The day Radis returned from her five-day stay at the capital, Berry and the other handmaids threw a small party for her.
Well, they say it’s ‘small’, but it was no less than a grand banquet.
They ate the cake that Olivier gave as a gift, Brendon’s cooking, and Yves’ especially sponsored sweet wine.
Then, Berry asked with twinkling eyes.
“Lady Radis, please tell us about the Imperial Palace!”
With the handmaids all gathered around her with their hands under their chins, Radis told them a story about the endless gardens of the imperial palace, its gorgeous buildings that look like they’d come out of jewelry boxes, the noble ladies in dazzlingly colorful dresses, and the knights of the Order of the White Dragon who were all in shimmering white uniforms.
Maybe her descriptions were quite vivid?
The handmaids seemed to be completely engrossed in Radis’ story.
“Ah, that’s so cool! Me too, I want a White Dragon knight to ask me on a dance…!”
Smirking at Berry’s dreamy face, Melody quipped at her as if to make her wake up.
“You do know there’s going to be a ton of noble ladies lined up in front of a White Dragon knight, right?”
“Uuuugh, what’s so wrong about a little wishful thinking, huh?”
Then, Nicky suddenly jumped up and said,
“I wanna dance now!”
And she struck a pose.
Berry, too, jumped up and snatched Nicky’s hand.
The tipsy girls didn’t even need any music.
April clapped her hands for them.
Feeling shy, Radis couldn’t stand up right away to dance.
But the handmaids, who were dancing barefoot in their nightgowns, looked really really happy.
So, Radis plucked the courage to stand up from her seat.
“Nicky, dance with me this time!”
“Oh my, it’s an honor!”
With their arms twined, the girls danced excitedly together.
If one grew tired, she’d sit on the floor and clap until her palms turned red, then when she had the energy again, she’d stand up and dance.
The sound of their small feet skipping on the floor, of their hands clapping, and of their peals of laughter continued past midnight.
“Wow, I can’t do it anymore!”
As everyone grew exhausted, they dropped to the floor that was fully covered with a fluffy carpet.
Despite being so exhausted, none of them said that they should retire to their own bedrooms.
They naturally took some pillows and cushions, hugged each other in their arms, and cozied up underneath their blankets and near the fireplace.
“You know, scary stories are perfect at times like this.”
The maids nodded and agreed, but that was all.
“So Nicky, do you know any scary stories?”
“I’ve heard quite a few, but… Don’t you just tend to forget those strange scary stories after hearing them once?”
“Yeah, I get what you mean.”
At that moment, Radis opened her lips to speak.
“Do you know about the secret dungeon of the Imperial Palace?”
Her low whisper drew the young women’s attention to her at once.
Berry shook her head quickly.
“No, I don’t know!”
“That’s only natural, since this is a story that even the people staying at the Imperial Palace keep quiet about.”
Exactly as Armano said.
Radis mimicked Armano, who originally told her the story, and spoke in a low, hushed voice.
“If you pass through the gorgeous buildings of the Imperial Palace, and head towards its deepest place, there’s a tower where light does not shine. And inside the tower’s dungeon, the darkest secret of this whole world is kept secret—a girl who was once called a witch.”
* * *
The girl had been branded as a witch because of her power.
Everything the girl touched with her hands would catch fire, would be killed, or would be extorted of everything.
Everything the girl touched with her hands would become black lumps of coal and would die.
It was a power that could only be called the power of a witch.
Even her father and mother were afraid of her.
They tied up the girl with dry thorns and locked her in a hut far, far away from the village.
Rumors about her crossed mountains and rivers, then soon entered the beautiful prince’s ears.
Curious, the prince, along with a knight and a priest, crossed those mountains and rivers to meet the girl.
After their long journey, the prince finally met the girl whose entire body was hidden by the thicket, constrained entirely with vines and thorns.
The prince asked,
“Are you truly the witch who burns, kills and takes everything away?”
The girl answered,
“Yes, I am the witch. But it is all right. I am tied to these thorns, I am entirely bound. For this, I cannot burn, kill nor take anything away.”
The prince nodded in admiration. His curiosity was sated.
However, he could not bring himself to leave the girl.
He felt sorry for the young girl who was trapped in the thicket full of sharp thorns.
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