Marianne bowed her head low, feeling remorseful after her outburst. “I apologize for my shrewdness, Your Highness.”
Eugene didn’t know how to respond to Marianne’s statement as she gaped at her, no words coming out of her lips. Marianne’s sentiments can easily be misinterpreted as a ploy of pitting the king and queen against each other. Marianne knew that her stance could put her in a tight position, but she said it anyway in the hopes of making the queen understand.
Eugene trusted Marianne well enough to know that she uttered the words without malice, and it came with sincere intentions.
“I understand where you’re coming from.” Eugene said after a short while.
Eugene wanted to tell her that Kasser was not that shallow, but a voice in her head told her that she doesn’t know him well enough to say that, since she’s only been with him for about two months. Unlike Marianne, who had looked after the king ever since he was young, making her perception of the king’s character more credible than Eugene’s.
“Do you think I should slow down?”
Marianne shook her head, not daring to cross the line. “Your Grace, how can I interfere with your plans? I don’t force you to listen to me. I am nothing but an old woman after all.”
As if a bucket of ice cold water was thrown over her, Eugene quickly snapped to her senses. With the help of Marianne’s sound advice, she realized that she needed to step back for a while, and recalculate her steps.
“I understand now.”
“I will not bother Your Grace anymore.” When silence filled the room, Marianne saw fit that her presence be removed from the room, to give the queen some time to herself. Some time to think through her next course of action.
She gave a courtesy bow before leaving the room.
Alone to herself once more, Eugene let out a loud sigh, looking up at the ceiling in frustration as she muttered. “I’m not as naïve as you think I am.” She did everything she could to survive in this world that was completely foreign to her, and was able to adapt seamlessly.
But on a second thought, she did hide what she knew about Polly, the servant who took her own life following Jin’s command, when she spoke to the king. She was afraid that Kasser might think of her as someone sinful, if he knew about Jin’s actions which led to Poppy’s demise. This action of hers just proved that she indeed acts solely on her instinct.
It was a selfish act to cover all of Jin’s vile actions under the guise of memory loss. With that notion in mind, she began to understand why Marianne thought of her as someone foolish and naive.
In the historical dramas and movies that Eugene used to binge watch on, The King and Queen had tried every possible antic they could think of in order to influence the majority to their side, manipulating and controlling each other in the battle for supremacy. While the royals had initially wed for love, the selfish greed took over greatly, causing a great divide between the two as they continually betray and conspire against one another. Eugene suddenly thought of her relationship with the Desert King as she was reminded of the common tale— a tale about a maiden who completely changed after gaining the King’s favors, letting the want for sovereignty wash over her.
‘Will I change one day?’
Eugene didn’t want to end up like those power-hungry monsters, but greed has its way to a person’s heart. It corrupts you without you knowing.
Molly came out of the castle just after sunset, showing the guard her permit as per protocol. “You have to be here by tomorrow morning, since you cannot enter the palace if you arrive at noon. Got it?” The castle guard said.
“Yes, I know.” Molly answered as she took the permit back and placed it inside her pocket.
“Next.” The guard spoke behind her, signaling the others to do the same. Many people were shuffling out of the palace after work, each bearing the same permit Molly had in her grasp.
Molly pulled the hood over her head that was attached to the cape she was wearing. She took her time walking, passing by the town plaza as she went straight to the street that was lined with small houses. She stood in front of a single-story home that looked really simple compared to the others, knocking on the wooden door several times and waited. An elderly woman opened the door.
“Molly!” The woman greeted her enthusiastically, pulling Molly into a soft hug. They looked exactly like those families who had been reunited after a long separation. The door closed behind her as she settled in.
This house used to be Poppy’s, and a new family boarded this place after Poppy’s death. The eldest daughter’s name was Elly, who died in an accident which made her whole family move away, making Molly and her grandmother the third household to live inside this place.
“You should have supper.” Her grandmother told her, thinking that Molly might be famished after a long day at work.
“I’ll go meet him first.”
Molly went inside a small room that served as a warehouse. Knowing what she’s about to do, the grandmother brought in a long towel as Molly skimmed the spice rack, taking out a vial that blended uniformly with the various condiments and herbs. Molly grabbed the towel from her grandmother’s hand as she uncapped the vial, wetting the towel with the contained liquid and then wrapped her face so only her eyes were visible.
She crouched slightly, feeling the edge of the carpet that covered the whole perimeter of the wooden floor as she pulled a part to its side, revealing a secret door underneath. Molly yanked the door open, nothing but dark abyss loomed inside the square space. She pivoted her body as she placed one foot after the other, slowly descending into the pitch, black void.
“Watch your steps.” Her grandmother reminded her as she worriedly stared at her granddaughter’s retreating form. “Don’t worry, I do this quite often.” Molly assured her.
