✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 61 - 65 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️



Early end to the inn's celebration (Chapter 61)


Anastasia noticed Dante raise his glass to his lips before he downed the two remaining sips in one go. His eyes looked empty and a little bored. With the empty glass hanging in mid-air, the barman behind the counter took it from his grasp before swiftly refilling it.      

Suddenly Anastasia's view was obstructed by Issac, who had returned holding two glasses in his hands. The young man loudly declared,      

"I brought the orange and pineapple-flavoured ones, not knowing what you like. Try both of them," he offered them to her.      

Anastasia raised her hand, pointing her finger at the closest glass.      

"You are shy, aren't you?" Issac laughed and handed her one of the glasses. "There will be some good things to eat tonight, but they are still being prepared," he said, taking a big gulp from his glass, and she took a sip from hers.      

Anastasia's eyebrows rose in surprise as she tasted the pineapple drink. She licked her lips. Being a servant, she didn't get to eat or drink the many things served only to the royal family, the ministers, and the guests who visited the palace.      

"Do you like it?" Issac asked her, and Anastasia nodded with a smile. "Why don't you try this one? It might help you decide which one you like better," he said as he pushed his glass towards her.      

Anastasia shook her head, letting him know she was happy with the glass she had. Once she finished the contents, the young man replaced it with another one. She awkwardly sat there, half listening to the young man speak and half listening to the music being played while her eyes occasionally wandered around the inn.     

Her eyes moved where Prince Dante sat, and she wondered if his wound was healing well. If she hadn't seen it, she would have never known.      

Issac noticed the beautiful woman's attention occupied, and he followed her gaze, noticing her stare at Prince Dante. To bring back her attention, he praised her,      

"You are such a lovely woman, Anna. It is so good to know that you aren't taken, which I am surprised at because you are so pretty. I have been waiting for the right woman to take as my wife, but I didn't find anyone suitable until now. But you, I know you will be wonderful."      

Anastasia was overwhelmed by the young man's persistent attention and his imposing words. He had been attentive and sat next to her the whole evening since she had entered the inn, which made it hard for her to interact with anyone else.      

"Give me a moment. I will be back," Issac said before leaving her side.      

Feeling her throat grow dry, Anastasia stood up from her seat and felt her world spin. She quickly sat back down again. She stared at people's feet and then slowly got up before heading towards the counter.      

As she approached the counter, she noticed Dante watching his younger brother stuff berries into his mouth while the two women by the younger prince's side cheered him on. Walking up to the counter, she said,      

"Excuse me, Sir. I need a glass of water."     

Hearing Anastasia speak, Dante's eyes shifted from Aiden to her. She had placed her forearms on the counter, leaning forward in such a way that caused her back to arch delicately while she waited for the barman to notice her.      

Anastasia was looking around when her eyes fell on Dante, who remarked,      

"You must be feeling brave tonight to be speaking."     

She stared at him for three seconds before asking, "Am I?" She whispered, "He doesn't know me, so I thought it should be fine."     

The barman came over to her and asked, "What would you like, Miss?"      

"Two glasses of water," Dante responded to the barman, and the barman nodded.      

As Anastasia's mind felt a little fuzzy, she decided to take a seat. She asked, "Are you thirsty too?"     

Dante watched her closely before he uncrossed his legs. He raised his hand before moving his two fingers for her to lean closer. Anastasia, without a thought, leaned closer and asked him,      

"Prince Dante?"      

A frown appeared on his forehead, and he asked, "Have you been drinking?"      

"No, you have," Anastasia replied solemnly, and this was enough for Dante to narrow his eyes at her. She said, "You were the one who drank three glasses."      

Dante's lips twitched and twisted in dark amusement. He said, "I didn't know you were keeping count. What did you drink?"      

"Pineapple juice. Do you want to try it?" Anastasia asked him, her eyes bright with enthusiasm. The barman placed the two glasses of water in front of them. Dante pushed both glasses towards the young woman and ordered,      


Anastasia reached for a glass and quickly finished it. She then asked him, "What are you doing here?" Considering how he had turned down Issac's invitation, she believed Dante wouldn't step in here tonight.      

"All the bottles were empty, and I was thirsty. Also, to keep an eye on a certain drunkard," Dante replied, raising the glass to his lips before taking a small sip as he watched Anastasia's curious expression.      

"You can leave Prince Aiden in my care. I will bring him back safely," Anastasia assured the prince, even though her mind felt a little muddled. As if suddenly worried, she leaned towards him and whispered, "I think something is wrong with me. I feel like my head is scattered. Like eggs that have been whisked together."     

"That's what happens when you drink liquor. How many glasses did you drink?" Dante asked her.     

Anastasia tried to recollect the details before saying with a frown, "Two. But I drank pineapple juice, and it tasted good."     

"When pineapple juice is mixed with rum, sometimes it can be hard to discern the presence of the alcohol due to the sourness and coarse texture of the drink," Dante explained to her.      

Anastasia noticed another shot of alcohol being poured into his glass. Unlike her, who felt like her head was swaying, Dante appeared perfectly fine as he sat beside her. She asked him, "How come you aren't drunk?"      

"Are you offended or questioning the number of glasses I drank?" Dante raised one of his eyebrows before answering, "I just happen to have an extremely high alcohol tolerance. Four glasses aren't going to do anything to me."     

"Then… you drank the other day while stitching the wound…" Anastasia had believed that he had the drink to reduce the pain, unless that wasn't the case.      

"The liquor my grandmother concocts contains different ingredients and is much stronger than the ones served here. I must have inherited it from her," Dante replied, watching her stare at his full glass. Drinking alcohol felt like water to him, as if his body knew to tolerate it. He looked around the inn, and he mindlessly asked her, "Don't you have someone waiting for you? The one who invited you here."     

"Who?" Anastasia asked, her memory seemingly wiped. She was enjoying the music a little more than she had before.      

Dante supported the side of his head with his hand while he watched Anastasia. He murmured, "You really are something, aren't you?"      

Anastasia watched the people around her merrily enjoying themselves, and she felt relaxed. Is this what freedom feels like? She asked herself. The air around here was so different from the life she had known all these years. She then turned to look at Dante and asked him in a low voice, "Do you feel it too?"      

Dante straightened his head, feeling like a thief that had been caught. He asked, "Feel what?"      

"Like a bird. If you stretch your arms wide, you can feel like you are flying," Anastasia said, and Dante noticed her lips stretch into a smile.      

"Drink two more glasses, and you will see stars," Dante muttered.      

She was about to say something in response when Issac appeared and called out to her, "Anna!"     

Issac! Anastasia had completely forgotten about him after she switched seats. When she quickly went to stand up, her body swayed backward. Before the young man could grab her or her back could hit the protruding edge of the counter, Dante's hand shot forward, landing on her back.      

Anastasia felt her heart stumble in her chest, and when she regained her footing, she murmured, "Thank you."     

Issac noticed the quickness of Prince Dante's reaction and saw the prince retrieve his hand. He also caught the beautiful woman looking at the prince. Pursing his lips, he stepped forward and said,      

"I have been looking all over the place for you. I didn't know you were sitting here. You must have been waiting for me and got bored. Let us g—"     

"Issac," Prince Dante interrupted the man. "Did you tell her what the drink was before offering it to her?"      

Issac looked between the young maiden and the prince. He nodded, "I told her the drinks were of different flavours. One orange, one pineapple. Isn't that right, Anna?" He asked Anastasia with a smile. "She liked the one she chose very much. Did something happen?"      

"Yes," Dante replied, standing up from his seat, downing his drink, and placing it on the counter. "I was wondering if you are planning to become a barman or simply enjoy mixing alcohol into a woman's drink without her knowledge before offering it to her." He turned to look at the commoner.      

Issac laughed nervously before saying, "My Prince, as I said, she enjoyed the drink." He then asked, "Princess Emily left her in my care, so why don't you let me look after Anna now?"     

