The healer screamed in surprise. He saw the King of Haides standing beyond the crumbling wall. Asteril was covered in blood and lying in his arms.
“What on earth happened here?”
The healer asked, tearing apart the cloth covering the bed. Kallian carefully laid Asteril on the bed, tying her shoulder with the cloth.
The healer was taken aback. It was a terrible wound. It was a sharp and pointed weapon like a spear, but there was no trace of it being stabbed twice.
The wound was so deep and clean that it was eerie. Whoever did it was a vicious person who plunged the weapon into the delicate and slender body of the princess without hesitation.
Kallian looked down at the healer calmly.
“There are no suitable surgical tools or medicinal herbs for treatment here. Even if there were, it seems to be beyond my abilities.”
He trembled as he spoke. It was a matter of life and death, and even if she was already dead, it was a critical moment for Princess Asteril’s life.
“I’ve heard that the princess has a high level of natural power. Perhaps she needs the power of high priests with divine abilities rather than herbalists. It may be an audacious statement, but if we’re talking about high priests, Demeter’s high priests are famous for their strong divine powers.”
He still didn’t know exactly how he had been kidnapped and brought here. He had lost consciousness along the way, but it was because the circumstances were too inexplicable.
It was clear that the king of Haides standing before him had an extraordinary natural power, just like Princess Asteril.
Natural powers were an uncharted field of inquiry. The exact nature of his powers could not be determined, but they were undoubtedly of a high order. Considering how he had been brought from Poseidonia to Haides in an instant.
In other words, couldn’t Princess Asteril also be taken to Demeter in a blink of an eye?
As if responding to the advice of the healer, Kallian embraced Asteril. The healer hurriedly followed him. However, as soon as they stepped out of the doorway, he had to tightly shut his eyes due to the gust of wind that blew.
After a while, when the dust settled, he opened one eye slightly. Only the rustling leaves that swayed from side to side accompanied the tranquil silence in his field of vision.
A mocking laughter burst out. How can I express this absurd and perplexing feeling?
As he suspected, the king of Haides was flying in the sky without wings.
The capital of Demeter, Sidhe, was covered in dark clouds over the calm-looking hill. The deep part of the palace was filled with melancholy and despair.
It had been four months since Princess Asteril left for Haides. Haides had no contact with any neighboring countries. It was a land where not even messengers came and there were no trading activities. There was no way to find out about Asteril’s life or death, even in the courtyard where no lady had returned alive.
“Are you here again?”
Amphita, who was kneeling and praying in front of the statue of Gaia, looked up with a blurry gaze. Kiane was standing with a worried expression.
The place where Gaia’s altar was located was a small temple inside the king’s garden. In the center of the temple, which was about ten square yards, there was a sacred spring.
According to legend, one day in ancient times, Gaia visited this place in shabby clothes and discovered that the old men who had worked hard were lying around the spring. She took out herbs from her bosom and put them in the spring water. Then she drew water and gave each tired person a glass. The old men drank the water and regained their strength. Even their illnesses were cured. They all kneeled before Gaia and shed tears.
The miracle became widely known, and an altar was built near the spring, and a temple was built. Even Demeter’s palace was built here because of this spring.
The ceiling was circular and light poured through it. All ancient temples were circular. The circle meant circulation, container, and entrance.
The spring that connected to the sky received the energy of the sun and the moon and shone on them.
Demeter’s kings were supposed to visit the temple and drink spring water every morning, but most of them often used their busy schedule as an excuse not to go.
But Amphita was different.
She had been drinking spring water every day since she ascended to the throne. Even when she had to leave Sidhe, she filled a jar with spring water and took it with her.
Kiane was puzzled. How could her mother be so devout? No, how could she be able to do that? From her perspective, her mother should have blamed the gods instead.
Even though she lost her husband, experienced war, and became a defeated country dedicating herself as a lady, her mother never lost faith, even though the goddess had turned away from this land.
“A few days ago, five kingdoms, except for our Demeter, formed an alliance and attacked Lethe. Of course, they probably returned with no gain and lost many soldiers.”
“So? Did anyone see Asteril?”
Amphita had delegated all the authority regarding state affairs to Kiane, the next Anassa, in recent times.
“A soldier from the Kingdom of Crete delivered a message. The sender was identified as Princess Leuce. Princess Leuce stamped the seal of General Ischys, who was the commander of the Cretan army, in place of her own seal.”
The tablet was made of poor material and was in poor condition. It didn’t seem to have been written inside the palace. It had a stamp, but it wasn’t sealed.
However, if it had been worthless to check, Kiane would have handled it from her end. Amphita narrowed her eyes to read the writing on the tablet. The wedge-shaped characters written with a reed pen were carefully written.
