Chapter 3. False Roots

****

 

The mansion Daphne remembered was a very quiet place. Her mother liked trees instead of flowers, and especially loved the laurels that resembled her.

 

“I hate seeing flowers bloom and wither. It’s too weak.”

 

One day, Daphne picked daffodils for her mother with her tiny hands, her mother took the flowers and said so.

 

“Look.”

 

The daffodils in her hands were withering. The freshness she wanted to show her mother was no longer there. The drooping stem had already signaled the death of the flower.

 

“Poor thing.”

 

Her mother muttered as she took the flowers in her hand. That yellow flower was picked because it resembled her mother. But her young self also vaguely understood.

 

Rather, the withered flowers resembled her mother. That slender and soft appearance with a sad smile. That fragility that seemed to be broken even by the blowing wind.

 

“It’s okay.”

 

“…Oh, mother!”

 

“You have a mother. You are a tree. It’s okay because I like trees.”

 

A low born woman who held the emperor between her legs, a lustful prostitute who couldn’t live without a man. An illegitimate child was born with dirty blood.

 

Beatrice, who was Daphne’s world and loved most, hugged her beloved daughter tightly.

 

 

“You won’t lose. My dear daughter.”

 

Beatrice didn’t know why Daphne was crying so much. Was it because the hand that patted her back was so affectionate?

 

Maybe it was because the embrace was warm, or was it because the soft voice whispering in her ears was so good. Daphne cried for a long time.

 

Daphne.

 

Named after the laurel trees. It was a name that Beatrice had chosen. She hated seeing flowers blooming and dying. She liked trees that take off their clothes if they waited and then sprout leaves again. A tree rooted in the ground and standing firm.

 

“So, daughter, always wear that necklace. You must never take it off in front of your father.”

 

“Yes, Mother.”

 

Daphne’s green eyes turned blue as she untied her necklace. Beatrice loved Daphne’s ‘blue eyes’, not ‘green eyes’.

 

“Except when it’s just you and me.”

 

“Yes, Mother.”

 

Daphne smiled knowing that her mother loved her eyes. Beatrice raised her hand and stroked the poor daughter’s hair.

 

“They say that a woman is like a flower. I, too, had no choice but to become a flower. But you will become a tree.”

 

“….”

 

“I loved and loved, my eternal lover. Oliver.”

 

Beatrice smiled sadly. Daphne then didn’t know what that meant. All she knew was that her father’s name was Oliver.

 

***



“Daphne!”

 

Daphne smiled broadly and hugged the man who was holding her. The man with black hair and green eyes kissed her cheek.

 

“Daphne, what a pretty thing.”



Daphne’s father was not always at home.

 

He made very rare visits to this secluded mansion. Sometimes he barely came when it was time for snow to fall and leaves to spring up from the dry branches.

 

Today was Daphne’s ninth birthday, one of the summer days, one of the seasons when the vegetation in the garden took on a more intense light.

 

“Are you here, Your Majesty?”

 

Your Majesty. Daphne had a dark expression on her face upon hearing that. As she began to receive formal training, she now knew what the word Majesty meant.

 

The Emperor of this country.

 

Her own father was the emperor of this country. At one point, Daphne realized that the character named “Oliver” her mother loved was not her father or the emperor.

 

Every time she saw this man who loved her she felt her heart sink. It didn’t matter that her mother was his mistress. The only important thing was that she was deceiving her ‘father’ with green eyes. So she could look like him.



“Daphne. I thought you were still five years old.”

 

As soon as Daphne was lowered to the floor, she grabbed the hem of her skirt and bowed.



“Father, long time no see.”

 

“What is it! Stop it, hahaha!”

 

Father burst into laughter.



“She’s a smart kid. She already read all the history books when she’s only nine.”

 

“Really?”

 

“All the tutors compliment her. She’s such a smart kid.”

 

“That’s great, Daphne. I’m so proud.”

 

At that moment, Daphne could not properly look at her ‘father’s warm green eyes. She bit her lip slightly and lowered her head. Her father burst into laughter as if he knew she was shy. 

 

No.

 

She was ordinary.  Although she liked history books, it was because they were fun.

 

What the tutor praises was simply flattering her mother, the emperor’s favourite. When she heard the tutor slander her mother’s promiscuity, she knew her world was in disarray.

 

Beatrice smiled mischievously and leaned against the Emperor, arms crossed. The emperor looked at the woman who was fluttering with loving eyes and kissed her.

 

“So, as a birthday present, can you do me a favor?”

 

“What is it?”

 

“Please take this child to the Imperial Palace once.”

 

At that moment, Daphne’s mother’s face darkened, and her eyes were gleaming dark. The sad and fragile mother was expressing her expression Daphne had never seen before.



The Emperor raised one corner of his lips and looked at Daphne with a smile on his face, and he said sweetly.

 

“Sure.”

 

“That would be great, Daphne.”

 

‘No, nothing is good.’

 

‘Mother, no. I don’t want to go.’

 

However, Daphne’s opinion was not accepted.

 

***

 

“Do you understand? I cannot go.”

 

“….”

 

“Go and show yourself to the Imperial Palace. All you have to do is follow your father.”

 

Daphne wore a bright green dress that best matched her fake eye color. It was the most puffy skirt she had ever worn. When her waist was tightened with silk white flowers, she was slightly suffocated. Beatrice carefully braided her hair and adorned it with flowers.

 

Looking in the mirror, she looked like a tree fairy.

 

Her face was full of speckled freckles, and the blush on her cheeks looked like a ripe tomato. But her hair looked shabby, as if it had faded.



The imperial palace was said to only be visited by people who were more glamorous and beautiful like flowers, was it okay for someone like her to go?