Anastasia went to speak, but Dante caught hold of her hand to silence her. He said, "Quiet."      

The young man's eyebrows furrowed upon noticing this, and he asked Anastasia, "Is something going on between you two? Have you been serving him?"      

Even though she felt slightly more than drunk, Anastasia's eyes widened upon hearing the man's words, and she shook her head. Where did that even come from? She asked herself, confused. She shook her head.     

"A little too quick to jump to blaming the woman you have been wanting to marry," Prince Dante remarked, narrowing his eyes. A few people nearby stopped what they were doing, while others were busy in their world of merriment.      

"That doesn't answer my question, My Prince. She must be a well-kept secret of yours that you pay such close attention to her, enough to have her sit next to you." Issac pointed his finger at Anastasia. He then turned to her and said, "What a disappointment. Here I thought you were pure, but you are nothing like you presented yourself to be."      

Anastasia's face paled over the false allegations. Her hold on the sides of her skirt tightened. Her face started to turn bright red. Two women sitting nearby whispered among themselves while looking at her with contempt.      

Prince Aiden's eyes widened in surprise upon noticing his brother in the inn before his eyebrows furrowed at what was happening near the counter. Swallowing the rest of the berries, he made his way near the scene where his brother and Issac stood facing each other, and next to his brother stood Anastasia.      

He heard his elder brother say, "A man whose ego is as fragile as a twig. Emily will be disappointed that she allowed her maid to come here in the hope that you would be a good prospect for this woman. But clearly, you are not. Looks like you like to test your women before deciding."     

Issac glared back at the first prince and said, "Maybe it doesn't matter to you because your mother spent her days entertaining other m—"     

His words were cut off because a punch landed squarely on his jaw. He was blindsided because it was Anastasia who had punched him.      

Anastasia's hand throbbed with intense pain, but she was angry at this man who kept going on and on and didn't know when to stop.      

"You little whore!" Issac lunged towards her, but Dante caught the young man's arm, punching his nose, before twisting it behind his back. "AHH!" He yelped when his arm was twisted further.      

By now, the music in the inn had come to a halt, and so did the people's voices, as they faded into silence upon witnessing the scene and hearing what was happening. Dante stared at Issac's head while he continued to twist the man's arm, who cried out in pain. He said in a low and threatening voice,      

"Hopefully, you will remember this the next time you try to do something like what you did just now."      

"Prince Dante! Please spare Issac!" A woman named Naila appeared in front of them. She said, "He doesn't know better and will not repeat whatever he did again!"     

Dante looked up to meet the woman's eyes, and his lips curved into a smile that sent shivers down the spines of those present, causing people to take a step back away from him. He said, "True, but he will know from now on." With that, he twisted the young man's arm for everyone to hear it crack, dislocating his shoulder.      

Issac writhed in pain and agony, rolling on the ground when Dante stepped away from him, while some of the villagers who weren't well acquainted with the first prince gained first-hand experience of what he could do to those who crossed his path without a second thought.      

Dante's hand slipped into his trousers' pocket. He then turned to place a coin on the counter before walking out of the inn. Anastasia didn't wait and followed him while Prince Aiden approached Issac and commented,      

"Stay away from my family and Anna, you scum." He bent down to deliver a final punch to the already suffering man before exiting the inn.      

Soon Dante, Anastasia and Aiden reached the old palace. Most of the lights had been put out as the older women had retired to their rooms, and so had Aziel and the few servants.      

"I think I will go to bed. Goodnight," Prince Aiden murmured, and he disappeared up the stairs.      

[Music Recommendation- Pensar en Ti- Ganges]      

Anastasia watched Dante continue to walk towards his room, and once he entered it, he closed the door behind him. She quietly made her way to her room before closing her door.      

A sigh escaped from Anastasia's lips.     

Earlier in the evening, when she had left this room, she had been excited, and a glimmer of hope sparked in her mind, but reality had extinguished it. She was a servant and a person belonging to the lowest class of society, with little to no hope of having someone to call her own.      

She picked up her night dress, and when she was changing into it, she winced, feeling her knuckles throb in pain. Not only had she been belittled, but even Lady Lucretia had been dragged into it.      

The lone candle in her room glowed brightly, and she pulled out the ribbon that adorned her hair so that she could unbraid it. She then heard someone knock on her door.      

Anastasia walked towards it before opening the door and found Dante standing in front of her room. Half of his face was shrouded in shadow while the other half was bathed in the glow of light that spilled from within her room .      

"Was there something you needed?" Anastasia asked him.     

"I am guessing you hurt your hand quite badly and would need this?" Dante raised his hand, which held the first-aid box. She wasn't the only one who had punched the man.      

Anastasia lightly quipped, "It seems like we treat each other's wounds now."     

Dante's lips threatened to curve up, and he remarked, "So it seems." He noticed the dress she had worn earlier lying on the chair.      

When they heard someone's door open softly, they looked at each other, and the next second, not knowing what to say, Anastasia took a step back, and Dante stepped forward.      


Behind the closed door(Chapter 62)

Anastasia let Dante inside her room before someone would catch them alone, which would only fuel them to spread another rumour on top of the one already floating around. Once he got inside, she closed the door to hear it click. Since the room didn't contain a table, they sat on the edge of the bed.      
"Let me help," Anastasia offered when she saw him open the wooden box and pick up a bottle that contained a transparent gel. She said, "My hand isn't hurting that much—Ah!"     

She winced, feeling pain shoot up from the back of her hand when Dante placed a single finger on top of it.     

Dante held an unamused expression as he looked at her. He reprimanded her,      

"If you cannot take care of yourself, you are unfit to care for anyone else. This includes my sister." She heard the cork being unplugged from the bottle. "My hands are used to such activities and aren't frail. You didn't have to punch him."      

Dante would have done it himself. Like the others, he was taken by surprise by her action, but it was possibly the influence of the alcohol that had made her impulsive. Though her eyes were still slightly dilated, she wasn't as tipsy as before. He knew it because she had gone back to making a conscious effort not to address him by his name.      

"That… I didn't think. He spoke ill about Lady Lucretia," Anastasia whispered, her gaze falling back onto the transparent glass bottle. If she hadn't accepted Issac's invitation in the first place, the man wouldn't have uttered those awful things, even if they were true. She said, "I didn't know he would turn out to be someone like that…"     

"How would you have known? You only just met him," Dante remarked before raising his hand and saying, "Your hand."     

Anastasia brought her hand forward and felt him grip her fingers while he applied the gel to the back of her hand, mostly on her knuckles. It left a cool sensation that reminded her of the chilly night she had spent in the dungeon cell.      

"What is this?" She asked him.      

"It is a gel made from the prickly pear cactus, along with other ingredients. It will reduce the inflammation in your hand," Dante explained to her, and Anastasia's eyes moved from his long fingers to look at the black veins resembling a tattoo that spread over the back of his hands. She gasped softly when she felt the pain in her hand radiate up her arm, and her eyes met his. "People say a lot of things that aren't worth paying attention to. Speaking about others is a common habit among people."     

Was he consoling her after pressing on her inflamed hand to gain her attention? Anastasia felt embarrassed. To think she had thought Issac to be a good man when he had warned her about men posing as wolves in sheep's clothing.      

Anastasia murmured, "I am foolish."     

"You are," Dante agreed, and noticing her frown, he asked her, "Were you waiting for me to deny it?"     

"Ah, no. I know what I did," Anastasia quickly replied.      

"It's done," Dante said, letting go of her fingers that he had been holding. "You will still feel the pain for some time, so try not to use this hand much until tomorrow."     

"Thank you," Anastasia thanked him, watching him clean his hand and cork the bottle before placing it in the wooden box. She said, "Thank you for punching Issac back at the inn…"     

'You little whore!' She could still feel her face burn at Issac's accusation. For a fleeting moment, she felt tears pricking her eyes.      

