Alistair Aurum de Villiers. The forgotten prince. The late King's bastard.
A ghost that had returned from the dead.
Born from an affair between the late King and a maid, he was cast out and presumed dead along with his mother as a child, only to return years later to fight for his right to become King. He was an underdog against the Queen's own son and his half-brother raised to succeed. At the end of a fairytale, the underdog prince overcomes the challenges thrown at him by his adversaries and wears the crown he had worked so hard for.
But this is reality. And underdogs cannot receive happy endings through hard work alone.
And those on top are indifferent to those they drag down along with the underdog.
Arabella barely resisted as she was dragged towards the gallows, her flimsy body could scarcely withstand the manhandling of the soldiers on either side of her. Opening her dull blue eyes took a concentrated effort, once she did she regretted the action immediately. The sharp judging eyes of the crowd below didn't phase her, she had grown up among nobility who gossiped more than they breathed. But, as she scanned the mob, she was reminded of the only people in the world left on her side. They weren't here. And she was facing this alone.
"For an offence that reeks to heaven: The act of premeditated murder and daring to bring harm to The Royal Family! The sinner, Arabella Lockhart, stands before us today on her day of judgement!"
The executor's voice was grating. She felt a guard untie her hands, only to redo the knot behind her back so tightly that the rope burned at her wrists. Then she could no longer ignore what was about to happen to her. The noose swayed in the breeze and she stared straight through it like a window to her death. In a few moments that would be around her neck. A few moments after that, she would be dangling by it. A guard pushed her forward, and by instinct, Arabella resisted as best she could with her torn nails digging into her palms. She was not ready. She had thought she had made peace with her misfortune in the year she had spent imprisoned, but all she had done was lie to herself. Her breathing quickened, and sweat dripped down her bruised brown skin.
She froze, feeling the guard's musket point to her spine. Arabella tried fruitlessly to swallow down her terror. He wouldn't shoot. She wished he would, she'd much prefer to die quickly. But she knew the guard wouldn't shoot. Because he was watching. And he loved to watch her suffer.
"Lower your weapon. She will do as she's told."
Speak of the devil.
Her teeth scraped together. Arabella didn't need to look up to recognise her tormentor, Cecil Aurum de Villiers, in all his sickening glory. Befitting his new position, he seemed the picture of kingliness but she knew better. Behind that cold controlled gaze was a man who saw everyone as subhuman. Someone who took pleasure in stamping out all hope left in a person. His stately presence couldn't disguise his true nature from her, the woman who had seen his cruelty firsthand.
"Arabella Lockhart. Declare your crimes now to the people and beg for repentance before you are faced with eternal damnation. Spare your family name from any more shame."
She could hear the smirk in his voice as he uttered the last sentence and her eyes flared, finally meeting his. Her throat burned from the lack of moisture but she pushed out a scraped curse through chapped, bleeding lips, "Y-You... B-Bastard..." The crowd erupted into shocked chatter but Arabella had much more and much worse to say. After all, Cecil was the one who forbade her family's attendance in the first place. A year imprisoned without so much as a letter because of him. Isolated with nothing but his taunting.
At her words, the executioner moved one step forward towards the inevitable, the scratching rope was fastened around her neck and Arabella was thrust back to the present moment. This was happening. The crowd's incessant chattering grew louder, in anticipation of watching the 'villainess' of Cecil's spun story faced with sick 'justice'. With a raised hand, Cecil silenced them, yet the tension could be tasted in the air, "My hand has been forced as your King to bring justice to my late brother Alistair. But with this execution, the cruel villain who dared to commit murder in her madness will be judged before God and justly punished. I will rid this country of the blight that is your cruelty, Arabella Lockhart." Cecil looked almost too eager to continue with the execution. "With the lowering of my hand, hang the sinner and pray that she seeks salvation."
And when his pale hand rose, the thought crossed Arabella's mind of just what situation she was in. It was so cruel. It was so cruel that it bordered on hilarity. That she was going to be hung for not only a murder she did not commit. But for murdering someone whose face she could hardly remember. Someone she'd spent not even half an hour with, in her lifetime. And yet, the person condemning her to this fate was the very person accusing her of his own crimes. She could just picture them in a reversed situation. He was speaking to himself. Condemning himself.
Alistair... The poor fool. They were both simple pawns in Cecil's bid for the throne. They'd only met briefly, but it seemed that both their untimely fates had become intertwined without their say. The crowd before her was not here to watch someone's death be avenged, not for a pariah like Alistair. They were here for one thing and one thing only. To satisfy their morbid need to watch death without guilt. So her pleas of innocence would be wasted here...
Arabella had nothing to repent. She had no shame to bear. She would not waste a single breath on these people. The lopsided smirk of disbelief on her face as the noose began to tighten had begun to put the crowd in a state of unease. They must think her to be mad. They would be right.
Arabella met Cecil's gaze a final time. His purple eyes narrowed ever so slightly in displeasure. That was not the expression he wanted to see. She was certain the message in her glance had reached him silently, even as he lowered his hand and she lost her footing.
He had won. But they both knew who the true sinner was among them. And it would be his weight to bear alone from the moment she stopped breathing.
The Illegitimate prince has been murdered and Arabella Lockhart is sentenced to death as the poisoner. Yet, the evidence laid against her is fabricated and the true culprit, the crown prince, goes free while her pleas of innocence remain unheard. Just as she is about to die with the truth, she awakens four years in the past with her memories still intact. A second chance. With her new gift of foresight, Arabella vows to never be powerless again and to tear down all who've wronged her.