✍️✍️✍️✍️ Garden Of Poison Chapter 78 - 80 Complete Chapters ✍️✍️✍️✍️



Fragrance in the water( Chapter 78)

As the hours passed, Anastasia grew increasingly subdued, her movements almost ghost-like. Princess Emily had finished her dinner early before escaping into the library as she was upset with what happened at the base camp. She stayed with the princess until the young lady was back in her room.      
Returning to her room, Anastasia sat on the edge of her bed before letting her upper body fall on the bed, and rested on one side as she stared into space. She hadn't eaten much of her dinner, as she couldn't forget the expression that had passed over Dante's face, even though it was for the briefest moment.      

After a lot of thought, she got up and left her room.      

Five minutes later, Anastasia stood before Prince Dante's room and knocked on the door. But even after a few seconds passed, there was no reply. She looked down at her hands which held the first aid box.      

"What am I doing?" Anastasia asked herself with a frown.      

His wounds were probably dressed, and he was resting, she said to herself. Maybe it wasn't too late to return to her room. It would be like she was never here! But she couldn't leave.      

Taking a deep breath, she turned the doorknob and entered Prince Dante's room.      

"Prince D—"      

Anastasia quickly bit her tongue before his name rolled off her tongue. As she walked further into the dimly lit room, where only a few candles burned at the bedside and the table, she looked for Dante.      

But he wasn't in the room.      

She wondered where he was. Probably waiting to catch her walking in the corridors, came the dull thought in her mind. Maybe not tonight, considering King Maxwell had injured him during the duel. Perhaps she could place the box next to his bedside, and if he needed it, he could use it.      

Walking to the side table, Anastasia placed the box on it and started to walk towards the door, her bare feet padding across the room.      

"You might have entered without permission, but that doesn't mean you can leave without it," Dante said, and his voice made Anastasia jump.      

Where was he?! She was sure he wasn't there, and looked left and right. She had seen her sister's ghost; was this her imagination again?    

"P—Prince Dante?"    

"Mm." Anastasia heard him respond, and she picked up the nearest candle stand in the room. She walked into the darker side of the big room, the candle light conquering the dark shadows and when she came near the bathtub, she finally found him there.      

Dante was sitting on one of the steps of the bath built in his room. The water covered his body from his waist down, including the wound he had received near his abdomen. He had leaned the upper part of his body against three of the steps with his elbows resting on them and his head thrown back as if he was thinking about something.      

But the water wasn't transparent, as it had turned red with Dante's blood.      

"Your wounds…" Anastasia's words trailed on seeing them unattended. "Why haven't your wounds been dressed… Prince," she added, not to sound informal.      

"I just got back to the palace and to my room. Thought I would get some sleep and then tend to them, before I was disturbed," Dante murmured the last words.      

"Please excuse me, I didn't—"    

"I was joking," Dante finally straightened his head and opened his eyes, which were red, staring at her. He then said, "I thought you came here to aid me."    

"I didn't know you were capable of making jokes," Anastasia whispered, and it was true because the man wore such a serious expression that no one dared to even joke about anything with him.      

She noticed a bottle of liquor that rested on the step next to him, with its cap missing.      

One corner of Dante's lips curled subtly as if something crossed his mind, and his head cocked to one side, staring at her. He said, "Go get the first aid box."    

Anastasia nodded, leaving the candle stand before walking to the other side of the room. Picking up the wooden box, she returned to his side and also moved the candle stand near them. Setting down a bowl of clean water, she asked him,      

"Isn't it better if you aren't in the water?" She wondered how much more blood had been lost since he had stepped into the tub.      

"If the blood bothers you, you can leave. There's no point in you bringing the first aid box which could be done by another servant," Dante remarked nonchalantly, even though his eyes carefully gauged her.      

Anastasia's lips pursed as she stared right back at him. She then said, "I will tell Mr. Gilbert that you are in need of immediate assistance," and she was about to get up when he caught her wrist.      

If there was one thing Dante despised, it was asking for help, as he was used to relying on himself. His eyes narrowed at the woman, and he said, "I don't remember asking for your assistance, nor anyone else's."    

"Neither do I," Anastasia responded, "It is because as a frie—"    

Dante interrupted her with a chuckle before his eyes turned serious, and he said, "It seems that you can joke too. We aren't friends, Anastasia." She didn't know if it was because he was the only one who called her by her full name, but there was something in the way he said it. As if putting her into a trance. "Haven't I told you that my intentions aren't pure with you? Yet you came into my room, when I am naked. Unless your definition of friend is different from mine."      