Dante noticed Anastasia stare at her sore hand. She wore a dull, white nightdress. While changing into it, she had missed a button and fastened it into a mismatched hole. Her hair was half-braided, as if that was what she was in the process of doing before he knocked on her door.      

"You don't have to beat yourself up over what happened. Was it preposterous for you to believe him? Yes. But you believed him because you think the world is as good as you while also hoping that he was a ticket to get you out of the palace and maybe back home," Dante stated, which had her quickly shift her gaze to look at him. "It is too obvious not to figure it out in about a second. Your mistake was jumping at the first offer that was presented to you."     

Anastasia pursed her lips at his words. Her eyes briefly met his eyes, already directed her way. Unable to keep up with the intensity of his gaze, she turned to look at the wall in front of her. She said,      

"I am a maid. My options are as scarce as the rain that touches this ground… A plant grown in the forest, when forcibly taken away from its natural environment and replanted in the desert, doesn't survive because it doesn't belong there," Anastasia explained to him with her eyebrows furrowed.      

"I would like to disagree," Dante remarked, and it was her turn to look at him. "As impressed as I am that you considered another approach to leaving the palace without breaking the rules, it is a shame it didn't work out."     

Anastasia smiled a little, partially at her own bad luck. She said, "Maybe this is how things are going to be… my sister didn't have any luck with men either. They praised her and lavished her with gifts, but they couldn't offer her love." Her words were softer than the warm flicker of candlelight that reached where they sat. She asked him, "How did you know he wasn't a good man? That wolf in sheep's clothing."     

Dante leaned forward, his hands settling on the surface of the bed. He said, "Call it instinct after being surrounded by many people throughout my life. Good, bad, and worse." It was why he was inclined to believe that his brothers hadn't murdered their father. He turned to meet her unguarded gaze, her eyes displaying vulnerability as if she needed to be protected. His jaws clenched, and he stated, "He didn't know how to treat you well."     

Anastasia raised her eyebrows in quiet surprise. He had been at the riverbank for no more than two minutes, and he noticed it so quickly?     

To change the subject, Dante said, "If Aiden becomes king, you can ask him to release you from the palace. To return you to your home. But until then, like it or not, you belong to the palace." He had come here to return the favour, but his thoughts had begun to stray.      

Anastasia turned happy at Dante's words and hoped that Aiden would be the king.     

When she saw him straighten his back and stand up, she was quick on her feet to follow. Upon seeing him make his way towards the door, she picked up the wooden box with her good hand.      

Being ingrained in the role of a servant, a habit cultivated over the years, she quickly walked past the prince and reached for the doorknob to open it for him. But before her hand could grab it, he caught her wrist.      

"Prince Dante?" Anastasia asked, perplexed.      

She heard Dante sigh as if he was tired. When he turned to look at her, she noticed the earlier calmness in his eyes had been replaced with a flicker of glare. She could feel the grip of his hand becoming firmer on her wrist.      

"You have a hard time following orders, don't you?" Dante's voice was slightly hoarse as he took a step towards her, and Anastasia took a step back, her back pressing against the coldness of the wall.      

Anastasia hadn't meant to address him by his name, which had slipped from her lips. She went to apologise, saying, "I am—"     

Dante cut her off with a serious gleam in his eyes as he asked, "Are you looking to be disciplined, Anastasia?" He moved her sore hand to the side and stepped closer to her.      

Anastasia felt a shiver run down her spine at Dante's question, something telling her that it wasn't the kind of discipline she was familiar with. It was as if someone had ignited a flame in his eyes, intensifying his usual piercing gaze, which was now firmly fixed on her.      

"No…" Anastasia replied breathily, feeling smaller in front of him.      

Dante clicked his tongue as if in disapproval. It was as if something had flipped, and this time, he wasn't going to let go of the errors this young woman had committed. His eyes travelled down to look at her delectable lips, through which she breathed softly.      

Anastasia said, "I don't know how to address you without using your name."     

"It is fine. Call me the way you have been calling me until now." Dante's voice was too calm, and it caused goosebumps to rise on her skin. As he leaned closer, he supported one of his knees against the wall. But he wasn't done talking, "And for every time you are about to speak or do something you're not supposed to, I hope you remember this."      

Anastasia's eyes widened when she saw Dante raise his eyes to meet hers. She became worried, wondering if he was going to hit her. Instead, her heart hitched when his hand reached for the end of her braid and began unravelling it.      

What was he doing?! Anastasia turned alarmed. As he undid the braid one step at a time, he didn't look away from her.      

They were standing so close, with their faces in front of each other, that she felt his breath on her lips, lighting up every nerve ending in her body and causing blood to rush up her neck and face.     

"Do you know which men are the most dangerous?" Dante asked her, his voice transforming into nothing less than velvet. "The ones who pose to be gentlemen while they bring your guard down, and when the moment is right, they unleash their claws, digging deep into your skin, seizing and ravaging you without mercy. Who do you think I am talking about?"     

Anastasia couldn't look away from him, as if breaking eye contact with the predator would make it pounce on her. As his question sank into her mind, she softly gulped.     

Though Anastasia didn't answer his question, her expression let him know she understood. Her little heart began to thud, and her lips trembled as she whispered,      

"You are the dangerous man." And as if still drunk, she muttered, "But you don't… not within the palace…" Did she understand it correctly?? She asked herself. With her thoughts racing, she started, "Prince Da—"     

Dante, who was done unravelling her hair, caught hold of her chin, tipping it upward. He noticed her chest heaving as she breathed so delicately. He remarked,      

"I keep warning you, but you keep slipping up without paying attention. Defiance seems to course through your blood," Dante's eyes narrowed. She frustrated him like no one ever had before, and the leash of control that had been tied around him had come loose.      

When Dante leaned in closer, Anastasia started to drop down to sit on the floor, only for a gasp to escape her lips. When she had lowered her body, she felt Dante's knee between her legs, which he had earlier rested against the wall. Her face turned even redder, while her toes curled at the feeling she had never experienced before.      

"Don't run, little rabbit, unless you want to be chased," Dante advised her.      

There was something in the way the first prince looked at her, or was it the atmosphere around him? It made him seem different, almost ominous.      

"I won't!" Anastasia's reply was quick, and even though she said it only in the heat of the moment, one corner of Dante's lips curled up. Because they both knew it wasn't the truth. "Please don't turn me into a concubine or a courtesan!" she pleaded, with worry lacing her voice.      

"I don't intend to," Dante deadpanned. His lips twisted, as if the thought had turned his mood sour.      

Anastasia turned relieved at his words. When she felt his gaze return to her, she heard him say,      

"So where were we with the discipline?"      

Watching you(Chapter 63)

Music Recommendation: Observatory Kiss- Kris Bowers     

Anastasia's lips trembled at Dante's question.      

She was the brown-skinned maid who was always blending into the background, and no one had ever noticed her. But this week, she had been overwhelmed by male attention, and she didn't have to wear expensive clothes or makeup to attract it.      

Anastasia was sure she hadn't done anything to show interest in the prince because her mind had been filled with finding her sister's killer and escaping. And this was Prince Dante, the cursed Blackthorn prince who mostly despised women, regardless of social status, and tolerated only the ones in his family. She wouldn't even dream of having a chance with a prince. Marianne was an example of what happens when one involves themselves with a prince, and she wasn't going to repeat the mistakes her sister made.      

When Anastasia took a few seconds to respond, she felt Dante's thumb caress the skin of her wrist.      

"W—wasn't what you were doing a form of discipline??" Anastasia asked him, her big brown eyes wide with nervous anxiousness.      

Dante slightly tilted his head. His midnight eyes flickered with a wicked glimmer, his lips devoid of any trace of a smile. He questioned her,      

"Which part made you think of it as a punishment?"      