As Molly’s figure grew smaller and smaller, the grandmother then closed the door, pulling the carpet over as she smoothened the curves out with her feet. The floor looked exactly like it did a few moments ago.
Molly took her time going down the length of the deep steps, knowing full well that it would do her great injury if she missed a step, since the pit was about the height of three people stacked on top of the other. And there’s a great chance that she would die if she falls, since she placed a lot of poisonous dry herbs as a preventive measure to avoid invasions.
Nearing close to the landing, she got a whiff of the tangy smell of herbs, its scent making way pass her nostrils despite a towel covering both her nose and mouth.
Molly jumped the remaining step with a soft thud, sighing in relief as she stretched her arms to the sides, carefully moving towards the darkness. She swung her hands slightly as she felt for a wall, using her hands to guide her towards a connected corridor. The passage was so narrow that a person would not be able to crawl comfortably. Molly then took out a wooden plank that had wheels on its sides, which was placed inside a small opening. She laid flat on the plank and kicked the ground as hard as she could, propelling her forward the hall as she pulled on the rope that was suspended above her, using it to maneuver her momentum more as the wheels took her further in.
The passage opened to a spacious area, her arms shaking violently from exhaustion as she used her elbows to prop herself up from the plank. She crouched in a crawling position, elbowing her way inside until she’s met with a stone wall that she pushed with her whole strength, the stone rolling slowly to let in a faint light coming from behind it.
Molly pushed further, following the light until she came out to a living room with an old fireplace. She looked around the quiet room, taking the bell that was placed on the table and ringing it a few times before plopping herself onto the sofa.
Molly heard a faint sound of a door opening and closing. She did not look back. She knew that someone knows that she’s here already, and all she needs to do now is to wait.
Eugene stared at the landscape before her, sipping her tea while she sat on a table that was placed on top of the bridge connecting the palace’s two towers. She only had a few days left to enjoy the pleasant weather. “It’s been two months already.”
It’s been two months since Eugene opened her eyes to this world, and she would never be able to forget this active period for the rest of her life. This season marked a new life for her, making her feel as if she had been reborn.
She did not have any downtime like this for the past few weeks. She was loaded with work lately, and there were a lot of hectic days that stopped her from coming here. But now, she’s able to drink her tea freely without feeling like she’s being chased down, which is exactly what she felt before. Jumping into this world that was completely alien to her had been the better choice, and Eugene wanted to thank whoever it is, whether it’s god or a demon, that gave her the opportunity for this new life she had. Her head was filled with thoughts as she sipped from her teacup mindlessly.
A voice called out, breaking her concentration. She lowered her teacup and turned sideways, and saw Molly standing next to her.
“Have you delivered the message?” Eugene asked.
Eugene had Molly deliver a message to Rodrigo, saying that she would go out and meet him. Molly went out last night and came back early this morning, and Eugene met up with her here for privacy.
“What did he say?”
“He would like to meet you a few days earlier than the designated day, if it’s possible.” Molly answered.
Eugene informed him to meet a week after the dry season starts, and that’s the only time she’s available since she will be going to the desert for the ritual. “He would like to meet in four days’ time, because there’s something urgent he needs to say.” Molly continued.
“How presumptuous of him,” Eugene said coldly while clicking her tongue in dismay. While she’s considering rescheduling, she knew that Rodrigo’s Jin would never agree to such a request. She always made sure to act like Jin whenever Molly’s around, under the assumption that Molly would inform Rodrigo about everything that she had seen or heard.
“Who is he to decide our meeting? After telling him that I found time for him, this is what I get?” Eugene snapped.
Upon hearing the anger in her voice, Molly quickly dropped to her knees and bowed her head low, almost touching the ground. “Please don’t be angry. He said that he would be waiting for Your Highness at the sanctum regardless of your decision after four days. He’s begging for the meeting to take place as soon as possible.” Molly said with a quivering voice.
Eugene feigned coldness as she looked at Molly’s kneeling form.
‘Why is Rodrigo in a rush? Is it because I cut off his funds?’
It was a good sign that Rodrigo was keen about meeting with her, since a person as bothered as him would be a lot easier to take advantage of.
“Leave.” Eugene told Molly.
Four days. He wanted to meet in four days time, which is before the dry season starts. While Eugene was already considering Rodrigo’s set date, she didn’t exactly tell Molly her confirmation as she drove the girl out of her sight. She was having mixed feelings in meeting up with Rodrigo days earlier than her preferred schedule, as she felt like a warrior gearing up before a huge battle.
Stuck with her thoughts, Eugene spoke to the maids trailing close behind her. “I’ll be taking a walk alone. Don’t follow me.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
She went straight to her usual meeting place with Abu. She called for his name as the leopard came running towards her, lying down on her feet as he bared his stomach to her. “Abu.” Eugene smiled, softly stroking the soft, matted fur with her fingertips, tickling the beast fondly as the beast purred continuously.