✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 72 - 73 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️

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GARDEN OF POISON

After the bite(Chapter 72)

Upon reaching her room, Anastasia closed the door and leaned her back against the wooden surface. She hadn't stopped heaving for air, as she could still feel Prince Dante's hands on her waist, on her neck, his grip on her wrist, and his breath fanning across her skin.      
Her cheeks burned brightly, and what the first prince did flooded her mind with double the intensity, like a tempestuous sea storm threatening to engulf a sailing ship, ready to drown it deep under the surface of the water where no light could reach.      


As she had to wake up early for work, Anastasia slipped into her nightgown. Her hair, previously tied in a neat bun, had unravelled as she walked through the corridors and cascaded down her shoulders. As she caressed her hair, her fingers weaved through the strands, triggering her to recollect the feeling of his fingers entwined in them. She couldn't forget the look in his eyes, which stared at her as if brimming with a mixture of settling scores and hunger to do more, sending a shiver down her body.      

Knock! Knock!      

Hearing a knock on her unlocked door, Anastasia doubted it was Theresa, as the older woman knew she didn't need permission to enter her room. Grabbing the candle by its holder, she walked to the door and opened it.      

It was the servant who had caused her trouble. Gabriel, the new servant in the palace.      

When their eyes fell on each other, Gabriel sighed in relief. He whispered,      

"I just wanted to make sure that you were fine and didn't get into trouble. I am sure I would want someone to check on my sister if she ran into any problems." Gabriel then bowed deeply to her and apologised, "I was late to realise that you were trying to warn me about the woman in charge. I will be more attentive, thank you."    

Anastasia wanted to tell him that if he tried to snoop around the way he did this night, it would cost him his life.      

With the candle that burned brightly enough to cast light upon both Anastasia and the man standing outside her room, his eyes fell on her neck, which looked bruised. A faint crease formed between his eyebrows. He looked left and right as if making sure the corridor was empty before he said,      

"I have heard about the tyrannical reign of the Blackthorns, and it is no secret to anyone how cruel they are to their enemies and those below their station, taking things by force. It is the same story in every kingdom, with no difference. I hope you are alright?"      

Anastasia wondered if this man was trying to get them into trouble again, and she moved her hands to sign, 'I am sleepy and want to go to bed.'    

Men were always bringing her trouble! Anastasia thought to herself.      

"Forgive me, I didn't mean to keep you awake," Gabriel offered her another bow and said, "I was wondering if you knew or heard the name Stella here within the palace? She would be about your age, I think. She had the same hair as me, with grey eyes and freckles across her nose and upper cheeks. She was cute, and I believe they might have placed her in these quarters. Do you know her?"      

Anastasia shook her head in response and watched the frustration forming on the face of the man as if he was running in circles.      

Gabriel whispered, "Thank you for your time," and without another word, he walked off to his room.      

Anastasia closed the door. Blowing the candle out, she placed it on the ground, then climbed into her bed and settled in. It felt like there were many things on her mind tonight compared to usual, and it took quite some time before she finally fell asleep.      

Early the next morning, Anastasia woke up and got ready to start the day's work. Before she could step out of her room, Theresa came in looking for her, saying,      

"Anna! Mr. Gilbert is looking for you. He said something about not extinguishing all the lights in three of the corridors."    

"Oh no," Anastasia whispered. Her mind had been so preoccupied with stopping the new servant and being dragged away by Prince Dante that she had forgotten about it and had not finished the work that was assigned to her. "Does he look angry?"    

"Disappointed would be the better word. Considering you have had a clean work record until now," Theresa said, and when they were about to leave the room, the older woman's eyes fell on Anastasia's neck. "What happened to your neck?"      

"What?" Anastasia asked, touching her neck. With no mirror inside her room, it was hard to see what Theresa was talking about.      

Theresa pulled Anastasia in the direction of the light and leaned in to take a closer look at her neck. She said, "It looks like something bit you. It's turned into some sort of allergic reaction or something."    

Anastasia's eyes widened when she realised what Theresa was talking about. It was Prince Dante's bite mark, and she asked, "How bad does it look??"      

"It looks really dark and bruised. What did you do yesterday?" The older woman asked, unable to guess what took place.      