Anastasia's mouth went dry, and she blushed. How could she say that out loud?! Who knew that the prince was going to thank her like this? If she had known, she would have pretended to be sleeping rather than have them stand here in this compromising position! Suppressing her nerves, she said,      

"I will be very careful next time, and not repeat—"      

"Are you sure? Avoiding a question hardly demonstrates it," Dante chided her with his eyes on her.      

Anastasia had known Prince Dante to be quiet, someone who kept to himself and didn't hesitate when it came to drawing his sword. But she didn't know that he had this sinister side to him, which was simply waiting to torture her. Just thinking about how shameful it was that she had almost slid against his knee, her face turned flush.      

When the look in Dante's eyes turned serious, Anastasia saw him move closer, and she closed her eyes. She implored him, whispering, "Please don't hurt me!"     

Anastasia felt Dante's breath brush against the length of her jaw like a feather. She then felt his words reverberate against her neck,      

"It's the last thing on my mind. I promise not to hurt you unless you give me a reason to." There was a slight huskiness in the words he spoke to her.      

Dante's breath caressed the crook of her neck before traversing across her shoulder. Though he didn't touch her there with his hands or lips, his action sent shivers running down her body.      

He had lost control of his senses with her within reach, but he didn't want to impose himself on her when she didn't feel the same. Not yet, at least. Forcing her would place him in the same class as his deceased father, and he wasn't going to stoop to his level. That didn't mean he couldn't ignite the yearning desire in her.      

Dante's lips returned to the side of Anastasia's head, and his words fell on the shell of her ear, "But not all pain has to hurt. Some can bring you indescribable pleasure."     

Anastasia's eyes flew open, and she saw him slowly pull himself back for them to meet each other's gaze. She whispered,      

"Like eating something spicy? Yet you eat it anyway?"      

"Maybe. Like when you kill an enemy and feel the pleasure of his defeat at your hands, as their blood glides down your sword," Dante stared at the doe-eyed woman, who tried to skirt her way around the subject. But he dragged her back into it by saying, "But there are better things than that. Sweeter than the taste of dates that have graced your lips. Like when you tried to get away from me but touched my knee. But more intense than that."     

Though Anastasia's lips moved, no words came out. This was more than enough discipline that she could take for the night, especially with the effect of the liquor having worn off. She said softly,      

"I… I need to wake up early tomorrow."      

"It wouldn't be right to deprive you of proper rest," Dante hummed, staring at her before he let go of her hand and took a step backward. He noticed her olive skin had turned flush. He took the first-aid box that she had been carrying until now.      

Anastasia watched him turn to the door, not sparing another word, and twist the doorknob. When he opened the door, she said,      

"I will be more attentive from now on," bringing her sprained hand closer to her chest.      

Before Dante could leave the room, he turned his head without looking at her and remarked, "And I await the day when you won't be," before leaving.      

Anastasia stared at the space, hearing Dante's receding footsteps, and she quickly closed the door, locking it. When she went to place her hand on the wooden surface of the door, with her forehead about to rest on it, she winced.      

"Ow!" Anastasia pulled herself away from the door.      

[Music Recommendation: Alice Studies- Guy Farley]     

The following morning, Anastasia had slight dark circles under her eyes because her mind couldn't let go of what Prince Dante had said and done. Everything was so vivid that even now, as she cut the fruits into perfect squares in the kitchen, she could still hear his words echoing in her mind.      

As if her existing trouble wasn't enough, Prince Dante had decided to add more to her plate, forcing her to balance it on top of her head.      

"Maybe he was joking," Anastasia murmured to herself.      

"Did you say something?" Lady Sophia's maid turned to her with furrowed eyebrows.      

Anastasia's eyes widened at the slip-up, and she bit the inside of her cheek. Turning around to meet the maid's curious eyes, she made a noise, "Ahhh…ugh…ahh." While showing the cut fruits.      

"Of course, you need to take them out to the dining room. Do it while they are still fresh. I heard that if you keep the fruits out in this state for too long, they lose all their nutrients, and Lady Sophia and her children need to be served only the best kind of food. Go now," the older maid dismissed her.      

Anastasia quickly picked up the bowl and headed straight to the dining room.      

She said to herself, "That was close." Her mind was preoccupied and she felt exhausted, which caused her voice to slip out. She had to be careful if she intended to have a long life!      


The sudden voice startled her, causing her to jump in surprise before she turned and caught sight of Prince Aiden descending the stairs. She offered him a bow, and he stopped near her. He took a quick look behind him as if making sure no one was there to hear him, and he asked her, "Wow, you look terrible. Did you not sleep last night?"      

Anastasia pinched her fingers and smiled. She answered him, "Not that well. Did you sleep well, Prince Aiden?"      

"Aiden, Anna. Aiden," Prince Aiden reminded her strictly. He said, "I think I did, even though my hand bothered me a bit. Thankfully I haven't cracked any bones. How about yourself?" He looked down at her hands.      

"There's a little swelling. But it's fine," Anastasia didn't want to make a big deal out of it.      

"Is that what kept you awake? Or was it Issac's actions?" Prince Aiden whispered to her with a frown. He let her know, "Issac is not worth your time, Anna. You deserve a man who will respect you and be kind and gentle. Do you understand what I am saying?"      

Anastasia nodded and continued to smile at him. She then heard him say, "You don't have to worry about Lily asking you what happened yesterday because I have already informed her about it."     

"Thank you," Anastasia offered him a thankful bow.      

Even though they were whispering like mice, they failed to notice that on the floor above them stood a person who not only saw but also heard them speak. The person's lips set themselves into a thin line while a deep, questioning frown came to form on their forehead.      

Anastasia, accompanied by Prince Aiden as they made their way towards the dining room, curiously asked him, "Why do you address Princess Emily as Lily?"      

Prince Aiden stared at her with a blank expression as if the answer was apparent and stated, "Because that's her name. Em—ae—ly. Lyly! It becomes Lily, silly Anna," he laughed before arriving at the front of the dining room and stepping inside it.      

While the third prince greeted his sister, Anastasia placed the fruit bowl at the centre of the table while rearranging the plates around it. After a minute, Lady Sophia, Lady Noor, and Prince Dante entered the dining room with Aziel.      

"Good morning," the royal family members greeted each other before taking their seats.     

Anastasia tried not to look at Dante as she served the food, and when she glanced at him, she noticed he was busy reading something from a parchment.     

"What are you reading, Brother Dante?" Prince Aiden asked.      

"It is the new edicts that Maxwell has passed. The Elder ministers won't be taking part in the meetings unless they pertain directly to the royal family members," Dante stated, with his eyes on the words written on the parchment. He continued, "Lady Maya has taken control of the palace, and Maxwell has assumed authority over court decisions. There are other minor changes apart from these, like Maxwell occupying Father's room."     

"Maya is making sure that the throne won't slip out of her fingers by taking control of the reins," Lady Sophia softly huffed.      

"Maybe we should try to talk to Maxwell and see if we can come to some sort of agreement," Lady Noor proposed with a look of worry. "Not that it isn't bad to stay here, but I worry it won't be too long before our right to reside in the old palace will be taken away too."     

"There's no point in talking to him. Proposing a discussion will only lead to humiliation, and we have been humiliated enough already," Lady Sophia didn't look at them and stared at the food in front of them. She said, "If only King William had picked Aiden or Dante."     

"Milady, there's Victor, too," Aziel reminded the deceased king's wife.      

"I am aware, but Victor is too young to sit on the throne, which makes his chance of assuming the throne lower than the other two. Anyways," Lady Sophia sighed before looking at her son and asking him, "What is this news from the village that has reached my ears? Did you get into a brawl over some woman?" Her eyes briefly moved to look at Dante, who continued to read the parchment with a look of indifference on his face.      