“To the great Anassa of Demeter, Amphita.
I am the eighth princess Leuce, daughter of King Minos of Crete. My brave commander Ischys and I received great favor from Princess Asteril in Lethe. As Princess Asteril stays across the Styx River, how much does Demeter suffer? Fortunately, the princess is safe and the king of Haides is also friendly to the princess, so please rest assured, Anassa.”
Reading the tablet, Amphita was at a loss for what to do with tears in her eyes.
She believed that Asteril would be safe even in that hellish land, but on the other hand, the image of the girl who returned in a miserable hearse came to mind, making it difficult for her to sleep.
Kiane and Penelope, her sisters, were the same. They should have protected their youngest sister, but this time, the youngest sacrificed herself to protect her sisters and mother.
She had always been like that. She always tried harder than necessary to fulfill her role and duty.
“We also sent an envoy to Poseidonia, but there is still no response. It was rumored that only two princesses were sent, and it seems that the current king is quite unreasonable as the rumor goes.”
“Until the queen disappeared, he was not like that, he was no different from a beast that had lost its humanity.”
“Do you really plan to send Penelope to such a place?”
“Poseidonia is the most militarily powerful country except for Haides. It is difficult to refuse the proposal from their royal family to establish a marriage. There is no reason to refuse.”
Kiane stared at the wrinkled hand of the monarch. It was difficult to speak. The king’s shoulders always looked heavy. The weight of ruling the country took away the smile from the king’s lips.
It all began with the war with Haides 40 years ago.
Although it was not her own fatal incident, the monarch sacrificed her precious daughters like her own life, constantly whipping herself to avoid repeating such history.
Asteril, who was sent to Cocytus and finally became the king of Haides’ concubine, and Penelope, who will soon be engaged and leave for Poseidonia. Kiane wondered if she was the only one who was comfortable in the company of her mother, in the name of the next Anassa.
Amphita noticed such a daughter’s inner thoughts and gave her comfort.
“They are proud of you. Of course, it is also for Demeter, but they willingly accepted their mission to help their sister. So don’t be in pain. You just need to lead the country well. The seat you will take is such a seat.”
The king had to be unpredictable. You shouldn’t cling to blood and affection. She learned that she should maintain a cool judgment in any situation.
Still, it was hard. Sometimes, she had to sit on her hands, it was hard to deal with her own incompetence. In a way, she was strong because her siblings stood by her side.
When Kiane, who had been calling for the monarch to step down from the throne in public or private for some time, called out “Mother,” Amphita raised her eyebrows.
“These days, I keep thinking about when we first met Ril. The sacred road to the temple on the hill in Cocytus was so difficult and uncomfortable because you couldn’t ride a horse or a carriage…. Penelope cried and whined to just go back home several times.”
Kiane murmured as if sighing while looking at the empty air.
“Yes, that’s right….”
Amphita gave a small laugh as she remembered. The sapphire ring on her left hand glowed as blue as the sky over the mountains that day.
They hated her before they even saw her. She hadn’t even bothered to stop Penelope when they reached the mountainside and she yelled at them to throw away Asteril or whoever it was.
The monarch did not provide any special explanation for the sudden arrival of her younger sister. At the time, Amphita’s behavior was full of doubts, but now it makes sense in many ways.
Asteril was not a child that could be defined in one word. There were many corners that were hard to believe even when seen with both eyes.
“This child’s name is Asteril. She has been suffering from illness since birth, but miraculously recovered by the blessing of the goddess. She is nine years old, but cannot speak or walk. I hope you will teach and guide her well. Do you understand, Kiane?”
The monarch asked her sternly, only looking at her and not Penelope. At the time, Kiane was thirteen years old and replied, “Yes, Your Majesty,” while glancing at Asteril who was staring at her.
A white face appeared between the black seaweed-like hair. The curious pupils and red lips created a strange atmosphere.
Asteril reached out her arms as if asking to be held, but no one approached her. Only Amphita gently patted her small head a few times.
“She is not my biological daughter. But she is a cousin to you and is like a sister to you.”
Although she told us to treat her normally, it was the monarch who found her the most difficult to deal with. At least that’s how it seemed to Kiane.
“Aaah! Aaah!” Asteril laughed with a whimpering sound, reaching out to her older sisters. Kiane, who stood there as if she had been attacked unexpectedly by such pure kindness, slowly frowned. Taking Kiane’s hand, Asteril rubbed her cheek against the back of it and laughed.
The dirt on the goddess’s shoulder seeped into Asteril’s hair on the wind.
Perhaps that’s why? Asteril always smelled of earth. It was a scent that calmed people’s hearts and made them feel at ease.
“Amphita, Your Majesty!”