"T—that, it was a bite," Anastasia's face started to turn red again, with the blood rushing up her neck and settling in her face. She said, "Help me hide it! Will the shawl around my neck work?"      

"You could try…" and as Anastasia looked for her shawl, it finally dawned on Theresa, and she questioned, "Who bit you, Anna?!" It was only yesterday they were talking about men's interest in the young woman; who knew someone had already caught her fancy.    

Anastasia closed the door before removing her dress, tying the shawl around her neck, and fashioning it into a V-shape. She then donned her dress, ensuring that the shawl discreetly covered her neck while remaining hidden beneath her attire. Noticing Theresa stare at her as she waited for her question to be answered, she pursed her lips and said,      

"It was… a man."    

"Who?"      

"Prince Dante," Anastasia whispered, and Theresa's eyes widened.      

"Anna?" Theresa's mouth fell open in shock. "When? How did this happen?! And Prince Dante?"      

"It isn't what you think it is," Anastasia's face flushed with heat, and she realised discussing this was hard, and she was mortified. If someone saw the bruise in the light, she would spontaneously combust on the spot! She said, "He wanted to punish me for wandering in front of the courtesans' tower. One of the new servants was going to walk up the stairs of the Paradise Tower, and I tried to stop him because he would have gotten into trouble."      

"And in the process, you got into trouble," Theresa said, as if she knew that was exactly what happened. The older woman's forehead creased into a frown, and she said, "Prince Dante is known for punishing people with his dagger or putting them in the dungeon…." He had never taken an interest in the women of the palace, not that she would know if he secretly did. She asked, "Has he taken an interest in you? Did he mention turning you into a courtesan or a concubine?"      

Anastasia shook her head, "No. I have mentioned to him before that I have no desire to become either one."    

Theresa scolded her, "Why do you go looking for trouble? You know you have to lay low here."    

"I couldn't see another person beheaded in front of me…" Anastasia sighed. She said, "The man is looking for his sister named Stella. She would be around my age. Do you know anyone by that name?"      

"Stella," Theresa repeated the name as she made an effort to recollect before she looked at Anastasia and said, "I might have heard of two or three women in here having the name Stella, but I don't have specific details. Maybe you should ask Princess Emily. Not right away, but when the opportunity presents itself, so that you don't arouse her suspicion."      

Anastasia nodded in agreement. She replied, "I will do that."      

Theresa didn't indulge in the details of what happened, knowing Anastasia was not interested in any man here, especially the princes. Not wanting to make her uncomfortable, she advised,    

"If someone asks you about this shawl that you have covering the back and sides of your neck, you should say that you are feeling cold," the older woman then paused before she said, "Maybe you should have your hair covering this side, as a precaution to avoid any questions that might be raised."      

Anastasia removed the pins holding her bun in place and left her braided hair to rest on her right shoulder to hide the mark further. She questioned whether yesterday's incident served as the punishment or if she would endure the consequences today, having to walk through the corridors with the bruise on display.      

When Anastasia reached Mr. Gilbert, who was in the process of assigning tasks for the day to groups of servants, she stood in line, awaiting her turn. As she waited, her eyes met Gabriel's, who offered her a slight bow from the other side of the room.      

When Mr. Gilbert's eyes fell on Anastasia, he immediately noticed that the maid had changed her hairstyle for the first time. It was probably the effect of the atmosphere of the inner palace, as most of the maids promoted to work near the royals and esteemed guests often aspired to look more appealing to the eye in hopes of finding someone to marry them. He stated,      

"I specifically instructed you to snuff out all the candles, but you left some unattended, causing the wax to overflow the sconces and stain the platform around the base of the candlestands. Did you go to bed early?"      

Anastasia wished she had, but when did she have such luxury? She shook her head and answered, letting him know, 'Prince Dante called me for assistance.'      

Mr. Gilbert knew a fair share of sign language and pursed his lips. He said, "You could have told someone to complete the task if you weren't available. A few weeks in the inner palace and your work is being affected. Don't repeat it again."      

Anastasia bowed in apology, glad not to be scolded the way Mr Gilbert scolded the other servants. She picked up the tray with juice and morning refreshments for Princess Emily and headed into the inner palace.      