Prince Aiden, who was drinking his juice, coughed while Princess Emily's back straightened. Though it was a given that Anastasia was the princess's maid, their mother didn't share the same way of thinking as them and believed the maids were meant to serve the royal family, not look for a life outside the palace.      

"I think you heard it wrong, Mother," Prince Aiden smiled at his mother, who stared back at him with a look of disappointment on her face.      

"Why don't you clear it up for me then?" Lady Sophia arched her eyebrows. "Your father is dead, your throne was stolen, your mother was exiled to the old palace, and God knows what will happen to Emily. Do you think it is good to fuel further speculation, to invite rumours about how you could be the one who killed his father? Whoever this woman is, you shall—"     

"One of them was speaking ill about our family," Prince Aiden defended himself before his worried and mistrustful mother would ramble on further, "Brother Dante and I beat him up because he was looking down on us. The part about a woman is just a misunderstanding. You can ask Brother Dante if you don't believe me."      

"I think what your mother means is that you should keep a low profile and refrain from drawing attention to yourself, Prince Aiden," Lady Noor advised the young prince. She said, "We still don't know who killed King William and cannot be certain if Prince Maxwell will shift blame onto the next potential candidate, whom he might see as a threat to stealing the throne from him."     

"I understand," Prince Aiden bowed and added, "I will be cautious."     

Princess Emily asked the minister, who sat with them at the table, "Did you come across the ghost again, Aziel?" She asked in a whisper.      

Aziel leaned over slightly and whispered, "I got out of bed yesterday to see if I would see the ghost again, but I didn't find it. It is said that ghosts have fixed timing when they come out to roam at night."     

"Because during other times the ghosts go to work?" Princess Emily grinned, the smile on her face stretching wide until she saw her mother give her a pointed stare from her seat.      

Aziel's expression appeared to agree with the princess, and though the others could hear them whisper in the room, none of them remarked on the absurd subject. The minister said,      

"One might find it funny, but it has been said that some souls wander even after their death. Not necessarily as a transparent ghost, but rather like a living being, even though their body begins to turn cold and empty. As if the person has unfinished business that they are trying to fulfil."     

Anastasia, who couldn't help but overhear this, pondered over the old minister's words. Because what he said sounded just like what had happened to Marianne. She couldn't forget her sister's smile in the dark alley as she turned to look at her. Unfinished business? Did she want to tell her who had killed her? Or was there something else?     

"What are you doing, standing there instead of serving?" The minister asked upon noticing one of the maids standing still like a statue.      

Anastasia quickly bowed in apology and began to circulate around the table, ensuring the meticulously-prepared food was served without delay.      

Dante's eyes lifted from the parchments he had been reading, and his gaze fell on Anastasia, who was serving the food and pouring the juice everyone at the table requested. His eyes lowered to her right hand, which was being used to carry out the tasks.      

When their eyes met, she quickly averted her eyes to look ahead of her. His eyes looked at the contents of the table before he demanded, "Bring me the butter."      

Anastasia, the closest one to it, gingerly reached for the butter dish with her left hand while the royal family members were busy having breakfast. She walked around the table, coming to stand next to him. She was about to place the dish on the table when she saw him raise his hand.      

Though Dante didn't turn to look at her, Anastasia was very aware of his attention to her. To think that this man who appeared indifferent was the same person who had trapped her against the wall, she thought.      

Before Anastasia could place the butter dish in Dante's hand, his hand went to take it from her, such that his fingers grazed against the back of her fingers. Her heart stuttered at this, and as subtle as the action had been, she quickly turned to serve the other members.      

After several minutes, when everyone had left the dining room, Anastasia was cleaning the table and heard neighing and the hooves of horses. Walking towards the window, she caught sight of Prince Dante and Prince Aiden leaving the palace with the minister.      

"Anna, what are you doing?" Princess Emily asked, who had come to take a peek at what she was doing.     

Anastasia quickly turned to face the princess and raised her hand that held the ragged cloth to show she was cleaning. The princess smiled with a look of guilt in her eyes. She turned behind to make sure her mother wasn't there before stepping inside the room and saying in a low voice,      

"Forgive me for setting you up with that scum, Anna. I didn't know he was going to take advantage of you," Princess Emily apologised to her. "I only did it with good intentions. I am just happy to see that you are unharmed and my brothers were present."     

Anastasia knew that the princess was only trying to help her, and she shook her head before assuring her with a smile that she was fine. Though many things had happened since yesterday evening, her head was preoccupied with what had occurred in her room.      

Princess Emily said, "We will be returning tomorrow to the royal palace, and I thought we could spend some time with Lady Lucretia today. Brother Dante has gone out, and we could keep her company. Unless she's resting."     

Once Anastasia finished cleaning the table, she washed her hands, and went with Princess Emily to Lady Lucretia's room.      

Princess Emily didn't knock on the door but turned the knob and stuck her head inside the room before pushing the door open. She greeted the older woman with a bow,      

"Good morning, Lady Lucretia. I hope I am not disturbing you."     

Lady Lucretia sat upright on her bed with her back against the pillow. She looked tired and slightly pale. Noticing the princess, she smiled, before her eyes fell on the maid behind her. The maid appeared to be the same person who was walking outside the palace, Lady Lucretia noted in her mind. She then smiled and said,      

"You can never disturb me, Emily. Come in."      


Golden moon's significance (Chapter 64)

Anastasia stood on one side of the room, while Princess Emily sat on the edge of the bed next to the sick woman.      
It seemed like the princess and the lady had a little secret between them, aiming to prevent the princess from marrying the first man her mother found agreeable, Anastasia thought. As they continued speaking to each other, she noted how Princess Emily didn't treat the woman badly, even though she was her father's mistress.     

"Oh, you are almost done with the scarf," Princess Emily said, leaning forward to pick up a blue scarf from the bed and looking at it. "It is a lovely colour."     

Lady Lucretia smiled and said, "There's still a little more to knit before I bind it off. Then it should be done and Dante can wear it."     

"I am sure he will. I love the one you made for me. I still cherish it," Princess Emily beamed happily before placing the scarf down. "I thought to spend some time with you before we return tomorrow morning."     

"Ah. It is already time to leave," Lady Lucretia acknowledged. "We will all miss you."     

"Me too, Lady Lucretia. I hope that all of you can return to the main palace soon," Princess Emily said hopefully, her eyebrows furrowed. "It feels strange there. Almost foreign, especially during the time Brother Dante was away for the war."     

"Everything will be fine, and we are only a short distance away from the main palace. You can always come visit whenever you feel like seeing us," Lady Lucretia assured the princess, who nodded. She then asked, "How are your marriage prospects looking?"     

"Ah, about that!" Princess Emily exclaimed before throwing her arms around Lady Lucretia and whispering, "Thank you so much for requesting that the soothsayer meet with Mother. Thanks to the soothsayer's prophecy that I will meet my soulmate, Mother hasn't forced me to spend more time than necessary with a man before rejecting him."      

After a few minutes passed, one of the servants came to the entrance of the room and informed them, "Princess Emily, your mother summons you."     

"Excuse me, Lady Lucretia. I will be back soon," Princess Emily offered a bow to the lady. When Anastasia went to follow her, the princess said, "Stay here, Anna," and stepped out of the room.      

Anastasia stared at the ground, waiting for Princess Emily to return. And as she stood there, she heard the lady in the bed start to cough. The woman's body shook with harsh tremors. Not knowing what to do, she quickly poured water into a glass and came to the bedside.      

When she offered her the glass, the lady took three sips from it. As Anastasia took the glass away, the older woman said,      

"Thank you… Anna was it?"      

Anastasia nodded in response. Lady Lucretia said, "There's no one in the room but us. You can use your voice and words to reply."      

Anastasia's face paled when she realised that Lady Lucretia knew about her secret. Her hands clenched, and she stared at the sick woman, who stared right back at her.      