Anastasia could tell that he was in a bad mood, and it wasn't because he had lost the three rounds in the duel. And his mood was masked in irritation and the darkness of the room. Did she, without realising, come here to sacrifice herself? She said,      

"I came to return the favour for your help. My intentions have been pure…"    

"And how did I help, that you would return it the same way?" Dante questioned her, and Anastasia felt her body tremble, feeling his brooding eyes pierce into hers.      

Dante's not-so-subtle implications weren't for the faint-hearted, she thought to herself. She said,      

"You… you noticed I was hurt yesterday when people near me didn't. You came to check if I was alright. You stopped something that could have turned bad when you could have ignored it."    

"And what about the other things?" Dante asked her with slight humour in his eyes, and Anastasia wondered if his wounds didn't hurt or if they had turned numb from his thoughts and the alcohol.      

"Other things?" Anastasia repeated, her brown eyes staring at him. She replied, "I decided to ignore them."      

"Don't," Dante responded. He pulled her hand closer to him, making her lean forward, and he whispered, "I don't want you to ignore them."      

Anastasia softly gulped, as their faces were too close. He remarked, "Maybe the bath needs a little fragrance to make it more appealing. What do you think?"      


"Mm," Dante's other hand reached for her head and pulled on the rose that was still in her hair before he threw it into the water. "Much better," he murmured.      

Sand in the hourglass (Chapter 79)

Anastasia's mouth fell open at the sight of the rose floating on the wavering water. She said,      
"That was my flower. I would have added the bath oils—" A gasp escaped from her lips when she felt Dante's fingers squeeze the finger that had been crushed beneath the chair yesterday. "That hurt," she complained with a frown.      

"Barely," Dante responded, with a glimmer of glare in his red eyes. He asked, "Are you pretending to be oblivious? Or are you intentionally provoking me to punish you again?"      

"You are the one who chose to sit in the bathtub," Anastasia retorted, not understanding what he was talking about. It wasn't her, but him, who was looking for ways to punish her. She inhaled sharply when she felt him squeeze her finger again to discipline her.      

"How annoying," Anastasia heard Dante mutter under his breath. He then clarified, "Seems like it can't be helped. Let me make it easier for you to understand then. Don't wear things offered to you by other men. Be it anything, for that matter. Flowers, accessories or otherwise, because I will either throw them away or break them, so you cannot use them again."    

Blood and heat rushed up to Anastasia's face. Her lips trembled at the words that were uttered by the prince, not knowing how to respond to him. She understood his words, but she didn't understand the reason behind them.    

"Does it still hurt?" Dante asked her, his eyes falling on her finger. The next moment, she saw her finger disappear into his mouth, feeling the wetness and the light bite designed to hold her attention on him.      

Wide-eyed, Anastasia swiftly pulled her finger from his grasp. Prince Dante was leading her into uncharted territories, entangling her, and before things could get complicated, she turned, attempting to get up and leave. But before she could do so, Dante's hand snaked around her waist and yanked her to him, preventing her from leaving.      

"I told you not to run," Dante's words fell on the shell of her ear.      

"I merely turned around," Anastasia replied with her eyes closed. When his breath hit her skin, her body began to recall the time he had bitten her ear. She wanted to shield her ears from the prince's teeth, but her hands were trapped under his arm. Her voice came out as a whisper as she asked him,      

"Why me?"      

Dante could choose any woman from among the concubines or the courtesans, so why pursue a maid? Was it because it was easier to keep such a relationship from the public eye?      

He was unmistakably in a different mood right now, one that wasn't typical of him, Anastasia noted. When they were in public, he would act almost as if he didn't know her, his behaviour aloof, but it was a different story when they were alone.      

"I question that myself," Dante sighed, before his nose picked up the scent of the rose emanating from her hair, where it had resided throughout the day. He stated, "You aren't even my soulmate, not that I think I have one. Yet, you infuriate me beyond measure, and it makes me even angrier that I can't control my emotions around you. So don't rile me, else you will have to take responsibility for it."    

"I didn't mean to," Anastasia answered quickly. She said, "I won't take any more flowers or anything from anyone."      