Her footsteps were quick as she walked swiftly without waiting for anyone to take notice of her neck. But as much as she wanted to hide, the more people's attention gravitated towards her. The servants took more than just fleeting glances at her, while the maids whispered amongst themselves,      

"Look at her, changing her dress style as if she isn't a mere maid but a woman of status just because she serves the princess."      

"She seems a little different, doesn't she?" Whispered another maid, trying to be discreet, turning to look at Anastasia. "I cannot tell if it is the dress or something to do with her appearance."    

"No matter how she changes the style of her dress, it isn't going to change reality. She's a maid, who will never advance further in the palace than she already has," said the first maid, before adding, "All the concubines and courtesans are expected to have milky skin. You and I have more chances of moving into their quarters before she does," and the maids snickered at their early morning gossip.      

But they didn't know that Anastasia didn't care about being promoted within the palace, because the only promotion she found to be acceptable was the one that would grant her freedom.      

As Anastasia entered the corridor leading to Princess Emily's room, she caught sight of Prince Dante appearing from the opposite end, with his hand busy buttoning the cuff of his sleeve, his eyes fixed on his task.    

Dante wore a blue silk shirt neatly tucked into his brown trousers, its collar partially covering his neck. When Anastasia's eyes fell on his neatly combed hair, one side elegantly swept to the side while the other gracefully covered part of his face, their eyes met, and she quickly averted her gaze.      

Anastasia's body stiffened, and her footsteps paused to allow the royal family member to walk past her. But instead of walking away, Dante came to stand before her.      

Anastasia quickly offered a bow and greeted him, "Good morning."      

She had to hold back from using his name, even by mistake, as she didn't want a repeat of what happened last night. She could feel him looking at her, making her want to flee.      

Dante's eyes first fell on Anastasia's braided hair, which wasn't styled in her usual bun. Upon noticing her attempt to hide the bite mark, he remarked dryly,    

"Interesting twist to the dress."    

"T—thank you."    

Dante's eyes narrowed, as she hadn't picked up on the underlying sarcasm in his tone. He noticed the light perspiration forming on her forehead because the extra layer she wore added to the morning's warm temperature.      

"You are going to faint from the hot weather by wearing it," Dante pointed out to her, and Anastasia questioned whose fault it was!    

Anastasia's eyes flared as she looked up to meet his gaze, quietly questioning whose fault it was.      

"Did you just glare at me?" Dante asked, raising an eyebrow.      

Anastasia quickly shook her head, cast her eyes on the tray, and whispered, "I was only looking."    

"Mm," Dante hummed and then said, "If you did, I would think that yesterday's discipline wasn't enough and you are asking for more. Something more stern."      

"No!" Anastasia quickly looked up to stare back into his eyes. "Please, spare me from it, Prince! I—There's a mark, and people will question it. You bit me where everyone could see it."      

"I will let you choose where you want to be bit next time," Dante's words were calm, and his face held the utmost seriousness that made Anastasia question how she ended up in this predicament.      

"Why?" Anastasia asked him, with her eyebrows drawing close to each other. Why her?      

"You infuriate me," Dante's jaws clenched slightly as he noticed her brown eyes peering up at him. "It would be best if you don't test my patience." It was as if something had snapped inside of him last night. It made him angrier that he couldn't control his thoughts.      

After what transpired between them, Anastasia was watching her actions to not go against Dante's orders. Not to wander in the middle of the night. Not to talk to men as if they were friends, and not to let them touch her... Was he jealous? No, that couldn't be, the man didn't even like her and told her that she made him angry.      

Anastasia was about to excuse herself and disappear into Princess Emily's room when Dante took a step closer to her, and she asked, "What is it?"      

"You always do things without realising, don't you? Do you want people to notice you?" She heard Dante question her.    

At the same time, Anastasia felt Dante's fingers brush against the shell of her ear, which made her shudder. It brought last night's memories rushing back into her mind and body, and he noticed her lips trembling at his touch, and it wasn't out of fear. He pushed her braid to the back, and said,      

"Pin it back the way you usually do."      

Momentarily losing her senses to his touch, Anastasia gathered her thoughts and replied, "If it weren't for the mark, I would have never let my hair down." It was his fault that she wasn't wearing her hair in a bun today.    

