Chapter 1 - The Illegitimate Daughter
Act 1 – A Switched Bride
“I can’t do it. Why don’t you just throw me into a beggar’s den instead? Because I won’t agree to this even if I die.”
Anna’s piercing shrieks echoed inside the castle for days on end. Her hysteria only escalated more and more day in and day out. With her fine hair styled into a neat bun from the latest fashion emitting a golden glow and her soft gray-blue silk dress, Anna stomped her feet and wept. It was an open rejection of the arranged marriage decreed by the newly enthroned king, Cayden. Hot tears streamed down from her shining blue eyes like rain. The bones of her beautiful face, which made the hearts of many men race, were more prominent than ever due to her hunger strike, which lasted for several days.
“How can you sell me to such a poor excuse of a noble with commoner blood? I can never go. I’m not going! Haven’t you heard any of the rumors, father? About how low his status is? No matter how much the world has changed, the mere thought of having to breathe the same air as him is horrifying! Please don’t send me to an ignorant man who slaughters everyday like a butcher!”
Anna yelled wildly at her father, Viscount William, who was standing nearby and looking at her embarrassedly. Next to him was her mother, Jocelyn, who had the same face as Anna’s but with older features. She was wiping away her tears with an expensive lace handkerchief.
Anna has always been strong-willed and, while standing next to her, Viscount William looked very small and insignificant. Having harbored hopes of marrying his beautiful daughter to the king, the viscount was equally as vexed by the king’s order as she was. However, since he sided with the late King Ducain in the last civil war, he had no choice but to accept the current king’s orders in order to survive. Cayden, who had successfully led the civil war to victory and ascended the throne, bestowed the title of Duke to Eli, a brave commoner who saved his life multiple times and simultaneously decreed him to marry Anna, the daughter of Viscount William. He wanted to give Eli legitimacy by marrying him to Anna, a nobleman.
Anna had to go to Eli a week from now for the wedding ceremony and as the time approached, her fierce resistance was reaching its peak.
Anna, with a tear-stained face, coldly declared to Viscount William. “I’d rather die. If you send me like this, then I’d rather hang myself and die!”
“No, you can’t, Anna! How can you say that you’ll kill yourself in front of us when we have gone through so much to raise you? We don’t like him either, but if you don’t marry him, our family will be annihilated! What do you rather we do?” Jocelyn said in a wailing voice. But Anna stood her ground and addressed Viscount William firmly.
“You ought to save me even if you have to surrender all your wealth to the King. It won’t be impossible for you to pull off, Father. What’s so important about this farmland and this old ruin of a castle that you’re sacrificing me to protect them?”
Viscount William zipped his mouth like a mouse, surreptitiously giving away the fact that had no intention of abandoning his land and title. Anna, the eldest of five daughters, had to sacrifice herself for the sake of the family. If the King or Eli were to find out that Anna was this determined, there was no denying that there would be an immediate bloodbath raining on his territory. In a situation where he had to at least protect what he had left, he did not want to bring about such doom upon himself.
“It doesn’t have to be me, you have my other younger siblings. Choose one of them and send her. That would do.”
“But Anna, they’re too young, aren’t they? How can I marry off a kid who’s not even 12 years old yet? If you alone endure it, then everyone would be peaceful and comfortable. It’s high time you changed your mind.”
“No, I can’t have that. Don’t let her go, even if you have to give up everything as Anna said. Please. If you let Anna go, I’ll also shed tears until I eventually wither and die.”
Viscount William nervously pulled at his mustache at Jocelyn’s plea, taking Anna’s side. His barely suppressed anger was being stoked. Raising kids too affectionately was the root of all trouble.
Viscount William glared at the pair of mother and daughter with sharp eyes. Jocelyn’s breath caught in her throat the moment she glimpsed that glare. She was well aware of her husband’s temperament of not hesitating to do anything in order to protect his fortune and status. Sending Anna to Eli was nothing to her husband. Anna was also very familiar with her father’s personality. But she believed that going to Eli was akin to sentencing her to death so she couldn’t easily retreat like Jocelyn.
Anna sat down on the spot and started to cry. Anna’s tears had always been effective. Perhaps due to her delicate features and rumored beauty, her crying had always brought about results so she sobbed with all her might.