There was nothing wrong with agreeing to something for a brief period, Anastasia thought to herself. She had no interest in anyone, including Gabriel, and one week from now, she wouldn't be here anymore.      

When Dante didn't loosen the hold of his arm to release her, with her back against his front, she said, "I should tend to your wounds, My Prince." The quicker she finished her job here, the sooner she would be able to return to her room.      

Dante finally released her waist and took a dip in the bath before surfacing and ordering her, "Towel." As he climbed out of the bathtub, he pulled the plug's chain for the water to start draining out.      

Anastasia quickly turned away from him with her eyes wide before she promptly brought him a towel and, without looking at him, stretched out her hand towards him. She heard him say,      

"Bring the first-aid box to the couch," and his footsteps padded away from her. When she looked at him, she noticed the towel hanging low around his waist.      

By the time the water in the bathtub was half drained, Anastasia had collected everything necessary and placed the items on the small table in front of the couch. Once Dante had finished donning his trousers, he noticed how she avoided looking at him since he had emerged out of the bathtub, and he asked her,      

"Is this how you help Emily too?"    

"What?" Anastasia turned to meet his gaze.      

Her eyes fell on more than his gaze now. His wet hair was combed back with the help of his fingers, with some strands falling on his forehead. Drops of water slid down his face, travelling down his neck and his expansive shoulders and then to his tapered waist. Realising what he meant, she ran to get another towel and came to stand before him.      

Anastasia began to wipe the water drops from his upper body. Her hands were gentle when they came near the wound, making sure not to press on it. All the while, Dante only watched her before he cocked his head to the side and remarked,      

"Your mind seems to be preoccupied today, and you look happier. Did something happen, Anastasia?"      

Anastasia shook her head without meeting his gaze and replied, "It was just an ordinary day."      

She quietly scolded herself that her emotions were so visible, especially when the first prince stood before her, wrapped only in a towel. Hours had passed since she found out that she and Gabriel belonged to the same village.      

But then, at the same time, Dante wasn't talking about now, but earlier when he had noticed her standing in the garden, talking to the gardener. He noticed yesterday's unfamiliar, awkward air had turned into something familiar between them today.      

"Look at me," Dante ordered her, and at the same time, his finger traced upwards from the hollow of her neck before lifting her chin so that he could look into her eyes.      

Anastasia felt his intrusive eyes studying her, and she reiterated, "Nothing happened." She could feel her anxious nerves ready to break under the pressure of his intense gaze, but she knew she had to remain strong if she was to escape from here and ensure Gabriel kept his head on his shoulders.      

But Dante was far from convinced as he continued to observe her. As they stood close together, two cold drops of water trickled down from the strands of hair near his forehead, falling on one side of her chest, trailing along her skin and disappearing beneath the neckline of her dress.      

"You sure about it, little rabbit?" Dante probed, his narrowed eyes softening in an attempt to coax any information she might be withholding. "I don't particularly approve of you keeping information from me."    

Anastasia didn't fall for the sweet trap that Dante laid down for her. She tried not to be intimidated by him and kept her thoughts straight. But it was hard to do so when he looked at her as if he knew she was up to no good. Not knowing how to throw him off the scent, she replied,      

"I spent my day with Princess Emily, and later on, we went to the garden. It was the first time I received a flower from someone… A woman of my status can only dream of such things."    

"Received… I believe Emily was the one to give it to you, and not the gardener. So you were happy because someone gave you a flower," Dante murmured, while his cool eyes languidly traced over her face before they fell on the mark on her neck.      

The rumours that Anastasia had previously heard about how Prince Dante Blackthorn was shrewd and how one had to be careful if they even thought of lying to him was something she was experiencing now. She requested,      

"Please sit on the couch so that I can dry your hair." Dante finally let go of her chin and released her from the hold of his gaze before he walked towards the couch and sat down.      

Coming to stand behind Dante, Anastasia uncertainly placed the towel on his head and, at the same time, felt him lean his head back. She towelled his hair with the same pressure as she used on Princess Emily, and by the time she was done, she noticed his eyes had closed.      

Anastasia then approached the front of the couch before carrying out the task she had initially come here to do. Taking a small bottle of antiseptic liquid and a cotton ball, she cleaned his wounds. She could see the redness of the layers of the skin, while the edges of the injuries had already begun to dry because of how much time had passed since Dante had received them. Though she couldn't dress the wounds, she didn't want to disturb him as he appeared to be sleeping through the pain.      