"It is better for one to see the mark on your neck and know that you are reserved for someone rather than think you are available to be used how they deem fit," Dante's words were curt. And he finally moved to the side and was about to walk away when Anastasia asked him,      

"What are your intentions with me, Prince?" She hoped not to turn into his concubine, because that wasn't a life she wanted or would accept.      

Dante turned to meet her questioning yet curious gaze, "None pure."      

Before he walked away, his eyes narrowed slightly, and he said, "I will be going out. Can you stay out of trouble?"      

Anastasia blinked at his words and nodded, "I will."      

"Be a good girl. Go attend to Emily now."      

Anastasia offered him a bow and quickly walked towards Princess Emily's room with the tray. Opening the door, she turned and noticed Prince Dante still standing there, watching her until she closed the door.      

In another part of the palace, the Mother Queen was dressed in a fresh set of clothes, with jewels adorning her neck and ears. When the maid was done assisting her, she opened a drawer which held gold and silver coins. The maid was eager to have one of them, but was internally disappointed when the old woman took out a lowest value coin which was copper in colour and offered it to the maid, saying,      

"Anything worthwhile you have heard in the palace, girl?" The Mother Queen asked, bribing the maid.      

The maid bowed and replied, "Queen Maya is planning to send Kailani, the highly reputed concubine, to King Maxwell's room tonight, My Queen."      

"Hm? What about his soulmate connection to sleeping beauty?" The old woman asked with her eyes narrowed.      

"That is still present, but Queen Maya thinks that it would be best for the kingdom to have an heir as a backup, in case Lady Evin doesn't wake up. Though I heard that King Maxwell is not interested in meeting any concubines or courtesans," the maid answered, before the coin was placed in her hand.      

"So Maya is making sure the throne doesn't slip through her fingers, hm," the Mother Queen murmured. "A little too worried." She then asked, "Has the king been visiting his soulmate?"      

"Every day, My Queen," the maid responded.      

The Mother Queen was not happy about this. If he at least showed some detachment, she could be sure that Maxwell hadn't found his soulmate. Her lips twisted in dismay. She said,      

"Bring Aiden to the drawing room. I would like to have a word with him," she said, walking towards the door and ordering, "Bring my ring. I will be going forward."    

The maid went to fetch the ring from the drawer, and noticed the gold and silver coins in there. Turning back for a moment, she faced forward to pick up the ring and, along with that, she picked up a silver coin, slipping it into her pocket before she left the room.      
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GARDEN OF POISON

Midnight eyes that follows her(Chapter 73)

Upon entering the dimly lit room, Anastasia quickly placed the tray on the side table before walking to each window and drawing the curtains apart. She then opened the windows to let fresh air inside the room.      
"It is morning already," murmured Princess Emily, still in bed, her voice laced with sleep.      

"Good morning, Princess Emily," Anastasia greeted her. Returning to the bedside, she offered the glass of juice to the princess. "Did you sleep well?"      

"I did," Princess Emily smiled, and she returned the question, "How about you, Anna?" Caught off guard and unsure what to say, Anastasia simply nodded while the princess consumed half of the glass of juice before resting it on her lap.      

Anastasia quickly walked to the bathtub and began to draw a warm bath for the princess while hearing Princess Emily remark,      

"You look pretty today, Anna. You should always let your hair down like this. It makes you look younger."    

Anastasia bowed, returning to her side and said, "Thank you, Princess, but I will be pinning it back up into a bun."    

"Why so? I think you look rather lovely like this," Princess Emily asked Anastasia, who pulled the blanket away from her before assisting her out of bed. The princess's hazel eyes then fell on the darker patch of skin on her maid's neck, prompting her to ask, "Did you hurt your neck, Anna?"      

"T—That, yes," Anastasia stammered in response to the princess's perceptive eyes. She assured her with a smile, "But I am fine now."    

Princess Emily looked at her suspiciously before saying, "It doesn't look fine. The skin underneath looks bruised. Did someone hit you? You know you must inform me if Mr. Gilbert punishes you, okay?"      

Anastasia smiled at Princess Emily's protectiveness and replied, "I do, Princess." She then led the princess to the bathtub, helping her out of her nightdress.      

