Philomel the Fake
Every person had a place they belonged in this world. For Philomel, today, that place was the gallows. And it was where her life was about to end. An enormous crowd had gathered around it to see the villainess’s final moments. She struggled, refusing to go quietly, but the guards that held either arm kicked her in retaliation without mercy and she eventually subsided.
The emperor, Eustis Belerov, sat on his throne staring indifferently down at the girl he’d once called daughter. Beside him a pale Ellensia, the imperial princess, clung to her father.
“Heed my words criminal!”
The man presiding over the execution stepped forward to read aloud a list of Philomel’s crimes. She had, conspiring with her mother, passed herself off as a princess for over ten years. The imperial princess had shown her mercy and allowed her to live, but—jealous—she’d slandered the princess. In the end, she’d come between the Magic Tower and the empire in an attempt to cause a national crisis. This was in addition to a handful of other minor offenses.
“The punishment for these crimes is death!” cried the man. As soon as he was done speaking the gathered crowd began to hurl curses at her, viciously shrieking.
“Kill her already!”
“You low-life criminal! How dare you pretend to be a princess!”
“She should have been killed with her mother long ago!”
Eggs, rocks, and other projectiles thrown by the angry crowd struck Philomel from all directions. The official waited, allowing the abuse to carry on for several minutes, before holding up a hand to silence the crowd.
“A sinner like you doesn’t deserve this, but Princess Ellensia is merciful. She wishes that you have the opportunity to say your last words. Have you any?”
Philomel, who’d been staring weakly down at the ground, now looked up and directly at the emperor with her yellow eyes. “F-Father...”
The emperor’s eyebrows raised a little hearing her raspy voice.
“I wasn’t pretending to be a princess…” she said. “I always thought I really was your daughter. But my other crimes are still deserving of death, so I won’t ask that you spare my life. I just wanted you to know this, at least...”
It had been the only thing she could think about as she spent her days locked in a windowless cell. Countless heads had rolled for the simple offense of being acquainted with her in some way or for showing pity for her gaunt appearance. All the regrets that had bound her to this life suddenly felt meaningless after that.
Why had she struggled so much to be loved, anxious not to lose what she thought was hers? Neither love nor power had ever been hers to begin with. There was just one thing that bothered her—the first item on her list of crimes was false.
She didn’t care if everyone else thought it to be the truth. There was only one person to whom she needed to explain herself, and that was her father, Emperor Eustis Belerov of the Belerov Empire. He hadn’t ever shown the least bit of interest in her in the ten or so years that he’d believed Philomel to be his biological daughter. She’d believed him to be her only living family and desired his love.
It was too late to change anything now. While she couldn’t prevent him from hating her, at least she could attempt to tell him the truth. It had never been her intention to deceive him, right from the start. Only after Ellensia appeared had Philomel realized that she wasn’t really his daughter. In hindsight, it couldn’t be more obvious—her mother had swapped her with the imperial princess when both of them were newborn babes.
Philomel had lived her life as a princess in the palace, while Ellensia had lived with Philomel’s biological mother as a commoner, meaning they’d never had any opportunity to meet. How could Philomel have met her mother, conspired with her, and purposefully deceived anybody?
The truth was plain for anyone to see, but everyone still believed her to be an imposter because of the reputation she’d built up during her lifetime. Even so, she’d dared to hope—even if no one else believed her, the emperor was a wise man, and reasonable. Surely he might see the truth. She’d been foolish to do so, however.
“Bring some thread and sew her mouth shut,” he commanded.
The crowd was completely silent for a long moment, then began screaming anew.
“Do as he says!”
“Sew her mouth up! Do it!”
Attendants rushed off in search of thread, and Ellensia turned a shade paler, fisting a hand in her father’s sleeve and hurriedly saying something in his ear.
In contrast to Philomel’s commonplace brown hair, Ellensia had beautiful blond hair. She was the emperor’s beloved daughter who was the spitting image of the dead empress. Philomel’s eyes grew moist in her despair.
What was I expecting? She should have seen this coming. All the torture she’d been subjected to had to have affected her brain.
I just have to accept my fate now. There is nothing else left to do. It was the only way to protect what little of her pride remained. No matter what anyone says, I was once the princess of the Belerov Empire. That... is the only thing I have left to be proud of.
Despite thinking this, Philomel still found herself stumbling to her feet and shouting at the emperor. She’d barely been fed more than crumbs over the past few days, but strangely, the voice that burst from her was loud and ringing.
Eustis’ cold gaze landed on her face, and questions she hadn’t meant to ask came from her lips. Tears trailed down her cheeks, refusing to stop.
“Have you ever considered me your daughter, even for a moment? Did you ever think of me that way?”