He looked peaceful, Anastasia thought, unlike when he was awake and trying to scare her. He also seemed tired, and she remembered how he was sitting earlier when she had first found him in the bath, as if he was trying to catch some rest.      

Anastasia was about to leave when she stopped by his bed and took a blanket to cover him, as it was cold. Walking towards the door, she opened it and stepped out of the room.      

Upon hearing a soft click of the closing door, Dante opened his eyes to look in the direction of the door before his eyes fell on the blanket carefully spread over him.      

The following day, Anastasia found herself in the company of Princess Emily and her grandmother, who was sipping a cup of tea infused with a dash of liquor. Princess Emily frowned, somewhat appalled by the taste of her grandmother's unconventional tea.      

"Grandmother?" Princess Emily called for her grandmother's attention, who had closed her eyes while sipping from her teacup.      

"Yes, dear?" The Mother Queen asked, turning to look at her granddaughter. "What is it?"      

"Is there any way to implement an order to prevent the king from humiliating members of the royal family?" Princess Emily was still upset about what took place at the base camp.      

"I wish there was, but sadly no. It would have prevented everyone from being forced to move to the old palace," the Mother Queen replied. "I have ordered for my cat to be brought here."    

Anastasia didn't dare to look at the Mother Queen because even though she was old, there were some things she picked up on quite quickly. She heard Princess Emily ask,      

"What is the cat going to do? You plan to gift it to the king?"      

"Silly grandchild of mine. The cat is a way to get Aziel to come to visit me here. Petting a cat is good for my health too," the Mother Queen responded before adding, "I had to request it twice, because Queen Maya is trying to restrict my movements. But it is fine, as Dante is on his way to the old palace."    

"If I had known, I would have sent a letter to Mother," Princess Emily murmured. Considering the relatively short time since their last visit, she asked, "How is Lady Lucretia's health?"      

A grim expression formed on the older woman's face. The Mother Queen then placed the teacup on the saucer and said, "From what I heard from Aziel, not very good. She hasn't been able to eat and is currently surviving on liquids, but even that hasn't been going well as she has been struggling to keep them down. The physician said her health is taking a turn for the worse, rapidly deteriorating, and there's nothing they can do but count the days now."      

"Brother Dante must have been informed about it, which is why he made his request to the king yesterday," Princess Emily sighed.      

"Dante is well aware of it. He's known for some time now," the Mother Queen replied. "That is why he embarks on journeys to the old palace at midnight and returns here by morning. I know it all," she added, casting a meaningful look to her granddaughter before she brought the teacup to her lips and sipped from it.      

"Do you think we should get married like Mother? Before the ship sinks?" Princess Emily asked.      

"The men are obligated to fulfil their duties to the king. Any refusal would result in them being stripped of the titles they hold and banishment. As for the women, is this what you want?" The Mother Queen raised one of her eyebrows, seeing her granddaughter shake her head in response. "The easy path may seem more comfortable, while the harder one is where you will face the storm, but it will shape you, Emily. Though sometimes not for the better, but for worse."    

In the old palace, though Dante had barely slept so that he could visit his mother, their conversation was scarce as Lady Lucretia couldn't stop coughing blood out of her mouth every time she spoke.      

"You should stop talking and rest. I will be here for a while," Dante let his mother know. There were distinct dark circles under her eyes, and her lips were paler than the last time he had seen her.      

"I have rested enough since yesterday. I would feel terrible if we didn't get to chat," Lady Lucretia responded with a smile. "You look tired yourself. You should get some sleep here before you depart."    

"Work has been a little busy, but nothing I cannot handle. I can catch up on my sleep later," Dante assured her, so she didn't have to worry about anything.      

"How are things at the palace? How is your grandmother?" Lady Lucretia inquired.      

"Getting on Queen Maya's nerves whenever the opportunity arises," Dante smiled, and this brought on a chuckle that triggered a cough in Lady Lucretia's throat.      

He brought a glass of water infused with herbs, handing it to his mother, having already taken a sip from it earlier, and he watched her drink it.      

"Aiden and Emily are well-behaved as usual, and the palace is empty with all of you gone," Dante continued.      

"You didn't tell me the most important thing, though," Lady Lucretia said softly before saying, "Of how you are doing. How is my son doing?" She raised her hand and placed it on his face, caressing it with her cold fingers.      