Lady Lucretia had thought to join the others for breakfast this morning, knowing her son would be leaving the old palace tomorrow. And it was by chance that she had overheard the whispers between Prince Aiden and the maid. She ordered, "Why don't you close the door?"      

Anastasia nodded, "… Yes, milady." She walked to the door and closed it, but didn't lock it. She turned around and returned to the bedside.      

"Why do you act as if you don't have a voice when you can speak?" Lady Lucretia patiently questioned her. "Do you understand the consequences a lie can bring to you in this palace when the truth is exposed?"     

Anastasia quickly offered a deep bow and replied, "I didn't mean to bring any harm to anyone through my silence, milady. It began as a means to avoid a certain situation many years ago and nothing more than that. Please don't inform the others," she pleaded in a whisper.      

Lady Lucretia stared at the young maid. She stated, "But there are people who are already aware of it, aren't there?"      

Anastasia raised her head, and she met the lady's curious eyes. She nodded, "There are some people who are aware."     

"And is my son one of them?" Lady Lucretia continued to question the maid.      

"Yes, milady…"      

Lady Lucretia's chin tipped up in thought. Her son, being the first child of King William, had been raised to follow the rules and to set an example. She found it rather surprising that instead of dealing with it, he was concealing this young woman's lie. He had lied to her, and it only confirmed the suspicion that had been sown in her mind.      

Anastasia felt the palms of her hands turn clammy, and she discreetly wiped them against the sides of her skirt. She didn't meet the lady's eyes, as it was rude to stare at members of the royal family.      

"I overheard one of the servants speaking about a fight that took place in the village, which involved my son and Prince Aiden," Lady Lucretia said, before another coughing fit wracked her body; this time, she coughed up blood into her hands.      

Anastasia stepped forward and started cleaning the blood off the woman's hands with the help of a wet cloth when the lady asked, "Did the scuffle happen because of you?"     

Though Anastasia knew she wasn't the entire reason for the fight, she didn't want to upset the lady over what Issac had remarked about the woman's earlier life. She answered, "It was because of me, milady. It began with words, and it ended with fists."      

"I see. Where are you from, Anna? Is that your name?" Lady Lucretia raised her eyebrows to confirm.     

"A—Anastasia. But everyone calls me Anna," Anastasia wondered if the lady was only curious or if she was deciding whether or not to expose her secret. "I am from a small village called Hawkshead. Far away from Versailles."     

"Most of us in the palace come from other lands," Lady Lucretia responded, and Anastasia noticed the older woman smile as if remembering something. She then said, "In my time, there was a certain courtesan. She was beautiful and tall, and her eyes would turn a shade lighter in the sunlight. If she hadn't been beheaded by King William, I wouldn't be here. She was from Drumfell too."     

"Drumfell," Anastasia repeated as she picked up on the 'too' in the lady's words.      

"Though you are from the same country, I doubt you are from the same place as her," Lady Lucretia said, staring at the young woman, who looked worried. She said, "I won't tell on you, Anna."     

Hearing this, Anastasia became relieved, "Thank you, Lady Lucretia!" She finally knew the name of her country!     

"But there is something else I am curious about," Lady Lucretia said, her eyes briefly moving towards the door, as Princess Emily hadn't returned yet. Anastasia waited for the lady to speak before hearing the question, "What is your relationship with my son? Did something happen between you two?"     

Anastasia's expression froze, and she stared at Lady Lucretia. Were rumours about them already floating around? She saw the older woman patiently wait for her to speak.      

Already caught in a lie, Anastasia wasn't sure if she was supposed to deny what had transpired in her room last night.      

While Lady Lucretia understood the maid's silence as an affirmation, she was oblivious as to what happened between her son and the maid the previous night. Her question pertained to what she heard in the main palace, where rumour had spread about Dante sleeping with this young woman.      

"So that is how it is," Lady Lucretia murmured as she stared at the young woman before her.     

Anastasia felt the woman continue to stare at her before she said, "Come closer, Anna." And when she did, Lady Lucretia took a close look at her. "I wonder if I will get to see my grandchildren before my time is up."     

G-grandchildren?! Anastasia's face turned pink, and she stepped away when the lady leaned back against the pillow. She said, "You will live long yet, milady," and saw the older woman smile softly.      

"There was a time when I wanted to die. And now I wish I had another day. Life is strange with all its odd possibilities," Lady Lucretia stated, her voice steady.      

A curious Anastasia turned around before slowly asking, "Was it because you were stolen from your family, milady?"      

Lady Lucretia was lost in deep thought before she replied, "No. I was happy when I was transported across many seas because I wasn't happy before that. My family… We were poor. My father drowned himself in alcohol, while my mother took out her pain and frustrations on me and my sister. My sister ran away without a word, and things got worse. So when I was shipped away at the age of fifteen, things got better for me. Maybe not ideal, but better. It feels like it's been a long time since I last recollected this memory," she smiled at Anastasia.      

Anastasia weighed Lady Lucretia's words and heard the lady ask her, "At what age were you brought to Versailles?"      

"I was ten, milady," Anastasia replied, and the lady hummed.      

Lady Lucretia remarked, "A tender age."     

Suddenly, the bedroom door opened and Princess Emily stepped in. She apologised, "Forgive me for not returning sooner and continuing to keep you company, Lady Lucretia. Mother was talking about finding a box in her room in the main palace, as well as the golden moon."     

"That's fine. Anna and I were enjoying each other's company," Lady Lucretia smiled, and Princess Emily didn't suspect anything while returning to sit next to the ill woman. She continued, "The moon yesterday was indeed beautiful. So round and big, almost as if… if you reached out your hand towards it, you could touch it."     

"I should have witnessed it," Princess Emily was disappointed. She had been busy with her books and had eventually fallen asleep with an open book on her face.      

"The soothsayer said next month the moon will be in its glory again. You should mark the calendar so that you don't miss it," Lady Lucretia said to the young princess.      

Anastasia tried to remember last night's moon, but her mind had been preoccupied with what Issac had commented, and her eyes were fixed on the back of Dante's head. She heard Princess Emily say,      

"Mother is writing a letter to Grandmother. To host a celebration on the day of the golden moon."     

"I think I know what Lady Sophia is trying to do," Lady Lucretia responded, with her eyebrows subtly furrowing. She said, "The golden moon comes twice every year. Once every six months, and it is usually when the chances of finding your soulmate are higher than usual. Something to do with its energy. It is why most of the celebration is held when the moon is out."     

"I don't think I have ever paid attention to it before," Princess Emily muttered, and Anastasia, who was paying attention to their conversation, couldn't help but listen in.      

Lady Lucretia said, "Your mother must be hoping to have you and Aiden find your soulmates."      

"I think it will happen when it needs to happen. We have attended all of the past celebrations," and she hadn't found her soulmate, even though younger women of other kingdoms had found their destined partners.      

Lady Lucretia placed her hand on Princess Emily's hand and smiled, "When you meet your soulmate, he won't be able to resist the bond. A male is the first one to feel it, much more than a female does. And when he finds you, he won't let you go. At least, that is what Mother Queen told us once. I hope she is doing well."     

Back in the main palace, the Mother Queen stood in the deserted corridor where vines and creepers curled around the pillars and tried to crawl along the floor. She stared at the wilted Blackthorn rose with great interest without moving closer to it.      

"I thought I would be happy to see it bloom, but somehow, it worries me," the old woman muttered to herself.      

"Talking to yourself, Mother Queen?" Queen Maya stepped into the corridor, approaching the place where the woman was standing.      

The Mother Queen turned to look at the newly-titled queen and responded, "I thought it was better to talk to myself. Who knows if you would claim that I am conspiring if I were to talk to old people."      

"You mean the ministers," Queen Maya knew the Mother Queen well enough to cut off her resources. "What are you doing here with the Blackthorn rose?"      