But things were a little different this time. Viscount William was beginning to get irritated. Looking at Anna’s crying back, her body trembling all over, he continued to pull at his mustache in a nervous gesture. Fixing Anna for a moment with glass-like cold, emotionless eyes, he abruptly jerked his head at the sound coming from the back. Anna had gone feral and momentarily forgot that the maid was in the room. She could see the back of the maid putting firewood in the chimney. Her shoulder-length hair was reddish blonde at the tips.
A thought flashed through his mind and, following that, Viscount William spoke to his daughter. “That’s right, I see. I can’t help it if you’re so solemn to the point of preparing to die.”
“Really? Father, is that true?”
“Yes, let’s send that child instead.”
Anna and Jocelyn looked behind them synchronously. As soon as they saw the tired-looking maid who was laying firewood with a worn-out, coarse brown muslin outfit, they immediately guessed at what Viscount William had in mind. Anna’s face instantly lit up like the sun.
“I can’t send my beloved daughter to such common blood. You should marry a man of much more consequence than him. That way, our family will thrive more.”
“But won’t it all be exposed fast? It’ll be easy to discern that she’s not Anna, how much time would it buy us? Besides, the King will not let us go if he finds out.”
Hearing Jocelyn’s worried concerns, Viscount William flew into a fit. “Then what the hell do you want me to do? You want me to give everything to the King as a penalty for disobedience to his orders, and have us beg in the streets? The daughter is immature and the mother is wandering in her dreams, what other tricks do you want me to come up with? Do you believe that all will be solved if you just cry?”
“Then what more do you want me to do?” Said Jocelyn and Viscount William replied in a calm, but cold tone, looking alternately at the pair of dim-witted mother and daughter.
“Let’s send that child to the monastery along with Anna, teach her manners for a week, and then dress her up like Anna. We’d say that our daughter has suddenly caught a serious illness. If we were to get caught, then we’d just pin the blame on her saying that we only sent her to relay news of Ana’s predicament but she lied in order to raise her status of an illegitimate daughter.”
This was a very shameless thing to say indeed, especially since the person concerned was still in the room. However, Viscount William did not seem to mind that fact in the slightest.
“If she tries to run away or spill out the truth, we’ll kill her immediately.”
Jocelyn disregarded the horrifying declaration and paid close attention to the word ‘illegitimate daughter’. The castle already had three children born to Viscount William out of wedlock. At first, everyone thought she was a newly hired maid; however, Jocelyn belatedly realized that the maid was, in fact, one of her husband’s bastard children. When Jocelyn’s accusing eyes, which seemed to ask, “Is that maid another unsolicited offspring of yours?” turned to Viscount William, he examined her eyes, coughed a little, and continued his words.
“The ignorant commoner that is Eli won’t notice right away. And let me make this clear, she’s not my illegitimate child but a maid I bought for cheap at the market so don’t go jumping to useless conclusions.” He emphasized.
Oblivious to the tension hanging in the air between Viscount William and Jocelyn, Anna grinned from ear to ear with a clap at the fact that she could shrivel her way out of marrying Eli. A brilliant idea flashed in Viscount William’s mind as he was pondering the fact that his daughter would do anything just as long as she didn’t have to marry Eli.
“I’ll teach her, Father. She’s not even worth the dirt on my boots, but she’ll fit very well together with Eli. A maid is a perfect match for a pig like him. But Father, a week is too short of a period.”
“A week or a month, what use would it be when she might die as soon as she makes it to Eli?”
“Well, that’s true. I’ll have to let Lotta in. Lotta! Lotta!” Anna called out for Lotta loudly. A cunning look had manifested on Anna’s face, which was brightly smiling with curled up lips as if she had never shed a tear.
Viscount William then spoke to Edna, the maid before his eyes, in a chilly voice.
“If you ever expose this, I’ll pull out your tongue and eyes. No matter if you get outside of our reach, the moment you open your mouth to tattle to Eli, you’ll die on the spot by his own hand. Understood? We’re done here, go and see to your business elsewhere.”
As soon as Edna mutely bowed her head and went outside, Viscount William started brewing foolproof plans with Anna and her mother.