"He misses you," Dante replied, and he saw his mother lower her eyes. He then said, "I am doing well," without mentioning the wounds that he had received yesterday.      

Lady Lucretia refrained from mentioning how much she missed him because she didn't want to make things difficult for him, knowing things were already hard enough even though he didn't say it. Instead, she spoke up, saying,      

"There is something I wanted to talk to you about, and I want you to listen until I finish."      

Upon seeing Dante nod in agreement, Lady Lucretia dropped her hand from her son's face and took his hand in hers, enclosing it with both her hands, before she said,      

"I think it is time you took a partner, Dante. I won't be here forever, and you need someone who understands you and will love you. I am always filled with the worry that I will leave you here alone, and the thought causes my heart to ache. I know you have no desire to walk the path the last generations have followed, like your father. But if there comes a time when someone sways your heart, don't shut them out. I believe that you won't make the mistakes your father committed."      

"If only you could have the blood of the demon running through your veins," Dante responded, eliciting a smile from his mother.      

Lady Lucretia then directed her gaze towards a drawer, "There is something I would like you to keep."      

"What is it?" Dante asked, leaning towards the drawer next to the bedside and upon opening it, he found a thin, rectangular box. As he lifted the lid, his eyes fell upon delicate anklets adorned with pearl drops.      

"I got these made three years ago and it took quite some time," Lady Lucretia stared at the anklets, and she said to her son, "They are meant for someone who will capture your heart."    

Dante knew his mother was aware of how he felt about taking a woman for a partner. Though in his mother's case, she was the other woman when his father already had a wife and had subsequently taken more women as his partners, he was adamant about not following anywhere close to his deceased father's footsteps. On the other hand, his brothers seemed to have inherited his father's approach to relationships.      

As he stared at the anklets, a particular brown-eyed woman back from the palace came to his mind—one who didn't want to do anything with the palace and longed to escape. To comfort his mother's heart, he offered her a smile and said,      

"Thank you for being thoughtful, Mother. I shall keep them safe."      

"That's more than enough o—" Lady Lucretia started to say, but her words were interrupted by another coughing fit, her body shaking violently this time, and Dante could only remain by her side, holding her until she calmed down.      

The coughing took a lot of her energy, leaving her exhausted, making her fall asleep in her son's arms. With his mother asleep, Dante stayed by her side for a few more minutes before heading back to the main palace.      

Four more days passed in the palace, and an anxious Anastasia accompanied Princess Emily.      

As the sand trickled through the hourglass, Anastasia found herself caught in the passage of time. She anxiously waited for the royals to find the culprit of her sister's untimely death, and with only one day remaining before Gabriel's departure, time seemed to slip away.      

The third attempt to flee ( Chapter 80)

Loud bells pealed from the centre of the kingdom, and upon hearing them, the other towers swiftly pulled their ropes, ringing their bells in response, calling for attention. The echoes of the bells reverberated throughout the area, putting everyone on high alert.      
"Is the kingdom under attack?!" questioned one of the men rushing through the streets, making haste towards his house. "What's happening?"      

"Something bad must have happened!"      

As one of the men turned his gaze towards the kingdom's entrance, he shouted, "The gates are not being closed! Maybe it isn't an attack!" But the people who turned to look in that direction noticed the guards assuming defensive positions as if to block the path.      

"I wonder what happened," a woman questioned her fellow citizens before dragging her children away from the streets, taking them to safety. While most of the folks scurried off the roads to take shelter, a few curious individuals remained standing outside, wanting to know what was happening.      

Prince Dante and Prince Aiden were returning from the base camp on their horses when the resonating sound of the tower bells reached their ears. They rode to the front of the kingdom's gates, but Dante couldn't see any sign of attack. Not far from them, they caught sight of the Vizier riding on his horse from the main palace, making his way towards them.      

"What is going on, Zion?" Dante demanded with a frown.    

"Prince Dante. Prince Aiden," the Vizier offered his bows from where he sat on his horse. He informed, "There has been an escape from the palace. The princess's maid has fled from the palace with a male servant."    

Prince Aiden sighed in relief and said, "I thought our kingdom was under attack, and the enemy had breached our defences with the way all the bells were ringing. Isn't that right, Brother Dante?" He turned to look at his elder brother, whose jaws were clenched. It took him a moment before he realised that it was Anastasia who had fled from the palace. But with a man?      