"Admiring its deadly thorns. How is your daughter-in-law? Still a sleeping beauty?" The Mother Queen inquired, turning back to look at the thorns.      

If there was one thing Maya despised, it was the Mother Queen's sarcastic remarks. She said, "She is still sleeping. Let us hope that your antidote was the right one."     

While Queen Maya stared at the wilted rose with a look of suspicion, the Mother Queen decided that she had spent enough time there and took three steps away from where she had been standing before pausing and asking,      

"Do you know when the last full moon was?"      

"Wasn't it yesterday?" Queen Maya responded, and the new queen saw the older woman count on her fingers.      

The Mother Queen frowned. How did she miss it? It was probably because she had passed out early last evening. Her body must have caught up to her age. That meant the golden moon would arrive next month, she thought to herself.      

"What's wrong?" Queen Maya asked the Mother Queen.      

"Here's an interesting fact. The golden moon has a hint of redness to it if you look at it closely. Did you know that the golden moon is directly related to the curse that was placed on Versailles? The day when the trees died, along with the Blackthorn rose?" The Mother Queen asked the younger woman.      

"I think all the members of the royal family are aware of it," Queen Maya responded.     

The Mother Queen said in a lowered voice, "That isn't all though. When the curse fell, something was trapped in here. In this very palace."     


Sting of the sand (Chapter 65)

The following day, in the early morning, Anastasia packed Princess Emily's clothes into her trunks, which were later loaded onto the carriage cart. Her own four garments were folded and placed in a cloth bag and added to the other luggage.     
Right now, Anastasia stood in front of the old palace next to the brown horse, while Prince Aiden and Princess Emily talked to their mother, who had come to see them off along with Lady Noor and young Prince Victor. Lady Sophia warned her children,      

"Make sure not to upset the new king and queen. A single mistake or instance of defiance can cause a lifetime of imprisonment or even death."      

"We will be careful, Mother," Princess Emily assured her mother.      

"It would have been good if we were allowed to communicate through letters, but nonetheless, it is good that the three of you visited us," Lady Noor smiled at the prince and the princess before saying, "Prince Dante isn't here yet."     

"There he is!" Prince Aiden shifted his gaze past the older women to the entrance. Emerging from it, Prince Dante made his way towards them, with Aziel closely following behind him. Prince Dante had gone to visit his mother, who couldn't walk too far, and now stood in front of one of her bedroom windows, watching them from afar.      

"Is everything loaded up?" Dante asked a servant, who bowed at him.      

"Yes, Prince Dante. Everything that was in the rooms has been packed and placed in the carriage cart," the servant answered.      

"Then we shall take our leave from here and head to the main palace," Dante informed Lady Sophia and Lady Noor, offering them a respectful bow that the women returned in kind.      

The princes quickly mounted their horses, and next to follow was Princess Emily, who, after settling on her white horse, turned to look at Anastasia and said,      

"What are you waiting for, Anna? We should leave before the sun rises high in the sky."     

Anastasia placed both her hands on the saddle, ready to place her foot in the metal stirrup, when Lady Sophia said,      

"What are you doing?"      

Anastasia paused in the middle of mounting the horse and turned to look at the lady, while the others also turned to look at the unfolding scene.      

"Anna is going to ride with me, Mother," Princess Emily pointed out. Even Lady Noor looked genuinely surprised by the princess's words, and her eyes cautiously moved to look at Lady Sophia, who wore a deep frown of disapproval.      

"Just because your father is dead and I have been exiled to the old palace doesn't mean you should forget basic etiquette. A maid cannot ride on a horse, especially not with a princess."     

Anastasia took a step away from the horse, feeling Lady Sophia's shrewd eyes on her. She heard the princess say, "The way back to the main palace is long, and she would be tired from walking for such a distance."     

"Why don't you allow the other servants to sit on your horse, too, while you carry the luggage? Maybe even take over their work in the palace by being reduced to a servant, which is what the others are waiting for," Lady Sophia was a lady from a wealthy family who was taught the etiquette of palace life, and she wasn't going to allow people to point their fingers at her daughter because of the situation they were in. "Have you learnt no lessons from the deaths of your previous maids, Emily?"      

Princess Emily turned pale, having momentarily forgotten about it. She stayed quiet at her mother's question.      

Lady Noor spoke in favour of their position and said, "Lady Sophia is right, Princess Emily. You are a princess, and having a maid ride with you will raise questions. Unlike this servant, you aren't from the lower class, but King William's daughter."     

It wasn't just the princess but also Anastasia who turned embarrassed upon hearing this. As she had come here riding with the princess, she had forgotten her place.      

Aziel then said, "Let me join you for half the ride, as I am heading in the same direction." The minister mounted his horse, and when everyone was ready to depart, the horses' hooves began to move forward.      

As the carriage cart started to move, Anastasia offered a bow to the two women, along with the other servants. As she began to walk, she turned to look at the old palace, and her eyes fell on Lady Lucretia, who stood at the window.      

On their way to the main palace, the villagers emerged from their houses to watch the approaching entourage, and upon noticing the princes and the princess, many onlookers gathered along the streets. The people extended their bows, wishing them well on their return journey to the old palace, while a few didn't dare to say a word.      

Anastasia had tied her hair into a tight bun, firmly pinning the sides of her hair, not wanting it to come loose. One of the villagers she noticed standing ahead on their path was the young man named Issac, who stared at her with his friends standing around him. He had a bandage covering his nose, and he quietly glared at her.      

The two princes and the princess rode in front while the carriage cart and the servants walked behind them.      

"What did you even see in that woman?" Zain questioned loud enough for Anastasia to hear as she walked right past them, but not loud enough for the royal family members to hear. "She looks like any other ordinary woman in our village."     

"I was mistaken, thinking she was a pure woman," Issac responded, keeping his words short because he could still feel the pain in the arm that Dante had dislocated. He had no intention of getting beaten up by him again.      

"This is why you cannot trust palace servants. You don't know how many people they have opened their legs to," someone next to them whispered.      

Anastasia ignored the people's malicious words because she knew she would never reside in this village. She would continue spending time in the main palace before returning home and paying heed to what these villagers thought of her was pointless.      

As the journey continued, Anastasia walked on the sand-covered terrain that stretched in all directions, spotting a few cacti and trees along the way. She pulled on her shawl to hide the sides of her face and her forehead from the harsh, gradually intensifying sun rays. She caught snippets of conversation between the royal siblings and the minister, who said,      

"There is a chance that Queen Maya might not host the celebration. With the matter of Lady Evin's health, the guests are hesitant to attend any event in the palace. After all, there has only been bad news following one after another."     

"Do you think that Grandmother gave them the right antidote?" Prince Aiden asked the minister. "Maybe it was something that healed the spots on the woman's skin but left the underlying condition unchanged?"     

"It was the right antidote," Dante responded, whose horse moved to the front. His grandmother was aware of the situation the rest of the family members were left in, with little to no power other than their titles. He said, "Maybe it wasn't enough. A small portion of what she originally carried in the pendant was missing."     

"Had she used it before?" Princess Emily asked, turning to look at him.      

"The Mother Queen had previously used it on Lady Lucretia," Aziel answered. The princess didn't go on to ask any further questions as the lady's health was a delicate subject for her brother.      

Dante said in a nonchalant voice, "When Mother fell ill and started throwing up blood for the first time, Grandmother used the antidote to see if it could heal her. She had two of them, and she used up one and a half vials before realising it was of no use."      

"What if the antidote's power has diminished?" Prince Aiden asked thoughtfully, adding, "I mean, the antidote was made more than a century ago, right?"      

"That could be true, Prince Aiden," Aziel replied with a frown. The minister said, "The antidote is for the poison of the Blackthorn rose, and it is reasonable to assume that the antidote must be plant-derived."     