Princess Emily didn't push Anastasia for an answer but didn't fail to remind her maid, "Don't forget that you can always tell me anything, and I will keep it between us. It will be our own little secret."      

"Thank you for your kind words, Princess Emily," Anastasia smiled and proceeded to help the princess bathe.      

It wasn't that Anastasia didn't trust the princess. She only worried that, based on their previous conversations, if Princess Emily found out the truth about what her eldest brother had done to her and what it implied, depending on her reaction, there was a possibility that Princess Emily would jump in excitement at the prospect of turning her into her brother's woman, which would circle back to her becoming a concubine. After all, she wasn't a woman of high class, and she didn't want any part of that.      

"About your hair, are you worried about people finding out you are Tasia Flores?" Princess Emily asked Anastasia with her eyes closed while she soaked in the warm and scented water.      

"I am, Princess," Anastasia answered, and she continued, "I also think it is better I don't catch anyone's attention as I am happy to move in the shadows."    

Princess Emily softly laughed at her response and she remarked, "You might very well be the only maid in the whole palace who doesn't want to be noticed, Anna. However, I think it is a challenging request for you," as she dipped beneath the surface of the water before resurfacing gently.      

Anastasia's eyebrows furrowed, and she asked, "Why do you think so?"      

Princess Emily wiped her face with her hands and turned to look at Anastasia to say,      

"You are my maid, Anna, and a princess's maid doesn't go unnoticed. Why do you think most servants endeavour to elevate their status?" She said, "Perhaps one way to divert attention from Tasia is by subtly transforming yourself, ensuring that no one will ever grow suspicious?"      

It wasn't that the thought hadn't crossed Anastasia's mind, but doing so would only threaten her current status within the palace.      

Once Princess Emily was ready, Anastasia twisted her hair before fixing it into a tight bun. Yet, it seemed that it wasn't just her hair but her very appearance that was undergoing a change, like a bud that had begun to blossom in the spring of its life.      

Anastasia stepped out of the room, following two steps behind Princess Emily. She heard the princess comment,      

"I think one of the best times of the day is in the morning when we can speak freely. Maybe once we finish visiting Lady Evin in her chambers, we can take a stroll in the garden. What do you think, Anna?"      

"I think it is a wonderful idea, Princess," Anastasia replied as they headed towards the dining room.      

As they walked through the deserted corridor, with no one but them present, she whispered, "How long will it be until she wakes up?"      

"We aren't sure," Princess Emily whispered back, as they were talking about the king's fianceé. She said, "Grandmother handed over the right antidote, yet there has been no sign of improvement. Grandmother said she will be leaving the palace to search for the nearest available antidote for the spreading poison. As she has the seal of freedom in her possession, she is no longer under arrest. But Queen Maya has decided to send guards to accompany Grandmother, so she doesn't attempt anything suspicious."      

Upon reaching the dining room, Anastasia offered a bow, as she had turned mute once again. She was about to step backwards to go to stand against the wall and await the return of the princess, who had disappeared inside the room, when Mr. Gilbert noticed her standing idle and called out to her,      

"Anna, come and take this." He beckoned, and handed her a tray of freshly baked food.      

Mr. Gilbert was used to calling Anastasia for assistance, and he seemed not to care much that she was now Princess Emily's maid.      

Anastasia had hoped not to show her face to anyone inside the room, especially to the one who had bitten her.      

As soon as Anastasia stepped inside the room, her eyes scanned through the people sitting at the table, and it took her less than two seconds to spot Prince Dante, who was seated at the far end, while Prince Aiden and Princess Emily were sitting between him and their grandmother.      

Seated on the opposite side of the table were Queen Maya, Princess Niyasa and then Lady Evin's parents, while King Maxwell occupied the head of the table.      

The royal family members didn't bother to look at Anastasia, as she was only a maid, while they were busy engaging in conversation.      

"How about I join Grandmother on her travels today, King Maxwell? I don't think it would be good to have only the guards accompanying her," Princess Niyasa appeased her brother with a polite smile.      

"Niyasa is right," Queen Maya agreed with her daughter's proposal. She then turned to the Mother Queen and said, "She cares about you a lot."      