Amphita and Kiane, who were reminiscing and chatting, stood up in surprise. Suddenly, the palace was in chaos.
It was the voice of a court lady who was making a fuss. She rushed in through the temple gate and panted heavily.
“We’re in front of the goddess’s altar. What kind of blasphemy is this?”
When Kiane sternly scolded her, the middle-aged court lady immediately fell prostrate and bowed.
“I have committed a sin, Your Majesty! But now is not the time for this.”
“What’s going on?”
Amphita asked in a soft voice. She had been a servant for over 20 years. There was no one more discerning than her, and she couldn’t believe that someone would commit such blasphemy without any reason.
“Please come to the Red Garden right away.”
“Why the Red Garden?”
“That, that’s…some man – no, an intruder…”
The court lady stammered and pulled at her hair with a panicked expression. She felt frustrated too.
“Collect yourself and calmly explain. What do you mean by an intruder?”
“Your Majesty, please escape immediately!”
At that moment, the guards rushed in from outside, shouting. They wore armor and rushed to Amphita, grabbing her arms and escorting her.
“We have come to protect you, Your Majesty. You must escape immediately…ugh!”
One of the guards was hit by a gust of wind from outside and was thrown back, his back bending as he flew through the air. With a thud, he hit the wall and lost consciousness.
Kiane, who had been standing there in a daze, suddenly regained her senses and shouted, “Protect…protect Your Majesty! Where is the commander of the guards?”
“Here I am, Princess Kiane.”
An old man with a sword shouted from outside the door.
“First, you must move Her Majesty to a safe place. I will take command here.”
“No, that won’t do. Your safety as the heir to the throne is more important. You and the guards must leave the palace.”
— Is the king of Demeter here?
Everyone froze and their eyes blinked. A deep voice spread through their minds like a dark night.
— I have brought your daughter.
It was a feeling as if a sharp object pierced through their foreheads. They were so scared that even their breaths were forgotten.
Amphita’s pupils, which had been dilated, widened. She stumbled forward and pushed her way out, ignoring the guards who tried to stop her. She ran out of the temple.
The cloudy sky cleared, and the leaning moon illuminated the palace like a fallen candlestick.
The garden connected to the temple was surrounded by red clay walls and was called the Red Garden. The walls were equipped with iron rings at regular intervals to hold torches, but today all the torches were extinguished, probably because they were too busy lighting them with oil from sunset.
Did the goddess of dawn, Eos, want to spend time with her lover and make it rain? But the earth and well were dry.
The man who walked on the shaded ground was draped in moonlight on his shoulders like a medal. If you saw him in a dream, you might have thought he was Eos’s lover.
“The Anassa is before you. Identify yourself and kneel before me.”
Kiane, who followed them and suddenly appeared and shouted in a fit of anger. The man’s footsteps stopped.
Amphita’s pupils narrowed. Someone was embracing the man. She was more curious about the woman who was hugging him than the man’s identity.
A man standing under an old bay tree took a step forward. The woman’s wrist, which fell limply, was revealed in the torch held by the soldiers.
Amphita’s chest sank as she saw her limp wrist. The thin wrist was adorned with a gold bracelet studded with red jewels. Her pupils trembled with waves.
She ran towards them, screaming, but Kiane quickly grabbed the king’s arm.
“Look! Hasn’t she been hurt?”
“I will check. Please stay here, Your Majesty.”
Before that, the man moved first. As he walked towards them, the guards aimed their spears at him. Kiane raised her hand to stop them.
The man held out his arm holding Asteril. It was a defenseless attitude. Everyone looked tense as he raised his arm as if telling them to take him away quickly. His voice once again permeated Kiane and the soldiers’ minds.
— Save her, I don’t know how.
The captain of the guard hesitated before receiving Asteril. The man just watched him calmly. When Kiane gestured with her eyes, the captain of the guard holding Asteril quickly left the garden.
The man’s gaze watching the captain of the guard’s back seemed empty. He couldn’t take his eyes off him until he disappeared inside the palace.
There didn’t seem to be any heavily armed soldiers around. How did he manage to infiltrate this deep into the palace with Asteril?
“Who are you?”
At Kiane’s question, the man looked away. Kiane felt her pulse racing.
She had seen countless handsome men in her life. From the court poets who entered and left the palace, to famous mercenaries known for their faces rather than their swords, and even foreign princes.
But no one had ever captivated her gaze to the point of forgetting to breathe like this.
Pupils that seemed to suck in your breath and hair that looked like a collection of night skies.
Kiane clasped her hands together to hide her unease. Then she shuddered. She suddenly realized who the man in front of her was.
The King of Haides.
He stood in the middle of Demeter’s palace.