“Father, me too. Please take me with you! Me too!”
I was ten years old.
On a day that I would never forget, the Imperial Palace was unusually noisy. It all started with a surprise in the evening darkness.
As a small and weak child, I was alone in a cold room reading a fairy tale.
There was no one around and it was bustling outside. The fairy tale book, covered in the shadows of the window grid pattern, was very cool.
The moment I opened the door with trembling hands at the sound that suddenly grazed my ears….
“Help me, please help me! Oh, no!”
That was the end of the sweetness that the fairy tale had gifted me.
I walked down the corridor with a puzzled look on my face. The Imperial Palace, where the screams of the maids were heard, was very unfamiliar.
My home seemed so different from what I remembered that even as I walked, a shiver ran down my spine.
It was the ‘rebellion’ my father was so afraid of.
“Rebellion or no rebellion, that’s when we’re done, Michelle.”
The loud voice of my father, who was trembling with fear, resonated in my head.
My mother bit her pale lips, and I looked at them both in turn with anxious eyes.
It was treason.
How could I have known the smell of blood when I lived in the confinement of the Imperial Palace?
The shouts of the soldiers coming from afar were laced with endless pain and sorrow, their white feet streaked with blood.
The ripples in the calmly spreading sea of blood quickly disappeared, and red blood splattered the white walls with a zap. I started to run.
“Enemy of the House of Windsor! Emperor, come forth and receive the sword!”
The emperor of the empire, my father, was famous for being timid. And a cowardly emperor usually becomes a scarecrow.
He became a tyrant…
And cowardly emperors can become scarecrows, or tyrants, because they expose their uncontrollable fears to the whole world and wield their swords recklessly.
Scarecrow or tyrant?
My father belonged to the latter group, and the sword he wielded killed the entire Windsor family, a prominent aristocratic family.
Their crime was treason.
That was the end of the unbalanced political bargain.
The line was broken.
It was at the hands of a cowardly tyrant, the emperor, my father.
Poof, their heads fell at the same time, and my father ended the game with their beheadings.
Rather than gracefully subduing or coaxing his opponents, he stepped on them as if they were terrible insects.
Windsor was an honorable family that lived a life of simplicity and never lost its aristocratic dignity, and those who died with both eyes open that heaven would prove their innocence even to the moment of death.
So how high was the prestige of the name?
He slaughtered one of the venerable families that symbolized the aristocracy, and the exploding nobles formed a coalition to challenge the imperial family.
How to bite a cat when a mouse is cornered. Originally, the cat was also a cat with missing teeth and a bell on its neck.
Until now, it had just barely kept its seat with a crown on top of its head, and held down what came up from below with a lid of tyranny, like a rat coming up from the sewers.
The suppressed anger of the nobles erupted on this day.
I am the daughter of that cursed tyrant.
“Protect Princess Karen! Protect the Empress!”
I kept running as I felt my bloody pajamas graze my thighs.
Were there any people who wanted to protect the princess?
Those people weren’t trying to protect me. They had never been my knights.
My sister. I’ve learned that where she is, my family is.
A voice came from my mother’s room. In the empress’s room.
I bit my lower lip as I arrived in front of my mother’s bedroom door, which I was afraid to knock my whole life.
“May I come in?”
Then the maid’s cry burst out from beyond and I hurried inside.
“Mother, father, sister…brother.”
My family was there.
My father was frantically trying to open the huge iron door embedded into the wall, and my mother was holding her two children in her arms.
Karen and Joseph.
My eyes trembled.
My mother looked at me for a moment, but as soon as the door opened, she took the two children and headed inside.
I called out for my father. His cold gaze turned towards me.
At that moment.
“Over there! I heard a voice from over there! Come on, move. Don’t let anyone escape. Move!”
“Dad, it’s your father!”
Instead of answering, my father went behind the door and slammed it shut.
I quickly ran over and desperately pushed the moving wall away with my small hands.
Of course, I wasn’t strong enough.
I failed backwards with a thud and looked at the familiar wall as I exhaled painfully.
I gasped, my breath leaking out of my mouth. Just then, the soldiers came inside.
My pounded buttocks ached. I couldn’t see what was in front of me because of the tears.
As I wiped the tears away, a man walked slowly among the soldiers and approached me.
“What, all they left is a maid?”
Even at the moment I was abandoned, I thought of only one thing: how could I live?
I wanted to live, even though my parents abandoned me and my life was insignificant. I hated to die.
What could I say to save my life?
My head was blank, but my lips let out instinctive words.
“Please, help me…”
A lone man walked up to a man at the front who appeared to be the Commander-in-Chief.