"When was the last time they saw the maid and the male servant?" Dante questioned the Vizier, who was quick to respond,      

"It was an hour ago, My Prince," the Vizier answered, adding, "The princess didn't realise it at first. The maid wasn't by her side. Both the servants' clothes and other belongings have been cleared from their rooms."    

Aiden couldn't believe Anastasia had escaped in broad daylight instead of choosing nighttime when people were sleeping. He asked the Vizier, "And no guard caught them?"      

The Vizier answered, "Unfortunately, no. But orders have been sent out to capture the servants and bring them to the king. King Maxwell has ordered that their legs be severed for breaking the laws of the palace and to set an example for the other servants to not even think about attempting the same in the future." He said, "I will embark on a scouting mission and bring them back to the king."    

"You search inside the kingdom. Aiden and I will search for the servants outside the walls and bring them back," Dante replied, deciding to look for her himself. "Aiden," he called his brother, who quickly nodded.    

As Dante headed out of the kingdom gates with Aiden, his eyes narrowed, and his blood simmered at the thought that Anastasia had failed to follow his advice.      

A few hours earlier…    

Anastasia was sitting on the floor, having breakfast with Theresa on her left and Gabriel on her right. The other servants sat on the floor as well, eating their fill before they resumed their duties in the palace.      

"Have you decided, Anna?" Gabriel asked in a low voice, while his head faced the plate he ate from.      

Anastasia turned to look at him and heard Theresa ask her, "Is it today?"      

"It is tomorrow," Gabriel replied, as no one sat beside him. He said, "I think it would be better to do it in daylight rather than in darkness. Bustling streets, crowds everywhere, with the market so close towards the entrance and exit of the walls."    

Anastasia had held onto a flicker of hope that something would come up concerning her sister's and the king's murder, but it was as if the ministers and the others had forgotten that it had even happened. Instead, they focused on managing the kingdom and advancing their positions in the royal court.    

She had been counting the days since Gabriel had told her his plan to escape, and tomorrow was the day. She knew that waiting for her sister's murderer was akin to relying on luck, which she was short of. Every hour of the day and night, she struggled to decide what to do.      

When Gabriel turned to look at her, she shook her head. He said, "There's still a few hours for you to make a decision."      

After washing their utensils, Gabriel pulled Anastasia to the side and said, "I can tell that you are planning to stay for your sister, but you should understand that your sister is no longer here."    

That is what he thought, Anastasia said to herself. Ever since she saw her sister's apparition in the corridor, it would be a lie if she said she didn't go there every day in hopes of catching a glimpse of her sister's ghost.      

"I know," Anastasia whispered, with no one there to hear her. "Will it be safe tomorrow at noon?"      

Gabriel nodded affirmatively and conveyed, "I have been observing and studying the patterns of the bigger traders and their movements. There are also human traders who try to trade outside the kingdom, reaching other kingdoms or countries. We could blend in among them before parting ways. Just leave it to me," he assured her.      

Anastasia had only known Gabriel for a few days, and it was a big leap of faith for her to trust him blindly. She knew that there were chances of things going haywire, but the man was experienced, and she had more chances of surviving with him compared to escaping alone from this kingdom.      

"What about the ship?" Anastasia asked him with a frown. They would need to board a ship, for without one, there was no way they could travel anywhere. Remembering the flaws in her escape plan that Dante had listed for her, she wanted to ensure every aspect was covered.      

"I have already sent out a word to a man I know. The ship is scheduled to depart tomorrow," Gabriel assured her as he placed a comforting hand on Anastasia's shoulder and said, "I will talk to you about further details later, but for now, don't act suspicious. Make sure you plan your end by pretending you are feeling sick and need rest. This way, no one will come to check on you until we are safely aboard the ship."    

This was her third attempt at escaping from the palace, and Anastasia hoped their plan would go smoothly. There was a trickle of fear in her chest. She realised that every time she failed to leave the palace, her courage waned a little more, as if keeping her captive.      

Upon returning to Princess Emily's side, the princess offered her a wide smile and asked, "Did you eat well, Anna?"      

Anastasia nodded in response. She then moved her hands to ask, 'What would you like to do today, Princess?'    

"We will be paying a visit to Lady Evin because Grandmother told me I should maintain a relationship with her, which I find to be strange as I don't see her visiting the lady at all," Princess Emily murmured with a frown. "Nevertheless, we shall worry about it later. I have asked Norrix to schedule an appointment with the tailor for you and me."    