I said it. This was the question she’d always wanted to ask him. Why had he always looked at her so coldly, even before Ellensia had appeared, and he’d realized that Philomel wasn’t really his daughter? Was I ever family to you? Could you not have treated me as your daughter, even if you couldn’t find it in yourself to love me?
She’d never been able to ask these questions out loud, afraid of what the answer might be. With death knocking at her door, however, a curious courage came over her.
The emperor was silent.
“Father, that’s enough...” Ellensia complained, and the emperor stopped as he was about to say something.
The kind-hearted Ellensia was finding it hard to watch Philomel’s execution, even if the accused had tried to harm her. The emperor gently put his arms around his lovely daughter as she asked that they leave together. Commanding those present to go ahead with the execution, he got up and left. He didn’t spare Philomel a second glance.
“You could have at least answered my questions,” Philomel muttered hollowly, her last words falling on deaf ears.
The most notorious villainess of the century, Philomel, thus met her demise—with not a single soul feeling any pity for her. Because the emperor had instructed that the execution be carried out swiftly, at least her lips were not sewn shut as he’d commanded before. This was the last act of mercy granted to her.
Her death, however, was not carried out by guillotine, but by using a blunt sword wielded by the executioner since she wasn’t to be allowed an easy death. Her fate was to die a long and painful one. The only charge she was innocent of was hidden amongst her many crimes and the truth never saw the light of day. This was truly a fitting fate for a woman such as her…
Philomel shrieked and threw the book she’d been reading against the floor.
“This isn’t fair! I—I mean, book Philomel—might have done a few wrong things, but she didn’t deserve to die!”
The little girl stomped her foot impatiently and thumped one tiny fist against her chest. Not that it did anything to change the contents of the book, of course. The nine-year-old princess regretted reading the suspicious book she’d found in the garden.
She’d been intrigued at first, that someone had been brave enough to base the characters on actual members of the current imperial family, but she was left feeling indignant and uncomfortable by the time she was done. From the very start, the book had insinuated that some random commoner girl was the emperor’s real daughter and that Philomel was a fake. That had been plenty insulting enough to begin with.
“I’m going to tell my father and make whoever wrote this pay for their impertinence.”
If this book wasn’t defamation of the imperial family, she didn’t know what was. How dare they accuse the only princess of the Belerov Empire of being fake!
What was worse, she’d met a cruel fate in the book. Philomel could have been merciful and could have contented herself with throwing the author in prison for life, but not after what she’d read. She decided she could settle for nothing less than the death penalty.
She sank to the carpeted floor, despite being on the verge of running out of the room only moments before. Her nanny would have told her off for behaving in such an undignified manner, but she was alone since she’d been ordered to stay in her quarters as punishment. The only reason she’d read the ridiculous and insulting novel, Ellensia, the Imperial Princess, to the end was that she’d been bored to death.
Aside from her walks in the garden, which happened twice a day, she wasn’t allowed to leave her room. Even when her punishment was lifted, she wasn’t sure she’d be allowed to see her father. Eustis had no interest in her at all. Using the fingers on one hand, she could count the number of times they’d actually spoken face to face.
When she had one of the attendants request that they have a meal or tea together, the emperor would ignore her. On the occasions when Philomel simply went to see him without warning, she was promptly sent away and branded a nuisance. In fact, the reason she was being disciplined was because yesterday she’d marched into the emperor’s office, upset that her father refused to meet with her.
“Get her out of my sight immediately.”
The emperor’s face had been ice cold as he ordered his attendants to take her from the room, even though she was crying because he refused to come and see her. She’d been dragged back to her room, unable to do anything to resist.
The emperor had maintained this indifferent attitude toward her for nearly ten years now, and as a result, others had begun to subtly disrespect her. The rumors that the emperor intended to adopt a distant relative who showed promise and make him his heir instead only added fuel to the flames of their impertinence. People openly implied that the emperor resented his daughter for causing his beloved wife’s death.
What was worse, she didn’t resemble her mother in the least and was a troublemaker through and through. In the public’s eyes, it was only natural that the emperor hadn’t ever taken to her. Shoulders drooping, Philomel trudged to the mirror hanging on the wall.
“I don’t look that different to her, do I?”
The girl reflected back at her in the mirror was extremely cute, with brown hair and yellow eyes. But not only did she look nothing like her mother, whom she’d only seen in portraits, but she also didn’t really resemble her father, either.
The emperor had black hair and blue eyes, while the empress had been blond of hair and green of eyes. She didn’t share a common hair nor eye color with either of them. At least when she’d been little, her hair had been lighter in color, closer to blond than brown.
She’d prayed every night that her hair would grow lighter and turn golden, but the color had darkened over time to what was now a plain brown. Her hair could be attributed to her maternal grandmother, who’d passed away long ago, but where had her bright yellow eyes come from?
Suspecting she really might be someone else’s daughter, the girl grew depressed.