“We have no time to waste. We must move before the ruffians run farther away.”
“Leave it to us. We’ll handle it.”
Two more men sprang out of the crowd. The commander shook his head.
“Didn’t you just hear that?”
He turned his back on me.
“I have no time to waste on a maid………”
His armored cloak fluttered, and I gasped.
Dreams always end there. It’s a memory from my childhood, not anyone else’s.
My chest rises and falls wildly, and the sunlight beyond the window above my head wraps around me in thousands of comforting rays.
I wonder if I woke up too early.
I take a breath and dig into the warmth of the covers. A voice suddenly interrupts the peace.
“Ethel, what are you doing, don’t come down!”
Stella Ethelanche, the Second Imperial Princess of the Empire. However, she’s no longer called Stella.
That’s my name now.
I get up from the bed and lightly comb my hair, and see a woman with brown hair and brown eyes in the mirror.
Every time I face my reflection, I think. Is there anyone in the Imperial bloodline as ordinary as me?
On that day, still fresh in my dreams, it was my mediocrity that saved me. I was more than ordinary for an imperial bloodline.
I was not as beautiful as Karen, the ‘Moon Goddess’. I was not as radiant as Joseph, the ‘Second Coming of the Sun’.
I am alive because the knights mistook me for a servant and did not kill me.
I roughly brush and tie my hair up in a knot.
A strand of hair, unbound by the hair tie, sits gently on my face.
* * *
The sound got louder as I descended the stairs and approached the first floor.
It was busy.
Perhaps it’s because it’s morning time, but the restaurant on the first floor was quite crowded. A chubby middle-aged woman was moving through the tightly packed tables like water flowing.
She raised her head and looked at me.
“Ethel, when you wake up, please help me with my work as soon as possible. Go set that table over there.”
I turned my head and looked at ‘that table’, and I twitched reflexively.
‘He’s here again today.’
Our gazes met and I averted my eyes. My chest throbbed fast.
The armor the man was wearing was imperial armor.
The royal crest engraved on the surface was clear even from a distance.
‘Does he suspect me?’
Ten years after the disappearance of the second Princess.
The first thing the restored imperial family did was to search for the ‘lost princess’.
Papers were rolling around the city saying that they were looking for the missing Imperial Princess, and the newspapers published some sort of sighting story that had nothing to do with me.
‘Even if it’s an unverified story, if you put it in the paper, people will be curious.’
For those who have such a hard time living with it, the “missing youngest princess” was the biggest concern.
[A huge amount of gold, castle and title are offered to anyone who found Princess Stella Ethelanche.]
For those who dream of turning their lives around, the princess was their chance. Everyone was desperate to find the missing princess.
But how could they find a princess who they didn’t even know what she looked like?
All the portraits of the missing princess as a child were burned to ashes.
There’s no way the imperial family would remember the exact face of an imperial princess that was lost ten years ago. Besides, I’m no longer a ten-year-old girl.
I’m an adult, and no one can recognize the missing princess from my face. It’ll be more accurate to say that she’s dead and gone.
“If only I can find the princess, I can turn my life around, think of it, a title, a land…”
“You’re drunk, my dear. Please stop now.”
I walked past the table with the drunk man and headed for the table in the corner.
That’s where the imperial knight was.
“Hello, do you have the menu you are looking for?”
The knight didn’t answer and I waited patiently, not letting him see the cold sweat breaking out on my hands.
Then I got startled when I heard a voice behind me…
“Hey, Ethel! Bring a beer over there, hurry!”
Mary’s cheerful voice called me.
I turned around at the sound of her voice and then hurriedly turned back to look at the customer. I didn’t forget to smile nonchalantly, of course, in case he’s suspicious of me.
He’s the first one to avoid my gaze in the awkward air.
“I’ll have this.”
He points to the mushroom soup on the menu.
“And this one, too.”
Despite the coolness of his voice, his ears were burning red.
With trembling hands, I wrote down the menu and said calmly.
“You chose the mushroom soup and the baked turkey. And what else is on the menu?”
“Can you recommend a wine to go with the meal?”
He raised his head and looked at me. I didn’t avoid his gaze this time. I stared at his face for a while and blinked.
Oh, big mistake.
I quickly flipped through the menu on the table and opened it to a page labeled “Alcoholic Beverages.”
“The safest is “Night Dew”, “Sage” if you want to raise the price a bit, if price is not an issue, “Pure White Saint” is good. That’s the most delicious.”
“Pure White Saint, please.”
“Yes. Is there something else?”
As soon as I turned around and walked away, a sense of relief descended on my frozen chest.
The sight of the imperial crest still made my heart pound even after ten years.
Even though such a long time had passed.