'I don't need anything,' Anastasia quickly shook her head in refusal.      

Princess Emily leaned towards Anastasia and whispered, "Actually, I was talking with Grandmother and proposed that I take a little trip to my uncle and aunt's place. You will be coming with me, of course, and you will be able to dress up with me. Wouldn't that be fun?" The princess appeared to be excited about it.      

Hearing the princess's kind words, Anastasia felt a sharp prick in her chest. It was because she had planned to escape from here without telling anyone. As kind as Princess Emily was, Anastasia could tell that the first princess had taken after her eldest brother when it came to following rules and making sure not to break them.      

'Where do they live?' Anastasia moved her hands and did not speak.      

"They live up in the North. With lots of trees and with favourable weather, so I don't have to worry about thunderstorms," Princess Emily awkwardly laughed. "But with you there, it will make for good company."    

Anastasia smiled when Princess Emily turned to look at her as they walked in the corridor. But when the princess redirected her attention forward, continuing to chatter about the celebration Queen Maya was hosting in the palace, her sense of guilt intensified. Even though she knew she wasn't planning to betray the princess, she couldn't shake the sensation that she was about to break the princess's trust.    

When they came to where Lady Evin was sleeping, Anastasia was told to stand outside as no servants except those appointed by Queen Maya were allowed entry.      

"Anna," Princess Emily called her and said, "Can you go fetch my grandmother? Lady Ruby wants to talk to her. You will find her in her room, or maybe the drawing room."      

Anastasia offered a bow and went in search of the Mother Queen.      

Walking up to the Mother Queen's room, Anastasia wondered if she should knock on the door, but upon seeing the door already ajar, she carefully pushed it open when her eyes fell on a maid. The maid stood before the bedside table with her back hunched over. There was a soft rummaging sound, and when the door creaked, the maid abruptly turned to look at her.      

"What do you think you are doing peeping inside the room without announcing yourself?" The maid demanded with narrowed eyes.      

Anastasia moved her hands to let the maid know she was looking for the Mother Queen. The maid stared at her before saying, "I don't get anything you are saying. I don't know why the princess keeps a mute maid beside her. Mother Queen asked me to sort her things as she wasn't able to find a hairpin of hers. I am done with my work here."    

The maid straightened her back, and as she walked past Anastasia, the maid's shoulder hit her shoulder, as if deliberately.      

She should have looked in the drawing room first, Anastasia thought to herself. Stepping out of the room, she caught sight of the same maid, who seemed to have slipped something into her pocket.      

Anastasia's eyebrows furrowed at the sight. She was mildly curious, and she stood there until one of the senior maids came up and questioned her,      

"What are you doing standing there, Anna?"    

Anastasia moved her hands, asking, 'Where is the Mother Queen?'    

"She's on the balcony of the central room at the front of the palace," the senior maid responded before walking away from there.      

Not letting her curiosity get the best of her, Anastasia went to the Mother Queen and let the woman know she was being summoned by Lady Evin's mother. But misunderstanding like the rest of them, the Mother Queen asked,      

"Who is dead?"      

It was because Anastasia had closed her eyes to convey to the older woman that it pertained to Lady Evin. She quickly shook her head and demonstrated a blooming flower, and then mimicked the action of being pricked.      

"Sleeping Evin?" The Mother Queen asked, and Anastasia smiled in success. "What do they want? I was told not to visit and now I am invited back?" She softly harrumphed, and while doing so, the older woman stared at the maid. She said,      

"Tell me, why is it that I feel that I have seen someone like you before, but I have been unable to put my finger on it, hm? My memory cannot betray me." Anastasia shook her head as if she didn't know, telling herself she had to escape quickly. Maybe today wasn't a bad day, she thought to herself, while accompanying the woman out of there.      

While making their way to Princess Emily, Anastasia caught the sound of footsteps far behind her as she followed the Mother Queen. When she turned briefly, she noticed Princess Niyasa, who looked down at her, even though the princess was an inch or two shorter than her.      

But then Anastasia's attention was drawn to the maid who accompanied Princess Niyasa. Serving the princess was the very same maid whom she had seen earlier in the Mother Queen's room.      

Anastasia turned back to look ahead of her, thankfully before she could crash into the Mother Queen, as the older woman had paused her footsteps when they approached the entrance to Lady Evin's room. She wondered if Princess Niyasa was orchestrating something to frame the older woman through her maid.      