 

“You must wear your necklace at all times.”



“Yes, mother.”

 

The gold necklace hung around her neck. Her eyes flashed green immediately as she fiddled with the pendant.

 

They waited for the emperor for a long time. When they heard the sound of the carriage arriving, they went outside, and the person who greeted them was not the emperor, but the emperor’s attendant.

 

“His Majesty has sent a message to bring the young lady.”

 

“His Majesty?”

 

Her mother couldn’t ask any more when the attendant looked at her with contempt. Instead, she pushed Daphne. As Daphne hopped into the carriage, her mother smiled and saw her off.

 

“Poor Prince.” 

 

(*a little background: the emperor didn’t like his son, Prince Asherad. That’s why the servant said that)

 

The servant said, looking at the little girl below his waist. Daphne didn’t know what he meant.

 

Really, she didn’t know.

 

***

 

Daphne was distracted by the majesty of the imperial palace. It was vast, large and high. Her cheeks blushed seeing the garden filled with flowers, not trees.

 

“Well then, goodbye.”



“Mister, where are you going?”

 

In response to Daphne’s naive question, the servant said grimly.

 

“Because I am busy. Can you visit His Majesty alone? The road is easy. There.”

 

He pointed to the largest building in the middle. Unlike the small mansion where she lived, the square building stood out with a blue dome that looked like a round ball had been cut in half and the pointed horns adorning it.

 

She had to walk a long way through the garden to get there, but that’s okay. Because her mother told her to do well. It was not difficult. Daphne nodded her head with a determined expression on her face. Then the servant smiled and said,

 

“Okay, good girl. Then have a good day.”

 

Daphne, who greeted gracefully as her mother had taught her, walked towards her destination.

 

However, the large building was farther away than expected. Besides, the garden was like a maze, so she wandered over and over again. On a hot summer day, the sun was very scorching. Besides, where was this place? She thought she was going straight, but the road kept leading her to the other direction.

 

Approaching the backside of a tree, she sighed deeply and went to the place where the shade was the coolest, and stood there.

 

She wanted to sit down but she feared her mother would scold her later if she found out she wasn’t acting like a lady.

 

She tilted her head and looked at the building that was still not close. It was then that a man, no, a boy appeared.

 

“Are you lost?”

 

It was a friendly voice. But she now knew that being too sweet was creepy. Daphne looked towards the source of the voice. Someone appeared behind a thick tree. The first thing she saw was a straight nose.

 

The boy was dressed out of place in this glamorous, crowded place. A loose shirt. Disheveled clothes.

 

Was it the boy who works here?

 

“I asked if you were lost.”

 

Was it because the voice was closer? The voice gave her goosebumps, and Daphne retreated without realizing it.

 

As the boy moved, Daphne heard the sound of something falling. Daphne knew it was a book. The boy bent down and stretched out his long arm and picked it up. Daphne noticed that his eyelashes were quite long.

 

But the moment he lifted his head slightly and stared at her sharply, Daphne was astonished, as if someone had grabbed her heart.

 

His hawk-green eyes were looking at her.

 

He was such a beautiful boy. His dark hair, without even a light brown tint, was so black that even light could not penetrate. It didn’t feel as sinister as a crow’s feather because of the boy’s beautiful appearance and good eyes.

 

“You’re lost, aren’t you?”

 

Daphne nodded her head. The boy grinned. Daphne didn’t know what was so funny.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“I’m looking for His Majesty.”

 

“His Majesty?”

 

The boy’s eyes narrowed. A slow blink that wasn’t particularly surprising. The girl was only nine years old, though it seemed like she was an adult. She was precocious, even though she was depressed with all the worries of the world.

 

Not knowing the meaning of the leaf-colored eyes, she smiled broadly and followed him.

 

“How old are you?”

 

“Nine years old.”

 

“I’m eleven.”

 

The boy didn’t look that way. He looked like he was about fifteen. His arms and legs were long, and he was tall. The boy spoke smoothly even on their first meeting, and they laughed intermittently. Would it be like this if she made friends her age? If she had a friend, or siblings, wouldn’t it be great?



“Here you go.”

 

At the friendly tone, Daphne had a sad expression. It was time to part with the boy. And it was time to meet her ‘father’.

 

“Then I’ll go now.”

 

“Oh, your name…”

 

As Daphne mumbled and asked timidly, the boy said, narrowing his eyes.

 

“Asherad.”

 

“Asherad.”

 

It was an odd name. A name like a dream, as if from a myth.

 

When Daphne tried to pronounce the word ‘sh’ with difficulty, the boy smiled deeply. The line at the corner of his mouth was so elegant that Daphne felt embarrassed for making a mistake.



As her body sank into depression, the boy, Asherad, patted her on the shoulder.

 

Then, as Asherad’s hand tightened her shoulder, Daphne swallowed her breath without realizing it.



It was her first pain. She couldn’t even scream and looked at Asherad, who smiled kindly. It took her a while to realize that the boy’s friendly smile and the pain he inflicted on her were the same.

 

“Oh, it hurts!”

 

“Ah, I’m sorry.”

 

Asherad hurriedly lowered his hand. Daphne looked at him with frightened eyes, but he looked very sorry. Looking at his hand on Daphne’s shoulder, he raised the corner of his mouth.

 

“So, see you again. Daphne.”

 

He thought he had heard the name Daphne from somewhere, but he couldn’t remember who it was. Daphne nodded her head sadly, regretting breaking up with the boy in front of her without a doubt about the boy who knew her name without introduction.

 

Thinking about it now, she shouldn’t have gone to the imperial palace. She shouldn’t have met him.

 

No, actually, as soon as she met him she should have killed him, that b*stard.

 

***

 

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Notes

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