After Mariella left, Marianne went to see the Marquis of Arell again. Or, more accurately, to invite him to her tea.

“I’m afraid I didn’t catch her today.”

“I see.”

At Marianne’s words, the Marquis of Arell nodded grimly. It was clear that he had given up on winning Mariella’s heart, and it tugged at Marianne’s heartstrings.

“Just wait a little longer, and I’ll be sure to do it next time!”

At her words, the Marquis of Arell laughed awkwardly. He hesitated, then spoke cautiously.

“I, um, have something to tell you.”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“I think it would be best if we stop here.”


Marianne blinked at the unexpected words.

The Marquis of Arell smiled weakly.

“I don’t want a scandal attached to the Marquis because of a man who couldn’t let go of his lingering feelings. We shouldn’t bother the Marquis of Coburden, who has just inherited the title and is unstable. So, I wish to keep my feelings of affection within my heart.”

It was a kind and affectionate statement, filled with consideration, befitting a collaborator in melodramatic novels. Marianne was even more endeared to him by these words.

He never gets politically entangled with her, he always does what she asks, and he has a crush on her best friend.

‘He’s perfect for Mariella.’

She didn’t want to let him go.


Marianne’s words sounded as if she was pleading with him to reconsider his decision, but the Marquis of Arell interrupted.

“I am, of course, very grateful for the kindness of Your Highness’ heart. You needn’t worry too much about exchanging letters with Sir Mihael, as I will continue to assist you.”

“No, Marquis Arell…”

“Besides, I’m here today for a different reason, which is why I wanted to see Her Royal Highness in the first place, not Miss Mariella.”

He handed her two tickets in his arms.

“What are these?”

“They are for a play that is popular in my hometown of Greenard.”

“A play from Greenard.”

Marianne’s face lit up.

“Oh, the one based on The Lady and the Butterfly?”

The Lady and the Butterfly was a well-known and well-received work of fiction in the world of literary circles.

The main plot is that a princess from an insignificant country falls in love with an emperor from the East.

It was unique in that the male protagonist’s nationality shifted to the East, but what made it famous was the sensational and unconventional storyline and scene descriptions that kept her awake at night.

“Yes. Do you know that novel? I understand it hasn’t been published in Verdan yet.”

“That’s right, it was very hard to get hold of.”


Marianne waved her hand dismissively again.

“It’s nothing. So, this is the ticket to the play.”

She stared at the ticket with covetous eyes.

She’d been so caught up in her love affair with Mihael that she hadn’t paid attention to popular fiction and plays for a while. She’d almost missed a play like this.

“Yes, someone I know is the director of this theatre company. I got us good seats by special request.”

“Then why don’t you two watch this play?”

Marianne suggested, not bothering to wipe the wistful look off her face.

The Marquis of Arell smiled gently and declined.

“No. That’s enough. I really only wish the Marquise of Coburden happiness.”

* * *

Mariella’s reaction to the theatre tickets was less than favourable.

“It’s by a theatre troupe from Greenard, no doubt the Marquis of Arell saved it.”

Mariella didn’t bother to hide her suspicions. Marianne leaned back slightly at the stern look that told her to spill the beans already.

“Ugh. But this time is different.”


“Because the Marquis of Arell isn’t coming.”


She didn’t seem to believe her. Marianne added apologetically.

“It’s just the three of us going to see it.”



Marianne stomped her foot on the floor, protesting her innocence. Mariella, who had been eyeing Marianne with a sceptical expression for a while, finally nodded.

“…Okay, let’s get ready to leave. But before we do, I need to tell you something.”

“What is it?”

Mariella glanced around the room. Maids and servants bustling about their duties caught her eye.

“I want everyone to step aside.”

Marianne coldly ushered them all out of the room.

Only Marianne, Mariella, and her maid, Daisy, remained in the room. Their eyes fell on Mariella.

Mariella said in a small voice.

“Mihael has made a decision.”

Marianne’s eyes flashed red at the news she’d been waiting for.

“I’ll arrange for the two of you to meet backstage at eight o’clock, after the play ends.”

* * *

It was the day of the performance of ‘The Lady and the Butterfly,’ a play based on a popular novel from Greenwood.

Mariella made a subtle expression when she saw Marianne’s outfit.

“Don’t you think the dress is a little too skimpy?”

Marianne was wearing a newly tailored pale pink dress with twice as much lace and ribbon as a normal dress.

She wore a dress that looked as heavy as it was rich, ruby earrings the size of a baby’s palm, and a necklace with hundreds of diamonds.

It was the height of excess.

When Mariella pointed it out, Marianne spoke up.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been out. There will be a lot of eyes on me. Shouldn’t I look the part?”

Despite her words, Marianne, Mariella, and even Daisy beside her, knew that she had dressed up because she was excited to see Mihael after all these years.

“I understand your excitement, but I’d suggest you change if you can. Some outfits can be intimidating to the other person.”