"Yaretzi," Princess Niyasa called her maid, a hint of arrogance twisting her lips, and she ordered, "The goldsmith will be arriving shortly. Make yourself useful by bringing the box down and ensuring it is ready for his arrival. Handle it with care."      

Anastasia watched the maid bow and walk away in response to the princess's command. Before Princess Niyasa entered Lady Evin's room, she snapped at Anna, "What are you staring at? Don't you know a maid's eyes should always be cast down and not up?"      

Anna bowed at the princess with her eyes fixed on the ground, sensing the princess scowl at her in disapproval before her feet disappeared inside Lady Evin's room. On the upside, she wouldn't have to deal with Princess Niyasa's glares and remarks anymore, Anastasia reassured herself.      

Anastasia wanted to know the exact time she and Gabriel would be leaving tomorrow. She also needed to understand in depth what the plan was so that she could contribute if required, even though she wasn't experienced in such matters.      

Princess Niyasa didn't linger in the room for more than five minutes before she departed. Around half an hour later, one of the servants rushed into the corridor with a look of distress on his face, quickly glancing around.      

Next, Mr. Gilbert appeared in the corridor, scanning his surroundings before walking towards Lady Evin's room. He then began to speak,      

"Mother Queen, there's something you need to know."      

The Mother Queen stepped out of the room and so did Princess Emily, following her grandmother. The older woman inquired,      

"What is it, Norrix?"    

Mr. Gilbert tried to speak as quietly as possible, but Anastasia heard his words nonetheless, "Milady, two servants have fled from the palace. They have also stolen Princess Niyasa's necklace, which was gifted to her by the late king."      

No… Anastasia whispered in her mind, not believing her luck.      

Anastasia's eyes widened on hearing this information. She quickly racked her brain to recollect that Gabriel had told her tomorrow and not today. With her eyes cast to the ground, she heard the Mother Queen ask,      

"How did this happen?"      

Mr. Gilbert was speechless, as he hadn't expected it to happen. He could feel the burning gaze of the Mother Queen, and he said, "I—I am not sure, but the news has been relayed to King Maxwell and Queen Maya. Necessary measures have been taken to find them and bring them back. The Vizier is taking care of it."    

Princess Emily asked the man, "Which servants were they?"    

Mr. Gilbert answered, "One of them is Princess Niyasa's maid—"    

"Yaretzi?" The Mother Queen grimaced and remarked, "Looks like Niyasa is always picking up unsuitable maids. Where is everyone?"      

"The king is in the royal court, milady," Mr. Gilbert answered, and continued, "Queen Maya and Princess Niyasa are at the servants' quarters, conducting an interrogation. They have ordered all servants to assemble there."      

"Have them gathered then, because the current reign is weak with servants escaping. Make sure to question each and every one. See to it that no one is encouraged by this," the Mother Queen commented, and before she began to walk, she turned to her granddaughter and said, "Come, Emily. Let us observe how the situation is being handled in the court."      

Anastasia couldn't believe that there was someone else who had escaped before her and Gabriel. And Gabriel was still here, wasn't he? A hint of doubt came to settle in her mind. She wanted to follow Princess Emily, wanting to hear what was planned to capture the escapees, but with the other servants following Mr. Gilbert, she had no choice but to follow him to the servants' quarters.      

When Anastasia arrived at the servants' quarters, the servants at the back whispered amongst themselves, while the ones at the front waited for Queen Maya and Princess Niyasa to question them. Her eyes searched through the servants, hoping to spot Gabriel, before they fell on Theresa, but he was nowhere to be found.      

Princess Niyasa's face flushed with anger while Queen Maya spoke to Mr. Gilbert. Anastasia walked to where Theresa was, who leaned in and whispered,      

"My heart has been pounding since I heard that a princess's maid escaped the palace with a valuable necklace."      

"Hey," Gabriel came from behind, and Anastasia felt relieved to see him. "This is the last thing I expected to happen," he muttered.      

Anastasia responded, 'I can't believe that a person fled today.' Out of all days, the servants had chosen to do it a day before them. 'Why have they gathered us here?'    

"I don't know," Theresa responded before adding, "It remains to be seen. They haven't told us yet."    

Anastasia looked at the two royal family members, who continued to talk to Mr. Gilbert before they finally turned to look at the servants…