Anastasia pushed her feet firmly against the sandy desert as she walked. The blue, translucent shawl hid most of her face, and when the wind blew, the shawl came to hover in front of her eyes, and she began to adjust it.      

And while she did this, Anastasia and the other servants failed to notice something emerge from beneath the ground's surface. It was the Deathstalker Scorpion, camouflaged against the yellowish-grey terrain as it crawled along the hot sand.      

The scorpion climbed on one of the male servant's shoes before climbing onto his clothes. Prince Aiden remarked,      

"It's getting hotter. Where is the water satchel?"     

"Brother Dante, did they say when the desert carriage will be ready?" Princess Emily asked.      

"Maybe a week, at most. It will need to be tested before it can be used," Dante replied, turning his head, and his eyes fleetingly moved to the maid fixing her shawl. "The carriages are ready to be used within the kingdom, so you can take a ride in one within the walls instead of the palanquins whenever you want to."      

The male servant pulled out the water bag and quickly made his way to the third prince; stretching his hand, he handed the water to him. While moving back, he felt his arm tickle and dusted it with his hand before resuming his position.      

As the male servant brushed off the scorpion, it landed on Anastasia's dull red skirt. She failed to notice the little creature hitchhiking on her as they continued the journey.      

Once they reached a small town, they decided to take a lunch break there. It was also where Minister Aziel had some business to attend to, and he didn't wait to eat but went on his way, leaving the royal siblings and the servants with the guards.      

The town's magistrate addressed the royal siblings, "Princess and Princes, I have arranged a room for you to dine in comfortably. The food has been prepared just to your preference, and a selection of cold drinks is waiting to be tasted by you. I will personally be there to ensure that the service is to your satisfaction."      

"Thank you, Mr. Roper," Princess Emily thanked him.      

"This way please," the magistrate said, showing the way to the room. He added, "The servants will be taken to the back, where they will be served food."     

Prince Aiden and Princess Emily were talking to each other while being led by the magistrate when they heard a faint commotion outside the inn they had entered. The young prince and princess stopped, turning towards the source of the noise, along with Dante, who stood behind them.      

"Did something happen?" Princess Emily asked, with her eyebrows drawn close to each other.      

"You both go ahead and start eating. I will see what happened," Dante stated, before walking back to the front of the inn. He looked around before noticing the servants and the guards in the alley beside the inn.      

Dante's eyes fell on Anastasia, sitting on the ground with her face scrunched up in pain. One of the servants said,      

"Prince, we don't know what happened. She suddenly fell on the ground and appeared to be in pain. It is hard to know what happened as she doesn't speak."      

"Maybe it is the heat," whispered one of the guards.      

Anastasia's hands were tightly clenched together, and her eyes were squeezed shut as she felt pain radiate up from her foot. When her eyes met his, they were filled with unshed tears, reflecting the agony she endured.      

Dante ordered the servants and the guards sharply, "All of you go and have your meal. We will be departing from here soon." Everyone quickly went to the other side of the inn while he sat on his heels and asked Anastasia,      

"Where does it hurt?"      

"M—my left foot…" Anastasia heaved and said, "I think something bit me."     

Dante took hold of her foot, taking a closer look, and he noticed the red sting. He said, "Looks like a scorpion stung you. Did you see it?"      

"No," Anastasia shook her head and looked around, and so did Dante, before his eyes returned to her. He said, "I need you to stand up and not move, no matter what. Do you understand?"      

Anastasia nodded and carefully stood up with Dante's help. At the same time, the town's magistrate came looking for Dante, and upon seeing him with a maid, he asked,      

"Is something wrong, My Prince?"     

"Bring two glasses of water," Dante ordered the magistrate, who nodded while casting a suspicious glance at the maid.      

"Right away!" The magistrate returned to the front of the inn and disappeared inside it.      

In the deserted side alley, Dante clicked his tongue and remarked, "Always getting hurt. Do you enjoy pain that much?"     

"I didn't ask for the scorpion to bite me," Anastasia retorted, digging her nails into her palms.      

Dante stared at her tear-filled eyes and said, "I need to make sure the scorpion isn't still on you, so don't be startled, and stay still."     

Anastasia watched Dante place his hands on the sides of her waist before he slowly ran them over her skirt, moving downwards with a concentrated expression on his face. Her breath caught in her throat as she felt his large hands moving across the lower curves of her body, and once they reached near the hem, the scorpion fell to the ground.      

Dante was quick to catch hold of the scorpion by its tail. The magistrate appeared with the two glasses in his hands. He ordered Anastasia, "Take the glasses and pour the water on the spot that stings."      

The magistrate quickly offered it to her, and when the maid was about to pull up the hem of her dress to pour the water over her foot, Dante ordered, "My siblings might need your assistance."      

"Oh, yes! Let me go see to them right away, Prince!" The magistrate bowed and left them.      

Anastasia removed her shoe and poured one of the glasses of water on it. Before she could pour the water from the other glass, Dante stood up and dropped the scorpion into the empty one. He then turned the glass upside down and placed it on the ground, trapping the creature inside it.      

"Give me the other glass," Dante said, taking the glass from her before sitting on one of his heels while the other knee touched the ground. "Don't fall. I will leave you in this village if you hit your head," and with those words, he caught her foot and pulled it towards him.     

It took a great deal of balance for Anastasia not to fall, and realising what he was about to do, she protested, "Prince Dante, let me do it!" And when she was about to pull away, she felt his grip tighten.      

"The scorpion that stung you is venomous. If you don't want to live, you can pull your foot away and die here. There are a lot of vultures around, and you can be their food," Dante deadpanned. He poured the water on her foot to clean the dust and sand off the top before leaning forward.      

Anastasia's lips parted when she sensed something soft touch the spot where she had been stung, causing more pain.      

She gritted her teeth, feeling Dante's teeth biting into her skin and sucking the venom out with the blood before spitting it on the ground. To divert her mind, while hoping no one stumbled across them, she asked him,      

"It has been more than two minutes since I got stung… does that mean the venom has spread?"      

After a few seconds, Dante pulled away from her foot, with traces of Anastasia's blood on the corner of his lips. He let go of her foot and remarked, "It would be a shame if it was so."     

What did that mean?! Anastasia didn't want to die. Not from the sting of a scorpion!     

Dante jerked his head and said, "Go have your food. We will know if you are travelling with us by the time you are finished."      

Anastasia hoped that the prince was joking with her, but then Dante wasn't someone people knew to joke at all. She bowed in worry and walked in the direction the other servants had disappeared to.      

Dante watched the young woman wobble as she walked, and his eyes then shifted to look at the scorpion. His finger ran across his lips, and noticing a trace of blood on it, he put it inside his mouth to lick it clean.      

He grabbed the glasses and placed the second glass above the first one, trapping the creature between the glasses.      

When Dante headed inside the inn, he met the magistrate on his way, who wore a polite smile. But when the magistrate's eyes met the first prince's eyes, the smile quickly fell from his lips upon noticing Dante's red eyes.      

"Mr. Roper, take this and have it packed up," Dante gave the trapped scorpion to the magistrate, who continued to stare at him.      

The next second, the colour of the eyes switched back to pitch black, and the magistrate blinked. Did the light in here change, or was his mind playing tricks on him? The older man questioned himself. "Y-yes, I shall do that!" He said, watching the prince enter the room his siblings were in, and when he turned to look at the glass, his eyes widened on seeing the trapped scorpion.     

Once everyone finished their meals, the servants and the guards quickly took their positions, waiting for the princes and the princess, who finally stepped out of the inn.      

Anastasia watched Prince Aiden and Princess Emily walk towards their horses when Prince Dante came near her, handing a little box to a servant.      

"It looks like it can't be helped," Dante's eyes moved to look at Anastasia's feet which were hidden behind her dress. He declared, "You will be riding with me."