"Mm," the Mother Queen hummed before muttering, "Sometimes I wonder what I did to deserve such amazing grandchildren."    

Anastasia ignored the words spoken in the room and continued to walk to Queen Maya's side before she leaned forward, placing the tray in the middle of the table. And just as she did this, it took only a breath for Dante's eyes to fall on her.      

Even though she tried to keep a blank expression, Anastasia's cheek flushed instantly, betraying the warmth she felt under his gaze.      

She was about to leave the dining room when Mr. Gilbert ordered her in a lowered tone, "Where are you going? Serve the food there and wait." He gave her a pointed look as if she had forgotten all the training she had learned until now.      

Anastasia closed her eyes before turning around to help serve the food.      

Princess Niyasa, who was smiling with glee, found her smile faltering when she noticed her sister's maid walking around the room, serving them food. Her eyes narrowed upon noticing the new design of her dress. She asked Princess Emily,      

"Lily, I didn't know you were altering the designs for your maid's dress. If you told me, I would have done the same with mine."    

Princess Emily smiled at her younger sister's words and replied, "I happened to be playing with the fabric when the idea struck me to change it. I can ask Norrix to inform the tailor about it."      

"It's fine," Princess Niyasa replied before her eyes returned to the maid, and she said, "I will have the tailor create a better version than the current one."      

"I am sure you will come up with some better ideas," Princess Emily encouraged her sister.      

Queen Maya intervened, halting their conversation by saying, "They are servants, not members of the royal family. Even though it is apparent who belongs to royalty, there is no need for such pointless changes." She then turned to look at Princess Emily and said, "I expect you to consult me regarding such matters, Emily."      

"Yes, Queen Maya," Princess Emily responded, offering a slight bow.      

Meanwhile, as much as Anastasia tried to keep her eyes on the food and the ground, she was becoming increasingly conscious of Dante's presence.      

It was one thing to be stared at when they were alone but an entirely different matter when others were present in the same room. She inadvertently made the mistake of glancing at him and found herself locking eyes with his deep midnight gaze, watching her intently as he continued to eat.      

Distracted and not watching where she was walking, Anastasia's body collided with Niyasa's hand, which the princess had pulled back while speaking, causing the glass in her hand to fall, along with its contents of milk.      

The slight clatter gathered everyone's attention, and Anastasia's eyes widened in horror as she quickly bowed, expressing her deepest apology.      

Princess Niyasa became irritated and questioned the lowly maid sharply, "Can't you see where you are walking? You always seem to crash into things and cause damage."    

"You shouldn't have pulled your hand back, Niyasa," Aiden quickly interjected, coming to Anastasia's defence.      

Princess Emily quickly placed her hand on her younger brother's arm, signalling him to shut up. There were some boundaries they couldn't break and were expected to uphold. If they didn't, it would cause retaliation. There was a time in the past, during their father's reign, when they could voice their thoughts, but things were different now, and they didn't hold the same power as before.      

"Are you suggesting that the blame lies with Niyasa rather than the maid?" King Maxwell demanded from Aiden, who immediately went quiet. "Your first priority should be to defend the family, and the rest comes second. This is why you aren't sitting here."      

King Maxwell turned to look at the maid, whom he couldn't see clearly as he only caught a glimpse of a side of her face. He ordered, "Get it cleaned up quickly."      

When one of the maids came over with a cleaning rag, Anastasia took hold of it, as it was her fault, and she sat down on her heels. She pressed the dry rag to the carpet, and while she was doing so, she heard Princess Niyasa complain in slight frustration,      

"There's saffron milk on my dress now! I will go get it cleaned."      

Princess Niyasa didn't bother to turn, and instead, she stood up and adjusted her chair to move it back, causing the back leg of the chair to press on Anastasia's right ring finger.      

Anastasia stifled a cry of pain as her lips parted involuntarily,, while she cursed the rude and heartless princess in her mind.      

She felt as if an iron nail had been hammered into her finger from the pressure exerted by Princess Niyasa on the chair before she vacated her seat. Tears threatened to prickle her eyes due to the unbearable pain. Under the table, she continued to clean the carpet despite the throbbing pain and the beginning of a bleeding wound on her finger.      
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