Marianne smirked at Mariella’s advice.

Mariella shook her head gently and motioned for her to change.

“It’s your first meeting since your identity was revealed. It wouldn’t do you any good to put pressure on him early on.”

Marianne pouted, muttering weakly.

“I wanted to look pretty.”

“Go change. As modestly as possible. But with the natural grace and innocence of a princess.”

“That’s a tall order.”

Hearing Marianne’s grumbling, Mariella smirked. Kindly, she explained so that Marianne could understand.

“Come dressed as Nataline, the Lady of the Lake, would wear.”

“What book?”

“Book one, page ninety-seven. Do you want me to recite the dialogue?”

“No, thank you.”

Marianne held out her hand.

She took Daisy with her and went in to change.

* * *

The theatre where The Lady and the Butterfly was being performed was a small, charming place.

Once seated in the special seats on the second floor reserved for the princess, Marianne glanced around.

“Where’s Mihael?”

“He’s waiting.”


With that single word, Mariella silenced Marianne’s impatience.

Soon the drama began.

“He said he would do anything for me.”

“Why can’t you see the plain truth, that love, even love so passionate as to risk one’s life, fades with time.”

The play reached its midpoint.


Mariella turned her head where Marianne couldn’t see and yawned.


Popular fiction had never been Mariella’s cup of tea, though she had been forced to read a great deal as a maid in order to be more skilful with Marianne.

To her, who did not believe in love, love stories were just straw piled up in a stable. Something you can easily have, but never covet at the same time. Love, to her, occupied just that level of significance.

‘I don’t even know how I fell in love with Josef.’

She remembered Josef in his days as Master Jay.

‘I thought about giving up everything, be it a throne or anything else, and quietly hiding here, living in seclusion until the end, peacefully. That’s what I had in mind.’

His true feelings, which she had buried so tightly in the back of her mind that she didn’t want to think about them, suddenly spilled out.

Mariella shook her head lightly.

‘Now is not the time to be swayed by such petty emotions.’

Now is not the time to waver, but the time to shake things up.

At the moment, Mariella had no idea how to lure Julian out of his hiding place in the manor.

She stifled the urge that threatened to grow in her towards Josef.


Her nostrils flicked to the pungent scent.

“Do you smell burnt somewhere?”

Mariella whispered in a low voice to Daisy, instead of to Marianne, who was engrossed in the play. Daisy nodded in agreement.

“The smoke seems to have thickened a bit. Maybe they’re using too many stage effects?”

They were performing a scene in the play where the couple reunite on the lakeshore at dawn. The smoke on stage made their love seem more tender.

Daisy had a point, Mariella thought, and she leaned back in her theatre chair and let her guard down.

The play was reaching its climax.

“How will you prove your love? If you have to share it with someone, say no… cough, cough.”

The actress playing the female lead coughed in a haze of smoke, and with that, the audience watching the play on the first floor began to cough in unison. Startled, Marianne turned and locked eyes with Mariella, and it was then that Mariella realised that this was no mere stage act.


Someone shouted from the first floor.

She looked down and saw flames coming from the seats behind her.

As people scrambled around, the fire spread rapidly. It wasn’t long before it reached the stage curtain. The smoke was getting thicker and thicker until it was hard to see.

Mariella, Marianne, and Daisy rose from their seats. The knights circled around Marianne.

“Escort the princess!”

As the fire spread throughout the entire theater, Mariella’s anger surged within her at the sight of a knight futilely engaging in unnecessary actions. She kicked one of the knight’s legs and shouted in frustration.

“What are you doing with your escort when there’s a fire! Find the emergency exit!”

But there was no way she could find an easy way out when she couldn’t see a thing. The fire had now climbed the stairs and consumed all the fabrics that adorned the banister.

Embers caught the front hem of Marianne’s dress. Mariella stamped her foot to extinguish the flames.

“Cough, cough, cough!”

A coughing fit intensified, unrecognisable.

“Quick, find the exit…”

Mariella scanned her surroundings, forcing her eyes to open from the smoke.

‘We’re only going to get fucked if we keep going.’

“Cover your noses and mouths with your sleeves!”

Mariella shouted at the two of them, and tugged at Marianne’s wrist haphazardly, not knowing where the door was. She was desperate to find a door, even if it meant groping along the wall, before the flames got worse.

But no matter where they looked, they couldn’t find a door.

“Is this the right place, or should I go the other way?’

In her brief moment of indecision, the flames gained momentum. It was at this point that she began to pace, unsure of what to do.


Someone opened the door from the outside.

It was about a metre away from the three of them.

“Are you all right?”

Smoke in front of them.

Infernal flames behind them.

In a moment of desperation, when the slightest error in judgement could mean the difference between life and death, Mariella froze in place as she saw the face of the man who had come to her rescue.

“Come here quickly!”

The man was the Marquis of Arell.

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