting her eyes at the carpet on the floor before raising her head, along with the two young maids. Prince Maxwell's blue eyes moved from one maid to another before they settled on Anastasia.     

Even though Anastasia was a maid, a woman of servant class in the palace, she briefly stood out when no concubines or courtesans were in the same room as her. Her olive skin gave warmth to her expressive brown eyes. She quickly lowered her eyes after noticing the prince looking at her.     

Prince Maxwell asked, "Have you seen my mother since earlier this morning?" The three maids shook their heads. He said, "I see. If you do, let her know that I am looking for her."     

"Yes, Prince Maxwell," the two maids replied in chorus, and the prince noticed the third one didn't respond.     

Prince Maxwell demanded from Anastasia, "Don't you know that you need to answer when the royal family demands?"     

Charlotte was quick to come to her friend's aid. Her voice mixed with eagerness, she explained, "Prince Maxwell, forgive me for speaking out of turn. But she is dumb and cannot speak."     

Prince Maxwell gave a small nod and murmured, "A pity." He then smiled back at the maids and walked away from the corridor.     

After talking to the prince, Charlotte turned ecstatic and had a big, dreamy smile. On the other hand, Anastasia turned to look from one end of the corridor to the other, which was when she caught sight of her sister, who stood behind the wall signalling her.     

Anastasia picked up the bucket of water and the cloth and let Theresa know,     

'I will clean the windows on the other side of the corridor.'     

Theresa already suspected why, and she gave a nod. She said, "Charlotte and I will be finishing this side."     

When Anastasia reached the next corridor, she didn't find her sister. She continued to walk until she was pulled into one of the rooms, and the room's door immediately closed.     

"Mary!" Anastasia placed the bucket on the ground and dropped the cloth. She tightly hugged her sister.     

Marianne hugged Anastasia back with a smile. It had been two weeks since they had last spoken to each other. She pulled away from their embrace and asked,     

"How are you doing, sister?" When her hands went to hold her younger sister's hands, she felt the calluses forming on one of her palms and looked at Anastasia's hands with sadness. "Your hand…"     

"It is perfectly fine and not painful," Anastasia took her calloused hand away from Marianne and said, "You should see Theresa's hands and feet. Compared to her, mine is nothing."     

The frown on Marianne's face didn't leave, and she said, "I will ask Madame Minerva if she knows how to reduce it. Maybe medicine."     

Marianne wished she could help Anastasia, as she didn't like the calluses on her sister's hands. If she could, she would have switched her life with her younger sister. But at the same time, not everything was beautiful in the life of a courtesan. She didn't want her sister to go through it.     

"You are worrying for no reason." Anastasia held Marianne's hand, and they walked to the other side of the room, where on a table, little flower buds were placed in the vase. "I didn't know Prince Maxwell and you were talking."     

Anastasia noticed the smile on Marianne's lips at the mention of the prince's name. Even though they were the only ones in the room, Marianne whispered, "Not until yesterday, we didn't. It is because of Irene."     

Irene was the once famous courtesan of the royal palace, where men flocked and showered her with gifts. But as expected, with the years that had passed, her youth and charm eventually left her. She was pushed aside and replaced by younger courtesans who were more in demand.     

"What did she do? Wait. Was she the one who tried to run away from the palace?!" Anastasia asked with a stunned expression.     

Marianne asked, "You heard about it too??"     

During the years the sisters had grown up in the Blackthorn Palace, even though they didn't share the same status, they had tried to secretly meet each other to make sure the other was alright, while sharing things about their side of life.     

Anastasia knew about the courtesan named Irene not because of her popularity, but because, in the beginning, the woman had given Marianne a hard time.     

"Auntie Theresa told me about it last night. News like that doesn't stay hidden for long and spreads quite quickly," Anastasia replied, and then asked, "Did she really try to run away with the servant?"     

Marianne nodded, a frown appearing on her beautiful face. She said, "It was a guard. Irene and that guard were lovers. They planned to meet at the port. But somehow someone came to know about it and reported it to Madame Minerva. They caught the two of them before they could even leave the palace. The guard was executed right there."     

A sigh escaped from Anastasia's lips as what she just heard sounded terrible, no matter how Irene might have treated Marianne in the past. She then asked, "And Prince Maxwell?"     

"Oh yes," Marianne remembered and said, "I was nearby when Prince Dante severed the guard's head…. There was so much blood, and I was in shock. Prince Maxwell walked me out of there and took me back to Paradise Tower."     

Anastasia had zoned out a little after hearing Prince Dante's name. H—he had killed the guard yesterday?! Her feet turned cold. So he truly was as ruthless as people made him out to be…     

"He killed the guard because the palace would lose a courtesan?" Anastasia asked, feeling uneasy.     

Marianne shook her head. "Prince Maxwell said it had nothing to do with Irene. Maybe it would have been the guard's second mistake. The first mistake was his disloyalty to the Blackthorn family, and also that he worked under Prince Dante's men."     

Incidents like these worried Anastasia, and she could tell Marianne was worried too. She knew their lives could change for better or for worse, depending on the success or failure of their escape plan.     

Anastasia's hand reached out to pick up a flower bud. She gently twirled it between her fingers and said, "I went to the Bazaar yesterday."     

"You did? I am so happy for—" Marianne's excitement died along with her smile, and she said, "No… Life isn't bad here. Did you not hear what I said about Irene and the guard?"     

"You don't mean it, Mary. To say this is the life you want," Anastasia's eyebrows furrowed.     

Marianne was conflicted by her sister's words and replied, "I would rather have you alive where I can see you, than be punished or lose each other forever." Noticing the bud in her younger sister's hand, she softly smiled and said, "I haven't heard you sing in a long time. I remember you had trouble not being able to keep quiet about it when we were young, always wanting to sing."     

Anastasia had a faint memory of it and smiled a little. She said, "It is good that I am acting as a mute. It has helped me stop singing, which is good in a way."     

There were times when Marianne wished she had told some other lie in front of the Queen, but she had said the first thing that came to her mind, and probably it was the best lie. She could tell that her younger sister missed singing, along with their parents, who were far away from them. She said,     

"There's no one here. You can sing when we are alone and when no one is around. I heard the west side of the palace has been unused and left untouched for years."     

Anastasia gently brushed the flower bud. She cleared her throat, which brought a smile to Marianne's lips. She then parted her lips and sang in her sweet voice,     

'Everyone aims to be you, who is up in the stars,     

not knowing what you went through in the wars.     

They are green,     

not knowing what you had to sustain.     

Thinking it has been a meadow,     

When only the one that knows your pain is the shadow... that follows you in the silence of your pain is me…     

I hope you remember that I will always be by your side, no matter what road you choose.'     

The flower bud that Anastasia was holding, with its petals, slightly moved. It was an ability passed down from the Flores family, which only a few possessed. One of the secrets the sisters shared between them in this palace. Marianne praised her sister,     

"You have the sweetest voice, Anna, and your songs still have an effect. It is wonderful."     

"It's an insignificant thing," Anastasia said as she placed the flower bud back in the vase and hugged her sister. "I should go now."     

"Take care of yourself, Anna," Marianne said, and Anna nodded.     

"You too." When Anastasia reached the door, she turned and said, "Mary, I will find a way for us to leave and not get caught."